Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Been a while

Finally got some things sorted out, work, business, house move, et cetera, so here is the latest finished chapter where ten year old Finn meets Barghest and finally joins up with the Black General.


The pain was how Finn knew that he was still alive. A dull ache pulsing through his head, sharpening as he pushed through the fog in his mind. Darkness, and pain in his head, his shoulder and elbow. Something was wrong, something about falling, a horse, the hated Arrasti, something that kept him lying still and wondering where he was. He calmed his heart beat, turned his focus to his senses other than sight. A fire cracking. The smell of smoke, food, the acrid odor of men. The coarse wool of a horse blanket scratched his face. His wrists burned, rough rope bound his hands behind his back. Now that something was very wrong. He lay still and listened.

Men talking, soldiers, many of them all talking at once. Finn listened, picked out the separate voices, the separate conversations, and he did not understand their words but he slowly narrowed his attention to two men speaking softly somewhere to his right. He did not understand, but he thought they were talking about him, arguing, and one of those men spoke harshly and stalked away from the camp.

Finn waited, as still and quiet as death.

His face felt cool, but his back was warm. He lay facing away from the fire, counting his heartbeats. The camp slowly fell silent and after five hundred beats of his heart Finn cracked open an eye. A blur, dull and dim, the outline of a log lit by the glow of the fire. Beyond the night was utter blackness.

He closed his eye, and listened. Somewhere to his left the horses stirred, tied to a picked line. One man moved around the camp, a guard. Finn tracked the sound of his footsteps, coming close toward him, the guard passed by his head, the footsteps receded under the crackle of the fire. Finn waited. A limb snapped, leaves rustled, the guard walking away into the trees and faintly Finn heard the man relieving himself against a tree trunk.

Finn rolled to his left, up onto his knees, and now he opened his eyes and looked around. It was a sleeping camp, men rolled in blankets, two tents off to his right. He squirmed back, passing his hands under his body and around his feet. He gnawed at the rope, realized that would get him nowhere and biting his lips twisted and contorted his wrists hand hands. He slipped free of the rope.

Finn sprinted into the darkness. He was far away by the time the guard called out, and he knew the stupid men would never find him in the night.

They never had.

It took two deep gashes on his face, from whipping tree branches, to slow Finn down. He walked, breathing hard, with no idea where he was or which direction he should go. He was hungry, tired, his head on fire, and he only wanted to be safe. Finn looked up at what he guessed was a gap in the trees over his head. No moon. He wandered, wanting only to put distance between him and the odan, and it was a few minutes before he realized that he had stumbled onto a clearing in the trees. Finn barely made out the ghostly outlines of a house, gloomy and hushed, and he crept forward until he saw the door standing ajar as a silent witness to tragedy. He crouched, then sat cross-legged watching the house and listening, and after a while he decided the house was safe. He stood and crossed to the porch and then the door, laying his hand against the wood. There was no one inside, he was certain of that. The door swung open at his touch, he swallowed, and pushed through.

He heard nothing, saw nothing, but there was a strange smell musky and damp like turned soil. Finn shrugged. He stepped inside, taking small steps and waving his hands in front of him. His shin struck a chair, no a couch, he patted down the cushions and sat. He sighed. It was better than most places he had slept recently.

The door swung closed and snicked shut.

He heard an exhalation of breath, almost a hiss, and Finn reached to his belt, for the knife that was not there anymore. He stood, backing away along the couch. He heard . . . something, a faint swishing noise. A light appeared, a green glow that reminded him of the purple worms. The light grew. It was a glass jar, insects of some kind in a glass jar, glowing brighter and brighter as they were shaken. The hand that held the glass looked wrong, deformed, and there was another hand holding a wicked blade. Finn backed against the wall, into a corner, the light grew and Finn saw that the other in the room was a ghul.

The ghul crossed the room toward Finn, breathing softly hissing between sharp teeth. The thing wore a shroud of motley furs and it rattled as it came, jangling bangles and necklaces of bone and stone, beads and feathers. It set the glass on a table, and with its hand now free it shook open a pouch and brought a pinch of something to its lips. The ghul puffed, a mist spread from its fingers, the light brightened until it bathed the room a poisonous green.

“Sssss . . . sit,” the ghul hissed, pointing to the couch.

Finn shook his head. He could not speak.

The hand with the dagger disappeared within the folds of the furs, and came out empty. The ghul shook its long, lank hair away from its face. It came one step closer.


