Story Excerpt in These Trying Times

Length is something that can be a little hard to estimate while writing. Something you expected to be short and sweet will come out longer, or something that you had originally thought would be extremely large ends up only taking up a couple of pages. Between my own experience and other writers that I’ve spoken with, short stories or responses to writing prompts are some of the most notorious for this, because if you get too engaged it can become much more than a short story or a response to a writing prompt.

The best example I have for this is the excerpt I will be sharing in this post. Originally it was more of a writing exercise than anything, and my goal was to write a short story based around a song. The specific song that inspired this was Archers by The Ballroom Thieves, and given that it is a little over two minutes and I expected the story to be divided into ten short sections, it was easy to believe this was a project that would be over fairly soon.

I started this in April, and I am still writing for it. That is probably enough incentive for you to know that something went awry during the process.

It turned out that what I had in mind was actually much longer than I had originally thought, and around the point I’m at now, the story is starting to move away from the original path I had set out for it (which also means in later parts it doesn’t fit the song as well). Which is fine, stories are bound to evolve into something different than what you set out to do.

This “short story” is structured a little strangely, since it is divided by song lyrics instead of chapters. I will be including two sections from it, because section two ends on slightly less of a cliff hanger than section one.

As for the story itself: it is about a thief, an exhausted protagonist, traveling through forests and earrings, but I’ll let the writing explain for itself.

The first time Aylwin met Silas was more of a fluke than anything.

Town square was quiet that day, as it had been every day for the past ninety-three years, and as it would be for years to come. A few merchants were still packing up everything that had not been sold. Children chased each other around the execution block, giggling and jumping merrily.

Aylwin bypassed the small crowd to get to the nearest well. He was dying to bathe, even just a little bit. It was common knowledge that if you slipped between the Turner and Baker houses, you would have a shortcut to the west well that suited Aylwin more than taking the main route through the sectors.

It was not, apparently, common knowledge that running full speed through the shortcut while another person was going the opposite way would get you both knocked over.

The stranger and Aylwin went tumbling along the path, and ended up sprawled in a tangle no where near the well. Aylwin scowled and reached for his pail while the other man struggled to push himself upright.

“What were you thinking, blazing along like that?” he demanded. The man focused wild eyes on Aylwin, and he paused. “Hey, are … are you okay?”

The man blinked. It seemed to take him a moment to register what had happened and what Aylwin was asking. When he did, he relaxed his expression into a grin. “Oh yeah, I’m fine, mate.”

“Really?” Aylwin took in the messy hair, ragged clothes, and dirty skin. “You look like you recently rolled out of a pig pen.”

“A pig pen would be an improvement to my current situation.” The man threw a glance over his shoulder, stood up, and made to maneuver himself around Aylwin. He didn’t get one step before he let out a hiss and collapsed back to the ground.

Aylwin let the pail dangle from his elbow as he slipped the opposite arm around the man. He protested at first, but eventually allowed Aylwin to lead him to a bench in the square. The straggling merchants eyed them curiously.

“I truly am fine,” he said impatiently.

“And I am truly sure you sprained something,” Aylwin replied. He rolled up the man’s pant leg, pressing his thumb along the skin until he saw him wince. “It’s in the calf, then?”

“I’m fine.”

Aylwin rolled his eyes and pulled the pant leg down again. “Well, take it easy for a couple of hours. Seriously, why were you running through Turner-Baker?”

The man didn’t respond. Aylwin looked up and caught his gaze darting to all the square’s entrances, his muscles tense. Soon enough he noticed Aylwin watching him and shrugged. “I find it’s a faster mode of traveling. You should try it sometime.”

He took that comment as his cue to leave. Aylwin stood and turned to do just that, but something was still nagging at him.

“I’ve never seen you around here before,” he said, to which the man flashed a brilliant smile. It was a smile that shook your hand and said “you can trust me” while stealing all your money and possibly your first born child.

“Of course not. I’m from out of town.”

“Beggar?”

“Ouch. A farmer.”

“Longhill or Stag clan?”

