This week I am posting the first chapter from my fantasy novel. I would really appreciate any feedback you might have.
“So why do you want to join The Unification Front?” the squat man asked as he entered the interview room. Sweat had begun to bead on his forehead during his walk across the castle from his private solar to this small, bright room. The large, eastern-facing window brought with it the brunt of the morning sun, and he dabbed his forehead hurriedly with the white pocket-handkerchief that he kept in the small pocket stitched into the inside of his cloak.
The sole occupant of the room looked up at him as he shut the door behind himself. “I heard there were travel opportunities,” she replied.
“Yes, quite a bit of travel, I should say.” The man sat at the clean wooden table, placing a portfolio of interview notes before him. He took his time putting on a pair of glasses and dipping his quill into a small pot of ink, wanting to study this applicant a little before diving into his questions. He felt her deep green eyes follow his movements as she sat silent, waiting. She didn’t seem nervous—he had conducted enough interviews in his life to spot that emotion well enough. She leaned back in her wooden chair, legs crossed. A longbow and quiver slung over the back of the chair. He noticed that she also wore a dagger sheathed on her belt. He felt a small trickle of sweat slide down the back of his neck and wiped it away with his kerchief before unfolding a piece of parchment. “What is your name, please?”
“Therfellianna Elbernarian,” she replied.
“Can you spell that?” he asked.
She spelled it out then added, “But most call me Ellie.” She leaned forward a little in her chair. “What sort of paper is that?”
He looked at the loose pieces of paper laid out in front of him—they were ordinary squares of blank, white paper—cut to be equal on all four sides. “How do you mean?”
“I’ve never seen paper so smooth,” Ellie replied. “Do you make it yourself?”
“Of course not. We have it made from the paper company. I don’t know how they make it.” He held up a piece. “You’ve never seen paper before?”
“In our village, members of the Magic Council made paper, but nothing as clean and even as that,” she shrugged. “Looked strange, is all.”
He nodded and continued with his questions. “What are your skills?”
She tilted her head to indicate the longbow behind her. “That, mostly.”
“And you are an elf…” he ventured. It wasn’t exactly a question; he had been briefed about her background prior to this interview. Knowledge was the number one weapon of The Unification Front, and they wielded it masterfully.
A momentary look of pain flashed through her green eyes, over almost before it began. “Do I strike you as something else?”
The man removed his glasses and studied her more closely. She had the tall, lithe frame of an elf, that much was certain. The same pale coloring and light golden hair. Her ears were pointed at the top, more than any humans could ever be, but were not as large as elven ears were. Her eyes and nose were shaped more human than elven, giving her face a mismatched uneven look. She dressed like an elf of the woods; all greens and browns. If she had lived her life in a forest village, it would explain her strange demeanor here today. Her aloofness would be cured sooner than not by traveling through the various cities of Arefore, to be sure.
“I should inform you that this room has been warded. You will be unable to tell an untruthful answer to any question that I ask. We demand complete honesty from those who work for us.”
“What do you know of The Unification Front?” he continued.
“Very little,” Ellie admitted. “I’ve only heard that you were looking for able bodies who didn’t mind a bit of travel.”
“I represent a collective who would like to see order and unity restored to Arefore,” the man began. “The land is too fractured, ruled by lawlessness and chaos. We want a single government working together, as this would be for everyone’s benefit. We seek these able bodies, as you call them, to perform tasks to that end. Mostly meeting with different leaders and entreating them to see things from our perspective, you might say.”
The man paused, waiting for some reaction from the elf. She gave none.
“Is this a goal you share?”
“For as long as you pay me,” she replied.
His eyes narrowed as he studied her again. “What deity do you follow, Ms. Elbernarian?”
“They haven’t done much for me, so I’ve never bothered with them.”
First the paper and now this—yes, she was definitely from the forests. Those backwards elves knew nothing of what it meant to live in civilized society. She would be in over her head with what the Front would require of her, but gods know the others had been very clear about recruiting her specifically. They had been watching her for quite some time, planting the seeds that had eventually led her to this meeting today.
“I wouldn’t say that to anyone else, if I were you,” the man offered, voice lowered. “You see, it is unlawful to not worship a deity. If the wrong person heard, you could be arrested.”
“That’s a silly law.”
“But law it still is.”
She paused, as if in thought, before asking, “Who is the most popular god?”
“Then Lars is who I will say I follow,” she replied.
He wrote Lars on his parchment. “I would suggest you get familiar with your deity and act accordingly, as best you can. Have you any family?”
“How is that relevant?”
“Next of kin, Ms. Elbernarian, should some mishap befall you.”
“None that I know of.” Another of those pained expressions swept swiftly over her face.
He knew she couldn’t lie in this room—he had warded the room himself before entering. She believed she had no family. He pressed a little further to make sure. “Surely there is someone who would claim you?”
Her lips pressed into a hard line. “If you must know, my mother died a few months ago. My father was a stranger who had raped her. I doubt he would claim me even if you could find him.” Her green eyes blazed at that, and he felt she was challenging him to find her father and prove otherwise. “There is no one else.”
“Ah, well, my apologies,” he replied. It wasn’t his place to correct her. She would most likely find out on her own soon enough anyway—it was inevitable, given who her father was. He wrote No known kin on the parchment. He handed her a smaller scroll. “You will need to sign that, of course.”
She unrolled the document and frowned at it for several moments, ignoring the quill being offered to her.
“Is there a problem?” he asked. He had a thought. “Can you read?”
“I can read.” She finally took his quill and signed her name at the bottom where indicated. “Just wanted to know what I was signing.”
“Oh it’s all standard, I assure you,” he replied. “Non-disclosures, payment, and all that.” He took back the signed scroll and handed her another, blank, piece of parchment. “You will write messages to us on that parchment there. Updates, notice of completion, that sort of thing. We shall track your progress and pay you accordingly.” He handed her a rough leather coin purse. “Your payment will arrive in this when it is ready.”
She tucked both items away into a pouch on her belt.
“You will meet the other members of your party this evening. You will then receive further instructions in the morning.”
“Where should I meet them?”
“Not to worry. We will collect all of you at sun down.”
“But you won’t know where I will be,” Ellie protested.
He waved a hand dismissively. “That is of no consequence. Just be ready at sun down.”
“Thank you, Mr.—I don’t know your name.”
“I should hope not, as I never gave it. Prepare yourself. And learn about Lars.” He stood up and shook her hand. “Good morrow, Ms. Elbernarian.”
What are your initial opinions of Ellie? Do you want to know more about her? Why or why not?
If you picked this book up off the shelf and read the opening chapter, would you want to read more?