Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Novel Sample Week: Waterfall Castle

Continuing on Novel Sample week, is this early chapter from Waterfall Castle.  Waterfall Castle is a fantasy novel about a young prince caught between two warring races.  Most of the novel takes place in a castle built to dam in a giant waterfall (that has huge religious significance).

            Repeek tells me you want to know more of my own beginning and less of the history and religions of the various groups involved.  My own genesis is less interesting, but I live to serve.  Everything began with a single line of ink in a scroll.  That was my genesis, my second birth.

            I had been working in the library, one of the only places I felt worthwhile.  At a young age, I found that, unlike my elder brother, I was useless.  He excelled at archery, riding, swordplay, and statecraft, was fluent in Old Fell, New Fell, and the Broward Common Tongue, knew military history, strategy, and the art of oratory and negotiation.  I was declared hopeless by the same teachers who declared my brother a prodigy.  I was unable to hit a target with a bow, keep astride a horse for more than a minute without falling off, hold a sword without cutting myself, or have a serious conversation without sounding like a buffoon.  Night after night, I praised the one God for choosing my brother as firstborn.  If I was ever crowned king, the empire would fall within a week.

            But I digress.

            Hopeless at anything except scholarship, I threw myself into books.  It wasn’t hard to do.  The Fell library at Waterfall Castle was a wonder.  At least a thousand books lined the walls of those cavernous rooms, and hundreds more scrolls moldered in the tiny Broward library near the cistern rooms, below.  I read for hours, writing notes on scraps of paper I brought with me.

            One day, while I was halfway through Harot’s Biography of Sennach the Lesser, I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I started -- half because I was so deep in study I hadn’t heard anyone approach and half because almost no one dared touch me -- and looked up to see Harot himself gazing down at me.

            I can imagine what you would see if you had been me, looking up at Harot.  You would see an old man: stooped shoulders, sagging skin, nearly blind eyes, wearing a frayed robe.  Were you not the right and true King, I would pity you.  I saw Harot for who he truly was: a scholar’s posture, eyes that saw subtleties in written words I would never notice, the simple clothes of a man who cared little for wealth or power.

            “What do you think?” he asked.

            “It’s very good,” I said when I regained my ability to talk.  “Your writing inspires me.”

            He smiled at the compliment.

            “That’s kind of you to say.  Is that what you’re writing down?  Clever turns of phrase?”

            “No,” I said.  “I sometimes check the facts in histories.  Once I read that Resol the Second had built dungeons near the third tier, but couldn’t find them when I went looking.”

            “Oh, was that Riagal’s work?  He loved to embroider the truth with folk tales.  May I see your notes?”

            I realized I had unconsciously hidden the pages under my arm and slide them over to him.  He put a pair of ancient spectacles on and glanced at my notes.  Then he took his glasses off and sat down next to me.

            “You have a rare gift for facts, young prince,” he said.  “I wonder if you would do me a favor.”

            In short, I agreed to help check the facts for his histories.  It was an honor, but a joy as well; for once, I felt useful.  The next day, I began work doing research for his book The Sixth Dynasty.  I was cross-referencing architectural achievements with the lives of the kings when I came across the line which changed my life.  The line was drawn over a birth announcement.  Absolom the Third had two children, Rodmin the Veiled (born in FY 1283) and his brother Leba, born two years later.  Nothing had ever been written about Leba, nobody even mentioned his birth, but there it was on the parchment, and crossed out with a line.

            I made a note to find out who Leba was and went back to my rooms to go to bed.  I had a hard time getting to sleep, and rang for the servants to bring me a bottle of yellow wine.  Hours later, as I drifted off towards a hazy sleep, a strange thought hit me: Absolom the Third had two children?  Then I was fully awake, sitting upright in my bed.  Still in my bedclothes, I burst out of my room, and found Uj sitting by the door, staring at me.

            Uj was my guardian protector, sworn to follow and protect me from harm.  Always dressed in chain mail, which I know was beastly hot, and carrying a steel gladius, he hovered behind me, scowling, wherever I went.  I called him “Sad Uj” when I was younger, before I knew his history.

Uj had black hair, dark skin, and the sloping forehead of a Broward.  Had he been born with black eyes as well, I think he would have been welcomed into your army, your highness.  Honest, intelligent, and compassionate, he would have risen quickly in the ranks until he had made general.  I can see him now, his long hair flying free as he cut through Fell soldiers as if they were made out of water.  You would have called him Bloody Uj or Fellkiller Uj and been glad to have him at your table.

Sad Uj, however, was born with blue eyes, Fell eyes, blood traitor eyes.  With those eyes, he had no future with Broward kind and two choices with the Fell: servant or fodder.  He chose the latter.  Uj proved himself in countless battles: Tyree, Veritas Plains, Breed’s Hill.  Had any other soldier done what he had, he would have been Legatus Uj, but with that dark skin and that black hair he could go no higher than Primus.  Uj who watched as lesser men, cowardly men, ignorant men were promoted above him, were given rich wives and status.  Uj, who could barely muster enough coin to marry a frail woman who died in childbirth, leaving him alone.  Uj who endured the last and worst insult: being my bodyguard, spending his days watching for an assassin nobody would ever bother to send.

