View Full Version : Esfires' book thread.

05-30-2011, 01:52 AM
The other thread's title is somewhat obsolete now, so I figured I'd create a new topic in which I could consolidate everything. Same idea as last time, let me know what you think of the writing. Constructive criticism is always welcome. I don't want to give too much away about the setting, as I don't want to taint anybody's perception of the narrative itself. Suffice it to say that the book will have a sort of low fantasy setting. No elves or goblins or flashy magics, no teenage boys that suddenly discover that they're the "chosen one" or other such nonsense. Right now the story is just introducing the locale and characters and setting the foundation for coming developments. Have no fear, though, the shit will eventually hit the fan with much violence.

No title yet, by the way:


Simon watched, not without some consternation, as the rat struggled valiantly to pull itself up the side of the rain barrel, scrabbling with its tiny claws in a desperate and futile attempt to find purchase on the slime-slick wood. The rain had long since ceased, though the dark sky still rumbled with the threat of more to come. If the tiring rodent had any conception of the inevitability of its demise it gave no indication, scratching at the confines of its enclosure as if salvation lay a mere inch beyond the reach of its paws instead of a good foot or more.

Simon had spent the last few minutes attempting to rescue the rat from its watery prison, earning himself a series of scratches and one nasty bite in the process. His most recent attempt, involving a pair of twigs with which he tried to lever the animal out of the barrel, had proven no more profitable. The panicky creature had repeatedly wrenched and twisted out of his grasp, preferring to dig furrows in the side of the barrel rather than suffer the well-intentioned ministrations of the lanky, dark haired boy.

Doesn’t he know that I’m trying to help? Simon wondered as he failed once again to keep the rat pinched between the two sticks. The rodent disappeared under the water for a moment as it splashed back down into the barrel, coming up at last with an angry squeal. It had been growing steadily weaker as time wore on, and its vocalizations had declined from constant expressions of outrage and indignation to intermittent cries of exasperation and distress. Stupid animal, he thought angrily.

He turned his eyes up from the rat’s futile endeavors and out across a meadow of dark green grass, rippling as the last breath of the recent mid-afternoon storm swirled across the verdant expanse. In the distance, muddy fields covered gentle hills still littered with row upon row of fibrous stumps, the remains of a crop of corn whose harvest was being celebrated in the large country manor behind him. Neighbors and tenants alike had gathered in his father’s house for the beginning of the yearly celebration marking the end of their labors and the onset of winter. Simon had made the appropriate small talk expected of the son of Elijah Gates, one of the more affluent land owners in the small town of Hamlin, before making his way quietly out the back and away from the cloying cigar smoke and perfume scented air of the party.

He didn’t mind the company of the people who made up the small rural community. His father kept good relations with his tenants, and the neighboring families of the village viewed him with a more than common respect. It was the stiffness and tedium of such gatherings that agitated him. The crowd inside the manor would be standing in the parlor holding glasses of wine and sampling the various meats and pastries passed around on silver trays by the family servants, making exclamations over the success of the year’s crops and speculating on the coming year’s prospects. The ladies would compliment each other’s dresses and gossip about whose daughters would make fine wives for the limited supply of marriageable young men in town, while the men smoked and spoke of business and hunting in a series of amiable grunts. Simon resented the pretense of the whole affair, all that talk and not a thing to say.

His mind wandered back to his first such event, when he had been barely old enough to understand the solemnity required of him at these proceedings. It had been the first time he had been allowed to have a glass of wine, and he had quickly discovered his distaste for it. But all of the other guests had been holding their own glasses as they mingled, and so he had continued to bear his full glass with him as he traversed the room in a studied imitation of his father’s formality. This did not last five minutes before a small wrinkle in the rug, a mountain to such tiny feet, had broken his solemn stride and caused him to dash the contents of the goblet down the front of his snow white shirt. The low din of the room had died to a deafening silence as all eyes turned to the cherry-red boy struggling not to cry in front of his father’s friends.

It had been Elizabeth who had come to his rescue. His sister had gathered him up into her arms with a whispered reassurance and carried him off into the pantry where she and Mrs. Hill, the plump family maid, promptly stripped him and wiped him clean before dressing him anew in his second best shirt. He had sobbed terribly when they were done, for he could not bear to return to a parlor full of eyes that would forever see the wine stains down his front no matter how new his clothes. Elizabeth had discerned the reason for his distress and had taken him instead down to the small pond that lay between two hills and out of sight of the house, where they skipped stones and chased fireflies for the rest of the afternoon, only returning once the attendees had departed.

He wished he could make another trip to that pond with his sister, leaving the drab reception behind yet again. But while he could still manage to make his own escape, his sister had never been one to run from such an affair. She would still be inside, speaking of hats and ribbons with the other ladies and rebuffing the advances of the handful of young men present. He knew that she didn’t like these parties any more than he did, but she had always had a greater sense of propriety than Simon could ever muster. No, if he went inside and doused her with a glass of wine she would be back in another dress and mingling with the neighbors inside of ten minutes.

He smiled at the thought, nonetheless, as he returned his attentions to the barrel and its doomed occupant. The rat had ceased its pursuit of freedom, having little energy left for anything but a dogged struggle to keep its head above water. The rodent was at the end of its strength and it wouldn’t be long now before it would slip once more under the ripples, never to return to the surface. Mrs. Hill would have quite a fright in the morning when she came out to start the week’s laundry.

Simon frowned as he reapplied himself to the task of extracting the rat from its predicament. Something was tickling the back of his mind, some solution involving his memory of wine spilling down the front of his shirt on that afternoon, years ago. He struggled to bring the thought to fruition as the rat’s paddling grew ever weaker.

At last it came to him, and he bent down and placed his shoulder against the side of the barrel and heaved against it. His first attempt resulted in nothing but his feet sliding out from under him in the muck, bringing him to his knees and splattering his clothing with slime. But he got to his feet and dug in his heels, finding purchase at last and sending the rain barrel tipping into the yard. A great deluge of water rushed across the muddy ground, bearing aloft the very tired and very confused rat.

As the waters receded, the rat lay still on the ground, sides heaving in the aftermath of its exertions. After a moment it climbed shakily to its feet and scrambled under the steps leading back up into the kitchen. Simon stood for a while with his hands on his hips and, with a silent admonition towards the rat to stay out of barrels, went into the house to once more find his second best shirt.

05-30-2011, 01:53 AM

Elizabeth Gates was not, in fact, rebuffing the advances of any young men. This was not because of any change of heart on her part. She still considered most of the men in town to be humorless fops, more interested in shooting the local wildlife than engaging in any sort of interesting conversation. No, this afternoon the men were directing all their attention toward the recent arrival in town of a regiment of infantry out of Maridon in the west. This was not in itself an unusual occurrence. Hamlin was nearly a border town, after all, though there had been no hostilities with Garrowith, the republic not twenty miles to the south across the muddy Blackwater, for nearly a century. But the news that the regiment would be wintering in town was causing enough of a stir for the men in the room to rival their women in gossip.

“Why do they not stay in Waterfield? Surely it could accommodate them more comfortably,” queried Mr. Newcastle, who owned a small parcel of land north of the Gates estate.

“From what I understand, Waterfield is already playing host to its own green-coated guests. I suppose this bunch might be a bit of runoff from the garrison there,” came the reply from the rotund Mr. Williams, who ran the tariff-station down at the docks on the Blackwater. Hamlin spread lazily along the river that formed the border between the republics of Maridon and Garrowith, and most of the news that reached the town came by way of the various merchant boats that plied their trade back and forth along the meandering coast. Mr. Williams’ position as gate-keeper of that thoroughfare placed him at center stage whenever information from abroad eventually seeped into Hamlin, a position that he relished with more than a little enthusiasm.

