The moment we cut into the Suenna road, the sound of Nero's hoofbeats changed. My horse took shorter, choppier strides. Now the question was how many miles were left before we reached the city--and if the gates would be locked. I glanced around, but everything looked the same as it had since nightfall: dark shapes that were trees and the moon slowly rising. The road lay ahead of us as a darker patch that I barely glimpsed before it was past.
Patting Nero's neck, I steadied him as we raced along the harder surface. We had saved perhaps ten, fifteen miles by cutting across country. The thrill of leaping fences and walls in the dark had left me, however. Now I wanted to get to the city before its gates were barred. If only because those manning the last tollgate had laughed, and told me it couldn't be done.
Couldn't be done? I'd show those bastards. I let Nero feel my spurs and whip. Men simply did not understand. Nothing on God's earth can stand between a woman and a bathroom with a decent roll of toilet paper.
Opening: BuffySquirrel.....Continuation: Pacatrue
I then removed a saddle stitching needle from my satchel and patted Nero's hindquarters. "Oh, it can be done," I said, aloud.
Then a dark smudge that was the city came into view. The north gate, open still, gleamed its welcome in the moonlight. I bent low onto Nero's neck and urged him on. "Let's show them, boy."
Horse sweat flecked into my face. I tasted its brine on my lips and inhaled its earthy scent as I wiped the stinging foam from my eyes. Despite Nero's ragged wheezing, I pushed him harder.
Damn those tollgate operators. I was determined to get the last laugh tonight. I was going to --
"No!" The huge portcullis crashed down before me. Nero skidded, twisted, and went down on his haunches. I tumbled onto the road, rolled hard, and slammed into the iron bars.
Squinting through the pain, I looked up at a smirking gatekeep. "Two words of advice, son," he said. "Toll tag."
(Sorry, felt too many readers wouldn't know what a toll tag was.)
Now the question was how many miles were left before we reached the city--and if the gates would be locked.
That's two questions, isn't it? Reads just a little bit clumsy, too. Might be better as "would the gates be locked" rather than "if the gates would be locked" so it connects better with "...the question(s) was (were)..."
Buffy and Paca. What a team! I wonder if poor Nero appreciates his rider's thrill of jumping over countless fences when he's probably ready to throw the rider and stomp on him for making him run so far.
...but everything looked the same as it had since nightfall: dark shapes that were trees and the moon slowly rising...
But the rider has switched from cross-country riding (fences and walls) to travelling on the Suenna road, right? So actually, don't thinks look a little different now?
The road lay ahead of us as a darker patch that I barely glimpsed before it was past.
If you've cut across the road, this makes sense; but if you're travelling along the road, isn't it always a drak patch ahead of you, not a single "object" that passes by?
I assume the ever-rising moon doesn't give much illumination?
The rider passed the last tollgate before cutting into the Suenna road after riding cross-country, I guess? So was on the road before this?
I would change "My horse" in sentence 2 to "He." I makes it clear that Nero is your horse, and not that of a companion riding with you.
Expanding on Iago's comment, the next sentence would be tighter as: Now the question was how many miles to the city--and would the gates be locked.
Now I wanted to get to the city before its gates were barred. Now? You wanted that earlier too; it was the whole reason for cutting across. Inserting "only" between "wanted" and "to" fixes this, but now you'll want to get rid of "only" in the next sentence. Removing "If only because" is the simplest way.
Having been camping for multiple days with several women at a campsite with no running water and only a poor excuse for a port-a-potty, I have to say, Paca, your continuation is priceless.
As to the opening: ditto comments from all the others. One other question: What's the use of toll gates when it's so easy to cut 15 miles off by going cross country?
I am imagining that those manning the last tollgate might have been the two Swamp Castle guards in Monty Python and the Holy Grail ("It seemed a bit daft, me having to guard him when he's a guard.") That made me think of the MC as Sir Lancelot The Brave, storming across the field toward the castle to the sound of a drum roll... again and again and again. How long is this racing to the city going to last?
