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About a year ago or so, I started writing a fantasy novel. I posted a few chapters for people to read and got some good comments. Harsh, but good -- constructive criticism is always wanted.

No one should expect their first attempt or their first draft to be perfect, and mine certainly wasn't. In fact, I'm quite embarassed by it now...

I have sent rewritten and rewritten quite a bit. The story and characters and plot hasn't changed, but my writing style has improved as I reworked each line. I recently had one small publisher say they were interested and asked me to do one more draft and send it back, so maybe I'll actually get the thing printed some day.

Anyway, if anyone is interested I would like to post some of it here for comments. I would like real criticism -- if you don't like it, please tell me why. I may disagree with your comments of course, because everyone has different tastes as is obvious when we debate movies, but sometimes you need a different way of looking at things. For instance, last time I posted this someone figured out one of the plot twists after just a few chapters, so I moved some of the clues to later chapters and made them less obvious. That was a very good piece of criticism...

Anyway, let me know.... If no one is interested, I certainly understand and won't be offended. I'm just looking for help to make this as good as possible so I can get a publisher interested.

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Last edited by Groucho on Sat Oct 20, 2012 1:22 pm, edited 9 times in total.



Thu Dec 08, 2005 6:42 pm
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Um...where is it? I'd like to read it, if I have some spare time. I love fantasy.

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Thu Dec 08, 2005 7:22 pm
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Yeah I'd give reading it a try.

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Thu Dec 08, 2005 7:24 pm
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Thanks. It's called "Arch Enemies" (a pun which will be obvious by chapter 2)

I just tried to post the first chapter but when I copy from Word and paste into this , all the formatting gets lost. Anyone know why? Argh.

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Thu Dec 08, 2005 7:41 pm
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This area we type is a more simplistic editor then Word, so you lose the formatting.

hmm, you might try your word document as web page, and then copying that code here, does this board accept HTML?

I'd like to read it, once finals are over


Thu Dec 08, 2005 8:27 pm
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Mike, if you want to, you can email them to me. I'll convert them to HTML and post them on the website.

krem81@yahoo.com


Thu Dec 08, 2005 9:47 pm
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Thanks for the offer Krem but there are ultimately 23 chapters and that's a lot to ask... let me try importing the stuff into other formats and posting them first....

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Fri Dec 09, 2005 10:21 am
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ONE: Prophet and Loss


Shortly after the ornately carved but dusty wooden box was opened and the fading paper within revealed my identity, I stood obliviously half a mile away, sweating with nervousness as Bobo, regular as clockwork, fell on his arse. I barely noticed that something was being said to me until it was repeated with greater force. Blinking stupidly, I looked around.

“Now,” the young squire growled. He was unduly muscular, with angular features emphasizing his dark skin, decorated with the kind of goatee young men have because they can’t grow hair anywhere else on their face yet. “His Grace does not wish to wait. He requires your presence immediately.”

“There must be some mistake,” I fumbled. “I have to perform in a few minutes.”

He and his fellow squire exchanged a glance that said “musicians” in a wholly disparaging way, and I know because I had seen that look many times in my life. I started to speak again but was grabbed and pulled aside. They were polite about it, no undue hostilities, but this was not a subject open to debate.

“Look, you have the wrong guy,” I stammered as they dragged me away. “I have to go! I am scheduled to perform as soon as Bobo and Spanks finish their act…”

Emerging from the backstage area, we meandered through the crowd of drinking stinking patrons who were busy drowning their sorrows with similar wretches, pinching waiters and waitresses, and laughing at the antics on the stage.

“Oh, Bobo, you’re sooooo stupid!”

Consequently, no one paid much attention as we made our way past tables packed tighter than a Galanthian slave ship. My escorts stayed close to my side, but were polite enough to make it seem that they were simply going in the same direction as I.

Boris, the owner of the Five Lions, looked up and raised his bushy eyebrows as I passed. His moustache twisted in frustration and he slammed the mug he was holding onto the bar. I shifted my eyes to the two guards with me and Boris slowly gave us a wide berth, flashing me a very suspicious glance.

Bobo and Spanks’ routine continued on unabated. I knew that in a few seconds, Bobo would be hit by the slapstick—two long, thin boards held together at one end and open at the far end, which make a loud crack when applied to an appropriate posterior but which didn’t really hurt at all. I slowed my pace a bit and glanced over my shoulder.

Crack!

The squires, surprised, spun around to stare at the stage as I inartly ducked under a table. Frantically crawling past jutted knees and slopping through spilled beer, I squirmed my way toward the rear, with my lute strapped to my back scraping against the undersides of the tables. The shouts of the squires followed soon behind as I scrambled to a half crouch and tried to sprint between two long tables filled with smelly sailors.

“Stop that bard!” Smallbeard yelled, as a hand reached down to grab at my shirt. I dived under a neighboring table, slamming into the legs. It collapsed immediately, drenching me in a variety of intoxicating liquors, as the table’s occupants sprang upright or fell backwards in their seats.

The clamor from the crowd drowned out Bobo and Spanks as everyone shouted at once.

“What’s going on?”

“Maybe it’s an escaped convict!”

“A convict?”

“Is there a reward?”

The word ‘reward’ was all anyone heard, and soon the patrons were spinning around trying to locate the object of the reward, grabbing at anyone who looked like a possible escaped convict, and turning aside all available furniture to discover the whereabouts of the prize.

I quickly pulled myself up, leaped onto the nearest table, and started transversing the room, crossing stepping stones over a river of spilled beer. “A reward! A great reward!” I shouted over the din, waving my arms enthusiastically. “There he goes now, out the door!”

There came a scramble of arms and legs as bodies lunged toward the front in order to catch the villain. I navigated toward the rear the best I could, knowing the back door was waiting for me.

I didn’t get very far before Smallbeard loomed ahead. Leaning across the table I was on, he held out his sword and raised an eyebrow threateningly.

I paused for a split second, considered, and then took a careful step backward. The table, now unbalanced, fell under my weight, with the other end rising up to catch Squire Smallbeard under the chin with a satisfying thud. I jumped aside, not looking to see how he was, and dashed for the backstage area.

I had only run a few feet before mysterious words bellowed behind me, and I fell to my face. Strange how my first thought was relief that I had not broken my lute.

I couldn’t move a muscle. Not even my eyes could move to see what was happening. Wildly trying to conceive of an escape plan, I was interrupted by suddenly being flipped over, and found myself staring into the eyes of the other squire.

“You’ve been a very naughty boy, Terin Ostler,” she said.



* * *



By the time the spell had worn off and I could move again, the tavern was much calmer. The squires had assured everyone that everything was fine, that I was merely wanted by the Duke and not an escaped criminal, and that there was no reward. They tossed a few coins to Boris, who did not look sastified, and with each one taking an arm, led me out of the Four Lions. Their demeanor made it clear that I would not be let go, and the sword gripped tightly in Smallbeard’s other hand issued a discouraging warning.

Tripping slightly while my eyes adjusted, I stepped into the dark night and brisk air of Ashbury city. The noise level dropped tremendously and the cool breeze was like a splash in the face. No, wait, it was a splash in the face, from some drunken barbarian falling backwards at the sight of the squires, and accidentally tossing his mug into the air. He made a loud oof sound as he fell, and then fixed me with wide eyes. His dark scraggly beard accentuated a face that seemed older than the muscled body to which it was attached. His ragged clothes barely fit and were covered in dried mud. His eyes widened as he looked up.

“Bishortu!” he gasped fearfully.

The squires glanced at each other and then one gave a tug as if to say “let’s go.” I went, but looked back and saw the barbarian staring. Even at quite a distance away, he remained still. He seemed to be afraid of me—not the squires, but me. Eventually he faded into the night, still standing, still staring. I swallowed uneasily.

“What does the Duke want with me?” I asked once I shook my unease at the barbarian’s distracting gaze. “I haven’t done anything. Does he want to hire me to perform? I didn’t know he had even heard of me. I didn’t know anyone had ever heard of me.”

“You are Terin Ostler,” replied the other squire calmly, as if stating a fact that was so obvious there did not need to be further discussion. Her voice seemed quite sweet. I idly wondered if she could sing. A biata, judging by the feathers. I had only encountered biata a few times in my travels and always thought of them as a rather mysterious race of people—apparently descended from gryphons, feathers grow in their hair and on their eyebrows, which can sometimes make them look, well, kind of foolish. Still, with a lifespan, history and culture almost as old as the elves, they probably were used to us short-lived humans thinking them strange.

“Ah. Well. Yes, I am,” I stammered. “As you said. So you have heard of me?”

“Not until ten minutes ago,” replied Smallbeard. “His Grace told Darlissa and me to go to the Five Lions and find a short lad with a long nose and a lute. We asked Boris what your name was.”

Both seemed more at ease now that I was not struggling to get away. I did not even consider the idea. This was getting interesting. Besides, they had very large, sharp weapons.

My mother had always complained that I was too curious for my own good. “Curiosity killed the cat,” she would say, an expression I always hated. What, it’s bad to be curious? We should just be stupid and never wonder? On the other hand, that part about being killed was pretty persuasive. On my list of things to do, “being killed” placed way down at the bottom.

This thought unnerved me and brought me back to reality. I could not think of any beneficial or positive thing that could come of being brought against your will to see the Duke, and once more began to ponder various escape plans.

“The Duke specifically asked for me?”

“You or someone who looks like you and carries a specific musical instrument,” replied Darlissa. Giving me a glance, she added quietly “although he also said you were supposed to be handsome.” She snorted slightly, shook her head sadly, and smiled.

They said nothing more as they escorted me down the dirty cobblestone streets. It was fairly quiet that spring night, and the few people out and about didn’t pay us any attention as they trod along in their various tasks. The fog sliding off the river shrouded the city in gray and made me feel like a participant in a dream.

As the capital city for the entire duchy, Ashbury had much to offer. You could find unusual merchants on every block, great restaurants, and many forms of entertainment. When in Ashbury, you were in the front row (as they saying went), because everything happened there. Of course, “everything” included its fair share of crime, and groups like The Fist had supposedly easily taken control of Dockside and the black market. Ashbury was a city of contrasts—front rows and watching your back.

That night the city was, as usual, crowded with drab people pushing against each other, each convinced that their errands and duties were more important than anyone they might possibly encounter. They filled the doorways of short, squat buildings that towered a few stories over the narrow passageways, appearing imminent to topple but never making good on the threat. Dogs, cats and chickens wandered aimlessly underfoot.

I had only been in Ashbury city for a few weeks, having traveled from Blythedale through Nordenn and the Ash Forest to reach the capital. “You’re crazy!” my father had said. “Do you know how many bards there are in Ashbury? Stay here and help with the business and you can live well. Go off and follow your silly dreams and see what happens!” But still I went off, not at all interested in becoming a solicitor—all those contracts and wills bored me to tears. I was grateful that I came from a home that believed in education, since I ended up knowing how to read and write and have a basic understanding of the world. I also learned from my father how to tell a good story, because that is what lawyers do best.

Unfortunately for my family, they also paid for music lessons.

I was still young, and with all the optimism and stubbornness that comes with inexperience, convinced myself that unlike all the other young bards who traveled to Ashbury, I would become famous. I would write great epic poems and songs, enrapture my audiences, travel the world, and perform before nobility.

And now I was to meet the Duke.

I didn’t expect it to happen that fast.

Even Druzilla, the beautiful gypsy lady who cast my fortune in Nordenn, had not predicted this. Still, her voice haunted me, because she had somehow known me as soon as she threw her fortunestones. She knew where I was from, knew where I was going, and knew my dreams and desires even better than I did. I was flabbergasted by her accuracy. And then, after she had absolutely convinced me of her extraordinary powers, she gazed into me, her blue eyes cutting through me like a fat man at a buffet table, and said with the most serious of voices, “You will find that the pen will be mightier than the sword!”

At that, I laughed out loud and the ominous feeling that hung over me dissipated. Another stupid saying! I paid her two silver pieces for that? I left, convinced that I had been duped by a very convincing fraud, but she followed me to the door of her varda, anger in her eyes. “Do not toss away your future, young bard!” she cried at my back. “Your destiny has revealed itself to me and I have revealed it to you!” Of course, I thought, The Powers That Be always reveal themselves in clichés and homilies. It still made me chuckle to think about it, although deep down I had to admit it was a powerful reading up to that point.

Without warning (or maybe because my mind was on other things) I found myself before the huge doors to the Ducal Castle. Why do the powerful always make their surroundings so large and imposing? I thought. Is it supposed to make me feel inadequate and meek? I examined the doors as they slowly inched open. The scrollwork must have taken years to finish, and the large brass hinges were decorated with the coat-of-arms of the duchy of Ashbury. The knobs were highly polished and the hinges were well oiled, for the door made little noise as it towered over me, opening to reveal the great halls beyond. I felt inadequate and meek.

They revealed a long hallway divided by a bright red carpet, hundreds of candles on dozens of pedestals, and long ornate tapestries lining the walls depicting scenes of heroic battles and proud heroes. My taxes were being well spent.

Marching through another set of doors brought us to the throne room. A dozen or so ornately dressed people were surrounding Duke Aramis, who was listlessly sitting on the throne. They must have been very important because, well, they were surrounding Duke Aramis listlessly sitting on the throne. There were many races here—humans, elves, dwarves, biata—which makes sense when you consider that people are always referring to Ashbury as the city that is owned by no one. No other place on Fortannis can claim the diversity of Ashbury city. Of course, that also makes it a place of much turmoil and confrontation as well, but such is the price.

Duke Aramis was a good looking and fairly young noble whose long blonde hair curled around his head and escaped over his shoulders. His friendly, clean-shaven face exuded trust, and his active eyes hinted at a great intelligence. He proudly wore his gold and purple colors with the winged sword symbol prominently displayed on his chest. To his side were his magical shield and sword, well known through a myriad of stories and songs, most of which I could perform at a moment’s notice. His dedication to the Code of Chivalry was unparalleled. Unlike some of his predecessors, he had a reputation as a “man of the people,” earning his title through his heroic actions and not because he had been born into a noble family.

The squires motioned for me to stop and then they kneeled before the Duke and spoke quietly to him for a few seconds. I followed their example and fell to one knee.

“You must be Teril.” The voice was strong and commanding but completely friendly and comfortable. I looked up nervously.

“Terin, Your Grace.”

“Yes, I apologize, Terin. Please rise.”

He gave a smile as I stood. I could not help but grin back like some farmer brought up on stage to win a prize and who beams nervously as he looks into the audience. I caught myself and tried to look serious. The crowd mumbled around me.

I then noticed two biata in long robes decorated with their strange writing. One was fairly elderly, with graying hair, a slight beard, and thick spectacles. The other was younger and sat in his chair in a pose that said that he wasn’t too happy to be there. Duke Aramis glanced at the older biata and then spoke to me.

“Are you aware why we called you here today, Terin?”

I held up my lute. “Entertainment?”

A short burst of laughter erupted from the crowd as well as from Duke Aramis. It made me feel good even though I had not tried to be funny. It also made me more hopeful that I was not about to be sentenced to death.

“I am sure this will be entertaining, Terin,” said the Duke. “You are here because of the prophecy.”

I looked at him and furrowed my brow. So there was a prophecy about something—there is always a prophecy somewhere—and His Grace obviously wanted me to write a ballad about it. Although honored, I wondered why he chose me for this task, but remained silent, not wanting to speak out of turn. I glanced nervously around the room.

The Duke frowned and turned to one of the biata. “Xapano,” he said, “are you sure it is him?”

The one called Xapano lowered his spectacles a bit and stared at a yellowed piece of paper in his hand. “Short, male, human, long nose, handsome”—he paused for a second and looked at me with a slight bit of doubt—“lute. He fits the description. I can’t imagine there could be another one.”

“Very well then,” replied His Grace, turning back to me. “I hereby name you Terin of the Propehcy. You will be provided with the supplies you need to complete your quest as well as writs to allow access to any part of the duchy in order for you to perform your duties. I will be sending Sir Frost and a few squires along with you to assist and also to protect you from harm…”

“Are you certain that is allowed, Your Grace?” asked one of the nobility gathered around. Based on her leather crown, I guessed her to be the elven Baroness Glenduria Manyave from the Ash Forest.

“Yes, why not?” the Duke replied testily. “It doesn’t say he can’t have assistance.”

“We wouldn’t want to destroy our only chance by not following the prophecy correctly,” she replied.

“Well, if they wanted us to follow it correctly, why didn’t they make it clearer?” Duke Aramis snapped, and the room went silent. “Why are all prophecies written in such a way that there is more than one interpretation? They are always phrased so that it isn’t clear until afterward what you were supposed to do. Just once I would like to see a prophecy that says something like ‘On the 5th of next month, watch your head as you get out of the carriage so you don’t get a bump.’ Would that be so bad?”

“It is of course Your Grace’s decision,” nodded the Baroness, looking unconvinced.

“This is the damndest prophecy I have ever seen,” continued the Duke. “Absolutely accurate and exact at one minute and then vague and prophecy-like in the next. Well, at least it is an improvement over all the other prophecies…”

I had remained completely mute during all of this. Something was definitely wrong, or else I was the subject of a massive practical joke. I ran all the possibilities through my head and could find no reasonable explanation. The murmuring of the nobles gathered around grew in my ears and I finally said to myself “What prophecy?”

I must have said it louder than I meant to because the room got quiet very quickly.

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Fri Dec 09, 2005 10:32 am
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Err...I liked it.

I'm not that familiar with fantasy, but this was a enthralling enough read.

It's very well written in it's entirety, but I do have a bit of criticism. It seems to be moving a bit quick, the initial incident usually doesn't happen in the first chapter. It sure is good though.

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Shack wrote:
Err...I liked it.

I'm not that familiar with fantasy, but this was a enthralling enough read.

It's very well written in it's entirety, but I do have a bit of criticism. It seems to be moving a bit quick, the initial incident usually doesn't happen in the first chapter. It sure is good though.


Thanks for the comments -- that's what I need.

I want it to move quick; especially with a first novel, you have to grab the reader and make them want to continue. (It's like an action movie where something has to happen in the first five minutes.) It slows down after this, and there is much more character development and so on. I've read lots of articles about writing and getting your book published, and this is pretty standard advice, to start your story in the middle of the action, so to speak.

The most important thing about the first chapter is this: Are you interested in seeing what happens next? Does it make you want to keep reading? If you think it does not because it moves too fast, please let me know -- perhaps I should slow it down a bit, describe the city more, that sort of thing.

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Sun Dec 11, 2005 11:23 am
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Here's chapter 2 if that helps slow things down a bit -- it's all exposition and setting up the plot.


TWO: Runes on the Arch

“A thousand years ago,” began Xapano, “there was a great war.”

“Well, not exactly,” replied the other biata.

Xapano glared at the interruption, and I took the opportunity to take another sip of the hot tea that had been provided. We were all sitting around in an approximation of a circle, and His Grace had ordered a comfortable chair be brought to me, along with some hot tea with lemon and honey. I gladly accepted, bowing low. When all had been delivered and everyone settled in, Xapano had begun, but had been immediately interrupted.

“I have been asked by His Grace to tell the story of the prophecy,” Xapano said haughtily.

“Yes, well, you don’t have to get it all wrong,” replied the other biata, a younger man with white feathers. He turned to an impatient looking Duke Aramis. “It was 847 years ago, to be exact.”

“Well, what does it matter?” Xapano barked as his companion turned back. “The timing of it has nothing to do with the prophecy or this story. May I continue?”

“Well, I think you need to get everything right. He needs to know these things.”

Xapano sighed, raised his eyes to the ceiling, then turned back to me while adjusting his glasses.

“847 years ago,” he continued with obvious distaste, “there was a great war. The biata island of Thessi attacked our people in the area you now know as Barrowdowns in the barony of Nordenn. There were no humans there, and only a smattering of other races, but we biata had established a basic civilization. For reasons that need not concern you, the gryphons and biata from Thessi had tried to control and take over our people and we fought back.”

I listened but could not help but think what a poor storyteller he was. Where were the heroes, the villains, the great battles? I began thinking about how I would have told this story, and then realized with a start that I really needed be listening with a bit more intensity.

“…and that is what was decided,” Xapano continued. “Our greatest wizards began their research and developed a magic ritual we could use. We would lure the Thessi leaders into a cave and trap them within, and then the ritual would keep them imprisoned inside the cave forever.”

“Tell him about the Arch,” suggested the other biata.

“I’m getting there, just be patient!” Xapano responded. “This is all new to him, and you can’t go too quickly, you know.” He turned back to me, smiled, and continued his story.

“An Arch would be built at the opening of the cave which would contain the magic of the ritual. Carved into the Arch would be the magical runes that would be activated when the ritual was completed. Dwarves were hired to build the Arch and to carve the runes, since their skill with stone, admittedly, far exceeds our own. They created the Arch bit by bit, and placed the runes upon it and attached the four stones to its points…”

“I’m sure he doesn’t need to hear every detail about how it was done,” interrupted the other biata.

“Zandar, do you mind?” snapped Xapano. “A few minutes ago, you thought I was not telling enough. The boy needs to know all this. After all, he is the one named.”

At this comment, Zandar exploded in rage. “And what if the prophecy is wrong? What if the prophecy was actually created by the Thessi to mislead us? What if the prophecy is completely fake? And,” he added dramatically, “why would a prophecy for biata involve a human?” He said that last word with such disgust that an immediate silence fell upon the room. No one stirred.

Zandar looked down at his feet for a second and then turned to the Duke. “I apologize for my outburst, your Grace, but I believe we need to discuss these things.”

“I am certain that a discussion of such an issue can better be debated among your own people instead of loudly and angrily in my throne room,” the Duke replied. His voice remained calm, but there was strength and power in his tone.

Zandar’s expression showed that he understood. He bowed, took his seat, and remained silent, not meeting anyone’s eyes.

Xapano had the hint of a smile on his face when he continued. “Where was I? Ah, yes, the Arch. The Arch was created in Barrowdowns to cover the mouth of a cave in which we planned on trapping the gryphon leaders of Thessi. The magic of the Arch would trap them inside forever. In order to do the ritual, however, we needed four golden gryphons.”

“Am I allowed to ask questions?” I said suddenly, surprising even me.

“Yes, yes, of course,” replied His Grace. “We all know this story already. It is important for you to understand.”

Xapano scowled down on me, not too pleased about being interrupted again. My curiosity overcame my reluctance.

“I thought gryphons were just big bird-lion things,” I said. “Why would trapping them in a cave do anything? And why would you need other gryphons in order to do the rituals?”

Xapano raised his feathery eyebrows. Apparently it was just occurring to him that things he took for granted, having grown up as a biata, were not obvious to a human. He straightened his robe and collected his thoughts.

“Well, gryphons are very powerful magic creatures,” he responded, slowly. “Some are almost as powerful as dragons. They are extremely intelligent and it is the belief of our people that they, well, created our people.” It was plain that he did not wish to tell that story, so he moved on.

“Gryphons, like any intelligent being, can be good or bad. They can be proud, deceitful, honest, trustworthy or all at different times, just like humans, elves, dwarves, or biata.” Some around the room nodded slightly at this.

“Gryphons also have the power to shapeshift,” he added with meaning. “They can take the form of biata.” This took me aback. I was not aware that any creature could do that, although obviously there were stories about dragons who took the form of elves and walked around among us. Still, those were just stories and no one had seen a dragon in hundreds of years.

“Gryphons also have very powerful mind-altering abilities, much greater than the abilities we biata have,” he continued, ignoring my continued surprised expression. “A biata can enter your mind and alter your memories. A sufficiently talented one can make you believe things that are impossible, and can fairly well control you as if you were completely enslaved. However, this is very difficult and often takes quite a toll on the biata performing such an action. Gryphons, however, can perform these acts with hardly an effort.”

The shocked look on my face did not disappear and Xapano smiled at me reassuringly. “This can only be done through touch, so don’t worry, no one here is affecting your mind,” he said. “It is also very difficult to do this to an unwilling person, and if your will is strong enough, it is practically impossible.”

“And it’s against the law,” added Baroness Glen, meaningfully.

“Oh yes, of course, Your Excellency is most correct,” said Xapano a bit too quickly. “It is illegal to do such a thing in Ashbury.”

I pondered that as I took another sip of tea. Everyone was watching me except for a dwarf too engrossed in finishing off his chicken leg to pay much attention. Bits of breadcrumbs were embedded in his beard and a large ring with a huge green stone shimmered on one of his stubby fingers. Burping softly, he slowly raised his eyes to meet mine with a look that said, “I am well aware that you are watching me.” I quickly turned back to Xapano.

“We discovered,” Xapano continued, “that the leaders of Thessi, including the Emperor, were actually gryphons in biata form. That explains how they were able to take control of that country so easily. But that also meant that they would be near impossible to kill. We had to think of a way to trap them instead, and that is when our scholars discovered the ancient magic that would allow them to create the Arch.”

“It wasn’t ancient,” snapped Zandar. “They had just developed it.”

“Well, it’s ancient now!” bellowed Xapano. “It’s over 847 years old.” Zandar rolled his eyes and then remembered that he was supposed to not be speaking. He looked worriedly at the Duke, who gave a meaningful glance in his direction. I took this opportunity to ask another question.

“Other than the fact that they tried to take over your lands, what is so bad about Thessi?”

“Many things,” said Xapano. “For one, they believe that biata are the superior race, and all others are like animals. They therefore have no problem with enslaving the other races or killing them when they get in the way. And as you can guess, with their powers, enslaving isn’t that difficult. There aren’t a lot of slave rebellions in Thessi.”

“They also have no problem with using necromantic magic, which as you know is used to create zombies and other undead creatures,” added the Duke. “Creating these abominations poses no ethical problems to them as it does the civilized world.”

“Right,” I said. “Slavery and necromancy.” You can’t get more evil than that.

Xapano watched me for a second to make sure I didn’t have another question and then he coughed slightly and continued. “With the help of the dwarves, we built the Arch. We placed in the Arch four fairly large homestones that would capture the magic and form the seal needed. We then laid a trap for the Thessi by making them think that we had our headquarters within that cave.”

I nodded as Xapano took a sip of his drink. So far, I mostly understood the story. Xapano adjusted his spectacles and then continued.

“The Emperor and the other gryphons from Thessi entered the cave and a great battle broke out. Although ready for them, we were no match. They also had many other biata and gryphons outside the cave attacking our armies. While the battle raged, the ritual began. The four golden gryphons took out the components and touched the Arch…”

“Golden gryphons?” I asked.

Xapano looked at me askance and said, “Yes. Golden feathers. You do know about the feathers, don’t you?”

“Feathers!” I said knowingly. “Ah, of course. They have feathers and some are gold. Of course. Sorry for the interruption.”

Xapano sighed, his shoulders drooping a bit, and explained slowly so I would understand.

“The feathers of a biata or a gryphon reflect their personalities. We don’t know why, so don’t ask. A biata with mostly black feathers tends to be very serious, for instance, and a biata with red feathers tends to be very self-serving. These colors can change as the biata’s personality changes through the years. Oh, I don’t mean they literally change colors before your eyes, but one color may fall out while another grows in over time, that sort of thing. In any event, an all golden gryphon is very rare because gold is the color of honesty, love, and faith. A biata or gryphon with all golden feathers is someone who you can trust unconditionally.”

“And only a golden gryphon could perform the ritual?”

“Yes,” said Xapano. “Besides their superior magical skills, they also possess the correct intent needed when performing the ritual. The will of the caster is very important in the success of any magic, you know.”

I nodded. There was so much I didn’t know.

Xapano continued. “The completed ritual was successful. The evil gryphons from Thessi became trapped within the Arch. Unfortunately, many of our bravest heroes also became trapped within, making a great sacrifice for our people.”

He paused, his eyes unfocused. I took the opportunity to look around the room.

Looking slightly bored, Duke Aramis was idly tapping his fingers on something wooden next to his throne. He glanced over at Zandar who remained sulking in his chair, not noticing anyone else. Baroness Glenduria stared into her goblet of red wine. Her long auburn hair cascaded over her shoulders in the places where the braiding did not constrain it, and her cloak and crown were adorned with a number of colorful leaves made from dyed leathers. I had heard tales of how she had apparently used her family’s great wealth to help her advance in elven society to the point where she had been named Baroness, much to the dismay of some of the elves of the Ash Forest who preferred someone a little less open to the ways of humans. Glen, however, had proven to be a very popular Baroness, and the fact that she refused to pretend that elves were superior to the other races endeared her to the rest of the duchy.

To her right sat two stern-faced elves, either her knights or squires. Their matching tabards perfectly reflected the Baroness’ own clothing. They remained alert, watching the halls and paying close attention to all that was progressing. Bows were perched over their backs, ready to be used at a moment’s notice.

The dwarf was dressed quite well and held himself as if he too was nobility. Neither his shield nor his clothing contained obvious symbols of noble title, but yet he held himself as if he belonged there and no one was about to tell him otherwise. Having finished his chicken leg, he had crossed his arms and was staring off at nothing.

On the other side of him sat two very tall biata, apparently married, judging by the matching wedding bands. The red and green feathered male was tall and bald—or maybe he shaved his head—which made him look even more bird-like than the other biata. His wife was quite beautiful, with long black hair, bright red lips, and a perfect upturned nose, which she used to look down upon me and everyone else. With a shock, I noticed that her right arm was covered with red feathers, leading to, well, a talon. Her entire hand had been replaced by a bird’s talon, complete with sharp deadly claws. I shivered.

Glancing behind the Duke, I noticed Darlissa, the biata squire who had escorted me to the hall. She remained standing quite still, looking ahead at nothing. Her brown hair hung loosely to her shoulders, emphasizing her brown feathers, whatever that meant. She wore the Duke’s colors, as did the other squire standing next to her. His dark skin blended into the dark colors of his tabard and his short-cropped hair was trimmed in the current fashion, popular in the large cities. He idly ran his fingers through his sparse beard, staring off into the distance, when he suddenly looked toward me and caught my eye. I turned away nervously.

“However,” continued Xapano, “When the ritual was completed, a strange thing happened. An explosion of sorts—just a blast of power that erupted from the Arch, tossing all aside as if they were leaves. Everyone was knocked unconscious. As they rose one by one, they noticed that two of the golden gryphons were missing.” He paused again, looking upset.

I hesitated a second and then said, “You speak as if you were there.”

Xapano shook his head slightly. “No, but my father was. I was much too young to participate. He—he did not survive, but I have heard the stories often enough from those who were there.” That took a second to settle, for although I knew biata lived a long time, I certainly didn’t expect Xapano to be that old.

“So now we have this damned prophecy,” said Duke Aramis, slapping his hand against the chest he had previously been tapping, once more making himself the center of attention. He looked directly at me, and I involuntarily shrank back a bit. “It says that a human bard fitting your description would prevent the Arch from being opened and unleashing the gryphons from within. It said exactly where and when we would find you, too.”

I blinked, taken aback. I wanted to be the one who sang about great prophecies and heroes. I had been listening to this story assuming that I had a small part to play in this silly prophecy but His Grace Duke Aramis Llyrr was looking at me as if there was no doubt that I was expected to—to what? I glanced around the room, my eyes pleading for help.

“This is ridiculous!” yelled the dwarf, rising from his seat and waving his arms about. “This boy is no hero! Just look at him! This is obviously some sort of biata trick. How do we know they didn’t just make all this up this afternoon in some attempt to get us to do their dirty work?”

There was an immediate outcry and Xapano’s words cut above the others. “This is no trick, Kelanor! The box with the prophecy sat unopened in my care for many years. We were instructed only to read the book but never to open the box until this very day! How dare you accuse me of such an underhanded—”

“I say it’s a trick!” Kelanor interrupted, but was immediately silenced by Duke Aramis rising from his chair. All shouting ceased.

For the first time, Aramis looked angry. “I will not have such outbursts in my court!” he said forcefully. “Kelanor, you may be ‘king’ over your people who live in my lands, but here in my court you are a commoner and are here by my will alone. You are of equal rank in my eyes as the biata council leaders who also represent their people, and you would do well to remember your place. You are here because of the attacks on your caravans and I have graciously allowed you to remain here during this discussion because of my support of your people. Do not abuse that support.”

Kelanor nodded but pointedly did not apologize or look at the biata.

“Now,” the Duke continued, “if you can remain calm, you may speak.”

The dwarf looked as if he wanted to shout again, but held himself back and spoke with what for him was a calmer voice. “It just seems to me that this could all have been faked, that’s all.”

The young man standing behind the Duke then quietly asked, “Your Grace, may I speak?”

The Duke turned back, slightly surprised, and said, “Certainly, Squire Rendal.”

Rendal looked around the room, pausing the longest at me, and then said, “I tend to agree with King Kelanor that this does seem suspicious, although I would not go so far as to call it a ‘trick.’ When confronted with two competing theories, the simplest is usually the correct one. We can either believe, as the biata wish us to, that this prophecy was written a thousand years ago but named this lad perfectly, or we can believe a simpler version: Someone saw Bobo and Spanks at the Five Lions a few days ago and took notice of the bard who performed after them, taking into account his description. It would then be easy to write a prophecy naming him, especially when you would know exactly where he would be at what time, because he was hired to be there.”

I knew that theory couldn’t be true, but before I could say anything, Baroness Glen spoke up.

“For what purpose?” she asked. “If one needed a scapegoat for some reason, why him? And for what reason would one need to make up this prophecy?”

“Even His Grace admits that prophecies are never this exact!” roared Kelanor again, jumping out of his seat. “It’s a fake! Whoever heard of a prophecy that lists the hero’s description, occupation, and location? What’s next, his favorite color?”

“It is my belief,” the Duke interrupted, causing immediate silence, “that the prophecy is true.” Kelanor sat down and crossed his arms, looking unconvinced.

“I have no reason to doubt Lord Xapano,” explained the Duke. “I too believe in the simplest explanation, and it is far easier for me to believe that this is indeed a true prophecy than to imagine that our biata friends would make this up for some reason. Besides, if someone were to create a fake prophecy, they would have made it read like all other bloody prophecies, full of vague statements that are only interpreted after the prophecy has been fulfilled.”

“It’s the unprophetic nature of the prophecy that makes you believe it?” asked Baroness Glen.

“Yes, if ‘unprophetic’ is a word,” replied the Duke with a smile.

I cleared my throat. “May I read the prophecy, Your Grace?” I asked quietly.

“No,” he replied, and then seeing my hurt look, explained. “The prophecy specifically states that you are not allowed to read it.”

I was confused. “But why?”

The Duke tapped his fingers on the box again, obviously annoyed. “It just does.”

“But how am I supposed to know what I am supposed to do?” I asked plaintively.

“Apparently you are the right person,” said Xapano, “and you will know what to do when the time comes.”

“There are a few things in the prophecy that if you were to know them, you may take actions contrary to the prophecy,” said the Duke. Tap tap tap.

“For now,” continued Xapano, “all the prophecy says is that you are the one who is the key needed to stop the gryphons from escaping from the Arch. Which brings us up to the latest news.”

I felt dizzy. There was more? How much could one person handle in one night?

“We have discovered that the Arch has been breached. One of the stones is missing.”

Zandar spoke up, addressing the room. “The Arch has four small homestones embedded in it which carry the power that protects it,” he explained, and this time no one seemed to mind the interruption. “These homestones are magically held in place. One is now missing.” I wanted to ask what a homestone was, but thought it best to just remained silent.

“I thought,” said the bald biata who up to now had not said a word, “that the magic was supposed to hold forever. Those stones should not have been able to be moved.”

Xapano looked irritated but still showed the proper deference. “Well, Sir Frost, that was the plan. Apparently 847 years ago, something wasn’t done exactly properly and now the magic has grown weak. Or perhaps the magic has always been weak and no one ever tried to remove the stones before. I cannot explain why or how the stone was able to be removed.”

“I have placed guards around the Arch and we will not see more vandalism,” assured Duke Aramis. “We have scouts searching for the lost stone, and spies infiltrating Thessi to see what they are planning. But for now, Terin, your task is apparently to do something that will prevent the gryphons from escaping. I am therefore sending you to the Arch where you will stay until you do whatever it is you have to do. This is my order and the will of the people of Ashbury.” He rose and started to turn away.

“But Your Grace!” I protested. He turned around and stared at me, giving me a look that made it clear that he did not allow his orders to be questioned. I gulped, bowed to one knee, and continued. “I agree with the squire. This is obviously a mistake or a trick. They must have grabbed the wrong person. There is nothing special about me. I have no magical skills. I have no fighting ability. And, most importantly, I am an absolute and complete coward.” The room remained still and absolutely silent, so I continued on, afraid of what would happen if I stopped. “I can’t do this. I have no desire to do this. This is something for a knight or other hero to do, not me. Please, I beg you, ignore this prophecy, or find someone else!”

I dared not meet his eye, but could feel his stare boring into me. Long seconds passed as I imagined his sword swinging through the air and slicing off my head. I couldn’t stop shaking.

When Duke Aramis’ voice came, it was soft and understanding. “Terin, you must perform this task for me, and for the people of Ashbury. I will not be sending you alone, and will make sure that you are well protected. You may even like it. I will have no more protests from you. It is unbecoming and unacceptable.”

He turned away again and I watched helplessly as he strode purposefully through an open doorway, followed by his two squires who shut the massive door behind them. The noise echoed in the large chamber and reverberated for a minute and then everyone started to arrange themselves to prepare for leaving.

I pulled my knee under me and sat on the floor, pondering what I had just heard. I was the chosen one. I was the one in the prophecy—the one who would save Ashbury from the ravages of the evil Thessi gryphons.

And I had absolutely no idea how to do it.

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Sun Dec 11, 2005 12:22 pm
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I dont have time to read this stuff now, but congratulations, buddy!

When you're incredibly rich and famous, try to get one of my books published, will ya?

Shit... I better get started on writing that novel...

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Mon Dec 12, 2005 11:47 pm
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I just skimmed it and read the comments, I will read it this thursday while at work and give feedback :D I read a bit of fantasy so i hope i can help.

In terms of starts, I really really like fast starts to novels. Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule has the best start ever for a fantasy novel that i've read.


Tue Dec 13, 2005 12:20 am
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Ohhh It's very good :D I really enjoyed how you ended the first part of the first chapter.

The only thinkg that really threw me off was reading it in the first person. I've never read any fantasy in the first person and this was very awkward for me bc It placed me in the story and I don't know if that's a good thing of a bad thing. It's good bc it's more interactive, but it's awkward bc i'm used to reading fantasy the other way around.


Sat Dec 17, 2005 3:18 pm
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neostorm wrote:
Ohhh It's very good :D I really enjoyed how you ended the first part of the first chapter.

The only thinkg that really threw me off was reading it in the first person. I've never read any fantasy in the first person and this was very awkward for me bc It placed me in the story and I don't know if that's a good thing of a bad thing. It's good bc it's more interactive, but it's awkward bc i'm used to reading fantasy the other way around.


Well, I don't want it to be too stuffy; I'm trying not to write the kind of pretentious prose you see in a lot of fantasy. This is closer to Harry Potter than it is to Lord of the Rings.

Thanks for the comments, I appreciate it. After reading those two chapters, would you be interested in reading more? That's the key to me -- to grab the reader and make him/her want to continue.

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I’m not a fan of fantasy (I like sci-fi) but I respect the work of a writer. Have you studied writing anywhere?


Sat Dec 31, 2005 7:07 am
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Kyle wrote:
I’m not a fan of fantasy (I like sci-fi) but I respect the work of a writer. Have you studied writing anywhere?


No...

Did you read these chapters though? How are they, coming from someone who doesn't read fantasy?

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I did. But unfortunately my opinion doesn’t matter for a success of your novel and can't help you. If you want publishing your work you should aim at a “professional readers”, who can tell you all cliché of such conservative genre like fantasy. Will your novel be very good after using it? I don’t know, but you will have a chance.


Tue Jan 03, 2006 2:24 pm
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Read it. Its pretty decent in that I want to know what happens next. It's a bit to over descriptive i think but then i like a certain blankness to the background in a book so im not the best to judge.

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Wed May 10, 2006 12:35 pm
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I'll give this a read tomorrow and offer you my comments.

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Wed May 17, 2006 2:56 am
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Some comments.

- I think you are missing your opening chapter.

- As a reader, I need to know more about why the arch and the Thessi gryphons must be stopped.

- "Although ready for them, we were no match. They also had many other biata and gryphons outside the cave attacking our armies. While the battle raged, the ritual began. The four golden gryphons took out the components and touched the Arch…"

That needs expanded upon. Why were they no match? Can we have more detail on the battle? This is a glorious and famous war, not to mention a fantasy novel ... your readers will love war, love battles, you must at least expand on the semantics and why they are no match.

- I found myself wanting to know a bit more of what was going on in Thessi at the present time. What happened after the battle? Did they retreat? Why? Were they incapable after all their leaders were trapped? If so, who is ruling them now? What is their civilization like? Did they break into a civil war? I just don't know.

- How did they know who the leaders of the Thessi were? I wanted more information on shapeshifting. You mentioned that they couldn't tell who they were because of it ... yet they know the leaders? Did they have spys? Did they compile information on them and find them one by one? How did they lure them there? Are there no markers at all that allow you to tell the difference between a real person and a shapeshifed one? Clarify the details.

- The two golden griffens that dissapeared ... could they have shape shifted while everyone was unconcious? I assume you will expand on this further into the story, but I would still like to have a little more explination on what all happened at this battle.


Back to my first comment.

Have you ever written a short story before? I imagine you have. What I think you need to do, is find a story about your main character here. You mentioned that he knew the 'trick' prophesy wasn't correct (the one the squire was saying as an example of how they could have made up the prophesy) ... how did he know? I assume he had just came into the town, just found the job, etc.

I would love to see a compelling, short, introduction chapter which draws us into the character as well as the story. You could also incorporate how unlikely a hero he actually is, incorporate his the cowardice he mentions. From the first two chapters, I can see you have an intersting and compelling story, but I find myself having a hard time connecting with the character. The only background we get is about the family buisness ... if we are to spend the entire novel with him, I feel we must be more interested in HIM from the start.

Someone mentioned the tense and how it was odd because it felt like THEY were in the story. I think this could be because we don't have enough details about the main character, so we simply make them up. I have no doubt that the remainder of the book will expand upon his character, but he needs to be defined sooner IMO. The book seems to just jump in as it is, a new first chapter revolving around the character could be a great way to launch the story and get us intersted in everything that is about to befall him.

It is a good story so far, I enjoyed it and would like to read more. If you have a hard copy printed, I would love to have a copy and read through it! My eyes can only take so much per day via a computer and I tend to read novels strait through.

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Wow, no comments for months and now a really good one. I just happened to be browsing and noticed a reply! Thanks for taking the time to look over this, Eagle!

I think you are missing your opening chapter.

Well, everything I read about writing and all the seminars I have attended at SF conventions say "Jump right into the story to get the reader's attention. Long exposition makes people put the book down, especially when it is your first novel and you have no name for yourself." Dan Brown's minimalist books certainly seem to support that theory.

As a reader, I need to know more about why the arch and the Thessi gryphons must be stopped.

"Although ready for them, we were no match. They also had many other biata and gryphons outside the cave attacking our armies. While the battle raged, the ritual began. The four golden gryphons took out the components and touched the Arch…"

That needs expanded upon. Why were they no match? Can we have more detail on the battle? This is a glorious and famous war, not to mention a fantasy novel ... your readers will love war, love battles, you must at least expand on the semantics and why they are no match.


I didn't want too much exposition in the early chapters. As the book progresses, the main character learns more history and finds out more about the prophecy and gets a bunch of surprises that just wouldn't be right coming too soon. I want the reader to learn at the same pace as the character, who has to deal with each new piece of information. It's a bit of a mystery, you see. There is a huge battle near the end of the book when the Thessi army attacks the Arch when the hero is trying to keep it closed, by the way.

I think a lot of your questions about the history are, well, what a different novel would be. This one is not about the fight that happened 800 years before, it's about this kid getting sucked into a prophecy and having to deal with what is going on now, not then... I mean, I understand your desire to know these things, but it doesn't really affect the plot at all.

The main characters learn what Thessi is doing now as the book progresses. In fact, in the very next chapter, they are attacked by one of the Duke's men, and Terin and the two squires have to do the rest of the book alone, not knowing who they can trust, because of the shapeshifting and control that the Thessi can do. The Thessi fight wars from within, infiltrating the enemy, and destroying it like a cancer. The book becomes scarier in that regard, and more spy-oriented in some ways.

The two golden griffens that dissapeared ... could they have shape shifted while everyone was unconcious? I assume you will expand on this further into the story, but I would still like to have a little more explination on what all happened at this battle.

Yes, so would the main character! Once more, I hope these questions you have wet your appetite for the rest of the book, and all of them are indeed answered.

Have you ever written a short story before? I imagine you have. What I think you need to do, is find a story about your main character here. You mentioned that he knew the 'trick' prophesy wasn't correct (the one the squire was saying as an example of how they could have made up the prophesy) ... how did he know? I assume he had just came into the town, just found the job, etc.

Yep, you're right, you figured it out. That is explained later in the book. I like to have teasers though where the reader has to wonder and try to figure out the puzzles.

I would love to see a compelling, short, introduction chapter which draws us into the character as well as the story. You could also incorporate how unlikely a hero he actually is, incorporate his the cowardice he mentions. From the first two chapters, I can see you have an intersting and compelling story, but I find myself having a hard time connecting with the character. The only background we get is about the family buisness ... if we are to spend the entire novel with him, I feel we must be more interested in HIM from the start.

Good point. there is a LOT of character development later, as he slowly goes from the complete coward to the reluctant hero... I am just not sure how to do too much and yet jump into the story like I want to do.

Someone mentioned the tense and how it was odd because it felt like THEY were in the story. I think this could be because we don't have enough details about the main character, so we simply make them up. I have no doubt that the remainder of the book will expand upon his character, but he needs to be defined sooner IMO. The book seems to just jump in as it is, a new first chapter revolving around the character could be a great way to launch the story and get us intersted in everything that is about to befall him.

I do have some comments about his past in the first few chapters, but as I said before, am at a loss to try to figure out how to do that without sacrificing the story too early. If your first chapter is all character development, you may lose readers who want to know what the plot is. I will gladly take suggestions about how to do this. I do not mean to imply that I am closed to the idea.

It is a good story so far, I enjoyed it and would like to read more. If you have a hard copy printed, I would love to have a copy and read through it! My eyes can only take so much per day via a computer and I tend to read novels strait through.

It's pretty large; I can email you a file you can print yourself though...

I have one small time publisher who is interested, but otherwise am just collecting the rejection letters. (Eh, Harry Potter was turned down by 100 publishers too). I'll publish it myself if I have to, and sell it along with the books I already have for my game. (They sell pretty well on Amazon)

Thank you very much for the comments.

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Wed May 31, 2006 8:28 pm
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My first questions.. where am I? When... Why???..
you jump straight to characters...

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Sun Jul 23, 2006 5:14 am
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Well, for all my questions, I really did enjoy the first two chapters Mike, and I did want to know more.

If you ever do get it published, let me know. If you can provide me two coppies, I can get it reviewed via Cinescape. Would be a great way to get it's name out there.

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Thanks Eagle. My wife thinks maybe I should make the main character younger, so as to appeal to the Young Adult book crowd, like Harry Potter has done. Hmmmm.

Here's chapter three -- I think this slows things down enough to help build up the characters. Comments appreciated.

--------------------------

THREE: Quest Interrupted

This isn’t too bad, I thought to myself as I settled into the soft cushions of the carriage. All expenses paid, bodyguards everywhere, the Duke’s two squires accompanying me here, Sir Frost ahead in another carriage—I almost felt like royalty myself.

Rendal was taking his squire job very seriously. He stared out of the windows of the carriage as if expecting an attack. His two swords still hung by his side, making him obviously a bit uncomfortable in the cramped spaces of the carriage, but he remained determined to look squire-like and noble. His hand constantly ran through his short beard, as if he still hadn’t gotten used to the feel of it. The concerns he conveyed to His Grace the day before about the legitimacy of the prophecy apparently continued to bother him, because he hardly looked at me.

In contrast, Darlissa seemed to be enjoying herself. With her legs tucked under, she hung half out of the window, watching as we passed the small farms and villages of the Ash Forest. Her hair tangled around her face as she constantly tried to push it out of her way, looking like a cat washing itself, one paw intermittedly moving over its ears. Her brown feathers fluttered in the breeze.

I was actually rather happy, laughing off my worries of the previous day. Perhaps it was the weather—one of those beautiful spring mornings that come after a hard winter which lift your spirits so high that it seems there could not be a problem in the world. The bright sun warmed us all, the happy song of birds provided a pleasing distraction, and the slight wind teased just enough to make one appreciate the smells of the season.

His Grace had provided us with the carriage along with about ten guards to travel to Barrowdowns. Sir Frost had paperwork giving credit anywhere in the lands even though the seneschal warned him to watch the budget and not spend more than necessary. And I would simply have to travel to the Arch, do something, and then be rewarded.

