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An Assassin's Three Passions

More on the 30-Day Challenge...

Benkil from Sword and Chant is one of my most favorite characters. Without getting into spoilers for the novel, I can tell you he was once little more than an average warrior from an average tribe of Calligar--able to sit a horse with a grace, handle edged weapons to give more damage than he received, and loyal to his tribesmen, his chieftain, and his Iyah. But Benkil succumbed to the Chant--the exiled god of sacrifice and unfulfilled dreams--and believed the Chant's promises of eternal life. So the Chant molded Benkil into an assassin of exceptional skill and ruthless intent. But the Chant didn't take Benkil's awareness of self (or his doubts and fears and hopes), and left Benkil with the constant reminders that he chose to become the killer that he is.

Benkil's primary passion is for living. For surviving. More than anything, his drive to survive will make all manner of actions, circumstances, and shames acceptable. It is his greatest fault. The Chant has yet to find the action or deprivation that would make Benkil prefer death over existence. "The vibration snagged on old memories of torment and indulgence, pulled out the remembrance of the day he'd agreed to be the Chant's tool because life--survival at any cost--had seemed a better choice than death. Such was the vice of youth."

Benkil's next passion is for expertise. It isn't enough to do something right. He wants to do better than expectation, better than everyone else. It doesn't matter if the Chant is his only witness. It also doesn't matter if his expertise is the result of the god's tampering. So long as Benkil can feel the velvet ease of a dagger slash perfectly delivered, the smooth flow of turning an embrace into a headlock, the reverberation of a punch that comes all the way from heel, he's pleased. "He could outrace the swiftest pony to ever run the steppes, shatter walls of stone with the timbre of his voice, make warriors slash their own throats with the rhythm of his chants—by all the gods, he could fly."

Benkil also has a deep passion for sensory indulgences, though his recent circumstances have provided him only rough living in a stony alcove while dining on roots and snakes. If he were to walk into a grand festival, the first thing he would mark--in detail--would be the food and drink laid out for feasting. He doesn't merely bathe; he experiences the rub of cloth on skin, the warm-to-cool sensation as water slides away, the lassitude of soothed muscles. When the Chant wishes to convince Benkil of his next role, the Chant knows to use sensation rather than words. "...blood that washed down his cheeks, filled his open mouth, flowed over his tongue and gums as sun-warmed honey, infused and enwrapped him with swaths of gold-washed crimson..."

It's those passions--which seem so average when named simply as life survival, expertise, and comfortable living--that the Chant used to... "convince" Benkil to be the god's own thrall and, eventually, immortal assassin.

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Blair MacGregor
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