During the third such incident, Maurin looked at Har and said, “I have never understood why Brenn has so many more soldiers than the other trade towns. It isn’t that much more dangerous to be right on the border.”
Har laughed. “As well ask why a fortress has so many caravans passing through!”
Maurin frowned in puzzlement. Har looked at him. “You really don’t know?”
”If I did, I wouldn’t ask.”
”Unless you had some other reason,” Har grinned. “But I’ll tell you anyway. Brenn is both fortress and trade town, but it is a fortress first. My great-grandfather, Doramon, founded it about two hundred and fifty years ago, right after the Lithmern invasion was stopped at Eirith. The idea was to prevent the Lithmern from ever overrunning Alkyra again; Brenn sits right in the gap between the Kathkari Mountains,” he waved to the north, “and the Snake Mountains.” Har waved toward the south. “Nobody can get into Alkyra from the west without passing Brenn, so of course it became a trade town too. But it is still the first line of defense for northern and western Alkyra.”
The above conversation is backstory, none of which is needed here. It also makes Maurin seem stupid—he’s a Trader, so he ought to be very aware of both the politics and the dangers of the countries the caravan goes through, even if he’s still a journeyman. The bit about Brenn being on the border is the only really critical bit, and it’s covered in half a line in the next paragraph. The rest got moved in bits and pieces to wherever the information became necessary for the reader to know… sometimes many chapters later.
And over the cheerfully miscellaneous crowd, above the jumble of homes and shops and inns, loomed Styr Tel. The castle of the Noble House of Brenn looked every inch the border fortress that it was, but the high stone walls that were a reassuring presence to a Trader caravan concerned with raiders and bandits gave an entirely different impression to a mildly unwilling visitor. Maurin could not shake the feeling that he was heading for a prison.
Note that I moved the phrase “cheerfully miscellaneous crowd” to this point from the initial description several paragraphs back. I thought it works better as a summing-up of the (now) previous paragraph of description, rather than an introduction to the crowded streets. I also added more of Maurin’s personal reaction at the end of the description.
They had nearly reached Styr Tel, and Maurin found it easy to believe the place had once been a fortress. It was surrounded by a high stone wall, The castle had been set back from the houses of Brenn as if to prevent an attack from the upper stories of the homes and shops. Above the wall, two tall black towers rose to command a view of the entire city; from this angle, they were all of the Styr that could be seen. Time and custom had made a marketplace of the open area between the low buildings of the town and the walls of Styr Tel. Maurin and Har wove through the merchants and townspeople to the gates, ignoring the persuasive calls of the dealers. The guards recognized Har at once, and let him and Maurin through the gate without challenge. As they entered the courtyard, Maurin blinked in surprise. got his first close view of Styr Tel.
Black stone, polished smooth, filled his eyes. Styr Tel was made of it. The place was enormous; Maurin’s head bent back as he tried to see it all. He could easily imagine a company of troops vanishing inside without disrupting any of the gentler pursuits of the nobles who lived there. The lines of the building were clean and practical, but the dark stone gave it a dignity lacking in the airy palaces Maurin had seen in other cities. This was a strong place, an armored place, a home for a soldier. Maurin found himself admiring the man who had built it.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that I’ve been cutting out a lot more than I’ve been adding. The revised chapter is 1,024 words shorter than the original… and most of the folks who read it don’t even notice. Really. I’ve asked.
Cutting out so much description and unnecessary backstory right at the start did two things: it tightened things up so that everything moves along faster, which is better for the opening of this particular action-adventure novel, and it refocused the start of the story on the two young men and their friendship, which is crucial to the rest of the story. If I’d written a story about the caravan or the Traders, I’d have left in a lot more of this and tightened things up elsewhere… but I didn’t.
A long whistle from Har brought Maurin’s eyes down, and he As they entered the courtyard, Maurin blinked in surprise. The Styr courtyard was full of activity a maze of benches, chairs, trunks, and other furnishings. Servants were bustling about with buckets, rods, wound among the furniture, carrying buckets and stacks of cloth, brooms and articles of furniture. Everywhere people were cleaning, polishing and scrubbing; the atmosphere fairly air reeked of soap and the strong scent of Mindaran wood-wax was everywhere. Maurin’s foolish mental visions of dungeons and imprisonment fled, to be replaced by the alarmed thought that at any minute someone would demand help with the cleaning.
Here I was just tightening things up, making them more specific, and again adding in more tight third-person viewpoint. Oh, and the paragraph break shifted between the old version and the new.
“Looks like we’ve arrived in time for spring cleaning,” Maurin observed as they threaded their way through the crowd.
A shout from the doorway ahead spared Har from responding to this obvious comment. A “Har!” someone shouted, and then a tall girl with pale gold braids hanging down nearly to her knees ran forward to throw her arms around the young noble. “Har, you’re back!” she exclaimed.
“Just barely,” laughed Har, swinging her off her feet in a wide circle. “We came straight here as soon as the caravan got in.” He set her gently back on her feet and turned. “Maurin, this is my sister, Alethia.”
