Thursday, September 24, 2009

#29 1000-Word

TITLE: Loyalty or Duty
GENRE: Epic Fantasy

Sym was about to lose face and lose his head, and he didn’t know which prospect terrified him more. Dread had conquered the pit of his belly and was building heavy fortifications.

He sat at the edge of his pallet, wondering why he’d got up. Everything he had built in over twenty years lay in ruins. All the usual tasks, duties and disciplined regimen no longer existed. He did not know what to do without them.

The carefully folded woolen blanket on his lap itched through his sweat-drenched linens. Why make the bed? Why wear the silver and blue uniform, laid out on a wooden chest? His gaze rested on the empty scabbard, propped up against the whitewashed wall. A soldier without a sword is like a carriage without a horse.

Sym took a deep breath. You’re still a soldier, and still have your uniform and rank, at least today. So act like a soldier and face your faith with dignity! He offered a quick prayer to his ancestors and Jebozo, the Guardian Spirit, for courage. Then he made his bed with practiced efficiency. He dressed, then gave his boots a quick polish they didn’t need. The simple, mindless task and the smell of leather and grease calmed him a bit. He stood and frowned, wondering if he should wear the baldric. He decided against it. With the lack of a sword, it would only draw extra attention.

As he knelt to put the scabbard in his trunk, the door flew open. Sym jumped to his feet.

A young Guardsman he didn’t know by name entered, hand on hilt. He cocked his head towards the door.

Sym swallowed his indignation. No knock on the door, no salute. Some had already condemned him, and he couldn’t even blame them. He squared his shoulders and walked into the corridor, head held high, looking straight ahead. Three more Guardsmen fell in around him, armed with halberds. They marched through the palace in silence, their footsteps echoing through the corridor. Sym wondered where they took him, but resolved not to ask.

When they took a turn towards the Royal Quarters, his mouth went dry. Dread poisoned his body, cramping his muscles and constricting his chest. He struggled to maintain a calm façade. They reached the hall with the broad marble stairway he had walked up and down thousands of times in the last years. Four more Guardsmen waited there. Their commander, Cordelas, gave him a short, almost imperceptible nod. That small act of acknowledgement filled Sym with immense, absurd gratitude.

Just as he wondered why they stood there, the sound of marching feet echoed through the hall. Prince Darion, surrounded by an escort of six, walked towards them with slumped shoulders.

At once, Sym channeled all his fear and frustration into anger and hate. He scowled at the prince with a glare that used to scare the cockiest recruits, but Darion didn’t even notice him.

“Your Highness,” Cordelas said, “please follow me.” He hurried up the stairs without looking back, followed by Darion and his escort. Someone shoved Sym in the back. He took the steps two at a time, as he was used to do. His knees had never felt this weak doing it, though.

Upstairs, they were ushered through the massive double doors by a nervous page. His gaze fixed on the bedroom in front of them, Sym almost stumbled over one of the thick Umiocan rugs covering the parquet floor of the ornate sitting room.

An oppressive silence filled the high-ceilinged space, emphasized by the hushed whispers of two healers standing next to the gilded canopy bed. Sym stepped forward, straining to catch a glimpse of Prince Lucion. A hand on his shoulder and a dagger on his chest halted him.

“Release him. Bring them forward, Cordelas.”

Sym turned to the tall man emerging from a dark corner of the room. Straightening his back for a salute, he hesitated. Did he still have the Royal Guard’s privilege of not having to bow before the royal family? He didn’t dare speculate, so he bowed to his king. Next to him, Darion hadn’t moved. The cursed boy didn’t even acknowledge his own father.

King Denurion’s eyes flickered over Sym for a moment, and then fastened on Darion like grappling hooks on a palisade. Sym noted the hunched shoulders, the trembling hands. Never had his king shown any weakness, but now he seemed confused and brittle.

Denurion’s voice lacked its usual crispness. “I’ve summoned you to see the consequences of your actions, or lack of it.”

Sym shuddered at these last words, directed at him. His cheeks burned with shame. He transferred his attention to Lucion, unable to look at his king.

Lucion’s reddish strands of thick, curly hair covered part of the pillow. Huge swaths of bandage enveloped the rest of his head, leaving only slits around the eyes, the mouth and the nose. He didn’t move. Only the rise and fall of his chest betrayed that he was alive.

Darion cleared his throat. “Is he awake?”

“He drifts in and out of consciousness,” one of the healers said as he moved to stand near Lucion’s head. “He is in great pain.” Gently, the man lifted Lucion’s head to allow his colleague to remove the bandage. The other healer acted with swift, sure moves. Ribbons of cotton flew between his fingers. The contours of Lucion’s face became clearer with each removed layer.

“Stop,” said the healer supporting Lucion’s neck. He nodded at a small dark spot on the bandage, lowering the prince back into the pillow. He then took a small pair of scissors from his robes and cut carefully into the dressing. The other healer produced a vial with an ointment, and dabbed at the dark spot on Lucion’s cheek. Its fragrance reminded Sym of beeswax.

Progress went slow. The healer had cut a path halfway up Lucion’s chin and stopped to wipe perspiration from his brow. His colleague had spread ointment over certain areas of the face until the vial was empty. They bent over the prince, obscuring Sym’s view.

A sharp intake of breath from one of the healers made the king take a step forward.


  1. Loving the detail. You're writing is fun to read. A couple things I found:

    First paragraph has a couple WASs. I'm constantly being told to reduce the frequency of my was words. So, just a heads up there.

    Is this the first page? If it is, it's pretty narrative, but then again, I love to read lots of dialogue and action right off the bat. If it's not the first page, it still feels like quite a bit of narrative versus action. Again, could be personal preference.

    On the sentence "When they took a turn towards..." I think you're not supposed to have an S on Toward. I looked it up once and it's more brittish english to write with an S on Toward. Just something to check on.

    I love the emotion I felt while reading this portion. I'm all about getting into the character's feelings/head. I feel like I'm able to here. So that's way cool!

    I loved the sentence: Only the rise and fall of his chest betrayed that he was alive. I enjoyed reading this portion. Great job. Blessings with your writing!

  2. This has a depressing beginning. A character giving up even on simple tasks of life is not a good point to hook the reader or gain sympathy. I think starting here "Sym took a deep breath. You’re still a soldier," will do better to hook the reader and give details on the character. After all, it hints that something bad is in store for the character, but also that he's not whining or giving up, he's going to face it.

    I was definitely intrigued by this bit: "At once, Sym channeled all his fear and frustration into anger and hate."

    Over all, it's interesting. Keep at it.


  3. I like the first sentence. The second is a bit rough.

    This needs some editing.

    "He sat at the edge of his pallet, wondering why he'd (gotten) up."

    Watch out for your tenses, especially in the 4th paragraph.

    "...where they took him..." Perhaps you mean where they plan to take him?

    In the 8 paragraph, check the sentence that starts with "They reached the hall...."

    Your descriptions are good, but I'm not sure where this is headed. There are a lot of promises of conflict, so I would read a little more.

  4. Hi there!
    I really enjoyed this opening! I felt hooked in to why the guard was so depressed and wanted to know more. At the end, I had some of my questions partially answered, but there were still more, so I’d definitely keep reading.
    Here are a few little suggestions…nothing major:
    wondering why he’d got up = wondering why he’d *gotten* up
    He did not know what to do without them. = He *didn’t* know what to do without them.
    Why wear the silver and blue uniform, laid out on a wooden chest? - Why wear the silver and blue uniform, laid out on a wooden chest?
    face your faith = face your *fate*
    then fastened on Darion like grappling hooks on a palisade. (Love this!!)
    Great stuff!! Thanks for posting.

  5. I also like the title...the opening totally fits in with that theme.

  6. Your opening par. made me picture Sym one way (a boy in a prion cell) and then once you mentioned uniform and sword, I had to change that image to one of a soldier. You might make that image clear from the beginning.

    I wondered about the first line. Would someone really worry about losing face when they knew they were about to lose their head?

    I also agree with Sphinx, in that you should start with Sym being a strong character, despite his situation. It shows character and makes him someone I want to read about. I can image him finding a way out of his situation.

    Once the guradsman came to get him, it began to drag. It does get too narrative heavy, IMO. Perhaps get him to the king a bit quicker. Do we really need to know about stairways and carpeting and a page? None of these things, I'm guessing, will matter in the long run.

    Sym came across as a character I could follow, once I saw him as a soldier. The other characters were just names at this point, and that may be fine. They've just basically entered the picture.

    I thought you could have let us know they were in a palace earlier. I originally pictured a prison cell, then Sym's home. I didn't get it was a palace until you said palace.

