An Exercise in Genre

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As genre becomes more acknowledged in the wider writing sphere, it also becomes less important.

Let me explain.

Many people before me have stipulated that genre is nothing more than window dressing: that you can tell the same story you’re telling in one genre in any other genre. This is because the elements of genre are all different pieces of furniture and the reader is looking in through the window. So when you rearrange the furniture, the reader sees a different room, but you see all the same stuff that was there before.

To demonstrate this, I’ve taken a story I’m currently working on, a vignette about made-up Merry Men in service to Robin Hood, and made it into two different stories, all while it remains largely unchanged: what follows is its Crusader version, as well as its fantasy version, also called The Lyre.

[Please note, you will probably see this story in its final form next week when we get back to actual stories.]

The Lute and the Lyre

Lord Alaric had a talent for making his slaying into songs.

We had reached his principality of Dera in Outremer after a small skirmish with Frankish knights who had tried to assail us. By the glory of God, we won the day.
Presently, he played his lute for the three of us. His fingers wove about the strings, making them do twirls as they sang out their notes.
He had taken the the serving girls Myla and Dianna to bed with us. He had requested they share our chambers upon reaching our stronghold. He told me he did not wish the nobles of Outremer to discover our secret. With such an arrangement, they would not be like to discover the truth.
Myla and Dianna held each other in a bed across the room from us. Fingers of moonlight filtered through the tent, but they were mostly hidden beneath a wolfskin blanket, and they were half-listening to Alaric music. The rest of their attention was focused on the touch and smell and taste of the other.
I laid my hands behind my head and listened to his playing. Alaric had a talent for making music breathe and talk and tell a tale. For a time I thought that there must be a fifth member of our company.
The last echoes of his music faded, and we sat in silence. It felt as if something were missing from the world when Alaric stopped playing. Even when Dianna spoke, there seemed an emptiness that stayed with us.
“What news from Jerusalem, my Lord?”
Alaric looked away. He poured himself into the simple task of wrapping his lute in white linen and returning it to its red-brown trunk. “There is talk that Lord Raynald of Châtillon  will begin on the morrow,” he said. “He wishes to protest Guy of of Lusignan’s ascension to the throne of Jerusalem.”
“And attacking caravans is the best way to do this?” I asked.
“Forgive me, my Lord if I speak falsely,” Dianna said, “But is this not intended to capture wealth and prevent Saladin from annexing the territory God has given us?”
“That is so. Attacking caravans is but a means to an end.”
“Will I have to come with you?” I asked Alaric.
“Do you want to?”
“No.”
“Then you don’t. You’re my squire, Berinon. If you do not wish to come with me, nobody will dare to question why.”
Myla glared at me from across the room. “What is a squire who doesn’t fight?”
I looked away, all too aware of the heat on my face. I wished to answer, but words have never come easily to me, even when I know what it is I want to say.
“Don’t be too harsh with Berinon,” Alaric said. The look he gave her was there and gone and I wondered if I imagined it when I had blinked. But I turned to Myla and, seeing the fear on her face, realized my lover’s anger to be true.
“Don’t be so hasty to bring your wrath down upon this girl!” I clutched a fistful of his tunic and shoved him back onto our bed, and then swung my leg up and over his hips. “Save that for the savages you’ll meet in the morning.” I spoke the words against his lips and put mine to his neck. The smell of him—the taste of him felt familiar, yet distant. He was detached from me and all else, and so these senses came back muted. “My Lord? Alaric? What’s wrong?”
“He doesn’t want to kill savages,” Dianna observed.
Alaric arched his neck to look at her. A cord there drew taut. “If you are to speak, Dianna, speak plainly.”
“Myla, too, has spoken plainly,” she observed. She kissed her. “And yet after threatening her for this you ask me to do the same?”
“What is it you would say?” Alaric asked.
“Only that your character is made of sterner stuff than killing savages.”
“Lord Raynald called it a strong tactic.” Alaric said.
I sifted his hair through my hands. “You do not have to like it. You aren’t required to take joy in the songs of slaying.”
He sat up and our lips met, and he fell back upon the bed. “I don’t,” he said, “Yet need to prove myself to the gentry. I cannot do this if I refuse to take action in the simplest of battle tactics. It is a battle that is not a battle.”
“A massacre?” I suggested.
He twisted his hips and I fell off him, then he rolled onto his side to embrace me. “Yes,” he said, “But if I cannot prove myself best at even that, I will never achieve greatness. The other nobles will begin to doubt me.”
“They already do,” Dianna said from across the room. She put a hand over Myla’s mouth to put a temporary halt to their activities. “I would not put it past the other nobles to do the same. They rule vast lands and peoples, and you are merely a newly-made Lord of a small principality..”
Alaric opened his mouth to reply, but I steered his head toward me. “Pay her no heed,” I said, “She seeks to irritate you. Nothing more.”
Three heartbeats passed, wordlessly. Alaric’s hold on me grew tighter. And, after a time, he asked, “Why don’t you join me in the raids? Don’t you think I’ll protect you?”
“Would that you could,” I replied, “But my fear is that you will be too swept up in battle to do anything. I shall be left to some chance arrow, and what will become of me then?”
“I would kill whoever it was who hurt you,” he said. He held me by either side of my face. My sight tunneled towards him, and the only feeling in the world was his callused hands. I felt blisters shaped like long small olives rough against my cheeks. He pulled me forward so that his nose touched mine. “I would desecrate them, that not a soul among their kin might recognize their face, and your killer would look so horrid, even the Devil himself would shrink back at his presence, so he would be a pariah in Hell and spend eternity in damnation!”

