Have been rewriting Rosethorn from the beginning, and though I know this sounds drastic, it really isn't all that much more than somewhat vicious editing. Mostly I'm cutting and rearranging, emphasizing the tension and building layers. The only really *really* new writing is the Finn character arc, and even that I don't think will be so much work. Anyway, here is the shiny new Chapter One (I know it looks the same from the first sentence, but it is really quite different):
It began with a boy skipping rocks from the bank of a river.
Finn brought the sheep to water at the edge of the Idara. He should have been watching that none of them strayed in danger of drowning, but as boys do Finn tired of staring at the bleating animals. So he started the pebbles flying.
On the grassy bank behind him sat a dog, Shar, one severe eye on her master, the other on the sheep. To Shar work was play and play, such as Finn was doing, was puzzling. But Finn knew that if any of the sheep strayed, or danger came near, she would sound the alarm. He could play for a while.
For a boy of eight Finn threw with remarkable accuracy and what he lacked in strength was made up in sheer energy. One after another, pebble after pebble skimmed across the river, strings of ripples following, three and four and five. Finn chewed on his lower lip, squinting as he gauged the river and his chances to get six skips and a new high mark. Only four this time.
He hunted among the abele trees for pebbles. Already a few leaves had fallen, browned and curled with the change of the season. Finn sifted through the leaves as he wandered further, and a little further, away from the sheep. Shar yipped, pacing in a tight circle between Finn and the water, but he ignored her. There, a nice flat stone. He bent to grab it, and something caught his eye, on the very edge of his vision, something in the river.
A dark thing floated in the water.
Slowly turning in an eddy, trapped against the roots of an abele, shining with long black streamers of hair, a head bobbed in the current, a sodden, half-sunken hump of a back, a shoulder, an arm and a hand. A man lay face down in the river. Finn stood, heart pounding, breath forgotten. He crossed to the water by reluctant steps, drawn by the body. Shar barked mad frenzy, and he did not hear. His eyes were fixed on the body of the man, on his back, on the shafts of the two arrows jutting between the drowned man’s shoulder blades.
Finn scrambled down the bank, a short plunge of damp, clinging soil, and splashed into the river. His feet sank into the soft mud of the bottom, water only just short of his knees, one hand against the bank for balance and he crept along toward the body. The man spun gently, indifferent to Finn or the chill of the water or Shar’s snarling and howling. Lost in his fascination, the boy heard nothing, felt nothing, saw only the man. He reached out and tapped the man’s shoulder once, twice, and again a little harder, pushing the body to float away a bit. Finn reached out again, with one finger he touched the ragged, black feathers of one of the arrows, and then he pulled away. The man was dead.
His chest ached, Finn was breathing heavily, and now he smelled the corruption of the body. He gagged then, suddenly lightheaded, he grasped the root of the tree. Finn looked up and back at Shar. She had quieted, and was watching him, imploring and mistrustful. Finn shook his head, but he pressed the sleeve of his shirt against his nose and turned back to the man.
There was a pouch hanging around the man’s neck, the strap tangled around his arm. Finn pulled the case to him, lifting it half out of the water. It was leather, the flap sealed with a blob of colorless wax. Finn ran his fingers over the delicate, swirling ridges of the seal, some foreign design that he did not recognize. Something set in his face, he narrowed his eyes, tightened his throat, and he made his mouth a thin hard line. He grasped the leather strings imbedded in the wax, pulled them firmly, and broke the seal. Bits of wax fell in the water and spun away on the current.
Inside the pouch was a single roll of coarse paper. Finn tucked the pouch under his arm and pulled out the paper. He held his breath as he read, a short message in the formal language of Adan written clumsily with a child’s grammar and spelling, the ink spilling and slashing across the page. Still, Finn understood it, and shivered. The message was simple, terrible, and was not meant for a boy.
Shar barked, sharp and loud. Something spooked her, she pawed frantically at the grass on the verge of the bank, begging the boy to come out. Finn turned, the pouch fell from under his arm. He snatched it up, poured out the water and shoved the paper inside. He dropped the pouch, and then pushed through the water and mud, scrambling up the bank. Shar danced around him in short bursts, growling and yipping at the river. Finn looked back, looked at the two arrows, and just then, for the first time, wondered how long the man had been in the river . . . and how far he had drifted.
