Plots? Your choice of genre can sometimes define the complexity. I would never try a mystery or thriller they seem to require an attention to detail and structure which are beyond my capabilities. Fantasy seems to beg a complexity of its own, mirroring the apparent political interactions of our own previous historical eras. Maybe it was my own innate impatience coupled with an intolerance of the machinations seen in some series that had me veering off in other directions. Historically there were no perfect plans, everyone came unstuck at some stage and not by some dogged hero acting alone. In fact historically Humanity has been prone to chaotic dealings, lurching from crisis through aggression, complacency or error. That seemed a better backdrop for me, along with a few bits of grit in the machinery (in my case the Three central characters, who in turn would be shoved off course by events not directly involving them).
Thus the plots as such were fairly basic, really. Three young women pitchforked into a set of circumstances, the ramifications of which led to another, which in turn caused a big ruckus across local realms of Time and Space. They bonded in differing ways and prevailed. They had their varying times on stage, and matters were left with them looking to their respective futures undiminished and confident. ‘And that took three volumes of 650,000 words????‘ you might well ask. Actually yes, because the challenges, adventures and developing they experienced were taking places against various backdrops.
There never was, nor intended to be an epic linear storyline. Arketre, Karlyn and Trelli were never going to save The Empire, defeat the entire cast of villains, make the whole world a better place or one of them rule an entire nation. They were always frontline sloggers, albeit rising through the ranks, they didn’t even achieve imperial-wide fame or rushed from one crisis to another because only they could do the job. Their tales were all about adapting, surviving and growing closer in varying ways. And of course ending these episodes well.
This was about the various bondings of the three main characters, how their paths crossed with their first challenge and the ramifications thereupon, leaving the ground open to Volume 2. As with most Fantasy works things are not just left with one book, therefore there were plenty of loose ends to carry into Volume 2. The villains were fairly weak but that was a deliberate satire on the hordes grinning, monologuing perfect-plot-until-the-last-chapter characters that stalk books, comics, tv shows and films and quite frankly are boringly predictable. The main threats coming more from accidents, forces of Nature, incompetence of various folk and the command structure of Arketre’s own LifeGuard. The survival and triumph of the trio of women was thus one over Circumstances, The Unforeseen and their own fears, rages or misjudgements. The romance just grew out of the narrative and was actually the last piece to fit into the book. And the ending was more of a pause for the three to catch their breath and evaluate just how far their had come. Why not? What’s wrong with having three folk journey through a mire of confusion and come out the other end intact, and growing. You might even call it a ‘Road Trip’ book.
Volume 2 ‘Skirmishers’
This started where ‘Patchwork’ left off. Arketre and Karlyn in one place, Trelli in another and other folk propelling them into situations. This time there were not so much ‘villains’ but more emphasis on groups with their own agendas, and the complex, sometimes unintended interactions of these. This created a turbulent environment which the three women were obliged to navigate, embrace, survive in and sometimes influence. Each had their own new set of challenges. Karlyn, her heritage, Arketre the conflicting emotions of war and Trelli keeping the potential of her Ethereal abilities under her control and not vice-versa. Another theme I brought in was an age old-one in Military History, a seemingly superior force coming unstuck because the defenders were adaptable and motivated, while the invaders were faced with a difficult environment and the front-line troops were uncertain of why they were there. The demonic Zerstorung were a constant but as a malevolent opportunistic force. However the theme was ‘No one is ever has complete control of a situation. There are no perfect schemes. There are no constantly overwhelming forces. All is variable‘ . In the final pages up pops a twist, a piece of satire on the double standards men employ when dealing with women and how Arketre in particular takes a moral advantage of this.
This coalesced out of three ideas. Firstly the fearful battles around Stalingrad in 1942/43 the allegory would be Arketre’s . Secondly Karlyn’s heritage and reason for her being ‘here’. Thirdly Trelli’s involvement in the politics of the Silc family of Elinid, which stemmed from her concern over Wigran, arguably the one who gave cause to the whole companionship. My interest in the military and political aspects of various wars played heavily here, since the narrative moved around several locations and involved a number of groupings. Overall the picture was meant to look chaotic and at times the decisions quite incomprehensible; a reading of any history of any conflict will show this to be true reality. Since most of the narrative was seen from each woman’s standpoint it was difficult not to make them out as omnipotent saviours or as ‘wise’, while balancing out their strengths and virtues; thus they were never truly in charge of any big picture, constantly reacting and often getting the better of folk but equally being shunted around until eventually they are able to find their own stable, respected places.
The journey was long, thanks to the characters bother major and supporting it was completed on high notes and the deserving folk intact. Of course there was no grand finale in which everything was wrapped up; there were loose ends, for there may be other tales.
Outline: Trelli was an orphan placed as a housemaid in the respectable household of the Hendrechan family, notable in local commerce and society. She swiftly learnt she was fortunate, and by hard work rose to be valued. Her one problem being the younger son Wigran who due to his own forays in The Stommigheid inadvertently involves her upsetting her once stable life by giving her powers she now has to master.
Preamble: This extract involves the finale in a series of confrontations between Trelli and Wigran. She, having discovered his illegal efforts with The Stommigheid has warned him to stop before the authorities or worse come down upon the household. Because of their previously good relationship he has been trying to convince her otherwise.
