Thanks ahead of time for reading. I am struggling a bit with cadence and format. I would really like to get the dialogue down on the page so to speak, but I keep getting hung up on grammatical nuances and the like. Any and all feedback is appreciated. It is a very small piece of what I aspire to be an extremely large work. Please don't expect a complete narrative, many details remain to be revealed.
“Why is it so dark?”
“Wasn’t there something important I was doing?”
“What smells so bad?”
Charles bolted completely upright at the waist and blinked furiously trying to bring the world around him back into focus. Everything was now a lot of blurry light instead of completely dark, but color was starting to fill in around the edges.
“Lord, not so fast! Give it a second,” a voice said.
Charles was able to place an owner to that voice as soon as his friend, Neville’s round bearded face came into focus.
Neville replaced the lid on something small and stuck it back into a brown, embossed leather satchel. Then he picked up what looked like a metal bed pan from the soft, green grass that Charles was sitting on.
“What just happened?” Charles asked.
“I revived you with a bit of smell.” Neville replied.
Charles blinked again, this time dazed by his inability to judge whether that was really the answer he was looking for.
“No. I mean right before that bit.”
“Ah.” Neville paused. “You were rendered quite unconscious by a musket ball fired at close range to the head.” He motioned toward a pistol in the thick grass that surrounded them.
That slightly explained the intense pain in the back of Charles’s head.
“Shit, is that what’s left of it?” Charles asked pointing at the bed pan.
The bed pan was not a bed pan at all. It was the deformed remains of the helmet that Charles was attempting to test. It was obvious that the helmet did not fare as well as hoped. It was mostly inverted from its previous dome like shape with powder burns decorating the once exterior.
“You are the only man I know stupid enough to shoot himself in the head to prove a point.” Neville stated bluntly.
Charles smirked and tried to blink away a few floating lights from his vision. “Replace ‘stupid’ with ‘bold’ in that sentence, Neville, and you will find the heart of the matter that I have attempted to impress upon you for so long.”
“The heart of the matter,” Neville replied, “is that there are much better ways to test field equipment than shoving your head into it and then pointing a loaded weapon at it.”
Charles weighed the validity of that statement and then decided this was not the best time to argue any further. He pushed himself up with his hands and staggered to his feet. The world threatened to blink back out for a moment, but he was able to shake it off.
At full height Charles was taller than most men, but only maybe slightly. He had maybe a full thumb length of height on Neville on any good day. His hair was long, blonde, and slightly curly. He had just enough weight on him to never be accused of being skinny, but not enough to be overly impressive.
“It worked at least,” Charles murmured as he collected his pistol from the grass and walked ahead of Neville down the knoll to the barn.
“You didn’t die, then?” Neville retorted admiring the grass stains on the back of his friend’s shirt and sleeves. He smirked to himself and said, “I hardly see why you are testing this ridiculous thing. You would never wear it if it meant having to hide your precious curls, and you would hardly have a moment to strap it on if a fellow did pull a pistol on you. ‘Pardon me, sir. Allow me a moment to put on this absurd metal hat before you fire.’ Then the bloke waits for you to put it on right before he shoots you in the chest.”
Charles rolled his eyes unbeknownst to Neville, who trailed him by a few paces. “It’s situational, Neville. It isn’t for wearing to the theater or a tavern. There will be a chest piece as well. It just isn’t ready for testing or demonstration yet.”
“A metal breastplate too?” Neville snorted, “Why not just a whole suit with a coat of arms and everything. Perhaps you could revive the fashion.”
“Not even that vial of pungent odor you carry could do that I’m afraid, but it isn’t metal. It will be a woven shirt. It’s something me and Angus have been toying with.”
“Angus and I.” corrected Neville. “What has he been working on all week anyway?”
Charles unknowingly matched Neville’s gaze at the black column of thick smoke that rose from the chimney of the barn. “Hell if I know. He’s been playing with hot steel and that new black powder you mixed the other month. He’s hardly said two words about it which means it will likely be something profound when he is finished. He may not have the credentials you have, Neville, but underneath that greasy, jutting brow may be a mind almost your equal.”
“Every man has that at which he excels, Charles. Yours, for instance, is surviving your own stupidity.”
From anyone else this would have offended Charles, but this stirred a hearty chuckle instead coming from Neville. He laughed to himself as he opened the side door and entered the ordinary looking structure.
