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Writing a book, would like some feedback
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Old 08-12-2017, 06:28 AM
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So I am seriously writing a fantasy novel with an eye towards eventually becoming a professional author. I am a fair way into my first book, and would like to get some feedback. Without further ado, the beginning of Sword of Princes!


Chapter 1

Something was wrong.
Garen Ironbow looked up from where he knelt by the fallen doe, nose crinkling as he smelled the unmistakable aroma of smoke. However, smoke was not all he smelled.
Garen was no stranger to slaughter, having served for two years in the border guards of Arthea and veteran of several border skirmishes. And there was something revoltingly familiar about the smell he detected now—the almost pork smell of burned flesh.
Rising from the ground where he had been occupied in skinning and butchering the deer that was to have been his food for the next several weeks—after he finished smoking most of the meat—Garen turned, sniffing the air and looking in all directions. He was several miles south of his farmstead, and some distance from the town of Hartford, off to the southwest.
A tall man, with gray eyes and auburn hair, Garen was accustomed to taking care of himself and preferred the solitude of the forest to the bustle of towns and villages like Hartford. However, he did have friends in the town. Such as the blacksmith, Kell, he bought arrowheads from, or the tanner, Dalen, to whom he sold hides for the little gold he needed and sometimes traded work for help around his farm.
And a large column of smoke was rising from where Hartford should be. Nor was that all. Several smaller columns of smoke were rising as well—and Garen realized with a sickening feeling that several of his fellow farmers' holds lay in those locations.
“Aruhan's hells!” cursed Garen, hurriedly stripping several pounds of venison from the fresh kill and bundling it into his satchel. He wiped his hunting knife on the grass and stood, reluctantly glancing at the fresh kill. He hated to waste meat, and he had a feeling that food might soon be scarce, but he could not take the time to finish butchering the kill properly.
The closest column of smoke was coming from the direction of the Ashleaf farm, roughly 1 mile away. Garen unlimbered his great Yurthan longbow and quickly retrieved the arrowhead that had slain the doe, pushing the arrow through and snapping it in his haste. Another arrow was easy to make, but arrowheads were metal and expensive. Fortunately, his quiver was full. He had his knife, as he always did when hunting, but his family sword, Stormsteel, was at his farm. Garen preferred not to wear a sword for hunting.
Garen hurried through the woodland, trying to stay quiet and out of sight. In his green and brown leathers he blended well with the background, and knew his way through the forest surrounding this area well. Despite his blood screaming for him to get home as soon as possible, he had to check on the Ashleaf family first. They had been good neighbors, and Garth Ashleaf had often traded work, garden vegetables, and other things for venison, hides, and other materials Garen was more skilled at procuring. Several seasons ago, Garen had fallen ill, and Ilarth, Garth's pretty wife, had taken him in and nursed him back to health.
Garen reached the draw that opened onto the Ashleaf farm and crouched, using the underbrush for cover as he cautiously advanced up the draw. As he got closer, Garen began to hear screams and harsh laughter. Reaching the edge of the clearing where the farm stood, Garen carefully took a look and hissed in outrage at what he saw.
Flames were consuming the house. Garth was lying in the yard, with a large wound visible between his shoulders and a pitchfork fallen at his side. He was obviously dead. His wife and two daughters were screaming as several soldiers dressed in black uniforms with crimson crossed sword and axe embroidered on their tabards ripped at their clothing, laughing at their attempts to get away. Garth's son, a boy of twelve, was running across the yard towards the forest as a laughing soldier with a drawn sword chased him on horseback.
“Great Father!” Garen cursed under his breath as he recognized the sigil. Valdarians! And more than twenty miles from the border! If Imperials are here....thought Garen.
Garen's eyes narrowed, and he acted almost without thinking. An arrow cleared the quiver, and his longbow bent as he took aim at the soldier on horseback. Waiting until the pursuit drew closer, he breathed out and released his arrow. Snap!
The shaft took the soldier in the chest and he toppled off his horse. The boy, unaware of his pursuer's demise, continued running. “Here, boy! Over here!” Garen stepped out of the foliage and waved. The boy's eyes widened and he came running over. “Get behind me, lad, crouch down and don't come out until it's safe! Got it?” Garen snapped. The boy, white-faced from fear, nodded. He found cover behind an oak tree and hunkered down, and Garen turned his attention to the other soldiers.
