From Belkush to Sedun- Chapter 1

Chapter 1- Humble Beginnings   This was his first time so far from the shore. He had been on and off of ships for two years now, since he was fourteen, but this was the first time that his ship crossed such an endless blue. His ancestors had been avid traders and had frequented these waterways often. Though that was centuries ago; He was Ethain, now, as were most of the people of his duchy.   How many years ago had it been that he was shown the horrors of war for the first time? Eight, probably, since that day. When he was only eight years old, Sezzlic Denk's world burned around him.   His kingdom was named Etha. It was a large and old state, with its king tracing his lineage back over a millennium. It was an exemplary state, influencing all of its neighbors with its language and culture. Even though the past centuries had seen it decline in power, it was still strong- if not fractured along ducal lines. It was the northernmost duchy, Denk, which Sezzlic and his parents, baron and baroness of Jahamen castle, called home.   As a child he knew not of the events that precipitated what would happen. For him it was just the day when the world around him fell apart. In 1070, a queen from Ethernia, a land across the sea, had landed in his home and pillaged it- exposing the residents to suffering and death. Sezzlic watched as the men of the villages left to fight the invaders, only to never come back. Eventually the queen was forced out by an Ethain army, but the damage had been done. Denk had been heavily damaged, as towns once full of people Sezzlic now saw with fallow fields. Seeing such destruction, his young self held a spite against the queen and her people- vowing to one day avenge his duchy and kingdom.   As the years passed, he grew up as an exemplar of bravery and nobility. Largely inspired by his father, Tefeg, and the distinguished knightly company that he surrounded himself with. It was from them that he learned the honor and courage that he would carry with him. His duties as he aged had mostly consisted of learning the ways of nobility and familiarizing himself with the panoply of war. When he reached adulthood he would, just as his father was now, be a vassal of the Ethain king. It would be in his duties to go to war on the king's command; to fight for king and country. Unfortunately, there was not much time before this duty would become a reality.   It was 1076 when the Ethernian queen returned. She brought with her allies of other kingdoms and together they once again invaded Etha. They were so successful that they forced the nobility of Denk to flee southwards as they advanced. Sezzlic traveled with them, continuing on to the capital when his company joined up with a southern army. He planned to offer his assistance to the king, directly, so that he may be granted a chance to avenge his kingdom.   His offer was not taken with much approval. However, after the kingdom suffered a disastrous defeat in the battle of Szhazhen, Sezzlic's proposal to bring word of negotiation to Isora was accepted. In addition to this, Sezzlic vowed to assassinate the barbarian queen. This last bit seemed to not be taken as serious by the court, but he was driven to show them a success. He made it to Denk by winter, reaching Holst, its capital and where Isora was wintering. He was permitted an audience with Isora. As he entered her presence he took note of her appearance. She fit the typical Ethernian mold of fair skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, as opposed to the Ethains' general dark hair and dark eyes. She was also quite tall, easily towering over himself and even her guards nearby. She did not look that old, perhaps not even in her forties yet, although he could sense from her an air of experience and forethought. On his person he had two things for the foreign queen- the first was a letter of negotiation from the Ethain capital, the second was a blade. He had it in his sleeve, pressed to his arm via the tightening of his sleeve's laces. He intended to make good on his vow to kill the queen.   Delivering the letter to her, Sezzlic waited as she read it. Her reaction was a short laugh, as she started to speak to her scribe what she wanted written as a response. Hearing the queen say that she wanted half of Etha nearly set the Ethain off, but it was hearing her style herself as the duchess of Denk that drove him to loose his blade. With one good thrust here, he could end this queen and her war on his kingdom, he thought. Even if he was ended by her guards, he was prepared to take this path. So reaching to his sleeve, he started to loosen the knot keeping his dagger in place. As Isora was still finishing her scriptory commands, he lunged forwards with the blade- but was stopped by her hand. He was shocked; Had she seen him adjusting his sleeve at some point? She had evidently expected such an event and had managed to stopped him. As soon as his plans unraveled in front of him he began to panic. He had thought that he was prepared for death, but seeing now that he might die after failing his mission he was having misgivings about his decision. Thinking quickly, he broke the queen's hold and jumped out of a nearby window, using the snow on the ground to cushion his fall. Recovering from his drop from the keep, he grabbed the steed that had ferried him this far north and rode south as fast as he could.   It seemed that his offer to assassinate the queen was never seen as promising, but his loyalty and eagerness was what had stuck with the king and his council. After he had traveled back to the capital he was shortly given the blessing of the king to join the navy in the Aroen Great Salt river in fighting Ethernian raiders there. His success and leadership skills had seen him rise up in the ranks, enjoying the privilege of serving directly the Admiral, Xogeq Nape. Xogeq was quite distant, and appeared a bit strange for an admiral at that, but Sezzlic could sense the discomfort on him when the capital ordered him to ferry an army into Ethernia to draw the queen's armies away, and the reluctance when he carried out said order. It was for such a reason that he now crossed that great blue. He had earned enough favor to command his own contingent of men in any engagements to come, so he was eager to prove his mettle and his loyalty to the crown.   