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Author Topic: THE HERON KINGS Ch. 1  (Read 1555 times)
mafiaking1936
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« on: August 14, 2017, 08:49:00 PM »

Well I've posted this mess of a manuscript in almost every other section of the QT forums, figured I might as well make a clean sweep of it. This is the most recent version of my first chapter, though I have mixed and matched various sections to try and assemble the most engaging narrative as early as possible. It's a long one, so if nothing else I'd love to know where you stopped reading, where you lost interest. Thanks once again for the wealth of help I've received here.

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Chapter 1— Welcome To The War


“Civil war” they called it, but Ulnoth didn’t see a damn civil thing about the whole bloody mess as he crashed through a wall of brush and down the ravine making far too much noise for someone trying to slip away. Though outnumbered three to one, he knew the woods far better than the recruiters dead-set on drafting him. His odds thus probably worked out about fair, but fairness was the last thing on Ulnoth’s mind.

Rolling to a halt, he peeked back up the slope where the afternoon sun lanced through the trees. Had they given up? No, a healthy man in his twenties was too precious a prize to surrender easily. He grabbed a good, thick branch from the ground and crept along the bottom of the gully, making it almost ten paces before a blur of red whipped across his vision and slammed him into the mud. It resolved into a decidedly unhygienic fellow with a toothy grin and five-day stubble, clad in the worn scarlet livery of Pharamund. King Pharamund if you asked certain folk, Traitorous Bastard Pharamund according to others.

“Now let’s have no more o’ that,” said the recruiter. “You just come along with us and we’ll get you sorted out real n— huargh!”

Having no interest in getting sorted out any way at all Ulnoth swung the branch up across the man’s jaw, launching two yellowed teeth across the forest floor followed by tiny comet-tails of blood. He scrambled to his feet and tore off in the general direction of the village. “Teach me to take a shortcut,” he muttered to himself.

“Muhverfugger,” the recruiter moaned, bent over and spitting more blood. Two more burst forth after Ulnoth, leaving their companion forgotten behind.

“Come on son,” called out one of them, somewhat past his prime and huffing heavily. “King’s army...needs men! No use...running, they’ll get ya...sooner or later. They get everyone!”

“Yeah,” said the second man, “we’s just doin’ our jobs! Come back, make it easy on yourself!”

Ulnoth’s mind raced with options, mostly bad, until he heard a soft trickle not far off. Cadwall’s Run! He looked for the familiar landmarks— the overturned tree stump, there. The boulder with that patch of moss that looked like St. Nelwyn…right there. Not much farther then.

He came at last to a rickety bridge. It certainly looked solid enough to bear him across, surely good for another season yet? He didn’t step onto it but cut north upstream, careful not to stomp into the marshy wet. Now where’s that stone? He leapt lightly onto the rock that jutted from the middle of the stream, and then again towards the other side. He didn’t quite make it, landing shin-deep in a clod of muck a few yards from the bank. Good enough. He waded ashore, came back to the bridge and continued on to the village just as the pair came upon the Run.

Without a moment’s hesitation they trampled onto the bridge. A creak, a groan and the rotted-out planks collapsed, tossing the men into the water. The fast current dragged them on, their cries and thrashing rewarded with handfuls of mud.

Ulnoth paused to jog back to the bank and admire his handiwork. “Fareyawell,” he called with a wave as they floated away. “Give my regards to the king!”


***


“It’s the same ever’where,” said Bedegar between swigs of beer. “I’m too old to bother with o’course, but recruiters got my nephew last season. No idea where he is now.” The white-haired man sighed. “You gave ‘em hells today though!” A rumble of approval passed through the place, and a few congratulatory hands pattered on Ulnoth’s shoulder.

“Sure, til next time,” he said, fingering the hole that’d been ripped in his tunic at some point. “When’ll it all end Bed? King, queen, one country or two nobody gives a good godsdamn. Why can’t they just flip a coin or play a round of castra and be done with it?”

“Nah, that’d make too much sense,” replied Bed.

