I'm working through suggestions to make my early teen time travel novel have the action happen much quicker in the storyline. It's been too easy to just like the words I wrote a long time ago, but I'm now biting the bullet and making big slash and burn moments. teh problem for me is knowing
I'm saying bye bye...for the moment to some of this bit. What, if any, of this should I keep? I know which bits I really still like.
Aran shuddered as Tyrnan’s spear thudded into the ground a mere toe away from his foot, even closer than the last time the spear had been thrown. That lurching of the stomach thing happened again and the nausea rising was even worse. He didn’t dare move a step, or say another word, as the sound of the boar carcass thudding to the ground echoed around. It was no poor throw that Tyrnan had made. If he’d wanted it to be so, Aran could easily have been pinned to the forest floor.
“Stop there, now!” Tyrnan’s command halted them all as he darted forward, reaching them in moments. “Strangers - Taexali, Miathi, or otherwise - will not wander alone in our territory. Not even ones wearing special treasures of the Taexali.” His angry voice boomed right in their faces. “You will come with us to Balbath and you will deliver your message.”
In a blink Tyrnan’s little sharp knife was held at Aran’s throat, so close it nicked his skin again, a different bead of red trickling from the glistening knife tip. One flick of his spear and it was fast in the ground before Aran found one of his arms pinned agonisingly behind his back. Tyrnan’s ferocity was resolute. There was no way he was going to let them wander off.
Fianna sniffled as she clutched her twin’s cloak.
Aran knew this was not a time for a standoff…or for being too brave or stupid. The warrior’s lethal blade flashed in the dappled sunshine that filtered through the trees, so dangerously near to properly slicing his throat. Tyrnan’s next demand wasn’t pleasant either.
“Are you ready now to give us your message for Tuoch?”
Aran felt his wrist almost snap when his arm was twisted even more painfully. “No!” he hissed, his voice wobbling only a fraction. He was dangerously close to tears, yet it was the only answer he could give for he didn’t have a message, yet.
“Okay! Okay! Let Aran go. We’ll go with you to Balbath,” Brian responded quickly, to mollify the angry guard because Gypta had corralled them again with her alarming blade.
Lowering his blade Tyrnan whipped off thin cords from his belt, thrusting one to Duhlain and one to Gypta. In moments, Aran and the twins had their hands firmly tied behind their backs, not excruciating but tight enough to chafe. Aran deliberated about making the big protest he could tell was itching to break forth from Brian…but again, it didn’t seem like quite the right time to make a fuss.
Prisoners? Even more so.
Fianna looked angry now, still scared, but her pursed mouth showed she was becoming more infuriated at their treatment. It was all too real now for Aran could clearly see the thin cord biting into the flesh at her wrists…his own tether just as painful. Fianna’s shoulders already looked very uncomfortable as she struggled to regain her balance after Gypta thrust her forward, though she wisely kept her mouth shut.
With no option they trudged behind Gypta, now finding it hard to keep up with her and avoiding hazards at the same time. Aran had idly wondered while watching action movies what it must be like to walk like this, arms tied behind your back. Now he knew he didn’t like it one bit. It jarred, and pinched, and totally ached when he stumbled. Callum had said go with the flow hadn’t he? Even if the action was slow?
One thing was definite. They couldn’t choose to end the game right that moment for not one of them could get near an armband!
They stepped over and stumbled around tree stumps, avoiding the roots and plant stems that stuck up from the forest floor, sometimes hidden below the fallen leaf cover. At times sharp bits of wood and stones poked up into Aran’s Feet making him squirm in agony. The soft shoes he wore had some kind of padding inside them but that didn’t stop the bigger stones from hurting. How on earth Gypta could keep going at the pace she did with her injury Aran couldn’t fathom, but maintain the rapid rate Gypta did.
A while later Fianna’s curiosity got the better of her even though her strength flagged. “Have you any sisters or brothers, Gypta?”
