Editing… and Writer’s Block

12 Aug

–both of which can go die in a marvelous hole filled with rabid cobras. Here recently, I’ve been working at editing Kingsblade. Exciting stuff, eh? Not really. Not really-at-all-really, actually. That being said, I’ve gotten the prologue done *ish* (because I might have a tiny fetish about going back and tweaking until final publications and submissions) and thought I’d give y’all a little more to chew on. So here follows the edited prologue and first chapter (which has never been seen before on the EEB blog *le gasp*) of Kingsblade!

Prologue – The Keeper

 

“For the word of Elindr is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” – verse from the Breathing Book

_____ _ _____

3500, the Fourth Age — Rajii

 

I am quite old now. I have been the keeper of our realm’s history for over three thousand years. The world has changed much since the beginning. I was born when the land was still learning how to bear fruit, when the birds were still few, and life itself was a breathtaking wonder — a novelty instead of a regularity. When Elindr’s voice was familiar and His footsteps echoed through the hollows of the youngest forests. For in my time, Elindr was very near to the people of the realm.

It did not last, for the great Lord cannot stand in Darkness and there was much Darkness amongst the people. Many, poisoned by the vile arrows of the shadow, bickered, stole and murdered. The darkness grew with each passing year like a suffocating vine, devouring the good lands that the King had created. Not all at once, you must understand, but quickly enough for it to startle the faithful into silence.

We did not fight it. We were to content, lulled asleep by the wicked song of the recreants. Evil is not, after all, always so obvious and malevolent in nature. Indeed, it can be said that the Enemy is reliably cunning. So it took the land and Elindr left our realm. Many believed He had forsaken us, for His footsteps were no longer heard and our ears strained to hear the sound of His voice. It was a sorrowful day, indeed, that finally even the most close to Elindr declared He had drawn back into the Kingdom Above for a time.

The world became a dangerous place in the years to follow. I had not realized then it was only destined to grow worse. We were angry — all the races with one another. It was not long before divisions grew up between the various peoples of Aérlas. The dwarves retreated into their mountains, the elves into their hills and forests. My people, the Yuagckweh, into the lands of Ardhi Takatifu, the Sacred Lands. There was only one race who tried to stop us.

The race of man.

We scoffed at them then, for their lives were but vapors carried upon a swift, hot wind when compared to our own. They would not last. For they too easily forgave one another, too willingly gave all they had to one another, and too quickly rose to arms against one another.

They did not perish, though. We did not care for the affairs of men and so we did not know that until our life depended on it. And when we learned of their survival, all spoke of it. We said to one another, “They will fall by the next cycle of the moon. Surely this is just a twisted game of Fate,” or “There is no strength in the race of men. Perhaps they have joined in alliance with the Darkness?” We had grown proud in our deliberate ignorance. And we were wrong.

When the Darkness appeared, they were the first to declare war. They were the first to fall in battle, and there were many who fell. They were the ones who called us together. It was the first time in eight hundred years that all the races had gathered; the end of the first age was upon us.

It was these men, these humans, who reminded us of our faith to Elindr and urged us to join them. They had a bold, young king named Èoran, who said that Elindr had spoken to him. That after so many years of silence, he, out of all the races had been chosen to hear the words of the Creator. Èoran spoke much of what he had been told of the darkness and the great Deceiver who sought to send us all into eternal condemnation. He bore a blade which he called the Kingsblade, forged by Elindr Himself and given to Èoran as a symbol — a symbol that He had chosen Èoran as His Champion.

It seemed superficial. Unbelievable. Why a man? Why not an elf? Or a dwarf? Or one of the Yuagckweh? We did not believe at first.

Our incredulity did not last, though. For when the Darkness reached our own lands and began to enslave us, we became more open-minded to the young king. We cried out to Èoran like children to their parents after going the very place they had been instructed not to. And he came.

He came as a mighty warrior, bearing a blade whom none could stand against. For what we beheld of him in battle was nearly impossible in nature. We saw him come to rescue our peoples, though he knew he was hated in our lands and had received no hospitality from us before. We were indeed amazed, for the Darkness could not stand against him. His ability with the sword — unparalleled. His cunning in battle — legendary. His devotion and adoration of Elindr — pure.

I knew then that Elindr had not abandoned us. No, He left us in the hands of one quite capable. Since then I have realized that He always, despite the hopelessness of it all, sends someone to come and dig us out of our holes of stupidity. 

 

995, the First Age

 

“I want all these infidels dead! Give them no mercy for they shall receive none when they descend into the Darkness.”

“Yes, m’lord….”

