The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 7
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!
It was already dusk when all the formalities of the Gathering of Truce had been completed. A golden wave washed over The Ctofalir and the vast plain of the Mistflowers growing to its north, thinning out into gauze-thin shards that swam and swirled once it entered the misty domain. Bortai had already settled down with her foster tribe and made her own ger- not a full ger but one that could be packed down and carried on her back and then reassembled upon need. She felt a sense of calm descending on her now that she had made her choice. Just then a pair of steady footsteps sounded outside her ger. This was followed by a manly voice that requested permission to enter. It was him! She had never heard his voice before but instinctively she knew it was his. Composing herself quickly, she bade him enter in a voice containing a slight tremble that sounded like thunder in her own ears.
Now that she saw him at close range, she could see that he was quite tall for his age but a bit on the lean side. Yet, he had strength as befitting a Crunalan warrior. He was not good looking at all but rather remarkable. He had a face of sharp angles, made sterner with a wolf's gaze and an eagle's beak for a nose. Upon longer contemplation, though, his youthfulness- he was about the same age as herself, and his air of still being untried softened the feel of severity so that he would not scare even children. He had a thick shock of hair worn billowing around his head like most Crunalan men but he had yet to grow a full beard. There were only stubbles on his chin.
Bortai felt her heart racing and stumbling. For underlying the attraction she felt for him, she now sensed an inexplicable sense of dread when she lay eyes upon him. This made her attracted to but also repulsed by him at the same time. It made her a little... bewildered. So much so that she could not much recollect what they talked in the subsequent exchange between them.
When Temujin exited from Bortani's ger, he was a bit troubled. However, for the most part, he simply felt himself drifting off dream-like. He did not know what Tengri had set into play to make it so but he was drawn to her shapely figure like bee to honey upon that first glimpse. He could feel his heart fluttering ever since.
When he had mustered the courage to request entrance into her ger, he had felt moist gathering on his palms. His heart briefly quivered with joy when she had agreed. He was immediately attracted by the shape of her ears. It was a pair of very comely ears, with earlobes of good thickness like ripe fruits suffused with sweet juice but not too thick. It reminded him very much of another pair that he could see and adore every day. A smile materialised out of the warmth he felt, that softened his face so much that it actually appeared tender. At the same time, he was still immersed in the image of her in his own mind that was so detailed as if she was standing still for him to openly admire. He could hear his heart pulsating at a steady rhythm as he took in her face. It was not a very feminine face- she had thick eyebrows, resolute eyes and a tall straight nose that screamed formidable at anyone chancing across her the first time. But he knew that she would be perfect for him and yearned for her with all of his heart. Then he sighed. But he was already betrothed and given that his Khan-father was anda to the father of his would-be bride, it would be unseemly for him to initiate a discussion that might harm the relationships between the two. It might even sour the amiable feeling between the two tribes. He was certainly not prepared to shoulder the consequences of such a turn of events. His only hope now would be the Bride Test.
Temujin chided himself for leaping too far ahead in thoughts. It was not like Bortani had already officially answered to his attentions. It was true that she obviously had feelings for him also, he could sense it even though she seemed highly preoccupied in the exchange they just had. Yet, she had also seemed... hesitant to say the least. Was she already betrothed like himself? Or... the possibilities seemed endless now that he thought over it. He felt ire rising within himself. Then the image of that fine earlobe interposed onto the forefront of his mind and he closed his fist in determination. He would win her, and together they would make a match of pure bliss.
It was a full half-month before Bortai and the other members of the Ankali- her foster tribe, had arrived back at their main camp. A half month out of the six months allowed for preparation of war. Although Bortai knew from the information that Bashudai had gathered from the other maguls and sent in time before her choice that she had chosen wisely, apprehension had started to nibble at her. Ever since she had her first close look at him.
