Author Topic: The Awakening - Prologue & Chapter 1(Historical Fantasy)  (Read 106 times)

Offline Talean

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The Awakening - Prologue & Chapter 1(Historical Fantasy)
« on: September 22, 2022, 12:15:13 PM »
(Threw in the prologue, because it's short and necessary to understanding what's going on.)

Prologue

   The Cities of Wisdom stretch along the Gulf of Dusk. From the Adrantic Coast in the north to the Aetolian Cape in the South do they spring, hemmed in from the east by the Palatine Jungles. For generations, the Cities stood as bastions of civilization; the soaring towers of stone touched the very heavens, their great arcaded halls filled with all the knowledge and treasures that gave the Cities their name. Indeed, travelers came from every corner of Elysia to seek guidance from the Mazdas, custodians of the great temples that were dedicated to the Gods. Wealth poured into the Cities, turning the lowliest of hovels from sticks to clean adobe, while knowledge was accumulated in ever grander temples and shrines that became the envy of the continent. With so much prosperity and wisdom at hand, the arts flourished. Vast murals and mosaics covered the buildings in swaths of colour that would rival sunsets. Grand and intricate statues and gardens were erected everywhere, providing the happy populace with heroes and places to admire them in. Music filled the air, from great orchestras accompanying theatrical performances to simple buskers strumming a lute or lyre on the corner. A Golden Age, worthy of Gods themselves.

   And then the Shadow fell.

   I did not know the Cities of that Golden Age. I was born in the eight-hundred and eighty eighth year of the Shadow. The Gods, eaten by the world covering horror, left their chosen people alone, and as Their grace and miracles faded from this land, the wisdom of their representatives, the Mazdas, faded in kind. There is but emptiness, and an oppressive stagnation. The Mazdas, those that were not taken, hoard the once abundant wealth that remains in the hopes of prolonging their rule. We pay them willingly, in one form or another, so that we might attend their broken towers, sit in their crumbling halls, and listen to them speak of the Gods. At least, I used to, but I have nothing left to give, and so I stay on the ground. Alone.

   Each day I grow more cynical and angry. I curse the Mazdas and their temples. I deny that they ever had wisdom, and that there was ever glory in the Cities. I curse the Gods, and say they deserved their fate; what sort of deities are destroyed in a single day? I wander the dirty streets and tell anyone who looks my way that the Gods were false and the Mazdas ignorant, treacherous swindlers. They turn away quickly, going about their miserable lives in the dusty streets of the city, not even cognizant of the crumbling images of better times and better people all around them. How I envy them.

   Why? Why do I wish I were still like them? My usual excuse is that, if I were still like them, I would not have given everything to the Mazdas, and would not sit destitute on the street. It’s a lie, but any shallow excuse allows me to keep from breaking down completely. I don’t want to admit that I yearn to be back in those temples. I cannot admit it. And the worst part of it is, I don’t even understand why I want to. The ceremonies are depressing.

   We are told that, in the Golden Age, the Eternal Fires of the Gods would burn brightly at the pinnacles of the tallest ziggurats, illuminating the Cities of Wisdom day and night, basking the streets of dressed stone in warm, flickering light. The people would gather in the rooftop gardens, cool in the high breezes, and refreshed by the fountains that miraculously brought water from far below, and they would sit, and sing, and listen to the Mazdas speak of the Gods, of the workings of the world, and of far off lands shrouded in myth.

   The fountains are crumbling now, and the gardens wilted. The Eternal Fires are as dead as the Gods they represented, and there are no more wonderous tales told. Instead, the people pay their remaining valuables to sit and listen to a funeral service. They hear over and over how the Gods heard the cry of Their chosen people and descended from on high in a glorious display of mythical power; all shining and brilliant in armour of pure light and wielding weapons made of stars, Their beauty matched only by the terrible ferocity of Their battle cries. And how they were promptly consumed by the Shadow. The Mazdas lament the wasted lives and the ruin of the world, and everyone sings songs of melancholy and despair. It is a ceremony of sadness, and I crave it with every inch of my being.

   Why? I can’t say why. There is something comforting in hearing of the Defeat, of the times before, and of the old wisdom. It’s all gone now, yet it existed once and, as the Mazdas claim, parts of it still exist today. The beliefs and traditions of the past serve a purpose, they say, and despite the death of the Gods, we should still honour and worship them, just as we should adhere to the society They ordained for us. A society in which the Mazdas order the land, and we, the people, work hard in order that we might pay to hear their wisdom. Pay to hear how virtuous hard work is, or how taking responsibility for the world around us is the only way to restore the Cities to their former glory. It all sounds so good, even if I don’t believe it. So simple, as if picking up a broom to sweep away the fallen tiles would somehow restore the faded lustre of the others. It is calming, and despite the tone of sadness, it holds a promise of hope that I’ve never understood but crave constantly.

   I am a beggar, and sometimes manage to scrape a few coppers together to buy myself a seat in the back of some ancient courtyard high up in the clouds. Leaning against the fallen columns of the arcade, I listen, I sing, I cry, and then I leave, depressed and poor, and I starve in the gutters. There are no tears then, only hate and loathing, and in childish revenge against fate I begin shouting my dissatisfaction to the world. People avoid me, but I shout at them anyway.

   Tonight is one of the worse nights. My begging failed to gain me a seat, or even enough for a measly bite of food, so now I sit in the Garden of Faith, leaning my back against the statue of Shar’Reue, and curse the stars as my stomach growls and whimpers. It’s these nights when I feel the crushing weight of the world most and contemplate why I persist in it when I could so easily walk off one of the terraced avenues and tumble fifty feet to an anonymous end below.

   Two men, making their way home from a busy day of work, pass close by.

   “There’s no point!” I scream at them, as if they had been privy to my thoughts.

   “No point in anything! The Shadow will eat us all eventually, and there’s no damn point!”

   They quicken their pace and move away, avoiding even looking at me. Somewhere in the darkness of the city, a bird calls and is answered by others. The wind whispers along the brown clay tiles of the roofs above me, leaving a momentary silence behind it. Off in the distance is the sound of a bell striking: another soul departing this world. The sounds of the night resume, and I shrink lower into myself in the vain hope of avoiding the cold breeze.

