SPOILERS - Don't read this page until after you've read the book! (It won't make sense anyway)
I think I cut more from forest born than I did from any other book. Over the dozen drafts, I just kept cutting huge chunks and writing new ones. I easily cut an entire book's worth of material from the novel. I just kept going the wrong way with the story. Here are a few random scenes I deleted over various drafts.
[The original scene where Rin decides to leave the Bayern palace and follow Isi and the other girls. I ended up rewriting this scene entirely several times. Don't know why it was so tricky to work through.]
Rin packed a leather knapsack with her knife, her hunting sling, a cloak, a change of clothes, a leather waterskin, and bread from supper. She sat on her cot and hugged the bag, her insides too muddled and twisted to rest. She would get up with the company in the morning, she would stand by the wagon where Tusken and the queen would ride, and...no, she could not ask to go. But she planned to looked pathetic and hopeful, and perhaps Isi would not turn her away.
Stay with the queen, that was what she had to do. Keep moving. Like swimming. Last summer some of her nieces and nephews had dammed the stream and made a pool. They discovered pretty quickly that if they did not keep moving in the deep spots, they would sink. Whenever Rin was alone, the world still, nothing to do but think, she felt that sinking sensation in her middle, she felt the terror seize her, she worried her head would go under and she would drown inside her own self.
Keep moving, she thought.
"Rin?" Isi peeked into the antechamber. She was in her dressing gown, carrying a shielded candle. The light washed her pale face, yellow hair and white clothes in the same shade of gold. She looked like an image stamped on a coin, and her beauty at that moment made Rin hold her breath.
"Is Tusken all right?"
"Yes. Asleep," Isi whispered. She sat on the edge of Rin's bed. "He's coming east with us. He'll be safe with me, and Dasha and Enna too. And the soldiers. He will, I know it, I do..." She took a breath. "Safer than away from me. But I'll be busy, and I could use some help."
"I think we'll be safe together, but--"
"I'll go," Rin said again.
Isi smiled. "Good." She patted her arm before padding back to bed.
Rin relaxed against her pillow. Isi would not casually risk her son's life, so he must be safe with his mother, and Enna and Dasha too. Everyone must be safe with them somehow. Even Rin. Hopefully Razo too. She let her gaze linger over the shadows huddled in the corners of the quiet room, the empty bed where Cilie used to sleep, and tried to imagine how Isi could change her, make her safe enough to be at home in her own self. Be her Ma's girl again.
Suddenly her blanket did not seem thick enough to keep back the night chill. What a big, open world waited out there, how many strange dangers--not the kind she knew, like unexpected falls into Forest ravines or cuts that did not heal. But fire coming out of nowhere, people who wanted to harm. To kill. It made no sense. She wrapped her arms around herself under the blanket and imagined she was inside her mother's embrace.
Rin had not meant to sleep at all, but soon her thoughts twisted into the thin, slippery images of dreams--trees crowding around, wind sucking away all the air, the entire world reduced to a tight airless box. It felt like only moments later that the steady rhythm of a drum woke her, making her heart push harder to beat in time. It was the morning drum making the rounds through the palace corridors, calling out all those who were to leave on the expedition. She breathed hard, just to make sure she still could, then leapt up, shouldered her knapsack, and went to fetch Tusken.
Isi was dressed in a brown tunic with leggings for riding, her hair in one long plait down her back, unadorned. She did not look royal. But for her yellow hair, Rin thought she might have fit right in at the Homestead. She was sitting on the edge of her bed holding a sleeping Tusken.
"I love holding him like this. He sleeps like a buried stone." She laughed quietly, rubbing her wet cheeks with the back of a hand. "I didn't realize I was crying. I don't know why I am. It's just that I love him so much..."
