Author Archives: marcuspailing

Romance? Er … (gulp) … OK

This week on the Gumbee blog, we have the quite brilliant (which often means genially insane in my experience) Marcus Pailing. Marcus writes much harder fantasy than I do, and isn’t averse to a bit of gore. So, let’s see what he thinks of the softer side of fantasy…..

(Oh, and incidentally, I was indulging my romantic side when I added the tags for peril, conflict, fight scenes and pursuit… Will)

“Romance, eh?” I thought as the suggestion was put forward. My esteemed Gumbee colleague, Will MacMillan Jones, had recently returned from the Festival of Romance, and was all afire with passion … or such was the impression he gave. It was his suggestion, with a fast-beating heart and hot cheeks, that we turn our attention to the theme, to see whether the rest of us could also demonstrate our forays into the realms of romance.

I don’t consider myself much practised in the writing of romance. Generally I’m more of a swords and spears fantasy writer (and I don’t mean that euphemistically). When I was growing up, fantasy novels either steered clear of ‘lurve’ (and often eschewed females entirely, or kept them as very minor characters); or else treated women as lusty, heaving-bosomed bit-players, planted in the stories to demonstrate the equally lusty masculinity of the over-muscled protagonist.

Now, I appreciate a heaving bosom as much as the next man, but I never wanted to have female characters who were mere eye-candy. At the same time, I never set out to write ‘romance’. I did introduce it to my novels, however; but in small measures only – my main characters do meet women, marry them, and have children with them, after all.

This changed somewhat when I wrote The Withered Rose, because the entire novel is basically a romantic tragedy. So when the idea for this theme came up, I turned to that novel to see what I had written.

In order to explain the following extract, here’s some context. There are two friends, both called Atela. One of them is locked in a marriage that is starting to fall apart, having had a very positive start; the other has recently married herself, and is blissfully happy. Kieldrou, the son of the count of Trall, is younger than both the women, but has dazzled them with his tales of adventure – he has recently returned from a journey in the exotic lands of Azzawa. He has made it clear already that he finds them both attractive, and while he hasn’t exactly attempted to seduce either of them, he has managed in the past to trick them into giving him kisses.

 

“My ladies, I said that I had gifts for you both.”

The two Atelas sat in a window seat, having moved away from their husbands after a while of conversation. Now Kieldrou stood before them again. He had left his audience, where Derian was now entertaining the folk with more tales of their time in the east. Kieldrou looked a little flushed, but it was not from drink; more likely it was the excitement of having had an audience hanging on his every word.

“I think you should consider becoming a player,” teased Short Atela. “Entertaining the masses with your tall tales.”

“I swear, on my honour, that I exaggerate nothing,” he said, sounding only a little hurt. “I told nothing but the truth. Although perhaps it is better that you did not stay to hear me tell of the thieves of Ukhara, or you really would not believe me.”

“You noticed we had gone?” Atela asked. “I thought you too engrossed in your glory.”

“I noticed,” he said softly. “But it does not matter. I do not seek to gain favour with mere stories.”

Atela raised an eyebrow. “And how would you gain favour?”

“With gifts.”

At that, Kieldrou held out two small wooden boxes, handing one to Atela, and the other to the younger woman. “I found them in Ukhara, and thought of you both.”

“After three years?” laughed Short Atela. “Or did you buy them, and then think of us when you got here?”

Kieldrou frowned, and stepped back slightly, giving them a little space as they opened the boxes.

Atela gasped. Lying inside her box was a small white rose, exquisitely carved from the purest ivory – a rare and expensive luxury in Western Gilderaen – and turned into a brooch. It was a perfect reproduction of the flower, even in miniature. Short Atela was similarly overcome: hers was a tulip, also most delicately carved.

“I recalled the silver rose I gave you at your wedding,” Kieldrou said, his voice faltering a little. There was none of his usual humour in his voice. “I remembered how much you liked it, which is why I thought of you when I saw it. For you, my lady,” he continued, turning to Short Atela, “I wanted something of similar beauty, to match yours.” For the first time in Atela’s memory, he appeared to blush a little.

“It is beautiful,” Atela murmured. “Truly a marvel, and I do thank you. What favour do you wish for in return, then? Are you hungry for another kiss?”

She said it quickly, laughing, and without thinking. She certainly did not expect the reaction she got. Kieldrou’s brows creased in a frown, and he muttered a denial, before turning on his heel and striding away.

The two Atelas looked at each other, puzzled. “Did I offend him?” Atela asked, and the other shrugged. “Oh, Hogra, I fear I have. We forget he is a young man, now, no longer a high-spirited boy.”

“We must apologise,” Short Atela said. “Where has he gone?”

They scanned the hall, but he was nowhere to be seen. They figured he must have left, and they stood up to follow him. Yet they had to be discreet: it would not be seemly for them to go chasing after him. As they walked through the hall they were accosted again by Elnir and Sturgar, and were forced to stay in conversation for some time. When they escaped, they were then trapped by the earl and countess of Mendivar. It was a good half hour before they managed to get out of the hall.

“Let us try the garden,” Short Atela suggested. Atela nodded, and they hurried along the empty corridors towards the door that led out to the cloister.

It was late, and the garden was lit by a pale moon, throwing dark shadows yet illuminating the rows of flowers in the middle of the garden. He was there, walking alone between the bushes. He turned when they called his name, stiffening when he saw who it was that disturbed him.

“Kieldrou, I am truly sorry,” Atela said. “I was teasing, forgetting you are no longer a boy. It was wrong of me, and you did not deserve it.”

“I, also,” Short Atela admitted. “They are truly beautiful gifts, and you must have thought hard about them. We do not deserve your kindness, nor your thoughts of us while so far from home.”

Kieldrou gave a wan smile. “No, my ladies, you deserved no less. I can easily forgive your teasing. It is my fault: of course I expected nothing in return, and there was no call for me to take umbrage. Besides, you are both married women. Perhaps I should not have made you those gifts at all.”

“But they are most gratefully received,” Atela said. “I, for one, will treasure mine.” Beside her, Short Atela nodded in agreement.

“I am glad,” he said. “I have no expectations, but beauty and friendship should be rewarded.”

