Thursday, March 07, 2013

Fiction: For Want of a Grail

I used to write the odd article, adventure and such like in exchange for a small amount of cash and last year the Black Library, publishers of Warhammer fiction, had an open submission month. It seemed like an excuse to do some writing and I thought after all the critiquing of their novels on this blog I'd have a go at writing my own short story - a kind of psychological horror story about a quixotic senile knight hunting a witch in a backwards rural village in Bretonnia (basically a backwards Arthurian medieval France setting) while his squire, a treacherous fellow who uses the knight's senility and rank to get an easy rise, dissuade the knight from his investigations. There's also some stuff about an evil version of the Grail I eventually put into last year's Nationals module.
Anyroads, I wrote a synopsis and a short 1,000 word sample. Black Library then announced they didn't want a synopsis and it seems the original synopsis is lost to hard disk crashes.
Since Games Workshop never got back to me in nearly a year I guess they were after more teenage-friendly action and less psychology, so I'm posting it here for general comments/critiques.
For Want of a Grail, A Warhammer Fantasy Short Story by Stuart Kerrigan
Overview: The Questing Knights of Bretonnia who find the Grail become Grail Knights but what of those who do not succeed yet remain bound by their oath to stubbornly continue their quest?
Sample 1,000 words:
The mood in the common room was as cold as the snow that carpeted the village commons Jacques thought. On a normal night Beyonne’s keg house echoed with sounds of ribald jests, grumblings and tales of mundane drudgery. Tonight their nerves were on edge and their glassy eyes squinted into their glasses of cheap wine.
Jacques cursed under his breath. The drinks were flowing as slowly as the conversation. His eyes scanned the length of the dirt covered bar looking for a dirty glass to spit and clean. Suddenly the door to the keg house opened and the barkeep felt the kiss of the chill wind upon his skin. A single figure stood by the door, his stooped form in silhouette from the single lantern hung from the rafters that bathed the room in urine-yellow light.
The man moved towards the bar with a pronounced limp on his left leg, and when he at last stood in the light Jacques saw the man had a weathered countenance. He was bald as an egg, wearing a brown eye-patch over his left eye to match most of his mismatched leather jerkin. A scar marred his left cheek and when his right hand slammed onto the bar Jacques noticed a mere three digits.
“My liege, Sir Brisbois, Knight of the Quest, finds this weather too cold for his liking,” said the man in a deep, scratchy voice. “He wishes to stay the night in your fine establishment.”
Jacques stood at once to attention, “Aye milord.” Perhaps tonight would not see his takings down. Knights were a capricious breed - unschooled in matters of commerce they were often unwittingly generous, but if they found the service wanting their anger could be great.
The ill-favoured character nodded in acknowledgment and exited the tavern, leaving the door open. A few moments passed and the warmth continued to escape the common room. Then he returned, holding the arm of his master.
The knight that entered was thin and stooped under the weight of his armour. A short untidy white beard ordained a wrinkled and elderly face and matched the crop of hair on his head. He wore what had once been fine, albeit old-fashioned, plate mail that was now encrusted in dirt and rust. Some of the ringlets of his cuirass and underlying hauberk lay broken. A still-fine silver-hilted long blade and a cruel looking double-handed sword were girthed to his left side. Jacques grandfather and great-uncles had been men-at-arms. From them he knew that a squire who kept his knight’s raiments in such a shabby manner would be horsewhipped to within an inch of his life.
The rogue who accompanied the knight led him down to a table near the bar and pushed him onto the bench non-too-gently. “Bring him wine,” said the squire. “And bring me some too.”
Jacques dusted off a Bastonne vintage he kept under the bar and brought it to the table along with a pewter goblet. The squire gleefully seized both saying, “This’ll do for me. Bring him the house red.”
Jacques looked uncertainly from the braggart to the knight, but the old man still shook from the cold of the winter night. Jacques returned with a chipped pewter goblet full of the local red. The old man slowly drained it while the braggart swigged from the bottle.
“Thank you Grenell,” said Brisbois hoarsely.
“That’s not my name,” said the rogue, ignoring the knight and speaking to Jacques. “Not that he knows or cares anymore. Milord here is forever listening to the dragon as the Bastonne’s would say.” He tapped the side of his temple whilst rolling his eyes in mockery. “The real name’s Malloc.”
“Have you tended to the horses?” asked the old man, oblivious to his squire’s disrespect.
“Of course I have milord,” said Malloc patronisingly. He handed Jacques a silver penny and whispered, “Have your boy stable his mule out front. The thing’s half dead with cold. Old devil thinks it’s an elven steed gifted him by the Lady.”
Jacques brow creased, partly in confusion and partly in disgust at this so-called squire. Before he could decide how to respond he was joined by Russo, a dirt-covered farmer who had been sat by the hearth. The peasant stooped unsteadily over the knight’s table. He focused on the old warrior and knelt in supplication, “Have you come to deliver us from the devils sir knight?”
Brisbois said nothing, tilting his head and seemingly staring past the peasant with his tired grey eyes.
“Horrors plague the farms sir. Last week my cow, she gave birth to a two-headed calf, she did and the others say I be…”
The peasants head hit the table as Malloc backhanded the peasant. He laughed, “Livestock are not our concern peasant.”
Tears formed in Russo’s eyes as he lifted his head, a nosebleed mingling with the filth and straw on the common room floor. Jacques took a deep breath and turned to the knight, “A month ago someone snuck into the barn and cut Dominic’s prize sheep open. Its entrails were snakes and when he found the carcass and the snakes bit him. He died days later he did. An’ there’s been more over the last few moons.”
“Enough!” said Brisbois, surprising even Malloc with the sound of his voice. “I have heard enough!” The knight reached his feet unsteadily, shaking as he did. He drew his double-handed sword in his palsied hands and moved it an uncertain arc over Malloc’s head. The squire recoiled, ducking under the table. “You have described to me the signs that a daemon infests your town of…”
“Beyonne, milord,” said another peasant to nervous chuckles. “Yer in the back of Beyonne.”
Brisbois continued unphased, “Of Beyonne. By the Lady I swear to you I shall find your demon and excise it from your soil, and regain her favour.”
The peasants chattered excitedly. Brisbois unsteadily lowered his sword to the table and knocked over the bottle of Bastonne red.
Malloc cursed under his breath. This had become more than an overnight stay in Beyonne.

No comments: