I reached the halfway point to my NaNoWriMo goal last night. Unfortunately, the book is about 3/4ths written at this point. Unlike my triology, I have written this book from beginning to end without skipping around. And I’m finding that more difficult to work with, because I’m used to taking very full, complete scenes and stringing them together when I have enough. Now, I have an entire book with less-than-full scenes, almost all of which need some fleshing out. I think I prefer to do a good job on a small portion than write a skeletal story and then go back to put meat on it.
So here’s a sample. My main character, Jakub, is a forty year old knight, on the verge of retirement. In a fit of possible madness, he has ridden hard to Prague to rescue his love interest–a Jewess in danger of being caught up in a city-wide purge. She’s been rescued, but her parents and everyone she knows has been put to death. They are on their way back to his land–half a day’s ride from Prague on a highway that cuts through a large forest and have just had a clandestine wedding, medieval style.
They were not far from home, traveling at an easy pace, when Jakub heard the sound of hoofbeats growing louder behind them. He moved Papa to one side of the road, to allow the riders to pass. As far as they were from Prague, he felt uneasy.
Three young men on undisciplined horses came cantering up to them, and pulled to a stop.
“Well met!” one of them greeted Jakub loudly, as if he was drunk. “Have you come from Prague?”
“Yes,” Jakub said guardedly. He casually put both of the reins in his left hand and rested his right on the pommel of the saddle, hear the hilt of his sword.
“So have we. Did you get anything good?”
“What do you mean?”
“Loot!” one of the other young men said, leaning forward eagerly. “They’re stripping the Jews of everything.”
“Look at this,” the first man said, digging into the bag draped over the front of his saddle. “Solid silver!” he exclaimed, displaying a pair of candlesticks pinched between his fingers. “Imagine what that will fetch!”
Jakub felt Alzbeta squeeze tighter against his back—no doubt trying to hide the Torah between them. “You should be careful about showing such things,” Jakub said coolly. “There have been known to be robbers on this road.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” he said, sticking the candlesticks back in his back. “There’s an old knight that’s supposed to take care of this part of the highway, but I guess he’s too old to get off his ass and do something about them.” The other two men howled with laughter. Jakub’s hand clenched tightly into a fist.
“Well, good day to you!” the young man said, before he and his companion spurred their prancing horses forward.
“How I would have loved to give them a thrashing!” Jakub declared hotly when they were out of earshot.
Alzbeta’s only reply was a sniff. Jakub turned to look over his shoulder; she had her face pressed against his back, silently shaking with sobs.
“Beta, what’s wrong?” he asked anxiously. He didn’t know if he could stand to see her crying for a third time in one day.
“Those… those were my mother’s candlesticks!” she wailed, before being overcome with sobs again.
Jakub was stunned. “Are… are you sure?”
Jakub looked up the road, where the three men had disappeared. Then, without consciously making a decision, he kicked Papa into a gallop.
Half an hour later, they caught up with the young men. They had dismounted and were watering their horses in a ditch that flowed near the road. In the summer the ditch ran dry, but when there was heavy rainfall, it held water.
Jakub pulled Papa—snorting and breathing heavily—to a stop beside the men. “Those candlesticks of yours, where exactly did you come by them, did you say?”
“From a Jew’s house in Prague. We hit the jackpot; some rich old Jew lived there. You should have been there,” he added. “There was more than people could carry away.”
“I would like to have them,” Jakub said in a cold voice.
The young man grinned. “I would be happy to sell them to you,” he said with a comic bow.
“I didn’t say anything about buying them.”
The man looked at him, confused. “What?”
“Give me the candlesticks.”
The man’s mouth hung open in surprise, then he quickly shut it, growing immediately angry. His two friends came up beside him. “Just try to take them, old man” he said boldly. “There’re three of us and only one of you.”
Jakub quickly unsheathed his sword—hanging hidden beneath his cloak. “I don’t need any help,” he said, as he spun Papa around, slashing the first man across the face and upper chest.
One of the other men ran at the horse’s head, and Papa reared, kicking out and striking him in the chest and sending him falling back. Jakub had to drop the reins and reach back to grab Alzbeta to keep from slipping off. But the next second Papa was on his feet again. The third man, seeing both of his companions down, turned to flee. Jakub spurred his horse to pursue. They caught up to him a moment later and Jakub thrust his sword between the man’s shoulder blades. He went down screaming.
Jakub turned Papa around and went back to the other two. The first man was dead, but the second was only winded. Jakub pulled Papa up beside him. “Damned old knight,” he said, shaking his head, “can’t be bothered to get off his ass to take care of robbers.” The young man looked at him, perplexed, for a moment, just before Jakub leaned down and thrust the tip of his sword into his heart. His eyes flew open and he jerked, but no sound came from his lips—only blood.
Jakub threw his leg over the front of the saddle and jumped lightly to his feet. He wiped the blood off his sword on the fallen man’s cote, then sheathed it. Then he knelt down and began stripping the body of its clothing.
“Wh-what are you doing?” Alzbeta asked in a shocked voice.
“Taking their clothes so it will look like a robbery,” he explained, even as he pulled the shoes off the corpse. “Not that I’d spend much time investigating it if it’s brought to my attention, he added.
“I… didn’t mean for you to kill them,” she said, anguished.
“And I didn’t mean to pay them to get back the things they took from your family. I couldn’t have borne the injustice of it.” He glanced up at her. “Get down and help me. The faster we’re done with this, the better.”
