Behind the Story
The Stoneweaver is my first completed novel. It’s a fantasy story — you’ll find magic, dragons, and dungeons in its pages.
It’s also a story about a dad trying to get back to his family.
I started writing it during the evenings after my infant daughter went to bed. I plowed my way through about 5,000 words, and then stopped.
Seven years later, I dusted off the file and completed the hero’s journey. I’ve included part of the first chapter below. You can read the complete text over at wattpad by clicking here.
Chapter One: Keystone (excerpt)
Skarn opened his eyes and removed his hand from the stone. The keystone was cracked, he was certain. You couldn’t see the crack, but he knew it was there, hidden deep in the stone. It was only a matter of time before the crack spread and the entire keystone broke in two. If that happened, the Royal Gates of the City of Darem, wonder of the eastern world, made of pure dimsian, would crush whoever happened to be passing underneath.
Skarn put the small hammer he’d been holding into his smooth leather work belt and brushed the fine dust from his hands. He hadn’t needed the hammer to detect the crack; holding it was simply a prop while he explored the stone with his Talent. He didn’t want to be seen groping the arch for several minutes with his eyes closed. Questions would be asked.
No use telling the foreman about the crack; the man was incompetent. Skarn could imagine how the conversation would go. Skarn would explain the situation, showing the foreman how the slight depression on one side of the arch indicated that there was an unbalanced load. The foreman would stare dumbly at him; then, not able to see the crack, he’d yell at Skarn to stop slacking and get back to work.
Today might even be the man’s first day on a stoneworking crew, thanks to the new labor lottery. And maybe his last. Tomorrow, it could be someone else in charge. The only thing guaranteed by the lottery was a stream of incompetent workers who produced an outpouring of shoddy work.
Skarn glanced through the massive Royal Gates—now open to admit merchant traffic and official business—and down the long tunnel into the Palace courtyard beyond. Just behind him, at the west end of the Market Square, the rest of his work team sat loafing, their tools strewn around them. It was their fourth break in as many hours.
The foreman wasn’t looking his way; in fact, he was nowhere in sight. Probably at a tavern. Skarn hoped so. If the foreman saw him by the Gates, he might bust Skarn from the crew.
Skarn couldn’t afford to lose this job, not when another one might be days or weeks away. He had waited in line for over fourteen hours just to cast his token into today’s labor lottery. It was just luck that he got picked up on a stoneworking crew, where he could actually use his skills.
He should return to his team and continue the repairs back inside the Square. The superficial brick work on the pavement was a menial task for a master of his talent and experience, but it was work. And that meant a few coins for bread and maybe a vegetable or two for Seela and their children, Danae and little Brand.
And yet. If that keystone cracked, people could die. The tunnel would likely collapse. Anyone passing through would be crushed. Maybe the Queen, or a merchant on his way to Palace business, or even some child begging outside the Gates.
He should fix it.
But there was also a little voice inside his head—a voice he despised—saying that if the tunnel collapsed, it would require months of work. Dozens of skilled stoneweavers. The crown would have to suspend the idiotic lottery system. A master stoneweaver like Skarn could name his price. It would be enough work to get his family out of the overcrowded tenement in Tria that they shared with four other families.
And besides, what did he owe the Queen? She had approved the so-called “Edict of Equality” that had banished the use of Talents. Skarn and his family were suffering because of her. Why should he risk imprisonment to safeguard her, using the very Talent she had outlawed?
She had made her fate. Let her suffer the consequences.
Skarn pushed the unworthy thought aside. He couldn’t let someone die, not if he could prevent it.
He glanced around, saw no one was looking, and stepped into the tunnel. He closed his eyes and summoned his Talent. He pressed his fingers hard against the tunnel wall. He couldn’t reach the keystone itself—it was more than ten feet high—but the tunnel would do; his Talent would find a path to the keystone.
Skarn’s breathing slowed. He willed himself to become one with the stone. He shivered, his insides turning icy as his Talent woke. The tips of his fingers hardened and turned grey to match the tunnel wall. A tiny flicker of green light glowed at the edges of the stone.
“Hey! Slacker!” A lanky man sauntered toward him from the Square. Skarn jerked away from the wall and nearly fell over, disoriented from the sudden interruption of using his Talent.
“Drunk too?” said the man. “Boss’ll love to hear this.”
The man stood a head shorter than Skarn. He glared with his mouth open, which was unfortunate, since he was missing several of his front teeth. He was a member of the stoneworking crew today. His name, Skarn suddenly remembered, was Kull.
