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Thread: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Dec 2]

  1. #221
    Turkafinwë's Avatar Cheerful Nihilist
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    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Oct 22]

    I really like the storyline for Far'am, the prodigal son reembraced by his own people, going from nothing in shame to taking charge with confidence. It really struck a chord with me.
    The Writers' Study Yearly Awards 2018-2019!
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  2. #222

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Oct 22]

    Quote Originally Posted by JB2C View Post
    another beautifully written piece...
    Thanks JB2C! And I'm glad to see you around here! I hope the coming updates keep the quality level and don't disappoint

    Quote Originally Posted by Alwyn View Post
    It sounds like the Sabeans are fractured, with a break-down of trust between Zaadi and Far'am who were (I think) allies before. Perhaps the way that the Sabeans concentrate on their internal rivals will create an opportunity for Mun'at, to do something he couldn't otherwise have done.
    Yep, Zaadi and Far'am were indeed on the same side when they first entered the story, but that is the downside to palace intrigue; the wind can change so fast. But that being said, it is not yet clear if Far'am is actually against Zaadi. After all, he is just responding to suspicious behavior he has seen from Zaadi, and marks of suspicion toward him that has cropped up here and there. Long story short, the palace of Mar'ib is a twisting turning labyrinth of treachery and lies!

    Quote Originally Posted by Turkafinwë View Post
    I really like the storyline for Far'am, the prodigal son reembraced by his own people, going from nothing in shame to taking charge with confidence. It really struck a chord with me.
    I'm glad you like it Turk (though I do wonder why it strikes such a chord for you... )





    And now, for those who haven't seen the Writers' Study Chat Thread, I have a small piece of info to share here. This month is supposedly National Novel Writing Month, where writers and wannabe writers are encouraged to take extra time to sit down and get crackin, with the aim of finishing a short-ish 50,000 word novel. Now, 50,000 words is a bit too much for me to reasonably commit to for a month, but I am aiming to write 30,000 words over the course of November, all of them in this story here. That means there will be a lot more content to go up. However, I won't drop it all as soon as I get it done, otherwise there would be a ridiculous flood. I will either post every week, or, if there are few responses, then every two weeks. However, given that I will be writing a lot (hopefully), I will be able to keep a more regular posting schedule for a while afterward, which should make the flow of the story and presentation a bit nicer and easier to follow. I really hope I can stick to the goal and get a lot done, and I hope the results are of some enjoyment to you all. Also, do have a look at the post about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short), and see if you'd like to give it a go as well.

    And now, the next update!
    Last edited by Kilo11; November 12, 2019 at 04:56 AM.
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  3. #223

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Oct 22]

    Continued from Chapter 5 - Part II


    Dramatis Personae

    Nabati:

    Mun'at Ha'Qadri: General of the Nabati army, tasked with uniting the tribes of Arabia and subduing the Saba' confederations that control Arabia Felix.
    Shullai Ha'Maleki: Prince of the Nabati, riding south under Mun'at's command.
    Ravîv'êl Bikrum: Crown Prince of the Nabati. Currently governing the conquered settlement of Dedan.
    Malka Qênu: King of the Nabati, and leader of the united tribes.

    Rana'in: Elder warrior and long-time friend of Mun'at.
    Khalil: Raider under Mun'at's command, usually tasked with leading the cavalry and light skirmishers.
    Haza'el: Captain of the Nabati.
    Wayyuq: A spy and pathfinder in the service of the Nabati, but not of their tribe.

    Sabeans (Saba'):

    Mubsamat: Queen of the Saba' with ambitions to end the tribal rivalries that plague her people.
    Tharin: Captain of Mubsamat's guard, tasked with contacting the approaching Nabati on Mubsamat's behalf and bringing them over to her cause.
    Zaadi Il'Bayyin: Often referred to as "Lord of the Northpass", Zaadi is a Qayl (higher official) of the Saba', and the ringleader of a group of nobles arrayed against Mubsamat.
    Halik Il'Yakif: Landowner and noble of the Saba' who initially followed Zaadi's plans but has since been turned by Mubsamat.
    Far'am Rafshan: Half-Qatabani exile in league with Zaadi Il'Bayyin.
    Karab: Son of the Athtar Yazi' clan and great leader of the Hashidi warriors of the northern plateau. He is also in league with Zaadi against Mubsamat.
    Hasan: Deceased brother of Karab.



    Chapter 5
    The Incense Road


    --------------------------------------------------
    (Part III)


    After their brief introductions Tharin had said no more of his message for Mun'at, instead insisting that the Nabati allow him to offer some measure of hospitality and goodwill, a token of his intentions toward them. Mun'at was hesitant, for he could not yet know whether the southern captain was worthy of trust, but he acquiesced nonetheless, relying on the protections provided by the Vale of Bakkah and her sacred laws.

    Tharin led the army of Edum south and then west, marching them past the ancient city, until finally they reached a vast plain stretching toward the sea. Where the salted water met the earth lay a wide flat of sand and fine stones, the dry wrack reaching far inland, but eventually the dessication gave way to to a delta of verdant growth, a many-fingered empty river-mouth that ended a half day's march from the coast. There was no open water, but shallow wells could be seen scattered across the landscape, and the low trees and swaying grasses provided more than enough to replenish the strength of the camels and horses. As the men and women began to set a temporary camp Tharin led the captains of the Nabati a short distance away to a deeper grove of trees, that they might speak at ease in the shade.

    Mun'at and his trusted commanders sat themselves on the bare earth, Tharin opposite them and looking suddenly alone and small without his warriors about him. Seeming to feel sorry for the man, Mun'at began speaking in friendly tones.

    "So, Captain of Saba'," he said, "you have a message for me."

    Tharin nodded but did not speak, his gaze moving from Mun'at to the men beside him.

    "Tharin," Mun'at continued, "whatever you would say to me may be spoken freely before these men. There are no confidences among our lot, and if your words bear upon our endeavors, then I will need the counsel of these men you see before you." Mun'at's brow tightened briefly, and he added in gentle tones, "Speak freely."

    Tharin appeared unsure still, but he nodded nonetheless. "Very well." he began. "As I said, I come as an emissary of Mubsamat, foremost Queen of the tribes of Saba'. We have known of your force since it first assembled in Elath so many months ago, and I was sent to offer you the friendship and aid of the federated clans of the high plateau." Tharin paused briefly, his gaze moving from Mun'at to the other captains, and when he again continued, it was with an earnest sincerity ringing in his voice. "I have heard tell of all that you have done since leaving Edum," he said, "and by looking upon you I know that you will do more still. But I also know that the desert is long and unforgiving, and that you will need friends and allies if you wish to follow your current road to its end. Let the Saba' be your friends. Our wealth and strength in arms are unmatched among the southern peoples, and together with your warriors there is no enemy or empire that could withstand us. Let us stand beside you, and you will one day be ruler of all Arabia."

