As usual, I had ambitious writing goals for the past year. Many of the projects I had hoped to complete or make significant progress on have taken longer than expected, and writing new Blood Magic episodes while revising the last season’s has consumed much of my writing time. When I have been able to carve out space to work on other projects, it has rarely been viable to sit down and dig into something as sprawling and intricate as something like Fo’Fonas. Only one non-Blood Magic story made its way to the site this year: Nevia’s Curse.
I’m therefore pleased on multiple levels to be able to announce the release of a new, IGC Publishing original novella: Destiny of Kings. Well, it’s sort of a novella. At barely twenty thousand words, it sits at the lower end of what can really constitute such a form, but it also is just a little too long to be read comfortably in a single pass. For reference, I try very hard to keep Blood Magic short stories below twelve thousand words for that precise reason, and most people will tell you that short stories stop around six thousand words. Despite the lack of an appropriate name for the category, I’ve become very comfortable writing in the ten to twenty thousand word range. To me, that’s long enough to do some serious world-building and character development, including a lot of the genre elements that tend to be left out by necessity in shorter form fiction, but short enough to not be too great an investment for both the reader and the writer.
Enough about word counts, though – if you wanted to read a post about word counts, you’d read Lengths and Forms. Destiny of Kings is a rare story of mine that arose from a single idea, and followed that idea almost exclusively throughout the text. Specifically, I wanted to explore the idea of a character who doesn’t believe in his own destiny. I’m sure you’ve read the books, watched the movies, even played the video games about the orphan/farmer/urchin/general nobody who is destined to become a great warrior/king/wizard. Those are fun stories, and there’s a reason that they are told so often, but I’ve often wondered at how readily many of these characters, and the people around them, accept this mythic-level destiny. What, you have a birthmark that’s shaped like the continent? Well, you are obviously destined to become our future king. With Destiny of Kings, I wanted to write about a character whom everyone is convinced is the child of prophecy – except for himself.
Not only does Juntan not believe he’s the destined King of Zeldrin, he doesn’t even want the job. That made him a very challenging character for me to write, because I had to fight really hard against my instinct to make the ending align with the tropes. I won’t talk too much more about that here, so that I avoid any major spoilers, but I often have a hard time writing what you might call morally ambiguous characters convincingly. It’s a hard thing to do, and in some ways this story is me practicing that important skill. Part of that involved me leaving the ending very open to interpretation. Yes, he’s made a decision at the end, but what does that end up looking like for him? I deliberately left it to the reader to imagine what kind of person Juntan becomes after the story concludes.
Sort of like Blood Magic, I deliberately played with some tropes in Destiny of Kings. There’s a magic sword that only the rightful king is said to be able to draw, and a wizard to advise him (one of my few regrets with the story was not being able to incorporate more of how the other two artifacts, especially the trowel, work). He must slay a monster, and even journey to the underworld. Yet I also tried to make these familiar concepts appear new and interesting. The dragon in this story is more insectoid than reptilian, and the underworld is a peculiar amalgamation of Dante’s Inferno and the Riverworld book series.
Speaking of Destiny‘s afterlife, I consider it on the border of being too much for the length of this story. I included it in my plotting when I came up with the ideas for the three “Great Trials” because so many myths and legends involve journeying to the underworld before the character’s arc can be complete, but when I got around to writing that part, I realized I had two problems. One: I had not done nearly enough to set up this underworld before venturing to it, which is something I tried to fix in revisions. Two: the underworld I had developed was interesting and complex enough to make into its own story at least as long as all of Destiny of Kings. Maybe I’ll write that story someday, or something with a longer stretch of time to explore a similar underworld. I am particularly pleased with the concept of arranging punishments according to the origin of a person’s sins, not the sins themselves, which conveniently allowed me to avoid too much moral grandstanding that tends to come along with an afterlife paradigm.
This was actually the first story that I subjected to my new staged revision process, and I am very pleased with the resulting improvements (even if I did not stay as strictly confined to one piece at a time during each draft as I probably should have – oh well, that will come with practice). Perhaps simply forcing myself to give it multiple passes, and listing out what I needed to look at during the process as a whole, resulted in a more pointed, useful revision process than the haphazard approach I have previously utilized. It makes me wish that I could finish Blood Magic episodes with enough time to spare before release that I could subject them to this process, and I wonder how much stronger they might become as a result.
I’m very pleased with how this story came out, and I’m excited to be sharing it with you. So I’ll stop rambling on about writing, and instead let you get to what you probably came here for: reading a new fantasy story. IGC Publishing proudly presents Destiny of Kings.
“What’d they get you for?”
The question came from the man across the jolting wagon from Juntan, and he looked up from his stolid contemplation of the greyed, splintery floorboards framed between his bare, dirty feet. They were calloused and capped with ragged, yellow toenails, but they were his feet, and they had served him well. Though not well enough, he supposed, or else he wouldn’t be bound in a wagon on his way to the gallows.
“Don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” the man continued. “I understand. Me, they got me for striking a lord. He thought he could avail himself of my daughter, and I disagreed. Least he won’t be bothering my daughter again. Or any other woman, for that matter.” He laughed, but it sounded forced.
