Monday, December 31, 2012

Chapter Eight, Scene 2

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! I'm planning to post tomorrow as well, just for fun. Plus, I'm actually getting a bit ahead on my story, so I wanted to bring the blog a little bit closer to where I really am in the writing. By "little bit", I mean that I'm currently writing chapter 12 scene 3, but as you can see, I just started posting scenes from chapter eight. So I will probably maintain an accelerated rate of posting for a while, until the blog is within a chapter of where I'm actually writing.

* * *

A few days later, when they reached the King’s Highway once again, Balfrith looked back south toward his family estate. “I suppose lord Felaranthir was right - I should have stayed away. Now, who can say what will happen? Will my brothers continue to hate me? And will my father forgive me?”

Eldamir said, “I think, Balfrith, that they will one day forgive. It is hard to carry such anger for many years. And though to you it may seem like five years has been long enough, I have seen such wrath last for much longer before burning itself out. Of course I speak in Elefdar terms, but I know that with Men, your passions burn even more brightly, and for a shorter time. In this I think you have an advantage over my people - and I think that should you return again in five years, or ten, your reception may be better.”

His words made Balfrith feel somewhat better, but just then he also remembered a passing comment from his brother. “Wilfrid mentioned that you had visited my home after I ran away. Was that before we arrived at Fanyamar?”

“Aye, it was. My father sent me the morning after you and I met, to track back along your footsteps and find your home. He wanted me to speak with your father, to find out the truth of your story.”

“And what did you learn?” asked Balfrith, afraid to hear the answer.

Eldamir sighed - he hadn’t wanted to have this conversation, but knew it would have to be done sooner or later. “Duke Osric confirmed that you were gone, and he told me that you had stolen his family heirloom, the sword Branulf. And he said that we could take you in and train you, if we wished.”

Balfrith looked closely at his friend, and said, “That’s not all he said, was it? Wilfrid said he washed his hands of me. And he mentioned the curse. So you knew of all of that, all this time?”

Eldamir looked down, and said, “Aye, I knew.”

“And you told lord Felaranthir?”

“… Aye, I told my father.”

Balfrith was silent for some time, and they stood in the road, not moving. Finally he said, “And lord Felaranthir allowed me to pass into Fanyamar anyway. And he played the part as if he knew nothing, waiting to see what I would do.”

Eldamir took a breath, paused, and said, “My father saw something in you, Balfrith, something worth preserving. No one is perfect, be it Man or Elefdar - and who are we to judge the worth of anyone? All we can do is judge by words and actions - and by your words, you showed at least that you were humble, and aware of your misdeeds, and willing to mend them. Of course, my father said you would be held to your vows - and so you shall be, if you don’t hold yourself to them as a Man of honor. But I think that if you continue along this path, you shall in the end profit from it, your vows fulfilled and your honor restored.”

Though he didn’t expect words to help, Balfrith discovered that his friend’s encouragement buoyed his spirit. He smiled, clapped Eldamir on the back, and said, “Indeed, my friend, I hope you are right. Now, let us get moving. Hightower is eight days’ walk ahead of us, and I for one would rather arrive sooner than later.”

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chapter Eight ("The Search for Answers"), Scene 1

Seeing as how I posted the end of Chapter Seven with its mini-cliffhanger, I thought I'd go ahead and post the beginning of Chapter Eight right away. This is a longer scene, at over 2300 words, but as you'll see it was quite necessary to move the plot forward, not to mention Balfrith's character arc.

* * *

Balfrith and Eldamir approached the gate to the manor-keep at a casual walk. Balfrith noticed that the southeastern corner had finally been repaired, with a full tower in place of the mound of stones that had been there when he left. Guess I won’t get out quite as easy next time, he thought, wryly.

The two guards at the gate were men Balfrith didn’t recognize, and they apparently did not recognize him either, as they stopped him and Eldamir from entering, without any sort of greeting.

“Ho there, strangers,” the one on the left said. “This is the manor of duke Osric, of House Aethelred. What is your business here?”

Eldamir was silent, as they’d agreed he would be. Balfrith replied, “I guess you don’t recognize me - I am Balfrith, third son and fourth child of the duke, and I departed this very manor in some haste, five years ago. Please inform my father that I request his audience.”

The guard who had spoken raised his brows at Balfrith’s claim of familial connection, but he seemed to accept it. He only paused a moment before saying, “The duke left instructions should you return - you are to be ushered into his presence immediately. Unfortunately, he has gone on a journey of some length, and we do not know when he intends to return. The best I can do is to let you meet with his seneschal.”

Balfrith felt waves of both relief and disappointment flow through him. Relief, for he wouldn’t have to face his father, or his wrath, just yet; and disappointment, for he had hoped for some sort of reunion, no matter the consequences, and now that would be delayed until some unknown future date.

He bowed slightly to the guard, and said, “You have my thanks, goodman. Please proceed, for I do wish to see seneschal Eadmund, and my brothers and sister after that.”

The guard gave him a funny look, but only nodded. He escorted them through the gates and into the courtyard, where a few people looked over at them curiously before returning to their work. Balfrith recognized a few faces, but once again it seemed that no one recognized him. It’s been five years since I left - and I’ve grown at least a span in height, not to mention adding weight like a full-grown man. I suppose it makes sense that no one recognizes me.

At the great double door of the manor, the guard turned to Balfrith and said, “Please wait here. I will inform the seneschal that you await his convenience.”

Balfrith nodded graciously, though he was annoyed at having to wait outside. Strangers were left to wait outside - not family or friends! Perhaps the guard didn’t really believe he was who he claimed to be. Well, they would know soon enough.

