STATUS: First draft at 40,000 words
I am currently writing the first draft of a new book in The Light and Shadow Chronicles series, The Ballad of Benedict. This full-length novel follows a young man in the Children of Light who is not a warrior, but a diplomat. Serving as an ambassador of Alcherys he is sent to a faraway land not yet touched by the effects of the war, to learn their ways and integrate into their society.
The Ballad of Benedict has been a great writing experience, although it has taken a very long time to complete due to circumstances in my personal life. The action starts off in Alcherys, but then we move to an entirely new country – the beautiful, forested nation of Thos.
Benedict Thialdor himself is a very different character to others I have written. He is sweet, talkative, friendly and a little naive, but genuinely good at heart. The situation he is walking into, however, will truly test the limits of his character.
The first draft of this novel is in progress and will hopefully be completed in 2020 and released in 2021.
When they reached the aviary, Benedict was hit by the warm and comforting smell of sawdust. As they were ruthlessly clean birds, the drylls flew outside of Nazaki to drop their pellets. As such, Benedict had seen them flying backwards and forwards overhead every day of his life growing up in the city. He had even been close enough to study one or two in detail, when he was lucky enough to be with his father as important news arrived. From a very young age, he had always been fascinated with their majesty and grace, their piercing vision and flamboyant plumage. And now he was to pick his very own bird.
“The older birds are already set in their ways,” Callista said, “and it would not be wise to attempt training one of them. It wouldn’t take kindly.”
Benedict glanced apprehensively at the huge, multi-coloured birds perched on branches. Their golden eyes fixed on him as he walked by, glaring, fixing him in a hungry fury that was quite unsettling. Callista led him instead to the dryll nursery where the younger birds were undertaking daily training to become the messenger birds of the Children of Light.
These were much more placid than their adult counterparts. Hopping around in a large pen, there were at least twelve dryll chicks, all of whom stopped to stare at Callista and Benedict as they approached. Their calls changed from absent twittering to curious coos and whoops. A number of them hopped over to the edge to meet the humans.
“Well, which takes your fancy?” Callista said. Benedict looked over each of the chicks in turn, wondering how it would ever be possible to pick between them. They were unbearably cute, their fluffy soft feathers bunched around their faces. Beaks which would eventually become deadly sharp weapons, were at this age still adorable little hooks for nibbling at their owner’s hand gently.
“Why are they all brown?” Benedict asked.
“Drylls don’t come into their colourful plumage until adulthood, or more specifically their ‘teenage’ years,” Callista said.
“Do you know what colours they will be when they’re fully grown?”
“There’s no way of knowing. Birds from the same nest can be completely different in their plumage. Some say it’s down to their personalities, but I’m not sure I place much stock in that.”
Benedict’s eyes roamed all over the little brown chicks. They were a quarter of their future size, Benedict guessed, and maybe a tenth of the ferociousness.
“They are highly intelligent birds, Benedict. Just because you pick out one you like, doesn’t mean it will agree to go with you. You need to spend some time with them and see which you bond with.”
Callista stood at the back of the aviary and left Benedict with the birds. He climbed into the dusty pen. The birds squawked and some rustled and flapped their wings angrily, but a few braver chicks hopped towards him. Not wanting to upset them, Benedict sat down on the ground and made himself as small as he could. He held out a hand and kept it as still as he could. Two chicks eyed his hand suspiciously, their heads tilting comically from one side to the other. The smaller of the two, a pudgy little thing with soft tufts of grey fluff on either side of its head, hopped up to him and put its face down to Benedict’s hand. It leant down so closely its beak almost touched his skin. He didn’t know what it was doing. He didn’t think birds sniffed their surroundings like that, so it seemed to be looking at his hand incredibly closely. He couldn’t stop a chuckle leaving his lips. The chicks all flinched, some hopping backwards with a flustered cackling, but the little grey one didn’t move a muscle. Instead it kept its head right down, the beak mere millimetres from Benedict’s hand. It began to nibble gently at his fingers. It didn’t hurt at all, more it was a slightly scratchy nuzzle. He dared to lift a finger slowly and began to stroke the side of the dryll’s cheek (do birds have cheeks??).
The dryll nuzzled against his finger and he smiled. This was the one. After a few more minutes of allowing the little dryll to get accustomed to his touch, he gently scooped it up and was surprised by how light it was. Scared he might drop it, he tried to cup his hands around the bird to protect it, but it chattered noisily and nudged his hands off with its head. Ruffling its feathers haughtily, it perched on the side of his hand.
As Benedict walked back across the aviary to where Callista stood, he had the biggest smile on his face.
“You found one then?” she asked.
“She’s an absolute beauty,” Benedict said.
“He. It’s a male.”
“How can you tell?”
“Those grey tufts are only in the males. This one will have a mighty mane when it’s fully grown.”
Benedict smiled, pleased with his choice. “I need to think of a name for him.”
“Yes. Make it a fitting name. He’ll be keeping you company for many years to come.”
“I’ll think about it and see what I can find that fits.”
“You won’t have long to think though, Ben. I want you to depart this evening.”
“Today? I’m leaving today??”
“Oh yes,” Callista said. “We need to get you to Keyim as soon as possible. Hayden is waiting for you. Take your new dryll with you and get acquainted with him as you pack and say your goodbyes.”