Excerpt: Honesty and Honor

Fiction By Anna // 12/17/2010

Tristan’s triceps stained as he crossed his broadswords over his head. He inhaled and watched the dust settle around his feet.
“Are you man enough to fight a youth of sixteen?” jeered a spectator.
“Sixteen? The dirty whelp looks fifteen,” Tristan’s opponent laughed.
Tristan arched an eyebrow, surprised that neither knew that he was thirteen.
The dust churned again as the older man aimed his sword at Tristan's heart and lunged. “I’ll show him for a fight!”
Tristan’s head shot up as his swords flashed down with a mighty clang, knocking the other blade aside. Tristan thrust. Unfazed, his opponent regained his grip and parried. Without hesitation Tristan thrust again and again, alternating swords. When the move scored no blows and began to be predictable, the grizzled man swung for Tristan's waist. Tristan's limber body twisted underneath the blade. At the same time, he spun his swords back like slings. When he came upright again, he and the older man were nearly chest to chest.
Though the older warrior maintained composure, he did seem surprised. Tristan grew more confident—he was smaller, but he had pushed his opponent back with speed and force alone. Force him out of finesse; don’t give him time to use it, Tristan thought. I know I’m good at that. Through all this, Tristan stared forward, dripping sweat. Hold my emotion; stay in the fight; never think about why you’re here.  
But he did let one emotion through. Everyone around would be able to hear his cries and grunts of directionless rage.
His adversary deserved his title, “sword master.” He made a quick feint at Tristan’s torso that Tristan gave no merit to, but followed it with another toward the lower gut that Tristan had been expecting. When he warded off the nonexistent blow, the elder gained the offensive.
I need to stay on constant attack! That has always been my advantage, Tristan panicked, dripping sweat. All this time he had merely stared forward, but now his concentration began to crack like a mask fallen from a shelf. I don’t have another way to win; I’m too young!
But then he smelt the moor in his nostrils, and he remembered. I know how to be still.
He calmed his breathing and gradually slowed his attack, as if he was too tired to keep it up. The move risked even the little ground he had managed to keep.
His vision began to sting from the salt in his eyes, but still he saw that one corner of the other warrior’s mouth had lifted in a smile.
And, he thought, again in control, I know when to strike.
Tristan swung one sword low, and the old opponent jabbed to meet it. Tristan swiftly deflected upward, disarming the older man with one sword and pinning him back with the other.
He pressed the flat of a sword to either side of the man’s neck. They both froze in that position, staring at each other. Tristan tried to read his opponent’s eyes, but in the blur saw his own terror instead.
Can I make this my only life?
Harvesting shallow breaths from his chest, Tristan nearly stumbled back, his blades still extended. Trying to recover himself, he dipped his head and briefly bowed from the waist. As murmurs hissed and rustled in the crowd, then cheers and applause, Tristan lowered his swords and relaxed his grip until the hilts almost slipped through his hands. He felt sweat snake through his matted curls and closed his burning eyes.
“The king can use you, warrior boy,” the defeated man panted, hostility vanishing from his voice. “Do you have any family to keep you among these hovels?”
“None, master,” Tristan murmured. Images of his sister, father, and mother flitted across his brain. He forced his terror to stay down like a hound. “None.”
Tristan opened his eyes, the first sight to meet him not the king’s sword master, but the chieftain’s fourteen-year-old daughter Niamh Silfyrffael, her hair twisted over her shoulder. Her hands were tense on the rail of the practice ring. He tilted his head slightly at her, thinking, What about you?
She shook her head once, twisting the bronze ring on her finger. Slowly, he also shook his head, but he meant something entirely different. Now alarmed, she shook her head harder. She looked so much like her mother.
He finally snapped. I have to get out of here.
“I’m sorry,” Tristan mouthed, fixing his eyes on her ring. He turned to the sword master. “Let’s have another go.”
A roar of approval rose, and his opponent guffawed, slapping his back. Niamh spun around and stalked away, glancing back only for a moment.
 “Another match, then my lord king’s own castle. How does that appeal?” the sword master asked.
I could have trained a lifetime and received no chance like this. He had unwound long days and nights on the moor to practice stealth, build strength, test reflexes, focus hard, work diligently, and dream big, but it was not that which had first granted him this opportunity.
It shouldn’t have happened this way. It should have involved swearing to defend his chief and Silfyrffael, not leaving his tribe. I used to train just to make Niamh smile.
I have to get her out of my head, Tristan thought. Her mother was my Silfyrffael; she will never be.
He turned back to the sword master, not attempting to force a smile. “This time, don’t hold back.” He inhaled, choked up on his sword hilts, and began again. Only the heat of a fight did not ring hollow.
*    *    *    *    *
Watching Tristan felt like watching the moor in winter. Under his dark gold curls, his face and even his lips were smooth and colorless as the ash on the ground. Despite his awareness in the match, he seemed half out of it. Niamh watched him for closely for sorrow. He didn’t know she had returned after the second match, after he had agreed to go to the king.
Niamh’s father stood erect beside her, arms folded across his broad chest. “Take care of that boy,” he charged the king’s sword master, who was relaxing against a dried mud wall.
“It seems that he can take care of himself,” the sword master replied serenely. “He’ll be a good addition to the king’s service.”
Niamh could see her father’s dissatisfaction. “Tristan has certain… queer… habits. He often disappears on the moor alone, at any hour for any amount of hours.”
The sword master cocked his head, interest rippling across his unevenly bearded face. For a man outside the tribes, the beard was odd. “What does he do?”
“No one knew, until he invited me along less than a moon ago.”
Turning his palm up, the sword master leaned forward. So did Niamh, her hands tightening on the splinters in the fencing she stood against.
When her father spoke, she felt the wind on the moor grow stronger and smelled the heather on it. “When we were far out on the moor, young Tristan crouched in the tallest grass. Only his eyes—” the chieftain paused a moment for emphasis—“his bright ebony eyes darted around. He remained still even when the wind tossed the frantic heather against him, just watched… Then he sprang forward, a grouse in his hands.”
The chieftain jerked forward so quickly that the sword master jumped. Niamh, on the other hand, had to fight not to relax to her father’s familiar storytelling. But then the chieftain stopped to hack, the cough he had kept since the day of burning. Niamh felt sure it would heal soon.
The chieftain recovered, massaging his hairy throat. “He pressed the grouse against him until its heartbeat calmed. When it was no longer frightened, he released it. He told me that only after it relaxed would it give no warning to other birds, so that he could renew his vigil.”
“But,” the chieftain said, shaking his head wisely, “that is not all. He murmured, ‘If you would go a distance—’ and motioned for me to step away and hide. We were at least thirty paces apart, and less than as many minutes later, young Tristan rose—and birds perched on his outstretched arms, on his head, and clung to his tunic: birds of all kinds.”
“What use is such fowl-charming?” the sword master laughed, but softly.
Dinner for the tribe? Niamh thought. She heard her father’s exasperation with the sword master’s thick-headedness:
“The birds are nay the point. Can you not see that Tristan is a warrior? Those skills are inborn in him, inseparable from his deep of deeps. You do not yet comprehend the treasure we are surrendering to you.”
Treasure Tristan never shared with the rest of us, Niamh thought, looking away. He had never brought her on the moor with him to feel the rapid pulse of a bird’s soft breast against her palm; and now he never could. She remembered his words: “Don’t thank me. I would do it differently if I could do it again.”
No wonder her plea meant nothing to Tristan. He despised the sight of her.
“He’s loyal to a fault,” her father was saying with a mild, insincere laugh. “To be honest, I still can’t believe he chose to leave the tribes.”
Niamh’s heart twisted, smoldered, and heaved a sob. “I’ve heard enough,” she whispered, prying off her bronze ring. It never fit anyway. It wasn’t even mine.
She flicked it into the empty practice ring. It was still spinning when the wind covered her view. Niamh coughed on swirling dust that had been under Tristan’s feet less than an hour before.
“If he is loyal, where is honesty now? So much for his promise—he cannot honor them.” How could she know how hard he was fighting not to think of that as he wrapped his one or two charred belongings in a borrowed plaid?
And he wishes he had let me die.
“I hate him,” she said passionately.
Her mother had been a better queen.