Atela felt a tightness in her chest, and she never knew what made her do as she then did. “Indeed they should,” she replied, and she stood on her toes to plant a light kiss on his lips. She felt his arm reach round her shoulder and she stepped back quickly. She remembered the strength of those arms three years before, and dreaded what she would do if she felt them around her again. “I’m sorry,” she breathed. “That is all I can give.”

He smiled sadly. “I understand, my lady.” He bowed to them both, and turned to go.

“Kieldrou.”

He turned back, and looked at Short Atela, who stepped forward, biting her lip. “I’m sorry,” she said, “that I cannot offer you even a kiss. I … it would not …”

“Thank you, my lady,” he said, cutting her off to save her the embarrassment of stumbling through a needless explanation. “You are happily married, I know. As I said, I have no expectations. The gifts were gifts, and deserve no payment. Although I shall treasure your return gift,” he added to Atela, briefly touching his lips.

Then he was gone.

“Oh, Hogra!” Atela groaned. “What did I do?”

“Nothing wrong,” Short Atela said, firmly. “It was a friendly gesture, that is all. Although it was wise to step back when you did.” She laughed, but it was a brittle laugh.

“I almost lost myself. What was I thinking? I am eleven years older than he, and married.”

“Locked in a withering marriage,” Short Atela shot back. “Let us be honest about it. Yet you must not do any more. I would advise you – both of us – not to seek out that young man again. You’ve had ‘the talk’ from my mother.”

Atela started. “How did you know?”

Short Atela laughed. “I know my mother. You were clearly unhappy at the time of my betrothal, and you sought a private meeting with her. She never told me what you discussed, but I am not stupid. I know her, and I have seen enough other women seek her advice. It takes no great imagination to guess what advice my poor, dear, beautiful and unsociable mother could give.

“Come on,” she went on, taking Atela’s hand in hers. “Let us get back to the hall and put the Trallian from our minds.”

 

This is the point in the novel where Atela – the one who this time kissed Kieldrou – begins to harbour romantic thoughts about the young man. Later in the novel these are to cause a lot of pain to a large number of people … but to say more here would rather spoil the story.

Still, the novel only costs £1 on Amazon …

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Withered-Rose-Count-Trall-ebook/dp/B008A7RJJK/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1385821608&sr=8-3&keywords=marcus+pailing

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Pursuit: Number 2 Marcus Pailing

When one thinks of ‘pursuit’, one usually thinks of chases, whether on foot, horse, by car, or some other form of transport, usually with a villain pursuing the hero (or vice versa). When it was mooted that the Gumbee writers should next turn their attention to such scenes I was in a bit of a fix, because I haven’t tended to include that sort of action in my books. I did think of one such chase, but the end result of that was a fight, and we have already covered fight scenes in earlier blog posts.

So, here is my slightly different take on the theme of pursuit.

This episode occurs very near to the end of The Withered Rose. The background is a bit complicated, so I shall do my best to outline it briefly.

Kieldrou (the heir to the count of Trall) and Sturgar (the earl of March) have become enemies, for a number of reasons which I don’t need to list here. Their bad feeling was exacerbated when Sturgar accused Kieldrou of seducing his wife, Atela. Kieldrou had done no such thing, although it then came to light that Atela had fallen in love with him. (This appeared in an earlier blog post, on ‘peril and tension’.)

Since then, Kieldrou felt guilty that he had done nothing to help Atela, who was now trapped with a husband she no longer loved, and who knew that she had lost her heart to another. When he was ordered to travel back to the March, to help deal with a threatened invasion from Hussania, he was initially reluctant, because it would put him back in contact with Sturgar; but he also knew it would give him a chance to check up on Atela’s well-being.

However, when he arrived at the castle of Revenar he discovered that Atela was not there: Sturgar had left her at home. Kieldrou immediately became suspicious, fearing that Sturgar had harmed her. So he stormed out of Revenar and resolved to see for himself that Atela was all right. The problem was, Sturgar was none too happy about Kieldrou riding off to his home to check up on his wife.

They rode through the remainder of the afternoon, and then through the night. They pushed their horses hard, although they took care to rest their mounts, in order to preserve them. As it was, they did not ride with as much speed as Kieldrou wished, and he cursed often as they thundered across the fields, occasionally joining the winding road, but mostly taking as direct a route a possible.

They had collected half a dozen of the Hollowdene men to ride with them, men whose own horses were fresh, fed and watered. Within a few hours all the mounts were blown, but Kieldrou urged them on. He dreaded what they might find at Marchkeep, and he would brook no delay in their arriving there.

Sturgar followed them. The earl had summoned half a dozen of his own men, and towards midnight they caught up with the Trallians. Kieldrou was ready to fight, and his own followers gathered round, hands on their swords. But the Marcher men offered no steel. Instead, the two groups continued on their mad dash towards Marchkeep, each party riding separately, but neither allowing the other to draw ahead. It was a race, and none of the fifteen men really knew what the purpose of it was, nor what they would find at the winning post.

When the dawn began to break, and as the first rays of the sun began to cast new shadows on the land, bathing the fields and hills with a faintly golden glow, the riders crested a rise to see the town and castle of Marchkeep ahead of them. They were still some five miles away. Kieldrou and Sturgar sat on their horses, twenty yards apart, and glared at each other. They had not spoken a word to each other since the groups had met up at midnight. They still did not speak, but the deadly looks they cast at each other were eloquent enough.

Sturgar turned his head and spat on the ground.

Kieldrou kicked his heels, and his horse plunged down the slope.

 (There is another section here, which looks at the events from Atela’s perspective. However, it gives away too much of the plot, so I won’t include it here. Also, it was inserted in the novel to break up the chase somewhat, and also to bridge the time when Kieldrou and Sturgar are riding those five miles to the castle. We pick it up on their arrival at Marchkeep.)

Kieldrou leaped from his saddle. He was exhausted, but his anger with Sturgar and his concern for Atela drove him on. He was aware of Fernhelm dismounting beside him, but he did not acknowledge his friend’s presence – Fernhelm would stick by him, whatever happened, and they did not need to communicate: so attuned was their friendship that they would act in concert without words or gestures of direction.