“Waterfield’s garrison is of considerable size,” ventured Mr. Gates. “If they’re already full up then this must be more than mere exercise.”

“Perhaps the southerners are getting restless,” suggested Mr. Newcastle.

“I doubt it,” replied Mr. Williams. “Trade has been quite good between us lately, nearly half of my business in the last year has involved shipments from across the water. Cotton has been flourishing particularly well for the last decade, and I don’t see Garrowith doing anything to jeopardize their access to the northern markets.”

“Let us not forget that the Blackwater does not end at the eastern border,” said Mr. Gates.

“The Uplanders? They’re a prickly bunch, I suppose, always on about that spit of land this side of the hills, but it’s been a long time since they’ve done anything but raid for sheep or burn a few barns over it. And besides, they haven’t an inland navy to speak of. If they were to cause trouble it wouldn’t be by way of the river.” This assertion was met by noises of general agreement followed by furrowed brows as the men searched for another explanation to account for the sudden increase in military activity.

Elizabeth followed the conversation of the men with some interest, even as she paid nominal attention to the ramblings of Mrs. Newcastle, who was extolling the virtues of her new son in law. Mrs. Newcastle’s youngest daughter, Mary, had wedded a man from Waterfield not two months gone, and her copious mother was still basking in the glow of having achieved the most estimable act of marrying off the last of her children.

“Mr. Aubrey is in the legal trade, you see, quite well set up,” Mrs. Newcastle was saying. “Something to do with taxes, I believe.”

“That’s wonderful, Mrs. Newcastle. Is Mary getting along well in Waterfield?” Elizabeth asked, keeping her attention on her father’s discussion.

“Oh, as well as can be expected, I suppose,” Mrs. Newcastle replied. “She is to attend a ball next week at the home of a Mr. Dickens, some associate of Mr. Aubrey’s. She writes that the ladies in town have been particularly gracious, considering her country origins.”

“She is adapting well to life in town, then?”

“Oh, wonderfully. Though Mr. Aubrey is apparently considering the purchase of a home here in Hamlin, a sort of retreat from the bustle of life back west.”

“Really? Perhaps I’ll finally have a chance to meet the gentleman.”

“Oh, I hope you do, he is a most amiable man,” said Mrs. Newcastle with a contented sigh before leaning in close and placing her hand on Elizabeth’s arm. “You ought to get out to Waterfield yourself, Lizzy. I know the selection of men here is somewhat bare, but you won’t be of marriageable age forever, my dear. Mary says that Waterfield is veritably teeming with bachelors.”

Elizabeth flashed the woman a thankful smile. “Of course, Mrs. Newcastle, that is a wonderful idea.” Of course, she had no intention of doing any such thing. At twenty-seven, it was true that she was coming dangerously close to the end of her prime, but she would die an old maid before she joined herself to some ridiculous dandy that she didn’t love in order to obtain financial security or social status. “Perhaps I’ll find some excuse to visit Mary next summer.”

Mrs. Newcastle was on the verge of replying when Simon burst into the room soaking wet and covered in what appeared to be mud. His eyes searched out their father before his face burst into an excited grin.

“Simon, what on earth-”

“Officers, father! There are two men from the army waiting to see you.”

05-30-2011, 01:54 AM

Elizabeth followed her father into his study, where the two visitors had been led by Mrs. Hill. The men were staring out the large window that dominated the southern wall. The view looked out upon the dirt road that passed in front of the house and on two horses tethered to a post in the front yard. The small room became even more crowded as Simon, still grinning from ear to ear, squeezed in behind her.

“What can I do for you gentlemen?” asked her father.

The gentlemen in question turned and the taller of the two, a solid man with blonde hair and a bold nose, spoke in a friendly voice. “I am Lieutenant Colonel Price, sir, of the twenty-third regiment, out of Maridon. This is Second Lieutenant Mathews,” he said, indicating the square-jawed man at his side. “You are Mr. Gates, I presume?”

“I am. This is my daughter Elizabeth and my son, Simon,” he said as he shook the large man’s hand. “Please, have a seat. Would you and your man like something to drink, Colonel?”

“No, thank you,” replied Mr. Price as he and Lieutenant Mathews settled into matching wingback chairs. As he sat, he swept aside the saber that hung at his side, its finely polished brass hilt drawing Simon’s eyes as it swung about. “We won’t be staying long, we have a good many more estates to visit before the day is through.”

Elizabeth and her father lowered themselves onto the couch opposite the two officers while her brother, still gaping at the brushed green coats and shining brass buttons, thrust his hands into his pockets and squirreled himself into the only empty corner of the room. “To what do I owe the honor of this visit?” her father inquired again.

“To a small unpleasantness, I’m afraid,” said Mr. Price. “My regiment has been ordered to winter in Hamlin, as you may have heard. During this time the enlisted camp will be set closer to the river. However, I may require lodgings from the various nearby estates for my officers.”

Her father rubbed his hand over his day-old stubble while he considered this news. “And what exactly would we be required to provide?”

Colonel Price smiled, “Three meals a day and a bed will be all my men would need, sir. We are small for a regiment. More of a battalion, really. I understand that we are imposing on you and your family and I wish to keep this arrangement as comfortable as possible for the citizenry. We have already occupied most of the lodgings in town for the coming months, and I am only sending a small bit of overflow out here to the country. Your own home need only play host to one of my men, I believe.”

“And when might we be expecting our guest?” asked Mr. Gates.

“I’ll be sending out my men once the camp is settled, in two or three days.”

Mr. Gates pursed his lips as he stared at the open faced young officer. The ticking of the ancient clock resting on the mantle over the study’s fireplace was the only noise in the room as her father considered his next statement. “If I might be so bold,” he eventually began, “why is the regiment to be stationed here? We are a small town, mostly farmers. It is true that we take in some trade from across the border, but that has never required a military presence before.”

The leather of Mr. Price’s chair uttered a gentle creak as he settled back into it and waved his hand helplessly. “To be frank, you know as much as I do, sir. I am only a field officer. The army tells me to go and I go. My orders are to establish camp here for the winter, at the end of which I will most likely receive new orders to pack up and move elsewhere.” His dark-haired companion remained silent.

Mr. Gates leaned forward. “I’ve heard that the garrison in Waterfield is also receiving some unexpected additions. Surely there must be some reason for all this running to and fro.”

“There is always a reason, Mr. Gates.” Price said as he and Lieutenant Mathews rose to their feet. “But it is not my duty to question, only to do.” He offered his hand to her father and, with a small bow to Elizabeth herself, the men took their leave.

“Well, I’d say we got off rather easy,” sighed Mr. Gates as he sank back onto the couch.

“What do you mean, father?” asked Elizabeth.

“By rights the Colonel could have commandeered our whole harvest to feed his men, as it hasn’t yet been brought to market. In contrast, playing host to a single officer for three months seems quite light.”

“Do you think it’ll be Mr. Price?” asked Simon. “Do you think he’ll show me his sword?”

“Simon, you will treat our guest with dignity and respect. You will not ask to play with his equipment,” Mr. Gates said in a stern voice as he shared a knowing look with Elizabeth. She tried to hide her smile.

“I’m not going to play with it,” Simon muttered. “I only want to look at it.” His eyes drifted far away as he envisioned himself swinging a brass-hilted saber in defense of the Republic on some distant battlefield before suddenly lighting up as a new thought popped into his mind. “Oh, do you think he’ll have a gun?”

06-05-2011, 02:26 PM
So far, so good. I'm looking forward to more.