“And now that all the fool volunteers got themselves killed they steal folk from the land to keep it going. Who do them lords think’s gonna feed their fat asses if they turn us into spear fodder? I’m only here now to haggle with the bloodsucking grain factor, which I have to do myself in the baron’s continued absence. It ain’t a game anymore, Bed—I got mouths to feed!”

“I know, I know,” said Bedegar. “Speaking o’ which, how are they?”

 Ulnoth grinned in spite of his commitment to maintaining a bad mood. “Well, Lisette’s three. That’s pretty much her story. Adorable, though. Chattering little ball of mostly hair, golden like her mother’s. Taken to giving names to all our animals. And the trees. And the farm tools…”

Bedegar chuckled. “Is that so! And Athewen?”

“Makes this whole damn mess of a world bearable. They both do. It’s a hard duty though, to keep ‘em safe in it.”

Bed raised an eyebrow. “Is that why you seek out a lighter duty with...?”

“Don’t,” Ulnoth replied with a sharp frown.

The old man shrugged. “You’re a lucky one Ulnoth, despite everything.”

“I am. Not that you’d know it by the surroundings.” That was true enough. Wartime rationing made anything more than the barest food and drink illegal, thus the taproom they sat in was literally underground, in the cellar of a barn owned by some far-off bank. It was a bit of an open secret in the village of Plisten, far out of the gaze of any heighty lords more concerned with the war between Engwara and Pharamund than with bootlegging peasants.

“You takes your comforts wheresoe’er you may, my boy,” said Bed, “as I often reminded your dad, gods assoil his soul. Drink up, and soon you’ll be addled enough to believe all that cack from the Polytheon about a just reward in the next life.”

Ulnoth took his drink, then set the cup down hard. “Can’t wait that long, Bed.” His eyes drifted past the crowd and the smoke, and the corner of his mouth turned up just a tick. “Speaking of comforts…”

“Huh, don’t need to guess what you’re spyin’ at. You’re playing a dangerous game there, son. I told you once—”

“I know, and I said don’t.”

“I’ll leave ya to ‘er then.” Bed lifted his cup in mock salute as his young friend stood. “Gods lightyerpath.”

“Uhuh, and yours,” Ulnoth muttered, his thoughts already miles away.


***


An hour later Ulnoth lay exhausted on a straw cot, drowning in Sally’s dark tresses. She rolled over and rested a pouty chin on Ulnoth’s chest.

“How long are you in town?”

“Mmm, who cares?”

“C’mon, how long?”

Ulnoth sighed. “Depends on how hard the grain factor wants to be. I can’t take another price hit like last year, Sal. War’s supposed to make grain more expensive, but they keep coming up with excuses…” He shrugged. “I’m here as long as I need to be.”

 “Well that’s fine by me,” Sally said, tugging playfully on the curls of his short auburn beard. “I’m feeling thoroughly under-f**ked these days.”

“Flattered, but you must know I ain’t the only man in the county.”

“Starting to seem that way. I heard about your little adventure with recruiters.”

Ulnoth snorted. “Yeah, I’m a real hero. What other news of the great patriotic struggle—are we bending knee to king or queen this week?”

“Umm, king still. I think. Pharamund’s put a new marcher lord in charge as marshal, real bloody-minded.”

“Then he’s hardly unique.”

“This one’s different,” Sally said, suddenly serious. “Courier rode through yesterday, said he was at Murento. The queen’s army put it under siege, and after a while they yielded.”

“That’s nothing new—cities change hands with the winds.”

“Not this time. The marshal retook it a few days later. Most of the queen’s soldiers escaped, but to punish the citizens for surrendering he sacked the city, burned down the University and executed half the population. Put ropes around their necks and strung ‘em up along the walls so all who passed by could see the price of treason against the king. Women and children, too.”

“Bullsh** Sally, you’re too credulous! That courier was having you on.”

“No,” she said, wide-eyed, “he wouldn’t even talk about it before downing a gallon of wine, and then only in whispers. He was scared. Scared me, too.” Sally shivered and wrapped herself closer around Ulnoth. “I wish some wizard would come along and just disappear us into Faerie, away from these godsf**ked lords and their godsf**ked war, leave us in peace.”

