Have you heard of National Novel Writing Month (often referred to as NaNoWriMo)? I imagine many of you have – but if you’re like I was a couple years ago, this may all be new to you! If that’s the case, you may be wondering – what the heck is NaNoWriMo?
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.
I am participating in two aspects of #NaNoWriMo this year – first, as an individual, I am writing my own novel; secondly, as a teacher, I am facilitating a #NaNoWriMo Challenge in my classroom through the Young Writers Program (my students are loving it!).
That being said, I thought it would be fun to share the prologue of my personal novel here! Check it out:
The rolling waves made a gentle thwap – thwap – thwap noise against the side of the ship as it skipped across the narrow channel that separated Escola from the mainland. The echo of the other ships cutting through the same calming waves around them was almost soothing – a light symphony, punctuated by the cries of gulls and the occasional shout of a sailor.
Ahead of their ship, the flagship of the small armada was easily identifiable. Its brightly coloured sails and grandeur stature would have easily set it apart – even if it hadn’t been flying the Esolan Royal Crest. The Royal Crest signified that the Escolan monarchs – Queen Avice Talbot and her Royal Consort, William Ingram – were aboard the ship. They were the only members of the Royal Family aboard the flagship at the moment though. Because even though Royal Crests had ensured protection to the ruling monarchs of the Five Kingdoms during a millennium of peace, there were rumours that trouble was brewing in the south, and neither Avice nor William had any intention of endangering their children.
Which was why Aldwin and Ailith were watching the flagship from a smaller, non-descript ship that blended seamlessly with the rest of the fleet.
Ailith, for her part, was flitting about the ship with the inquisitive nature only an eight-year-old could muster. The crew adored her, which helped temper their exasperation at her never-ending stream of questions.
By contrast, they had little time for Aldwin’s brooding demeanour, finding him to be dead weight – no, a waste of valuable deck space.
That was what the words the deck boys whispered when they thought he was out of ear shot – as Aldwin supposed they had the right to. Given that they were the same age was him. Yet they were earning their keep, and he was a spoiled, pompous royal without a single callous on his hand, standing about with nothing better to do than watch the horizon.
Watch the horizon with a tight feeling in his stomach.
Ailith might think this was an exciting vacation to the mainland, but Aldwin was old enough to know better. At twelve-years-old, Aldwin wasn’t just a spoiled, pompous royal – he was the son of the Queen, and Heir to the throne of his kingdom. He spent every day making sure he could succeed when he took the throne one day – even if that day was hopefully far away. He made up for what he lacked in muscle in intelligence, and he had eavesdropped on enough Council meetings in recent months to know that the situation on the mainland was growing more serious by the day.
He couldn’t imagine why his mother and father had thought it was a good idea to bring his sister to a War Council, but that was all it could be – for the woman in Gathòr who called herself the Sovereign had indeed declared war on the Five Kingdoms, bringing the peace the Kingdoms had enjoyed since a time before time to an abrupt end.
“Aldwin,” Ailith called, her voice light and sing-song, not unlike that of a bird. Aldwin turned from his brooding observation of the horizon to find that his sister was halfway up the rope ladder to the Crow’s Nest, swinging wildly in the light sea breeze.
“Ailith, what do you think you’re doing?” Aldwin yelped, already making his way to the base of the ladder. “Get down from there at once!”
“Roe said I could,” Ailith called down, a distinctive pout in her voice.
Aldwin rounded on the offending sailor, a young man only a couple of years older than himself. Roe was already rubbing his neck, and abashed look on his face as he regarded his Crown Prince.
“Didn’t see any harm in it, Your Highness,” Roe muttered. “She’s been itching to climb up there for days, and the seas are as calm as they’re likely to be.”
Aldwin threw his hands up in the air, his mouth opening with an exasperating reply – only to be cut off by a shout from the sailor in the Crow’s Nest.
“Ships on the horizon, Captain! Flying black sails!”
The sailor’s voice pierced Aldwin’s calm demeanour, one syllable at a time.
The woman in Gathòr who called herself the Sovereign had come to them – and they were alone.
“Ailith, get down now,” Aldwin ordered, his voice icily calm. Around them, sailors rushed to their posts, the Captain barking orders. Drums pounded as the ships communicated with one another.
Ailith hesitated, looking up to the sailor in the Crow’s Nest, then back down at her brother.
“Get down, now,” Aldwin repeated slowly, his eyes never leaving hers. She began to clamber down the ropes, her petit form drawing nearer and nearer to the deck.
“Your Highness, your parents, they gave strict orders in case this event –“
Aldwin didn’t even turn to the First Mate, a middle-aged man named Gerard, as he answered, his gaze never leaving Ailith. “I am aware.”
“We’ll break from the fleet at first opportunity, heading North for the coast of Ibova – we’ll likely be pursued, but – “
“I know,” Aldwin all but snarled. “I will take care of myself, and my sister – I won’t get in your way, and I will ensure that we are not – what did you call it? Of yes – I will ensure that we are not a waste of valuable deck space.”
