13029 words, which puts us at over a quarter done. Woot!
Of course, “done” is a relative term–I am rapidly realizing that should this be finished, it will be somewhat longer than 50K words, but 50K should at least make serious inroads on it. 13K words gets me the two main characters and the basic conflict about halfway introduced, and that’s about it.
For once, I’m not real keen on putting the whole thing up for people to read–it’s VERY rough, entirely unedited, and I’m motivated enough without needing the feedback–but here’s a snippet, anyway. (Please, I beg of you, don’t say “I like X better,” where X is anything else I’ve ever done. I realize that you mean well, and that you’re just trying to express your love of X, but statements like that really don’t come off as a compliment to the artist/writer/whatever, and I’m tryin’ to keep my motivation goin’ here. Of course, if you hate it outright, that’s another matter…)
Our hero is currently riding double behind a woman named Hemlock, who has gotten him embroiled in a murder, given him more money than he’s ever seen in his life, gotten him thrown out of an inn and then saved him from a horde of killer salamanders. She has a large strawberry roan horse which Angler insists on thinking of as pink, and she is carrying something mysterious that ticks.
“But I know you’re an assassin!” he protested. “You have to be! You murdered that man at the inn!”
“Murder is such an ugly word. I stole something from him.”
“Prissy—the maid—said he was dead!”
“It’s possible that what I stole was something he needed to live.”
“Then you’re a murderer!” said Angler, a little scared but mostly just exasperated.
“It’s an interesting philosophical point, I grant you,” she said. He could hear the fact that she was grinning. The saddlebag ticked in quiet, sinister counterpoint to the horse’s hoof beats.
“What does philosophy have to do with it?”
“Well, consider.” Her voice had a pleased, if sardonic lilt. “If a man needs medicine to live, and I take his medicine away, did I actually kill him, or did the disease kill him?”
“You killed him,” said Angler, very definitely. “That would be murder.”
“Okay, but what if he was drowning and I didn’t throw him a rope?”
“Well, if you had a rope, and you didn’t throw it, that’s just as bad!”
He could feel her chuckling through his grip on her waist.
“Now, suppose that the medicine he needed to live was the blood of virgin girls.”
“Eww!” Angler lifted a hand and rubbed his forehead. “Nobody needs the blood of virgin girls to live!”
“For somebody who spent their life in a monastery, you’re awfully sure of yourself on that point. As it happens, there are quite a few people who require the blood of various parties to live, although I’m not sure if virginity actually matters or not.” She waved a hand dismissively. “To recap—let us say that he needs the blood of virgin girls, and I prevent him from getting it. Am I still a murderer?”
“You just said that by preventing him from getting medicine, I was.”
He lapsed into silence. Hemlock was apparently content to let him puzzle it out, and began whistling. The bluebird found this interesting, and contributed an occasional chirp, perhaps as commentary.
I have come to a point in my life where I am riding double, on a large pink horse, behind a murderer who is throwing ethics questions at me. I have a great deal of money, nowhere to spend it, and one sandal. Angler would have wondered when his life had gotten so vastly surreal, but he could actually pin it down quite exactly to the moment that the bluebird had landed on him, so he didn’t bother.
“Okay,” he said finally, “It’s still killing him, but it’s okay, because you’re defending other people. It’s justifiable.”
“Excellent! Now suppose he’s drowning and I don’t throw him a rope because I know he lives on the blood of virgins—“
Angler scrubbed at his forehead again. He was getting a headache. This was worse than Brother Mordant’s speeches about ethics, probably because Brother Mordant didn’t expect him to answer any questions, or actually think about it. Brother Mordant would probably have been horrified to discover that any of the acolytes were actually listening to him.
“Yes,” he said finally. “It’s still murder if you don’t throw him a rope, unless that’s the only way you can stop him from killing virgins, in which case it’s…not really right, but I guess not as wrong as it could be.”
He was expecting another tangled question from Hemlock, and dreading it, but instead she nodded. “Not bad. Better than I’d expect from a monk, anyway. Generally they tend to go on about the mercy of the gods over and above practical solutions.”
“I don’t think the Brotherhood was really that sort of order,” said Angler, not sure if he should apologize for the people who had taken care of him for six years, or castigate the people who had thrown him out on his ear for smiling. “They didn’t worry much about the gods. They’re more into suffering for humanity.”
“What, humanity doesn’t know how to suffer for itself?” Hemlock let out a snort, sounding very much like her horse. “I don’t know about you, boy, but in my experience, humanity is fabulous at suffering. They have a real knack for it. It’s not a specialized skill, like blacksmithing or playing the bagpipes.”
Angler thought of his family, of endless meals of brown rice and beans, and was forced to agree.
“So did that man at the inn drink the blood of virgins?” he asked, trying to get back to what he felt was the important point.
“Good lord, how should I know? He didn’t have any suspiciously anemic maidens chained in his room, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“But what was that ticking thing you killed that man for? Was it clockwork?”
“Has anyone ever told you that you ask too many questions?”
Angler sighed. “The Brothers used to tell me that, yes, so I stopped. But they never did anything this interesting!”
“I’ll try to be more boring in the future.”
“But you did kill that man,” said Angler doggedly.
Hemlock made a tsking sound. The saddlebag ticked quietly. “If you must know, I stole his heart.”
This gave Angler pause. “You mean he…was in love with you…like…?”
“Good lord, no!” Hemlock laughed. “His kind don’t fall in—well, perhaps they do, but—anyway, I’d never met him before. He had a heart made out of clockwork. I took it. It was keeping him alive at the time. Now it isn’t.”
“A clockwork heart? Why would anyone make a heart out of clockwork?”
“Because for some reason clockwork spleens never caught on? How should I know?”