This was my first attempt at writing in Blue’s voice, and if I do say so myself, I think I completely missed the target (so completely I hit the bulls-eye three targets over). It’s also the first time I’ve ever tried to write a character that someone else first established. It was an interesting experience, and one that showed me I need a better process to internalize an external voice. After talking with James about it, I realized I needed to go back through the sections he wrote, paying close attention to Blue’s voice, to learn the nuances of it and how he speaks.
This whole section was intended mostly as a gag, i.e. Blue steals a pie, but as per my style, that wasn’t enough for me. I needed a deeper purpose, so that’s why I found Charlotte dealing with an internal struggle about she and her companions acting like thieves. We’ll see if it remains in the final cut, but it showed me something more about my writing process and need.
As the remaining miles pounded out beneath them under the hammer of the horses’ hooves, the walls of Fort City began to loom in the distance. The entire city was one large edifice, thus proving its name apt, but much foresight had gone into its construction. Charlotte often wondered if they’d had some sort of seer on the construction crew. What, historically, was built as an outpost to guard the path through the mountains was constructed on such a massive scale that when families of the soldiers started showing up there was nothing but room for them. Why build it so large? Unless the intention was always to turn it into a city state. 1
Hours before, at the first sighting of the great wall that wrapped her home in a masonry hug, Charlotte had urged the trio off the main road.2 She realized it had been foolish to follow it for any length at all, but with a familiar place stretching out before her she had succumbed to muscle memory. Eventually her wits caught up to her, luckily before they arrived at the gate.3
“But,” Raul had asked as she told them they were abandoning the road, “you said the road leads to the only gate on this side of the city.”4
Charlotte agreed. “But we have no way of knowing how far behind us Vilnius is, or, worse, how far ahead.5 You remember the black armbands at the accord, right?”
A formless shadow crossed Raul’s face. “Of course.”
“Well Vilnius has had a hell of a lot more time to place plants in the City. We try to go through the main gate, all we’re likely to get is a sword through us. Besides, see the cloud? On the horizon, just a bit before the wall?”
“Aye, lassy, be the patrol of the…wassis?6 Merfolk brigade… Those that be waiting for the fall of justice.”
Charlotte cocked an eyebrow, but nodded again. “Do you know that it’s not Vilnius’ crew? Or that he hasn’t sent a runner ahead of both him and us? That could be an entire platoon—”7
“Fishes! That be the one. From the high up place that keeps the inside out.”
“—with orders to shoot us on sight.”
“But you are known to them, are you not?”
“We can’t take that risk.” Charlotte turned her horse off the track. “Come on. Hyah!”
The other two had followed without further argument—Blue, because his duty had sworn him to protect an ambassador of Fort City, and Raul because he had absolutely no control of his horse—but a voice inside Charlotte argued on their behalf.
“Is it even conceivable that Vilnius could have gained control of an entire Wall Platoon? A few broken individuals swayed by a payday boon, of course, but if you were to stand defiantly in front of the entire platoon and proclaim loudly your name and station, and the quest you are upon—”
“Then Vilnius’ man, too stupid to understand consequences, fires an arrow through my heart and the King awaits Vilnius’ explanation. Then it’s a grief stricken war, as well as vengeance one.”
Charlotte could see Lucinda’s face, arms crossed, eyes glaring. Charlotte had seen it often, especially when she attempted to compare real life to Suzannah’s8 stories. Or when she’d purposefully been ignorant during a lesson.
“I’m not wrong,” she muttered to herself. “One arrow and this all falls apart.” Her mind’s Lucinda still glowered at her. “Don’t give me that look. You’re the one that went and died.9 I’m doing the best I can here.”
Charlotte was quiet in her thoughts as more miles ran by. The closer she got to Fort City, the more mixed her emotions became. She had thought she’d be happy—this was home, after all—as they got closer to her power, the world in which she excelled. But thoughts of the farmer, and the race with Vilnius, distracted from the joy. They were still hours away, yet the walls of her home were clearly visible in her mind’s eye,10 with the towering King’s Finger, home to the lord and commander, rising above; watching.