Each day he was filled with more anticipation than the last; he may have failed to kill the queen, but surely this invasion would force her from Ethain lands, he thought. It took the fleet nearly a week of sailing before they reached their destination. Unloading the ships took all day, leaving them to rest and prepare to march out in the morning. Arriving in the west, they journeyed east for several days uninterrupted. The air was much colder here, even in the spring. As the moved they burned villages and stole food stores, trying to entice their enemies to fight. They were successful, as they were confronted by an army as they approached the capital. It was midday when the armies came to blows.   This wasn't his first battle, but he almost felt like it was. His heart raced anticipating grasping victory first in this battle and then in the war. He led his men on the left flank, with instructions to try and break through the enemies' formation. Acting dutifully, he led his men in a charge on the enemies, fighting bravely as they pushed the foes back. He and his men fought for hours in the mid afternoon sun, the clang of steel and kicked up dust purfluent, drowning their senses. Yet through the dust Sezzlic saw someone who caught his eye. It seemed to be an important personage of noble lineage judging by his standard draped over his armor. Seizing the opportunity, Sezzlic rushed out to him and, announcing himself and his identity, challenged him to a duel. The Ethernian man acknowledged him and announced himself in turn as Iglius Avelik, while drawing his blade and moving forward. The two met and clashed their blades in short spurts and thrusts, trying to get through the other's guard. Eventually the Ethain found an opening and acted upon it, slipping his blade past the Ethernian's defenses and striking his face. Not much longer after the man's body had hit the ground had the men around him started to shake. The Ethernians at once began to lose heart upon hearing of this man's death, allowing for the Ethains to push onward through the melee, routing many and killing those who still stood opposed.   Although Sezzlic and his flank had performed with success, they soon heard of how the rest of the army had been defeated by the Ethernians.   As the two forces drew apart from their stalemate, the Ethain general commanded a withdrawal- unwilling to risk further action, perhaps. They left the field without much difficulty, the Ethernians in no position to pursue them. It was on the way back to the coast with the remnants of the army that the Ethains realized, from word of Ethernian prisoners, that they had landed not in Sedun, the Queen's country, but Belkush, a kingdom across the bay that was aligned with Isora. Yet it was also found out that Isora had come to the capital near a week ago, and may still reside there. Upon hearing of this, Sezzlic grabbed a dozen men and rushed back to the east towards the Belkush capital. His departure was protested but he ignored the complaints; he was intent on finishing what he had started two years ago. He was still convinced that the death of the queen would stop the war, sparing his countrymen further torment. Hours had already passed since the battle had ended, and yet further hours were necessitated to reach the capital that they sought. The sky was now mostly a normal midnight's black, save for the vibrant stars that speckled it. At this time they came upon a great structure. It was not the capital, but it was where the army's tracks had ended at. It was a mighty castle, not as formidable as some of the great structures that he had seen in inner Etha, yet still impressive and indicative that the craftsmen of this kingdom may not be as primitive and savage as he had initially envisioned. Campfires to the side of the structure showed that the army was camped here, meaning that the group needed to act with caution. If Isora was still in this country then she would have remained with the king, he figured. Even still, with his goal in front of him he was getting nervous. Isora might not be here, and, even if she was, once he entered the castle escape was unlikely. This was very likely to be a suicide mission.   Despite the uneasiness that plagued him, he readied himself for the mission and thought about how to proceed. The opening to the castle was a portcullis, currently lowered and prohibiting entry into the castle. He did not have to ponder long on how to get through, as he spotted under the castle's lamplights an instance of some men, probably Ethernian soldiers, attempting to get through the gate. After some minutes of petitioning the guards atop the walls they are met with approval. Seeing the portcullis being lifted, Sezzlic urges his followers into action as he begins to charge to the gate to slip in while it is still open. He succeeds; the guards noticing him too late to react into lowering the portcullis. Now that they're in, though, they are in need of locating the domicile where the king and his potential guest are located. As they glance around the somewhat lit perimeter they are set upon by guards come down from the walls. Sezzlic and his followers split, them holding off the Ethernians while he locates the domicile. Sprinting between different parts of the castle, he comes upon a particularly large structure, well lit and imposing. He found the door and let himself in.   He came upon an open area, lit and luxuriously decorated. Casting his eyes around the room, his glance was caught by an aged man, long beard and grey hair, being consoled by attendants. "My name is Sezzlic Denk, son of Tefeg Denk and heir to Jahamen" he announced himself to the man, "Where is Isora?" The man seemed to shoot up at this. He stood up and spoke to Sezzlic, and although Sezzlic could not understand what he was saying, that he drew his sword and lifted it towards him led him to understand that he wished to fight. "Very well, then. Pray the gods treat you well after death." Sezzlic, too, drew his blade and readied to fight. The old man, seemingly in a rage, charged him, but it did little. After a minute or so Sezzlic had outmaneuvered his blade and dealt him a fatal blow. It had taken until the man's death for the guards to spring to life. Perhaps they had remained motionless out of respect for the duel, but they seemed shocked at the result and their reaction showed a mighty fury. They came at him with several spears. Sezzlic had difficulty getting past their tips and was continuously forced back. Not content to be backed into a corner for what may be his final moments, he burst forward with aggression and grabbed the foremost spear, using it to thwack the guard and run him through with his sword. His action seemed to pressure the other guards to back off a bit, giving Sezzlic a reprieve. Not wanting to lose his momentum, he kept advancing. As he reading to attack again, though, he felt a sharp pain in the rear of his head, and then he lost consciousness.   