The barn was rather common looking from the outside. Reddish brown and made of sturdy timbers, its only unusual features were that it was slightly too large and had a semi-constant flow of black smoke from its oversized chimney. The fact that it auspiciously sat alone on the property, absent a farm house accompaniment, escaped scrutiny due to the fact it was obscured from any roads by a thick row of oaks and even then would have appeared slight in stature from so far away.
Angus looked up from his project as Charles walked in and took to the wrong reason for his smile.
“Ah, it worked then lad? Fantastic!” Angus exclaimed. A warm smile started to form under his broom like mustache before he saw Neville trot in behind a moment later with the deformed steel headgear in his hands. Neville tossed it the length of the room to where Angus was standing at his workbench. Angus dropped the steel rod in his hand to catch it instinctively and it rang out with a sharp clang as it hit the surface of the hardwood bench.
The beginning of a smile quickly turned to a tight line and Angus’s brow furrowed as he surveyed the impossibly warped piece of metal.
Realization suddenly struck Angus. “God alive, man! Were ye wearing it when this happened?”
Charles nodded only slightly because anything more would have likely sent him reeling again.
“It took me the better part of a day to get this into the right shape.”
“Well it only took the better part of a second to put it into THAT shape.” Neville spat back while shooting another disbelieving glare Charles’s way.
“I wish you had given me a little more time to fashion the lining and a decent strap to hold it on.” Angus growled.
“If it had been strapped on, Angus, I believe my head would share that same shape.” Charles commented as he slouched into the padded
seat of his chair across the room. He rubbed the beginning of a knot near his crown as he half closed his eyes.
“I wouldn’t get too comfortable there,” Neville said. “Falling asleep might not be the best idea.” He leaned toward Charles and pulled at his lids to check his pupils. Charles responded by twisting his head away.
“Dammit, Neville, I’m fine. Leave me be.”
Rebuked, Neville found his own chair, slung his satchel over the back, and plopped down into the soft leather cushions. The two seats were a matching pair. Both were made of a dark hard wood and then padded with soft lacquer-colored leather. They were luxurious to say the least and would have been quite out of place in any other barn unless it was decorated as well as this one.
While the exterior was quite plain, the interior did not share such a condition. It was decorated with plush, elegantly embroidered rugs, heavy wooden and leather furniture, and various small pieces of sculpture and painting. A low ebony table sat as the centerpiece of the parlor where they now sat, littered with pamphlets, maps, and books. The room looked more like a bourgeois city apartment than a place to keep livestock.
The opposite corner where Angus stood was dominated by a large sawdust laden workbench and a wall shelved with tools of all varieties. The small door behind the bench led to a small stone-lined room that Angus had converted to a make shift forge. Angus now opened the little door and tossed the deformed helmet into the room beyond. The clanging sound of metal striking against stones rang out as he slammed the door behind it.
“What is that you dropped as we came in, Angus?” Charles asked with his head cradled in his hands.
Angus’s face lit up again as he remembered his work and scooped the steel rod from the table.
“It’s a gun, lad! Like nothin’ ye e’er seen before!” Angus said in his characteristically growling voice.
Neville raised an eyebrow. “Well, I will say I’ve never seen a gun that had no stock or trigger before.”
Angus roared a deep laugh in response. “It ain’t finished yet. This here is just the barrel.”
Charles lost attention in the matter almost immediately when he heard the word "gun" and laid his throbbing head back in his hands, but Neville’s curiosity was growing by the second. He leaned forward in his seat and then stood to peer at the rod from a slightly better vantage.
“It’s too short, Angus. It’s barely better than a meter in length. You wouldn’t hit a carriage from twenty-five feet with a ball from that.” Neville said incredulously. “That took you the better part of a week to make?”
“Naw!” Angus snorted. “I just started on this in the mornin’.”
Angus produced a few small cylinders from the front pocket of his leather blacksmith apron and rolled them onto the table. They clinked together a bit and Neville crossed the room to get a better look at them.
“I don’t understand. This is what you’ve been working on?” Neville asked.
Angus nodded and picked one up with a thin pair of iron tongs. He then proceeded to pick up a ball-peen hammer and take aim at the cylinder held by the tongs in his other hand. Neville’s head cocked slightly to one side as he looked back and forth between the two instruments.
With an ear splitting blast and one swift movement, Angus struck the exposed end of the cylinder which exploded on impact at the opposite end. The blast left a ringing in his ears, but Neville’s look of shock and panic quickly turned into an awe inspired smile as he looked back at the rod on the bench and realized what Angus was planning.
Back in his chair, Charles wore the stunned and pained expression of a head trauma victim that had just been scared shitless.