Ibex

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as in Presbyterian Church in America
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Joined September 10, 2019

Message to Readers

Welcome back to another dismal episode of, "Ibex shares part of a novel and then doesn't publish any more".

Feedback please!!!

November 23, 2020

FREE WRITING

1
Hello, all. I'll be submitting a novel to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards this year, which requires me to submit an excerpt. Below are the scenes I've selected to comprise said excerpt. Hopefully, you'll read and be willing enough to leave some feedback. Comments/reviews would be nice. :)

Note: this excerpt is comprised of various scenes from throughout the novel.

Chapter 12 section:
Tanith gives the direction, and her legion of followers swarms us, binding Raff, Lorcan, and I, their fingernails scraping away our skin. Tendrils of black fabric encircling their cloaked heads like misty, darkened halos, they lead us to stand beneath three of the nooses.

Tanith approaches Ransom on tiptoe, creeping across the charred grass one cautious step at a time, appraising the threat before her. As she studies her foe, her servants search him for weapons but come up empty-handed. He carries nothing, not even a simple dagger.

Chuckling softly to herself, she whispers in his ear, taunting him, “I expected a conqueror.” Turning to her servants, she gestures dramatically to Ransom, “Behold, his Majesty, the light foretold by the ancient prophecy! Let us beware this light come to quench our flame!”

Raff gasps, “His Majesty?”

I look towards Ransom once again. Suddenly, the memory of the palace comes flooding back to me: I see the King staring down from his balcony all those years ago. I remember his face, accentuated by the crown on his head, now masked by plain robes and mosquito bites. Ransom, I finally see, is not just any city person. This is the King.

My stomach drops into my toes. I deserve death for a thousand crimes remembered only by this King of Light and Queen of Blood. Any moment, they will hang me, as a solemn reminder never to question the authority of these two, the ruler of the swamp and the ruler of the city. I wonder if anyone will bury me, or if I’ll be left to the vultures.

When the Enchantress opens her mouth, accusations spill forth from her throat to drown us, “Look at these three, your Majesty. They have ignored your commandments, spat upon your name, and sworn to destroy your throne. Keitha’s sins are infinite: she is a murderer, a thief, a traitor, and a servant of mine. And she is much worse than even this, your Majesty. You have only seen glimpses of her evil.

“Raff is a murderer, one of my servants. Her hands have taken life as I have commanded her. Lorcan, too, is a servant of mine. He has burned villages, set fire to traders, and left families dead in the streets. He has vowed to dethrone you.

“Do you see them, King? Do you see how the swamp has wormed its way into their blood, how they wear its filth from head to toe? All three of these deserve death, according to your laws and justice. Why would you ever come to save them?”

Ransom glances towards us. I suppose he sees us as criminals at our weakest: bound and shackled, about to die at Tanith’s hands, just as we deserve. But he looks towards the Enchantress once again and replies, “I know what they’ve done, but I have come for them, just as the prophecy says.”

“You will die if you continue to hold to the prophecy,” Tanith says. “We wouldn’t want that, now would we? Give these three what they deserve. Let them perish! And then you will go free, to rule your kingdom once again, without these troublesome meddlers.”

“I hold to the prophecy. I am the one foretold.”

“You can ignore the prophecy. If you will bow to me just this once, I will let you live. I will give you the swamp as your kingdom, a long life, everything you could ever want.”

“No.”

Tanith rolls her eyes, “Very well. Whatever you say, your Majesty. You will die a traitor’s death: a hanging.” She turns then to her followers, “It seems the King desires death for the sake of these three. Then we will let him have his way. Release the traitors! Let them observe this sacrifice on their behalf.”

At her word, our guards unbind us and push us into the ranks of Tanith’s followers. Although freedom from death leaves us trembling with relief, we realize that innocence is about to sacrifice himself so that we might live. Ransom now stands alone, surrounded by a hundred of the Enchantress’s servants.

"Bind him," Tanith says with a hiss. Her followers rush forward and shackle Ransom's ankles and wrists, rendering him helpless in the face of all that is to come.

Raff and I look away, knowing what comes next. The Enchantress will do what she always does to traitors: humiliate him, brand his skin with her fire.

“Oh, Raff and Keitha,” Tanith slithers up to us and turns our faces towards Ransom once again. Her fingertips scald our faces like branding irons. “Watch: here is your King, about to sacrifice himself in vain for your sake.”

“I thought you said the King hated you,” Raff mutters to me, her teary eyes wide as she watches the proceedings.

“He did,” I reply, remembering that day beneath the palace balcony, robbing a castle guard and looking up to see him staring down at me, his eyes on fire. Why now, I wonder, would he give himself for me, for Raff, for Lorcan, after all we’ve done? Have we not sworn to see his throne burned to the ground and Tanith seated above him?

