This morning, I sat down to do a writing exercise from Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink by Gail Carson Levine, and my husband wanted to write with me! Here is the prompt we both used and the stories that came after. Please note, that these were written in 30 minutes without any editting, but it is exciting to see how one prompt can go in two totally different directions! Elinor arrives for the second week of her training as a scout for King Aldric in his war against the cruel dwarves of Akero. When she gets there, she is told that she’s been dropped from the cadre. First, my story…
It was ridiculous to think that a petite girl could beat a man three times her size in hand-to-hand combat, but Elinor had no doubt bested him in archery and dexterity. Was it no consolation that the dwarves they would be fighting dwarves that were half her size in battle? She was positive she that she could take down one of those evil dwarves, so did it really matter that she couldn’t overpower Garrick? Apparently, it did.
“Here are your papers for leave,” the captain said, handing her a rolled parchment. She crossed her arms and refused to take it.
“Why?” she spat. “I deserve to know why I am being sent home after only one week of training. Give me time and I’ll be able to take down Garrick and the rest of them.”
“Here are your papers,” the captain repeated sternly, shoving the parchment into her hands. Then he began barking orders at trainees a couple yards away. Elinor unrolled the paper and read it quickly, looking for clues to her dismissal. Nothing. It was a formality at best simply declaring she wasn’t a traitor.
She turned to watch the captain as he yelled at what used to be her cadre. They began to do jumping jacks feverishly. Elinor could keep up with the best of them when it came to exercises. There was no reason she shouldn’t be alongside them. Except that she had lost every fight with Garrick. In fact, she lost most of her hand-to-hand skirmishes. That had to be the reason. Surely, if she could prove to the captain that she was capable, he would let her stay and defend her country.
Throwing the parchment on the ground, she marched over to Garrick, who was in mid-jump, and grabbed his collar, pulling him down with all the strength she could muster. Without giving him time to react – and ignoring the captains orders to back away – Elinor delivered a punch to Garrick’s lower gut. He bent over from the sudden attack.
“What the-what’s gotten into you?” Garrick said, putting hand on stomach as he straightened his posture.
“Ms. Cardwell, back away this instance!” the captain shouted again. But Elinor was dedicated. She always finished what she started, whether it was a fight with a fellow trainee or the commitment to fight in the war. She threw another punch towards Garrick’s jaw, but he dodged that one and grabbed her arm, trying to avoid further fighting. She tried to pull her arm away unsuccessfully and kicked at his abs. Again, he stopped her. He caught her leg, spinning her and dropping her to the ground.
The captain pressed his boot against the back of her neck, pushing her face into the dirt. “A word,” he simply said. The other trainees moved away quietly and quickly.
“Give me one more week and I’ll be pushing his face into the dirt!” Elinor argued, as best she could with her half her face on the ground.
“You aren’t dismissed because of your performance in training, Ms. Cardwell-”
“It’s Private Cardwell, sir,” she interrupted. He didn’t acknowledge her correction.
“You are being dismissed because your father is demanding her return home,” he explained. “A carriage is waiting you, but I’m sure you would prefer to change first.” He pulled his foot from her neck and Elinor rushed to her feet.
“I am good enough to be here,” she said. “I deserve to be here, fighting with the rest of them. I won’t go home just because my father has insecurities.”
“The king simply doesn’t wish to put his heir into harm’s way. I’m sure you can understand,” the captain said.
“I demand that I be allowed to stay!” she shouted, raising her head up high.
“Unfortunately, the orders of the king trump the demands of a princess.”
