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If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen me talking about how I was working on a scene that I’d never been happy with, and how I had turned it around in the editing into something that wasn’t half bad.  Now it’s finished and sent off to my editor, I thought I’d talk about it in a bit more detail and give you a before and after shot.  It might help you with your own editing.  It might not, but it is at least an insight into the process, and I promised I’d share this journey with you guys, warts and all.

At the very beginning (this would be several years ago now) I needed something to happen to Rhodri on the road between Northpoint and Hierath, to liven up what would otherwise be a boring section of the book, and to build a bit of character on the road.  It was the first time I’d taken the King’s Third out of Northpoint, and I wanted to see how they behaved (badly, as it turned out).  I couldn’t come up with something for them to do, so I threw the scene open to Facebook to ask for suggestions, and my friend Nathalie suggested that I give them a demon to fight.

(I do this every now and then, go to Facebook and ask for suggestions for character names, or the names of inns, or ships, or even plot suggestions – another reason to follow me over there!  That’s how Finn got his name….  It’s nice to get people involved.)

This is the original scene :

  The first gleam of dawn found Rhodri back on the river bank, while most of the town still slumbered.  Mounds of stone, abandoned the previous night, were heaped on the river bank.  He coerced the early-rising wherry pilots to deliver it to the gaps in the dam.  The river was peaceful, sparkling silver in the morning light.  It was hard to imagine it as the scene of yesterday’s violence, if not for the splashes of blood staining the stonework.

  By noon, the dam was almost complete, the water on the south side of the barricade considerably lower than that on the north.  No sign of the demon.  Rhodri hoped it had fled downstream in the night, but all the talk he heard over the past few days suggested that once a territorial creature like that latched on to a place, it would die rather than leave it.

  The river on the north side lapped at the foundations of the closest houses.  The King’s Third needed to work fast.  The water slowly drained away, unveiling broad swathes of gravel and patches of dark, sticky mud.  Fish swarmed in the dregs of the water as the cavalry gathered on the bank, weapons drawn.  Rhodri squeezed the hilt of his sword, anxious to see what they faced.  And still the water level dropped, with no sight of the demon.  A ripple of impatience ran through the crowds of watching townsfolk.  They had come to see blood spilt, and if the demon wouldn’t bleed for them, they would find another target.

  “There!”  Captain Garrod pointed.  While Rhodri’s attention was on the crowd, the river had given up its secret.  Crouched in the mud and slime of the riverbed just below the bridge, huddled in on itself, the river demon whined and tried to bury its head.  The size of a large dog, it had a round, bloated body that shimmered and bulged, as if its skin was too thin to contain the surging currents held within.  From the bank, it was a pathetic sight, but Rhodri knew the innocent look was deceptive.  Yesterday afternoon, it had torn five men apart in moments.  It might be less deadly out of its natural element, but he didn’t want to test that theory.

  He wasn’t given the choice, as Garrod hailed him.  “Rhodri!  As your plan worked so admirably, you have the honour of dispatching the beast!”

  In the silence following this statement, Rhodri heard Drusain suppress a snigger. 

  “Me, sir?”

  “Is there a problem with that?”

  Rhodri licked his lips.  “Sir, it’s killed two dozen people already.  I doubt it’s as harmless as it appears.”

  The demon made a sound like a deflating bootball, and slumped in the mud.  Rhodri glared at it, feeling like an idiot.

  Garrod nodded.  “There’s wisdom in your caution.  That’ll help keep you alive.  But on this occasion, I think you’ll be safe.  Jime, Niklaus, back him up!”

  The three riders peeled away from the main group and entered the river bed further downstream, where the slope of the bank was shallower.  Dead and dying fish littered the gravel, mouths frozen open in their last gasps.  Liberty’s hooves slipped on them as he turned her to face the bridge, lowered his sword, and charged.

  The demon screamed, a high wail of terror, and tried to scrabble out of the way, too slow on fat, stunted legs.  As his blade struck it hard in the centre of its bulbous body, the creature exploded, showering him with warm, viscous water.  Liberty reared up in fright at the noise and unexpected spray, dumping him on his backside in the mud.  This time Drusain didn’t need to conceal his laughter.

  “All right, all right!”  Rhodri scrambled to his feet and allowed his comrades to hand him up the bank, to slaps on the back and barely-restrained hilarity.  “Don’t tell Keir I fell off, will you?”

  “Your secret’s safe with us!”  Captain Garrod shook his hand.  “Well done.”