I do have one question though. You said that you were going with a sort of "low fantasy" setting, but it seems to me that you're going with more of a more modern background (the uniforms, guns, sabers, etc.). Have you decided to go with something like a Napoleonic era setting, or is this going to be one of the weird hybrids like Steampunk? Just curious.

06-05-2011, 05:53 PM
No, it's more pre-Napoleonic. It's something that I haven't seen done all that much. It still gives the setting access to an institution of melee combat, but adds in rifles and artillery as well. There is also a societal dynamic that is different than what you usually find in fantasy literature.

There's more coming, but I had a friend in from out of town all last week and wasn't able to work on it.

06-08-2011, 01:13 AM
And here's the long-awaited next installment:


Elizabeth sat in the compact kitchen off the back porch, peeling a small basket of apples before passing them on to Mrs. Hill. The matronly woman was slicing them for a series of pies that would soon go in the oven as a welcome to their new guest, who was to arrive that evening. Dust motes hung suspended in the golden rays of early afternoon sunlight that poured in from the kitchen’s two south-facing windows, swirling gently in a lazy dance to the accompaniment of Mrs. Hill’s humming voice.

Her hands may have been occupied with the ruby red results of this year’s harvest, but her thoughts had drifted back to a similar afternoon almost sixteen years before. In her mind’s eye Elizabeth’s twelve-year-old hands worked at a different basket of apples, green apples that time.

It had not been Mrs. Hill, but rather Elizabeth’s mother that had pared down the round white orbs into small pieces for the pies. Delicate hands had worked the fruit with a deft quickness that had belied the roundness of the belly beneath her red cotton dress. In less than a month Simon would come into the world, and her mother would leave it. One life would be exchanged for another, and the lives of Elijah Gates and his young daughter would be left forever darker for that transaction.

Her mother had been singing on that afternoon, a different melody than the one being sung by Mrs. Hill. Elizabeth wished desperately that she could recall it, but the tune eluded her.

“Not too many, dear. We’re not feeding the whole army.” Mrs. Hill’s voice brought Elizabeth back to the present. She looked down to discover a large pile of fragrant apple skins sitting before her, larger than she had intended. Half the basket was gone already. They would have to make an extra pie.

“I was thinking about mother,” she said by way of excuse. The elderly maid paused and her eyes took on a sad light, even as her mouth softly curled into an understanding smile. “She was a lovely woman, child. Always had a way about her of making a person feel wanted. Like they was someone important.” Mrs. Hill left the rest of the apples to Elizabeth and turned to the dough, which had been rising in the corner by the oven. “I wish Simon could have known her.”

Simon had been raised more by Mrs. Hill than by anyone else. Elizabeth had been too young to truly take on the role of a mother, but the maid had stepped up to the task admirably. It was Mrs. Hill who had soothed the scraped knees and bruised elbows of the rambunctious child. With no children of her own, she had delighted in all of Simon’s little triumphs, and upheld him through all the travails that accompanied the life of a boy growing into manhood. Elizabeth had eventually learned to take on these responsibilities for herself, but it was Mrs. Hill who had shown her the way.

Her father had never really been present in Simon’s life. He had tried, doing his best to be both mentor and protector to his young son, but Elijah had never been the same after his wife died. Even with Elizabeth he had become detached, growing in upon himself after that day. As the years passed he shriveled inwards, like a rose severed from its bush. His always sensitive temper, appeased before by the calming presence of his wife, was now prone to sudden outburst. And during those times when he was not raging at some escapade of his son he was cold, aloof. He was a shell of the man he had once been, going through the motions of existence without any real emotional involvement. Whatever life had been in him had fled the world along with Elizabeth’s mother.

It was that hair temper which had confined Simon to his room until supper. Since receiving the news that the family would be hosting an officer of the army, Simon had been veritably bouncing off the walls with excitement. Just that morning he had been sweeping through the house waving a branch that had been carefully selected and cut from one of the oak trees that shaded the walkway leading to the front of the house. Her brother had been calling out commands to imaginary troops, leading charges across imaginary battlefields, and swishing his imaginary sword left and right in a wild approximation of combat as he did battle with a host of imaginary foes.

One of those foes had fallen in their father’s study at the end of a particularly vigorous and glorious battle. Simon had dispatched his adversary with an admirable slash that would have earned him the acclaim of his men, had he been leading any actual men, and had his adversary been an actual soldier instead of an oil lamp sitting on their father’s desk. The lamp, fortunately unlit, had nevertheless toppled and spilled its contents upon a stack of business letters that Mr. Gates had been planning to send out with the post when he went into town that afternoon. Two of the letters had been ruined, the rest smelled of lamp oil, and Simon was sent to his room for the rest of the day.

Mrs. Hill had floured the table and was at work rolling out the dough for the first of the pies when a short, aging man in a worn brown coat entered the kitchen. Mr. Penniman, the gardener, doffed his shapeless hat to reveal a wispy patch of thin white hair and said, “The young gentleman from the army has arrived, ma’am.”

06-12-2011, 10:42 PM
Still good.

Just out of curiosity, do you write spontaneously, or do you use outlines? Or, for that matter, do you use some combination of the two?

06-12-2011, 10:58 PM
I have a general idea in my head of the overall plot and structure of the story, but I've never written an outline out before. The local narrative tends to be fairly spontaneous, though.

Chapter Five is coming, it's just coming slowly.

06-13-2011, 12:32 AM
And here we go with the next installment:


Elizabeth entered the parlor to find the young gentleman in question sitting on the couch, studiously engaged in using the cuff of his green coat to polish one of the many brass buttons that adorned the garment. Upon her entrance he shot to his feet, stiffened his back and clicked together the heels of his black boots. His face bore a vaguely guilty expression, reminding her of a time when she had caught her younger brother discretely shoving handfuls of candied almonds into his pockets at a neighbor’s party.

“Mr. Mathews, wasn’t it?” she asked, recognizing the officer who had accompanied Commander Price several days before.

He relaxed somewhat and his countenance took on a faint note of surprise, as if he was astonished that she had remembered his name. His hand grasped the hilt of the sword hanging at his hip as he sketched a quick bow and said, “Yes, ma’am, Thomas Mathews.”

“And we are to have the pleasure of your company for the season?” she asked.

“You are to have my company, ma’am, though I can make no promises as to pleasure it may provide. At the least I shall endeavor to present as small a burden as possible,” he replied.

“Surely your presence is not so odious,” she smiled.

He retained a fixed, slightly dour expression and said, “I flatter myself that I am not hateful company, ma’am, but I am under no illusions as to my disposition. I have never been one to engender affability in others. I am afraid that you have drawn the short straw, as it were.”

Elizabeth’s reply was cut short by a sudden loud rumbling of thunder, which evolved into the rush of hurried feet descending the stairs that lead to the second story of the house. The noise changed in pitch, though not in volume, as it reached the ground floor and made its way to the parlor door.

“Is he already here?” cried the wide eyed boy that burst into the room. Simon was drawn up short and his face went white as he took in the stunned expression of the officer standing in front of the couch and, perhaps more notably, the threatening glare of his sister. He straightened himself and tried to hide the branch that he grasped, the selfsame offender of that morning, behind his back.

“Simon, you were not to leave your room until dinner,” Elizabeth chided.

“But it would be rude not to welcome our guest,” he said, recovering himself.

“Don’t go speaking to me of rudeness,” she said. “Propriety has not appeared to be your chief concern, as of late.”

“Nor has obedience, apparently,” added her father as he entered the room. He sent a hard look toward his son as he began to remove the long, dark brown overcoat that still draped his wide frame. “You must forgive me, Mr. Mathews, I had not expected your arrival quite so early in the day or I would have been here to greet you myself. As it was I had some business in town this morning. I met Commander Price there and made an offer to bring his man back with me, but he said you had already left.”