He awoke still with a pain in his head and no recollection of what had happened. Looking at his surroundings, he found that he was in some sort of prison. He had been stripped of his armor and weapon, left just in a linen outfit. He found that he was unable to free himself from the bars, and was in the cell for a few hours before he was greeted by visitors. Two Ethernian guards had come down into wherever this room was. They postured aggressively towards him and started talking. They had several pauses, as if waiting for him to respond, and then spoke louder and angrier as a reaction when he didn't. This went on for about an hour before they left. This continued for a little under a week, each day the men coming in and questioning him in a pointless manner over and over again. Besides the guards and the servants who brought him rations, the only other visitor that he got was a young woman whom he had seen when he first entered the domicile. She had long blonde hair and cerulean eyes and came down every once in a while, though only at strange hours when she likely thought him to be asleep. At the end of the week, however, she made her visit known when she came down. It was, judging by how recently the guards had left, nearing midnight. Sezzlic was lying down, preparing to sleep, when she knelt in front of him, catching his attention. Before he turned to ignore her she spoke to him-   "Hey, I've come with a proposition for you."   He was taken aback on account of her speaking to him in Ethain. "You speak Ethain?" he asked.   "I do. So you are Ethain, then." She replied.   "I am. Was that not known?"   "Your interrogators were resolute in thinking that you were a spy from a neighboring kingdom. They figured that you were a hired assassin sent to kill the king."   "The King? That old man that I killed was the king?" He asked, surprised.   "Yes, and I was his guest. Now that he is dead the kingdom seems likely to be feuded over by local noble families. I would like to leave before I am caught up in it. As such, I would like to recruit you to serve as my guard until I return to my country."   Sezzlic was a bit taken aback. It was a quite bit to take in at once. The woman before him was asking him to serve her, which he was loathe to do. He had come to Ethernia to kill the Queen, not to play bodyguard for a barbarian. Yet, he was unsure of what his current status would lead to.   "As it is, you will likely be executed by midday tomorrow. What I am offering to you now is a chance at survival. Come with me now and you will live."   There wasn't much to consider. The obvious choice was to accept the woman's proposal. Yet, perhaps because he did not like being forced into the choice, he hesitated for a minute.   Sensing his hesitation, she added "If you need further reason to accept, then you should learn that you were spared instant death by my suggestion. I had told the guards that you were worth more alive and questioned than you were dead."   The Ethain finally relented. "... Alright. I will serve as your guard. You can get me out of here, then?"   "Yes I can" she said, pulling out a ring of keys. She proceeded to find the right key and used it on the cell, unlocking it and letting the Ethain open the door. He immediately opened the door and walked out through it. He stretched, relishing his returned freedom.   "So where do we go from here?" he asked.   She stood up and started to ascend the staircase leading to the door. "I have prepared a carriage outside of the castle. It has been provisioned for our trip and contains your equipment." She opened the door and waited for him to follow. Following her footsteps, the Ethain found his way to the castle wall. She lead him to the stables, where there was indeed a carriage waiting. Attached to the carriage were two Mecojz, large antelope-ish creatures native to Ethernia. He had seen them used in combat as mounts by the Ethernians, so it stood to reason that they served as draft animals as well. Inspecting it he found it to be large enough for comfort and contained plenty of provisions, as well as his equipment.   Seeing his satisfaction, the girl asked "Are you ready to go?"   "Yes" he retorted, "But will they open the gate for us?"   "They will, once I talk to them, I assure you" she quipped. Not left with much else in the way of options, Sezzlic shrugged and accepted it.   "Do try to remain out of sight, though. Hiding in the back of the carriage would be a good idea. We don't need you attracting the guard's attention." Sezzlic didn't say anything, but he still got into the back of the carriage. They rode up to the portcullis, stopping some dozen feet ahead of it. The woman started talking in the local language to the guards, not saying anything that Sezzlic could understand. He thought it strange. He had heard much Ethernian back in Denk. There were many Ethernian merchants there and he had managed to pick up the meaning of some of what they said, and yet he understood nothing here. Every word was alien to him. Such thoughts were cut short, however, as the portcullis was opened and the carriage lurched forwards. He had not the slightest clue as to what the woman had said to the guards, but it didn't matter- all that mattered was that they were leaving.   He stayed hidden in the back of the carriage until they were clear aways from the castle. He sighed in relief as he saw the structure fade away into the background. He had managed to escape with his life, but now owed it to an Ethernian woman. Not to mention that he had failed to find Isora. He'd have been fine to die in such a faraway land if he had at least managed to take her with him before he went. With her death out of the picture, though, at least he could look forward to still returning to Etha. Yet before that, he would have to help escort this Ethernian to wherever it was that she needed to go. That couldn't take too long, he thought.

