This sections marks an important transition for our characters. Charlotte and Raul must climb the wall of the river valley and in so doing move from Raul’s world into Charlotte’s. It is a turning point in the narrative, so naturally, we wanted to bring a villain in. Sandy Lane has the kind of martial ability that Charlotte and Raul lack, which means we needed Blue as a foil (spoiler alert, I guess). Sandy proved the regular challenge—a character with no gendered pronouns(and no obvious gender neutral ones, either!) I think Blue really shines here—I feel very comfortable writing his character and I think he’s a lot of fun. Giving him some agency, demonstrating why he is a survivor, was a big change from his first appearance, but I feel it works and justifies his acceptance into the team dynamic.
I really tried to draw out tension and turmoil in our two adventurers. I wanted them both to face a task they assumed they would be equal to, but struggle. Raul cannot beat Sandy Lane in a fair fight, and Charlotte’s barbarian spirit (or rather, the spirit she wishes she had) falters during a dangerous climb up a cliff-face. It can be difficult to show your characters at their weakest, but the real challenge was in showing how they support and need each other.
I’m not afraid to admit I had trouble with this section, and I’m glad to say that Luke picked up on all the bits where I thought I had stumbled and came through with excellent suggestions in his comments.
Charlotte and Raul left the Madera clan village shortly after dawn. Charlotte was pleased with the contrast between this walk and their previous flight through the forest a few short days ago. It may have been a good night’s rest, a full meal, or the comfortable—well, mostly comfortable—slacks she had been given by the Cottonfolk, but the trees did not seem so dense here. The path was not so hard to pass. Raul led the way, whistling a jaunty tune as he walked. Charlotte, with disgust, imagined birds landing on his shoulder and giving an impromptu but perfectly choreographed duet.1
She shifted the weight of the sword across her shoulder. The thick leather pad she had been given for her shoulder certainly cushioned things and made the sword more comfortable to carry, but it did nothing for the weight. The going was so easy, though, that Charlotte let her attention wander. She imagined the kind of bird that might land on her shoulders, dressed as she was. She wasn’t exactly wearing leather armour, but with her shoulder pad and a huge sword, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine. Charlotte grinned as she pictured standing beside Suzanna on a storm-tortured rise, birds of prey circling above their heads. I think I’d take a kestrel, maybe a larger bird. Of course, with my recent luck, I’d probably end up with a turkey vulture. Then again, ugly as they are, they’re pretty mean…
“Oh, look Charlie, a rose-breasted grosbeak!”
Charlotte turned her eye to the unimpressive bird Raul was pointing at. Small, kind of dumpy, with a beak shorter than it was wide, its only real interesting feature was a bright red breast that made it look a little like its throat had been cut. “Looks like something a buzzard might eat.”
“Buzzard? No, they eat carcasses and carrion. I can barely keep them away after a good match, eh? Eh?”
Charlotte chose not to engage with Raul’s attempt at humour. Instead, she said “It is a lovely bird, Raul.” She injected just enough exasperation into her voice that she hoped Raul would take the hint and not launch into a lengthy, boastful lecture on the superiority of the Cottonwood’s ornithological biodiversity.
Raul, of course, immediately launched into a lengthy, boastful lecture on the superiority of the Cottonwood’s ornithological biodiversity. He spoke of the local birds, their habit, which were the toughest, and which ones had the best feathers for fletching arrows. There was some considerable discussion on which birds had the nicest colouration too, but Charlotte gently tuned it all out. Raul was speaking, but she heard the voice of Lucinda in her mind instead.
“Everyone is proud of their culture. It is more than the place they live, the place they are from. Your culture is who you are. It take a lifetime of experience to truly understand a culture. You need to live it, breath it, be raised in it. A culture is learned in the stories you are told, the food you eat, the life you live, your relationships, your position in a family, a nation, and the world. A culture is infinitely complex and infinitely nuanced. In this life, you will come to know other’s cultures. You will participate in their rituals, speak their languages, perhaps even be initiated into their secrets, but do not presume to say you understand those cultures, because you don’t. Not fully. You view will always be coloured by the life you have lived, the way you were raised, the stories you were told and your place in the world. Try as you might you will never be able to be entirely objective. You can—must, even—learn to recognise the truth—or the falsity—of yourself, but that will not entirely change who you are. Once you come to understand yourself, you will be better equipped to learn about the people across the table. Whether hostile or friendly, what they say will always be measure, and there will be a filter imposed by their culture. It is your job, my dear, to hear it all and take what is important and use it—use it as a weapon, a lever, or an olive branch—but use it you must. The trick is, a people will have stories they believe to be defining, but that belief does not make it necessarily so. Sometimes you can learn more about a culture in the incidental and unguarded moments than you can in an entire history text.”2
“Take this stream,” Raul was saying as the approached a bubbling rill. “Earlier this year, a duck made her nest here. I, of course, made fast friends with her ducklings.”
“Wait—you made friends with ducklings?”
“You disbelieve me?”
“No… no, I trust you implicitly on your ability to relate to a cute, fuzzy animal that is incapable of being quiet.”
Raul paused for a moment. Not for the first time, Charlotte swore she could see the gear turning under his perfectly coiffed hair. I was teasing you. It was a friendly jibe. But a grin slid onto Raul’s face, and Charlotte knew her words had passed through that special filter in Raul’s ears, and he had heard only words of praise.
“The birds do love me!” He said proudly.
“Only the fowl sort.”
Raul again got that look that told Charlotte his filter was sorting. Charlotte almost took pity on him. Almost. She nearly changed the subject. Before she could, though, she heard her own voice acting on its own accord. “I am surprised it was ducklings alone, though. How do you fare with a cygnet?”
“That depends,” Raul answered carefully.
“The, um, the size and, um… temerity of the… cygnus.”
“That is what I said.”
“You don’t know what a cygnet is, do you Raul?”
“I know perfectly well.”
“‘Tell me, Raul,” Charlotte said with a grin as she leaned against the sword. “Pray tell, directly, what is a cygnet.”
Raul huffed once or twice, and began to pace. Sweat stood out on his brow. “A cygnus—”
“That’s what I said! A cygnet is—if you look—well, here’s the thing, if you look at the night sky, the stars… yes, the stars, they form shapes, you see, yes, shapes, called constellations—”
“I know what a constellation is, Raul. The question is, do you know what a cygnet is?”
“Yes, I have knowledge of many things. As I was saying, if we wait for night, I could point to the cygnus and you, knowing so well, yes, knowing constellations, you could tell me its importance in grand scheme of, um, of, um… astrolaby.”
“A cygnet is a baby swan, Raul.”
“Well, of course, I was about to say as much. Awful creatures, swans, terribly ill-tempered and so homely in their youth. I once—” Raul stopped abruptly. His eyes hardened suddenly and scoured the path behind Charlotte. “Did you hear that?” he hissed.
Charlotte hefted the sword back onto her shoulder. “I didn’t hear anything,” she whispered back. She wondered briefly if Raul was attempting to shift the conversation away from water fowl, but no, no, he’s not clever enough for that. He must have really heard something.
“We should keep moving. I believe we are being followed.”
Charlotte crouched slightly, remembering arrows and a cold dive into another stream. “Another of Vilnius’ lackeys?”