The guards, when they thought she wasn’t listening, had a fonder name for the seat of power in the City, but Charlotte had never said it aloud. She was saving that card for an opportune moment, but the thought of the place slowed her down until, along the side of the imaginary road they were travelling, she stopped.
“Blue needs a disgui—oh, bother.”
Raul’s horse, content to keep up with her rapid pace, since his rider was beyond useless in the saddle, ignored the change and continued forward. Raul tried to turn it around, but was unable to do more than flick the reins impotently. Eventually, confused, the horse slowed and trotted in a circle. Charlotte watched for a bit, doing her best to keep the smile from her face—and failing—eventually calling the horse with a loud whistle. The beast immediately cantered back to her position. Blue’s horse, with Blue rattling away on top, came to a gradual halt next to them.
“Who’sa in the what?”
Charlotte nodded into the distance, where a homestead stood quietly. “Blue, you need a disguise.”
“Aye,11 I be too much glory fer yer younger soldiers.”
“That’s not… There’s a home, over the hills, you see it?”
Raul squinted. “Excellent! I’m sure they’ll have clothing willing to spare.” He kicked at his horse and flicked the reins, causing the horse to sidestep before starting to circle in place again.
“We can’t just ride up and ask them. You do remember what happened with the farmer, don’t you?”
“A true point! Then we can make a fine guise from what linens they have displayed on that line.”
“Aye, an’ there be a gap ‘tween me ribs aye’m dying to fill. Think thar’ be some food, too?”
Charlotte didn’t say anything, but whistled again, urging all three horses into a slow walk up to the house. There was no smoke in the stack,12 and Charlotte was hopeful that, given the time of day, they were away at the City market.
As the trio trotted up, Charlotte said, “We’ve already stolen the horses.”
“Indeed! An excellent display of knavery I would say, why, there was no way for the owners to know what had happened, let alone track us.”
“Ah, I see the conundrum. How shall we pull off the same feet here, when the line is in full display of the house windows. Well, Charlie, just like when I overcame the Bog Thrashers juveniles, I have a plan. We need a horse, a distraction, and an old egg.”
“Raul, the house is empty. We don’t need—where’d you think you’d get an egg?”
A bony hand appeared in front of Charlotte, a dirt stained egg cradled between its fingers. “Ye can have mine, lassy.”13
“Where’d you get an egg!?”
“Back at ‘e, uh, whassis? Logs in a pile round a fire? Homeplace, y’know. We took these mighty carry-things. Gotta have me lucky egg. Every soldier needs a lucky egg.”14
Charlotte sighed. “You stole an egg, too.”
Blue grinned, but he always grinned. “Aye, lassy! And a fine lucky, er, fine lucky…A fine piece o’ luck it be.”
“See! Everything is well then. Though, if you say, the house is as empty indeed as it looks—which my powers of deduction confirm—then we won’t need the Great Egg-Stravaganza.” He paused. “But you’re not happy…”
“No, Raul, I’m not.”
“Well… We could do it anyway.” He grinned nearly as wide as Blue. “Perhaps there’s a hidden foe within the house—”
“House! Aye, that be the whoja.”15
“—that needs distracting afterall.”
Charlotte sighed. “It’s not the distraction. We stole horses, an egg, and now we’re going to steal someone’s clothes off their line. We’re thieves!”
Raul bounced along in quiet contemplation for several moments, his quoff dancing to a different rhythm.16 It’ll still be perfect when he gets off the horse, though, Charlotte thought. It’s like everything we do just bounces off him. But Charlotte remembered the goat path, too.
“Charlie, I’ve given it a lot of thought…”
“Well—are you sure you’ve, I mean, the excellent adventure we’ve found ourselves on, quite unprepared from the outset, mind! Do you think…perhaps…”
“Would you just spit it out, Raul?”
“He’s a tryin’ to say—’so what’?”
“Aye.” Raul nodded agreement.17
“What does it matter that we’re thieves!?” Both her companions nodded.
“It matters because we’re not thieves!” Charlotte was panting heavily. They had reached the house, and if anyone was home, they’d definitely have heard her outburst. All three sat silent for a moment, but there was no movement inside, not even the rattle of someone grabbing grandfather’s old crossbow off the mantle and hiding beneath the window.
