Aug 22, 2013

Second Place: The Magpie by Kitra Skene

Caeldrin pushed back his hood and examined the necklace in the moonlight.  The jacinths of Lady Ellendor reflected the full moon more softly than they had the candlelight.  They now looked a soft brown rather than sharp orange.  He shoved them back into his pocket and peered out of the alleyway into the empty streets.  The Ellendor Mansion was only a few streets behind and his stage was set.
He slinked across the street and behind a wide building.  Every building here was made of even blocks of stone; much easier to scale than the wood of some towns.  Caeldrin slowly slid his fingers along the edge of a stone before gripping it with both hands.  His feet found similar grips so that, with thought, he easily reached the rooftop.  Now he had but to wait.

He leaned against the parapet and emptied his pockets onto the roof in front of himself.  Brooches, bracelets, rings, diamonds, pearls and jades were laid out in front of him.  He straightened them out and examined them one by one.  Here was an emerald bracelet.  He had been Cantor then.  A pink diamond ring; Tavin.  Caedrin fondly turned over a tiara set with fire topaz.  There he had given the name of Draen.  As he took each one, he recalled a name.  Shatar, Jorin, Ral, Vern, Sorvin; each piece came from a different city and a different identity.  None of them had ever been known to be stolen by a young name called Caedrin, and Caedrin wasn’t sure any ever would.  As he carefully put each piece back into the pockets in his cloak, he came to the jacinth necklace.  He hadn’t given himself a name for tonight yet.  He stowed it as well and imagined how the events of the morning would turn.  He grinned as he recalled the incredulous or angry faces of guards whenever he made himself known to them, hearing the shouts as he made his getaway, and one last look from far off at another city he had once again escaped.  The memories led an amused smirk across his face.

Sounds of distant distress began to rise.  Caeldrin turned his head lazily and listened.  It certainly was coming from the Ellendor mansion.  He didn’t bother getting up right away, the guards would take their time looking around near to the mansion before venturing further down the streets.  He didn’t move until he heard someone run by on the cobblestone street, then it was to peer over the edge of the parapet.  A guard had indeed gone down this street.  They would be keeping an eye out on the roads.  Now was the time.

Standing up quietly, Caeldrin took a clay bottle that had been left on the roof and dropped it into the alleyway.  Instantly he heard the sound of footsteps and soon saw the guards who made them.  He tried to look startled by his apparent mistake, but couldn’t suppress another grin.
“This will not be the last time you are baffled by the cunning of Peridan Nomar!” he called out mockingly.  

They shouted for reinforcements as Caeldrin took off over the rooftops.  Inwardly, he was disappointed.  He had gone by Ral Nomar before and it was the first time in his five years of theft that he had repeated a name.

He led the guards along the streets until he decided to lose them, which he managed as easily as ever.  He doubled back over a few buildings before turning and heading toward the arch at the edge of town.  The eastern sky was turning grey when he reached it, though the moon was still bright and at its zenith.  He began to climb the same even stones of the Arch quickly.  If he was above the rooftops when the sun rose, he would be well hidden in its rays.

He was right.  The sun crept over the horizon just as he reached the level top.  In a moment, he would be lying atop the arch and pass the time eating the food he had scavenged and stolen throughout the past week until he could safely escape the city.  There were a few armor clad feet to be heard below, so Caeldrin gripped the stone foot of one of the gargoyles and turned to look over his shoulder to see where they were.  

He had barely turned to look to the ground when he was nearly scared out of his skin by something cold and hard gripping his wrist.  He whipped his head back around to see the fore claw of the gargoyle latched around his arm, its empty eyes were fixed on him and the same hungry grimace was frozen to its face.  Caeldrin could barely breathe from fear but he struggled hopelessly to free his wrist without losing the grip that his feet and free hand still held on the side of the arch.

The gargoyle stretched out its other stone claw and tore Caeldrin’s cloak from his neck.  It then pushed the first claw quickly toward the struggling Caeldrin and dropped him.  He screamed as he fell all the way past the rooftops and crumbled into the merciless cobblestones below, but no one that heard him could see what had caused his fall.  

Several guards were present at a moment’s notice but, though they searched his body and the cloak that fell after him, all they were able to recover weere some biscuits and sausages that had gone missing yesterday morning.  This was the last time anyone was baffled by the cunning of Peridan Nomar, and it cannot even be called the first time that anyone knew a lonely young man called Caeldrin.

Find Kitra Skene at

My thoughts:
Overall: 4.5 stars
When I got this entry, I thought, Yes. This is the one. It remained in first place until Grace Pennington's entries came in, and even then I was hesitant to knock it down to second. It has the same bittersweet quality as All My Tomorrows, but is less emotionally engaging and more factual. All the same, it grabbed me when I started reading and didn't let go even after I closed the doc. I sat there for another two or three minutes and thought about it. Then I read the name again and realized how it tied in, and then I sat and thought about that for another two or three minutes. It's subtly unusual and I like that.

Concept: 4 stars
The solitary perspective character, comfortable setting, and straightforward language make this another simple story at heart. But I love the intricacy suggested by the gems spread out and twinkling like memories on the rooftop. This is a well-rooted character, even though we only get to see his life for an hour at most. This faux-depth is a technique I've seen taught in drawing, where if you have a scaled animal you can draw scales around a few prominent edges and your brain will fill in the rest.

Plot: 3.5 stars 
This is a quiet plot. It sneaks around in dark clothes in the shadows and pretends not to be there. It's also unsatisfactory, and that's part of why it stayed as high as second place, and part of why it didn't take first. (I mean, why did the gargoyle grab him? And where are the gems? Did the gargoyle take them or what?) I have a love-hate relationship with open endings. (Inception, anyone? Yes, I know some people claim it's not really open, but let's not listen to them. I'd rather rant about it the way it is.) It also has a surprising but compelling amount of monologue. Since this story clocks in just under 1000 words and we have so little time to get to know the character, him reminiscing about his past thefts works. In a novel I would insist on more gradual backstory reveal. See? I'm learning. I knew this contest would be good for me.

Characters:  4 stars 
This is one character I would probably read a novel about. He reminds me slightly of Kelsier from Mistborn: The Final Empire. The laziness, the ingenuity. I'm also fascinated by his motivation for stealing all the jewelry. It obviously wasn't money, since he hadn't sold any of them - was it only attraction to shiny things, as the title suggests, or something more? I also love the way the author didn't try to add interest by shoving another few characters in. For a 1,000-word story, a strong character like Caeldrin fills it nicely.

Execution: 3.5 stars
This one wasn't as polished or punchy as All My Tomorrows, which is another reason it took second. The passive voice and comma splices bumped it down a couple stars, unfortunately. The author struck a good balance between thought and action, though, that kept me interested without dragging things down or speeding them up too much.

Technical: 4 stars
This didn't require much editing and is solid except for a few easily-overlooked mistakes. The pacing is decent, could possibly use some tightening, but is acceptable with the introspective tone of the story. Excellent, interesting, and poignant work.

Check back next week for the third place story, Meaghan Ward's Don't Let Go!


Meaghan Ward said...

I love how the title subtly tied in with absolutely no mention to it within the story itself. Crafty, that. Just like the character though Caedrin was far too confident to foresee a fall. I agree with E, he's definitely a character I would have liked to read more about. And the story itself? Bittersweet and reflective.

Well done, Grace!

Sandra said...

I agree. The way she tied the title in the story was very clever. And I didn't expect the gargoyle at all.

Great job, Kitra!