Update: the book is coming along swimmingly.
Part of the reason the recent editing of the book is going so well is the clear lines of communication between my editor and myself. Like any endeavor – writing, military operations, power plant maintenance, family – communication is key. I find over-communication tends to be better (though perhaps a little annoying) than under-communication.
Now I’m not going to write a whole lot on this. I am going to put a lot more into “A Tale of Two Editors – Part 2”. But it has been such a good experience that I wanted to cover it.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Throughout the whole editing process this last month, my editor and I have been in regular communication through phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings.
Some people may think that this could become cumbersome, even annoying. At times my first reaction is just that.
But the high level of communication has allowed us to deconflict issues we’ve had, reschedule meetings without issue, and to verify next steps and expectations.
Talking through things has allowed my editor to have a much deeper grasp of where I want to go with my story, and the background to it. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable talking about all the nerdy stuff in my book. But the more I explain, the more my editor has been able to guide me in a better direction, and my book is really shaping up because of it.
Now Communicate Some More
I’m going to go back to the possibility of annoyance for a second.
I am very straight forward, concise, to-the-point kind of guy. I want the facts, and then to tackle the solution. I don’t need fluff or prolonged discussion.
I quickly found that this would not work in this case.
First and foremost, while my editor and I have gotten to know one another better, we still really don’t know each other well. We have both had to learn to understand how the other operates, reads, and understands things.
While I am a straight to the point kind of person, my editor needs more discussion. That, and I found that greater discussion in greater detail was required so that my editor could really grasp what I am trying to do with my book. It was a bit of a mental stretch for me, but once I got past my mental block, my editor has come to understand my book better and, as I said before, has helped me change it for the better.
For example, I wanted to ensure that the culture of the Star Folk, the main peoples described in my book, had a lot of examples without just info dumping. Info dumps make the writing boring and interrupt the flow. At first I tried to describe this and my editor had a difficult time helping me. But once I described the culture more, where and how I wanted to describe it, and examples of info dumps, my editor was able to give me suggestions and help me brainstorm.
The issue with this kind of communication is it’s a soft skill. It’s more difficult to make it into a procedure, or to document a process.
I have to understand myself and how I communicate, and learn how the other person receives information, processes it, and communicates back. And I have to do this each time with different people, whether writing, at work, or with family and friends.
As many may know, it takes time, practice, and many iterations of trial and error.
Communication through the editing process has been key to helping my book become better. Sometimes the over-communication has at first seemed unnecessary, but I’ve learned it’s required if I want my editor to really be able to help me. Perhaps if I had done this more in the past, my book would be further along that it is.
The book is, in fact, coming along really well! I wouldn’t normally say that – I would say good, or decent, or it doesn’t quite suck. But I can honestly say the book is making some real leaps to something much more organized, professional, and almost ready for publishing. I will have more updates in the weeks to come.
Until next time. . .
This is from the Weekly Writer’s Prompt from Writer’s Digest: Hiring A New Villain, originally posted April 27, 2017. 500 words.
I crossed my left leg over my right as the monstrosity settled down into the chair on the other side of my dark wood desk.
“So, Mardock,” I began.
He immediately corrected me, his voice booming from behind the scarred metal helm that covered most of his face. “MOR-dock. Not MAR-dock. Mordock the Blood Drinker.”
As Mordock spoke, the sense of something just behind the veil of reality chattering and barking filled the room.
“Right,” I said, making note of it on my yellow writing pad.
I met Mordock’s hellish gaze. His eyes were red hot coals burning within his helmet. As Mordock shifted in seat the veins in his tree trunk of a neck and boulder-sized shoulders rippled – almost as if the tentacles of some creature resided under his skin rather than veins.
“So, Mordock, tell me a bit about yourself, and what would make you the best candidate for the villain of my next novel.”
“I began life as a slave in one of the tribes on the plains of Hruntnor,” Mordock began, his voice almost a shout. “My mother was a concubine of the tribe’s chief, and though I was his son he treated me lower than the livestock. As a young man I was thrown into the fighting pits, and quickly earned a reputation as a brutal killer.”
I scribbled notes as he spoke.
“It was the night of the blood moon that I discovered my destiny,” he continued. “I and fourteen other slaves fell into a sinkhole. I was the only one to survive. Within was a cave, and there the dark gods offered me power, taking the deaths of the thirteen other slaves as a satisfactory offering.”
Though I couldn’t see Mordock’s smile, I could hear it in his voice and see it in the flare of his fiery eyes.
“I climbed from that cave and killed my father, taking control of the tribe. I subjugated the surrounding tribes, leaving offerings of death to my fell patrons in my wake.”
I nodded approvingly. I liked what I heard.
There was just one more question I had.
“This all sounds excellent,” I said. “But can you do sneaky and underhanded?”
Mordock stopped and froze in place, his blazing eyes cooled for a moment.
“Uh. . .I, uh. . .I can kill.”
“Right, I gathered that. But can you craft and hatch maniacal plans?”
“Well. . .” I could see his red eyes narrowed in a frown. “I can. . .I can launch campaigns. . .and slaughter thousands. . .did I mention I can kill?”
“Yes, you did mention that.”
“Good, good,” he said, helmeted head bobbing. “Yes, I can definitely kill.”
“Well, thank you, Mordock,” I said, standing up. “I will be in contact.”
