Writing teachers always say, “show don’t tell.” So, why not do that here in the blog? Initially, I was going to talk about improving our story skills. And then, an older story I need to revise popped up. So, rather than just preaching about developing our skills, I decided to show an example of changes in mine…
This week, I will present the story Life, Death, and Mr. Boggs as written. Next week, I’ll share some issues I see with the story. I’ve already presented the story and you, dear reader, have had a chance to think about what I did wrong (and right!) and will be able to compare your thoughts to mine. (if you really have issues with the story or my opinion of what to do with it, leave a comment or DM me…). Then, in a couple of weeks, I will present a revised version of the story that addresses some of the original’s faults.
Life, Death, and Mr. Boggs is my work and set in my world of Midwol (I hold the copyright to both…) I welcome any commentary and (constructive) criticism you may have (there are very few harsh things I haven’t said to myself over the years…).
So, here is Life, Death and Mr. Boggs:
LIFE, DEATH, AND MR BOGGS
“I’ll die before I marry him.” Maria’s eyes were already wide. They went wider when her cousin flinched. “I mean, do you know what they’re asking?”
Across the well-worn wooden table, Elana nodded. “I know exactly what they’re asking. I know why they’re asking it too.”
“Elana…” Maria scanned the room around them. Even in the noisy dark of the tavern there was danger. The family had agents everywhere.
Elana shook her head and took a sip of her drink. She held the glass up and looked at its contents by the light of the single candle on their table.
“I wouldn’t worry Maria,” she said, “I’ve taken steps. The family wouldn’t expect either of us to be in such a low establishment.” She shrugged. “Technically, they don’t even know where I am. You wouldn’t know where I am, if I hadn’t spotted you in the market.”
Maria’s head bobbed. “You look different.”
The differences were small, but significant. A scar ran across Elana’s right cheek. A brilliant white widow’s peak stood out in her glossy black hair. Somehow she stood taller and yet seemed more relaxed. The poise she showed was a natural manifestation, not an act played by a daughter of the Pollona family.
“They say beginning a marriage is beginning a new life,” Elana said, “They also say ending a marriage is beginning a new life. In my case, that’s a literal truth.” She set down her drink. “Both are literal truths in my case.”
Maria scanned the room again.
“Don’t worry,” Elana said, “the owners of this place are friends of mine. Partners, you might say, working for my second husband, my real husband.”
“Second husband…” Maria’s words were barely audible.
“True,” Elana said, “The church doesn’t take such things lightly, but there were special circumstances.” She shrugged. “And after Heber’s funeral, there was nothing to be said anyway.”
“But the family…”
“They had little to say either,” Elana said, “As I said, special circumstances. It took them a while to understand, but eventually they realized it was for the best. They leave me to my business. I can still fulfill my duties, better in fact. And I am much happier than I was with Heber.” Elana chuckled. “Much happier.”
Maria maintained her wide eyed look. She also shivered. “Was it that bad?”
“It was,” Elana said, “My ‘husband’ wasn’t even a gifted. But the uncles had aspirations in the area, so having a family presence was necessary.”
“Necessary,” Maria repeated. She scanned the room again.
“There’s no need to worry,” Elana said, “there are no family agent’s here, except for me. They steer clear of this place, and anywhere else we’re operating. It’s part of our arrangement.”
“Arrangement,” Maria repeated. She shivered again. Her ‘arrangement’ was a marriage to a wizard of some minor family.
Some other puny group the uncles want to ensnare… At least Maria’s is a gifted… My task was much worse… Until HE came… Now Ulbrecht and I make our own arrangements…
“The family’s hold isn’t nearly as strong as they like us to think,” Elana said.
“But if they send assassins…”
Assassination was part of the family business, one line in a much larger business plan.
Elana shrugged. “It’s been tried, repeat performances are not recommended.”
“They tried to kill you?” Maria asked.
“The family?” Elana smiled. “Not after what happened. They weren’t ready to press their luck.”
Elana drew in a long deep breath and expelled it slowly. I suppose I really must tell the story…She took another breath before beginning.
My father and the uncles developed an interest in expanding into a little town close to the mountains, somewhere they could use as a base to further draw the local miners into the family’s coils.
You understand that part, don’t you…? It’s more or less how your own ordeal started…
Elana clicked her tongue and leaned over the table. She kept her voice low. This wasn’t a story for others, even here where the proprietors knew the whole tale.
Unfortunately for me, there weren’t any eligible gifted folk in the area and sending a wizard overtly would have drawn unwanted attention. Vimbarge hadn’t quite fallen into chaos yet and they, or one of the other city states, might have taken notice. And that would have involved others in our business.
