As I wait to hear the verdict on my manuscript “The Sword and the Rose” from the two publishers whom I have submitted it to, I am in a bit of a dilemma about a particular scene in the book. It is a dream sequence of one of my minor characters. I say “dream” though perhaps in truth it more of a nightmare as he re-lives a traumatic event from his past.
Ramon might be a minor character but his presence in the story has a dramatic effect on the life of the heroine and later influences the behaviour and future of my principal hero.
The dilemma I talk about is whether or not the “dream” should stay in the story at all. Since its conception I have removed it and put it back several times.
The last time I removed it was last year. I then read it at the Writers’ Group I had been a member of during one of our many critiquing evenings. The feedback, criticism, and improvements to the scene inspired me to put it back in, especially after the group’s encouraging comments.
So the scene has remained as it gives the reader an understanding of the man’s behaviour and personality [a split one] in current times.
However I can’t help having doubts at its importance.
I am including it in this blog for your entertainment; I shan’t give too much away as to why the nightmare has come about, tormenting Ramon’s soul.
I welcome your comments – good or bad; which might help me decide whether it stays in or finally comes out before the book is eventually published…
Extract from “The Sword and the Rose” Copyright © Alexander Grant 2013
The dungeons were dark, save for an occasional taper fixed to the walls which burnt a dull yellow flame. Despite the dampness and cold within the depths of the castle, Ramon was extremely hot. The palms of his hands were sweating profusely as he passed his sword from one hand to the other; occasionally patting his chest to make sure his concealed dagger hadn’t fallen from his coat. Her pleas for help were faint, they seemed to emanate from somewhere ahead of him, but the gloom only allowed him to see his immediate vicinity. There were scratching sounds as rats, disturbed by his presence, scurried on their way.
Behind heavy iron doors, some which seemed as though they had sealed themselves from having not been opened in many years came inhuman cries of anguish from forgotten prisoners. Ramon wondered what they would be like; how long had they been there? What had been their crime? Perhaps they had become diseased from living in total darkness around their own excrement. Its smell was already filling the passageway in which he walked, making him want to constantly retch. Their clothes, if they had any to begin with, would have become rags, or even disintegrated to nothing. The cold on their naked flesh would make them constantly shiver. They would be filthy, riddled with fleas and lice; their teeth, if they still had any, would be rotten as would their gums. They would have lost their ability to communicate with men, having only rodents and insects as companions. In a short space of time they would become insane, and then finally beasts until death freed them from their anguish.
Ramon shook his head; why was he here? What in God’s name possessed him to come on such a perilous venture? He knew, in his heart, the answer before he had even asked himself the question. Somewhere in this maze of despair was his one true love…his betrothed…Paola.
His thoughts raced about in his head like a jumbled up mass of information, which he was desperately trying to sort out before the inevitable confrontation with her captors. The Infidel was renowned for his brutality to Christians. He remembered as a child the stories his father would tell him of the battles his own father had fought. At Lepanto, when the ships of the Holy League challenged those of the Turk, men boarded each other’s vessels for fierce hand-to-hand combat. The Infidel would swing his mighty scimitar, a vicious weapon which would shatter a normal rapier in one blow, and cut a man in half in another. Only incredible skill, superior Spanish Toledo steel, and God’s love would ensure survival against such odds; fortunately, his grandfather had been blessed with all three, and survived to recount the tale.
All Ramon knew was, that for someone as young as he, he should not have been there. Perhaps if the ship they had been travelling on had not encountered a storm and run aground on the coast of North Africa he would not now be in this position. But he was, so it was pointless speculating. The only thing he could do was find Paola, and then try making their escape.
He had been sent to Gran Canaria to see the land where his father had been born; and to visit his uncle and the rest of the de Cabazon family. His uncle, Don Alfonso de Cabazon, was extremely wealthy, owning vast plantations. He was well-respected and carried much influence in the community. It was he who arranged a match for Ramon, deciding he should become betrothed to Signorita Paola de Tristao, the only daughter to one of his dearest friends, a man wealthier than he.
Paola was bright-eyed, with a golden complexion, and a year older than Ramon. They had taken to each other on first meeting, and spent all their days together. When it was time for Ramon to return to Spain, Paola’s parents decided to make the journey to meet Ramon’s parents and arrange the marriage of their children.
Ramon remembered seeing Paola’s father struggling to reach his wife and daughter as they were swept overboard by a monstrous wave which had crashed over the ship. Moments later, as the vessel began to break up on rocks; he too seemed to disappear beneath the waves as he slipped over the side. Whilst desperately holding onto some flotsam for buoyancy, Ramon could see Arab tribesmen clambering down the cliffs slaughtering any male survivors and carrying away the women and anything else of value which had been washed ashore. Not wishing to fall victim to the Infidels’ blades, Ramon paddled a small distance though trying not to lose sight of them. He dragged himself ashore, and followed the tribesmen to a castle which was located practically on the cliff’s edge. To avoid detection, he had smothered his flesh with dirt to disguise the colour of his skin, and had stolen some cloth from a nearby dwelling to wrap around him. Through luck, more than anything else, he had managed to penetrate the fortifications, until he found himself in the depths of the castle itself.
Now as he drew closer to where he believed the women to be, he could hear their screams and whimpers. They were obviously being tortured, abused and raped. Ramon steadied his nerves as best he could, afraid of what he might find. As he spied through a doorway, he was right. Many of the women had been stripped bare, they lay on the floor shivering from fear and cold, weeping as the tribesmen, also stripped, took turns in having intercourse with them. Ramon’s blood was enraged, but what could he do? He was merely a fourteen year old youth with a sword, against two dozen ruthless killers.
In the dim light of the chamber, he could just make out Paola leaning against a wall looking wretched, but thankfully appearing still untouched. During the whole time he watched, which seemed hours, yet only a few minutes, the tribesmen where shouting abuse and spitting at the women, whilst intermittently laughing – no doubt enjoying their work. When one of the tribesmen seized Paola by the hair with one hand and tore off her clothes with the other, exposing her delicate body, Ramon lost all reason. He burst into the room yelling abuse, swiping and thrusting his finely tempered steel rapier at the women’s assailants. He worked his way towards Paola until he was finally stopped by one of the Arabs. He was a monster of a man, built like a human wall. He must have been over six-foot tall, and seemed to be just as wide. He stood naked before Ramon; his skin shimmered from perspiration in the torch-light. With one hand grabbing Ramon’s sword arm, and the other around the boy’s throat, he lifted the youth several feet in the air, before throwing him forcibly across the room, where he fell heavily against a wall.
“You think you save women?” someone shouted in broken Spanish.
“Perhaps he wants to have the women?” another comment was made, followed by laughter.
The giant had stomped across the chamber, stepping over some of the slain men to where he was lying. This time the sword was taken from him, and its point pressed against Ramon’s own throat. At the sound of a voice booming over the incessant chatter of the men who were demanding the death of the youth, the sword was quickly withdrawn, and the room fell silent.
Ramon could barely make the speaker out as he stood in the shadow of the giant. Suddenly the big man stood aside. Looking up at the new arrival revealing him to be a tall man, and although his skin was dark, did not appear to be Arab. He was dressed in European attire, and had a haughty demeanour suggesting nobility of some kind.
“I admire your courage, although such a brave act is also an extremely foolish one.” The man said in excellent Spanish as he approached Ramon.
“Who are you? Why do you allow this to happen?” Ramon replied, sweeping his arms, gesturing at the scene about him.
“It is how we deal with spies.”
“They are merely women who have been unfortunate to be shipwrecked in this filthy land.”
“Then you are a spy, perhaps?”
“I am no spy.”
“It is of no consequence; you shall suffer their same fate.”
Ramon quickly scampered to his feet, threw himself at the man, knocking him over, and sitting astride his chest, pressed a small dagger, which he had been concealed in his coat, against the man’s throat.
“Release the women or you die.” he shouted.
There was some movement near him, and Ramon pushed the blade harder into the man’s skin, this time drawing blood. At that, the man shouted something in Arabic, and slowly his followers backed away.
“You have made your point.” he told Ramon cautiously, “what do you want?”
“Release the women and give them safe passage to Spain.” he demanded.
“Remove the blade from my throat, and we shall talk.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“You have no other choice that is why.”
“But I do, I can kill you.”
“And you and the women will all die horrible deaths.”
Reluctantly Ramon dropped his hand. Instantly the leader jumped to his feet, pushing him into the grasp of the giant. The man shouted an order, and all the women were ushered out of the chamber. Ramon was never to see any of them again. The giant dragged him to a wall, where iron chains were secured to his wrists, and his face against the cold rough stone. He wriggled violently trying to free himself, but only succeeded in causing his wrists to bleed as the rusty metal cut into them.
“Such a heroic act, for what?” the man scoffed. “You have achieved nothing.”
“I have killed some of your filthy men.” Ramon spat defiantly, “and I have freed the women.”
“For the men you killed, it is of no consequence. As for the women, all you are aware is they have left this chamber, only I know their fate.” he laughed callously. Still laughing, he issued some instructions. The giant approached and ripped off all of Ramon’s clothes.
“Now you will pay the price for laying your filthy Spanish hands on my person.”
Before he had even finished speaking, Ramon felt a sharp pain on his back, as a lash fell on it. He bit into his lip, drawing blood, rather than give his torturers the satisfaction of knowing his anguish. After the tenth blow, he lost count and consciousness.
A shower of cold sea water was thrown on him. The salt mingled into his open wounds causing him to cry out from the piercing stinging. The chamber was silent, and Ramon tried to look around to see if he was alone, but a large hand grabbed his head, pushing his face hard into the stone. He then felt his legs being forced apart, followed by an excruciating pain in his anus. At first, Ramon could not understand what was happening, then, as he could feel the presence on the giant close to him, the smell of his foul breath, and the stench of his body odour, it dawned on him what was happening. The realisation the disgusting man was raping him, made him vomit profusely, much to the pleasure of the other tribesmen who were watching, patiently awaiting their turn.
The constant abuse of his lower regions seemed to go on for an eternity. He no longer felt pain, just a kind of dull dumbness overwhelmed his broken body and he prayed in earnest that his misery would soon end. As though his devotions were answered, the shackles were removed from his wrists, and he slumped gratefully to the floor, tears running down the cheeks of his face. He was then picked up and slung unceremoniously over someone’s shoulder, being carried to where, he did not know nor did he care. All he could see in the dim light were stairs, lots of them, as he was taken upward. Then there was daylight, the storm had not abated. He could feel the rain beating down on him, like thousands of needles pricking his flesh, and the fierce wind sliced into the open wounds on his back making him wince. He closed his eyes tightly wishing away the nightmare. Without warning he sensed weightlessness, a sudden rush of air about him…….he was falling. Ramon willed himself to open his eyes in time to see the surf crashing on the rocks below, coming closer by the second.
RLB – Tomewriter