First of all, I'm thinking of all the character-driven fiction that is out there, Fantasy is at the head of the pack. Character has to be the single most important commodity in a good fictional work. All you have to do to see this is think about the Lord of the Rings novels or the Harry Potter novels. Pick out your favorite characters. Betcha can mentally see every detail about them right down to their shoelaces.
Secondly, the theme of magic has to fold into the main story line effortless and seamlessly. The magic has to be so flawless, so natural, that without it the whole book would fall to pieces.
That is so true if you consider how magic plays such an intrinsic, natural role in the world of Harry Potter. Easy to see that without magic, Harry Potter becomes just another near sighted kid with thick glasses.
Thirdly, and this is very subjective viewpoint, there has to be a sense of dread . . . of foreboding . . . that foreshadows terrible things to come. Terrible things must happen in order for Fantasy to succeed. It doesn't mean that the whole story will wind up on the dark side and everyone dies. But it must foreshadow a great struggle is about to take place. That struggle between the forces of Good versus the forces of Evil.
Fourthly, there has to be vivid imagery. What is a good Fantasy if you cannot mentally see the images in your mind's eye? That's like watching a great sporting event on the television with the screen suddenly going dark on you. What the hell . . . . !?
Lastly, there has to be some stunningly written lines; quotable lines that just ring in your mind and stay with you. Phrases, passages, entire sections of the book so composed poetically they are retained indefinitely with you through the passage of time.
So the other night . . . while driving my six year old grand daughter home from her kindergarten, one of those memorable lines popped up in my head. From that one line a series of images began to unfold. (yes, you may see some visual/verbal residual images from some other pieces I have written. But trust me; the 're-hashing' if you will is far, far different from the original)
I'm sharing the opening chapter with you. Pick out, if you can, the passage that captured my attention. Tentative title of the new book is Treachery and the Dark Gods.
"Methinks Bear, this man is too thin and too durable for my liking.
He is like old leather, well worn and impervious to weather. A
man that does not shirk from his duty. Bad times for rogues
like us, my friend. Bad times . . ."
Treachery raised its ugly head, as treachery always does, with cold steel thrust into warm flesh by the hand of a friend tenderly embraced.
The old man, leaning on an ancient, blackened briar-oak staff taller by a foot than he, dressed in the cast off rags of several different woodsmen clans, stood beside the mud speckled thistle wall of the hamlet's only blacksmith and eyed suspiciously the arrival of a Great Rider astride a giant winged warbird. The warrior, wide of shoulder and narrow of hip, dressed in leather and unadorned gray surcoat of a clanless rider, descended from the plain saddle of his large bird stiffly and fondly rubbed the creature's plumed head as the creature turned to eye its master with one dark eye.
Narrowing eyes suspiciously, the old man thought he recognized both warrior and bird. The bird itself was instantly identified. The richly multi-colored plumed crown of the giant black bird told him the giant was from the
more than five hundred leagues
south from this hamlet. Rare, this bird
was. Rare and expensive. A bird from the Hogonot rarely left the
towering peaks of their homeland. Rare
even more the bird trained for war. A
giant bird, fifteen hands high from the warrior's shoulders, the majority of
its plumage as black as a moonless . Hogonot
In the pens of a trainer of war birds in the walled cities of Burkhar or Gils a creature of this beauty and size would bring a fiefdom's ransom for a price. More gold than a man like he, or this warrior, would ever see in their lives. Which, curiously, rubbing the stubble of his chin thoughtfully, stuck him as odd. How came a bird of this quality fell into the fold of such a simple warrior?
Gripping the staff in his hand more firmly he turned his attention to the warrior.
Plainly dressed with nothing to suggest allegiance to anyone marked the warrior as a noman. A noman . . . someone who claimed to be a warrior free from any familial or clan obligations. A free peasant. A rogue. A freed man-at-arms. A villain. A thief. All could equally describe the true essence of a noman. Was this man a true warrior? Or more like a simple backwoodsman or landless farmer clothing himself in the rags of another?
Around the warrior's waist a simple belt of leather. Hanging from the leather on two sturdy chains the plain wood and leather curved sheath for a dragon's scimitar. The only weapon visibly the warrior seemed to possess. Even this was most odd. A dragon's scimitar. The single-edged, curved blade of mankind's mortal enemy. An enemy who had not been seen this far north in more than a hundred years.
The war tossed a copper coin to a tow headed boy and pointed to his bird. The boy, grinning, nodded eagerly and raced toward the black giant. The bird eyed the lad with one large eye cautiously and then made an odd sound of a snort before lowering itself to allow the boy to remove the saddle from its back.
