There are many thoughts out there about whether or not to put one’s WIP online. For a long time, I’ve only shared the dream cover copy for A Thief & A Gentlewoman. But, some months ago I had a chance to (very) briefly speak with an editor who recommended ‘getting your work out there’ on the internet. When I asked about ‘first publishing rights’ and whether that might put publishers off, he assured me that putting the first chapter or two really wouldn’t matter. So I thought about it. And, well, here’s the first scene of A Thief & A Gentlewoman, as submitted for my MA, so it’s gone through some editing, but will probably change more when I send it off…
Anyway, I’m rambling, aren’t I? Here she is and there may be more to follow …
Women are armed with fans as men with swords and sometimes do more execution with them.
Joseph Addison, The Spectator, Wednesday 27 June, 1711
The Toast of the Town
Quintefoil Morehap was not there for a spectacle or to see Justice dished up hot and steaming in the noon sun. She wasn’t even there to take pity on the poor soul about to dangle, nor did she boo the hangman. She was there to remind herself of the price of failure; a momentary slip of the mask and it would be her on stage, a noose around her own slender neck.
That and to earn her (less than honest) living.
Around her was the full spectrum of Arianople society: from the courtly gentlemen who courted her to the not so gentle women she had grown up with who now wandered the streets at night, beckoning from alleyways, flashing smiles and legs and sometimes more.
Uneasy, Quin tugged at the ribbon tied around her throat – it felt suddenly tighter – and watched the two worlds she straddled mingle, but not quite merge, like oil and water stirred together.
Here Pashas and Veys mixed with the underworld aristocracy, standing inches from the Queen of Whores and the Canting King without the slightest inkling of who they were. The former were there to nod with approval at the punishment of a criminal who dared to take more than he had been dealt, while the latter stood witness to the passing of a peer, a comrade, a competitor, an enemy. The former were also there, unbeknownst to them, to be relieved of that terrible burden of property.
Quin moved through the crowd, judging its swells and jostlings and passing through them as if flotsam on the sea. Decked out in her rich garb, she was a gentlewoman wearing clog overshoes to protect her fine feet from the gutter filth. A flashy chain glinted in the sun proclaiming this lady, with ornate gold watch, as a Personage of Quality.
Except the Quality don’t generally busy their fingers with the unclasping of other people’s watch chains or the stuffing of them into their own pockets.
Keeping her movements slow and her timing keen, Quin visited one group and then the next, settling for a matter of seconds to catalogue (Brass – no thank you!) and collect before continuing on her journey, like a bee in search of golden nectar.
Once her pockets were pleasantly full, Quin found her friend Derry and took a moment to focus her attention on the wooden platform at the front of the crowd.
The first thing she noticed was the way the official perched on the stage to oversee the hanging kept alternately mopping his brow with a handkerchief and craning his neck to ensure a better view. Quin wasn’t sure quite how he could get a better view – he was directly next to the soon-to-be-late criminal, less than five feet away – but still he seemed determined to have the best ringside seat. He was nothing if not devoted to his duties: the Sultana could not ask for anything more in her bureaucrats.
The hangman checked the noose, pulled it a little tighter; Quin swallowed again, aware of each undulating movement of her throat. The hangman pulled a white hood down over the criminal’s face; Quin’s amber eyes peered over the fan fluttering faster. The hangman, seeming satisfied, positioned himself by the lever that would trigger a foot-long drop and a short stop; Quin held her breath, chest constricted, mouth dry.
With a nod from the official, the trapdoor swung. The hooded convict jiggled like a puppet whose strings, all but one, had been severed and then he too swung. Two older men and a young woman, all masked, rushed forward and grabbed the kicking feet and pulled. Quin could hear wailing. She could hear cheering and booing too.
With death, the tension snapped and in an instant the crowd returned to ordinary chatter; the only reminder that someone had just died were faint cries that wafted from near the stage, barely reaching over the ‘scandals!’ and ‘indeeds’ of everyday gossip.
Quin’s heart resumed normal service as the world turned right-way up. She relaxed back into her role, catching the dark eyes of a woman nearby and smiling an acknowledgement that was nodded back. She couldn’t quite call the woman a friend, but she was close to it – as close as Quin got at court, anyway.
Behind the dark-eyed gentlewoman, Quin spotted a figure. Before she realised it, she flicked her fan shut.
“Something wrong?” Derry asked.
With a twitch of her fan Quin indicated the man sitting on a black sabre-cat. That in itself marked him as a man of taste and wealth – such a creature was worth more than a year’s income for most nobility and that was for one of average breeding. This cat’s fur glinted in the bright sun and rippled over dense muscles. It was clear that it could glide down the streets of the city or up the grey mountains to the east as easily as it could use its elongated canines to rip the throat out of any beast or man who threatened its master.
Much as she appreciated the sabre-cat, it was the master that caught Quin’s interest. He sat tall in the saddle, hands resting lightly on the reins. From this angle Quin could only see his profile, but it was enough to be sure of his identity: Fehrim Meregaine Pasha was known throughout Constantolia and Quin in particular had studied his likeness in paintings and etchings. Even from here she could see the emeralds glinting on the Meregaine family’s dagger – Fehrim carried it in all his portraits.
Pictures were one thing, but in life he was more … well, more. He seemed taller, more athletically built beneath that ultramarine coat. His eyes were a rich green that seemed to glow intensely against his dusky complexion. The sinuous curve of his nose reminded Quin of the statue of Dey that stood outside His temple.
Quin tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry – Fehrim Pasha and his sabre-cat were a pair, both equally able to tear apart any enemy who crossed them.
Then I shall just have to make sure he doesn’t realise I’m the enemy.
Well, if you managed to read all that, first off, thank you for bearing with it! Secondly, if you’d like to give feedback, it would be greatly appreciated. I’ve been part of critique groups and all that, so I’m fine with thoughtful, constructive criticism and welcome it.
Of course, this post, as with text on this blog, unless otherwise stated, is copyright © to me, Clare Sager.