Deleted scenes — the lost prologue to Red Gold Bridge

Words: 1,525.

Music. The KGSR compilation CD Broadcasts volume 16.

(Note: I don’t like prologues. I think that the device is overused in fantasy and is relied upon by writers who don’t start in the right place. One exception is the prologue to G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire but let’s just say he’s the exception that proves the rule. Anyway, I don’t like prologues but that doesn’t stop me from trying to write them. Thankfully, my writer’s group told me to deep-six this prologue, since everything that happens in it is repeated later in the book, and better. I don’t always listen to my writer’s group, but I’m usually happy when I do.

Note the second: Not that there’s anything wrong with prologues, or even necessarily anything wrong with the deleted scene here. It’s just that, as you write, try to be aware that you aren’t turning a tool into a crutch. And prologues can be an expository crutch. Unless you are G.R.R. Martin.)

The old morrim hulked in the twilit darkness of the forest. Tall trees blocked out most of the sky. There was very little understory, only a few spindly shrubs where pale sunlight stabbed through to the earth. Marthen’s feet sank into loamy soil, and he could feel the tickling of insects and the dampness of the earth through the worn soles of his shoes.

The morrim was a broken boulder that looked much like the other granite outcroppings in the woods. It was patched with moss and lichen. It didn’t rest on the forest floor so much as was rooted in it, like the tall hickories that surrounded it. He got the sense that the morrim was as big below the surface as it was on the top.

Marthen had traveled months to find this hidden place, deep in the woods. He was on foot – he had sold first his warhorse, then his gear, and finally his sword, all for whispers of this place, coin passed from secretive hand to secretive hand.

He kept the saddle and the gun.

Now he set down the little saddle in the dirt by the morrim, and placed his hand on the cool rough surface of the rock. He felt nothing. The guardians could feel the living morrim, the anchor that held down the gordath between the worlds, but he felt nothing.

Then again, that could have been because he was dead drunk. He fumbled for the lid on the bottle that Kate Mossland brought with her between worlds, and took a swig. The buzzing in his head kept itself to a dull whisper, but he could still hear it. The whisper had been his constant companion for months. Carefully, he replaced the lid, screwing it on with great deliberation. The little bottle was cloudy and light, unlike a heavy blown glass bottle. He had saved it all those months. It was perfect for whiskey.

“Perfect,” he said, enunciating each syllable. He was not a sloppy drunk. He wasn’t a drunk at all, except for the buzzing in his head. He didn’t like to lose control. Marthen replaced the bottle in his shirt pocket. The shirt once had been of fine lawn, a creamy white that his orderly kept crisp and clean with brushing and pressing. Now it was soiled, stained with dirt, sweat, and blood. “There,” he said out loud to the forest. It remained indifferent. The trees hulked with life but there were no insects, no birds, no rustling of creatures. The forest could have been dead, except for Marthen.

And the morrim.

What if he dug? Could he find the gordath? The morrim was the anchor. Uprooted, would the gordath open once again?

He had nothing to dig with but his hands. Shakily, one hand on the rock, he sank to his knees, swallowing to keep from vomiting. When his head settled, he began to dig with rough and dirty hands, his fingernails blackened and broken, into the loamy soil and decaying leaves. At his predicament, Marthen giggled, aware of the absurdity of his situation.

“Kate Mossland,” he said, and this time he slurred. “Are you there? I’m coming to find you.”

He wouldn’t even have come this far if it hadn’t been for that other stranger. Bahard. He had been the one who brought the guns through the Wood and set off a war, and brought Marthen to this pass. Marthen had spent months tracking him down, and his search had led him to this.

Worms and beetles were churned up by his digging. He scraped and dug and scraped. His hands stung where the scrapes broke the skin. At length, Marthen had to stop. He stretched himself out next to the morrim, his heart hammering. He tried to get the bottle of whisky out of his pocket but it was too much for him, and he gave it up. The ground was spinning.

“Kate Mossland,” he said again. He made feeble digging motions with his fingers but he knew he was going to pass out. Help me, Kate Mossland.

Deleted scenes — the map store

(Note:  If there is a scene that is at the heart of what I was trying to get at in Gordath Wood, it is this one. Gordath Wood is about getting lost between worlds. Maps don’t work. The Wood itself misleads travelers. A map only shows the trails, but it doesn’t show what is at the heart of the forest, the portal that is malevolent, perhaps sentient, and always waiting. Joe knows he needs a map to find Lynn but the map he ends up with is far different from the one he buys here in the store. )

Joe parked the Impala off the street in front of the tired brick buildings that lined downtown and headed for the map place he’d looked up that morning. The old pamphlet map of the North Salem trail system crinkled in the back pocket of his jeans. He had removed it from the bulletin board in the tack room, a dusty, forgotten piece of paper, one of those hand-inked maps more decorative than informative, with an elaborate North arrow and elegantly scripted names. But it had the main entrances of all the bridle paths, and he had to take it on faith that the trails were more or less accurate.

The bell jangled when he opened the door and the clerk, the only person in the place, looked up from his newspaper. His eyes were bland behind his glasses, giving him the look of a blond owl.

“Can I help you?” he asked, his tone implying he doubted it.

“Howdy. Do you carry maps of Connecticut and New York?” Joe said. He knew after his short experience in New England the impression he was making. The boots and drawl that made thirteen-year-old girls giggle tended to bring out hostility in men.

