Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Graveyard

So, having just turned in one manuscript and gearing up to write the next, it's a good time to do some housecleaning and assessment of long-term plans and old projects that deserve another look.  I get to pull out the spreadsheet and move things around!  Part of that is deciding which things really do have a future, which need further time to marinate, and which are well and truly DEAD.

At least for now.

One of the dead things, for me, is The Crown of Druthal, which was my attempt to justify the full-world worldbuilding I did by coming up with a series idea that involved traveling around the whole world.  It did not come together, or more correctly I was not yet the writer who could handle it.  Either way: not going anywhere with that. 

But, it had some good bits, including this one where my main character, Augustine, has accidentally caused a major incident by committing a sacrilege in the eyes of the religion in the country they were visiting.  Eager to make things right, he's agreed to a public atonement ceremony: receiving nine lashes with a whip in the public square.
The streets of Galena were crowded with onlookers as they marched to Trelan Square.  Augustine walked in the center, with Gregor and Andus at either side of him, the soldiers forming a square around them.  The throngs opened to let the train pass, keeping a respectful distance as the soldiers led Augustine along the way.  Some of them shouted, some of them raised up their arms.  They were filled with energy, with excitement, but not anger.
“Am I wrong, or are they praying for me?” asked Augustine. 
“Of course they are,” said Andus.
“I thought they hated me,” said Augustine.
“They did,” said Andus. “Not anymore. You’re engaging in repentance.  That means you’ve accepted your sin.”
“I suppose,” said Augustine.
“Accepted responsibility for them at least,” said Gregor. “The public spectacle of these things is mostly about what you say.   You’ve accepting responsibility and taking the penance, so they have to at least say that they’re forgiving you and praying for you.  I’m sure some of them mean it.”
“Peace, Mister Sarton,” said Andus. 
“Sure are a lot of people, though,” Augustine said.
“From what I’ve gathered, Mister Montrose, you are possibly the first foreigner, first person who is not a member of the Acserian faith, to willingly accept a penance from the Church.  That’s quite a unique thing.  Many people will come to see it.”
“Wait until we reach the square, Aug,” said Gregor. “I think the whole Kannan Assembly will be on hand.  Not to mention the Prince of Pelkin, and whole hosts of lords and ladies.”
“Wonderful,” said Augustine.  His stomach was starting to knot up.
“Just think, you’re the Acserian social event of the year!”
“Shut it!” snapped Augustine.  Gregor’s smile melted off his face.  He mumbled an apology, and dropped back a pace or two.
Trelan Square was impossibly full of people.  Augustine had never seen anything like it.  Even the Maradaine Cup, where rowers from RCM and the University of Maradaine would race on the river, bringing out the teeming crowds on both shores, never had as many people in one place.  Augustine’s heart nearly stopped. 
The center of Trelan Square was a large stone platform.  This was an important place for the Acserians, Augustine knew.  When Acser was alive, he preached on that stone to the people.  He told them that the next prophet would reveal himself on it. Two hundred years later, an orphan boy named Galena ran up the steps, and suddenly scores of birds flew down and landed on the stone and the boy’s arms.   
Except for the Citadel itself, it was the most sacred place in all of Acseria.
Several Acserians stood on the stone, notably DaiKanna Zalnim.  The old man looked  thrilled to see the Druths make their approach.  There were several other zealot guards with him, in full regalia of bright red cloaks and armor. 
“Is there one there who seeks the forgiveness of the Rei and the Holy Church of Acseria?” called out Zalnim.  Augustine was about to speak, but Andus put his hand on his shoulder, and stepped forward.
“There is,” returned Andus. “We present him to your mercy.”  Major Haliert blew his whistle again, and the soldiers separated, leaving a clear path for Augustine to climb up to the platform.
“We recognize him as a sinner,” said Zalnim. “Approach, sinner, so that you may be forgiven.”  With a nudge from Andus, Augustine stumbled up the steps onto the platform.  As soon as he stepped up, two of the zealots grabbed his arms.  Their grip was firm, but not too hard.
“Your name, sinner,” said Zalnim.
“Augustine Montrose,” said Augustine.  He must not have said it loudly enough, for Zalnim looked at him expectantly.  “Augustine Montrose!” he called out, projecting his voice through the square.
“Augustine Montrose, citizen of Druthal, you are charged with heresy by mouth, that you did speak blasphemy in the presence of the Holy Rei and several members of the Kannan Assembly.  Do you accept this charge?”