“So,” I asked Darlissa, trying to break the silence. “What’s it like being a squire?”

She turned to me and smiled. “Very interesting,” she replied. “We spend our days practicing our skills. We are being constantly tested on the Code of Chivalry. Sometimes we go on goblin raids, which can be a bit harrowing but exhilarating at the same time. It’s not a bad life, and of course I look forward to the day when I pass all my tests and get knighted.”

“What kind of tests do they ask you to do?”

“That’s a secret!” exclaimed Rendal. “We’re not supposed to talk about them.”

“That’s true,” Darlissa nodded, “but that is mostly because we don’t always know we are being tested. As Sir Polycarus says, true nobility is shown in every aspect of your life and not just when you know you are being tested. The paladins—they’re the knights who test squires—have been known to hire actors from the college to say things or do things around us to see if we react nobly, but we aren’t told about it of course.”

“There are also obvious tests such as combat skills or leadership skills,” added Rendal, relaxing a bit upon realizing he really wasn’t giving anything away. “I had to preside over a trial one time.”

“And of course, we are given quests, like this one. We have to help you with your prophecy and keep you safe.”

I nodded. Keeping me safe was a worthy goal to which I approved completely. I had to put my trust in these two for that purpose, as my defensive skills consisted primarily of running and screaming for mercy.

“There’s not a specific number of tests or anything,” Rendal added. “Some people get knighted very quickly and others remain squires for the rest of their lives.”

“If you are both here to protect me because that is your quest, then what is Sir Frost here for?”

Darlissa started to reply when Rendal barked, “We are not to question the decisions of His Grace. I am sure there must be some reason he trusts Sir Frost.” It was plain as that wispy beard on his face that Rendal did not share his liege’s opinion of the knight.

“Sir Frost has been a noble for many years,” said Darlissa reassuringly. “He was a noble of the lands of Thrommel before Ashbury won the wars and took it over. Frost was allowed to swear fealty to the Duke and King and keep his title, and has done nothing to harm his name since that time many years ago.”

Rendal was having a difficult time not saying something.

“Is Frost his real name?” I asked. “I can’t imagine someone naming their child ‘Frost.’ Or is that a common biata name?”

Darlissa looked out the window and said, “I have never heard anyone name their child that name. Then again,” she added with a smirk, “I have never heard the name ‘Terin’ before, either.”

“Thrommel is a city in the barony of Nordenn, isn’t it?” I asked.

Darlissa nodded. “Yes. It was once its own separate land, and in fact was a colony of Thessi. It broke from Thessi about twenty years before it lost the battle to Ashbury.”

That took me back a bit and I looked to Rendal who gave me a nod as if to say “See why I don’t trust him?”

Darlissa furrowed her brow. “Oh, calm down, you two. It was a hundred years ago, before you or your fathers or your grandfathers were even born. Yes, Sir Frost used to have slaves and yes, Thrommel used to allow necromancy but that has all changed. He has denounced his past and I think a hundred years of good deeds should count for something.”

I certainly had not known him for a hundred years and all I knew was that someone who was once loyal to Thessi was now the ranking noble in charge of the caravan. Some of my earlier optimism started to fade and we traveled through the Ash Forest for a while longer in silence.

The duchy of Ashbury consists of three main baronies. We currently traveled in the Ash Forest, the other two being Blythedale and Nordenn. The capital city of Ashbury is located in a section that is commonly referred to as “the Ducal fiefs” because they do not belong to any particular barony. The city itself borders the Ash Forest, so entering the elven lands merely required crossing the Ash River.

We were traveling through the estate of Waterwood in the barony of the Ash Forest, and since the Ash Forest is where most of the elves in Ashbury live, it was not surprising that we had seen few other races since entering the area. Most of the trip had been in lush green farmlands, although we were obviously heading toward deeper forestation. If we went too far into the woods, we would likely be met by the elven Rangers who would escort us back to the main road.

Lunch was provided at a tavern called “The Broken Plough” in a village named Terrifenlenden. The name was larger than the village, which consisted almost entirely of that particular tavern. The tavernkeeper, a portly elven woman, surprised me because most of the elves I had ever met were rather skinny things. I understood her girth later when I had some of her beef stew, which was in all likelihood the best I had ever tasted. I performed my duty on the repast while I took the opportunity to once again talk to my squire hosts.

“So,” I said between bites of a hearty bread that had been dunked liberally in the stew, “why did you two decide to become squires?”

Rendal pulled himself up and tried his best to look noble, but his youth shone through. “I wish to serve His Grace and the duchy of Ashbury and fight evil without cessation.”

“Oh, calm down, Rendal,” said Darlissa. “He’s not testing you. You don’t have to go reciting the Code to him.”

“I’m serious,” Rendal replied, hurt. “I want to be proud of myself and have others proud of me. I really do want to do good things.”

Darlissa smiled somewhat condescendingly. “Of course you do. No one doubts that. But you need to speak from the heart and not just recite what you think nobles are supposed to say. My view,” she said, turning to me, “is that the people need to like the nobles who govern them. You need to be yourself and not try to put on airs or ‘act noble.’ If you really are meant to become a knight, then your true nobility will shine through. If you are trying to act noble, people will know it is an act.”

Rendal frowned, insulted by the implication that he was merely “acting” noble. “I don’t come from a noble family,” he explained. “I don’t even come from a well-to-do family. My father is just a blacksmith. This noble stuff is all new to me. If I act like the way I was brought up, no one would listen to me. I have to practice my words and try to hide my accent and have the proper tone to my voice and everything because it does not come naturally to me.”

I nodded to him and he lightened a bit and took in another spoonful of stew. For a second, Darlissa looked slightly upset that she had teased him, then she turned back to me and continued the conversation as if nothing had been said. “I, too, feel that this is a sort of calling. I have always volunteered my time to help those in need, and I feel that by becoming a noble, I can better accomplish these goals.”

“You both make it sound so perfect,” I said, wiping a bit of beef from my mouth. “Don’t be naïve. Not every nobleperson acts that way. Some have their position because they were born in the right family, made the right friends, made deals, or just have enough money to bribe themselves into power. You know it’s true.”

“That may have been the case in the past when we had dukes like Alaric,” she said, obviously insulted, “but Duke Aramis is not like that. He earned his title by doing heroic deeds. He removed many of those knights you are referring to and has placed a great emphasis on this testing. It doesn’t matter now who you know or what money you have; if you don’t pass the tests, you will never be a knight.”

“Well, unless you’re Sir Frost or Baroness Glen,” said Rendal, who then blushed mightily, lowered his head and looked around nervously to see if anyone had overheard. Sir Frost was in a corner, conversing with some guards, but glanced toward our table, as if he could tell we were watching him.

We all quickly looked away, and wordlessly decided that it was best to change the subject. The conversation remained light and innocuous for the rest of the meal: the weather, the food, what our favorite Bobo and Spanks routines were, that sort of thing. Before long it was time to leave.

By afternoon, the novelty of the trip had long passed and boredom had set in. I pulled out my lute and played lazily as we rode. Sometimes I just let my mind wander and my hands play whatever they want to, and often they will come up with something I like which I then try to remember for future use. The two squires were content to let me play.

My thoughts were surprisingly carefree. Certainly Sir Frost would not try anything to harm this quest, and after all, the Duke trusts him. There was no trouble there. I was going to be treated to the best things in life for a few weeks, and then some gryphons would do a ceremony and I would do something and then be a hero. Who would complain about that?

I found my hands playing a somber melody in a minor key and nervously switched to a happier, bouncier tune in E major with a running suspended chord thrown in from time to time for a counter melody. The worry that scratched at the back of my mind just wouldn’t leave no matter how much I tried to convince it to pack up and go. What was it I was supposed to do in this whole prophecy situation? Logically, I must have something that none of the nobles have, and the only thing that came to mind was music. Maybe I was supposed to sing a song to encourage the gryphons performing the ritual.

“What do you think I am supposed to do?” I asked suddenly.

Neither squire seemed surprised by my question. Rendal shrugged as Dar said, “I suppose you’ll know it when you do it. It is a rather unusual prophecy after all.”

“If it’s even real,” said Rendal.

“You doubt the word of Lord Xapano?” asked Darlissa, pulling herself up and glancing down at Rendal.

