Monday, September 8, 2008

Deleted Character: Schaughnessy

When I first wrote the flashbacks set in Scrornuck's home land, I included a character named Schaughnessy as his best friend. I wasn't sure where this might go, but giving Scrornuck a friend to chat with in the scenes seemed like it had some potential.

We first meet him in the first flashback, when Scrornuck's digging potatoes out of the mud. Oh, and yes, the potatoes were an anachronism; in the real world potatoes didn't make it to the Old World till after Columbus sailed. I mentioned them intentionally, to drop a hint about Scrornuck's universe not being the same one we live in. Alas, all mention of potatoes disappeared in the editing.

Scrornuck mumbled vague curses as he knelt in the sticky mud of the south field, digging with a crude wooden shovel in search of the early potato crop. After two weeks of steady rain, the field was a swamp; he'd dig far enough into the mud to see the tubers, only to have the hole collapse, leaving him back where he started.

Though spring wouldn't officially begin until the equinox celebration several weeks hence, the sun shone bright and warm, causing Scrornuck to toss his woolen kilt and linen shirt over the low branches of a nearby tree; he labored in the mud with only a scrap of towel around his waist for modesty. Not that he expected company; nobody in their right mind would visit this bog on such a pleasant afternoon. This was a day for relaxing in the meadow, with song, drink and one of the young ladies from the village. But winter had been tough, and there was food to be dug from this muck.

"Ho, Saughblade!" A lusty voice rolled across the field as Scrornuck's pit collapsed yet again. He looked up to see his friend Schaughnessy hurrying through the ankle-deep mud. Like most of the village's young men, Schaughnessy stood several inches shorter than Scrornuck, but made up for it by being stockier than the lanky redhead. "They want you in the village," he panted, "They say it's important."


"Not likely--if it were, I daresay there's many in the village they'd call up before us."

No doubt, Scrornuck thought, for while he and his friend fantasized about picking up the sword and fighting great battles, in reality the two young men were farmers with little or no opportunity for lives any different from the ones their fathers had lived, raising potatoes and felling trees.

"We have a visitor," Schaughnessy said, "He dresses strangely, and they can't--"

"--understand a word he says," Scrornuck finished. "It's the Gift they want, isn't it?"

Schaughnessy nodded.

"Let's be going, then." Scrornuck turned to the tree where his plaid and shirt hung. "The churchmen can't decide if my gift is a blessing from God or a curse from the Devil--"

"What's it matter? If you can understand what the stranger is saying, and the Chief's pleased with it, there'll be food and drink all around tonight."

Scrornuck smiled and nodded. "That there'll be, and I'll be sure to have my share." Reaching the tree, he casually unwrapped the towel from his waist and stood naked, wiping the mud from his bare feet.

"Someday," Schaughnessy warned, "one of the fine young ladies from the village is going to walk by."

"Hah! No self-respecting lady would come near this mudhole." Scrornuck hung the muddy towel over a low branch and slipped his feet into a pair of low boots. "Besides, if one did happen down here, she might just like what she sees."

Schaughnessy laughed out loud. "Is that how you plan to find your mate, Scrornuck? Do a public strip-show and hope the right girl will see you?"

Scrornuck laughed along, though inwardly he was troubled. He'd turned seventeen over the winter, the age at which young men and young ladies started to pair off for life, and so far, he'd had very, very little luck. "If it works--" he said with a shrug. He slipped into his long, mostly-white linen shirt, and began the lengthy task of folding, pleating, and wrapping his kilt, finally securing it around his waist with a broad leather belt. "Let's be going; the sooner we find out what this stranger has to say, the sooner we eat!"

He makes his second appearance at the Spring Equinox festival, when the Knight in Green shows up:

The afternoon was splendid, a perfect day for the spring equinox festival. The sun shone, the air was warm, the food rich and flavorful, the singing and pipe music seductive, the drink strong and abundant. Best of all, the young ladies of the village had been most friendly indeed since Scrornuck routed the Eastern raiders with his beautiful silver sword. Life is good, he reflected as he sipped another brew, casually reclining on the grass alongside a particularly attentive young lady.

A large, older man elbowed his way through the crowd and stood to Scrornuck's right. "You, young Saughblade, come. The Chief desires your presence."

"Can't you see I'm busy?" Scrornuck threw his arm around the young lady. "Tell the old man to come back later."

"The Chief desires your presence now. I was told to bring you back, and that I shall do, whether you wish it or not."

Scrornuck set down his drink and let his left hand drift to the grip of his sword. "Do you think you can?"

The older man's eyes followed Scrornuck's hand, and his face whitened noticeably. Scrornuck smiled inwardly. Everybody knew what he'd done to the Eastern slave-takers with that sword. "You would not--"

"No, I would not, as much as I might want to." He waved his arm dismissively. "Tell him I'll be along just as soon as I finish my drink." The older man decided that was good enough, and slowly backed away.

"You're going to get in trouble if you keep ignoring the Chief's commands," Scrornuck's friend Schaughnessy warned. He'd been sitting on the grass a few feet away, sipping his own drink, listening to the music and flirting with a young lady of his own.

Scrornuck waved his free hand dismissively. "Ah, what can that old man do? He's just in a bad mood 'cause he had to do that thing with the horse again."

"The mare was not exactly cooperative, was she?" Both of the girls giggled at Schaughnessy's remark. The ancient spring ritual, a holdover from the land's pagan past, was a great amusement for those who did not have to participate.

"Is she ever?" Scrornuck finished his drink. Pulling his arm from around the young lady, he got slowly to his feet. "Duty calls, I suppose. I shall be back as soon as I can."

"Don't be too long," she said, smiling at Schaughnessy. "A few more drinks, and your friend might start looking good."

But when Scrornuck returns home after his first set of adventures, Schaughnessy's nowhere to be seen. That was the first clue that he really didn't have much purpose other than to feed Scrornuck the occasional straight line and provide a little color to the flashbacks. I eventually decided that as pleasant as the character was, he didn't really add anything to the story; his occasional straight lines could be handed off to other people. So I found myself facing a decision: either give Schaughnessy something useful to do--that is, make him a fully-rounded character with a real part in the story--or cut him out. Given that I was still struggling to hold down the length of the book, which was approaching 400 pages in that draft, I decided on the latter.

Still, I kinda like the guy; in some ways he seemed like he could have developed into a good foil for Scrornuck. Maybe I'll yet find a way to use him in a story somewhere.

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