Bishop Lamberton grasped his squire by a shoulder, pushing him toward the open doors at the end of the long, high-arched hall. James twisted out of Lamberton's grasp and whirled to face him. A youth of sixteen, dark-eyed and slender as a knife, James flushed with anger.
“I won’t swear fealty to him."
Lamberton sighed. For an obedient lad, James was being amazingly difficult. "James, do you want your lands back? Your father's title?"
James drew himself up. "You know I do. I must have them.” He shoved shaking fingers through the black tumble of his hair. "My people need me, and it's where I belong. I've sworn to get back what was stolen from my father--a sacred oath."
"Then you must bend a knee to King Edward."
James reluctantly advanced. He knelt not on the crimson carpet directly in front of the King - as a mere squire he didn’t dare presume such an honor - but on the black stone floor slightly to the side. Even as his knee touched the cold granite, it occurred to him that from this position he could strike the King down with one thrust.
To the side of the hall stood silently Sir Crispin, an ally of James’s late father and like James, clad in the black livery of James’s house. If only James were already a knight like Sir Crispin, he would fight for his birthright rather than serving as a pawn in the struggles of the powerful.
The King rose from his throne, advanced to where James knelt, and raised his sword. But instead of accepting James’s oath, he lopped the young squire’s head off with a deft stroke. Sir Crispin, livid with outrage, moved two steps to the right and one ahead, his sword menacing the King and cutting off all escape.
Thus did Myron Finkbiner, for the third year in a row, retain his title as the Association of Historical Fiction Writers’ chess champion.
Opening: J.R. Tomlin.....Continuation: John
I like that continuation!
Now that I've read the query and have a bit of historical context, I like this better. My main problem with it is that James is referred to as the Bishop's squire, which made me go crazy researching whether or not bishops can have squires. I don't think they can, so I'd appreciate you changing "his" to "the" or "James." Again, knowing the query is what made me look past that problem.
You don't necessarily need all that description, meaning the first part of the last sentence of the first paragraph, and the obedient lad sentence.
"Bend a knee? Is that all I have to do?" Relief made the youth's voice squeak on the last word.
"Yes, my son," Lamberton said, puzzled. "What did you think you'd have to bend?"
"Never mind," James mumbled, flushing bright red once again and turning docilely toward the open doors.
“Pride vs. sacred oath, Pride vs. sacred oath,” James mumbled under his breath. “Why do decisions have to be so hard!” he cried. He then stamped his foot like a spoilt child.
He thought about King Edward for a moment – okay well he reformed English law that most seemed okay with, he repressed two rebellions in Wales but was terribly unsuccessful protecting English lands in France, and he did a little bit of the political finagling when the Scots could not decide amongst themselves who should be king. Was that really the king’s fault – I mean what king would not take advantage of that? So it started another war and he was destined to tax his people right into a recession.
Ah yes, then James remembered that God had already seen to the king’s demise by blessing him with eighteen children. And, the son who was to succeed him was said to be a bit dainty.
“I will be more than happy to bend my knee,” he smirked, adding to himself that it’s always great to have front seat viewing of family drama, especially the royal kind. He would become rich over the royalties from the book he was going to write and restore his people to prosperity.
Minutes passed as Lamberton and the boy eyed each other uncomfortably. Finally, James sighed and looked toward the sky.
"Come on, this one's a gift." James stared at me and raised his eyebrows.
"Fealty? Bend a knee? A Bishop for Christ's sake. There's a fellatio gag just waiting to happen."
"I, uh, I don't go for the cheap shots," I told him, staring at the screen.
"Well let us know when you've got something funny," James said, before he stormed from the room.
Man, I couldn't believe he thought he could just blow me off like that.
"But I cannot!" said James, hugging his rippling chest. "If I must betray you and the King himself, it's what I'll do."
The director rapped his meaty knuckles on the table, his rage assuaged by only his grace. These try-outs for Young and the Renaissance were an agonizing necessity of his life's work. "It's...if I must betray you and the king, 'it is what I will do'. Again, from the top."
James sagged, defeated. "All right."
Anything to end this travesty.
They strode to the hall, where King Edward lolled on pillows, his fat rolling beneath his stained robes. Beside him the grossly obese Queen sat still, giggling at his discomfort.
"Your majesty," said the Herald, "Young James has come to prostrate himself before you."
A quickly as was decent James knelt, mumbled the oath, and scrambled back to his feet.
"You may go," said the King.
James backed away.
