Okay–after gathering some opinions, listening to it read to me, looking for repetitions, throwing in more of the senses, taking out an errant comma, and going back through the ms. to tie it in with an illustration from the text, here’s take two. I hope you can see from this example that writing really isn’t about writing–it’s about re-writing.
I like this much better. And who knows, I may do a take three. (VBG)
They had been aboard the transport ship for little more than a week when Cyrilla pulled Atticus aside and motioned to Quinn. “You need to speak to him.”
The tip of her nose went pink. “He has just realized that he . . . is not like you. Because you’ve been with him, you know, more often since we’ve been at sea.”
Atticus blinked, then drew in a deep breath. He had known this moment would come sooner or later. He hadn’t expected it to come when Quintus was only seven years old.
And what should he say? He knew nothing of what fathers told their sons about such intimate matters. The men in his garrison were frank enough with their thoughts and comments, but how did a man talk to a child of such tender years?
He walked forward, took Quinn’s hand, and led him toward the bow. Smiling, he lifted his son onto a block, then braced the boy’s hands on the rail as a sudden gust struck the boat, heeling the vessel over enough to bring their fingertips within a foot of the foaming sea.
To his credit, Quinn laughed. Atticus chuckled, glad the boy wasn’t afraid, and nestled the child against his chest as the ship breasted the swell and straightened.
“Your mother,” Atticus said, glancing down at his son’s face, “tells me you had a question.”
Quinn looked up, his eyes wide, then he scrunched his nose and nodded.
“You want to know why we look different . . . in a way that has nothing to do with why I’m tall and you’re small.”
The boy’s chin dipped in another nod.
“Well.” Atticus braced himself against the railing. “Have you seen the brand on my back?”
Quinn’s eyes flicked at the armor over Atticus’s shoulder, then moved away as if afraid to rest there. “The dog and snake?”
“It’s a dog, a snake, and a scorpion. The brand of a Roman soldier.”
Quinn digested this information, his eyes serious, then looked back at Atticus. “Did it hurt?”
“Yes, it did. But it doesn’t hurt now. And anyone who sees my back knows I’m a soldier. Not all soldiers have this brand, only the ones who worship Mithras.”
The boy slid his hands beneath Atticus’s as the sea spat at them in a sudden white plume. “Will . . . will I have to get a brand?”
“No. In fact, I have left the people who worship Mithras, but my body still bears his mark. Taking the brand was part of a ritual. You’ve seen rituals, haven’t you?”
“Good. When you’re old enough to go to the public baths, you’ll see that men look different in many ways. Some groups of people, you see, perform rituals on babies and cut away part of their skin. Some perform these rituals when boys become men. And some groups never perform these rituals at all.”
Quinn looked up at him again. “And me?”
“When you were a tiny baby, you lived with people who cut part of your skin away in a ritual. I’m sure you don’t remember it, but that’s all right. It doesn’t hurt you any more, does it?”
“No.” Quinn remained silent for a long moment. He didn’t look up when he asked, “Didn’t I come from your people?”
Atticus squeezed the child’s arm. “You came from special people, Quintus, but the gods brought you to me and your mother. Are you glad they did?”
Again, the small face tilted, the nose squinched, and the mouth curled into an impish smile. “I am.”
“Me, too.” Atticus dropped a kiss onto the top of the boy’s head and inhaled the scent of sea salt in Quinn’s hair. “Very glad.”