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(DRAFT) Miscreants: Inauguration - Chapter 5.4

by Liminality


Summary:

The Kingdom of Woodlands is at the end of a 10-year war, which resulted in the formation of a new social class called the heroes. People are vying for power in the new regime.

In this chapter, Gerhard, the advisor of a hero company, is training the company’s tagalong youngster Tanya for a celebratory tournament. Golzar, now Gerhard’s commander, wants to reform the constitution of the Heroes’ Guild and restrict what actions heroes can take to complete quests. She broods over a puzzling set of letters from the Queen, who has suggested she will support this reform. Gerhard is concerned by this.

Noticing something amiss with Gerhard, Golzar takes him aside and finds out he has continued misgivings about her alliance with the Queen. Both of them reminisce about a winter during the war, where the heroes’ moral fibre was challenged.

In the morning, there were puddles, large but shallow, all over the compound. They had spread like mushrooms overnight, and now reflected the grey images of that large stone building, and occasionally the figure of someone walking past.

The water splashed against Gerhard’s legs as Tanya made another feint.

“That’s good, Tanya! But keep your stride shorter! Don’t move more than you have to.”

Ever since they’d changed the sword Tanya was using, she’d been getting better and better. But slashing was a huge concern. Gerhard watched as Robert raised his wooden sword to block Tanya’s attack. He’d chosen the large muscular young man as Tanya’s practice target, because no doubt most of the participants of the tournament would be built similarly to Robert.

To win, Tanya would have to disarm her opponent, and to do that, she would need to get close.

The spar ended with Robert knocking the wooden blade out of her hand.

“Was that good? You think I’ll last a few matches, at least?” Tanya said, panting. Her eyes implored Gerhard like a puppy’s.

Gerhard spoke reflexively. “I don’t know.”

Tanya’s face fell. Gerhard’s chest went cold. He was doing it again, he thought. He was winding himself like a snake around these poor kids. It was not in his nature to get people’s hopes up for things that could potentially disappoint them, he knew, and yet he seemed to make things worse. Instinctively his eyes flickered to Golzar.

She was at the edge of the training grounds, having run drills with the others that morning. She had her head bent over stacks of papers, a puddle just inches away from her feet. Too busy to be of any help here, clearly.

“I think . . . you have potential,” Gerhard regarded Tanya carefully. “You’re getting good at striking fast. The others will have more battle experience than you, but in terms of duelling, well, it’s different.”

By now, Tanya was looking at him again, leaning forward from where she stood clutching the wooden training blade.

“Not all of the competitors will be like Golzar. They’re not running around challenging people to duels whenever they see fit. And you’ve got plenty of experience sparring with one of us at a time, which means . . .”

“Which means I could make it?”

“Hmm. You could.”

Tanya grinned. “Alright Robert! Time for round two!”

Robert smiled, nodding. He’d been quiet since he and Gerhard returned from the market. They had both gotten plenty of stares from the merchants, but ultimately the return of the stolen good had gone over smoothly. Robert was young. It wasn’t entirely unexpected for someone his age to swipe something off a crate.

Still, Gerhard sighed. He had needed to put on his most dignified, regal show of apology, asking Robert to apologise verbally to the offended freeperson. It had taken a lot of energy out of the both of them.

As the two younger ones started up their sparring again, Gerhard noticed that Golzar was beginning to talk to herself over the paperwork. He could hear the threads of speech from the side of the training grounds.

“What on earth is she getting at?” she muttered, voice edging towards the sea of frustration building up inside her. “The last message I understood, but where in the palace is there ‘mushroom stew’ with the scent of ‘wrinkled old men’, and why does she want to have a private conversation there?!”

Of course. Her meetings with the Queen. Gerhard looked down at the cobblestones.

“Gerry, is everything alright?” Tanya piped up. She was picking up her sword from the floor again. “You look stressed.”

When Gerhard didn’t reply, Tanya wandered over, sword in hand. “Did someone bully you? Do you need me to beat him up for you?”

“No, Tanya. Everything’s fine.” Gerhard smiled.

