I also can't believe my daughter is turning 2 tomorrow. That blows my mind a little bit.
And what else blows my mind? The fact that after 20 days of NaNo, I'm sitting on just over 54,000 words. Kristen's broken through 50,000, too. Rachel's not far behind her. And Jen and Susan are still bringing it steadily too.
Here's how our week went.
I got utterly wiped out by bronchitis this week. I spent the last seven days sounding like an escapee from a tuberculosis ward. The disadvantages of this were- well, many. But the unexpected advantage was that I got to rejig my working hours for the week, and do them from home. So, after three-and-a-half hours of typing up notes on historical documents (which, being unable to sleep for coughing, I was getting done by 10am), I was free to go write for the rest of each day, child-and-other-distraction-free.
I got 4000 words on each of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and those took me right up to the point where everything (literally) blows up in my story. On Friday, I just couldn't stop. I ended up with around 7700 words for the day to (technically) finish NaNo in just 19 days, and reach 54,000. I estimate another 26,000 words are needed for me to finish the novel, but with a clear weekend next week and two local write-ins I can attend, I wouldn't put it past me to manage that by November 30th...
Watch this space!
In the meantime, it's been a torturous week for my three. I've posted all kinds of heartbreak and tragedy in my snippets at the Forum, so I thought I'd post something else here- a small piece of Kit and Bill watching the passing out parade of the soldiers going away to the First World War. Amongst them is Len. Writing this scene was a wonderful experience- I found four historical newspaper articles describing different parts of the training, and one that described this very parade in minute detail. I referred back to it often as I wrote, and I love what came out of it. In case you're interested, you can read the moving original article here, including this unbelievably portentous paragraph:
The circumstances of their lives had plainly been, largely, a preparation for the sudden emergency of war, and physically they represented the flower of the State's manhood. Folk of every calling, of every estate in life, looked down from crowded balcony upon the brown amorphous stream of men, who, whether born to wealth or poverty, had now but one common calling- that of risking and that of meting out death, and to do so unflinchingly with the carnage of warfare; to do so, not as they would, will, but in the way they were told and on a battlefield where they and their strength would be but as a bucketful of water poured into a river.
For the first time, she noticed the people thronging about in Wellington Street, and she leaned down over the balcony to get a closer look. The width of the boulevard was oddly free of automobiles, carts and horses, and across the road in [Forrest Chase], there was a crowd twenty deep. Out the front of Boan’s, all massed in front of the stately white columns of the store, packed in against the shopfronts- there must have been hundreds of them.
A murmur began in the east, a rolling whisper of voices that surged toward the sea. The vibration carried up to her, and a flicker of excitement ran through her veins. What had they seen?
She looked around, but nobody else seemed interested in the doings of the crowd. No, everyone else in the station was crowding around the internal balcony, looking down to the tracks, and as she made her way across, she felt the rumble in the floor that signalled a new locomotive arriving. Deep within the tunnel, the steam whistle shrieked.
The engine pulled out moments later, sleek and black, filling the air with rattling noise that blocked her mind completely. Carriage after carriage followed, a dozen, perhaps. The brakes squealed, and the noise began to die as the great wheels came to a complete stop.
In a moment, the station master had blown his whistle, and the doors flew back.
Soldiers. They came from within, a steady stream of men, all dressed alike in their smart khaki and boots, guns across their shoulders. The breath flew from her chest at the first glint of golden hair, but then she saw another, and another. Light and dark, short and tall, there were hundreds on hundreds. Not a chance that she’d be able to spot Len amongst them. It didn’t stop her craning to look.
She was concentrating so hard that Bill’s hand in the small of her back made her jump with fright.
“Sorry.” He leaned in beside her, talking over the engine rumble. “They say this is just the first of several trains- it’s a parade.”
He tugged at her elbow, and she let him drag her away from the young men on the platform, back to the other balcony. “But why?”
