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24 October 2008 @ 01:54 am
"Besieged"  
I hate sleep.

Just thought you should know.

brigits_flame; prompt is "besieged" this time around; and deadlines find me tasty. D:

Thanks much to [info]eltea for the unsurprisingly fantasmic beta and the usual idea help, encouragement, distractions, and general awesomeness. XD

Also, it's DEFINITELY eltea's backyard, but that only means something to her and to richelle2972. :P

If anything makes no sense, I am very sorry, and it is very late. XD

Sir Jonathan Fenweather paced the battlement, the broad heels of his boots rapping smartly on the flagstones, and gazed grimly over the crenellations at the approaching army.  His hand, sun-browned skin overrun with an intricate network of interconnected scars, tightened on the worn grip of his sword handle, the leather accommodating his blunt fingers like a familiar glove.

Beldrin, the young flutist in the archer corps, looked up as Jonathan strode by.  The boy tapped his narrow chin compulsively with the fletching of an arrow, his eyes wide and bright, illuminated from within by the hazy glow of an immovable unease.

“Do we even have a hope?” he asked.

Jonathan couldn’t muster up the caliber of glare he wanted, the sort that would quell the mutinous despair stirring into life in the quickening hearts of the men along the wall.

“Hope?” he repeated.  “Of course we’ve got hope.  They can’t kill that.”

He neglected to mention that it was the only thing they had.

Natalie Forbes blew lightly on the surface of her tea.  Ripples chased each other across the mug, her hands leaching warmth from the glazed ceramic sides, and she shifted, the better to cradle the phone between her shoulder and her ear, as she glanced out the sliding glass door.

“We got Jon one of those fort playhouses with a slide,” she told Rebecca idly, watching the wind flirt with the red fabric of the banner they’d secured on the top.  “He and Will were setting it up all weekend, and Jon just loves it to death.”

She sipped at her tea.

“Hm?  Oh, I don’t know.  Castle, probably.  He’s always building sofa forts and asking to play castle when he’s in here.”

Jonathan’s fingers clenched around the edge of the parapet, the pressure bleaching his knuckles, the jagged stone gnawing in vain at his calloused palms.  The pounding of his pulse in his ears marked the progression of the seconds as they paraded past in single file, inevitability drawing mercilessly nearer.

The boys whispered prayers so fast that the words blurred together, but the veterans merely watched—watched, and waited, and saved their breath.

Jonathan tried to remember that the endless lines of men on the ground below were just that—men.  Human beings, flesh and blood, susceptible to the same frailties and deaths as he.  Despite their deliberately tarnished armor, despite the black paint that made their faces melt into the night, they were only men.

And then those men crossed an invisible line, and a shrill voice rose over the thudding of their boots on the arid ground—a cry that sent the first wave of arrows arcing into the ordered oblivion ranks.  The cruel points bit through chinks in armor, through imperfect chain mail, through susceptible flesh, and bodies tumbled heedlessly.

An answering hiss heralded the reciprocal onslaught, and Jonathan dropped shamelessly to one knee, ducking beneath the hungry projectiles.  Better undignified than dead.

Over the rumble of the siege towers, the clanking of armor plates, and the groans of the wounded, Jonathan heard the ladders slam into the wall.

Here they come.

Scabbard undulating wildly with his stride, he raced towards the spot, reaching the first ladder, bracing his boots against the stones, clasping his hands around the twin wooden poles, and pushing as hard as he could manage, as hard as his straining muscles would permit.  He gritted his teeth, sweat prickling on his forehead, the soles of his boots beginning to slide—and then the balance shifted, and he flung the thing away, its momentum and the weight of the enemies scrambling up the rungs carrying it heavily to the ground.

There were a dozen more.

Boots slamming against the stones in time with his laboring heart, Jonathan scrambled to the next, planting his feet, one of the archers joining him this time as they sought to change the fragile balance just enough—

This ladder, too, toppled to the distant dust, just as the most enterprising climbers surmounted the others.

An archer screamed, feeding the insatiable pandemonium, and Jonathan saw Beldrin thrust his knife into the throat of an attacker wielding two short swords.  A living shadow with halberd in hand raised it high, primed for plunging into the vulnerable juncture between Jonathan’s neck and shoulder, the oily painted darkness of his face cracking for a slash of a yellow grin.  Whirling, Jonathan buried his blade in his adversary’s belly and twisted viciously, touched by a grim and distant satisfaction as the halberd slipped from numbing hands.

Jerking his weapon free, he spun on his heel in time to guide it, gleaming, towards another grimacing demon materializing in the night—

Natalie drew the sliding door partway open.  “Sweetheart,” she called, “it’s lunchtime.”

Jon, valiantly battling imaginary foes, paused and blinked at her as if roused suddenly from a vivid dream.  Then he dropped the dowel rod she’d given him to the crackling leaves scattered over the deck and scampered up the stairs, cheeks flushed.

“What’s for lunch?” he asked brightly.

Natalie was tempted to reply with, The hearts of your enemies, but if Jon was anything like his father—who was a novelist and a chronic daydreamer of epic proportions—he didn’t need the encouragement.

“Whatever you like, dear,” she said instead, ushering him in.  “Are you having fun with the playhouse?”

Jon beamed.



 
 
Feeling: nerdynerdy
On the Radio: "Van Helsing" soundtrack
 
 
 
(Deleted comment)
Vitamin C: L and Misatierfal on October 24th, 2008 03:56 pm (UTC)
Yay! ^^

I like to think that's kind of the mother I'd be... "The livers of your enem--er, did you have fun...?"

Thank youuuu! ^^
richelle2972richelle2972 on October 24th, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
Ha, ha, I love how into his own little world Jonathan is. : ) Make-believe games were/are the best!
Vitamin Ctierfal on October 25th, 2008 02:00 am (UTC)
Heh, that's the secret -- writing it down instead of acting it out. XD
No Whimsy, Sugar: Cake!taste_is_sweet on October 24th, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC)
"The Indian in the Cupboard" scarred you for life, didn't it?

I love your horrible, horrible hidden world of playtime. And I hope I'm the kind of mom who will remember to ask her son about the hearts of his enemies. When appropriate. :)
Vitamin Ctierfal on October 25th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
I actually only vaguely remember it... I think my first-grade teacher read it to the class, and I think I recall watching a few scenes of the movie at some guy's house. XD

Even as I was writing it, I was asking myself whether this boy named Jon would imagine slightly-fantastical battles the way that I do, but I started ignoring myself after a while. XD

I think mommies have magic instincts on their sides. 8D
cedarwolfsingercedarwolfsinger on October 24th, 2008 08:00 pm (UTC)
Such a nice job! A kid's day-dream -- bloody as children can be-- very nice. Great take on the prompt! Good luck!
Vitamin Ctierfal on October 25th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
Thank you, and thank you! ^^
insolentscrawl: Sunsetinsolentscrawl on October 25th, 2008 03:04 am (UTC)
This is good. I like the contrast between innocence and battle-weary experience. Good job. I wish you luck this week.
Vitamin Ctierfal on October 25th, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much. :)
★ Eunhyuk's BB: chess piecescutecrazyice on October 25th, 2008 04:54 am (UTC)
Reminds me of Indian in the Cupboard. This is nice. :)
Vitamin Ctierfal on October 25th, 2008 11:49 pm (UTC)
That's the second time Indian in the Cupboard has come up, which is odd, 'cause I don't remember much about it at all. XD

Thanks! ^^
Ngocorientalblossom on October 25th, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)
SQUEEEEE!!! I love this story, the scenes are just so vivid in my mind that I can see everything that's going on. This reminds me of the Ranger's Apprentice series, and of Will's unconditional bravery.

Imagination is the paint that colours our world, and Jonathon uses it well :) And so does Tierfal, as always ^^
Vitamin Ctierfal on October 25th, 2008 11:50 pm (UTC)
Haven't read Rangers Apprentice -- for me, it was definitely Lord of the Rings aftereffects. I'm such a geek. XD

Hee hee, thanks! Glad you liked it! ^^
hwango: hermit crabhwango on October 27th, 2008 07:34 am (UTC)
Very cool. I can relate - though I wasn't the sort of kid who ran around waving an imaginary sword, I certainly had a lot more going on in my brain when I was playing than simply "Toy A attacks Toy B! Grr!"
Vitamin Ctierfal on October 27th, 2008 06:45 pm (UTC)
I did most of my world-building inside too, yeah. ^^;

Thanks very much! :D
Davidkenderlord on October 30th, 2008 08:26 pm (UTC)
Edits!
My god. I apologize for the horror and the lag of my having not critiqued this properly!

I wasn't even aware that I was on the hook for editing this week! So.

Let's get to it.

This is sweet! And, unsurprisingly, not unlike how I spent most of my childhood on the ravines that run to Lake Michigan. I'd take the shaft of a broom and pretend it was my magic staff, or an enchanted sword, or something. Usually I had a friend, or my little sister with me.

So! I do like the idea.

