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Young Adult Science Fiction - Laura Neibaur - BLOOD OF THE BELLFLOWER SERIES - BOOK 1: THE SIFTING


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Opening scene: Set in the upper estates of the kingdom of Buclaminta. Hild, a slave, is on his way home from working in the orchards and is attacked by a Kadai guard. He meets Sheehan Kasyl and learns that he must escape into the desert. This chapter briefly introduces our main female protagonist, Razya, who will be in the following chapter, and will meet up with Hild later in the story. 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

THE KADAI

 

It was just days into harvest and Hild's neck and cheeks were already stained pink from the sun. He swung the leather satchel of plums over his shoulder and glanced up at the heavy branches above-head. Blue and purple clusters of dark fruits were wreathed in curling, green leaves.

Orange rays peaked through thinning mid-morning clouds that swept across thriving green orchards and hayfields, beneath a boundless blue sky. Hild wondered how war and ruin could be so close home, and the beauty of harvest still abound? He wondered if there would even be a harvest next fall.

While Hild silently enjoying the view of his homeland, a brief vision materialized in his mind. It was Razya, standing in the damson plum orchard beside him, as she had done a thousand times. Her dark hair framed her face and shoulders. She turned and her eyes seemed to pierce right through his. The vision vanished and Hild took a deep breath. He had thought of her a lot lately, though they hadn't seen each other in days. Harvest had kept all the servants busy.

Tineri pressed her velvety nose through stray patches of alfalfa to find the sweet new grass. Hild swung himself onto the dapple-gray mare and patted her neck. She read his slight shift in the saddle and stepped through the orchard toward the stone-paved trail that wound between the elite Upper Boundary estates of the kingdom of Buclaminta.

Sour cherries and fresh fowl meat from the local piaţă jostled in the leather dublari at Tineri's haunches. Hild had been sent by the head bucatar in search of the best fruits and cuts in the market. He hoped to see Razya when he returned to the orchards that afternoon, and discuss the rumors he'd heard in the village. Hild couldn't count the many conversations he had shared with Razya. They both dreamed of leaving the boundary walls and finding uncharted lands, visiting the north countries, and seeing the oceans and seas. Life was beautiful and even comfortable in Buclaminta, but being a farmhand or a kitchen maid, couldn't satisfy a free spirit forever.

As they ascended the mountain path along the steep edge of a rugged cliff, Hild could see the rippling terrain of the Desert Noapte, like a glassy, orange sea in the distance. Hild was reminded of stories of desert tribes and unmarked paths across dangerous territories, but only warriors leave Buclaminta and only the best return. Hild sighed. He wondered if his duty as a farm and stable hand was the only adventure for which he was destined. He had been bereft of family ties early in life and was born with one deaf ear, which made him unsuitable for proper warrior training. Although, with recent threats from the western kingdom of Corovnica, they might conscript anyone.

Lush, green dog-rose bushes climbed the trunks of silver poplars, and thin rays of sun crept through a network of branches, creating a spectacular mosaic of buttery light on the path.

While Hild was distracted by the landscape, a mounted Kadai guard appeared unexpectedly on the path in front of him. Tineri pricked ears and stayed steady, but the Kadai's horse spun and bolted sideways toward the edge of the path. The Kadai tried to redirect his horse while it breathed out hard and stared wide-eyed with flared nostrils.

“La naiba! Stupid boy.” the Kadai yelled, unsheathing his sword. “Watch where you’re going.”

There wasn't much worse for Hild than meeting a drunken imperial guard on a secluded wagon route. Hild could smell the strong scent of tsuica on the Kadai's breath. "I'm sorry sir, I didn't see you." He lowered his head. "Your horse could use some tempering," Hild said quietly, grinning. He immediately regretted not bridling his tongue.

“What did you say sclavă?” The guard tilted his head back and spit on Hild’s face. Heat rushed to Hild’s cheeks and he made the critical mistake of wiping the spittle with his hand and glancing up with a glare as the soldier passed.

Before he could react, the Kadai slammed his sword hilt into the bridge of Hild’s nose. Hild arced backward off of Tineri and hit the ground. Blood trickled into the back of Hild’s throat, and he sat up coughing and spat bitter saliva onto the dirt.

“Don’t raise your head to me.” The Kadai shouted. “Do you know your place now, slave boy? You don’t look like you’re from Buclaminta. You have the looks of a Corovnican. You know how much we hate your kind here. Good for nothing foreigners.”

“I’ve lived here my entire life. I’m as much a Buclamian as you are.”

 The Kadai turned his horse in a circle around Hild and studied Tineri. "What are you doing on a horse like that anyway? Steal it did you? Now, clean up the mess you made on this path before I make it bigger."

Hild wiped his nose on his sleeve and reached for his duffle to replace the scattered fruits. He tried to steady his breath and keep anger from corrupting his calm façade. He put the leather strap across his chest and kicked dirt and pebbles over the dark red puddle. Blood dangled in a stream from Hild’s nose and chin as he re-mounted Tineri.

The Kadai gaped at Hild. “Are you deaf, slave boy? I asked if you know your place?”

Hild knew insubordination always comes at a price, but he never been good at mastering his frustrations with the imperial guards. Hild grinned, "As a matter of fact, I am partially deaf. Would you mind repeating your question…in the right ear?"

The Kadai's mouth hovered open, and his face went as red as a simca. "This could cost you your life in the Upper Boundary, slave boy. How does a trip through the desert to the Floarelands sound?"

Hild watched the Kadai edge closer and raise his sword above his head. His round, manic eyes were pinned beneath greasy hair, and he looked at Hild with repulsion. In a split second of raw reflex, Hild ducked and deflected the blow with his arm, then lunged at the Kadai. He jerked on the Kadai’s vesta and they rolled off their horses and hit the dusty road. The Kadai scrambled for his sword, but before he could steady himself, Hild rammed him with his shoulder. The Kadai stumbled and fell between two firs, down a steep embankment and into a grove of boulders nestled in craggy trees.

Hild's insides coiled at the sight of the body, barely moving, far below. "What have I done?" He whispered, squeezing his wounded arm. Blood soaked through his gauzy, white cămaşa and trickled through his fingers. He unwound the leather chimir from his waist and tightened it above the wound. With his good arm, he pulled himself onto Tineri, spun her on her hindquarters, and urged her into a gallop toward home.

The Krise estate sat on a series of rolling, pale-green hills dotted with the pinks and purples of cornflowers and wild thyme. On one end of the field, a forest of black locusts and new scots pines bordered the hayfields, and patches of sun zig-zagged between squirrely branches. On the northern border was a damson plum orchard whose dark fruits had just finished ripening.

A wooden cart and an old pony stood idly in the bordering field near several shirtless men who worked their scythes against the flowering alfalfa. A few children knelt by the forest edge gathering mushrooms and herbs into leather satchels and woven baskets.

As he rode onto the lawn of the estate, Hild recognized a horse being prepared by the stable help. The horse belonged to Razya's master, a Sheehan Warrior named Kasyl Farkas, from the neighboring estate. He must have shared a late breakfast with Hild's master, Lord Krise. Hild had worried all the way home about Lord Krise’s reaction to Hild’s incident on the path, Hild felt certain that Sheehan Kasyl would know how to help. Hild had always shown favor with the Sheehan, who was known in Buclaminta as a kind and distinguished sovereign, unlike many Sheehan and Lords.

 

Hild urged Tineri toward the flower-encased veranda by the back door of the mess hall. He handed the reigns to the shocked, young attendant in a sweat-stained linen cămaşa and ran through the bucătărie, tossing the satchel of fruits and dried meat onto a floured, wooden table. It was baking day and several kitchen maids busied themselves around the hot wall ovens.

As he turned down the hallway toward the dining room, Hild slammed into Antal, the head servitor. The silver tavă with empty tsuica glasses clattered to the floor and shattered at Hilda and Antal’s feet.

"La Neida! Hild!" Antal grabbed Hild's shirt front and shoved him against a wall. "What the devil is the matter with you?" Antal noticed the blood, "What happened and where are you headed in such a rush? You clearly need a physician." Antal released Hild, his eyes widened and blinked at the soaked chimir on Hild's cămaşa.

“I don’t have time Antal. I have to speak to Lord Krise, and I must see Sheehan Kasyl immediately.” Hild started toward the dining hall again.

Short, stout, and bossy, Antal hurried behind, tugging at Hild’s cămaşa, “No you don’t!” He spat, angrily. “You will see the physician first, and you will not disturb the master’s mic dejun! Hild!”

“I’m sorry Antol, this is urgent. They will understand.”

The valet jumped back, stunned when Hild practically fell through the double doors of the dining room. "Hild stop!" He said in a harsh whisper.

Antal had caught up by now. “Hild if you enter that room –”

Lord Krise and Kasyl turned at the sound of commotion at the dining hall doors. The caramel sweet notes of tsuica plumb brandy permeated the air. On the long, ebony dining table, sat a tinned copper ewer etched in geometric designs. Two platters of mamaliga and late summer vegetables sat half-eaten beside a chalice of warm, ciorba sour soup.

At the sight of blood on Hild’s clothes, Lord Krise and Kasyl shoved themselves away from the table and hurried to his side.

“Hild, what the hell happened?” Lord Krise asked. They steadied Hild and lowered him into a wooden, round-backed chair.

“I’m sorry for disturbing your breakfast, Lord Krise.” Hild breathed. He wasted no time explaining. He knew an infraction against the emperor’s guards, even a lowly Kadai, would be dangerous. “I might have killed him. I didn’t mean to do it. What do I do now?”

“Let’s address your wounds before we discuss what we’re going to do.” Lord Krise snapped. “A servant could be hung for this, or worse.”

“Let me take a look at your arm.” Kasyl knelt beside Hild, then he chuckled, “Disturbing an unusually late mic dejun is not a punishable crime. But you got yourself into some serious trouble today, didn’t you? Not hard to do with the Kadai these days. Especially if you look like you’re from Corovnica or the north countries. You are not a foolish boy like many, and I’m sure you were provoked.”

“It’s true, he threatened my life.” Hild clenched his teeth as Kasyl loosened the soaked chimir from Hild’s arm.

The carved double doors of the dining room burst open once again and Reinick, Lord Krise's oldest son, strode into the room and slammed the heavy doors behind him. He carried a bow, and a quiver was secured on his back. He peeked around the green-on-white, embroidered damask drapes that framed one of three tall windows. "What's going on?" He spoke gruffly as he walked to Hild. "I was out riding and I heard rumors of possible murder. Here you are bleeding."

Lord Krise touched Reinick’s arm. “It was an accident. But Hild is responsible.”

Hild squeezed the seat of the chair while he spoke, “We could get help for the soldier. I’m not sure he’s dead.”

Reinick gaped at Hild, “Get help for a Kadai? You should have finished him off, and sent his body down into the forests." He turned to Lord Krise, "Father, we don’t need any more attention from the Segaeta,” he growled. "We've already broken the law by teaching Hild to fight."

Kasyl jerked his head toward Reinick. “Hild is a servant and he will not likely escape prosecution no matter how thorough our attentions. But they have no reason to pay any attention to you, Reinick.”

“Father, whatever Kasyl believes, you know this could implicate the entire family. What did he do? We all know he’s inept, but clumsiness doesn’t usually lead to murdering a soldier.”

Kasyl stood to his full height. "He did nothing wrong in defending himself. The Kadai guards are loose with the rules at best." Kasyl turned back to Hild, and said solemnly, "There are always witnesses though, remember that. Nothing goes unseen or unpunished in Buclaminta or Corovnica."