The afternoon heat bore down on them while they waited, and Balfrith found himself sweating, wishing for even a cup of water to quench his thirst. Eldamir commented quietly, “I received the same fine hospitality from Men, once. Is this the common practice in these days?”

Balfrith shook his head once, “Not exactly. My father’s practice has always been to allow visiting friends and family immediately into his hall, whether their arrival was expected or not. He would do the same for one of his peers, another duke or duchess. But strangers of unknown rank or relation are always kept outside to wait. I would have expected the guard to confirm my identity, and then we would be treated as family. Instead, he seems to mistrust my words, and so we wait as any common stranger would do.”

Eldamir nodded, finally gaining some understanding of his previous experience at this very door. “That would seem to explain their behavior,” he said. “Still, one might think your father would have a waiting room for visiting strangers, rather than leaving us out here, under the sun.”

Balfrith said, quietly, “My father was never one for hospitality, especially to strangers. When I was a child, I thought this was normal. But now, I am ashamed, for the Elefdar did not treat me thus, though your father certainly had every right to do so, given the way that I arrived in his presence. You showed much more hospitality toward a young and wayward Man, than my father does now toward his own son and a friend. But let us hope it is merely a misunderstanding - that the guard truly was not sure of my identity. For I did not recognize him either, nor the other one at the gate, so neither of them could vouch for the truth of my words.”

Eldamir seemed about to say something in response, but just then, the doors opened and the guard stepped out, saying, “He will see you now. Please enter, master Balfrith, along with your friend, and proceed to his seat at the head of the hall.”

They walked past the guard and into the cool shade of the great hall, where the sunlight came in through high windows along the walls, filtered though colored glass, reducing its brightness and blocking the worst of the heat.

Balfrith led the way, striding now toward the far end of the great hall toward the familiar audience seat. The seneschal sat there, hunched over his father’s desk, reviewing a document of some sort. Balfrith remembered well such sights from his childhood, for his father had often worked at this same desk for long hours. Though this was intended to be an audience chamber, his father seemed to prefer it to his own rooms when working, at least for those things which did not need to be kept in confidence.

They stopped a few paces from the desk, but before Balfrith could say anything, the seneschal looked up at him. It wasn’t Eadmund at all!

Aldfrid?” Balfrith asked, shocked.

Aldfrid looked up from his work, barely glancing at Eldamir before setting his gaze upon Balfrith. “Hello, Balfrith,” he said, his voice chilly. The smile in his mouth did not reach his eyes, and Balfrith felt a sinking feeling in his gut. “I see you have fared well, these past five years. More’s the pity.”

Balfrith ignored the jab, and asked, “What are you doing here? Where is Eadmund, and where is father? The guard said he was on a journey.”

“Eadmund retired last year. Father has promoted me to be his seneschal. And father is on a journey, he did not tell me where. He left instructions if you were to appear, though I think he didn’t really expect it to happen. But he said that I should offer you hospitality, room and board if you wished it. I do not honestly know why, as I recall his feelings for you were rather less affectionate than when we were younger. But if you wish to stay here, you may do so. Now, you should answer my questions. Where have you been? And why have you come back?”

Balfrith replied, “I’ve been studying with the Elefdar - the Elves - for the past five years. My companion here is master Eldamir, son of lord Felaranthir. And we have returned - or rather, I have returned - because I made a vow to my lord Felaranthir, that I would return that which I had stolen, and repair that which I had broken. And while I cannot in good conscience fulfill all of my vows, I am here to try and mend one thing. I am here to apologize.”

Before he could say another word, Aldfrid laughed harshly, and it sounded much like their father’s hard laugh as Balfrith remembered it. Aldfrid said, “Apologize? For what would you apologize? For taking yourself away from this house, leaving our father in peace for the first time in years? For no longer raising his ire with your foolishness? For taking the family curse upon yourself, so that I would not need to bear it? For all these things, Balfrith, I forgive you. And I would go one step further - I commend you, for with you gone, our family has prospered. Father is on the verge of becoming a grand duke; Wilfrid and I are being promoted in our responsibilities, as father takes on more duties for the king; and Aingeall has gone to be with the Sisters of Rialla.”

Aingeall… Balfrith felt a longing for his sister - she was the one person in his family who he truly wanted to see and speak with, and she was gone, out of his reach now. He swallowed, and said, “Aldfrid, I am glad to hear that you all are doing well. I have prospered too, and have learned much from the Elef - the Elves. And though you say there is no need to apologize, I can see that the need for it has only grown, not lessened, over the years. I am sorry for my part in bringing pain to our family and our father. Will you please tell him that much, at least?”

Aldfrid fairly quivered with rage, and Balfrith could see that he barely kept it in check. “I will give him whatever written messages you wish to leave. But I will not speak on your behalf. And now, I am busy, and have no more time for you. Do you require a room for the night, or will you be departing immediately?”

It was obvious to Balfrith what his brother’s preference was, and he himself had no desire to drag out this visit any longer than needed. “No, we will not stay. I will leave a letter with you -”

Aldfrid interrupted him, “Leave it with the guard, he will see that I get it. And I will see that father gets it. And that is the only favor I will do for you. Now, leave me to my work.”

Balfrith bowed, backing away two steps, then turned with Eldamir and walked back toward the doors to leave the hall. At the entrance, the guard waited for them. Balfrith said to him, “Please bring parchment, and quill and ink. I would leave a letter for duke Osric.”

The guard nodded, and walked away, returning a short time later with the requested materials. Balfrith sat down at a small table and penned a hasty letter, signed it, and gently blew over the page to dry the ink. Finally he rolled it up and handed it back to the guard, who took it carefully and tied it with a ribbon, then folded it once and put it into his coat for safe-keeping.

