This week, I primarily spent time working on some character development for the story’s main antagonist. I actually had to go back to the first 20 pages of the story to do this, as that’s when the character is introduced. Here’s the challenge. The antagonist isn’t pure evil or just a horrible person, at least to begin with. He’s a person who has some differences with my protagonist, spars with him within their group, and is eventually completely set against him by the machinations of the plot. Why? Because my antagonist is a bit of a coward and a liar, and that stands at complete odds with my protagonist (who isn’t perfect by any means either). Here’s how I attempted to establish his character:
The Alphas had taken a liking to him. He was smart, cunning, and deadly. In my experience, Thane was not a man to be trusted. He played for himself and not for others. About four years before, he and I took part in a raid on some bandits that had harassed us. That was when he lost my trust for good. We were up in the north, near the lakes, and the leaves had begun to drift off the trees. We were hurrying south, the Alphas paying little attention to our route. Thanks to the Alphas, more specifically, to Baxter and his carelessness, we stumbled into the domain of a group of bandits. We knew it was their territory due to the skulls hanging from the trees and the headless skeletons demarcating their borders, yet we continued, thinking we’d be in and out before they knew it. We were wrong about that. We were attacked in midday as we were on the move. A dozen brothers and sisters were slain and maybe another dozen more were carried off in the attack. The bandits were trying to teach us a lesson: come onto our land and leave, or die.
The Pack can’t leave an attack unanswered though, and soon after Baxter was removed from the Alphaship for his carelessness and a new Alpha, Sharpe, took the mantle, retaliation plans were drafted. All of the warriors in addition to the Scout’s Vanguard were to gather together for a raid on the camp the bandits called home. We got lucky. They were stupid, overconfident, so sure in their success and control over the land that they had ruled over for decades that they had left a clear trail leading directly to their camp. The Scout’s Vanguard arrived first, settling into their positions around the enemy camp in the dead of night, and sending a runner back to alert the warriors that we could move up. Dawn was maybe two hours below the eastern horizon when the majority of the warriors surrounded the bandit camp. They were idiots. They had all gathered together, celebrating their supposed victory in a collection of shacks and tents in the middle of circular clearing in the woods. Fools. Near seventy killers surrounded them in the dark of the night.
The raid began with a small group of seven warriors moving into the enemy camp to free our brothers and sisters who had been taken. Of the dozen that the bandits took, only half of them were still alive. The warriors quickly slipped into the camp, quietly dispatching a few bandits as they went, and came out again with the six living survivors of the bandit’s first attack. Then, the attack begun. The first shot was fired by the head lieutenant of the warriors, and the rest of us took it as a signal to commence. Bullets, arrows, spears, and knives flew through the dark, finding their marks with a dull thump. Within the first five minutes, most of the bandits, near forty of them, were dead. Few managed to fight back. But some still hid in the old shacks, occasionally showing themselves and popping off a few shots to deter anyone from forcing them out.
I had been next to Thane for the entirety of the raid up to that point. I turned to the sister behind us and asked her to put down some covering fire on the one shack directly in front of us. Then I pounded Thane on the shoulder and told him that we were going to both rush the front.
He said no, he’d take the back, take ‘em from both sides.
I nodded, it wasn’t a bad idea, said I’d whistle twice when I was ready to bust the door down. He’d follow me. The sister behind us started using the last of her clip and laid down a torrent of bullets on the shack.
Crouching low, Thane and I ran towards the one entrance to the shack as the bullets cracked and fizzed over our heads.
I slammed into the old, crumbling wooden wall beside the door. Thane paused for a second next to me, before crouching low and hurrying around the corner. I waited. I needed to give him time to get into position.
The door was on my left.
I breathed deep.
I could hear bandits moving inside of the shack.
Did they know I was out there?
I whistled twice, pausing for a second or two before the second whistle.
I drew my sidearm in my right hand and my knife in the other and pivoted to face the door.
I kicked the door with all of my strength, vastly overestimating its sturdiness.
The door flew open in splinters and I rolled, my momentum pulling me forward, into the small room beyond.
There were four of them. Surprised to see me too. Three of them, on my right, were all holding clubs. The one nearest the window, on my left, had a small old rifle.
I quickly raised my sidearm and dropped him with two to the chest.
“AH, FUCK,” I yelled as one of the clubs grazed my fingers and threw the sidearm out of my grasp. It flew across the room and out the window.
Though they were behind me, I felt another club coming for my head and leapt for the wall by the man I had just killed. I tumbled onto his corpse and quickly grabbed his rifle. Bolt-action. Shit.
