Today is pretty exciting! After some good feedback, and some long hours, I am happy to reveal the first six pages of my novel, my new “chapter one”, which will be used as a submission selection for my upcoming search for agents. Look forward to more regular updates as I track my own progress and the techniques I use to try and find an agent!
So what do you think? I feel like it carries the strength of all three previous versions, and does some nice interplay between the various narrative tensions. It does lose most of the focus on Millicent, which has now been shifted to a prologue that will not be sent with the sampling, and a later chapter respectively. At any rate, let me know what you think! Do you think I have a chance of an agent with this draft?
In which our story begins with dirty laundry
Sebastian Smith lived in a small village, on a small island, ruled over by a small barony, in the otherwise large nation of Gregoria. Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to have ever heard of the large nation of Gregoria, much less the small village of Hillsbac. And I only mention the size of these places because Hilsbac was a place where big and small were a surprisingly complicated matter.
For instance, you might never imagine the very large number of problems the very small seaside village of Hilsbac could have. Of course, there were all the little problems you would expect of a village; gossip, and garbage, and girls. And there were also a fair share of medium sized problems, which the small villagers in small Hilsbac felt quite large when they solved; like hunting for winter meat and organizing a complicated marketplace for passing ships, who often stopped in Hilsbac on the long journey from one end of Gregoria to the other.
Sebastian Smith, whose story I am so excited to tell you, was neither the largest nor the smallest of the villagers in Hilsbac. He, himself, was also a complicated mix of big and small; his ears were just a little too big and his feet were just a little too small. I imagine, had you seen him, that you might have thought he wasn’t capable of handling very many problems at all.
The other people who lived in the small, seaside village with Sebastian shared this very opinion, and as a result, Sebastian Smith was not allowed in the general vicinity of many problems at all no matter what the size. He was not, for instance, permitted to go out hunting with the men as most other boys who had lived more than ten winters were. Nor was he welcome on the swift fishing boats that cut through the waves near the docks. He was not trained to stand watch in the high towers of the village wall, nor was he skilled with the heavy iron swords of the village guardsmen.
In fact, out of all the problems Hilsbac had to deal with, Sebastian was allowed to solve only one. He was permitted, without exception, always to choose his own clothing, and to eat all of his own food. He was allowed to bathe when he smelled, and to sleep when he was tired. On the rare occasion of a scraped knee or a bad winter fever, Sebastian might be forced to ask for some small help, but by and large he helped the village by doing his very best to solve the only small problem they would let him solve: himself.
Of course I am telling you about the problems which Hilsbac and Sebastian had because it is a rather closely guarded secret of powerful men and women everywhere that the bigger a person you wish to be, the larger the problem you must attempt to solve. Of course tackling big problems is not the only thing one must do to become big (there are, in fact, three things in total). But it is important for you to understand how small the problems Sebastian was facing were, and as a result, how small his world seemed back then. And then you will understand why what he did seemed, back then, quite as big as it did.
Sebastian had stolen a shirt.
The shirt belonged to Roland Baker, a boy of about Sebastian’s age, but twice his meager size. It would have, as you might imagine, looked ridiculous on Sebastian, and owing to the above mentioned smallness of the town, been quite an obvious theft had he chosen to wear the garment. But Sebastian had not stolen the shirt to wear it. In fact, while not often invited to help with the more dangerous of traditionally male village activities (like hunting), at almost thirteen winters of age, Sebastian was already hard at work in his own way as a cook’s boy, amateur tailor, and one day, he hoped, as a carpenter like his father before him. He also, on particularly boring weekends, offered to help the village matron with the management of the community laundry for a few spare coins.
It is important for you to notice two things out of this brief glimpse into Sebastian’s small world: The first is that Sebastian was perfectly capable of providing for his own clothing needs and was in fact expected to do so, and the second is that by virtue of this very pursuit, he had been put in a place to procure the ill-gotten shirt of Roland Baker, a young man who was expected by many people in the village to solve a great many problems; not simply small problems but even a fair few medium sized ones as well.
