Because…uhh…I don’t feel like it.
(My computer (or internet?) is behaving too miserably at the moment to hash out a legitimate post, and I’ll likely not get another chance this weekend. Have a good week, all!)
Naming characters is an important, sometimes fun, sometimes tricky part of the fiction-writing process, and is something I alternately love and dread. A name is a symbol that represents someone, both offering identity to those it is attached to, and in turn adopting it from them.
I find that there are generally three ways (or a mix thereof) to come up with and decide upon those monikers:
However you end up choosing your names, there is one thing I always recommend.
The less you’ve decided about a character, the easier it is to settle on a name. At least that’s always been the case for me. Sometimes, the name will even help slightly with further direction!
The more important a character is, the more true this becomes. If you have a strong image of the character in mind by the time you start thinking seriously about what to call them, picking a name that feels right can be a daunting task. It means you have all the more context and nuance to map to that all-important referential symbol. It’ll seem like you have to find a name that already represents all facets of the character, rather than letting the name come to do so naturally as the character develops.
But what about you? Do you agonize over the subtleties of your characters’ names? How do you like to go about choosing them?
This week, I’m sharing out the current drafts of the prologue and first chapter of The Book with a little bit of commentary. Click here if you’d like to to start from the beginning!
O.K., last one for now! In the final scene of the first chapter, we switch back to Lennais for a closer look at his place in the world. The concept of the caledoran (animal-people) is introduced, we get the first glimpse of the princess, Elysa (a later focal character), and we meet the pompous Sir Gammond. An older version of this scene was how I had originally handled Lennais’s introduction, but the prior sequence ended up feeling like a much better starting point.
“I’d heard it was dragons as did it,” Sir Dennen Farr was saying, a younger knight of the First Order, clean shaven with a shock of sand colored curls. “Can’t say I fought one of them just quite yet, but I’d wager a taste of steel would send ‘em running back to that queen o’ theirs.”
“I wouldn’t be so certain of that,” countered Sir Norris Blackwood, chewing on a leg of roast turkey. “They spit fire and lightning and any other manner of nastiness if tales be true; why would they fear a sword?” He was an older knight, with a short beard and peppered black hair, his right cheek bearing a scar from the slash that took most of his ear.
“Not the sword, Norris, but the man who wields it.” Sir Dennen made a flourish with his knife. “Lastern’s finest. Isn’t that right, Commander?”
Lennais looked up from his stew, the last of which he was mopping up with a chunk of soft golden bread. “No greater knights could His Majesty find.” He took a bite of the bread, watching the men beam from the endorsement. “And a great knight should remember to demonstrate the virtue of humility as an example for our brothers-in-arms.” Dennen shrugged affably, but bowed his head in acknowledgement. “No one can tell us exactly what is happening outside our walls at the moment,” Lennais continued, “but we shall find the truth soon enough, and if swords are needed, I shall be the first to raise mine. Until then, let us not play part in the spreading of this troubling gossip.” The others nodded their understanding as he rose, gathering his empty cup into his bowl.
The knight commander made his way through the crowded dining hall toward the adjoining kitchen. As he passed the high table, he spotted the king’s eldest living child, Elysa, sitting alone. She was a girl of sixteen, draped in a laced white gown, long dark auburn hair tied back and calm hazel eyes pondering a colorful arrangement of fruit before her.
“Sir Lennais,” she said softly as he passed.
He faced her and rendered a bow. “Good evening, Your Highness. Not dining with your father, today?”
The princess picked up a thin slice of green melon. “I had not much of an appetite, earlier. Though I suppose it has not improved as much as I would have liked. In truth, I may have simply wished for an excuse to be amidst the others who share the castle without the distraction of familial obligations.” She set the melon back down, then turned her eyes to the knight. “I hear from my uncle that you have settled the matter of the counterfeits?”
“For the anes, at least.”
“Was the coin of Avenic origin?”
“I fear thus. Nevertheless, the supplier has been named, and can expect to be turned away at the harbor.”
Elysa nodded slowly, looking back to her melon slice as she turned it over in her hand again. “I am often convinced we should be better off to readopt the Indolic Standard.”
“May that it would be, though I am certain it is no matter with which you need worry yourself so.”
“There I must disagree with you, Commander. So many concerns have few enough who bother to consider them.” She offered a small smile, a succinct and cordial expression crafted perfectly by her upbringing to mask the distance in her eyes. “Good evening, Lennais.”
“Your Highness.” He bowed and continued onward, stepping into the kitchen, then set his dishes amidst the piles of others waiting to be cleaned.
“Did you enjoy your supper, Commander?” a cheerful voice rang beside him.
“Delightful, as always, Liria,” Lennais regarded the young lessiporan warmly as she ladled stew into another row of bowls for the castle’s hungry staff and attendants. Lessip oran translated to something in the manner of ‘rabbit folk’ from the old fay tongue, which was a simple if not fittingly concise way to describe the race. Liria’s size and body were of roughly human proportion, but her features were otherwise leporine. Like other varieties of caledoran, she had the head and tail of the animal, as well as the feet, although they lacked the pads and digitigrade structure of the more commonly seen carnivorous mammals. Her hands still seemed half-paw, but that did not appear to inhibit her aptitude in the kitchen.
“Good, good,” Liria said, rubbing her brow. “That’s what I like to hear.” She was covered in a coat of soft grey-wheat fur, with a light cream encircling her eyes, down her chin and chest, and on her underarms and toes. Her long ears, while naturally upright, were pulled down and back while she worked, as a woman might hold her hair. Despite the fur, she wore a loose-fitting tunic and breeches over her ungracefully thin frame, slotted to hold a variety of cooking utensils.
“There was something new about the stew, I think. A different seasoning, perhaps?” Lennais asked, gesturing toward the pot she held.
“You noticed?” she grinned, setting the pot down and picking up a basket of fresh-baked rolls, placing one by each bowl. “Our stocks are out of the black pepper I use as custom, so I tried a bit of turmeric in its place. A suitable change, then?”
“Certainly. It seemed to bring out a livelier flavor.” Lennais was not entirely sure what turmeric was, but he did like what it did to the dish; Liria’s experimentation produced highly palatable results more often than not. “Serve it that way from now and hence, and I should not count it a shame.”
