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?”