He was also aware of Sturgar’s party clattering into the courtyard behind him. He ignored the earl’s shouts, and ran up the steps towards the doors of the keep. He could hear the raised voices as his men jostled with Sturgar’s, but they did not appear to be exchanging blows, merely argument; so he cast them from his mind and concentrated instead on his purpose of finding Atela, ensuring that she was safe.

A lone guardsman stood by the doors. He stepped forward to challenge the intruder, looking past Kieldrou at the fracas in the courtyard, seeking orders from his lord who was hurrying to catch up with the Trallians. Kieldrou barged the man out of the way and pushed open the door. Fernhelm growled when the guard, off balance, sought to bring his spear to bear, and the man backed away, seeing too much risk in confronting the two men on his own.

Kieldrou strode into the castle hall, glaring around. It was still early in the morning, and only a handful of people were about, servants going about their business. They quailed before the baleful glares of the tall Trallian and his equally fearsome sword-man, and hurried out of sight.

The Trallians headed towards the door in the north wall of the hall, which they knew would take them to a staircase and the upper levels of the castle. It was a spiral stair, and they bounded up it, hands trailing the stone walls for balance, until they came to the first landing. They could hear Sturgar following, although the earl no longer shouted at them to stop – the clanking of his spurs on the stone steps told them he was there.

“Further up?” Fernhelm asked, and they continued to climb the winding staircase.

They reached the next landing, and turned the corner, almost colliding with the woman who was running towards the stairs, clutching her skirts above her ankles. It took Kieldrou a few moments to recognise Atela’s tire-woman. She was sobbing, and she took huge gulps of air as he grasped her arms.

“Oh, my lord,” the woman gasped through her tears. “It’s you. Come quick. She’s bolted the door and I can’t get her to open it.”

Kieldrou cursed, and the two Trallians rushed down the corridor. Behind them, Sturgar ran to keep up.

Kieldrou pushed at Atela’s door, but it was bolted fast. “Atela!” he shouted. There was no answer. “Atela, open up!”

Sturgar shoved past him and tried the door. He cursed, and banged his fist on the panels. “Atela! For Hogra’s sake, pull back the bolt!”

Kieldrou hurled himself at the door. It shuddered under the impact of his shoulder, but otherwise would not budge.

“Fernhelm, take the woman away.”

Fernhelm nodded, and drew the sobbing maid from the vicinity of the door. Given the room he needed, Kieldrou stood back, and lashed out with his foot. His booted sole connected with the panel, just about where the bolt should be. The timbers shivered, but held. He kicked again, and again. The noise echoed in the corridor.

He stepped back, resting his back against the far wall of the corridor. Fernhelm was standing with the maid a little way away, holding her in his arms and trying to console her. Sturgar stood in the middle of the floor, staring at the door. The Earl’s face was pale, all the ire of the last night drained away. He kept his gaze on the door, never once looking in Kieldrou’s direction.

Kieldrou roared with renewed anger, and flung himself once more at the door. His body slammed against the panels. With a crash, the bolt on the other side gave way, the door flew open, and he stumbled inside.

 I have to stop it there, otherwise I would spoil the plot. Suffice it to say that this is the denouement of the entire novel.

It is hard to create the required level of tension in such a scene. In the chase itself one has to choose one’s words carefully in order to give the sense of speed and urgency, which is much easier to do in, say, a film, where the use of cameras and music provides valuable assistance. Ideally, a chase/pursuit scene should make the reader’s heart race, even if only a little. In this excerpt I have chosen the ‘tension’ is created, I hope, by not knowing what Kieldrou will find when he gets to Marchkeep – and, at the end, what he might find on the other side of the door.

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Humour, wit and character conversation: Number 2 Marcus Pailing

The difficulty of attempting to include humour in a fantasy novel is summed up very nicely by Diana Wynne Jones, in her superb book on the clichés and tropes of fantasy writing, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1996):

Jokes are against the Rules, except for very bad cumbersome jokes cracked by Guards, Mercenaries, Other Peoples and servitors. (It is believed that the Management actually thinks these are very good jokes, and treasures them.) Everyone else must be deadly serious, although the Small Man, some Wizards and most bad Kings are allowed to have a sense of humour …

Some writers (including many of my esteemed colleagues of the Gumbee Fantasy Writers’ Guild) manage to pull it off, and we all know how successful Terry Pratchett is.

Personally, I find it very difficult to write humour, and have tended to avoid it where I can. However, I do like my characters to be ‘real’, and therefore I have included episodes of banter. Perhaps my readers won’t find any of it funny, exactly; but I would always hope that it will convey the bonhomie of my characters. Often it also reveals information about how the characters in my novels view the world around them (see the previous theme of ‘How characters interact with their worlds’).

This first excerpt comes from the novel Fields of Battle. Kieldrou, the Count of Trall, is riding to join his army, and he is joined on the road by a group of his men-at-arms, who have been kicking their heels on one of his manors. With them also is Aelfric, a veritable giant of a man and a ferocious warrior, who has only recently become one of Kieldrou’s most trusted companions. As well as the soldiers’ joking about Aelfric, the conversation also shows us the high regard in which the Trallians hold themselves.

 “Honestly, my lord,” their captain said. “We exercised the horses, we practised our arms, and we even built a new barn for your seneschal, just to keep ourselves busy. But your message to meet you was a great relief. Is it true that the Hussanians have invaded Barrowgrar, then?”

“It is. Fernhelm is still there, with around twenty of his foresters, and a couple of hundred Hograthian soldiers. But, if I am right, there are thousands upon thousands of Hussanians there, too.”

One of the soldiers grinned. “That seems a bit one-sided, my lord. Could Fernhelm not send a few of his men away, to even things out a bit?”

They all laughed at that, and Kieldrou let the jokes die down before becoming serious again. “It will be a hard ride, lads. I know you are up for it, but I have to say I don’t know what we will find when we get there. I’m expecting around fifteen thousand men to have come over from Trall, but I expect the Hussanians will have three or four times that number. We have to establish a presence in Barrowgrar and hold it until the Hograthians can come to our aid. But I don’t know how long that will be.”

The men instinctively knew that this was not a matter for more jokes. “We will do what we must, my lord,” the captain said. “We won’t let you down.”

“I know you won’t,” the count returned. “Because we are all men of Trall.”

“Aelfric isn’t,” the joker said, and everyone turned, fearing their comrade had made a terrible faux pas, knowing how much store the count put by the Phrionnsae. “Aelfric is a giant of Trall,” the man continued with a huge grin. Aelfric might have been born a Phrionnsae, and he might have spent no more than three weeks on Trall so far, but by that it was clear that he had already been adopted. The Phrionnsae cracked one of his rare grins, and the others laughed again.

 Later, once Kieldrou is with his army, he repeats the ‘joke’ about the Trallians’ prowess:

“Listen, men,” he went on, holding his hands up for silence. “We’re marching at dawn. The Hussanians have invaded Barrowgrar, and we’re already late giving them a reply. There are twenty Trallians over there, facing thousands of Hussanians, with only a couple of hundred Hograthians to back them up. I know they won’t thank us for stealing their glory; but as one of them is my foster brother, I wouldn’t mind giving them a bit of a hand as soon as we can. So I need to speak to your captains, and you need to start packing.”

Poor old Aelfric is not to be let off the hook, either. As the army prepares to march off to face their enemies, some of the rank-and-file soldiers take a good look at the Phrionnsae, who now appears at his most terrifying, in full armour:

Aelfric rode beside Kieldrou, his bulk sitting easily on the great destrier that itself struck terror into any man who came close to its powerful legs and snapping jaws – they did not yet know that the Hussanians had thousands of these beasts. Aelfric had worn his armour this morning, appearing behind Kieldrou sporting his iron helm, which obscured his features save for the flash of his eyes through the dark-shadowed slits.

“He’s a demon,” whispered one trooper. “Look at the size of him. I’m glad he’s not the enemy.”

“Is being on our side any better?” asked his comrade with a nervous laugh. “He’s the stuff of legends, though, I reckon. Theops himself, come back to stand with us.”

“If he dies,” commented a third, spitting casually into the grass, and pulling on his own helmet, “ten to one says he takes a good few men to Hell with him.”

“He’ll draw the enemy to him like flies to honey,” the second man said. “Keep away from Aelfric, if you want to live, that’s what I say.”

The first man adjusted his gauntlets. “Keep behind him if you want to live, rather.”

The valour and prowess of the Trallians is obviously a bit of a joke, not just to the Trallians themselves, but to their allies, as well. In the novella Questions of Allegiance, the Hograthian army prepares to march to Barrowgrar, to join forces with the men of Trall. Once again the Trallians’ reputation receives an airing:

We were up with the dawn, roused by shouts from our constable, who had himself been woken by the marshals. When we rolled out of our cloaks, groaning, Harnic laughed.

“Don’t complain,” he called. “Apparently the Earl arrived late last night, and he wants us on the move as soon as possible.”

“Already?” complained Madric. “But the whole army isn’t here, surely?”

“Of course not, lad. The rest of the army is gathered further east, some even as far as Riverdeep. You wouldn’t expect the eastern levies to march all the way over here, away from Barrowgrar, would you?”

Madric gave a sheepish grin. “I don’t know. I don’t know where Riverdeep is, do I?”

“Anyway, we’re moving today, because the Hussanians have attacked Barrowgrar.”

We leaped to our feet, our tiredness and stiffness forgotten, and at once we crowded round Harnic, calling for more information. After nearly thirty days of training, preparation and marching, the expected attack had finally come.

“A messenger arrived from Randek on the day of the King’s coronation, apparently. Burst in just as Theofric was taking the homage of his barons. The Count of Trall left the City immediately, and he and his islanders might already be in Barrowgrar. That means that we have to hurry, otherwise it’ll be fifteen thousand Trallians against forty thousand Hussanians.”

“Sounds like an even fight, from what I know of the Trallians,” shouted one of the veterans from Gerroch town. We laughed: everyone knew of the quality of the islanders.

Harnic nodded. “Probably. But I doubt our good lords want the Count to gain all the glory. So, the quicker we can get there, the sooner we get to share the laurels. So pack up your gear and be ready to march.”

What I like about this last snippet is that it gave me another opportunity to demonstrate the characters’ interactions with their world. Most of the men of the Hograthian army have spent their whole lives in one place, never having travelled. It should be no surprise, therefore, that Madric should be so ignorant of the geography of the rest of the kingdom.

We now return to the novel Fields of Battle. Of course, not all conversations are humorous banter between groups of friends; there is the opportunity for bitching, as well. As Kieldrou, the Count of Trall, had recently married a foreigner, Rhianne, I wondered how she would be received by the aristocratic ladies of Hograth. In this last excerpt, Rhianne has just been introduced to a group of ladies, and their conversation has been most polite and proper. However, as soon as Rhianne moves on …

How could they fault the countess, who was both beautiful and clever, friendly and well-mannered? There was none of the cold haughtiness about her that they feared, or perhaps hoped to see, so that they might with justification find fault with her. Indeed, as the entourage passed on, what could they find to criticize?

“She is, of course, from Luourn,” one well-informed lady said confidentially to her friends. “That caused a stir here in Hograth, you can guess.”

“Hardly surprising, though,” tutted the wife of Elnir Terendor, the lord of Vergira. “Kieldrou is so rarely at home, it is natural that he should end up with a foreigner.”

“It’s not really right, though, is it? I mean, the Count of Trall with a  foreign bride.” The first lady, Theodora, the wife of the lord of Millacre, was in her stride now.

“Well, there are some who say he is from the north himself,” whispered the waspish wife of Pardron Ennivar of Steerchase. “He was only adopted by the old count, you know.”

The fourth lady of the group was Egitha, wife to Hemdell Mendivar of Elfinvale, who was the great-nephew of Rhegus, the Earl of Mendivar. She waved away her friends’ comments. “I have heard she is truly delightful, whatever her provenance. And we must admit, ladies, that she is very lovely to look at. It is no wonder she entranced the count.”

“Black hair, though,” countered the lady of Millacre. Fair or red hair were the fashionable colours in Hograth, the epitome of beauty according to the poets. “And her skin is rather dark, I think.”

