Category Archives: draft novel

Princess of Stars– sort of a progress report

Wanted to share this– the hard-copy line edit– as always, helping to keep red pen manufacturers in the black–

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Part of what you’re seeing on this page is the fact this portion of the story was cobbled together of out maybe three different versions of the same scene.  Being a pantser is sometimes a very messy business.

As always, I do hope that by the time I finish the edit I will still be able to read my corrections; my hen-scratching does seem to be getting more and more problematic as I get older.  Oh, well.

Just a note….

Just a note, to note, in passing, something that happened last night.  Last night I completed a first draft for Princess of Stars.  The progress bar over there on the side reads “100% done”, which, over the last three years, is something I frequently despaired of ever seeing.

The breakthrough came in the first week of May, when I dumped thousands of words that were just…not…working, rethought the action of the middle third of the book, changing it essentially from a chase to a quest, and gave myself wholly over to writing while striving to ignore the ever-circling harpies of judgment.  This last week I pushed on despite developing a touch of carpal tunnel, and finished at about 9:15 PM yesterday.

The whole process for this novel was far more rocky for me than usual.  There were a lot of reasons for that, some of which I’m not really ready to talk about.  It wasn’t just that I found this novel hard– there were times when I was ready to chuck the whole writing thing altogether, and other times when I just couldn’t get my hands to the keyboard to do anything productive.  Some days it was just easier to watch YouTube videos.

By the grace of God and some hard thinking about what I was trying to do, I managed to get this first, and most essential, task done.  I’ve mentioned in other posts that once I have a draft in hand, I know I have the basic problem of any novel licked.  Like Aristotle’s ‘beginning, middle, end’, it sounds trite to say it, but it’s true– the most important thing you have to do when writing a story is to finish it.

Of course, having said that, there are weeks of work ahead.  I tend to see all my first drafts as narrative horrors, but this one is particularly scaly and gruesome.  I’m going to be a while getting everything ironed out and reconciled.  But that’s a normal part of my writing process; it was the inability to get to that first draft that log-jammed me for months and months on end and caused me to doubt whether I’m cut out for the writing life.

Well, truth to tell, I still have doubts, but with this novel, the completion of the Divine Lotus series, out of the way, I can move on to other projects and test the proposition in fresh fields.  Hopefully ones not filled with stuff that makes me sneeze.  I hate that.

Is the story any good?  Beats the crap out of me.  I’ll have to rely on others to make that judgment, because mostly I can only see the flaws.  But just finishing this, after so long a struggle, is a win, and a sure sign that final victory is in sight.

Later.

 

 

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #7

Yes, a progress report on Princess of Stars, something that hasn’t happened in over a year.  That’s because, effectively, there has been no progress.  To be precise, I have written, re-wrttten, cut, deleted, re-purposed, re-arranged, laid the story down in the despair, hovered on the edge of deleting everything and un-publishing the first four Divine Lotus novels, considered giving up writing entirely, written some more and deleted that– with the net effect being that I have been more-or-less cycling around the same point in the story for more than twelve months.  Throw in some clinical depression and about three major life-changes (which are still all working themselves out) and completing this novel has been a goal that has seemed far, far out of reach.

What has changed?  Nothing seismic. There’s been no epic epiphany, nor sea-change in my writing.  Just a couple of small things that seem to be helping me get unstuck.

Firstly, I think I have hit upon a means to finesse some of my inability to get past my blockage.  In my flibbertigibbet way of doing drafts, I normally write passages out-of-sequence, working on later or earlier passages in the narrative when I’m stuck somewhere.  Knitting it all together into a coherent story is what happens in the second draft.  This time around, however, I am doing something a little different; I am writing the story with the intention of not necessarily adhering to a linear timeline for the action– and, in the process, I am not worrying my pointy little noggin too much about connecting passages and such what.  It seems to be helping.  The finished product may look quite different from the other Divine Lotus novels, but the whole point of this is to get to a finished product, and I’m getting kinda ruthless in pursuit of that result.

Secondly, I think I’ve finally reached the acceptance stage of grief over my writing.