But I can't stop thinking of why there would be toll gates on a road that meanders 15 miles out of the way. Seems like the road must have been a government contract on time-and-materials plus ten percent, and when the contractor ran over budget by building the road 30 miles longer than it needed to be, the government came up with the brilliant solution of paying down the debt with tolls, thus creating jobs (toll guards), providing tax revenue, and creating a new excuse to harass the populace at the same time. Otherwise, I'm not seeing the geography here. (And I know it's beside the point, but I'm just sayin' is all.)
I think that you have to make a decision between the two paragraphs as to how many times you want to emphasis that getting into the city is important.
P1 - Now the question was how many miles were left before we reached the city--and if the gates would be locked.
P2 - Now I wanted to get to the city before its gates were barred.
If its something like life and death or he's bet the wealth of an empire or Nero is the best horse in the empire and the storyline depends on NEero winning an later race ... then leave the two mentions.
I also would like you to rewrite the opening without the words "now" and "only" to see if it improves. There is lots of time sense and motion in the opening. I think you are using NOW and ONLY as punctuation marks to quicken the pace of the reading. Try it without those two words.
"Nero's hoofbeats came short and choppy as we cut onto Suenna Road. I glanced around, but everything was dark shapes and sinister shadows as the moon rose slowly above the trees. "He galloped over a dark patch of road I barely saw."
I did know what a toll tag was after I'd thought about it for a while :).
Erm, who said it was easy to cut across country? These toll gates are private enterprises; basically people throw them up where they think they will. But our protag doesn't really have grounds to complain--his family started it!
I like this opening a lot. But in the second paragraph, I would join Now I wanted to get to the city before its gates were barred. If only because those manning the last tollgate had laughed, and told me it couldn't be done.
Like this: Now I wanted to get to the city before its gates were barred—if only because those manning the last tollgate had laughed, and told me it couldn't be done. I think that makes a stronger sentence.
Come to think of it, how safe is it for a horse to be leaping fences and walls in the dark? Do horses see well in the dark? Seems to me the rider could easily end up with a broken neck that way. Perhaps you could change that part to dusk, and the rider and his horse get on to the Suenna road just as darkness falls. That might create a more shadowy opening (seems like that's what you're going for?) and clear up a few logistic problems. Just a thought.
paca, you're on a roll. Good one.
(Looks like N has trained you well.)
buffy, I like freddie's idea about dusk for your piece - when dusk is turning to darkness - it's unsettling to the eyes, an dif it hits just as the terrain of the trip is changing, from over land to the road, that's even better.
As a former equestrian, I might point out that those horses you see going over the jumps in the Olympics could run the courses blindfolded, as they're trained to respond to the rider's arm and leg signals. In fact, a blindfolded horse is less likely to balk at a jump, which is why blindfolds have been banned from the Olympics since 1956, when the gold medal went to a horse with a paper bag over its head. Whether Nero is a trained jumper, only the author can say, but if so, only the rider's night vision is important.
buffy, you're right, it didn't say it was easy to cut across country. But the impression it left me was that the only reason most people don't do it is that there are fences and walls, and the MC had no problem with it. In fact, I took "the thrill of leaping fences and walls in the dark" more as a roller-coaster ride thrill, not as a narrowly-avoiding-death-with-every-step kind of thrill.
Anyway, that's all beside the point of course because you want to focus on getting Nero and MC to the city, not on the geography or politics of the region. On that, as always, Dave F has better advice than mine.
Point taken, EE, but the author hints that the rider either can't see well or isn't paying much attention with the line The road lay ahead of us as a darker patch that I barely glimpsed before it was past. Plus the trees are only dark shapes, another hint.
If most people know the tidbit regarding the horse's eyesight, I'd leave the darkness the way it is. But is that a well-known fact the author can take for granted that everyone knows? Just wondering. . .
You could be right, but the line you quote comes after they've finished crossing the countryside and returned to the road. If the country they crossed is fields (walls and fences are more likely in fields than in forest) the rising moon would have provided more light than it would on the tree-lined road.
