Wonderful satire of fantasy fiction cliches today from Sophia Whittemore. I hope to remember this post when I get back to writing “The Chosen,” because the last thing I want is to recycle tired tropes.
One last self-indulgent post about “The Chosen,” then I promise to move on.
When a story bounces around in your imagination for over three decades, you’re bound to develop several ideas about that story. And if you’re smart, you’ll write down at least some of those ideas. Somewhere in the dusty bins of my memorabilia, I have extensive material about “The Chosen” — character sketches, political and religious histories, plot summaries, even some maps and crude caricatures — that I considered digging up last month when I became inspired to start the project at last. But at the time, I was a few days from beginning a long journey, and I knew finding all that material could be a frustrating task. Made the decision to just go with my instincts, and find my notes later; I’m entirely satisfied with that decision.
Yet as I look ahead to that unspecified time when I pick up the story again, I realize I need that material. While I like what I did with the first two chapters, I fully realized while writing that I was leaving out a great amount of detail. Countries and cities are named and there’s an allusion to a budding colonial revolution, but there’s little backstory; there’s a reference to a religious schism, without any context; all the characters conveniently speak the same language. I decided not to address these problems when drafting the first two chapters, but going forward I realize these issues need to be resolved.
Part of the appeal of the high fantasy genre is the creation of fascinating new worlds — similar to ours, but engagingly different as well. When I read good fantasy, I feel like an explorer, discovering an alien land that I don’t want want to leave. It’s an experience evoked by the introduction to “Star Trek,” a classic of space fantasy:
To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!
I want the reader to have that same experience when reading “The Chosen,” but that experience can only come through a meticulous attention to detail. Consider two classics of medieval fantasy, “Lord of the Rings” and “A Song of Ice and Fire” — the historical backstory in both epics is staggering. And the languages! Tolkein’s Elvish, Martin’s Dothraki, and yes, the Klingon of “Star Trek” — if authors can create an entire new language, how can their readers not think they’ve entered a new world?
So before I start chapter three, I need to dig up those old notes, and have a good deal of additional work to accomplish. There are lands to create! History to craft! Maps to draw! Languages to birth! And most important of all, characters to bring to life!
Yeah, I need to get busy before coming back to “The Chosen.” But I’m going to enjoy the work. And I’ve got a feeling that when I do get back to that story, what comes out is going to be pretty cool.
Nineteen days ago, I started a new fiction project on this blog, with only one objective in mind. I was going to have fun — there would be characters, but I wasn’t going to fret over characterization; there would be a plot, but where it would lead I neither knew nor cared; there would most likely be themes, but I wasn’t concerned about what they meant. All I wanted to do was write, and enjoy the experience.
As I mentioned at the start, “The Chosen” is a story that’s been bouncing around in my imagination for over three decades, and finally getting it started has been enormously gratifying. I hadn’t expected to write that second chapter, but after completing the first there was no way I was going to stop. But as I reached the half-way point of chapter two, I knew that pressing on to a third chapter would be an effort. Mind you, I don’t mind the work; writing is the only job I’ve ever wanted to do. But I wasn’t going to make “The Chosen” another burden. So for now, I’m setting the project aside.
Not sure when I’ll get back to Crim, Archilochus, and their crew. Perhaps when I feel the need to have some fun again. One thing I know for certain, though, is that this tale isn’t over.
The stranger raised his arms, and turned slowly towards the guards. “Officers — ” the stranger’s voice was as calm as a still lake in the morning — “you have us at your mercy.”
The guard on the left removed the bolt from his crossbow, strapped his weapons onto his back, and came forward cautiously as the other guard kept his aim at the stranger. The guard searched the stranger, discarding the weaponry he found on the forest floor. Wolf remained on the ground, contemplating her next move; she could easily overpower the first guard, and liked her chances against the second. But now wasn’t time to act; wait for the first guard to attempt binding her, then strike.
