The Jarlshof, or The Earl’s House

Hjaltland, 1600s

The autumn equinox. The equinoctial winds churn the sea into a froth of annihilating waves. A little skiff; sails ripped ragged, boom snapped and crashing into the sides of the beleaguered vessel, as if to punish it for venturing into these vicious waters.

On board, a Norwegian merchant, Magnusson, crazed, wild-eyed. And wishing, wishing so hard, he had stayed at home like his daughter had wanted, rather than making this one last trading voyage from their home amongst the fjords to Hjaltland, or Ultima Thule, as the Romans named these islands to the west. Wooden tools and trinkets, he sells; toy dogs and cats and hens and sheep, carved by him during the dark winter months, then sold at great profit in these islands where trees are a rarity, and the only wood either imported or washed up on the storm-tossed beaches from halfway around the world.

Fiddles too, full-sized and child sized, and teeny tiny ones: the real thing, simply mouse sized, that if you could ever find someone with fingers small enough, could be played as fully as an adult one. A great novelty they are in these islands of musicians where pretty much every family has half a dozen fiddle players amongst their number, who along with singers and dancers, gather on winter nights and make merry hell with their tunes and stomping and bodies flying around the place.

Such are his customers. The miniscule fiddles are much loved, and he always carries a few in his pockets as gifts to loyal customers, and to those he hopes will part with their money in exchange for his goods.

And so it is, on this night of tempest and the very devil abroad in the air, as the skiff is thrown from wave to wave, hour upon hour till he has no idea where he is, that his body pitches into the waters. Tossed like flotsam on the breakers rushing at the shore, he is hurled onto a deserted coastline, his boat smashed to matchsticks along with all his goods, other than the small number of tiny fiddles still snug, though drenched, in his breast pockets.

And now here he is, semi-conscious, face down in the sand, with the waves lashing at his feet. There is a moon up there in the scurrying sky, and in between darknesses it emerges pale and livid to show him, as he comes to, just what a mess he is in. Deserted beach, no habitations in sight, no signs of life or…

Up there, high up, at the top of the menacing cliff, shapes, moving rapidly, shapes with arms and legs – rescuers. Local people who will have seen his plight and are coming…

They are coming nowhere; they are dancing. Can it be? It can – they are; flying in a circle as if in crazed celebration of this storm; flying as if exhilarating in this…flying…they aren’t dancing, they’re flying.

He lets out a gasp and, even amidst the roar of the storm, it is heard.

The heads of these inhuman creatures snap around in his direction. And as if their eyes were made of scrying glass, they spy him, his dark shape on the white sand. Very distinctly human-shaped, he is.

A roar goes up that would match the thunder for fierceness, and they launch themselves off the cliff top like giant sea birds, arms spread wide to navigate the drafts that send them lurching up and down and ever closer to him, like malevolent gulls, screeching their delight at having spotted prey.

He is frozen in horror, never having imagined that being shipwrecked would be the least of his worries. With an explosion of adrenaline, he is up and running across the sand to who knows where, anywhere, as long as it’s away from those flying fiends, closing in on him like harpies.

Trolls. That is what they are: beasts from his own lands that in the murky depths of the past migrated across the water and settled on this god-forsaken island. Beasts it is pointless to flee, since there is no escaping them once they have set their fatal sights on you.

But his body does not know this lore, and feet slipping and sliding on sand that allows him one step forward for two steps back, he glances over his shoulder. To see this flock of monsters ever closer, enjoying the hunt, not bringing him down with speed and precision, but playing with him, enjoying his attempts at escape, like cats with any small animal they can get at their mercy.

That is when he realises it is futile. There is nowhere to run that they cannot get to quicker than he can.

Other than…grasses, a forest of them. He dives into them and down on his hands and knees, mercifully hidden from sight. Then his blood chills as he hears a new sound – sniffing.

He ducks down, but they smell him, he can hear them, sniffing like bloodhounds. He stumbles on through the grass and finds himself on sand again, the sea stretching out before him; trapped. Has he come full circle? No – it is a spit of land, and he has simply crossed it and now has nowhere to run, but there – a glimmer amongst the reeds. He runs towards it in the hope of finding habitation, but to his dismay finds only more sand, drifted into high dunes against the ruins of a building. Yet there was light, he saw it, he’s certain. He stumbles on, over tumbled stone walls. His pursuers are in no hurry to bring him down, it seems, and he can hear their cawing and snuffling as they lunge through the reeds, scrabbling for him like it’s a game. More fools they, for these ruins may be his salvation, as there is the light again, impossible to tell how close, like a wink, on and off, beckoning, encouraging his forward momentum so that he wonders if it is a trick.

