The First Paragraphs, Second Draft
The Carbon-knitter, The Medic & the Dog
The first sentence intro's the POV character. The first paragraphs set the scene and tell something of the characters. And yet there is still something missing. I'm talking about the plot, of course. My usual story, I'm being caught up in narrative.
Arbie folded her knitting into its smooth leather bag, and held the mare’s bridle to lead her into the stone gateway. Ed tied the reins to the cart’s brake and vaulted to the gravely ground. Within the gatehouse tunnel every noise was amplified it seemed to Arbie, as Ed shuffled loudly to join her for having their names recorded.
After some discussion along the road earlier, they’d decided to name themselves after their work. “It will help get us accepted without the usual suspicions,” Ed had said. Suspicions meant the contents of the cart having to be checked, and the sterilised medic’s supplies being pawed over.
One of the guards flanking the clerk nodded them through. “Can always use another medic and knitter.”
“Make for the forest off to the left,” said the other guard. “Bit of feed for your horse.”
Inside these, the earthen walls, lay the castle’s supply and trades village, a number of farms, several wells and a firewood plantation.
“In through here is good,” Ed said, standing up in the cart to overlook the sapling forest. He breathed deep smelling it. "I'm going to love burning that pine duff."
The horse needed Arbie’s encouragement to shoulder through the close growth beside the track.
“Whoa,” Ed said, hauling on the reins with unnecessary force. He was by far a better medic than horse master. In fact it was Arbie whom the horse looked to for its needs. It harrumphed, telling her Get me out of these traces already.
She laughed. “Got the stabilisers set down?” She and Ed had only lately come to horse-and-cart ownership, they used words sometimes that Arbie knew couldn’t be the traditional terminology. She meant the swing-back legs that stopped the cart slanting back or forward when the horse was freed.
She walked the mare from between the poles and briskly rubbed down her glossy brown coat. “You’re too good for a cart horse, you hear?”
“I am always afraid of that,” Ed said. “That someone else will think her too good for a medic’s cart.” He cleared leaves and twigs from a circle of grass. Quartered and cut out the turves. Built a little pyramid with the flammables he’s taken out. “You should be doing this. Practice. At least strike the spark. I won’t look and make you nervous.” He left the steel and flint for her and went to gather dead wood.
Arbie knelt at the fireplace. Today she would get the fire going in fewer than eight strikes. Strike one. Nothing. She reminisced. The day they met it was raining. They were both on the road between battles. Both deciding to camp in that little bit of a forest. Perhaps they both imagined they’d string up a shelter? She laughed to herself. Strike two. Was that a spark?
She’d been sitting in a fire circle as wet as something a hound dragged in. Strike three. No spark. Ed’s horse refused to stop for him when he told it in his cracked tenor voice, and walked on until it stood over Arbie in her wet fire-circle. Strike four.
A blue spark jumped from the steel. She didn’t see where it went. She’d put her knuckles under the horse’s chin and threaded her fist between chin and chin-strap. The horse stopped.
Ed slid down and came round to his horse’s head to find out why, the wet dark stopped him from seeing. Five! Yes. A spark went into the dried moss. Would it take?
She got down low and blew very gently. A curl of smoke spiraled up. That night he kneeled by her, taking in with a glance the black wet coals in the sheep’s bone she carried for embers. He said in a rush, “I’ll teach you how to start a fire if you teach me how to rule my horse?” They’d sat over the three-stick fire he’d lit despite the rain, keeping it from being rained on. Toasting themselves. Steaming. Drying. Talking. Their whole histories.
All her gauzes were ruined. The next day, sunny, she frogged, pulled undone every bandage and wrap and gauze she’d made, and dried the swags and skeins of spider-silken yarn on nearby bushes. He dried her bags and polished them. Dried his own supplies.
He sat down beside her. “You did it! Lucky I’m quite a bad student where that horse is concerned.”
She laughed. “Such a joker you are. I was remembering the night we met. How we sat up all night over that little apple-scented fire.”
“The next day was good too. And the next night.”
“Have you heard when the fighting is due to start?” Arbie said. “I was thinking we could go into the village tomorrow. See if anyone has a sunkelamper for sale?”