  “I wasn’t expecting it to explode,” Rhodri admitted.  He sniffed the fluid staining his shirt, and wrinkled his nose.  “I stink like a week-dead fish!”

  “It’s dead, that’s the main thing.”  Garrod turned his attention to the dam.  “We should give these people their river back.  Any suggestions?”

  Rhodri indicated the logs protruding from the high stone barrier.  The ends of them were lashed around with long ropes, dangling to the ground.  “If we get horses on either bank,” he said, “we can pull the logs free.  The water will burst through and bring the dam down.  That’s the idea, anyway…”

  “Let’s try it.  Two riders on each bank pulling the ropes.  You and you,” he pointed, “and Drusain and I will take this bank.  Let’s move these people away, in case things get dramatic.”

  Crowd control was an area where Rhodri felt most secure, and he rode willingly to hold the audience back.  No one wanted to be near him anyway, the putrid stench of the defeated demon saw to that, so it was an easy job.

  As he passed Drusain, his adversary glared at him with one baleful eye.  The other was concealed by a black leather patch, still recovering from their fight.  Rhodri chose to ignore him.  Today was his victory, and he wasn’t about to let Drusain needle him.

  The two pairs of riders took up the ropes and heaved.  The giant wooden plugs slid free, and twin jets of water spurted through the dam, arcing down into the river bed.  The edifice cracked and trembled, rivulets of water seeping through the gaps, running down the facade like a waterfall, and pooling around the splattered remains of the demon.  There was a deep rumble, stone grinding against stone, and with a crash the whole dam collapsed and the River Twist rushed through, seeking out its old path under the bridge, washing away every trace of the evil that had dwelt beneath it.

  A ragged cheer rose from both banks.  Rhodri beamed in satisfaction as he let the townspeople pass to the riverbank.  Captain Garrod patted Liberty on the shoulder.  “A good day’s work all round,” he said.  “We stay here tonight, and ship out tomorrow.  The rest of the day’s yours to do with as you please, all of you!”

  This time it was the King’s Third who raised their voices in celebration and scattered to the city streets.  With a rueful sniff of his sleeve, Rhodri decided his first act of the afternoon should be a very long, very hot, bath.

I was never very happy with this.  It didn’t work well, it wasn’t dramatic enough, it lacked…something.  Too much civil engineering, not enough gore.  And civil engineering is not renowned for its drama, unless things go horribly wrong.  The book was running very long and my inclination was just to dump the whole scene in Blackridge and move my boys straight on to Hierath and the dramatic revelation of Rhodri’s true identity.  So the whole chapter lingered there as something I was willing to cut if the eventual publishers wanted a shorter book.

Except that Robert (one of my editors) was very keen on the scene.  He wanted more “magic and mysticalness” (I believe those were his exact words) and as AoF isn’t exactly a magic-heavy book, cutting out the beastie in the river would make it even less so.

So I came to it with my revising hat on, glared at it long and hard.  Writing is a conversation, for me, frequently a rambling, unplanned one that could end up anywhere.  Editing is the chance to go back and say that really clever thing you should have said in the bedroom, but only thought of in the lounge twenty minutes later – what the French call l’esprit de l’escalier (literally, staircase wit).

I liked the thing in Alien where for the longest time you never saw the beastie.  Beasties are more scary when they’re not exposed.  I liked the idea that it drew its power from the water, so why not use water as a weapon, make it a bit harder to kill?  I liked the Watcher in The Water from LOTR, that scared the willies out of me when I was a wee kiddie (and still does, to be honest – the idea of something lurking under the surface waiting to snake out a tentacle and snatch you away *shudders*)  These were all things that were vaguely floating around in the back of my head that didn’t quite come together in earlier drafts.  I think in this draft they did.

The first gleam of dawn found Rhodri back on the river bank, while most of the town still slumbered.  Mounds of stone, abandoned the previous night, were heaped near the edge of the water.  He coerced the early-rising wherry pilots to deliver it to the top of the dam.  The river was peaceful, sparkling silver in the morning light.  It was hard to imagine it as the scene of yesterday’s violence, if not for the splashes of blood staining the stonework, and his own vivid memories.

  By noon, the dam was almost complete, the water on the south side of the barricade considerably lower than that on the north.  No sign of the demon.  Rhodri hoped it had fled downstream in the night, but his reading suggested that once a territorial creature like that latched on to a place, it would die rather than leave it.

