Update: Here, have the first chapter of MARAG

I don’t have much to say today, except that doing proofreading corrections is amazingly tedious. Whatever you just thought of, no, more tedious than that. Everyone (including me!) is catching unique obvious typos and also making good catches about phrasing now and then. One more round of proofreading corrections coming up, this time a lot less tedious in one way (because I won’t be personally tweaking a couple hundred sentences) but more tedious in other ways (because I’m going to create the paperback and hardcover editions now and therefore I will have to make identical corrections to three separate files, ugh).

Everything’s on track, and I’m happy to say that so far early readers love the first chapter, which is short and basically a prologue, though it’s not called that. My mother called me up especially to say, “Oh, and also, I LOVE the first chapter.” Thank you, yay, me too! Here it is, and since the real story starts with Chapter Two, there’s no reason to avoid reading this even if you generally dislike reading a little snippet before the actual release. Which should happen on schedule in just barely more than two weeks! Amazing how fast the days pass.

***

Sinowa sat on the lip of stone that formed the entrance of the tomb, cross-legged, back straight, hands resting on his knees, gazing out at the sweep of the high steppe and the narrow lake, the scattering of wagons and tents along the shore. To one side, the broad waterfalls poured down from the heights, the roar of the rushing water muted by distance. To the other, the path ran steeply upward, turning and turning again as it led toward the higher tombs. The breeze that came against Sinowa’s cheek carried a suggestion of the snow that lingered on the peaks above. During the long winter, that breeze would seem almost warm, bringing with it a hint of the gentle starlit lands that lay beyond the mountains. Now, in the midst of the brief summer, the chill it carried came welcome.

Below, the wide valley between the mountains offered grazing for a small herd of ponies, and fine land on which to race. A handful of older boys were racing now, two or three at a time, taking it in turns to throw spears through bone rings at a gallop, shoot at targets woven of grass, lean down to snatch up decorated arrows thrust into the earth, slide down from the saddle to touch a foot to the earth and spring back up again. These boys were preparing for the recent challenge issued by the older girls, but also, with much more intensity, for the many contests that would take place during the still-distant Convocation. This would be hosted by two tribes very far to the east. The boys and young men who decided to go to this Convocation would compete and practice all during the long journey to those lands. So would the girls who wanted to compete in those races.

The girls almost always won every straightforward race that depended on sheer speed, and most of the challenges that depended on agility or on the swift, keen responsiveness of their ponies. They were lighter than the boys, and often more patient in training their ponies, and as they did not practice as much with bows or at all with spears, they put their attention to fewer contests. A boy would brag for a year if he won certain challenges against the girls. But many boys put their attention to throwing spears and shooting arrows, competing mostly against each other and much less against the girls. Certainly these were useful skills for warriors.

Some boys, not many, tried hard to win everything, all the challenges, all the races.

Sinowa said softly, “You see our eldest son, my wife. There he is. You see how skilled he has become. In the spring, Garoyo will be a young man. When he comes to the challenges of the Convocation, he may win the spear-throwing race and the shooting race. Perhaps a handful of other challenges. He will not win the straight race nor the weave pole race. That is as well, as conceit is bad for a young man. But he will do well. He is a son any mother would be proud of.”

Then he was silent again, gazing out and down.

Beside him, on the lip of stone, his wife’s skull rested, polished clean by ravens and time. Her skull had stood in this tomb for three winters now. Difficult to believe she had departed the land of the living so long ago.

“All our sons are boys to please the heart of a mother,” Sinowa said, after a little time had passed. “No doubt you have seen this, my wife. Gayata could become a fine warrior, but I think his gentle heart will turn him aside from that path. Soon, I will suggest he might wish to put his attention to caring for the herds. The beasts will prosper under his care. Tokavo will likely put his attention more toward a warrior’s skills, though certainly a boy of nine winters may still go one way or another way, choose one path or another path. But even though he has only six winters now, anyone can see Tyoro will become a warrior, perhaps an extraordinary warrior. The youngest of our sons is fearless, and already he longs for glory and renown.” He fell silent again. The distant shouts of the boys below came faintly even to this height.

