“Alright, and that just leaves the fabric, firewood and mangos. Which do you want to get?” Tharol glanced up from the list of needed supplies.
“Fabric,” Bovik said first.
“Mangos,” Beesk smiled. “Of course.”
“That’s fine,” Tharol shrugged. “I don’t mind carrying the wood.”
“Alright, well I’ll meet you back here in half an hour,” Beesk grinned and started to walk away.
“Wait! Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Beesk narrowed his eyes, unsure of what Tharol meant.
“The money?” Tharol reached into his side-pocket and drew out the cloth bag that Master Palthio had also entrusted to them.
“Oh…right…no, don’t worry about it Tharol. I’m alright.”
“But…you have to pay…”
“Yes, I know. I have my own means.”
“From where? We don’t have an allowance or anything.”
“You know, you’re right. And I’ve never liked that, have you?” He looked sympathetically to Tharol, then to Bovik.
“I guess I never really thought about that,” Bovik shrugged.
“The other guard posts pay their acolytes, you know.”
“Yes. And tell you what,” Beesk clapped each of the others on the shoulder like a considerate, big brother, “you let me take care of the mangos and you go pay for the wood. Then you can keep the rest of the money for yourselves. If anyone deserves it, it’s you two.”
Tharol and Bovik were stunned into silence, which gave Beesk just enough opportunity to slip away through the crowds.
“Well what was that all about?” Tharol asked incredulously.
“I don’t know,” Bovik shook his head. “And since when does Beesk talk like that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like–it was like he was talking down to us!”
That was unusual for Beesk. He was both one of the youngest in the order, and also one of its biggest fools. Generally he was a hapless follower, not a condescending master.
“Oh well,” Bovik shook his head. “I guess we can worry about it later. I’ll take my money, Tharol.”
“Of course,” Tharol brought himself back to the matter at hand. “Just enough for the fabric, you understand?”
“I know!” Bovik shot back indignantly. He took the money and walked off in a huff.
Tharol stared after him, feeling guilty for having said that, wondering if he should call out an apology. And it was that moment of distraction which made it all too easy for a young pickpocket to reach up, snatch the dangling money purse out of Tharol’s hands, and dash for the nearest alley!
“Hey!” Tharol cried, and immediately snapped himself out of his reverie to give chase!
He pitched himself forward, so far forward that he nearly fell on his face! His legs made up for it by accelerating to their maximum speed as quickly as possible. Tharol kept his eyes locked on the thief’s curly, brown hair bobbing through the crowd up ahead, never losing his focus on it as he wove around the mass of bodies with practiced skill, inch-by-inch gaining on his quarry.
The youth turned into a nearby alley and Tharol thundered right behind. His stamping feet echoed loudly off the nearby walls, alerting the thief to how near the pursuit was.
The thief gave a single look over his shoulder as he reached the end of the alley, then made a sharp right turn onto the next.
He looked back to see if he had time to hide after making that turn Tharol thought to himself. He’s hoping I’ll go barreling down the next alley and pass him by.
And so Tharol wasn’t surprised when he took the same sharp right turn found no curly, brown head running ahead of him. Tharol slowed to a stop, and instead regarded the sacks stacked against the nearby wall. They appeared to be filled with grain, and stood over four feet tall, more than enough to cover a crouching youth.
He took a careful step careful towards them, but kept his legs on tight springs, ready to give chase once more if the thief suddenly darted out. He took another step. He reached the nearest pile of sacks, and rocked back and forth on his toes, as if preparing to spring up and look over the top of them to the other side.
But in the air he changed it up, tucked his knees to his chest, and kicked out against the wall of grain. He connected with a heavy impact and the whole wall started to collapse backwards! There came a shout of surprise from the other side and the brown, curly-haired thief emerged.
It was a boy about two years younger than Tharol, with a roving, slightly manic look in his eyes. He fixed his unblinking eyes on Tharol, stolen moneybag clutched tightly in fist.
“Give it over,” Tharol demanded. “And I’ll let things go this time.”
The boy lunged at him, swinging the bag of money like a small mace. Tharol flinched backwards, dodging out of the way, then gave a push to the boy’s wrist as it passed him by. The combined momentum spun the boy round and Tharol gave the back a firm kick so that the boy was went sprawling into the toppled sacks of grain.