The lessiporan bowed courteously. “I am happy to please you, sir.” She turned away and set to chopping a pile of long purple carrots for another batch. “I haven’t seen Father this evening. I hope you will see that he comes for his supper? You know how cross he can be when he hasn’t eaten.” She twitched her nose playfully at him.
“I hardly think that will be necessary,” scoffed Sir Gammond Hornswell, stepping up to the serving counter. The captain’s son was a few years junior to Lennais, and had the same lean build. Locks as dark as pitch fell from his scalp in loose curls, framing a handsome face which was rarely seen without either a self-satisfied smirk or a sneer of distaste.
It was the latter he wore today. “Commander,” he greeted flatly, eyes flickering toward Lennais before disdainfully surveying his meal options. In skill, no one could deny that he was Galfrey’s son; his swordsmanship had earned him a place in the First Order, though it was clear enough he believed himself entitled to something more.
“Hello, Gammond,” Liria smiled nervously. “I—I hope—”
“Sir Gammond,” the knight corrected, folding his arms. “You will address me properly, Liria. Your animal mind is not too simple to understand your place, is it?”
She bowed her head respectfully. “No, sir.”
“Then see that you heed it.” He called up his smirk. “And don’t let me catch you spouting any more of this ‘Father’ talk.”
Lennais offered the other knight a cold look, but said nothing. It was not his place to involve himself in a family affair, which was, oddly enough, exactly what this was. Ten years prior, Sir Galfrey had caught Liria stealing from the food supply stores, and chose to put the eight-year-old orphan in the kitchens to work off her debt. There, she soon displayed a culinary creativity which caught the interest of the other staff, and eventually rose from scullion to head cook when King Malcolm had learned she was behind several of his new favorite dishes.
Galfrey, who had lost his wife during the stillbirth of his own daughter, had grown fond of the girl, and despite murmurings of protest, gave her the honor of naming her part of the Hornswell household. It was a small token of conciliation to those who felt it an affront to work under a caledoran orphan, but enough that it would be untoward for most to speak against her standing.
Gammond picked up a bowl of stew and sniffed at it, wrinkling his nose. “I had best not find any rabbit hair in this. I should hate for you to tarnish our food as you do the Hornswell name.” He turned to depart, and Lennais met Liria’s eyes with something between apology and sympathy before following.
“The whole damned court is up in arms over this Densbury business,” Gammond complained to him as they made their way back through the dining hall, glancing around the room.
“It represents a threat to Lasterene ground and Lasterene people,” Lennais reminded him. “Do you believe it is not a matter to be taken seriously?”
“As seriously as it needs to be. I see no cause for getting spooked over it.” He shook his head. “What force in all of Candaela Minor can stand against the organized might of Lastern? Whoever sacked the colony will soon enough be rooted out and crushed.”
“An optimistic view of the long term,” Lennais admitted, “but for the time being, those who have not the fortune to live within stone walls may yet have something to fear.”
“A distraction which can only dilute our efforts to resolve the matter quickly,” Gammond snorted, taking a seat at the First Order’s table. “The serfs must learn to have confidence in His Majesty’s knights. We ought to send out a peacekeeping force to calm the streets now before rumors get any more out of hand.”
“Mayhap we shall.” Lennais put a hand on Gammond’s shoulder. “And I believe I know the perfect man to lead it.”
Gammond looked questioningly up at his commander, his face darkening as realization set in. Lennais offered a small smile and a curt nod, then turned to exit the hall. Gammond protested, “Surely you can’t—any knight of the court would—”
“—do well enough, I imagine,” Lennais finished. “Although the captain would wish that such a delicate matter employ the expertise of a knight of the highest caliber, would you not agree?” He looked back over his shoulder, no trace of mirth remaining in his features. “I should hate to tarnish the Hornswell name by offering any less.”
This week, I’m sharing out the current drafts of the prologue and first chapter of The Book with a little bit of commentary. Click here if you’d like to to start from the beginning!
In the third scene, we go back to Xenasi and try to get more of a feel for her as she stumbles deeper into events at large.
As Xenasi patrolled the woods around her grove, she could not quite shake the uncanny sensation that she was being followed.
Stopping for the third time in as many hours, she stilled herself and listened, eyes panning around for anything unusual, but catching little aside from the small birds in the web of boughs high above. She slipped a canine over her lower jaw and blew, then continued onward, convincing herself again that she was simply imagining things.
She had discovered some of the human tracks which had gotten her sister so worked up, but they seemed confused and aimless. Hardly worth the fuss. She had not seen Kaliska herself in the few days since their argument, but this was nothing unusual; they had not lived together since their father’s death, and often went a moon or two without meeting up. Xenasi was used to being alone; she had always been something of an outsider and had come to terms with what that entailed. She could take care of herself, and was better off for it.
After another few minutes of walking, she caught the faint smell of deer ahead, and her stomach offered a pointed reminder that it had been neglected long enough. She idled a moment, reluctantly forcing her mind to switch gears, then followed the scent until a gentle rustling cued her in to her prey’s position.
Keeping downwind, the dragon lowered herself and crept closer, stalking silently over a carpet of twigs and leaves until she spotted the small tawny doe grazing on a lush patch of long grass, still oblivious to the fate which awaited her. Xenasi folded her wings in tighter and shifted slowly toward the animal, positioning herself behind the thick rotted trunk of a fallen birch.
Slowing her breath to a calm and steady rhythm, Xenasi stretched carefully out, acutely aware of the tension in each muscle and tendon, an electric charge running through every joint in her limber frame. She flexed her claws and her eyes focused, taking in every detail about the animal and its immediate surroundings, watching for the slightest movement. For a moment, nothing else existed.
The doe looked up, then bolted. She was fast, but Xenasi was faster. The dragon leapt into her prey’s path, colliding with the doe and taking her down in a whirling tumble which ended with her jaws around the back of the animal’s neck and her claws deep within its flanks. With a sharp twist of her head, she heard a wet snap and felt the doe give a violent shudder and kick which devolved into a spurt of jitters before stopping entirely.