Trelli was starting to yearn for easier times when her Ghitanixday afternoons were little interludes when she could just be herself and sometimes lazy. She now accepted this had been chipped away since Wigran had got her all tangled up with firstly his financial doings and now here she was in his room, sitting at this desk, looking at his nasty mirror, and him carrying on like it was all quite right and proper. And why had she been such a ninny and let him talk her into this? This wasn’t excitement jiggling her innards. No. This was being scared silly.
‘What am I supposed to do?’ she demanded.
‘Nothing Trelli,’ was his anxious reply ‘I just want you to see how wondrous The Ethereal can be,’ and his hands moved across the jewels bringing a light similar to a pale misty dawn.
‘Looks ghostly to me,’ she complained.
‘No, let me explain. You see, there came upon the world long years ago a new force which enabled folk to do things which had only been dreamed off,’
‘And The World might have got destroyed,’
‘Yes, there were mistakes, but it was due to inexperience. Look. You do want to know, don’t you?’
‘I don’t think I do,’
‘Oh, don’t be so soppy. Look at these jewels. These are selected for their empathy with the Ethereal. They draw its elements from the very air and channel them through these delicate wires into the….’
‘Funny looking box with a scary mirror. Something will loom out of it,’ she shuffled nervously, then flinched when Wigran tried to pat her knee, he had meant to reassure her, not one of his better qualities.
‘No,’ he tried his idea of a calm authoritative voice, it came out peevish. ‘Look, watch this,’ and despite her whimper of apprehension began to tap out a pattern upon the jewels ‘You see, each impact or combinations of impacts has a certain resonance which sends out a message to the central hub within the box, which in turn generates an empathy with the Ethereal. I’ll show you,’ he turned to look, hopefully at her, finding her wide-eyed attention upon the screen.
‘Why is there a small red and blue sea in the middle?’
Wigran peered at the shape she was pointing at.
‘Nothing to worry about,’ he assured her or hoped he had ‘This is one of the many sights you see,’
‘What does it mean then? Is it a sea in some odd land?’
‘It’s a,’ he paused then as loathed as he was had to admit ‘Well, I’m not too sure at the present,’ he leaned in fingers hovering over the jewels.
‘If you don’t know,’ Trelli chided swatting his hands away ‘Don’t fool with it. Wait for it to go away,’
‘I can’t do that,’ he snapped horrified at the idea ‘This is as an important exploration as one by any sea captain,’ while still hovering at the jewels, not sure of his choice but neither willing to let Trelli think he was indecisive.
‘More than a few of those never came back,’ she warned as she began to chew upon her knuckles and recite prayers begging The Good Lord God to forgive these his foolish and wayward children.
‘Do stop that,’ Wigran complained now embracing peevishness, lest she somehow convince him ‘It is not helpful,’
‘Not asking The Good Lord God for aid and guidance ?’
‘Oh Trelli. Oh Trelli. Oh Trelli,’ he lamented. She was confusing him.
‘Yes, I’m here. All three of me,’ fear being replaced by sarcasm.
‘This is how things are when the Ethereal or Stommigheid is being explored, there are sights and sounds to be encountered. This red and blue manifestation could well be the indication of an as yet unchartered pathway, enabling the question of distance to be considered no longer valid to the communications regarding or transference of goods. Look,’ goaded by her intransigence he pressed red and azure jewels’ See how it fluctuates in response to gems of similar hues, indicating a facet of empathy,’
Once more Trelli did not have any notion as to what he was talking about, and said so while watching that red and blue smudge. It did look like a sea, albeit a small one.
Wigran stung by her failure to at least listen with an open mind began to dither about with the lowest of the three drawers on the right side of his desk, doing his stupid tapping, this time on three dull looking brass screws, at which point the draw flew open, and he swiftly pulled out a volume old and battered through use, waving the thing in her face.
She managed to make out an odd title of ‘A Perplexing Tendency to Persist’
‘This is how I started Trelli. Four years ago, when father made a speculative purchase of some woebegone lord’s library and I found this amongst volumes on the husbandry of vegetables. This seemingly amusing and quirky tale is actually made of two layers. Firstly, part of an account of folk legendary within the realms of the Jordisk told in a comic style, but more important a coded guide on how you could build an oculator,’
Trelli wrinkled her threatened nose, she was sure there was an oily smell coming out of the pages and wished he would put the blasted thing back in the drawer. Then something struck her.
‘How did you know it was a code? I mean if you hadn’t seen it before. Aren’t codes complicated?’
His grin was something she reckoned those Gervalons went in for at their blasphemous ceremonies before they sacrificed small furry animals, not that she’d actually seen such a horrid act, but there were stories.
‘Because it all becomes clear when you read it with an open mind,’
This was the limit of her forbearance. A new and sudden determination gripped her for she could feel something whispering to her. Temptation. She would fight back. She leapt up, hands to her ears, and reciting a new string of prayers for protection from The Evils of The Lascivious and The Perils of the Retributions, then gathering all of her determination and with finger pointing stormed.
‘Dangerous. Blasphemous. I’ll give you just one day to destroy all of this. And burn it, or I’m going to tell your parents,’
Wigran shot up, still waving the book, Trelli with a new mix of fear and rage swatted it out his grasp, then with teeth clenched dashed towards the volume, snatching it up, making to tear it apart. Wigran howled in anguish meaning to grab the book, grabbed her, swinging her about and thus she lost her balance. In trying to regain it, her right hand hit some of the jewels.
