Monthly Short Story Winner: Multiple Points of View
Multiple points of view can be tricky to write in full length novels. They are even harder in short stories.
This month our entrants had to write a story containing more than one point of view. Short stories do not often have multiply POVs and it was quite challenging for our writers to fit more than one POV in with the word count limit. But the results speak for themselves.
1. This can be prose or poetry.
2. Must have more than one point of view, gladly more than two.
3. Prose must be 500-1700 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-600 words long.
This month’s winning story was by Jeryn (@RichardMBray on Twitter) and is called “The Braying Jack”. Congrats on your win, Jeryn!
And now on with the story!
– – –
“The Braying Jack”
The Braying Jack was positively humming. To some, the common room would seem bustling to madness, with men shouting and laughing as barmaids raced between tables, distributing food and drinks and shouting orders back to the kitchens. To Turner Larkin, it was the sound of money being made.
Then the front door opened and everything ceased like a violinist whose strings had snapped.
The figure that emerged from the darkness had long since seen his hair go gray, but he moved with the smooth confidence of a man in his prime. Sergio Valenti had come to town almost a year ago, but the man had never once stepped inside The Braying Jack.
Valenti took a long moment to survey the room as he shut the door behind him. If he noticed the unnatural hush that came over the room, he paid it no mind. Then the most dangerous killer the kingdom had ever seen turned to Turner and asked for two beers.
With shaking hands, the barkeep poured two glasses, intently aware that all eyes were upon him. Valenti gave him two coppers and a nod of thanks, then took both beers to an empty table in the back corner.
Tabitha, the most buxom barmaid The Braying Jack had to offer, was suddenly at Turner’s side.
“Is that …?”
Turner just nodded. He clamped his hands down on the bar to stop the shaking.
“Shit. You think he’s here to kill someone? I hope it’s-”
* * *
While everyone else stared at the sword Sergio Valenti carried on his hip, Tyral Cranner watched the old man’s eyes. The eyes, he found, could tell you everything you needed to know in a tight spot.
Valenti’s eyes moved constantly.
From the moment the old man entered the doorway, he’d been scanning the room – first the patrons, Tyral included, then the barkeeper. He scanned the room once more before crossing the room in silence and taking a seat in the back corner.
His glance never settled on Tyral, nor did he ignore him entirely. In fact, if Tyral hadn’t known better, he might have thought the legendary killer was here for someone else. But Tyral did know better. The only question was who hired the old man in the first place.
Garratt Malcom had good reason to kill him after that business deal went south, and Devron Pyre would be well within his rights to have him murdered on general principle. If Soloman Wagstaff had learned of Tyral’s affair with his wife, he might have hired Valenti, and now that Tyral thought of it, his own wife might be similarly inspired if she put her mind to it. To be honest, the possibilities were dizzying.
Regardless of who’d hired the assassin, Tyral still had to figure out his next move. His first instinct was to stand up and walk out, but that was obviously Valenti’s intention – to drive Tyral out the door and into the arms of whoever he had waiting in the streets. So leaving was clearly out of the question.
At the same time, fighting Valenti in the common room of The Braying Jack wasn’t much of an option either. The swordmaster may be past his prime, but he was still a professional killer. Besides, a straight-up fight had never been Tyral’s style.
He leaned down just far enough to check the knife in his boot, then leaned back in his chair. This was clearly a situation that called for patience.
* * *
Elmore couldn’t pull his eyes away from the man seated in the corner of the room. “They say he’s the only man crazy enough to break into Gorvir Prison.”
“And the only one to break out,” added Jarrad.
“I heard there are three different poisons named after him,” said Tod.
“And he’s killed more men than all of them combined,” finished Simon.
Seated at their familiar table, all four men were attempting the difficult task of surreptitiously watching Sergio Valenti without being noticed. In fact, they were so focused on the legendary killer just two tables away that Elmore didn’t notice when the door opened again and another newcomer entered the common room.
“Oh gods.” Tod’s terror and fascination drew Elmore’s attention to the newcomer. Like Valenti, the man had silver hair and weathered skin, but moved like a predator. The newcomer looked past their table to where Valenti sat.
“Who is that?” Elmore asked, but Tod ignored him as the man walked past their table and pulled up a seat across from Valenti.
Finally, after a long moment, Tod whispered, “That’s Ellion Kray. I’ve seen his face on the wanted posters.”