~So, there 'tis. I've come to the point where I can't do much editing until I have outside criticism. This story has been simmering for awhile and has gone through so many ideas that you'll have to tell me the pieces that don't fit. I don't know if I'll have the next bit up anytime soon for that reason.

Merry CHRISTmas!~


Interesting :-)

Hi, Anna :)

This is really well written. I only noticed one misspelling. That was in the first sentence, where it says "Tristan's triceps stained". I think that should be 'strained'. This is an interesting story, and I'd like to read more of it, but I'm not really sure of any advice/criticism I could give it. It seems to fit together if it's not the first chapter. Is it in Ireland or Scotland? Who exactly is Tristan? What happened to his family, if anything? What happened to Niamh's mother? How old is Niamh? Those are the questions I have (don't worry about answering them, they're just some that I had while reading this). I have to say, your writing style has only improved since Brey. Keep up the good work :D

Laura Elizabeth | Fri, 12/17/2010

The best stories are those that are focused, unassuming, and self-confident enough to trust the reader to figure things out. --


post more!

 I'm crazy to know why she wears the ring, and who it belongs to, etc.! Keep going!!

Sarah Bethany | Fri, 12/17/2010

I'm very very interested in

I'm very very interested in reading more (when there shall be more!). This whole prologue begs for background info to be revealed! 

Kyleigh | Sat, 12/18/2010

Laura: Good catch! I thought

Laura: Good catch! I thought I'd taken care of that one... Yikes. I'm glad it fits, since it's been through so much revision I thought there might have been leftover bits from other plotlines. I hope not. The tribes aren't so much Ireland or Scotland as a parallel/alternate universe Celtic-type equivalent, but probably more Scotland if I have to think about it. Also, I think I said Niamh's age - fourteen, a year older than Tristan. Funny you should mention Brey; I'm in the editing process - still.

Sarah: Um, I'll try! Pressure! I think I may actually finish the next chapter now... We'll see how it goes.

Kyleigh: Yeah, and I have a big flashback scene planned. I'm not sure how kind the publishing world is to flashback scenes, but I thought it worked much better, since the characters aren't just going to blurt out the backstory that everyone else already knows.


By the way, everyone, I just submitted a story to a contest - http://www.phc.edu/acalltopens.php - and I'd love it if you'd pray that something happens with my entry. It's a revised version of "Blue Spring."

Anna | Sat, 12/18/2010

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

I'm very intrigued by the

I'm very intrigued by the world you're building here, Anna! Can't wait to see more of it. (And well-described fight scene, btw :0)

Heather | Thu, 12/23/2010

And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

"well-described fight scene"

What a pleasant change. Last time I showed someone professional this, they said, "Avoid summarizing Tristan's actions in battle." :)


Anna | Fri, 12/24/2010

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief