Friday, March 12, 2010

The Stars Are Fire, Chapter 1, excerpt

This is the first page or so:

The ice on the lake was spattered with blood. I stood to one side and shivered in the winter cold as my breath came in clouds of white steam. The sounds of steel against steel, sword against sword, sword against armor and the grunting of the two warriors echoed, rebounded and filled the air around me. I looked up and the sky was solid white, the snowy plain all around an equal white and I could not tell where the earth ended and the sky began. The sun had remained behind the whitewash of cloud but it was a bright day and the sky, the snow and the ice all reflected blinding patches of white wherever I turned, the air crystalline like the celestial spheres. The light washed the color from everything on the frozen lake except the blood sprayed over the ice where the duel was being fought within a ring of two score witnesses.

I was wrapped in dark wool and weighed down by a heavy black fur, and except for the priests I was the only man there who was not armed. I am no soldier, and I was only too happy not to be clad in steel plate and mail on that frigid December day. My companions were colder than I but we all longed for our camps and our warm fires.

It would not be a long wait; the duel was coming to an end. Fortinbras, Earl of Jutland, had lost a great deal of blood. The spots and trails of crimson that stained the ice had all come from his wounds and he was now sluggish and dragged his left foot. Even I, a scientist and civilian, could see that he would not survive the contest, that his heart would soon beat its last. Fortinbras’ opponent was Hamlet son of Rorik, King of Denmark, Schleswig and Holstein. King Hamlet was unharmed after half an hour of bashing and being bashed, and he grinned and swung his great sword as if it weighed no more than a glove or the leg of a baked goose. This was most vexing. I had cast the king’s horoscope the night before and the heavens had all agreed that some great loss was his fate this day. I pushed defeat from my heart and expected a lucky turn for Fortinbras. It was not too late for him to strike a fatal blow against the king.

To watch the combat was painful for me; I wanted to shrink from the primitive ritual, to stop my ears against the noise or run away from the lake, but I was present at the king’s command and so I stood there in the frozen air and let my eyes be drawn down to the patterns formed by the blood on the ice. It is a star chart, I thought. The king stands in Orion while Fortinbras drags his wounded foot through Cassiopeia and spits a mouthful of bloody sputum onto the Pleiades. I wondered if Fortinbras had any regrets. If he did, he did not have long to live with them. He swung wildly at the king, missed and fell to one knee as his lame foot slipped on the ice. He knelt in Perseus. There was frost and blood on the face of his helmet. King Hamlet stood in Taurus and brought his sword down in a mighty blow, cutting Fortinbras’ left arm apart at the elbow. Fortinbras bellowed like a wounded bear and dropped his sword and then the king rained death down upon him, hacking him to pieces. Bright blood spread onto the ice, flooding over my imagined constellations. King Hamlet, still ruler of Denmark, stood over his dead cousin. He pushed up the beaver of his helmet to lick some of Fortinbras’ blood from his blade. One barbarian had killed another, and the rebellion was over.

The king’s son, Prince Hamlet, had been standing to my left. He took my arm and whispered in my ear, his voice shaking with excitement. “My father hath killed his enemy,” he said. “Was it not a glorious fine thing?”

A bit rough, but you get the idea.


  1. Um, I definitely get the idea, and I'm loving it!

    This is a fantastic new start, Scott. Do I get to read the book again when you finish?

  2. Ivana: When I finish, yes. I have no idea how long that will take; these 1200 or so words have taken a week to write. I'm not moving as quickly with this as I did with "Cocke & Bull."

    I'm glad you don't mind that I stole your "start with blood in a recognizable pattern" idea.

  3. I don't mind at all, Mr. Bailey. It doesn't remind me of Monarch at all. Completely different. :)

    I think moving slowly through a rewrite is fine. I still feel like my rewrite for Monarch was slow, although Davin says it was fast. I'd be happy to read any sections for you if want feedback, but I can also be patient and wait for the whole book. I'm going to email you right now about me and Davin's Big Idea.

  4. I really like the way the battle is superimposed against the bloody star-chart, very bold imagery.

  5. My lord Bailey, I bow to your words.

  6. Very cool visual imagery! In my mind, it looks almost comic book-style, like the movie 300, with the sharp contrast of white + blood and the big, violent motions. It's a bold start to your new book.

  7. This is lovely, Scott. It's poetic, and yet the language makes the scene more vivid imagery-wise. I really liked the repetition of words too.

  8. Davin, thanks for noticing the repetition! White, white, white and blood, blood, blood. The star chart imagery will remain through the whole book, I've decided. I'm working on a literary conceit where, like in the beliefs of the 16th-century, the heavens and earth are interconnected, movement of one reflected in movement of the other. We'll see how it goes.