Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Novel Preview

When I'm not working on Canvas Gigantis v 2.0 or making Christmas cookies, or humoring the dog, or plotting #TwitterSecretSanta or humoring the dog I am trying to edit down that thing I created in November into some sort of shape other than massive text blob.

I've gotten a few chapters in so I thought I'd share with you the first two chapters to The Ogre, The Witch and The Moron (yeah I finally picked a title). Enjoy

   “Lords, Ladies and peasant muck I come before you with grave news.  Our land has fallen under the shadow cast by the most foul creature to ever befall time,” the wind carried these words to the modest crowd assembled.

    “Eh, what’s he saying?”

    “Dunno.  Sommthin about land.”

    “Harvest isn’t for another three months.”

    “SPEAK UP!”

    “As I Was Saying,” the herald flailed his arms dramatically in the wind from atop the towns tallest building Crazy Larry’s Seed and Fertilizer store (it was trying to plant the seeds in his arm pits that tipped everyone off to how crazy Larry really was), which completely destroyed whatever narrative the story had going, “The King Has Decreed That Anyone Who Slays the Ogre Will Get A Thousand Gold Coins And That Jewel Of The Kingdom’s Crown, That Which is Most Precious To Him.  .  .”

    “I just got over the clap, I don’t be needing a second go around thanks to his whore!” The modest crowd broke out into a few giggles.  From the back cries of “hot pies” rang out even though the pie peddler was laid up with gout.  That was no reason to miss out on a golden opportunity to inflict his misfortune on others.

    The man in bright red tights and cod piece shaped like an actual cod thought to himself if only he hadn’t of given up on his Heraldry dissertation he could be in Gondor instead of telling bawdy stories and playing his lute for limericks for a few quid in this backwater hellhole, “His Beloved Princess Anne!”

    A figure carefully extricated itself around the bags of alfalfa seed and high octane porcine feces climbing out onto the balcony.  The wind, which threatened to knock the Heralds requisite puffy hat onto the weathervane three stores down, blew her skirts lustily in the wind.  The princess gave a small wave and smiled as the crowd became deathly quiet.  Each peasants face covered in half of what her delicate senses deigned to pretend was some magical farming elixir and not the goodies from the backend of an animal stared up at her expectantly.  For a second her resolve wavered when faced with dozens of eyes contemplating her every move, just as she turned to the herald a lone voice cried out, “I love you!”

    This broke the spell and whatever trace of modesty she’d held onto despite being trained out of her vanished as the courtly manner of a woman who knew how to use her full arsenal to get what she wanted broke free.

    “My people,” her soft voice rang across the silent courtyard reaching into every heart and, for some, parts lower, “we are at a grave time.  A pair of huntsmen spotted an Ogre a few nights back near our beauti .  .  .  fair town.”

    “So what? Call the exterminators, ha ha ha,” the lone heckler was shushed and pushed to the back.  Accepting that he’d never make any coin that day, the town’s heckler set off to the pub the pie salesman limping behind him.

    The princess let a small frown imperfect her beauty, “It’s not your common Ogre, either.  This one has already destroyed both Gwaren and Soldern before setting its sites upon us.  No Ogre removal service is willing to touch it saying that it’s grandfathered in and our insurance won’t cover him under act of gods, probably one of the uglier ones.  We need you,” outstretching her arms to the gathered handful of artisans and cobblers who took their lunch break outdoors, she smiled warmly upon the best a long lunch hour had to offer, “only you can save us all from this brute.”

    A mumbling gurgled through the crowd as people took into account just how large of a metropolis Soldern was (it had a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker all in house at their new super center) and just how large some of the men on their exterminator squad were (Tony had thrice been confused with a Troll and had billygoats sent to his house each Modranicht).  Here it was half staffed by Rodney who spent most of the time on his courier job to Miss Erlana’s house.

    Realizing she was losing the crowd the Herald stepped in, plucking forth from all his training with fire and vigor rolling underneath his words to create the best rousing speech the world had ever known.  “A hem, Gentlefolk!”

    Anne put a gentle vice grip on his shoulder and shook her head, no man in a floppy hat and velvet skirt was going to take away her big moment, “And the man who slays the beast shall have my hand.”

    “Whatcha mean? Like to keep on the wall or something?”

    Gods, the sheep had more brains than the people here, “In marriage, he shall have my hand in marriage.”