“Maybe,” Raul said, still scanning. He turned and leapt over the rill. “Or, it could be one of the children from the village. They do seem to love me, for whatever reason.”3
They respect you. The thought dropped into Charlotte’s head, unbidden and unexpected. They respect you like the clansmen respected Augusto. Everything she had seen and felt in the Madera clan village coalesced, and Charlotte stood watching Raul tramp forward. It is not who he is—it is who he could be.4
“Come along, Charlie! We’ve quite a way to go yet.”
Charlotte’s feet sprang into action before she had a chance to be annoyed.5
As the morning wore on, Raul and Charlotte began to pass the sword back and forth between each other.6 Although Charlotte was reluctant at first, Raul’s logic had been uncharacteristically ironclad.7As they came to a bend in the path, Raul had put his hand out to stop Charlotte.
“Here we continue straight on, while the path turns North to the land of the Heartwood Clan. There was many a time folk from my clan would meet the dishonourable Heartwooders at this bend and wrestle for, well, anything. Why, even my grandfather is said -”
“Raul,” Charlotte interrupted gently. “Wrestling history of the Cottonwood should wait. We have a mission.”
“Of course. The abridged version, then!”
Charlotte sighed. Alas, compromise is the life of the diplomat.
“Suffice it to say, Fred de Madera knew honour and found it often in this place. He also knew how to share the burden of honour, and when to let others, like his grandson, wrestle in his stead.”
Charlotte waited. Surely that is not the end of it? The silence began to draw out. She hardly dared hope, but it seemed, yes, perhaps Raul had finished a story in two sentences. Charlotte drew a breath, half expecting to be interrupted before she could say anything. Her better judgement warned her against asking follow-up questions, but her curiosity was piqued. She wasn’t sure what the point had been. “And… ?”
Raul said nothing, but struck a dramatic pose and held out a hand. Charlotte looked at it, then at Raul’s face, and then back at the hand. He made a brief gesture, a double flick of the fingers that suggested she was to give him something. “Ohhhhh,” Charlotte said as she lifted the sword off her shoulder. “Your burden too, and your honour to carry it, I get it.” As soon as she passed over the sword, Raul stepped lightly off the path and into the thicker underbrush.
Once off the path, the going was much tougher, and Raul suggested trading the sword so that neither would be too tired for the climb ahead. To pass the time, Charlotte asked “What was your grandfather’s full name?”
“Fred de Madera,” Raul replied simply.
“Just Fred, not Frederico or Frederich or, uhm, Fredothy?”
“I think you made those up.”
“Only one!” Charlotte said, slightly taken aback.
“Had to be Frederico. There is no such name.”
“So your grandfather’s name was just Fred?”
“And your cousin’s name is Rico?”
“Yes. Two of my cousins, in fact, and I believe a third cousin once removed on my mother’s side. Bit of a family name, Rico.”
“Okay. And you don’t believe Frederico is a real name?”
“And you think Fredothy is?”
“Honestly, I can’t fathom your Fort City naming conventions. Fredothy sounds reasonable enough, as far as names go. Has a nice solid base.”
“I think you’re pulling my leg.”
Raul stopped in the center of a glade. A look of consternation clouded his face and he leaned against the sword, studying Charlotte. “But… we’re not wrestling.”
Charlotte sighed deeply and made to move on again, but stopped when Raul did not move. “What?” she asked in a whisper. “Did you hear something again?”
“No. We’re almost there.” Raul pointed up. Charlotte followed his finger past a gap in the canopy at the center of the glade. Above them loomed the escarpment that marked the edge of the Cottonwood river valley. From where she was standing, Charlotte thought it looked like a sheer wall of rock, yet Raul claimed he had once climbed to the top.
“So that’s it, then?” She asked, her voice sounding slightly more high pitched than she was used to. “All we need to do is climb that sheer wall, and we’re at the top?”
“It’s not exactly sheer,” Raul said bracingly. “Just… unusually steep. And it’s really the final obstacle before we are back on your home turf.”
Both Charlotte and Raul startled when the sound of someone clearing their throat suddenly broke the ringing silence Charlotte had not wanted to fill. Looking over their shoulders, they saw a short figure with broad shoulders, a thuggish face, and wearing the uniform of a Fort City Royal Guard round a tree and come into view.
Charlotte knew those cold blue eyes. The figure grinned wickedly and gave a little wave, suggesting that perhaps the two companions were looking at another obstacle they had not anticipated. Menace fairly radiated from Sandy Lane’s entire being despite the casual gesture.8
“Ho, Traveller!” Raul said jauntily, returning the wave as he began to stride forward. Charlotte was too shocked by the sudden appearance of one of Vilnius’ lackeys to shout out a coherent warning. Some part of her consciousness registered the way Raul’s knuckles were tightening on the hilt of the ceremonial blade, though. Could he be so ignorant… Charlotte found her voice. “Raul, no!”
Charlotte’s call could not have been timed better. Raul turned slightly at the sound of his name, and in the same instant Sandy’s arms crossed and drew the twin swords the villain wore on either hip. Sandy’s swords came up in a flash, narrowly missing Raul’s face. Raul stumbled backwards in surprise, but swung his own sword around in a defensive posture.
“Raul, you can’t!” Charlotte shouted, unable to move from where she was standing. Fear had rooted her as solidly as any tree of the Cottonwood. Shame trembled up her body. What kind of Barbarian Queen is paralysed by fear? 9
Sandy’s wicked grin spread to an evil smile. “No matter who survives, you and the pretty doll will still lose, Forestman.” Sandy’s voice was a quiet raspy tenor, barely more than a whisper. In spite of that, it still managed to take complete control of the small grove they were standing in. In that moment, Charlotte realised she wasn’t entirely sure she had ever heard Sandy speak before.10
Raul attempted a colourful spin and flourish with his blade, but only succeeded in not entirely fumbling the blade and thereby proving he was a complete amateur. By contrast, Sandy merely dropped into a low position that made Charlotte think of a coiled spring.
Raul puffed out his chest. “Come then, you scurrilous knave! Defeat me if you can!”
Sandy launched into movement. One blade led the body. Raul barely managed to beat it aside when Sandy’s other sword came whistling towards his head. Charlotte watched on in paralysed horror as Raul leapt to the side. He may have managed to make his landing a graceful roll if he hadn’t been holding the long and heavy sword. As it happened, it was more of a controlled collapse.
Sandy locked eyes with Charlotte and took a few steps back from Raul, who was hastily trying to pick himself up off the ground. The opportunity for a killing blow had passed. Sandy made a gesture to Raul with one sword, an invitation to rejoin combat. That rogue is playing with us! 11
Charlotte remembered the time that Suzannah Queen of Swords had been poisoned by venomous tombroot. There had been a lengthy and somewhat boring introduction where Suzannah had jousted verbally with an odd-smelling Apothecary,12but eventually the story had led to Suzannah being robbed of her shining steel blade when sick with tombroot fever. To get it back, she had barrelled into an alehouse and charged into the thief. Suzannah had reasoned that swords could not be effectively swung in close quarters. Get close. Get scrappy. Suzannah had plowed in and defeated the thief with his own sword. Charlotte could do the same. Couldn’t she?
