The Drunken Soldier — an excerpt from my novel

Ta-da. Yet another hopelessly unedited, entirely out-of-context excerpt from my 100k word novel without a name! Starting next week I am going to dive into my second draft, so I thought I’d go on an excerpt spree for sentimentality’s sake. More likely I’m going to end up cringing at this later.


The drunken soldier’s voice wriggled like a worm unwelcome into Aleron’s ear. His fingers twitched around the handle of his tankard as he willed himself against bouncing to his feet and causing a scene right there in the middle of the tavern. But each word that dripped off the drunkard’s lips set his teeth grinding, and not even the bard’s thunderous lute strumming could muffle the blathering. The man in question, who sat spilling out of his jerkin onto a table behind Aleron, was surrounded by three other poxy-faced soldiers. Their viscous laughter trailed after his every word, and Aleron wouldn’t have been so bothered if it were not for the nature of their ‘conversation.’

“Bleated like a sheep, he did!” the soldier garbled. “Wept for his dear ol’ mum breaths before I sep’rated his body from his head! Thought he was some Titan, but I’ve never seen a Titan bleed so redly before!” This earned him a hearty round of guffaws from his comrades. “I dare any imp to run me through! I stood before the hoards of them, and I roared, Do me your worst! But their skinny swords cracked clean like glass against my blade. I tell yez, all them Armaxese and Syonseeri are no better than the dirt I piss on. Craven louts, ev’ry one of them.”

Aleron stared fiercely into his mug. Don’t get involved. Don’t get involved, he thought. Keep your stupid head low.

All at once, he pushed back from the table, the legs of his chair skidding along the floor. He stood, rolled his sleeves to his elbows, and turned to face the dribbling entourage.

“Them slate-skins and imp-eyes…they’re the real leeches o’ the realm. Eatin’ our food and buildin’ their huts on our soil! They call themselves Titans — harmph! Why, just the sight o’ one of them makes me want to —”

“Gouge their imp eyes out? Rip their leech tongues from their mouths and force them to chew on their own taste buds?”

The soldier’s bottom lip hung like a dead slug, his voice suddenly lost as he beheld Aleron. Clad in dirty riding clothes with nothing but a stocky blade holstered to his belt, seventeen year old Aleron Aardale was not the most menacing of sights. He was all shoulder blades and grasshopper limbs, with dark skin that smoldered under the velvet light of the fire and tight-sprung hair that cast coiled shadows over his forehead. While not intimidating, he was dramatic: a faded white scar etched over his brow and across his right eye, and he had lips that seemed to be created for the sole purpose of smirking.

“Oh, please don’t stop on my account,” he said. “I find it ever so fascinating, how many ways a man can squash a rat. May I offer any suggestions? I find it’s very effective to cut their toes off one by one before you cave in their brains. Adds for a striking dimension to torture.”

Get out. Get out before you make the big man with the sword angry. Yes, that would be the rational thing to do. But for all his supposed sense, Aleron’s boots remained sealed to the floor, and his eyes held the soldier’s, searching, digging, reaching for any reaction.

At first he thought it was fury that roiled in the soldier’s eyes, but then the man’s whiskered chin shook, and he burst forth in a raucous fit of laughter. His companions joined in, their guffaws taking turns slapping Aleron across the face. He could feel his ears smoking, burning off the fumes of his fury, and he was about to open his mouth when the soldier spoke.

“Well the lowest of the louts has come to play t’night! Isn’t this a pretty twist, boys?”

His friends nodded, their eyes laced with drink.

“Pretty as a garden sparrow.”

“Bleed me dry it if I don’t cry!”

“Cut off their toes before crackin’ their skulls, you say?” the soldier continued. “Must say I quite like that one. Let’s try it out on you, shall we?” A shadow darkened his eyes, and a grin slithered across his lips as his hand itched for the longsword at his hip.

“Hold there, good sir!” Aleron said quickly as he took a step back into the table. “There’s no need to resort to such base acts. I’m only trying to help you, after all. You see, friend, we’re on the same side!”

The soldier snorted, and his fingers found the hilt of his blade. “Friend? All I see before me is a cowardly slate-skin, some Syonseeri spy tryin’ to reap me of secrets.”

“I assure you, if I were hunting down Edylarion strategies than you would be the last sorry sod I went to.” 

The soldier’s jaw clenched in iron, and he stormed to his feet, swaying a bit as the mead overtook him. The other men stood beside him, and suddenly all of their hands were at their swords, as if daring Aleron to breathe another word.

He nearly knocked over a bench as he took another step back. You bloody fool. You should’ve left while you could. “The Hawk of Highfeather!” he blurted out as his heart leapt into his mouth. His eyes shifted among the reddened men. “Surely you’ve heard of him?”