The guard said, quietly, “After you go, master Balfrith, I will place it on duke Osric’s private desk, in his chambers, with his other personal correspondence.”

“You have my thanks, goodman,” Balfrith replied, nodding.

The guard opened the doors to let them out, and Balfrith led the way, Eldamir and the guard following, and the guard closing the door behind them. They hadn’t gone more than a few paces when someone came walking up from over by the practice yard, and Balfrith recognized it was his other brother, Wilfrid.

With mixed feelings, he said, “Hello Wilfrid, how fare you?”

His brother smirked, and said, “Better than you, I would guess. Did Aldfrid send you away?”

“He said he was instructed to offer us hospitality, but it was clear he didn’t want me to stay, so we are leaving. I have left a letter of apology for father, and I apologized to Aldfrid personally.”

Wilfrid stopped, and a confused look came over his face. “Was Aldfrid actually polite to you?”

Balfrith shrugged, and said, “I wouldn’t say polite exactly, but he wasn’t insulting. Why do you ask? Were you expecting something different?”

“Indeed I was, yes. But I guess he has left it to me, to speak the truth.”

“And what truth would that be?”

“Father has no interest in ever seeing you again, Balfrith. Nor does Aldfrid - nor do I. We all said good riddance when you disappeared five years ago, and we’ve been happier in your absence. Your return only opens old wounds.”

Balfrith, pained at the forcefulness of his brother’s words, said only, “Aldfrid intimated as much. And for my part, I am truly sorry for whatever pain I have caused you, Wilfrid.”

“Keep your weak apologies, little brother,” Wilfrid sneered. “When you took the sword and fled, father was only too happy to see you go. He sent out no search parties, unlike the previous times you had run away, and he forbade Aingeall or anyone else to look for you.” He glanced then at Eldamir, with a look of recognition. “And your Elf friend, here, came to us some weeks later to tell us how they met you. So we’ve known all along exactly where you were - and father was glad to leave you with them. He even said you could keep the sword, and let the curse be upon you. He washed his hands of you, Balfrith. As far as I’m concerned, you are no longer my brother, and no longer a part of this family. And I hope to never see you again.” And with that, Wilfrid turned and strode angrily away.

Balfrith was silent for a while, watching his brother depart. “I suppose I should have expected that,” he said, “but in truth I am surprised. I had hoped that the years would soften any hard feelings, but it seems that I was wrong. We should leave now, before my brothers, in their anger, may decide to do something they may later regret.”

Eldamir said nothing, having no words. But he remained at his friend’s side, and that alone meant much to Balfrith. They walked across the yard, and through the gate, and were ignored by the workers and guardsmen alike.

Though the sun still shone brightly, a cloud passed before it as they departed the manor-keep. Balfrith felt a chill, and he drew his cloak about his shoulders. “I suppose we should get moving, if we want to be at the university before month’s end.”

Chapter Seven, Scene 8

This is the last scene in Chapter Seven, and while it is a sort of mini-cliffhanger, it also seemed to me like a logical cutoff point.

* * *

Sixteen days after departing Fanyamar, they turned from the dirt cart-track that served as a road, and followed a similar track westward across the fields.

Balfrith said, “These are the eastern fields of my family manor. We should see the village in an hour or so, and we’ll pass through it before turning back north toward the manor-keep.”

To the south, they could see a thick line of trees as far as they could see, and Balfrith mentioned that this was one small part of the Goldwood, so-called because of the golden sycamore trees that populated the region so heavily.

“I have heard of the Goldwood,” said Eldamir, “though I’ve never visited it. Perhaps if we have opportunity, we might walk those woods for a short while.”

Balfrith heard the longing in his friend’s voice, but he said nothing. He didn’t want to make promises that he might not be able to keep, and he did not know if they would receive a friendly welcome upon their arrival at his family home.

As expected, they crested a small hill about an hour later, and down in the valley they could see the nearest village, perhaps a quarter hour’s walk from where they stood. And north of the village, the manor-keep stood at the top of a long hill, with a commanding view overlooking the lands all around.

“Home,” Balfrith whispered under his breath. One way or another, I shall see how my family has fared, and they me. Aingeall will be old enough to marry, now - I’d never thought of that before. Once again, Balfrith hesitated in his steps, fear gripping him, and once again, he conquered it and continued forward. I have vowed to return that which I have stolen, and mend that which I have broken. I will not forget, nor forsake, that vow.

“And here we go,” he said, closing off that line of thought with his voice.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Chapter Seven, Scenes 6 and 7

Merry Christmas to all! I'm packing these two scenes together into a single post, as both are rather short and they go together well anyway.

* * *

The morning came bright and early, for Balfrith had opened the shutters of his window, and the sunlight streamed in from the east as it rose over Kingfisher Bay. He blinked, rubbing at his eyes, then realized how late it must be for the sun to be so bright already, and leaped out of bed. “I suppose Eldamir’s been up for a couple of hours enjoying his breakfast, and I’ll have to hurry and eat before we depart,” he muttered to himself, grumpily. “I didn’t think I was that tired - why did I sleep so late?”

He quickly changed his tunic and hose, packing the ones he’d worn to sleep into his rucksack, and trying to stretch some of the wrinkles out of the ones he now wore, which had previously been washed in a stream and dried in the sun, and then packed away for a few days until this moment. He quickly concluded that the effort to remove wrinkles was a lost cause, and went back to packing the remainder of his things.

Just then came a knock on his door, and Eldamir’s voice, saying, “Balfrith, are you awake? I hope you’re feeling well this morning.”

Balfrith hopped to the door and opened it, his hair and face still in disarray, but at least he was dressed. “Sorry Eldamir, I just woke up a minute ago. I don’t know how I slept so late! But I’m just about packed and ready to go down for breakfast.”

