Sunday, January 22, 2006

Nightscape


Continuing...

The man's head jerked back, his body stiffened. He screamed, high and keening, half-turned and reared backward. They crashed against the adjoining wall. Damie felt her fingers slip. She locked her grip and pushed at the weight. Still keening he staggered forward. She drew up her knee and slammed a foot into a buttock, wrenching her blade up and away.
The body dropped, croaking and flopping like a dying crow, and rolled off the edge of the platform.
She levered herself away from the wall, stumbled over a tangle of blankets, a pallet on the floor, and went to her knees in front of Margaret.
The woman slid slowly down the wall, still squeaking and gasping like a rabbit, her eyes bulging. Damie groped for her shoulder.
"Margaret!"
Margaret focused on the bloody hand reaching toward her, squeezed her eyes shut and shrieked.
And shrieked. And continued to shriek.
Well, thought Damie, if you can find that much breath, you can't be much hurt. She had no patience with hysterics, not here, not now.
She had to find Lord Roger - or Hugh.
She fumbled and felt her way down the solar steps and across the hall floor. The long room blurred. The hanging night lamps behind her gave no help in piercing the miasma.
Opposite the main door some cowering soul decided to flee at that moment. It rose from from its bed and blundered into her. She almost lashed out in reflex.
"Get out of the way, idiot!" she snarled.
It burrowed away.
A candle guttered in a shaking hand. Illuminated faces peered from behind the cross wall.
"Get light," she called sharply.
Idiots.
Tripping and stumbling over the tumbled bedding, she made it to the door. It seemed to take a long, long time.
The hay wain that stood mostly unloaded at evening was well and truly aflame. Naked and half-naked bodies flung water at the shed walls, sloshed water from the big water butts, cranked the well winch furiously.
Shouting and coughing, others beat with wet sacking. One body yanked at the cart shafts but was driven off by the heat. Another darted in, his face and arms shielded by a sopping cloak, and tugged it toward the center of the courtyard.
Sparks flew and flames roared like dragon's breath. Outside the ragged circle of the pyre, smoke and mist enveloped everything, obscuring sound and shape and sense.
Lord Roger, in shirt and hose, strode into the flickering circle of firelight from the direction of the gate, the Falchion blade in one hand, sword belt in the other. He stopped, sheathed the blade, looped the baldric and drew the blade again.
Damie wavered her way down the steps like a ghost.
Hugh, booted but bare to the waist, appeared out of the fog, fisting a naked sword.
"A thatch was fired below. Enough are roused to handle it. Those on the south wall have heard and seen nothing. Robert caught one at the north wall, my lord."
The dark, still shapes on the walk-ways were men-at-arms then, Damie decided, peering up. A climbing flame lit for an instant a drawn bow and a set face. Prepared to repel.
"One essayed to open the gate. He's dead."
"That's two," said Hugh.
"Three," said Damie, stopping a judicious sword length away.
Both men spun about, their blades sweeping double gleaming arcs at the flame-lit figure who spoke to them out of the mist and the smoke.
"There's another crawling around on the floor of the hall at the foot of the dais." Her voice was high and hard.
"That's blood! You are hurt, Alys!" Roger started for her.
"God's teeth!" he gritted. "Get me that whoreson, Hugh. I'll Blood Eagle him myself!"
But Hugh had already gone at a run up the hall steps.
Damie looked down. A dark blotch stained the cloth under her breasts. Other marks spattered her shift. She must have clutched the poniard to her stomach when she made her stumbling, staggering passage through the hall. It's a wonder I didn't stick myself with my own knife, she thought. She threw up a hand.
"No! Not my blood. I am not hurt!"
Scared shitless, maybe, but not hurt, she added to herself.

Note: When her name was first requested. Damie cautiously gave her first...which was naturally heard in its Norman form "d'Amorie." When a first to that assumption of surname was expected, she gave in to a subversive impulse and supplied "Alice." Hence, this address by Roger.

32 comments:

Rick said...

After Margaret and the unnamed second panic-ee, it was good to get outside and find people acting with sense, trying to put the fires out. I was immediately reminded of a scene from my book:

The Bailiff was useless in this crisis. Catherine hastened to the courtyard, and found the Steward at the well. Two husky servants heaved furiously on the windlass; as the bucket came up, two more seized it and tipped it into a barrel. Seeing her the Steward pointed to the barrel. He did not bow, nor address her as 'Altesse.' "We must have water at hand," he said, "lest fire be attempted against us."

The plain-spoken competence of the Steward was as inspiring as the Bailiff's helplessness had been unnerving. "Very good," Catherine said. "But you must – no, carry on!" She had thought to have him clear the water-gate, but he was making good use of his men, as the Bailiff was not. She hastened back into the Great Hall.

Dennie McDonald said...

Just reading and enjoying your book - don't have much to comment on!

Bernita said...

Yes. Fire was a constant threat, and people had protocols in place to deal with it.

Bernita said...

Every little bit helps, Dennie.

Rick said...

Slapping my forehead, because only on re-reading the postscript of your snippet did I catch on to why she is calling herself Alice. :)

Sela Carsen said...

I'm like Dennie, just enjoying the heck out of reading these excerpts!

Bernita said...

A problem with excerpts, Rick. Not your fault. Thought I'd better add a note or anyone would be justified in saying WTF?

That's music, Sela. Thank you both.

Rick said...

Bernita - Oh, the explanation of why she wasn't called Damie (or Damery) was clear enough! What only hit me on second read was why her particular choice of Alice. Singularly appropriate!

