Agony, emotion, but in this case no ecstasy
I think that emotionally wrenching scenes are the hardest to write. To succeed in conveying your characters’ emotions in a way that affects your readers without appearing merely platitudinous, is extremely difficult.
Sometimes I have no choice but to include such a scene. When I was writing The Withered Rose, the crux of the plot demanded that the protagonist, Atela, have her heart ripped in two (metaphorically). I can only hope that I succeeded in conveying the passions (romantic and otherwise) involved.
This is the point in the story when Atela witnesses an angry exchange between Sturgar, her un-loved husband, and Kieldrou, the man she has fallen in love with. Various events have caused Atela to think that Kieldrou is in love with her; she has come to the castle hall sporting a brooch he gave her, hoping to signal her own feelings to him by wearing it. She could not have arrived, wearing his token, at a worse time.
“You want to know why I hate you, Trallian?” Sturgar shouted as Atela stepped into the hall. “I hate you because of what you are.”
Kieldrou snorted. “What do you mean by that? What I am? Are you so jealous of Hollowdene – you, an earl of Hograth?”
“Hollowdene? Never Hollowdene. It’s what you will be. You, a bastard, the Count of Trall.”
Kieldrou stiffened. Behind him, Fernhelm and Andryn grasped their dagger hilts, although they did not draw their blades. Behind Sturgar, his manormen did the same. The atmosphere seemed to crackle, as if with invisible lightning, and Atela held her breath, waiting for the violence to erupt.
Then Kieldrou laughed. As surprising as it was, he threw back his head, and his laughter rang in the rafters of the hall. “How little you know, Sturgar. I am no bastard.”
Sturgar faltered, as astonished as Atela was by the Trallian’s reaction. “You are not Terren’s son,” he said. He did not shout, and he sounded more confused than angry.
“No, I am not,” Kieldrou replied, his voice also much calmer. “But I am no bastard. I know exactly who my parents were, although they are long dead. Terren adopted me, it’s true, but he always knew the worth of my pedigree.”
“You are not his son,” Sturgar repeated, his voice rising again. “Bastard or not, that is what galls me. You are not his son, yet you will become lord of Trall.”
“And you hate me for that? Am I to blame for centuries of law and tradition on Trall? Anyway, why should you care?”
For some reason, this roused Sturgar’s ire again. Gasping, Atela suddenly understood why he had despised Kieldrou for all those years.
“Because I have no son,” the Earl yelled. “You will get Trall, and I have no-one to follow me.”
Kieldrou’s voice did not rise. It was as if his burst of laughter had served to calm his own anger. “That is not my fault. It is not my fault that your only son was born outside your marriage. But there is nothing to stop you acknowledging him, giving him manors when he is of age.”
Sturgar’s face turned red. “How noble, how very generous of you to say it. But I can’t. I can’t!”
“Why not? It happens all the time.”
“Because he’s dead!” Sturgar wailed.
The hall went completely silent. The echo of Sturgar’s heart-rending cry faded, leaving a deathly stillness hanging over them all. Atela’s hand flew to her mouth, and she looked at her husband in horror.
Kieldrou appeared to shrink a little as his shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I truly am. When did this happen?”
Sturgar stood alone, his chest heaving with the pain and exertion of the admission that had been wrenched from his mouth. “Two months ago,” he whispered. “He fell from a tree and broke his neck. I was not there, had not even seen him for weeks. And I could not even mourn him publicly,” he went on, his voice beginning to rise again. “And then you came along,” he spat, “with your head held high, arrogant, seeking to tell me how to defend my lands.”
“That was never my intent,” Kieldrou said, still calm. “You know that, Sturgar. But I did come to help. Is that why you rode so recklessly into the middle of the Hussanian forces?”
“Yes. I didn’t care. I was happy to die. My boy, who could never follow me because of his birth, who was all I cared about, was dead. Why should I care?”
Sturgar turned, and saw Atela. His lip curled. “And all the time, you were laughing behind my back.”
Atela gasped, and rushed forward. “My lord, I never did. I admit that I hated the fact that you had a son, but that was because I always wanted to give you an heir. I would never have wished him dead. I did not know.”
“Of course you didn’t. I didn’t tell you. How would you have understood, who hated his existence, who never gave me the son I so desperately wanted?”
Kieldrou drew in his breath sharply, and took a step forward. “Sturgar, that is not fair. You might be angry with me, although I still don’t understand it; but you cannot blame your wife for anything.”
“Can I not? Why should you defend her so, I wonder?”
Sturgar looked at Atela again, and she was horrified by the loathing on his face. His eyes wandered down and fixed on the little ivory brooch, pinned to her breast. His eyes narrowed and his face darkened with more fury than she had ever seen before. He reached out, and with a cry he grasped the ivory rose, ripping it from her bosom. The cloth of her dress tore, and she staggered from the force of his wrench. He flung the brooch at Kieldrou’s feet. “And now you flaunt his trinkets in my own hall? Whore!”
Atela cried out as she stumbled. She fought for balance, and heard shouts echoing around the hall. She regained her balance, and saw that the other Trallians, and Sturgar’s men, had their daggers out. They were tense, poised for action.
Kieldrou had not moved, but his shoulders were up, and his eyes were blazing as he glared at his adversary.
“Sturgar, you go too far! Atela,” he said to her, not taking his eyes from Sturgar’s. “I ask you again. Ride away with us, now.”
“Why not?” Sturgar shouted mockingly. “She failed to give me a son, so see whether she can do better for you!”
“You are mad, Sturgar,” Kieldrou cried, his voice at last rising. “What are you talking about?”
“Do you deny it? Can you lie to me even now, Trallian? Will you deny that you sat in this very hall, not three hours ago, laughing with your friends about taking my wife to your bed?”
Atela cried out in shock, and her eyes flew to Kieldrou’s face. She heard the other Trallians cry out, too. Kieldrou started, and he looked quickly around the hall, his gaze coming to rest on the wall, near to the door. She followed him, and saw Gorden Revenar, standing rigid in the shadows, watching everything.
Kieldrou’s shoulders slumped, and he dropped down onto the bench next to where he had been standing. He ran a hand through his hair, and sighed deeply. He raised his head and for a moment he met Atela’s eyes. She knew she must have looked confused, and she saw the pity on his face. She did not understand.
Kieldrou turned to Sturgar. “Oh, Sturgar,” he said wearily. “It was not your wife.”
Sturgar frowned, as confused as Atela.
“It was not your wife,” the lord of Hollowdene repeated, his voice tired and sad. “It was Atela Ashardan, Atela of Beresbridge. She is the one I love.”
Atela’s world collapsed, and she felt herself falling. This time, there were no strong arms to hold her up.
This excerpt comes very near to the end of the book. The whole thing probably makes more sense if one reads the entire novel, in order to understand the true depths to which these revelations plunge the characters. What is, perhaps, even more important is what happens as a result of this dirty-linen-airing – but for that you will have to read The Withered Rose!