Black book chapter one

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  1. #1

    Black book chapter one

    The Black Book

    Chapter one.

    Her earliest memories were of her Grandmama, in her painted caravan, amongst never ending forests of towering trees. Trails of blue grey smoke from their cook fire, sailing through spears of dappled sunlight. The smell of wood smoke, herbs and cooked rabbit. Roast pigeon. The smoke from her Grandmamas pipe on the breeze.

    Her Grandmama was very old. Had a crooked back, a hunched back. A hump. A large and crooked nose, a hooked nose. Skin that was like old and crinkled paper, old and crumpled leather. A glass eye that was the wrong colour and always looking the wrong way.
    She was ugly and had warts.
    But the girl did not know that she was ugly at the time. She was her Grandmama.

    Her Grandmamas hair was silver and very beautiful and sometimes she would sing to her, or tell her stories. Tell her about their people and where they'd come from. What had happened. The girl liked that.

    So she was ugly but also beautiful. Old and also young. Foul tempered and also kind. She could be cruel to the girl and mean spirited, generous and sometimes not. She was many things, had many moods. But the girl knew no different.

    Her Grandmama was very wise, very silly, serious and funny. She could be very strict and beat the girl when she deserved it. Sometimes when she did not. Her moods were like the winds and seasons (all though certainly less dependable). There was method in her madness and she was no fool, even though she might pretend to be. And she certainly loved her, that was never in doubt.

    Her Grandmama and her and their people were 'victims of their circumstances', 'prisoners of history','enemies of the Emperor and all his cronies - the Church.' She didn't know what all these things meant but she would do in time. Her Grandmama was very old and she was very young and there was only so much time.

    They lived on a narrow isthmus of land. A corridor barely two hundred miles wide. Caught between the great shield wall of the Imperial City States to the west and the vast forest homelands of the tribes to the south and east.

    There were others like them. A ragtag bunch of outcasts and exiles, Gypsies and travellers. Cast out or escaped from the Imperium and tolerated, for the most part, by the peoples of the forests. They were all wanderers. But not like the girl and her Grandmama. They were real wanderers, real outcasts –heretics – for they were Fazidi. The Devils Folk.

    The girl Morvern was sitting in a tree. Three hundred feet above the ground. She was good at climbing and had no fear of heights. She was sat there watching her Familiar, Crow, as he chased squirrels along the branches. He wasn't a real Familiar like her Grandmamas. He was a Pine Martin and his name wasn't really Crow but Crowley, but Crow was the name she pretended they both liked best.

    He very much liked chasing squirrels.

    The air was warm and pleasant but the sun had begun to sink low. The breeze was cool and light. The fading sunlight played upon the rippling sea of leaves, the canopies shifting colours and moods mirroring the ever changing sky scape above.

    Crow chased a squirrel and then a Jay. He raced as fast as he could to the end of the longest branch and then he leapt, with no thought or fear, across a chasm some twenty feet. Over to a branch below, that barely stretched to meet him. It bent alarmingly under his weight. Curving downwards so far, that it looked as though it would either snap, or spring back up to cannon him far up into the air. But there was no cause for fear. He was already gone, speeding across the beams and branches. No doubt having the time of his life.

    Morvern loved it up in the high branches, where the forest touched the sky. The space and peace, the butterflies and birds, the small slice of danger. The freedom. The endless oceans of leaves and big Shangrila skies. In the summer she would often camp up high. Sling out a hammock and drift off watching the stars, the constellations, the far off Galaxies.

    Dream of when her people sailed amongst the stars, in their ships that were the fastest in all the cosmos. Dream of her forebears, the mighty Magickians, who had summoned the leviathans of deep space, the Dragons made of Dark energy and Dark matter.

    When she had first heard those stories from her Grandmama, she had known there and then what she wanted to do. Wanted to be. No matter what it would take. No matter what the price.

    The moons were rising and the sky was beginning to turn red. From below Morvern could hear her Grandmama banging on a frying pan. Crow was at once by her side. Appearing as if from nowhere.

    “Time to get going I'd say.” She imagined him saying. In truth he knew the pan banging meant dinner. It was simply a learned response. He continued.

    “Satan's Storm may not be at its zenith any time soon, but there's no need to take chances. We may be Fazidi and the moons are yet to be bathed in blood, but there's no harm in being cautious once in awhile.” He sounded just like her Grandmama. Which was odd, for she hadn't meant him too. Morvern briefly pondered on whether it was a bad sign, that her only imaginary friend had started talking like her Grandmama. Then she gave up on it, thinking it too metaphysical.

