Tinkering, tinkering… That’s all I seem to be doing at present, taking things out, changing things around, putting things in. The amount of time it takes makes it feel like I’m not getting anywhere at all, however the book is slowly coming to a point where any further tinkering is just ridiculous.
I had the thought the other day that the sequence at the end could be extended to add a bit more jeopardy, and was on the cusp of doing it until I thought, Hold the horse, is that actually necessary? I knew if I went down that road, I’d still be tinkering and adding and cutting until I dropped dead, so I decided to scrap the little extra bit and leave it as is. The ending works, providing just enough of a cliff hanger for a reader to want to continue, but not such a big one that it leaves them going, What the shizz? It ends half-way through a sentence! Think the ending of the 2nd Hobbit movie…exactly…
So, all I’ve got left is one final read-through (yes, more tinkering, but it’s only to fix any mistakes that occured during the last round of tinkering, so there), and then that’ll be that.
In the meantime, here’s the last stanza in the first chapter of Rogue’s Redemption. And as an aside, is it one rogue, or many? How many seek redemption, and how many find it? I’m not sure. It was plural but now I’m thinking it should just be the one rogue. That’s god damn tinkering for you…
Corkknife stared at it for a long moment, utterly unable to fathom what he had just seen. The arrow had pierced bone with a funny little clonking sound. The guard, too, goggled at the arrow, and whirled around toward the direction from which it had so suddenly appeared. He cringed, awaiting another, thinking it was a hidden member of this inept crew with good aim. ‘Bastards,’ he grunted. ‘Face a man down with steel in your hand, I can live with that, but shooting him from the shadows? That’s a coward’s move! SHOW YOURSELF!’
Corkknife stepped forward, ‘That’s enough out of you!’ He slashed with his curved sword and took the guard across the shoulder with a loud screech of metal on metal. The guard crumpled and fell into the mud. ‘Stoat, you idiot!’ Corkknife roared, pointing at Kard. ‘You hit the wrong one!’
‘Wasn’t me, boss,’ Stoat said. ‘I don’t even own a bow.’
Everyone looked at each other. Starboard shrugged his wide shoulders, Stoat’s eyes darted from tree to tree, Corkknife looked down to the guard, and Brain, well, Brain was squinting intently at smooth rock he’d picked up from the mud.
‘Hey,’ he called, ‘hey! Looks like a face. See, eyes…nose…guys?’
Corkknife rested the point of his sword against the hollow of the guard’s throat. ‘Did one of your boys escape into the trees, hm? Call him off, n—AAK!’
An arrow caught him in the throat, punching right through in a spray of hot blood, and he fell legless into the mud. Brain screamed and Starboard dropped, hands over his head.
‘By the Five!’ Stoat stumbled back, his small knives gleaming in the fire that now engulfed the carriage.
The merchant was crawling out on hands and knees, sobbing and bubbling.
‘Stoat!’ Corkknife was bubbling too. He spat blood and writhed and kicked until he was covered head to toe in brown. ‘Stoat…here!’
‘No way, boss! I ain’t a stitcher!’
‘You snivelling traitor! Help me!’
‘What do you want me to do? Best to leave it in, I reckon. Who knows, boss, it might heal itself up.’
But whatever he could do, he couldn’t do any of it when a third arrow took him in the back. He cried out and staggered.
Down the road came a tall figure with a longbow in hand, even then reaching for a fourth arrow to knock to his string. Starboard and Brain saw him under the harsh light of the thrumming fire, and snarled in rage. The Eletrossan hefted his broad-bladed jungle knife, while Brain simply flexed his fingers. The downed guard looked on, completely baffled.
‘Put the bow down, sol, and face me square,’ Starboard said as calmly as ever.
The voice that shimmered toward them on the air was high and breathy; more suited to a sickly chambermaid than a cruelly skill archer. ‘But I am facing you. Don’t you see? As for the bow, why would I give away my only advantage?’
‘You would willingly send me to my grave knowing you did so in an unfair fight? Where is your pride, sol? If you don’t have a knife, then I drop mine.’
Starboard couldn’t be sure in the flickering, shimmering light of the fire if the archer was smiling or scowling. His deep hood hid most of his face.