    With the final words Mun'at's eyes had for an instant narrowed, but he quickly regained his composure. He then flashed Tharin a look of subtlety and cunning. "Tharin," he began in even tones, "you have seen the force that marches with me, all the powers of North Arabia bound together in common cause. What makes you think we have need of your brotherhood?" Bewilderment and a trace of uncertainty crossed Tharin's face like clouds before the sun, but before he could answer Mun'at spoke again, this time in a voice low and tinged with malice. "And besides," said the Commander of Edum, "if your people are, as you say, so heavily weighted with riches, what makes you think we would not simply come and take them from you? Or are you and yours strong enough to deny us the bounties of the southlands?"

    Tharin's brow hardened in anger and he rose to his feet, alone before the captains of the Nabati, but betraying no fear. He looked down on them, still seated on the dirt, and spoke through clenched teeth. "We do not fear you or your rabble." he said coldly. "You are numerous, but that will avail you little if you try your yourselves against the fastnesses of the Saba'. You will break like waves over the rocks, and when your lives are spent we will still stand, unbowed and unbroken." Tharin fixed Mun'at with his gaze, glaring at him with venom in his eyes. "I had thought you to be warriors," he spat, "but I see now that you are nothing more than wasteland raiders, content to fatten yourselves by the labors of others, and I would not accept your friendship were it offered with a thousand strong camels all laden with gold!"

    With the final words Tharin turned on his heel to walk away, but Mun'at began speaking again. "Wait, proud captain." he said softly. Tharin stopped, but did not turn to face the Nabati. "I apologize for the insult and injury," Mun'at continued, "and for the spirit in which they were offered. But you need not fear the intentions of myself or mine, and I tell you truly that I only spoke so that I might better understand the manner of man that you are. Now that I have seen, I believe I can trust you, even you do not yet trust me."

    Tharin slowly spun back to Mun'at, who continued in friendly tones, "I have heard of your lands and people, and truth be told I would not brave the southern passes which lead to Saba' without the guidance and good grace of her sons and daughters. Yet I also know that the riches of your lands are oft wont to breed a callous sort, nobles with more thought for power than honor, and so I tried you, perhaps unjustly, yet needed nonetheless."

    Mun'at briefly glanced over Tharin's shoulder and then looked back again, a smile spreading over his face. "The men and women have nearly finished setting the camps," he said, "and if my words have not soured you to an offer of friendship from myself, then I would be honored to have you accompany us this night. We will show you the true hospitality of the people of Edum, and you may tell us of the wonders of your country at world's end. What say you?"

    Tharin looked down to the earth, momentarily uncertain, but soon enough reached a decision. "As you wish." he said quietly. His eyes were still clouded with a shade of distrust, but his steps came lighter and lighter as they began walking toward the tents and the warm scents of food being prepared.



    Continue to Chapter 5 - Part IV
    Last edited by Kilo11; November 11, 2019 at 11:32 AM.
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  4. #224
    Turkafinwë's Avatar Cheerful Nihilist
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    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Oct 22]

    An interesting conversation, Mun'at showing his cunning and Tharin his straightforwardness. Tharin is not a cunning man, it shows he is a military man and not a politician, his anger getting the better of him when his pride is being prickled. Mun'at on the other hand shows that he is a capable leader, cautious with strangers and a great reader of people. Two men who are, I believe, very similar at heart, yet use different methods to achieve their goals. The interaction between the two felt very natural and I can only congratulate you on making characters that are believable.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo11
    I'm glad you like it Turk (though I do wonder why it strikes such a chord for you... )
    As for your question. I know what it's like to be alone in the world and then finding a place where you are accepted for who you are.
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  5. #225
    Cookiegod's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 3]

    I have noticed, to my horror, that I failed to reply to your last part, and also to this one, even though I read it a couple of days ago. When I don't have the time to reply immediately, I have the tendency to assume later that I already did. My comment to the first part of chapter 5 was also a bit rubbish. whups.

    Anyways, your strengths are obvious, and the parts are still as good as ever. Which is very good. But due to you having started your national writers month, I thought now would be a good time to give you some in-depth feedback, so I looked (maybe a bit hard), for things where you can improve.

    A LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG WALL OF TEXT
    • One thing is directly tied to my recent writer's blocg about structuring:
      I remember you mentioning on several occasions that you have largely planned your story out, and that you have divided it into a certain number of chapters (I'm not sure if I should say the exact number here). However, I don't think you ever told me what you structured them after. I think that's an important thing. Maybe one you haven't necessarily thought about too much.

      I know for a fact that I did my chapter structuring wrong (which I'll talk about in a future update in the blocg, but anyways, that's not relevant here, except that you should take anything from me with a grain of salt), so I'm not going to tell you to copy my or Scotos' approach. Also, I might be wrong as to what your system is.

      If I understand it correctly, your chapters are focused on the physical waypoints. So your map actually shows the story structure so far... I am not sure though?

      I find the endings on chapter 1 and chapter 4 to be quite good. Chapter 1 ended on Munat leaving his home province. This made him "a stranger in a strange land", as you put it, and turned him from a conqueror to a liberator. This in itself has an emotional implication and was a very good place to end the chapter, as one thing had been accomplished (defending & uniting the homeland), and another task was about to be executed. I was able to remember that the chapter ended on that note even before I looked it up to check it.

      Chapter 2 and 3 didn't have that same division. This made them plus 4 kinda blend together in my memory. This is where a clearer structure could be helpful, as you're also emphasising the waypoints of your choosing by this. An extreme example is Mubsamat. I had completely forgotten which chapter she had been introduced in. I could have sworn it was only in chapter 3, yet I realised it was already in the beginning of chapter 2.

      Anyway, this can be lengthy, but my point is that while your choice for chapters is completely arbitrary (one can even have no chapters at all), when you do them, it's best to structure it in a way that helps us remember. Even though it's longer since I read chapter 1, I remember it far better than I do chapter 3.

      You already did it well with chapter 4, however, in that you have it end (again) not only on a geographical waypoint (them just having reached Bakkah), but much more importantly was that this is just before the long awaited meeting between Tharin and Munat. So chapter 5 finally has a theme of its own, and chances are, again, that I'll remember this plotpoint much better than others.
    • You're a master at ambience and describing the settings. However, I often find you miss opportunities with this.
      Let's take the beginning of 5,1 as an example:
      Tharin stood at the center of the rode, alone, watching the seemingly endless stream of men and beasts pouring through the pass to Bakkah. His own soldiers were languidly sitting in the shade cast by a scattering of boulders some few hundred paces behind him, an arrangement that suited him well.
      The red had me confused a little bit. I didn't understand immediately that you were likely referring to the army of the Nabata and not some random caravans on their way to the market, so him being alone on the middle of a road during rush hour confused me. But that's not much of an issue, the confusion was probably all me and that doesn't require any change.