By itself, you might have come up with any number of reasons why Sebastian had stolen the shirt of Roland Baker; that is of course if you had noticed him as anything out of the ordinary while he was walking home with it. However, if you had come across Sebastian in the midst of his current activity, you might have had a very different set of questions entirely.
Sebastian was sniffing the shirt.
He was crouching in the moist autumn snow which had fallen that afternoon, in the back alleyway between the blacksmith shop, and Mrs. Holand’s new two story family house (a gift from her husband, upon the birth of their tenth child, a house his own father had overseen construction of), with the light blue, still soiled fabric of Roland’s wadded up shirt practically smashed into his face.
In fact, dear reader, you might have used a different word to describe what Sebastian was doing to the shirt of Roland Baker for three main reasons. Firstly, the late autumn air was cold, and smells are made much duller by the cold, requiring a much more vigorous working of the nose to detect them. Secondly, Sebastian knew that he wasn’t supposed to have the shirt, and I’m sure you’ll agree that never was a cookie more delicious than when it was stolen despite your mother’s sternest warnings.
And lastly, Sebastian was in love with Roland.
These things when taken together, might have given a neutral observer, who happened upon a small Sebastian with the large shirt, cause to describe the youth’s activity more accurately as huffing. And while I, of course, agree that while I might have used the word huffing instead of sniffing all those paragraphs ago, you might not have quite understood what I meant. More than that, it is still very early in our story, and I still have the time to lead you on these little adventures with ideas. And you will see very shortly that we will not have as much time to spend with one another, you and I, as you will be far more interested in Sebastian and the adventures he is about to have.
Sebastian himself would have been shocked to think that any greater adventures than had befallen him already that day could possibly be in store for him, but adventures would hardly be adventures if they were planned. As Sebastian took another sniffling snort of Roland Baker’s shirt, he tried hard to forget the disastrous humiliation that had ended in his shameful crime.
The fingers of twelve year old Sebastian Smith gently grazed the stiff fabric of Mrs. Geldeblat’s under-girdle. Feeling his face flush, he strained further until he was able to barely hook his fingertips into the white lacing which would normally pull the garment tight around Mrs. Geldeblat’s round stomach. With a tremendous effort he heaved himself to the side and tugged the oversized underwear close to his chest, panting as he pressed his face into the rough shingles of the roof on which he lay.
From the ground below, Mrs. Geldeblat barked, “Don’t just lay there Sebastian! If my girdle isn’t flapping like a flag in the breeze, then get back down here! You’ve still got to clean the rest of this mess up!”
Sebastian sighed, carefully raising himself up on his hands and knees to crawl towards the edge of the roof where he could drop down onto the balcony below. He found the bulk of Mrs. Geldeblat’s girdle made his journey down much more complicated than his climb up. Though he found himself very frustrated with Mrs. Geldeblat, not only for her large garments, but also for her ceaseless stream of comments and orders, he knew that really he had no one to blame but himself for the disaster strewn over the village square below.
As I mentioned earlier, the people of Hilsbac did not often let Sebastian help with any problems of consequence. However, Sebastian still felt he should do his best to help with the problems he could solve. It was this very thought which had caused Mrs. Geldeblat’s girdle to be launched to the top of the baker’s shop in the first place, not to mention Mr. Sander’s work coat, or Mrs. Threshton’s best sun dress, or little Amelia’s patch-kneed play clothes, all of which were scattered about in equally unique and inconvenient locations around the town square.
Sebastian, as you may have guessed, had attempted to solve the problem of the village laundry. It might seem strange to you that the village had a laundry problem, all together. Laundry in the world you and I live in is a very personal problem, consisting of machines, and sinks, and soap. However, in the world Sebastian lived in, laundry was still a very public problem. In order to save time, and water, most villagers brought their clothes to the village square once a week, and a group of sturdy women and awkward young girls (as well as Sebastian), gathered together to wash all of the laundry together.
The specific problem which Sebastian had attempted to solve was the problem of drying. It was a small problem really, but one that always caused at least one small argument amongst the old women in charge of making sure every family had clean clothes for the coming week. You see, there was only one corridor down which the salty sea breeze almost always blew, which was not also shaded from the warm sun by nearby buildings. This section of street was naturally the most effective at drying clothing hung within it. It was not nearly large enough for all of the clothes to be hung in it though, which meant that most of the clothing had to be dried either in the shady breeze or the windless sunshine.
It was nowhere near the biggest problem facing Hilsbac (which began with the letter D), but nevertheless, it was the problem Sebastian attempted to solve. He had done so with great effort on his part. Not only had he constructed a massive and complex system of rotating ropes, lashed together through rusted old pulleys salvaged from the castoff bits of ships that had long since set sail from the docks, but he had also convinced Mrs. Geldeblat to allow him to attempt to solve the problem at all. Mrs. Geldeblat, who had been in charge of laundry for as long as Sebastian had been alive, had been very difficult to convince.
As he scrabbled over the open attic windowsill of the baker’s shop and into the narrow stairway which led to the floor below, trying hard to keep the white fabric of the girdle he carried from trailing in any more dust than it already had, Sebastian was certain he would never be able to convince Mrs. Geldeblat to let him try anything ever again.
While concealed safely in the staircase, Sebastian tried to puzzle out what had gone so terribly wrong. He was so sure the idea was a good one. It had seemed so simple to him. If the problem was that only some clothes got to be both in the sun and the breeze, the solution was to make it easy to rotate all the clothes equally through the good spot. And at first, it had gone so well! The clothes had started rotating into the sweet spot on their ropes just as he thought. But then somewhere between Mrs. Thurston’s best sun dress, and Amelia’s patch-kneed play clothes, one of the garments hit a snag. Sebastian thought it was just a little bump, and so had continued to tug valiantly on the rope, never realizing how much tension he was building, until, with a crack like a whip, the main line snapped and still damp garments exploded in every direction.
After the initial shock of the disastrous laundry upheaval, Sebastian now sorely wished that he could have prevented the sudden snort of laughter he had let out when Mrs. Geldeblat had discovered her enormous girdle flapping in the wind, caught on the highest corner guttering of the baker’s shop. But he hadn’t, and with Mrs. Geldeblat’s face turning roughly the same ruddy red shade as Mrs. Tawning’s favorite red blouse, Sebastian had scurried into the baker’s shop to retrieve the embarrassing garment, though he did note it was flapping directly into the sweet spot.
As he was tip-toeing slowly down the narrow staircase, drawing out each step to delay his inevitable meeting face to face with Mrs. Geldeblat, Sebastian stopped entirely when he heard the hushed voices of the Baker and his assistant wafting up through the loose boards of the stairs beneath his feet.
“Did you hear about poor Millicent Cobblestop?”, came the furtive voice of the young baker’s assistant. Sebastian thought his name was Brennan or Brandon or Bradley.
“Aye, boy. I was there when the poor Thrushton boy had to give the report to the mayor himself. Was delivering the morning pastries to Mrs. Cobblestop. You’ve never heard such terrible girlish sobbing in all your life…”, replied the Baker, who Sebastian only knew as the Baker.
Brennan or Brandon or Bradley gasped, “Oh…was Mrs. Cobblestop there too?”
The Baker snorted, “Nay. Twas the Mayor’s girlish sobbing I’m referring too. But who could blame him after what poor Henry Thrushton had to report. Twasn’t just her death…but the manner of her death…all ash and grease on the field…it’s just not right.”
Brennan or Brandon or Bradley was silent for a long moment, and then asked with a catch in his voice, “But…sir…if the Mayor set his daughter out for the Dragon to come claim…wouldn’t he have expected that sort of report from Henry?”
The Baker let out a sigh, “I suppose you’re too young to really remember how a maiden sacrifice works. It only happens once every ten years afterall. You were what…five the last time a maiden was offered?”
“Four, sir. I was four winters then.”, Brennan or Brandon or Bradley said.
“Then you probably don’t know how they normally go. If the Dragon finds the maiden…well…suitable, I suppose, then he swoops down out of the sky and grabs her in his huge claws and off he flies with her. He’s never…uh…done the deed right there in the field. And some years, if he flies over a few maidens and doesn’t like it, he just stops asking.”, The Baker said.
Brennan or Brandon or Bradley asked, “You mean the Dragon Stone stops glowing?”