“The fault is mine, sir,” said Mr. Mathews. “My duties in camp were quickly concluded and I perhaps left earlier than I should have.”

“Do you have a gun?” said Simon, oblivious to the interruption of his question.

Elijah made to admonish his son, but Mr. Mathews spoke first. “No, I do not,” he said. “Officers do not carry firearms. Not in the infantry, anyway.”

Simon’s face fell, but only for a moment. “Can I see your sword?” he said.

“Simon,” came the stern voice of his father, “Stop badgering the man and take Mr. Mathews’ bag up to his room.”

Simon, sensing the his father’s rising temper and conscious of the edge upon which he was balanced, retrieved and shouldered the white canvas sack that had been sitting at the foot of the couch and lumbered, disappointed, from the room. But presently, the enthusiasm that had waned upon his father’s dismissal began to rekindle as he felt the strange shapes under the canvas and began speculating as to their nature.

Back in the parlor, Elizabeth’s father prepared himself to politely but diligently probe the man who would be sheltering under his roof for the winter. He invited the lieutenant to sit, while he and his daughter took places opposite the officer across a small cherrywood table. He began to question the man. “Do you expect your duties to always be so brief, Mr. Mathews?”

“Not quite, no sir. We have set up a rotating roster for the officers to oversee the camp and winter training. I should only be in town one week in three.”

“That is somewhat lax, is it not? Not that I wish you to drive you out of my house, never think it. But I would expect a somewhat more industrious schedule, even for a winter encampment.”

“Commander Price is a bit unusual in that regard,” said the young man. “He has spent most of his duty up north. He was born there, in fact, near the Sweet Seas. Winters there are a good deal more harsh, and there is little that a soldier can do but hunker down and wait it out. I do not think he has yet acclimatized himself to the milder winters we have here in the south.”

“And where do you hail from yourself, Mr. Mathews?” asked Mr. Gates.

“Maridon, sir, born and raised,” replied Mathews.

“Have you never spent time out of the city?” asked Elizabeth.

“I was briefly on station at the eastern border.”

“Near the hills?”

“Yes ma’am, I spent a year patrolling the contested territories. Make-work, mostly. Danlin has no interest in escalating border disputes. They may be protective of their land, but they also reap a considerable harvest of tariffs from goods passing through the gap. The Uplanders tend to stay in their hills.”

Mrs. Hill entered the room then, carrying a tray that bore a pot of tea and several small, white ceramic cups and saucers. She offered a broad smile and a cup to the family’s new guest, who graciously accepted. After pouring for Elizabeth and Mr. Gates as well, she left the tray and quietly slid out of the parlor, closing the door behind her.

The young officer sampled the contents of his cup and remarked that he had never tasted its like before. Mr. Gates adopted a slightly wistful smile and explained, “My late wife was born on the coast, and emigrated here when her father came out west to establish trade relations in Maridon. This particular variety was one of her favorites. It reminded her of home. I still keep a stock of it when I can, though with the passes through the gap being frequently snowed in during the winter we sometimes have to resort to the stuff that comes across the Blackwater.”

“Forgive me, I did not mean to rouse painful memories,” said Mr. Mathews.

Mr. Gates took a sip of his own lightly steaming cup and said, “None of the memories of my wife are painful, Lieutenant.” He spoke the truth. For thirteen years he had awoken every morning to the taste of that tea and the smile of his wife as she poured it for him. It was on the cold mornings of midwinter, when his cup held nothing but coffee from Garrowith, that he missed her the most.

06-22-2011, 10:06 PM
Been putting in a few extra hours at work lately so this chapter took a little longer than usual to write, and I write slow enough as it is. I tend to agonize over every sentence. Nonetheless, here's the next exciting installment:


The weeks passed and life at the Gates estate settled into a comfortable, if somewhat unfamiliar, rhythm. The family’s new guest occupied himself principally with walking the grounds and fields of the estate during his time away from town, and was seldom to be found at the house itself during the day. Elizabeth occupied herself with her usual pursuits of reading, helping Mrs. Hill around the house, and a continuing effort to keep Simon from raising the ire of their father. Mr. Gates, as usual, occupied himself with business, shutting himself up in his study for most of each day.

Elizabeth made several attempts to engage their new tenant in conversation, but true to his word he remained a rather dull guest. He would answer her questions readily enough, but made no effort to hold mutual discourse. He was never rude, but his reticence to open up soon lead Elizabeth to wonder if she had offended him in some way. It was not long before she ceased her attempts at communication altogether, which seemed to relieve the young officer somewhat.

In truth, the lieutenant was somewhat intimidated by the company in which he now found himself. He had never been much exposed to the higher levels of society. Elizabeth, in particular, he found to be more forward than he had expected of a woman of such breeding. She possessed a lack of pretense that, while refreshing, sometimes left him off balance. He had always been very reserved, and her constant questioning only exacerbated his tendency to withdraw. While he trusted himself enough to respond to her with civility, he was afraid that anything more might reveal the rougher nature of his own experience.

But if relations between Mr. Mathews and Elizabeth soon grew cool, Simon more than made up for it with a dogged determination to pester the officer at every chance. The young boy was an unending font of questions and requests, and if the lieutenant’s taciturn behavior affected him he certainly gave no indication of it. He was often to be found in the company of Mr. Mathews, trailing after him on his exploration of the Gates lands and interspersing his queries with comments on this or that feature of his father’s holdings. It was on one such outing in early December that the boy finally managed to pique the interest of the officer.

Simon and the young lieutenant had been walking along the edge of one of several orchards that littered the northern boundary of the family’s estate, the former trying his hardest to pry some manner of titillating information from the reticent officer, the latter making a determined attempt to ignore the gibbering man-child bouncing along in his wake. Mr. Mathews had begun pushing the pace of his walk, striding ever more quickly over difficult terrain in an effort to tire the boy to the point that he would wander off to pursue some more leisurely pursuit. But Simon, having a depth of energy reserved only for the very young, was undaunted. The lieutenant had succeeded only in producing a heavy sweat and a needling pain in his right side when he finally stopped to rest, unbuttoning his green coat despite the early winter chill.

Simon had been unsuccessfully attempting to learn if Mr. Mathews had ever actually been in any sort of combat. While the officer would usually give some sort of answer to the boy’s questions, even if the answers were light on details, he remained silent on this particular topic. While the man paused, sitting down and leaning against the trunk of a skeletal apple tree with eyes closed and head back, he prepared himself for yet another onslaught from the boy. Instead, Simon offered up a bit of trivia that grabbed the man’s attention.

“The old people dug some caves near here,” he said.

Mr. Mathews’ eyes opened and he leaned forward a bit, giving Simon more of his attention than the boy had received all day. “Caves?”

Simon nodded. “Yup, in the hills a little ways north.” The boy began to clamber up a neighboring tree, startling a squirrel into scrambling down the trunk and darting off into the orchard with a chittering retort.

“How do you know the old people dug them?” asked the officer.

“They’re big,” replied Simon.

“Anybody can dig a big cave,” said Mr. Mathews.

“Not this big,” said Simon. The boy hung by his hands from one of the higher branches and slowly inched his way farther out from the center of the tree. “It goes on for miles.”

“How do you know that anybody dug them at all? It could just be a natural cave,” said Mr. Mathews.

“Natural caves don’t have flat floors and ceilings,” said Simon. “Some tunnels are short, but there are open areas that are big enough to plant a crop in.”

“You’ve been down there?”