Ren leaned back a bit and tried to look unconcerned. “No, I am sure he believes everything he said. But who knows? Maybe he is the one being tricked. Maybe the Thessi planted the prophecy on him and gave him those memories.”

“Oh, don’t be stupid,” chided Darlissa. “No one would fake such a thing. And even so,” she said, pointing to me, “why with him?”

“Oh, thank you very much,” I replied sarcastically.

“Well, you know what I mean,” Dar explained. “There really is no reason why someone faking a prophecy would just pick some random person like that. There is a reason you are in the prophecy, Terin. It’s just that none of us know why.” Ren did not look convinced.

“But how do you know you have the right person?”

“Not one other person that night fit the description,” replied Dar.

“Maybe you had the wrong night,” I countered. “Perhaps you read the prophecy wrong, or the prophecy just got its dates mixed up.”

Darlissa shook her head. “Had you not been there, matching the description, I might agree.”

I slumped in my chair and angrily stared out the window. Soon my music was filling the long gaps of silence that had descended on us.

As night fell, we stopped at a fairly large town named Linduria. I had passed through here on my way to Ashbury only a few weeks ago, but of course could not afford to stay at the inn now being provided for us. My room on the third floor overlooked the town square. A large canopied bed with fresh linens filled a corner, flowers situated themselves in ornate and unusual containers in strategic locations about the room, and a small writing desk with three stout candles in glass cups sat under the window. One wall was covered by a large painting of a slight elven woman wearing a dark green dress and a matching hat. I was fed a bountiful dinner and had more than my share of a wonderful wine the elves called Askitir before finishing my meal with a dessert that seemed to be made entirely of some sort of cream poured over a sweet cake. By the time dinner ended, I thought I could sleep for days, and when my head hit the pillow, I could hardly even hear the two guards talking quietly
outside my door.

I dreamt of clouds and flying. I have had this dream before, I thought, and then continued to fly away, away from all problems and troubles. I was at peace and content. I soared over trees and buildings and passed surprised birds. “Get up,” said a voice, and I sailed higher and higher in response.

“Get up now!” the voice hissed in my ear. “This is an order!”

I blinked and Sir Frost filled my vision. There was anger in his eyes and his feathers shook slightly. “What is it?” I asked groggily.

“There is an attempt on your life,” he replied, still keeping his voice down. Behind him stood the two guards who were originally outside of my door. “Quick, throw some clothes on!”

I slid out of bed, confused and disoriented. Sir Frost had tossed me one of my shirts and a pair of pants and I quickly drew them on and then slipped on my socks and boots. He immediately grabbed my wrist and pulled me to the door. The guards looked out and motioned that all was clear, and we headed down the hall.

It was obviously quite early, or maybe instead it was quite late. In any event, the sun had not yet risen and there were no sounds of revelers. We walked swiftly toward the stairs and then started to descend. A noise behind me made me turn, only to see Darlissa peering out of her room. Neither Frost nor the guards apparently noticed.

They led me to the stables where the horses, interrupted in their sleep, snorted with frustration. The cold night air bit my face, and my breath hung before me. Frost stopped and looked behind. I shivered.

“What is this about?” I asked worriedly. “Who is after me?”

“The Thessi,” snarled Frost. “They want you dead so that the prophecy cannot be fulfilled.”

“The Thessi?” I was shaking like a tambourine. “How did they find out?”

“The Thessi are very powerful,” Frost hissed. “They know more than you think. They should not be underestimated.” He drew his sword and looked around again. This disturbed me greatly, and all my worries about him flooded back in. Suddenly I was as wide awake as I had ever been in my life. My heart pumped so fast and hard that I thought I would never sleep again.

I backed away, eyes wide. Frost glared at me. “Where are you going?” he demanded, and reached out for me. I darted aside, dashing toward the door but the two burly guards were standing in the way, weapons out.

Spinning around, I faced the biata knight, staring into his angry eyes. He lifted his sword and advanced.

“What are you doing?” I cried.

Veins pulsed on Frost’s forehead, as if this was taking all of his concentration. “I am about to kill you.”

“Kill me?” I squeaked. I glanced from side to side as Frost slowly approached.

This, of course, is the part of the story where the hero tosses his hair, laughs at the incompetence of his captors, and does something amazingly brilliant and brave, thus saving himself and the proverbial day as well.

I fell to my knees and started begging.

“Look, what do you want?” I pled. “Whatever you want, I’ll do it! I can go away and hide so no one can find me. You’ll never hear from me again. I don’t care about the Arch or the biata or anything. I’m just a bard; I’m no hero! Nothing is worth dying for.”

Beads of sweat formed on Frost’s forehead despite the cool night. I would have appreciated having my life flash before my eyes but instead I remained frozen with fear, my mind a complete blank as I stared at the gleaming sword advancing toward me. He took a swing, and I dodged—but not by enough. The blade sliced into my right arm as blood splattered across my shirt.

Suddenly, there were loud thumping sounds behind me and I spun around to see both guards on the ground, apparently unconscious. In their places stood Darlissa and Rendal.

What happened next occurred so fast that I am still not sure of it all. Frost ignored me and dashed to the squires. Darlissa spoke some words I didn’t understand and threw her hand toward Frost. Green light shot from her fingertips and hit Frost square in the chest. A blinding white light flashed for a second around Frost, who kept advancing. He also spoke some magical words but I did not see anything happen, as I was very busy crawling under a hayloft at the time. I grabbed my arm to stop the throbbing and winced with the pain. Steel was crashing against steel and the shuffling sounds of combat mixed with the angry stomps and snorts of the horses. More words were spoken and then Frost fell to the ground at my feet. His eyes were closed and there was no blood. I cautiously looked out to find Darlissa and Rendal looking down at me.

“Run!” urged Darlassia. “Come on! He will wake in a few minutes!”

Grabbing my left arm, she pulled me up and the three of us ran from the barn and into the night.

“We should take horses!” yelled Rendal.

“No time!” Darlissa responded, darting down an alleyway with us close behind. She seemed to know where she was going so we stayed on her tail as she made what seemed to me to be random turns down mud-splattered streets. Not being in prime physical shape like the two squires, and nursing a bleeding arm, I started to fall behind.

Darlissa cursed and pulled into a dark recess under an awning and motioned me to kneel next to her. Hiding behind some empty barrels, we listened, breathing heavily. Noise echoed in the distance, people yelling, but I couldn’t discern what was being said.

I felt faint. All that blood. Darlissa finally noticed that I had been cut and her eyes widened. She placed her hands on me and said some words and a gentle warmth started to spread through my body. I watched as the bleeding stopped and the pain subsided. I had been magically healed before, of course, from cuts and bruises I had experienced as anyone does, but watching magic work never failed to amaze me. At the time all I could think was I really need to learn how to do that.

The faintness slowly left me and although more level-headed, I remained confused. “What do we do now?” I whispered to the squires.

“What do you mean, we?” grinned Ren, with a twinkle in his eye. Darlissa looked down the alley and took off her cloak, which she then handed it to me. I threw it over my shoulder and pulled its hood over my face. Its dark color helped me blend into the shadows and covered my blood-stained shirt.

She began walking slowly away from the noise, keeping her head down. Rendal and I followed. Some people passed us going in the opposite direction but paid us no heed.

“Shouldn’t we be running?” I asked under my breath.

“They’ll be looking for people running,” Darlissa answered.

Before long we were outside of the town’s limit and had turned into a wooded area where we strayed from the path and fought our way through the thick trees. We seemed to walk for half an hour or so and I was completely lost. I had no idea if Darlissa knew where she headed, other than “away.” I looked to Ren with concern, but could not see his expression in the darkness.

Finally, she motioned us aside and we rested under some large oak trees with thick branches. Even though it was a brisk spring night, I trembled as if it were mid-winter. I could hear no sounds of pursuit, and only the noise of the breeze pushing through the trees and the omnipresent crickets disturbed the silence.

Pulling my legs to my chest, I sat there thinking. This was not what I had planned. This was not what I thought I was getting into. I stared at the ground and pondered what would take place next and where I could go to escape from Frost and the Thessi.

My thoughts were shattered when Ren leaned toward me. “You’re wrong, you know,” he said quietly.

“About what?” I asked.

He gave me a serious look. “Some things are worth dying for.”

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Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:36 pm
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