Family Fantasy

A Calico Prologue

Feb. 20, 2019
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Average Rating: 3.36
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In the grand scheme of things, the Ivelliar household did not like surprises. Party invitations less than three days in advance were ignored, surprise guests were allowed one night of shelter before being shown the door, and all individuals, lord or servant, were expected to adhere to their schedules without fail. So long as things continued ran smoothly, food was plenty, beds were warm and salaries were always on time; the Ivelliar family had a long and proud history of punctuality, known by its Queen to be honorable and by its servants to be generous.

As such, it came as a massive surprise to everyone when the Duchess Lilly Ivelliar slipped into early labor––not least to the Duchess herself. The Duchess had been content to laze about in late pregnancy with her courtly duties put on hold and her every desire close at hand, ideally for another month and a half; she had no events, no paperwork, nothing at all to do except read books in the garden and listen to her handmaids sing.

When her entire abdomen seized on a midsummer morning, Lilly Ivelliar threw down her book with a grimace of annoyance.

“Fetch the doctor!” she demanded of her closest handmaid. “The baby is coming.”

“Now?” the maid asked, gaping in disbelief.

“Yes, now! It’s not a melon in here, girl––go!”

The terrified handmaid sprinted off like a rabbit under hunt, and the Duchess waddled toward the great towering mansion that lay in the heart of Western Velham. Her labor started quickly and powerfully, crashing down in waves until she could barely stand. Her two remaining handmaids took an arm each and lifted her into the house, where the first handmaid had returned with a middle aged, dark-haired doctor by the name of Asaphen.

“Did you imagine it?” he asked, as if labor pains were akin to an insect bite. “It’s almost two months early!”

“I did not!” she hissed through clenched teeth. “Something’s wrong; it wasn’t––it wasn’t this hard with Vance.”

The doctor gaped at her for a few moments. He had only ever attended births where his presence had been unnecessary, and the idea that something might be wrong left him speechless.

“Don’t just stand there!” the Duchess shouted. “Do something!”

“I––I have laudanum!” Asaphen exclaimed, diving into his bag.

“What? That won’t help! Make it stop going wrong!”

Asaphen stared at her in terrified silence.

“Oh, for the love of the Princes, get him out of here! And get me someone who actually knows what they’re doing!”

The first handmaid shuffled the doctor awkwardly out of the hall, assisted by a young kitchen boy who leaned over to whisper, “Wait, the baby’s not coming now, is it?”

The handmaid nodded gravely. The kitchen boy excused himself, doing his utter best not to look like a spy, and ran to a back room to find paper and privacy to write down this valuable information and send it off without being seen.

The doctor’s replacement arrived just as the Duchess made it to her bed. She was a midwife, a massive woman with bronze skin and shoulders broad across as a mountain. She was wrapped in a network of pouches that rustled as she walked, and sheer authority radiating from every movement.

“Stop your struggling,” she commanded.

The Duchess obeyed, gawking in shocked disbelief. The midwife sat on the bed and stretched her hands over the woman’s swollen womb, massaging the skin with a thoughtful frown.

“This your first?” asked the midwife.

“No, it’s—ah!––not my first. Vance wasn’t this––wasn’t this hard.”

The midwife hummed, moving her fingers to the Duchess’ sides.

“Is something wrong?” the patient cried desperately. “It’s too early!”

“No, that ain’t it,” the midwife murmured soothingly. “It’ll be a hard day, for sure, but everything’s lined up right inside you. They’re just a pair of little troublemakers, that’s all.”

For a moment, there was dead silence.

“What do you mean, they?”

The midwife tilted her head quizzically. “You don’t know? You’re having twins, woman.”

“What?” With a snarl, the Lady whipped around to her handmaids. “How did Asaphen not know this?”

The midwife chuckled. “Maybe wait until you get those little ones outside of you to start asking questions.”

“I can’t have twins! I’m an Ivelliar! It’s too dangerous!”