Reinick scoffed, "Corovnica." He muttered, rolling his eyes. "A degenerate, worthless kingdom of less-than-humans." He cast a glance on Hild, "They should be crushed like struguri for wine. Perhaps they should all be Sifted.”

Hild bit his lip and glared back at Reinick, who had always hated Hild for being given charge of the fine horses. Hild was better at breaking them than Reinick, everyone knew that. But Reinick hated him for his complexion too. Most Buclamians felt the same, with the circulation of rumors about Corovnicans starting a war.

Kasyl cast a glance of condescension, "Not only are you off point and very naïve, but you are swift with your tongue. It's clear that you know little about politics and cultures beyond our own."

Reinick replaced his bow on his back, “With the deepest respect sir, I have fought them face-to-face, and we know exactly what Corovnicans are made of. And when they arrive for war, their blood will run through our streets like rivers.”

"Hold your tongue Reinick." His father reproached him.

Kasyl shook his head and began tearing Hild’s cămaşa just above the wound. “It’s not as deep as I thought.” He turned and called to the valet, “I need hot water, miere brut, and cattle gum for binding. Oh, and bring me writing utensils as well, please.” The servant nodded and hurried out of the room. Kasyl glanced at Krise, “We don’t have time for the physician and I don’t believe we need any more eyes on this situation, don’t you agree? This will certainly get the attention of the Segaeta though. I believe the time has come for certain individuals to leave Buclaminta.” Kasyl said darkly.

Lord Krise looked hard at Kasyl and then at his son, “I need to speak privately to Sheehan Kasyl.”

“Father?” Reinick growled.

“Leave!” Krise shouted.

Reinick stomped toward the entrance of the dining hall. He glanced back at Hild, then slammed the doors, leaving a loud echo behind.

 “I thought we’d have a little more time to prepare, but she must go too. They both must go.” Kasyl continued. “Tonight, if possible. Once they start hunting for Hild, they’ll look for her next.”

“What? Who?” Hild asked. Who must leave?”

Krise pursed his lips, then he lowered his voice. "Do you think it worth the risk yet? When they are discovered, we will all be implicated in their…situation."

Hild looked desperately from Lord Krise to Kasyl, but he had been checked violently before for meddling, and his station kept him in silence while he bit his lips and watched blood dribble onto the mosaic stone floor.

Lord Krise stepped closer to Kasyl and leaned in, “Are you sure this isn’t an imprudent attempt to further your political sentients?”

Kasyl jerked his head toward Krise, “Sentiments?” He looked offended. "My sentiments, are no different than anyone else's here or in Corovnica.” He took a deep breath, “Iubeste libertate! They will find her if she stays. They will find Hild too. No one is safe anymore. Even the Upper Boundary faces the biggest threat we’ve seen in decades.” 

Lord Krise turned with a sigh, "You well know that if the Lord Verganos finds out who Hild is…the Segaeta could dispose of my entire bloodline. I beg you to reconsider your involvement in this scandal."

Hild could abstain no longer. “What are you talking about? What scandal? Who is Verganos?”

Kasyl ignored Hild. “Scandal? Krise, the lives of two innocents are at stake. They are our own. This is not a scandal. This is a revolution. And why do you think I chose to employ Hild in this household and Razya with me? Because you were sympathetic once too. What do you want? Just let the Segaeta handle it? Keep the rules? Do what we’ve done for decades? Don’t turn your back on me now, Krise.” Kasyl’s voice shook. “Not right now.”

Lord Krise wrung his hands, “Oh Kasyl, don’t think I don’t care. Things have changed, but I haven’t forgotten old friendships.”

“They were more than friendships," Kasyl growled.

Lord Krise considered for a moment. “Alright.” He nodded and walked slowly toward the tall windows. “The wind. It is picking up. It usually blows in from the east. It is blowing in from the south.” He looked at Kasyl intently, “from the south Kasyl.”

Kasyl nodded, "Thank you, Krise." He turned back to Hild. "I know you have. But you must leave here before certain events make it impossible. I will give you a map that will lead you straight to Mijloc-Teren."

Hild stared at a droplet of blood that wriggled down his arm. “How will I survive in the desert, sir? Everyone knows the stories of the Noapte tribes.”

Kasyl grinned. “Like rumors, stories serve a purpose.” Kasyl dabbed the gaping cut once more and thanked the servant for the supplies. Hild squeezed his eyes shut and chewed his lip while Kasyl pressed the dressing over his wound. “This should hold until your skin can bind itself.”

Hild cast a worried glance at his master. “I am so sorry, sir. I fear that I brought the wrath of the empire down on this household.”

Lord Krise nodded, “You’ve been a good servant and I wish we weren’t parting on these terms.”

Kasyl helped Hild out of his seat and pulled a folded sul from his cloak. On the back, he scrawled a few words with a pană and black ink. “I hear Lord Krise allowed you to train in the ways of a warrior. Rumor has it that your skills could contend with even a Taolee guard. That will serve its purpose in the future.” He folded the sul and tucked it into Hild’s sheepskin vest. “Wait until you are in the Lower Boundary before reading your map, and pay attention to the instructions. Kasyl pulled Hild toward him and stared intently into his eyes. “He’ll find you…before they find you.”

“Who will?” Hild asked. “Who is he? Who are they? Why can’t I know anything? And if they…whoever they are, don’t find me? And what if I should be caught by the Segaeta or perish in the desert? I beg of you to explain.” Hild looked at his shoes. “And what of Razya? Are you sending her away as well? What did she do?”

 Kasyl’s hands were still on Hild’s shoulders, “All…and I repeat all you can know right now, is that you are a servant, escaping Buclaminta for a crime. You will need plenty of dried rations and water. Also, weapons.” Kasyl grabbed Hild’s shoulders and nodded, “Do not lose your map. And go easy on that horse. Hild nodded. It was clear that no manner of imploring would get him any answers. “They will find you. I promise. Now go with speed and don’t look back.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

TWELVE TOLLS

 

In his youth, Hild had pretended adventures that included the impossible feat of leaving the borders of Buclaminta and riding his horse as far west as the south would go before reaching the Mavi Sea. But as he and Tineri trotted away from the estate, his center tightened with fear of a journey whose outcome held in its palm, the dangerous unknown.

With a wounded arm, swollen eyes, and a broken nose, Hild would have to tread carefully through the boundaries. He was in no shape to take on an intoxicated Kadai guard or a thief from the Lower Boundary.

The Kadai mistreated anyone with less authority, and especially those with sandy hair and complexions from the north countries. They were the enemy, painted that way by the posts and letters that circulated Buclaminted. Hild wondered if the posts in Corovnica and the north countries said the same of Buclamians.

               Tineri and Hild passed the damson orchards, and hayfields, this time going south instead of north. The terrain was still just as beautiful but seeing it made Hild sober, knowing it could be the last time he laid eyes on his homeland.

               The damson plum trees’ branches drooped low under the ripened dark fruit, waiting for the harvest. The first in two decades, that Hild would miss. The damson’s looked like they could sense his burden of being uprooted.

               A few stray edelweisses extended their cottony heads at the top of a long, powdery green stem. The pillowy white leaves formed a star around dozens of tiny yellow floret clusters. They would stay behind, silently watching the sun and looking over Buclaminta from their seemingly insignificant perch.

               Far to the west, the estate of Sheehan Kasyl, stood majestically surrounded by more fruit orchards and rectangular plots of alfalfa dotted with the occasional grove of old pines, pillars of the fields, too regal to fall under the ax and plow.

               How many times had Hild transected that field by foot and horse, and watched her run toward him in her hand-embroidered rubakha? He recalled Razya’s bristly expression when he mocked her superstitions that the rich patterns on her skirt kept the evil eye from seeing her.

               Her dark hair flowed out behind like the mane of a Danube horse. Some days she would wear a white embroidered eşarfă but mostly preferred flowered garlands with ribbons to show off her unrivaled dark hair. Though unmarried, she had come of age, and in contradiction of her youthful ways, she insisted on wearing a ponyova skirt to accentuate her maturity.

               She was a servant, a sclavă because she had no family ties, but she never fit the mold of servitoare the way Hild did, because, beyond the task of shining the silver and kneading bread, she was a misplaced goddess.

               Razya worked hard at her tasks, though her mind was somewhat absent, and she empathized deeply with others. Hild noticed that she often detected human emotion before the bearer realized it themselves. She was a misunderstood creature. Not a guileful bone inhabited her body, but she had strange habits. A conversation with Razya could suddenly veer directions and heaven bless the being who kept up with her diverges.

               Hild smiled and a laugh escaped his lips, but his chest ached as he thought of her, worried for her. Those eyes, one green and one blue, as though part of her came from a different world. He couldn’t shake her from his mind, he never could.

               What would Razya think when she discovered he was gone, and that she would soon follow? No doubt she would hear of his absence from the cooks in the bucătărie first. Would she cry? Razya never cried. She only hid. She could hide for days. Then she would run up the stairs of her mind and appear as nothing had happened.

               Razya was a paradox to Hild, and he could never decide if he was desperately in love with her or intensely protective of her, like a child sibling. She was quite a bit younger than him but more than once he had considered attempting to break through their friendship and try to be more for her. Something about her presence gave him a feeling of augmented self-worth and capacity.

               He watched with anguish as the white estate home, with Razya inside, grew smaller and smaller, then disappeared from the obstructed horizon.

               The tamped cobbled road led him through the Upper and Middle boundary without any problems, then toward the Lower Boundary piaţă and behind dirty rows of clay and wooden huts with thatched, grassy roofs and tiny, gray windows. A few dusty faces peeked out curiously.

               Hild kept his head bowed past a group of Kadai guards. One turned and his eyes narrowed at Tineri. Hild blew all the air out his chest and tried to look unsuspecting. He kept glancing at his clean, new cămaşa. From his side vision, Hild saw the Kadai step away from the group and watch Hild and Tineri work their way through the crowds.

               The main piaţă was filled with bodies that made a steady pace impossible, but the clutter of people and noise kept Hild from piquing anyone's interest. He checked behind him periodically for the Kadai that had taken notice of Tineri.

               Greasy fowl pecked at garbage and debris on dirt pathways that led out of the main square, and ragged children played the game of little rabbits in the street. They shouted, Iepuraș! Iepuraș! And laughed out loud while dancing in a circle.

As he neared the farthest of the Lower Boundary squares and passed the last circle of Kadai guards, he observed that most of the houses looked abandoned or had become home to dratters, the lowest commoners in the boundary system. Dratters are rumored to carry disease and the Kadai often harass and even hunt them for sport.

In an empty square in the lowest quarter of the boundary, Hild dismounted and let Tineri drink from a murky trough.

He felt he was being watched, but dismissed it as nerves. Hild paused and listened for footsteps or horse’s hooves, but only heard the humming wind that searched along the dirt roads.

Tineri was looking over Hild's shoulder when hears pricked forward. A strong arm jerked Hild around, squeezing the still-fresh wound. Hild hollered and tried to fight off the offender, but his head spun in pain and bewilderment. The man wore a dark hooded suman that buried his features in its shadow.

Hild squinted through his black eye and swung at the assailant with a good arm but was met with a fist in the jaw and a boot in the knee. The man shoved Hild to the ground and hit him across the face with a rock, then searched through Hild’s vest until his thieving fingers discovered the sul. The assaulter yanked it open and turned it over in his hands.

“Hey!” A man shouted, and the thief threw the sul in Hild’s face and disappeared around a building.

Hild rolled over and groaned and breathed into the dusty ground. Fresh blood dripped down his temple and his bandaged arm was warm and wet beneath the cattle gum binding. The map tried to flit away from his grasp, but Hild reached feebly and pressed it between the ground and two battered fingers.