Because she was blocking most of his line of sight Wigran did not initially see the small red and blue shape growing. This only became apparent when the entire lower half of the mirrored surface was filled with a brightness of red and blue, silhouetting Trelli. Seeing the shock on his face she twisted about, to see the red and blue rising up as she comprehended it, into a wave, a big tide coming in wave, crashing on rocks. She yelped, threw up her hands to her face and tumbled backwards, over one chair and into a heap on the floor.
In the aftermath, the colours subsided, the surface became a passive leaf green, broken by flickers of blonde yellow sunlight.
This and the book were of no real consequence for either Trelli or Wigran. They were both looking at her hands.
Which had begun to glow with hues shifting between the reds and blues previously witnessed on the oculator.
The brief interlude of shared wide-eyed open mouthed silence was broken by the cries of dismay from Trelli.
Outline: Karlyn has a variable link with the Reality of the World of these books. This turns out to be literal. She would like to be the trickster, thief, jester, free-spirit and commentator of the group, only as we all know what we want to be and who we turn out to be are often quite different things.
Preamble: The following action takes place in a run-down town of Yermetz. It has come to the attention of the local normally easy-going Translator Pastoral (think senior priest of the town) ClnMyla that something very untoward has been going on and could lead to a Zerstroung (think demonic) incursion. Reluctantly he calls in a long-term associate Custodian (ie Inquisitor) Meradat, a solid, independently minded fearsome fellow to assist. As they approach the building suspected as being the point of possible incursion, they find it in flames. From out of an alley behind them appears a figure who is pleased with the event:
ClnMyla was first to the conversation, he did not want Meradat causing this possibly unusual person to go all skittish and run.
‘Pardon me for appearing slow. But would you be after claiming the responsibility for this conflagration?’
This caused the person to rise from their slouch and frown, arms unfolding and straying down to a sheathed blade.
‘Just said, didn’t I?’ they leant forward, light from the blaze revealing high cheekbones, teeth slightly bared ‘I set fire to that nasty place. Just like I’ve done with others before,’
Closer inspection revealed soot stains upon her face, hands and clothing and a stronger cloying aroma of smoke than you would expect from a simple background conflagration. ClnMyla felt there may be something to her claim.
‘So, you’d be making a career of this then?’
‘Yeah,’ she waved a hand at them ‘Like you holies, it’s my vo-err-voc—’
‘Vocation,’ intoned Meradat, she nodded in response ‘And by your accent am I correct to assume you have journeyed northwards all the way from the Blaggatinia in the Southern Peninsula, burning down places along the way?’
‘S’right. Right up from Elinid,’ she spat, quite profusely, narrowly missing clerical shoes ‘Rot-it-to the-Fifth-Hell,’ a pause to scratch their scalp ‘I’ll go back there one day an’ burn the whole damn place down,’
Meradat was normally a man given to action, either physical or verbal on the basis assault took the foe off of their guard, however this person presented a collection of questions which he felt, just this time, might be better dealt by his colleague. ClnMyla was of course all for talking.
‘Well now Miss, I take it, it is Miss,’ the new arrival nodded, sniffed and followed up by a wiping of nose on sleeve, which he took as a perverse sort of defiance on being identified as a girl. ‘Just what would be bringing you on such a task?’
The girl raised her head, a feral smirk about her face.
‘Told ya. My mission. I can smell nasty business I can,’ a quick shrug ‘Not the robbing and cheating sorts, but that dirty creepin’ Whychie stuff, the stormhiggle,’
‘Stommigheid,’ Meradat corrected and only being able to restrain himself from interrogation or accusation for very short interludes, loomed in asking ‘And just how do you burn things?’
ClnMyla winced, one odd answer here and the girl could be on the wrong end of an official Stommigheidate accusation. She patted her back pack.
‘I got all I needs in here. All the natural stuff wot will burn anywhere and anyhow. I can set fire to a riverbank if I fancies,’
After a hasty glance to Meradat, ClnMyla put on his most disarming smile.
‘This scenting of things?’ and he let the question deliberately hang there, letting her have her say.
‘I just do. It’s a gift and I makes the best use of it. Soon as I got the chance to get out of the sproggle hole Elinid and into the open where I could think and smell straight, everything became very clear, an’ since then,’ she shrugged, to look back to the fire, losing herself in the sight, one hand idly tugging at her shirt.
ClnMyla moved between her and the flames, his attention determinedly fixed in a kindly manner, time to calm her down and learn more about the wheres and the whys.
‘Well this is good news to our stretched and tired hearts. Another to the fight. My new cook, she’s fine at her calling and a most devout lady, will be only too glad to prepare you a decent meal and a hot brew. Would you be caring to accept the invitation?’
At the mention of food there was a low gurgling noise from the girl’s midriff and a swift lick of her lips, although her expression was guarded.
‘No funny-bunny business?’ she asked, eye narrowing and hand settling on the sheath ‘No having me take off all my clothes to check for sinful marks? No creeping up to me at night with your trousers off and nightshirt up?’
ClnMyla was fair certain Meradat’s nasal inhalation and subsequent exhalation of anger at such accusations had caused two attendant drafts. These being a precursor to a combination of tirade and apology against the ways of lax, unworthy and thrice-wretched members of The Ecclesiastes who indulged so and how he had dealt with those he had apprehended.
