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legionare117

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This is my entry into the short story competition. I know it is a piece of trash and that I was wasting my time entering the competition in the first place, but I'm hoping that if nothing else people will be able to receive a boost to their confidence if they see just how bad some of the entries were. If you wish to criticize be my guest, though I warn you that offering advice will be a waste of time as some authors are simply too terrible to become any better, myself among them.

Lest These Walls Should Fall by Austin Williams


Part 1
A warm breeze was blowing in from the Sea of Marmara, the sound of rolling waves breaking against the shingles of the coast echoed into the night. Towering above the sea were walls that seemed to touch the very clouds themselves, over a hundred feet tall in some areas. The walls were over a thousand years old, though held their ground with all the grim solidarity of a watchman on duty. The city held within the colossal structure was lit by scattered fires within though the majority of it was shrouded in the night. Even in the darkness the city’s magnificence was clear, it was truly a city of the ages, a city of the world’s desire. The city of Constantinople.

Dozens of shapes were visible on the double walls that marked the outermost layer of the cities defenses, guards and watchmen milled about, their eyes ever vigilant for a threat. One man stood apart from the common guards, swathed in fine cloaks of purple and gold, poised still as a statue as he gazed into the darkness. He was a tall man rather handsome despite his age, a thick black beard covering his face. A regal manner surrounded this man, his fine clothing a small part of a greater whole. Another man made to approach him, cloaked in the same royal purple though his clothing more that of a warrior than a ruler. He contemplated interrupting the man’s solace for a moment before turning to leave.

“What is it Loukas?”

The words were spoken quietly, the man not even facing the other man as he spoke them. Turning on his heel and bowing at the waist the man began to speak.

“My Emperor, the last of our guests has arrived. They are receiving refreshments at the Porphyrogenitus Palace, and are awaiting your arrival.”

The Emperor breathed heavily, closing his eyes and hanging his head as he hunched over onto the wall. Dread overcame him as he anticipated what was to come; a great fear existed deep within him. The next few hours would be some of the most important in his life, the gravity of the situation at hand taking its toll on the Emperor. Knowing that he must wear a façade of confidence, the Emperor smiled at the other man before pacing beside him.

“We had best not keep our guests waiting. Who refused our invitations in total again?”

“The Austrians expressed their deepest regrets as they always do. An assortment of various Italian and German duchies have followed suite with the Austrians. The French and English cannot put down their swords for long enough to even offer a response. The Portuguese have yet to respond, as have the Danes though I suspect that we will receive little from them. The King of Poland could not spare a dignitary, though he did invite you to spend a summer visiting him in several years time. I found his response to be rather amusing in all honesty your majesty.”

The Emperor laughed despite his dour disposition. He spoke as they approached the grand Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, guards bowing before the noblemen while the doors were opened.

“So that leaves dignitaries from Venice, Genoa, and Hungary yes?”

Loukas grinned slightly, relishing the opportunity to magnify his achievements before the Emperor.

“You forget the men from the Pope’s court, they arrived only recently. I also managed to ensure the presence of officials from Castile and Wallachia as well.”

The Emperor stopped and turned to face his companion, smiling in admiration of the man’s diplomatic abilities. The presence of courtiers from Hungary, Genoa, and Venice were almost guaranteed, Spaniards and Papal representatives however were scarcely expected to have come. The presence of the Wallachians was a far stranger occurrence, as the state of Wallachia was a pledged vassal of their enemy.

“Loukas Notaras, were there a greater position in my court than that which you so deservingly hold, I swear that you would have it.”

The Grand Duke chuckled to himself, his pride greatly swelled. Notaras was an older man than the Emperor, and had served his predecessor in a similar capacity to that which he now did. As Grand Duke he was responsible not only for the bureaucratic affairs of the Empire, but of diplomatic matters as well. Notaras had always been talented at making numbers add up in the manner desired, and his silver tongue had made him a capable diplomat, though the decades he had spent in the service of the Empire had taken their toll.

“My lord I fear that if you were to give me any more rope, I would hang myself.”

