This is an excellent example of how to start a fantasy novel. Pick a moment of conflict, an ambush, filter in details about the characters whose situation you’re describing, build the tension, leaven with a bit of downplayed humor. Enjoy:
Title of the work: Thieves for Hire
Language: US English
Synopsis: Kabyn and Franken are rogues for hire, but when a high-paying job goes terribly wrong, they find themselves framed for the murder of a king. To save their lives they must unravel a mystery that goes beyond the assassination, a conspiracy that could spell destruction for all of mankind.
Kabyn could see little in the darkness, but he could hear them—the snapping of twigs, the crush of leaves, and the brush of grass. There were more than one, more than three, and they were closing in.
“Don’t neither of you move,” a harsh voice ordered from the shadows. “We’ve got arrows aimed at your backs, and we’ll drop you in your saddles if you try to run.” The speaker was still in the dark eaves of the forest, just a vague movement among the naked branches. “We’re just gonna lighten your load a bit. No one needs to get hurt. Do as I say, and you’ll keep your lives. Don’t—and we’ll take those, too.”
Kabyn felt his stomach sink, knowing this was his fault. He glanced over at Franken, who sat beside him on his dirty gray mare with his hood up and face hidden. His friend’s head was bowed and shook slightly. Kabyn didn’t need to see his friend’s expression to know what it looked like.
“Sorry,” Kabyn offered.
Franken said nothing and just continued to shake his head.
Before them stood a wall of fresh-cut brush blocking their way. Behind lay the long moonlit corridor of empty road. Mist pooled in the dips and gullies, and somewhere an unseen stream trickled over rocks. They were deep in the forest on the old southern road, engulfed in a long tunnel of oaks and ash whose slender branches reached out over the road, quivering and clacking in the cold autumn wind. Almost a day’s ride from any town, Kabyn couldn’t recall passing so much as a farmhouse in hours. They were on their own in the middle of nowhere—the kind of place people never found bodies.
The crush of leaves grew louder until the thieves finally stepped into the narrow band of moonlight. Kabyn counted four men with unshaven faces and drawn swords. They wore rough clothes, leather and wool, stained, worn, and filthy. With them was a girl wielding a bow, an arrow nocked and aimed. She was dressed like the rest in pants and boots, her hair a tangled mess. Each was covered in mud, a ground-in grime, as if the whole lot had slept in a dirt burrow.
“They don’t look like they got much money,” a man with a flat nose said. An inch or two taller than Kabyn, he was the largest of the party, a stocky brute with a thick neck and large hands. His lower lip looked to have been split about the same time his nose was broken.
“But they’ve got bags of gear,” the girl said. Her voice surprised him. She was young, and—despite the dirt—cute, and almost childlike, but her tone was aggressive, even vicious. “Look at all this stuff they’re carrying. What’s with all the rope?”
Kabyn was uncertain if she was asking him or her fellows. Either way, he was not about to answer. He considered making a joke, but she did not look like the type he could charm with a compliment and a smile. On top of that, she was pointing the arrow at him and it looked like her arm might be growing tired.
“I claim the big sword that fella has on his back,” flat-nose said. “Looks right about my size.”
“I’ll take the other two he’s carrying.” This came from one with a scar that divided his face at a slight angle, crossing the bridge of his nose just high enough to save his eye.
The girl aimed the point of her arrow at Franken. “I want the little one’s cloak. I’d look good in a fine black hood like that.”
With deep-set eyes and sunbaked skin, the man closest to Kabyn appeared to be the oldest. He took a step closer and grabbed hold of Kabyn’s horse by the bit. “Be real careful now. We’ve killed plenty of folks along this road. Stupid folks who didn’t listen. You don’t want to be stupid, do you?”
Kabyn shook his head.
“Good. Now drop them weapons,” the thief said. “And then climb down.”
“What do you say, Franken?” Kabyn asked. “We give them a bit of coin so nobody gets hurt.”
Franken looked over. Two eyes peered out from the hood with a withering glare.
“I’m just saying, we don’t want any trouble, am I right?”
“You don’t want my opinion,” Franken said.
“So you’re going to be stubborn.”
Kabyn shook his head and sighed. “Why do you have to make everything so difficult? They’re probably not bad people—just poor. You know, taking what they need to buy a loaf of bread to feed their family. Can you begrudge them that? Winter is coming and times are hard.” He nodded his head in the direction of the thieves. “Right?”
“I ain’t got no family,” flat-nose replied. “I spend most of my coin on drink.”
“You’re not helping,” Kabyn said.
“I’m not trying to. Either you two do as you’re told, or we’ll gut you right here.” He emphasized this by pulling a long dagger from his belt and scraping it loudly against the blade of his sword.
A cold wind howled through the trees, bobbing the branches and stripping away more foliage. Red and gold leaves flew, swirling in circles, buffeted by the gusts along the narrow road. Somewhere in the dark an owl hooted.
“Look, how about we give you half our money? My half. That way this won’t be a total loss for you.”
“We ain’t asking for half,” the man holding his mount said. “We want it all, right down to these here horses.”
“Now wait a second. Our horses? Taking a little coin is fine but horse thieving? If you get caught, you’ll hang. And you know we’ll report this at the first town we come to.”
“You’re from up north, ain’t you?”
“Yeah, left Lankshire yesterday.”
The man holding his horse nodded, and Kabyn noticed a small red tattoo on his neck.
Editorial critique: Lots to like about this: a great scene, full of naturally developing tension. The lack of fear from the two waylaid travelers strongly implies that the encounter isn’t going to go well for the robbers, but we can’t see how yet. I like the banter between the two of them (largely one-sided, which gives us the growing conviction that it’s from Franken that the shock is going to materialize.
This opening poses three questions that the reader wants to know. What will happen in this scene—how will the ambush resolve itself? Who are the travelers and why are they seemingly so insouciant in the face of such mortal peril? And where are they going to, and coming from, out in the middle of nowhere? Only the second gold star of the site. You’ve done all an author needs to do at the beginning of a book—get the reader to want to know more.
Thanks for posting.