Sunday, March 7, 2010

Deleted Scenes

You've seen them on DVDs, that extra stuff they sometimes include with a movie. Most of the time you can see exactly why it was cut from the film, but sometimes you wonder. The Riyria Revelations has had it's share of deleted scenes. Some I thought were good, but served more to distract than add to the plot. Others dragged the pace down.

What follows is what once was the first chapter of Avempartha (no spoilers.) It was cut because it failed the "hook test"--it did not catch the reader's attention in the first paragraph. I wrote it in much the same way I wrote the opening chapter in Crown Conspiracy--as the intro scene. In books this is usually the prologue, but I hate prologues, and so the scene was cut, and I think the book was better for it. Still you can see a glimpse of what life was like a few weeks before the opening of Avempartha and how it all began. So this then is the original rough draft of the first chapter of book two that I wrote in 2004. It has not been edited:

Chapter 1

The Farmer

Theron Wood was late coming home.

He had planted too many acres this year; everyone had told him that. He was trying to improve his situation, trying to gain more than Maribor intended a poor farmer to achieve. Ten acres was more than any farmer should ever need. Five acres was plenty to support his family, and five to pay to the noble lord whose land he used, but this year Theron Wood had plowed up twenty full acres—ten of which was virgin land never before turned by a plow. It had been back breaking work. There were numerous rocks and stumps that stopped the ox every few feet it seemed. Each day was a labor of pulling heavy roots or digging up boulders.

In his youth he had liked the work. The days he spent out under the sun in the cool spring weather was wonderful for a man. There was something about the air at planting time, maybe it was the scent of flowers, maybe it was the rains, but it always seemed cleaner, and fresher somehow and after a long winter he breathed it in like a parched man unable to drink his fill. He liked the feeling of an axe handle or a shovel in his hands, the worn smooth grain against his palm and he liked the feeling of sore, tired muscles after a long day. It made him feel alive, and in control. He did not own the land, and he had little in the world he could call his own, but when he was in the field the very earth was his to command. He could make it roll over, and could call forth life from the dirt; it was the one place a quiet peasant farmer could be a god.

He had to work long days since he was now racing the season. He had to be planted by the coming full moon, or chance that an early frost might take his crop, and he needed this crop. There were few chances for a peasant to climb out of the mud, but his son had just such a chance and Theron was going to see to it that his boy did not end his life behind an ox.

Out here on the frontier where things were less formal, less established, opportunities existed. Only three years old, the village of Dahlgren was a new settlement. The King of Dunmore had the same attitude as farmer Theron; he wanted more land and was looking to carve a larger kingdom out of the empty, undeveloped lands to his east. He had signed a proclamation declaring that the west bank of the Nidwalden River would be a new fief and he bestowed it on a young marquis by the name of Reginald Temptworth. The Marquis of Westbank—as the new province was called—immediately set about the business of commerce, which meant he needed to make the land profitable. To do this he enticed free men willing to hack a civilization out of the wilderness. He offered low taxes and only a 15 percent tribute for the first five years. Most of the men who came were city folk; homeless street people that knew nothing about farming. Theron had been a farmer his whole life, just as his father before him and his before that on back as far as any could remember. That was about to change.

Dahlgren was a young town. There were almost no shops; few artisans had made the move to Westbank. It was too early to tell if the village would make it and too costly for the more established craftsmen to risk a move to a fledgling town. There were smiths of course and a little mill was built last year however most everything else was made by the farmers. They made do with whatever was at hand and while they managed to get by, it was far from satisfactory. There was opportunity in Dahlgren a chance to make a mark as an artisan before the guilds took over. His son Thad had spent fifteen years achieving the rank of journeymen cooper while they were in Glamrendor. It would take another ten years of apprenticeship before he could earn the rank of senior journeymen and perhaps another ten before he gained the title of master cooper, and only then could he hope to open a shop of his own. The boy was already a skilled craftsmen, but it was obvious that the guild caste was in place to prevent a glut of coopers in any town. Thad’s rank would be held down until there was a need for another cooper and it had nothing to do with his skill. Only there were no coopers in Dahlgren. There wasn’t a single barrel maker within three days ride. If Theron could only make enough to pay for a contract and the tools Thad could open his own shop. He would not even need a building, just a lean-to and a canvas tent would work to start. The contracts were cheap right now because the marquis was trying desperately to settle the region. If the Woods were ever to climb out of the fields, this might well be there only chance. If he brought in a good harvest this year, his son would become the village’s founding cooper, and as Dhalgren grew so would his prestige. Theron saw himself years in the future in his son’s big home in a cushion chair; his feet on one of the many barrels as his numerous grand children played in their new clothes and Thad’s wife would be setting out a fine feast.

Lost in his dreams Theron had not noticed the sun drifting behind the hills until he was nearly done with his last row. He set himself to the plow and urged the oxen forward. By the time he had the furrow finished the face of the sun was gone and only the light remained.

The farmer quickly unhitched the plow.

The light would not last long. The shadows were long and stretched and in the trees it was already night. He removed the harness from the ox and considered taking the plow back, but as the darkness grew, he knew he was being foolish. He left it behind and began leading the ox up the slope.

He should have been home by now.

The darkness was coming on too fast, and he knew he would lose this race. He realized his folly and grew frightened. He would never make it back in time. The thought came over him so suddenly he half-considered abandoning the ox as well and just trying to run, but that was panic talking and Theron was not the kind of man to panic.

Most who knew Theron thought of him as a rock, an unmoving, indelible wall of stubborn tenacity. Theron stood over six feet with shoulders as broad as a yoke and hands the size of shovel heads. His face had weathered like fractured granite, pitted and lined and often bore an expression that was as hard as stone. He had spent a lifetime warring with the elements of nature. He had seen his three oldest sons die due to illness and a drowning. He had survived four floods, a brush fire, and a winter so cold it killed all his livestock. He had survived being nearly crushed to death by a dead wood fall by crawling through the snow to his home. He feared he would pass out and freeze to death in the cold, and never could remember how he crossed the last hundred yards to the house. That was the worst day of his life, still if he had a choice he would choose that cold day over this spring night.

The western sky turned gold, then red and then faded to a dull gray. The shadows reached out and swallowed the land, and as they did he could see stars appearing. He had not seen stars in weeks. No one in Dhalgren had. No one in Dhalgren was ever out after dark.

He cursed himself and urged the ox forward.

It might be all right, the marquis had vowed to stop it. He and his knights had recently left the fort and the garrison was last seen riding east to the river. Theron liked the young marquis; he was an ambitious fellow. He did not wait around for others to act and he rode at the head of his own troop. The marquis had seven good knights with him, strong men, and capable men. It would be all right, it would be safe. He would make it home.

The last of the evening light faded as Theron was climbing Stony Hill. No one else called it that, it was just his name for it. He had dubbed it so for obvious reasons which he discovered when he tried to plow it the first year. He thought he had been clever building his house on the hill to avoid a flood, but there were no floods and instead it merely meant a longer walk to the fields. He was just seeing the lights in the windows of his home when he heard something coming at him.

It was a rustle in the grass; the sound of footfalls on the stony ground. Theron looked around. He pulled his shovel from where it was stored on the ox pack. His heart began to pound. He tried to remain calm, to breath, to think.

No one had ever seen anything they said. No one had ever lived that had been attacked. There were never any survivors.

If he was going to die, he damn well was going to go down swinging. He raised the shovel high as suddenly he saw her running at him.

“Thrace!” the farmer shouted.

“Daddy!” she cried and threw her arms around her father. “Thank Maribor I found you. I was so scared something had happened.”

“Why are you out here?” Theron shouted at her more out of fear than anger. “It’s night you little fool!”

