XXN - The Full Cast

XXN - The Full Cast

A Chapter by BL

Chapter XXN - The Full Cast

The rider turned towards the sun as he headed south, he held his head low about his stallion’s neck, patting it and talking softly into its twitching ear and it responded by riding faster. The rider was a small man, the size of a jockey and the saddlebag holding the message looked outsized and vulnerable. He made good progress through Galloway from southern Caledonia with unseen eyes looking on at his horse and spare horse that ran behind them. And further behind him Bezon and his small gathering army rode on at a steady pace. Bezon had Enda to his left and Xo to his right and wondered with a laugh inside how he had got himself out of so many messes. The gods must favour him. He looked up to the sky and then to the west where the sea might be and eventually Hibernia. It was all thanks to the King of Kerry or maybe his wife who had such kind eyes.


‘I’m so hungry my head hurts,’ Ascoli moaned.

‘Im so hungry I could eat my hands,’ Thamus said, mumbling into his rain washed sandals. His feet were freezing, he wasn’t used to this continual level of cold.

‘If I fall, roll a blanket of leaves on me and I will sleep forever,’ Lundos remarked as he looked at the ditches either side of the winding muddy lane they marched along. His voice was dramatic, designed to be heard clearly and not ignored.

‘I wish you lot would listen to me when I’m talking to you or I’ll never finish my story,’ Ducius barked across the ranks.

‘Go on, Duc. we’re listening,’ Toni said.

‘Doesn’t matter now. Hey, does anyone know where we’re going like?’ Ducius said mistily changing his tone. There was a silence.

‘All I’ve been told is that we are heading west, following the river,’ Thamus said. ‘Can’t tell you anymore at the moment, it’s need to know only,’

‘Yeah, well we need to know,’ Ducius laughed.

A voice from up ahead shouted halt and the line of men stopped. Thamus was called up ahead and spoke to Amros. After a short while he came back looking ashen.

‘We’ve been put on clearing duty,’ he panted.

‘What’s that?’ Marc exclaimed.

‘We’ve got to clear the village up ahead, it’s in our path. Quickly, all of you form up over here and prepare your weapons, we are going in,’ Thamus shouted. The men marched off from the column and stood in a field in the same formation of six by two, but further apart so they could do a routine weapon check.

Ducius checked his sword, he wiped the blade and drew it quickly from its sheath, checking its release. Some of the others watched him, not knowing what to do and then checked their swords too. Ducius made sure his shield was tight in its leather straps to his arm, he then drew his dagger and stabbed it out in thin air, twisting it anti-clockwise as he drew it back. The younger ones copied. ‘I’m not looking forward to this. I am paid to kill fighting men, not innocent civilians.’ he said matter of factly.

‘Come on, we’ve got to go now,’ Thamus barked. He led them beyond the front of the column to a twist in the road, that was in effect a muddy track covered in twigs, leaves and stones. Up ahead was a cluster of straw roofed huts. A legionary came up to them of the ranks and handed Thamus a brazier. ‘Let’s make this quick, everyone’s waiting on us,’ he hissed. His men’s eyes were on him as he looked different, he was aggressive and tense. They ran forward and running into the village lighted one roof after another until all the roofs were alight and quickly became engulfed in thick smoke.

‘Where are they?’ Ascoli shouted spinning around on the spot. He scoured his eyes around, panting hard. An elderly man ran out of a hut and headed for the trees behind the village. Thamus nodded at Ascoli and he launched his spear at the man. It hit him square in the back and he fell to the ground with a groan. Screams came from another hut and after several minutes a woman and a group of young children came out coughing and spluttering. Thamus looked back at the watching column and saw that the smoke was covering them.

‘Let them go,’ he said hesitantly, knowing any act of helping the enemy in whatever form they took was an act of treason. Slowly rubbing her eyes the woman guided her children away to safety. ‘Make sure the other huts are clear,’ In twos and threes they prodded with their spears at the burning houses and out of one hut three armed men came. They carried no more than a single spear each and hurled rocks, pots and pieces of broken clay, they shouted abuse and waved their fists in the air. The section drew back and formed up behind their shields as the smoke cleared. There were shouts from the column to hurry up.

