This chapter has changed more than any other in the book. It is the hinge on which the rest of the story turns and for a time it ended very differently. In fact, it ended with the death of the queen.
Sarai was, originally, a young prince. But I looked at my cast of characters, decided there were not enough women and quickly decided he should become a she. That was both a stroke of brilliance and a hazardous mistake, because I made Sarai much more interesting than my young prince had been. He was simple and bland and, as a character, easily killed.
But I found the character of Sarai rather quickly and filled her out rather successfully and my two favorite test readers at the time loved her. And would NOT let me kill her. Rarely have I been so adamantly confronted by one of my own mistakes as when I tried to kill the queen in order to heighten the story for the characters around her. Her own story had too much value. And she kept surprising me. It's always a joy to write a character who surprises you as a writer.
I was reluctant to rewrite and reformulate the entire book to satisfy the preferences of my readers. I thought I knew best and above all, rewriting is always harder than writing. I wondered, as I would wonder many times through this process, if I was capable of making such a monumental change in tone and direction.
Thankfully, as with her character, Sarai's story came and found me. It became the center of the entire book. It resulted in the chapter (still far from where we are in the podcast) which has consistently been pointed out to me as the best and most moving of the entire book. I would have lost so much if I had not learned two valuable lessons.
1: Embrace the characters which come to you easily. If they flow from your brain to your fingers, if they surprise you and delight you, then keep them alive. Write more and more and more of them. Bend your own interests and plans around their interests and plans. Tell their story.
2: Listen to your readers. Especially when they are right.
In this chapter, the hopes of safety for the queen will collide with the hopes of safety for Tem and Baratem. A twisted knot of fate, which only a sword can untangle, will ensnare them all.