They paused, if ever so slightly, and the soldier curled his upper lip. “What’re you playin’ at?”

“I’m offended! Don’t you recognize me?” 

Aleron found delight in watching the slow trudge of understanding across their thick brows. 

The man on the right was the first to voice it. “You’re…the Hawk of Highfeather?”

A smirk traipsed along Aleron’s lips. “The Hawk of Highfeather. Wielder of Words. Black Breath. I go by many names; call me what you like. But in the end I am the same man. A man of Madric’s army. A man whom you should think twice of before calling a slate-skinned lout.”

He held onto the thread of hope that it wasn’t disgust, but consideration that crossed their eyes. Perhaps they would erupt in laughter again and go back to their drinks, slurring on about their great conquests against the rats of the East. Maybe…just maybe telling them that he was the Hawk of Highfeather would earn him a strand of respect. 

But, as the case often was, Aleron should’ve listened to the prying voice in his head telling him to shut his damn mouth.

“You’re telling me,” the soldier said slowly, his words seeping together, “that the great Hawk of Highfeather, the messenger of the Rosewater War, the breather of a thousand fates…is a soot-faced, Syonseeri boy?”

Ouch. Aleron offered up a feeble grin. “In the flesh.”

With that, the men quaked in wet, sopping laughter, and for the briefest echo of a second, Aleron prayed that it was all in good jest. His voice melded into theirs with a nervous chuckle, and all the while he inched away from the table towards the door at the other end of the tavern.

But blackness bled into their laughs, and the silver sound of four swords being unsheathed at once grated against Aleron’s ears. The bard’s playing dropped off on a sour note, and a procession of drink-addled gasps traveled through the room. Everything was still, and the soldier’s gray eyes glinted in an unspoken dare.

Aleron turned on his heels so quickly that the wooden boards beneath his feet squealed in protest, and with a flap of his cloak he shoved past the other tavern-goers, tripping over benches and kicking aside empty flagons on his break to the door. He heard the clamber of chair legs behind him, but didn’t dare turn back his gaze as he clipped a barmaid on the shoulder. “Sorry,” he mumbled before leaping over the legs of a plastered man on the floor.

A series of muddled shouts spilled after him, but he was already at the door, kicking it open and disappearing into the night.


© 2016 Stellular Scribe

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How To Avoid Being A Jealous Writer

Artistic envy is easier than ever in this digital age. As writers, we naturally gravitate towards other creatives online to follow their work. At first it’s all good and inspiring, but after a few book promotions here, a blog blast there, it doesn’t take much to feel jealous.

I’ve experienced it myself: feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, that I’m never doing enough, that I can never compete. The world is filled with brilliant writers who have worked hard and found tremendous luck, and sometimes I wonder why I can’t just slip into success like them.

The problem is magnified when the object of envy is a close friend. You love them. You want to support them. But you feel sick to your stomach after reading the tenth Facebook post about their good fortune. You want to simultaneously congratulate them and shrink into a hole when they write something spectacular.

I’m not perfect. I still find myself thinking, “Why do you even try?” But I’ve managed to lessen the bite of the green-eyed monster by taking the following steps:

  1. Accept that we’re all brutal on the inside. To ourselves. To others. And it’s ok to feel crummy. It’s ok to admit it to yourself. Because if you acknowledge your jealousy, you acknowledge that everyone has feelings of self-doubt and resentment sometimes. Chances are, that exact person who you’re envious of is just as insecure as you.
  2. *slaps you upside the head* Now pull yourself together! Jealousy won’t get you any further than a blank page and a case of qualms! Life is too short and your creativity too expansive to keep wondering “what if?” and “why try?” *pats you on the shoulder* There, now. Sorry I had to get curt there. Shall we go on?
  3. Recognize your accomplishments. Maybe that’s writing a few sentences a day; maybe it’s getting published in a magazine. Rejoice in yourself and what you have done, because dang it, you’ve worked hard and you should love yourself and your passions first and foremost.
  4. Realize that the object of your jealousy got there for a reason. More often than not, it’s because they worked hard and put in the time and learned the business. Sometimes people get lucky; I get that. It’s an unpredictable industry. But if you accept that they deserve their success, then it’ll be much easier for you to congratulate them and figure out the steps you can take to achieve your own goals.
  5. Set goals for yourself. Maybe you want to query at least one agent a week or write one thousand words a day. Small or large, giving yourself something to look forward to will help keep your mind off feelings of uncertainty and inferiority. It’ll give you something to feel proud of!
  6. Think about why you’re jealous and put it into perspective. Is it because someone you know got a big-name, six figure book deal? There’s a difference between working for an art and throwing your art to the wind and hoping it lands on a publisher who is in a good mood. It is in no way an indication of your talent or worth if you do not have those same opportunities. What it really comes down to is what makes you happy: making art or raking in the profit?
  7. If need be, remove yourself. Hide someone’s feed on Facebook. Take a break from their blog for a week. If you like them and you’re jealous, take a break. If you don’t like them and you’re jealous, remove them entirely. Blocking someone is never the best solution, but it can help if feelings of personal inadequacy are impossible to shake off.
  8. Wish other writers well. This is the hardest part, but it’s arguably the most important. Without each other, our art goes nowhere. It speaks to no one. Think about a time someone complimented your work and how you felt. Think about how you would feel if you accomplished something that you cared about and poured your heart into, and were only received with jealous eyes. Support other writers, because one day they may be the ones wishing you well.

