Journey to a Bestseller: Evaluation of Anonymous Query and Sample Pages (Series #24)

It’s been a long week, folks. I was in a book fair at Woodneath Library in Liberty, Missouri, this weekend. Joined by my daughter and my writing partner. The tables were tiny, but it was a nice set up and all my swag fit on my table, and I got some good ideas from other authors’ displays.

*Tip* When at a conference, book fair, or other author event where you have a table, it looks professional and visually appealing to add height to your display with a few mug shelves, or a basket on its side. A multi-level display is pleasing to the eye and adds complexity to your array. It’s more attractive to buyers, and you can also exhibit much more of your merchandise in less space.

This is a looong post so let’s dig in! Today, I am helping an author who agreed to be YOUR guinea pig–Hooray–and allowed me to critique their query and sample pages online. Everyone be kind, the author is super brave to do this and I told them I would be brutally honest in an effort to show you all what I would change, and why. We made a deal, and in exchange for being an example, I am helping the author write a killer query. Hopefully after this, you will have some ideas, as well. The author’s name is being withheld for privacy, so don’t ask. I will give my first thoughts on what I read as I go, with my agent/editor hat on. The query and sample pages are copy/pasted, then my responses are interjected in red.

No pictures this week. All writing. Here we go:

(Maybe one picture)

Query for The Heart of the Sword:

   Sanch was born to a succession he knew nothing about; to a world filled with those who wanted to see him dead to keep him from it. His father, a great man fought to keep his son safe and his people out of the hands of evil. After the death of his father the young Sanch was in no way ready to pick up where his father left off. In the absence of a leader the world fell into turmoil and all that was once together fell back behind their own walls once again. When Sanch found himself ready he rode out to face a world split apart with parts of it ready to follow him and the other parts set on killing him, but both sides awaiting his return.

The preceding paragraph is the blurb. This is the bit that tells the agent what the story is about. Keeping it concise, you want to limit this description to a few paragraphs. Done really well here. But what you’re looking for in this section is not a summary of the plot, but the “movie trailer” version. (Some exciting lines that hook you into wanting to know more.) Imagine that guy with the super deep voice speaking in the theater:

“Sanch knew nothing of the world that wanted him dead and gone. After losing his great fight against evil, Sanch’s father couldn’t protect his people anymore and the land split into turmoil without a leader. Behind their walls, the people stewed awaiting Sanch’s return. After ten years, he rode out to face the world, finally ready. With half of his people still loyal, the rest wait in the shadows, prepared to be the one who kills the heir of Lackshin. Fraught with peril, and hidden danger, Sanch’s journey begins.”

Da da dum. If you don’t feel like you should be saying “Da da dum” after your dramatic hook, maybe the words aren’t compelling enough yet?

I didn’t change much in my example above, but I tried to make it more of a hook. So now we know the story is about Sanch’s father having a battle and losing, then ten years of fracture, and then ending with Sanch going on a dangerous journey.

 “The Heart of the Sword” is a completed 47,155 word fantasy Sci-Fi, the first of a series targeted to those with the desire to stretch their imagination and go to a place long past. A place with action and suspense waiting with every draw of a sword, and dark creatures revealed.

In a query, round the word count to the nearest thousand, so this would be a 47,000-word science fantasy. Some people still say sci-fi and fantasy, and some people have shortened it to “science fantasy.” You don’t have to, but if you choose to shorten it, agents will know what you mean.

This query doesn’t actually give me a target audience, which the agent needs to know, because if they only represent YA, and your book is for adults, it’s an automatic pass. See how knowing what an agent is looking for, can help you? Conversely, if this book has the language and theme of a YA book and they are looking for an adult science fantasy, then they’re going to be disappointed if this doesn’t match. Adult conversations are very different from teen conversations with their peers. The focus is different, the topics of interest are different, and they will notice differing aspects in the same conversation. But I digress. It’s too vague to say it’s for anyone with a desire to stretch your imagination… That also insinuates that if we don’t want to read it, we don’t want to stretch ourselves. Which could be seen as insulting. LOL.

*Tip =Don’t insult the agent.

You can lead with the blurb in your query, but generally, I begin with this second section, or introductory paragraph, because A. the agent wants you to introduce yourself, but B. also show that you chose them on purpose, not just mass mailing anyone with an email. So I personally start with:

I saw on your Manuscript Wishlist page that you enjoy young adult literature with an emphasis on fantasy. Therefore, I thought you’d be the perfect fit for my 47,000-word YA science fantasy, titled The The Heart of the Sword. Then I put the blurb, then bio. All done.

*In retrospect, this query is going to get a pass from most agents due to ONE (1) factor. I’ll tell you what it is, at the end.*

The Heart of the Sword is filled with heroic action, determined enemies and a question of valor and steadfastness. Every chapter contains examples of a willingness on the part of a seemingly weaker victor to battle a fierce and relentless unknown combatant. Will good win over evil? For the answer, follow Sanch and Lackshin and others who will take you on a journey never before known to man—or beast.  

This paragraph tells us nothing we don’t already know. I would omit it all together. Or intersperse this with the blurb. Let me explain, we already know that it’s a “Hero’s Journey” story. So we already know that there will be a hero of valor and steadfastness, and every chapter should have some type of battle or conflict between good and evil. Evil should prevail for the first battle, and then evil wins the second battle either because they cheat, or the protagonist makes a mistake, then the hero wins the final battle. That is the hero’s journey.

So, as an agent, you’ve just told me that you’re writing a hero story. I know it sounds harsh, or jaded, sometimes. But after thousands of queries, some that are good, some that are bad, and a few that are great. Agents begin to have criteria and prefer the concise query with information they are looking for. Such as: what you want, why you’re writing them, what your genre is, your word count and age group. Then a blurb that excites them, that makes them think, “OOH, tell me more about that!” And then a bit about who you are and what you’ve written. Anything more than that is unneeded. It’s fluff.

I mean, use your creative juices, if your book is funny, make the agent laugh. Or they may not believe you can be funny at all. If your book is a horror, make your blurb spooky, give the agent the chills. I’m not saying not to use your writing talents–it’s HARD to write a good blurb–but remember KISS—Keep It Simple, Stupid(or Sally).

   My name is {}{}{}{}{}{} And in my words I can take others to so many different places and have them feel so many different things. The stories I write take on lives of their own and say things that I myself could not have imagined or seen coming myself. If given the chance I can take words and form them around you making them into a world you can see, hear, feel, smell and touch.

Sorry. I split this paragraph into two parts. After reading this first part, every agent I know is going to say, “Let me be the judge of that.” And now they are really scrutinizing your manuscript to see if you really can make a story rich with sensory input that I can’t put down. Reading this, the agent might be put off, or they might be really excited to see this world you’ve made. Are you prepared to deliver? Never be dishonest about your book with the agent. Chances are, they will know.

The bio in a query tells the agent what kind of writing experience you have. You do NOT have to say your book is a debut. In fact most of the queries I got were for debut books. Authors that are not pitching their first publishable book, already have a publisher, or an agent, or they’ve moved to self-publishing. I did get queries from established authors, but they weren’t the norm. So tell them a bit about you as it relates to your life; especially if it is unusual and will make you stand out, or if the agent likes something and you like it as well. Are you both cat people and both happen to have named them Mr. Snuggles? Well, that will endear you to the agent and they MAY enter into reading your sample with a more flexible attitude. They may see your “potential” and give you an R & R (revise and resubmit). I’m not saying to lay it on thick, and again, I’m not saying to lie to the agent. But if you can make yourself stand out, or put yourself into a favorable light with the agent, do so in this section.

“The Heart of the Sword” will have you feeling the breath of a dragon warm on your neck. You will turn to see where the sound of that galloping horse is coming from; you will duck to avoid the swing of the sword. “The Heart of the Sword” will give you all these things; all you need to do is dare to read. And “The Heart of the Sword II” is now completed, and already brings twice the action that the first one does. It starts at a full gallop taking you through a world of excitement.

Okay. Don’t dare the agent to read. They will swipe left. Is that the right way? I’m not on that app. Anyway, they pass. With the sequel, I would say: “The Heart of the Sword is a stand alone with series potential. I have completed an exciting sequel that gallops through the same world with twice the action.” Don’t say your second book is better than the first one, or they will ask, “why isn’t it first, then?”

   If you are interested, I will gladly send you the complete manuscript. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Always send your manuscript with the query, unless you are told NOT to do so by the agency. You will be able to find all the submission requirements on their individual agency websites. However, they often give their submission requirements along with what they’re looking for on www.manuscriptwishlist.com.

The LAST thing you want is for an agent to get your query and think, “ooh yeah. Send me that!” and then go on with their day. They read some manuscripts, go through queries, many agents have day or night jobs, they feed their families like you do and by the time they read your email the next day, with the suggested manuscript, they remember they liked it because they requested it, but it’s no longer fresh on their mind. Their excitement for it may have cooled.

Or maybe they got a query last night similar to yours—it happens all the time—but they like the other one’s plotline better. Or they had some kind of emotional reaction to the other query. Agents are regular people. If you can’t excite your neighbor with your blurb, you aren’t going to excite an agent. They will understand it, but there are ways to say things that excite readers. Look at TV commercials and trailers. They have concise hooks down pat. Just end with “Thank you very much for your time and consideration.”

 Sincerely,

Franklyn Thomas Jr.

If you have a synopsis, I’d leave it between the query and sample, so they can skim it if they want. They can always come back to it. But I always wanted to glance at the plotline first.

The Heart of the Sword

Chapter One

(*Before you get started and think, she’s crazy, there is so much nit-picky stuff in here. A. these are my first impressions as I read and you only have ONE shot with an agent. Do you want this to be their thoughts? And B. I am always hard on the first page. You CANNOT lose a reader on the first page, or they are most likely gone forever. On the first page you are setting up the story, setting up the inciting incident. You are showing us a bit of the character’s “norm” before an incident occurs that throws off the balance of their life. That is when the story really takes off. But you need to start it with some action (Or conflict; not necessarily a boxing match, but something that will make us interested to read and find out what’s happening.); not just at the first chapter, but each one that comes after.

*Here’s a tip. =Books are made up of scenes. People tend to write one scene per chapter. I agree, except they tend to write the scene: beginning, action, resolution. The writer ends the chapter on a down note. That’s why readers say, “One more chapter, and I’m going to bed.”

Do you know the secret to making your book “un-put-downable?”

It’s this: Begin your first chapter by starting in the action and letting the scene wind down to its end and resolution. Then start the next scene. Just as things are getting interesting… BAM! New chapter. Chapter two picks up on that conflict, and the action happens pretty soon in, and the scene winds down. Start the next scene and when things start getting interesting… BAM! End the chapter.

You don’t have to devise a hook or write a “hookish” question at the end of the chapter to keep your readers. People have a natural inclination to want to finish the scene to put the book down. But they also want the closure of ending at a chapter break. So they keep going…and going… People tell me that they read my books til 2 am because they can’t close the book. That is THE BEST compliment. I love that. This is how to do it yourself. Give it a try and ask your betas. If your book is already done, just change around the chapter breaks and do some minor revisions. You’ll see.

Sorry. On to the story…

            The noise as two swords clashed was like thunder over the land. It echoed off the mountains in the far distance and sent rocks crashing to the ground below. Nearer, Lackshin’s young son, Sanch hid in the bushes, watching.

Okay, already I know we’re in a battle, probably set back in time, or in a fantasy world, and with sword clashing sending far away rocks crashing down, I know this is going to be a legendary sort of tale because that’s not plausible. So we’re in for some bigger-than-life stories here.

            Lackshin fought fiercely as he swung Shallin —the only weapon known to give any hope of killing the one called Sillack.

        Sanch held his tongue when Sillack’s sword struck Shallin, then the smaller Lackshin kicked Sillack to the ground. The boy held his breath when Sillack matched his father’s swing before he swiped Lackshin’s legs from under him.

