Deleted scenes — backstory

(Note: Sometimes the work we do is never meant to be written down but serves only as a way to explore our characters and their stories. Wendy Wheeler of Slug Tribe calls this “story work.” It helps gives dimension to your novel even if it doesn’t make it into the final version. I’m not sure if this is really how Crae met Stavin, or even if this is why Lady Sarita was so unhappy in Red Gold Bridge, but it’s the story that came out when I explored this question.)

It was a fine day for a journey. The morning mist burned off under the strong summer sun, and they rode with their cloaks rolled up and tied at the back of their saddles. It was a six days’s ride to Salt, which bordered Red Gold Bridge’s southern border, along the Aeritan River. Crae led Alarin through the wilderness that he and Lynn had fled through last winter. They had fled Trieve when Kenery had marched through on his way to join up with the council’s army. Galloped right into the swords of Hare, the tricky Brythern lord, he remembered.

Back then, winter had draped the land in a blanket of unbroken snow. The stars had burned fiercely overhead, and the cold had caused him and Lynn to wrap up together in one blanket. They had not given in to their desires though, but he remembered it now with a kind of homesickness. As tired and cold and desperate as they were, she had lain within the curve of his body, and he had stayed awake, arms around her, as she slept, taking the peacefulness for what it was, knowing it could not last.

The weather was very different now. They walked along a narrow game trail, their stirrups brushing the tall grasses with tiny purple flowers, letting loose grains of pollen and dust. The air smelled warm, the sun beating down putting a shine into their horses’ coats. They were able to trot and walk and trot again, keeping a steady pace without hurrying. The first day was fine, Crae falling into the ease of travel. Alarin was a good traveling companion too, quick with a joke or a story. Crae pulled out his tale easily; the young man had always been a smallholder and had grown up in one of the Trieve villages. His father was a blacksmith, his mother shepherd and spinster, whose good yarn was known for its softness and evenness. He had brothers and sisters – all were grown.

Farming was not for him. “I wish that I had taken up soldiering as a boy,” he said. “A captain came through a few years ago, looking for men, but my parents asked me not to go. And no one has come since, but you. I’d like to become more proficient with a sword, and get a place somewhere.”

Crae nodded. A farm boy with ambitions for soldiering wasn’t unusual. The world could seem awfully small when you spent it in one place.

“I would not want to lose you but you can talk with the captains and the lords we meet at council,” he said. “You are a good hand with a sword, for sure. We had the proof of that.”

“If you think that you want me to stay,” Alarin began. Crae laughed, and the horses bobbed their heads at the sound. Sham snorted as if taking part in the conversation.

“No, your parents have the right to ask you to stay but I don’t. Help me find a good captain, though, before you take your leave.”

“No one shoddy or ill-fitting,” Alarin promised. He threw a glance at Crae.

“What about you? How did you become captain at Red Gold Bridge?”

It had been ten years since he had persuaded Lady Sarita to make him her captain. She had been young then – well, he had as well. He had stood in the entrance to her chamber at the grand house in Wessen as she and her householders had packed her belongings. She had married Lord Tharp a month before, and they were off that day to Red Gold Bridge.

She was beautiful. Crae couldn’t help but note it. Her hair was covered under her well-tied kerchief, but it only accented the clear lines of her face and her pale complexion. Freckles dusted across her nose and her eyes were a clear brown under arched brows. She was tall and well-formed and he stammered a little as he laid out his request.

“I am a second in command under your mother’s captain,” he told her, standing as tall as he could in her doorway. The sunlight shafted across the room, raising dust motes as women and men bustled around him. “I would be honored to put my sword and my bow at your service at Red Gold Bridge.”

She had a way of looking directly at people as if she could see through them and she looked straight at him now. “You would leave your home and come with me?” She sounded surprised. One brow arched.