The two men shared a hearty laugh, the mood lightened in a macabre sort of way. They had come to the entrance of a great assembly hall, the door shut and guarded as a group of clerks and servants milled around the noblemen. A set of men had begun hounding Notaras with questions in a rather urgent manner, as servants began to clean and tidy the Emperors regalia. The servants departed after a short while, leaving the two men to join the coming meeting in peace. The Emperor swallowed hard as he nodded to the guards to open the door, marching forward with great dignity and poise. What lay beyond was a thing far more terrifying than war, diplomacy.


Part 2

“Presenting His Royal Majesty, Constantine Palaiologos, Emperor of Byzantium, eleventh of his name and heir to the throne of Ceaser, Lord of Constantinople and master of all Greeks.”

The herald had been particularly long winded as heralds so often were, enunciating every word with all of the flattery of a beggar. Constantine held his frustration in check, angry that the court herald had ignored his order to make his introduction simple and short. In part he did have to be grateful that the herald had indeed shortened his introduction, as in standard practice it would have lasted several minutes longer and included dozens of additional titles.

The foreign dignitaries that filled the amphitheatre rose from their seats as the Emperor had entered, standing in respect of their host. The assembled diplomats were identified by their own heralds in turn, translators and scribes standing in hushed knots beside their masters. Prince Henry of Castile, Sir John Hunyadi of Hungary the fabled White Knight, Patrician Agostino Barbarigo of Venice, Captain Giovanni Giustiniani of Genoa, Cardinal Rodrigo de Borgia of Rome, and standing quietly besides Hunyadi; Prince Vlad of Wallachia. Vlad intrigued Constantine, the young prince had a despondent and bitter nature about him that showed clearly though his easily read face.

The names Borgia and Barbarigo carried little weight to them, and Constantine paid them decidedly less heed than the other dignitaries. Hunyadi was a legend to the Slavic people of the region for his numerous battles against the Ottomans, though a younger man than Constantine he had a certain air of authority about him that was equal parts natural and ingrained from years of command. Giustiniani was a member of one of the most powerful houses in Genoa, a young man with the charisma and gallant nature of Sir Galahad of the Arthurian Legends. Henry however had a strange reputation of his own. Being the eldest son of King John II of Castile he was expected to take the throne upon his father’s death, though despite his marriage to the supposedly beautiful Blanche of Navarre he had yet to produce a single child. Rumors always surrounded the prince, a fact that Constantine kept to the forefront of his thoughts.

“All of you sit please. Though you are my guests, in this room I am no greater a man than any of you present. Here I am merely Constantine, a simple Christian and Greek who would have your ear.”

The assembly seated themselves, many nodding in admiration while others grinned at the humility of the Emperor. It was a simple ploy Constantine had learned early in his life, knowing that humility was a virtue well respected by most men. His declared status as a Christian was also a ploy. The schism between the Eastern and Western Churches had always been a hot bed for debate, one which Constantine wished to settle early by declaring his allegiance to God above all else. Cardinal Borgia bore a slight smirk, catching the Emperor’s diplomatic move. Perhaps this man was indeed worthy of some note.

“I come before you a servant to my people and as a brother in Christ; I come before you asking your help.”

With this Constantine dropped to a knee, bowing before the diplomats. Gasps were heard by many of those present, a ripple of shock going through the dignitaries. An Emperor was said to bow to no man. After a moment Constantine lifted his head to see the reactions of the foreign diplomats, hoping that this further act of humility would have an even greater effect. Giustiniani was aghast, many of the others showed looks of varying confusion, while Hunyadi now smirked in Borgia’s place. Hunyadi was clearly as skilled a diplomat as he was a warrior. Constantine rose before the assembly, continuing his oratory.

“The Ottomans are coming. Mehmed has declared his intention to take Constantinople and complete his conquest of Byzantium. We have held off the Turks for years, but I fear that we may not be able to hold them off this time. The Theodosian walls have been repaired, but we have neither the men to hold them nor the ships to hold the Sea of Marmara. I ask you to provide us with these so that Constantinople will stand longer still against these heathens.”

Silence overtook the crowd as the weight of Constantine’s words sank in. Giustiniani soon stood and began to speak with all of his charm and gusto.

“For Honor’s sake you shall have whatever aid I am able to give on behalf of Genoa.”

Barbarigo soon followed suit.

“Venice survives off of trade from our Greek allies; you will have all that we can give.”

Vlad began to speak quietly, his translator conveying the Prince’s words in Greek.

“There is no man on this earth who hates the Turks more than I. But I have nothing to offer, I stand before you here while a pretender who grovels at the feet of the Ottomans sits on my throne.”

Hunyadi rose before the assembly, speaking in rough Greek.

“Young Vlad speaks the truth, though I shall see him returned to his throne in short order. As it stands I will pledge to you this Constantine, Hungary will be at your back. The Turks defeated us at Varna so many years ago; I wish to show them what we are truly capable of.”

The dignitaries from Castile and Rome were still silent, Henry nervously tapping his foot. He was about to speak when Notaras’s silver tongue stepped in.

“Most noble Prince of Castile, I can see your hesitation. We understand entirely that you are troubled, with the devious lies that are spoken of you it must be difficult to focus upon such trivial matters as war.”

Henry’s face flushed red with embarrassment; he stood before the assembly breathing heavily before speaking.

“You will have my sword.”

The last member of the assembly to remain silent, Cardinal Borgia, began to laugh loudly to the confusion of the gathering. He leveled his hard gaze on the Emperor.

“I have been placed in quite the position. If I were to deny you the aid of His Holiness we would seem the most honorless dogs to roam this earth. Thankfully I was never here to consider your offer, but to deliver the words of the Pope. You will have our support, as you have always had.”

With that the assembly dismissed, many of the dignitaries riding out into the night to carry messages to their lords. Constantine and Notaras sat across from one another sharing wine as they discussed the battle to come. Before long the sun had begun to rise in the east and Notaras excused himself for some much deserved rest. Constantine swirled the wine in his glass, the motion of the blood red liquid entrancing the Emperor.

“Perhaps there is hope after all.”


Part 3

The world had been set afire. The city and all within it burned with such impunity that neither treasured libraries nor sacred temples were spared the torch. Constantine found a certain grim humor in the fact that is Mehmed could not have Constantinople for himself; he would see it burned to the ground. It was a dangerous man who would happily see the entire world burn if only to claim the ashes and charred ruin as his own. For five days straight the Ottomans had lobbed pots of burning pitch over the double Theodosian walls, a practice that had shocked the defenders for the gross civilian casualties such a tactic caused. Constantine felt his stomach turn as the wind shifted and the smell of charred flesh filled his nostrils, the Ottomans would never be forgiven of this crime.

The attack had been as much to send a message as it had been to hasten the end of the siege. A madman of a Venetian by the name of Alviso Diedo had managed to outfit what few ships remained of the defending navy as fire ships and attacked the Ottoman fleet. The forces guarding the Golden Horn walls had looked on in awe as the vessels crashed into one another, exploding in a magnificent fury that sent every Ottoman warship to the bottom of the inlet. Had Diedo survived his heroic, if rather insane gambit Constantine had resolved to award him with as great an honor he could muster. Alas the Venetian Captain was still unaccounted for alongside many of the crew that took part in the attack.

Spies within the Ottoman camp had reported that Mehmed had spit up the tea he was drinking upon being informed of the disaster. While the validity of such a tale was impossible to determine, it had sent an even greater ripple of boosted morale into the besieged Byzantines. Such high spirit was soon lost as the Ottomans began bombarding the city with fire bombs. Worse still was the fact that the great bombards of the Turks had begun to fire into the night, making rest a near impossibility for the defenders. Constantine peered into the night towards Mehmed’s camp, contemplating for a moment if the Sultan was doing the same.

Seated at a nearby table were Notaras and Giustiniani, the Venetian commander Minotto, charged with the defense of the northern walls from the keep at Blachernae had expressed his deep regrets at not being able to attend the meeting as he had suffered a grievous injury to his leg. Constantine nursed his own injuries when he was able though thankfully none impeded his ability to lead and fight. Giustiniani on the other had appeared pale and sickly, a bloody bandage covering the ruin of his left eye. Notaras carried himself with a tired demeanor, a sight Constantine had come to see in all of the defenders. The siege had lasted for twenty-seven days, and not for one had the Turks allowed the Greeks respite. For all that he despised the attackers; Constantine could not deny their blatant disregard for their own lives. For days they had charged the walls, when one man fell his comrades would make to recover the corpse, and when these men fell more still would come. Whether a matter of pride or custom, the Turks were determined not to leave a single body at the base of Constantinople’s great walls.

