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View Full Version : Guardian - Chapter 1 (4000 words) - mild violence, mild bad language



pdwalke4
April 18th, 2013, 05:23 PM
First chapter of latest project. Have quite a few 'starts' but think this is the most promising of them (in my head can see plot line running to a possible 3-4 books). Hope you like the main characters introduced here.

Chapter 1





The sharp crack of wooden training swords clashing echoed around the small arena. It was almost the end of a chilly autumn day and Lucan was thrusting the rounded tip of his blade wildly as he tried in vain to find a way past his older brother Cedric’s defences.
The pair were practising their martial skills in a small arena sat within the outer walls of their father’s castle. The circular area was covered with sand and surrounded by a wooden rail where quintains could be placed to enable training with a lance on horseback.
At fifteen Lucan was three years younger than Cedric who was already regarded as an exceptional knight. Both had hair the colour of ripened corn. Lucan kept his cropped short and hidden beneath an open faced steel helmet while Cedric fought bareheaded his hair hung in a long ponytail. The pair carried leather covered linden wood heater shields as well as their long training blades.
A bead of sweat dripped from Lucan’s pointed nose and his face glowed red in frustration as he looked at his brother’s wide grin. Cedric was blocking his attacks easily and appeared to have barely broken sweat despite the plate armour he wore. In comparison, Lucan felt sweat soaking the woollen tunic he was wearing under his leather jerkin and trousers. His armour was much lighter than Cedric’s despite having pockets filled with lead pellets. It pulled down on his shoulders so that he stood slouched, his weight on his back foot weakening his increasingly ragged attacks.
The pair shared the same light blue eyes. There was an almost playful look in Cedric’s as he swatted away Lucan’s blade, not bothering to raise his shield. The almost careless manner increased the simmering anger barely hidden behind Lucan’s gaze.
Cedric backed away from an attack almost sending Lucan sprawling as his desperate lunge found nothing but empty air. The older brother began circling his sibling quickly, forcing him to continually turn on the spot. Lucan’s movements became shambling as he tried to follow Cedric’s steps.
“Tired brother?” Cedric’s question implied insult, reinforced by the sarcastic smirk spreading across his face. Lucan bit back the retort that had formed on his lips, knowing it would be wasted, his face scrunching into a scowl instead as he tried to appear as though he was not breathing heavily.
Cedric continued to tease more than teach his brother. He began reversing his direction every few seconds leaving Lucan unbalanced. The shield protecting his upper body and neck slipped down and opened a gap in his defences. Cedric simply stepped away despite the obvious opportunity to attack, forcing Lucan to stumble after him.
Cedric repeated similar moves giving Lucan no opportunity to resume his attack. His defences dropped each time and Cedric continued to step away almost sending him tumbling to the floor. A weaving pattern of drag marks showed the shuffling steps where Lucan had tried to follow Cedric’s fluid, agile steps. The frustration in his face was obvious, the increasing redness a sign of his growing anger.
Lucan’s torment was cut short. Both froze on the spot as the booming voice of Arnulf, their fathers Marshall, cut across the arena. “Get a move on gentlemen we are not here to dance. There are no watching whores to entertain.”
“But a princess may be observing through a nearby window.” Cedric’s response had an edge of mirth to it, insulted at being accused of potentially playing up for a tavern wench.
“There is no difference between a whore and a princess when they are on their back and I should know having sampled many of both.”
Arnulf was a squat bull of a man who had spent most of his life fighting in service to Baron Hudde. He was in his fifties, completely bald with menacing dark brown eyes. A career as a soldier had left most of his body scared, though it was a testament to his bravery that none could be found on his back. As the Baron’s most trusted soldier he was the man deemed most worthy of schooling his children in the art of fighting. He always observed from a distance, wearing only a dirty grey woollen tunic and trousers. A stiff vine was the only ornament he carried and both boys feared its sharp strike despite their noble status.
Arnulf’s comment caused Cedric to smirk and his eyes flicked towards the Marshall for a moment. Lucan saw the inattention and instantly tried to attack his brother, hoping the moment of distraction would allow him to finally land a blow. The clumsy over hand strike did not get close. Cedric sidestepped allowing his brothers momentum to unbalance him once more. He countered with a wild swipe that Lucan failed to fully duck underneath. A loud clang marked the impact as Lucan’s helmet was knocked from his head as the wooden sword skimmed across its rounded top.
