Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Poor Tom's a-cold
Tom huddled under the eaves, hands tucked close to his body for warmth, water dripping coldly off the thatch onto his elbows and bare feet. It'd be night soon, and they'd be calling him again, trying to draw him from the chalked circle that kept him from walking into their jaws. If they could find him, that circle'd do naught to keep them out, they'd pluck him from it and suck him like a marrowbone. He'd seen what was left from that.
Damn you to hell, damn you, you said you'd teach me, seven year safe you promised me and bare five of it gone. Devil take thee.
The devil had, too, but his master walked abroad by night still, and he'd have Tom if Tom stepped wrong.
Damn you, you might have let me go free from the bond.
Death cancels all debts, men said, but he felt the blood-bond yet, and his master would all his blood this time.
He must finish this before dark, and make himself safe elsewhere. The door was barred, he knew, so he glanced quickly at the window above him, the shutters open for what poor light was left in the day, and went straight up the wall to it, his calloused fingers and toes digging into the scabby plaster, clinging to the lath where it showed, hooking over the timbers, with a charm muttered under his breath to keep him from falling. He'd tumbled through the window onto the floor within before seeing that he'd reached it.
O let this not be where he waits for me.
He scarce knew whom he prayed to; Our Lord never having taken much interest in Tom that he could prove, and the Devil taking more interest than he'd ever sought. Quickly, quickly, night was coming on, he could feel it, more than he felt the scraped shins and elbows from the climb and the bruises from the wooden floor, or even the hunger that griped his belly. It was another's hunger that drove him, not his own. He rolled to his feet and looked about the room, that had once been his own and a refuge. His clothes he'd abandoned, the cup and platter, but the spoon he'd taken for the silver of it.
He stepped as light as he could into the next room, where the ladder led up to the attic, fighting a sure seeing that his master waited there for him, smiling and gaping his mouth wide and wider that Tom might step inside, no more running and hiding, no more.
There was no one, for it was day yet. The grey light seeped through the glass mullions above the shutters, these closed and barred, not warped out of true as Tom's had been, so the bar had never fit snug.
Up the ladder he went now, his belly quaking, and if he'd had aught within he'd have spewed it up as he lifted the trapdoor and rose into the close dark below the thatch. O let him not be here or let his sleep be so deep he never knows I've come here. Could they walk by day? Could they rise by day an it were dark enow where they lay? Would he even lie here, where he might be sought by those who knew or guessed his nature?
All was silent and still, but that proved naught. He waited hanging on the rungs, ready to let himself fall if clawed hands caught at him, knowing even that unhindered fall would be too slow. His eyes found light spreading from the opening he stood in, and no great casket or tun was here, no shrouded shape that kept the small light out. He breathed once more and scuttled into the low room, able without thought to snatch up the books and bound packets that his master had sent him for so many times. By times he felt the pricking in his fingers that warned of wards and tracings, and those he let lie, that his master not send to find them and find him thereby. The others he stowed in his slop breeches.
Here take I my rights, for my two years thou cozened of me. Here take I arms against thee, for my life. Quickly quickly, an thou'd stay quick thyself, Tom.
He would to take more, for his anger and hurt, but his life and breath weighed greater, so he dropped through the trapdoor and slid down the ladder, his feet striking the wooden floor with a hard slap. Glancing round the room below, he marked that the light was weaker, paused a moment before the door, as if his hunters could after all be heard by their breath did they wait for him in his former chamber, then gathered himself and flung into it.
Dare he take his jack? It was murdering cold and wet without, but if it were spelled--. He ran his fingers over it and felt no tracing, then reckless threw the jack on and seized his shoes and hosen as well, stuffing them in his shirt, and was out the window again, careless now of his grip on the rotting plaster and lath.
Out from that treacherous shelter and splashing through the foul puddles on the street, muttering a see-naught charm as he ran, though that held only for mortal eyes. Better not to forget those, natheless. A 'Ware Thief shouted by one who'd seen a ragged dirty boy come out a window with his shirt stuffed heavy of what was never his own, that would have him held after dark here, or hidden up where he wouldn't choose, trapped where they'd smell his blood and find him.
Tears ran down his face with the rain, both unheeded. Now was he in worse case than five years gone, when he'd no master and no roof, but neither had he been blood-bound to one who'd have him for meat. How far need he go to be safe? How long would they seek him? What recourse could he find?
Batgirl says: "I’d like to know whether it makes for a strong beginning, whether the character is someone the reader can care about, whether the period language is too confusing, and that sort of thing. I'm gathering opinions as to whether this looks like something that could become a stand-alone story. It started off as backstory for a secondary character in another novel, and for a while was the prologue of that novel, but the beta-readers recommended cutting it."
I like this very much indeed. It certainly makes for a strong beginning. There’s a compelling horribleness to the prospect of Tom being sucked dry like a marrowbone, and it drives forward at a fair old clip. I particularly like the fact that the salient features of the world and of Tom’s situation are dropped in unobtrusively but effectively. It’s a good place to start the story.
Can the reader care about Tom? Sure, why not? From this bit, he’s a poor kid trying to escape from a ravening hellbeast. There’s not a lot more to the character here, but it’s probably not the place for that sort of thing.
The period language: it’s my favourite thing about this. It gives the extract real flavour. One of the nicest things to see in a manuscript is a distinctive voice; so many things you read have the same competent, plodding voice, but this is something strange and interesting and skilful. Kids will find it hard, if this is YA, but at least it isn’t patronising them.
That said, Batgirl might have to compromise now and again over stuff like “Could they rise by day an it were dark enow where they lay?”, which is lovely, but tough for anyone. With a bit of careful recasting the flavour can be preserved without scaring off the reader (or indeed a publisher).
Coupla line-edit-type things for what it’s worth. “Damn you, you might have let me go free from the bond” – not great as a one-line para. “and his master would all his blood this time.” – archaic use of would particularly difficult. “so he glanced quickly at the window above him” – ‘glanced’ seems an odd choice. “He'd tumbled through the window onto the floor within before seeing that he'd reached it.” – tense? “His clothes he'd abandoned, the cup and platter, but the spoon he'd taken for the silver of it.” – didn't understand this the first time I read it, needs to be clearer. “The grey light seeped through the glass mullions above the shutters, these closed and barred, not warped out of true as Tom's had been, so the bar had never fit snug.” – sort of a run-on sentence. “as if his hunters could after all be heard by their breath did they wait for him in his former chamber” – this clause makes it too long a sentence. Could put this ominous bit somewhere else.
Overall: very promising.
Thank you! Will fix things, and try to finish story (and find out whether it's a novel or a short story).