The girl smiled back, but he could see the shiver of doubt in her eyes. It reminded him of his siblings, from a long time ago. How they could always sense if the house was running low on food or when one of the cows had escaped and Gerhard was trying not to let them know while the adults were looking high and low for it.

When Golzar saw Gerhard was unoccupied, she stacked all her papers together, stood up and approached him. Her hair was dishevelled, loose curls limp on her forehead. “Can we talk for a bit?”

“Right now?”

Golzar nodded at him. Her eyes were bright, as if there were things she couldn’t wait to tell him. He followed her into the halls.

~

With everyone outside or already in the common room, the corridors were silent. Gerhard was, too. It unsettled Golzar. Normally he would be prattling on, asking what she’d wanted to talk to him about or reminding her of four or five meetings she had later in the day. But now he walked beside her with his walking stick, gaze downcast, pensive. It was as though a usually energetic hound had fallen ill all of a sudden, and all she could do was stare at him and hover wondering what was wrong.

There was a pungent scent in the air, something a bit like mint. Golzar realised it was coming from the sprig of rosemary that Gerhard had kept pinned to his cloak. It was a nostalgic fragrance, and brought back memories of the times they had spent in the herb gardens of one noble or another, during downtime at the war.

“Everything alright?” Golzar tucked her papers against her hip. “Tanya didn’t try to disown you or anything did she? I’ll give her a stern talking to, yes?”

“No, no she didn’t. ‘S all good.”

“Hmm.” Golzar decided against asking Gerhard out right what was biting him. He could be surprisingly inventive at times, and cook up a lie that would take her on a wild goose chase.

“So . . . what did you call me in here for?”

“You went to scout the palace folk yesterday, didn’t you? What did you find?”

Gerhard froze for a moment. He sighed, grey eyes flicking up towards the ceiling. “Rumour has it, so did you.”

“I did,” Golzar responded quickly.

The rosemary scent seemed to get stronger as they proceeded deeper into the halls. Maybe Gerhard had put some up throughout the building as well, even though Golzar couldn’t see the green stalks herself. “I don’t mean to nag, Golzar, it’s just – getting involved with the Queen is dangerous.”

Golzar hummed. The Guild was just as dangerous, if one asked her. She could feel the cold anger behind William’s stare, even without his presence here.

They headed into the kitchens. There was no one there. The bowls were all stacked up neatly in their shelves, and the tables had mostly been mopped clean. Golzar watched as Gerhard, as usual, picked up a rag absently from the rack and began to scrub at some stubborn stains.

Golzar looked at the cloth hanging on the wall of the kitchens. A black sheet of wool, dyed silver in some parts to form the many-rooted oak tree of the Heroes’ Guild coat-of-arms.

She chuckled. “You know when I first joined you guys, I thought the whole of the Heroes’ Guild was like you.”

Briefly, Gerhard looked up from his cleaning. “What do you mean?”

Golzar turned aside, avoiding his gaze. “That they all made up their sleeping furs for each other and cooked soup in the mornings.”

For a moment, Gerhard was quiet. She wasn’t sure if he’d get the message, but that was all she could come up with. Then, after a bit, he responded.

“That so, huh.”

Golzar still remembered.

~

One winter there was a storm. The snow piled like fortresses on either side of the camp, locking them in. Like solid white ocean waves, as though a coastal flood was ready to happen. It was the middle of Whitedawn, and Frosttide seemed eons away. They were all counting the days of the month, sometimes wondering how long they would hold out. There was only the village they had camped beside for.

The withered old man stood with clenched fists in front of his house, as though the heroes were there to eat his children. “We don’t have any more.”

“Don’t joke around,” Thornston said, despite the sharp look Golzar was sending his way. His breath fogged the air. Gerhard did not look at him, instead giving the civilian a bow.

“We won’t bother you. Thank you for your help,” Gerhard told him.

The three of them trudged through the snow, the village disappearing behind them. As they did, Thornston glared at Gerhard. “You’re kidding, we’ll all starve this way.”