            Although Sillack drew the battle’s first blood, slashing Lackshin’s sleeve, Sanch exhaled when his father rose to his feet, prepared for the next strike.

            “He fights for his life and for the life of everyone in our village,” almost escaped the little boy’s lips, but he maintained his silent vigil. Though his father had never uttered the words, Sanch knew Lackshin would die, if it meant the others could live.

Okay, two things here. One, no little kid talks that way. Even in ye days of olde. Kids din’t have no edacashun. But aside from that, this is a philosophical type of thing to say. Any little boy I know is going to say in his head, “Dad! Please be okay, please be okay. Hit him! Hit him harder! Come on Dad, I know you can do it! No, no. push him back! Come on, Dad. Fight. Fight it. He’s going to die for the people of the village. They aren’t worth losing my dad. But he believes in them. Why aren’t they helping him? Someone help!”

Number two, words like the ones above also don’t almost escape your lips. A curse word might almost escape a kid’s mouth if he sees his father struggling in battle, though. And it might tell more in one word about his character than a sentence, if the boy sees his dad falter and whispers, “Shite,” then quickly slaps a dirty hand over his mouth, looking around, his eyes wide open.

Can you see it?

            Even while blood dripped from his arm, Lackshin fought as if he had not been touched. He lunged at Sillack but Sillack’s sword stopped Shallin from making her fatal strike. Lackshin countered, cutting Sillack along his chest.

Nice descriptions.

            Sillack roared and looked at the blood on his chest. “You? How did you−” He staggerd toward Lackshin with his sword raised over his head, but the more agile Lackshin dodged the powerful blow. Unable to escape Sillack’s huge boot, however, Lackshin’s view of the sky was blocked when his opponent stepped forward and straddled his fallen foe.

            Lackshin positioned Shallin between himself and Sillack. The blades clashed and blocked the thrust long enough for Lackshin to stand. Still, Sillack bombarded Lackshin with a series of strikes. The injured Lackshin, weakened with every step, persisted in his response to Sillack’s attack.

           Sillack taunted, “Why don’t you just give up? I can see in your sword that you can’t go on much longer. I will try to make it quick.”

            “If you want me dead, then kill me,” Lackshin said. “But don’t believe I will just lay down my sword and let you take my life. You might kill me, but someone much stronger than I will come for you. Know this. Shallin will accompany that one in the fight against you and the evil for which you stand. You will be destroyed.”

            Enraged, Sillack threw himself at Lackshin and knocked him off balance. Sillack lunged at Lackshin, impaling him. With great effort, Lackshin stepped back off the sword, by forcing himself to step toward Sillack, the collision forcing the larger man to retreat. Lackshin’s next swing with Shallin connected with Sillack’s face. Sillack pursued Lackshin and cleaved his chest, while he removed the sword in one swift motion.

I am having trouble with the following sentence: With great effort, Lackshin stepped back off the sword, by forcing himself to step toward Sillack, the collision forcing the larger man to retreat. If Sillack pushes his sword into the front of Lackshin, and Lackshin steps BACK off it, how is that forcing him to step TOWARD Sillack? And if Sillack impaled Lackshin from the BACK, then he can’t back off the sword, OR step closer to Sillack. So that one might need to be reworded.

            Lackshin and Shallin fell in death, as they had been in life, as one. A scream came from behind the crowd of people that had gathered.

I’d change this to: “Lackshin and Shallin fell as one, in death as they had been in life. Women screamed and a crowd of people gathered.”

            Sanch ran out and a cloaked woman appeared and snatched  the boy’s hand. They  ran off as if they knew nothing of Lackshin. Unnoticed, the woman and the stunned child hurried to safety in a village far away from the place they once called home.

            Sanch did not see Sillack stand over his father’s body. He did not see him turn to the crowd of people with his arms outstretched and his sword raised, but he heard him. “I am still here and he is no more. The one you called great is dead. I am now greater than he, his life taken by my hand.”

This is a problem. We were just in Sanch’s POV (point of view) and now we’re being told we aren’t. Then who are we now? It is possible to have a subjective omniscient, and though it is difficult, it can be done; however, in that kind of story, you can NOT hear the thoughts of any character. You can say, “He thought she looked angry, by the way her brows were pushed together.” You just can’t say, “Her face looks angry, he thought.” But I would have to research if that counts with a sword, because technically everything “she” experiences is in her “head.”

Otherwise, this is called “head-hopping.” When you change POV, you need to either make it a new chapter, or separate that part from the story with a little marker. I use this one:

~*~

Though some people like:  *** or — or |^| or you can get free windings fonts that come in different shapes and use one of those, too. A friend of mine was writing a Native American novel with a lot of stories and symbolism, so I looked up feathers in wingdings to use as a scene separator.

            Sillack reached down and picked up Shallin. He tried to speak strong words but Shallin’s internal flame burned the palms of his hands. He said, “I now hold the sword of Lackshin in my hand. If any man dares to speak against me, let him speak now and face me.” Unable to withstand the horrific pain Shallin inflicted on him, he threw the sword to the ground and ordered that none of his men touch the sword with their hands. “Destroy it! Immediately!”

           One by one, Sillack’s men attempted to remove Shallin from her master’s side. Finally, four of his strongest managed to lift her with their own swords.

            “It is strange,” his captain said. “It is as if Shallin does not wish to be removed from her friend’s side.”

            Once they lifted her from Lackshin’s presence, they placed her in a sealed box and made her ready for travel. The men took Shallin to a place where swords were melted daily. When the swordsmith’s hottest fire had turned to embers, the beautiful sword gleamed in the coals, undamaged. They then tried to break the impressive sword and were again unsuccessful.

By calling the sword “her” you are making it a character and thus give it its own narrative. Whether we ever know it or not, you, the writer, needs to know Shallin’s timeline.

            “We must devise a clever way to destroy this sword,” one of the men said.

            “Or else, we must find a way to dispose of it.” The captain scratched his chin and stared skyward.

            Another of the men thought his plan would surely work. “I have heard of a volcano that burns hotter than any other, said to be the gateway to the demon world. Some call it Hell’s Doorway. We can drop the sword into its heart. The intense heat will certainly destroy Shallin, completing our task.”

Clever.

            When Sillack’s men dropped the sword into the volcano, Shallin was pulled away by the vigorous currents, pulled down toward the heart of the volcano, and  into an underground cave beneath tons of lava. The currents pushed her onto a stone, and from the lava, she became one with the stone. Only her exposed handle received sunlight. The lava still poured into the cave and the stone broke loose from its floor. Again, Shallin moved, as the lava pushed her, with the stone, into another section of the cave, placing her on a hill formation, where she found her resting place after a long journey away from her fallen friend. A small hole at the top of the cave allowed a fine ray of sunlight to touch Shallin’s hilt, allowing her some warmth, as well as comfort, within such darkness.

            She remained alone for six years, until Sillack learned she still existed. He sent several of his best men to the volcano where he thought the sword had been destroyed…and almost forgotten.

Yes, she is definitely a character.

* * *

Aha. There’s the scene change. Maybe add one of those before “Sanch didn’t see…”

            “Mother,” Sanch said, when she allowed him to stop running, “why have we abandoned Father? Why have we run so far? Why do we not go home?”

            “My son, you are young. Not yet ten-years-old, and you cannot understand.”

If it was his mother who grabbed him before, just tell us that when she grabs him. I was under the impression he’d been grabbed by the nanny, or one of the tribe women. That added interest and I was curious as to who had him because it was so vague before, and now that it’s just his mom, it’s a little anti-climactic.

            “I can try, if you will but tell me why you have forced me to run away.”

If he’s the nine-year-old son of a leader, what is that? Fourth grade? Yeah, he knows what’s going on. And they would have prepared him for this eventuality. He’s the heir to the lands, he would have been taught what to do, where to go, what to expect, and who to run to if his mother wasn’t alive…

            Sanch’s mother explained. “As long as Sillack or his men remain alive, we will never be able to return. I must be sure they cannot find us, for if they do, they will surely kill you and make me a slave to Sillack, or−”

            “I will protect you, Mother. I know I am young, but I know I can protect you. One thing more do I know. I know that I will meet Sillack again. It is only matter of time. I will avenge my father, then.”

I can totally see a nine-year-old defending and preparing to protect his mother. But again, he’s now worried about surviving, finding water, protecting his mother from bandits, and possibly being chased by Sillack’s men, he just saw his beloved father cut down and been whisked away in shock. He’s not worried about avenging his father yet. That’s almost something he grows into. His determination to right the wrongs of the evil Sillack…

            As the years passed, Sanch thought only about finding Sillack, the man who killed his father. He spent most of his time training and preparing. He worked constantly to perfect his hand with a sword and he strengthened his fighting skills. In time, he became one of the best swordsmen in the countryside.

Sorry to keep stopping you but where did they run to? They were in hiding. So did they spend eight years in a one-room thatched hut deep in the forest? Or did they run to the hills? Did they travel the whole time between a network of loyal followers of Lackshin that kept them safe and a secret? Readers want to know. This is his entire childhood and teenage years, his FORMATIVE years. It may affect the person he becomes, or the fears he has, which can be weaknesses used against him.

B. How is he the “Best in the countryside?” It insinuates he’s been out and about, competing and dueling with others and besting them. I thought he was in hiding and probably disguised. Did he participate with a fake identity?

Eight Years Later

            A young man stands in a fog-cloaked forest. Just beyond the tree line, he sees two red eyes, glaring at him through the mist. The man turns and runs. Behind him, he hears a horse galloping. Closer. Closer. The young man’s courage returns so he stops, turns, and draws his sword. The creature breaks through the fog with the sound of shattering glass. Its eyes are bright red and blood drips from its mouth. The creature rears up and kicks the sword from the young man’s hand, and knocks him to the ground. The beast hovers right above him, snarling. In the distance, the youth hears a familiar voice calling out to him.

            “Wake up Sanch! Wake up! You’re having a nightmare, again. It’s only a dream, please, wake up,” his mother said.

            Sanch reached for his sword, but his mother gently touched his hand. She whispered, “This is not the time, but it will soon come.” She held his hand as he eased it off the sword. “You will be ready, when the time comes.”

            “Mother, I think the time is now, for me to begin my quest,” Sanch said.  

            “Do you truly feel that you’re ready? I am concerned you may not be,” she said.

            “If not now, when? If I don’t go soon, I may never find him. I know I’m ready. Do you think I can do what is required of me, Mother?”

Who is “him?” Sillack? The sword? I thought the sword was a “her?”

            “I know you can do this. You are Sanch, the son of Lackshin, the one who bears the right to hold your father’s sword.” She gripped his hand. “I believe in you.”

            “But, Sillack’s men destroyed Shallin after he killed my father,” he said. “Or so go the rumors.”

            “Shallin cannot be destroyed by man. She was said to have been forged by the hands of the gods.” A smile came upon her face.

            “Then I must find her. Shallin is my father’s sword, wherever she may be.”

            His mother put both hands on his shoulders. “Son, you must find her before you find Sillack.” She gripped tightly, then allowed her hands to drop to her sides.

            Sanch answered, “Why? I don’t understand.”

            “Because,” his mother said, “it’s the only weapon that can kill Sillack. You must have her in your possession when you face him.”

            “But, where do I look? It was thrown into an inactive volcano, filled with lava. It can no longer exist, can it?”

Doesn’t it need to be active to have been flowing with lava like it was when he threw the sword in?

            “I told you, Shallin cannot be destroyed by any action from any man, so the volcano is where you must begin your quest.” She insisted. “You must remember the sword you are looking for is your father’s, and it will belong to you. However, the sword he wanted you to have is the sword I gave you when you were but a child, barely big enough to hold a sword. You must remember to be true to her, as well.”

               Sanch, could not return to sleep that night. As he lay awake, he made one of the hardest decisions he would have to make. He gathered his things and left the village where he was safe, to find Shallin. He told no one he was leaving; not even his childhood friend.

