Book 1 of the Upheaving Nidola series
Traditionally, authors release the first chapter of their novel, but I’d prefer to show you something from the middle. There’s a good reason, but no-one’s worked it out yet. If you do, please let me know.
Equivocal Destines is a very long book (over 100,000 words) and took me a couple of years to write. This is mostly because I wasn’t working very diligently on it for a long time, so it took a while to see the light of day.
Spoilers coming up… sorry
An informal description:
Taal, my young protagonist, leads a life that’s well worth forgetting, in a classic fantasy-styled world that isn’t very forgiving. He’s a water wizard in a world where elemental magic is relatively common. None-the-less, water wizards are universally despised because legend says one of their forebears broke the world and everyone has been paying a heavy price for it ever since.
When his home is attacked in one of the regular but more aggressive attacks by the hordes of magically transformed beasts that stalk the lands, he embarks on a journey that’ll forever change him and his world. Grand and lofty, to be sure, but his motives are far more simple. He’s a 16yo boy and she’s a pretty girl. Pretty quickly he finds himself a long way from home and in a lot of trouble. It’s funny how life plays with you sometimes.
I’m told that the novel can be a slow burner at times as well as action-packed, with natural, believable characters who all have deep personalities and histories. I’ve tried to do a lot of things differently to the classical high fantasy story arc, including setting Nidola in what would logically be the southern hemisphere, so the north is hot and the south is cold. I’m hoping this, and a lot of other incongruities from the norms will make people think.
The novel is set almost entirely on dry land, but here’s a small section from chapter 16.
After what sadly constituted breakfast, lunch and probably dinner too, the captain had a stern conversation with them. Their final judgement was that he was a hard man, but a fair one.
“This ere’s me’ barge, The Pretty Sloth. She’s me’ life, me’ wife and me’ motha’. Above all though, she’s me’ income. Evrythin’ I ’ave’s in ’er an’ I won’t ’ave you lot messin’ ’er up. Ya’ got me?” Clearly, the name was ironic, by the look of the rock-sized dents in the cargo crates. It may once have been true, but now neither pretty nor sloth seemed an apt fit.
A quick round of nods from his reluctant guests and they got down to business. He insisted that they pay their way on his barge. He was a merchant after all, and they weren’t really in need.
“We’re goin’ ta’ Fort Poyden, coz’ I dun’ wanna die today. You don’t like it, start swimmin’.” He shoved a thumb out in the direction of the shore for emphasis. “If you’re still ’ere in 5, you’d better be workin’. You two’re useful…”, he nudged his head towards Albila and Argrefan, being the gesticular ballerina that he was, ”… but what abou’ you?” He looked Taal up and down but didn’t seem overly unimpressed. “Cn’ ya’ sail?”
On discovering that Taal was a water wizard of some useful, if limited, power, a gruelling deal was struck. It was expensive to employ even a single elemental wizard for long, boring barge runs, and to have two so close at hand was an uncommon gift, especially if he didn’t have to pay one.
The cities offered nothing but shame for a water wizard, but Taal was finding that out in the wilderness, their skills were highly sought-after, even if only for purely pragmatic reasons. Shamed they may be, but also well-compensated.
With little to negotiate with, it was agreed that Albila would do everything she could for all of the injured, first and foremost, the captain’s crew. Argrefan would provide security and insurance against horde patrols and Taal would do what waterers did Nidola-over. He would keep the barge’s water barrels full, and do his best to empty them by scrubbing a decade of neglect off of every surface. Argrefan was issued the barge’s stock bow and quiver, his blades being of no use on a barge when the hordes were on the shores, while Taal was directed towards the well-worn mop, and a hammer and chisel for those hard-to-remove stains.
Taal quickly found himself doing his least favourite work, out in the sun, heading directly away from home-sweet-hell with the girl of his dreams who didn’t seem at all interested and her over-protective brother. But at least he wasn’t back in Takel.
They started on their temporary assignments while Taal wondered how Reh and his mother were doing? If Takelberorl was attacked again, with the same ferocity as Daidlene, there might be nothing, and no-one, left to go home to. It seemed to be the building trend.
As he worked and daydreamed, the barge was making impressive time. Stagiel wasn’t very powerful, or very skilled if the first mate’s barbs were to be listened to, but at least he could keep it up at that mediocre level. He had endurance.
Taal’s job turned out to be a lot easier than he thought it would be, and he didn’t even use the mop. He kept it at hand, but only for show. With his magic, he could scrub away even the more ingrained stains with ease. Grease and mould washed away with almost no effort. He kept the pace much slower than he was capable of, in case he finished too soon and the captain gave him another task. Instead, he spent most of his time watching Nidola fly by as he feigned effort.
Up close, the barge was easily recognisable as one of the classic designs. It was a simple wooden boat made by lashing together planks of wood and tarring them to make them waterproof. There was no bilge packed with ballast to keep it low in the water and stable, as in a true sailing ship. There was just a single layer of wood and tar topped with cargo and grumpy, salty seamen.
