That is the question. Well, at least it’s today’s question.
This 2017 article from Writers Digest says that agents are immediately wary of a submission that contains a prologue. I came across something else that said authors should not write prologues since people tend to skip reading them. Say what?!
As a reader, I’m not one of those people. As a writer, I treat the prologue with the same reverence and attention that I give to chapter one. But the point in the linked article about slowly weaving the information in your prologue throughout the book instead of dumping it at the front got me thinking. Can I delete the prologue from NightWind?
I’m nearly finished with NightWind at this point. But, after some serious thought, I’ve decided that no, I cannot. Perhaps this is a case of being too connected to something I’ve written, but I just can’t let it go! I love my prologue in spite of its shortcomings (first for being a prologue, and then for also being a rather LONG prologue! I’m still working on figuring out where I can cut).
Today, I thought I’d share my prologue as it exists in its current form (any type in red is what I’m considering cutting). And, if you have feedback or ideas of where to cut, I’d appreciate your thoughts in the comments! Thank you!
Prologue to NightWind
Rina could still taste the acrid flavor of the oath in her mouth, an oath that bound her for life. It tasted vaguely of the bitter melon that once grew in curling vines in her mother’s garden. This same oath, that led Niko to his death, now led her along the pebbled path through the Shrine of a Thousand Doorways to the top of Mt. Yama.
Mt. Yama, mountain of secrets, held a history that stretched back eons; from the whipping winds that buoyed the Aviators’ wings to the strange Mystics who fueled the Mantinean way of life and the dozens of legends that bound and guided the people of Burga.
Rina rubbed rough fingers against the dark pants of her uniform. The stiff material was thick and warm against the breeze, the shine of pomp and circumstance on her collar, a curling pattern of gold leaves, evident even in the thin light. Up ahead, the path took a sharp curve and inclined steeply, taking her further up the mountain and farther away from the life she had known.
Would Niko be proud that she had joined the Aviators? Or would he have warned her away? Was she, too, fated to be a ghost on the battlefield? These questions no longer mattered, for the sacred words had passed her lips and, once spoken, they could not be taken back.
“Niko, be with me, brother.” Rina scanned the arches of another doorway, her forehead crinkling with curiosity as she found another strange symbol etched into the ancient timbers. What had Niko been thinking as he made the journey to the top? Did his heart beat roughly in his chest just as hers did now?
Mt. Yama shifted like a half-sleeping beast beneath her feet and she thought of the hidden barracks of the Mystics, the guardians and the keepers of the mysterious spark which she would soon wear, ensconced in a lightning tube, upon her back.
Far below, tiny lights from Burgan windows glittered in the darkness, awaiting the approaching storm. She was a long way from the kiln now. A soldier. Bound to the regent. Bound to her brothers, her fellow Aviators. She climbed onward.
Rina passed through another doorway carved from the dark flesh of an ebony wood tree, the design chiseled by a patient and dedicated craftsman. Oval pillars stood at stark attention, bearing an overzealous crossbeam on their shoulders. Sweeping arches drew the eyes skyward, an homage to the great goddess, Nia. One thousand doorways, meticulously carved, and each one stood out like a dark spindle on the back of the mountain.
As a girl, Rina had been warned away from the great mountain. Fascination with the ancient relic drew her just as stories of fire-breathing snow lions kept her away, her eyes wary and her nights filled with terrifying visions. “Nothing but a pile of ash will be left if they catch you,” her mother had warned. The legendary lions were long extinct, but their memory lived on.
Somewhere off the path, animal claws grappled with the rocky mountain face and the beast let loose a howling snarl. Despite herself, Rina flinched and the angry arc of gold that curved from her left eye down to the corner of her lip flashed like a jagged burst of lightning in the moon’s wan glow. Clouds gathered.
The air grew colder and the musk of rain tickled her nose. A mountain wind forced the lithe trees into a bow, their leaves a splay of color. With angry fingers, Rina combed her hair, black as night and newly shorn, from her face. Like her face, her hair had once been a mark of her beauty. Now it lay, a tamed river of black that ended abruptly at her shoulders. The mark upon her face had not been her choice.
