Monday, March 03, 2008

Rose|Thorn update

Ten chapters down, one new Finn scene written and 167 pages done. Pace is picking up as the latter chapters need fewer edits. Here is the new Finn scene, which starts as the siege of Kestrelrock is picking up:

Finn stretched up on his toes to see over the lowest part of the wall. A cold wind blew from the north under a sky of heavy grey clouds. Most the Raevanae in the Kestrelrock crowded the parapets, to watch the ukun below fling their little stones against the wall. Finn squinted to get a better view of the creatures, the ghul, and the great lumbering thralls. But he was unsatisfied, he could not see them well, he wanted to ride out, to see them up close and to fight them, drive the hated creatures away from his home.

“Move over!”

He caught an elbow in the ribs from Colber, his best friend in the fortress. Like him Colber’s people had not come back. Many had not come back. The boys had spent the weeks since sneaking and spying out every hole and closet and passageway in the Kestrelrock, killing scores of imaginary ghul and Skledi, and now even Arrasti, anything to keep from remembering their faces.

“Move over. I can’t see.”

Finn shifted a fraction and Colber shoved in next to him. The warriors around them gave the boys a few looks, from bemused to annoyed, but no one yet told them to get back inside.

“How many are there?”

“Dunno,” Finn replied, “too many to count.”

“Filthy beasts.” Colber spat over the side of the wall and the boys watched the gob spin and tumble as it fell.

“Look, there’s one!” Finn pointed down at one of the odd machines on the ground far below, a long arm turned vertically throwing up a thing that looked at that distance no bigger than Colber’s gob of spit. The missile grew larger as it arced toward the fortress wall, battering with a loud crack against the wall far from the parapet, vanishing in a cloud of splinters.

Finn whistled.

“Pointless,” said a warrior who grinned down at the boys. “Nothing these ghul could throw at us would so much as chip the wall.”

“Why are they doing it then?” Colber asked.

The man shrugged. “They're ukun. Who knows why they do anything?”

Finn glanced up at something cold and wet brushing his cheek. Snow flakes swirled lazily in the air. He held out his hand and a fat snow flake landed on it, melting at once into a clear puddle. He glanced up again as the snow fall thickened, it was starting to cling to their hair and shoulders, but then he heard voices rising from the fields.

“What are they singing?”

The warrior shrugged again.

“Filthy beasts, hope they like the snow.”

“Hope they freeze.”

But Finn thought he heard something else, a scream, from behind them, and he turned frowning and looking down into the courtyard below the wall. “What was tha . . .?” A woman screamed, all the warriors, everyone on the parapet spun around, a door below flung open and a woman, blood covering her face, collapsed outward into the courtyard. “The gate,” she shrieked once and then an Arrasti clansman was in the doorway behind her, his sword thrust out between her breasts, splattering crimson on the stones of the yard. Then the Arrasti was gone again, and all that remained was the body of the woman already being covered by a thin sheet of snow.

The warriors along the parapet burst into motion for the stairs. Screams, shouts, all around them bodies rushing, a horn bleated from somewhere but what it meant was lost on Finn. A tall warrior looked over the wall, and called loudly that the ghul were charging the gates from the outside. The boys ran with the warriors, bounded down the stairs two at a time recklessly, but somewhere in the twisting passages of the Kestrelrock, two levels above the gate, Colber separated from him, carried away down a hallway with a different group. Finn never saw him again.

Finn ran down a broad curving staircase, but the warriors that he trailed were starting to get ahead of him, none of them had paid him any attention. He thought he knew why, he thought if the enemy got through the gate it would be the end of everything, but part of him wanted that, the chance to fight and kill just one of them. The rest of him was simply terrified.

The warriors turned and clattered down another flight, and then another, Finn doing his best to keep up with them. Shouts and the sounds of fighting growing louder, and now that horn bleated constantly, and the warriors he was with were caught up in an even larger group rushing down a long hall toward the first courtyard and the gatehouse. Finn ran out into the hall and sprawled on the thick carpet, a man crashed into him, cursing he leaped up and was away without even seeing what he had tripped over. A woman with a bare sword in her hand paused, grabbed Finn by the collar and hauled him up with her free hand. It was Lady Parrin.

“What are you doing here?” She yelled over the noise. Finn opened his mouth to say something, but the lady shoved him back toward the stairs. “Go to the stables,” she shouted and then turned and dashed down the hallway.

Finn stood for a moment, one foot on the first step, a hand on the balustrade, but then he ran out into the hall and toward the sound of fighting. The bleating of the horn cut off abruptly, and the noise and tumult of only a moment before seemed to die away. Finn dashed through the reception hall, one of the great doors at the far end was wedged shut, but the other stood ajar. There were still some sounds of fighting just beyond. He stepped through the doorway.