“Ah, I see,” said Eldamir, looking a bit dubious at Balfrith’s claim that he was almost ready. “Please don’t hurry, Balfrith, we have time. It’s a beautiful morning, with the promise of a long and sunny day - plenty of time still ahead of us for walking.”

Balfrith nodded, tying the last knot on his rucksack to ensure it remained closed. “I’m ready now. Have you eaten?”

Eldamir nodded, “Aye, I had a lovely breakfast with Layla, as I was the first and only person up at sunrise this morning. Now, of course, it’s been a few hours, and several other customers have come and gone. And a few still remain, so we’ll have a bit of company.”

“Oh, you’re coming down too?” Balfrith asked.

“Certainly. I’m packed and ready to go. So I’ll sit with you while you eat, and then we can pay our hostess and be on our way.”

* * *

An hour later, they were back on the road, walking south through the city along the broad main avenue that became the king’s highway beyond the south gate. There was a short wait at the gate itself, as there were quite a few wagons and travelers coming and going, but once through the gate and outside the city wall, the traffic spread out and they were able to walk at their own pace, only occasionally having to step off to the side to let someone on horse-back or in a wagon pass them by.

The highway turned southwest not long after they departed the city, and Balfrith knew from maps he’d seen, that it would continue in that general direction for about a day, before turning more directly south. Eventually they would come to the split where the highway turned east toward the king’s city of Hightower, but there was also a westward branch going to Kings’ Reach in the far west. It was at this junction that Balfrith could change his mind if he wished, and take the eastern path toward Hightower and the university, or continue on his chosen path and turn west to go home.

Thinking of home, Balfrith allowed his mind to wander, and the sun rose to its peak before he really noticed how much time had passed. “Is it really almost noon?” he asked Eldamir, who likewise had been silent all morning.

“Aye, a little bit past in fact. I was starting to wonder if your thoughts would return to the present before much longer.”

“Just thinking about home,” Balfrith replied. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen, well, anyone.”

Eldamir nodded, but said nothing, and they continued walking. The road, before and behind them, was empty. Though they’d seen a few other travelers in the past hour, there had been fewer and fewer to meet, the further they got away from the city.

It was mid-afternoon before either of them was hungry, but they did eventually take a short break for lunch, when they came upon a cleared area that had obviously been used by many other travelers. The grasses were trodden down to almost bare dirt, and there were several small rounded boulders suitable for sitting on gathered around a cold fire pit. Neither Balfrith nor Eldamir felt the need for a fire, but sitting down for a bit of rest was welcome, so they took a break and ate their lunch while resting on the boulders.

Half an hour later, they were refreshed and ready to move once again, so they packed up their food and started walking. A few other travelers had passed them by while they were eating, but now, for as far as they could see, the highway was empty.

The traffic remained about the same for the rest of that day, and for the next several days. However, it steadily increased as they drew near to the crossroads, which came as no surprise since so many people passed through that area on the way to or from the major cities of Nûmidëa.

When they finally arrived at the crossroads, Balfrith’s resolution wavered only slightly - that same fear reared its head, What kind of reaction will I get when we arrive? But he steeled himself, and they turned west toward his home.

While traveling on the highways, both the north-south road and the east-west road, there were plenty of small inns catering to the needs of weary travelers, so they never had a problem finding a bed and a meal at the end of the day. They were also able to restock their light food supplies as needed, which made the walking easier since they didn’t have to carry much. None of the inns were as nice as Layla’s, but they served their purpose well enough.

It was when they had to depart from the Highway and turn south toward his family manor that the road became more rough, and there were fewer inns scattered further apart. Over the course of those days of travel, they twice had to buy room and board from local farmers with space in the hayloft, and food left over from the family supper. But even in those cases, the barns were well-kept, the roofs didn’t leak and allowed very little draft, and the hay was clean and warm enough for those Spring nights. And the food was solid farm fare, plenty of roast meat, bread and gravy, and a few root vegetables left over from winter storage. It wasn’t fancy, but it was hot and it was filling, and they slept as well on those nights, perhaps even better, than they did in the various inns where they’d stayed during the earlier parts of their journey.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Chapter Seven, Scene 5

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone! Here's another story sample for your enjoyment. If you're good, maybe Santa will leave you another post tomorrow. ;-)

* * *

Balfrith and Eldamir saw the glitter of the Asca river as it cut through the middle of the city, on its final leg before emptying into great Kingfisher Bay. Balfrith was transported in his memory to that night so long ago when he’d met Eldamir, and the next day when he’d crossed the river in the company of the Elefdar, lord Felaranthir among them.

“We can cross the bridge today, and find an inn on the other side,” said Balfrith. “I’ve heard that the inns on the north side of the river are a bit rough, full of woodsmen and sailors. But on the south side, the lord of the city has his manor home, as well as a few other nobility, and the market there tends to cater to their desires.”

Eldamir said nothing, and they continued walking down into the valley toward the city. This was not the first time he’d been to Graystone, and his experience matched what Balfrith had said.

They crossed through the north side of town quickly, ignoring the raucous sounds of laughter coming from the inns and ale-houses, and walked over the bridge to the southern half of the city. There, the day’s business was largely done, and shopkeepers were closing their doors and shuttering windows for the night. The inns, of course, were just as busy in the south as they were in the north, and now Balfrith kept his eyes open for anything that looked like it would cater to weary travelers with little coin to spend.

Eldamir pointed to one building a short way up the main road, having a painted sign with a gray goose over the door. “How about that one?” he asked. “The goose certainly appears to be having a good time.”