Finn obeyed the command.

The ghul stood in front of the couch, wrinkling its nose, stooping and staring at the boy. Its lips moved, whispering lisping sounds Finn could not really hear. Finally it opened another pouch, tied at its waist by a leather cord, and stepped forward with a gob of something black and oily on its fingers. Finn cringed but the creature placed a hand gently on his head, peering at the cuts on his face. It spread the salve on the cuts, dabbing delicately, its breath came and went in a soft hiss and the smell of turned earth.


Finn looked up at the sound.

“Mine name, Barghesst.”

The ghul stepped back, the tips of her fingers pressing up under his chin as she inspected her work. She arched an eyebrow.



“Thy name?”

“Umm, Finn.”

Barghest stepped back, squatted down before the child. “Why here, Finn?”

“I, I was running from some men. I found this house.”

“Why run?”

“They wanted to hurt me.”

The ghul nodded, hissed softly, “yess . . . men hurt.”

Finn stared back at her.

The ghul contorted her face, baring her teeth, a smile that made Finn crawl inside. “Ghul hurt men back.”

“But you’re not going to hurt me?”

She shrugged, turned her head sniffing the air. “Alone thee came?”

Finn did not like this game of questions.

“Alone?” Barghest leaned in closer to him, her bangles and charms rattling with the sudden movement.



Finn nodded. “Yes, alone.”

“Ssss . . . Thee stay here, he comess ssoon.”


“Me,” a deep voice said.

Finn looked up, shocked, a shadow loomed across the room by the door. Barghest whirled up, spinning around and her clawed hand plunging into her furs, but she relaxed suddenly, and she lowered her head. “Thee and thine black one,” she mumbled.

“Thee and thine Barghest.” Anatheme threw the hood back from his face, came forward into the light. “Hello Finn.”

With the ghul’s back turned to him the boy leapt to his feet, dodged around her and was halfway to the windows on the far side of the room when an iron grip seized his arm. He punched blindly, screaming words that his mind did not form, flailing against the man until he was lifted in the air and deposited in a heap on the couch.

“Enough!” Anatheme turned to the ghul. “What is he doing here?”

Barghest shrugged. “Barghest wait for thee, boy comes instead.”

“That’s it?”

She shrugged again, shaking her head. “Ask the boy.”

Anatheme glanced down at Finn. The boy stared hatred back at him. “I intend to,” he said, “but first we have business.”

The man and the ghul stood away from whispering in words that Finn could not hear no matter how he concentrated. They watched him. He waited. His would take his chance when it came.

Anatheme kept a firm grip on Finn as they left the house, until the boy was in the saddle of the horse, tied outside. He said a few quiet words to the ghul, and then took up the reins and walked beside the horse. At first neither of them spoke. Finn held his feelings inside, he did not want to let the black man win, he wanted silence to speak for him, but a rage grew until it snarled out.

“Why did you do it?”

Anatheme laughed, short and bitter. “You cut right to it.” He shook his head. “Some questions have no answers, boy, some questions shouldn’t be answered.”

“You killed her,” Finn shouted, “you killed everyone, you killed everyone.”

Anatheme looked up at him, his hood was slung back, and in the darkness he could have been any man that Finn once loved. “What could I tell you Finn that you would understand? That there is a cancer on the world, a sickness? Can I give you that sense of wrongness, make you feel it with certainty like steel in the center of your body?”

Finn said nothing.



“Then do not ask questions if you aren’t prepared for the answers. That’s what I did.”

“What questions?”

Anatheme sighed. They walked for a while before he answered. “It started by asking what was wrong with me, why wasn’t I good enough, and then it was what’s wrong with them . . . and finally what’s wrong with us.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

The man glanced up, eyes narrowed, “no, right now to you I suppose it doesn’t, but when you get into the habit of asking questions like that sooner or later you start wanting answers.”


“So what happens if you don’t like the answers?”

Finn snorted and looked away, shaking his head.

“What about you Finn, you found the body in the river, did you ask it any questions?”

Finn looked away.

“No? Not curious? Well I have a question about that, it just occurred to me, about the message pouch, the seal was broken . . .”


“If the enemy had opened the pouch, why would they put the message back in it, and why would the messenger open it after he had been shot but before he died, so . . .”


“So who opened the pouch Finn?”