“That’s only in stories, Sal. Besides, you’d go batty with boredom in such a place.”

“Oh, I think you could keep me entertained,” she said, sliding a slender hand down between his legs. “Ready for more, I see.”

He took one of her olive-toned tits in his grasp. “Always.”

“Oh yes? You haven’t felt the full extent of my powers, arrogant mortal! Hows about I show you things…”

“Mmm, yes…”

Her voice dropped to a husky whisper. “Unspeakable things…”

“Ahh…”

“Things that pasty little wife of yours couldn’t even begin to imagine…”

Ulnoth suddenly jerked, shrank back. “Godsdammit!” He leapt up and tromped toward the clothes piled in the corner. “What did I tell you last time? f**k’s sake, the one thing I say not to talk about…sh**!” He plucked his braies from the pile and one muddy leg of his chausses. He hopped from one leg to another as he wrenched his clothes on.

“Ulnoth, I’m sorry! I just got a bit carried away…”

“I’ll say you did.”

“Come on, don’t be that way. You know how I am.”

“Yeah, I know.” He was dressed and out of the rented room without another word.

Sally sighed and threw herself down naked onto her cot. “Men…”


***


A fresh spurt of blood flew up into Alessia’s face to paint a smear across her cheek. She didn’t flinch this time, barely noticed it. All her attention was focused on the task at hand—the sharp instruments, the rent flesh, her own precise movements. The man lying beneath her howled and the walls of the sepulchral chamber echoed it back tenfold.

“Mother of gods, stop—!”

 “Shut up,” said Alessia while digging her elbow into his clavicle to try and stop the squirming. “And hold still, you’re only making it worse.”

“Bitch, you’re makin’ it worse. It hurts!”

“Good! That’s how you know you’re still alive.”

“Just let me die!”

“Oh, not getting off that easy. Probably what you deserve, but not… quite… yet.” She tore into the jagged hole in his side again, one last time and it’d be over. Still he screamed.
 
“Aargh, evil f**kin’ bitch! f**kin’ temple—”

Alessia slapped her victim, hard. “Insult me all you like, but you will not blaspheme against the Polytheon in here. There, done. You’ll live, for what it’s worth.”

Alessia turned away, exhausted. Across the nave a dozen and more like scenes played out— some with screamed profanities, some with moans, and some in silence. The sisters flitted about like angels of death, praying for the lost souls of some and sending others back into the world for another measure of misery. She dipped her hands into the ewer set in the middle of it all. The water was near scalding but she’d been scrubbed numb too many times to feel it. A young acolyte darted from somewhere to replace the pink water and soiled rags on the floor with fresh, then disappeared again.

“You enjoyed that.” The accusing voice behind her absolutely did make her flinch, even after three years.

“Is it not proper,” Alessia said, turning slowly, “to take joy from one’s work, Mother?” She tried to hold back a grin and failed.

“Don’t play clever with me girl, you know what I mean.” Mother Tanusia was herself covered in gore that lent her aged disapproval an unsettling aspect.

“Aye, and why not? Hard to drum up much sympathy; these men are the lucky ones. Those they killed not so much.”

Tanusia shook a gnarly finger in Alessia’s blood-streaked face. “That is not your concern, nor mine! Nothing outside these walls is.”

“I know, I know. Where’s this lot from, anyway?”

“Who can say anymore,” Tanusia sighed, “some pointless skirmish not far from here, come to us from both sides. It’s hard to believe, but the fighting was less savage when it was professional men-at-arms doing it. These poor fools know nothing but to hack at each other like lunatics. This war has to end soon, they’re running out of men to fight it.”

“Maybe they’ll start drafting women,” Alessia remarked.

“Don’t you even think that! You just try to find new reserves of sympathy. It’d be a shame for a bright young thing like you to turn cynic so early.”

 “Yes, Mother.”

“And remember, this temple serves as a hospital, not a torture chamber. For the love of the gods try and find some...feverfew or plantain, something before you cut men open again.” Tanusia turned away toward some other task.

“Yes, Mother.” Alessia’s patient put an emphasis on the point by crying out anew.

“And will you please shut him up!”

Yes, Mother.”


