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To celebrate reaching the first one hundred pages (approximately 25%, if it doesn’t run amok like “Art of Forgetting” did) of the first draft of “Spark and Carousel”, I’ve decided to give my blog readers a treat.  At least, I hope it’s a treat, bearing in mind that it’s a first draft and therefore, by nature, quite rough and ready.

This is the first publicly posted extract from the first draft of “Spark and Carousel”, which may not end up in the final draft in any recognisable form, but that’s novels for you.

In this extract, Spark has fallen in with the Nobility, a criminal gang who live in the tunnels below the Telesian Quarter of Cape Carey, and is learning how to be a cut-purse.

I hope you enjoy it.

Warning – contains NSFW language.

***

Auster was tall and thin, with large white teeth that overlapped his lower lip, like a coney.  His skin, as white as his teeth, was generously dusted with freckles.  He winked, and beckoned Spark back a few steps.

“When she does her stuff,” he said, in a low voice, “we get in, do what we must, and get out.  What me, and do as I do.  If you think you can’t hack it, fall back.  If you fuck up, yell and run.  I’ll meet you by the bridge.  If you get caught, someone will come for you.  Noble never leaves a man behind.  Have you got all that?”

Spark nodded.  “I think so.”

“Don’t look so sick.  You’ll be fine!  Here she comes now, so just follow my lead.”

A ripple ran through the crowd, a collective sigh at anticipation rewarded at last.  Auster drifted back to the fringes, slipping the knife from his belt.  Spark drew his own blade, but his hand was shaking, and he had to clamp his hand around the hilt to steady his grip.  Were they going to stab someone, then?

The circus-master was making an introduction, in jubilant tones, but Spark couldn’t hear the words over the blood buzz in his ears.  The crowd roared, and stamped impatiently, and Auster seized the moment to dart in.

Spark saw the flash of his blade.  It was over in a moment, the slash, the victim’s purse slipping from belt to hand to bag in one silky movement, and Auster moved on as if nothing had happened.  His target didn’t even twitch.

Auster winked as he passed.  Your turn, he mouthed.

The tremble in his hand was back again.  Spark bit his lip, forcing his will down his arm, stilling that giveaway quiver.  The crowd, almost a single entity, had its back to him, hooting and stamping at something he couldn’t see.

Auster nudged him, and pointed.  A heavy man, naked rolls of fat spilling over his belt.  And on the belt, bouncing with his every movement, his money-purse was loosely, carelessly tied.  It was a moment’s work to lift it, slash the strings, and press it back into Auster’s outstretched hand.  Spark felt sure the rapid thumping of his heart would raise the alert, but all the fat man did was stretch up on his tiptoes to try and see over the heads of the crowd.

They moved away, Auster offering Spark a toothy grin, flicking the blade of his dagger to indicate another victim.  Motioning Spark to stay back, he moved in.  The target pushed forward into the crowd, and Auster pushed with him.

Spark, alone, scrambled up onto a nearby bench.  He wanted to see if he could keep an eye on the tall man, and he was bursting to get a good look at what everyone else could see.  He wasn’t short, but wherever he stood a taller man seemed to be right in front of him.

He balanced on the bench and watched the girl climbing the pole.  She wore a costume of iridescent feathers and lace, and as she stood on the tiny plinth at the top of the pole, arms stretched to the sky, one long, bare leg stretched elegantly behind her, the crowd sighed as one, surging forward.

As she straightened, Spark’s breath caught.  This vision, this glittering bird with the long, shapely legs and the tiny waist, standing on a tiny plinth high above the crowd with her fingertips stretched to the sky, was Carousel.

He wanted to call to her, but his heart was in his throat, choking off his words.  She stepped out onto the wire with a light, springing step, blowing kisses to the crowd.  Far above their heads, Carousel danced on air, feathers fluttering in the breeze, making it look easy.  While below…

“Hsst!”  At the hiss from the level of his knees, Spark was reminded why he was here.  Auster glared at him.  “Get down!” he whispered furiously.  “Do you want everyone to notice you?”

Shamed, Spark scrambled down from the bench.  Auster gave him a light shove.  “Come on kid, do your job and we can get out of here.”

“Sorry, yes.”  Spark rubbed his eyes, trying not to look up.

“A couple more and we’ll have a good haul. Over there.”  Auster pointed and stood back, arms folded.  It was clear Spark would have to work alone.

He tried to focus on his target, a tall, thin man in an embroidered, long-sleeved surcoat that almost smelled of money.  He must be a merchant, his purse as fat as a kindling woman’s belly, hanging over his hip beside his dagger.  A tricky lift, but Auster must think it worth the risk.  He was staring up, open-mouthed at Carousel dancing on the wire high above him.

