The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 1
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!
The first ray of dawn pierced the ger through the circular opening on its top and descended on the two supportive poles like water dripping down an icicle. As it touched each symbol of the multitude painted over the surface of the poles, that symbol lit up in incandescence of the same flamboyant colour in which it was painted in. It was by this spectacle of multi-hued lighting that the corner of the ger facing west was illuminated. A girl on the cusp of womanhood lay face-up on a bed made of wood and simple craftsmanship. If the upturn of her mouth was any guide, either the bed was more comfortable than belies its appearance or she was having a sweet dream. She had a thick mane of black silk that flowed down to the middle of her back. One short strand of it playfully tickled her right ear, near her earlobe where she had a little mole. To this, however, she seemed to be totally oblivious. She had deep-sunken features, thick eyebrows, large eyes, a nose with few freckles and strong lips. It was not a feminine face, rather it would have looked quite formidable if she was awake. But in sleep, it had a different type of charm.
The girl-woman opened her eyes, which were a deep brown colour and startling only if one looked closely and observed the vertical line of black lurking within each of her pupils. Her hands flew to her temples, trying to assuage the pain that she felt were induced by the puncturing of two dull needles. The needles quickly withdrew, now that they had hit their targets. As her eyes came into focus, the first sight that she was drawn to was the ring of roof poles sloping upwards to form a perimeter around a perfect circle that opens up to the sky. Travelling downwards, her eyes took in two boles painted orange all over and then overlaid with garish symbols that she couldn't quite make out at this distance. In the wide space between the two boles, smoke curling lazily upwards sauntered into her field of vision before the scent of smoke itself fluttered to her nostrils. Besides the irregular crackling sounds of burning logs, she picked up a melodic tune of breeze and earth coming from the direction of her feet. She might have gone back to dozing again if not for the cacophony she could hear outside. It was an odd symphony, being composed of the bawling of sheep, the whinnying of horses as they galloped off, busy footsteps, laughter and various dialogues mixed in. She felt a sense of comfort descending on her like a well-used blanket.
Then she heard it. A pair of springy footsteps approaching, partially subdued as if wary of the noise they made. As she concentrated on the sound, it became more muted while getting closer. Then the tent flap parted, admitting a small head that she could just see at the periphery of her vision. She turned her head idly and her gaze met with that of a pair of almond-shaped eyes embedded in a chubby face. 'Elder sister!' A squeal of delight rolled out of the little girl's peach pink lips before she disappeared again in a series of whirlwind steps. Only a few moments later, she bounded in again with a sizeable group in tow.
Her gaze locked onto the second individual in the group. Unlike the others who merely felt right to her, his was a face that was branded in the deepest part of her. It was the call of their common blood, that much she was certain of. She did not from whence the certainty came but she just knew. He was a man in the middle thirties who was handsome in a hawkish way. Despite the harshness of his features, she could tell from his even-paced way of walking that he had a mild temper. An inexplicable torrent of longing flooded her and she felt compelled to soak in every detail about him. Her eyes roamed hungrily over his bushy eyebrows, his odd-coloured eyes- the left one was brown while the other a lighter amber colour, his straight nose that was like the spine of a mountain, his smiling lips that naturally curl upwards ...
A cluster of concerned faces were already hovering over her when she had disentangled herself from such a trancelike state. On either side of the man that she had so much yearning for, stood two prime-aged women. The one on the right looked about the same age as the man and was pleasant to look at. However, she would not be missed in a crowd. In contrast, the other woman was truly striking in looks. She had men's features, which might have looked unbecoming on other women but not her. In fact, they accentuated her exotic charm.
Some commotion occurred among the group congregated at her bedside. More heads, including one already familiar to her, popped into her vision. Her gaze moved to the small girl who was the first person she had seen since awakening. At so close a range, the girl-woman could see that she was destined to grow up a beauty. Despite being plump around the cheeks, her overall face was shaped like a goose egg and she had the proud nose inherited from her father- the man with the hawkish features now holding her in one arm and lifting her up so that she got to beam at the bed-ridden girl-woman, revealing her dainty dimples. Tucked under the man's other arm was a boy of only about three or four who was grinning. He was homely but pleasantly so, in a way that bespoke of a simple unsophisticated nature. Two other children- an older girl about twelve and a boy about the same age as the little girl, have also come to the fore. The older girl was petite and already a little beauty in her own right. She had a luscious mane of hair, big watery eyes glistening within a round face and a little pouty mouth. The other boy had essentially inherited the father's features but his age and his own aura of reserved intellect softened them.