“I do, DaiKanna,” said Augustine.
“You are charged with causing willful damage to a sacred creature, in the sanctified Aviary of the Citadel, in the presence of the Holy Rei.  Do you accept this charge?”
“I do, DaiKanna.”
Augustine looked up and saw that the Druth soldiers had pulled back, with several of the Crown’s crew staying within their perimeter, an island of Druth faces in the sea of Acserians.   Past the crowd on the ground, there was a hastily built riser, with several people watching from above the crowd.  Augustine spotted the Rei up there, and several other Kanna and DaiKanna.  Near the Rei, Baron Milton and Jensen stood with Prince Restimadran.  They were all too far away for Augustine to get a good look at their faces, get a sense of what they were thinking.  Other people from the Crown were likely out and around in the crowd, but Augustine couldn’t find them.
“You have accepted that you must do penance for these sins, to remove the stain in the eyes of the Church and God?”
“I have, DaiKanna.”
“The sinner has accepted his penance!” Zalnim shouted out to the crowd.  There was a great cheer from them all.  The crowd was jubilant. Was it possible that they were truly happy for his contrition and repentance? 
 Did they really think they were saving his soul?
“His Holiness, Rei Nalesta IV of Acseria, has declared that your act of penance shall be as follows.  For the sin of blasphemy, you are to receive nine lashings with the calizar here in the public square.  For the sin of willful damage to a sacred creature, you are to receive a sacred getazán privately, from the Rei himself.”
“A what?” asked Augustine.  This was unexpected.  He wracked his brain to remember what a getazán was.  It was an old word, from the ancient Futran.  He looked out at his friends in the crowd.  Gregor, Cale, Andus, all of them, looked shocked and confused.
“Do you accept?” said Zalnim.
“Well, what is...” started Augustine.  Old words flashed through his brain.  Getazir was a Futran word meaning “task” or “chore”.  Was the Rei going to giving him some other thing to do?  What was it?
“Do you accept!” barked Zalnim.  It didn’t sound like a question.
“Yes, I accept the penance!” blurted out Augustine.  The crowd gave another shout of joy.
“Very well.  We shall perform the nine lashings from the calizar!”  The two brought Augustine over to a wooden post that was mounted on the platform.  One of them went behind him, and as quick as anything, cut open his shirt from behind.  Augustine would have preferred that they had just taken it off him, or asked him to do it himself.  It was too late to say anything about it now.  The shirt fell to the ground, and the other man took Augustine’s arms around either side of the post.  He pulled out a leather strap, and wrapped it loosely around Augustine’s wrists.  Augustine was bound to the post, but he could easily drop the strap and be free.
“The relamé is a badge of honor, given to the penitent,” the zealot whispered to Augustine, indicating the straps around his wrists. “It is a sign of your compliance.  Respect the relimar, and do not release it.”  Augustine nodded.  If I drop it, they’ll probably tie me to the post for real.
DaiKanna Zalnim came over to Augustine.  “The blessings of God are upon you, my son,” he said, touching Augustine’s face with one hand.  In the other hand, he was holding the calizar.  The whip was crueler looking than Augustine had expected.  The long cord of leather was bound in several places with barbed metal. A wave of panic filled Augustine. 
As Zalnim walked behind him, it took ever bit of control and courage to not drop the relamé and bolt off the platform.  He looked out at the crowd, his eyes seeking the risers.  He scanned over the people up on it.
“One!” shouted Zalnim from behind him, and a moment later, his back was torn open.  Augustine screamed in agony.  It was the worst pain he had ever known.  Almost instinctively, he gripped the relamé and pulled it tight against the post.  He refused to let go.  Tears coming to his eyes, he looked again at the risers.
There he was.  Elgin Jensen.
“Two!” Again, his flesh was shredded as the lash raked across his back.  Augustine screamed again, but did not shut his eyes this time.  His eyes were locked on Jensen. 
“Three!” He was on fire.  He could feel blood dripping onto his feet.  He didn’t scream that time.  He channeled every ounce of pain and anger into his eyes, which bore into Jensen.   Were he a mage, he was convinced that fire would blast out of them and incinerate the man.
“Six!” He was certain that he’d been cut to the bone.  His knuckles were white around the leather strap.  I won’t break, he thought, I won’t give you that satisfaction. 
“Seven!”  Again, a scream broke out from his lips, despite himself.  His legs buckled out from under him.  He dangled from the post, half kneeling.

If there was a nine, Augustine never heard it, for the pain overwhelmed him, and the world became black.