This is a short story about one of the key characters in a book I’m currently writing. Hope you enjoy!
“That's the thing about this city" his mam said conversationally as she put down the basket of vegetables on the small wicker table. “It chews people up and they enjoy it, somehow.”
Lucius didn’t know what to say to that, so he flashed his usual crooked smile that had gotten him out of trouble so much in the past. His mam rolled her eyes, but didn’t comment. As she was unpacking the meagre ingredients they had procured, she whistled a tune he didn’t recognise, doing her best to keep a brave face in front of her son. Uncertainty had flooded in to the house when they’d awoke to find his father gone. A small note saying he couldn’t do it anymore, no explanation, no body found hanging from the walls, no arrests made. He’d clearly not been in trouble, or been in a bad state of mind. He’d just left them, for no other reason than it was hard work in that city. His Da had always been one to shun work for the easy way out, but he’d never once threatened to leave. But his mother kept whistling, kept putting on the brave face. All for Lucius.
Not that the brave face worked in this place. Torizo was a city began purely for Ezimat, father of the Gods. Apparently a priest called Torizon saw Ezimat on one of the six hills that made the city, so they named it after him. Lucius thought it was all bollocks of course. Ezimat didn’t show himself to humans on a whim, especially not an old priest who’d never fought a day in his life. But the city wasn’t fully dedicated to the gods, and this is where Lucius' problems began.
Out of the six hills, Lucius did his best to keep away from the one that hosted Ezimat’s temple. He’d heard too many stories about boys being roped in to their order, turned fanatical within the day. He'd only been there once, the robed men with their offerings still gave him the shivers.
In contrast, Market hill was far too busy for his tastes, and urchins scuttled around the stalls in groups, looking for easy pickings or scraps of food. It was easy to get a clip around the ear for lads he’s age, even if you were innocent. Which, let's be honest, he never was.
A hill which Lucius liked to call Warriors hill was off limits to the public. It consisted of a huge barracks block, capable of housing almost a full legion. Lucius was convinced it wasn’t more than half full, but he’d never been inside to confirm his hunch. Not from lack of trying. He’d just got that much of a kicking the last time that he didn’t think the risk was worth the reward.
Two of the hills were taken up by the homes of the people. At the peak of the hills we’re parks and gardens to be enjoyed, followed by the wealthier houses just off the peak. The further down the hill you went, the lower in society you fell. Since the bottom of the hills were wetter, dwellings sank in to the hill slightly, giving them a lopsided look. Hence they were cheaper. Obviously Lucius and his mam were right at the bottom, but they’d never known any different so they were happy with their lot.
The very last hill was the life and soul of the city: The Nest. This was filled with taverns, theatres, bathhouses. Any pleasure of the flesh you’d want, it was there. It was this hill that started Lucius' troubles. He used to roam around that hill, attempting to sneak in to watch plays, or drink a man’s ale when he wasn’t quick enough to stop him. Only one time, someone was quick enough. He remembered the noise the slap made, and the ringing that echoed through his ears after. That wasn’t the last punishment for his ears that night, since the man dragged him kicking and screaming by one of them, right to his mams door. As they stood there, the man looking rather smug and Lucius’ bottom lip quivering, it started to rain. Light at first but picking up speed within seconds, drenching the pair and causing the man to bang again.
Abruptly the door opened, his mam peering nervously from behind it before realising it was him and wrenching it open furiously. “What’s he done now!?” she spat, the look in her eyes promising he wouldn’t sit down for a week. The man didn’t answer straight off, and the pause made Lucius give a hopeful glance up. But he wasn’t even aware of the boy any more, instead staring wide eyed at the woman at the door, with her realising where his attention lay and acting coy, a look Lucius didn’t recall ever seeing on her face before now.
“Well, aren’t you a lovely sight miss, if you don’t mind me saying” he said, giving her what he thought was his most winning smile. The high pitched giggle that was her response was something Lucius knew for sure he’d never heard come out of her mouth.
