The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 4
A new-school fantasy novel based on my Crunalan society of the Dragon Empire setting and various historical characters whose stories have been mangled up by the author's imagination. Most critical readers welcomed!
'Borka!' 'Taika!' Two melodious voices precipitated the entry of their owners, two of the most prized flowers of the Ontaggarit.
'Nala and Tolun,' Bortai greeted her sole two friends with a smile, 'what errands have you two come on today?'
Nala crinkled her nose and pouted. 'Do we have to come on errands rather than simply for the pleasure of your company?'
Bortai put out her hands with palms facing upwards and then lowered her arms down so that they hung loosely- the Crunalan gesture for conceding defeat. That earned a smile from Nala but in a moment Bortai saw her big eyes starting to rove in that way that bespoke of the planning of some mischief. Bortai started to dodge to the side but it was already too late. Soon a peal of giggles reverberated within the ger. It only ended when Bortai could barely gasp out a plea for forgiveness. Bortai cast a reproachful glance at Tolun. 'And you just sat there?' Tolun shrugged as if to say what could I do? Then she proceeded to feign the condition of being overcome with fear by lightly patting her own chest. Bortai rolled her eyes at Tolun but let it go at that.
Suddenly, goosebumps rose up on the back of Bortai's hand and she turned back to see two depthless wells sucking her in. After shaking off the temporary enthralment induced by the sight, she fended off the shapely hand reaching for her armpits with ease. She smirked when Nala hung her tongue out and tried to take on an innocent look with her eyes. Bortai made a show of setting her features to a stern expression and only grazed Nala with the corner of her eyes. 'Haven't I already told you not to stare at my back in that way again?'
Nala hung her head and mumbled in a voice audible to all within the ger, 'But I was just trying to get a closer look at one of the three Flowers of the Ontaggarit, who was about to wed off to the young Wolf of the Ankali'. The smile froze on Bortai's face when she heard the words 'wed off' and she didn't hear any more. She felt as if her heart was seized by a sliver of cold. Wed off... to whom? How soon? She became dazed with the tornado of thoughts whirring in her head.
She came to when she felt a pair of warm marmoreal hands closing over her own. She lifted her head and saw the unspoken question in Tolun's eyes. Bortai shook her head lightly to indicate that she need not be concerned. The gesture also seemed to have cleared her head. It was no longer ringing with a mad cluster of notions vying and interposing over each other. Then an idea occurred to her. She tuned into Nala's gabbling once again, hoping to glean some more information on her impending marriage. Meanwhile, she did not neglect to send Tolun an appreciative smile, to which Tolun returned a composed nod. This entire exchange, of course, was lost on Nala who was so self-absorbed in her own speech that she remained oblivious to all else. It went on like this for a while- Nala pouring a torrent of words while Bortai and Tolun mostly listened and interjected here and there. Bortai was soon rewarded with the answer to one of the questions plaguing her- her marriage will be in three months' time. She also learnt a few aspects (amidst a jumble of pure chattering and hearsays) of the tribe that she would be marrying into, such as the fact that the chieftain of this tribe was anda or sworn brother to her own Khan-father, that he was respected as a ferocious fighter and that it was a tribe with many strong hunters and warriors.
At one point, the lethargy that Bortai felt at the incessant prattling of Nala must have finally penetrated through her haze of excitement. For her roving-eyes expression had come on again, followed by her whispering conspiratorially, 'Have you thought of a suitable Bribe Test yet?'
Bortai gave her a blank look, which met with her exaggerated gasp. 'Have you forgotten that even?'
Bortai did not even bother to reply.
Thwarted, the corners of Nala's mouth turned downwards. But she dutifully proceeded to explain the matter. Apparently, it was a traditional custom that allowed a woman the opportunity to gauge the measure of her would-be husband before the misfortune of an ill-chosen union occurs, as wont to happen as a large number of Crunalan marriages are arranged by parents. It was not that such misfortune could not mended. Far from it, Crunalan women had always been fully entitled to divorce her husband if she found herself in such happenstance and would not carry any smear to her name as a consequence. Nevertheless, an ill match and subsequent divorce might drive an irksome spur between the woman and her birth family. As this was seen as boding ill not only for the immediate and extended family but rather the spirit of the entire tribe and the Crunalans overall, the Elders had long decreed that this custom had to be upheld in all circumstances.
Bortai's eyes lighted up. She had no inkling of why cold fear would seize her at the thought of marriage but she was determined to take things into her own hands rather than sitting idly by and letting Fate blow her hither and tither.
At Borochu's urging, Temujin and Nergui had agreed to go on a short trek with their most recently bonded magulandas. However, before the three had even set foot out of Temujin's ger, Temujin suddenly doubled over. Just as inexplicably, he straightened up again and waved off Nergei, who had dashed to his side like a gust of wind and was about to take his arm into possession. It was an odd feeling that seized Temujin, not of pain but something else as intense. That made him feel like his heart was a tovshuur whose strings were being plucked to play a tune of equal parts longing and melancholy. He was puzzled when he felt it, but also enthralled in a way. He sensed the feeling sinking into his being and becoming one with himself.
When the three youths filed out of the ger one after the other, their hearts became soft as gubei juice when hailed by an enchanting smile on a face made exquisite through large limpid eyes. Temujin saw an immediate change coming over Borochu and Nergei. They acted as if drunk on the bounty of their First Hunts. Borochu kept stealing covert glances at her at every opportunity. As for the ever unassuming Nergei, he had that staring off into far-away look in his eyes that might escape all others except the anda that grew up with him within the same ger. On the other side of them, little Temulen seemed completely ignorant of these undercurrents of amorous attentions. Mentally, Temujin shook his head at the three but remained neutral from their affairs, as custom dictated in such matters.
It was not long that Temulen bade farewell to them and flitted off on some girlish pursuits of her own. The three youths sent out a mental call to their respective magulandas and not long after, three young stallions pranced into view. Temujin and his two friends ascended onto their backs with fluidity. As they did not have any pressing business, each deferred to his magulanda to run at his own desired pace. Being barely out of colt-hood and still excitable, the three fine equines set off at a brisk trot and then not long after, brought their brothers-on-two-legs onto a truly exhilarating journey across the lea. That is, for any worthy Crunalan, others might find it harrowing.
After the three pairs of man-horse andas had fully indulged their appetites for racing, Temujin, Borochu and Nergei paced for a while in companionable silence. Then Borochu, ever the most energetic of the three, led out a loud hoot of laughter that resounded all around them. He drooped his arms across each of his andas' shoulder and then stopped. He felt an inexplicable tautness in their bodies. He looked at each in term, in puzzlement. 'What ails you two?'
Temujin and Nergei exchanged glances. It was Temujin that finally spoke up. 'Are you not troubled by what Khan-father just said?'
'Of what in particular?' came the reply after Borochu had thought for a while.
Temujin gave him a suffering look. 'Didn't you think that what Khan-father last said was... well, let's just say inopportune.' He placed emphasis on the words 'last' and 'inopportune'.
Borochu looked across to Nergei and was met with a light but firm nod. 'A little,' he admitted but then shrugged as if to say what did it matter? Before the other two could comment, he calmly asserted, 'The wind blows where it pleases.' To this, Temujin and Nergei finally nodded and fell silent.
It was again Borochu who spoke first, gazing intently ahead at the vast expanse of undulating grasses. 'Sulan oenga naisha.' He stated in his deep bass, which had acquired a perceptible edge of steel normally absent. An ember lit up his glossy black pupils. 'I would become a renowned warrior known throughout the Steppe!' he announced in a volume that the whole Steppe could hear and the ending notes of his proclamation fanned out and ricocheted all around.
