“The field surgeon has one great enemy in battle. Halflings, dwarves, elves and humans all live inside it. A barrier between innards and evisceration.” Know Your Organs, 1st Edition, Rasmus Greybeard.
I hate leaving things to the last minute and yet here I am once more with an entry that skirts the edges of frustration. Still, better late than never.
Rasmus is new. Yish and Naz are not. None of these events follow a particular order in terms of chronology. I find this a fabulous tool to explore ideas. Still not quite started the actual WIP, but I’m rather enjoying short story freedom exploring its history.
Stay safe in these troubled times fellow writers. Let’s face it we, at least, can fill time in isolation with reading or writing.
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Know Your Organs
Ras watched the flaps of his field tent rippling in the breeze. Lost in thought while outside warmongers made ready their tools. Walking cadavers. Some would be in the right place, others not when arrows rained down. The first wave. Always arrows, then a thundering cacophony as warhorses quaked the ground, breaking the silence before worlds collided. Different views, both right in their own eyes and yet both wrong. Even when the cause is righteous war was never the solution for the individual bleeding out, lonely as an eyesore amidst the clashing blades.
The idylls of a peacemaker surgeon. The alternative here was darkness and the end of everything. This was no normal play created by politics and kings. What drove the horde was an abomination. The antithesis of peace where freedom reigned. It was rumoured even dead you couldn’t escape the sorcery.
News reaching the surgeons guild weeks before had not been hopeful. Those that took news looked hollow and empty, those delivering it were generally dying. Strategists had declared it might be possible to halt the advance north of The Barrow Woods at the Gorge of Flutes where winds sang old words that once might have meant something. Both vestiges of another time. Both gone chaotic. Had to be war, plaque or famine. A blend maybe…as jubilant as a ship intent on traversing a maelstrom. It mattered not, the elder mages were gone. Their world locked in ruin with relics nobody understood. This was now, and now Ras was aboard another ship whose wave was about to crash.
He watched as dawn grew over mountains to the east. Rocks that had seen these days before. Many times over the ages, and likely many more in the future. How many have asked “Why me?” Not a comforting thought for advancing civilisations. Not one that held faith in Gods or history. It was all there. The past relived again and again. Sucking in fodder and spewing out guts. He felt the rage burning again. Why?
This was to be his first real action. Long before his works in the Surgeons Guild and books like “Know Your Organs,” and a century before the Keep was laid waste, bringing… well that tale is not for now.
He looked up and across the table draped in linen. Pristine, as were his tools and smock. The girl opposite was barely out of puberty.
“Morgan, fear is something one has to deal with when the time comes and the place leaves you nowhere left to run.” His own hands were trembling now. Calm before the storm.
“Have you,” the girl choked back tears, “have you done this before?”
“Liar.” Yish swept through the tent flaps.
“Not really Elf.” Ras half smiled, his hands steadied. “I dream of times like this in my nightmares. Friends laid upon this altar with their organs unfurled. Blood spraying from broken arteries as screams echo round this.” His arm cast an arc around the makeshift field hospital.
“Have a care Ras, the girl almost fainted.
The surgeon embraced the elf and kissed the side of her cheek. “Just ensure you don’t wind up here Yish.”
She place a finger over his lips. “I don’t intend to,” she paused looking deep into his eyes, “and I fully expect to see you on the other side of today too.
“Aye, that was the wish of all at breakfast this morning I’ll wager. We’re somewhat safer here than those on the field.”
“And if we lose, how safe are we then physician?” They both turned to the girl.
Yish took her hand. “If it comes to that fly and don’t look back.”
Morgan looked at Ras. He shook his head and drew fingers across his throat. “The black horde take no prisoners. Whatever leads them deep in Ang Nafud sees nothing but darkness threading through our lands. Consuming everything before it.”
“Ras, stop it.” Yish turned and glared at him.”
“Aye, best to pretend all’s well and ignore the truth.”
“Morose as ever comrade.” A dwarf stood holding back one of the flaps.
“And why not Naz? We’re the ones knee deep in innards and viscera. The ones trying to make good from the butchers. I have every right to be morose.” Ras clutched the dwarfs forearm. “You keep her alive or I’ll come gut you myself.”
Naz laughed. “You could try, but like as not if Yish falls then I’ll be gone from this world already.” He released the surgeons grip. “It’s good to see you old friend. Next time let us find an inn and not some bloodbath waiting to happen.”
“Agreed. I expect all who stand here now to honour that after this war is over.”
“Won,” said Yish, her voice falling softly.
All eyes turned to her.
“Because if we lose then there won’t be anybody left will there?” Morgan searched each in turn, looking for hope.
Hi dearest Gary,
The best is worth waiting for 😉
Hope all is well !
Big hug, XxX
Too kind Patty! I have seen your link too re cave so will be over this weekend to look it over. Time is dreadfully rapid at the moment and I’m finding things blurring past too quickly. I must step back and get this blog sorted or do some posts!! X
I love the title of this one, Gary! Know Your Organs — how delightfully dark and playful. I suppose Ras had to have a good sense of humour, in order to endure all of this, otherwise, he may have fractured under the strain. His rage and youthful vigour — were these eventually replaced with jaded maturity and cynicism, and a healthy dose of comedy? I wonder what happens to him between now and then, and is he still alive when we see Yish and Naz in the future? Lots more to explore, and I can’t wait to read it!
