Many of my readers know that I really disliked the first chapter of Paladin. After all, I started writing Paladin 15 months ago, and my writing style has since changed and--hopefully--improved. I'm not a big fan of the prologue and first chapter that are up on Wattpad right now. To me, there's one especially glaring issue--Millie and Sir Daniel are the stars of Chapter 1, but they don't have a part in the rest of the story. Why should they be the characters who open the book?
Since I needed to provide Chapter 1 for the book contest I entered (more on that in a post later this week), I tried to rewrite it. I rewrote Chapter 1--just Chapter 1--six times. And each one was worse than the last.
The version below is the chapter I ended up submitting (attempt #7). Now, I expect some of you aren't going to like it--it's definitely very different from the first chapter I have on Wattpad now. But it does successfully get rid of Millie and Sir Daniel, who really are not at all integral to the story.
This is not the full first chapter--I kept some stuff from the original that I'm not showing here, since you all have already read it. Basically the only things that are going away are the prologue and the bit with Sir Daniel and Millie. Everything else is unchanged.
So, enjoy this Paladin exclusive! Also, if you haven't already, visit/like my Facebook author page.
She fidgeted, waiting for her name to be announced. The name she gave them, not the name she was given.
“Sam of Haywood!”
When she didn’t move, someone shoved her to the front. She’d have to remember she was Sam now, not Samantha. It would take some getting used to.
“William of Gwent!”
Sam craned her neck, trying to catch a proper glimpse of her opponent. He was a big lad, with a girth that bordered on fat. His eyes were small and mean, and betrayed no sign of intelligence.
Sam stepped out into the arena, and a few of the boys guffawed. They elbowed William in the ribs and she heard one say, “This one’ll be easy.”
She scowled. Let them laugh. William of Gwent might be twice her size, but she would still defeat him. He lumbered across the grassy field with all the grace of a drunken elephant.
Five swords--not practice swords, but real metal blades of varying lengths and styles--had been laid out in the middle of the field for Sam and William to choose from. Sam tested the balance of each sword until she settled on one she liked, a wide blade with a cat’s head pommel. William chose the greatsword, a hefty, two-handed weapon that weighed nigh on two stone. She smirked. It was a powerful sword--if you knew how to use it.
The officiating Paladin called out from behind the low wooden barrier, “Swords at the ready!” Sam and William raised their blades to the on-guard position. “You know the rules by now. First to draw blood will be declared the winner. If you lose, you’re out. Go home. Better luck next year. Are we clear?”
Sam nodded. The rules were harsh but fair; outside of the training yard, there were no second chances. Demons didn’t care if you were having an off day or if you allowed yourself to be distracted; they would kill you regardless. Sam had encountered a demon once in her eighteen years, and she had nearly died for it. The Trials, in comparison, were lenient.
“Alright, lads,” said the Paladin. Sam would have to get used to that, too; no one would ever again call her Lady. “You may begin!”
Sam studied her opponent. He had a brutish strength--she could tell by the ease with which he carried the greatsword--but his form was poor. She would wait him out, let him attack her first, and then find the holes in his armor.
“Oi, pretty boy!” William heckled. Sam raised an eyebrow at the insult. That was a new one for her. He hawked a wad of spit onto the ground. “Let’s get this over with, pretty boy.”
“You flatter me, with all your talk of prettiness,” she said. She wasn’t pretty, never had been, but she made for a convincing boy. “I’m starting to think you like me.” His face went purple with rage, and Sam choked back a laugh. Sparring with words was almost as much fun as sparring with swords, and she’d had little opportunity to practice.
Incensed, William charged her, swinging his greatsword wildly. Sam sidestepped, and he sailed past her, plunging headfirst into the wooden barricade. He fell backwards onto his backside, and the arena burst into laughter.
Good gods, this was going to be easier than she had thought. “Paladin, does it count as my win if he’s bleeding of his own accord?”
“I’m tempted to say yes,” the Paladin said through clenched teeth. “But no, finish it properly.”
