Saturday, March 13, 2010

Action is easy. Emotion Ain't

A great part of my day job is describing the action. I need to be able to communicate what heppened in the moment that I or someone took action. When it comes to my fiction, I find these sections easy to write.

Emotion and dialogue aren't so easy. Not when you love the spoken word as I do. It is a challenge. One I enjoy, sometimes. Most of the time it pisses me off and irritates me no end, especially when I lose the voice of the character in the action...

The opening of Haldred The Hack, which handles some of those things pretty well, I think:

“Keep that cretin from bleeding all over mon floor,” Loud Luis ordered, his outrageous accent making the words difficult to understand.

“Last I checked, he wasn’t bleeding,” Krebs said, cracking thick knuckles of his fingers with his thumbs.

The subject of the Watchman and the innkeep’s conversation was standing atop one of the trestles of the Rake’s Rest. The drunkard, Ernst Korrmann, had been arguing with the innkeeper as civilly as any drunk could be expected to when Krebs and his partner, Pfenning arrived. When he recognized the orange uniforms and green sashes of the Watch, Korrmann decided with the drunk’s logic that he must have been the reason the Watch was called, and further, he wasn’t going to go down without a fight. He’d leapt to the table and loudly declared the Watch to be, “Full of bitches and witches.”

Pfenning made his way through the taproom, stopping in front of the door that led to the alley out back. He looked to make sure there was no other route out, turned back to face Korrmann while Krebs continued his conversation with Louie.

Krebs asked Loud Luis, who wasn’t among his favorite people, “So Korrmann did what, exactly?”

“He owes me half mark et three penny. He said he weren’t paying fer his boissons, his drinks.”

Krebs understood the man, despite the foreigner’s dropping into Gualainese every few words, “And yet you served him, knowing he was this type of drunk. Why?”

“’Cause he has the coin. It’s his- how you say? Name day. Everyone knows ‘e gets un peu d’coin from ‘is kin on ‘is name day.”

Krebs snorted, “So you feed the man’s demon and then call the Watch when it comes forth?”

Luis shrugged with the typical obstinate eloquence of his people.

‘Damn foreigners,’ Krebs thought as he turned to face Korrmann. He shook his head, a slight twinge of guilt at the thought. The man was within the law and his rights as the proprietor of a public house, whatever his origins and character.

Korrmann might be a royal pain in the ass, but he wasn’t normally violent unless someone challenged him or the Watch was called. One of the things Krebs had found surprising in his first years as a man of the Watch was how often things worked themselves out without the presence of the Watch. Those that didn’t were worthy of the Watch’s attention.

All Louie should have done was wait for Korrmann to pass out and take the coin he was owed, plus a tip for his trouble. The innkeeper liked to complain about the Watch, but he called on them more often than just about any other tavern in Southgate.

Pushing such thoughts aside, he said reasonably, “Korrmann, you know better than this. Come down from there and we’ll sort it out.”
Korrmann leered at Krebs, “Bite my ass, pumpkin!”

The crowd that had gathered to watch a beating tittered and guffawed. The Watchman could hear bets being placed.

Krebs hated them in that moment. Unwilling to do their part to maintain the Duke’s peace, they got in the way and incited those who might otherwise come quietly to act like idiots.

Pfenning’s reaction was more practical than his partner’s poisonous thoughts. Krebs saw his hand go to his side, silently sliding the cudgel he called ‘Love’ from his belt. Pfenning held the cubit of worn and nicked hickory down behind and parallel to his leg, concealing it.

Krebs gave a tiny shake of his head. “You need to pay your bill, Korrmann,” he insisted.

“Come and make me, pumpkin!” Korrmann shouted.

Krebs snorted, “Korrmann, I know you are quite the bare-knuckle fighter. You don’t have to prove it tonight.”

“Come ON!” Korrmann howled, spittle flying from his mouth and snot dripping from his oft-broken nose.

Krebs shook his head, keeping his voice level, “Twice you won the Boar’s Mantle.” Krebs tactfully refrained from adding, “then drank yourself into a stupor.” Instead he said, “There is no need to prove yourself tonight. Come. Pay your bill and we’ll all go home.”

Korrmann came from a good family that had invested his winnings well, which is why the man had a stipend paid him every year on his birthday and had a home to return to.

“You’ll have to make me, pumpkin! I ain’t goin’ anywhere wi’ you!” he yelled, kicking a tankard in Krebs’ direction. The crowd cheered Korrmann, egging the drunk on.

Krebs realized Korrmann wasn’t going to listen to reason. The big Watchman grunted and strode closer to the prize-fighter, raising his fists and bellowing, “Korrmann, you’ve broken the Duke’s peace, and will be brought before a magistrate!”

The distraction worked perfectly. Korrmann put his hands up in the classic guard, attention focused on Krebs. While Krebs made his display, Pfenning glided forward with his cudgel held at shoulder height.

Pfenning’s strike slammed across the backs of Korrmann’s legs, just above the knees, dropping the drunkard’s ten stone of weight to the table with a
pained grunt.

Krebs and Pfenning were on him in an instant, the experienced partners dragging the man from the table to the ground before the ex-prize fighter could recover. Krebs pulled a short length of rope from his belt-line. It was a complicated series of knots and loops, but the big Watchman had it on the man’s wrists in a flash.

Korrmann started crying, “I lost again. I lost again...Momma, I lost again.”

The taproom’s patrons booed and hissed, displeased with the quick and bloodless end to the fight. ‘To the Pathless Dark with them! I’m not paid enough to go toe to toe with the likes of Korrmann,’ Krebs thought. The most likely the cause for the grumbling was the great deal of coin changing hands, though a bit more blood would have probably pleased the rest.

Pfenning grinned at his partner over Korrmann’s back, “Damn, but that was fun.”

Krebs snorted and climbed to his feet, “You always like giving them some Love.”

Pfenning grinned and nodded emphatically, practiced hands patting the man down for weapons. He pulled a knife from the crying drunkard’s belt as well as his coin purse, which he passed to Krebs.

“Five penny fine for disturbing the Duke’s Peace and a five penny fine for challenging a member of the Watch to fight. Half-mark in total spot fines,” Krebs pronounced in a loud voice. He then took a mark from the purse and carefully split the silver in half along the line minted into the tiny silver bar for that purpose. He pocketed the half-mark and helped Pfenning stand the drunkard up. The Watchman found it always good policy to let witnesses know what he was doing when running his hands through the property of another of the Duke’s subjects.

Steadying the man absently, Krebs counted out three pennies. He slapped the half mark and copper coins on the bar as he and Pfenning escorted a still-tearful Korrmann from the premises.

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