5/11/08

Summer Story: Hand of Sorrow

The summer night gripped him and he trusted it to conceal him. Anger it was that drove him on, fueling him to ignore the sweat that burned his eyes and the myriad cuts across his naked calves. Armor would not do on this night of stealth. Sometimes you need to sacrifice what you hold dear for the greater good.

Have faith. Faith moves all things, doubt moves nothing.

His clothing hung upon him like leeches drawing out sustenance. Feet were raw, blistered from marching all day with the army and now alone on into the deep night. Traveling light, he carried only a twenty foot cord knotted every two feet in his left hand and a four foot javelin in the right. Moving with the grace of a stalking cat he slipped between thick trees and sparse underbrush. There were guards in the woods tonight. Many men desperate and vicious as himself, but he was not afraid.

I have done this before, I can do it again.

He kept his breathing under control and never once looked at the moon nor the torches of guards round about the city. He would not compromise his night vision. Fighting the invaders for so long, you learn all the tricks of the deadly trade. Stepping heel to toe, he could test the ground before putting his weight down. The deer stalker step had been learned the hard way. Too many times as a boy, the family had gone hungry when he had not brought home a four legged friend. Now instead of his mother and siblings going hungry it was his own wife and children.

The invaders, it is all their fault. They are responsible for the famine in the land. They steal everything, not just our food but our lives and liberties if they can. They have stolen our peace for more than ten years. How I hate them. It ends tonight. The general says to be a forgiving man and love our enemies in spite of what they do.

I can't. The world has need of willing men to do what I can do. I have done this before, I can do it again.

He averts his eyes as a trio of copper skinned warriors pass by, their torches futilely fighting the gloom. Waiting another few minutes until they are beyond the edge of the wall he races out, casting the cord over the top. The walls here are old and made of upright palisades logs. The outside is covered with a stucco of lime, sand and crushed seashells but the tops are exposed irregular logs with pointed ends. They pierce the night skyline like the under bite of that old dragon, the devil.

The heavy knot in the cord easily catches between the teeth. Tugging thrice, he then climbs up to the narrow parapet that runs inside the wall. The invaders bodies are strewn about the inner city as if the battle avoided today were already done and lost. The heat of the day's march having affected them just as deeply as anyone else. He dropped down the parapet swinging his knotted cord back the other way. No time to find the ladders or steps.

If I do my job this will be done. Better for one man to perish than for the many to continue slaughtering each other. I am a gardener. I am pruning the evil tree at its very root, from whence all the bitter fruits have poured forth. I can end this.

The summer night burned but he moved silent as new fallen snow. Invaders snored and even those on guard duty dozed leaning upon their brazen spears. Moving from place to place he searched for where he thought the king might be found. Some grand homes atop earthen mounds, temples to dark gods, but he was not there. Only dog soldiers slept here, content to dream of the conquest that would be denied them with one well aimed spear.

Racing against the approaching dawn, he found a great tent in the cities courtyard. Guardsmen were arrayed about it in a zodiac of pagan superstition. Still they slept like dominos. Each man within a few paces of the next. Dead to the world, alive to the dreamtime.

How can I not be blessed, the way is open.

He stuck the javelin in the hardpacked earth and wiped the sweat from his brow and hands. Whispering a silent prayer of thanks, he crept toward the tent. Somewhere someone strummed a lyre and the haunting melody made him pause. Swallowing hard he came on, right between the sleeping guardsmen. None stirred.

He used the tip of the javelin to pry back the tent flap. A man lay sprawled out asleep amidst incredible finery. Silken pillows and ornate rugs littered the ground about him as did wine bottles upright like trophies. Incense from distant lands burned a putrid reek filling the tent with its foul odor like a demons breath.

The king lay with his exposed chest moving rythmically up and down. A golden chain around his neck slid to the side as he twitched. A whimper came and I hesitated. Was he having a bad dream? Ours will end with him if I do this. Anger turns to sorrow, but I must do this. He brought this war here and I will end it. I have done it before, I will do it again.

I took aim and let fly.

The kings eyes flew open in disbelief. He cried out once as a black wind came and carried his life breath far away.

I run, the servants and guardsmen shout and scramble. One casts a well aimed spear. I feel the heat but no fear.

This story, while containing some good sensory imagery, has some problems. Watch for spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure.

Switching POV doesn't work here. Pick one and stay with it. Same with the "voice"—you use scriptural cadence in places and more modern phrases in other places. Example: dog soldier is a relatively recent term and would not be used by Teancum.