I felt the moisture of his forehead, and his hands felt like kelp.
“Someone is in love,” Dianna said.
“This is true,” Myla added. I could feel their gaze on us. “Madness has taken hold of him.”
“He’s not mad—” I muttered. The words bobbed and floated amidst my throat, and only their semblance managed to pass my lips. “He’s not mad. Just—just passionate.” I grappled for words, and settled on “Go.”
Both drew a breath in unison.
“There are other rooms, and other beds to share..”
“And if there are no beds to be found?” Myla’s eyebrows went taut as bowstrings.
“I’m sure you can find other ways to warm each other.” She seemed to catch my wink, because she grinned like a crescent moon. The two rose and left the tent.
Alaric’s arms were pincers on my sides when he wrung one hand over his wrist. He traced his fingers along me and nodded to himself. “We should sleep,” he said. “We have a long day ahead of us.”
I’m not sure if he knew the turmoil I would be facing. Despite my leave of battle, he was not wrong.
I awoke to blades of sunlight piercing the tent, and then Alaric’s silhouette granted me a brief shade. The sun splayed out behind him in golden arrows so that for a moment I feared he had invoked the wrath of our God, the Lord of Light.
I threw myself upon him. His welcome was that of sun-warmed steel and a smell of sweat and leather. Alaric bowed his head “I did not mean to wake you,” he murmured. “There are a few final things I need to gather.”
He only had to look at me and I knew what he needed. I scrambled across the tent and snatched his helmet, still cold in the corner. As I retrieved it, he sheathed his longsword. He left his axe behind. He would be riding by horse, and he needed a longer blade.
He sheathed his sword as I came over to place his helmet over his head. He leaned forward for a goodbye kiss, but when I closed my eyes he did not smell like Lord Alaric. This hero was alien to me.
Yet when I heard him whisper, “I will return,” it seemed that all his armor had melted away, and he was Alaric again.
But I had to open my eyes.
I saw him in gleaming armor before he turned, silhouetted against the sun. His red cloak licked the air as a sudden wind came up. I decided to take it as a sign of God’s favor at the least.

With the wind came the cheers. The men of Dera loved their hero. Their Lord Alaric, who was not mine. I did not follow him out of the his chambers nor to the gate. I could not hear him over the roar of the crowd. Soon enough, in a rumble of hooves I knew he was gone.
I fell back onto my bed, and an instant later sleep took me.
I awoke, expecting Alaric, but found that it was only mid-afternoon. Cobwebs cluttered my brain as I climbed out of bed, and I shook them free when I exited the chambers.
The hallway echoed with footsteps of me and what servants were left. I heard noises behind a nearby door and started to approach, but I heard Dianna and Myla inside, and left them to each other.
But as I turned to leave, I heard Myla call, “Berinon!”
I dashed inside the tent. The two were dressing in the soldiers’ tunics that were much too large for them. They looked like children playing dress up. I managed to gather my thoughts enough to say, “You called?”
“You’re concerned about Alaric,” she said, “Why is that?”
“What does it matter to you?”
She shrugged. “Can I not be curious?”
“Alaric will not die,” Dianna added. “Do you not trust in God? That should bring you at least some reprieve.”
“No.” I denied them all further response. I’d let them make of it what they would. I turned to leave the tent, but they followed.
“You can’t just leave us with that alone! Come, there are only the three of us here for the day. Join us in conversation, if nothing else!”
They followed me into Alaric’s tent, where I turned heel and addressed them, “What if Saladin turns up at one of these raids, hm? What if he were to make a mistake in battle? What if a chance arrow pierces his mail? What then? Well? What then?

