The Bastard

“Tighten that damn strap, will ya!”

Lupo rubbed the back of his head where Rasser had just struck him, and stooped to try and find the buckler. His hands fumbled in the darkness, working their way around the enormous lump of burlap. The way the donkey kept ambling all over on the muddy back road certainly didn’t help.

“It’s too big,” he complained. “I just can’t fix it in one place.”

“Well, you had better,” Rasser hissed as he ran his beady eyes left and right. “This damn creaking’s driving up the wall. Someone’s gonna hear us at this rate.”

“But I can’t see anything. I can’t find the buckler, it’s so dark. How do you even know where we’re going?”

“Shut up already!” Rasser reached up and smacked Lupo round the ear again, who cowered like a child. Rasser didn’t look like much, with his weasly face and almost comically wispy mustache, but Lupo knew he was not the kind of person you’d want to put you on his bad list.

“I’ve been down this road a hundred times. I could make the trip blindfolded.”

“Really?” Lupo glanced at the load on the donkey’s back, or at least where he figured it was. “So… you’ve done this before?”

“Yes. And unless you want to be the next one in that sack, then shut your mouth and keep moving.”

Lupo fell quiet. The night around them rushed to fill the silence; crickets, cicadas and all sorts of nocturnal predators rattled about them, like so many whispers gossiping their every move. Rasser kept his eyes straight ahead. Their goal was just after the next curve. He silently cursed his boots that sank deep into the mud with every step, slowing them down.

At last, a light appeared in the distance. Rasser shushed the buffoon lest he yelp in relief, but there was no need. Lupo trotted beside him without a word, almost too nervous to so much as breathe.

The light was a lone torch, held by a pale, scrawny man in what appeared to be a leather apron. He was standing just outside a pair of double doors on a building whose outline Lupo strained to make out in the darkness. It was as big as a racehorse stable — definitely bigger than he’d have expected to find out here. The walls were simple and sturdy. Muffled snorts and a smell that could charitably be described as “earthy” emanated from the high, narrow windows.

The man with the torch couldn’t have been older than eighteen. His face gave the impression that nature had intended to make him handsome, but couldn’t make up its mind on how to do so. The result was an odd mixture of a stern brow, soft blue eyes, aquiline nose, delicate jawline, and facial hair that grew into brushy black sideburns and then just gave up. His apron held a variety of sharp tools and was visibly caked with blood.

“Corlis,” Rasser didn’t so much greet the young man as begrudgingly acknowledge his presence. Corlis returned the sentiment with what may have been a nod. His gaze then slid to the sack.

“Put it in there,” he motioned to an old hand cart about a foot away from him. Lupo led the donkey next to it, then carefully loosened the straps. As the second buckler was let go, the heavy mass immediately slipped to the side and landed in the cart with a loud thump. Rasser swore under his breath and looked around. There shouldn’t have been anyone so far outside the city at this time of night; but then, neither should have they.

Corlis stood by the cart, paying him no mind. He grabbed the coarse linen, and pulled it back to reveal a livid, unshaven face. Its most noticeable feature, besides being stunningly fat, was the second mouth it had developed between its chins. Corlis leaned in with curiosity. A single, elegant cut, from one ear to the other, touching both carotids and the larynx without any unnecessary detours. Very economical. Its maker must have practiced it to the point of boredom.

“Nasty piece of work, isn’t it?” Several golden teeth glinted in the torchlight as Rasser grinned at the corpse. “Sorry bastard thought he could wager all he wants and not pay. My boys caught him at the south city gates last night.”

Corlis drew the sack over the face again. He set the torch into a holder on the cart’s handle, and proceeded to straighten the body so that as few limbs were hanging off as possible.

“Keep his head in one piece,” The mobster spat on the ground. “I want it in my den so everyone can see what happens when someone tries to steal from me.”

“Duly noted.” Corlis finished tucking the arms away. “That’ll be twenty-five gold, then.”

Rasser’s hand began to move toward his purse, but stopped halfway. His eyes narrowed.

“What’re you playing at, boy? You said fifteen this morning, not twenty-five.”

“And you said you were bringing a dead man, not a dead whale.”

“What’s it matter?” The mobster spat again. “He’s going to the pigs, anyway!”

