• Reviews of Tale of the Week 284 stories by C-Beams, Kilo11, Turkafinwë and Big War Bird

    Reviews of Tale of the Week 284 stories by C-Beams, Kilo11, Turkafinwë and Big War Bird
    Reviewed by Swaeft, Alwyn, Darkan and Caillagh de Bodemloze

    If you like writing and enjoy a challenge, you could try the Tale of the Week competition. Each competition provides a theme and an image to get your imagination flowing. Entries must contain the key words and be no longer than 500 words.
    You can find the theme, the image and the key words for Tale of the Week 284 below, followed by the entries and our reviews.

    "It is only when you fall that you learn whether you can fly."
    - Flemeth, Dragon Age II

    Christian Mehlführer, A Kea flying in its natural environment on "The Remarkables" near Queenstown, New Zealand, source, CC BY 2.5

    C-Beams' TaleHimilco

    The Roman guard shoved Himilco into the sun baked arena.

    “Toughen up this whelp, Thracian,” the guard said to a gladiator who stood like a bronze statue.

    Himilco shuffled into the training area as the hot sand stung his feet. A clack of iron rattled and he turned to see the guard lock the gate.

    “Here.” The Roman tossed a wooden sword through the bars.

    Himilco watched the guard return to a shaded bench where the rest of his troop sat. They were raucous, drunk from too much wine in the sun. Himilco picked up the sword, chipped and splintered, and faced the Thracian who bore his own blunted blade. The man was taller, broader and he gazed with the keen eyes of a warrior. Himilco was a Carthaginian, a lowly gambler sent to pay his debts in the arena. He knew little of combat but figured all life’s endeavours were a game of chance. The Thracian seemed strong, though he moved with slow steps. Himilco hoped that with speed the odds were in his favour to land a blow. When the gladiator took his next step, Himilco pounced.

    The Thracian moved with the suddenness of a spark. His sword cut through the air like a wing to strike Himilco across the knuckles. Himilco winced and dropped his sword. The Thracian’s saunter had been a deception.

    A roar of laughter bellowed from the guards and they clapped their cups to the bench. The gatekeeper threw a rock at Himilco.

    “You should be ashamed,” he said as he wiped wine from his chin. “A Roman cripple could fight better.”

    Himilco clawed his sword from the sand. His hand throbbed. He took in a breath and readied himself for another try. The Thracian was poised to fight, though his eyes were fixed on the guards with a cold stare. He looked to Himilco, paused, then charged like a bull.

    Himilco ducked, swung his sword and struck the gladiator. A victory, though the Thracian’s charge seemed suspiciously inept. Himilco looked to the guards and saw they no longer cared to watch. He shook his head. To fight and fail with no cheer would be a final shame on his family name. He loosened his shoulders, closed his eyes and tried to focus his mind. He flinched when a broad hand touched his shoulder. The Thracian was stood beside him, his figure bright in the sun like gold.

    “Save your strength, Carthaginian,” the Thracian said as he spied the drunken guards. “You will need it. Tonight this ludus rebels.”

    “Rebels,” Himilco whispered. He looked at his wooden sword and to the sharpened steel of the guard's. “You will take quite a chance then.”

    “We gamble our lives to win our freedom.” The Thracian smiled and held out his hand. “Will you join us?”

    Himilco shrugged. “Gambling brought me to this arena. Perhaps then, gambling will save me from it.”

    He shook the gladiator’s hand as the guards gulped more wine.

    Review by SwaeftC-Beams’ tale is about gladiators who aim to rebel against their Roman overlords. C-Beams starts his tale off with a single sentence that immediately captures our attention and imagination. The words ‘shoved’ and ‘sun baked arena’ creates a vivid image in the readers’ mind that allows them to visualise what is happening to great effect.

    The Romans’ disdain for the gladiators are clearly depicted, through the shoving, the tossing of the sword as opposed to handing it over, and the throwing of a rock at our main character, Himilco, etc. These actions are believable and not overdone, which I believe helps accentuate the feeling of soldiers who have been out of combat for too long, are on duty, and have nothing else to do.

    The duel between Himilco and the Thracian gladiator was a sharp change of pace, and rather well done, with detailed descriptions. Phrases such as “suddenness of a spark” and “cut through the air like a wing” are great literary devices that present to readers exactly how the duel went down.