      We get some pointers on those soldiers of his. They're in the shade, he's out in the sun. He likes it. Why? It is a very good way to start your chapter, it's a nice description of the setting overall. But then it becomes a near miss, as we never actually find out why it suits him. Obviously you're not required to tell your reader everything. It's generally also good to simply imply stuff. However, this here is an opportunity to shape your character. Why does it suit him? Does he like to set himself apart from his men to lead by example? Does he, as a faithful servant to his queen, have the psychological need to prove himself his devotion, by exerting himself more than his men? Is he tired of his men and needs to "recharge"? Or does he need to focus whilst waiting for the meeting? Or is it about a specific impression he wants to make on the Nabatians? The best explanation is perhaps tied to the very next sentence:
      He had waited long for this meeting, and now that it was upon him he found himself uncharacteristically nervous.
      Maybe he's unwilling to show his nervousness to his men?

      Any one of those would tell us something about Tharin himself, and give us a better understanding of him as a person. However, we don't get one, instead we get this:
      Tharin raised his chin, briefly closed his eyes, and breathed deeply, forcing the dry upland air into his lungs and through his body. With each breath he could feel the flutter in his limbs receding, the slow churning in the depths of his stomach calming. He counted to ten and opened his eyes, and his hands were again steady, the hands of a captain of Saba'.
      Whilst this ending of the paragraph is very poetic, it essentially turns a golden opportunity into a near miss. And it also undoes part of the tension you were building. The first time we hear about his hands, they are already steady again. Having him reflect on what is at stake with this meeting, how the fate of his queen for example depends on him dealing with the Nabata, and maybe having him ponder about what the best strategy would be when facing Munat would have probably been better. He wants to impress Munat and not come across like a beggar, whilst simultaneously wanting something from him. That's a fine line to walk. And giving a wrong, nervous impression might ruin everything.
    • This deserves a point of its own, even though it's a direct follow up to earlier. But the point is differently:
      You do actually have Tharin ponder about his mission:
      Tharin set his feet firmly at shoulder-width and closed his hands before him, the fingers of his left curled about his right in a display of quiet resolve. He then thought over his orders again, for what felt must have been the thousandth time, the words his Queen had bid him to say. It was a fair offer he was to present, and the Nabati would be fools to refuse, yet still he was nervous, driving him to feverishly play his speech over and over in his mind for the little comfort that might give. He had only just concluded a single recitation when the northern party reached his position.
      It's kinda contradicting what happened earlier. He channeled his thoughts earlier, so to speak, but now they're "unchanneled" again, if you know what I mean. But again, seeming contradictions aren't a big deal. It's more that you sabotage your own rising tension.

      What if this wasn't that good of an offer? Mubsamat is a weak ally in her current situation. Shouldn't Tharin fear that the Nabati either decide they don't need her, or, if she's strong enough but still not as strong as the Houthis, maybe prefer to ally with them instead for an easier victory? Why should they prefer to side with the underdog in a struggle that up til now wasn't theirs?

      The problem isn't logic, but again a missed opportunity. Whereas you in the last part miss the opportunity to implicitly tell us more about Tharin, this is where you could have created some tension. What if Tharin wasn't able to calm his hands? What if he had them in the same position as he does now, but only to stop them from shaking? Give the heroes some weaknesses. Note that having your hands together in front of you is subliminally a defensive gesture. It's more confident than crossing your arms in front of your chest (which suggests fear), but it shows a certain sense of defensiveness. The person does not feel completely at ease, and therefore protects his junk.

      As readers we already expect Mubsamat and Munat to become allies. Everything so far implied this will happen. So the tensions are already a bit low. But this is the meeting that starts Chapter 5. Part 1 of Chapter 5 is all about the lead-up to the meeting. It's a meeting we readers have waited for for a long time. It would have been better to make it more critical. It is much better to make the outcome more decisive, not inform us that this meeting with a long build-up and two cliffhangers (the end of chapter IV & that of part 1 in chapter 5) is pretty much a done deal. And when you have him recite the same words again and again, and later have this section:
      [...] the Saba' captain's assay was cut short by a curt statement.

      "You are barring our way, and your silence does not speak friendship."
      Then this is a perfect opportunity to spike the tension. The first words spoken are unfriendly, and Tharin is not the first to speak. That has taken the initiative away from him. So what if he now all of a sudden finds himself in a situation where the memorised speech can't help him anymore and he's forced to improvise and completely thrown off balance?

      The end of part 1 could still be the same as it is now. Tharin "gets his together", succeeds in starting the meeting and ends the meeting on a now well deserved smile.

    What I'm getting at with those two last points is that it'd be better to emphasise certain things and thus reap better rewards, that you, with pretty much the exact same amount of text and only minor changes can reap higher rewards.

    This is something I see recurring. It's not making your story bad, but those two are the spots where I see opportunity for growth, though admittedly, it's also something we have already talked about.

    So the in-depth criticism of 5.1 should also work on future parts. It's not that you don't do those two aspects (using the setting to show us more of the inner workings of the characters, and emphasising the tension and setting the spikes) at all, nor is it particularly critical, but those two good places for you to grow, especially during your writing month.

    My criticism for 5.2 and 5.3 would be quite much in the same vein as for the first one. As the Houthis are the enemies, it'd be better to highlight their strengths, not their weaknesses. The more imposing you present them to us, the more you'll have us at the edges of our seats.

    The change in Far'am is very good, though I'd make it a tad more ominous. Part 3 suffers in my opinion, from the setup in part 1. As we were told the outcome was pretty much predetermined in part 1, that kinda made the talk less interesting to me than it could have been. Note how Mun'at pretty much presents us with some of the same arguments I mentioned regarding part 1: Why do the Nabatis need the Saba'? The way it was presented here, did not have me at the edge of my seat, as I was still confident with regards to the outcome. Imagine Munat bringing up this after we in part 1 get to know this to be the kind of question Tharin fears, because he doesn't have good answers for them? This would have been far more exciting, in my opinion.

    The ending of part 3 I did not like particularly much, to be honest. The questions posed by Munat were quite legitimate in my opinion. Why should he apologise? And aren't those the exact questions Tharin should have expected? So him taking those as an insult and Munat agreeing with them seemed illogical to me. But since they are both in agreement that this was an obvious insult, how does make Tharin reacting to them in a normal way make him trustworthy? Shouldn't Munat fear that a shrewd person would see through his test?
    It kinda ended on a far too positive note far to quickly. The reversal I saw wasn't one I liked. Tharin get's what he wants from Mun'at without having to work for it. Instead Munat starts to appease Tharin. It can work, you don't necessarily have to change it, it just seemed weird to me.
    Last edited by Cookiegod; November 06, 2019 at 02:16 PM.
    .







    Quote Originally Posted by Derc View Post
    No one cares what Derc has to say.

  6. #226
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 3]

    Mun'at is cunning, indeed. While I can see that he was testing Tharin, it sounded like he was taking a dangerous risk. The Commander of Edum may not have intended to carry out his threat, but for it to be plausible it must be possible. I wonder if a seed of distrust was sown here.

