Short Story: Origins

One of my beta readers said that if I was going to write several of my novels in a fantasy empire, she wanted me to post some short stories about the origin and back story of the empire. She was curious, but didn’t want to bog down the books. And so…

 

Origins

Leonora stepped off the boat and wrinkled her nose. The smell of sewage, animal, and sweat assaulted her as the sun warmed her neck and shoulders. Several squires were coaxing skittish horses down the ramshackle docks, and a few harried knights were overseeing the transfer of provisions. They didn’t deserve to die. None of them did, even if her father disagreed.

Unfurling her parasol, she cast a small spell to keep her dress from getting soiled and picked her way through the muck.

A young knight with a shock of blonde hair and smooth face hurried over to her, and realizing who she was, took a step back. “Your…ladyship?”

“Good enough.” She snapped her parasol closed. Few knew how to address the bastard daughter of the king.

“This is no place for a lady, ma’am.”

“Unfortunate I came all the way across the sea then. I’m looking for Knight-Lord Dracasan.”

Confusion puckered the young knight’s face, but he led her to a large drab tent. There was nothing to knock on, so the boy cleared his throat. “Knight-Lord-”

Leonora pushed past him into the tent. Cato Dracasan sat with his elbows balanced on his knees, a lock of dark hair curling over his forehead as he pressed his hands together and tapped them against his chin. With a day-old beard and unkempt hair, he looked nothing like the refined gentleman that had graced the ballrooms of Stardale a few months ago. Here, he looked like the brooding warrior he was.

Cato glanced up at her, and he narrowed his eyes but didn’t stand. “What in the seven hells are you doing here?”

The young knight scurried away as Leonora met the Knight-Lord’s glare. “What a lovely greeting. It’s good to see you as well, Knight-Lord Dracasan.”

Cato pushed out of his chair, filling the tent and making her want to step back. But she knew better than to retreat from a predator.

“Get on the ship andgo back home. There’s nothing for you here.”

She ignored the sting in his words and twirled her parasol. “There’s nothing for me there, either. But I have something you want. Something King Orin prays you don’t get.”

Cato raised a dark brow. “I think you made it quite clear that was something I was never going to get.”

“Had I said anything else, my step-mother would’ve had us both killed.”

“Might be better than the slow death here.”

Unscrewing the end of her parasol, she tipped it upward and slid out a rolled piece of paper. She unrolled it and revealed a detailed map of the landing site and surrounding areas.

Cato’s eyes widened as he stared at the map. “Where did you get this?”

“From my father. Of course, he doesn’t know I made a copy of it. Or that I brought it to you.”

Cato studied the document. “So he knew he was sending us to our deaths.”

“Of course he did. Question is what are you going to do about it?”

"Us" vs "Them"

We see this a lot. Us versus Them.

It’s “your” team versus whomever they are playing. It’s the Rebellion versus the Empire. Democrats versus republicans. Geeks versus jocks.

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This was so my “in” group. C’mon DPS.

Pick your “in” group, and you’ll automatically have an “out” group. It’s everywhere, and once you side with a team, you will automatically favor them even if the evidence doesn’t agree with you.

This is called Social Identity Theory, and humans do it all the time. Once we identify with a group, once it becomes ours, a part of ourselves becomes intertwined with the success of that group.

Think how many times you’ve seen a sports fan became angry over how “their” team played. Now, if you actually owned the sports team, you’d have a lot riding on their success. But most of the people I know who are invested in “their” team don’t even have a bet riding on the outcome.

I’ve even heard fans make disparaging comments about fans of other teams. What would make an otherwise rational person hate someone else just for the team they support?

Social Identity Theory says this is actually pretty common. Once you identify with a group making it the “in” group, humans will discriminate against and disparage the “out” group as a means of making themselves feel better about the group to which they are associated.

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This is some pretty powerful stuff. Wikipedia links to a series of studies, one that shows people aren’t even willing to bet against their “in” group even though it could mean that they make money doing so.

There is some thought that this was an evolutionary response. Those that favored their own tribes to the exclusion of all others were more successful, had more children, etc. Hard to prove, but a reasonable theory.

Interestingly, though, humans are actually more successful the larger we make the “in” group. The research corroborates what Adam Smith said in The Wealth of Nations that human prosperity is dependent on the voluntary exchange between and co-operation of different nationalities and races.

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It’s an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, research shows us that Social Identity Theory tells makes us want to favor “our” group, yet other research shows us that this is not necessarily what makes us the most prosperous.

Sadly, this isn’t fiction. If it were, I’d get a note from my beta reader telling me about the inconsistency of my character, and how his actions didn’t align with his goal. I’d fix it, and all would be well.

Not that easy in the real world, even if does explain a lot things we see happening around us.

But, perhaps it gives us some insight into making a character that our audience will identify with. Give them someone that’s in their “in” group so that they’ll want to see them succeed even if he is a whiny farm kid more interested in racing speeders with his friends than tending to the droids on his aunt and uncle’s farm.

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How about you? Ever read about a character you could identify with and wanted to see them succeed no matter what? Or maybe you have a sports team you love no matter what? Or maybe you found yourself in one “tribe” when you wanted to be in another?