I’ve been working on the Cracolnya story, as much as I can–mostly cleaning out the typos and first-draft awkwardness that I usually don’t bother with until later, but work on when stuck. And I’ve been visiting various forums where I’m registered but where the old computer system had become incommunicado (“your browser is out of date; please update to the current version…”) So there I was on Book Country, where I’ve dabbled in advice to those who ask for help with something, and decided to post a bit of dialogue, as the forum leader suggested people do. It’s only fair that you folks get to see it too.
This is the beginning of the story, and is set in the town where Cracolyna (the family name) grew up. He was “Oktar” as a boy, the closest Common-speakers could get to the horsefolk name.
“Again?” Oktar’s mother glared at him. “Bloody nose, black eye, shirt torn, a complaint from the judicar–you’re a disgrace!”
“They said we were dirty stinking horse–” he paused; the word they’d used was forbidden. “–droppings,” he finished.
“You should ignore them,” his mother said. “They are ill-bred; you should not dirty your hands with them.”
Oktar’s hands, bruised and bloody as well as his nose, were at his sides, half-hidden by his long horsefolk shirt, but he knew she knew.
“Who hit first?” she asked.
“Tam Togirdsson.” He touched his nose.
“And you did not duck away. And you hit him–”
“The others were already hitting me.”
“Well. Come and I will clean your face.”
During that painful process–for she insisted on scrubbing out every raw scratch–Oktar took no heed of her words, but went on thinking how he would get back at Tam and the others. It was not his fault. It had never been his fault. He could not help having a horsefolk name, a horsefolk face, living in the neighborhood where the small group of horsefolk in this town lived clumped together for protection. He’d never stolen anything, but if one of the others stole a fruit from a stand in the market on the way home from the grange, he was the one accused. He’d never lied…well, almost never…but he was the one called a liar, if another boy wanted to make trouble. Which they mostly did.
“There,” his mother said finally. His face stung with her scrubbing. “And now you will stay inside until your father comes, and he will deal with you. You are beyond a woman’s strength to beat.”
His father. O Mare of Plenty, if his mother would not merely switch him with the horsetail that hung behind the kitchen door…if she actually meant for his father to punish him…he counted up the days in his head. Yes. He was indeed six days past the divide his father had set, and thus…
“You will polish every pot in the kitchen,” his mother said. “And then the floor. And there is no supper for you, until after.”
After what, he dared not ask.
Oktar is clearly a boy estranged from his culture of descent, and marginalized in his culture of adoption…the townsfolk have scant respect for the horsefolk beyond their ability to train horses and maanage horses. For one thing, they smell different., so they’re considered dirty (and given their habit of sewing themselves into their winter clothes for the winter…yeah.) For another, they spoke a language no one else understood, and learned as little of Common as possible–though Oktar, as a child, has learned Common and rather despises the family members who barely speak it. He has not learned any more of the horsefolk language than he had to. He is very different from the adult Captain Cracolnya, who has made a success of himself in the Duke’s Company, speaks all the languages he needs fluently (including a fair bit of Pargunese), and is considered a fine upstanding member of the Company, the equal of other captains. Except, to me, he always seemed a little remote…withholding himself and his backstory and his ambitions, if any. The first hint of those was his one snappish remark to Arcolin (startled Arcolin, too…it was not typical of Cracolnya.) It was a hint to the writer that maybe, at last, this character was willing to have a story told.
When I decided to look back into his life, beyond adulthood, to see if I could figure him out, the angry youngster burst out immediately. Angry, frustrated, seeing no good future for himself, resentful of his family for putting him in an impossible situation (as he sees it) , refusing to be either a good horsefolk son or a good townsfolk boy. He doesn’t even ride a horse. Yet. About to become a major liability to the horsefolk community in that town, and to himself. I’m beginning to find out more about the family–the grandfather who was kicked out of his tribe for being a source of bad luck (he has a withered arm caused by…something, I can’t yet see it…that convinced the tribe he had to go.) He took his son and his son’s pledged bride with him. Grandfather is the very conservative, old line horsefolk guy…he knows all the culture, speaks the secret language of horses, and though he had to make the move, he has never given in a fingersbreadth to townsfolk ways beyond absolute necessity. Oktar’s parents are the bridge generation–they learned the local language, though with an accent; they get along as well as horsefolk can with the townsfolk; they sent Oktar to the grange with other kids in the hopes he would fit in. There are 8-10 horsefolk-related families living in the same small neighborhood, assimilated in varying degrees. But they all “look like horsefolk” to the townsfolk and are–like it or not–socially isolated. Besides the look and the smells, townsfolk believe that horsefolk’s secret horse language allows them to control others’ horses, including make them act up (thus needing a trainer’s services) and stealing them away.
The story…wants to be a story (which is good) and the young Oktar Cracolnya is a viable character. But. This was intended to be a novella, something 30K or less, to be a bit of backstory. And I’m 43oo words into it and have covered only three days. The story needs to cover a quarter to a half year, and by extrapolation…either I leave out a lot, or it’s going to be a lot longer than 30K. So far, the kid’s been purged, stuck on a horse led by his grandfather, and taken out of town before dawn. He has no idea where he’s going or even where he is (by the time he can see any distance, they’re out of sight of the town.) He’s fallen off, gotten wet, discovered that grandpa expects him to survive on a handful of raw oats once a day, fallen off again, been hailed on by a storm he’s afraid his grandfather called down to punish him. He’s sore, hungry, scared, miserable…but he’s not thinking about how to get back at the gang of boys who beat him up. He has more pressing problems. Out here, knowing the secret horse language can save your life, but he’s ignored everything grandpa tried to teach him, until now. The horses–the one he’s riding and grandpa’s–listen to grandpa, who says that Oktar would know if he only listened.
I know some of what’s coming, but not all of it. It feels bigger than a novella.