He shrugged. “Show of power. A reminder that the Aussies are coming.” He pulled her back against him and leaned over her to point down at the road. “Impressive, when they’ve only had a couple of weeks to come together.”
The first men were wheeling out of the station in lines of four, marching in time like a well-oiled machine to the rat-a-tat-tat of a kettle drum. Row upon row, turning smartly out into the street, marching off toward the river in the east. Here and there, a feeble wave of a Union Jack greeted their passing, but by and large the crowd had gone eerily silent.
Someone shouted a coo-ee, and a bugle blared out, but after that, not much else. Just the swish and stamp of a thousand marching feet, and somewhere amidst them, Len.
A woman beside them at the rail snorted loudly into her handkerchief. “So brave! Ah, look at them.”
“So stupid,” Kit muttered, under her breath.
Not quite under enough, because she caught Bill looking at her sideways. The other woman went on. “They are the finest of the fine, those young men. The ones for whom the bell has tolled. Those brave few who were ready, willing and able to leap to the cause at the very first.”
She threw a barely disguised glare at Bill, and Kit felt him stiffen. “They’re very noble and all. We’re a lucky country, having so many to go fight and so many to stay and run the joint.”
She snorted into her handkerchief again, which seemed to be as eloquent a reply as any.
The shifting khaki backs now stretched all along Wellington-street and around the corner at the [hotel] into [Barrack]. The flower of the country’s manhood, she’d seen them described in the paper, and that beneath a photograph of three of them wrestling on horseback, like a pack of kids gone wild. She supposed the flower of manhood was not particularly sensible. Of course, a sensible soldier was far more of a danger than one who’d walk willingly toward the enemy guns with no regard for his safety.
No regard at all, especially for those he left behind.
There was no denying that they were fine specimens, one and all. Broad shoulders, tall and strong. Sun-browned forearms and serious faces. She couldn’t envy the enemy facing this lot. She’d known no Australian boy who liked to lose a match, and these looked like the sort who always won. That was Len to a tee.
They watched on until the first of the lines returned down [William] street and came back toward the station, and then Bill tugged at her arm. “We’ll go across the bridge. The station master said we’d be leaving as soon as the last of their trains was gone.”
She followed him, walking over the top as the boys came through beneath, straight back into their carriages. No smiles, no laughter, no chat. Just determined marching, following orders. Going where they were told, when they were told, with no regard for their own thoughts, feelings, safety.
As he passed beneath the bridge, a movement caught his eye, and he glanced up.
He’d have thought he was mistaken if it wasn’t for the boy by her side; the pair of them made such a distinctive couple, with her so small and golden, and him so tall and broad.
But there were men behind him, men in front, men all around, marching on, and he couldn’t fall out of line for a moment. The most he could do was look back over his shoulder one more time as she walked away, holding his brother’s hand, and then he was ducking inside the carriage, into shadow, alone amidst half a company, and on his way to war.
Pain. He couldn’t get past that. His world was pain. A constant throb of it that blotted out everything else. His face was pulp, every breath sending in a fresh wash of agony. The salty sharp taste of blood lay thick on his tongue, turned his stomach. He shuffled beside Monday. The floor beneath him was hard, solid, and oddly swaying. He tried to see but it was a no go. His eyes didn’t work, just a red haze was all he could manage to see.
She shifted beside him, the sound of a door opening. “Here now, inside.”
A steady arm guided him. His world tilted and he fell into softness. It comforted, the act of being put into bed, but it did nothing to ease the pain. The back of his head exploded in white light and agony. Perhaps he made a sound because Monday was back, shushing him. Cool, rough hands touched his hot neck, shoulder. He turned toward them but they drifted away.
Yellow light pressed against his lids, soothing somehow.
Her heels clicked against the floor and then came the low murmur of a male. A man in the room. Simon struggled to rise but his limbs didn’t work.
