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Doctor
Doctor's picture
(Very) Short Fiction

Hey all. This is a short vignette that came out of a first and almost completely failed attempt to respond to the following writing prompt:

In 500 words, describe a Montaigne musketeer who is growing more and more sympathetic to the brewing rebellion against l’Empereur Alexandre. A successful description will not only evoke the panache of Montaigne's finest soldiers, but will also be a useful tool for a GM seeking to integrate the character into a session of 7th Sea. Consider how you might get your players invested in such a character, and feel free to be direct with examples and suggestions to the GM.

I didn't know what else to do with it, so I thought I'd toss it up here. It's still a little raw (as editing it heavily doesn't seem like a productive use of time) but hopefully someone might get a little enjoyment from it.

# # # 

Julian Gerrard sipped his wine with a vague look of disappointment on his otherwise pleasant visage: it was a good vintage gone bad through neglect. Doubtless the inn keeper had failed to properly store the bottle and thus, while the wine had not spoiled completely, it had acquired an altogether unpleasant aftertaste. The comparison of Montagine to a bottle of fine wine was not at all new; poets, balladeers, and politicians had drawn floral parallels for years, yet the metaphor never seemed more apt than in this moment.  Here he was, far out in the provinces, leagues distant from the palaces of Charouse, where utmost care was taken to see that the wine of l’Empereur Alexandre was never spoilt.  He had once visited the royal wine cellar, a grotto attended by more royal functionaries than the entire duchy in which he now sat, all of whom were charged with ensuring that each bottle remained untroubled by the travails of the outside world.

 

He had once believed that the bottles in the cellars of l’Empereur could well have possessed equal share to the claim of the man himself of "L'État, c'est moi:" I am the State. Now, however, he saw more of his beloved Montaigne in this bottle: palatable even spoilt as it was, yet with its grandeur and subtle beauties soured. A less refined tongue might not have even noticed, for it was only those who knew the sweetness and richness the draught could offer that might notice and rue the corruption of each. Ruin had come not through wickedness but through inattention, though it left the finish of each sip no less ruined.

 

As Gerrard mused, sounds from the town which was now his charge began to creep in through the walls of the tavern. At first these were but commonplace noises, though he would not have thought so some few years ago: the laments of a young woman, the angered shouts of a grown man, and the general, muted, and impotent alarm of onlookers. It was not until the unmistakable low scrape and high hum of steel being drawn reached his ears that Gerrard put his wine and thoughts aside, rising and striding to the inn's door.

 

A young woman wept, slung to her knees in the street, her arm gripped tightly in the hands of a man in his middle years, who himself was groomed but poorly kempt and wearing the badge of Comte d' Armagnac upon his fine if rustic tunic. It was the Comte's man who had drawn his blade, which he pointed contemptuously at an older man whose every hair  was graying or departed and whose face showed the long lines of care. The older man held a pitchfork with a grim determination. As Gerrard's measured stride carried him closer to the scene, he sized up the parties as a matter of habit; years of training had honed more than his body and blade into weapons.

 

The girl was young, beautiful, and spirited even now: while her eyes never left her captor, her free hand groped blindly along the ground in search of a rock or some other implement with which to bash in the man's skull. The Comte's man held his rapier like a switch or rod meant to punish a disobedient child or dog and Gerrard could tell that the man's parrying dagger had seen little action, a clear sign that the Comte's man had turned his blade on more peasants than fighters as of late. As for the old man, his stance was a sure sign that he was capable with his pitchfork; there could be little doubt that he had served his nation as a pikeman, likely in the War of the Cross, the slight limp in his right leg likely a war wound.

 

Gerrard's approach did not go unnoticed, though the Comte's man never looked way from the brandished pitchfork.

 

"This is not your affair, mon ami" the Comte's man stated simply, a sneer in his voice indicating he was used to being obeyed.

 

"All affairs of justice are the affair of l’Empereur Alexandre" came Gerrard's reply, and it was only then that the Comte's man noticed the seal upon Gerrard's tabard. The Comte's man adopted a more civil tone, though Gerrard could hear the barbarity and distain behind it.

 

"This man has refused to pay his taxes. He claims poverty and, as is custom, the Comte has generously allowed him to work off the debt. The Comte, however, has no need of an aged, crippled farmer; his daughter is to serve in his stead...as a scullery maid." It was difficult to believe that the service intended by the Comte was washing dishes.

 

It was then that the old man roared, his powerful voice belying his aging body.

 

"Refused to pay my taxes? I have given l’Empereur all I have! I gave him my youth and leg in his battles. I gave him my son for his wars, my grain for his tables, and what little coin I ever had for his coffers. He made a cripple of me, a corpse of my son, no bread of my grain, and precious baubles of my coin. He will not make a whore of my daughter!"

 

"Silence your treasonous tongue!" snarled the Comte's man, and he lunged with his blade. Steel flashed in the sun as Gerrard's rapier leapt into his hand and caught the other man's sword before it could do little more than twitch. For the life of him, Gerrard could not say just why he did it.

 

The onlookers feel silent. The Comte's man slowly began to replace the look of shock on his face with a sneer. Soon the lively music of combat would ring out in the streets, but in this instant of stillness, Gerrard took a moment to drink in the entire scene: the girl, in full blossom of youth, her future in the balance, the Comte's man, cruelty thinly clad in the finery of nobility and tradition, the old man, who had fought to defend the honor of the Crown and now had to fight the Crown for what was left of his honor, and the Musketeer, bound by twin pledges to protect king and people, slowly being torn in two between them...And each of them crying out:

 

"...L'État, c'est moi..."