When I started, rather late in life, to write in a serious way I thought that I was pretty good.  The process since then has been a slow coming to terms with the fact that I will never be anything more than mediocre.  There’s a reason why no editors ever accepted any of my over-the-transom submissions, nor any agent ever took me on.  I’m just not that good.

It’s been hard for me to get to this place.  I spent a long, long time in the denial stage (ain’t just a river in Egypt, folks).  I think I passed through anger and bargaining pretty quickly, and then spent a very long time in depression.  It didn’t help that my depression wasn’t just about my writing, either.  The last twenty or so years have been hard in many ways, lightened here and there by friendships and the arrival of my daughter (make that the glorious and splendid arrival of my daughter, but I digress…..).

I may- may-be coming out of that stage.  As I mentioned, there have been some serious life-changes, and those may be helping.  The jury is still out.  But I believe I’m done with illusions about myself and my writing.

I will never have much of an audience; I will never make much money at this; and it’s very doubtful anyone will ever make a movie out of any of my works.  If any of this were to happen, I would be pleasantly surprised and give God the glory– but I have to stop holding my breath over it.  I’ve been getting dizzy….

Having said that, I’ve gotten to the point where I want to finish this story and the others still in my head, for my sake and for the story itself.  It’s not going to be great literature and it’s not going to wow the masses.  But I think the story is worth completing.

So– 49,000 words out of a projected 150,000, not quite one-third.  I am finally on the verge of getting Kathy on the road in pursuit of the Lady Rose Adamant– yes, the core action is a chase– and hopefully I will be able to report solid progress from here on out.  Not that there won’t be missteps and recalculations– knowing me, it’s pretty much guaranteed.  But I think I see a path forward, and that’s progress.

Later.

Oh, and PS– I got to use the word selbstgefällig today in the story.  I am so jazzed…..

 

 

 

And now, on a completely different note, a few words about “The Horseman”

In case there’s anyone out there who cares, I missed last week’s installment of The Horseman, and I will probably miss this week’s.  The reason has to do with how I do first drafts.

I keep hearing about writers who outline everything about a story ahead of time, who know what’s going to happen to each character, who understand where each beat and turn of the the story will fall.  People for whom– allegedly– the writing of a story is merely a process of fleshing out the action.

That ain’t me.

My process is, quite simply, discovery of the story by writing it.  Usually, I have a general idea of the story’s action, some of the characters, and almost always how the story ends, but writing to get to that ending is typically a long process, often involving many doubts, much second-guessing, detours, re-routes and reboots.  Writer’s block is a familiar, if unwelcome, companion.  This is a major reason Princess of Stars has not progressed; I have been essentially stuck at one point in the narrative for about a year, until recently unable to understand how Kathy gets to a particular, but essential, change in attitude.  I may– may— have figured out in the last few days a way to finesse the problem.  We’ll see.

This is, frankly, not a particularly rational process.  I feel my way through an unlit cavern to discover the shape of my story, and wrong turns are common.  I have at times gone five thousand, ten thousand, fifteen thousand words down a path, only to realize it’s not working– the action is wrong for the character, or it doesn’t make sense, or it negates something else I’ve already written, or intend to write and which feels essential.  I have novels for which I have thrown away nearly as much as I have kept.

This is where I am at with The Horseman.  In attempting to push on past Part Eight I realized that how I handled Parts Seven and Eight did not ring true.  If I were doing this first draft properly, in private far from the tender eyes of readers, I could quietly eighty-six the failed passages and redirect the narrative.  Since I am committing the sin of presenting raw story, the uglier aspects of the process are, of necessity, laid bare as well.  Basically, Parts Seven and Eight must be retconned.  I am working on the changes at this moment.  But it will be a little while before I can re-post the parts and resume my forward progress.  For the time-being, The Horseman is on hold.

The silver-lining on this, of course, is that out of all the problems facing the world at the moment, the delay of this story is just about Number 178,289,129,367.  It’s good to keep things in perspective.

Later.

 

Been gone so long….

No one is likely to have noticed, but for the last several months I have been largely disconnected from my blog– a couple of movie reviews, a few short political rants, but nothing about the core reason I created this blog in the first place, which was to share my writing experiences and struggles.