  7. #227

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 3]

    Quote Originally Posted by Turkafinwë View Post
    An interesting conversation, Mun'at showing his cunning and Tharin his straightforwardness. Tharin is not a cunning man, it shows he is a military man and not a politician, his anger getting the better of him when his pride is being prickled. Mun'at on the other hand shows that he is a capable leader, cautious with strangers and a great reader of people. Two men who are, I believe, very similar at heart, yet use different methods to achieve their goals. The interaction between the two felt very natural and I can only congratulate you on making characters that are believable.
    Thanks, and I am glad that the conversation worked well. Your estimation of the two characters is indeed what I was aiming for, to show that Tharin is easily goaded and not necessarily the sharpest when it comes to subtlety and strategy (he is, after all, nothing more than a captain of the guard) and that Mun'at can display an almost unpleasant cunningness. I am glad that both of those came through, and that the dialogue also seemed to work well there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Turkafinwë View Post
    As for your question. I know what it's like to be alone in the world and then finding a place where you are accepted for who you are.
    Interesting. You are a man of mystery, and the straightforward answer here leaves more questions than there were before

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    I have noticed, to my horror, that I failed to reply to your last part, and also to this one, even though I read it a couple of days ago. When I don't have the time to reply immediately, I have the tendency to assume later that I already did. My comment to the first part of chapter 5 was also a bit rubbish. whups.
    Hah. No worries. I often do the same thing, and I also had no problem with your last comment. Indeed, it warmed my heart!

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    Anyways, your strengths are obvious, and the parts are still as good as ever. Which is very good. But due to you having started your national writers month, I thought now would be a good time to give you some in-depth feedback, so I looked (maybe a bit hard), for things where you can improve.

    A LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG WALL OF TEXT

    So very many good points!!!
    As you know, I plan to give a proper response to all of your thoughts here, but for now I will postpone that. Rest assured though, I greatly appreciate the thoughts, and the time that must have gone into you considering all of this and writing it up, and I will bear these things in mind going forward. But until I get a chance to have a good go at re-reading the previous updates with an eye for improvements, you will have to be satisfied with (slightly unpolished) further updates

    Quote Originally Posted by Alwyn View Post
    Mun'at is cunning, indeed. While I can see that he was testing Tharin, it sounded like he was taking a dangerous risk. The Commander of Edum may not have intended to carry out his threat, but for it to be plausible it must be possible. I wonder if a seed of distrust was sown here.
    Alwyn, as always, you are on the money here. There is some stuff happening in this scene that bodes poorly for later events, and only time will tell exactly how this relationship pans out.




    A final thing here, I'd like to say: As you probably know by now, I am trying to participate in the National Novel Writing Month, with my aim being to write 30,000 words for Written in Sand. So far I am (pretty far) behind schedule, with only like 5,000 words. It's less than I'd have wanted to have by now, but then again, it is far more than I'd usually have accomplished. So I'm counting it as a qualified success so far. But only ten days have passed, so hopefully I can still catch up to get to my goal. At any rate, here is a new update, courtesy of my progress, which I will dedicate to the NaNoWriMo!


    EDIT: Also, if the scene here with Far'am seems either repetitive or disjointed from the previous one, that is because I realized that the earlier one makes most sense to omit entirely. I didn't want to delete it from the posts here, but in my book copy of the story, it will be taken out, so some of the things here are to quickly recap what I present at more length in Part II, and to more rapidly dive into Far'am's plotline without loss of character development or world-building. Sorry for the oddness or inconvenience, but I hope the changes make the continuing updates flow better!
    Last edited by Kilo11; November 12, 2019 at 04:56 AM.
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  8. #228

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 3]

    Continued from Chapter 5 - Part III


    Dramatis Personae

    Nabati:

    Mun'at Ha'Qadri: General of the Nabati army, tasked with uniting the tribes of Arabia and subduing the Saba' confederations that control Arabia Felix.
    Shullai Ha'Maleki: Prince of the Nabati, riding south under Mun'at's command.
    Ravîv'êl Bikrum: Crown Prince of the Nabati. Currently governing the conquered settlement of Dedan.
    Malka Qênu: King of the Nabati, and leader of the united tribes.

    Rana'in: Elder warrior and long-time friend of Mun'at.
    Khalil: Raider under Mun'at's command, usually tasked with leading the cavalry and light skirmishers.
    Haza'el: Captain of the Nabati.
    Wayyuq: A spy and pathfinder in the service of the Nabati, but not of their tribe.

    Sabeans (Saba'):

    Mubsamat: Queen of the Saba' with ambitions to end the tribal rivalries that plague her people.
    Tharin: Captain of Mubsamat's guard, tasked with contacting the approaching Nabati on Mubsamat's behalf and bringing them over to her cause.
    Zaadi Il'Bayyin: Often referred to as "Lord of the Northpass", Zaadi is a Qayl (higher official) of the Saba', and the ringleader of a group of nobles arrayed against Mubsamat.
    Halik Il'Yakif: Landowner and noble of the Saba' who initially followed Zaadi's plans but has since been turned by Mubsamat.
    Far'am Rafshan: Half-Qatabani exile in league with Zaadi Il'Bayyin.
    Karab: Son of the Athtar Yazi' clan and great leader of the Hashidi warriors of the northern plateau. He is also in league with Zaadi against Mubsamat.
    Hasan: Deceased brother of Karab.



    Chapter 5
    The Incense Road


    --------------------------------------------------
    (Part IV)


    It had been weeks since Far'am Rafshan had left his home north of Ma'rib, fleeing by the light of dawn, fleeing shadows and wraiths, and now he was finally returning. In his brief exile he had ridden back and forth across the borderlands between Saba' and Qataban to reach the tribes of his people whom he had so long ago abandoned, and when finally he found them they had, to his surprise, welcomed him with bright eyes and open arms. More than that, they had listened to his cares and hopes, and upon hearing his plans, agreed to follow him. And so Far'am, who had run from the lands of the Saba' alone, was now returning with a small army at his back.

    The half-Qatabani captain slowly turned in his saddle, peering over the company that rode behind him, his gaze finally coming to rest on the blasted land that surrounded them on all sides. From Timna, the stronghold of Qataban, one could travel at ease all the way to Ma'rib, Qarnawu, and beyond, resting at well-spaced villages awash in greenery, but such roads were well-traveled and Far'am did not yet know who of the Saba' he could trust. And so he and his people had struck wide to the east, piercing into the outer reaches of the great sand desert, al-Rub' al Khali. The dunes stretched out to the horizon on all sides, no trace of life or shade to be seen anywhere among them, and the only sight to break the monotonous sea of sand was a low jagged stripe far to the northwest, the last ragged ranges before the eternal fire of the Empty Quarter at the center of Arabia.

    Their supplies still ran nearly full, but Far'am was worried nonetheless. He knew that they would need to turn west soon, for spring had nearly ended, along with the last hope of rains before the next turning of the year, and the advance of summer would destroy his party if they had not returned to the well-watered upper plateau before that time. They could turn now, and in the space of perhaps a week they would again find themselves in sight of green fields, and afterward be in a position to return to Far'am's home and smithies from a direction unlikely to cause suspicion. Far'am could bring his people into the heart of Saba', a day's ride from Ma'rib, without a single soul standing to bar their way. But he would have to guide them with subtlety and care to ensure their passage was not marked by watchful eyes. The queen, Mubsamat, was not yet strong in arms, but spies and secrets had always been her domain, and Far'am still did not know whether he could trust Zaadi, whose clans controlled the long northern arm of the Sarat mountains.

    The sun burning down upon his brow, Far'am raised a hand to shade his eyes. The men near to him had put on brave faces, but sweat glistened on every point of exposed skin and pooled in dark patches on their robes. They rode without complaint, but Far'am could see the silent struggle in each of them. In an instant he resolved to end their trials and torments. He called out a series of orders, and within minutes the company had turned west, the sun now at their backs. They would ride for the high plateau, trusting that when they arrived, their presence would not be marked with distrust.


    After a night of feasting with Tharin and his men, Mun'at had given the order to break their camps and make ready for the long marches that lay ahead. The Vale of Bakkah was rich and plentiful, and Mun'at yearned to tarry there for a time, nursing his strength, but he feared that a prolonged presence would breed ill tidings. The Nabati had come in peace, setting aside all marks of violence and war before ever reaching the sacred valley, yet for all that they were an army still, a thing unwanted in that place. And so they had begun moving an hour after dawn, walking in the long shadows cast by the ring of mountains encircling Bakkah.

    At first they had struck west, crossing the broad plain and low hill-country south of the city. Mun'at did not know the land, but Tharin's company had waited long for the Nabati, and in that time learned much of the surrounding hills and valleys, the winding wadis that cut through the Hijaz, giving access to the oasis settlements and incense roads of the interior. Their knowledge was a boon, and Mun'at was glad to entrust the guidance of his force to their new friends out of the southlands, and to show Tharin that he and his truly were trusted.

    For a full day they walked west, Bakkah slipping away on their left, and as the evening was turning to dusk they reached a forking in the paths before them. One branching continued forward, running headlong into the Hijaz's embrace and an impenetrable mass of stone the color of old ash. The other curled away to the north, sweeping around the Vale of Bakkah and continuing on to a series of wadis reaching ever higher through the Barrier Hills. This latter way was to be their road.

    With the dying light of day the Nabati pressed themselves into the triangular well between the two paths, their numbers filling the valley to its brink, and Mun'at called the order to halt for the night. They set a makeshift temporary camp, much as they had the day before, and then laid themselves to sleep. However, after the space of only a few hours they were roused by the watchmen's horns, the sign to resume their march. It was dark still, but the moon cast light enough for them to find their way, and Mun'at knew that they would do well to begin moving before the sun had risen, transforming the narrow ravine into a potter's kiln.

    For that day and the next they continued tracing their way up into the ranges of Hijaz, following Tharin's men along the bases of dusty wadis that became, with each turning, narrower, until eventually they found themselves stepping through mountain gorges no more than a bowshot wide, their numbers stretching the party into a column that seemed impossibly long. And then, with a suddenness that made the breath catch in Mun'at's throat, they emerged onto a vast plain ringed in hills, a lonely mount standing watch at the center of the sandy plateau.

    Mun'at stood as if transfixed, his eyes sweeping across the expanse before him, when Tharin approached silently from behind. The captain of Saba' stepped beside Mun'at and breathed deeply. "Beautiful." he said simply.

    "It is indeed a sight." Mun'at replied, his words soft.

    Tharin raised an arm, pointing at the low cone of cracked black stone at the crater's center. "When the rains come they collect in this place," he said, "and from that hill one can see every wadi flowing into the valley. The next morning it is a sea of green, a circle of life." He paused briefly, surveying the land with Mun'at, and when he continued it was with a distance in his voice. "Where I come from, the rains break hard upon the land, bringing much life, but also fury, destruction. Here, the waters came gently, and by sunrise the desert had become a paradise. I had never seen anything like it before."

    Mun'at turned to Tharin, puzzlement in his eyes. "Have you been here before?" he asked.

    Tharin nodded. "When my men and I first arrived in Bakkah we could not know how long we would wait for you and yours. So we explored all of the eastern passes through the Hijaz, searching for a place where you might make the crossing in ease and safety, hoping to make ourselves of some use to you." he said, his eyes still fixed on the plain. "I was here with six of my men when a storm broke against those eastern peaks. The clouds passed quickly, but the waters flowed for the whole of that day, and the next we found ourselves in a garden. So much green."

    Tharin grew quiet and Mun'at continued to gaze upon him, a curios look in his eyes. After a moment, he turned back to the dusty crater, adding, half to himself, "A remarkable thing indeed."



    Continue to Chapter 5 - Part V
    Last edited by Kilo11; November 18, 2019 at 03:49 AM.
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  9. #229
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 11]

    As ever, your descriptions bring Mun'at's world into vivid life, I almost feel as if the landscape is a character. (I wonder if there's a slight danger in using 'a circle of life' because of the obvious association with a song from a film, but your phrasing is otherwise superb, with the 'trianular well' and the metaphor of the potter's kiln).

    Good luck with the NaNoWriMo, I imagine it's inspiring to take part in this alongside many other writers (and I'd guess that it's normal to have not written as many words as you wanted to at this stage).

  10. #230
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    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 11]

    I can't agree more with Alwyn on your descriptions. Simply superb. I wonder what will happen should Far'am meet with Mun'at? I don't know how likely that will be because I don't know much of the geography of the region, but I have a feeling that it might happen. I could also be completely mistaken but that's the fun of not knowing what's going to happen. You can guess and see where it goes. Very interesting to see the interactions between Tharin and Mun'at with Mun'at now trying to get to know Tharin and finding him a strange man with still many secrets to his person. Interested to see how their relationship develops.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo11
    Interesting. You are a man of mystery, and the straightforward answer here leaves more questions than there were before
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  11. #231

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 11]

    Quote Originally Posted by Alwyn View Post
    As ever, your descriptions bring Mun'at's world into vivid life, I almost feel as if the landscape is a character. (I wonder if there's a slight danger in using 'a circle of life' because of the obvious association with a song from a film, but your phrasing is otherwise superb, with the 'triangular well' and the metaphor of the potter's kiln).

    Good luck with the NaNoWriMo, I imagine it's inspiring to take part in this alongside many other writers (and I'd guess that it's normal to have not written as many words as you wanted to at this stage).
    Thanks Alwyn! And as ever, your words are both kind and helpful. In particular, thanks for the comment about "circle of life". I hadn't even thought of that, but I'll consider your point there. I sort of like the phrase, but it would be bad if someone's brain suddenly went to Zazu there

    NaNoWriMo has also indeed been quite helpful so far! As I said, I'm way behind what I had set myself as a goal, but I am feeling pretty good nonetheless, as I'm making huge strides right now, and I feel good about the quality. In general, I feel that quantity versus quality is always a test for every writer, taking the time to get things just right, or working forward to just get it done. But I feel I'm doing well right now to thread the needle on that point, and that makes me very happy!

    Quote Originally Posted by Turkafinwë View Post
    I can't agree more with Alwyn on your descriptions. Simply superb. I wonder what will happen should Far'am meet with Mun'at? I don't know how likely that will be because I don't know much of the geography of the region, but I have a feeling that it might happen. I could also be completely mistaken but that's the fun of not knowing what's going to happen. You can guess and see where it goes. Very interesting to see the interactions between Tharin and Mun'at with Mun'at now trying to get to know Tharin and finding him a strange man with still many secrets to his person. Interested to see how their relationship develops.
    A meeting between those two would indeed be an interesting event. They are from different worlds, but they think in somewhat similar ways, and place value on many of the same things. I won't say anything positive or negative about the likelihood of such a meeting though. Otherwise I'd spoil your fun

    Quote Originally Posted by Turkafinwë View Post
    Turk, International Man of Mystery!
    We all knew that!
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  12. #232

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 11]

    Continued from Chapter 5 - Part IV


    Dramatis Personae

    Nabati:

    Mun'at Ha'Qadri: General of the Nabati army, tasked with uniting the tribes of Arabia and subduing the Saba' confederations that control Arabia Felix.
    Shullai Ha'Maleki: Prince of the Nabati, riding south under Mun'at's command.
    Ravîv'êl Bikrum: Crown Prince of the Nabati. Currently governing the conquered settlement of Dedan.
    Malka Qênu: King of the Nabati, and leader of the united tribes.

    Rana'in: Elder warrior and long-time friend of Mun'at.
    Khalil: Raider under Mun'at's command, usually tasked with leading the cavalry and light skirmishers.
    Haza'el: Captain of the Nabati.
    Wayyuq: A spy and pathfinder in the service of the Nabati, but not of their tribe.

    Sabeans (Saba'):

    Mubsamat: Queen of the Saba' with ambitions to end the tribal rivalries that plague her people.
    Tharin: Captain of Mubsamat's guard, tasked with contacting the approaching Nabati on Mubsamat's behalf and bringing them over to her cause.
    Zaadi Il'Bayyin: Often referred to as "Lord of the Northpass", Zaadi is a Qayl (higher official) of the Saba', and the ringleader of a group of nobles arrayed against Mubsamat.
    Halik Il'Yakif: Landowner and noble of the Saba' who initially followed Zaadi's plans but has since been turned by Mubsamat.
    Far'am Rafshan: Half-Qatabani exile in league with Zaadi Il'Bayyin.
    Karab: Son of the Athtar Yazi' clan and great leader of the Hashidi warriors of the northern plateau. He is also in league with Zaadi against Mubsamat.
    Hasan: Deceased brother of Karab.



    Chapter 5
    The Incense Road


    --------------------------------------------------
    (Part V)


    Three days had passed since Far'am set the desert at his back, and he was now returning to his home, the tribes of his people camped a short march to the north and awaiting his commands. They could hide themselves in the wilderness for a time, but not forever, and if they were discovered before Far'am could lay his plans or speak to the other nobles, then their presence would surely be taken as proof of the half-Qatabani's treachery. He would not let that happen, could not let that happen, and so Far'am had gone to his lands alone, to gather what he needed and make final preparations.

    Far'am approached from the northwest, taking the road that led to to the high passes commanded by the Hashidis and Houthis, by Zaadi's allies. He rode easily, sitting tall in his saddle for any who might be watching, and when he reached the outermost marker of his domain he dismounted and began walking. Far'am's holdings stretched wide, and he knew that by foot it would take him some time to bring himself to the scattering of buildings at their center. However, he knew also that he had run in the night, and for that cowardice he would need to make amends, to show his face in the sun, for all to see, without trace of fear or uncertainty.

    As he walked he stopped periodically, speaking to the men and women he passed on the road, asking them small questions about their days and what had happened during his absence. Far'am cared little for their precise answers, but he hoped to glean some measure of the sentiments of the people, to discern whether his disappearance had been marked, and if so, with what mood. However, for all of his efforts, after a half hour he had learned almost nothing. The passerby in the streets were either peasants, disinterested in the dealings of noble lords, or craftsmen, too content with the labors of their hands to notice anything which took place beyond the walls of their workshops. Then, as Far'am stepped past a long low building fronting on the storehouses, he finally received the answers he had been seeking.

    From the shadowy interior of the structure came running a young man of the Yami tribe, a lesser official of the Saba' court who had been tasked with overseeing the production in Far'am's smithies and foundries. Far'am had never been sure of the man's loyalties, but he was always honest in word and deed, something for which the half-Qatabani was glad.

    "Far'am Rafshan, you are back." the man said simply, a trace of care at the corners of his eyes.

    Far'am nodded and smiled in answer, but remained silent, allowing the man to speak.

    "Where were you?" he continued after a moment. "I woke one morning, and you were simply gone, nowhere to be found."

    "I had affairs elsewhere in need of tending." Far'am replied evasively. "But what of things here?" he added, gesturing toward the workshops and storehouses. "How have things been in my absence?" Far'am paused, before adding with forced disinterest, "Were Zaadi or Karab here to see our progress?"

    At the last words the man looked momentarily confused. "I do not believe the northern lords were here, nor do I see why they would have been. But our work here moves forward apace, and I must say, I daily grow more assured of the wisdom of your words to the court, your insistence that they build these smithies here and set you over them. The tidings out of the north tell of ever more antagonism from the clans of Ma'in, and the great army of Edum is said to move closer with each new moon. If it really does come to war, the lords of Saba' will be glad of the shields and spears made here."

    "Yes, the lords of Saba' will indeed be glad." Far'am replied, his words sounding oddly distant. With an almost imperceptible shake of his head he brought himself back to the present and looked into the man's eyes. "But there was no one here asking after me?" Far'am asked with a sudden note of urgency. "And no one about whose face you did not recognize? No one at all who did not belong?"

    "I am sorry, but I saw nothing and no one out of the ordinary while you were away. Yet I see someone now." the man finished, his gaze resting on a figure approaching from the southern road.



    Continue to Chapter 5 - Part VI
    Last edited by Kilo11; November 25, 2019 at 01:56 AM. Reason: I forgot the chapter's title... :facepalm:
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  13. #233
    Cookiegod's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 18]

    This NaNoWriMo now even has you outpacing me with updates vs. comments by me, so I better keep it short and succinct this time: It's good.
    .







    Quote Originally Posted by Derc View Post
    No one cares what Derc has to say.

