by Olivia Knight
The Dragon Lord is the final novella in Magic and Desire:
From the misty marshlands of Navarone to the halls of mythical Kâo, Drake's passion for the newly-wed Princess Nina threatens to end his quest, his honour, and his life. Meanwhile, Nina must wrestle with her dangerous secret, which marriage should have ended and which Drake has reignited.
Misty marshlands of Navarone... mythical Kâo... Fantasy creates worlds. Rich, enthralling, complex, patently untrue and wholly believable worlds with distinct cultures, customs, countries, and histories. If you want readers to walk around Hogwarts after dark in their heads, or hike across Middle Earth on the way to work, or even believe this place exists and the food chain is more than grass–hare–hero, you need convincing detail, and plenty of it. Fantasy gobbles up word count. But erotica gobbles up word count, too – all those times you thought you’d been gone ten minutes, and reappear at the party, slightly flushed, an hour and a half later? It’s the same in writing. It always takes longer than you expect.
An erotic fantasy story, then, in a third of the length of a novel (roughly an eighteenth of most fantasy sagas), demands damn tight world-building. No reader wants great chunky paragraphs of back history, nor do they want to spend the whole story scrambling frantically to figure out what the hell is going on and what, for god’s sake, is a wurzel? So here follows the art of building a world on a postage-stamp…
These are history in a nutshell. Think of ‘ring-a-ring-a-rosies’ and the Black Plague. ‘Eeny-meeny-miny-mo’ is a counting system from before the Celts landed in Britain. Children keep chanting long after the origins are forgotten, especially if there’s a fun dance involved… At Princess Nina’s engagement dinner, she insists – to the humiliated horror of her parents – that the musican play the Song of Kâo:
Karitta go karew karew
In the land of Kâo, the words were true.
The Lords and ladies flew by night
In the land of Kâo, the moon was bright.
Karitta go karew karack
In the land of Kâo, the moon went black.
The Lords and ladies fell today
And all the people ran away.
As true as ring-a-ring-a-rosies, this is all that’s left of the legends of Kâo – and a slightly chilling verdict on what’s to come.
Beginning an erotic story with the heroine’s engagement and wedding is bizarre, but very handy. Ceremonies are culture at its most ossified – sorry, traditional – and we quickly know what to expect of the way of life: Nina wears full face-covering veils for twelve days before her marriage, the congregation mumble on auto-pilot “For God has said so,” and the morning after the wedding…
… as was customary, the bloodied sheet was flown like a flag from their bedroom window and the locals hooted and applauded. The guests belatedly joined in. With this proof that the prince had indeed pushed himself into the princess’s virginal flesh, the marriage was complete and they could all go home.
The wedding guests, too, prove useful. Their reactions kill two birds with one stone: a glimpse of other countries beyond this one’s borders, and an outsider’s view on what the locals take for granted. Their gifts tell us still more. (And as we’re being thrifty, make excellent props later.) Most telling, though, is their reaction to the uninvited guest, who claims to be from Kâo, and may as well have said he was from the moon…
The parties were dull. Navarone was hospitable, but its chill crept into the marrow of one’s bones. Everyone complained under their breath about the draughty rooms and heavy food, except Lord Drake. No-one knew where he was staying, and they joked that he flew back to Kâo each night, or turned into a bat and hung upside down in the rafters, or had a magical castle in the clouds. He kept himself apart, always with the same air of waiting. His remote eyes followed the princess’s tall figure as she wound through the crowds like a flame, her face hidden. When people teased him about coming from ‘Kâo’, he looked through them and smiled distantly. After a few days their inventiveness failed, the novelty wore off, and they left him alone. He didn’t seem to notice.
Proverbs and sayings
History and attitude wrapped up in one neat phrase, they’re the smoke to the culture’s fire. Here, Lord Drake has escaped another of the endless parties – a masked ball – to a quiet room where he stares out over the marshes and the green flames that erupt. Another guest has also escaped, her shoes poking out from under the curtains, and laughing he invites her out. They’re discussing honesty versus social niceties when…
He lifted her hand to the spiky letters engraved on his breastplate. She traced the metal grooves.