Balfrith looked closer, and noticed that its beak was turned up in a smile. “The Happy Goose,” he read, now that he could see the letters below the goose. “Well, I suppose that will be as good as any,” Balfrith said, shrugging.

They walked the remaining yards to the named inn, and Balfrith was pleasantly surprised to note that the sounds emanating from this one were rather muted in comparison to most of the ones they’d passed thus far. Opening the door, he paused briefly to let his eyes adjust to the reddish, smoky light in the tap room. Then he stepped inside, Eldamir following silently.

A feminine voiced called from further back, “Come in, good masters, and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll be along in a bit, just need to bring supper up to one of my guests.”

Balfrith looked around, but she must have already disappeared through a door or up some stairs, for he didn’t see any sign of the innkeeper. There were a few guests quietly talking at their own tables, but the room was largely empty. He and Eldamir chose a table against a wall, some distance from the hearth as it was already warm in the room. Though the fire wasn’t lit, if the innkeeper decided to do so later, they didn’t want to get any warmer.

Balfrith looked around the room from his chair, noting the other patrons as he did so: an older couple, probably married, holding hands across the table and smiling at one another; a large, rotund fellow sitting alone in one corner, sipping his ale as he leaned back: their eyes met briefly, and he nodded at Balfrith; and three soldiers, probably mercenaries, sitting at the bar laughing and drinking. It was their voices he’d heard as they entered, making some off-color joke.

Eldamir spoke up, “Now that you’ve decided to return home, what is your plan to get there? I imagine the walk to your manor will take some days on foot.” He didn’t have to imagine much, of course - he’d made the run from the Asca all the way to that same manor five years previously, and back to Fanyamar, in a matter of a few weeks.

Balfrith nodded and said, “Aye, though I’ve never been this far north and east, I remember even my own walk from the manor to where I met you, took me over a week. We will make better time on the King’s Highway, but even so, it is a long walk south to the crossroads, and then west almost to the Goldwood before we leave the highway for my family’s manor. If I had to guess, we may arrive at my home in two weeks. Today is the eighth of the Wyrm, so we should be over a week into summer by then.”

Eldamir said nothing for a moment, then replied, “I don’t remember the last time I missed a High Summer’s Day celebration.”

Balfrith shrugged. “The summer solstice was never a big holiday in my family, or even among my people as far as I have ever heard. We always focused on the spring equinox and Year’s End Day. But I did enjoy the summer celebrations in Fanyamar these past few years.”

Eldamir nodded, saying nothing in response.

Just then, the innkeeper returned, walking quickly and carrying an empty tray. She started talking when she was still several paces away, saying, “Now then goodmen, thank you for stopping into the Smiling Goose this evening. My name is Layla, and I am at your service. Will you be needing rooms and a meal tonight? I’ve got a few good rooms available, as I had some customers depart this morning and just got things cleaned up. Don’t pay attention to the quiet in here, most of my rooms are actually taken. But I didn’t have any music or entertainment this evening, so folk went elsewhere for their supper. If you stay on tomorrow though, I’ve got a singer and poet coming who will have you laughing until your toes curl.” She smiled then, and her round cheeks dimpled, making her look like an over-sized little girl.

Balfrith said, “I thank you, good woman. We will need a room and supper, as you guessed. What have you got in the kitchen this evening?”

Balfrith suddenly realized she wasn’t actually looking at him or paying attention to what he said. Rather, she was staring at Eldamir with squinted eyes. And then she burst out, “Master Eldamir! It’s been so long, I almost didn’t recognize you. Welcome back - and how do you fare?”

Eldamir smiled in return, and said, “I am well, Layla. In truth, I was not sure if you would recognize me, though I recall the Smiling Goose fondly and deliberately sought this place when we entered the city. I hoped you might remember, but it has been a long time.”

“Indeed it has,” she said. “And you haven’t changed a bit - though I suppose that’s not too surprising. But what do you here in Graystone? We don’t often see your folk here in these days, though I wish it were otherwise.”

“My friend and I are returning to his ancestral home in the south. He visited my people for a time, and now it is my turn to visit his.”

She turned to Balfrith, who was still in a mild state of shock. Still smiling, she said, “Well, young master, you are a lucky one, whether you know it or not. To be called a friend by master Eldamir, and to have spent time among the Elves - that’s no common thing, let me tell you! We here in Graystone are as close to the Elves as any Men in Nûmidëa, and I can’t recall any time in my life that I’ve heard such a thing spoken of, except in stories.”

Balfrith recovered enough to nod, in recognition of his luck and her words. “Thank you, Layla. You may call me master Balfrith.”

She smiled again, and turned back to Eldamir. “Master Eldamir, I wish I had more time this evening, but if you’re staying the night, then perhaps we can talk more in the morning, over breakfast. For tonight, I have a bit of roast duck left stewing in its juices, and bread, cheese - the usual. I also have a nice summer red from down south, it should complement the duck very nicely - as I recall, you always favored wine over beer?”

Eldamir replied, “Aye, mistress, you remember rightly. Wine for me, and your excellent amber ale for Balfrith here. You are still brewing your own, yes?”

“I’m so pleased you remember, master Eldamir. Oh, it’s nice to see a familiar face in here from time to time! But I must get back to work - I’ll return with your supper shortly.” And with one last smile and a wink, she hustled off to the kitchen.

Balfrith looked at his companion, and said, “That was interesting. Here I thought you had randomly picked an inn, and you were searching for this very one all that time.”

“I am sorry Balfrith, I didn’t intend any deception. In truth, it has been some years since I’ve been to Graystone, and I had no idea whether the Smiling Goose would still be here, and if it was here, whether it would still have the same owner. Seeing mistress Layla is a truly pleasant surprise for me, and it brings a joy to my heart that I cannot express. I hope you can forgive me for seeking out an old friend.”