  14. #234

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 18]

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    This NaNoWriMo now even has you outpacing me with updates vs. comments by me, so I better keep it short and succinct this time: It's good.
    What can I say, I've got Chapter 5 all finished, and just this morning concluded an "Interlude" mini-chapter that comes after and marks the mid-way point of the story. Now I'm on to Chapter 6, and the action is starting in earnest
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  15. #235
    Cookiegod's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 18]

    Small criticism by me would be that I find both endings of the last two parts somewhat abrupt. But I'm happy that you're on track!
    .







    Quote Originally Posted by Derc View Post
    No one cares what Derc has to say.

  16. #236

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 18]

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    Small criticism by me would be that I find both endings of the last two parts somewhat abrupt. But I'm happy that you're on track!
    The ending to part IV is indeed abrupt, and I should look at that more. But for part V it only looks that way because it leads right into part VI (which involves a switch in perspective, hence the scenebreak). Sorry for the awkwardness here though. I actually wanted the coming scene to tack on here already, but it is a bit longer and I felt it might look too daunting and deter readers. Ah, choices choices. Sometimes they truly are a b***h.
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  17. #237
    Cookiegod's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 18]

    I'm pretty sure I had the same problem several times over in OWaP, where I cut scenes in two and three pieces.
    But I think you should still treat each subunit of your story as such, and give every part the start and end with the curve inbetween that I talked about in that blocg of recently. But yeah I feel your pain though in this case it should be easy to smoothen out at some point (doesn't have to be this month).

    EDIT: Though obviously it also depends on your book. If your book doesn't have the same part structure, if you for example decided to keep the scene as one there, then obviously there you wouldn't need to change a thing. Also: Did I mention how commendable it is that you can keep yourself relatively short (when compared to me)? This is probably a detail I neglect in my criticism, though I try not to. Doing everything right in a limited length isn't particularly easy, and maybe impossible in some cases.
    Last edited by Cookiegod; November 18, 2019 at 04:47 PM.
    .







    Quote Originally Posted by Derc View Post
    No one cares what Derc has to say.

  18. #238

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 18]

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    I'm pretty sure I had the same problem several times over in OWaP, where I cut scenes in two and three pieces.
    Those decisions are some of the worst ones for me. I wish I could just post my pdf and be done with it

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    But I think you should still treat each subunit of your story as such, and give every part the start and end with the curve inbetween that I talked about in that blocg of recently. But yeah I feel your pain though in this case it should be easy to smoothen out at some point (doesn't have to be this month).
    I will definitely do some smoothing after November has ended (smooth some text, and smooth myself with a glass of "writers' juice" ).

    But I am still slightly unsure about the extent of how much these "curves" should be used. Definitely in each chapter, and I definitely use them in many scenes, but I am still not sold on the idea that every aspect of the writing and presentation needs it. For me, I think there are a few factors that make me want to periodically have flatter updates/scenes. For your convenience, I'll put them in a list

    1. I sometimes find it helpful for suspense to break a scene before an arc has been completed.
    2. Much of my story revolves around the Nabati simply walking. I mean, up to this point in the story, the Nabati have covered roughly 1,400 miles (2,250 km). Given that, I think it is appropriate that some scenes don't have an up and down. They are simply description, maybe some character development, and then that's it. That's how I feel about 85% of the Frodo/Sam chapters are in Lord of the Rings, and while they can sometimes drag on, it is also appropriate that they don't involve much. Their story is important, but it's not an action sequence, and by having these *cough* boring bits in, it helps convey that they are really just walking. So here and there I like a good "nothing much happening" scene.
    3. I believe it can also be helpful for the reader if there are some proper lulls in the writing and action. I am sure everyone has seen a movie or read a book that was all go, and by the end of it you're usually just kind of done. More than that, at some point it starts to seem just plain ridiculous, as it's not believable that a real person could have such a perpetually action-filled existence, and then also do things beside whimper beneath a shower-head.


    So, in a nutshell, those are my three bigger reasons to tolerate, and even welcome, some seemingly dull scenes. I think they probably come across as more of a problem here, but I think (or more, hope) that they work well in book format. But rest assured, when the book is done, you'll be getting a copy, and you can tear it apart then

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    EDIT: Though obviously it also depends on your book. If your book doesn't have the same part structure, if you for example decided to keep the scene as one there, then obviously there you wouldn't need to change a thing. Also: Did I mention how commendable it is that you can keep yourself relatively short (when compared to me)? This is probably a detail I neglect in my criticism, though I try not to. Doing everything right in a limited length isn't particularly easy, and maybe impossible in some cases.
    I don't think you had mentioned that, but thanks a million for saying so! It's also nice to hear, because I often feel like I am going on and on, and if it doesn't come across that way, then that is a good thing! But that is also one of the things I've always liked about your criticisms, that you don't just say "add" exclusively, or "delete" exclusively, but you usually give some suggestions for tightening and expanding (but often with more emphasis on the tighter side ). In general, that looking at both of sides of it is quite helpful, and gets me to more closely consider each sentence and paragraph, and why they are there.
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  19. #239

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 18]

    Well, folks, it's now been a week since my last posting, which means it's time for a new update for Written in Sand! This one picks up right where the last one left off, switching to the perspective of the mysterious individual who was seen walking toward Far'am. I hope you all like it!
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  20. #240

    Default Re: Written in Sand (Nabataean AAR for EBII)[updated: Nov 18]

    Continued from Chapter 5 - Part V


    Dramatis Personae

    Nabati:

    Mun'at Ha'Qadri: General of the Nabati army, tasked with uniting the tribes of Arabia and subduing the Saba' confederations that control Arabia Felix.
    Shullai Ha'Maleki: Prince of the Nabati, riding south under Mun'at's command.
    Ravîv'êl Bikrum: Crown Prince of the Nabati. Currently governing the conquered settlement of Dedan.
    Malka Qênu: King of the Nabati, and leader of the united tribes.

    Rana'in: Elder warrior and long-time friend of Mun'at.
    Khalil: Raider under Mun'at's command, usually tasked with leading the cavalry and light skirmishers.
    Haza'el: Captain of the Nabati.
    Wayyuq: A spy and pathfinder in the service of the Nabati, but not of their tribe.

    Sabeans (Saba'):

    Mubsamat: Queen of the Saba' with ambitions to end the tribal rivalries that plague her people.
    Tharin: Captain of Mubsamat's guard, tasked with contacting the approaching Nabati on Mubsamat's behalf and bringing them over to her cause.
    Zaadi Il'Bayyin: Often referred to as "Lord of the Northpass", Zaadi is a Qayl (higher official) of the Saba', and the ringleader of a group of nobles arrayed against Mubsamat.
    Halik Il'Yakif: Landowner and noble of the Saba' who initially followed Zaadi's plans but has since been turned by Mubsamat.
    Far'am Rafshan: Half-Qatabani exile in league with Zaadi Il'Bayyin.
    Karab: Son of the Athtar Yazi' clan and great leader of the Hashidi warriors of the northern plateau. He is also in league with Zaadi against Mubsamat.
    Hasan: Deceased brother of Karab.