    Life was to be lived after all.

    In her mind Crow was very clever, sometimes very mature and wise, other times less so. Today she had decided he was in a sensible mood – well when he wasn't trying to catch birds and the such. But that was surely just his nature, he was a Pine Martin after all.

    Crow was her best friend, her constant companion. She didn't have any real friends, so saw no harm in the imaginary.

    “Says the one whose been chasing squirrels all afternoon, thinking he can fly. I saw you leap that chasm, I thought you were going to be sprung right back twenty foot in the air when you landed. Sent spinning head over heels like a Catherine Wheel. That would have learned you.”

    “Says the girl who is quite happy to dangle around, three hundred foot in a tree, when the real danger, is an increasingly exasperated octogenarian armed with a frying pan and a tongue as sharp as a razor.”

    Morvern of course had no reasonable argument against that. It was always fun, if not slightly worrying, to be bested by her own imagination.

    Morvern had to sigh. There was no chance of sleeping high up in the canopy that night. The season of the bloody moons was upon them. There were always Daemons lurking here and there out in the forest, with the Storm so close by. But being Fazidi they had naught much to fear from them. When the bloody moons came though they had to be extra careful. Higher, more powerful Daemons were able to stalk the land. It was best to be prudent and sleep inside. They didn't have aught to fear if they did so. Others however did. The Imperial City States shield wall provided no protection when the Storm was at its zenith. A fact that always put Morvern's Grandmama in a particularly good mood.

    Morvern didn't mind it all too much either. Ever since she was old enough they had journeyed to meet with others. Gypsies and the tribes, and even some Fazidi. They held a festival to celebrate the event. True Fazidi were welcome because they could cast Magicks to protect the camp. Daemons won't cross true Fazidi. They wouldn't dare.

    Of course Morvern loved the festival. It wasn't often they crossed paths with others. But the other side to it, the part she most secretly loved. Was that on every night of their journey, when they were locked up all cosy inside their caravan together, her Grandmama would tell her a story every night.

    They would begin with that same first story they started with, all those years ago, when she was just a bairn. Every year the story grew, became more complex, as her ability to comprehend certain concepts, ran commensurately with her Grandmamas expectations. Every year the passage to the festival would take a few days longer, always just the right time needed for all the old favourites to be fleshed out and a new tale to be told. Cast its spell.

    One brand new story each year.

    It was always an exciting time. Dangerous Daemons, the festival, friends old and new, exciting strangers. But best were her Grandmamas stories. For her Grandmama was the best story teller in all the entire world and the prospect of a new one each year... Well it more than made up for not being able to sleep up high in the trees, under the stars. More than made up for the snoring and rubbing oil into her Grandmamas back, deep into her crooked joints.

    “And where do the two of you thinkyou've been?”

    She wasn't happy. Standing hunched over at four foot nothing she was still a fearsome sight. Her arms were strong and powerful. She brandished the frying pan and rolling pin she'd been beating it with, like their work for the day had only but begun.

    “Off gallivanting up at tops of trees. You're not no bird you know.”

    Despite her protestations, the prospect of her only Granddaughter hanging around three hundred feet up in the canopy, curiously didn't bother the girls Grandmama one bit. Just the fact she was late down. If Morvern had of had much interaction with many other peoples, she might of thought this strange. However they weren't a particularly orthodox family unit.

    “And don't go blaming it on that Crow of yours chasing pigeons, old Mab might not be all he was at flying these days, but his eye sight is second to none. It was you that was procrastinating.”

    Mab was her Grandmamas Familiar. He was a Raven and very old. He could talk. Talk for real.

    Morvern's Grandmama said that Mab had been a rich suitor, a Prince nonetheless. That he had wronged her, so she had turned him into a Raven, made him her Familiar. Morvern didn't know what to think about that. He didn't look very rich or Princely. Her Grandmama never did let the truth get in the way of a good story though.

    He was a very scruffy bird but also very learned, cultured. Morvern supposed it wasn't entirely inconceivable, but it was hard to imagine her Grandmama of ever having had any suitors. Let alone a Prince.

    Mab of course was inscrutable on the matter, as he was on almost every other subject under the sun. He was a taciturn bird. But when he did deign to speak it was certainly worth listening to. It was her Grandmama though who wasn't finished speaking yet.