‘What now?’ Vinci asked.

‘A volley of spears, then we march forward,’ Thamus said looking around for any other signs of life.

‘What if there’s more of them?’ John Smith asked. He and Adam Jones crouched behind his shield with only his eyes showing over the top.

‘Then we’ve got a fight on our hands. Let’s hope Section Four will be ready. Spears,’ Thamus shouted. ‘Loose,’ Eleven spears flew through the air in a low arc and they marched forward to collect them.

‘Aaaaahhhh,’ one of the armed men cried as Louie’s spear sliced through his thigh. He stumbled to the ground and tried to drag himself off. The other two men went to help him, but seeing the advancing wall of shields they fell back. They were joined by three more armed men who hurled rocks, earth and sticks at them. The section carried on catching up the injured man.

‘He’s yours Louie, finish him off,’ Thamus ordered glaring his eyes. Louie looked pale and reticent to act. ‘Do it,’. Louie raised his sword and smashed it down on the man as he tried to crawl away. Blood splattered from his skull and he gave a loud final cry of anguish. He passed out and fell flat on the ground, twitching and spasming. Louie mechanically put in a killer blow and the man went limp. ‘Be certain,’ Thamus said, watching him. Hesitantly Louie drew his dagger across the mans throat. The remaining five armed men stood on the edge of the woods, making themselves into a barrier between Section three and the villagers. Thamus lead them with Igor and Lenard the new recruit beside him, they marched forward in four lines, three abreast, forming a dehumanised solid mass of shields, swords and spears. They smashed and bashed at huts, continuing their path ahead and clearing it. The column behind slowly marched forward to catch them up.


Severus had led the southern army directly north from the white Island following the course of the river Solent and up through lower Briton and made camp. He had taken the cream of the legions with the first to the third, as well as every odd numbered legion from seventeen to twenty-nine.

But other than putting those legions on the south side of Arun, ready for a two prong attack with the other legions to the east, he was intent on keeping his promise to his young wife of building a luxury holiday villa in Briton. In one of the wagons that had lumbered behind the rapidly moving marching column were the foundation stones from Rome ready to be cemented into the heart of the new villa he would have built.

‘I need to find a location for this villa, Milo,’ Severus said out of the blue. His disembodied words floated in the tent’s late evening darkness, amid the din of the flapping tent canvas.

‘And why not here?’ Milo replied, with a mouthful of chicken.

‘Where are we?’

‘Good question. The middle of nowhere I’d say,’

‘Well that’s a good a place as any,’ Severus said drearily, already feeling defeated.

‘It’s what the Britons call no mans land and so in theory its in no one’s kingdom. By entering Briton and staying in no mans land we haven’t invaded anywhere.’ Milo laughed madly and put down his greasy chicken bone to wipe his lips.

‘This is crazily naive,’ Severus got up and stood in the doorway of his tent, he looked out at the flat, sweeping land that had an almost desert like feel. The sun had gone down and only silhouettes of trees stood up as large hulking shadows blocking what light there was. It was close enough to the river to transport cut stone up and far enough south for a rapid retreat should the worse come to the worse he thought. He could easily leave half a legion here to start building and no one would know.

‘It’s what they believe,’

‘Tomorrow I want to ride with the forward scouts to see if we can get ourselves close to the edge of Arun,’

‘Yes, Sir,’ Milo said in an official tone. ‘By my reckoning its another couple of days march,’

‘That’s perfect, we will march for the next two days or so and establish our position on the southern front,’ Severus said distractedly, his eyes glazed. He was thinking more in terms of the new villa not the battlefront. ‘I will send a bird to Cicero tomorrow to let him know our status. Hopefully the eastern army will have made more progress,’

‘They’ve got further to go than us, Sir,’

‘Yes, I know. Why do you think I’m here?’ he said. Milo smiled knowing the question asked needed no answer. He politely made his way out of Severus’s tent, bowing his head as he went. That night Severus lay in his temporary camp bed trying to get to sleep. It was cold, but nowhere near as he cold as he thought it would be, he drew another fleece around his shoulders and let his mind wander. He thought of his young wife and her delight at seeing the new villa and the new civilised world he had created around it. She was what was keeping him going, giving him energy and making him feel young. He imagined his hero’s welcome at his return to Rome and Cicero honouring him with extensive lands and wealth. As he dreamed a shower of lighted arrows reigned down on the army camp. Most of the arrows thumped into the ground, but a few hit a target, setting the night on fire.