“I would, Lady Sarita.” He wanted to say something about being a familiar face from home, but he it sounded presumptuous, and they barely knew one another. The other members of the Wessen family unbent but not Sarita. She was like her mother in that respect, though the two ladies fought oh so much.

“It’s a forest,” she said, looking out the window at the plains of Wessen, the good horses the country was known for grazing in their fields. “The sun only comes through between the trees, although Eyvig said there are meadows.”

He wondered if she was talking to him, or herself. Sure enough, she turned her gaze back on him. “Could you stand to leave the wide open spaces in Wessen?”

He heard it as clearly as if she had said it out loud: she could not bear to leave, and only the marriage vows kept her on this course.

“The spaces of Wessen are not so wide open for all of us,” he told her. “I would have my own command. I’ve picked men, good men,” he added hastily.

She sat at the window and folded some clothes, smoothing them over her arms. She didn’t look at Crae but out the window. That he remembered clearly. The sun shone on her face and a few brown locks that curled at the nape of her neck were caught in the light. She was beautiful and hard, like a statue. Lord Tharp was lucky, was the consensus among the men at Wessen, the guards and the soldiers, the householders and the crafters. She was the most beautiful woman in all of Aeritan.

But Lord Tharp was a handsome man too – they had all heard the women sighing and giggling over him.

And she had accepted him, even married him. She should be happy, he thought.

But Lady Sarita was not. And so, ever hopeful, he decided to say it after all.

“I would be a friend from home, Lady.”

She looked at him directly and the surprise was clear in her expression. Crae groped for honesty. “We don’t know each other, but I’m ambitious, and want to lead my own men. And you – you will be far from home. Your own guard could escort you for visits to Wessen.”

She smiled at that, a genuine smile.

“You could at that. All right, Captain. We have an agreement.” She held out her hand and he shook it, and he knew he was half in love with her at that moment, for her beauty and her forthrightness, and the way she had smiled, as if he had given her a gift.

He came back to the present when Alarin sneezed at a cloud of pollen that rose around them. In the distance birds wheeled high up in the blue blue sky, lost against the wispy clouds. In the distance birds called to one another and bees buzzed drowsily in the flowers.

“That’s how it happened,” Crae said. He hadn’t known it then, but it was the beginning of more change than he had ever imagined. And as for ambition. Well. He was a lord now.

And she was still stranded in a forest with only shafts of sunlight instead of wide open spaces. He wondered if she had such spaces on the other side of the gordath. He hadn’t been able to fathom much of the stories Lynn had told him, and in truth most of the concerns were in this world.

Alarin grinned at him, his open face as impish as a boy’s.

“Got more than you bargained for?”

Crae laughed. “Sometimes I think so. Sometimes I just can’t believe it.”

The farmer had stepped out of line, perhaps, but Crae enjoyed the comradeship. It had been a while since he had that simple sort of friendship.

Not since Stavin died, anyway. As if he knew what Crae was thinking, Alarin said, “You were so different from Lord Stavin, we didn’t know what to expect. And you were just a captain, or had been. But you lead us well at least.”

At least. Crae gave him a keen look. “Did Stavin not lead you well?”

Alarin gave a rueful laugh. “He was a lord, and you were friends. I best not speak.”

Crae drew the reins through his fingers, feeling along the braided leather. The smell of sun-warmed horse, mingling with the tall grasses, made him sneeze too. When he could speak he said, “We were friends, and good friends. But we knew each other’s faults and favors too. He used to say I brooded too much. And he, oh lord, if he thought it he said it. But he was a good friend, one of the best. A good man.”

“How did you become friends?”

Crae grinned, remembering their first meeting. The lords’ convocation had been held at Red Gold Bridge the year of Lord Tharp and Lady Sarita’s wedding. Crae and the Red Gold Bridge captains had spent much of the weeks of the meeting keeping peace. Where men came together from different companies, plus the merchants from the river, keen to make a profit on the gathering, there was no end to the fights.