“Yeah,” the clerk said, making no move to fetch the map.

“Can I take a look?” Joe asked patiently, knowing the clerk was hearing Kin ah? The clerk got up without any sense of urgency and rifled through the shelves, finally pulling out a folded map emblazoned with the USGS logo. He held it out. Joe paid for the map and then hesitated, canting his head toward a table. “Can I just borrow that for minute?” he asked. Now that the transaction was finished and he no longer had to interact with a customer, the clerk nodded and went back to his paper. Joe moved a few maps out of his way and rolled out the survey, pulling the trail map for comparison. He found his spot easily enough, and even accounting for the artistic turn of the cartographer, he could see where the trails went and where they came out. He was able to match up the streets, taking note of where bridle paths crisscrossed roads.

Joe could see nothing unusual in the USGS map, only the spider web of border lines that radiated from the area, delineating state, county, and town lines. He felt the eyes of the clerk on him and he hastily folded up the map and tucked the trail guide into his pocket again. Giving the clerk a tilt of an imaginary hat, he sauntered out into the crisp afternoon.

Joe hurried back to his car, half-wishing he knew how to ride a horse so he could search the trails. Abel Felz, his father, didn’t believe in horses. He had his pickup and his tractors, and he saw horses as a frivolous expense, not a necessity.

Then again, riding the trails was probably not the answer anyway. The woods had been thoroughly searched by fire and police investigators, and volunteers who had ridden out that first day. Both New York and Connecticut state police continued flying over in helicopters. Nothing had turned up yet. His crazy idea to match the maps would probably be as fruitful.

He figured that even if he did find something, it would only make the police more suspicious of him than they already were.

Deleted scenes — a walk in the woods

(Note: In the early versions of Gordath Wood, Lynn wandered around lost for a loooong time. While I wanted to get across the fear and tiredness of being lost in the woods, which is something that happened to me when I was twelve, pages and pages of it has the opposite effect on readers. It’s not frightening. It’s boring. So in keeping with Elmore Leonard’s dictum to leave out the boring parts, I cut most of it. The following is a last snippet that survived almost to the final draft, falling victim at the end to an editorial instruction to tighten things up.)

The forest had long gone silent when Lynn, sitting on the floor of the clearing hugging her knees, raised her head. She had often prided herself on never crying. It didn’t ever do any good and it was a sign of weakness that most people were impatient with despite all their hair pats and sympathy.

Now she wiped her tear-streaked face against her sleeve and thought about survival. Up until the theft of Dungiven, she had only been thinking about being found. That was a luxury she could no longer afford. She could not rely on rescue.

Lynn took a mental inventory. She had her vest. Her boots were good — they weren’t made for walking, she thought with a wan smile, but they were sturdy and would protect her feet from harm. Her socks were useless though, just the thin nylons she always wore so they would fit under her skin-tight breeches and her custom tall boots. They were probably already in tatters, or would be when the time came to peel them off.

Her breeches were no longer skin tight. She straightened out her injured leg, wincing as it protested. A bit more blood had seeped through the knee, and warmth radiated off of it when she placed her hand there. Gathering herself, Lynn got to her feet. Slowly she unbuckled her breeches and began to pull them down, gently drawing them over her knee. The stiff fabric stuck on the abrasion and she cried out, turning it into a curse. Finally it came off, and she took a long look.

The joint was swollen and bruised, the skin already turning red and purple. There was a long deep cut that could use soap and water and an antibiotic ointment. Not to mention anti-inflammatories and an ice pack, she thought.

All in short supply in the woods.

She hated having to draw up her pants again but she took a deep breath and began to inch the whipcord back over her knee. For the second time she burst into tears, it hurt so bad.

“Okay,” she whispered as she tried to regain her composure. “Okay. But it’s not broken. And I just had a tetanus shot last year, so that’s something.”

Not that the cut couldn’t still get infected. At least she could walk though. If she needed to she could find a stick in the tangle of deadwood along the creek and use it as a staff.

So. She had adequate clothing. She had water, if she stayed along the creek. She had daylight still, although the Woods seemed perpetually twilit. She had the weather on her side, if the dryness of the creek was any indication. She had plenty of firewood, if she could make a fire, which she knew she could not.

No fire — and no food either. She would have to be careful about what she sampled of the wild vegetation. Her stomach had the grouchy feeling it got when she passed beyond hunger. She would have to find food soon, or she would end her days sitting by the creek, too weak to continue.

Lynn took a deep breath. “Then I best get a move on while I still can,” she said to the silent forest.

Her first obstacle was the sharp hill that Dungiven and the horse thief had taken. She tackled it slowly, hauling herself up by pulling on saplings and reaching for jutting rocks. The footing was treacherous, covered with slick leaves turning into mold and hiding loose rock. She fell and slid a couple of times, and banged up her other knee, though not nearly as bad.

When she reached the top, though, she was rewarded with a tuft of blue yarn, snagged on a maple sapling whose leaves were already turning bronze. A stray shaft of sunlight stabbed down into the gloom, illuminating the yarn and the great gouges in the leaves that Dungiven’s hooves had made. Nearby, tickling over moss-covered rocks, ran the little stream, the merest reminder of the waterfall the cataract must be in the spring and early summer. Lynn knelt again and drank her fill. Then she stood, straightened her vest and brushed off as much of the dirt as she could, and limped off in the direction Dungiven had gone.

She didn’t know why, but she felt suddenly optimistic.