“Don’t tell me, tell those two little tykes kicking their way out of your belly. You, red-hair girl! Draw this one a bath––warm and big, and keep some hot water on the side to keep it that way!”

The red-haired handmaid scurried off to make it so, and the midwife helped the beleaguered Duchess to her feet. “Easy does it, that’s right, take your time.”

“Can’t have twins, too dangerous,” the Duchess muttered over and over.

At that exact moment, Duke Eddin Ivelliar, patriarch of the Ivelliar family, lord of all western Velham and most decorated infantry commander on the island, burst gracefully through the doors of the bedroom. He was tall, lean and yellow-haired, immaculately dressed in fine red velvet, and was the very picture of well-bred terror.

“My love!” he proclaimed. “What is wrong? Is the baby coming already?”

“You!” she roared at him. “You did this to me, you bastard!”

He halted. “What did I do?”

“Out of my way!” She stomped past him. “I’m taking a bath, and I’m doing it now!”

The midwife got between them and shot an apologetic look at Eddin. “Perhaps leave her be, it’ll be best for everyone. There's not much you can do to help her.”

Although he didn’t at all like being excluded, Duke Eddin had even less of an appetite for being flayed. He let his wife do as she pleased.

Within an hour, the news had already swept through the house and beyond. All throughout the Velham West, good citizens shifted about in their work without knowing the reason why; the lowest beggar and highest noble each felt a sudden unnamed anticipation, until the news reached them and gave it form: the Duchess Ivelliar has gone into labor, and she’s having twins!

In the next moment, whispers replied, Twins? With beastblood? Bad luck, that is.

And in a high wing of the Ivelliar manor, little Vance Ivelliar listened to the great roars drifting from the bathroom and looked up to his nanny in worry.

“Was I born like that?”

“Don’t you worry yourself, little master,” his nanny replied with a reassuring pat. “Your mother’s a tough woman. She’ll be fine. Her next ones are just excited to meet us all.”

Just outside the Ivelliar estate, clustered behind a stable, two not-at-all-suspicious-looking men frowned at the letter they had been given by the Ivelliar kitchen boy.

“Twins?” asked the man with yellow hair and a scar over his cheek. “They’re not keeping them both, are they?”

“Aye, can’t imagine the Duchess letting one go just like that. Soft as a lapdog, she is.”

“Hmm. Well, at least we know they’ll have their hands full for awhile. Beastblood twins. Bad luck, those are.”


The twins were born two days before midsummer’s eve. They slid into the red water, one after the other, and Duchess Lilly Ivelliar immediately reared up and threw back her head in a fearsome snarl. Teeth lengthened, bones groaned, muscle and sinew began to twist and swell with magic––her first order of business before all else was to stop being a woman and turn into a massive bear. She was grand and sleek, with with snow-white fur stained red by the bits of her womb floating in the water. Not one moment after her transformation, the bathtub shattered under the weight and spilled all across the room.

The attending servants let out shrieks of dismay and ran for their mops, but stopped in their tracks at the white bear’s offended roar.

When all was still and quiet, the bear bent down to lick the two infants squirming between her paws. One of them found their voice and began to cry, and the other realized it also had lungs and followed suit. Without hesitation, the bear scooped them to her belly to nurse.

“Ach, bad luck, don’t start them on bear’s milk,” the midwife grumbled. “They’ll grow up wild.”

The bear paid no heed, wrapping around her children like a blanket while the servants tiptoed around in a vain attempt to clean up. The babies grew contentedly silent.

The entire mansion breathed a sigh of relief, and assumed the trouble was now over.

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Interesting idea!
beco99 rated this work:

June 19, 2019, 7:43 a.m.

Nice prologue! I enjoyed this piece. You set the scene nicely at the beginning and I start to get the impression of a noble house with masters who are perhaps more than they appear. I would say the the There's some nice humour in there too with the Doctor who doesn't know what he's doing. Might be an idea to have some more info on him as to why he's the attendant for the Lady of the house. Seems strange they wouldn't have the finest dr in all the lands.