One of the Valdarians was standing with his back to the woods, shouting orders at the others, orders that were mainly ignored by the soldiers, who were bent on rape and pillage. Garen took careful aim and loosed another shaft, which took the man through the lower back and sent him screaming to the ground.
Now the others noticed that they were under attack, but they could not see where the arrows were coming from. They scattered, heading for the cover of the buildings and the wood. Garen was able to drop one more of the raiders before they could reach cover, but this time the others noticed him, and it was Garen's turn to duck as a crossbow quarrel whizzed past him. He hastily moved to new cover and tried to spy where the shot had come from—only to see the reloading crossbowman hacked down by a screeching Ilarth with a sword taken from the dying officer on the ground.
Homesteaders were not a group you wanted to take lightly.
Another soldier broke cover and charged Ilarth, screaming a war cry. Garen put a shaft through his neck from over fifty paces away. His cry turned into a horrible gurgle and he folded forward over the shaft. The last soldier had made it to the treeline on the opposite side of the clearing. He took one look and fled. Garen tracked him for a second, then sighed and put up his bow. The Valdarian was too far away and in amongst the trees. A clear shot was no longer possible.
Emerging from the trees, Garen waved to the boy to come out of hiding. Trudging across the field to Ilarth, he called, “Are you all right?”
Ilarth looked hollow eyed and was shaking. “They---they killed Garth. I can't believe it. How will we work the farm now? What will we do? How will we get by?”
Garen grabbed her by the shoulder, only to stop as she flinched instinctively away from him. He tried to keep his voice gentle. “Ilarth, listen to me. We have bigger problems.”
She looked at him, shocked. “What could be bigger than this?”
“Those are Imperial soldiers. For them to have gotten this far into Arthea, they must have overrun the border forts—and by the looks of it, it's an invasion, not just a raid. You and your children cannot stay here. It's not safe. More Valdarians will be here soon., especially since that one got away.” Garen surveyed the wreckage of the farm and noticed the barn was still intact, along with the wagon sitting next to it. Fortunately, the Imperials hadn't had time to fire all the buildings or do a thorough job of wrecking and looting the place before he had interrupted them.
“What should we do, Garen? I don't have any other place to go.” Ilarth looked around, her lip firming and her eyes clearing somewhat.
“Take your horses and the wagon, assuming they are still alive. Fill it with only what you absolutely need—vegetables, dried food, smoked meat—and any pigs or small animals you have, if they can fit in the wagon. I have a feeling that food will be a problem. If you cannot bring them alive, slaughter them and salt the meat. I have to go back to my farm, but I will help you load first.”
“Right.” Ilarth straightened up and strode over to the dead officer. Stripping him of his belt and scabbard, she wiped off the sword she had taken and sheathed it, donning the belt.
Garen helped her and the children load up the farmhouse's supplies. There was little meat. Unfortunately, Garth had only owned meager livestock. Garen helped lift the two pigs into the cart after trussing them for the journey. Several small casks of preserved vegetables and precious glass jars of fruit preserves were next, followed by the scant amount of clothing owned by the family and their metal cookware. After hitching the draft horses, Garen helped the family climb aboard. Walking over to the fallen crossbowman, Garen took the crossbow, noticing it was equipped with a crank for re-spanning. Handing the bow and quarrels to the boy, Garen asked, “Can you handle that, lad?”
“Sure I can. I'm big enough,” the boy—named Erik, Garen remembered—replied.
“Good.” Garen quickly had the boy try the crank to make sure he could work it and found he could—just. “Keep hold of that, lad. Use it if you have to defend your mother and sisters. Just aim and shoot. Wait—let me get you a blade as well.” He walked over to another of the fallen Valdarians and stripped him of his dagger, sword, and swordbelt. These he gave to Erik, along with an admonition: “These are not toys, lad. They're a man's tools, meant for one thing and one thing only—killing your enemy. Don't play with them. Try to avoid using them at all if you can, you don't have the training and we've no time to teach you.”
Garth turned to Ilarth. “Take the high road and avoid Hartford. There's already smoke rising from there, so if you go that way you'll likely run into more of them. If you come across any, escape if you can, fight if you must. Do you know that oak grove near Miller's Crossing?”
“Yes, I think so. The one to the south of the village?”
“Exactly. Wait for me there. I have some things to attend to. I must retrieve my sword, and then I have to see what exactly is going on in Hartford. It may be too late, but I need to see if there's anything I can do.” Garen mounted the officer's (former) horse and kicked it into a canter as Ilarth snapped the reins and drove the wagon out of the farmyard in the opposite direction.