Gypta turned back without stopping, before replying to Fianna’s question. “I have three older brothers, but only one half-sister. She is yet very young, almost at her fourth summer.”
Fianna huffed as she kept up. “I’ve always wanted a sister, but all I got was a brother.” Her smile was disdainful as she nodded her head in Brian’s direction. “The only good thing about that is that I was born first so I’m older than him.”
Gypta’s tone was puzzled as she stared at Fianna. “Why do you ask questions while we walk? It is not usual in our tribe to disturb the peace of the forest with idle talk. We do not trouble the forest gods with unnecessary noise and we need to be heedful of attack from our enemies. Is it not so in your branch of our tribe?”
Was that what Gypta meant? You couldn’t talk as you walked? The reproach in Gypta’s voice was damning. Realising Fianna had made some very big mistake Aran jumped in first to cover the confusion. “Princess, please forgive Fianna. In her excitement she’s forgotten. She won’t chatter any more.”
“That is as it should be!” Tyrnan was also critical and was now only a few steps behind them. “We all need to listen for untoward noises. We will maintain silence in the trees and pay attention.”
Fianna’s face flushed. Aran knew only too well how she hated to be in the wrong, though equally he understood her mistake, for how were they to have known you weren’t supposed to talk while walking in the forest? But if it was another rule of this strange game…they could do it.
Walking in silence was definitely a great way to appreciate the forest though, since he was much more aware of the animals and birds as they scuttled around and flit through the trees. Whenever he darted a look behind, Tyrnan alertly scanned all around him, was constantly aware and was taking note of any movements. His spear remained poised and ready…and was relentlessly trained on their backs!
At least, now, his sharp little knife didn’t prick at Aran’s throat - just a little something to be glad about.
As they continued on a small herd of deer passed through, way up ahead, shifting shadows crossing their path. The twins silently exchanged excited glances with Aran, their eyes sparkling. At home they often saw the occasional deer in the woods near their village, but never had they seen a whole herd passing by like this. The animals paused momentarily, their heads raised gracefully, catching the sounds of their approach, bounding off when the scent of people reached them. They moved so elegantly they hardly rustled the dense undergrowth, the leafy forest floor rippling only minutely with their progress.
Soon their direction changed. Patches of bright blue sky penetrated the glades and larger birds wheeled overhead above the treetops. As they neared the forest edge, descending all the time from the last slight rise, younger saplings were dotted more frequently around them all struggling to take root in the scrubby floor, sharply angled by the fiercer winds on the perimeter. A small winding river bubbled over large stones, in places. A little further upstream was a perfect crossing spot, a natural ford, narrow enough to traverse safely across some large flattish stones, the water there only knee deep.
“Princess Gypta!” Tyrnan called. “We will stop to pay homage below.”
“What does that mean?” Fianna murmured to Aran who stumbled alongside her.
“Not sure. Though I guess we’re about to find out.”
They both set to, moving smartly to catch up with Brian who now easily managed to keep pace with Gypta, their flagging energy perked up at the thought of rest.
“What do you reckon homage means?” Brian quizzed Aran as he came level with him.
Aran shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe something to do with praying to their gods?”
By the water’s edge at the ford they watched Tyrnan and Duhlain lay down the boar carcass. Then Tyrnan reached into his pouch. Holding his hand aloft and open to the sky he displayed a small pile of nuts and dried fruits, his voice loud and booming, echoing over the noise of the water as he chanted.
“Coventina, Lady of the water. Accept our gift…”
Aran watched the warrior in complete fascination as Tyrnan recited a loud prayer. The pleasant words were so peculiar coming from such a fiercely huge warrior. His grimy corn-gold hair rippled in the slight breeze as his eyes scanned the river bed. At the end of his chant he scattered his offering wide along the river then turning to them he commanded, “Rest now, and drink of the Lady’s water.”
“How am I supposed to do that? If I bend down I’ll probably fall in head first!” Fianna complained, clearly desperate for a drink of the cool clear water and more able to challenge now that her fear of Tyrnan had receded a bit. Her eyes strayed to the princess’s guard. “Can you please untie me?”
