Friday, January 20, 2006

You Never Know When Something Might Be Useful


Now the two looked back up the track and spoke in lower tones. The tall one jerked the goat's tether. He gestured down the path with his axe, then pointed it at the sky. Clearly, he urged they should seek shelter with the loot they had. A storm was coming.

Damie's eyes watered and her nose ran in the cold. She beat down the automatic urge to sniff. Perhaps they had some stinking covert across the river in that forest John mentioned.

Move on, boys, the sooner the better. Go now. Move along.

Her left leg felt numb and cramped. Something sharp dug into her thigh. Go. Go. Nothing to see here. Damie shifted a hip cautiously. Malicious branches and brush cracked under her. Loud. Oh shit.

The two on the track stopped and swung about, eyes darting in every direction.

Please, please, let them think it was a tree frost-splitting or something. Animals, a deer, a wild pig, anything. They can too easily hunt and run me down.

The goat turned its head and fixed its yellow eyes on the windfall. The short male, alerted by the goat's stare, pulled a long butcher knife from his belt and limped back.

The goat promptly took advantage of a slack hand on the rope to butt her captor behind the knees. She spun about and scampered away up the track, her little tail flipping, the dead fowl flapping and bouncing around her neck.

Simultaneously, two rooks swooped low over the men's heads, black wing tip to black wing tip, and on, cawing, up the track.

Holy Crow, thought Damie in amazement. I'll never get a better cue. I'll give them a curse.

Latin was the voice of power and damnation, the Other Tongue. These two would recognize it, surely, even if they didn't understand it. She hoped.

She pulled the rainhood forward over her face and rose, pointing a black glove-clad finger at the two. The robbers. The desecrators. She hoped they wouldn't notice how much it shook. She hoped her brown suede under the frosted white plastic would look ghostly and disembodied.

This had better work. I can't think of another ploy to escape. I'm not going to hunch like a hypnotized hare and wait to be butchered.

"Dominie, spiritu, sanctu," she intoned, in a voice as sepulchral and sinister as she could make it."Quad erat demonstrandum...Argumentum ad hominem...arma virumquae cano." Ghosts of the Ninth help me now..."Ave atque vale...morituri te salutant..."

Morituri. That was a good one. She stepped over the tree trunk, hoping the raspy slither of the plastic raincoat sounded, well, slithery. She tried to glide a step or two toward them. Would they believe she was a dead man walking? They seemed frozen in place.

She let her voice rise. "Mourituri..."

To hell with Latin, I'm out of quotations. Let's try some good old Anglo-Saxon then...

"Death...death...DEATH!"

They broke and ran.

24 comments:

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, that was funny.

Nothing better for a good curse than Anglo-Saxon. Or Old Norse or Old High German. Where did I tuck away that book with Old High German curses and magic formulas?

Savannah Jordan said...

"Death...death...DEATH!"

NOW you're speaking my language!! Actually, I took Latin *super geek* I could read all of it. :P

Happy Weekend!

Ric said...

Wow! Damie just got a whole lot of character development - gutsy, very gutsy.
I like.

Carla said...

Great. My only quibble is: can two men 'break'? The phrase 'they broke and ran' always makes me think of a formation - like a battle line - breaking up.

Bernita said...

Thought you might be amused, Gabriele.

Nice that "death" hasn't changed as a word in a thousand years, Savanna.
Had several more familiar "tags", like "caveat emptor" in the paragraph but decided less is more.

Glad you approve, Ric. She is a damn-your-eyes sort.

Yes, I think so, Carla. They broke from their set position, quantity immaterial.

Robyn said...

Quick thinking. I like Damie. Makes me wonder if those guys are going to return with the pitchfork-and-torch laden villagers for a good burning, though.

Rick said...

What a hoot! No doubt the humor element is pretty lost on Damie - one tough girl! - but it was funny to me. I love her snagging every Latin phrase she can think of.

An odd subtlety, though - how much does the Latin she is speaking sound like the Latin they have heard? I am thinking of the difference between the reconstructed classical pronunciation usually taught in modern Latin classes and medieval Latin, e.g., Caesar pronounced like Kaiser instead of (I think) Chesar.

Never mind, though - looking at the text, the snippets she uses would sound much the same, and these guys probably arent about to draw fine distinctions anyway. :)

"Break" seems fine to me. The origin is surely in breaking formation, but I think it has been generalized to mean panic, and in that sense even one person could break and run.

jason evans said...

I really like this passage. It's direct, yet artful. The pacing matches the moment. And, of course I LOVED the random Latin lines.

Arma virumque cano, Trojae qui primus ab oris, Italiam fato profugus, Lavinaque venit.

The Aeneid.

I sing of war and of a man, who first from the shores of Troy, propelled by fate, came to the land which would be Rome.

(I added a bit to the narrow translation)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

LOL...that was great...I saw a movie where the protag trying to sound regal was throwing out every Latin phrase he had ever heard...that was too funny.

