Excerpt Monday

Okay, for anyone who has seen my empty blog post for the last three hours, you may wonder where my mind was. I had to create the blog post on Friday so that I could send them my link. I put it on the “timed” feature and completely forgot how busy my weekends – especially Sundays – can be. Fast forward and we’re now two hours late putting our child to bed and I’ve got 150 emails waiting for me since Friday night. (Did I mention weekends are busy?) I just found the email link reminder and remembered that I decided to finally commit to an Excerpt Monday event on one of the busiest weekends of the year. Argh.

So what is Excerpt Monday? Once a month, a bunch of authors get together and post excerpts from published books, contracted work or works in progress, and link to each other. You don’t have to be published to participate–just an writer with an excerpt you’d like to share. For more info on how to participate, head over to Excerpt Monday.

Here’s my first chapter of my novel:

By Victoria Dixon

Chapter One

Weary of killing, Liu Jie picked at the blood under his fingernails as he swayed in the saddle.

He straightened and took a deep breath of peach-scented air as he noticed a nearby orchard. Amid the trees, an inn with a modest tamped-earth façade stood.

Reaching the Emporer was urgent, but he and his men had destroyed twenty bandits this afternoon. One of his men was injured and needed rest. Better a night or two behind a sturdy wooden gait, than a fatal mistake. He signaled to stop. “We’ll rest here for a few days.”

Jie dismounted outside the inn’s courtyard entrance and opened the gate. Guards carried his wife and son’s sedan chair into the courtyard and Mei raised her eyebrows when Jie helped her from the stuffy litter.

“We cannot reach the Emperor if the men are too tired to protect us,” he murmured.

Mei nodded, smoothed her hair and adjusted Shan’s belt before they entered the inn.
To Jie’s right, six farmers in worn hemp robes gathered around a silk scroll mounted on the wall. He read it in a glance.

“The Son of Heaven requires the aid of all men as sons might come to their father. Yellow Turban rebels assault the people and threaten the capital. All districts report.” A crimson Imperial Chop blazed in a corner.

“No,” Mei whispered.

He read it again, hands clenched. “You were right. War was inevitable. I must go.”

“I’d hoped-“

Jie took her hand to give mute comfort. They traveled to the capital in the hope of convincing the Emperor to pity the people and repeal his taxes. Rumor said, many of the Yellow Turbans were starving farmers seeking justice, not a coup. Killing them would promote unrest, placing more strain on Jie and the rest of the nobility.

“Send our meal upstairs?” Her voice wavered and Jie nodded. When servants brought in the family’s luggage, Mei followed them past faded red pillars and up the stairs. He knew she wanted to avoid the noise of the tearoom and the implications of the notice.

Shan ran outside to play in the last rays of sunlight. What would happen to Shan if Jie went to war? What would happen if he did not? The weight of past failures as a father bore down. He must protect his family, but there was the broader family at stake in this war as well.

Jie sat at an empty table. Servants lit paper lanterns and the tearoom filled with more men who crowded the notice.

A group of boisterous young farmers sat at a nearby table and a game of sixes commenced with a clatter of dice.

The voices and noise blended into a monotonous drone. When the innkeeper brought him warmed rice wine and a plate of dumplings, he barely tasted the food. Instead, he used his chopsticks and wrote plan after plan in the congealing sauce. He abandoned every scheme.

Each strategy required him to send spies out to learn about the Yellow Turbans. He wanted to know if they sought food and clothing from those they robbed, or did they raise an army to overthrow the throne?

This information seemed necessary to Jie, but gaining it did not respond to his Emperor’s summons. If only the Emperor had not issued this order. Jie might have saved countless people if he had reached his nephew a month ago. Now, the Son of Heaven demanded that Jie attack his countrymen. Acting counter to Imperial command was treason.

He must either go to the capital and enlist, or gather an army from the countryside and lead men into battle as ordered.

Since he did not have enough money to fund a campaign against the rebels, he must continue to the capital and report for duty. Jie longed to respond now.

The inn door slammed open and Shan rushed inside.

Jie smiled as his son looked around the room as if all the demons of hell chased him. After all, he is eight.

Then Shan found him, and white-eyed horror filled his son’s face.

“Papa, come outside. There’s a body!” Shan said. “A dead boy is in the garden.”

Breath left Jie as if his son had struck him, but he jumped to his feet. “Show me.” They ran out the door. His eyes adjusted to the dark as he rushed beyond the golden light spilling from the inn’s latticed windows.

