Friday, October 13, 2017

Big John IV

Big John opened his eyes and wished he hadn't.
    The sunlight sneaking past the tent flap was blinding. His throat was raw and there was a smell of sweat and blood in the air. And something else.
    Decay.
    Other men lay on linen spread out on the ground all around him. He tried to move and was welcomed by a lance of pain shooting through his back.
    "Where am I?"
    A shadow leaned over him, thankfully blocking the bright light. A sweaty hand touched his face and pried his eye open, the man squinted at him and huffed foul breath his way.
    "Army's tent for the wounded." He made a clicking noise with his tongue. "You're a lucky one alright. Our surgeon took an axe to his skull during the battle. The wounded ain't getting the help they need. Not many pulling through, but you, you have a will to live."
    "Water?"
    "That I can give you. Nice and fresh from the stream."
    Big John raised his head and wanted to grab the flask the man offered him, but another jolt of pain shot through his arm as he moved.
    "Don't worry. I got ya."
    The flask was brought to his dry lips, the water trickling into his mouth. It was good, sweeter than one of Marla's apple pies.
    A pale face and blood-soaked bandages flashed before him. He coughed and spat the water out.
    She was dead. It all came back to him in an instant. The Orcs had killed her and everyone else from Duranham. Everyone but him and his son.
    "Whoa! Take it easy. Nice and slow."
    The flask came back to his lips and this time he swallowed. His throat ached, but the water did him good. He let his head down on the linen, hardpacked earth underneath. He hadn't noticed how tense his muscles were, how much he had strained. Now, he could relax.

"You are a righteous one. Your perseverance is a clear sign that you were chosen by the Gods and they will continue to look over you."
    Big John opened his eyes and was relieved to see that it was near dark out. Only a sliver of the day's dying light slipped into the tent. Not enough to hurt his eyes, but enough to see by.
    The man hunched before him had curly blond hair and clear, penetrating blue eyes. They had a gleam to them even in the semidarkness and their focus never wavered. The man was looking straight at him, a smile spreading across his lips.
    "Water?"
    It had to have been hours since he last drank. His mouth was dry, but his throat was no longer aching.
    "Yes, of course. Even the blessed have need of sustenance."
    The man poured water from a metal flagon into a matching chalice and brought it to Big John's lips. The water carried a metallic taste with it, but it was cool and that was all that mattered.
    "Who are you?" Big John asked.
    "My name is Eddin. I came to look over the warriors of our Faith and to pray for them. I never imagined I would find you though. I knew the Gods had something in store for me, but that I would be the one to find you is a sign of divine intervention."
    A rumbling chuckle escaped Big John's lungs, ending in a gasp as his wounded back protested.
    "What? Do you you not believe in your calling?"
    "It's not that." Big John tried to sit up, but thought better of it and remained lying down. "Truth is, I don't know what to believe in. I'm a woodcutter, no more, no less. I once had a wife and a good life. That is behind me now, but I still have a son, as far as I know, and finding him is my future. Nothing divine about that. I'm only a man."
    "Wise words, my friend. Wise words. But you left out what all men are talking about. They know it and I know it and so do you." Eddin raised his eyebrows at him as if Big John truly knew what he meant. Big John did not reply and after a moments hesitation Eddin continued. "You were in the clutches of Demons and not only did you survive the evils they must have done to you, you managed to escape. Arrows that would have killed any other man - that did kill dozens - struck you down, but here you are, one of only a few recovering from his wounds. You, my friend, have been through purgatory and the Gods have seen you worthy. You are meant for more. You will play a pivotal role in these dark times that lie ahead. That is the truth that I know."
    Big John said nothing and took a moment to think about Eddin's words. He didn't know much about the Gods, but he knew they hadn't been there for him when Marla was killed and the rest of Duranham as well. It did not feel like they had been watching out for him. He had to fight in the Orc camp to stay alive and he only had himself to thank for his survival.
    Even if he did believe in the Gods and their power to protect him. He wanted none of it. Whatever blessing they had given him was too little too late. Marla was dead and that couldn't be changed.
    Big John furrowed his brow and grimaced. "I've heard enough for now. I'm tired."
    "Yes. You should rest and think about what this mean to you."
    Eddin left and with him the day's light reached its end. Big John had made up his mind, but the Gods were stubborn and remained in his thoughts. Even though his head would not come to rest easily, his body needed more energy and soon he slept.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting. I read the first "part" of this chapter and was (and still am) finding it difficult to place in the timeline. Was this right after he fled? Or is this a flashback to the day when Duranham was attacked (or the day thereafter)? The second part, of course, is right after Big John fled the Orcs.

