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OLDSOUL
February 10th, 2013, 06:11 AM
Chapter 1: The palpable night.


Spurheart cursed under his breath as he squinted through the thin glass casing of the lantern, a grave look befalling his scarred face as he inspected the candle inside. Brine felt his heart sink; it wasn't often he saw emotion in the stoic face of his superior. He looked to the sun setting over the Mirror wood. The wind barely stirred.


"We've got cut wicks, men," Spurheart barked across the square, to a group of lingering watchmen. "Light the beacons. The sun falls heavy and the enemy sleeps by our hearths. We have an ambush on our hands."


The other watchmen scattered immediately from the lanterns, toward the beacon walk at the gates and to their posts. Some unsheathed their swords and strung their bows as they ran. Spurheart knew the perpetrator was either long gone or too well guised to be found. He cursed nondescriptly again before sounding the dusk siren. The oaken horn bellowed through the town. He heard the gruff voices of his men shouting his orders from the Estates as the horn diminuendoed.


Spurheart beckoned a passing watchmen to attention with a sharp whistle. The burly man sprinted over, faster than Brine imagined a man of his stature could. His features were strong and sharp and his cloak bulged ill-fittingly at his biceps.


"Flit, you are to gather ten men and make certain that every settler in Mud and stone has a bed laid in their cellars tonight. No one is to surface until they hear the dawn siren. They are to sleep bathed in lantern light tonight. If you see Grail, tell him I require his consult." Flit nodded servilely and took off into the gathering dusk without a word.


Spurheart stared for a lingering moment up at the tree line that was barely visible over the high wall of the settlement, his brow furrowed deeply. The sun just peered through the top of it's serrated brows. Brine often wondered what the man did to read the sky. There was much to learn about reading, of which he knew very little. Spurhearts lessons had been short-lived. He was no mentor. His patience for it ran dry as quickly as a mug of ale might if was set in front of him. The man was flighty and impatient at the best of times, but for what he lacked in patience, he made up in quickness; of wit and with in battle. The warmth of Spurhearts torch licked at Brines face as he turned to face him.


"Keep one eye on your back and the other on the shadows tonight, boy. You're going to see things I hoped you wouldn't have to, on your first night on the watch." He turned back to his stargazing.


Brine had been privy to enough mead-fuelled dining hall conversations to be rightfully fearful of Spurhearts sternness. When the watchmen drank too much, they'd brandish their missing extremities in each others faces and crow their stories to anyone that would listen. They were all of them ruthless men and wore little shame. Women seldom ate in the dining halls anymore, most of the benches sat empty. The sense of competition usually spurred them on, but lately Brine had noticed that they were more withdrawn. The seating became more spread out and some men barely ate. The nights on the watch were certainly taking their toll of late and now not one of them seemed able to face the watch sober. They'd sneak ales onto their posts when the merchants brought it back from Trill. Brine had taken the empty bed of a former watchmen in the barracks and he'd feasted on the fruits of the hunt for over a month. It was time now for Brine to earn his keep.


"Best get a fire blazing in your station before you find yourselves lost in the dark, watchers of the night," said Grail as he traversed hastily toward the pair. Brine, still caught off guard by the light-footedness of the settlers found his hand on the hilt of his sword. Grail eyes almost made it there before Brines own hand did. Always watchful. Spurheart turned to meet Grails ruminative gaze. Unease flecked the old mans expression as he listened.


"I know what has happened here," Spurheart said, tapping on the glass casing of the lantern. It swung audibly on it's hook momentarily. "We've overlooked so much. I fear the nights have crept into us all. It is only now that I look soberingly at how far I've fallen into myself."


"The men have not been eating as they should," Grail said reflectively. "That much I have noticed. And they can't seem to face the night without half a bottle of Gutrot to help them."


"If you ponder over it further you'll find that this all has happened around the time the animals of the woods went stark," Spurheart said, staring intently into the face of the chieftain, who returned his stare with a blank look. "Have we not been eating stark meat for weeks now?"


"Aye, that we have," he said finally. "What say you about that, watcher?"


"Perhaps the stark meat has taken hold of us." Spurheart said, realising suddenly the extent to which the night had penetrated the settlement. "My Lord, we must be vigilant tonight. I fear the worst."


"I have felt my head growing heavy over the weeks. I sleep shallowly, if at all." Grail glanced sidelong at Brine then. "I hate to say it Spurheart, but I've felt this foreboding since your prodigy here, found his way inside our gates."


