We were invaded the day we buried my brother. It was autumn, crisp and bright. “A good day for a burial” I heard someone say behind me. A tragic death, such a shame, the voices went on and on. Clucking their tongues as if rationalizing his death would make it okay. The coffin bore the mark of the Throne, a twisting tree within a circle and a three pointed crown above. That same mark was branded on his wrist when I took a peek at him lying still on white satin.
They’d sent a note thanking us for our cooperation in these “changing times”. It was signed by Elin Grayl, the new leader of our Nation.
The coffin was a token of their gratitude, to ease our financial burden, they said. I thought it was ironic, since they’re the ones who killed him.
A few hours later chaos broke out. From my bedroom I saw a quick purposeful momentum come from each of the hundred or so legion. They were herding everyone they could find. Before I knew it I was sitting between my parents tearing through town in my dad’s pickup truck, heading for the mountains flanking our crumbling community. And it’s here I sit, waiting for the next onslaught.
I’ve learned that counting calms me before a kill. One, focus on my target. Two, steady my breath. Three, account for the wind.
Four, don’t hesitate. Aim between the eyes.
I don’t worry about the snap of the bow, just the direction which the arrow will soar. If it were an animal, I’d quiet my release. But the human boy daring to enter our village is too dumb or too careless for me to bother. He’s just another threat, I tell myself. One I won’t think twice about killing.
I wait, watch him. He isn’t moving like someone who’s controlled. From this distance, at least a hundred yards, I can’t see the Thrones mark on his wrist.
But they’re clever, so I wait.
To my left I can see a lone magpie land on the thin branch of a birch tree. One for sorrow, I think it goes, the rhyme I learned years ago. It’s appropriate; since we live in a suffocating state of sadness. Tufts of snow fall to the frozen ground below him as he sits perched with his eyes darting around. Until they land on me. I refocus and clear my mind, ease the tremors in my arm.
“You have to kill him Noelle.” A voice behind me whispers.
There’s an intriguing mix of modern society and traditional fantasy here – with the pickup truck standing out as a surprise among elements that would otherwise have identified this story as a medieval fantasy.
Something that gets in the way of my comprehending this world is the use of pronouns without specific referents. I do like the way the narrator divides her world by the simple terms “we” and “they” because it adds a tension to the voice and mood of the piece right away. But there are too many groups mentioned in the narrative for me to divide the world as Noelle does and root for her side.
For example, the day we buried my brother is a strong phrase that immediately captured my attention in the first line – but I was distracted by the first half of the sentence We were invaded. I didn’t know who we were, and the verb invaded begs the question by whom? If those questions were answered quickly, I’d get over my initial confusion and be right on board. But by the end of the page, I’m still not sure who the sides are. Is we her family or her entire community? Is they the Throne, the Nation, the legion, the human boy? (And what is Noelle, then? Not human?)
In addition to clarifying the pronouns, the narration is in past tense until And it’s here I sit … when it switches to present tense. If the rest of the manuscript is in present tense, I think it would read smoother if the beginning started out in present tense too.
To summarize, there are many intriguing elements in this first page, but I feel like there should either be more specific detail on the groups to pin down who the antagonists are … Or less groups introduced on the first page so that Noelle’s world really does come down to us and them, as simple at that. Readers, what do you think?
Shannon, thank you for sharing your page with us! Shannon can be found at her blog, and there are two more critiques of her first page at Mainewords and See the Stars. Please stop by to see what Marcy and Krystalyn have to say!