So, the curse of the 000th post has come upon me again, and with it the compulsion to abide by the terms of Ancient and Revered Custom (was it engendered by a prophecy we wonder...?). My previous entries have fought shy of my WiPs, but following where others, not least TEiN and Ursa, have bravely led, here is the opening of Black as Night -- which is meant to be the first book of The Mapmaker's Daughter trilogy. *cue hollow laughter once more* The first bit isn't a prologue, so all prologue-haters can calm down. I'm intending to drop in similar first person monologue bits every few chapters in order to info-dump her background and some history. After that non-prologue, it's straight into chapter one, first scene. I've a few specific concerns, which I'll wait to see if anyone else raises, but basically, does this make you want to read on? For those who like to start with action -- there's a sword fight in the very next scene, but the three together go way over word count so you'll just have to imagine something really dramatic and exciting. (And then write and give me the details...) * Father was a mapmaker. So they killed him. They tortured him first. Not in secret. Not inside the thick walls of the old castle or the dark cellars of the Merchants’ Hall – their God believed in showing His power. They brought their instruments and their braziers and their long, thin knives and tied him to a chair in the main piazza. A high-backed grandmaster chair. I think it belonged to the butcher’s guild. The summer-pole stood behind him, the statue of Keth, not yet defaced, before him; both still wreathed in their new ribbons, still garlanded with flowers, though the precious rosolacci had already faded and died, their red petals dropping to the bone-white paviors beneath. I remember nothing of his torture. I know that I remained there, at the Palace window, looking down onto the piazza. I know that he never spoke, never recanted his heresies, and that he died within minutes, thwarting the Inquisitors and their thirst for his suffering. But those minutes are closed to me, save for the memory of Mother at my side, her scent and her voice, and the crushing pain as she held my small hand tight in her fierce grip. Mother. Dark-skinned. Sloe-eyed. Sometime slave. Wife. Witch. Whore. * (Chapter One) “The black? You are certain?” The sharp voice pierced the thickness of the closed door. Chais stopped, her fingers already at the handle. Were they talking of her, or of her mother? “I heard them clearly; she is even to be presented to His Eminence himself.” Ardesine’s customary peevishness came with added bile. “She has no idea of the honour being accorded to her. The filthy whore.” Ah. Her mother, then. “What of the daughter?” Chais held her breath and couldn’t stop herself from inclining her head nearer the gilded wood. “The Calte said nothing of the heretic’s spawn,” Ardesine replied. “But it would be impious, surely, for it even to be considered.” “My Lord and impiety have been bedfellows these twenty years. Why should we expect better of him now?” “I shall wear my blue gown to meet His Eminence.” Palaina’s slow, hesitant tones betrayed her discomfort at speaking T’densk, and, as ever, she’d clearly understood little of the native fluency of the other women. “Blue is the colour of piety, so Fra Benatido says, and it will match my eyes.” “You should wear brown, the colour of dung,” Ardesine spat, in Genovrese to ensure the invective struck home. “It will match your mind.” Chais straightened. She knew what would follow. The tearful response, the further spite uttered with increasing venom, and, at length, when her own malice was sated or the overflowing tears had tried her meagre patience too far, the Lady Sindretzine’s peremptory command for both the younger women to be still. Impassive silence was the only armour against both malice and spite, as Chais well knew; a lesson Palaina never seemed to learn. The disadvantage of a happy, loving childhood, no doubt. Treading softly, and taking care to avoid the plank which creaked, Chais retraced her steps along the gallery to the open, double-leaved doors of the perdonne – the women’s entrance to the Long Hall. The chamber itself was ready: the trestles set, though with only the local faience, the wine cooling in one of the wall-fountains, the imported lustreware and two of the smaller silver ewers standing on the credenza. With all the evidence of the earlier incident cleared away, nothing remained for her to do until the Calte finished his audience with his sons and kinsmen. She hoped it would be soon. No servants waited in the Hall. Nonetheless, as she drew level with the chapel’s open screens and the revealed cartouche, she paused and genuflected. Standing again, she remained still for a moment before the sound of laughter drew her out onto the balcony-loggia. Palaina’s three older children scampered along the walkway of the inner curtain wall making a game of the crenellated parapet: ducking their heads and crouching low at the embrasures, popping up again as they reached the tall, swallow-tailed, merlons. Further back, muttering soft reproaches, a plump nursemaid laboured up the stone flight from the courtyard one step behind a toddler, his two hands held high in both her own, while at the base of the wall another maid carried the imperious bundle of gold thread and fine linen that was the Calte’s youngest grandson. That Palaina adored her children wasn’t in doubt, but Chais secretly wondered if her motive for always bringing them with her to the castle wasn’t just as much driven by the prospect of some small revenge. Parading her impressive fecundity, and her husband’s affection and marital diligence, had to go a little way to avenging the many slights she received from the bitter, barren, Ardesine. The battlement game continued as the children raced towards the east wall and the Rivergate, the maid and toddler still trailing in their wake. Chais watched until they passed out of sight. She knew she ought to return to the Lady Chamber – her long absence had already stretched the courtesy due to the Calte’s wife and daughters-in-law – but for once duty could wait. She moved to the balustrade. The first real chills of autumn were still two or more weeks away, but as Chais stood looking down over the city, its splendour dulled and dying, a cool sea breeze seemed a harbinger of what approached ever nearer. She shivered.