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Sunset Over Katharl

Sunset Over Katharl

Short Story Creative Process Background

This is a short story written for an assignment on the Open University course, A363 Advanced Creative Writing. The brief was to write a self-contained short story of approximately 1,500 words (with a 10% leeway) that could later be adapted into a dramatic medium (film, radio, or stage). Prior to writing this, I had been binge-playing Rome II: Total War and had started to formulate an idea for a speculative-fiction/alternative history story about an upcoming battle, but told from the perspective of someone powerless in that conflict.

The story presented here is as originally written, except for a few minor alterations to language, suggested by my tutor. I apologise for the formatting but WordPress apparently dislikes formatting things as I intend them, which will no doubt make for a good time when I put up the screenplay version of this tale!

Sunset Over Katharl

Finally, another day of boring lessons was over. Her tutor tried to call out something about returning straight home, but Alyria paid no heed. Having patiently sat and listened to tedious lectures regarding etiquette and housekeeping, she had little intention to linger for now it was her time, and she had plans.

Rushing out into the sand-coloured, cobbled streets of Katharl she immediately felt the warm sea-winds brushing across her skin; a stark contrast to the grey-stone classroom that always managed to be draughty and cold, regardless of the weather. Darting through the streets bathed in the warm glow of the deep orange sun she could hear people calling out from their homes, as if they were calling to her, but she cared not. A highborn girl like her did not need to stop for others.

Servants of noble houses hurriedly carted various wares on ramshackle wooden trolleys. She could identify which noble house any particular individual served by the House Seal marked on their forehead. The servants were always thin and she could never understand why they did not simply eat more. Food was plentiful in Katharl and they must have been paid well for all of their work. Alyria briefly recalled a man who was in service to her father several summers past. He would work from before she awoke until after she would sleep. The man had long since retired. She had not seen him in the streets since, and presumed that he had simply moved to another city with the riches her father must have bestowed upon him.

Clambering over the stone wall outside the Red Eye Tavern, Alyria paused for a moment as it dawned on her that other than the servants moving through the city, of which there seemed more than usual, everything was oddly quiet. The tavern would normally house many revellers, joking and laughing loudly, bellowing language that her father had forbidden her from using. Yet today there was nothing. Only the sound of the gulls circling the bay and the hurried rumbling of carts disturbed the peace. No matter, she thought to herself, as she proceeded towards the embankment that overlooked the harbour, hoping to catch another glimpse of him.

Alyria did not know his name, or even where he lived. She  did not even know if he was local to Katharl but she had become infatuated since she first gazed upon that muscular, bronzed body glimmering in the warm evening sun. The image of his long, crimson hair flowing in the sea-wind often came to her dreams. Every fifth weekday for the past few months she would watch from the embankment as his ship, the Valloria, sailed into the bay to unload its cargo. She longed for him to notice her but he had never looked up. Her father had forbidden her from going down to the harbour. Sailors only want one thing, he would tell her, although he had never elaborated on what that was.

With the steps to the top of the embankment in sight, her heart plummeted. There were others. A hundred men or more clad in brown leather, with swords strapped to their sides, quivers full of arrows on their back and bows in hand stood watching over the walls. A hand suddenly grabbed her and spun her around.

‘You shun’t be ‘ere,’ a man sneered at her.

He was a tall man, of perhaps forty years with a scar on his right cheek that seemed to smile at her through a mixture of white-tipped stubble. His nose was slightly crooked, pointing off to one side and his face was framed by greasy, black hair.

‘Why ever not?’

‘Who are yer?’ the man demanded.

‘Alyria Volghanis.’

The man rolled his eyes at her. ‘Well, Alyria Volghanis, you best run ‘long ‘ome, you ‘ear?’

‘My father is Marvell Volghanis, the High Commande-’

‘I couldn’t gi’ a fuck if your father is the Emp’ror. You shun’t be ‘ere, now fuck off ‘ome.’

