Friday’s Character: Harlan

Book BannerHarlan

Mother wrapped the last of the cheese and bread in a ragged cloth, and then dropped it into Father’s rucksack while he and Finnel, the oldest, sharpened the axes one last time. She moved as if in a dream, not speaking as she parted with the last of the household food. The bruise on her cheek was reminder of what would happen if she protested again.

“You can go to the temple and ask for some scraps for the children,” Father said, his voice strangely tender. “The boy and I will need the food, or we won’t have the strength to get the logs. Then we will all starve, as you keep making more mouths to feed.” He patted her swelling stomach.

“Yes, I know,” Mother replied, her voice almost a whisper. The little brother who had not yet reached his naming day toddled over to her on unstable legs. She pulled him up, and he greedily reached for her breast and the little milk they still made.

Harlan held little Geislett on his lap to keep her from interfering with the men as prepared to leave for a week-long expedition into the dark woods. While Mother bore the brunt of Father’s anger, Finnel shared his displeasure on all his younger siblings. Geislett was delicate, and he would choose to hit her with the handle of that long ax, she would be sorely injured. Father was in a dark mood this morning, and while he was taking all the food they had, Harlan would be grateful when he left and took the cruel Finnel with him.

After they left, she dropped down to the floor, still holding the baby. He fussed but soon settled into sleep in her arms. Geislett jumped up and ran to her side, leaning her head against her mother’s shoulder and stroking her hair.
“I’m hungry!” she said in her child’s voice.

“I know, my love. I am, too,” Mother said, her voice cracking as if to sob. No tears, though. Harlan had never seen her actually cry. Maybe there were only so many tears a person could cry before they were used up.

“I will sell that relic I found, Mother, and then I will buy meat pies for all of us!” Harlan said. “Here, I sold some little trinkets yesterday, it should be enough to buy at least a loaf of last week’s bread from the baker.” He handed her three copper coins he had hidden in his pocket.

“I don’t know what I would do without you, boy. You are the only flickering light in the darkness of my life,” she said, touching his cheek as he hugged her. “Be careful, though. The mayor was asking about you yesterday.”

“He saw what I had, and demanded I give it to him or he would tell the priest I am a thief. I didn’t steal it!” Harlan protested.

“If he tells the Temple you are a thief, accept it. If they discover you are a mage…,” she said in a warning tone.

“Nobody knows. I don’t do it in the village. I wait until I go into the crypts. No one can see me there,” he assured her. “Maybe I should go find something else, so the mayor can have that other stupid relic. It’s just a weird snake thing, anyways.”

“Be careful, my son. We need you,” she said to him, still sitting on the floor cuddling his little brother and Geislett.

He blinked his eyes, holding back tears as he gathered his waterskin, his pouch holding the lamp and candle, and a cloak. He turned back to look at the once, just as he was about to leave, and she raised one hand to wave goodbye.

There was no way for him to know that would be the last time he would see the home of his first decade of life.

In the village marketplace he used the one copper coin he had kept to buy a roll and hunk of cheese covered in mold. He nibbled on the bread but saved most of it for later in the day. He would have lots of work to do, climbing in the old crypts and catacombs of the big mountain.

He didn’t see the mayor watching him as he climbed the trail to those forbidden tombs.

(If you want to read what happens to Harlan next, check out the first episode of the serial: Betrayer Awakened, Season 1 Episode 1″Escape”.)

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“Harlan” copyright © 2018 by Richelle Sepulveda

Why Write?

Today’s word count: 1411

Nanowrimo begins today, and I have some words down on the page. If I am to meet my goals, I will need to do much better, but it is a decent start.

I have been an avid reader since I first learned the marks on a page could tell a story. I devoured everything I could find. As a child, Jack London was a particular favorite, but I enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia and others as well. When I was fifteen I read Anne McCaffery’s The Dragonriders of Pern and I was hooked. Fantasy came alive like no other genre could.

I saw myself in the characters. Lessa was strong and respected, and had been rescued out of her childhood unhappiness to be one of the most powerful people in that world. I, too, wanted to be rescued from the depression that gripped me, and to be someday respected. I wondered what I would have been if I had found myself in that world instead of my own, and that started a mass of bad fan fiction that will never see the light of day.

For the next ten years, I read as much as I could find. This was before e-books, and libraries did not always have a comprehensive selection. I read, and read, and read, and then went to college and read more non-fiction. I still read for pleasure, at least for awhile.

I started to see flaws in the worlds the authors created. I tried to patch them in my fan fiction, but it was haphazard working within someone else’s rules. The geography didn’t work, in many cases. It seemed all the people of the world spoke the same language, except the nobles and the educated, who all were trained in the magical old language. That is not how language works!

Then I saw the same peoples, culture, and geography being repeated over and over again. This was not the typical tropes that one would expect in fantasy, but one author using the template of another’s in order to create a culture (Fremen=Aiel). I pick on Jordan here, but he was by far not the only one. Also, deus ex machina was pretty prevalent in several series, and people did not react like humans, especially in the face of trauma. There were often very little stakes, and I did not really fear the character would not survive and save the day. I grew bored.

I remember one day, speaking with a friend who was also reading the new book released by a famous author, and my friend was awed by a twist affecting one of the main characters. My reaction was less impressed. I felt that reveal had been telegraphed two or three books prior. Who wouldn’t realize the main character was the special, prophesied to be born? It was obvious, wasn’t it?

Perhaps my disillusionment was not unusual. Perhaps I expected too much. I wanted the mountains to be like the ones from my youth, the languages reflecting the history and geography of the people, and the cultures to be more than mongols, but blonde, or Arabs, with freckles. I wanted the characters to be strong, and make choices for their own destiny, and sometimes choose wrong. I wanted the villains to have real motivations instead of evil for evil sake, and the heroes to have some realistic flaws. I wanted religions that made sense in that world, that could be real or false, depending on the perspective of the believer.

What I really wanted were the characters and worlds I had created in my head. I searched for them, and gave up reading a novel as soon as I read the typical fantasy blurb: Bumble, ordinary peasant farmer of Gerlach who only wants a normal life, who everyone in his village hates because he is special, is visited by a beautiful woman, Splederial, who is a magical princess/sorceress/seeress who will guide him on his quest to take his rightful place on the throne of Kerchak. She will help him defeat the dark lord Bragnnahgak, who wants all the world of Finnellia to serve the lord of the underworld, cause EVIL.

That’s not a real novel, by the way, but sure sounds like one, doesn’t it?

I stopped reading fantasy for several years, except for Harry Potter, but that was just to see what the fuss was about. I didn’t binge read for several years until I finally found George R.R. Martin, and The Song of Ice and Fire. Still, I wanted more, and my expectations had been raised. Every time I saw one of those typical blurbs, I rolled my eyes.

I decided, if I wanted to read about these types of characters and worlds, I couldn’t just wait until a found ones wanted. I had been building these in my head for so long, giving them history and motivations, why not write it myself? I hopefully am able to do them justice, and readers will eventually find them and have the same awe my friend did when a twist is revealed. Hopefully it won’t be too predictable.

If you want to read what I write, check out the first episode of the serial: Betrayer Awakened, Season 1 Episode 1″Escape”.

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