Mordock shook my hand, and I could tell he was a little dejected. He opened the door to my office, and I could see the long line of villain applicants had increased since the beginning of Mordock’s interview.
“Next!” I yelled.
So I’m back into the actual writing schtick. My book previously published under the title “Der Sternvolker” (which, by the way, is terribly improper German grammar; Es tut mir leid) went through a major edit last year, and is going through another one as we speak.
My experience with the two different editors I’ve used has been like night and day. One barely communicated at all, the other communicates a lot. One had a very definitive vision of where they wanted to go, the other looks to me for more guidance.
I’m sure other new writers are going, or will go through similar experiences. Here I will describe my experiences, and welcome input from other just starting authors who working with their first or second editor.
Part One covers my first editor. NOTE: This isn’t a positive or negative, and I attempt to simply relate things as they occurred. I do, however, write several lessons learned at the end.
I won’t use names in this article. So the first editor I used shall be dubbed: Editor One.
Editor One was an experienced editor with quite a few titles under her belt, as well as a few titles she wrote herself. I was excited to work with her as she seemed to generally understand the more sci-fi sort of things I was trying to get through, such as Cowboy Bebop and Firefly references. I was in geek heaven. She also had a firm grasp of the Turkey City Lexicon which has become the standard in a lot of writing circles, specifically in sci-fi/fantasy writing.
When I solicited her editing services she sent me a sample edit of the first few pages of my manuscript, and upon receipt of her edits confirmed I wanted her to edit my work.
It was the price tag that hit me: $2,400.
I had just received my tax return back, and instead of paying off some more debt, I decided to take the leap and pay her for her services.
And so the editing began.
I heard nothing for about four weeks.
And then, one day, my edited manuscript appeared in my inbox! I was ecstatic.
I went through the manuscript to see what she had done. It was diced, chopped, sliced, and beaten. And it needed to be. There was so much in my old manuscript that needed work, and that was just downright bad.
But, most of her notes were comments or recommendations. No hard “change this” or “move this here and it will really pop” or “delete this garbage and rewrite it.”
Included in her fee was a 1 hour consultation on her edits. I sought further information on many of her comments, and where things should go and how I should rewrite certain parts. She didn’t offer much. One of the recommendations I remember after asking if I should write a certain part a certain way was, “Really that’s up to you.”
At the end of our conversation I made the comment that I had a lot of deleting and rewriting to do, and she responded with, “And that’s one of the great parts of writing. You get your edits, and then you get to rewrite, sometimes the entire book!”
And that was that. My hour was up and I had exhausted my services with her.
I delved into the task of rewriting my manuscript – again. And then I re-rewrote it, and eventually stumbled upon my current editor…
First and foremost I felt some confusion with the process, especially at the end. My thought was that, while the editor can’t tell me exactly what to write, shouldn’t they at least be able to help with how to write it?
And that is where clearer communication would come in. I should have asked more questions about exactly what more of her editing looked like, maybe have check-ins throughout the process to get a feel for what she was saying and recommending, and get clarity on the details of the 1-hour consultation at the end. Maybe ask how such conversations went over with her other clients, what they covered, and what she absolutely would not/could not do.
I did look into other editors before I chose the one that edited my MS. Pricing for the length of my book (110k words) was about the same, give or take $50. With my contracts/procurement background I definitely got a wide selection of pricing and compare their editing styles and what they offered in their services (ie. post-edit consultation). Ultimately she was the best bang for my buck.
Perhaps I should have looked harder for editors, maybe there were veteran editors out there who could have offered better pricing for the same/similar services. And I would recommend to any readers to absolutely do so. Solicit examples and pricing from at least seven (7) different editors, and I recommend going all the way up to ten (10). Understand their editing style, personality, what they will do, and what they won’t do in the editing process.
Make sure everything is clear, and preferably in writing so there are no questions, disagreements, or misunderstandings down the road.
To Be Continued
I am currently working with my latest editor. Part 2 will be posted upon completion of her editing services, upon which time I will write about the experience, and lessons learned.
I hope this is helpful for new writers like me. If you’re a new writer, or even a veteran writer, tell me about some of your experiences – good, bad, and indifferent, and the lessons you learned. Are there any editors you would recommend to others?
Until next time. . .
I have always loved the poetry of Yates, Henley, and others. Lately I’ve been taking notes (mostly in my head) of the poems I read and what I want to express.
It’s funny, actually watching the movie “Moana” with my children (as well as reading the Viking sagas) has nurtured this flame of desire to write poetry.
“Hearth and Home” is about my dedication to protecting my family. So simple, yet in this day in age seems so foreign, even counter-cultural based on what I’ve been seeing in the media.
HEARTH AND HOME
“What brought you to Prussia, brother?”
It was the first time Draga had been asked the question directly. Even after his arrival in Prussia, even after his acceptance into the Teutonic Order, none had asked his reasons for leaving Saxony.
Not that they cared. The Pope had issued the Bull for crusade in Prussia to spread the Word of God and bring the heathen to heel, and the Teutonic Order were desperate for help after a series of costly losses. Beyond Draga’s horse, armor, and sword the Teutonic Order had cared little about his past.
That was all fine and well with Draga.
Now Draga, and the other Teutonic Knights, were making their way up river, rowing against the current in flat-bottomed boats to reach their intended target: a village of Yatwingians that was a stopping point for raids into the Order’s lands and harassment of their shipping. Besides, the villagers refused baptism.
