Remember not the sins of my youth

I’m busy trying to frantically finish the current Heirs book which takes the future of some of the slightly lesser characters from the earlier books and builds on them. And of course the characters I have built in those more-than-a-million odd words. It’s really too long in a universe, for this author anyway.

It does however have some interesting challenges – because you are building on and shaping around the sins of youth (and sometimes the a little later)

One of the central characters in this book is Count Mindaug – the scholarly assistant to Jagellion in THIS ROUGH MAGIC and to Elizabeth Bartholdy in MUCH FALL OF BLOOD.
In both cases he plotted their downfall, while apparently ‘helping’ them.

Mindaug is a fascinating character to write, because he is… not a good man. He’s very much a product of his dog-eat-dog environment. He’s a schemer and a scholar, a man of considerable cleverness, and survival instinct. He is not a warrior, but he will murder most warriors. Calmly and with a knife in the back, before they know that the not particularly large, elderly and academic seeming man is anything but an object of disdain. He’s the product of a self-centered nobility, a stranger to any kindness, closeness or trust even from his parents and has spent his life expecting, and pre-empting the worst with callous efficiency. He had, in fact, done the West two enormous services – not for ideology or goodness, but for his own ends. He’s, as I said, not a good man.

He’s fled to the West, knowing Chernobog now seeks him in the ethereal, he faked his death and has magically, gone to ground, living as an ordinary man. A selfish, self-centered one, focused only on his own survival… and now finding himself in a society and among people who are as unlike his native Lithuania under Jagellion/Chernobog as possible.

A place where he can sleep deeply and easily without setting death-traps. He had not done that since he was a very small boy. A place where his outright evil attempts to abuse people fail… because they’re actually not trying to rob or kill him. A place where he suddenly meets loyalty, and shared interest.

I find him to be rather like those soviet KGB defectors (who had as part of the KGB done terrible wrongs against their fellows and quite possibly the people of the countries the sought refuge in)– some of whom became truly passionate about America, more so by far than those who had known freedom from that intrusive, all pervasive tyranny. Or those SS men – some who had been monsters reveling in the power and brutality, and others… young men too weak and caught up (ask me about this, I was a conscript soldier in a war I wanted no part in. I committed no war crimes, saved a few lives, but I could still be considered by some to have been one of the oppressors. And had I been less fortunate, slightly weaker and easier to lead, or in a worse place… I might have done murderous cruel things there – which were no less brutal than those done our enemies. I can’t easily point fingers at those who did). Men who ended up fleeing to far countries, fitting in quietly there, and often being – or showing –no shade of their former selves.

But does the past ever leave them?

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27 responses to “Remember not the sins of my youth

  1. Whether we embrace or or reject it, we are still formed by our past.

    • Of course, unless the character is mindwiped/amnesiac, and everyone except him/her thinks they are what they used to be… hmm story.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        And I’ve read it. (Not that you can’t put your own twist on it).

        It was a near future SF story where there was a perfect “mind reading device” developed but the Supreme Court ruled that to use it required strong evidence of criminal activity and it could be used only once per suspect.

        Apparently some career mobsters were “scanned” with them having no memory of criminal activity.

        A private investigator found out that all of them had visited a “company” that promised to “beat the mind scan”.

        It turned out that the company “wiped out all memories of the mobsters’ crimes” but the memories never returned so the mobsters never returned to their life of crime.

        The investigator decided to join the company. [Grin]

  2. TXRed

    What the “good” Doctor said. I know guys who were on the good side of WWII and Korea, and other fights, and a few from the other sides. All became good citizens of the US, and all have ghosts and behaviors that never quite fade. They still think like predators when the time is right.

    • I don’t know that I agree with you entirely. There is sometimes a conscious decision to live or die by something that rejects their old life.

      • TXRed

        I don’t doubt that there is, Dave. I just know the people that I know and how they act and talk. Other people probably decide and act differently. :)

  3. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Ooo. This sounds interesting.

    • Rui Jorge

      The new Heirs book looks really interesting. Pity we can’t get our greedy hands on it right now! :0) Any chance of a snippet?

      We recently had the George Wright affair over here. He’s an American fugitive who spent 40 years on the run from US authorities, and was found by the FBI in a small village in Portugal a few years ago. In his 30 years in Portugal he seems to have led a rather peaceful and lawful existence, got married, raised a family and made himself well liked in the community. There’s an interesting article here about it http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/02/george-wright-portugal-black-panthers

      Regards,
      Rui Jorge

      • Synova

        Hiding from the law might be the best method of reforming criminals there is since they have to be so very careful not to break any laws, not even speeding or accidentally writing a check that bounces.