She could not help walking around in a daze, oblivious to the curious gazes and warm greetings that her arrival generated among the Ankalis It might have generated a most unpleasant scene but for the intervention of him. 'I think our newly acquired Sister is tired from the travels. We will be back after she has rested somewhat.' Then he firmly whisked her off to set up her gerin a place of honour in general vicinity of the Chief's Ger.
Bortai had indeed dozed when she found nothing to further occupy her time after she had organised and then re-organised her belongings inside the tent. She was awoken when a voice requested her attendance at the Council of War. She sighed in relief as she could tell that it was not him. As she answered to the call and exited, she caught a fleeting glimpse of a seemingly plain face before he walked off briskly, leaving her the sight of only his broad shoulders and stout back. Bortai's interest was a little piqued at the gleam of sharpness she caught in his gaze. She was not alarmed by it, no, simply intrigued by the personality.
Following in long strides, Bortai was soon led to the Chief's Ger. She was bade to enter first while the young warrior brought up the rear. When she had seated herself cross-legged (like everyone else already gathered) on one of the honorary positions near the Head of the Ring, the Council was pronounced as officially commenced. Firstly, it was recounted what the cause of the forthcoming tribal war was- as tradition would have it, interspersed with details of grudges held over years. As Bortai expected, it was ultimately a fight over territory. However, there were a number of details concerning the circumstances under which the current conflict arose that jutted out and stayed on her mind. In particular, as far as she could make out, the real major combat between the two neighbouring tribes stretched back almost a full decade ago, before the Winter Sickness had striken down a large number of Ankalis. For a while after this, the Tatars and them had a few skirmishes but they held out well (they boasted of 'one Ankali was at least worth five Tartars!' and 'pah, those scuffles were little more than children's play' but knowing Crunalan men, Bortai did not trust their accounts of these encounters at all) despite a substantial shortfall of warriors. Thus, the Tatars did not gain much out of these encounters so the two sides settled into cool disregard of each other again. This was a more or less the state that had persisted up until recently. So what had happened to the Tartars that prompted them to initiate a war? Even if leaving aside biases of the narrating Ankalis, Bortai had the impression that it was the intention of the Tartars to provoke a war. A war that was not to their favour in all appearances now that the Ankali had substantial time to recoup while the Tatars were renowned for intense infighting and periodic splitting of one or two wayward factions. All these converged into one question: Why now?
It was when silence fell that Bortai realised she had spoken it out loud. She reiterated her point, 'What other hidden advantages were they counting on?'
Most answered with puzzlement on their faces but here and there eyes were lit up with a thoughtful gleam. Yet no one ventured to provide a spoken response. The idea soon became vapour that were inadvertently taken in and nestled in the mind of those gathered in this Council as a dormant seed.
After this brief episode, the Council went through a few more issues in relation to preparation for the war but Bortai listened with only half a heart. She had the feeling that she was seeing the outline of a rather sinister web of monumental size spun across disparate schemes but she had yet to grasp a single strand of it.
Just then, a question was posed to Bortai and that shifted her full attention back to the gathering at hand, just in time to catch the last part of the query. She heard the term boke and knew that it was nearing the conclusion of this Council at which point ritual decreed that it was time for her to reveal how she would fit in with her foster tribe and the campaign ahead in light of the knowledge she was shared with. She calmly stated that she was deft with the hunting knife and fair at the bow and wrestling. She heard a whistle when she mentioned wrestling and rolled her eyes. She knew it would come. Next would be an invitation to wrestle and unsurprisingly a bass asked in a ringing voice, 'A match to prove yourself?'
Bortai nodded and a good-natured uproar soared in the air that took even Yesegei Khan- Bortai had just found out about the name of the chieftain at the start of the meeting, a while to shout down.
'Anything else?' Yesegei asked, which surprised Bortai. It must have shown on her face for he chuckled and explained, 'I could tell that you had not finished your sentence despite all the subsequent clamour.'
Bortai gave an assenting nod. 'I'm also training to be a Sister.' That drew a collective gasp that quickly turned into rowdy cheer at the fortune and honour of being sent a prospective Sister. This time, however, no impetus was required of Yesegei Khan. The noise died down on its own, transitioning to respectful silence.
