Excerpt Monday: New First Chapter

For those of you who have read my first Excerpt Monday release, this is my newest attempt at a rewrite. I would REALLY love suggestions/critiques.

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And without further delay or procrastination, here are my first five pages:

MOURN THEIR COURAGE
By
VICTORIA DIXON

Xing Dynasty: In the Tenth Year of Rebuilt Tranquility
Chapter One

Liu Jie had known for months that war brewed beneath the surface of his quiet country. And now it has come.
He closed the door of the room he and his family shared. The clamor of voices from the inn’s first floor enveloped him in an instant. It was twice as loud as when they’d arrived at the Peach Orchard Inn last night. When he’d read the notice.
Servants took long poles and, from hooks above the railing, lowered paper lanterns. The lanterns were a novelty that had not yet come to Jie’s homeland and he observed with interest as the servants lit the bright yellow globes and rehung them. 
The fragile lights swayed as he passed. He stared over the railing at the crowd and grimaced. The room was packed with people vying for space to read the Imperial summons tacked onto the wall behind the bar.  
All I wanted was a cup of rice wine and a meal. He sighed and went downstairs.
Farmers and merchants jostled one another in the aisles. Shouted drink orders and clattering dice assaulted his ears. He stepped off the landing, breathing in the smells of heated wine and steamed vegetables.  
He desperately wanted to talk and laugh with his oldest brother, Mihei. But Mihei was dead. Killed by raiders when Jie was a child. He shook himself free of his thoughts. Long ago he promised his wife he would leave the past where it lay and not resurrect his lost loved ones. Never an easily kept vow, it seemed more difficult than usual now that he stood on the brink of a war where he might lose more family.
Scores of men gathered at the bar. They noted his rank cap and a few left to make room for him. “It’s not necessary,” Jie protested. He gestured for them to sit beside him. One of the men glanced again at the colored bands on his Chuntze cap. The hat was black and sported yellow silk bands for nobility, blue for mastery of martial arts. The man bowed, walking backwards into the crowd. 
 I should have taken the cap off before I came in. Too late now. He caught the innkeeper’s attention and ordered his meal. Then he reread in a glance the notice that would change the lives of so many.
             “The Son of Heaven requires the aid of all men as sons might come to their father. Yellow Turban rebels assault the people and threaten the capital. All districts report.” The crimson ink of the Imperial Chop blazed in a corner.
If he could reach the rebels, and talk to them…. He shook his head. Regardless of how they came to be traitors, he must plan how to stop them. 
Jie sat at a small table. A group of boisterous young farmers sat at a nearby table and a game of sixes commenced with a clatter of dice.
Voices and noise blended into a monotonous drone. When the innkeeper brought him warmed rice wine and a plate of dumplings, he barely tasted the food. Instead, he used his chopsticks and wrote plan after plan in the congealing sauce. He abandoned every scheme.
Each strategy required him to send spies out to learn about the Yellow Turbans. Were they merely criminals, stealing food and clothing, or were they traitors raising an army to overthrow the Emperor, Jie’s nephew? 
This information seemed necessary to Jie, but gaining it did not respond to his Emperor’s summons. Jie might have saved countless people if he had reached his nephew a month ago. Now, the Son of Heaven demanded that Jie attack his countrymen. He committed treason if he acted counter to Imperial commands.
He must either go to the capital and enlist, or gather an army from the countryside and lead men into battle as ordered. 
He glared at his useless plans and groaned.
“Why are you sighing?”  A meaty hand descended on Jie’s shoulder.  “You’re a martial master. You know how to respond.”
Jie took his cap off, turned and looked up.  Did this man believe Jie was a warmonger? “My people are on the other side of the Dragon Back Mountains.  I can only offer myself.”
The warrior scrutinized Jie, then grinned and clapped him on the back.  “Perfect. May I join you?” 
Jie nodded and the warrior sat opposite him. 
The innkeeper brought two large cups filled with wine.
The warrior drank half of his in a gulp.  “I am Tong Zhang.” He pushed aside Jie’s plate to make room for his cup.  “Noticed you were making plans just now. Let’s talk war.” He pointed at the notice.
Something about Zhang touched a memory.  Not his bristling beard or forehead-spanning eyebrow, but his presence. Jie couldn’t place it, but the thought soothed like silk and was as hard to break.  He pushed it aside.
“I won’t ask men to serve while their families lose their lands, but paying farmers to fight will consume my funds. Without extra money, I won’t be able to feed them.”
“You’ve got what’s required, Chuntze.” Zhang pointed to Jie’s cap.  “You’re a strategist. I’m a butcher, so I’ll convince the butcher’s guild to feed us. I’ll destroy things.  You plan how I’ll do it.”
Jie chuckled and nodded at this heaven-sent partner. With Zhang as his support, Jie could command as he wished without enlisting.  But was Zhang trustworthy?  Was he a leader?  
Jie unraveled the skein of thought from moments before.  He knew why Zhang made him laugh.  Zhang reminded him of his brother, Mihei. 
“There is one thing I need to know.” Zhang glared at him. “Do you have a problem with lower classes?”  
Jie snorted.  “You speak the language of your Emperor, you live in his country. You could be my brother.” Zhang beamed and Jie sipped his wine. “Tell me, where were you going before this evening?”  
“Zufen.  Where else should the finest warrior in the land go?” Zhang pounded the table.  “Wine!  I’m almost dry!”  