She opened her mouth to speak and found that what came out was like grinded pebbles. 'Where am I?'
'In your ger', came a voice of evergreens, spoken from the lips of the woman with men's features. She shifted her attention to the woman and experienced in her eyes the heartfelt comfort and safety of being rhythmically rocked to sleep and of being melted away by the tenderness and indulgence that only a mother could give.
'My ger?' she found herself stumbling in the midst of the sentence, confused. It was then that she realised she had no recollections at all of who she was, what had happened to her that warranted her family to look on her with such concern. By now, she was fairly sure that these are her family. It was a feeling ingrained into her blood.
'Who am I?' she found herself asking in a totally composed way, as if she was somehow used to this state of being. A feeling of strangeness surfaced but quickly gave away to anticipation for the answers.
Looks of dismay were exchanged among her family but her father collected himself quickly and supplied her with a short outline of her life to date. She was Bortai, the eldest born to Otgonbayar Khan of the Ontaggarit and his first wife Chagantani, who died while giving birth to her. Thus she was practically raised up by Chechegin, the elder of the two women. She was also one of the close friends of Bortai's own mother, who became the second wife of her father and mother to the two girls- Chagur and Chagan, as well as the younger boy Nachan. His father's other wife was Arighdei, who birthed Baquder and their new-born sister Chachar. She was currently bed-ridden and would stay so for a while yet, as she had apparently fallen off her mount and breaking her legs. Judging from the expression of his father, there was probably more to it that her father did not wish her to know right now. Her first instinct was to question her father further but her father spoke before her. 'Rest.' he said simply. And everyone promptly exited. Not long after, she found herself drifting off to sleep on a lullaby composed of the bustling prosperity of the tribe.
Bortai stared up at the circle of cerulean at the roof of her ger. She was still committed to her bed owing to her injury but at least she did not feel pain. As she reflected on the past few days, a wave of uneasiness washed over her. Even worse, some of the remnant sprays swished out their tails and tightened themselves in a knot around her heart. Bortai sighed. How she wished that she could have her memories back. Nothing had come back to her at all. Nothing. While she didn't feel out of place in here at all, quite the reverse in fact, she couldn't shake the feeling that the sense of familiarity she felt was somehow an odd sense of familiarity. Like she had been away for eons and have only just come back. Then there's her Â‘accident'. She had already tried several different approaches to get her Khan-father to speak up. Every time, though, he either deftly changed the topic or else assured her that there was nothing untoward about it while his eyeballs involuntarily shifted to the side so that he didn't have to meet her speculative gaze head-on. His evasiveness was gnawing at her.
Bortai was so absorbed in this stream of thoughts that her heart hopped when she saw a woman had suddenly materialised beside her bed. Momentarily, Bortai had settled herself and was making covert examination of the woman. She had a voluptuous figure and was definitely a balm for the eyes. Unlike the rest of their people, she had brownish black hair rather than the black of midnight. She wore it in a single braid down her back that had various tufts of black, grey and white animal hair sticking out in places. As for her features, it was hard to say that any was beautiful by itself- she even had eyes that seemed mismatched in size owing to the fact that she had a single eyelid only for her right eye. Yet, together, they coalesced to form an artwork of nature. In fact, the entire essence of her beauty went beyond the physical realm but was instead based upon her aura of vibrancy, of spring, of nature itself. This was further accentuated by what she was wearing today: a kaftan the colour of fresh sprouts cinched at the waist by a belt of a darker shade of green.
She opened her mouth and her voice was like a fresh breeze on a hot summer's day. 'Borka?' She had a questioning look in her eyes and a sense of hopefulness burning underneath, as if she expected to be recognised.
She was destined to be disappointed. 'I lost my memory after the accident, would you mind reminding me who you are?' Bortai apologised politely.