8 thoughts on “The Jarlshof, or The Earl’s House

  1. NobHobbit says:

    I found the ending of this to be much more engaging than the beginning. There are a couple of reasons for that.
    One is the tone of the beginning is different and hard to engage with. You have a lot of incomplete sentences, and a lot of ‘he is’ constructions. The first four paragraphs feel like a number of small snapshots rather than an active story. Which leads me to the next part of what caused me trouble in the beginning.
    The length of sentence and density of words. Because it feels like nothing is happening – you spend three of your first four paragraphs giving us backstory – the long, convoluted sentences and all the big words are harder to plow through. Don’t get me wrong, I love big words. 🙂 But I would suggest saving that kind of writing for where there is enough action to carry the reader through.
    You have long sentences at the end, too, and the same dense wordiness, but it’s less of a problem there because the action is immediate and I’m involved in the man’s escape.

    This paragraph, for instance:

    On board, a Norwegian merchant, Magnusson, crazed, wild-eyed. And wishing, wishing so hard, he had stayed at home like his daughter had wanted, rather than making this one last trading voyage from their home amongst the fjords to Hjaltland, or Ultima Thule, as the Romans named these islands to the west. Wooden tools and trinkets, he sells; toy dogs and cats and hens and sheep, carved by him during the dark winter months, then sold at great profit in these islands where trees are a rarity, and the only wood either imported or washed up on the storm-tossed beaches from halfway around the world.

    My eyes are glazing over about where we get to ‘as the Romans named these islands…’ It seems like the tiny fiddles are what will be important to the story, so could most of this description about what he sells and when he carves it be cut, or saved for later?

    Another thing that made it harder to really feel involved is all of the ‘He is’ stuff going on in the first half. That contributes to the feeling that I’m just looking at a series of pictures, not really being engaged in the story. Making these into actions instead of descriptions will really help.

    And now here he is, semi-conscious, face down in the sand — And now he lies, semi-conscious, face down in the sand.
    He is frozen in horror, — He freezes in horror.
    he is up and running — He lunges up and runs.

    I hope this doesn’t sound too negative, because the last paragraphs get really interesting. I want to find out how he escapes, what the light is, how the tiny fiddles will play into the story. I don’t even mind the very first part being a snapshot of the scene, though it was a little hard to adjust to, but if you could save some of the backstory for later, and change the passive into active, I think it would greatly help the beginning.

    Best,
    Chelle

    • Joy Perino says:

      Hi Chelle,

      Not to too negative at all – really, really helpful in fact! I can see all your points, argh…… and will rewrite accordingly. Big, huge thanks.

  2. April Marie Cox says:

    There is a lot of exposition and backstory that doesn’t really need to be here, and it makes the opening a bit hard to follow. You can fit the bits and pieces about the fiddles and his customers and what not in and you go. Focus on what is happening in the moment.

    Second, your narrative distance is very far out. I like how you start with the waves, but I think starting far out with the waves, and slowly moving in to focus on your main character would work better, maybe something like this:

    The equinoctial winds churn the sea into a froth of annihilating waves. A tiny skiff is thrown from wave to wave as the torrent of water drenches its captain–a merchant, Magnussen. Oh, why hadn’t he listened to his daughter and just stayed home? No, he had insisted on making this one last voyage, and now he was paying for that decision. And even as he had that thought, he is sent flying, head first into the sea, the blackness of the stormy ocean engulfing him, not caring one way or another for his regret.

    This is a much more concise opening, and it’s easier to follow. As Chelle says above, you use a lot of words, but you’re really not saying a lot. Get to your point more quickly and more concisely, and you can fill in the details later in the story. What kind of merchant he is is not important to your opening. All the reader needs to know is that he is a merchant at sea in the middle of a storm. The rest can be filled in later–focus on the action to move your story from one point to the next and fill in a little here and there as it applies.

    I hope that helps.

    April

    • Joy Perino says:

      It does indeed help April, many thanks. I did wonder, when I posted it – last chance to glance over it with a critical eye, and sense all sorts of hours to come…..

      But I wanted to post it and get feedback, rather than not post because I could see a rewrite coming. You’ve both been very helpful in pointing out what I felt was a nagging issue, but was hoping I could get away with, lol. Lesson: if you feel a nagging issue, don’t try to ignore it – it’s nagging at you for a reason! 😀

  3. suesauer says:

    Alo :D.

    If I would to draw out this sequence as thumbnails(I am in the film industry). Just images no words it would go something like this.

    The autumn equinox. The equinoctial winds churn the sea into a froth of annihilating waves. A little skiff; sails ripped ragged, boom snapped and crashing into the sides of the beleaguered vessel, as if to punish it for venturing into these vicious waters.

    —- wide shot, big ocean small broken ship, night time, clouds moon hidden —–

    —-next thumbnail—-

    On board, a Norwegian merchant, Magnusson, crazed, wild-eyed. And wishing, wishing so hard, he had stayed at home like his daughter had wanted, rather than making this one last trading voyage from their home amongst the fjords to Hjaltland, or Ultima Thule, as the Romans named these islands to the west. Wooden tools and trinkets, he sells; toy dogs and cats and hens and sheep, carved by him during the dark winter months, then sold at great profit in these islands where trees are a rarity, and the only wood either imported or washed up on the storm-tossed beaches from halfway around the world.