The man must be a nervous talker, Juntan decided. He paused only briefly to see if Juntan would respond, but must have decided that eye contact was a sufficient conversational input, because he continued narrating his entire life’s story. Juntan let the noise fade into the background, like the distant cawing of the crows, the rattling of a pesky, loose board somewhere on the wagon, and the tedious clopping of the donkey’s hooves. Soon, the talkative prisoner turned his attention to one of the wagon’s other passengers, and the wagon rolled on down the shallow hill away from Granton’s gates.
One of the other men in the wagon was explaining how he was innocent, and had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. That wasn’t likely: Juntan had seen the tattoo on the side of his ankle. No one bore the trident crown by accident, and it was well known that Trident Crown members were trouble. Shaking his head, Juntan looked away, but caught the eye of the last man in the cart, who had been forced aboard just before they left Granton. All of the others had been in the cells together, or what passed for cells in a backwater village like Granton.
“A blacksmith, a patriot, a farmer, a miller, a banker, and you,” the man observed. “Is this the beginning, then?”
Jerking his eyes to a more innocuous view of a patch of empty field, Juntan suppressed a sigh, and wished that the donkey would hurry them along, although he stopped wishing that when the stench of the gallows replaced the thick aroma of verdant summer agriculture. Just far enough from town to keep the odor of death from disturbing the townsfolk were the gallows, but close enough to warn anyone coming into town of the consequence of disobedience. Like the town, the gallows were tiny, with only three platforms. Juntan wondered how long his fellow prisoners had been waiting for their turn to die for such a tiny town to have so many sentenced to death. This was more excitement than the town would likely see in a decade, but no one had come to watch. Executions were entertainment in the cities; in the country, people had real work to do.
Their way became bumpier when the wagon left the well-packed dirt of the main road for the narrow ruts leading off to the left, where the gallows were set back so that the hills could cup them like an altar to Chrenis, God of Death. When the wagon came to a halt, the executioner jumped off from his seat beside the driver to remove the corpses currently swinging from their nooses, while the driver rounded to the back of the wagon to begin unloading the prisoners. Juntan followed the latecomer down, and the soil was warm and dry between his toes.
Next came the miller, and then the banker, but as soon as the banker’s feet hit the ground, he took off running. It was a poor run that sent ripples through his portly frame. With an almost lazy attitude, the driver unhooked a bow from the side of the wagon, drew it back, and loosed. The arrow thudded between the banker’s pale shoulder blades, and he pitched forward in mid-stride to bury his nose forever in the dirt of the land he had milked.
With no expression upon his face, the driver returned to the other prisoners, seeing each of them down from the wagon and aligned with a readied platform. Now that the banker dead, there were only six of them, and two rounds on the gallows would see the job completed. Juntan thought about trying to run, as the banker had; at least an arrow was a swift, sure death, not as gruesome as a hanging. Yet he hated running only slightly less than he hated dying, and had no wish to spend his last moments torturing himself.
Soon, the driver had arranged them into their lines. The talkative blacksmith, the cowardly patriot, and the drunken farmer were in front. Juntan stood behind the blacksmith, and the latecomer stood to his right. At the executioner’s urging, the first rank of three stepped forward onto their platforms. The driver draped black hoods over their heads, and the executioner fitted their nooses. Then the driver stepped back to stand abreast with the waiting three prisoners, and the executioner moved to the lever.
“Any moment now,” the latecomer beside Juntan murmured, looking up at the sky. “Unless we’re quite mistaken. Oh dear Peledra, let us not be mistaken. That would be thoroughly inconvenient.”
Finding the man’s inane babbling tiresome, Juntan was almost relieved when the executioner threw the lever, and the swinging platforms dropped their occupants down so that the ropes jerked taut. The blacksmith and the farmer died instantly, their necks snapped, but the patriot kicked wildly, his bound hands coming up and scrabbling at his neck where the noose was tight about his flesh. For a terribly long time this grotesque puppetry continued, until, with a final, futile thrash, he was still. Perhaps it was a metaphor for the rebellion from which he had fled.
Stepping forward, the driver prodded each corpse with a spear. Satisfied that all three were dead, he motioned for the executioner to clear the nooses and prepare the platforms for the next round of executions. Juntan felt his throat grow dry and his bladder tight, and he wished he had been given the chance to relieve himself before setting off from the town’s prison. Without fuss or added dignity, the executioner pulled down the corpses and tossed them like barely sacks back upon the wagon; they would be buried later by a few lesser prisoners: youths who had been caught stealing, petty vandals – a group amongst whom Juntan counted himself. The town’s magistrate had disagreed.
As the remaining three prisoners were led onto the platforms, Juntan heard the latecomer still murmuring to himself, and glancing up at the sky, even as the executioner fitted the noose about his neck. “Oh dear oh dear, I couldn’t be wrong, could I? I was so careful, I checked everything. So did my Master, and my Master could not be so mistaken. This must be the right place. Oh, how embarrassing if I’m wrong…”
To find out what happens to Juntan, and read the rest of the story, please follow this link: Destiny of Kings