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Raife kept his eyes fixed on Niklos' back putting one foot in front of the other. He was long past trying to keep pace with the monk. This leg of the journey had been the hardest yet. They were entering the foothills of the Ebonshale Mountains, named for the distinctive black veins running through the mountain range. The terrain was uneven and rocky, forcing both men to watch their step as they began the uphill trek to the monastery hidden in the mountains' heights. Making things even more unpleasant, Raife had gotten little sleep over the last few weeks. Dreams of his family haunted him nightly, making the little sleep he got troubled and almost more draining than the leagues they traveled each day. His muscles ached, his eyes felt full of sand and the realization that he only had a few days in which to make his escape weighed heavily on his mind. He had to find the right opportunity!

Sensing his companion falling behind, Niklos turned. Taking in the haggard look on Raife's face and the heavy bags under his eyes, he lowered the pack from his shoulder and sat. Raife was past caring whether or not they stopped for the night here amid the stunted stone pines that grew along the weeded path or soldiered on.

As Raife drew closer, the monk motioned for him to sit. Crumpling to the ground in an exhausted heap, Raife took the skin from his belt and squirted a heavy stream of brackish water into his mouth. He did not speak, content to let the monk carry the burden of conversation for once.

"I think we had best stop for the night, brother. Although we are less than a days travel from the Widow’s Walk, I can see you have little energy for such an undertaking. You sleep has been troubled of late it seems. If you'd like I can teach you a method to stay your dreams for a time," Niklos offered, accepting the water when Raife held it out. Raife nodded, doubtful anything could ease his troubled nights. He started to rise to gather branches for the cook fire, but Niklos' upraised hand stopped him.

"Rest, I'll prepare camp. You must stay alert, there are vagabonds in these hills. Many a traveler has lost coin and life in this place," Niklos said as he got to his feet. A few moments later he was out of sight having disappeared into the sparse tree line.

Left alone with his thoughts once more, Raife considered how best to return to his family. He'd take the pack with it's ample supply of food gathered during their long trek, and a spare water skin. Niklos could easily make it to the monastery, so he wouldn't miss the food. If he left as soon as the monk went to sleep, he would have a good lead on any pursuit. He doubted Niklos would chase him, it seemed against the character of his taciturn companion. As much as he hated to break his word to the monk, whom he had grown to respect and almost admire over the course of their travels, Elspeth and Jakob were far more important. He'd not asked to be put in this position, and it wasn't as if he had never acted dishonorably before. There had been a time when he could lie as easily as some men drew breath. Perhaps he hadn't changed as much as he had once believed.

"On your feet and leave that fancy blade on the ground. I'd hate to part your head from your shoulders before we was properly introduced," the gruff voice came from behind, jolting Raife from his musings. Cursing his inattention, Raife stood slowly keeping his hands at his sides. He was sure any sudden movement would cause an immediate and violent response. He'd have to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to act.

"Don't go trying to be a hero and you may live to see another day. Now where's the white brother? We know you aren't traveling alone," the bandit demanded as Raife turned to face him.

There were four fanned out with the speaker only a few steps away. The brigands were dressed in a poor collection of hide, rags and bits of scavenged armor. No longer distracted, Raife wondered how he hadn't smelt them coming up behind him. The smell of unwashed flesh and poorly cured hide filled his nose with its sour stench. The speaker, whom he assumed was the leader was only distinguishable by the slightly higher quality of his weapons and armor. A well oiled chain shirt stretched over his barrel chest and the curved saber pointed at Raife was obviously well made, probably of Hislandic origin.

"He's off gathering wood and food. I don't know when he'll return." Raife answered truthfully, hoping that the uncertainty of the monk's arrival might convince the men to just take what they wanted and leave. The smirk spreading over the leader's face told him he'd made a mistake.

"You and you," the brigand chief barked stabbing the air with a finger selecting a pock-faced bull of a man and a lean greasy-haired youngster. "Go find the monk and bring him back here. Let him know his charge is likely to be in need of a healing soon." Raife kept his eyes focused on the bandit's face, ignoring the implied threat. He couldn't allow his eyes to dart into the trees where he'd last seen Niklos, one of them might notice. The less they knew about the monk's whereabouts from this point on the better. He would not repeat the same mistake twice.

Satisfied that his men had gone in the right direction, the chief turned back to Raife. "You're a new recruit aren't you? I knew it the moment I laid eyes on you. Nothing but some washed up solider who thinks he can put away his sword and live a life of peace and service." He spat the words, his scraggly bearded face inches from Raife's. "You're nothing but a coward, afraid to die and meet the end you've earned for yourself," his accusations dripped with such venom, that Raife knew there was more to this man than a life spent robbing hapless travelers. He'd found an advantage and he planned to press it.

"You used to be somebody. What was it a mercenary captain, a bodyguard, a master of arms for some backwater lordling? I know a man of training and discipline when I see one. The bandit leader's eyes narrowed and Raife had to resist the urge to pull away from the slap he knew was coming. The back of the bandit's gloved hand split his lip and caused his ears to ring. Pushing through the pain, Raife spat blood into the dirt at his feet and smiled up at his attacker with bloody teeth.

"Did I hit a nerve? How did you betray your responsibilities. Did you bed the lordling's daughter, or was it his wife? Did you lead your men into slaughter only to turn craven and run? How did you stain your honor so terribly that you are forced to steal coin for bread from simple travelers. You smell like a swineherd." Raife continued, raising his voice with each accusation. This time he knew when the strike was coming.

