Friday, May 4, 2012

Change Yourself, Change the World: All That Matters

It was a rare sight to see the normally chipper Leon Corbett dejected and confused, but such was the case as he made the less than enthusiastic approach towards his brother’s home. It was the afternoon, though not that one could tell beneath the perpetual shroud cast over the land, and the gentle breezy autumn weather couldn’t do anything to lift the spirits of the embittered soldier. Thousands of scenarios had gone through Leon’s mind in the past week, but few of them brought any sort of comfort from the immense weight that dropped his shoulders to a slump. The Corbett brother could navigate the shortest routes through Southgate without any difficulty, but today his trek was deliberately inflated as he spent every precious moment debating what to say and how he would say it. Thick beads of sweat cascaded from his brow and down his sun-beaten face as he approached the thick mahogany door with his muscles numbed like the day he took his first life. He raised one fist up to alert his family to his arrival but found his body paralyzed in that moment; doubt infesting his thoughts as his heavy worries became more threatening. For the first time in years Leon was experiencing a fear he had felt since he was a directionless child with his arms quivering in their static motion. With a deep inhale he overpowered his crippling fear just long enough to knock on the door a single time, but the forceful rap was enough to notify the residents of his arrival.

“Uncle Leon!” The voice coming from the opposite side of the door belonged to Leon’s beloved niece and hearing her all too familiar squeal erased all the concern from the soldier’s battered mien.  His earnest smile returned, and his eyes lit up with enthusiasm as he watched the doorknob before him shake back and forth in an erratic fashion. Leon gently grasped that doorknob from his side and gave it the most gentle of twists before dropping to one knee so that the eager tyke could pull the door open and embrace her uncle with the warmth he had become fervently smitten with. The hug lasted a few joyous few seconds before Leon leaned back and looked his niece up and down. With every day Canna was becoming more of a spitting image of her mother with her soft pale skin, distinctly delicate cheekbones, and long hair in the same vibrant scarlet hue. More than that though, Leon looked into her eyes and still saw that fiery passion emblazed in her lenses; raw and unfocused yet unyielding in its conviction. They were the same eyes Leon found so awe inspiring when he first held her, and seeing a youth with such an immense will humbled a man who often felt his kind were a dying race in a world becoming increasingly tolerant of complacency. He became so lost in his jubilation that he didn’t notice Canna’s outreached hand until she spoke up. “Aren’t you going to shake my hand?”

The young girl’s face was curled into a disappointed pout until the old soldier eclipsed her tiny hand with his massive paw. The two shook hands as any two friends or acquaintances would, but the real excitement came once several seconds went by and the handshake hadn’t ended. Canna grinned as she got to test her strength by trying to pull her arm free of the guardsman’s grasp, but with a sly smile and tiny exertion of his well-trained strength Leon’s grip remained steadfast. Canna desperately tried to pull herself away, but when that seemed futile she brought her other arm in as she tried to pry off her uncle’s thick, coarse fingers. Leon loosed his grip just slightly so that the tiny toddler’s strength began to budge through her uncle’s titanic might though he was quick to tighten it once again when it seemed she might break free. The young girl started to giggle as she cried out for her own release, but Leon was quick to remind her of the rules of their game. “If you want me to let go you know what you have to say.”

“I yield!” she cried with a laugh before pulling her hand back and lightly rubbing her wrist. “How do you get so strong?” Canna asked after her laughter died down to a chuckle. Leon reached down and scooped his niece up into his arms before carrying her into his brother’s home.

“Well, it took a lot of work. I had to train every day, eat all my vegetables, and of course, never misbehave.” He flashed his niece a grin after that last statement, but the astute five-year old wouldn’t be so easily duped.

“That’s a lie.” She bluntly pointed out, eyes narrowing in her deductive prowess. Leon laughed before setting the girl gently down on a chair beside her father who sat and watched in silence.

“Maybe, but you should do all of that anyway. If you’re good, maybe I can show you a few exercises you can do every day before I leave.” Leon turned his attention to Kaevyn who sat back in his bulky wooden chair with the same impassive expression that was always seemingly painted onto his face. The elder brother gave his brother an acknowledging nod, but Leon would not tolerate such a paltry greeting. “Come on Kev, I know if you say more than fifty words in a day your throat would probably dry up, but you can’t muster up an actual hello for your brother?” Kaevyn sighed lightly before standing up from his chair to give his brother a hardy handshake before sitting back down and reverting back to his motionless state. Leon couldn’t help but laugh to himself. “Kev, I really think you should have been a monk. Free food, peaceful atmosphere, and that vow of silence would be a breeze for you.” Leon snickered to himself before his attention was drawn to the tight white bandages wrapped carefully around Canna’s left knee. “Hey Can, what happened to your knee?”

Canna didn’t have the chance respond once her mother gracefully entered the room and answered for her. “She got that when she was out rough-housing with the older boys in the neighborhood which I distinctly told her not to do.” Jude stated in her chiding maternal voice. “Oh, and Leon, her name is Canna. You know I hate it when you shorten it.” Jude was still an astounding woman, but now her more angelic features were highlighted by a maternal glow. She stood with elegance despite being eight-months pregnant, but her tongue was still laced with the venom that could tear a man’s self-esteem into shreds.

“Sorry about that, Jude.” Leon said as he rubbed the back of his head. Jude stared at Leon with a peculiar glare that the idealistic soldier knew all too well. It was the same condescending and judgmental stare she always had when she was thinking about her husband’s “directionless clown of a brother”, though Jude would never use those words in public. Leon knew her true feelings well enough though, but he always kept a smile up in the face of her harsh opinions with the proverbial mantra of “family is family” acting as the constant for his endurance. Within moments Jude’s critical expression faded away into her faux face of hospitality with allowed her to grin and give her brother-in-law a welcoming hug into her home despite her actual desires to see him leave.

“You’re looking good, Leon.” Jude’s compliments were sweet and earnest—a rare act of kindness from a woman who was easy to disappoint.

“Thanks. I’ve been putting a lot of extra hours into training recently. Got a big assignment coming up and uh…” Leon nervously scanned the room before realizing he wasn’t yet ready for this conversation and thus quickly changing the topic. “You look fantastic by the way. How far along are you?”

“Eight months.” Jude gently responded as she tenderly caressed her belly while dreaming of the undoubtedly beautiful child that will soon bless her life. “He’s going to be due very soon.”

“He?” Leon reflexively responded. “How do you know? Is my brother just imprinting that into your mind because he wants a son to help out at the forge?”

Jude chuckled lightly having legitimately found that remark amusing, which was not an often occurrence when it came to Leon’s brand of humor. “No,” she replied, “we were traveling in the city last month and we met a diviner of Sehahine on the street, and she said we were going to blessed with a strong, handsome son…” Jude’s voice trailed off into a faint whisper with those final words as she started thinking of her unborn child with endless affection in her eyes. Leon bit his tongue so as not to ruin the moment, but he knew all too well that Jude had been duped. The god’s power was at a mere fraction of their once immense power, and the number of the followers have dwindled to a handful of true faithful. Even if they had met a priestess of Sehehine she wouldn’t waste her goddess’ limited power performing trivial fortunes, and in all likelihood she had been tricked by a conman. Still, there was nothing he could do now that would fix that situation, so he opted to instead let her keep her peace of mind and instead silently prayed that his sister-in-law got her wish of a “strong, handsome son”. Jude came out of her wistful thinking and realized the real reason she actually came into the conversation. “Canna, I need you to help me with the stew.”

“But Mom, I don’t like cooking. It’s boring!” Canna whined, crossing her arms and huffing. Jude didn’t speak; she simply stared at her daughter, eyes slowly narrowing so that her misbehaving child would know this intimidating stare was meant only for her. Canna, full of a wild will, responded with her own passionately defiant glare, but Leon wouldn’t sit idly by and allow this confrontation to continue.

“Hey Can,” there was a momentary pause before Leon remembered the reprimanding he just took, “--na, go help your mom in the kitchen. I have to talk to your dad about something anyway.” Canna didn’t initially move, though her rebellious expression began to fade once her attention turned to her beloved uncle. “Do it, and maybe I’ll tell you a story after dinner.” The promise of one of Uncle Leon’s stories was enough to motivate the young girl into hopping down from her chair and following her mother into the kitchen, though Leon could tell from Jude’s face that his promise of more “stories” was not going to be well-received by the Corbett parents. Still, he intervened to avoid a potentially disastrous situation for his darling niece, so a few more cold looks from Jude was worth enduring. Leon took the seat beside his elder, though neither one turned to face his brother, and again the room became silent once Leon and Kaevyn were left alone.

“She’s uh… getting really big. Strong too. Should probably try to find something for her to focus her energy on though.” Leon rambled. “Maybe she could help you at your forge. Not like all the time I mean, but like just a little bit. I mean she’s strong, and pretty brave so I don’t think she’d have a lot of trouble.” Leon’s long-winded thought trailed off to an awkward end before Kaevyn lightly grunted an apathetic response. Leon lightly chuckled to himself. “Come on, Kev, for once in your life have an opinion of your own.” Though those words were said with Leon’s usual innocuous tone there was a bit more truth to it than normal as it seemed Canna’s departure was causing the immense pressure of his decision to return. Already he could feel the beads of sweat forming on his brow, his muscles tensing as if to prepare for an impact, and his foot uncontrollably tapping a nervous, erratic rhythm against the floor. Kaevyn was a quiet, unassuming man, but he was not stupid.

