Life of the Mind

Midnight’s Dawning: An Opening

In the very early 1990s, I wrote a fantasy epic entitled Midnight’s Dawning.

Ever since, I’ve toyed with a word-one rewrite.

Here’s the very first chapter roughly redrafted …


Arim bolted down the winding mountain trail, knowing that if he was late getting back he would be flogged – if not worse. Although he was only twelve, he was still a slave, which meant the Tybrans would discipline him if they saw fit.
     The sun beat down on his head and his breath was ragged in his chest. It was only morning, but already scorching – although it was always hot in the morning. He slowed down as reached the outcroppings that all but obscured the trail, and crawled through the tiny opening, and – feeling himself tense – stepped back into the valley.
     The first time they’d brought him to Tybra, the sight had almost overwhelmed him. Wherever he looked, mountain tips embraced Tybra like a protective claw. Towering ferns intertwined through narrow ravines, while water trickled around their roots. The stone houses that were common to Tybra were built in the mountain faces and haphazardly around cobbled streets. Everything suggested an impromptu design, as if the Tybrans’ forebears had done nothing but build, and then continued to build to accommodate their growing populace.
     “You, boy, where have you been?”
     The Tybran who accosted Arim was typical of the Tybrans: she was tall – well, at least taller than the women Arim remembered in his village, although it had been seven years – and statuesque, her body taut from training and hunting, and stiff with authority. Her skin was bronzed, and her cropped blonde hair, burnished leather armour, and her short sword – half drawn from its sheath – identified her as part of the guard.
     “Well?” she said.
     Arim scrambled for something to say that would satisfy.
     The guard’s attention went to Arim’s hands, shoved into the pockets of his ragged pants – Arim didn’t even realise he had them there.
     “What’ve you got?” she said.
     She grabbed his left wrist and yanked it from his pocket. Her hand was golden around his dark skin, glistening with sweat. Clutched in his fingers were the dry, grey leaves he’d scrounged for on the mountainside.
     “My master sent me to fetch leaves,” he said.
     “Who is your master?”
     The guard loosened her grip. “Ciama – who is attending the Choosing?”
     Arim nodded, and shoved the leaves back in his pocket.
     The guard released his arm. She would not push this – not given Ciama might be her queen by noon. Arim now only hoped the guard would not bring it up with Ciama. Ciama was unlike the other Tybrans – not as stern, nor disciplinary with her slaves. But in a situation like this she might be obligated, particularly if she did become queen.
     “Go!” the guard said.
     Arim nodded and ran down the cobbled road into Tybra. Although it was only morning, already it was busy. In one field, Tybrans practiced drills with wooden swords, or fired arrows at distant targets. Bedraggled slaves – teenage boys just like himself – gathered corn and wheat from the crops. Three naked slaves hung by the wrists from a scaffold: they had tried to escape, and their punishment – for this first offense – would be to boil in the sun the whole day. Other Tybrans went about their business, slaves in tow carrying their wares. But, as Arim jogged around the Pit, he was sure the mood was subdued.
     He stopped. Filing in a single line towards the queen’s abode – a house of stone, balanced precariously between four ferns – were eleven Tybrans, wearing short filmy gowns. Ciama was easy to spot – she was unlike the other Tybrans, pale, with black hair that was like a shock of night. The first time she had looked down at Arim, the brightness of her aqua eyes had been metallic, as if to suggest she was cold and hard. Behind her was Dioba, captain of the guard; she was Tybran in manner – stern and haughty – but her hair was a stream of fire. Then came Gilara, Ciama’s closest friend – physically, she was purely Tybran, but her short hair framed a face that was almost girlish.
     Ciama glanced over to Arim. He began to lift his hand, then stopped himself. Familiarity between slave and master was unacceptable – at least publicly. Ciama did give him the smallest nod, then turned back, leading the others into the queen’s abode.
     Arim only hoped she would still be his master come the afternoon.