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Alternate History - Shola Adedeji - War Gods Of Africa


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Opening scene : immediately introduces antagonist in his true form without cloak or pretense, a side the protagonist does not discover until the middle mark of the book (well after their mutual introduction and frequent visitations). Setting is on the roof of the Papal Palace in Avignon, France at around 1353. Tone is necessary to establish in the reader’s mind the danger the childlike and aloof protagonist is headed toward.
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A gust of wind marked The Holy Roman Emperor’s entry into the Chambre du Cerf, Pope Clement VI’s favorite room in all the Papal palace. The unmistakable scent of burning flesh rushed through his nostrils having been carried inside by the newly opened door.

A trio of papal enforcers entered in from the tower’s staircase. They waited for the Emperor to pass and then moved behind him, several chained men in tow. Having no doubt caught the whiff of immolated bodies upon entry, one of the captives began begging for his life.

“We didn’t see or hear anything!” He exclaimed. “Have mer-“

The man’s request was cut short by an armored backhand to the face.

“Keep quiet!” His assailant commanded.

He examined his freshly bloodied iron mitten, its disc shaped rondel had clung to the man’s mouth shearing it to pieces as he followed through his strike.

“If you bastards had departed as you were so ordered this wouldn’t be happening.”

The assaulted man placed his hands over the tattered bits of flesh that hung from where his mouth used to be, whimpering violently.

“For what it’s worth,” the armored assailant began. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

Another one of the chained men scoffed in incredulity, “Aww look,” he smiled. “He’s the considerate type of murderer.”

Though wearing a brave face; it was pale. A telltale sign of the fear that assuredly coursed through his bowels.

“His name is Rigault, by the way,” the man boldly continued. “I’m sure you want to know the name of the man you permanently disfigured. Unintentionally of course.”

The enforcer wore a look of dissatisfaction as he began to pick out the pieces of lip that had become lodged in his gauntlet’s unintended circular saw and its various crevices and articulations.

The Emperor, Charles IV, turned to address Pope Clement.

“Your Holiness,” he began. “The ringleaders are confirmed dead and your nephew assures me that this is the last of them.”

As if on cue, a young man draped in red Cardinal attire emerged from the staircase door and hustled toward them. Pierre Roger de Beaufort was the Papacy’s youngest Cardinal and the Pope’s namesake.

Charles addressed the young Cardinal as he stepped over the fetal prisoner, gurgling in agony.

“I was just ensuring our father that this is the last of them.”

The Cardinal nodded in agreement, “Yes, the five that were immolated and these three were the only ones of the Papal Collectores unaccounted for at the time in question.”

Clement remained seated as he watched the bloodied Frenchman continue to writhe on the floor.

“And what do they know?” he asked, averting his gaze upon Charles.

Charles kept his eyes to the ground, refusing to look the Pope in the eye, “I’m sorry for having you go through this, My Father.”

“What did they hear, Wenceslaus?”

“Nothing!” The captive screamed, unclasping his dripping hands from his face.

The backhanding enforcer, mercifully now, lightly nudged the man in the stomach with his booted foot.

“Don’t listen to him,” he urged. “There’s no way to tell if they are telling the truth at this point.”

He shook his head slowly, placing his armored hands on his hips.

“Just bad luck, I suppose.”

Another of the men in chains turned to address the enforcer. This one’s countenance was not like the others; he was not pale nor did he appear fearful.

More bored than anything else.

“You are going to kill us anyway, right?” He asked. “I speak to you as a man.”

The enforcer stood up straight and looked at the inquiring prisoner.

“Yes.”

“Noooooo!” Rigault shrieked.

This time his former assailant ignored him.

“Alright then,” the brave captive nodded. “I see no reason to lie. Yes, we heard everything.”

“Everything?”

“Yes,” he confirmed. “Everything. And may I say, ‘your Holiness’, that you were already under suspicion as being involved in your pet emperor’s stunt at Nuremberg. So rest assured, no one will be surprised at the revelation your being behind the pogroms.”

Another soldier, outfitted completely differently, approached the man and prepared to strike. His hands were covered with the excess chain mail from his sleeves.

“Let him speak,” Clement commanded. “It is only fitting to allow this dead man his last words.”

The Frenchman examined his would-be assailant’s gauntlet-free clutches, gasping in exaggerated indignation.

“You should have been the one to hit Rigault! Now that my friend’s face is missing it is now you decide to step forth?”

“What’s your name, fool?”

“Jacques,” he replied, unabashed.

“Continue on, Jacques,” Clement waved. “You were saying?”

“Yes, I was talking about your reprehensible use of pogroms for profit.”

The soldier’s sleeves rustled and chimed as Jacques shrugged himself out from his grasp.

“Just to appear as the Pope Refined? Almighty God’s wrath is upon us and all you can think about is financing your circus. Do you think He will leave you unpunished for this? Killing the Jews to take their property?”

Though the Pestilence had been causing severe economic setbacks for all of Europe, the Papacy had been in financial straits long before.

Clement, more than any of his predecessors, had made great use of the papal treasury.

Clement V, three popes his predecessor, was correct in his efforts to retake Jerusalem. It was clear that Providence had designed a successful crusade to be the blessed cord that unified all of Europe, neutralizing all the various petty squabbles that seemed to have no end. The unparalleled prestige it would afford to the Avignon Papacy was not something to be dismissed either. These higher minded goals justified any sacrifice, even one as lamentable as the destruction of the Knights.

It was for the greater good.

As was the cost.

The young Cardinal, Pierre, screamed in outrage, “My uncle is the Lord’s Vicar on earth! His actions are therefore beyond all reproach, especially from the likes of you!”

Jacques ignored the lad, never setting his eyes upon him; he continued his address to Clement.

“You think maintaining the finances of the Papacy justifies calculated murder and theft? Are you crazy?”

“Shut upbbp!” Rigault commanded.

Clement laughed as he stood from his seat.

“Imagine,” he began. An impossibly genuine, cordial smile formed on his face.

“Being morally reprimanded by a smuggler.”

“I beg your pardon, your Majesty,” Jacques bowed in mock reverence. “But the official title we’ve been given by your predecessors is Collectores. The word smuggler implies that our services aren’t authorized by the ruling authority and makes us look like mere criminals.”

He nodded reassuringly as if this distinction was to be regarded.

“And we both know we’re much more than that.”

Clement’s smile remained fixed and unwavering as he looked upon the irreverent Frenchman.

“You brought them here for interrogation purposes, correct?”

Charles stared at the Pope as he began walking toward them, “Yes, sire.”

“Well there’s no need for that anymore. Let’s be going.”

Jacques was the first to turn to face the door.

“I don’t know how you serpents view it, but that’s blood money you are pursuing. To think you would use such tainted seizures to finance the church of all things.”

His fellow doomed captives grew even whiter in the face as they hobbled toward the exit.

“Oh my God!” Rigault gurgled. “I wasn’t even supposed to be there! I wasn’t supposed to be there!”

“Yes I figured as much,” the seemingly remorseful knight said, pushing the door open. “Just bad luck.”

This door led them to the top of the Garderobe Tower, an area accessible only through Clement’s chambre du cerf.

The incessant wind of the elevated open space carried glowing cinders and ash, whipping them to and fro upon their entry.

The source of the infernal particulate could be seen erected at the tower’s corner overlooking the Rhone River, a section designedly out of public view. Five blackened corpses were fastened to upright pikes arranged in a triangular pyre against the tower’s edge. The certain agony of the victims was showcased in their contorted positions still crackling against their respective stakes.

The pale men in chains looked on in silent terror as they advanced toward the smoking display. Jacques coughed lightly as he choked on the atomized bits of charred remains.

“I feel sorry for you,” he said, boldly leading the way toward the pyre.

“And why is that?” Clement asked, still smiling.

He nodded to the papal executioner to add new bramble and kindle another fire.

“Leave the corpses attached.”

Jacques shivered as the wind whirled around them. He watched as the papal servant began to repeatedly touch his lighted torch to the primed pyre.

“These flames I’m going to die in will be a mere sparkle in comparison with what’s assuredly reserved for you.”

“Prepare to die, blasphemer!”

“I am prepared,” Jacques sneered, finally setting his eyes on the young Pierre. “Are you?”

“Well,” Clement interjected. “You were partly right.”

“Only partly?”

“Yes, in that it will be you, alone, that will be dying in these flames.”

Pallor finally began to set upon Jacques as he listened to Clement.

“That’s right,” he assured. “You only am I going to burn alive. I will spare your cohorts but allow them to witness your slow, agonizing death.”

Jacques remained silent.

“So you understand?” His cordial smile unwavering. “I am doing this to spite you. For as the Lord liveth, I had no intention to execute your lot, but since you were so brazen in your blasphemy, you will feel the fire.”

The two enforcers nearest Jacques quickly seized him, undid his fetters and began tying him to the coldest stake. Charles shot Clement a look of concerned confusion.

“You lie,” Jacques scoffed. He stubbornly ignored the charred figure now resting upon him on the shared stake.

“Do I?” Clement chuckled. “The proof is in the fire, I suppose.”

“No,” Jacques gasped, fighting his nerves. “I mean that you’re lying about your intentions.”

Jacques quickly turned his head to the two remaining prisoners, “Don’t listen to him and say nothing. He is going to kill you too.”

Pierre laughed as he stepped in front of the frozen captives.

“Are you all going to listen to the desperate spoutings of a dead man? Take comfort in your safety and bid farewell to your foolish comrade.”

Jacques groaned in reluctant fear as the contained bluster of the tower’s roof readily stoked the bramble and brush that surrounded him.

Clement watched as the flames spread to Jacques.

“As you feel the fire, remember that it is nothing less than you deserve for you impudence. Be tormented in the knowledge that had you kept your mouth shut you’d be just as alive as the men watching you burn.”

Jacques squirmed on his pole but his eyes remained fixed on the still smiling Pope through the rising blaze.

“You are dead,” he growled.

Upon uttering this Jacques suddenly gnashed his teeth and tossed his head backward, finally succumbing to the pain of the flames.

The young cardinal grinned in satisfaction as he moved closer to the panicking victim. Rigault’s face became streaked with tears as he watched Jacques hiss against the overwhelming blaze.

“Why didn’t you listen?” He wept. “I told you to stay quiet.”

The engulfed Frenchman abandoned his attempts at composure and cried out in pain. His shrill cry rang out through the open space.

The Pope swirled his pinky in his ear, “More high pitched and feminine than I expected.”

“He’s dying, Thibaud.”

Rigault dribbled blood as he spoke. As if in a trance, he stared wide eyed at Jacques twisting and convulsing in the fire.

“We have to do something.”

The knightly enforcer quickly fanned his hand, his arm still lowered as if to remain unseen. He looked back at Rigault making eye contact and slowly but sternly shook his head.

The group looked on as Jacques’s shrill cry was abruptly cut off, he having seemingly begun to choke on the streams of smoke. His spasmodic silhouette had become lost in the whipping and roaring fire.

Clement’s back was still turned toward the two remaining prisoners.

“Do you see the fate I spared you from?” He asked.

He watched them intently from over his shoulder.

Their eyes jumped from the crackling corpse of Jacques on to Clement and then back again.

“Yes,” He encouraged. “Set your eyes on him and consider.”

He turned around to face them, the pyre still alight at his back.

“And tell me what I want to know.”

Rigault hobbled forward and fell on his face, “Your Eminence,” he muttered.

“Speak my son.”

He lifted his head upon hearing Clement’s gracious statement. His tattered mouth was twisted and smeared with blood and gravel.

“We do not share Jacques-“ He winced in pain as he strove to speak his words.

The remaining prisoner put his hand on Rigault’s prostrate shoulder.

“He means to say that we do not share our perished friend’s contempt for your ideals.”

Clement looked kindly upon him.

“You were the witty one that chastised Hugues earlier. That was amusing.”

He stretched his neck to look passed the prisoner and on to the knight who had moved to the back, closest to the entrance.

“Wasn’t it, Hugues?” Clement asked, his voice raised slightly.

