Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Stone Men of Raksaka

This is my third piece of writing to receive a First - 79% in fact, and supposedly 80% is publishable. I had a good feeling about this piece before handing it in and I thoroughly enjoyed writing it too. It is almost an intervention or retelling of a piece I did for Fiction for Children, Royalteen. It's a more adult, less superficial version at least. I was reading Game of Thrones at the time and you may see some similarities between the two. So if you loved that, you'll love this.
It's only the first 2,500 words, but I am planning on finishing it as a novel and hopefully getting it published. I said I would write it this week but instead I've been watching Disney movies. It's an addiction.
Sci-Fi and Fantasy was my favourite module of this year and in hindsight I really wish I had done a fantasy for my dissertation. But what's done is done.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as did writing it.

The Stone Men of Raksaka
He piled sand upon his knee and watched as it skittered down his leg, catching in his dark hairs. Between his dry fingertips he crumbled more, creating a gritty mound. Sighing, Emin leaned back on his elbows, the sand tumbled back to earth. It was warm on his skin; the sun had yet to bake it to blistering heats. Staring far across the desert he was sure he could see the grasslands of Helmriche, but it was more likely to be a mirage.
He’d foolishly tried to walk there when he was younger. At sundown, he had snuck from the hut and started out across the Desert Lands. Even at night the desert could be a dangerous place. Dirt dogs tracked his every step and he had not been sparing with his water. He’d still been able to see the huts of Raksaka when he finally decided he had to turn back. He’d slunk back in as quiet as a whisper, but his baba had heard.
                ‘You want to go walking? Let’s see how far you can walk after this.’
                Emin ran a finger across one of the shiny white scars that laced his legs. He hadn’t walked for a week after the whipping; every time he’d tried the wounds would reopen.
He rolled over in the sand, savouring the peace. When the sun rose between the Eastern Lerrnayin Mountains, Raksaka would awaken. The women would be the first, tending to the skinny goats and the dry crops. Then the children would come from the mud huts, begging their maminka’s for food they didn’t have. The children would have to be satisfied with wheat and water.
The men would rarely leave their mud homes, preferring the coolness inside. His baba cursed the gods if he was ever called from his hut - even if it was a summons from the High Leader.
The Savasci had to be at the training yard an hour after sunup. Emin was expected to be there.
When he heard the bustling maminka’s and their squalling children Emin knew it was time to get ready. He looked back into the distance, over the Desert Lands, to Helmriche. It would always be a mirage.
The Savasci hut was dry and dusty. The hot air and the stench of sweat suffocated Emin. His mouth felt like it was full of sand and he could only think of water and fresh air. He stood straight like the other boys, all wearing rough leather tunics, with notched swords at their hips; swords taken from the corpses of raiders. Emin was not the tallest, but he was the oldest at six-and-ten. He’d been in the Savasci for three years and knew what Chief Devrim was saying by heart.
                ‘They steal from us. Every day they steal a little more. First it was land, then our riches, crops, and animals. In the night they kill our men and rape our women. Everything they have is rightfully ours. We shall take it back.’
                It was the same each day. The Easterners of the Six Kingdoms were deceitful, thieving bastards that deserved to rot in the pits of Felaket for robbing the Raksaka’s of their land and birthright.
                Emin joined the boys as they raised their swords to the air. Some of the novices had to hold their sword with two hands to hold it steady. The Chief spoke in his booming voice.
                ‘Out of the sand come men of stone. These men are brave and strong. These men shall not be defeated. These men are the Savasci of Raksaka!’