In the beginning, she had kept track, counting the doorways as she trekked ever upward. The silence of the mountainside was tranquil, the trickle of the nearby stream calming. Hours ago she had lost count. And then the sun began to sink behind the mountain.
A crackle of lightning and then a growl of thunder warned of the impending storm. Soon it would let forth a deluge, like a dam held too long, upon the side of the mountain. A few thick drops pelted the ground around her as she passed through another arch.
The glow of a lantern up ahead filled her with hope. She stepped into the wash of light and beheld the final staircase, rough slabs carved into the rock of Yama herself. A brisk wind buffeted her and her boots skidded along the smooth stones. Rina stumbled, her knee banging painfully against the rock beneath her. Her hands moved shakily to the ground and she bowed her head, wet locks of jet in her face.
She took a haggard breath and looked up. Just beyond the last lantern stood two figures. The Mystics. Rina gathered her strength and found her feet, her gaze focused ahead on the shadows who awaited her.
When her boots crunched on the gravel at the top of the stairs, both figures turned and stepped into the light. The elder Mystic, a man of countless decades, with a square chin and stringy gray hair approached her first. The cobalt eyes of the younger man flickered over her. In his hands he carried her new wings, a mechanical marvel of black and white feathers, special arcs of metal and a glittering lightning tube.
“Welcome, Rina.” The elder Mystic spoke softly, the wind whipping his long tunic.
“Thank you, Master Moriyo.” Rina took a breath, curbing the quaver that came into her voice.
Moriyo nodded to her respectfully and gestured to the younger man. “Mystic Eli has been hard at work, building a special set of wings for you, our first female Aviator.” His lips quirked into a small smile. “Aviatrix I have called you in my thoughts.”
Rina bent her head humbly, though a smile broke her face into a charming blush. “Thank you, Master Moriyo.”
“Master Moriyo,” Mystic Eli urged. “The storm approaches.” There was tenderness in his voice and a tinge of worry. Lightning flashed once more and his eyes caught the glare of gold that covered Rina’s vicious scar.
“Ah yes. Rina, the order does not require you to take your flight this night.”
Rina blinked. “It doesn’t?” Her brother had described his trek up the mountain, his exhaustion and then the rush of exhilaration as he leapt from the apex to complete his initiation. No hesitation or the wings would fail. Jump or die.
“A rough storm approaches with winds coming from the peak of the mountain herself. It’s a dangerous first flight. There will be no harm in waiting for fairer weather to take your leap of faith.”
Rina wiped raindrops from her face and bit her lip. The old Mystic seemed sincere. His strange gray eyes were large in his heavily wrinkled face and he clasped his hands in earnest. She peered out over the edge of the mountain and a wind almost immediately thrust her forward. She’d never flown before, never tested a set of wings. But that was just the way of things. A leap of faith. Either the soldier took wing or plummeted to their death.
Never before had a woman been selected to fill one of the sacred roles as a member of the Aviator battalion. Rina had already borne the penalty of being the first. She reached up absently and touched the gold paint that covered the angry red scar on the side of her face. To back down now would only invite further jeering. “I will jump, Master Moriyo.”
“Are you sure?”
“So be it.” Respect warmed his eyes. Master Moriyo gestured and the young Mystic came forward into the torchlight.
The wings were folded into themselves in a small cube, thick feathers illuminated by the glittering spark that flitted along the wire inside the lightning tube. As Eli approached, Rina’s eyes were drawn to the slivers of silver marks etched into his skin. The unreadable symbols snaked down into the folds of his shirt.
The young Mystic stepped behind her holding out the shoulder straps for her. Then he set about connecting the wings to the stiff leather Aviator jacket. With the last bolt in place, Eli returned to his place beside his master.
“The leap of faith is a test, the ultimate test,” Master Moriyo continued. “This morning you took your oath. Now you must prove your fealty to those words and to the spark.”
Jump or die.
The weight of the wings on her shoulder blades was surprisingly light and Rina wondered how she would ever stay aloft. But there was nowhere to go but down. Fly or die. She swallowed her doubt and toed the ledge. Wind howled in her ears. The clouds had enveloped the moon and rain whistled as it hurtled to the earth. Her eyes closed, full darkness descending like a curtain, lungs filling with icy air and the tang of the mountain. Rina stepped off the ledge and embraced the wind.