This is part of the FIRST draft of chapter 2. I wanted to rewrite it for this assignment but unfortunately couldn’t find the time.
Generals Aryas and Cugarta return home to the Imperial capital Arka after a three year campaign against the Elves that they have just won for their Emperor. Unbeknownst to Aryas, Ziara, one of his slaves is waiting for him on the docks.
Ziara was standing on the docks, wind blowing through her blonde hair, her blue eyes gazing around the bay impatiently for his ship. Cinnabar had docked hours ago, so where was Aryas? She was dressed in the simple clothes of a slave, a straight brown dress with a ribbon around the waist and old leather sandals. Her pointy ears and several horizontal creases across her nose betrayed her race. She smiled at one of the many Halfling slaves working on the docks. The Halfling did his best to smile back at her. They were far worse off than she was. At least her master was nice to her. Halflings were considered the lowest of the low in the Empire.
Ziara spotted a massive Imperial ship sail into the bay, around which many of Arka’s architectural achievements were built. Cugarta and Aryas stood at the bow of the deck, shoulder to shoulder, both taking a deep breath and savoring the sweet smell of home. The ship rocked with the gentle waves. She couldn’t believe the size of the thing, it looked so majestic.
The bay was touted as one of the most marvelous views in the known world, for anyone! It was decorated with temples, statues of heroes, and large impressive buildings. Birds were flying high above the bay, as if to admire the grandeur from above, from a much better perspective. All this beauty was a testament to the marvel and power of the Empire of which this was the center. Over the years Emperors had taken great effort and expense to build temples, statues, docks around the bay. Right at the center of that bay was a wide road leading straight to the Palace Square.
But with this absolute power inevitably came corruption and decadence. Conquered nations were subdued into bondage. High and low both became Arkan slaves as the Imperial military seemed unstoppable. In the mind of anyone within the Arkan Empire there was no other nation that could topple them.
Ziara hid behind a stack of crates as the ship got closer. She trembled thinking of how long it had been since she’d seen her master. Was he still the same, or would he be more stern like Cugarta now? One of the sailors threw a thick rope to the dock to have the ship moored properly before the friends could disembark. The two men clasped each other’s arms and laughed, setting foot on land as soon as the plank was extended.
Cugarta jumped on land right away, Aryas paused a moment at the end of the plank, then put both feet on the ground carefully. It was the first time in almost three years they had touched Arkan soil. “Ah, the undisputed seat of the One True Light, and everything else we hold dear in the Empire!” Aryas commented appreciatively.
Smiling in agreement with his friend, Cugarta retorted, “Long live the Empire!” as the slave ships congregating at the dock caught his eye. “I see our loot is already being unloaded and likely taken to the market as we speak. Arka will put the Avarrian survivors to good use!”
Aryas remained silent, the sea winds blowing his hair over his face obscuring his vision some, as he brushed the offending hair strands away with annoyance. Aryas continued his scanning of the harbor and noticed the people near the docks, some sitting haphazardly on the bales and begging for money. Grunting with distaste he complained, “You know, now that the war overseas has been won, we might use our victory to fight the one here at home.”
Cugarta glanced around quickly, making sure no one had heard this careless comment, putting his hand lightly on Aryas’s shoulder. “Patience, old friend, this is not the time. You should be more careful, the Senate has ears everywhere.”
Aryas lied, “I do not fear them”, his eyes betraying his worry. Suddenly he caught movement out of the corner of his eyes. Ziara ducked away quickly. “Ziara?” he asked wondering. She poked her head over the crates gingerly as she realized she’d been spotted. She stood up and walked to him, bowed her head and kept looking at the ground “Master”. He slowly tilted her head up with his hand and studied her, noticing how much she’d grown. She realized he was inspecting her head to toe and blushed.
“What are you doing here?” he said sternly. But Ziara could see the twinkle in his eyes.
She stuttered “We… heard about the ships that returned today. I wanted to come and see…”
“It seems your slaves have forgotten their proper place” Cugarta interjected.
“I didn’t mean for you to see me here master” Ziara quickly defended herself.
Cugarta’s jaw clenched in agitation “You think that makes it any better?”
Just as Aryas was about to speak, a Roman Praetorian soldier on his horse arrived at the two generals. He stretched out his arm and with crisp precision, he executed the Imperial salute. “Hail Cugarta and Aryas, in the name of the old emperor, emperor of Arka and the Pontifex of Light.”
Ziara carefully stepped back into the shadows of the large crates hoping not to be noticed by the soldier.
The generals nodded and stretched out their arms as a sign of respect. “Hail!” they both replied in unison. The Praetorian looked down at them with a smile and gave them a sealed scroll. Aryas accepted it right away, broke the seal and quickly read what it said. “It seems our victories are spoken of throughout the city, we are ordered to report to the emperor at once.”
6 thoughts on “The Fall Of Arkanar”
The scene-setting is nice, as is your efficient way of gesturing to the social and racial divisions within the society, without either clunky-ness or obscurity (what race Ziara is we would surely understand, I take it, if we had read the first chapter). However, there are some odd lapses here and there. This paragraph illustrates some, I think:
“Ziara spotted a massive Imperial ship sail into the bay, around which many of Arka’s architectural achievements were built. Cugarta and Aryas stood at the bow of the deck, shoulder to shoulder, both taking a deep breath and savoring the sweet smell of home. The ship rocked with the gentle waves. She couldn’t believe the size of the thing, it looked so majestic.”