Aran reckoned her cajoling voice would probably have worked on Callum, but it made absolutely no difference at all to the dour warrior, Tyrnan.
“You will manage,” he warned. “If you fall in I will fish you out, have no fear. Tuoch will want you alive, not dead.”
Aran was first to try since he rarely backed down on a challenge…and getting a drink was definitely going to be a test of balance. He was the one with the supposed message so it had to be even more important that he be delivered alive. How he felt about that he wasn’t actually sure: the idea was a bit bizarre.
Lowering himself down onto his knees he shunted carefully to the edge of the river. Then he wriggled into position on his side, lying on the bank, in order to clutch a fistful of long willowy reeds tightly in his fingers before sliding forward to lower his chin into the water. Fortunately the water wasn’t too deep or rushing too hard. Gulping some down he found a way to drink without drowning. As his soaking wet head reappeared he squirmed back and grinned at Fianna. “See! It’s easy. Just don’t breathe and gulp at the same time.”
Fianna needed no further prompting because if Aran could do it then she could too. That was often the way with the two of them – one would challenge and the other would take up the test, and many times it was Fianna who set the challenges.
Inching forward she copied his movements, almost managing it till water went up her nose. Spluttering and sliding, she almost submerged before Tyrnan hauled her back out of the water. To Aran’s surprise he didn’t let her go, but fisted her cloak and dress at the back and then suspended her over the water. She gobbled the water that rippled into her open mouth.
Fianna wrenched her mouth up out of the water, gasping. “No more. Let me up.”
Tyrnan held her motionless, her head hovering dangerously over the flowing river for the space of a few heartbeats. “Enough?” He repeated it again as he swiftly dunked her back in and out. “Are you sure about that?”
Aran’s breath hitched loudly for he was terrified that the warrior was going to change his mind and drown her. His hands were tied - so were Brian’s - and there wouldn’t be a thing they could do to help her. No pulling the plug on the game!
“Let you up?” Tyrnan’s voice sounded amused as he pulled her out; as though Fianna’s challenge had surprised him a little before he dumped her unceremoniously back onto the banking. Fianna mumbled a grateful thanks as the warrior strode away stopping a little further upstream to have a drink himself.
“You okay, Fianna?” Brian whispered as he kneed his way towards her. Her nod told him since she was still unnerved by the experience, her face whiter than normal.
Aran could tell there was no way Brian would attempt a drink as he wriggled into a sitting position beside his twin, then silence descended again for a little while.
Was out of the forest a better time to ask questions? While they were resting? Aran thought it might be. Duhlain leisurely stretched out nearby. Not possible for him, though, because he now knew for sure that it was really uncomfortable sitting down with hands tied behind your back.
“Have we much farther to go before we reach Balbath?” He kept his question casual.
“Round that bend in the river…” Aran looked where Duhlain pointed. “…we will be on the plain of Balbath. Our settlement lies behind the trees on that side of the river.” Duhlain gestured towards the right hand side.
It wasn’t far. Aran looked along the sightline of the river where the tree cover was sparse. A high hill well in the distance seemed very familiar to him - yet it was subtly different. The hill, the only high hill around them, rose above dense woodland cover, an almost conical peak with a dark bumpy circular shadow around the summit. Aran looked again Feeling something wasn’t quite right about it, but he was sure he recognised it.
“Mmm?” Brian’s eyes were closed as he savoured the rest.
“What do you think of that hill along there?” Aran asked, his head nodding to indicate the hill’s direction.
“That hill?” Brian reluctantly opened his eyes and squinted. “It’s quite pointed?” His response was sleepy. “And there are a lot of trees and forests around its foothills?” Aran heard Brian’s lazy huff of breath and knew his friend was not interested enough to be bothered with a better answer. “What do you think about it?” Brian muttered as he closed his eyes again.“Never mind.” Aran allowed his eyes to have twenty winks as well, though something about the hill bothered him.
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