Standing by the protection of a high hurst, Boudica had arrived with five chariots each with two archers. The archers fired close clusters of arrows following the arrows of Ao, who stood with Boudica; he was by far the best archer. She had made sure the chariots were turned around along the fast track that headed north to Arun, ready to take flight as soon as they saw any danger. Another volley of arrows loosed, setting a tent and some bushes in the camp alight. It made the soldiers rouse into life, they got on horses, doused flames and stopped to take stock of their injuries. As the noise in the camp got louder Boudica readied on her reins thinking about what had been said at the last council meeting. Wiznia had strictly forbidden any combat outside the lands of Arun as it was against their laws and traditions; it wasn’t the way they fought. But she and Alfos had ignored this, knowing they needed an edge, even if it did result in reprisals. It was better to fight dirty and win than fight nobly and lose because if they lost they knew all would be lost. They had been told that the gods wouldn’t like it, it would make them angry, it would make them lose the war. We were only entitled to protect the lands we were given; as given by the gods. Duerra had stated this and Wiznia had nodded aggressively with glaring eyes at the meeting of the elders. She knew she was on her own with this one.

Men shouted, horses neighed as the first legion’s cavalry mounted. ‘Get ready,’ Boudica shouted. Ao smiled briefly and kept shooting, his eyes so good he had near night vision. He picked his target and without thinking brought his bow back and loosed his arrow. He didn’t look at where the arrow went, instead he drew another arrow from the sheaf and repeated the process. There was a cry of pain in the distance and then a thump of a body falling to the ground. Another arrow, another thump, another arrow, another thump. The cavalry were closer to them now, half way up the hill so they started to move off which gave away their position. Boudica made sure she was at the back as the five chariots picked up speed along the track. Ao faced the rear with his bow ready, but realised the shaking of the chariot would make a good shot impossible. His eyes scoured the darkness until he saw a glint of horse flesh. ‘Are they many, A?’

‘I can’t see,’ he said. ‘maybe twenty,’ he added doubtfully. He looked at his two sheafs, that stood at the back of the chariot and saw that he had only three arrows left. The other archer, Chippa had two.

‘Pick them off then,’ Boudica said. She checked her sword and spears that stood in their neatly made holders.

‘I’ll try,’ Ao said. He steadied himself for a shot and Chippa held him. He loosed an arrow, but it whizzed and whirred sideways, loosing its speed. The cavalry was closer now and he could make out individual riders. He fired again at the biggest target, the lead horse’s front flank. This arrow was more true and sped through the night air in a perfectly straight line. It hit wide of the lead horse, but hit the helmet of a man on a horse behind and ricocheted off into a tree. ‘Can we go any faster? they’re closing in,’

‘This is it,’ Boudica shouted.

Hardly looking up, he drew his last arrow and fired it quickly and impulsively, following his instincts. The arrow stuck in to the lead horses front flank and it went down with a crash. The horse screamed out in the night, it eyes wide with shock, it’s teeth exposed and as it blocked the track there was a collapse of other horses around it. ‘Keep going,’ Ao shouted. A few riders still followed them and where the track opened out onto the plain the chariots slowed and fanned out as they waded through its long grasses. Boudica’s chariot was furthest behind in the middle and became the obvious target. The remaining riders raced up to them with their swords held up, ready to sweep down. Ao loosed Chippa’s last two arrows and injured one rider at close range, the rider peeled away holding the bloody arrow that was stuck in his leg. The riders hacked at them from all angles, trying to get in front of them to slow their horses. They stuck their blades in the chariots wheels, trying to remove spokes. The other four chariots had now disappeared completely and Boudica realised this was it, this was the end.

