While I was writing the first draft of WARBREAKER, I toyed with having Mab the cook be sent with Siri to be a lady’s maid. I didn’t intend this while planning the book, but after writing Mab—and having so much fun with her character—I wanted to keep hold of her and let her add some color to Siri’s sections. However, I cut this idea out pretty quickly.
Why cut Mab? Well, a couple of reasons. First off, Siri’s plotline was much more dramatic and emotional if she was forced to leave behind everything she’d known. Giving her a support character like Mab undermined Siri’s plot and growth as a character. Beyond that, Siri’s plots didn’t need more color. We’ve got plenty of interesting characters and experiences coming for her, so the addition of another character wasn’t needed.
I wrote the scenes below, but then realized that my original instincts had been right. I was forced to cut Mab out.
The following scene took place partway through chapter three (chapter two in the final book). To see the scenes in context, you can download version 1.0 here.
The carriage suddenly slowed to a stop. Siri frowned, poking her head out the window again. They hadn’t even reached inhabited land—surely they hadn’t arrived in T’Telir already.
The captain of her soldiers walked up to her window, then pointed to the south. “Rider, my lady,” he said. “Approaching quickly.”
From Idris! Siri realized with sudden shock. Her hair turned bright blonde in anticipation. Father has change his mind. He’s decided to bring me back. He’s sent someone to fetch me. He’s sent. . . .
The overweight cook trotted along on the back of Surefoot, one of the royal horses. She carried a large set of saddlebags, and the poor horse looked as if it were about to die from exhaustion. The soldiers, and Siri, waited in confusion as Mab approached.
“Mab?” Siri finally said as the woman arrived. “What are you doing here? Did you come to bring me home?”
“Goodness, no,” Mab said, wiping her brow. “What do you think I am? Some kind of errand boy?”
“Uh. . . .” Siri said, glancing at the guard captain, who just shrugged.
“I’m here to be your lady in waiting, Siri,” the cook announced.
“My lady in waiting?”
“Aye,” Mab said. “All the ladies down here in the lowlands have them. It wouldn’t be proper for you go in and get married without one. I said so to your father. ‘King,’ I said, ‘she’s goin’ to need herself a lady in waiting.’ ‘Well, you’re right,’ he said. ‘You better go do that thing, Mab,’ he said. So, here I am. You mind if I ride in the carriage with you? It’s kind of hot out here. Forgot about that, here with the lowlands.”
Siri sat quietly, dumbfounded. Finally, however, she nodded. Mab climbed off of her horse—groaning slightly at obvious soreness—then swore a few times, and climbed up into the carriage with Siri.
Well, Siri thought, I guess I won’t be alone.
Chapter five (chapter four in the final book) originally went like this:
Sitting quietly, looking out the carriage of her window, Siri realized something intimidating: her people had no idea what it meant to be ostentatious. Flowers weren’t ostentatious. Ten soldiers protecting a carriage was not ostentatious. Crying in public wasn’t ostentatious.
The field of fifty thousand soldiers, dressed brilliant blue and gold, standing in perfect rows, spears raised high with blue tassels flapping in the wind. . .that was ostentatious. The twin line of cavalrymen atop enormous, thick-hooved horses—both men and beast draped with golden cloth that shimmered in the sun—that was ostentatious. The massive city, spread out before her, so large it made her mind feel numb to consider it, domes and spires and painted walls all competing to draw her attention, that was ostentatious.
She’d thought that she was prepared. The carriage had passed through cities as they’d made their way into Hallandren proper. She’d seen the houses, their outer walls painted with bright colors and patterns. She’d stayed in inns, slept in plush beds that were so soft it had been difficult to sleep. She’d eaten foods mixed with spices that made her sneeze.
Yet, she hadn’t been prepared for her reception in T’telir. Not at all.
“My, my,” Mab said, looking out the other window. “Guess that they’re ready for us, eh?”
Siri nodded, speechless. Her soldiers pulled in tight around the carriage, as if unconsciously wishing they could climb inside and hide from the overwhelming sight of the Hallandren capitol. It was built up against the shores of the Bright Sea, a landlocked body of water that shone true to its name beyond T’Telir.
She knew that the Hallandran liked color. She had known that their cities were bigger than those up in Idris. Yet, that knowledge apparently hadn’t been enough to prepare her.
Blessed Lord of Colors. . . . she thought.