  #2  
Old 08-12-2017, 06:29 AM
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Chapter 2
The woods lay in tranquil beauty, patterns of sunlight coming through the trees that lined the rough path. A soft breeze stirred the leaves above as Garen rode down the path to his farm, deep in thought. If Hartford is lost, we will need to escape to the north. However, where would be safe? One of the fortresses in the northwest region? Whitehaven? Or across the border in Pardal?
The kingdom of Pardal lay to the north of Arthea and had long been allies of the House of Silvermane. They would be a likely target if the Valdarian Empire succeeded in conquering Arthea, and King Silas was unlikely to turn away Arthean refugees, especially those who were trained fighters and could help him defend his lands.
Garen made a quick decision: If Whitehaven was unreachable, he would take Garth's family north into Pardal. While there were several fortresses and feudal holdings between Hartford and the border, Garen did not think they would welcome refugees such as Ilarth and her children. He himself would likely be welcomed (more likely pressed into service,) but there was a very likely chance they would turn away anyone unable to fight. Garen also did not trust many nobles, not even Arthean ones. He had met several sons of noble families serving in the border rangers, and knew far too well how spoiled, petulant and even cruel even the best of them could sometimes be.
Garen looked up and realized he was approaching the small valley in which his farm lay. Pulling the reins to a halt, Garen dismounted his horse, tying it to a tree. Carefully sneaking through the trees, he came to the edge of his fields and took cover behind several bushes to survey the area. He could see no signs of trouble. Everything seemed to be peaceful and in order, and there were no Valdarians in sight.
He decided to risk it. Stepping out into the clearing, he ran quickly to his house and stepped inside, shutting the door behind him and barring it. The house was untouched, just as he had left it—neat and tidy, with bundles of dried vegetables, herbs, and smoked meats hanging from the ceiling. He quickly loaded up on supplies—a haversack, which he filled with bread, baked several days before, and dried sausage, carrots, onions, and herbs from the foodstuffs hanging from the rafters. Looking at his small cookpot, Garen sighed and decided reluctantly to leave it—Ilarth had taken their family's, and he could use it instead. Weight would also be at a premium. He also grabbed a large waterskin. If he had time, he would fill it from the well outside.
Finally, he knelt in the corner where he kept his sword. A quick pry with his dagger brought up the floorboard he had hidden the sword under, and he carefully lifted the sword out, with its scabbard and a leather swordbelt his father had passed down to him. Drawing Stormsteel, he examined it quickly. A unique blade, Stormsteel had received its name from the rippling water pattern the steel held. The sword was longer than a standard longsword, with a basket hilt and engraved with a crown and starburst at the top of the blade. The other side of the blade held an engraved miner's pick crossed with a blacksmith's hammer—once the sigil of the long-dead Somserian Empire.
A long lost secret, Somserian steel had once been known throughout the world as the very best—sharper, stronger and lighter than any other. The Ironbow family had passed this particular blade down since time forgotten. These days, authentic Somserian blades were extremely rare and worth their weight in gold. Quickly reassuring himself the blade was free of rust and still sharp, Garen returned the sword to its worn scabbard.
As he buckled on the sword, hoof beats approached outside. A large group of mounted men was approaching.
“Search the place! Try to take him alive. The wizard says it is important that we get our hands on him or at least the sword. A thousand gold marks to the man who captures him!” The shout came from directly in front of the house. Garen did not wait to see how many Valdarians there were. Dashing over to the fireplace, he reached inside and pushed one of the bricks. A click sounded and Garen moved to one side of the fireplace as something crashed into the door and it shook in its frame.
Another shout went up from outside. “Find a battering ram!”
Opening the trapdoor his earlier action had released, Garen dropped into the escape tunnel dug by his grandfather when he had bought the land. His family had served the House of Silvermane for several generations in one capacity or another, and his grandfather, a former Royal Guardsman, had believed that sooner or later enemies might come looking for him. With that in mind, he had created a backdoor exit to the farmhouse by digging a tunnel that led a short distance away and emerged from the hillside on the back side of the farm into a small orchard grove.
Latching the trapdoor shut behind him, Garen felt his way along the dark tunnel and emerged several minutes later into the orchard, blinking his eyes at the sudden exposure to bright sunlight. The orchard was a short distance away from the treeline, and Garen dropped flat. Crawling carefully through the tall grass, he was able to reach the treeline without hearing a warning shout or any other indication that he'd been spotted. Faintly from the house, he heard a loud crash and a cry of frustrated rage at finding he was gone. Garen carefully slipped into the trees.

