I am excited to update that the first full draft of my naval historical fiction novel Sic Parvis Magna is in the hands of my editor!
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Now, without further ado… here is an opening scene from the historical fiction novel Sic Parvis Magna.
Historical Fiction Novel Sic Parvis Magna
17 November, 1555
Off the coast of Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
Chained to the deck deep in the Tiger’s dark cargo hold, 15-year-old Francis lifted his aching, shackled hands. As bitter disappointment welled up in his throat, he slammed his fists against the deck in exasperation, rattling the iron chain.
A drunk voice slurred from the forward part of the hold. “Is there something wrong with your luxurious accommodations, galley slave?”
The question was followed by squealing laughter snorts.
“Très drôle, Aubin!”
Unable to use his hands, Francis lifted his head to fight back tears.
15 April, 1548
Crowndale Farm, Tavistock, England
“Francis!” shouted Marjorie.
The 8-year-old, ruddy-faced Francis looked up from the grassy meadow. He should have been feeding the pigs but was busy launching a bug on top of a leaf in the farm’s pond.
Maybe she has some sweets for me. Sweetbread is so wonderful with melting butter on it! And some milk.
He licked his lips and ran towards the house.
Marjorie, his grandmother, stood by the door with a basket covered in red-checkered cloth.
“Francis, please take these eggs and cheese to the Fitzford house before supper. You know, to Mrs. Smith,” she said.
Francis crossed his arms and pursed his lips.
“And I might have some time to bake you something special.”
It was a pleasant spring morning, and the Fitzford house wasn’t too far away. The sun shone brightly, and not a cloud appeared as far as an eye could see. The Hawthorne trees budded tiny leaves. It beat having to do chores on the farm, so Francis agreed, taking the basket with the eggs and cheese, and setting out.
He scarcely got to the edge of the farm as the distant cacophony of the church bells caught his attention. He stopped, turning his ear towards the noise.
I wonder why the bells are ringing today. And such a strange noise it is—like they are pulling all the bell ropes together.
His attention darted to a memory of climbing into the St. Eustachius Church belfry just over a year ago. The service was boring, and Francis snuck away to find the staircase to the top of the church. When he got into the belfry, he accidentally tripped and pulled on one of the bell ropes. Edmund, his father, was furious and promised him a beating to remember. But Father Lawnder smiled as called him near, kneeling so that his eyes would be at the level of Francis’s.
“We ring the bells in a special order, making it sonorous and graceful. We use it to call people to service, and I am glad you learned this today. I’ll tell you something else, young Francis.” He dug in a small purse hanging off his belt and pulled out a silver coin, which he bent before handing it to Francis.
“Ta ke this coin and go walk around the church. Think of it as a small pilgrimage. Whichever icon calls to you, put the coin in the offering tray in front of it, and light a candle. Kneel before the image and ask the saint to pray for you be more patient, to honor your parents, and to obey them.”
A smile crossed Francis’s lips as he walked on. But the din of the wildly pealing bells continued, and he stopped to listen again. His stomach registered a quiver of discomfort.
When Francis walked up to the market square, he saw many people. People were yelling, shoving. Someone across the square that looked like a priest was shouting, but Francis found it difficult to hear him over the crowd.
“What are the bells ring’n for?” asked Francis, pulling on the sleeve of a man standing next to him.
He waved Francis off as if waving off a nuisance.
Francis pushed forward to the center of the market square, popping out of the front of the crowd. In the center, a part of a quartered corpse hung in a cage from the gibbet pole. As it turned and swayed in the light April breeze, the wrought iron cage emitted an eerie, screeching sound. And then Francis’s nostrils caught the whiff…
How disgusting, he thought, wrinkling his nose at the noxious mixture of rotting potatoes, fish, and manure.
Not having learned anything more in the market square, Francis turned around. The crowd swallowed him as he stepped back. He hurried along to the Fitzford manor to deliver the eggs and cheese that his grandmother asked.
When he reached the postern door, he knocked and asked for Mrs. Smith. A maid led him to the kitchen.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Smith,” said Francis. He extended his left arm, holding the basket. His right arm hugged his body to chase away a shiver.
“Ah! Francis! Good afternoon to you too,” said the cook. “Are you feeling alright, lad?”
She took the basket and then lifted it to her eyes, squinted, and checked the eggs for breakage.
“Mrs. Smith, I saw a person’s leg hanging in the market square. Why was that leg hung at the market today?” asked Francis.