She broke off, shaking her head and half-smiling. Rin considered that this was a time when others might say something comforting. If she could say, "The king's bound to be fine. If he'd died, they would've sent a second messenger," that would ease Isi's burden of worry some. But what if she was wrong--how could she make false promises or fill silence with invented niceties? The sight of Tusken's sweet sleeping face and the red lines of worry creasing Isi's brow made Rin wish she could give up her own self in exchange for something to say that would make it all better.
"Majesty." The chief steward rapped at the door. He had black hair sleeked back and a nose so tiny he appeared to always be sneering.
"Majesty, the girl Cilie you sent to me...."
"Yes?" said Isi.
"She didn't come back to quarters last night, and no one seems to know where she is. She's missing, your majesty."
Worry flashed across Isi's face. "Take Tusken down for me, will you, Rin? I'll be there soon."
Rin was not a large girl, but her child-carrying muscles were as strong as pine branches. The corridors were already bustling, but people moved aside for the girl carrying the boy prince.
She gave him a little squeeze, his heart pressing closer to hers, and felt warmth gush through her.
"I love you, Tusken," she whispered.
By the time they reached the horse grounds, Tusken had decided to be awake, peering over Rin's shoulder at wagons and horses and men with weapons. The quaking calm of early morning bustle surrounded them, the intensity and hurry jarring with the dark sky and sleepy light in the east.
[This was a hard scene to cut. I'd already trimmed it to death and spent a good deal of time with it, and I liked the way it read. But I'd made other changes that cut away the need for this scene here. This was originally in part 2, the first night after Rin joined Isi, Enna, and Dasha in the woods.]
"Tusken's fine," Enna said, "of course he's fine, more than fine. He's with Geric and Bayern's Own. And he's your own son, Isi, stronger than the north wind."
Hearing Enna speaking that way with Isi was making Rin heavy with envy--that she could speak like that to people, and that someone would speak those words to her and make her believe them. You're going to be fine, Rin. You'll get better and go home again, and they'll have missed you and you'll be all right.
Rin slinked away from the camp. Almost immediately the trees softened the noise of conversation, so she could only hear the murmur of voices and was spared the fierceness of words. Still, pieces of the conversation stuck to her thoughts, grating in their sharpness. How could she have abandoned Tusken like that? What was wrong with her, that she'd race off with some mad idea that just being near the queen would change her?
Rin was angry--angry and hot as a fire and just plain mad. She stomped around the woods, pitching glares here and there as if she could start fires just like that, as if she were as dangerous to cross as Enna. It was easier to be angry in this woods, where the flavor of its scents were so different than the Forest she knew. Like being angry at a stranger.
"What's wrong with me?" she demanded of the woods, hoping for some release by speaking out loud. "Is everyone in the world just fine and I'm the only one crumbling up inside? I hate this! I hate it!"
She stomped and paced and shouted, both inside and out, and worked out the anger until she could not scrape inside herself and find another lick of it, nothing but quiet exhaustion.
Back home when she felt like this, licked and beaten, lonely as the last winter bird, she'd find one of her favorite trees and lie against it. Here the trees were as unfamiliar as the faces of city folk. She sat down hard by a tree with greenish bark in hard, bulging ribbons down its length. She pressed her cheek against it, and she wished she could be home.
And nothing happened. It was not until nothing happened that Rin realized something usually did. Back home, she was always sitting by trees to find comfort, in the way she might hug her Ma or sit and listen to Razo's stories. When she was lonely or hurting, she'd sit up close and listen hard--with all of her. And it would feel as though the hard bark melted, as though the soft, quiet peace of the tree's core pulled her in, relaxed its own peace through her. The practice was a normal to her as falling asleep.
Was there something special about the trees in her Forest? Or had she changed?
Or were these ones just unfamiliar?
Isi's story still rung inside her, and she wondered, do trees have a language too? Could one of the gifts of nature-speaking but tree-speaking? What would a tree say? What would this tree say?
