Sunday, 18 August 2013

Deleted Scenes

I've not been posting as often as usual for the last few weeks - work has been ridiculously busy and has been sapping my enthusiasm a little.   When I have been in the mood to write I've been focusing on my work-in-progress novel which has actually started to make progress enough to warrant the description!

As part of that though I've tinkered with the narrative voice and viewpoint and made some tough decisions as to which parts of the existing work to keep and which to (probably) excise.

What follows are some brief scenes which I'd introduced to set up one particular character and situation.   The character will still be in the final story (probably) and so will the situation (probably) but these scenes no longer fit.

Rather than have them vanish into the ether I'm posting them here - hopefully they'll make enjoyable reading and I'd appreciate any feedback on these scenes that never were...

Section One

Some distance away a young man was facing a trial of a different sort. He was stripped to the waist, with a strong athletic frame and short hair as dark as his eyes which were focused and grim. He did not notice the chill October evening air, or the breeze that blew through the courtyard in which he stood. Tall walls surrounded him on three sides and a grand house loomed over the courtyard behind him. His expression was intently and unnaturally calm, calmness floating lightly on top of depths of anger he did not yet realise he was feeling.

Across from him five wooden posts had been set in the ground and atop each one was a cobblestone as large as a man’s head.

“Attend. Attend!” the old man said in a sharp voice. The old man was pacing around the youth, whose name was Jeremy Riker, slowly and watching him carefully for the slightest hint of any lapse in concentration. “Do not think about anything but the task before you. Do not think about the cold. Do not think about the targets. Think only of the
vita and building it, gathering it, shaping it into the symbol of power.”

It would be easier to think of the damned symbol, Riker thought, without you constantly lashing me with your voice.

“I said ‘Attend!’” the old man barked and he struck Riker across the back with the wooden walking stick he carried. The blow was not a hard one, but even so the young man flinched from the sudden shock of it and that earned him another sharp cry. “Attend!”

Riker wrestled his attention back to the symbol that was not there. To his mind’s eye - or his magical senses as another interpretation would have it - the symbol was being drawn line by line and floated there behind his eyes, a complex three dimensional web of glowing lines and curves held in perfect visualisation as his life force flowed into that web, making the lines shine more brightly yet. Each second that passed made it harder to maintain the details in his mind’s eye, but each second that passed meant that more of his vita was stored and gathered and held there. Some sorcerers needed to use their hands or wands or other objects to draw out the symbols before them but Jeremy was advanced beyond that need.

There was an endless moment of readiness and then the old man said sharply “Now.”

Jeremy Riker took a step forward, his right arm drawn back to his left hip and then snapping out and forward, pointing fingers like a pistol and he spoke a single word of power as he let the shining symbol burst into nothingness. The first cobblestone, many feet distant, shattered to dust atop its post but by then his arm was already moving again, pointing at the second cobblestone which split into a half dozen fragments. The third rocked from its position and fell but did not break. Riker tried to move his arm again, to aim at the fourth, at the fifth, but he was weak now and his muscles screamed with the effort of just keeping his arm aloft. He staggered a little. The power he had gathered was gone. The old man’s silence was a rebuke in itself.

“You must try harder,” the old man said after many long seconds had passed. “If you cannot master such a simple exercise then what use will you be to your family?”

“I know,” the young man said, his voice hoarse with the effort of controlling his breathing. He did not want to show his mentor how exhausted he had become.

“To know is not enough. You must overcome yourself. Set up the targets once more.”

Grunting with the effort of lifting each new cobblestone the young man set up the targets on their posts as he had been bidden. The old man watched with impatience. He knew his duty. He would work the boy half to death if need be, if that was what it took.

Section Two

Jeremy Riker’s bedroom was large and grandly furnised, and he was sitting at a desk with a wide top and elaborate fittings. A small book stand was built into the rear of the desk on which stood a half dozen identically bound books of magical theory, with black leather covers and silver worked designs on the spine. He was not reading though, nor was he writing. He was sitting motionless at the desk, his hands flat and unmoving on the surface, and he was glaring straight ahead of him almost rigid with anger and frustration. The words of his teacher still seethed in his memory and he found it impossible to think around them

You need to try harder
To know is not enough
You must overcome yourself

Each day was a day of failure, another day of failure, and if there was one thing that Jeremy Riker hated it was failure. Failure was not permitted, not tolerated, not even to be mentioned. It was not just the old man, Mortimer Lake, who had been set to be Riker’s taskmaster that hammered home that truth, for Riker had been raised from the nursery with the knowledge that he must excel. His father was an important man, inlfuential, a powerful Magus and Riker’s home had been filled with other important, influential, powerful men and women at his father’s beck and call. And they had always shown utter deference to Jeremy’s father, and indeed to the young Jeremy himself.

His father though had made it clear that reflected glory was worthless and that Jeremy would soon have to earn for himself the respect of those around him. He would have to stand on his own feet, and face the world and triumph over all adversity… or he would be nothing.

Being nothing was not acceptable to Jeremy Riker.

He had worked hard, very hard, through his childhood and his magical apprenticeship. There was no time for play only for learning and practice, and magical exercises designed to increase his sorcerous strength and stamina - his vita - with which he could power his magic. He had a battery of tutors each specialising in a particular field of theory or practise and he had at first been driven to excel… and later had learned to drive himself.

By the time he was fifteen years old, Jeremy Riker had earned respect as a powerful young sorceror and if that came in the same package as being considered arrogant and something of a bully, then why should he care for that? The opinions of mice do not matter to a wolf after all.