“Only once. My father got really mad, though. He said I could have gotten lost down there and nobody would ever find anything of me but a few bones that animals might have dragged out eventually.” Simon scowled, “It’s not like I just wandered into it. I brought plenty of candles to find my way out again.”

“He’s right, you shouldn’t be going down into such places. Especially if the old people dug them. You don’t know what could have been down there.”

“There wasn’t anything down there, it was all just a bunch of empty space.” The boy turned back toward the trunk and swung his legs up, wrapping them around the branch. He let go with his hands and his torso swung down to once more face towards the officer. “Besides, the old peopled died out a thousand years ago. It’s not like anything they left would still be dangerous.”

“They didn’t ‘die out’ Simon, they were killed off. In a war. And a secret cave dug by people fighting in a great war might very well be an arms cache. What if you had set off some kind of gunpowder stockpile with your candle?”

“Gunpowder wouldn’t last for a thousand years.”

“The old people had weapons that burned the world, who knows what else they could have stashed away?” replied Mr. Mathews.

“Mrs. Hill says they were probably digging for coal. When I came out I was black from head to toe, and she said it was coal dust. She had to throw out my shirt.”

“Mrs. Hill? What does your housekeeper know about the old people?”

“She knows all kinds of things. She used to tell me stories about how the king in the east made war on the old people. About how he killed them all off because they wouldn’t be ruled. She says most of them probably died before the war, though, but I think she’s just guessing. Have you ever killed anyone?”

The officer said nothing.

Simon swung back and forth from the branch, dangling his hands towards the ground. Mr. Mathews remained silent as he gazed northwards, toward the low hills that began to rise just past the border of the Gates lands. Eventually he got to his feet, once more buttoning his coat against the cold air as a passing cloud blocked out the warmth of the sun. He paused briefly to brush the dirt and dried leaves from his clothing before setting off to the south, back towards the house.

“Where are we going now?” asked Simon as he dropped down from his perch.

“I have to go to town,” was all the officer said.

06-30-2011, 08:39 PM
I've viewed this so you no longer have 666 views.

06-30-2011, 09:26 PM
Mighty kind of you.

I have chapter 7 in the works. I'm kind of split between keeping it all in one chapter or splitting it up between two. There are two or three scenes in it, but they all take place very close together. I think I'm leaning towards keeping it in one chapter, as there's not quite enough content for two, nor is there enough of a thematic difference between the beginning and the end of what I've got to justify having it split up.

07-05-2011, 01:18 AM
And here's the long awaited chapter seven. It'll have to be in multiple posts, it's too long for one:


The lieutenant returned to the house, boy in tow, and announced his intention of walking into town. Simon, relishing the idea of touring the soldiers’ camp, but well aware of his father’s reticence to unleash the boy upon the town without supervision, tentatively asked permission to accompany the man. But his father was in one of his better moods this morning and, having several letters that needed delivering, he sent Elizabeth along to complete the business and keep a leash on her brother.

So it was that the three of them set out upon the dirt road leading south to the river and the small collection of buildings that made up Hamlin’s town proper. The midmorning sun was warm, but the air still carried a seasonal chill and the horizon promised more clouds as the day wore on. Mr. Mathews’ mood mirrored the weather as he walked, his coat buttoned high and his hands stuffed into his pockets. He kept his eyes upon the ground as he trudged along, studying the road as he lost himself in his thoughts.

Elizabeth had wrapped herself in her father’s coat for the journey, and as she traveled she kept one eye on the officer at her side and one on her brother. The boy, oblivious to the cold, raced out ahead, gallivanting with one of the family hounds that had followed along. She kept her silence for the first part of the journey, leaving the officer to his meditations, but being a sociable creature she eventually gave in and decided to pry some sort of conversation out of her companion.

“You are rather quiet, Mr. Mathews,” she said.

The man did not respond, or give any evidence that he had heard her at all.

“Is there something on your mind?”

Again, no response. She tried a different approach.

“My brother seems to have taken quite an interest in you.”

“Not at all, Miss Gates,” he said, finally sending a glance in her direction.

“How can you say that?” said Elizabeth. “He spends nearly every moment trailing in your wake.”

“Simon has taken a keen interest in my coat, my buttons, my sword, the contents of my luggage, and even the polish of my boots. But, I assure you, he has taken no interest at all in me. Had any other officer been assigned to your home, I am sure the boy would have been equally occupied with him.”

“I wouldn’t be so quick to discount your influence, Mr. Mathews,” said Elizabeth. “I’ve never seen him attach himself to anyone in quite the way he has latched onto you.”

The man’s normally inflexible expression gave way to a brief scowl. “I’ve had leeches that were easier to pry off.”

Elizabeth tilted her head back and laughed. “Yes, he can be overpowering at times.”

Mr. Mathews hesitated a moment before responding, but eventually he worked up the courage to say, “Forgive me if it is not my place, but he seems to be somewhat unruly for a child his age. He is almost a man, after all.”

Elizabeth’s smile took on a note of sadness. “Yes, he is a bit wild.”

They walked quietly for a while, the still air broken only by the barking of the hound as it chased the boy out of sight over the next hill. It was Elizabeth who broke the silence. “Our father has never really been close to Simon, you see. He’s been left largely to his own devices. Mrs. Hill and I have done what we can with him, but a boy needs a father and that is something that neither of us can provide. The lack of a man in Simon’s life has left him somewhat untamed.”

“Your family owns a great deal of land, Miss Gates, and managing it must take up a good amount of your father’s time,” said the lieutenant. “I wouldn’t be too hard on him.”

“It is not business which keeps them apart,” Elizabeth said.

Mr. Mathews made to speak again, but a glance toward Elizabeth revealed an unhappiness in her expression that moved him to remain silent.

The pair crested the hill they had been ascending and looked down upon Simon and the dog, sitting beside the road and waiting for them some ways ahead. And beyond the boy lay the town, a handful of wooden buildings, huddled together tight against the edge of the forest to the east, on the last bit of flat ground before the land sloped down to the river. Just west of the town sat a cluster of well ordered white tents, the camp that was temporary home to some four hundred soldiers for the winter. The soldiers were out on the field between the camp and the buildings, marching back and forth, practicing the variety of parades and drills that largely made up the occupation of the regiment in the winter months.

They made their way down to the boy and the hound, the former gazing intently down at the camp, the latter occupied with the chewing of a paw. “You missed the shooting,” said Simon as they came into earshot.

“Shooting?” asked Elizabeth.

“The soldiers, they were practicing,” said the boy, accompanying the comment with a face-splitting grin. “They all lined up in a row and shot their guns toward the water, four or five times! After the second you couldn’t even see them anymore because of all the smoke. How can they even hit anything if they can’t see?”

“That’s why they all shoot at once,” said Mr. Mathews. “With that many men shooting in the general direction of the enemy, somebody is bound to hit something.”

The hound huffed and gave Simon a reproachful look as the boy rose to his feet. “Don’t they even aim?” he said.

“Of course,” said the lieutenant. “But you’d be surprised how rarely the ball goes where you point it. In fact, I used to close my eyes before firing. Saved them from the flash of the pan.”

“I thought you didn’t carry a gun?” said the boy as the trio started to make its way into the north end of town.

“I wasn’t always an officer, Simon. I did my share of time on the line.”

07-05-2011, 01:24 AM
And the second part of chapter seven:

The ring of hammer on anvil beat a steady rhythm as they passed the farrier and moved deeper into town. The sound had been almost constant for the last month as a result of the town’s winter guests. The regiment had its own blacksmith, of course, but there was always more work to be done than time to do it in, and the overflow of labor had been taken up by the town’s craftsmen.