    “You're not too old for a beatingyou know.” The backs of her legs attested to that. “You may think this time of year is all fun and festivals, but its dangerous after dark, even for us Fazidi. Especially ones as wet behind the ears as you. Its already late so we're eating inside. Go on, gerron with yer. Keep an eye on the stove while I stow the last away and lock up all else. Draw a circle round our camp. The suns going down fast.”

    It was a let off, no beating, not even a proper tongue lashing. The bloody moons always put her Grandmama in a good mood. Thinking on the Imperials.

    Their caravan was, in Morvern's eyes, almost perfect in every way. It was their home within their home –the forest. The caravan was a miniature marvel. Although it seemed very large when the girl was small. It had four big wooden wheels and was pulled by an old mare named Turnip. She was lazy and liked carrots. The walls sloped outwards from the chassis and were crowned by half a sawn off cylinder that served as a roof. The dimensions of which were too big to be met by the outwardly leaning walls, so there was an overhang from which all sorts of things could be hung. Tackle and pheasants, fish, cooking pots, drying herbs, picks, shovels, axes, chains and rope, buckets, fishing poles, dead cats and such like.

    Morvern came round the back and climbed up the old rickety wooden stairs that led to the double doors, all under the cover of the oversized roof. The top halves of the doors were open and she could now see the trout. The smell of it had been making her stomach rumble as it sizzled away on the stove. How she loved that stove, its old and battered body, and crooked tin chimney. It was the heart that made the place a home, giving off sweet smells and suppers to savour and keeping them toasty warm when it was minus everything outside.

    Their Caravan, her Caravan, was an Aladdin's cave of treasures and wonderments. All the walls were lined with shelves two deep in books. These were her Grandmamas greatest treasures and covered every subject both practical and arcane - and all the greatest literature from almost every human epoch. There was history and botany and science, and of course Magick. Many, many books on Magick both light and dark (although her Grandmama did not see any real distinction between the two) and many religious and philosophical texts too. Maths and calculus, maps and charts. She had them all. Many copies from great works so old they pre-dated the destruction of the Earth. Some were printed, but many were handwritten and illuminated, extremely precious. There were some so dangerous that her Grandmama kept them in a heavily padlocked trunk.

    There were also many charms and vials and salves of ointment. Most of it was tat that her Grandmama sold to gullible travellers. She sold real cures and herbs and medicines too, poultices and the such. But in her Grandmamas opinion anyone foolish enough to pay good money for a love potion had what was coming to them. Her Grandmama didn't just fleece people. She fixed bones and delivered babies. Even out here it was sensible to play into peoples preconceptions, the old valued healer, trading on fleeting rumours of Fazidi heritage to fleece the unwary. Better that those they didn'tknow too well didn't know the truth. Thought her a crazy old charlatan. The Imperium had spies everywhere. Or so her Grandmama said.

    The floor was covered in deeply ornamental Tibetan rugs and the whole caravan was illuminated by gaslanterns, theirs was a warm and soft, homely light. One that brought out faded colours and played with shadows that danced in forgotten corners.

    The Caravan being so small meant that everything had its own and rightful place. It was quite ingenuous really, how it all fit together, for really there wasn't much room. Everything had to be made fast, for they travelled over roots and ruts. What little roads and trails there were, were very bad - and even worse depending on the season. The frost and thaw and rain and snow. They were better off than some. For the wheels rested upon mighty springs, but even so, travelling through the forest could be like sailing upon the seven seas - and with all the treasures inside it was a wonder more things didn't get broken.

    They ate their tea on the table that folded down from the ceiling. The fish was especially delicious as they still had some salt - and Mab had found a lemon tree not two days past. They had all been very pleased with that. As it was the first night of their own personal festivities, Morvern had some hot cocoa that she had been saving for a very long time and her Grandmama took some Whiskey. Her Grandmama very much liked drinking and it was a source of constant relief to Morvern that they never had much about. Her Grandmama could be a terrible drunk.

    After dinner they folded the table away and settled down in front of the stove. The only exception to the rule of saving space in the entire Caravan, was that of the girls Grandmamas great wing backed rocking-chair. She settled back into it deeply and took a long draw on her pipe. Mab perched on the wing overher right shoulder. Morvern had to settle for a smaller, rather less comfy chair, but they both had foot stools to warm their feet on and Morvern could rock back and forth on the back legs of her seat. She liked doing that. Crow curled up around her neck as she sipped on her cocoa. She was really quite content.
    “Well?” Said her Grandmama. “Are you ready?”
    “Ready for what Grandmama?” She answered in her most sweetest, naive and girly way.
    “Don't try that roobish with me young lady.” Morvern knew how to push her Grandmamas buttons.
    “Here's me trying to set up an atmosphere, provide a little anticipation and you start... you best be careful or there'll be no stories and no festivals. Nothing. ”They both knew that was a lie for the girls Grandmama liked telling the tales as much as the girl liked to hear them.
    “Okay, okay, I'm listening.”
    “Good, then lets begin.”

