One of these days I will write a post on why I don’t thoroughly outline my stories before I write them. It boils down to a matter of boredom. When I was starting to get serious about my writing, I thought that I should try outlining, because as an engineer and a compulsive planner it seemed that I would be a natural outliner. What I found instead was that outlining ruined writing for me. To me, doing a thorough outline before I sat down to write a story robbed the writing of any interest, as if I had already told the story in the outline and now had no need to write it out in prose. In a word, they made me bored.
These days, therefore, I don’t try to fully outline stories, but I do a little bit of an outline. For Blood Magic, the outline looks like a set of episode summaries, like would accompany shows on a television series. These serve more like memory jogs for me about what story it was that I wanted to write when I sat down and created the outline, rather than actually telling me a lot about the story. Still, it has been interesting to see how some of these story prompts have evolved as Blood Magic’s story has evolved. Noble Child was a prime example.
In the original outline, I intended Lady Fetrina to be a much more prominent character, and to be a more-or-less acknowledged love interest for Kiluron. That ended up not really happening, for a variety of reasons. First, the characters weren’t really working together, and Fetrina wasn’t proving interesting enough. I also hadn’t plotted enough episodes in which it made sense for her to have a prominent role. Also, I increasingly saw that it didn’t make sense for the storytelling, and I didn’t really want to see them together in the long run of the series. I’m not saying that such a relationship couldn’t still happen, but I am saying it is unlikely. Those readers who have expressed that they don’t want to see them together should be relieved by this fact.
However, that decision threw a bit of a wrench in my plans for this episode, in which the original conflict was going to be an unacknowledged push for some kind of primogeniture. I’m very glad that I threw out that idea, because I think it would have been much weaker, and not have worked very well for how I structured the world and laid out the Merolate Union’s culture, but it left me with a problem in the form of a distinct lack of conflict. Fortunately, I realized this ahead of time (for once), and was able to plant some seeds in earlier episodes about what the main conflict in this episode might be.
That new conflict ended up working pretty well, I think, especially when I relieved some of its heaviness with a minor plot for some character development for Arval. I’m a little worried that readers will try to make more of this subplot than I meant for it, or that they might get bored of many, many paragraphs discussion the physics of mud, but be relieved that I didn’t actually have the context in the story to justify getting really detailed about the physics of mud. That could have made for some exciting writing, but I restrained myself for the sake of internal coherence.
This might seem like a little bit of a slow story to some of you, and that’s okay; I don’t want every story to involve a lot of action in the traditional sense. Some episodes, like this one, are more character heavy, and I consider that a good thing. Especially since the next episode is going to be heavy on the world-building and the action, but that sounds like a subject for next month. Speaking of next month, I’m glad that I was able to finish writing this month’s episode a little early, so that I had more time to write the May-June two-parter.
There were places where I struggled a bit writing this episode (which is true of most of these episodes), but I’m pleased with how it ended up, and I think that it explores a very interesting aspect of Merolate’s Charter that we haven’t been able to discuss very much before. I hope that you enjoy Noble Child.
Everything seemed too large and too permanent. Stone, stone everywhere: stone walls, stone streets, stone buildings, stone wharfs, stone castle. Thinking of his drafty cabin – he had always meant to repair it, but other projects inevitably seemed so much more interesting – Arval marveled that a place like this could exist. It sat upon the coast, looking over the Aprina Sea, like something out of a dream, a place that was surely not the product of human hands. Yet it was, and that made it all the more marvelous. Everything from the motion of the massive gates to the arches that suspended them and elevated guards high above the ground made his own tinkering seem inconsequential.
Even after three days, he had not grown accustomed to the bustle of Merolate, the city’s native energy. There were always people, and they were always rushing about hither and thither, from home, to market, to shop, to work, to home again, and then back out before hardly having settled. Arval had always felt out of place on the frontier, he had dreamt of coming to a city, but now he found that he was no less out of place. His mannerisms, his tendencies, his temperament: they all marked him as different. Perhaps that was something that would never change.
At least he was starting to know his way around the castle, even if the city’s intricacies remained an unsolved maze. Prime Kiluron and Advisor Doil had granted him two full days to begin settling in and adjusting before they expected him to begin attending the minister meetings, so on the morning of the third day Arval ensured he was up plenty early so that he would have time to find the conference chamber even if he got lost along the way. He did not get lost, however, and so he sat in the dim chamber alone, the first one to arrive, and wished that he had brought something with which to tinker.
Maybe, if he had followed along on the rest of the Prime’s Progress, he wouldn’t have found Merolate so overwhelming. Still, he had gone as far as Corbulate City before returning to conclude his experiments and make his preparations to depart, and that sight had not prepared him for what he would encounter. He doubted that Welate City would have made the difference, nor any of the dozens of other towns through which the Progress must have passed after he took his leave. Not for nothing was Merolate the Union capitol.
Voices approaching attracted his attention; he turned towards the doorway to see Advisor Doil, accompanied by a much older man who walked with a slight limp. “Frankly, there’s just no one with your breadth and depth of experience in this realm,” Advisor Doil was saying.