Stavin had been boasting in one of the taverns that sprung up by the docks. There were lines of them, under white tents that sprang up like mushrooms in the forest. Crae had gone in to break up the fight his loose tongue had started with some Camrin soldiers, and he ended up backing up the brash young lord instead.

“I told him later that I should have thrown him into holding with the others, but he said that he would have just argued his way out of it.”

They saw each other a few times a year, when Stavin came to Tharp’s holding on business, or Crae took his leave and journeyed to Trieve. Once Lady Sarita had disappeared, he never returned to Wessen, but he had no family there anymore anyway. His parents had died and he had no brothers or sisters.

Reminiscence made Crae ill at ease. The trail widened a bit and flattened out. Crae nodded. “We can make some time here. Let’s go.”

He urged Sham into a slow gallop and Alarin followed. The sound of the grasses brushing over their stirrups and the muffled hoofbeats of the horses mingled together in a strange counterpoint. He didn’t know what he was racing toward, but it was better than riding slow to meet it.


Deleted Scenes — The lost original beginning to Gordath Wood

(Note: I forgot about this! But we’re cleaning up old computers here and I dug it out of some files that go back aways. This was the original beginning to Gordath Wood. It had zippy dialog and character development and I hated to see it go. But this guy, Harris? I have no idea where he came from or where he went, so starting the novel with his problem was, well, problematic. So long, Harris. Be happy, dude.)

Lynn Romano threaded through the crowd around the warmup ring, shouldering between horses, riders, and spectators. She squirmed between someone’s black warmblood with a checkerboard design gleaming on its huge haunches and a tall skinny man at ringside. In the ring, a rider on a chestnut thoroughbred nodded to the judges and put his horse into a canter, circling before he began his course. Everyone around the ring hushed as the chestnut soared over the first fence, a simple four-foot rail decorated with plastic flowers.

Lynn watched for only a moment before turning to the skinny man. “Harris,” she said. “What the hell is going on?”

Harris rested his arms on the fence rails. The sleeves of his smart hacking jacket were pushed back and his white stock was loosened at his throat. His head was bare — his plush black velvet hunt cap rested on the top of the fence post. He turned to look at Lynn and the look on his face, was, if not exactly blissful, the face of a man who had made a decision and found peace with it.

“I quit,” he said. “I told her, and she said fine, and said to find you. But I already quit, so –” he shrugged, making it quite clear that finding Lynn was no longer his problem.

Lynn felt a shriek coming on. Out of deference to the horse and rider negotiating the course (knocked a rail at the in-and-out, but it didn’t fall, so they still had a chance in the ribbons) she whispered instead.

“I know. Kate found me. And Joe, and Gina, oh, and Caroline, don’t forget her, she was her usual self about it too.” Hysteria caused her voice to rise and she tamped it down with effort. With a huge breath she said, “You can’t quit. You have to ride Dungiven in the next class.”

“I’m sorry, Lynn. I should have told you sooner, I know, but I’ve decided this just isn’t me anymore.” He waved a hand indicating the horses, the crowd, the loudspeaker announcing the winners in the pony classes.

“You decided this fifteen minutes before the Classic?” Her voice rose; the owner of the warmblood gave her a disgusted look, clucked to her horse, and led him away from the crazy woman shouting ringside. Lynn gave her glare for glare and wormed into the empty spot. “Why? Just tell me why? Wait—” she held up her hand. “I changed my mind. Tell me after the class, Harris. Please. One more class. That’s all I ask.” She tried to smile winningly and knew it came out as a ghastly grimace.

His smile became sad, a little rueful. “You know why. We’ve talked about it. Horse shows. All this money and effort and time – for what? So a bunch of rich snobs can play lord of the manor and dress up and we ride their horses and win their ribbons and sleep in tiny apartments over their barns.”

“It was worth it! That’s what we talked about, Harris! It was worth it! Not give it up!”

“Not anymore. Not for me.” He shook his head, forestalling her next protest. “You don’t want me to ride him, Lynn. Not with my heart not in it. Bad stuff happens.”