Sad Uj indeed.

            Uj was under orders to keep me in my rooms at night.  I was told the orders were for my protection; assassins were harder to spot at night, and guards were more prone to make mistakes.  I could bully him into letting me into the library, but it wasn’t worth the trouble.  I made up a story about having a nightmare and returned to my rooms.  After a few minutes of pretending to sleep, I stood and went to a spot in my floor and pulled up the stones.

            Two dynasties ago, when the Archimedes Screw and windmill had been added to Waterfall Castle, much of the water that flowed through the castle was rerouted.  The soft pipes, built in the reign of Enser Fud, that flowed through the ceilings and floors ran dry.  Some of those pipes, like the ones under my room, had been removed and smelted into new pipes, leaving gaps.  It was ample room to crawl around.

            Half an hour later, I strode through the empty halls, and entered the Fell library.  Inside, by the flickering light of my oil taper, I looked again at the record of Absolom the Third and confirmed what I had read.  Absolom sired two children.

            Absolom was the first and only Fell King of Waterfall Castle to have more than one son.  I don't know why the oddness of the situation had never occurred to me before.  Every King had exactly one child: a boy to serve as the heir to the throne.  Leba was an anomaly.

            Why did Kings only have one child?  Other families had more than one child.  Other families had girls as well as boys.  Was there some ancient Broward curse, left by the Blood Wizards, working upon the royal lineage?

            I crawled back to my rooms, my head swirling with questions.  Why had Leba been crossed out?  He must have died, but why hadn't his life been recorded elsewhere?  Why hadn't his death been noted?  As I sleepily replaced the stones in my floor, a thought popped into my head: It was a good thing Leba died.  Had he lived, he could have been a threat to Rodmin the Veiled.  He could have killed Rodmin to take the throne or his descendants could have joined with the Browards and started a civil war.

            I was starkly awake again, and sat numbly on the bed.  What if Rodmin had killed Leba when he ascended to the throne?  What if Rodmin had ordered all records of his brother's existence removed to hide the crime from history?  What if someone had made a mistake and merely crossed out Leba’s name in the record I found?

If I could prove the fratricide, I had made an amazing historical find.  Old Harot would be thrilled.  Perhaps he'd mentor me in my first, original work.  Of course, there were some other issues that would need working out.  For example, why did Absolom the Third have two children when no other King of Waterfall Castle had since the time of Sennach?

            I paced around the room in a wide circle, imagining and discarding theories.  Was there a curse on the royal family?  No, Leba's birth would have been considered a blessing and trumpeted far and wide, making it impossible to remove all traces of his existence.  Could Leba have only been mistaken as a prince?  I found it hard to believe an official record would contain such an enormous error.  Could Leba have been a bastard?  No, he would never have even been listed.  What if fratricide was a tradition?

            I stopped pacing.  My eyes lit up with excitement.  What if, for a hundred generations, on the death of the King, the elder son killed the younger?  No, it was too far-fetched.  How could you ensure two male heirs?

            I thought about that for a moment.  How could you ensure exactly one male heir, like I and everyone at court had always assumed?  Exactly two children was as difficult as exactly one.  Yet the Fell Kings had managed to do it for generations without any difficulty.

            I lay down on my bed, pulled the covers up around me, and closed my eyes.  Wouldn’t Harot be surprised when I told him in the morning!  As I drifted off to sleep, I imagined him saying “A history of royal fratricide.  Fascinating!  It’s a good thing we found evidence of this before it was your turn.”

            And I was awake again, sitting up in bed in a cold sweat.  I was the second son of the Fell King.  I quickly gathered the few things in my rooms and dumped them on the duvet: a quill, ink, and parchment.  A set of clothes (my middle-best).  The jar of wine I had half finished.  When I had made a small pile of them, I pulled up the corners of the duvet into a makeshift bag and pulled them to the door.

            Sad Uj was sitting in his usual chair across from my door.  Two guards were standing at either side of him.  For the first time, I saw Uj as who he truly was: my keeper, my executioner.  He nodded at me, and I retreated back into my rooms.  After a moment, I pulled up the loose stones to the passage underneath.  Halfway in, I became stuck, my bag blocking me from fitting all the way inside.  An hour later, covered in scrapes and drenched with sweat, I managed to push my way back up.  Exhausted, I collapsed into a corner, my mind reeling with panic.

            Three hours later, Uj came to my rooms.  He carried a chessboard under his arm as he did every morning.  I stared at him dumbly as he laid out the pieces for us and held two out in his closed fists.  After a moment, I realized he still intended to play against me as always and picked a hand.  Uj opened his fingers to show me I had picked the Broward piece.  I would go second.  Uj always beat me when he was Fell.  I groaned as he turned the board so the white pieces were on his side.

            "So, what are you going to do?" he said with a strange look in his eye.  "Just give up and die?"

            I looked at the few, tiny, brown pieces lined up to defend me and tried not to cry.

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