Look always ahead and beyond . Borochu's assertion of the old Crunalan dogma lightened the fog stifling the hearts of Temujin and Nergei so much that it became but a piece of gauze as thin as cicada wings. Nergei saw an image forming morsel by morsel in his mind's eyes. First, there was just the outline of one cheek. The chin was slightly angular but not unpleasantly so and it was distinctly feminine. Then, the corner of one lip was revealed and already he could make out a tell-tale upwards twitch. Just as it shimmered into being, Nergei felt his heart fluttering its wings and took off unerringly towards that that tiny image of the lip that he would recognise no matter how miniscule a portion of it was presented. Then the butterfly of his heart flitted to the right and then upwards, inching its way along the pair of luscious lips, lingering over each bit that has been gently grazed by its wing-tips. When the full image of that pair of lips had fully formed, his eyes drank long and hungrily of it. The same ritual was repeated with her slightly pudgy but still charming nose, her laughing eyes and her eyebrows shaped like the supple limbs of a willow tree. Then the image twinkled once, rippled over and turned into that of his erdene (or treasure) with a silent, capable, totally self-assumed and yet unassuming warrior striding at ease besides her. Nergei felt a pang in his heart. The two seemed to be engaged in light conversation. Temulen was smiling and happiness glittered in her eyes like starlight. Then she seized a part of his kaftan to pull him closer to whisper in his ears. He made a half turn to accommodate her and Nergei gasped. The warrior was him, but not quite him. It was an kuai him. Nergei's eyes misted over with wistfulness. And then the image shifted again. This time, he- still the kuai him, and Temulen were sitting in their ger, playing with a new-born babe. Their son . Nergei felt suffused by warmth and unquestionably euphoric. Then, a strong breeze came onto the Steppe and the image disintegrated into motes that were buffeted amidst the wind.
Ahead and beyond... Temujin frowned. He had never thought about it much. In fact, not at all.... except for the days when he felt restless like there was an invisible itch that he could not scratch. He was hafin, one of the contenders for the position of chieftain of the Ankali succeeding from his Khan-father. But he had never thought that he had to be the one to take up the mantle. Others- Borochu, Nergei and the other hafins, were just as capable as himself to lead the tribe onto prosperity. In his mind anyway, just in different ways. That is not to say that he did not take his status as hafin seriously. Quite the contrary. A large portion of his time was devoted to learning under Khan-father, the Elders and visiting Mother. He had moved out from Mother's ger now that he was preparing to be wed to the Erdene of the Ontaggarit. He felt his heart beating faster at the thought. Even though he had never seen his would-be bride, she had a reputation of being a true daughter of the Steppe and was training to become a Sister. He had high hopes that she would provide as wise counsels to him as his own Mother to Khan-father and that they would together raise as fine a family. Despite of himself, he smiled. Khan-father, Mother, his younger siblings- Hasar, Hachiun and Temulen, second-Mother Engnai and his second-circle brothers Behter and Belgetui. Each and every was dear to him in their own ways, even emulous Behter who was full of conceit and always argued for a larger share of the hunting catches than his due. The bond of the Blood called for him to guard them well and honour them with joy. In fact, that was what he had been pursuing. But beyond that, he was at a loss. Once in a while, he could feel the distant call of something arising from a yawning pit within himself. That would bring about a bout of fretting, listless pacing about. Yet, he was truly hard pressed to define what was that call truly. Just when his brows were coming to interlock with each other, a hearty breath from Yosani jolted him out of his reverie.
Temujin looked up and saw that the sky was already a grimy off-yellow colour characteristic of approaching sunset in the Wolf-teeth Moons. He looked across at his two andas and saw that Borochu was still in a state of exuberance while Nergei had a wistful look in his eyes that he had not yet had time to hide. He sighed. 'Let's go back.'
The three of them rode back in silence, each rather self-absorbed in thoughts of times ahead.
Crunalan terms glossary
tovshuur - a two-stringed lute
gubei - a fruit whose juice is rich and smooth
kuai- an ideal or pinnacle state
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? Responses (4)-4
The story backbone you have presented is interesting. The main character has suffered an accident. This accident, we are told, has caused her to loose her memory. Other characters suspect that the main character's accident was the result of foul play and they also believe that a crisis is looming. This sets up an interesting dynamic were by virtue of her amnesia and the assertions of foul play neither the main character or the reader truly knows who to trust. The amnesia also works as a story telling tool because the main character will need to be re-introduced to a number things in the world and the reader will as well. Thus, you have an easy way to unpack a lot of information. I thought we might be privy to some of the characters re-education with regard to the telepathic abilities these people seem to employ. But that part, that re-education by her Aunt, was just glossed over. That is a choice that moves the story along, but perhaps at the cost of world building.
