Six impossible things

Revising long after, part 2

This is the next part of Chapter 1 of Shadow Magic, as revised ten years later for Shadows Over Lyra. Plain text is the original version; strikethrough is what I deleted; boldface is what I added. Italics are my comments on why I did what I did.

“I’ll mind,” Maurin muttered, too low for Har to hear.

“There’s still Master Goldar.”

“Fear not, my friend,” Har said, striking a theatrical pose. “We shall yet win for you the freedom of the city, overcoming all objections of . . . ” His speech was abruptly stifled by a heavy wool horse-blanket, thrown accurately over his head by the friend he was addressing. Har emerged a moment later, grinning broadly.

“At least there’s one good thing about being heir to a Noble House,” Har said as the two set off in search of the Master Trader. “I know more about protocol and persuasion than just about anybody. We won’t have any trouble with Master Goldar; you’ll see.”

Whether because of Har’s vaunted diplomatic talents or for some reason of his own, the caravan master not only released the journeyman for the week, but went so far as to give him the freedom of the town for the entire month of the caravan’s stay in Brenn. The two guards set off, with Har making much of his own skill in achieving such a desirable result. Maurin pointedly ignored him until he changed the subject. By that time, the two had reached the wide avenue that led straight from the western gate of Brenn to the large stone building in the center of town. They turned away from the gates, and Har darted a sharp look at his friend.

“Now what are you shaking your head about?” he asked.

“That,” Maurin said, waving toward the building in front of them. Even from this distance, Styr Tel loomed above the jumble of homes and shops and inns. It bore little resemblance to the ornate palaces and castles of Alkyran nobles in other cities.

“What’s wrong with it?” Har demanded. “Hurry up; I don’t want them to find out the caravan’s in before I get there.” Har started toward Styr Tel. Finding no adequate reply, Maurin followed.

The entire business above really didn’t move things forward. It made sense that Maurin needed permission from the caravan master, but it wasn’t necessary to spend this many words on it. In the revised version, it was all covered by Har’s comment (in the previous post) that he’s already arranged everything. Half a line insted of seven paragraphs.

It was obvious that the young nobleman meant to have his way, however uncomfortable it might make everyone else. And he was right about one thing: Master Goldar would never forgive Maurin if he turned down the opportunity to make a good connection with even a minor Noble House. Maurin resigned himself to a few days of awkward formality, and allowed Har to lead him away.

The above paragraph is part of changing the viewpoint from sloppy omniscient to tight-third-person, which is why it’s entirely new. Maurin’s reactions were, in the original, supposed to be implied by the dialog, but this is a whole lot clearer AND gives the scene a consistent personal viewpoint.

The street was full of the cheerfully miscellaneous crowd of a trade city. At this hour, the streets were full.  Peasants, guildsmen, merchants and Traders jostled visitors and townsfolk alike. A man from Rathane in gaudy robes walked past the deadly, black-clad figure of an assassin from beyond the Mountains of Morravik. Three dark-skinned desert people bargained in loud voices with a man who spoke with the accent of Ciaron whose accent was Ciaronese. And everywhere there were men in soldiers’ dress. Some, like Har and Maurin, wore the leather of caravan guards, but many were dressed in the colors of the city. Several times Har and Maurin had to stop and wait while a band of soldiers marched by.

 During the third such incident, Maurin looked at Har and said, “I have never understood why Brenn has so many more soldiers than the other trade towns. It isn’t that much more dangerous to be right on the border.”

 Har laughed. “As well ask why a fortress has so many caravans passing through!”

 Maurin frowned in puzzlement. Har looked at him. “You really don’t know?”

 “If I did, I wouldn’t ask.”

 “Unless you had some other reason,” Har grinned. “But I’ll tell you anyway. Brenn is both fortress and trade town, but it is a fortress first. My great-grandfather, Doramon, founded it about two hundred and fifty years ago, right after the Lithmern invasion was stopped at Eirith. The idea was to prevent the Lithmern from ever overrunning Alkyra again; Brenn sits right in the gap between the Kathkari Mountains,” he waved to the north, “and the Snake Mountains.” Har waved toward the south. “Nobody can get into Alkyra from the west without passing Brenn, so of course it became a trade town too. But it is still the first line of defense for northern and western Alkyra.”

The above conversation is backstory, none of which is needed here. It also makes Maurin look really stupid – he’s a Trader, he ought to be very aware of both the politics and the dangers of the countries the caravan goes through, even if he’s still a journeyman. The bit about Brenn being on the border is the only really critical bit, and it’s covered in half a line in the next paragraph. The rest got moved in bits and pieces to wherever the information became necessary to know…sometimes many chapters later.

And over the cheerfully miscellaneous crowd, above the jumble of homes and shops and inns, loomed Styr Tel. The castle of the Noble House of Brenn looked every inch the border fortress that it was, but the high stone walls that were a reassuring presence to a Trader caravan concerned with raiders and bandits gave an entirely different impression to a mildly unwilling visitor. Maurin could not shake the feeling that he was heading for a prison.

Note that I moved the phrase “cheerfully miscellaneous crowd” to this point from the initial description several paragraphs back. I thought it works better as a summing-up of the (now) previous paragraph of description of all the people than it did as an introduction to them. I also, again, added in more of Maurin’s personal reaction at the end of the description.

 They had nearly reached Styr Tel, and Maurin found it easy to believe the place had once been a fortress. It was surrounded by a high stone wall, The castle had been set back from the houses of Brenn as if to prevent an attack from the upper stories of the homes and shops. Above the wall, two tall black towers rose to command a view of the entire city; from this angle, they were all of the Styr that could be seen. Time and custom had made a marketplace of the open area between the low buildings of the town and the walls of Styr Tel. Maurin and Har wove through the merchants and townspeople to the gates, ignoring the persuasive calls of the dealers. The guards recognized Har at once, and let him and Maurin through the gate without challenge. As they entered the courtyard, Maurin blinked in surprise.   got his first close view of Styr Tel.

Black stone, polished smooth, filled his eyes. Styr Tel was made of it. The place was enormous; Maurin’s head bent back as he tried to see it all. He could easily imagine a company of troops vanishing inside without disrupting any of the gentler pursuits of the nobles who lived there. The lines of the building were clean and practical, but the dark stone gave it a dignity lacking in the airy palaces Maurin had seen in other cities. This was a strong place, an armored place, a home for a soldier. Maurin found himself admiring the man who had built it.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that I’ve been cutting out a lot more than I’ve been adding. The revised chapter is 1024 words shorter than the original…and most of the folks who read it don’t even notice. Really. I’ve asked.

Cutting out so much description and unnecessary backstory right at the start did two things: it tightened things up so that everything moves along faster, which is better for the opening of this particular action-adventure novel, and it refocused the start of the story on the two young men and their friendship, which is crucial to the rest of the story. If I’d written a story about the caravan or the Traders, I’d have left in a lot more of this and tightened things up elsewhere…but I didn’t.

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