    The way C-Beams describes Himilco’s suffering is also inspired. Instead of saying ‘Himilco picked his sword up’, C-Beams says ‘Himilco clawed his sword from the sand’, which is more vivid and intense, and shows Himilco’s desperation and struggle more clearly. Another example of this would be ‘His hand throbbed. He took in a breath and readied himself for another try, a description that could have easily been glossed over or perhaps, not even written.

    It is here that the plot takes an interesting and unexpected twist. As I was reading this portion of C-Beams’ tale, I was expecting it to end with a ‘hero overcomes his struggles and emerges victorious’ sort of ending. I was pleasantly surprised when C-Beams reveals to us that the Thracian gladiator was, in fact putting on a show, and fooling the guards in order to recruit Himilco to his plot to escape.

    With all that being said, no tale is perfect, and here are some of the possible criticisms that could be directed towards C-Beams’ tale.

    It seems that the Romans are sending Himilco to be trained (“toughen this whelp up”) before any real fights, so when C-Beams writes that Himilco feels that ‘to fight and fail with no cheer would be a final shame’, this statement has me scratching my head. It makes me wonder why there would be shame or cheering in a training match, since it’s not a real fight. Also, assuming that if one’s skill is inferior to that of one’s trainer, one should be expecting to fail, and to learn something from that failure.

    In addition, why would the Thracian, who is clearly a way better fighter than Himilco and who has been going easy on him, want Himilco for his task of rebellion? Furthermore, he had only just met Himilco. Is he not afraid that Himilco might alert the guards of this scheme that he has so easily revealed?

    In conclusion, I feel that this tale has an interesting, if somewhat odd plot, which is helped along by well crafted, vivid scenes, and believable, detailed character descriptions. All in all, a rather enjoyable read.

    Tale by Kilo11“Tell me, can you feel the thunder of their voices?”

    Blood dripping from his chin and the long wet gash in his side, he did not answer. However, there was a tightening around the corners of his eyes, perhaps a change in his breathing as well. There might even have been the beginnings of hope, that most fragile of men’s gifts, that most stalwart of his curses.

    The stadium was wide, its raked sides teeming with Citizens. Teeming with murderers and cowards, the bloodied man thought to himself. He knelt down and put a hand on the sand underfoot. It was fine and slightly warm, its uniformity broken here and there by the spreading pools of blood and gore. It would not avail him any boons. None save that final gift; to rest. He bowed his head and the surrounding multitude of spectators roared all the louder, their lust for blood not yet quelled, but Boiorix shut out their hateful noise, focusing on the imperious southerner before him.

    “Do not be ashamed little warrior.” the arrogant man said, mistaking the signs on his face. “The time of your kind is passed, and though you have failed, you have failed with majesty. It is not a thing for which you deserve shame.”

    The man then walked a short space away, his confident steps betraying no weakness or gap, and the rising optimism in Boiorix’ breast began to fade. His blade lay broken beneath the overturned chariot he had been thrown from, his shield splintered and useless. There were other arms he might take up, but all were scattered and distant, and to run for them would be unseemly. It would not be fitting. And so he stayed, his head bowed, waiting for the end.

    After a time thus, the man, who seemed to have had his fill of the mob’s affections, slowly began to walk back toward Boiorix. His short sword had already been glutted on blood that day, but it would be willing to take more. With each step Boiorix moved closer to the realm of shadow, where he would meet his ancestors, and when finally he began to resolve himself to that fate his fingers, which idly had been scraping in the sand, met some hidden resistance. There, beneath the surface, lay a stone, edged and slick.

    The man was nearly on him, moving to strike the death-blow, when high above an eagle cried, its wings casting a fleeting shade over the bloodied earth. In that moment Boiorix took the rock to hand, stood, and swung with all the fury of the Arverni. It would be enough.

    Review by AlwynKilo11 draws in our attention with a very tight focus, leaving us guessing what's happening. Reading the first line of dialogue, we don't know yet who is talking or who they're talking to. Then he draws back the metaphorical camera, showing us the stadium. I wondered whether showed us too much too quickly. On the other hand, a Tale of the Week entry is a very short story, so writers need to move on. Also, while teasing the reader initially works well to get their attention, readers expect to be shown more or they become annoyed rather than immersed.