Finn said nothing. He looked away.

Anatheme stopped, took a deep breath. “Well, it doesn’t matter now, except . . .”

Finn looked at him.

“Except if someone had opened the pouch, and read the message, then all of this might not have happened. Right?”

Finn looked away.

“I remember your father, and I think he said something about another son, but what about your mother?”

Finn spun back, his eyes flashing, “my mother?”

“Where was she?”

“She died . . . a long time ago.”

“I’m sorry.” Anatheme looked up into the boy’s face. “Here.” He handed Finn the reins. “You can ride, any direction you want.”


“I’m sure that you can survive on your own. Look at what you did in the cave.”

Finn said nothing, but he stared at the man.

“A boy like that is strong. A boy like that can do almost anything . . . be almost anything. A boy like that can dare almost anything.”

“You, you won’t make me come with you?”

Anatheme laughed again, but this time he smiled. “Make you? I have many things to do, and none of them include being your jailer. Finn, there is much I would teach you. How to use the strength inside of you,” he placed his hand over Finn’s heart, “how to make the world a place for you instead of just surviving.”

Finn looked down at the reins in his hand. He did not think about it, but he knew how the man made him feel, powerful, strong.

Finn gave the reins back to Anatheme.

“I want to go with you.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Flew by the 200 page mark. A new, all Finn all the time chapter done. It was a strange pleasure making an eight year old boy eat worms and crickets and then catch and eat raw fish to survive.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Rose|Thorn update

Ten chapters down, one new Finn scene written and 167 pages done. Pace is picking up as the latter chapters need fewer edits. Here is the new Finn scene, which starts as the siege of Kestrelrock is picking up:

Finn stretched up on his toes to see over the lowest part of the wall. A cold wind blew from the north under a sky of heavy grey clouds. Most the Raevanae in the Kestrelrock crowded the parapets, to watch the ukun below fling their little stones against the wall. Finn squinted to get a better view of the creatures, the ghul, and the great lumbering thralls. But he was unsatisfied, he could not see them well, he wanted to ride out, to see them up close and to fight them, drive the hated creatures away from his home.

“Move over!”

He caught an elbow in the ribs from Colber, his best friend in the fortress. Like him Colber’s people had not come back. Many had not come back. The boys had spent the weeks since sneaking and spying out every hole and closet and passageway in the Kestrelrock, killing scores of imaginary ghul and Skledi, and now even Arrasti, anything to keep from remembering their faces.

“Move over. I can’t see.”

Finn shifted a fraction and Colber shoved in next to him. The warriors around them gave the boys a few looks, from bemused to annoyed, but no one yet told them to get back inside.

“How many are there?”

“Dunno,” Finn replied, “too many to count.”

“Filthy beasts.” Colber spat over the side of the wall and the boys watched the gob spin and tumble as it fell.

“Look, there’s one!” Finn pointed down at one of the odd machines on the ground far below, a long arm turned vertically throwing up a thing that looked at that distance no bigger than Colber’s gob of spit. The missile grew larger as it arced toward the fortress wall, battering with a loud crack against the wall far from the parapet, vanishing in a cloud of splinters.

Finn whistled.

“Pointless,” said a warrior who grinned down at the boys. “Nothing these ghul could throw at us would so much as chip the wall.”

“Why are they doing it then?” Colber asked.

The man shrugged. “They're ukun. Who knows why they do anything?”

Finn glanced up at something cold and wet brushing his cheek. Snow flakes swirled lazily in the air. He held out his hand and a fat snow flake landed on it, melting at once into a clear puddle. He glanced up again as the snow fall thickened, it was starting to cling to their hair and shoulders, but then he heard voices rising from the fields.

“What are they singing?”

The warrior shrugged again.

“Filthy beasts, hope they like the snow.”

“Hope they freeze.”

But Finn thought he heard something else, a scream, from behind them, and he turned frowning and looking down into the courtyard below the wall. “What was tha . . .?” A woman screamed, all the warriors, everyone on the parapet spun around, a door below flung open and a woman, blood covering her face, collapsed outward into the courtyard. “The gate,” she shrieked once and then an Arrasti clansman was in the doorway behind her, his sword thrust out between her breasts, splattering crimson on the stones of the yard. Then the Arrasti was gone again, and all that remained was the body of the woman already being covered by a thin sheet of snow.