‘Ah, now you’ve started him off,’ explained ClnMyla ‘He’ll be going on about his colourful notions on how to cleanse our wayward brothers-in-faith and what’s wrong with the ruling councils. This will likely be the background to the short journey to my abode and the decent meal I assured you of. For certain of the Good Lord God you’re looking as if you need one,’
The girl considered her feet.
‘Yeah,’ she rubbed her stomach ‘Am a bit empty. I’ll chance it,’
‘Grand. I’m Translator Pastoral ClnMyla, this fellow with the formidable vocal chords is Custodian Meradat, and you’d be calling yourself?’
‘Karlyn, Karlyn Nahtinee,’
Before ClnMyla could make further comment, the burning roof fell in, Meradat announced there was no more to be done as the blaze had accomplished The Lord God’s work, and Karlyn Nahtinee was shepherded away.
The translator pastoral was interested to recognise in his associate, concern as opposed to the usual Custodianal displeasure. Firstly, on returning to ClnMyla’s abode Meradat had merely dismissed the three translators with the curt observation they had work to do amongst their communities, so they were obliged to leave the light supper and scuttle out into the night. Secondly, he had been quite willing for Widow Darroe to see the girl into the kitchen and had not even bothered to ask ClnMyla if the arrangement between Widow Darroe and Servant Harrdel was a ‘correct one’. Instead he had ushered the translator pastoral into the man’s own reading room, where he at least allowed ClnMyla to sit down before he started.
‘Let us ignore your previous mistakes in this matter,’ Meradat did not wait for any other opinion on the matter ‘And look at the issues to hand. We have a man who in his vanity has peered into places far beyond his capacity to handle, thus panicked and fled. Then, appears a strange young woman claiming an ability to trace such practices. The initial evidence suggests her close affinity to fire,’ ClnMyla had to agree thus far ‘This affinity itself raises issues which will need to be addressed as will her other claim to burn places at her whim,’ at this juncture he stopped ClnMyla reckoned there was an internal argument taking place. Meradat paced, hands firmly clasped behind his back. The Custodian stopped at the window and stared out into the damp and dirty night.
‘So, if she is as she claims, although the risks are great and the weaponry to be handled very carefully there is no doubt The Lord God has delivered unto me the means to do battle,’
Problems and issues assailed ClnMyla. Still out of breath he only half-rose.
‘Now Meradat my long-time associate in perils. You’ll not be thinking of taking a possibly unhinged young girl on one of your steely and messy jaunts? I was nice enough with her to her face, particularly with all that hardware she’d be carrying. But between ourselves. Sweet Mercy of The Good Lord God. For all we know she might be a little runaway dreamer who latches onto any event and claims it for her own doings. I’ll even wager she believes she can hold conversations with flowers, trees and the more pleasant of insects,’ ClnMyla felt inclined to add a warning to the next part ‘And how can you be certain she’s not been sent to discredit you? You’re not the most popular of fellows amongst your own ranks, upsetting your superiors and equals with your assertions of corruption, nepotism and laziness. You’ve seen off five assassination attempts to my knowledge. So, they try the discrediting. What could be worse than a middle-aged experienced Custodian being made a fool of by a waif of a girl. It’s happened before, mind you from what I be hearing those were for more natural reasons,’
Meradat’s face grew taught and flint sharp, winter grey eyes became hooded.
‘I am aware of all their potential tricks. And I have already started to observe the girl,’
‘observe the girl….???’
ClnMyla knew from experience as far as Meradat was concerned there was the end of this part of the argument. The man fought his war on more than one front. And ClnMyla had to admit Meradat really did have a certain perception for these Stommigheid matters. Meanwhile the Custodian was continuing.
‘Let’s return to whatever this absent fool saw. Did his dabbling offer a pathway to those from The Zerstorung who would destroy this world and replace it with a Hell? This is one in a line of recent indications I have encountered,’ he settled into a very grave expression. ‘Ideal for some clutch of degenerates daring to move beyond their own debauched covens. And yet although the Stommigheid is a bane, it is capricious in its unpredictable tydes and tempests, thus the girl could well have been swept here for a purpose. I must speak with her now. You may rest,’
‘Meradat can be fearfully accurate in his summations… the man has been walking very strange paths for many years, undergoing the facing of the most peculiar of information and experiences. Small wonder he leaves confusions in his wake. I don’t know. I’ll have enough to be doing with the authorities and gangs being a nervy as frogs about a fire; and neither wanting to be useful, while suspecting each other. I think this role is getting to be more than one man’s work; pastoral indeed. Mind you, he has a point about resting; it will do no harm to be resting my eyes for just a fifty or so….
Meradat watched the man drift into a doze. For all his imperfect inclinations to Compassion and Tolerance, Translator Pastoral ClnMyla was as best as could be hoped for in a declining Ecclesiastes. You could never predict the allies and soldiers The Lord God would send in the ongoing struggle with The Zerstorung. Another battle to thwart the unceasing attempts to break into the World Physical and bring its hideous domination.
With her noteworthy gear piled into a corner Karlyn was perched upon a kitchen stool working her way through a meal of stew and extra portions of vegetables. Widow Darroe managed the feat of wrinkling her nose at Meradat in a respectful fashion.
‘The young woman should have the comfort of a bath and bed too, Your Revered Sir,’
‘Sadly, good woman, there is little time. The requirements to be of service to the Lord God are pressing. Now then, Maid Karlyn,’ who looked up from her meal, briefly scratching her short dark hair.
