I've been working like crazy lately to revise my book "Eldrei" to perfection… if that is even attainable. Last night I managed to write half of a new scene and was very proud of my accomplishments, seeing as I've been blocked ever since school got out… either that, or I'm just really good at procrastinating… but it's kind of hard to tell. So, in honor my happy moment, I've decided to post the first chapter of the book and see what you guys think of it. I don't think I've ever posted this before, so this should be interesting for all of us. "Eldrei" has been a WIP since I was 16, but only now is it really starting to take shape and look like something publishable. I'm hoping to finish the re-write sometime next year, and maybe a polish, then start querying in 2011.
So anyway, please let me know what you think of this excerpt. The very first bit is a Prophesy, but after that comes the actual chapter. Feel free to critique away: I'm all for advice, if you feel like giving it. :D And don't worry, I've got a tough skin, so please let me know your thoughts on it.
From the west there arises a new brilliant star
From where the sun sets o'er the cities of men
He brings restoration where now there lie ruins
In the dark days when evil is eminent
In his hand glows the gift of guidance
On his brow, the blessing of Nildor
In his chest beats the heart of a child
In his head, the mind of a scholar
By his side are a wise woman's words
At his back sways the warrior's sword
From the west, where the exiled were banished
From the west will our hope rise anew
The shadows will flee from the wrath of his sword,
The evil be broken in the wake of his vengeance
On wings shining silver, the blue blade returned,
The fallen restored from their lowly demise
But beware, ye of valor; the Dark has grown stronger
It creeps in the night to sow doubt in the weak
Beware of the shadows, for death lies in waiting:
Keep ever the light of Nildor in your heart
Of blood, and stars, and darkness stained
A sacrifice for others is a hero gained
From the west where the exiled were banished
The half-bloods will reclaim their thrones
Ancient Prophesy translated from the elven tongue
Sixteen-year-old Tibain eyed the man in front of him, waiting for his first move. Moisture from his hands clung to the hilt of his weighted wooden sword and sweat dripped down his forehead, stinging his eyes. As annoying as it was, he didn't move to wipe it away.
Rule number one: do not become distracted in a fight; distractions cause death.
Tibain shifted his weight to the balls of his feet, blinking back a pearl of sweat that stubbornly clung to his eyelash.
His opponent struck.
Tibain parried the blow and whirled away from the striking blade, lashing out with his sword.
His opponent swayed clear at the last moment, avoiding the weapon's tip within inches. He smirked and brought his blade forward. Tibain swung back around but his momentum carried him farther than he liked and tilted him off balance. Driving the sword's tip into the ground, he used it to level himself out and twisted, yanking it up and free. The weapons clashed again. The older man drove down hard, forcing Tibain to center his core strength beneath his blade's hilt to keep it from flying out of his hands.
I keep forgetting how strong he is.
His opponent smiled over the edges of their locked swords. "Getting tired yet?"
Tibain grinned. "Not yet, old man. You'll have to do better than this if you want me to surrender!"
"Old man, eh?" The wooden swords came undone with a loud thwack! "Why, you young rogue! I could take you with both hands pinned behind my back. By the time I'm finished with you, you won't even have the strength to admit defeat."
Tibain circled sword point out, feeling the ground through the soles of his boots. His eyes followed the man, calculating the next move. And then he struck. His wooden sword whirred through the air in a hard uppercut.
The man easily knocked it away with an oblique slice.
Tibain came back with two hard downward blows, parried a thrust, and lunged. His opponent sidestepped the sweeping blade. A loud thwack sounded across the sparring field. Tibain yelped. His sword clattered to the ground and he fell to his knees cradling his wrist. The older man shifted the tip of his boot beneath the fallen weapon's hilt and flipped the sword up to his hand.
"There you go," he said, smiling. "You just lost a wrist and it looks like I've won yet again." He reached down to help Tibain up. "Next time, don't overextend your lunge and try to keep hold of your sword. Thank Nildor these blades aren't real or my victory might be over something much more vital." He glanced at Tibain's wrist and winced; red marks burned on the surface of the skin. He shook his head and sigh. "You really should be more careful, Tibain. Your wrist will be sore for a couple days, but be thankful the damage isn't worse." He extended one of the wooden swords.
