The first draft of Ancients included a lot of what could be called filler content.
Entire chapters were wholesale cut from the book relatively late in development just because they had no purpose. Like the conversation with the blacksmith mentioned in the previous post, they were written for character development, and then never paid off in terms of narrative structure.
And just like Ermolt never needed to throw his weapon, the origin story of Odalric, Prince from the Northlands, had no purpose other than to establish Ermolt’s love for stories of legendary heroes.
The story also worked a little bit of worldbuilding in, especially elaborating on the nomadic lifestyles of the barbarian tribes Ermolt originated from before we had any real idea of how to communicate it to readers. (If you’re not on our mailing list, the free book you get for signing up will give you some of that cut background!)
Not only that, but after the story meanders for a bit, with Elise and Athala cutting in with questions and banter, Ermolt never finishes telling it.
I always believed there would be a place to finish the story later in the book. Some quiet moments here or there where he could pick back up and tell a little more, and ultimately finish the story at some point where there would be a narrative parallel. But this was the only part of the book where the outline gave a moment’s quiet for Ermolt to fill with a fantastical tale of a true hero overcoming all odds, escaping capture, and saving the day in a way that left him an exile.
Ultimately, though, the origin of Odalric wasn’t something that we worked into the outline, much less planned and plotted as its own story. The tale was something I made up on the spot. Our beta readers universally questioned the purpose of the scene, when they didn’t openly complain about how pointless it felt. It was a waste of time. It just didn’t have any payoff.
So the story ended up on the cutting room floor. It was quite a debate to fully cut it, because it revealed a lot of the early worldbuilding for the barbarian tribes, and even if it wasn’t going to pay off in this book, it may have been called back to in later books. Details of the scene might have come up if the heroes ended up travelling to the northlands and having to deal with the different tribes, or even the mountain savages.
Before cutting it, we did discuss the possibility of adding opportunities for Ermolt to continue the story in later books, but ultimately it's just a better book without this meandering tale, and there would be ample opportunities throughout the series to showcase Ermolt’s love for heroes long past.
What also ended up getting cut alongside the story was a lot of the smaller components. Each of the adventurers had a different snack, and Ermolt and Elise had a staring contest over whether or not to leave their garbage behind or pack it out with them. These were good character moments, but without being spread out over the entire scene, it felt like too many details crammed into not enough space.
But you didn’t click in to read “deleted scenes” just for the director commentary. You want to see the goods, right?
Well, here it is, straight from the very first draft of Ancients:
Ermolt shrugged the layers of hide back on over the salve before digging through his pack for his rations of preserved sausage and a mixture of dried fruits. Elise pulled out her own meal of a small pouch of mixed nuts, a fresh apple she had picked up at the market, and a few sticks of celery. The group began eating in silence, but it was quickly broken once Ermolt finished his meat and started on the dried fruit.
“So, did I ever tell you the story of Odalric?” He began. He didn’t wait for a response before continuing, “They say he was an illegitimate prince of the southlands before his father was murdered in a coup. His mother carried him up to the northlands of my people, where he was raised away from those who would kill him for his bloodline as the last living royal heir.”
“I think you’ve told us a tale of him before.” Elise remarked around a mouthful of apple.
“A couple, actually,” Athala added. “But you always say there’s more.”
“Well, I know I probably told you how he fought off the invading beastmen from the southern jungles, and beat them so badly they never returned. That’s one of my favorites. And I wouldn’t be surprised if I already told you about his ascension back to the throne, restoring the royal line. It’s a very dramatic tale. But I don’t know if I told you about how he left my homeland and returned to the southern kingdom in the first place.”
“If you did, I don’t remember it.” Elise shrugged, tossing the core of her apple on top of the pile of discarded weapons Ermolt had set aside.
“Well, you likely would. It happened when the mountain savages were stirred up and came down in numbers never seen before.”
“Wait, I thought you were the mountain savages?” Elise tried to hide her teasing grin.
“No, we’re the northern barbarians. Just because we don’t have cities and kingdoms like you have down here doesn’t mean we’re savages.”
“So what makes the mountain savages… You know. Savages?” Athala asked, curiously.
“For one thing, we don’t eat people. Ermolt grimaced. “The mountain savages are known for cannibalism as an actual source of food. The savage tribes believe that they need to eat beasts as high on the food chain as possible to display dominance over nature, and nothing is higher on the food chain than people. Their primary sources of meat are bears and wolves, but they kill, cook, and eat anyone they deem an enemy of their tribe, whether they be members of a rival tribe, or even criminals of their own.”
“Hm. I had read that all the northmen ate human flesh.” Athala mused, tapping her chin. “Though perhaps not as a source of food?”