Draga turned to the originator of the question, a Brother Fadiko, of some minor noble family – near the Rhineland? Or around Bavaria? Draga had met so many in the last week that he was having trouble remembering all their backgrounds and Fatherlands.
“Why does anyone join the Teutonic Order?” Draga replied as he rowed.
Fadiko emitted joyless chuckle. “Redemption. The full remission of sins, or so they say.”
“So they say,” Draga replied.
“And what are you seeking redemption from?” Fadiko said, continuing to press Draga. “Did you massacre a village? Caught lying with a woman whom you weren’t married to?” Fadiko paused a moment and wrinkled his nose. “Caught lying with a man?”
“Does it matter?”
“I’m just looking to get out from under my brother’s shadow,” Fadiko said with no prompt from Draga. “He wanted me to join the priesthood so I would not challenge his claim to our father’s lands.”
“And here you are,” Draga said, pointing to the white linen that covered Fadiko’s body and armor, the black cross of the order sewn to the left of his white surcoat.
“In a sense,” Fadiko said. “Though ask a certain pagan woman in Koenigsberg and she would whole heartedly disagree that I’m anything like a priest.”
Draga emitted a grunt and shook his head.
Normally on horseback, for this raid Draga, Fadiko, and the handful of other brother-knights would embark on foot. Like Draga and Fadiko, the other Teutonic Knights were each clad in their armor and long white surcoats, the black cross of the order emblazoned on the left. Each knight’s helmet was set beside them so as not to be cumbersome during rowing. Going to war with the Teutonic Knights were auxiliaries of Old Prussians, from tribes friendly with the Teutonic Order, and more importantly enemies of the Yatwingians.
The sky above was an ominous gray, the clouds pregnant with rain. It was late Spring, and, as in much of Prussia, the rains came more frequently this time of year.
“I still don’t see why we couldn’t bring our horses,” another brother, Ernulf, said. Though his voice was quiet, the keen whine within still raked on Draga’s nerves.
One of the Old Prussian auxiliaries, an elder by the name of Herk, responded from the front of the vessel, behind Draga.
“My lord,” said Herk, his voice laden with a Prussian accent, “the way is too heavily forested. The horses could not maneuver and the Yatwingians would easily kill you.” Herk took a breath mid-stroke before continuing. “And though the land looks solid, in many places the ground beneath is saturated with water, and you would be forced to drag your horse out of the mud.”
Ernulf didn’t respond to Herk’s explanation, instead mumbling something to himself about the “damned heathens”.
And on they rowed. The Teutonic Knights and their Old Prussian auxiliaries had been rowing for two days. Though always on the look out for attacks from the riverbanks, the constant rowing became monotonous, and Draga’s mind would wonder. Draga’s mind would take him away from these dreary Prussian lands, back to Saxony, back to his home. Back to his wife and children.
Back to that day.
Back to the heat of the raging inferno.
Back to the pleading screams of the woman.
Back to the distraught cries of the child…
Draga shook his head, banishing the memories – for now.
“This is the place, Brother-Sergeant,” the Old Prussian warrior, Herk, said from the front of the boat.
Brother-Sergeant Gisilbehrt von Wolfsburg, the commander of this expedition, grunted a confirmation, then gave the order to put ashore.
Three of the flat-bottomed boats travelled together, and each carried roughly a score of men. In short order, all three boats had ground against the river bank, and Draga and the other warriors within leapt overboard into the cold river to help pull the boats in. Once the boats were secure on the riverbank, the three-score of Teutonic Knights and Old Prussian Auxiliaries secured their war gear, then gathered around Gisilbehrt and the Old Prussian leader, Herk.
Gisilbehrt was a bear of a man, a full two heads taller than the tallest man standing in the ranks. His brown beard was so dark that it looked black, and his head was shaved to the scalp. Bright, zealous blue eyes raked across the ranks of brothers and auxiliaries. Rumor had it that Gisilbehrt could peer into a man’s soul with those eyes.
Draga wasn’t so sure of that, but he had to admit that Gisilbehrt’s dark glare and excellent oratory awoke a fiery zeal in many a man’s heart.
“Draw your blades, brothers,” Gisilbehrt said. Though he whispered, his deep bass voice carried to the ears of every man.
“Won’t the glint off our swords give us away to the pagans?” Ernulf asked, and that damned whine in Ernulf’s voice scraped Draga’s nerves again.
Herk replied to Ernulf’s question. “If the Yatwingians have scouts in the forest, they’ll spot us regardless. Better to have your sword ready than trying to draw it as you die.”
“Wise words that shall be heeded,” Gisilbehrt said before Ernulf or any other brother could say anything else. Then Gisilbehrt turned to Herk. “Send your scouts ahead.”
Herk said something in the Prussian tongue and five men, lightly armed and with no armor, broke from the group and instantly seemed to melt into the forest.
“Move out,” Brother-Sergeant Gisilbehrt said with a wave of his hand, and the knights and auxiliaries fell into several columns to follow the progress of the scouts through the woods.
Draga was unsure how long they trudged through the thick vegetation and the sucking mire. Each step was a battle with Mother Earth as the seemingly solid ground would quickly give way under foot as if grasping him around the ankle, and Draga had to wrench his foot out to take even a single step, and then repeat the process. Watching the other Prussian auxiliaries struggle along with their Teutonic Knight masters, Draga wondered how the Prussian scouts were able to move through the woods so nimbly. But, according to Herk and his men, this was the most navigable path. So the knights and the Prussian auxiliaries trudged on.