A body. There’s a dead boy. Jie’s chest tightened, but he kept running through the courtyard’s gate.

Within the orchard, autumn leaves chattered like the river that brings the dead to hell. Did his ghosts crowd him now?

“Over here, Papa!” Shan gestured ahead.

Jie’s robes slapped against his legs. He slipped on fallen peaches and the smell of sour wine enveloped him. Each cold breath was visible as he left the orchard and reached the garden. At last, he slid to his knees beside the body of an emaciated teenage boy. Jie put his ear to the boy’s chest. It rose. Air squeaked from blue lips.

“He’s alive. Beg the innkeeper for hot water, Shan. Run!

Shan sprinted away.

Twelve years ago, Liu Jie had heard the river of the dead. Now, he looked at the boy in his arms, but did not see him.

He saw his sons. Their eyes were open and clear in the moonlight.

Jie clenched his jaw, but that did not stop the tears welling in his eyes.

He wished saving this boy would alter his memories, but Jie’s life was a ladder of wishes. Twelve years ago, he had failed, so now he bore a stranger’s child in his arms and ran.

Outside the inn, a ghost of cold, rank air made the boy moan. The door burst open as if a typhoon wind struck it and Jie ran through.

“Shut the door!” A guest shouted. Jie ignored the demand and followed Shan upstairs.

The innkeeper waited for them at the top of the landing. “I arranged for a separate room.”

“Thank you,” Jie said.

“Perhaps he would fare better at the holy shrine?” The innkeeper wrung his hands.

“No,” Jie said. “He’s not ill. I can feel his ribs. He needs good food, not incense.” The innkeeper bowed out of the room as Jie knelt, laid the boy down and removed his damp clothes.

Shan returned with his mother. Her hands flew to her lips at the sight of the boy.

“He is alive,” Jie said. “We need to warm and feed him and let him sleep.” He thought of the innkeeper’s concerns. “I can pay for the local priests to care for him.”

“Nonsense.” She told him in one word that she was fine, but they suffered the same demons of memory and sorrow. Jie said nothing. Instead, he prayed for the boy to gain strength as Mei fed him beef broth.

At first, the Orchard Boy shuddered and groaned. Jie ordered warm water and heated blankets by the fire. Mei swaddled her patient in steaming cloth. Together, they laid him on the room’s kang bed; a hollowed space underneath held flickering, live coals.

During their silent, unquestioning care, Shan quietly ate a bowl of rice and vegetables, offered a quick prayer for the Orchard Boy, then returned to their bedroom. When Jie checked on his son later, Shan’s arm and leg already lay uncovered. Jie tucked his child under the mound of warm cloth and returned to his wife.

She didn’t look up when he entered, but clutched the hand he placed on her shoulder. He knew the helplessness in his heart was in hers. She would not give up. Mei was stronger than he, and he had always loved her for that.

They cared for a nameless child, and neither commented on the other’s tears.

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11 Responses to “Excerpt Monday”

  1. Mary Quast says:

    What an intense beginning! Great post!

  2. Shawntelle Madison says:

    You do a great job tapping into the senses. Great excerpt!

  3. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks for dropping in and the nice comments, ladies! I confess, I'm a little swamped at work and have only been able to look at one entry so far. Do you all have posts up?

  4. Jeannie Lin says:

    I've read several versions of the opening. This one's got a greater sense of urgency in the beginning and fills in the details more clearly. Nicely done.

  5. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks, Jeannie! I'm relieved you think so. ;D

  6. Christina Farley says:

    I really enjoyed your chapter. Set in China right? Very cool! Is your novel finished?

  7. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks, Christina! It's set in an alternative world version of China and yes, it's finished. Many times over. LOL

  8. Alexia Reed says:

    From the first line on, I was hooked. You do a great job with spinning the story and keeping the sense of urgency. Really well done.

  9. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks, Alexia! I've still got some cleanup on the next few chapters, I'm afraid. Of course, I didn't *see* that until after I'd submitted to agents. Ouch.

  10. catwoods says:

    Wow, Victoria.

    You had me hooked right from the start.

    My favorite line: Within the orchard, autumn leaves chattered like the river that brings the dead to hell. Did his ghosts crowd him now?

    I also loved the vivid emotion that accompanied his "ladder of wishes".

    Beautifully written and captivating. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Cat!

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