“Well,” Ermolt shrugged. “According to tribal elders, the treaties that made peace with the southern kingdoms specifically outlawed cannibalism. Supposedly, old war rituals used to include the eating of the flesh of strong enemies to join their strength to the tribe, but most people believe that was just superstition and rumor. Tall tales told to children to scare them into behaving.” He paused for another bite of dried fruit. “But some of our legends do seem to indicate that our ancestors did believe in absorbing the strength of our fallen foes. The mythological hero Cephalo the Gale is said to have absorbed the strength of a hundred men in his quest to avenge his tribe, though no tale says how.”
“You were telling us about Odalric, though.” Elise reminded him before upturning the last of her pouch of nuts into her mouth.
“Well, the entire tale requires a bit more of a dramatic setting to tell - the climactic moments demand a campfire out in the woods to really capture the mood of the tale - so I may just tell the beginning of the tale, and we can finish it another time. Odalric was but a boy, who didn’t know his parentage. He knew more about handling domesticated buffalo than he did about politics. Word spread among the barbarian tribes that the savage tribes were having a tribesmoot - a gathering of tribal leaders to make decisions to be upheld among all the tribes - which is typically only known among our own people. The mountain savages were believed to be incapable of the trust and unity required for a tribesmoot to have any value.”
“The idea of the mountain savages having a tribesmoot was quite worrying to the barbarian tribes, and they arranged for a tribesmoot of their own to decide what to do. Rumor was that the mountain savages meant to unite and attack as one, giving them the massed strength to overrun and destroy some of the smaller tribes that typically inhabit the foothills within reach of their territory, and possibly press in and severely weaken, if not overcome, some of the more major tribes in the northern reaches, depending on their numbers and strength, which are largely a mystery, since venturing into the mountain savages’ territory is deadly.”
Ermolt took a moment to finish off his dried fruit, and settled back against the wall to rest properly. Elise started in on her celery, and Athala was still nursing her smoked fish, most of her carrots already gone.
“At the tribesmoot, most of the northern tribes wanted to unite and attack in turn, to attempt to wipe out the savages once and for all. But the eastern and western tribes cautioned that the cost would be too great as venturing into the mountains just before winter was more than deadly, it would be a death sentence for thousands of warriors. The southern tribes turned their nose up at the idea as the actions of savages in turn, and they refused to respond to savagery with more savagery.”
“The southern tribes suggested calling for aid from the southern kingdoms, finally allowing them to establish fortresses and military presence in the northlands to impede the savage tribes’ ability to intrude out of their territory. The eastern and western tribes cautioned that it would be giving strength of arms in the north to the southern kingdoms, causing our lands to become a part of their territorial squabbles. The northern tribes bristled at the very idea of giving such power to the southern lands, allowing them to build permanent structures that could lead to the establishment of towns and cities, destroying our nomadic way of life.”
“In the end, a compromise was made. We would unite the strength of all the tribes, and establish our own defenses, walls supported by the ice and snow of the land, that would collapse in the spring thaw, to retain our roots as roving nomads. We would send scouts into the mountains to try and determine their course, and decide our own actions in response, and possibly even make contact with them to determine their intentions, and communicate our desire for a nonviolent solution rather than war.”
Ermolt stood, stretching his arms above his head with a grunt. “I believe I will tell the rest of the story another time, but Odalric was one of those scouts, chosen for his skill at survival in harsh conditions. For whatever reason, Odalric could withstand the cold easily, making him a natural scout into the mountains, able to weather the winter at high altitudes and return alive.” Ermolt started to twist at the hips, stretching his back. “But I’ll get into that another time.” He reached down and touched his toes, straightening up before bending down more normally to recover his hammer. “Are we ready to move on?”
“Athala,” Elise asked, “Are you finished with your meal?”
The wizard looked down at the empty wrappings in her lap. “Yes, it appears so.” She didn’t quite remember finishing, but she remembered eating as Ermolt spoke, so she supposed she’d finished at some point.
“Do you need a minute more to digest, or are you ready to move on?” Elise stuffed the leavings of her own meal into the empty bag that had held the nut mixture, tossing it into the pile of refuse that had began with Ermolt’s weapon examination. She held a hand out to Athala, who was barely in arm’s reach.
Athala thought for a moment as she gathered the wrappings of her lunch, handing them to Elise, who added them to the pile of garbage. “I suppose I’m ready.” She didn’t feel overstuffed from eating when not hungry, attributing it to Elise’s judgement of the group’s progress.
Ermolt frowned at the pile of refuse, folding up his own meal’s wrappings and tucking them back into his pack. Elise gave him a look as she stood, daring him to comment, but he held his tongue. They’d had more than their share of heated discussions about his reasoning for not leaving litter behind, and her justifications for ignoring his arguments.
“So, then,” Elise said, “Let’s get a move on.”
And that, Heroes, was the second edition of Inside View! Check by on the 15th of every month for new posts that give a glance into the hows, whys, and whats of whys of Riley's Heroes by Necessity series!
Until next month!