Lucan span away with it, knocked to the ground by the heavy impact. He landed on his back with a groan and felt nauseous as he tried to sit up. The world around him was spinning and the light seemed to sting his eyes. He barely registered the scathing voice of Arnulf, lacking any sign of concern. “No, no, no. How many more fucking times do I have to tell you to keep your shield up even when you attack? If Cedric had felt the urge to be an only child he could have broken your neck.”
As Lucan’s vision began to clear he looked up sheepishly, seeing the scarred face of the Marshall of his father’s oath men looking down at him. A flicker that he thought could have been concern appeared in Arnulf’s eyes as he proffered an arm to help Lucan back to his feet. It took him several attempts to stand, falling back to the ground as his dizziness left him unable to retain his balance. In the end Arnulf held him up, gazing searchingly into his eyes for any sign of trauma.
Lucan still felt unsteady on his feet even when he could finally stand unaided. His eyes moved past Arnulf to Cedric as he tried to maintain his balance. There was a look of contempt on his brother’s face. It made Lucan wonder if his brother had seriously considered doing him actual harm with the unusually brutal attack.
It was no secret to Lucan that Cedric resented being forced to spend extra time training with him at the end of each day. In truth he felt much the same way, both only tolerating it at their father’s insistence, knowing he demanded excellence from both of his sons. The extra hour of drill had been going on for over a month, ever since it had become clear that Lucan had fallen behind the skill level of most of the boys his age. While Lucan knew his martial instincts were poor he did not want to believe it could leave his brother wanting to see him badly hurt.
Lucan struggled to raise his shield off the floor and stood facing Cedric once again. The look of contempt remained for a moment before turning into a grin. “Struggling to get it up brother?” Though Cedric was pointing the wooden sword at his shield Lucan had no doubt as to what his brother was referring to. The comment it made him blush and he tried to attack again. Hoping to trick Cedric he tried to make himself appear even more tired than he was, dragging his shield along the floor as he approached, only raising it just before he reached him and using it as a weapon, swinging it at Cedric. Once again the attack was easily evaded. Cedric stepped to one side and hammered his wooden sword down on the top of Lucan’s shield, knocking it to the floor. A sweeping strike sent Lucan’s blade flying and Cedric playfully placed the wooden tip of his blade against Lucan’s throat, smiling as he spoke with barely concealed humour. “Yield worthy foe. I offer clemency.”
The mix of fury and embarrassment plastered across Lucan’s face was caused by more than his poor showing or the vainglorious way his brother was treating him. He knew Arnulf would have watched the shambling movements of his clumsy attack with a disapproving glare. He could almost feel the scarred veteran’s dark eyes burning his back, like the sharp thwack of his vine cane often did.
The sweat was running off Lucan’s brow and into his eyes making them sting. His glare was fixed on Cedric but his outline was a blur. He blinked a few times to try and clear the stinging sensation and his vision, intending to retrieve his shield and sword. His first steps towards the fallen weapons were checked by Arnulf. Lucan heard the Marshal speak at the second attempt, the first being met with a blank look of incomprehension. “Are you ok boy?” The gruff voice was broken slightly betraying a hint of concern that only made Lucan feel more ashamed at having broken the normally stern man’s resolve with his ineptitude.
Lucan nodded as Arnulf clicked his fingers in front of his face to grab his attention. “Go get cleaned up Cedric. I’ll look after your brother.” There was more of a rebuke in the comment this time and Lucan made an effort to speak.
“I’m ok, really I am. I just didn’t see it coming until it was too late.”
Lucan felt Arnulf lead him to one side. He watched Cedric grin at him as he hurried away to find a squire to help him out of his armour. Lucan tried to not resent his older brother. He knew the grin suggested that he would expect to see him later, withering under his father’s disapproving glare as Arnulf gave him a daily report on his progress. It would lead to his evening being spent reading the books his father owned on strategy and combat on his insistence that they would help him improve. He knew Cedric would be spending the evening drinking and whoring with his own peers and he longed for the same freedom.
Arnulf’s voice broke the spell of the stare Lucan cast towards his brothers back as he headed away. “You are improving. A knight is not forged quickly.” The doubt on Lucan’s face was obvious as Arnulf continued, his expression neutral, his voice monotone neither damming nor encouraging. “You are still growing. The more you practice and wear the armour the more your strength will grow and with it will come confidence and improved technique.”
“My father...” Lucan’s words were meek and Arnulf cut him off. His voice sounding a little closer to sympathetic.
