Hello again, one and all, and welcome back to my July Writing Challenge. I’m felling quite a bit better today, and as a result I think I churned out about three times as much as yesterday.
Today I wanted to focus on exposition or, as I’ve heard it called, the “infodump”. As so often happens in genre fiction, there are times when you just have to dump a lot of information on a reader because, if you don’t, they won’t have any idea what’s going on. I don’t know about you, but I’ve often been at a point in a story where this happens and it is really, really painful and boring. And I mean that in two ways. I’ve been in the middle of stories I’m reading, but also stories I’m writing. So, today I decided to come up with at least one way to make an infodump a little more interesting.
This story idea actually came from a long, long time ago. It was an idea for a novel I had, and needless to say I never followed up on it. It was a fantasy story set in a Rome-esque Empire, complete with Coliseum and gladiators. There were three main ruling families, each one having a bit of a monopoly over aspects of the Empire, military, economy, and religion, and each one would vie for power in the annual games.
This is a first draft attempt to introduce you to those houses as members of the Empire see them. Not sure I did a good job at the info part, but I think it’s an entertaining read nevertheless. And, I got to work on my dialogue a bit more, which is always nice.
As always, please comment and offer any criticisms you have. Thanks for reading, and enjoy.
By, E W Morrow
Word Count: 1409
“I can’t believe how close we are,” said Lucius. He leaned forward, stretching his body as far over the low stone wall as he possibly could. Claudia joined him, though she did not lean out over the drop as her cousin did.
“Are we?” she asked. There was an entire level below them, several tiered rings of seats below thick cloth canopies. All were brightly colored and stitched with symbols and decorations, some more elaborate than others. Claudia was sure that each must mean something, but she did not know what. The sands of the arena were a over twenty feet away.
“You bet,” Lucius said. “I’ve been here loads of times and I’ve never been this close before.”
Behind them, Gaius scoffed. Claudia turned and gave him a look. She and Julius were of a similar age, but her brother was six years older than them. Gaius had been old enough to join their father the last time he attended the games, and he liked to remind her of it constantly. He did not join them at the wall, but instead lounged on the wooden bench they had chosen to watch the games from as if bored, nibbling on a piece of bread he’d bought from a merchant stall.
“What?” Claudia asked.
“Of course we got good seats,” Gaius said, slightly arrogantly. “It’s just the first day.” Claudia looked at him silently. He rolled his eyes and continued. “Nobody cares about the opening matches. They’re just warm ups. Just a lot of show put on by the nobs so they can look good in front of the other nobs.”
“So?” Claudia asked, still not seeing her brother’s point.
“So why would the nobs risk losing anyone good this early on?”
“He’s right,” Lucius said. “You don’t get any good matches until at least day three.”
“I guess I still don’t get it,” Claudia said. Gaius stood, stretched, and joined them at the wall.
“Just watch,” he said. His voice took on a quality not unlike Atrimedies, the tutor their father hired to teach them arithmetic. He pointed to a gate off to the right. As if on cue the heavy iron bars slid up, and through the open mouth marched a platoon of soldiers. “Here we have the fighters of House Bludii. What can you tell me about them?”
“They are one of the three most powerful families in the Empire,” she said, as if it was something she’d learned by rote. “They have held one of the seats of the Triumvirate for over two hundred years and…”
“And are the strategic might behind the Empire’s armies,” her brother finished quickly. “That’s not what I meant. Look at the soldiers. What can you tell me about them.”
Claudia looked. It was hard to make out at this distance, even from such apparently good seats. She could make out very little. There were twenty five men, all roughly identical. They carried shields, not the curved rectangular ones of of the Preatorian Guard or the Legion, but round ones that looked like they were made of wood covered in hide. At their hips they carried the typical military gladius, a short, brutal blade equally good at chopping or slashing. And each one had a standard issue helmet and suit of armor, not the heaviest but not the worst she had ever seen. She said all this to her brother.
“Yes,” he said as though his patience were wearing thin, “but what else?”