Alyria stood with her mouth ajar. Nobody had ever spoken to her like that, and she was certain that were her father to hear about this then there would be repercussions for the rude soldier. Slipping the man’s grasp, she quickly clambered up the steps, jumping in the air to try and see over the wall. In the distance a large number of ships was emerging from the haze, a number far greater than she had seen before. Before she could get another look the man grabbed her around the waist and hoisted her above his shoulders. He ignored her kicks and protests and carted her like a sack of vegetables back down the street before dropping her outside the tavern.

‘Alyria?’ she heard her father call from some distance.

‘Now you shall be sorry,’ she turned to the man with a smirk. He merely snarled like a dog in response.

Her father rushed towards her and took her by the hand. She began to try and tell him about the rude man but he simply dragged her away. There was something different about him. Ordinarily her father walked with a disposition whereby one could sense the air parting in surrender before him. Today, however, he was clearly nervous. Beads of sweat rolled down his head as if he had been working tirelessly in the sun throughout the day. His normally well-kempt brown hair was dishevelled, with errant strands brushing across his face.

The two arrived home and Marvell pushed her inside. ‘You are not to leave here. Do you understand?’

‘But why?’

Alyria watched as her father held his hand to his face. He seemed to stop everything for a moment, as if his soul had left his body leaving nought but a statue behind. Eventually his hand dropped and his eyes looked upon her. There was a sadness to them that she had never seen, as though a hard shell had cracked, revealing an unusual vulnerability.

‘The city is about to be besieged,’ he spoke. His voice trembled as though he was recognising a truth for the very first time.

‘What? By whom? Why?’

Thirteen years in this world and Alyria had never known anyone to attempt an attack on Katharl. The city had been peaceful and pleasant. It made no sense to her why someone would attack them. She watched her father, his eyes dancing around the room as if he were desperately looking for answers in the grey stone walls.

‘The Illenians. They are expanding their empire to the east.’

She knew of the Illenians from her classes. ‘But they are our allies, are they not? We formed the Fourth Coalition to defeat the Remani?’

‘That we did, child,’ her father responded with the tone of a man about to be hanged. ‘Time ago, the Katharl held the central strip of the continent from north to south but we have declined. We no longer provide a wall between the Illenian and their enemies in the east. And so they seek our lands because it is better in their hands than those of another.’

Alyria forced saliva down her throat. She still could not understand why the Illenians? would attack Katharl. Her skin suddenly felt so cold that her arms might shatter into a thousand icy pieces if she moved.

‘We shall surely triumph, though?’ she whispered, forcing the words out over the lumps in her throat.

Marvell began shaking his head but quickly stopped and composed himself. He knelt down in front of Alyria and took her hand, stroking it softly with his thumb. ‘Gods willing.’

Alyria could see the doubt drawn across his face and the fear in his hazel eyes. Realising that her father did not believe his own words, her stomach seemed to turn in her body, twisting itself like a serpent crushing its prey.

A tear formed in her right eye and trickled down her cheek, ‘Wh…What if we fail?’

Marvell bowed his head. ‘You will live. That I can promise. But…’

‘But what, father?’

She watched as he wiped a tear from his own face. She had never seen her father shed a single tear before, not even when her mother was returned to the heavens’ many years ago.

With a deep sigh, Marvell whispered, ‘But… do not resist.’

The two sat in silence for a moment. Alyria placed her hand on her father’s head and stroked his hair. She desperately wanted to understand what he meant by his words but fear grasped her lips shut.

Suddenly the church bell sounded and outside the doors  footsteps thundered through the town like stampeding cattle. Marvell leapt to his feet and grabbed his sword. He rushed to the door. He quickly turned back to Alyria with the slightest smile tightening on the left-side of his face. With a quick nod he left and Alyria rushed to the door, bolting it behind him.

She trembled and twitched, hearing the alarmed voices outside before rushing upstairs to her bed. Alyria had never given much thought to the gods before but now she felt compelled to beg for their assistance. Pulling the blanket over her head to shut out the world, she began uttering the words of the preachers so that she might see her father again.

Open University

For those interested in dabbling in creative writing, the Open University offers several courses – I’m not paid by them, I’m simply a student with them. You may want to take a look at the Open University’s Creative Writing Hub where you can find information about free courses, paid for courses and other creative writing topics.


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