The River, up in Takelberorl, was ten metres wide and The Pretty Sloth was built to fit, so it was a little under five metres wide to allow two to pass each other. It was a lot longer however. It had to be at least ten, perhaps fifteen metres long. It was hard to tell with the fortification/cargo crates lining both sides and the front.
Its construction appeared sturdy, and well-maintained, even if her captain didn’t believe in cleanliness, or hygiene. Several of the worn-out planks had recently been replaced and re-tarred and many more were a bit older still, so in desperate need of replacing. Only one or two seemed in need or replacing. Most were liberally decorated with mould and dried food scraps though. It didn’t make her unseaworthy. Just disgusting.
At the rear was what loosely qualified as the captain’s cabin/chair. To its right was an open-topped crate containing a random heap of equipment and tools that were needed to keep people alive on the water. After meals, their single cauldron was washed out in the river and tossed into the crate. The stock weapons, cleaning tools and miscellaneous other junk was dumped haphazardly in there too. To the left of the captain’s cabin were two big barrels of muddy water. It explained a lot about their meal.
“Treat ’er well, ma’ boy”, Captain Stanek said over Taal’s shoulder, as he stared into the barrels. The harsh edge to his tone was temporarily gone and he seemed almost melancholy, while talking quietly to Taal, and Taal alone. “She’s seen betta’ days, bu’ she’s all I ’ave n’ this world.”
Here’s a section from earlier in the novel, in chapter 4.
At Six years old, Mar had already been in charge of the family sow for half of his life. It was a big responsibility, but Mar’s parents believed that such responsibility was important for a young boy. It would make him into a man as much as the weapons training he had started a few months ago.
In Upper Takelberorl, a small family with a pig was a rich family, and Mar was proud to be taking care of the family’s most important asset. His parents handled the breedings, of course, but he did the day to day work.
Their prized pig was mated as often as safely possible, and always produced plentiful litters of healthy piglets. The general rule was that the owners of the sow and boar would split the piglets 60/40 with the sow’s owner getting the larger share as they did all of the work rearing the piglets up until they could be weaned. It was a profitable business, but hard work for Mar.
With the weapons market due within days though, his job was even harder than usual. Most mornings he simply mucked out their living area by pushing the night’s refuse out of their front door with a big, broad-headed, wooden shovel and let it slowly slime its way down the hill, around the arc and out of his life.
The street cleaners wouldn’t allow that this week though, and Mar was forced to shovel it all into a bucket and haul it to the waterfall. It was a long, gruelling task for anyone, and he was only six and two months.
The piglets were also getting in the way this morning. They were almost fully weaned and had taken to exploring the room. One was absent-mindedly munching on the straw in Mar’s cot, but he didn’t have time to stop it. Another was trying to escape through the front door. If it got out, someone else would grab it and it would be gone forever. That would come out of Mar’s parent’s share of the proceeds.
Mar dropped the small shovel he was using and rushed for the door. He just managed to grab its back leg before it escaped to a brief freedom. It writhed in his grip to try to get free but Mar was an expert at catching piglets and his grip was firm. He dragged it back through the door, squealing for dear life.
Mar’s mother looked up from the pot where she was cooking the family breakfast and gave a quick, approving nod. “Good job Mar. That’s a month’s worth of food you’ve just rescued.” She was referring to what was in her pot, of course. There was no pork in her pot.
As Mar walked the piglet back over to their makeshift pen next to his cot he felt a tingling in his fingers and almost dropped the piglet again. “My fingers feel funny”, he said to his mum. “Did you bang your hand on the door, sweetie?”
“Only one, but both hands feel tingly.”
“Tingly?” His mother stopped stirring the pot and looked up, a serious expression on her face.
“Like I slept on them badly last night.”
Still holding the writhing piglet in his hands, he started examining his fingers, looking at them this way and that, as if he could see the cause of the feeling. Even as he was searching, his fingers abruptly began to tingle fiercely and started glowing a dull red. The piglet started squealing much louder and tried even more desperately to escape.
His hands grew steadily brighter as the tingling intensified. Still, he reflexively clung onto the poor, petrified piglet. Mar simply looked on as if it was a fun game, not understanding. The room started to smell of pork.
By this time the other animals in the room were squealing in sympathy with their poor, roasting sibling. Mar’s mother, realising what was happening, rushed for the door. She slammed it shut just in time, as the piglet in Mar’s hands burst into flames, let out a single, deafening squeal, and exploded.
When Mar’s father came bursting into their room the scene was one of carnage. The floor, walls and ceiling were covered in roasted piglet, most of the furniture was ruined and his son was standing in the middle of the room, a dumbfounded look on his face, and his arms on fire. He was staring at his burning arms.
Mar looked up and plaintively asked his father, “Why am I on fire, daddy? Why doesn’t it hurt?”
Mar’s father looked down at his son and held out a hand, palm up, for his defence. “Now now boy. You just calm down and the fire will go away.” When Mar appeared to be calming down, he looked at his wife, standing near the door, covered in chunks of piglet, “Are you OK, honey?”
She just smiled. It was the biggest smile to cross her face since her handfasting day.