A blanket of red snow covered most of the courtyard, at least where there were no bodies. Arrasti and Raevanae soldiers lay everywhere. Finn stopped, breathing heavily and bent double at a stitch in his side. But he could not take his eyes off of the open archway under the gatehouse, and the dark figure standing in the open gate. He was tall, shrouded from head to ground in swirling black, his face all but covered by a hood, and in his hand a sword dripping red at his feet. Lady Parrin stood before him, poised to strike. Finn hardly saw her move, her sword a blur of silver, but the man simply stepped aside. The Lady spun and reversed into a strike at his unprotected side, but his sword was there, blocking and sliding along her blade, and he twisted his body into a lunge that impaled her. As Parrin’s body crumpled to the ground a wave of ghul swept around the Black General.

Finn froze for a single moment, staring at the ghul, squat and square, with heavy shoulders and long, thick arms, spindly bowlegs, clothed in miscellaneous bits of armor and scraps of ragged, dirty clothes but carrying long, curved knives and barbed spears. But then something turned inside him, some instinct to survive. He looked at the body of the Lady Parrin once more, looked at the dark figure of the Black General standing over her, and then turned, and ran for his life.

Off of the reception hall was a room, in that room a closet, and in that closet a panel covering an old, unused dumbwaiter. Before the ghul could even sniff out which direction he had gone, Finn was in the second kitchens. He snatched a wicked looking butcher knife, shoved it into his belt, and stuffed a few hanks of bread into his pockets. Muffled shouts and the ring of weapons came from somewhere. He thought maybe it was best to go down, into the basements, and hide. Beyond that he had no plan.

Most of the storerooms in the basements were dark, Finn did not dare to carry a light. Mostly he felt his way along, and though he knew the best place to hide, it took hours. Twice he saw torches, once it was a party of ghul and the other they were men, Skeldi or Arrasti. Finn hid, one sweaty hand clutching the butcher knife, and the other clamped over his mouth. Both times he was passed by, but he waited each time anyway to make sure none of them stayed behind.

Finally he reached where he wanted to go, an old chamber more than half cluttered with broken furniture and leaking barrels, the forgotten remains of old lives, and in the back of that chamber was a crack in the wall. He squeezed in, squirming back and back until he reached a wide spot where he could lay down. He did nothing for a long time but breathe and listen, his head resting against the cool stone. He took air in, pushed it back out, trying to be a regular as he could, trying to stay calm, to think and not to remember, trying not to imagine he was lying in a coffin.

“Water.”

Finn sat up, rubbing his face with his hands.

“Water,” he murmured to himself, “sooner or later I’ll need water.”

He took the bread from his pockets, took a bite, but his tongue was already dry. The bread seemed to expand in his mouth. He swallowed it but he did not eat any more.

She was so fast, but he was faster. He killed her.

Finn shifted. He knew he needed water, knew he could not stay in that hole forever. He started to crawl out, but rolled over when he felt a sharp pain in his leg. He it, and his hand came away wet and smelled of blood. He cut himself with the knife, but it did not seem too bad. Finn rolled back over, careful of the blade, and crawled out of the hole into the storeroom. In the faint light he looked down at where his pant had been cut, and there was a small gash that felt worse than it looked, but . . . but the room had not been lit when he first came through.

Slowly Finn raised his eyes. The light came from a torch held by a ghul standing on the other side of the pile of detritus. Finn ducked as fast as he dared, squeezing his hands hard together, biting his lip, it had been looking the other way, it didn’t see me, it didn’t. The ghul mumbled and muttered something to itself, and Finn heard it kick at some piece of trash. The light faded away. He risked peeking up, quick, the creature was gone away. Finn breathed again.

They spotted him just once, a shout from another room as Finn passed an open doorway, but he knew the labyrinth of rooms, at least far better than they did. He ran fast, but without panic, and he could see better in the dark than they could even with their torches. He lost them in a labyrinth of barrels and crates and bundles spread out over several storerooms, then he doubled back to where he had decided was best, the wellhead.

There were tuns of water stacked in the well room. Finn broke one of them open and drank deeply from his cupped hands. Torches burned low in the brackets, but he frowned and shook his head at a dozen or so lanterns spilled all over the floor. He felt drawn to the black circle in the floor. The lake was down there, he knew, and he edged to the hole, a cold draft wafting across his face. He stared into the darkness, wondering how far down was the water.

“You gave them a good chase, you know.”

Finn shrieked. It was all he could do to keep from tumbling through the hole. He grabbed the barrel to steady himself and turned to the voice that spoke from within the room.

A tall dark figure lounged against the doorpost.

Finn stared, licking his lips, suddenly he was very thirsty again.

“But I had a feeling where you would come.” The figure, the Black General, stood straight, raising his hands to his hood. He was so fast. He flicked the hood back, and even in the dim, tricky light of the torches Finn saw a nightmare.

“No . . . no,” he whispered.

“I won’t harm you.” The general extended a hand, pale against his dark robes. “I want you to come with me, I want you to know . . .”

“No!” Finn shoved his weight against the great barrel in the middle of the room, trying to throw it over the edge of the hole, but it did not budge.

“Come with me Finn.” Anatheme put one foot forward, his hand still held out, he killed her, and Finn stepped out onto nothingness, and disappeared through the hole.

It seemed to take forever for the echoes of the splash to reach the wellhead. The Black General shook his head, pulled his hood over, and walked away.

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