Loud popping noises were emitted from the fire as the crispy skin of Jacques corpse started to snap apart under the incessant heat of the pyre.

“Yes it was, sire. Witty and unexpected.”

Clement looked back on the prisoner, “What’s your name?”

The once bold Collectore, newly depleted of courage, knelt in obeisance.

“Thibaud.”

“Good man, Thibaud,” Charles cheered encouragingly.

“Would I be wise in trusting you to tell me the truth about what you heard?”

“Absolutely, father.”

Clement motioned with his hands for Thibaud to continue. His fixed smile masterfully complimented the manner with which he moved his hands.

A doting father encouraging his child.

“Like Jacques said, we know that you instructed Charles regarding the exoneration of those in Nuremberg and also that you plan on attracting the Jews back in order to seize their properties again. We see the genius of it and and we expressed such feelings to Jacques prior to your finding us.”

Rigault graciously nodded his head in agreement, seemingly overcome with relief.

“Oh?” Clement voiced. He maintained his knowing smile as Thibaud fought for his life.

“The blood of the Hero Jesus is on the Jews and their children, it is only fitting that their blood is spilled for the sake of His church. After all, I imagine much of papal finances were exhausted pursuing goals which were beneficial to Jewry. Your desire to eradicate the Muslim presence in the Holy Land was something they longed for.”

“Words like that could only be uttered by one who believes it,” Hugues chimed.

“That’s right,” Thibaud replied. “Having been a citizen of Avignon my whole life, I am certain that the high minded and optimistic sensibilities that have become characteristic of your Papacy, inspire the people and give them hope. It is justified that you do everything in your power to see that the people are kept in high spirits though they walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

Pierre applauded enthusiastically.

“Well said brother,” he said, nodding in approval. “This one understands.”

Clement still wore his smile, “And what else do you know?”

The eloquent prisoner stood confused for a moment at Clement’s question, “I swear my father, what I have expressed to you is the extent of what we overheard.”

Clement, still smiling, waved his hand in dismissal of the misunderstanding.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m asking the extent of what you know.”

Rigault stared on in silence.

“You all are specie exchangers aren’t you?” He asked. “Collectores, as the cooked fool had said.”

His parlance, fine tuned and expertly crafted from his time as a public lecturer, was free from any hint of malice or condemnation.

“Your group had just returned from Spain, is it not? I’m sure smugglers as capable as yourselves must know something that the Papacy would be better off for being aware. In sparing your lives we have trusted you with the truth behind Nuremberg and the pogroms. The Papal Throne can afford no surprises, I’m beseeching you to tell me anything that has any chance of affecting our plans. No matter how seemingly remote it may appear.”

“What we stumbled upon by the riverside was the only information of any interest. The rumors we’re often exposed to, I’m sure, you yourself are most certainly aware.”

Rigault, still on his knees, excitedly reached forward his hand.

“The Caliphate,” he mumbled

“The Caliphate?” Hugues chuckled. “That is remote.”

Thibaud stood at a loss for a moment before his eyes lit up in recollection of what Rigault had been referring.

“Oh yes,” he began, rolling his eyes at his absentmindedness.

“But-,” he paused in hesitation. “It’s so……..”

The unsure man glanced at the still smiling Pope and nodded in polite submission.

“As you wish, sire. It is rumored by both the Spanish and Granadans alike that the Sultan Yusuf is to receive visitations from some relatives of the dark continent.”

He briefly awaited a response from Clement.

“Due to his default victory against King Alfonso who fell because of the Pestilence…,” he finished his statement slowly, as if hesitant. “Forgive my failure in assuming you knew all this.”

“No need,” Clement smiled. He began walking toward Charles who stood a ways from his right side, further from the pyre.

“We knew about Alfonso’s unfortunate demise but of the visit from his fellow berbers we knew nothing.”

Thibaud earnestly took a small step forward, “In that case,” he began. “Forgive my correction, but they are not berbers. From what is known of them by the Andalusians, they are related to Moorish Berbers but are not Berbers themselves. They are from the depths of the dark continent.”

The Emperor Charles raised his hand for silence, Clement now standing right next to him.

“What are these people’s name?”

Thibaud looked upward to the night sky as if in deep thought.

“Yawoodey,” Rigault said.

“Ah, yes,” Clement sighed. “The fabled guardians of that dark jungle. You are right,” he said, addressing Thibaud. “They are of moorish ilk, like that contemptible Musa sect the Muslims are always on about.”

Thibaud looked on at Charles and then on Clement, visibly surprised.

“Guardians of the dark jungle? You know of them?”

“Of course,” Clement confirmed with a laugh.

“So it’s true?” Rigault asked slowly standing to his feet. “That is why there’s been no penetration into the continent’s interior?”

Pierre unintentionally twisted his face in revulsion as he watched the disfigured Collectore utter his words in the orange glow of the fire. Rigault’s sudden onset of curiosity seemingly numbed him from the pain that came with speech.

Or maybe the whole display had been an act from the outset and his piqued interests had caused him to unwittingly abandon the farce.

“The mercenaries and arms for hire are too frightened to set foot,” Pierre replied, still sneering.

“So the great sand barrier is just a myth?”

“A necessary evil,” Clement explained, he left Charles’s side and began moving toward his nephew Pierre.

“Our position at the apex of military capability must remain unquestioned for our authority and influence to be maintained. Considering the interests of governance, the public’s awareness of a foreign power that rivals said apex position is dangerous. It is best to keep the flock in the dark regarding such things.”

“Choice words, my father,” Pierre smirked.

Rigault and Thibaud looked at each other, both equally shocked at the Pope’s admission.

“I thank you two,” Clement continued. He fancily right angled his arm over his stomach and bowed over it.

“I didn’t think it would happen but you verily provided me with valuable information that I highly doubt I could’ve gotten anywhere else.”

The two remained silent as they looked on.

Clement walked in front of them toward his nephew. He stopped in front of the Cardinal and stared intently at him as he continued to address the smugglers.

“Rigault and Thibaud,” he said.

His tone had changed; more authoritative, though not quite intimidating.

“Do you believe in the Vicar of Christ?”

They both swiftly fell to their knees.

“Most certainly, Your Imminence.”

“With my entire being, Your Majesty.”

Charles’s eyes remained on Clement, he seemed uncomfortable as he watched in silence.

Clement, on the other hand, continued looking down on his nephew.

“How do you interpret that?” He asked. “I mean, what ideals do you hold that confirm that faith?”

“Infallibility,” Rigault blurted.

He turned his head to look upon Thibaud, who had begun slowly rising to his feet.

A furrow of confusion appeared on Pierre’s brow as his uncle suddenly grinned in happy satisfaction upon hearing the word.

“Infallibility,” he echoed, turning to face the Collectores. “What does that mean to you?”

Thibaud was standing upright now, his eyes remained on Clement in apprehension.

“That your actions are beyond reproach,” Rigault explained confidently. “Like your Cardinal nephew said earlier; your actions are always justified.”

“I wonder if you truly believe that,” Clement said slowly, as if in rumination.

“I do, Your Holiness.”

Hugues remained in the background as he watched the event unfold. His temples pulsed and throbbed as he continuously clenched his jaw in angst.

Clement looked back at Rigault, his face still wearing its kind and understanding smile.

“If that is true then I’m sure I can expect your forgiveness for lying to you.”

Thibaud put his hands on his hips and looked upon the Pope in disappointment and disgust.

Rigault was still on his knees, staring in confusion at the Pope.

“For lying…..?” He repeated.

“Cast them in.”

Two of the original three enforcers remained still, not having realized what was commanded of them.

“He said cast them into the fire!” Pierre shouted advancing toward them.

Hugues’ head was hurting from his rage fueled jaw exercise. He remained in the background as he watched what he anticipated to happen, the gauntlets made a slight rattling noise as he clenched his fists.

The two enforcers jumped as if returning to themselves and hesitantly began moving toward Thibaud and Rigault who stood frozen, understandably more stunned than the guards had been.

Clement once more stretched his neck over his prisoners to locate Hugues.

“Everything alright?” He asked concernedly. “I trust a servant with a background as bloody and merciless as your own isn’t bothered by things like this.”

Hugues shook his head, seemingly without emotion or interest.

“No, Your Eminence. It’s just my gauntlets don’t do well in the fire. And besides I think it’s about time that your fledgling guards get their hands dirty. They spend most their time throwing half dead, plague ridden bodies into the Rhone. They need this.”

Thibaud looked at Rigault and gave him a brave nod. He turned back toward Clement, his face unnaturally shifting into one of intense hatred. Gathering phlegm through his sneer he spit at the Pope’s face and immediately sprinted toward the tower’s furthest edge, briefly locking eyes with still motionless Hugues.

Without a shred of reluctance, the man placed his hand on the low merlon of the edge and casually, like a youth going over a fence, hopped to his death.

Rigault remained frozen in disbelief as he watched.

He blinked, only, at the wet clap of Thibaud’s body impacting the ground below.

“That bastard,” Clement groaned. “He jumped into the Courtyard of Honor.”

Hugues began walking to the edge.

“I know it is inconvenient,” he said. “But it is fitting in a poetic sort of way.”

“I suppose,” Clement sighed.

The visibly reluctant Papal Guards began to advance on the still motionless and mutilated Rigault.

“And what of you?” Clement asked. “Which death do you prefer?”

Rigault stared at Clement, his mangled mouth hung open in horrified disbelief.

“I truly wish it didn’t have to be this way,” he continued. “But I simply can’t trust you with the truth behind the great desert. You truly were a help to me.”

The Pope smiled upon the terrified man, who grew all the more so due to the impossible ingenuousness of his countenance.

Rigault remained wide eyed as he looked upon Jacques’s blackened corpse twitching involuntarily in the fire.

Hugues  suddenly appeared in their midst. Moving passed the two Papal Guards, he swiftly hoisted Rigault up over his shoulders and began carrying him to the edge.

“I’m sorry, brother,” he whispered out of earshot.

He turned at the edge and began walking between it and the spire of the adjacent Papal tower, now unseen by the group that had formed on the distant edge of the connected Garderobe tower.

Upon vanishing from view, Hugues quickly snapped Rigault’s neck and threw him off.

He casually rubbed his hands together as he emerged from behind the wall, the squelching clap of Thibaud’s body coincided with his reappearance.

“Just wanted to show these trembling guards of yours how it’s done.”

Clement nodded in approval as he moved toward the door, “Good form.”

He looked at the executioner tasked with maintaining the fire, “That will be all for today,” he nodded. “You can go ahead and put it out.”

Pierre hurried in front of Clement to get the door.

The executioner began pouring a huge bucket onto the pyre. The immersed section hissed and belched forth plumes of smoke as it slowly succumbed to the water.

Hugues was the last one inside.

A tuft of smoke curled at the door’s lintel as he pulled it shut.

The Pope once again sat down in his chair within the chambre du cerf. He set his arm on the chair’s rest and leaned his head on his hand, seemingly exhausted.

His eyes set on the fresco paintings that surrounded the walls of the room, ultimately settling on his favored section.

Four sporting, good natured men stood at a pool engaged in fishing.

He had spent countless hours admiring the artwork in times past but something was different now and his realization was startling and sudden.

One of the men in the painting no longer seemed well mannered or of a personable nature in the slightest.

His toothy expression intimating glee and teamwork, now appeared as a malevolent snarl.

His attire was striking and made him stand out against the tame colors of the lush background and it was incongruous with the inviting pool and his mildly dressed companions in the foreground.

Clement cocked his head slightly, silently bewildered at the old imagery he was witnessing with new eyes.

The man who was gnashing his teeth in the painting wasn’t a man at all, it was a devil.

How did he never notice it before?

And wherein lay the skill and sport in capturing fish from an enclosed pool?

Clement found himself in deep thought, wondering as to what was Giovannetti’s intent behind the painting.

Or was it all in his head?

His smile wavered.

This slight labial fluctuation brought on a look of concerned displeasure from the Pope’s lifelong pupil, the Emperor.

