Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Part Three: Beheading, Necksnapping

And now, the conclusion because I know you’re all wanting to know how I could redeem this situation. 🙂

To recap, Aiyu is one of my secondary characters. He’s a thirteen-year-old orphan who serves in a battle for his kingdom. He started this novel as an innocent. Lets see how far he’s come by the end of this scene, which is 3/4 of the way through the book.

Outside the tunnel’s claustrophobic embrace, the smell of blood filled Aiyu’s nostrils. Haga’s life pooled and Aiyu blindly slipped in it. He clutched the bloody, damp earth at his feet.
The stench of blood hung on him. His vision adjusted to see Haga’s sightless eyes staring into his. Aiyu recoiled. Haga’s expression was too empty to bear.
Aiyu turned and threw up in a bush. He trembled, shaking his head at the thought that he had killed with his bare hands.
His mind whirled, confused. The traitor was dead and that was good. But what had happened to Hong Aiyu? Was he a murderer now? He gagged once more and crawled to his friend’s corpse.
He arranged poor Haga’s body in an appropriate posture for the funeral pyre of Xien Ye.
“I’m sorry,” Aiyu whispered. He dug in his girdle until he found what he wanted. Six wooden dice with red and black painted dots. He placed them on Haga’s chest.
I’m not a murderer. Not a mourner. I’m another victim.
He ran to escape the memory of Haga’s simple grin and trusting expression, his empty eyes and cooling fingers.
Aiyu would play sixes no more.

End of Chapter

Yes, it’s horrific, (war is like that) but I didn’t end the chapter with the butcher’s death. That would have left the reader with a flat, unfinished taste in his mouth. Aiyu has gone from an innocent who refused to kill the enemy in battle, to killing in his master’s defense (an earlier scene) to a vengeance murder, although he also defends an entire city in killing the butcher here. I use these situations to show:
1. The horror of battle, thereby grounding the reader in my book’s reality
2. What battle/killing does to a soul – the emotional growth quotient, which further grounds the reader. (If your character doesn’t grow and change with AT LEAST every major event in your book, you’ve missed a great opportunity and your reader will cease to believe in your characters.)
3. The advancing plot

Now you can rail on me for my sense of violence and inpropriety in having a thirteen-year-old boy in such situations. LOL Seriously, if there’s anything you feel would improve this scene, please let me know.

How to Behead Etc. Your Characters Cont’d

So, you’ve found who you want to kill. Whether your character beheads them, snaps their neck or wooses out and only maims, please be sure to inform the reader what’s happened. Leave no room for doubt. Is there blood, tissue, etc? What does your character see, smell, taste and touch during this scene? They must be hypersensitive to their surroundings in order for your reader to feel anything at all.

“Open!” The door rattled. “Damn door.”
Aiyu risked another step. The traitor kicked the locked door. Aiyu edged closer. He couldn’t believe one of Xien Ye’s citizens would do this. The familiar odor of pig wafted toward him.
Voice and smell locked into place and Aiyu knew this man. This was a butcher from Xien Ye’s marketplace. When Aiyu and Zhang picked up their supplies, this man had sneered at and then insulted Zhang.
Zhang had hoisted up the little man by his lapels and shook him like a captured rodent until Aiyu had thought the man’s neck might break. The butcher had stammered an apology and Zhang released him.
The traitor was part of Zhang’s guild.
“Why won’t you open?” The merchant rattled the door. “Six strings of cash-“
In Aiyu’s mind, Liu Yoh’s white face, and Haga’s lifeless eyes flashed. Those men died for the people of Xien Ye – for this traitor.
“Grrraa!” Aiyu launched. He wished he hadn’t shouted. Too late.
The enemy whirled and blew tallow in Aiyu’s face. The flash of light let Aiyu glimpse the butcher’s thin, corded arms. One of them flailed and Aiyu’s knife clattered to the floor.
The boy ducked as the candle guttered out. Aiyu crouched on the floor until he found the traitor’s feet. Aiyu kicked up and smashed his foot into the man’s crotch.
The butcher collapsed with a grunt.
In a fury of searching fingers, Aiyu grasped the traitor’s head. He twisted hard. The neck cracked, and Aiyu leg go of the wobbly, detached head in his hands. The butcher slumped.
Aiyu struck the tunnel wall. Again. Again. He’d split his knuckles. His sobs of pain sounded distant — disconnected from himself. Rage surged again and he screamed. He took aim where he thought his victim lay and spat.
Aiyu thought he heard the spittle smack the butcher’s flesh. He stumbled the way he had come in.

Beheading, Neck Snapping and Mayhem: 101

Do you have what it takes? Learn the art of beheading, neck snapping, etc. in three quick courses:

Class One:

Don’t kill the wrong person. The following is an example of waiting until you know you’ve found a suitable person to murder.

Not that I actually practice these things. Not in real life. You got that, right?

Seriously, this is a brief scene I’ll post over the next few days. Hopefully it’s a nice, violent Christmas offering. Hmm. Maybe I should have done this for Halloween?