A figure in deep blue and silver robes rode up toward her carriage. Yet, his robes weren’t simple ones, like the monks wore back in Idris. These had massive, peaked shoulders that almost looked like some kind of armor, and a matching headdress. Another might have called it a hat, but it seemed far too ornate. Hats were things one wore in the highlands to keep one’s ears warm. This . . . combined with the exaggerated size of the robes and the brilliant colors, it made Siri want to shrink back into her carriage. She felt her hair paling to a colorless white—curling up and shortening to almost boyish lengths—as the figure road up to her window.
He bowed. “Lady Sisirinah Royal,” the man said in a deep voice, “I am Tridees, high priest of his Grace, Susebron the Majestic, Returned, God and King of Hallandren. Please, accept this token honor guard to guide you to the Court of Gods.”
Token? Siri thought.
The priest was obviously waiting for a response. But, Siri found she just couldn’t speak. It was all too much.
“The lady’s right pleased with the reception, Cutie,” Mab said, leaning over. “You can take us right on in, then.”
The priest raised an eyebrow, perhaps at being called ‘cutie.’ “And you are?” he asked.
“Mab. Her highness’s head lady in waiting.”
“I . . . see,” the man said, but nodded his well-hatted head and turned his horse about.
Siri watched for a few more moments, waiting until the procession started going again. Then, finally, she tore her eyes away from the display and glanced at Mab. The cook leaned with one elbow against the window, idly watching out the window.
“I don’t think you should have been so rude to him,” Siri said.
“What?” Mab said. “That priest? Nonsense. That’s the only way to treat them. Far too full of themselves, those ones.”
Siri paused. “Wait. You’ve in Hallandren before?”
“Course I have, dear,” Mab said. “Course I have. Now, you’ll want to watch out your window. You only get to enter T’Telir for the first time once!”
Siri frowned, but eventually did as suggested. The truth was, she was too overwhelmed to do much else. As they rolled down the highway, they left the jungle behind. Siri watched it go with trepidation—though the highlands had been very different from the wild, overrun forests of the lowlands, she had been as far down as the treeline a couple of times. With the jungle went her last real thread of familiarity.
The forest gave way to sporadic bunches of palm trees, and Siri was surprised to see how much sand was mixed with the dirt. However, her view of the landscape soon grew obstructed by the vast field of soldiers who stood at attention on either side of the road.
“My,” Siri said as they rolled through the blue and gold ranks, “they certainly are trained well. They hardly seem to be breathing.”
“They ain’t breathing, dear,” Mab said. “Those are Lifeless. They form the armies down here.”
Siri’s hair—which had begun to drift to auburn—snapped to fearful white again. “That’s impossible,” she said. “Those can’t be Lifeless. They look like men!”
Mab chuckled. “Well, what else would they look like? You bring a corpse back from the dead, and it starts to look like a chicken instead?”
“No, but. . . .” Siri trailed off, thinking of the stories. She’d imagined Lifeless as skeletal creatures, the flesh rotting and falling from the bones. “I didn’t think they’d be so . . . whole.”
“They ain’t whole,” Mab said. “They’ve got no life. Look closely—you’ll see that they’re skin is grey.”
Indeed, as Siri studied closer, she was able to see that the faces beneath the helmets had no color in them whatsoever. The eyes, the skin, even the hair—it looked as if it had been drained completely of color, leaving behind only a monochrome grey.
Siri Shivered. “Like Drabs,” she said.
Mab laughed again. “Hardly. Drabs are hard to pick out, even if they’re standin’ next to a man with full Breath. I doubt you’d be able to tell the difference, dear.”
“Then what happened to them?” Siri asked.
“They died, and then got Awakened again, they did,” Mab said. “Turned into soldiers. Ain’t got minds, but they can fight well enough, so I hear. Still, their bodies need to work, just like a regelar man’s. Cut them open, and they’ll die again. Or stop workin’. Or whatever happens to such things.”
Siri shook her head, watching the rows of mindless creatures stand at attention. Now that she knew what they were, their unnatural features seemed to stand out to her. Still, unmoving eyes—the eyes of dead men. Grey skin. No shuffling, no breathing, no quivers of muscle or limb. They were like statues, an image only heightened by their grey skin.
“And . . . they worship these things?” Siri asked numbly. I’m going to marry one.
“Oh, of course not,” Mab said. “Didn’t you pay attention in those classes of yours? Those aren’t Returned, they’re Lifeless.”
Siri flushed, and she saw a twinkle in Mab’s eyes. The aging cook knew that Siri had often ignored her lessons. What would have been the point? After all, she was never going to have to go down to Hallendran. . . .
Eventually, they passed beyond the ranks of Lifeless, something that made Siri quite glad. The city gates were next, dauntingly large, but again not what Siri had expected. They were almost more artistic than they were functional. The walltop was curved in massive half-circles, like rolling hills, and the rim above was plated with a golden metal. The gates themselves were in the form of two twisting, lithe sea creatures who curved up in a massive archway, the gates themselves open to let the carriage and the cavalry escort—which appeared to be composed of living men—through.
Siri had always imagined Hallendren to be a place of death. In her mind, the city walls had been built of skulls, then painted with ugly streaks of color. She’d assumed things would be splattered awkwardly with different hues, the colors used obscenely. That was, after all, how people in her homeland spoke of Hallandren.
And true, some of what was said was true. There was an arrogance about the place. A grandness, a determination to grab her attention and shake her about by her eyes. And yet, as she grew a little more accustomed to the overload of color, she recognized beauty in what she saw. It was garish, but it was a vibrant, enthusiastic garishness.
People lined the street, crowding together to watch her carriage pass. If there were poor among them, Siri couldn’t tell, because they all wore such bright colored clothing. True, there were some in more exaggerated outfits—probably merchants, since Hallandren was said to have no nobility beyond its Gods—but even the simplest of clothing had a cheerful brightness to it. Siri found herself smiling, though she felt a headache coming on.
Maybe . . . maybe this is why Father sent me, Siri thought. Vivena wouldn’t have been able to stand all of this. Training or no training, she would have never fit in here. But me, unable to control my hair, always doing what’s wrong.
It made sense. Strange sense, true, but everything about her life had been strange lately. Her father was king—he had instincts that nobody else understood. What if, after twenty years of raising and training Vivena, he had realized that she just wasn’t the daughter who could best help Idris?
I . . . I can do this, Siri thought as the carriage moved toward the southern section, a higher up section. Everyone fears that Hallandren will invade Idris, treaty or no treaty. That’s why Father had to send one of his daughters to assuage them.
That’s my job. My duty. I need to please their God, and keep him from attacking my people.
It felt strange, realizing that she had a duty. It was something unfamiliar to her, and not a little unsettling.
But, she’d been sent. For the first time in either of their lives, Father had chosen Siri over Vivena. He trusted her, trusted her with the very fate and lives of his people. She couldn’t run, or escape, or hide. She had to go into this with determination.
She was unprepared because of her own foolishness. Well, she’d just have to overcome that.
As the carriage continued its way, Siri remarked again on how large the city was. It sprawled like a tired beast, curled around and over hills, running almost up to the water’s edge itself. As the carriage climbed the southern section of town, she could see—through breaks in the buildings—that T’Telir ran almost up to the water’s edge. The Bright Sea broke into a bay before the city, and T’Telir curved around it, forming a crescent shape. The city wall, then, only had to run in a half-circle, abutting the sea, keeping the city somewhat boxed in.
It wasn’t cramped, however. There was a lot of open space in the city—walkways and gardens, large swaths of land protected by the wall but currently unused for building. Palms lined many of the streets, and foliage was common. And, with the cool breeze coming over the sea, the area was actually a lot more temperate than she had expected.
Her carriage continued, the road leading to something of a sea-side overlook, a small hill plateau that had an excellent view of the sea. Except, it appeared to be surrounded by a large, obstructive wall. Siri frowned as the gates to this smaller, city-within-a-city opened up to let the carriage, soldiers, and priests enter.
The people stayed on the outside.
“Ain’t never been in here before,” Mab noted, a little bit of awe in her voice.
There was another wall inside, a kind of barrier to keep anyone outside from seeing in through the gate. As those gates closed behind, the procession turned left and rounded the blinding wall, entering the Hallandran Court of Gods.
The enclosed courtyard held mansions. Two or three dozen of them, spread out on an open plain, each of them painted a distinct color. At the far end was a massive black structure.
The walled courtyard was quiet and still. She could see some figures sitting on balconies, watching the procession as it passed, but nobody lined the streets. The large building loomed ahead. It was slightly pyramidal in shape, with step-like blocks climbing up the outside, but it was distorted in places, with random geometries inserted.
Siri sat quietly. Black, she thought. In a city of color. Her hair curled nervously.
“Mab,” she said. “What do you know about the king?”
The cook was silent for a few moments. “Not much, child,” she finally said.
“The Lifeless,” Siri said. “They weren’t as bad as I thought—I mean, they weren’t decomposing or anything like that. And the city, it was actually kind of cheerful. I thought . . . maybe some of the things people say about the God King aren’t true either.”
Mab was silent.
Oh, dear. . . . Siri thought. Austre, God of Colors, watch over me. She suddenly wished she’d spent more of her life being more religious. Somehow, she doubted Austre was all that impressed with her. She even had trouble naming the Five Visions most days.
But, he’d watch over her in the name of her people, wouldn’t he?
“The emperor’s word is law, child,” Mab said. “And, he’s said to have little patience. I right think that might be true, since there were occasionally executions when I lived here. Sometimes, the only explanation given was that it was done by order of the King of the Gods.”
The carriage rolled a little farther.
“He doesn’t talk to regelar people,” Mab said. “The Court of the Gods isn’t closed to peasants—you can come in and make Petitions to the Gods, and even see the emperor in court, if you’re lucky. But, he doesn’t even talk to other Returned. He speaks directly into the minds of his high priests. His voice is too holy for regelar men.”
The carriage rolled a little farther.
“He’s never been alive,” Mab said. “Stillborn at birth, they say. The other Returned, they come back when they die. But he . . . he’s never really been alive. Doesn’t see things like you and I. He’s a man of passions, supposedly. Terrible passions. He’s . . . like a storm. A force, like a tornado or an earthquake.”
“Why do the people follow him, then?” Siri asked quietly.
Mab laughed. “Why do we follow Austre, girl? We can’t even see him. The God King, he is a power, and people look to things with power—no matter how much it hurts sometimes.”
Siri closed her mouth.
The procession pulled to a stop at the base of the enormous, triangular building. Siri looked up through the window, seeing the clefts and knobs up at the top, which made the architecture seem top-heavy. She almost felt as if the dark blocks above would come tumbling down in an avalanche to bury her.
The priest rode his horse back up to Siri’s window. The horsemen waited quietly, the shuffling of beasts the only sound in the massive, open courtyard.
“We have arrived, your highness,” the man said. “As soon as we enter the building, you will be prepared and taken to your husband.”
“Husband?” Siri asked uncomfortably. “But, won’t there be a wedding.”
The priest smirked. “A ceremony? The God King needs no such things. His will doesn’t need validation or justification, it simply is. You became his wife the moment he desired it, and to know another would have been adultery on your part.”
Siri frowned, feeling her hair finally creep out of its whiteness and grow twinged with red.
“I was just hoping that maybe I could see him, before, you know. . . .”
The priest shot her a harsh look. “The God King does not perform for your whims, woman. You are blessed above all other people, for you will be allowed to touch him—if only at his discretion. Do not presume to take liberties or pretend you are anything other than you are. You have come because he desires it, and you will obey his will. Otherwise, you will be put aside and another chosen in your place—which, I think, might bode unfavorably for your rebel friends in the highlands.”
Rebel friends? Siri thought, the priests forceful words making her pull back slightly.
The priest spun his horse, then clopped his way toward a large stone ramp, leading up to the building. The carriage lurched into motion, and Siri was drawn forward to be presented before her new husband.
Siri stepped from the carriage, and was swarmed by dozens of servants. They all wore blue and silver, like the priest who had led her into the palace, and they bustled around her, pulling her away. Siri turned, alarmed, looking back toward Mab and the carriage. The cook met her eyes, but her expression was reisgned.
Siri turned away, steeling herself. She’d come to the palace to be wedded, and was resolved to make a favorable impression on the God King. That didn’t stop her hair from bleaching slightly from her anxiety, but it did give her enough stubborn determination to walk forward on her own unstead of getting pulled along. The serving women moved around her, leading her down a side-corridor into the deep black palace. The last remnants of her former life disappeared behind her.
After this paragraph, like the rest of Siri’s former life, Mab disappears from the book and is never seen again. I knew by this point in the writing process that I needed to go back and cut her from all of the scenes you see here. But I waited to actually do that until I got to the second draft. Instead, I just plowed forward in the writing and pretended I had already cut her.
In my writing process, finishing a draft is more important than getting everything right from the start. There are some writers who get caught in a revision trap, and keep revising chapter one over and over again before starting to write chapter two. That’s not productive.
Once I have my rough outline in place, I write a draft straight through. If I see a problem, I often leave solving it for later—and I often discover later in the book or after the draft is complete how I should go back and solve that problem. Once I’ve reached the end of the draft and know exactly how everything needs to end up, the solutions to those early problems are much easier to find. And even if I already know a solution, going back to fix it often isn’t an efficient use of my time. Writing and revising are different skills, and when I’m in a writing frame of mind it’s best not to turn on the revision mindset until the draft is complete.