Spark wriggled through the crowd until he came up against the merchant’s side. The man smelled of musky Telesian perfume, and his oiled hair was slicked back from his forehead towards his collar. His hands hung limp at his side, and his fingers were heavy with gold and gems.  The coins in his purse clinked faintly as Spark brushed against it, and he held his breath, wondering if the merchant would notice.

The music – Spark had not heard the music before, but Carousel must have been dancing to it the whole time – the drums and lyre reached a thrumming crescendo.  The crowd surged forward.  Something was happening on the wire above. Distracted, Spark made a clumsy lunge for his target’s purse, slashed at it with his blade, trying to watch Carousel as she cartwheeled, impossibly, high above his head, across the square, a glittering pinwheel of girl and feathers.

“Hey!  You little shit!”

The purse was in his hand.  Spark stared at it dumbly, at the shallow, bleeding slash in his victim’s leg. A hand clamped down on the back of his neck and he stared cross-eyed at the blade that had appeared under his nose. The merchant scowled down at him.  “What the fuck are you doing?  Give back my coin, you little bastard!”

“Let go of me!”  Spark could feel the heat, the panic, rising through his chest.  Quicker this time, heightened by fear, by adrenaline.  “Get off!  You don’t know what’s going to happen!”

The merchant shook him until his teeth rattled.  “Oh, I know what’s going to happen.  You’re going to give back my coin, and then I’m going to hand you over to the City Watch!”  He seized Spark’s arm with his knife hand and twisted it savagely.

“That hurts!”  An eruption of fire, rushing along his arm, thrusting the merchant away from him.  The man cursed, stumbling back, clutching at his hand.

“Here!”

“Don’t push!”

“What’s wrong with you?”

He regained his balance.  “That little thief just tried to magic me!”  He pointed a smouldering hand at Spark.  “Get him!”

At the mention of magic, there was a sinister stir through the crowd.  No one was watching Carousel any more.  Spark looked around desperately for Auster and Mule, but they had vanished.  He was on his own.

There seemed only one thing to do, and that was brazen it out.

He made a few vaguely mystic passes, aided by the sparks trailing from his fingertips.  “Yes, stay back!  I am the last of the ancient order of Flame Wielders, and I can burn you all with a gesture!”

The nearest men backed off.  “He doesn’t look all that,” someone muttered.

“He hasn’t even got green eyes!” the enraged merchant insisted.  “He’s no bloody mage!  Let’s get him!”

“Get back!”  He waved his hands again.  No sparks.  Nothing.  “I’m warning you…”

“Get the thief!”

“Smash his head in!”

“Come on!”  Spark felt a fierce yank at his collar.  “Run!”

In her skimpy costume, Carousel was all legs.  They were all Spark could see as she dragged him by the hand through the crowded streets, hurdling the pavements and scrambling over low walls.  “Where did Auster say to meet?” she panted over her shoulder as they fled.

“Horse Fair Bridge.  Do you know where that is?”

“I know where everywhere is.  It’s not far, come on!”

Another alley, another wall, higher than before.  Carousel sat astride it, long, bare leg hanging down, knees grazed by the rough stone.  She hitched her costume up to better cover her breasts, and leaned down, extending a hand to him.  “We’re near the Horse Fair now, and I don’t think anyone’s chasing us.  Though stars know what the Trader district is going to make of these stupid clothes!”

“I think your clothes are fine,” muttered Spark, as Carousel dropped down the far side of the wall.  If she heard him, she didn’t respond.

Carousel needn’t have worried. Everything was for sale in the Trader district, and she could have been bought and sold five times before they reached a stall selling cloaks. She elbowed Spark in the ribs. “I’ll distract him,” she nodded at the stallholder, a tall, angular Telesian with a drooping mustache. “You steal a cloak. Meet you at the end of the street!”

“Carousel, I think I’ve had enough stealing –” but she wasn’t listening, making subtle adjustments to her costume, her stance, that all at once made it more revealing while not exposing any extra flesh.  She strolled towards the stallholder and struck up a conversation, asking him about fabrics, running long fingers along the hems and stitching, drawing him towards the far side of the stall. Spark waited until his back was turned, grabbed a cloak, and stuffed in under his arm, scooping up trailing fabric and ducking out of sight before the Telesian could turn around and catch him in the act. Moving like a crab, he scuttled away from the stall, heart racing, limbs tingling with adrenaline. It was as good as cutting purses, the risk, the thrill. He could see why Auster wore such a broad grin, he felt his own mouth stretching as he scampered towards the spot Carousel had indicated.

***

All lousy spelling and grammar is first-draft clunkiness, please forgive it.  Comments and criticisms most welcome!

 

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