Thursday, February 28, 2008

Friday Snippet, February 29, 2008

I thought I'd give the elementals a rest for a bit. This is a piece of story I wrote some time ago---it's very traditional sword and sorcery, and has all the story tropes in place--mage/warrior, evil mage, bar fight---I hope I put enough of a twist on it to make it a little more current. Let me know what you think. Although the story might never find a home. S&S is not selling well now. Most of all, I hope it will be a fun read.

Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!

In which Quill is sent to deal with Aster, a rogue Sunmaster. Only one Shen warrior protects him. A story about trouble, and lots of it.

Quill let the warmth of the spell build in his left hand enough to heat his flesh—not enough to be seen but enough to thaw out his cold fingers. When his left hand no longer felt numb, he moved to his right hand and gave it the same attention.

He looked over the ship’s rails, but fog prevented him from seeing more than a few feet. The air had turned cold enough to turn the condensation on the metal rails to ice and cover the decking with a thin sheet of slickness, making movement hazardous.

Quill sighed and put his hands on the railing where their heat melted the ice. Moisture dripped and ran from his fingers. He stood on the port side of the Merry Maid. From his vantage, he should be able to see the coastline of Navarr. He eyed the murk. The fancy that nothing existed but the ship and a small area of surrounding water lurked in the back of his mind.

Movement caught his eye. He saw Quen emerge from the gangway that led to passenger quarters below. Sure-footed and solid, she made her way to the captain who stood not far from Quill. Quen said a few low words to the captain, and started for the gangway.

“Ignoring me won’t help anything,” he said to her.

She paused and looked at him with those clear, cold blue eyes. “When I have something to say, Sunmaster, you’ll hear it.”

“Not one word of strategy, Shen warrior? Not one plan of action?”

“My plan of action is simple, Sunmaster. If it breathes, I kill it.”

Quill shook his head at her retreating form. The absolute certainty that force solved every problem echoed in her words. Not all Shen warriors espoused that philosophy—but clearly Quen did.

Not for the first time, he questioned Sunmaster Laketa’s decision to send Quen with him. He thought the idea was to bring Aster to justice, not kill her.

He hoped they made landfall soon. The constant pitch and roll of the ship left his stomach queasy. Even an uncivilized back-country like Navarr appealed by comparison.

Quill rubbed his forehead. The spell that hid the Sun sign on his brow made him itch.

#

“Two gold? That’s outrageous,” Quill said.

The innkeeper shrugged well-padded shoulders. “Take it or leave it, Varchenian. They’re the best nags in town. I’ll even throw in the tack for that price.”

Quill looked at the horses in the innkeeper’s fenced enclosure. If the sunken-flanked, mean-eyed mares were the best the whole town could offer, that didn’t speak well for the level of clientele in the area.

He gave Quen an uncertain look, but she watched five or six men entering the inn and paid no attention to the business of buying transportation.

Reluctant to part with that much of his stash of gold, Quill handed the innkeeper the two gold. “See that they both receive a good mess of oats before we leave in the morning.”

The innkeeper pocketed the two gold with a speed that rivaled the circulation of the collection plate at the temple. “Nice doing business with you, Varchenian.”

“Why did you tell him we’d be here overnight?” Quen said in a disgruntled tone of voice as they walked toward the inn.

“What’s the problem, Quentina?” Quill asked.

Quen glared at him. “Call me that again and I’ll leave you minus something very important. It’s Quen. And you don’t ever let anyone know when and where you plan to be. Especially in a place like this. And, most especially, after you’ve been flashing gold around.”

“I had to buy the horses!” Quill protested. “Would you have us walk all the way to Blackrock?”

“Keep your voice down!” Quen said.

Quill, angry, entered the inn. The smoky, dim atmosphere lay heavy on his lungs after the crisp outdoor air. Six pairs of eyes found them. Uncomfortable, Quill turned aside to the bar. Quen followed and stood to one side of him, eyes scanning the room. For once, since they left Varchenia, Quen’s presence at his back felt good.

A barmaid stood behind the counter, watching them with interest. She eyed the long sword that hung across Quen’s back within easy reach of the Shen warrior’s right hand.