I really love the sense of claustrophobic inescapability, this knowing dread of fate winding down to its inevitable conclusion. I know we speak of King a lot, but you’ve built up the same sense of foreboding and impending disaster that King works so well. Really masterful, Gary! Reminds me of Wolves of the Calla, not in content, but in the feeling evoked. I really hope they all survive (and I know that several do, as they appear later 😉 ), but alas, this is war, is it not?
I’m also intrigued as to this Morgan character. Who is she, what is she doing in the surgeon’s tent? Is she an assistant, a soldier, a civilian caught in the wrong place, wrong time? Lots of further avenues of exploration! The more I read of this universe, the more I want to read about it — you’ve got me hooked. 🙂
Beautifully written, too. I loved the intro, with Ras watching the flaps of his tent fluttering — the juxtaposition of this calmness with the inevitable carnage that will come later is both grounding and horrifying. It’s the small, normal things which put the horrors into context, making them feel all the more real.
So glad you snuck this story in, right at the finish line, Gary! An excellent close to this month’s prompt.
I kind of robbed the title from a book. This is part of said world build. The book in question was written by Ras much later. That was a bit of a hint he does survive this particular battle. Although in this multiverse he could have been a “ghost” writer 🤔
I often consider situations where the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the needs of the many. It’s very easy to focus on heroes or kings when looking at a battle scene. Describe death off hand due to the scale. Moments like these bring the horror of that closer. Dry inevitability. Little things like the pristine tent and tables that I see blended with future ghosts of what it might be like inside two hours. The dying man bleeding out no longer part of the fight and suddenly realising it wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. The child grown to waste.
Then to try and balance the reason of war. The protagonists are not seeking it. The antagonist is not up for peaceful negotiation. Here it’s capitulation and/or death. I think that’s a motivator because there’s nowhere left. You could run yes, but that leaves q big question mark over honour and knowing everything you leave behind is doomed to slavery or worse. In Ras, given what he has to do, I couldn’t really see much beyond dry humour. One that both he and Morgan will lose as the day pans out.
Re King. Have to say that is an accolade I’m not worthy of! I try to observe how he builds that reader connection and apply my own twist. I said in another reply two things have sat many times as fundamental emotive points. Gandalf in the White Tower with Pippin and the colour sergeant in Zulu. The question posed being “Why us?”. Two different answers but both very sobering. To me it’s a nuance that gives real feelings to a character that most people might miss unless the narrative appears to make them think. Part of me hopes if this has worked readers go away and actually feel a little distressed at the concept. Maybe find an association with one of the characters that the actual concept must occur every time war begins. Ras, Yish and Naz have to survive. Two appear later and Ras writes his book. Morgan is my personal connection here. I put her along several other characters of YA age. Emily and Rebecca, Ade and Rowena the Goth. I have a post with the latter two in. My head says your really like that excerpt.
Morgan is a new character too. Ras has only appeared here too although as a concept he has been knocking around a while. Maybe I’ll explore her more in “liberate.”
Thanks so much for the detailed inspiration too Joshua. Really appreciate the mojo it gives!
Ha, the thought of a very literal ghost writer sounds brilliant. Slightly comedic, slightly tragic. I guess I’ll have to wait and see the precise fate of Ras, then!
I agree completely on bringing the horror even closer. We know (mostly) that the heroes have a good chance of surviving (unless it’s SK or GRR Martin), so seeing those whom might be deemed “inconsequential” gives that danger of anything can happen. That kinda grounded reality, because I think most of us have more in common with those sorts of characters than the badass action heroes (even if they’re really cool characters that we love to read about!). “The child grown to waste.” That’s a fantastic quote there, Gary — rather brutal and simple, straight to the point and utterly honest. Indeed — did the mother of the child, when she gave birth and cradled her babe, consider that he would die as cannon fodder, as just another bloody corpse on a patch of dirt?
I think having war thrust upon you, with negotiation off the table, leaves you with no choice — it’s like a tidal wave rushing at you. You haven’t chosen to swim out to sea, to get caught in a riptide, it’s racing at you and your choice is all but made up for you. It’s out of your hands, all you can do is react. It’s not a question of whether or not you go to war, but what you choose to do in the face of such adversity. Run, hide? Fight, maybe die? Between a rock and a hard place. I love this sort of thing, it feels so claustrophobic — I’ve mentioned Wolves of the Callah before, the feeling when they’re hiding under the boards, waiting for the wolves. Similar feeling also to the battle of Helm’s Deep. Great stuff, Gary — like a gut punch.
I’m sure if we spoke to King and mentioned Lovecraft, Poe, Tolkien, Orwell etc., he’d say that he’s not worthy of those accolades too! And I’m sure in 20 years’ time, there’ll be two writers chatting, and one will compare the other to the great Gary Jefferies, haha. I think this whole writing thing is an endless cycle of receiving inspiration and then becoming a source of inspiration. I think it’s that way with all arts, music, movies etc. The ones we love and consider to be the “greats” all have their own loves and ones they consider to be the “greats”.
