, Chapter 4: 55 ms pgs., 12,940 wds
Running total: 189 ms pgs., 43,358 wds
As I have said before, I have been working on the story now comprised in the novels Mélusine
and The Virtu
for about eleven years. Because I am a pack-rat and because I have the instincts of an archivist manqué, I've kept the two major drafts of the original novel (what I tend to call the ur-manuscript), and it occurred to me that it might be interesting, or entertaining, or instructive, to make a post about the evolution of a particular scene.
So. This is how Mildmay the Fox met Ginevra Thomson. (It's the second scene in Chapter One of Mélusine
, so you don't particularly need to worry about spoilers.)
: if you want to do litcrit on these, I say go for it. I'm not doing that myself, because it seems more than a little narcissistic, but that doesn't mean it's not fair game.]
The first version is from 1999.
We met in the Orange-Tree, a tavern in Ramecrow that catered to the demimonde. I didn't know how she had gotten my name, but it was no difficult task if you knew the right people to pump. My livelihood depended to a certain extent on it being possible for determined people to find me. And Ginevra was nothing if not determined.
I arrived early, more out of habit than any belief she was the bait for a trap. Even at that time, scarcely an hour after sunset, the Orange-Tree was over-crowded and painfully loud, like a colony of bees preparing to swarm. Lots of people in Ramecrow found their nights' work easier after a drink or two.
I elbowed my way through to the bar--the men who thought about starting a fight looked again and decided against it--and attracted and held the barkeep's attention long enough to get a glass of what the Orange-Tree claimed as their house white. I elbowed my way back to a just-vacated table along the wall, arranged myself and my glass, and settled back to wait.
She was late--no surprise there--late enough that I had time to remember more than the first three reasons I disliked the Orange-Tree. Their wine had a nasty, harsh aftertaste to it; tables and chairs alike were flimsy and cramped, making me feel too big, too conspicuous. Moreover, the constant, unrelenting din of the slumming flashies, and the predators and scavengers who made their living off them, was enough to drive you mad.
I also disliked the atmosphere--no stink yet of vomit, not this early in the evening, but a heavy, oppressive miasma of alcohol and perfume and a variety of smokable substances, most of which the Dogs were trying to eliminate from the city's economy. I wondered irritably why my potential client had wanted to meet here, amid the mock-gentility of nap-worn velvet and dim fly-specked mirrors that reflected you uneasily from surfaces you didn't necessarily want to see your face in.
I had almost finished the wine, despite its horrid taste, when I pegged my client--a tall girl in green taffeta, overdressed for a meet with a cat burglar, but I'd seen that uncertain, frowning, looking-for-a-stranger expression too often not to recognize it. I raised a hand in the same moment she spotted me.
"You call yourself Mildmay the Fox?" she asked when she'd reached the table, giving me a once over.
"I do," I said.
"My name is Ginevra Harbinger. I believe we have business together."
"We'll see," I said. "Sit down and tell me what you're after."
She spilled her story readily; it was not an uncommon one.
He sounds exactly like Felix, doesn't he?
Here's the second version, from about a year and a half later.
I met Ginevra Hardesty in the Orange-Tree in Ramecrow. She'd left a message with the bartender at the Hornet's Nest that she was looking for a cat burglar. If I was interested, Doris said, go to the Orange-Tree at the second hour of the night on 10 Pluviôse--only Doris was an awful snob and called it seven o'clock. At that end of winter, let me tell you, I was interested in just about anything.
I got there early out of habit. It was barely an hour after sunset, and the Orange-Tree was already like a colony of bees with swarming on its mind. I dodged my way through to the bar and flagged down the bartender. He didn't like my looks, but the feeling was mutual, and my money was good. He got me my wine without any lip. A table opened up along the wall, and I wormed my way back through the crowd to claim it, just ahead of a slumming flashie who didn't have the sense to wash off his decagorgon-a-flask perfume before he came down the city. He thought he was going to argue about it, but the two young ladies at the next table recognized a sheep for fleecing when they saw one, and they got him to sit down with them instead. The taller one winked at me when the flashie wasn't looking.
I sat there on a threadbare velvet chair at a spindly sham-genteel table and waited for my client. I hoped she had something good for me, something worth me wasting my time in the Orange-Tree to hear about. I'd drunk about half my wine when I spotted her--a tall girl in green taffeta. She was way overdressed for a meet with a cat burglar, but she had the look on her face, the one that said she was meeting somebody she didn't want anybody she knew to see her with. I gave her a wave. Her face went blank for a second, and then she made her way over.