    The crowd erupted into wild applause as every man contemplated having the heavenly creature straddling a bag of hog shit as his wife, especially the married ones.  The women were thinking about all the coin they could get from the wedding itself, after all could you really call it a marriage without matching credenzas covered in sequins?  Everyone seemed to have forgotten the stipulation that a giant city crushing Ogre needed to be dead as part of the bargain.

    “We haven’t had one of them traditional dead Ogre weddings in years.  I hope they toss the entrails.  My mam caught them one time and was wed the year after.”

     “But I don’t want to wear tights if I have to be a prince,” a teenager yelled.

    “If you’s to be prince you’ll wear them tights and be damn proud,” his mother, who he forgot also snuck out early for a smoke break, scolded him back.

    “What if the Ogre dies o’ natural causes?”

    The Herald squinted his eyes trying to make out the voice, “Like a heart attack or something?”
    “Yah! Or he eats one o’ George’s pies!” This brought more laughter and a few people that rubbed their foots in sympathies, no one would wish one of George’s pies on anyone no matter how tall or monstrous they may be.

    “In the event that the Beast is slain by natural causes then, we’ll,” he looked to Anne who shrugged her shoulders.  The idea of an Ogre having a heart attack hadn’t occurred to them, “the first man to bring back its hand will get Anne’s.”  That seemed simple enough, a hand for a hand, even these rubes could understand that.

    What the King who hadn’t stepped foot outside a palace in years and only spoke a few curt words (generally keeping to “we are not amused”) failed to realize was the tenacity and creativity of simple folk who after harvest had a long dull winter to plot.  But the herald, having been born in a barn himself (it was not all it was cracked up to be as the cows licked him clean and a noticeable lack of shepherds or wise men came to acknowledge his birth) had a pretty good idea what was going through each brain, “And we’ll know if you kill the right Ogre or not because this one only has one eye!”

    “Is no problem, we’ll just find some smaller two eyed Ogre and poke one out. You’d never know the difference,” the teenager jeered back as his mother slapped him upside the head with her basket.

    “Ya idjiot, you don’t tell the man.”

    More half thought deals and attempts to hammer out the fine details flew back and forth at the Herald who never having face the litigious mind of a farmer stood slack jawed gasping for air.  The King would have his head if he learned of half the things the man who ranked below jester was agreeing to.

    At the back of a crowd, stuck behind Tall Jim and Short Stanley (the tallest man in the county – small towns have an interesting sense of humor, by which I mean not funny at all) struggling on his tiptoes Jack the Farrier’s son dreamed of a petal strewn day; him in his best, no his father’s best, well he’d probably order new clothes and waiting for him a vision of golden purity at the end of the aisle.

    His mind skipped through the drunken traditional fight over which side of the family got screwed over in the seating arrangement and how they’re lucky Gram survived to see this even though she’s too evil for the reaper to reap and “Ooh can you believe Sandy had the audacity to wear white” to the kiss.  As he was leaning in, breathing in the Princesses bright lilac scent a rough hand clasped him on the shoulder.

    Turning in the grasp he was greeted by what some would graciously call a mouth, though one is usually defines as having some degree of teeth.  “You’re not thinking of killing that Ogre are ya kid?”

    Jack sputtered, trying to avoid the smell of rotting potatoes all these old dried up men who wandered the town square emitted.  No one was entirely sure where they came from, or what they did, but everyone agreed the place would be a lot emptier without someone to hit you up for a pint or a half a pie.

    “Nah,” a second old man appeared, even more mummified than the first, “what we needs is one of them old Ogre slayers.  Remember Krankor the Barbarian?”

    “I heard he killed three Ogres and one Wyvern in a single night before his ale got cold,” the man released his grip so Jack could turn away to stare back at the princess who was coquettishly waving her  handkerchief at the crowd.  But despite his attempts to block it out nothing could silence their voices and tales of men no one knew from digging into his brain.
    “Didn’t he die?”

    “Oh yeah, most of them Barbarians either succumb to rotgut, a beasts stomach or the clap,” the two giggled at the non-joke.

    “Isn’t there one near here, Craper, Carser, Casser, sommthin’ like that? Gave up all that stabbin and bumpin uglies for a life in the doldrums of farmin,” he cackled at his oh we’ll call it a joke and flashed his few remaining teeth.

    “Down by Blaten way, my Ness says she see’s ‘em sometimes gettin’ supplies.”