Hey, so I have this first chapter here for y'all to criticize for me. Now, I know that I said in my Plot summary that I didn't plan to unload all of that exposition immediately, but I feel like that's sort of what happened. I cut out a lot of it though to say at a later date. Still, though, I worry that it might be too much to take in. Additionally, I feel like I did too much History and not enough Story. I get the broad narratives of history, but putting that into personal story form seems like it came out weak. I believe that the prose gets better as it goes, as I actually started to add dialogue and not rely on pure narration. Yet, I hear that the beginning of a story is the most important part and is supposed to set the theme for the rest of the story. I'm not so sure that that is what I did.   So, if you guys do not mind, giving feedback on these subjects and whatever else comes to mind would be very much so appreciated.


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30 Nov, 2018 19:50

My first reaction is "Ugh, pronoun game! Who is 'he'?" That's never a good sign. I know that you divulge his name later in the text, but for the first few sentences, me as a reader are left bewildered, which is not a good start. I would start straight up with his name and then go on.   I definitely like that whenever you introduce a new name, you have a short explanation. Such as with the baroness of Jahamen, you immediately explain that the Jahamen is a castle and where it is.   Yet you leave Ethain completely unexplained. Is it a name? Is it a race? An ethnicity? What is it? The reader is left wondering.   You tend to over-use "then" in sentence, such as "His father, Tefeg Denk, had **then** told the young boy about the ..." I feel that in many cases, the "then" could be dropped, allowing better sentence flow.   "It wasn't expected that Isora would return, considering that she was threatened with execution by the capital if she was caught." Why would she care what the country she invades think of her? Is that not expected? Or is this "capital" a greater authority than both kingdoms?   And you are right, there is *a lot* of exposition here, with a lot of names and places that we have no reference of. It makes it for a rather heavy and trudging read. Is all this history necessary this early on? It doesn't quite leave me wanting for more, as it reads more like a historical reference document than a novel.   For instance, it's clear that Sezzlic is our protagonist, but we don't know much about him. He hates the northerners, sure. But what is his personality, what is his job and title? You say "his duchy", does that mean that he is a duke? Is Ethernia another duchy or a kingdom (I assume the latter, since the ruler is a queen).   There is a bit too much information to take on and far too many unknowns for a reader to feel engaged. You are mostly left wondering throughout the whole thing. I would personally have preferred it beginning with a more personal episode of our protagonist, establishing who he is, why he is the way he is and what his personality is like, rather than a historical accounting of his deeds and the state of the duchy.   I'm not sure this comment helps much. It's clear you have worked a lot on this and there's way more behind the scenes, but I personally feel that this is a far too "heavy" approach to presenting it. This could well be the third or fourth chapter, not the introduction.   Good luck!