That’s exactly the kind of home it looked like, too. Passed down through the generations from father to daughter, daughter to son. Every passing year just a little more family quaintness added. I bet there’s even a pie, cooling on the window sill. It was the epitome of home. The cliche image that lived in everyone’s mind. It was a stand in for every family, every farm, every home that they were on this quest to save. It was the heart of what made Fort City great. It’s the scene of our next crime.
“Look, I’m just saying… We have a way of doing things in Fort City. We don’t just take what we want from one another. We—follow a sense of what’s right.” Charlotte looked from the walking skeleton to the smiling bandit. “We… I don’t know what I’m saying.” She slumped in her saddle. “I know we need the disguise—”
“Aye, can’t just go walkin’ a dirty, woods savage through the heart o’ town, now can we.”
“—but I guess I just wish there was a better way, you know?” Charlotte watched Blue slide sideways until he collapsed into a pile of bones beside the horse, before picking himself up and brushing off.18 Charlotte dismounted too, and held Raul’s reins so he could fall off himself. “Doesn’t it bother you that this is how we have to survive up here?”
“Not really, Charlie. I… steady, mighty beast, steady… I don’t worry much about—oof! That’s how I’ve always lived.”
“No it’s not. In your village—the whole town just gave us our gear. We didn’t need to steal anything.”
“Yes. But—where do you think we got that gear?”
“What do you—oh. Oh.” For a moment, nothing happened. Then the blush began to creep up Charlotte’s skin all the way from her toes. “Raul, I’m sorry, I—I didn’t think.”
Brushing himself off, Raul waved a hand at her. “Think nothing of it, Charlie.”
“I’ve been riding with you so long now, I kind of…forgot what it used to be like between our peoples.”
“Yes—and that’s the very thing we ride to protect. Isn’t it? A Cottonwood that doesn’t have to steal from the City.” Raul paused for a moment. “A City that doesn’t have to fear the Cottonwood.”
Charlotte nodded, something inside her clicking back into place. “A City and a Wood without fear, that doesn’t steal from each other. There’s a long road to amends,” Charlotte said, gathering up all three horses reins, “but we can start now. I’m going to let the horses go, send them back to their master. We won’t be able to sneak them into the City and—it’s the right thing to do.” She turned each horse to face towards home, detached the reins from each bridle, and stored them in their saddlebags. She carefully released the Accord sword and slung it onto her back. The weight sank heavily into her shoulders again, but she was ready for it.
“Raul, care to do the honours of sending them home?”
“Just give each a swift smack on their rear, and they’ll take off.”
Raul stepped up the first horse, which turned its head and stared with one eye at the Cottonwood man. “Erm… I think it’s best if you do it, Charlie.”
“Perhaps you’re right. Come on, uhh, horses. Time to run home.” With three swift smacks, they took off, rising up and down the rolling plains as they headed into the distance.
“Come on, let’s head on. We’re close, but there’s still a lot of ground before the wall. We’ll figure out a different way to disguise…Blue?”
“Either he’s doing an excellent imitation of the Hidden Fen ‘Gator, or he’s not here.”
Both people turned to the east, where the horses were galloping away at speed, far faster than any human could hope to run. “He didn’t get back on, did he?” Charlotte asked. “I mean, I saw him fall off. How could he have—”
“‘ow could who a don’ wha, Lassy?”
Charlotte turned, and Blue was suddenly beside her, a large sheet draped over his shoulder, his one skeletal arm plunged into two pairs of pants, a shirt, and a lady’s brassiere. One bony hand was holding aloft a pie tin, the other using his exposed phalanges to scoop out the blueberry filling inside. He shoved a large handful into his skull and began to chew, the purplish-blue filling dripping bit by bit between his ribcage.
“Aye, we’re hungry lass. On an important, wassis, thing with a goal? Gotta keep yer, uh, muscle stat up.”19 He offered her the tin.
Charlotte sighed, staring at the fitting stain on Blue’s face.20 “Make sure to grab a scarf, too.”
