He could see the sky in pieces between the tenements, bruised purple now with dusk.
At first he was glad for the darkness, because it meant they would be firing the beacon in the lighthouse at the point, and down each narrow cross-street now he craned his neck trying to catch a glimpse of the great light burning in the distance. By means of the lighthouse he could reorient himself. But the cross-streets twisted away into deep shadow between the tenements and there was the irksome thought at the back of his mind that if they had wandered so far into the city as not to see the lighthouse then they had wandered so far as to be where Imperial control was more a matter of theory than practice, at least at night.
Earlier, when the young summer sun was glaring white in a blue-glaze sky and the air under the awnings still and close and hot enough you could feel your skin baking in it--the tenements shut out the harbor breeze--the streets had seethed with people: sellers of figs and dates and pomegranates and honeyed almonds and goats’ milk and flavored ices and sour wine, and potters and silversmiths and leather-workers and basket-weavers at their shopfronts, and housewives browsing the market stalls, and slave girls with water in sloshing panniers over their shoulders, and naked children playing sticks-and-hoops along the foot-stones, and now and then a mounted official in white linen shouting and swearing until the crowd shuffled aside to let him pass. Now in darkness they were alone in the street. It was as though the rest of the city had died with the sun. The air, which was dry and rapidly cooling, was heavy with a silence that seemed to him very much like a bated breath. He would not mind the darkness if not for the silence. In a city such silence was unnatural.
Alluin, riding at his elbow, said, “Do you suppose they’ll look for us?--or just wait until our bodies turn up in an alley in a week or so?”
“I imagine they’ll expend the effort for me, if they wouldn’t otherwise trouble about you.”
“So there is some benefit to your acquaintance after all.”
“If not for my acquaintance you’d be just finishing the first course at the officers’ dinner.”
It had been his idea to explore the city. Alluin was city-born and indifferent: all cities were the same when you got down to it; there came a point when unwashed bodies and stray dogs and bad wine in dirty shops ceased to be as interesting as bed. But he, Torien, who could no more call himself city-born than Alluin, whose family owned one of the great latifundial estates, could call himself a farmer--he still had a provincial awe of cities, an itching, impatient need to see and hear and know. He had been determined not to idle away his time in Modigne behind the fort walls. True that he and Alluin had no more than a smattering of bastardized Modigno between them, and that Modigne was a rabbit’s warren of nameless, ancient streets, built and overbuilt in incongruous layers: in daylight that had seemed far less important than it did now. In daylight it had been enough to know he was an officer of the Imperial army, and a Vareno nobleman, with sufficient coin on his person for any foreseeable difficulty and a sword at his hip in the event his coin should fail. It was remarkable how in darkness you saw things more clearly. Certain things, anyway--other things than the way back to the fort or the direction of the harbor light.
My suggestion would be to start the first sentence with Torien's name: "Torien could see the sky in pieces between the tenements, bruised purple now with dusk." Then intersperse his thoughts throughout this first page, let us know what he's thinking, feeling. That will give us insight into his character and perhaps Alluin's - if he/she is important - as well as break up the long passages of description thereby improving the flow.
Lastly, I'd take a hard look at all those long sentences. I know. I love them, too. I'm guilty as hell of writing way too long sentences. But I've gotten better at inserting some shorter ones between them to liven the pace as needed.
Now, readers, what do you think? Any thoughts or suggestions for Amanda? Interested in seeing your first page here and at author Dianne Salerni's place? If so check out my sidebar, top right for all the FAQs about First Impressions. And a huge thank you to Amanda for sharing her first page here.