Heresy (sample chapter)

Heresy (sample chapter)

I wrote the first draft of Heresy during National Novel Writing Month 2005. I haven’t yet started on a second draft. It was my first try at NaNoWriMo, and while I did cross the 50,000 word line, I never actually got to the end of the story. One of these days I’ll get around to it, I hope.

* * * * *

Godric stared up at the low ceiling. He felt relaxed. He let his eyes drift up and down the wood beams that crossed the room, and wondered idly how many years it had taken for the ceiling and walls of the small room to take on he color of the smoke that now trailed from the thin cheroot Godric held between his lips. Certainly the room had been painted white, once, he thought. Godric knew the landlord, though, and was certain it would be some time before it was painted again.

Sunlight showed red through the one small window. A single beam of light crossed over the bed where Godric lay and made an orange square on the opposite wall. Night was approaching. Soon Godric had to go. But for now, he would enjoy these few minutes of peace.

A shape stirred in the bed. Ana rolled over and gave Godric a mischievous smile. He offered the cheroot to her. She shook her head.

“Not bad,” Ana said.

“Not bad?” Godric echoed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Have you been practicing?”

“Shut up.” Godric gave Ana a playful shove.

“No, I’m serious,” Ana said, stifling a laugh. “I think you’ve made a lot of progress. Have you found yourself a girlfriend?”

“Don’t be stupid, Ana,” Godric said. “You’re the only one for me.” He tried to laugh as he said it.

“Sure, just ’cause I don’t charge you for it,” Ana said.

“That’s right,” Godric said. “And you’re worth every penny.” Ana gave a scandalized gasp, then punched Godric in the arm.

“I’ll have you know, sirrah, that my services are in high demand nowadays.”

“Is that so?” Godric made a show of disinterest, climbing out of bed and stretching. The beam of light from the window centered on the small of his back.

“It is, as a matter of fact,” Ana said. “You’re so skinny.”

“You say that every time,” Godric said.

“Well, it’s true. I swear, you could fit into some of my clothes.”

“Maybe we’ll have to try that next time.”

“Don’t get too far ahead of yourself there.” Ana threw the blanket back, revealing her naked body. Instantly Godric felt ready for another go, but the sun was setting, and they both had work to do.

“If Papa knew I was giving you anything more than the usual business, I’d have to charge you extra,” Ana said as she threw her clothes over her head.

“That sounds fair,” Godric said. “How about we make it double?” He laced up the front of his breeches and looked about in the fading light for his shirt.

“Oh, that sounds perfectly fair,” Ana said. “Let’s see, I’m charging you, what? Nothing? Right, nothing. So, twice that would be–“

“Hey, I offered you money,” Godric said. Ana’s smile faltered.

“I don’t want your money, Godric. Not for this.” Her smile came back. Godric thought the room brightened when it did. He found his shirt peaking out from under the bed. “Besides,” Ana continued, “I’ve known you my whole life. It would just seem weird to lump you in with the rest of the customers.”

“You’ve known some of them your whole life,” Godric said.

“Those are Papa’s friends,” Ana said, “not mine.”

Godric finished dressing and looked up to see Ana tying a scarf around her head.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I told you, I’m in demand. Papa found a new client for me. I’m to spend the evening… “

“What? Spend the evening where?”

Ana’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I’m not supposed to say.”

“Say what? Come on, where are you going?” Godric whispered as well, but his voice took on a childlike whine. Ana began to laugh, then covered her mouth with her hand. Godric smiled. Although at sixteen years old he was one year her senior, Ana always acted the elder of the two. Godric always considered it a small victory when he could elicit the same reactions he got from her when they were both children.

“Come on,” Godric whispered. “Just tell me where you’re going.”

Ana glanced at the door. They both listened for any sounds from the hall.

“I’m spending the night at the palace.”

Godric laughed.

“Shut up,” he said.

“Shhhh!” Ana waved at him with one hand while pressing a finger to her lips with the other.

