NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED: The first Chapter of the first Novel… I ever started.

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So this is going to be a very long post…sorry

So I just found the first chapter of the first fantasy Novel I ever started…and I need feedback to know if it is worth pursuing…the story itself is long with a lot of moving parts.

 

Chapter 1

Raven Selwyn came out of the underbrush unscathed, flowers she had plaited in her hair and old scuff marks on her knee high leather boots. Her tunic and breeches were treated leather very suited for foraging through the forest. But Raven was never content to stay on the forest trails. She much rather preferred the sunlight through the trees in the dense thickets. She equally enjoyed the struggle of treading her own path and had the scars to prove it.

However, for all the difficulty and obstacles of her chosen course, her frequency and familiarity with the woods had made her stealthy. The Rinser forest was her second home. She could stand motionless and watch squirrels scamper up trees and birds fleet from tree to tree. She had made a game of stalking wildlife, treading softly from shadow to shadow without rustling leaves or breaking branches underfoot. Raven froze whenever she heard an unfamiliar sound and slowed her breathing in order to pinpoint its location.

It was because of these skills that she was able to watch the man tramping through the trail near the crystal clear lake unobserved. He was unlike any other man Raven had ever seen before. He was well over six-feet tall with broad shoulders but he was rotund and looked like he didn’t get much sun. He had long blonde hair in disarray with leaves and sticks interwoven. He made so much noise that Raven was sure there would not be any animals for miles around.

On closer observation he looked very young, there was a look in his eyes, which she would later identify as scarred innocence that suggested he was not much older than her despite his humongous size. He was dressed very finely although significantly worse for wear.  He wore and expensive looking silk shirt with a heavy woolen coat and breeches but all his clothing had recent tears and scuff marks. He seemed so frightened and vulnerable that it was clear he was foreign to this environment. Indecision racked Raven. Should she go to assist this stranger?

Danger was not a chief concern for she was confident she could lose him in the trees. Besides four elder brothers and a retired weapons master for a father had given her supple muscles and made her proficient in using her knifes. One was a foot long single-edge dagger with serrations near the hilt and the other a six-foot double-edged throwing knife. She called them Raven’s Talons and Claw.

They were an unorthodox birthday presents from her father when she turned ten and for six years they had never been more that a few feet away. She had practiced with them so much that they were an extension of her hands and she could hit a target at 20 paces. She wore them in an x-shaped sheath on her back.

No what held her up was her curiosity. What could this finely dressed stranger be doing in her woods? For he definitely had a purpose; with all his apparent helplessness Raven saw determination in his stride. That decided her. Glancing at the sun overheard she determined he was heading east and proceeded to follow him.

Sticking to the lush trees and concealment of shrubs, Raven shadowed the giant boy and speculated on what he could be doing here. He could be trying to find someone or running away from pursuers. All she knew was that the present path he was on led deeper into the forest than she had ever gone. She accepted that it would become more difficult to track him unseen in the bushes but also more fun.

Ducking under a low hanging branch, she wrenched her attention back to studying our stranger.  As the trail began to narrow and get more wooded Raven noticed that his apprehension and determination were escalating equally. She was fairly certain now that he was being pursued because he constantly glanced backward followed by a slight increase in pace.

She had no fear of discovery cause the noise he was making masked any accidental sound from her and she paused whenever he stopped. He took frequent breaks but they were always short. Raven suspected that it was partly due to his eagerness to reach his goal but mostly from reluctance to meet his pursuers.

By the time their shadows had lengthened ahead of them, he had calmed down considerably and slowed his pace to a crawl. Just when Raven was considering giving up and going home, he increased his pace and then broke into a run. It was excitement that drove him now, as it appeared he was close to his journey’s end.

But Raven was confused because just a short while later the path dead-ended in dense thick hedges and trees. Raven was further amazed at how he appeared to just walk into this natural wall. Raven waited a minute for him to be further ahead then crept up to where he had disappeared. The puzzle was soon solved as our young man had found a secret path cut through the foliage and artfully hidden in plain sight. She followed him down the winding path remaining behind him and out of sight.

The path finally opened up into a clearing with the stump of a giant oak tree near its center. There were wild flowers all around the clearing and rocks and boulders to the left. The terrain got rocker as you went further south until you reached the Tienga Mountains.  Raven was surprised when the young man climbed to the center of the stomp.