Emin fought in the yard against Direnc. He was only small, aged two-and-ten, making him one of the youngest of the Savasci, and barely a challenge. Emin had been training with Direnc since the last turn of the moon, but his swordplay still lacked the Savasci passion. His long dark hair was tied back with a piece of knotted grass, a frown of concentration screwed up his face. Emin blocked the boy’s attacks easily with a flick of his sword. They were unlikely to ever claim back the East with only a handful of children. Especially as the men of Raksaka lay in the shade, sweat beading on their wrinkled faces, being served by their sandwives. They don’t deserve the Eastern lands anymore, Emin thought bitterly. With a sudden burst of anger Emin swung his sword hard at Direnc, who made a clumsy block, tripped over his feet, and landed heavily in the sand. Training with Direnc reminded him of his first suns with the Savasci. He had been worried about joining; he never wanted to kill anyone. He had thought that it might earn him Baba’s respect. Yet he’d been part of the group for three years and done nothing more than train with battered swords, and his baba still treated him with contempt. He was beginning to wonder where the honour in being Savasci lay.
                Sheathing his sword, Emin then gave a hand to Direnc. ‘You fought like a true stone man,’ Emin told him.
                ‘I felt more like a mud man,’ the boy replied, dusting off his tunic. ‘You are a true stone man, Emin. I heard Chief Devrim say so to Cetin.’ Direnc grinned.
                Emin pursed his lips; anything said to his baba was not a good thing.
                ‘Go train with Tarik,’ Emin ordered the boy. ‘I must speak to Chief Devrim.’
                Direnc chewed his lip, his eyes wide. ‘Did I say something wrong?’
Emin smiled. ‘A Savasci should never doubt.’
Direnc nodded eagerly. ‘Never doubt. Never fear. Never flee,’ he recited.
He ran to Tarik’s side calling out over his shoulder, ‘I’ll beat Tarik, and then you, Emin!’
Emin couldn’t find the Chief that afternoon. He searched the Savasci huts, the yard, and down by the Kushca tree. When he asked Devrim’s sandwife about his whereabouts she shrugged and shook her head. Emin knew that it was too hopeful; why would Devrim share his business with a sandwife? Maybe the Chief was taking the watch. Many had heard the Dirt dogs howling at night, and torches had been spotted in the darkness.
As the sun dipped below the peaks of the Western Lerrnayin Mountains, Emin trudged back to the hut he shared with his baba. With any luck he would be asleep. The fat man was snoring loudly on his bed of straw, flies buzzing around his head. Every so often he would raise an arm and try to swat them away. Emin removed the sword from his hip, but was too tired to take off his leather tunic. With a yawn he collapsed onto his own straw bed. He briefly wondered why the Chief would talk to Baba before his eyes shut and darkness enveloped him.