“You are in love, the both of you,” Myla’s teeth clamped down on her grin.
“No wonder you chose to stay behind,” Dianna observed, “You think too much, such that the raid would be over the moment you bared your steel.”
“Away with you!” Heat flared in my face. I felt a shout rising in my throat and forced it back down. “You seek only to agitate me.”
“Come, Berinon, do not take our jests to heart. We’ve been deprived of entertainment this day, all alone with nothing to do. Let us have our fun.”
“You’ve had it.” So saying, I rushed forward and reached for the door, that its fall would bar them from me, but before I had even a chance to crowd them out of the tent, Dianna spoke.
“Do you know why Alaric took us?”
I froze. “He’s told me it was to hide—to hide us.”
“There’s hardly a need for it. It’s the worst kept secret among your people. They only tolerate it since Lord Alaric’s Crusade cleanses his sins, and picking a new Lord of Dera would be too much trouble than it’s worth.”
“Then why would he bring you?”
“I bear his son.” The words were ice in my stomach. “He will be named Godwin and will be called the Bringer of the Storm. God himself has told me that he will be raised amidst war, for Saladin’s army can only fall when my son takes up sword and shield upon the battlefield.”
Myla, too, seemed shocked by this. We both shrank away from her, while she stood with such straight backed pride that if she were to challenge our Lord, He would doubtlessly bring His wrath toward her.
“You’re lying.”
“There is no comfort in lies.” This was her only response.
“Is this true?” Myla asked.
“Ask Alaric, should you think me false.”
As if her words were prophecy, there came an unmistakable sound of horse hooves. Moments later, Alaric boomed through the door.
Dianna clutched at him and hThe er hand came away bloody. She bid this strange hero to tell me about his son.
His breastplate was painted red and his golden hair was dark with sweat and blood. He had lost his helmet and shield but kept his sword. A flap of something I didn’t want to think about danced on its end. He tossed the blade aside.
For my part, I tried to tell him of Dianna and Myla stirring up trouble, I begged him to return them to to the kitchens. But he did not seem to hear any of us.
Then I realized my mistake. I was caught up in my own fears and perils, and had forgotten his. “You killed them.”
“I did.” He said nothing more, but opened his red-brown chest and took out his lute. The white linen fell off of it like a sinking wave. I scrambled over to him. To be by his side. But he spoke not a word to me.
Instead, he played the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.

And below, the story is further translated to fantasy:
The Lyre
They say the best men can make their slaying into songs. They say that men who can take a massacre and weave it into a mournful ballad are to be admired.

They’re wrong.

I learned this soon after we had set up our camps on the beaches of Eld. Come nightfall, Prince Alaric of Balor was making music for me and the other two.
He played his lyre for the three of us. His fingers wove about the strings, making them do twirls as they sang out their notes.
He had taken the women Myla and the princess Dianna from his time on Keor Island. He had requested they share our tent when we reached the country of Eld. His reasoning had been that he didn’t wish the kings to discover our secret. With the arrangement Alaric had made, the men would not be like to discover the truth.
Myla and Dianna held each other on a bed of wood covered in animal hides. Fingers of moonlight filtered through the tent, but they were hidden beneath a wolfskin blanket.