***


Lord Marshal Taurix drew his fur cloak tighter around his neck against a gust of chill. Damn, autumn not even half over and already too cold. His bones hadn’t yet gotten used to the climate of the south. Still, I wouldn’t be anywhere else. He surveyed his surroundings, never failing to feel awe at the sheer destruction of a town given over to sack. Justice, he thought with a soft smile. A lesson history itself will remember. A few more like this, and perhaps the war would finally start going in the proper direction. Every corpse, every smashed building was a stone laid on the path to victory. With me and mine on top. In the distance a scream was cut short. But not too quickly, perhaps.

The body of a woman lay in his path, face down and naked in the mud with blood streaming from between her legs. As he stepped over it his boot crunched on something hard—a piece of pottery. There was a trail of it leading from a burned-out home. Much more looting’ll slow us down, Taurix thought. Have to speak to the captains about that. Across the way a crow alighted on an overturned barrel, brandishing a pink piece of something in its beak before flying off again. “Feast well, my friend,” Taurix muttered.

“M’lord!”

Taurix spun on a heel at the call. The cloak twisted around his muscular frame, the few wisps of hair remaining on his head fluttering in the breeze. A stab of pain shot up his left leg and into his hip at the movement. Stupid, he thought. This war came twenty years too late. Or I twenty too early. “Well Tobius,” he said impatiently, “is he here?”

The secretary dropped to one knee, making a squelching sound in the street torn to sludge by hundreds of boots. “Lord Felgred awaits in your command tent.”

 “I assume then that he’s managed to capture that whoreson Ludolphus?”

“I…er, His Lordship did not say—”

“No then,” Taurix sighed. “Disappointing.” He took a last look at the fruits of his labor before stomping off toward his tent.


***


“Lord Felgred, I presume?”

The young man looked up from the letter he was reading. He sat behind Taurix’s little campaign desk, his muddy lambskin boots perched on the edge and a familiar silver goblet in hand. He raised it in greeting and took a long gulp. “I’d just about have to be, wouldn’t I? Anyone else that barged into your tent, drank your wine from your silver should look to be disemboweled for his troubles.”

Don’t exclude yourself so quickly, Taurix thought. “Indeed. Welcome to the war, my lord.” My spy, more like. Pharamund sends his favorite lackey to keep me on a short leash. sh**heels, both.

“You’re welcoming me? That’s a bit backward. Since storming down from the north just last season you’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest of troubles. Your little stunt in Murento, for instance…”

“That was no stunt. Two years of attack, retreat, advance, fall back, surrender and regroup...lunacy! It’s high time for decisive action. And to lose a city…”

“I see your strategy—kill everyone in the city and there’s no one left to surrender it. Brilliant!”

“Surrender must be seen as the worst possible outcome! From now on it will be, I promise. This war’s been run like a disgrace—”

“I certainly hope,” Felgred said sharply, perhaps made bold by Taurix’s excellent wine, “that you’re not speaking ill of His Grace.”

Taurix glared. “I’d never dream of it. But perhaps the judgment of those who advise King Pharamund isn’t all it should be.”

A tension settled thick in the tent. Two sloggers oiling leather at the far end of it tried hard to look invisible but quivered in anticipation at the very real risk of violence. “Taurix...” Felgred said, “that’s a Marchman name, is it not?”

The older lord winced. “It is,” he replied, ice clinging to each syllable. “What f**king of it?”

“It just seems strange to me that a noble lord, especially one of the soft sunny north, would carry the name of a barbarian.”

Taurix swiped Felgred’s filthy boots off his desk. “My grandfather was an upland chieftain. I carry the name in his honor, and to remind me of how far a man can climb. Or fall. And since the Marchman tribes precede the kingdoms of either Argovan or Bergovny my right and title is doubly sound. And as you doubtless learned the lineages of  the Bergovan peers before you knew which end of your prick to use, I must wonder at your point.”

Felgred set down the goblet, held up his hands in surrender. “Just an observation. Whatever else folk might say the Marchmen are fierce warriors, heedless of their own safety in battle. I wonder if some of that recklessness doesn’t run in your blood as well.”