Tibain snatched it away and stuck it through his belt, scowling. "You know, Dakore, that wasn't really fair."
Dakore smirked. "Perhaps not. Then again, who's to say what's fair and isn't? If you ever fight a real enemy, you can bet they won't play by the rules." He threw an arm about Tibain's shoulder and started leading him back across the field towards the house.
The farmhouse was a crude, simple structure with red clay walls, three rooms, and a loft where extra grain was stored and where the chickens could roost in the winter. The roof was thatched and weighted down so that no strong wind could come and blow it loose. Beside the house stood a rough lean-to made of aged wood where dry fire wood was kept and where the donkey slept. A tall, gnarled oak tree stood sentinel in the front yard, casting most of the house in shade with its long, twisted branches. Beneath it sat a dry-stone well. A thick hedge bordered the yard, beyond which trees grew in spattered patches until the nearest neighboring farm reared into view a mile away. Behind the house, a small field stretched, planted with all different kinds of vegetation. As simple as it was, it was home.
As they came in sight of the back door, it burst open and a tall slender girl ran out to meet them. "Tibain! Dakore! Thank goodness your back already; I didn't expect you 'til near sunset."
Dakore smiled. "We finished a bit early, you might say."
"Yeah, you might say that." Tibain rubbed his sore wrist gingerly; the red marks had already darkened to mottle his skin. "Do you have anything I could use to bandage this, Arien? I think I'd better leave it tied up for the night."
Tibain's sister glanced restlessly between him and Dakore, then flicked the gold hair out of her eyes with a sigh. "What now?" She leaned down to examine his wrist. "My word, Tibain! You couldn't have managed any redder?" He winced as she gently grabbed it and prodded the bruises with a finger. Her eyes darted to the wooden sword thrust hastily through his belt and she lifted an eyebrow. "I see," she said. "Another lesson learned?"
"Hopefully," Dakore commented. He grinned. "Though I may have struck him a little harder than usual; he called me an old man!"
She clucked her tongue, shaking her head. "In that case, I think he deserved it. Come on Tibain." She took his other arm and pulled him towards the house. "I'll see if I can find something to wrap this up with."
Arien glanced over her shoulder as she walked. "Dakore, you weren't expecting company today, were you?"
"Not that I remember. Why?"
As they reached the door, the drone of low voices floated out to them from narrow slit-windows in the mud-daubed walls.
"Because two men are here to see you and insisted on staying until you came back. One is Quinn, but the other… I don't know who that one is. Never seen him before. He seems a little… strange: doesn't talk much. Quinn says he's alright, but he's quite the sight, I can tell you."
"Did either of them say what they wanted?"
Arien shook her head as she reached for the handle. "They wouldn't tell me. I offered to run after you, but Quinn said there was no immediate need. He's getting more fidgety though and keeps glancing at the door. And I can't help feeling a bit nervous around that other man. I gave them some food and they seemed content, but I'm glad you've come back."
Dakore nodded, a frown furrowing his brow. "I'll talk to them." He reached over Arien's shoulder and pushed open the door.
Two men sat at the table, hunched over their mugs and talking in low voices. The older one, a thickly built man with waving brown hair just starting to grey, looked up when the three entered and waved a hand. "Dakore! What took you so long? It's been hours since we got here; I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about our little meeting."
Dakore's smiled tightly. "You'll have to forgive me for that; it completely slipped my mind. I was a bit busy."
"But not anymore, I hope." The man lowered his voice. "There's other business to attend to, you know; more serious business, if you catch my drift." He nodded at the children
Tibain glanced at Dakore's tight face. His jaw was clenched. "Any business I attend to is important, Quinn. You should know that by now."
Quinn sat back in his chair, his face suddenly the color of a beat. He cleared his throat. "Well, yes, you're not exactly one to fool around, are you? But all the same…" he paused, his eyes darting about the room. They alighted on the younger man sitting next to him. "Ah yes! Nearly forgot. You haven't met my friend yet, have you?" He sat forward, gesturing to his companion. "This is Nolan. He's been taking care of some of the… business in the city, reportin' to me if he hears ought."
