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Jul 13, 2010

Fantasy WIP Excerpt-Chapter One

I've rewritten the first chapter of the fantasy WIP I mentioned. Here's the new opening. I'm not sure about the first line.

Chapter One
The Pearl Diver

Jivad had been watching the boys all morning, which was why he saw what happened. When he and the other Demaitrian slaves arrived, around mid-morning, at the wharf, the boys were already on the raft further out in the bay. The boys ranged in age from six to fourteen, all of them with skin like resined teak, all slender, graceful and full of laughter. Each had a stubby pigtail sticking straight up on his head, and each wore a black-and-white checked dhoti. They were pearl divers. By turns they plunged into the water, though the younger boys spent more time roughhousing on the raft than diving. Two little ones waved their arms and kicked their feet, mock gladiators from the arena. Their shrieks of laughter reached the slaves on the wharf, faintly, mingled with the cries of the gulls.

The slaves unloaded a Thedrosian galleon tied at one of the piers, each slave shackled to a partner. Jivad’s companion-in-chains today was Makel. Grotesque gargoyles engraved on the prow scowled down at them while they worked. As for the Thedrosian sailors, they couldn’t wait to disembark and get drunk. They left behind a single sentinel on the galleon. He kept to his cabin most of the morning.

The overseer, a Thedrosian, carried a whip and a sword on his belt, but at the moment he was looking away from the slaves, ogling the fishwife who ran the mackerel stand across the road. The whole row of shamble shacks across from the docks sold food – strings of roast fish, guavas and cantaloupes, ale spiked with coconut milk, chocolate soup served in gold filigree cups no bigger than a thumb. Jivad drank the smells, his only breakfast.

The slaves hummed Demaitrian songs or gossiped. Speculation centered on which girls would bed easy, and who among the slaves played sneak-tongue for the Thedrosians. Tiny crabs crawled over the barnacles that mottled the underpinnings of the pier. Two slaves caught one to eat raw.

The slaves sweated as the sun climbed. The pearl divers out on the raft broke off their dives to share a meal -- fish-mixed rice and dumplings, from the look of it, and they ate it unworried, as if they had time and servings to spare. Two boys who finished early began to swim, apparently racing.

One of the littler boys jumped in after them. The older two didn’t notice him, or were too absorbed in their race to concern themselves. Arm over arm, they ploughed the water, long legs splashing behind them, until first one, and the other right behind him, slapped the side of the galleon. The Thedrosian sentinel leaned out of a porthole to shout at them, but they just laughed, flipped underwater and swam back toward their raft.

He was a good swimmer too, the little one, but by the time he neared the galleon, his stroke faltered. The boy’s legs stopped splashing behind him. He treaded water for a moment, apparently trying to turn back toward the raft, but the waves frustrated his efforts. An expression came over the boy’s face Jivad had seen before in slaves faint from exhaustion: pinched cheeks and drawn brows above a panting mouth.

Casually, Jivad checked the wharf. The overseer had crossed the street to flirt with the fishwife.

With each swell, the boy bobbed close to the posts of the pier, before the undercurrent tugged him back. The boy’s head tilted back. His eyes popped, like a frog’s, glassy and unfocused. Though he gasped whenever his lips emerged from the water, he did not cry out. He did not splash or kick. The motion of his hands under the waves resembled someone trying to climb a ladder with no success.

“He’s drowning,” Jivad told Makel.


scott g.f.bailey said...

This is fine writing. I think I agree that the first sentence isn't quite right. Maybe do something with the start and end of the first paragraph, like:

Around mid-morning Jivad and the other Demaitrian slaves arrived at the wharf. The boys were already on the raft out in the bay...[paragraph continues]...mingled with the cries of the gulls. Jivad watched the boys as he worked.

Or something. I like the solidity of the images here. I like the boys swimming. I like the shacks and foods and the tiny crabs. Thanks for putting this on the interwebs!

Davin Malasarn said...

Tara Maya, I think this is the first time I've gotten to read your work! I really like and admire it. I like the grand scale, and the strange reaction of the boy at the end is very moving.

Tara Maya said...

Thank you both very much. It means a lot coming from writers whose work is so damn good.