Notaras broke the silence with a question, for what little was silent with the incessant thunder of Turkish guns.

“Is it done?”

Giustiniani looked upon the Emperor expectantly, all sense of nobility and valor drained of the man. For one who had stood the tallest among Constantine’s allies, the toll of the siege had been more apparent on no man than the Genovese General. Constantine turned slowly, his gaze hanging on the Ottoman lines, leveling his gaze on the two men who had bled with him for the past month, more brothers than any of his spoiled siblings. He breathed deeply and spoke to the two men.

“Our fastest ship is bound for Dalmatia; it should arrive in a few days time. I have also sent a ship to the port of Pera so that they may once again supply us.”

Giustiniani’s expression soured, Notaras spoke for both men.

“Can we last that long? Constantinople burns every day that we fight on; by the time help arrives I wonder if there will be much left to save? You say it will take several days for word to reach our allies and by my own estimate weeks at the least for them to reach us. We guard these walls watching vigil over the funeral pyre of our people.”

A harsh look from Constantine silenced Notaras; the man froze in terror before a softer gaze saw him to his seat. Constantine became lost in his own thoughts for several minutes as his two Generals discussed various aspects of the defense. After some time the Emperor spoke, not seeking to address either man, but doing so nonetheless. His voice rose with every word, soon becoming a bellowed shout.

“These walls were built by the Emperor Theodosius II; they are over a thousand years old. In the first decades of their life they were nearly destroyed by earthquakes, earthquakes of all things nearly felled this great construct. In mere minutes the work of nine years was almost lost, and yet these walls stand today. The hand of god himself could not destroy the walls of Constantinople, and now this young upstart of an infidel believes that he can do better! I swear upon my life that Mehmed will never have this city! Not he, nor his children, nor his grandchildren, nor any member of his accursed house!”

Constantine paused for a moment, calming himself as the others looked on in a mixture of shock and fear. He once more found himself staring at the tents of the besieging army, fixing upon what he knew in his heart to be Mehmed’s.

“The Ottomans will never have this city. Lest these walls should fall, Constantinople will never be theirs.”


Part 4

“They have breached the walls!”

The voice cried out from the thick knotting of soldiers that filled the blackened streets within Constantinople. Men were scattered in concentrated positions throughout the city, occupying crucial chokepoints in anticipation of the battle to come. Across the tortured cityscape milled the few soldiers that remained to defend the city, the dirtied royal purple of the Byzantine defenders standing in stark contrast to the darkness of the charred ruins of the city.

Seventeen days had passed since Emperor Constantine had sent for his allies, and reports of their march were sparse and anything but encouraging. Reinforcements had arrived however via the open ports of Constantinople, nearly a thousand Genovese and Venetian soldiers to man the walls, and even a small contingent of Spanish and Papal men. However, these men were not the hardened veterans required to hold the walls, and the wall sections they were sent to reinforce had quickly fallen in the assault that the Turks had launched in the night.

While the majority of the defenders slumbered, the Ottomans had managed to move a large number of their feared Janissaries to the base of the great wall undetected. The attack that had claimed the outer walls had been both swift and deadly, claiming the entirety of the sparsely defended outer wall. Constantine had ordered his forces to hold the cities inner wall, word reached Giustiniani too late however, and he sallied forth from his position to the south in a heroic effort to repel the invaders. In the chaos of the broken sally reports contrasted with some saying that the Genovese General had been slain while others claimed him to simply be injured severely. One thing was for certain however, the sally had failed, and the Turks had begun to pour into the inner wall.

In the following hours Constantine had attempted to salvage the defense by pulling the defenders back into the tight city streets in an attempt to funnel the Ottomans and remove the advantage they maintained in numbers. Not all had managed to escape the walls in time, Minotto and his Venetians were reportedly trapped in the northern keep of Blachernae. Minotto was said to have yelled from the fortification at the approaching Turkish soldiers.

“We may die, but we will make you pay for every footstep you take with blood! We will sell our lives dearly!”

