while my two older sisters were young enough to play, barbies was our go-to. once they'd grown up too much to participate in such things, being high school girls preoccupied with their homework and cell phones and in general their own lives, my siblings and i played the knight game.
the knight game was our version of "game of thrones" before any of us had ever read it or the hbo series had come out. like the barbie games that were its predecessors, the knight game was fraught with violence, scheming, and most of all childish efforts at being narcissists. it's main characters were mara, played by me, scral, played by my almost twin, gorim or karum played by my oldest biological brother, tom by the youngest biological boy, princess cassidy by my third youngest sister with her long, silky golden hair, voret and lima who were the roles of the youngest of the russian boys, and rose or dmitra or melody played by my fourth youngest sister, closest to me in age besides the golden child. this last sister constantly switched back and forth between her three characters, unable to hold onto an identity just like the shapeshifter she liked to pretend to be. it was my almost twin who drew the map of the island on which we lived, and named it kroy. i came up with the castle la'corni, and the four clans, taravi, adnac, surpic, and navi, respectively peopled by draginians (humanoid half dragons), shapeshifters, narlins (dark elves), and elves.
when i eventually attempted to write the story of the knight game, it was using the voice of princess cassidy, and the story came out a dryly humorous account of her adventures leading up to the end of the world.
"The old man himself came into the room again. He walked across the tiles much as Mara did, as if he were forever in a rage. He was perhaps the ugliest man I had ever seen. He looked as if he had been made of wood, as if the carpenter had first unskillfully made him, and then with more practice had done the room and everything in it. He leaned on an ash staff beautifully carved with unpainted birds in flight. A nymph, I thought excitedly. Our host was Adnaci.
His head was as bald as an egg, but he had a scraggly beard of what looked like moss. He had leathery brown skin, and a hulking nose. His eyes were squinted, as if the meager light was too bright for him. His pupils took up most of the room on his eye, and he had no irises, which made his eyes look more like a horse’s that a person’s. The funny thing was that whenever I looked at it, his scraggly moss beard appeared to be longer. At first I assumed that I was imagining it, but when it got to about his waist he pulled out his knife and sawed it off at his shoulders. Very, very weird."
this excerpt really has nothing to do with anything, but gives you a taste of what my writing style was like when i first began. i was heavily influenced by books such as "the secrets of droon," which gave me the idea for a title: "dragons of vork." i tried off and on for about ten years of my life, between ages six and sixteen, to invent a story i felt fitted that phrase, but was unsuccessful. what i did manage to do was record the main scenes that my siblings and i played out over and over again in "the knight game." one of these was the poisoning of queen dmitra.
of course, my character, mara was featured heavily in cassidy's narrative, but not in a particularly favorable light.
"Mara stalked in. If she had been walking on the ground her footsteps would have been heard for miles. She was unusually short for a Taravi, so if she had stood on the ground she probably would only have been Voret’s height. She wore a long narrow purple dress and a sheer scarf over it like a shawl. She had a silver and amber mage ring on her finger, and a blue headband with the usual designs. She had glowing brown eyes, untidy short brick red hair, and a stubborn chin.
'You look well,' she growled at me. Her tone accused me of purposely staying well so that I could bother her. 'So do your friends,' she barked, her tone wishing us all the measles. 'What do you want?' as if she would rather be anywhere else but near us. 'Well?' she was impatient now. We were all dangerous beasts, and aught to apologize for disturbing her, and go somewhere where we couldn’t do any harm. 'Well!' she was a queen, and we dirty, unruly children in her palace.
Another timid page opened the door. 'Excuse me…' The door slammed itself in his face. Voret stared, his amazement speaking his thoughts clearly. How did she do that?
Voret told me some time later that on first seeing Mara he was shocked; he could hardly have guessed that she was more than three or four years older than him, and she was already the most arrogant, hot headed person he had ever met."
at the end of what is a very scattered, unfocused narrative, mara is killed by the character tom, with cassidy as a witness. "Tom’s face bore a terrible look of anger, and also that faint look of regret which was almost more terrible. And suddenly I understood. 'When he was little he used to cry when he broke things,' Jasmine’s words warned me in my mind. He didn’t see Mara as a nothing creature like him because she had served Aarod. He saw her no differently than he had seen Scral. She was a broken tool." though i did not really know where i wanted to go with the plot, aspects of the story bear a haunting resemblance to the terrible nightmare that plagued me for many years. in particular, the character tom was an early version of the demon mephistopheles, who i would eventually describe in full in my first completed novella, "lionhearted."
"the knight game" functioned as a sort of pact between myself and those of my siblings who participated. as a rule we never kept secrets for each other and always tattled to mom immediately about any questionable deed performed by anyone, yet, despite this and despite the overwhelming meanness of "the knight game", to my knowledge no detail of it was ever shared with anyone outside the circle who played. i think this is probably the best indication that despite our petty squabbles over who got to "win" at any particular point in the plot, we all genuinely enjoyed playing too much to jeopardize our right to do so. we only played when mom and our two eldest sisters weren't home; occasionally we did try to initiate the magic of "the knight game" in the backyard while the offending parties were inside, but it wasn't the same. i always worried that some diabolical threat made by one character against another might float through an open window, slip down the canal of a listening ear, and forever put an end to our fun.
we may have felt like peter pan and the lost boys while we hurled word sharper than spears at one another, and writing may have been an invaluable escape for me from the demons that lurked inside my own twisted mind, but like wendy i had to grow up eventually, and all too soon high school put an end to both "the knight game" and "dragons of vork."
the beginning of the end came when my grandma agreed - i don't remember if she made the offer or if my mom suggested that i ask her to do so - to help me edit my writing. i was already an extremely sensitive, self conscious person, and when i was composing a piece would sit rigidly at the computer, typing away with tension crackling in my shoulders, poised at every instant to minimize the document i worked on if i even suspected that some person might be trying to read over my shoulder. allowing somebody else, even someone as well meaning as my grandma, inside my private domain to question my word choices and endlessly rearrange my grammar, and point out every twist and turn of my mind that was completely unintelligible to anyone besides myself, effectively banished the magic from my art. as far as my mom was concerned, this was all for the best. she wanted me to hurry up and finish my long time project, which she believed was the reason i was often lost in a haze and oblivious to the world outside myself, so that i could start high school without any distractions.
i returned to princess cassidy and "dragons of vork" periodically, over the years, but it was never the same. i could not step back into a much worn and loved pair of shoes that i'd regrettably but irrevocably outgrown. like my older sisters' before me i'd crossed over into the world of mascara, gpa's, thousand pound textbooks, and endless debilitating stress over getting into a top tear university.