“Caiaphas! Caiaphas Rowan!” he suddenly shouted in a clear, deep voice. “Caiaphas of the High Ancient Way! I know you are here! I have come a long way and I need your help!”

A strong voice on the wind said, “ I do not wish to be disturbed. Go away!”

Raven was astonished.  She could not determine where the voice was coming from. Rather it felt like the voice emanated from the air all around the clearing. Never before had she heard a voice with such power either. Even her father’s orders paled in comparison to the authority in that simple command. She was becoming a little anxious but again her curiosity got the best of her.

“Please Caiaphas. My name is Bransen from the Coroline family. I am all that is left to protect The Scrolls of Thau. You were my grandfather’s mentor and closest confidant. He alone knew where you retired. I was so scared I would never find you.”

“Ha ha. I remember Frederique. A rambunctious youth but very intelligent. Who else did you bring and why is he hiding?” the voice replied.

At this she felt her blood pressure rising. How had he known she was there? “I don’t understand. I didn’t come with anyone.” Bransen answered, looking confused and a bit apprehensive as he surveyed the clearing. “Ah the plot thickens. It would appear that you have been followed.” At this Bransen faced the way he had come with terror written clearly on his face and the set of his shoulders.

“Do not be frightened young Bransen,” the voice said, “Why don’t you come out.” Raven suppressed her fear, loosen her muscles and strolled out confidently from her shelter in the trees with her hands close to the hilt of her knifes.

At her approach, Bransen jumped down from the stump, away from her and said, “What…who…where…how long have you been there?” Before Raven could answer a rustling of leaves from the opposite side of the clearing announced the approach of a regal old man in a gray full-length cloak made of wool. It had a hood, which he pushed down to reveal curly white hair to his neck and a clean shaved face with kind but discerning eyes covered by wire rimmed spectacles. He carried a long staff with a bulb-shaped head that had symbols engraved on it.

“Now that we are all out in the open we should get properly introduced,” he said, “ I am Caiaphas Rowan, this is Bransen Coroline and you are…”

“Raven Selwyn,” she answered. “What are you doing here?” Bransen asked her but immediately followed with, “Wait don’t bother you can explain later…Caiaphas I need your help now.” “Yes you have already mentioned that but I prefer we discuss this inside. Come lets have some tea,” Caiaphas replied.

Caiaphas led them to a hidden alcove where a house was camouflaged in the trees. The house was of a simply design but built sturdy and furnished with inventions and contraptions. It was lighted artfully by the sun using mirrors and prisms but had paper lanterns for nighttime. There were sketches of other contraptions on the walls and the rooms were devoted mainly to his work with only a small personal space.

“Sorry there isn’t much space for guests. I have a lab in a cave near the mountains but I unfortunately bring my work home with me,” Caiaphas said “just find space wherever. Now where is that chamomile?” He started rummaging in the cupboards, shifting jars and vials  “Ah that fragrance!” After selecting a clay jar that smelled of apples, he efficiently created a fire in the fireplace and set about preparing the tea while giving a running commentary of all his inventions and the herbs he cultivated.

For all his age and the clutter of his house, Raven was impressed with how nimbly he moved around. Even his apparent inattentiveness rang false because although he seemed preoccupied Raven got the impression that he cataloged everything with just a glance and filed it away for further analysis.

“ Can I start now?” Bransen asked as Caiaphas balanced three cups on a stool and served them tea. “Please proceed,” he replied.

“It all started when my grandfather discovered the secret about the Coroline family. Caiaphas you know that as one of your former students, my grandfather was a voracious reader and loved a good quest for knowledge. So while reading some ancient writings he stumbled across a reference to the Coroline family. It stated that we had been entrusted with the guardianship of the destiny of the world but was vague on what the responsibility entailed. He began searching more ancient tomes and scrolls for any clue as to what this could mean and found two verses from an old nursery rhyme that he deemed relevant. I have it written down here,” and Bransen reached into his pocket, removed a scroll and read it.

 

“And as for thou,

The legacy called,

In the Scroll of Thaux

Hangs the World

 

So guard you must

All within

Or life will be lost

And dark will win”

          

He rolled up the scroll and continued his story, “It seemed to him that the poem was created to remind people about something very important. He felt that the Coroline family could possibly be the legacy mentioned and the Scroll of Thaux was the key to solving this puzzle.” Bransen then described to us how his grandfather, with his assistance, went about researching for the Scroll of Thaux.