There was no gifted in town to whom I could be wedded, just the ‘celibate’ priests in the town’s overbuilt church. But there was a tavern master in search of a wife.
Heber was a petty and boorish man, and drunk more often than I deserved.
Elana sighed and pushed her glass farther from her. “But, even he didn’t truly deserve what happened. It was fortunate for both of us it happened the way it did.”
Maria nodded, and bent in so she could hear more clearly.
For two years I played wife to him. Suffered his advances and kept up appearances. For two years I dutifully reported to the family. Finally, they decided the village of Haystack was worthy of occupation.
Unfortunately, they also found themselves wrapped up in the ongoing drama of Valle Dios.
Elana made a sour face.
The city of the pass was far more important than Haystack. So, the uncles ordered that we advance our holdings, but they gave me no assets to work with.
“No assets at all,” Elana said, “Just me and whatever I could come up with.”
I was left to seek resources on my own. That meant making alliances with certain forces. And that led to attention, from Ulbrecht and certain elements in Vimbarge.
Both factions reacted in their own way.
Ulbrect was at loose ends already. His first wife was in the Raven folk’s secret home, or so he thought. He and his associates were working to improve Ulbrecht’s family seat and finding it slow going. Loose ends indeed.
They agreed with the town elder to face off against my allies directly, in exchange for information and needed supplies and labor.
They won too. Ulbrecht and company can be annoyingly successful, sometimes despite themselves.
While they were putting down my ‘allies’ the people from Vimbarge got involved. They didn’t act directly.
They sent Mr. Boggs.
“Who?” Maria asked.
Elana Shrugged. “Mr. Boggs. There’s no particular reason for you to know the name. He was just a second-rate necromancer from Vimbarge, before he died that is. Death seemed to increase his abilities until Ulbrecht got hold of him. My memory of precisely what happened is a bit gappy, I’m afraid. Complications of my part in the story.”
Maria nodded as if she understood.
Mr. Boggs’s greatest achievement, his most favored skill, was raising the corpses of his enemies to serve him. And death only made that power stronger. He had well over a dozen zombies with him when he arrived, including the two brutes he brought with him into the tavern.
“Into the tavern…” Maria’s eyes widened again.
That was when I first noticed him. When he came into my tavern.
He was surrounded by a pall of stench and darkness, a side effect of his life’s, and death’s, work. The smell of his two rotting ‘companions’ didn’t help matters any.
Boggs was no mere zombie, no mere corpse raised for a mission. He was intelligent. Somehow, he kept the gift of magic. And he spotted me immediately.
He sent his companions to deal with the others.
I realized what they were; taller than a man and more muscular, muted rotting features on heads as much like a pug dog’s as a human’s. Honestly, I think they might have chewed on themselves at some point.
The stench of death was overpowering. It overrode their natural stench, which is impressive since ogres aren’t exactly known for bathing. But, I suppose, when the flesh falls off the bone…
I knew what they were. The rest of them, the customers and barmaids genuinely had no idea. Not that it would have mattered. They were as good as dead when Mr. Boggs unleashed the brutes.
Meanwhile, Boggs came right toward me. With every step his desiccated flesh, black with age and corruption, became clearer. The shreds of his once fine robes hung in bits and rags, bearing testimony of his time in the grave, and the fate of those who’d tried to stop his progress.
He headed straight for me. At first no one tried to stop him. Not that the village folk had much fight in them, Boggs and his creatures had already killed the sheriff and his men outside.
Actually, more than killed them. Ulbrect killed the sheriff for a second time when he arrived.
Elana shrugged. “Could have been worse. It almost happened to me.” She shook her head. “Ulbrect has a strange sense of tactics. He truly does. But I’m glad of it.”
The ogres’ dead hands made short work of the others, the guests and the bar maids. Meanwhile, Mr. Boggs came straight toward me. Don’t ask me why I didn’t run. I’m not sure either.
Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And that wasn’t the only surprise.
Heber played the hero.
The boorish simpleton stepped between me and Mr. Boggs.
I know it was because he viewed me as his. He’d always viewed me as a prized possession. And he was afraid of what would happen if the family found me dead and him alive. But in that moment, I was grateful. He stalled Boggs just long enough. Any less and Ulbrect wouldn’t have made it in time.
Maria blinked again.
I saw every detail of Boggs’s hand, every shred of desiccated flesh and every bit of unwashed bone, as he wrapped his hand around Heber’s throat and drained him.
I saw my husband’s eyes glaze.