“Ale,” Quill said.

The barmaid drew his ale without looking away from Quen or her sword.

“That extra?” Quill asked.

The barmaid looked at him, confused.

“The sword,” he clarified. You seem to be staring at it. I’m wondering if we have to pay extra for it to sleep here, too.”

The barmaid flushed, set his ale in front of him, took his coin, and turned away to studiously wipe down the counter. Quill took a drink from his glass.

“Maybe you do,” someone said behind him.

Quill turned, his eyebrow raised, to see that one of the six men in the bar had turned his chair in their direction, a challenging look in his eyes.

“Beg pardon?” Quill said.

The man nodded to the sword. “Maybe you do have to pay extra. Someone who can afford a Shen warrior to guard his back shouldn’t miss a few extra coins.”

Quill couldn’t resist the opportunity to send an ironic glance at Quen. She gave a faint shrug.

“I’m sorry,” Quill told the man. “I didn’t realize you were the owner. You can, of course, set whatever price you want for your rooms.”

“I’m not the owner. But I think you’ll be paying an extra six gold for the sword.”

Quill found himself faced with a choice. He should let this ride. He was after far more important prey than these barheads. Irritation colored his thoughts. Why should he let these small town fish shake him down for his gold?

He barely paused. “I don’t think so. Not to any of you.”

Quill didn’t dare look at Quen. Unless she helped, this would be a real short fight. He had no intention of using his magic to even the odds. He had hidden his Sun sign and stopped doing any magic but the most minimal since stepping on shore. Aster probably knew he was here, but if she didn’t, alerting her of his presence would be stupid.

“I’ll wager six golds you will,” the man said.

“If I win the wager, you pay me six golds?” Quill hazarded.

“No, you just get to keep yours,” the man said.

He got up from his chair. To Quill, it looked as if he kept unfolding parts of himself until he stood as high as the ceiling. He easily overtopped Quill head and shoulders. Quill didn’t much like the odds.

“Try not to kill him, Chase,” one of the others said.

The barmaid ducked behind the bar.

“Don’t try fisticuffs with him, Quill,” Quen said. “His reach is about six inches longer than yours. Try to get him off his feet.”

Quill had time for one horrified look at Quen before Chase rushed him. He ducked under Chase’s swing and slipped out to dance behind the larger man. All right, he was faster. And he would have to be in order to not get his head knocked off.

Chase turned to face him, a set grin on his face. He came at Quill, using his superior arm reach to force the smaller man back, trying to box him in between the counter and the wall. This time, as Quill slipped past, Chase tried to grapple with him. Quill pulled away, leaving part of his clothing in Chase’s hand.

“Don’t let him get you in a hold!” Quen yelled.

Quill gave her a harried, disgusted look before dancing back in time to avoid a meaty fist that would have caved in his face had it connected.

Some of the men yelled out gleeful encouragement.

“Break his face, Chase!”

“Just fall on the little bug, Chase! You outweigh him a hundred pounds!”

Perhaps overly enthused by the coaching, Chase leaped at Quill, arms outstretched. Not sure what to make of Chase’s new strategy, Quill dropped and rolled. Chase smacked the floor so hard dust rose from his clothing. Quill shuddered. That could have been him under there.

For such a big man, Chase could move fast. He was up and Quill, who had stopped to brush the dust off his clothing, found himself neatly boxed into a corner. He attempted to duck but Chase had him by the collar and slung him like a slack of flour. Quill landed onto a table and a set of chairs that splintered to kindling.

Quill floundered in the wreckage and his hand fell on a sizable chunk of wood. He waited for Chase to come for him, aimed the wood, and knocked Chase’s legs out from under him. Chase hit the floor hard again. This time, as he struggled to rise, Quill whacked him on the head with the chunk of wood. Chase collapsed, unconscious, and the fight was over.

Quill climbed to his feet, his panting loud in the sudden background silence. No one said anything or offered to move, so Quill retrieved his drink and waited for Chase to wake up. Quen maintained a silent watchfulness.

The barmaid appeared again, this time staring at Quen and Quill with equal intensity.