   “There’s no point,” I whisper to myself as I close my eyes and settle in to find any semblance of rest. “And there’s no hope.”

Part 1
The Herald

Chapter 1

   There’s a bird, standing on the lichen encrusted balustrade above me. Chirp, it says. At least that is what my ears hear it say. Perhaps it’s really telling some mate that there is a lamentable being here below that was just asleep. Come, it tells its unseen companion, come and shout with me; let us deprive him of rest. I can’t help but smile as a second bird appears, looks down upon me, cocks its head, and lets out a chirp of its own. I raise my hands and make the ancient sign we are told wards off evil. In reply, the first bird chirps in indignation, while the second lets a liquid white turd fall into the sickly green lichen. They proceed to fly off together, dismissing me and my ward.

   It was cold last night, and my body aches as I lie propped against the plinth of the statue of Shar’Reue that stands in the centre of the Garden of Faith. His stern gaze covers the overgrown thickets and weedy beds of the city’s central square. What has become of my garden, his authoritarian eyes and pursed lips demand of the world.

   “What does it matter?” I ask him, “You were eaten.”

   On shaky legs do I push myself up, and regret it immediately as pain shoots through my back. Falling, another explosion of agony erupts in my stomach, and all too quickly do the cobblestones rise up to greet my face. Hello old friend, they seem to say, back so soon for another rest?

   “No loitering!”

   The command is barked from somewhere above me, but before I can make sense of the world, a boot catches me in the temple.

   “In the name of the Gods, vacate this holy place at once!”

   In a croak I manage to reply: “The Gods are dead.”

   A boot hurtling towards my face is the last thing I see.

   The sun is high when I wake, and suddenly I envy the Gods. My body is on fire and my head is pounding. My left eye won’t open, and as I gingerly probe with a finger, pain shoots through my cheek. There is a smell of rotting fish and salt. So, I’ve been dumped near the docks.

   “Chirp.”

   Chirp? I ask.

   “Chirp!”

   With great effort, I manage to roll onto my side, and propping myself up on my elbows. I look at the wharf towering above me. There, upon the deeply pitted and stained concrete, is a little bird. As my one good eye adjusts, and my mind clears slightly of the fog imbued within -curtesy of the city guard - I begin to question things. You are not a sea bird, my mind pretends to tell it.

   “Why are you here?” I ask.

   It cocks its head.

   “Chirp.”

   What cruel prank is this? My suspicion grows, fueling an irrational anger. What is this creature, my mind demands? Barely the size of a closed fist, with a grey head, white breast and brown wings trimmed in a border of black and white. Its beak, a tight triangle of crimson, matches the bright tail feathers of an equally brilliant red. That such a tiny thing should bother me so much only increased my ire.

   “Begone, vermin, lest I make you my breakfast!” I shout venomously.

   The bird turns its head to the opposite side, then, without concern, begins to absently peck at the concrete wall upon which it perched. The hate burns within me hotter than the sun. I shout at it, curse it, and attempt to rise in order that I might seek vengeance upon this foul fowl, but only succeed in gaining a weary knee before my balance falters. My only option is to spit another string of profane curses at the creature. Raising its small eyes to perceive what all the fuss is about, the bird takes a few spritely hops forward before giving a curse of its own:

   “Chirp!”

   Turn head right. Turn head left.

   “Chirp!”

   With no further recourse left to me, I make the sign to ward off evil once more and, to my surprise, the bird flies away without a further sound.

   “That sure showed him!” comes a kindly sea drawl. I turn my head painfully and there, sitting not far to the right of where my feathered tormentor had been, is a girl.

   “Quite a battle, the likes of which I’ve rarely seen! And such a pretty bird, too! I don’t see many of them this close to the sea; it’s the gulls and hawks, you know, that eat the little fellows.”

   “I was about to eat him,” I grumble.

   “Oh, don’t!” the girl pleads, “He would hardly be a mouthful, and there’s not enough beauty in the world that we can afford to eat it.”

   It’s now or never, I tell myself. Rise now or consign yourself to death and be done with it. Death might be nice, my thoughts answer back. You would no longer hurt, your stomach would not ache further, and there would be silence. Silence from this world, and silence from your despair. You’d be free, and would never have to yell at anyone, or anything, again.

   “Having a pleasant morning?”

   The girl. Somehow, I’d forgotten her completely. I turn to berate her in kind, and yet, as I look into those large, innocent eyes, the realization dawns that this is a genuine enquiry and not a prelude to further torment. The hate dissipates, replaced with shame and self-consciousness in the face of this little girl.

   “Good.” My voice is a stammer. “Yes.”

   “My Papa sometimes looks rough, just as you, but is generally cheerful. ‘Sailor’s temperament,’ he says. ‘No need to interrupt a sunny morning ‘cause of last night’s storm,’” she imitates the voice of a grown man, and giggles as she does so.

   I don’t really understand the sea reference because my head is still swimming. Good, I manage to say again, as if that were a suitable reply, and then my mind wanders back to my own concerns. The sun is nearly at its zenith; if I hurry, I might possibly beg enough to attend an evening service. Or food. Food would be good. I take a step, and as I don’t fall over, I take another, and another. It’s roughly three hundred paces to the city’s harbour gate - not bad, I’ve certainly been dumped in worse places.

   “What ship are you from?” the girl falls into step beside me. She stares up at me patiently waiting for an answer, while I look at her dumbly.

   “I’m not a sailor,” I finally say, clueing into her meaning.

   She stops walking, suddenly suspicious. “Why were you at the docks?”

   “I slept with a god last night. Some people didn’t like that, so here I am.”

   Gone is the worry, replaced by youthful wonder and excitement.

   “You’ve seen a god? Are you a Mazda? Are the Gods returning?”

   I say nothing, for what is there to say? The gate is drawing nearer, and I can see a line has already formed for entry. A few traders, fresh from their ships, are leading hired mule carts loaded with wares. The city guard, wearing faded yellow and orange gambesons and carrying seven-foot spears tipped in bronze, move amongst them inspecting the cargoes and collecting the tithe. Others, on foot and with small bundles or nothing at all, endure a brief glance before being waved ahead for admittance; the tithe is for trade goods, not people.

   “Papa said we’d go listen to the Mazdas today, but I don’t like being in the cities” the girl tells me. “But if you’re a Mazda, maybe you could come speak at the ship instead! We usually eat at midday, and Papa would surely welcome you aboard!”