Completing his search, the first guard spun the stranger around. “Hands behind your back.” The stranger complied slowly. “You and this damn woman have given us a lot of trouble these past few days,” the guard grumbled as he bound the stranger’s wrists, “but there’ll be no more of that.”
“Indeed.” Wolf saw the hint of a smile curl on the stranger’s lips. “Your prospects appear to be looking up.”
A snap from behind, then the second guard yelled. Wolf saw the guard’s crossbow fall to the ground, as the guard struggled against a man who had him in a chokehold from behind. At the same time, the stranger snapped his head back, striking and surprising his captor, and threw his right elbow behind him and bashing the guard in the temple. The first guard fell to his knees; in the moonlight, Wolf could finally see who the guard was struggling against — the Islander, from the party of pilgrims she had attempted to rob.
The Islander slipped a loop from a rope around the first guard’s right foot, and a moment later the guard was lifted upside-down into the air, the rope hanging from a sturdy branch, its other end now secured to a root by the Islander. Meanwhile, the stranger had the second guard pinned face-down on the ground; soon, he was also hanging upside-down, suspended by a similar rope snare.
The stranger nodded at the Islander, as the guards struggled awkwardly against their captivity. “Killing them would have been so much easier.”
“And also would have brought the entire colony down on our heads.” The Islander shook his head, then glared down at Wolf. “Expected you to run off again.”
Wolf frowned, then pointed up at the guards, grasping at their legs like trapped bats. “Seemed futile, given what’s happened so far.”
The Islander lowered an open hand, and helped Wolf to her feet. “I don’t blame you for not trusting us — ”
“That woman, you still travelling with her?” The Islander nodded in response to Wolf’s question. “She made me a deal last night. Tell her, I’m going to hold her to that deal.”
“You can tell her yourself.” The Islander looked behind and to her left, and nodded. Before Wolf could react, a large burlap sack descended on her, and she was promptly thrown to the ground. Her arms constrained by the sack, she kicked wildly — “What the hell are you doing?”
She heard the stranger’s smooth voice over her struggles — “Demonstrating how little we trust you.”
End Chapter Two
The stranger led her towards the exterior prison gate, where a guard sat on a chair on the other side. At the edge of the interior shadows, the stranger held up a silent hand, commanding Wolf to stop. The guard looked bored, but alert.
Suddenly, a noise from down the road — horses neighing loudly, the shouts of angry voices. The guard stood up from his chair, took two steps forward, then called out to his left, from where two men soon rushed forward. The noise grew in intensity; the guard put his hands on his hips, peeing towards the source of the noise, then with a disgusted growl began walking away.
The stranger waved Wolf forward, then opened the locked gate with the same ease he displayed when opening Wolf’s cell. As soon as she exited he closed the gate, without making a sound, and they both then slipped into the shadows of the courthouse.
Wolf was an experienced thief, and had no trouble moving silently in the dark; this stranger who had freed her, though, seemed even more adept than she. They passed a blacksmith’s forge as they approached the edge of the forest; Wolf glanced at the guards, confirmed they were still distracted, and with a swift motion reached for a hammer, then swung it hard against the back of the stranger’s head.
The stranger collapsed. Wolf dropped the hammer and began racing for the woods, as she heard a distant voice commanding her to stop. She raced forward, and a moment later was in the midst of tall trees. She was not familiar with this area, but all she needed now was to get as deep into the woods as possible, begin covering her tracks —
A weight collapsed on the back of her legs, and she fell forward onto the damp ground. She felt the weight lift off her legs, so she turned, looked up, and saw the stranger who had just freed her from the prison. He looked more amused than annoyed. “Your instinct for self-preservation is absurdly misguided.”
“Halt!” Wolf looked beyond the stranger, and saw two of the guards, both with crossbows, aimed at her and the stranger.