William rose unsteadily to his feet, using his greatsword as an anchor. His face, red and round as it was, looked remarkably like a tomato. She felt a little sorry for him.
Not sorry enough to let him win. Sam wanted more than anything to be a Paladin. Their name was synonymous with bravery, and there were no better fighters. “My turn,” she said, feinting to the left, then circling under his sword.
Barely, William managed to parry her. He slashed at her torso, connecting with air as Sam danced out of the way. She rapped him on the knuckles with the flat of her blade, and the greatsword fell out of his grasp. Fighting a smile, she pressed her sword point into the underside of his chin.
“Win for Sam of Haywood!”
Sam trudged back to where the rest of the trainee candidates stood waiting, while a shamefaced William exited himself from the premises. It was too early to celebrate--there must have been fifty boys remaining, and they were just the Eastern swordsmen. The Trials were also being held throughout the West, North and South of Thule; each regional Trial was separated by class of weapon. Only a hundred new trainees would be accepted in total--less if the level of talent was found lacking.
Her new name was called half a dozen times more. Sam sliced and slashed--and on occasion--blocked her way to victory after victory. The guffaws that had greeted her first few bouts disappeared like a hazy memory.
They would never guess now that the loose tunic and ill-fitting breeches hid a girlish figure. The nose she hated, her father’s nose, saved her face from overt femininity. Lady Samantha was buried beneath three yards of binding fabric and the unflattering trainee topknot. But her best disguise was this: no man would admit, even to himself, that a woman had defeated him.
Sam had visions of what would happen if, gods forbid, she was found out. “Off with her head!” seemed a bit farfetched; her head was worth far more attached. The Duke of Haywood would pay whatever sum to keep her alive--grooming another heir would take too much effort. No, more likely she would be returned to her father, the duke, and they would let him deal with her. He would consign her to a lifetime of needlepoint and embroidery and a marriage she didn’t want. Sam preferred the guillotine.
She was getting ahead of herself. She wasn’t a Paladin, not even a trainee, not yet. She could lose her next fight and go home to Haywood on the morrow.
“Sam of Haywood!”
Her name called again. Sam pushed to her feet, pacing to stave off the stiffness of aching muscles. She wasn’t accustomed to fighting for so many hours on end, and would suffer for it by nightfall. It would be a pleasant suffering, a physical reminder of her accomplishments.
Her new opponent, a tall, lanky boy, had a long reach and chose a longsword to lengthen it. He was a solid swordsman; his grip and stance seemed natural. She’d watched some of his fights, too. He wasn’t flashy, but he was more than passable. Sam was better.
The Paladin repeated the rules of the duel for the thousandth time, and then: “You may begin!”
Sam lashed out first, swiping at his shoulder. He blocked and parried, and then swung again. The reach of his sword was too long, and she had to duck underneath it. She regained her footing and slid her sword along the inside of his blade, narrowing the distance between them. Up close, like this, Sam’s shorter sword held the advantage.
A glint of gold caught the corner of her eye, and her head, involuntarily, turned toward it.
There he stood, just beyond the wooden barrier, like a ghost from the past. Paladin Tristan Lyons. He could ruin everything.
Sam faltered, and her opponent’s sword caught the sleeve of her shirt.
“Halt!” yelled the officiating Paladin.
Shite. Sam pushed back her sleeve. “The skin’s unbroken, Paladin. No blood.” Her heart beat like a humming bird’s. She’d almost lost. How could she have let herself get distracted? Gods, and in front of him, no less. Whether he recognized her or not, he’d think her a bumbling idiot.
“Swords at the ready!” Sam raised her sword. “Begin!”
She shifted on the balls of her feet, ready. Her opponent’s blade moved by the tiniest fraction, and Sam attacked, hitting the outer edge. She swung again, and again, battering his sword. She faked to the right then thrust to the left, scouring his side. More than the fabric ripped; red dribbled from a shallow gash.
“Win for Sam of Haywood!”
She’d won, thank the gods. Had Tristan Lyons seen it? She shaded her eyes with her hand, scanning the small crowd behind the barrier for a crop of golden hair.
He was gone, as if never there.