 Gasping, he rolled over and took deep breaths, gathering his senses. The man blocked the sun as he looked down at Hild. He was older, with a rugged face and dusty gray whiskers. “You can’t seem to make any friends today, laddy. Though I praise ye for not fearing to beard the lion by leaving Buclaminta.” The man looked over at Tineri. “I’m surprised the thief didn’t steal yer horse.” The man cocked his head toward Tineri.”

“I’m not leaving and don’t touch my horse, dratter!”   

“It’s not nice to call people names.” The man said in a strange accent, then he reached down and grabbed the front neck of Hild’s pieptar and pulled him to his feet. “What have ye got there?”

Hild tried to jerk free but the man was unusually strong and he put a finger to his lips and then plucked the sul from Hild’s blood-stained hands.

“I don’t have any money.” Hild choked on the words and he tried to see straight. “Now give me my parchment or I’ll be forced to hurt you.”

The man nodded, "Ye aren't in the best shape." He turned the sul over in his hands, "Ye wouldn't be down this way with that cal if ye knew what was the better for ye." He walked to Tineri and rubbed his dirty hands along her shoulders and flanks. "Strong hindquarters. About fifteen hands. She's a courser. Bred for a soldier." The man smiled at Hild. "You’re not a soldier."

Hild was still recovering his breath. He hunched forward, as straight as he could stand, and clutched his wounded arm. “Give me my map!”

The man held it out of reach and clucked at the blood on Hild's cămaşa. "I'm not afraid of ye. I can tell ye how to escape if ye like?"

Hild looked around and then back at the dratter. “No one leaves Buclaminta. Now give me my map.”

“Ah, ye mean ye weren’t planning on escaping?” The man jested, “Maybe ye were just doin some tradin in the piaţă…except that the piaţă is that way.”

“Give it to me!" Hild lunged for the map but the man pulled a dagger with a strange black hilt out of his cloak. Hild had never seen the equal. The stranger flipped it casually then pointed it at Hild's throat.

“Wait until the bell tolls at the top of the day, when all Kadai and commoners face the Upper Boundary, and pay homage to the throne of our beloved Impărat Shaktus, then just walk through the open gates.”

"Just walked through? No one will see me? You are a fool, and the gates are chained and guarded."

The stranger sniggered and shook his head. “I never said that no one would see ya. But the gates are never chained and never guarded.” He folded the sul and slapped it against Hild’s chest. “They don’t need to be guarded. People believe what they hear…disease, monsters, evil eyes, tribes of half-humans ready to rape, murder and, plunder! It’s the Segaeta you need to worry about. Once you’re through the gates, that’s when the fun begins. The sealg! The hunt!”

The man's eyes widened, "If they catch ye, they will drag your body back through the desert and the streets of Buclaminta.” The man paused, “Do you know why the sands encroached and engulfed the fertile lands for centuries? Do you know why people disappear? Do you know what Buclaminta means, laddy?”

Hild shook his head, “Why does it matter? Who are you anyway?”

The man then leaned forward until Hild could see the tiny red veins in the whites of his eyes. “Buclaminta…means mind loop. Paradigm!”

He stared at Hild whose mind was weaving its way around the words. “It wasn’t always called that. They say the evil eyes see everything, hear everything, and control everything…including the sands.”

The dratter straightened. “When you reach the gates, laddy, ride as fast as you can toward the first rise of the desert. Guide the reins west.” The dratter shoved a gnarly finger toward Hild. “Not toward Mijloc-Teren! Everyone heads for the villages and them are caught!” The dratter jerked Hild’s cămaşa toward him again, “The wind is picking up. It is blowing in from the south. Usually, it blows in from the east. So, you will go west!”

“I was told to go straight toward Mijloc-Teren!” Hild snarled, “You still haven’t told me who you are. Why should I listen to you anyway?”

The dratter grabbed the sul again and shoved it into Hild’s face. “Because you were told not to! Not always safe to speak yer mind in the upper-loop.”

Hild grabbed the wrinkled sul and straightened it out. It wasn’t a map at all. Just a layout of the orchards in Kasyl’s estate in the Upper Boundary, and on the other side, scrawled in black ink, were the words:

Goathan a deas! Winds from the south…do what the dratter says.

Good luck!

Kasyl

The dratter stabbed at the map with his finger, “Goathan means winds, warrior clans. They’re coming from the south. Stay ahead of them!”

“This is all crazy! How did you – I have to go.” Hild shoved the sul into his vest and pulled himself onto Tineri.

The dratter slipped a crisp, folded, parchment from his cloaks. He handed it to Hild. “A Hartă. A real map, not a decoy." He winked at Hild. “Once you’ve lost the clans, dismount yer steed and send her back. You’ll ruin her in the desert.”

“I know how to tend a horse.” Hild closed his eyes and shook his head. He didn’t know what to think. He had waited his whole life for the moment he would leave the boundaries, but he had always imagined himself leaving amid the ranks of Buclaminta’s vast army. Now he would be hunted by them.

 “Thanks for the advice, I suppose. And I'm sorry I was so hostile. I don't know who to trust yet.” Hild offered the man a few strips of meat and a handful of damson plums out of good measure. He refused, which Hild found as strange as the man knowing such details about horse conformation.

“Fer now, Hild, ye can trust yer horse. Now, I need to go create a distraction, if ye don’t mind. Otherwise, you’ll be food for the lentor cats by tonight. Good luck to ye, Tineri!” The man ducked out of sight behind a row of buildings.

Hild frowned. Lentor cats are from legend, but after the events of today, he wouldn’t be surprised at anything.

He waited near a dirty trough in the last square of the lowest boundary until the sun was high. He pulled the folded map out of his vest and opened it. It was handmade with beautiful details, calligraphy, and scrollwork in rich greens, blues, and reds. The inks were expensive and imported and would only be used on important documents.

He found the locations of Mijloc-Teren, the Lac Soras, or Sister Lakes, and the legendary settlement of Zbura. His finger followed the path through the Desert Noapte and far away to Corovnica, a twenty-day journey. Hild took a deep breath and tucked the sul away in his vest, then meandered toward the crumbling outer wall.

His shoulder hung stiff and awkward and blood seeped around the seams of the cattle gum. His head pulsed from being smashed with the rock. He touched the tip of his fingers to the tender bulge above his eye. Blood had dried stiffly and around his swollen eyelid.

The bells pealed and jolted his senses. He looked about him, but nothing was present except for scavenging fowl. “Eleven tolls left.” He breathed and steadied Tineri.

At the sixth toll, Hild looked across the desert toward the horizon where the heat made the orange sands swell and ripple like waves. He looked back up the mountain toward the grand palat that housed the Impărat Shaktus. Its windows, like eyes, glowered down upon Buclaminta.

The seventh toll reverberated and Hild shortened the reins until Tineri started backing up. Hild leaned back and put his weight on her hindquarters. Tineri read what was coming. He waited for the eighth toll and then leaned forward until he was over Tineri's neck and he could smell the sweat and dirt on her coat and sense her readiness as he balanced, a slight tension on the reins. He wrapped some mane in his fingers then barely squeezed his lower calf and kicked his heels into Tineri’s girth. Tineri set back on her haunches, then launched forward into a gallop straight toward the barrier wall

From behind, the ninth toll hovered like a warning cry, and Hild waited for the sound of the tenth until all sounds of the streets of Buclaminta were drowned out by the forceful wind and pounding hooves that forced Hild toward the fiery sun on the horizon.

 

 

                                                           

 

 

         

 

 

inta. You have the looks of a Corovnican. You know how much we hate your kind here. Good for nothing foreigners.”

“I’ve lived here my entire life. I’m as much a Buclamian as you are.”

 The Kadai turned his horse in a circle around Hild, and studied Tineri. “What are you doing on a horse like that anyway? Steal it did you? Now, clean up the mess you made on this path before I make it bigger.”

Hild wiped his nose on his sleeve and reached for his duffle to replace the scattered fruits. He tried to steady his breath and keep anger from corrupting his calm façade. He put the leather strap across his chest and kicked dirt and pebbles over the dark red puddle. Blood dangled in a stream from Hild’s nose and chin as he re-mounted Tineri.

The Kadai gaped at Hild. “Are you deaf, slave boy? I asked if you know your place?”

Hild knew insubordination always comes at a price, but he never mastered the ability to bridle his frustrations with the imperial guards. Hild grinned, “As a matter of fact, I am partially deaf. Would you mind repeating your question…in the right ear?”

The Kadai’s mouth hovered open, and his face went as red as simca. “This could cost you your life in the Upper Boundary, slave boy. How does a trip through the desert to the Floarelands sound?”

Hild watched the Kadai edge closer and raise his sword above his head. His round, manic eyes were pinned beneath greasy hair, and he looked at Hild with repulsion. In a split second of raw reflex, Hild ducked and deflected the blow with his arm, then lunged at the Kadai. He jerked on the Kadai’s vesta and they rolled off their horses and hit the dusty road. The Kadai scrambled for his sword, but before he could steady himself, Hild rammed him with his shoulder. The Kadai stumbled and fell between two firs, down a steep embankment and into a grove of boulders nestled in craggy trees.

Hild's insides coiled at the sight of the body, barely moving, far below. "What have I done?" He whispered, squeezing his wounded arm. Blood soaked through his gauzy, white cămaşa and trickled through his fingers. He unwound the leather chimir from his waist and tightened it above the wound. With his good arm, he pulled himself onto Tineri, spun her on her hindquarters, and urged her into a gallop toward home.

The Krise estate sat on a series of rolling, pale-green hills dotted with the pinks and purples of cornflowers and wild thyme. On one end of the field, a forest of black locusts and new scots pines bordered the hayfields, and patches of sun zig-zagged between squirrely branches. On the northern border was a damson plum orchard whose dark fruits had just finished ripening.

A wooden cart and an old pony stood idly in the bordering field near several shirtless men who worked their scythes against the flowering alfalfa. A few children knelt by the forest edge gathering mushrooms and herbs into leather satchels and woven baskets.

As he rode onto the lawn of the estate, Hild recognized a horse being prepared by the stable help. The horse belonged to Razya's master, a Sheehan Warrior named Kasyl, from the neighboring estate. He must have shared a late breakfast with Hild's master, Lord Krise. Hild had worried all the way home about Lord Krise’s reaction to Hild’s incident on the path, but Hild felt certain that Sheehan Kasyl would know how to help. Hild had always shown favor with the Sheehan, who was known in Buclaminta as a kind and distinguished sovereign, unlike many Sheehan Lords.

 

Hild urged Tineri toward the flower-encased veranda by the back door of the mess hall. He handed the reigns to the shocked, young attendant in a sweat-stained linen cămaşa and ran through the bucătărie, tossing the satchel of fruits and dried meat onto a floured, wooden table. It was baking day and several kitchen maids busied themselves around the hot wall ovens.

As he turned down the hallway toward the dining room, Hild slammed into Antal, the head servitor. The silver tavă with empty tsuica glasses clattered to the floor and shattered at Hild's and Antal’s feet.

“La Neida! Hild!” Antal grabbed Hild’s shirt front and shoved him against a wall. “What the devil is the matter with you?” Antal noticed the blood. “What happened and where are you headed in such a rush? You clearly need a medic.” Antal released Hild, his eyes widened and blinked at the soaked chimir on Hild’s cămaşa.

“I don’t have time Antal. I have to speak to Lord Krise, and I must see Sheehan Kasyl immediately.” Hild started toward the dining hall again.

