I have not provided a project update for Adventures of Francis Drake historical fiction series in a while. While there are a lot of reasons … ultimately they amount to the same things – not enough hours in a day, and a stalled project.
After finishing draft 0 of Sic Parvis Magna during NaNoWrimo 2020 (sigh) at 55k words, I have been trying to focus on revising draft 0 to at least a readable draft 1. So, I have been quite busy… lots of revisions to scenes, lots of additional research and historical fact checking, and so forth. I found out that my original “cliff hanger” scene just would not work because of a technical reason … ships were simply not built that way in the 16th Century! That required a complete rewrite of two scenes. But, I’ll post on that snafu a little later.
Here is an opening scene from the historical fiction novel Sic Parvis Magna, draft almost 1… It is far from perfect, and it certainly will change in the drafts towards the finished novel. I hope that you enjoy the scene and please leave me a comment to let me know what you think!
Oh … and if you enjoy reading this, please consider signing up for my newsletter. There will be some pre-release and release things that I will be doing for the novel.
Now, without further ado…
Had nothing happened, the 8-year-old, ruddy-haired Francis might have followed 300 years of family tradition. He lived in Tavistock, a small village in southwest England. He might have become a tenant farmer, tending to the land and husbanding the animals, or would have followed his father’s footsteps, becoming a preacher, living out his life in quietude and never venturing outside of the village. And history would not have taken a second glance.
But as it pleased the Almighty, the events of 1548 thrust his life in a very different direction. Little did he know that in mere six years, he would be on his way to become one of the greatest mariners, a legendary English admiral, and a feared pirate ‘El Draque,’ the sworn enemy of the Spanish Crown.
Since the time of Henry III, the Drakes lived around Tavistock. Crowndale was a relatively large farm of 180 acres leased by his grandparents, John and Margery Drake, from the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Rumon. Like at any other farm, there was always work to do, from the first buds of a wet spring through silvery frosts of a mild winter. Francis tended to the animals and helped with the fieldwork. When he had some free time (and was not being schooled in reading the Bible by his father Edmund), he would help his mother Mary around their small, earthen floor and thatched roof house with wiggly, white-washed walls. Grandpa John and grandma Marjorie lived in the larger house just up the path from theirs, and his uncle, also named John Drake, lived in another house a few more feet down from them.
When he wasn’t working or studying the scriptures, Francis would do all the things that any other 8-year-old would do. Of principal importance was the detailed, secret examination of the two front teeth that fell out, and which he was supposed to have burned. Capturing and hunting bugs for his army, stealing sweets from his grandma’s house, and playing soldiers with his best friend James, who lived on the farm across the shallow river, rounded out the other activities.
In short, life was slow, steady, and as predictable as the march of seasons.
And April 15th, 1548 started out as another such day.
“Francis!” shouted Marjorie.
Francis looked up from the grassy area.
Maybe she has some sweets for me. Her sweetbread is so wonderful with a pat of melting butter on it! And some milk.
He got up and ran towards the house.
“Francis, please take these eggs and cheese to the Fitzford house before supper. You know, to Mrs. Smith.” Marjorie said.
Francis crossed his arms and pursed his lips.
“And I might have some time to bake you something special.”
The Fitzford house wasn’t too far in town, and it was a pretty morning. The sun shone brightly and the day was unusually clear. The Hawthorne trees budded tiny leaves. In any case, it certainly beat having to do chores on the farm, so Francis readily agreed. He took the basket with the eggs and cheese and set out. He scarcely got to the edge of the town.
I wonder why the bells are ringing today; he thought. And such a strange noise it is—like they are pulling all the bell ropes together. Wonder what is going on.
A memory of climbing into the St. Eustachius Church belfry just over a year ago filled his mind. The service was boring, and Francis snuck away and went to the top of the church. When he got into the belfry, he accidentally tripped and pulled on one of the bell ropes. His father was mad afterwards, but the priest laughed and gave him a bell ringing lesson instead.
“We ring the 8 bells of the St. Eustachius so that it is a sonorous, orderly, and repeating procession of sound to call the people to service or mark special occasions.” The priest said, while showing him the different ropes. “Look, like this.”
A smile crossed his lips, but then was vanquished by the cacophony.
When Francis walked up to the market square, he saw many people. People were yelling, shoving. Someone across the square was shouting, but Francis found it difficult to hear him over the din of the crowd.
“What are the bells ring’n for?” Asked Francis, pulling on the sleeve of a man standing next to him.
The man ignored him in all the surrounding commotion.
Francis pushed forward to the center of the market square and popped out of the front of the crowd. In the center, a portion of a quartered corpse—a leg and part of the hip hung in a cage from the gibbet pole. As it turned and swayed in the light April breeze, the wrought iron cage emitted an eery, creaking sound. And the smell…
How disgusting, he thought, wrinkling his nose at the smell like a mixture of rotting potatoes, fish, and manure.
Not having learned anything in the market square, Francis turned around and let the crowd swallow him as he left the square and hurried along to the Fitzford manor to deliver the eggs and cheese that his grandmother asked. He asked for Mrs. Smith and was led to the kitchen.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Smith.” said Francis. His brows were still set.
“Ah! Francis! Good afternoon to you too.” said the cook. “Are you feeling alright, lad?”
She lifted the basket 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 out to be displayed as a warning of what happens to traitors against the king.”
“What did he do?” asked Francis.
Mrs. Smith shrugged her shoulders. “I guess he thought he could fight change.”
Francis’ eyes opened wide.
“Sorry, ma’am. What did he do?”
“He killed a king’s man that was sent to take service items out of churches on order of the King.”
Francis did not understand that any better than the comment about change. “Why did he kill the King’s man?” he asked.
Mrs. Smith regarded Francis for what it seemed to be a silent eternity.
Why is she looking at me like that? He thought and almost asked the same question again had the cook not started to speak.
“Well, I don’t really have the time to explain this to you, boy.” She dug in her oversized apron pocket and pulled out a coin purse, then carefully counted out the coins, examining each one. “Here is the money for the eggs and the cheese, and give my compliments to your grandmother for me, and be sure to tell her to take care! You hear me, lad?”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you ma’am, I shall.” He turned to leave. “Good day, ma’am.”
“Run along, Francis.” She muttered as he was walking out.
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 glanced at the sun. It was a sunny afternoon. The recent rainstorm dissipated into a faint, white smoky patches of clouds in an otherwise blue sky.
There is still time before supper. I’ll probably get more chores on the farm if I return now.
Francis kicked a rock out of his way as he walked.
I wonder what James is doing. I have not seen him in a week. He’ll want to play soldiers with me.
All 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 really is; he thought. I remember the story that father told me from Mark about Judas. He betrayed Jesus and Jesus died. I wander what this man did to the king and why he was drawn and quartered. That must be painful. I remember when Jones was hung for theft of a horse a year ago, and when they pilloried Ludlow. But none of them were drawn and quartered. 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.
“Hey, what’s going on?” shouted Francis. “It’s me, James!”
“You stay away from me, Francis Drake!” shouted James Roberts, hiding behind the Hawthorne bush. He hurtled another rock. “You stay far away from me, you satanist and sinner! I want nothing more to do with you anymore!”
Francis’ jaw dropped, and he froze, staring at his friend.
James launched another rock, which forced Francis to duck.
“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 turned around and ran to the farmhouse.