At long last, I have started the first novel in my new fantasy trilogy. I only have a few thousand words written so far, but I have all three books fairly well outlined.
Here’s the first draft of the first half of my first chapter. Let me know what you think! (Please)
I’m still having trouble figuring out how to format my text. Any suggestions would be most welcome.
South of Duny is found the country called Holm. Holm does not produce any wizards. In fact, it is said that the people of Holm do not believe in wizards. The Holmish people are a dark-skinned people with smooth dark hair and brown eyes. They worship a god they call Liffrea, who is almost unknown to the rest of the world.
Holm is a mountainous land, with many lakes and with great rivers and small streams running into a sea speckled with green islands. In places, the mountains plunge directly into the sea, and rivers flowing from such mountains are more waterfall than river. In other places, broad rivers flow at a stately pace between the wooded hills. Large-eyed deer and other game frequent the hills. There are no true cities in Holm, but the hamlets and villages of Holm form only a narrow band along the shores of rivers and lakes and sea.
Of necessity, the people of Holm are well acquainted with the water. A common sight is their sleek wooden boats with slender masts and brown sails that dance lightly upon the waters. The children of Holm often learn to row and sail and cast a line even before they learn to write their letters or to sing the sacred stories of their outlandish god.
The sea is the hand that rocks Holmish cradles, and the murmur of the waves the voice that sings Holmish children to sleep. The sea is the road that runs from island to island and port to port, and rivers are the roads that run between the scattered villages and farms of the dry land. In one such village, named Ulas, is said to have lived a boy named Doron, the son of a sawyer. The natives claimed that this boy had the ability to talk with their god.
Doron is said to have lived during the reign of Aethelgar the True.
From “History of the Southern Lands,” by Theostor Ealdspraeca
Fa’s hands were rough. It still surprises me that such a mundane detail is the clearest memory I have of that day in my sixth year when I was taken from my home to live with my aunt. We must have climbed the hill from Ulas up to Aunt Sophos’s hut on the bluff, but I can no longer remember the climb. Perhaps Fa carried me. The sun beat down warmly on my head and shoulders, but I did not mind. I think Fa must have treated me gently, for I remember no unkindness from him, but his hands were rough and callused from his work in the saw pits, where he sliced trees into the planking that would eventually become boats.
Aunt Sophos’s hut was set on the edge of the bluff, overlooking the sea. A small clearing covered with wildflowers surrounded the hut, but beyond the clearing were the dark trees of the forest.
Fa stopped outside the leather door and rapped with his walking staff on one of the logs to announce his presence. I stood with one arm around his knee. Aunt Sophos pulled back the door and stood in the opening. She wore a leather jerkin that hung nearly to her knees over her linen tunic, which was yellowed with age. The leather had several dark stains and a large burned spot. She wore soft tan leather boots.
“I can’t keep him, Soph.”
Sophos’s gaze went from Fa’s face down to mine. Her hair was dark, with a slight streak of gray over her right eyebrow. Her eyes narrowed and then looked more kindly on me. “Do you think I can keep him any better?” she asked gently. Her hut smelled of smoke from the hearth, of course, but the smoke was mingled with the dark smells of herbs and a sharp, biting fragrance that burned my nose and tickled the back of my throat. I pinched my nose.
“You have to do better than I can,” Fa said. “I can’t leave him home alone all day, and you know the saw pits are no place for a boy.” The day Ma had died, people had made a fuss over me, but once they were gone, it was just Fa and me again. And so it had been in the intervening days. I had gone with Fa to the saw pits a couple of times, but it had been hard to sit still in the sun while Fa sawed the logs.
Aunt Sophos looked at me again, and her dark eyes bored into mine. “Can you do what I tell you, boy?”
I let go of my nose and nodded. When she didn’t respond, I said. “Yes, I can.” She seemed uncertain, so I added, “On my honor.”
She smiled then and nodded. “That will do,” she said.
“I will take him,” she said to Fa. “But you are still his father. When he needs the lessons that only a father can give, I will send him to you.” She smiled slightly. “And when I need the time to myself that a woman needs on occasion, I will also send him to you.”
Fa grinned at that. I didn’t know why. “I am grateful, Soph. Between the two of us, we can get him raised.”
