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.”