    Kilo11 engages the senses well here: we hear the roar of the crowd, feel the dripping blood and feel the warm sand. This increases our immersion in the story. There are some nicely used contrasts and unexpected twists. Hope is presented as both "fragile" and "stalwart" (contrasting descriptions) and then comes the twist - hope as a "curse". We might have not been surprised to see the people engaged in gladiatorial fighting described as "murderers" (or, at least, as killers) but here the bloodied man describes the audience in that way. On reflection, this seems appropriate, as the gladiatorial games are meant to satisfy the blood-lust of the crowd. On further reflection, this line of thought has shown that this tale provokes thought as well as an emotional reaction.

    The story has begun towards the end of a gladiatorial fight (or a series of fights, considering the reference to "spreading pools of blood and gore") rather than at the beginning. That's a note-worthy choice. Considering the strict word limits of Tale of the Week, it's an effective one. This decision allows Kilo11 to show us this stage of the fight with greater texture and detail, increasing its impact.

    The reference to the "arrogant man" is an interesting one. His description of Boiorix as "little warrior" does make the character sound arrogant. Having immersed us in the setting with the initial tight focus, followed by a rush of sounds, sensations and sights, Kilo11 gives us a reason to invest ourselves emotionally in his story. It's only natural for our heckles to raise when the point of view character is described in this dismissive way, and for us to feel sympathy for this injured and apparently defeated warrior. I was interested in what the arrogant man said partly because, after the initial comment about a "little warrior", what he says sounds somewhat respectful: “The time of your kind is passed, and though you have failed, you have failed with majesty. It is not a thing for which you deserve shame.” This suggests that, even though this a Tale of the Week entry is necessarily brief, Kilo11 managed to give this character depth. He is arrogant but also seems capable of a sort of kindness, a kind of respect.

    Then we see another side of Boiorix. While the arrogant man exults in the crowd's adulation, Boiorix rules out a desperate run towards one of the weapons lying on the sand because it would be "unseemly." Perhaps, despite having accepted the inevitability of his death, he remains determined to die with dignity and honour.

    Finally there is a twist, which gives the ending of the tale significantly greater impact. The twist involves the sudden appearance of an eagle, distracting the arrogant man at a crucial moment. Tale of the Week entries don't have to use the featured theme or image, they are only required to use the key words, but here Kilo11 brilliantly turns a reference to the image which the competition was based on into a striking and effective part of his ending.

    This is a tale which engages its readers, immediately draws us in and immerses us, which conjures up a vivid scene and nuanced characters and which engages both the minds and hearts of readers - an impressive combination in any story, and especially so in the restricted canvas of an entry for Tale of the Week.

    Turkafinwë's taleAnxiety
    What if I fail, what if I fail, what if I fail, what if I fail. These were the thoughts constantly mulling through his brain to the point it almost drove him insane. His breaths came at an irregular interval and his heart seemed it would burst out of his chest or drop dead any given minute. Such panic attacks were not uncommon for him though that did nothing to alleviate them or make them the slightest bit less distressing. Ashamed he was, ashamed that he was this weak. He did nothing but just sit there, staring into the middle distance. Then a voice rose from within.

    “Stop your whining” the remorseless voice said.

    The voice also was not something he was unaccustomed to. Through the years it had been his companion and had helped him overcome many problems. He both loved and hated it.

    It demanded he take back control over his mind.

    “If you don't I will” it threatened.

    Slowely he felt his breath steadying and his heart returning to its normal pace.

    Okay, okay, okay, the man thought to himself as he steadied his nerves, his hand still trembling a little bit.

    “So what do we do now” he asked.

    The voice's reply took awhile and the man felt fear clawing at him once again.

    Then its unforgiving voice rang again.

    “We must be like a rock, strong, hard and determined.” it said.

    “We must have faith” it continued in a friendlier tone.

    Faith he thought, faith in what. He had lost faith a long time ago. What hope was there left in this barren, cold and lonely world.

    “If you don't try you will never know” the voice retorted.

    “Jump and who knows what treasures you might find.” it said suggestively.

    “You will never know if you don't try.” it repeated.

    The voice was right. It could not go on like this. Something had to change. As the man stood up and walked towards the abyss, the voice uttered two final words before disappearing.

    “Good luck.”