Balfrith felt a stab of jealousy for a moment, as he realized that Eldamir had friends among Men other than himself. And not only that, but he’d known them for longer, and probably better, than he knew Balfrith. He had to stop and remind himself that, though she apparently knew him from some years back, still she had never been to Illithëon, nor Fanyamar, while he alone had been granted that honor among Men. He knew it was childish and petty to take comfort in that, but it was there nonetheless.

Finally he replied, “There is nothing to forgive, my friend. How can I blame you for seeking out an old friend from years past? But just to avoid any surprises, maybe you can tell me if this will happen again in the future?” he asked, smiling.

“Of course - though I do not think it will happen again.”

Just then, Layla returned with a large tray in her hand, laden with two wooden bowls, platters with bread and butter, some sort of white cheese, and mugs of wine and ale. She set them down quickly, apologized for not staying longer to chat, and left again, disappearing into the kitchen. Balfrith wondered what could be keeping her so busy, with the tap room so empty. But he supposed there were other jobs to do around the inn, such as cleaning rooms, and thought little more of it after that.

They ate in silence at first, both of them content to simply enjoy the meal. The duck was swimming in a gravy, and was moist and tender. Balfrith used the bread to soak up some of the gravy, and he slathered on a thick layer of butter over the rest of it. The cheese was soft and pungent, with bluish veins running through it like marble. It complemented the ale perfectly, which was strong and bitter, while the cheese was sharp, and made his mouth water with just a small bite.

Layla returned a while later, and picked up their plates. She asked, “Would you like another drink tonight, or shall I bring you to your rooms?”

Eldamir spoke up, “I think the rooms would be best. We must depart early tomorrow, though I will take you up on that offer to chat over breakfast.”

She smiled, showing dimples again. “Good, I shall look forward to it. Give me just a minute, and I’ll be back to take you to your rooms.” She took the plates away, and returned immediately thereafter, waving them to follow her through another door towards the back of the room. They followed her through, up some stairs, and down a few doors. “I have adjoining rooms for you, fortunately. They are the same, so I’ll just show you this room and you can choose who wants which one.” She opened the door, and ushered them in.

The room was plain but functional, similar to inns throughout Nûmidëa that Balfrith had experienced. The floor was unfinished wood, swept clean but turning silver with age. A woven rug occupied the center of the floor, covering a large area but still leaving plenty of uncovered wood all around. The walls were plaster and lath, white-washed and clean but otherwise unadorned.

Against one wall was a single bed of fresh straw wrapped in clean cotton, with a light blanket to ward off the night’s chill. At the foot of the bed sat a small wooden chest, for storing belongings. On the opposite wall was a small round table with two solid chairs, useful for dining, or reading and writing if one desired. A shuttered window opened over the front street, allowing in the fresh air, as well as the sounds of traffic from below. Lastly, a cloak-tree with several stubby branches stood against the wall near the door, for hanging cloaks and other heavy clothing.

“Everything looks clean and well-kept,” Balfrith muttered, not thinking that Layla stood nearby and could hear him.

“Of course it is, master Balfrith,” Layla said, slightly piqued. “I run a quality inn, else I wouldn’t have custom like your friend Eldamir, at least not any that returned for more.” At that, she smiled at Eldamir, who grinned back.

Before Balfrith could put his foot further in his mouth, Eldamir said, “I am certain my friend means no insult, mistress Layla. I didn’t have opportunity to tell him about your quality establishment before we arrived, so to him, this is just another inn that needs to be inspected before we decide to stay. I, of course, already knew the answer to that question.”

Balfrith nodded in agreement, not wanting to say anything further as she glared at him. But she seemed to take Eldamir’s words to heart, for she smiled and winked at Balfrith. “Not to worry, young master Balfrith - no insult, no offense, as they say. And if you’ll not be needing anything else, I should return to the tap room before my customers begin pouring their own ale…” she trailed off, her voice lilting into a question at the end, and Balfrith and Eldamir both nodded their agreement.

Thus dismissed, she turned and left the room, lifting her skirts enough to quickly run back down the hall and down the stairs. Balfrith watched her go, until her head disappeared below the stairs, then he turned back into the room where Eldamir stood. “Well, tomorrow morning will come soon enough,” he said, having no desire for small-talk.

Eldamir nodded, “Sleep well, and see you in the morning.” Balfrith left the room and stepped next door to his own, opening the door and closing it behind him.

He was asleep in a few minutes, still wearing most of his clothes.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chapter Seven, Scene 4

Sometimes you just need to engage in a little exposition. I'm a big fan of "show, don't tell" when it comes to writing, but it would take an entire chapter or more to write the necessary dialogs and scenes that would provide the same information that I can give in a single brief exposition. And since I'm also a big fan of keeping the plot moving forward, I will take advantage of simple exposition when I deem it appropriate. Thus it was that I wrote the following scene, in which I lay out some basic history of the city of Graystone.

* * *

Graystone began as a castle, the manor-keep of the Duke of Graystone. The history of the family was not atypical of the older Nûmidëan nobility, in that they began as local lords, kings of a tiny kingdom on an island with many such, before they unified. The land south of the River Asca was fertile farmland, and on the north side of the river were the woods of Illithëon. In those old days, Men had not yet made any agreements with the Elefdar, and some even thought they were only a myth designed to frighten children and fools.

They harvested the trees north of the river for a long time before the Elefdar became concerned with their appetite for wood. In later days, they reached an agreement that Men would go no further north of the river than one day’s travel from the castle, and were free to harvest trees within that radius of travel. If they tried to go further, the Elefdar were free to respond as they wished, to repel such an invasion. The benefit Men gained, was that the Elefdar would continue guarding their own borders from the goblins and trolls coming out of the Red Mountains in the west. This defense protected Men as well, since the goblin-kind rarely escaped the traps and ambushes of the Elefdar.

