As many of you know, the official read-along for Air Awakens is going on right now to gear up for the release of Fire Falling on November 19th. The event is still open to anyone and late-comers are welcome. Click here to “attend” on Facebook and join the discussions.
We just finished re-reading chapters 1-5. At the end of Chapter 4 we see for the first time, in the flesh, the Crown Prince Aldrik. Now, if you’ve read the book before or not, it’s fairly apparent that Aldrik is an important character. But, this wasn’t how Vhalla and Aldrik met in my initial drafts…
Originally, Vhalla was working with Master Mohned and the Ministry of Culture to prepare for the Festival of the Sun, helping to plan library events and whatnot. It was during this time that Vhalla began exchanging notes with a mysterious phantom and being haunted by dreams of a man in the library. Dreams that became real on a visit to the Minister of Coin’s office…
(NOTES: Marin was Vhalla’s best friend in the original drafts, removed as her own character and history merged with Roan. This is a rough original draft, meaning it hasn’t been through editing rounds. You will find errors and awkward sentences.)
… While their external meetings had been limited, Vhalla was beginning to become more accustomed to navigating throughout the castle. She was starting to learn some shortcuts, even Marin had contributed one or two when Vhalla told her that she was heading out for more things. But her favorite walkway remained the many-arched arcade bridge that suspended between a central tower closest to the mountain face and the free-standing Minister’s tower. On one side she could see the castle, she could look up to see the Imperial spires, and the other was down clear into the heart of the Capital. When she stood upon the bridge, amidst the wind and the sky, something in her that she couldn’t quite explain felt powerful.
But, it was over far too soon and they entered into what would become their final destination. Up they spiraled around the central staircase with rooms leading off at every landing. Three floors up from the Minister of Culture’s offices they came onto a landing that had a heavy oaken door that was shut save for a sliver of light. They paused at the door for a moment before the Master gave it two solid knocks. Hushed voices, and then a full baritone resonated from within.
“Enter.” She could only assume the voice belonged to the Minister of Coin.
Mohned opened the door and light from the morning sun flooded every unhindered space. Vhalla’s eyes struggled to adjust from the dim corridor. The office was clean and sparse compared to the Minister of Culture’s. Against the opposite wall, behind the desk, were four large windows letting in the daylight. Her eyes moved across the room and stopped. Her breath caught in her throat.
Against the light, was a figure, a tall, dark figure with just beyond shoulder-length, slicked-back, black hair. He stood before the late dawn with his hands folded behind him, his back to her, as if assessing the whole world beneath him. She knew that silhouette against that morning light. She’d searched for it in her dreams and it haunted her waking hours. Her brain escaped her in the surreal nature of it all.
“Who are you?”
The words tumbled from her mouth clumsily and heavy, hitting the silence like smashing glass. In her dreams there had only ever been air to escape her questioning lips. But, this was not a dream, and she fought a churning sense of horror as the figure stiffened a brief moment and slowly turned to her. Pinned to the chest of his otherwise entirely black ensemble was the stark white contrast of a blazing sun, the crest of the Empire. In that last moment of tense silence Vhalla knew she’d just made a large mistake.
First, it was the Master’s hand on the back of her head, pushing it down with such force that she had no choice but to fall into a kneel. While that was likely the appropriate response for someone of her station from the start, she would’ve rather it be more graceful than falling into an undignified heap. Next, it was the Minister’s laughter, which she wasn’t sure if it started before or after Mohned’s string of relentless apologies. Then, came the banter about how she was just an apprentice and still learning the ways of this great wide world. Though, even throughout all this, the hot blush, the embarrassed burning behind her eyelids, she felt his eyes on her. His cold silence almost made her want to shiver.
Both Master and Minister quieted, and she heard that voice, as deep as midnight, for the first time with her physical ears.
“What is this one called?” His tone was casual, yet still managed to be condescending. She knew he was looking down at her, and some small voice reminded her that this was her place.
