Saturday, January 1, 2011

Anna Errant - An excerpt from The Adventure of Anna The Great

I slacked off a bit today. I am doing the rewrite/polish for Harsh Climate, and just did the read through and some notes. I will post a publishing schedule for the first half of the year tomorrow, along with my more specific writing goals, which I plan to do month by month.

In the meantime - it's time for Sample Sunday!

Here is an excerpt from my first book, The Adventure of Anna The Great, an old-fashioned swashbuckler about a girl dressed as a boy who goes out looking for trouble.
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An Excerpt from Chapter 2 - "Anna Errant"
(In Which Anna Finds a Small Adventure, and The First Hints of a Larger One....)

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I WAS NOT far from a town—one never is far from anything in Lifbau—and in no time at all I found a livery stable with a stall available for a few hours. I saw to it that Jupiter’s needs were cared for and I strolled off to find my own breakfast.

I went into a bakery to buy a loaf of fresh bread, and to try out my new identity. It was a small place, but crowded. I moved around for a minute before approaching the counter, to give everyone a chance to see me. No one said anything, which I am sure they would have if they had guessed I was a girl. I moved up to the counter, where the heavy-set baker was gossiping with an equally heavy woman customer.

“I’d like a loaf...,” I started to say, in a very confident and masculine way.

“A minute lad!” said the baker sharply, waving his hand at me. I smiled at him for calling me lad, but he did not even look at me. “... the queen’ll marry him any day now ....”

“Excuse me,” I said, still smiling.

“I don’t care when she’ll marry,” said the woman. “It’s who that worries ....”

“Excuse me!”

The baker slapped a loaf on the counter, and held out his hand for the money, still gabbing on about the latest royal rumor, which I suppose was more interesting than local gossip.

I tried to ask for some butter and milk, but it was pointless. He hardly knew I was there. I walked around for a while, and found a shop with a dairy cow, but though they sold me their goods, they hardly noticed me either. Nobody noticed me.

I know it was silly, but I was disappointed. I felt as if I should be noticed. I had very successfully become another person. It was quite an achievement. Of course, it was my very success that kept me from being noticed. To them I was just a boy, a gentleman by my clothes, and perhaps a bit too young to have a sword at my side, but nothing unusual, no matter how exceptional I felt. The fact that the world was not as enthusiastic as I was put me in a bad mood. I would prove myself if the chance came.

I stalked back to the stable, imitating a soldier I had once met after he had lost a fencing match and considered himself cheated. It was a fun role, and I threw myself into the character. I had worked myself into quite a jolly rage by the time I entered the narrow street which ran up to the back of the stable.

The street was made to look all the narrower by the three and four story houses which lined either side. Very little light got into it at that time of morning, and that suited it. It was a dark sort of place, with closed up shops, dirt, peeling paint, and small yellowed windows. Also fitting the street was a drab old woman who was being harassed by a young bully.

She was only trying to pass by, but the lad, who was about sixteen, would trip her or pull at her shopping bag, while his friends jeered. The bully was keeping ahead of her, walking backwards so he could face her. He could not see me.

This was my chance, I thought, a good deed and a touch of adventure. I gathered myself up and charged, shoving with both my hands on the small of his back. He went down on his face, his arms and legs sprawling.

“That should teach you to leave an old woman be,” I said. He rolled over and got up. I changed my estimate of his age upward to seventeen or eighteen. He was big, and once he saw that I was not, he scowled.

“Hey, Squirt,” he said, and he swung his fist at me. His scarred knuckles hit me square in the forehead. I toppled backward, falling on my right elbow and bruising it. I was dazed for a minute and I could not hear or see. My left hand went straight to my sword, but I hesitated in drawing it. The bully, after all, was unarmed.

The dizziness began to clear and I heard laughing. Four other boys, not so big as the first, but big enough, had joined him and all were laughing heartily at me.

“Look out,” called the first. “His Majesty’s drawing his sword!”

That got my temper up, and when I get mad I get blindly furious. I whipped out my sword and struggled to my feet.

“Oh ho, boys! Run, he’s after us!” It was a great joke to them, but still they skipped out of range as I turned slowly around, watching them and facing any that came at me. The big one pretended to have a sword of his own, and they all poked imaginary weapons at me, while mimicking my fencer’s stance. I slashed my sword across in front of them, and they all leaped back. I ran at them, swiping my sword back and forth as if it were a sabre. Half of them retreated to the safety of a doorway. I turned and saw the rest gathering. I raised my sword and chased them off with a yell, but the first group crept up from behind and hooted at me.

“Over here, Sir Squirt,” the big one said, mimicking my movements.

I felt a whack across the back of my head, and I whirled violently to swipe at the retreating boy who had hit me, but I did not chase him, since another was edging up to the left. I pointed my sword at him, and he stepped back, in mock fear. The rest stayed back, but ready to close in.

I closed my eyes and wished I had minded my own business. This was not the kind of adventure I wanted. I could not see any way to triumph. I could not make them stop, and I felt silly making false lunges at any who came near. My elbow stung.

Keep your dignity, I said to myself. I drew a deep breath and looked around. The old woman had long since made her escape, and I had effectively cleared a path for myself. I drew myself up, trying to hide the shaking that had come over me with the lessening of anger, and sheathed my sword. I walked off with as much dignity as I could muster.

Whistles and catcalls sounded behind me, coming closer. They were following me. My whole body ached to turn around and look, or run. Dignity, I said to myself, you can win with dignity, so I did not turn and did not run. I wanted to see what they were doing. I knew it was probably nothing. They were just following. No need to look back and dignify them. It was best to ignore them.

The stable was not far away. I could see a bunch of loungers in the doorway, watching with keen interest. None of them had made any move to help the old woman or myself, but then, I did not want any help.

“Woo hoo! Let’s see your sword again!”

I wanted to give that big one a cut across the face. Dignity, I thought. Keep cool. One foot in front of the other and you will be out of this.

Something hit my back. I felt my chest tighten up as I froze in anger. My passions were so high that for a minute I thought that I would either cry or kill somebody. The loungers at the stable began to laugh.

I could not help but turn to see what hit me, but I did it slowly, as if merely curious. They had thrown an apple at me. I stopped and picked it up. I would have taken a bite out of it, but it was badly bruised, so I just tossed it in the air and caught it. I turned away without looking at them and walked the short distance left, past the chuckling loungers, and directly to Jupiter, to whom I fed the apple. He ate it with a relish.

I had won. It was not much of a victory, and I did not feel triumphant, but I guessed I had really won. This, I supposed, was what adventures were like in the real world, so I had better get used to it. I was still shaking. I hated being so emotional. I put my arms around Jupiter’s neck until the trembling went out of them. I granted myself that I was tired. I was reacting to the high emotions of the night before, and for that matter, for weeks of planning.

I washed my face in Jupiter’s water bucket and went to pay the stableman. He was busy with a harried but beautiful woman whose coach had a broken wheel.

“I must get to Lifbau this evening,” she said with a very slightly accented voice. She looked worried, but her voice was commanding. I admired her control. My voice squeaks at the slightest hint of stress.

“There will be a coach in an hour,” said the stableman. “That’s as much as I can do.”

“Oh, very well,” said the woman. “I’ll need to move my bags.” She looked pointedly at the loungers. They had been closely watching the conversation, but now pretended not to notice her. They must have had their pockets full, for they ignored her even when she pulled out her purse.

“I’ll get them,” I said, and popped over to her side. The woman continued to regard the men thoughtfully. I thought I saw an odd look cross her face, a flash of emotion, perhaps anger or even fear. It was gone as quickly as it came. She turned away from the men and patted me on the shoulder absent-mindedly.

“Are you sure there is nothing sooner?” she asked of the stableman.

He said no, and I got the woman’s bags from the carriage. They were only a pair of carpet bags, which surprised me, because she seemed the fashionable type. I was directed to put them with the other packages that were ready for the coach. She paid me, and I paid the stableman.

As I led Jupiter out, I noticed that the bullies were still on the street. I was still angry. I mounted and waited, looking at them. They must have thought I stopped in fear, for they gathered together and came toward me, grinning at the chance for new sport. In one fluid movement I drew my sword and urged Jupiter to a gallop, letting out a bloody yell.

Their faces changed from mocking to horror in an instant, and they scattered. The leader went left, so I went left, around him, cutting him off. I ignored the others to focus on him. I trapped him against the wall and held him there with my sword.

“Feel lucky you get off with your life, worm!”

It was a line from a very cheap novel, which I had read until it fell apart.

I wheeled around to salute the onlookers, but I was disappointed to see they were not watching. Most of them were gone, the rest were pestering some gentleman, for money I supposed. Their hands were out and their smiles were supplicating.

Triumph is no fun without an audience, so I let out another whoop and cantered by them, making a defiant salute with my sword as I passed. I thought I heard someone say something about a “pipsqueak” but I imagined it was said with some respect.

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If you'd like to read more of The Adventure of Anna the Great, the ebook is currently on sale for $2.99 at Amazon's Kindle Store, Kindle UK Store.

The book is also available in various formats for most ebook readers or computers at Smashwords. Look for it at Apple's iBookstore, as well as the online stores for B&N's Nook, Sony, Kobo and Diesel, too.

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