Beginnings on WIP Wednesday

A Raging Madness is in the Pending Review queue on Smashwords, and I’m celebrating by writing a short story for next week’s newsletter.

So this week, I’m thinking about beginnings. Use the comments to show us an excerpt of a beginning (of your book or of a chapter). Here’s mine from the as yet unnamed story I’m currently writing. Subscribe to my newsletter if you want to know what happens next.

“It’s too dangerous,” Wakefield reported as he approached, shouting to be heard above the wind and the sound of the brook. Not a brook today; twenty yards of seething roiling water stretched bank to bank, branches and entire trees rolling and colliding in their frantic race to the distant sea.

Blade had waited with the horses while the other two checked whether the bridge was safe to cross. He frowned across at the far bank, just visible between gusts of rain. So close! Natching Brook marked one boundary of the Collingwood lands; another twenty minutes would have seen them at the manor.

But the twenty yards might as well be miles. They’d not end their journey today. Even from here, he could see the bridge shuddering as its piles were battered: by the water, the trees, bits of fence post or building or boat, the occasional pathetic corpse of an animal swept away by the flood. And more. That constant grumbling rumble was boulders washed from the banks and rolled by the force of the brook, a giant watery hand playing at bowls.

The third member of their party joined them. “The bridge at Stenforth may still be passable. The river is wider there.”

“Stenforth has a decent inn,” Blade remembered. “Stop there and carry on in the morning?” He made a question of it, and added a belated “my lord.” Baron Collingwood was eager to return to the ancestral estate that had ejected him so violently ten years ago, but it would be rank foolishness to carry on in this weather at this time of day. He and Col had not survived so much and for so long just too lose all on the last hand.

Col nodded, and within minutes the three of them were mounted and heading back up the river. Col led the way, Wakefield next, and Blade brought up the rear, his eyes scanning constantly for threats, though what villain would be out in this storm was more than he could say.

Here came another corpse, washing towards him on a flat section of planks; a sheep perhaps. No; a white dog, sheep-sized and woolly. It was almost level with him when it lifted its head. Alive? Not for long, in this torrent.

Blade did not stop to think. In moments, he had his horse wrenched around and galloping back to the bridge. He hurled himself onto the rickety structure, stretched full length to distribute his weight, and reached down into the current just in time to grasp the poor beast by handfuls of fur.

 

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8 thoughts on “Beginnings on WIP Wednesday

  1. I’m near the end of a short story that has been dogging me all week. (Unexpected babysitting duties ate up my free time, though I’m not begrudging the outside play time I’ve had.) I’m working towards outlining a full-length story with werewolves and other supernatural creatures in Victorian-era London, and this will be the main male character’s origin story, so to speak.

    ***

    He wasn’t entirely certain of the day. Morning, perhaps. But, no. The light was all wrong. Despite the mist that clung to everything, mingling with the fog that hovered several feet above the ground, there was a quality to it; a glow that spoke of a sun completing its journey towards the horizon, of stars springing back to light in an unseen sky.

    He could’ve moved if he’d wanted, away from the questionable puddle by his right hand. The stench would still be there, but at least he would find a safe remove from its source. Instead, he flexed the fingers of that same hand, one at a time, wincing as he reached the third finger, the one he suspected was broken. The pain was fresh and raw, still throbbing as he took to turning his wrist once, and then again. Another thing broken. He recognized that feeling, along with the ache in his ribs, the grinding of fractured bone every time he drew in another breath of the foul, cloying air.

    There were windows, though less resembling their namesake than existing as mere apertures in a crumbling wall. Even the door was gone, ripped free of its hinges some time before, enough years passed since its removal that ivy grew thick around the frame, as if it would reclaim the building along with himself, should he lie there much longer. And if he could roll onto his side, or at least turn his head, he knew that she would be there, too.

    “Callum.”

    That her voice could trip from her lips with such coolness, while his every breath was like dragging his lungs over broken glass. He shut his eyes and waited for her to speak again. Because she would. Of course she would. If there was anything she adored, it was the sound of her own voice, and there he sat, bruised and shattered, her captive audience.

    A minute passed, or several minutes. He opened his eyes again, wondering if he’d dozed, when a scraping noise caught his attention.