‘Run, Ao, run. You are needed,’ Boudica shouted. A short sword swung at her, narrowly missing her chest, it grazed her arm, drawing blood. It sliced into the chariot’s light wooden frame and stuck there, making the owner release it as he was falling off his horse. As she spurred the horses on she thought of Alfos and wished he was here with his sword or more importantly his army. He was the only one left who could possibly help her or anyone now, but she was miles from the protection of the outer defences he had constructed. Caratacus would be no good, he hadn’t been seen for days and was now already considered a deserter, although he had completed his task of a strategic retreat for Duerra and the royal house. Bezon was of course dead, so he was no use to no one, particularly Yulla. She wondered where Yulla was, hopefully in a safe house in Siluria. Right now she thought why couldn’t she be like that? like Yulla, more womanly, not a fighter like a man, it would be easier and safer, even if she was made a slave. Ao was keeping a rider at bay with the tip of a spear while Chippa was sword fighting another. ‘Break off Ao and run into the night. Take your dagger and run.’ The chariot wobbled violently as it had been hit many times, the left wheel badly buckled. It slowed and the riders backed off so they could make a more devastating attack. At that moment Ao ran off the back of the chariot into the long grass and was gone and as he did Chippa grabbed the reins from Boudica.

‘Go with Ao, go now,’ Chippa yelled. She resisted, standing her ground and so he pushed her off. The riders saw her and two went for her, they chased her, but she ran low and weaved about in the dark. More than once she felt the slashing of a sword around her. She saw Chippa turning the dilapidated chariot around and heading back towards the army camp and unable to resist the easier target, they turned away from her and pursued him. She ran in the long grass, she ran and ran until she was away from the battle scene.

‘Are you there, Ao? Are you there?’ she panted, standing still and looking around. There was no sign of life, only the rushing of the wind over the top of the grass and the stirring of the breeze through the branches of a lone oak. She ran and walked on, checking behind her and trying to get her bearings, listening to the sound of the riders shouting. She felt for Chippa and was sorry he had got left behind, but there was nothing she could do, it was war or the beginnings of it. ‘Ao,’

‘Yes, I am here. I’ve been following you. It’s this way, come on,’ he said. He grabbed her by the arm and they ran again. ‘You’re hurt, let me see,’

‘It’s a graze,’ she said holding up her blood soaked arm. They walked on through the night making for the giant stone circle and from there headed north west to the outer defences of Arun. Along the way Boudica bathed her arm in a stream. The sting of cold water seemed to make the blood flow more, but it cleaned the wound.

‘You were too noisy back there, you gave your position away to easily,’ Ao said, watching her wash.

‘I know, I panicked,’ she said.

‘If one of them had been following you, you’d‘ been dead that quick,’ he said drawing his finger across his throat.

‘I know,’ Boudica said sadly not looking up. The stinging had subsided. ‘Thank you for caring,’ she looked at him, giving him the full glare of what beauty she had.


Yulla drunk her broth and watched her mother noisily slurping hers. They had rented a log cabin in the Silurian mountains and had been out of touch with what had been going on for more than a week, although it had seemed more like months. They both had gone stir crazy and been bickering for days. ‘Duerra should be here. He should be here by now. For his own safety,’

‘Yes,’ Jenna said between gulps. She looked into the fire in the hearth and at the thick smoke billowing out in the ever swirling draft.

‘And our father and the boys,’

‘Ah, well, I’m not so sure about them,’

‘What? What do you mean?’ Yulla said bringing the flat of her hand heavily down on the table. The table was the only item of furniture in the cabin.

‘They may not come back, they may stay and fight. You know what men are like,’

‘Aren’t you worried about them? Tom is ten.’

‘Yes, by the gods I’m worried and I know how old he is, I gave birth to him,’

‘They won’t be merciful to a child, especially if he’s caught fighting,’ Her mother looked down, her eyes watering. Yulla cried a few tears. ‘I’m sorry mother,’ she said squeezing her hand.