I think if there is a problem than it is with your prose.
Your style of writing is difficult to read because it is nonlinear (at every level) and not very demonstrative. Example: In paragraph one of section two in chapter three the action goes as following, 1) Temujin doubles over in pain on his way to exit the tent, 2) his friend runs to his side, 3) his friend reaches out to grab his arm 4) Temujin straightens up, and 5) Temujin waves off his friend. You present the above as 1, 4, 5, 2,3
' However, before the three had even set foot out of Temujin's ger, Temujin suddenly doubled over. Just as inexplicably, he straightened up again and waved off Nergei, who had dashed to his side like a gust of wind and was about to take his arm into possession.'
This leaves the reader to reconstruct the sequence of events is his mind. Used occassionally, this method of providing the reader with information out of order can put emphasis on certain events or help to connect events that may not occur continuously. However, I think you over use this style and use it on a much larger scale.
Example: Paragraph 2, Section 2, chapter 3
In this paragragh the boys walk out of a tent, a girl named Temulin calls to them and they are struck by her beauty. In that paragraph you first describe: a face, then assign that face a gender and then towards the end we get her name. We have not heard this name before in the story and we have no idea who she is or what relationship she might have to these boys or if they have ever seen her before. I assume we will find this out later and then we can retrofit that information to the scene. That is okay sometimes, in that it adds some suspense, but it also makes it hard to figure out what is going on with the characters at this moment. We also must assume there is some interaction between the boys and the girl, but we don't get any bits of their conversation other than she hails them and then she bids them farewell. Perhaps that is all that happens, but what is she doing while she passes?
I don't think everything you want to communicate is making it to the page.
Thanks for this feedback that alerts me to a vital flaw of mine that I wouldn't have picked up myself. I think what you pointed out had partly to do with the fact that this is my first attempt to use the all-seeing angle rather than simple first-person or third-person angle to write and I have mucked up the 'zooming in and out of characters' aspect and the other part was just being too close to the story and then forgetting to get back into 'neutral ground' for the purpose of narrating.
In terms of Temulen, she is Temujin's little sister and both Borochu and Nergei have feelings for her. I might not have communicated the younger sister part at all but I thought by the end of the paragraph you mentioned I've made the love triangle aspect explicit? Anyway, right at this point in the story, Temulen is just a background character (supporting cast) that forms part of the main characters' social circle. The only other purpose of introducing her right now was to introduce the love triangle thing which is mainly a kind of hook for future character development of Borochu and Nergei as well as being a semi-plot-hook itself. I would be interested to know what are your thoughts of that paragraph in light of what I revealed of my intentions.
I'm a bit slow in doing full editing based on your comments because I'm still writing this story and periodically I get really stuck on certain scenes like right now. However, I really appreciate your in-depth comments that's given me so much help in improving this work and I will definitely address them in full eventually.
By the end of Temulen paragraph you don't make the love triangle explicit. We have two young men trying to act tough in front of a pretty girl that does not in itself make it a love triangle. We also no indication that this is causing tension between the guys. But again, we don't know what actually happens, does she just walk by them or what? How would they act differently if it was another pretty girl? We don't know the guys well enough to gauge the meaning of this exchange other than what you tell us. You don't tell us a lot.
Okay, thanks for the feedback, much appreciated. I will see how I could edit to make all these come out stronger later down on the track.
I did have a running suspicion that I would be botching up the romance bits as well as any action scenes. Ah well, editing makes perfect, I guess.
For the purpose of this scene, it is true that Temulen basically just walked by and said hi to the guys. The immediate purpose of introducing her at this point was because she was tied to Nergei's dream of the future later on this scene as well as the future potentials.