Short, stout, and bossy, Antal hurried behind, tugging at Hild’s cămaşa, “No you don’t!” He spat, angrily. “You will see the physician first, and you will not disturb the master’s mic dejun! Hild!”

“I’m sorry Antal, this is urgent. They will understand.”

The valet jumped back, stunned, when Hild practically fell through the double doors of the dining room. “Hild wait!” He said in a harsh whisper.

Antal had caught up by now. “Hild if you enter that room –”

Lord Krise and Kasyl turned at the sound of commotion at the dining hall doors. The caramel sweet notes of tsuica plumb brandy permeated the air. On the long, ebony dining table, sat a tinned copper ewer etched in geometric designs. Two platters of mamaliga and late summer vegetables sat half-eaten beside a chalice of warm, ciorba sour soup.

At the sight of blood on Hild’s clothes, Lord Krise and Kasyl shoved themselves away from the table and hurried to his side.

“Hild, what the hell happened?” Lord Krise asked. They steadied Hild and lowered him into a wooden, round-backed chair.

“I’m sorry for disturbing your breakfast, Lord Krise.” Hild breathed. He wasted no time explaining. He knew an infraction against the emperor’s guards, even a lowly Kadai, would be dangerous. “I might have killed him. I didn’t mean to do it. What do I do now?”

“Let’s address your wounds before we discuss what we’re going to do.” Lord Krise snapped. “A servant could be hung for this, or worse.”

“Let me take a look at your arm.” Kasyl knelt beside Hild, then he chuckled, “Disturbing an unusually late mic dejun is not a punishable crime. But you got yourself into some serious trouble today, didn’t you? Not hard to do with the Kadai these days. Especially if you look like you’re from Corovnica or the north countries. You are not a foolish boy like many, and I’m sure you were provoked.”

“It’s true, he threatened my life.” Hild clenched his teeth as Kasyl loosened the soaked chimir from Hild’s arm.

The carved double doors of the dining room burst open once again and Reinick, Lord Krise's oldest son, strode into the room and slammed the heavy doors behind him. He carried a bow, and a quiver was secured on his back. He peeked around the green-on-white, embroidered damask drapes that framed one of three tall windows. "What's going on?" He spoke gruffly as he walked to Hild. "I was out riding and I heard rumors of a possible murder. Here you are bleeding."

Lord Krise touched Reinick’s arm. “It was an accident, but Hild is responsible.”

Hild squeezed the seat of the chair while he spoke, “We could get help for the soldier. I’m not sure he’s dead.”

Reinick gaped at Hild, “Get help for a Kadai? You should have finished him off, and sent his body down into the forests." He turned to Lord Krise, "Father, we don’t need any more attention from the Segaeta,” he growled. "We've already broken the law by teaching Hild to fight."

Kasyl jerked his head toward Reinick. “Hild is a servant and he will not likely escape prosecution no matter how thorough our attentions. But they have no reason to pay any attention to you, Reinick.”

“Father, whatever Kasyl believes, you know this could implicate the entire family. What did he do? We all know he’s inept, but clumsiness doesn’t usually lead to murdering a soldier.”

Kasyl stood to his full height. "He did nothing wrong in defending himself. The Kadai guards are loose with the rules at best." Kasyl turned back to Hild, and said solemnly, "There are always witnesses though, remember that. Nothing goes unseen or unpunished in Buclaminta or Corovnica."

Reinick scoffed, "Corovnica." He muttered, rolling his eyes. "A degenerate, worthless kingdom of less-than-humans." He cast a glance on Hild, "They should be crushed like struguri for wine. Perhaps they should all be Sifted.”

Hild bit his lip and glared back at Reinick, who had always hated Hild for being given charge of the fine horses. Hild was better at breaking them than Reinick, everyone knew that, but Reinick hated him for his complexion too. Most Buclamians felt the same, with the circulation of rumors about Corovnicans starting a war.

Kasyl cast a glance of condescension, "Not only are you off point and very naïve, but you are swift with your tongue. It's clear that you know little about politics and cultures beyond our own."

Reinick replaced his bow on his back, “With the deepest respect sir, I have fought them face-to-face, and we know exactly what Corovnicans are made of. And when they arrive for war, their blood will run through our streets like rivers.”

"Hold your tongue Reinick." His father reproached him.

Kasyl shook his head and began tearing Hild’s cămaşa just above the wound. “It’s not as deep as I thought.” He turned and called to the valet, “I need hot water, miere brut, and cattle gum for binding. Oh, and bring me writing utensils as well, please.” The servant nodded and hurried out of the room. Kasyl glanced at Krise, “We don’t have time for the physician and I don’t believe we need any more eyes on this situation, don’t you agree? This will certainly get the attention of the Segaeta though. I believe the time has come for certain individuals to leave Buclaminta.” Kasyl said darkly.

Lord Krise looked hard at Kasyl and then at his son, “I need to speak privately to Sheehan Kasyl.”

“Father?” Reinick growled.

“Leave!” Krise shouted.

Reinick stomped toward the entrance of the dining hall. He glanced back at Hild, then slammed the doors, leaving a loud echo behind.

 “I thought we’d have a little more time to prepare, but she must go too. They both must go.” Kasyl continued. “Tonight, if possible. Once they start hunting for Hild, they’ll look for her next.”

“What? Who?” Hild asked. Who must leave?”

Krise pursed his lips, then he lowered his voice. "Do you think it worth the risk yet? When they are discovered, we will all be implicated in their…situation."

Hild looked desperately from Lord Krise to Kasyl, but he had been checked violently before for meddling, and his station kept him in silence while he bit his lips and watched blood dribble onto the mosaic stone floor.

Lord Krise stepped closer to Kasyl and leaned in, “Are you sure this isn’t an imprudent attempt to further your political sentients?”

Kasyl jerked his head toward Krise, “Sentiments?” He looked offended. "My sentiments, are no different than anyone else's here or in Corovnica.” He took a deep breath, “Iubeste libertate! They will find her if she stays. They will find Hild too. No one is safe anymore. Even the Upper Boundary faces the biggest threat we’ve seen in decades.” 

Lord Krise turned with a sigh, "You well know that if the Sheehan Verganos finds out who Hild is…the Segaeta could dispose of my entire bloodline. I beg you to reconsider your involvement in this scandal."

Hild could abstain no longer. “What are you talking about? What scandal? Who is Verganos?”

Kasyl ignored Hild. “Scandal? Krise, the lives of two innocents are at stake. They are our own. This is not a scandal. This is a revolution. And why do you think I chose to employ Hild in this household and Razya with me? Because you were sympathetic once too. What do you want? Just let the Segaeta handle it? Keep the rules? Do what we’ve done for decades? Don’t turn your back on me now, Krise.” Kasyl’s voice shook. “Not right now.”

Lord Krise wrung his hands, “Oh Kasyl, don’t think I don’t care. Things have changed, but I haven’t forgotten old friendships.”

“They were more than friendships," Kasyl growled.

 

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Hi Laura! Thanks for posting. Your writing is lovely, and I'm extremely intrigued by the world you're building here. I love the part with the Kadai guard--it shows immediately whom we should be sympathizing with. I have just a few suggestions, and do take them with several grains of salt as I'm still learning as well: 

-I want to live in this place, it sounds so beautiful (minus the slavery and cruel imperial guards, of course). Your descriptions are absolutely gorgeous. It might not be the most riveting way to start the chapter though. 

-Razya is mostly introduced through Hild thinking of her. It hints that Hild cares for her, and I like that, but the flashes to her feel the tiniest bit out of place.

-Hild knows that insubordination always comes at a price, yet he displays insolence to the Kadai. Maybe you could say that he knows insubordination always comes at a price, but he can't resist being mouthy?

-After kicking the Kadai down the hill, Hild rushes to reach the estate, presumably to alert Lord Krise to what has just happened. Obviously this wasn't his original plan as he wasn't planning on accidentally hurting/killing a Kadai, so I'm not sure what he was doing at first. 

-The end section with the conversation is a bit confusing and passive--I'm having trouble distinguishing all of the characters, and it doesn't seem like Hild is doing much more than just standing there and listening to them squabble. I understand that the conversation is meant to do some world-building, but maybe you can throw in some more thoughts/actions by Hild during it. The dialogue might flow better too if Lord Krise & co don't say "Hild" every time they address him. 

Thanks again for posting! I truly enjoyed reading your first chapter. If you ever need a beta reader, I'd be happy to do that for you. Unrelated, but I love the name Hild for some wild reason. 

Have an amazing day : )

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Hild was reminded of stories of desert tribes and unmarked paths across dangerous territories, but only warriors leave Buclaminta, and only the best return. Hild sighed.

I'm not sure why you changed tenses here "only warriors leave Buclaminta." It reads better to me to keep it in past tense. "only warriors left Buclaminta, and only the best of them returned" something like that. Also, I get from reading your opening that Hild is sighing because he is not a warrior but a slave and therefore cannot leave (is that right?) but I don't think that comes across alone. Could you put here something about how he's a slave? "only warriors left Buclaminta, and Hild was not a warrior" even would help.

 

The lowest boundary is for beggars, slave.

I'm a little confused about this. I thought at first he was in some sort of city and that there was a lower ring reserved for beggars, but then I was like no, he's on a mountain, but he's going up, he's ascending, so why does the guard tell him that the lowest boundary is for slaves?

The entire confrontation between Hild and the Kadai guard seemed almost too personal to me. The way they were interacting it felt like there should be some history between them, like this wasn't the first time Hild had confronted this guard, but the way it's written I don't see that. There needs to be something to explain each of their motivations at any rate. Why does Hild mouth off to this guard and fight back if he's just a slave? Right now it seems just to kick off the story, that there's no inherent logic to his actions. Like I said, I feel like this interaction would make a lot more sense if this Kadai guard and Hild had a hostile back and forth generally and this one time it got out of hand.

 

How does a trip through the desert to the Floarelands sound?

I am intrigued, trying to figure out how a trip through the desert to the Floarelands would be a punishment. Is it some ritual that slaves can be put through?

 

 Hild ducked and deflected the blow with his arm, then lunged toward the Kadai. Hild and the soldier rolled off their horses and hit the dusty road.

I don't ride horses so maybe this kind of jumping off of horses is imminently possible but it strikes me as the kind of thing a trained horseman could do. Is Hild such a trained horseman? Actually, this reminds me, does Hild own this horse? When the guard said it could cost him his horse I thought hmm Hild must be an educated or valuable or otherwise different sort of slave for him to own property himself. Is this true?

 

As he rode onto the lawn of the estate, Hild recognized a horse being tended by the stable help. Razya's face flashed through his mind at the sight. The horse belonged to the Sheehan, Kasyl, from the northwestern neighboring estate.

I don't get why Razya's face would flash through his mind. Is Razya from the northwestern neighboring estate too? I think you should include that detail in here if so. "The horse belonged… the northwestern neighboring estate where Razya lived as well" or something like that.

 

The interaction between Hild and his masters was very interesting! Totally different from what I was expecting. I feel like it explains more of the dynamic between the Kadai and Hild. I'm torn between suggesting that some of this context be included earlier so that it makes more sense when Hild has his fight "a Kadai guard, send by an enemy to patrol the lands of Hild's master" or whether the twist is better. I'm leaning towards more context/better explanation up front so Hild can be properly seen as a loyal slave of his master and just against this Kadai guard. Which would explain the horse too.

 

he dawned wavy auburn hair and a coarse beard.

I think donned is the word you're going for? Although I'm not sure how one dons hair growing on one's body.