‘There’s nothing we can do, if we’d‘ve stayed we’d‘ve got caught up in it and likely killed,’

‘I wish there was something we could do,’

‘You made enough uniforms at the mill, didn’t you?’ Jenna said brightening a little.

‘Yeah, I s’pose,’ Yulla said drearily.

‘If we’d stayed you’d only got killed, attacked, melested or even worse...,’

‘All right, mother, for the sake of the gods,’ Yulla said, her brow furrowing as she clenched her wooden bowl of broth. ‘I’d like to think if I did get ‘taken’ by them I would’ve been a prize for a prince or a king,’ she said dreamily. She looked out through the small opening in the wall over which a crude piece of hessian was placed that acted as a covering. It was raining. Some of the rain spat in through on the wind, making it wet on the wooden wall inside. There were footsteps outside as Tod shifted about. She wondered what he was doing and if he was warm enough. It never seemed to stop raining in this country. ‘Do you want to come in, Tod? she called.

‘I’m happier in the wagon thank you Miss,’ he said back, his footsteps not altering pace.

‘Don’t invite him in,’ Jenna protested.

‘Why not? It’s cold out there,’

‘Because I don’t want him in here. It doesn’t feel right,’ Jenna hissed.

‘We’ve all got to club together in these times. Servants, ordinary folk and royalty. Anyway we may need him when the time comes,’

Jenna looked at her daughter, sizing her up warily, judging her for her level of understanding and reasoning. There was a gust of wind and a swathe of rain blew in making the floorboards wet. The fire blew down and smoke drifted into the room. ‘It’s all right for you, you’ve got him,’

‘I haven’t got him, he is no more,’ she couldn’t bring herself to say he was dead. ‘Anyway you’ve got Father and I’m glad you have because he’s my Father, but I haven’t got anyone,’

‘Be patient, you never know what the gods will bring,’

‘He was sent on a suicide mission by his father,’ Yulla said in a shrill tone, her face red, her eyes angrily scouring the room. She thought of Bezon and his healthy golden hair. His calm brown eyes and steady, even features.

‘He’s a survivor,’

‘I hope so,’ Yulla said breathing deeply to calm herself down.

‘They don’t have princes,’ Jenna said emphasising the word they.

‘Sorry?’

‘I said they don’t have princes,’ she did it again.

‘Oh, don’t they,’ Yulla said blankly.

‘You said that if you got taken that you’d like to be a prize for a prince or a king,’

‘Oh, yes,’

‘But they don’t have them,’ her mother added with a tentative smile. Yulla smiled a little, raising her eyebrows and rolling her eyes to the roof. Her amulet shone, giving out a brief pulse of light. Jenna saw the white light from the smokey blue amulet, but didn’t say anything. Yulla put the bowls outside to wash, closed the shutter and got more logs for the fire. She looked down the slope of the valley that led to the track they had come in on. There was a high double peaked black mountain to the left of it and a lower one to the right and behind was the sea. As she turned back to go in she saw Tod sat on the front seat of the wagon, loosely holding the reins with the horse in its harness.

‘What in the world are you doing?’ she asked him clutching the bundle of logs to her chest.

‘Oh, hello Miss. I was just getting ready our escape, should it be needed.’ Tod said looking ahead into the mountains. ‘They usually come in the night,’

‘To where exactly? this is the end of the road. We can’t go any further,’ Yulla said looking up at the piles of loose rock behind the cabin.

‘Yes, Miss, I mean no Miss,’

‘Get down from there and come in, it’s raining and cold out here,’ she demanded.

‘If it’s all right I will,’ Tod said meekly. ‘It’s been cold out here the past nights,’

‘And do not worry about my mother.’

‘No,’

‘I’m cooking a meal.’

‘Oh,’ Tod said with no enthusiasm.

‘For us all,’

‘Oh,’ he said with enthusiasm.

‘Yes,’

‘If you are sure,’

‘Yes, I am. Ignore her if she says anything, I’ll deal with her,’

‘Thank you,’

She went in and put a roll of material under the door to stop the wind blowing in and started to prepare the evening meal of boiled meat and potato. She made enough for three and ignored her mother’s whining.