“Your Eminence,” Charles began. He moved nearer to him in an effort to impart his address as privately as possible. “Do not fret. There is far too much chaos and woe for the supposed rumors that are floating about to be regarded as anything more than idle tales spawned from men’s fancy.”

He drew closer still, wringing his hands as he made his moral case.

“But we did right in extinguishing any possibility for further discovery. Those men, though useful, must needs have died.”

Clement put on his smile once more as he noticed the Emperor’s address.

The rest of the group had reached them, having gathered at the foot of Clement’s private throne.

“Wenceslaus,” he began, lifting his head off his hand. “The only thing out of that thief’s tattered mouth worth cognizance was regarding the Caliphate.”

The Emperor exhaled sharply as he smiled a stifled laugh.

“That was Thibaud,” Hugues corrected. “The one whose face I destroyed was Rigault. And I’m sure those friends of the Caliphate are of no consequence.”

“The Ottoman’s claim that they are militarily proficient,” Pierre challenged.

“Be that as it may, the likelihood that they will do anything more than greet, bring gifts and depart, is nil. That’s assuming they even show.”

He chuckled at his thoughts.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if these visitors are expecting to come upon a relatively peaceful, post conflict condition, characteristic of every battle’s end. They probably have no knowledge of the pestilence.”

The group began to chuckle and scoff as they considered.

“That would be unfortunately incompetent,” Clement grinned.

Hugues shrugged his shoulders, “If the rumors are true and the dark continent dwellers are going to Granada then I’m certain of it.”

Pierre watched in amusement as the Knight continued his theory, seemingly in all seriousness.

“If they come then that is a sign they are unaware of the pestilence, or at least of its severity.”

“I see what you’re getting at,” Charles nodded, stroking his chin with his thumb and index. “If they knew they wouldn’t go.”

“It’s inevitable,” Hugues confirmed. “No self respecting people would risk such damage over something so trivial. Either they will fail to arrive or they will arrive and depart posthaste.”

The Pope closed his eyes and sat back in his chair.

“Upon seeing the rotting corpses that line the southern coasts, I’m sure,” he added.

The young Pierre’s laugh changed into something sounding a bit more childish as he considered his uncle’s humorous scenario.

“Steady now, Cardinal,” Clement smiled. “So what say you, Charles? Need we concern ourselves with these foreign guests?”

“They’re of no consequence.”

 

                                                                                                                      ~2~

 

Nawaa still had his feet up as he leaned back in the Waterscrew. The four man sea craft spun a continuous ribbon of foam that trailed behind them just beneath the water’s surface. The young noble placed a sheet of coarse fabric on his face to block the resultant drops of chilly seawater.

“Don’t sleep now,” Zelib commanded. “We’re almost there.”

The group of Yahwudin sped across the strait of Gibraltar having departed from Abyla, the northernmost tip of the dark continent.

The youth impatiently swiped the cloth from his face and menacingly examined the horizon.

“There’s no land for quite awhile,” he responded. “I’ve got some time.”

The middle aged technician shook his head as he opened one of the chest-like fixtures attached to the deck’s flooring and began rummaging through the contents. His knobby fingers moved like the legs of a giant brown arachnid; unsettlingly mechanical. They carefully crept through the equipment seeking the desired item.

“But we’re going to get picked up by the Granadan’s Slowboats, did you forget? Or you want us to leave our precious vehicular machinery on their shores and hope no one touches it?”

Nawaa removed his outstretched legs from the Longseat and stood up.

“I did forget,” he muttered.

As he squinted for a second look he could just make out the awaiting Emirate Cog. Its upright sails bobbed patiently on the distant surface; the vessel had already been turned around, prepared to depart immediately upon their embarking.

“I see them now. So we’re just going to board them and be off?”

Nawaa saw Firza, another one of the men serving as his escort, lift his arm and motion toward the other three arrowhead-shaped motorized sea crafts. Each identical to their own they cruised parallel, about a stone’s throw away one from another.

A giant iron screw was fixed to the underside of the sea crafts and given spin through the explosive force generated by a catalyst the Yahwudin had named Fire Sand. The rotating screw in turn generated propulsion enabling them to move swiftly across the water. Although Nawaa could not see it, the telltale spiral of bubbles signaled its presence and operation.

“Two from each Waterscrew will be boarding the Emirate’s ships,” Firza explained. “The remaining two will bring the crafts back, ensuring the safe return of our technology.”

Nawaa had forgotten how obsessed the Yahwudin people were with the preservation of their Fire Sand machinery. He had heard stories of fabricators and technicians destroying freshly made weapons, vehicles and other technologies for fear of outsiders acquiring remnants or parts initially considered refuse and using it to their advantage.

“I reckon it’s going to take about quadruple the time for us to reach land than it did for us to reach them.”

“Yeah, that part I remember,” Nawaa said with an emphatic raise of the index. “Their seacrafts take forever.”

Zelib pulled out a Volatil Catridge from the tool box fixture and began walking to the screw’s Propellant Loader. The loader was a cylindrical hatch located dead center of the Waterscrew.

“One more Volatil should be just enough to reach them.”

Nawaa watched as the mechanic began to load in the fuel cell.

“Why don’t we just go all the way there?” He asked. “It will take less time and the two people can just go back from there.”

Zelib had slid open the hatch and patiently held the Volatil over it, as if teasing the engine with a delectable incendiary morsel.

“We don’t really know what the condition of the surrounding area is,” he explained. “The Castilians have given up their siege but that doesn’t mean we should be cavalier. Though they supposedly bear us no ill will, that is no protection from the lusts that may excite them upon seeing our Waterscrews. Best to not allow even the possibility of provocation.”

Finishing his statement, the man let go of the Volatil and forcefully slid the hatch. Sparks were emitted and the beginnings of a kindled fire could be seen an instant before the hatch was shut.

He stood to his feet as the sound of a muffled explosion was emitted from beneath them.

Nawaa briefly lost his balance as the Waterscrew gained acceleration, Zelib eyed the lad as he regained his footing against the moist wooden deck.

“You sure you’re up for this?” he asked, raising his voice over the rapid contained explosions barking beneath their feet. “I don’t know how you convinced your father to allow you to join us but this isn’t going to be like back home.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s not going be full of relaxation and doing what you want.”

The man shot a swift but concerned glance at the water’s surface as the Waterscrew progressively increased in speed.

“I am aware of that, sir,” Nawaa groaned. “I remember what I was taught about the outside in my lessons. At the very least, the fact that they still use beasts of burden for transportation would have quelled any expectations I had for comfort and convenience.”

The man smirked and nodded in acceptance as he set himself in one of the Longseats that were fastened to the deck.

“Who can argue with that logic?”

“I don’t know-”

“Just remember,” Firza interjected, somehow projecting his voice over the raucous of the engine but not exhibiting any of the tell tale signs of increased physical effort.

“Reading is one thing, experience is another. When traveling the outside world it’s best to clear your mind of expectations; adopt the…..”

He patiently tapped his lips as he searched for his words.

Still looking upon his superior, Nawaa turned so that he faced the rear of the Waterscrew, attempting to avoid the intermittent splashes of water that leapt over its pointed front.

Firza admirably maintained his pose as his face was pelted with high velocity seawater. His full black beard was trimmed and shaped to near perfect curvature around his jaw and upper neck; a thick and woolly man-bib. The man-bib glistened as it channeled the seawater down his chest, soiling his mostly covered and formerly dry undergarments.

“Pren, what is that wonderful phrase again?” He asked.

“Tabula rasa!” a man bellowed.

The voice came from behind a barrier of iron erected toward the rear, slits were cut into its upper portion to allow for visibility. The man named Pren emerged from behind the curved convex column.

A polished wooden pole known as the Rudder Lever, hovered horizontally above the deck. It was connected to an iron cylinder that breached the floor and stood about waist-high. The cylinder was outfitted with various compartments and mechanical switches that Nawaa was unfamiliar with.

Pren placed his hand on one of the switches and fiddled with its attached chain. Steadily drawing it out, he walked toward the end of the connected Lever and braced his chest against it, his legs locking into position. In one motion he pulled the chain, yanking free whatever mechanism had been keeping the wooden arm in place.

Pren grunted as the Lever of the submerged Rudder pushed against him, its axle now engaged to respond to the current. His fair complexion grew progressively rosy as he strained to set the now haphazardly positioned ship back in line with the awaiting cog in the distance.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were loading a new Volatil?” He demanded. “It’s extremely strenuous to adjust after the fact. And we didn’t need another cartridge.”

“I’m sorry, friend,” Zelib responded. His hands were clasped behind his head as he remained seated gazing at the approaching horizon, he casually threw his voice over his shoulder as he spoke.

“I was distracted by the boy’s question. Truly, I meant to give you notice but the stupidity of his inquiry abducted my attention.”

“I appreciate that, sir.”

Zelib nodded silently in acknowledgement and set his eyes back on the horizon.

“And I’m certain one more volatile is what was needed. Show me a sea and I can tell you how many cartridges are needed to cross it. I’m just that accurate you see.”

The man paused for a moment and put his hand in the wind.

“Though we do seem to be moving faster than I anticipated.”

Pren stared at the back of Zelib’s head as he adjusted his grip around the Rudder Lever.

“Oh yeah?” He asked. “Faster than you anticipated?”

“As I was saying,” Firza continued, turning back to Nawaa. “Adopt the tabula rasa, it leaves nary a space for surprises or disappointment.”

“Easier said than done,” Zelib scoffed. “The great majority of the Yahwudin populace have been made soft due to the Fire Sand. This one’s probably spoiled through and through.”

The young man rolled his eyes and turned to sit back down.

“Leave him be,” Pren commanded as he stabilized himself against the Lever. “At least he had the desire to leave the city’s walls. I’m sure maturity is exactly what Shua had his eyes on when he granted him leave.”

Yahwudi was a nation centralized in the sudanian savanna, lying a great ways south of the Great Sands. Thanks to their incendiary invention known as Fire Sand, the Yahwudin were enabled to create machinery and constructs that granted them levels of comfort and security unheard of by any nation or kingdom. Due to their unsurpassed military capability, Yahwudi had become the de facto enforcer of peace for their region of the dark continent and oftentimes found themselves involved in the petty squabbles of their Berber cousins in the north.

Word had reached the Yahwudin that their far flung kinsfolk constituting a portion of the Emirate of Granada had recently attained a sudden and surprise victory against the Castilian Kingdom after decades of sporadic conflict.

In order to preserve the bonds of good will, it was decided that several groups of emissaries should travel to congratulate the Emirate ruler, Yusuf, in person.

Seeking to escape the dull indulgence that was Yahwudin society and the chance to see oft spoken lands of the northern continent, Nawaa boldly requested permission from the Council of Elders to take part in the voyage.

Still seated, he felt his copious and stubborn hair, bounce and sway in response to the Waterscrew’s rapid advance across the slightly choppy surface of the strait.

“Speaking of maturity,” Firza said as he pointed to Nawaa’s distracting hair. “You’re going to have to do away with that. It’s just not suitable for you as a representative.”

“No worries, sir.”

Nawaa cheerfully reached back to the collar of his Cloak Noble; running his finger across the lining he brought forth the neatly concealed hood and pulled it over his head, covering his unruly black locks.

“That’s all well and good but I’m just forewarning you, our hosts may take offense as to the nature of your hair. So be prepared to shear it.”

“What are you talking about?”

Firza walked toward Pren, still red in the face from his continued struggle.

“You see his hair?”

The fine strands of the Pren’s golden mane vibrated violently as he pulled the large pole of the Lever against the current. He paused his struggle and flashed them a charming smile, shaking his head to accentuate the hair in the wind.

“Yeah,” Nawaa chuckled. “What about it?”

“The texture,” Firza explained. “It’s light and airy and doesn’t draw attention to itself. At least in normal conditions.”

“They’re going to get offended because my hair is different? I doubt they have that much free time on their hands, sir.”

Firza shrugged his shoulders, “As you like it. Just saying it so you’re not caught off guard. There’s no way for such a one as yourself to be prepared for the consequences of foreign sensibilities.”

“Noted.”