Author of prize-winning RPG settings Dark Shadows and Cinders of the Cataclysm. Designer of the narratively focused Celenia D10 RPG System.
30 Nov, 2018 20:18

Thank you very much for taking to time to both read my chapter and deposit such an attentive commentary on it.   So for the introduction of Etha, I wasn't quite sure where to go for that. I had left it a bit vague, maybe to be revealed more of later throughout the story, as the kingdom does not directly impact most of the story. But do you think that I should, instead, try to shed some more light on what it is? Any suggestions on how to do so?   I'll look to my sentence structuring and psychological feasibility, as well.   So then I'm thinking of scrapping the majority of the first half of the story/introduction and maybe start it out when he's younger? Show how the past events had effected his development in more clarity? This might allow me to better familiarize the reader with the "Pronouns" such as Etha. WHat do you think of that?   Thank you, again, for your reply. It really does mean a lot to have such thoughtful and developed feedback for this.

30 Nov, 2018 20:35

If you're not sure how to explain something, don't mention it until it matters (and be sure how to have it worked out by then. If you don't know, there's not a snowball's chance in hell that a reader will know).   I would say scrap most of the exposition and focus on establishing Sezzlic as the protagonist. Who is he? Where does it he come from? How does he behave? How does he think? What are his motivations? Why are his motivations?   You can touch on things around him but keep the focus planted on Sezzlic. He's the protagonist we will be following. We have to know who he is and where he is going, and why. We need to root for him.

Author of prize-winning RPG settings Dark Shadows and Cinders of the Cataclysm. Designer of the narratively focused Celenia D10 RPG System.
1 Dec, 2018 08:00

Alright, I've started on that. I'm setting the starting point at a younger point in the protagonist's life, allowing for me to explore him some more. Thank you again for responding to me, and I really hope that you'd be willing to take another look at it later after I edit it. <3

30 Nov, 2018 22:37

I must say that I confused at many points throughout the story. Much happens in the span of a few paragraphs and I had no general idea of how many days/hours the chapter spans over. It would be great if you could slow it down a little bit, though not too much as that could deter the reader. It would be great if you could "zoom in" on the main character a bit more. You're writing so you have the possibility of getting some of his feelings out without it feeling forced. As it is now it feels a bit as if I'm reading a draft for a play with a lot of flashbacks. I liked the general universe, but sometimes it felt more as if you were telling what he was experiencing and not showing it. But great work nonetheless!

1 Dec, 2018 07:50

A;right, thank you very much for your feedback. I'm currently working on redoing the introduction and perhaps shift much of the chapter into the next one so that I can focus more on the Protagonist. I hope that you'll be willing to look over it again when I finish. And thank you again.

1 Dec, 2018 09:29

Sure! just comment here on the comment thread so I'll know when :D

1 Jan, 2019 19:38

Hey, if you were interested in checking it out again then I have done some rewriting. It's been awhile since I've edited it, so I don't remember exactly how much has been changed- but it was only the beginning parts of the article.   I'm really not sure if I like it. I really can't put aside all of this exposition if I want people to understand what's happening, but it also seems untactful to just shunt it all here right at the beginning. It's like a flashback that takes up most of the first chapter. Do you think that it might be better to just establish a Prologue instead, which would hopefully give off most of the exposition that I need?

Loremaster Oddman
Nugget of Odium
1 Dec, 2018 03:27

As others have stated, the text is a bit hard to follow because of the non-linearity of it. The flashbacks mixed with the historical references to things unbeknownst to the reader makes it hard to comprehend what the story is about. While I am still wondering who the protagonist is, you have started introducing other characters and past events, often times alluding to things going on behind the scenes.   That said, i think you have a very eloquent and well developed vocabulary, and certain sentences where really evocative. I would suggest focusing more on the protagonist at first, letting the reader get to know him and start actually caring, before you go too deep into his background. It is important to remember that for a characters background to have an impact on the reader, the reader must first be invested in the character.   There is a concept known as "in medias res" which means starting the story as close to the central plot as possible, and i think that is something that could really benefit this particular piece. It does not necessarily mean that you have to start with an action sequence but in this case i think it would be a good way to get the reader invested. For instance, the paragraph where Sezzlic announces himself to the man who draws his sword could be a good starting point. Starting with an engaging sequence like a fight is often a good way to build tension and create investment in a character, as well as a nice opportunity to showcase some key characteristics of the character.   All in all i think you have an interesting story here, that could, with some work become quite nice. I am especially impressed with your choice of words and your vocabulary.   Cheers!

1 Dec, 2018 07:58

Thank you for your dedicated response, it really means a lot to me. I'm currently redoing the introduction to be more focused on the Protagonist and spread out the exposition in a more manageable way. I might also try to start with an "in media res" sequence, but I feel that given the story and exposition needed that it might not suit it best.   Thank you very much for the response, again. I really do appreciate it a lot. I hope that you may be interested in rereading it after I have edited it.