In response to Writing 101 Day 11 prompt Size Matters
Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?
But first, consider this passage:
The man rode hard through the woods. The black horse’s effort lay in lather. The sun beat down from high overhead. Dark birds circled, drifted, and then returned. The land baked, and dust hung suspended.
Is this not the most boring paragraph you’ve read in a long time — perhaps ever? We’ve got portent, a racing rider, and a forbidding landscape. Together, these should offer excitement and intrigue, but the words lay on the page, limp and dead. Why? Sentence length. Each sentence contains exactly seven words. The repetitive, seven-word cadence lulls you to sleep instead of piquing your interest.
Well I cheated because I didn’t want to talk about where I lived when I was 12. So here’s a revisit of the prologue to a story I’ve been working on for over a year. I should finish the story before adding things where there is already meat but eh…
They stood on the top of the hill; around them the battle had come to a standstill after lightning struck at the centre of it. Thousands of soldiers had stopped fighting their swords hanging in mid-air the strings of bow relaxed and let go without the arrow being released. From where he stood he could see the standards of the different satrapies mingled with the standards bearing the star and crescent moon of those who had risen with him. Also pennants sporting the Roman Eagle could be observed. For now they surrounded the others as if they had not joined into the fray yet. In fact they had not; reserves to be used when the enemy was weakened. They were poised to win this battle but all had stopped when this sign of the gods fell.
In the aftermath of the event, everything was soundless – the silence overwhelming even as clouds gathered threatening with rain and more thunder; it would not be quiet for much longer. Something was coming; the storm that loomed ahead might even interrupt the battle. He could not allow it; they must finish this as soon as they could, not let the enemy recover because of a strike of lightning.
The man turned to his companion; she cut quite a figure, dressed in white against the dark skies. She had foregone the head cover of her order as he had asked, demanded really. He must see when she listened to the voices only she heard. In that moment, the woman’s eyes seemed veiled as they looked onto something he could not see, her head cocked as if she were listening to a voice he could not hear. He knew better than demand an answer before she was returned to herself. She would have information for him soon: his oracle. He spared an instant to savour the satisfaction; of all the victories this one was the sweetest for it had taken almost five years of planning and failing would have made everything else impossible. But she was here and not on the other side.
“The Emperor has fallen.”
“So he has.” That might change the course of the war to suit his purpose.
“They will ask for a day of rest that they might put him to rest and celebrate him.”
“I will not allow it.”
“My Lord. You will offend the gods. They will demand we respect the…”
“No. Mohammad’s followers do not recognize the gods.”
“Surely my Lord they will understand the death of the emperor requires…”
“No. Let his body rot. He deserves nothing more. Let him wait for all eternity by the Styx.” The Roman generals might disagree with the decision but the men from Arabia would fall in behind him.
“As you will my Lord.” She had understood the finality of his tone and she bowed retreating.
“Stay.” She stopped.
“What of his sons?” She tensed at that. “Tell me what of his sons.”
“My Lord,” she nodded and looked down piercing the veil of uncertainty. She was special, the only oracle who could listen to them all. She was the most powerful of all seers born in the empire since Cassandra of Troy and she was at his service. She flinched as she concentrated; whatever she heard or saw hurt her. Finally she spoke: not her, not truly. “Alexander has assumed the leadership of the armies for the time being. Nebuchadnezzar is gathering the priests that they might organize the funeral. You should leave them a day.”
He might have listened to her then for she was just a vessel of the god in that instant, but he had made his decision and he would not recant it. He had blinded the gods through her that they might not see and prevent what he had planned so what she saw even now was incomplete. Until his scheme had come to fruition she and all the other oracles would see only what he allowed. Soon they would all serve him. He would sit on the throne in Babylon before the year was out. And the gods would yield. Beside him the woman sighed and trembling sunk on her knees tears in her eyes. Whatever she had seen had shaken her. War was not easy for women even one such as she who was born to power; still whatever the pain and hurt now he would raise her higher than any other and she would rejoice in it. He would accomplish what her ancestor failed to do and end Zeus’ line and their rule over the Alexandrian Empire.