I like the way my book opens now, but I do think I could make it even better. I want something to make my main character, the minor noble Midas, have a more intense personal issue to tackle right off the bat. In the story as it goes now, I have him agonizing between wanting to raise his two teenage sons properly and train them to be great warriors and leaders versus his desire to keep them safe. I have been toying with the idea of him having had an older son who was killed, thus increasing the potency of this conflict.
There are a few reasons this needs to be a prologue. One is that the POV character is not one of the POV characters from the main story. The main reason, though, is that this event takes place about three years prior to the start of my main story.
I am concerned about the use of flashbacks, since I have not really used them before and I don't know if I pull it off successfully here. Any feedback is appreciated. It should go without saying that I retain all rights to my work, but just in case, I am stating it here!
Potential New Prologue
Two white moons, the larger half full and the smaller just a sliver, shone through the bare branches of the willows, though the sun had not yet set. Miros sniffed and caught a hint of smoke in the crisp autumn air. He tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword and felt the first tingles of apprehension as he watched Dalthis slither forward another pace and gaze down into the rocky dell.
Five men-at-arms crouched nearby, along with old Sir Meldon, who had trained Miros and his younger brothers in the knightly arts for as long as Miros could remember. All wore the red and black checker pattern of Welby on their surcoats. Off to the right, Miros saw his father Midas glance over at him and wink. Miros smiled in return. The apprehension remained but was nearly overpowered by the pride that welled up in his breast. His father had never before included him in a dangerous undertaking. I’m fifteen now; it’s past time, he thought.
That morning three villagers had arrived at the small keep in Welby, begging to see Midas, their liege lord. Steward Larken led them to the great hall where Midas’s family and retainers were breaking their fast. After Larken whispered in his ear, Midas beckoned to the villagers to join them at the table. The two men looked relieved and found open spaces on the nearest bench, but the woman, her graying black hair in tangles around eyes red from weeping, ran forward and dropped to her knees near Midas, her hands clutching at his breeches.
“Please, milord,” she said. “My son. Please help us.”
Midas took her hands and raised her to her feet. “None of that,” he said. “I’m not the king. Here…sit down.” Midas sat next to her on the bench and placed an arm about her shoulders. “Your son? Go on.”
The woman wiped her eyes with the hem of her cloak and met Midas’s gaze. “He’s gone, milord. Taken. Just like the sheep.”
Midas glanced at the two men who had arrived with the woman. The better dressed of the two stood and sketched a bow. “It’s like she says, milord. A couple of sheep went missing two days ago. All the land round our hamlet’s tended ‘cept a small willow wood, so we figured some bandits might’ve taken up in the hollow down in the ravine in the woods. Ain’t none of us warriors, so we was afraid to go look.” The man pointed at the woman sitting with Midas. “Then Mavvy’s boy didn’t come home after play yestereve. We came straight here first thing.”
Midas had agreed to bring some men immediately to try to find the boy. Miros was thrilled when his father nodded to him and told him to get ready. As he leaped up to go prepare his equipment, his mother beckoned him close, enfolded him in her arms, and whispered to him to be careful and obey his father. His two younger brothers pressed in to grasp his arm each in turn, envy and excitement warring on their faces. His youngest brother Alekas grinned ruefully at him and said, “It’s probably the only chance any of us will get. There’s never any danger around here.”
It was true. Except for some problems with the barbarian tribes beyond the wall of mountains to the east, the Known Lands had been at peace for eight centuries. The tiny province of Welby hadn’t had anything more troubling than a few bandit attacks during Miros’s life, though he did recall a pack of wolves once taking some chickens and sheep from a hamlet on the border with Vimar Keep. Perhaps it’s wolves again. Would wolves take a boy?
Now as he shivered at the mouth of the ravine, Miros wished that it had been wolves or even bandits or goblins. Dalthis, his father’s captain of the guard, was a splendid tracker. When the villagers showed them the pasture from which the sheep had disappeared, it hadn’t taken Dalthis long to find the tracks. Midas looked shocked when he knelt down near Dalthis to inspect an imprint in the yellowed grass. He shook his head and muttered something Miros couldn’t hear. When Miros joined his father he paled at what he saw--a print far larger than anything he had ever seen before.
His father glanced at him and clapped a hand to his shoulder. “A troll.”
Miros shuddered. Few creatures were more dangerous and cunning than trolls. He’d heard stories of them his whole life, but trolls never came this far into the civilized regions of the Known Lands. How did one manage to get all the way here? All Miros knew was that any trolls remaining in the realm lived far to the east near the Hellisgaard Mountains that separated the Known Lands from the wilds. He thought about the young boy who had vanished and shivered again. I don’t think this will end happily.
The woods, mostly willow but with a scattering of oak and ash, were not far from the pasture; it had taken less than an hour to approach the ravine at the center of the thicket. Miros watched intently as Dalthis slid back from the edge and huddled with Midas.
“I can’t see the hollow from here,” Dalthis whispered, “but there’s a fire going.”
Midas looked at each of his men, his gaze settling on Miros last. He tugged at his graying brown beard. “Should’ve brought more men. I’m not sure we can handle this with just nine of us.”
Dalthis shrugged. “Six of us have bows, milord. I think we can take him.”
Midas turned his gaze to the moons and remained silent for a minute. “At least that red moon’s not up; should bring us luck.” He tugged at his beard again. “All right, let’s give it a try. But I don’t want anyone closing with him. We’ll lure him out and use our bows.”
Miros’s heart began to thump so hard he wondered that it didn’t burst in his chest. He forced himself to breathe deeply as he strung his bow.
“Son, I want you to move back to those boulders,” Midas said, pointing to a spot well back from the ravine.
Miros felt his breath catch in his throat. He looked into Midas’s eyes. “Father, I can--”
Midas tilted his head slightly and tightened his stare, an expression that Miros knew well. It meant, Don’t argue with me right now.
Miros looked at the ground. “Yes, father.”
“Give your bow to Sir Meldon.” Midas turned and crawled back to where Dalthis was giving instructions to the men-at-arms.
Miros handed his bow to Sir Meldon, who tousled Miros’s hair and said, “Next time. This one’s too dangerous.”
Miros watched Meldon move to join the others, then turned and stalked toward the tumble of boulders his father had pointed to. He felt relief mix with his disappointment. Trolls were nothing to be messing with. This thought made him worry about his father. He turned to watch, leaning his right arm against the largest boulder.
Sir Meldon and the men-at-arms had the bows and were skirting the eastern edge of the ravine in order to get a better view of the hollow. Midas had drawn his sword and taken up his shield. He stood chatting quietly with Dalthis.
So intent was Miros on watching what was happening in front of him that it took a few moments for him to realize that something didn’t feel right. The woods had fallen silent around him. He heard a slight scuffing sound. A jolt of fear spiked through his chest. His training screamed at him to dive forward, but his instincts betrayed him and he whirled around instead.
He saw his death standing before him. The troll was enormous, at least four paces tall, and wider than any two men. Miros glimpsed rusty chainmail, matted hair, and two large fangs thrusting up from a jutting lower jaw, but his eyes focused mainly on the huge iron maul the monster was holding up over its head.
I should’ve dived, he thought. He knew he couldn’t avoid being crushed by the maul. Time seemed to slow, and despite his terror Miros felt his mind clear. He looked back toward his father. Midas was looking at Miros with a stricken look in his eyes, his face drained of blood, one hand reaching out, and his mouth just opening to scream. In that last second before he died, Miros felt the fear drain out of him, replaced by the anguish of knowing his beloved father’s heart was breaking.