Whispers never saw what happened after that. She prided herself on her quickness and agility, sure enough, but not half as well as she prized her ability to think. Sticking around to watch an unknown archer picking off her crew members just to find out who he was would have landed her in the same trouble as Corkknife. So she fled. The humming flame covered the sound of her passage, as well as the scent of her sweaty sick fear, and the archer still had work to do. By the time he set his mind to her, she would be long gone.
She ran, and cried in horror as she ran. The game was up, there was no reason to stick around.
Not long after, the archer stood over the hulking body of Brain, one of his fine ash arrows planted expertly between those thick brows. His skull was so dense not a drop of blood leaked out around the hole, and of that the archer heartily approved. He disliked dirty things. All that mud and blood and water and filth, no, that would simply not do at all.
The guard stirred and clawed his way to his feet. He was panting with relief. ‘You, sir, are a damn fine shot.’ He went to help his employer up, and they both stood framed by the burning wreckage of their carriage.
‘I’m afraid,’ said the merchant thickly through his streaming, puffy nose, ‘that all the wealth I had on this journey has gone up with my coach, but I have a fine set of rings and a gold chain that you are most welcome to, if you desire payment for your assistance.’
The archer’s face was hidden underneath a dark hood. His thin frame was wrapped in a tight-fitting rider’s jerkin and leggings, and his boots were tall. He looked like some sparkling creature out of The Springthain, frightening mortals for his own amusement. He looked to Starboard, who was missing his throat—he had taken Starboard’s words about dropping the bow to heart—and finally looked to the two surviving members of the travelling group.
‘You would pay a whore in copper commons for her services, would you not?’
‘Eh?’ said the merchant with a frown. ‘Oh…well, yes, I suppose I would.’
‘And you seek to offer me the same deal for my services. You think me a common whore, do you?’
‘No! Nothing of the sort, my fine fellow! Absolutely not!’ The archer took a step forward, and as the merchant could not back any further toward the flame, he settled for turning his head away. ‘I assure you I was simply offering you my thanks for your brave actions. I cannot let you go without expressing my most profound—’
The arrow, bow and arm moved in one fluid motion. It was so quick the guard only flinched when the blood splashed across his face. Before he had time to blink, his master was falling backward, an arrow jutting from his gaping mouth and sticking out the back of his fat neck. He hit with a splash and gurgled.
The guard licked his lips and hesitated for a moment. ‘Guess that makes me the last one standing. Apart from your good self, that is.’
‘Apart from my good self,’ the archer replied with a curious chuckle. ‘Indeed.’ He reached up and pulled his hood down from his blonde hair, and frowned into the eyeball-shrivelling heat of the flames. Like a money-counter who has missed a sum, the archer knew in his bones that something was amiss. The columns did not add up, and there was one missing from the dead. All his arrows had been put to use, as pretty as can be, only…he had two left. One for the polite guardsman and one for…
The pattern was incomplete; the total uneven. The gap in the shafts sticking up like fence-posts gaped like a gigantic rift in the world, a hole in the fabric of the night, and it gave the archer a splitting headache. He could plug the gap somewhat with another arrow but…the imperfection would only increase, not decrease. It was kill all, or kill none. There was no in between.
He could not let the pattern go unfinished. Her scent was a fine wine, and her eyes…yes he could not forget her eyes. She would not be hard to find.
Long after he was gone, the lone guardsman stood underneath the dripping trees, the widdle running down his legs grown cold. He shuffled away, and never once looked back.
That’s the last of that chapter. As an interesting thought, I’m always unsure about what tone the content of my books should take. After all, you can have fantasy stories pitched at quite young readers that are full of violence and gore, with the only thing making them suitable for the youngin’s is that there’s no cussing or hanky panky.
I generally don’t put hanky or panky in my books, and the cussing is kept to a minimum, if it’s present at all, and yet, yes, there’s bucketloads of blood spilt. A dichotomy, you might say? A double standard? Absolutely. We’re totally okay with our kids watching horrific murder and mutilation, but as soon as there’s a potty word or a nipple, outrage!
I still haven’t solved that riddle as yet. Rogue’s Redemption will be chock full of casual violence no doubt, while at the same time void of smut and swears. It’s a tricky balance, because if you’re striving for realism, then of course your characters are going to swear and curse and all the rest. The best I can hope for is an entertaining story, where everything, including violence, is in moderation, and only present if it suits a given theme, or scene, or character. Better yet, you can get quite inventive with PG rated language, so that’s what I’m aiming at.