“Neither. I didn’t say I was a well known farmer.”

Aylwin leaned in with narrowed eyes. “What’s your name?”

“James Curlston,” the man said without missing a beat. He leaned in as well, and raised an eyebrow. “Is the interrogation done yet, mister?”

He wanted to say no. Something about “James” was really setting him off. But, in the end, he wasn’t Aylwin’s problem. He told the man to stay off that leg and continued his journey to fetch some water.

Then their simple, quiet town square was filled with yelling. Men dressed in leather armour poured in with weapons raised, causing the children to scream and flee from the area. Aylwin held up his arms and backed away. He spotted James, who’s face was streaked with horror.

“That’s him, there’s the man!” shouted a woman’s voice.

James struggled to get away with his hindering calf. All at once, the men came upon him and dragged him to the center of the square. He was pushed down to his knees.

From above, the shadow of the execution block loomed over him.

Lady Moira swept across the cobblestones that weren’t fit for feet as fine as hers. The watch parted for her all except for the two men holding James down and the captain. He knelt beside James and cupped his jaw, then jerked it up so Lady Moira could inspect him.

“There’s no mistaking it,” she said, confirming her previous statement. “It’s him. I caught him climbing out the window.”

The captain let go and moved back with a nod. The two guards began to pat James down, to his apparent outrage. “Where’s your proof, huh? Do you have any other eye witnesses? You can’t just arrest me like this!”

“My proof is somewhere on your person. A pair of diamond earrings,” Lady Moira replied. She watched him with a look of disgust.

“What’s your name?” the captain asked, and when James didn’t respond, “What’s your name!”

“I am James Curlston from the southern district,” James snarled. “I’m a man of Agreisha. And unlike this accuser, who has never gotten her hands dirty in her life, I’m a farmer that always makes honest work and I-!”

He was cut off short as one of the guards pulled something from his inner coat pocket. Lady Moira’s earrings gleamed in his palm. Aylwin stared from his spot at the edge of the square, everything finally beginning to click into place.

“Well,” the man who was probably not named James Curlston said, and slumped from his position of righteous indignation. “You can’t blame a guy for trying.”

“Real name,” the captain demanded.

Not-James jutted out his chin. “Silas Bowman.”

“You admit that you broke into Lady Moira’s home, stole some of her most prized jewelry, and ran from the law?”

“Get your men to back off, and I’ll think about it.”

The captain struck Silas across the face. He turned to Lady Moira and asked what punishment she saw as acceptable for the criminal. Then Silas began to laugh; slow and throaty at first, until it grew high and loud and grated on everyone’s nerves. The captain went to slap him again, but Silas held up a hand.

“No, no, ignore me.” He snickered. “I simply can’t get over the fact that the local watch takes orders from a man who can’t even tie his belt right.”

Silas continued to laugh. The captain, on the other hand, looked down and went bright red. The other guards pretended not to notice while he drew his pants up and tugged his belt tight. Aylwin was sure he heard a merchant near him snort.

“It wasn’t like that before,” said the captain. He pointed at his men. “You all saw me! It wasn’t like that before.” Finally, he let his finger fall in Silas’ direction. “How did you manage it, you bugger?”

Silas smiled. “I didn’t. There’s no possible way I could, with all these people watching.”

“That was a low blow.”

“Quite literally, I might add.”

This time it was Aylwin who snorted, against his better judgment. Silas heard it and cast his smile to him momentarily.

“He shall hang,” Lady Moira said, her voice as cool as ice. “Tomorrow at noon, if you will allow it, Captain.”

“Oh, I’ll allow it, all right,” the captain muttered. Silas’ cheery mood dropped and he thrashed against the guards that held him, but there was nothing he could do. Nowhere he could run.

Aylwin fought vigorously against the sympathy that tried to develop at the sight. Silas was a liar and a petty thief, and by all means didn’t deserve his pity. Aylwin was going on his way to the well when the merchant from earlier stepped forward and cleared his throat.

“Sir? Madam? If I may weigh in a tad,” he said, and Aylwin found himself stopping in his tracks.