    I can see this having epic proportions. Sym has a connection with a king and 20 years in his service, so your world will have a history. His connection to that king is about to change which will create your present, and the king has a son who it seems may plot against him, which hints at a future.

    Good Luck with it!

  7. You've crammed too much in the beginning - and have overwritten the first graf in particular. Lose face and lose his head is an unfortunate pun, intentional or not, and you really don't want dread conquering the pit of his belly and building heavy fortifications. Trust me on this! I think many an agent wouldn't read past this paragraph.

    It takes too long to get Sym in to see the king (and I kept flashing back to the opening of the old TV show "Branded"). Where it gets interesting is when we see the king and realize that somehow Sym is responsible for his injury.

    I'd say skip much of the beginning grafs (just set the stage briefly) and get on with it. I did want to keep reading!

  8. This has potential. I like Sym, and I want to read more.

    Sym was about to lose face and lose his head, and he didn’t know which prospect terrified him more.
    A career soldier's honor and reputation is extremely important to him. A career soldier isn't concerned about how others perceive him. This opening made me think he was a thief or somesuch. Actually I pictured The Mouse from the movie LADYHAWK--an image that doesn't work with the rest of Sym's actions.

    Dread had conquered the pit of his belly and was building heavy fortifications. This metaphor is sluggish and awkward. I stopped reading to figure out what it meant. Red flag for anyone reading slush.

    The second paragraph is MUCH stronger, cleaner, and clearer.

    I'd cut the third paragraph and add in the bit about the missing sword (if and only if it's important) while he's frowning over whether to wear the empty baldric. It slows down the story again.

    NOTE: Any soldier worth his salt is effective with or without his sword. A good soldier IS a weapon. What he would feel most is the dishonor of having lost his sword. Ashamed, not useless.

    The 4th paragraph needs editing, but this is where the action starts. Sym is doing. I could feel my interest perk right up as soon as he breathed. (Umm, do you face your "faith" with dignity? Should that be "fate?")

    Be careful with your descriptions; they are slowing the story/action/forward momentum down. I like knowing where the MC is, but these border on too much information. Edit ruthlessly. Keep only what is necessary to move the story along.

    Use less adjectives. Use stronger verbs.

    I love that he trips over the thick carpet.

    I really want to know what was under the bandages, and at the same time I don't. I'm reading though my fingers at that point. Nice Hitchcock moment!

  9. That's it. I'm completely hooked. I loved the writing style, and I'm completely sucked into wanting to know what's happened.

  10. The writing is solid and the pacing works well...starting at the fifth paragraph. Try to avoid starting chapters or scenes with a character waking up and taking stock of their lives. It's a passive opening and nothing is actually happening other than a bit of an angst-fest.

    Suggestion--start with the moment that Sym is summoned before the king. That feels like the moment when everything changes for him; i.e., the plot begins. The inner angst can be woven into the story in smaller, more holistic threads, thus helping the readers empathize with Sym.

    But definitely seems interesting and I'd read on to see what happens next!

  11. Thank you for sharing your story. I think you have an interesting concept. I didn't really get interested until Sym went before the king. I really perked up when you got to the injured Lucion and the removal of the bandages. You might consider starting with that scene.

    Best of luck!

  12. Thanks for all the great comments and suggestions. I do agree that he should reach the room of Prince Lucion sooner. I’ll fix that for sure.

    I got - here and elsewhere - mixed reactions on the opening. Some really like it (and yes, the pun is intended) and some really don't. I'm still not sure what to do with it.

    If you could help me with a question’, I’d be much obliged:
    I try to establish Sym’s voice by referring to soldier-related matters (the dread conquering his belly and the fortifications, glaring like at recruits, the grappling hooks). Does it help, or is it annoying?

    Thanks again!

  13. I don't find it annoying. It makes me think of a warrior, but you might want to reconsider the heavy fortification bit---really sounds like he's going to experience intestinal distress. For the most part, I think the phrases add to the story. IMO.

  14. Yeah, the fortifications are a bit over the top, I'm afraid.
    Thank you, Claire.

  15. I agree that the 'military' terms do help set up his character nicely. You're telling us he's a soldier without just coming out and saying, "Sym was a soldier."

  16. I was totally absorbed in this. I thought it could do with a little tightening, but it was a really solid start.
    I can totally see another critter's reference to 'Branded' too. Strengthening the up front notion that he is soldier can only help.

    I would definitely read on.