This is the original Rojer introduction chapter from the second draft of the book, which was the version that sold. By way of comparison, the printed version of the book in stores was the fifth draft (after it was copyedited and proofread). It’s interesting to note that in the first draft, there were no childhood Rojer scenes at all; Rojer was introduced at age seventeen.
Why It Was Cut
For one thing, this scene is mostly telling and not showing, meaning that I, as narrator, just tell the reader what happens, rather than showing it through the perspective of one of the characters. Part of this is because Rojer was really young at this point in the story, and I didn’t have a good idea of how to write a three-year-old’s perspective. Another reason is that the book was already 175,000 words at the time, and I was trying not to make it any longer. My editor would add that it is too “cinematic”, though I don’t necessarily agree that that is a bad thing.
But there’s more to it than that. A good editor will call you on your shit, and that’s what happened here. This chapter was NOT my best work. My editor knew it, and deep down, I knew it, too. I was, if I’m going to be perfectly honest with myself and anyone reading this, being lazy. Telling is ALWAYS easier to write than showing, which is what makes it such a seductive trap. Even the best authors sneak a “tell” in here and there, to quickly toss in a piece of info that would take to long to show, but it’s a slippery slope towards using it all the time, and that’s a real problem because it will suck all the tension and empathy from your story.
My editor and I had a heated debate about how to solve the problem, though. Her solution was to just cut the chapter, even though it unbalanced the rhyme scheme of the book’s POV shifts, and keeps Rojer out of the first section entirely. The book was too long anyway, and something needed to go, so it might as well be this. Fixing it would just make the chapter even longer.
I found that solution entirely unacceptable. The chapter was needed for both the balance and some key pieces of information I wanted the reader to know about Arrick, Riverbridge and Duke Rhinebeck. It also set up who Rojer was and where he came from, which I think was essential for the reader to empathize with him later. “Word count be damned, if it hurts the story!” I cried.
Neither of us would budge, because we are both really stubborn when we think we’re right. At an impasse, I proposed a compromise.
“For every word I add, I’ll cut one somewhere else,” I said. “Let me fix the chapter, and if you read it and can still honestly say it sucks, we’ll cut it.”
I then went away to Greece for a friend’s wedding. I brought my smartphone on the trip with just that one chapter loaded on word mobile, and told myself that I would spend the plane rides tinkering with it to try and salvage it. My nephew was two at the time, and I was spending a lot of time with him. I realized that I could totally tell the story in a three-year-old’s POV. Little kids understand a lot more than we give them credit for, and while they can’t analyze things the way an adult can, they can bear witness to most anything and remember it later.
Once I was confident in the three-year-old Rojer POV, the rest of the scene fell easily in place, and became the chapter that is in the printed version. There is no question that the final one is 1000 times better, and even my editor agrees that it was a far better solution that cutting it entirely.
My friend Matt, though, likes the version you’re about to read better for some inexplicable reason.
Rojer loved his noisemaker. Five slender bands of metal in different lengths, brightly painted and riveted to a wooden frame. A stout cord attached it to the wand, a six-inch stick with a lathed wooden ball at the end, lacquered smooth.
He sat on the wooden floor of the evening room, striking the colors in different patterns, delighting in the clear sounds each made. He was three.
“He’s going to be a Jongleur one day,” his father said from his workbench.
His mother smiled. “I don’t know who’s more pleased with themselves,” she said. “Rojer for his music, or you for that toy you made him.”
“I make music!” Rojer cried.
“That’s right,” his father agreed, “and don’t let your mum say otherwise.”
“I never!” his mother cried, and Rojer’s father laughed. He was always laughing.
Outside, there were sharp, crackling retorts, punctuated by flashes of light that leaked through the shutters. Rojer hated those harsh sounds, and the shrieks that came with them. He struck his noisemaker harder, trying to drown them out.
“Corelings ‘r hungry tonight,” his father mused.
“We should have the wards redrawn tomorrow,” his mother said.
His father sighed. “I spoke to Master Piter three times this week, but he’s been putting everyone off to work on the bridge since he heard Duke Rhinebeck might visit.”
“So the rest of us have to succor behind weak wards because Piter dreams of a royal commission?” his mother scowled. “Rhinebeck’s not even our duke.”