Soon after the New Frisarian had left the prison, Wolf pulled on the iron bars across the windows of her prison cell. There were three bars, each an inch in diameter, and she could tell they ran deep into the masonry both above and below the window. And even if the bars weren’t there, she would be able to crawl through the narrow opening only with great difficulty. The guards posted outside would certainly see her, if they didn’t hear her removing the bars. But she knew that chance was preferable to her imminent trial and execution, or another jail in New Frisaria.
She reached into her mouth, fingers poking into her upper lip, and a moment later she retrieved a needle she had concealed while being captured the day before. Small and thin, it was nonethless sharp and durable, a gift from a master thief who had been her reluctant mentor. In the hands of a skilled brigand like Wolf, the needle could slice a throat, pick a lock, or perform the task she required of it now — digging into the masonry around the window.
Wolf scratched fervently, stopping whenever she heard approaching noises either outside or inside. As darkness fell, she had burrowed into the masonry below the window, reaching the base of the bar on the right. There was much more digging to be done, but she knew she’d be able to squeeze out the window by daybreak. She began digging across to the middle bar.
“Why don’t you just pick the lock?”
Wolf froze at hearing the voice, and assumed one of the guards had caught her by surprise. She flipped the needle back into her lip as she turned, expecting to see the guard scowling outside her cell. But what she saw surprised her even more than the sudden voice.
The speaker was inside her cell, not outside. His height was that of a young teen, but his face was mature. His arms and feet were crossed, and his back was resting against the cell’s iron gate. He wore a thin coat of boiled leather, and a cap that covered the entire top of his head. He pointed a finger toward her — “You do know how to pick locks, right?”
Wolf nodded. “How’d you get in here?”
He seemed perturbed at her question. “I’m afraid that’s not a particularly interesting story, and it’s one we don’t have time for now. Let’s just say that getting myself out would be just as easy as getting in — but getting you out, that’s going to take some work.” He pushed himself from the bars, then opened the gate as if it had never been locked. He took one step into the corridor, then paused, and looked back into the cell.
Wolf had not moved, mesmerized by the appearance of this stranger. It was only when he called to her — “You do want to escape, yes?” — that she finally began to follow.
Lord Jerdain seemed to glide with the grace of a dancer into the room. He approached Crim and Archilochus, but stopped several feet before them, and asked, “Where are the two other members of your party?”
Crim glanced briefly at Judge Oliver, now standing behind Jerdain and shaking his head. She then caught Jerdain’s gaze — “The boy travelling with us is still resting from his wound, and is being attended to by our other companion.”
“The Islander?” Archilochus nodded in response, as Jerdain turned to address him — “Ah yes, the Guardsman. I hear you attempted to gain custody of that foolish woman who attacked you yesterday?”
“An attack on any Guardsman, is an attack on the entire Imperial Guard. I need to take her back to the Empire, to face justice.”
“Our laws are clear.” There was an unmistakable tone of aggravation in Judge Oliver’s voice as he stepped forward. “The Empire has no jurisdiction in this matter. Philos owns the road where the attack took place, so justice will be administered by Philos — not the Empire, not New Frisia.”
Jerdain’s face brightened, and his shoulders drew back. “As it should be! New Frisia is anxious to begin a new era of cooperation with Philos. Our citizens are just as anxious as yours, to rid the world of Yungen’s thugs.” The New Frisarian lord then greeted Archilochus and Crim formally.
Breaking from Jerdain’s greeting, Crim tilted her head towards the judge. “If Yungen’s men executed yesterday’s attack, your prisoner could provide some useful information — provided you don’t execute her, of course.”
Jerdain scoffed. “Yungen’s men need to see there are consequences to their crimes. Sparing her life will only encourage future attacks on your fellow pilgrims.”
A sudden clamor from the manor’s front door then caught everyone’s attention. A moment later, the middle-aged man then entered the dining room again, followed closely by Constable Gent, who brushed past his escort and addressed Judge Oliver directly. “Your honor, please forgive the intrusion — ” the constable glanced warily at the judge’s guests before continuing — “there’s been an incident, that requires your immediate attention.”
