And we’re back with a cup of coffee (at least I have one, how about you?) and the final piece of the prologue. See part 1 if you’re here for the first time and wish to be brought up to speed. Meanwhile, I could use some chocolate. I hope you brought some to share.
Instead of entering the city at the western gate, Snapdragon again waved the men to move forward—go, go, go—over the bridge spanning the roaring river. He couldn’t explain why, but they needed to keep going.
The thumb shaped stone marker east of the Howard Bog soon loomed ahead at the right.
Even without the marker, the acidic stench of the bog would have told him where he was. Seemed rather brimstonier than he remembered.
Brimstone. Could there be a dragon nearby? His hands clenched on the reins.
The horses snorted in fright, manes tossing nervously.
A harsh cry fleeting and fierce came in the direction of the bog. It sounded human. This was followed by a roar decidely beast-like.
Snapdragon snapped his head right, catching the eye of a guard—what was his name again? Ah, Jos the weaver’s son. Good lad—and nodded.
Jos held up a fist and brought it down, keeping his elbow bent.
Snapdragon didn’t have to look back to know that the signal to halt would be repeated by every man at the left of each line until all heeded. Within minutes, horses were brought to a halt in an economy of movement. But some of the horses still twitched and snorted.
“Over there, Majesty!” said the guard whose horse always crowded his on the left.
Snapdragon’s eyes narrowed. As if he was a half wit who couldn’t tell the direction of a sound. He nodded to Jos. “Take the men. See to it.”
But while his men thundered ahead, always eager for action, Felix and Vander, his squire, waited to keep pace with him, as Snapdragon knew they would.
He fought to keep Rex to a canter as they entered the marsh and picked up an escort of four guards who had ridden back.
The steadily lightening gloom rolled back on the canvas of mile after mile of open marshland: gray rills with the connective tissue of green grasses and sedges. Spiny shafts of arrow arum dotted the ground. At a distance were spiky, leafless trees like dark, groping hands.
He hated the place, hated how his heart felt tested every time he rode near it, but seldom far in it. Rumor had it the marsh was haunted. A chill wind suddenly threaded under his surcoat as if to give credence to Rumor.
He followed a flickering light ahead and caught up with the rest of his guard half a mile west. Flames scorched the ground, but looked on the verge of petering out at the closest rill. The stench of smoke assailed him. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled as he noted the stance of the men: half in a semicircle around the other half.
The outer ring parted at his arrival. He noted the reproachful looks of the guards at the perimeter. He expected those—his due for ordering them to ride ahead of him and for taking his time about catching up. But what he hadn’t expected was the charred patch of ground they seemed to be guarding. Even in such a repellent place the charred patch seemed an abomination.
As he dismounted, Rex tossed his mane as if giving him permission to dismount. He slid off with a pained grunt and tossed the reins to Vander before wrenching his sword from the saddle scabbard.
The scorched area was tear shaped like the petal of a flower with—
Snapdragon peered closely, then jerked back.
—a blackened corpse among the now dying flames. He’d seen burned corpses before—the residue of raiders’ fires. But this fire was not ordinary. The area of concentration looked too calculated.
“Dragon. Anyone see it?” he asked no one in particular, expecting an answer from any one of them.
But none spoke. Instead, one of the men held a small bundle in his arms. His swarthy face was solemn as he offered the bundle to the king like a prayer. He was the one usually in charge of the pack ponies. Snapdragon always forgot his name.
His irritation increased. “What’s that besides a cloak of some kind?” Although it appeared whole, without even a trace of a burned patch, it reeked of brimstone and smoke.
“Something the dragon didn’t incinerate.” The guard sounded awed. “A child.”
Now that you’ve reached the end, I’ll tell you why I wrote this prologue before I tell you why I cut it. Snapdragon became the surrogate father of my main character, the child who survived a dragon’s flame. But after drafting the novel, I decided to rewrite her origin story and cut Snapdragon’s advent into her life. This of course means a complete rewrite of the novel. I’m still working on that.
Sometimes you make hard decisions for the good of a story. Cutting characters I like (Snapdragon and his men) is one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. What difficult decisions have you made recently in the hope of improving your story, poem, essay—whatever you’re writing?
Scissors cutting film photo from dreamstime.com; dragon from dragonwallpapers10.net.