I won’t go into graphic detail about why.  My writing efforts tend to go through cycles of enthusiasm and despondency as it is, but for the last few months I have been particularly disconnected from my major projects, and could only doodle away at other pieces that have no hope of being published any time soon.  More than that, I came perilously close to closing out and discarding the Divine Lotus series of novels altogether, and had to be talked out of it, to a large extent, by an old friend whose enthusiasm for the books exceeds my own.

Life changes and personal failures contributed to my malaise.  I have been actively depressed, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, to the degree that it was hard to see a point in my writing.  A sense of futility often made it hard for me to even get my hands to the keyboard.

I cannot say that is all over and done with.  I’ve taken certain steps to redirect my life, but it is unclear at this hour whether these steps will be effective.  I have, however, resumed writing Princess of Stars.  The Horseman (a terrible title, but it’s only tentative) is also in the pipeline.

The truth is, I am not a very good writer, and I never will be.  My writing is mediocre, at best, and it was that sense of dissatisfaction that nearly caused me to dump the Divine Lotus novels.  I’m also never going to make any serious money at this.  That’s become more and more apparent to me, as well, but I think that I have recovered enough from my depression to simply want to see the stories completed for the sake of being completed. That seems a worthy and sufficient goal in itself.

Hopefully this new resolution will hold, and I will be posting more often in the coming months.  In addition to talking about my progress on my projects, I’d like to get back to doing more movie and book reviews.  I might even once more take up the cudgel of flash fiction challenges, but I make no promises.

Of course, this all assumes that a certain bloviating blowhard is denied access to the nuclear codes and doesn’t thereby blow us all to hell.

But that’s another post.

Later.

 

 

 

Princess of Stars Update #6– Crawling back into the sunshine….

Princess of Stars is now at 30,000 words, one-fifth of my rough estimate of 150,000 words. In the unlikely event anyone has noticed, it has been about six weeks since my last update, largely because I spent most of that time not writing Princess of Stars. Kinda logical, when you think about it….

Why I wasn’t writing is complex. Chiefly I was going through one of my periodic funks in which I find it hard to exercise the daily discipline of getting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. Usually I get through it, but this spell took a little longer than normal to run its course.

Why was I finding it hard to write? That’s where the complexity comes in. A new, physically demanding temp job, personal life issues, and financial worries all contributed. The biggest factor, though, was an emotional certainty that my writing really doesn’t matter. I’ve blogged about this before, and it’s something with which I have often struggled. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming, at least for a while, and I just grind to a halt. It becomes a deal easier to play a computer game or watch a movie than it is to get words down.

In a way, writing is a bit like faith. Sometimes, you just have to practice it, no matter how you’re feeling at the moment. Yes, it is a discipline, and being disciplined about it is usually the hallmark of a professional. By that standard, it’s pretty obvious that I still have things to learn about the craft. No surprise there….

Along with that, I think it’s helpful to pay heed to the work of others you find inspiring. Personally I can hardly watch any halfway decent production of Shakespeare without feeling inspired and motivated about my own work. In this particular case, I think it was a movie that helped recharge my batteries– sadly, not Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two. That, and listening to James Newton Howard’s soundtrack for the picture. Music has always been an important aid to my writing, sometimes helping me (I think) to a higher level. The soundtrack for Mockingjay Part Two captures its epic proportions, and reflects something of what I’m trying to do with Princess of Stars. That sort of resonance is priceless.

It is also helped when I remembered that I am, at bottom, doing this for myself– not an audience (which I don’t have) and certainly not for any critics. I’m not looking for the approval of editors or literary gatekeepers. I want this story told, and only I can tell it. However imperfect or inconsequential it may be, I still want to complete it.

So, once again, back to work. Like faith, the writing process has its mountain-top moments and its long trudges through the dark valleys. Bring your persistence, and your favorite music.

Later.

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #5– It’s a strange business we’re in….