Who is this childhood friend? No one has been mentioned. The story moves on. Was this after he was hidden? So they knew people. Were they in a village? Is this a guy friend, or a girl friend? What do they mean to him? Is it normally for him not to tell this friend, or abnormal?

Sanch stroked his horse. His firm, yet gentle touch calmed the huge animal that nickered at being awakened before dawn. “Quiet, my friend. Do you want to wake mother? We leave tonight, and depending on how things go, we may never see this place again. Either way, this is how it is to be. I knew this day would come.” He pressed his face to his horse’s chest. “I am happy to have you at my side. I will rely on your strength and companionship.” Sanch, prepared for their long journey, walked him to the edge of the village.

               Sanch rode all night to a town known to have been infested by Sillack’s men. He hoped to move amongst Sillack’s men and obtain information on the whereabouts of his father’s sword. His mother had spoken of a man named Thrant, said to have knowledge of Shallin’s location.

               “Whoa,” he said and leaned back. “We should stop and rest for a little.” He lowered himself from his horse, where he stopped near a small river. “We’ve been riding all night and we both need a rest.” He patted his horse as he dismounted and looked toward his village. A dull orange sun rose over clouds that seemed a dark blue from its shine. “This is the first time in eight years we have been outside our village.”

When I talk to a horse, it’s similar to a person, but not the same. I ask it lots of questions. I’d say something like, “Whoa, boy. Need to rest? (Pat his neck) You’ve been going all night, and I’m about to fall out of this saddle. Should we stop here?” Dismount… “Look at that. The forest looks like it does back home. Even though we haven’t left the village in eight years, as long as we’re alone in the forest, it feels like home, eh?”


               He tied his horse to a small tree and fed him an apple he’d brought from home. He whispered, “I have a feeling someone is watching us. Keep a sharp eye out while you eat this grass.”

               After a breakfast of fresh river fish, Sanch led his horse near the opening of a nearby cave where he rested until midday.

               “Well, boy, if we are going to see this dangerous village where Sillack’s forces are patrolling, we should get going. I think we’ll walk together. It’s easier to talk to you that way.”

Really? I’m about five foot. Much closer to the horse’s head when I’m in the saddle…

Sanch made certain to leave no evidence he, or his horse, had been there. “We’re about to let the world know Sillack can be stopped.”

Is he still being watched? What happened to that? Don’t promise suspense, and then not deliver. If you tell us something, especially in the beginning, we think it must be important. So, I’m assuming the next confrontation is going to be with this mysterious watcher, but nothing happens. Then I want to know, am I supposed to forget that, like it was a mistake, or keep remembering it for added suspense later when they DO jump out and they’ve been watching him all along? Unless he’s being watched by a crystal ball or something and we’ll find out later. Maybe give him a “lingering feeling” of being watched; something that comes and goes, but he just can’t shake.

               In the distance, he heard a woman scream and his horse reared. “You hear that, too?” Sanch released the reins and ran in the direction of the scream. Close behind, his horse trotted, but did not pass his rider.

If she’s screaming, why didn’t he hop on the horse and gallop to her? Did he think he could run faster?

As he got closer to the sound, he slowed down to better assess the situation, and plan his approach. Sanch saw a woman on her back, her torn garments strewn about. Two men encouraged another man attempting to have his way with her. Sanch stepped into the clearing, his shoulders out, his chest raised. Without word or warning, from his belt he pulled a dagger that was a gift from his mother, and put it through the neck of the first man he reached.

His companion heard the gurgling sound of blood escaping from his mate’s throat and turned to see a smiling Sanch. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, boy? Do you have any idea who we are?” He reached for his sword. “We are men of the great−”

With one motion, Sanch removed his blade and relocated it into the side of the approaching man’s head. With his mouth still open, he fell off Sanch’s dagger, still held firm in the young man’s hand. With his other hand, Sanch reached for the man’s sword and liberated it as its now dead owner fell.

“Now for you.” Sanch held the blade of the dead swordsman to the back of the rapist’s neck.

He stopped all movement.

The young woman pulled herself from under him and recoiled against a tree. She tried to cover her bloodied body with what clothing she could reach.

“Do you have any idea what you have done, and who you have done it to?” The man, still on his knees, asked Sanch.

“No, I do not know who are, but I do know what I have done and I am sure, from where you are now, you have an idea of what I am about to do.” Sanch pushed the blade harder against the man’s neck.

               “Wait, wait, wait!” The man shouted. “What do you want? I have gold. I am able to give you whatever you want. Why kill me because of this whore? I can pay you and we can forget about all of this. You go your way and I go mine.”

               “She will be leaving with your gold and I see no reason to take your offer. I think I will leave with your life.”

               “Wait!” The man yelled, but Sanch did not hesitate. The man’s head fell to the soft grass and rolled inches from its body.

               “We should be going before the others come looking for them,” Sanch said. “We must hurry.”

How would he know there are others coming? For all he knows theses three dragged her out here themselves.

The young girl rose to her feet and took Sanch’s bloody hand. “This way. I live not too far from here. We will be safe there.”

Sanch let out a soft whistle and his steed trotted from his hiding place.

               “This way.” The girl pulled aggressively on Sanch’s hand.

               “What were you doing out here by yourself?” Sanch removed a cloak from a sack on his horse and handed it to the girl who pulled it close to her body.

               “I was taking a walk,  as I have done many times. But in the past, I have always been able to avoid Sillack’s men.”

               “Those were Sillack’s men?” Sanch stopped walking. “Are there more of them around here?”

               “Yes, they are always patrolling this area as if they are looking for something or someone.” She pulled him back into motion.

“Where could I find more of those men?”

               “Why the hell would you want to find men like them? They do nothing but rape, kill and take what they want.” She released his hand. “Do not tell me you wish to join them, to be one of those monsters. If so we can part ways now! Thank you for saving me, but I hope never to see you again.” She ran from him.

Sanch hurried to catch up with her. The cloak slipped from her shoulder when he touched her. He averted his eyes from her nakedness. “No, I do not wish to join them. I wish to kill them, all of them.”

She turned to stare into his face. “Who are you?”

               “Just a boy about my father’s business. Now, how much farther to your village? I would like to see you home safe before I am on my way.”

               “Not much farther now,” she said, as she reclaimed his hand, “plus, we need to clean you up before you head into town. They will surely ask questions if you walk in, looking as you do now.”

               “Thank you,” he said.

               “I should be thanking you.”

When they arrived at her home, her mother ran to her side. “What happened?” She glared at Sanch and rearranged the cloak around her daughter.

“He saved me. He stopped three of Sillack’s men from—” She looked back at Sanch. “And then he insisted on making sure I made it home safely.”

“What is your name, boy?” Her mother pulled the cloak tighter and brushed at her daughter’s hair with her hand.

“My name is Sanch.”

               “Sanch, who?” Her mother asked. “Who are your parents? Where is your home?”

               “Just Sanch.”

               “Very well, then. Now, let’s  get you both cleaned up before your brother and father return.”

            Water rolled off fingertips in large drops and Sanch fought the urge to look at the girl. He watched as the rag became pink from the soft mixture of blood and water, the cold water soothing and cleaning in its wake.

Water rolled off WHOSE fingertips?

“Why is it you wish to kill them all?” the girl asked. “When it did not look like you wanted to kill the three that you did? You do not strike me as a killer.”

Silent as he cleaned the men’s life-blood from his hands, he spoke only when the last residue had been removed. “I am not a killer. I am here to help those who need my−”

“But you did kill those−”

“I would have killed many more of Sillack’s men, if it meant bringing you home safe,” Sanch said, his eyes avoiding hers. “Tell me, please, the name of the girl I killed three men to save. You know my name, but I still do not know yours.”

She took his hand, just as they heard a loud banging noise. As they turned toward the sound and Sanch rushed to stand, the water emptied at his feet.

“Father!” The girl released the young man’s hand.

“Boy, come with me,” her father bellowed.

With nothing more than a nod, Sanch followed.

“Helen,” she whispered.

Sanch slowed his pace and dared a glimpse toward her.

“My name is Helen. I thank you for saving me. The gods must have sent you.”

Helen’s father lead Sanch to the barn where the smell of hay and horses filled his nostrils. Excited animals whinnied and nickered and the old man raised his voice to be heard above the noise. “How does Sanch, the son of Lackshin, come to be in my house? I thought your mother would do a better job of hiding you.”

It doesn’t seem like he was in hiding at all, just in a small village.

“How do you know who I am?”

“You’re a lot smaller than your father was, but you look every bit like him. Judging by the story my daughter told her mother, you wield a sword like him, as well.”

“You knew my father?” Sanch advanced closer. “How well did you know him?”

“As much as I would like to tell you about your father, there is no time. It will be dark soon, and you do not want to be in these woods after dark. The men out here tend to live without law, especially at night, and there will be more than three men for you to dispatch. Your horse is still saddled. We fed and watered him, so he is ready to go. You need to get going.” Helen’s father led him to where Aly waited.

“Will your household be safe when I leave? Won’t Sillack’s men make their way onto your lands and cause trouble?” Sanch asked.

“They could, but we have an understanding. They stay off my land and my son and I have no reason to kill them. Do not worry. Helen is safe now. She’s home.”

“Will you tell her goodbye for me, and to please stay out of the woods by herself?” Sanch turned and walk toward Aly.

“There are a lot of people still looking for you, Sanch. Some have waited long and suffered great pains waiting for Lackshin’s boy to save them, and to bring a stop to Sillack’s evil reign. Always remember, just like there are many who want to help, an equal amount wishes to see you dead. Sillack has taken from the good, and has given power to the worst. Know that some fight for him because they were given no choice and you may never truly know who your friends are or who you can trust. Find the ones being kept down by Sillack and you will find those willing to stand with you to stop him. We have waited a long time for the son of Lackshin.”

Sanch found Aly ready to go. As horse and rider walked away, Sanch saw a curtain pulled aside, ever so carefully. He saw only a glimpse of Helen before the curtain dropped. He turned toward the sound of soft footsteps following him and smiled as Helen joined her father.

“Will he be okay, Father?” She gripped her father’s forearm. “Three men are one thing, but a town full of them may pose more of a challenge for him.”

“He should be fine.” Helen’s father oved the hair from her face. “He has a long distance to travel, and many people yet to kill before he finds what he seeks. We can not help him now, but we will be ready when the fight comes our way. I fear it will not be long before that happens.”

At the edge of the nearest town, Sanch hid Aly until he had a room and somewhere secure for the horse to sleep. As Sanch entered the inn, he looked about for the man his mother had told him of many times.  

That was a super-fast transition between Helen’s father talking and Sanch arriving at the next town. Better give us a marker ***

This inn was a gathering place for Sillack’s men and today, the normal, large crowd of people had congregated in the bar. Many were Sillack’s drunk and unruly men.

Sanch sat at the bar and motioned for the bartender to approach. When the innkeeper leaned in, Sanch said in a low voice, “I need for a room for the night.”

The bartender reached back and placed two glasses on the bar. He filled both to the brim and picked one up, motioning for Sanch to pick up the other. “You have a face I’ve seen before, boy.” The man’s glass still raised, he said, “To familiar faces.”

Sanch held his glass without drinking. He glanced around, but no one seemed to have noticed the clank of the glasses touching.

“Drink up boy! You look like you have questions and the smell of this on your breath will make them more welcomed by the ones with the answers you seek.” The bartender poured Sanch another drink. “As for your room, I’ll go see what I can find.”

Sanch remained at the bar where he had a view of the entire bar, much of which was new to his young eyes. He watched women pass from man to man, the older of them laughing and joking, but the younger women – even to Sanch’s inexperienced perspective – were clearly new to their trade. He looked at the glass before him as he heard the splash of wine, the drunken talk of days past. Sanch took another drink and remembered his father’s name, but not his face. The heat filled him and his chest inflated. A new face was enough to get the soldiers’s attention.