And so the Men of Graystone prospered through their harvesting of trees in the north, and their farming in the south, and a town grew up around the castle. As they expanded their wood harvesting, Men built a bridge across the river, and expanded their town into that area as well. The Elefdar watched from a distance, and marked this development with some concern. Men assured them that they would remain within the one-day radius of travel from the castle, and they were true to their word for many years.

In later days, after the Elefdar had largely removed themselves from the affairs of Men, some foolish counsel arose among those of Graystone that the Elefdar had departed their forests and perhaps even the entire island, and therefore Men should be free to harvest whatever wood they wanted. They looked upon those trees further to the north than they had previously dared to go, and saw that they were broad, tall and straight, and would make excellent timbers for ship building, and for the construction of great halls - and that they would enrich the dealers in timber, and the duke and his family.

And so it was that the duke of Graystone declared the former agreements with the Elefdar null, and an expedition was sent north into the woods of Illithëon, to cut and harvest the great trees growing at its southern boundary. The Elefdar were swift to respond, burning the camps of the woodsmen and driving them south with only their lives, and whatever they had been able to carry with them as they fled in panic.

The Elefdar followed them all the way to the city of Graystone, slaying no one but making sure that none escaped either. The woodsmen, and the Men who lived in the northern town, were driven all the way across the river, and then the Elefdar burned the buildings on the north side of the river. Then they waited, putting up a white flag of truce to see how the duke of Graystone would respond. For they knew not whether he would take wise counsel and entreat with them, or try to attack. And they spread themselves out along the river with many scouts and fighting companies, to ensure that no surprise attack would come from further up the river or from the eastern coast.

It was several days before the duke responded, and even the Elefdar feared what his response might be, as time went by. But the duke must have learned his lesson, for he sent an emissary across the river, and they renewed their agreement of old. Men would be allowed to cross the river once more, and even to rebuild their village on the north side. But they were to harvest no more than one day’s travel from the castle, as before. And the Elefdar would continue as the guardians of the northern regions, as they had always done.

And so the city of Graystone, both north and south of the river, prospered once again, and grew, though Men were careful not to let it grow too much on the north. Only a few Men dared take up permanent residence there, mainly woodsmen and those who traded with them. As the city grew to become a great shipyard on Kingfisher Bay, many shipwrights came and settled on the north side as well, to be close to where the timbers were collected and sorted out, some for export and some for local use.

Thus it was in Balfrith’s day, a center for timber collection and export, and a shipyard for Nûmidëan vessels. And Graystone became a great city in Nûmidëa, second only to Hightower where dwelled the king.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Welcome, New Readers!

I've noticed an uptick in the number of daily page views since I wrote a brief post on my usage of Scrivener. If you're among that group of new readers, welcome! And if you've been reading for a while, I hope you are still finding my weekly posts interesting, whether they are samples from my novel in progress or other writing-related items.

I'll have another sample up this weekend, tomorrow or Sunday. Until then, ciao!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chapter Seven ("Homeward Bound"), Scene 3

A cool wind came from the east that night, bringing humid air from Kingfisher Bay, and behind it, came rain. Balfrith awoke in the morning cold and wet, shivering and miserable. A good way to begin this day, he thought, knowing he had a difficult choice to make and not wanting to make it.

He rolled over and looked up at the gray sky, letting the cool drizzle run over his face. He was wet anyway, might as well enjoy it if he could. After a short while he sat up, shook the water out of his hair and scrubbed at his face, driving away the last remnants of sleep. The rain continued falling, and soon it was running down his face again, causing him to splutter and sneeze.

The noise awoke Eldamir, who jerked awake as if startled, which perhaps he was. Balfrith laughed, for he’d never seen his Elefdar friend awaken in anything except a peaceful manner, eyes opening as if he’d only just closed them for a moment. Not this time.

“What’s funny?” asked Eldamir, sitting up.

Balfrith grinned, sour mood evaporating, and said, “Nothing. It’s going to be a good day.”

“Oh? Have you decided, then?”

Balfrith hesitated only a blink before replying, “Aye, I have. I wish to see my sister - and my father. We will go to Aethelred Manor first, and thence make our way to the university.”

“As you say,” Eldamir replied, nodding his head. Though he feared somewhat for the reception they would face - he remembered his last encounter with Balfrith’s father, duke Osric - he would support his friend in this quest.

They broke their fast on smoked venison and water, and broke camp shortly thereafter. On a normal day they would pack their gear and be on the march after a leisurely breakfast, but with the rain, they had no desire to delay any longer than necessary. And so it was that they were striding out of the forest’s edge just as the sun crested the thinning trees in the east.

Balfrith said, “Look Eldamir, the sun is breaking through the clouds. If we’re lucky, the rain won’t last long, and we’ll be dry before the sun sets this evening.”

“It does look that way,” Eldamir replied, glancing eastward and noticing that the clouds did seem to be breaking up.

About an hour out from the forest, they came upon an old cart track, muddied from the recent rain. But it was a sign of Men, and it pointed toward Graystone to the southeast, so they followed it the rest of the day.

True to its promise, the rain stopped, the clouds scattered, and the sun came out by mid morning. By noon, the heat was wet and oppressive like a summer afternoon, and they took a break in the shade of a small copse of trees not far off the track. But they didn’t stop long, for Balfrith wanted to arrive at Graystone that day, and he was afraid they wouldn’t make it if they wasted any time.