"There!" Lamberton beamed at him.
James grabbed him by the collar. "You SOB. You said there were tons of chicks at these things! All I see are hambeasts and swamp donkeys!"
Lamberton signed. "James, you knew I was clergy. You'e supposed to be celibate. Remember?"
James slouched away. For this he gave up Lake Havasu?
“You would have me humiliate myself in front of the king? My father’s good name means nothing to you?” James stood tall, a flash of anger in his dark eyes.
“All of the titled have done this.” Bishop Lamberton waited with patience.
“I wouldn’t know how to begin.”
Good, the young man was resigned.
“Watch closely, lad, it’s not difficult. You put your left foot in; you pull you left foot out…”
Get rid of:
"My people need me, and it's where I belong. I've sworn to get back what was stolen from my father--a sacred oath."
Lamberton knows what happened and how James feels, so James wouldn't say this. He already said it earlier, off-screen. Either show it when it happened or find a better place to tell it.
One comment I would add to EE's is to check that it's historically accurate to use the contraction "won't." I've had more than one "knights and squires" stories ruined with modern dialog. Even the most extreme case of "Like" and "Dude," and "gag me with a spoon" when it was placed in Elizabethan England.
The dialogue is too flat. Part of the problem is that the bishop seems to be saying, "James, here is the central dilemma you're facing in this story," and James replies, "I know, and I'd also like to take this opportunity to explain my motivations as a character."
As EE points out, it only misses being an "As you know, Bob..." by that much. The impression I get is not the characters talking to each other but the author using puppets to talk to the reader.
You've already gotten halfway to "Show, Don't Tell" by thinking to present it as dialogue in a conflict, so points for you. But now take us the rest of the way there and give us two real people talking.
It does seem like a good start, notwithstanding.
Not a bad start, particularly if you take the advice offered already. I'd suggest not using the long description of the lad to begin the last sentence of the first para. It weakens the impact of the main clause.
I think I agree with Eric. This opening was kind of flat for me and I was not sure why. It may be the dialogue.
I would use "throne room" instead of "the open doors at the end of the long, high arched hall." Only because it has more impact and is more interesting.
I think "Lamberton sighed," maybe not important enough to put into the opening.
The Bishop may say something more along the lines of "James you know what you have to do to get your inheirtance back and your father's title. Now put your big patties on and let's get this over with." or "We've already dicussed this now suck it up and let's get it over with." (but you'll want medieval terms)
I guess I'm thinking, they would have already had this discussion before even stepping into the castle. If I remember correctly, they were actually in France - so they would have discussed what James had to do there.
Maybe that is the problem. It has a contrived feeling, like the dialogue was soley for the purpose to introduce the reader.
I think you'll need either to change the dialogue to something along the lines of, "I hate having to do this. This midget of a man killed my father!" or "I wish now you would not have talked me into this."
"I understand, but remember James we all have to do things from time to time that we don't want to do, God will commend you for your humility and keeping you oath to you people."
then let the plot unfold when Edward refuses to grant him his title and lands back because of what his father did.
or back it up to France where this discussion had to take place to begin with.
P.S. I kind of want to know what James thinks about his father's behavior that got his inheirtance taken away to begin with. (i would be a bit ticked at dad) That may be a cool dialogue to begin the story with and bring in the past.
I like the opening. I just don't love it and it does not take me by the collar and go "look a great new writer."
I like it.
I think you can drop the "I've sworn to get back..." part.
I think you're trying to get too much information in too soon. Relax. It's probably more important here to get across how James feels as he's forcing himself to kneel to the king.
If this is James' story, why are we in the bishop's POV?
Also, why on earth are they having this conversation where those loyal to the king can hear them?
I quite like this beginning. I LOVE the continuation.
I think all James needs to say here is "You know I do." We can get the backstory later.
I also had minor issues with "slender as a knife", because I immediately visualised a knife and, well, that's REALLY skinny. :)
I don't mind it, and you got some good advice. I do wonder about the POV. I haven't read any of the previous subs so I can't say much.
I stumbled right at the beginning with a bishop having a squire. Is he a knight and a bishop? If so, the knight aspect might be more relevant here than his episcopal office.
Also, as best I understand it, if James is Lambert's squire, he's in fealty to Lambert already, so only Lambert would need to be in direct fealty to the king.
It's called the Chain of Fealty for a reason.
Going way back...yes, bishops often had squires.
Squires did not swear fealty to their master. This was a temporary relationship. Fealty was permanent.
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