“Are you serious?” Godric whispered again. “How did your father find a client at the palace? Who is it?” Godric tried to imagine who at the royal palace would come searching for a whore in this part of the city. Weren’t there courtesans and the like? From the way most of Godric’s acquaintances spoke, he gathered that most everyone associated with the nobility were whores, anyway. Perhaps they required more variety.

“I told you, I’m not allowed to say.” Ana was mostly dressed now. Godric helped her lace her corset.

“Is it the King?” Godric joked.

“Don’t be silly.”

“Well, who is it then? Do you even know?”

“I know his name, yes.”

“Would I have heard of him?”

“I don’t know,” Ana said. She adjusted her scarf so that a few blond curls peeked out, framing her face. “I’d never heard of him before Papa told me about it. But he paid in advance. Papa said no one had ever laid down that much money for me before. And he’s sending a carriage to fetch me.”

“How romantic,” Godric said.

“Yes, actually, it is rather romantic,” Ana said primly. “But don’t think I’ve got any silly ideas about some handsome prince whisking me off to his castle in the country. I know my job.”

“And how much of this advance pay are you going to see?” Godric said.

“Don’t start that again. Papa takes care of me well enough, thank you very much.”

Fast, heavy footsteps echoed through the chamber door.

“Speaking of… ” Godric whispered.

The footfalls stopped, replaced by a fist pounding hard on the door.

“Ana!” a loud voice bellowed. “You better be getting ready. They’ll be here any minute.”

“Yes, Papa,” Ana said.

“And make sure your friend pays up and gets out before they arrive. I don’t want them thinking you’ve already been used today.”

“Yes, Papa,” Ana said again, quieter.

“I’m sorry,” Ana said after her father left. “I didn’t think he knew you were here.”

“It’s okay,” Godric said. “Actually, I usually tell him before I come upstairs.”

“What? You mean, you pay him? Like one of my customers?”

“It’s okay,” Godric said again. “I mean, it’s just so he doesn’t get mad at you. After that beating he gave you the last time he caught me–“

“No, of course,” Ana said. “It’s just that… I don’t want you to feel like you have to pay me, is all.” Godric saw tears threatening to free themselves from Ana’s eyes. He looked down at his feet and said nothing. The sound horses’ hoofs drifted through the window.

“Sometimes,” Ana said, “I wish we could just stay here in this room forever, you and me.”

“That’d be nice,” Godric said. Uncomfortable, he nodded toward the window. “It sounds like your coach has arrived, my lady.”

“So it does,” Ana said. She held her hand up in a parody of noblewoman. “Would you care to escort me down the stairs, my lord?” Godric took her hand.

“Nothing would please me more, lady.” He kissed her hand. “But I believe the master of the house left specific instructions… “

“Aye,” Ana said as her smile faded. “So he did.” She kissed Godric on the cheek. “I hope I’ll see you soon.”

“Count on it.” They both laughed quietly, then Ana let herself out of the room. When the door shut and Godric heard Ana’s feet disappear down the hall, he went over to the window and peeked out.

In the mud of the street in front of Ana’s father’s tavern stood four large horses tied to a carriage. The curtains of the carriage were all drawn; Godric could not see who, if anyone, waited inside. A tall footman stood next to the carriage door, and a driver sat up top, slouched over with the reins in his lap. Both men wore matching livery, but in the fading sunlight Godric could not make out any crest to identify the house to which these men belonged.

Ana’s father appeared below and spoke low to the footman. Even in the poor light Godric could see the disgusted look on the tall man’s face, as if he were being asked to bend down and poke his long nose in a pile of horse droppings. Ana’s father, a tall man himself and of considerable girth, seemed slight compared to the sneering man to whom he spoke, even though the footman was just another man’s servant.

The two men spoke for several minutes. Godric strained to hear their conversation, but both men spoke in hushed tones. In spite of the murmur, Godric could make out the cringing, wheedling tone of Ana’s father, compared to the waves of condescension emanating from the footman. At last the conversation ended and Ana’s father turned toward the light now spilling from the open doorway of the tavern. For a brief moment Godric thought he saw the fat man’s eyes glisten, as if there were tears in them–but that was too out of character for Ana’s father. The fat man wiped his face with a dishcloth that hung from his belt, then waved a beckoning hand toward the light.