   Food.

   My stomach aches at the very idea of it, reminding me of how long its been since I last had any. My mind beings to work, desperation driving a terrible scheme into my head. I could be a Mazda, I tell myself, and it would only be for one meal; short enough that no one would know, and then back to the anonymity of the gutters. But you wear rags, my mind argues, and adults will see what this little girl does not. Then it’s off to the Rock.

   But food.

   You will be caught, I tell myself, and you will die before ever being given any food. They will expel you from their table before you even sit down, and the guard will be summoned, maybe even the prelates. Then you are just another stain upon the Rock; another heretic beaten and bloodied and left for the falcons to feast.

   My lips move, and my mind protests in horror at what it hears: “Of course, it would be an honour to join you.”

   “How delightful!” she exclaims, her youthful exuberance fully restored. “Come, it’s this way! We are not a large ship, but dry and weatherly, you’ll see. There’s thirty of us, plus Papa and me, and they’re all ‘good salts’ says Papa. I think you’ll particularly appreciate the figurehead! It’s fashioned after the goddess Dui’Lea, and we’ve kept it in exempl... exemple… ex-em-pla-ree condition. Better shape than the Goddess herself, or so the men say.”

   She rambled on about this or that the whole journey, pausing only when an answer to some question or statement was required. I gave non-committal noises as needed, or left it in expectant silence, feigning consideration, until she leapt to a new line of thought. In truth I wasn’t listening. My mind was busy preparing itself for what was to come. How could I be convincing as a Mazda, at least long enough to gain a bite to eat. How could I then excuse myself without retribution or a visit from the guard? We continued down the docks until we arrived at a tall sailing ship moored with heavy cordage to the concrete bollards. Standing before the gangplank that ran between the ground and the ship, I realized I had nothing, and my body shook with terror.

   Mistaking my fear for that of a common landsman, the girl patted my hand reassuringly. Fear not, she told me, the plank is anchored securely, and just mind the swell. What exactly was the swell, I was left to wonder, but it became clear when the water raised the ship, which raised the plank, which almost sent me tumbling into the ocean.

   “Adelina,” came the burly call from above, “Where have you been, dove?”

   The girl runs up the gangplank and into the arms of a weathered sailor. The man is easily forty, with more grey than black in his long cue of hair and close-cropped beard. His face is dark from the sun, and the bronze eyes peer suspiciously at me from beneath massive brows, but soften immediately as they turn to the girl.

   “Papa!” she says lovingly and plants a delicate kiss on the grizzled cheek. “I was just down the quay looking at the shore.”

   “And who is this man?” the suspicion returns in force, but the tone remains kind for the girl’s sake.

   “He is a Mazda, Papa!” she tells him matter-of-factly, “And he has come to speak with us so that we don’t have to go back into the city! I invited him for lunch.”

   “A Mazda, is he?”

   The skepticism is thinly veiled; just enough not to alert his daughter that he suspects something is wrong. His eyes are threatening, and I feel myself shrink under his gaze. Think quick, I tell myself, make some excuse and walk away.

   “He slept with a God!”

   And there it is: my death warrant. His eyes turn murderous, and the man grits his teeth together as he fights to stay calm for his daughter, but the blasphemy before him demands action.

   “Hector!” he barks over his shoulder. “Hector, come here!”

   His eyes never leave me, nor do they soften as Hector appears at the rail above. He is a brute of a man, easily six foot seven, two hundred and thirty pounds of sinewy muscle and, judging from the thick, lustrous onyx of his hair, in the prime of his life. He gave Adelina a large smile and bent down to plant a kiss on her forehead, receiving one in return on his cheek, before taking notice of his captain’s expression and tracing it down to me.

   “A Mazda,” Adelina’s Papa explains, “come to minister to our humble crew, if you can believe our good fortune.”

   Hector’s smile disappears too, hatred taking its place, but this sailor did not hold his tongue in deference to the little lady.

   “Heresy!” he spat the word with such venom that the other two jumped slightly at the force behind it, while I shrank further in the face of this new threat.

   I don’t know how, for my mind was frozen with fear, but a belaying pin was suddenly in Hector’s hands, and he held it like a club. Run, my brain screams at me, run now! Fast! He’s coming down the ramp!

   “Oh, Papa, please! Hector, stop! He’s a Mazda, truly he is!”

   The good-natured pleading did nothing to slow Hector’s progress down the gangplank. “He’s a filthy heretic!”

   Think! Run! Try begging for your life! My mind screamed at me to react, but I was frozen in place. This was the end, wasn’t it? The murder in this giant man’s eyes told me this would not just be another beating; this would be it; this would be my end. There are words for this. I’ve heard them said by the Mazdas. The real Mazdas. Words of comfort when death is near. Words of calm. Words of…

   “Chirp!”

   Hector stopped. Adelina and her father turned. Hector turned. I turned to my right and looked up at the ship’s railing. There sits the little black bird. We all stare at it, confused, and it tells us “chirp.”

   And then the words come.

   “I have come upon you as a stranger, that you see with thy own eyes, and hear with thine own ears, and feel with they own soul that which I have brought to you. Would that I had descended in Glory, and in so doing made everything Holy, then the greatness of My Gift would be overshadowed, and the very purpose undone. But in a humble lie did I come upon you, and with thine eyes and ears and soul have you beheld My Gift, and you have taken it into yourselves. Through My Grace and your acceptance, you have gained Wisdom.”

   It was part of the story of Ven’Tethra, chief amongst the Gods, and the founding of the Cities of Wisdom. It was meant to teach the people not to make assumptions and to give every stranger a chance to prove themselves. I’d heard it often and had always cursed everyone for not adhering to the obvious moral of this popular tale. Now, as I pronounced the excerpt with as much conviction as I could muster, I said a silent prayer to dead gods that it would save me.

   Hector remained frozen in place, his face contorting in confusion, and as the awkward seconds rolled by, I could see fear begin to take root within him. It was sacrilege to threaten a Mazda, punishable by death. Adelina’s father also stared on in dismay. Only the girl was unfazed and beamed at hearing what to her was the natural outcome of events: she had said I was a Mazda, and I had just delivered some holy words. Proof. Simple.

