The girl in the forest

A while ago, while going through some of my old school stuff at my mum’s place, I came across something I had written for a school assignment in the tenth grade when I was about fifteen.
It was a writing prompt assignment where we had to pick between three or four paintings and write a story based on it. I, of course, pick the one that had three robed figures in front of an altar.
In a way, you could say that this was my first piece of fantasy fiction I ever wrote and thought it would interesting to translate it and share it.
Keep in mind that I’ve tried to translate it as close to the original as I could.

I may do a rewrite of this in my current “style” of writing but with the same basic story as a bit of an experiment.

Enjoy!

Chapter 1: “A beautiful girl”

It was a beautiful and sunny day, like every other this time of year. Cerdian sat outside his family’s homestead, it wasn’t a particularly large homestead, it lay a few days travel from the nearest village, but Cerdian had it pretty well regardless.

He got up and walked towards the forest that lay close to the homestead. He often went for walks in the forest, but if he had known what this walk would lead to, he would probably have stayed home.

He walked slowly towards the forest, today he thought to go for a long walk. He had walked for about half an hour, when he heard the most beautiful song, coming not far from there.

He walked quietly towards the sound. He came to a clearing that had a large rock in the middle upon which sat a beautiful young girl, who sang with the most beautiful voice he had ever heard.

She must have seen him because she started getting up and leave. He waited a bit and went quietly after her. He walked for a while, hiding behind trees and bushes to not be seen.

He made it to a small temple. He had never been in this part of the forest before, so he didn’t know that there was a temple here.

The strangest thing was that it wasn’t dedicated to any of the gods he knew and what’s a temple doing in the middle of the forest?

He didn’t know if he should go in or not, so he walked back to the homestead.

He couldn’t stop thinking about the beautiful girl he had seen in the forest and he decided to go back to the temple the next day.

Chapter 2: “Varok, the all seeing”

When he woke up the next day he got dressed in a hurry and hurried into the forest. After a while, he made it to the temple, it wasn’t especially big.

He walked to the entrance and saw that something was written above the door: “Varok, the all seeing.” He had never heard of this god before, but it sounded like a good god. He walked slowly inside.

When he walked inside he got himself a big surprise, the temple looked even bigger on the inside. The floor was laid with marble tiles, which were black and white, it was pretty, but also a bit scary.

Suddenly he heard someone, he hid himself quickly behind a pillar. He could see three people in robes, one in yellow, one in purple and one in green. Two of them carried a stick and the third one had a red cylinder with a gold bracket at the end.

There was someone between them, it was the girl he had seen the day before. She was dressed in a long white silk dress.

They walked to a small staircase and knelt.

The person in the yellow robe, who carried the cylinder shaped object, raised it above his head and said: “Varok, we beg you, plant your seed in this maiden.”

This he said two times and after the last word, a big flame grew from the floor.

The girl walked slowly over to the flame and laid herself on it. It was very strange because she didn’t seem to get burned.

Kapitel 3: “The power of Varok”

She lay on the flame for half an hour. At the end Cerdian jumped out of his hiding behind the pillar, the monk looking people turned around towards him, and he was chocked, they had no eyes, it looked like they had been cut out.

He was as if frozen in place, he couldn’t move at all.

Now the girl had seen him, she walked quietly towards him, her eyes began glowing white, he could feel he was getting more and more cold. He started shaking and suddenly everything became black.

When he opened his eyes again, he lay on the floor of the forest. Thwaswere no temple to be seen.

He got up, his head felt strange, he didn’t know how, but he didn’t feel normal.

Then he started walking home.

Blackened soil and Sin-eater Trees

When people pass away, their bodies are burned on a funeral pyre when the moon is visible. The smoke that rises from the fire is believed to be the life essence of the person rising up to the moon to be embraced by the Pale Sister, who will then care for them till they are ready to be reborn by the Lifegiver.

For those who have committed a horrible crime, however, taken a life or sexually assaulted someone, a different fate awaits. Instead of being burned and allowed to be reborn, they are buried, away from the town or city and will cease to exist and never return to the world.

