I decided that instead of trying to continue grinding through the first draft of WAR OF MAGIC, what I really needed was to take a short break from it–only a week or so–and come back to it fresh.
Hopefully that will actually result in getting the draft done faster. (It could hardly be slower.)
Meanwhile, I’ve gone back to look over some of the critiques on the early chapters of BECOME (also in first draft, but incomplete).
One of the things that became clear early on was that no one really liked my prologue. They were confused whether this less-than-likable character was to be the main character. They were confused about some of the world-building issues (which is a much bigger thing I’ll be working on). And they didn’t see enough conflict or hook to start the story.
So . . . it’s gone. But not forgotten. Because you get to read it here:
Queen Carala hung on tight to the railing at the top of the staircase for balance and scowled at the spectacle below her, clearly visible through the great doors, which had been flung wide for the occasion. A procession of priestesses, led by the High Priestess herself, climbed sedately up the broad steps of the Palace and were met by Carala’s husband of less than a year, Leradan, the Year King.
If she weren’t so heavily pregnant, she’d be down there herself. Not to welcome the priestesses, but to monitor whatever foolish promises Leradan made to them. Not that she’d have been able to sway him. Goddess knew she’d talked herself hoarse last night trying. But no one could change that man’s mind once he’d made it up. And he’d decided to let himself be thoroughly gulled about this.
Carala sighed. Much as she wanted to be there, it took two of her husband’s strongest guardsmen to see her safely down the steep staircase at this point. She’d just have to rely on her half-sister, Lady Damina, to let her know what ridiculous oaths the High Priestess extracted from Leradan.
Below, the High Priestess accepted a small, blanket-wrapped bundle from one of the other priestesses and passed it to Leradan. The infant squalled at the transfer and Leradan, blast the man, put the baby on his shoulder and rocked, completely oblivious to the effect on his dignity. Not that the demonstration that he would be a good father wasn’t reassuring. Carala placed a hand on her own swollen belly. But there was a time and place for everything. And the great hall, with the doors wide open to the whole kingdom, was not the place.
It was bad enough that he’d brought his brat down from the north and installed her in the Palace. At least she was the daughter of his dead northern wife, not the bastard of some random priestess. And, of course, a girl and so no threat to Queen Carala’s child. Leria was at least quiet and polite. With this Temple brat, who could tell? Who was to say it was even Leradan’s?
Still cradling the infant, Leradan actually went down on his knees to seek the High Priestess’s blessing. Incredible. Carala knew he was a barbarian from some dreadful place in the north, but he’d been king of Juturna for three-quarters of a year. Past time he learned to behave with the dignity required for that role. She’d tried, Goddess knew. Carala was the daughter of the third Year King before Leradan. And one of those who’d ruled the longest. She knew about the proper demeanor for a king, if Leradan would just listen to her.
When Leradan started up the stairs, still carrying the infant and trailed by a buxom peasant woman, Carala retreated into her sitting room, seated herself in her large padded chair, and feigned disinterest.
As the group passed her door, Lady Damina scuttled inside.
“Well?” Queen Carala asked.
“It’s a boy, just as the priestess predicted,” Damina said.
“And? What did they make Leradan promise in return for this foundling?” Carala asked.
Damina shrugged. “Only that he would raise the boy as his own, my queen.”
Carala tossed her head. “Hmph! We’ll see about that.”
Damina patted her arm. “Well . . . really, what difference does it make? It might be good for your son—Goddess willing—to have a playmate in the Palace. And it’s not as if any of Leradan’s sons can inherit the throne after him.”
“Don’t be a fool, Damina. Juturna cannot survive if it maintains this barbaric practice of forcing its kings to fight for the crown every year. Quite apart from the instability, there’s no guarantee that a good fighter will make even a competent king. Goddess knows the last was a disaster and it was a secret relief to everyone when Leradan bested him in the warrior’s circle. And the one before him wasn’t much better. Leradan’s worked from dawn to dusk just repairing the damage they did. It can’t go on this way. My father knew that. If ever a Year King were strong enough to win his combats ten or fifteen times in a row, he could gather enough support to make himself permanent—and hereditary—king. Only, Father fell in his tenth combat. He never had the chance.”