He walked off then, taking off his hacking jacket as he made his escape and flinging it over his shoulder. He left his hard hat on the fence post – Lynn picked it up and watched him head for the parking lot.

Deleted scene — Kate and Allegra

(Note: I loved this scene, which was one of the first ones I wrote for Red Gold Bridge. I felt like it did a lot of great story work. It showed where Kate was after Gordath Wood and the kind of person she had become. The problem was, it distracted from the story arc and weighted the sequel too much toward Kate and away from the rest of the characters. And so it had to go. The final book is stronger without it, but if you believe that characters live on while we close the pages of the book, this is something that happened to Kate and Allegra in their own lives outside the story.)

“Kate! Look over here!” It was her mom, with the new digital video camera. She waved. Kate Mossland tried to smile and sat straight on Allegra’s back. The mare tossed her head and shied sideways as if the camera were a dangerous weapon. Kate sat deep in the saddle, her gloved hands expertly collecting the reins as the undisciplined mare acted up.

Kate was in full show drag – dark blue hacking jacket, white shirt and stock, fawn breeches and black boots. The velvet hunt cap sat securely over her hair, now tamed into a french braid with hairspray and bobby pins. She had given in to her mom’s urging and gotten highlights, and she knew that where the braid peeked out from the back of the cap, her brown hair gleamed.

Look at me, she thought, giving her mom another smile and urging the dark bay mare into trot in the warmup ring. No longer the sloppy horse-crazy girl she had been. Just like everyone else now. She posted to Allegra’s trot, putting the mare into circles and half halts, and the mare settled into the work. The trick was to keep her busy. The mare that was, though Kate thought it probably went for herself too.

The loudspeaker blared, making Allegra snort and break into a gallop before Kate brought her back. “Intermediate Hunter-jumpers over fences, ring four. Hunter-jumpers, ring four.”

Kate followed the others as they filed out of the practice ring toward ring four. Lynn caught up with her, clipboard in hand.

“How’s she doing?” she said. She wore sunglasses, and all Kate could see of her was her serious mouth, pursed over her notes.

“Same old. She’s such a pain.”

Lynn smiled. “Well, there’s a good chance you won’t have to worry about it much longer. This one couple is interested. They want to buy her for their daughter.”

“Poor kid,” Kate muttered. As if she understood the sentiment Allegra snorted and reared. People shouted and scattered. Kate sat it like a statue. Lynn put out a hand and took Allegra’s rein when she landed, blowing.

“Kate stop it. It’s not her fault.”

Kate gave an exaggerated sigh. “I know that.” Allegra used to be owned by Carolyn, a self-absorbed rider, not even a real horsewoman, who took the high-strung Thoroughbred and ratcheted up the hysteria until the mare was almost unrideable. By the time the gordath destroyed almost half of New York, Carolyn had fled, leaving Allegra behind. Kate had been working with her, and while there were times the mare could be fun – she was bouncy, loved to jump, and would make an experienced rider a good mount – she could fly into inexplicable rages and be truly dangerous.

Instead of scolding, Lynn put a hand on her knee. “Hey,” she said softly. “You okay?”

Kate bit her lip. “I don’t know. I guess – I don’t know.”

“I know. It’s been crazy for me too.”

Kate didn’t know all of what had happened to Lynn in Aeritan, but she knew that she had to leave her boyfriend behind – he was a guardian now, helping to keep the gordath closed. Sure, Lynn owned Hunters Chase, but Kate knew it hadn’t been easy for her. Lynn gave her a reassuring smile and stepped back. “Okay, deep in the corners and remember to look your turns.”

It was such Lynn advice that Kate smiled back, and her spirits lifted a little. She collected Allegra and turned her toward the entrance to the ring, waiting for her number to be called.

The course was fairly straightforward, the fences no higher than three foot six, with nothing tricky except for the triple combination and a lead change crossing the diagonal. Allegra could do all of it, unless she decided to have a nervous breakdown in the middle of the ring.