“It is essential that I not be irreplaceable,” the older man replied. “That would represent a serious flaw in the structuring of the Union government. By precedent, I ought to have retired after Prime Wezzix’s death; perhaps, if I had obeyed the precedent, we would not now be in this position. Such precedents do exist for a reason.”
“You haven’t always seemed all that eager to find a replacement, yourself, for all that this was your idea,” Advisor Doil retorted. “Perhaps the problem is not so much that none of our candidates are suitable, as that none of us are entirely invested in replacing you.”
The older man rubbed his furrowed forehead. “I…admit that I harbor certain reservations, yes. However, the reasons I sought this course in the first place have not changed, and therefore I consider those reservations to be nothing more than unfortunate artifacts of my age-induced sentimentality.”
Taking their seats at the large, triangular table, the two appeared to notice Arval for the first time. Discomfited by their scrutiny, he quirked his lips into a smile and bobbed his head.
Advisor Doil smiled and nodded at him in return. “I’m sorry, Master Arval, I didn’t notice you there. Minister Borivat and I are usually the first ones here.” He gestured at the older man. “We’ll do full introductions once everyone else has arrived, but for now, this is Borivat, currently Minister of Affairs and Relations with Alien Lands, and formerly Prime Wezzix’s Advisor. Borivat, this is Arval, who Prime Kiluron and I wish to put forth to fill the new position we’ve been considering, Chief Inventor.”
Arval tried not to be intimidated by the presence of two Advisors to the Prime of Merolate. “Honored to meet you,” he managed. It wasn’t that Advisor Doil hadn’t tried to make him comfortable during their time together on the Prime’s Progress, but there was something permanently aloof and reserved about the Advisor, not to mention his rigorous training that Arval could not possibly match. He had thought himself reasonably intelligent until he met Doil, who it seemed could spontaneously dictate a full-length dissertation on almost any topic. More than once Arval had wondered why they needed a Chief Inventor at all, when they had people like Doil.
“How are you settling into Merolate?” Minister Borivat asked.
“Well enough.” Arval hesitated. “It’s a little overwhelming, I’ll admit.”
“Advisor Doil was telling me that you’ve lived your entire life out on the frontier through the pioneer program?” Borivat continued.
Arval bobbed his head again, and wished that he had something intelligent to say in response. Fortunately, Doil supplied a response for him. “It’s humbling, to think how much he’s accomplished with almost no resources that we couldn’t discern here in Merolate with all the resources of the Union behind us.” Arval flushed.
“It’s not much, really,” he hastened to amend. “Trinkets, odds and ends, mostly. Wheelbarrows that plant potatoes aren’t exactly a technological revolution.”
The arrival of the other ministers, and Prime Kiluron himself, spared him further awkward conversation, and he buried himself in the agenda Advisor Doil provided, only to realize that there was little refuge there: the second item on the agenda was his name. As all eyes turned to him, he stood and gave a little wave, wishing that the movements of his chair hadn’t seemed so loud in the quiet chamber, and then sat back down as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Advisor Doil then went around with a string of names, each minister nodding a greeting in his or her turn, but Arval knew he would never remember them all.
“I told you so,” the minister named Inpernuth declared. He was sitting next to Arval and leaned over towards him. “Your position was my idea, lok. If you want to thank me, have a nice bottle of white oaked spirits delivered to my residence.”
Arval’s brow furrowed almost of its own accord. “White oak? Why white oak?” He flushed as he realized that the conversation had moved on and that Advisor Doil was proceeding with the meeting.
One of the ministers was giving a report; Arval thought he remembered the man had been introduced as Admiral Ferl. If his military title was not sufficient evidence that he was responsible for martial affairs, his report was. “We have restored the militia rotations at the northern border with the Territories, and semiregular traffic with Nycheril has resumed, including supplements from the merchants. We are also expecting the first Nycheril-built ship to launch on its maiden voyage to Merolate within the year,” he was saying.
“Excellent,” Doil acknowledged.
“There is one other matter,” Admiral Ferl added. “Guardcaptain Vere requested that I provide an update from him on the ongoing investigation into the Gälmourein.”
Murmurs of discomfort rose all around the table, and Prime Kiluron leaned forward with an odd expression on his face, somewhere between fear and eagerness, but the word was completely unfamiliar to Arval. “Go ahead, Admiral,” Advisor Doil prompted.
Nodding, Admiral Ferl took a deep breath before he continued. “Based on evidence we found in the Gältrok’nör before it was destroyed, we traced a line of communication from the Gältrok’nör through several stops, ultimately leading to a remote, mountainous region in Ebereen, part of the Uir range. Our scouts have identified an abandoned fortress that is no longer abandoned. No Gälmourein were spotted, but there were definite signs of occupancy, and evidence of Blood sacrifices and other rituals. The locals apparently avoid the place, calling it haunted, but they mostly blame bandits.”
“Are there any indications of what they might be doing there?” Doil asked. “Do you think they’re associated with the Isle?”
“Our scouts weren’t able to get that close for that long,” Admiral Ferl admitted. “Nor, I think, do we really know enough about Blood Magic to guess.”