Charlotte’s legs felt like lead, but she let the rage she felt knowing she was being played with push the fear out of sight. She felt herself picking up speed as Raul finished gathering himself from the ground. He was preparing for another pass at Sandy. Perhaps together… Charlotte thought as Raul joined her charge.
Sandy looked wholly unconcerned. Raul aimed a heavy overhand blow at their opponent. Sandy merely stepped aside, allowing the considerable strength behind Raul’s swing to overbalance him. In the same motion, Sandy brought a fist around and connected with Charlotte’s temple.
It was something like being hit with an iron rod held by… well, another iron rod. Charlotte’s vision exploded with bright spots as she crumpled to the ground, her temple screaming in pain.
Sandy dropped a sword and shook out the offending fist. Sandy’s discomfort gave Charlotte the smallest modicum of pleasure. “Not you, doll,” Sandy said with a wicked wink. “He wants to do for your himself. The Forestman, though…”
This time, Sandy indulged in a fancy twirl of a sword. Raul had collected himself again, and was holding his sword in front of himself unsteadily. Unless my vision is just swimming.
Sandy leapt forward with a flurry of savage swings. The sword left on the ground beside Charlotte, still unable to stand, was a crushing insult. Sandy’s back was turned, as if Charlotte posed no threat at all, even when freely offered a weapon.
Raul was making a valiant effort, but the onslaught was withering. Sandy’s sword whirled like a bit of detritus caught in a dervish. It leapt from hand to hand as it twisted and curled in the air, always keeping Raul off balance and unprepared for proper defense. The decidedly one-sided fight came to an abrupt end when Sandy somehow, so fast I couldn’t even see it, managed to disarm Raul. The sword infused with the magic of the accord – the symbol that carried such weight – went spinning into the air.13It bounced off a tree unceremoniously and clattered to the ground lamely.
Charlotte had struggled to her knees, fighting against the renewed pain and dizziness she felt as she collected herself. 14 She could see that while she was working her way upwards, Raul had fallen to his own knees. The two travelling companions looked at each other, and Charlotte saw, to her horror, defeat in Raul’s eyes. His expression was missing the easygoing confidence she was so used to seeing. He looked… resigned. Now would be a good time for that magic of yours to work, Raul. Perfect dramatic timing.15 A rally…
Sandy had paused to relish in the moment. The sick pleasure Sandy took in drawing out the act of murder proved to be a saving grace for Charlotte and Raul. With all the suddenness it required, Charlotte’s wish came true. A blur of shining armour crashed into Sandy with the force of an avalanche. Two figures rolled on the ground. It took Charlotte a moment to realise they both wore roughly the same uniform; one was just considerably older than the other.
“Blue!?” Two voices called out in uniform bewilderment.
“Ambassador, you and yer savage had best run,” the skeleton grunted laboriously as he rained blows down on Sandy’s head with his bony fists.
Charlotte saw a look of confusion pass over Blue’s face as he glared at the body below him. Skulls cannot change their expression, the thought began, but was quickly overridden by the voice of Lucinda. “Now is not the time, Charlotte!”16
Wonder at the impossibility of skeletons later, right. Blue continued to hesitate. “Fightin… Fightin’ my own troops…”17
Sandy took the opportunity. No longer subject to a fusillade of skeletal fists, Vilnius’ henchperson kicked out, causing Blue, considerably lighter than an average combatant, to launch into the air. He landed with a sad and somewhat sickening crump.
Blue didn’t so much stand as he did unfold. “If it’s a fight you want, uhhh…” Blue looked Sandy over, glancing up and down, “Uhh, soldier, it’s a …” His skull turned, as if he was looking for something. “Thing. Contest. Mano y probably mano.18When one person lives on account of sticking the other inna guts.” Blue noticed that Sandy had taken the time to retrieve the second sword that had been dropped earlier. “Ah, goats,”19 he muttered, and drew his own shining short blade.
Charlotte, for her part, had been skirting the grove, trying to keep Blue between her and Sandy as she worked her way toward Raul. He was still kneeling in the dirt, staring at his hands.
“Raul, come on!” she shouted, tugging at his shoulders. Raul didn’t budge, but Charlotte heard his voice, quiet and indistinct under the noise of the blades that were ringing in the center of the grove.
“What?” she asked as Blue and Sandy continued to trade savage blows. Neither was making a show of being graceful. They were both wading in and using fists and feet as much as swords, scrapping in a way Charlotte had never seen before. Both of them actually mean to kill. A thrill of fear ran down Charlotte’s spine. This fight wasn’t exactly what she had imagined when reading Suzannah. All her sword fights felt choreographed. Perfect half-turns and parries, witty banter traded when appropriate, primal screams otherwise. Charlotte looked on as the two combatants panted, Blue managing to do so without the benefit of lungs. Sandy’s face was split where Blue’s sharp knuckles had impacted it. The blood was running freely, mixing with sweat. This wasn’t an adventure or entertainment like a story or a wrestling match. It was life and death. Perhaps, some small part of Charlotte’s mind said, more literally life and death than usual for a swordfight, but life and death nonetheless. It was brutal and ugly. 20
Raul was still muttering, and Charlotte hadn’t heard a word of it.
“Speak up and get up!” Charlotte shouted and she tugged fiercely on Raul’s shoulders again. “What are you saying!”
“Bested!” Raul shouted, his voice ragged. “Bested in a contest of strength and skill! I yet have my life, fat lot of good that it does to me, as I’m not as strong as I thought! What would Augusto say to see me bested… some Cottonwood strongman. Some Leader!”
Not knowing what to do, Charlotte slapped Raul. “Snap out of it man! Strength is not a hierarchy!”
“What? Of course it is!”
Charlotte was flabbergasted. Was he really going to argue the point? Now? “We don’t have time!” she barked. “Get up, we have to leave.” 21
As if to punctuate Charlotte’s point, there was a sudden screech of metal on metal. Charlotte ad Raul turned their heads to see a tableau of defeat.
Sandy stood with a sword hilt in both hands, the other blade lost again during the fight, blade buried deep in Blue’s breastplate. The blow had been delivered with enough force that the tip of the blade poked depressingly out of Blue’s back.
“Awww, thing…” 22 The skeleton said. “Ouch.”
Charlotte dove for the sword inscribed with the magic of the accord. She didn’t expect to beat Sandy to it, but she knew she had to try. To her immense surprise, though, she made five, six, and seven leaping strides before she belly flopped to the ground beside the blade. Charlotte gathered it jealously to her as she looked back to the center of the grove. Sandy was standing over Blue with a look of disbelief. Charlotte knew the feeling, impossibility that Blue was. Sandy gripped the sword that stuck from Blue’s chest and wrenched mightily. It did not give way, but it did make another awful screech as it slid part way free.
Charlotte leapt to her feet and began to run. Raul saw her charging ahead and shouted “I am still second strongest! In all the Cottonwood, it is the same as it ever was with Augusto and I, save for the truth that I am now second to a scurrilous knave!” As he puffed along, picking up speed, Raul added “But I can train!”23
Admittedly, it was a bit much for the moment, but Charlotte was simply happy that Raul was up and moving again. 24“Strength isn’t a hierarchy,” Charlotte gasped as they ran alongside each other. She risked a glance over her shoulder as they left the grove, and saw Sandy, sword triumphantly in hand, turn to give chase. Something caught Sandy’s ankle, and the battered soldier fell to the ground.
