Although I was a typical student who would consistently put off my homework until the night before it was due (I read To Kill a Mockingbird in a matter of a few hours), I am not usually like that with my writing. I have no problem with deadlines (usually self-imposed) and I often have my blog posts ready to go a couple of days before they are due to go up.
Not so this time.
As I am writing, it is 11:34pm and I normally post the blogs just after midnight. I began it a couple of times (once in the car while we were going to pick up my daughter…that didn’t work out so well),but I just wasn’t feeling it. For once, though, I’m glad I put it off.
One of the reasons I am so late putting my thoughts down is because the Victoria Fringe Festival finished up today. My wife and I are fans of the annual independent theater festival; her play, The Fabulous Miss Rosie Bitts, won awards at two of the festivals last year, and we like to support any independent arts. I didn’t get to see as many of the shows as I would have liked this year, but the last one I took in–the last show of the Fringe–was one called Bookworm, written and performed by Corin Raymond. For an hour, Mr. Raymond reminisces about life and his love of books. He quotes lines, recites poems, and at one point regales us with the entire prologue of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.
A very appropriate play given this week’s topic is favourite lines or scenes from books.
I can’t recite lines from books word-for-word like Mr. Raymond; I find myself too involved in creating the worlds and people of the story in my head to retain such details. What does stay with me is the feelings that particular scenes leave with me. In a previous post, I referenced Susan Cooper’s Dawn of Fear, and I can still remember the feeling of loss I felt along with the main character when he comes down the street to find his best friend’s house destroyed by a direct hit from a bomb. I don’t remember the character’s names (I know one of them was Derry, but not which one), but thinking about that scene calls up those feelings in my chest as surely as the smell of damp cardboard makes me think of my parents’ garage.
Vampire children scratching at the window in Salem’s Lot scared me for years to come; ; the wedding massacre in George Martin’s A Storm of Swords appalled and disheartened me; Henry’s death, although I knew it would happen, brought me to tears in The Time Traveler’s Wife. I had to use Wikipedia to recall which of the Song of Ice and Fire books the wedding was in, and also to come up with the poor time traveler’s name, but the feelings they gave me remain nonetheless. We all have our favourite scenes that affected us, left an impression, perhaps made us reexamine our outlook on life. Some entertained us with frights, some made us see how precious life really is. This is the gift an author gives.
What are some of your favourite scenes?
I leave you with one of my favourite scenes from my upcoming epic fantasy Blood of the King, which will be released Sept. 30. I don’t pretend this scene comes close to any of the ones mentioned above, but I like it. I hope you do, too.
Morning sun peeked over the treetops as the forest ended abruptly, opening on a vast field of yellow grass standing higher than the top of a tall man’s helm. An unfelt breeze swayed the grass, sending waves across it like the surface of a soft, yellow lake. Suath strained to see over but found himself unable to determine how far the grassland stretched.
He stopped on the short patch of dirt and rock dividing the forest from the field and pulled some salt pork from his pack. For more than twenty-four hours he’d pushed on, uncaring of the tales of the haunted land Lakesh. He’d been here before and nothing happened to prove a hex hung over the land, as nothing happened this time. Companions had lost their lives here, but he saw that as a self-fulfilling prophecy—if one came to a place thinking it evil and dangerous, it would prove so. If you chose not to believe old wives’ tales, as Suath chose, this was simply another foreign land of grass and trees and soil oblivious and uncaring of the comings and goings of man.
Suath chewed the tough meat and wondered at the strip of bare earth stretching away both directions, a natural border between forest and field. No plants grew on the dry, brown earth scattered with rocks of all sizes; the width of the border looked uniform, almost man-made.
Suath swigged from his water skin, wishing it contained wine, then hung it back on his belt and touched the pouch hanging beside it to feel the hard outline of the vial hidden within. Therrador wouldn’t be pleased if he knew the bearer yet lived, but he’d never find out. If the cursed country didn’t kill them, he’d find them himself. Either way, he’d collect the entire reward; Therrador need not know if he swung the sword himself.
If he ever saw Therrador again.
Suath hadn’t cared what the vial contained when offered the reward, but he wasn’t a stupid man. He saw the blood, he overheard from whom it came. Others might pay more for such a thing.
Finishing the piece of meat, Suath crouched and rolled up the cuff of his breeches. In his haste to get away with the vial, he’d neglected something. He brushed his fingers across the flesh of his calf, tracing the bumps and ridges of the scars carved there. Finding an unmarked spot, he pulled his knife, gritted his teeth and drew the tip an inch along his leg, cutting deep.
“For the magic-user,” he muttered. His finger searched for and found another as-yet unscarred area. “And here will be for the rest of them.”
He nodded, satisfied, and pulled his pant leg back in place ignoring the blood trickling into his boot. After cleaning and re-sheathing his knife, he crossed the rocky ground to the edge of the field, looking up at the clear sky as he went. Overhead, a falcon wheeled and glided, its huge wings dark against the blue sky. Suath grunted. The bird had followed him off and on since he fled the beach. Some doing of the magician he left bleeding on the sand? Perhaps the counter on his leg was premature. Too bad if the magician lived, he had learned long ago the least dangerous magic user was a dead one. He dismissed the bird. It didn’t matter if they knew where to find him, they had to catch him.