“Don’t worry about your father lad. Keep working hard and he will see you knock Cedric and his smug grin off his horse in a tournament one day.” Lucan could not keep the smile from his face as he pictured the image. The moment of care vanished at the barest hint of a smile. Arnulf bellowed at him even though he was stood right in front of him. “Now, Ten laps around the yard and keep your fucking shield up then go and wash the dust from your kit.” Lucan managed to suppress the groan he felt rising in his throat, knowing it would only result in a sharp strike with the vine can to get him moving. He set off as quickly as he could manage, impatient to get out of his armour and wash before dinner was served in the great hall.
There was a well close and Cedric was still washing as Lucan finished his run. His body ached all over and he did not want to have his brother tease him more so headed towards the water trough at the back of the nearby stable.
There were sounds of a struggle towards the rear of the stable as Lucan approached. He marched inside, assuming it was nothing more the stable hands roughhousing while they worked to care for his father’s horses.
A small group of four boys who all looked around his own age stood by the far wall, two were stood watching the other two who at first glance looked as though they were fighting. As he moved closer he saw one of the boys send the other to the ground by stepping in close and kicking his legs out from under him. While he was on the floor he heard the apparently victorious boy speak to the other three. “As the young lord just showed the quicker opponent will always win out against a slower opponent.” The other boys laughed, including the one who had been knocked to the floor, who was helped up by the boy doing all the talking.
“Who the fuck do you think you are mocking stable boy?.” Lucan was angry, already feeling humiliated by his brother and though he usually tried to be respectful of the serf’s who worked in the castle his mood was black, and to be mocked by them was too much.
Three of the group froze, the fourth, the boy who had spoken spun round to face him. His face became ashen as Lucan looked at him, his expression bordering on rage. The stable boy wore a dirty rough woollen tunic that hung down to his knees and had pieces of straw and clumps of horse manure clinging to it. Straw was also sticking out from his tangled black hair. He had a slender figure much like his own but he figured the boy’s was probably caused by a lack of food. “My lord I did not mean to cause offence I was teaching the others to…”
“Save it, I heard you.” Lucan cut in holding the boys stare for the moment it took the youth to drop his eyes to the floor. “I could have you beaten for a comment like that, if not hung.”
“My Lord I…”
“My Lord I what?” Lucan was bellowing at the frightened looking stable hand. The harder he stared at him the more he was beginning to picture him as Cedric.
“I was explaining to them why you lost to your brother. I-” The pained sounding attempted explanation was cut short by Lucan’s right fist as he tried to punch the boy. Rather than feeling the crunch of the a nose under his fist he found himself looking up at him from the floor. The boy had caught his fist in a vice like grip before it connected, turning his wrist painfully forcing him onto one knee before knocking him onto his back with a kick to his chest.
Lucan looked shocked as he looked up from the floor. The stable was silent, even the horses seemed to have stopped whickering. The boy was shaking in fear as he looked down at Lucan. “My Lord I…” Lucan saw fear in the boys eyes and realised right away that he expected to find himself hanging from a rope for striking the son of his lord. The other boys around here were just as quiet, stunned to silence and looking like open mouthed statues, none daring to move.
Lucan’s first thought was to scream for a guard, he was furious and could almost feel the heat coming from his cheeks. The humiliation he always felt after training with his brother had been added to by being put on his back by a servant and he could feel the words climbing up into his throat. His whole body felt tense and the words almost escaped before he thumped the floor with his fist grazing his knuckles on the stone and swallowing them. He had after all attacked the boy. Self-defence was understandable and only his pride was actually hurt. He was also curious as to how the boy how bested him so quickly.
There was a long pause where Lucan took several deep breaths to regain his calm. He proffered his hand to the boy to help him up. It was taken by the now trembling youth who helped him to his feet. “What’s your name?” The question was asked in as friendly a tone as Lucan could muster, trying to fight his own anger.
“My Name? My… name is Orrick Sire.” The boys voice was strained and Lucan could see in his expression that Orrick had thought about lying.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes Sire, I swear. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to-“
“Save it. If I wanted to I could have you dangling from a tree before you could even begin to beg for your life.” Lucan swore inwardly, not having meant to vent his anger and add to the boys fear. He concentrated once more on calming his tone. “Help me to get my armour off please Orrick.”
Orrick’s fingers were shaking as they worked to undo the straps, releasing them slowly. Lucan grunted in relief as the last came free and Orrick lifted weight was lifted from his shoulders. Lucan untied the belt holding the weighted trousers up and pushed them down leaving him in his sweat covered undershirt and braises.