In the interest of critique, however, I have issues with your execution.

This may just be me. I am notorious in my writing classes for smacking the table and shaking my fist about this, so be not offended:
I really, really dislike modifiers, adverbs in particular. If you struck all the adverbs from this piece, it'd have a surprising additional strength - one greater than it has at present.

Mark Twain had a saying: "God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed by and by."

It's not that adjectives and adverbs are _BAD_. Goodness, no. But you must have better verbs and nouns if you're going to use them, or you will slip into cliché like a... like a slippy thing.

"Sir Jonathan Fenweather paced the battlement, the broad heels of his boots rapping smartly on the flagstones, and gazed grimly over the crenellations at the approaching army."

Remove 'broad', 'smartly', and 'grimly', I say, and I'll explain why: because when men of action pace on battlements, their boots are always broad! their footfalls always rap smartly, and their gazes are ever and unceasingly grim.

Do you get me? I mean to say that these adjectives are a trap. They will lead you only unto prose that is o'er-purpled with word-carbuncles that leak pus and verbiage.

... Of course, uh. Not like I'm any great example. But yes. Remember the carbuncles.

I'm just saying all this because I don't buy the semi-poetic metaphor of 'hungry projectiles'. Unless it really is a demon army, and they're catapulting lampreys onto the castle's defenders (which would be _AWESOME_), I don't really buy the notion that the arrows of the enemy have enough agency to desire blood.

One final note, before we return to compliments:
I dislike it when the station of a character is signposted. I mean that when a character is introduced, you give the character's full name and station: "Sir Jonathan Fenweather," "Natalie Forbes," "his father... [the] novelist and ... chronic daydreamer."

Do you get what I mean by signposting? Maybe I mean 'telegraphed'. It seems very obvious to me what you are trying to tell us about the characters, and I say that more subtlety is required, or at least would be appreciated.

With that said, however! This is a strong piece; powerful in its evocative language, and taking a turn for the cute at the end, appealing in its similarity to my childhood.

Good luck this week.

-David
Vitamin C: Mello - Reasonabletierfal on October 31st, 2008 12:54 am (UTC)
Re: Edits!
Next time, my dear David, I will write you a piece with NO ADJECTIVES.

...

...I'm lying. But I will do my best to take your position into account. :D As much of a modifier whore as I may be, I think you have a pretty valid point. And hey, if TWAIN'S with you, I'm outmanned for sure....

Though I think Dickens has my back. 8D

Interesting point about the signposting. I'm a chronic offender. Probably half of the things I ever write start out with a character's full name, not just in the first sentence, but as the first words. I do need to break that habit; it's a bad one. XD

Thanks very much for an immensely insightful edit! :)
Davidkenderlord on October 31st, 2008 01:05 am (UTC)
Re: Edits!
You are quite welcome!

<_< You'll notice I definitely use adjectives, too. I try to hold to the advice I put out, though. You can tear into me come November, once this damn election is over, once I can tear myself away from Fivethirtyeight.com, once I can actually write again. -D
Vitamin Ctierfal on October 31st, 2008 01:12 am (UTC)
Re: Edits!
^^

Haha, fair enough. ;)

And dude, fivethirtyeight.com is uber-awesome.

(...I think my California is showing. o__o')
Davidkenderlord on October 31st, 2008 01:49 am (UTC)
Re: Edits!
95.7% for Barry much?
*grins*
-D
Vitamin Ctierfal on October 31st, 2008 08:48 am (UTC)
Re: Edits!
*rich, triumphant evil laughter*

By which I mean... I'm utterly unbiased... 8D
A ghost within shadows: Brigit's Flameamri on November 2nd, 2008 02:59 am (UTC)
Hi-

I'm doing one of your edits for this week to help out.

This was wonderful in showing the balance of the child's imagination and the "reality" of the situation when his mother brought him out for lunch.

I also liked the vividness of Jon's dreams and descriptions of his battle - hope being all he had to survive the siege!

I do have to agree with kenderlord's suggestions on modifiers. The words are nicely put together and very descriptive but they detract from the story and the reader is stuck trying to process all the images you provided rather than using their own imaginations to fill in the blanks.

I really enjoyed this piece. It brings up memories of my own childhood stories that never got written down.

Keep up the great work!
Vitamin Ctierfal on November 3rd, 2008 09:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks for pitching in on the editing, first of all -- I'm always just so impressed at how wonderfully the system works because of all of your commitment. :)

Yeah, I think kenderlord is probably onto something; writing a little and saying a lot isn't always one of my strengths. XD

Thanks very much! ^^