Xenasi took her time with the kill. She carefully peeled back the skin on its sides, cooking the choicest sections with short controlled bursts of dragonfire, and filled her stomach with as much as it could take before folding the remains up neatly, having eaten evenly from both sides to preserve its symmetry. Satisfied with the pleasant but painful weight in her gut, she sat and cleaned herself thoroughly, her saliva making short work of the blood on her arms, snout, and anywhere else it had splattered.
Grogginess began to set in, and she was tempted to nap after gorging, but before she could commit to the notion a faint wheezing from deeper within the woods caught her attention. The sound was accompanied by what she only now noticed to be the hint of a peculiar odor. She listened intently, and the noise came once more. Leaving the doe’s carcass behind for whatever lucky scavenger would chance across it next, she cautiously slinked amidst the trees to investigate, keeping low and alert as she twisted around their trunks.
In another moment, she came upon the body of a human, leaning motionless against a gnarled birch, covered in a torn, drab garment caked in dirt and blood. Xenasi watched for a few moments before approaching the body. So far as she could tell it seemed female, older with long matted tresses of a faded earthy hue. So there are still men here… It could not mean anything good. What happened to this one?
As the dragon leaned in for a sniff, the woman’s eyes snapped open and her body shook with a ragged gasp. Xenasi recoiled instinctively, lifting a clawed hand.
“Demon…!” the woman rasped, her eyes wide and quaking with revulsion.
Xenasi bristled. “I’m not a demon…” she responded quietly, with a bit more indignation than she intended. She narrowed her eyes but lowered her claw. This creature was no threat.
The woman tried futilely to push herself away with one arm, struggling to raise the other to point an accusing finger at the dragon. “You took…killed…” She shook her head feebly, gnashing her gums together as she struggled to bring forth the words. “My hus…the f—the whole…whole village… We were…good people. We—we said our prayers… Why?” The tears welling up in the corner of her eyes began trickling down her cheeks. “Why?” she sobbed, letting her finger drop as she turned her gaze toward the sky.
The dragon averted her eyes for a moment, feeling oddly stricken by force of the allegation. “I didn’t—what was—what happened?” She looked around. “Is there anyone else?”
“You defiled them!” the woman cried, spattering loose strands of spittle down her chin, her breath growing heavy and increasingly labored. “The White…the White will see retribution done.” Her frail hands coiled into trembling fists and her eyes fluttered shut. “They will tear…the black heart…from your breast…” That notion brought a crooked smile to her face, and it was thus her countenance remained when her chest collapsed and she ceased to move.
Xenasi stared for another moment, feeling her full stomach knot and turn sickly. Her thoughts drifted toward the village a couple days’ travel to the east as the implications of the woman’s words gnawed at the edge of her mind. It couldn’t…she wouldn’t… She tried ardently to shake away the darker suspicions that began to crave recognition, and she found herself clutching at the pendant around her neck.
Another sound from the north pulled her focus away. This one was fainter by distance, yet had more weight behind it. It was not the weakening struggles of one, but the purposeful motions of many. She strained to make it out. Is it getting closer?
Xenasi began a careful stride toward it, wanting to get a glimpse at what she was hearing without being seen herself. The sound was getting louder. Footsteps. Travelling. Xenasi made her way on what she hoped to be a course parallel to the approach, so as not to intercept it directly. She listened again to confirm her path, then took another step, and felt her arm go through the ground.
A sudden burst of pain exploded below her elbow, and she had to clench her throat shut to avoid crying out. Her vision swam in a blurry haze as she looked down, seeing leaves, dirt, and twigs piled around and caved in below her arm. She quickly but carefully scooped them away to reveal the jagged metal clamps which had seized her. Holding her breath, she tried to free her arm and the contraption from the hole they were in, but it did not budge, and moving her trapped arm hurt so badly that a rush of dizziness threatened to rip away her consciousness.
She tried to pry the trap open from where it was, but could not get enough leverage with only one arm, and the hole was too narrow to get her teeth down in to assist. She tried to dig it larger with her free claws, but the ground was still cold and stiffly packed, and what little progress she was able to make was counteracted by the tension it caused on the trap itself.
She stopped struggling for a moment and took several long, ragged breaths, noting that the passage of footsteps was nearer still. The cold of the ground was beginning to numb her arm, creating an unpleasant contrast with the warm trickles of blood slipping down it and pooling at the bottom of the hole. She lay down gingerly, trying not to strain her arm, and felt her mind go fuzzy. Her foremost thought was suddenly that she wanted Kaliska very badly, and would even welcome the stern reproach she was sure to get for being so careless. But such futile wishing would not do; she could not rely on another to solve her problems.
Panting, she closed her eyes and tried desperately to focus. I can get myself out of this… Panic and pain were demanding her attention, but she needed to think clearly to get herself free.
Yet as she forced herself to relax, conscious thought began to lose coherence, and indifferent to any efforts she put forth toward escaping her predicament, her mind drifted off to the sound of footsteps.
This week, I’m sharing out the current drafts of the prologue and first chapter of The Book with a little bit of commentary. Click here if you’d like to to start from the beginning!
In the second scene of the first chapter, we return to Lastern and offer up the perspective of Lennais (len-EYE-iss), another focal character. I had tried a few different (more direct) ways of introducing him before coming upon this one. As it currently stands, out of all the opening matter, this is the scene with which I am most satisfied.
“Father should be out, shortly,” piped the coal-haired boy as he re-entered the forechamber.
Lennais acknowledged the comment with a distracted nod, surveying the room around him. The midday sun lanced through a few well-positioned windows and sent streaks of light along a floor of hewn stone, beaming off the ornate pot of an exotic plant amidst the otherwise modest furnishings. Like his two companions who stood stiffly to either side behind him, he was wrapped in a long hooded cloak of brown wool, its cowl covering his nose and mouth. A pair of mercenary soldiers who stood outside the door through which they had come remained at their post.
The only other among them, a well-dressed woman who looked to be the boy’s mother, placed a hand upon the child’s shoulder. “I just had a fresh batch of biscuits baked if you would like some while you wait,” she offered pleasantly. “Or perhaps some spiced wine?”
“My thanks,” Lennais responded, “but we do well enough.” She smiled politely and inclined her head.