The cook’s forehead wrinkled.
“You don’t know, do you, lad? They executed a Launceston man—drawn and quartered as a traitor. They sent parts of his body to be displayed as a warning of what happens to traitors.”
“Why? What did he do?” asked Francis.
Mrs. Smith shrugged her shoulders. “I guess he thought he could fight change.”
Francis’s eyes opened wide.
“Sorry, ma’am. What did he do?”
The cook sniffed as she continued her examination of the eggs.
“He killed a man that was sent to take service items out of churches on order of the king.”
Francis thought for a minute, his brow deeply wrinkled.
“Why did he kill the king’s man?” he asked.
The cook’s narrowed eyes darted eyes back to Francis, who fidgeted under her stare, shifting from one leg to another in what it seemed to be a silent eternity.
“Well, I don’t really have the time to explain this to you, boy.” She sat the basket down and wiped her hands on her apron twice, then pulled out a coin purse from an oversized apron pocket. Opening the purse, she carefully counted out the coins, examining each one.
“Here is the money for the eggs and the cheese. Pass my compliments to your grandmother, won’t you? Be sure to tell her to take care! You hear me, lad?”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am, I shall.” He scratched the back of his neck, then turned to leave. “Good day, ma’am.”
“Run, Francis,” she muttered, staring after him.
Francis glanced back. He crossed the threshold and closed the door behind him, comforting his stomach to comfort the sense of butterflies.
What did she mean by that? And why it would take so long to explain? Grandmother always explains things to me, no matter how long it takes. And why did she look at me like that?
Francis scratched his head, then glanced upwards at the sun. It was still sunny, but the horizon was already mossy with grey.
Francis kicked a rock out of his way as he started his walk back.
There is still time before supper. I’ll get more chores on the farm if I return now. I wonder what James is doing. I haven’t seen him in a week. He’ll want to play.
With the cook’s face safely behind his back, Francis’s breaths slowed, and his discomfort abated. On the way to his friend’s farm, he kept thinking about the ghastly gibbet still swaying, creaking, and turning in his mind’s eye.
I wonder what a traitor is; he thought. I remember the story that father told me about Judas. He betrayed Jesus and Jesus died. What this man did to the king? Being drawn and quartered must be painful. Did the king die?
So engrossed was he in his thoughts that he had not noticed that he had arrived at his friend’s farm until a rock whizzed by his head and slopped into a mud puddle.
Francis jumped back in a wide-eyed surprise.
“Hey, what’s going on, James?” Shouted Francis. “It’s me!”
James Roberts came onto the road from behind the Hawthorne bush, holding another rock in his hand.
“You stay away from me, Francis Drake!”
He hurtled the rock at Francis, forcing him to dodge.
“You stay far away from me, you satanist and sinner! I want nothing more to do with you anymore!”
Francis froze with an open mouth, staring at his friend. He wanted to believe that this was a joke, but the James’ angry, red visage made his stomach knot.
“James… what’s going on? Why are you throwing rocks at me?”
“Go away and die, Francis! I want nothing to do with heretics!”
James picked up another rock, his flared nostrils underscoring the threat.
Francis held out his hands and baked away. James followed Francis with his eyes and, after a few minutes, turned around to run back to the farmhouse.
Francis turned for home in a daze. At first, every knock caused him to turn around to see if there was another rock hurtling his way. After a quarter mile of vigilance, his thoughts consumed all his attention and Francis did not notice that he arrived at a point where the Tavy became shallow. As he glanced up to see the fort that he and James built there, he felt an angry lump form in his throat. He picked up a stick and angrily sliced through a copse of riverside rush reeds, then stood there, looking at the fort.
As the shadows lengthened, a hoot of a nearby owl brought his attention back to the present. Francis threw the stick into the river, took off his boots, sox, and rolled up his slops. He forded the still-cold river. On the other bank, he wiped his feet dry with his sleeve, put on his sox and boots, and started his walk back.
It was dusk when he returned to Crowndale.
Francis was ready for this strange day to be over, for a good meal, and for the sweetbread that Grandma promised. A savory aroma of the stew wafted from the table as he entered the house and saw a swirl of steam float up from the bread that he liked to sop up the liquid with. He also noticed the first of the April strawberries in the basket for dessert, another of his favorites.
Francis breathed a deep breath of relief and smiled.
Supper will be great.
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