Mist Rock-Chapter 1-At Summer’s End (excerpt)

I’ve decided to post more details about Mist Rock and the world I’ve been working on here on this blog, feeding you pieces of the project for the foreseeable future. Today, that comes in the form of an excerpt.

Writing a novel can be a little daunting, not least because it has to start somewhere. For me, I tried several openings. Some of them started with action, others with lengthy narrative, others again with simple dialogue. Each of these had their merits, the only common ground between them the immediate introduction of the main character. I settled on a Prologue/Chapter 1 combination in the end. I felt it gave the reader the best chance to fall into the story, to wake up in the world of Mist Rock as though it were normal. Below, I’ve pasted a portion of Chapter 1, which follows Marke Calin on the last day of summer. Hope you enjoy!

A fresh breeze breathed life into the red banners hung limp over the gatehouse of Mist Rock. In the Frost Garden, petals drifted to the dirt, leaving the last of the summer growth naked in the dawn. The final patrons of the Long Shadow Inn stumbled out into the morning while beyond, the first rays of light slipped over the east wall and licked up the streets, kicking the city from its slumber. The sound of distant birdsong, the smell of roasting meat and the feel of late summer heat on the skin.

Marke sensed it all from his doorstep on Winden Street and sighed. The early embers of the fire, a sight he’d quick become used to. He’d spent weeks now wrestling with his decision about the academy. But today summer came to an end. By the time the last flame went out tonight, he would need an answer.

One of his fingers picked at a patch of old paint on the doorframe, the crust giving way with ease. He gazed out over the terraces towards the west wall, where far-off spear tips propped up and down on the battlements, guards shaking off the blue blood of the night’s cold. Raising an arm, he shielded his eyes from the red-gold light on the rooftops, saw only shadows where once there’d been men.

And I have to decide whether I’ll become one of them.

In the yard alongside his house, a horse snorted, stamped its hooves in the dirt.

“I’m coming,” he said, grabbing the sack at his feet. “Can’t I enjoy one last sunrise in peace?”

Marke circled round to the back of the house, edged open the gate into the yard. It was nothing more than a small patch of earth between their home and Ms. Redmin’s, a dusty field where they kept their horses. He smiled as Dawnbreaker trudged out of the barn to meet him, the white socks of her feet brown from where her hooves had sprayed dirt. Bowing her head, breathing warm on his face, she rubbed her nose at his shoulder.

“Yeah it’s good to see you again too,” Marke said, emptying the sack of grain into a trough. “Now go on,” he added. “At least one of us should eat a good breakfast.”

Dawnbreaker neighed and stooped to her meal, as idly Marke brushed his hand down her flank. Across the yard, the rope that used to hold Ms. Redmin’s horse lay loose in the dirt. It had been sitting like that for weeks, its charge presumably still returning from Greatbay. He frowned. The horse’s saddle would now be empty.

Alongside him, Dawnbreaker lapped up water, her muscles flexing as she quenched her thirst. He stared at the liquid sloshing about in the trough. It had been a long, quiet summer in the capital. The heat had been nothing short of relentless, the air as dry as the Sarsaril Desert-if the traders were to be believed, of course. And with no storms in the Mistlands, Marke struggled to remember the taste after rain, the shake of his bones from the cold. He’d nearly started to believe it would continue forever, but those who worshipped the stars pointed to signs in the sky, warned that soon winter would be upon them.

Marke risked another glance at the house opposite. Trembling on a plate on the windowsill, a single red light waved back at him, a candle exhausted from its work overnight. He was pulling his gaze away, when from out of the corner of his eye, the smallest sign of movement stopped him. He gulped.

“Good morning Ms. Redmin,” he called, peering into the shadows at his neighbour, his heart sinking low in his chest. The thin woman in the window ignored him, pinched the wick of the failing candle then with a shaky hand slid another one to take its place. Meeting his eyes for the briefest moment, she pursed her lips and vanished into the depths of the house. At his side, Marke felt Dawnbreaker nudge him.

“I didn’t mean to upset her,” he whispered, his eyes fixed on the white slender candle.

The horse threw back her head and snorted.

“Yeah. I worry about her too,” he said.

In the window, the little yellow flame bounced on its wick, swelled against the crisp morning air.