For me the change into the bear was an interesting twist but I think you could have led into it better, you use language like snarls and roars earlier in the piece which is a nice connection to the animal world, but the change for me was too sudden and seemingly over very quickly as well. I think you could include more in this part to try and create a better picture. Definitely an interesting premise though, and I'm curious to see where you go with it.

There were a few issues with sentence structure, diction, and concision that I noticed -

'So long as things continued ran smoothly' - this sentence makes no sense to me at all. I'm not sure if you mean that 'As long as things continued in this way, they ran smoothly', or 'So, as time went by, things ran smoothly' I think this sentence needs clarifying.

'shoulders broad across as a mountain.' - This would be better as 'shoulders as broad as a mountain' - you can omit 'across' as that's implied by the word 'broad'. 'as..' is a good way to use a comparison, but without the initial 'as' it means 'in the same way as' and because she's not doing anything, we can't use it here. Another option would be to just use 'like' - 'She was like a mountain. She had broad shoulders and towered over everyone'

'The red-haired handmaid scurried off to make it so' - I think you can omit the 'make it so' here for better concision. It's clear that's what she is going to do.

'until the news reached them and gave it form' - change 'it' for 'itself' - you need a reflexive pronoun here.

'Not one moment after her transformation, the bathtub shattered under the weight and spilled all across the room.' - there are a couple of issues in this sentence. First, the 'not' at the beginning. To me it reads like the bathtub shattering and spilling didn't happen. Perhaps better is 'the moment she transformed, the bathtub shattered...' The second issue is spilled what? Probably you should add something like '...spilled its contents across the room'

Anyway, after all that, it was a great start and I hope you continue with it!

Diction Grammar Sentence Structure Concision

Comment Rating: 5.0

Royal confusion
metafrick rated this work:

Feb. 22, 2019, 5:30 a.m.

The story starts out with a strong start! The Ivelliar family is presented very specifically, but I feel like you do a bit too much telling as opposed to showing. The showing part is good when you say things like they ignore party invites, etc, but the line "the Ivelliar family had a long and proud history of punctuality, known by its Queen to be honorable and by its servants to be generous" does too much telling without backing up with any proof. However, the family still has a lot of character as seen throughout the piece!

In terms of dialogue, the characters are very well fleshed out! Each has their own specific voice, particularly the no-nonsense midwife.

The line "two not-at-all-suspicious-looking men" brings me out of the story. Its humor doesn't fit with the rest of the piece, so the line reads as out of place to me.

I'm a bit confused with the ending- is the Duchess a literal bear? I don't really understand this, considering there are no references to this until the very end of the piece. If it is supposed to be literal, then I would consider including clues throughout the piece. You refer to "bear-Lily" at the end- does this mean she turns into a bear sometimes? Why is she only referred to as this once?

Originality Dialogue

Comment Rating: 4.33

An Examination of Surprises
Flounce rated this work:

Feb. 22, 2019, 4 p.m.

A Calico Prologue is a tale of the many surprises which upset the Ivelliar family’s strict punctuality. In this short piece, the author masters several craft elements which adds to the success of the story. With the use of dialogue, description and well developed characters, the author guides the reader through Lily’s child birth journey.

The first sentence hooks the reader as well as foreshadows the number of surprises the family experiences throughout the story – the early labor pains, the news of twins. “I can’t have twins! I’m an Ivelliar! It’s too dangerous!” Mrs. Ivelliar said. Her statement alerts the reader of impending danger. Words like “snarl” used as one of Mrs. Ivellia’s dialogue tag early in the story and the description of the noise coming from the birthing area as “roars,” implies a change from human to animal. However, it isn’t quite clear when the change started.

In revisions, the author may want to consider making Mrs. Ivelliar’s change a bit clearer.

It was a pleasure reading this piece.

Plot Pacing

Comment Rating: 4.0

Azn_Slytherin rated this work:

Feb. 23, 2019, 5:01 a.m.

I really enjoyed reading your short story. You have a powerful entrance, and that really helps move the story along nicely!