Spurheart looked startled by the comment. "We do not point fingers outside of the room of Inquisition, Grail. You know this. Besides, Brine has been under my watch and I can assure you none of this involves him."


"Just keep your heads out of the blackness," Grail said, meeting Spurhearts eyes again. "We have a long night ahead of us. To your posts watchmen. That's an order." Grail took off hastily across the square toward the barracks and the West watch.


Spurheart wasted no time in beckoning Brine to follow him. He knew he had questions but they would have to wait until they had a fire burning on their perch.
He started walking briskly toward the Estates.


Mudbrick establishments flickered with candlelight and pattered with strained conversation as they passed. "We must move with haste," Spurheart said over his shoulder. "Nights like these have claimed some of our finest men. I want to feel your feet clipping my heels wherever the nights takes me."


Brine couldn't muster up the strength to reply for fear of vomiting. His breath caught in his throat audibly as he followed Spurheart through the roiled mud and stone streets of Mud and Stone. It was growing unnaturally cold and the sounds of the villagers letting fall the hatches of their candlelit cellars were muffled slightly by the crawling darkness. Shadows stretched like molasses behind buildings. Brine noticed that Spurheart kept out of the darker shadows and stayed on the winding paths through the Estates that the last gleam of twilight still touched.


Brine heard Spurheart muttering under his breath. He only heard it disjointedly, punctuated by the spitting of certain words. He might've been praying, Brine had no way of knowing. Brine heard the clinking of what sounded to be vials in Spurhearts pockets. He glanced down the narrow alleys with wide-eyes, as if opening them further would allow him to see through the shadowed areas of the town.


Brine saw a fire burning atop the east perch when they reached it. The night seemed thinner already due to the light given off by the massive bonfire. It appeared to have been constructed using interlocked pine wood probably smothered with blubber harvested from seals at Crabpot. It held the flame and syphoned it up like a chimney. Brine felt as though he could breath again without inhaling the noxious darkness. He noticed a solitary figure atop the perch. Spurheart turned to Brine with a furrowed brow as if he had something urgent to say.


"If you keep creasing your brow like that, you'll get wrinkles." Brine said. After a moment his scarred face relaxed, as if he drove whatever plagued him from his mind consciously. Watchmen were adept at emptying their minds when they felt the seed of an intrusive thought being implanted. Brine guessed that that might be why they were drunk so often.


"Brine, my boy. I knew there was a reason I dragged you out of the sea that day."


Brine smiled back meekly.


"You almost make me regret giving you that name, lad." Spurheart said with a wide smile he made sure the boy saw. He laid a heavy, calloused hand on his shoulder and stared into his creaseless face.

"Almost."

Spurheart laughed as he ascended the rungs of the ladder to the perch.

bazz cargo
February 11th, 2013, 10:17 PM
Hi Ya Oldy,
This is something different. Great opening line. Some fantastic names. Lovely atmosphere. I liked some of the language and a lot of the hints at other things known but not shared.

diminuendoed. Don't often see that word in a story. diminuendo'd?

This reads a bit like an early draft. It has a few too many name checks in the dialogue. Giving one of the characters a 'speech tick' would help there.
And not a lot happened.

Very cool stuff. I'd enjoy reading on.
Bazz

OLDSOUL
February 12th, 2013, 01:28 AM
Hi Ya Oldy,
This is something different. Great opening line. Some fantastic names. Lovely atmosphere. I liked some of the language and a lot of the hints at other things known but not shared.

diminuendoed. Don't often see that word in a story. diminuendo'd?

This reads a bit like an early draft. It has a few too many name checks in the dialogue. Giving one of the characters a 'speech tick' would help there.
And not a lot happened.

Very cool stuff. I'd enjoy reading on.
Bazz

Thank you Bazz. I've been hanging to get some feedback on this one.

Diminuendoed is right according to my dictionary of choice. It might be a word I cull anyway. It's a bit "hey, I'm a writer. Look at me write."

Before I write the next draft I'm going to stop and do some heavy character and history development so I can come back and jazz it up.

egpenny
February 21st, 2013, 04:00 AM
I agree with Bazz on the first paragraph and the early draft.
It was easy to read, but I have to say that by halfway through the chapter I didn't have a clue of what was going on. I got that they were expecting trouble, but from who and why and did I even care? A little history needs to be there, as you indicated. You need to indicate what the plot is and the who villians are.

In my opinion some of your adverbs are more complicated than they need to be and made me stop reading to think, "Why is he using that word?" For instance; nondescriptly, servilely, soberingly.