After realising I was going to have to start all over again, I read and re-read the descriptions of the twins conflict with N’Kari and considered my options. This was not going to be an easy story to write. As things were stated it took place at the Shrine of Asuryan. There were no encounters between the twins and the Keeper of Secrets prior to that point as the daemon rampaged around Ulthuan slaying the heirs of Aenarion. I realised that this was going to be a difficult tale to structure because the heroes and their main antagonist only meet once at the very end. There would be no slow build up of conflict between heroes and villains.
Most of the action of the story as written was performed by N’Kari (unsurprisingly since this was taken from a Daemon Army Book). In Daemons of Chaos there were plenty of details of N’Kari’s rampage and lots of excellent opportunities for describing the sort of battles, sieges and violent action that readers of a Warhammer novel expect but the Keeper of Secrets was the one doing all the travelling and slaying and decision making. Our heroes didn’t even get to react to it. They were sent to the sacred island of the Shrine by the Phoenix King for their own protection. Normally I like to have my protagonists out there, making things happen, reacting to events. I think this is particularly important in the military fantasy genre which Warhammer inhabits. A character who is shunted from pillar to post with no control over his fate is not terribly interesting to read about.
The structural problems were not the only ones that had arisen. There was the simple fact that I had already written well over 20000 words and I was loath to scrap all of them, particularly since I felt some of them were amongst the best writing I had done. I wandered around Georgetown, drinking the famous white coffee and eating the brilliant food and thinking about this. Preparations were starting to get under way for the Chinese New Year and I was trying to organise travelling down to Malacca to meet up with Eve and Jeff after they got back from Vietnam. Travelling over the Chinese New Year period in Malaysia can be difficult. I have had experience of it in the past. It did not make me any less stressed.
I thought, of course, there was one big advantage to all of this; N’Kari is one of the prime movers in the Elf War when he is bound by Malekith to serve him and eventually unleashed to hunt down Tyrion and the Everqueen. This was something here I could use to tie the structure of the books together ever more tightly. I was sure of it.
A bit at a time I began to unravel the problem. I realised that I was absolutely going to have to make the N’Kari plotline the dramatic spine of the book. In some ways writing a Warhammer novel is like writing a historical novel, you have to go with what is already written in the background text, build on what’s already there, weave your characters into the established events.
I began to sketch out an outline of a sort of serial killer tale, told partially from the point of view of N’Kari and partially from the point of view of his victims. It would, of course, be a horror story. It would let me ratchet up the tension in one way because the reader would know that the daemon was coming for Tyrion and Teclis and that they were going to have to face him. It would also be a mystery story for, while the reader would know what was going on, the Elves of Ulthuan would not. Someone would need to work out why the attacks were happening in order to stop them. This would give us a chance to look at high politics in Ulthuan and watch the Phoenix King and his court react in a crisis.
I also needed to involve Tyrion and Teclis because this was after all their book. Fortunately Lothern is a dangerous city swirling with intrigue and violence so while these events unfolded our heroes could be caught up violent intrigue, assassination attempts and duels. I wanted to have Tyrion kill his first elf before the confrontation with N’Kari to show quite how cold and dangerous an elf he was even while very young. I wanted Teclis to demonstrate the first glimmerings of his awesome magical powers because it was a fact that would need to be established before the fight with N’Kari. I also wanted to give the reader a sense of the dangerous depths of High Elvish politics. Behind everything lurked the threat of Malekith, the the Witch King and his agent Urian who was taking a personal interest in the twins.
I performed triage on what I had already written. I realised that with a fair bit of rewriting I could use the original framing sequence as a part of the straight chronological narrative in Book 3. This actually had advantages. It gave me a beacon to navigate by. It meant I already had a scene that I knew was going to be in book 3 and more to the point it was an important one which set the tone of much of the action preceding it. I began to think I could make all this work.
There remained one problem.
