CHAPTER 2: HARLEQUIN
Harlequin looked critically at her makeup in the mirror. She had on white face with dark kohl emphasizing the hollows of her cheeks, the circles under her eyes, and a cleft was created on her chin. Dots and swirls in purple made the eye follow a strange path over her forehead and cheekbones. The symbols had soft magic that made people looking at her have extreme difficulty remembering anything recognizable about her features, her voice, or her build.
Harlequin used to wear masks. They took a lot less time and had more flexibility than makeup. But that was before the tragic occasion when the teenage boy thought[i] he could get in good with the local street gang by learning the identity of the Harlequin. He had only started to rip off her mask and reveal her features when Harlequin stabbed him in the heart, protecting her identity and ending his hoodlum aspirations at the same time.
She regretted killing him, mainly because it didn’t serve any political purpose. She felt responsible for allowing him to get close enough to exposing her identity to warrant his death. Oh, he probably would have grown up to be a true threat to the good citizens of the kingdom, but even criminals had their uses to a wise ruler. And Empress Savant was a very wise ruler.
Which made the rebellion of Damien, the Empress’ son, that much more frustrating.
A year ago Prince Damien had married. It seemed a good match at the time. Pandora was eighteen years old and heir to Cambaria, a neighboring seaport duchy that straddled several trade routes, and was rich in gold and horses. Pandora was lovely and intelligent, and Damien fell madly in love with her. She came to live at the palace and quickly charmed many at court.
With Pandora at his side, Damien became more interested in affairs of state. He sat in on privy counsels and made his opinions known. Occasionally Empress Savant followed his suggestions. More often she did not. He was only twenty, and many of his ideas were impractical.
Pandora whispered in Damien’s ear that the Empire should be his by right. His mother should crown him, and retire to the role of advisor to the Emperor.
The next time Damien was thwarted in council, he insisted that the throne should be his. Empress Savant laughed off the idea, as did most of the lords and ladies. Damien was furious. Pandora made a clumsy attempt to poison Savant, which Harlequin thwarted before her sovereign was in any real danger. Panicked, Pandora accused Savant of trying to poison her, and convinced Damien to flee the palace with her.
The love-struck fool did, and the couple made haste back to Pandora’s homeland. From there they rallied the rabble and called it an army, and announced that Damien was the true Emperor in exile.
Pandora’s Duchy had just enough resources to make them a nuisance, but the pair didn’t have enough sense or experience to make them a viable threat.
Harlequin put the finishing touches on her makeup and pulled a jester’s cap over her black hair. It was getting longer now – she hadn’t had to pose as a boy in a while. She had enough vanity to like its straight waterfall down to her shoulders. She checked the blades in the heels of her boots, testing the springs that would force the blades to extend when she fully flexed her foot. The blades were hinged so she could still land on her feet without breaking them, and the blade would extend again for her next kick. When battle was done, she could retract each blade so the boots functioned normally.
She looked around the room to see if she left any telltale signs of her presence. This chamber was her favorite – positioned high in the west tower with two secret tunnels that could take her almost anywhere inside or outside of the castle walls. Plus, it had a balcony where a stone gargoyle crouched with wings folded behind it, overlooking the city. The statue was gray and weathered with words in the Old High Tongue carved into the base that translated “Here Sleepeth the Titan.”
“Anything interesting happening out there, Titan?” Harlequin asked, stroking the masonry of the gargoyle’s thigh. She looked over the city, matching his gaze, then reached up absently to cup his cheek with her hand. She had an affection for the stone creature, with its larger than life muscles and the exaggerated features of his face. She fantasized about him coming to life and feeling his rock-hard arms embrace her, imagined the size of his member that was artfully disguised in the position of the statue’s legs. She leaned against his cold hardness and collected her thoughts for her imminent conference with her sovereign. She gave Titan’s thigh a final pat before turning to leave.
Striding down the hall, she passed one of her body doubles lounging in an alcove and nodded. This harlequin was a teenage girl, and she made the subtle hand gesture that acknowledged the true Harlequin and indicated “nothing to report.”
Harlequin nodded and gestured toward the chamber she had exited. The body double strolled in and closed the door.
Harlequin had six subordinates that were her body doubles – three males and three females, who were similar to her height and build: about five feet, eight inches, slender and athletic. Only a select few knew who the true Harlequin was. It cut down on assassination attempts.
[i] This is called a Point Of View switch, and it is bad. This chapter is presented from a limited point of view – Harlequin’s, as opposed to an omniscient POV. How would Harlequin know what the teenager was thinking? Maybe he blurted it out before he died, maybe she questioned the street gang about his failed initiation, but if so I should have included that in the story. It is OK to switch the POV when you start a new chapter, but not when you start a new sentence.
[ii] The majority of this chapter is what’s fondly referred to as an info-dump. I wanted to let the reader know the backstory of political situation, but I didn’t want to bother including it in the action. Simple laziness. Good writing shows the readers what they need to know through action and dialog. Not-so-good writing tells the reader what they need to know like a history lecture.
You can give some information to the reader through narrative, but be sure to have a light touch. Don’t talk about a character until he or she walks on stage. Don’t give context until it fits into the action or the dialog. Every writer breaks these guidelines. Sometimes it’s the only way to move forward. But if you’re aware, you’ll find a lot of easy ways to make your writing have more impact and improve your pacing.