“Yes. But I’m the one who has to cut him up for them. And my time –,” Corlis patted the tools at his waist, “– is precious.”

“Your time?” Rasser barked, much louder than the noise the corpse had made. He yanked his dagger from its sheath and pressed it against the young man’s cheek. “How about your life, you mouthy brat? I just told you. Bad things happen when someone tries to steal from me.”

“I’m not stealing from you.” Corlis’s eyes were locked on Rasser’s so firmly as if he hadn’t even noticed the cold steel digging into his skin. The deep shadows cast by the torch made his bloodless face look even less alive than the one in the cart. “I’m offering a service, for a price. If you’re unhappy with it, you can take me to a judge and explain how I’m charging extortionate fees for disposing of a man you had killed over an illegal gambling debt. Or you can just gut me right here, and have two dead bodies to deal with, as well as my other returning clients who’ll likely want a word with you.”

For a few moments, the air itself seemed to freeze. Lupo looked nervously back and forth between the two of them, but mostly at Rasser, whose sneer turned his already ratlike face even less human. Corlis could practically hear the rusty gears turning inside the man’s head.

At last, Rasser put his dagger away, and yanked his purse open so stiffly it almost tore at the seams.

“You’re even worse than your toad of a grandmother,” he grunted, counting out the twenty-fifth coin.

“She’s my great-aunt, actually.” Corlis pocketed the gold, then picked up the cart by the handle and turned it around. “And I’ll tell her you said hello.”

14 thoughts on “The Bastard

  1. Tayo says:

    “Tighten that damn strap, will ya!”

    I like that this dialogue isn’t plain or bland, it has some character in it however I don’t think that a reader who knows nothing about your story would be compelled by it. This is the opening. It is literally the first impression that a reader will have of your work. What aspect of this compelled you to place it right at the beginning of your story? Is there something more engaging or intriguing that could happen first?

    “Lupo rubbed the back of his head where Rasser had just struck him, and stooped to try and find the buckler.” <<[The buckler of what? Where is the character physically? I don't it's a good idea for a character to start performing actions withing a physical space until that space has been properly established. Unfortunately you haven't established anything by this point so it's confusing.

    "The way the donkey kept ambling all over on the muddy back road" I think you should establish that they are leading a donkey through a muddy back road as soon as possible, placing it at the end of the paragraph makes me feel like the donkey 'popped' into existence.

    I feel that there are too many aspects of Lupo's physical predicament that are being introduced almost disjointedly and I don't feel much of a connection to him or any other characters. I'm not sure enough about what's happening to be interested.

    Good luck.

    • Mate Safranka says:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m sorry the opening didn’t catch your interest, and I’ll keep your points in mind in the future.

  2. bruinsmap says:

    Personally fantasy leaves me cold (as does SciFi). So that is probably why it doesn’t hook me. It does seem as though this dialogue could appear anywhere in the book. More of an extract rather than a beginning.

    However, this is well written and competent. So you can tell a story.

    Note: mobster has a definite context ( 20th century organised crime) , not sure if it translates to a fantasy world so easily.

    • Mate Safranka says:

      “Mobster” seems to have confused others as well, so that definitey wasn’t the ideal word choice. Thank you for your assessment, and for reading it all the way even though it’s not your genre of choice 🙂

  3. twiggy says:

    I tried leaving a comment yesterday, but it would not go through, so I apologize in advance if you get double posts of the same critique (if the first one ever does post).

    Anyway… I really liked Corlis, and I would like to know more about him and his extended family of apparently notorious criminals. His reaction to being threatened was pretty amusing. It seemed like he’s had a fairly rough life, so I’d also be interested to see what landed him in that “profession.”

    Rasser seemed almost cartoonishly evil, which maybe that’s what you were going for, but it just isn’t my cup of tea.

    And a minor note, but I think you mean “buckle.” A buckler is a type of shield.

    • Mate Safranka says:

      I didn’t get your first comment, so thanks for reposting! I’m glad you liked the scene. Rasser was pretty much meant to be a throwaway character, so I thought I could get away with making him and Lupo your basic “angry little man and big dumb oaf” pair 🙂

      Also, for some reason I was convinced buckle and buckler were the same thing. Thanks!

