Surprisingly, this was a challenging episode to write. Going into it, I thought it would be an easy one: the plot is straightforward, there’s plenty to write about it, and we get to see our new Guardcaptain in action. The first three thousand words or so seemed to validate my expectations, but after that the challenges began to arise.
Many Blood Magic episodes begin with a viewpoint from a minor or side character who introduces us to the episode’s main conflict, and then will typically not get their own viewpoint again, even if they show up in other parts of the story. That was my original intention with Oluvia. Her purpose in the story was to show us the rebellion happening, and spend a little time playing in the mind of someone in that situation, inspired by my reading of Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook. I actually started Ulurush’s second viewpoint scene before I decided to bring Oluvia back for a larger role. There was too much characterization in the first scene, and too much that couldn’t be explained adequately to the reader of what was happening in Corbulate, not to return to her.
Even with that decision made, her scenes did not become easy, precisely because of how I characterized her. What worked well as a source of character conflict in the first scene became the bane of this episode’s writing as I tried to find ways to make her scenes active, when her whole character established in the first scene is built around her passivity in the face of difficult choices. I had to come up with a reasonable way of taking her choices away so that the reader would not find her frustratingly inactive.
After introducing Ulurush over the past couple of episodes, I thought that at least her scenes would be easy to write. She’s an active character, benefits from the contrast with Vere, and this episode seems tailor-made to show her off to the reader. By the time she gets to Corbulate, though, I was struggling to come up with a way to write her actions convincingly. She needed conflict, the obvious source being Vere’s looming shadow, but fitting that into this episode proved challenging.
Almost as challenging as fitting all of the action into the ending, in fact. The second-to-last scene in this story might be the weakest scene I’ve written for Blood Magic in a long time. I had to break my own viewpoint rules to fit in what needed to be described in order for the ending to make sense, and I’m dissatisfied with the final battle; I don’t know that it was convincing to a reader that this would be a conceivable, realistic ending to the rebellion.
Then again, I’ve been concerned about episodes before, and sometimes those episodes prove to be readers’ favorites (like Contaminant). Rather than prejudicing you against these episodes, I should probably be encouraging you to read them, or I’ll never increase my readership. So, the strengths: Oluvia’s opening scene is a great piece of writing, Ulurush’s first scene is likewise a solid introduction to the character (I especially like how I tried to make her narrative paragraphs shorter than other characters’ as an indication of the way she thinks and acts), what happens to Oluvia in the middle of the story, and Kiluron’s final scene rounding out the episode and providing us with a conclusion.
Plus, I still really like the plot. There’s a lot going on in the Merolate Union, and it makes sense that there would be unrest. This rebellion also helps emphasize how big of a deal Kiluron’s changes to the Blood Decrees are, which I think might be hard for most readers to internalize. Revisions improved the parts that were weaker, so in the end I think this is a good product, and that you will enjoy Trust but Verify.
Standing proud, one hand on her spear, watching the people passing in and out of Corbulate’s recently replaced gates, Oluvia kept her expression neutral. It was a skill all Corbs learned in their militia training, and she was better than most. During her training, her cadre gave up on trying to break her facial discipline. If only her heart were as controlled; it was presently doing somersaults in her chest that she would have sworn could be heard by everyone on the street.
“Just think about it, alright? That’s all I ask.” The voice was quiet, pernicious. It wasn’t in her head, it wasn’t a figment of her imagination; it was very real, coming from a fellow guardsman standing next to her. “All you’d need to do is leave the door unlocked, look the other way. That’s all.”
It was hot, hotter than it felt a moment ago; maybe that was why her companion was sweating. Oluvia was sweating too, but she was too disciplined to wipe the glistening beads from her brow. “Our duty…” she protested.
“Is to Corbulate, to our people,” her companion insisted. Then he was quiet for a time as he stopped to give directions to a family entering the city. When they were gone, he resumed. “It’s not to some distant Prime over in Merolate who helps witches and lizards more than he does his own people.”
Oluvia squeezed her eyes shut. A small expression, and all she would allow herself in public. “I said I’d think about it, Corl. Please, let’s not talk about this anymore.”
Corl subsided, much to Oluvia’s relief. They finished their shift at the gates without further incident, and both went to the barracks to rest. Oluvia knew it was only a temporary relief, though. She would be on guard duty at the castle in just three days, and she would have to make a decision before then. It was so little time, and so much would change. All she wanted was for things to stay the same, stable, just as they had for most of her life.
Yet, that was the point. The world was changing, no matter how much she might like to stand athwart it and demand that it stop. A distant Prime in Merolate had changed the Blood Decrees, loosened protections that had helped the continent flourish and prosper in the years since the collapse of the Blood Empire. Nothing could be the same after that, but Corl’s people were willing to do something about it, something that their own general, who was supposed to protect and defend them, seemed unwilling to do. Maybe she should help them.