"...L'État, c'est moi..."

"...L'État, c'est moi..."

 

"...I am the State."

 

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“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Deanna
Deanna's picture

Well written! I particularly like the last lines. Very poignant.

I took a very similar route with my response to that prompt. Took me longer to pare down to the allotted words than it did to write it.

500 words. Near impossible, ce n'est pas?

Doctor
Doctor's picture

It was just brutal. I love the details (it's almost like I love John Wick settings) and it killed me to have to geld some of my best images. Both of my submissions are exactly 500 words and it was just painful to know that in order to use an elegant turn of phrase in one place, I had to sound like a 3rd grader in another. 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Deanna
Deanna's picture

Oh yes. I felt the same way, and both of mine were exactly 500 words. It was one of the more difficult challenges I have had, simply because of the word limit. It makes sense though. They need to know you can work within those constraints, since a sourcebook can only be so long.

 

I ended up with a rather large back story for musketeer as well as the other main character in my submission. I had to distill it down to its basics, so very much was left unsaid. I had to simplify my cave as well, though that one was a little easier. Someday, I will probably use it in a campaign.

Once everyone hears back and I have some time, I will probably revisit both of them and write them in detail, just to get them out of my head if nothing else!

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture

Very nice!  Where did that prompt come from?  We should do more of those challenges here...

Doctor
Doctor's picture

It came from the Freelance application, though I think the community could whip up a bunch of "fiction prompts" without much trouble. Minimum 750 words though... 500 is rough. 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture

That could be a lot of fun.  I've got a rough quartet of Heroes I'd like to use in my tales, including the Vendel linguist I mentioned in another thread.  Such a challenge might encourage some of us to flesh our characters further out in prose form.

Bradley
Bradley's picture

Actually, making a fan npc book might be a fun thing to do. Interconnect them, use various prompts to flesh them out and better understand how the various characters would react in various situations, and, just maybe, combine it all into a single pdf.

Doctor
Doctor's picture

I propose that all characters should intersect or connect with one of the other characters already posted; that way we build the world outward.

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Eric Munson
Eric Munson's picture

Completely agree with how difficult 500 words was.  And you couldn't just write story for 500, you had to dedicate some to helping the GMs with ideas.  I netted about 400 words of descriptive text and a scant 100 to ways to use characters and/or scene in a game.  And to have my wife-as-editor bugging me simultaneously about not being detailed enough and using too many words cheeky

Thoroughly enjoyed your story, by the by!

Doctor
Doctor's picture

Yeah, I am not particularly thrilled by my submission, mostly because I had to rework the cavern completely when I realized I just couldn't make my initial design "interactive" enough without it becoming either Tomb Raider or a D&D module. I went down to the wire and while I am 99% sure I caught all the typos, I didn't have time for my usual editing ritual. I would not be shocked to find out that submissions with typos get kicked out immediately and I have already accepted that, while it might be a stupid reason (on my part) for a rejection, it's quite possible. If I had known the word count was going to be so low, I'd have practiced 500 word vignettes and descriptions a bit before the call went out. The initial information I got was that they would be looking for "a strong, short (<2,000 words) writing sample." While 500 is less than 2,000, I suppose I was thinking more in the 1,000 word range. 

One way or another I am looking forward to the Explorer's society. 

I am glad people enjoyed the story, I might write more at some point; I think a forum "writing circle" would be a good thing to have going. 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Red Jenny
Red Jenny's picture

Something to bring up, perhaps, once our kind Cthulhu upgrades our servers. =)

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
OK, for those of you hoping to get jobs out of your submissions, keep in mind that some of your assignments may not even be 500 words long. The Rapier's Edge was broken down into assignments of x many words for each of the main adventures followed by assignments to do 100 ( yes, a mere 100) word plothooks about a nation or faction. No choice in the matter, we just got assigned a topic and told to do x many 100 word plothooks. ( and that was all the direction we got). Mind you, we were at the tail end of the series. with John reinventing, I would expect writers will be getting some direction in how they want things to go.
Deanna
Deanna's picture
Oh, absolutely. Like I said earlier, I totally understand why the word limit was as it was for such a rich prompt. There is only so much room in the book, after all. You want the writing to be vivid and engaging, but succinct. 100 word plot hooks would be a heck of a lot of fun, actually. I would enjoy that.
Doctor
Doctor's picture

A plot hook in 100 words is significantly less complex than the prompts, simply because a plot hook is intended to be open ended where as the prompts were intended to have some semblance of "completeness." Thanks for the information though; these things are always good to know.

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Elliot Smorodinsky
Elliot Smorodinsky's picture

First of all -- very well written. I enjoyed reading it. Great job!

Secondly... darn you. Darn you to heck. I had a bit of story that I had to leave out of my submission, because it would not fit -- and only now, NOW, as I am looking at your story, I realize that I could have reworked the *entire* submission to fit with that one bit, and it would have been so much the  better and stronger for it.

Ah well. 

Doctor
Doctor's picture

Thank you for your kind words, I am glad you enjoyed it. I may polish it up a bit now that deadline is past.

If it comes as any consolation, I don't think very many of us are thrilled with our submissions. I, personally, am used to having a great deal more guidance as to my target audience:  my first question was "which section of the book is this supposed to be in?" As for the realization, with almost every writer I've ever known, nothing is ever "finished" it is merely "done," turned in and out of their hands. As John said: "Every day, you wake up thinking of a new way to make your game better. Even the day after you've sent it to the printer. Especially that day. That's when all the brilliant ideas show up."

Also, that story is about double the word limit, so, I had room to work.

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken