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From the Trunk…

Every writer has in their possession several–or in my case, dozens–of works that were started and abandoned. For me, they’re all over the place. From science fiction to horror to adventure to porn, I’ve got a bunch of stuff that I either grew bored with or simply didn’t have the skill to pull off. I’ve been pushing stuff around lately, and some of these works are so bad they have me laughing out loud. Like this snippet from Legion of the Lion, dated July 4, 1988…26 YEARS AGO! As you can tell, I had a lot of learning to do…

Ah…happy birthday, America?

POST OVERRUN

For Field Sergeant Abran, the night was full of anything but surprise.

The stout NCO rubbed his eyes and resumed staring out into the darkness beyond the well-lit walls of Tuono. The village was a small one, one of the smallest collectives which fell under the protective umbrella of Protectorate forces operating out of the fortress Jurnan. It was also one of the least exciting; Tuono’s population was made chiefly of farmers and agrarians and, to Abran, they were all a doughty lot. The only thing remarkable about the village was its proximity to the Great Artery–less than ten miles.

“Ho, Field Sergeant,” a voice called. Abran turned and faced Lieutenant Mizra, the current commander of the village guard during this rotation. Abran stood straighter in his black armor, squaring his shoulders. Though Mizra had made it clear to the troops under her command that they need not salute her, Abran still tried to emanate the aura of a competent professional soldier. Partially because he took some measure of pride in serving the Protectorate; but also because he very badly wanted to share the Lieutenant’s bed. Though both Sergeant and Lieutenant were married, both had evidently lost consciousness during the recitation of the vows of monogamy. Abran had shared the night with several female footmen, and Mizra had made her availability known to the men which served beneath her.

“Ho, Lieutenant,” Abran replied in the like. “What brings you to the wall, at this hour? Surely you don’t intend to inspect the sentry postings?” Though her marital vows were suspect, Lieutenant Mizra’s competency was far from appearing tarnished; she was a thoroughly efficient platoon commander. Indeed, at times her efficaciousness bordered on the maniacal.

“Not at all, Field Sergeant. I just can’t find sleep, this night.” The Lieutenant stopped beside the burly Sergeant and peered out into the night’s black vastness, resting her elbows against the wall’s ledge. She wore her brown duty uniform, her sword and shuma hanging from her belt. She must have re-sewn the stitching in the uniform’s breeches, Abran saw, for where it should have been baggy, it clung to the Lieutenant’s body almost like a second skin. The Field Sergeant let his eyes wander over the Lieutenant’s svelte figure, smiling to himself in tacit approval. The flickering torchlight only served to further flatter the young woman’s lean, athletic frame.

“Guard rotation is one of the more boring services we provide,” Abran agreed. “I don’t know why we even bother–no one in their right mind would want a dump like Tuono.”

“It’s not necessarily Tuono we protect, Field Sergeant, but what lies beyond it.”

“Jurnan, you mean.”

Mizra looked at the Field Sergeant directly, her pale gaze contrasting strongly with her dark hair. “Yes. And the Realm.”

Abran snorted. “Well, Lieutenant, I wouldn’t worry much about that. Tuono’s never been attacked, not even once. Whatever things wait on the other side the Artery know better.” This wasn’t entirely true–through the village had never been the victim of a direct assault during the Field Sergeant’s eleven years of service, mysterious and sometimes gruesome events had transpired. Such as the time when all newborn infants had been snatched from their cribs during the night, and the incident when the village elder had been crucified to the ceiling of his very own home–without his family ever hearing a thing. Abran shuddered slightly beneath his armor. Nighttime wasn’t the best occasion to contemplate such things.

Mizra evidently sensed her senior noncommissioned officer’s mood, or perhaps had seen him shudder. She touched his hand lightly, and Abran looked at her.

“Are you cold, Field Sergeant?” she asked, her voice slightly husky.

Abran blinked, incredulous. “Just a passing thing, ma’am.”

The Lieutenant squeezed his hand. “If it happens again, stop by my quarters. Don’t look for any lights. The door will be open, but you needn’t announce yourself.”

Abran could scarcely believe his luck. He managed to contain himself, however, and nodded back to the willowy woman. “As you wish, Lieutenant,” he said.

Mizra smiled back at him, then turned and walked down the parapet, heading for the the ladder which led to the village below. Abran watched her from his post, shaking his head slowly, marvelling at his luck. A guard further down–Tobor–saw the senior noncommissioned officer’s expression, and he smiled in understanding. Abran turned away and gazed back into the night.

He heard a sudden rustle, and he caught an abrupt flurry of movement from the corner of his eye. He whirled, his gauntleted hand automatically finding the haft of his sword. Abran looked in the direction Mizra had been walking; he could see no sign of her.

Surely she couldn’t have reached the ladder that quickly? he wondered.

Then he noticed Tobor was gone, as well. Through the flickering torchlight, Abran could make out Tobor’s shuma. It was lying on the wooden decking by the wall, right where the sentry had last been standing.

The Field Sergeant ripped his sword from its scabbard, taking a step back from the wall. He opened his mouth to cry the alarm; a sentry from along the west wall beat him to the punch. The voice was dimmed by distance, but its content was not lost on Abran. It was full of fear.

“Alarm! Alarm on the west wall…”

West wall? Abran thought, before adding his own cry to the night. “Alarm on the east wall! Alarm on the east–”

The torches lining the east wall suddenly erupted, the flames being extinguished in favor of gushing torrents of blue-green sparks. Abran crouched down low as a bolt of fear raced through his body. Through the wavering, dimming light, he could see shapes moving through the gloom, sweeping up and over the wall like mercuric spiders.