Princess of Fire is now at 22,000 words and change. If I had maintained my desired pace over the last few days that total might have been a couple of thousand words higher. One of the odd things about having so much time on my hands is that I hardly ever get anything done with it. Yesterday was particularly hard– I spent most of the day playing PC games, when I wasn’t sitting down for a Skype interview or preparing for an adult education class I’m leading. Whatever was happening with my mind-set, it made it seem almost physically impossible to drag myself to my writing, although it would have only meant logging off the computer game and starting Word. It wasn’t until just before bed-time that I managed to get a few hundred words down, even as I was nodding off over my keyboard.

The Skype interview probably didn’t leave me in a very good mood. It was with a rep from a placement company, and, somehow, it very quickly went from “We’ve got a hot prospect we need to fill now” to “We’ll put your name in our pool and see if we can find something that fits you.” It’s probably an unworthy, paranoid thought that the shift came when the very young rep saw the gray hair and baggy eyes looking back at him in the Skype window. I have to avoid assuming my age is the central reason I haven’t landed a day job yet– if you go down that road, then every disappointment becomes a conspiracy. That way lies ruin.

In any event, it took me a while to gin up enough energy to write even a few words. Hopefully I can get back in the groove soon (did I just date myself? Oh, well….).

As for Princess of Stars itself, I realized that one piece of business I just put down will not work– Kathy has to meet with a delegation of Val come to Earth, and the way I got them there (in the face of what could be some pretty fierce political opposition) is more than a little cockamamie. I will have to come up with a better excuse/rationale before the final draft.

I would be far from the first person to observe that writers are engaged in a strange business– the detailed depiction of the lives of people who, for the most part, don’t exist and never will. Even historical and ‘autobiographical’ novels to some degree or another fictionalize their characters. It’s one of the reasons why writers are sometimes looked askance by non-writers.

A corollary to the essential non-existence of our characters is the difficulty we face in making their lives logical. This is particularly acute when writing genre fiction, romance, mystery or detective fiction, science-fiction or fantasy– the more elaborate the plot, and the further we get from the everyday, linear storyline of most lives– “She is born. She loves. She dies.”– the harder it becomes to create a internally consistent and logical narrative. Even great literature sometimes contains logical flaws, moments when the reader is at risk of being stopped in their tracks and wondering, “How does that make sense?” or “Why did they do that?” There are whole Youtube channels (for example, here and here) that are largely devoted to pointing out the logical flaws of movies.

Now, some authors and film directors, frankly, do not give a rat’s effluvial emission about logical consistency (Michael Bay comes to mind). These are writers and directors whose works are obviously about the spectacle or action, for whom logical consistency would simply gum up the works. Most of us, however, do care to at least some degree or another about getting the logic of the story right, simply because we want our creations and characters to have verisimilitude, and because we want to avoid throwing the reader or the viewer out of the story and make them start to say, “Wait! Stop– what?” All-too-often, that disruption is a kiss of death for a book or movie.

Now, if there’s a golden rule on how to do this, I don’t know what it is. All I do is rely on my sense of the story as a reader to tell me whether something makes sense, and then my skill (ha!) as a writer to correct it. This is not always easy; correcting one logical flaw may entail restructuring and rewriting the story in major ways. This is why ‘tightly plotted’ is usually a high compliment in genre fiction. It’s a skill at least as important as characterization.

It’s just too bad some people ignore it. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, Mr. Bay….

Princess of Stars Update #4– The Slug’s Pace….

Princess of Stars is now at 17000 words, which is about 11% of the estimated (guesstimated) total of 150000. Yes, I missed a day last weekend, and daily production averaged around 500 words. As I’ve said previously, that daily word-rate is not unusual for me.

I am considering different means of helping me increase my daily average. One thing I considered trying was NaNoWriMo. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo– I’ve been writing and completing novel-length pieces for the last twenty or so years, so its motivational aspect didn’t seem really pertinent. Having an external expectation of daily word production, though, was appealing, and 1667 words per day is at least normally within the realm of possibility for me. I went so far as to create an account.