    And Eddin is a creep. I'm calling it, he's bad news. Psycho cultist is what he sounds like... Sheesh.

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    1. This is all after the big battle, where Big John fled from the Orcs before the fighting began. A day or maybe more after the battle. The second part is still the same day, but a few hours later.

      A reminder, in case it wasn't clear, Duranham is the village Big John and his family used to live in. The one that was attacked by Mexta and led to Big John's imprisonment.

      Eddin, a creep? I don't know what you're talking about? xD

      Was it layered on too thickly and kind of transparent where I was going with him or did the character seem believable and worked for you?

      I definitely seem to have hit the mark I was going for, but I would like to know how well it read, since I have other future projects that deal with religion and will include fanatical worship. Eddin is my first try at developing such a character. :)

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  2. I do remember what Duranham is, I just felt like the first part might have been a flashback or something.

    With regards to Eddin - first of all, I'm a major religious skeptic. I have strong dislike for religion of any kind and am always wary (just today, this dude asked Annika and me whether we wanted a flyer regarding Jesus, and this poor guy withered away at my glance and my surprisingly firm "no, thank you").

    With that out of the way, my second point is that I do think you're being a bit obvious here, and it has to do with first impressions. I don't know if you've ever seen "Californication", with David Duchovny. He plays a man named Hank Moody, and Hank Moody has a sex addiction. The way they decided to play this was by showing him having sex a lot in the first episode, and then afterwards, all they did was have him get into an occasional steamy scene, and otherwise referencing his exploits (seen or unseen on the show). It made it seem as his he was permanently erect and completely out of control anytime anyone suggested there might be a hint of a sliver of a chance of a willing female around. And even simple statements made it look like his mind was definitely revolving around sex, which made it easy to believe the other characters that Hank Moody had, in fact, a sex addiction.

    Now look at what you wrote here. The first sentence Eddin says is full of religious fervor, and it keeps on going like that, which makes him stick out like a sore thumb. If you add to that the fact that, until now, religion really didn't play much of a role in this story at all (supernatural yes, but not religious organizations per se), it basically paints him with such a thick layer of zealotry that it's hard to see past. I fully expect him to be completely insane.

    So there are three suggestions I have. One, establish religion beforehand. It's a bit late for that now, but in the future, definitely do it - Checkov's Gun dictates this.

    Two, make Eddin (and any character like him) much more subtle. Keep the religious words to a minimum, and ideally, use things that can be interpreted in various ways - "bless you", for example, may mean more than one thing.

    Three, don't hypercorrect and make Eddin the nicest guy ever. He can be a bit of a weirdo, an oddball with strange views on life and the universe and death, and perhaps some kind of awesome power that makes you wonder how this guy became so awesome. And then comes the slippery slope of his true character.

    The High Sparrow comes to mind as an excellent example. He was always a bit unsettling, just his piercing, intense stare, but there was really nothing to suggest that he was as fucking off-the-charts insane as he turned out to be.

    All that being said, I appreciate an aspect of mythology and religion in all stories, and I appreciate when it is shown as multi-faceted and variable an influence as it is in our real world (despite my misgivings, I will, of course, not label all religious folk as anything, except religious). So while I like that you're opening this door, I feel like the way you did it isn't a good choice in terms of writing.

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    1. Great feedback, thanks. And so fast, too. ;)

      I'm just like you when it comes to religion, I'm often surprised at what a harsh view I have of things. Religion never played a role in my life and I think that's one of the reasons why I haven't dealt with it much here so far, other than mentioning the Gods from time to time.

      Mythology on the other hand has always been fascinating for me and thus the different cultures have a lot of potential for stories in my eyes. That includes Christianity.

      I have seen Californication, so I know exactly what you mean. It was even my intention to portray Eddin that way, but you make a good comparison with the High Sparrow. I could have introduced his character more subtly and had his extreme views be more of a surprise later on.

      I'll be adding some more views on religion from different characters in the future, sort of backtracking and laying the foundation I should have constructed before introducing the character. I just haven't figured out the details of the religion yet.

      I had been playing with the thought of Eddin's character for a while now and finally decided to introduce him. Since I had never written a religious character, much less a fanatic of sorts, I did some research and found some specific words that I think did a good job of conveying his views. But I must have laid it on a bit thick, which I wanted to do, but I was also worried it might be too much. Which is why I asked you. ;)

      Thanks for the feedback!

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