    The words washed against Jacks brain like the ocean against the shore, his eyes, ears and other organs were all for the princess who upon realizing she still had a rapt audience was singing the most interesting version of “Small Brown Thing that May Hold Liquid Sometimes,” he’d ever heard.  The fact that she only knew 10% of the lyrics and none of the melody made it all the more fascinating.

    At the height of a crescendo she let the music take her and tossed her kerchief out into the crowd.  A rather ornery gust of wind picked it up and skimmed it across the heads of all the young men scrambling on top of each other to try and win her favor (or for one old Lady who was prodigious with the hat pin, because she could).  Just as Tall Jim bent over thinking he saw a two piece the wind deposited it upon Jack’s shoe.

    It was still warm from her hand, and holding it aloft the princess gave him a small wave and a kiss before vanishing back into the store.

    “Well, it was nice knowing ya kid,” the rotten potato gave him a pathetic look before vanishing off into the crowd with his friend.

    Something stirred inside Jack, something he’d never felt before in his 20 or so (he wasn’t so good at numbers) years upon this dirt.  Burning from ear to ear, Jack vowed that he would slay the Ogre, save his village and win the fair princesses heart (and hopefully everything else attached to it).

Chapter 2

    Two weeks passed before Jack found himself hopelessly lost wandering aimlessly across the open green fields of almost but not quite familiar farmland.  His horse was weighed down with everything he owned: a whet stone, a small paring knife dug from the bottom of the cutlery drawer he thought was a dagger, a basket with a half loaf of molding rye bread and a few handfuls of highly poisonous berries, and Bruce’s Guide to the Wilderness cracked and yellowed and missing about 20 pages.  Bruce never did get around to writing about the importance of large leaves when nature came calling.

    In retrospect, maybe he should have taken his father’s map while he was at it.

    After the Ogre rally (Ogrestock ’99 as it was coming to be called among the locals), Jack found his once lost and wandering steps had a purpose.  His brain, typically only used to keep his head warm was having actual thoughts and even ideas.  He wasn’t as handsome as his eldest brother, his mother once favorably compared Jack to a duck, and he wasn’t as smart as his younger brother who had already streamlined their family business so only two people were needed to handle the full load.  No one expected anything from Jack except for a slightly warmer space at the kitchen table and it showed in everything he did.

    It had been a week and a half since that warm spot vanished and his family had yet to notice.  His brothers were too busy trying to carve a life for themselves and staking a claim to a larger piece of the pie from each other. Jack had tried to say good-bye to his mother but she was involved in one of her “heated discussions” in the form of flying molten iron with one of her distributors.  If she weren’t the best blacksmith around no one would work with her though gods help them if they ever said that to her face.

    The only family member he didn’t find either courting three women, cooking books, plotting a murder or trying to smash knee caps with a hammer was his father.  He was sitting in the barn, brushing down one of the local Baron’s horses cooing in its ear a song Jack knew from childhood.

    “Goin’ somewhere my boy?” his father asked as Jack pulled Horse (Jack was very black and white when it came to naming things. He had an imaginary friend as a child he named “invisible” who eventually got bored with Jack) out from his stable and began to ready him for the saddle.

    “I have something I need to do.  Something important,” Jack’s voice had an edge to it his father had never heard before.  This worried the old man, who despite the fact he loved the boy bless him, thought of his middle son as a wet paper bag stuck to a shoe.  He stopped brushing waiting to see if Jack would continue.

    “Well, you know yourself best.  Just keep yourself warm,” his father motioned to a moth chewed scarf dangling off a tack hook.  Despite the squelching heat of mid-Summer Jack took it, always doing as he was told.

    “I might be gone for a while, Dad,” he wound the scarf around his hands almost tying himself to the wall.

    “I see,” the whistling began again.

    “If for some reason I don’t come back,” Jack started, but was cut off by the icy glare of his father.

    “Nonsense, you’re my boy.  I know you’ll be back.  Oh the ol’ mare wins but only if you sin .  .  .” His father turned back to the horse, the discussion closed.

   Jack tied the princess’s handkerchief, his talisman, to the horses bridle and set off for lands unknown. Though, seeing as how the furthest Jack had been out of town was to Old Ellie’s hut two miles down the road that could be said of just about everywhere.

    That was a full belly, a warm set of clothes and a horrible sense of direction later.  Jack found himself wandering around the pastoral landscape looking for the farm of the great slayer that the old tales celebrated.  He hadn’t heard or read of this Casser but the kindly gentleman in the tavern had been very encouraging about finding his farm and learning the skills of Ogre slaying.  Jack tried to explain how he merely planned on bringing the hero back to do the actual slaying but the man was making a rather strange series of gurgling noises from a top the table so he took his leave.