“I said–” Tharol began authoritatively, but in an instant the boy was on his feet, facing back the right direction, and charging into the fray once more! This time he swung out with his other hand, and Tharol saw a flash of metal in the boy’s grip. A knife!
“Oh, come on–” Tharol sighed.
The boy swung the blade wildly back and forth with no technique at all. Tharol waited patiently, watched for the next time that the boy lashed outwards, leaving his front entirely unguarded. Then Tharol casually stepped into that space and gave a slight punch to the throat. The boy recoiled in shock, hands clasped to his neck.
“Now see here,” Tharol took a step forward, but the boy jabbed out yet again with the knife. Tharol easily grabbed the limb between his hands and gave it a sharp twist. The boy gave a sharp cry of pain and dropped the weapon, though Tharol had been careful not to dislocate the shoulder.
The boy was sprawled out in submission now, and Tharol easily grabbed the money bag and yanked it free. Finally he released the thief, who started to scuttle away, muttering dark oaths under his breath.
“Not so fast,” Tharol said, reaching into the money bag and quickly counting out the coins that had been meant for purchasing the mangos. “Take these.” He threw the gold out onto the ground.
The boy hesitated, as if expecting a trap.
“Go on, take it! And maybe think to ask for help next time, instead of stealing!”
The boy hesitated a few moments more, eyes still locked on Tharol in distrust. But all at once he scrabbled in the dirt, picked up each coin, then ran down the alley, disappearing into its murky shadows.
Tharol watched the dark corner that the boy had disappeared into for a few moments more, shaking his head back and forth. He took a deep breath, turned, and started to make his way back to the market. He hadn’t gone more than five steps, though, when he heard a voice tsk-tsking behind him.
Startled, he spun around and saw a tall, lanky man nestled into the corner where the two alleys ran together. There was no other entrance by which he could have entered without Tharol seeing, so…
“You’ve been there the whole time?” Tharol demanded incredulously.
The man shrugged. “Found a nice corner for my afternoon nap…’til you two come along and noisy the place up.”
Tharol slid his money bag back into his side pocket, uncomfortable with the notion that a stranger had just seen him throwing a handful of gold around.
“That was a mighty strange thing you just did there,” the man squinted, “giving that boy half of your money after working him over!”
“I don’t care if it was strange,” Tharol huffed, not in the mood for idle conversation. “Anyway, it’s none of your business and I’ll be off now.” And so saying he turned to go sulk down the alley.
“Especially strange for a guardsman I would say.”
“Well why did you say that now?” Tharol spun right back around.
“Oh, hello again. I thought you were heading off.”
“I am. Just tell me what you meant by that,” Tharol demanded.
“I don’t think I meant anything by that. Don’t be so touchy.”
“Because it sounded like there was a derision in it, and if there was one you might as well say it plainly to my face.”
“No derision at all! Believe me, I can understand the desire as much as anyone else to get ahead. Your sort have a lot on your plate ‘protecting’ all the rest of us. So I suppose you’ve earned the right to–shall we say–flex your advantage now and again. No one says you’ve done wrong.”
Tharol legitimately had no clue what the man was saying, but was still pretty sure there was a lot of insinuation in it all.
“Do you mean–do you mean to say that guardsmen are being dishonest? Taking advantage of their station somehow?”
“Ehhhh…now this is getting curious. If you don’t mind my asking, are you new to your order?”
“Two years in.”
“Ah. And you haven’t noticed–well, never mind, forget I said anything.”
“No! That’s it, isn’t it? You’re saying you know guardsmen that are somehow using their office for gain, aren’t you? What is it, then?”
“You really don’t know? You’re really that innocent and naïve? You’ve really been two years in your order and haven’t already seen?… Haven’t taken any of the opportunities yourself?” With that last question the man raised a single eyebrow in a highly skeptical manner.
“No! Of course not! How dare you! Why–not that it’s any concern of yours–but the reason I gave those coins to that boy was because they were meant as a bribe and I wanted nothing to do with that!”
“So you say you haven’t seen anything suspicious at your order…but here you were carrying bribe money?”
The man had a point. Indeed, this was a large part of why Tharol was feeling so agitated. The man was hitting directly on the discomfort he had already been feeling from Beesk’s behavior.