Ana emerged then, and tiptoed through the mud toward the carriage. The footman stepped aside and opened the door for her and bowed his head slightly, but made no attempt to help her up. Ana set one foot on the carriage’s sideboard when her father shouted.

“Wait!” he said. Both Ana and the footman stopped, and the driver glanced laconically from his perch at the front of the carriage. Edgrin splashed forward and took Ana in his arms, squeezing her tight. Godric almost laughed at the perplexed expression she wore. Then she returned the hug. After what felt like an eternity, Edgrin let go of his daughter. He nodded once to the footman, turned, and strode purposefully back into the tavern. Ana watched him go, then climbed all the way into the carriage. Before she was even fully seated the footman shut the door, removing her from Godric’s sight. The tall man stepped onto the sideboard, taking hold of a small handle, and knocked twice on the side of the carriage with his free hand. The driver let out a short command, flicked the reins, and the horses broke into a slow trot.

Godric watched the carriage as it made its way into the growing darkness, and disappeared.

Downstairs, the tavern was in full swing. Edgrin did not run what might be thought of as a tight ship, but his tavern was situated in the center of one of the better-trafficked roads in the Warrens. Plus he provided cheap whores, cheaper booze, and the food was usually clean as long as you tipped well. The fact that Edgrin was a big, imposing man and a fair shake with a cudgel only improved his business acumen.

Besides his daughter, six whores worked Edgrin’s saloon. Only two of them were in sight when Godric descended the stairs into the main room, which could only mean that Edgrin was having a good night. The room was full tonight, and someone had struck up a tune on a mandolin that had half the saloon pounding the tables in time to the music. On a normal night, Edgrin would be singing and pounding along with them, maybe even louder than most. Edgrin prided himself on being a good host, first and foremost. He believed that to be the secret to his success. For all Godric knew, Edgrin was right. Besides, he had his boys, Egger and Elmar, to tend to the actual running of the business. They were both serious young men, to the point of being dour, and sober to a fault. They were also as large as their old man, and had no qualms about splitting a paying customer’s skull open and dropping him dead in the alley for the rats if he got out of line, either in the main room or upstairs with a whore. Godric had seen more than a couple of bodies lying in the trash heaps behind Edgrin’s saloon. They never stayed there long, and Godric never asked who came and cleaned them up, but however they were dealt with it didn’t involve calling in the City Guard.

Tonight Edgrin did not join in fun. Godric spotted him standing behind the bar, his arms crossed, and a scowl carved across his meaty face. Perhaps, Godric thought, now is not the best time to settle my tab.

Godric made his way almost halfway through the crowd to the front door when he bumped into a stone wall. He looked up and gave a smile.

“Hiya, Elmar,” Godric said.

“Three crowns,” Elmar said.

“Good to see you too,” Godric said.

“Two hours with Ana, fifteen silvers an hour, that’s three crowns.” Elmar poked Godric in the chest with a finger like a sausage. “Now.”

“All right, all right, hold on a minute,” Godric said. “It’s gonna take me a minute to count it out. I don’t usually have whole crowns–” He stopped short. Godric slid his hands around his belt until they met at the back.

“My purse is missing,” Godric said.

“Not my problem,” Elmar said.

“I’m serious. Someone just stole my purse. Here, in your tavern.”

“And?”

“I’m telling you, you have a cutpurse here in this tavern!”

Elmar blinked twice. “Are you going to pay the three crowns, or what?”

“How am I going to pay you when someone STOLE MY MONEY?” Godric shouted up to him. “Moron,” he added.

Godric immediately regretted the word.

He had less than a moment to move before a fist the size of a ham filled his field of vision. Godric leaned right and watched as Elmar’s hand whistled past Godric’s face and connected with a pewter mug, which at that moment happened to be connected to the face of an elderly, bearded man who in that instant lost the last few remaining teeth in his head.