James: This suggests a kind of ignorant hubris on Charlotte’s part. It wasn’t built that big at first – it couldn’t have been. It grew as time went on! But Charlotte is a kind of “here-and-now” person, and I can believe she would think the city sort of sprung up out of the ground in its current state – in fact, I can believe that is what was taught to her by a self-important society↩
James: Correct me if I’m wrong, but they should have never been on the main road at all↩
Luke: So, obviously, this is an apt course. Truth and appearance, after all. BUT! It’s also like 60% “…how do I face the King? I can’t do it…”
The King representing … everything to her. The City, her family, her duty. All the things she failed at the Accord (you know, when her boss/mentor/mother-figure was literally burnt from the inside out). Part of her is scared to go back, and not just because of Vilnius.↩
Luke: He doesn’t refer to it as, “the City”. Yet. Could be useful to have his thoughts of it change later. Or—it might not come up.
James: I’m pretty sure I often have him calling it “your Fort City” – which could result in the same sort of mental shift as you’re setting up here. if you approve, lets bring that over! It could be interesting to have him change that language later, as you suggest↩
Luke: So the fact that they can see the City, and the platoon (keep reading) “kicking up dust” just outside of it means they could see V if he was ahead (but we know he’s not at this point). Still, may be weird to have Charlotte say it. Of course, if she’s grasping at anything to delay arrival… (see next note).↩
James: “whatsit” – Blue is many things, but he is not a mumbler.↩
Luke: I know a platoon is NOT a fish (I checked) but it sounds like a fish to me (which is the joke. It does to Blue, too).
Just stretching my Blue legs here.
(Sidenote: not a fish-dig at you. Honest.)
James: I get what you’re going for, but the association of “platoon” and “fishes” need to be logical and/or ingrained. Blue’s ability to use words is limited only by his inability to remember the right ones. There is no aspect of aphasia in it – for this to work, he must have always thought that the two words were connected. It can’t be a new association because his brain doesn’t work that way – he’s set in his routines, his entire life is habit – he repeats habitual behavior. I can accept that platoon sounds like a fish to you, but as a reader, I can’t understand implicitly why that would be, so I missed the joke without your comments.↩
James: I think this might be the first time you’ve used this name!↩
Luke: NOTE: At this point in the story, is Charlotte ready to be glib about this yet?
Check back during rewrites / when we have completed first draft text.
James: definitely worth looking into. Also consider the stage of grief or whatever. Charlotte has already expressed a few flashes of anger at lucinda for dying – is this a sort of acceptance of that anger? A way of moving past it? Anyway, I really like this line, so I hope i feels right in a final draft↩
James: Blue is many things, but he also isn’t scottish (the “lassie” above felt a little out of place and definitely too familiar… he’s a good soldier and his habit has always been using addressing people properly)
Luke: (After talking about it, I realized I was writing Durkon’s voice, from Order of the Stick. I was re-reading the series at the point of writing this section, so it makes sense I let his voice creep in. I mean, skeleton’s and cleric dwarves—basically the same thing, right?)↩
James: generally reserved for factories. We probably just want to go with chimney↩
James: hahahahaa — Where!?↩
James: t might be better if there was no explanation. Or just a “Every soldier needs a lucky … thing… hard and white… with the sun inside” Stands to reason that is soldiers need lucky eggs, Blue, as a survivor, would always have one. Impossibly, after so many years, it might even still be fresh↩
James: I like the idea that by this point Charlotte and Raul have stopped providing Blue with the missing words. I also like how he’s a little behind the conversation – though, he musn’t be behind all the time. He needs lucid moments, too!↩
James: I’ve been meaning to insert more hair references to Raul in my bits, and I keep forgetting. I’m so glad this is here↩
James: Excellent – Raul’s history in the cottonwood, wrapped up in occasional banditry, and Blue’s history as a soldier with “foraging” (theft from the enemy) and probably deals with the quartermaster (theft from Fort City) means there is some familiarity and comfort with larceny in these two men. Charlotte would be the one to question it.↩
James: this is a great image↩
Luke: Yes, it’s a D&D / RPG joke that isn’t working as well as I wanted.
We can turn it back to just “strength”↩
James: y’know, technically blueberries leave a purple stain (I’ll tell myself to shut the hell up now)↩