The table grew silent.
“Should we leave?” Elmore asked.
“Definitely,” said Simon. He paused. “You go first.”
Elmore was no coward, but that didn’t mean he was about to risk the attention of two men who all agreed had killed more men than the plague. Instead, he watched as Sergio Valenti and Ellion Kray sat together just two tables away, drinking their beer and speaking quietly, looking for all the world like a pair of gray old men merely enjoying each other’s company and a couple of beers on a quiet spring evening.
At least, they did until Kray reached into his pocket, pulled out a small pouch, and slid it across the table. Valenti picked up the pouch, opened it just enough to glimpse inside, then smiled appreciatively.
“Did you see that?” Jarrad’s voice rose in panic. “He just-”
Simon clamped a quick hand over Jarrad’s mouth.
“Jewels,” said Tod.
“Poison,” Simon guessed.
“Gold,” said Elmore thoughtfully. “The question is whether it’s payment for a job they’ve already done, or something they’re about to do.”
The table grew quiet as they considered the possibilities.
Finally, Jarrad broke the silence. “You don’t think they’re here to spoil the Pumpkin Festival, do you?”
* * *
Sergio closed the package and tried – unsuccessfully – to prevent the smile from coming to his lips.
“Thank you, Ellion.”
“Honestly, I’ve never met a man so happy to get a gods-damned seed.” Ellion flashed the same shit-eating grin Sergio had learned to hate over the years. “This isn’t even the fun kind of seed that gives you hallucinations or kills a man. You’re deliriously happy about a lonely sunflower seed.”
Half a mile over Ellion’s left shoulder, Sergio’s garden was waiting for sunrise.
“Have you ever heard of a Wintermist Red?”
Ellion shrugged his shoulders. “I presume it’s a wine?”
“It’s one of the rarest flowers in the world. It only grows naturally in the Northern Province. The Amstatt Mountains, specifically.”
Realization dawned on Ellion’s face. “This is about Graycie.”
“The first time I saw her, she was wearing one in her hair.”
Ellion, gods bless him, was silent for a long time. There was nothing more to be said on the subject, so instead they drank their beer and enjoyed the companionable silence that irritated the young but was one of the few pleasures remaining to old men.
It was a long time before Sergio spoke. “I’ve got to admit, I thought retirement would be far more relaxing.”
Ellion waved a carefree hand at the rest of the room. “You mean to tell me the country life isn’t relaxing enough for you?”
“Have you been paying any attention since we got here? The barmaid is trying to figure out which of us will accept her feminine wiles in exchange for murdering her husband.”
Ellion glanced over and raised his eyebrows. “I’m intrigued.”
“The guy near the door is convinced I’m here to kill him. He’s checking the dagger in his boot every five minutes and seems to believe he could stick me with it given the chance.”
“Always nice to meet an optimist,” Ellion said.
“And the four gentlemen two tables away are debating – surprisingly loudly, I might add – whether they should flee now or merely pray we don’t kill them before paying for our drinks.”
Sergio leaned forward and dropped his voice. “I’m tired, Ellion. I’m tired of looking over my shoulder for the next young swordsman who wants to make his name killing the great Sergio Valenti. I’m tired of folk whispering behind my back, either plotting to use me for their personal gain or fearing that I’m here on behalf of their enemies. I just want to live in peace, tend to my garden and mourn my wife. It doesn’t feel like too much to ask.”
Ellion remained silent for a long moment. When he finally did speak, the grin was gone, the weight of too many years of hard living briefly evident on his face.
“The simplest dreams are sometimes the hardest to reach,” he said. “But tomorrow morning, you’ll wake up and you’ll plant that seed in the ground. And in a few months, the people of this shit town will see a Wintermist Red for the first time in their lives, and they’ll get just a glimpse of the beauty you saw for the first time all those years ago in the Northern Province of the Amstatt Mountains.” The old swordsman drained the last of his beer and set the empty mug on the table in front of him. “That has to count for something.”
Sergio opened the pouch once more and looked down at the single seed within, and felt his grin returning. He was only vaguely aware of the sudden, terror-filled silence that overtook the room.
“Let’s pay our tab and get out of here, Ellion. I’ve got some gardening to do in the morning.”
– – –
Congratulations again to Jeryn! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information.