Author versus Character
by Lazette Gifford
Outline and Notes, Chapter Five
Author: The night passes quietly. Character sleeps soundly and wakes up at first light to the sound of a rooster crowing. He climbs down from the hay loft and stretches, pleased to see that the fog of the night before has cleared and he can now see the town -- a couple dozen buildings, including a travelers’ inn. He'd found refuge in their stable. Grateful for the chance to sleep so comfortably --
Character: You know, I've been quiet and gone along with you for the previous four chapters without a complaint, but this is too much. I've spent six days sleeping on leaves, huddled by a tree in the rain, and half-drowned and miserable. And now you think sleeping in a hay pile is comfortable! I tossed and turned all night. Hay isn't down feathers, you know -- it's dried twigs. They stab. And what the hell is this? (holds up something between his fingers)
Author: (peers closely) Looks like a needle to me.
Character: Right. What perverted person would put a needle in a pile of hay? It jabbed me.
Author: Did it? (looks hopefully at the needle, then glances at research books) Is it rusty? Tetanus... severe muscle spasms, also called lockjaw... that might be interesting. I hadn't thought of an illness like that, before the shots and everything. Let me see it.
Character: See what?
Author: The needle!
Character: (brushing hands) What needle? There's no needle here. Can't be. This is pre-industrial. No needle... and no tetanus.
Author: (reluctantly puts aside the books) Oh well. Okay, where were we?
Character: New day, no fog, etc.
Author: Right. Okay. ‘Character makes his way through the stable yard and past the open door to the inn's kitchen --‘
Character: ‘His stomach growling --‘
Author: If you're hungry, eat the journey bread in your jacket pocket.
Character: Are you joking? That stuff's so hard I could chip rocks with it. A caveman with this journey bread could have ruled the world.
Author: ‘Character walks past the door and out into the street where he sees something that makes him shut up and forget everything else. There, on the hill top overlooking the village, is the black stone castle that has haunted his dreams for the last five years! He anxiously turns that way, heading toward the distant castle gate --‘
Character: Are you crazy? Or do you just think I'm stupid?
Author: What's the problem now? That's the castle -- your goal in sight --
Character: Yeah, the castle. Those dreams would be the ones where I wake up in a cold sweat, screaming because the castle sucked me in and buried me alive. And now you expect me to blithely head straight up and walk in? To hell with that. I'm heading the opposite way on this road, just as fast as I can --
Author: Back toward the toll gate and the guards you so carefully avoided last night? Oh, good plan.
Character: Damn. I forgot. What's to the right?
Author: ‘A fetid swamp still curling with the last tendrils of the fog from the night before. It must once have been part of a lake and port. Character can even make out the masts of ships buried in the muck, vines twining up across tattled sails.... and the bleached bones of men, trapped within those ropes of green, as though the plants had suddenly reached out and grabbed them --‘
Character: I get the idea. Thank you so much for another new level of nightmare to add to my others. What's to the left?
Author: ‘To the east’ -- left for Characters not paying attention to where they are -- ‘he can see a few more buildings, some of them obviously abandoned. Beyond that are rocky fields and small plots of dying plants. Less than a mile away is the shadow of the forest --‘
Character: Excellent! Oh, and may I say that five chapters is a bit long to be waiting for a name?
Author: I want it to be the right name, the perfect name. I'll know it when I see it.
Character: Fine. Whatever. ‘Character casts one worried look at the brooding black castle and sets off on foot past the falling buildings and into the fields --‘
Author: ‘Almost immediately, Character hears the baying of dogs and looks worriedly toward the castle. He can see the pack that is pacing beneath the walls, he thinks waiting for the morning meal. But now they've seen him moving in the empty land below --‘
Author: Don't worry. They're only poodles.
Character: A pack of poodles? Toy? Miniature? Standard?
Author: A mix. And actually they're only half poodle.
Character: (eyeing them cautiously and trying to guess if he can reach the forest and get away from them) Half poodle and half what?
Character: (stops and shakes head) Wolves. You crossed poodles and wolves. And the reason was...?
Author: Wild killers, less fur to clean up. ‘They have spotted Character, and the woodle pooves bay -- or maybe yip -- again.’
Character: Woodle pooves. I'm getting an image of the dogs here.... oh man, that's just wrong.
Author: Are you trying for the trees or not?
Character: Can I make it?
Author: Probably. They're kind of inbred woodle pooves. Not entirely bright.
Character: Okay then. Better than the castle.
Author: ‘Character jogs along the broken path between the rocks as the woodle pooves gather at the top of the hill. He's more than halfway to the cursed forest before they --‘
Character: (stops) Cursed forest? You didn't say anything about the forest being cursed!
Author: Let's see: Deadly swamp, dying fields, big brooding black castle.... of course the forest is cursed. Duh.
Character: Good point. My mistake. What kind of curse?
Author: (flips through notes) ‘A century ago a major battle was fought at the village. A mage-king, seeing all about to be lost, cast a desperate spell to save his throne. He brought not only the plants of the lake but also the trees into the battle. They won, but unfortunately, the trees developed a taste for blood. They won't kill you... well, not right away.’ You can escape in a couple years. You won't be sane, of course, but I think you might be an interesting character if you were insane.