You can take a horse cross-country, but you can't take a carriage or wagon or sleigh that way, so I didn't have a problem with a tollgate on a road that's meandering a bit based on terrain. Although this one does seem to meander a bit much. I actually tried to figure what the distance would be that the horse was going, presumably at gallop, in order to shave 10 or 15 miles off the road distance by cutting cross-country. And even then there still might be miles to go. Nero must be terribly well-conditioned.
And Buffy using "miles"? Not kilometers or leagues or sprints or some other distance measure? I'm shocked!
Like with other commenters, the darker patch of the road bit threw me, too.
I take it this is not a part of the Aquilla saga? :o)
I thought it was the narrator's eyesight we were talking about.
Even if I knew my horse could see in the dark (or under a paper bag), I'd be unsettled by a lack of sight and a decently quick traveling pace in said darkness.
OK- the moon was slowly rising, according to the narrator. But even so, if the trees along the road are thick, if cloud cover occurs (if we're in Britain in this story, there's cloud cover - if somewhere else- maybe not), my point is, maybe the moon is shining enough to show the way, maybe not. And the narrator says it's dark.
...equestrian, huh? Jodhpurs and all? Hmmmm. Nice visual. Thanks for that.
You can see the distance saved by Nero by cutting across in the map here:
You'll note that it wasn't actually time or distance, but coins that the rider was attempting to save.
Horses see well in the dark. The biggest problem they have is when the light level changes suddenly--their eyes are slower to adapt than ours.
The galloping across country in the dark and jumping obstacles is meant to be a reckless act on the part of our protag (and I'm afraid it is Aquilla, again!). Usually when he does something rash, critters say "he wouldn't do that, it's too rash!". Now it's not rash enough, lol.
(and yeah, the horse is very fit)
Oh my god - that map is hysterical.
I get the impression that the Suenna road is like the Appian way. It's paved and obstacle free.
Horses don't see in the dark any much better than we do. Going cross-country by moonlight is a matter of the horse trusting the rider.
Besides, the biggest problem with cross country is unseen chuck holes, groundhog burrows or rabbit nests.
However, my Brother owns a blind stallion and he hitches it up to a cart and takes people on rides for money. It is amazing to watch because the horse (as EE points out) trusts my Brother's directions. The horse goes trotting around cars, fences, hedges, on and off paved roads like nothing is there. I know it sees nothing because I've seen both its eyes. It really is a spectacularly good horse for pulling a cart or small carriage.
One more comment, some horses are jumpers and some are not. That means that some horses will alway balk at a barrier and others will jump over anything in their path. The trainer won't know until they try and either way might not be the most delightful experience.
Hey, I've been on that road!
What paper sack and what equestrian events in Melbourne? Please explain THAT, oh evil one!
I do know that one Horace "Horse" Chankowski won gold in the blindfolded basketball event when he threw his balls into the net with no backboard and no ring.
Then there was Peiter "Ponyboy" Peterovskjovich who won the silver in the long jump by a head.
The short sentences made this a little choppy to my ears. Deliberately mimicking the horse's movement? If not, maybe attaching the last two sentences with a comma might help. Also, at the start it's clear that Nero is a horse, so 'my horse' in the next sentence jarred slightly and made me wonder if there were two of them. I think you could do some merging there, too. Hey, Aquilla!
Dave, if you happen to be the King of England out riding, you have to watch out for molehills, too.
---Tal the Mole, a direct descendant of the Little Gentleman in Black Velvet
The reason for "my horse" was that "Nero's" in the first line is adjectival, modifying "hoofbeats". If I then used "he", there'd be no noun for "he" to refer back to. That's the problem :).
You worry too much. It's obvious "he" refers to Nero. The first time you used "I" was it referring back to Aquilla? The first sentence of For Whom the Bell Tolls: He lay on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. "He" refers to "The young man" who is first mentioned in paragraph 13. How many detective novels begin, The dame's perfume smelled like petunias in July. She had on a dress that revealed more than the Warren Commission Report.
Whether I argue that a pronoun can refer forward as well as backward, or that a noun used as an adjective is still a noun if you need it to be, you're on safe ground with "he."
Thanks, EE :). And yes, I do.
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