At last her number was called and she urged the mare through the gate. Kate nodded to the judge, the whistle blew and she pushed Allegra into a canter, making a wide circle.

When she came on the first fence she collected the mare so that she launched herself from her haunches in a great arc. Kate kept contact with her hands and calves, her heels down to give her muscles strength, her back arched to lower her center of gravity. She sat Allegra as if she were glued to the saddle. Kate couldn’t help it – she grinned. So it’s going to be like that, huh? she thought at the mare. Allegra was on. Her petal-shaped ears were straight forward until the tips almost touched. She hated being talked at or clucked to by her rider so Kate kept her silence, using only her hands, her heels, and her balance to communicate.

Allegra took every fence that way, knees practically up to her chin, great springing jumps for sheer athletic joy. At the triple combination, a set of jumps with one stride between the first two fences and two long strides before the third jump, Kate stopped time in her head. She checked the mare so Allegra landed compactly, launched her with her heel behind the girth, and leaned slightly to the inside in the air over the fence. She let time go again. Allegra landed correctly, on the right lead, and flew over the next fence, aimed on the diagonal across the ring. The barrels were a breeze. Kate finished, brought Allegra to a trot and a walk and they exited the ring to hushed cheers. Kate’s heart swelled with joy from the great round they had gone. She wanted to jump off Allegra’s back and give the mare a hug. Instead she slid a sedate hand along Allegra’s wet shoulder. The mare tossed her head and snorted – even that much affection disturbed her. Kate bit her lip to keep her happiness from overwhelming her. Instead she muttered under her breath, “You are a great horse. You are a great horse.”

Allegra flicked an ear back at her and Kate knew she had heard.

When they left the ring she slid to the ground and put her forehead against Allegra’s, trying to hide her tears of happiness, mixed, as they tended to be these days, with sorrow. I am just a mess, she thought. Just one hot mess. She dried her tears hastily as Lynn came up with the interested couple and their daughter. Lynn gave Kate a brief glance of concern, then turned back to the couple.

“So, here she is. As you can see, for an experienced rider, she can be a joy.”

The girl was about thirteen, skinny, freckled, and serious in her breeches and jacket. She looked at Kate and Kate flushed, knowing the girl could see the streaks of tears on her face.

“You should have shortened her stride at the in-and-out. She took it too fast.”

Embarrassment turned to anger. “Really?” Kate said coolly. “Imagine that.” I’d like to see you even stay in the saddle over a course like that, you little snot.

Lynn coughed. “Now, she would also be a great dressage prospect but we haven’t started her yet. We figured her new owner would like to develop her –”

“Dressage is boring.”

There was a moment of silence all around. The girl’s mother said anxiously, “Is she, is she a nice horse?”

Allegra laid her ears back and bared her teeth at a passing chestnut mare.

Lynn had a strange expression on her face as if she was trying to keep back a laugh. “She can be tough. She needs a firm hand.”

“Oh,” the mother said anxiously. “Well, honey, don’t you want a horse who can be a friend? Like your Dandy was?”

“I just want to win at Nationals, mom. I don’t care what the horse is like.”

The girl’s father chuckled. “That’s my girl. She’s got a real competitive spirit. When can we come by the farm and let Kelsey give her a test drive?”

Kate looked at the irascible horse who had been her nemesis for months. She looked at the girl. The girl had taken her phone out and was now texting.

“We’re closed tomorrow, so how about Tuesday –” Lynn began.

“Actually, we’re thinking about her too,” Kate cut in. Everyone looked at her. Even with sunglasses, Lynn’s surprise came through bright and clear. “So, ummm, I’m just going to talk to my mom, actually, about her. And here she is.”

Mrs. Mossland came up, camera still in hand, looking at everyone, a bemused expression on her face.

“So, can we buy her?” Kate said. “Please?”