“What’s on your mind, Leon?” Every time Kaevyn spoke it seemed he didn’t waste a word as if one had the worth of gold, but for the first time in years Leon heard legitimate concern in his brother’s voice. It would have been a touching moment for the younger brother to recognize the humanity of his sibling, but the matter at hand blocked out nearly every other thought leaving only the intimidating truth. Leon had to say it now while he had the chance, but earnestly he’d rather march into a thousand wars before saying these next few words.

“I’m going to be going over the wall.” Leon’s words were quick and quiet—he didn’t want the women in the kitchen to know this truth yet, but he was panicked to realize his fear hadn’t yet subsided.

Kaevyn was quiet for a moment, staring ever forward as though his neck was locked in that position. His upper lip only briefly curled as his brow lowered and his normal responsive grunt became a violent huff. “You’re really never going to be satisfied until your life reaches a violent, disappointing end, aren’t you?” Just as Leon spoke the truth, Kaevyn was finally speaking his candid thoughts—though very likely in the more eloquent words of his wife.

“I’m not suicidal, Kev. It’s for a scouting mission. The allied races are getting a small party together to go scout some things on the other side of the wall and do recon. We’re not there to kill Lloth herself. If all goes well I may not even have to draw my sword.”

“Probably good considering you’re a rather unspectacular swordsman.” Kaevyn responded with words far more harsh that he had ever spoken to Leon with before, albeit in a tone still layered in restraint. “You just won’t let it go, will you? You’re not going to change anything by going over that wall. All you’re doing with your life is throwing it away because you can’t accept a simple inevitability.”

Leon’s temper started to rise, but he knew that he wasn’t going to gain anything by engaging in a vicious argument over morals with a man who’s opinions came from his blinkered wife. “It’s all I’m good at Kev. I know you and Jude want me to leave the military and just become a baker or something. I know you think I should find some girl and start having kids. I know you want me to live the life you get to enjoy but it’s just not who I am. I’ll never be a husband. I’ll never be a father. But… I think I can be a hero. I think I can do something great, or at least try to, even if it costs me everything. It’s the only thing that’s ever seemed right.”

Kaevyn returned to his normal silence as he let his thoughts settle until a point when they all made sense to him again, and one enormous truth stood out in this maelstrom of thoughts and emotions. He blurted it out, maybe not realizing the gravity of this notion himself. “Canna is going to be heartbroken if you leave.”

Finally it hit him—the painful fact he had been dreading to face. Leon’s grin faded away only to be replaced by a disgusted frown as he contemplated the consequences of this matter. He hated everything that it meant for his young niece, but after seeing those strong hazel eyes once again he was reminded of the stakes of this war. “Yeah, she is. Trust me… I know. So, that’s why I need to ask you a favor, Kev. I want to be the one that tells her. Alone.”

Kaevyn vehemently shook his head, his teeth clenched and his lips curling in a barely controlled anger. “Absolutely not. Canna already misbehaves and acts like she’s a soldier. Jude will not want you taking her off and telling her anything you want just because you feel like being a martyr.”

Leon turned to his brother; defeated and desperate, he pleaded with his brother. “Kev, please… let me do it.” He paused he choked back a swell of emotion and stated the blunt, miserable reality. “Kev, she’s the only person in this world who will actually give a shit when I’m gone. I don’t have anyone else is the world to say good-bye to, and I…” Leon sobbed just once, his head hanging in a self-pitying shame. “We’ve never been all that close Kev, but I need this more than anything. I’m sorry I’ve been such a headache to you and Jude. I’m sorry if you think I’m a bad influence on your daughter. I’m sorry if the only thing I’ve ever been to you is a disappointment, but to Canna… I actually matter, and I just don’t want to leave without telling her what I need to say.” Leon let out a deep exhale as the toxic truth he held deep inside was finally released into the open; the pressure, fear, and doubt now washed away. His eyes were still watery and his breath was still short and stressed, but for the first time in weeks Leon finally felt relieved.

Kaevyn sat back and closed his eyes. “I never saw you as a disappointment Leon. You say you’ll never be a husband, and that you’ll never be a father, but, Leon, you’ll always be a brother. Don’t ever forget that. If it means that much to you, then tell her.”

Leon’s smile returned as wiped the sweat from his brow away with the palm of his hand, a light chuckle broken by the slightest inflections of sobs. “Thank you, Kev. I uh… just thank you.” Kaevyn responded, now returned to his basest levels of emotions, with an acknowledging grunt, and once again the room became silent.


