To further stimulate progress on my NaNoWriMo project, I offer the opening to the novel Thera.
It is an idea that has been mulling around the back of my brain for more than a decade and I am so excited to finally get it out on paper (well, laptop screen).
The stones barely moved as Patroclus’ sandals flew across their surface down the side of the mountain toward the sea. Every now and again, the root of a scrub bush or jagged edge of exposed slate would grasp for his ankle, seeking to do him harm, but Patroclus had travelled these paths too often to be felled so easily.
His earliest memories were of him escorting his father up the cliffs that bordered his home town, moving their small herd of goats to better grazing above the wave-ravaged shores. Now, at the ancient age of 15, the task was his alone, leaving his father to drag his younger brother Iolus out on their fishing boat.
For Patroclus, the slight of being relegated to goat sitter had been too much. Long had he wailed that anyone could herd these beasts up the trail. They’d done if for so long, he doubted not that they would do it instinctively if left to their own devices.
He should be at his father’s side, he moaned, using the strength of his sinewed back and arms to help draw the traps they set each day for lobster and crab, octopus and squid.
But wail as he might, he was a dutiful son and when his father insisted about the goats, Patroclus accepted the verdict, no matter how reluctantly.
If he could take some solace in his lot, it was that his daily banishment afforded him a spectacular view of his universe, the world unfolding itself before him like a vividly coloured ever-shifting map.
About a kilometer from his home, the grazing grounds his grandfather had discovered decades ago rose 400 meters above the mighty sea that defined one side of his village. The jewel had been discovered quite by accident when his grandfather went in search of an errant ram, and it remained their sole domain as it was too steep for any of the other farmers to willingly take.
Thus, the family goats grew large and contented on the virgin grazing, the trek ensuring that the succulent foliage became delicious muscle and not simply fat to be lost over roasting fires.
The constant trek did not just keep the herd in shape, however. Patroclus too had developed into a firmly shaped boy, well ahead of his age-mates in muscle tone and vigor. And in the few hours of relaxation, he had used that tone to achieve victory in several athletic games held in the region.
But even as his body developed in his trips too and from the mountain valley, so too did his mind grow rapidly in the many lonely hours spend listening to the steady chew of his cloven charges.
As his eyes took in the perpetual movement of the waves and clouds, he discerned patterns and periodicities that spoke of a larger fabric. And as the wild animals became accustomed to his docile presence, they allowed him to bear witness to their secret rites and rituals.
But more importantly, the cliff faces overlooking the sea hinted at a bigger world beyond his home. He would watch as ships would slowly rise from the waters in one area only to disappear beneath them again elsewhere, and yet at no point appearing to have foundered, crews toiling as though no emergency had taken place.
He also bore witness from his aerie to the town that sprawled beneath his feet, all but invisible from the ground; a loose congregation of buildings and fields that took geometric form when seen from aloft. And on the clearest days, he could follow the footpaths that spidered out from his town, connecting it to larger towns that tore holes in the distant forest canopy or filled crevices between mountains.
It was this universal certainty, however, that had him coursing down the mountainside, his footfalls oblivious to the sting of jagged stones, his horned minions long forgotten, left to fend for themselves.
Instead, his mind was filled with questions about the large fleet of ships that was escorting the town’s fishing vessels back to harbour, including the low-slung boat of his father.