The door to our prison cracked and moaned as a form, swathed in curled fronds of shadow and covered from head to toe in scarred black metal armor, walked in among us like a phantom from some ill-fated, forgotten past.

“So these are the biggest threats to my kingdom? The mighty warriors of Aérlas?” The man erupted into shallow, rasping laughter that seemed horribly out of place after the achingly long moments of enduring silence. “You — the greatest among the followers of the all-powerful Elindr.” His head tipped up long enough for us to see the pale skin of his neck, taunting us. “Oh, how I love to see you broken. Look at yourselves! And for some reason I thought you would be a challenge to crush.”

He paused and jerked his head around, searching our faces for something. An emotion of some sort? Anger? Despair? Possibly surrender. All I could see was exhaustion. Filth. The rats as they splashed through the muck and the urine that clung to the paling skin around our ankles.

I was so tired. The war had left us scattered and broken, but alive nonetheless. Now, I was faced with the question: would we even survive at all?

“I’ll make sure to arrange for a warm welcome when you taste the darkness,” he crooned.

I knew him by many names, but there was one that I had always found to fit him well. Pervez in our ancient language, which translated into the common tongue as “the Deceiver of Men”.

“I wonder,” he said, looking at us again with a wild and trembling madness edging his voice, “where your Elindr is now. If He cares so much for His people, then why hasn’t He come down to save you?”

Some of the smallest children screamed as he stepped past them, the clink of his iron-shod feet akin to the shrill shriek of the guillotine nearby. I had stopped counting the times it was brought down in the days before.

Pervez knelt before one of the smallest, a girl no more than eight winters with faded blue eyes and dirty, tangled red hair. “Oh, my little child, are you cold?”

“Leave her, Pervez,” I warned, though I knew not what I could do to stop him.

He traced his glove bound hand over her pale cheek. “You suffer so much for one so small. Come to me, little one, and I will make you rich. I will make you powerful. I will make you strong.”

Her lips quivered as a moan escaped her. “I-I don’t want to be rich… or powerful… I just want to see the sun shine again.” She turned her head away, her cheek brushing the grimy stone walls behind her.

“You have spirit. The Legions could use someone such as you,” Pervez continued, grabbing her chin and jerking her head back toward himself.

“Make him stop, Rajii… please….” she sobbed, struggling against the grip of the dark lord.

“Elindr,” I whispered. “Why allow your children to endure such pain?” I closed my eyes as a silent tear rolled down my face.

“For this you were called, because I suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in My steps.”

“Rajii!” The little girl screamed. I struggled against my own will, knowing that if I looked I would only see pain. Finally, I allowed my eyes to meet hers.

“I’m scared,” she whispered to me. Tears streamed down her cheeks as Pervez closed his hand around her throat. She writhed and struggled against his grip, and my heart felt as though it was tearing.

I could not look away. “Do not be,” I replied softly. “You go to meet your Father.”

Her eyes became distant and, somehow, despite the should-have-been gruesome death, her eyes closed as life left her as silently as her last breath.

“So she passes into the gates of the Kingdom Above,” I murmured, lifting my head to where I imagined the sun that could not bear to shine in this black pit would be. “Let her be well received,” I whispered, tears streaming down my cheeks and under my chin. I had no strength left to stop them.

“Consider it a merciful gesture, pastor. The Darkness will welcome her well for the pain she has endured at your hand.”

I turned my gaze back to Pervez. My eyes narrowed for a moment before all expression faded from my face. “She was a daughter of Elindr. She will not taste your accursed shadow.”

Pervez stood and stepped toward me. For the first time, I glimpsed his eyes beneath the shadow of his helmet. There was no light to be found there, only darkness. There would be no redemption from the shadow for him, only the fires of Elindr’s wrath. “You are a cur in the eyes of Elindr. Stop trying to please a God who hates you and everyone else!”

“If he were a cur in Elindr’s eyes, he would already be dead. And by my sword, I might add.”

A long breath escaped my lips and I closed my eyes. “Èoran,” I breathed as I looked toward the broad-shouldered figure in the doorway. There was a thud as the executioner fell to the ground. The glint of the Kingsblade sent shafts of light into the dungeon.

“Elindr delivers us this day,” Èoran said as Pervez shrank back into the shadows. The king pulled a book from the folds of his cloak and handed it to me. “A gift from the Kotkaas,” he announced, smiling. “It is truly a book that breathes.”

“I don’t know if this is the best time for gifts, my king,” I told him quietly.

“There is never a bad time for gifts. Now, you take this and–” Èoran looked toward Pervez and frowned for a moment before extending his hand with another book held calmly in it. “We even made one for you. Although I say we generously. To be honest, I feel it’s a waste of paper. But you can consider it a demonstration of the munificence of those who have chosen to follow Elindr, the one true King above all men.”