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9 Responses to “Excerpt Monday: New First Chapter”

  1. lilacfield says:

    Maybe it's the formatting, but character thoughts should be in italics? IMO.
    The story opens nicely, showing the characters in the middle of a dramatic situation and promising more action to come. I take it the backstory will be parceled out in later sections? Neat work 🙂

  2. Kappa no He says:

    Intrigued! I've spent a tiny bit of time in China. Adore the culture. Is this something new or something on sub?

  3. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks, Eve! Yeah, I had some problems with the formatting and apparently lost the italics without noticing. Sigh. ;D And yes, I've trimmed chapters of backstory. ;D

    Thanks so much for the kind comment, Thersa! It means more than I can say coming from you. This is on submission to agents. Since you live in Japan, you might be familiar with the story. It's based on "Romance of the Three Kingdoms."

  4. madisonwoods says:

    Hi Victoria, I love your writing. Only found one instance of something to offer by way of crit. Early you mention that war had come, then a little farther down you mention he was 'on the brink' of a war. That's a contradiction you could fix by not saying on the brink of a war, but on the brink of losing more family members.

    I like learning about the culture while reading your stories.

  5. Medeia Sharif says:

    Fantastic, Victoria. Asian culture has always interested me. Good luck on the subs.

  6. Victoria Dixon says:

    Great catch and thank you, Madison!

    Thanks for the good luck wishes, Medeia. I think I'll need it to find that agent who knows the value in my subject matter.

  7. Aron White says:

    Victoria,

    I really like the beginning and the revision from the first draft you posted before. War is approaching and I'm looking forward to see what is comes next. 🙂

    One suggestion I have is the date at the beginning. I like using the titles like year of tranquility, but I would suggest trying to work in the Western Dating system as well (A.D./B.C.) since that would help readers not as familiar with Three Kingdoms and the historical timeframe. I noticed Jeannie Lin uses that technique with her writing.

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

    Aron

  8. Victoria Dixon says:

    Hi, Aron. Thanks for the suggestion and comments! I'm not sure I can do as you're suggesting. Jeannie can do it as she has a western character who would think in those terms. I don't have any western character in the story. 🙁 I DO mention how recent the invention of paper is early on in the story and hope that will help people know how long ago it's set. That said, if anyone has any suggestions, I'm open to hearing how to fix this problem. It was something an interested agent also had reservations about. 🙁

  9. Aron White says:

    Victoria, good point about the character perspective in reference to the dating system. I mentioned Jeannie's book because she puts a simple time stamp like "Tang Dynasty China, 758 A.D." at the beginning of the chapter.

    Another thought might be to briefly mention another civilization at the same point in time at the very beginning. Three Kingdoms is around the latter days of the Roman Empire and something like, "as the days of Rome's glory come to close, so too does the reign of the Han Dynasty." You'd have to be careful about how to work that in though without distracting from the current setting. Just my two cents. 🙂

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