"Buyer beware" LOL..now latin is my language...well not my language, but at least AI can read it!

Damie is really growing. Love it...in the midst of A/S and latin, she throws in a normal, oh shit.....I spewed coffee on my screen!!!

Are yu going to use italics for her thoughts, or quotes and have her say it out loud?

You can't stop here!!!!

I'm rambling, oh dear...more, write more!

Bernita said...

Robyn, they're broken men, scavengers.
And I exercised license of the falling-out-of thieves sort, and have them kill each other - mentioned obliquely later.As few witnesses as possible, you see, in deference to the Time Continuum Police.Your possibility just gave me another reason to do so.

Thank you, Rick. I particularly appreciate your thought processes, reasons and reactions as you read.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Jason. I wondered if it was too bare...but the necessary landscape description( where t'hell am I?) preceeds this passage, so I hope the visuals carry on in the readers' minds.

Thank you, Bonnie.Your reactions are very valuable - especially since the ancient stuff is not your favorite.
I'm of two minds about the italics. I need them for the language examples and don't like to add a possible confusion by using them for internal dialogue.Also, she has a sarcastic "little voice" that sometimes comments and I like to differentiate between her normal stream of thought and that voice.
Some say italics and quotes aren't necessary for internal thoughts, though that once was the accepted convention.

Rick said...

Bernita, I have been leaving my POV characters' internal dialogue as plain text, neither quotes nor italics. It seems to work fine to me - but an editor may or may not agree!

The difference between classical and medieval Latin didn't matter in this case, but it is something for writers to bear in mind any time a modern Latinist is dumped into the Middle Ages. (Though I think that Catholic schools may still teach the Church Latin pronunciation, basically medieval pronunciation.)

Another thing I've wondered about is how functionally literate a modern dumpee would be in the Middle Ages, even if they knew the relevant languages. When I've seen repro's of medieval manuscripts, they are often totally unreadable - even if in English - because of the letter forms. Nice Caroline minuscule (sp?) is one thing, but in so much medieval script the damn letters all look the same!

Bernita said...

You have a point, Rick,sometimes they look like "ttttttt" or "mmmmmm" but it does depend on the manuscript.
And after awhile one's eye becomes accustomed to the styles and flourishes and their little habits, I suppose.
Seems to me the safest thing - with that in mind - would be to give the character no time to read, avoid scriptoriums and have absolutely no, no, plots depending the protag deciphering a dusty scroll in the solar or required to read a secret message passed by a dark knight.

Rick said...

Bernita --- "tttttt" or "mmmmm" - exactly! With the occasional "uuuuu" thrown in for good measure.

And if the plot does depend on reading, either establish that the protagonist already knows medieval lettering, or give them ample earlier opportunity to learn how to puzzle their way through manuscripts.

Gabriele C. said...

Argh, I hate italics for thoughts/interior monologue with a passion. As if I, the reader, am too stupid to get it else. Gah. And it distracts from reading.

Italicised foreign words or the occasional stress on a word in dialogue is not a problem.

Bernita said...

I don't remember seeing this particular item of font discussed - other than a casual reference that italics are not needed for interior monologue.
I can accept it both ways, but long paragraphs of italicized mental perambulations tick me off.
What do the rest of you think?

Rick said...

I once tried to read a fantasy novel - I think it was The Outlaw of Sherwood or some similar title, by Robin McKinley - that for some reason was entirely in an italic font. It was totally unreadable, not because of the writing but because of the print.

Which doesn't relate directly to the question of how to portray interior monologue, etc., but is sure an indicator of how distracting too much italics can be.

Tsavo Leone said...

I'm curious: is there an actual convention or standard practice for the use of italics within fiction?

Whilst I agree with Gabriele C. concering non-native words being italicised (and real-world Names, a la Rick, above), I happen to find italics a helpful tool for 'non-credited' thoughts and/or remembered dialogue when writing. Like any other device I try to use them sparingly, and where I can't I try and find another way of presenting the passage (the same being true of bracketed text). Is that wicked of me?

Bernita said...

The logic of italics use in narrative is to provide clarity and avoid confusion, as you say.

Gabriele C. said...

I first came across the use of italics for thoughts in Dune and it really distracted me. So much that I got a German translation without the italics, and I never read English books in translation. :-)

I only hope I can find a publisher that doesn't use that device.

Lisa S. said...

Arma Virumque??

Lisa runs fleeing into the darkness as the demon dactylic hexameters are hot on her trail. Still chasing me occasionally after *cough*twentysixyears*cough*

Bernita said...

It's the Undead, Lisa,they lurk where you least expect, you'll never escape....

M. G. Tarquini said...

Bernita, gotta tell you. When I'm wandering around Borders, the time-travel romance aisle is not one I frequent. However, this story looks really interesting and I would buy it.

Bernita said...

Let's be fair, M.G., you're seeing some highlights without any exposition.
But thank you. Much.