Despite having no intention of calling for a guard Lucan continued to allow Orrick to believe that he would. He hoped his threat, that was causing the boys was obvious discomfort, would ensure he was scared enough to answer his questions honestly. “Where did you learn to fight like that?” He tried to keep his voice sounding a little threatening but smiled as he spoke. Orrick’s reply was cautious.
“My father and uncle were both gladiators. They taught me.” Lucan’s eyes narrowed. The term was not one he would have expected to hear in his father’s castle. He knew criminal gangs organised illegal fights in the surrounding villages. They were well known to be vicious, often to the death. They were similar to the tournaments staged by nobles but were usually fought by men and women who owed a debt to a gang and could not pay or were bought as slaves. He had heard some were brigands who simply loved to kill and he suddenly hoped the boy’s parents did not fall into that category, despite his status the thought of thugs seeking revenge made him nervous. He managed to suppress a shudder, not wanting the boy to see he was uncomfortable at the mention of the illegal activity.
“Are either still alive?” Lucan realised the question was tactless but could not take it back.
“My father is alive and he won his freedom. I don’t know about my uncle. He ran away after barely winning his first fight. He owed the debt but my father was forced to fight to pay it off. He is deadly with his fists and a knife, he never lost...” The pause made Lucan wonder if there was something more or of it was just his fear but he did not want to press the boy.
“So has your father taught you to fight after he was freed? I would not have thought he would was allowed to keep enough of his winnings to buy his son armour.” Orrick’s smile was an honest one and his voice sounded a little calmer.
“He taught me to fight since I was old enough to stand and they fight naked sire. The fights are frantic, they use knives, lots of blood but a death is rare unless the sponsor has paid the owner of the fighters for it. Those fights cost a fortune but they make the victor a huge sum.”
“Why no armour if they make so much money? Surely they can afford it?” Lucan forgot about his attempt to keep Orrick nervous, his curiosity peaked.
“The crowd wants to see fast bloody contests. A man in armour is slow, the attacks more attrition than finesse as one tries to bludgeon the other to death. A fast unarmoured fighter will find the weak spots on the much slower opponent.” There was a pause before Orrick continued, Lucan saw the indecision in the boy’s face as he spoke. “You feel the armour holding you back I can see that when you fight.” Lucan did not want to admit to a servant that his discomfort was from a lack of strength so said nothing as Orrick continued. “Speed is the key to single combat. The armour makes your brother slow and you slower. If you learned to fight without it you would soon be too quick for him.” Orrick bit his lip and stopped stammering all of a sudden. “Sorry sire I got carried away I did not mean to offend you.” Lucan bit his lip a little. Part of him saw wisdom in Orrick’s words but the part of him that was his father’s son would not let him admit it, even to himself.
“Have you ever fought a knight?”
“No sire I would not dream of it.” Lucan sensed the comment had a link to their earlier encounter and pressed on it.
“So how can you be sure your theory holds true?”
“I am certain of it sire, as was my father who taught me.” There was no doubt in Orrick’s voice. Lucan decided to take a chance.
“Maybe I can give you an opportunity to see your father’s theory in action?”
“Sire?”
“Show me your skills and I will test them against my brother.”
“Sire I do not think I could I…”
“Stop. You know if I wanted to see you killed I could.” Lucan bit his lip at the same time Orrick did. He did not want to hold the boy to threat. “I am sorry, I did not mean that. Forgive me. I would not wish you to do this for me under threat of death. I will never speak of it again even if you say no.” The smile he gave Orrick was genuine but he saw the boys doubt in his word.
“Sire it is not the threat. I do not see how we could. I have duties and you have your training. We could not do it even if I wanted to. I work from dawn to dusk to support my mother and young sister. If I do not earn coin my mother is forced to do things to earn it.” Lucan bit his lip again stopping himself before asking the stupid question of what Orrick’s mother did to earn money.
“I could hire you as my servant. It would get you out of the stable. You would have better food from inside the castle and I am sure we can find a way that you can take some to your family. It would give us time to practise in private.” Lucan tried to keep his voice steady trying to sound reasonable and not as though he was pleading. He saw Orrick was contemplating his offer with the barest hint of a smile.
“It would be nice to not go home smelling of horse dung.” A smile creased Orrick’s face and Lucan responded with one of his own.
“Should I take that as a yes?” Orrick nodded his acceptance and Lucan placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I will speak to my father tonight and find you in the morning with clean clothes more becoming a castle servant.” He left Orrick without another word, heading towards the castle entrance still smelling of the days exertions with a smile running from ear to ear.