“Nothing,” she said flatly.
“Exactly!” Gaius actually clapped at her answer.
“I don’t understand…”she began.
“Oh!” cried Lucius suddenly. “I get it. Just soldiers.”
“Just soldiers,” Gaius repeated. “But no one to lead them. No Legates. No Prefects. I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t even a single Princep among them. No, those are all foot soldiers, probably not very good ones. If they survive, they will be given honors, and if they do not, then it is no great loss to the Bludii.”
“I see…” Claudia said slowly. Something still did not make sense to her, but before she could voice it, Lucius broke in excitedly.
“I wonder what the Gaudii will field,” he said to no one in particular.
“Mercenaries, most likely,” Gaius said. “The Gaudii have two things, a seat on the Triumvirate and a lot of money.”
A second gate, this one off to their left, began to lift at Gaius’s words. A second group of men sauntered out onto the sands of the arena. They were more numerous than the first, there being around forty all together, but they had nothing of the soldiers’ discipline. They whopped and hollered and milled about, basking in the smattering of applause from the half empty stadium. Also unlike the soldiers these men were not uniformly outfitted. Instead they had a loose assortment of weapons, from swords and shields to spears and axes. One even carried a net, though it was not one of the small, weighted nets that seasoned gladiators sometimes used. Rather, this looked like a fishing net of some kind, and Claudia doubted it would be of much use in the fighting to come.
“I can already see what you’re going to ask,” Claudia said. Her brother regarded her with interest and waved a hand for her to continue. “These mercenaries do not look like they have much experience in the arena, nor are they properly outfitted. I would guess that they were therefore largely inexpensive, as far as mercenaries go.”
“Bravo!” Gaius cried, genuinely impressed despite himself.
“I still don’t get it though,” she continued.
“What’s not to get?” asked Lucius.
“If nobody takes the opening matches seriously,” she said before her brother could interrupt, “couldn’t one family simply provide a competent entry and trounce the others? Surely there must be something to be gained, even some small advantage, that one family would want.”
This time, the gates responded to her words, not her brother’s, and a rumbling below their feet signaled the arrival of the third and final entry into the opening match of the games. Gaius cocked an eyebrow but said nothing. Lucius leaned out over the wall further than ever. Claudia looked down. Just above the point where, she assumed, the gate would spill out into the arena floor, was a canopy much more elaborate than any around it. It was bright red, and was embroidered with what seemed to be a temple or some other great building, over which was stitched a highly stylized bolt of lightning.
“Who does that belong to?” she asked Lucius, pointing at the symbol.
“That? That’s the symbol of House Agurius. They represent the heads of most of the temples of the Gods in the city. Very powerful family. Third of the Triumvirate. It’s them we’re waiting on right now.”
“Can’t imagine what the priests are going to bring out first,” Gaius said. “I mean, there’s now way they’ll…” He stopped abruptly. There was a deep, steady rhythm pumping through the stadium. It shook the stones every time it fell. “I don’t believe it. They brought an eidolon.”
“What?” asked Claudia. Her brother didn’t have time to answer.
A roar split the air and the beast stepped out onto the sands. It was enormous, and as each foot fell the source of the pounding rhythm was made abundantly clear. It’s skin was like pale moonlight. It had four legs, each one a dozen feet long, and great talons that dug into the sand. A long tail, as thick as a man’s torso, whipped behind it viciously. The main portion of it’s body rose up between the four legs, and a dozen or more arms flexed and clawed at the air around it. It’s head was obscured, though, hidden behind a mask, all in black, which had been secured to the thing’s head by thick iron bands. The white skin around each band was seared black, as though the bands had been red hot when they were fixed in place. The two groups of men regarded the beast in terror. Some cried out, others fell where they stood, but most fled for the gates through which they had come. It was of no use, the gates had closed behind them and were now firmly locked. The beast roared again from behind it’s mask.
“Well,” Gaius said, his voice trembling slightly. “It seems at least one family agrees with your assessment, Claudia.” Then, they watched the slaughter in silence.