Potentially this is a good start to a story. Two thieves make a move on an unsuspecting family, one telling them a story while his accomplice moves in, unseen. We are in the know, the poor family aren’t. But the way this is told leads us to think that, at the climax of the scene there will be an unforeseen twist. Gold star, or rejection?
Title: The Unseen
Language: US English
Synopsis: Kelton was raised away from civilization, surviving as a thief and unaware of the secret that harbors inside of him. A sequence of events awakens an ancient prophecy with Kelton unwittingly at its core. He’s just a boy, with no desire to be the hope of a trodden nation.
Gossamer’s face flickered in shadow, the fire’s flames creating sinister depth in the contours. He was nearing the ending scenes of his tale. There was no part of his body that failed to participate in the story. A leg shifting outward emphasizing a change in emotion joined with an alteration in the tempo of his voice. Arms flailed, physically expressing the fear felt by the main character. Every sword stroke was artfully demonstrated for the joy of the audience. He was a master storyteller. He was also a thief.
Gossamer could crinkle his face at will, adding false years to his life by way of crow’s feet. His scraggly beard, dusted in ash, added to his age though he could move as a younger man when needed. He had never told Kelton his true age and Kelton had never let Gossamer know he doubted his appearance. A story teller needed a mask of maturity to fully enthrall an audience. The years gave the fables credence, made them more trustworthy to the ear. If the same tale came from Kelton’s lips, it would have fallen false. With only fourteen winters under his belt, he wasn’t ready for an audience. Kelton served better as a partner, invisible to those they meant to rob.
“Corrigan now knew what he faced. A demon from the deepest pits of hell, forged in evil and with an unholy thirst for death…Corrigan’s death!” Gossamer’s deep voice echoed through the trees and into the starlit night, the cooking fire seeming to sway with his words. The two small children huddled into their smiling mother on the opposite side of the fire, their father chuckling at their fear. The siblings both had their mother’s thick raven hair, the girl’s growing long down her back, the boy’s cropped unevenly short like his father’s.
Gossamer and Kelton always worked the same. Gossamer would act the traveler, trading a few stories for a meal and a night of mutual protection. Away from the towns and the King’s Own, the uncivilized roads were known to attract unsavory types. Higher numbers tended to keep the threats at bay. Travelers always welcomed the entertainment, if only for a single night.
Kelton had chosen a poor bush to hide behind. Its view of the scene was optimal, but it housed needle-sharp thorns he had twice forgotten about. His right hand was wet with tiny patches of blood hidden by the darkness. He used his pants as a rag knowing the blood would blend in with the myriad of forest stains. His ever-increasing height would require new pants soon anyway.
“In a bubbling mass of black flesh, the demon grew to twice its size.” Gossamer stood slowly from the log as the fictional demon grew. His arms stretched out to emphasize the growth. A simple tilt of his head and the shadows shifted ominously along his face. “Fire burst from his hand, forming a flaming mace twice the size of a man’s head.” Using his hands, he demonstrated the shape and size of the mace’s business end, then brought his hands together and pulled them to his heart. It was Kelton’s signal. Gossamer had his audience mesmerized, and Kelton was free to act unnoticed.
“Fear squeezed Corrigan’s heart,” Gossamer continued. Kelton shifted backward, away from the stinging bush and worked his way silently around the campsite using the trees and bushes as cover. It had taken years to master moving through the forest without making a sound. He took pride in the ability of his feet to find safe and silent purchase in the dark, bypassing twigs and dried crunchable leaves. Slow going, yet Gossamer always gave him the needed time.
Gossamer had strategically placed himself on the other side of the fire from family’s wagon. The stage defined, the family sat with their backs to wagon leaving Kelton free of any casual glances. The horse, a fat white-speckled beast, was not so blocked, and whinnied as he neared. Kelton lowered himself to the ground and waited for a moment as the animal became used to his presence and to be sure the family remained unaware.
“Corrigan dodged to the side as the mighty mace, swung with hellish strength, shattered rock where he had stood not a moment before.” Gossamer’s voice was shaking, the timber reflecting the horror experienced by the fictional Corrigan. Kelton smiled knowing the startled horse had been ignored.
The wagon was sturdy and didn’t shift as Kelton slithered onboard. Too sturdy. It must feel like riding on a rock as it traveled the well-rutted roads of the Felin woods. Moving about inside was difficult, the family’s whole life seemed to be aboard, covered by a tarp that was supported by poorly seated poles. They must set the tarp every evening for rain and lay it flat across their possessions as they traveled. There were crates piled high to create room for the laid out furs, their makeshift bed for the night.
“He thrust his blade at the hellish beast with all his might. The demon moved impossibly fast, dodging the puny weapon, and reached out for Corrigan’s throat.” Kelton could hear a gasp from the young girl. Gossamer had their full attention. Though he couldn’t see through the wagon’s tarp, he knew Gossamer was using his whole body as a prop now, thrusting and dodging as the hero would.
Kelton began his search near the front of the wagon, hoping the valuables weren’t stashed in one of the lower crates. Most people felt more comfortable storing their wealth near them, in this case, where the driver sat.
Gossamer made a horrible strangling sound, imitating a demon’s hand about a throat. “Your village is mine, mortal. I shall make a meal of your children.” Kelton imagined the children huddling closer to their mother. There would be nightmares tonight.
Kelton felt around the floor under the buckboard, trying to locate a box or bag that might hold valuables. Sadly, there was nothing. Moving backward, he smoothed out the furs with his hands in an attempt to feel a lump of hidden treasure. All he found was the rough baseboard. Gossamer needed to keep the story going.
Editorial comment: It’s not immediately apparent that, when describing Gossamer’s storytelling, we are not in some omniscient narrator’s PoV, watching Gossamer spin his yarn with an authorial overview, but actually in the PoV of Kelton, hiding behind a bush. I think you should make this clear more quickly because otherwise the conclusion an agent might jump to, having read as far as the fourth paragraph (or nearly 400 words, or getting on for two standard pages), and not having met the main character mentioned in the synopsis in anything other than apparently indirect reference, would be that this opening is written in an omniscient narrator style. This is so unpopular at the moment that this might put the agent off unnecessarily. Even just starting with a simple, “From behind the bush, Kelton watched as…” might do the trick.
The specific story that Gossamer tells is, presumably, as irrelevant to us as it is to Gossamer. There’s a lot of it, a whole confrontation told in great detail before we get to realise that Kelton, having received his signal, is on the move behind the unsuspecting family’s back. I’d contract this section. The interesting part of this scene is what Kelton is getting up to, not what Gossamer is saying or doing. Gossamer is misleading the family. There’s a feeling that you’re almost trying to mislead the reader, too. That’s a bold move to start a book. Can be done, obviously, but I think you’d need more of an author pedigree to get away with it.
I’m not a real agent, so I did read on, and there’s much to like about the scene. As I said at the outset, a great way of gaining the reader’s attention is to describe some subterfuge taking place, something that some characters in the book don’t know is happening. The Victorian novelists knew this, which is why periodically they’d lapse into authorial telling mode; “Little did Hubert know, but that was the last time he’d ever see Clarice before she was brutally done to death by the mysterious Beast of Battersea”. They thought that this built tension in the reader’s mind and it does, but in a rather contrived, unnatural way. Modern readers want largely naturalistic, immersive fiction, like the TV and film that they watch.
However, my instincts are that an agent would not get as far as Kelton not finding what he though he would discover in the family’s wagon. I think they would be worried about the PoV at first, and, if they surmounted that hurdle, would be worried about the detail of the story, and would then be worried about the pacing (why is it that Kelton only seems to make a move at the very climax of the tale, when he has to get to the family’s wagon, placate the horse, climb aboard and start searching for valuables?).
But, an intriguing idea for an opening, and one that, with only a little tweaking, could be really riveting. You’ve kind of fallen in love with the idea of Gossamer telling his story. As a result, you’re “telling” rather a lot of your story, instead of drawing us close in to Kelton as soon as possible. There’s a line in there that you might think about using as a different opening line. “Kelton had chosen a poor bush to hide behind.” Now if I read that as a first line, I’m immediately asking the question – why is he hiding? That’s what you need to achieve in a book opening, to my mind. Get the reader asking questions that they want to find out the answers to. So, rejected for now, but lots of good ideas in there.
Thanks for posting.