“The plan’s working, Haga,” Aiyu called, slowing. Haga was speechless as Aiyu passed. Then the boy smelled blood. He stopped and looked at his friend. They had played sixes on their journey west, but Haga was a huge, childlike man, near-sighted and a poor lookout, so he always drew guard duty. Since Aiyu’s age made him everyone’s messenger boy, he had developed sympathy for the simple-minded giant.
“Haga, do you want a rematch when we get to the caves?”
Haga stared at the ground. Aiyu knelt and touched Haga’s chest.
Haga slumped to the ground, dead. Why would anyone in Xien Ye kill Haga? It couldn’t be an enemy from outside the city or Xien Ye would already be overrun.
Behind Haga’s body the thick board used to bar the door fell, too. Aiyu glanced at the shut, but unbarred postern door. His answer exploded like a firecracker in his mind. A traitor from within the city was inside the passageway, breaching Xien Ye’s defense to allow the enemy inside.
“Alarm!” Aiyu clapped his hand over his mouth. Had Haga’s murderer heard him shout?
Aiyu rushed into the tunnel’s darkness, then stopped. His gasps filled the air around him like the rush of wings. The enemy would hear him. He slowed his breath and let his vision adjust to the light provided by the open door behind him. In tiny, silent rat steps, he ran.
Aiyu’s fingers twitched for a weapon. His dagger was a short eating utensil and his sword was no friend in this confined space. He pulled the knife. His arms brushed the cold walls on either side. Here at the base, the city’s wall was as wide as four oxen carts laid side-by-side. The light dimmed until his hand before him was only visible if he moved it. He slowed to a walk, then stopped.
A dim light glowed ahead, flickered and all but disappeared. He strained to hear if he had been discovered. No. The candlelight returned. He saw the partially hidden silhouette of a man and heard him struggling with rusted locks.
At last, Aiyu had found his quarry.

Interview Me: Ask Five Questions

I think this is a great way to get to know folks online and I want to thank Sandy Shin for suggesting it.

Leave a comment saying “Interview me,” and I’ll respond by asking you five questions. Post your answers to the questions and the questions themselves in your blog/journal, with the offer to interview someone else in the same post.

1. How did you come to be interested in writing stories with Asian settings?
When I graduated from college, (we won’t go into how long ago that was)I missed my previous reading schedule and thought I’d like to read something unusual about someone or in a setting I’d never done. My first read was both: the biography of Mahatma Ghandi, from which I got a great idea for a Deep Space Nine three part episode. Alas, the show ended before I had a chance to pitch it. After the biography, I decided to read more stuff set in Asia as none of it was ever broached as a topic at school. I had one prof with a love for “other” settings and he suggested – God Bless him, he LOANED ME HIS COPY – of “Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He has long since had his copy returned and I currently own abridged and unabridged copies, one comic book episode and the soap opera version of the story. I hope to get the full Asian version of “Red Cliffs” someday.
After all of the research I’ve done for “Mourn Their Courage,” I can’t see leaving my world behind. I want to stay put for awhile yet. I’ve got ideas for one or two more stories and from there, I might well continue to India or the Middle East. We’ll see.

2. Who’s your favorite character, from any book/movie/etc.? What makes him or her your favorite character?
My favorite character(s) of all time, as a group, are in Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Tigana.” The book might have some flaws, but the characters stay with me. After so many readings I’ve had to replace my copy of the paperback more than once, I still return to their lives and wonder what they’re doing now. They’re intelligent, courageous individuals with deep passions. I find all of this attractive. My favorite among the lot is Alessan and I think he’s my favorite because he’s also the idyllic leader: someone I could look up to and respect.

3. What is one book you never get tired of rereading? Oooh, this one’s tough. Up through my last re-read of “Tigana,” that would have been it. However, the last time I read it, I edited it. There are things I loved initially and I now feel are over used or don’t work. I think as writers, we don’t have the luxury of indulging in re-reading a “perfect” book because we’re always improving. If we’re not, we’re either not writing well anymore or we’re dead. There ARE books I still enjoy re-reading and “Tigana” is among them. Mercedes Lackey’s “Last Herald Mage of Valdemar” trilogy is something I still enjoy for the passion and heart of the characters. I enjoy re-reading the Harry Potter series, and Pride and Prejudice, but I edit all of these as I go. I can’t help it. Don’t think me a religious nut or a holier-than-thou sort of Christian, but I DO enjoy re-reading my Bible. There are always new things I find even though I’ve read it front to back. Maybe that’s because I continue to grow and it’s the only book I’ve read that always stretches my horizons. Fortunately, I rarely try to edit it.

4. If there’s one place in the world you could live in, where would that be? So many places, so little time. I could live anywhere I could set a story. Seriously. I’d love to return to England someday, I’d love to live in Tuscany and I dearly hope to return to China. I’m positive I will return to Japan. But do I want to live in any of these places indefinately? No. Home is with my family in plain old midwest U.S.A. I’m reminded of something my husband once commented on in my writing. When I asked him what overall theme he saw in my best works, he said, “A yearning for a place that doesn’t exist.” That’s where I want to live, folks. Come visit me sometime.

5. What’s one thing about you that people don’t usually know? It does, of course, depend on how you know me. If you met me in college, you know I enjoy singing and are probably unaware I write better than I sing. (At least I do now.) If you know me through my day job, you know nothing whatsoever about me except that I’m a private individual. I suppose you might be aware that I have a daughter and work out of my home so I can also be a stay-at-home mom. Lots of people probably don’t know I’ve got some skill as an artist. I can sketch an Arabian, Mustang, Quarterhorse, Thoroughbred, Morgan or (with references) draft horses in very little time. I can also do pencils of people, but not from memory and I don’t work well from imagination as far as people are concerned.

Thanks for taking the time to do this, Sandy! It was a fun exercise and really did make me think. If anyone out there would like to take a stab at their own interview, leave me a comment with the words “Interview Me.”

What Do You Do When You Hit An Impasse?

I’ve just got word from someone I think probably has several good points in her review of my first 50 pages. Alas, one of her comments touches on both how my original source material occured, but also how people historically acted in the culture I’ve chosen. While I certainly hope to have a following in China, I must also write for Western readers who may or may not understand why I’ve done these things. I’m stuck. I can’t go forward without slamming into reverse.

What do you do in these situations?