The Black Trillium
by Simon McNeil Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
Confederation rules in Trana—so says the king.
But Fredericton is a long way from the shores of Lake Ontario, and schemes for power will bring together three extraordinary young warriors.
A desert girl who came to Trana looking for refuge but has never found a home
A privileged city boy dreaming of rebellion and hardened by cruelty
The disgraced heir to the throne desperate to win back his place in his father's heart
Sworn enemies or reluctant allies, they all have one thing in common: an incomplete half of the legendary fighting skill known as the Triumvirate sword art. They fight for glory, for power, for the monsters lurking beneath the streets, and for the mysterious society moving in the shadows of Trana—the Black Trillium.
Sometimes, when the walls of the ancient city press around too much and I feel a yearning for the open spaces, I like to climb up to the highest tower I can find and just sit with my feet dangling over the edge, watching everything below me. The sky seems bluer than it does on the ground, almost as blue as it does in the lands of the red-brown dust that were my home.
I miss home but I can never go back. There is no home to go back to, not anymore. It’s all dust, bones and broken dreams now. No crops grow in the lands of endless dust. The rivers are dry. All they produce is refugees and lots of refugees end up in Trana. I don’t have to like it. I don’t like it. The buildings make the places all too narrow.
When I tell people I hate the tall buildings they look at me strangely. They ask me, “Didn’t I see you sitting on the edge of the 390 building just the other day?” I just smile and explain that it’s OK being at the top of the buildings. I don’t mind it when there is just the sky above and the streets below. I’m not afraid of high places even though I come from the flattest land. It is the narrow places I don’t like, the tunnels and the streets.
It’s better in the districts a bit farther out from the center. Kensington is nice, though too crowded, the same with Queeneast. I like Blasted Port; it’s nothing but open spaces. The problem with Blasted Port is that it’s not a good place for a girl to be all on her own with no family. I’d almost rather be out there anyway. The bandits are mostly in it for a profit, and there’s no profit in harassing a girl with nothing but the clothes on her back.
I guess if it wasn’t for Boyd I’d probably have left Broken Tower by now, would have left behind the skeletons of buildings with their ribbed rebar showing through the crumbling concrete.
But at least I felt like I had a place in Boyd’s court, even if it was as unstable as the ancient towers.
I crossed Confederation all on my own. I had to stick a man with a knife once when he tried to force himself on me. These city people all think desert girls are easy prey; we’re loose girls they say, we’re asking for it. They learn fast that trying to force a desert girl is asking for it. I was hunting scorpions for food while most of the two-penny bandits in Trana were still playing games in their parents’ yards.
Boyd respected that. He came from out west too, even farther off, in the lands beyond the mountains and I’ve always suspected that he thought the same of city folk that I did. Too soft, too weak, too coddled.
Boyd calls me the Scorpion Girl and leaves me right the fuck alone except for when I come to his court. I’m welcome there. He sees to it that I have food if I’m hungry, somewhere to sleep when it’s cold. He never tried to force himself on me or nothing either. We have an understanding, a mutual respect, and if somebody needs watching, he knows I’m good at sneaky.
I thought about Boyd, about being a sneaky refugee girl, dependent on his patronage to make my way while the chill of early winter bit into my bones. I hugged a ragged old hide coat closer and hunched my shoulders against the cold.
“LePine’s up to something, follow him,” Boyd told me the last time I saw him.
He had a good point. LePine, the Under God-damned high minister of Confederation in Trana, was up to something. Boyd was sure of it and if I had read the signs correctly he was probably right. It all came down to Bart MacMillan and his fucking wars. The king of Confederation. It had been his damn wars that drove me to Trana in the first place—they drove the ’Tobans west and the ’Tobans figured they’d return the favour, pushed my people into the Great Desert. And then I’d ended up here, far from home.
Now MacMillan had his eyes on the Southlands and Boyd was sure that LePine wanted to involve Trana. Like it or not, Broken Tower was the closest thing I had to a home. I was damned if I was going to sit idly by doing nothing while Confederation drove me out of this one too.
I was sitting in my favourite spot, looking north at the boundary between Broken Tower and downtown, wrapped in my thoughts as tightly as my winter clothes, when I heard a scrabbling behind me. Nobody ever came up high like this. The scavengers stayed away because they couldn’t tear any more rebar out of the walls without risking pulling the ceilings down on their own heads. The smiths and the merchants never had cause to come up this high and nobody bothered living up at the tops of the towers; at least, nobody sane.