Finn ran to find his father.
Every tree, every bush hid a killer of men. He felt them drawing their bows, aiming their poison-tipped arrows at his back as he ran. His shoulders twitched, prickling between his shoulder blades in the dead-tingling spot where the assassins were aiming. Finn flung his eyes left and right and left, pumping legs and arms faster, harder. His heart drummed, drowning out the whistling signals of the killer gang. He crashed through the forest ever faster, faster until his lungs would burst at his next step. But one more step and he might be safe.
Sunlight, sunlight broke ahead through the trees. Finn thrust his body toward the light, smashing without care through the brush and into the open. He chanced a quick glance behind. The assassins had not followed, he was safe! As he turned his head back a strong hand clamped over his mouth, a powerful arm arrested his flight, pulling him backward into a man’s chest.
Hands on his hips, Mathis stood by a small field just harvested. He glanced at the clear, vivid sky and sighed. First the shaking of the earth in the spring, and now this. The harvest had not been what he had hoped. Though there was enough, more than enough, the field had not grown as well as could be. A tight hedge screened the wind around the edges of the field, but water was the problem. He squatted, ran his hand through the dry soil, rubbing the dirt between his fingers and wondering why the old rites had not produced enough rain. He wondered about the future.
A crash sounded behind him, behind the hedge, harried steps as if an animal panicked in the woods. He turned his head, listening. An animal with two legs, running toward him. Mathis straightened and stepped into the shadow of the hedge. A flurry of skinny arms and legs erupted from the brush. Mathis leaped forward, grasped the intruder, pulled him back and off balance. He turned his captive around.
“Finn! What are you doing?”
The boy collapsed into his father’s arms, leaning with his hands on his thighs, gasping for the breath to speak.
“You are trembling, are you hurt? Your clothes, you’re soaking.” Mathis’s concern grew as he saw the frightened look on his son’s face. He bent down on one knee and held the boy, more gently, by the shoulders. “What happened? Are you being chased?”
“There is . . . a man . . . in the . . . in the river.”
“A man, who?”
Finn drew a deep breath and looked, wide-eyed, at his father. “A dead man.”
“Did you see anyone else?”
Finn shook his head.
“Are you sure? No sign of anyone?”
A nod, fantastical assassins aside. “No one.”
Mathis stood, thought for a moment. “Show me this man.” Finn started, as if to run once more but his father dropped a heavy hand on his shoulder. “No son, we can walk. If he is dead then he will wait.”
When they reached the river they found Shar watching over the sheep. She came to Mathis when he whistled, and he reached down to scratch behind her ears.
“Take them home, girl.” Mathis gave a different whistle and Shar moved off to round up the sheep and herd them back to the farm.
“Alright,” he said to Finn, “let us see what there is to see.”
But Finn hung back as his father approached the bank. Mathis crouched for a moment, watching the body turn, nudge the roots of the tree, and turn again. Shafts of arrows and swirls of long hair in the water punctuated the man, testifying that what floated there was no twisted log of wood. He was a soldier, in leather armor, and not one of their people. Any man, under any circumstances, deserved a decent burial. But this man died shot in the back with a two arrows. The arrows drew Mathis’s gaze, fear crept through the hollow of his stomach.
He had seen their kind before.
Mathis leapt, splashing heavily into the water and mud. He turned his head, coughed at the smell, but he grasped the armor and pulled the body into the shallow water. He knelt and ran his hand lightly along the shaft of one of the arrows and then down the other. He touched the fletchings, as if trying to convince himself that what he saw was not so. He shifted and turned the man on his side, even through the greasy slick of the mud the symbol of Arras stood out on the breast of the armor. Mathis closed his eyes, hung his head.
“Come here son.”
The boy hesitated, then stepped forward slowly to the verge of the bank. Mathis looked up at him. He held in his hands the case, its closure hanging open.
“Did you touch anything?”
Finn twitched, shifted his weight from foot to foot, suddenly aware of his draggled, muddied clothes, suddenly felt a chill wind raising gooseflesh.
Mathis stared, for a long moment, and then nodded.