“Tell me.” Judge Oliver stepped forward, waving his arms dismissively. “We have no secrets in Philos — tell me what’s happened.”
Constable Gent swallowed. “There’s been a disturbance. At the courthouse jail.”
“Eighth Hill is one of the most revered shrines of our order.” Crim took a cup of wine offered by her brother, Archilochus, as she continued her converation with Judge Oliver. “Surely, you respect the right of our followers to practice our faith?”
“Certainly.” Draymond Oliver, whose long white hair and beard made his face seem almost deathly pale, was known throughout the colonies for both fairness and wisdom. “Just as you must surely realize, that the road to Eighth Hill is along a major trade route?”
Crim held her cup with both hands. “Pilgrims are not merchants, your honor. The escort fees are beyond our means.”
“Is this a Perot?” Archilochus had his back turned to his sister and the judge as he spoke, but the volume and pitch of his voice conveyed a clear desire to interrupt their conversation. They turned, to see the large, ruddy man pointing up at a large portrait.
“Why, yes it is.” The judge walked up beside Archilochus, clearly relieved at the change of topic. He had acted swiftly since his meeting that morning with Constable Gent, when the judge became aware of the remarkable outside interest being shown in the Safety Committee’s newest prisoner. Gent was a competent officer and a generally decent person, but lacked the cunning and subtlety required to handle this increasingly difficult situation; he knew the judge was better suited for the coming struggle. As Philos’ chief judicial officer, Judge Oliver had committments that would keep him occupied into the evening, but was able to arrange an after-dinner reception at his manor that evening. Though visibly disappointed at the constable’s refusal to release Prisoner Three into his custody, Archilochus had welcomed the judge’s invitation on behalf of his fellow pilgrims.
Judge Oliver told Archilochus about the auction where he had purchased the portrait, as Crim looked around the judge’s dining room with disinterest. Her concerns about Archilochus now seemed unfounded; from the moment they’d arrived, it had been the strongheaded brother, not the deferential sister, who had been getting along famously with their host. Crim was pleased at her brother’s success, for she knew they would need as many allies as possible in the days to come.
A middle-aged man entered the far end of the room, and called for the judge, who excused himself and followed the man towards the manor’s main door. Alone for a few moments, Archilochus and Crim met near the center of the room’s long table.
“Thank you,” Archilochus said with a grin, “for telling me who painted that thing on the wall.”
Crim sighed. “Your aesthetic sensibility isn’t what’s winning the judge over. He’s drawn to power, to authority.”
“But he’s also not going to release that prisoner to us.” Crim nodded in agreement. “We should excuse ourselves, get back to the inn, figure out a new plan.”
Crim heard footsteps approaching the far entrance. “Bear with us, a few moments longer. I believe we’re about to meet someone important.”
Judge Oliver walked into the room, followed closely by a thin man with a neatly trimmed goatee. “My friends, allow me to introduce you to Lord Jerdain, of New Frisaria.”
[Before publishing today’s installment, I’m editing the last half of yesterday’s, from the moment after Gil cautions Billy to look out for himself]
“I understand.” As they approached the entrance to the Two Brothers, Billy stopped. “Is everything ready for tonight?”
Gil, who had kept walking, stopped and looked back at Billy. “It’s best that you know as little as possible about tonight.” Shaking off Billy’s objection, Gil continued. “Nobody likes the idea of leaving you alone, but that’s the safest place for you this evening.”
“But I can – ”
“If anyone asks, you can say you don’t know where any of us are.” Gil pointed behind him, at the inn. “That, is what you can do this evening.”
“I need to stay outside. It’s where I can do my best watching.”
“But I’m ready.” The teen leaned forward, squeezing his hands into fists. “I don’t think I was chosen to be with all of you, just to sit around. I can do things none of you can do, you know that – why don’t you let me help?”