'Would you give us the honour of showing you the Ankali warriors and their magulandas?' came the invitation to which Bortai politely accepted.
Mainly wondering if the romance in this Chapter is getting too much out of hand since it is not my intention for this to be a romance story dressed up as a fake fantasy story.
Also wondering if the ending to this Chapter seems a bit of an anti-climax or whether it would do?
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? Responses (8)-8
To be fair, I don't know what story you want to tell. But I think you have run rough shod over the story thus with out taking time to properly develop plot points or characters. I specifically referring to Botari's story thus far. There is a very interesting story there which you wrote but oddly did not respect. You have this girl suffer a traumatic injury that strips her of memories and perhaps her identity. She then has to struggle to regain a sense of who she is and upon gaining that sense of self she decides to run away. This particular journey of the character is interesting because it filled with risk. We have reason to doubt the other members of her tribe, both because of her amnesia and because of the actions of other characters. We have reason to doubt the soundness of her decision making because of mental handicap. But you spend maybe 1000 words on that total. You keep the character into new scenes and situations that are almost completed divorced from the conflicts and relationships of the previous scene.
We start in chapter one with her walking up slowly in her tent and not knowing anybody. We meet a bunch of characters, but they are largely mysterious because of her amnesia.
Then you jump ahead several months and she healed reconnecting with the steppe. We don't deal with or see any resolution to relationships that were strained in the fist chapter. She is already coy and pouty with her Aunt who she seems to trust and have this very comfortable relationship. This does not build on the isolation and disorientation that you built up in the first chapter
Next her two best friends (pretty much new characters) walk straight of a Nick Sparks novel and have a regressive conversation about marriage. Again the relationships are comfortable and we introduced to a new conflict: marriage. How does her memory loss affect her understanding of marriage and specifically her betrothal? You see you are not connecting the events of the chapters smoothly or even logically. Though admittedly the next chapter, in which she runs aways does follow.
But you then have her chase with kiddnappers. Nicely written but a whole new conflict. Then after that chase she literally runs into another scene, the chase is forgotten and she has another choice to make regarding which tribe to join in the war. Then in the next chapter she has to deal with some guy obsessing over her ears. Nothing has had any real consequence yet, at least not emotionally for the character. It is hard to get invested in a character who herself seems very uninvested in any situation.
I think you should go back to the first 5 of these chapters and write up the story of her recovery from the injury and decision to runaway (take her destiny in her hands) as a complete story. Because that is a complete story, chapter in the character's life if you will and don't feel it is fully resolved before she starts falling in love here.
Thanks for letting me know the shortfall in character development that I was wandering about myself. To be honest, I've found that my mind could be cluttered with millions of different plots if I let it, some of which I'm not the tinniest part interested in writing about. And then I couldn't come up with any characters. Originally, I had another story in my mind where everything was original work but then I got majorly stuck on characterisation so I started with this story where the majority of characters I'm just 'stealing' from history.
That was really a side track above. Not to be defensive, I get what you are saying and agree with it, the reason for what you mentioned of me continuously plunging Bortai into new conflicts that do not link up with previous conflicts is basically the result of this book being all plot-driven when I plan it. Basically, in each Chapter, I will have two events happening on which scenes are based around (don't ask me why, this is just what popped into my head).
Actually, I did plan to expand the section where Bortai relearnt the nitty-gritty of her Crunalan life which I think you alluded to in one of the earlier Chapters. I was mainly thinking of better world building which was the original context that you raised the point. But I will think about how to incorporate more emotional involvement for Bortai when I made revisions for these earlier Chapters.
Now stepping back to the broad picture of this whole series, the real action pertaining to the main plot only really starts when Bortai and Temujin goes off travelling which occurs in Chap 10 (all right, I admit this might sound a bit crazy given that I only planned 21 Chaps for this book but in some ways, I specifically picked this story so that I could muck around with it). Whatever came before was mostly plot hooks set up for later and what I thought of as character development eg. the scene with the three boys thinking of the future.
