Time for some prose, I think. My second novel is, right now, ready for my editor’s comments. That means I can give myself over to thinking about the next book. I’ve spoken of it before, here; and there’s still a deal of work to do. My way of writing means there’s lots of offcuts, scenes and fragments that inform my thinking about the narrative but don’t actually end up being part of it.
But these things are written and so once in a while I’ll post such an offcut on this blog: here’s the first of them:
Autumn equinox. Beyond the high window the world pauses a moment at the point of balance. He sits, naked, behind a locked door, afore a tub of saltwater. It took the day to fill it, trudging to the shore and back, again and yet again; his shoulders ache yet from the weight of the yoke. His birthright lies beside him, cast carelessly from the lord’s hand across the floor.
His eyes prick at the shame. No harm has come to it, these months it has lain in the kist in the lord’s chamber; it bears no blemish, bar the one. He spreads his left hand before his face and flinches. In the world beyond the door he has grown used to it – so many greater pains to bear than a lost nail – but now he sees clearly the mark of his captivity.
Darkness thickens at the window. ‘Between the sunset and the morning,’ the lord had said, curving his lips into his little smile. ‘That is time enough, is it not?’
He’d nodded, face flaming against the laughter in the hall. A rattle of boots, a pushing and an elbowing. The lord’s second son, a lad close to him in age and nothing else, called out, ‘I want to watch!’
Other boys took up the cry, each louder than the last.
The lord had met his eyes. ‘Well?’
He clenches his teeth against the memory of boys’ jeering cries rolling around the hall. Begging changes nothing in this place. He’d fought the desire, that afternoon, and yet had ended on his knees, pleading, his face pressed to the floor by the lord’s boots. At last, the lord had put up his hand, commanding silence. ‘Another year, perhaps.’
His first thought, gratitude. Now the wave of rage and shame crushes the tears from his eyes in a salty, warm trickle. This is what it means to be a slave. To be grateful for such crumbs.
The light seeps from the day, leaving behind the outline of the door. He shivers; even his shame no longer burns hot enough to keep him warm. Alone in the dark, he weeps for what is lost, for what he is become, and reaches out to touch the skin’s stiff fur.
How many times has he longed for this moment? Now it has come he does not wish to take it. If he does not, by next year it will be too late. And then the lord will have no hold on him. Thoughts of freedom play through his mind. This door is locked. Others are not: easy enough to slip away come morning. He is strong, well-grown for his age, and there is work beyond these bounds: he can slip these bonds and make a new beginning, be a man as other men.
A man. Always a man. Only a man. His hands grip tight at such a thought. The price of freedom is too high to pay, even if, to keep his own, he must bow beneath another’s will. He picks up his skin, and slips it on, and is himself again.