When he was finished, Bransen took a moment to collect himself, sipping some of his tea, then said, “It was a few months after he had started his research that weird things started happening. Firstly he noticed things moved or missing from his library and then later he spotted the same man when he was out, at the tavern or in the market. He felt like he was being followed so he hired more guards.”

Bransen took another sip and continued, “Things seemed to quiet down for a bit and we continued our search but with no real breakthroughs. Then a month later my grandfather found this old shaman who told him that the Scroll of Thaux were the link between man and Old World Magic. It was shortly after that, when he started researching magic and ‘The Sealing’, that we were first attacked. We survived thanks to the heroic of his guards but I strongly urged him to give up his quest. Rather he convinced me that our search was important and then he confided in me that he intended to seek you out since you are a scholar, a mage and mystic of the High Ancient Ways.”

Raven was getting confused so she interrupted, “Wait, I know ‘The Sealing’ is when all those Wizards stopped Magic a long time ago so that is probably the Old World Magic but what is all this about mages and High Ancient Ways. Human beings can’t do magic.”

“Actually ‘The Sealing’ is a lot more complicated than that,” Caiaphas answered her, “more than 1000 years ago our world was not like it appears today. Magic was everywhere. One could not walk from the plains of Laramore to the mountains of Esfin without encountering numerous places of magic and mystical creatures.”

Caiaphas smiled with a twinkle in his eyes and continued.

“The histories say that even humans could use magic easily through incantations. It was the power of a gifted few determined by your knowledge of the magical language and innate ability. But the ease of magic led to tyranny and oppression. Wizards abused magic and exploited ordinary people. This lead to a War between Wizards and ordinary people and the wizards brought about such devastation that some of the wizards were so appalled they switched sides.”

Raven was so intrigued by his story she unconsciously began to relax and drink her tea.

“After many prolonged battles, these ‘traitors to their class’ were prepared to do something drastic. They were determined to put an end to all magic so they fashioned a spell that would use up all their magical potential but would stop human’s use of magic. It was quite ingenious because the spell was designed to build on itself to suppress human’s use of magic. This was ‘The Sealing’ and it was both a success and failure because it changed the fabric of magic and the world, as we know it. We are not even sure of all its effects- Mystical creatures and places of magic are rare but still exist. However we do know that incantations no longer work. Magic is now the High Ancient Ways, which is a dangerous and deadly art with practitioners constantly struggling for their lives. It works through long complex rituals and astrological alliance before you can bridge the gap to do even the tiniest things. It requires the utmost concentration and attention to detail. It is why I use my inventions more often. And you still have to be born with the gift. Whereas mages can be anyone as long as they have some competency using magical artifacts”

Raven did not know if she believed him. Dragons, Blacthars and Fairies were things of moonlight stories and campfire songs. And people able to do abnormal things just seems like mindless superstition to her.

“Now before I delve into the secrets of the Scroll of Thaux I think Bransen should finish his story”

“Oh right,” Bransen said.  His face fell and there were tears in his eyes as he said, “we were setting out to find you when they attacked the second time,” He paused, “I was lucky. I escaped with some of the guards. But my grandfather…[sob]… he didn’t make it…” Bransen collected himself then said, “ It was a long journey to reach you… and they caught up with us just at the borders of the Rinsha forest. Richard and the others sacrificed their lives for me to make it here. And I still don’t even know what the Scroll of Thaux is.”

Raven improved her assessment of Bransen. He had been through a lot recently.  And even though he sounded tired and frustrated, it was clear he was more relaxed now after finding Caiaphas and relating his story. It seem that he was naturally a more composed individual.

However what was paramount in her thought was her hidden desire. Here was what she had always wanted. Here was adventure and mystery. She had always feared that her life would be mundane since her father insisted on them living in a small village.

There and then she made an impulsive decision to join Bransen on his quest.

Caiaphas sat thoughtfully for a while then said, “It seems the time has come where I must invest myself actively in the world again. I have come across the Scroll of Thaux numerous times in my studies but felt it was always best left forgotten. But now that there are others interested in its power it must be safeguarded. You see the Scrolls of Thaux are…” Suddenly bells on the walls of the house each rang once and went silent.

“Oh dear it appears we have guests and I suspect they are not friendly. Those were the alarms for my trip wires in the hedges.”

Bransen replied, “What! I thought I lost them.”

Raven interjected, “Ha that is not possible your trail is too easy to follow.”