Chase groaned and lifted his head, squinting his eyes at his surroundings. Quill offered him a hand. After a moment of consideration, Chase took the hand and allowed Quill to help him to his feet.

“You’ve got spirit, little man, I’ll say that for you,” Chase said as he wiped the blood from the cut on his forehead.

“Do I get to keep my gold?” Quill asked.

“A wager is a wager,” Chase said. “I’ll even throw in some free advice. Get back on the Merry Maid and go back to Varchenia.”

“What?”

“Go back to Varchenia while you still can, Sunmaster, and take the Shen warrior with you. Blackrock is closed to you both.”

“How did you know who we are?” Quen said, eyes boring a hole in Chase.

“Warning them is not part of the bargain you made, Chase Durin,” the barmaid said.

Quen and Quill turned to see her standing, hands planted on the counter, glaring at the big man.

Chase shrugged. “I agreed to delay them. That I’ve done. He won fair and square, and without using magic. So I warn them. If the witch has issue with me, then let her come and find me.”

“Sunmaster!” the barmaid spat. “And don’t you forget that.”

Chase gave her a hard smile. “I don’t care if she’s the Emperor. She doesn’t rule me.”

Quill felt his head swim. “Wait a minute. I’m less than two hours setting foot on Navarr and Aster already knows I’m here?”

Quen cut to the heart of the matter. “Why were you to delay us?”

Chase considered her for a moment. “She sets her spells to close Blackrock against the assault of an army. Two people won’t stop her, even if one is another Sunmaster and the other is a Shen warrior.”

“Do you know what she plans to do?” Quill asked.

“No. I figured you would.”

Quill had to shake his head.

Chase looked at him with a kind of grim humor. He motioned to the other men and they prepared to leave.

“Best of luck with that, then, Sunmaster.”

6 comments:

IanT said...

I like the conceit of warming up the hands with magic - that's good. I always think magic should be much more physical than many people write it.

From a world-building point of view, it'd be nice to see some deviation from 'two gold'. I can't offhand think of any culture in history who just called their money 'gold'; most coins have names (and most aren't pure metal!) Naming them takes it a bit more away from 'generic fantasy setting'.

Quen - longsword across her back. I've mentioned this before (on a previous snippet of yours? or someone else's, I forget) - it's really difficult to draw a sword from your back. A dagger/long knife or short sword is possible, but a long sword should be at your waist; a greatsword/big two-handed sword might be on your back, but you'd unsling and then dump the scabbard it rather than draw it. People's arms just aren't long enough. Believe me, I've tried it. :-) I know fantasy artists love it, but in reality it just isn't that easy.

Sorry, I know I keep going on about it - it's a pet bugbear!

A good start; I like it that Quen doesn't get involved in the fight, and that she's clearly the practical one.

cherylp said...

Yep, you're right. If she thought she were going to have trouble, she'd unsling the sword. I'll fix that in my next edit.

Jen said...

Good bar fight you've got there. Love it. :-)

I really like this story so far. As for the sword thing, I've always assumed that a sword across the back was just for transporting it. I've worn things like machetes like that, and it works pretty well. But I've always favored the small weapons, anyway.

Can't wait for more!
~Jen

Tim King said...

Hi, Cheryl.

"Quill let the warmth of the spell build in his left hand..." I wish I could do that with my cold feet. No matter what I do, even if the rest of me is sweating, my feet are ice cold.

I had trouble picturing the bar here, maybe because I imagined it as just another fantasy-story bar. Lately, I've been paying more attention to descriptive passages in things I read. And I've been trying to work on my own descriptions (which granted have often been weak, because I find superfluous descriptions boring), so maybe that's why I noticed it. How does the bar look? How does it smell? How does it sound?

-TimK

Gabriele C. said...

Cheryl, S&S is getting more attention these days, with new editions of RE Howard's books and others, and there are several magazines that accept S&S. It's a pity I can't write short stories because I'd like to get into that market, but my S&S story is developing into a novel. :)

Good luck with this one, it deserves a home.

Ann said...

Great snippet. And I agree with Gabriele, this story deserves a home. Good luck. :)