Women’s screams woke him. Fire flickered shadows around the hut – a hundred demons of Felaket. Emin leapt to his feet, sword in hand. His baba snorted and rolled onto his back.
                ‘What’s going on,’ he slurred.
                Emin didn’t answer.
Never doubt, he thought to calm his racing heart.
He flung back the grass curtain that covered the doorway. Outside huts were on fire; people were running and screaming, flinging sand on the flames. In the chaos men in chainmail ransacked huts and grabbed women and young girls.
Never fear.
On his left, Emin saw a child crying for his maminka, watching as she was dragged away by a tall man, his armour glowing red in the firelight.
Never flee.
                Emin charged the man, but he was too quick. He shoved the woman away and unsheathed his own weapon. Their swords rang together in a clash of steel. Emin sidestepped a swift blow, then another. The man was taller and heavier, with much more protection than Emin. But that didn’t stop him. He took a deep breath and swung his sword low. His blade caught the attacker in the knee, in a gap in his armour. The man’s leg buckled, but he wasn’t seriously hurt. Emin wasted no time. He brought down the hilt of his sword on the back of his head. The man fell face down into the sand. The woman squeezed Emin’s hand before running to her child. They disappeared into the night.
                Emin had no rope to restrain the raider; he only hoped he would stay unconscious. He gave him another smack with his sword just in case. Hurrying to one of the burning huts, the heat leapt at Emin’s face, tears stung his eyes. Grabbing handfuls of sand he helped the others to put out the flames.
The fire was almost smothered when more screams filled the air. Emin grabbed his sword and ran. Down near the Kushca tree an intruder was fighting two Savasci at once. The boys’ old dull blades were no match for his longsword, but they battled on, parrying and blocking. Lying by the enemy’s feet was a small crumpled body. Long black hair covered the face of the child. Emin’s blood boiled. For the first time in his life he finally understood what the Chief had been saying. These Easterners did rob them of everything - even their children’s lives. With blood coursing through his veins, Emin lowered his sword and stormed the attacker, taking him by surprise. It was in those precious moments that Emin managed to plunge his sword into the man’s side. It tore through leather, skin, muscle alike, getting caught on the bones of his ribcage. He let out a gasp of scarlet spittle. The two young Savasci stared at Emin, their faces pale; one’s leg was drenched in dark gore from a gaping wound on his thigh. Emin’s heart pounded in his chest. His lungs burned with every breath. Adrenaline pumped through him. He kicked the fallen man before turning to the small body. Pushing the hair aside his heart stopped.
Little Direnc.
Emin dropped to his knees and cradled the boy’s head in his lap.
‘You are a true stone man.’
Devrim, Baba, and the High Leader, Hakan, stood in front of him. He’d never met the High Leader before. He was one of the darker skinned men of the clan, with oiled black hair that hung around his shoulders. His face was beardless, uncommon in the Raksaka. Thick dark brows lowered over his narrowed eyes. A massive cudgel looked weightless in his strong hands. He rearranged his fingers round the leather grip causing the muscles in his arms to flex.
Devrim was talking animatedly while Hakan stared at Emin, his face hard. Baba had his huge arms crossed, scowling darkly, bearing his yellowing teeth.
                ‘I told Cetin four suns ago that Emin was one of the best Savasci and what happened at the raid only proves that,’ Devrim insisted.
                Hakan’s eyes roved over Emin, who tried not to squirm under his intense gaze. Was he one of the best Savasci? He hadn’t intended to kill that man, but he’d been so angry. The dead man plagued his dreams. Direnc haunted his nightmares.
                ‘Pah!’ Baba interrupted. ‘This boy is a runt. Not worth wasting your time on.’
                Emin had expected that, but Devrim seethed.
                ‘This runt killed an Eastern raider and allowed us to capture another, while you sat on your craven arse, hiding with the women.’ Devrim spat at Baba’s bare feet.
                Baba lunged at him, his clenched fist slamming into Devrim’s jaw. Hakan watched them fight, his lips pressed into a thin line.
                ‘Enough!’ He slammed his cudgel down on Baba’s back. The man buckled with an agonised cry. Emin knew it would take more than that to bring down his baba for good, though. Devrim shielded away from Hakan’s cruel cudgel. His lip was broken, and his left eye swollen shut. Blood dribbled down his chin. Hakan heaved the fallen man to his feet. Baba’s nose was bent and one of his teeth was missing. The High Leader leaned in close to Baba’s face.
                ‘Your boy is of the Savasci, a stone man,’ he said in a deathly quiet voice that Emin strained to hear, ‘and he is more of a man than you will ever be.’ He threw Baba back to the mud-packed floor.
Emin looked up at Hakan careful not to show his fear.
‘Emin, son of Cetin, because of your deeds three suns ago, on the night of the raid we have an Eastern solider as hostage. With some persuading he told us news of the Six Kingdoms.’ He pulled out a leather pouch from his jerkin and emptied the contents onto ground. ‘Six fingers for six kingdoms.’ His smile was wicked, and Emin saw his baba pale at the sight of the bloody digits. ‘The greedy king of Adruhal has arranged a marriage between his daughter and the prince of Minadril.’
Emin nodded, unsure why the betrothals of far off kingdoms were so important. His baba sat up and spat a glob of blood onto the dismembered fingers.
‘Who those thieving bastard-kings sell their whore-daughters to is no concern of ours. We should be sending our strongest swords to the boarders, to avenge our dead and take back our women.’
Hakan’s jaw clenched. ‘Devrim, take Cetin back to his hut. Make sure he stays there this time.’
Devrim yanked Baba off the ground, wary of the man’s fists. To Emin’s surprise, his baba let himself be dragged away. A dry zephyr fluttered through the grass curtain that hung across the doorway. Emin was aware that he was now alone with Hakan – and his cudgel. He stood straight, shoulders back, even though his hands trembled.
‘Cetin was always rash, as I’m sure you know.’ His eyes flickered over the scars on Emin’s legs. ‘But he was a strong Savasci in his youth. He grew too attached to his sandwife though, some woman he stole from Helmriche,’ he said in musing.
Emin eyes went wide; his lazy baba had been a Savasci and his mamika had been from Helmriche? He’d always been told she was a weakling woman from the Feros tribe.
Hakan noticed Emin’s confusion. ‘A tale for another day perhaps,’ he said, though his dark eyes glittered. ‘Emin, I have a task for you, one only fit for a true man of stone.’
Emin had a feeling he wasn’t going to like what the High Leader was about to say. Killing one man shouldn’t make him a stone man, yet he was the eldest Savasci and the best with a sword, rusty and notched as it was. But he never liked fighting, or ever truly believed in the Savasci way.
Hakan’s wicked smile was back. ‘I want you to go to Minadril. Infiltrate the castle. Become part of the royal guard. Befriend this little prince. Go with him to Adruhal to meet his bride-to-be. Then kill him.’
Emin finally spoke. ‘Kill him?’
‘Slit his throat from ear to ear,’ Hakan agreed. ‘Or kill the princess. Whichever one you kill, the blame will fall on the other. Minadril and Adruhal will be at arms soon enough. The other kingdoms will be quick to join sides. The Six Kingdoms will be in chaos.’
Emin’s heart pounded in his chest. They wanted him to kill a boy? He couldn’t do it. He would not. Savasci meant brave warrior not sneaking murderer, he thought. Hakan sensed his reluctance.
‘Never doubt, never fear, never flee, Emin. You will kill the Minadril prince, if not you’ll be left to Cetin’s mercy. I’m sure he would hate to have a son as gutless as he is. Or maybe, I’ll kill you myself.’ He hefted his cudgel onto his shoulder. ‘What will it be?’

‘I’ll do it, High Leader. I’ll start a war. For the Stone men of Raksaka.’

No comments:

Post a Comment