In that moment, Raul shouted “bear left!” and Charlotte, following, lost sight of the two soldiers from Fort City. She was sorry to leave one behind, but hoped to never see the other again. How much time had Blue bought them? Mere seconds? Was it enough to escape? Why hadn’t she run early, why hadn’t she pulled Raul to his feet? Would any of it matter if they were left exposed to a well-placed arrow as they climbed? Charlotte was sure Lucinda had had choice words, entire lectures, on the topic of envisioning a positive outcome, not dwelling on setbacks and roadblocks, but she thought of Susannah in that moment.25The Barbarian Queen found herself in life-threatening situations with alarming frequency, but that never slowed her down. If anything, it spurred her on. Suzannah met the prospect of death with feral shout and a burst of incandescent rage, time and again, and she made it through.
Charlotte focused on her anger. As surprised as she was to see Blue again, she was angry that Sandy had cut the skeleton down. There was something about his doggedness, his determination to follow her, incredibly and entirely undetected, presumably out of a sense of duty, that endeared him to her.26Blue hadn’t even seemed to know exactly what it was he was doing beyond protecting the ambassador from his Fort City, his sworn duty. Sandy, who should have been a comrade in arms, a compatriot, who wore the same damn uniform had stuck him through the chest with a sword! It was wrong, evil, traitorous… Charlotte felt her face flush as she lost the ability to use words to describe the situation. He was just a confused little old man! Doing what he thought was right! As Raul crashed through the boughs ahead of her, a horrible thought rose in Charlotte’s mind. Why is my life worth more than Blue’s? Why should he have thrown himself at Sandy for me and Raul?
As Charlotte drew ragged breaths to fight the aches and burning muscles caused by their panicked flight from the grove, she felt the ground under her feet start to rise. When she and Raul burst suddenly from a line of trees to be met with a steep pile of scree, the detritus of countless years of erosion,27one final thought rose in her mind. She hardly dared hope,28but there it was: what had tripped Sandy in that final moment? There was no time to wonder, however.
Above them, the escarpment loomed. Up close, it looked no less a sheer wall than it had from a distance. Somewhere nearby, she heard the plaintive bleat of a goat.29
“We’re very near the right place,” Raul panted.
Charlotte glanced left and right. Although she judged it was true some leafy branches obscured her view, to her eyes there was no goat path to be seen.
Raul began to race up the scree at an angle. He used his hands as much as his feet to work his way up the steep bank of sharp, loose stones. They wobbled and clattered at his passing. Charlotte followed. Raul reached the steep wall and began to move south, running his fingers over the rock. Charlotte kept close behind him, continually glancing up at the wall beside her. It looked more difficult to climb than even the most tenaciously steep rooftops of Fort City. Up close, though, there was something familiar about the rock – it reminded her of the back way up to Falcon’s Perch Lookout. More steep, assuredly, and higher, maybe, but the same sort of geography that was found around the famous Fort City lookout. Charlotte had once used the back back30route to Falcon’s Perch Lookout to spoil Renata Donaldson’s romantic outing with a foreign dignitary’s son. She had been accompanied by an entire squad of Fort City’s very best chimney climbers and was fueled by the adrenaline of breaking King Theodore’s strict edict that she should never, under any circumstances, find herself at Falcon’s Perch Lookout. In retrospect, perhaps the King had been more concerned with a fall from Lucinda’s good graces or honour than he had been a fall from dizzying heights. Perhaps he even would have been proud that she was headed to Falcon’s Perch to spoil romance rather than seek it. Nevertheless, on that occasion, she had been well-rested, accompanied by many friends of like mind, had plenty of time, and had not been saddled with a massive sword that disrupted her center of gravity and occupied at least of one of her hands at all times. Charlotte was so lost in her reverie that she bumped into Raul when he stopped. 31
“Here,” he said dramatically “is out goat path.” From somewhere high above, a faint bleat carried on the wind.32
Charlotte looked up at a rock face that appeared no different than any other in the general vicinity. Except, yes, there, perched halfway up a sheer rock wall, apparently standing on nothing, was a single goat.33The sun glinted off his horns and drew the eye. The animal let out a short, curt bleat and leapt deftly upwards, landed on another patch of nothing and proceeded, to Charlotte’s eye, to use its fur like the skin of a snake to work its way gently upwards.34
“Raul, this isn’t a path,” she said wearily, trying her best not to sound defeated. “It’s a cliff.”
“More an escarpment, or ancient riverbank, even. A canyon wall.”
Charlotte was annoyed at Raul’s geographic specificity. That should have been my line!35“How am I supposed to climb this with a bloody great sword in my hand?”
“Not bloody, surely!”
“A turn of phrase…”
“Well, I’d take it, but…” Raul gestured to his arms. Charlotte saw for the first time that he was bleeding. The cuts were shallow, probably superficial,36but the blood was running still.
“Raul,” she said with a voice thick with… what? Concern? Pity? Admonishment? Am I angry, or upset?
“We’ll have time to treat them at the top,” Raul replied as he eased his quiver over his head. Charlotte noticed his bow was gone, lost sometime during the fight or the subsequent run. Raul sighed heavily as he upended the quiver and the arrows dropped to the ground. “Really some beautiful work there. You remember the birds I spoke of this morning?” A loud crash somewhere beyond the treeline cut Raul short. “Right. Stick your sword through the bottom of that, and follow me!”37
Charlotte pushed on the sword, fighting to get the point of the sharp blade through the tough leather of the quiver. She stumbled as they finally managed to force the blade through. Not exactly a scabbard, but It’ll do. She slung the blade over her back and said “You don’t have to be the strongest to do well, Raul.”
“Strength… isn’t a hierarchy?” He said it as if he was asking a question, but Charlotte thought she heard the first glimmer of understanding in those words.38She gave Raul what she hoped was an encouraging smile, but she knew it was dwarfed by the rock face.39
Raul leapt up suddenly and caught a narrow ledge that Charlotte hadn’t noticed. He deftly pulled himself up40 and perched on the slight bit of rock. “It’s a big first step,” he said with considerable bravado.41
Charlotte tried twice to catch the ledge while jumping and failed. Looking off to the side, she saw a convenient boulder, scrambled up on top of it, and followed Raul onto the ledge.
“I, uhm, it’s…” Raul sputtered, looking for an explanation, but Charlotte didn’t need one. Of course he’s the kind of person to always take stairs two at a time.
“Where next?” she asked.
“The holds aren’t always obvious,” Raul explained as he turned to face the rock, “but they are always solid. The goats have been using them for ages.” He grabbed the rock face and began to climb it like it was a ladder. Charlotte shuffled over and saw the groves in the rock where thousands of hooves had left a well worn and very specific trail. There was a faint oiliness to the bare stone between the handholds, and the occasional trace of goat fur. Often it could be smelled more than seen.
The going was slow, but the rock proved much less treacherous than it had looked from below. Charlotte risked a glance below her. The altitude was not yet what she would call extreme, but she felt a strange tingling sensation in her abdomen as she looked down. It was evident they were making as much lateral movement as they were vertical – she could just make out the sad pile of Raul’s arrows off in the distance.