A few minutes later, Garen was back astride his stolen horse and racing off towards Hartford. Approaching the edge of the woods, Garen could see the town below—what was left of it. Extracting a small spyglass from his pack, a gift from his days as a border scout, Garen examined the scene below.
It was not pleasant.
Hartford was burning, and the screams of the people were now clearly audible. Valdarian soldiers were rounding up the the townsfolk, and they were not being gentle about it. As Garen watched, an old man was hacked down as he raised his hands in a plea for mercy. A running boy was shot with a crossbow bolt and went tumbling in death as his screaming mother was dragged away by a leering Valdarian, his hands already ripping at her clothes. Other, younger men were being rounded up and roped into a line of prisoners—likely to be sold as slaves. Bodies lay everywhere—women and children as well as the fallen town militia. “Aruhan take them! Great Father curse their souls!” Garen swore, filled with rage.
It was clear, however, that there was nothing he could do. To try and help the townsfolk would likely end in his death or capture for no gain. Stiff with rage and grief, Garen put away the spyglass and turned his horse east—towards the high road and his rendezvous with Ilarth.

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Old 08-12-2017, 06:30 AM
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Chapter 3
Many miles to the south, in the Valdarian capital of Vardis, a man in a dark robe and cowled hood sat motionless in front of a polished lump of crystal. From his high tower window in the palace he could see the entire city laid out before him, but he studiously ignored the sight, murmuring a strange phrase under his breath and gazing into the crystal. Suddenly a light flickered in the crystal, and the robed man stirred, changing his chant and making stroking motions in the air around the gramerhain.
Light swirled deep in its depth, and the form of one of his acolytes appeared. Through the haze surrounding his image, the robed man could just make out the image of the interior of a house of some kind.
“Report,” demanded the robed man.
“M-my lord, we h-have failed. We came here as ordered with all speed and found the door barred. We broke it down and were prepared to seize the man who lived here as you demanded, but we found no trace of him or the sword. H-he may have it and be coming back here, we are planning on repairing the door and mounting a watch from the forest.” The acolyte stammered nervously, his eyes darting back and forth as he gave his report.
“You let him get away?!! Fool! I told you how important killing or capturing this Garen is! The Emperor himself has ordered this. If this man gets away, it could jeopardize our plans for Arthea and Pardal! It could even bring ruin to the Empire!” The robed man seethed in rage. “If the sword is gone and the door was barred from the inside, he must have escaped some way!”
:”My lord, there was no other way--” The acolyte was interrupted by a shout from behind him and turned and spoke rapidly to someone out of view. When he turned back his face had grown pale. “M-m-my lord, they have just discovered a trapdoor in the f-f-floor. It leads to a tunnel.”
“You incompetent IDIOT! Get down that tunnel immediately! Find him! If he escapes, it will mean your head and the heads of those useless idiots with you!”, the robed man hissed in rage.
“At once, my lord!” The acolyte vanished from his gramerhain and it went dark. The robed man straightened, then opened the door and spoke to a guard in Valdarian livery. “Send for Gannis at once.”
The guard paled, but hastily nodded and left at a run.
The robed man sat, steepling his fingers in thought until a knock on the door interrupted him. The guard, fearful, entered, bowing. “Gannis, my lord, as requested.” A tall pale man with a hook nose and a large scar running down one cheek entered. He wore a dark cloak and had an unmistakable air of menace about him. The guard hastily withdrew.
“Ah, Gannis. Come in, I have a job for you.” The robed man gestured at a chair across from him.
Gannis sank into it, his eyes boring into the other man's. “How can I serve you, wizard?”, he asked in quiet, sibilant voice.
“Kardon and the soldiers I sent with him have botched the mission the Emperor tasked me with—finding and neutralizing this Garen. It falls to you and your assassins. I need you to find Kardon and the others. If necessary, take over their mission. Track this man, and capture him and his sword if possible. If it isn't, make certain he dies. He cannot be allowed to remain as a threat. The Black Legion must not be awakened. You will be paid handsomely as always.”
“And this Kardon? Am I to help him, or will I be in command?” Gannis looked at the wizard, his lip curling at the thought.
“Kardon? Oh, that's easy. If he hasn't found Garen by the time you catch up to him—he and all his men are no more use to us, are they?” The robed man's eyes glinted. “I already warned him what the cost of failure would be. Kill them.”