Five minutes later and Tharol was hidden in the upper alcoves of the marketplace, watching Beesk joking around with the merchants. They talked like old friends as Beesk helped himself to their wares without ever a coin exchanged between them. He not only filled his satchel with the assigned mangos, but also selected a fine quill, a brass button, and a fried pastry, securing these prizes in his cloak’s inner pocket.
“They know each other,” Tharol observed. “This isn’t him exercising some advantage over them it’s…an arrangement.”
“That’s right,” the slender stranger nodded next to Tharol. “And you really didn’t know?”
“I had no idea. But what is the arrangement?”
“Think, boy. What’s the only thing a guardsman has to offer?”
Tharol frowned in confusion. Guardsmen had no valuable possessions, no influence or power. All they dealt with was watching the gates and keeping them…closed.
“These are outsiders?!” Tharol said so loudly that the thin man frantically moved his finger to his lips. “Sorry,” Tharol hushed his voice. “The other guardsmen are letting outsider merchants in?”
“The market is so weak outside of the City, barely any more than crude bartering. There simply has not been any sovereignty that has prevailed long enough to bring stability to the economy.”
“So bribe a guardsman? Tell him that he can have free wares if he’ll let you pass into the city?”
“A mutually beneficial arrangement, wouldn’t you say?”
“But what about the risk of invasion? It’s rumored that there are still enemies to the city out there!”
The thin man laughed. “Oh it is not merely rumors. Trust me. There are many enemies. Why that is the one banner that the outside hordes can still rally behind. And you can be sure there have are a number of spies that have slipped in among the merchants.”
Tharol stared down at Beesk in shock. How could the youth be so selfish? So willing to advance himself at the expense of the entire populace? Well, Beesk would be held accountable for it, that much was sure! Just wait until the other boys–
Tharol’s eyes went wide with a revelation. “But…none of us guardsmen watch the gate alone. We always watch in groups of three or four.”
So were they all in on it? Was there not a single honest guardsman at their post? At any post?
“And what of the Masters over the towers? Surely they should have started detecting what was going on by now?”
“Um…yeah,” the thin man said as if this was obvious. “You think it’s only the acolytes that do this?”
Then…perhaps even Master Palthio?
On Monday I spoke of timing in a story, particularly during a scene of action. I recommended using short, direct sentences, which can be read in the same amount of time as the moment they describe would take to transpire in real life. In addition I mentioned that the brevity of these scenes does not mean that they should lose their expressive, evocative tone.
With today’s section I experimented on these methods during the fight between Tharol and the thief. It is only a short scene, but for a quick, alleyway brawl that was exactly what it should be, just a few, decisive blows that take about as long to read as it would take to watch.
And as for descriptive prose, I made sure to use adjectives that conveyed the technique and attitude of each boy during their scuffle. Consider the following lines:
Tharol waited patiently, watched for the next time that the boy lashed outwards, leaving his front entirely unguarded. Then Tharol casually stepped into that space and gave a slight punch to the throat.
Tharol is described with phrases like “waited patiently,” “casually stepped,” and “gave a slight punch to the throat.” It is clear to the reader that he is calm, collected, and precise. The boy, meanwhile, “lashed outwards” and left “his front entirely unguarded.” He is untrained, blustering, and prone to error. I don’t have to delve into technical jargon or complicated mental diagrams to get the reader to picture this fight accurately and expressively.
All in all I was quite pleased with the turnout, but then I ran into some trouble immediately after. For this scene quickly transitions to Tharol’s conversation with the thin stranger, and I found it difficult to make that change smoothly.
As I reflected on the reason why, it was because I was still in a mode of writing the sentences in a short, abrupt manner, which was now at odds with the more leisurely cadence of a conversation. Like Tharol, I was still a bit flushed from the rush of combat, and needed to calm myself down.
There was an important lesson for me in this, all about how to not just throw away a bad piece of writing, but to examine it and understand why I wrote it the way you did. That way I can be more purposeful in my next attempt, rather than randomly scribbling things out in the hope that one of these iterations will happen to feel right.
I’ll take some time to examine this in greater detail with my next post, and also share the specifics on how smoothed out the transition of the two scenes in this chapter. Come back on Monday to read about that.