With just over 5 weeks to go until publication, anticipation is building over the release of Minstrel. Each week, until the major characters are introduced, you’ll have the opportunity to meet one character per week through excerpts from the book.
This week: Liam, the main protagonist and point-of-view character
Molly took a moment to reply. “You said you could fight.”
His brow furrowed and he looked at her. Tears of humiliation sat in her eyes and she glared at him in accusation.
“What would you have me do?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I don’t-” She clenched her jaw and stared forward. “Nothing.”
“You think I should have fought for three pence?”
Her eyes widened.
“Yes, I only had three pence. I’m not stupid.”
“Would you rather I had fought, been defeated, and had them take off my companion as punishment?”
Her jaw clamped shut. “No,” she said in a quiet voice. Her fingers readjusted on his arm. Her grip had become bruising during the robbery. She flexed her fingers then curled them around his arm again.
The gentle pressure of her fingers and the hushed tone of her voice were about the closest he was going to get to an expression of gratitude. He had indeed humbled her, without even asking her to launder his shoes. But instead of gloating, he simply felt satisfaction that he had done the right thing. If he had played the thieves’ game wrong, he would have lost his companion instead of three pence.
“How did you know?” she asked. “That they were going to do that?”
He glanced at the tattered rags covering windows, the permanent layers of soot and slime on the stonework. Symbols, drawn in kohl, marked doorways so thieves and murderers would pass right by. Here existed three things: dwellings of sticks or old stone, the inhabitants therein, and sludge. Nothing else. Upperclassmen existed on the labors of others and only needed gardens for beauty. Peasants fortunate enough to have their own houses, and clean dirt, grew vegetables and herbs. In the slums, people grew nothing. Instead of laziness, they existed on lack of resources or knowledge. If the king granted these people some land and seeds, they would only eat the seeds and use the land as a new dumping lot.
“This is where I was born,” he said.
A few streets back, they had passed his house. It had burnt down long ago, it appeared, and a new shack sat atop it. Instead of stopping in respect, paying homage to his mother and her labors to keep him alive as a young child, he kept walking. Her corpse had burned years before the house had. He passed on, as she had wanted him to do for the rest of his life.
“One of Amergin’s?” Molly asked as she kept her eyes forward.
“How else?” Liam nodded at the poor, sickly inhabitants leaning out of the buildings. “A man doesn’t leave any other way.” Even corpses stayed in the old neighborhood, burned on piles of garbage. Cottars only took away corpses from the safer streets.
“How far are we going?”
He hadn’t thought that far. He had meant to see his mother’s old home, but as that was gone, he just kept walking. Thoughts churned and memories surfaced: the bitter cold and the smoke from a damp fire pit. His mother, curled up in a ball to hide the hunger pangs as her son ate the only bread.
Liam had been a street urchin, a thief and a bully. He fought for his bread, and for his mother’s bread, and by the time Amergin’s summons had been delivered to his mother’s door, he had started fighting for other possessions as well. His mother did not know of his habits, else she would have tried to correct them. In the old neighborhood, though, those habits led to survival. Perhaps she would have let him continue to steal and fight, because it brought her food.
The master bard changed things. With a spartan moral code that included nothing about religion, Liam’s master taught him basic kindness for man. He taught him to treat women with respect. He taught him to never take anything he had not earned and which was not freely given, from man or woman. Other morals, those of chastity and honesty in words, followed a simple rule: being a decent man brought greater rewards than paying the consequences of what other men might call “sins.” Don’t take what you can’t replace, he said. Don’t say what you can’t correct. Don’t share beds unless you can afford a child. As others spoke of gods, or God, Liam did not know where those morals fit into a godly realm. He just knew to be a good man.