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Old 08-12-2017, 06:30 AM
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Chapter 4
Garen rode down the high road at a trot ahead of the wagon, his thoughts grim as he carefully watched to both sides, occasionally turning to check for trouble. He was angry over the loss of his family home and lands and the invasion of his homeland, but something else disturbed his thoughts, even more so than his anger and sorrow over the lost lives of those he'd known as friends and neighbors. The Valdarians were looking for me. Me, specifically. But why? How do they know who I am? Why would they be after me, or Stormsteel? I'm no one special, just a woodland hunter and farmer who likes to be left alone. What is going on?
After leaving Hartford, he had made good time on the high road and had met Ilarth outside Miller's Crossing just as he had planned. The Crossing was a very small town, with only a small inn and a few houses to mark it, along with the mill that had given the town its name. Ilarth had wanted to rest there overnight, but Garen had convinced her it would not be safe—the Valdarians were only several hours away and could arrive any time. After warning the townsfolk of the Valdarian invasion and recommending they flee, Garen and Ilarth's family had started north again.
That first night had been quite unpleasant, camping on the roadside with no fire. Ilarth had wanted to light one, but Garen insisted they eat dry food uncooked. After a meal of some cheese, dried sausage and bread, with creek water to wash it down, they had bedded down for the night, Garen and Erik underneath the wagon, and Ilarth and her daughters in the wagon bed.
Now, several days later, Garen rode at a trot as the draft horse behind him pulled the wagon along at its best pace. Word was finally spreading about the invasion. Several other parties of refugees had appeared on the road, either overtaking and passing them or falling behind on foot. One small town they had passed through had been abandoned, all signs pointing to the inhabitants hastily packing and fleeing north.
As they had come further north and seen no more signs of the Valdarian forces, Garen had relented and allowed a fire at night. Between them, he and Ilarth were able to put together passable meals. Last night they had come across an abandoned farmhouse with a smoking shed and Garen had taken the opportunity to turn Ilarth's pigs into an equivalent amount of smoked pork. They had enough food for at least a week or more of travel, and the Kinsharan grasslands region they were currently traveling through provided ample fodder for the horses.
Ilarth had suggested making for the town of Balcartha, which stood astride the high road approximately fifty miles east from Whitehaven. She had family there, a sister and a brother in law, as well as an uncle and his wife. The town was walled and had a small garrison, so Garen agreed to escort her there instead of north to Pardal. Truthfully, he had been unsure about what to do with Ilarth and the others. While they were friends, he knew they were slowing down his travel, and with the Valdarians apparently searching for him, he did not wish to expose them to further danger by bringing trouble down on their heads.
A shout from ahead snapped Garen's head up, and he reined up his horse as he saw a party of horsemen approaching. For a moment, Garen feared they were Valdarians, but then he realized they wore blue and white. The wind caught the pennant one was carrying, and the rampant white lion on blue of the House of Silvermane, rulers of Arthea, became visible.
As Ilarth reined up the wagon, the soldiers rode up and stopped, fanning out. The leader, a sergeant by the chevrons on the upper left of his tabard, took in the party at a glance. His eyes narrowed as he took in Garen in his brown and green forester's leathers and hardened as they rested on his bow and Stormsteel sheathed at his side. The weapons Erik had been trusted with were in plain view as well, and earned another sharp glance from the man.
“Who are you and where are you going armed in such fashion?” the sergeant asked, turning to Garen.
“My name is Garen Ironbow. This is my neighbor, Ilarth, and her children. We are heading north to Balcartha, where Ilarth has family. We were driven from our farmsteads by the Valdarians when they invaded.”
“Really?” The sergeant gave him a skeptical glance. “You're awfully well armed for farmers. Especially you. That's an unusual looking sword you have, and not many men carry Yurthan longbows.”
“I can understand your confusion.” Garen's lips quirked. “I used to be in the border rangers. I found the Yurthan longbow an excellent weapon, and I was gifted with this one when I retired. As for my sword, Stormsteel has been in my family for generations. It's said it has been with us since the days of Somseria. My young friend here”---he indicated Erik--”was given these weapons by me after I.....obtained them from a Valdarian who no longer looked like he had use for them.”
“Indeed? A Somserian blade, eh? Well, those are rare indeed! Let's hope a few more of those Valdarian scum fall to it before this is over.” The sergeant indicated over his shoulder the way he'd come. “Balcartha, as far as I know, is still there, still safe. The Aruhan-damned Valdarians have overrun the south provinces though, captured Daylia and Glenhurst, and are advancing on Whitehaven. Torfran and Greengarden are under siege, but holding out for now. All the smaller towns and villages they aren't even bothering to capture—they're burning and killing as they come.”
“I know.” Garen's eyes hardened into agate.”I saw what they were doing in Hartford—that's where we're from. Rape, murder, and enslavement. I saw one of them kill a young boy, couldn't have been more than seven, with a crossbow then drag his poor mother off. Great Father grant us victory over them!”
“From your lips to His ears,” agreed the sergeant. “Well, we should be on our way. You're lucky I've not had orders to start impressment yet, though, or you'd be coming with us, as well trained as you appear. After you leave these with their family--” he indicated Ilarth and her family-- “keep in mind that your kingdom needs you. For now, I'll let you escort them on their way—a few less for us to look after, eh?”
The sergeant nodded, waved to his men, and shouted. “Move out!” The Arthean troopers filed past the wagon and then broke into a trot, heading south.

That evening, Garen and the others sheltered in a large cave to one side of the main road. The edge of the grasslands lay about an hour behind them, and the road had entered a rocky, hilly area. Garen allowed a fire to be kindled in the rear of the cave, where a natural chimney in the rock existed to carry away the smoke and where the glow of the fire would not be visible. The horses grazed just outside the entrance on a small patch of grass, and the wagon lay concealed behind some large rocks.
Garen had done some successful foraging in the dusk air, and now he and Ilarth were combining their cooking skills with the wild vegetables he had found. Some of the smoked meat, a few of the dried herbs, and water from the cask on the wagon they had filled at the last creek completed the ingredients. Now a pot of stew bubbled over the fire, wafting delicious smells through the cave. Erik and the girls had gathered dead brush, leaves and grass, and now were laying down rough beds on the stone floor.
Garen stirred the stew, tasting a little and adding a few more herbs. “Ah, now, this is a bit more like it,” he sighed. “Been a while since we've had a hot decent meal and a good safe rest.”
On the other side of the fire, Ilarth stared into the pot. “'Twould be better if Garth were here to share it.”
Garen looked up sharply, then sighed again. “Aye. That it would, Ilarth. I'm sorry I wasn't able to get there in time to save your husband—he was a fine man and a wonderful father. Not to mention a great friend, true and reliable. The Empire has much to answer for, in my mind.”
Ilarth patted his hand. “Was not your fault, Garen. Were it not for you, I and my children would likely be dead as well. Thanks to you, we're safe and on our way to family. Have you thought about what you will do when we reach Balcartha? I think you would be welcome to stay with us a while longer—and the children, I think, would like that. Erik, especially, looks to you for guidance now.”
“I'll confess, I am not sure what to do next.” Garen frowned, thinking. “I have no home to go back to, but staying in Balcartha seems...wrong, somehow. I feel the need to do something to stop these accursed Valdarians, but joining the army just makes me another sword in the King's service. I'd given some thought to heading for Pardal, maybe trying to raise aid for the kingdom there.” He did not mention the fact that the Valdarians were apparently after him and he doubted he was safe in Arthea; no sense in worrying Ilarth about it unnecessarily.
“Well, I can understand that.” Ilarth leaned over and began spooning up stew into wooden bowls. “If I were a man, and didn't have children to look after, I would likely feel the same way.” Her eyes narrowed in memory. “I'd like to get a sword into a few more of the bastards who killed Garth. But I have to think of the children; I'm all they have for now.”
Garen nodded in understanding. “Don't worry, Ilarth. I'll see they pay,” he promised. Straightening, he waved to Erik and the girls. “Supper's ready! Go ahead and get washed up!”
After eating the hot, tasty stew and mopping it up with the last of their bread, Ilarth and the girls retired for the night and Garen stood watch. He considered Ilarth's question, and decided unless something changed once they reached Balcartha, he would continue to Pardal alone. Hopefully, there, he would be safe from the Valdarians, at least for a time. He wished he could find out what threat he apparently represented to the Empire—why had they come after him specifically? How had they learned his name and the location of his farmstead? He feared the answers would not be easy to find, nor would they be present in Pardal. But until he knew, everywhere he went and everyone he was with in Arthea would be in danger from his mere presence.