“Then we go in,” Prime Kiluron declared, smacking his hand on the table and drawing everyone’s attention. “Borivat, how long will it take to get permission to stage a military operation on Ebereen soil?”
“Um, perhaps by the end of summer?” Minister Borivat appeared flustered. “Communication is hardly instantaneous, and travel is always treacherous through southern and middle Ebereen for most of the summer. Any major operation may need to wait for winter, anyway.”
Prime Kiluron was already shaking his head. “Not good enough. They might be training more Gälmourein, for all we know.”
“There are physical limitations,” Advisor Doil protested. “The distances involved are significant, and Ebereen roads are impassable with mud when they’re not frozen.”
“Then we come up with a solution to travel through the mud. Ebereen has even stricter rules around Blood Magic than we do; we should be able to get permission just from their local ambassador if we tell them we have evidence of Blood Magic being used within their borders,” the Prime determined. “We cannot allow a return of the Guardian.”
Taking a deep breath, Advisor Doil caught Arval’s eye. “Can you work on the mud problem?”
All attention turned to Arval, and he flushed. “Um, well, I don’t really know what’s being discussed here, but…yes, travel through mud. I think that’s something I can probably figure out.”
“Then it’s settled. Borivat will get permission for the expedition, Admiral Ferl will plan it with Guardcaptain Vere, and Arval will get us a way to travel through the mud.” Prime Kiluron looked around. “What’s next?”
Advisor Doil raised a tentative hand. “Ah, there is one other, tangentially related matter, my lord.”
“What’s that?” Prime Kiluron asked.
Even Arval could tell that Advisor Doil appeared uncomfortable. “Considering the events with the Gälmourein, I think that it is appropriate for you to begin considering the selection of a Sub-Prime.”
The Prime glanced down at his hand with a strange expression on his face; Arval noticed a scar there for the first time. “I’m not planning on dying anytime soon. That’s why we’re going to pursue this report from Vere so aggressively.”
“There are other sources of danger, my lord,” Advisor Doil observed. No one else seemed interested in supporting him. “Besides, we have seen how quickly the situation can change, and it takes a long time to train a Sub-Prime. We had over a decade of training before Prime Wezzix’s…sacrifice, and were we ready?”
“No.” It sounded a grudging admission from the Prime. “But a Sub-Prime…” he looked around. “Let’s talk about this privately, okay?”
Advisor Doil accepted the offer graciously, and the meeting continued. Most of it went right past Arval’s head, as he was already deep in thought about how to move a large force of men through muddy roads. It was his first project for the Prime, and he was determined not to disappoint.
As the meeting adjourned, he walked away from the conference chamber with ideas spinning in his head. He remembered his overladen wagon getting stuck in the mud, so that Hemi had been unable to budge it, and his thoughts about replacing muscle power. Maybe with enough gears, he could produce sufficient force to move a vehicle even through the mud.
An apartment had been provided for him in the city. Advisor Doil had offered to dedicate a study for him to use, but Arval had demurred; his experiments were not the kind of thing that he could do in a library, and he wouldn’t even know what to do with so many books. Instead, he had been provided a warehouse in the northeastern quarter of the city. Compared to the shed and barn in which he had worked for most of his life, which he had been obliged to share with his rickety wagon, various farm equipment, and Hemi, the warehouse had so much space he could hardly imagine using all of it, even with part of the loft blocked off to serve as an office.
It also had a stone floor. “Well, this isn’t going to work for trials,” he muttered aloud, even though Hemi was not there to hear. She had never been the most responsive of laboratory assistants, anyway.
Once in the loft, he settled himself down at the large drafting table, and rifled along the edge of the pad of oversized paper clipped there, marveling. Several charcoal pens were sharpened and ready for him in the tray. He had always dreamt of having an architect’s drafting table for his sketches, and here it was in front of him. Often since he had come to Merolate he had found himself worried that all of this would suddenly vanish, that it wasn’t really his. Which technically it wasn’t; Inpernuth would probably have something to say about that. Putting such thoughts aside, he picked up one of the pens and began to sketch.
He started with a basic wagon. Although he had never seen a troop transport, he assumed they were similar to wagons, and certainly a military cargo vehicle could hardly help but be sturdy wagons. Then he did another sketch, this time focused on just the wheels. The problem, he suspected, was a matter of traction, since the wheels needed to be able to rotate against the ground in order to propel their load. He did a sketch of normal wagon wheels with spikes on the rims, which looked very military. Perhaps the spikes would be able to dig into the ground. He did another sketch where he replaced the wheels with runners, like a sleigh – he knew that some of his former neighbors had done that to help get around in the winter through deep snow.
Realizing that all of his sketches so far were crammed into one small corner of the paper that was almost as wide as his arm span, he shook his head. “Guess this will take some getting used to.” Forcing himself to not be so economical, he redid his sketches at a more reasonable size, then tore off the piece of paper and tacked it up to one of the bare, slat-board walls. Back at his desk, he brushed his hand across the empty paper, took a deep breath, and began a new sketch.
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S3:E4: Noble Child
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