After what seemed like hours, one of the scouts reappeared. The man – he seemed more of a boy to Draga – practically pranced around as he reported to Herk.
“He says the village is a short ways ahead,” Herk said, translating. “And that no Yatwingian scouts were encountered.”
“Very good,” Gisilbehrt replied.
With the struggle of travelling through the wood many of the brother-knights had carried their helmets beneath their arms. Now, though, with the battle nearly at hand, they donned their full-face helmets and whispered prayers to the Lord for protection. Gisilbehrt’s winged helm stood out among the rest – the crimson painted bat-like wings a powerful psychological instrument for friend and foe alike.
The brother-knights moved forward. Draga’s heart began to race, and it seemed as if his steps were easier now that he was prepared for imminent battle.
A short ways ahead the Teutonic Knights and their auxiliaries were halted by the scouts, and the five Prussian scouts guided them forward in silence. The three score warriors halted again, and this time the lead scout, an elderly Prussian with gray in his hair and beard, pointed to a clearing. There sat a collection of longhouses, their roofs thatched with bundled sticks, their sides made of stacked logs. Some of the hovels were dug into the earth, the roof the only thing sticking up from the ground. Surrounding the buildings were pens with goats. A large stream meandered by on the far side of the village from where Draga and the other Teutonic Knights now hid, and Draga could see where the Yatwingians had set up fish catches.
Other than the shuffling of the knights and the auxiliaries, the little village was peaceful. Almost idyllic. In another lifetime, Draga thought, he could have lived in such a place and been happy. And, he thought, they were bringing the sword and fire to this quiet place.
Draga shook his head as Gisilbehrt spoke.
“Spread out and surround the village,” Gisilbehrt said. “Let no one escape. Only kill if attacked.” Gisilbehrt met eyes with Herk. “And no rape.”
Herk nodded, but Draga could tell that something had just passed between the two men. Probably an old quarrel, Draga thought. Heathens, it was said, were known to be more apt rape their female victims.
Draga knew that Christian armies could be just as lecherous.
In short order the knights and auxiliaries spread out into a rough semi-circle on the forest’s edge. Gisilbehrt looked up and down his line, his left hand up, his sword in his right.
Gisilbehrt’s left hand fell, and the warriors of the Teutonic Order broke from the cover of the trees and charged into the village. War cries from three score throats crashed upon the serenity of the village.
Immediately, men rushed from out of the wood buildings. Some were ready with axe, spear, and shield. Others jostled their weapons and gear, caught unprepared. Others still were mere boys, only just coming of age, the hairs on their chins and cheeks only just showing, wide eyed with fear yet held fast in place by honor, the other men of the village, and fear of what would happen to their families.
Draga roared as he charged forward, sword drawn. A Yatwingian man of middling age met Draga, and Draga quickly dispatched him by ramming his sword through the man’s chest before the Yatwingian could react.
There was a victorious howl from the other knights and Old Prussians as they cheered Draga’s kill and began to lay into the other Yatwingian defenders.
Combat was not hard for Draga. He had been trained for it since he was a child in his family’s castle. Draga had been baptized in blood shortly after his sixteenth birthday. He had seen battle for years. Though the death cries of men and the stink of blood and corpses assailed him, Draga was able to deal with it and move on.
Now Draga moved onto his next opponent, a boy who, in a flash, reminded Draga of himself at that age. The boy roared a challenge before leaping upon Draga with two axes. Draga caught the bottom of both axe blades on his sword, and pushed the young Yatwingian back. As Draga and the young Yatwingian man circled one another, numerous other small duels were being fought around them.
Draga feinted left, and his Yatwingian opponent followed him just as Draga knew he would. But when Draga stepped in for the kill, the young Yatwingian man reacted quick as a flash and pushed Draga’s sword aside, though only barely. Draga and his opponent circled again, eyes wide, blood up. Draga felt the ghost of a smile on his own lips.
Now it was the young Yatwingian’s turn to feint. But Draga had years of experience on this youth, and was prepared. As the Yatwingian moved to Draga’s left a fraction of a step, Draga swung his sword up. Draga was rewarded with the rip of fabric, the spray of crimson blood, and the pained yowl of the young Yatwingian man.
Draga’s Yatwingian opponent collapsed on the ground, the youth’s chest heaving rapidly. As Draga watched he could see he had only wounded the younger man, and that, if he stayed down, this Yatwingian would live.
“Submit,” Draga said, his voice deep and harsh, and he leveled his sword point at the youth’s throat.
The young Yatwingian man took Draga’s meaning and, though clearly in pain, raised his hands in submission.
Around Draga the Teutonic Knights and Old Prussian auxiliaries were finishing up their opponents. Some of the Yatwingians had stood and fought bravely – and died. Some, like Draga’s opponent, had submitted, and their lives were spared. A small handful of Yatwingian defenders had taken the cowards way out and fled, and Draga could hear Herk ordering his men to pursue.
“A victory for Christendom!” Brother-Sergeant Gisilbehrt said, yelling to the heavens. “God be praised.”
“God be praised!” roared the other knights, and Draga found himself joining in their jubilation.
