Originally conceived in the late 90’s, I wrote a first draft in the early part of 2000 or 2001 (I swear, it all starts to blur after a while). Looking back at that draft, I see why I trunked it for so long. Even now, I’m not doing another draft of that story. Instead, I am taking the characters and the flavor of the story and writing something new. If anything, this would be a rewrite of what I tried to do with it in 2005 and 2006 when I started over.
I’ve been building up the world of this novel in my head for over a decade. This makes it easier to write than I ever thought would be possible. Heck, I’m nearly at 70,000 words as of last night. The things I have learned since first putting anything of these characters onto the page is helping to shape who and what they are, and what the story needs to be. Little things, like humor, seep in deeper than I allowed myself to do in the past. Also, I no longer obsess over things that used to make me stall for days or weeks. Instead, I mark the point and move on, going back later once my head has cleared and I can see a way out or the details I need to add to make the scene better.
The bits that were lost have been redone and reworked with different directions taken. I am happy with this course despite the initial depression at the loss of so much work. It’s like starting fresh, which can be liberating.
What is the WIP specifically?
Well, there’s a Wizard, of course, and a pair of warriors from very different worlds/cultures, a curse (or two… or three…) dragons, teenagers, and, me being me, a cat.
The Wizard watched the warrior leave, tapping his lower lip with his index finger while the man tried to reach his bed before sleep took him into its gentle arms. The cat hopped onto the table and watched the man as well, head cocked to the side, eyes closed to slits. A sense of unease was growing in his heart as he watched the young man stumble along, something that raised the small hairs on the back of his neck, and rumbled the stew settling in the pit of his stomach. Pushing himself up from the table, he shuffled his way across the kitchen to his staff, making his way slowly from the kitchen. The cat silently padded behind him.
“Have I grown so old?” he muttered to himself. The Great Hall was cold, colder than normal with the hearth empty and only a handful of torches sputtering in their sconces. “Have my senses dulled?” The door creaked as he pulled it open and stepped out into the twilight, the sky in the West orange, red, purple and blue as the setting sun slowly sank into the horizon. The gentle breeze brought the scent of cherry blossoms and mold. “I know I still have my wits.” The cat raced ahead, bouncing up the steps of the tower two at a time.
“Yet I have become blind and deaf to the world around me.” Bits of dust and pebbles fell away as he carefully picked his way up the crumbling steps. The chair groaned as he sat and shook out the blanket he wrapped around his legs. North called to him seductively; he averted his eyes. The cat sat curled up on the other chair, eyes closed peacefully. He scratched at the fur between its ears, and got a purr for his effort.
The warrior calling himself Agden had dismounted from his horse and woken something that had long slumbered in the old Wizard. Tall, dark and proud, the man carried himself like the kings of old. Over six feet tall with dark hair and dark eyes that marked him as surely as his accent did to be a Northern man, though they did not consider themselves as such. From their point of view, the ‘North’ was a place beyond the Dragon’s Teeth where the Wretched fought side by side with men of golden hair and pale skin who worshiped the Shadow King long since banished from this world. His face was clean-shaven, his hair long yet straight, and falling well off his shoulders. A dozen braids within that hair harkened back to ancient customs, each ending with a blood red bead, and meant to mark a major battle fought and won, an enemy vanquished, or a death avenged.
This was the old way, something he’d not seen in thousands of years.
And again, the North beckoned to the Wizard, and he averted his eyes.
The cat looked up, unblinking, staring at him for a long moment. “An omen?” he whispered. “Thousands of years,” he added quietly. “What did I tell the man? ‘You cannot run from your past.’ Another omen, you think?” he asked the cat. The cat sniffed, its tail indicating its displeasure. Harrumphing, he continued, “I dislike this, I dislike this more than I can say.”
If his other visitor carried as much pain as this one, he wondered if he would be able to help either of them. Yet, he did not regret the suggestion of sleep he placed upon the man, who did need his rest. He doubted he had slept more than a few hours here and there in years.
On the run from his past, embracing the old ways…
The cat twisted onto its back, paws lazily extended, eyes peering North. The Wizard followed the movement, letting his eyes gaze far off unfocused. The world slipped away as he let his mind wander, attempting to find the source of his uneasiness. “Sunset, two days from now,” he whispered. The cat sneezed.
I changed the Wizard’s name in the section above to just ‘The Wizard’. I don’t know why – maybe I don’t want the name out there just yet. Cryptic, I know. Some people don’t like when I capitalize ‘North’, ‘South’, ‘East’ and ‘West’ in my writing. It’s a habit I got into very early on, and honestly, I don’t remember why. But I still do it today…
One more excerpt and then I’ll stop bothering you.
Jared brought his practice sword up and blocked the downward slash heading for him with a grunt. Sweat stung his eyes. For a moment, he and Allan, his partner in today’s sparring, strained against each other. Both of them were shirtless and wearing loose pants and soft leather boots. Allan’s curly red hair lay heavy and soaked with sweat. His freckled face was flushed with the exertion of trying to push Jared off balance, gray eyes burning brightly. Jared knew from the way his brother looked, that he must truly be a sight. The voice in his head reminded him that Allan was his step-brother. He shook the thought away.
“Your breath smells like onions,” he whispered. Allan frowned.
Of similar height and build, the two were evenly matched when it came to a pure brute force.
“Break!” shouted Barris, a member of the Tower Guard leading today’s training sessions.