“I very much don’t mind good sir” she replied with another girlish giggle. “Would you step inside to get dry? I’ve just brewed some tea.” And that’s how it started. Lucius getting caught being a nuisance led to his mams first relationship since his da left. It all began like something out of a love saga; a dashing tailors son wooing his mam, moving out of the lower reaches to the middle, Lucius getting reading lessons off him. Lucius even grew to like the man, never quite got around to calling him Da, but first name terms came within weeks. Darid.
Darid let Lucius watch him why he worked, kept making promises that he’d take him to see plays. The great old ones from before this new ‘Kerazar' kingdom sprung up to rival the Annarites. But those work days started to get less, and the plays never came. Soon, his mams new smile became a withered one, then a forced one, then non existent. She started to wince when she stretched out for things, or walk with a slight limp. Lucius was sure he heard her crying when she thought nobody was around. But he was only thirteen at that point, he didn’t put the pieces together like he should have. He was always around in the streets, local lads shunning him as a loner but never daring to confront him; his temper had become legendary around there, the lower reach boy playing at being normal. Due to that, it took a while to finally see with his own eyes the monster that his mam had given their lives to.
Presents had been very small things with his Da around, since they never had much money. But never before had he gotten a present that almost killed his mam. It was his fourteenth birthday. Darid had made a big thing about it, a small feast and cakes to make your stomach burst. Lucius was even allowed ale, given to him by a winking Darid with a secretive whisper to not tell Mam. Perfect for a mischievous soul like Lucius, doing things he shouldn’t without his mam knowing. After his head began to feel fuzzy, Lucius went to his room and sat with his head in his hands, Darid’s roaring laughter and his mam’s disapproving glare etched in to his back as he went. Within minutes he heard their voices, quiet at first but getting louder and considerably more heated, followed by the same noise that he recognised from the night he’d met Darid: the harsh slap. Lucius heard a whimper, then another slap, then silence. Wobbling his head to clear his ale addled brain, Lucius rose from his stupor and moved back in to the kitchen. His eyes bulged as he took in the scene before him, his mam cowering on the floor, blood dripping from a ugly split in her lip and a nasty red welt on her cheek; Darid above her, hand raised for what was clearly a harder hit than the previous two.
Pulsing coursed through Lucius’ body as rage rose in his breast, a primal growl rising in his throat as all the pieces finally fit together with a click. The limps, the winces, his mams secluded personality. Red tints entered the corners of his vision, his fury now bubbling at a speed greater than the stew over the fire could reach. His red hot gaze took in the situation, just as his mam’s eyes locked with his. If it was possible, even more fear entered her face and she glanced away instantly, but Darid didn’t miss it. He spun around with an evil grin.
“Welcome to the party, little lucy” he taunted, taking a small step forward. Hearing the mockery in his drunk step father’s voice finally tipped Lucius over a precipice he didn’t know he was teetering on. He roared, rushing forward and grasping the pan filled with stew with his bare hand, feeling it scalding his skin but not registering the fact. He flicked his arm and tossed the pans boiling contents into Darid’s face, who bellowed in pain and began slapping his own face to removing the sizzling juices. His mam screamed, cutting through the tension in the room like a knife and making it erupt in to further chaos. Darid opened his eyes, blistered skin an angry red and mockery gone from his eyes, replaced with pure hatred. Lucius had hate enough in his own belly, enough to ignore the savage burn in his palm. Hatred of how unfair the world was, hatred of his father leaving, hatred at himself for not realising this situation sooner. Darid took another step forward, arms grasping towards Lucius, expecting him to retreat. But Lucius let his hate overflow, pouring it all down his arm in to a swing which connected the searing metal with Darid’s temple, dropping him to the ground in a heap.
He’d like to say he stood there, chest heaving and called the city watch, let them take Darid away. The thing is, once you let hatred and fury like that free, it’s very hard to rein in without it being sated. He could feel his head throbbing in unison with his heartbeat, and couldn’t even hear the pan crashing into Darid’s skull over the sound of his own inconsolable screaming. Once, twice, three times. He lost count after that. He kept hitting and hitting until his arm was numb and the clanging of the pan was audible on the wooden floor, through the pile of gore that used to be Darid’s head. After that, he can say, he knelt there with his chest heaving. He didn’t call the watch though, and his mam never took her horrified eyes off his creation. He finally noticed the burn in his hand from gripping the hot pan, wincing back and peeling his hand away, leaving skin stuck to the handle and beginning to cry like a child at the pain. His mam rose quickly, an agitated look on her face but the horror gone, or masked for his sake.
