Monday was the birthday of the noted English poet and novelist, Robert Graves. He would have been 122 years old. Graves wrote the historical fiction masterpiece I, Claudius and its sequel, Claudius the God (both of which I loved), and many, many other works. But until reading about him on Monday, I didn’t know just how many. Turns out he wrote more than 120 books.
Now see here, Mr. Graves. You and I both know that’s just showing off.
120 books. Pondering this, I slumped a little deeper into the sofa. I’ve written 2. Or, for those who want to quibble, 1.75.
But then a couple of cheering thoughts occurred to me, which I now respectfully submit for your consideration:
1. Robert Graves didn’t blog.
2. Robert Graves didn’t have a Facebook page.
3. Robert Graves sure as hell didn’t tweet.
Therefore, in a happier frame of mind, I present to you an excerpt wherein our heroine, Mellis, meets Lugo, Master of the Penitents’ Keep. From Chapter Two of my—admittedly—first book, The Space Between. In this, my 65th . . . weekly . . . blog post.
Take that, Mr. Graves.
From Chapter Two: Lugo and the Sibyl—
Mellis heard the crowd stirring behind her. Without knowing how it happened, she realized she was no longer staring into the fire. Instead, she was looking down at a highly polished pair of boots, made of thin, supple oxblood leather. Her eyes flew upward. Standing before her on the hearth was a man of medium height dressed in dark clothing, well-fitted to his form. He was trim and long-limbed, good-looking, with gleaming chestnut hair that fell past his collar. Mellis felt her mouth open, but no sound came out.
With studied grace he approached her. She wanted to step back from him, but forced herself to be still. With his hands clasped behind his back, he slowly looked her up and down, from the top of her russet hair down to her scarlet and gold satin slippers. Only his eyes moved as he examined her. His gaze traveled back up to her face and lingered there. Then his dark eyebrows drew together. Mellis stared at his grey eyes, trying to force them to meet hers, but could not. It was as if he looked at an object rather than a person.
He unclasped his hands, and, without speaking, indicated that she should turn for him, by twirling one finger in a circular motion. The gesture was brusque and imperious, and she disliked him instantly for it. Nevertheless, she obeyed, but evidently turned too quickly to suit him, because he had her do it again. This time she turned more slowly, and when she came around to face him once more, she fixed her eyes on the stone hearth under his elegant boots. She felt her face growing warm at his careless humiliation of her. Nothing she had experienced in this place had prepared her for such treatment. No one had been anything but kind to her and Orlando. He must think he’s better than the rest, just because he’s not deformed. How shallow! She stared at his boots, which looked very expensive. They were perfectly molded to his long, slender feet.
Her eyes moved up his frame as she waited for him to finish his appraisal of her. It was then she saw the two thin little legs that dangled from the back of his left hip. They were clothed in dark, fine silk trousers that matched the others he wore. On the small, useless feet were tiny polished duplicates of the oxblood boots. Mellis looked back down at the hearth quickly. His austere, handsome face and his bearing had misled her. He was not set apart from the others by anything other than his evident importance. In affliction he was the same.
Finally, he spoke, but not to her. “Fetters. Feldspar. Come forward.” At the sound of his voice, Mellis looked at him. His tone was casual, as if he’d been ordering people about all his life.
A nervous voice answered. “Yes sir?”
Feldspar’s long fair hair brushed her shoulder as he and Fetters took their places beside her. They looked uncomfortable.
“I believe you’ve succeeded this time—”
“Oh, thank you—” Fetters began, sounding relieved and eager, but the gentleman cut him off.
“—in bringing us a viable possibility.” His voice was smooth. “I hope to know more after we hear what the sibyl has to say.” He dismissed them with a wave of his hand. Mellis saw an apprehensive look pass between them as they melted back into the crowd.
She tensed. What on earth is a sibyl? And I’m a “viable possibility?” For what? Had she been wrong in believing these people meant her no harm?
In the same careless tone he had used on Fetters and Feldspar, the gentleman spoke again. “Deirdre.”
Deirdre came forward, hunched, and looking weary. Her dress was a somber color, and far plainer than the clothing the others wore. Her iron grey hair hung in its heavy braid.
“Deirdre, if you would, please.” The gentleman extended a long hand with thin pale fingers and beckoned. Mellis saw a silver ring set with a smooth dark stone. It gleamed against his skin.
The old woman nodded and turned to someone beside her, a woman who looked very like her—of the same size and shape, but younger. Her face was unlined next to Deirdre’s creased one. She also was clothed plainly, and a faded rose-colored scarf covered her head. Deidre encouraged her forward, speaking to her softly.
The second woman put her hands up to her throat and began with clumsy movements to untie the knot in the scarf. The gentleman leaned forward, as if wishing to hurry her along. At last she was done, her head bared and her hands hanging at her sides. The rose-colored fabric trailed from her fingers to the floor. Her face was blank, as were her unfocused eyes.
When Mellis saw what the woman had uncovered, her knees buckled underneath her and her mind gave way.