Constantine thought upon Minotto’s brave words for a moment. He supposed that at this point all he and his men would be able to do was to give their lives for all they were worth. He saw the look of despair in his men’s eyes, the look of tiredness and defeat. Something else lie beneath however, a certain resolve that could only come to a man who was about to face death, it was after all well known that a cornered beast would fight with the most savagery. Constantine thought he saw movement in front of him, squinting to see farther in the early morning mist. The sun was just beginning to rise in the east, fighting with the sun at their backs gave the Greeks a small advantage in defending the city.

“Turkish flags are flying over Blachernae!”

The new voice cut over the distant sound of battle. It appeared as though Minotto’s gallant last stand was short lived. Constantine quietly prayed that the man had died as he wished, taking as many of the dreaded Turks with him as he was able. The men surrounding Constantine began to murmur of the implications of the keep falling, his own retinue beginning to show doubts. His head began to ache, the thoughts of the loss of the walls coming to the forefront of his mind. He recalled his words from weeks earlier, he had prophesized this day.

The walls had fallen. Constantinople was lost.

Emotion overtook the man and he began to weep tears of rage, balling his fists and tearing at his regalia. His retinue stared on in confusion as their lord disrobed himself of his royal vestments. In mere moments Constantine had shed all of his finery, now appearing no different from any of his men. He drew his sword and began to march forward, abandoning his defensive position. His retinue followed closely behind, the additional defenders doing the same. A quiet curse escaped Constantine’s lips.

“The city is fallen and I am still alive.”

All of the soldiers within the city abandoned their positions, hearing of the bravery of their Emperor and not wishing for him to die alone. Savage fighting had erupted all across the city, all sense of order and nobility lost in an epic brawl that saw the hallowed streets of Constantinople run red with the blood of Greek, Italian, Spaniard, and Turk alike. Within hours the Ottoman forces had been pushed back to the inner walls of the city, the great construct reclaimed in just as brutal a fashion as they were lost. Constantine stood over the corpse of an Ottoman soldier on the wall.

The man was clearly no Janissary, his equipment far too poor in quality to be that of a member of the elite Turkish force. The man was an Anatolian if Constantine were to guess, an azap that was little more than rabble organized into large clusters in order to effectively combat the Greeks. Constantine turned his gaze away from the corpse. This man was not the first to lose his life to the Emperor’s blade, and Constantine prayed that he would not be the last.

The Ottoman guns had started to fire once more, tearing away heaps of stone and flesh, Turkish and Greek alike. The sun had risen to its apex, bathing the butchery of the battle in noonday heat. Word had spread that Minotto had by some miracle managed to survive his last stand, his men choking the halls of Blachernae with the bodies of Turkish soldiers and barring any easy passage. Constantine remarked that while the man had been robbed of the glorious death he seemed to covet that he was of far more use alive than dead. News had also spread of Notaras’s capture by a group of Janissaries.

When the section of wall he was charged to defend fell he had made efforts to rally what remained of the defenders, but was taken prisoner by the advancing Turks. A group of men had rushed to rescue the commander, and had witnessed him break free of his bonds and slaughter the shocked Janissaries. Constantine pondered offering the man further elevation for a moment before quietly chuckling as he recalled his statement from months past. Perhaps if given more rope now Notaras would choose to hang a fair few of the Ottomans before himself. A runner scurried over the rubble of the inner wall to Constantine’s side.

“There are ships entering the harbor sire.”

The man was an Italian, his appearance disheveled but the mark of the Pope still present on his right breast. His head was wrapped in bloody rags, and the ruined remains of his right arm hung in a rough sling. The man had only recently arrived with the small contingent of Pope Nicholas’s men, and yet his worth in combat had already been wasted away. It was good that they were able to find use of him still as a messenger.

“Turks?”

“No sire, they are Venetian. There are hundreds of them sire.”

Constantine pondered for a moment. The Venetians had the largest fleet in the Mediterranean, and now it was anchored in the harbor of the beleaguered city. Barbarigo had said that Venice would offer all that they could give and it seemed that they were now making good on this promise.

“Let them dock, send the commander to Blachernae where we are weakest.”

The Italian bowed and hurried down the rubble to his waiting horse. Hundreds of ships, with the harbor of the city now secure the men stationed on the city’s sea walls could now go where they were most needed. Though the greatest aid the Venetians provided were warm bodies to man the remainder of the Theodosian walls, a commodity they were in short supply of. Constantine paused, sensing that something had changed without his notice during his conference with the messenger. It was quiet. The Ottoman bombards had ceased firing.