“Valuable advice, brother,” Zelib chimed. “Even if I don’t necessarily agree that the Andalusians will take it as a token of disrespect, it’s not like he’s headed toward the Angls.”

“We will see soon enough.”

Nawaa looked back toward the horizon, peering underneath his low hanging hood. They had advanced quickly on the awaiting Cog, he could now make out several people onboard standing on its gallery.

“Goodness! We’re almost there!”

“It’s as I said,” Zelib responded. “Now imagine how cranky you would have been had you got going in your slumber only to be awoken almost immediately.”

Nawaa let out an exaggerated laugh, “Yes, sir, you were right!”

He did his best to hide the nerves which had just taken hold of him. It was real now, he was really going into a foreign land with its own rules and customs.

“I can do this,” he muttered. “I’m not a coward or a spoiled brat. They’re just people.”

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The unmistakable scent of burning flesh rushed through his nostrils having been carried inside by the newly opened door.

The burning flesh catches my attention. I am confused though by what's being carried (the scent?) and how a newly opened door can carry a scent. Can you instead say something maybe about the "scent wafted through the open door"? Something like that.

 

A trio of papal enforcers entered in from the tower’s staircase.

I think I need more of a scene set. Right now there's a door, and a tower, and a room? Is the room inside the tower? Is the room at the base of the tower? So these guys are descending down toward the Emperor? But now the smell is coming into the tower from outside?

I am engaged by the threat hanging over these men, and you make it nicely clear that they are ringleaders against the powers-that-be. That said, there are way too many characters for me to be able to keep track of in a first scene. Could it be just Jacques for now and maybe two interrogators? I like the character and the strength he is showing and would like him to persist and his accusation against the pope are clear. I don't think you need that paragraph explaining Clement V's efforts at crusading, it's clear enough already that he's a bad guy and motivated by greed. It feels like it takes away the tension in that scene to step back and explain the historical context.

It gets really good when we get down to the direct one-on-one conflict between Clement's polite murderousness and Jacque's resistance. It's this back and forth that I mean when I ask above if it could be juts Jacques and maybe two interrogators although I understand that you need the other prisoners there to distinguish between Jacques' fate and theirs. Maybe just get rid of the nephew. :)

Your descriptions of the corpse burning are unnervingly vivid!

 

The once bold Collectore, newly depleted of courage, knelt in obeisance.

So I've been noticing lines like this, basically where you the author describe with adjectives what the characters are like. It seems like you're doing 3rd person omniscient POV, am I right? Where you don't limit yourself to any one character's POV but instead step back more like a camera viewing everybody.

 

also that you plan on attracting the Jews back in order to seize their properties again.

To be honest this plan on the part of the pope doesn't make much sense to me. Does the pope think that the Jews are going to come back in full trust, yes, the pope stole everything once but he surely won't do it again? If it's not something the plot depends on I'd get rid of it because it makes either the Jews attracted back or the pope look very stupid.

 

the truth behind Nuremberg and the pogroms.

Is it a very big deal that the pope is secretly behind the pogroms? My (limited) understanding of pogroms is that they happened openly with state sanction and everyone knew the ruling authorities were behind them but their knowledge didn't matter because they could do nothing about them. Would people be outraged or something if they found out the pope was behind the pogroms? Is that why he's keeping his involvement a secret? Maybe my view of historical people is cynical but I didn't think they'd care much if pogroms were happening to not-them.

 

"As you wish, sire. It is rumored by both the Spanish and Granadans alike that the Sultan Yusuf is to receive visitations from some relatives of the dark continent.”

Is it at all possible to start the first scene more around here? Medieval torture can be engaging but it's also been done many times. This, though, is new. I'd love to see the story begin with introducing the key historical difference. Obviously it has to somehow be done in an engaging way which you do well in the first half of the scene. Maybe get rid of all the secret pogrom stuff and instead have Jacque's confession be more directly related to the Sultan Yusuf and his visitors from the dark continent?

 

“So it’s true?” Rigault asked slowly standing to his feet. “That is why there’s been no penetration into the continent’s interior?”

Like this line is cool. Maybe the secret that Clement is trying to repress is not "I'm behind the pogroms" but rather "we utterly failed to penetrate the dark continent's interior/suffered a massive rout"

 

“Our position at the apex of military capability must remain unquestioned for our authority and influence to be maintained. Considering the interests of governance, the public’s awareness of a foreign power that rivals said apex position is dangerous. It is best to keep the flock in the dark regarding such things.”

And there you go, you already have it as a secret that has to be kept. :)

 

Hugues remained in the background as he watched the event unfold. His temples pulsed and throbbed as he continuously clenched his jaw in angst.

This is kind of what I mean when I say there are too many characters. I've already forgotten who Hugues is. Or why he's so sympathetic to Rigault at the end.

 

Nawaa had forgotten how obsessed the Yahwudin people were with the preservation of their Fire Sand machinery. He had heard stories of fabricators and technicians destroying freshly made weapons, vehicles and other technologies for fear of outsiders acquiring remnants or parts initially considered refuse and using it to their advantage.

Is Nawaa not Yahwudin?

 

So these two lines: Though they supposedly bear us no ill will, that is no protection from the lusts that may excite them upon seeing our Waterscrews. Best to not allow even the possibility of provocation.” and

 He had heard stories of fabricators and technicians destroying freshly made weapons, vehicles and other technologies for fear of outsiders acquiring remnants or parts initially considered refuse and using it to their advantage.

are confusing me a little. The Europeans seem waaaay behind technologically, are they really even able to understand the technology of the Yahwudin such that the Yahwudin need to keep everything such a secret? Or is it more that the Yahwudin had a recent jump in technological evolution and so they want to keep what is a more recent advantage secret? If it's the former and they're just way ahead, why haven't they taken over more by now?

 

I know nothing about boats but the impression I'm getting is that you have either a lot of research on them or have a lot of experience (or both) with them. I like the detail I'm reading!

 

Conclusion: Nawaa is intriguing me as a character, the last line you have him mutter makes him quite sympathetic. I really like the setup wherein you introduce the dark continent and its superiority as a secret to be suppressed in the first scene, and then follow up with a point of view character living out the said rumors. I think if the first scene could be simplified so it's easier to get through that would be great in terms of keeping the reader's attention. This premise has intrigued me from the start, I want to know what happens next!

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Hi Shola! Wow. That really sets the tone for the story. The premise always intrigued me, but after reading this I know I want to see more. I don't expect books to be addicting from the start (first 20 pages in books always take the longest for me to read) and yet yours was. 

Anyway, get your salt shaker ready for my commentary:

-It's the slightest bit confusing who's who at the beginning. It might help to refer to characters by their names more often instead of descriptions (ex. brave captive) so it's easier for the reader to keep track of them. 

-Charles addressed the young Cardinal as he stepped over the fetal prisoner, gurgling in agony. Charles isn't gurgling in agony, so the sentence should probably be rewritten as Charles addressed the young Cardinal as he stepped over the fetal prisoner who gurgled in agony or something similar.

-Random but I love Jacques.

-The two enforcers jumped as if returning to themselves and hesitantly began moving toward Jacques and Pierre who stood frozen, understandably more stunned than the guards had been. Not sure if Jacques has the capability to stand frozen and be stunned right now as he is burning to death.

-It's a little confusing at the beginning of chapter 2 who is talking/doing the actions. Again, it might help to refer to characters by name instead of descriptions.

-The youth impatiently swiped the cloth from his face and menacingly examined the horizon. I'm not too sure how one would menacingly examine the horizon.

-Nawaa had forgotten how obsessed the Yahwudin people were with the preservation of their Fire Sand machinery. It seems unlikely that Nawaa, being Yahwudin, would forget a prominent trait of his people. I understand that you're using these thoughts to introduce the concept, but it might work better to just outright state it. 

-"Nawaa's distracting hair." Maybe I just have a strange sense of humor, but you got a laugh out of me there. 

Thanks for posting! Your prose is really nice as well. I'm definitely excited to see more and I know you'll do a great job with this story. 

Have an awesome day : ) 

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On 4/9/2021 at 9:36 PM, JINJUP6RICHARDS said:

<.........>

Hey Jinju! 

“The burning flesh catches my attention. I am confused though by what's being carried (the scent?) and how a newly opened door can carry a scent. Can you instead say something maybe about the ‘scent wafted through the open door’? Something like that.” -

Yes, I can see the potential for confusion here. 

I envisioned that the scent that was heavily concentrated in the outside being drawn in due to the breach created by the opened door.

But just your contribution of that verb opens up  a better communication of the idea. I will play with it until a more easily digested sentence reveals itself.

“I think I need more of a scene set. Right now there's a door, and a tower, and a room? Is the room inside the tower? Is the room at the base of the tower? So these guys are descending down toward the Emperor? But now the smell is coming into the tower from outside?” -

I created this scene with the layout of the actual palace in my head (#’s 14 & 19) and so I think I relied on that a bit too much to lessen my workload. 

The Pope’s room is in the upper portion of the tower. The prisoners and guards are coming from the tower’s depths into the upper level. The Emperor is coming from the balcony which is just outside the Pope’s room. I included the layout so you can see what I mean. I know there is a better way to illustrate “what is where” and “where who is coming from”, but it eludes me. I really would like people’s take on this. I want to keep it informative but not confusing. 
 

“That said, there are way too many characters for me to be able to keep track of in a first scene. Could it be just Jacques for now and maybe two interrogators?” -

I cheated again and hoped that since three of the opening characters were historical people, that would somehow lessen the mental burden that comes with many characters. A delusional rationalization to justify my laziness probably. 

“I don't think you need that paragraph explaining Clement V's efforts at crusading, it's clear enough already that he's a bad guy and motivated by greed. It feels like it takes away the tension in that scene to step back and explain the historical context.” -

You may be right. 

Do you think it should be placed elsewhere? Or scrapped altogether?

Do you think it served any purpose in shining a light on Clement?

“Maybe just get rid of the nephew. 
:)
-

Lol it may be necessary.

I like him as he is a real person of history and in the story, though they are similar in age, he is the Yin to the MC’s Yang and I felt that including him in this scene was integral to making the envy and hatred that he feels to Nawaa (simply because he has garnered his uncle’s affections not cuz tech) organic and legitimate in the mind of the Reader.

Does that justify his presence here in your eyes?

“Where you don't limit yourself to any one character's POV but instead step back more like a camera viewing everybody.” -

Yes. I never knew the technical term until I read Mike’s piece. I think this one in particular is 3rd person POV “close”. I use it on any character but the only person whose thoughts I actually write (“first-close”) are MC’s. 

Reading said article put things into perspective for me and explained rules that I had been following for the most part, but nonetheless never knew existed. I’m still getting used to its rhythm and am constantly on the lookout for errors in my usage.

 

“To be honest this plan on the part of the pope doesn't make much sense to me. Does the pope think that the Jews are going to come back in full trust, yes, the pope stole everything once but he surely won't do it again? 

If it's not something the plot depends on I'd get rid of it because it makes either the Jews attracted back or the pope look very stupid.

Is it a very big deal that the pope is secretly behind the pogroms? My (limited) understanding of pogroms is that they happened openly with state sanction and everyone knew the ruling authorities were behind them but their knowledge didn't matter because they could do nothing about them. Would people be outraged or something if they found out the pope was behind the pogroms? Is that why he's keeping his involvement a secret? Maybe my view of historical people is cynical but I didn't think they'd care much if pogroms were happening to not-them.” - 

In the story it is not public knowledge that the Pope was involved in the pogroms at Nuremberg and historically, only Charles IV is recorded as complicit. 

Clement is regarded as genteel and high-minded (an image which, historically, he treasured perhaps above all else), the loss of this image would be a great concern for him. The citizenry may not care about the Jews but they will care that the Pope is a fraud. And historically, he did make Avignon a haven for the persecuted Jews. 

I don’t think it’s necessary for the plot as much as it is in staying true to the events of history that occurred prior to the fictional aspect of the story taking place ex: Avignon was made a safe haven for Jews and foreign Jews did travel there for safety.
But they probably wouldn’t have if they knew the Pope was profiting from them. Which is why it is kept secret.

What’s your take?

You think I can sell it better with improved prose?

Or does it still strain the suspension of disbelief regardless?

“Maybe get rid of all the secret pogrom stuff and instead have Jacque's confession be more directly related to the Sultan Yusuf and his visitors from the dark continent?” -

Hmmm, I’ve never considered that. I’d have to weigh everything in the balance but I can definitely see that as being a preferable alternative.

“Is Nawaa not Yahwudin?” -

Yeah he is lol.

“Nawaa had forgotten how obsessed his people were with..” 

Is that an improvement?

Or is it that quoted passage suggests that Nawaa is too unfamiliar with these facts for someone who is indeed Yahwudin?

If so, the reason why his knowledge of these things is relegated to “stories” is because his life as a youth of nobility tends to isolate him from experiences or concerns relating to the outside world.

Maybe I should touch on the extreme life of luxury that he experienced prior to taking up this voyage?

And then use an improved version of quoted passage as a means of illustrating the extent of the resultant socio-cultural disconnect?

“So these two lines: ‘Though they supposedly bear us no ill will, that is no protection from the lusts that may excite them upon seeing our Waterscrews. Best to not allow even the possibility of provocation.’ and

‘He had heard stories of fabricators and technicians destroying freshly made weapons, vehicles and other technologies for fear of outsiders acquiring remnants or parts initially considered refuse and using it to their advantage.’

are confusing me a little. The Europeans seem waaaay behind technologically, are they really even able to understand the technology of the Yahwudin such that the Yahwudin need to keep everything such a secret? Or is it more that the Yahwudin had a recent jump in technological evolution and so they want to keep what is a more recent advantage secret? If it's the former and they're just way ahead, why haven't they taken over more by now?” -

I appreciate your insight.

I have been struggling to put into words the nature of the technology gap but I chalked up the difficulty as all being in my head. Obviously I was wrong.

With regard to your two questions, the issue is a mix of the two. The secret to their technology is a fuel; think of a civilization that stumbled upon gunpowder a century and change before anyone else but had the good fortune to perfect it and practice all sorts of diverse applications in perfect seclusion.

The things they would come up with wouldn’t necessarily equate to “Cowboys and Aliens”. The catalyst is utilized via a principle that is universally understood and manifest in something as primitive as the sling to something as (relatively) advanced as the crossbow. 

If a product of their gunpowder (Fire Sand) mastery is attained and the extent of its applications deduced through experimental usage and operation, it would be quite simple for the nation to better themselves through dedicated and common sense reverse engineering.
The threat potential posed by things like Greek Fire, though inferior, confirms for the Yahwudin the legitimacy of their paranoia.

Though this conversation occurs toward the end between the (formerly secret) Templar Hugues and various members of the Yahwudin council, some of which he has won over in favor of the complete annihilation of the Papacy, for your consideration I think this simplifies the answer to your two questions.

(Tried in vain to wrap in spoiler tags. Sorry.)

“So we retreat?”

“If we do that, the Europeans will use it as time to remobilize and refocus their energies and motivations to prepare for an all out war with us. The inhabitants will be propagandized and made that much more formidable, it will be made a holy war for them. Also, we will have lost the benefit of surprise. Whether it be in another two, five or twenty-five years, the church will spend every waking moment preparing for our return.”

“Also they have managed to steal several of our weapon caches, there is no reason to limit their ability to reverse engineer our designs when they’re motivated by a constant looking for of an oncoming threat.”

“Whatever concerns about body count you have now, they will be exponentially increased upon your return to finish the job.” (H)

“So what are you saying? We have to kill them all now?”

“I see no alternative.” (H)
~end~ 

Lastly, the Yahwudin have become too comfortable and secure to concern themselves with conquest. It is Nawaa's antics that compel them to bare their teeth otherwise they would have faded into obscurity, ultimately brought to self destruction in one way or another by the apathy that comes with luxury and excess.

I sensed an actual inquiry in this so I figured I’d do my best to address it. Hope it wasn’t excessive.

With this information do you think those bits can remain?

Or do you think that regardless they don’t do the job without being given total context (which admittedly won’t be provided until much later)?

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12 hours ago, MingluJiangP6 said:

<....>

Thanks, Minglu.

“It's the slightest bit confusing who's who at the beginning. It might help to refer to characters by their names more often instead of descriptions (ex. brave captive) so it's easier for the reader to keep track of them.” -

Noted.

This suggestion may help address the issue Jinju brought up about character count.

“Charles isn't gurgling in agony, so the sentence should probably be rewritten as Charles addressed the young Cardinal as he stepped over the fetal prisoner who gurgled in agony or something similar.”
Lol now every time I read what I wrote I can’t shake the image of Charles gargling and swishing his blood in his mouth as he eyes the Cardinal entering the scene.

“Not sure if Jacques has the capability to stand frozen and be stunned right now as he is burning to death.” -

I.....I was just making sure you were paying attention, I swear.

Seriously though, I’m stunned by that error on my part. I thought I was sufficiently thorough yet there’s a major gaff in the opening pages.

SMH.

“I'm not too sure how one would menacingly examine the horizon.” -

Noted.

“It seems unlikely that Nawaa, being Yahwudin, would forget a prominent trait of his people.” -

I get the sense this is what Jinju was alluding to. Perhaps it would be best to treat it is a statement of fact like you said. Avoids unnecessary misrepresentations and misunderstandings.

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Hi Shola,

Ok, there were kids around when I read this, so I hope I don't look foolish, but I really, very much enjoyed reading it. I almost had to skip the "burning alive" scene, my worst fear. But I pushed through it. It was so intense. Also, I am not as book or word smart as you, but I do love to get into character's heads and I love descriptions. 

I felt immediately that Hugues was not really one of them. You did a good job of making him subtly stand out from the rest of the characters in chapter 1. 

I thought your character development was great. I immediately hated the Pope (reminded me of Longshanks) and you made him and all of his minions really good bad guys. I am anxious to hear what comes their way! And after all the evil, condescending / encouragement from the Pope to out information from the captives, and then murder them anyway, not to mention the criminal activity they are involved in, I felt that it fittingly tied in with the foreshadowing sentence of the 2nd chapter, "They are just people." I'm guessing they'll find them to be much the opposite.

I did feel that there were a lot of characters in the first chapter. I think I forget when I'm writing, that people don't remember names or descriptions right away. It always takes several reminders before I get a full view of who a person is, what they are like, their motives, appearance etc. I have the same problem in my writing. I know that only certain characters from chapter 1 are going to continue throughout the rest of the book, so obviously you don't need to do too much of describing the guards for example. 

You did do a fair amount of description on the scenes, I was able to materialize a lot of the scenery from my own imagination and from what you described. But I really like hearing more details about clothing (the gauntlet description was excellent! Even the gross lip part :o) and the surroundings. Not because readers can't imagine it up themselves, but I honestly want to see more of what is in your head, because it's probably much more clever and creative than what is in mine. 

It was interesting jumping scenes from chapter one to chapter two. I didn't want anyone to have to go back to the setting in chapter one. Such a scary, depressing, hopeless time and place. The Yahwudin boat scene was a relief after the upper charring tower in France. and I can't wait to hear what goes on between the nations.

Also, I would like to know more about the situation of the technologically advanced society. I'm sure this comes later, but is it quiet luxurious? Is it more rugged? How aware are they of the goings on in the less advanced nations? I'm guessing not very? Mostly because of the last sentence in chapter 2. 

And at the risk of sounding more ridiculous...I know little about boats from any time period. Did you make up this technology? Is the Fire Sand similar to a real life prototype. How did they "stumble" across the technology? I'm sure that comes later, and that is ok with me, because that keeps me reading. I just want to have a clearer picture in my head of the discrepancies between the societies. 

Very interesting and fun to read. I love the idea, love the descriptions. Excellent prose. I also had to create some science / technology from another time in my story. Love science/nerd brains!

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On 4/11/2021 at 12:59 AM, Shola said:

Hey Jinju! 

“The burning flesh catches my attention. I am confused though by what's being carried (the scent?) and how a newly opened door can carry a scent. Can you instead say something maybe about the ‘scent wafted through the open door’? Something like that.” -

Yes, I can see the potential for confusion here. 

I envisioned that the scent that was heavily concentrated in the outside being drawn in due to the breach created by the opened door.

But just your contribution of that verb opens up  a better communication of the idea. I will play with it until a more easily digested sentence reveals itself.

“I think I need more of a scene set. Right now there's a door, and a tower, and a room? Is the room inside the tower? Is the room at the base of the tower? So these guys are descending down toward the Emperor? But now the smell is coming into the tower from outside?” -

I created this scene with the layout of the actual palace in my head (#’s 14 & 19) and so I think I relied on that a bit too much to lessen my workload. 

The Pope’s room is in the upper portion of the tower. The prisoners and guards are coming from the tower’s depths into the upper level. The Emperor is coming from the balcony which is just outside the Pope’s room. I included the layout so you can see what I mean. I know there is a better way to illustrate “what is where” and “where who is coming from”, but it eludes me. I really would like people’s take on this. I want to keep it informative but not confusing. 

I see what you mean. I think the way you describe it here is actually extremely clear and I would use that as a basic starting point. "The Pope's room was in the upper portion of the tower. The prisoners and guards were coming up from the tower's depths into the main hall. The Emperor emerged from the balcony just outside the Pope's room and descended to the main hall as well, halting well before the prisoners." Or something like that. I don't know if main hall is the right word but I like it better than upper level which confuses me because I think of upper levels as not the same as ground floors which is where I think everyone is congregating, right?

“That said, there are way too many characters for me to be able to keep track of in a first scene. Could it be just Jacques for now and maybe two interrogators?” -

I cheated again and hoped that since three of the opening characters were historical people, that would somehow lessen the mental burden that comes with many characters. A delusional rationalization to justify my laziness probably. 

Maybe it would work for someone who knew this period of history well, but I have to admit complete ignorance!

“I don't think you need that paragraph explaining Clement V's efforts at crusading, it's clear enough already that he's a bad guy and motivated by greed. It feels like it takes away the tension in that scene to step back and explain the historical context.” -

You may be right. 

Do you think it should be placed elsewhere? Or scrapped altogether?

Do you think it served any purpose in shining a light on Clement?

I think you do a good job already of showing how evil Clement is, I don't think you need that paragraph to tell us again that he's evil. I would just scrap it.

“Maybe just get rid of the nephew. 
:)“-

Lol it may be necessary.

I like him as he is a real person of history and in the story, though they are similar in age, he is the Yin to the MC’s Yang and I felt that including him in this scene was integral to making the envy and hatred that he feels to Nawaa (simply because he has garnered his uncle’s affections not cuz tech) organic and legitimate in the mind of the Reader.

Does that justify his presence here in your eyes?

I think the above justifies his existence in the story, quite crucially so. I don't think he's at all necessary to the first scene in your book. 

“Where you don't limit yourself to any one character's POV but instead step back more like a camera viewing everybody.” -

Yes. I never knew the technical term until I read Mike’s piece. I think this one in particular is 3rd person POV “close”. I use it on any character but the only person whose thoughts I actually write (“first-close”) are MC’s. 

Reading said article put things into perspective for me and explained rules that I had been following for the most part, but nonetheless never knew existed. I’m still getting used to its rhythm and am constantly on the lookout for errors in my usage.

 

“To be honest this plan on the part of the pope doesn't make much sense to me. Does the pope think that the Jews are going to come back in full trust, yes, the pope stole everything once but he surely won't do it again? 

If it's not something the plot depends on I'd get rid of it because it makes either the Jews attracted back or the pope look very stupid.

Is it a very big deal that the pope is secretly behind the pogroms? My (limited) understanding of pogroms is that they happened openly with state sanction and everyone knew the ruling authorities were behind them but their knowledge didn't matter because they could do nothing about them. Would people be outraged or something if they found out the pope was behind the pogroms? Is that why he's keeping his involvement a secret? Maybe my view of historical people is cynical but I didn't think they'd care much if pogroms were happening to not-them.” - 

In the story it is not public knowledge that the Pope was involved in the pogroms at Nuremberg and historically, only Charles IV is recorded as complicit. 