   “Everyone knows this tale,” says the father, his initial shock come and gone. “Yet I have never seen a Mazda appear so,” he paused, searching for a diplomatic way to say poor, rundown and squalid. “Modest.”

   At this, Hector recovered a measure of his confidence as well, and began moving towards me once more.

   “Yes,” he agreed, “I’ve never seen a Mazda not in the fine robes of his office and holding the symbols of his god.”

   Why am I not in robes? Because you aren’t a Mazda, fool. Yes, but I am in too far to turn back now. Beg for your life, they may just beat you and not bother the guard. Particularly with the girl watching, they may show mercy. The girl? Damn it, why did I tell her I was sleeping with a god? I... I was sleeping with a god…

   “One does not sleep in robes,” I told them, doing my best to remove the fear from my voice and maintain eye contact with them. The Mazdas always looked people in the eye.

   ‘The Gods are dead,” growled Adelina’s father, his patience with this farce wearing thin. “Hector, remove this man from my ship.”

   “Aye, Captain!”

   The murder returned to Hector’s gaze, yet something gripped me then, and I suddenly had no control over my tongue.

   “The Gods are dead,” I agreed, “but one can still sleep with the dead. There is comfort to be had in proximity, and last night I slept in the Garden of Faith, at the foot of Shar’Reue, and there the most miraculous thing happened.”

   Hector stopped again, now only a foot or so away from me. He gave a questioning glance to the two at the rail, and I saw the doubt once again on the face of Adelina’s sire. My feigned confidence was having the necessary effect.

   “What happened?” the girl asked, full of wonder.

   I was possessed, and at the mercy of the fantasy that was now forming in my thoughts.

   “I dreamt,” I said simply, in the manner Mazdas do when they’ve made a statement they feel everyone should instinctively understand the importance of.

   It was Hector who spoke next, as he was beginning to be swayed by my lies. “What did you dream?”

   I gave him a kindly smile. “Why, I dreamt of God.”

   “Which god?” he asked me.

   ‘The only god.”

   “The Gods are dead,” the captain repeated above us.

   “The Gods are dead,” I echoed. “Eaten by the Shadow.”

   “Of which god did you dream?” Hector asked again.

   “I dreamt of the Dreamer.” I don’t know how, but I was suffused with confidence, my voice holding all the authority and gravitas I did not have.

   “I dreamt of She Who Sleeps, whose seed was planted by the fall of those who came before, and who gestates in the darkness of the Shadow. I dreamt of the New God, Eyr’Arawn.”

   A strong sea breeze washed over us then, sending a supernatural chill running through the four of us. I had just pronounced the name of a new goddess, going beyond mere sacrilege and heresy, and yet the sailors stared at me in religious awe and trepidation. I could not even guess at their thoughts, so kept silent myself. Instead, I stood with a keen awareness that with one swing of the pin, Hector could cave my skull in.

   “Adelina,” her Papa cleared his throat awkwardly. “Be a good girl and set another place at the table.”

   Just as awkwardly, Hector turned and gestured for me to follow him up the gangplank. My stomach gave a painful growl, causing both of us to stare at it. The little bird stared too, gave a final chirp, then took flight. Another, softer gust of wind caresses my cheek reassuringly. Swallowing the sigh of relief, I step forward, and begin moving up.
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Online MichelleG

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Re: The Awakening - Prologue & Chapter 1(Historical Fantasy)
« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2022, 10:42:19 PM »
Okay, I was intrigued by your query and thought the story would be good for some genre readers, but that wouldn't be me.

Now that I have read your first chapter all I want to say is. "Where is Chapter Two?"
,
I love your writing style.  This flowed with every line. I thought it was great.

I only have one comment and that is with the prologue.  I think, based on what a prologue should be, that it should end with the line ...

And then the Shadow fell.

The next section belongs with chapter one.  From my understanding a prologue is separate from the story -some past history, side story, or even future event, the reader should know.  And that is certainly true here.  The prologue is when things were wonderful in the past. 
the next line

I did not know the Cities of that Golden Age. I was born in the eight-hundred and eighty eighth year of the Shadow. - By the way, I love this line.

Jumps to the future and relates to the events in Chapter One. Shouldn't it be part of Chapter One?

Its not my kind of story and I loved it.  Great job!
"You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of isolation and the impunity with which crime may be committed there." - Sherlock Homes, The Copper Beeches - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Offline Talean

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Re: The Awakening - Prologue & Chapter 1(Historical Fantasy)
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2022, 09:05:41 AM »
Okay, I was intrigued by your query and thought the story would be good for some genre readers, but that wouldn't be me.

Now that I have read your first chapter all I want to say is. "Where is Chapter Two?"
,
I love your writing style.  This flowed with every line. I thought it was great.

I only have one comment and that is with the prologue.  I think, based on what a prologue should be, that it should end with the line ...

And then the Shadow fell.

The next section belongs with chapter one.  From my understanding a prologue is separate from the story -some past history, side story, or even future event, the reader should know.  And that is certainly true here.  The prologue is when things were wonderful in the past. 
the next line

I did not know the Cities of that Golden Age. I was born in the eight-hundred and eighty eighth year of the Shadow. - By the way, I love this line.

Jumps to the future and relates to the events in Chapter One. Shouldn't it be part of Chapter One?

Its not my kind of story and I loved it.  Great job!

You know, I'm not actually sure on that. I was looking at the prologue as similar to Shakespeare's setups. In fair Verona, and all that.
It's backstory, and character introduction. The actual story begins in Chapter 1, where things begin to change. Or so I thought.

I'd be interested to see if anyone else has an opinion on this.
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Offline susan-louise

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Re: The Awakening - Prologue & Chapter 1(Historical Fantasy)
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2022, 02:48:27 AM »
Hello Talean. I was captivated by your Prologue.  The transition from purple prose back story (and my, you write so beautifully) into first chapter was seamlessly accomplished.  Above all, the Prologue is tightly constructed and flows with exquisite grace...not unlike the music you describe from lutes and lyres on street corners.

Picked up a few flow issues.. which may help you polish the gem even more!  Also...small point; but does your character have a name?? The girl is named.  His anonymity is a little disconcerting.  I sincerely hope you find a publisher.



(Threw in the prologue, because it's short and necessary to understanding what's going on.)