I raised it up in my right hand just as one of the bandits was about to fall on me with her club and pulled the trigger.
The bullet went through her neck and she fell, clutching and gurgling.
I got lucky. No, not lucky, but… I don’t know.
I quickly stood, dropped the now empty rifle, and grabbed the fallen bandit’s club. The two remaining bandits had stood by the far door, waiting for me to die. Now, they rushed me. The older one on my right was a little in front of the smaller, younger one on my left.
Where was Thane?
I moved towards the older one and quickly sidestepped to my right as a club swished past my head.
I swung my knife backwards, finding the back of the older bandit’s neck.
He fell. My knife didn’t come out of his neck.
I stepped backwards, club still in hand, as the young bandit screamed wildly in rage. We both paused and looked each other dead in the eyes. I was breathing hard, adrenaline pumping, blood on my face.
Without any warning, and faster than I could react, the young bandit threw his club and perfectly hit my club out of my hand. Also broke a couple of my fingers. I looked down and howled in pain, clutching my hand. I looked back up just in time to see the bandit take a small blade, no bigger than his own thumb, from his belt. Blade in hand, he darted towards me.
I dove and rolled forwards, his blade nicking my boots. I scrambled forwards on the splintered wooden floor.
“NOW DIE,” was all I heard before I flipped onto my back and caught the bandits hands before he plunged the blade into my chest. He was fast. Too fast for me.
I was laboring hard to keep him from pushing the blade down. It kept on inching downwards despite my effort. I yelled out with pure effort. I began slowly forcing the knife to the left, aiming it just shy of my chest.
Then the far door burst open.
“Ah?” That was all the Bandit said.
His head blossomed into a fountain of blood and bone and he fell backwards off of me. I looked behind me, where the door had burst open.
Thane stood there, smoking pistol in hand.
I stood. “What,” I gasped, breathing hard, “the fuck. Thane?”
He holstered his pistol. “I don’t even get a thank-you?”
“Where. The fuck. Were you?” I wiped some of the blood away from my face and put my hands on my knees, regaining my breath.
“I just saved your life.”
“And I deserve some recognition for that.”
“I had to… Had to handle. All of them,” I gestured at the four corpses, “by myself.”
“I can see that.” I heard gunshots and screams, vague, in the background. The smell of the room finally struck me. Death and gunpowder, blood and wood.
“So, where were. You?”
“Shit, Carter, I got fucking stuck. They had fucking traps in the back, and I didn’t hear your whistle. I got here when I could. So can you be a little fucking grateful?”
“Oh, fuck off.” I turned from him, picked up m knife, and made my way out of the shack. My lungs still burned a little and the adrenaline was wearing off. I was tired. Soaked in blood.
The raid was winding down. The shacks and tents had been cleared. Everyone was making their way back to the treeline. I found my sidearm outside of the shack and put it back in my belt.
The warriors and the Scout’s Vanguard circled up in the woods. We had only lost two of our own. A few more were injured, but it wasn’t anything grave and they were being cared for.
As we settled in for a quick report of the action, I glimpsed Thane across the circle, avoiding my eyes.
The head lieutenant had the different leaders of the raid give their report of the success. When they were done, he started asking who cleared the shacks and tents. Tough work was what he called it. Tough work well done. Before I could raise my hand, Thane raised his, said we had cleared the shacks, me and him.
Others nodded, agreed, said they’d seen him there. The lieutenant was impressed, asked how he did it.
Said we’d fought in there together. Said he’d had to save my life.
The lieutenant looked to me, asked if it was true.
I stuttered, said, well, yeah, Thane killed the last bandit, near point-blank, as the bandit and I were fighting hand-to-hand. But–
The lieutenant said that was some good shit. Brothers looking out for each other. Thane’d be rewarded. The circle erupted in a chorus of hear-hears and drowned out my pleas for ears to listen to the rest of the story. The lieutenant quickly moved on to the next warrior.
I was disgusted. No one had been watching us. No one had seen that I had done the dirty work. The killing. Thane hadn’t saved my life. He’d come in just as I was about to turn the fucking tables on that bandit. Taken all the credit for my work. Stolen my victory. The way he told it after that day to brothers and sisters who asked, everybody believed that he had pretty much cleared the shack singlehandedly with none of my help, and not the other way around. Nobody believed me when I said he was lying. He made me seem feeble in comparison to him and his deeds. He made himself out to be the better warrior. I never forgave him for that slight. I’d show him who was the better warrior.
I just started reading The Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson, who, in my mind, is the best writer there is when it comes to military history.