 

Reinick scoffed, “Corovnica.” He muttered, rolling his eyes. A degenerate, worthless kingdom of less-than-humans.

I started to get confused at this point (up until the line “Hold your tongue Reinick.” His father reproached.) I think there's too much exposition. I like the line "they should all be Sifted" because it brings up obviously a main theme in your story, but introducing geopolitics at this point seems a bit too much too fast. Maybe someone can express anger at the Kadai guard saying he should be Sifted? To keep this introductory scene focused on the problem at hand?

Also, I lost sight of who Kasyl was. Is there a way to have his rank be indicated? Is he a visiting doctor? Why is he tending to a slave? The Sheehan sounds cool but it doesn't give me much of a sense of who he is compared to the other characters.

Reading a few lines ahead I see the reference "Sheehan warrior." If that could be pulled forward to the line "The horse belonged to the Sheehan warrior, Kasyl, from the northwestern neighboring estate." I think that would solve my confusion.

 

Lord Krise glanced uncomfortably between his sons and Kasyl, “I cannot. I am a simple steward, not a Sheehan warrior like yourself. I’m not equipped for much more than I already do. Kasyl, there is much at stake you know. I do implore you to reconsider your actions." He lowered his voice, "Her life here is rather comfortable, don’t you think? Are you willing to give up everything for your sentiments?”

From this paragraph on I find myself confused. There seems to be a lot of hinting about Ryaza and I think it would be better served if Hild just told us who she was. What does Ryaza have to do with politics? What does she have to do with Lord Krise being gone a lot lately? Also has everyone forgotten the Kadai guard? I think focusing on the one problem of the Kadai guard, and then maybe either introducing one more problem, like who Ryaza is/where she's been, or the kingdoms and who belongs to which kingdom, would be better. If you're going to introduce the Kadai guard I would choose to lay out who belongs to which kingdom (like the Kadai come from the Saegaeta but Hild and his masters come from XXX) and not mention Ryaza at all. Although I get that she's your main character but honestly she seems shoehorned into this first scene.

 

Conclusion: Your details are amazing. Your prose is extremely easy to read which I normally do not find to be the case when the details are so vivid. I could picture everything without getting caught up on what I was picturing. I think I struggled mostly with feeling confused with character motivation which can't be shown so I'd go on and tell us a bit more about why each character cares about what he cares about.

Question: Where is this set again? Is it secondary world fantasy?

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On 4/9/2021 at 10:42 AM, MingluJiangP6 said:

Hi Laura! Thanks for posting. Your writing is lovely, and I'm extremely intrigued by the world you're building here. I love the part with the Kadai guard--it shows immediately whom we should be sympathizing with. I have just a few suggestions, and do take them with several grains of salt as I'm still learning as well: 

-I want to live in this place, it sounds so beautiful (minus the slavery and cruel imperial guards, of course). Your descriptions are absolutely gorgeous. It might not be the most riveting way to start the chapter though. (Thanks Minglu. I was hoping that the scene where he is attacked by the guard would be close enough to be beginning to make it more interesting. Maybe I put too much "scenery" before the attack. Do you think it's too boring and I should move things around or open with more action?)

-Razya is mostly introduced through Hild thinking of her. It hints that Hild cares for her, and I like that, but the flashes to her feel the tiniest bit out of place. (I worried about that. Visions for Hild become part of the plot, but maybe out of place in the very first scene. I was hoping to introduce his relationship to her clearly before it jumps to the chapter where she escapes Buclaminta. I did change the first few paragraphs to try and amend that.)

-Hild knows that insubordination always comes at a price, yet he displays insolence to the Kadai. Maybe you could say that he knows insubordination always comes at a price, but he can't resist being mouthy? (Thanks, I tried to work on that sentence as well. Not sure I did what you were thinking needed to be done though.)

-After kicking the Kadai down the hill, Hild rushes to reach the estate, presumably to alert Lord Krise to what has just happened. Obviously this wasn't his original plan as he wasn't planning on accidentally hurting/killing a Kadai, so I'm not sure what he was doing at first. (Ok, so Hild was on his way back from the Piata -market - and stopped by the orchards for a view. I tried to clear this up as well)

-The end section with the conversation is a bit confusing and passive--I'm having trouble distinguishing all of the characters, and it doesn't seem like Hild is doing much more than just standing there and listening to them squabble. I understand that the conversation is meant to do some world-building, but maybe you can throw in some more thoughts/actions by Hild during it. The dialogue might flow better too if Lord Krise & co don't say "Hild" every time they address him. (I agree, I worked on this too. I actually deleted an entire character from the first chapter. I may even delete the brother Reinick that stomps in on them. Do you think the dialogue would be best left between Hild and the two Sheehan Lords?)

Thanks again for posting! I truly enjoyed reading your first chapter. If you ever need a beta reader, I'd be happy to do that for you. Unrelated, but I love the name Hild for some wild reason. (Thanks, I would love a beta reader, and I'm happy to do the same.)

Have an amazing day : )

 

On 4/9/2021 at 2:16 PM, JINJUP6RICHARDS said:

Hild was reminded of stories of desert tribes and unmarked paths across dangerous territories, but only warriors leave Buclaminta, and only the best return. Hild sighed.

I'm not sure why you changed tenses here "only warriors leave Buclaminta." It reads better to me to keep it in past tense. "only warriors left Buclaminta, and only the best of them returned" something like that. Also, I get from reading your opening that Hild is sighing because he is not a warrior but a slave and therefore cannot leave (is that right?) but I don't think that comes across alone. Could you put here something about how he's a slave? "only warriors left Buclaminta, and Hild was not a warrior" even would help. (Yes, wants to travel, but I didn't make that clear. I tried to work on that scene and help the reader understand his motives a little better.) 

 

The lowest boundary is for beggars, slave.

I'm a little confused about this. I thought at first he was in some sort of city and that there was a lower ring reserved for beggars, but then I was like no, he's on a mountain, but he's going up, he's ascending, so why does the guard tell him that the lowest boundary is for slaves? (You are right. That is confusing. I hope I fixed that. He is heading for home in the Upper Boundary. The elite estates. He was coming from the orchards farther down the mountain. The lowest boundary (described later) is for the commoners and also beggars.

The entire confrontation between Hild and the Kadai guard seemed almost too personal to me. The way they were interacting it felt like there should be some history between them, like this wasn't the first time Hild had confronted this guard, but the way it's written I don't see that. There needs to be something to explain each of their motivations at any rate. Why does Hild mouth off to this guard and fight back if he's just a slave? Right now it seems just to kick off the story, that there's no inherent logic to his actions. Like I said, I feel like this interaction would make a lot more sense if this Kadai guard and Hild had a hostile back and forth generally and this one time it got out of hand. (I changed this scene so that its clear that the Kadai guards have a problem with anyone lower than them. Especially anyone that looks like they are foreign. It's hard to stay out of trouble with the Kadai in Buclaminta. Their job seems to be to torment the lower classes.)

 

How does a trip through the desert to the Floarelands sound?

I am intrigued, trying to figure out how a trip through the desert to the Floarelands would be a punishment. Is it some ritual that slaves can be put through? (The Floarelands is not talked about until quite a few chapters in, but it is a forbidden topic, and there's a lot rumor and confusion surrounding the goings on of the Floarelands. But...yes, they are NOT a place anyone wants to go, especially a slave/servant.)

 

 Hild ducked and deflected the blow with his arm, then lunged toward the Kadai. Hild and the soldier rolled off their horses and hit the dusty road.

I don't ride horses so maybe this kind of jumping off of horses is imminently possible but it strikes me as the kind of thing a trained horseman could do. Is Hild such a trained horseman? Actually, this reminds me, does Hild own this horse? When the guard said it could cost him his horse I thought hmm Hild must be an educated or valuable or otherwise different sort of slave for him to own property himself. Is this true? (My sister trains horses professionally and I ended up calling her about this one, so thank you! If the horses were close enough for the guard to hit Hild, then Hild could have risen in his stirrups and lunged at the guard. I did amend the scene a little to help this. And Hild, is actually highly trained with the horses. That is one of his jobs. He was also given lots of unsanctioned warrior training, but that is discussed later in the chapter. Hild finds out very quickly that he is not the orphaned servant he thought he was, and yes, receives some privileges because of it.)

 

As he rode onto the lawn of the estate, Hild recognized a horse being tended by the stable help. Razya's face flashed through his mind at the sight. The horse belonged to the Sheehan, Kasyl, from the northwestern neighboring estate.

I don't get why Razya's face would flash through his mind. Is Razya from the northwestern neighboring estate too? I think you should include that detail in here if so. "The horse belonged… the northwestern neighboring estate where Razya lived as well" or something like that. (I fixed this scene as well. I sometimes forget that I know who everyone is, but no one else does! Razya is a servant/slave from the neighboring estate and Kasyl is her master. This was a big plot point that I changed from my original version before the conference. In my first version, Razya was the daughter of a Sheehan, but I needed that to change and it's been hard changing her entire upbringing to a servant.)

 

The interaction between Hild and his masters was very interesting! Totally different from what I was expecting. I feel like it explains more of the dynamic between the Kadai and Hild. I'm torn between suggesting that some of this context be included earlier so that it makes more sense when Hild has his fight "a Kadai guard, send by an enemy to patrol the lands of Hild's master" or whether the twist is better. I'm leaning towards more context/better explanation up front so Hild can be properly seen as a loyal slave of his master and just against this Kadai guard. Which would explain the horse too.

(I am still trying to decide how much privilege Hild should be given by his master. He is living the life of a servant in this great estate, hidden there from birth for his safety. His family is from Corovnica though, and he was the son of a very prestigious and important character we meet later on.)

he dawned wavy auburn hair and a coarse beard.

I think donned is the word you're going for? Although I'm not sure how one dons hair growing on one's body. (Yep that was bad! And you're right. Donned is not the right word.)

 

Reinick scoffed, “Corovnica.” He muttered, rolling his eyes. A degenerate, worthless kingdom of less-than-humans.

I started to get confused at this point (up until the line “Hold your tongue Reinick.” His father reproached.) I think there's too much exposition. I like the line "they should all be Sifted" because it brings up obviously a main theme in your story, but introducing geopolitics at this point seems a bit too much too fast. Maybe someone can express anger at the Kadai guard saying he should be Sifted? To keep this introductory scene focused on the problem at hand? (I agree. I think there was too much information that was unnecessary being squashed into the first chapter.)

Also, I lost sight of who Kasyl was. Is there a way to have his rank be indicated? Is he a visiting doctor? Why is he tending to a slave? The Sheehan sounds cool but it doesn't give me much of a sense of who he is compared to the other characters.

Reading a few lines ahead I see the reference "Sheehan warrior." If that could be pulled forward to the line "The horse belonged to the Sheehan warrior, Kasyl, from the northwestern neighboring estate." I think that would solve my confusion. (I tried to pull that forward for you. That was good insight.)

 

Lord Krise glanced uncomfortably between his sons and Kasyl, “I cannot. I am a simple steward, not a Sheehan warrior like yourself. I’m not equipped for much more than I already do. Kasyl, there is much at stake you know. I do implore you to reconsider your actions." He lowered his voice, "Her life here is rather comfortable, don’t you think? Are you willing to give up everything for your sentiments?”

From this paragraph on I find myself confused. There seems to be a lot of hinting about Ryaza and I think it would be better served if Hild just told us who she was. What does Ryaza have to do with politics? What does she have to do with Lord Krise being gone a lot lately? Also has everyone forgotten the Kadai guard? I think focusing on the one problem of the Kadai guard, and then maybe either introducing one more problem, like who Ryaza is/where she's been, or the kingdoms and who belongs to which kingdom, would be better. If you're going to introduce the Kadai guard I would choose to lay out who belongs to which kingdom (like the Kadai come from the Saegaeta but Hild and his masters come from XXX) and not mention Ryaza at all. Although I get that she's your main character but honestly she seems shoehorned into this first scene. (Ok, I tried to clarify some this. I agree, lots going on that is unnecessary. I was trying to get it all out before the Razya scene because we don't come back to this setting with Hild for a little while. I'll try to fit in only the most important elements and delete the rest.)

Conclusion: Your details are amazing. Your prose is extremely easy to read which I normally do not find to be the case when the details are so vivid. I could picture everything without getting caught up on what I was picturing. I think I struggled mostly with feeling confused with character motivation which can't be shown so I'd go on and tell us a bit more about why each character cares about what he cares about.

Question: Where is this set again? Is it secondary world fantasy? This is set in the distant future of Eastern Europe...this particular scene takes place on what was once Romania. They move south and west from there. I really want to use language and customs accurate to the area, but I also want to make it clear to the reader that things have changed since today, and the cultures and kingdoms have been meshed, split, re-meshed, and even the terrain and climate in areas has changed some.

Thanks so much Jinju. I appreciate your keen eye! 

 

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Thank you Jinju! I'm wondering if my first chapter is a little boring? Or at least the first scenes? 

 

CHAPTER 1

THE KADAI

 

It was just days into harvest and Hild's neck and cheeks were already stained pink from the sun. He swung the leather satchel of plums over his shoulder and glanced up at the heavy branches above-head. Blue and purple clusters of dark fruits were wreathed in curling, green leaves.

Orange rays peaked through thinning mid-morning clouds that swept across thriving green orchards and hayfields, beneath a boundless blue sky. The sight saddened Hild. How could war and ruin be so close to Buclaminta and the beauty of harvest still abound? He wondered if there would even be a harvest next year.

While Hild stood enjoying the view, a brief vision materialized in his mind. It was Razya, standing in the damson plum orchard beside him, as she had done a thousand times. Her dark hair framed her face and shoulders. She turned and her eyes seemed to pierce right through his. The vision vanished and Hild took a deep breath. He had thought of her a lot lately, though they hadn't seen each other in days. Harvest had kept all the servants busy.

Tineri pressed her velvety nose through stray patches of alfalfa to find the sweet new grass. Hild swung himself onto the dapple-gray mare and patted her neck. She read his slight shift in the saddle and stepped through the orchard toward the stone-paved trail that wound between the elite Upper Boundary estates of the kingdom of Buclaminta.

Sour cherries and fresh fowl meat from the local piaţă jostled in the leather dublari at Tineri's haunches. Hild had been sent by the head bucatar in search of the best fruits and cuts in the market. He hoped to see Razya when he returned to the orchards that afternoon, and discuss the rumors he'd heard in the village.

As they ascended the mountain path along the steep edge of a rugged cliff, Hild could see the rippling terrain of the Desert Noapte, like a glassy, orange sea in the distance. Hild was reminded of stories of desert tribes and unmarked paths across dangerous territories, but only warriors would leave Buclaminta, and only the best would return. Hild sighed. He had been bereft of family ties early in life and was born with one deaf ear, which made him unsuitable for proper warrior training. Although, with recent threats from the western kingdom of Corovnica, they might conscript anyone.

Lush, green dog-rose bushes climbed the trunks of silver poplars, and thin rays of sun crept through a network of branches, creating a spectacular mosaic of buttery light on the path.

While Hild was distracted by the landscape, a mounted Kadai guard appeared unexpectedly on the path in front of him. Both horses arched and shied away with flared nostrils.

“La naiba! Stupid boy.” the Kadai yelled, unsheathing his sword. “Watch where you’re going.”

Hild could smell the strong scent of tsuica on the Kadai's breath. "I'm sorry sir, I didn't see you." He lowered his head.

But the ill-tempered Kadai was not satisfied. The guard tilted his head back and spit on Hild’s face. Heat rushed to Hild’s cheeks and he made the critical mistake of wiping the spittle with his hand and glancing up as the soldier passed.

Before he could react, the Kadai slammed his sword hilt into the bridge of Hild’s nose. Hild arced backward off of Tineri and hit the ground. Blood trickled into the back of Hild’s throat, and he sat up coughing and spat bitter saliva onto the dirt.

“Don’t raise your head to me.” The Kadai shouted. “Do you know your place now, slave boy? You know how much we hate your kind. Good for nothing foreigners! What are you doing on a horse like that anyway? Steal it did you? Now, clean up the mess you made on this path before I make it bigger.”

Hild wiped his nose on his sleeve and reached for his duffle to replace the scattered fruits. He tried to steady his breath and keep anger from corrupting his calm façade. He put the leather strap across his chest and kicked dirt and pebbles over the dark red puddle. Blood dangled in a stream from Hild’s nose and chin as he re-mounted Tineri.

The Kadai gaped at Hild. “Are you deaf, slave boy? I asked if you know your place?”

Hild knew insubordination always comes at a price, but he never mastered the ability to bridle his frustrations with the imperial guards. Hild grinned, “As a matter of fact, I am partially deaf. Would you mind repeating your question…in the right ear?”

The Kadai’s mouth hovered open, and his face went as red as simca. “This could cost you your life in the Upper Boundary, slave boy. How does a trip through the desert to the Floarelands sound?”

Hild watched the Kadai edge closer and raise his sword above his head. His round, manic eyes were pinned beneath greasy hair, and he looked at Hild with repulsion. In a split second of raw reflex, Hild ducked and deflected the blow with his arm, then lunged at the Kadai. He jerked on the Kadai’s vesta and they rolled off their horses and hit the dusty road. The Kadai scrambled for his sword, but before he could steady himself, Hild rammed him with his shoulder. The Kadai stumbled and fell between two firs, down a steep embankment and into a grove of boulders nestled in craggy trees.

Hild's insides coiled at the sight of the body, barely moving, far below. "What have I done?" He whispered, squeezing his wounded arm. Blood soaked through his gauzy, white cămaşa and trickled through his fingers. He unwound the leather chimir from his waist and tightened it above the wound. With his good arm, he pulled himself onto Tineri, spun her on her hindquarters, and urged her into a gallop.

The Krise estate sat on a series of rolling, pale-green hills dotted with the pinks and purples of cornflowers and wild thyme. On one end of the field, a forest of black locusts and new scots pines bordered the hayfields, and patches of sun zig-zagged between squirrely branches. On the northern border was a damson plum orchard whose dark fruits had just finished ripening.

A wooden cart and an old pony stood idly in the bordering field near several shirtless men who worked their scythes against the flowering alfalfa. A few children knelt by the forest edge gathering mushrooms and herbs into leather satchels and woven baskets.

As he rode onto the lawn of the estate, Hild recognized a horse being prepared by the stable help. The horse belonged to Razya's master, a Sheehan Warrior named Kasyl, from the neighboring estate. He must have shared a late breakfast with Hild's master, Lord Krise. Hild had always shown favor with Sheehan Kasyl and pleaded in his mind that Kasyl would know how to help.

 

 

                                                            CHAPTER 2

                                                      SHEEHAN KASYL

 

Hild urged Tineri toward the flower-encased veranda by the back door of the mess hall. He handed the reigns to the shocked, young attendant in a sweat-stained linen cămaşa.

Hild practically fell through the double doors of the dining room. The caramel sweet notes of tsuica plumb brandy permeated the air. On the long, ebony dining table, sat a tinned copper ewer etched in geometric designs. Two platters of mamaliga and late summer vegetables sat half-eaten beside a chalice of warm, ciorba sour soup.

At the sight of blood on Hild’s clothes, Lord Krise and Kasyl shoved themselves away from the table and hurried to his side.

“Hild, what the hell happened?” Lord Krise asked. They steadied Hild and lowered him into a wooden, round-backed chair.

“I’m sorry for disturbing your breakfast, Lord Krise.” Hild breathed. He wasted no time explaining. He knew an infraction against the emperor’s guards, even a lowly Kadai, would be dangerous. “I might have killed him. I didn’t mean to do it. What do I do now?”

“Let’s address your wounds before we discuss what we’re going to do.” Lord Krise snapped. “A servant could be hung for this, or worse.”

“Let me take a look at your arm.” Kasyl knelt beside Hild, then he chuckled, “Disturbing an unusually late mic dejun is not a punishable crime. But you got yourself into some serious trouble today, didn’t you? Not hard to do with the Kadai these days. Especially if you look like you’re from Corovnica or the northern regions. You are not a foolish boy like many, and I’m sure you were provoked.”

“It’s true, he threatened my life.” Hild clenched his teeth as Kasyl loosened the soaked chimir from Hild’s arm.

The carved double doors of the dining room burst open and Reinick, Lord Krise's oldest son, strode into the room and slammed the heavy doors behind him. He carried a bow, and a quiver was secured on his back. He peaked around the green-on-white, embroidered damask drapes that framed one of three tall windows. "What's going on?" He spoke gruffly as he walked to Hild. "I was out riding and I heard rumors of possible murder. Here you are bleeding."

Lord Krise touched Reinick’s arm. “It was an accident. But Hild is responsible.”

Hild squeezed the seat of the chair while he spoke, “We could get help for the soldier. I’m not sure he’s dead.”

Reinick gaped at Hild, “Get help for a Kadai? You should have finished him off, and sent his body down into the forests." He turned to Lord Krise, "Father, we could dispose of him tonight. No one would ever know. We don’t need any more attention from the Segaeta,” he growled. "We've already broken the law by teaching Hild to fight."

Kasyl jerked his head toward Reinick. “Hild is a servant and he will not likely escape prosecution no matter how thorough our attentions. But they have no reason to pay any attention to you, Reinick.”

“Father, whatever Kasyl believes, you know this could implicate the entire family. What did he do? We all know he’s inept, but clumsiness doesn’t usually lead to murdering a soldier.”

Kasyl stood to his full height. "He did nothing wrong in defending himself. The Kadai guards are loose with the rules at best." Kasyl turned back to Hild, and said solemnly, "There are always witnesses though, remember that. Nothing goes unseen or unpunished in Buclaminta or Corovnica."

Reinick scoffed, "Corovnica." He muttered, rolling his eyes. "A degenerate, worthless kingdom of less-than-humans." He glared at Hild, "They should be crushed like struguri for wine. Perhaps they should all be Sifted.”

Kasyl cast a glance of condescension, "Not only are you off point and very naïve, but you are swift with your tongue. It's clear that you know little about politics and cultures beyond our own."

Reinick replaced his bow on his back, “With the deepest respect sir, I have fought them face-to-face, and we know exactly what Corovnicans are made of. And when they arrive for war, their blood will run our streets like rivers.”

"Hold your tongue Reinick." His father reproached him.

Kasyl shook his head and began tearing Hild’s camasa just above the wound. “It’s not as deep as I thought.” He turned to the servitor, “I need hot water, miere brut, and cattle gum for binding. Oh, and bring me writing utensils as well, please.” The servant nodded and hurried out of the room. “This will certainly get the attention of the Segaeta though. I believe the time has come for certain individuals to leave Buclaminta.” Kasyl said darkly.

Lord Krise looked hard at Kasyl and then at his son, “I need to speak privately to Sheehan Kasyl.”

“Father?” Reinick growled.

“Leave!” Krise shouted.

Reinick stomped toward the entrance of the dining hall. He glanced back at Hild, then slammed the doors, leaving a loud echo behind.