Chapter 5

Two days later, the group brought Balcartha in sight. Lying at the top of a hill along the Blacksword River, Balcartha rose in stark contrast to the surrounding terrain. As they rode, Garen studied the town. Sheer walls rose over fifteen feet all around the town, with steep terrain on all sides adding to the defenses. Towers rose at regular intervals along the walls, and the walls were dotted with the grim mouths of arrow slits and loopholes. As they approached, Garen could see the white and blue standard of Arthea flapping from several poles along the walls, along with the black raven on green of Baron Balcartha. The baron's castle, Ravenskeep, could also be seen at the rear of the town. The walls were fully manned, archers and swordsmen in the colors of the local garrison and the army both keeping a watchful eye.
Coming to the foot of the hill and starting to mount the narrow, twisting path that led to the gates, they joined the line of traffic waiting to enter—merchants, local soldiers, farmers, and other refugees like themselves.
Garen scanned the surrounding terrain. Off to the west, another road came snaking across the rocky plain—the road to Whitehaven. To the north of the town and out of his sight lay the road north, to the Pardal border, and to the east lay the Sendarin Mountains. Wise men stayed out of the Sendarins if they could—bandits and worse lurked in the mountains. There simply were no passes to speak of, and Balcartha's location made it both an important post for trade routes headed north and south as well as a stronghold to protect the high road from raiders and highwaymen.
Garen had never seen one, but his father had told him stories of encountering trolls and goblins. During his time as a member of the army, during an expedition into the Sendarins to clear a safe route over the mountains, he had encountered several of the monsters. Only two members of his patrol besides himself had returned to the main column, and eventually the expedition was abandoned as a hopeless cause.
A shout from the walls snapped Garen's head around, and he noticed several of the guards on the wall pointing to the west. Others on the road were also looking and pointing, and Garen turned to look west. He saw a cloud of dust rising from the road where it rounded a low hill and came into view, about a half mile from the town. Pulling out his spyglass, he focused on the distant cloud of dust.
A party of heavily armed and armored cavalry galloped besides an elegant but sturdy carriage whose driver was whipping the team of eight horses into a gallop. The sides of the horses were heaving, and foam flecked from their lips. The troopers wore the blue and white of Arthea, and Garen's lips tightened as he focused on the banner one of them carried, streaming out behind him. It bore the rampant white lion on blue of Arthea, but that was not all. The lion bore a coronet over its head, and bore a scepter in one paw. Garen cursed as he saw a large mounted force in Valdarian colors closing behind them.
Garen double checked the standard again, making certain of what he was seeing. Only one group carried the Arthean banner with those tokens—the Arthean Royal Guard, and only when a member of the royal family was present.
Garen whipped his horse around and shouted. “Erik! Here, lad! On the double!” Erik hopped down from the wagon and ran over. “Lad, there's no time to waste. Get to the gate on the double. Tell the officer in charge that there's a member of the royal family out there being chased by the Valdarians—could be the princess or the Crown Prince himself! Hurry!” Erik nodded and dashed off, forcing his way through the crowd. Garen turned his horse and galloped down the hill, Stormsteel clearing its sheath as he did.
As he rounded the bottom of the slope and hurtled onto the plain towards the distant chase, a horn sounded an alarm behind him. After that, a clear series of bugle calls sounded the notes for Stand To Arms and Immediate Sortie. Far behind Garen, Balcartha's gates slammed open and a platoon of mixed cavalry wearing the colors of Arthea and Balcartha charged out of the gates, muscling the line of refugees aside.
Ahead, Garen saw the carriage suddenly lose a rear wheel, dropping onto a bare axle. The other rear
wheel followed, and the driver was forced to rein in his team quickly to avoid rolling the carriage. The carriage skidded to a stop in the dust, and the Royal Guardsmen halted and immediately circled the carriage, swords drawn. Two of them carried horsebows, and began shooting at the lead Valdarians as one of the others dismounted, raced to the carriage, and began pulling someone from it.
One of the Guardsmen whirled to face Garen. The traditional battle cry of the Arthean border rangers rang out. “Valak Killarny! Forrrrr Arrrrrtheeeeeaaaa!” The Guardsman relaxed slightly and turned as Garen rode past him, bearing down on the lead Valdarian. Three of the Guard broke ranks and followed him, the others stayed put to defend the carriage. The war cry of the Arthean Royal Guard joined Garen's.
“Silvermane! Silvermane! Silvermane and Whitehaven!”
Then the two sides met in a clash of steel. Garen ducked a swipe that would have removed his head and with a backhand slash swept his first opponent howling from the saddle. Arrows hissed home in two more Valdarians as the Guard archers continued firing. The Guardsman to the left of Garen was clubbed by a mace off his horse and fell, immediately being trampled in the melee. Three Valdarians came at Garen. He managed to fend off several blows and maneuvered his horse, blocking one opponent's swing while slashing another down with the backswing. Stormsteel parted the Valdarian's chain mail like cloth, and the man collapsed off his horse, his wound gouting blood. Another sword hissed towards Garen, and he tried to dodge—only to have it intercepted by the Guardsman on his right, who drove the Valdarian back and thrust straight into his chest.