Another minute passed before the banker came forth to meet his guests, holding a hand over his mouth in a vain attempt to stifle the rough burps which escaped his lips. “Ah, welcome,” he greeted after a forced swallow. “My apologies; I was not expecting you for another few hours. But, no matter – it is good to meet you, yes.” He clasped his hands together as his features were graced by a grin that oozed the murk of insincerity.
“Where shall we speak?” asked Lennais.
“Right this way, my friend,” the banker gestured.
Lennais followed him into a smaller back room which was lit by slotted windows in the ceiling. His two companions came close in tow, keeping behind him when he stopped before the desk at which the banker seated himself.
The banker was a tall but portly fellow, clad in an ostentatious array of brightly colored silks and linens, sporting a short cap of black curls which trailed down the sides of his square face to meet the neatly braided beard which dangled from his chin. He laced his fingers together and leaned forward across his desk, raising his brow as he inspected his potential clients. “Now, then – what sort of transaction are you looking to make?”
Lennais stepped forward, producing a golden auring from a pouch within his garment. “I have some lucrative business with a few Avenic merchants.” He turned the gold piece over in his hand and made a show of scrutinizing it. “But they don’t care much for Lasterene coin.” He set it upon the banker’s desk. “I was told you are the man to facilitate me.”
The banker smiled again and picked up the coin. “Ah, you need Indolic Standards.” He opened a drawer in his desk and withdrew a larger coin, offering it over. “You were told right, my friend.”
Lennais took the piece for examination. The coinage left over from the fall of the Candaens was plentiful, and still used as international currency. Unlike the Lasterene aurings, which bore a crown on one side and a scepter the other, the Indolic Standard Gold Piece was only single-struck, displaying a simple sun with nine thin rays drawing out toward the edge. The specimen Lennais held was light in his palm, and in good repair.
“You could travel the world the rest of your life and not find a better deal than what I can give, my friend,” the banker continued. “Three standards to four aurings.” He must have seen Lennais’s eyes widen, for then he chuckled, “I have a lucrative arrangement of my own.”
“A respectable offer,” Lennais agreed, tossing the coin up and catching it. “Shall we make an exchange?”
The banker pushed himself to his feet and stepped over to one corner of the room, retrieving a small chest which he hefted upon his desk, then pulled a key from one of his various pockets to open. “How many are you looking to acquire?”
“More than that.” When the banker gave him a suspicious look, Lennais nodded to his companions, who quit the premises to return momentarily hauling a larger chest between them. Lennais unlatched the lid and threw it back, revealing the soft gleam of the aurings piled within.
For a moment the banker stared, then nodded as his smile slowly returned. He made his way over to the heavy door behind him, produced another key to unlock it, and pulled it open. He entered the vault and grunted as he pushed out a sizeable trunk, then removed the cover and waved a hand proudly over its contents.
The gold inside had even more splendor than Lennais’s own. “These appear to be in exceedingly good condition for being more than three-thousand-year-old coin,” he observed.
The banker shrugged amicably. “Gavendail still mints them, you must know. I have a fresh source, and men like yourself get to take advantage of this generous bargain. Everyone profits.”
Lennais reached into his cloak and withdrew a dagger.
The banker started, taking a step back and holding his hands up before him. “Come, now… They may not be Candaenic, but they are still good coin. Gold is gold, my friend.”
“Gold is gold,” Lennais conceded, giving the coin another thoughtful turnover. He then drove the tip of his dagger into it; rather than denting, it scraped, revealing the black underneath. “But this is gilt iron.”
With a mournful sigh, the banker put down his hands and regarded the counterfeits, lowering his voice. “Your merchants need not know that before they accept payment. An attractive offer, a weighted casket… They are busy men.” That slimy grin made another appearance. “I am prepared to give you one for one, auring for standard. You will get twice what you pay for, I promise you. Everyone profits.”
“I fear your time for profiting on forgery is at an end,” Lennais remarked. “This operation cannot be allowed to continue.”
The banker pursed his lips. “Think carefully before doing anything foolish. I have guards waiting outside.”
“So do we.” Lennais gestured at his companions, who removed their cloaks to reveal suits of chainmail underneath, over which lay light sleeveless surcoats emblazoned with the crown-and-sword sigil of the First Order. “And they do not fight for false coin.”
Sir Lennais Sorell, Vice Commander of the First Order of the Crown, removed his own cowl and drew his sword. A tall and lean man, two years from thirty, he possessed the copper-tan skin of the north, a sharp nose, and deep brown eyes which matched the neck-length shag of locks above.
The knight fixed the grimacing banker with a steely stare and leveled his sword. “In the name of His Royal Majesty King Malcolm IV, you are hereby commanded to submit yourself into the custody of the Court for the crime of circulating tender counterfeit to a currency recognized by the Crown, in full knowledge of the same.”
The banker’s face grew pale and his tongue stumbled, but he had few enough words to mitigate the accusation. He fumed silently but thankfully offered no resistance as Sir Ken Pollinder stepped forward to take him by the arm.
“Sir Baltan,” Lennais continued, slipping his sword back into its scabbard, “see to the confiscation of all monetary assets on the premises.” They would need to sort through everything the banker had, weeding out the counterfeit and using the legitimate to compensate those who were given false coin.
“All of—” the banker shook his head fervently as Ken escorted him from the room, looking back to the commander in despair. “You cannot, sir! Owl take you, these are—this is everything I have! My household earnings, my—my entire fortune!” He may have protested further, but the knight who held him turned him roughly about and continued marching him out of the building.
Lennais gave a nod to Baltan Clay, who set about to gathering the variety of chests and coffers together for transport, and stepped back into the forechamber. The banker’s son was huddled close against his mother, watching fearfully as his father was taken away from him. The wife regarded Lennais with a look of disgust, pulling her arms protectively around her child.
When Baltan came out behind, hoisting the first of the smaller chests over his shoulder, Lennais leaned over and said quietly, “We’ll not be likely to miss a small pouch of aurings, I should think.” The other knight offered back a quizzical look, but when he followed the commander’s eyes to the other two, he gave a hesitant nod before proceeding out the door. It is unlikely that the whole of the banker’s capital was gained illicitly, Lennais told himself, and more so that his family played party to his unsavory business.