    “You should listen to me,” she said, above the rhythmic strike and scrape. “Your head will hurt for some time, I’m sure. I can’t help that. If you hadn’t fought so much, perhaps you’d have come through this mostly unscathed.”

    The rain had stopped. He remembered the deluge from the previous night, heavy enough to turn the ground into a bog while streams leapt past their bounds and ate up the loosened soil. It was part of the smell, he realized; his own clothes, drenched the night before, now mouldering on his frame. There would be moss and mildew soon, he suspected, where the blood hadn’t adhered the garments to his skin.

    The scraping ceased, followed by the clink of breakable things and a brief rush of liquid poured. “This will be hot,” she announced, her only warning before she crouched over him, one hand gripping the lower half of his face as she turned his head up towards her. “Swallow it quick. Don’t let it sit on your tongue long enough to taste it.”

    She tipped the cup to his lips, her fingers digging into the flesh of his cheeks in order to force his mouth open. The smell of it reached his nostrils too soon, and then it flowed into his mouth, coating his teeth, his tongue, pouring down his throat before he could stop it. He wrenched his head away, the liquid spilling down his neck, burning his skin as he spat out what was left of it onto the floor beside him.

    “Fool.” She struck the side of his face, her nails clawing his skin. The same fingers snagged a hank of his hair and twisted his head around until he had no choice but to acknowledge her. “This will help you.” Her voice carried a cajoling note, a softness, despite the fresh pain that throbbed through his cheek and where she still pulled at his scalp. “All I want is to help you. Understand that, and things will be so much easier for you.”

  2. Here is the beginning to The Unexpected Wife which tells the story of Charles, the charming duke from my last two books. At least I THINK it is the beginning. Time will tell. I generally put internal dialog in italics but this format does away with them. Sorry about that, but I think readers can pick out the parts I mean.
    _______________________________
    Crouched behind a dilapidated barrel smelling of fish and rot, Charles knew he didn’t belong in the Isle of Dogs dressed like a dockside vagrant. You’re a duke for pity’s sake, he reminded himself repeatedly in the moonless night. Have some dignity. The coat his valet found in a ragman’s hoard and the woolen britches with torn knees made dignity unlikely. His face, blackened with burnt cork, made it impossible.

    The entire operation had ceased to be fun an hour earlier when the damp reached his marrow and the pains in his back outran the ache in his heart—an ache that had cried out for a distraction and driven him to the ludicrous adventure. Bent down and cramped, he struggled to remember why he had begged the inquiry agent to bring him along. Walter Stewart could bag their quarry on his own, as Charles knew well. Boredom and the malaise that had settled over him in the six months since his son’s death made him stupid. There could be no other explanation.

    Stewart had been certain Thorn would pass his way. When Liu Chen finally surrendered to persuasion—the manner of which Charles preferred not to contemplate—he let slip the location of a den just west of where they waited. The boy had to pass by if their information about his intentions proved to be accurate. The docks lay steps to the right, the ship they had scouted anchored around the corner.

    Where is the ignorant pup? he wondered. It had taken them three days to get word of his whereabouts after he disappeared into the urban underbelly, infuriating his father and sending his mother into a frenzy of worry. Probably flat on his back in an opium haze. We’re fools for sitting here on a frigid night waiting for a witless cluck who ought to be more careful about his associates.

    Charles knew he should give up, except he had known the boy from infancy and well-remembered the ruddy, happy child he had been before the poppy took him; except the boy’s parents were family friends; except his father— Charles didn’t want to contemplate the Duke of Sudbury. The duke not only wielded power in the opposition party, he loomed over Charles’s boyhood. Charles alternately worshipped and feared the man. He didn’t want to fail him.

    The sound of shuffling feet alerted him. At that hour of night only the desperate or foolish braved the narrow alley. He suspected Thorn Hayden was both. The young man who passed had dressed in black silk, his head hooded, but Charles recognized him.
    A second boy who scampered after the first, running to keep up with him, was unexpected. Unlike the first, he wore plain linsey-woolsey trousers and a rough shirt. The two appeared to be arguing. Charles waited until they passed as Stewart had advised and then pushed himself up, staggered, and steadied himself with one hand on the barrel.