“No, we won’t.” Grey eyes stared calmly ahead. “There’s enough to keep us.”

Back at camp, Gerhard ran the soup down with water, made from melted ice. The night sky was indigo above them, and it seemed to shift around, it seemed to move, like there were ripples of black coursing through it.

“We survived on this much last winter.” Gerhard spooned out a portion and handed it to one of the recruits’ shivering hands. “And there were hundreds more men back then.”

Golzar thought of the three women that had perished in the snow. She thought of the boy that ran out into the forest looking for squirrels to hunt and never came back. She thought of all the ones who died not in the winter, but later in the spring, when their malnourished bodies suddenly gave out on them. ‘Survived’ was a strong word. But what was there that she or Gerhard could do in this situation? No matter what, they wouldn’t steal from the villagers.

The embers of the fire glowed red. It drew long shadows, which stretched out towards the surrounding trees and snowbanks.

David arrived, eyes downcast. “I made a mistake, sir. There’s only one bushel of bread left. I – I thought there was more, but – “ David was cut off.

“Don’t worry ‘bout it.” Gerhard handed him a bowl of soup.

David looked down at Gerhard’s outstretched hand, but then accepted the food. His face was bone-white. He nodded. “I’ll go get the others?”

“Go,” Gerhard smiled.

This was what Gerhard’s company were like. They were irrational. Avoidant of conflict. Kind.

Thornston scoffed at him. He had his spear hoisted over his shoulder, over the thick black furs he wore. “You can go hungry for all I care.”

As he left, Golzar wondered if she should follow him. See if he went back to the farmer’s to steal food from the family.

Behind her, Gerhard sighed heavily. “Leave ‘im be, Golz’. Save your strength.”

A breeze blew past them, cold, smelling of winter, of absence. Golzar shrugged, turning around. She began to walk away, ignoring the feel of Gerhard’s worried gaze on her back.

The next morning, Golzar came back to the campfire. Gerhard was sitting there alone, tending the red coals. Meanwhile, Golzar had taken the remains of the soup from one of the others, who had finished dishing it out to the furthest camp. She poured out a bowl of it.

“Gerry. Eat.”

“What are you talkin’ ‘bout?” Gerhard clapped her on the shoulder. “I ate earlier. You should have the healer check your eyes. Or your memory. Possibly both.”

“Where were you, anyway?”

Golzar stayed silent.

Gerhard’s brow furrowed. “Don’t tell me you went stalkin’ the guy. You don’t trust your comrades well enough?”

Oh, she trusted Thornston to disobey Gerhard’s orders on this, she thought. Even though Gerhard had been appointed leader of this quest.

“He didn’t go back to the village,” Golzar said. Thornston had taken one look at her, when she approached him at camp, and then spat, marching back to his tent. He had muttered something about not having the time or energy for another duel.

Gerhard was silent for a moment, but then he nodded. “Good enough for me.”

“You’re seriously not having any?” Golzar gestured towards the pot.

“How many times do I have to say it, Golzar?” Gerhard poked at a coal, hissing when the motion flicked sparks at his hand. “ I ate earlier.”

~

Gerhard knew what she meant. He was sure he’d thought the same, when he’d first seen William and the Bold Hundreds run into battle. But memories were like dandelion flowers. Vague, so slight they almost seem translucent. And if the breeze changed just slightly, he thought, gazing out through the window at the new droplets of rain that were beginning to fall. The dandelion seeds would blow away.

“Still, even if we’re not all like that . . . “ He went back to scrubbing the now-completely-clean table. “ . . . you can’t afford to lose the roots of the tree. If there are no roots, there’s no branches, simple as that.”

Golzar shot back quickly. “But the trunk can’t cling to the ground forever, Gerhard. Sooner or later, it must grow up.”

She looked through the window at the slowly lightening sky. “Otherwise, the tree won’t ever become a tree. It’ll just be a stump with rotten roots.”

“We don’t know that.”

A ray of sunshine struck through the window, hard and cold against the soft tan colour of the tables. “Regardless, I’m going. I will see the palace priestesses tomorrow. Find out more about Skyroot and the rest.” She folded her arms. “Maybe Lucretia, as well.”