“By Hogra, Theodora,” Egitha of Elfinvale gasped, exasperated. “She’s descended from an Andalasian princess. Will you find fault with that, as well?”

The ladies fell silent. As far as pedigree was concerned, one could hardly complain about a scion of the Andalasian imperial family. Egitha, who had heard everything that Kieldrou had told Rhegus Mendivar about his wife, was not going to let on that Rhianne’s relationship to the throne of that eastern land was a long way removed.

If I tried to write humorous fantasy, I am sure I would fail. I hope, however, that I am able to introduce at least some light-heartedness to my characters, at least from time to time. This banter can be used to impart information to the reader, as well as to provide some insight into their personalities and opinions. All in all, I like to think that a spot of humour can add an essence of vérité which, otherwise, might be lacking.

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Peril and Tension: Number 1, Marcus Pailing

The “how will the hero get out of this one?” scenario.

So far, the Gumbee writers have showcased their work on a number of topics: fight scenes, love/poignancy/emotion, and characters’ interactions with the world. The next topic that came up was that of peril and tension.

I confess that I became rather stuck when trying to think of an excerpt to use as an example for this topic. Most of my ‘perilous’ scenes revolve around fights; but, as we had already ‘done’ battle scenes, I didn’t really want to present another of those. I did consider a political scene, but that was necessarily long and convoluted – while I do think it’s one of my best, it really was too long for a blog post here.

I have a rather nice (if that is the word) assassination scene, but perhaps that could come out for an airing at a later date. Instead I have chosen a scene near the climax of The Demon’s Consort, the second book in the Fields of Battle series. Subconsciously, I think I was giving a nod to all the James Bond books and films I have enjoyed over the years, as this is a typical “how on earth is the hero going to get out of this fix?” scene. At least, on this occasion, I had my villain explain why he didn’t just kill the hero as soon as they met.

Telor is the high priest of the Brotherhood of Sheoleth, a diabolical sect which was all but destroyed five hundred years previously by Kieldrou’s ancestor, Validius Brudorax. The Brotherhood has been searching for Brudorax’s heir for generations, and since discovering Kieldrou they have attempted to kill him on more than one occasion. They have, however, captured Rhianne, Kieldrou’s beloved, and at the same time they have taken his sword, Thunderflame, which has great totemic value to the Brotherhood. Kieldrou has come to the Brotherhood’s secret stronghold to retrieve his love and his sword (in that order), and himself been taken prisoner. He now finds himself chained in a dungeon, while Rhianne is likewise imprisoned, held on a diabolical altar. All seems lost …

 “You might have wondered why I did not have you killed as soon as I had you in my power. It would have caused me far less trouble, after all. In truth, I considered it, for you have been a blight on the Brotherhood every since we discovered who you are. But I had to meet you, talk to you, to find out what kind of man you are. As a direct descendent of the very man Brudorax murdered when he stole the sword it seemed right for me to confront you, to let you see whom you faced. You have been a worthy adversary.”

“Face me with a sword in your hand, and you will discover how worthy an adversary I am,” Kieldrou spat, with as much strength as he could. Talking was difficult, with his body stretched painfully against the wall.

Telor laughed. “I am no fool. I have you just where I want you, and you have no means of escape.”

“My friends will come for me.”

“They did.” Telor paused. “Ah, I see that spark in your eyes. Yes, they did come. Alas, my priests went for them last night, in sufficient numbers to ensure victory. They will not trouble us.” He sighed. “You might as well give up, Kieldrou, for your luck has run out.”

“My luck will be out when I die,” the Trallian gasped.

Telor snapped his fingers at the large priest. “That moment will come soon enough. But first, we shall set about scourging some of your ancestor’s ill-deeds from you. Call it purification, if you will.”

The priest appeared in front of the Trallian, looming before the hanging man, and he held a long, plaited leather whip. Kieldrou groaned as he saw the lash, and he weakly cursed Telor and Sheoleth together.

“Leave his privy parts,” Telor said, and Kieldrou almost sighed with relief. “We have other things planned for those,” the gaunt man continued, laughing in Kieldrou’s face.

Kieldrou could not bite back the cry that tore from his lips as the first lash seared across his body, the triple strands of the whip leaving red welts on his already blackened body. Sweat started on his skin, dripping into his eyes and matting his hair.

The whip continued to flick and strike, each time drawing cries from the tortured man. He bled in a dozen places, where the tips of the lash had cut his skin, and his chest and abdomen were red and raw.

“Enough,” commanded Telor after a while, stepping forward to inspect the wounds with a glint of satisfaction on his face. Kieldrou hung limply in his chains, his body drenched with sweat, tiny rivulets of blood running down his sides.

“Curse you,” he moaned weakly, his teeth gritted.

The second priest came forward with a pail of icy cold water, which he dashed over the Trallian. Kieldrou’s body arched in a spasm as the cold water drenched him, and his mind was twisted by the shock.

“It is the duty of the Brotherhood to punish Mankind for the fire they accepted from the gods,” Telor said, jerking Kieldrou’s head up by his long white hair. “That, however, was just for you, as retribution for your ancestor’s blasphemy.”

“Son of a diseased whore!” moaned Kieldrou, then he grunted as Telor back-handed him across the mouth.

“You continue to defy me, which is good. But you will beg for death, later. Still,” Telor continued, turning away. “We must continue. It is time to sacrifice to our Great Lord, Sheoleth.”

As if by magic, two more priests entered the dungeon, one carrying a large copper bowl and a copper chalice, the other leading a goat on a straining leash. The goat was male, its long curved horns framing its frightened, bleating face. Kieldrou was relieved that the sacrifice was obviously not to be himself or Rhianne, who still lay inert on the altar.

The goat was dragged between Kieldrou and the altar, in the full light of the braziers that had been pulled forward. It was held still, and the large copper bowl placed on the floor beneath its head. The chalice was placed to one side.

“The goat, the first beast to fall under Man’s spell when he gained the secret of fire,” Telor said, pulling an ornately decorated knife from his belt. It had an ivory hilt, and in the pommel was a round chunk of polished lapis lazuli. “Man used fire to put himself above other creatures, and to tame them to do his bidding. Thus we sacrifice the goat to Sheoleth, dedicating its suffering to Him. For as the animals suffered, so He suffers from the torment imposed on Him by Man’s creators.”