    My damn leg is numb. I’m too old for this. He limped out into the alley to see the two figures hurrying toward the waiting ship. The smaller boy tried to grab Thorn’s shirt, but Thorn pushed the grasping hand away.

    “Wait,” Charles shouted. Both young men turned his way. Thorn took advantage of the interruption to send his companion reeling. The boy fell flat on his belly, and Thorn ran up the gangplank.

    Charles staggered forward two steps and shouted again. “Wait.” He tried to run but stumbled instead. Where the hell is Stewart?

    He forgot about the inquiry agent when the boy pushed himself to all fours, giving Charles a view that drove all other thoughts away. Whoever chased Thorn Hayden onto that ship was no boy. The derriere encased in those trousers belonged to a woman.

  3. OMG OMG OMG I actually have a proper WIP to share with you again! This is from the sequel to “The Long Shadow”, which as yet has no title, but will take John and Mary’s story from 1806 to 1812. I’m cheating a bit because this isn’t *exactly* the beginning — this comes from page 3 — but I’m not happy with the opening paras, and this is where I started to warm up a bit.

    This scene is set in May 1806. John’s orphaned niece Harriot has just married Colonel Pringle, a penniless Irishman fifteen years her senior. I believe you’ve met him elsewhere.

    This is slightly more rough and ready than TLS, which was polished until my eyes crossed. This is pretty much as it came out last week!

    ***

    By the time the servants had cleared away the remains of the wedding breakfast, John’s carriage, festooned with white and silver ribbons, was waiting in the street to carry the newly-weds to their honeymoon in Brompton. Pringle had neither country house nor carriage; he was therefore borrowing those of his new uncle-in-law. John privately hoped the generous influx of Harriot’s dowry into the Irishman’s bank account would remedy at least one, if not both, of these lacks, as physically ill as he felt at the thought.

    John watched Pringle handing Harriot into the carriage, the sun shining copper on the strands of red hair that escaped from beneath her bonnet. She looked so young, little more than a child, wide-eyed at the prospect of a new adventure. Pringle was greying and, when he had stood bare-headed to say his vows in John’s drawing-room, John had noticed his prominent bald patch. The thought of this man touching is niece still made him choke, but it was done. Harriot had made her choice.

    ‘Uncle Chatham!’ Harriot called, as Pringle pulled himself up into the compartment beside her. John came over and she leaned out and gave him one last embrace. She gripped him as though she did not want to let go; her mouth trembled slightly as she pulled away at last and said, ‘You and Aunt Chatham have been like parents to me.’

    ‘Your mother would have wanted no less,’ John said. ‘It has been a delight having you with us.’

    ‘We will visit when William’s duties will allow it.’ John did not know if he would ever get used to Harriot’s familiar use of Colonel Pringle’s forename, but he smiled. Harriot reached out a gloved hand; John took it. Her slim fingers gripped his earnestly. ‘Where is Aunt Chatham?’

    ‘She was tired and had to rest.’

    Harriot nodded, but the concerned look clung to her face. John had known this would happen as soon as Mary had disappeared. Now Harriot would worry, and all because Mary had been unable to wait another half hour before retiring. ‘Look after her for me.’

    ‘You know I will.’

    ‘Harriot,’ Pringle cut in. ‘We must be in Brompton before dark.’

    Faced with the immediate prospect of his niece riding away for good, John experienced a moment of panic, and had to physically suppress the desire to wrench open the carriage door and pull her back into the safety of the house. But it was not her house any more, and he had to remember that. He kissed the back of Harriot’s hand and stepped back as the coachman whipped up the horses and the great wheels began to turn. The sun sliced brightly off the yellow polished doors, glaring off the great crest painted on them – his and Mary’s, impaled, and surrounded by the Garter. He stepped back, blinded, and raised a hand to shade his eyes. Harriot thought he was waving and leaned out of the window, waving back.

    ‘Adieu, Uncle Chatham! Adieu!’

    The guests waved and cheered until the carriage reached the bottom of Dover Street and turned onto the busy thoroughfare of Piccadilly. And then she was gone.

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