Pervez shuffled forward and snatched the book from Èoran’s hand before recoiling and disappearing into the shadows.

“Come, my friend,” Èoran said to me as he broke away my shackles, “and rejoice in this freedom that Elindr has given you. For He has shown us many things in our defeat, and will yet show us many more in our rise from the ashes.”

I couldn’t help feeling that it was too easy a victory.

And I knew it was one that would not last.

***

“A gift worthy of pigs,” Pervez snarled, tearing open the book. His hands snapped to the edges of the book and it felt as though lightning coursed through his veins. He tried to scream, but no noise came. A sharp, hot wind whipped across his face. The pages of the Breathing Book flipped over one another rapidly, forming a spinning arch of parchment.

It was a long, painful moment before the wind stilled and the pages stopped.

“And I saw an angel coming down from the Kingdom Above, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, and bound him, and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive Aérlas any longer.”

The dark lord closed the book with mechanical calm. “So, they give me a gift that mocks me. This is how you choose to repay me, Elindr? You would allow mere men to scoff at me even when You are the one who allows their pain? Do You not think You are being deceptive?”

I AM THAT I AM. ALL THAT PASSES THROUGH MY EYES IS FITTED ACCORDING TO A WONDEROUS PLAN THAT IS FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL WHO TRUST ME.

“And for those who do not trust in You?”

THEY WILL PERISH.

 

3500, the Fourth Age

 

I realize now that all along it has been men who have kept the world from perishing. Though none of them were perfect by any measure, they shared a love of Elindr and a servant’s heart. We had peace in the Second Age. Elindr spoke to me often in those days. I have learned to love the sound of His voice. I frown now because it has always been there. I was only refusing to listen to it. Indeed, I became much more humble during those years of peace after the wars. Èoran appointed me as pastor of the realm soon after the end of the war and once again Elindr would speak to me, though not in the same way as before.

It grieved me when Èoran died, but his successor was noble and strong. As were his ancestors thereafter. I knew and loved each of them dearly for the race of men is blessed with much strength and beauty.  

I have said that I am old, and this is true. I feel that soon I will go home and at last walk with Elindr as I once did. But first, I must tell the tale of a kingdom almost lost. For I have received visions of a realm I do not know and yet reminds me of our own. I see in it many of the things I saw in the first years — divisions among the races, anger, and darkness. I do not know why Elindr shows me this; I do not feel there is anything I can do to help them other than pray, which I do now. I pray for healing but also leadership, as there was such a one in our own kingdom not so long ago.

Her story was unlike any other that I have known.

 

 

One – The Battle of Furnden Fields

 

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who first loved us.” – verse from the Breathing Book

_____ _ _____

3025, the Fourth Age — Leyrl Karanor

Sweat trickled down into the corner of my mouth, the salty tang of sweat mixed with blood seeping into my tongue. I blink away tears as a claws of ice-like vehemence tear across h my back. The feeling was what I imagined being struck by lightning would feel like — hot and cold at the same time. I knew if I turned there would be nothing there but the Darkness. I knew there was nothing I could do to fight it. My breath caught sharply in my lungs as I stumbled over a shallow gully. Sharp, jagged stones dug into my palms. My white knuckles gleamed in the darkness that wreathed around me. Everything smelled of death and decay.

Shadows unfurled their wispy fronds like eagle hatchlings spreading their wings for the first time. I closed my eyes, savoring the memory before the clatter of battle shook through my mind, chasing the last shred of light I could still cling to in this forsaken land away. I wondered if it had been there at all.

“General.”

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“War cares little for man’s titles.”

War cares little for man’s titles, I thought absently as the haze that had settled over my senses lifted slightly. I forced myself to stand on weak legs, wiping away the wayward curls that had pulled loose from their leather tie. My knees shook and the edges of my vision darkened in response.

“Leyrl! … Lee!”

I closed my eyes again before pushing them open, trying to clear my vision. Vaguely, I watched as a shaggy red-haired knight raced toward me. The shape of his broad shoulders was a blurred haze before my eyes, but I still recognized him.

Mallark.

His dark amber eyes widened, but I put out a hand to stop him. “I’ll be okay,” I spluttered, hating the fear that leaped into his eyes. “One of the men had wandered into the shadows alone… I…” I stopped and coughed, my eyes watering as clouds of dust billowed past us. “…tried to help… but then the shadows… they thickened….” The words stuck to the back of my throat.

“We must assume he perished,” I choked.

