So, since I've been really struggling with POF: Brothers in Arms, and I've got nothing better to do while we all sit at home and wait for the world to end, I thought I'd give linear story writing a go. And since I got really attached to the world and characters in The Lawless Ones, I figured that would be a good place to start. Only got a short prologue done so far, but I thought I'd show it here and see what you guys think. What works well and what can be improved? (For some reason I'm a lot more confident writing interactive fiction than I am writing regular stories, but I think I'm actually happy with this one so far.) ^_^
I’m really not sure why I’m writing this. I highly doubt that anyone will ever read these words. Doubtless the pages will just be trampled underfoot when the guards come to take me away, or used as kindling to warm the hands of the next poor soul that gets dumped in this forsaken cell. Far more likely, the great tenor bell will chime any day now, and the executioner will take my head long before my story is finished. Still, I write.
A single paragraph and already I regret my decision to trade in my last favour for such trivialities as brush, paper, ink stick and grinding stone. Though I suppose it at least gives me something to do besides stare at the wall day after day. Truly, I have no idea why I’m still waiting here. I lost track of how many days or nights I’ve passed in this cell long ago. In this city, the Monarch’s justice is usually carried out before the prisoner so much as receives a fair trial. Spirits only know why it’s taking so long.
Whatever the reason, I suppose that I should count it a blessing. Not that I relish the countless days of sleeping on a cold stone floor, eating stale bread, pissing in a bucket and repeatedly crushing the unlimited supply of cockroaches that come to greet me every night. Rather, I feel I need to take this opportunity to put my thoughts to paper, however futile an endeavour it may seem. I want to leave something behind. I want my child to know who I am, how I became this way, and how I finally met my fate.
Not that my actions can be justified. Spirits know I’ve done things in my life that even those closest to me know nothing about, and would think me incapable of. I cannot say I am proud of my actions and I make no excuses. I only wish for those I leave behind to know the truth. My truth. Not the truth spun by scribes and scholars who never knew me. After all, who else would tell my tale? History belongs to Kings and pioneers, not career criminals and runaway slaves. At most, I’ll become a dirty little footnote in this city’s dark records. I can make my peace with that. Just so long as one day, my boy might learn from my mistakes.
So, where do I start? Can I put my finger on a single event that led me to this end? The day the needle pierced my skin and branded me for life? The first time I silenced an innocent man for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time? The moment I set eyes on the woman who’s love would ensnare me for the rest of my life? As I think back on each moment, I cannot seem to draw the line between when I dictated my own path and when I was simply thrust there by the cruel hands of fate.
I suppose, like all stories, I should start at the beginning. And my beginning can be found on a small coffee plantation on the outskirts of Monteaux in Serlais. As a small boy, my mother often told me tales of the far off Arkale Isles where she was born. Of the caressing rays of the ever scorching sun, the great but gentle tusked beasts that towered over her like trees, and how the western breeze would always carry with it the sweet scent of the saffron fields nearby. While I have visited that land many times in my dreams, I am sorry to say my travels never carried me that far. For the first few years of my life, that plantation was all I knew.
I have precious few memories from my early childhood, and from that I can only deduce that for a short time, I was happy. In my experience, days of happiness simply pass us by like ripples on a gently flowing stream. Pleasant and tranquil and completely unappreciated. It is the pain that stays with us, etching a scar in your memory that can never fully heal.
True, my infancy was far from perfect, but what else did I have to compare it to? I’d known nothing but slavery from the day of my birth and little was expected of a boy barely old enough to stand on his own two feet. While my mother toiled in the fields, I entertained myself by scampering after the other young children, playing with sticks, catching frogs, napping in the sun and listening to old tales from the infirm, elderly woman who watched over us. I was carefree, contented, and blissfully unaware of the life of hardship that awaited me.
To this day, I have no knowledge of my father. I often wonder why my mother never mentioned him. Perhaps he died, or was sold to another master before I was born. Perhaps he was the master himself, or one of our many overseers, though I pray to whatever higher power might be listening that this is not the case. Perhaps he was a fellow slave on the plantation who I saw every day, but never made himself known to me. I do remember a few kindly men in our crowded cabin who would tell me stories, teach me songs or ruffle my hair when I passed them by. It would be nice to think that one of these men fathered me, though I have no way of knowing. Honestly, I never even thought to ask. In my youthful naivety, I simply accepted the way things were as the way they were meant to be. In my life there was only mother. I could want for nothing more.