The other man looked up and nodded wordlessly.
Tibain eyed the new man seated at the table and gave a start. Why, He's young! He shifted forward to get a better look at the man's face. He can't be more than a few years my elder.
Yet already the youth looked like he'd seen more trouble in his short life than many a seasoned man. The shallow wrinkles in his forehead spoke of much frowning, and his body was lean and muscular. Pale scars traced nearly every patch of uncovered skin, etching the back of his hands and stretching cruel fingers up his neck and over the rim of his jaw. His eyes were a sharp, piercing blue.
Dakore eyed the young man thoughtfully. "Actually, we have met previously. Only once or twice here in Iban. I knew of him before that." He motioned Arien and Tibain out of the room and pulled another chair up to the table. Tibain grudgingly followed his sister to her bedroom and allowed her to close the door behind them.
"What do you think they're talking about?" He pressed his ear to the door and yelped when Arien grabbed his wrist and wrapped a strip of bandage around it.
"Stop squirming," she commanded, "You've been hurt much worse than this before."
"Yes, and you weren't gentle then, either!"
"Well, serves you right." She frowned as the voices outside the door escalated. "I am curious," she admitted. "Dakore can be so secretive sometimes. You'd think after living with him for so long we'd know more about him than we do."
Tibain nodded absently. The truth was, Dakore kept his past a mystery. He was not their father; Tibain knew that much. But Dakore had never relinquished more.
The voices outside the door were muffled, but Tibain heard enough of the conversation to follow it.
"…think we've waited too long as it is." That was Quinn's voice. "If we're goin' to leave, we'd best do it soon; this week even."
"Not this week. Not yet." That was Dakore. "It isn't time yet. You said you would wait until I said it was time."
"Then you'd best start settin' a time." Tibain heard a fist pound the table. "Everyone's gettin' antsy. We either make a move or we don't, but no more of this dotterin' around. He'll catch on in another few months if things go on like this. If we haven't gone by then, we never will."
"I can only agree," came a new voice. Tibain assumed it was Nolan's and immediately liked it. A warm, rich tone laced his speech, and he spoke fluently as if he were well brought up.
"You won't be able to wait much longer on any account. Not here in Crow's Beak at least. I can well tell you that some of the nobility are starting to suspect."
"Bah! Let the dirty money-hoarders suspect!" The way Quinn said it, Tibain pictured a deep scowl on his face. "What can they do? Sit around in their great houses and pine away their lazy hours, weepin' filthy tears 'cause some of the farmers they thought were so lowly decided to run off? They're lazy enough as it is without our hard work payin' for their leisure."
Nolan chuckled mirthlessly. "Ah, but it's not the nobility you have to be careful of as much as their wagging tongues. Every Lord or Master's wife will loosen her tongue for a chance at respect on the social ladder. And you've forgotten one other thing; Governor Trayhern's guards are in the pay of the aristocracy. If so much as a rumor reaches his ears, you and all associated with you will be flushed from your homes. You know how Lord Trayhern is; he despises the very thought of anyone undermining his authority, even if they are but lowly farmers – no offense meant. If the rumors I've been hearing in Middle City spread before you can escape, he will send his men to your homes and you will be taken to Lûrbrakh to be made examples of. You all know Lord Trayhern as well as I do; even proof spoken with a lying tongue will convince him. There will be no escaping then. Crow's Beak won't protect you much longer."
Deathly silence fell.
The word tainted the air, making every breath taste stale.
Tibain shivered. He'd heard whispers of that dark place. The Death Hole some called it; others named it Hell and twisted their fingers over their chests in a sign to ward off evil. No one could say anymore how it had been created or what its original purpose had been, but there were stories… there were always stories. Governor Trayhern used the endless dark passageways as a sort of dungeon. He called them his "mines" but it was doubtful even he knew their real purpose. The tunnels meandered every which way and crisscrossed back on themselves, always leading down farther into the darkness. And hidden deep within those tunnels was said to live a horror beyond any dreamed by the foul thoughts of men. Trayhern had a fortress built at Lûrbrakh's main entrance to discourage escape by any survivors, but there were few enough of those, and if any did find their way back out of the black catacombs and make it past the fortress walls, they were never the same again. It was a place of ill omen run by black-hearted men and even its name conjured nightmares.