Your poise throughout this narrative is very descriptive, and I could picture every moment! The characters each have their own personality and role in the story. However, I do have one comment about the setting! While I could picture every scene, I would just add a few more details to why the Ivelliar family is so prevalent to the story (ex. who are they? what does it mean to be an Ivelliar? Are they bad?)

Towards the ending, you wrapped it up very nicely! However, I was a little confused as to why the Duchess became a bear. I would just add a sentence or two about it! Other than that, fantastic read! Keep it coming!


Comment Rating: 4.0

Excellent Use of Voice - Eccentric and Interesting Read
haeun_logos rated this work:

March 1, 2019, 10:27 p.m.

I'm assuming that this piece feels a bit incomplete because it's written as a prologue to a larger body of work - hence, I'm not going to judge it as a short story, but as a piece accompanying something in the future.

You have an outstanding voice and your use of language, imagery, and metaphors are used well. For example, "The entire mansion breathed a sigh of relief..." I thought the personification of the house was quite nice. Perhaps it's because the Duchess is partially a white bear, but it reminds me a lot of His Dark Materials in a very good way - the pacing and the diction lend well to your plot and setting. It very much paints images in my mind, which is what I often look for when I read fiction.

The slight humor and evident touch of your personality really gives this piece a nice sheen than most fantasy and sci-fi, and for that I am glad.

Conflict is a little lacking, but again - it's because I'm assuming that this is a prologue to a larger body of work. You did a fantastic job with rising action and resolving it well.

One thing I would be wary of (especially in fantasy/sci-fi) is to keep clear what exactly you want to communicate through your characters (and I'm guessing through the twins later on). What makes the reader drawn toward them? What struggles (not kitschy or sentimental struggles) will they face that we will resonate with as well?

Well done! Very well done :) Can't wait to read the rest.

Plot Setting Pacing Voice Show Don't Tell Dialogue Diction

Comment Rating: 4.0

Too short for readers to identify with your characters
authortessagray rated this work:

June 17, 2019, 2:26 p.m.

I had difficulty getting grounded with the characters. The handmaid would be fairly important, and it would have been nice to know her name and have one of your scenes be from her point of view. She could tell us what it was like to wait on the Duchess. If the handmaid had a name, I don't recall what it was.

When speaking to her husband, the Duchess replied, "You did this to me!" That sounds more like rape than the two of them conceiving a child (in this case, twin children) together. Maybe she could have said something to the effect, "I was a fool to let you talk me into this," or something less harsh. The rule of thumb is that the protagonist is generally likiable, and I had difficulty caring for the Duchess. Even though she's led a life of privilege, your job is to make readers sympathise with her--at least--a little. The ending felt abrupt and didn't really tie up all the lose ends.

Comment Rating: 3.0

Unexpected u-turn of a story!
Favarato rated this work:

June 21, 2019, 7:20 p.m.

The tense mood and tension set by the birth of the babies, twins in this case, will be quite identifiable to most readers. The setup and reactions made by the characters seem quite realistic mixed with a bit of fun at the same time. All the expected storyline comes to an abrupt ending once the children are born. Why it went in this direction I am not sure. There should have been some background or a hint of background to explain it.

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Enjoyable beginning
gamila.walrus rated this work:

March 21, 2020, 8:53 a.m.

I really enjoyed reading this story! You started the action in a good and interesting place. Sometimes I felt like the dialogue was a bit abrupt. Example: “You!” she roared at him. “You did this to me, you bastard!”
The duchess' emotions are all over the place which is understandable but I felt a little jerked around as a reader. I think small bits of description showing the Duchesses feelings could really strengthen this piece. There are several different ways you could emphasize her anger comes from fear and pain instead of making the Duchess seem like she's throwing a tantrum. You can add small concrete details that make us empathize with her instead of disliking her for shouting abruptly at everyone. You can describe her in pain in multiple ways or have her cradling her belly in a way that makes it clear she's worried about the children. It's okay that she's angry and impatient with everyone it's just helpful to write it in a way that allows the reader to empathize with those emotions better.

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