Sayeh and Zia: Intermission 1

The Ruins of Petra, Nabataea

The sound of the camel’s hooves bounced between the massive cliffs.  Regularly placed candles along the ground guided the cloaked rider, who was expertly guiding the galloping animal through the narrow passage. Carved through the rock by innumerable years of water flow, the gap between the cliffs was now bone dry.  Loose sand flew up behind the camel’s hooves.

The snaking path, illuminated by shallow yellow flames, finally opened onto the imposing structure that had mesmerised so many people.  The cloaked rider pulled back on the camel’s reins, drawing it to a halt.  The moonlight bathing the area allowed a unique view of the building.  A large area of stone had been removed from the cliff face, and unknown artists had crafted a magnificent building into the space behind it.  The building had six large pillars supporting the highly decorated lintel, though the left-side pillar closest to the door was showing signs of decay.  The representations of gods and mythical beings were carved into the structures above the lintel, but they had been defaced by both people and the natural elements.

The rider sat for several minutes, admiring the efforts of past masons and artists in creating such an unfathomable wonder.  Remembering their purpose, the camel was angled to the right, and a pair of swift kicks to its belly encouraged a fast trot.  The widening path showed more carvings in the walls, facades on the left and tombs on the right.  The path continued to expand until it opened onto a vast plain, which was littered with many buildings in various states of decay.  Yet more tombs were to the right of the rider as the camel was slowly guided down the steep descent.

Once on the plain itself, the rider picked up the speed significantly.  The many tombs carved into the walls of the plain were nerve-wracking, tricking one into thinking that the spirits of the dead might awaken at any moment.  Riding away from the four tombs closest to the plain’s entry point, several buildings and an elevated temple site guided one towards the edge of a city wall. The mountains rose to provide a path to the left or to the right. The rider chose the path to the right.

The ground rose to a steep ascent, with steps in some places along the path aiding the wearied camel’s footing.  Following the winding trail, the narrowed path opened to reveal another incomprehensibly large building carved into a rock face.  It shared many similarities with its sibling building the rider had observed earlier, especially in its second storey.  The first storey mimicked the pillars of the first building, but its entrance did not sit further into the rock.  The carved figures were replaced with rectangular window-like insets.  This building had been chosen as the hide-out because of its location at the most remote and elevated portion of the deserted city.

Lowering the camel to the ground in front of the building, the rider dismounted and headed for the entrance.  Inside was a square room, the ripples of rock deposits decorating its walls.  An elevated arch was cut into the farthest wall, with two small sets of stairs either side rising to meet the arch, inside of which was a roaring fire.  A group of twenty men sat around or upon the base of the steps, eating meat that they had likely cooked within the fire.

Those sitting on the stairs saw the figure approach, and they rose with joy written across their faces.  They stepped forward to meet the new arrival, bowing from the waist in greeting.

“Lady Sayeh, we are glad to see you.  We were beginning to fear for your welfare.”

The cloaked figure raised her head so the bottom half of her face was visible.  A smile that was perilously close to a sneer greeted the welcome.

“Fear for my welfare, Heydar?  You know I can manage that perfectly well myself.”

Heydar, a solidly built man of average height with an unkempt chest-length beard, stepped back warily from the figure standing a foot below him.  “My apologies.  I did not mean to cause offence.”

Sayeh sighed.  “You didn’t.  The caravan was headed for Karak, so I had to sneak away when it stopped at Mitspe Ramon.  A full afternoon in the saddle of a galloping camel in this heat has been tiring to say the least.

The other man spoke up.  “I will fetch you some meat and drink, my lady.”

She nodded slightly.  “My thanks, Kadir.”

As the man moved off to collect some food, the cloaked lady made her way to the others sitting around the stairs.  The men were comparing stories of the largest caravan robberies they had been a part of in their times before and after joining the mysterious Lady Sayeh’s crew.  They all had been career criminals, living in remote desert villages with little or no prospects to increase one’s station.  Against her offer of adventure and riches beyond their imaginations, they was never a chance that they would refuse.

A pair argued animatedly about the largest heist they had performed in their time with the crew.

“Don’t you remember that train of camels coming west from Ectabana?  The quantity of gold and fine materials we relieved them of was so large even their evil god Ahriman would have applauded our efforts.”

“The Egyptians still have the finest quality gold.  That mine they have outside of Luxor is never likely to run dry.  Couple that with the clothes, carpets and foods coming across the desert from Alexandria, and the value they provide to Persia is huge.  We should never miss a chance to attack those caravans. ”

The first man noticed Sayeh sitting, listening to them as she ate her food.  “Do you not agree, my lady?  The goods coming west are of greater value.”

She nodded, her face hidden in the shadows of the cloak’s hood.  “They will be soon.  I have it on good authority there is the marriage dowry worthy of the ancient pharaohs soon to make its way from Susa to Alexandria.  When we attack that, we’ll never need to be Sand Pirates again.”

– X –

Building the Supporting Cast

During the writing of Chapter 2, and now through Chapter 3, it is dawning on me how important the supporting cast are.  The leader of Antagonist #2’s House was followed in Chapter 2, and now the Leader of another House is being followed in Chapter 3.  Though she is not as important in the greater scheme, she is important to the backstory of Antagonist #3.