She quailed just thinking about it, though. It was a little thing they asked, such a little thing. Just leave a door unbarred, don’t pay too close attention for a moment, and then it would all be over, one way or the other. She didn’t have to commit beyond that, she didn’t have to go further. That little thing felt enormous to her, though. Treason: that was what they were asking of her, a violation of her oaths, of her honor and her duty. Besides, she could not trust the words of traitors. A small ask now could become a larger obligation later. Or were they patriots?
Her oaths and her duty demanded that she march into the castle and report Corl. She couldn’t report the rest of his group, since he was the only one she knew for certain, but she could ensure he didn’t have the chance to besmirch himself further with underhanded plots and schemes. Doing nothing wasn’t an option, either. She knew, now. Maybe she didn’t know all of the details, but she knew enough. There was no room for her to remain an innocent bystander, blithely unaware of these machinations. Corl had probably done that intentionally; he must be confident in his judgement of her.
More confident than Oluvia, certainly, because she still didn’t know what she should do. Loyalty to her unit, to Corl, to her identity as a Corb, whispered that betraying one of her own, a man she’d fought beside, alongside whom she’d defended the city and the province, was just as wrong as what he asked her to do, if not more. It was such a simple thing, really. All she had to do was stay quiet, passive. It wasn’t like she was being asked to pick up a sword and march on the castle.
This was General Parl’s fault. He should have fought back, argued harder, convinced the Prime, somehow, not to pursue such folly as changing the Blood Decrees. If Corl and his people intended to replace the General, well, then that was the General’s own fault. Corbs respected hierarchy and discipline, but they didn’t follow blindly. Yet, outright rebellion? That was a step too far. But she didn’t have to do much. Just stand there, leave a door unlocked, pretend not to see anything untoward. Such a little thing, and so much easier than turning poor Corl into the authorities. How could she even contemplate doing that to her brother-in-arms?
Three days later, she was still debating. Several times she resolved to report Corl to her lieutenant, but she never quite found the time or the courage to follow through, and the opportunity always slipped away. There was always tomorrow.
Until there wasn’t tomorrow. Corl accosted her on her way to her shift. “Tonight,” was all he said, but it sent a thrill of fear through Oluvia. Then he squeezed her arm and was gone, and she felt a flush of relief. This was better, actually. The decision was taken from her. There was no time to tell anyone about what was going to happen, no time to issue a warning, to decide if she was going to betray her comrade. All she had to do was her duty.
Such a little thing, leaving the door unlocked when she stepped outside to stand watch in the night. A mistake, yes, but an understandable one, a small one, one that everyone made a few times. It was late, and what real threat was there that could get past her on the castle walls? She leaned against her spear and peered into the darkness, resolutely not looking towards the corner by which she expected the dissidents to enter.
When she heard the grappling iron’s muffled ping against the stone and saw the tension in the rope to which it was affixed, indicative of someone climbing up, all of her fear and indecision returned. This was it. They were really here, they were really going to depose General Parl. The reality was far different from the hypotheticals she had revolved to no avail in her mind, but it was too late to do anything now. Certainly, she was not about to fight her fellows, nor pry free their grappling hook and send them to their deaths on the stones below.
Corl was not amongst those who ascended onto her watch platform, though Oluvia stole furtive glances at the darkly clad figures as they crept without much real stealth behind her back to the door she left unlocked when she began her shift. They just as studiously ignored her, passing through the door one at a time. Then it was closed, and they were gone, taking their grappling iron and rope with them. It was over, with no sign of their presence remaining. Oluvia realized she was holding her breath and let it out in a rush.
Though there was no way that Oluvia would be able to hear anything from within the castle through the colossal stone walls, she strained her ears for any hint of what was happening inside. She wondered if the rebels would encounter resistance, if brother would be forced to fight brother. No, that wouldn’t happen, surely. If there were risk of that, Corl and whoever was leading the effort against General Parl would not have proceeded. All through her shift, she suffered worry after worry about what the morning might bring.
Dawn finally broke. Milna took over for the next shift, and Oluvia hurried to the barracks, wondering what she would find. Maybe the attempt had failed. If it failed, would General Parl have Corl and his allies arrested? Executed? She didn’t know, and nothing in the barracks could tell her what happened in the night. Nothing and no one, until Corl came and sat down next to her.
“Well?” Oluvia asked. Her knee kept shaking, though she tried to tell it to be still, and her stomach was doing uncomfortable acrobatics.
Corl grinned, though he hid it behind his hand. “We did it!” It was a quiet answer, but an elated one. “There’ll be an official announcement later today, but we did it.”
His excitement was contagious, although in truth Oluvia still wasn’t certain how she felt about the whole affair. She was just glad it was over. Later…later she would worry about what came next.
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