“I am charmed,” Maurin said, bending low over Alethia’s hand. Privately he thought that The introduction was nearly unnecessary; there was no mistaking those tilted green eyes and straight black eyebrows. Alethia was clearly Har’s sister.
Alethia returned his courtesy absently, then and linked arms with her brother as they started again toward the house. “I’m so glad you got back in time for my party,” she said as they mounted the stairs. “But you could have sent some kind of warning, couldn’t you?”
“Party?” Har said blankly with studied blankness.
Alethia laughed. “You don’t even remember! I’m twenty tomorrow; it today is my birth eve.”
“Well, I didn’t forget entirely,” Har said. “I got something at our last stop in Karlen Gale. I’ll give it to you tonight, after I’ve unpacked.”
Maurin smothered a grin. When the caravan had stopped in Karlen Gale, Har had spent two precious hours of his free afternoon hunting for exactly the right gift for his sister’s birth eve party, and he had fretted ever since for fear they wouldn’t arrive in time.
“Thank you in advance—I think!” Alethia replied.
The conversation about the birthday present is… flat. The revised version has a lot more characterization for Har, adds characterization for Maurin, and by giving Maurin’s reaction, makes it a third-person viewpoint.
Then, turning Alethia turned to Maurin she and added, “You will You’ll come to the party join us too, won’t you?”
Caught by surprise, Maurin hesitated. He hadn’t anticipated being asked to any formal feasts…
“It won’t be more than dinner and songs, really; the Lords Armin and Gahlon are coming at the end of the week to talk to Father, and it would be hard to have two large feasts so close together.”,” Alethia said, almost as if she could read his mind. “But if you’d rather not—”
“Of course he’ll come,” Har said. “He’s staying for a week, at least.”
Once again, I added Maurin’s reactions; I also trimmed Alethia’s dialogue to make it sound more natural (“You’ll” instead of “You will,” for instance). I then took out the long and rather clumsy lead-in to the awkward and unnecessary conversation I deleted below.
“So that is why
there is so much cleaning going on!” Har exclaimed. “What do Armin and Gahlon want to talk to Father for?”
His sister smiled mischievously. “I’m not supposed to know, so you’d better ask him. Something about the Lithmern raids, I think,” she added innocently.
“But the raids have practically stopped!” Har said.
“I know,” said Alethia, and grinned again. “You must tell me all about it after he explains to you.”
“What makes you think he will?” Har countered.
“Well, aside from being his son and heir, you’ve just come back from three months with the caravans, haven’t you? And your last stop was Karlen Gale, which is the only Free City anywhere near Lithra. So if Father wants to know about the Lithmern, who else would he talk to?”
“Staying for a week?” Alethia frowned. “Then one of you will have to sleep in the south tower; Father will want the north one for the Lords Armin and Gahlon, and—”
“Lord Armin and First Lord Gahlon are coming here? Together?”
“At the end of the week,” Alethia said, nodding. “And I’m not supposed to know why Father asked them to come, so don’t bother quizzing me until after Father explains it to you.”
“Father asked them?” Har repeated. “Allie, you’re making that up!”
The original version of the conversation is a little stiff and moves the focus to the raids a little too fast; it also has more “as you know, Bob” dialogue. The revised version sounds more like a conversation; nobody’s saying things anyone else knows, and it flows much better into the next bit.
“Who indeed?” “Unfortunately, she is not,” said a deep voice behind them, and Alethia jumped. The three turned to find a tall, dark-haired man of about forty-five of middle years standing in a doorway and smiling at them looking at them with a smile. “Father!” said Alethia and Har together.
The man’s smile deepened. “Welcome home,” he said to his son, and there was no mistaking the deep affection in his tone. For a moment they stood silent, then Har shook himself and turned to introduce Maurin.
“I am honored; I have heard a good deal of you, Lord Bracor,” Maurin said when the formalities were finished.
“Nothing too intimidating dreadful, I hope,” Bracor responded. “Come into my study where we can talk.” “Har, I realize that you have only just arrived, but I have some questions for you and your friend. Would you join me in my study?”
“Questions?” Har said. “Why?”
“Honestly, Har, sometimes you are thicker than Ceron’s treacle sauce!” Alethia said. “You just got back from a caravan patrol that ran about as close to Lithra as you can get without being raided, and you can’t think why Father would want to ask you questions?”
“The Lithmern haven’t raided anyone in months,” Har said.
“That’s what you—”
The girl broke off, looking faintly guilty. He turned toward Alethia and studied her for a moment. Bracor studied his daughter for a moment, then shook his head ruefully. “I don’t suppose you would like to go on and tell your mother that Har has returned?”
The new conversation above replaces the deleted dialogue. This flows more smoothly and the siblings’ back-and-forth covers the same ground more naturally. Moving the information from before-Bracor to after-Bracor also changes the focus just a bit. I don’t need to imply that Bracor is going to want to talk to Har about the caravan patrol, because Bracor already said he wants to ask some questions, which adds a smidgen more tension.
“Mother probably already knows,” Aletha said, and smiled.
“And you would rather join us.,” Bracor finished with an answering smile. “I don’t quite see why; you probably appear to know all about it everything I was going to say to Har already.”