And possessed of a full mouth.
‘Very well. Eat. But with all dignity. Now listen well, and bear in mind I will expect an answer,’
‘Mumphh-huhmph,’ she said still attending to the stew.
He drew from his large and pocket rich coat a slender black leather book; the custodial axe inscribed in gilded lettering. Sitting opposite her, he skimmed the tome across the table to her.
‘Pick up the volume, maiden,’
The need to shovel another spoonful of stew took precedence, but following she did pick up the volume, sniffed at it and having looked admiringly at the cover put down her spoon. While she chewed in a very demonstrative manner, Karlyn thumbed through the pages, ending her survey with a very obvious swallow and a wide grin.
‘Hey. I like these prayers about burning wicked folk!’
‘Encouraging,’ he picked up the book and waved it at her, she followed the progress as a cat watching a jewelled necklace ‘This is a copy of The Ministrations of the Obliteration. Written in sacred ways, passages formed with invention to confront doubts and aberrations, set in inks pure. The tainted, the foolish and the evil become most agitated reading its pages.’
He was one to strongly deny there was even the slightest hint of Stommigheid in its construction.
Widow Darroe passed a comment which she kept wisely inaudible and excused herself. To her mind, The Official Custodianal idea of sacred and pure could be mistaken by ordinary folk as the determination to wreak havoc and terror; but the girl seemed most casual.
‘Recite unto me a maiden’s prayer,’
Karlyn pulled a long face, the stew was beckoning.
‘Dunno much. Where I lived they never encouraged ‘em,’
Meradat glowered, not so much at her, but at a place many leagues distant and many years passed.
‘Yeah. Told you. Where I lived, we weren’t encouraged,’
‘Even with a vulgarity inserted, it was sincere enough,’ he had had enough experience of the panic and haste of the other sort. He had met many types in his long and turbulent career trying to weave, worm or scuttle their ways out of the Justice of The Lord God. This young woman did not seem the least bit troubled by his office. She did not use the official address which was as interesting as it was refreshing. ‘So, are you ready to work for The Lord God?’
‘Yumf,’ stew again.
The response was quite emphatic; just the style you’d expect from the rare irreverent yet direct sort. He continued, while observing, carefully. It was interesting to note although she consumed her meal with all the speed and indelicacy of a beast of prey, she did so with an accompanying feral grace. All the while maintaining a casual composure, as if being interviewed by a Custodian was a mere commonplace.
He pressed on.
‘How long have you had this gift to scent out evil?’
‘’Bout three years. Just came to me, it did,’
‘How did your family react?’
‘Haven’t got one,’
‘An orphan then?’
‘Dunno. I was washed up near Elinid in a ship wreck. Forgot stuff,’
Another Preamble : This takes place a little later when Custodian Meradat endeavours to escort Karlyn out through a curious crowd in what is usually an acceptable manner of The Cowed and Frightened or (defiant) suspect- Karlyn makes much more of it:
‘Look. Could we not have the young girl there disguised as a heretic and you’ll be taking her, looking as a Him for interrogation,’
Karlyn much refreshed by food clapped her hands and did a little jig.
‘Oooh playtime. I loves playtime and dress-up. Can I have a moustache and a beard and swagger,’ she stuck out her midriff and puffed out her cheeks and was about to demonstrate her vocal abilities, when Meradat pointed out, very sonorously heretics did not swagger in a clownish fashion. Karlyn, mused and agreed. ‘Alright then I’ll be a noodley-hutch,’ twirling her right index finger near to the side of her head.
ClnMyla and his servant exchanged unhappy and fatalistic glances.
Meradat rolled his eyes.
The door of the abode swung inwards and there in the lamplight stood The Custodian, in his full imposing height and an iron badge in the shape of an axe of justice hung ominously about his neck. In his firm grip upon one shoulder a small hooded figure who twitched and seemed to cackle.
Meradat did not normally care for this sort of theatricality but he did have a sense of duty, bordering on friendship to ClnMyla and so once more was going along with one of the Pastoral Translator’s whimsical schemes. This one did have a measure of economy and plausibility.
‘One side,’ he boomed ‘A heretic hast been apprehended in your town,’
At this point Karlyn squeaked and waved her fingers in flapping motions about her head.
‘Oooh All praise the…’ she stopped, suddenly stuck for a suitable heretical statement, luckily for her the febrile imaginings of the crowd were rich in possibilities.
‘All the burning. He’s got one of them Gervalons.’ screeched a woman ‘Oh Good Lord God help us, there’s Gervalons here. Come to burn us all in our beds!’
And a flurry of cries went up demanding all manner of very painful and bloody executions at once, fuelled by Karlyn cackling and announcing they were all going to suffer Wraths.
At this stage ClnMyla and his servant wisely made their appearances; the latter to run around to the attached stables and bring out the horses, ClnMyla to interpose himself between two forces of nature, maybe three for he was not sure about the girl.
‘Please. All of you. Be calm for, he, the Custodian must take this wretch,’ Karlyn made a rude noise and stuck out her tongue, which caused some puzzled silences for as far as folk knew mad heretics did not resort to street urchin tricks. ClnMyla took advantage of the lessening of the hub-bub. ‘He must take them for interrogation. They are obviously not having enough wits of their own to plan anything,’ Karlyn seemed attracted to this notion and began to babble the word ‘Burn’ ‘There are others at work here,’ he concluded in some desperation; the girl was not helping.