 “She must go too.” Kasyl continued. “Tonight, if possible. I’d send her with Hild but it would draw attention.”

Krise pursed his lips, then he lowered his voice. "Do you think it worth the risk yet? Once they leave, they'll be hunted, and when they are discovered, we will all be implicated in their…situation. Do you think the risk is any less if she stayed under your watch care? She's but a servant. No one knows her past."

Hild looked from Lord Krise to Kasyl. He wondered if they were discussing Razya and desperately wanted to know more, but Hild had been checked violently before for meddling in politics.

Lord Krise stepped closer to Kasyl and leaned in, “Are you sure this isn’t an imprudent attempt to further your political sentients?”

Kasyl jerked his head toward Krise, “Sentiments?” He looked offended. "My sentiments, are no different than anyone else's here or in Corovnica. Iubeste libertate.” He took a deep breath, “They will find her if she stays. They will find Hild too. Neither one is safe. No one is safe though, you know that, Krise. Not anymore. Even the Upper Boundary faces the biggest threat we’ve seen in decades.” 

Lord Krise turned with a sigh, "You well know that I am still under Verganos' employ, as well as Impirat Shaktus. They might as well be one and the same. I do wish you would use less candor in my household, and I might add that I cannot condone what you are doing here, and any information I obtain can likely be used by the Segaeta. And if they find out who Hild is…they may dispose of my entire bloodline. I beg you to reconsider your involvement in this scandal."

Hild could abstain no longer. “What are you talking about? What scandal? Who is Verganos?”

Kasyl ignored Hild. “Scandal? Krise, the lives of two innocents are at stake. They are our own. This is not a scandal. This is a revolution. And why do you think I chose to employ Hild in this household and Razya with me? Because you were sympathetic once too. What do you want? Just let the Segaeta handle it? Keep the rules? Do what we’ve done for decades? Don’t turn your back on me now, Krise.” Kasyl’s voice shook. “Not right now.”

Lord Krise wrung his hands, “Oh Kasyl, don’t think I don’t care. Things have changed, but I haven’t forgotten old friendships.”

“They were more than friendships," Kasyl growled.

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On 4/16/2021 at 9:13 AM, Laura Neibaur said:

Thank you Jinju! I'm wondering if my first chapter is a little boring? Or at least the first scenes? 

Hi Laura! Sorry for the delay in replying. No, I wouldn't say your first chapter is boring. I think the main flaw in the first chapter is that I don't really know what's at stake. Hild doesn't seem to want anything or have any specific goals so he doesn't stand out to me as a character. He more or less stumbles into killing the Kadai and then even after that I don't know what he wants. You do a good job of showing, but when it comes to motivation, that can't really be shown, it has to be told. I think some straightforward telling of what Hild wants would help make him a much more compelling character and a good choice to start the story with. If Hild really doesn't want anything and (as the second chapter seems to show) doesn't know anything about the larger societal context I'd pick a different character who can explain a bit more and who has more of a driving desire.

 

CHAPTER 1

THE KADAI

 

It was just days into harvest and Hild's neck and cheeks were already stained pink from the sun. He swung the leather satchel of plums over his shoulder and glanced up at the heavy branches above-head. Blue and purple clusters of dark fruits were wreathed in curling, green leaves.

Orange rays peaked through thinning mid-morning clouds that swept across thriving green orchards and hayfields, beneath a boundless blue sky. The sight saddened Hild. How could war and ruin be so close to Buclaminta and the beauty of harvest still abound? He wondered if there would even be a harvest next year.

I'm wondering if there's a way to include more about what Hild wants here. He wants peace, it seems, and maybe he can go into his thoughts a little more about what kind of peace he wants, and why? He wants the Saegata to stop oppressing them? He wants the Kadai, the representatives of Corovnica to go away? Could we have (extremely brief) context here maybe?

While Hild stood enjoying the view, a brief vision materialized in his mind. It was Razya, standing in the damson plum orchard beside him, as she had done a thousand times. Her dark hair framed her face and shoulders. She turned and her eyes seemed to pierce right through his. The vision vanished and Hild took a deep breath. He had thought of her a lot lately, though they hadn't seen each other in days. Harvest had kept all the servants busy.

If you can include (the extremely brief) context up above, it might be lead more naturally into Razya. "Hild wanted peace more than he wanted anything. That was why he was a loyal servant to the XXXX family, and why he always would be, because they held peace and not power as their ultimate goal. Razya, too, was the same. He'd had many talks with her in the damson plum orchard, a thousand talks, about Buclaminta and what Buclaminta could be if only there was peace." Or something like that but with whatever it is that Hild actually wants.

Tineri pressed her velvety nose through stray patches of alfalfa to find the sweet new grass. Hild swung himself onto the dapple-gray mare and patted her neck. She read his slight shift in the saddle and stepped through the orchard toward the stone-paved trail that wound between the elite Upper Boundary estates of the kingdom of Buclaminta.

Sour cherries and fresh fowl meat from the local piaţă jostled in the leather dublari at Tineri's haunches. Hild had been sent by the head bucatar in search of the best fruits and cuts in the market. He hoped to see Razya when he returned to the orchards that afternoon, and discuss the rumors he'd heard in the village.

Your invented words makes this world seem very rich. Or are these words not invented but in a language I don't know?

As they ascended the mountain path along the steep edge of a rugged cliff, Hild could see the rippling terrain of the Desert Noapte, like a glassy, orange sea in the distance. Hild was reminded of stories of desert tribes and unmarked paths across dangerous territories, but only warriors would leave Buclaminta, and only the best would return. Hild sighed. He had been bereft of family ties early in life and was born with one deaf ear, which made him unsuitable for proper warrior training. Although, with recent threats from the western kingdom of Corovnica, they might conscript anyone.

Lush, green dog-rose bushes climbed the trunks of silver poplars, and thin rays of sun crept through a network of branches, creating a spectacular mosaic of buttery light on the path.

I like the phrase buttery light!

While Hild was distracted by the landscape, a mounted Kadai guard appeared unexpectedly on the path in front of him. Both horses arched and shied away with flared nostrils.

I think because I have no idea who the Kadai are at this point, I want the context earlier so when we run into this Kadai we have some orientation of who he is. Lawful overseer, enemy soldier, higher-than-servant freeman conscripted to be a guard?

“La naiba! Stupid boy.” the Kadai yelled, unsheathing his sword. “Watch where you’re going.”

Hild could smell the strong scent of tsuica on the Kadai's breath. "I'm sorry sir, I didn't see you." He lowered his head.

But the ill-tempered Kadai was not satisfied. The guard tilted his head back and spit on Hild’s face. Heat rushed to Hild’s cheeks and he made the critical mistake of wiping the spittle with his hand and glancing up as the soldier passed.

Before he could react, the Kadai slammed his sword hilt into the bridge of Hild’s nose. Hild arced backward off of Tineri and hit the ground. Blood trickled into the back of Hild’s throat, and he sat up coughing and spat bitter saliva onto the dirt.

“Don’t raise your head to me.” The Kadai shouted. “Do you know your place now, slave boy? You know how much we hate your kind. Good for nothing foreigners! What are you doing on a horse like that anyway? Steal it did you? Now, clean up the mess you made on this path before I make it bigger.”

I'm confused. How is Hild a foreigner? 

Hild wiped his nose on his sleeve and reached for his duffle to replace the scattered fruits. He tried to steady his breath and keep anger from corrupting his calm façade. He put the leather strap across his chest and kicked dirt and pebbles over the dark red puddle. Blood dangled in a stream from Hild’s nose and chin as he re-mounted Tineri.

The Kadai gaped at Hild. “Are you deaf, slave boy? I asked if you know your place?”

Hild knew insubordination always comes at a price, but he never mastered the ability to bridle his frustrations with the imperial guards. Hild grinned, “As a matter of fact, I am partially deaf. Would you mind repeating your question…in the right ear?”

Imperial guard is a good clue, but since I didn't know there was an empire, I think it would be better to put this earlier, either right as the Kadai is mentioned or before.

The Kadai’s mouth hovered open, and his face went as red as simca. “This could cost you your life in the Upper Boundary, slave boy. How does a trip through the desert to the Floarelands sound?”

Hild watched the Kadai edge closer and raise his sword above his head. His round, manic eyes were pinned beneath greasy hair, and he looked at Hild with repulsion. In a split second of raw reflex, Hild ducked and deflected the blow with his arm, then lunged at the Kadai. He jerked on the Kadai’s vesta and they rolled off their horses and hit the dusty road. The Kadai scrambled for his sword, but before he could steady himself, Hild rammed him with his shoulder. The Kadai stumbled and fell between two firs, down a steep embankment and into a grove of boulders nestled in craggy trees.

Rolled off their horses -- I think Hild is already off his horse right?

Hild's insides coiled at the sight of the body, barely moving, far below. "What have I done?" He whispered, squeezing his wounded arm. Blood soaked through his gauzy, white cămaşa and trickled through his fingers. He unwound the leather chimir from his waist and tightened it above the wound. With his good arm, he pulled himself onto Tineri, spun her on her hindquarters, and urged her into a gallop.

Here would be a good place to put some motive. "He wanted to get to the Krise estate, to home. His master would tell him what to do. He hoped he wouldn't get in trouble -- or worse, get Lord Krise in trouble."

The Krise estate sat on a series of rolling, pale-green hills dotted with the pinks and purples of cornflowers and wild thyme. On one end of the field, a forest of black locusts and new scots pines bordered the hayfields, and patches of sun zig-zagged between squirrely branches. On the northern border was a damson plum orchard whose dark fruits had just finished ripening.

A wooden cart and an old pony stood idly in the bordering field near several shirtless men who worked their scythes against the flowering alfalfa. A few children knelt by the forest edge gathering mushrooms and herbs into leather satchels and woven baskets.

As he rode onto the lawn of the estate, Hild recognized a horse being prepared by the stable help. The horse belonged to Razya's master, a Sheehan Warrior named Kasyl, from the neighboring estate. He must have shared a late breakfast with Hild's master, Lord Krise. Hild had always shown favor with Sheehan Kasyl and pleaded in his mind that Kasyl would know how to help.

This is good motivation indication, he wants help. But why from Kasyl and not from Lord Krise? If he didn't even know that Kasyl was going to be there when he rides away from the Kadai?

 

 

                                                            CHAPTER 2

                                                      SHEEHAN KASYL

 

Hild urged Tineri toward the flower-encased veranda by the back door of the mess hall. He handed the reigns to the shocked, young attendant in a sweat-stained linen cămaşa.

Hild practically fell through the double doors of the dining room. The caramel sweet notes of tsuica plumb brandy permeated the air. On the long, ebony dining table, sat a tinned copper ewer etched in geometric designs. Two platters of mamaliga and late summer vegetables sat half-eaten beside a chalice of warm, ciorba sour soup.

At the sight of blood on Hild’s clothes, Lord Krise and Kasyl shoved themselves away from the table and hurried to his side.

“Hild, what the hell happened?” Lord Krise asked. They steadied Hild and lowered him into a wooden, round-backed chair.

This part also confused me. Is Hild an especially loyal/well-considered servant? Because usually I think that servants are not allowed to have access to their masters so easily, can't just show up to breakfast. 

“I’m sorry for disturbing your breakfast, Lord Krise.” Hild breathed. He wasted no time explaining. He knew an infraction against the emperor’s guards, even a lowly Kadai, would be dangerous. “I might have killed him. I didn’t mean to do it. What do I do now?”

“Let’s address your wounds before we discuss what we’re going to do.” Lord Krise snapped. “A servant could be hung for this, or worse.”