A man’s blunt fingers touched his brow. Smooth fingertips. A professional man. He flinched away but they held firm to his chin. Light shined in his eyes too brilliant for him to focus then went away, leaving him in darkness.
“Stitches…need my case… bring the lamp…yes…” Words drifted in and out. Simon struggled to hold onto the thread of the conversation but it slipped through the holes in his mind.
A burning warmth spread over him and then a sharp tug at his brow. He groaned, felt the soft touch of Monday’s hand on his shoulder. It was her hand. He knew it by the way something inside him eased whenever the contact came. Tug, tug, pinch, pinch. His brow throbbed. Lip too. He might have smiled. It’d been worth it. That unbearable rage was just bearable now. Another sharp sting found his arm.
“Give him…Ward off infection…. And for the pain.”
Ha! Pain was good. This sort anyway.
Monday said something proper. At least he thought she did. He struggled for a breath and found a weight pushing down on his chest. The door opened and shut and then silence.
Her skirts rasped against the bedding. He turned his head but could only see the red darkness.
“A fine mess you’ve made of yourself.” She touched his forehead and suddenly he ached, deep inside his chest. It drew so tight he felt he might implode. He said nothing and she moved away. The loss made his throat close.
The ice cold came out of nowhere and he sucked a sharp breath. It pressed against his eyes and mouth with gentle firmness. “Keep it on,” said Monday.
He lay still, let the cold seep into his throbbing, raw flesh. It eased into the pain, pulled it back a measure. Around him came the sounds of fabric moving, something clinking, a glass perhaps? A tug at his feet told him his shoes were being pulled off. One then the other. The simple task made the lump in his throat swell.
The light near him dimmed and with it came a comforting silence, like a cocoon about him. He stilled, listening to her move. Another tug at his waist gave him an idea what she was about. His trousers slid free with a crisp yank, leaving him in his smalls. Cool air hit his thighs. Had he any strength, he might have made a better showing at this moment. The pain was too much for that. It threatened to pull him down. A wave of it pulsed over his flesh, over his face and he couldn’t think.
“Simon.” Her sweet breath was on his check. She never called him Simon. The sound of his name from her lips poured liquid warmth through him, battered his tender heart. “You bloody idiot.” It was a whisper he barely heard.
A soft mouth brushed the corner of his lip. So soft. He moved, struggling to ease the ice pack off his eyes. He wanted to see her. He needed to. Low light seeped in. He blinked, wincing, and the haze shifted into a shape. Dark eyes shining and wide and very close blinked back at him. The creamy oval of her face, the petal pink moue of her lips made themselves known to him. She hovered above him, her hands at the buttons of his shirt. She studied his face, didn’t like what she saw there.
He looked at her mouth. That round puff of sin. His head lifted a fraction, the muscles along his torso straining. It was as far as he could go. She glanced at his mouth. She knew what he wanted, didn’t want to give it. She hesitated, frowning. He simply stared, demanding. Please.
With an indrawn breath, she relented. Her lips touched his, so light and soft that he whimpered. He wanted more. She drew away then came back, a gentle kiss. Not even a kiss. A caress. But his arm was working now. He clasped a hand to the back of her head, his fingers sliding into silken strands. Claimed her mouth. Slow, warm, easy. A sound escaped him as her tongue touched the gash at the corner. Ah, but it soothed him, hot and slick. Soothed him straight to his cock. Holding her there, he explored, his mouth molding hers like a thumb to warm wax, shaping her lips, parting them. The tips of their touches touched. He felt it course down the length of him. What had they fought over? He didn’t care. He wanted. What did anger have to do with want? She worked around the gash on his lower lip, easing and nipping, so lightly his head spun. There was no sound, just this, just their breathing, the rustle of her skirts and the slide of her hair over his fingers.