At the appearance two conveniently saddled, bridled and gear stowed horses Meradat boomed once more for all to stand aside and dragged the girl to the mounts. His, a large roan was naturally waiting patiently.
‘You’re all gonna burn.’ she chanted and pointed randomly at folk squeaking ‘’Specially you!’
And from some place in her jack brought out wood the size of a toothpick but for the small blue bulbous end, against which she scratched her thumb, then flicked the now flaring object towards the crowd. Naturally there was panic, there were howls, there were ructions, there was the girl’s high-pitched giggle. ClnMyla made a brief but very strong request for divine intercession, thoughts of which were distracted by the sight of Meradat’s expression which instead of the expected rage was one of serious assessment.
Meradat’s air of apparent detachment did not stop him picking her up and slinging her over the saddle of a fatalistic mount.
‘Cease your blasphemous babbling,’ he warned as he tied her hands and legs. ClnMyla had known him previously put more venom and threat into such words. On this occasion and by his standards Meradat sounded almost conversational, while the girl undeterred by the chaos and treatment appeared to be indulging in her role.
‘Can’t stop me,’ she trilled very off-key
‘Can’t stop me,
You’re all gonna roast at the burning tree,’
Her ditty ended in a ‘mmph’ when Meradat shoved a rag into her mouth followed by a swift expert securing of her to the saddle. This done he set up upon his own mount and grasped the reins of the other, it was time to leave. To the crowd his seeming prompt action had turned the tide and so caused cheering, calls of approval, with the occasional ‘Good Lord God Bless You’ thrown in by those anxious not be seen to offend a Custodian. But Meradat did not care to rely on the emotional goodwill of even such a small number.
Yes, it’s about my own work. It is also about the business of one way of creating characters and fitting them into a narrative.
I don’t really know why my fiction always ends up with at least one central female character of some determination and intelligence with the ability to cause any nasty protagonists harm be it physical or mental while surviving and prospering. And I am not going to inflict upon you any reasoning. It is what it is. Let it be (Of course there is the secret wicked hope that this predilection annoys the heck out of those male readers who are uneasy with female characters who are not victims or feisty sorts needing a man to help them out and infuriates even less pleasant creatures biologically considered male….. don’t care)
Why Three? Doesn’t it get a little crowded?
This objection is never raised when the companionship is all male. The traditional male composite business is a bit of an artificial construct which does seem to be dying in the general area of mainstream; the danger being not to have the characters acting as men simply inhabiting women’s bodies. And that dear reader is a bit of a challenge for the male writer to get the balance right. I tried, ‘frib’ (see books-shameless plug) knows I tried.
A long, long time ago, far, far away there was just one. Dry, tallish, humourless right out of stock casting, there was a great deal of evolution, until there were two: protagonists, one a feisty unconventional soldier, the other a haughty princess in a comedic setting…. annddddd still that stock casting. Those self-published books are still out there, I don’t talk about them, just use some of the material as background long ago history for this trilogy. Finally after another series of false starts a certain set of images formed, albeit maybe not that original, there again has anyone in the past dozen or so centuries written a truly original character?
The Characters Appear
Firstly unless you really wish to drive yourself to distraction it is advisable to engage with some of the basic conventions and commonalities of the genre you’re in, it makes things easier and you can always build, tweak and nuance.
In Fantasy you often find a person who gets put upon, chosen for something they did not intend to get involved in- classic cases Bilbo and Frodo. In my narrative this is Trelli: a hardworking and diligent house servant of a rising mercantile respectable family in a modest port town . Their younger son Wigran is a Jordisk (see previous post), his enthusiasm and her concerns on discovery of actions that he will ruin the family reputation and her job prospects leads to ructions between them. This results in another of those classic circumstances albeit normally reserved for SF; she gets accidentally imbued with the Stommigheid (again see previous post). We shall leave the poor girl there suffering because we have to backtrack to the other two who occupy earlier parts of the narrative. The important thing I had to remember with Trelli was not to leave her as a constant confused victim, nor a damsel in distress to be rescued by the others. She now has a power and needs to understand this. Hers will be a long and uneven journey. She also brings a very practical aspect missing from the other two.
A Fantasy narrative with a light hearted streak yearns for a maverick, and for a maverick to survive in a Fantasy world they had better have at least one and usually more skills, gifts or what-have-yours to go with their unconventional streak. Along popped up Karlyn Nahtinee . Self-appointed arsonist in the service of ‘The Good Lord God’ burning down places she decided were evil, also athletic, with a sense of smell the range of a small radar and accompanying discernment a dog would envy; she talks to flora and fauna. Her perception of the world, her logic and communication skills are quirky, sometimes child-like and definitely disruptive. So odd, she is taken as an assistant by an stern, judgemental very focusedCustodianMeradat who see ‘qualities’ in her. She has no problem with this. Of course no maverick should be without an air of ‘why’ and ‘who’ about them, so she starts with a very sketchy back story. Her task is to aid in the hunting down of some miscreant Jordisk, which will end up with her tracking Trelli(She is fun to write – the great challenge being not to have made her appear as a Harley Quinn knock off… very difficult)
You get Rangers who have seen ‘things’ and been ‘places’, you get conflicted warriors with guilty pasts, you find devout trained followers who are going to get upset on finding out something and you get cynical mercenaries who deep down inside actually have a moral compass. In short you get soldiers. The trouble with the female version is they tend to be taller than most men and often possessed of that humourless dispositions, or are vulgar barbarians (maybe tautology there) who can weather the worst climates in skimpy clothing (looking at you Red Sonja ). I took the more rounded version you get in SF and placed her down amongst ‘the ranks’, a medic (Or Medician). Like most soldiers she is prone to grumbling, also is dedicated to her role, caring, respectful of rank but has an amorous reputation with girls. Overall Arketre Beritt, was written with the ordinary soldiers of the past more than one and a half centuries in mind. The Dog-face, The Tommy, The Grunt, The PBI, The Footslogger (in her case mounted infantry). Because of her empathetic nature and skill as a Medician she is sent with the file (team) who are to trace and apprehend what we call these days a ‘Person of Interest’ to her regiment (The elite LifeGuard). Which of course will be poor Trelli. Arketre is not as completely sunny as she first seems. Like many a soldier who has been in the harsh front line she has another side to her. One of the reasons why one hardened officer in the LifeGuard Headquarters chose her. Her accents changes are to indicate that conflicting between nature and training.