But then progress began to come more slowly. Riker had been a fast learner and a swift climber as a child and as a young apprentice, but these days it was harder to see improvement, and each now achievement seemed to come harder and the trials were greater. The sense of failure was like a heavy stone on his back crushing him slowly.

Today in the training yard he had failed again and again. He had always demonstrated a flair for martial sorcery, the magic of battle and destruction, and he had driven away more sparring partners than he could recall, but Lake’s new tests were pushing Riker to the limits of concentration and endurance. And Riker kept falling short.

If these targets were enemies you would be dead!

Lake’s words were a lash that left more marks on Riker than the red welts left by that damned walking stick across Riker’s back. Jeremy knew that he could not afford to fail because Lake’s report of him would reach Jeremy’s father and that was something he did not want to consider.

It did not have to be like that though, he knew, He cold triumph. He could prove his worth. He could earn respect.

His eyes flicked across the spines of the books on his book stand. None of them could give him what he needed. Riker glanced across the room, moving only his eyes, to make sure the door was firmly closed. Assured that it was he opened the bottom drawer in his desk and moved aside some loose leaves of parchment. Beneath them was a book with a mottled brown cover, and he lifted it carefully to the desktop.

This is forbidden he told himself, and his hand hovered over the cover, hesitant and unwilling. But there was a need driving him.

This is forbidden.

He opened the book though.

But it is power.

Section Three

Mortimer Lake’s eyes opened suddenly. His bedroom was cold, spartan and purely functional. He was a man who saw little point in impractical comfort. Comfort made people soft and Mortimer Lake had no room for softness in his life.

There had been a noise somewhere nearby he thought. His house was secure, and he was confident that none of his magical wards had been breached. Nothing could pass his boundaries, whether it be a physical or magical intrusion, without alerting him, but it had not been a magical alert that had woken him, but rather a sound. Lake was an old man, but his long years had been spent in surviving harsh circumstances so he was not afraid. He moved calmly, silently, sitting up in bed and swinging his feet to the floor, his bony ankles looking ridiculous beneath the bottom of his long nightshirt. He took up his walking stick from its position resting against his bed. It was not only an aid to walking, nor only a tool for disciplining his student, but it was infused with stored magical energy; a core of vita charged crystals hidden within the grip of the stick. He felt the extra power there as he held the handle, ready to be called upon at need. Such a resource was rare and expensive, but Mortimer Lake had rich and influential people in his life who had been willing to reward him for his many and secret services over the last five decades.

As he walked from his room he silently cast spells to protect himself against waiting danger. In all probability, he thought, this was a needless precaution but it would be foolish to be found unprepared even if peril was unlikely. Shadows moved around him at his command and enveloped him like a cloak, blurring him, shading him so that only a careful observer would notice the old man in his white nightshirt stalking the dark passages of his home.

Another noise! A sharp crack like a pistol shot from nearby and Mortimer Lake froze for a second; not in fear for he was not a man that easily felt fear, but he froze so that he could judge direction and distance. Moving with more haste he descended a short stair to a corner landing. There was a window there that overlooked the walled yard to the rear of his house. In the darkness of the yard there was a light shining, a lamp that had been hung from a hook in the wall. Though the light was dim it was enough for Lake to see clearly, for one of his preparatory enchantments had given him the vision of a night-hunting cat, monochrome but clear in the dimness. A thin smile split Lake’s face like a wound. The boy Riker was there in the yard practising.

Good, good, thought Lake, he drives himself hard. As he should.

Though Lake would never admit it, Riker was progressing well. The challenges that Lake set him were far more difficult than someone of Riker’s young age could be expected to overcome but he was growing in power and determination. Why, earlier today he had split three cobblestones in a rapid sequence and had repeated this several times before fatigue dropped him. Four would be a challenge for an experienced Magus. Lake himself could manage five in as many heartbeats but it had taken many years of hard won experience for that to be possible.

He looked down unseen into the yard as Jeremy Riker paced back and forth as though he was bursting with anxious energy. Five new cobbles were on the five stakes, and Lake watched with anticipation as Riker suddenly stopped and turned his head to face his targets. Lake nodded to himself as he saw the focus on the young man’s face and—

The noise was like a moment of thunder breaking immediately overhead. All five cobbles split apart into fragments at the same instant and fell as gravel and dust around the stakes on which they had been set. Mortimer Lake leaned forward suddenly almost staggering and placed his free hand on the window frame to steady himself. Impossible. Impossible!

Down in the yard Jeremy Riker was breathing heavily, his shoulders rising and falling as he recovered from the exertion of what he had just done. Then a dozen heartbeats later Lake saw Riker look to his left across the yard and gesture with one hand sweeping it through the air. With a grating noise more large cobbles left the heap where they had been piled, working themselves free, and drifting through the air to the five target stakes. With barely a wobble each stone set itself in place.

Mortimer Lake looked down at his student, at Jeremy Riker who could not possibly have done what he had just done, and he felt his heart beating like a blacksmith’s hammer on an anvil. He watched as Riker began to pace again, clenching and unclenching his fists. Lake shook his head in disbelief. To have destroyed the targets so easily, so quickly, was impossible for any sorcerer of Riker’s young age. It would have left an experienced Magus weak and vulnerable until their vita had been replenished through rest. He could not possibly be restored enough already to strike again.

And then he remembered. The noise that had awoken him… and the noise that had followed a few minutes later.

Dear God thought Mortimer Lake who was not a religious man how many times has he done this tonight.

And as he thought that thought, the youth in the walled yard slowly lifted his face and turned his head and looked directly at the window where Mortimer Lake stood shrouded in spells of concealment. Jeremy Riker gave a polite bow of his head. And he smiled.