Character: I don't need a cursed forest of vampire trees to drive me crazy. I've got you. ‘Character, sensing something evil from the forest -- or maybe not wanting to risk his luck with the woodle pooves -- turns around and hurries back to the village.’
Author: ‘Character soon reaches the street and turns toward the castle.’
Author: What do you mean no? You've found out there is no other direction. Now start up for the castle --
Character: I am not going to that frigging castle!
Author: Do you know how long I've been setting this moment up? That castle has been in your dreams --
Character: Nightmares --
Author: For five years! You’ve been pursuing it since you came of age!
Character: I had dreams about Daisy from the Bread and Barrel for ten years! Why couldn't I pursue her instead?
Author: This isn't that kind of book!
Character: Like I haven't noticed!
Author: ‘Character, reluctantly realizing he has no choice, and that this is his destiny, heads for --‘
Character: The privy. It has to be around here by the inn somewhere.
Author: You're just putting off the inevitable.
Character: Where is the privy? Or we're going to have something else inevitable happen.
Author: ‘The privy is at the opposite side of the stable. Character can see the swarms of flies and flinches at the stench as he nears --‘
Author: I don't think bulls have anything to do with this problem.
Character: Look, this is stupid. The world has magic. The first thing they're going to use it for is to fix the stink from the outhouse! ‘Character heads for the privy, nothing the faint scent of lilacs and roses. Butterflies dance in the air.’
Author: ‘As he slips in and closes the door --‘
Character: A little privacy, if you don't mind. Out.
Character steps back out, looking toward the door to the kitchen again.
Author: Too bad you don't have any money.
Character digs into jacket and pulls out shiny silver coin.
Author: You've been holding out on me.
Character: I got it off one of those five bandits who tried to kill me back in Chapter Three. You know, right before the bridge -- the one that had borne the weight of a thousand peasants and their wagons -- gave way under me for no apparent reason and I nearly drowned.
Author: Yeah, but you lost the bandits who were trying to kill you.
Character: I'm going for breakfast. Then I'm going to lay low for the rest of the day and escape the way I got in. Don't even bother to say anything. ‘Character goes in and orders food, has a quiet leisurely meal, lingering over bread and honey. The local serving wench isn't bad looking, either. She reminds him of Daisy, the girl he left behind. They might have a pleasant day together. He finishes up the food, pushing away the plate --‘
Author: ‘And the guards, having been relieved of their posts at the gate, come in for their own breakfast. They immediately spot Character and know he's a stranger who didn't come through their gate. Worse, though, is that they recognize him.’
Character: What? I've never been here! They can't --
Author: ‘The guards fall on him, and he's soon beaten to his knees --‘
Character: Beaten? But -- but --
Loter, Captain of the Guard: Another one! You look like your great-grandfather, boy! We're not going to have any more mad mage-kings!
Selis, Another Guard: I didn't think that dream crap would work, but hell, what is this? Fifteen of them now? Up boy.
Author: ‘Selis grabs Character by the arm and hoists him to his feet, taking him outside. Captain Loter loops a rope around his arms and ties it to his saddle --‘
Character: But --
Author: ‘Loter kicks his horse into a trot, heading toward the castle gate, and only barely slows when Character stumbles and falls, dragged along the rough road. Bloody, bruised and panting, Character gets back to his feet and tries to jog along behind the horse.’
Character: Look, it doesn't have to be like this --
Author: I gave you the chance to come here quietly. You really shouldn't argue with your author. It just gives me more time to come up with something more interesting to do.
Character: Maybe the woodle pooves wouldn't be so bad --
Author: ‘The group slips through the gate and into the shadows of a courtyard where it seems the sun never reaches. People scurry for the shadows and hide at their approach. Somewhere a man bellows in rage. Loter doesn't pause, as though the place unsettles him. The three head straight into the building -- cold, damp walls, mold in corners, the sounds of rats running. Salis pushes open a door and the head down the first set of stairs, then another... down and down and farther until it seems...’
Character: ‘The castle has swallowed him alive.’ Yeah, I get it.
Author: ‘Finally they reach a hall lit by a flickering torch, obviously magically fueled because the cobwebs are so thick that no one could have been down this way in a long time. Salis grimaces and uses his sword to cut through them. Decay and death scent the air, and the only sound is hysterical crying from behind a door they pass. "Can I go home now? Please, can I go home?" Loter stops at another door and nods. Salis pries up the rusted metal bar.’
Character: I hope he gets tetanus.
Author: ‘The door comes open with a loud wail of unused hinges and Loter shoves Character inside and down to his knees again.’
Loter: What's your name, boy? We need it for the records.
Character looks plaintively at author.
Author grabs name books.
Guards, anxious to get out of this hell hole, look at author.
Author: Yes, fine. Right. Okay! I found the name: Varyn!
Character: (looks back at the guard) My name is Varyn.
Loter: We'll write it in the book, Barren --
Character: No, no. Varyn, with a V and a --
Author: ‘The guards slam the door closed. Varyn can hear the bar dropping into place and the guards hurrying away, and the hysterical whisper of someone else: "Can I go home now? Can I go home now?" Varyn leans back, ignoring blood, scrapes and bruises. He knows -- having seen the cobwebs -- that no one is going to come back for a long, long time.’
Varyn: (bangs head on door a couple times) This is great. Wonderful. Do you have any clue how you're going to get me back out of here?
Author: Well... Do you still have that journey bread?