“Let me take a look at your arm.” Kasyl knelt beside Hild, then he chuckled, “Disturbing an unusually late mic dejun is not a punishable crime. But you got yourself into some serious trouble today, didn’t you? Not hard to do with the Kadai these days. Especially if you look like you’re from Corovnica or the northern regions. You are not a foolish boy like many, and I’m sure you were provoked.”

Oh, okay, I think I get it now. Hild is from Corovnica and he's a servant in Buclaminta. And the Kadai are Buclaminta-loyal guards. With that context the Kadai attacking him makes much more sense. 

Side note: is there no estate doctor that Hild could go to? I just really can't imagine a servant getting hurt and then going straight to his master, that feels like more of a son-father relationship!

“It’s true, he threatened my life.” Hild clenched his teeth as Kasyl loosened the soaked chimir from Hild’s arm.

The carved double doors of the dining room burst open and Reinick, Lord Krise's oldest son, strode into the room and slammed the heavy doors behind him. He carried a bow, and a quiver was secured on his back. He peaked around the green-on-white, embroidered damask drapes that framed one of three tall windows. "What's going on?" He spoke gruffly as he walked to Hild. "I was out riding and I heard rumors of possible murder. Here you are bleeding."

I think it's peeked.

Lord Krise touched Reinick’s arm. “It was an accident. But Hild is responsible.”

Hild squeezed the seat of the chair while he spoke, “We could get help for the soldier. I’m not sure he’s dead.”

Reinick gaped at Hild, “Get help for a Kadai? You should have finished him off, and sent his body down into the forests." He turned to Lord Krise, "Father, we could dispose of him tonight. No one would ever know. We don’t need any more attention from the Segaeta,” he growled. "We've already broken the law by teaching Hild to fight."

So this reveals more about Hild, which is interesting. But now I'm confused again about who the Krise family is, are they Corovnican too? That would make sense, if so, as they would be loyal to a fellow co-nationalist servant.

Kasyl jerked his head toward Reinick. “Hild is a servant and he will not likely escape prosecution no matter how thorough our attentions. But they have no reason to pay any attention to you, Reinick.”

So Hild is doomed? If so I think we need some more feeling from Hild here, some desire on his part to escape or some anxiety about getting out of trouble if he can.

“Father, whatever Kasyl believes, you know this could implicate the entire family. What did he do? We all know he’s inept, but clumsiness doesn’t usually lead to murdering a soldier.”

Kasyl stood to his full height. "He did nothing wrong in defending himself. The Kadai guards are loose with the rules at best." Kasyl turned back to Hild, and said solemnly, "There are always witnesses though, remember that. Nothing goes unseen or unpunished in Buclaminta or Corovnica."

Reinick scoffed, "Corovnica." He muttered, rolling his eyes. "A degenerate, worthless kingdom of less-than-humans." He glared at Hild, "They should be crushed like struguri for wine. Perhaps they should all be Sifted.”

Kasyl cast a glance of condescension, "Not only are you off point and very naïve, but you are swift with your tongue. It's clear that you know little about politics and cultures beyond our own."

Okay so never mind, Hild is Corovnican and the Krise family and Kasyl are Buclamintan. And the Kadai are Buclamintan. Why did the Krise family treat Hild so specially then? I get Reinick's contempt for him and I think that's a good way to show his political attitudes. Maybe all I want is to know Hild's political attitudes, and to know them earlier on at the very start of the book.

Reinick replaced his bow on his back, “With the deepest respect sir, I have fought them face-to-face, and we know exactly what Corovnicans are made of. And when they arrive for war, their blood will run our streets like rivers.”

"Hold your tongue Reinick." His father reproached him.

Kasyl shook his head and began tearing Hild’s camasa just above the wound. “It’s not as deep as I thought.” He turned to the servitor, “I need hot water, miere brut, and cattle gum for binding. Oh, and bring me writing utensils as well, please.” The servant nodded and hurried out of the room. “This will certainly get the attention of the Segaeta though. I believe the time has come for certain individuals to leave Buclaminta.” Kasyl said darkly.

I feel like the servitor would have tried to stop Hild from coming in all bloody.

I think this pivot toward "it's time for them to leave" is much clearer in this draft than in your first draft. Good job!

Lord Krise looked hard at Kasyl and then at his son, “I need to speak privately to Sheehan Kasyl.”

“Father?” Reinick growled.

“Leave!” Krise shouted.

Reinick stomped toward the entrance of the dining hall. He glanced back at Hild, then slammed the doors, leaving a loud echo behind.

 “She must go too.” Kasyl continued. “Tonight, if possible. I’d send her with Hild but it would draw attention.”

Krise pursed his lips, then he lowered his voice. "Do you think it worth the risk yet? Once they leave, they'll be hunted, and when they are discovered, we will all be implicated in their…situation. Do you think the risk is any less if she stayed under your watch care? She's but a servant. No one knows her past."

Hild looked from Lord Krise to Kasyl. He wondered if they were discussing Razya and desperately wanted to know more, but Hild had been checked violently before for meddling in politics.

My vote is that Hild already knows more, that he knows they are talking about Razya, and that he has an opinion and a desire. Would it work for Kasyl to say earlier "it's time for her to leave Buclaminta, and I think Hild should go with her given this new development"? so that it's clearer that Razya has been on a shortlist to go for sometime? And then put here something about Hild being excited or feeling hopeful, he would love to leave Buclaminta with Razya, or like I said, whatever it is that you decide he wants, to tell that to us.

Lord Krise stepped closer to Kasyl and leaned in, “Are you sure this isn’t an imprudent attempt to further your political sentients?”

Kasyl jerked his head toward Krise, “Sentiments?” He looked offended. "My sentiments, are no different than anyone else's here or in Corovnica. Iubeste libertate.” He took a deep breath, “They will find her if she stays. They will find Hild too. Neither one is safe. No one is safe though, you know that, Krise. Not anymore. Even the Upper Boundary faces the biggest threat we’ve seen in decades.” 

Lord Krise turned with a sigh, "You well know that I am still under Verganos' employ, as well as Impirat Shaktus. They might as well be one and the same. I do wish you would use less candor in my household, and I might add that I cannot condone what you are doing here, and any information I obtain can likely be used by the Segaeta. And if they find out who Hild is…they may dispose of my entire bloodline. I beg you to reconsider your involvement in this scandal."

Hild could abstain no longer. “What are you talking about? What scandal? Who is Verganos?”

I'm with Hild. I think all this is too much information. I'd have Lord Krise object "but I'm nervous the Saegata will find them if they leave!" but Kasyl tells him to shut up that he promised Kasyl he'd help him and it's time for Lord Krise to provide that help, and then move onto the goal of getting Hild and Razya out of there and skip all the history/backstory between Kasyl and Lord Krise. I don't think here is the place to put it, it just makes Hild seem strangely indifferent to his own fate.

Kasyl ignored Hild. “Scandal? Krise, the lives of two innocents are at stake. They are our own. This is not a scandal. This is a revolution. And why do you think I chose to employ Hild in this household and Razya with me? Because you were sympathetic once too. What do you want? Just let the Segaeta handle it? Keep the rules? Do what we’ve done for decades? Don’t turn your back on me now, Krise.” Kasyl’s voice shook. “Not right now.”

Lord Krise wrung his hands, “Oh Kasyl, don’t think I don’t care. Things have changed, but I haven’t forgotten old friendships.”

“They were more than friendships," Kasyl growled.

Ok that's it! Hope that helps!

 

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Hey Laura!

I was so late to the party I had to snip out much I’ve my original post as you’ve already addressed it with the others.

I enjoyed Hild as a character, he was very relatable and realistic. The imagery was vibrant and efficient, you have a good sense of when to say what and how to say it.

Question I have, do you think creating characters that speak “english” without the use of contractions (would’ve/didn’t) deepens the narrative or does more harm than good?

Just picking your brain as I’m wondering this for myself.

Your writing style is very similar to my own I noticed; how you structure your sentences and stuff. 

There’s lots of terminology I’m unfamiliar with. When creating the words of your lore, are they derivative and have some real world equivalent or are they totally fictitious?

I enjoy the intrigue you’ve set. I don’t get a feeling of science fiction/fantasy but it doesn’t feel missing either, if you know what I mean. I find myself looking forward to the science fiction elements, which is fine since this is just the opening; no need for laser beams just yet.

Do you know the kind of sci-fi it will be yet? Will there be magic?

Whatever the route you choose or have already taken, I’m sure it will only add to the intrigue and coolness.

Also, I didn’t know this was set in the future which is cool! I thought it was another world/reality.

I’m interested in how the world regressed to the seemingly primitive condition we’re witnessing.

Do you have that part figured out yet?

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3 hours ago, Shola said:

Hey Laura!

I was so late to the party I had to snip out much I’ve my original post as you’ve already addressed it with the others.

Hi Shola! Thanks so much for responding, I appreciate it a lot.

I enjoyed Hild as a character, he was very relatable and realistic. The imagery was vibrant and efficient, you have a good sense of when to say what and how to say it.

Question I have, do you think creating characters that speak “english” without the use of contractions (would’ve/didn’t) deepens the narrative or does more harm than good?

That's a hard one. I prefer short forms with conversation...but since my story is technically not supposed to be in English (would that be same for many of your characters?) and takes place in post-modern Romania and Eastern Europe, I'm rethinking that. I do think contractions make casual conversation a lot more comfortable, however, I might consider doing away with them for my more "prestigious" characters rather than for someone like Hild or Razya who might speak more casually like we do...I am interested in your opinion on that subject. Would it vary from YA to adult do you think? 

Just picking your brain as I’m wondering this for myself.

Your writing style is very similar to my own I noticed; how you structure your sentences and stuff. 

There’s lots of terminology I’m unfamiliar with. When creating the words of your lore, are they derivative and have some real world equivalent or are they totally fictitious?

Every non-English word is either some form or other of Romanian, Hungarian, or another language from that area. I have changed a few because my book is very far into the future and the area has undergone a lot of transformation, so I took some creative liberties with the language and culture. Do you think it hurts the story to have the terminology in there? I try to drop hints about each non-English term I use but is it too confusing? 

I enjoy the intrigue you’ve set. I don’t get a feeling of science fiction/fantasy but it doesn’t feel missing either, if you know what I mean. I find myself looking forward to the science fiction elements, which is fine since this is just the opening; no need for laser beams just yet.

Yes, I wondered if I should allude to it more in the first chapter and not wait until the third to bring in that element. What do you think? As for my sci-fi...Each of the main characters will discover that they have some preternatural powers called origines - (augmented traits, such as the ability to read people extremely very well, or the ability to transfer thoughts, or enhance natural abilities.). Also, there is a subplot about people's "mind-landscapes" or terrains. They are actual places that you can physically access. Finally, some of the characters with powerful origines will have technological prowess...not necessarily modern technology in the form of guns and tanks, but in genetics, experimentation with mind control, and chemical and natural element manipulation.

Do you know the kind of sci-fi it will be yet? Will there be magic?

Whatever the route you choose or have already taken, I’m sure it will only add to the intrigue and coolness.

Also, I didn’t know this was set in the future which is cool! I thought it was another world/reality.

I’m interested in how the world regressed to the seemingly primitive condition we’re witnessing.

This was a fun subplot to work on. The regression had a lot to do with the bloodlines that carry the origines and their misuse caused the world to revert to a more primitive / medieval way of life. They even altered the terrain in some areas which plays into the main plot as well. This is all legend until the main characters realize just how deeply their homeland's past is intertwined with their own pasts and family bloodlines. 

Do you have that part figured out yet? Thanks so much for your comments! 

 

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