A sword gashed Garen's left arm, and another cut above his eye dripped blood, but he shook his head to clear it and fought on. Stormsteel caught a Valdarian blade, and then Garen heaved, and the Valdarian gaped as the tough Somserian steel snapped his sword--and then slashed across to take his head, as well.
Garen and the others fought stubbornly, but were badly outnumbered. Outriders were beginning to push past and engage the Guardsmen around the carriage, as well. The result would have been inevitable, but suddenly new sounds entered the fray. The ringing of sword on sword dramatically increased, and a new warcry rang out.
“Ravenskeeeeep! Ravenskeep and Balcartha!!” “Artheeaaaa and Whitehaaaavennn!!” The first reinforcements from Balcartha charged into the swirling combat, and suddenly the odds were more even. Another horn sounded from the city, and more soldiers charged from the gates—a much larger troop than before. Seeing the tide turning agains them, the Valdarians finally broke and ran, hotly pursued by the Balcarthan troops. Garen and the Royal Guardsmen remained behind, panting and taking stock of their injuries. In addition to Garen's injuries, one of the Guardsmen had lost an eye and the other had a deep gash in one thigh and a missing forefinger.
The Guardsman who had lost an eye nodded at Garen. “Many thanks, friend. Are you the one who raised the alarm in the city? I wasn't sure help would reach us in time once we lost those wheels. Never expected I would meet a border ranger here, or be so grateful I did.”
Garen nodded and reached over, clasping forearms with the Guardsman in a warrior's greeting, and said with a wry grin, “Yes, I sounded the alarm. Although I should have my head examined for rushing over here without waiting for help.”
“Maybe so, but it's grateful I am you did. One more sword wasn't much, but it was certainly better than none.” The man nodded at Stormsteel, which Garen was flicking to clear of blood. “That's quite a sword. Where did you get it? I've never met a border ranger so armed before.”
Garen snorted in agreement. The border rangers were light skirmishers, who patrolled the wilderness along the borders in small patrols or by themselves, looking for bandits and Valdarian incursions. Often on foot as well as on horse, they were masters of camouflage, ambush, and avoiding detection. Pitched battle was not their forte, and while they did receive sword training, they were expected to fight mainly as archers in battle. It was rare for an entire platoon to be in one place at a time, let alone a larger force.
“It's been in my family as long as we can remember. My grandfather gave me some extra training when I was younger—he was a Royal Guardsman in his day.”
“Really?” The Guardsman's remaining eye showed interest. “What was his name?”
“Rothar. Rothar Ironbow.”
“Rothar? Aruhan's hells, I've heard of him! The veterans used to talk about him when I first joined.”
The Guardsman reached down, tore off a strip from a dead Valdarian's cloak, and began binding up his eye. “They used to tell all kinds of tales about him—he was a fierce fighter in his day and one tough drill master.”
“Aye, that he was.” Garen sheathed his blade and dismounted, tearing another cloak and binding his own wounds. Fortunately, they were not deep. He walked across to the Guardsman who had lost a finger, and helped him staunch his wounds, tightening a temporary tourniquet around his wrist to stop the flow of blood from his finger. Afterwards, they limped back towards the carriage.
***
It was not the Crown Prince.
A slender young woman stood next to the ruins of the carriage, a presence coronet glittering on her head. Her regal finery was somewhat tattered, but she herself appeared to be uninjured. Her gown was in the blue and white of House Silvermane, and she regarded both Garen and the Guardsmen levelly as they approached.
Garen was struck by her beauty. Her long hair, the color of sun ripened straw, trailed behind her in the breeze. He could tell her hair had been elegantly styled, but several hairpins were missing and she was removing the others even as he approached. Her eyes were a startlingly bright blue, and her pale white skin spoke of the fact that she was rarely outdoors. He noted with surprise, though, that she seemed slightly more muscular than he would have expected a princess to be, and that she wore a gemmed dagger at her belt that appeared to be more than ceremonial.
The Guardsman with one eye knelt in front of her. “Your Highness, the Valdarians have been driven off. This border ranger summoned aid from Balcartha and rode ahead to engage the enemy without waiting for help. Without his aid, we may well not have survived.”
“Former border ranger, your Highness,” corrected Garen in a mild voice, taking a knee himself. “But I was not about to allow those Valdarian scum to seize a member of House Silvermane while I was around.”
“My thanks, good sir. Your bravery may have saved my life and the lives of my Guardsmen. For that, you have the gratitude of myself and the Crown. May I know the name of my rescuer?” the princess replied in a musical soprano, curtsying.
“My name, Your Highness, is Garen Ironbow, of Hartford. I am honored to have been of service.” Garen thanked his lucky stars that his grandfather had considered trying to secure a page position for him in the palace when he was younger and had drilled him with the proper courtesies. The death of his mother had changed those plans, but he still remembered the lessons.
“And I am Kirin Silvermane, princess of Arthea and daughter of King Markov Silvermane. How would you be rewarded for your brave deed? Anything we can offer, within reason, is yours.”
Garen felt his face flush.”Your Highness, nothing is necessary. I merely served my kingdom as my personal honor, my loyalty, and my oath as former ranger required.”
“Still, we cannot let you go unrewarded. I will think on this and speak to you again. For now,” her grim gaze turned to her carriage and injured Guards, “I think we should get inside the city. The enemy may be back.”
“I agree, your Highness,” Garen said.
Kirin nodded as her Guardsmen began hauling luggage out and another led a captured Valdarian horse forward for her to mount. “Then let's be about it.”

