One thing I did over the years was to write occasional fantasy short stories. I ended up creating a mythical world based around a city-state that I called Mangrove. Because the editor of A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS thought that the fantasy stories in the collection were incongruous, we stripped them out. So I was left with four short stories of various lengths, all featuring adventures in Mangrove at various times during the history of the city-state.
And now, I'm seriously considering penning a novel set in Mangrove, and based on one of the short stories entitled "One Curse, One Blessing". Just now, I'm chipping away at some experimental pieces, looking for a style that fits the subject. This week, I think I hit my stride on it. Here's an excerpt that I wrote to get the words flowing:
MADGOD, an excerpt
By James Robert Smith.
Craydon stood in the dark corner, where stones yet remained fitted against stones in a mocking resemblance of the structures they had once formed. Around him the city smoldered and smoked, the odd popping sound of timbers giving up their substance to what remained of the fire that had consumed the place. He crouched in the darkness and pulled his cloak around his shoulders, trying to ward off the chill that was one part cutting wind and half pure fear. It was a good cloak, made from fine wool and dark felt traded from the distant land of the Jats, all woven tightly and sewn together with strong thread by tailors who were most likely dead, now. He cringed when someone screamed in the distance, and he found that the slight sounds that he had just noticed were sobs coming from his own throat.
The Jats, those people who once upon a time had been just a
source of wool and felt fabrics, had surrounded the city weeks ago, had demanded surrender. Confident that at least two standing armies were coming to defend the walled confines of Marsul, the Lesser King had denied the surrender the invaders craved. And soon the few hundred campfires that had twinkled on the plains at night outside the walls had grown into the thousands; so that in the darkness, when one stood atop city gates and looked out, it seemed as if the earth had become the heavens.
And in the light of day the plains were like a vast, undulating carpet of living matter. Jat warriors in fine felt clothing and leather armor with their long spears scraping the air, cutting angry arcs as they muttered in their foreign tongue and spoke of the killing that would soon come. There were gigantic herds of their excellent ponies, their short, squat forms so like those of the dark-skinned warriors who rode them. The air was then filled with the stink of manure, the ten thousand ponies dropping their waste in verdant piles over the grasslands. Standing there on the city walls, it had actually become a relief to smell the good animal stench of horse manure. For inside the walls of Marsul the air had gone thick with the miasma of human excrement pooling in the cisterns. The Jats had blocked the viaducts, so that the clear water that flowed out from the springs was turning to black pudding in the canals and pools where otherwise it had poured out of the city and down into the river basin.
Almost, it had been a relief when the eastern hordes had begun to attack the thick, blocky walls of Marsul. At least the
tension of waiting and wondering had been broken. But no standing armies from sister cities had come to their aid. None of the Greater Kings had felt the urge to defend the Lesser Kings who had sworn their allegiance for protection by men and steel. Instead, the soldiers of Marsul had stood alone. Perhaps, they had hoped, they could just sit and outlast the enemy massed in their endless camps out there on the plains. The skirmishing at the base of Marsul's obsidian barriers would be something, at least, to let them know if the Jats were as bad as their reputation.
Craydon had never seen anyone fight as the Jats fought. They seemed not to care for their own lives, and swarmed in great, human waves toward the ramparts of Marsul. They died like ants before a petulant child, at first. The Jat engineers rolled up their catapults and Marsul's own flung down heavy fists of volcanic rock on the approaching foot soldiers. Their blood flowed and spattered like that of any other. Their bones shattered and showed pale and pink through ruined flesh as human as that of the men of Marsul. They were not, as had been rumored, little demons sent out of the guts of the Earth to conquer the world.
But they came on. Through stones falling down on them like rain. Through arrows that arched and pattered over their mortal bodies. Through flaming oil poured from the heights upon the places where they gathered, trying to assemble ladders and ramps and siege towers. For a while, a little while it turned out, it seemed that the Jats could not win, that even they could not withstand such slaughter. But soon, with 10,000 of their own dead lying in great, stinking heaps at the base of Marsul's walls, the Jats began to overcome the city's defenders.
Craydon had noticed, after two weeks of constant killing that the numbers of the attackers seemed to not have dwindled at all. Instead, looking up from the gigantic pile of corpses lying in a rising slope along their walls, he had begun to notice that his fellows were dwindling in both number and morale. In fact, his own captain had taken an iron-tipped arrow through the temple, and Craydon had been appointed to take his place. Suddenly, he had found himself in possession of a rank for which he'd had some ambition when such things mattered. What good did it do him, now? What good would it do his comrades to command them in continuing acts of futility?