“They’re coming over the east wall!” he screamed. Something moved toward him, and he slashed at it viciously with his sword. He felt the blade make contact and bite into his opponent; an instant later, something slammed across his head with such fury that his helm went spinning off into the darkness. Abran crashed into the wall and slumped to the deck, senses completely addled.

He shook the cobwebs from his head a moment later, hearing screams not just from the wall, but from the village below.

Gods–! We’ve been overrun–

“Ho, Field Sergeant,” whispered a familiar voice, very close to him.

Abran gasped and tried to struggle to his knees, but his limbs remained limp and unresponsive. A queer tingling sensation had fallen over his body, as if everything from his neck down had fallen asleep. His sword lay beside him, its blade knicked and charred. Shapes slithered and crawled over the wall, passing by his motionless form without even the smallest of pauses. He realized then that, despite his every attempt to regain both footing and sword, he was completely paralyzed.

A lean figure approached him, barely discernable in the light generated by the shooting sparks. All the husky Field Sergeant could do was stare in overwhelming horror as Lieutenant Mizra knelt beside him, her movements slow and sinuous. He noticed the vicious slash marks across her chest and throat; her padded tunic had been torn, and he could see ravaged flesh and bone through the rents.

Mizra reached out and touched his face. Her skin was as cold as death, and a thrill of revulsion ran through the Sergeant’s useless body. He was forced to look into the Lieutenant’s face.

Her skin was gray-green and bloodless, and her eyes were completely black, devoid of any sympathy or warmth. When she parted her full lips, murky light glinted off spiked fangs.

“I always fancied you, Field Sergeant,” the Lieutenant said, her voice a rumbling hiss which could not have been produced by human vocal chords. “And I know you’ve felt the same toward me. Now we can be together for the rest of eternity.”

Abran tried to scream as the Mizra-thing opened its jaws and tilted his head back, exposing his neck. His voice, like everything else, had ceased to operate.

The village of Tuono was completely overrun by the hordes of darkness less than twenty minutes later.

  1. MarcW
    July 4, 2014 at 4:56 am

    Kudos to you Stephen for posting this and laughing at yourself. Yes, the passage from 26 yrs ago was raw but it does show elements of promise, perhaps something an editor would say something like, “Keep working at it.” Then again, maybe that a generous assessment because I’m only now reading this with some bias after you’ve proven yourself as a talented author. That is, I’m reading this with 20/20 hindsight. That being said, I see the spirit/theme in this 1988 writing that has blossomed since then into the very experienced and polished writing that makes you so good now. Its not just the writing technique/seasoning that makes you such a good author but its the general mindset of your writing that is so attractive. That mindset that made you write the gathering dead and other books I’ve enjoyed so much is also evident in this early piece. I enjoyed reading this early work and its obvious flaws. Then again, I recognized the early spirit you conveyed back then and that’s the spirit that carries through to your more recent polished works. You stuck to it and got better and better as a writer, to the point that you finally became a sought out author where writers were clamoring for your writing even before you could write it… folks wanted the next thing from Stephen Knight simply because they can read faster than you can write. But you only got there because you worked your but off, often without validation or reward for many years, honing your skills. You had turned unpolished, inexperienced raw talent into seasoned and marketable writing. You only did that through hard work through the years. Making yourself better and better as a writer, inch by inch and through disappointment after disappointment…. never giving up and learning lessons along the way.

    This is a great post. This post is now coming from a seasoned & successful author, an author who is so secure in himself that he can now share his lesser works… An author who has earned the respect of a readership. A writer who is not arrogant and doesn’t assume his readership would read anything he writes, like a grocery list (calling up the running joke that Stephen King could get away with that.) No, this is a great post because of the struggling writers who are out there whose work is not quite ready for primetime can take this as a lesson. Keep working at it, keep striving, never give up. Your voice might just be a game changer someday, just like Stephen’s was and is. But respect to such a voice is not simply granted by an audience. It has to be earned.

    Stephen Knight now has such a voice but he worked his but off for years to earn it. I’m sure there were many times of doubt and disappointment to get there… but Stephen got that voice because he kept on working at it. I say this a just a reader who now respects Stephen as a great writer after enjoying his most recent books. But I only just discovered him three years ago… some twenty-three years after this raw writing of his he is now sharing. Again, I only respect him now because of the hard work he did to get there.

    One thing I’m sure of is that some day that some up and coming writer will cite Mr. Knight as a key influence. That writer is unknown as of now, likely because he’s not good enough yet… but if he follows Knight’s template, he/she will be.

    In the meanwhile, I’ll be on the look out for the master’s next book. With the master’s example, I know I have even more to look forward to in the future. πŸ™‚

  2. MarcW
    July 4, 2014 at 6:17 am

    Speaking to unpolished and inexperienced…. while reading back my rambling post, I can see where I could have revised it… cutting back the redundant sentences, thus cutting my originals post to a third of its size while keeping the message the same… then again, that’s why I’m a reader and not a writer. πŸ™‚

    Guess that’s why I enjoy your books, Stephen…. they’re not only fun tales but also a great lesson on how to write well. And thanks again for sharing your early work. I really respect an author who is not ashamed to share his supposed warts.

    • July 4, 2014 at 10:59 pm

      Hey, Marc! It’s funny, when I review my older stuff, some of it is so lousy it makes me laugh out loud. Other stuff, though, I can still see the spark that made me want to try and see what I could do with it. I suspect some of it I’ll try and bang into shape, one day. Others, though, will remain as they are.πŸ™‚

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