He stepped toward the woman and child. “I know this is not an easy thing to bear, but if your husband should prove cooperative, he will be shown leniency,” he offered as a token of condolence. In response, the wife wrinkled her nose and spat at his feet. Lennais inclined his head. “May the Emerald Scholar guide you to prudence in your hardship,” he spoke with earnest before exiting the banker’s hold.
Lennais returned to the coach his party had taken as Ken was chaining the banker within it. He tasked a few of the city guards who had accompanied them with helping Sir Baltan load up the other carriage while he took inventory of the collected coinage.
It had taken over two moons’ time to track down the origin of the counterfeits’ circulation, involving three similarly set up exchanges, none of which accomplished much other than to give the Crown a healthier stock of foreign currency. It was difficult to determine how many times the forged pieces had changed hands by the time they were reported, let alone who along the line had been complicit in the scheme. Lennais supposed that those used to handling Lasterene coin might not immediately realize how much heavier an Indolic Standard should have been, or perhaps the initial outflow was typically done in large quantities as the banker suggested, but it seemed likely that the man they had just arrested was not the only guilty party.
With the distribution point removed, things could at least begin to normalize. From where the independent banker was receiving these coins, however, was another matter entirely. He could be persuaded to give up his source for some measure of clemency, Lennais did not doubt, but it was as likely as not that they came from across the sea, in which case all that could be done would be to keep an eye out for other potential distributors, should they be approached to pick up the arrangement.
He said as much to the Minister of the Treasury when he returned to court later that day.
“Mm,” the minister shook his head and waved his hand. “Little we can do but to stay vigilant,” he concurred. Hector Callistan was brother to the late queen, a wiry man with a bowl of fading blond atop his head and a close-trimmed beard encircling his mouth. “Belike we shall have Elbon issue a warning to the merchantry, now that our dispenser has been uncovered.” He set his hands upon his hips and looked away, twisting his mouth up as he sighed. “But that will be a matter for later. Excellent work, Commander. You’ve saved the realm a share of grief that might have been, I have no doubt.”
“You honor me, my lord,” Lennais bowed. “Though it was hardly my work, alone.”
“Lennais of Lithmark,” came an amiable voice behind him. “Will you ever learn to take a compliment?”
Lennais turned at the approach of Sir Galfrey Hornswell, Captain of the First Order. Though not quite so tall as Lennais, his commanding presence might have been enough to convince one otherwise were the two not standing adjacent. Straight and hard-bodied with piercing green eyes, his short-cropped hair had gone grey while his thin mustache and small triangular beard remained black as tar. Galfrey the Grand, he was called, Lennais’s greatest teacher and the finest knight he had ever known.
“Well met, sir,” Lennais greeted. “I am glad to see you have returned.”
Galfrey nodded. “As did His Majesty, amidst the night.” His tone took a turn for the somber. “Walk with me, Lennais; I fear we have foul tidings to discuss.”
All right, chapter one – now we can start opening the main threads of the story. This first scene introduces the central protagonist, Xenasi (shen-AW-see), and gives her a little bit of background. After several rewrites and revisions…I don’t hate it. (>^-‘)> It could still use a good bit of tweaking, though.
Xenasi was a hatchling again, crawling amidst burning planks, crushed eggs, and lifeless newborn dragons.
Although the heat of the flames caused her no discomfort, the smoke from the smoldering wood blurred her vision and threatened to suffocate her. She scrabbled along the ashen grass, burying her head and sucking in clear air wherever she could find a cool pocket. She could sense larger beings moving about the area, could hear them mumbling to each other and knocking things over. She tried to crawl faster, to get away, but was too weak to go much further, so when she found a bush yet unreached by the flame she squeezed into it, curling up as tight as she could amongst the leaves and trying not to make a sound.
A sudden crash erupted from where she had come, and she heard a series of angry shouts which after a few moments turned into horrified screams, then nothing but the hiss and crackle of the flames which were creeping up on her. She held her breath and shivered in the scorched air.
After a while it seemed that she might be alone, though still she dared not emerge to check for herself. A drift of smoke found its way to her hiding spot, however, and much as she tried to hold it back, a fit of coughing seized the hatchling and threw her into convulsions. When it stopped, she lowered herself further and strained to listen, but still heard nothing beyond the roar of the flame.
Then a pair of hands were upon her and lifting her out of the bush.
She cried out and twisted around to see the form of her abductor – a cloaked figure, hooded and dark. She squirmed and lashed out, biting onto his arm, but tasted only cloth. The figure did not respond in kind, but rather shifted her weight to the arm on which she latched and stroked her head gently with the other hand, speaking in a calm and soothing tone.
When she let go, he sat down upon the ground and set her before him, and she realized with a deep breath of fresh air that he had taken her away from the fire, debris, and death. He offered her the mouth of a waterskin which she sniffed warily, then took between her jaws as he tilted it back. She clasped the sides of the skin with her foreclaws and drank greedily of the cool, clean water while the cloaked figure produced a cloth and began to wipe away the soot from her glittering vermillion scales.
Her thirst sated, the figure presented her with a few strips of dried brown meat, which she readily devoured. After that, she began to drowse, and he gathered her up in his arms and continued onward.
They traveled together for a moon’s time; to where and for what, Xenasi was unaware. She knew little of the world, but the cloaked figure fed her and kept her safe, so she stayed with him. He spoke to her at times, but words were still a foreign notion to her infant mind. As the forest thinned and became desert, they avoided other forms of life, and the world seemed emptier than it truly was.
Their solitude was eventually broken when they were set upon by another dragon, who landed before them with a show of force. He was eight feet long with coal black scales but for a milky underside, and he growled and spoke to the figure in tones of palpable menace.
The figure was holding Xenasi, stroking her softly while responding calmly to the black dragon’s anger, until with a reassuring word he set her down and backed slowly away with his hands held up in front of him. She looked up at the figure in confusion as he stepped back, then at the larger dragon who bore his teeth in fury.
No, she tried to plead, as she always did. He helped me; he saved me…please…don’t…
But she was just a hatchling, and could not speak.
The black dragon’s jaws parted and a near-blinding bolt of electricity discharged from between his teeth, striking the cloaked figure and sending him sprawling backward off his feet. As the dragon leapt toward his fallen foe, Xenasi turned away and clenched her eyes shut.