I wish just this once hope like that could mean something, Marke thought, pulling his cloak fast round his shoulders.

It had been nearly two moons since the news of Erek’s death, yet each day the hurt only pressed nearer, a thorn sliding into his heart. Marke had been returning from the market with his mother when he saw Ms. Redmin collapse into the arms of a guardsman, who stood speechless clutching a letter. That had been the last time she’d left the house, only opening the door to let in close friends since. Letting few people in had always been in her nature. Her husband had abandoned her before Marke was born; Erek had been their only child. And so as the visits of Winden Street residents died out, Ms. Redmin was left alone, her last remaining company her grief.

Marke stirred from his thoughts as the gate knocked behind him. He turned to see his sister trudging towards him, her dark hair tied in a plait down her back, her blue dress hanging low at her ankles. She placed her hands on her hips when she reached him.

“Mother said I’d find you out here. You know, it’s not normal to whisper to horses.”

Marke shrugged. “In the Narelands it is. I heard they can talk to them as though they were men.”

Nadia arched an eyebrow, “Slowly then,” she said, grinning as she crossed her arms. Her smile faded as she followed his gaze to the window. “I’m sorry. I know Dawnbreaker’s been there for you since Erek passed. Maybe more than your own sister has been.”

Marke’s hand instinctively found her shoulder. “You know that’s not true. Even when I’m out in the fields beyond the wall, my heart is here at home. I think it always will be.”

Nadia regarded him curiously. “I thought you made your decision last night.”

Marke turned away from her. “I did. Then…..I unmade it. I just-I just need time.” He swallowed.

Time was the one thing Marke didn’t have. The days had slipped by since Erek had left, weeks melting away after word of his death. And when he’d heard they hadn’t recovered a body, years seemed lost in a heartbeat. Marke’s mother told him Ms. Redmin took that especially hard. In the Mistlands, burials were an ancient rite, a custom those in the south hadn’t observed for centuries. But Greatbay was now Erek’s grave, the waters off of Amarin his final resting place. The letter said he was killed in a sea battle near the coast, saptor ships falling on them before they could muster. Raids out of Varen weren’t uncommon, but Erek had sailed with the Kraken fleet, making his murder a declaration of war, another threat to their empty throne.

“Why are you up so early anyway?” Marke said, pushing thoughts of the decision from his mind.

Nadia tapped the bag slung round her shoulder. “I have classes in the Arches again. I like to get there early so I get a good seat.”

Marke sighed. “You know, they’re only compulsory until you’re eleven.”

Nadia narrowed her eyes. Scarce thirteen years to her name, his younger sister carried herself as though she were a queen.

“It might surprise you to learn I like those classes. It’s not often someone from Winden Street does. Some teachers begged me to continue. Even Mr. Overs says I’m the brightest pupil he has, and he doesn’t like anybody. Besides, mother said she’s going to put my name in again for work in the citadel.”

Marke forced a smile. His sister had applied twice already to practice as a scribe. Both times she’d been denied. The last rejection letter had come in spring, filled with the same vague excuses as the first one.

“How can I be too young?” Nadia had shouted as she tore up the parchment.

Marke’s mother offered her a sympathetic smile. “It’s the way of the courts, little bird. One day you’ll understand. Lord Christopher said to apply again next year.”

“What’s the point?” Nadia said, her eyes filling with tears. “In a few moons I’ll still be young, poor and worse off because I’m a girl.”

Her father had been in the room at the time. He’d slammed the door as he returned to his workshop, and for a whole moon, Marke had never seen him work so hard.

“Well we all can’t be great heroes, can we?” Nadia teased, easing Marke’s hand off her shoulder. “That being said, this time of mid-morning is ever so dangerous. If only I had a brave knight to escort me to my classes,” she said in a faint voice, passing a hand to her forehead.

Marke watched Dawnbreaker return to her stall.  He rolled his eyes as he turned to his sister. “Fine. I’m heading uphill anyway.”

The pair of them shuffled out of the yard, Marke fixing the gate shut as they left. “You know, that tongue of yours is going to get you into trouble one of these days,” he said.

Nadia took a deep breath. “Funny. I always imagine it getting me out of it.”

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