Men who dared to peer over the ramparts did so with great confusion, seeing the Turkish soldiers who were holding the outer wall do the same. Constantine climbed the stairs of a nearby tower, one of the few left standing, and gazed towards the Ottoman lines. The Emperor’s vision had never been the best, and he struggled to focus on the milling shapes in the distance, he turned to the lookout that stood beside him, mouth agape.

“What are you gawking at?”

The man, a Spaniard, turned to face Constantine, shock on his face. The sight before them had distracted the man to such an extent that he had not even noticed Constantine’s arrival. A look of joy soon overtook the man as he spit out his words in broken Italian.

“Banners! Banners over the enemy camp! Spain, Venice, Genoa, Hungary, I think I even see the standard of the Holy Father himself!”

The man crossed himself as he turned to watch in wonder at the chaos of the Turkish lines. Constantine stood in shock, tears pouring from his eyes for the second time of the day. The news began to spread to the defenders, shouts and cries in broken languages filled the air. Constantine fell to his knees, his legs becoming weak. His allies had honored their words. Constantinople was saved.

A cry echoed into the air, foreign and strange to the newer arrivals, but deeply ingrained into the minds of the veteran defenders. A grim silence overtook the men on the inner wall as Constantine hurried to his feet, rushing down the stairs of the tower. The cry was sounded again, this time repeated by a thunder of voices, thousands of throats throwing forth the same words.

“Vur ha!”

It was a war cry, meaning “strike” in Turkish this phrase had been burned into the memory of every man in Constantinople. The Turks on the other side of the wall began to charge from their positions, attempting one last massive assault against the defenders. Thousands of men rushed forward, a wave of humanity crushing the bodies of the fallen underfoot. The men on the inner wall braced themselves along the defenses, preparing to hold off the Ottoman offensive. Constantine marched towards the opening, sword drawn, ready to face whatever fate was due for him knowing that his city would survive. His fight was not yet over.


Part 5

Isabelle pondered the small man who stood before her. He was clearly intimidated, as he well should have been in the presence of the Queen of Castile. Many called Isabelle arrogant, a claim that had much ground, and one which she was ironically proud of. She had for the most part tuned out the droning of her heralds, and had come to realize that she had not heard the man’s name. She focused for a moment before his name returned to her. Cristóbal Colón.

The portly Genovese explorer was sweating into his fine clothing, much to the amusement of the courtiers present. He bowed once more before clearing his throat to address the Queen.

“Great Isabelle of Castile, I would beseech you to hear of my proposal. I am in need of funding for an expedition in search of new trade routes to the Indies. I believe that across the Atlantic we may find the Indies within suitable range to make trade far more prosperous.”

Isabelle had heard of this man’s claims before. Her husband Ferdinand had supposedly sent him away on a donkey upon hearing of his proposed expedition. Rumors followed this man everywhere he went. Some said that Colón’s Genovese backers had withdrawn from the project, and that the King of Portugal had laughed him out of court. Isabelle contemplated doing the same; however a tapestry caught her eye and put a pause to the notion.

The tapestry depicted the triumph at Constantinople, Prince Henry shown gallantly leading his contingent of forces towards certain doom. Though Isabelle had been a mere infant when Henry had died, she looked up to her half-brother’s bravery on the fields of the besieged city. Rumors persisted to this day of his supposed cowardice, though Isabelle paid them no heed as they were certainly nothing more than the drunken ramblings of jealous men. Many men had died that day, Henry among them. The droning of the man before her brought Isabelle back into the present.

“Mister Colón, are you familiar with the battle of Constantinople?”

The man froze, finding himself lost as to the Queens question. He swallowed a hard before responding.

“Yes great Queen, the battle of Constantinople is regarded as one of the greatest victories of Christendom in centuries.”

Isabelle fixed him with a hard gaze, hearing a tone in the man’s voice that she interpreted as being condescending.

“Then you know what has become of this battle in the years since? The road to the east is open. The Ottomans and Mamluks are collapsing in upon themselves, and Pope Alexander has declared that a new age of crusading is to take place. I must ask, why should I fund your expedition? The Byzantines are secure under Emperor Thomas, and have opened up the eastern Mediterranean to the trade of the Indies. You are on a fool’s errand Mister Colón, you seek to give what is not needed, and for that reason I must decline funding for your expedition.”