“Vhalla.” The Master quickly replied.
“I see. I expect you to teach your apprentices how to properly address their crown prince. I hope, Vhalla, will never embarrass herself so again.” With that, he strode out of the room, the click of his polished leather boots echoing quickly into silence.
“Vhalla.” The Master repeated her name, and Vhalla had foolishly thought all the ice had left the room. “You are to go back to the library, talk to no one, sit behind the desk, and wait for me.” She finally pulled herself up off the floor and was grabbing the front of her robes, her fingers threatening to tear holes in the fabric. “Vhalla, now.”
She turned quickly and nearly ran out to the sound of the Master’s apologies and the Minister’s laughter again. Vhalla raced down the stairs and out onto the walkway and into the crisp autumn air before she leaned over the railing, barely containing in a scream. Some strange sound escaped her throat and she lost herself to the tears. She wasn’t sure what felt worse, the silly reason why she embarrassed herself, who she had embarrassed herself in front of, the fact that Mohned had to apologize for her, or just that the whole thing had happened at all.
Rubbing her palms against her eyes, she got herself under control after a few moments. She hadn’t even had time to look at the prince. Vhalla felt some kind of crazy laughter threatening to escape as she wiped her face on her sleeve. The laughter did escape when she thought of how that would be what Marin would scold her for more than anything.
More stable, she looked around carefully, to see if anyone had been witness to her momentary breakdown. Seeing no one Vhalla stared slowly to the library, caring nothing for time. The Master would be in the meeting for a good hour – at least – she suspected, considering the first half would be amusement at her expense. Then he wasn’t exactly fast on his feet, she had time.
Vhalla took the slow way back, she walked indirect routes because it took her by frescoes she found particularly beautiful. She passed through gardens she had no real business of being in for no other reason than she knew she’d likely have no purpose to be out in this particular part of the castle again. While it took her about double the normal time her feet eventually brought her to the doors that were opened before her by palace guards. They opened to her fate at the hands of the Master of Tome.
Sareem was behind the desk, and he was motioning for her to move more quickly, but her feet had turned to lead. She barely heard his hushed excitement over her sobering realization that she likely would have no more to do with the festival. Vhalla cursed herself for making such a mistake.
“Vhalla, you’ll never guess…” Sareem whispered eagerly.
Then again, the festival was something that had been distracting her from her studies.
“… who just came…” He was continuing through her blank stare to some distant point in space.
Her studies, there was one small silver lining. She quickly glanced up at the sky and knew she had to have enough time. She just had to. This whole day didn’t have to be a waste. Grabbing her satchel she stood.
“…into the library-“
“Sorry Sareem, I’m in a lot of trouble, but there’s something I need to check really quick.” She cut his words short, to his obvious surprise as she stood suddenly.
With that she was off. She felt something strange inside her. Each flutter of air against her robes as she walked seemed to beckon and pull her forward. As she turned off the main hall she was walking faster. When she turned off that, her feet were carrying her almost at a run. The books faded into a blur around her until she came to a screeching halt before one she was looking for.
No longer the Magica Earthica, she pulled out an unassuming leather tome from a shelf she could barely reach on her toes. As she pulled it off the shelf a piece of paper fluttered from it. A small strip, barely wider than a few of her fingers, but she instantly recognized it. The paper was actually one they kept at the circulation desk to tag where books needed to be returned to.
Vhalla pushed the book back onto the shelf and paused, staring at the note. Somehow, she knew, the notes in her bag meant nothing anymore. She bent over and took the unassuming strip of paper off the floor, unfolding it in the middle. There, in a particularly messy and rough, slanted, spiky pen were five words. Five words and everything changed.
So, you are called Vhalla.
This meeting actually occurs at the end of Chapter 9 in the original draft! So you can really get a feel for how much changed. Following it, Vhalla and Aldrik met twice before the infamous “rooftop scene” occurred.
What do you think of this original scene? Leave a comment below and talk with others in the official read-along!