As she wondered about the tree, she became aware of her own self, a person alone, a girl, sitting on the ground, resting against a tree. Moments turned to minutes and longer minutes. She felt dreamy, the kind of half-asleep where the ground seems to lift and then fall, where Rin became not herself, not the thinker, but a figure seen from a distance, a character in a story someone else was telling. And she dreamt what it would be like to be that slender tree, so strong, a girl leaning against it felt like nothing at all. The tingling of breeze through its leaves, the warm gooeyness of wet soil deep, deep down at its roots. No real thoughts, no worries, just the steady, nearly silent thrum of water and sap moving through the tree, up through the trunk, out through all the branches, twigs, into the veins of each leaf, the noise and feel of that pulse making her feel as calm and sleepy as staring at a fire.
Soil, water, sap, night, girl...And before the girl came, there was rain and sun, night and sun, dry and sun, night and rain and...and a bear. A bear that placed a paw on the branch as if to climb, and the branch snapped beneath its weight. Rin did not see it in her mind as an image, but rather she had a blind sense that she had a branch on her side, an idea of some creature--a bear, a moose, a stag--coming close, a pressure and a painless snap, and the branch was gone. A little sap wasted on its way to the branch that was, then the sap clotted, the routes through the trunk slowly climbing to new branches.
And before that, the day the wind ripped half the leaves from its branches though they still had not turned the full red of fall, the drowsy stillness of leaves in a heavy rainfall, the sparkling eagerness of leaves in full sun, and before that more rain, wind, days, nights, the tugging down of the roots, the pulling up if the branches, the forever growing of two directions, always joining sky and soil, up and down, height and depth, and a center to keep it strong...strong...strong...
A noise. A voice? Rin startled and opened her eyes.
Everything felt odd, as if suddenly someone had dropped a heavy wet blanket over her head, and she could barely see or move. The world was dark. Her arms ached, and she realized they were wrapped around the trunk of the tree. Indentations of bark marked where her cheek had been pressed against it, her legs were cold from being scrunched up beneath her. She moved. That hurt. She sat upright, stretching her legs before her, and felt the painful pricking of blood rush through her. The darkness of the world was frightening. If she did not ache everywhere, she would have feared she was dead.
Something was touching her that was not the tree.
"Rin? You better talk or I'm going to slap you. I don't like standing here wondering if you're about to die on me, so save all that quietness for someone else and say you're fine."
It was Enna. She was crouched beside Rin, her hand alternating rubbing her back and shaking her shoulder, as if she could not decide between wanting to comfort or provoke. Her face was as dark as the whole world. Rin looked up, spying a slip of moon above the branches and understood why it was so hard to see. It was fully night now. How had that happened so quickly? Had she fallen asleep?
"I'm fine," Rin croaked. She shook her head. "It's night?"
Enna sat back on her heels and laughed. "It's night, she says, as if she hasn't been missing for hours. We've been scouring the woods for you. Have you been here the entire time?"
"Hmph," said Enna, eyeing the tree, then Rin's face. She pulled one of Rin's arms around her neck. "Come on, then. Back to camp. Your skin's as cold as bark. You could use a sit by the fire and something to eat as well, I'd wager."
As if in response, Rin's belly made a loud squeaking sound.
"Exactly," said Enna.
It took just a couple of minutes to get back to their little camp, but Isi and Dasha were already waiting there. Rin guessed they had heard of their return from the wind.
"Where was she?" asked Isi, rushing forward. Dasha had her arms around Rin and was leading her to the fire, rubbing her hands to warm them.
"Close enough to spit on," said Enna. "It was strange--the wind didn't know her, and I wouldn't have seen her either if I hadn't sensed her heat. She was doing a tremendous impersonation of lichen."
Enna yawned hugely, and that set yawns off in all their mouths. Dasha put a bowl of something edible in Rin's hands and half stumbled to her bedroll, muttering, "If you don't mind, I will just lie down here. If you need me..."
"I'm sorry," said Rin. "You're all so tired."
"Mmhmm," said Dasha.
Dasha and Enna both seemed to fall asleep as soon as their heads touched ground. Rin ate quickly, just to ease the hunger ache, then lay on her back, staring straight up at the ragged edges of leaves sipping the night sky.