Happy writing!

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

Image: “Writer’s Block” by Drew Coffman

Highfeather — an excerpt from my novel

I’ve never actually shared an excerpt from my novel before. It’s a little baffling to think; two years of blogging and the most I’ve ever posted about my biggest work have been angsty poems and passing mentions in writing tips.

Ah, I love the stench of first drafts in the morning. Without further ado, I present to you, in all of its unedited glory and with absolutely no context whatsoever, an excerpt from my novel.


Aleron remembered Mage saying how Highfeather looked as if it passed judgement on each traveller who crossed in its shadow. As the tower loomed high and blazing over him, he sensed its stony stare, felt it threaten to topple over and crush him for all he was.

Still ablaze. Still burning, but never fallen.

The fire crackled from the peak of the keep tower, casting the stonework of the walls in pulsing, red heat.

And that is where I must go, he thought.

It must’ve been raw instinct that rolled his joints and moved his limbs. He was mechanical in his dismounting of Dusk, systematic as he secured her behind a boulder and hitched his satchel over his shoulder. One foot met its mark on the ground in front of the other, and he carried himself to the fort.

The cold spot he had rode through left his mind numb, but as he passed under the entrance of the curtain wall he could feel the heat of the tower radiating on his skin. He was tired, so very tired, and the warmth only kneaded the worries in his brain, only made him long for sleep and forgetfulness.

He crossed an empty and overgrown bailey. In the night, the shadows cast across the yard by the fire were made long and lanky, like great arms stretching across the earth. The effect was nothing short of mystifying, but he was struck from his contemplation when a fist of thunder pounded the sky.

Up the tower, relay the spell, gather and feast, he thought.

The door that led into the main keep must’ve burned up three years ago, because all that was left was a pile of warped iron. Aleron stepped over the heap to pass under the threshold, and then he was swallowed by darkness.



He became aware of each hitching breath in his chest, and in the still black of the keep, he felt like the only living thing in the world. At first, all was silent and obscured by shadows, but then he heard something soft and fragile, like wind singing through glass. He stumbled through the dark after the sound until he saw a warm glow emitting past a crumbling wall.

He ran for the light, because he didn’t like the restlessness that set into his legs when he stood still for too long. He felt that if he were to keep to one place, then the specters from the smoke would leak into the tower after him. It was like a thousand ghosts were watching him, and he had to keep moving lest they seep into his mind.

He turned around the wall and found himself looking up a spiraling stairwell. The stone trembled in firelight, the source of which lay beyond his line of sight. But the thin music still whistled in his ears, high and begging him to hear more.

He climbed.

He climbed after the light, the warmth, the song. He climbed wondering if he was doing the right thing. He scaled the uneven steps, and he could hear everyone he ever loved warning him, fearing for him, anticipating his movements.

Be watchful, Aleron. Even I forget it sometimes, but you are still a boy.

I’m afraid of what you mean to me, Aleron. Because you’re a bird. And I’m a worm. And birds pluck worms from the dirt.

You brought me to Ferric so that I could change things. But I am in here, and you, whether you like it or not, have more power than all of us.

I’m afraid that you’ll drop off the map altogether.

Your enemy is whatever’s out there twisting people into Wraiths, making people suffer.

Run!

And then he was sprinting, tearing up the stairs, his heart leaping into his throat. And the sound, that spindly song was growing louder and shriller, and he ran with his blood coursing under his skin, threatening to shatter his veins. And he ran with his world, his only chance, clattering against his back, and ghosts were chasing after him, and heat building around him. And he hurt.

He breached the stairs and staggered onto the roof. The grating music pinched off into silence, but the heat from the rising fire engulfed him. The surrounding pinnacles stood ablaze, and the smoke was so thick that he could not see the stars.

The Three can’t save me now, he thought.


© 2016 Stellular Scribe