Candidate #5: The Girl in the Goblin Tower

If you don’t know what this is, start here. Then you can read the rest of the candidates, if you want: Slave Chip, Relief: A Place to Back Up, The Red Girl, The Summer I Met Mercy. I’ll be here when you get back.

More than halfway done! I feel like I should make a speech.

So, this next excerpt is from a piece I started many many months ago… probably a couple of years ago… and got farther into than any novel I had ever started. I wrote nearly 7,000 words before stopping. I never wrote that much in a story again until my current 85k WIP that is now resting sleepily while we play our game of intros.

The idea came to me in a dream, if I remember correctly, though I often dream while awake so who knows. I was thinking about Sam & Frodo in the tower in Mordor, where Sam rescues Frodo from the goblins (or was it orcs?) who had dragged him from Shelob’s nest. An image flashed across my mind: A stringy-haired girl slinking in a corner of the room after the goblins have fled. Sam is unreasonably angered by her presence, threatens her until she shrinks away, and promptly erases her existence from his mind. Frodo believes the exchange to be a part of his poison-induced nightmare, barely remembers it later, let alone mentions it.

The girl in the goblin tower is, for the purposes of the story of the Ring, unseen. But she sees everything. What is she doing there?

Her story gradually unfolded in my mind, stretching out into a vast line running parallel to the canonical tale of the Ring, just under the surface of its male-dominated narrative, invisible because threatened into submission, and forgotten. I got a bug in me to tell her tale. Here’s its opening.

The Girl in the Goblin Tower

A girl stood hunched at the edge of the wood. She was not much to look at, hardly even noticeable. A skinny wisp, barely four feet tall, with hollow eyes, a longish face, and stringy dark blond hair hanging lankly down her back. Human. She was gazing open-mouthed at the tower.

Varda, for that was her name, closed her mouth and, trembling, stepped forward again. She had a mission, and it was only too like her to forget it in her ludicrous awe.

Between the woods and the tower stood a wall, and within the wall a village. The gate stood open.

She had not known her home was so small and dirty until she saw how other villages were. She found more food in a single garbage heap now than she had seen anywhere in her entire village in weeks. And this village, the one at the foot of the tower, was finer than any of them.

The shops were upright and swept, with colorful fabrics decorating the entrances. The walkways were smooth and the grass green and trim. The people here, like the other villages along the way, were mostly human. But here also were peculiar creatures drawn from the tales: Dwarves, nyads, dryads, maybe even an elf or two.

As usual, no one paid her much attention. Nevertheless, her lips remained parted, ready with a word of obsequy in case she should offend anyone.

The tower jutted upward, sprouting directly from the earth. No homes or temples or other buildings leaned up against it. No trees crowded the walls. A tower so high that the top was obscured in mist.

Varda tried to swallow and found that her mouth was too dry. She felt that she could not go on. She wished that some act of grace would wipe her from the face of the earth so that she would not have to enter the tower. Then a greater fear overtook her: What if she could not enter the tower?

The road approached directly to the outer wall of the tower and then simply stopped. She could see no door or other means of ingress. The tower appeared impregnable. So then perhaps she had been lied to. No surprise, if truth be told. Perhaps her journey served for nothing but to provide one less mouth for her village to feed. She understood.

Still, it stung. Had they told her the truth, she would have left no less willingly. She would have liked the dignity of knowing.

She continued forward. If she could not enter the tower, she would at least touch it. Afterward, she would return home and tell how much food there is to be had in the other villages. She herself might spend the rest of her life sneaking and taking from garbage heaps. There were worse ways to live, and only one way to die.

When she reached the tower she saw that a clever arrangement of the glossy dark stone concealed the opening from a distance. She would be able to enter after all, to place her plea before the feet of the Great Sar Gral.

An unfamiliar feeling arose within her, frightened her. It was a bright, restless feeling, close to desire but higher–and more dangerous–in tone. Later she would learn to call it hope. She squelched it with her old familiar friend, terror.

She crouched to retch into the grass by the road, and afterwards crawled forward toward the tower, unable to walk upright any longer.

The moment that she crawled past the threshold, into the shaded interior of the tower, the air chilled. In front of her was a second wall, and to both sides were openings, presumably into the interior of the tower. The polished stone floor was cold and her shivering grew so that she could not hold her hands still. Shaking, she pushed herself against a wall and slid into a standing position, crept toward the left side opening, then propelled herself into the interior in a sudden thrust of terror.

And then there he was. She had not expected an immediate audience. She had not expected anything. She had thought perhaps disappointment again. But not this, not Him, right here before her. She was too stunned to be terrified.

He was magnificent.

Twice her height, wrapped in glowing white raiment, his face gleaming with its own light. White hair, white beard, white hood. Holding a long black staff in one hand with a brilliance shining at the top. And he was looking at her. As though he had expected her. As though he noticed she was there.

She found she was no longer trembling. She found she was no longer weak. She found she was looking directly into his eyes. And he was looking directly into hers. His expression was interested. Piqued, even. And also something else… wary? Was he afraid of her? What did it mean?

After a long moment, he spoke. “Your favor is granted.”

And then he turned and started away. “Wait!” she cried. “What do you mean?” And then without thinking, she launched into the speech she had repeated to herself almost continuously since leaving home: “We are not a wealthy people, but we beseech your goodness. We will find a way to repay you if you will tell us what it will cost…”

A smile played at the corners of his mouth, and she stumbled to silence. So he was not angry with her then.

“I mean what I say,” he said. “Your favor is granted. Your village is saved. The curse is lifted and they will eat again–already the feast is laid before them. Twas a paltry wish and easily granted.”

“As for payment,” he said, “It will cost only your life.”

Then he was gone and she lay shivering upon the floor.

4 thoughts on “Candidate #5: The Girl in the Goblin Tower

  1. I like this. It reminds me of Lev Grossman in that I keep guessing who everyone is and who might come into play. At first I thought you were writing about Osgiliath, then I thought this was Saruman and his tower. Reading your description again, I guess it is Osgiliath?

    I feel that some details need to be added to this to have more impact, but I think that would come with fleshing her character and quest out more. At the moment, I’m intrigued.

    • She said “reminds me of Lev Grossman” and then I don’t remember anything else after that because “REMINDS ME OF LEV GROSSMAN.”


      [I started to say who Sar Gral & which tower, but then I thought maybe you'd enjoy continuing to guess if I decide to move forward with the piece, so I didn't. If you really want to know I'll tell you though.]

      I’m sure I’ve got details all skewed to heck. If I decide to write it, I’ll be immersing myself in LOTR while I do, which will be pretty fun in itself, and the details will get cleared up.

      Thanks for the feedback. And I know you only meant “reminds me of Lev Grossman” in the sense of how you keep guessing who’s who, and I’ll still take it. I did have him in mind a bit as I was editing, thinking how even though it’s sort of like fan fiction, if Lev can reinterpret Narnia and be commercially successful, I can reinterpret LOTR and still hope to sell my work.

  2. Interesting beginning, would need some fine-tuning on the introduction of your protagonist I think, but honestly some of that is just personal preference–Tolkien’s world is richly described and he was prone to launching into rambles about what things looked like, so it’s no surprise if you do that just a little when your source material is so focused on visuals.

    What I liked about Varda was that she didn’t even know what hope was, and that she expected to be disappointed–she assumed she had been tricked before she assumed there was a way into the tower.

    I’m seeing by the end that there’s a curse (or perceived to be a curse) on her village that has made them hungry, but I’m a little confused as to how she can be sent on a quest to right this without herself knowing that her village was hungrier than it should be. I like that she had no basis for comparison though.

    And you don’t take very long to get to that one compelling line about how the payment for helping her village will be “her life.” That’s good too.

    I’m surprised you’ve never gotten more than 7,000 words into a story before and then you leapt from that to a completed novel. But you probably know by now how ridiculous my perspectives on word counts are. :D

    • Thanks, Julie! I appreciate your sharing specifically what you like–it’s both encouraging and instructive, and helps me get a finer grasp on who Varda is (at first the characters just come to me and do stuff and think stuff and I don’t really know why, so when someone else tells me things about them, I go, “Oh, okay, that makes sense” and then it’s easier to figure out what they’ll do in other situations).

      I also appreciate your sharing your confusion–the village has always been poor and dirty, but the curse has sent it into abject, desperate poverty (people dying, etc). Obviously, that’s not very clear, so it’s something for me to work on.

      On the 7,000 words–yeah, I’m convinced I’m somewhere on the manic-depressive (bipolar WHATEVER) scale (except not really, because I know people who are bipolar and it’s no walk in the park and I don’t want to demean their experience by comparing my own to theirs) because I definitely have a “switch” somewhere in me that leads to drastic sudden changes from time to time.

      Several events in April & May flipped my switch to “Finish a D**n Novel” mode and I haven’t slowed down since. Except for the little break I’m taking, but that’s part of the plan.

      And actually, I don’t know your perspectives on word counts. I’m definitely curious now!

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