    —- cut to sailor wet, scared trying to keep ship going, Tools and so on deck? Wouldnt know by just looking where he was going or how long so on, would need a new thumbnail for that. I would leave that all out as it takes the viewer away from the action of this scene —-

    And so it is, on this night of tempest and the very devil abroad in the air, as the skiff is thrown from wave to wave, hour upon hour till he has no idea where he is, that his body pitches into the waters. Tossed like flotsam on the breakers rushing at the shore, he is hurled onto a deserted coastline, his boat smashed to matchsticks along with all his goods, other than the small number of tiny fiddles still snug, though drenched, in his breast pockets.

    — choosing the next thumbnail based on the first two thumbnails above—-
    —- so i draw his ship broken on the rocks him laying face down in the sand, would have to draw a new thumbnail for the fiddles so leaving them out again, i want to stick to main action of the story—-

    And now here he is, semi-conscious, face down in the sand, with the waves lashing at his feet. There is a moon up there in the scurrying sky, and in between darknesses it emerges pale and livid to show him, as he comes to, just what a mess he is in. Deserted beach, no habitations in sight, no signs of life or…

    — next thumbnail —-

    —- close up on his face – he looks up and around(maybe now he checks his pocket to find the fiddles whole… maybe) no need to show what mess he is in we have already seen it in the first two thumbnails. Here we need to see his emotion and what is important to him. —

    Up there, high up, at the top of the menacing cliff, shapes, moving rapidly, shapes with arms and legs – rescuers. Local people who will have seen his plight and are coming…

    — next thumbnail —

    —- cut to beach camera(his point of view) moves up to the hightes sees “people” —

    They are coming nowhere; they are dancing. Can it be? It can – they are; flying in a circle as if in crazed celebration of this storm; flying as if exhilarating in this…flying…they aren’t dancing, they’re flying.

    — next thumbnail —

    —- still his point of view see the creators up high—-

    He lets out a gasp and, even amidst the roar of the storm, it is heard.

    —- next thumbnail —

    —- reaction shot -good thumbs up- probably 3/4 over shoulder shot so you can see them hear him. —-

    **** side note: this might turn into two shots one him reacting(close up on face), and then their heads turning all creepy like.(mid shot) – the scary movie I can hear you look in their eyes-****

    The heads of these inhuman creatures snap around in his direction. And as if their eyes were made of scrying glass, they spy him, his dark shape on the white sand. Very distinctly human-shaped, he is.

    —– next thumbnail —

    —- their point of view of him small on beach—-

    so as you can tell by now it gets easier to read from here on out because your thumbnails become clear visually.

    A roar goes up that would match the thunder for fierceness, and they launch themselves off the cliff top like giant sea birds, arms spread wide to navigate the drafts that send them lurching up and down and ever closer to him, like malevolent gulls, screeching their delight at having spotted prey.

    —- next thumbnail —

    — i draw them leaping into the sky—

    Lovely stuff… as a person that has to work with storyboards and scripts every day this would be how I would break down things to make the action clear. Then I would go back and think do we want the fiddles and back story now, or would it be better in the next scene? If you have to many cuts in your action line people tend to get lost or distracted.

    Great stuff though I would love to read more :D/

  4. Anonymous says:

    The above comments are right, and they would really help in your writing. I just want to add that maybe the pacing should be one thing you need to focus on. It would take time but you’ll eventually master it 🙂

  5. Hailey says:

    Although the vocabulary in this is very good, I found it difficult to get into because a lot of the punctuation and sentence structure is confusing or has errors. For example, I believe the second paragraph starts with more of a fragment than an actual sentence.
    I’m assuming the narration is omniscient present-tense, which is fine, but in some places it felt like it was pulling me away from being really IN the story, and I was very aware of the narrator and of being a spectator. At this point, I have a better idea of the narrator’s personality than I do the character’s, which on the other hand means that there is a distinct voice to the story.
    I like the idea of the character making novelties like toys and the tiny fiddles, but the description goes on a bit of a tangent that makes the scene less immediate.
    The scene with the trolls has some great imagery and word choices. Punctuation was still a bit distracting, though, and I hadn’t connected enough to the character to really worry much.
    I think it would improve the scene to clean up errors in punctuation and sentence structure, and draw the narration a bit closer to the here and now and the character’s thoughts. Use the space taken up by the description of his cargo to show readers the character and give them a reason to really care. Also maybe slow the pacing just a touch, so key points (like the ship crashing) aren’t so likely to be skimmed over by accident.
    The world of this story seems interesting and I wish you luck working with it. Hope I’ve been a little helpful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s