I read and write visually. In other words, I picture the scene in my mind from start to finish and replay it over and over, changing the dialogue and setting until I'm satisfied with how it looks before I ever put words to paper. Now that isn't to say that in the middle of a scene a completely unknown character doesn't show up and impact the story in ways I hadn't imagined. That is one of the things that makes writing such a fun adventure for me.
I also have the overall story running in the back of my mind at all times and it is being constantly updated as the scenes and characters progress but always with the same ending in mind. In the case of the epic fantasy I started, I got about 40K words into it and totally lost control of the timeline since I had characters scattered all over the world that are supposed to come together at the end. There were also issues with the very beginning of the story that others had pointed out. The all to familiar case of me knowing what's going on but failing to communicate that to the reader.
Rather than spend a lot of time trying to figure things out, I decided to set it aside for awhile and let my subconscious work on the problem. Meanwhile, I worked on a much simpler and shorter story which resulted in my first novella. At my age, I also began to feel this pressure to complete and publish a story so that I could prove to myself it could be done.
Now that the novella is complete and out there, I can once again concentrate on my full length fantasy. The timeline issues have been resolved and I believe I've come up with fixes for the issues in the beginning. I'm including the first chapter this week and I hope that if you've read this far you would take a few extra minutes and look it over. Is it good enough to draw you into the story?
Thanks for reading.
Chapter One ~ A Whisper from the Past
Flickering torch light cast shifting shadows across the courtyard as two figures faced each other in the center of a practice circle. It would be several hours before the sun cleared the eastern wall of the keep and its glow would chase away those shadows. Pre-dawn dew glistened from every surface and added to the chill of a late spring morning. It failed to match the frost that surrounded the Baron’s two youngest sons.
The sound of wooden practice swords connecting in a series of thrust and parry filled the air then quieted as the combatants circled each other looking for an opening. Formed from the same mold as his father and brothers, the older son easily outweighed the other by fifty pounds that filled out his chest and arms. This provided him no advantage over his opponent who had developed a skill and speed unmatched by anyone in the keep.
Once again they came together amid a flurry of swinging swords, neither giving ground to the other until the younger brother landed a solid hit to an upper arm.
“You will pay for that, Navon.”
“Perhaps, but I will never again allow you to abuse me, Micah. Not only am I a better swordsman, after my naming ceremony tonight we will be equals in this family.”
With a growl, Micah rushed him only to have Navon nimbly sidestep and smack him across the shoulders as he charged past. “I’ve heard a rumor that Father plans to put you in charge of the latrines after your naming.”
“At least Father chose wisely when he put you in charge of the pig farms. They match your personality perfectly.”
No longer interested in sparing, Micah cast aside his wooden sword and attacked his brother open handed. Navon dropped his practice blade also and calmly stood his ground in the face of his brother’s rage. At the last moment he grabbed one of Micah’s arms and using his own momentum, spun the older boy to the ground.
Spitting dirt, Micah slowly rose to his feet, eyes narrowed to slits. Drawing his knife, he hissed, “With that hair and pretty face of yours, you’ll fit right in with the women’s bower once I’m done with you, little brother.”
The arms-master, who had been watching from the shadows, strode to the middle of the circle and focused his fierce continence on Micah. “In all the years I have served the Baron, never has a member of this family pulled steel against another. You are a disgrace to the name of Roddel. Your father will determine what becomes of you, but for now, I suggest you remove yourself from my sight.”
He turned his back on Micah and studied Navon who now stood with downcast eyes. After enough time had passed to force the young man to look up, Master Drummel spoke. “That’s better. From this day forward, never cast down your eyes before any man. Now, since I distinctly forbade sparing without supervision, I expect to see you in the armory right after you break your fast. Maybe a day spent repairing armor will help you remember when I give an order.”
Navon nodded and turned away, the arms-master’s words barely registering. Foremost in his mind was the hate he saw in his brother’s eyes before leaving the practice yard. That look disturbed Navon more than he cared to admit.
* * *
Every other lamp was lit in an attempt to keep the shadows at bay in a Keep designed for defense and lacked windows on the ground floor. Winter carpets still covered the floors as the stone had yet to catch up with the warmth of the coming summer. His mother’s touch was evident in the placement of spring flowers under several gas lamps. Their fragrance helped to remove the musty odor of the winter damp.
Navon made his way down the stairs and into the passageway leading to the dining hall with a lighter step than usual, that morning’s confrontation a distant memory. He had looked forward to this day for many years and took extra care in his appearance. Everyone’s eyes would be upon him as the Baron announced his son’s coming of age and assigned him his first official duties as a member of the ruling family.
After a nod and a smile from his oldest brother and a respectful bow towards his parents, Navon solemnly took his seat at the lower table amid the excited whispers of his siblings. Micah was nowhere to be seen.
The Baron stood holding a goblet in one hand and turned to Navon with an unreadable expression before he muttered a curse, flung the goblet to the floor and stormed out of the room.
In the ensuing silence, Navon slowly slid back his chair, got up and carefully placed it under the table, then turned toward the lower entrance to the dining hall. Safely alone out in the corridor, he began to run, taking the stairs two at a time. Hot tears of shame and rejection burned his cheeks as he tried to distance himself from the looks of sympathy on the faces of everyone in the Great Hall. Why? Why had his father done that to him? Was he really such a disappointment?
The sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs alerted him to the eminent arrival of his brother, Altair. He ran into his room and wiped the tears from his face. No one was going to stop him now that he had made his decision to leave.
His brother walked in and stood for a moment watching him pack before he spoke. “Are you sure you want to do this, Navon?”
“No, but what choice do I have Altair? Father made his feelings perfectly clear and you could see from the look on everyone’s face that they also understood what was happening. I no longer have any hope for a future as part of this family.”