My aunt put her hand on my shoulder and drew me inside. The interior of the hut was dimly lighted after I had come in from the bright sunlight, but light shone through the smoke hole in the roof and through two windows covered with some kind of skin, scraped thin and oiled. “You can live with me, and I will teach you what I know,” she said. “Some of it won’t smell very good, but you will grow accustomed to that.” She turned back to Fa. “I’ll take your boy, Goneos, but you have to promise to be there when we need you. Can you promise me that?”
Fa grinned again and bobbed his head. “I can promise, Soph. I do promise.” He kneeled down so he and I were of a height. “Be good to Sophos, Doron, and she will be good to you. Learn what she teaches, and she will keep teaching you. Make your fa proud, boy.” He stepped inside the leather door and embraced his sister briefly.
Then, without another word, my Fa turned and walked away.
Sophos turned from the door and sat on a stone shelf near the hearth. “Have you eaten anything today?” she asked.
Unsure what to say, I shook my head. “Breakfast,” I said. “A hearth cake and dried apples.” My eyes were becoming accustomed to the dimmer light, and I saw things that had been hidden to me before. A tall wooden table along one side of the room. Shelves with small pots, many of which appeared to be stoppered somehow. A curtain across from the table. The way it moved in the air currents made me think there might be a space behind it.
Sophos raised one eyebrow and shook her head. “My brother,” she said. “He doesn’t have the sense he was born with. Bring you clear up here on a hot day, and you with an empty stomach. I have some cheese and bread and there’s a jug of berry juice cooling in the well. Will that do until evening?”
I nodded my head. It sounded very good right then.
Sophos cut off a thick slice of bread and a slice of cheese that was only slightly smaller. She poured spiced oil for dipping onto a heavy plate and set the bread by it. “Don’t touch that until I get back with the juice,” she said.
When she returned, she poured dark red juice into two mugs. Then she raised her hands up toward the smoke hole in the roof and sang the dining song to Liffrea.
“Is this a real meal?” I asked when her song ended. I had never heard anybody but my mother sing the dining song, and she had sung it only for the evening meal. I hadn’t heard it sung for just a snack.
“Real enough,” she said. “Liffrea is the lord of life. I prefer to honor him whenever I have an opportunity. Perhaps then he will honor me whenever he has an opportunity.” She took a long drink of her juice. “You’ll find I sing quite often,” she said, and she reached over and mussed my hair. It felt good to have her touch me so familiarly, and I smiled.
As I ate my bread and cheese, Sophos went back to her herbs. She had something in a bowl that she was grinding with a long stone. “This is what you smelled when you first came to the door,” she said. “I’m grinding the roots of rabbit weed.”
I didn’t know why she needed the roots, but I watched silently. After working for a moment longer, she said, “When these roots are ground and dried, they make a good medicine. It tastes as strong as it smells, but it helps women . . . with . . . things.”
I thought about that for a while. “You mean baby things?”
“Did you give any of that medicine to my mother?”
She looked up at me and stopped grinding. “No,” she said slowly. “This medicine wouldn’t have helped the kind of problem your mother had. I’m sorry.”
“Is there any medicine that would have helped my mother get better?” She had suffered for long hours after her last child had been born, gray and limp. I had hidden outside, trying to escape her cries. When I had gone back in, her blood had soaked through the pallet and run out across the floor, dark red across the hard-packed dirt. A short time later, she had breathed her last.
She shook her head slowly. “I’m sorry, Doron.” She came to me then and wrapped her arms around me. Her jerkin smelled of herbs, but it felt good to be held. I tried very hard to hold the unwanted tears back, but they trickled across my cheek, and I felt a choking in my chest like a heavy weight was pressing on me, keeping me from breathing. “I gave your mother every remedy I could think of to help her, but I was too late.”
By then, I was sobbing. “Why couldn’t you have come sooner?” I wailed. My aunt held me and rocked me and said nothing for a long time.
When my sobs finally wore themselves out, she put her hand under my chin and raised my face toward hers. “I will teach you everything I can, Doron.” She smiled sadly. “Maybe someday we can learn how to save another little boy’s mother.”