And then they had to take the vial from him.
Then they’ll earn their cuts.
He grinned and stepped into the wall of grass, the tips of some blades brushing his cheek. Its toughness surprised him. Instead of parting easily like a curtain, each blade stood straight and strong like a reed, resisting his movement with the stubbornness of a living thing. After a couple steps fighting its firmness, he realized he’d have to cut his way across the field like a farmer harvesting hay. It would slow him, but his substantial lead gave him time. He stepped back from the grass and drew his sword.
As steel scraped leather, the grass leaned away, shrinking from the blade like a child seeing punishment coming. Suath blinked and shook his head to dispel what must be a trick of the light. The mercenary set his jaw, gripped his sword with two hands, and swung.
The sharp edge cut through the grass, though not easily, clearing a patch ten feet wide at the level of Suath’s knee. A sudden wind rose, sighing through the field with the low howl of an injured dog. The uncut blades around him whipped and swirled with the wind, lashing his hands and face. Suath swung again, hewing another patch, and the wind ceased as suddenly as it had risen. He paid it no attention and pressed on, each swing of his sword extending the path before him, each stroke leaving hundreds of fallen blades of grass in its wake.
Half an hour passed. Suath’s battle hardened arms ached, sweat streamed from under his helm into his bare eye socket, irritating the scarred flesh, but he kept moving. The deeper he went into the field, the more resistant the grass became. His sword swung left and right rhythmically, opening the path before him. As time stretched on, his pace slowed. He wanted to keep going but had to rest and catch his breath if he was to make it across the field—he didn’t even know how much farther he had to go. He stopped, leaning on his sword, its tip inserted in the ground, and breathed deep, then stretched to his fullest to peer over the grass before him. He saw only more grass. He shook his head and looked back to see how far he’d come.
The sight behind him made his breath catch in his throat. The knee high stubs of grass were not yellow like the uncut field around him; instead, the trail of cut grass glistened crimson and rust. Suath’s brow creased.
Some fluid in the blades, he thought, rationalizing what he saw. Not blood, but like sap from a tree.
As he turned back to his task, the wind sighed again, whipping a blade of grass against his cheek, drawing blood. Suath whirled toward it, bringing his sword to bear and another struck him from behind, opening a cut on the back of his neck. He spun back to his right to face an attacker he neither saw nor knew how to fight. An unfamiliar feeling crept into Suath’s gut, curling up in the bottom and making itself at home: fear.
Heavy gusts of wind whipped the grass, flagellating his face, dancing away then reaching for his eye. Suath swung his sword, called on ingrained combat skills to quell the sickening feeling in his stomach. His steel swept left to right, right to left, each time cutting empty air as the wind pulled the grass away only to send it back with every opening. A grin crossed Suath’s face; he’d never have guessed a pasture would prove the most formidable swordsman he’d ever faced.
He cut at the grass again, but this time his sword halted in its path as though striking a tree. He pulled to free it, looked down and laughed throatily. Grass wound around his steel, hundreds of blades holding it. He wrenched it, cutting some of the grass. It fell away only to be replaced by still more twining itself about his sword. Suath planted his feet and pulled again, leveraging all his strength and weight as he’d done so many times on so many battlefields.
It didn’t move.
The wind rose higher, howling across the field. A wave crashed through the grass, tore the sword from his hands. He watched in disbelief as the weapon floated away on the tops of the grass as though passed hand to hand until it disappeared in the distance. The muscles in his jaw flexed; he pulled his dagger from his belt. He’d not die here—not in this country, not in this field. Too many worthy opponents had tried to take his life to die like this.
The mercenary spun, intending to retreat from the unearthly field, but nearly tumbled to the ground. Blades of grass wound around his ankle held him fast. He tried to move the other foot only to find it fettered, too. He swung his blade to free himself, but more grass caught his wrist, twisting his arm, forcing the dagger from his grip. The wind screamed, a banshee howl filling his ears, pounding in his head. The tall blades of grass bent and swirled, whipping his body, pulling him down. He fought against the impossibly strong grip, but the more he thrashed, the stronger it became.
The wind died, the howling ceased.
Flat on his back, Suath stared up at the blue sky. Tendrils of grass crawled across him, coiling about his neck and limbs, reaching up his sleeves and under his belt like so many snakes. The grip grew firmer still, pulling at him, crushing him. He laughed, the sound strangled as the blades around his throat tightened. Suath had known since the beginning of memory he wouldn’t die of old age, but he’d expected to be felled by a superior foe on the battlefield, or done in by a stealthy knife in the dark. What would he have thought if he knew he’d lose his life to a weed?
His laughing ceased, his smile fled. The mercenary didn’t cry out, he never had before this, he wasn’t about to start now. Instead, he looked up at the sky, unblinking and unrepentant, and saw that the falcon no longer circled overhead.