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.
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That first year, after the two black-cloaked men dragged him onto their ship and made him row endlessly, day after day after day, was the worst year of his life.
That first year, when every day he had expected to be freed. Had expected to hear a sailor’s strong voice from a nearby ship, had expected the clunk as a gangplank was thrown down and they were boarded. Had expected someone to rip open the doors to the deck, casting wonderful sunshine down on them, and tell all those rowers crammed below decks that they were free.
That first year, when he and the other boys who had been kidnapped–they were all boys, somehow; all his age or at most a few years older–had huddled together at night, plotting and dreaming of escape. Back when they had lain awake at night talking, their bodies ragged and raw from the endless rowing but their minds still alight with the hope of freedom. When they had traded stories of how they had been kidnapped and of who they had once known who might come to free them. A parent. A city guard they had befriended. Sailors who their friends could hire. One boy boasted that his uncle was the captain of the guard at a local city, and would surely send ships after them to free him–and with him, all the other boys trapped in that miserable Hellscape. They had pinned a lot of hopes on that.
But the hoped-for rescue never came. And after a few years, Iliar had begun to forget. After a few years, he had started to give up. Had stopped dreaming of escape and started dreaming of being let above decks, just for a few minutes, just to feel the sun on his face and the wind on his skin.
But even that was a dream. It never happened.
After that, the days began to blur together. Iliar awoke from his cramped scratchy hammock in the darkness and the cramped wet below decks, stiff and aching from rowing all the previous day, and ate the first meal of the day–a bevy of colorful fruits and leafy vegetables and salted meat. How they had fresh fruit and vegetables on the boat so often, he didn’t know. He had wondered at it, sometimes; in those early years. Then he had stopped caring. Had stopped caring, or wondering, about anything at all.
After first meal, it was to the oars, where they rowed for endless hours, two to an oar. Rowed until fire lanced through Iliar’s back with every stroke, until his muscles burned and felt like water and he would have given anything to stop. Finally they stopped, and over second meal the two men who had kidnapped them came down into the cramped and lightless belowdecks and led them in a series of stretches. He didn’t know the point of those either; all he knew was that after, the pain that burned in his back and arms and legs had receded from agony to a dull throb. Then more rowing, and then third meal; and then sleep.
Day after day after day.
He forgot what the sunshine felt like on his face, not just coming in through a porthole; and forgot the feeling of a sea breeze rustling his cloak. Forgot the feeling of climbing higher than he ever had before, the thrill of it; forgot his friends and even Sarah.
Forgot even Papa, most days.
A numbness settled over him. Comfortable and quiet and miserable and empty, a numbness that swallowed his pain and his fear and his hopes and his dreams; that turned them all into half-remembered feelings of someone else’s life. He stopped talking to the other boys, and they stopped talking to each other. They could all feel the numbness creeping over them, stealing away their thoughts and their pain and their very identity. And none of them could muster the energy to care. They went from talking about escape, to talking about their next meal with a kind of weary resignation, to occasional groans at the oars until even those faded and there was just dead, empty silence broken only by the splash of waves against the hull and the creak of the oars themselves.
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