The inkeeper returned and refilled Sanch’s glass. “I found you a room, if you are still interested.” He held his own glass up to assess its contents. “I should charge you extra. This is the good stuff.”

The paragraph before said a new face was enough to get the soldiers’ attention, so where are the soldiers? Where’s the attention? Or did you mean he turned back around because a new face would be enough to get the soldiers’ attention?

Sanch leaned in and signaled the innkeeper to come closer. With the palm of his hand firmly on the handle of his sword, he asked, “Do you know a man named Thrant? He was said to have lived here some time ago.”

“I do not know him. I’m just a simple innkeeper.” The man started to walk away.

Sanch reached out and grabbed his arm. “Are you sure you have never heard of him? It is very important I find him. His name is Thrant.”

The innkeeper pulled from Sanch, then grabbed the boy’s shirt and jerked him close. His mouth almost touching the boy’s face, he hissed, “Maybe, just maybe Thrant is familiar to me. I may have heard of him. Oh, yes, now I remember. He was the captain of Sillack’s army and said to have had a hundred young boys killed in a nearby town. He was said to have ordered the death of Lackshin’s son. Are you sure this is the right place to ask these questions? Look around you. Every man here can tell you where to find Thrant, but do you really want to ask them? Who are you, to be looking for such a man?”

Sanch pulled his shirt from the innkeeper’s grip. His voice less than a whisper, he said, “I am the one they have been looking for, the one they were ordered to kill. I am Sanch, son of Lackshin.” The young man sat taller on his stool and kept the old innkeeper’s gaze. “This man, this Thrant, may have something of mine. I want it back, so I will ask again. Do you know where I can find him or should I ask one of these,” Sanch turned and made as if to stand, “and make a mess of this place?”

“No need, no need,” the innkeeper said with a smile. “You are indeed your father’s son. I knew I had seen your face before. Sillack’s men have Thrant in one of their camps. He is no longer the captain of Sillack’s army, or the captain of anything, for that matter.”

“Why is that?” Sanch asked.

“He stopped the death of someone Sillack wanted dead,” the old man said, and refilled his own glass.

Sanch pushed his empty glass toward the bottle. “Who was this person and why did Thrant stop the killing?”

“No one knows who or why, they just know it happened and it almost−and may still−cost Thrant his life.”

“I must find him. It is a matter of life and death for many people. Do you know of someone who will tell me how to find where Sillack’s men are keeping him?”

“There is one; but getting the help you need may not be a simple task,” the innkeeper replied.

“Who is this person?”

“They all call her Lisha. She’s well known, and trust me, you will know her when you see her. It should not be hard to find her.”

“Her? A woman?”

“Yes, a woman. Do you have someone else in mind?” The old man straightened his back.

“No, but how is a woman going to help me?”

“You would be surprised.” The innkeeper put his hand on young Sanch’s shoulder. “Was it not a woman who taught you to use the sword at your side?”

“So, how am I to find her?”

“You’re going to ask for her in the town. Then, she will find you. First, you must eat and rest. You will need to be in good form to search for Lisha.”

“How can I sleep with Sillack’s men in the same building? They will kill me if they discover my identity.”

The innkeeper slid another glass across the bar and said, “No charge for the son of Lackshin.” He gestured behind him. “Go through this door and climb the ladder you will find on the ground, to the second floor balcony. Once inside the middle chamber, bar the door. You will find food and drink waiting for you. Don’t leave before sunrise. They will all be sleeping off tonight’s drink in the morning. Tomorrow you may continue your quest to avenge your father. Tonight, you can sleep, assured of your safety, as long as I breathe.”

Sanch did as instructed, and once satisfied in the security of the bar on the door, he walked back to the window overlooking the hill that separated his home from the rest of the world. He watched the sun setting behind his hill so far away, and farther still from the completion of his quest. Before he closed the shutters, he closed his eyes and the wind caressed his cheeks. He walked to the bed, sat down and placed his face in his hands. Then, he did what he always did when he came on hard times and needed inspiration. “Father, in your absence you have given me all I need to fight your enemies−my enemies−and to finish what you started. I hope I can do what even you were unable to do. Give me the strength I will need in order to do what is asked of me.”

Before resting, he sharpened and polished his sword, in a vain attempt to remove a black stain from the blade. Once he returned his sword to its sheath and laid her on the bed next to where he would lie, he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Two

When he awoke, he found himself no longer in bed, but in the forest and he sensed he was not alone. Something was in the forest with him, something ominous, and it was after him. He heard hooves, heavy on the dry leaves, and looked in the direction of the noise, but could not see what was coming through the thick fog. The wind swirled the fog and moved the rancid smell of the creature’s breath into Sanch’s face. It burned his nose. He looked deeper into the fog and two glowing red eyes glared back at him. He had seen those eyes before.

He turned to run, but his feet were strapped to the ground by vines that grew higher and higher. The eyes of the creature moved closer and they glowed ever brighter. Whatever it was, it smelled like death mixed with the rusty scent of blood. Sanch pulled his sword from its sheath and hacked desperately at the vines binding his feet. He pulled free and ran to put distance between him and whatever pursued. As he ran, he heard the gallop getting closer and closer. Sanch evaded his pursuer, but being born of a warrior, he could not resist the overwhelming urge to fight. The young warrior turned with sword in hand, ready to take on whatever was to come through the thick, blinding fog.

As soon as he stopped, the vines that held him earlier, returned to restrain him once again. As the gallop grew louder, the red of the creature’s eyes glowed deeper and brighter. The warrior stood bound, but ready for whatever would come next.

Just as suddenly as he fell asleep, Sanch awoke, even before he could see his pursuer’s face break through the fog. With his hands gripped tightly around the handle of his sword, he looked around. There was no mother to comfort the young man. He knew that he was truly on his own. He stood from the bed, sword still in hand. He walked over to a silver bowl, filled with water. The cold on his face, the wet awakening of the water was just what was needed. He looked at his distorted reflection. The sound of the drops returning to the bowl sent chills down his spine. He heard movement downstairs and walked over to the window. He looked out and saw a sunrise unlike any he had seen before. The sun crept over the hill in an amazing shade of red. Accepting this as a sign—a special send off–

he thought of his mother and Unghell, the only true friend that he had left behind. Sanch did not tell him of his plans to leave because Unghell would have certainly followed him.

This is the sentence you needed to have back there when you introduced his “childhood friend.”

Curious about what or who was making the sounds, he tiptoed to the STAIRS. Softly he walked, to avoid detection because he did not know if friend or foe awaited him at the end of the dark STAIRWELL. The more he descended, the more clearly he heard raised voices. One of the voices stood out, familiar.

He climbed a ladder to get up there. Did he just skip the stairs, or was it faster?

Sanch recognized the voice of one of Sillack’s men. He did not say much, but when he did talk, everyone listened.

               “That boy you were talking to, who is he? I noticed he had a warrior sword.” He pushed the innkeeper against the bar.

               “He needed a room. He is upstairs.” The innkeeper trembled as he spoke.

               With his hand covering his face, Sanch stepped out from the shadow of the stairwell.

“I may have had too much to drink last night,” he said. “What was in those bottles, barkeep?” He stumbled into the man holding the sword.

               “Get off me, boy!” The soldier shouted and shoved Sanch against a nearby table.

               “There is no need for that, my friend,” Sanch said, as he rose to his feet. “I need a drink. Just water this time.” Sanch placed himself between the innkeeper and the sword, and motioned the man to move behind the bar.

               “Who are you, boy?” Sillack’s man pointed his sword at Sanch’s throat. “And what are you doing in my town?”

               Sanch rocked back and forth on his feet, expressionless. “I am just passing through. The hour grew late and I decided to stop in this establishment for a drink or two. I was lucky he had a room for me as well.” Sanch reached back to the bar to pick up his cup of water.

               “And that sword. Where did a boy like you get a sword like that? That is the sword of a warrior. Did you steal it?”

               Sanch drew his sword and before the soldier knew what had happened, his sword was no longer at Sanch’s throat, but redirected and rendered useless.

               “You mean this sword?” Sanch asked as he raised the cup and being refreshed by the cold of the water.

Need to reword. Try: “Sanch asked as he raised his cup. Refreshed by the cold water he continued,”

“It was a gift from my father. I am not very good with it yet, but I feel like I may get a lot of practice in days to come.”

               Two other soldiers stood back having nothing to add to the conversation, their mouths agape, as their leader stood there without counter to this boy’s sword.

            “Come on there’s no need for this!” Said with a quiver in his voice. The innkeeper knowing of the heavy repercussion that would follow if Sanch were to have killed this man. He grabbed the boy’s shoulder; his grip firm in the way a father would manage his son. “Do not do this boy.” His voice lowered to a whisper. “You kill him and his men will not stop until they find and kill you. We both know you have more important business to attend to.” The innkeeper pulled Sanch closer and with his lips nearly pressed to his ear. “You are about your father’s business young Sanch.”

Who said?

Sanch’s stare narrowed and he lowered his sword.

               “Why do you ask?” Sanch asked, his head tilted, and one eyebrow raised. Thrusting his chin at the solder he said, “Your sword is nice as well. Where did you acquire it?”

               He threw his shoulders back and shouted, “I am a soldier! This is the sword given to the ranking officers in Sillack’s army, and you, boy, need to show respect.”

               “Oh, my apologies, sir.” Sanch sheathed his sword. “I did not know my place. Again, I apologize. Please, give your lord Sillack my best. I hope to one day make his acquaintance.” Sanch smiled broadly.

               “I can arrange for you to meet him, now,” The soldier replied.

               Sanch turned around to the bar. “Another cup of water, please. No. Today does not work for me. Today, I am seeing a woman about a sword.” Sanch finished his water. “Thank you, innkeeper, for your hospitality.” Before taking his leave, Sanch stopped in the doorway, “Innkeeper, are we good, here?”

               The innkeeper replied, “I would say we are, young man.”

               Sanch turned and looked at the soldiers. “Are we good, here?”

               The two lesser-ranking men nodded. Before the door slammed shut behind him, he looked to the senior soldier and said, “Keep practicing. You will get better with that sword.” Then, as he walked out, he shouted back, “Till we meet again!”

Sanch walked a short distance to the stables where his traveling companion had spent his night. Like every other time, he was greeted by a head bump from his horse. “Aly, you would not believe my morning.” Sanch gave his old friend an apple, and a good rub down before he started his search for Lisha in the town as the innkeeper had instructed.

Because he decided to walk, to keep his horse fresh, it took Sanch over three hours to arrive at the town where the innkeeper said he might find Lisha. Shortly after he entered the town, two men he had never seen before claimed loudly that Sanch owed them money.

He was in the inkeeper’s town, how is the place he needs to go to three hours away? Why didn’t he just pack up and go to THAT town?

               “I do not know either of you, how can you possibly think that I owe you anything?” Sanch had to look up at the biggest man.                           

               “That does not change the fact that you owe us money, and a lot of it. You’d better pay us or you are going to have some real trouble,” the smaller of the men said, as they approached Sanch.

               Sanch said, “I do not want any trouble. I just wish to be on my way.”

The larger of the two men shrugged. “Well, pay us and you won’t have any trouble. We can go on with our business and you can go on with yours.”

               “I don’t think so. I do not owe you anything, so I am not going to pay.” Sanch’s voice was low but firm.

               “So boy, I guess you’re going to have to fight us both.”

               “My name is not boy. It’s Sanch, and if you two want a fight, so be it.” He released the rein on his horse and Aly walked away.

Would he be voluntarily telling people his name? If Sillack was looking for Lackshin’s boy, wouldn’t they know what name he was called? He’d be famous. Everyone would be looking for Sanch of Lackshin or whatever.

               The strangers pulled their weapons and strode toward Sanch. The smaller of the two had a sword, and the larger man wielded an ax the size of Sanch’s upper body.

               Sanch stepped back and drew his sword.