Hanlin was grateful for the work. The soldiers’ presence had brought an unusual influx of revenue to the sleepy river town. Hanlin was little more than an ancillary port to Waterfield, taking in whatever the larger town’s docks could not handle from Garrowith to the south and Dunland upriver to the east. Now the inn was full of officers, and what few businesses the town had were full of soldiers with time on their hands and money in their pockets.

The three came to a stop outside the inn, the only two-story building in Hanlin. Mr. Mathews wished to speak with Commander Price, and the latter had set up a temporary headquarters in the establishment, with various officers coming in and out at all hours of the day and night. Elizabeth took her leave to deliver her father’s letters, half dragging a reluctant Simon away from the hive of soldierly activity, while the lieutenant made his way up the wooden steps and into the building.

Once inside, he paused to let his eyes adjust to the dim interior and took in the sight of the inn’s common room. About twenty enlisted men were seated at the various tables spread across the room, with another ten or so gathered around the large brick hearth. Interspersed among the enlisted men were a few officers. There were ostensibly off duty, but each was keeping an eye on the men spread around the room. One drunk soldier wouldn’t cause too much of a problem, but a whole squad of them was a hassle the town didn’t need. Commander Price intended to leave Hanlin in the condition in which he had found it.

Mr. Mathews eyes came to rest on a closed door at the far end of the room. Two enlisted men were standing to either side of it, casting longing eyes towards their fellows. Their stiff backs and buttoned coats made it clear that they were still very much on duty. He worked his way across the room towards them.

As he approached, a sandy haired man in a lieutenant’s uniform exited the room, closing the door behind him. Lieutenant Pullings was a few years younger than Mr. Mathews, almost a boy, and his face still bore the marks of his fumbling attempts at shaving what little hair he could manage to grow. Nonetheless, he was a good officer, attentive to his men and well-liked while still maintaining the necessary level of discipline. Mr. Mathews had found himself admiring the man, and Pullings was one of the few people that he had managed to build a relationship with since being transferred back to Maridon from the east.

“Get in another fight with your razor, Charles?” he said as he approached the young man.

The young man ran a hand over the fresh cuts on his chin. “Last one I’ll ever have,” he said. “Threw her in the river this morning.”


“Any object that temperamental has to be a she. Shiny and smooth one minute, then biting your face the next.” He scratched at an uneven patch of hair that remained underneath his chin. “I’m just going to grow the thing out.”

“You need hair on your whole face to do that, Pullings, not just that patchy garden you’ve got. Besides, the Commander would just make you shave it off,” said Mr. Mathews.

“Maybe I’ll just skin myself, get it over with,” said the younger man. He took a look around the room before turning back to Mr. Mathews. “Are you here to complain, too?”


“About the guns,” Pullings said. “Back in Maridon we had the pick of the litter, but when they send us out to the country they give us matchlocks. Matchlocks! We might as well be throwing stones.”

“I imagine the quartermasters have had to break into a lot of old stores, with the mobilization. There hasn’t been this many men active in a century, I would think,” said Mr. Mathews.

“Half the men don’t even know how to use them,” said Pullings with a scowl. “That’s why Price has got us doing drills every day. We’ve already used up a third of our powder shooting at the river.”

“Maybe we can use the rest to burn off what’s left of that moss on your face,” said Mr. Mathews.

Pullings only scowled again and made his farewell. He worked his way towards the door, still scratching his neck all the while.

Mr. Mathews turned back to the door and opened it, stepping into what had been the inn’s only private dining room. It had been converted into an office of sorts. Piles of parchment were stacked haphazardly across a wide table. The window was shut against the chill, though the small hearth to the left of the table lay unkindled. On the other side of the table stood Lieutenant Commander Price.

The commanding officer of the four hundred soldiers that had taken up residence in Hanlin was frantically using his handkerchief to mop up a pool of ink from an overturned pot on the table before him. He had been notating an inventory of the stores of slow match for the old guns that the regiment had been issued. The top of the report was now covered in a slowly advancing puddle of black.

“Knocked the damned thing over with my elbow,” he said as he saw the lieutenant enter.

“Should I send someone-”

“No, no, I’ve got it now,” Price said as finished his containment of the liquid with a handful of cold ashes from the hearth. He frowned down at his ink and ash-covered hands and walked to the small water basin at the back of the room to wash up. “I got the mystery solved, in any case.”

“Mystery, sir?” asked Mr. Mathews.

“We have been using up more slow match than the quartermaster thought we should. I was going over his reports to find the disparity,” he said, scrubbing vigorously.

“And you found it?” asked the lieutenant.

“The man has never even used a matchlock before,” said Price as he unfolded a towel to dry his ink-stained hands. “He had only been taking into account having one end of the match lit when calculating the burn rate. I’ve been having the sentries keep both ends lit, in case one goes out.” He replaced the towel and walked back to the table, sinking into his chair with a weary sigh. “Don’t ever let anyone promote you, Thomas. It isn’t worth it. Twice the pay and four times the paperwork.”

“You could take on a notary at least, sir. I’m sure most regimental commanders have a whole squad of men to do this sort of thing,” said Mr. Mathews.

“And I’m sure they would never have caught the match problem, either,” replied the commander. “I don’t like having other men do my job for me. But that’s my problem, not yours,” he said with a wave of his hand. “What can I do for you, Thomas? You’re not expected in camp for another couple of days, if I’m not mistaken.”

“No, sir. I have some information, though. You asked us to report on anything the locals might know of the old people, or the king.”

Commander Price leaned forward and clasped his hands over the table. “Alright, let’s have it.”

“The boy Simon Gates, the son of my host, told me that he had explored some caves that he claimed were dug by the old people. He said they were in the hills just beyond the border of the Gates estate, north of their westernmost orchard. He claimed they were quite extensive, and from his description of the caves I agree.”

The commander rested his chin against his clasped hands and was silent for a moment, staring at the irregular black stain that lay in front of him on the table. He looked up at the lieutenant and said, “Did the boy find anything in these ruins?”

“No, sir. He says that the Gates family housekeeper, Clarissa Hill, told him that it was most likely a coal mine, judging from his condition upon exiting the caves,” said Mr. Mathews.

“The housekeeper told him this?” said Commander Price with arched brow.

“Yes, sir. He says that his housekeeper knows a good deal about the old people.”

Price leaned back in his chair and drummed his fingers against the table for a moment before shrugging and saying, “Well, I don’t think much will come of it, but I’ll send a few men up to these caves to take a look around. You did well to bring this to me, Thomas.” He shifted the next stack of papers to a dry spot on the table, and began searching for a new pot of ink.

Mr. Mathews sketched a brief salute and turned to leave, but stopped short before opening the door. He remained there for a moment before turning back and saying, “Why are we doing this, sir?”

“Doing what, Thomas?” said the commander as he rummaged around among the contents of the table.

“This, sir. We are sent out to the country with no open orders but to sit and wait, and when we get here you tell all the officers that we have closed orders to keep our ears open for anything having to do with the old people and the king in the east. We are an entire regiment sent to some backwater in order to root out legends and fairy tales.”

07-05-2011, 01:26 AM
And the third and final part of chapter seven:

“We are doing it,” said Commander Price, “because we have been ordered to do it. Aha!” he exclaimed triumphantly as he found the ink pot he was looking for behind a stack of requisitions. He pulled out the stopper and smiled upon finding that it was still mostly full. Settling himself once more in his seat behind the table he looked up at Mr. Mathews and said, “You and I are not the brains of this army, Thomas, we’re just the hands. It is not our job to think, only to do.”

Mr. Mathews sighed and nodded, saluting once more before turning to exit. He was once again brought up short, but this time it was because the door opened on its own. On the other side was a somewhat startled Elizabeth Gates.

