Heroes (Witch in the Woods #3)

Every story need a hero. What traits define a hero tend to shift from one story to the next. A story about toppling a kingdom means the hero must be a rebel. A story about conquering one’s own demons requires a hero who is resilient. So what is Alaeia’s story going to be about? One merely about justice will not suffice; it is too simple, too familiar. Besides, although Alaeia is ruled by the idea of justice, that doesn’t change the fact that most people think their actions are just.

I want her to crush the small, greedy man. I want him to not know what hit him until he’s sprawled on his face. But this is not quite the kind of hero who needs to be a rebel. Alaeia’s brand of hero, I decide, is one defined by kindness and chivalry.

Already, I’m envisioning the man she’ll come against. No person exists in a vacuum, and for a story to work well, the hero and the villain must click together like a key and a lock. The door it opens is always to a better world, albeit one tinged with grief of what it had taken to get there. Alaeia’s world is a peasant’s life, her family stuck in a place where they are fighting to get by. After all, armor is expensive, and she had to save up in order to make more money later from her fighting skills.

Which means she’ll also need a bit of something for dedication, to show she’s capable of hanging onto a dream without throwing everything away for immediate happiness.

Alaeia is also, in essence, a mercenary, an occupation generally looked down upon but sensible in her position considering women are not permitted to fight in the King’s army. Any king’s army, really. But as a mercenary, she’d get to choose what battle she was willing to fight, and, yes, she is selective. Even if it means less money for her family. She would not be the kind of hero who would make another family suffer just so hers was a little better off. It would be a hard line not to cross, of course, because most people are more than willing to cross it. But I want this hero to be different from the rest.

So, humble, perhaps. Not arrogant, especially since she’s had to fight for everything she earned. But she definitely knows how to say no.

She must travel for this, too. Mercenary work tends to pull people far from home. But Alaeia comes back, of course. She must, because that’s where her heroic story begins. A greedy man who knows the family started off poor just might take their gold so that the family falls on hard times. Alaeia hears of it and returns home to face this evil man. His story, I must figure out soon, but what I know of him now is enough to work on the next step of building Alaeia.

I grab a few more powders from my shelves. There is just one more question to answer, but it is an important one.

Heroes inevitably find themselves growing during a conflict, because that is what happens when someone risks their life and well-being for others. Generally, by the end of the conflict, they are even more heroic than before. But those traits must be embedded into their very bones, because if they are not, the hero does not know what being a hero means.

This is not part of my mother’s training. She did not believe in heroes and villains, asserting every time that people were a messy knot of different, tattered traits that made it difficult to know if they were really heroic or villainous to any notable degree. We disagreed on that point several times — one of the only topics that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on. I argued that heroic behavior was in many people, and a select few chose to act on it. Hence, why many people were good, but heroes were few and far between… uncommon enough for stories to be told about them.

To finish this next step of my creation, all that is required is the answer to two connected but distinct questions. First: who taught her this brand of heroic ethics? And second: what drove her to so reliably act upon them?

It is her father, I decide. After the death of his wife, he became close to his children, wishing them the best but knowing the world was cruel. He is another creation I will have to take care to create. The heavy financial tolls and the loss of his beloved was not enough to make him cruel, and this is where Alaeia will have gotten her strength and resilience. I imagine him saying to her the world is what you make it to be. If you are kind, you will find the world a kinder place. If you are cruel, you will find the world has a vicious bite.

And because she loves her father dearly and remembers how good her mother was, Alaeia decides she will be the same.

With these notes on one page, I flip back to the recipe of her character and make a few more annotations. Then I take two blank pages and begin listing what I will need for the greedy man and for Alaeia’s father. After all, the last lesson my mother taught me was that we were not just our core traits or a rainbow of smaller traits. Most importantly, we are who the people around us make us to be.

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