Sometimes I look back and wonder if my mother truly was as perfect as I remember her, or if it were simply the blind adoration that a child emits when one person is their entire world. One thing I can say for sure is that if there is a shred of anything good and pure and decent left within me, it came from her. Despite her long hours of backbreaking labour, she always returned in the evenings with a smile for me, and a warm embrace that let me know I was safe and cherished. Her one day a week of rest was devoted entirely to me. She taught me how to tend the slave’s little vegetable garden and feed the chickens that we kept for meat and eggs. As slaves there was only a single book that the master permitted us to read, the Spirit’s Verse. The holy religious text of Serlais’ predominant religion. Yet from this single book, my mother taught me all of my letters, numbers and the many moral tales that it preached. Deeply engrained into my young mind were lessons of honesty, kindness, integrity, generosity and compassion. Qualities that would prove less than worthless in the years to follow. But to mother, it was very important to instil a sense of goodness within me. And while I can no longer recall the words, nor even the tune, I do remember my mother singing softly to me at night, stroking my hair until I finally fell asleep. She loved me. That much I have never questioned. But in the end, that love just wasn’t enough.
One night, when I was about five or six, my mother walked away from me. While I slept, she took herself down to the Monteaux river and never returned. For many years I just couldn’t understand it. How could somebody drown in such a gently flowing river that even at it’s deepest would barely reach up to their waist? I’m not quite sure when it suddenly dawned on me that a person can drown in even the shallowest depth of water, if they try hard enough. To this day, I do not know what it was that drove her to river’s edge that night, but as I’ve come to learn, there are a great many things in this world that can make the mystery of death seem preferable to the realities of life.
Like all slaves, her body was unceremoniously discarded in an unmarked grave, without so much as a stone to remind the world that she ever existed. She was simply gone. I remained. I cannot tell you how I survived her loss. My mother was everything to me. My only purpose. My only family. My only friend. And yet somehow, without her, my life went on. As a community, the slaves in my cabin ensured that I was fed and clothed while I was still too young to care for myself. But no individual stepped forward to take responsibility for me. I was alone.
Perhaps it was for the best that I was given precious little time to mourn. Shortly after my mother’s death, I was put to work with the others. What else were they to do with me? I had outgrown the happy days of playing in the dirt with the toddlers, and the few slaves too old, young or sick to work quickly grew frustrated with my endless sobbing. The overseers deemed that a hard days work would distract me from my sorrows. Besides, if I was old enough to carry a basket, I was old enough to work in a field. And so I came to learn what it meant to be a slave.
Work, eat, sleep. Work, eat, sleep. My tears soon subsided. I was too tired to cry. Work, eat, sleep. Work, eat, sleep. My mother was really gone. She was never coming back. Work, eat, sleep. Work, eat sleep. This would be my life until the day I died. Work. Eat. Sleep. I had nothing. No purpose. No hopes. No dreams. No love. I simply kept going, day after day, until I finally came to accept that I would not die of a broken heart.
It is difficult to look back on the years that followed. The memories all seem to blend together in a long, continuous drone. Each day was much the same as the last with barely any variation. I have a few hazy, pleasant memories of nights spent laughing and singing by the camp fire. I also have far sharper memories of the overseers fists raining down on me and the burning sting of leather across my back. I never thought this cycle would end. I thought that an existence of bondage and humiliation would be my lot in life. Until one day, lets say I was twelve give or take a year, I somehow thwarted my destiny.
Perhaps this was a mistake. Not every moment of a man’s life should be recorded for the world to see. Some memories should stay buried. Much as it wounds my pride to admit it, my hand began to tremble as I thought back on that day, and everything that lead to it. The brush shook uncontrollably on my first attempt to transcribe it, until the words became so smudged that I could barely read them. Half way through a particularly painful sentence, I let my brush fall to the floor, screwed up the sheet of paper, threw it across the cell and gave this task up as a ridiculous impulse of a man gone half mad with solitude. Three days later, I carefully unfolded the paper, ground some fresh ink and wrote the page again.
But how much should I say? I set out to tell the truth after all, but does that mean I have to tell it all? There are some things I doubt I’ll ever be able to put to paper, but what path will that lead me down? Will I end up spinning truths and ignoring inconvenient facts just to paint myself in a better light, in the hope that those who read this will look more favourably upon me? Or will I eventually be able to break past my own guilt and shame to face up to myself and tell the the honest tale that I set out to tell? Maybe.
For now, I will simply say that there are many things in my life that I regret. Many things I am ashamed of. What happened that day is not one of them. Every man has his limits. A point he can be pushed to before something in him finally snaps. Even a boy who has known nothing but slavery his entire life will break if pushed hard enough. I reach my limit that day. I snapped. In doing so, I did something that my meek, subservient self never thought I could be capable of. I killed a man.