               The bigger one attacked first. “This will be easy,” he said, as he raised his ax high over his head and brought it down toward Sanch with a mighty force.

               Sanch, smaller and faster than the man, dodged his swing. Then, with lightning-fast reaction, stepped on the ax handle and brought his knee up to meet the man’s nose.

               The man stumbled back with blood spurting from his face, but once again, he  attacked. Sanch held his ground and defended himself with the sword his mother had said was a gift from his father. The young man countered with a move that lowered the weapon and gave him the opportunity to make a strike against the big man who struggled to raise his ax. A high swing spilled the large man’s blood once more when Sanch cut his chest.

               The smaller bandit attacked Sanch with his sword but was quickly thrown to the ground. Sanch prepared for their next attack. The big man with the ax growled in anger as he advanced.

               From between two buildings, a firm, but soft voice said,

“Do you not think that is a little unfair, two against one?”

               “I am doing just fine, thank you,” Sanch shouted back to the voice.

               “I still think you can stand a little help.” A woman stepped from the shadows, ready with her sword.

               Sanch glanced over. “Lisha?”             

               “Do I know you?”

               “No, you do not know me, but I was told I would find you here.”

The smaller man had returned to his feet and struck at Sanch’s head, but Sanch ducked and brought his sword across the man’s leg. He dropped his sword and grabbed his leg as he fell to the ground. The madman with the ax charged toward Sanch, but Lisha positioned herself between Sanch and the attacker. She appeared to be dancing rather than fighting before she disarmed him and dismissed him and his limping friend, with a scolding and empty pockets. They avoided eye contact.

               “As for you—” Lisha turned to Sanch. “Who are you and how is it that you know my name?”

               “I am Sanch, and I was told you would be able to help me.”

               “Help you with what?” She asked with her head lowered. Her cheeks tightened and her voice slightly raised. 

               “A quest.”

               She leaned and let out a laugh. “A quest of what kind?”

               “A quest of great importance!” Sanch jutted his chin out and squared his shoulders.

“What makes you think that I can help you?” She asked as she slapped her pants sending a cloud of dust bellowing.

               “I heard you are a good fighter and I’ve seen your skills for myself, though I did not request your help with my little skirmish. Will you help me or not?”

               “Tell me more about this quest of great importance and how I am supposed to help you.”

  With his eyes fixed on the ground “I am looking for the man who killed my father,”

First, I don’t think Sanch would fix his gaze on the ground as if he is embarrassed, or ashamed. He is proud of his father and wants to avenge him. His eyes would light up with a fiery passion. You need to add “he said,” after “ground.” There must be a comma before speech with a dialogue tag. If it is an action tag, it needs to be a period (or question or exclamation mark), but not a comma. If you leave it, “With his eyes fixed on the ground” you must end it with a period, but then it is an incomplete sentence. Just add “he said,” to it. And a period after “father.”

 “Oh, that explains everything,” she said. “Just what, exactly, do you plan on doing with him when you find him?”

               “I intend to kill him,” Sanch said. His eyes narrowed and the muscles in his clenched jaw tightened into a knot. “Just as he killed my father!”

“Who was your father?” Lisha asked.

With his chest inflated “I am the son of Lackshin.”

                “I’ve heard of him. And that would make the man you wish to kill–”

               “Sillack.”

Lisa thought out loud. “So, that makes you—”

“That makes me Sanch, the son of Lackshin, the man who will take the life of Sillack. I grow weary of your questions, woman. I must be on my way with or without you. I will ask you once more, will you help me?” Sanch sheathed his sword with an exaggerated arm motion, making it clatter in its holder.

               “I have more questions that you must answer if you want my help. What makes you think you can kill Sillack, even if I can help you find him and who told you about me?”

                “Your reputation precedes you. I have heard of your skill with a sword and as I said before, I have seen you in action.”

               “You didn’t answer my other question. Who told you about me?”

               “Oh, just a friend.”

“Does this friend have a name?” Lisha placed her hands on her hips and cocked her head to one side.

Sanch said, “You know, he never told me his name, although I did meet him in a town not too far from here.”

“I am going to kill that damned innkeeper!” Lisha clenched her fists and shook them toward the sky.

               “How did you know who it was?”

Lisha turned toward the town Sanch had just left and walked fast enough to stir up a small dust trail.

               “Come on! You’re going the wrong way!” Sanch hurried to catch up to her.

               “No, I’m not. I am going to kill that innkeeper. He has a big mouth and

I am going to shut it for him!”

She’s going to march for THREE HOURS to yell at the innkeeper?!

 Sanch shouted and spoke with a crack in his voice, “We have no time for this! We must find Thrant before Sillack has no more reason to keep him around.”

She kept walking but her pace had slowed, some.

Sanch said, “You can kill him the next time you see him.”

Lisha turned and glared. “Okay, fine, the next time I see him, I will kill him. For now, I will go with you, but if I find that you are on a fool’s quest, I am finished. You understand me Son of Lackshin?”

A smile crept across his face. “Yes, I understand. Okay, good. Can we go find Thrant, now?”

Lisha returned to Sanch and after studying him a moment, she said, “So, Sillack turned on good old Thrant. What did Thrant do, and does your mother know you’re this far from home?”

“He saved the life of someone Sillack wanted dead, so Sillack put him in chains. At least, that is what I was told, and you need not concern yourself with what my mother knows.”

Aly had returned to Sanch’s side and was nuzzling his shoulder.

Sanch left Aly in a town more than three hours’ walk from here.

“Who is this beautiful animal? Your horse?”

“No, this is Aly, my friend,” Sanch replied as he stroked Aly’s chest. “Do you know this man Thrant? It seems as if you do.”

               “Of course. He and my father were in the same army. They were like brothers.” she said. “I guess we should get going.”

They walked to where Lisha kept her horse and soon they were on their way to find Thrant. After riding two and a half days and inquiring into the whereabouts of   where Thrant was being held, they found the camp in a valley, but they were on the top of one of the smaller mountains surrounding it.

Whew! We went from a conversation in the street, walking to her horse, and then riding two and a half days and stopping to inquire, before finding their target in a mountainous valley. That’s a lot for two sentences. After the first sentence, put a scene marker *** and then start the next sentence.

               “Boy, that’s a long way down,” Sanch said.

               “It is.” She laughed. “Any smart ideas Sanch, Son of Lackshin?”

He turned to her. “Not at the moment, how about you?”

She smiled and asked, “Do you, by any chance, have some rope?”

He shook his head. “No, but I’m sure if we look, we can find another way down.”

Lisha, looked over her shoulders. “Yes, I’m sure you are right, but I forgot my wings, today.”

“Lisha, are you going to be helpful or are you going to be a pain in my ass the entire time?”

Dropping her voice to a whisper, while batting her eyelashes, she said, “I’m going to help you, of course, but while being a pain in your ass.” She winked at him.

 Sanch chuckled. “That will have to do, then,” he said. “So help me look for another way down.” He looked around the area.

She said, “Why don’t we just take the path down the side of the mountain?”

               “What path down the mountain?”

               “The one over there, on the side of the mountain.” She pointed to the path.

“Why did you not say that before?”

Lisha shrugged. “You did not ask me before, and besides, I figured you knew it was there.”

               “Exactly how would I know? Never mind,” Sanch said. “Let’s go. We don’t have much day left, and we don’t want to have to navigate that narrow path with so little light. And still we need a safe place for the horses till we return.”

Sanch rested his palm on the handle of his sword.

               “So, tell me,” Lisha asked, with raised eyebrows, “what is so important about this man, for you to go to such lengths to find him? Why do you need him so?”

               “He is going to help me find something I need.”

Lisha said, “Well, that’s vague. What exactly is it he is going to help you find?”

In a soft voice, Sanch said, “My sword.”

“But your sword is in your damn hand!”

“Not this one, the one my father had when he was alive.”

“What do you need with his sword? You have your own.”

“Yes, but I need my father’s sword to kill Sillack.”

Lisha held her sword out to him. “Use mine.”

Sanch said, “Your sword would not be able kill him. My sword will not be able to kill him. He is not like other men. In fact, he is not a man you can fight with normal swords. I need a sword forged by the hands of gods and steel of the same, cooled by the blood of my father. That is why I need that particular sword.”

“Okay. Let’s go. I just wanted to know why I was risking my life, and for what, that is all.” she said.

He took a deep breath. “And I do thank you for that. I will repay you, I promise.”

A smile returned to her face. “That is okay, I do not need to be repaid. The joy of making you miserable will be payment enough.”    

Feel free to use some contractions in there. I know the language is somewhat romantic, but read it out loud to yourself. In this first sentence, she sounds like a robot. Maybe, “That’s okay. I do not need to be repaid.” But really, they wouldn’t say, “That’s okay,” they would say something like, “All is well, I do not require payment.”

Sanch saw something moving in the bushes, so he signaled for Lisha to look.

               “Over there, Lisha do you see it?” he whispered.

Lisha:

She strained to get a better look. “Yes, but what is it, what does it want?

WHO?

“Let’s just go, maybe it did not see us.”

(If this is her, leave off the quotes and add it to the previous sentence.)

               Sanch:

“Yeah,” he agreed, “maybe it did—”

Before he could finish, men with swords and axes ran toward Sanch and Lisha shouting battle cries.

               Lisha said, “Sanch, can you actually use that thing?”

               “Shut up and fight,” he said, just as the leader of the onslaught called off the attack.

               “I guess they have heard of me, too,” Lisha said as she rolled her eyes and tightened her lips to hold back a laugh, “or maybe they know who you are, mighty Sanch, son of the great Lackshin.”

 

Chapter Three

A large man approached Sanch and Lisha. His ax rested easily on his shoulder and he walked with the stride of an angry man.

“Great, another man with an ax,” Sanch mumbled.
               This man’s words had brought a stop to the attack from the other men.

“He must be the leader,” Lisha said.

               The man stepped up to the warriors and looked them over before he glared down at Sanch and asked, “Who are you and what brings you to my land?”                  

I thought Sanch was on his horse? Wouldn’t the guy be looking up?

               Sanch’s hand firmly rested on the handle of his sword. He looked the man fully in his eyes and answered. “I am Sanch. This is my traveling companion, Lisha. We did not know this was your land. In no way did we mean to disrespect you or your people. We are just passing through.”

The man asked, “What business could you two have here on our land?”

               “Not on your land, sir,” Sanch said, “on that land, down in the valley.”

The man paused, looked into the distance, then he asked, “What kind of dealings would you have with Sillack’s men? They are evil, and they will kill you both — just for fun. You are making it too easy for them by walking down there. Do you not value your lives?” He stroked his chin. “At least make them do a little work to kill you. Let them come find you. Do not go to them.”

               One of the other men shouted something, sending the others into a laughing frenzy.

“Quiet!” Their leader shouted. But, he also chuckled a little. “Really, what do you plan on doing down there?”

Sanch explained. “They are holding a man captive, a man whose help I desperately need.”

The leader looked around. “Where are your men? How many are with you?”

“It’s just Lisha and myself.”

               “Do you truly plan on getting out of there alive?”

               Sanch squared his shoulders. “What! Do you not think she and I can handle ourselves?”

               “No, I do not think either of you will survive. Not long, at least. There are men with swords waiting for people like you to try such foolishness.” 

               Lisha stepped forward, drawing her sword as she walked. “Yes, they have swords, but these are not sticks we are carrying.”

“Look. You might need some help. That’s all I am saying.” The man stepped closer to them.

               “Are you just telling us this, or do you intend to help us?” Sanch relaxed his grip on his pommel.

               “I’m offering my help, and the help of my men, if they agree. My people and I hold no love for Sillack, his ways, nor his men.” The man leaned in. “So, tell me of your plans, young man.”

               Sanch said, “We do not intend to start a war. We just want to pull this man out, alive. You and two or three of your men should be plenty. Lisha and I can handle the rest.”