I felt Mallark’s strong arm slip under mine. “So much you are like a shepherd to us,” he murmured.

I didn’t respond and allowed myself to sink gratefully into the support of his arms. At a loss for words, I looked deeper into the darkness that swirled around us as Mallark led me back toward the rest of the troops. “Where are the Fallehnbrath?”

“Retreating.” Mallark’s tired eyes met my own.

We had done it. We had won.

In the very least we could draw strength from that.

“How many did we lose?” I asked, motioning for us to continue toward camp. I was ready to leave this wretched place.

“Ten,” Mallark replied softly. “Eleven counting the man lost to the shadow.”

“Eleven?” The number sunk to the bottom of my stomach and stayed there like a rock tossed into the depths of a great ocean. “We cannot expect to endure this much longer, Mark. Without the soldiers or the means to build an army, we have no reason to hope we will survive this war… Nay, the only thing I feel we can expect is to be torn apart little by little until we are so completely destroyed there will be none who remember the Kotkaas.”

“Why do you despair?” he asked in exasperation. “We have victory!”

“And at what price, Mallark Qintarris? We have lost so much. This victory is but a trifle token for our shelves, destined to be taken as spoils when our enemy has finished toying with us.”

The red-haired Captain fought to keep his features controlled, but I could see the dismay in his eyes clearly. He knew what I said was true. How could he still have hope? Why did he pretend? There were no others near enough to hear us. “We don’t know that the man you lost is dead… maybe it was only ten.”

“I did not know his name, Mark. How can we to search for a man whose name we do not know?”

Mallark’s eyes wandered to the sparse grass that peeked above the blackened soil of Furnden Fields. “He was just another man…”

My gaze hardened. “Every man was a child once. Every man is a son, a brother, or a father. I do not value any life over another, nor will I dismiss deaths with a wave of my hand! There are eleven who will not return this night and I will be among the grieving. This,” I said gesturing around us, “is nothing more than manslaughter disguised under a power-hungry cape and a petty name.”

Mallark didn’t reply for a long while. Eventually, I moved out from beneath his arm to walk alone.

“He knew it was a possibility he would not return,” Mallark murmured finally. “We all knew this and accepted it as soldiers and Kotkaas. We would follow you to any end — even unto death,” he finished in a whisper.

I shook my head and then turned to meet my Captain’s gaze. “Am I a fool to think I have enough wisdom to lead battles against an enemy we are only just beginning to understand? I just want to keep my people safe.”

Mallark’s gaze wandered again. “You act as though the entire safety of Altan rests on your shoulders. You will not answer to Elindr as a queen. You lead battles with real swords and arrows, not wasters and twigs; men will die. We simply must accept that until the days of the king return.” He smiled sadly, turning back toward me once again.

I blinked back tears. Where was Elindr in this? Why did He not answer my prayers? Why must it be me to be His champion? And why did I force myself to remain silent while my people perished in the black flames of the Darkness? If my destiny was so great then why did I find myself so apt to silence? My lips trembled and I gnawed at the soft flesh on the inside of my mouth. “And if I refuse?”

The Captain’s eyes sparkled. I had always envied the peace he possessed despite the wars that waged so vehemently around us. “Do you remember when you and I were both children at the Hold?”

“How could I forget?” I asked with a small sigh.

“I was beside myself with fear when you first starting riding Seyr,” he said, using his large hands to illustrate the story, which made it a little easier to forget about the deaths and the battle and the war. “It was the first time I would be unable to save you when things went wrong, but you had to go your own way and make your own choices despite what I wanted.”

A small smile touched my lips for a moment before it faded. “We argued bitterly all that day and you swore you would never speak to me again.”

Mallark bent his head forward. “Aye, that I did.”

My boot caught a rock and I numbly felt my knees buckle.

Seconds later, I felt Mallark’s strong arm pulling me up again. “You must learn to let go of us. We have choices to make about our own destinies, too. Only the Elindr controls our fate, Lee.”

I leaned against his arm. “Do you think He is watching now? Do you think He allowed the shadows back into Altan?”

Mallark’s hand found mine and he squeezed it tightly. “With all my heart,” he replied softly.

Tears gathered in my eyes as I nodded. Blurred, gilded forest green flags snapped against the winds nearer to camp.

“He is with you,” Mallark said after a moment, looking at me, “I can feel it.”

I nodded. “Sometimes I wish He’d were more obvious.” I frowned slightly.

My Captain chuckled. “As do we all,” he said, his voice growing distant. “As do we all….”

Photo Credit — I don’t know who drew the fantastic picture in this post! It was without an artist where I found it. If you know who the author is, let me know in the comments!

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