I almost skipped the extra part of Chapter Nine. I've been starting a re-read of The Stone that Sings and itching to do some editing. So I'll start with my first thoughts on TSTS, then move on to the exercise.
It's been about a month since I did a full read through, and I was surprised at how quick it read. It seemed to take so long to write, but I realized that its pretty skeletal compared to other novels, and almost reads as a novella.So there's definitely room for growth and detail, and also some opportunities to get into Juliette's head -- bring her reactions to the forefront a bit more, and detail more about how the monastery functions day to day as a school as well as a monastery.
There's also opportunities to really spread the plot out some. The idea that the Sas-a-Shar Monastery is a Syrrannite enclave came later, though it explains the lack of technology even more, and also the idea they operate as Vulcan's conscience, which makes their internal struggle with Juliette all the more important, but also highlights their struggle with Vulcan Intelligence.
So clearly, a lot of work, that I think will take the story to the next level. It reads well as is, if a little sparse, and with the right amount of characterization and world building, could be really enticing.
So, with that task in front of me, why dig into this exercise? I think because I'm working toward completing Steering the Craft even when the Scribophiles gave up. At some point, I'd like to dig into some of the reasons around this, but it's difficult to do so without offending. Everyone's got their own course, I suppose especially when karma is on the line. But I think it's also more than just a desire to cross and dot the appropriate letters. In a way, the exercise reflects very much what I do with Star Trek, which is to use it as a framework to make my own universe.
Exercise Nine: Extra
Hoofbeats echoed against the stones of Queen Electra’s cell. She considered that as prison cells went, it was spacious and comfortable -- even opulent. The bed rose from the floor a mountain of quilts and coverlets topped with a cloud of cinnamon pillows. The low-slung chaise had been her mother’s -- kept in her own nursery until she had it moved to her chambers in Castle Totenford. Had Jussa moved it here -- wherever ‘here’ was -- to remind her of his years as Queen’s Protector or to keep the ruse that the Queen was on holiday? Electra sighed, wondering if even Jussa knew anymore.
There were amusements, even if there was no one to share them with. Of course, there was embroidery, if she wanted, though as of late the needles were delivered only upon request and counted each night upon their return. There were games, with soft, rounded pieces. And books. The oak shelves held volumes that appeared dusty and innocuous, but each was a careful message from Jussa: Voi’ers treatise of the rule of Kings, Molark’s ponderous nineteen-volumes on the wars with Ennendi, Plutot’s equally dry accounting of the centuries of Harath -- the glory of its rise and the dire warnings of its falls told with equal measures of pedantry and wordiness -- ended with a sullen abruptness at the disappearance of King Pell, as if for Plutot, all history of Harath had stopped and held its breath in anticipation of his return, though few mentioned Pell anymore.
Busy tight-lipped servants scuttled in and quickly tended the fire. They had once been all smiles and genuflection, but now they stayed little and attended far less. Honald’s fate had set them on edge. Had she been careless with him? Or he with her?
Honald had been a thin man from Edwick on the Eastern border -- majordomo to the Castellan of Black Rock until the castellan, lost to an Ennendi glamor, had thrown himself off the high tower. He hand then found himself in Jussa’ service, and part of the entourage that served the ‘visiting Queen.’ He had always been polite, even when in a quiet moment serving tea he had begged, no, pleaded with her to help find his sister Anne, who had he had heard left with the second wave of refugees stirred up when the Ennendi along the border started beating the drums of war again. Could she help him find her?
Of course, she had said, she would speak to Jussa about it immediately and pray every evening to the Nine Goddesses for Anne’s safe return. In truth, she did neither, seeing each about as useless as the other in finding the servant’s sister. Jussa was only interested in hearing her support for Duncan and cared little for the tribulations of his subjects, and each of the Nine Goddesses maintained their silence even as their priests droned through their ivory masks. Every morning, Honald delivered her breakfast, proud he could still procure eggs in these difficult times, while the maids prodded the fire to life. As she nibbled on egg-soaked bread, he would ask if she had perhaps, maybe, heard something of Anna. Each day, Queen Electra provided evasive encouragements and surreptitiously primed Honald for information. He seemed both flattered and honored at her interest in his family on the eastern border, sadly overrun by the Ennendi, and in the sporadic messages he received from his cousins further west, of meagre harvests, deprivation, and disputes on the borders -- not with Ennendi, but within the remnants of the Royal Family and their less-than-gentle jockeying for the throne. Gossip poured from Honald like water.
Then the morning arrived when Honald did not. Instead, it was Jussa, his face flushed his cloak muddy.
“I have dismissed Honald,” Jussa said as he tugged off his gloves, and said nothing more until the servants had filed out. The look on their faces said Honald’s dismissal had been, at the very least, unpleasant. Jussa always stood on the opposite side of the room from her. She noticed the closer she went to him, the more agitated he became. She had no desire to drive him away, so she kept her distance.
“Duncan has lost Elwick and the Great Steppe,” Electra said, sipping her tea, seeing no sense in being coy about what Honald had shared. “I’m not sure even my support would keep Bleys and Clifford from bringing him to heel.”
“But they will not. They refuse to work together, and whoever brings Duncan down will be too weak to fend off the other.”
“So a stalemate then? Until the winter comes and everyone starves?”
“Duncan has provisions,” he said, but his eyes averted.
“He’ll fare better than Bleys or Clifford.”
“That has not served Duncan these last ten winters. This one is no different.”
“With your support, Duncan’s victory is assured.”
“My answer is the same since you first asked.”
Jussa threw his gloves to the chaise. “Why? Why do you let these wars go on? After twenty years, you cannot be still pining for Pell’s return.”
“There’s a better chance of his return than Duncan bringing both Bleys and Clifford down.”
“Is that what you saw at the palace?”
Electra sighed. “I saw nothing at the palace.”
“The servants say otherwise. They say you were visited by a pillar of fire.”
“The servants say the ghost of Pell wanders the palace and that a baby born of the full moon is possessed by the Ennendi.”
“Sir Bosric was there. He saw it as well.”
Electra frowned and studied the floor. She wouldn’t sully Sir Bosric’s name with lies. Not after all he had done for the royal family. Not after being cut down by assassins. Had they been Jussa’s?
“No one was sure of what they saw.”
“They said it spoke. Some even say it hailed you Queen Mother of Harath.”
“Are you trying to trap me into treason? The last Queen Mother was executed by my Great Grandfather, King Zerus.” She dismissed Jussa’s response with a wave. “And who is to say it was not an Ennendi trick, which may not have succeeded in adding my ambitions to the throne of Harath, but did convince you to ‘protect me.’ How do you, Royal Protector, know you are not playing right into the Ennendi’s hands?”
Jussa scowled. “I’m not a fool. If it was so, you would have told me what it said long ago. Was it King Pell? Had they turned him to sorcery?”
“Who is taking who for a fool?” Electra asked. Jussa would love for Pell to be dabbling with sorcerers, against the will of the Nine Goddesses. Heresy would destroy the legend that had grown since the battle of Hasval Field, when he and his royal guard had disappeared in a flash of light.
Jussa waited for her to elaborate. She gave him silence and a return to her needlework. A contest of wills, a battle he could not be the victor. She had nothing time, while he had what was left of a kingdom to run. She tossed the embroidery aside as he slammed the door behind him. The servants would return soon to collect the needles anyway.
Perhaps, she thought to herself. Perhaps it was time for a Queen to rule Harath once more.