    So as the sun set and the black of night crackled red from the Storm high out above amongst the stars. As the forest tried to sleep as Daemons stalked the night. A girl, her Grandmama, a Prince and a Pine Martin, prepared to escape the confines of their caravan and be transported far, far back in time to whence it all began. All safely wrapped up in patchwork quilts beside the roaring stove.

  2. #2
    Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Jul 2015
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    Well done for posting. Your writing is not bad, and you've got some decent phrases and images throughout. The voice seems fairly young-reader-oriented, which is fine. However there are a few basic grammar errors; eg:

    "If Morvern had of had much interaction"

    And later, in the same sentence: "
    she might of thought this strange."

    Should be: "If Morvern had have had much interaction" and "might have thought" (or "might've thought"). But even there it's quite messy with all those have hads. Other ways to phrase it might include: "Morvern hadn't had much interaction with other peoples, because if she was a little more conversant with the nuances of society, she might have thought this strange. But she wasn't."


    “Time to get going I'd say.” She imagined him saying
    Focusing on that bit in red, it should read:

    “Time to get going I'd say,” she imagined him saying
    Then of course you have the issue of repetition. The verb "say" gets a lot of use in that sentence. Maybe see if you can rephrase one.

    Another issue is there is a lot of infodumping. Lots of text about the grandmother and the world. But think about what is actually happening. I would say the story doesn't really start until "The girl Morvern was sitting in a tree." That would be a decent opener. Everything before it seems more suited to a prologue. See if you can bring in bits of the world as they become germane to the events happening to Morvern then, rather than explaining absolutely everything up front. LEave us the joy of discovery.

    Watch also for being too derivative. Daemons and familiars and pine martens and I am straight away thinking about His Dark Materials.

    Think about your inciting incident. Doesn't have to be big, but what is new or different about this moment that warrants a story. I see you are going for a frame story which is fine (Rothfuss does it in The Name Of The Wind; the whole thing is pretty much a "flashback" of sorts) but he creates an atmosphere, some tension, in the current moment of telling too. Think about that. Maybe there is some sense of urgency that means the grandma must tell the story now. Maybe she is dying and Morvern needs to hear the story before it's too late. Give us more narrative and a little less exposition and straight description. Keep the story moving. Always ask yourself: what is happening?

    But - not bad all in all. Needs a little tightening, but certainly intriguing.

    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge

    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"


    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous


    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!

  3. #3
    Hi bdcharles thanks,
    thanks for reading it and your feedback, you've spotted all the problems I've been worried about.

    Yes the voice at the start is very young reader oriented, this was a conscious decision, to reflect her world and make the contrast of what comes later more shocking. Create a false sense of familiarity for the reader.

    Thanks for the notes on my grammar, its not my strong suit, so I'll keep it in mind. Read up a bit.

    Yes the main problem with not only this chapter, but indeed the first three, is that I wrote them before I thought. The story doesn't start properly until chapter four in truth. There was just so much information I had stored up that I thought I needed to lay down before I could get going. The second chapter is in truth just one massive info dump. The story of the history of their people as told by the Grandma. The third chapter is incidents that have been inflicted upon the girl by her Grandma until this point. And further revelations about her. I realise its best to let the reader reach for things, have to make the jump. Introduce context and details naturally/incidentally and this is something I get better at as the book progresses. Its just working out how to deal with the start. That's my big problem taking the first four chapters and re - casting them. Jiggling them about.

    Yes I was worried about those parts appearing derivative. Pullman has a lot to answer for. I'd always wanted the Grandma to have a familiar, as she is a witch and the girl to have an imaginary friend, to highlight her isolation and strangeness. It seemed natural she would copy her Grandma in that respect, have a pretend familiar. I suppose changing the spelling of Daemon back to Demon might help a little. Its not necessary at all. But it still reeks of Pullman.

    Anyway thanks for all your thoughts and advice, I will try to work out a solution,
    All the best P


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