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…
April 15th, 1548, started out as another ordinary day. The 8-year-old, ruddy-faced Francis Drake, who was supposed to be feeding the pigs, was busy launching a bug on top of a leaf in the farm’s pond.
“Francis!” shouted Marjorie.
Francis looked up from the grassy area.
Maybe she has some sweets for me. Sweetbread is so wonderful with melting butter on it! And some milk.
He licked his lips, got up, 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 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’s 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. 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 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 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’ 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’ 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.
Francis 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. Give 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 as he was walking out.
Francis glanced back and met her eyes.
There was a pained expression under her knitted brows, giving him a sense of butterflies in his stomach.
He crossed the threshold and closed the door behind him.
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 mossed over 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 me.
With the cook’s face safely behind his back, Francis’ 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.