“You think Leradan will succeed?” Damina asked.
Carala thought of her husband and smiled. He was young enough. He was tall and strong, though some of his guard were taller and stronger. What set Leradan apart was that he was the canniest fighter the Great Combat had seen in a hundred years. “Don’t you?”
Damina glanced toward the hallway. “He could win that many times, I think. But . . . will he try to overturn the combat? Will the Temple let him?”
“That’s why a king must win so many times. And be a good king, of course. So that the people will support him against the Temple, if necessary. As for the will . . . I’ve got years to work on that.” Carala placed a hand protectively over her belly. “And the birth of a son—a true son—gives a man more reason to think of the future.” Her expression darkened. “That’s why we can’t have this interloper, foisted on us by the Temple, given credence as Leradan’s first born.”
Queen Carala glanced toward the door in time to see a small grey cat stroll along behind Leradan and the nursemaid. Really! True, all cats were sacred to the Goddess. She’d never harm one, of course. That didn’t mean one had to allow them inside the Palace.
With a little help from Lady Damina, Carala hoisted herself out of the chair and waddled down the hall to the nursery that she had lovingly prepared for the birth of her own child in just a few days. She paused in the door. The room had changed since she’d last been here. There were two cribs now, side by side. And a small curtained alcove with a bed large enough for an adult—though not one of Leradan’s size. Sometime before Carala arrived, Leria had joined the group and now the girl strained on tiptoe to get a glimpse of the baby in Leradan’s arms.
“Can I hold him? Please?” Leria asked.
Leradan looked to the peasant woman, who smiled. “Of course you can. Go sit down in that chair.”
Leria obeyed instantly. The peasant woman took the baby from Leradan’s arms and placed it carefully in the girl’s lap. “Put your hand so, to support his head. That’s it.”
“What’s his name?” Leria asked.
“Gaian,” her father answered.
Carala drew in a sharp breath. “Glory of the Goddess.” They’d dared to name the boy that?
Leradan turned his head in her direction, so Carala placed a hand on her side as if a stitch there had been the cause of her gasp.
“I didn’t realize you intended to put him in with our own child. Surely, the Palace has enough rooms that they could each have their own,” she said.
It was the peasant woman who answered. “Truly, you highness, it will be easier to care for the babes this way. Until they’re old enough to need more room for their play.”
Carala pinned her with a haughty gaze. “And you are . . . ?”
Leradan answered, “This is Sarala, the wet nurse supplied by the Temple for Gaian.”
Carala raised her eyes to her husband’s. “And you mean for her to care for both babies.”
“Well, not as a wet nurse for both. But to care for them both? Yes. Why not? What higher recommendation could you wish than the Temple?”
There wasn’t a good answer to that. The Goddess’s priestesses would surely do all in their power to protect any child. Still . . . she’d planned on someone more . . . sympathetic to her and her own child. Perhaps when they were older, she could arrange for that. Carala nodded acceptance.
Sarala lifted the baby from Leria’s lap and laid him in the nearest cradle. The little grey cat—Carala had almost forgotten about that—leapt up to the edge of the cradle and then down into it. It pushed its nose into the baby’s face once, then curled up at the foot of the cradle, purring.
“You don’t mean to let that creature stay in here, do you? That can’t be healthy.” Or sanitary.
Leradan smiled down at the sleeping pair—baby and cat. “She is the Goddess’s gift to Gaian. To guide and protect him. Of course she stays wherever he does.”
Carala opened her mouth to say something more about that, but what came out instead was a gasp as pain lanced through her.
Leradan was at her side, instantly. “What is it?”
“I . . . I think our child is coming . . .”