Eventually the sheer ascent gave way to a steep and narrow ledge. Here, Charlotte could see where the passage of goats had smoothed the stone. The smoothness did not rise above knee height. At first, she was relieved to have a continuous solid ledge under her feet, thinking the path underfoot would be a welcome respite from climbing, but the lack of proper handholds proved to be treacherously difficult. The goats probably spring along this narrow path at speed, but they are low to the ground and don’t need to worry so much about tipping over.42 Charlotte peered over the edge and immediately regretted doing so. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and clung to the rock with a death grip. She could hear Raul shuffling along beside her. It’s no higher than Falcon’s Perch Lookout, she told herself, and although she hadn’t planned to, she answered too. Falcon’s Perch has a sensible view of the busy rooftops of Fort City, and if you’re starting to feel a little funny, you can back up until your back is against the solid rock of the Western Razorback Mountains – stone so solid it feels like the backbone to the entire world. There is a surety in that stone. Here, what have you got? A disconcerting sea of green below, and the stone that goes under the great Steppe. This is an alien world.
“Charlotte?” Raul’s voice prompted.
Charlotte opened her eyes. “Just, uhm… just…” she could hear how breathless her voice sounded. She had once read a story, a blatant crib of Suzannah, about a barbarian heroine named Joanna. What kind of name is Joanna for a barbarian princess? Joanna had saved herself from a fall off a high cliff by latching onto an oversized bee. It had been a silly story, if entertaining enough in its own right, but Charlotte had soon forgotten it. Why was it all she could think of now? The falling, she supposed.43
“Charlotte?” Raul asked again.44
Once again, Charlotte opened her eyes. She hadn’t even noticed closing them this time. The same view of a dizzying height met her eyes. It’s the way the leaves move in the wind. Except, wait, it wasn’t quite the same view. Charlotte’s mind begged her to pay attention to the small details. There, below, a swath of blue. Someone in the uniform of the Fort City Royal Guard. Sandy Lane is catching up! “Raul!” Charlotte cried. “We have to keep moving!”
Raul considered her word a moment. “That is almost exactly what I was going to say.”
Although the part of her that was eternally annoyed with Raul’s ridiculous speeches warned her not to, Charlotte recognised an opportunity for distraction and asked a question. “What were you going to say, exactly?” Charlotte dropped to her knees and began to crawl along the narrow ledge. Four points of contact, low center of gravity, just like a goat.
“Much the same as you did,”45Raul said as he continued forward, making no comment on Charlotte’s changed posture. “Just with more detail. Here at the most perilous segment of the climb, just before the deadly switchback leap, it is easy for less experienced climbers to lose heart, but even in the face of uncomfortable heights, higher even than the tallest homes of the grandest villages in all the Cottonwood, you must not falter. Our destination is the top, and the only way to reach it is to move inexorably forward and upwards, yea, we must move past obstacles of stone and of will, but upwards we will climb!”46
Charlotte listened to Raul’s words as she shuffled carefully forward on hands and knees, like a goat. She resisted the temptation to bleat. It wasn’t her kind of speech, but given the times and the location, she supposed it wasn’t altogether bad. Charlotte kept her eyes fixed on the stone below her hands. She nearly shouted when her head met with something soft and yielding, yet possessing a pliable resistance. Definitely not stone. It was Raul’s leg.
“You’ll have to stand up for this part,” Raul said with yet another twinge of annoying bravado. “This is where all save I, Raul of clan Madera, have faltered. The deadly switchback leap!”
“Deadly?” Charlotte asked weakly. She was not feeling like a barbarian hero47in the slightest.
Raul pondered the question. “I imagine it would be, if anybody was brave enough to try to make the leap. None save I have ever dared cross this perilous threshold, and I have yet to perish here, though I have crossed many times… uhm, for a given value of the word ‘many’…”
Charlotte listened as she struggled to her feet. Her legs felt shaky under her. She knew if she looked down, she would again experience the thoroughly unpleasant and increasingly strong swooping sensation in her stomach, so she glued her eyes on Raul’s face as he spoke. As he finished his speech, Raul had a pensive look. He held it for a few spare seconds, then he suddenly took two running steps along the remainder of the ledge and leapt out into thin air. Charlotte forced herself to watch as he soared across a crevasse that opened in the face of the cliff. Raul landed roughly on a small platform on the other side. He slid a little, wobbled, and hugged the cliff face. Then, he turned, took two more running steps and leapt up into the crevasse, disappearing from view. Charlotte heard an echoey voice say “many is now thrice.”
Charlotte sighed deeply and looked at the small platform across from her. Truth be told, it was not terribly far away. It was perhaps slightly further and higher than Raul could have stepped were they back on solid ground. An easy jump, assuming you don’t have a plunging depth with certain death below you. The goats do it all the time. Raul has done it. As if on cue, Charlotte heard the tones of Raul’s voice, although she could not make out the word. He was answered by the angry, shrill scream of a goat.
“Screaming goats,”48 Charlotte muttered and she imagined the jump. Her stomach immediately swooped out from under her and she felt a strange tingle run from the base of her neck all the way down to her heels. The goat Raul was probably wrestling with screamed again.
“Ah fuck,”49Charlotte said, letting the clear and careful enunciation of the curse carry her forward. She took two running steps and leapt before she could let her brain catch up with what she was doing. The time she spent in the air felt like an eternity, but she met the ledge with a suddenness that was alarming. Charlotte had not judged the distance well and landed heavily, losing her balance. The sword swung dangerously on her back as she reeled. She tumbled hard into the rock wall and flailed wildly with her arms as she fell, grasping for anything. Her right hand caught something, but her left palm skidded out from under her and over the edge of the cliff. Her hand painfully caught the flat of the blade as it shot out, which swung wildly around on her back.She was laying face down, half her torso hanging out over nothing, when the sword slipped around her body. The tight leather of the scabbard held the blade, but the strap rubbed painfully against her neck as the pendulum motion of the sword continued below her. Charlotte was looking down at the forest with nothing but air between her and the distant high trees tops. Worse still, the sword was hanging precariously. If she dropped it… Her vision blurred and became like a tunnel. Her heart thundered in her ears as she fought from being overcome by a wave of dizziness. It took nearly all she had to pull mightily with her right arm, rolling to get solid rock under her whole body and pulling the sword up behind her. She gripped the stone she was lying on so hard her knuckles turned white as she closed her eyes. She panted for a few moments and tried to collect herself. 50
Lucinda’s voice rose in her head. “You will meet with circumstances that will make your emotions fly out of control, anger, joy, fear –”
“Not now,” Charlotte said through clenched teeth,51 trying to drown the memory of her teacher out. “Not now, not now, not now…”
Lucinda’s voice, which turned somewhat curt in Charlotte’s mind, simply said “Do not let your emotions get the better of you.”
Charlotte sat up. Her heart was still racing, but she knew she had to keep going. Raul was above her, standing on a ledge in the crevasse, grinning manically, and blocking the path of a goat that seemed to be trying its best to push through him. Charlotte could see the muscles in Raul’s arms bulge at the effort of keeping the goat at bay.