When she opened them again, she was no longer a hatchling. The tension in her muscles slowly relaxed as she blinked away the lingering traces of sleep, trying to shake off the enduring sensations of the familiar dream. The sun was washing languidly overhead as she rose to stretch her anxious legs, noticing a distinctly four-sided rock poking up from the earth beside her and tapping it idly with her tail. She sat for a moment and closed her eyes again, taking a deep breath and letting the swell of vertigo come and go before unfolding her wings to absorb the rays of sunlight which leaked through the sparse canopy overhead.
Though the days were growing warmer and swarms of bright leaves could be seen reforming on the birches all around, the spring air still left a coolness in the earth beneath her feet, sending an unexpected shiver along her body as her core temperature struggled to adjust to a waking state. She sat for another moment in silence, until a rustling in the brush entered the periphery of her awareness.
“There you are,” she heard Kaliska’s voice as a faint urging back into the present.
Xenasi opened her eyes and turned her head, offering a small nod in greeting to her sister.
“I thought you might have been looking for something to eat.” Kaliska sat and rubbed the bridge of her snout with the back of an arm, drooping slightly in apparent exhaustion. As their father’s natural daughter, she was also a stormlighter, ebony and ivory scaled with ram-like horns, a pointed muzzle, and lucent amber eyes.
“I’m not that hungry,” Xenasi said, not entirely in truth. She stood in full and straightened herself up. In the lithe and lanky shape of adolescence, she was of a size with a leopard, if not tighter of frame and longer of limb, and built more similarly to the jungle cat than her lesser reptilian cousins. Kaliska was older and larger, if by no great degree then enough to inspire a healthy sense of competitive envy. “Where have you been?”
“Just snooping around,” Kaliska sighed, feigning an air of indifference before turning a look of suspicion on Xenasi. “Did you hear those noises last night?”
Xenasi thought about it, but could not recall anything out of the ordinary. “I must’ve been asleep. What noises?”
“Mm…I’m not sure how to describe it. An hour or two past nightfall there were these…long, trembling howls, coming from somewhere out east. Like…wrraaaaa-waaaa-raaaar-waaargh—!”
A simper crept across Xenasi’s mouth at her sister’s impression, complete with closed eyes and raised head, and she couldn’t quite suppress the snicker that followed.
Kaliska glared. “It’s not f—” Her indignation was cut short by her own sudden laughter, but she stifled it with a sharp breath snorted forcefully. “It’s not funny.” She looked behind herself. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What does is that I ran across human tracks in the area.” She began pacing.
Xenasi slipped a prominent cuspid over her lower jaw and looked away, swishing her tail anxiously. That never led to anything good. “I guess we should keep low for a while.”
Kaliska stepped past Xenasi, eyeing the horizon. “No. We need to find out what these men were up to.”
“They were traipsing into draconic lands. Probably hunting our prey. Stealing our plants. They’ve taken enough from us, haven’t they? They don’t belong here, and we don’t have to tolerate it.”
Xenasi narrowed her eyes. “Who knows how old the tracks are? Just let it be. You know what happened to Father.”
“I know what happened to both of my parents.” Her voice had become bitter.
Intentional or not, the exclusionary nature of the comment made Xenasi wince. “It’s not worth it, Kaliska.” She stared uncertainly at a tall patch of grass. “Besides, they’re not…all like that.”
Kaliska snorted. “You have no idea what your mystery man would have done with you if Father hadn’t rescued you.”
Xenasi felt her blood begin to boil. “No one does,” she snapped back. “Father saw to that.”
“And rightly so.” She glowered at Xenasi. “They took him from us; doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“It means…we shouldn’t make the same mistakes as he did.”
Kaliska’s mouth fell open a little and she blinked in disbelief. “It’s not a mistake to want to keep your land and family safe.” She turned and glared forward, at nothing in particular. “And that’s what we’re going to do. So come on.”
“No,” Xenasi said firmly, stepping in her sister’s path.
Kaliska stared at her for a moment, almost expressionless. “Fine.” She brushed past Xenasi. “I’ll go by myself.”
Xenasi slammed her tail against the ground as her sister walked away, then spun around and marched off in the opposite direction.
She was still fuming when she reached the river not far ahead, and she lowered herself at the bank to drink liberally of the cold water in hopes that it would cool down her mood. When she had her fill, she lifted her head and shook off the loose droplets, then closed her eyes and counted slowly and silently to four.
Four, she had long ago decided, was her favorite number, for it was perhaps the number that made the most sense. The world was made of fours. She was made of fours. She had four limbs, and on each hand four claws (each foot too, if including the heel, which she did). Her head, tail, and wings made a four pointed cross which described her poles. There were four directions, four seasons, four worldly elements. It was a nice, round, even number, and it could be applied to almost anything.
Xenasi opened her eyes and stared back at the reflection which greeted her. The creature she saw did not greatly resemble those whom she had known as her family. Covered mostly in sleek scales of glinting red, her underside from chin to tail was a dull white. A stripe of black trailed from the middle of her snout down her back to the first quarter of her tail, down most of which ran a crest of finlike protrusions contoured toward the rear. Her rounded muzzle ended in simple slits for nostrils, and was set between two large emerald-green eyes, split vertically by her narrow pupils. Two smooth horns drew back from her head at a slight downward angle, of the same matte black hue as her claws (that she possessed a four-color palette, conveniently comprised of two pairs of chromatic opposites, was not lost on her). Her particular breed was not native to these lands, she knew, and if she had ever seen another of its members, she had been too young to recall it now.
Her father had been a capable caregiver, but Kaliska was wrong about his motivations. They were the same as her own were, now. It was not for a sense of protecting her territory that she wanted to pursue this sign of men, but for a need of vengeance for her father, just as he had felt for her mother. Does she not see that, Xenasi asked herself, or does she just not care?
As she let her thoughts turn about, gazing into the calmly running water before her, a glimmer on the riverbed caught her eye. Peering closer, she saw it again – a glitter of blue and silver caught amidst the rocks and earth at the river’s bottom. She slid a fang over her jaw and sighed, contemplating whether obtaining the sparkling ornament was truly worth getting wet, but as it began to stir again, she realized the current would soon loosen it and pull it further downstream. Ultimately, curiosity and shinelust got the better of her, and with a deep breath, she pushed herself into the water.