“Search the buildings,” Gisilbehrt said. “Take any still hiding within. We will take them back to Koenigsberg. Gather the livestock. Then burn the buildings. Leave nothing for the pagan armies. Herk, have your men capture those that fled, and find anyone hiding in the woods.”
Herk set his men to the task Gisilbehrt had given them, and several of Herk’s Old Prussian auxiliaries secured Draga’s young opponent.
“Gave him quite a lesson, my Lord,” one of the auxiliaries said in broken Low German as he grabbed the young Yatwingian man’s legs.
“He was an excellent opponent,” Draga said, then saluted the young Yatwingian with his sword.
The Old Prussian auxiliary translated for the youth, and, though still in pain, the younger man smiled and nodded to Draga.
“Shall we see what these heathens have hiding?” Brother Fadiko said, walking up beside Draga.
“Probably not much,” Draga said, leading Fadiko to the nearest longhouse. “Though poorly prepared, it seems that someone notified this village of our arrival.”
Fadiko shrugged. “Still a decent fight, though my opponent fled.”
Draga and Fadiko entered the first house, swords up. Within were discarded blankets, some arrows, and the scattered leavings of food. In the center of the home was a fire pit, and the burned logs there still showed some heat.
Empty. Not even a place for anyone to hide.
Draga wrapped a discarded cloth he had found on the dirt floor around the top of a piece of wood that had been propped against the longhouse wall, and placing it into the orange embers, coaxed heat from them with his breath. It took a moment, but soon the rag burned and Draga began touching his makeshift torch to spots he knew would catch fire quickly.
Exiting the now burning longhouse Draga could see that the other knights had begun to do the same, and the village was transforming into an inferno.
Draga and Fadiko moved to the next house. Fadiko had to kick the door in, and inside they discovered a few weapons and some cured meat.
“Would hate for this to go to waste,” Fadiko said, sweeping up the pieces of meat.
Unlike the previous house Draga and Fadiko had searched, this house had more storage areas built into its structure. Something nagged at the back of Draga’s mind, and he made a point of searching every nook and cranny.
“There’s nothing here,” Fadiko said, clearly bored. “Let’s just burn it.”
“Indulge me a moment,” Draga said as he moved some baskets.
Draga was unable to find anything, save some discarded barley here and there. Still, though, the nagging feeling at the back of Draga’s mind tormented him.
Outside the longhouse, Draga heard Gisilbehrt call to the knights.
“Let’s go,” Fadiko said.
Reluctantly Draga grunted an affirmation and followed Fadiko out of the longhouse, setting areas alight as he went.
As Draga and Fadiko joined the other brother-knights and the auxiliaries, Draga noted that many of the fleeing Yatwingian warriors had been captured. With them were a handful of womenfolk and children, and a few elders of the village, most likely captured when discovered hiding in the surrounding forest. Though surrounded and defeated, Draga sensed a great deal of agitation and uneasiness in their captives.
Gisilbehrt noticed it, too. “Herk, what’s wrong?”
Herk asked the captives a question in the Prussian tongue, and a man about Draga’s age came forward, a worried look on his face, and knelt before Gisilbehrt and Herk. Though Draga could tell the Yatwingian man attempted to remain calm, there was a waver in his voice that betrayed fear.
“He says he cannot find his son,” Herk said after a short exchange with the Yatwingian man. “None of the villagers that hid in the woods have seen him, either.”
Gisilbehrt was about to say something when a long cry came from one of the burning houses.
The last house Draga and Fadiko had searched.
Suddenly, a sinking feeling filled Draga, and it was as if he was transported back to that day.
The screams of the mother.
The cries of the child.
Before he knew what he was doing, Draga dashed through the village toward the burning longhouse. Gisilbehrt and Fadiko called to Draga, but he paid them no heed. Draga burst through the door of the longhouse he had searched last. The searing heat of the flames pressed upon Draga. He coughed as he tried to breath, and his eyes filled with water from the smoke.
“Hello!” Draga called. “Where are you?”
The crying of the child, fearful and in pain, filled the burning longhouse.
Draga threw open baskets and turned over bedding. It was becoming harder to breathe as he attempted to search every nook and cranny of what was now a blazing inferno. Draga’s heart raced, and in his mind he barely managed to keep the flood of panic held back.
As Draga’s frustration threatened to overwhelm him, his foot hit something hollow on the dirt floor. Draga had missed it in his first search, but now he saw the outline on the ground. With a triumphant yell, Draga dug at the ground with his bare hands, and was rewarded when his nails struck wood. Draga heaved the hidden cover off the floor and looked down. There, in a shallow hide hole, sat a young boy no older than three years, huddled with his knees to his chest, his eyes wide, his soot covered cheeks streaked with tears.
Draga had no words of comfort, nor did he have time for them. He swept up the Yatwingian boy in his arms, cradling him like Draga used to cradle his own son, and charged out the flame-wreathed door.
Just as Draga stumbled out of the burning longhouse, the roof collapsed inward.
There was a cheer from the Yatwingians. The boy’s father, forgetting the knights and Old Prussian auxiliaries, rushed to Draga, tears in his eyes. Draga handed the boy to the father and, though Draga couldn’t translate the Yatwingian man’s words, he could understand them well enough.
“That was a brave thing you did,” Fadiko said. “Even though you didn’t have to do it.”