The second half of the switchback leap, the part, in fact, where you switched back, looked to be the more difficult jump. It was further and higher, but Charlotte had two things working in her favour. First, the landing was safer; two sturdy rock walls to catch, one on either side. Second, there was no way she was making the first jump in reverse. She would never make that leap again. Flatly, never. Cottonwood and Fort City be damned. As long as she was here, she was finishing the deadliest part of the ascent, but she would never go back the way she had came.52I just hope I’m not the one that proves its deadly.
Charlotte gathered her legs under her and looked at Raul’s face. His encouraging smile was somewhat spoiled by the strain of keeping the goat behind him. Taking a deep breath, she rose, planted one foot, then the other, and leapt. Once again, the time spent in the air felt like an eternity. It’s the number of heartbeats. Finally, two rock walls wrapped around her, and Charlotte thought their embrace was more welcoming than even the warmest hug she had ever received. She did not land gracefully. When she had again collected herself, she stood before Raul and felt herself grinning. Grinning devilishly, no less!
“It almost seems fun once it’s over, doesn’t it?” Raul asked. “Now, one last obstacle…” he let out a loud huff as the goat butted him none-too-gently on the behind. “An impertinent goat.” Raul leapt suddenly straight up, allowing the goat to pass beneath him. It’s ire was raised by the delay, and Charlotte was left facing a charging goat with nowhere to go. Dying at the hands—or, well, hooves53—of a goat was an injustice she could not abide, so Charlotte emulated Raul’s jump.54She managed to wedge her body against one wall and her legs against another. The sword dug painfull into her back and she slid slightly as the goat passed beneath her, leaving nothing but the faint whiffiness of all goats everywhere. Lowering herself back down, Charlotte turned to watch as the goat leapt over to the first ledge, turned in a single movement, appearing to override all the laws of momentum in the process, and leapt a second time, disappearing from sight on the other side of the rock wall. The animal made it look graceful, routine… boring, even. Before continuing forward, Charlotte sighed with envy. That goat has real barbarian spirit.55
Raul was already moving ahead excitedly. The floor of the crevasse was a steep ascent. “Come along, Charlie, we’re almost at the top!”
Charlotte followed, placing her hands on the rock walls as she walked forward. Her arms were shaking from the adrenaline that was coursing through her body. Up they rose, steadily, until Charlotte’s head crested above the rock and the familiar and comforting sight of the wide open blue sky of the Steppe met her eyes. With her face turned skyward, she stumbled as she took the last few steps. Raul was standing a short distance away, right at the edge of the cliff. His hands were on his hips. “Magnificent,” he muttered as he looked out across the Cottonwood. Charlotte joined him. Or, rather, she nearly joined him—she kept back a pace or two, having had enough of being on a cliff’s edge for one day.
Below her, a vast rolling plain of green stretched out. Off in the distance, she could make out the far wall of the valley. It was miles away, carved in some ancient time when the river was many times as wide as it was now, running and winding lazily like a ribbon through the heart of the wood. The trees created a vast tapestry of strange texture, uniform only in their variegated nature, organic and round like piles of freshly picked cotton. Charlotte wondered, briefly, if this was where the name Cottonwood came from. The view was unfamiliar, but Charlotte judged it was no less beautiful than the peaked roofs and chimneys of Fort City.
“Few from below have ever stood on the edge and seen,” Raul said breathlessly. “When I came down, after unequivocally winning my contest with the Heartwood coward that had challenged me to climb, none were left waiting. They had all assumed I would not come back down the difficult goat path. None but Augusto. He was visiting our clan’s village that day. He spoke to me of the forest then, of how he had been to this edge—though he had not dared climb the goat path56—and seen, truly seen, what you cannot see from among the trees. All the clans, all the people, the children of the great Cottonwood with their disparate57 and conflicting ways of life… We all call this forest home. It is our heart, and it is the same for all of us. That is what Augusto fought for … it is what he died for.”
Charlotte did not know what to say. Raul’s voice had lost it’s edge of bravado and was thick with emotion. She moved forward and reached out, placing a hand on his shoulder. The pair stood in silence for a moment, but their reverie was interrupted by a terrible racket emanating from the crevasse behind them. Part panicked goat and part armoured body, the sounds was a deep well of hopelessness.
“Lane!”58Raul spat, and stalked back to the crevasse. He found a large stone and quickly hefted it, leaning over the wide crack in the ground. Taking careful aim, he hurled it downward and was rewarded with a loud, resounding clash. Raul looked pleased with his superior aim. His grin and boastful comments to Charlotte were cut short by a soft voice coming up from the ground.
“Army’s no place for these old… thing… What goes inside, like sticks what hold up the meat. Aww, goats.” There was an angry bleat below. 59
Charlotte and Raul looked at each other, each with an incredulous expression. Raul’s mouth hung open, Charlotte’s brows furled in confusion.
Blue came crawling up out of the hole in the ground, looking every part the revenant that he was. Charlotte felt waves of relief and confusion. Confusion really seems to sit in the air around that man. Skeleton. Whatever.60
“Ambassador,” Blue said lightly. “Savage,” he growled with narrowed eyes. Or, rather, not narrowed eyes, because he can’t change—oh screaming goats, it’s impossible!
Raul gaped, his mouth opening and closing in repeated succession. “How did you survive?” he finally managed to blurt out.
“Ehhh? What’s that savage? Survive what? Dunno. Just always do. Same as you did.” Charlotte thought Blue’s last sentence was spoken rather defensively.
“I have to know, how did you best the soldier below?”
“What soldier, savage?”
“The one… but you just… look!” Raul pointed at the gash in Blue’s breastplate where Sandy had run the skeleton through.
“Aww, peas! Quartermaster’s going to take that outta my pay. Lucky I weren’t wearing it.”61
“But you were!” Raul shouted. “You were! I saw you get stuck with a sword!”
“Can’t have. Still here, ain’t I?”62
Raul sighed heavily, looked on the verge of admitting defeat, but asked again “I have to know how you won.”
Blue studied Raul for a moment. Charlotte had the distinct impression that the skeleton was going to say something just to humour Raul. “Guess I just did. Always have, always will, ‘till the time I don’t. Then I’ll be nothing but thing. White bits what goes inside, helps you stay upright.”
“Bones?” Charlotte suggested.
“Thems the ones.”
“But — !” Charlotte was highly amused by the confusion and exasperation on Raul’s face. “All right. All right! Fine! But if if that soldier below bested me, and you clearly bested that same soldier, and I, in turn, bested you in an arm wrestle…”
“Don’t seem to recall being bested by no savage in no arm wrestle…” Blue said coldly.
“But I did!”
“Maybe you dreampt it.”
Raul threw up his arms in frustration. “Who is strongest!?” he shouted to the sky
“Not a hierarchy,” Charlotte muttered, as much to herself as to either of the men beside her.63
Luke: Mmm-hmm, mm-hmm. Okay okay okay—I’m picking up what you’re putting down here.
I think there are a few spots I’d like to tighten this LL (Lucinda Lesson) prose, but I’m on board.↩
Luke: I think this line will change once we’ve written the Clan scene. How much does Raul realize, and not realize, about his role their—and throughout the Cottonwood? What words does he use to describe it? (For instance, love.)