The youngest of the Baron’s children, Navon had been given a small room on the upper floor of the Keep. A giant oak rooted in the center of his room would have been as nothing compared to the presence of his brother. Navon wished that Altair would just leave him alone with his misery but his brother’s concern also gave him comfort. Altair had always been there when Navon needed a shoulder to cry on and never laughed at his fears of being different.
Navon stood in front of his small wardrobe, his light blond hair falling forward to conceal the tears that threatened to flow again. Altair approached him from behind and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“Do you know how eagles learn to fly, little brother?”
Unable to speak, Navon shook his head.
“The chicks spend months standing on the edge of their nest just flapping their wings. It builds up their muscles. Then one day, the parents will push a fledgling out of the nest. He will either learn to fly or fall to the ground where he will die. I think Father just gave you that push.”
When he didn’t respond, Altair turned his brother around and with a finger under Navon’s chin, raised his head, wanting, needing to look him in the eyes. “You have no idea how much I envy you, little brother. The rest of us will always be chained to this Keep or at least to our little corner of the country. Do you remember all those fantastic tales of the world that traveling Bard regaled us with at last summer’s festival? You are free to travel and experience those faraway places for yourself, while we are prisoners here to our duties and responsibilities. From the day you were born, we have all felt that you were someone special and that someday you would have to leave us.”
Altair reluctantly released his little brother and quickly moved towards the door. Once there, he turned back with as fierce a look as Navon had ever seen on his brother’s face. “Learn to fly, Navon. Never forget that you are a Roddel. If you are ever in need, send word to me and I will come regardless of what Father says.”
Unable to concentrate on his packing after Altair left, Navon sat on the edge of his bed trying to make sense out of what his brother had said. A knock at his door jarred him out of his thoughts. Wondering who it might be, he heard a soft voice outside calling.
“Navon. May I come in?”
By the Eyes! It was his mother, the last person he expected. She had never come up to his room before, so why now? He swung open the door and answered with a bow. “Of course you may come in, Lady Mother.”
All the excuses for why he was packing melted away as he watched his mother calmly survey the room while holding a plain wooden box in her hand. The box was like nothing he had ever seen before. The edges had darkened with time and the simple design spoke of an age long past.
“Long ago it was foretold that when evil once again made its presence felt in the world, the Eyes of the Deluti would return to combat that evil. That day has come and is why I am here. I have something that has been in my family for many generations. I became the bearer of this box on the day my mother passed from this world. Inside is the amulet of a Deluti,” she said and opened the box, removing a triangular amulet that contained three luminescent eyes and was attached to a small gold chain. “Once you put this around your neck, the amulet should disappear and only you will be able to remove it.”
“Why are you giving this to me?” he asked, unable to keep the hurt and frustration from his voice. “You have many sons and daughters who are more deserving of this than I.”
“Navon, no one in living memory has worn this. Tradition says that the bearer of the box will know who is to wear the amulet or who to pass the box on to for the next generation. The moment you were born, I knew you were the one to wear it but that I was not to give it to you until you were ready to leave. Please put it on, my son. It is yours.”
With trembling fingers he reached for the amulet. The loop in the chain appeared to be too small to slip over his head. The chain began to glow and Navon felt a tingling travel up his arms and into his chest. The glow quickly faded and the chain separated, revealing a tiny clasp. At a gasp from his mother, he raised his eyes and stared in awe as the box disappeared in a flash of light. He reached behind his neck with the ends of the chain where they snapped together to become a solid loop once again. From the look of wonder in his mother’s eyes, he knew the amulet was no longer visible. Unnerved by the touch of the chain, he froze as a voice in his head whispered, “Go north.”
* * *
Far to the north, in a castle hidden deep within the Mountains of Mists, the Ancient One raised his head and smiled. Far to the south-west, on the Isle of Dahlian, the Stagwood Marshe trembled as Scorpios clenched his scarred fists in a fit of rage. The slave who had been serving him burst into flames until reduced to a small dusting of ash on the floor.
* * *
In the morning, wearing comfortable leather pants and vest over a light green shirt with a touch of lace at the cuffs and neck, Navon gathered his things and went down to the kitchen. It was early enough that he should be able to avoid everyone in the family. Now that he had made his decision, he was eager to be on his way. He asked the cook to wrap up some sausages in bread that he could eat while he traveled, then noticed the furtive looks of the kitchen staff. So, it appeared that his father’s words, or more accurately his lack of words on Navon’s behalf, had reached the rest of the Keep. The cook’s words as he handed him the sausage rolls were unexpected, “May the Eyes of the Deluti watch over you wherever you go, m’lord.”
The guard at the outer gate barely acknowledged him as he trudged through using his un-strung bow as a walking staff. Sword and knife were hung from his belt, a quiver of arrows over one shoulder and his pack and bedroll tied to his back. The pack was only large enough to hold a few of his prized possessions, some clothes and his herb pouch. The old healer at the Keep had taught Navon everything he knew about healing lore, so the pouch should come in handy.
Defending himself wouldn’t be a problem even though he would never achieve the brute strength of his brothers. The Keep’s arms-master judged that Navon had the quickest hands of any swordsman he’d ever taught and his skill with a bow was un-matched by anyone in the Keep. He might only be sixteen summers, but imagined this is what it must feel like to be a man. Raising his face to the warmth of the morning sun, he strode away from the Keep with a spring in his step. You were right, big brother. It is time for me to fly.
* * *
A solitary figure stood on the ramparts of the Keep long after Navon had faded from view. Forgive me my son, for what I had to do. Your path in this life was set the day you were born and I fervently hope I was able to prepare you for it. You will always be my special son. Turning away, Baron Rodgier d’Roddel disappeared into the Keep, his beard glistening with tears that no one would see.