Custodian and LifeGuard’s paths naturally cross; by convention they co-operate. Arketre and Karlynbond in a slightly jagged, bantering way. While this is happening both having been tracking the wayward young Jordisk as they get closer it is then Trelli gets her accident and will be the focus.
The final meeting of the three is set against a chaotic background of a town under piratical attack from the sea; that’s due to another strand of the narrative and to go into would distract from this subject matter. Karlyn enthused by her role wants to arrest and restrain Trelli, Arketre wants to approach with caution. All intentions get swept up in the background chaos; file and Custodian are missing assumed dead , leaving Arketre with the responsibility of getting Trelli out of danger and to her immediate commanders. By now Karlyn is content to follow whatever Arketre (named by her as ‘Flaxi‘- blonde hair) decides. Trelli distressed, scared by the nascent powers she has displayed looks to the more apparently sympathetic Arketre for protection, and their journey, soon to be disrupted begins.
Having one Alpha character can lead to a great deal of their introspection or repetition, and often wasting of the potential of the associates. These ‘associates’ might have their ‘moments on stage’ objecting to certain actions and decisions and even quit the company (or get sacrificed for the plot), but tend to still gather about the said Alpha when they are being heroic. That notion often works quite well with a very good writer or one who knows their readership and supplies the goods, an equally laudable skill and artistry.
I chose another alternative; a group of folk drawn together by circumstances and a possible empathy through the Ethereal / Stommigheid / Astatheia . Being very much individuals from differing background and outlooks they squabble, also being uncertain of just what they are supposed to be doing there is never one dominant personality, any one of them will take the lead or get very stubborn, being supported by either of the others or ganged up on by the other pair. Very much like any other bunch of folk. Initially it was Arketre with her military ways who took the decisions, that fractured under stress, and returned, and went away again and so on. Much more fun to write.
The above seems all well and good, however it was getting it to work in a way which would be as near to natural as I could get in a Fantasy was the challenge. Luckily there was the good ol’ Ethereal / Stommigheid / Astatheia to assist, a vital component when a sub-text appeared of a growing attraction turning to affection to physical between Karlyn and Arketre; Trelli could not be a third wheel. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! There had to be a triangulation with internal lines and in constant motion. It worked like this, sort of.
Arketre being a person involved in the practical world was uneasy when dealing with matters Astatheia, as she would call it. However being a medician and empathetic with folk in distress was sympathetic to Trelli as she saw as a victim. Trelli in turn responded to this friendliness, the accompanying bond gave Arketre someone she could turn to for inspiration and support when faced with Astatheia and the burden of responsibility . ‘If Trelli can do it, so can I’ . Whereas Karlyn and Arketre were bonding in other ways, Karlyn was unable to communicate with Arketre over the Stommigheid (‘Stormhiggle’ as she calls it) , initially hostile to Trelli she begins to appreciate there is a companionship through a shared use of this power, and this is reciprocated. Eventually when Arketre and Karlyn have a furious row over an action the former sees as irresponsible, it is Trelli, Karlyn turns to for support and comfort and Trelli who signals to Arketre matters are not as straightforward as she would wish and to treat Karlyn’s action with more respect. As the trio face the most dangerous and eventful part of the first volume roles of leadership, support, and sacrifice flip back and forth as the camaraderie grows as I hoped they would.
In the final chapters of the first volume Trelli is parted from the other two not by choice but by circumstance, for the time they must go as a duo and one. Arketre worries for Trelli, but Karlyn assures her that ‘Whychie’ (Karlyn rarely calls anyone by their true name) is safe, and in turn Trelli feels her friends are somewhere but secure, knowing they will be together again. It is this bond between Karlyn and Trelli which puts Arketre’s mind at ease both because she sees Trelli as a friend and betweenTrelliand Karlyn she is safe from being overwhelmed by an unseen powers.
Thus is the grouping formed. Although throughout the books each has to sometimes work alone and there are pairings between all three, it is only when they are together as the trio that their full strength is seen.
Aside from charting my own efforts in this area, I hope there will be some snippets which can be of service to any writer’s journey with characters.