I watched the last spark of life drain from him.
And then Boggs sent him to deal with the last of our barmaids.
And then Boggs came for me.
I still couldn’t bring myself to move. I’m usually quite level-headed. You have to be to survive in our family.
But in that moment, I couldn’t move at all.
All I could do was watch Boggs come closer.
I heard him come closer too.
At first, I thought it was creaking leather and the click of hobnailed boots against the floor. I realized it was the creak of long dead flesh, and the clack of his foot bones against the floor.
I couldn’t move. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.
Boggs put his hand out.
The same hand he killed Heber with.
He kept coming.
I couldn’t pull away.
Boggs wrapped his hand around my throat. And his touch was cold.
I felt my life draining out of me and into Boggs.
And that was when it happened.
That was the moment I died.
Maria’s eyes went even wider. Then she shook her head and laughed. “Elana, you’re teasing me.”
Elana shook her head. “No Maria, I’m not. In that moment I was dead.”
“You couldn’t have been,” Maria said.
“I was.” Elana shrugged. “I didn’t learn the rest till after.”
The next thing I knew I was upstairs in my former bedroom, in my former bed. He was looking down at me.
“He?” Maria asked.
Elana nodded. “Ulbrecht.”
He was standing there over me and wearing an expression as confused as mine.
“I’m sorry I had to do that,” Ulbrecht said, “But if Boggs had killed you, you’d have risen as one of his minions, at least that’s the hypothesis. The rest of it, well, that’s harder to explain.”
“Elana, you said he killed you.” Maria shook her head. “You’re teasing me.”
“No,” Elaina said. She took a long breath. “I’m not. Ulbrecht killed me and then raised me from the dead.”
“That can’t be.”
“It is.” Elana picked up her glass and held it up to the light. “It’s not really as simple as it sounds of course. The specifics of how, the complications after, those are stories for another day.”
“Complications?” Maria asked. She backed away from the table.
Elana set her glass down and laughed. “Nothing like that dear. I’m not going to bite you. I’m not some member of the undead. But Ulbrecht’s wife, his first wife, had just been through an ordeal of her own. She was in an odd spot and had some odd ideas.”
“She was the one who decided Ulbrecht and I should marry,” Elana said.
“She decided?” Maria’s eyes went wider than when she’d heard about Mr. Boggs.
Elana nodded. “Her ordeal made bearing children… Complicated. At the same time, she was rather fixated on growing her little family. And, she felt I owed her husband, you know for preventing my unwilling induction to the ranks of the undead, that sort of thing.”
“Oh,” Maria said, “But…”
Elana shrugged. “We both know polygamy isn’t unheard of among the gifted. At least one of the major churches actively supports it. And it just so happened that the arrangement solved problems for all three of us.”
Elana smiled. “Four if you count yourself.”
“Me?” Maria gasped. “I can’t… I couldn’t.”
Elana’s eyes narrowed. “No, you couldn’t.” She shook her head and smiled. “That’s not what I’m asking. Neither Ulbrecht nor I would consider it. Esperanza, the first wife, wouldn’t consider it. In fact, I wouldn’t even think it around her if I were you.”
“Ulbrecht is building his fortress in the mountains,” Elana said.
“You mentioned that.”
“He also has an estate here in the city,” Elana said, “having no one to look after the place bothered my husband, and our marriage gave him a solution. It also gave me a private domain much more to my liking than some inn out in the sticks.”
“Ulbrect has someone to watch the house. Esperanza has someone to see to raising children, and raise them safely away from the ongoing complications of the fortress,” Elana said, “And I have my private domain. Ulbrect and Esperanza are willing to let me run my operation so long as I keep marital and fiduciary fidelity. And the situation keeps the uncles, or anyone else, from trying to marry me into some less satisfactory situation.”
Maria nodded. You could still see the questions in her eyes.
“As it is,” Elana said, “I’m free to hire servants, and others, as I see fit. But our happy little city is decidedly lacking on one key aspect.”
“It is,” Elana said, “I need a second, officially a maid servant or lady-in-waiting, who understands me, my thoughts and desires, and the way Ulbrecht and I run things. It also helps that you understand how the family does business.”
“Me?” Maria asked.
“You.” Elana reached across the table and took Maria’s hand. “You’ve run off already. You abandoned your arranged engagement. No one knows you’re here, and we can keep things that way.”
Elana drew Maria’s hand across the table. “You’re the perfect choice,” she said, “Unless you’d rather I drag you back to your arranged marriage.”
Maria smiled and interlaced her fingers with her cousin’s.