Folding her wings in tight, she paddled swiftly toward the bottom of the shallow stream, her tail playing a rudder to keep her on course. As she neared the object, the agitation she caused in the water knocked it from its hold, and she was forced to lunge sideward to grab for it. It almost slipped from her grasp, but she managed to clutch it in her claws and pull it to her chest. She then let herself sink for another moment so she could plant her hind feet on the riverbed and push herself back toward the surface, placing her prize gently between her teeth to free her arms for the ascent.
She reached the bank, scrabbled out, and shook off, peering around as a sudden sheepishness crept over her for the stunt. When satisfied with the lack of onlookers, she settled down and held the ornament before her to examine it more closely, turning it over in her hands, which, while not quite as dexterous and spindly as a man’s, could grasp and manipulate well enough. It was around three inches in diameter, textured silver wrought in the shape of a sun or starburst – nine triangular petals radiating out from an inch-wide circular polished sapphire. The sun danced along its facets delightfully and made Xenasi wonder how anyone could have tossed such a pretty thing into the river.
It was the sort of token she would expect a human might carry, and its discovery echoed Kaliska’s suspicions of a recent presence in the area, but when admiring the aesthetics of the ornament it was difficult to begrudge anyone who would leave it behind. A delicate but thankfully intact chain looped through the back of the setting, making a pendant out of it. She didn’t trust herself to be able to refasten the little clasp if undone, but found she was able to slip it over her head and around her neck if she put her horns through, first. She glanced at the water’s surface once more, appreciating the manner in which the silver and blue set against the white of her chest. She adjusted it carefully, trying to get one of the points to face straight up. Why couldn’t it have had eight points? Nine was hard to get symmetrical. She fiddled some more, finally accepting that it was as close as it was going to get.
And then tweaked it again.
Xenasi sighed, peering back into the woods. Part of her wanted to go after Kaliska, just to make sure she didn’t do anything stupid, but a larger part knew that her pride would just lead to another quarrel. Probably better to let her get it out of her system. It was unlikely that she would get herself into any real trouble.
Or at least she hoped.
This week, I’m sharing out the prologue and first chapter of The Book with a little bit of commentary. Click here if you’d like to to start from the beginning!
This second part of the prologue is the first scene I wrote. The idea was to capture more of an intrigue feel, as opposed to the current opener’s suspense-focus. One of the issues with the previous scene is that it detracts from the mystery of this one (this one also introduces important secondary characters, unlike the other’s self-contained cast). However, I’m not certain how well this one could stand on its own as an attention-grabber, either. Any thoughts?
The large oaken doors of the Hall of Lords swung plaintively open as Malcolm strode with grim purpose through their threshold. Pulling his dense green cloak tightly around his shoulders, he hurried along one side of the great ironwood table in the center of the empty chamber, grateful for the braziers that lined the walls and filled the air with warmth and light.
He slumped down in his seat at the head of the table, sighing as his weary bones settled, then removed the gloves of his riding garb to rub his hands together and drive out the last of the night’s chill. A few years past fifty, his age was catching up with more force than he would have anticipated. Already the color in his thick locks, goatee, and mustache had mostly drained to grey. His joints grew stiff, his limbs soft, his waist was beginning to round, and he found himself without the stamina he had possessed in years past.
A minute or two must have passed before his Minister of Discourse entered the hall, a tall fellow in his latter forties wearing a black-lined robe of brown and grey. Though Elbon Renford was cousin to Malcolm’s late wife, he possessed little of her looks. He had sunken blue eyes, his thinning red curls were kept short, and his full beard was closely trimmed aside from the hand’s length spade, giving his face an elongated appearance. He yawned forcefully as he ambled along the side of the table, shaking his hand with vigor as if to drive it off. “Your Majesty,” he greeted when his mouth was once again his to command.
“My lord,” the king replied and gestured toward the seat to the left of himself, which Elbon took gladly.
The two were joined momentarily by a figure dressed in a close-fitted robe and cloak of wool dyed a deep ocean blue and scrolled with golden threading, strolling in on boots sewn of the same supple black leather as his gloves. Malcolm nodded curtly to the archconsul as he made his way toward the others, a serving girl trailing along behind him.
“Good evening, Your Majesty. Minister Renford,” the other spoke as he approached the seat to Malcolm’s right. He stood around five and a half feet. A slight man, if he could be called a man at all. He may have looked human enough, if not for the pale blue hair, purple eyes, and the pointed ears more commonly seen on the fair folk.
“Would that it were, Noridion,” the king responded with a grimace, gesturing for him to sit. As he did so, the serving girl set tankards of ale in front of Malcolm and Elbon, and a goblet of wine before the archconsul. Noridion inclined his head in thanks and she retreated humbly, closing the doors behind her.
“Sir Galfrey is away at present, though he is due to return on the morrow,” Noridion began when they were alone. “I fear to presume your expeditious return speaks ill for the meeting?”
“There was no meeting.” Malcolm took a long swig of the thick amber liquid. “There was no one.”
“The viceroy did not attend?” Elbon clutched his tankard, frowning suspiciously. “Did the bailiff say wh—”
“There was no one,” the king repeated. “Densbury is deserted. The bailiff had sent acknowledgement of our coming not a half-moon past, yet now it stands utterly abandoned. Over two-hundred people missing.” He waved a hand. “Horses, sheep, dogs – no living creature remained when we arrived.”
The minister’s eyes widened. “Was there an attack? A raid?”
Malcolm shook his head and took another drink. “I cannot for certain say. A few buildings bore the brunt of something, but we found no corpses, and personal belongings appeared largely intact. There was little to suggest the townsfolk would otherwise flee of their own accord.”
“Who would have done something like this? Perhaps the ravoran…?”
The archconsul was staring thoughtfully at his cup, rotating it between his fingers. “The ravoran would have little to gain in aggressing a village under the protection of the Crown.”
Malcolm narrowed his eyes and glanced toward the end of the hall. The nearby tribal settlements had not been what concerned him. “The people will cry dragon.”
“Oh, how dreadful…” Elbon murmured, sipping fretfully at his ale.
Noridion sat slowly back in his chair. “It would be a particularly bold creature to risk an assault on a human settlement that far from his own territory.”