Clement is regarded as genteel and high-minded (an image which, historically, he treasured perhaps above all else), the loss of this image would be a great concern for him. The citizenry may not care about the Jews but they will care that the Pope is a fraud. And historically, he did make Avignon a haven for the persecuted Jews. 

I don’t think it’s necessary for the plot as much as it is in staying true to the events of history that occurred prior to the fictional aspect of the story taking place ex: Avignon was made a safe haven for Jews and foreign Jews did travel there for safety.
But they probably wouldn’t have if they knew the Pope was profiting from them. Which is why it is kept secret.

What’s your take?

You think I can sell it better with improved prose?

Or does it still strain the suspension of disbelief regardless?

I'm still a little confused. Like I said, I know nothing of the history of this period, so I suppose I'm a good guinea pig for explaining these things to. I think I'm mainly confused about the difference is between the actual history and what is going on in your story. Clement valued being considered high-minded, but he wasn't actually high-minded/genteel? Is that history? He set up Avignon historically, but historically was he actually profiting off them? Or is that a fictional twist?  

I'll say this, if Clement valued being regarded as genteel and high-minded but in reality he wasn't those things, I would make all that a whole lot clearer in your actual story. I had no idea Clement cared about having a genteel reputation from what I read here.

I still find myself unable to believe that medieval Europeans will care even if they find out their pope is behind the pogroms. Like I said, though, I know extremely little about this time period so take my disbelief with a grain of salt. I figure though that they'll say something like "oh see the Jewry are so bad that even our pope who was so gracious to them with Avignon still thought they needed to be rooted out."

“Maybe get rid of all the secret pogrom stuff and instead have Jacque's confession be more directly related to the Sultan Yusuf and his visitors from the dark continent?” -

Hmmm, I’ve never considered that. I’d have to weigh everything in the balance but I can definitely see that as being a preferable alternative.

“Is Nawaa not Yahwudin?” -

Yeah he is lol.

“Nawaa had forgotten how obsessed his people were with..” 

Is that an improvement?

Or is it that quoted passage suggests that Nawaa is too unfamiliar with these facts for someone who is indeed Yahwudin?

If so, the reason why his knowledge of these things is relegated to “stories” is because his life as a youth of nobility tends to isolate him from experiences or concerns relating to the outside world.

Maybe I should touch on the extreme life of luxury that he experienced prior to taking up this voyage?

And then use an improved version of quoted passage as a means of illustrating the extent of the resultant socio-cultural disconnect?

I like "had forgotten how obsessed his people were with..." I think it captures well his sense of disconnect from the world due to his noble background. I don't think you need to do anything else to it.

“So these two lines: ‘Though they supposedly bear us no ill will, that is no protection from the lusts that may excite them upon seeing our Waterscrews. Best to not allow even the possibility of provocation.’ and

‘He had heard stories of fabricators and technicians destroying freshly made weapons, vehicles and other technologies for fear of outsiders acquiring remnants or parts initially considered refuse and using it to their advantage.’

are confusing me a little. The Europeans seem waaaay behind technologically, are they really even able to understand the technology of the Yahwudin such that the Yahwudin need to keep everything such a secret? Or is it more that the Yahwudin had a recent jump in technological evolution and so they want to keep what is a more recent advantage secret? If it's the former and they're just way ahead, why haven't they taken over more by now?” -

I appreciate your insight.

I have been struggling to put into words the nature of the technology gap but I chalked up the difficulty as all being in my head. Obviously I was wrong.

With regard to your two questions, the issue is a mix of the two. The secret to their technology is a fuel; think of a civilization that stumbled upon gunpowder a century and change before anyone else but had the good fortune to perfect it and practice all sorts of diverse applications in perfect seclusion.

The things they would come up with wouldn’t necessarily equate to “Cowboys and Aliens”. The catalyst is utilized via a principle that is universally understood and manifest in something as primitive as the sling to something as (relatively) advanced as the crossbow. 

If a product of their gunpowder (Fire Sand) mastery is attained and the extent of its applications deduced through experimental usage and operation, it would be quite simple for the nation to better themselves through dedicated and common sense reverse engineering.
The threat potential posed by things like Greek Fire, though inferior, confirms for the Yahwudin the legitimacy of their paranoia.

Though this conversation occurs toward the end between the (formerly secret) Templar Hugues and various members of the Yahwudin council, some of which he has won over in favor of the complete annihilation of the Papacy, for your consideration I think this simplifies the answer to your two questions.

(Tried in vain to wrap in spoiler tags. Sorry.)

“So we retreat?”

“If we do that, the Europeans will use it as time to remobilize and refocus their energies and motivations to prepare for an all out war with us. The inhabitants will be propagandized and made that much more formidable, it will be made a holy war for them. Also, we will have lost the benefit of surprise. Whether it be in another two, five or twenty-five years, the church will spend every waking moment preparing for our return.”

“Also they have managed to steal several of our weapon caches, there is no reason to limit their ability to reverse engineer our designs when they’re motivated by a constant looking for of an oncoming threat.”

“Whatever concerns about body count you have now, they will be exponentially increased upon your return to finish the job.” (H)

“So what are you saying? We have to kill them all now?”

“I see no alternative.” (H)
~end~ 

Lastly, the Yahwudin have become too comfortable and secure to concern themselves with conquest. It is Nawaa's antics that compel them to bare their teeth otherwise they would have faded into obscurity, ultimately brought to self destruction in one way or another by the apathy that comes with luxury and excess.

I sensed an actual inquiry in this so I figured I’d do my best to address it. Hope it wasn’t excessive.

With this information do you think those bits can remain?

Or do you think that regardless they don’t do the job without being given total context (which admittedly won’t be provided until much later)?

Maybe my problem is that I don't have a clear idea what Fire Sand actually is/how it works. It's a chemically formulated substance that can be consumed as a fuel which powers machines/boats etc. in a much more efficient way than horsepower/manpower. Is that right? Maybe I would just say something like that. I think I also still don't quite see why the Yahwudin didn't bother with conquest... maybe this is just my cynicism about human nature rising up again but it's hard for me to imagine anybody not trying to gain more for themselves if they can because of superior technology/power. Could there be a religious reason behind their deliberate limitation of themselves? Maybe I just need to see more of the culture and history of the Yahwudin people to get a better sense of their comfortableness/secureness. Which means I need to read more of your story, something I'm happy to do! :)

 

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On 4/12/2021 at 6:45 PM, Laura Neibaur said:

Ok, there were kids around when I read this, so I hope I don't look foolish, but I really, very much enjoyed reading it. I almost had to skip the "burning alive" scene, my worst fear. But I pushed through it. It was so intense. Also, I am not as book or word smart as you, but I do love to get into character's heads and I love descriptions. 

I felt immediately that Hugues was not really one of them. You did a good job of making him subtly stand out from the rest of the characters in chapter 1. 

I thought your character development was great. I immediately hated the Pope (reminded me of Longshanks) and you made him and all of his minions really good bad guys. I am anxious to hear what comes their way! And after all the evil, condescending / encouragement from the Pope to out information from the captives, and then murder them anyway, not to mention the criminal activity they are involved in, I felt that it fittingly tied in with the foreshadowing sentence of the 2nd chapter, "They are just people." I'm guessing they'll find them to be much the opposite.

Thank you!

I did feel that there were a lot of characters in the first chapter. I think I forget when I'm writing, that people don't remember names or descriptions right away. It always takes several reminders before I get a full view of who a person is, what they are like, their motives, appearance etc. I have the same problem in my writing. I know that only certain characters from chapter 1 are going to continue throughout the rest of the book, so obviously you don't need to do too much of describing the guards for example.

I’m working on it. :(

You did do a fair amount of description on the scenes, I was able to materialize a lot of the scenery from my own imagination and from what you described. But I really like hearing more details about clothing (the gauntlet description was excellent! Even the gross lip part :o) and the surroundings. Not because readers can't imagine it up themselves, but I honestly want to see more of what is in your head, because it's probably much more clever and creative than what is in mine. 

It was interesting jumping scenes from chapter one to chapter two. I didn't want anyone to have to go back to the setting in chapter one. Such a scary, depressing, hopeless time and place. The Yahwudin boat scene was a relief after the upper charring tower in France. and I can't wait to hear what goes on between the nations.

Yes that’s what I was going for. I wanted to perform some tonal shifts at the beginning for contrast. I’m hoping the relative “lightheartedness” isn’t too jarring. I’m sure you’ll let me know after reading the end of chapter 2.

Also, I would like to know more about the situation of the technologically advanced society. I'm sure this comes later, but is it quiet luxurious? Is it more rugged? How aware are they of the goings on in the less advanced nations? I'm guessing not very? Mostly because of the last sentence in chapter 2. 

Sure. 

It’s relatively luxurious.

This is a bad analogy (it’s illustrated better in the narrative) but think colonial era US; Colonial Williamsburg if you’re familiar (lifestyle/amenities not culture).

Only with lawnmowers and steel structures lol.

No ACs.

Occupations are based on choice (unless one is of a criminal background) and there is no income though there is a kind of “prestige” that comes with certain occupations but this is offset by the fact that they tend to be things people just don’t want to do. The people have become used to the comfort; no scarcity, no violence (think Ezekiel 16:49 with no poor/needy) so everyone is pretty much chill.

There are “classes” and “bloodlines” but they are all tied to the founders of Yahwudi and is designed to keep their “diversity” a strength and not something that can be used to incite division at the whim of every power hungry jerkwad .

This kinda ties into Jinju’s inquiry regarding their anti-conquest culture/“religion” that is the result of their experiences from their history. 

I’ll keep it short as possible, their fore-bearers were a collection of people that emigrated/were traded to the region. Initially because of things like the Arab slave trade and the “thrallic acquisition” (fictional) they are aware of and somewhat involved in events like the crusades (prequel stuff). But over time they distance themselves from the unending bloodshed but keep themselves apprised of events through emissaries and allies. Currently the children are taught about the “current events” of the outside world but it is not rigorously accurate except for those that have a genuine interest i.e. almost no one (think of a modern US HS student’s knowledge of the events going on in continents like Africa or Asia or even Europe, very surface level and worthless). For the large part, most don’t care because the outside world is not seen as a threat; as long as everyone is still using crossbows and catapults “they are of no consequence”.

And at the risk of sounding more ridiculous...I know little about boats from any time period. Did you make up this technology? Is the Fire Sand similar to a real life prototype. How did they "stumble" across the technology? I'm sure that comes later, and that is ok with me, because that keeps me reading. I just want to have a clearer picture in my head of the discrepancies between the societies. 

Keeping it short again, historically, one of the first places to show evidence of gunpowder technology in the “west” was Andalusia in early 1300s. It is traditionally held that gunpowder was first transmitted from Asia but several locations contain evidence that suggests its presence before the Silk Road transmission and that rather, chemical equivalents popped up in various locales at around the same time, fell into disuse and THEN Transmission. Personally, I don’t really care but since the historians and researchers are bickering about it, I’m free to do what I like. 
At least I think I am.

In my story, at around 1270, Moors residing in Arab Spain get their hands on the crude saltpeter “gunpowder” still in its fledgling stage with limited application and bring it back to Africa and just experiment with it without disturbance. I can get really bad with the nerd so just think of gunpowder engineered to have application toward primitive yet sci-fi machinery (I refuse to say steampunk).

The chemical composition of what we call gunpowder is fine tuned (for sci-fi read: alchemy) allowing them to create both a solid form (ranging in consistency from sand-like to soil) and a liquid equivalent and with that, fuel cells/cartridges and from there imagination is the only limit. I understand guns, concussive force and locomotion pretty well (no formal training just google and Boy Scouts) so though the contraptions I pull out make the Yahwudin tech completely unfair for the time period, they are on the more realistic side and wouldn’t be too impressive in comparison with modern technology.

May give WW1 era military a problem though.

Very interesting and fun to read. I love the idea, love the descriptions. Excellent prose. I also had to create some science / technology from another time in my story. Love science/nerd brains!

