Some of you were really lovely and said you’d like to see an excerpt from Faustina, my retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in Venice. Actually, anyone who reads this blog is lovely, and clearly has wonderful taste, but being interested in Faustina makes you a kind of delicious ice cream sundae of loveliness. I might be hungry.
This is part of a scene I was writing the other day. I wouldn’t necessarily pick it as the one scene that will DEFINITELY SELL THE BOOK but I’m quite pleased with it and also there isn’t a book to sell yet. It’s from early on in the story, before the romance gets going. It might not make any sense out of context. I’m over-introducing it now. Here, have some novel:
Faustina had seen this hour of the morning before, though usually from the other end of a night’s sleep. She couldn’t say she liked it. In fact, there was very little about her current situation she liked. She was loitering close to the church of San Croce, on a corner where one of the smaller waterways joined the Grand Canal. Recent experience had induced her to wrap up warmly enough to resist the early morning chill but the thin, pale light of early dawn was slim compensation for being awake and outdoors so early.
Giacomo arrived late, positively invigorated. “Buon giorno, little sister!” was his jovial greeting as he strode towards her along Fondamenta de la Croce.
Faustina scowled at him. She considered telling him exactly where he could stick his buon giorno, but decided she didn’t have the energy. “Where’s Alonso?” she asked.
He feigned offence. “What? Isn’t my company enough to delight you?”
“The only company I want at the moment is the company of my warm, comfortable bed, which I was forced to abandon in order to meet you and your delinquent friend at this unholy hour.”
Giacomo grinned. “Delinquent, eh? That’s a strong word. A small-minded, petty sort of person might mention his sister’s recent sojourn in prison.”
She groaned. “You heard about that?”
“Of course I did. Your methods aren’t exactly subtle. Our grandmother didn’t raise us to wallop hardworking guards over the head with blunt instruments, you know.”
Faustina narrowed her eyes and fixed her brother with a hard stare – something else she had learned from the lady in question. “There are quite a lot of things our grandmother didn’t raise us to do, if you want to look at it like that. From what I hear, the things she didn’t raise you to do would fill a large and wholly unprintable book.”
“A book I look forward enormously to writing in my dotage.” The smile widened by a couple of molars. “Anyway, to return to the matter at hand, I can assure you that your untimely severance from your bed will soon be richly rewarded.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “It had better be. What do you need me for, anyway?”
The smile remained in place, but he seemed to be searching for the right words. Not a good sign. “I suppose I felt that there were certain attributes that you could bring to our little party that neither Alonso or myself possess.”
“Hmm.” She didn’t like the sound of that.
“Besides, I thought you might like to help your brother in his hour of need. You can think of it as seeing me off, if you like.”
She looked away, out towards the point where the Grand Canal flowed into the Laguna Veneta. “Yes, well, the way things are looking, I might not be far behind you.”
“You’re thinking of leaving Venice?”
“Those guards saw my face as well as the business end of a brick. I have to assume they know who I am and that someone will be coming after me.”
Giacomo nodded, looking thoughtful. Something over Faustina’s shoulder caught his eye and he broke out into a smile once again. “Ah, here he is. We were beginning to think you’d been carried off by a seagull, my friend!”
Faustina turned towards the water. Alonso waved cheerily at her from the bow of a sanpierota, a large fishing boat – not quite the gondola she had been expecting. She glanced back at Giacomo.
“Where on earth did you get hold of that?”
Giacomo shrugged. “We’ve got connections,” he said, which was about the same as not answering at all.
Faustina rolled her eyes. “Buon giorno, Alonso.”
“And to you, Signorina Casanova. Always a pleasure.” He tipped his hat. Then, to Giacomo, “Are you going to get on board this thing or not? It’s a two-man craft, you know, and there’s the sail to get up yet.”
Faustina raised her eyebrows. “Sail? How far are we going?”
Giacomo rolled up his sleeves. She noticed then – her powers of observation not what they might have been after a long, nourishing sleep – that he had a large bag with him. He slung it into the boat before climbing aboard. “Only as far as we need to,” he responded. “Our good friend Signor Bellandi has an island to himself out in the lagoon. I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy going up against ships in a gondola.”
Faustina nodded slightly, conceding the point. Even at this time of day, the Laguna Veneta would be a bustling maritime thoroughfare, thick with ships carrying vital supplies to the island city, or exporting Murano glass and other products of Venice to far-flung lands. Privately, she wasn’t convinced that they were any better off in the sanpierota, but pointing this out would only delay the inevitable.
Between them, Giacomo and Alonso made short work of hoisting the sail. It didn’t particularly surprise Faustina to find her brother partially knowledgeable about sailing. Giacomo might only have been an expert in one or two fairly specific areas but he was interested in everything. It was remarkable what he picked up in conversation with his numerous friends and associates.
Giacomo peered round the mast at her. “All aboard!”
She stepped off the street and into the craft with an air of resignation. It was of no particular comfort to her to know that Giacomo had almost certainly planned for every eventuality. Indeed, that was the major source of her anxiety. Still, there was no backing out now.
“Where do you want me?” she asked.
Alonso indicated the stern. “We thought you might man the rudder.”
Faustina shrugged. “Stranger things have happened. But one of you is going to have to tell me where we’re going.”
I hope you liked it. If you didn’t, I’m sorry. I’ll be in here.