Caiaphas responded, “Enough! We must act quickly. Follow the back exit and circle round to the south of the clearing and continue south until you see a willow tree surrounded by boulders. Go east about 100 yards to a cluster of pines. Hopefully, you will find the hidden entrance to my cave but touch nothing. I will go outside and buy you some time. Now go! Be safe!” As he said this he adjusted the similar rings on his middle fingers and reached for his staff.

Bransen jumped hurriedly from his chair and stumbled. Raven grabbed his arm and together they rushed out the back door and clung to the trees for cover. Raven moved in a stealthy crouch with Bransen lumbering behind her.

Once firmly in the trees south of the clearing she stopped to watch what the old man could possible do to get rid of the twenty odd men making their way to the stump. Bransen tried to drag her along but she shrugged him off.

“He told us to run.” Bransen whispered.

“Do what you want! As for me I want to see what a mystic of the High Ancient Ways can do.”

Indecision was clear on his face. He took a step towards the mountains then sighed and said, “I cannot just leave you alone.” Raven wondered what he could possibly do to help if something happened.

The men were a motley crew, equipped with spears, swords, axes and daggers. They moved confidently with the arrogance of a large group of armed men. Many of them wore torn and dirt woolen and leather clothing with light armor and a few of them were spotting fresh bandages.

“Good evening. How may I be of service gentlemen?” Caiaphas greeted them as he stepped out of the woods and strolled serenely towards them.

They stopped, stunned, glancing at one another with questioning looks but then they all stared at one man in particular. He was the finest dress of all of them in clean cotton with a leather jacket and woolen breeches. He was equipped with a brigandine on his chest, vambraces on his arms, a cutlass on his waist and front greaves on his legs.

He stepped forward and said, “We followed a set of tracks all the way to this clearing here and are wondering if you have seen a young man. Tall. Blonde hair. It is important we find him and I am willing to make it worth your while. You will get what you deserve.”

He said this last part with a curious smile as if he suspected the old man already knew about Bransen and was in fact helping him.

“As you can see I am not a young man and you are the first guests I have had all day. Mayhap he took another path or turned off and you missed him. I suspect you have been following a false trail. Could be one of mine. Although I don’t venture out as much anymore, I still like a good walk in the morning. Oh look at me badgering on. Regardless it is late and as much as I like company and surprise visits you are too many for my small cottage. Why don’t you all camp out here and I will bring some blankets.”

Another of their group responded aggressively, “Don’t try to lie to us old man we …” “Silence Gerred!” the lead speaker ordered. “Excuse him. Perhaps we could go inside and talk while I send some men for firewood.”

“Oh there is no need for that. I have tons of firewood at my cottage- nothing to do but chop wood. And this forest can be treacherous at night. I always say ‘Don’t play in the woods at night’ and when you are as old as I am everything you say is wisdom.” Caiaphas said on a chuckle.

“In that case we should probably patrol around for your safety.”

“I was afraid you would say that.” Caiaphas mumbled. Then in a louder voice he said, “We are going nowhere with this game of cat and mice.”

“I agree. We could play this game all night but I really haven’t the time. I am sorry old man but I don’t believe you and now we will have to convince you to talk in a most unpleasant way.

Caiaphas voice changed. Infused with power and warning he said, “I am equally sorry. It would be best if you turned back now.”

The spokesman ignored the warning on a laugh and said “Humorous. Gerred now you can convince him to cooperate.”

As Gerred steps forward, Caiaphas said, “I warned you.” Suddenly Caiaphas brought his hands together, sparking both rings against each other to create a fiery ball of fire that grows bigger as he spreads his hands apart. He then shot it at the cluster of men.

Pandemonium ensued as Gerred was hit dead on. The fireball exploded outward on contact vaporizing him and showering the others with flames. The spokesman screamed, “Everyone scatter.”

It was clearly passed time to be moving on as well. Raven got a brief glance of Caiaphas releasing his second fireball before she grabbed Bransen and started racing south. All her finesse was gone. The leaves wiped in her face and branches clung to her cloths. But Bransen was worse as he stumbled and fell repeatedly as they ran through the woods.

They had to stop for a while after a particularly nasty fall. “We have to keep going” she said. “I know I just am not use to the woods…or running.” “Shush. Can you hear that?” They listened and soon could hear the noise of someone passing through the forest behind them.

“Get up! We have to move.” Raven pulled Bransen up and they raced towards the mountains. But the sound kept getting closer. Raven knew she could escape into the forest without him but she couldn’t abandon him.