               “But, have all your men close by, in case we do run into trouble,” Lisha said.

“That’s a good idea,” Sanch said.

She shrugged. “I know. It was my idea, after all.”

She looked at the leader and asked, “What do we call you?”

The man turned to her. “They call me Hannes and you may now also call me, friend.”

Sanch took his hand. “Well, friend, pick your men and we will be on our way.”

Hannes called three men by name, and told the others, “Stand ready, not too far from their camp.”

               They made their way to the bottom of the valley and waited for the cover of darkness, to hide their entrance, before they moved in to retrieve Thrant.

Sanch said, “Okay, we are going to break up into groups of two. Lisha and I will be one group. You and your men can decide, between the four of you, how you will team up.”

One of the men asked, “What if we run into other prisoners?”

Hannes turned to Sanch. “My man has a point. What do you want us to do?”

               “We take them with us. No one deserves to be imprisoned, and those we cannot take, we’ll come back for, later.”

               “Okay, let’s do this.” Lisha started in the direction of the camp.

They moved out, like they were a part of the night, and just as quiet. They searched the camp as if their lives depended on success.

Sanch pointed to a small, heavily guarded building with a heavy door and slits for windows. “Lisha, look!  Do you think they would keep him in there?” One man stood at the door and one was posted at either side of the building with another at the back.

               “How do we even get a peek?” Lisha asked.

Sanch said, “The back of the building is not as well-lighted as the front and sides. That is how we will move in to get our look. I will take out the guard at the back, then you move around to the guard on the left and I’ll take out the one on the right. We must move in quietly, so we aren’t seen.” 

Lisha took her position behind her man and held it. Sanch eased into position, then in one motion, he grabbed the guard and with one quick snap, he broke his neck and lowered him to the ground. He motioned to Lisha, who pulled her knife and cut the throat of the guard on the left, making him unable to scream out. Sanch did the same with the guard on the other end of the building, then moved around and grabbed the guard stationed at the door. He put his sword to the guard’s neck and told him, “If you wish to live, you will stay quiet and open that door.”

               “Yeah, you should do what he tells you.” Lisha stepped closer, her own sword drawn. “He is a man on a mission and you do not want to get in his way. So do yourself a favor and open the door for the nice man with his sword to your neck.”

               “Okay, Okay, I have the key.” The guard fumbled in his pocket.

* * *

On the other side of camp, Hannes and his men were also hard at work searching for Thrant. Instead, they found an unguarded pit where slaves were being held.

               “Help us. Please, help get us out of here,” someone pleaded.

               “Be quiet. We will get you all out. Just keep it down so no one will hear you,” Hannes’ man said. “Where are the guards?”

               “We have to get these people out of here before the guards return.” Hannes ordered his man into action.

            The young man accompanying Hannes noticed a lever and started to pull. When the lever did not move, he said, “Hannes, I think this is what opens the pit. Come, help me with it.”

               They exerted all their strength, and after intense pulling, the lever moved and opened the pit.

Hannes whispered, “Come on out, one at a time. We need to hurry, to get everyone—”                 

A young girl ran up to Hannes crying. “We have to save him! We have to save him!”

Hannes asked, “Save who?”

               “My father, he is the reason there are no guards. They do not miss an execution. We have to save him! Please, hurry.”

“We have to find Sanch and Lisha, first, then we can go to your father.”
She looked at Hannes. “Are there are more of you?”

               “Yes, we are here to find a man named Thrant. Do you know where we can find him?”

               “Yes,” she said, “but my father…”

Hannes said to his companion, “Take these people to safety. The others will help me find Sanch.”

“Yes, sir.”

 “Return with all the men. I expect we will need every hand for the fight tonight.”

* * *

              A guard opened the door to what had, moments before, been a fortress. In the shadows, a man stood up and stepped back.   

               Sanch approached him. “Thrant, we are here to free you.”             

“And you are who, exactly?” Thrant asked.

               “I am Sanch, son of Lackshin and this is—”

Thrant smiled. “—Thank you, son of Lackshin. Lisha, how you have grown. I thank you, as well.” He walked from the shadows. “So, to what do I owe this honor?”

               “You know of something I need, and only you can tell me its whereabouts.” Sanch nodded toward Lisha. “How is it that you know my companion?”

She already told Sanch she knew Thrant because her father was a soldier with him.

Before Thrant could answer, Hannes and the girl arrived at the jail that was once Thrant’s home. “We must hurry. This girl’s father is to be unjustly executed. She needs our help.”

Sanch asked, “Where?”

               “She will show us,” Hannes said.

They followed her until they came to an opening in the center of the camp.

               “There. See. That’s where all the guards are,” the girl said.

               “What do you mean,” Sanch asked, “all the guards?”

Hannes said, “When my men and I found the place where the adults were being held, there were no guards on watch.”

Lisha stepped forward and joined the conversation. “What do you suggest we do?”

Sanch said, “We are going to get that man out of there.”

“How are we going to do that?”

“Hannes and his men will surround the camp.”

Hannes asked, “Then what?”

“Signal me when your men are in position. Then wait for my signal.”

                “What are you going to be doing?” Lisha paced.

“Me? I’m going to say hello to those gentlemen,” Sanch said. “You may stay here with the girl, if you choose. But, please feel free to jump in, anytime you’re ready.” Sanch walked right into the midst of the crowd of jeering men who were taunting the girl’s father.

One of the men stepped forward. “Who are you and what the hell are you doing here?”

               “I am Sanch—” 

               “—Son of Lackshin.” Lisha stepped out of the dark. “That means you are holding a friend of his. I suggest you let him go.”

When the laughter died down, one of the other men said, “Or what?”    

An arrow flew threw the dark and pierced the chest of the man who had last spoken.

Sanch stepped toward their prisoner and said, “That. That is what. Any more questions?” 

The man who demanded Sanch’s name turned to Lisha. “Just one. Can he get to me before I get to you?”

She said, “He will not have to. I can handle you without his help.”            

Sanch yelled a guttural and visceral cry. “We don’t have time for this! Just cut him open, Lisha! This need not take long.” 

His ax raised high, Sanch’s new-found enemy charged and roared. Sanch’s blade met the ax, and Sanch backed off, ready for his come back.

               “You will die, tonight, by my ax!”

               “Not if my sword has anything to say about that.”

Lisha called out. “Sanch come on! We have what we came for. He’s safe. We must go.”

               “Oh, look,” Sanch said, “it’s time for me to go. I guess we’ll have to finish this another day.”

               “We finish now!” His opponent growled more than spoke.

Sanch took a step back, flung his left arm out, took a bow, raised his right arm to his chest, then raised his left arm. “Fear not. You will have your chance, for we will meet again.”

Sanch disappeared into the night with Lisha, the young girl, her father and their other friends, including Thrant. “Who was that?” someone in the camp asked.

               “Sir, he claimed to be the son of Lackshin,” the wounded man said.

“The son of Lackshin was killed as a boy. Sillack will not be happy with this news.”

* * *

In the dark, Sanch regrouped, with Hannes and his men, at their camp. “Now was that fun, or was that fun?” Sanch asked, with a grin on his face.

“That was not fun. You almost got killed!” Lisha shouted.

Sanch laughed. “He was good but not that good.”

               “It got the blood pumping, and my men needed a good fight,” Hannes said.

               “Thank you. I knew you would see my point.” Sanch slapped him on the back.

Lisha shook her head. “Men! You are made for one another.”

Sanch turned towards Thrant. “Do you have any idea why we came to get you?”

Thrant hesitated, then said, “At first, I didn’t know, but when you claimed to be the son of Lackshin, I knew you could only want one thing, Shallin, your father’s sword. But I still don’t understand how you got Lisha to come with you.”

Sanch inquired again, about the relationship between Lisha and Thrant. This time, he turned to the woman. “It seems you two are old friends.”

Lisha said, “No. I have never met him before today.”

               “But he seems to know you.”

               “Cannot you just leave it alone?” Lisha glared at him, then turned away.

               “Fine. I will not ask again, since it seems to be a tender subject. Now, Thrant, can you help me find my father’s sword?”

Thrant nodded. “I can help, but are sure you are up to it?”

Sanch smiled. “I can handle whatever is waiting for me.”

Thrant looked into his eyes. “I hope so, because you are the only one who can get near that sword.”

               “Then I guess I have no choice but to be ready.” Sanch patted his sword.

Lisha said, “I am sick of all the jabbering. Are you guys going to talk about it or are you going to do it?”

Sanch said, “I just want to be sure I’m ready. I need to know what I’m doing before I take one step near that sword.”

               “Now, you want to think through what is to be done, you who jumps into fights without thinking? Then, think and do whatever it is that you have to do. Let’s be on our way.” Lisha walked away from the men.

               “I can tell you what you should know, on the way there, so by the time we arrive, you’ll be ready,” Thrant said.

“Good. Let’s get some rest and be on our way at first light.” Sanch turned to see Hannes approaching.

               “One of my men wishes to join your quest. He told me that after fighting alongside you in the valley camp, he felt compelled to see the fight to the end, at your side.” Hannes motioned to a boy, not much older than Sanch.

               “I remember you.” Sanch looked up to the man and stretched his arms wide to clap him on both shoulders. “Hannes chose you, first, to come with us. You cannot leave your people in times like we are about to see. They will need you at home.” Sanch released his grip and stepped back, so he could see the man’s face without looking upward. “As soon as the word makes it to Sillack that the son of Lackshin is alive, things in this world are going to change rather quickly.  I’m afraid, not for the better.”

               “There are other men here, who are braver than I, who will protect the village,” the young man said.

 “I have yet to see one of those men, said to be braver than you. You know that I am Sanch, but I do not know your name. If we are to be traveling together, I would like to know the name of the man I’m sure will be given several opportunities to save my ass.”

“They call me Menis. I will be honored to ride at your side and see you to your father’s sword.”

“This will be the stuff of ballads, something people will discuss for years to come. Yours is a worthy name that will forever be spoken with respect and gratitude. Now we need some rest after a night like the one we’ve all had.”

“Yes,” Hannes said, “and we still need to find bedding for those we freed tonight. Returning them all to their homes will be a task all its own, for another day.”

               “Then, we will meet again in the morning, when the real adventure begins.” Sanch reached up and placed his hand on Menis’ shoulder before leaving to find the tent Hannes had his men set up for him. Once in the tent, he lay there, looking at the patched-together fabric that separated him from the stars. He thought of what, with just a hand full of men, he had just achieved. He covered his face with his hands, ran his fingers down his face and thought of all that could have gone wrong, all the lives that might have been lost in his quest to find his father’s sword.

               The fire crackled like a hand crushing dry leaves, the logs popped like the loud snapping of fingers. Outside the tent, Sanch heard the sounds of celebration as the joy of the newly-freed slaves filled the camp. With those sounds, his eyes slowly closed and he drifted off to sleep, knowing he had done something right.               

               Wine poured over cups like an out-of-control waterfall. Men and women shared stories of previous battles and talked of plans for the future. Strangers became friends. Freedom returned to the deserving. Quiet finally reigned triumphant and many found peace in their tents. Dew fell throughout the night.

               The ground appeared to have been scattered with diamond-like droplets of morning tears, as night retreated.

                Hannes rose early to greet the sun, the victor over the night.  “How was your night, boy?” he asked Sanch, whose head had emerged from his tent at the first sounds of morning.

               “It was a good night. The thought of victory was like a sweet song to lull me to sleep. Are the others awake yet?”

               “I think I saw that one called Thrant moving about this morning. I believe he left his tent to take a piss. As a newly freed man, some of the women took great care to attend his needs, last night.”

               Sanch stepped out of his tent. “Did you say women?”

               “Yes. Who knows how long he has been without the soft touch of a woman? From the sounds inside his tent last night, he has made up for time lost. I’m sure you will find him back inside, now.”

