Another Excerpt

Here is another scene in the story I’m working on. It is the beginning of the first chapter, and follows a prologue, which I may or may not post here eventually. For those who may not have realized it yet, I wanted to explain the nature of this story. It’s a fantasy story, based in a kingdom where class and nobility matter.

__________________________________________

At fourteen, when everything changed for me, I was a beautiful girl. I had been a beautiful child as well. I knew this. I was the noble daughter of Duke Pietro der-Milt and his Lady Dermira. How ever could I not be beautiful? I was taught that the noble houses held the most beautiful people in the land, the most gifted thinkers, the greatest of artists and the kindest of spirits. So my governess told me during my childhood, using my parents as the best examples.
“Look at your pretty mother, little Miya! see what a beauty she is?” Pirima would say. She’d point at my mother, sitting in our great drawing room or in my father’s study or in the corner of my nursery. She was a beauty indeed. My mother always knew how to look beautiful and delicate. She could embroider, read, write letters, instruct servants, talk with my father, survey the accounts – all while looking as pretty as a picture, without a hair out of place or wrinkle in her dress. Pirima often whispered to me that she wished she could look like my mother, and her lips would twist in a sad little frown. I didn’t understand the nature of jealousy or envy when I was young; I merely thought it natural that everyone would want to look like Mama, who was, I was sure, the most beautiful woman in the world.
There were plenty of mirrors in our home, so I learned early on that I was a beautiful child. My skin was smooth and healthy, a few shades darker than my mother’s milky-white complexion. My hair, which was black as coal, thick and wavy, hung down my back when I was a little girl, kept away from my face by a neat little bow which Pirima would tie into it every morning. My eyes were grey, and Pirima always said they reminded her of the stormy sea because when I was angry or sad they turned dark blue. My black eyebrows were delicate and thin, and my nose was small and rather flat, accentuating the fullness of my red lips. My body was that of a healthy little girl – rounded with the healthy fat that children possess, my limbs strong with activity.
One day, when I was about six or seven, I stood looking into the tall, gilded mirror that stood in one of the corridors. As I stood there, admiring myself, I watched my mother come up behind me. She laid one white hand on my shoulder and smiled at me in the mirror. My eyes widened.
“I look like you, Mama!” I cried with delight.
“You do, my dove. You look like your papa as well. You have his hair and his nose,” she touched my hair and my nose as she said this, then knelt down behind me in a rare motherly gesture and hugged me tight, arms encircling my stomach. She usually didn’t touch me much. My joy at seeing we were alike, though, seemed to make her emotional. I had no cynicism at that age, and I didn’t see her emotion for what it was – a kind of vanity. I was happy to be in her arms, happy that she smiled at me, happy that I looked like her and like Papa.
“Now, Miyara, let’s go visit your papa in his study, hmm?” she took me by the hand and we spent a quiet afternoon in the study with Papa, who was in a good mood as well. I remember that day as one of the happiest of my childhood. It wasn’t often that my parents made any effort to spend time with me. We usually met only during meals. The rest of the time I spent with Pirima, who was my only other company for a long time.

The Businessman

The Businessman sat at the same restaurant every day during his lunch break. Every day was the same for The Businessman, and one of his few joys was ordering a different thing for lunch every day. He would take the specials each day, and if the specials contained something he absolutely hated or was allergic to, he would take one his favorite regular dishes. In this way, he managed to keep the favorites special, and he never got sick of them.

The Businessman had the same routine at the restaurant every day. First, he would find a table outside. Rain or shine, he had to sit outside. If there were no tables available, which happened sometimes during tourist season, he would wait. The waiters, the servers, even the manager knew him, and they always managed to find him a seat quickly. Once he found a suitable table, he would sit down and reach into his bag. He had a worn black leather briefcase, one that looked dignified but not stuffy and too new. He would take three things out of his bag at first.

The first was a bag of tobacco. The second was a box of rolling papers. The third was a lighter. Until the waiters came over – and indeed, the waiters knew not to come over until this ritual was over or they would need to deal with a very flustered man – he would meticulously roll himself three cigarettes. He would smoke one before the meal, the second after the meal, and the third after his post-meal coffee. He felt that rolling his own cigarettes was the one roguish behavior that he’d kept from his college days when he’d been wild and carefree.

The Businessman considered himself to be rather homely. He didn’t think he had particularly interesting features, and he knew that he blended in with the endless flow of suited men in their late forties. He didn’t realize that his eyes were a beautiful and rare light blue. He didn’t seem to notice the fact that he cut a fine figure. He wasn’t entirely aware of the fact that his face, lined as it was, was full of character and intelligence. He only saw himself as The Businessman, a man who knew and understood his trade but couldn’t explain what he did to others very well. Because of this, he was convinced that he was boring.