“I know, I know,” the young woman continued to cry. “You’ve never been late getting home before. I thought you might have had an accident with the ox. Maybe you broke your leg and couldn’t get back. I remember the time in the snow. I couldn’t wait in the house, I had to look! I couldn’t sit there with the others wondering if—”

“Shut up!” Theron hissed at her suddenly. “Listen!”

The girl held her breath.

“I don’t hear anything,” Thrace whispered.

“I know,” Theron whispered back. “The crickets stopped. The frogs stopped with them. Something is here—something not natural.”

Theron looked around him. The two stood on the leeward side of Stoney Hill in the darkness. The grass there was tall and weaved gently in a soft breeze brushing their legs. Farther away, they could see the trees, a dark curtain against the star filled sky. Nothing besides the grass moved.

“Get behind me,” Theron told his daughter, and he positioned her between himself and the ox.

They waited, listening, straining in the darkness for a sound or a shift in various grays of the darkness.

“If it comes, you run Thrace! Do you hear me, you run!”

“I won’t leave you father.”

Suddenly and without warning, the ox bolted running back down Stony Hill toward the trees. Neither Theron nor Thrace moved, they stood as still as statues waiting.

Theron looked ahead at the lights of his home. It was only a couple hundred yards away. They might be able to run for it. It would not take long, just a few minutes. He was certain he could make the distance, but feared for Thrace. How fast could she run? Would she fall in the darkness? If she did, could he save her?

No one had ever lived that had been attacked.

Something was near. Theron who had spent a lifetime in the forests and fields cutting trees, and digging earth knew all the sounds and shapes of the land. He recalled the year the wolves came down out of the mountains in search of food. The nights had been silent then as well; it was the hush of respect the wild showed to the presence of a predator.

Theron stared at the lights of his home gauging the distance but fearful to move. Where was it? He wondered. Can it see me? Can it smell us?

Then the lights marking his home, the glow of candles that spilled from the doorway, vanished. A moment later, they could hear it. The sound rolled down Stony Hill in the cool night air; it was the harsh tearing of wood. Boards creaked, splintered and cracked as they were ripped apart.

Seconds later, they heard the screams.

Theron ran for his home.

The old farmer’s long legs ate up the distance across Stony Hill. He charged past the granary, past the ox shed running full out, heedless of what may lie hidden in the dark. Though he was strong, Theron was old. The run he thought he could make in minutes took much longer than he could have ever imagined. His breath was shallow, his heart pounding in his chest and in his ears all he could hear were the screams.

There were never any survivors.

He ran past the hay barn and the coop, passed the outhouse and the well. By then the screams had stopped and all Theron could hear was the wind and the pounding of his own heart.

When at last Theron reached the house, it was silent and dark.

The walls and roof were sheered away, stone and mortar, mud and thatch were scattered across the ground. He stumbled inside panting for breath, still clutching the shovel but no longer was he holding it at the ready. His eyes had filled with tears and he collapsed to the floor sobbing. What had only moments before been his home; what had been the safe place where he stored the treasure of his family; where his wife, his son, his son’s wife and his grandchild had all waited for his return was now the splintered ruins of a broken world stretched out upon a floor slick with blood.

The silence faded as the crickets and frogs came alive again, but Theron could not hear them over the sound of his own despair.

1 comment:

  1. That was actually quite good. And now I don't know how to put what I want to say...what the thoughts going through my head are.
    I found the pace nice and steady, and it was a nice way to be introduced to Thrace and (or perhaps more importantly) her father. I remember when first reading about him I thought unfavourably about him, but this allows the reader to understand why he was the way he was.
    The way it ends also...left me on tenterhooks! It left me with a feeling of dread and curiosity for what could possibly be the cause of the fear Theron so clearly felt and to do that much damage in so short a time, and surely Royce and Hadrian will no doubt encounter this... whatever it was.
    This had me drawn in wanting to see more and I already know how it goes. I wouldn't have minded reading this as the first chapter of the book and can't understand why it would be cut.

    And if none of this makes any sense I apologise, I'm not very good at articulating my thoughts and feelings.