“Nay, it hasn’t so much as dimmed. Even after charring poor Millie worse than a loaf left in the oven all afternoon, the Dragon still wants another sacrifice. This hasn’t happened ever before. There’s a special council in two days’ time to decide what to do. It’s the biggest problem we’ve ever had. We’ll have to figure it out together.” The sound of the Baker pulling a heavy stone plate out of the enormous oven muffled his reply to Brennan or Brandon or Bradley, and the strong smell of freshly baked bread wafted up into the attic staircase, causing Sebastian to shift with sudden hunger.
Sebastian twisted the handle to the attic door and stepped out into the back room of the Bake Shop, quite disturbed by the news he had heard. His mind swam with thoughts of what the Dragon’s deadly new behavior would mean, for the village, for the other young girls, and especially for his two older sisters. He didn’t realize the sudden odd heat in his chest was coming from a deep desire inside of him to protect his community. He didn’t realize that he was walking not towards the square but towards the Baker and his apprentice. He certainly didn’t realize that his mouth was open just about to say something very chivalrous about working together to overcome impossible challenges.
What he did hear was Brennan or Brandon or Bradley say with a smile in his voice, “I guess we could always ask the weird laundry kid what he thinks we should do, eh?”
The words stopped Sebastian in his tracks. He realized all at once where he was, and was grateful that he hadn’t yet rounded the corner into the kitchen. After four very awkward moments of silence, the sturdy laughter of the Baker echoed through the shop, and Brennan or Brandon or Bradley own short nervous bark of a laugh soon joined it. By the time they stopped laughing, their guffaws were joined by the muffled sound of their oven mitted hands slapping their respective thighs.
Sebastian squirmed for every second of laugher the two men indulged in at his expense, both unaware of his eavesdropping. He was twisting Mrs. Geldeblat’s girdle into tight knots by the time the Baker, still gasping slightly for breath, said, “Aye, that’s who can save us. Young master girdle. Maybe he can tinker together a special pile of junk to confuse the Dragon away.”
Brennan or Brandon or Bradley added, “Maybe the Dragon’s secret weakness is lady’s underthings!”
As the Baker and Brennan or Brandon or Bradley returned to their laughing (which was actually quite a relief from their earlier grim conversation) Sebastian retreated silently into the back room of the Bake Shop. He felt very small, clutching in his hands the evidence of his laughably poor attempt to solve the village’s smallest of problems. And now the villagers would face the largest problem they’d ever faced, and Sebastian wanted to help too. But the townspeople intended to solve the problem together.
Of course Sebastian knew what the Baker meant when he said together. When the Baker said together, what he meant were the strong men of the town, and the clever women, and the brave young people. He meant the hunters, and the sailors, and the guardsmen, and the matrons. He didn’t mean awkward laundry boys, whose ears were slightly too large, and whose feet were slightly too small. Together didn’t mean Sebastian.
It stung, of course, but it didn’t surprise Sebastian. He made his shuffling way across the stock room floor, and reached the rickety wooden door into the alleyway behind the shop. As he stepped out into the alley, still slick with late autumn snow the sun had not melted, he looked down to his throbbing fingers still tangled tightly in Mrs. Geldeblat’s girdle and tried to turn his attention back to the problem at hand, back to the problem of laundry, back to the problem of his own making. Surely he could solve that much.
What happened then might seem very strange to you if you were only to read it, just like that. What happened next was that Sebastian found a shirt. Not an exciting event by itself; and one that might even be expected given the already unfortunate events surrounding clothing that had so recently occurred. However, this shirt was one that Sebastian recognized. It was a shirt Sebastian liked very much. Not because of the color or the cut, but because of who it belonged to.
And suddenly, Sebastian found that he had forgotten all about the shame of his failed invention or the anger of Mrs. Gildeblat, or even the humiliation of his mocking at the hands of the Baker and Brennan or Brandon or Bradley. Sebastian had found something which his brain very much needed at that very moment. He had found an escape. Leaving the precious blue shirt where it lay, atop a snowy stack of firewood, Sebastian scurried into the village square to clean up his mess as quickly as he could, returning and rewashing every last piece of exploding laundry; every last piece except one.