“Brave indeed,” Gisilbehrt said, approaching Draga. “An act of mercy in the midst of war. God bless you, Brother Draga.”
It was dark when the Teutonic Knights and their Old Prussian auxiliaries herded their Yatwingian captives toward the boats. Gisilbehrt ordered camp made, a constant guard on their prisoners, and preparation for travel the next morning.
Once fires were lit, those knights and auxiliaries not guarding the Yatwingians huddled around the welcome heat and ate and drank.
“Going back should be nice,” Fadiko said, taking a seat next to Draga on the river’s edge. “We won’t be rowing upstream. Hopefully be back in Koenigsberg before nightfall tomorrow.”
Draga grunted a response.
“Is everything alright, brother?” Fadiko asked.
“Well enough,” said Draga. He wasn’t in the mood to talk at that moment.
“You may be alright physically, but there seems something weighing on your soul,” Fadiko said. “Some demon clinging to your back?”
Draga was silent, and after a while Fadiko shrugged and pulled some of the cured meat he had found in the Yatwingian village from a pouch on his belt.
“Several months ago,” Draga began, “I took my knights to support the Duke of Saxony against Danish interlopers in the Nordalbingian lands. Once we had pushed the Danes out of Saxony, we drove North into Denmark to teach them a lesson.” Draga paused a moment to gather his thoughts before continuing. “We came to a village, no bigger than the one we raided today. There was little fighting. A few deaths on their side. We terrorized the people and drove them from their homes.”
Draga stopped as the memories flooded back to the fore of his mind, and with them came the anger and pain he had attempted to bury for so long.
“Once the villagers had fled we burned their village, but. . .” Draga stopped as he felt something catch in his throat.
“But?” Fadiko asked.
Draga collected himself before speaking again. “One woman ran back, screaming and crying. She couldn’t find her son, and begged us to help her.”
Draga stopped then, and the silence stretched out for several long moments.
“The child had been hiding somewhere in the house. . .his cries of fear and pain haunt me to this day. There was nothing we could do, and the child slowly burned to death.” Draga hung his head. “I have seen battle, killed men, unleashed troops upon unsuspecting villagers, and witnessed all the ravages war brings. But that day something snapped inside me. I returned to my castle, but when I saw my own children I couldn’t look them in the eye. I went to confession for my sins, and yet still I felt. . .unclean.”
“And you haven’t forgiven yourself since,” Fadiko said.
Draga shook his head.
“I am a poor priest, as many a woman will tell you,” Fadiko said. “And my words are biased from a lifetime of war myself. To me, it seems, your soul has suffered a great deal, and God knows you did not mean to let that child burn that day in Denmark. And today God gave you the opportunity for redemption.” Fadiko placed his hand on Draga’s shoulder. “God has forgiven you, Brother. It’s time you forgave yourself.”
Fadiko took his hand off of Draga’s shoulder and motioned to the Yatwingian captives.
Draga looked over and saw the Yatwingian boy he had saved and the father, huddled together in the group of captives. Though their lot was deplorable just then, and they were tired, muddy, and hungry, the Yatwingian father looked at his son as if he was more precious and valuable than a priceless gem or a hoard of gold.
It was in that moment – not plunging into the fires to save the boy, but in the loving embrace of the boy and his father – that Brother Draga found his redemption.
Praise be to God.
* * *
It was Spring when Count Draga stepped back into his castle. Following in tow were the Yatwingian man, his name Vaitīns, and his son Budrys, whom Draga had saved that day almost a year ago, and was now four years of age, as well as the young man Draga defeated in combat in the Yatwingian village, name Kazys.
As Draga walked through the hall he laid eyes upon his beautiful wife, Regana, planted in her seat above the court.
“My lady,” Draga said, his voice strong. “Your husband has returned.”
Though Regana attempted to keep a straight face, her lips cracked into a smile.
“Welcome home, my Lord.”
And then Draga felt something impact his legs. He looked down, and there was his son, Roland, shaggy haired and all smiles. Roland may have defied the rules of the court, but at that moment Draga didn’t care. All propriety forgotten, Draga lifted his son in his arms and hugged him tight. Immediately, Draga’s eldest son, Hrodulf, and his daughter, Berhta, rushed to embrace their father.
“I am home,” Draga said.
Holding Roland back, and looking at his children, Draga found he could look them in the eye once more.
“Thank you, God, for my family,” Draga said.
And thank you for my redemption.
This week Mr. Chuck Wendig over at TERRIBLEMINDS challenged his readers to write a horror story IN THREE SENTENCES.
Sounded fun, so I provided my sacrificial offering, seen here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/10/12/flash-fiction-challenge-scary-story-in-three-sentences/comment-page-1/#comment-232508
Go and read the other entries, many are quite good. 🙂 Mine is under “Christopher Meyer”.
But I will also post it here:
John collapsed as the hand crushed his neck, the nails cutting deep into the skin, crimson droplets of blood trickling donward. He tried to scream, tried to call for help, but all the energy left his body at that moment as his soul was torn from his mortal form.
Releasing John’s empty corpse, the red-haired man that had attacked John smiled, relishing the rush of energy, a fresh freckle burned onto his pale face.
I promise I WILL have a Dragon*Con post up tonight. I don’t have access to my pictures at work (and I was totally slacking this weekend).