Color drained from Colón’s face, and it seemed for a moment as if he would start to weep, though to the man’s credit he bowed and left the chamber with what remained of his dignity intact. The heralds began to announce the next man to speak to the Queen, and Isabelle found herself dosing off as she so often did. Her gaze fixed on the tapestry before drifting towards the westward facing window. Into the distance lay the infinite blue mass of the Atlantic Ocean, a mass which was indeed still a mystery. Isabelle pondered the words of Colón, contemplating the actual possibility of westward trade routes to the Indies. She found herself laughing at the thought as she asked herself whether or not it even mattered.
 

dpfarce

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Hi, despite your warning I will do my best to give you advice! I'm also a fellow 'reject-author', so take everything I say with a grain of salt (or is it sand?).

I haven't managed to read your whole story yet (Derr, its been up for about 3 minutes), but I want to say a few things about your writing technique. I used to do this a lot as well, and it took a lot of red squiggles from my teacher's red pen before I learned to 'forcefully' correct the habit.


For reference, here is your first paragraph;

A warm breeze was blowing in from the Sea of Marmara, the sound of rolling waves breaking against the shingles of the coast echoed into the night. Towering above the sea were walls that seemed to touch the very clouds themselves, over a hundred feet tall in some areas. The walls were over a thousand years old, though held their ground with all the grim solidarity of a watchman on duty. The city held within the colossal structure was lit by scattered fires within though the majority of it was shrouded in the night. Even in the darkness the city’s magnificence was clear, it was truly a city of the ages, a city of the world’s desire. The city of Constantinople.

I'll start from the very beginning, "A warm breeze was blowing in from the sea of Marmara, the sound of rolling waves breaking against the shingles of the coast echoed into the night". Compare that, if you will, to the first line in Hamlet(!) by William Shakespeare (!!)
"Who's there?" --> (Note who's is an abbreviation of 'who is')(No, seriously. This is significant).
Perhaps Shakespeare is unfair. Let's try J.K. Rowling (!!!) instead.
(From the prisoner of azkaban)
“Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.”
See a pattern? You might begin to see one, but let's try one more just to be sure, from George Orwell (!V) (See what I did there?)
From 1984
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

There is a difference between your first line, and these three first lines. While by no means are these three works absolutely perfect (T.S. Eliot has a few bad things to say about Hamlet), they all begin in a specific way. They all, excuse the expression, 'arouse' interest in the reader. Shakespeare uses a question, Orwell throws a wrench in the works with a clock striking thirteen, and Rowling just straight out says it. But they all do one thing in common, which your first line doesn't. At the risk of sounding like an 8th grade instructional video, 'do you see it?'

They all wrote in the 'active tense', that is, in its simplest form, 'subject verb object'. Shakespeare's line, "Who (is) there" is the simplest form, 'Who' is the subject, 'is' is the verb, 'there' is the object.

Is English your first language? I'm not trying to be condescending, I ask because in some languages, such as German, writing in the 'active tense' is not necessary due to their grammatical structure, (e.g. Der Hund beißt den Mann and Den Mann beißt der Hund mean the same thing; 'The dog bites the man') and you can put the 'focus of the sentence', instead of the 'grammatical subject', as your subject of the sentence. Unfortunately, as word order dictates grammar in english, it is more important to follow the 'active tense' when writing, especially for the opening sentence, as it 'weeds out' a lot of extra words that make it very difficult to read. For example, your sentence in the active tense would be
A warm breeze blew in from the sea of Marmara.
From here, tell us why we care about this breeze. If we don't, then don't waste words telling us about it. You have 5000 words. An example second sentence could be,
It carried the Emperor's special guests.
Also note that the second part of your sentence doesn't really belong. The waves have nothing to do with the warm breeze blowing in from the sea of Marmara, and thus should really get its own sentence.
"
The sound of rolling waves breaking against the shingles of the coast echoed into the night."
I could comment a little on the poetic structure of this line, 'rolling', 'breaking', 'shingles' has several 'long' sounds 'ing'. Firstly, if you did that intentionally, well done! You have a good ear. Secondly, and unfortunately, you go and botch it later with descriptions of fire, etc which don't really match the tone created in this line. This creates essentially a discontinuity, where one moment you're talking about gentle, rolling waves and a warm breeze, and then, fire! Considering you aren't writing a comedy, this feels out of place.


