Of course, I couldn't help working on Gryphon again today.
It's like the very act of saying "No, I must not do this any more" inspires new revelations. I woke up this morning with new dialogue in my brain that I had to write down.
I think that part of the problem is that I have been trying to make the book fit a mold that it wasn't originally designed for. I'm trying to make it more of a genre fantasy-adventure, and it really isn't. My original vision was to have a deeply moving, character-driven story hung on the frame of a fantasy adventure.
I got discouraged yesterday when I realized how unlike that my story sounds. I really do appreciate everyone's comments. You've challenged me to dig deeper. I did some more rewriting today. If only the rest of my book could get the attention this first chapter has!
I added some more revealing insights into Faldur's character. I also decided not to sweat the exposition. At the bookstore today, I opened half a dozen novels by bestselling authors and every single one of them had several paragraphs, if not a full page or more, of background in the first chapter. Tightly woven and tied to the present action, but exposition none the less. It's only the fantasy or thriller genre novels that have this roller-coaster action that doesn't leave time to explain anything. So I'm really not going to let myself get so frustrated any more.
So, here is the rewrite I did today. I think it casts the relationship between Faldur and Marenya in a much clearer light. More complex, but clearer.
“I am grateful not to be dead,” said Faldur to Harth later. “That was a brilliant shot.” They had cleaned themselves up at the farmhouse, and were riding to Glenhym Castle. It was only eight o’clock but seemed much later; the moon was full and riding above the trees. The four Rangers had been plied with hot cider and chicken pie, so their stomachs were warm despite the cold that numbed their toes.
“Thank you,” Harth said, adding as an afterthought, “Sir.” This was a running joke between them, since Harth made no secret of his ambitions to become a Marshall and outrank the Captain, who liked his life the way it was.
Faldur’s mouth twitched, but he didn’t smile. He couldn’t shake his dismay at being caught off guard. The second lion must have entered at another point and made its way down under cover of the bushes. He should have known, but how could he? He’d never seen a nightstalker lay such a cunning trap before. Not since the War, anyway. Why was this behavior resurfacing now? But perhaps he was reading too much into it. Perhaps it was just an accident that one was hidden and the other returning just as they arrived. He just thanked Heaven that Harth was there.
The sound of music drifted towards them as they climbed the hill to the Castle. The square, towering fortress-in-residence had housed Lord Tarnbel’s family for twelve generations. Tarnbel was a Delfenward, appointed by the King to manage and protect all of the wardlands around Glenhym. Wardlands were owned by the citizenry, but governed by the Delfenward under the King’s authority. Tarnbel was stern, but also fair and conscientious, and thus much loved by his people, or surmen.
The gates stood open tonight, as they usually did, to allow traffic to and from the village of Glenhym Proper. The traffic had clearly been heavy. The sounds of many voices spilled out through the windows along with long streams of light on the snow. The groom greeted the Rangers as they dismounted, and took their dories. They strode up the wide steps to the entrance. Despite what had just happened, or perhaps because of it, Faldur was seized with a fierce desire to hold someone pretty and dance until dawn. Marenya. He wanted to see Marenya.
“You shall see an amazing sight tonight,” joked Harth to Brilward and Romer. “A dancing Cat.”
“The Captain dances?” Romer was new to their pack.
“I’m not totally uncivilized,” was Faldur’s reply.
“I wonder if Firn Highcliff’s daughter is here?” wondered Romer. “Marenya, isn’t that her name? She’s turned out very pretty, I hear.”
“Paws off!” warned Faldur sharply.
Harth shot Romer a warning look, which Romer failed to notice. He mistook Faldur’s meaning as a social one. “But, Sir, her father was one of us.”
“Exactly. And now he’s dead. The last thing she needs is a Ranger! So paws off. That’s an order.”
Faldur strode ahead of them, feeling Romer’s eyes on his back. He knew what a hypocrite Romer would think him, but he’d let Harth explain. Since her father’s death, Faldur had kept a watchful eye on the girl. He felt it his duty to spend time with her and her mother Erinor, get to know them, and help them if he could. Fortunately, they had ended up in the Delfenward’s house due to the fact that Erinor and the Delfenward’s late wife had been cousins. This meant that their material needs were provided for. Erinor had only her husband's small pension. Marenya, who had indeed grown up pretty, was like a younger sister to him. She was also one of the few people in the world who accepted his company without challenging, questioning or chatter. She was restful to his spirit, and he seized any opportunity to be in her presence.
* * *
Marenya was not a natural dancer, though her confidence had grown through the years. Faldur watched the tiny furrow in her brow as she concentrated, and her bursts of laughter when she made a mistake. Soon they found their mutual rhythm and lost all sense of time and place, knowing nothing but the music and each other and the vibrations of their feet as they pounded on the floor. Her face was flushed, her lips smiling, her long hair tumbling out of its combs. After several unsuccessful attempts to pin it up again, she let it fly loose around her shoulders. He let his thoughts fly loose – just a little – as well. He hadn’t seen much of her this past year. For the first time it dawned on him that she truly was all grown up. A hawin in her own right, past the age of choosing. This discovery both astonished him and increased his pleasure as he took her hand and released it again and again, a constant agony of losing and reclaiming.
At last, unbelievably, it was midnight.
* * *
Something stirred in Faldur that he hadn’t felt in ages. It had been so long since he’d known anything but the company of his men, the cramped, smoky barracks, bad food, worse weather, constant watchfulness, and danger, that he had nearly forgotten what he was fighting for. As well, he couldn't help thinking that if things had been just a little different, if Harth's aim had been even slightly off, he wouldn't be standing there at all. Marenya was in his arms, soft, warm and still a little drowsy. They were standing behind everyone else. No one was looking at them. He bent his head down to hers and kissed her, their breath mingling in the frosty air. She froze at first in surprise, then responded with a sweetness that made his head spin.
When the kiss ended, her deep blue eyes gazed up at him with wonder, and the same devotion he had seen in Pelwyn’s face when she looked at Mel.
All at once, Faldur realized what he had done... and cursed himself.
* * *
Faldur sat in the corner of Strider’s stall with his head in his hands. The bark-colored dory butted his curving horns against Faldur’s arm, wanting attention, but Faldur shoved him away. Firn Highcliff’s daughter was in love with him. How could this have happened? Marenya, whom he had guarded so diligently, needed guarding from him.