Malessar's Curse - In the Hills

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Steven Poore - Epic Fantasist & SFSF Socialist
Feb 4, 2005
Sheffield, SoYo
time for some more. you may have guessed that these bits aren't linear - i'm not working on the story that way; i'm writing whichever chapter "Wants" to be written (which can be very frustrating as i now have 5 or 6 unfinished chapters as well as 2 completed ones).

what i'm after here is whether you can believe in the new character Craw. is there too much description?

Canevaril - just behind this hill… the shiver that ran through her had nothing to do with the cold. She dropped one hand to her belt, checking that the knife was still belted there. She was fortunate, she thought, not to have rolled over onto it while she slept.

She was about to take her hand from the knife when she saw a figure striding easily into view along the old road from Canevaril. Her fingers curled around the hilt again, gripping it tight, and she felt the muscles across the back of her shoulders tense once more as the distant figure raised one arm to hail her.

It wasn’t Malessar.

She took an uncertain step back, only to realise that she really had nowhere to run, nothing to hide herself behind. The man approaching her looked to have legs long enough to overtake her even if she started running now.

An odd man, she saw: he had a slightly exotic appearance that hinted at a sorcerous pedigree, just as the warlock’s did. His cheeks and his nose were too long, too smooth, echoing sculptures of antiquity she had seen in the Emperor’s palace. His eyes were too wide, his mouth far too thin. The hood of his plain woollen robe was down around his neck and she could see that his bare skull carried a faint mottling as though he had suffered from a disease many years ago. He seemed on the cusp of middle age, yet somehow beyond that too. As he came closer, and Cassia noted with apprehension that he would have towered over even Meredith, she saw that the mottled effect extended to his hands and his bare feet.

And he carried himself with such confidence that even though he bore no weapon at all, Cassia decided that she really did not want to provoke him into a fight.

“You are awake,” he said in an oddly familiar voice. Cassia could not quite place it: it sounded wrong coming from his mouth. “The way is clear and safe ahead; you may join us now.”

“I would if I knew who you are,” she replied, more boldly than she felt. “And where is Malessar?”

The man looked surprised, then dismayed and hurt. “Child, you clung to me last night as you might to a lover, and you say you do not know me? Think upon your lore! Are tales no longer told of noble Pyarre’s adventures amongst your kind? Or of Grist the Unfaithful, or even Gera the Unnamed, who ruled with a golden fist in the lands of the West?”

Cassia’s jaw had dropped wide open in disbelief. “Craw?” she gasped.

The dragon still affected to look offended. “It would seem to me that the storytellers of this age do not learn their craft well.”

Now that she knew, Cassia could at last see what appeared to be so wrong about the long woollen robe he wore. It did not move at all in the morning breeze, but it did ripple whenever the transfigured Craw moved. It was tight against his body and she suspected, in a flash of intuition, that it was in fact a part of his body, changed to resemble human clothing for modesty’s sake.

She felt herself beginning to relax a little and forced herself to take deeper, slower breaths. “I’m not a proper storyteller,” she told the dragon. “I wish I was. I’ve never been apprenticed to one. My father is a storyteller, but he’ll never accept me as one. I’m sorry I didn’t recognise you, but I’ve never actually met a dragon before.”

Craw seemed mollified by her apology and he gestured back along the old road. “Malessar awaits further on,” he told her. “There are the remains of a pre-Helleonic fort at the entrance of the next valley; in centuries past it marked the border with Canevaril. Malessar did not wish to venture past this point without study and certain preparations, and he did not wish to risk your safety in the meantime. That is why you were left by the road, out here beyond those cursed lands.” A wry smile slipped across the face of the dragon’s human form. “But you were perfectly safe- have no fear of that. There are no wild beasts courageous enough to venture into this region.”

“None save dragons,” Cassia half-muttered, struggling to keep up with Craw’s long-legged pace.

Apparently that tickled Craw’s sense of humour, because the dragon laughed out loud and repeated her comment to himself, chuckling all the way to the ruined fort.

I like the majority of this, especially the description of Craw in his human form. The only thing that sticks out to me is the last bit of dialog from Craw. I think that maybe you could reword or restructure his explanation a little bit so that it doesn't seem like he's rambling or giving a history lesson.