NathanBrazil
April 20th, 2013, 07:07 AM
This is well written and held my attention through to the end of the chapter.

Please, add line breaks. :) It's much easier to read. After pasting your piece, click "Go Advanced" and add your line breaks by simply hitting enter at the end of the line.


All my comments and suggestions are IMHO. Please feel free to disregard.

I think the description of Arnulf right after his first lines would be more natural. I'm guessing that you wanted Cedric's retort to follow immediately, but it feels out of place where you have it now. And it is natural to describe a character right after they first speak. This also makes Cedric's smirk follow directly after "There is no difference between . . . "


This para slows the pacing a bit. I'd consider revealing this information in later chapters.


It was no secret to Lucan that Cedric resented being forced to spend extra time training with him at the end of each day. In truth he felt much the same way, both only tolerating it at their father’s insistence, knowing he demanded excellence from both of his sons. The extra hour of drill had been going on for over a month, ever since it had become clear that Lucan had fallen behind the skill level of most of the boys his age. While Lucan knew his martial instincts were poor he did not want to believe it could leave his brother wanting to see him badly hurt.



I would drop this 2nd scarred. You've already described him as scarred in an earlier para.


He could almost feel the scarred veteran’s darkeyes burning his back, like the sharp thwack of his vine cane often did. ve it could leave his brother wanting to see him badlyhurt.



Try moving the bolded parts to a later spot in the book. I think it will help a bit with the pacing.


Lucan felt Arnulf lead him to one side. He watched Cedric grin at him as he hurried away to find a squire to help him outof his armour. Lucan tried to not resent his older brother. He knew the grinsuggested that he would expect to see him later, withering under his father’sdisapproving glare as Arnulf gave him a daily report on his progress. It wouldlead to his evening being spent reading the books his father owned on strategyand combat on his insistence that they would help him improve. He knew Cedricwould be spending the evening drinking and whoring with his own peers and helonged for the same freedom.



I would replace the comma with a period and drop the "were".


A small group of four boys who all looked around his own age stood by the far wall, two were stood watching the other two who at first glance looked as though they were fighting.



I would drop these bolded parts.


The other boys around here were just as quiet,stunned to silence and looking like open mouthed statues, none daring to move.




Overall, I enjoyed this. I think there are some spots that can be tightened. I found a few other NITs but those can be cleaned up by a careful re-read.

I look forward to seeing the other chapters. Thanks for sharing.

pdwalke4
April 20th, 2013, 07:58 AM
Thanks for the feedback. I had copied it straight in from Word. Will reformat next time I post. Helpful info and have made the changes you suggested thanks.

NathanBrazil
April 20th, 2013, 08:06 AM
Nice. When can we expect the next installment? Note the hint of impatience. :D

Caragula
April 20th, 2013, 08:54 PM
I think there is ample opportunity to tighten up this introduction. The superiority of Cedric over Lucan is laboured, you could achieve it in half the text.

There were a few occasions where your research showed through, without adding anything to the story. The fact that the rail supported quintains is irrelevant if it is not material to what follows. The reference to leather covered linden shields was clumsy as it is used here, you could reference the fact they're leather covered more in keeping with the flow of action, such as the leather being torn at some point. Equally, mentioning that the circle was covered in sand could have been absorbed into the flow of events more carefully by referencing the sand flying up from a fall or feint perhaps.

Given also it's the opening, I think the asides that give context to what's happening while in the middle of combat serve to slow it down. It's a personal taste thing of course, but I felt like I'd rather have a short and intense exchange that establishes Cedric's smugness and Lucan's frustration, which then concludes before the proper introduction of their tutor and Lucan's leaving. You could then bring the reader into the tense, breathy exchanges in near real time, so the reader is plunged into a duel and, as we're naturally led to side with Lucan, we should be able to feel ourselves a mounting frustration as each thing he tries fails. As a reader it feels like a very gentle introduction to the novel despite the opening being simultaneously a fight and an expression of sibling rivalry.

A couple of points also that I struggled with, I'm not sure what menacing dark brown eyes look like and 'completely bald' is unnecessary, 'bald' will do, given one assumes it is itself complete.

Overall of course, the setup of a brother looking to overcome his sibling, his teenage frustration with the 'golden boy' is fertile ground to develop the story further on, so you have plenty of seeds here to create some great conflict going forward.

pdwalke4
April 22nd, 2013, 06:29 PM
I generally Spend ages fiddling and don't have as much time as I'd like so may be a little while but I am about half way through it. Will be asap. Glad its grabbed your interest so will at least have a reader base of 1 to get started ;)

pdwalke4
April 22nd, 2013, 06:31 PM
Thanks for the feedback. Will take into account your thoughts in re-draft. Quite a fan of detail here but will try to make sure I balance it better in places maintain pace.