Notice the head-jumping (repeated later on, too): Ziara has been our eyes, as it were, for everything, but now we suddenly hear not just what Ziara actually sees—namely Cugarta and Aryas standing on the ship—but actions and even feelings of theirs of which she is not witness (perhaps she could see them breathing deeply, if her people have extraordinary eyesight, but surely she doesn’t know that they are “savoring” the smell rather than retching inwardly at the stink of rotting fish and gull-guano). Also, you slip into both cliché (‘the sweet smell of home’) and vagueness that verges on bathos (“She couldn’t believe the size of the thing, it looked so majestic,” right after we heard how “massive” the ship was). This makes it difficult for me to imagine what the ship actually looked like, or even whether it was objectively huge—perhaps Ziara knows nothing about ships. What kind of ship is it? A carrack, a dromond, a galleon, a quinquereme, a steampunk super-ironclad, a futuristic arsenal-ship, a space-dreadnought? Description will help the reader not only to visualize this particular scene, but also to get a feel for the book as a whole.
Of course, chapter 1 would have given some idea of the setting (as would the cover and blurb in a published book), but why then does this chapter move from Ziara to such general exposition? Is Ziara reflecting on how the harbor is a tourist attraction, or on the power and decadence of the Arkan Empire? I rather think not, or that, if she would, we would get a more vivid sense of her personal experience of these things: of how she has to push her way through crowds of annoying, gawking foreign visitors (or, conversely, of the great generosity of blue-beard dwarves on pilgrimage from Zarkanargatharga—not that you have such a place, but you get my point), of the suffering of her people, told her by her mother, as they were led in chains from their homeland by the stormtroopers (or knights, or battle-mages, or laser-grenadiers…) of the Empire (or, instead, how she never knew such suffering herself, but grew up in the home of a good and honest master and would rather see the Empire continue, thank you very much—better the mafioso you know than the devil you don’t). This would help us understand Ziara, whereas right now we just hear over and over again about her attitude toward her master—important, but there must be more to the girl.
Finally, the dialogue-tags are clumsy: adverbs are like salt, best used sparingly, and “retort” does not mean the same thing as “respond.” Also, the Roman “imperial salute” is now thought to be an invention of 18th-century Neo-Classicism; that doesn’t mean you couldn’t make an in-story reason for it, but it will put off some readers (it certainly would me, at least).
Hello and thanks for giving feedback!
I’m not sure where Ziara’s race and nationality is mentioned first. I’d have to check. LOL
Racial and social division is not the main theme of the story, but it most definitely is an important aspect of the world.
I agree with you the head jumping is a problem. Because I first wrote a draft where you jump people like in a movie, then realized why that doesn’t work. So I wrote a second draft for Chapter 1, but I got a long way to go till the end of novel 1.
I thought it was still uncertain whether the Roman salute was actually used or not. The view on what certain things were like changed a lot over the past half century. I know fifty years ago statues were still portrayed as plain, while now we know they painted them often, if not always.
Thanks again for the feedback, I definitely plan on working on the head jumping. It’s not as bad in later chapters cause I realized the movie-novel difference, at least in that respect.
I’m going to respond to this knowing it’s your first draft, so here are my suggestions for things to look at when you rewrite.
An opportunity to show more and set the scene: “They were far worse off than she was.” where you could describe how they’re worse off, like chains cutting into their wrists, thin and emaciated, clothes hanging in the threads… however you imagine it.
On scene setting: “It was decorated with temples, statues of heroes, and large impressive buildings” is a little bit lackluster. I’m reading The Earthsea series to my son atm, and I love Ursula Le Guin’s descriptions of places, really evocative and make you feel like you’re there. It has made me really think about my own place settings.
More showing: “But with this absolute power inevitably came corruption and decadence. Conquered nations were subdued into bondage.” How is this reflected in the scene? Lines of sunburnt slaves at the docks, market places fill with designer knock-offs, alcohol and drugs being taken openly or in dens… Just some ideas.
With Ziara being a slave, is she an outsider? From her perspective, how does this city make her feel. How does she experience it?
Then I move into what Philipp said about POV hopping. We started with Ziara but then we’re with Aryas and Curgata. I’m not very good with omniscient POV and don’t know exactly how it’s supposed to work, but this is a bit confusing for me.
Also I’d like to see a bit more back-slapping and pride as the victors return home. Where are the adoring crowds to greet them or something? Some boastful shouting out of their return. It’s a pretty quiet return for the heroes.
Hi again! Thanks for keeping the version in mind!
I agree it’s still bland. The first chapter opening was a second or third version. I write similar to how I would paint: landscape, then background and setting, buildings, props, people – meaning layer upon layer. I go for the outline first and then more and more into detail, layer upon layer. I hope this makes sense. Do you do the same or work totally differently?
As always your comments and suggestions are helpful! I’ve seen the Earthsea miniseries but never read the books. I’ll pick them up!
I understand the POV hopping, it’s a habit from script writing which doesn’t work well in novel form. My intention is to do my chapters like Game Of Thrones, name the chapter after the person whose POV it is written in. It seems the best solution for what I wish to achieve.
You are right about the back-slapping. A few pages later they get a big triumph parade, as was customary in ancient Rome, there you see the back-slapping, worship, women screaming and everything else. But you are right, I should foreshadow that and work on the excitement of the heroic return straight out of the gate!
I will definitely check out Earthsea! Thanks!!
Ah haha Ursula Le Guin hated that miniseries and thoroughly divorced herself from it.
Anyway, I’m not sure if I write in the same way. I just write a draft, then file it away and start a new draft, and keep doing that until I’m satisfied.
It’s hard to critique a first draft knowing it will completely change.
Actually, your feedback was once again helpful! And I know she hated the miniseries, I just never got around to reading the books. There’s so much interesting stuff in so many mediums.