In the end, however, I decided not to commit. I anticipate the coming month (and the month after that) are going to be filled with a number of everyday life issues that are going to demand too much time to allow me to just eat, sleep and write. Among those issues is one that’s on the verge of going critical. I have not worked in six months. My personal economy is tight and getting tighter by the day. Figuring out that little problem will have to be a priority, and while I think I can maintain 500 words a day while dealing with it, more than 1500 words is probably way out of reach.

As for the story itself, I’ve reached the start of the action. In the process I discovered another logical flaw, but not a particularly egregious one. I can deal with it on the fly. With any luck I should be able to clear 20,000 words by the end of this weekend, about 13% of my estimated total. Writing a novel is like a marathon– if you think about how far you have to go, the immensity of the task may paralyze you. However, just getting through the next five hundred or a thousand words, day-by-day, divides the immensity into manageable chunks.

PS— After I created this post I added more than 1000 words to Princess of Stars. It helps when you get the writing done before you start playing World of Tanks….

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #3– My handicap as a writer…

Well, so far my intended posting schedule has turned to be more like an optional guideline. Here I am, two days late with my Princess of Stars update. I am either a lazy bum or I’ve been very busy. I have had quite a number of things to take care of this week, but I also spent too much time playing World of Tanks to honestly claim I was too busy to blog.

Princess of Stars is currently at 13,000 words. I am pushing through the initial setup and will soon be into the action. In this process I think managed to finesse, at least enough for the first draft, a particularly tricky section in which I was especially challenged.

I’m talking about Kathy’s love life. In dealing with this part of the narrative I suffer from a particularly acute handicap — I’ve never been a woman. Yes, I’m just a square that way.

In the first instance, I try to finesse this sort of thing by relating to the commonalities of people’s love lives– we all have the same emotional needs, no matter our culture or individual personalities. When that technique can’t carry me any further, I do research. I ask my wife and daughter.

Believe me, actually running a passage past people who can completely relate to it and spot its inadequacies is essential. And if you can’t do that by reading your writing to your spouse while she’s trying to watch The View, or describing the passage to your daughter while you’re driving her to school (captive audiences are pre-disposed to be critical), find beta readers who can help you out. In writing Kathy, a teenage to twenty-something young woman, I’ve found having beta readers who are all women invaluable. They’ve caught me in any number of errors and implausibilities.

With Princess of Stars this sort of backup is going to be especially essential– in the course of the next 137,000 words (or thereabouts) I’m going to put Kathy through some serious twists and turns, in which she’s going to have to confront issues she’s never dealt with before. Hopefully I will bring some verisimilitude to her reactions. At least, I can be sure I’ve got a network of first readers who will let me know if I go off course. And that’s the sort of support every writer needs.

Further bulletins to follow.

Story Fragment– A Sleep of a Thousand Years

Here’s a fragment from a fantasy novel I started a few years back. The plot is something vague about a legendary princess and men on a desperate quest, but it never really gelled. Occasionally I come back and doodle on it. Perhaps someday I’ll figure it out….

This piece is a little cheesy, but I think it’s fun.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
****************************************
“This is it,” Ethar said. His face shone with excitement. “It has to be!”

Soren had to agree. They had all labored up the slope from the camp– Soren, Ethar, with his bag of scrolls, Gis, with his old man’s panting, Yar stumping upward, his face set, Duro following him– and now, before the Great Doors, sunk into the cliff-face, Soren was sure that their journey was over. Or half-over…. “Can you get it open?” he asked Ethar.

Ethar pulled a scroll from his pouch. “Give me a moment.”

“Gods give me strength,” Duro muttered.

Ethar didn’t seem to hear him. He consulted a scroll with red tabs, then stepped up to the Doors. They loomed over him, thirty or more feet high. Into their face were carved dozens of runes and images– Elha at war, on the hunt, bowing before their Queen. Soren studied the graven face of Tirana, but the features were stylized, stilted; they told him nothing.

Yar stepped close to Soren. “Captain, remember our bargain. You’re here to speak to the Queen of the Elha, if you can find her. But I want the Spear of Souls for my sovereign.”

“I remember,” Soren said. “But we’re still a ways from either goal.”

“True enough– but I didn’t think we would get this far,” Yar said.

Ethar studied the carvings. “It’s not a riddle; it’s a sequence….” he muttered.