Prologue

   The Cities of Wisdom stretch along the Gulf of Dusk. From the Adrantic Coast in the north to the Aetolian Cape in the South do they spring, hemmed in from the east by the Palatine Jungles. For generations, the Cities stood as bastions of civilization; the soaring towers of stone touched the very heavens, their great arcaded halls filled with all the knowledge and treasures that gave the Cities their name. Indeed, travelers came from every corner of Elysia to seek guidance from the Mazdas, custodians of the great temples that were dedicated to the Gods. Wealth poured into the Cities, turning the lowliest of hovels from sticks to clean adobe, while knowledge was accumulated in ever grander temples and shrines that became the envy of the continent. With so much prosperity and wisdom at hand, the arts flourished. Vast murals and mosaics covered the buildings in swaths of colour that would rival sunsets. Grand and intricate statues and gardens were erected everywhere, providing the happy populace with heroes and places to admire them in. Music filled the air, from great orchestras accompanying theatrical performances to simple buskers strumming a lute or lyre on the corner. A Golden Age, worthy of Gods themselves.  Beautiful world building and I can see it all.

   And then the Shadow fell.  (We always need this in high fantasy!!)

   I did not know the Cities of that Golden Age. I was born in the eight-hundred and eighty eighth year of the Shadow. The Gods, eaten by the world covering horror, left their chosen people alone, and as Their grace and miracles faded from this land, the wisdom of their representatives, the Mazdas, faded in kind. There is but emptiness, and an oppressive stagnation. The Mazdas, those that were not taken, hoard the once abundant wealth that remains in the hopes of prolonging their rule. We pay them willingly, in one form or another, so that we might attend their broken towers, sit in their crumbling halls, and listen to them speak of the Gods. At least, I used to, but I have nothing left to give, and so I stay on the ground. Alone.

   Each day I grow more cynical and angry. I curse the Mazdas and their temples. I deny that they ever had wisdom, and that there was ever glory in the Cities. I curse the Gods, and say they deserved their fate; what sort of deities are destroyed in a single day? I wander the dirty streets and tell anyone who looks my way that the Gods were false and the Mazdas ignorant, treacherous swindlers. They turn away quickly, going about their miserable lives in the dusty streets of the city, not even cognizant of the crumbling images of better times and better people all around them. How I envy them.

   Why? Why do I wish I were still like them? My usual excuse is that, if I were still like them, I would not have given everything to the Mazdas, and would not sit destitute on the street. It’s a lie, but any shallow excuse allows me to keep from breaking down completely. I don’t want to admit that I yearn to be back in those temples. I cannot admit it. And the worst part of it is, I don’t even understand why I want to. The ceremonies are depressing.

   We are told that, in the Golden Age, the Eternal Fires of the Gods would burn brightly at the pinnacles of the tallest ziggurats, illuminating the Cities of Wisdom day and night, basking the streets of dressed stone in warm, flickering light. The people would gather in the rooftop gardens, cool in the high breezes, and refreshed by the fountains that miraculously brought water from far below, and they would sit, and sing, and listen to the Mazdas speak of the Gods, of the workings of the world, and of far off lands shrouded in myth.

   The fountains are crumbling now, and the gardens wilted. The Eternal Fires are as dead as the Gods they represented, and there are no more wonderous tales told. Instead, the people pay their remaining valuables to sit and listen to a funeral service. They hear over and over how the Gods heard the cry of Their chosen people and descended from on high in a glorious display of mythical power; all shining and brilliant in armour of pure light and wielding weapons made of stars, Their beauty matched only by the terrible ferocity of Their battle cries. And how they were promptly consumed by the Shadow. The Mazdas lament the wasted lives and the ruin of the world, and everyone sings songs of melancholy and despair. It is a ceremony of sadness, and I crave it with every inch of my being.

   Why? I can’t say why. There is something comforting in hearing of the Defeat, of the times before, and of the old wisdom. It’s all gone now, yet it existed once and, as the Mazdas claim, parts of it still exist today. The beliefs and traditions of the past serve a purpose, they say, and despite the death of the Gods, we should still honour and worship them, just as we should adhere to the society They ordained for us. A society in which the Mazdas order the land, and we, the people, work hard in order that we might pay to hear their wisdom. Pay to hear how virtuous hard work is, or how taking responsibility for the world around us is the only way to restore the Cities to their former glory. It all sounds so good, even if I don’t believe it. So simple, as if picking up a broom to sweep away the fallen tiles would somehow restore the faded lustre of the others. It is calming, and despite the tone of sadness, it holds a promise of hope that I’ve never understood but crave constantly.

   I am a beggar, and sometimes manage to scrape a few coppers together to buy myself a seat in the back of some ancient courtyard high up in the clouds. Leaning against the fallen columns of the arcade, I listen, I sing, I cry, and then I leave, depressed and poor, and I starve in the gutters. There are no tears then, only hate and loathing, and in childish revenge against fate I begin shouting my dissatisfaction to the world. People avoid me, but I shout at them anyway.

   Tonight is one of the worse nights. My begging failed to gain me a seat, or even enough for a measly bite of food, so now I sit in the Garden of Faith, leaning my back against the statue of Shar’Reue, and curse the stars as my stomach growls and whimpers.  It’s these nights when I feel the crushing weight of the world most and contemplate why I persist in it when I could so easily walk off one of the terraced avenues and tumble fifty feet to an anonymous end below. 

   Two men, making their way home from a busy day of work, pass close by.

   “There’s no point!” I scream at them, as if they had been privy to my thoughts.

   “No point in anything! The Shadow will eat us all eventually, and there’s no damn point!”

   They quicken their pace and move away, avoiding even looking at me. Somewhere in the darkness of the city, a bird calls and is answered by others. The wind whispers along the brown clay tiles of the roofs above me, leaving a momentary silence behind it. Off in the distance is the sound of a bell striking: another soul departing this world. The sounds of the night resume, and I shrink lower into myself in the vain hope of avoiding the cold breeze.

   “There’s no point,” I whisper to myself as I close my eyes and settle in to find any semblance of rest. “And there’s no hope.”