  4. petebudic says:

    I can’t say I was completely hooked here. You write very well, and there are some very good lines in there, but I’m really not sure exactly what this story was trying to say.

    We start with everything happening from Lupo’s perspective, but after a short while, we never hear from him again. Then we have the banter between Rasser and Corlis, but I’m not sure who to think of as the “good guy” and the “bad guy” (or at least not the good guy). At the very end, the quick line about the grandmother makes me think Corlis is the important one here, but I’m still not sure.

    I also stumbled over some little things. At one point the dialog tag mentions “the mobster”, and I really had to read the section a few time to be sure which of the two that was. Also not really sure “mobster” fits in the time frame you are writing in — but I could be wrong.

    My suggestion would be to focus on one POV for the chapter, and that should be the POV of the most important character. I think this would give us a better chance to get an idea of what they want, or what they are after. Having some kind of goal defined would give the reader more of a reason to turn the next page — IMHO of course.

    • Mate Safranka says:

      I have to agree, to be honest. I actually wrote this earlier this year, before I started seriously learning about writing techniques, and POV just wasn’t something I took into consideration. You guessed right that Corlis is the designated hero in the story (I don’t think we can call him the good guy :)). I counted on the detailed description to get that across, but it should probably be clearer. Thanks for your feedback!

  5. Brett Mumford says:

    In general, I liked it. There were a couple points that were a little off-putting, but others have already commented on that (ie. buckler, mobster). I would describe the only real issue I have is, I didn’t know who the main character was. I thought it was Lupo, but I couldn’t really tell. Corlis seemed like a much more interesting character, but didn’t seem likely to be the main character.

    I like the pacing you used to move the story, but there were definitely instances where the sentence structure stopped me cold (ie. but then, neither should have they). These instances did knock me out of the story briefly, so I would encourage you to keep an eye out for awkward sentences in the future.

    I enjoy fantasy/scifi, though this did feel more like historical thriller than fantasy at this point. I think this would be a good story. Hope you have fun writing it.

    • Mate Safranka says:

      Thanks for the comment! I haven’t had anyone beta or critique this until I posted it here, so it figures it would have some awkward phrasing in it. I’ll definitely bear that in mind for the future. Also, most fantasy I write tends to be on the “low fantasy” side (i.e. more Song of Ice and Fire rather than Lord of the Rings), so I see why you’d get that impression.

  6. Janean L. Watkins says:

    So… I started reading other critiques, but decided against it. I don’t know if people read through the same lens that I did, so, I’ll just tell you what I think.

    First off, that opener. I LOVED it, it gave me a real sense of Rasser and what kind of guy he is. Slowly learning that he’s getting rid of a body is the confirmation for our feelings of dislike towards him for how he’s treating Lupo. It’s like we find out that our suspicions of him being a jerk are confirmed when we learned he’s also a killer.

    I noticed that our invitation into this world is a very micro-glance at the possibilities, i.e., we’re near a city, the time period is either post-apocalyptic or in the early 20th century.

    I would suggest you hurry up and FINISH THIS BOOK so I can BUY IT! I’m really interested to find out where you’re going with this.

    • Mate Safranka says:

      Could anyone ask for a better start to their Monday 😀 Thank you so much for the kind words, I really appreciate your support.

      I’m going to be honest though, this isn’t the book I’m working on right now :X I wrote this earlier as a brainstorming exercise to see what I can make of Corlis as a character. I ended up going with a different idea, but I did grow quite fond of him, so I’ll definitely try to give him his own story at some point.

  7. Niels E. Wisth says:

    I really liked this! 🙂

    I think the in-medias-res opening worked wonderfully. Every fantasy novel starts as a tiny little peek into a huge, unknown world, and here we got a whiff of the visceral trudgery of mud and abusive bosses, of organized crime and corruption, that promises a tale of grit and the low-fantasy struggle for survival. To me, the hook works great, and I am left wanting to know more about the world and how Lupo ended up where he is in life.

    Corlis seems like a colorful non-viewpoint character that is there to introduce his aunt, who must be a powerful underground figure for him to be so cavalier about threats from scum like Rasser.

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