        • (chuckle) Speaking as someone with precisely 15 hours left before he can apply for Australian citizenship, you have no idea how applicable this is, never mind if you’re a criminal. I do find some Australian rules solidly silly and petty and totally without meaning in back of beyond, but I’ve been very careful to not infringe them by the slightest, which is quite funny when you see my Australian friends ignore some of them trivia.

        • Rui Jorge

          A very good point. The fugitive turned law abiding citizen it’s not an uncommon story after all. :0)

          Happy New Year!

          Rui Jorge

      • Keep in mind this is raw first draft: “What do we do with these. Master?” asked Tamas pointing to the geese.
        “You will be taking them to sell across the river, making a way for me to cross with less notice. We need to cross into Frankish lands, and they will not just let us do so.”
        “Ah! I wondered why you were paying so much! They aren’t worth half that. They will let us across with the geese?”
        “They will let you and Emma across with the geese. You will create a distraction. I will follow.”
        They both nodded, “Yes, master. What do we need to do?”
        “Go across the bridge, go into the market, set loose these geese, with any luck people will chase them. Then run up the street and strew the money I will give you around. People will be so busy chasing the money, they will not be watching the gate.”
        Mindaug knew it was entirely ridiculous, but hoped they would hold out under torture for a little while. He found, oddly, that he hoped that their death would be quick. They would create a distraction, of course, but more in the sense of being taken to the garrison, and probably immediately under escort to the nearest chapterhouse. And guards being guards, the senior and most skilled would go running off with them, eager to claim the credit for catching them. And the last thing they’d expect would be a second infiltrator, so close behind those inept two.
        They would not realize their guilt would betray them. What knowledge did they have of borders or guards? He took out the two bags of coin he’d prepared last night. There was a good weight to it, more money than either of them – or quite possibly their overlord — had ever seen. Human greed would do the rest. “This side of the border, you’re peasants. Across the river with this you would rich,” to prevent them running away here and now, and too early. “All you have to do is lie to the border guard, and say you have come to sell the geese, go and the scatter the money, and I’ll follow in the chaos.
        Big eyed and solemn, they’d nodded. So a little later they’d got underway, driving the geese, and him following behind.
        The count soon found that his plans were not as complete as they should be. The geese were not fast movers, and the track they were on led… to join a larger track, down which several other people were heading for market, driving a few beasts, carrying baskets and bundles. Mindaug had not envisaged such a crowd. He stopped the horses for a brief while fiddling with the tack, and allowed a few of the other traders to get between him and the geese, and the bait.
        The bridge had been built for rapid demolition. Three sets of pilings in the river, each linked with logs planked with riven oak – barely wide enough for his wagon, and enough to make his horses balk. The last piling had a gate-house on it, and entrants queued for the guard to examine them.
        Count Mindaug expected a commotion ahead. Instead, he and the wagon were causing it. The horses just didn’t like the bridge, the river, the other traders…
        And he was on the bridge, completely unable to get off it. The scene that followed was completely contrary to the plan. The guard, several stout farmers, and, to his dismay, even Tamas, came back to help him on. Urgently he waved the boy on.
        It took half an hour, and great patience and determination from a large cowherd, two guards, a shrill and irritable woman with baskets of eggs, and a great deal of swearing to get the wagon into Marchegg. No examination or paperwork had taken place. One guard went back to this post. The other, still shaking his head at the stupidity of bringing horses across that bridge said: “You’re lucky not to end up in the river, you old fool. What brings you to Marchegg?”
        Obviously his plan of chaos on the bridge with the arrest of the two peasants had not come to fruition. Or if it had, he hadn’t noticed. If all else failed, Mindaug could use magic, but that would undo his attempts at secrecy, and bring him possibly in to powerful conflict with the Knights of the Holy Trinity. “Sir,” he said humbly. “I have a number of books… the castle of my old overlord, Count Gastell, when King Emeric executed him, had a library, and I was able to buy it cheaply. Well, the truth be told the new lord was going to burn them as rubbish. I am a scribe and love books and I had heard the Franks love books. There are a few tomes I had hoped to sell to the great Knights of the Holy Trinity, as they appear to be on the subject of magic.”
        The guard shook his head. “Only a scribe would do something quite as stupid as to try to bring that wagon over the bridge. They’re good horses, and a solid wagon, scribe. How did you come by them?”
        “Uh. My mother was… um a favourite of the Count, I um, was destined for the cloister, but he took me to be his scribe. I, and um, my mother had a little put by for the wagon. The horses were his gift to her. She’s dead now, God rest her soul,” said Mindaug, making up the tale on the fly, preparing himself for action.
        “Fair payment I suppose. And reason the new Count didn’t want you around.”
        “Or me to remain there.”
        The guard nodded, set his spear aside and said: “Well, show me some of these books.”
        So Count Mindaug had opened a carefully wrapped box – one of the front ones which contained little that would make a churchman unhappy, not some of the hidden tomes. He could stab the fellow now, but…
        “They look of value. Not that you’re likely to sell them in Marchegg. I’ll give you chitty so you can go on to the Chapter House at Eikendal. And don’t come back this way, for heaven’s sake, scribe. There are better, wider bridges at Pressburg.”
        The Count, all his cunning plans it seemed in vain, and un-needed, had a little time to wonder where he was going to find some new servants, and just how far he could be from here, by nightfall, while the guard walked back to the gatehouse and returned with a scrap of parchment. “Here you go. Avoid narrow bridges!”
        “I shall,” said the Count, gratefully, and moved on, passing the market where several people seemed occupied in chasing geese, and out of the far gate, into the Frankish Marches.
        He hadn’t got very far – to the first copse – when Tamas and Emma came running, beaming all over their faces, to join him. Eagerly holding out his pouches of money. “We didn’t have to use very much, master. You gave us far too much. Emma went to the wine merchant and changed twenty silver pennies into small copper, and we bought five bags, tied them around the necks of the geese, cut small holes in them and set them loose in the market.”
        Count Kasimir Mindaug, who had kept his calm and not been at a loss for words with the murderous and demon possessed Grand Duke Jagellion, coolly answered the satanic Elizabeth Bartoldy, and urbanely dealt with the foaming spittle of King Emeric, was now at a loss for words. He just looked at them and shook his head.
        Emma looked at him worriedly. “I am sorry master. Did I spend too much? You can count the money…”
        For the second time his new servants surprised the Count so much that he wanted to laugh, and this time he actually did. It was something he had not done for so long he had almost forgotten how. It was obviously such an odd noise that it worried the two. “Are you choking master?” asked Tamas, worriedly, stepping forward.
        “No, laughing. I have had no cause to laugh for a long time, and I have lost the skill of it,” he said, shaking his head. He looked at the second, larger bag Tamas was holding out. “And what is in that bag? The city guard?”
        “Oh, just the goose master. You did say you wanted to eat one, so I brought it along. I kept the fattest one. But I did kill it. I hope that is all right?”
        And this time Count Mindaug managed to laugh with somewhat more skill. “Get up. I am going to have to get used to this. And now, I think we should remove from too close to the goose-infested town of Marchegg.”
        So the proceeded, Emma calmly plucking the goose, and Tamas driving, while the Count found himself as comfortable a place in the wagon bed as the rough road would permit, and attempted to read, and to re-adjust his ideas around the idea of people who served out of loyalty, and given a small fortune – brought it back to him. It had possibilities and possible advantages, even. He was able to grasp that, and to realise that it was a conditional thing, worth keeping alive, at least until he understood it. The joy of it was that Jagellion, and the demon that owned him, never would or could understand it. Mindaug was not sure he would, but at least he knew it existed now.

