Apologies for my absence last week. Real life happened, as it does every so often. Anyhow, with regard to the survey I posted two weeks ago, it looks like a significant majority of our readers prefer posts that are educational, help them make informed choices about their reading/viewing material, and/or provoke discussion.
Tough cookies. You’re getting a story today. Who knows? Perhaps it will provoke discussion.
Welcome to the Quill and Scroll, a quiet little pub nestled somewhere deep in the misty moorlands of an anonymous author’s imagination, where his characters hang out when he’s asleep or otherwise not engaged in writing his current literary masterpiece-in-progress. It’s lit by flickering candles and lanterns suspended from the open-beam ceiling, and furnished with tables and chairs of rough-hewn oak. The walls are smeared with smoke-stained plaster. A colorful tapestry depicting a company of hunters stalking through the woods adorns one side wall, and there’s a dartboard on the other. Five darts are embedded in that wall, forming a rough circle around the target. At the far end of the room, there’s a bone-handled stiletto stuck a full two inches into the mantel of the crackling fireplace, below a row of pewter tankards. Nobody knows how or why the knife got there, and nobody has ever bothered to retrieve it.
A stout, black-robed man with glowing green eyes, a pointed goatee streaked with gray, and a jagged scar running diagonally across his face enters the tavern and waves jovially at the barkeep.
Greskarg: “Pint of dark ale, Dave.”
He takes a seat at the bar beside a muscular blond woman in chain mail and leather with a broadsword strapped to her back. On the stool next to her is a tall man with an aquiline nose whose generous crop of wavy black hair drapes across his shoulders. He’s wearing a jeweled crown and blue satin livery with a rampant lion embroidered on the tunic in gold thread.
Greskarg: “Melitia! So good to see you again. Is that a new riding cloak? And if it isn’t King Lawrence! You’re looking a mite battle-weary, your Highness. How’re you holding up?”
Melitia: “Hey, Greskarg. Back at’cha, and thanks for noticing. (pats Lawrence on the back) I think the big guy here needs some space tonight. He’s having a bad week.”
Lawrence (slumping over the bar): “The author hates me.”
Greskarg: “Why would you say that? I mean, the fellow’s a little eccentric, and I can’t follow his plot twists half the time, and his sense of humor is…unusual…but he created us. He created all of us. Why would he bother doing that if he didn’t care?”
Lawrence (focused on his drink): “I lose half my army in battle with the Skreeks, then I return home to find my capital pillaged by insurrectionists who are now holding my wife and daughter hostage. I’ve been a good king. I’ve done everything the author has demanded of me without complaining. I’ve treated my people with justice and kindness. What did I do to deserve this?”
Greskarg (takes a swig of ale and wipes his mouth on his sleeve): “Maybe he’s trying to develop your character. Make you more three-dimensional.”
Lawrence: “This sort of character development I can do without. A victory or two would be nice. Putting my family in peril does nothing for my morale. I’m tired, Greskarg. I wish he’d write me out of the story and be done with it.”
Greskarg: “Come now, good fellow. Surely you can’t be so deep in despair? You’re a hero. The author has a plan for you. Everything’s going to come out right in the end.”
Lawrence: “A plan? That’s amusing. The man’s a pantser. He’s always been a pantser. We never know what he’ll do next. Every time we think we have the plot figured out, he makes some unfathomable change.”
Melitia: “Tell me about it. I was almost clear of the Odorous Fen three days ago, then he throws in an encounter with the Bog Witch, and now I don’t know when I’m getting out of there. Do you have any idea how hard it is to deodorize leather once it’s exposed to Fen Stench?”
Lawrence (shifting his barstool a few more inches away from Melitia): “That explains the smell. I’d assumed Dave left an overripe plate of anchovies behind the bar.”
Melitia: “Thank you, your Majesty.”
Greskarg: “We may not understand where he’s going, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan, or that it’s arbitrary. He has your best interests at heart.”
Lawrence: “Hold on a moment. You’ve lost me. You’re a villain. You know what must be waiting for you at the end of our story.”
Greskarg: “I try to be philosophical about it. Yes, I’m going to die, eventually, and it probably won’t be pleasant, but I’ll be dying for a reason, just like everything that happens to you happens for a reason. It all makes the story more exciting and meaningful for the people who will read it. Thousands of them will bring us to life over and over again in their imaginations. We’ve all got the same stake in his creative process, my friend—immortality.”
Lawrence: “Perhaps he derives some perverse satisfaction from torturing his characters. Have you ever thought of that?”
Melitia: “He’s got a point, Gresk. If we had a civil justice system in our universe, I could have sued our dear author for sexual harassment more times than I can count. For example, in his original concept, this was a chain-mail bikini.”
Lawrence: “Thank heaven he came to his senses.”
Greskarg: “Well, I think it sounds rather disarming.”
Melitia: “Shut up, both of you. Sometimes I wonder if he plays favorites, too. Nothing bad ever happens to that goody-goody Princess Luminara.” (smiles and waves to a pretty young lady in a pink gown and tiara sitting near the fireplace) “Hiya, Luuumiiie! Love the dress!” (turns back to her companions) “Pink? Yeesh. She gives me hives.”
Greskarg: “I think we get the life we need. Would you be happy spending most of your time skipping through the Enchanted Forest, gathering flowers and chatting with squirrels?”
Melitia (fiddles with a broken link on her chain mail): “No, I guess not.”
Greskarg: “Besides, cruelty is totally at odds with his character. Admit it; it’s not all been bad. Melitia, you escaped from the Slavers. The Order of Arion took you in, trained you to be a warrior, and awarded you the Runic Sword. And Lawrence, what about your romance with Charilaine? And how you settled the clan wars and built that new capital city together? Then there was your child’s birth, and the celebration that followed. How could the author be a sadist when he’s brought so much joy into your lives?”
Lawrence: “Yes, those were wonderful times. I still don’t understand why you’re cheerleading for him.”
Greskarg: “Are you jesting? I get to use magic. I have an incredible fortress in the Wolftooth Mountains where I can go skiing anytime I want, and I have an army of two million Skreeks at my beck and call. Don’t pity me, Lawrence. I know my role, and I play it with gusto. I’m loving every moment of my disreputable existence. I also enjoy these conversations with you two on my off-time. Things could be worse.” (frowns for a moment, then gestures toward a group of skinny young men hunched over a table beneath the dartboard) I mean…I could be one of those pitiful fellows in the red shirts.”
Melitia (grinning): “So, you got an explanation for them?”
Greskarg: “Sadly, no.”