The Businessman ordered a different thing every day at the restaurant. He hoped that one day he would take a last meal there, shake the waiters’ and the servers’ and the manager’s hands goodbye, and turn his back. He hoped he would have the opportunity and the courage to go somewhere different one day and leave the business district forever. He hoped.

A Painting of Marie

The painting was by an artist whose name I don’t remember. I never looked at the name of the painting. I don’t remember what gallery it was in, nor what country the gallery was in. I don’t even remember how old I was when I saw it, only that it had to have been in the last few years. Still, despite all this, the painting is clear in my mind’s eye as if it were hanging in my room.

In the painting sits a girl. She looks like she’s in her early teens, just blossoming into womanhood. She is sitting on a nondescript and unimpressive wooden chair, and the backdrop behind her is just a gloomy sort of brown. It’s unclear where she is, nor why she is sitting down. I named her Marie.

Marie has skin the color of milk chocolate- dark, but not very. Her hair, black as coal but looking a little matted, is tumbling around her shoulders, though I get the impression that it’s normally pinned in a quick bun and has only just tumbled down. Her lips are red and full, and she’s not really smiling, nor is she frowning. She’s simply gazing into space, not focused on the viewer of the painting but rather seems to be looking right over your shoulder, at someone behind you. Her eyes are a wonderful dark brown and seem intelligent but tired.

She’s wearing a blue dress with a white apron over it. She looks like she could be a maid, or perhaps a shop-girl sometime in the 1700s in the United States. For some reason, I feel like she’s a dweller of New Orleans, and I can picture her running barefoot through the dusty streets, maneuvering herself between pirates, privateers, salesmen and prostitutes.

Her hands are folded on her lap, and it looks like they’re not used to being idle in this manner. They look rough and work-weary, just like her.

When I saw Marie, I sat before her for maybe an hour, maybe more, just looking at her. I wanted to speak to her, hear her thoughts and dreams, laugh with her, walk down the streets of her life with her. But she stayed in her painting, caught forever by an artist in this one moment of repose.

The Countess

The Countess sat stiffly upon her throne-like chair. Her face was unreadable, except for the eyes. Those eyes were like endless black tunnels, drowning whoever dared look into them – the iris’s were such a dark brown that they seemed black, and it was difficult to tell the difference between them and the pupils. The Countess’s skin was a smooth, deep shade of bronze, perfect and without blemish. Her face, although expressionless, was built of contrasts: her eyebrows were a shade too thick for fashion, but were arched strongly and proudly above those cold eyes; her mouth was wide, her lips full, though her nose could almost have been seen as hawk-like on a less imposing woman; her cheekbones were high and sharp, though her chin was more rounded. The Countess’s hair was a tumble of ebony curls, pinned in an elegant knot at the back of her head and covered in a sheer veil.

The Countess was resplendent in a black gown, cut low to bear more of her smooth skin and to accent her long, slender neck and full bosom. Although black, the gown shimmered with a hundred points of light that came from the tiny crystal beads that were sewn into it, making the Countess glimmer and blind those who stood before her with every shift of the cloth, as those beads sparkled in the light coming through the tall windows.

The Countess was feared through-out several lands, and respected and feared in her own. She knew this. She used her power. She wrote laws, built bridges, waged war and made peace, all while sitting stiffly on her hard, wooden chair, gilded in gold paint that was never allowed to chip. Her power seemed limitless to those who were in awe of her, and unnaturally so to those who feared her. The Countess alone knew, and pondered, that a day would come when her stiffness would give way to fatigue and her convictions would shatter in the face of weariness. She alone knew that she would not last forever. But until the rest of them realized it, she would never, ever, let it be known that she knew it.

One-Eyed Steve: Part III

“Ah, my little ones, and so, all atremble, I went out into the inn and walked up to the barkeep. The innkeeper always worked at the bar, and half the people in town didn’t know he was the owner of the inn, so friendly a barkeep he was. So, as I said, I walked up to him and told him what One-Eyed Steve had said. I told him the eye-patch man was there to see him and that he better come right quick ’cause I’d left him in the kitchen alone. The innkeeper, instead of lookin’ confused, looked at me with a fierce look and asked if I was sure of what I was sayin’. This was a big man, mind, and I was already feelin’ faint from bein’ so close to that old pirate in the kitchen.

I told the innkeeper that One-Eyed Steve was in the kitchen as sure as the nose was on my face and the sun rises in the East. He wiped his hands on his cloth then, and he took me by the elbow, takin’ me back to the kitchen with him. Steve was still there, and he was pale and sweatin’ again. The innkeeper let me go after orderin’ me to put a kettle on with boilin’ water. As I was doin’ that, I got to hear what the men were talkin’ about.

