Six impossible things

Revising long after part 4

 This is the last part of Chapter 1 of Shadow Magic, as revised ten years later for the omnibus Shadows Over Lyra. Strikethroughs are the deletions from the original; plain text is the original that was kept; bold are additions. Italics are my comments, which are few on this part. 

Bracor led them inside and up a long, spiral staircase to a pleasant, though simply furnished, room.  Maurin was pleased to find that the cleaning frenzy in the courtyard had not completely stripped the castle of furniture; there were two benches and a footstool, in addition to a trestle-table littered with parchments.

I knew rather more about the kind of furniture one would expect to find in a medieval castle when I revised than I did ten years earlier…

“I suppose Alethia has already told you what I wanted to talk to you about,” Bracor said when they were all seated inside.

Once they were all seated, Bracor looked at Har and said, “As Alethia has already guessed, I want to talk to you about the Lithmern.”

“Well, she did say something about Lithmern raids,” Har said, glancing at his sister. “But I don’t see the point; they’ve practically stopped.”

“I don’t see the point,” Har said.  “The border has been quiet for months.”

“The Conclave of First Lords feels the same way, I’m afraid,” the Lord of Brenn replied tiredly. “But open raids are not the only thing to fear from the Lithmern.”

Har looked puzzled , then frowned suddenly.  “Open raids?  Are you saying you think they’ve been raiding secretly?”

Bracor continued. “Do you know that the Lithmern now control, either by outright conquest or by more subtle means, most of the countries to the north and west of Alkyra? They are far stronger than you may think.”

“Then why aren’t they raiding more instead of less?” Har said stubbornly. “If they thought they could get away with it, the Lithmern would be attacking every caravan that takes the northern trails!”

“Not every one,” his father said. “Only a few that they can loot completely . “It’s not speculation,” Bracor said.  “I’ll wager your Trader friend knows what I’m referring to.”  I mean.” Maurin looked at Bracor in surprise as Har and Alethia turned their heads.

Maurin looked at Bracor with surprise and respect. “You must have excellent sources to have uncovered that, my Lord,” Maurin said with new respect .

Har made a frustrated gesture. “What are you talking about?”

“Three caravans have disappeared completely in the past six months,” Maurin said.

“Disappeared?” Har asked skeptically. “How can fifteen or more wagons and sixty men just vanish?”

Maurin shrugged. They are certainly gone. No trace of men, horses, goods, or wagons has been found, not even the Traders’ family gear. And all of them were passing near Lithra. “If we knew that, we might be able to stop it.  But the only information we have is that all three caravans were traveling near Lithra.  At least, that’s where we think they were.”

“You don’t know?” “You aren’t sure?”Alethia asked.

“Caravan masters can be very secretive about routes and destinations , especially if they think someone else wants to cut in on their profits,” Maurin explained.

“But how could the Lithmern do it?” Har puzzled. “And why would they take everything that way?”

“How, I do not know,” Bracor said. “Why, I can guess. “The Lithmern have never made any secret of their raiding before,” Har said, his frown deepening.  “They must have something new to hide.”

Har’s dialog changes quite a bit. He’s supposed to be smart, and he’s been educated to be heir to Brenn, so rather than asking blatantly obvious questions in this conversation, I tried to make him a little smarter.

“I believe they wish to keep us in doubt of their numbers and their intentions,” Bracor said.

“Are you sure it’s not more than that?” Har said.

“Need they have more reason? Until now they have been afraid of Alkyra; they remember their defeat at Eirith too clearly to take chances with us. Now I think their fear is passing; they have been preparing carefully for years, growing stronger while we bickered among ourselves . But I think their fear is passing at last.”

Alethia stared at her father.Then you think the Lithmern are planning to attack Alkyra!” Alethia said. she blurted.

“I do,” her father replied. “I have tried to tell the Conclave that, but they will not listen .”

“Your Regent — ” Maurin began, but Bracor was already shaking his head.