“Battle,” growled Taurix, “has been the exception rather than the rule in this war.”

“You see my point all too clearly then!” He held up the letter he’d been reading, shook it in Taurix’s face and never knew how close he came to being gutted for it. “I wasn’t kidding about that hornet’s nest. You’ve gotten Engwara’s attention, and she’s sent rogues to devastate my lands. As we speak crops from Lenocca halfway up the Carsa burn.”

“Hmmph. A temper tantrum, so what?”

“So, armies march on their stomachs. If I can’t feed them they certainly can’t fight.”

Taurix nodded with approval. “Good strategy, wish I’d thought of it. If it’s grain you need I’ll make you a gift, courtesy of the soft sunny north and a marcher lord with the name of a barbarian.”

“Thank you, that’s most kind. Meanwhile I’ve got a line on your elusive General Ludolphus.”

“You've captured him?”

“Me? Oh heavens no, I haven’t the men for that! I have an idea where he’s fled though—south, straight for Carsolan. One of my scouts passed through a Polytheon temple that way where some of his wounded lie in the care of the good sisters. They must’ve come through and dropped the dead weight. I have a few of my own men resting there now.”

Taurix rubbed his chin with a frown to sour fresh milk. “Then I’d say it’s time we paid the good sisters a visit.”







« Last Edit: August 14, 2017, 09:20:17 PM by mafiaking1936 » Logged
Farfadet
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« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2017, 11:09:37 AM »

Hello! me again.

ok so you're going to think i'm annoying but that first sentence. I would keep the last one. ain't a damn thing civil about it.(unless it was used somewhere else) I think it grabbed more attention. I don't want to tell you how to write it because frankly I like reading you. I know I told you Ulnoth shouldn't be thinking that as he crashed through bushes, but maybe he could start hiding and be spotted or something. It's ok how you wrote it now I just loved how it sounded and think you should find a way to include it.

Also the last sentence with his mistress I think is really cliche the ...Men... and what comes before, i don't think is necessary.

Aside from this I think it is really well written and loved reading it. Wanted to know more.

But, I think you use too many ***. This breaks the pacing. There are places where you could just add one sentence instead and go on with the pacing. Like when he sees his mistress they could just exchange a glance and then you go on with the next sentence. And when Taurix meets with lord Ferel... You could just add a movement sentence and keep the action moving.

There are also a lot of Pov in the same chapter. I don't know if you could separate these Povs into different chapters or if they're all really necessary right there. The Alessia part. (I'm annoying again.) I don't know if you're force to cut it there top keep some kind of big reveal. I personally think it could come right after Taurix as spoken of the sisters and then you could have an entire chapter on her.

Alright so that's it. It is far from a mess, I think it's good and well written, just maybe reorganize it to keep the action flowing and more structured.
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mafiaking1936
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« Reply #2 on: August 16, 2017, 06:04:48 PM »

Man, you guys are killin me!  Smiley  I'll stick a pin in the first sentence cause I imagine I'll fiddle with it a lot more yet.

So, the part with the girlfriend...yeah. I really wanted to convey that he feels guilty about what he's doing and doesn't want to be reminded (imagine one of Don Draper or Tony Soprano's molls mentioning their wives) so that when his family is massacred in the next chapter it gives his temporary insanity more credence. Do I not need to do this? Since I have neither a wife nor a girlfriend (not for several years  sad ) maybe I can't write this convincingly... 

I probably will cut down on the section breaks, since in past versions these pieces have been broken up to different places. But I want to keep them for now as placeholders until the final (ha!) format is set.  I take your point very well though. I initially had Ch. 1 only in Ulnoth's POV, but then the responses to the Alessia section at AW (and 60+ query rejections) made me reconsider.

Anyway, thanks again! It's an evolving process, and as long as I keep moving forward I'm content.
« Last Edit: August 16, 2017, 06:14:09 PM by mafiaking1936 » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: August 18, 2017, 01:55:24 PM »

The part with the mistress is fine for me, it show a flaw and his guilt. I would just cut the scene break ;) and the complete last sentence. Where she falls on the bed and sighs "men"
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