She pulled away, not far. Her breath came in soft bursts against his skin. Heat slowly grew to a boil in his gut. He sought her mouth but she was busy unbuttoning his ruined shirt and his lips grazed her smooth cheek. Her hair was fragrant and clean, lose strands of it tickling his neck. He captured her lips again, the kiss just as soft, just as needy. She made a small noise that inflamed him, her mouth molding his once more, taking little tastes. His shirt fell away. He suddenly cursed himself for being too weak to do more than move his lips. Dizziness threatened. His head fell back against the pillow. Just as well. She’d moved away.
Simon closed his eyes, tried to regain his strength, tried to push past the pain. It was too consuming. His stomach turned over. He pulled a deep breath and his nostrils burned. Christ.
The tinkling of water made him stir. Monday was back, her mouth swollen and rosy, her cheeks flushed. I did that. Satisfaction swelled hot within him but he could only lay in heavy helplessness. She took his hands, cleaning them with light pats, making small sounds of distress when she got to the knuckles. He knew they were pulp. Each gentle pass made him flinch. His fingers curled over hers, trying to hold onto her, keep her there. “I’m sorry.”
Had he said it aloud? She didn’t respond and his heart pounded against his bones. What was he sorry for? He couldn’t seem to remember. She eased out of his grasp and his hand fell limp against the bed. Alone. END#
Before his aunt’s ridiculous bob-bon of a coach had stopped, Sebastien was out of the door and making straight for the wall of her town house. He pressed flat against the bricks, between a gap in the ivy, his tall frame hidden by the shadows. Who knew who could be peering down from the upper windows, waiting, watching, armed with a hundred words with which to lash him - or more breakable ornaments and a deadly aim. The thought of another skirmish with his sister made even the tips of his hair ache with weariness, and deciding that on occasion, retreat was as noble as attack, he edged, cat-like, along the side of the house to the servant’s entrance and slipped inside.
The warmth of the darkened kitchen enveloped him. He could smell bread, and rosemary, and the mouth-watering scent of [roast beef]. The cook, poached by his aunt from [name of top restaurant], had made  for dinner, it seemed. A pity no one had been here to appreciate his talents.
Aunt Georgette, the only member of his mother’s family he and Adele had ever met, had made the siblings a gift of the town house and its servants upon the death of their parents. Married to an Italian count and constantly abroad, she had quashed their protests with the assertion that four Parisian residences were one too many for any contessa to manage; they would be doing her a favour by taking the “little” one on [street] off her hands.
Moving through the dark, smooth tiles beneath his feet, he made his way to the hearth to build up the fire. He was bone tired, but the tumble and crash of thoughts in his head meant sleep was likely to evade him.
The doctor was wreaking havoc with his sanity.
He threw a log on the fire, poked up the embers around it. He’d never met anyone quite like her. She was fearless. Intelligent. Stubborn. Infuriating.Tweaked at her cuffs with an annoying frequency ...
And she thought him capable of harming a woman to protect his own skin,
The blood pulsed at his temples and he threw the poker into the copper kindling tub with a clang.
How could she?
Well, be fair; your words, your actions, have made her conclusion a logical one; one that you did nothing to quash.
He slapped a hand upon the brick mantle.
Because I could not!
He drew a rasping breath and jammed his hands into his pockets, watching the embers flare as his own heat died. Slowly, he eased his aching body into a kitchen chair.
She is beautiful, and she does not know it.
The scar upon his left bicep began to throb, and he splayed his hands upon his thighs, pressing down against hard muscle and flesh, resisting the urge to scratch the echo of the old wound.
She is trouble.
And he’d had enough of that this past year to last him a life time.
Behind him a matched flared, and every one of his muscles tensed.
He closed his eyes. “If you have come to -”
“Relax, mon frere. Your sister could not be prised from Madeliene’s. You are safe.”
Emile. Sebastien moved to stand, but his friend, lamp in hand, pushed him back down.
“Sit. You missed dinner. I will cook for you. Nothing of the caliber of Monsieur Alexander, but then, beggars cannot be choosers.”
