I wanted to find a new excerpt to post from my paranormal vampire novel, On Reflection, and I found one describing one Nicolo’s earliest memories – seemed ideal for a man who lived a longer than normal life:
A tall, thin, callow boy ran along the wooden planking of the docks, the hunk of bread he’d stolen clasped tightly in his fist. Heart beating in his chest, partly from fear and partly from the exertion, Nicolo darted between a stack of crates, cargo waiting to be loaded on one of the docked ships, only to be shocked when he ran into someone.
Yelling out, half-expecting a blow, Nicolo attempted to twist past the man, but a large hand had grabbed at his tattered clothing and hung on.
“What have we here?” the man queried, pulling Nicolo back against him, one strong arm holding the boy tight against his sturdy body.
“Let go!” Nicolo squirmed, but abruptly understood the man wasn’t going to let him loose. Afraid that the man would turn him over to the baker, who would at best beat him, at worst turn him over to the watch, Nicolo looked at up at the man holding him. “Please, please let me go. I mean no harm, I’m just hungry.” Nicolo used his large dark eyes as best as he could, letting his lip tremble a little, too, knowing it made him look helpless.
The man laughed heartily. “Oh, but you’re a smart rascal, too, aren’t you?” Still not letting him go, the man looked Nicolo over carefully, even turning him a little to push up his torn tunic and look at his back. “Avoided most of the bruises, I see. Smart and quick. The captain could make good use of you, I think,” he added thoughtfully.
Nicolo frowned, not understanding what the man was talking about, but afraid he might have run from the frying pan into the fire. “What do you want with me? Don’t hurt me, please. I won’t make any trouble.” Nicolo kept his voice low, not knowing why, but sensing he ought to be careful with this stranger.
“I’m not going to hurt you, boy. I’m offering you a chance to get off these streets, to do honest work. Sleep in a bed and have regular meals in return. You can earn a little payment, too, in time, when you can pull your own weight. Isn’t that better than thieving just to live, and risk ending up at the end of a rope or on the execution block for your pains?”
“Not my fault I have to steal,” Nicolo grumbled, not being taken in by the promised future. It was too much, too easy. “They threw me out when I got too big; they said I ate too much. I was only twelve. Is it my doing I’m big for my age, I ask you?”
“The foundling home?” There was sympathy in the stranger’s voice.
Nicolo looked up at the man again, searching his eyes, trying to decide what he really wanted. “Yes,” Nicolo answered. “They were always talking about how lucky I was to be looked after, how I was a fortunate child that the Divinity had saved. If I was so fortunate, why didn’t I have any parents? Why was I abandoned without even a name of my own? Found on Santa Nicholas Street, I was, so they call me Nicolo.” The memory still stung; it seemed to Nicolo that he was destined to be forever abandoned.
“Still, I’m pleased to meet you, Nicolo d’Volenzkya.” The man released Nicolo, holding his gaze as he continued, “My name is Phillipe Donato, and I am second mate on the clipper Oreole. Will you accept my offer; make a better way in this life?”
Nicolo looked at Phillipe, disbelief gnawing at him, even as hope grew in his heart. “You meant what you said? A place of my own to sleep, food to eat? For good, honest work?”
“Yes, I meant every word. Someone was kind to me once when I really needed it, and I swore to repay the favor one day.”
“And you—you don’t want—anything else from me? I…” Nicolo backed away a little. “Someone tried. I’m not that kind of…”
“No, Nicolo, I’m not that kind either,” Phillipe interrupted sharply. “You won’t be touched, I swear.” Phillipe actually smiled then. “Unless you earn the captain’s wrath, but that’s something we all risk. Come with me on board the ship. You will earn your keep, I assure you. The work is hard and you have much to learn, but one day you can proudly say that you are a sailor.”
“A sailor? I have dreamed of seeing other places. I saw pictures in a book once of far away lands. They are real? You have seen these places?” Nicolo asked excitedly.
Phillipe took hold of Nicolo’s arm, but gently, as he led the ragged boy out from among the crates and back onto the dock. Nicolo darted a look around, praying the baker was no longer looking for him.
“Oh, I’ve seen more places than you have ever heard of, boy,” Phillipe was saying. “The stories I could tell you.” He grinned then. “But Captain Costalla, he’s been to places you’ve never even dreamed of.”
Nicolo looked at the mate with fascination now. He’d heard all his life that Volenzkya was the center of the world, the capital city of a vast empire, but all he ever saw were the same dirty streets and the poor folk eking out a living in the shadow of the huge, grand buildings where people lived like lords. Places people like him couldn’t get near, let alone enter. The ‘world’ he heard talk of might just as well be across the wide blue sea that he could see from the top of the foundling home, for all the good it did him.
But still he could dream of something better, and he had long wished to escape the drudgery of his life for the adventure to be found on the large ships that swept in and out of the harbor day after day. It was one of the reasons he used the docks to hide out and make his base after he was thrown out of the foundling home. Hoping that, one day, he could leave on one of those ships and see the world beyond his tiny portion of it. Now, it looked as his long-held dream was about to become reality.
ON REFLECTION is available in eBook and Print from MLR Press – and all the other usual avenues:)
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