I think this is tremendously well written, and you conveyed the emotion and distress perfectly. Like a gnawing ball of anxiety in the chest, thrumming with a nervous energy. I’d definitely be interested in reading this post you mentioned, it sounds most intriguing!
I rather like the concept of a literal ghost writer…could be one to try a comedic story with. Perhaps a wretched one! Although that line backfired if you’ve not see the new prompt word! Speaking of which, I’ve had a good look round Reedsy recently too. I think once pub work turns into them opening then time will get given back. If that’s unclear it’s one for Facebook lol.
A good point. King does touch on his early years when struggling before Carrie got accepted. The main difference there I think was an internal self belief in ability. Heck I struggle just being confident in changing a blog theme! Although that’s an arty thing. I struggle with visual concepts. Seeing colours and such like. It’s why I wouldn’t do my own book cover design. Even Rachael did my Facebook banner lol.
As for this piece. The things you mention are the driving force. The no choice life and death situations thrust upon individuals. Throw them into the eye of the storm and contemplate the internal dialogue going on. It condensed into that Zulu line, “Why us?”. “‘Cos we’re here lad.”
Or stood on the battlements of Helms Deep as the orc horde approaches then zoom into a character with no plot armour. See how they feel.
Here I’m actually pondering Morgan more than Ras. A young girl thrust into a medical tent about to witness the victims of carnage of sword on sword or axe. No anaesthetics as such. Or chilled air conditioning. An abattoir running in ambient temperature, no running water or soap. Fear, cries of the dying, blood, sweat and bodily discharges. What does that do to a young mind? As you might expect by about here….I’ve already got an idea running
I’d love to read some of your comedy, Gary! I occasionally stray into that genre, when I fancy it. I think horror and comedy oft go hand in hand — what’s scary to some is ridiculously hilarious to others.
Speaking of visual concepts, I’ve recently found a rather marvellous site called coolors.co — it provides randomly generated colours that work together in a scheme. I’ve been using it quite a bit for my art and other pieces, it’s really brilliant. I love to make art, but I’m not always entirely sure if “this” goes with “that”, and often just experiment (not always successfully!), so it’s sometimes nice to just find a scheme you like, take the HEX values and then go from there, stress-free.
Yes, it’ll be really interesting to see how that affects the course of her life (however long that is!) following these experiences. Does she let it really get to her, becoming a nervous wreck of a person? Does it harden her, so that she becomes this strong, unflinching woman? Does she become cold, distanced from it all? I hope to read more of her!
Ha, ha! I have yet to put any comedy on the blog outside of the character interactions.
That site seems right up your street too. One day I might have a go, but I fear my art side is a bit thin on ability 🙄
I’m actually musing on Morgan this month too. What I’ve created took its own turn. It’s producing back story to a book I’ve already written. A very unexpected turn really. To use this or not is the question!
Ooh, what a perfectly ominous ending! Nice job on giving the battle a sense of being beyond other battles, sort of like Tolkien’s War of the Ring. As Ras was contemplating his Why Me question, I imagined Gandalf popping in and saying ‘We do the best we can with the time that is given us’ (I didn’t word that quite right). Since this seems to be a precursor to the previous Yish and Naz stories, I presume this is a war that was ‘won’, but the enemy wasn’t vanquished? Good use for a challenging word this month!
Very generous Abe and coincidently I was just talking about Gandalf in the same context. Along with the colour sergeant in Zulu when a private asks “Why us?” with the reply “‘Cos we’re here lad, no-one else, just us.”
This was not my first thought either. I was aiming to follow The Castle Weeps, but Ras was niggling from a sketch out done previously. The world build wanted more so I’ve used a few ideas to flesh this out and draw more old history in. It’s definitely the earliest journey with Yish and Naz. But weather this war was won is difficult to judge. This may be one battle amongst many. Certainly this adversary was not defeated. Maybe in this “world” yes, but not in all. Something tells me this antagonist I’ve met before in another book(s).
Bit late and I know I must catch up reading the rest. Very busy month here so I’m way behind. New prompt this week too…already… how is that possible? You’re right though… flute was tricky if one wanted to avoid musical instruments as such.
I’ll be over to yours soon… looking forward to it too. Not that that’s supposed to pile on pressure of course!
Ahhhh….Love how you used the word flute! I also love the new addition of Rasmus, Ras for short 🙂 Each time I read your writing, I’m pulled into that scene and this one is spot on and so vivid. I easily pictured it with what was about to come too. Nicely done my friend 🙂
You’re biased Helen lol. The flute idea was supposed to go back to the Castle that Weeps. I think I told you I wanted to use geological fluting. Ras has been a thought for a while now and I thought I’d try expanding something I did ages ago to see if it would work as a scene. More back story though and this is 100 years before the sacking of the Keep. Mind you the darkness in Ang Nafud is referred to as a sorcerer that can chase you in death. It’s rather sounding like a certain antagonist that hunts Dave. 🤔
Thank you for being uber quick as always 😊