“Oh, Mr. Mathews,” she said with a little confusion. “I was told I would find Mr. Price here.”

“And you have found him, Miss,” came the voice from behind the lieutenant. Mr. Mathews gathered himself and stepped aside, allowing Elizabeth to enter with Lieutenant Pullings at her heels. The commander stepped out from behind his makeshift desk and presented the young woman with a short bow. “Miss Gates, is it not?”

“Yes, Mr. Price. Though, I am surprised that you remembered,” she said.

“I never forget a pretty face, Miss Gates, far less a beautiful one,” said Commander Price with a smile. Pullings rolled his eyes at Thomas. “What can I do for you, Miss?” said the commander.

“I’m here to deliver an invitation, Mr. Price,” said Elizabeth as she handed the man a sealed letter. “My father holds a midwinter celebration every year at the assembly hall here in town. He would like very much if you would be there, along with any of your officers who could be present,” she said.

“I would not miss it, Miss Gates, and I am sure my men will be very eager to attend,” he said, taking the letter. Elizabeth’s gaze was caught and held by his blackened hands. He followed her eyes and laughed saying, “I’m afraid I was viciously attacked by an ink pot shortly before you arrived. Rest assured, the villain has been subdued.”

Elizabeth smiled warmly and wished him success in future conflicts with his writing instruments. She said her goodbyes, accompanied by bows from Mr. Price and Mr. Pullings, and she and Mr. Mathews turned to leave. As they exited the room, Price seated himself again and said, “What is it this time, Lieutenant?”

“It’s the quartermaster, sir,” said Pullings as Mr. Mathews turned back to close the door. “He won’t let me have another razor.”

07-13-2011, 02:29 AM
Next installment is on the way, shouldn't be long now for those of you (if any) who are still readying. I started out writing the next chapter as the scene at the assembly hall, where I'll be introducing one of the main villains of the story. But I couldn't get to sleep last night because I couldn't stop thinking about a wholly different scene, an elaboration on Elizabeth's "It is not business which keeps them apart," line. I think I'll have that be the next chapter, and save the assembly hall scene for the chapter after that. I might even throw in a little more lore if I can figure out how. The problem is that all such information (for now, anyway) has to come by way of Mrs. Hill, for reasons which will become apparent later.

07-18-2011, 12:55 AM
Alright, here it is finally. It took a little longer than I thought it would because I completely rewrote it a few times, but I think I'm happy with how it turned out. We get a little lore in this chapter, along with a little more detail on the Gates family. Next chapter is the assembly hall scene, then maybe 2 more chapters after that (I think, this could all change of course) the shit should hit the fan. And trust me, the shit's gonna get everywhere.

I had to divide this chapter up, once again, to get around Catacombs word count per post limit. So here's part 1 of chapter eight:


Simon’s eyes were beginning to dry as he listened to Mrs. Hill’s voice. He had burst in upon her as she was cleaning in his room, his vision a blur from the tears that had still been running down his cheeks. The round housekeeper had quickly taken him into her arms, asking no questions as he sobbed into her waist.

It was his tenth birthday. He was old enough by this point to realize that his birthdays were not quite the joyous occasion that they were for other children in the small community, though he was not yet old enough to understand why. But knowing beforehand how the day would turn out did not take the sting out of the experience.

The first half of the day had actually gone rather well. He had spent it in celebration with Elizabeth. They had passed the morning playing outside in the sparkling blanket of white that had covered the ground during the night. It had been an unseasonably early snow, the year’s first. They had thrown snowballs at each other, even made a very small snowman. Elizabeth had shown him how to start out with a small lump of snow and then roll it back and forth across the fresh powder, leaving small furrows in the ball’s wake. The furrows had gotten larger and larger, growing in tandem with the ball. They had repeated the process three times and then stacked the resulting orbs to form the man. The snowfall had been light, and the figure only came up to Simon’s breast, but he didn’t care. They had stuck twigs in the man for arms, coal for the eyes, and had even gotten a carrot from Mrs. Hill for the nose. It had been the highlight of his day.

Elizabeth had needed to go into town for the afternoon, and Simon had been left with his father. Elijah had spent the morning visiting his tenants, as he made sure to do every so often. It had partly been his absence that had made the morning so bright for Simon, and it was his return that made the afternoon so dark.

Simon’s father had come in from the cold and promptly retired to his study for the rest of the day, absorbing himself in his papers. Simon had started the afternoon by peeking in at him from the doorway, carefully leaning his head around the frame. When that brought no result, he had taken to walking very deliberately and very loudly up and down the corridor outside the room. His father had stirred only to place another log on the fire that burned in the room’s small hearth. Simon then brought out Elizabeth’s gift of that morning, a small leather ball tightly stuffed with straw. He proceeded to kick it up and down the corridor, crashing the ball into the walls and sending booming thuds all throughout the lower story of the house. He would stop only to occasionally peer inside the room in hope of a glance, a word, something.

He finally went and retrieved a small, blown glass figure of a turtle. The green tinted ornament had been a gift from one of the family’s tenants several years past and had since occupied the corner of a table in the parlor. Simon stood in the hall, framed by the doorway, and stared brazenly into the study. Inside, his father was still hunched over the desk, doggedly working at a stack of papers. Simon held the turtle above the wooden floor, as high as his small arms could reach, and dropped it. It hit the floor with a brilliant crash. The shattered pieces ejected outward from the point of impact, tinkling musically as they tumbled to a stop.

It was a bold act, one that he normally would never have attempted. Had this been any other day, his father would have flown into a rage. His face would have been as red as an apple and his voice would have gone hoarse from the shouting. He kept a switch behind the door of the study, an old worn out riding crop, whose application he reserved for only the gravest offenses. It would have received liberal use, had this been any other day.

But it was not any other day. This day, his father slowly set aside his pen and rose from his chair. He walked out from behind his desk. Simon’s heart beat in jubilation, even as he prepared himself for what was to come. His father walked to doorway and stood, gazing down at his son with a curiously placid face. His right hand rose and Simon braced for the blow. But the blow never came. His father’s hand came to rest on the door and gently swung it forward, closing it with a barely audible click. Simon had stood listening to the sound of his father’s boots as they thumped back across the room to his desk. It was then that the tears had come.

07-18-2011, 12:56 AM
part 2 of chapter eight:

Now he lay curled on his bed, his head resting in the old family servant’s lap. The tears had stopped and the tightening in his chest was slowly relaxing away as the maid spoke. He could feel her words as they gently rumbled out from her chest. Her soft hands stroked his hair as she recited one of his favorite stories, about how those who had escaped the king’s war of conquest had fled to the last island.

“Now these weren’t the people that had gone to fight the king. Nary a one o’ them that went to fight ever came back. No, these were the ones they left behind. The wives and the daughters and the sons, them that couldn’t fight for themselves. They seen the fire and the lights that lit the sky in the east and south, and they knew that their men weren’t gonna be comin’ home no more. They knew the king had won. So they gathered up what they could, and they fled across the narrow sea to the north, to the last island o’ free men.”

“But they didn’t find no solace in those broad plains and lofty hills. These were the old people, they had lived so long in their golden cities that hardly any of ‘em knew how to make a livin’ off the land anymore. The winters were cold on the last island, colder even than they are today, ‘cause o’ the magics the old folk had used against the king. There wasn’t much of ‘em to start with, but they lost even more during those first years. Eventually they made a livin’ on the island, learned again what their fathers’ fathers had forgot, but by that point they wasn’t the old people no more. They had forgotten how to build those mighty towers that touched the clouds, how to make the sick well again, how to ride the waves. They forgot how to make the night sky glow. They was just folk, like you and me.”

