With only the littlest bit to go before I turn in revisions on my contracted book, I thought today I would offer a peek at my next historical WIP. Background to the scene: girl dressed as boy to travel without harassment, trouble in a tavern, help from an (unwelcome) source :)
“Boy? Are you really that blind?” spoke the elegant, skeptical voice of the man whose table I’d knocked into. From his tone, I would never have guessed he was anything but cold sober.
Before either Weasel or Brawler could object to his intervention, the man stood and pulled the shapeless felt hat off my head. With deft fingers, he found and released the pins so that my hair fell in a mass of twisted plaits about my face and shoulders.
Brawler gaped at me as though I’d sprouted horns, and Weasel hissed a vicious breath. The surprise was just enough for me to free my left hand and elbow Brawler across the chin. I stomped for Weasel’s foot, but his grip had tightened round my wrist until my fingers were numb and I knew I couldn’t hold onto my blade much longer. So I let myself go limp, my dead weight dragging Weasel off balance while my free left hand reached for the second blade strapped beneath my tunic. I brought it up and under his chin . . . where it met and matched with a second, longer, deadlier dagger.
The stranger with the courtly voice didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. Weasel narrowed his eyes, but let go of me. Not without a twist that made me wince, but he and Brawler retreated under the stony gaze of the man who had come so unexpectedly to my aid.
When they were gone, I found the stranger staring at me. His expression had not altered from indifference. “You’re welcome,” he said.
The arrogance and detachment were too much for my frayed temper. “I didn’t ask you to interfere. I’m old enough to take care of myself.”
He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “And how old is that?”
“Twenty-two,” I said defiantly. Then, at his look of open disbelief, I conceded, “Eighteen.” When he continued to stare at me, I added, “In three months.”
“I suppose you would take it amiss if I suggested that disreputable taverns are not the safest place for a solitary young woman.”
“I suppose you would take it amiss if I suggested that drowning your sins in wine is the refuge of a coward.”
He had a stare like ice, the kind that froze in England and provided but a thin covering to the depthless water beneath it. Here was someone much more dangerous than the thugs who had just been run off. This, I thought with sinking heart, was not a man to cross swords with. Perhaps politeness would be the better part of valor.
But then he spoke again. “You were nearly quick enough, I grant you. But ‘nearly’ will get you killed. Perhaps if your skills were as formidable as your tongue you wouldn’t need a stranger’s intervention.”
Despite the drinking and choice of tavern, I noted the marks of quality about him: the diction and music of his voice, the grace of his every movement despite the slight hesitation of the seriously drunk, the shirt that—though aged by hard use and indifferent laundering—was made from the finest linen. So fine that one could almost see the outlines of a well-conditioned body beneath it . . .