    Was that sarcasm? Nevermind. He had something to do and waiting any longer would not make it any easier. He looked down into the gaping darkness before him and recoiled at the sight of it, taking a step back.

    “No!” he cried aloud, returning to the edge.

    “No longer shall I fear any darkness! Come what may, this ends here!”

    With clenched fists and closed eyes he jumped and fell.

    And fell.

    And fell.

    And fell.

    Then he realised he was not falling but flying. Opening his eyes he saw wings had sprouted from his back and were carrying him safely through the air. Tears of relief flowed from his eyes as he flew back into the light.

    He had survived another day

    Review by Darkan Once more, the beginning is strong in its purpose, revealing a deeply troubled man, victim to his own mind and self doubt; “What if I fail, what if I fail, what if I fail”, “Ashamed he was, ashamed that he was this weak”. Indeed, though a familiar situation for the character, “such panic attacks were not uncommon for him”, the man still seems to feel strangely comfortable in this situation, or at least numb; “He did nothing but just sit there”. The man simply...exists, without seemingly a way to change his situation. Thus the entry of our second character, described simply as “a voice ... from within”.

    The body of this short story is the dialogue, or rather the lecture, where the “voice” is the main focus of our attention. It is as strong as it is commanding, with its first utterance; “Stop your whining”. Again, the man find himself in a familiar, yet uneasy situation; “the voice also was not something he was unaccustomed to” and “he both loved and hated it”. The voice within is strong, in clear contrast to the man, and it knows what to do, when to do it and, perhaps more importantly, how. However, before starting to give advice and to guide the man, talking in plural; “we must be like a rock, strong, hard and determined”, “...have faith”, it lets out a warning, a threat: “If you don’t I will”, making it clear that to falter is not an option, that in doing so, “it” will assume control. The voice’s contribution, though at times harsh and unforgiving, seems to give the man the push he needed, the focus of action he lacked. As he decides to “walk towards the abyss”, and upon the voice taking its leave with a wish of good luck, he still is unsure as to its tone, though he now has the resolve to ignore, to fight any doubts.

    Thus we find ourselves, with the man, on the edge, and we see him plunge to his destiny, whatever that may be, as indicated by the voice before; “jump and who knows what treasures you might find”. He does jump, perhaps as curious for the outcome as the reader. Both he and the reader fall, for a long time, and again, both are relieved to realise the man is not falling at all. Indeed, a treasure he had found as “wings had sprouted from his back”. The ending is, perhaps, the strongest, because it holds both everything to look forward to (another day of life), and everything to dread (another day of struggle): “He had survived another day!

    This was a journey of thought, as the author managed, wittingly or not, to take me beyond the mere story of a moment, of a “day”. On one hand, I was taken back to Greek mythology, to the story of Daedalus, the builder of the fabled Labyrinth, and the only one who, using wings he alone built, managed to survive the flight, unlike his better known son. If we take the parallel and apply it to the story, the man is Icarus, while the inner voice, with its wisdom, determination and experience plays the role of Daedalus. The moral of Daedalus’ tale was for mankind to beware its inventions, as they might have unintended consequences, though in the story we are looking at today, the ending is positive, if not happy.

    The tension between the two characters is rightly portrayed, “he both loved and hated it”, “It demanded he take back control”, “If you don’t, I will, it threatened”, but understanding it was there to help, in the end; “...had helped him overcome many problems”, “...he felt his breath steadying...”, “We must be like a rock, strong, hard and determined”, “We must have faith”, with an interesting use of the pronoun “we”, making it clear the man was not, would not, be alone in this.

    On the other hand, there was one line that took me in a different direction: “If you don’t, I will”. If we treat the voice as a separate entity, would it really threaten the man to take back control? Its words imply there might not be enough space, or perhaps determination in the man, for both to co-exist, though it is clear they have done so up to this point; “Through the years it had been his companion...”. The verbal threat shows both to be “living” within the same body, much like a type of DID. Is the voice truly helpful then, or is its patience running thin? Should the man take control, the voice gives up some of its power over him, whereas the opposite were to happen, the man night be cast into an oblivion of sorts. Clearly the voice is better equipped to deal with the situation they find themselves in, though the man seems to be the “primary”, let’s say.