“The, and the Regent has too little power to compel the lords, much less the Nine Families. We have kept them They have been safe too long. Oh, there are a few who suspect, who build their own forces, but Alkyra has no unity.”

“Can’t the Regent do anything?” Maurin asked.

“He never does,” Alethia said. “The Regent never does anything ,” Alethia put in. “I think he’s afraid to offend the First Lords, because if he did they might decide to replace him if he tried to make them do anything .”

“Alethia is right,” Bracor said. “The Regent’s power authority depends on the good will of the Nine Families, and he knows it too well. The last regent was not a strong ruler, and he allowed his authority to be eroded by the nobles. We cannot look for help there.

Baffled, Maurin shook his head.  He would never understand the way stonebound folk managed their affairs.  A Route Master who ignored the requests of even one of his Caravan Masters would not keep his position for another month.

“Then what are you going to do?” asked Har.

Bracor straightened. “Lord Armin of Lacsmer and First Lord Gahlon of Meridel will be coming arrive here in three days on a courtesy visit.” He smiled wryly. “Protocol has its uses, after all. They are actually coming to discuss an alliance among us to meet the threat of the Lithmern . If we can come to an agreement, Brenn will have some support against the Lithmern, even if the Conclave of First Lords does not act.”

“I do not know either of them,” Har said. “Do you think they will accept your proposal?”

Maurin shifted slightly, uncertain whether to speak his doubts or not.  The noble families of Alkyra were notorious for both their independence and their irritability.  Though Maurin knew nothing of the two men Bracor had named, he did not think the chances of an alliance were good.

“First Lord Gahlon is young, but he is dependable reasonable,” Bracor went on.  “Armin has something of a temper, but things should go well if I can show him how great the danger really is.” Bracor He paused and looked sharply at Maurin and Har. “That is why I wish to talk to you; your caravan is the only one in the city which has taken the trade route just south of Lithra in the past month. So tell me about your journey.”

For the next hour, Har and Maurin talked, describing the cities and towns they had passed through. Bracor had many questions, from how many men-at-arms they had seen in the streets of Sormak to what welcome the Traders had received from the people in Karlen Gale. To Maurin’s surprise, Alethia did not grow bored; on the contrary, she listened intently and occasionally made a comment of her own. Alethia’s comments were more intelligent and informed than his small experience with noble ladies had led him to expect.  She spoke and acted more like a tradeswoman than like one of the stonebound, and he began to wonder whether his stay with Har’s family might not be more enjoyable than he had expected.

Finally, Bracor sat back. “That is enough for today, I think. I need some time to consider what you have told me before we continue; we can talk more tomorrow.” He rose and nodded as the two younger men stood and followed Alethia out . Once I have considered, we can – “

A perfunctory rap at the door interrupted him.  A moment later, a tall woman with silver-white hair entered the room.  She wore a simple gown of gray, trimmed with silver, and she moved like mist on the water.  “Bracor, have you seen Tatia?  She’s escaped from her nurse again.”

Bracor shook his head.  “We’ve been in here for the past hour.”

“Then I won’t keep you longer from your business.”

“We’re done,” Har said.  “Hello, Mother.”

“Welcome home, dear,” the white-haired woman said.  “It is good to have you safe.  But who is the friend you have brought with you?”

“Forgive me; I should have introduced you earlier,” Bracor said.  “Isme, may I present Maurin Atuval of the Traders?”

“I am pleased to meet a friend of Har’s,” Isme said in her musical voice.  Her tilted green eyes studied him for a moment, but the scrutiny was neither unfriendly nor unpleasant.

Perhaps Har had been right about his family’s reaction after all, Maurin thought as he made a courteous bow to the Lady Isme.  Certainly none of them had shown even a hint of annoyance at the unexpected guest Har had foisted on them.  Idly, he wondered where Isme’s native land was.  He had never seen the combination of white-blond hair and tilted green eyes before, though after his time with the caravans he knew most of the peoples of Lyra.

