In lieu of that Northumberland Folklore post, which I’m too busy to write properly today, have a snifter of what I’m currently writing instead. A bit of a departure in terms of my writing, since it’s pulp adventure which owes equal parts to Dumas, Lieber and Westlake. The working title is The Harlequins (subject to change, just as soon as I think up a better one).
Harlequins extract: Chapter one – Part one – An Unexpected Creditor
Eight feet, by eight feet. That was what Remy’s world had shrunk to. Sixty four square feet of cold stone, a tiny grille for a window, a wooden sleeping platform and bucket that made the whole dismal room smell of a sewer. Oh, there was a sort of courtyard he could go into but he tried to avoid it. Only two kinds of people were out there, deluded minor nobles who were convinced that a relative would pay their debts and have them released, or else the lowest kind of commoner not reduced to thievery, bemoaning their accursed luck at ending up in gaol. Remy didn’t like mixing with either of them. The nobles looked down on him, the commoners treat him with suspicion and both sections kept away from each other, leaving Remy to wander alone through the open space in the middle. Besides, some of the nobles had relations who couldn’t afford to pay the debts, but could afford to bring them various luxuries and treats. Remy hated seeing all that luxury, in relation to what a flat broke prisoner like himself could have, going to waste on simpering halfwits. If he only had a stake, he could live like a king in here. The problem was, he was so far down on his luck that he couldn’t even raise a cake or a decent shirt to gamble with. If you could call playing against these idiots gambling.
A harsh laugh from the walkway outside his cell brought Remy out of himself. There was another reason he didn’t go out into the courtyard. Gaston. A swaggering, one-eyed bully who enjoyed taking what he could from those lacking a group of friends to protect them from it or the outside influence to prevent it. Remy closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cold stone wall behind his pallet. With luck, Gaston and his two snivelling cronies would pass by to annoy some other fool.
“Good morning, Remy. Have you got something for me? Half of your morning bread perhaps? I hate to see people who can’t honour a promise, especially when such mistakes are what landed them in this pleasant guest house in the first place.” A couple of sniggers accompanied that sparkling witticism. Remy sighed heavily. Why was Gaston so obsessed with the bread? It was as hard a priest’s heart by the time the prisoners as poor as Remy got it.
“Gaston. Always a pleasure. No, I don’t have bread for you. I’m stashing it under my mattress. I’m hoping to sharpen it up on the walls, so I can cut through the bars.” He opened his eyes, to see three people staring blankly at him. The hulking Gaston, greasy hair slicked back into a ponytail and gravy still on his chin from his breakfast, fingering the patch over his missing eye as he always did when he was trying to appear urbane and charming. On either side of him were his two lapdogs. Remy could never remember their names.
Gaston flicked his head and the two lackeys rushed forward and grabbed Remy by the arms, hauling him to his feet. Gaston stepped through the doorway, pulling the door closed behind him. He strolled over to Remy and looked him up and down. Remy met his gaze evenly. He had no intention of fighting them, but he’d be damned if he was going to flinch from them.
“We have an agreement, Remy. You give me half your morning bread, and I protect you from the more unsavoury characters in here. Where’s my bread?” Remy held Gaston’s gaze.
“We have no such bargain. I signed nothing, told you quite plainly I wouldn’t give you anything of mine and the only unsavoury thing in this shithole of a gaol is the smell from your two flunkies. I owe you nothing. Now tell arse-kisser and ball-licker here to let go of me, then all three of you get out of my room.”
A dull pain erupted in Remy’s solar plexus and all his wind exited his chest as he coughed and wheezed. Gaston was pretty quick for a big man. Remy hadn’t even seen the blow coming, so couldn’t prepare himself for it. Tears streamed from his eyes as he tried vainly to get his breath back between retches and coughs. He thought briefly about fighting back, but they’d already got the first blow in and besides, he could be here for a long time. No sense in starting a feud that could end up with his getting killed.
“When Gaston tells someone they’re going to give him something, they give it to him, do you understand me Remy?” Remy spluttered a bit more, then managed to draw himself upright.
“I thought you were Gaston?” Gaston’s solitary eye clouded in confusion.
“I am Gaston.”
“So who’s the other Gaston you’re talking about? The one who everyone gives their stuff to.” Remy actually managed to see the next blow coming, but he couldn’t do anything about it. He just closed his eyes in preparation for the pain he knew was coming and ducked a little in the hope of avoiding a broken nose, as Gaston drew his shoulders back for the headbutt.
An explosion of white light, then the next few minutes passed in a haze of dizziness and pain. Blows landed all over Remy’s ribcage, then he felt himself fall to the floor as arse-kisser and ball-licker let go of him, in order to land a few blows of their own. He managed to curl himself into a ball with his arms tucked over his head to protect himself from any further strikes to his skull, but from there it was a matter of hoping they got bored quickly. Soon enough, it was over and he heard their boots retreating and the door opening and closing as they left.
After a few minutes to make sure they weren’t coming back for a second helping, Remy unrolled himself from his protective ball and tried to stretch out a bit, in order to test how badly they’d hurt him. A few pokes and prods told him they’d done no serious damage. Lots of bruises and a headache from the headbutt were all he had to show for it. This beating was obviously meant as a warning. No doubt the next one would be more severe.
Remy opened his left fist, which he’d kept clutched tightly shut throughout the beating. In his hand was a pewter toothpick he’d managed to lift from the one he thought of as “arse-licker”, as he’d slumped over after the blow to the guts. At least the beating had been profitable. Later on, he could try and use the pick to get in on a game of cards or dice with those idiotic minor nobles. First though, a nap to help him get over the beating. Perhaps his luck was changing after all.
There you go, hope you didn’t hate it. The folklore post I promised will be up either later on today or tomorrow, entirely dependent on how RL stuff pans out.