“Then why is he about to die for you? For me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe you were wrong about him,” Raff says. “Maybe all of us were wrong.”

It’s too late to do anything now. Tanith smiles diabolically as her followers lead Ransom, battered and bruised, to stand on a stool beneath the fourth noose.

“Here he is!” Tanith cries. “His Majesty, the Light, come to steal back the captives and destroy my reign. Let all learn from his foolishness.”

She motions to Lorcan, “My servant, come here.” The followers push Lorcan out into the center of the clearing, where he stands, trembling, before Tanith. She takes one of the snakes from around her neck and lays it in his hands, “Place it at his feet.”

Lorcan does as he is told without question, placing the creature on the ground beneath Ransom and watching as it winds itself up the legs of the stool, settling itself beside Ransom's heel. It is a young snake, with bright stripes, innocent, staring up at Ransom with curiosity rather than hatred.

But the Enchantress points her hand at the serpent, and ugly tendrils of black magic flow forth from her fingertips, lighting the snake’s eyes gold with bloodlust. It rears it head, flashes its cotton mouth to the ash filled sky, and sinks its fangs into Ransom’s heel. I wonder if he can feel the venom entering his blood, a dark stream of pain rushing through his veins, or if he merely feels the pinpricks of the two fangs on his foot.

Now the guards rush forward and fasten the noose around his neck. Tanith approaches him and grins malevolently, whispering in his ear, “Cursed is he who hangs from a tree.” To Raff, Lorcan, and I, she gestures grandly towards him, “Behold, your King!”

She motions to her guards, and Raff and I squeeze our eyes shut as the Enchantress’s followers kick away the stool.

Chapter 13 section:
"Never thought I'd end up burying the King," Raff murmurs as we shovel aside the loose dirt, digging deep into the ground to prepare a final resting place for him. "I always thought his servants would be the ones burying me after my execution."

“Fate has a funny way of flipping all your expectations on their heads, doesn’t it?” I respond with a sad smile. My heart twists in my chest, recalling one murky night on the bank, whispering tearful secrets to the friend beside me, swampy water lapping at my toes. I don’t want to die. This is why he left his throne: to die.

As we work, the burning swamp grieves its King alongside us. Birds of every shape and size alight upon the branches and sing soft, mournful tunes in memory of him. When the birds spread their wings and fly away into the night sky, the frogs and crickets emerge from the brush, neglecting to croak as they would on any other night, to remind the world of all it has lost. The trees bend down to bid him farewell, and even the stars seem to shine a little dimmer tonight than they used to; all light dies as he has died. Although the swamp has been under the Enchantress’s reign for so long, it still remembers its King.

“Do you think this is deep enough?” Raff asks, tossing aside her trowel. I glance down, inspecting the grave we’ve hollowed out for him. It’s no work of art, and certainly not a proper place to bury a king, especially not after all he’s done for us, but it is the best we can do. It will shield him from the vultures and honor his last sacrifice.

I nod, “It’s deep enough.” And we lower him in.

We keep watch during the night, gazing up at the bloody moon as it swims through the deep blue sky. The world is perishing in flames all around us, smouldering as all things die away, but we pay no attention. Our hearts have been ripped out of our chests and buried alongside the King, so far below the ground, unreachable.

“Do you think we’ll ever be able to move on?” Raff crumples into herself, burying her face in her dirt-stained fingers.

I shake my head, choking on my breath as my vision blurs , “He was too unlike anyone I’ve ever met before. How can we ever move on from that?”

“I don’t know,” Raff sighs, setting her head upon the ground and looking up into the night.

Suddenly, a warm wind, so unlike the cold wind of Tanith, tears through the swamp, coursing up and over our little piece of land, dancing through the lagoon. It swirls around us, tossing our hair, stirring the stillness of the marsh. Skin prickling, goosebumps ripple down our arms. We stand up and stumble back, away from the bank, staring at one another in bewilderment as the wind speaks to the land with a voice that silences all of the creatures upon it. And then, the swamp begins to glow.

Chapter 14 section:
Raff and I stare at one another in awe as the water turns lightning white. We blink once, twice, as though lost in a dream. The entire swamp crumbles away, erupting in sparks of white and gold, transforming itself into something new. Dampened flames are extinguished in a hiss of surrender as ash floats away on the breeze, the earth rupturing as saplings, green with young life and new opportunity, burst forth from beneath our feet. Bare wood gives way as new leaves bud from dead branches, pushing outwards and upwards, as if reaching for the stars. Flowers blossom into nebulas, glistening in the moonlight.