The warriors along the parapet burst into motion for the stairs. Screams, shouts, all around them bodies rushing, a horn bleated from somewhere but what it meant was lost on Finn. A tall warrior looked over the wall, and called loudly that the ghul were charging the gates from the outside. The boys ran with the warriors, bounded down the stairs two at a time recklessly, but somewhere in the twisting passages of the Kestrelrock, two levels above the gate, Colber separated from him, carried away down a hallway with a different group. Finn never saw him again.

Finn ran down a broad curving staircase, but the warriors that he trailed were starting to get ahead of him, none of them had paid him any attention. He thought he knew why, he thought if the enemy got through the gate it would be the end of everything, but part of him wanted that, the chance to fight and kill just one of them. The rest of him was simply terrified.

The warriors turned and clattered down another flight, and then another, Finn doing his best to keep up with them. Shouts and the sounds of fighting growing louder, and now that horn bleated constantly, and the warriors he was with were caught up in an even larger group rushing down a long hall toward the first courtyard and the gatehouse. Finn ran out into the hall and sprawled on the thick carpet, a man crashed into him, cursing he leaped up and was away without even seeing what he had tripped over. A woman with a bare sword in her hand paused, grabbed Finn by the collar and hauled him up with her free hand. It was Lady Parrin.

“What are you doing here?” She yelled over the noise. Finn opened his mouth to say something, but the lady shoved him back toward the stairs. “Go to the stables,” she shouted and then turned and dashed down the hallway.

Finn stood for a moment, one foot on the first step, a hand on the balustrade, but then he ran out into the hall and toward the sound of fighting. The bleating of the horn cut off abruptly, and the noise and tumult of only a moment before seemed to die away. Finn dashed through the reception hall, one of the great doors at the far end was wedged shut, but the other stood ajar. There were still some sounds of fighting just beyond. He stepped through the doorway.

A blanket of red snow covered most of the courtyard, at least where there were no bodies. Arrasti and Raevanae soldiers lay everywhere. Finn stopped, breathing heavily and bent double at a stitch in his side. But he could not take his eyes off of the open archway under the gatehouse, and the dark figure standing in the open gate. He was tall, shrouded from head to ground in swirling black, his face all but covered by a hood, and in his hand a sword dripping red at his feet. Lady Parrin stood before him, poised to strike. Finn hardly saw her move, her sword a blur of silver, but the man simply stepped aside. The Lady spun and reversed into a strike at his unprotected side, but his sword was there, blocking and sliding along her blade, and he twisted his body into a lunge that impaled her. As Parrin’s body crumpled to the ground a wave of ghul swept around the Black General.

Finn froze for a single moment, staring at the ghul, squat and square, with heavy shoulders and long, thick arms, spindly bowlegs, clothed in miscellaneous bits of armor and scraps of ragged, dirty clothes but carrying long, curved knives and barbed spears. But then something turned inside him, some instinct to survive. He looked at the body of the Lady Parrin once more, looked at the dark figure of the Black General standing over her, and then turned, and ran for his life.

Off of the reception hall was a room, in that room a closet, and in that closet a panel covering an old, unused dumbwaiter. Before the ghul could even sniff out which direction he had gone, Finn was in the second kitchens. He snatched a wicked looking butcher knife, shoved it into his belt, and stuffed a few hanks of bread into his pockets. Muffled shouts and the ring of weapons came from somewhere. He thought maybe it was best to go down, into the basements, and hide. Beyond that he had no plan.

Most of the storerooms in the basements were dark, Finn did not dare to carry a light. Mostly he felt his way along, and though he knew the best place to hide, it took hours. Twice he saw torches, once it was a party of ghul and the other they were men, Skeldi or Arrasti. Finn hid, one sweaty hand clutching the butcher knife, and the other clamped over his mouth. Both times he was passed by, but he waited each time anyway to make sure none of them stayed behind.

Finally he reached where he wanted to go, an old chamber more than half cluttered with broken furniture and leaking barrels, the forgotten remains of old lives, and in the back of that chamber was a crack in the wall. He squeezed in, squirming back and back until he reached a wide spot where he could lay down. He did nothing for a long time but breathe and listen, his head resting against the cool stone. He took air in, pushed it back out, trying to be a regular as he could, trying to stay calm, to think and not to remember, trying not to imagine he was lying in a coffin.


Finn sat up, rubbing his face with his hands.

“Water,” he murmured to himself, “sooner or later I’ll need water.”