“We must take this man to Adan. These arrows, they are important.”
Finn swallowed, numbed and frightened by the look on his father’s face.
Mathis stood and turned away from the body of the soldier, wading a few steps upriver. He bent and took up some water in his cupped hands. Finn knew that his father was going to send a call for help. Mathis brought the water to his lips and he breathed across the surface, willing it to become the vessel of his voice. The water shimmered, darkened like liquid obsidian, and then cleared.
“Ford, hear me.”
Even from where he stood Finn saw an image of his brother appear in the water. But this looked wrong somehow. Ford did not turn, he did not look up. His image wavered and the water clouded milky white, when it cleared again it was plain water.
Mathis poured the water back into the river, and he drew another handful. The water shimmered, darkened and cleared, but when his father spoke the name his brother did not appear. His hands shook, the water sieved through the cracks between his fingers. Mathis sagged and staggered against the bank of the river.
“It, it did not work?”
His head bowed, Mathis spoke deliberately. “Finn, you will have to run again. Go to the house, tell Ford to bring the team and the small wagon, and a rope. Then pack some food and,” he hesitated, “and lay out my arms and gear.”
“But why did it not work?”
His father looked up at Finn, “hurry, son . . . and be careful.”
A fire raged in the open hearth, and with the candles cast a bright light, bathing the room in a hot, yellow-orange glow. On the floor of the bedchamber, on top of soft cushions, lay the body of a tall man in a simple white robe. At his left shoulder a sweet smelling herb smoldered in a shallow bronze brazier, and at his right shoulder a white candle burned in a stand of pure silver. Just behind his head knelt a woman in a midnight blue shift, her forehead pressed to his.
The woman in blue straightened, tears streaming down her face. She ran her fingers through the man’s hair and caressed his face, his lips and his closed eyes. A tall woman, long dark braids trailing down her back, came to her side, knelt and wrapped her arms around the other’s waist.
“Thank you, Feah.”
The door shuddered open and in strode a man who wore a mantle of command, Otheron, still dressed as if for hunting, eldest son of the king and the Prince of Adan. A second man entered on his heels, Cenith the second son and prince. For a moments the youngest, Caladon, stood at the open door speaking softly to someone unseen, and then he turned and closed the door. The lady in dark blue stood, with Feah still at her side, and faced her sons. She drew a deep, trembling breath.
“Your father is gone to us,” Queen Amaryl said, plainly exhausted.
Otheron clenched his fists, but said nothing. Cenith and Caladon looked first at each other, and then Caladon stepped forward, lifted his father in his arms, and laid him on his bed.
“Feah,” Amaryl said, “please find the chancellor and inform him that the bells must be wrapped and sounded. The king is dead.” The woman nodded, and fled the chamber.
“How?” Otheron demanded.
Cenith sat at the foot of the bed, saying nothing. Caladon dropped to his knees at the side of the bed, taking his father’s hand.
“How? How is this possible? We rode . . . we rode not even an hour into the forest, just the same as dozens of times before. Father and I and Cen raced for the lead. We crashed through the underbrush, but, but then,” Otheron paused, “everything seemed . . . different somehow, the world stood still for a moment, and then a black stag, a magnificent animal, leapt across the path right in front of father, and he was off.”
“I tried to catch them too,” Cenith said, “but he was too fast, twisting and turning through the trees. And then . . . then I vaulted a hedge and almost landed on father lying on the other side. His horse . . . gone. At first I thought he had been thrown and he even laughed about it. But within a minute or two he had paled and gone cold, his lips turned blue.”
Aside from the crackling of the fire, there was no sound, until Otheron bolted upright and rushed to the bedside. He looked down at his father, fist clenched, his body shaking. Amaryl came behind him, resting both hands on his broad shoulders. “How?” he breathed softly, turning to his mother and queen. “How?”
“This was no riding accident.”
It was Cenith who answered, not Amaryl, and his words pierced the air.
“Father was a better horseman than even Otheron. He taught all of us to ride, years ago, and could still outlast us all. Have you ever seen him thrown before? By any horse?”
“No.” Caladon rose. “You are right and Otheron’s instincts are right. There is something wrong at work here. I feel . . .”