               “Thank you. I hope I find him well-rested and ready to travel.” Sanch walked to Thrant’s tent. As he pulled back the flaps, moist with dew, he saw the man enthralled with one woman, as others lay about the tent, naked as the day they entered the world. “I do hope you were able to get some sleep last night. We have a long ride to make, today.”

               His presence did not give reason for them to cease their activities. “My boy, my boy, feel free to help yourself to the softer sex.” Thrant caressed the ass of the woman who hovered over him. “Trust me they all have their specialties.”

               “When you are done here, you know where to find us.” Sanch retreated from the tent and the heavy odor of sex and sweat. He stopped for a minute and looked up at the sky. He closed his eyes and let the last of the falling dew drop onto his face like the soft footsteps of butterflies.

Dew doesn’t actually fall from the sky onto your face like that. Rain would. Dew is more like condensation.

               “Son of Lackshin.” Sanch heard the soft voice, louder than a whisper, yet softer than usual. Lisha. “Isn’t it time to leave? I have had my fill of this place and I am ready to be on my way. Where is Thrant?”

               A smile crept across Sanch’s face. “He’s saying goodbye to some new friends. Soon, he will join us and we shall begin. Now let’s go find that mountain of a man they call Menis.” Sanch opened his eyes and looked toward the rising sun, then to Lisha. He jerked his head slightly to the right and they started their search.

Were his eyes closed?

               They moved through the hurriedly erected tents, back to where Sanch last saw Hannes. The fighting was over and even the celebration was no more. It was dawn and time for a new life for many.

               A young woman ran out from between two tents and jumped onto Sanch. She threw her arms around his neck and wrapped her legs around his waist. “Thank you so very much, my lord.”             

Sanch supported her in his arms. “Who are you? Wait. I thought you were a child. Are you the young woman whose father was almost executed last night?”              

               “Yes, my lord. I am the same. I rose before the sun so I could find you, to thank you for saving my father. I am in your debt.”

               Lisha shook her head, her eyes rolled upward. “You do know he had a little help with that, don’t you?” Without slowing her stride or waiting for an answer, Lisha continued on her way.

               “She’s right, you know. You should thank her, as well.” Sanch placed his hands around the woman’s tiny waist and lowered her to the ground. He pointed to Lisha, who was walking fast. “Her, over there, she had a lot to do with the rescue of you and your people.”

               The soft sound of little feet grew faster and louder behind Lisha, before two small arms wrapped around her waist. Lisha’s body stiffened like a great tree fighting off heavy winds.

This is teetering on the line of being in her POV.

               The young woman’s gentle grip tightened like the perfect fit of a belt. “My lady, you fought alongside men with such grace, strength and bravery. I hope one day to fight as you do, to free slaves and protect those in need. You have shown me it is possible. Why wait to be rescued by a man, when I can raise my own sword in my defense? Thank you.”

               Lisha lowered her shoulders and, with a great sigh, placed her hands over those of her petite captor’s. “You are welcome. I look forward to the day we will fight together to end oppression and swing our swords to vanquish any who try and stand in our way.”  Lisha, by now, held the woman at arms’ length. She removed her hands and walked swiftly into the forest, leaving the young woman standing alone.

               Sanch, also alone, said, “I guess I’ll go find Menis on my own, then.”

               “I will join you on your search, if you will have me, my lord.” The young woman had run back to Sanch. She wrapped her arm around his and matched his pace.

               They were soon on the edge of the camp just outside the village where Hannes, Menis and the other men lived. The morning was still debating the night for the right to appear.

               The woman said, “After a battle, they like to set up camp on the outskirts of our village to celebrate. It keeps the mess outside.”

               “Phew! I can see why,” Sanch said. “I can smell the stench of vomit and wine.”

               “Other things, too,” she said. “These men lie where they had their last drink, some  in their own piss.”

               She and Sanch walked past women and men lying together right in the open, in various stages of nakedness. They turned to each other, Sanch shook his head and laughed. “Too drunk, or too lazy, to seek shelter?”

               “Perhaps, a little of both, my lord.” She entwined her fingers with his and they continued their search for Menis. 

                Sanch stopped and pulled her close when birds suddenly flew from behind bushes.

               “Sanch, Sanch!”

               Still hovering over the woman, Sanch turned.

               Menis ran towards them. “I am very happy you did not leave without me.” The large man’s voice rode a heavy breeze like a gentle feather. “Where are you two heading?”

               Sanch loosened his grip on the handle of his sword and straightened up, leaving the woman hunched down before him. “We were looking for you.” He reached for her hand and helped her stand. “Trust me, I was not leaving without you. I can use all the help I can get.”

               She folded her hands behind her back and fixed her eyes on the ground.

               “I know you,” Menis said. “You’re that girl whose father we saved. How is the old man?” Menis arched his back and placed his hands on his knees so he could look into her eyes.

               “He is fine, my lord. Happy to be alive and I have all of you to thank for my father’s life.” She raised her eyes to look at Menis.

               “Now that you’ve found us, tell me where can we get some breakfast?” Sanch rubbed his stomach and pointed to the ever-rising sun. “We must leave, as soon as possible, but not without something to eat.”

               “I will take you both to get food.” Menis rose up like a tree over them. He led them to a fire surrounded by his family and friends.

               Sanch said, “The heat from this fire is like a comforting embrace from the cold of the morning.”

Would a warrior compare the heat of a fire to a comforting embrace in front of a group of men? Or would he compare it to a fire for forging iron, or a fire like the desire for battle, or the heat of passion stirring in his blood?

               “The food’s not bad, either.” Menis reached into the pot. “Oh! It’s hot, too!” The big man blew on his fingers with a mouth full of food.

               Those gathered laughed loudly and heaped more on a plate for the young giant.

               “Well, look who it is,” Hannes said. “Even Thrant has pulled himself from his tent to join in on our morning meal. Still wearing your companions like clothing, I see.”

“They are more like decoration or jewelry, I think,” Thrant said. “The sun is nearly level with the horizon. This is a rather late breakfast, don’t you think?”  He threw his arm over Sanch’s shoulder. “Don’t you think we should say our goodbyes and be on our way? We’ll take our lunch with us.” 

Sanch nodded. “Yes, we should leave. Time waits for no man–” he turned to look for Lisha “–or woman, and all this talk of reminiscing and remembering is wasting time. We have places we must be.” He looked around again. “Has anyone seen Lisha? We need her.”

           “I think she is hiding over there. That’s where she was when I saw her.” Thrant pointed towards the river.

Turning and releasing his shoulder from Thrant’s grip, Sanch hurried to the riverbank. “I’ll go get her. The rest of you just be ready to go. We will leave as soon as we return.” 

Menis ran to catch up with him. “I’m going to say goodbye to my friends and family still inside the village. They will be proud to know I am joining the son of Lackshin on his quest.”

Sanch smiled. “Good, you do that, and I will be back, after I have found Lisha.”

Thrant said, “Ladies, I hope to see you all, again, on my return. For now, I must prepare for a grand adventure.”

Sanch headed through the woods toward the river to where Lisha was bathing. He crouched low and moved bushes that blocked his line of sight to the river. Rather than approaching her outright or calling her name, he hunkered down, transfixed.

               “Are you just going to stand there and watch or are you going to jump in?”                Sanch undressed and jumped in the river with her. “I knew you wanted me.”

               “In your dreams, boy. I just got sick of smelling you.” She turned her back to him and swam to shore.

I thought they were leaving?

               “Where are you going? I just got here!”

               “I’m done, but you should take your time. You need it.” She laughed and walked to a smooth area along the riverbank.

               He watched her emerge from the water, naked and wet. “Well, you were right. I feel much better now. I did need a bath.” He dressed on the run while he caught up to her. “I’ve wanted to ask you something for some time, now.”

That was a super quick bath.

Lisha glanced at him without turning her head. “As long as you don’t ask—”

“—What was your father like?”

“My father was kind and gentle. He made my mother laugh and he taught me everything I know about a sword, including how to use one.”

“From what I’ve seen, he taught you well.” His eyes dropped toward the ground. “My father died before I had a chance to learn anything from him.”

He didn’t learn anything from his father in nine years?

               “How did you learn all you know?” she asked. “How did you come to be so skilled with a sword?”

“I taught myself. It took longer than if I’d had a father to teach me, but, still, I learned what I needed to know. Besides, my mother comes from a clan of women who are no strangers to the sword. What I couldn’t teach myself, she was eager to show me.”

Lisha stopped and smiled at him. “She and her warrior clan can be proud. You taught yourself well and I suspect much of that is natural talent.”

               “Thank you. I suppose I didn’t have much of a choice, did I?”       

They walked in silence for a while, then he said, “What was it like to have a fa—” He stopped, cupped his hand to his ear and reached for his sword. “Do you hear that?”

               “I don’t hear anything.”          

“Listen. There’s something out there.”

“You’re imagining things. There’s noth—”

Something that appeared to be half-man and half-beast jumped from a tree, no more than seven feet from where Sanch and Lisha stood, hands on swords, ready for battle. The beast stopped in front of the duo and looked at them. It walked around them, hunched over, head cocked to one side. It circled closer, sniffing the air. With a soft, mewling sound and a flash of teeth, as quickly as the man-beast had jumped from the tree, it turned and was out of sight, up another tree.

“Sanch, what was that?”

               “I don’t know, but I told you I heard something.”

               “Have you ever seen anything like it before?”

After a moment, Sanch said, “Yes, but that was a long time ago and it was not fully grown. I now realize I felt its presence when I was alone, before I met you.”

               “What was that all about?” She started walking but looked over her shoulder, into the forest. “Why did it jump out of the trees and circle us but leave us alone that way?”

               “I think I may have saved its life and sent it on its way, when we were both much younger. Why do you ask?”   

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I was just wondering. That’s all.”

Sanch picked up his pace to keep up with her. “Let’s go get the others. We have a long journey ahead of us.”

* * *

               Sanch turned to Thrant. “Tell me, how long ago was it that my father’s sword was thrown into Hell’s Doorway?” 

               “It’s been eight years since I was ordered to dispose of Shallin.”

Sanch turned to face the older man. “You were the one who did that?”

Thrant sighed. “It was my job. I had to do it or give my life.”

“But, I don’t understand. Why?” Sanch’s fists dropped to his sides.

“Because, I saved the life of someone Sillack wanted dead.”

Lisha stepped between them. “His father, the only man who can touch that sword, is dead! Why speak now? Why even take us on this fool’s quest?”

“Because, now that you have freed me, I can right some of the wrongs I’ve committed.” 

“But, what good will it do, if no one but Lackshin can touch the sword? How will it help to find it?”

Sanch said, “Lisha, let him be, he’s here to help us, not to be questioned by you.”

“I just wish to know who or what we are dealing with. You need—I need to know.”

Thrant’s expression softened. “Lisha you know who I am, what I am. I’m your father’s brother.”

Sanch said, “That would make him your—” 

“—That would make him nothing to me,” Lisha growled. She spurred her horse and rode off ahead of the others. Sanch started after her but Thrant touched his shoulder. “Leave her. She just needs to be alone.”

They rode at a comfortable pace, with Lisha traveling faster until Menis asked, “What is that sound?”

                “What sound? I don’t hear anything.” Sanch quieted his horse and dismounted. He turned his head, straining to hear.

               “Horses,” Menis said.

               “I agree.” Sanch returned to the saddle on Aly’s back.

“Sanch! Menis! Those aren’t horses,” Thrant yelled. “They are Rinnis and by the sound of it, they are coming this way.”

“So? What do we care?” Menis shifted in his saddle.

Thrant said, “If you care to live, you will get Lisha and follow me.”

Menis encouraged his horse into a gallop and in moments, returned with Lisha.

Sanch asked, “What are they and why are they after us?”

               “They are dark creatures and they just want to kill us. They aren’t after us, specifically. It’s nothing personal.”

“Oh, so that’s supposed make us feel better? Because it’s not personal?”