The tall warrior, brown hair falling past his shoulders, eyed the boy for a second or two before turning and exiting the large rough wooden corral reserved for the mounts of visitors arriving for the festivities. The man had a high forehead, a straight edged, narrow nose, and a firm chin. Done one cheek vertically was the faint red line of a healing scar. Cleanly shaved, with dark brown eyes, the noman flashed an engaging, boyish smile to the old peasant and nodded pleasantly as he passed him and moved toward the stall of a peasant farmer selling fruits and freshly baked breads to the growing crowd.
Around them the hamlet of Grol buzzed with frenzied activity. Wet weather and thick mud seemed not to deter those came near and far to see the Lord Vladimir marry the youngest daughter of Lord Michael in grand ceremonies in tomorrow's coming eve. Hundreds of faces, known and unknown, filled the muddy streets and single inn of the hamlet. Merchants, money lenders, acrobats, troupes of actors and musicians all pressed themselves into the small hamlet looking for lodgings and commerce. Outside the two encircling wooden palisades for walls surrounding the hamlet, a hundred or more brightly colored pavilions designating the temporary residence of noblemen and dignitaries filled a flat field. Bright banners and gaily colored pennants of all sizes and shapes fluttered in the soft late summer's breeze as crowds, curious and in awe this sumptuous display of power and wealth, traveled back and fourth from hamlet to the encampment constantly.
Grol was Lord Vladimir's largest hamlet. A sad statement, if one was so inclined, to measure the wealth and grandeur of the lord and his holdings. A small fiefdom, the furthest northern holding of old King Gar, with nothing of value except vast expanses of virgin forests with limitless game and mighty rivers festooned with fish of all kinds.
No one came to Lord Vladimir's lands to trade. Twice a year, in the summer months, the king would send a hundred heavy wagons drawn by teams consisting of sixteen massive oxen each, to collect the gigantic felled trees the fiefdom used to pay its yearly taxes with. In the fall a far smaller caravan would make its way over the rutted swipe of a forested trail to Grol to collect the fiefdom's share of crops. If it were not for these caravans making their way from the capitol city of
to Grol the outside world would know nothing of the fiefdom called Grolland.
Yet, most oddly, the powerful Lord Michael, the all powerful High Constable to King Lars, wished to marry his youngest daughter to the frail child who had but recently inherited the fiefdom, Lord Vladimir.
was a sickly youth too young to draw straight razor across a chin filled with
beard to cut. Yet the boy was fair to
look upon. There was a boyish youth to the duke which appealed the feminine
persuasion whenever the boy made an appearance. He was a gentle ruler who ruled with a gentle
hand. Everyone within the domains he
claimed as his own loved him.
Nevertheless, in the eight fiefdoms which comprised of the
, Grolland was the
poorest of the lot. The land had no
wealth to speak of. What population
there was to be found in the fiefdom could be found primarily in two small
hamlets. Grol and Haddow. Why a powerful lord like that of Lord Michael
would wish to marry his ten year old daughter to Lord Vladimir was beyond
comprehension when the news arrived from the capitol. Kingdom
of Old King Gar
The High Counselor to King Lars was a legend. Some said he was, in the
, even more powerful than
the man who held the throne. A warrior
of great personal daring, a general in his king's army of unequalled ability, a
nobleman bestowed with great wealth and god-like beauty and indomitable courage,
why he seemed so eager to convince King Lars the need to hurriedly wed his
youngest to Lord Vladimir was indeed a great mystery. Kingdom
, to the west and somewhat
south of the lands of Old King Lars, was powerful and wealthy beyond
measure. It stretched for two hundred
leagues southward into the foothills and mountains of the Hogonot, and for another
five hundred leagues eastward across the vast open plains of the Talan Steppes
until it reached the sandy shores of the Beiting Sea. The kingdom was riddled with iron, gold, and
silver mines. Its merchant fleets sailed
the known seas bringing in even more wealth from foreign lands. Kingdom
The royal families were wealthy enough to breed their own warbirds. It was said each baron of the kingdom, of which Lord Michael was the first among his peers, could independently field armies of five thousand or more of their own. So again . . . this mystery of wishing to bond the House of Michael to the House of Vladimir was a mystery too incongruous to contemplate.
It was this . . . this great mystery . . . which had drawn the old woodsman to the hamlet of Grols. And he, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he eyed the back of the strange warrior in front of him, suspected it was the same motivation which brought this creature to Grol as well.