“He’s the only duke close enough to get help to us if we need it,” his father said. “Euchor cares nothing for Riverbridge, so long as his Messengers get through and his taxes come on time.”
“See the light,” his mother said. “If Rhinebeck’s coming, it’s because he’s sniffing for taxes, too. We’ll be paying from both ends afore Rojer sees another summer.”
“What would you have us do?” his father asked. “Anger the duke a day away for the sake of the one a week’s travel to the north?”
“I’d have us honor our oaths to Miln,” she replied.
Rojer hated the sound of them arguing. He struck his toy harder.
There was a crash, then, and all three turned to see the heavy wooden door shaking in its frame. Dust, knocked loose by some unseen impact, drifted lazily to the floor.
For a long moment, no one moved. Then, with a shriek, Rojer’s mother leapt to her feet, scattering her sewing implements all over the floor. “The bolt hole!” she cried, her words punctuated by a roar from beyond the door.
Rojer’s father was already moving, scooping the boy off the floor and running hard.
“My noisemaker!” Rojer cried, looking back over his father’s shoulder at the forgotten toy. There was another crash, and thick black talons burst through the wood.
“I’ll make you a new one,” his father promised, as the door splintered and a rock demon burst through. The creature paused to throw back its head and shriek its triumph, while small nimble flame demons, darted into the room around and between its thick legs.
“Take him!” Rojer’s father screamed, shoving the boy into his mother’s arms. “Save yourselves! Go!”
He turned and snatched a heavy iron poker from the fireplace, standing his ground in the archway to the house’s interior as the demons charged.
His mother clutched him tightly to her breast, moaning as she ran down the hall to the back room where the privy pit was, and the trough they used for Rojer’s bath. There was a heavy iron ring on the floor, and she pulled hard with her free hand, lifting the trap.
“Demon!” Rojer screamed as a flame demon scampered into the room, but his warning came too late. The impact as the coreling struck knocked the breath from his mother, but she kept hold of him even as the creature’s talons dug deep. She shrieked as it ran up her back, its razor teeth clamping down on her shoulder, slicing through Rojer’s right hand. He howled.
“Rojer!” his mother cried, stumbling forward a few steps before falling to her knees. She reached back despite the intense pain, and got a firm grip on the one of the coreling’s horns.
“You… can’t… have… my… son!” she screamed, and threw herself forward, pulling on the horn with the strength only a mother protecting her child could muster. Torn its perch, the demon took ribbons of flesh with it, but it could not keep from being flipped over its victims and into the bathing trough.
The flame demon gurgled and thrashed in the water, steam filling the air as the water was brought to an instant boil. Rojer’s mother didn’t spare it a glance, moving instead for the trap, still holding her bleeding son. This close to the Dividing river, houses were built on great warded blocks to resist flooding. If Rojer stayed within that net, he might survive the night.
More demons were pounding down the hall now, and smoke was in the air. His mother held Rojer at arm’s length a moment, looking in his eyes. “Stay under the house till it’s light!” she ordered, shoving him down the hole. It was damp and filthy, and when he put out his hands to break his fall, he screamed in pain as his injured hand struck the mud.
“I love you!” she cried as she slammed the trap shut above him, leaving him in darkness.
* * * * *
The two men rode through the woods in the easy comfort of bright sunlight. The trees around the road had been cut back, ensuring no shadow touched it in day.
Arrick “Sweetsong” had taken a mirror from his saddlebag and was checking his makeup as they rode. He wasn’t a young man anymore, but neither was he so old that the tools in a Jongleur’s paintbox couldn’t make him look so. His long, sunbleached hair was still more gold than gray, and his brown beard, only partially darkened with dye, concealed the growing wattle beneath his chin. He had matched the paint so closely to his tanned skin that the wrinkles around his blue eyes were all but invisible. He wore a Jongleur’s motley, clothes sewn together from patches dyed a dozen colors, but the cloth was spotless and without wrinkle, despite the fact that they had already spent a night on the road.
“Are you going to stare at yourself all day?” Geral asked as he rode beside him.
Arrick smiled, checking his teeth. “Someone needs to set the Riverbridge ladies’ hearts afire,” he said. He glanced over at the Messenger’s bulky frame, and the demon scar that turned his lower lip into an angry pucker.