Gil studied Billy’s face a moment. “Tell you what. Answer one question, and you can help this evening.”
Billy stood up straight. “Go ahead. Ask me anything!”
Gil lifted his chin. “Where’s your money sack?”
“In my – ” Billy’s eyes grew wide, then flew down to his right hip, where he had tucked his money sack into his belt. It was gone. The teen then looked back at Gil, who held up Billy’s sack a moment before tossing it towards the teen.
The sack bounced off Billy’s hands, and fell at his feet. He blinked. “Guess I’ll – go wait in the room.”
Gil nodded, and continued walking past the entrance of the inn. Billy called to him – “You’re not coming inside?”
“I need to stay outside.” Gil did not stop walking. “It’s where I can do my best watching.”
Billy picked up his money sack. “So, if we need to tell you something, how do we let you know?”
“I’ll already know.” And a moment later, Gil vanished down a side street.
“Excuse me?” Billy’s teenaged voice was barely audible above the mélange of voices in the market. Not seeing any of the merchants turn in his direction, he raised his voice. “EXCUSE ME?”
From behind a long wooden table laden with wicker baskets filled with bread, a fat man in a flour-covered apron looked down at Billy. “No treats today.”
Billy extended his hand, which held a copper coin. “Two loaves – ”
“Hey!” Another boy, slightly older, hustled in on Billy’s left, and pushed him aside. “Where’s the Roland bread?”
The fat man shook his head. “Same answer as yesterday, boy – it’s not the season for Roland bread.” The boy then ran away from the table.
Billy gave the fat man his coin, and turned to leave with two loaves under his right arm. He then saw who was facing him, and stopped.
The boy who had jostled him had his right arm twisted behind his back, his face contorted in pain. Standing behind him and holding his arm, was someone Billy knew but hardly expected to see. He was shorter than both boys, but with a face that looked far older; his pale skin made him look almost sickly; golden hair flowing under a large cap that covered his scalp and extended over the top of his ears. Billy didn’t know much about this person, except that his name was Gil, and he was now speaking briskly to the boy he was holding. “I believe you have something that belongs to my friend here.” The crowd in the marketplace seemed too preoccupied with buying and selling to notice their struggle.
The boy shook his head, and Gil responded by applying more pressure on the boy’s arm. With his free hand, the boy then reached into his pants, and pulled out a small sack, about the size of a fist. Billy pointed at the sack – “That’s mine.”
“Indeed.” Gil waited for Billy to take the sack, before releasing the boy, who fled into the bustling crowd.
Billy glared down at Gil. “How – how did you know?”
Gil’s face was nonplussed. “Because I saw him take it from you.” He waved to their right – “You need to get back to the inn, before you run into any more trouble.”
The teen walked down the marketplace, Billy bumping into shoppers frequently and dodging others awkwardly, while Gil moved effortlessly among the throng, as if he anticipated each approaching step. Minutes later, they had exited the market, and began walking down a narrow street leading to the Two Brothers.
Feeling uncomfortable with the silence between them, Billy said, “I didn’t know you were watching me.” The teen felt strange, looking down to address Gil, as he was accustomed to always looking up when speaking.
“I didn’t want you to know you were being watched.” Gil kept his eyes forward as he continued. “You’ve never been on your own, and our group is too small to have someone with you at all times. You need to learn how to look out for yourself, and we need to make sure nothing happens to you as you learn.”
“I understand.” They approached the entrance to the Two Brothers; Billy pointed at the building. “Are you coming inside?”
Gil turned to look at Billy, then shook his head. “I need to stay outside. It’s where I can do my best watching.”
Billy nodded. “So, if we need to tell you something, how do we let you know?”
The left side of Gil’s face curled in a sarcastic grin. “Oh believe me – I’ll already know.” And without further word, he continued walking briskly down the narrow street.