There you guys go, the second part of this little arc regarding Leon. First and foremost this is actually the third time I’ve written this, because I hated how it read the first two times—honestly I still don’t love this version, but it feels a lot better than the first two drafts. I’ve been writing this bascially since I finished “Family is Family”, but ran into writer’s block several times which brought this to a stand still for a few days. I was almost going to just sit on it for another week, but I was in a shockingly clear mood today and pretty much ripped this one off in a couple hours. Am I proud of it… not particularly, but I hate just about everything I write so I’ll leave that all for you guys to judge.

This whole part is to reveal Leon’s secret about going over the wall and showcase the relationship he has with his brother. Family is a huge theme in Canna’s story, and I wanted to showcase why it’s such a big part to Leon’s as well. I’ve always been fascinated by character motivations particularly those of the mentor figures because often times we never see what brought them to this point. Though I could easily tell the story of Leon’s childhood that would be radically off topic and excessive, but I do still want to tell some very important facts which will then become important to Canna. So the big thing here is Leon’s look at family particular how he and his brother get along. Obviously, they don’t get along well at all, not because they hate each other, but because they’re two totally different people. In life these guys would never interact or even really be acquaintences, but because of their family bond they’re linked forever. I’ve always found this a pretty interesting relationship because personally I get along great with my brother and sister, but I had friends who barely ever talked to their siblings and that was always so alien to me. Still, family is an astounding bond, and obviously very important to both brothers.

I really wish I had the talent to draw because I really don’t know if the scene with the two brothers is done justice in text. A big part of the moment for me is the fact they’re sitting next to one another (something I probably should have spent more time explaining), and the fact they aren’t looking at one another. It’s symbolic of their relationship; distant and faceless despite who they are. Maybe I should start directing a television series and do it there. I’d call it… Rollo T’s Sexy Secondhand Saucy Sassy Showcase. Mostly for the alliteration.

Another small factoid is the handshake. It might come off as cheesy, but honestly this is how my grandfather shook my hand. He would grab it and never let go. Oh God, I’m a fat loser on the internet about to cry about my grandfather. Oh hurry, do something funny! Alabama Puppy Fart! Okay, phew, I’m good. But yeah, that was something from my past that I thought would be a nifty little thing between the two.

I was asked if Leon and Kaevyn’s relationship is meant to reflect Canna and Darek’s, but honestly it’s not. The two sets of siblings are very different from one another. Probably the bigggest reason is that while Leon and Canna are very similar in personality, they’re roles in the relationship are reversed. Canna’s the elder in her pairing, meaning that Darek probably looks at her will to create change as an inspriation or something to admire, but Leon was the younger brother so his passion was seen more as immaturity. Leon and Kaevyn are just two guys who are nothing alike and don’t really have much to say. Their conversation probably could have gone longer here, but it have mostly just been Kaevyn grunting in approval. He’s just a quiet guy.

Canna and Darek on the other hand are pretty close. Since Canna never really held down a job and has never had a significant relationship she almost always spent time at the house, and outside of the year she spent in Arkhosia she’s always lived at home. Basically she’s been there every single year that Darek has been alive, so the two are pretty close. Even in a “silly person-straight man” way they’re different because Canna at least responds to Darek’s teasing. Kaevyn is just a quiet guy who never says much and lets his wife define most of his opinions, which we’ll get into more later. Trust me when I say that Jude will be a ridiculously big part of Canna’s life down the line, and I’ll have a lot more to say about her.

Anyway, that’s all for this CYCW. I’ll probably try another one maybe around the 18th or so. Sorry, the next one is probably the most important piece of Canna’s story, so I gotta give it proper dues. Thanks for reading, leave a comment if you had any thoughts on it (and if you didn’t I have to assume you’re a zombie), and keep it real losers. Erm… winners? Whatever. Get off my lawn.

1 comment:

  1. You may not love it, Chris, but I did, honestly. Same opinion as with the first installment, I feel you did a great job really painting a picture of things, both with the dialogue and with the other details. Honestly, I'm not even sure if this would even translate nearly as well into print and art than it would into a more video format. Especially here, I can almost hear Leon's speech to Kaevyn, the passion and near pleading tone that just escalates as he not only says what's on his mind but also has to come to terms with it himself.

    One thing that gets passed around in visual medium is the phrase "show, not tell." And really, odd as it is considering this is all text, I think you did a fantastic job portraying the emotions and conflicts and characterizations, without outright shoving it in our faces like we can't gleam those details for ourselves. Again, very interesting read, and I definitely look forward to the next installment and to more Shadowlands D&D, as well!

    Peace to you, Mr. T!