  The river on the north side drained away into two deep channels that ended in hastily-dug ponds.  They were keeping the water away from the houses, for now, but soon they would be swamped.  The King’s Third needed to work fast.  The water slowly drained away downstream of the dam, unveiling broad swathes of gravel and patches of dark, sticky mud.  Fish thrashed in the dregs of the water as the cavalry gathered on the bank, weapons drawn.  Rhodri squeezed the hilt of his sword, anxious to see what they faced.  And still the water level dropped, with no sight of the demon.  A ripple of impatience ran through the crowds of watching townsfolk.  They had come to see blood spilt, and if the demon wouldn’t bleed for them, they would find another target.

The water dropped another inch.  In the depths, something stirred, a ripple running crosswise to the current.  The hilt was slippery in Rhodri’s hand, point drooping as he tried to hold it steady at Garrod’s command.  He could cut and run; it would be easy, compared to facing what lay beneath the surface of the water.  But his captain had ordered him to hold the line, and years of training, of drill morning and night, bell after bell, obeying Garrod’s every word of command, had changed him to his core.  The discipline driven into his mind overpowered his body’s instinct to flee so strongly it was barely more than a fleeting thought, instantly overridden.  Captain Garrod said hold the line.  The line would be held, until death or fresh command released him.  Beside him he could hear Nik’s heavy breath whistling through his teeth, hear the jingle of mail as his leg twitched in the stirrup, but he kept his eyes on the water, on that treacherous ripple that ran the wrong way.

“Advance!”

The gravel of the riverbed crunched under Liberty’s hooves.  The circle was slowly tightening.  If the creature was to make a move, it had to be soon.  The rippling had increased, the surface of the water agitated, broken up until Rhodri wasn’t sure what he was looking at.  Sweat prickled his scalp, trapped under his helm.  This was not like patrolling in Northpoint, where the enemy was visible, understandable.  This was fighting magic, a beast that might not act in any logical way, that had unknown power.  Nik whimpered softly at his side.

Hold the line hold the line hold the line hold

The surface of the pool exploded, an eruption of water white and freezing and blinding.  Beyond it, through the mist, the spray, Rhodri heard a horse scream, a howl of pain, a voice yelling orders.  Nik was yelling too, and Rhodri caught the cry and echoed it in his own throat, exultant, furious, released from the tension that had held him still.  The line, moving as one, pounded forward down the sloping bank, blades levelled, cutting a swathe across the drying riverbed.

There was water everywhere.  It was like riding through a nightmare storm, a waterfall, that churned the gravel to mud.  It was in Rhodri’s eyes, his ears.  He was deafened by the pounding on his helmet, blinded by the torrent.  He had lost Nik, lost the Captain, had nothing but the feel of Liberty plunging forward between his knees, ears flat, teeth bared, and the cold, slippery leather of his sword hilt against his palm.  In the rushing white ahead, it struck squealing softness, an inhuman sound, and the water rushing around him turned red.  When he breathed in, he tasted copper, and all at once he was back on the black island, holding Astan as she bled out in his arms.

“No!”  He struck out again, fighting more than the beast, fighting his own evil memories that sought to trap him and drag him under.  His blade stuck, ripped free.  Something tore loose and was flung away, and the crimson rain deepened to black.

“Fall back!”

Which way was back?  There was only the mud, the rain, the endless slashing against an enemy that seemed to be everywhere at once, hiding behind its shield of falling water.  Liberty backed up, one step at a time.  The torrent was thinning; Rhodri could see the blood-streaked faces of his companions, teeth set in morbid white grins, like the faces of skulls.  There was grass beneath his hooves, and when he wiped his eyes, he could see the far bank of the river.  The black water pattered down, lightly now, and in the sludge at the bottom of the stream a bloodied lump of flesh writhed as squealed, hissing through razor teeth, scrabbling in the last of the water as if it was a blanket it sought to hide under.  Blood pulsed from a dozed slashes in its hide, and gobbets of pulsing flesh were scattered up and down the riverbank.  Its body shimmered and bulged, as if its skin was too thin to contain the surging currents held within, and it was sucking the water around it back into its body, healing its own wounds, raising its savage head to snarl at the watchers on the bank.  It was down, but it wouldn’t stay down for long.

Rhodri looked along the bank, at the ragged lines of men that straightened before the approach of their Captain.  Doglike, he shook the blood from his body, straightened in the saddle, quieted Liberty with a brush of his hand against her neck as the Captain pulled up in front of him.

“Private Rhodri!”

“Sir!”  The hand he saluted with felt sticky with blood.