"You're Mildmay the Fox?" she said when she'd reached the table, and gave me a once over. She got hung up for a second on the scar--most people do--but she dragged her eyes past it. Good manners.
"Yeah," I said.
"My name is Ginevra Hardesty. I believe we have business together."
"Maybe," I said. She talked awful flash for a girl who thought the Orange-Tree was a good place to meet a cat burglar. "Sit down and tell me what you're after."
Trusting girl--she spilled her story without a thought.
I would call this better, but you can see where I'm still trying to be polite, decorous, to abide by the rules that apply to thieves in secondary world fantasy.*
And finally, the published version, after the white-page rewrite.**
I met Ginevra Thomson in the ordinary way of business. She was looking for a cat burglar. I was looking for a client. Meet at the Glorious Deed in Ramecrow, second hour of the night, 10 Pluviôse. Ain't where I'd choose, but I said okay. The Glorious is tacky, but it is a real bar, not like in Dragonteeth, where you feel like you're stuck in the theater scenery for all the slumming flashies and the demimondaine. And I ain't good scenery for that kind of play.
I got there early. It's a habit, like always knowing how to find the back door of anywhere you walk into. It don't mean nothing in particular, just, you know, she could
be fronting for the Dogs, even though I didn't think she was. No, since you ask, it ain't a nice way to live, but it sure beats the fuck out of dying.
The Glorious is about the most fashionable bar in Ramecrow. It opens its doors at sundown, and halfway through the first hour of the night it was already too loud and too smoky, and it seemed like everybody in there had about five elbows a piece. The bouncer gave me the hairy eyeball with mustard, but he let me by.
After an ugly quarter hour, a table opened up along the wall. I got there just before a slumming flashie who didn't have the sense to wash off his decagorgon-a-flask perfume before he came down the city. He thought he was going to argue about it--looked at my face and thought again--and by then the two gals at the next table had agreed they wanted to move in on this one, and they got him to sit down with them instead. When he wasn't looking, the taller one winked at me.
I sat down with my back to the wall and waitedc. Watched the crowd, looking for the gal who thought she needed a cat burglar. I was hoping she had something good for me, because this was starting off to be one shitty night.
She was a tall girl in green taffeta, and she recognized me by the scar on my face. Good as a fucking carny barker. I watched her come through the crowd like she was dancing. She wasn't coy. Came straight up to me and said, "You're Dennis?"
I ain't, of course, but I don't go around using my real name all the time neither. Too many people it would make too fucking happy if they knew where Mildmay the Fox was hanging out. "Yeah," I said.
She sat down. "My name's Ginevra Thomson. I believe we have business together."
"You want to talk about it here
She looked around, puzzled, and I thought, Oh, powers, a flat. She said, "But I thought ... I don't know anyone in Ramecrow."
"Don't mean they won't listen in, sweetheart. Come on."
And that's the real deal. Not saying it's not flawed, but it's a lot closer to lightning than a lightning bug.
*In case you didn't grow up reading Dragonlance
, David Eddings, and other such bastions of conventionality, Diana Wynne Jones's entry for THIEVES' GUILD in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
will at least give you a rough idea of what those rules are:
Thieves' Guild. The best organized body of people in the continent. Thieves' Guilds exist in all CITIES and can usually pass messages reliably between branches, although each City appears to have its own independent hierarchy. The Thieves' Guild exists to transfer wealth but not to distribute it. Its members are pickpockets, burglars, robbers, fences, and housebreakers, but never muggers. The Guild claims to be a body of artists. All its members profess horror at violence (but are quite proficient fighters all the same) and pride themselves on bringing off robberies in apparently impregnable TREASURE stores, on picking locks, and on climbing smooth walls. The Guild is organized into masters, journeymen, and APPRENTICES, with an anonymous Hidden Head, or Guildmaster, who rejoices in such NAMES as The Faceless Man or The Gentleman. You will be blindfolded and led along strange-smelling passages to an upstairs venue evidently concealed between two or more houses. The man's face will be veiled by MAGIC or masked. But meanwhile you will have made the acquaintance of a very young Apprentice thief. In return for the Guild's helping the Tour, the Hidden Guildmaster will ask you to look after this Child because he shows promise, and you will take him with you when you leave on the rest of the Tour. He will become an excellent and useful Tour COMPANION, and even make JOKES. There is always an unspoken suggestion that this young thief is the son of the Hidden Guildmaster.
--Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. New York: DAW Books, 1998. pp. 260-61.
**Also, I have found my first typo. Argh. Mélusine
, p. 9, 3rd line of the 3rd full paragraph. It should be "came down the city" not "came down to the city." Please feel free to emend your text accordingly.