Perhaps with slightly more care in the structure of your sentences, you can fix up your story and self-publish it.
 
Last edited:

Tomas H

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Good advice from dpfarce. And for the record - not being picked as the winner out of 100 submissions certainly doesn't mean your story is bad. We simply had far too many great to stories to choose from than we can possibly fit into the anthology. Keep writing! :)
 

Mjarr

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There is a difference between your first line, and these three first lines. While by no means are these three works absolutely perfect (T.S. Eliot has a few bad things to say about Hamlet), they all begin in a specific way. They all, excuse the expression, 'arouse' interest in the reader. Shakespeare uses a question, Orwell throws a wrench in the works with a clock striking thirteen, and Rowling just straight out says it. But they all do one thing in common, which your first line doesn't. At the risk of sounding like an 8th grade instructional video, 'do you see it?'

They all wrote in the 'active tense', that is, in its simplest form, 'subject verb object'. Shakespeare's line, "Who (is) there" is the simplest form, 'Who' is the subject, 'is' is the verb, 'there' is the object.
In my humble opinion worst the offender I see is the opening. The passive voice in general fits and overall feels fluid as far as (seemingly?) omniscient third-person narration goes with occasional hiccups where active voice could work better alongside perhaps some sentence restructuring.
 

Bonafide

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I don't see why the opening is such a travesty considering that it defines the culture and overall atmosphere of what was this version of Constantinople. The opening lines maybe aren't striking and crucial for the plot or to interest the reader, but there's a few examples of famous literary works when there has been a rather shallow/uninteresting ice breaker in the introduction of the book.
 

dpfarce

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I don't see why the opening is such a travesty considering that it defines the culture and overall atmosphere of what was this version of Constantinople. The opening lines maybe aren't striking and crucial for the plot or to interest the reader, but there's a few examples of famous literary works when there has been a rather shallow/uninteresting ice breaker in the introduction of the book.

(Of course, this is all just my opinion)

Assuming I haven't misread the story, this constantinople wins against the Ottomans in 1453. There is still a battle, and the passive voice does not capture the 'seriousness' of the situation well enough.
 

Bonafide

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(Of course, this is all just my opinion)

Assuming I haven't misread the story, this constantinople wins against the Ottomans in 1453. There is still a battle, and the passive voice does not capture the 'seriousness' of the situation well enough.
Of course it's your opinion and I respect it, what I'm doing is to invite you to discuss your own points with me because I think you insinuate that the opening lines, for example, were much too boring or didn't "grip the reader". I'm obviously refuting that.

What I felt when reading the opening lines was that the author was painting up a scenery, considering that the opening line is constructing a panoramic view over the battleground or focal point for the up coming struggle, much like a movie would do.

A warm breeze was blowing in from the Sea of Marmara, the sound of rolling waves breaking against the shingles of the coast echoed into the night. Towering above the sea were walls that seemed to touch the very clouds themselves, over a hundred feet tall in some areas. The walls were over a thousand years old, though held their ground with all the grim solidarity of a watchman on duty. The city held within the colossal structure was lit by scattered fires within though the majority of it was shrouded in the night. Even in the darkness the city’s magnificence was clear, it was truly a city of the ages, a city of the world’s desire. The city of Constantinople.
Personally I think it was a valid move to imagine the possible sights of Constantinople, coupling it with grim, dark and unwelcoming aesthetic descriptions. Basically forcing the opening lines to reveal that yes, there's going to be a big fat battle between two bad boy factions of legendary status would be counterproductive to the foreplay transitioning into the big climax. That he gives the breeze a personality, in this case its warm, describes the environment and also creates a contrast between the warm and careless sea and the dark, brooding city of legends, Constantinople.

Now, I'm not saying that the introduction is perfect by any means, I'm merely suggesting a different perspective on how to introduce the plot to the reader, and this works, or could work, just as well as insinuating that someone is strange, breaking the fourth wall or attacking the reader with absurdities.

In the end though it's a matter of taste.