Carla said...

Okay, I'm dumb. I admit it. What's the particular significance of Alice?
(Enjoying these, by the way, Bernita)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Carla. I hope in a good way.
Alice?
It all begins with a rabbit. It's one of the first thing she sees when she finds herself by a bridle path in the 12th.century.
It happens to be brown and not white,but her mind makes a few mild and unobtrusive comparisons now and then.
Psychologically, I suppose it indicates she has (a) an impertinent turn of mind, and (b) resists the reality and seeks to classify it in some way.

Carla said...

Aha. Thank you Bernita. I was trying to think of a medieval Alice, dur. I'm way out of my depth in the 12th century.
I like the impertinent turn of mind. I'd kind of figured that out about her from the three snippets you posted recently.
(I have an unobtrusive - I hope - running joke about the ubiquity of King Arthur myths in mine, and the previous book had a similar one about knights-and-damsels romances). A story without humour is like a day without sunshine (or a clunky radio adaptation of John Buchan).

Bernita said...

It really does sound from your description that they left out all the good parts.Peter Pindar and the rest.
Yep, Tweedledum and Tweedledee show up later, suitable disguised.I enjoy those careful sub-sub-themes and tried to incorporate one.

Rick said...

Even if she hadn't seen any sort of bunny, finding yourself in the 12th century would be plenty good reason to think you fell down a rabbit hole!

It also works out conveniently that Alice (Alys, Alais, etc.) is a good period name!

Bernita said...

But I had to give her a pseudo-reason for picking that or any, Rick.

saragreene9868 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernita said...

Spam.
The hook explained it found this blog "inquisitive."
Really.
Almost as interesting as some e-mail spam I received beginning "Respected One" or the one with opposite intentions in mind, obviously, that begged "please retart." No, it wasn't from a sex site.
English as a second language.

Rick said...

Bernita - If she had given them the everyday form of her name, "Damie" instead of Damery, they would likely have thought she was just saying "lady!"

-- Rick

R.J. Baker said...

I am humbled by your command of the English language.

Interesting twist of using four words that sent me to Merriam-Websters and "scared shitless" in the same scene.

Bernita said...

Yes, and I needed any verbal puns on her nic for other scenes.

Thank you, R.J, a mis-spent life... but you have me puzzled. What four words?( Or was that just any number sort of thing?) There's a fine line between using appropriate words and being just too obscure.I don't want to cross it.

Carla said...

The line between 'period colour' and obscurity is going to be in a different place for every reader, though, isn't it? Depends on background, interests, what they happened to be reading last week, etc. I'd say you needn't worry, Bernita, from where I sit you seem to be doing fine.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Carla. Very much.

Rick said...

I glide over a few obscure words without a problem, so long as the meaning of the passage is clear. It's no different from snippets of medical, legal, or other technical jargon that are there for coloring, so long as knowing what they mean isn't required. (And stopping to look them up is more likely in reading an isolated passage than the whole book, where we're on to What Happens Next!)

Bernita said...

That's my usual method as a reader, Rick. Have been known to think "oh goody, a new word.Nice."

R.J. Baker said...

keening, wail
miasma, swamp vapor
baldric, leather strap
poniard, dagger

These were all used in your sentences in a way that I kind of knew what they were, but the true flavor of the words escaped me until I looked them up.

Granted, I do not read in your genre but I am fairly educated(though you can't tell by the way I spell), read widely, and didn't know them. I guess readers in you genre would have already come across these and would these words.

I was just commenting on the juxtaposition of those type words and "scared shitless" line.

I do appreciate you broadening my vocabulary though.

Bernita said...

Thank you, R.J.
I expected "baldric" as a possible, but I am very glad the context was adequate to give you the sense of the word and you only looked them up for your own satisfaction.
I do not spell well either and have a Merriam-Webster bungee-corded to my wrist.

Rick said...

I don't really recall what a baldric is, though I think something having to do with fighting - it was probably clear in context, but I'm too lazy to go back and look.

In any case, I'm confident that if a scene comes up where I actually have to know what a baldric is, its use will be clear in the passage. And it will doubtless prove more useful than Margaret is likely to be.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Great excerpt!

Okay...what's solar stairs?

And what kind of an action is a Blood Eagle?

I feel smarter ~sigh~ I knew the Alice thing!

I got one of those spamers too. Yikes...Osama bin Laden with big female boobs....there aughta' be a law.

you can remove that deleted thing by bringing up the page where you deleted it and right below the button that says delete there's a box to check that makes it go away permanently. then the whole thing is deleted.

Bernita said...

Usually do, Bonnie, thank you. This one just struck me as funny ( inquisitive).
The solar was an elevated private room for the use of the keep lord( and family), closed off from the rest of the Hall, usually reached by a flight of stairs.
Blood Eagle is a very nasty and possibly apocraphal torture/punishment where in a victim's rib cage was ripped open and the lungs spread out like frothy wings. Points if the victim lived until the process was complete. Generally attributed to the Norse.

A baldric is a belt worn over the shoulder and across the chest ( usually naked on Romance covers) to support a sword, as you guessed Rick.

Gabriele C. said...

I love Roger. Blood eagling your enemies is so alpha. :-)

Bernita said...

Yes, Roger is a good guy, even if he does have the tendency to hurl his shirts on the floor.

Gabriele C. said...

The floor is the place where an alpha male's shirt belongs. We want muscles and mantitties, dangit. :-)

Guitar Master said...

I wish I could blog as good as you, but what I can do is give you a nice Guitar Lesson!