“I know just enough to be interested, that’s all,” Alethia said. “Of course, I can find out from Har later, but it would be easier if you’d just let me stay. Har leaves things out sometimes.”
Har’s face reddened, and Bracor shook his head in mock resignation. “Very well, then, since you are so determined. Come.” He stood aside and let the others walk past him into the room, then entered and closed the door behind him.
Most of the major block cuts, where I was deleting whole paragraphs or sections, are finished by this point, so I’m mostly revising for viewpoint, consistency, readability, characterization, and so on.
If I were revising it again now, I’d add some more of Maurin’s reactions to the later exchanges; he’s supposed to be the viewpoint, but he’s kind of gotten lost amid all the family bickering.
Bracor led them inside and up a long, spiral staircase to a pleasant, though simply furnished, room. Maurin was pleased to find that the cleaning frenzy in the courtyard had not completely stripped the castle of furniture; there were two benches and a footstool, in addition to a trestle table littered with parchments.
I knew rather more about the kind of furniture one would expect to find in a medieval castle when I revised than I did ten years earlier…
“I suppose Alethia has already told you what I wanted to talk to you about,” Bracor said when they were all seated inside.
Once they were all seated, Bracor looked at Har and said, “As Alethia has already guessed, I want to talk to you about the Lithmern.”
“Well, she did say something about Lithmern raids,” Har said, glancing at his sister. “But I don’t see the point; they’ve practically stopped.”
“I don’t see the point,” Har said. “The border has been quiet for months.”
“The Conclave of First Lords feels the same way, I’m afraid,” the Lord of Brenn replied tiredly. “But open raids are not the only thing to fear from the Lithmern.”
Har looked puzzled, then frowned suddenly. “Open raids? Are you saying you think they’ve been raiding secretly?”
Bracor continued. “Do you know that the Lithmern now control, either by outright conquest or by more subtle means, most of the countries to the north and west of Alkyra? They are far stronger than you may think.”
“Then why aren’t they raiding more instead of less?” Har said stubbornly. “If they thought they could get away with it, the Lithmern would be attacking every caravan that takes the northern trails!”
“Not every one,” his father said. “Only a few that they can loot completely.“It’s not speculation,” Bracor said. “I’ll wager your Trader friend knows what I’m referring to.” I mean.” Maurin looked at Bracor in surprise as Har and Alethia turned their heads.
Maurin looked at Bracor with surprise and respect. “You must have excellent sources to have uncovered that, my Lord,” Maurin said with new respect.
Har made a frustrated gesture. “What are you talking about?”
“Three caravans have disappeared completely in the past six months,” Maurin said.
“Disappeared?” Har asked skeptically. “How can fifteen or more wagons and sixty men just vanish?”
Maurin shrugged. They are certainly gone. No trace of men, horses, goods, or wagons has been found, not even the Traders’ family gear. And all of them were passing near Lithra. “If we knew that, we might be able to stop it. But the only information we have is that all three caravans were traveling near Lithra. At least, that’s where we think they were.”
“You don’t know?” “You aren’t sure?” Alethia asked.
“Caravan masters can be very secretive about routes and destinations, especially if they think someone else wants to cut in on their profits.” Maurin explained.
“But how could the Lithmern do it?” Har puzzled. “And why would they take everything that way?”
“How, I do not know,” Bracor said. “Why, I can guess. “The Lithmern have never made any secret of their raiding before,” Har said, his frown deepening. “They must have something new to hide.”
Har’s dialogue changes quite a bit. He’s supposed to be smart, and he’s been educated to be heir to Brenn, so rather than
asking blatantly obvious questions in this conversation, I tried to make him a little smarter.
“I believe they wish to keep us in doubt of their numbers and their intentions,” Bracor said.
“Are you sure it’s not more than that?” Har said.
“Need they have more reason? Until now they have been afraid of Alkyra; they remember their defeat at Eirith too clearly to take chances with us. Now I think their fear is passing; they have been preparing carefully for years, growing stronger while we bickered among ourselves. But I think their fear is passing at last.”
Alethia stared at her father. “Then youYou think the Lithmern are planning to attack Alkyra!” Alethia said. she blurted.
“I do,” her father replied. “I have tried to tell the Conclave that, but they will not listen.”
“Your Regent—” Maurin began, but Bracor was already shaking his head.
“The, and the Regent has too little power to compel the lords, much less the Nine Families. We have kept them They have been safe too long. Oh, there are a few who suspect, who build their own forces, but Alkyra has no unity.”
“Can’t the Regent do anything?” Maurin asked.
“He never does,” Alethia said. “The Regent never does anything,” Alethia put in. “I think he’s afraid to offend the First Lords, because if he did they might decide to replace him if he tried to make them do anything.”
“Alethia is right,” Bracor said. “The Regent’s power authority depends on the good will of the Nine Families, and he knows it too well. The last regent was not a strong ruler, and he allowed his authority to be eroded by the nobles. We cannot look for help there.”
Baffled, Maurin shook his head. He would never understand the way stonebound folk managed their affairs. A Route Master who ignored the requests of even one of his Caravan Masters would not keep his position for another month.
Daughter of Witches Page 2