“If I were you, I’d worry less about the ladies and more about what you’re here to do,” Geral said. “Janson sent you to herald the duke’s visit next month, not seduce the village wives.”
“My dear Geral,” the Jongleur tsked, “the two are one and the same. Where women go, men follow, and if I am enough to break hearts, what does that say to them of the man I serve?
“Besides,” he added with a wink, “if I know Rhinebeck, he’ll appreciate a little advance notice of any worthy and willing wenches. Does he not still seek a bride?”
“Duke Rhinebeck already has a bride,” Geral grunted. “His fourth.”
Arrick snorted. “No more fertile than the others, I’m afraid, if the talk around the palace holds true. Rhinebeck will keep seeking wives until one gives him a son.”
“You might have the right of that,” Geral admitted, “but how many times will the Tenders let him stand and promise the Creator ‘forever’?”
“As many times as he needs,” Arrick assured, throwing his hair back over one shoulder and admiring his profile. “Janson keeps the Holy Men in check.”
Geral scowled. “It’s not right, men of the Creator having to debase themselves for that…”
Arrick held up a warning finger. “They say even the trees have ears for those who speak out against the First Minister.”
Geral spat on the ground, but he held his tongue. Arrick was right on that, as well. Few men ever spoke out against the duke’s man twice.
“Well, you’ll find little sport in Riverbridge,” he said instead. “It’s hardly even a village. Just a few men at arms to collect Euchor’s tolls, and enough folk to keep up the bridge.”
“Soon to be Rhinebeck’s tolls, if Janson has anything to say about it,” Arrick said.
“Then Janson’s a fool,” Geral said. “Euchor won’t let Riverbridge go. The Dividing has separated their lands for a thousand years. He’ll no sooner yield that border than his own throne.”
“We’ll see,” Arrick said, contorting his face to see how the paint held.
They crested a rise, giving them a view of the river, and the land beyond.
“Creator’s curse!” Geral growled, and kicked his mount into a gallop.
His attention pulled from his reflection, Arrick looked up to see what was the matter, and his breath caught in his throat.
Riverbridge was burning.
* * * * *
They walked their mounts through the once-proud village of Riverbridge. Geral’s eyes were wet with tears as he looked upon the smoking ruin. Charred and half-eaten, the remains of the Bridgefolk littered the streets, their blood dampening the dirt like a spring rain.
“At least the bridge is intact,” Arrick offered.
“Damn the bridge!” Geral cried, shoving him to the ground. “More than threescore people called Riverbridge home! Have a care for someone other than yourself!” He kicked at Arrick, but the nimble Jongleur rolled away, ruining his fine motley in the mud and gore.
Arrick grasped for purchase to regain his feet, and screamed when he found himself holding a severed arm. He slipped in horror and fell back into the bloody muck, groaning.
It was then he saw the eyes.
Tiny and frightened, they peeked out at him from beneath one of the houses, it’s charred timber still smoking, but the stone foundation sound.
“Hello?” the Jongleur called. There was no response, but the eyes never left him.
He crawled towards those twin points of fear, but they retreated further beneath the house as he approached.
Arrick stopped, and saw the eyes stop as well. He heard Geral approaching, but he waved the man back. “It’s safe to come out,” he called. He cupped his hands, filling them with bright sunlight, and held them out. “See?” he said. “Nothing will harm you when the sun shines.”
The eyes crept forward a bit, as if to better see, but no more. Arrick looked about helplessly, then cleared his throat, and began to sing.
It was not by chance or vanity that he was called ‘Sweetsong’. His voice was clear and soft in the morning air, pure notes that soothed and strengthened, beckoned and assured. He forgot the carnage and the horror, his only focus those timid eyes. Inch by agonizing inch, he knee-walked towards them, his outstretched hands still holding the sunlight like an offering.
And little by little, those eyes came towards him, as well. In the dim light that reached under the house, Arrick could see that it was a tiny boy, covered in filth and blood. Time slipped away, minutes carried away like the dissipating smoke, as they came closer, closer…
And then the child was in his arms, weeping uncontrollably as Arrick continued to sing a sweet lullaby of comfort, gently lifting the boy and carrying him away from the devastation.