With PRIMO VICTORIA out, I have been jonesing to finish up the next book in what I’m (tentatively) calling the post-Earth series. This will consist of the following major novels: Der Sternvolker (soon to be retitled as The Star Folk), The Technocrat, The Elysian, and The Martin.
THE TECHNOCRAT has been in the works for some time now. Ultimately I write a few pages, even a few chapters, but hate the way it looks, sounds, and feels. It doesn’t convey the characters, story, or message I am filling the story with.
Recently I read Know No Fear by Dan Abnett, a Warhammer 40k Horus Heresy novel (and wrote a review on it HERE). My eyes were opened to a different way to write. Know No Fear is written present tense, as if everything is happening as the reader reads the book. Know No Fear was so well written, and conveyed the feelings and ideas of over half a dozen different characters so well that I thought I’d try writing it this way (given, part of that is Dan Abnett’s amazing writing ability).
So, to tantalize you (and distract you from the fact I haven’t posted anything on Dragon*Con), I give you a brief excerpt from the rough-rough draft of THE TECHNOCRAT.
The Democratic Republic of Haven Butte
31 January 2306
It’s “day time” in Haven Butte. Though Saturn’s moon, Titan, is on the dark side of its parent planet, every clock in the city reads daylight hours. Lights all around Haven Butte swat the darkness away in an attempt to regulate the population’s sleeping patterns and create the illusion of an Earth-like day.
Haven Butte is home to roughly twenty-thousand people. It’s large for a city-state on Titan—the fifth largest on Titan to be exact. For over a century the La Rochenoire family had ruled the twenty thousand citizens of Haven Butte. Though they were little more than thugs, the La Rochenoire family did help the former Central European Pact colony expand. Titan’s thick, ancient ice was cut back, and there was a reinvigorated movement to continue terraforming. New structures were built where there was solid ground. Massive plates were built to extend the city over Titan’s oceans where the ice was slowly receding.
Though the La Rochenoire family were bullies at the best of times, the people of Haven Butte tended to look the other way in favor of the slow advancement they were making. The standard of living had risen. The city wasn’t as cramped. With increased area to live came increased area to create businesses and, as long as no one messed with their power, the La Rochenoire family allowed those businesses to flourish. Everything seemed as if it was getting better.
Then the revolution happened. For a decade a growing resistance had smuggled weapons and equipment into Haven Butte. In December of 2305 they launched their coup, killing King Harold La Rochenoire and his family and many of the bureaucrats and soldiery loyal to him.
Now the Revolutionary Council rules the Democratic Republic of Haven Butte—every last one of them hardline communists. Curfews are in place. Private companies and interests are now nationalized.
This nationalization includes two mines owned by House d’Helion of the Olympus Mons Technocracy.
Judd Wooller, president of the d’Helion mining operations on Titan, sits in a jail cell with his small staff. There are eight of them in the cell. The rest of the labor force had been Haven Butte locals. Many of the locals had left to fight for the revolutionaries, only to return to imprison their former bosses and take over the mining operations. Now Judd tries to keep his people alive. He shivers and pulls a thread-bare blanket tighter around himself as if he can squeeze another ounce of warmth out of it. He tried to send a message to Olympus Mons before the rebel soldiers came for him. He still has no clue if it reached its destination.
One of Judd’s staff, a woman by the name of Ayana, stirs in her sleep. Her ebony skin is cut and bruised, and she whimpers as she slumbers. The revolutionaries are especially rough with her. There aren’t many people of color in Haven Butte, and none as dark as Ayana. Ayana is a novelty to male and female urges alike.
These bastards will pay, Judd promises himself.
Judd is a former soldier. He served eight years in the d’Helion House Guards. While Judd’s staff sleeps he is awake and on the lookout for the possibility of escape.
Suddenly there’s a screech of hinges as the door to the small jail opens. Two revolutionary soldiers trudge inside, each encumbered by ragged, mismatched extreme cold weather gear. They speak to one another in a strange dialect, a mixture of Western and Central European languages from dead Earth. One of the soldiers closes the door, and they both remove their hoods. It’s a man and a woman, both at least half Judd’s age. Children playing at war.
The two soldiers stride up to the jail cell and peer in. Judd stares back, a look of defiance on his face.
“Olympians,” the woman says, pointing at Judd. “Stupid.”
The man and woman laugh. The man steps forward and punches a code into the cell door. The woman hefts her assault rifle to cover her comrade. As the door opens Judd’s personnel awake, bleary eyed and confused. Some of them hope that the past few months were just one long nightmare. As their vision clears they realize this is very real.
The man points at Ayana. “You. Come.”
Ayana cringes back and shakes her head.
The woman soldier barks something in her harsh tongue. The man sneers and lunges at Ayana. Ayana screams and tries to scrabble further back into the cell.
There is a noise outside. The female soldier lowers her rifle just a hair and looks towards the door.
It’s the opening Judd has been waiting for.
Judd pounces on the male soldier and tackles him to the ground. Realizing what’s happening, the other members of Judd’s staff join in bludgeoning the soldier with their fists and feet.
The woman is screaming now. Two of Judd’s staff members dart through the cell door and lunge at the female soldier. She gets one shot off, winging the first man through the door: Karl, Judd’s chief financial officer. Karl drops with a yelp of pain. The second man, Bradley, Judd’s purchasing agent, slams into the female soldier and knocks her to the ground. Bradley pins her with his greater mass and stronger muscles, and wrests the rifle from her hands.
