I recently finished the second draft of a story I’m working on, and I decided to share it online. I’m sharing one chapter at a time, and the story is about 487,000 words right now (roughly 5 paperback novels in length, give or take), so this will take awhile.
I estimate that 2nd draft is about 80% of the way there, story-wise; but 80% is not 100%. This chapter might show up in the final story completely unchanged. It might show up with minor changes, or heavy revisions; or might be cut from the final draft completely. If it does remain, it might be in a new place in the story or the same place.
* * * * *
Iliar awoke on the beach what felt like days later.
He groaned and tried to climb to his feet, but his muscles felt like water. He managed to plant one hand in the coarse brown sand underneath him, but when he pushed his arm wobbled and he collapsed back to the ground.
He groaned again. Where in the name of the Gods was he? He barely remembered getting to this beach. All he remembered was rowing against that whirlpool for hours. For days. He blinked, convinced his memory must be playing tricks on him; but no. He distinctly remembered rowing in that storm in the night, and keeping rowing as the sun rose. And then rowing more, into nightfall and back into day. And more, maybe. He wasn’t sure after that.
How in the name of the Gods was that possible? He knew he was strong, from that Gods-be-damned ship; but nobody could row like he had for two straight days.
But then…he sighed, and rubbed a knuckle into his eye blearily. What did he know? He didn’t know anything of the world. All he knew was the confines of that wretched ship, and he didn’t even know that very well.
He winced against the sun, beating into his skull. This was the first time he had even seen sunshine in…he didn’t know. Three centuries, had the old man who had helped him escape said? Gods above. Three hundred years.
Suddenly the sadness washed through him. An aching loss, like a tide rushing over him and scouring him bare. His Papa was gone. Sarah, the boys he had played with growing up, everyone he had ever known. If that old man had spoken true and he’d been gone for three hundred years….every one of them was dead.
He had thought he would marry Sarah someday, growing up. He didn’t know what marriage meant, at ten years old; but he had liked her and she had smelled nice and when she smiled at him it made something inside him lighten and start doing flips.
And now she was in her grave. Her, and Papa, and his mother, and Juilin and Daryn and everyone else he had ever known.
He closed his eyes as the pain washed through him. And for a long time, he just lay there and sobbed.
* * *
A long time later, Iliar’s sobbing faded. He felt…washed clean, somehow. Still empty, still hollow. But better.
Crying’s alright, lad, if you’re truly hurt; but don’t let it stop you from living your life. Those had been his Papa’s words, after Iliar’s mother had been killed by that stray dagger and he had spent the whole night sobbing. His father, red-eyed himself, had comforted him the next morning.
She’s gone, lad; and that’s a sad thing. A tragic thing. Never be afraid to miss her, or feel sad; because that’s how you know she loved you and you loved her.
But don’t forget to live your life. She wouldn’t want that. You’ll be a man soon, and a man’s got to be able to pick himself up after a hard blow and keep fighting. Stay down a day if you need to, but she wouldn’t want you to stay down forever.
Only…that had been Papa’s advice when they were manning the shop together. When they had tasks to do to keep buyers coming in and a roof over their heads. What did Iliar have to do now?
The ship had drowned in that whirlpool. He didn’t have to worry about those sorcerers coming after him, and he couldn’t do a damn thing to help the passengers. That made him sad, but it was what it was. Mostly, he was just grateful to be off of the ship.
He would need food–his insides ached with hunger, and food might make his muscles a little less wobbly. But after that, what?
Everyone he had ever loved was dead. The people hunting him and the people he had tried–however briefly–to save were dead. He didn’t see anyone on the beach he had landed on. Didn’t see much of anything, except his long boat dragged onto shore.
And he was so tired. His muscles felt like water and his chest felt like it was eating a hole inside him. Ignoring his hunger for the moment, he collapsed back to the sand.
Darkness took him.
* * *
It was the hunger that woke Iliar. Hunger shooting through his belly like bolts of fire, hunger eating at his insides and leaving him dizzy and disoriented.
