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Pride of Lyons-beginning of Young adult novel

by sabriel 

Posted: 10 January 2005
Word Count: 2751
Summary: Orane Lyons, the first girl born to the Lyons family in centuries, is conflicted about her role in her family and in her village. Her brother, Bastien, has gone missing and is presumed dead. He is the heir to the Lyons title of Warrior, and Orane feels she must find him or a terrible evil will encroach on the village and all she holds dear.

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Chapter 1
The Forest for the Trees

The forest crouched low over the path, blocking Orane’s way like some huge, malevolent animal on its haunches. The way through looked narrower than she remembered, a thin ribbon of safety unfurling through the dark. With an almost inaudible sigh, Orane started forwards. As in dreams of the very worst sort, her feet seemed mired and heavy when she most wanted them to be light and fleet. A rich, humus scent breathed out of the woods around her, redolent of wild and unknown things. She had to cross the forest, she absolutely needed to get to the mage Fantine's hut. She wasn’t normally so jumpy, she thought, angry with herself for this weakness. This forest was well known to her, but lately, with the danger that had started to arise in the village, it seemed much less friendly. A sudden noise from the periphery made her jump and glance nervously to her left and for a horrible moment the filtered light illuminated the long, elegant bones of some ruined monster. Orane drew a ragged breath for courage and looked again, her hand falling automatically on the hilt of her short sword. It was just a fallen silver birch, after all.
“Just a few more yards…just a few more steps…” she intoned to herself as a mantra. Her feet were a million pounds each, dipped in treacle. Her courage almost failed her, but the words of her maman echoed in her mind, “Courage, my girl, always face the unknown with courage, even if you don’t feel brave…”
Her reluctant footsteps led her slowly towards a clearing in the middle of

the forest until she was so close she could see dust motes, rising and

dipping like tiny golden fairies in the shafts of light which pierced

the trees. So beautiful they looked, for a moment Orane whirled round

in an ecstatic dance with them, spotlit by the warm light, the steps of her

impromptu dance muffled by the thick carpet of fragrant pine

needles. As she whipped round, stirring the motes into a cyclone, something

on the edge of her vision stopped her. There was a mound of

leaves which was moving. Orane crept suspiciously towards the

pile and drew her dull short sword, not the best of weapons to be

sure, but serviceable and with the benefit of not being important enough to

her father's arsenal to be missed. She poked the pile of leaves

cautiously, poised to leap back if necessary. She wasn't prepared as they

exploded in a golden flurry and a huge, hairy body hurtled at her. Instantly

she was pinned to the ground, the beast’s breath hot on her face.

"TY! Call off your mangy mutt this instant!" she yelled furiously as her

face was enthusiastically licked by a large, slimy tongue belonging to a

black and grey dog of indeterminate origin.

"Heel, Malab!" Tybalt shouted at the dog, who showed no signs of

stopping his single minded ablution of Orane's face.

"Use his Sunday name, please!" Orane begged.

"Mal Absolu! Down!" Ty ordered, and the dog’s rear half hit the ground in

an instant.