Any taiGara here had probably come forward. The dead whose skulls rested in this tomb would come here as they pleased, bending their attention toward the earth, watching over their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren—watching over the living heart of the tribe. Some would have turned away from the land of the living, leaving this tomb, setting their attention elsewhere, going to whatever place waited for the long dead after they drew away from the land of the living. But he had no doubt at all that Tasig sat here, beside him. Probably just beyond her skull, separated from him by that small distance, and by the immense distance that separated the dead from the living.

After some time, Sinowa went on. “No doubt you have seen that our daughter possesses the strong spirit of her mother, though she is quieter than you were, my wife. She will not compete in the contests this summer. She declares that, as she has eleven winters now, she has put away childish things. She is pleased to consider that she will soon be a woman.” He let himself smile. “If you fear that declaration will last longer than this summer, I think you may put that concern aside. I have given our daughter a filly to train. Perhaps you have seen her. The cloud-colored filly with the deep chest and the good shoulders. That filly is fast and agile, and she has a fierce heart that does not like to lose any race. Tasig will enjoy training that filly. Not this year, but perhaps next year, when the Convocation comes, she will wish to show the excellence of the filly. She will forget her dignity and remember again that girls and young women need not show at every moment the calm manner that befits an older woman.”

A long silence. Sinowa let this draw out. He could almost feel his wife’s tolerant glance. She would be aware that he had something important to say. She would understand that he did not want to say it. Even if she still dwelled within the land of the living, she would be waiting for him to speak. She had learned patience. They had both learned that, eventually.

He said, “Perhaps you are aware, my wife, that Bakara will soon step down as lord of the inGara. Perhaps you have seen how Bakara has come to his age. He will step down at some time during the coming year. He has not said so, but everyone knows this will happen. Everyone is thinking of the men who might set themselves forward, of whom among these men they might support. The tribe is divided. Many people think perhaps Sukano might be a good choice. Many other people think perhaps Matyo would be better. Those are the names that come to the mind and the tongue when people ask one another which man might be a good lord for our people.”

Sinowa paused. If she sat beside him in the land of the living, Tasig would merely nod. If he asked her opinion, she would say, That is a matter for men to decide, my husband. I have no opinion regarding that matter. But then she would say something else. Women always had ways to make their opinions known when such an important decision must be made. Perhaps she would say that Sukano’s wife had good judgment and a good temper. That was true, and it would not be wrong for a woman to say as much. Certainly the wife of the lord of a tribe should be a woman everyone respected, to whom everyone would listen.

He said, “Sukano’s wife has good judgment and a good temper. But she is not as forceful as one might wish for the wife of the lord. Sukano also has good judgment and a good temper, but he is not remotely as forceful as one might wish. He is not strict enough, especially not with the young men. When his sons fail in some important way, when any young man fails in some important way, he says it does not matter and they will learn to do better. Some do. Their fathers or their elder brothers correct them, or some other older man corrects them, or they hold themselves to stricter account than Sukano demands because they are too proud to do otherwise. But Sukano’s sons and too many of those close to that family think that carelessness will do, thoughtlessness will do. When the lord of a tribe does not demand excellence of his people, then his people will come to believe that he has decided they cannot excel. When older men show that carelessness and thoughtlessness are acceptable, then young men will decide it is not important to do better. That is what Sukano has taught his sons. If he becomes lord of the inGara, that is what he would teach our young men.”

Sinowa could imagine the exact little rise of Tasig’s eyebrows. The awareness of her expression made him smile. “It is true that some men would not follow that kind of example,” he admitted. “But some will. Some are too many. If Sukano becomes lord, we will lose standing. We will deserve to. We would have chosen as our lord a man who cares little for pride or excellence, a man who considers that a careless manner is good enough.” Sinowa paused again to let that thought stand in the air. It was a harsh judgment. Too harsh? He could not persuade himself that this might be so.

After a little time, he said, “Perhaps you are thinking that Matyo would be a worse lord than Sukano. You would not say so, my wife, but perhaps that thought is in your mind. If this thought has come to you, yes, I think you are right. Matyo is forceful and he desires excellence, but he is too harsh, and his judgment with young men is not good. He has all but ruined his third-oldest son. Perhaps you may not be aware of this problem. When you knew him, three winters past, the young man was a boy. Perhaps you remember this boy, Mataya. Three years ago, he was a fine boy, skilled in many of the ways that befit a warrior, though not quick to think of different strategies when faced with a sudden and unexpected problem. Now that boy you recall has become a young man of seventeen winters.” He paused, imagining the way Tasig would nod. She would remember Mataya and she would understand the kind of young man he would have become.