“You not escape,” the woman says. “More coming.”
It’s silent in the jail except for Karl’s moans of pain.
Now Judd can hear the sound the female soldier heard. A low moan cuts through the air. It starts silent and distant, then grows in volume.
Warning sirens. They are blaring all over Haven Butte. There are exclamations of surprise and fear, and yells of urgency. The heavy tromp of dozens of boots pass the jail.
“What is it?” Ayana asks.
Judd picks himself up off the male soldier and walks out of the cell and out the door of the prison. The arctic cold of Titan cuts past the layers of clothes he wears, through his skin, and down to his bones. His breath catches in his throat from the frozen air. All around Judd the city is in a state of panic. People dart down the street in an attempt to flee. Fear fills their eyes. Soldiers rush the other way, oblivious to Judd or the jail.
Some of the people in the street look up in horror and point at the sky. They babble in their bastardized language. Judd can’t understand. He turns and looks up.
“Dear God,” Judd says.
The sky is falling.
The first troops on the ground were thirty pathfinders in Ranger-pattern power armor. They had set beacons for the rest of the force, and scouted the edges of Haven Butte. Now, four hours later, the assault force arrives.
Hundreds of drop pods erupt inside Titan’s thin atmosphere to expel their deadly cargo. Infantry clad in two ton Titan-pattern power armor cut their chutes several meters above Titan’s icy surface and hit the ground running. The mechanical joints and artificial musculature of the power armor propels the troopers forward at over twenty-five kilometers per hour.
Defending infantry begin to open up at the oncoming armored soldiers. Bullets whiz through the air. Some strike home into metal alloy chests and limbs with no effect.
The attackers respond with man-pack lasers. The angry, ruby beams screech from the barrel arm guns of the Titan suits and punch into the defenders’ lines. A laser strikes a man and his upper torso ceases to exist. Another laser cuts into a light vehicle, touching off an ammunition magazine. The vehicle explodes, sending fire and shrapnel in all directions. Soldiers surrounding the vehicle are thrown like rag dolls. The Titan troopers fire volleys of missiles from the back-mounted missile racks. The warheads slam into checkpoints and barricades.
Titan and Ranger power armor troopers smash into the defenders. The revolutionaries of Haven Butte put up a brave fight. They die miserable deaths. Haven Butte soldiers are gutted, torn limb from limb, and are crushed. This isn’t a battle. This is slaughter. None of the defenders are left alive.
Finally the Haven Butte forces deploy a few medium tanks. These are relics of a bygone era, barely kept in running condition for over two centuries. Their armor is more welded on scrap metal and paint than anything else. But these tanks have working guns. One tank rakes the attackers with heavy machine gun fire as it rolls down the street and checks their advance. Another tank fires a round from its large bore cannon. It doesn’t hit—a testament to how often the crews have had actual practice—but it forces the attackers to pause for a brief moment.
Suddenly there’s a screech and a roar as if the world is about to end. Planet shattering explosions follow. New craters form just outside of the city as ice and rock is hurled into the air.
There are three of them. Each one is larger than most buildings in Haven Butte. Each one looks like a creature from hell.
They trudge forward through the haze.
They are Colossi, the epitome of land warfare technology in the solar system. Two are twins—Krakens, each weighing ninety tons and armed with a rail gun and a laser in each arm, dozens of missiles in either side of their barrel torsos, and an anti-missile system on top.
The two Krakens unleash a barrage of nickel ferrous rounds and lasers at the defenders and the surrounding buildings. Skin, meat, and bone disintegrate. Buildings explode and then collapse. One of Haven Butte’s precious tanks erupts in a cascading ball of flame. Another tank has a hole punched in it from a rail gun round and crawls to a halt, smoke billowing from its innards. The crew doesn’t get out.
Leading the Colossus advance is an Oracle. It’s lighter than the Krakens at seventy-five tons. Each arm ends in a heavy and medium laser, and an anti-missile system guards its top. The Oracle is more armor and communications equipment than weaponry. It’s a command unit. All of the attacking troopers wear the crest of Olympus Mons and their noble house, but the Oracle sports long, ceremonial banners of crimson from either side of its bullet-like torso. The House crest flutters in the wind; twin dragons flanking a cog.
Technocrat Lord Rickard d’Helion wades into the fray. He fires his lasers as fast as they can cycle. The Oracle is running hot due to the high rate of fire, but Rickard doesn’t care. Tank armor melts under the onslaught, and the crew inside is fried. An anti-armor team ceases to exist. Squads of infantry in extreme cold weather gear are reduced to burnt meat. Those that survive Rickard’s attacks only live a few more painful moments.
Reports begin to flood over the radio in Rickard’s helmet.
“Zeus, this is Alpha Six, we’ve secured entrance into the city. Squads are advancing on the left flank.” Rickard’s Alpha Company commander, Captain Renner.
“Zeus, this is Beta Six, engaging enemy infantry on the right flank.” Beta Company commander, Captain Watkins.
“Delta Six to Zeus, blocking position set up on the North side of the city. We have captured roughly twenty enemy fleeing the city. Your orders?”
Rickard doesn’t hesitate. “Zeus to Delta Six: no prisoners.”
“Zeus, Delta Six acknowledges.”
There’s the sound of laser discharge and men screaming before Rickard’ s Delta Company commander, Captain Grimes, cuts the transmission.