She took him in her arms and he sobbed, shaking and blubbering as his mam stroked his hair and hummed the tune from all those years ago, brave face back on. She used the remaining water in the house to wash him as he sat there dumbfounded, watching the pinkish water creeping it’s way through the grains in the wooden floor, staining the once spotless house. All the while she didn’t talk, didn’t even look in Darid’s direction. Just hummed that tune and cleaned Lucius up, bandaged his hand, told him to get some things together, that they were leaving that night.
Door clicking open, his mam looked left and right before ushering Lucius out on to the street with a small bag of possessions over his shoulder. She’d taken whatever money she could find, leaving the fire burning and some conveniently combustible materials nearby; by the time the fire was out, they’d be long gone and presumed dead in the blaze. The sun was just beginning to set in the sky, dragging the light down behind the skyline for it’s slumber. Birds were dancing beneath it’s sleepy gaze as they too wound their way back to their nests. Lucius and his mam had hopped aboard a merchants cart, heading to a small village called Saternac overnight. With a nod to the guards on the way out, they fled the city that had been their home and their nightmare.
“That’s the thing about this city” Lucius thought. “It just as easily spits people out.”
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
Hi Ben :) -Some points: You have already changed POV in paragraph 1. You start with Lucius and then say the mom is keeping a brave face. Keep it only his POV. Careful with timing and tenses: the story starts as if it is going to take place on that first day and ends up stretching into the future. If your main action happens later, you need to use "had" for something further in the past. eg Lucius had wondered that day if his mam was putting on a brave face for him... -Tell us earlier that he is 13. It was a surprise when it came later. Al...
Yeah, seem to have struggle with the info dump thing on this one, had another comment similar too. Ill take it on board - the conversation with his mum is a good idea! It is kind of the start of a story for the character in question (Lucius). In the book I'm writing hes part of a brotherhood of warriors who originate from Saternac (the town mentioned right at the end) and he's kind of saved from his demons by those men. Felt like I was running out of words to get what i wanted in there 😂 The city again will be a huge scene in the book itsel...
Realised I didn't say much that was encouraging - sorry for that, I think it is great! The fact that you have so much built in your head is brilliant. What I meant is that a story set in your universe doesn't need to have everything in it that the book needs. It needs a tighter plot. But if you are just doing it for yourself to get going with the book that's awesome.
Oh no I totally understand, you've helped me massively there. I'd much rather know I was doing something wrong than continue doing it :) The idea was to explore Lucius in a bit more detail with his past etc. But your feedback has helped for the next time i do it, possibly with a different character. Thank you!
Holy-Wow, Ben! If this was character development, I can't wait for the entire novel!! I really liked how you presented this world, you made it seem very real and relatable and I honestly devoured it! The only thing I would say is to not info dump - and by that I mean you kinda just ... er plopped the world into the story. To make it so that readers don't get lost, I would say space the world-building out in between reactions or day-to-day lives of the character. But I mean, other than that, can't wait for more! N
Thank you! I think I know what you mean, I felt as though I had to sort of cram it in with it being such a short story. So instead of cramming the city description in there, maybe do him visiting each hill and describing it that way? Like the 'warriors hill' part? Thanks for the input! I won't edit this story though, would like to be able to look back and see where I went wrong. Helps me learn :D
Yeah if course! And yep, that’s what I mean! And that’s a great idea! I just just wanted to let you know :)
Yep thanks so much! Just had another comment similar about the info dump, I'll work on that for next time.
Wow. If this is part of a larger piece, then I can't wait to read it! Really interesting development and nicely done emotional explanations. I think my favorite part is how you circled back to the prompt at the very end. Perfect!
Lucius is much older in the book I'm trying to write, still as mischievous too! I'm hoping to get one in of another character with this week's prompts if i have time. Thanks a lot!