It’s believed that as they rot in the ground, their evil essence will flow out into the earth around them, contaminating it, and nothing will grow there. The area where they are buried is called “blackened soil,” and is avoided by people as much as possible and it’s said that even animals will refuse to go near it because they can sense the wickedness in the earth.

A slightly different but related tradition involves a so-called “sin-eater tree,” a big, old, gnarled tree standing alone or have the area around it cleared. Criminals are buried at its roots and are sometimes hung from it if they had received the death penalty. It is believed that the tree will soak up their evil essence and contain it, keeping it from spreading and is considered a better and more reliable way of containing it than burying them in the blackened soil.

The tree is often decorated with personal objects belonging to those buried beneath it, which would ensure that their essence is contained within. It is not uncommon to find pieces of cloth tied to branches, pocket watches, bracelets and such grown into the bark. Several lanterns are also usually hung from the branches to light the area and the tree most often has a dedicated caretaker known as a “sin watcher”, who’s job it is to see to the tree and make sure no contamination is spreading from it. They’re almost always hermits living close to the tree and some even claim to have an emotional connection to the tree and can speak to it and hear it speak.

This practice is mostly found amongst hamlets located near to or inside forests and usually, have a lot of people who’s work is based around the woods: hunters, woodsmen, herbalists and others.

Because of the Long Madness, the number of people being buried in either of these fashions has increased tremendously, and larger and larger areas have been covered in blackened soil. Some even containing mass graves.

How to write something that won’t offend anyone.

That’s a pretty good question, one I’m seeing more and more now, so what’s the answer?
Quite simple: you don’t.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble of being all inclusive and not offending anyone but it’s simply impossible. No matter what you write, there is bound to be someone out there who will take offence to it, it simply can’t be helped.

People get offended because something you said or wrote goes against what they personally believe or hold dear and you, as a writer, have no way of knowing what someone might get offended by.

The real question is though: would we want to read books that don’t offend anyone? I mean, wouldn’t it be pretty boring in the end?
I’m probably pretty biased in this regard as my main genres I read are dark fantasy and horror, and particularly dark fantasy have a lot of grim realism and disturbing things going on.
In there you will find rape, incest (sometimes combined), torture, violence against women, violence against kids, lots of violence in general. It’s just part of that particular genre and, sadly, part of life, which books reflect.

So what do you do when you read something that offends you? Well, you could of course just stop reading, that’s the easy solution, or you could ask yourself: was it intended by the author that I should be offended?
Some time ago I read a novel where a father forces himself on his daughter, a horrible scene and most who read that would probably be disturbed and even offended by it, which is a good thing! You’re supposed to! You’re supposed to despise the father.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind about all of this, is that generally, people don’t cause offence, they take offence; they GET offended.
You shouldn’t censure yourself as a writer because someone might take offence to what you write, if they do, then their writing simply isn’t for them and if you try to pander to everyone, you’ll just end up with a bland mess that’s nothing like your original vision.
Lastly, I’d like to talk a bit about what inspired this post.
I was on Goodreads, looking at reviews for a book that’s been highly recommended, Godblind, a Grimdark fantasy novel by Anna Stephens.
One of the reviews were labelled “don’t read” with the review stating that it was filled with rape and violence against women and furthermore added that it was a “trope” within the grimdark subgenre and a failed attempt at “trying to be artistic.”

And it’s true, grimdark stories often do contain rape and lots of violence, because those are horrible things and the worlds in which grimdark stories are set, are often bleak and horrible. That’s why it’s called “grimdark”…because it’s grim and dark.

Now, of course, the reviewer is entitled to her opinion, there’s no question there, but just because there’s something in the story that disturbs her, doesn’t mean it deserves a “don’t read” label and certainly not the reviewer’s condemnation of the author and her work. It’s simply a matter of “it was too disturbing/dark for me,” which is a fair thing to say, heck, even I have encountered things that were too disturbing for me to watch (I still have nightmares about Teletubbies).

In the end, the important thing when writing is that you write for YOU, that you write what you want to write and what you want to read and that you get YOUR story out there.