He took the bread from his pockets, took a bite, but his tongue was already dry. The bread seemed to expand in his mouth. He swallowed it but he did not eat any more.

She was so fast, but he was faster. He killed her.

Finn shifted. He knew he needed water, knew he could not stay in that hole forever. He started to crawl out, but rolled over when he felt a sharp pain in his leg. He it, and his hand came away wet and smelled of blood. He cut himself with the knife, but it did not seem too bad. Finn rolled back over, careful of the blade, and crawled out of the hole into the storeroom. In the faint light he looked down at where his pant had been cut, and there was a small gash that felt worse than it looked, but . . . but the room had not been lit when he first came through.

Slowly Finn raised his eyes. The light came from a torch held by a ghul standing on the other side of the pile of detritus. Finn ducked as fast as he dared, squeezing his hands hard together, biting his lip, it had been looking the other way, it didn’t see me, it didn’t. The ghul mumbled and muttered something to itself, and Finn heard it kick at some piece of trash. The light faded away. He risked peeking up, quick, the creature was gone away. Finn breathed again.

They spotted him just once, a shout from another room as Finn passed an open doorway, but he knew the labyrinth of rooms, at least far better than they did. He ran fast, but without panic, and he could see better in the dark than they could even with their torches. He lost them in a labyrinth of barrels and crates and bundles spread out over several storerooms, then he doubled back to where he had decided was best, the wellhead.

There were tuns of water stacked in the well room. Finn broke one of them open and drank deeply from his cupped hands. Torches burned low in the brackets, but he frowned and shook his head at a dozen or so lanterns spilled all over the floor. He felt drawn to the black circle in the floor. The lake was down there, he knew, and he edged to the hole, a cold draft wafting across his face. He stared into the darkness, wondering how far down was the water.

“You gave them a good chase, you know.”

Finn shrieked. It was all he could do to keep from tumbling through the hole. He grabbed the barrel to steady himself and turned to the voice that spoke from within the room.

A tall dark figure lounged against the doorpost.

Finn stared, licking his lips, suddenly he was very thirsty again.

“But I had a feeling where you would come.” The figure, the Black General, stood straight, raising his hands to his hood. He was so fast. He flicked the hood back, and even in the dim, tricky light of the torches Finn saw a nightmare.

“No . . . no,” he whispered.

“I won’t harm you.” The general extended a hand, pale against his dark robes. “I want you to come with me, I want you to know . . .”

“No!” Finn shoved his weight against the great barrel in the middle of the room, trying to throw it over the edge of the hole, but it did not budge.

“Come with me Finn.” Anatheme put one foot forward, his hand still held out, he killed her, and Finn stepped out onto nothingness, and disappeared through the hole.

It seemed to take forever for the echoes of the splash to reach the wellhead. The Black General shook his head, pulled his hood over, and walked away.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Nip and tuck, Slash and hack

Five sparklingly revised chapters in the can, and the sixth largely done. Even with the addition of the Finn character arc, I've chopped the manuscript from 124 pages at this point to 72. Fifty-two pages in the bin, 42% reduction, sounds drastic but you know what? I haven't really lost a thing. The story isn't the same; the story is better than ever, tight, dynamic, vital. The beginning of Rose|Thorn is shaping up tomatch the ending.

I give it another two months and It'll be ready for queries.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Now, new and improved!

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.


“Yes father?”

“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.

She paled.

“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.”

Mathis bowed.

“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.”

“To vengeance?”

“To war.”

“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.

Monday, January 07, 2008

RoseThorn (de)construction and reconstruction

So this weekend I worked with Lisa Rector, a freelance editor, going over RoseThorn to figure out what is needed to make it stand out from the crowd. Apparently what is needed is some rather drastic cutting and reorganizing, along with the addition of a major expansion of a previously minor crahacter and the dumping of many other minor characters. I can already see the finished product in my mind's eye and I like it, I like it a lot. There's lots of work to do, but I'm energized and more than ready to create the new, streamlined and vitalized RoseThorn.

It's going to be better than ever.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Working with Freelance Editor

I've decided to engage the services of a professional, freelance editor, Lisa Rector of Third Draft, to work with me on Rose|Thorn, with the objective of polishing the manuscript to stand out from the slush pile crowd. We're scheduled to work the first week in January, so I hope to have the book ready for submissions again by the end of February.