    Either way you think about it, or any other possibilities I have not mentioned here (hopefully you will mention some), this story brings up the ever present “voice” in our heads, the internal monologue we experience in situations that require self-reflection, critical thinking or simply planning and problem-solving.

    Let’s look at some constructive criticism, if you will. The use of repetition in both prose and poetry is well known, to add emphasis and highlight an idea, a message, or simply a state. Here, we have two examples, one in the beginning “What if I fail, what if I fail, what if I fail, what if I fail” and another towards the end, “... and fell. And fell. And fell. And fell.”, though considering the power of such a device and the length of a TotW story, perhaps one would have sufficed. Also, repeating it four times seems a bit one or two too many, though that may not always be the case. Another aspect involving the first two sentences of the story is the following: repetition was used to establish and portray the character’s doubts and “weak” state of mind, which it accomplished well. The subsequent explanation of said state seems therefore unnecessary.

    Next we have either a spelling error, or a slight misuse of a phrase describing the man’s breaths, which would come at “regular intervals”, the plural form working better. Minor spelling errors exist, just a few, and the solution is generally a second or third reading of the piece: “slowely vs. slowly”, “awhile vs. a while”. In the sentence “The voice’s reply took awhile...”, the noun should have been used versus the adverb; when unsure which to use, try replacing the phrase with a noun or an adverb and see which works.

    We mentioned repetition earlier as a literary device, now let’s look at two examples where instead of enhancing the story, it takes from it. We have the use of steady in quick succession, “...his breath steadying...” and “...as he steadied his nerves...”, where synonyms can be used. The second example makes for awkward and unclear reading: “Then its unforgiving voice rang again.”, where “its” replace the story character “voice”, so it sounds a little like “the voice’s voice”. Here, the second use should be changed with a synonym or a different words such as “echo, rasp, tone” or something similar.

    Once more, not really an error but my preference as a reader, I would have liked some indication as to the reason the man hated the voice, some past conflict mentioned or an example of the voice being too harsh.
    Well done Turkafinwë, may we read more of your stories.

    Thank you all for reading and please share your thoughts and experiences regarding our stories today. Cheers and happy reading and writing

    Big War Bird's TaleWabanaki’s legs ached as he made his way up the incline to the top of the bald mountain. He had been tracking the she-cougar for six days and nights. At last he could become a man. The men of his tribe had all hunted the predators of the forest - wolf, bear, cougar. His wearied mind now recalled his dream hunt, he was the great eagle and he had swooped down on a cougar on just such a bald mountain top and carried it away. But Wabanaki was no no eagle, just a boy desperate to become a man. Should he fail here he must return to the tribe ashamed, resigned to wear the woven garments of the woman folk for another year.

    The she-cougar lay atop a flat rock, warming herself in the cloudless morning sun a hundred paces away Wabanaki watched her through reddened, burning eyes. He must think, he must ready himself. Spear, knife, bow. For a moment he could not think. His arms became like stones, heavy, hard. Fear froze his wits.

    No. The fear must go. A man must face fear. The cougar was fear. Wabanaki rubbed his eyes with his palms and the lightning bolts unfroze his mind, He unslung his bow and and slowly lined up his arrow. It was no good. The she-cougar was laying with her haunches almost directly at him. He could only wound her, not pierce her heart. He would have to move if he hoped to become a man this day.

    The she-cougar dozed as Wabanaki maneuvered to take the killing shot. With every step his spirit rose, he was becoming a man. He was ready. For eight seasons Wabanaki had been the equal of any man with the bow. He silently laid his spear down and unslung his bow again. This was easy he thought as he pulled back the bow string and let the arrow fly. Then the sun went out.

    The great eagle screamed death at Wabanaki. Wabanaki didn’t see the great eagle as it ripped its claws into his back and should, but he felt its wings beat his head and legs and buttock and arms. He felt a beak rip the skin of his skull and the blood flow into his eyes. All was pain and red. Wabanaki fell to his knees flailing with one arm while wiping the blood from his eyes with other. For just a heart beat the great eagle relented, a wing beat carrying it upward while Wabanaki fell onto his back. The great eagle’s wings each longer than two men blocked out the sun. The great eagle fell in for the killing blow. The boy Wabanki pulled the knife from his belt and thrust it up into the chest of the falling killer.

    Wabanaki the man returned to his tribe with two trophies, the she-cougar skin and the wings of the great eagle.