“Emile, no, I -” The canine growl of his stomach made a lie of his protests. Emile busied himself with riddling the stove.
“How is she?” Sebastien asked.
“Ah, her fur is on end, but you know your sister, that will be over within a day. Tomorrow, she -”
“Not Adele. I mean Claire.”
Emile threw him a confused look. “Who?’
“The … child.” Sebastien stretched his legs before the fire. “Well, she should have a name, shouldn’t she?”
“Your mother’s name?”
Metal clanged. “It is nice. And she is fine. Asleep.”
“We will have to find a proper cradle for her. I don’t like her sleeping in that drawer.”
“She will be fine. Olga is with her.”
He sat up with a jerk. “Is the woman sober?”
Emile swung round, skillet in hand. “Of course! What has gotten into you, eh?” He peered at him more closely. “And what have you done to your jacket?”
Sebastien brushed at his lapels, rumpled and ruined. “That would be Doctor Knight.”
Emile turned, placed the skillet on the stove, began cracking eggs upon its cast iron lip.
Sebastien's fingers twitched. “Ah? That is all you can say?”
“There is more to the story?”
Sebastien scrubbed a hand through his hair. “She took me to see a midwife. It is possible that …” He swallowed, unable to form her name on his lips. “It is possible that Claire’s mother gave birth to her there. The silver charm. It was hers.”
Emile’s shoulders worked beneath his shirt as he jiggled the pan. “I know. I recognised it when the doctor showed it to us at the warehouse. What did you discover?”
“The midwife could tell me nothing. Nothing at all.”
Egg sizzled on the stove. Emile added a splash of milk to the mixture, a pinch from the bunch of parsley left in a water jug, then reached for a spatula [chk].
“Why do you want to find her? Curiosity?” His voice was light. “Revenge?”
Sebastien’s eyes locked on his friend’s ruined hand. The void where there were once three fingers, now only a pink seam of a scar. Emile held the spatula to his palm with his thumb, working the egg to and fro with brisk, deft movements despite his injury; movements that slowly ground to a halt. Emile turned. Followed Sebastien’s gaze. His face turned an angry shade of red.
“Non. I forbid it. Not for that. Never for that.”
“It is my choice, eh? Mine.” He thumped his chest with his fist. “If there is anything to be done, then that is for me to decide. Not you.”
Sebastien lowered his eyes. “I am sorry. Believe me, I did not seek her out for that.”
Suddenly, he was not sure. It had been an urge, an impulse. If he had found her, what would he have done?
“I just wanted to see her … “ That was the truth. “To tell her to keep quiet. About Claire. About everything.” He hunched forwards in his chair, chin in his hands, thumb stroking the stubble as he stared into the fire. “The orphan story will work. It has to.”
Emile gave him a long, hard look, before turning back to his skillet. “You’d better be careful. Claire may not the only thing to blacken your name in Davignon’s eyes.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s very pretty.”
His friend was being irritatingly obtuse. “Who?” he snapped.
“The doctor.” Emile flipped the omelette in the skillet with an expert flip of his wrist. “The one you have been running around with, unchaperoned, day and night. The one who dresses as a man. The one you beat up Fauconnier for.” He slammed the pan on the stove top. “For God's sake, Sebastien, for a man so concerned with protecting his reputation, you are being far from circumspect.”
“Christ! I did not plan for any of this to happen. She needed help - and to be saved from herself. You saw how stubborn she is; how could I let her go, on her own? In five minutes she would have been dead. Or worse.” Pulse thrumming he scraped back his chair, took down a plate from the shelf of the oak dresser, rattled in a drawer for cutlery.
“She’s gone, Emile. It is over.”
Whatever “it” had been. Most likely madness.
He placed the plate on the kitchen table. Emile slid a perfectly cooked omelette on to it's patterned surface.
“Bon apetite," his friend said softly.
Sebastien sighed, and managed a weary smile. “Merci, mon frere. You are too good to me.”