        • naleta

          I like this! Looking forward to the rest of the story. :)

        • Rui Jorge

          Thank you, kind sir!

          Even in its raw form it is a very enjoyable read. It looks like we’ll be having quite a bit of fun following the misadventures of our bad-trying-to-look-good Count. :0)

          Happy New Year!

          Rui Jorge

      • masgramondou

        I have seen a couple of snippets concerning a certain Francisco Turner…

      • Oh, that was pretty good for a fellow who claims to know so little about horses. I can just see it.

        • I have a horsey wife, and very horsey friends. We spent 6 weeks looking after their three extremely indulged horses (which was a 2 hour a day job, as the poo had to be vacuumed every day, and they had blankets on and off and feed regimen unequalled by most racehorses.) So I am not as ignorant as I used to be. Horses are not a motoring car, and will go where they wish to go. Mindaug had always been driven, or ridden. His attempts with the reins and horse-care had, while not absolutely inept, been the reason he had kept the run-away peasants. :-)

  4. Dan Lane

    The past is less the hands on the potter’s wheel than the lens we use to examine the world around us, I tend to think. Sometimes that experience shows us things hidden to others- my friend Jimmy Peak was a bouncer out on the East Coast for a while, and he can spot potential violence from across a crowded room faster than anyone I know. It can also hide things we’ve no experience with (can even be “unknown unknowns”).