Skip to chapter 10. And you can't call this plot driven because jump from plot to plot. I don't what you mean by plot. If there is a plot get to it. The characters will come through with the plot.
I think these first 9 chapters will be important for you, as the writer to have in your pocket as backstory. I don't think you have wasted any effort here because you need to have the events that happen prior to the page nailed down, but I would leave them out of the consumer portion of the story.
Actually, I just realised that I was being stupid when I said the real action starts at Chap 10, it actual starts at Chap 5 when Bortai became involved in the war. And by plot driven, I guess I really mean event driven. How I've been functioning as a writer is that I first need to have the entire sequence of events happening in the book nailed down in a Chapter by Chapter summary format (basically 2 dot points on what actually happens in the Chap) and then I have to nail down each scene in a given Chap.
I also feel that I definitely need the second scene of Chap 8 for this story because it is sort of the foundation for Bortai in terms of her role in the main adventures and that scene is somewhat tied to her memory loss. So I'm not sure about cutting at this stage, I will keep posting up what I've written up so far and can you inform me of your thoughts on this issue again after Chap 10?
To be honest, I am starting to feel that the events happening in this series is a bit all-over-the-place (so far, I have only completely charted out the events in book 1 and 2 where the adventures are still on the Steppe and related to the coming war. Book 3 and 4 are half fleshed out and by book 4, the party is somehow travelling to as far as Tibet and getting embroiled in the politicking within a religious sect. Also, from book 1-3, I'm introducing a new party member in each book.).
What does this mean
'A golden wave washed over The Ctofalir and the vast plain of the Mistflowers growing to its north, thinning out into gauze-thin shards that swam and swirled once it entered the misty domain. '
Are you describing the sunset here, as you describing the sunsetting or a single moment of the sunset. Are mistflowers literal flowers or just mist rising off the ground? What is the thinning out into gauze-thin shards?
Are you going to come back to the conversation in the ger between the main characters at some point or just going to let that hang?
In that quote, I'm describing moments of the sunset and what I was aiming for is to create an unconventional imagery so that the reader gets 'better immersion' into a fantasy world. The Mistflowers are actual flowers (I have a sub put up here about them actually). The thing thinning out into gauze-thin shard is the sunlight but I see that interpretation might be confusing given the phrasing of this long sentence.
On the conversation between Temujin and Bortai in this Chapter, no, I'm not coming back to it since it's basically just small-talk between the two of them where Temujin tries to chat her up. To be honest, I found that I'm prone to writing long sections of descriptions and the internal monologue of Bortai with little conversation. Up to this point, this problem is not that severe yet but in later Chapters, I sometimes truncate actual conversation and turned into a summary made by Bortai in her head. I'm a bit worried that it would make the story hard to read but I'm not sure what to do about that. Anyway, later issues for later.
The war council scene is fairly concise and clear. Again you have failed to paint a picture of Bortai's character up to this point, so we are still learning about her, having access to her reactions and thoughts here is very telling piece of characterization. Also how much does her amnesia effect her understanding of what social norms are? When she judges an act as typical of men, can she remember of specific events that supports her opinion? Are these all opinions gained in the past couple of months?
Thanks for drawing out another shortcoming in my writing that I've always been aware of. I had not thought about all of these aspects that you raised when I wrote the Chap (when I write, it's basically on a stream of consciousness basis). But luckily, I do have some answers for you because they were in the behind-the-scenes work in this story but somehow did not make it into the story: her amnesia has largely no effect on her understanding of the social norms which are safe in her subconscious, which has been the state ever since she first woke up back in Chap 1. She does not have specific recollections of however she derived her own stance on the social norms but if you drag her into an interrogation on this topic, she will be able to answer you without hesitation, purely out of instinct (pretend you have absolute power over her so that she can only speak the truth).
btw, Chap 8 is coming out today which will also throw some light on these answers in an indirect way.