Part 1
The Herald

Chapter 1

   There’s a bird, standing on the lichen encrusted balustrade above me. Chirp, it says. At least that is what my ears hear it say. Perhaps it’s really telling some mate that there is a lamentable being here below that was just asleep. Come, it tells its unseen companion, come and shout with me; let us deprive him of rest. I can’t help but smile as a second bird appears, looks down upon me, cocks its head, and lets out a chirp of its own. I raise my hands and make the ancient sign we are told wards off evil. In reply, the first bird chirps in indignation, while the second lets a liquid white turd fall into the sickly green lichen. They proceed to fly off together, dismissing me and my ward.

   It was cold last night, and my body aches as I lie propped against the plinth of the statue of Shar’Reue that stands in the centre of the Garden of Faith. His stern gaze covers the overgrown thickets and weedy beds of the city’s central square. What has become of my garden, his authoritarian eyes and pursed lips demand of the world.

   “What does it matter?” I ask him, “You were eaten.”

   On shaky legs do I push myself up  (syntax seems off here...although I understand entirely the majestic genre voice you are creating...but perhaps "I push myself up on shaky legs?  Jarred a little for this reader...), and regret it immediately as pain shoots through my back. Falling, another explosion of agony erupts in my stomach, and all too quickly do the cobblestones rise up to greet my face. Hello old friend, they seem to say, back so soon for another rest?  (Yes, the structure with "do" does jar....but I am only one reader)

   “No loitering!”

   The command is barked from somewhere above me, but before I can make sense of the world, a boot catches me in the temple.

   “In the name of the Gods, vacate this holy place at once!”

   In a croak I manage to reply: “The Gods are dead.”  (How about;  "I croaked a reply" etc...)

   A boot hurtling towards my face is the last thing I see.

   The sun is high when I wake, and suddenly I envy the Gods. My body is on fire and my head is pounding. My left eye won’t open, and as I gingerly probe (with a finger, pain shoots through my cheek. There is a smell of rotting fish and salt. So, I’ve been dumped near the docks.

   “Chirp.”

   Chirp? I ask. t have you forgotten speech marks?

   “Chirp!”

   With great effort, I manage to (you are telling us it's a great effort, so manage is superfluous, imo) roll onto my side, and propping myself up on my elbows. I look at the wharf towering above me. There, upon the deeply pitted and stained concrete, is a little bird. As my one good eye adjusts, and my mind clears slightly of the fog imbued within -courtesy (spellng) of the city guard - I begin to question things. You are not a sea bird, my mind pretends to tell it.  (I think you risk over-writing....we know he was kicked in the face rather viciously.....)

   “Why are you here?” I ask.

   It cocks its head.

   “Chirp.”

   What cruel prank is this? My suspicion grows, fueling an irrational anger. What is this creature, my mind demands?again, to me your average reader, it's clear this is an inner thought..so you can tighten the prose by removing the tag) Barely the size of a closed fist, with a grey head, white breast and brown wings trimmed in a border of black and white. Its beak, a tight triangle of crimson, matches the bright tail feathers of an equally brilliant red. That such a tiny thing should bother me so much only increased my ire.

   “Begone, vermin, lest I make you my breakfast!” I shout venomously. (I'd ditch the adverb. You have shown eloquently his venom with the threat)

   The bird turns its head to the opposite side, then, without concern, begins to absently pecks at the concrete wall upon which it perched. The hate burns within me hotter than the sun. I shout at it, curse it, and attempt to rise in order that I might seek vengeance upon this foul fowl, (this jarred...I guess the pairing is deliberate but if you can find another adjective to describe the fowl ??) but only succeed in gaining a weary knee before my balance falters. My only (repetition of "only"...try "my best option?)option is to spit another string of profane curses at the creature. Raising its small eyes to perceive what all the fuss is about, the bird takes a few spritely (spelling: sprightly) hops forward before giving a curse of its own:

   “Chirp!”

   Turn head right. Turn head left.  (Should this be "Turns??)

   “Chirp!”

   With no further recourse left to me, (over writing here....why not just move into the next clause....) I make the sign to ward off evil once more and, to my surprise, the bird flies away without a further sound.

   “That sure showed him!” comes a kindly sea drawl. I painfully turn my head painfully syntax and there, sitting not far to the right of where my feathered tormentor had been, is a girl.

   “Quite a battle, the likes of which I’ve rarely seen! And such a pretty bird, too! I don’t see many of them this close to the sea; it’s the gulls and hawks, you know, that eat the little fellows.”

   “I was about to eat him,” I grumble.

   “Oh, don’t!” the girl pleads, “He would hardly be a mouthful, and there’s not enough beauty in the world that we can afford to eat it.”

   It’s now or never, I tell myself. Rise now or consign yourself to death and be done with it. Death might be nice, my thoughts answer back. (I'd tighten this....Try: "Although death might be nice" because it is clear he is having an interior monologue)You would no longer hurt, your stomach would not ache further, and there would be silence. Silence from this world, and silence from your despair. You’d be free, and would never have to yell at anyone, or anything, again.

   “Having a pleasant morning?”

   The girl. Somehow, I’d forgotten her completely. I turn to berate her in kind, and yet, as I look into those large, innocent eyes, the realization dawns that this is a genuine enquiry and not a prelude to further torment. The hate dissipates, replaced with shame and self-consciousness in the face of this little girl. (It's such a poignant paragraph, I think the impact is heightened by ending the reflection with shame....less is more etc)

   “Good.” My voice is a stammer. “Yes.”

   “My Papa sometimes looks rough, just as you, but is generally cheerful. ‘Sailor’s temperament,’ he says. ‘No need to interrupt a sunny morning ‘cause of last night’s storm,’” she imitates the voice of a grown man, and giggles as she does so.  Nice dialogue here and above, btw. 

   I don’t really understand the sea reference because my head is still swimming. Good, I manage to say again, as if that were a suitable reply, and then my mind wanders back to my own concerns. The sun is nearly at its zenith; if I hurry, I might possibly beg enough to attend an evening service. Or food. Food would be good. I take a step, and as I don’t fall over, I take another, and another. It’s roughly three hundred paces to the city’s harbour gate - not bad, I’ve certainly been dumped in worse places.

   “What ship are you from?” the girl falls into step beside me. She stares up at me patiently waiting for an answer, while I look at her dumbly.  (try mutely?)

   “I’m not a sailor,” I finally say, clueing into her meaning.  (why not simply "grasping her meaning?"