“Are there not powers that serve the dark,” Cenith interrupted, “mother, have you seen nothing?”
Amaryl started as if awakened from a standing dream. She stared at Cenith for a moment and then went to sit on the bed. “Forgive me, but I have not looked.” She stroked her husband’s hair. “Sixty-eight years your father has been king, out of a life of only one hundred and five years, and in all that time he never so much as stumbled over a threshold . . . this was no riding accident. It was poison.”
Amaryl laid her hand lightly on her husband’s chest, drawing the white robe downward, revealing a purplish-green stain in the soft spot at the base of the king’s neck. “I do not yet know how it was done.”
“And you have not looked to see what the Mahare may reveal?”
Amaryl looked up sharply at Cenith, her face shining with the pathways of her tears. “I have been preoccupied,” she answered, “with trying to save his life, and I failed.”
A knock sounded. Otheron stood and opened the chamber door, spoke in a low voice with someone beyond. He stepped through, voices arose in the antechamber, and moments later Otheron returned.
“A captain of the Citadel Guard, mother, he prays to speak with you,” said Otheron.
“At this time?” Cenith demanded.
“It is important.”
Amaryl rearranged the king’s robe, and stroked her husband’s hair.
Amaryl spoke, barely more than a whisper, “can it not wait?”
The queen wiped her face dry, rose and held her head tall and straight, and she walked slowly through the door. Cenith, and then Caladon followed. Two men and a boy waited in the silent chamber, and they bowed. In the center of the floor a large bundle rested on a bier, covered under a black cloth.
“My lady . . .” The captain’s throat closed upon the words he needed to speak. “My lady, please forgive this intrusion, but there is a matter of urgency.”
“Well? What intrudes upon our grief?”
The captain moved to kneel beside the bier. “Your pardon, my lady, but this man,” he said, pointing to Mathis, “brought this to the Barbica within an hour ago.” He drew back the black cloth. A reek suffused the air. The queen stepped closer to the bier and saw the body of a man lying on his side, two black-shafted arrows jutting from the middle of his back.
“How comes this here?” she asked Mathis.
“My name is Mathis, of the House of Raev. It was my boy, Finn, who was minding our flock. He took them to water at the Idara, while I was away in a field. After a while, Finn came running back, telling me about a dead man floating in the river. I went at once and found this soldier. I put him in a cart, and brought him here.”
“Where did you find him?” Amaryl asked.
“Not far from my farm, about a half day’s ride north of the Great Road on the east bank of the river.”
“And you saw and heard nothing else?”
“Nothing, my lady. I sent my older boy to warn Lord Raev.”
Otheron came forward, knelt and grasped both arrows at once, at the base of the shafts. Turning and wrenching, he pulled the arrows free, balancing them on the open palms of his upturned hands. Though both shafts were painted black, each arrow was subtly different, one longer by about the span of a man’s hand with a beaten iron head and dark gray feathers, the other with stiff, black feathers and a bronze, barbed head. Otheron stood and thrust forward the gray-feathered arrow.
“This one,” he said tightly, “is a Skeldi arrow, and this one,” now holding forward the black-feathered arrow, “is goblin make.” He tossed both arrows on the floor next to the bier. “Careful,” he commanded as Cenith reached down, “like as not one or both are poisoned.”
“He must have been shot at a very close distance,” said Cenith, pulling back his hand, “for the arrows to penetrate his armor.”
“How long ago did you find him?”
“About a day and a half since my boy found him in the river.”
“How long was he in the river?”
Mathis shrugged. “I cannot say with any certainty, my lord, perhaps a few hours, maybe as much as half a day.”
Otheron paced. “The signs could hardly be clearer. The Skeldi are on the march and this time they have those despicable ukan as allies.” He stood with his fists white-knuckled, clenched so hard that his arms shook and his whole body trembled.
Amaryl pointed at the Arrasti, asking simply, “has anyone looked in that purse?”
A leather case still hung on a baldric around the Arrasti’s neck. Cenith stooped over the soldier. “The seal is broken,” he said and open the flap. Inside lay a soggy and mottled roll of paper.