Jared and Allan broke apart and began circling each other, practice swords held at the ready. With a surprising burst of speed, Allan drove forward and brought his weapon in for a crossways down-cut, no doubt hoping to catch Jared off-guard. Unfortunately for his step-brother, Jared had seen him use this same maneuver often, so his defense was ready. Letting his eyes pop in half-surprise, he waited until the last possible moment to jump in the air, raising his knees to his chest. Allan’s sword sliced through the air while Jared’s own came down to smack him on the top of the head with the flat of the blade.
The other boys gathered around cheered. Allan fell forward, sword clattering against the stones. Jared offered him a hand and a smile. Rubbing his head with one hand, Allan accepted the offer with the other and Jared pulled him to his feet. Together, they made their way to the water barrels. Jared used a bucket to upturn water over his head before handing it to Allan, who did the same. Another student passed them towels as they sputtered. Behind them, Barris dragged two more into the circle and ordered them to begin. Soon, wooden swords were clacking against each other. Younger than Jared and Allan by many years, the boys fought without strategy or technique.
Jared smiled at the thought. Seventeen was not so old, though at times it felt as such. Perhaps it was the constant drilling for seven of those years that made him feel old from time to time.
“Jumping?” Allan asked. “Really? That’s your secret move you’ve been hinting at for weeks?”
Laughing, Jared said, “Worked, didn’t it?”
“You are lucky Barris was here and not Triss,” Allan said. Triss was their father, Allan’s by blood and Jared’s through adoption. He was also Hand to the King, leader of the Tower Guard and General to the army. The King alone stood above him in authority over the armies of Arador. “Triss would’ve skinned you for jumping like a fool.”
“I don’t know,” Jared said. “What about original thinking? Ingenuity?”
“Our father is more about rules and structure, and getting it right the first time,” Allan offered. “Propriety. A good soldier keeps his feet planted firmly on the ground.”
A new voice said, “A good soldier stands at attention when their General is present.”
Jared yelped in unison with Allan, both boys spinning around to see their father standing before them. Dressed in the silver and black of the King’s colors, Triss stood just a few inches taller than them. His thick red hair was shorn close to his head, and his green eyes shone brightly in the sunlight of the practice area. Thick arms were crossed over his barrel chest, and his face looked a thundercloud about to burst.
The boys dropped their towels and stood at attention. Jared’s mind raced ahead, trying to put a reason to Triss being here when he was supposed to be in meetings all day. The more he thought, the more he felt a pit rising in his stomach, especially when Triss did not immediately release them, and instead began to pace back and forth, hands clasped behind his back. This reminded Jared of a tiger he saw in a traveling show once. The wrangler told him they paced back and forth in their cages when they were on the hunt and wanting to pounce.
With Triss’ jaw sawing back and forth as he paced, Jared felt sure he and his brother were the hunted.
“Lady Gildy,” Triss said. Jared winced before he could stop himself. Triss stepped up until their noses were touching. “Frogs, boy? In her bathwater? Are you ten years old?”
Jared did not answer. Denial was the only course. Triss stood stock still for several heartbeats, hot breath bathing Jared’s face. When he pulled away, Jared relaxed a hair.
Triss moved on to stand nose to nose with Allan. “There is a witness.” Jared could barely see his brother out of the corner of his eye. If he gave any indication of guilt, he could not see it. Besides, Triss had tried this before, telling them there was a witness in order to coerce confession, when no witness existed.
Back to pacing, Triss said, “My own sons. Delinquents. Miscreants. Malefactors.” He fell silent, chest heaving. “You should know better. I know this because I raised you to know better. Yet, you continue to do these things. I had to stand before the King this morning, and apologize to the Lady, and His Majesty, for your actions.” He stopped in front of Allan. “Have you no respect for me?” He moved to meet Jared’s eye. “Have you no conscience? I took you in when you were just a babe!” He moved back to Allan. “You want for nothing, either of you. And this is how you repay me?”
Jared did begin to feel guilt swelling inside of him, but kept his lips closed. Triss stared at them for another moment, face turning from red to purple. He went into his usual tirade about responsibility, duty and honor. The entire training session stumbled to a halt, eyes turned in their direction while Triss shouted and sputtered at them. By the time Triss came around to the part about honoring your elders, Jared’s mind flashed to Allan convincing him it had to be ‘horny toads’ before they entered the market. Poetic, that.
“At least,” Triss finished. “Promise to think about what you are doing, and the consequences of your actions before you act. Can you do that? For me?”
“Yes, sir,” they answered together.
Triss clapped each on the shoulder, giving a small smile. “Good. Good. A month in the stables for you both.”
Allan protested, Jared did as well. Triss rounded on them, “I did not give you leave to speak or stand at ease!” Both boys snapped back into line. Triss nodded. “One month. Because even without a confession, I know what you did, and you know what you did. Your time starts now. Dismissed.” Triss walked away with a wave to Barris.
“Bugger me,” Allan muttered. Jared walked over and retrieved his shirt, belt and dagger, quickly dressing. Allan followed him and soon they were making their way down to the lower courtyard and the stables there. Jared was not looking forward to a months worth of horse manure and fly bites. He thought the punishment did not befit the crime. No one had gotten hurt, after all. Unless you counted the frogs who had to see Lady Gildy naked. He shuddered at that image. Why couldn’t Triss see that it was funny? Or the King, for that matter?
“This is all your fault, brother,” Allan said.
“My fault? How do you reckon that?”
Allan cracked a smile. “You said she needed a good laugh.”
Jared had to admit, Lady Gildy always seemed harsh and sour to his eye. Who could blame him for wanting to bring a little joy to her life? “You suggested horny toads.”
They shared a look and began to laugh.
Back to writing…