Reaching up, he touched the foot of one hunter, dragged his fingers along the form of a dying warrior. Then he pushed at the hub of a chariot wheel.

A harsh, thunderous boom shook the ground beneath their feet. Soren staggered, then stepped back as the Doors shuddered, boomed, and then slowly began to open. They pulled apart, revealing a dark space beyond.

“Oh, my,” breathed Gis.

They went in, cautiously, weapons ready. The sunlight shining through the newly opened doors was watery, and the chamber within was filled with suddenly disturbed dust. Soren coughed, and Ethar sneezed four times in a row. But after a few moments they began to make out their surroundings.

The chamber was vaulted, and seventy feet high. On either side stood huge statues on pedestals– frowning kings and unequally unsmiling queens. “Hasu,” Gis muttered, gazing up at them. “Kannu, Sianna, Leato– all Tirana’s ancestors.”

“Fun looking bunch,” Duro whispered.

“They don’t like intruders,” Yar said. He stroked his beard, as if to ward off evil. He looked as patchy as Soren felt.

In the middle of the chamber stood a plinth, on which sat a huge stone casket. Around the base of the plinth runes were inscribed into the stone, of an old mode that Soren could not read. Gis and Ethar, however, both bent down at once and began to examine them. On the floor about the plinth, covered with thick dust, were sections of columns and blocks of stone. They did not look as if they had fallen; they looked as if they had been new-cut pieces, intended for further construction, but left in place and never touched again, as if their builders had just never returned to their tasks.

As the two scholars exchanged learned whispers Yar cautiously explored the chamber beyond the plinth, as if to make sure there were no enemies lurking in the far corners. As he did, Duro came over to Soren. “If there is a weapon in that casket, you must remember your charge from the Queen…no matter what you’ve told the dwarf….”

“I haven’t forgotten it,” Soren said. “But my charge was to find the Queen of the Elha and enlist her help. Any alleged weapon is secondary to that.

“Come on, Soren,” Duro said. “Look at this place– this is a tomb. We’re only going to find bones and dust in that casket. The legend is just that.”

Soren scowled. “As may be– but I will hold off judgment until we know, Duro son of Eig.”

The two of them glared at each other; then Gis said, “We have it!”

“Have what?” Soren said, glad to have something to distract him. Yar came hurrying back to the others.

Gis stood. “The inscription says that Tirana, Queen of the Elha, in her grief over her brother, chose to sleep the Sleep of Forgetfulness. She took the venom of a shistaska, and became like one dead, and was lain here, until the time should be fulfilled for her revival.”

“‘Became like one dead’, or died?” Doru said. “Are you sure of your translation?”

“Fairly sure,” Ethar said, still bent over the runes. “Although the declension is ambiguous in some contexts….”

“Sorry I asked,” Duro said, rolling his eyes.

“How do we open the casket?” Soren said, determined to stay focused. He sheathed his sword.

“Ah,” Gis said, with a raised finger, as if Soren had raised an interesting point in a lecture. “If the honored Ethar is correct, he understands the sequence for opening the casket. It is another secret pattern, but one he has deciphered from the ancient Elha chronicles….”

“Spare us the description,” Duro growled, “and just do it.”

Gis scowled at Duro, then looked at Soren. “Please do,” Soren said. “Before we start chewing each other’s ears off.”

Gis nodded. “Very well. Ethar…?”

“One moment,” Ethar said. He stood. Appearing to ignore Duro’s huffing and muttering, he walked slowly around the plinth. Every other step he touched one or two of the runes; Soren, watching, believed he understood the pattern. Each of the runes corresponded to numbers in the Elha mathematical system; together they seemed to be numerical sequences that had mystical importance. But he was not sure; his command of ancient Elha mysticism was not a patch on Gis’ or Ethar’s.

Ethar finished his circuit of the plinth. He touched the last rune. Instantly there came a sharp snap. Everyone took a step back. The top face of the casket split length-ways down the middle; as they watched, the halves folded back and slid down out of sight. The casket, now an open box, silently rose a foot or more. It stopped, and the sides folded down.