And now Jeremy’s story, prepare yourself…
The large iron doors crashed closed with a sound like thunder. It echoed through the stone corridor as a cacophony of avalanches, each reverberation felt as much as heard. Elinor stomped down the hallway, her ears ringing. Normally there was a guard posted to open and close the door with a degree of subtlety, but they were probably slacking off somewhere, fast asleep like the rest of the world at this ungodly hour. Elinor dropped her pack at her feet and slumped into a chair across from the Reconnaissance Officer, Dreg Thaxton, and let out a relieved sigh. After a moment of awkward silence, she began unlacing her heavy leather boots, releasing a smell that made her wrinkle her nose. She coughed once. More silence. Dreg gave her a stare that would’ve melted wax, and she avoided returning the gaze. “You’re late,” Dreg said suddenly. Elinor knew the lecture was coming, and she wasn’t looking forward to it. She continued unlacing her boot wordlessly. She had missed deadlines before, it was definitely a pattern with her. But Dreg had been pretty lenient up to this point, and she knew that he’d scold her a bit then let the matter drop. “You are always late.” Dreg said, this time an edge in his voice that made her look up, surprised. Was he actually upset? “Well, I mean I’m a little behind. But there were goblins! I had to sneak through an infested forest! It was really dark, and freezing cold by the way, and I had to climb this” “The circumstances are irrelevant. This has happened too many times, recruit.” Dreg liked to call the scout trainees “recruit”. Elinor thought it made him feel important, like he was a big tough officer. But he wasn’t much older than Elinor, only a couple years, and the only reason he had any authority at all is because his father was a key member of the royal court. Still, Elinor always called him ‘sir’, figuring she could use his ego to soften whatever was coming next. “I’m sorry sir. Won’t happen again, sir.” “Yes it will. You know it will.” She didn’t know what to say, so she went to her default response. “Yes, sir. Message received.” He was still looking at her. Did this man ever blink? There was another awkward pause. Elinor looked down to see she was holding one of her boots, and she put it on the ground. She was still wearing the other one, but was too nervous by this point to reach down and unlace the other one. She then realized how ridiculous it was to be sitting there with one boot one, and quickly reached down to remove the other. “The other officers and I have discussed your case, and we have determined you are not qualified for the position you are training for. You are to be removed for the program immediately.” He stopped for a moment, then added a pathetic “Sorry.” Elinor froze. She blinked twice. Did that really just happen? She slowly looked up from her halflaced boot to meet Dreg’s stare. This time, he was the one to look away. “Are you serious?” She said, her voice shaking slightly. “After all this time, you’re giving up on me?” “I tried, recruit. I told them you showed potential, that your test scores were above average. But your late returns are too problematic.” Elinor just stared at him, frowning deeply. This could not be happening. “It is not enough to complete your mission, Elinor. You need to be fast. In the real world, people will be counting on the information you have, and getting it to them in time is of the utmost importance. What if someone had died because you were late? Would we be expected to forgive that?” Elinor rose wordlessly. Now it was her turn to hit him with a stare. Her eyes burned with fury. Her teeth were clenched, her hands her fists. Dreg unconsciously slid his chair back an inch. She just stood there, one boot and one stocking, festering. “Elinor, listen” He never finished. Elinor, in one lightningfast motion, pulled a knife from her belt and buried it in his neck. His eyes went wide for a moment and tried to gargle some words, but a second knife plunged between his ribs silenced him forever. Dreg Thaxton. 27. Son of Ulman Thaxton, royal advisor to the King. Resided with his parents in the Gold District of the city. Arrogant. Unqualified. Deceased. Elinor crept out of the barracks. It was very late at night. No one would find the dead fool for hours. She would be punished to be certain. Her mission had been to infiltrate the ranks of the scouts, to collect intel they gathered and deliver it to her masters. She had failed that mission, but she didn’t mind the torture she’d surely be forced to endure for her failure. For 4 months she’d toiled under that pathetic man, running drills and scouting out fenced in areas. She’d intentionally tried not to do too well, to avoid seeming suspicious, as she if she excelled too much her superiors might investigate her more, which she could not allow. Evidently she had overcompensated, waiting several hours after completing her mission before returning. It had been a fatal error. Well, fatal for Dreg at least. But, the look on that stupid man’s face was worth it all. No matter what came next, when she returned to her masters, she’d savor every lashing and branding, satisfied in the bloody ending to her long, tiresome quest.
As you can see, our brains processed the big reveal quite differently.