“Your plan worked admirably.  Well done.”

“Sir, thank you, sir!”  Garrod did not give praise lightly.  Rhodri felt his chest swell.

“You must have the honour of dispatching the beast, before it finds its feet again.  Get on with it!”

  In the silence that followed, Rhodri heard Drusain suppress a snigger. 

  “Me, sir?”

  “Are you questioning my order?”

  Rhodri licked his lips.  “No sir!”

“Get on, then!”  Garrod gestured impatiently at the bottom of the river.  “Then we can give these people their river back, and we can all have a pint.”

 The demon snarled, shaking gore from its jaws, and pushed up on its twisted forelimbs.  It was already bigger than it had been a moment ago.  Rhodri glared at it, feeling hot and humiliated, bile burning his throat.  He wanted nothing more than to stick the blade deep in its guts and twist…. 

  Garrod clapped him on the shoulder, gauntlets ringing against mail.  “There’s wisdom in your caution,” he said.  “Jime, Niklaus, back him up!”

  The three riders peeled away from the main group and entered the river bed further downstream, where the slope of the bank was shallower.  Dead and dying fish littered the gravel, mouths frozen open in their last gasps.  Liberty’s hooves slipped as Rhodri turned her to face the bridge, lowered his sword, and charged.

  The demon scrambled round to face him, mouth gaping, row on row of razor teeth, but it was too wounded, too slow, and his overhand strike slammed down through its skull, spearing through brain, and the soft palate at the roof of its mouth.  The beast arced his back, claws scrabbling for purchase, and there was a dull boom that knocked Rhodri back, driving him from the saddle to land on his arse in an inch of damp, cold river mud, while the exploded remains of the creature showered wetly down around him.  This time Dru didn’t need to conceal his laughter.

  “All right, all right!”  Rhodri scrambled to his feet and allowed his comrades to hand him up the bank, accepting slaps on the back and barely-restrained hysteria, tinged with relief.  “Don’t tell Keir I fell off, will you?”

  “Your secret’s safe with us!”  Captain Garrod shook his hand.  “Well done, private.”

  “I wasn’t expecting it to explode,” Rhodri admitted.  The bottom of the river was strewn with bloodied lumps.  Some of them were twitching, but they grew still as he watched.

  “It’s dead, that’s the main thing.”  Garrod turned his attention to the dam.  “Let’s get that barrier torn down, and then we’re done here.  Rhodri, Nik, move these civilians back.  The water’s going to come through here with a hellish splash.”

    Crowd control was an area where Rhodri felt most secure, and he rode willingly to hold the audience back.  They fell back before him, respectful, but disgusted.  He could see it on their faces and he knew he must be an appalling sight, caked from head to foot in mud and blood, grinning as if he was the demon and they his easy prey.  Now it was over, and the adrenaline wearing off, his hands were shaking and he felt sick and hollow.  He wanted to lie down.  He wanted, more than anything, to shower.

  As he passed Drusain, his adversary glared at him with one baleful eye.  The other was concealed by a black leather patch, still recovering from their fight.  Rhodri chose to ignore him.  Today was his victory, and he wouldn’t let Dru needle him.

  The dam trembled under the onslaught of picks and clubs, cracking from side to side, and Garrod yelled for his men to stand clear.  The stone bulged like a blister, pushed out by the force of water behind it.  Streams flowed through the cracks, running down the facade like a waterfall, and pooling around the stone pillars that held up the bridge.  There was a deep rumble, stone grinding against stone, and with a crunch the whole dam collapsed and the River Twist rushed through, seeking out its old path under the bridge, washing away every trace of the evil that had dwelt beneath it.

  A ragged cheer rose from both banks.  Rhodri beamed in satisfaction as he let the townspeople pass, flooding onto the riverbank, onto the bridge that had been denied to them for so long.  Captain Garrod raised a hand in salute.  “A good day’s work all round,” he said.  “We stay here tonight, and ship out tomorrow.  The rest of the day is yours to do with as you please, all of you!”

  This time it was the King’s Third who raised their voices in celebration and scattered to the city streets.  With a rueful sniff of his sleeve, Rhodri decided his first act of the afternoon should be a very long, very hot, bath.

I think that’s better, and I hope my editors think so too.  What do you think?

(Oh, and if you want to follow me on Facebook, drop me a note and tell me you’re from the blog – https://www.facebook.com/hierath is my personal FB, https://www.facebook.com/Hierath77 is the writing one. )

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