[Just a short exchange between Enna and Dasha.]
"Did anyone else just hear that donkey bray?" Dasha looked around the side of the building, scanning the dark street. "Oh nevermind, it was just Enna talking."
"Yes, that's very funny," Enna said, cleaning out her fingernails.
[Rin in the oak tree while she and Razo are hiding, extra description of tree-speaking, or at least this unique encounter with it]
That was the moment when Rin let go, flinging herself even deeper, letting her own memories shoot up around her like fallen stars flying back into the sky. She was plummeting down through the rings, through years and years, through the thoughts of a tree many times older than she. And she feared that if she went too deep, she might not ever wake again. Then she stopped fearing and plunged herself down, welcoming the loss with a sigh, until she was no longer herself. There was no self. Only sun and rainfall, wind and still, leaves that looked up, and roots always searching down, deeper down. She'd grown up listening to trees, falling into their thoughts, but this tasted different, or smelled unique, that indescribable sense of tree. Maybe it was the massive age of the oak, or the fact that she was communing with a new tree, one she had not touched and climbed from birth. Perhaps she experienced it differently because she had a name for it now--tree-speaking. Or perhaps in her terror and need for escape she submerged herself so deep the experience was unfamiliar. She let all these possibilities pass through her like water through roots, without stopping to consider too much. Still she fell.
[In the dungeon of Daire, the tension starts to show]
"You'd love that, wouldn't you?" said Enna.
"What?" said Dasha.
"Bayern would be weakened, and Tira could invade again, just what they wanted all along."
Dasha gasped. "How can you--"
"How can you?" said Enna.
"Enna, enough!" Isi snapped. The queen's energy seemed as frayed as an oft-washed rag.
Enna sighed. "Sorry, Isi. Sorry, Dasha. I'm...I'm just...sorry."
"No, I'm sorry. I..." Isi voice thickened, and she did not speak. But in the silence, what Isi did not say seemed loudest to Rin--Razo is dead, and his murderer has my son...
[Extra contemplations on trees and such]
The bark took her thoughts down through the thousand tips of its roots, and there she noticed another tree's roots wound through, and then another's, and on and on, all the trees of the wood connected as if holding hands. Perhaps, she thought, woods and forests were not accidental. Trees grouped together had a better chance of surviving a windstorm, trees whose roots intertwined with other roots were doubly strong. Wind was devastating to trees, memories of weather crowding her mind, shudders of wind ripping leaves from limbs or knocking trees down, their massive trunks prostrate on the forest floor, their raw roots torn from the earth and drying in the air. Wind killed trees. She did not like the thought.
[After they're leaving Castle Daire, Rin struggling with how much to say. It didn't work anymore after I made other changes.]
"No, Rin won't want to ride," Enna was saying.
"She might," said Dasha. "I know I would rather not spend days bouncing around the the back of a wagon."
"You know how uncomfortable she is on a horse," said Isi. "Let's just let her be."
The three girls looked at Rin as if she were a stone who had just said, "Good morning."
"You'd like to ride?" asked Isi.
Rin nodded. "Sometimes. When you want to sit in the wagon with Tusken, I'll ride your horse, Isi."
How slick the words came out, how pleasant they felt in her mouth, like eating fresh carrots--and how much potential to do wrong. She bit her tongue and returned her attention to Tusken.
[Another contemplation on trees]
Rin considered that summer dressed the aspens in propriety, their hard little leaves shivering modestly when stirred by a breeze, like a thoughtful person nodding her head but standing still. But without their leaves, the trees became sudden in their expression, animated in their starkness. The limbs of the small trees stuck up and out as though expressing surprise. The larger trees gesticulated madly, at the sky, at each other, at their own nakedness. Two fat limbs in one aspen had grown crisscrossed as though it were folding its arms, a black knothole frowning down at her. She frowned back and wondered how she changed when naked.
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