'I am Aunt Koka, also your mentor. You really have no recollections of me?' she persisted.
Bortai shook her head. She genuinely did not recognise the woman in front of her who proclaimed herself as her aunt and mentor. That puzzled her, as the first sight of her family and even her two friends (her sole two friends, she should say, judging by the fact that were the only ones besides her immediate family who had come to visit her during the ten-day that had just passed since she first woke up. Indeed the three of them were known as the three Chechegs of the Ontaggarits. She might have believed it from the mouth of Nala alone who in her opinion tended to be a trifle too vain except that Tolun, as practical as they come, confirmed it as fact) had drew a response from her on a subconscious level. But not this Aunt Koka. That made her wary, even though Bortai instinctively felt that the woman meant her no harm.
The woman who referred to herself as Aunt Koka frowned. 'Do you have any recollections of your accident?'
'None, you have to ask Khan-father.' Bortai replied cautiously after a noticeable pause. Her reply caused a visible deepening of the crease on Aunt Koka.
'I was hoping I would get more enlightenment from you about what actually transpired than what the Dream Steed has alerted me to upon my return. The mental images he shared with me gave the impression that there was something untoward about it but was a bit erratic for comprehension. You know that only happens rarely.'
Dream Steed... Bortai latched onto the strange term and it was only when she saw Aunt Koka staring at her incredulously that she realised that she had said it aloud.
'Do you mean to tell me that you had forgotten about your Craft even?'
Glossary of Crunalan Terms
ger- the Crunalan word for a felt tent that they live in
As with the Prologue, mainly looking for feedback on whether it's interesting enough to read on plus whether fantasy elements come out okay. Looking for 10+ feedback and PM buddy for brainstorming plots for later books.
At times the sky will lay down her clouds on the steppe and in that fog it is as if all the parts of Manzasiri have been rejoined. When alone on those blanketed fields you can not tell sun from sky or sky from ground. With out the sight of a familiar shape to check one's intuition getting lost becomes certainty. The oppressive ignorance that is forced upon men and women by those fogs has drowned intellects and driven the poor wanders mad. Botari was like that now in her yurt. All the faces before might her as well have been the same face, because she knew none of them. She felt no association with any item around her, not the emblems on the post nor the blankets around her body. But then her eyes fell upon a hawk nosed man in that group, and it was if the brume parted just enough to make out a land mark. Many caught on the steppe during those murky grey days have been lead home by even the smallest piece of familiarity; a hoof print, a wagon track, the shadow of a distant peak or even the cries of a unseen herd. Ask any one who has found their way out of those obfuscating directionless fogs, and they will tell you that they studied every grain or hair of their salvational land mark. A pile of familiar goat dung can be beautiful, and thus it was now with Botari. She felt compelled to soak in every detail about this man. Her eyes roamed hungrily over his bushy eyebrows, his odd-coloured eyes- the left one was brown while the other a lighter amber colour, his straight nose that was like the spine of a mountain, his smiling lips that naturally curl upwards.
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? Responses (10)
One thing I thought worked very well in this chapter was how the tone communicated the memory loss prior to when we literally find out about it. As the ger is described, the word choice and the phrasing communicates clearly that things are not familiar to the main character.
Who is this guys she looked at with desire? Is it sexual desire?
Which one is her father?
That was what I was scared of- the one she looked at with longing is her father but I cannot find a synonym that doesn't have the same sexual connotation as 'longing' so I stick with it (in fact, that's already the most neutral word that came to my mind). There's only one male adult in the group which is the father. But I can see where the reader could be led to think that there's two men there. I will edit to make this more clear. I'm currently giving this another edit anyway and I've already marked down numerous sentences that reads a bit odd.
'Her gaze locked onto the second individual in the group, a man in the middle thirties who was handsome in a hawkish way. Despite the harshness of his features, she could tell from his even-paced way of walking that he had a mild temper. An inexplicable torrent of longing flooded her and she felt compelled to soak in every detail about him. Her eyes roamed hungrily over his bushy eyebrows, his odd-coloured eyes- the left one was brown while the other a lighter amber colour, his straight nose that was like the spine of a mountain, his smiling lips that naturally curl upwards'
No, I say you dive right into this elektra complex thing. It might be off putting to most everyone, but it won't be boring.