Had Godric been familiar with the word, “pandemonium” is how he might have described the melee that followed. He heard much breaking of glass, witnessed several stools in flight, and had to step over four different men who, for some reason or another, had ended up face down on the barroom floor. Godric made through the chaos into the kitchen, where Edgrin’s cook Patra and her young daughter, Bel, labored over a number of chickens roasting on spits. The roar of the flames in the firepit made the pair oblivious to the mayhem on the other side of the door.

“Oh, Godric!” Patra said. “You gave me a fright!” She chuckled as she spoke, and the action made her several chins bob up and down in rhythm. More than once Godric had wondered how Patra had gotten a man to couple with her long enough to produce a child. More often, though, Godric wondered who that man might have been. Godric had known Patra his whole life and had never seen her outside of Edgrin’s saloon. Nevertheless, Bel was probably the cutest eight-year-old girl Godric knew.

“Hi there, Patra. Bel.” Godric gave the young girl a wink, which made her smile and blush furiously. “I don’t suppose you guys saw–“

“He’s waiting out back for you, dear,” Patra said. “Now don’t you boys go getting into too much trouble, you hear?”

“Hey,” Godric said. “You can trust us. It’s us!”

“Sure,” Patra said, “that’s what I’m afraid of!”

Godric gave Bel another wink and ducked out the back door.

“Give it here,” Godric said. A small shape flew at him from the darkness of the alley. Godric snatched it from the air; it made a jingling sound as it hit his hand. He felt the weight of the small leather pouch, but could find nothing wrong with it.

“This better not be light,” Godric said.

“Aw, come on,” said a voice from the darkness. “You know me better than that.”

From the shadows stepped a boy of about fourteen. He was slight of frame–even more so than Godric–and had wide eyes as if he was constantly being startled. Godric thought that impression was a false one, however. The boy’s eyes were wide because he saw everything, and because he saw everything he was surprised by nothing.

“Yeah, I suppose that’s true, Trask,” Godric said. The boy, Trask, held half a chicken in one hand. “You didn’t steal that, did you?”

“‘Course not,” Trask said. “Patra gave it to me. I didn’t even have to ask. She told me to share it. Want some?”

Godric tore a leg free and devoured it in two huge bites. “You gonna eat that thigh?” he asked. Trask handed it over.

“I always wondered,” Trask said, “how does someone as skinny as you eat so much? Where do you put it?”

“Gotta keep my strength up,” Godric said between mouthfuls.

“Hey, I saw Ana leave on that carriage,” Trask said. “What’s with that?”

“Her dad’s got her making house calls.”

“Oh. I wanted to say hi, but I guess it’ll have to wait.”

“Yep,” Godric said. “That reminds me… ” He fished through his pouch and pulled out two gold coins and ten silver. The pouch was much thinner after the coins were removed.

“Good thing we’re getting paid tonight,” Godric said. “Wait just a minute.”

Godric went back inside the kitchen and peeked through the door into the main room. The fighting appeared to have died down. Godric could see Edgrin sitting alone at a table in the corner with a bottle of dark wine in front of him. Glancing around, Godric spotted Elmar and Egger at the bar.

“Elmar just poked his head in here looking for you,” Patra said. “I told him you were long gone. I’d hate for him to find a reason to come back here and end up proving me a liar.”

“Do me a favor, Patra,” Godric said. “Give this to him from me. Make sure you tell him I said sorry. Oh, and could you also make sure Ana gets this?” He handed Patra two more silver coins. “Just make sure Edgrin or the Lumps don’t know about it.”

“Of course, dear,” Patra said. “Although, I think you might be taking the wrong approach here, if you don’t mind my saying.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, it’s really none of my business,” Patra said. “It’s just that you and Ana have known each other since you were both younger than Bel here. I don’t think she wants to think of you as if you were just another one of her customers.”

Godric stood for a moment, perplexed. “Yeah, she mentioned something like that. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, though.”

“Well, give it some time,” Patra said. “I’m sure it’ll come to you.”

The back door creaked, and Trask stuck his head in. “Sorry,” he said, “but they’re waiting for us.” Godric thanked Patra again, and he and Trask headed down the alley and into the night.

© 2005 Christopher M. Walsh

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© 2016 Christopher M. Walsh