As the bandit leader lunged forward intent on teaching this loud-mouthed captive a lesson, Raife stepped forward raising his a bent left arm to absorb the impact of the blow. Not giving the man any chance to respond, Raife snapped his head forward. The resulting crack of bone against the softer tissues of the bandit's face and the liquid cry of pain confirmed that the man's nose was broken. A knee to the face brought the leader down as Raife moved past to engage the other two men. With the element of surprise gone, he could only hope to hold them off in hopes that Niklos had made short work of their comrades and was on his way to free him.

Surprised by the short work the unarmed man had made of their leader, the brigands began to circle Raife. One kept back, using a spear with a rusted head to keep Raife at bay, The other would dart in with his short sword hoping to distract Raife for long enough for his partner to skewer him. Raife drew his belt knife oping to even the odds. He weaved the blade in front of him, it’s edge dancing like a snake. He danced away from the spear and quickly switched directions managing to inflict a minor cut along the swordsman’s forearm. ‘If only it had been his sword arm!’ Distracted by his thoughts, Raife narrowly avoided a visciously swift thrust from the spearman, the red rust covered blade passing a mere fingers width from his cheek. It wouldn’t be long before the two decided to act at the same time, leaving him in an indefensible position. The spearman was the key, if he could only get inside the reach of the weapon, he could put his knife to proper use. So Raife held his ground and waited for the swordsman to attack. He wasn’t sure that his plan would work, but with Niklos obviously occupied with the remaining two brigands, he had no other choice. He must act decisively or die. Again.


------
Smile if you're stupid,
laugh if you understand.


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Comments

The following comments are for "A Parliament of Thorns: 8"
by Bartleby

Thorns 8
I wanted to let you know I read today, although I don't have time to do my Comma Cop duties today (kids are almost awake, Easter's here!) ;). The name for the mountains is perfect. I also like that Raife seems to be changing, although in this circumstance, not keeping a good enough eye out, might lead to disastrous consequences. I also liked the exchange between Raife and the chief, and the cliffhanger.

If no one else does, I'll come back tomorrow and offer more editing thoughts.

( Posted by: Elphaba [Member] On: April 11, 2004 )

Comments
This installment was good and action-packed, but there were a lot of little spelling things. Here we go!

"'Now where's the white brother?'"
This is my own mistake. Did Raife have dark skin, and Niklos light skin, or does the comment refer to their rank in the monastery?

"'I know a man of training and discipline when I see one. The bandit leader's eyes..."
After one, include a quotation mark.

"'How did you stain your honor so terribly that you are forced to steal coin for bread from simple travelers. You smell like a swineherd.'"
Question mark after the first sentence. Comma after swineherd.

"...a visciously swift thrust..."
Viciously.

"...a mere fingers width..."
Fingers'.

( Posted by: Washer [Member] On: April 11, 2004 )

Thorns 8
I didn't like how the bandits simply appeared. You have to fight harder against the natural cliche of bandits in the wild. You should tell us how they appeared, if possible.
When the first bandit speaks I think it's Niklos until I get to the second sentence. That's too far. inform us of who is talking sooner, even before he speaks if you must.
I love the term 'widow's walk.' There's definately some good imaginings going on in this story.
I like the provocation speech "Did I hit a nerve..." but it's almost comic book in how all this dialogue can occur without any action. I strongly suggest mixing the dialogue with the next paragraph's action sequences, to make a more naturalistic sequence.
Cudos for keeping the story going.

Malthis

( Posted by: malthis [Member] On: April 16, 2004 )

Disagree
I'm going to disagree with malthis's assessment that there's too much dialogue before the fight, and here's why: Really, there's not much dialogue anyway before the fight. There's more exposition than dialogue. Secondly, I get the feeling that, while these guys are tough and brutal, their main point is to make Raife their captive. Why start the fighting right away? If Raife is clubbed over the head and knocked unconscious, there goes the chapter. :) The dialogue follows a logical train right to the beginning of the fight, so I don't see any reason to change it up.

( Posted by: Elphaba [Member] On: April 16, 2004 )

retraction
on second thought I misread that part of the dialogue and attributed some of it to Raife. I retract my last suggestion, but I have others!;-)

"Raife kept his eyes fixed on Niklos' back putting one foot in front of the other."
Sounds like Niklos' back was putting one foot in front of the other. Doesn't make sense that way, but the sentence structure is telling me that. Work for a stronger opening sentence.

"He did not speak, content to let the monk carry the conversation for once."

( Posted by: malthis [Member] On: April 16, 2004 )

a required field
Very few comments on this portion.

1. The lead bandit seems to have an accent of some sort when he first speaks(. . .before we was properly introduced. . .), but then he lapses into a fairly normal speach pattern.

2. The first time Raife gets hit by the bandit he "had to resist the urge to pull away. . .". The second time "he knew when the strike was coming". Something is inconsistent about this.

3. How come, once he beat up the leader, Raife didn't pick up a sword?

4. Last paragraph, hoping is spelled oping in about the 3rd or 4th sentence, as Raife draws his knife.

5. Again, a cliffhanger type ending. Not always a bad thing, I just don't want to see you fall into a pattern.

6. Just noticed this, "You sleep has been troubled" should be Your sleep.

Overall a good piece. Your descriptive abilities really show in this portion.

AKG

( Posted by: aikiguy [Member] On: May 6, 2004 )





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