Tibain winced as Arien wrapped another coil of bandage around his injured wrist.
"What are they saying?"
He tried to wave her question away, but she glared at him. "Tell me what they are saying, Tibain. I'm not deaf, you know."
"I'll tell you when they're done speaking, but I can't hear the words either if you keep talking to me."
She started to protest but he hushed her with a finger and laid his ear back on the door.
Dakore sighed. "You're right," he said, "you both are. We must leave soon. But not yet. Quinn, you'll have to trust me in this. Just for a little longer, I promise."
"How much is a little, Dakore?" Quinn asked. "Every time you say to wait, the danger grows nearer. I can almost feel Trayhern's guards breathin' down my neck."
"Have I not kept up my end of the bargain so far?" Dakore's voice was as close to angry as Tibain had ever heard it. "You have your supplies; your men have been trained. Our plans are set…"
A mug banged the table. "But we're still here!"
"What more do you want from me?" Dakore's voice grew louder. Sharper. "Without a guide, the desert will swallow you in a day, and to turn any other direction is as good as handing your lives and your families to Trayhern at his leisure. The desert is your only choice; it is the one place Trayhern fears to send his men, and I am the only one in Iban who has ever crossed it and lived. It seems to me a few more days of waiting is a small price to pay for the lives of you, your men, and your families."
"It is dangerous…" came Nolan's low voice.
Dakore gave a frustrated sigh. "I know. I never said it wasn't. But I have to wait."
"What for?" came Quinn's voice.
"My business, not yours."
A pause hung on the air. Then Nolan spoke. "You know what you risk. I won't further argue with you; it would be pointless anyways. But Quinn, I think you should trust him in this. You've known me long enough. Take my word for it, if you won't take his; Dakore knows what he's doing. It is for the best."
Quinn growled. "Like as not, he'll be our deaths for all his empty promises."
"Or your lives." A chair scrapped the floor and feet shuffled about. "For now we'll trust it is the later. But Dakore, if my advice can be of any count…"
"I shouldn't wait more than a day."
Tibain pulled his ear away. He'd heard enough. He looked down at Arien who stopped wrapping his hand. "We're leaving Iban," he murmured.
He nodded. "That's what they're talking about. It's not just us, but it sounds like half of the farmers in Crow's Beak are leaving too. Dakore's going to lead them across the desert."
"The eastern desert?" Arien hissed, "The Desert of Bones? That's madness! No one's ever crossed the desert and lived to talk about it. No one's ever come back!"
"Which is why the farmers want to cross it, I suppose," Tibain mused. "Think about it; why didn't anyone come back? What really happened to them? Did they find something better?"
"They died, Tibain. Why do you think Trayhern hates it so much? His soldiers won't go near it. Its name is not an idle one."
"You don't know that for sure," Tibain argued. "Nobody does; those are just stories."
"Stories of blood, and bones, and murder. Why didn't he tell us this before?"
"Maybe he didn't want to worry us," Tibain said. Or maybe he just didn't want to hear you whine. "Anyway, it sounds like he knows what he's talking about."
"Oh, and he knows a way across the desert, does he?"
Tibain shrugged. "I don't know. But he says he's crossed it before and the others won't dare cross it without him."
Arien sucked her cheek and looked back down at her work. Then, with a jerk that made Tibain bite his tongue in pain, she wrapped the end of the bandage around his wrist and tied it off.
"There. You're all finished." She dusted her legs off and stood. "Just don't over use it for a few days; it should be doing better by then. And let's have no more talk of leaving unless Dakore mentions it first, okay?"
"But don't you want to find out—"
"No. I don't like this, but I'm going to trust him. He'll tell us when he's ready." She flipped her hair and turned to put the rest of her bandages away. "I, for one, don't really want to leave Iban."
Tibain heard more chairs scrape over the wooden floorboards and figured the men in the other room were probably done with their meeting. A door opened, low voices murmured goodbyes, and then the door shut again. Dakore called to them.
"Arien, Tibain, you can come out now. We need to talk about something."
"Sounds like he's ready now," Tibain mumbled, and opened the door.