    Review by Caillagh de BodemlozeBig War Bird's winning entry in Tale of the Week 284 tells us of Wabanaki, a boy undergoing the rite of passage to become a man. Immediately, we can see a possible connection to the theme, for it is clearly possible to draw an analogy between the process of becoming a man and the process of learning to fly. But Big War Bird doesn't stop there...

    The story begins when the rite is already in progress, and is told entirely from Wabanaki's point of view. Wabanaki, who has already spent days tracking his she-cougar target, feels he is nearing the end of his hunt, and reflects on the test he must undergo. For Wabanaki, the shame of failure is a real and urgent possibility Big War Bird conveys that to us without needing to say so explicitly. Instead, he shows us Wabanaki's feelings about the possibility of failure, and we realise from Wabanaki's dream and his thoughts about it that Wabanaki is not certain he will succeed.

    Throughout this story, Big War Bird gives us descriptions that transport us into the world he has created. We feel the sting of Wabanaki's burning eyes, and the warm, relaxed comfort of the cougar on the rock. Wabanaki's arms becoming "like stones, heavy, hard" and his wits being frozen tell us the depth of Wabanaki's fear. We feel it with him, and we conquer it with him. We share his growing hope, even confidence, as he realises that he truly is capable of completing his quest - that he has been capable for the past eight seasons, in fact.

    And then we share his surprise and bewilderment at the sun's disappearance and his pain as the eagle stoops and attacks. At this point, the story changes. Until now, despite the fear and the urgency of Wabanaki's quest, the story has been quite calm, almost contemplative. Although the cougar is a threat, she's relaxing in the sun, while Wabanaki's movements are slow and deliberate. With the eagle's attack, though, the writing takes on a speed and a vivid immediacy the first part of the story did not have.

    This distinction between the two sections is a strong point of the story, in my view. It makes our impression of the eagle attack sharper and more dramatic because of its contrast with the more composed tone of Wabanaki's encounter with the cougar.

    Cleverly, Big War Bird weaves the theme into this story twice. Wabanaki almost fell at the last moment in his quest, attacked by the unexpected eagle, but he rose victorious, to fly (metaphorically) as a man rather than a mere boy. The eagle, by comparison, fell from the sky - and as a result lost the ability to fly in the literal sense.

    Big War Bird has given us an emotionally powerful story - almost mystical in its telling of Wabanaki's passage of the rite of manhood, and yet also very firmly grounded in the reality of being the hunter and the hunted. He has illustrated the theme of the contest very effectively, in my opinion, and his story was a worthy winner of this Tale of the Week.

    Thanks for reading! This is the second part of a two-part article, you're invited to check out the first part if you missed it. You're also invited to visit the Writers' Study and to take part in the Tale of the Week competition.
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Swaeft's Avatar
      Swaeft -
      It's always a pleasure reviewing the TotWs, the submissions are of very good quality
    1. Kilo11's Avatar
      Kilo11 -
      Like the first set of reviews, I quite enjoyed this! It is an interesting activity for the staff to undertake, and provides a fairly rich set of feedback on what is for many a difficult writing endeavor. I mean, I understand all of the difficulties that can attend working on a book length story, what with keeping things in line, making sure there are no plot holes, etc., but flash fiction requires a sharpness and attention to detail that tries us skills in ways other writing just can't. For that reason, it is just excellent to see reviews of such writing, both for the people who provided the stories in the first place, and for those who are reading the article here and seeing what can go wrong, and what can be improved. All in all, I find this to be a brilliant idea, and I would love to see more of these in the future!

      One small point about the review article itself: at the end, the link to the first part is actually a link to this part. But other than that baby mistake, this is exactly what I wanted to see
    1. Alwyn's Avatar
      Alwyn -
      Thanks for your kind comments, I agree (and thanks to Kilo11 for spotting my mistake, and to Caillagh de Bodemloze for fixing it!).
    1. Big War Bird's Avatar
      Big War Bird -
      I wish I had a written my story as good as your review of it!
    1. Turkafinwë's Avatar
      Turkafinwë -
      A wonderful review of wonderful tales! Strange to see myself on the other side of the spectrum this time, being reviewed myself rather than reviewing. I couldn't agree more with Kilo11's statement. A really helpful review for all to see.

      Well done chaps!