Telor began to intone a litany, in a language that sounded to Kieldrou like that of Azzawa, though a form so archaic that he could not properly understand. He did recognise the name Ammabok, however, which he knew was how Sheoleth was known in the desert lands. He watched Telor’s face as the man invoked his demon lord, his eyes glinting with madness.

Telor ceased his imprecation, and the knife slashed down, across the taut throat of the nervous animal. Blood gushed forth in a torrent, splashing into the wide bowl and filling it fast, black life blood that poured and poured as the goat’s kicking weakened, its eyes glazed over, until it hung limp in the strong hands of the priest who held it. Its use over, the carcass was pulled back from the gory bowl, still dripping its sanguinary emission, and tossed, forgotten, into the shadows. Later its skull would adorn the altar in Telor’s sanctuary, but for now the cadaver lay discarded, unwanted.

Telor cleaned the knife and tucked it away in the sheath at his belt. He slowly walked around the alter where Rhianne lay chained, and leaned on it casually, looking at Kieldrou.

“Now I must prepare the next sacrifice to Sheoleth. He is a generous lord, giving to us what we require to carry out His work. In return, we render unto Him the children of our loins, to do with as He wills. This woman will be Sheoleth’s bride, and on her many children will be fathered to carry on His work, and free Him from His hellish prison.”

Telor snapped his fingers again, and one of the priests dipped the copper chalice into the bowl of blood, bringing the cup to his high priest.

“Imbued with the blood of the sufferer, so we shall join for the Arch-sufferer.”

Telor raised the cup to his lips, and drank the blood of the goat. It ran down his chin and splashed on his leather tunic, and he smiled at Kieldrou through gory lips. He bent over Rhianne, and lifted her head from the stone by her hair.

“Leave her alone,” Kieldrou cried weakly, straining impotently at his bonds.

Rhianne was gradually emerging from her drugged stupor, and she struggled weakly as Telor brought the cup to her lips. She gagged and retched as he forced the cup between her teeth, and poured the thick red liquid into her mouth. It spilled over her chin and drenched the altar underneath her neck and shoulders.

Telor continued to pour until the chalice was empty, then he passed it back to the waiting priest, letting Rhianne’s bloody head drop to the stone. Rhianne twisted in her bonds and fixed Kieldrou with a terrified, pleading stare, still choking and coughing on the terrible liquid. Kieldrou struggled in his chains, even though he knew it would do no good.

Telor pulled Rhianne’s head around and looked into her eyes before releasing it. “She is not completely free,” he declared. “She must be under no abnormal influences when she is dedicated to Sheoleth.”

He caressed her body with his hands, laughing at Kieldrou as he did so.

“How many times have you touched her like this, Kieldrou? Does it please you that your last sight will be of her being taken by another? Do not worry, though, for I will not give her to the Brotherhood. She will be kept for me, and she will live for the nights that I send for her.”

“She will put a knife in your black heart,” Kieldrou spat.

Telor walked to stand at the foot of the altar, trailing his bloody hand along Rhianne’s smooth, white flesh. He did not take his eyes from Kieldrou as he positioned himself between her spread legs, and unbuckled his belt, dropping it casually to the floor.

“She is nearly ready. The dedication will soon be complete.”

 Da-da-daaaah!

Well, I have to end it on a cliff-hanger, don’t I? The thing is, I really don’t want to give away any spoilers, so if you wish to find out whether Kieldrou gets himself, and Rhianne, out of this situation, you’ll just have to read The Demon’s Consort.

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How Gumbee Fantasy Writers’ characters interact with their worlds. Number 1: Marcus Pailing

This was an intriguing idea for a post: how do characters interact with the world around them? After all, not only are these fictional characters, but they inhabit fictional worlds. At the same time, their relationship with the environment and people around them must seem real if the fantasy story is to work.

This is, perhaps, one of the most difficult aspect of world-building. Some of us might have created and developed only a small part of a world, just enough for the purposes of the story. Other writers create an entire world, or even a series of worlds; but if they are to be ‘believed’, they have to work logically. It’s also not just about the world, but how a character interacts with that world is key to making the character three-dimensional and believable. It’s not always easy, I can tell you!

One of the commonest areas where fantasy writers create short cuts is over the issue of language. So often we read of the “common tongue”, or an equivalent, which enables all the characters to converse with each other with seemingly little trouble. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this, although it is seen as a bit of a joke in some quarters. (It’s all Tolkien’s fault, anyway: because he worked so hard to create so many different languages, he had to use a Common Tongue to allow his different races to communicate with one another. And if Tolkien did it, then it’s acceptable for everyone to do it.)

I pondered this issue when I wrote The Demon’s Consort, the second book in the Fields of Battle series. I wished to have a hidden land – a sort of Shangri-La – which is apparently unknown to the rest of the world until my hero, Kieldrou, arrives there to face his enemies. Everything went fine, until I reached the point where Kieldrou actually meets the inhabitants (the Ogan) for the first time. Suddenly I had a problem: if the Ogan are unknown to the rest of the world, then surely they won’t speak the same language? Oops!

This is the result of my subsequent, frantic thinking. Fortunately, Kieldrou is a widely travelled adventurer, who has learned other languages in the past; so it is going to be easier for him to pick up the Ogan tongue.

“Mahapta! Mahapta! Come quickly.”

It was Tiala who called him. She was standing at the gate of Asharhu’s house, looking south into the valley.

Mahapta came at a run, leaving Asharhu to follow at a more leisurely pace. The older man was not used to haste, and he tired more quickly at this time in his life. It was raining today, a bleak drizzle that irritated but did not soak, and Mahapta had declined to pull on an over-tunic when he came to discuss plans with his sister’s father-in-law. He sheltered under the gate, brushing rain from his bare arms, and followed where she pointed.

“By Ani,” he breathed. “Who, or what, is that?”

A large, four-legged beast was coming along the road towards them, very much like the asses and donkeys of the Ogan, only bigger, sleeker and more muscular.

A man appeared to be seated on the beast, which was an odd thing to do to a work animal; and the beast was not pulling a plough or a cart.