© 2019 BL


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• The rider turned towards the sun as he headed south, he held his head low about his stallion’s neck, patting it and talking softly into its twitching ear and it responded by riding faster.

Seriously? A planet's magnetic field aligns, in general, with the plane of the elliptic, So on pretty much any planet the sun sets in the west. So he can't be heading south and toward the sun at the same time.

And If you've ridden, or investigated, you would know that you don't make a horse go faster by petting it as it runs, or whispering encouragement. And why would a reader care that a horse they can't see, who is being ridden to an unknown destination, by an unknown, rider, twitches its ear?

And when you say he held his head low "about" the horses neck, you just told the reader that his head is wrapped around the neck. Not what you meant, but it is what you said.

In any case, this paragraph need to be dumped because the reader has no interest in learning that someone they know nothing about, who is small, has a large saddlebag. The paragraph is a report for which the reader lacks context. Of more importance, it's an info-dump that provides no entertainment. And your reader is with you to be entertained.

• ‘I’m so hungry my head hurts,’ Ascoli moaned.

Who's Ascoli? And how did he end up wherever this is? In this, and the following four paragraphs you use five names. One of them appeared last in the previous chapter, and he seemed okay, then. A second name appeared there as well, but only once. The others, if we've met them, we've probable forgotten their names. We also don't know why they're cold, where they are, what's going on, or what happened since last we met them. In short, the reader has no context, and so, no reason to care.

Here's the thing: All of the above observations are the result of the fact that you're talking TO the reader as someone watching the scene and reporting what you visualize happening. It makes perfect sense to you, because you know who they are to each other and to the story. But the reader has zero knowledge of that. You provide no protagonist to identify with, so they have no avatar, and they're not privy to why anyone does or says anything. And of course, unlike a film, we can't see the setting, can't see the characters as they interact, hear/see the ambience. And while you're explaining the events, the reader can't hear any emotion in your voice or see the storyteller's performance. The result: Someone the reader can neither hear nor see is explaining what they would see were they on the scene, in overview. And since they lack any reason to care about the people being talked about, and can't share their hopes and dreams, they've been given no reason to care. And if readers aren't given reason to care, they stop reading.

The problem is simple: Like so many hopeful writers, you're still using the nonfiction writing skills we're given in school. They inform clearly, but a reader is not hoping to learn what happened from a dispassionate narrator. That's every bit as exciting as any other report, or history. Fiction's goal is to entertain. So the essay and report writing skills we're taught in school are useless. Entertaining is an emotional, not a factual goal. And as such it requires an emotion-based approach, and must be character, not author-centric, which requires an entirely different skill set. But that's to be expected, because writing profession is every bit as much a profession as is electrical engineering. And like any other profession we don't learn it until we master the traditional three R's and graduate our public education years.

Doubt that? Think of how many reports and essays you were assigned, in comparison to stories. Think of how much time your teachers spent on using tags, the elements of a scene, how a scene on the page differs from one on stage or screen, or even a basic like why scenes on the page end in disaster. That will tell you how well prepared you were to write fiction when you graduated. high school. In reality, though they don't tell us, you left high school exactly as well prepared to write fiction as to captain a cruise ship. And that's what you need to fix.

Your local library's fiction writing section can be a huge resource. And when you go there, seek out the names Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, or Debra Dixon on the cover. They're gold.

Not good news, of course. But what I've been saying relates to the craft of the fiction writer, not talent or good/bad writing. So with study, practice, and experience, its all fixable. So have at it. And of course, hang in there and keep on writing.

Jay Greenstein
https://jaygreenstein.wordpress.com/category/the-craft-of-writing/



Posted 2 Years Ago


leigh,you are certainly a paper back writer,,hope it sells a million copies

Posted 2 Years Ago


BL

2 Years Ago

Ha ha, thank you - whatever happens, I will keep writing 😊
 wordman

2 Years Ago

you are a winner

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Added on January 28, 2019
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