    Chapter 5
    The Incense Road


    --------------------------------------------------
    (Part VI)


    Halik Il'Yakif, the one-time ally of Zaadi, moved forward hesitantly, his feet dragging ever so slightly and pulling a cloud of dust behind them. He should have had another at his side for the task that now lay before him, but he was alone. Even the dark-eyed man, the spy in Mubsamat's employ who had aided Halik of late, even he was gone, no doubt spreading dissent and petty rivalry in some tribe or other. Halik, the farmer who thought himself a lord, was alone, and he would have to rise to the occasion or he would finally pay for his sins and inadequacies.

    He was nearing the buildings of Far'am's home and could see the half-Qatabani standing beside another man, the two of them watching his approach. With each step Halik could feel his heart speeding, and in a vain attempt to quell its fervor he breathed deeply, forcing his face to remain calm lest it betray the lies and intent that lay within him. It would be moments only before he was upon them, and he could have no quaver in his voice when he spoke, nor any tremor in his demeanor.

    Far'am Rafshan is not trusted by Zaadi. Halik thought to himself as he walked, holding onto the idea. He does not know what Zaadi knows, and he has few other friends who might tell him such things. Far'am does not know. Far'am could not know. Far'am. Does. Not. Know. Over and over, Halik repeated the words in his head as he crossed the final distance, the mantra providing too little comfort, and when at last he stood before the two men his breathing was coming short, his face pale.

    "Halik Il'Yakif, it is good to see you, but you do not look well." Far'am said, reaching toward him.

    Halik pulled back involuntarily, instantly cursing himself for his foolishness. The man had spoken in seeming kindness, without a trace of mistrust or malice, and in answer he had recoiled as if struck by a viper. He would be found out. He knew it.

    "It is nothing. The sun and heat must have gotten the better of me. That is all." Halik muttered quickly, hoping to undo any suspicion he might have already caused. With a short glance at the other man standing there, he added, "Perhaps we might retire to some place in the shade."

    "Of course. Come with me." Far'am replied warmly, before excusing himself from the other man with whom he had been speaking. He then reached an arm around Halik to steady him, causing the Saba' lord's heart to race with an even greater fury. Far'am must have felt it, but he said nothing, and together they began walking toward the half-Qatabani's home in silence.

    Far'am's dwelling lay at the heart of the mass of sheds, workshops, and storehouses in his charge, and its exterior was perpetually under siege by a cacophony of hammer strikes, calls of workmen, and braying of beasts. Yet once one crossed the threshold those legion sounds were instantly dimmed, and with each step further inside they became quieter still. When they reached the square court at the center of Far'am's home the only noise to be heard was the gentle murmur of a stream running through one corner, its waters diverted from the canals and trenches that criss-crossed the upland plateau like a spider's web.

    Halik set himself down on a stone bench beneath a broad stock of juniper, its branches interwoven and still heavy with the fragrance of the spring blooms that had only just left them, and Far'am sat opposite.

    "You seem better for the shade," Far'am began, "and I am glad to see you, but why are you here?"

    Far'am's words were spoken kindly, but his eyes were searching, and Halik wondered what he knew but was not saying. "You disappeared for a time, leaving without a word," he answered, "and foolish as it may sound, I was worried." Far'am appeared unconvinced, and Halik added, "The quiet conflict between the nobles will not remain quiet forever. I feared you had perhaps been harmed."

    Far'am, the half-Qatabani, looked down to the earth, a sadness and weight in his gaze. "I have had similar fears." he said softly. "The queen, Mubsamat, is a subtle one, but the thought of blood will not stay her hand. I am certain of that. Yet that is not what troubles me..." he finished, his voice trailing off.

    "What, then?" Halik prompted. "Is it Zaadi?" Then, risking a half-lie, he added, "Truth be told, I myself wonder about the Lord of the Northpass." Far'am looked up. "He has not spoken to me of late, and I hear nothing of his counsels, but I know that Karab is with him more and more." Halik flashed a sidelong glance at Far'am. "I cannot be sure, and would not accuse him unjustly, but I wonder whether Zaadi means to betray me, to destroy me when I can no longer be of use."

    "Do you think he would?" Far'am asked quietly.

    Halik looked down at his hands, at the thin crusting of black earth beneath his fingernails. "I am of noble blood," he began, "but at heart I will always be a farmer, a man of the broad fields beneath the sun, not the smoky rooms of the court. Before joining Zaadi in his plans, I had little dealings with him, yet now and then I would see him about Ma'rib, and I remember how I marveled at the fire that burned always in his eyes, his certainty of self and purpose." Halik paused briefly, and put on an expression of concern. "That man is a dagger, a blade that cuts both forward and back, and I am certain that if he thought my death of worth to him, or if he doubted my loyalty for even a moment, then he would strike me down beneath the noonday sun. When once a thought enters his mind there is no word or deed that can dislodge it, nor stay his hand when he means to act."

    With the last words Halik grew quiet, and the two men sat together in silence for a time, Far'am absorbed in thought, his gaze distant and unfocused, Halik flashing furtive glances at the half-Qatabani all the while. He could see the turmoil and uncertainty sweeping behind Far'am's eyes, and satisfied that his task had been achieved, he rose to his feet. Halik quickly traded the visage of worry and fear for a tentative smile, and he stepped toward Far'am, placing a hand on his shoulder in a display of easy companionship.

    "Far'am Rafshan," Halik said warmly, "no matter what might come next, I am glad to see you now, and to see that you are safe."

    Far'am looked up, and though the care did not leave his countenance, he too smiled. "Thank you, Halik Il'Yakif." he said gently.

    His smile widening, Halik pulled Far'am to his feet, and began leading him back along the way they had come, this time with his arm around the half-Qatabani, lending him strength. They crossed the inner courts quickly, their steps coming easier than they had before, and when they exited Far'am's home, Halik turned back to face him once more.

    "I came to see that you were well," he said simply, "and now that I have, I should be returning to my own holdings, attending to my own affairs." Halik then embraced the half-blood noble, and spoke quietly into his ear. "Far'am, you and I may be lesser lords," he said with urgency, "but we are of noble blood nonetheless, and neither Zaadi nor the Queen may in justice ignore that fact. Remember this when their blades are finally drawn and they show their true selves. Remember who and what you are."

    Far'am said nothing in response, but his head tilted forward ever so slightly. Then, with a last friendly word of farewell, spoken loud enough for any watchers to hear, Halik released him and turned his feet to the southern road that would take him to Ma'rib, noticing with a cautious optimism a pair of men watching him from the shadows, their gazes flickering between Halik and Far'am.



    Continue to Chapter 5 - Part VII
    Last edited by Kilo11; December 02, 2019 at 03:36 AM.
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