Orane collapsed into a heap next to her friend, unable to suppress

her nervous giggle. Tybalt glanced uneasily down at her right hand, which was gripping the hilt of her sword.
“You, uhhh, can relax now, Orane.” he grinned, “I’m here to protect you on your perilous journey through the dark forest.”
Orane slapped at him, only half playfully. “I don’t need protection, you buffoon,” she said, omitting to tell him her earlier fears.
“Yes, I know, you come from a long line of warriors, blah blah blah…” Tybalt rolled his eyes.
“You may laugh now. Someday, when I’m saving you from one of your amusing pranks you might just thank me.”
“But right now, I laugh!” Tybalt grabbed Malab’s front paws and danced manically with the grinning dog, both of them looking completely deranged. Orane dusted her tattered tunic off with as much dignity as she could muster, and stood, hands on hips, waiting for her best friend and his dog to finish their frenzied display. After a few moments, Tybalt joined her on the path, picking leaves from his curly hair. Malab cast Orane a sheepish glance before picking up his pace at their heels.
“What do you want with the witch, anyway?” Tybalt asked.
“What a way to talk about your mother, Ty, you should be ashamed of yourself.” Orane scolded.
“To be precise, she is a witch, but for your delicate sensibilities, I’ll rephrase the question…what business have you with the Mage Fantine?”
“I need her to tell me something.” Orane said evasively.
“I could tell you something, let’s see…the sea is approximately 68 leagues from Normont, the bark of the willow tree may be used to alleviate fever, Malab has the worst breath I’ve ever…”
“Very funny, Ty. All those things I already know. I want to find out something specific, something very important.”
“Like when you’re going to become a woman?” Tybalt teased. Orane’s face flamed red and she reached over and slapped Ty across the back of his head.
“Shut up, you moron. You make a joke of everything!”
They marched on in silence for some time, Malab occasionally slowing their progress by detouring to sniff an irresistibly stinky tree stump. Both were lost in their own thoughts, although they showed their introspection in entirely different ways. Orane marched on forbiddingly, her face as stony and set as her mind was agile and seething. Ty was busily plucking samples of the flora that grew beside the road then scribbling in a small leather-bound book. They made an unusual pair, but they had known each other since they were babies and were used to each other’s peculiarities. Still, for all her single-minded intent Orane was glad to have Ty close by; the forest had a way of seeming that much cheerier with the addition of her best friend and his outrageous dog. After a long stretch of companionable silence, Orane spoke.
“Have you gotten any further with your botanical studies, then?”
“Yes, and no. Just as I think I’ve come to a good stopping point, I find something new and interesting to experiment with and record. There are just too many plants to put into one book, I suspect. It will have to be a multi-volume tome, my life’s work,” he broke off and pounced on an extremely poisonous looking toadstool with a cry of delight.
“Maybe you’ll discover something to help heal my family one day,” Orane said, too softly to hear. “But by then, it will be too late.”
With a heavy heart Orane sat down on the fur and velvet heaped chair that sat squarely in front of the Mage Fantine. The witch’s hut was deceptive, for although little more than a hovel from the outside, it was luxuriously opulent inside, The small rooms richly scented with the bubbling concoctions Tybalt was always crafting, the spices that he bartered with the travelling merchants from the East mixing exotically with his more indigenous findings from the hedgerows. The villagers often joked that if he did indeed fail as a mage, as was predicted, he could always earn a living selling jam and chutney.
The walls of the hut were hung with old and mysterious tapestries that fooled the eye with illusions, so that each time Orane visited there seemed to be a new collection of scenes depicted, sometimes a village fete, sometimes crusaders marching off to battle, and still other times there would be darker, blood tinged images, things that Orane didn’t wish to scrutinize. Things that resembled the history of the Lyons family, Orane’s family, too closely.
Fantine reached up to light one of the coloured glass lanterns that hung at irregular intervals from the beams in the ceiling, and sat with a grunt. In the dim light Orane could see new lines of fatigue deeply etched in the mage’s face, although she wasn’t yet two score in age. Fantine’s normally tidy hair hung in clumps, and her velvet dress, a cast-off from one of the grand ladies who relied on the mage for her beautification aids and potions, was streaked with ash and dirt. Feeling her duty as a Lyon, and therefore one of the protectors of all in the village, she leaned forward, her face mirroring the concern she felt.
“Mage Fantine, I see that something troubles you.”