She hesitated, reluctant, but at last she slid off Papa. She unfastened her cloak and put it on the ground, then carefully laid her Torah on it. Only then did she go to Jakub’s side.
“Get those horses,” he said, with a nod towards the three horses who were beginning to wander off.
She hurried to comply while Jakub stripped the second body of everything useful, leaving it wearing only the damaged cote.
He walked to the third body and did it likewise. And nearby he saw exactly what he needed: a sinkhole in the forest floor. When he was done with the third body, he grabbed it by the ankles and drug it to the edge of the hole, then kicked it over the side.
Alzbeta was struggling to drag one of the bodies to him, and he hurried to help her. Together they tossed it into the pit.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said, as she helped Jakub carry the last body through the woods. He noticed her face was bloodless; she looked as if she was in shock.
“You’re obeying your husband; there’s nothing wrong in that,” he assured her.
She stopped and stared at him. “Is that how Christians really think? That… I can do anything—any crime—if you order me to do it? That makes it alright?”
“Well, it doesn’t make it alright for me; I’m guilty of committing the crime. But you are not punished, no.”
She just shook her head.
Jakub tossed the third body down on top of the others, then kicked some leaves onto them. “Why, what’s a Jewish wife supposed to do?” he asked her.
“Be the moral conscience of the husband and not let him commit sin.”
“Even if that means disobeying his orders?”
“Even so. Each person is responsible for their own soul, and answerable to God for it.”
Jakub stretched his back and sighed. “God willing, Alzbeta, I will never lead you into sin again. But good luck keeping me out of it.”
So, I’m rather happy with that chapter–my older knight kicking ass and taking names. Yeah, it’s brutal, but welcome to the middle ages. The problem is that it (and all of my other chapters) seem short. Mind you, romance novels are supposed to have shorter chapters, and I think that’s a good chapter length for the genre, but I think I need more material in there and there’s nowhere else to break that particular chapter logically. So that leaves me with longer-than-normal chapters if I pad them out. Of course, the alternative is to leave my chapters more or less as they are and just make up more scenes and stick them in. I have all the scenes I need for the plot already in there or planned; I’ll just have to add some little nuggets–like the scene above–which are interesting and develop the characters, but which aren’t directly necessary for moving the plot forward.
My mind being what it is–because one book is never enough–I already have an idea for a book which would serve as a sequel/generational continuance to this one, picking up 20 years later from the POV of Jakub and Alzbeta’s eldest son. I don’t have much of an idea for it yet, just a scene:
The new priest to Jakub’s parish is a young firebrand, who actively goes in search of heretics. Jakub and Alzbeta have done a good job of hiding her Jewishness, but the snooping priest quickly puts together the tell-tale signs and, at a large church service, publicly reveals that he’s found Jews in the village. He then goes around to everyone in the church, making them kiss the cross. He purposefully leaves Jakub and his family for last. When he comes to them, they all refuse. Forced to drop their braies, Jakub’s adult son and his 11 year old son are revealed to be circumcised. Then–surprising even Jakub’s son–Jakub is also revealed to be circumcised. The implication is that, sometime in the past 20 years, he converted.
The priest promises to burn them all the next day as heretics–even Alzbeta and the daughter-in-law, who are both pregnant–and they are locked in the church. Not willing to be taken without a fight, the eldery Jakub seizes the processional cross and smashes it against the stone floor, breaking it off into a sharp point. He and his son go around the church, making weapons from other fixtures and planning their defense.
I’m thinking the priest needs some muscle to back him, because otherwise Jakub is just going to slap him across the face for demanding that he drop his pants; after all, Jakub is a lord. I might look into the Teutonic Knights; could the priest call in a few for help? If so, one will be someone Jakub served with in a campaign some years ago. But I haven’t decided if he would help Jakub or become his mortal enemy; I’m leaning towards enemy.
But Jakub’s household will find a way to help the family. Petr and Jiri are both landless knights in Jakub’s employ; one has been his friend and righthand man for more than thirty years; the other is Jakub’s former squire. Jakub’s people are also less than enthused about the denouncement; Jakub and Alzbeta have been good landlords. Alzbeta (the daughter of a physician) has taken care of everyone in the village and helped deliver almost all of the children. Jakub has always been fair and just, never heavily taxing his people for his own enrichment. More than a few people remember the rule of Jakub’s brother and father from two decades before; both were purposefully cruel. There are several young adults who are Jakub’s neices and nephews by his brother’s rape of their mothers. Should the arrogant young priest succeed in his denouncement, Jakub’s lands will be forefeit–and everyone knows the church will try to make a claim on them. And no one in the village wants to trade Jakub and his line for the priest.
The family will get away (they have Jewish contacts in other cities who help hide them) and Jakub and his son work to discredit the priest and try to restore their name. Jakub’s son is a favorite at court and has friends, and Jakub’s other former squire, Jan, steps up to plead in their defense, but it’s pretty dicey. This is where having that enemy can come in handy–Jakub’s former friend pursuing the family across Bohemia in a game of cat and mouse. And at this time in history there was some sort of uprising/civil war that I will have to research, but of course the family gets caught up in that as well. In the end Jakub is going to have to die, because, hell, the man’s 60 and he’s got to go sometime, but he’ll go out in a blaze of glory, with sword in hand. I’m thinking, though, that he won’t finish off his enemy; his son will have to take up his sword to protect his family–both his mother and siblings, and his wife and new child.