They reserved only some of their attention to Alaric’s music. The rest was focused on the touch and smell and taste of the other.
I laid my hands behind my head and listened to his playing. Alaric had a talent for making music breathe, talk, and tell a tale. For a time I thought that there must be a fifth member of our company.
The last echoes of his music faded, and we sat in silence. It felt as if something were missing from the world. Even when Dianna spoke, there seemed an emptiness that stayed with us.
“What news from the Council of Kings?”
Alaric looked away. He poured himself into the simple task of wrapping his lyre in white linen and returning it to its red-brown trunk. “The raids begin tomorrow,” he said. “The High King wishes to see which soldiers should prove best. He wants to know who to keep close beside his own guard when he turns his sights to the Eld to retrieve his wife.”
“And attacking farmers is the best way to do this?” I asked.
“Demoralizing Eld is the best way to do it,” Dianna said.
“That is so.”
“Will I have to come with you?” I asked Alaric.
“Do you want to?”
“No.”
“Then you don’t. You’re my right hand, Godwin. None would dare protest if I decided to keep you here.”
Myla narrowed her eyes at me from across the room. “What is a soldier who doesn’t fight?”
I looked away, all too aware of the heat on my face. I wished to answer, but words have never come easily to me, even when I know what it is I want to say.
“Don’t be too harsh with Godwin,” Alaric said. The look he gave her was there and gone and I wondered if I imagined it when I had blinked. But I turned to Myla and, seeing the fear on her face, realized my lover’s anger to be true.
“Don’t be so hasty to bring your wrath down upon this girl!” I clutched a fistful of his tunic and shoved him back onto our bed, and then swung my leg up and over his hips. “Save that for the farmers you’ll meet in the morning.” I spoke the words against his lips and put mine to his neck. The smell of him—the taste of him felt familiar, yet distant. He was detached from me and all else, and so these senses came back muted. “Alaric?” I said, “What’s wrong?”
“He doesn’t want to kill farmers,” Dianna observed.
Alaric arched his neck to look at her. A cord there drew taut. “If you are to speak, Dianna, speak plainly.”
“Myla, too, has spoken plainly,” she observed. She kissed her. “And yet after threatening her for this you ask me to do the same?”
“What is it you would say?” Alaric asked.
“Only that your character is made of sterner stuff than farmer-killing.”
“It’s a strong tactic. A good idea for any siege,” Alaric said.
I sifted his hair through my hands. “You don’t have to like it. You aren’t required to take joy in the songs of slaying.”
He sat up and our lips met, then he fell back upon the bed. “I don’t,” he said, “Yet I am to be the best of the men of Morgad. I cannot do this if I refuse to take action in the simplest of siege maneuvers. It is a battle that is not a battle.”
“A massacre?” I suggested.
He twisted his hips and I fell off him. He rolled onto his side to embrace me. “Yes,” he said, “But if I cannot prove myself best at even that, I will never achieve greatness. The other kings will begin to doubt me.”
“They already do,” Dianna said from across the room. She put a hand over Myla’s mouth to put a temporary halt to their activities. “I would not put it past the other kings to do the same. They are kings after all, and you are merely Prince of Balor.”
Alaric opened his mouth to reply, but I steered his head toward me. “Pay her no heed,” I said, “She seeks to irritate you. Nothing more.”
Three heartbeats passed, wordlessly. Alaric’s hold on me grew tighter. And, after a time, he asked, “Why don’t you join me in the raids? Don’t you think I’ll protect you?”
“Would that you could,” I replied, “But my fear is that you will be too swept up in battle to do anything. I shall be left to some chance arrow, and what will become of me then?”
“I would kill whoever it was who hurt you,” he said. He held me by either side of my face. My sight tunneled towards him, and the only feeling in the world was his callused hands. I felt blisters shaped like long small olives rough against my cheeks. He pulled me forward so that his nose touched mine. “I would desecrate them, that not a soul among their kin might recognize them, and your killer would look so horrid, even the Lord of Bones would shrink back at his presence, so he would never enter the World Below nor walk amidst the Mournful Dead.”
I felt the moisture of his forehead, and his hands felt like kelp. If I were to close my eyes I would have imagined his mother, Mistress of Waves, had taken hold of me.
“The Lord of Love has struck this one,” I heard Dianna from across the tent, but the moonlight no longer touched it, so I could not see her.
“This is true,” Myla added. I could feel their gaze on us. “Madness has taken hold of him.”
“He’s not mad—” I muttered. The words bobbed and floated amidst my throat, and only their semblance managed to pass my lips. “He’s not mad. Just—just passionate.” I grappled for words, and settled on “Go.”
They drew a breath in unison.
“There are other tents, and other beds to share..”
“And if there are no tents to be found?” Myla’s eyebrows went taut as bowstrings.
“I am sure you can find other ways to warm each other.” She grinned like a crescent moon and then left the tent.

Alaric traced a finger along my face and nodded to himself. “We should sleep,” he said. “We have a long day ahead of us.
I’m not sure if he knew the turmoil I would be facing. Despite my leave of battle, he was not wrong.
I awoke to blades of sunlight piercing the tent, and then Alaric’s silhouette granted me a brief shade. The sun splayed out behind him in golden arrows so that for a moment I feared he had invoked the wrath of the Lord of Light.
I threw myself upon him. His welcome was that of sun-warmed iron and a smell of sweat and leather. He bowed his head “I’m sorry to wake you,” he murmured. “There are a few final things I need to gather.”
He only had to look at me and I knew what he needed. I scrambled across the tent and snatched his helmet, bristling with horse hairs.