Fantine pretended to be absorbed in shuffling the stack of well-worn tarot cards on the table in front of her as she considered how to answer. As she spoke, she began to lay out the cards almost absently, choosing the Celtic cross spread. Orane watched the cards, which, in Fantine’s practiced hands, seemed to drift simply down like autumn leaves onto the table. Orane knew that it was much more complex than this, and held the silence. The sight of the first card filled her with dread. The Hermit, reversed. Isolation from others and foolish obstinacy, among other ill omens. Fantine glanced up at her through a furze of hair, and seeing that Orane understood the significance of the card, continued. The second card was the five of Swords. For the first time, Fantine spoke, a note of surprise in her voice. “The Lord of Defeat…that is not like you, Orane. You are not usually a negative soul…” her face was puckered with concentration over the cards now, all her former casualness vanished. Her hand was steady as she laid the third card down, muttering to herself, “the third card…why things are as they are…always a mystery to those closest to the source…” Orane craned forward to see the card in the dim light. The eight of Cups. The Lord of Abandoned Success. That would be Bastien, then. Her brother, the heir to the title of Warrior of Lyons. The one without whom the entire village, and indeed the entire country, would be doomed. Her brother, Bastien, who had disappeared three years ago, never to return. Suddenly Orane didn’t want to know the rest of her reading, and she dashed the cards impetuously from Fantine’s hand. The mage gasped slightly, watching the untold fortune scattering over the hard packed dirt floor. She bent her head slightly, acknowledging Orane’s right to close her eyes to her destiny, but with the gesture came a small sigh.
“My child, you do not throw the prophecy of the cards away lightly.”
“I…I couldn’t bear it, Fantine. I know what it means, the Hermit reversed is my father, and the second card is…” her voice broke.
“The card is not you, Orane.” Fantine said quietly.
“The Lord of Defeat…it means having a negative attitude, doesn’t it?”
“It can also mean that you need to accept the inevitable and swallow your pride, Orane, both you and your father. Bastien is gone, I’m afraid. Most probably he is dead.”
Orane jumped up, stung by the mage’s harsh words.
“Bastien might not be here, but that doesn’t mean he’s dead!” she shouted. “He could be somewhere, lost and injured, and need someone to help him, did you ever think of that?”
“I did, for a long time, Orane. But I have given up that hope.” “Well, I haven’t.”
“What do you intend to do, then?”
“I’m going to find my brother and restore the heir of the Lyons to his rightful place in the Kingdom.” Orane’s chin lifted proudly as she said this.
“You know the danger, then? If the Lyons are not restored?” the mage looked thoughtful.
“Yes, of course I do. Bastien isn’t the only one who was tutored in our house, I was also allowed to have lessons.”
“Tagging along with Bastien’s, I’ll wager, and then only because your father was too mean to allow you to have your own tutor, to treat you as his daughter instead of some sort of second class son substitute!” Fantine‘s normally quiet voice was raised, and Orane realised how incensed she actually was.
“I didn’t know you felt this way, Fantine,” she said wonderingly.
“My child, I have always believed very strongly that you should have been better treated by your father. It was hardly your fault that you were born a girl…”
“The first girl in four centuries.” Orane stated flatly.
“Yes, a miracle, Orane, a blessing, not a curse as your father would have you believe.”
“How can you say that it’s a miracle, Fantine, when just by my being born a girl it means that if Bastien is dead, there is no heir to the Lyons!” Orane almost sobbed.
“I would not have you be anything but what you are, Orane.” Fantine held her arms out to Orane, who hesitated only a moment before kneeling before the mage and laying her head in her lap. The only sound was the bubbling of a cauldron on the hearth as Fantine stroked Orane’s short, coppery hair.
“My child, I would have wished for a daughter just like you, if I had been blessed with a girl,” she said softly. “As it was, I received a son, and I am thankful for him, but you would have been a wonderful mage, I think.”
Orane looked up, blinking back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. “Tybalt will be a good mage,” she murmured.
“Not his first choice, I think.” They both gazed through the thick, distorted window pane at Ty busily gathering toadstools in the garden, while Malab tormented a scolding squirrel trapped up a crabbed apple tree. Fantine sighed. “As long as he is happy in his chosen occupation, I can always train another mage to be my successor.”
“But the Warrior must be of the Lyons blood or all is lost…” Orane whispered, a cold fist clenching her heart as she remembered the eight of cups, the Lord of Abandoned Success.
“The reading was not complete. You know that there could have been other factors, other influences that we have not seen. We are none of us allowed to know our future in full. Please don’t worry, Orane.”
Orane stood abruptly, her decision made already.
“I’m going to find Bastien.”
“Orane, think sensibly about this, you have no idea where he’s gone to, if he’s still alive, and there are many dangers, things that would daunt even a seasoned warrior, let alone…”
“A girl.” Orane finished the Mage’s sentence bitterly. Fantine gazed sadly on Orane’s bent head, then seemed to make a decision.
“If you must go, you must be prepared.” It was a statement, not a question. Fantine busied herself about the cottage, gathering up mysterious ingredients and muttering to herself. “You must have an experienced tracker, as well…” at this, her glance flickered to the window, and Orane realised with a bit of surprise that the Mage meant Ty. “He might be fairly useless at many things, but he is knowledgeable about Normont, and the geography of the entire country as well.”
“But…could you spare him?” Orane wondered aloud.
“I must.”
At that moment the door burst open and a soaking Malab bounded in, followed closely by Ty. Both stopped short when they saw the seriousness on the two women‘s faces.
“Sorry, have we interrupted?” he asked politely.
“No, Tybalt. You are just the person we wanted to see. Where have you been with that creature?” Fantine added with a look of distaste at Malab, who was shaking himself vigorously to the detriment of a fur covered couch.
“Malab fell in the stream, maman, and then I saw the most beautiful

