So I’m a firm believer in transparency of process. Stories and books can and do go through a million iterations before they hit the presses, and first drafts are most often garbage. That is, I am told, the purpose of first drafts, to be hot steaming August rat fuel.
I’m currently working on a novel, and lemme tell you, this shit is hard. It’s a completely different muscle from short fiction. 30,000 words in and I have no fucking clue where I’m going, where we may end up, or if this thing I have spent literal years of my life wrestling with will turn out any good in the end. But, y’know, we’re 30,000 words in, so turning back now is probably a bad idea.
It is here, at roughly 120 pages in, that I have decided to stop and post an excerpt, just so you can see what a flaming mess a first draft is. I won’t say I’m sorry, but I will say you are free to flee the area without any hard feelings.
Listen. D’you hear that sound? That rustling, like the wind stirring linen on a line? That low flutter, those wingbeat gusts flattening the grass as they pass over yonder?
Gossip, my doves. There’s no catching it once it takes flight.
A tinker says he saw a Sister of the Golden Eye leave the Temple more months back than he’s got fingers, and he’s had so much to drink he ought to be seeing in triplicate. Hunters coming home from the deep woods bring back rabbit and doe and tales of this same Sister spotted traveling north, towards the desolate places where grass and game run thin. Much, much later, a grave’s grass length of time has taken root and now it’s a herb-woman saying she’s spied the Sister riding back south with a child, a gangle-legged brown-skinned slip of a thing no older than a ten-count.
Could you see the ears? her customers ask. Has another come so soon?
The herb-woman shakes her plaited head, scattering rosemary needles every whichaway. Nay, nay, she says. Was towards dusk, and the wee thing was so shaggy-headed with such a tangled black thatch of curls it’s a wonder they could see at all from underneath it. But why else would the Sister have gone to fetch a foundling from the Desolation? Why else if it wasn’t time, and just in the nick of time to boot?
Tongues flap. Tales spread. Accounts are passed round from hand to hand until they tarnish and lose their shine. It takes a good hard firsthand polish from a goose-matron to give them back their luster.
There she was, just stirring the pot and wondering whether or not it was going to decide to rain—praying for the former and betting on the latter, for it was getting on to that time again where the people’s prayers fell thicker than raindrops—when in through the front door of her cottage burst a girl, knobbly-kneed and shabby-dressed, all legs and arms and hair like a crow’s nest and great big golden eyes peering out from beneath that put you in mind of an owlet’s. Straight into the goose-matron’s face she had looked, this strange little creeture, and whatever she peeped there must have disappointed her mightily, for she had promptly burst into such a fit of sobbing you would’ve figured her heart cracked in half. All of this in the time it took to stir widdershins, and the poor goose-matron so startled she nearly dropped her wooden spoon straight into the cauldron.
And then—may blight strike every randy gander and laying goose in her flock if it wasn’t true, strike every bird stone dead the eve before market day—who strides in behind this unfortunate child but a Sister of the Golden Eye, a blessed Sister of the Temple of the Talon, and then the goose-matron DID lose her spoon. Her face was hidden behind one of those wooden masks they were always wearing, carved and painted to look like wild birds (this Sister’s was done up something like a nightjar, the kind Mam had always called a goat-sucker) and small, she was, but you could just feel the power pouring off her, like a banty hen fluffed up beneath her garb.
My apologies for the interruption and the intrusion, miss, this sainted banisher of hungry shadows says. Imagine that, would you now? A Sister of the Golden Eye apologizing to the likes of her! Once on a blessing day what seemed a thousand years back the goose-matron’s Pa had lifted her atop his shoulders so she could see a procession of them pass as they made the rounds of the nearby villages, but none of that lot had spoken, Griffin preserve her. My charge got away from me. Wild as a fox kit, this one, but she meant no harm by it. Wipe your nose and say sorry, Sparrow.
It was lucky breaks that no bats had taken roost in the goose-matron’s mouth, for sure as anything her jaw was swinging like a cellar door. The girl had stepped up, snot-stained and streaked with dirt and all the fire in her eyes gone, and she did as her minder told her to. That seemed to satisfy the Sister, who gathered the girl up in her robes and swept back out the way she had come without so much as a by-your-leave. Them’s of the Temple of the Talon didn’t need to by-your-leave anybody if they didn’t have a mind to and you could pretty well guess they knew it. Even her apology had been a generously given mercy.
All of that would have been strange enough on its own to make the goose-matron think she’d dreamed the whole thing, if not for the tear stains on the cobbles and the tracks in the path to her front door. But none of that was the important bit. No no, the important bit was what she’d seen peeping out beneath the girl’s hair.
Was—was it, her audience would ask, leaning closer, barely daring to breathe—
Oh, aye. As sure as the bushy brows above your eyes. Feathers. Her ear-tips were as feathery as a wren’s bottom. They’ve got another one, and make no mistake of it.
Listen. D’you hear that sound? It would be rather hard not to, now, for it’s all the people talk of far and wide. A new Griffin’s Child is coming. Ring the bells and rattle the bones. Gather your sick and your dying, your hopeless cases and your rootless lepers. Or don’t bother; they’ll surely gather themselves, streaming along the road to the Temple like refuse before a floodwave.
She is coming. Feral shadows banished for another generation, the clock rewound so tight you can hear the springs creak from the strain of it. She is coming to read the stories that will stitch the world back together, and everyone runs for a bucket the way they would hearing thunder after a long drought.