The man was dressed strangely, not in wool or linen, but in what appeared to be leather, garments made from cured hides, and strangely cut and shaped to wrap his limbs individually. He did not wear sandals or slippers, but instead strange things, also of leather, which rose up his legs to the knees.

“What an odd man, and on that big ass,” said Tiala, excited, and Asharhu, when he arrived to see, echoed her wonder.

The man on the animal saw the three staring, and pulled on the leather bindings that were wrapped around the animal’s head. The beast stopped, and snorted, stamping its hooves, while the man patted its strong neck. Then, nimbly, he swung a leg over the animal’s back, and dropped to the ground. Mahapta winced, and made to move forward to help him up, but pulled up short as the man walked in front of the beast, apparently unhurt.

Leaving the animal standing still, the man walked towards them, his hand resting on the hilt of the very long, and heavy, knife at his side. He was smiling, and was speaking in a strange tongue, a jabbering, unintelligible language.

He was taller than any of the three, much taller; in fact, he was nearly as tall as Telor, though his shoulders were broader, and his limbs and chest thicker than those of their enemy. His eyes were of a clear blue, which drew a gasp of wonder from them all, and his hair was long and almost white. This was the most fantastic aspect of his appearance to the Ogan, for this man was not old, and the hair of the Ogan never grew lighter than a raven’s wing until a man or a woman succumbed to back-bending age.

“What manner of man are you?” Asharhu asked, attempting to keep the tremor from his voice.

The man raised an eyebrow, cocked his head, and jabbered something. His blue eyes fixed each of them in turn, burning into theirs with an icy intensity. But he did not seem inimical. Nor did he appear to be afraid of them. He continued to smile.

Mahapta stepped forward, looking up into the big man’s face. He held out a hand. “I am Mahapta,” he said.

“Mahapta,” The man repeated this a couple of times, then threw back his head and laughed. He had a strong voice, neither rough nor too deep, and he said the name a couple of times more before clasping Mahapta’s hand. Then he placed his other hand on his chest. “Kieldrou.”

“Kieldrou,” repeated Mahapta, then smiled. “Well, strange man, at least we know your name.”

Kieldrou was introduced to Asharhu and to Tiala. When he got to the girl he did the most interesting thing. He lifted her arm, and, stooping down, he kissed the back of her hand. Tiala jumped back in shock, and Mahapta leaped in front of her protectively. Asharhu took her hand and looked at her skin. It was unbroken, un-bruised.

“It does not hurt,” Tiala assured him. “It was just a kiss.”

Kieldrou frowned at their reaction to his gallantry, then realisation dawned on his face, and he laughed again. He spread his arm and gibbered a long sentence, all the time with an amused look on his face.

“Where do you come from?” Mahapta asked, speaking very slowly.

Kieldrou shook his head, saying something else.

“Are you hungry?” Mahapta accompanied this with a mime of eating. Kieldrou nodded vigorously. At least here was a language they could all understand.

By now a crowd had gathered, and two or three people were inspecting the tall animal, pulling at the leather chair on its back with the sandals of metal that hung down on either side. The animal jerked and snorted, sending the inquisitive Ogan running for cover.

Kieldrou looked around, and made a whistling sound with his lips. The beast quietened, and trotted over obediently, nuzzling his shoulder as he gripped the bindings on its head.

“Bring him inside,” said Asharhu. “and the large … ass, though do not get too close.”

The crowd of bystanders pressed in as they passed under the gate, but Mahapta closed the doors against their questions and prying eyes.

Kieldrou was a big man, at least compared with the Ogan, and he had been travelling for a long time, so he ate a lot of food before he was finished. He had taken off the leather clothing that covered his arms, chest and abdomen, and they were relieved to see that there was ordinary flesh underneath, and that he wore a shirt of good linen as well, though this too was cut and sewn to fit his body, albeit loosely. They marvelled at the size of his swordsman’s arms, for they were like the arms of the Ogan blacksmiths, covered in bulging muscle. Mahapta fancied himself to be well-shaped, but his arms were like sticks by comparison. Of course, there was a great difference in height as well.

Tiala was fascinated, especially when the stranger stretched his arms out and she saw the expanse of his deep, broad chest. The man was a giant against her own people.

“I wish we could talk with you,” Asharhu said.

Kieldrou made a pretence at writing something, and Mahapta grabbed Tiala’s arm. “A pen, and vellum. Quick!”

She understood, and ran off, returning a few minutes later with a large strip of vellum and a stick of charcoal, the best she could find. These she handed sheepishly to Kieldrou, who took them in his large, calloused hands with a nod of thanks, a smile, and a short burst of nonsensical speech.

He thought for a while, then muttered to himself and smiled. He began to scribble on the parchment, pausing now and again to scratch his head and think.

He held up the vellum, and they looked at a hurriedly, yet well-drawn pictogram of a man. “Kieldrou,” he said, pointing at the man.

“Yes, yes,” said Mahapta. “Look, there are the funny things on his legs and feet.”

Kieldrou drew again and the picture he now held up made them start, for it was clearly one of the devil-priests.

“The priests of Sheoleth,” Mahapta said.

Kieldrou nodded vigorously, pointing at the picture. “Sheoleth,” he affirmed. Then he said something else, pointing to the floor.

“He wants to know if they are here,” Asharhu mused, grasping the concept of this game. “Have a care, Mahapta,” he warned.

But Kieldrou was absorbed in a third picture, which took longer, and he laughed to himself many times as he scribbled. This third picture was more detailed, and Kieldrou looked at them earnestly as he handed over the vellum to Mahapta.

There were two characters: one was a devil-priest, lying on the ground, with a long knife sticking up from his chest; the other was clearly Kieldrou again, standing over the priest and wearing a smile.

Mahapta passed the vellum to Asharhu. The older man studied it, looked long at the stranger, then turned to his friend. “You know,” he said with a smile. “I think that prayer of yours to Ani might have worked.”