Inside, lying on its back, was a body. It was a woman; she was clothed in a shining blue sark that reached from her shoulders to her white feet. She was Elha; her ears and the tilt of her eyes marked her. Her hair, nearly white, lay over her in two long braids, reached to her midriff. Her hands, small and fine, rested on her belly.

The men approached slowly. “By the high gods,” Gis said, in little more than a whisper. “It’s her. Tirana.”

Soren was willing to take his word for it. To him, the woman looked as if she had just lain down for a summer’s nap. He stepped up and examined the body closely. The form beneath the sark seemed more than pleasing, but there was no movement, no sign of breath. Without being obvious about it, Soren took a deep breath. No scent of decay came to him.

“She sleeps!” Ethar exclaimed. “Just as the old chronicles said!”

“That’s daft, even for you,” Duro said. “She’s dead. It’s obvious. The old Elha were masters of embalming, that’s all.”

“I don’t know….” Gis said, uncertain.

“Come on,” Duro said, “it’s been a thousand years!”

“Yes, it has,” Soren said.

Yar stepped up beside him. “Is this it? One dead Elha wench? Is there nothing else in the casket?”

“There doesn’t appear to be,” Soren said.

Yar looked as if he wanted to hit something– or someone. “My king will be displeased. No, actually, my king is going to gut me slowly and feed my manhood to starving wolves while it’s still attached. He wanted that Elha weapon.”

“Well, my mission’s a failure, too,” Soren said. “I have no capacity for speaking to the dead.”

“She’s not dead!” Ethar said. “I tell you, it’s in the chronicles! She merely sleeps!”

“A thousand year sleep,” Duro said sarcastically. “Of course. So, if she sleeps, you scroll-addled fool, how do you wake her up?”

“Um….” Ethar said.

Tentatively, Soren stepped closer to the plinth. He reached a hand and touched Tirana’s cheek. He blinked in surprise. The flesh was supple, smooth, and seemed no different from that of a living person.

“She’s not mummified at all,” he said.

“As I said,” Ethar said, his excitement returning.

Soren hesitated again. Then he leaned down over Tirana’s still face. Still no scent of decay. Very gently he pressed his lips to hers.

“Soren?!” Gis exclaimed.

Soren lifted his head, hiding his surprise. He had expected his kiss to meet hard coldness, and, most likely, to taste putrescence. Instead, Tirana’s lips were warm, and she tasted, not of rot or death, but of woman.

But she still did not move.

“Now, what did that accomplish?” Gis complained.

Soren looked up. The others gathered around the plinth started with expressions of surprise, disgust or confusion. Soren smiled, shrugged. “Well, it always works in the tales.”

Gis rolled his eyes and groaned; Yar laughed. “And I thought I was strange,” he said.

“Well, it also means I’m out of ideas,” Soren said, sighing.

“I suggest we give the problem a rest,” Gis said. “Perhaps we can think of something after we’ve eaten.”

There was a general murmur of agreement. “Well,” Duro said, sighing, “all right. I’ll get supper started. We’ve got that venison and the turnips. I’ve got a little garlic left. That should give the stew some flavor.”

Tirana sat up on the plinth. “Oh! I hate garlic!” she shrieked.

Yar yelled in surprise, lifting his axe and stumbling back. Gis fell backwards over one of the fallen pillars, his robes flying up and his spindly legs waving in the air. Ethar shouted, “Yah!” and dropped his scrolls, which rolled every which way across the floor. Duro turned and fled for the open chamber doors, wild-eyed with fright.

Soren instinctively retreated, and reached for Splitter. His hand was on its hilt when Tirana collapsed back on to the plinth.

“What in the name of the unholy demons of Lis was that?” Yar exclaimed, still in a battle-stance, as if preparing to receive a cavalry charge.

“I don’t know,” Soren said. He stepped cautiously back to the edge of the plinth. He kept a hand on Splitter. Tirana again lay on the plinth, but now her chest moved with breathing, her lips parted, and as Soren watched she stirred and moved her arms. She lifted one hand up to her mouth, then let it fall back.

“I think,” he said, wondering, “she’s waking up.”