He sheathed his sword as I came over to place his helmet over his head, its white horse hairs tumbling down to the small of his back. He leaned forward for a goodbye kiss, but when I closed my eyes he did not smell like Alaric. This hero was alien to me.
Yet when I heard him whisper, “I will return,” all his armor melted away, and he was Alaric again.
But I had to open my eyes.
I saw him in gleaming armor before he turned, silhouetted against the sun. His red cloak licked the air as a sudden wind came up. I decided to take it as a sign for the Lord of Wind’s favor at the least. And with the wind came the cheers.
The men loved their hero. Their Alaric, who was not mine. I did not follow him out of the tent. I could not hear him over the roar of the crowd. Soon enough, in a rumble of hooves I knew he was gone.
I fell back onto my bed, and an instant later sleep took me.
I awoke, expecting Alaric but found that it was only mid-afternoon. Cobwebs cluttered my brain as I climbed out of bed, and I shook them free when I exited the tent.
The cookfires were still smouldering outside, though they were more smoke than heat. I collected bits of driftwood for a new fire upon Alaric’s return.
The tent flaps stirred in the wind–all except one, closed as tight as the Gates of Eld. I started to approach, but I heard Dianna and Myla inside, and left them to each other. But as I turned to leave, I heard Myla call, “Godwin!”
I dashed inside the tent. The two were dressing in the soldiers’ tunics that made them look like children playing dress up. I managed to gather my thoughts enough to say, “You called?”
“You’re concerned about Alaric,” she said, “Why is that?”
“What does it matter to you?”
She shrugged. “Can I not be curious?”
“Alaric will not die,” Dianna added. “Do you not trust in the gods’ favor? That should bring you at least some reprieve.”
“No.” I denied them all further response. I’d let them make of it what they would. I turned to leave the tent, but they followed.
“You can’t just leave us with that alone! Come, there are only the three of us here for the day. Join us in conversation, if nothing else!”
They followed me into Alaric’s tent, where I turned heel and addressed them, “What if the Princes of Eld turn up at one of these raids, hm? What if Alric were to make a mistake in battle? What if a chance arrow pierces his mail? What then? Well? What then?
“The Lord of Love has struck you both,” Myla’s teeth clamped down on her grin.
“No wonder you chose to stay behind,” Dianna observed, “You think too much, such that the raid would be over the moment you bared your steel.”
“Away with you! Both of you!” Heat flared in my face. I felt a shout rising in my throat and forced it back down. “You seek only to agitate me.”
“Come, Godwin, do not take our jests to heart. We’ve been deprived of entertainment since we left Keor. Let us have our fun.”
“You’ve had it.” So saying, I rushed forward and reached for the tent flap, that its fall would bar them from me, but before I had even a chance to crowd them out of the tent, Dianna spoke.
“Do you know why Alaric took us?”
I froze. “He’s told me it was to hide—to hide us.”
“There’s hardly a need for it. It’s the worst kept secret among you Morgadians. And I doubt some of your fellow kings would even reproach the idea of joining you in such activities.”
“Then why would he bring you?”
“I bear his son.” The words were ice in my stomach. “He will be named Fortuneave—the Bringer of the Storm. He will be raised amidst war, for the Mistress of Waves has said Eld can only fall when my son takes up sword and shield upon the battlefield.”
Myla, too, seemed shocked by this. We both shrank away from her, while she stood with such straight backed pride that if she were to speak of the gods they would doubtlessly bring their wrath toward her.
“You’re lying.”
“There is no comfort in lies.” This was her only response.
“Is this true?” Myla asked.
“Ask Alaric, should you think me false.”
As if her words were prophecy, there came an unmistakable sound of horse hooves. Moments later, Alaric threw aside the tent flap and entered.
Dianna clutched at him and her hand came away bloody. She bid this strange hero to tell me about his son.
His breastplate was painted red and his golden hair was dark with sweat and blood. He had lost his helmet and shield but kept his sword. A flap of something I didn’t want to think about danced on its end. He tossed his it aside.
For my part, I tried to tell him of Dianna and Myla’s attempts to provoke me, I begged him to return them to Keor. But he did not seem to hear any of us.
Then I realized my mistake. I was caught up in my own fears and perils, and had forgotten his. “You killed them.”
“I did.” He said nothing more, but opened his red-brown chest and took out his lyre. The white linen fell off of it like a sinking wave. I scrambled over to him. To be by his side. But he spoke not a word to me.
Instead, he played the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.

Autor: Connor M. Perry

From an early age, I learned how to divide by four. See, two minutes after I was born, I discovered three other newborns hot on my heels. I was a quadruplet. And I needed to learn to how to share. Everything. At an early age, I took to writing so that I could have something unsharable. I began writing small stories online for my own enjoyment, and gradually moved to more ambitious ideas. I've been running my blog The Mythlings for two years now, publishing a new installment every Friday. I've enjoyed creating different worlds, characters and relationships in my stories. I currently live in Worcester, MA with my girlfriend, two cats, and a collection of swords.

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