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Heart of Glass


May is over, yet the excerpts continue. The first draft of Taking Stock is taking longer than I expected, but it should be finished within a week, at which point normalcy will resume–or at least, whatever counts for normalcy on a blog called Batshite. In the meantime, I hope you like excerpts.

Below is the first scene from Royal Flush.

The glass chimes on the front door tinkled and the Kingdom’s sole glassblower raised his head. “Now who?” he said, and peeped out from his cramped back room, only to hastily withdraw.

“The gods have mercy,” he whispered.

He squeezed his eyes shut, but the image remained imprinted on his eyelids. Standing in the front room, staring imperiously down his nose at a glass unicorn, was none other than His Royal Highness, the King.

During his long career the glassblower had come to know well the sound of priceless glass artwork breaking. It was this sound that now penetrated the curtain separating both rooms. The glassblower winced. The unicorn had been his finest work.

The reason for his distress had little to do with destroyed masterpieces, however, or with the import of visiting royalty. It had everything to do with fear for his life. Though the glassblower never attended one, it was well known that public executions were held frequently in the Royal Square. They were so frequent, in fact, that the majority of those executed couldn’t possibly be guilty of anything—except perhaps of displeasing the King in some insubstantial way.

“Isn’t anyone back there?” the King said. “You mustn’t keep me waiting! I’m terribly busy, and my dungeon is full, and I have only one way of dealing with this kind of insolence!”

Clenching his teeth to halt their incriminating chatter, the glassblower stepped out, glad for the wooden counter between himself and the King. The craftsman prudently averted his gaze from the pile of broken unicorn at the monarch’s feet.

“Good morning, Your Majesty,” he grunted through clamped teeth. “What a pleasure to have you in my humble shop.” Again he winced. He was a terrible liar.

The King took no notice. “I want to commission a piece of your work,” he said.

The glassblower noted the King’s composure, or rather his lack thereof. The royal garments were unwashed and rumpled, and a royal stench made the glassblower wrinkle his nose. The King was a mess.

Nevertheless, he came with a business proposition, and so the glassblower adopted his most professional manner. “For whom will I be crafting this piece, Your Majesty?”

“The biggest harlot in my entire Kingdom.”

The glassblower hesitated.

“And what shape shall it take?”

“A heart,” the King said, his voice wavering. “I want it shaped like a heart, and I want it to be extremely delicate.”

“Delicate, sire?”

“Yes, you overblown peasant. Delicate.” The King paused. “I want it to break in her hands.”

The glassblower cleared his throat. “Am I right in thinking, then, Your Majesty, that you want a piece of artwork that will break, but only when it is held by a certain maiden?”

“That’s correct.”

The glassblower swallowed. What the King asked was virtually impossible. Stalling for time, he said, “I take it this woman has wronged you, Your Highness?”

“I take it you wish to be flayed?”

“Forgive my intrusion, sire,” the glassblower said quickly, “but why not simply imprison her?”

“Because I love her,” said the King, and started to cry. “I’ll be back for it in two days.” He left the shop, sobbing.

The glassblower gazed vacantly as the entrance bell announced the monarch’s departure. It might as well have tolled the craftsman’s funeral.

The King’s assignment was unfeasible, and so there remained only two courses of action. The glassblower could stay, dutifully working to fill the King’s order, and ultimately failing—and probably losing his head in the process—or he could leave, forever abandoning the store his family had managed for generations.

Thirty minutes saw the glassblower barrelling north with only a horse, his tools and a few pieces of carefully wrapped work.

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