Our sorrow shatters as the wind descends on us, permeating our hearts and settling our restless souls. And then it sweeps by us, dipping and diving through the lagoon, swirling around the makeshift grave, thrusting itself into the ground. As it spins and tumbles, we hear a faint breath on the air, released in a billowing exclamation, a battle cry hollered into the soundless night. The wind’s power grows so strong that we throw our arms in front of our eyes and turn away to shield ourselves from its blistering force.

When the wind calms, we look back at the swamp and gasp, sinking to our knees in disbelief. Ransom, our King, who we ourselves buried not so long ago, stands before us again. He is no longer the humble city man as he once appeared to us; now he wears robes fit for a king, and he goes to battle, armed with a newly sharpened sword that gleams like diamonds in the starlight. He is most definitely not dead but alive.

We tremble, kneeling so low that our faces brush the moistened ground beneath us, a hundred young blades of grass, tender and dripping with dew, bending at our touch. This, we think to ourselves, is the only position in which a guilty swamp dweller can escape death for her crimes, and we wonder now if the time has come for our payment after all we have done.

How could he, who we saw hanging from the cypress tree not so long ago, stand before us again? Our minds cannot fathom such a spectacular feat. Perhaps the miracle lies in the power he wields, or perhaps in his role as King, or perhaps in deep secrets woven within the fabric of the universe.

But, laying a hand on each of us, he says, “Don’t be afraid. Your pasts are wiped clean. Your futures are sealed. You need not fear anymore.”

Chapter 48 section:
The doors swing open, and Raff exits the throne room, her face beaming, her dress so blissfully white. Beautifully radiant, she is alone without an escort, and she sits down beside me.

“So what did they say?” I ask, even though I already know the answer.

She smiles as she replies, “Innocent.”

Before she can continue, a guard walks out into the hallway and calls, “Keitha?”

Stomach churning, I exhale, smooth my skirt as Raff did, and step towards the door. I glance back at Raff one last time, and she gives me a thumbs up. I remind myself of all the truths I know and follow the guard. The doors echo as they clang shut behind me.

The throne room seems so much larger now that I’m alone in it, and my footsteps clack obnoxiously on the floor tiles as I approach the King and his judges. The judges sit on either side of their King, the many books spilled all over the tables. I wonder how many crimes are listed beneath my name. I bow respectfully and wait.

One of the judges begins, “Keitha, you’ve been charged with murder, theft, arson, and, above all these things, treason against the King. According to our records, you joined an underground rebellion when you were only twelve years old and swore yourself to the Enchantress when you were thirteen. These are all very serious crimes, warranting death. Keitha, what do you have to say to these things?”

I stammer as I try to respond, “I… I’m guilty of all of it. I have nothing to say except… except that the King sacrificed himself for me, was put to death by Tanith and then was brought back so that I wouldn’t have to die… That’s all there is to say. That’s my only hope: that my King died in my place.”

The judges glance at the King, “What do you say to this, your Majesty?”

He nods, “I know Keitha; she’s one of mine. She’s innocent.”

I gasp and clap my hand over my mouth to silence myself. Even though I knew my past was wiped clean, I never expected to be named innocent of all my charges even after they’d been thoroughly proven. As I stand watching, the judges flip through the books with stamps in hand, stamping ‘innocent’ in red ink on every page. Page after page after page, a hundred crimes marked as having been rinsed away. I brush my tears away, but still they come as I continue to watch every offense be blotted out. They are tears of joy, not of sorrow.

When they’ve finished, the judges look up at me. The one who first spoke to me says, “You’re free then, Keitha. In the face of what the King has done for you, your crimes are wiped away. His innocence becomes yours.”

I bow so low, attempting but failing miserably to hold back the tears that have started to flow down my face in rivers. My voice trembles as I try to speak, unable to truly express how grateful I am, “Thank you, your Majesty. Thank you.”

My King smiles at me, “Welcome home.”
Bonus points if you catch the somewhat sneaky reference to Zechariah 3.
I don't know what the bonus points are for, but still.

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  • November 23, 2020 - 5:36pm (Now Viewing)

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3 Comments
  • Anne Blackwood

    Re: Thanks!!
    No problem, you do whatever feels right for you. It was just a suggestion. I'll try to look for places you can slice.


    3 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    Oh, and good luck!! I'm entering several poems and a couple flash fiction pieces of mine. I hope to see you for the nationals.


    3 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    I've got chills now. This is so moving and powerful. Your ability to communicate such grand topics in accessible ways is truly God-given.
    If I can, I will write a review. However, in case I don't have the energy, there is something I'll say right now. The competition guidelines (which I read) only ask for an excerpt. You also include the full manuscript and a summary. This means that you don't have to tell the whole story in your entry by making it an amalgamation of different sections. I think it would be more effective to simply hone in on one excerpt. :)


    3 months ago