By the end of the day, Mahapta had learned that Kieldrou’s animal was called a ‘horse’, and that it was, indeed, similar to an ass. The chair on its back was called a ‘saddle’ and the things on Kieldrou’s legs were called ‘boots’. Kieldrou took out his very long knife, or ‘sword’, and let the Ogan hold it. It was longer and wider than the knives carried by the priests, and it was heavy, although Kieldrou swung it about as if it were a stick. They exchanged vocabulary, and after they had mastered all manner of disconnected nouns, they began the slow, comical task of tackling verbs. As they walked, ran, picked up, carried and dropped things around the courtyard, they shouted verb forms at each other, until they could construct rudimentary sentences in each other’s language. It was an interesting exercise, which Kieldrou initiated and led; he also seemed quicker at grasping the Ogan language than Mahapta was at learning his. However, Mahapta had never considered that there might be people in the world who spoke anything other than the Ogan tongue; Kieldrou, on the other hand, must have done this a few times before.

Asharhu drew Mahapta aside at dinner that night, while Kieldrou was busy devouring a loaf of bread and a bowl of stew. Tiala and her husband were away from the house, dining with Mahapta’s other sister and her husband. Only the three men remained in the dining hall.

“Kieldrou can sleep here tonight, but at daybreak we must find him somewhere else to stay. He is on our side, but Telor has eyes everywhere, and we cannot lose our plans for the stranger.”

“We sacrifice him to preserve ourselves?”

“We will not sacrifice him at all, if we can help it,” urged Asharhu. “But without him we can still succeed. We must not allow his arrival to destroy our plans. Which is why we have to get him away from us.”

“I understand. I will take him to the temple. Few go there now, and the priest of Ani will rejoice in some company until we can deliver his congregations once more.”

“Good. Go early, so that you are not seen.”

“This is good,” mumbled Kieldrou through a mouthful of stew. “My thanks.” He did not get the words quite right, but he was understood.

“He has learned quickly,” Asharhu said, with due appreciation. “How much of his tongue have you learned?”

“A little, but not as much as he has of ours. I intend to work on it.”

“Do so. When we control the Kinishtu I wish to seek contact with the world that we know exists. We will need ambassadors who can speak with the foreigners.”

Mahapta beamed, knowing that his talents were to be appreciated.

“Eat,” he commanded Kieldrou in the stranger’s language. Then in his own he added, “Then we can talk some more. I want to learn more of your language.” Kieldrou looked puzzled, but after two or three repetitions he understood. He searched for the words he wanted.

“Speak I you … more,” he tried, looking for Mahapta’s encouragement. “Speak you me …” he struggled.

“You teach me more, and I teach you more, also.”

Kieldrou repeated the words, nodded, and gave a big grin. He was enjoying this!

It is not necessary that Kieldrou and Mahapta should have long conversations. They need just enough to get by, and to recognise that they share an enemy. A little later in the story, Kieldrou’s friends also arrive at the Ogan city. There is no time for them to sit around learning the language; so every interaction at that point must be done with sign language and actions, unless Kieldrou is on hand to help with translation.

It was an interesting exercise; and it has led me to do much more background work for a future book. At some point I intend to write of Kieldrou’s youthful adventures in the desert lands of Azzawa, and for that I have been creating the Azzawan language (at least in part). That, in itself, has been an intriguing intellectual exercise!

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers’ ‘do’ Emotion: No. 1, Marcus Pailing

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!

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Gumbee Writers’ Fight Scenes, Part 4, Marcus Pailing

I will be honest: I like writing fight scenes. I also think I’m pretty good at it. So when the subject of fight scenes came up I was keen to add my tuppence-worth. This is an attempt to briefly explain my approach to writing fight scenes.

The first thing I do, as one might expect, is to decide what sort of fight I’m going to write: a large battle, a minor skirmish, a duel? (I’m not even going to touch on sieges, here, which are a different kettle of fish for various reasons.) The type of fight I write will necessarily be determined by the plot.

Except for large battles, I also have to decide where the fighting takes place. A skirmish might be in the open air, or in woods; perhaps it’s a city-based fight, in which case I have to consider the layout of the streets. One of the fights in my novel The Death of Kings takes place in a single room in a small building, which required a different approach altogether.

The next question I ponder is what sort of fight I wish to describe. This can depend on the point of view I’m going to use. In some cases, a description of a glorious battle featuring knights in shining armour might have fewer ‘close-ups’ of the action. In which case the battle might not appear very bloody – nor, indeed, especially dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Personally, I prefer to focus on close-up action, and to make my fights as visceral as possible (although I do think it’s possible to go too far). In which case, writing the fight from one person’s point of view, or jumping between characters, is the best way to do this. In the novella Questions of Allegiance, one battle is described by the protagonist, Derian Orthon. This is a short extract only:

Then we were through, leaving a broad avenue of bloody ruin behind us. I do not know how many we lost when we fought through the infantry, but we were still well over a hundred as we thundered up the hillside towards the Prince’s banner. Now the true fight began, as the Prince’s bodyguard rode to meet us.

They fought like demons, and we fought back like furies. Our formation, which had held together so well, broke apart as we clashed with the Albanachans, and the hillside became the scene of a score of smaller battles.

I narrowly avoided a flashing lance point. Leaning out of my saddle I slashed out, taking the lancer’s arm off at the elbow. As he reeled away, spraying gore, I swung my blade back to meet a second man who loomed up on my left. His sword sheared away the top of my shield; mine cut away half his jaw, exposed by an open helm. His ruined face disappeared behind a crimson spray, then Fernhelm’s blade lanced into his throat and he tumbled from his horse.

 It is important to be realistic; the fact that I have good knowledge of weapons and armour – and, indeed, how to use them! – is a great help. Realism is important: however a character is accoutred, I must to consider the likelihood of him (or her) being wounded or killed. If my character is going to survive uninjured, why is that? Is it because he is better armoured, or a better fighter, or just plain lucky? In a street fight, one person pitted against three others is going to get hurt, even if only with minor wounds. In a large-scale battle, it is entirely possible that a character will sail through the whole experience without a scratch (although, to be honest, it’s unlikely).

At the end of the day, fights are dangerous, often brutal, and when weapons are involved they can be lethal. For me, the best fight scenes are those that convey the danger and brutality realistically. If I can make my reader wince, at least once, when reading one of my fight scenes, then I think I have done a decent job!

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