I’m posting this snip from my first draft in order to build my courage and confidence in writing first drafts and not being ashamed of their condition.
In this bit, Artur the bald celtic warrior who can talk to animals has left the farm with two Rhino Men in search of a cure to a wasting disease afflicting the Rhino villages. He leaves behind his wife Diana and his children. It is here I begin to flesh out the character Diana and how she fits in (and doesn’t fit in) to the story. I hint at the age of seventeen beng the Age of the First Adventure, but presently do not describe it. Also, I introduce the major villains of the novel…
Diana stood with her daughter Tana and watched her husband and the two Rhinos for about half an hour until they were out of sight over edge of a distant hill. She always hated when her husband left for adventures. Despite his being a great warrior, there was always a chance he would not return. Among all the tribes of men, adventuring took its toll. It was not uncommon to have six or seven children, but losing two or three to the hazards of adventure was also not uncommon.
The hazards of adventure. Diana’s hand went to her belly, remembering the orc arrow from so many years ago. Tana was only an infant then. A precious little bald butterball. Now the precious six year old girl next to her began to fidget, and Diana ran her fingertips over the girl’s smooth head. “This is my only child,” she thought to herself.
The sons of Artur had joyfully embraced Diana as a second mother after she married Artur. Anyone who could wield the Frostbane, they said, was worthy of being part of the family. But they were teens then, and now all had established their own farms and trades, except the youngest, Troy, who would be seventeen this year. The age of the First Adventure. She turned away from observing the unoccupied horizon to look for Troy, who had set to work at hitching a cart to a donkey. The bald young man talked frankly with the beast, and the creature seemed to enjoy the companionship.
All Artur’s children had the Gift, and as such Diana always felt a little like an outsider. The animals were friendly enough when treated properly, but this psychic intimacy shared be her adopted family and her real daughter was something she would never understand.
Abruptly, Diana realized she was spiraling down a sad road, and shook herself out of it. She had a family who loved her, and despite being from the Frog clan, she was respected among the Pigs as a warrior and The Mrs Zootaloot of Zootaloot Farm. Wielder of the Frostbane. Singer to the Bees.
She joined her son and daughter on their trip out to the garden. The beans were fat and needed to be picked. The three sang happily as they worked, plucking green, yellow and purple pods and plunking them in the baskets. Sometimes the Donkey would hee-haw along with Tana and Troy, or grunt to the rhythm of the song. After filling their baskets and loading them in the cart, the three headed back to the farmhouse to process them.
They spent the better part of the afternoon laying out the pods so they could dry properly, nibbling fresh beans as they worked. They rotated the previous crop of dried beans from the racks worked at shelling the pods. Like much farm work it was tedious, but not difficult.
They finished their work before sunset, and Diana sheathed Frostbane and took her daughter for a walk in nearby woodlot. Cicadas were buzzing in the evening heat, and dragonflies flitted about catching insects. Some birds were singing their bedtime songs. Tana understood them to be tales of the events of the day:
Worms at sunrise
Bugs at noon
Berries at supper
oh what a boon!
A man on an adventure
three more in the field
rats in the treetops
oh what a deal!
Yes I see them there!
Carrying spears and swords
And there was a ruckus halfway up a pine tree. A blue jay screeching and cawing. Tana pulled her mother’s tunic, “Mama there’s trouble up there. Rats stealing babies!”
“Don’t be silly.”
“I’m not. Look Mama!”
And Diana stepped back until she could see what her daughter pointed at. And indeed there were five or six rats in the tree, a most bizarre sight in itself, but they had little weapons and were stabbing at the blue jays who flitted about trying to protect their babies. This was unnatural, even for a world where bizarre creatures and events were known to occur.
“Tana get your brother,” Diana said, and drew her sword. She felt silly, for how could she climb thirty feet up a tree and hack at bizarre rats with a sword? She drew her sword by instinct. It was a useful instinct on most occasions, but not this one.
Tana took off across the pasture land shouting for her brother, leaving her mother watching the rats. A bluejay fell, bouncing off branches and thumping dead at Diana’s feet, with little tiny arrows sticking in its belly. She didn’t know what else to do, so she began shouting.
“Hey there! Rats! You stop that! Ho! Hey!”
Just then a tiny needle of an arrow pricked her shoulder. The rats above squeaked and chattered in their own language. “Get lost bitch!”
More tiny arrows zinged down around Diana, and she retreated behind a pine.
The volley of arrows stopped, and before long the rats descended the tree carrying dead birds. Diana could see now that there were more than five or six, but rather a few dozen. Some had tiny metal helms, and little swords, and tiny bows with tinier arrows. By this time Troy was on his way at a sprint carrying his sister and four of the farm cats trotted at his side. Now the rats were forming a marching column, carrying their prizes, and not having a shield Diana could only watch for fear of their arrows. She took the frostbane and held it to a thick fallen branch until it began to smolder and then it lit afire, and she hurled it into the column or rats, crushing one and scattering the rest.
Startled, the column began to spread and draw their little bows. They showed a discipline only seen in trained warriors. Now Troy had arrived with the cats and his sister, and the rats all cried out “Cats! Cats! Shoot them!” A dozen little darts flitted at the cats, who were not accustomed to rats being able to fight back. After taking many hits that felt like terrible bee stings, they bolted away.
The rats hefted their prizes and fled into the woods. Being shocked seeing such a thing, there was nothing the three people or the four wounded, limping cats could do. Rats weren’t supposed to make weapons, or shoot arrows, or marching in columns, or hunt birds in the trees.
When the rats had gone, the three humans carried their wounded cats back to the farmhouse, and set to tending their wounds. It was difficult to extract the arrows, which were barbed. Examining the arrows, Tana could see they were porcupine quills, and this gave them all the chills. How did rats get porcupine quills? How did they make little helmets and spears and swords? And why had they never heard of these rats before today?