“Too good to be laying brick, is that it?” Kull accused. He jabbed a cement-crusted finger at Skarn’s tool belt. “The master is too precious to work with the likes of us, huh?”
“I’ve already laid my quota of brick,” said Skarn quietly. He hated the sound of the excuse, even though it was justified under the new labor rules.
Skarn had made short work of his morning quota. He had quickly and quietly laid his section of the rough red brick, brick that was half-baked and crumbling away at the edges, levelling the surface with his triangle plumbline. He had devoted only a small portion of his mind to the task.
“Seems to me you’ve only done half your work. Seems to me I done most of your patch,” Kull was saying.
“That’s a lie,” said Skarn simply.
Kull and the others had sweated and grunted over their small section of uneven paving. Skarn had noted the sullen looks from the rest of his team as he quickly outpaced them. Now it was payback.
“How ‘bout we get the foreman to decide who the liar is?” Kull asked with a smile. He was clearly impressed with his cunning.
“There are over a three dozen winesellers and tavern keepers in the Square,” Skarn said dryly. “If you think you can find the foreman before our shift ends, be my guest.”
Of course, finding the foreman might prove easier than that, especially if one of the crewmen knew the man’s drinking habits. But Skarn kept his face impassive, even relaxed, hoping Kull wouldn’t call his bluff.
Kull glared at Skarn. He took in Skarn’s massive chest and arms, arms that had spent a lifetime lifting and shaping stone. Skarn could almost see the physical calculus slowly work its way through the man’s mind, reaching the adamantine conclusion: Kull would lose a fight with the master stoneweaver.
Just then, a team of oxen rode toward the open Gates, pulling a long train of carts, each of which sagged to the ground under a heavy load. Skarn and Kull pressed themselves to the side of the tunnel.
The caravan of carts rumbled on the brick. Distinctive red canvas with a gold-embroidered sun marked the caravan as property of the Trade Guild. The Master of the guild, Erid Gur, was also High Warden of the prisons and minister to the Queen. He was also, Skarn thought sourly, the architect of the new labor laws.
If he’s riding in that caravan, thought Skarn, it might not be such a bad time for the tunnel to collapse.
Erid Gur held the Queen’s favor. Likely because he held most of the crown’s debt. No wonder the man was so brazen: he dared to robe himself in the crimson and gold colors of the Royal House. Even his caravan was protected by Royal Guards. As the caravan rumbled by, the rear Guardsman appraised the two stoneworkers briefly and looked away, dismissing them as potential threats.
Kull gestured at the departing soldiers. “Suppose I just ask one of them,” said Kull. “See what they say about a worker shirking his duties. Or call for the Guard at the gatehouse.”
Officially, the Royal Guards didn’t handle such matters. But if the Guild got wind of it, or worse, word traveled to Erid Gur, who knows what might happen? The crown’s justice seemed to be in short supply. Skarn couldn’t risk any trouble with the law.
Skarn tried his best to look nonchalant. He even managed a yawn, despite the racing of his heart. “I’m growing tired of your threats, Kull. What will it take to get you to leave me alone?”
For a moment, the ragged workman looked confused, as if he hadn’t expected his crude attempt at extortion to succeed.
But just for a moment. Kull thrust out a dirty hand and the crooked smirk was back on his face. “Three coppers. And you do the rest of my morning quota.”
Three coppers. Half of what Skarn would earn today. With his remaining wage, Skarn could hope to buy only the short end of a week-old loaf.
Before he could respond, another Guild caravan entered the tunnel, forcing the men against the sides again.
Skarn looked from the caravan to Kull. All it would take is one quick shove, thought Skarn. If I time it right, the wretch wouldn’t even have time to scream before the massive iron-shod wheels ground his skull into meal. Skarn’s fingers twitched in anticipation. Kull was facing away from him. As if by its own will, Skarn’s fist rose towards the man’s back.
He jerked his hand back, ashamed at his thoughts.
The caravan passed, raising a mixture of dirt, stone dust, and the miasma of stench; the stench travelled from the sewers and, below them, the Great Dungeon far, far below. When the dust settled, Krull’s grubby hand was back, insolently shoving against Skarn’s chest, soiling his leather work apron.
“Well?” he demanded.
Skarn retrieved a purse from inside his sleeve. He counted out three coppers and let them drop into Krull’s greedy grasp.
“And you lay my brick.”
Skarn nodded impassively.
Krull winked at Skarn and turned away, seizing his prize tightly. No doubt off to find a drink.
Skarn swiftly grabbed Kull’s neck with one massive hand, turned him around, and pinned him against the tunnel wall.