Nobody sane except me, that is. I don’t think I’m insane after all. I turned to look and said, “Hello, is there anybody there?”
The response I heard couldn’t really come from a human throat. The best I could describe it would be as a nasty chuckle, a noise full of mirth and viciousness, a clicking sound that promised pain. I reached into my jerkin and found my knife there. A girl had to be ready for trouble.
“Come out where I can see you,” I said and I tried really hard to sound bored, like I wasn’t impressed by Mr. Crazy-laugh in the shadows at all. I was scared sick.
Just another one of those clicking little chuckles answered me.
“I don’t want to have to go looking for you,” I said and I wasn’t lying at all.
In the gloom of the building behind me I saw somebody, some thing, moving. It was shaped like a man, naked and hunched over, almost crawling. I knew what that meant.
Trana didn’t have the Broken, not like Edmonton did or some of the other towns that survived in the desert. This one had probably slunk here from Cleveland. I couldn’t think of any closer nests. I hated and feared the Broken the same as everybody. They were cannibals, freaks; twisted and deformed into something less than human by whatever had been done to them, whatever they had done.
They also rarely travelled alone. I was trapped and facing an unknown number of horrible enemies.
There was no need for pretence any longer. You can’t reason with one of the Broken and you can never scare one into submission. I drew my knife and prepared to show them why I was called the Scorpion Girl.
Simon McNeil is the author of The Black Trillium, a story of revolution and martial arts set in the ruins of Toronto. This novel is published by Brain Lag Publishing.
He is an online marketing communications specialist with a major educational institution when not wandering the world looking for trouble. He is a life-long martial artist, has published several articles in Kung Fu Magazine and he’s probably a little bit too fond of kung fu movies.
He lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife who has happily laid out rules to prevent the sword-through-glass-lampshade incident from ever happening again. The Black Trillium is his first novel.
Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you. What inspired you to write this book? What can we expect from you in the future?
After I graduated university, I moved to China, where I taught English and started down the path to being an author. While in China I underwent two particularly formative experiences which shaped my work. The first was that I discovered the work of Jin Yong.
It’s really a shame that he’s not as well-known as he should be in the West as he’s a more widely read fantasy author than Tolkien globally. However the challenges of translating Chinese literature into English have left us with very few of his books available for a non-Chinese reading audience, and those are mostly published on academic presses and targeted to an academic audience rather than the mass market.
This isn’t the case in China where his books along with the comics, tv shows and movies they’re based on are ubiquitous. As fond as I already was of martial arts cinema I soon realized that some of my favourite kung fu movies, such as Kung Fu Cult Master and Swordsman II were adaptations of his work.
I was hooked, and by the time I returned home I’d devoured every professional and fan translation I could get my hands on, along with countless television shows and movies that I hadn’t known of previously.
The second event was my visit to Shaolin Temple. It was the first solo trip I took in China, and at the time my Mandarin was effectively non-existent. It was an eventful trip; I got lost looking for the train station in Zhengzhou and lost most of my money to a pickpocket in Luoyang. Then, arriving near dusk at the temple, I became so lost in my reverie over being in the storied place that I got locked in the temple after closing. In a rainstorm.
One of the warrior monks invited me into his chambers and we talked for a little, as well as we could considering the language barrier. He gifted me with one of his calligraphic paintings and taught me a tiny bit of qigong. I made a donation to the temple that I really couldn’t afford in light of the previous incident with the pickpocket. That half an hour changed the whole course of my life, and together with my discovery of Jin Yong, shaped my authorial direction.
When I returned to Canada I began working on a project to adapt one of Jin Yong’s books, The Smiling Proud Wanderer (which was the basis for Swordsman II) into an English work. I decided to change the setting, concentrating on the themes and character relationships of the story, and ended up settling on post-apocalyptic North America as a setting. The trilogy was… not good… but it provided the genesis of an idea, and so I wrote a sequel to it. This book was divorced from the adaptive plot elements of the Jin Yong book, and only one character from that book survived into what eventually became The Black Trillium – the setting shifted from a broad swath of the continental United States to focus mostly on Toronto, with brief forays into New Brunswick and Quebec, and I allowed myself more flexibility to blend the elements of fantasy and science fiction which the previous book had hinted at. The Black Trillium is also intended as the first book in a series of either two or three books. I am presently in the middle of drafting the second volume which I hope to finish sometime next year. A while back I wrote a manuscript for a wuxia influenced high fantasy novel unrelated to The Black Trillium but have no immediate plans to publish it.
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