“Yes, your Highness,” Gerard replied stoically.
Ailith finally reached the deck, and rushed into Aldwin’s waiting arms, her tiny body quivering. She could sense the wrongness of it – understood that something was not right.
“Aldwin?” She asked, peering up into his eyes. Her brilliant green eyes meeting his own, brimming with unspoken questions.
“Ailith, do you remember the bag mother gave you when we boarded the ship?”
“The one with the strange clothes?”
“Yes,” Aldwin confirmed, “We’re going to go get it, and change into our strange clothes, then find somewhere safe to wait below decks.”
The next minutes were a flurry of activity – the two of them rushed below decks to the small quarters they had been sharing, digging out the bags their mother had given them. The bags contained clothes for commoners – rather than the finer clothes the siblings typically wore – sturdy shoes, and a simple dagger for Aldwin. They stowed their finer clothes in their trunks, Ailith protesting at how scratchy and ill-fitting her new clothes were.
“Why would Mama want us to wear these?” she whined petulantly.
“We’ll blend in with the crew better,” Aldwin explained softly. Above decks, he could hear the sailors calling to one another, making preparations for what was to come.
“Are we playing hide-and-seek?”
“Of a sort,” Aldwin answered.
A boom above deck stopped them in their tracks. Then another – and Ailith was scurrying for the stairs, desperate to see what was going on. Aldwin scrambled after her, trying to pull her back to safety before she burst out onto the deck – and saw the world as she knew it ending.
The flagship was surrounded by those ships, their black sails flapping lazily in the breeze. One of their other ships had gaping holes in the side – likely a warning to keep other ships from venturing too close to the flagship. And on deck, Alwin could just make out his mother’s shining blonde hair, his father by her side as they faced the intruders upon their ship.
Aldwin saw her then – the woman in white, her raven black hair falling nearly to her waist. Saw her raise her hand to strike his mother.
“Mama!” Ailith shrieked, rushing to the railing of the ship, as though she could help their mother, despite the kilometers between their ships.
Their mother had righted herself, and was standing proudly before the Sovereign, her chin high.
Aldwin would have given anything to be there, to be eavesdropping on this conversation, rather than the hundreds of mundane Council meetings he had overheard.
Beside him, Ailith was crying softly and calling for their parents, her small body shaking. She seemed oblivious to the clouds gather on the horizon – but the sailors had noticed, and were pointing to it. Shouting to one another. Pulling down the sails – pulling down the only mode of escape they had.
Aldwin crouched beside Ailith, trying to draw her gaze away from the scene on the flagship.
“Ailith, look at me,” he whispered, “Ailith, you need to calm down, please.”
Ailith shook her head, tears rolling down her cheeks, “Why did that woman hit Mama, Aldwin?”
Aldwin pulled Ailith to him, shaking his head softly. “I don’t know, I don’t know.”
It was a lie – Aldwin knew why the woman in white, the woman from Gathòr, the woman who called herself the Sovereign, had hit their mother. Knew why he and Ailith were on this unimportant little ship at the back of the fleet, dressed in commoner’s clothes, wearing shoes meant for a long trek through the Ibovan wilderness.
Knew that his mother had put them here, given them these things, to keep them safe.
Because the Sovereign had come, and his mother and father were not safe on that ship. No matter that it flew the Escolan Royal Crest – an era of peace had come to an end. And so too would his mother’s reign.
He held Ailith’s head to his chest as the fight broke out on deck, his father drawing his sword to protect his mother as soldiers clad in black flooded the deck of the flagship. He watched as they forced his father to his knees. Then his mother.
He watched until tears clouded his vision. Until a sob wracked his chest – and Ailith pulled away, her scream ringing across the water.
Her first shriek was pure heartbreak. Her next, rage.
With her third shriek, the sky opened up, and the wind whipped dangerously around them, pulling the sails of the unsuspecting Gathòr ships this way and that, their masts groaning under the pressure.
Then they began to snap.
Ailith sobbed as the rain poured down, lashing the deck of their ship. Around them, the waves churned, tilting their ship this way and that. Aldwin struggled to Ailith’s side, shouting to be heard over the roar of rain and waves.
“Ailith, please, you need to calm down,” he shouted. He wasn’t sure he could hear her. Wasn’t sure she could hear anyone right now. She looked unearthly like this – her green eyes blazing, her brown hair whipping around her face – a face contorted with rage, and heartbreak, and purpose.
The sky roared and flashed, and the rain pelted them unrelentingly – the world cried alongside Ailith as her parents died.
Then Ailith was gone, her tiny body flying overboard as the waves battered the ship from all sides, pushing it dangerously close to capsizing.
And the crew was pulling Aldwin below decks, shouting in his ear.
Where was his sister?