So they left after a short break for lunch, and as he’d hoped, they arrived on the outskirts of the city of Graystone early that evening. The land sloped downward into the Asca river valley, and the city was on the river. The day’s heat was beginning to drop as the sun moved westward and began lowering, and Balfrith hastened his pace as he saw the city’s wall and towers down on the plain.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


This December is my twentieth wedding anniversary with the Geekwif. As such, we're taking a nice vacation for a couple of weeks. We will be completely offline, so you won't see my weekly posts for a couple of weeks, maybe three. If you don't hear from me before then, Merry Christmas to all!

Chapter Seven, Sample #2

There's not a lot going on in this scene, but I included it simply because I wanted to have some small bit of exposition on the constellations of Aerde's night sky. Personally, I've always been fascinated with our own night sky, and the constellations and other objects in the heavens. So when I was working out certain details of the ancient world, I naturally included a set of constellations which not only decorated the sky, but served to demarcate one month from the next. Even though the common calendar of Aerde is based on the lunar cycle of thirteen months in a year, the month names are taken from the constellations. And the constellations are arranged in the sky such that in a given month, one constellation is ascendant and gives its name to that month.

* * *

Balfrith’s mood improved noticeably over the next few days, as if the simple decision to put off his choice could lift its burden from his shoulders. He knew in his mind that this was not the case, and yet he allowed himself the illusion, if only for a few days, of freedom from making a choice.

He and Eldamir alternated walking and jogging, loping along at an easy pace for an hour, then walking for a while to cool off. Even in the shade of the trees, the spring season was already warming toward summer, and the afternoons were warm enough that they had to take frequent breaks for water and rest. But in the end, they made good time and arrived at the edge of the forest late on the seventh day of their departure from Fanyamar.

They made camp that night on the edge of the woods, still taking cover in the trees but in an area that was open enough to view the stars in a wide arc from east to west. It was the seventh day of the Wyrm, and its undulating constellation of stars hovered over the eastern horizon that night as the sun set in the west. The Hunter (or Guardian, as the Elefdar called him), which preceded the Wyrm, sat higher in the sky, and it was to that formation of stars that Balfrith’s eyes were drawn.

“What is he shooting, do you think?” he asked, gesturing upward with his nose.

Eldamir missed the movement, but he instinctively looked up and found the Guardian, poised for the kill. “A troll, of course.”

Balfrith glanced at his friend. “I don’t remember ever hearing it was anything at all - do you know the story?”

Eldamir said, “The Guardians were established early in the Long War, as our first line of defense against the darkness. But before that, we used to call him the Hunter too. I suppose that’s where Men got the name, though we changed it later. In those days, in the second Aeon, he was renamed after our Guardians, and ever after his prey has been a troll.”

Balfrith thought on that story for a while, then said, “Perhaps he was once truly a hunter, and his prey was a deer, or a bear.”

“Perhaps,” Eldamir replied, doubtful, but he had no better answer. Then, changing the topic, he said, “Tomorrow is the day.”

“Aye.” Balfrith didn’t need to be reminded, and the comment spoiled his mood for the night. Rolling over on his side, he said, “I’m going to sleep. See you in the morning.”

“Good night.” Eldamir remained awake for some time, watching the Hunter wheel across the sky, looking for some sign of a troll in the stars, but finding nothing.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Organizing a Writing Project

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this, but I use a writing application called Scrivener instead of a word processor for my writing. Prior to starting with Scrivener, I used OpenOffice, a free office application that does everything I need and has good compatibility with MS Office. I still use it for many of my documents, especially spreadsheets, but for novel writing I have turned to Scrivener. Scrivener was originally developed for OS X, and my wife was using it on her MacBook Pro for a good year before they eventually released a beta for Windows, and finally a full release. It lacks a few features that can be found in the OS X version, but over the past year or so that I've been using it, I've found it to be a great application not only for pure writing, but for story management and organization.

And that brings me to the reason for this little blurb. Last weekend as I was approaching 70,000 words in my Balfrith novel, I got a little bored and started playing around with Scrivener's ability to compile my files and folders into a single PDF book. And that led to a complete re-organization of all my chapters, so that I got rid of the chapter numbers and replaced them with descriptive names, and then within each chapter (which is actually a folder) I have the text split into separate files, one for each scene.

Prior to this, I still had my chapters as folders, but each one was only numbered (not named), and then within each folder I had a single file which was the text of that chapter. It worked alright, but as the chapters grew past a few thousand words, it became more difficult to keep the whole thing in my head and keep the scenes sorted out. In addition, some of my chapters had gotten so long that I had to split them up anyway, so I had chapter folders 7, 7a, 8, 8a, 9.... I could have just renumbered them, but then if I decided to rearrange things later, I would potentially have to go through the same renumbering exercise again. Now, I can move an entire chapter to a different place if I want, and won't have to worry about renumbering them again. I just need to focus on story and timeline continuity.

Now that I have the scenes split up into separate documents, I can keep them better organized, and if I want to, I can easily move them around without even having to cut/paste any text. I just shift the document to a different position in the folder (chapter), or even to a different folder/chapter. It looks like this:

You will note that I still went with scene numbers for the individual files. I could just as easily have gone with brief descriptions like I did with the chapters, and in fact that might have been a better way to go (and I still could change over to that in the future). But since I was making some pretty big changes already, I decided to keep it simple, just in case I decided I didn't like the change after all.

Since I only recently implemented this change, I don't yet know if it will improve my efficiency or anything like that. But I do like the new organization, and specifically I like the fact that I broke away from chapter numbers, which of course I could have done at any time, but Scrivener made it so easy that I didn't even really have to think about it. If I were working with one large Word doc, or even individual chapter documents, it would have been much more work to split them up into individual scenes and rename them, meaning that I probably would not have gone to all the work of doing it.