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Absolute Write

September 19, 2007

You know how every so often you’ll come across a website that is so perfect, so right up your alley, that you slap your head and wonder why it took you so long to find it?

That’s been my experience with Absolute Write. It’s a writers’ forum, with everyone from beginners to published veterans. There are screenplay writers, short story writers, poets, and, of course, plenty of novelists. There are even subforums for various genres (Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Historical, etc). It’s a resource and support group I never had during my three and a half years writing my novel, and now that I’ve found it, I don’t really know how I got along without it.

Recently, a number of us in the Historical Writing forum have started up a series of informal scene challenges…where we each post a short scene pertaining to a certain topic…and then critique each other’s work. It has been a fascinating experience…not only getting feedback from other writers on my own work…but providing feedback of my own in turn. In fact, I would venture that critting others’ scenes has helped me look on my own work with fresh eyes, and made me, if not a stronger writer, certainly a stronger editor.

If you are a writer…aspiring, published, whatever…I urge you to check it out. And if you’re just here to read my mindless blatherings, I’ve gone ahead and posted my latest from the September scene challenge after the jump.


This scene takes place fairly late in the story, so a little setup is probably in order.

The date is August 216 B.C. The Romans have just been handed a terrible victory (the Battle of Cannae, if you’re curious), and Laelius here is one of the few Roman cavalry to escape to the smaller of the two Roman camps. Any names mentioned will be well known to the reader.

Any and all comments are welcome and appreciated.


Laelius grimaced. The wineskin’s contents were still tepid from the afternoon’s heat, but he did not care. The wine helped numb the despair. Unfortunately, it did little to block the sounds of the battlefield that the gentle southwest wind carried over the palisade. He could hear them even now – the ragged cries of the wounded, the excited shouts from Hannibal’s men as they claimed their spoils from the dead, the clashing of swords and shields where the last of the slaughter continued by torchlight.

Perhaps if I drink more, Laelius thought, looking at the black shape of the half-emptied skin.

He had no idea how long he had been standing along the palisade, staring out at the bloody field. It could have been an hour, for all he knew. Or five. Once the sun had fallen, he had lost all concept of time.

Gazing out into the blackness, Laelius felt the dull, aching grief welling up inside him again. It had come and gone, reducing him to tears, dropping him to his knees, assaulting him with the faces of the men that had fallen. He took a long swallow from his wineskin, in vain. The grief would not be held back.

He saw them, then, the two dozen men of his squadron who had fallen in the cavalry battle. Lucius Aemilius Paullus, whose death had been reported by the tribune Octavius. Gnaeus Geminus, Minucius Rufus, Appius Claudius, and a host of others who were thought slain, but whose fates were as yet unknown.

And Scipio.

Laelius sank to his knees. Tears coursed down his cheeks, mingling with the sour aftertaste of the wine on his lips. He did not know for certain that Scipio had fallen, and held out a small hope that his friend had somehow escaped the slaughter, that he was yet alive. But he knew he was deluding himself. A few men had been seen crossing the Aufidus, making for the main camp, but so many more still lay on the field, their corpses already decaying in the warm summer night.

“Why?” Laelius stammered. “Why wasn’t it me?” His shoulders shook as sobs racked his body. The wineskin slipped from his fingers, spilling its contents into the dust. In the black of night, it resembled nothing so much as a pool of blood.

A dark thought passed through Laelius’ mind. His hand reached down, feeling the hilt of his sword. His fingers wrapped around it. He could end it all right now. He could escape the smothering grief and despair. Just one quick thrust, and it would be over. Slowly, he began to draw the sword from its sheath. The rasp of its blade sent shivers up his spine.

He almost had it free when a sound distracted him. Footsteps. He froze and, after a moment’s hesitation, pushed the sword back into its scabbard and turned to see who was approaching.

It was Lucius Philus.

“Gaius!” the young equites called, his voice oddly exuberant. “Gaius! You must come with me at once!”

“Why?” Laelius slurred.

“We just received a message from the main camp!” Philus exclaimed.

Laelius shrugged. “So?”

“Gaius, it is from Scipio.”

Laelius blinked. The mention of his friend’s name burned through the wine’s fog like the sun on a summer morning.

“Scipio?” he asked, incredulous and hopeful at the same time. “He’s alive?”

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 28, 2007 12:14 am

    Thanks a lot for sharing this discovery of yours!

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