specimen of Sanguinaria Canadensis on the far bank…” Ty’s expression grew

dreamy, and Fantine clucked in annoyance.

“Always with the botanical study, Tybalt. I approve that you are so interested in herbalism, but there are other things in life, you know. Much that you must learn, both of you.”
“Perhaps Orane could apprentice with you,” Ty began eagerly.
“Someday, Tybalt. But for the moment, you both need to prepare yourselves.”
“Prepare? For what, maman?”
“For your journey, my son. You are accompanying Orane on her quest.” the matter-of-factness in Fantine’s voice made Tybalt understand her seriousness more quickly than all the rhetoric in the world. A myriad of expressions washed over his mobile face like water flowing down a sunlit wall. Confusion was swiftly replaced by regret, fear and then, finally, understanding. He looked up at Orane, his eyes shining.
“Let us begin our preparations, then.”

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Comments by other Members

sabriel at 11:22 on 10 January 2005  Report this post
Sorry about the weird spacing near the front...I cut and pasted the original and dunno what happened! This is the first chapter of my Young adult novel, a fantasy set in a fictional country not unlike medieval France. Orane is unfortunate in her birth, or so she thinks. Tell me what *you* think, if you can spare the time to read it!
thanks a lot,

Terry Edge at 13:13 on 11 January 2005  Report this post

This is a colourful and engaging start to a novel. It has two attractive lead characters, and you set up the relationship development possibilities between them well, if a little over-stated.

I think my main concern is with the style. I assume this is a historical novel, yet it's written rather in the manner of an adult fantasy – quite a lot of over-description and lots of Tell rather than Show, which fantasy readers don't mind and even expect, but I'm not sure if it will work with a historical novel. For YA novels in general, a tighter and less wordy style is what tends to be looked for these days.

Another example of adult fantasy style is the kind of language you use, and the language your characters use. An example of the former is where you say that Orane made an 'almost inaudible sigh', which when you think about it doesn't really mean anything other than 'she sighed'. You also use the word 'spotlit' somewhere, which is a reference to modern technology – the kind of thing sloppy adult fantasy writers often get away with but I don't think you would in YA.

Then your characters use the kind of slightly poncey 'classical' language often employed in adult fantasy, e.g. - 'you buffoon', 'your amusing pranks'. For some reason, in adult fantasy, people don't often swear or talk naturally but instead employ a kind of 1940s Hollywood 'medieval' language.

There is a very sudden mood change at the start. You set us up with Orane being terrified of making her way through the dark, mysterious forest, but she has to because of a desperate need. Then within moments she's dancing around, apparently ecstatic at the sight of a few dust motes. Then she meets her friend who she obviously expected to be in the area, i.e. why was she frightened in the first place?

Try to avoid SNT dialogue explainers, e.g. '“What a way to talk about your mother, Ty, you should be ashamed of yourself.” Orane scolded'. You don't need 'scolded' here because the dialogue shows us this is what she's doing. Also, 'Orane said evasively', 'Tybalt teased' etc.

There's a big SNT paragraph, starting with 'They marched on in silence ... ' Here you tell us everything you've already shown us through the way they react together, which is a much more satisfying way of getting the information (that they're friends).