Amaryl held out her hand, taking the scroll from Cenith and unrolling it gently. “The writing is destroyed,” she said, handing the paper back to Cenith. “Whatever Arras had to say will remain a mystery.”
“No, it is no mystery.” Otheron spoke steadily, fiercely, pacing again. “The Skeldi are on the move with the goblins and they have struck at Arras first. The signs are clear and that paper,” he gestured, ”was a warning and a call for help. They did not even take the time to roll it in an oiled cloth. Cenith is right—the messenger was fired on at a close distance, an ambush. The Houses must be raised and we must march as well.”
“But a mystery remains.”
Otheron turned to Caladon. “What?”
“The man was found floating in Little Sister a half day above the road.”
“So did he float there against the current? If haste was needed, why did he turn aside from the Great Road?”
“Perhaps he intended to cross the river at Evendin Ford,” offered Cenith.
“Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps,” said Otheron, “perhaps he encountered an ambush on the road and was pursued north along the river and was there slain. What does it matter? Our father is murdered, war is on our borders, and we debate trivia. We must march to Arras.” Otheron wheeled, as if to storm out of the room, but a word from the queen stopped him.
“Wait.” She turned to Mathis. “Why did you not make a sending to someone?”
“I tried, my lady, but something prevented it, something in the Mahare.”
“Prevented it?” She nodded slowly.
“Yes my lady.”
“And what of you, dear boy, Finn is your name? Do you have anything to add to what your father has said?”
Finn flushed, overpowered by the strange, sad lady, and he squirmed under her gaze and looked at his shoes, “no,” he stammered, “n-no my lady.” But then she turned her gaze on his father, and Finn breathed out.
“And what shall you do now, Mathis of the House of Raev?”
“I must return to my House, lady, to my part in the battle.”
“Will you wait a while with the captain? We may have messages for you to bear.”
“Then you may leave us.”
Amaryl watched the men and the boy leave and then set her focus on Otheron, her voice quiet and clear. “Do you ask to raise the Adanae? I have not yet made that decision.”
Otheron stood his ground, brimming with silent challenge, his head thrown back above square broad shoulders.
“I do.” Cenith interrupted, pushing forward, “let me lead them.”
Amaryl glanced at him, and in that glance she took in his dark eyes and calm face, so like his brother, but she said, “Otheron is the elder, it is his position to claim.”
“I claim it,” Otheron pronounced. “Our king, our father, dies even as war comes to the gates of the city?” He shook his head. “I do not know how, yet, but this is the work of the Skeldi, or the goblins and their black magicians. They will pay, I will see to that or die in the effort.” He turned to leave and then hesitated, and turned back to the queen. “I will ride to Arras, at sunrise.”
“Go then, with haste.”
“No,” Cenith said abruptly, “I will not be left behind.”
“You are commander of the Citadel Guard,” answered Amaryl, “and the guard cannot leave the city in time of war.”
Cenith threw his eyes down, but Otheron knew his brother’s need. “I need a leader of the horse.”
Amaryl considered them both. So alike, so desperately different. “So be it. I will appoint some other to lead the Citadel.”
Otheron glanced at the body of the Arrasti soldier a last time, and left the room, Cenith following. Caladon, however, remained, standing by the bier, his arms crossed and his chin on his hand. He stared long at the soldier, lost in thought. At last Amaryl broke the silence.
“And what of you, does your blood boil to join your brothers?”
“Time enough for that.” Caladon shrugged. “Mother, he said that the Mahare . . . that something prevented him from sending, something is very wrong.”
“It has done more than that,” she said, answering a question that Caladon had not asked, “quiet your mind. Do you sense it, a shadow on the Mahare?”
“Yes,” Caladon answered softly.
“It is why your father lies dead.”
For an instant Caladon saw her composure cracked, he knew the pain beneath, the terrible price she was paying, and then she drew a deep breath. The moment passed. “I am returning to his side.” Amaryl sighed.
“We have not had the chance to say goodbye to him, now this . . .” He glimpsed down on the dead, and then he took his mother’s hand. “Shall I come?”
“No, give us a while to ourselves.” She turned to go to her heart’s deathbed, but as she left the hall Amaryl paused and looked back. Caladon had sat cross-legged on the floor to peer closely at the two arrows.