“Faster!”

They broke out of the dense tree cover onto rocky ground that began to slope upwards. “There to our right that the tree with the boulders. Go right.” Raven said. “It no use we can’t lead the people following us to the cave” Bransen replied. “Okay we will continue south, deeper into the mountains to lose them, then circle back to the cave.” Raven responded. “Faster!” she added.

However, they were not making good time as Raven had to reign in her speed to keep pace with a struggling Bransen. “Come on you are running like a girl”

“I…ha ha…am…haah….trrrying.”

“I SEE THEM…OVER HERE!” came a loud bellow from back amongst the trees. Despair was writing clearly on both their faces at this and Raven urged Bransen to find his second wind and increase his pace. But the damage was done as three men soon broke out of the trees and a chase ensued.

It seemed their luck had truly run out as Raven could not believe the speed of one of their pursuers with the other two trailing a little behind. And then just as they were nearing the mountain path, catastrophe struck as Bransen snagged his foot on a boulder and went down hard. It was then that Raven knew they would never make the mountains on time. She retraced her steps to Bransen side and ascertained that he was alright but a little dazed. She squatted down slapped him on his face to gain his attention then said, “Bransen, lie down for a little while and stretch your ankle then make for the mountains and hide. I will take care of speedy here and buy you some time with the other pursuers.” Her voice did not betray the apprehension she felt but all she got back from Bransen was a confused look.

With no more time to spare, Raven rushed back at her pursuers and gripped the handles of Raven’s Talons and Claws. The lead assailant had enough time to register shock and draw his short sword before Raven had closed the gap; Raven’s Claws was soon out of its sheath and hurling towards her pursuers heart. His dead body had just dropped to the ground when Raven closed on it and began to retrieve her knife.

However, it would appear that one of the other assailants also had a bit of speed and could react much faster as Raven only had enough time to withdraw her throwing knife before an axes came whistling through the spot where her head had been. Luckily for her, she had rolled backwards on the force used to retract Raven’s Claws and skillfully regained her feet. The two combatants faced each other and began to reassess their opponent.

Raven observed her well-muscled opponent with the double beveled broad axe but heeding her father’s advice she struck first and fast, feinting high with a cross body strike by Raven’s Talons in her left hand and diving low to nick the femoral artery with Raven’s Claws. Unfortunately, her opponent was equally skilled as he ignored the feint and swung a two handed cross body stroke that would catch up with Raven before she met her target. Pivoting on her leading left leg, Raven escaped the eviscerating stroke with with a nick on the shoulder but suck Raven’s Claw deep into her assailants right hand on a back stab before separating. Her opponent quickly created some more distance now fully aware that he had underestimated this little girl with the knifes. But before she could press her advantage, a spear came thrusting towards her midriff and only a hasty backstep prevented her from getting skewed.

“Good thing you showed up.” “Didn’t think we would have so much trouble with one little cunt” “I think that is part of the problem…don’t underestimate her.” “Shut up Lan! I pierce girls, they don’t pierce me.”

At this her two assailants started circling Raven in an attempt to flank her. Just then a large stone came crashing down on the rocks beside Lan. Looking back, Raven saw Bransen clutching a trove of miniature projectiles with his right arm propped to throw another rock.

“Do you want to go handle the brat and leave the bitch to me, Lan.” “No just close in from the sides and lets get her quick, we can see anything come at us that way.” The two assailants soon closed the distance on Raven and pressed their attack. She continually gave ground as all her attempts to circumvent their flanking her position failed. However, Raven noticed in the rain of rocks that the ones thrown towards the spear wielder were closer on target. Raven backtracked to give herself space for her new course of action and rushed Lan. In her peripheral vision, she saw the spear wielder timing his thrust and deviated from her path just as he released his attack. Raven quickly released an underhanded throw towards the spear wielder and swiped Raven’s Talons towards the spear’s shaft. Although her throw was good, the spear wielder managed to narrowly evade her attack by throwing his body aside. As luck would have it, it was this action that caused one of Bransen’s missiles to smash firmly against his forehead, reducing Raven’s problems to one. She had barely noticed this when instinct told her to duck, and again she narrowly escaped with her head as an axe blade whistled above.

Raven let her body fall into a backward roll and she regained her feet prepared to face Lan, her last assailant with renewed hope. However, the last thing she remembered was a rock the size of an apple hurling towards her head.

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