I think the story would be better served to know the identity of the character. There's no reason to keep it a secret. In fact, knowing that up front would make the story richer for most readers.

What I liked best: In the Book of Mormon, we have no insight into Teancum's thoughts and feelings as he does this. I like that the author has provided some, turning one of our heroes into flesh and blood, making him real.

Magazine ready? No. It needs quite a bit of work—but I'd like to see a more polished, finished version of this story.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are we supposed to leave comments about the story? If not, sorry.

I'm assuming this is the story about Teancum on New Year's day who killed the Lamanite King in his sleep and the shook of it all, especially for a people who deified their kings, believing they were holy if not embued with Godly powers, sent them into retreat.

If that's the case, the author hasn't done his homework enough to know the reactions of the enemy. Teancum certainly knew the fear he would instill in the enemy if he were successful. None of that comes out in this story. In fact, there really is no charcter at all. We don't know this guys name. And we're confused by the authors sporadic jumping from olde English pros to modern "four-legged creatures" pros that we're uncertain if this is a modern indian, an ancient indian or Indiana Jones.

The author makes the same error that most authors make. He/She assumes that finding out who this guy is carries some sort of suspense for the reader. It doesn't. It only annoys. Show us who he is. Give us a few reasons to want him to succeed and some reason to think he won't.

Then there is that jumping from first person to third person and back again. Get rid of that NOW! How can you even begin to get into a story that jumps around like that. We are constantly reminded that the author is there changing person everyone other prargraph.

Give the character a name. Decide on first or third person. Rewrite your pros in a style reminicent of the language spoken in the time period by the characters. You don't have to use the same sentence structure of the Myans, but a little bit of switching the noun and verb around and you have something that has the feel of an ancient form of communication without sacrificing the efficiency and the beauty of modern English.

Good luck. And please, give Teancum a name up front!

Anonymous said...

So, Anonymous, are you actually a writer/publisher yourself?

Because if you were, i think you would give the author of this short story a bit of slack. Sometimes an author gets so into their story that they don't pay attention to grammar. That's why they have editors.

Secondly; How do you know they haven't done their homework? What about creative vision? What about inspiration? How about getting off your soapbox and giving it a chance?

Personally, I find it to be very well thought out. Granted, it could have been cleaned up a bit. But anyone who knows the Book of Mormon well enough should be able to tell that yes, it is about Teancum's SECOND try at the King.

Anyway, I think it's fine. With a little bit of polishing, it could be better. But I don't see any reason for the harsh criticism. I understood it just fine, Thank you!

Weston Elliott said...

I agree with Anon #2 - that was more than a bit too harsh.

Gamila said...

Perhaps the the first commentor was a bit too harsh, but all the same the advice was good and the author should seriously consider taking it. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism and honesty. In the future perhaps the first commentor could improve their crtiques by giving some positive feedback as well. I liked how this story had some nice suspense building in it, though I agree that hiding Teancums name is not a very fair suspense technique.

Anonymous said...

I am voting for this story. With a little cleaning up, i think it's good.

1942 said...

I'm voting for this story. It has a character that has depth and suspense and you could actually search your memory and figure out who the character was. it took me a few minutes, but I figured it out.
As for the first critic, i didn't get his commentary about fear. Who had the fear? The king's men or Teancum? Didn't the story follow what actually happened in the Book of Mormon? I thought it did. Teancum wasn't frozen with fear, because he killed the king, and the king's men weren't paniced because they killed Teancum. so where is this "homework" problem. I don't see it.
I do have to agree with the grammar issue. Was this done in a hurry to meet a deadline? Next time try to take more time and clean it up if that's the case.

Anonymous said...

Its almost midnight friday so I suppose I will vote for my own now. In any case I have learned a valuble lesson when it comes to submitting a story it is a very good idea to review it in the light of day. I made this up on a spur of the moment once I saw that the deadline was extended and groan at some of my grammar mistakes. Not the POV nor the purposeful absence of naming anything just the grammar. I really wonder if this just wasn't the right niche to show this. The absence of names was not a suspense ploy.I wanted to try something different and since this was short story and not a novel I could get away with it. I would never write a novel and not name anything like this short story. I thought it would be obvious to all that it was Teancum so why tell you about the size of the iceberg beneath the water? We all know how big it is underneath I dont have to show you. I found anonymous 1's comment on my lack of historical understanding of the BoM laughable but to each their own.