   He’d been wandering for the past three days after, by a chance encounter, meeting up with the rotten potato man’s niece and getting vague directions South.  Luckily the weather had kept mostly nice and Jack rarely let anything bother him much. People often said he had the spine of a sponge and the mental capacity of the dishwater (though it tended to come out “he’s got all the brains of a water bin!”).  A sponge gave up easily under pressure yet it always sloshed back into shape.  But he was starting to get annoyed at seeing the same tree shaped like something rather rude on his third trip around in circles.

    A merchant was passing from the crossroads and never having been told the man code, Jack stopped to ask for directions.  “Excuse me sir, do you verily know whither I may find a farm?”

    “Verily? Who says verily?” a brown fuzzy head underneath a fuzzy hat poked out through an overcoat.  The cart rattled and banged to a stop as the fuzzy thing froze, “You’re not a bard are you?”

    “No,” Jack wasn’t sure which gap in the brown to stare at and alternated.

    “Can’t stand bards, always going on about things that never happened.”

    Jack, putting no mind to the fuzzy things rather philosophical take on tales tried again, “Perchance, may you help?”

    “Are you sure you’re not a Bard? They’re always using that queer language,” The brown thing, despite not having eyes glared down, “No one says verily.”

    “I’m sorry, my name is Jack and I’m the Farrier’s son,” he wasn’t sure how else to announce himself, everyone in town knew about Jack typically in a ‘Oh that was Jack you asked to hold your end of the rope, well no wonder you fell down the well.’

    “Much better, Jack.  No bard would dare call himself that. It’d be all Rufus or Julian or sommthin’ like that.  You don’t have any bells in your hat do you?”

    Jack shook his head, displaying a noticeable lack of any bells smuggled in case he was an undercover Bard, “No, I’m looking for this farm.  I got horribly lost. I’ve been looking for Drummond
way but there’s no sign.”

    “Oh that,” the brown thing looked relived in as much as a pile of hair can and dug through its pockets, “it blew over goin’ on oh 10 years ago now.”

    “And no one thought to replace it?”

    “Why? Everyone who lives here knows exactly where they’re going,” after placing a cigarette somewhere in the depths of brown the merchant began digging again, “Now, what was you looking for?”

    “A farm.”

    “Yer gonna have to be a bit more specific young man, there’s nothing but farms here.  Some of it actually owned by people,” he lit his cigarette up finally giving Jack an orange flickering glimpse of human features beneath the brown.  Silently, Jack sighed out of relief, for a minute he thought he’d been talking to one of the many fantastical creatures his mother had no truck with.  Of course she hated everything up to and including rabbits and kittens.  If it weren’t human his mother despised it with all her being.  She was a raging speciesist, though most humans who were hunted, tortured or eaten by the creatures were.

    “Hang on, the girl wrote it down,” Jack dug through his pockets and with a practiced tongue said, “I’m looking for Far-gur-e-l-ar Farms.”

    “Now what’s a nice boy like you want to go to Fargarlar for?” a smile cracked beneath the intermittent glow, “Oh I see, pretty girl to rescue ammiright? Something big and scary to kill? So’s you want someone to train you to kill it, a famous slayer of dragon’s maybe?”

    “Oh no, I was hoping to convince him to come and kill the ogre.”

    “And get what out of it? A simpering girl, some hole in the wall’s gratitude?”

    “The king is offering gold,” he couldn’t remember how much, any time he tried to imagine that day his face flushed and his pants got a little tighter.

    “Psh, have to be a kingdom’s worth to get Cas the Destroyer out of retirement.”

    “Look, please.  I have to save my home and win my lady’s heart.  .  .”

    “Yeah, yeah yeah.  Heard it all before.  Oh and you forgot the ‘get revenge on your families murderers’ always important in those old tales.  Look, I likes ya so I’ll help.  You take this road and when you get to the end take a left, that’s the one where your thumb makes an ‘L.’ Know what an ‘L’ is right?”

    Smiling wide, Jack pulled Horse towards the road, “I thank you sir from the bottom of my heart.  I hope that one day we may meet again so I can repay you for your kindness.”

  “You gots to stop reading adventure stories boy, don’t no one talk like that,” the merchant tossed down his half finished cigarette and started up his cart, “She is going to eat you alive.”

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