Gerhard huffed. He couldn’t have stopped her, anyway. A mote of dust floated through the air, golden, and then vanished, just like that.


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Sun Dec 05, 2021 4:25 pm
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MailicedeNamedy wrote a review...



Hi Lim,

Mailice here with a short review! :D

I´m glad to come back here and I´m even more glad that there is a little recap for the reader because it´s like two months already? :D Wow, but nonetheless, let´s start right away! :D

Back to the well-known formula of the story. It's a nice image when you put the scene in so that the reader comes in from above and then sees what's happening. You can clearly see that it's an active beginning, even the description seems very lively and active.

“Was that good? You think I’ll last a few matches, at least?” Tanya said, panting. Her eyes implored Gerhard like a puppy’s.

Phew, Tanya seemed a bit lost to me at the beginning because I didn't know her anymore, but the description here showed me who she is again. I think she was introduced at some point when she had an apple with her? :D Anyway, I like the sparring session. It could be a bit longer, but we are only at the beginning of the part.

He was doing it again, he thought. He was winding himself like a snake around these poor kids.

This is a really great description you have here and is also very visual. D It's also fitting for Gerhard to get out of the way again and I also think that in the last part, when he had his "little" mission, he didn't feel comfortable being direct and therefore looked more for other ways to describe something. He is somebody that wants to avoid conflicts or at least tries to keep the peace in the house.

When Gerhard didn’t reply, Tanya wandered over, sword in hand. “Did someone bully you? Do you need me to beat him up for you?”

Cute Tanya! :D

I think the above example is just a small sample of the wonderful world you have created and the characters, how you have given them character and depth. It just feels good when you start reading it and you feel like you're there, with real, living characters. The inclusion of mostly narrative commentary to further bring the motives or opinions to the reader are always a pleasure when I read it. Here´s also such a nice example, where I´m not really sure, if Golzar is really in the mood of joking or if she sees that there is something off with Gerhard. :D

“Everything alright?” Golzar tucked her papers against her hip. “Tanya didn’t try to disown you or anything did she? I’ll give her a stern talking to, yes?”


I like the flashback. He did what he was supposed to do and showed off a little more Gerhard after Golzar hit him in a very conscious spot. I also like this indication from her of what she had assumed earlier from guilds. :D

You manage another good hit here, unconsciously showing a bit of a "guilt" of Gerhard and how he has changed little himself despite the many changes in his environment. He still seems the same as before and that also gives a little feeling that this could be something good, or something bad. Gerhard generally still seems to be someone who stands by his principles, but I think that if he were now (just as an example) confronted with the philosopher Socrates and then had to decide what is just and unjust, he would simply walk away so as not to throw a tantrum after Socrates gives him more food for thought.

Then you also notice a little that Gerhard is a bit stubborn in his sense.

“Still, even if we’re not all like that . . . “ He went back to scrubbing the now-completely-clean table. “ . . . you can’t afford to lose the roots of the tree. If there are no roots, there’s no branches, simple as that.”

I don't know why, but this is a link in the story. I used to have that too, but no idea why that comes up. :D

In general, I liked this part. After we had so much to do in the palace in the last part (I hope that was there), I like how we've gone back to the more quiet life here, but where the characters are ultimately more troubled than before. In the end, I can't say much except maybe describe a bit more how Tanya and Robert spent the time to see what level Tanya is already at. :D

Have fun writing!

Mailice




Liminality says...


Hiya Mailice! Thanks so much for the review!

Ah, I do agree I could have gone into detail with the sparring a little more. I think at this point I hadn't gotten very confident in describing the duels so I tried to avoid it whenever possible xD I'll try to be braver about describing them in future chapters though!

I love your analysis of Gerhard's character. It's very much in line with how I conceptualised him, so I'm glad those parts of his personality are being conveyed.

And yep, this is kind of a cool-down part after all the action in the palace from the last section. :D

Thanks again!




"And the rest is rust and stardust."
— Vladimir Nabokov