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04 March 2007 @ 12:12 pm
Sword & Song Fragment  
Here is what I've got done on the first chapter.

I'm specifically looking for input on how well Heneter is set up as a character, how interested you are in what happens next, if you think she should eventually get involved with Nakhti far, far in the future, and how much, if any, effort should I put into details of the preparations for leaving and the voyage.

General comments are also welcome.


Chapter One

Heneter easily blocked the attack and countered swiftly. Her opponent went down with a gasp as the flat of her dull edged practice sword connected with his midsection. She stepped back and sheathed the weapon. These are the best? She thought as she looked around.

Six men were all that remained of an initial group of 20 applicants looking for a place with the elite guard of the temple of Horus. Her subordinates had weeded out the other 14 the previous day leaving only these for her and her second to evaluate. To her right Nakhti was still toying with his partner as the other four watched, recovering from their own bouts.

Nakhti was leading the young man to swing wildly and expend far more energy than he could afford. He allowed each swing to barely miss him giving the applicant the illusion that next time it would connect. The applicant had power behind those swings and his form was good. It was only Nakhti's years of experience in real battles that allowed him to play with him.

That one has promise if he learns control, she thought. She pushed her sweat soaked hair out of her face and glanced at the sun to gage the time. It was only mid-morning and the heat was already building. She had seen enough to make her decision and there was no reason to waste time standing around. She had too many other things to do today.

Heneter clapped her hands for attention and Nakhti promptly stepped in and knocked his opponent on his rump. “That’s all for today.” She announced. “We will post the names of those who will continue this afternoon. Those on the list will report back here at first light in the morning. You are dismissed.”

She immediately headed toward the baths. When Nakhti caught up with her she gave him an irritated look. “You were showing off.”

“Yeah, how did I look?” He gave her a cocky grin.

She growled and gave him a glare. She wouldn’t answer that so she changed the subject. “I think we have only two real candidates here.”

He nodded. “My last opponent and the third one up, the one from Bubastis.”

“Tiw is his name.”

“Right, they both need work but the reflexes and the basic skills are there. They have the right attitude for it too.” He let her pass through the door first. Inside thick stone walls the air was still relatively cool and he felt a chill as the sweat started to dry. “Why don’t we finish this discussion in the bath? We’re pretty ripe.”

She calculated the odds that he was up to something and decided that although they were pretty good she really wanted to get clean before lunch. “Fine but keep your mind on business.”

He laughed. “I always do.”

She gave him another glare but before she could reply a page came trotting toward them.

“Lady Heneter, the High Priest requests that you come to his chamber.”

“We have just come from the practice field do I have time to bathe and change?”

“I believe so Lady. I found you sooner than I expected to so if you hurry it should be alright.”

“Thank you, I will be there shortly.” The page nodded and hurried away.

Heneter saw Nakhti's irritated look and decided that the interruption was probably for the best. “We'll have to discuss the recruits later, go ahead and post the notice if I'm not through in time.

“Yes, Captain,” he sighed.


Waiting for her in the High Priest's chamber was an old acquaintance, Huni the Pharaoh's Minister of Secrets. This was probably not going to be good. “You wished to see me Lord Menkau?” she asked the High Priest.

He glanced at Huni. “Actually, Lord Huni is the one who requested your presence. I need to attend to another matter.” Menkau got up and walked out, leaving her alone with the old spy master.

Huni had been in the Pharaoh's service in one capacity or another since childhood and Heneter knew that anything the old man said would carry the weight of the Pharaoh's authority.

“It is good to see you again my dear. I have a job for you.”

“Straight to the point as always. What is it this time?” She sat down in one of the hard chairs Menkau kept for visitors.

“Nothing too difficult. You will be handling security for Ambassador Meren-Ptah when he goes to Gadir to represent the Pharaoh at the coronation of the Emperor of the West.”

“Coronation? What happened to Emperor Acherbas? I thought he was still strong and in good health.

“He was, until someone cut his throat.” Huni's grin was chilling. “Thanks to the fast actions and firm leadership of Prince Hasdrubal a potential civil war came to nothing more than a palace revolt. My sources say that the one behind all this was a cousin who has fled north and may even be trying to hide in the Great Waste.

“He's a fool then. Nothing can survive there for long without being twisted by the dark magics there.”

“Indeed. You have been to the outskirts of that region before and know what to look for. I want you to find out what the situation really is. An unstable Empire affects all of us for good or ill. While we might benefit by expanding our Eastern border so might the Romans. In addition to this conflict there have been rumors of sickness striking their southern lands. We cannot refuse trade ships for no reason but if there is a plague brewing it could come here at any time. Good intelligence is essential for the Living Horus to make plans to defend our lands.

Heneter nodded in agreement. “I can travel with the ambassador and send you reports of what I observe then slip away once we reach Gadir and do some reconnaissance to the north. I'd like a few of my own men along.”

“Of course. The ambassador needs an honor guard and servants to smooth his way. You'll have two days to make your plans.”

“That's short notice but I'll be ready.” Heneter was already making lists in her head and forming preliminary plans.

Huni stood to indicate the interview was over. “I'll let you get started then. Expect a messenger with the codes you are to use and your final instructions before you board.



Too Many Voices In My Head...: WRITERalterfano on March 5th, 2007 04:51 am (UTC)
Hm. Well, some general comments based on a quick read.

1-I found it a little tough in the "battle" paragraphs at the beginnign to figure out who was doing what to whom.

2-I couldn't really visualize any of the characters very well and scanning back didn't see any physical descriptions which would have helped me fix their names/personalities in my head.

3-Heneter's character. About all I got out of this was that she was "in charge". I didn't get much about her attitudes or disposition on anything.

4-I found it hard to believe her subordinate would come on to her like that if she were really a commander. She should either be threatening to have his balls and backing him down or she should be encouraging him with a hint of femdom. A real military commander woulnd't put up with that cheekiness the way she did (ignoring it/brushing it off).

All in all, I'd suggest taking more time in the descriptions and adding things to give the characters personality and opinions so you start to get a good feel for their proclivities and prejudices. This lays out the facts of the story ok, but doesnt' really establish the actors very clearly. For what it's worth, you have a lot of dialog that doesn't say who said it and how they said it (what was the timbre of their voice? what was the nonverbal communicating along with the words themselves? did they look away when they spoke? frown? smile?). All these things can really add dimension to a character without taking away from the progression of the story at all.

I also noted some missing "end parens" and you should spell out "fourteen".

Hope that wasn't too critical and you find it useful!
ranuelranuel on March 5th, 2007 10:57 am (UTC)
Very useful, exactly the sorts of comments I need.

1. I'll have to go back over that and see what I can make clearer.

2. I cut out a good bit of physical description when it didn't seem relevant to the scene. So, in trying to avoid the "She tossed her raven hair out of her chocolate brown eyes and wiped the sweat from her glistening tan skin" sort of thing I've gone too far in the other direction.

3. Well, from this I was hoping a reader would get the fact that she was in charge and comfortable with that, competent, respected by higher ups, permits a bit of cheekiness from Nakhti so she isn't a total stick up the butt type (foreshadows her relationship with Ranuel a little)even if at times she may seem that way later, and has past experience with the area she's going into.

4. Heneter and Nakhti have a long history beyond serving together but you don't know that and just having him be familiar with her in private is apparently not working so I need to put something in to indicate that. Without an info dump.

Missing bits are always good to point out to me.
Too Many Voices In My Head...alterfano on March 5th, 2007 12:31 pm (UTC)
glad you thought it was useful.
(Anonymous) on March 8th, 2007 12:22 am (UTC)
The first paragraph suffers from antecedant confusion. The "her" in "her...sword" would refer back to her opponent, not Heneter.