  #5  
Old 08-12-2017, 09:55 AM
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AnaKhouri AnaKhouri is offline
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If I PM you my email, could you send me the files as a Word or related document? I can look over them (I have done editing before, for friends and for another CS member) but it may take some time, like a couple weeks. I do give very detailed feedback.

  #6  
Old 08-13-2017, 07:25 PM
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Kittish Kittish is offline
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Disclaimer: I've had no formal training as an editor. But I am the primary editor for my Boyfriend's books (4 published so far, 5th to be published when I finish with it, 6th already written and waiting for me, 7th being written currently). I freely admit that my editing on his first two books sucked pretty bad. But I'm getting lots better at it. I apologize, but I will not volunteer to edit your entire manuscript to date. Boyfriend keeps me plenty busy with his work (and pays me really well).

I'll admit I didn't actually read what you've posted. It came through here as walls o' text, which is darn hard to wade through. The first few lines showed promise and weren't riddled with grammar errors (you'd be amazed how many books I try to read, only to put down in the first couple of pages because of rampant errors).

First thing that jumps out is that, for a book, your chapters are running way too short. You should be aiming for chapter lengths of at least 6 or 7 pages. Shorter than that and you're breaking up the story too much.

I know it sounds nitpicky, but also formatting matters. Have your paragraph indents properly set, and leave an extra line space between the paragraphs. Makes it lots and lots easier to read. Put in page breaks between chapters.

ETA: Another good thing to do would be find a forum or group of authors in your genre (straight up fantasy?). Ask for beta readers in that group. The more eyes you can get on a manuscript, the more errors get caught and fixed. We've got 12 or 15 beta readers at this point who get Boyfriend's books when I'm done editing. Never fails, every single one of them finds something that no one else spotted.
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Last edited by Kittish; 08-13-2017 at 07:31 PM.

  #7  
Old 08-13-2017, 11:58 PM
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Don't suppose you could put it in a Google doc? My grammar ain't great so I proofread more than edit as a hobby, and while I'm a bit backed up right now, I'd be happy to give this a look later.
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  #8  
Old 08-14-2017, 08:47 AM
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I was looking more for general feedback about the story and the way it flows than editing help. For one thing, I'm not even close to done with my first draft. (I'm afraid a personal crisis came along and kept me unable to focus over the last couple months.) I am more interested in what people think of the plot and if it's interesting and if you want to read more than anything else.

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Old 08-14-2017, 08:50 AM
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AnaKhouri- That would be fine.
Kittish-- The format was a little messed up by pasting it here. In Word format, and shrunk to fit a book reader (the format I am going for is ebook,) each chapter IS about 6 to 7 pages.

  #10  
Old 08-15-2017, 01:08 AM
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Quote:
Quoth Barracuda View Post
AnaKhouri- That would be fine.
Kittish-- The format was a little messed up by pasting it here. In Word format, and shrunk to fit a book reader (the format I am going for is ebook,) each chapter IS about 6 to 7 pages.
I apologize, I didn't make myself clear there. I meant in standard Word format it should be 6-7 pages. That means when it's put into kindle format it would wind up being 10 pages or more.
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