I had an opening sequence written where the twins were summoned from their father’s villa in Cothique to Lothern to a meeting with the Phoenix King to be tested for the Curse of Aenarion. It introduced a number of the major characters such as the White Lion Korhein Ironglaive and the twins’ sorcerer aunt Malene. It gave a sense of the (vast) economic power of our heroes’ relatives and the fact that they came from a relatively despised and minor part of the family. I had taken the twins all the way from Cothique to Lothern at this stage and introduced their city-dwelling kinfolk and their rather sinister grandfather. It was all very interesting from a cultural and character development point of view but it was not exactly action packed.
One thing the original opening had done was provide a hook to engage the reader and promise thrilling action to follow. Once that was gone I had an opening section that basically consisted of the twin’s taking a sea voyage to Lothern, albeit a fairly exciting one with storms at sea and threats of death bubbling away in the background. It was a very quiet opening, not exactly suitable for the beginning of a great Warhammer epic.
I realised that it all came back to the greater daemon N’Kari. One thing struck me immediately. N’Kari was freed from his prison by a great lightning storm. I had already written a scene in which there is an enormous storm at sea in which the ship our heroes are travelling on almost founders. Obviously these events could be connected. This would also start the clock ticking on my timeline. N’Kari would be freed as the twins were already en route to Lothern. Teclis could even sense the event happening. The reader would know the daemon and the Elvish lads were on a collision course.
I kept gnawing away at this idea. N’Kari was seeking vengeance on the line of Aenarion for his defeat at the hands of the first Phoenix King. I realised it did not just come back to N’Kari. It also came back to Aenarion. Hell, his name was there in the title of the book. An idea struck me. Instead of having a framing sequence I could have a prologue showing the reason why N’Kari was seeking vengeance. I could show the clash between Aenarion and N’Kari. I could also show any reader who did not already know exactly who Aenarion was and why he was important.
And here I confess a simple mistake on my part affected the structure of the entire series. I was convinced that N’Kari was the Keeper of Secrets that Aenarion fought at the Island of the Dead when he faced four Greater Daemons of Chaos to protect Caledor as he created the Vortex that would save the world from the threat of Chaos. I was completely confident of this and I had reason to be. Hell, I wrote the original version of this more than 20 years ago back when I was working on the first High Elf Army book.
I had what I immodestly considered a great idea. My prologue would be that cataclysmic battle. I would open with the last day of Aenarion’s life, show him defeating N’Kari in the most decisive way imaginable and have the Greater Daemon slink off into the newly created Vortex in a pathetic bid to escape the angry demi-god. This would show how he had come to be bound.
The more I thought about this, the more I liked it. Start with the Apocalypse, build to a climax, to paraphrase Samuel Goldwyn. Not only that I could let the reader see Aenarion and experience all the reasons why the Elves considered him so great. I could show the decisive event of Elvish history on the day it happened. I could introduce the reader to Caledor and Morathi, two of the four titanic figures who have shaped Elvish history to the present day and whose influence would be felt later in the series. I could show the reader what unleashed Chaos was like and why the destruction of the Vortex in the era of Tyrion and Teclis was an event to be truly feared. I could explain to readers the Curse of Aenarion and how it came about in the most vivid way possible.
I could do all of this and describe one of the most kickass battles in Warhammer history. What was not to love? Here was an introduction to grab a reader’s attention and no mistake. Filled with wild enthusiasm, I sat down and I wrote it in a white hot frenzy. And, by Sigmar, it was a blast to write, a 9000 word description of the end of the Warhammer world and the last doomed stand of the desperate few trying to prevent it. It had armies of demons, flight of dragons, the death of the first and greatest Archmage, the fall of the demi-god who was quite possibly the most powerful being ever to walk the face of the planet. When I finished I thought it was the best opening chapter I had ever written.
There was only one problem. Something was niggling at the back of my mind. I went back and read the High Elf book and I found no reference to N’Kari being at the battle of the Island of the Dead. Indeed Aenarion had defeated him a century before to end the Rape of Ulthuan. Damn, I thought. Just goes to show, it’s not what we don’t know that hurts us, it’s the things we think we know which ain’t so.
Was I going to have to go back to the drawing board again?
To be continued.
Blood of Aenarion is on the shortlist for the David Gemmell Legend Award. You can vote in the second stage of the voting here.