You might have Heneter admire Nakhti's body or some piece of it. That would help set the stage for the later "cheekiness." Also, it would sneak in a description. What does this group of Egyptians look like? Swarthy? More Nubian than Arabic?

< at first light in the morning> This is reduntant. 'at first light tomorrow' would be better.

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The first paragraph suffers from antecedant confusion. The "her" in "her...sword" would refer back to her opponent, not Heneter.

You might have Heneter admire Nakhti's body or some piece of it. That would help set the stage for the later "cheekiness." Also, it would sneak in a description. What does this group of Egyptians look like? Swarthy? More Nubian than Arabic?

< at first light in the morning> This is reduntant. 'at first light tomorrow' would be better.

<We’re pretty ripe.”> This is just too 21st Century. Perhaps something more colorful, like "you smell like camel dung."

<She gave him another glare but before she could reply a page came trotting toward them.
“Lady Heneter, the High Priest requests that you come to his chamber.”> There shouldn't be a paragraph division between the page trotting up and his speech. Also, he should probably salute her in some fashion. I can't recall at the moment what the proper motion would be; you can always fall back on 'he gave her a salute proper to her station'. Things might work differently in this imaginary universe, but a messenger, even a messenger directly from Pharoah, would not fail to honor the Commander of the temple guards in ancient Egypt. This will also reinforce her position with the reader.

<“We have just come from the practice field do I have time to bathe and change?”> Run-on sentence. Punctuation needed - semi-colon or period and capitalization of "Do."

<“I believe so Lady. I found you sooner than I expected to so if you hurry it should be alright.”> Punctuation quibble - comma before "Lady" and one between 'to' and 'so'. Also, "alright " is another 20thCentury word. Something more like, 'so if you hurry, you will not keep the High Priest waiting.'

Once you begin with the interview with the spy master, I lose track of which empire is which. Is the Empire of the West different from the Romans? Same as? And exactly whose Empire is unstable? Also, when you speak of sickness striking the southern lands, is that the Roman's southern lands or the Western Empire's southern lands?

As to Heneter's character: She needs a bit more fleshing out, although a complete physical description isn't 100% necessary at this moment. You could mention her hair is black when she swipes at her sweaty self. The rest of the description could trickle out through the next few chapters. You could look at her through the eyes of the spy master, have him find her arrogant/confident, something like that.


(Anonymous) on March 8th, 2007 12:24 am (UTC)
Re: Critique Further
Do I care what happens to her? What happens next? Only slightly. This beginning is too slim to capture my interest. But it would be only a couple of pages long in book format. I usually give a book 35 pages before I give up. In order to hook me, there needs to be more conflict, more of a puzzle, more something. Like perhaps a shadowy figure sliding out of sight as Heneter crosses a corridor on her way to make preparations. Perhaps the page is found murdered in Nakhti's room or somebody else's that will cause trouble.

Some details of the preparations for leaving are necessary as they can help build tension, since the rest of this is so sparse. Heneter must make choices. Is she going to take any of the raw recruits? Does she have to consider sexual tensions between troopies? Is anyone leaving a mate behind? Does Nakhti go with her? Stay behind because he's the only one she can trust to keep the temple safe? How she deals with these things can help describe her character. If her guardsmen had already been described, the reader would already be making guesses as to who would be going and who would not.

Details of the voyage that help further the plot(s) are useful. Details that add to the picture of who these people are and what their world is like would be useful. How much do they worship their gods? Do they make a sacrifice to the gods for a safe voyage? Does a scoffer go up in flames when they reach the Waste in punishment for his non-belief? Is that shadowy figure seen again? Does ill-luck plague the voyage? If the voyage is smooth, then skip ahead to any troublesome moments.