    It’s interactive, too. We can change how that lens “focuses” for lack of a better word, like treating PTSD with CBT techniques, or just simple changes that occur as we grow and change. Given that most of the people who read this are writers, you can probably see this in things you’ve left untouched for years (I know I can, with stuff from fifteen years ago).

    There’s a common meme, though, that tells us we can “leave the past behind” or “let the past lie,” and so on. Often enough because the past is painful or embarrassing. Or because we want to make a change, get a clean break from the person we used to be (break ups). I don’t think we lose that person we once were, but neither do I think it is strictly determinative. Peter Grant could probably flesh this out better (“Walls, Wires, Bars, Souls” is well thought out, and a good read). Or, heck, most of the people who regularly post here.

    I believe that change is not only possible, but inevitable. Maybe a personal experience of cutthroat intrigue and paranoia could give a man a tendency to view innocence as precious and vulnerable- or a tool to be exploited. A history of tragedy and loss can be a driving force for good or a crippling weakness. All depends on how one focuses on it, I suppose.

    Good snippet. It’ll be interesting to see how Mindaug finds his feet in a place where no one acts as he expects… *grin* Also, I will say that there are times when a man who isn’t (or hasn’t been) good is nevertheless the best man for the job. I’ll leave it to better minds than mine whether the man who’s experienced little temptation is really good or the guy who uses questionable means to noble ends is really bad. *chuckle*

    • your friend Jimmy could spot me in a crowded room (I can’t do crowds, and will do anything to escape) Neatly put, Dan. It does shape us and our responses to some extent though. Because we’re more stupid animals that cam away from some things and toward others -the brighter the human IMO the more adaptable the response. Mindaug starts as regarding trust and love as opportunity for exploitation, and changes his pov.

  5. Eleanor

    I’m glad you are working on another Heirs book. It is one of my favorite series. You do have a cast of thousands to work with though, and each book seems to expand the horizons and the number of characters. Originally I believe Heirs was supposed to be four books? Then five…how many now? I am having trouble imagining all the plot strings coming together in conclusion in one last book.

    • Well, for me I am contracted for one more, and that will be that. Eric and Mist are supposed to do another – one or two. But I do try to finish each story, so if it stops there, it stops.

  6. I love Heirs. This will be an interesting story. I do have to say though that I would love to read more about what’s happened in the Norse Lands and most especially to our burgeoning Man Witch. I expect very much the same reaction after reading about this previously evil Count. By all means write this book! But if the Count doesn’t brush up against a certain newly Norse Reaver then perhaps I could put the word in?

    The Deposed King

    • One day I will write the Swedish part to that story. I did put hooks to hang it from :-)

      • Right now I’m envisioning everything from Regional Norse conflict to a trip to Vineland by way of a significant detour to Tripoli or some Norse raiders hitting the coast of Jag’s little empire in a massive pirate coalition that put’s the Emperor’s teeth on edge. Along with a ‘strictly voluntary’ convoy protection racket. You know, Sure we’re pirates but we’re the Emperor’s pirates man. And since you’re not flying the emperors flag there’s nothing we’re going to do to save you (not duty bound) from these Muslim pirates here a couple hours behind us… unless of course you want to hire us? (evil grin) The Emperor himself will vouch for us. Of course we’re looking for long term contracts you understand.

        You know the sly tricksy kind of Manwitch way of looking at their ‘Treaty’ with the Emperor. And when the Emissary or the Emperor himself speaks with them, they’re all batting their lashes and wide eyed. But Sir we fulfilled both the letter and the spirit of the arrangement in our treaty. We never attacked your people or shipping and what’s more we smote your enemies root and branch. Other than that all we did was engage in some strictly lawful trading activites. Trading our swords for coin in a mercenary exchange. Surely you yourself are not repudiating the terms of a direct Treaty between us and the Emperor (hungry smile). And as for the ‘so-called’ strong arm tactics we’ve been acused of, we really couldn’t say. The Nothmen are a naturally strong people with even our women being as strong as most ‘men’ in the hot lands. Being as we are naturally strong and tactical, as you were aware when you signed the original treaty with us. To us such strength is perfectly normal. So perhaps your traders were a trifle alarmed and dare we say jealous of seeing a real man performing a man’s business?

        (Faces turn red and steam starts coming out of ears)

        hahahaha!

        The Deposed King