   She stops walking, suddenly suspicious. “Why were you at the docks?”

   “I slept with a god last night. Some people didn’t like that, so here I am.”  (Love this!!)

   Gone is the worry, replaced by youthful wonder and excitement.

   “You’ve seen a god? Are you a Mazda? Are the Gods returning?”

   I say nothing, for what is there to say? The gate is drawing nearer, and I can see a line has already formed for entry. A few traders, fresh from their ships, are leading hired mule carts loaded with wares. The city guard, wearing faded yellow and orange gambesons and carrying seven-foot spears tipped in bronze, move amongst them inspecting the cargoes and collecting the tithe. Others, on foot and with small bundles or nothing at all, endure a brief glance before being waved ahead for admittance; the tithe is for trade goods, not people.  (Lovely scene-building)

   “Papa said we’d go listen to the Mazdas today, but I don’t like being in the cities” the girl tells me. “But if you’re a Mazda, maybe you could come speak at the ship instead! We usually eat at midday, and Papa would surely welcome you aboard!”

   Food.

   My stomach aches at the very idea of it, reminding me of how long its been since I last had any. My mind beings typo : begins  to work, desperation driving a terrible scheme into my head. I could be a Mazda, I tell myself, and it would only be for one meal; short enough that no one would know, and then back to the anonymity of the gutters. But you wear rags, my mind argues, and adults will see what this little girl does not. Then it’s off to the Rock.

   But food.  (How about....But first food.)

   You will be caught, I tell myself, and you will die before ever being given any food. They will expel you from their table before you even sit down, and the guard will be summoned, maybe even the prelates. Then you are just another stain upon the Rock; another heretic beaten and bloodied and left for the falcons to feast.

   My lips move, and my mind protests in horror at what it hears: “Of course, it would be an honour to join you.”

   “How delightful!” she exclaims, her youthful exuberance fully restored. “Come, it’s this way! We are not a large ship, but dry and weatherly, you’ll see. (I love that word!)There’s thirty of us, plus Papa and me, and they’re all ‘good salts’ says Papa. I think you’ll particularly appreciate the figurehead! It’s fashioned after the goddess Dui’Lea, and we’ve kept it in exempl... exemple… ex-em-pla-ree condition. Better shape than the Goddess herself, or so the men say.”

   She rambled on about this or that the whole journey, pausing only when an answer to some question or statement was required. I gave non-committal noises as needed, or left it in expectant silence, feigning consideration, until she leapt to a new line of thought. In truth I wasn’t listening. My mind was busy preparing itself for what was to come. How could I be convincing as a Mazda, at least long enough to gain a bite to eat ? (add question mark) How could I then excuse myself without retribution or a visit from the guard? We continued down the docks until we arrived at a tall sailing ship moored with heavy cordage to the concrete bollards. Standing before the gangplank that ran between the ground and the ship, I realized I had nothing, and my body shook with terror.

   Mistaking my fear for that of a common landsman, the girl patted my hand reassuringly. Fear not, she told me, the plank is anchored securely, and just mind the swell.  (Why would you not present this as dialogue??) What exactly was the swell, I was left to wonder, but it became clear when the water raised the ship, which raised the plank, which almost sent me tumbling into the ocean.

   “Adelina,” came the burly call (voice?) from above, “Where have you been, dove?”

   The girl runs up the gangplank and into the arms of a weathered sailor. The man is easily forty, with more grey than black in his long cue of hair and close-cropped beard. His face is dark from the sun, and the bronze eyes peer suspiciously at me from beneath massive brows, but soften immediately as they turn to the girl.

   “Papa!” she says lovingly and plants a delicate kiss on the grizzled cheek. “I was just down the quay looking at the shore.”  (nice but I'd remove the dreaded adverb. You show her love and tenderness for the father with her gesture)

   “And who is this man?” The suspicion returns in force, but the tone remains kind for the girl’s sake.

   “He is a Mazda, Papa!” she tells him says matter-of-factly, “And he has come to speak with us so that we don’t have to go back into the city! I invited him for lunch.”

   “A Mazda, is he?”

   The skepticism is thinly veiled; just enough not to alert his daughter that he suspects something is wrong. His eyes are threatening, and I feel myself shrink under his gaze. Think quick, I tell myself, make some excuse and walk away.   (you use "tell myself" a lot.  Try "urge myself"?)

   “He slept with a God!”

   And there it is: my death warrant. His eyes turn murderous, and the man grits his teeth together as he fights to stay calm for his daughter, but the blasphemy before him demands action.

   “Hector!” he barks over his shoulder. “Hector, Come here!”

   His eyes never leave me, nor do they soften as Hector appears at the rail above. He is a brute of a man, easily six foot seven, two hundred and thirty pounds of sinewy muscle and, judging from the thick, lustrous onyx of his hair, in the prime of his life. He gave Adelina a large smile and bent down to plant a kiss on her forehead, receiving one in return on his cheek, before taking notice of his captain’s expression and tracing it down to me.

   “A Mazda,” Adelina’s Papa explains, “come to minister to our humble crew, if you can believe our good fortune.”

   Hector’s smile disappears too, hatred taking its place, but this sailor did not hold his tongue in deference to the little lady.

   “Heresy!” he spat the word with such venom that the other two jumped slightly at the force behind it, while I shrank verb repeated...we had shrink above.  How about New sentence. "I winced  further in the face of with this new threat.

   I don’t know how, for my mind was frozen with fear, but a belaying pin was suddenly in Hector’s hands, and he held it like a club. Run, my brain screams at me, run now! Fast! He’s coming down the ramp!

   “Oh, Papa, please! Hector, stop! He’s a Mazda, truly he is!”

   The good-natured pleading did nothing to slow Hector’s progress down the gangplank. “He’s a filthy heretic!”

   Think! Run! Try begging for your life! My mind screamed at me to react but I was frozen in place. This was the end, wasn’t it? The murder in this giant man’s eyes told me this would not just be another beating; this would be it; this would be my end. There are words for this. I’ve heard them said by the Mazdas. The real Mazdas. Words of comfort when death is near. Words of calm. Words of…

   “Chirp!”

   Hector stopped. Adelina and her father turned. Hector turned. I turned to my right and looked up at the ship’s railing. There sits the little black bird. We all stare at it, confused, and it tells us “chirp.”