Thank you!

And same here!

 

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On 4/14/2021 at 8:25 PM, JINJUP6RICHARDS said:

 

I see what you mean. I think the way you describe it here is actually extremely clear and I would use that as a basic starting point. "The Pope's room was in the upper portion of the tower. The prisoners and guards were coming up from the tower's depths into the main hall. The Emperor emerged from the balcony just outside the Pope's room and descended to the main hall as well, halting well before the prisoners." Or something like that. I don't know if main hall is the right word but I like it better than upper level which confuses me because I think of upper levels as not the same as ground floors which is where I think everyone is congregating, right?

I’m reworking this scene as I speak.

Maybe it would work for someone who knew this period of history well, but I have to admit complete ignorance!

Regardless, your feedback is appreciated. The limited info was based on my assumption that you’ve helped to prove erroneous. I imagine most readers will be like you and after all, I didn’t know any of this stuff until I was forced to look it up. I’m not a history buff by any means so I hope I didn’t come off as pompous, I’m def not that guy.

I think you do a good job already of showing how evil Clement is, I don't think you need that paragraph to tell us again that he's evil. I would just scrap it.

It’s been scrapped.

I think the above justifies his existence in the story, quite crucially so. I don't think he's at all necessary to the first scene in your book. 

*cries*

I'm still a little confused. Like I said, I know nothing of the history of this period, so I suppose I'm a good guinea pig for explaining these things to. I think I'm mainly confused about the difference is between the actual history and what is going on in your story. Clement valued being considered high-minded, but he wasn't actually high-minded/genteel? Is that history? He set up Avignon historically, but historically was he actually profiting off them? Or is that a fictional twist?  

Depends on who you ask and which money trail one wants to follow.

I'll say this, if Clement valued being regarded as genteel and high-minded but in reality he wasn't those things, I would make all that a whole lot clearer in your actual story. I had no idea Clement cared about having a genteel reputation from what I read here.

I still find myself unable to believe that medieval Europeans will care even if they find out their pope is behind the pogroms. Like I said, though, I know extremely little about this time period so take my disbelief with a grain of salt. I figure though that they'll say something like "oh see the Jewry are so bad that even our pope who was so gracious to them with Avignon still thought they needed to be rooted out."

Noted.

Maybe my problem is that I don't have a clear idea what Fire Sand actually is/how it works. It's a chemically formulated substance that can be consumed as a fuel which powers machines/boats etc. in a much more efficient way than horsepower/manpower. Is that right? Maybe I would just say something like that. I think I also still don't quite see why the Yahwudin didn't bother with conquest... maybe this is just my cynicism about human nature rising up again but it's hard for me to imagine anybody not trying to gain more for themselves if they can because of superior technology/power. Could there be a religious reason behind their deliberate limitation of themselves? Maybe I just need to see more of the culture and history of the Yahwudin people to get a better sense of their comfortableness/secureness. Which means I need to read more of your story, something I'm happy to do! 

Thank you!

I touched a bit on this in my response to Laura. I kept it short but if you need more detail I’ll be glad to give it (though you’ll probably regret it haha).

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“I can do this,” he muttered. “I’m not a coward or a spoiled brat. They’re just people.”

He saw Firza turn his head to him from the corner of his eye.

“You still with us, Nawaa?” He asked. “Don’t turn yellow on me now, my boy. There’s no going back from here on out until we are done.”

“I’m fine.”

He pointed to the other three arrow head shaped Waterscrews as they began to gradually get closer.

“Sir Pren?”

The pilot nodded at Nawaa, having noticed the other sea crafts as well.

“Zelib, get up off your rear and help me,” he commanded his partner. “I can’t lock in the axle and hold the Rudder at the same time.”

Zelib stood up from the comfortable Longseat, “Sorry, brother.”

The tall, slender man adjusted his pointed hat as he advanced toward the cylindrical axle. He frowned as he surveyed the mess of various chains that were tangled amongst themselves.

Pren scoffed as he rattled the chain still in his clutches, “It’s right there man!”

“Ah! I see it now.”

Zelib noticed the terminal end of the jangling chain in question and grasped the attached sliding mechanical switch.

“Let me know when you’re ready for me to lock it in place.”

Pren held his breath as he closed one eye and looked toward the horizon. He patiently observed the motion of the Waterscrew, ensuring its tip was in line with the desired target.

“Alright,” he exhaled. “Lock it.”

Zelib grabbed the sliding switch of the axle and heaved it upward.

A loud clanging sound could be heard as the Rudder was locked into position.

Pren released the wooden arm and began walking back to his original position behind the iron column.

He opened his fancily embroidered, indigo colored cloak and pulled out a small horn known as a froshah and quickly checked the other Waterscrews, “Initiating the call for convergence.”

He blew forcefully into the froshah emitting a high pitched sound, this signified the craft was stable enough to approach. Pren disappeared behind the barrier, he could be heard manipulating various switches from within.

Firza’s eyes remained fixed on the Emirate Cog that they were steadily closing in upon, without breaking his gaze he called out to Pren.

“Are the Incendiary Belchers primed?”

“They’re about to be dammit.”

As Pren finished his statement, Nawaa could see various sections of the wooden deck sliding back and giving way to iron nozzles that rose from the flooring.

Totaling four in number, the tubes were about an arm’s length long.

Two nozzles breached the foremost portion of the deck flooring, like antennae rising from the tip of a flat arrowhead. The ascent of their tips came to a halt and slowly lowered themselves as their back ends emerged, setting the iron tubes so that their trajectory was horizontal and straight forward.

The remaining two were set further behind with more space in between, emerging more toward the craft’s perimeter than its midline. These two nozzles slowly adjusted direction until their aim converged on the imaginary point created by the now fixed and straight nozzles of the foremost.

“What?” Nawaa asked, watching the artillery shift into formation. “What do we need those for? I thought you said they were friendly.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, child!”

“Can never be too safe,” Firza explained. “Better to have it ready for action and not need it, than to be caught in the midst of pissing.”

Nawaa swallowed down his apprehension and nodded weakly.

“Yeah.”

He looked out toward the sister Screws coasting right alongside them, their vehicular armaments equipped and at the ready as well.

“This…..this is for intimidation then? Because I don’t think this is setting the tone in a manner that intimates ‘friend’.”

“Don’t be a fool, Nawaa,” Pren scolded, reappearing from behind the curved column. “They don’t know what these things are. In their eyes they will probably liken the Belcher Spouts to posts for anchoring flags or some other mundane thing.”

“Ha!” Zelib exclaimed.

His look of amusement vanished as he stopped in front of his Longseat, now uncomfortably close to a newly emerged Spout.

“Yeah but……it’s pointing right at them,” Nawaa replied in restrained protest. “They may be primitive but I’m fairly certain that they will be able to discern it as a weapon.”

Pren grew another charming smile and began waving back at the newly visible Granadans motioning for their attention.

“Don’t give them so much credit,” he voiced through the grin.

“Make space!” A voice bellowed.

In an unnatural display of balance, a Yahwudin on the nearest sister Screw was standing on its railing waiting to leap.

“Don’t!” Nawaa shrieked in worried panic.

But it was too late, the bold young man had already jumped.

Landing on his feet upon the moist deck, he slid a ways and gracefully came to a stop in front of Zelib.

Zelib stared unimpressed at their newly embarked Yahwudin, “You trying to take my Seat, Renth?”

The man, Renth, was older than Nawaa but younger than the middle aged Yahwudin serving as his escorts.

“What’s wrong, Nawaa?” He asked, turning away from Firza. “You thought I couldn’t clear it?”

“You only cleared our railing by a hair,” Pren admonished. “If you tripped it would’ve been embarrassing for you.”

“That’s what makes it so cool.”

Nawaa looked back at the three other Waterscrew lined next to them. Several Yahwudin were traversing the seacrafts one after another. The five leaped toward them in tandem, skillful but impatient grasshoppers leaping through blades of grass. The display caused the awaiting Granadan to freeze in his motioning and stare in bewilderment.

“Why are you here, Renth?” Firza asked. “What are you all doing?”

“Providing some quick entertainment for our hosts before we board!”

Firza groaned impatiently.

“Really?” Nawaa asked in excitement. “That’s so cool!”

He beamed at the newest arriving Yahwudin that landed on their Waterscrew.

She pursed her lips together in silence as she took in Nawaa’s unwarranted look of cheerful approval.

“No, not really,” Renth laughed. “Yerid suggested that we all board from your craft since there’s only one Cog Slowboat.”

Nawaa abruptly removed his grin and rolled his eyes.

The newly arrived woman, Ayatin’rea, looked at Renth and then back at Nawaa.

“What happened?”

“Nothing, Aya,” Nawaa murmured.

“I was just testing the new recruit’s gullibility.”

“He’s not a recruit,” she replied. “I thought he was just tagging along to see the outside.”

“That’s right.”

Nawaa moved aside as the remaining Yahwudin from the furthermost Waterscrew landed on their deck. He watched one of them as he vaulted over the railing of his craft and on to the deck of their own. Nawaa gently clapped his hands together, giving silent applause to the final middle aged man.

“Thank you, Nawaa,” he smiled with a nod.

“What’s so funny?” Another newcomer asked, her name was Zua.

She quickly stepped to the side to avoid the arrival of another.

“Sorry,”  he murmured. He began to kick the front of his boots against the deck, readjusting them after his crash landing.

“You missed it,” Ayatin’rea replied.

“Was this really necessary, Yerid?” Firza asked, addressing his newly arrived age mate.

“I felt it was for the best,” the man replied. “Visually, I imagined it would be rather frightful for the Emirate to be ominously surrounded by our strange sea crafts.”

“The thought is good, it’s the execution with which my inquiry is concerned.”

“Yes, I told them to wait until we all reached appropriate proximity. I thought it was understood what I meant.”

“We apologize for the poor judgement, Yerid,” the Yahwudin stopped adjusting his boot. “You as well Firza.”

“No harm done, Rew,” Yerid replied. “Right, brother?”

Firza turned to look at the motionless Granadan, now accompanied by others, still observing them from the stern of his Cog that now began to loom over them.

“I hope so,” he responded. “Let’s all wave and be as reassuring as possible.”

The ten individuals on the Waterscrew waved their arms in salutation, each one beaming as they did it. The Granadans, noticing their gesture, quickly smiled back.

“They look relieved,” Rew remarked through glistening teeth.

One of the Granadans hurriedly ran out of view and reappeared atop the gallery with a mess of rope in his arms. He jerked his head to the side, signaling for them to advance to the lower portion of the Cog at its side.

Firza nodded, the universal sign of acknowledgement. He turned to Zelib who was already walking toward the Propellant Loader.

“You’re going to have to flood the Volatil so that we can board.”

“Yeah.”

Zelib knelt at the hatch and grabbed the small lever located right next to it. Cranking it forcefully, plumes of steam poured forth from the still closed hatch. The Waterscrew slowed to a crawl in response and began drifting toward the Cog.

Nawaa could see several sets of rope ladders tumble down its side.

“What’s this?” Renth groaned. “They want us to literally climb on board?”

“You were expecting motorized staircases?” Zelib replied. “You all were leaping like gazelles just moments ago so what’s the problem?”

“Fair point.”

“Kwenz,” Zua commanded. “You’re the tallest here. Grab the rope.”

“Of course,” the lanky Yahwudin replied.

He took a high step onto the railing and hoisted his body atop it. He stood upright on its edge as they coasted nearer the Cog.

“Such balance!” Nawaa cried. “Such grace!”

“Yeahhh,” he grunted in response, seizing upon a ladder.

The Waterscrew drew close to the Cog as Kwenz pulled at the railing with his foot. Rew and Ayatin’rea were the first to begin the scramble up the awaiting ladders.

Nawaa moved to the side to allow his seniors to board first. Ayatin’rea looked at him suspiciously as he stepped away to give her space.

“What are you up to?” she asked.

Like some Yahwudin, she was epicanthus. The characteristic upper fold lined her pale eyes of gray that swiftly scanned him top to bottom. They remained on him as she snatched the ladder without looking.