Definitely need the Clan scene. (As you mention below.)↩
James: Obviously, this is a big moment. You even made a [MOMENT INSERT] comment in the cue cards document about it. I’ve sorta glossed over the fine detail because we haven’t written the Madera Clan Village bit yet, but this can be expanded as needed (if, indeed, this is the right time for it!)
Luke: It may not even need expanding. All the real work will be done in the village. This is just when it clicks for Charlotte.↩
Luke: Love it! Great line 😀↩
Luke: So, this line let’s us know that they’re going to start passing the sword back and forth. But I kind of like, as a reader, not knowing where the next interaction is going until Charlotte finally makes the connection. In the future, I’m going to recommend cutting it (or at least moving pieces of it more southerly).↩
James: Originally this word was “airtight” – I only mention it because in both cases these words could be anachronistic metaphors. I don’t think it really matters in either case, but it was just sorta neat to think about.↩
Luke: Okay, I think we’re going to want to boost the feels happening here. In my last section (Chaos at the Summit) Charlotte definitely was feeling The Fear when Sandy showed. Part of that was due to V.’s device, but I think there’d be some echoes of that now.
Also, let’s boost the scary of Sandy’s reveal. It’ll juxtapose nicely with the beautiful walk, and pleasant conversation they’ve had during this section.
Final also—maybe Sandy says something as the initial reveal? Not out of character, but Sandy would know saying something would surprise and instill fear, so… maybe just one word? Like:
Oh, I just read the next line. I see what you were going for. Dang.
Actually, no, I think we can get both. Charlotte is the one that loses it (feels Fear), and then Raul’s being all Raul like… more good juxtapose?↩
Luke: Ah, here’s the fear in Charlotte. Okay. Cool.
…I’d still like to make Sandy more scary when revealed ;-}↩
Okay. So. Apparently I should read your WHOLE section, before offering any note bubbles 😛
I won’t do it that way, but just so you know, I understand why I should.
James: I think your suggestions are on point, though. If we want to preserve this bit, there’s no reason we couldn’t move it up a bit, right?↩
Luke: I know why “That rogue”, but feels too playful on Charlotte’s part. She’s scared, and I’m pretty sure knows what’s really at stake here (their lives; I’m not sure Raul does yet. Probably, actually, he watched Augusto die too.) Anyways, what about:
“We’re being toyed with.”↩
Luke: Too blatant? Let’s get clever, and on the surface what Charlotte thinks is saying, “Boring!” but underneath that is an enjoyment?
Like, she uses some clever verbal jousting to describe it as boring. Irony!
James: I kinda went overboard with this description because this Suzannah story actually exists (in part) – I’ve written it!↩
Luke: So…is Raul using the accord sword here? Or does he have a regular sized one now, picked up from the village? (Which begs the question, why wouldn’t they pick up weapons from the village?)
James: Accord Sword. They DO get weapons in the village – or, at least, Raul gets a bow because he can use it effectively. He’s mostly useless with a sword, so why bother carrying one?↩
Luke: Just like Elan!↩
Luke: Ooh, let’s set this up to be Lucinda’s favourite lesson to Charlotte. We can use it a couple times before now. And I totally see Charlotte being inquisitive to an extreme that Lucinda wants to encourage, but has to constantly focus (especially when Charlotte was younger).↩
Luke: Okay! So, what if we have a brief moment here where Charlotte gets to use HER powers, and convinces Blue (I’m talking in one sentence) why he needs to fight his own troops.
Blue is all like, “Fighting me own! Whaaa…” and she’s all like, “Spies in our midst, Blue; they’re here to undermine Fort City!”
A little bit of wordplay (not featured above) along with a reminder of Blue’s duty to protect the City; and a healthy dash of BQ plotline (spies? From the Isles of Misshapen Gloom! Of course!)↩
James: I can’t decide if this is too direct or not.
Luke: “Guano in yo’ mayo…?”↩
Luke: hahahahaha. ↩
Luke: Love the couple lines at the start of the paragraph, and totally on board for the sentiment of the section past “both of them actually mean to kill”, but this might be a “less is more” moment.↩
James: I was going to use an exclamation point here, too, but I realised that, like, ever bit of dialogue on this page ends in one. I guess tempers are running high or something.
Luke: Not having one could even be the most exclaim-y of all. Charlotte is all focused—this is what we’re doing so stand up and move. Now.
(Like when a parent is fed up and tells their kid to go to bed. No raised voices, just firm belief that this is over now. You listen, or…)↩
Luke: absolutely perfect.↩
Luke: I don’t like this (at least not here). Too soon for Raul to come to terms with it. Let’s let that internal conflict stew for a bit.
Offers opportunities for him to be a bit more reckless on the plains. Ooh! Maybe that can help get them into their next bout of big trouble?
(Maybe Charlotte doesn’t want to trust the townsfolk…or at least asks if they should, and Raul actually convinces her that they should (even though they shouldn’t). It’s one part, “I’m out of my element and must prove my worth” amplified by “I’m no longer worthy as the muscle-y champion, but I can still do good!”)↩
Luke: How about Charlotte just calls to him, “Raul, now!” With her already having said “We have to leave.” Raul just follows.
This is—on the cusp between two places—Charlotte taking charge (she doesn’t even realize it). She’s been so “useless” in the woods, facing her failure to really learn about them (when she thought she was ready), that now we get to turn that around. She’s getting closer to the world she knows.
Also, it’s a more to her using words, and tone (her powers) in a BQ moment. The two, she’ll realize so much later, are not separate.↩
Luke: In the words of a friend of mine:
I really love this, especially if you’re digging my last comment. Charlotte’s using her Ambassador powers, but she’s thinking of Susannah. And just not making the connection!↩
Luke: Maybe cut this line. You mention duty in the next sentence anyway, which I feel is the important part.
James: Need to cover the fact that she and Raul had no idea he was there, too, but yeah↩
Luke: Cut. I like just leaving it at “scree” (I had to look it up. Let’s let the audience do it too ;-})
James: Its fascinating learning what words you didn’t know! Like, I thought scree was a pretty commonly known word, but there you have it! On board with the suggestion, BTW.↩
Luke: Cut. Then:
“…scree, a stray thought arose: in that final moment, what tripped Sandy? There was no time…”
On second thought, maybe we don’t say anything? We should Sandy BEING tripped, maybe we leave this to the reader to be, “oh, oh! He’s a skeleton, he’s not dead! Fly, you fools—Blue’s not dead!”
Maybe Charlotte even considers turning back. Could maybe create some tension for the audience that has already figured it out…↩
Luke: yeah she did!↩
Luke: repetition, or the back of the back of the route?
James: repetition for sure↩
Luke: This needs some finessing, but I really like equating the climb to her previous experience (with rooftops). Not 100% sure why yet, but feels real good.↩
Luke: I love it, but just to play Devil’s Advocate, because you already used a goat reference just above, we should save it?
(I realize it’s a GOAT path, of course, and where else would one find goats? Still… Don’t want to wear out goats.)↩
Luke: I wanted there to be a goat. And there was a goat.↩
Luke: …I have absolutely no idea what you mean.