‘What does that say?’
‘Karayeethra ga Karayu – Honesty and Honour, in your language. It’s the motto of Kâo.’
‘Are you really from Kâo, then?’
He sighed. ‘Yes. Though I realise that everyone here has difficulty believing me.’
‘I believe you,’ she said quickly. ‘At least – I believe that you believe it.’
‘And perhaps that’s the best I can hope for.’
‘I love that song. It’s always been my favourite.’
His eyes turned sadly out to the windows, but his hand held hers tighter. His quest might be a failure, but the party was brighter for containing this girl.
‘And now I’m holding hands with a man from a story,’ she mused.
His fingers released hers abruptly. ‘I’m not from a story,’ he growled. ‘I’m real.’
She stared. ‘You said honesty. I’m only being honest, that’s truly what I believe.’
He smiled thinly. ‘“What the heart believes to be true is never untruthful” – that’s a saying of ours. But there’s always the polite option of silence. You could do me the courtesy of not saying you think I’m made up.’
‘But even silence misleads – not telling a truth can help someone believe a lie...’
He laughed, delighted. ‘You’re passionate about truth. In Kâo, that’s important. And of course, you’re right, it’s a delicate line to tread.’
Whether the silence lied or not, they let it settle over them, except for murmuring ‘Look’ or ‘Over there’ as the pale lights flared and vanished. Like another quiet language, her drooping sleeve brushed his wrist, his upper arm returned from a gesture to lie closer to hers. Both seemed not to notice the furtive touches; both were hypersensitive to every hair-tip’s contact. His fingertips ran across the inside of her wrist, breaking the pretence. Neither breathed as he traced lightly. They kept their eyes averted, hypnotised by his invisible drawing. His hand slipped higher, under her loose sleeve. In feathery increments, his fingertips crept to the crease of her arm and when they found it she moaned.
‘Look at me,’ he murmured.
Her dilated green eyes lifted. His were dark grey, searching. He glanced at her lips, back up, then at the swell of her breasts. He knew she could see where he was looking, and she knew that was deliberate. Under his eyes’ caress, her lips parted, her breasts got goosebumps. Her breath came faster and made her cleavage rise and fall. Her eyes flickered to his lips and shyly away.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Be honest.’
So she studied them, thinking about kissing them, and with the thought clear on her face met his eyes again. He put a hand on her waist and guided her closer. Their lips touched and their bodies brushed. His groin swelled as their tongues twisted wetly.
‘Now am I made up?’ he asked.
She shuddered in his arms. ‘I don’t think so.’
The heat from her skin came like waves and he closed his eyes, the lust rolling. He burned for her and a terrible thought occurred to him: it could be her, that could be why, and if so, he was compromising his honour… She nudged her hips from side to side until his bulge rested in white-hot longing at the apex of her thighs. His mind was drowned out by sensation, and he thrust the thought aside. She was lovely, sexy, and sliding against him; that was enough to explain the roaring lust.
His hand clutched the hem of her bodice, his fingers against the bare slope of her breast beneath. They lapped each other’s tongues and she whimpered as his nail caught her nipple. Their hips rubbed harder, trying to complete what their clothes made impossible, and with one hand each they tugged her skirt upwards.
The door creaked. The girl sprang away, twirling to the window.
‘Look at that flare!’ she exclaimed. Facing away from the door, she rubbed the back of her hand over her mouth, wiping away the smeared blue lipstick. Surprised, Drake surreptitiously copied her example.
‘Princess Nina,’ said a servant. ‘Your parents and the Consort have been looking for you – it’s time for the speeches.’
Only the marshes saw the horror that crossed Drake’s face.
These are my personal shortcut, rather than a writing technique: I scour the web for pictures of imaginary worlds that I can make leap to life. I might reference a single detail or describe it in detail, but they live in my head while I write. All the pictures in the post are part of The Dragon Lord's world, and come from either furiae or mattepainting.
And if you want a glimpse of Kâo itself, the prologue is on my website. For a chance to win Magic and Desire, tell me your favourite fantasy world… The whole week's winners will be announced on Sunday.
Friday, May 9, 2008
by Olivia Knight