I have a problem with a guard captain who is set up to handle security for an ambassador slipping quietly away. From my p.o.v., if she's gonna be absent by going to the Waste, she shouldn't be very visibly in the Ambassador's presence. For example, if I were doing this, she should put Nakhti in charge and appear as a minor subordinate so her absence wouldn't be remarked upon. (I call this the "Kirk leaves the bridge" syndrome, when important people suddenly go gallavanting off and nobody remarks on their absence) It bothers me.

ranuelranuel on March 8th, 2007 01:30 am (UTC)
Re: Critique Further
Lots to munch on! I have re-written these 2 1/2 pages so many times in the last year that I've lost track of what was there to begin with and I'm too familiar with the world to tell if I'm giving needed info or info dumping. If it gives you a clue with how long I've fought with it, I wrote the first rough draft before I posted the chapter where Ranuel and Heneter meet over at WAS IF last year.

You are right, it IS Kirk leaves the bridge and as a Trekie I'm so used to it that it doesn't even occur that it's not the usual thing. My original idea was to have her be in charge of the planning but to have one of her people be in charge when they get there. I lost track of that somewhere.

This isn't ancient Egypt, it's modern day for this world. Still, they are following the old ways and I need to make some things more formal.

Nakhti is being a very bad boy and insisting that he needs to come along and you aren't helping! I think he should stay behind at the Temple and run things in Heneter's absence. If so he wouldn't show up again for a long time.

I've got a scene between Heneter and Nakhti that would take place after this that goes into their history but I'm worried that it's too angsty too soon for anybody to care about their little drama.

BTW Heneter would nowadays be properly transcribed as He-Netjer but I wanted to stick with what Mary used and Heneter is easier to type and read than He-Netjer. What do you think?

Also, got any ideas for swears to replace "bloody hell" and "Damn"?

And I've lost track of what was in your first post so I'll continue in a reply to it.

ranuelranuel on March 8th, 2007 02:04 am (UTC)
Re: Critique
I replied to your second post first and then realized I needed to be able to re-read this one to reply to the points in it.

Is it Friday yet?

The Empire of the West covers most of modern Spain and Portugal plus a good bit of the parts of N. Africa directly opposite. In Africa it shares a border with the lands ruled by Carthage which in turn borders Lower Egypt (the North), which is still un-renamed. Upper Egypt(the South) is currently in my notes as Khemet and at this time a separate nation ruled by a non-human Queen.

The peoples of Khemet are darker with mixture with the Nubians becoming more and more common as you get further South. The Egyptians (whatever I call them) are the lighter skinned Arabic types with some mixture from other Mediterranean peoples.

Now, the use of Khemet is wrong and it's an error that's held over from years ago that I'm fighting with myself over. Of the two Egypts the one that really should be Khemet is Upper Egypt since the name means "The black lands" and refers to the area that the inundation made suitable for farming and cities and Upper Egypt with its vast delta has the greater farm lands.

We've used Khemet to refer to Lower Egypt within the game for so long it's confusing to me to change but as soon as I find a name to substitute for it I know I need to do it.

The desert areas were "The red lands" but I've lost what that translates into.

In Europe I'm debating giving France to the Western Empire. The British Isles are iffy. Ireland is ruled by the kings of Tara but I'm not sure of the rest. They may have to pay tribute to or be directly ruled by the WE. In any case the Roman Empire borders it to the East and probably has from Germany over to somewhere around Hungary or Romania.

I wish I had a good map in Jpeg format and Photoshop.

My debate on the voyage goes like this:

On the one hand I can use it to introduce the nations and peoples of this alternate universe. On the other that could turn it into a boring travelogue. But, says I, I could introduce a little sub-adventure somewhere, like maybe Carthage, that could foreshadow the plot by the big bads that Heneter and company will end up neck deep in.

And then I realize I need to work out Carthage in more detail and I get sucked back into the world building. Which was really useful in a recent adventure I ran for the game. Not so useful to making progress on the book.

Punctuation is my bane since, even when I'm sure of a rule, I can often fail to apply it in my rush to type something and then miss it on a re-reading. For some reason lately I've found myself typing a period instead of a question mark and having to go back and change it at least 50% of the time.