Moving forward, Book One is about to go to a pro-editor so we can work through it and produce a polished enough manuscript to submit to the publishing house I have already contacted. It will probably be the right time to knock on another couple of doors, as well.
I have held back from trying any of my most preferred companies/agents yet as I wanted some opinion and feedback from houses that I would work with but equally, wasn't bothered about if they flung it back. So far, still just the one response and that was a good one. I hope they will be first in line to put Finn out there. I notice the other two are both saying they have a huge backlog and one has stopped taking submissions for now. I suspect I will not hear anything from either.
Meanwhile, I am looking at whether the first novel ought to contain some of the cameo style chapters that feature a particular character in the way of the other books. It was, after all, the characteristic that belonged to the Finn novels and made them different. It seemed odd to then remove that one feature and revert to a more standardised format.
Anyway, here's the opening of a test chapter about Finnmeyer, mentor to Black Finn who at this point is Edmund, half brother to the duke's legitimate children and treated as one of them. Those of you who played the Sigil RPG will not recognise him as he never featured but the novel test readers will now be familiar.
Not that long ago, someone asked me to tell a story about Finnmeyer. I recalled, then, a night of fear for us, the duke’s children. It was an attempt at a simultaneous strike during the Dreswig Dispute. . Assassins were despatched to Falkenberg and to intercept the ducal party which was visiting Riassa. At the time, I was about fifteen, Frederick was a year older than that and the youngest of us, Viktor would have been nine.
It was late in the month of the Old Ones and the first snow lay upon the ground in places where it had maintained a grip. A persistent wind nagged at the towers and walls of the Lord’s Keep and The Eisentor. The great black bastion and gatehouse that was the only substantial entry point into the city squatted over the road defying any to attempt to force a passage. No invading army had ever succeeded in breaking through those gates. But there are many other ways into a city and the larger it is, the more numerous and easier to find those entry points are.
The Grand Duke, my father, his official wife, Lady Francesca, my mother, Lady Estelle and Lancingor along with a substantial portion of the ducal guard were away in the imperial capital. They were using imperial mediators to discuss a long running feud and trade dispute with Nordia. Meanwhile, we, my brothers, sister and the family servants slept in peaceful confidence. Around us, the many guardsmen, the walls of the keep and beyond that the city walls with their patrols and watchtowers wrapped us in their embrace. Consequently, ours was an untroubled sleep.
Outside, however, our enemies had found one of the many weaknesses. Sometime after darkness fell, they came. Swiftly, silently, the men and women sent to strike against our dynasty slipped through side streets and across the empty squares. Here and there, they killed a soldier, a watchman, a passer-by who saw too much. The bodies were stashed out of sight. By the time they were found in the light of day, it would all be over.
Whether it was a sixth sense in Finnmeyer or just his eye for detail, something alerted him to missing guards on the watch. In a moment, he had confirmed two bodies down where the gate guards to the keep ought to be and he was on his way. We were sleeping when he entered, shaking us awake, urgently. Behind him, our sister Diana pressed against him. He had obviously got her out, first.
Our room was really one but divided by partitions so each of us had our own area. The partitions stood only about six feet and were fronted with soft wood boards so we could put up our own decorations. Mine and Frederick’s both had maps of the famous Joldisian Campaign fought by Darius II, The Desert Wind. We were working through it, fighting the battles on the war games table. We’d just reached the moment where he was about to lay siege to Makanos but decided to ignore it and march west to the crossing point of Bar-Del-Sagdor where his forces met Alexander of Joldis and won a great victory. We had pins with pennants to show where all the forces were, according to the historian, Vordilus of Harn.
‘Boys, put on whatever you have at hand and some footwear as fast as you can and follow me.’
‘But why?’ Leopold began to whine with a tired yawn.
‘Because Finnmeyer says so, Leopold. Just do what you’re told and shut up.’ Frederick hissed, crossly. His bed was just across from Leopold.
Viktor stumbled out from his corner, clutching a blanket which he was trying to turn into a cloak. I slipped out of my bed and helped him on with it, pulling it up and tight enough that he wouldn’t trip. Viktor flashed a smile over his shoulder, ‘thanks Ed.’
‘Stay close and do whatever I tell you. There are assassins in the house, sent to kill us all. Come on.’ Finnmeyer pushed the door open and looked out.
‘Too late. All of you, back under one of the beds. Quickly.’
We all rushed to Frederick’s bed which was the big double. Viktor’s might have been best as it had a hidden door adjacent that led down to the servants quarters and the ante-room to the kitchens. Our meals were often brought up this way when there were functions on that were only for the adult visitors.
We all lay looking towards the door, seeing the feet and ankles of the intruders as they burst in. There were four of them; ‘They’re not here, either. This is definitely the right room. Look at the toys and the beds. They have been moved, already.’ The first voice was harsh and sharp like a whip crack or a tun being forced open.
‘So they knew we were coming?’ said a softer voice, also male but quieter, calmer.
‘Of course not, Olicander, they had no idea. But the duke’s huntsman is missing. Find him and you find the children.’ Responded the first, cuttingly.
‘Hey!’ The shout was from the other end of the room. Evidently, they had found the servants’ stairway.
‘You three go down there. That’s obviously how they escaped from here. Work around and keep in touch with other patrols. Someone must have seen them or got a hint on where they have been. I’ll wait here by the door. The boys are tacticians. They may think heading back to this room would throw us and that we wouldn’t think to look in the same place again.’
We waited as the three sets of footsteps became quieter and the last man closed the door to the stairwell. He strode across the room and opened the door just enough to look out. Softly, he closed it again. There was a hiss of steel as he drew two blades and stood, easily and relaxed, arms hanging by his sides, points of the swords resting on the ground.
We waited, trying to hold our breaths and be as silent as possible. Finnmeyer gestured that he was going to slip out behind the bed and get up to have a go at the assassin. As he began to slide out, Frederick and I, having using gestures to agree, shot out from under the bed and each grabbed one of the man’s ankles, pulling hard, we slid back towards the cover of the bed, yanking him off balance as Finnmeyer rose from behind it. His bolt struck the man’s head and he went down. We dragged him back from the door while Finnmeyer vaulted the bed and made sure he was dead with a well-placed blade.
‘That was helpful but stupid.’ Finnmeyer hissed at us, ‘you could have been killed or at least disfigured by a blow from one of those blades.’
‘You’re welcome,’ I said, archly and helped myself to the shorter blade. Frederick took the longer one and the buckler off the man’s back. That left nothing for the other three. Leopold, searching for a knife stood up with a sulky expression. He hadn’t seen me take that, as well and tuck it in my breeches at the small of my back; ‘You should have come for us, first, not Diana.’ He addressed Finnmeyer with a critical air.
‘And you’ll be the first tonight to get a punch in the nose if you speak to Finnmeyer like that.’ Frederick turned on Leopold, angrily, ‘he’s in charge at the moment so you treat him as your commander.’
‘Then there’ll be a queue,’ I added, ‘because I’ll be coming at him as well.’ I gave Leopold a nasty look which made him swallow, hard. He looked from me to Frederick and back again.
‘I was close to Miss Diana’s room when I realised we had been invaded but you are correct, my lord, Leopold I ought to have come for the male heirs, first.’ Finnmeyer gave a short bow to my half-brother.
‘Yes, well, we’ll forget it, this time. You did the right thing, of course.’ Leopold said, hastily.
‘What do we do next?’ Frederick asked Finnmeyer, ‘We can’t stay here. The others will be back, soon.’
‘We follow them down the servants’ stair. The three who went down will come around in a circle, I expect, and so enter from the balcony again.’