‘What is it, old man? Is she alright?’ the innkeeper was speakin’ quietly with Steve, and he seemed worried. Steve answered him in the saddest voice I ever heard a man use.

‘Nay. Nay, brother. She left us in the night.’

The innkeeper froze for a momen’, and then he was huggin’ Steve fiercely, and I could hear both of the men weepin’. Me, a boy of thirteen, couldn’t believe these two grown men was cryin’ – I still thought that men didn’t cry back then, and I damned well hid my tears from anyone if ever I had ’em.

‘She had a long life, Steve, and she was happy with ye. Ye helped her and nursed her and fed her and cared for her when no one knew or cared about her anymore.’ the innkeeper spoke into Steve’s shoulder, still weepin’.

‘Aye. She was the best mother a pair like us could ask for, and she tried to be strong till the very end.’ Steve was holding the innkeeper up now, and he was speakin’ fiercely into his face as the innkeepe¬† seemed about to fall over with his grief. ‘I’m sorry ye didn’t get to see her, brother, but she sends her love. She told me so right before she closed her eyes and went to sleep.’

My kettle was boilin’ by now, but I didn’t hardly notice it. Only when the whistle of it made the men look up and remember me did I get the tea and mugs. I splashed some strong stuff into each of their teas – they seemed to need it, and I wanted to do somethin’ to help ’em if I could. Eventually, as you may imagine, the innkeeper had to go back and be barkeep and work the night out. Seems no one knew that the mother was still around – she was in bad shape, or so I came to understand later, and she didn’t want people to see her.

My ducklings, don’t fret, this isn’t the endin’ of my story. After this sadness, I wanna tell ye what happened after the innkeeper left the room. I was still in there, continuin’ to wash dishes as I was told to, when the innkeeper dried his eyes and went back out. Steve was still there, and he spoke to me again.

‘Bet you thought I was¬† a villain and a pirate, eh boy?’ he growled at me. I wasn’t so frightful of him anymore – seein’ a person weep can do that to ye. I looked him square in that one blue eye of his, and I said ‘I thought so, sir, but now I know ye ain’t no pirate. Yer a noble man, takin’ care of yer ma like that.’ One-Eyed Steve looked at me as if he’d never seen a boy before.

‘Well, boy,’ he said, a bit of his wicked grin comin’ back. ‘Ye better not tell anyone a thing about tonight. Nay, won’t do to have the boys comin’ to look for me house. I’m fine with bein’ feared. But as a reward,’ and here he started to laugh a little to himself, ‘as a reward let me share a second secret with ye. Aye, me ma was decent as they come. Still, she had her wild notions when I was a lad, just like any ma.’

And then he lifted his eyepatch. Instead of a mangled scar, instead of an empty socket, instead of even a blind and staring eye – all of which I’d imagined to meself – instead of any of those, there was a reular eye under that patch. The skin around it was whiter, bein’ hidden under that patch, and the color was brown instead o’ being ice-blue like the other one, but it was a seein’ eye alright.

‘Ma seemed to think the boys might laugh at me bein’ all dog-eyed like this,’ said One-Eyed Steve. ‘And then I jus’ got used to bein’ a pirate to people.’ He put the eyepatch back over that normal eye, and left the kitchen the same way he came in.

Which only goes to show, my ducks, that ye never know. Ye really never know abou’ a man by his looks. Not ever. And don’t ye forget it.”

The three little figures on the carpet uncurled themselves from the positions they’d kept during the long story. As soberly as any statesman, they all proclaimed that they “will remember, Papa!” and then were scooted off to bed. The man, though, sat for a while longer in front of the fire, and thought about One-Eyed Steve.

Cathartic Description

A white blaze of fire seems to travel from the nape of my neck and all the way up to the crown of my skull. It spreads as it goes, reaching places in my face and bone structure that I’m normally not even aware of. There are so many parts of the ear that I never notice, but when the pain creeps up the side of my face I realize just how complex the cartilage of the ear is and how soft and susceptible to pain the skin right behind it is.

My jaw is even more attuned than I am. I can almost hear it protesting and groaning as the painful fire shoots flame after licking flame into it. I can feel the long bone, stretching from right next to my ear and down almost to my chin, and I can feel the creaks in it as I try to open my mouth wide enough to yawn the inevitable nauseous yawn that is caused by the painful flames.

My eyebrow and eye seem to be warring for my ultimate attention, each begging to be soothed by the firm press of a finger or palm. The eyebrow and the bone behind it win out, because the poor eye gets even more painful when given over to the practice of being rubbed firmly by the knuckles of my fingers.

Writing about it doesn’t really help, but it seems like a better way of dealing with the pain than banging my head against a wall.