He went on, keeping most of the anger from his voice. “This past spring, Matyo demanded that his son drive a knife into the earth beside the tent of the warleader of the inTarika and then steal his favorite pony, then return and present this pony to his father. This would have been a difficult feat for any young man. When his son failed, Matyo demanded that he try again, and then a third time. The fourth time, Mataya refused to try. Matyo considers that his son is at fault, that the failure shows this young man lacks courage. The young man believes this is so. It is not so. Mataya is not the kind of young man who should be told to design clever stratagems that will accomplish complicated designs. He would do well enough if permitted to follow a plan some other man designed. He is brave enough, and resolute, and determined. Or he was. He may recover his pride if he is handled carefully. But Matyo will not handle him with that kind of care because he does not understand where the fault lies for this problem. He will not accept that the fault is his, that he demanded that his son take on tasks that were beyond him.”

The fury Sinowa had felt witnessing this problem, unable to intervene, came back to him now. Matyo was too much older for Sinowa to correct him. Sinowa could fight him. He had considered that. He would probably win that fight. But for a younger man to set himself between an older man and his son caused every kind of bad feeling, especially when other people did not understand the problem or thought it was some other kind of problem. Not enough people saw the problem as Sinowa saw it. This did not make him doubt his own opinion. It made him angry at the problem that was so unnecessarily crushing the young man’s pride.

He said, “The problem is worse than it should be because Matyo is so forceful that people think what he says must be true. Not everyone makes this mistake, but too many, especially his older male relatives who might most easily correct him. When our warleader attempted to correct him, Matyo would not hear him and Heyoro could not make him listen. That makes people think Matyo should be warleader instead of Heyoro. It makes some people think Matyo should be lord. Though Matyo makes decisions quickly, though he is intelligent and skilled, a man who can make this kind of mistake, a man who refuses to listen when someone justly corrects his behavior, such a man cannot be a good lord for the inGara.”

Another long pause.

Finally, Sinowa said, his voice low but steady, “I could do better.”

Of course you could, Tasig said, in memory, in his mind. He could almost hear her, almost imagine she had spoken those words. He could almost hear her tone, teasing, but serious as well. Mocking his ambition, but gently because she agreed with his words, agreed that he had spoken the truth. He could do better.

He said, “I am not old enough to put myself forward. No one thinks a man who has only thirty winters and eight should be lord of the tribe. But certain things could make my age less important. If I married again, people would consider my wife. They might say, This is a woman with good judgment. Her opinions are always careful. Her advice is always wise. A man with such a wife would be a good lord for our people. That would make people think that perhaps my number of winters is not important. It would be best if my wife were someone important, someone from an important tribe, someone with great precedence of her own.”

He was silent for a little time again. In his mind, Tasig said, more gently than she had usually spoken in her life, Yes, of course that would be best. I told you that you should marry again. I did tell you this, my husband. A man whose wife departs the land of the living while he is young should marry again. Especially a man who should take a high place among his people. You should have married again before this. You should look now for a second wife among the inKarano or the inKayasa.

At last, he said, “Your advice to me was always good, my wife. I have not wished to marry a different woman, but you were right to tell me I should do so. Among the inKarano, there is one unmarried singer who is a woman rather than a child. I am speaking of Marag inKarano, daughter of the elder Marag inKarano. The young woman has more than twenty winters now. Twenty and four. Yet she is not married. She is a fine singer, already respected by everyone. The gods listen to her closely. Uncountable men have surely put themselves into her way. But for all the years since she became a woman, she has turned every man aside. Everyone among our people, everyone among all the tribes, will look twice and three times at any man who marries this young woman. If Marag inKarano permits me to declare that she is my wife, if she says before the fire and before the gods that I am her husband, if she agrees to come into the inGara, everyone would think of me in a different way. No one would smile when I put myself forward.” He drew a slow breath, let it out in an equally slow sigh.

Finally, he said, “My wife, I intend to marry this inKarano singer. This year, the Convocation will be held far to the east. That will be a long way to travel. Those few of our people who decide to go there will have to begin that journey soon. We will have to leave our lands almost before the first snows begin to fall. I do not desire to travel so far or be absent from our lands so long. Nevertheless, I will attend that Convocation.”

In his mind, Tasig said, Yes, of course you will. But she also looked down from the tomb in concern, gazing toward the inGara camp below. Our youngest son may be difficult for another man to handle properly.

Sinowa said, “Our oldest son will accompany me, which will please him very much, of course. Our daughter and our second-oldest son will remain with my sister, as they have since your departure from the land of the living. I know you have seen that our daughter is happy among her girl-cousins, and we need have no concern for Gayata, as my sister’s husband knows how to handle a boy with that kind of gentle nature. I will arrange for our younger sons to go to the tent of my cousin, our warleader’s wife. Tokavo would do well anywhere, but our warleader will know how to handle a boy as challenging as Tyoro, so I think this will be better.”

He could almost see Tasig nod; he knew just how she would settle back, understanding that the children would do well. He said, “I know you will watch over all our children here in our lands, my wife. That thought will not make it easier for me to leave for so long. Children grow so quickly; a long absence always strikes a father’s heart hard. Nevertheless, I will go to that Convocation. I will put myself in the way of this inKarano singer. I will persuade her to agree when I say she is my wife; I will persuade her to say that I am her husband. Then, when Bakara says he is ready to step down, I will put myself forward. I will do so with enough force that Sukano steps back. Matyo is unlikely to step back willingly, but I think once this woman is my wife, enough people will see that I would be a better lord for our people. If necessary, I will explain before everyone how Matyo’s judgment is at fault. That would not be my first choice. Such a thing could ruin Matyo, who is a fine warrior in many ways. But I will do it if I must.” He paused again, considering what Tasig might say if she could speak to him. Considering what she would not say.

He said, “Perhaps Matyo may challenge me. If he does, I will fight him. I will win. That will cause some of those who admire his forceful nature to support me instead. But everything begins with this inKarano singer. My wife, when I bring this woman to our lands, when you look down from this high place and see that I have done so, I wish you to believe … I hope you will believe … that a second wife has not made my regard for you less.” Reaching out, he cupped a hand lightly around the curve of Tasig’s skull. He stayed that way for some time as the voices of the boys came up from the sheltered valley, as the cool breeze came down from the heights, as the murmur of the great waterfalls created a sustained note beneath every other sound.

Sinowa sat there for a long time. He did not move while the Sun stepped down past the western mountains, shafts of light breaking around the high, jagged peaks, and the shadows stretched out long and dark. Only when the light dimmed and dimmed again and the Moon lifted up her light, he finally rose, lifting Tasig’s skull in both hands. Turning, he went into the cave, found the niche by long familiarity, and set the skull carefully in its place. Then he turned again and went out of the tomb, making his way down the long, steep path by moonlight, leaving the softly shadowed tomb and the silent ranks of skulls behind him.

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3 thoughts on “Update: Here, have the first chapter of MARAG”

  1. Gosh, I love this chapter so, so much.

    And it’s delightful, on a reread, how much it sets up not just the characters and situations, but also many of the central themes. Doing the prologue absolutely right.

  2. It gives the reader such a good introduction, to Sinowa’s character and motivation, but also to the setting, the Ugaro way of life, how spirits can linger near their skull and be felt to interact on a spiritual level with the living Ugaro.
    It creates a much more positive connection with Sinowa from the start than if we’d met him first as just another of Marag’s suitors, seemingly as ambitious and arrogant as most of them. Without this background, him beating the bullies could have turned readers against him.
    It also provides context for the problem and the solution, showing a foundational part of how those fit in the Ugaro world.

    So though you generally don’t do prologues to the story action, I think this one is really an important part of the story – after all, Sinowa’s motivation is an integral and important part of him, and it kicks off the start of the story: without the decision he explains here, he’d not gone there and things would not have happened the way they do. And with his usual taciturnity and the unexpressive stoicism expected of good Ugaro warriors, you’ld have no way to make that motivation clear early enough in the story to help the reader connect to him, and inform the reader’s view of his character, without this first chapter.
    I liked it too, and am glad you included it.

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