“Dragons are nothing if not particularly bold creatures, most would say,” the king shrugged tiredly. “It would not be without precedence, and it may explain the lack of bodies and pilferage.”
“Yes,” Minister Renford agreed unpleasantly, “Belike a dragon would steal away men for food or slaves? It is a more likely explanation than most.”
“Is it?” The hint of a smile disappeared behind the cup Noridion brought to his lips.
Malcolm furrowed his brow. “You think not?”
“I would not discount the possibility, to be certain.” Noridion held up his free hand. “Though ‘dragon’ is so oft proclaimed I fear the greatest threat they pose is to be named where scarce a thought is offered to the guilty.”
The archconsul’s words were not without merit, but neither was the reputation the beasts had earned. “Nonetheless,” the king cautioned, “we would do ourselves no charity to be caught off-guard.”
“Best to be prepared should worse become worst,” Elbon concurred.
“The worst is at best subjective,” Noridion resigned. “What of Larke, then? Do you believe he was in Densbury during this disturbance?”
If the Viceroy of the Outer Colonies had made it to Densbury, he had either disappeared with the rest, or found it in its current state and turned back, as had Malcolm and his retinue. Pallon Larke was a cautious man, and unlikely to have stayed to await his king in a village abandoned so suddenly in what may have been an act of aggression. “Pray that not. Though I would think to have passed a rider on the Wolf Way or found news upon my return, had he sent word.” He eyed his Minister of Discourse.
Elbon shook his head. “None, I regret to say.”
“And we’ve learned nothing further of Vardon?” Noridion assumed.
“Nor of the Seraph’s Virge; the White damn us all,” the king scowled before tilting back his tankard. The search for the missing bishop was to have been the topic of his meeting with the viceroy.
The minister shifted in his seat. “And the people are not taking lightly the theft of the foremost symbol of the Faith, I am sure I need not tell you.”
He need not have told him. “It is an affront to the Church, the Crown, and every good citizen of our nation,” Malcolm agreed, “and I am loath to be the king to lose a sacred artifact to a treacherous priest.” He finished his ale with a long swig, then swept its vessel contemptuously aside with the back of his hand.
“None could have predicted heresy of such magnitude from Nowell Vardon,” Elbon offered condolingly. “The Archbishop is more troubled than anyone by the actions of his appointed successor.”
“You’ll forgive me if my grief remains unassuaged by the knowledge that something like this could happen beneath anyone’s notice.” The king closed his eyes and began slowly rubbing his temples. “Vardon is still out there, somewhere, and not only are we no closer to finding him, but we must now contend with some mysterious ill to befall our outer colonies. Our resources are stretched thin enough as it is.”
A moment of uneasy silence followed before the minister said, “It does certainly complicate matters.”
“Then do your best to uncomplicate them,” Malcolm instructed. “Word will spread soon enough. Prepare a statement for the public. Assure that both affairs are in hand, and justice will be done. I sent a rider on to Sparrow Hill from Densbury, and I wish to be informed immediately upon his return.” Elbon nodded his compliance.
Noridion sipped from his goblet. “And what would you have of me, Your Majesty?”
“Your counsel, as ever.” Malcolm studied his features. Smooth and pallid skin. A thin nose adorning a narrow face, framed by a waterfall of flat cyan hair which was swept untied behind his shoulders. He seemed to conform to the fay notion of nondescript comeliness, which Malcolm supposed was a polite way of saying somewhat emasculate. One of only two fay among the Court, Noridion had served the kingdom of Lastern and the Clarant line for nearly a hundred years, and likely looked the same this day as he did on the first he arrived. The fair folk counted a century before they reached maturity, and were said to live another thousand years thereafter; if an elemental could make a similar claim, Malcolm had to assume all those years would amount to little if not the wisdom of experience. “What would you make of all this?”
The elemental took another swallow. “We know nothing of Vardon’s motivations, which has presented a particular difficulty in locating him. This circumstance in Densbury, beyond providing greater opportunities for investigation, implies a more tangible threat, and discovering its meaning must perforce be our priority. Once your rider returns with word on Larke, we can arrange for our scouting parties to sweep the nearby villages and find if any others have suffered the same fate, or are otherwise housing refugees from the incident.”
“The holy scepter is said to protect us from the influence of the Scourge,” Elbon argued. “A token bestowed upon the kings of Lastern by the White themselves to affirm the right to rule in the name of the Provident. Certainly its recovery is more urgent than the pursuit of…of dragons?”
“There is…another solution to that matter. One may not recall, but the Seraph’s Virge which Vardon took is not the first of its name.” The archconsul spread his hands. “The bishop will be difficult to apprehend outside of our borders, and we must consider the possibility that the artifact is lost to us. This does not, however, leave us without recourse; if need come, the Exarchs of the White may bring forth a replacement. It would take a few moons’ time, but the blessing of a new scepter would be a rare event to behold – certainly to the benefit of public morale.” He lifted his cup to the notion.
“Well enough,” the king sighed. He was not ready to give up on seeing justice done to the runaway clergyman, but a festivity of the like would give the people something positive to focus on, if nothing else. Minister Renford was fidgeting miserably with his tankard, but also seemed to see the sense in the approach.
Malcolm ran his thumb and forefinger along his beard. “Have the Archbishop send word to the citadels and see it done, then. Should Vardon continue to elude us, let it be known that the Faith is still paramount to the Crown.” He waved his dismissal and the other two rose, offering a bow before proceeding back toward the chamber’s entrance. “Noridion,” he called when the elemental had reached the end of the table.
“Your Majesty?” He turned around and clasped his hands together, moving with the fluidity intrinsic to a water spirit, while Elbon hustled off stiffly to return to his bed.
“The reasoning behind this course is plain, but something still does not sit right. Our colonies’ safety is imperative, but it is…unkingly to lack the Virge, and the people fear its absence. In the end, which will truly be the greater concern?” The king shook his head and leaned back. “Or am I merely victim to superstition?”
“Some would call it faith,” Noridion smiled in mock-admonishment. “The Church will tell you that the Seraph’s Virge shields bearer and realm from sin.” He gave Malcolm a gauging look. “So I suppose it must depend on which troubles you more, my king – the dangers from without, or those from within?”