Nawaa recoiled slightly.

“Nothing!” he replied, transparently nervous. “Honest. I just want to go last so no one sees me struggle.”

The young woman gave him a rapid vertical scan once more.

“Let’s go!” Zelib bellowed, clapping twice. “I want to go home and you children are creating delay!”

Nawaa breathed a sigh of relief as the woman finally took her eyes off him and turned toward the ladder. He recoiled once again to avoid her bright orange locs. Each brilliant rope-like strand was meticulously maintained and equal in width. What Nawaa had always suspected to be tiny truncheons, were fastened to the end of each loc. Made of Yahwudin Breakstone, he was sure they were designed for combat but she insisted she just liked the way they felt. They rattled and clacked as she began to masterfully ascend the unruly ladder.

He spied Kwenz release his foot from the boat and begin to ascend as the rest of the crew followed.

The middle-aged Firza leapt over the railing, clearing it completely, and clung to the ladder.

Nawaa watched as Yerid prepared to depart.

He stood on the railing with one arm outstretched, his hand clutching the ladder.

“You coming, Nawaa?”

“Yes,” he nodded, approaching the railing.

His eyes widened as he noticed the man’s deadly Fire Hand, its glittering handle peeking out from within the newly opened cloak.

Yerid noticed the stripling’s change in expression.

“What?” He asked concernedly. “What is it?”

Quickly surveying himself, he found the source of the boy’s worry and began to laugh. The man drew his cloak to a close and continued his ascent.

Nawaa approached a ladder and draped its ends over the railing.

“Keep your wits about you, Nawaa,” Pren advised. “You’ll be fine.”

“Thanks, sir,” he replied, his back still turned.

Nawaa smiled to himself as he stepped upon the railing, now slowly drifting away from the Cog. He felt the subtle anxiety begin to abate.

“Thank you, Pren,” he thought silently as he took hold of the ladder. “I really needed that.”

Nawaa hoisted himself up onto the ladder that now began to be drawn away from the Cog’s side.

“Oh?” He thought in amusement. “I’d better hurry up.”

He looked around to see if any of the onlookers found the culminating scene humorous also. He looked back on the deck, Pren and Zelib had their backs to him in casual conversation, no doubt concerning their return to land.

And none of the once ladder bound Yahwudin were visible, they all having hastily boarded the Cog.

Nawaa sheepishly began his climb, the unruly ropes forcing a relatively slow pace.

“It’s fine,” he reassured himself. “They know I’m new at this. Just have to do it. That’s all I have to do.”

He paused his ascent as he noticed the already uncomfortably distant Cog exterior progressively drift away from him, still clutching the ladder. Lacking rigidity, the rope ladder lost its verticality as the two sea crafts continued their drifts of separation.

He looked at the bottom of his ladder, more behind him than beneath.

Its end, having been absentmindedly brought over the Waterscrew’s railing, had become wedged in one of the gaps of the rail. This forced the taut rope that made his ladder to form an incline with the deck of the attached Cog.

“No way!”

He exclaimed in silence, not wanting to draw any attention to his embarrassing predicament.

Nawaa’s toes forced themselves into a curl within his snug boots as he felt his sense of balance suddenly disengage.

“What’s that?” He thought.

His mind was stinging with the sudden onset of panic as the outstretching ladder began to tremble off-kilter.

“Why is this happening?” He spat toward his chest. “Why is it wobbling like this?”

Desperate to steady the rocking ladder of rope, Nawaa held his breath as he bravely reached for the next rung.

“Just do it!” He commanded himself.

He looked into the dark water beneath him and clenched his eyes shut.

“I don’t believe it.”

Nawaa opened his eyes once more upon hearing Zelib’s voice from the Waterscrew.

“You good, Nawaa?” Pren asked calmly.

The suspended boy remained silent as he considered whether to play it cool or announce his panic. He watched his reflection glimmering back at him on the opaque water, stalled in humiliation. He wished he had taken off his cloak beforehand. He had his Lumen Crystallines in his pockets.

Had he sealed them properly?

If they became soiled they would be ruined and he would have nothing from home.

“So stupid,” he hissed. “This is all just so stupid.”

“Awww!”

He heard Zua squeal from above with what he could only interpret as pity.

“Oh no…..”

The noise of rushing feet clamored close from the deck above.

“Loosen yourself up, Nawaa!” He heard Renth instruct. “You’re too stiff. Harmonize your center of gravity with the rhythm of the tension!”

“What?!”

Nawaa’s scoff seemed to send shockwaves down through the ladder. He couldn’t believe how difficult it was just to pull himself up just this one rung.

“He’s not going to know what that means!” Ayatin’rea scolded.

What happened?” The language spoken was Tamazig.
Their Emirate hosts were now bearing witness to the display as well.

“Nawaa, don’t listen to them,” another Yahwudin advised. “The ladder is going to spin and begin its deathroll any moment now, once it does that climb up the underside and that’s that. Nothing profound.”

“He has tender baby-arms though,” someone else muttered. “You think he has the upper body strength for that?”

“Oh…….”

“I know what I’m saying,” Renth stated confidently. “He has to acknowledge the rhythm of the tension!”

“I’m going to try to move us closer….”

Overwhelmed by the embarrassment, Nawaa blindly leapt forward hoping to at least catch something and worry about balance later. Still in the air, he watched as the ladder began to rock wildly; the resultant recoil from his oafish jump.

“I wish I never hesitated,” he concluded. “I should’ve just grabbed the rung and continued climbing from the start, no way it would be worse than this.”

He gritted his teeth as he grabbed a portion of the ladder, but everything was happening so fast he could not tell where.

“Yeah, Nawaa!” He heard someone exclaim preemptively. “……oh….-“

“Wait,” he thought as he attempted to wrap his body around the convulsing suspension, it seemingly dead set on his humiliation.

“Am I doing it? Is it working out?”

He heard someone make a sound that could only be produced by wincing.

A sharp inhaled hiss.

Nawaa realized in dismay, that though he covered some distance, he had been clutching to one of the ladder’s vertical sides, wreaking havoc on its stability.

He felt the ladder begin its deathroll, a word so fitting it almost made him smile.

Preparing himself, he felt his line of support swing under and in, switching sides with its alternate in a flash.

He thought back to earlier on in their voyage; when they traversed sections of the forests on foot, he had been watching in delight as a few of them performed some impressive acrobatics amidst the numerous branches.

“Maybe I can do something like that.”

Utilizing the momentum of the deathroll, he let his legs swing low and upward.

“Now all I need to do is pull my legs up and around and then-“

His thoughts came to a dead stop.

It suddenly felt as if a slab of Breakstone had been set where his stomach muscles used to be.

Who was he kidding? He wasn’t capable of doing this kind of insane stuff.

His legs ended the short-lived upswing and began their inevitable descent.

Nawaa closed his eyes, finally accepting that there was no way he was going to leave this situation dry.

“Don’t laugh!” One of the girls hissed.

“I’m not!!” another Yahwudin responded. “I swear! I wasn’t……was-…….wasn’t laughing!”

“Don’t worry about it, Nawaa,” Pren began.

The kindness in his voice made it all just a tad worse somehow.

“We have dry garments on the Waterscrew.”

The ridiculousness of it all was unbearable.

The spiteful mess of rope continued its attempts at shaking him off.

Not wanting to make himself a spectacle any further in a vain struggle for recovery, Nawaa let go. He watched the accursed ladder come to a satisfied calm as he fell backward into the water with a splash.

~3~

A deeply sympathetic but still grinning Granadan handed Nawaa a heavy sheet of animal skins as he shivered in the quarters beneath the deck.

“Good on you for not turning back,” he complimented. “If it was me I’d be far too ashamed to continue.”

The young man sniffled as he heaved the hairy fabric over his soiled body.

“It would’ve been more embarrassing for me if I had fled,” he replied. “Believe it or not my boarding your ship was the easier of the two choices.”

“Seek no more compliments from me.”

The subtleties of his grin were still present as he spoke suggesting that he was at most only half serious.

The man looked at the seven soiled sachets Nawaa had laid out.

“Too bad about your packets of sorcery,” engaging the boy once more.

Nawaa shook his head in disappointment, “It really is. I only have one left.”

“Oh?” He replied excitedly.

Nawaa surveyed the large man, his level of enthusiasm and kindness were at odds with his imposing appearance.

“Is he really this nice,” he thought. “Or am I really just that pathetic?”

“How did you manage to keep it dry during your swim?”

Nawaa stared at the man as he reached for his damp cloak laid out next to him. There was no hint of teasing or sarcasm in his countenance, he was genuinely curious.

He snorted a quick smile as he began to access his garment. He felt for the resin covered square shaped pocket and began thumbing along its flap. This slightly sticky strip was tucked into a slit set just beneath the pocket’s opening. These compartments were waterproof only if the top flap was tucked into the slit but in normal conditions, the adhesion alone between the pocket and its flap was sufficient to prevent the loss of items. For that reason Nawaa had habitually neglected to seal them properly.

He stuck two fingers in the small pocket and pulled out the dry sachet.

The man laughed unnecessarily loud upon Nawaa bringing it to view.

“This wasn’t made wet despite being immersed?”

Nawaa shook his head as he threw the man the cloak.

Wide eyed and full of interest, he caught it, rubbing through as many pockets as he could find.

“How clever!”

The Granadan smiled down at Nawaa, “You said you made this yourself?”

Nawaa drew the skins closer as he nodded once more, shivering slightly.

The man stopped for a moment and playfully tossed the cloak back.

“I just remembered,” he stated. “No more compliments for you.”

The sound of footsteps coming down the staircase got both of their attention.

It was Firza with a set of dry clothes.

He gave a silent nod of gratitude to the helpful Granadan who gave a quick bow of deference in return.

As Nawaa stood to his feet he noticed that the man’s smile had disappeared, having replaced it with a look of seriousness mid-bow.

“I guess everything happens for a reason,” Firza began, speaking to him in Tamazigh.

For Nawaa, the old man set the standard for sagacity and humility; attributes he admired.

“We all wouldn’t have noticed that we had forgotten our change of clothes on the Waterscrews if it hadn’t been for you.”

The Granadan shot Nawaa a glance but still not smiling.

“Wonderful,” Nawaa replied with a sniffle.

“Worse things have happened, Nawaa,” the senior Yahwudin stated. “Take off those soiled clothes before sickness makes its abode and then join us on the deck.”

“Thank you,” he replied. “Did you bring my tanned boots?”

He rocked himself slightly on the balls of his feet, his waterlogged shoes squelched audibly in response.

“My rawhides are useless now.”

“Quite,” Firza agreed.

He handed the lad the clothes which were wrapped around the sought after footwear.

“See you in a bit.”

The two men turned to leave as Nawaa began to undress.

He sat back down on the floor and began prying his heel free from the snug collar of his shoe. It was secured to his ankle by a lacing that wrapped around its back and threaded through down to the front. The lace was so soaked as to make a proper unfastening too arduous a task.

He groaned as the wet string dug into his ankle while he fiddled through with his fingers. Sensing freedom he kicked his leg into the air and sent the shoe flying. He immediately began on the other shoe, removing it even quicker.

His trousers of flax fiber wore loose on him when dry, they now clung to his legs forcing him to remain seated in order to peel the fabric off. His long cotton weave underpants had lost their characteristic softness and color. It’s whiteness, once pure, had been changed into transparency.

Nawaa glanced at the stairs as he quickly peeled off the see-through undergarments. He shivered as he rifled through the pile given to him.

He rolled his eyes upon finding the replacement dry, but wool, underwear.

“Of course,” he sighed, his body feeling itchy from sight alone.

He slid his legs down to the footed ends and stood upright.

Nawaa flexed his toes in pleasure as the feeling of warmth enveloped his legs and nether regions. The skin tight gray underwear, dry as it was, still left little to the imagination. Nawaa shot another glance at the staircase as he hurriedly retrieved the new set of trousers and put them on. These were black signifying that they were of the harakeken blend of flax, easily dyed. The loose string at the waist flailed wildly as he peeled off his linen undershirt and donned its identical replacement.

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