“Journeyman Atuval is staying for a week or so, until the caravan leaves,” Alethia said.  “I thought the big room in the south tower would be best for him, since those other lords are arriving at the end of the week.”

Isme nodded approvingly.  “Very good.  Now, if you and Har are finished with your father, perhaps you would help me hunt for Tatia while Har shows his friend to the room.”

Alethia made a face, but nodded and rose to her feet.  One by one, the group followed Isme out.

Technically, there’s one small scene after this, of Alethia coming down to dinner, but I deleted the whole thing and substituted the above interruption. There are a couple of descriptive bits that I kept, but for the most part it’s new. I’m not going to post the deleted bit because this is already long enough and I can’t see doing another revising post just so people can see one more wholesale deletion.

That aside, this is the end of the chapter. We will return to your regularly schedule blog posts with the next one.

  1. I really enjoyed these revisings! A good insight to the whole process of proof reading and re-wording! I think I’m going to read Shadows Over Lyra again. 😀

  2. Um… I’ve been learning a lot from your “wholesale deletion”s, as you call them. Seeing what can be left out is maybe more valuable than knowing what you put in.

  3. Great timing. I’m in the midst of revising (read ‘keep the story-line, world and characters but rewrite the rest’) a manuscript I wrote about fifteen years ago, and I’d been wondering where my brain was when I wrote it.


    P.S. I’d recently re-read Shadow Magic (1982, Ace). My poor dog-eared, much tabbed and tagged copy is definitely in need of replacement.

  4. Thanks: these posts have been enlightening, and I foresee I shall be returning to them more than once. The timing was especially good for me: I shall be starting on a heavy revision phase in about a week, when I finish this arc of super-rough chapters, and shall need to tighten it up so that I can springboard the main action sequence from it.

    I hate heavy revision, and know very well that I need more practice at it. This is a very nice example to have sitting at hand.

    • N Wilson – Learning what to leave out (and how to say the same thing in fewer words) is one of the harder and more important how-to-write lessons, I’m afraid. And it comes in smaller increments than you think. Also, some of the stuff that got cut (not much) actually was moved to later on in the story, because it didn’t need to be left out entirely, it just didn’t need to be stuffed into the very first chapter.

      Gwendolyn – Instead of going “what was I thinking?” when you look at your old ms., consider it more as evidence of just how much you’ve improved in the past fifteen years! Also – there are two approaches to this kind of manuscript salvage: 1) revising and 2) a total rewrite. A heavy revise is like what I did to the first chapter of SHADOW MAGIC; it requires consistently applied ruthlessness while going over the existing prose. A total rewrite requires a single application of incredily high levels of ruthlessness, because basically you toss the old ms. in a drawer and don’t even look at it again; you just rewrite the whole thing, from scratch. Some writers prefer revising; others prefer rewriting. You get to decide for yourself which method you want to use most of the time.

      Gray – I realize that it doesn’t lessen the present pain to know this, but one of the useful side-effects of learning to do this kind of heavy revision is that one begins to apply it to one’s first drafts so that one won’t have so much to do in the rewrite.

  5. Thanks. I’m going with Option Two. Keep the people, places and things and start at Chapter 1, Page 1.

  6. Wow, that is really interesting to know how much revising you do to get your books how they are.

  7. I do blank page rewrites: open the old page, read through, and write in a new document. This means that any formulation in the old text needs to be brilliant in order to be kept. Otherwise, I’m tempted to keep a lot of the ok-ish stuff, which is not as good as I could have made it.

  8. I have really been enjoying these! Now I am soon going to ILL Shadow Magic. It is very interesting to read all of the changes, and I think that the text really is much better for your story in the revision!

    • Mary – If you ask ILL for Shadow Magic, you’ll get the original, unrevised version; if you want the revised version, you’ll have to ask for Shadows Over Lyra.

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