He didn’t know what life held for him. It didn’t matter, if he was being honest with himself. He didn’t care. Still, right now he needed food. The physical pain of it pushed through his apathy and his sadness and made it impossible for him to lie still.
He planted his hand in the coarse, wet sand underneath his face. It must have rained while he was asleep; his breeches were drenched, and his bare chest was wet. His hair was sodden and dripping onto his face.
His arm muscles wobbled, but he growled and pushed himself to a sitting position; then slowly stood, fighting the tremors in his legs.
He didn’t know how long he had slept, or how long before that he had rowed without food. Long enough, it seemed, that his body felt like it was eating itself from lack of food. He had never been this hungry; even before the ship, when some days he had played with his friends from dawn until after dusk and forgotten to eat in the middle. He looked down, and half-expected to find a hole where his stomach had been.
He looked around the beach, scanning for something he could eat. As weak as he was, he doubted he could catch an animal. He and his friends had played at catching small rodents in the countryside, on those rare times Papa had taken them out of the city; but he wouldn’t trust himself to catch so much as a rabbit now.
The beach was warm and bright, still wet but drying rapidly from the hot sun beating down in a cloudless sky. Iliar looked along it, past the waves lapping gently against the sloping shore. His stomach twisted as he remembered rowing endlessly on that ship, barely aware of anything as waves sloshed or crashed against the hull. Staring vacantly at nothing, as his life leeched away and Sarah grew old and died.
He fought the urge to double over and empty whatever might be in his belly. If he never set foot on another ship, it would be too soon.
There was a bird sitting on a branch nearby, bright and colorful. The prospect of fresh meat was so appealing that he staggered a step towards it before realizing he had no way to catch it, let alone kill it. Weak as he was, he doubted he could even throttle it to death.
In any case, it hissed at him and flapped away as soon as it saw him.
On the beaches growing up with Papa, he had sometimes seen white-shelled crabs dancing along the sand. Those hadn’t been slow, but they hadn’t been too fast either. He wondered if there were any here.
He staggered along shore, his feet digging into the soft cool sand, looking from side to side. Here and there he could see holes in the sand, homes for some creatures; or undulations in the beach making little hills and valleys; but nothing living.
He sat down beside a hole in the sand, careful not to let his shadow cover the hole and scare whatever lived inside it. He didn’t even know if anything did live inside it–this beach was just different enough from the white sand and palm trees of the coast around his home city that he didn’t know if he could find food. But his legs were wobbling harder than ever and he didn’t have a better idea.
Time passed. Iliar didn’t know how much, except that the burning sun barely moved across the blue sky. Finally something skittered out of the hole.
It saw him, and tried to scuttle to the side, but too late. Iliar made a lunge and caught the spiky six-legged crab. It snapped at him with its claw, and he swore as it pinched his finger hard enough to draw blood.
Its carapace was hard and white, and Iliar held it with one hand and punched his other fist into the top of the carapace. The shell cracked. Iliar did it again and the crab died. He cracked the legs and ate the flesh inside, then ate the shell too. It tasted awful, and was hard as wood, but Iliar wasn’t in a place to be picky.
With a little bit of meat now inside him, he staggered to his feet and kept walking. His legs didn’t wobble quite so much now. Partly it was the crab, but maybe too it was the knowledge that he could find things to eat here.
A while later, as afternoon was fading towards evening and the shadows were lengthening, Iliar turned a bend in the beach and saw a long stretch of mossy wet seaweed draped over smooth rocks. The smell was sharp and salty and mouth-watering. Iliar eagerly fell to his knees beside one of the rocks, peeling off seaweed and eating it. It was squishy and salty and he had never tasted anything so wonderful.
Strength slowly filled him, and as he ate he wondered: where in the Gods’ names did he go next?
Want to get updates on the story, including future chapters sent right to your email and an announcement of when the final story will be published? Feel free to sign up for email updates.