   And then the words come.

   “I have come upon you as a stranger, that you see with thy own eyes, and hear with thine own ears, and feel with they own soul that which I have brought to you. Would that I had descended in Glory, and in so doing made everything Holy, then the greatness of My Gift would be overshadowed, and the very purpose undone. But in a humble lie did I come upon you, and with thine eyes and ears and soul have you beheld My Gift, and you have taken it into yourselves. Through My Grace and your acceptance, you have gained Wisdom.”

   It was part of the story of Ven’Tethra, chief amongst the Gods, and the founding of the Cities of Wisdom. It was meant to teach the people not to make assumptions and to give every stranger a chance to prove themselves. I’d heard it often and had always cursed everyone for not adhering to the obvious moral of this popular tale. Now, as I pronounced the excerpt with as much conviction as I could muster, I said a silent prayer to dead gods that it would save me.

   Hector remained frozen in place, his face contorting in confusion, and as the awkward seconds rolled by, I could see fear begin to take root within him. It was sacrilege to threaten a Mazda, punishable by death. Adelina’s father also stared on in dismay. Only the girl was unfazed and beamed at hearing what to her was the natural outcome of events: she had said I was a Mazda, and I had just delivered some holy words. Proof. Simple.

   “Everyone knows this tale,” says the father, his initial shock come and gone (I think this would work better if you just say...."says the father, slowly". “Yet I have never seen a Mazda appear so,” he paused, searching for a diplomatic way to say poor, rundown and squalid. “Modest.”

   At this, Hector recovered a measure of his confidence as well, and began moving towards me once more.

   “Yes,” he agreed, “I’ve never seen a Mazda not in the fine robes of his office and holding the symbols of his god.”

   Why am I not in robes? Because you aren’t a Mazda, fool. Yes, but I am in too far to turn back now. Beg for your life, they may just beat you and not bother the guard. Particularly with the girl watching, they may show mercy. The girl? Damn it, why did I tell her I was sleeping with a god? I... I was sleeping with a god…

   “One does not sleep in robes,” I told them evenly, doing my best to remove the fear from my voice and maintain eye contact with them. The Mazdas always looked people in the eye.  (I think you are telling here...."evenly" conveys this...just a suggestion)

   ‘The Gods are dead,” growled Adelina’s father (above you call him A's papa. I'd remove the papa above and replace it with "father"), his patience with this farce wearing thin. “Hector, remove this man from my ship.”

   “Aye, Captain!”

   The murder (you used this above...try "loathing" "revulsion" etc ??) returned to Hector’s gaze, yet something gripped me then, and I suddenly had no control over my tongue.

   “The Gods are dead,” I agreed, “but one can still sleep with the dead. There is comfort to be had in proximity, and last night I slept in the Garden of Faith, at the foot of Shar’Reue, and there the most miraculous thing happened.”

   Hector stopped again, now only a foot or so away from me. He gave a questioning glance to the two at the rail, and I saw the doubt once again on the face of Adelina’s sire. My feigned confidence was having the necessary effect.
  No need to tell us this, it is obvious his little strategy is working.
   “What happened?” the girl asked, full of wonder.

   I was possessed, and at the mercy of the fantasy that was now forming in my thoughts. (honing :) )

   “I dreamt,” I said simply, in the manner Mazdas do when they’ve made a statement they feel everyone should instinctively understand the importance of.

   It was Hector who spoke next, as he was beginning to be swayed by my lies. “What did you dream?” demanded Hector.

   I gave him a kindly smile. “Why, I dreamt of God.”

   “Which god?” he asked me.  (surplus tag...we know it is H replying)

   ‘The only god.”

   “The Gods are dead,” the captain repeated above us.

   “The Gods are dead,” I echoed. “Eaten by the Shadow.”

   “Of which god did you dream?” Hector asked again.

   “I dreamt of the Dreamer.” I don’t know how, but I was suffused with confidence, my voice holding all the authority and gravitas I did not have. (try "lacked)

   “I dreamt of She Who Sleeps, whose seed was planted by the fall of those who came before, and who gestates in the darkness of the Shadow. I dreamt of the New God, Eyr’Arawn.”

   A strong sea breeze washed over us then, sending ("sending with it a supernatural chill?) an supernatural chill running through the four Instead, I stood with aof us. (sorry...repetition of "us" jarred....this might be best for flow.)I had just pronounced the name of a new goddess, going beyond mere sacrilege and heresy, and yet the sailors stared at me in religious awe and trepidation. I could not even guess at their thoughts, so kept silent myself.  I stood with a keen awareness that with one swing of the pin, Hector could cave my skull in. (How about: I was keenly aware that etc....)

   “Adelina,” her Papa cleared his throat awkwardly (word used above, perhaps this adverb is not required). “Be a good girl and set another place at the table.”

   Just as awkwardly, Hector uncomfortably turned and gestured for me to follow him up the gangplank. My stomach gave a painful growl, causing both of us to stare at it. The little bird stared too, gave a final chirp, then took flight. Another, softer gust of wind caresses my cheek reassuringly. Swallowing the sigh of relief, I step forward, and begin moving up.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2022, 03:24:00 AM by susan-louise »

Offline Talean

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Re: The Awakening - Prologue & Chapter 1(Historical Fantasy)
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2022, 10:22:29 AM »
My, Susan-Louise, what professional editing skills you have!
("All the better to eat you with help you with," do I hear you say?)

Those are all exquisitely caught, and I enjoy how you've put explanations of the markups. Tremendously helpful, and I thank you!

To answer your question: no, he does not have a name. He becomes known as the Herald, but is intentionally left nameless. He is the invisible face you pass everyday in the street; unknown, anonymous, unimportant. He could be anyone.

And lastly, I will mention that I've been accused of pleonasm before. Glad you could help with that  ;D
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Offline susan-louise

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Re: The Awakening - Prologue & Chapter 1(Historical Fantasy)
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2022, 10:38:46 AM »
I loved it, truly.  And fervently hope you find a publisher.  It oozes nuances of Tolkien, Susanna Clarke (whom I love), Michael J Sullivan and a few others I could mention. The pleonasm alert goes with my day job.   Best of luck, Talean.  :)
« Last Edit: September 24, 2022, 01:04:25 PM by susan-louise »