I have finished the first draft of one novel, and the process of playing with past history, have discovered another waiting to be written. This would be well and good—refine the one, then write the other—but so much of what exists in the current novel is based on what happened in the past. The more I chip away at either, the more I think I must complete the second to fully refine the first one.

I thought it would be a lark. I would take a month off from my novel “The Fell of Dark”, gad about in ancient history and write a silly novel about the beginnings of the Brengiard, the queen’s warriors, to explain why female bodyguards are a long-standing tradition in Eidran, as old as the Sereneidri. I chose the name “Terwyn” for my character because it annoys both me and her, and set her up for a teenage unrequited love, thinking to write a coming-of-age tale. But it changed.

I couldn’t complete it during NaNoWriMo both because I was too busy (5 medevacs in 3 weeks? REALLY?) and because I couldn’t articulate her feelings. In the process of creating a character locked into a war she has been fighting her whole life, who has seen death and dealt it out, who lives in vigilance and fear and never, never gives up—who embodies the faithful soldier who returns to their patrol or guard tower day after day after long, tedious and yet nerve-wracking day—it all became too real.

I was a teen when the towers fell. I joined the military two years later, believing that if I had the physical and mental ability to defend my country, I was morally obligated to do so in place of those who could not. I have never regretted that decision, but some days I am unsure how much longer I can keep deploying. Putting my life on hold and sacrificing consistency in relationships and even employment by years spent on the other side of the globe. Living in the expectation of attack, despite all evidence of peace. Bearing witness to war.

This deployment has been a practice of patience, enduring through uncomfortable heat, humidity, dust in another barren corner of the world by showing up to do my job day after day. Faithfulness in the face of monotony, without thanks or the possibility of pride in the work other than a job completed consistently and well—this has been the mission we have performed. It is not valiant. It is not glorious or exciting. It is not aggressive or progressive. We waited, and we were ready. Nothing happened.

Last week we had a bomb threat, serious enough to send my unit into a full alert. All I could think is “Oh God, don’t let it start here. Please don’t let it start here.” And I waited at the clinic, not believing I would not hear that muffled thump, feel the walls shake around me, waited to see the blood and bodies of those I knew.  It has been a quiet year, but it is hard to forget learned fear.

Terwyn is afraid, but she always fights. Always. And yesterday I had an epiphany about her story, about why it was coming so hard to me. I had started from the beginning of the entropy, centered around her lost love and the battle to save Eidran. But the essence is her, her faithfulness at the hardest of times, her stubborn loyalty. It is impossible to see her life clearly except through the lens of her torture and death:  she is a soldier who will sacrifice over and over, knowing exactly what it will cost her.

It is so much more than I thought, so much harder and terrifying. I don’t know how to write this. I only know I must.


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