Others may disagree with me though.
I like the majority of this, especially the description of Craw in his human form. The only thing that sticks out to me is the last bit of dialog from Craw. I think that maybe you could reword or restructure his explanation a little bit so that it doesn't seem like he's rambling or giving a history lesson.

Others may disagree with me though.

hmm. i'm thinking you might be right on that bit. this is the danger of just flinging your ideas straight onto the page - almost like a signpost or memo for what i need to write next. i'm thinking i can move the majority of that speech into the next chapter, as they actually approach the old fort - might make more sense there.

cheers PC

Good stuff, chopper. You have a great way with words and I found the description of Craw spot on. I agree with PC on the final piece of dialog. But that is only minor and quickly fixed. If this is a first draft, then it is highly impressive.
svalbard, many thanks.

yeah, the more i read it, the more it reads like a post-it note for the next chapter. duly noted, and will be remedied.

okay, here's where it ended up. sits a bit better?

The ground beyond the gatehouse was overgrown and strewn with weeds that tugged at her ankles. The gutted remains of buildings lined both walls ahead as they narrowed toward the tower that watched over the entrance to the valley: daylight filtered through their collapsed slate roofs to reveal their hollowed-out interiors. The open-fronted building on her left had probably been a stabling block - she had spent too long sleeping in those not to recognise one - while the garrison’s barracks had been built against the opposite wall.

Malessar sat in the entrance to the stables, tending a fire that he had banked with loose bricks that had fallen from the walls. A small covered pot hung from a wire frame rigged over the fire. The warlock poked at the fire distractedly with a stick, but looked up and actually smiled as Cassia approached.

“As you see, I’ve not lost all of my talents over the years,” he said wryly. “I can still make a fire without servants to assist me, although finding any dry wood here presented some difficulties.”

Cassia found a larger stone nearby that she could roll into position on the other side of the fire. By the time she had done that Craw had joined them, gazing up at the towers and the ramparts that linked them with great interest.

Malessar seemed content to stare into the cookfire, losing himself inside his mind again while the contents of the clay pot warmed slowly. The silence quickly began to unnerve Cassia once more: her imagination placed ghostly observers at the arrow slits high in the towers and malignant spirits waiting inside the old barracks to ensnare her if she dared explore the fort on her own.

Had this place died when Canevaril fell? Had its commander fought to the last, or had the garrison fled out of the mountains, leaving the fort to wither in nature’s grasp? Cassia suppressed a cold shudder, thinking suddenly of men chained in dank cellars, screaming desperately, but in vain for somebody to help them, their cries smothered by the empty towers.

“What is this place?” she asked, unable to bear the quiet any longer. Her voice sounded too loud in the enclosed bailey.

Malessar sighed softly. “The border fortress of Karakhel,” he said. “One of the great strongholds of the old kingdom. Solonel, the son of Forochel, had it built. There was a town once, a little further down the road. Where you have soldiers, you have a need for ale and wine, and the town of Karakhel grew quickly, supporting the garrison and trade with the lowlands.”

“There was an inn of some ill-repute,” Craw said, his gaze still resting on the crenelations above the gatehouse. “A place for young men who thought they were immortal.”

The words were softly spoken, but Cassia saw the warlock flinch. “The Dragon’s Cup.”

She hesitated. “I didn’t see a town as we came up. What happened to Karakhel?”

There was a long awkward pause, and she wished she had not asked the question when Malessar raised his head and she saw the raging tumult of grief and anger in his eyes.

“It died,” he said harshly.
Good stuff, Chopper, particularly the second piece. Very atmospheric. I'm not sure what's going on, but it still held my attention, which is a good sign.

My only real pointers concern the first extract. I'd agree with the sentiments regarding the last paragraph, for a start. The other thing that didn't sit right was the repetiton of 'belt' and 'belted' in the second sentence - it jarred a little, so it ight be an idea to substitute 'sheathed' or similar. Otherwise, good flow and nicely descriptive.
cheers culwych, i hadn't spotted that repetition.

suffice it to say that even Cassia doesn't really know what's going on - the whole point is that we are as ignorant as her until the last chapter. will be interesting to write...
Very. As I said, the fact that I kept reading is a good sign. I don't know how many books I've ditched that have perplexed me from page one but offered nothing that made me want to keep reading. There's a balance there, but I think you are striking it well, judging from this piece.
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