Thrant yelled over his shoulder as he rode. “Shut up, Sanch! Run before we give you to them.”  He rode ahead, but stopped his horse at a crossroad, marked an X in the sand, with his sword. “Don’t stop to watch me! Ride!”

“Why did you do that?” Sanch asked.

“Just ride! Hurry! I’ll explain later.”

Lisha called out, “Three are still coming. What do we do now?”

“Trust me. I know what to do. Come, now! Hurry!”

Thrant took them to another crossroad, made the same mark, but this time he led them down a side road.  Lisha said. “This is such odd behavior. What’s next, howling at the moon?”

“No. Now, we find a tree and climb it.”

“Oh, yeah, that sounds like a great plan,” she said. “I’d rather fight them.”

“Be quiet. You do not want them to hear you.” Thrant released his horse with a slap on the backside and the others did the same.

The Rinnis were getting closer.

Thrant whispered, “Hurry! Get as high as you can.” He signaled with a finger over his lips for everyone’s silence. In minutes, the Rinnis were below the tree where Sanch had hidden. They did not look up, but shuffled and snorted at the human footprints at the base of the trees.

Sanch almost lost his grasp on the limb he had chosen and was repositioning himself when he heard a loud snap. The Rinnis stopped and looked forward as

Sanch started to fall. The branch he’d selected had given way.

After falling a few feet, Sanch felt a large hand wrap around his wrist. The creature he and Lisha had seen earlier held him tightly and with its other hand, motioned, as Thrant had, for Sanch to remain quiet.

The Rinnis lost interest in the trees and footprints and trotted away. As soon as they were out of sight, the man-beast released its grip on Sanch’s arm and he fell to the hard earth with a thud. He looked up, but the creature was nowhere to be seen. “He could’ve let me down easier than that.”

Menis also checked the trees for some sign of Sanch’s savior. “What was that?”

Lisha said, “That was the same creature Sanch and I met on our way back to the camp.”

               Thrant was the last to climb down from his tree. He walked next to Lisha. “Did it say anything to you?” 

                “No. It came and went the same way it did earlier,” she said, “swiftly and silently.” She moved closer to Sanch and offered her hand. “What do you think?”

                He dismissed her help with a brush of his hand on hers. “I think it did not have to drop me so damn hard.” He sat in the dust and brushed at something on his leg.

Lisha said, “I think we should get going.”

Thrant said, “I think you are right. Menis let’s go.”

               “What about Sanch?” Menis walked over to him, but didn’t offer his hand. He  reached under his arms and picked him up, standing Sanch on his feet.

               “He can come, too,” Lisha said.

               “Thanks. So very kind of you to allow me to come along on my own quest.”

               They called their horses and only Lisha’s required an extra whistle before it returned. They rode another half hour when Menis asked, “Where are we going, and how long before we get there?”

               “It’s not much farther. The volcano is right over that hill.” Thrant pointed in the direction they were to ride.

               “Is it guarded?” Sanch asked.

Thrant shrugged. “I don’t know. I have been imprisoned many years, but I know that Sillack is not a trusting man, so I am sure he has a small band of men watching the volcano.”

“But the sword is said to have been gone for eight years.” Sanch hung his head. “Why keep it guarded all this time?”

               “This is true. The sword was also said to have been made by the hands of gods,” Thrant said.

“What are you saying?” Lisha asked. “That the sword cannot be destroyed?”

“It cannot be destroyed by man.” Thrant’s voice was even, as if he were instructing a child.

                “Why hasn’t someone gone after it before now?” Menis asked.

“Because, everyone knew that no one but Lackshin could touch Shallin.” Thrant said.

  “What are we doing here, in that case?” Menis asked.

Thrant explained with the same, even-toned voice. “We have the next best thing. We have Sanch, the son of Lackshin, the only other man who can release the sword from her place of rest. He was thought to be dead, until now.”

“Tell me, how exactly were you able to move my father’s sword, if no other man can touch her.”

“We did not touch her, we made a case in which to carry Shallin to the volca―” Thrant interrupted himself and stood in his stirrups. “Look! He does have men on watch.”

Menis asked, “How many?”

               “I see four at the front and at least ten more in the woods, give or take a man or two. Any ideas?”

“Yes. Let’s get out of here!” Lisha started to turn her horse around.

Sanch looked at her with his jaw clenched. “We cannot just leave. My father’s sword is in there. I need it to kill Sillack.”

She said, “Looks like one is coming this way.”

They rode their horses behind some trees surrounded by high shrubbery.

“He’s getting closer,” Menis said.

The guard ambled toward them. One of the horses nickered and the soldier stopped inches from where they were hiding. After he looked toward the sound, he shrugged and continued walking some distance to a cluster of bushes where he followed a narrow path, dropped his trousers and squatted.

Menis sighed. Lisha straightened in her saddle from where she had leaned over to calm her horse. Sanch returned his sword to its scabbard and Thrant slipped his dagger back into its sheath.

“That was close. I thought he would see us, for sure.” Menis sighed again.

“Me too,” Sanch said. “I thought that was it.”

“We still have a small problem. How are we going to get that sword?” Lisha turned toward the men. “Thrant, these are your people. What do you think we should do?”      

“First, we should decide who is going and who is staying,” Thrant said.                

Menis looked at each member of the group. He was bouncing on his toes.

Sanch slid from his saddle and walked forward with Aly’s reins. “Since I am the only one here who can move the sword and Thrant is the only one of us who has any idea where the sword might be, he and I will be going in.” He handed the reins to Menis.

“So what do Lisha and I do out here while you and he are in the volcano?”

Thrant said, “You and Lisha will make certain all of those men are not in there with us.” He rode his horse next to Aly before he dismounted and put the reins in Menis’ hand.

“Just how are we supposed to do that?” Lisha dismounted and thrust her horse’s reins into Menis’ hand, too. She crossed her arms over her chest.

Thrant rested his hand on her shoulder. “I don’t know. You’re a big girl. You’ll come up with something.” He turned and motioned to Sanch, who started walking toward the volcano.

Lisha and Menis secured the horses before they trudged through the woods to the entrance of the volcano. She held one hand out to Menis with the finger of her other hand at her pursed lips and he hunkered down to wait. She made a chopping motion with her hand and Menis nodded.

Lisha jogged most of the way to the volcano. She slowed to a walk only to even out her breathing before she slipped around a rock and stood with her hands on her hips a few feet away from the guard the farthest from the entrance.

“Hey! How did you get past the other guards?” one of Sillack’s men asked.               She shielded her eyes from the sun with her hands and looked around in an exaggerated display. “What guards? There is no one out there. I just came to say hi. So, hi.” She returned the same way she had come.

Sillack’s men started yelling. “Hey, where are you going?”            

“What do you mean there are no guards?”

“Come back here!”

“Where did you come from?”

Then, they followed her. As they came around the last big rock, Menis greeted each of them with a powerful swing from his ax. He tossed each man, like an old shirt, on top of the others.

* * *

As they entered the volcano, Sanch asked, “Which way do we go?”

“Give me a minute.” Thrant’s voice quivered. “It has been a long time since I was here. I’m trying to remember the way.” He took a deep breath and his voice strengthened. “That is the way we need to go.” He pointed.          

“Are you sure?” Sanch hesitated. “You need to be absolutely certain.”

               “Yes, yes. That is the way,” Thrant said. “I am positive.”

               The passage grew hotter, the deeper they traveled in the dark cave. Even the air burned.

               With a slight tremor, Sanch asked, “How do you know this is the way?”

               “The volcano begins in a cave near here. See that mark on the wall, the one that looks like a large hand scratched into the stone? I remember that mark.”

               “If you are sure, I have little choice but to trust you. You were the last man to see my father’s sword and I will retrieve it.”

               They walked on in silence some time before Thrant spoke. “Ah, yes. I remember. When the sword went into the volcano, it went to sleep.”

               “It? What it?” 

               “It. The dragon.” Thrant said. “The sword’s song put the dragon to sleep.”

               “Dragon? What dragon?” Sanch drew his sword. “No one said anything about a dragon.”

               Thrant whispered, “She’s sleeping, remember? She will not even know we were here.”

               “But if I take Shallin, won’t she wake up?” 

               “I guess you’re onto something, there, boy. Now, why didn’t I think of that?”

               “Thrant, how can you be so relaxed about this, this dragon?”

               Thrant held his hands up in a sign of surrender. “This is your quest. I’m just here to help. You came looking for me, if you recall. If you want to go back, I am more than happy to leave.”

               Sanch shook his head firmly. “No, that will not be happening. Not today. I have come too far to let my father down, and that I will not do!”

               With his hand on the young man’s shoulder, Thrant said, “I see you are the man your father was. This is good. Now, let’s go collect your sword. Dragon be damned!”

Looking back to the beginning, the blurb in the query talks about the eight years between Lackshin’s death and Sanch’s return, but that all happens within the first chapter. So what is the book about then? When you make the blurb to hook your reader (or agent), tell us what the story itself is about. It seems like the story IS Sanch’s journey to find Shallin. However we are at the end of Chapter three and he’s in the right cave. I can only assume he finds it and then sets off for Sillack.

I would say in the blurb something like, “On a quest to find his father’s sword and avenge his death, Sanch meets his lively traveling companions. They free slaves and hide from dark, fantastical creatures, evade a sleeping dragon, and…whatever else they face.” The question isn’t will he find the sword, or will he have help, or will good battle evil and win? The question is, when he finds Sillack, will Shallin prevail and avenge Lackshin’s death in Sanch’s hands? Then, will Sanch be ready to take his father’s place and rule, pulling together the kingdom and uniting the people once more. Right?

Your blurb should tell us what the meat of the book is about. If an agent reads your sample and sees that the main questions in the blurb are already answered, they will think, “Then what is the rest of the book about?” Unfortunately, most of them do not have time to dig through your manuscript to find out. If they are intrigued, they might peruse your synopsis, or they might just pass. Like I said above, the main question will remain the same until the end of the book, so you should still have a hook, even if you tell the agent what happens in the story. I hope I’m making sense.

Want to know what that #1 thing is that’s going to get this query rejected? For some agents, this may not matter, but for most: 47K is way too short for the sci-fi and/or fantasy genre. A young adult book in the sci-fi/fantasy category should be between 50-100K, with a sweet spot of 65-85K. An adult book in sci-fi and /or fantasy, needs to be between 90-124K, with a sweet spot of 100-115K. Some agents are very picky about word count, and this would be an automatic hard pass. This manuscript is almost half of what they’re looking for.

Now, the agent may not care, but the publisher will. And who is the agent selling to? Right. If the publisher wants more words, they won’t take it. So you have to ask yourself, “where are places that I could add scenes that still build the story?” One thing I mentioned in my comments, is the time during those eight years when Sanch is training and living in the small village, hiding, and being a loyal friend. There could be a scene or two there where we learn just how deep Sanch’s desire goes to rectify this and avenge his father. Is it duty? Or is it personal? What does he know about what happened and why it happened? Was it a political assassination? Did a faction not agree with the leadership and Sillack wanted to rule, but when he killed the leader, his followers thought he was too over-zealous and cast him out? It’s a better motivator and reason than doing it just because he’s “evil.”

Any of those places where time is skipped, places where the scene separators are, these scenes can be expanded. There must be more to beef up your story and your characters’ life, love, motivation, determination, drive, and desire. If you have a complete story with no room to expand at 47K, then you’ve written a novella and need to outline the next book. Since there are two books currently completed, the author may also choose to leave things as they are, and combine the two books into one. That would certainly add more action, but still some of the background knowledge could be missing. Knowledge that makes the characters’ motivations and actions make sense.

That’s about all I have for this week. Maybe you saw your own query in my example, maybe you learned something. Let us know in the comments if it helped you, and if you have any questions that I can answer. And good luck!

Have a great week!

~jenn

3 thoughts on “Journey to a Bestseller: Evaluation of Anonymous Query and Sample Pages (Series #24)

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