James: Just that it looks like the goat is slithering up the rockface like a snake. Perhaps we should use those words.↩
Luke: That’s exactly what I thought! 😀
So, in this place between their two respective places of power, they’re taking on traits of one another? Or rather, having those pre-existing traits comes to the surface. This is where they are both Ambassadors AND Barbarian Queens, though they have no time to see it, or think on it.↩
Luke: Maybe not so superficial? And gives them something urgent they need to deal with at the top. Also, after we bandage him, there’s a visual reminder that Raul LOST.
James: Incidentally, there should be a bandaging bit before Blue turns back up↩
Luke: So, I was thinking earlier, why didn’t they get a carrying case while in the village, and for this moment, I’m glad they didn’t. Maybe the sword was too big, or… We should probably come up with a reason that makes sense.
James: because scabbards are made for specific swords, and they couldn’t wait for somebody in the village to make one for this giant accord sword. I image swords are more rare in the forest culture than Fort City, so its not likely there’s going to be one around. Plus, I’m pretty sure greatswords don’t go in scabbards – they’re just to big!↩
James: I can’t remember why I thought it important to bring this back up in this moment. It isn’t evident in the text, which means that it isn’t working, whatever my idea was. I think these sentences can probably be omitted, but they’re here for now because draft.
Luke: Agreed. Also, see next note.↩
Luke: Yes! I really like this, especially without the talk about strength is not a hierarchy.
Let’s have Raul still be reeling a bit from his loss. He’s getting his shit together and moving it, but it’s not nicely stowed away or anything. The turning the quiver into a scabbard thing brings him back a bit, but he’s kind of on autopilot right now. And after Charlotte sees him hurt—yeah, I think it should be a bit more serious. Not completely debilitating, but more hurt—she … I dunno, respect grows? He’s being all Barbarian Queen, bleeding but still climbing a damn escarpment, one handed?
James: good… gooooooood↩
Luke: Did so mostly one handed—mad respect, bruh!↩
Luke: Or perhaps forced bravado….↩
Luke: She sounds really formal here. On purpose? If not, I’m a gonna throw in some contractions in next draft.↩
James: I know you’d probably rather not spend too much time dwelling on that story, but its immortalized now sucka! Also, I’m sorry. Also also, I kinda liked it.
Luke: Hahahaha. I started laughing soon as I read “Joanna”. Then I read this note. Then I finished the paragraph. And you know what—s’cool ;-}
(Guess I’m going to have to do a rewrite / finish it, and get it up on the site. For that, sir, I both despise and love you :-P; but definitely not in that order.)↩
Luke: Dude! Back on the ground, Charlotte had to keep saying Raul’s name to get his attention after he failed his fight. Now he has to keep using her name to get her attention when attached to a wall.
Without each other, they’d both be lost on this quest…
James: hadn’t even considered that, but heck yeah. I’m awesome! (apparently)↩
Luke: Yes—let’s say, for argument, that Raul is still being uncharacteristically quiet up to this point. So Charlotte draws him out. He’s all like, “What?” when she asks “what were you going to say?” but she presses, and gets him talking, which can help get him back to a semblance of his former self (i.e. pushing his failure feels inside, where they can be dealt with at a more opportune time.)↩
Luke: PS – Love this little Raul speech. VERY telling of his character.↩
James: NB: pretty sure I’ve been switching between ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ – do we have a preference?
Luke: Hmmm. I usually default to “Barbarian Queen” to encompass that whole series of skills, demeanor, etc. (Regardless of who’s doing it—C, R, or B—anyone of them would be a BQ.
So…do we accept gendered language and use heroine, or ignore it and just use hero as a genderless term (though it then may not be read as that, and some may claim we’re saying only men are heros. Which we definitely don’t believe, because obvs, Charlotte is our hero.)
a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
a woman admired or idealized for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
So…I think too much about this kind of thing.↩
Luke: “Screaming goats, indeed,” Charlotte muttered. She imagined…↩
James: I think you should be able to see why I went with this, but I’m not married to the word. I wanted something foul to come out of Charlotte’s mouth, but it doesn’t need to be a real swear word. No variety of “goats” really had the oomph, though.
Luke: And would be a bit undercut by the screaming goats just before it. Hmm…
I don’t want it to be a real swear word. The more things I read, the more I realize the stuff I really like doesn’t actually use swear words (other than damn, or hell). Whether that’s because of where they publish or not, I prefer not to.
“Ah, goat herd it.”
“To infinite, and beyond.”
We can talk more in redraft.
Side-thought: after we’ve rewritten each other’s work, and probably gone over everything with a “third draft” or however it works, when we’re feeling very close to it all being done, we should get together and read each section aloud, working together on a final edit. I don’t know if it’ll be helpful (though I feel it would!), but I imagine it could be fun. We take turn reading, we pause whenever something doesn’t sound right and work on it together right there… Side-thought end.
James: We have used Asshole, hell and damn in the past. Just for the record – if we’re purging real swearwords, we’ll need to consider those, too↩
Luke: Dang sir. Well done on the jump scene.↩
Luke: “…realizing for the first time Lucinda was prone to Raul-esque bouts of exposition…”↩
Luke: I see what you’re doing here ;-}
James: And I didn’t even mean to do it, but holy crap, you’re right!↩
Luke: “Hooves, Charlotte, goats have hooves”
That’s still Charlotte talking to herself.↩
Luke: I’d rather she had to did the reverse, slumped or something so the goat goes over. Just as successful, but another option to leaping high in the air? (Contrasting their two styles, giving no preferred treatment to either.) So…I wouldn’t use “slumped” then. Ducked, perhaps.
James: That’s so much better↩
Luke: all goats do.↩
Luke: Raul, laying it on thick, demonstrating his strength. Oh yeah. Perfect.↩
Luke: Nah, too much. Ya broke my belief this is Raul talking.↩
James: Wait, does Raul even know Sandy’s name? I don’t think he does! Might be good to make this more ambiguous. “A soldier!” or “Royal Guard!”
Luke: Yeah, I don’t think he does know yet. But calling either of those seems weird. Maybe Charlotte can say Sandy’s name before the fight? Or perhaps as they’re climbing / running before the climb? Or part of her, “Raul, get up, Sandy Lane is not someone you just beat. You run. Sandy is…Sandy is—violence.”↩
Luke: Haha! Nice.↩
Luke: I don’t really like this line.↩
Luke: Rather than Blue making up stories to negate the “I’m a skeleton” parts, how ’bout he just glosses over. I like the quartermaster line, but if someone where to point out, “It went right through your chest!” he’d basically not hear that part. It just won’t register ’cause it just doesn’t fit. Also, the alzheimer’s kicks in, so he doesn’t need to remember he got skewered.
James: This is a sticky one because you’re right, he probably shouldn’t be making things up, but he isn’t really making things up here (or, at least, shouldn’t appear to be, but its under written). He’s seeing the damage to the armour, not remembering how it got there, looking for a logical conclusion, and then expressing it. It is there, ergo the armour was stabbed, but I am alive, thus I was not wearing it at the time. We can draw that out in a rewrite, I’m sure
His reply to something like ” it went right through your chest!’ would be like “Can’t have done, I’m still breathin'”↩
Luke: Yeah, just like this 😀↩
Luke: I’d like to do just some minor tweaking, but I really like this exchange between all three of them. Well done!↩