If everyone knows Fantine's hut is opulent inside why does she have it disguised as a hovel outside?

'Celtic Cross spread' – 'Celtic' is a rather generic term. Would they have used it in this part of the world at this time?

Try to ease up on the 'my child's' – mages have a habit of slipping into this kind of 'wise' condescending phraseology if you're not careful.

To summarise, this has promise but I think you need to think more about your audience. This kind of story in YA will require, I believe, a tighter, more modern style. In particular, you'll need to make your two main characters a little less obvious – and you could do that by giving us just their dialogue, without all the explainers.

But lots of promise!


sabriel at 16:36 on 11 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Terry,
Thanks for that, I wasn't sure what audience I wanted to reach when I started it. I think I tend to have an attitude of since it's fantasy (and not, god forbid) historical (only god forbid because I'd make a hash out of proper historical fiction!) that I can do what I want with the language and culture.
I'll work on it.

Terry Edge at 16:54 on 11 January 2005  Report this post

Right, I didn't realise it was fantasy - I think this is because you seemed to be using French place names. Not sure what you mean by doing what you like with the 'language and culture' because it's fantasy. Culture, obviously, but with language you have to be careful. For instance, you can't refer to a 'Celtic' cross because that's part of our world. Yes, it could be argued that the author, i.e. you, is free to make such references because you are part of our world, but a made up fantasy world should be kept intact, at least in my view, which means the author should not make Earth-centric references.



sabriel at 19:50 on 11 January 2005  Report this post
Thanks for that, Terry! I didn't think it through very carefully, I guess. I used to read tarot when I was younger, and didn't really even think twice about the reference. As for the names, I really dislike fantasy with silly made-up names, so thought that if I stuck to something semi-recognisable it would seem different enough. No cigar! I'm so grateful for your input, I'm all stoked up to do a rewrite when I get some time.
Thanks again for your time,

Terry Edge at 10:46 on 12 January 2005  Report this post
Thinking about it, I guess there's two approaches you can take to writing fantasy (and probably anything else): 1) work out beforehand what genre/age group etc you're aiming for and write accordingly, or 2) just write the damn thing the way it comes and worry about what to do with it later.

But it's worth bearing in mind that adult fantasy is on the whole very conservative, despite what editors say about looking for something new. Most of it is formulaic – usually set in a quasi-medieval European land where most people are white and drink ale in taverns, ride horses, swing swords, tremble before wizards, go on quests, etc, etc. One such book I read recently actually described a character as being 'your archetypal blue eyed blond haired bully' – this was about fifty pages in and before she'd even bothered to tell us what colour the people were on her made-up world!

YA adult fantasy is much less formulaic (Harry Potter aside) but you don't have total free rein – age of protaganists is important, pacing, etc, and of course marketability.


sabriel at 09:08 on 13 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Terry,
I've just (well, in the last two years) started reading fantasy, and am constantly blown away by the likes of Pullman, Garth Nix, Philip Reeve, to name just a few. I guess what I wanted to do was to write something that was somehow empowering for "tweenage" girls, (and boys, too, making my male protagonist *not* your stereotypical sword weilding bully) but I did model my world on some of the things I've read. I didn't want to venture into the realms of historical fiction, for fear that I'd seriously mess it up! My husband suggested that I try fantasy, because basically you're in charge. I guess I just started to write, having what I thought was a pretty good basic idea, but I realise the quest has been done to death. I was really hoping to come up with some humdingers of plot twists as I wrote!
Your comments have been extremely helpful to me, I've begun a rewrite, taking out the "twee" language (actually, it's sort of more the way that I speak, rather than a conscious attempt to try medieval speak) and thinking about my readership. I was aiming at the 11-15 ish range, what do you think?
All I've ever written before are either short stories, and one abandoned attempt at a novel (abandoned when baby came along!)
thanks so much, you're a star!

jewelsx at 00:03 on 21 February 2005  Report this post

i just wanted to say that i really enjoyed it, so much so that i got caught up in the story and didn't notice toomuch grammatical errors.

i really couldn't say whether or not this is adults or young adults fiction, but i am 22 and would be interested in reading more. keep me posted if there is another section.

all the best


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