“The years went by and the people of the last island prospered. But always they kept a wary eye across that narrow sea, though they never saw hide nor hair from the king in the east. But they knew he was still there. You see the folk o’ that mighty island figured out how to travel the seas again. They went out from the island, lookin’ for others as might have survived the war. They went north and found places that winter never left, where there was bears as white as the snow and ice as blue as the sky. They went south to the hot seas, where the wind dies. They tried goin’ east, but they could only ever land on the coast of that blighted land. Anybody as went further inland never came back from the lands o’ the king.”

“And so they set out west. Here the ocean was long and the seas were fierce. But they knew, from that which they still remembered o’ their ancestors, that there was a great land out there somewheres. And so through much toil and strife they came to the western lands. And though the land was great indeed, they didn’t find hardly anyone here.”

“You see the old people had fought twixt themselves afore the king ever made himself known, and their powers of war were great. They could kill a man from a mile away, set fire to the sky, and leash a sickness like you or I would leash a dog. And that’s what happened here. They let disease loose on the folk that had lived here long ago, and hardly a one of them escaped it, ‘cept a few that hid out in the hills. And that’s all they found, from the great wide sea across west to the divide and beyond, just one big empty land the like o’ which they’d never seen before.”

“So they went back and told the folk on the island what they’d seen. Wide bays with deep harbors, fertile fields a’flowin over the horizon, strong rivers o’ clear water, and everywhere great forests as thick with game as they were with timber. Some of the folk there was attached to their homes, of course, but most of ‘em near jumped at the chance to make a new life in the western lands.”

“Now don’t go thinkin’ there was anything wrong with the last island in itself, no sir. But still they was always a’watchin’ over the narrow sea, always wary o’ bein’ so close to the king in the east. And so they came, so many of ‘em. Came to reap the harvest of so rich a land, yes, but also to put the whole long sea between them and the king. Always afraid that he’d come out of his lands to finish what he started those centuries ago, and snatch up the last o’ the old folk what wouldn’t be ruled by him.”

07-18-2011, 12:58 AM
part 3 of chapter eight:

Simon’s eyes opened. He was in his bed, staring at the dark ceiling of his room, illuminated by the light of the waxing moon filtering through the wispy pale curtains that draped the room’s only window. He could still feel the fading touch of Mrs. Hill’s fingers combing through his hair, still hear the comforting hum of the old maid’s voice as it faded into the gentle whisper of the night breeze pushing against the window. He was still blinking back tears when he heard the front door open down below.

Downstairs, Thomas shut the door behind him, hugging his arms close to his body against the winter chill. He wanted to stamp his feet, get his blood flowing, but it was well into the night and he feared waking the household. He was returning from his weekly duty at camp, a duty that had held him longer into the night than was usual.

The first shipments of flintlocks out of Maridon had startled to trickle their way into town that morning. The mass mobilization of men, reserves and all, had placed a drain on Maridon’s armory. The quartermasters had been forced to break into old stores, sending out weapons that hadn’t been used since their grandfather’s time. But the republic’s industries had been hard at work, the midnight oil had burned all through the fall and into winter. Maridon’s workshops had echoed with the rasp of file and ring of hammer for months and now the first fruits of that labor were beginning to appear.

“Rotten damned fruit,” Thomas muttered as he began to strip off his coat. Like any new equipment sent to the men, the new guns had come with their share of deficiencies. Mainsprings that were either too tight or too lose. Touch holes that hadn’t been bored all the way through. Stripped jaw screws. And the haste with which the weapons had been made had only made the faults more numerous. The camp’s craftsmen were going to be working for weeks before even one in four of the men would be able to give up their matchlocks.

Thomas draped his coat over one arm and made his way into the parlor, where a small flame still crackled in the hearth. He sank down in the chair closest to the fire, legs splayed out in front of him, and let his head fall back against the wall with a deep sigh. The weariness began to seep out of his body, slowly being replaced by the warmth of the fire.

“Long day, Mr. Gates?” came a voice from across the room. Thomas started awake, knocking his coat to the floor and almost rising out of his seat, before he remembered where he was. He hadn’t intended to fall asleep.

Elizabeth, sitting on the couch across the room from him, watched with a half smile as he bent down to retrieve the garment. She was sitting in the light of an oil lamp, in the middle of knitting the half finished crimson scarf draped across her lap when the tired officer had staggered through the doorway, oblivious to her presence.

“Longer than I’d like,” the man said as he settled back into the chair. He rubbed at his eyes and let loose a jaw-cracking yawn as his hand traveled down to scratch at the stubble that was beginning to cover the lower half of his face. “And yourself, Ms. Gates?” he asked. “It’s rather late for you to be up, isn’t it?”

She held up her hands, displaying the swathe of red cloth. “I can’t work on this during the day,” she said. “I might get caught.”

“Caught?” said the confused officer.

“It’s for Simon’s birthday,” she said, resuming her work.

“He hasn’t said a thing about it,” said Thomas. And considering that the boy had no compunction about speaking on every other topic that came into his mind, the officer found the omission to be more than a little curious.

“He wouldn’t,” said Elizabeth, keeping her eyes on her task. “Simon’s birthday is not a…pleasant…day for him.”

“What do you mean?”

The needles stopped their motion, and Elizabeth’s head rose to look at the officer. All trace of her previous smile was absent from her face. She studied the man for a moment before asking, “Did we ever tell you how our mother died?”

“Your father said she died in childbirth,” he responded.

07-18-2011, 01:00 AM
And the final part of chapter eight:

Elizabeth set the needles down in her lap and gazed into the fire. “My father likes to think of himself as an intellectual man, Mr. Gates. He deals with problems in business, as in the rest of his life, with a very methodical approach. If the accounts are not balanced, he will lock himself up in his study and slowly pick apart his papers until he finds the mistake. If a man has cheated him, he will approach the situation in much the same way. He will confront the gentleman and demand restitution. And when he has it, he will end all business with the man and that will be the end of it. There will be no arguments, no threats, no spreading of rumors about town. As long as the account is balanced, the matter is settled.”

Thomas interjected, “I don’t see what that-”

“I said that my father thinks of his himself as such a man,” said Elizabeth. “But he is not. He may manage to deal in a detached manner with a man who has cheated him, in fact he is known for such things throughout Hamlin. But inside he is all afire, all twisted up with anger. My father is a passionate man, Mr. Gates, but he keeps himself bundled up, none of it ever reaches the surface. I think that he knows this about himself. It is what allows him to function as he does. But it is not something that he can change, however much he might wish it.”

“I tell you this so that when I tell you that my father knows that our mother died by an accident of fate, you will not misunderstand me. In his mind, my father knows that she died because birthing a child is not an easy thing and such things happen. But inside, deep down where the fire burns, he also knows that my brother is responsible for her death.”

Thomas was silent as Elizabeth continued to stare into the fire. The flames shimmered in her eyes, reflected by the tears that had welled up in them as she had spoken. He wanted to say something, something that would make everything better. Something that would take the hurt away. But all he could offer was, “I’m sorry.”

She looked up at him with a sad smile as her hand rose to wipe her eyes. “It’s not usually so bad,” she said. “He loves Simon, whatever he may feel about our mother’s death.” She picked up the needles again, resuming her work on the scarf. “It’s just that on Simon’s birthday, the day she died…” her words trailed off into the soft clicking of the needles as they plied the yarn. “He can’t bear to look at Simon, then.”

Thomas sat watching the flames as they slowly danced, waltzing their way across the logs, absorbed in his own thoughts. Outside the doorway, Simon slowly crept away on bare feet, and eased his way back up the stairs to his room.