The captain frowned at him. “Whatever makes you think that-?”

“Now, now, Captain, I see no harm in it. Go ahead,” Lady Moira told the merchant, giving him a nod.

“I don’t think that one theft deserves a death penalty, madam.”

“No? That’s what most are treated to. It’s the way things are.”

“It is cruel and unjust.” The merchant crossed his arms. His determination was like a tidal wave. But Lady Moira, Aylwin thought, was like sheer rock. “Mister Bowman could be a poor street urchin simply trying to survive. What are a couple of diamond earrings lost to your abundant riches, my lady?”

Lady Moira pressed her lips into a thin line.

“Not one of our street urchins. Have any of you seen this man before?” The captain addressed his question to the square at large, and the watch and other merchants shook their heads. The one who seemed to have taken a liking to Silas searched them until he spotted Aylwin, who he wasted no time in pointing out.

“He knows him. I saw the two come out of Turner-Baker, speaking with one another. He was aiding him in walking.”

Within seconds, another pair of guards had grabbed Aylwin and pulled him to the group. He, too, was thrown to his knees. If only he’d left to fetch pails of water sooner. If only Silas had run through another route. He glared at the man beside him, but all of Silas’ attention was on Lady Moira, the captain, and the merchant.

“Name?”

“Aylwin Fletcher, sir.”

“And how long have you known Mister Bowman?”

He tried to sit up to look the captain in the eyes, and was rewarded a push by one of the guards. So Aylwin stared at the ground instead, his sense of honour compromised and his body really needing that bath he’d planned to take.

“Perhaps ten minutes or so, sir,” Aylwin said through gritted teeth. “He ran into me when I was on my way to collect water from the west well. He sprained a muscle and I helped him sit down.”

“It’s true, much to my annoyance. I may have gotten away if it weren’t for good old Aylwin here,” Silas added.

Aylwin bumped his shoulder against Silas’ and hissed, “You shut up.”

Silas retaliated. “I’m helping you!”

This led to Aylwin ranting on how he supposedly should be so gracious that Silas was trying to help him out of what he got him into. Silas snarked that, hey, Aylwin had been so insistent on checking Silas’ injury and he hadn’t been the one to draw attention to him. The captain massaged his temples, looking as if to be under great strain, and silenced them both with a yell.

“I haven’t done anything, sir, I swear. I didn’t help him steal the earrings,” Aylwin pressed. He hadn’t known the earrings themselves necessarily existed before that day.

“But do you believe this man deserves to die for them?” the merchant asked. All eyes focused on him completely. Aylwin glanced from the captain to Silas then back, and swallowed.

Should he help or condemn him?

Should he affiliate himself further with the criminal, or have a guilty conscience?

Yes or no. Yes or no. Yes or-

“No,” Aylwin said, lowering his head. “I don’t think so.”

He was aware, then, of Silas observing him with his head tilted. He simply refused to acknowledge him. The captain muttered something about everyone going soft these days as the merchant debated with him further, and finally he relented to making Silas serve time in jail instead. Lady Moira wasn’t happy, but she covered it up with a blank face and stalked away from the scene.

Silas was taken to the prison. The captain declared Aylwin innocent, mostly because he had better things to do than interrogate him further. The watch dispersed, and the merchants packed up, and everyone left so that Aylwin crouched in the dirt all alone.

Maybe he was going soft, he thought to himself while he tread back to the shortcut. After all, thieves never won sympathy from most in that town.

It has occurred to me that, perhaps, this is a bit too long of an excerpt, but it is going to stay like that. I spent too much time copying and pasting each individual paragraph from my Word document so that it didn’t break the format that it doesn’t matter.

“Archers”, as I’ve been calling it, is a piece I’ve enjoyed writing very much. Aylwin and Silas’ characters, along with their dynamic and how it develops over the course of the story, have been really fun to play around with. As I said before, at this point it has moved past the original plan, but it seems to be worth it.

As for whether it will be wrapped up by the time a year has passed? Only time will tell.