If you don't want it to be sexual, than you need to get at what it is she desires. Lets brain storm this, she feels a connection to this man, even though she doesn't recognize him. Looking around her yurt she could not tell what belongs and what does not, she does not know who she is or where she is. But this man, he belongs, it as if everything else is out of place, except for this man. I believe that is why she must be drawn to him. Because represents a land mark of sorts.
Thanks for the input, Axle. This comment of yours and the idea above really helps.
Minor update to clarify Bortai's feelings to her family upon waking up and why she was so 'hungry' to see her father. btw, Axle, your scroll idea on fog on the Steppe was so good that while I did not make use of it here, it would be a minor adventure for the party in Book 2 in its own right.
Update: Minor addition to touch more upon Bortai's journey of self re-discovery. Added still more to bring in Bortai's friends more but might have been a tad too more, bordering on being a Women Weekly article sort of feel (not that I actually read such things so I'm speaking purely from what I personally association with it).
I have a suggestion. Perhaps you should put a 'Yoda' scene in here with Koka and Botari. Look at their relationship right now
Chapter 1: Koka and Botari meet and Koka introduce Botari (and thus the reader to the craft)
Chapter 2: Botari starts to break away from Koka's mentorship and assert her independence and self determination again.
Chapter 3: No Koka but Botari expands that growing self determination to her relationship with her friends
Chapter 4: Botari again pushes her independence and runs away, but she reflects on Koka 'She had great respect for Aunt Koka's sharp mind even though her tongue was likely to be even sharper. Nevertheless, it was under her tutelage that she had already accumulated (or re-accumulated) a wealth of knowledge within such a short span of time. Not just on her Craft but also various bits of herbal and other lore that she might not find as fascinating as Aunt Koka herself but certainly of great practical value.'
So is Koka important? Why take away Botari's knowledge just to give back to her without risk or process?
Add a Yoda scene between chapters 1&2.
I know it is cliche, but that just means people understand it (or at least think they do).
Actually, this is sort of what I'm in the process of doing now. I inserted a new scene 2 in Chap 2 that replaced the existing one in which Bortai and Koka go through some of the stuff about the Sister of Magul business that I haven't covered previously and I inserted a few lines on how Bortai's feelings for Aunt Koka changed so that it's not as abrupt as you previously noted. This is the first of 3 new scenes that I'm inserting.
I'm also introducing a side-plot for Koka in this series of new scenes which I sort of hinted at in this current version but might have been too subtle for readers to actually pick up (I told you I'm a side-plot maniac, I don't know how you as reader will like it but I did say I picked this story to muck around with so let's see how it turns out, you can always tell me that you don't like it and I will see how to deal with it in my next edit). Overall, I do envisage Koka to be an important personage in Bortai's life but plot-wise so far, she is more like a 'guest appearance'. It's not until book 5 that she really came out in her side-plot (I seriously don't know what's wrong with me but I already have 2ish long plot arcs including this one that consists of a hint planted in book 1 and the actual plot coming up in book 3 or even later).
This reminds me a LOT of Tanith Lee! I hate Tanith Lee styled stuff. This is however BETTER than her. You will be able to find an audience that will appreciate this. I do however feel it needs another re-write. If you do a major re-write, let me know and I'll give it another read. Based on being better Tanith Lee I'm giving you a 4/5. Just because I don't care for it, does not reflect poorly on it, nor my belief that you could have a success on your hands.. It's just not my cup of tea.
I had no idea who Tanith Lee is but after looking up her Wiki entry, my take was a dumb-down version of the style of Lord of the Rings (not that I'm comparing what I wrote with that timeless masterpiece but I will be honest to say that I've been re-reading the series and jotting down notes about it but I haven't consciously mimicked Tolkien's style. I write on what I call a stream-of-consciousness basis anyway so that prevents any conscious mimicking).
Anyway, thanks for the vote and comment. I'm pretty sure a major re-write will come some way down the track but probably not soon. However, I will keep you informed once I do make one. btw, there's a Prologue to this book that you seemed to have skipped over but then you jumping straight into Chap 1 doesn't really matter in terms of understanding the flow of events.