The narrative of the series takes place in a world, which may our future, or an alternative version. Or some world in this vast universe which bears similarities to ours. At some stage in the past a previously unknown Natural Force arrived. The circumstances of its arrival are clouded with allegory in the form of legends and religions. Its arrival caused disruptions in the environment exacerbated through profligate usage by opportunistic factions, which culminated in series of wars. One result of this turbulence was the bringing into existence of a number of realities which are linked to the world by tenuous pathways. Humanity is the only race inhabiting the original world, which in these Books is commonly called The World Physical .
The Natural Force is called by many names; the most common being The Ethereal or The Stommigheid. It has many properties; to name a few, a means of travel or communication, a destructive force, an engine of power. Some beings have a latent ability to use this while others work through machines or device we might recognised as laptops. It is believed in certain quarters every being has some link no matter how small or tenuous to this. Most consider it something to be wary of, in some areas of the world its use is officially restricted to the ruling authorities, although unsanctioned use is common. The folk who engage in such are known by authorities and public as The Jordisk , they are not organised and generally shunned. This differs from tolerated The Mechanicals who work solely with devices for such matters as communication, weather prediction and industrial tools, they work in guilds and dislike unsanctioned work as much as anyone. There is naturally a level of hypocrisy in that the official religions often consider its use a sin, while making certain accommodations. (Same as it ever was). Amongst some scholars there is the a question to how much influence Humanity has upon this force and vice versa. Some maintain there is now a symbiosis.
A second and arguably more dangerous result was the arrival of alien predatory creatures, these are viewed as demonic creatures and their realm and collective name being The Zerstorung; categorised by most of humanity as The Lords of The Land, The Lords of The Deep and The Lords of The Air; the latter having a kinship with Humanity. (although they are very touchy about that assertion)
The majority of the narrative takes place in The Oakhostian a long standing empire on a land mass similar to Europe whose general level of civilisation bears resemblances to the early 17th Century with aspects of later centuries also noticeable. The empire comprises a number of princedoms and city states. Imperial houses come and go as do princes, the principal dynamic being the Grand Dukes of the various princedoms. Religion teaches of “The Good Lord God” and is organised by the currently lacklustre Ecclesiastes, itself relying upon supposedly subservient institutions. Firstly, The Custodians of The Wordsimilar to Inquisitors but very fragmented with a tendency for independence or internal intrigue and secondly The Libratery a wholly female organisation set in various nearly fortified locations with its own agenda to survive, guard the culture and supply social support to the localities. Most formidable and least liked is The LifeGuard,run on military lines and originally charged with assisting protecting The Stability of the Empire; it is now very much a state within a state supressing outbreaks of instability as it sees fit. The Libratery and The LifeGuardshare a certain accord based on mutual respect and suspicion , particularly in the area of The Stommigheid at which they are both adept. The LifeGuardinsist upon their own term The Astatheia.
The realms which are literally attached to the world are homes to a variety of folk, some once human, others are of The Zerstorung. In Volume Two
The Shadow Lords are introduced, the first to harness some of the Ethereal potential and thus rule the world, of Human origin due to a schism over whether to continue ruling and some hubris they quit the realm now the domain of Humanity. Although their nature and intentions are seen by most Human authorities as distant and vague to the point of being Legends some disparate groups are plotting a return and seizing back lordship.
The books cover an interlude when the general informed consensus in The Oakhostian is the danger of an large incursion by The Zerstorung is at a high point. This has resulted in divergent approaches. Some are making preparation to repel this, others endeavour to use the Ethereal/ Stommigheid to foil it taking place, within The Custodians the notion is to supress all use of the Stommigheid as they see this as the cause. Some folk seek to gain the favour of The Zerstorung, while others more opportunistic look to make the best of whatever happens. The vast majority of the population remain ignorant of the situation.
All this takes place against the backdrop of a new, young untested emperor seeking to assert himself from forces within his and realm and at least one rival empire.
These events and manoeuvrings play a part in the narrative. Although such as members of the nobility and the emperor himself do figure in the tales, the stories are mostly seen from the perspective of characters whose positions are relatively low in the social chain, in particular the three central characters. These three would rather it remain so but events and their own natures preclude them from remaining in the background. The books therefore chart their progress through a turbulent episode in Oakhostian history. In this era whereas there are external threats; internal rivalries, factionalism, opportunists and the instability of individual princes cause crises of troubling magnitude.
Thus as is the case in many wars there is more than one reason for the start, more than two sides and a myriad of perspectives to the arguments. Bearing this in mind on finally settling upon a basic direction for the narrative I was mindful of the the folk swept up in the events not as victims, but who find themselves at the jagged edge of one part of the conflict; trying to make sense of it all, survive and therefore in achieving those two make some impact, although not necessarily the one those above them would wish them too. Of course there would be times where the more alert and astute parties would encounter opportunities to improve their own situations; in these volumes such motivations are complicated and varied, depending on the particular opportunity.
Therefore this is not an apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, nor completely ravaged world. Somewhat like ours, perched on the brink of complete disaster, with most folk hoping whatever might happen doesn’t happen in their time or place. Thus there are tracts when it all might seem low-key, and the action sporadic unless of course you happen to live in that location. Again somewhat like our world. Confusion, poor perceptions, hubris, random events, clashing of motives, haste through fear or suspicion are some of the engines which give rise to events. Once more like our world.
I would warn prospective readers, over and over again, particularly those who read Fantasy, there are high levels of feel-good, upbeat and heroic endeavours winning through. I make no apologies for that.