As I mentioned in a previous post, it is the supporting cast who are the most able to build the unbiased view of the world around them.  The main characters are then left to give the reader the ‘other side of the coin’, and let them decide if what has been established is a good or bad thing.

I have spent the last hour or so investigating the ‘Supporting Characters’ subfolder on my thumb drive.  The count sits at 36, though they are spread across all seven books.  The thought crossed my mind about how many characters there should be in a chapter, without underwhelming or overloading.  For the purpose of my first five chapters, it appears the count is ten.  The characters cover all areas of type (Main, Supporting, Bit Part).

Will experiment with the ten character count per chapter and see how it works out.  Hoping that it feels epic without being bloated.

When KISS isn’t enough

As I may have mentioned previously, my story will be in the fantasy genre.

I have a preference for the genre, and to a lesser extent Science Fiction, due to its lack of anchoring in the present.  The current world is a complex place, and to have good drama in a modern-day novel you tend to have to have nasty things happen to people.  Being killed to protect long-held secrets, serial murderers, and moving to prevent all-out war.

While fantasy novels can (and do) contain such things, that it is not in your current world provides a barrier to being truly disturbed by what the authors come up with in the actions of their antagonists.

The initial aim for my story was from the ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ model.  Establish your overall storyline, do a bit of research, put a few more key events between the beginning and end of the overall storyline, then work your characters into the world you’ve created.

All was going well to begin with.  Main antagonist needs to get from Point A to Point B to claim the power to rule.

Then the aim went from ruling the country to ruling the story world.

Then characters from other parts of the expanded world became a ‘main antagonist’.

Then ‘balance’ was required by creating main protagonists.

Then research showed me the world I was building was more complex than the KISS principle seems able to allow.

So, the seven locales (one for each book) to get from Point A to Point B has expanded slightly.  There are now nine countries (and provinces for some), seven main antagonists, seven main protagonists, and nineteen (and counting) supporting characters.

Well, it will definitely be epic fiction.  Let’s just hope the end product is enjoyable epic fiction.

Things to marvel at

I have just finished watching ‘The Wonders of the Solar System’.  The host, Professor Brian Cox, does an exceptional job of sharing his sense of wonder and amazement at not just the galaxy we live in, but what is all around us on Earth.

The final episode was entitled ‘Aliens’, and focused on what conditions support life.   Basically, you need heat, water and the items on your Periodic Table.  Have one of these missing, and life won’t grow.  It really was amazing how so many different forms of life exist on our planet, and the crazy differences in the climates they exist in.  Life exists in dark worlds with atmospheric pressures higher than that on the Venusian surface (90 times that of Earth), and also in places where the air that would kill humans is an organism’s food source.  Nasty places for us, yet you will find life there.

And to really drive it home, it is shown that such climates also exist on the planets and moons sharing our humble little corner of the Universe.  The first and second moons from Jupiter, Io and Europa, are close neighbours yet complete polar opposites.  Io is a world of almost constant volcanic activity, while the other is an ice world with strong evidence of a vast ocean under its surface.

Such possibilities are helping mould one of the underlying ideas to my story.  It can be summed up in four words.

Life finds a way.

Proof of that is rampantly obvious wherever you look on Earth.  All forms of life, from humans to animals to insects to bacteria, are products of many years of exposure to their environments.  Given the time to do so, life will try and try again until it finds a way to survive.  It is the epitome of evolution, and survival of the fittest.

And, most importantly, it gives us such an amazing array of life to marvel at.

Awesome stuff.

Nothing new #2

It seems turning 30 and resigning from one’s job are effective tools for diverting your mind from writing and WordPress.  Oops!

Turning 30 was good in a materialistic sense, as I got plenty of vouchers to help stock my cupboard.  Not all was good for mental stimulation (Wrestling DVDs), but tried to balance it out with mental stimulating materials.  Should you come across the CD ‘Concerto of The Greater Sea’ by Joseph Tawadros, I highly recommend you grab it as he plays a mean Oud.  The same goes for the two BBC series hosted by Professor Brian Cox, ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ and ‘Wonders of the Universe’.

My wife is a superstar, procuring for me a spiffy hardcover copy of ‘The Arabian Nights’.  Though knowing of it for a long time, actually reading it was quite disconcerting.  The prologue had rampant promiscuity, and the first story had a man beating his wife with a tree branch to ensure her submissiveness.  Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad and all in the back half of the book; proof of saving the best until last I guess.

While researching for stories to help build my ideas, I found that there is a Persian story with a strong link to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in its underlying concept.  That the story’s title included the name of my number one antagonist only confirmed that I needed to use it as inspiration.  The story is still on pre-order, but Wikipedia’s blurb gave me enough to make use of.

By merging aspects of ‘Aladdin’ with the Persian ‘Romeo and Juliet’, alongside some unexpected assistance by Mr Tawadros, the number two protagonist I was struggling to characterise is now fleshed out.  Hopefully, a musician lamenting lost love and family after giving up his warrior ways will not be too hard to keep motivated throughout the series.  Maybe those warrior ways could be used again?

Though sea pirates are not of use to the story (Sorry Sinbad), the portion of the story inspired by Ali Baba will be a pivotal part of the overarching story.