Thursday, March 17, 2016

The First Two Pages

After much thought, and because I posted the first pages of my latest book, The Fifth Man, on this blog many months ago, I've decided that I wanted to share the updated version.  Since, the book has undergone several title changes and adjustments to both the characters and the theme, but I've settled these things now and I want to show and tell.  This is what the Jumpstarter is all about.

It should always be remember that writing is rewriting, and that we edit until it hurts; then we edit some more.  This is at last the version that I will give to my editor, because I am ready to abandon it.

Chapter One

It was only reflex. I didn’t know that I’d killed my first man until it was done – and even then, it took time before it came clear to me. I stared at the glistening blood draining down the gutter of my sword. I heard his body collapse onto the dry leaves of the forest. I saw him. He laid face-down, his wet, curly hair trailing over his back. A leather tunic, old and unmended, wrapped his body. He had no money for better clothes. His only weapon was a club, lying on the ground next to his stilled hand. He had nothing now – was nothing now. Coldly, I had used my sword to end his life, with as little effort as lifting my arm or turning my wrist. My father’s training had paid off well. A man who had been willing to hurt me was dead.

I was fourteen.

My father’s hand upon my shoulder interrupted my thoughts, pulling my eyes from the body. I did not look back. My father’s proud, happy face beamed down at me. I heard his words of praise. I grasped him tight as he hugged me. I loved my father. I did not care who died or not, so long as my father loved me.

We fought those brigands two days out of a great city called Augustus, in a little kingdom called Fallow. It is far from where I am as I write this now, in another place.  It was many years ago. The people I hear as I write these words, in the market below the window of my room, have no knowledge of my homeland. They go about, unaffected by all that I have ever done. In my mind, I am more in Fallow than here, where I was only a boy, a boy without any awareness except his country and his family. Yet I carried my weight. I drove my own wagon, managing two horses by myself. My father’s wagon, with four horses, had the lead. I followed. Between the wagons, on foot, were two of the king’s guards, strong men with shields and spears.

The road was no better than two ruts along a grassy cut between the trees. Up and down, up and down went the journey. We would drop down short, steep grades, the wheels skittering as we held back our horses. The climbs were a struggle, the horses’ hooves digging out divots from the soft earth. In the bottoms, our wagons churned through water-filled holes, sometimes up to the hubs. All that day, there were hints of rain though none fell. The sky was overcast and heavy. Around us, the wood yielded an appearance more grey than green. If there had once been shrubs and undergrowth in the distant past, it was gone now. Little sunlight reached that forest floor. A few spare onions and beet plants, with rare humps of brown hay, made little impression above the dead leaves of last season, stretching out like a carpet.

As I think of it, I cannot say why the guards were there, nor even remember their names. I had some dim notion that my father’s reputation carried weight with the king’s court and with various nobles, but I had not quite reached the age where I cared. It did not matter at fourteen who my father knew or why they would come with us. They were his friends or his associates and that was enough for me. It is strange how accepting a boy can be about the world and the people in it.

When we came to the place where the brigands attacked, the man set to take me appeared from behind a tree, so near that he might have struck me before I could move. Some instinct preserved me so that I acted quickly – but as I jumped, my heel caught the wagon’s toe board and I lost my balance. I fell away from him, putting the wagon between us. If the road had been open, he might have climbed aboard and driven off. Instead, he came around to find me.

I had tumbled and gotten wrapped in my cloak. I clawed the folds from my face with one hand, grasping and drawing my sword with the other. I saw the attacker only for a moment, his chest coming at me. Then he was dead.

There were five brigands who attacked us. The rest of the fight ended quickly. One of the guards killed his with a throw of his spear. The other guard’s attacker came much closer and the guard’s spear broke – and yet he still managed to finish off the brigand with the broken end. My father killed his first opponent with the axe on his belt, then chased the other into the trees before he got away. This accounted for four of the brigands, all dead, while we four were all well and unhurt. My father would tell me after that they were foolish, desperate men, who had likely presumed we were merely a teamster, a boy and two footmen. We had proved them wrong.

The only brigand I had seen alive was the one I’d killed. The fifth one that fled was out of sight before my father found me. When I saw the three other bodies, all torn apart, I felt ill. I was glad there was no other to fight. I did not want to kill again.

My father was not satisfied. Though we had frightened off the fifth man, he might be anywhere nearby, waiting for us. My father told us to calm the horses and get underway, saying that we should fear an assassin’s arrow come stealing at us from a nearby, hidden place. That frightened me. My heart pounded as I retrieved the reins to the horses from between their legs, where I’d dropped them, and climbed onto my seat.

We started off, with both guards driving and riding in my father’s wagon. My father stayed behind, waving us on, promising that he would soon find us. He shifted his axe to his other hand, drew his sword and headed into the trees.

We went ten minutes along the road, then stopped and waited for him. My eyes anxiously searched for any movement. The guards were not concerned. They began an argument about a sausage one had brought along and how they might share it; both claimed to be hungry and until my father returned they could not build a fire. It might be hours, it might be after dark, before we could camp. I did not care about the sausage. I wished my father would return quickly, whether we built a camp or not. At last, the soldiers came to an agreement and ate their fare. I was offered some but I could not eat. Our wait seemed very long.

Then my father appeared on the road. Both his weapons were on his belt, showing he had nothing to fear. I stood up and waved with both arms, shouting. He smiled and waved back. Soon he was close enough to tell us that he hadn’t found the man. The guards greeted this news with little comment and soon we were on our way again. When the end of the day threatened, my father called a halt and we began to sort ourselves out for a meal and sleep, like it was any other day. All three adults gave the sense that nothing had happened.

It was only after the fifth or sixth rework that I realized - what with the new title and all - how much this looks like a "my father was killed and I am bent on revenge" opening.  I am glad to say that is not the measure of the plot at all.  Until the last paragraph above, however, I can easily see people thinking that's what's coming.

If you like the writing, I can assure the reader that the quality and level goes on for 50,000 words, so far.  I still have a lot of book to rewrite: but I feel it is strong and confident and possesses a very real feel about adventuring from scene to scene.  I am more than pleased with it.

Please consider a small donation; please consider supporting me on Patreon.  And if not, don't forget to buy the book when I publish.

I am setting a date for the preview ($25 donation): Tuesday, April 26, 40 days away.  I plan for that preview to be the first 35,000 words (thereabouts); more than enough to chew.

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