Friday, April 3, 2009

A Friday Snippet

I've been busy writing, so instead of a history post I'm going to share a snippet of my WIP. This is the opening of the fourth chapter; the characters are King François and his official mistress, the powerful Anne d'Heilly, Madame d'Etampes. Charles V is the Emperor; the Dauphin is the king's older son Henri; Orléans is François's third son, another Charles. Montmorency is the Grand Constable of France, one the king's chief advisors. 

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Copyright 2009 by Julianne Douglas. All rights reserved.

François paced the length of her chamber like a caged lynx, their hurried coupling already forgotten. “You will not dissuade me, Annette. Despite our victories in the field, Milan yet proves elusive. Perhaps, as the connétable suggests, peace and friendship will garner what war has failed to win.”

He stopped before her and extended a hand. Anne worked the leather glove, stiff with embroidery, over his fingers and palm. His skin hardly quivered when she kissed the underside of his wrist.

“I have taken the first step. Today I granted Montmorency permission to approach the Spanish ambassador on the subject of a match between the Emperor and young Marguerite.” She felt his eyes on her face, watching for her response to this unforseen bit of news.

She managed to preserve her smile, though inwardly she cursed his impatience. “So soon?” She released his hand and reached for the other. “Queen Isabel died hardly two weeks ago, and by all accounts the Emperor loved her dearly. Might not this proposal signal an unfortunate disregard for his sentiments? You, of all people, should be mindful of that.”

François snatched his hand away, annoyed rather than dissuaded by this mention of his first wife's passing. He flexed the glove into place. “You find fault with the proposal? Charles is a king, and kings are able to separate matters of state from personal sentiment.”

"Are they?" she wanted to ask, but instead bent to retrieve the fur-bordered cape puddled on the floor. “It is not your proposal I question so much as the source from which it comes. No one but Montmorency himself would envisage such a scheme.”

François threw back his shoulders. “The connétable judges Charles’s overtures sincere and urges me to respond in kind. What better way to cement the peace than through a joining of our houses?”

Anne shook the cape out with snap. “Charles has already promised his own daughter to Orléans, with Milan as dowry.” The king stooped so she could swing the garment about his shoulders. “Marrying Marguerite would provide him the perfect pretext for releasing the infanta from this pledge. Milan would remain in imperial hands forever.”

François’s eyes narrowed as he considered this fearsome prospect. Encouraged, she cradled his face in her hands and drew his head down until their foreheads met. “Surely you understand what prompts Montmorency’s suggestion.”

“Suggestion?” François repeated, his hands seeking her waist.

She twisted out of his grasp, determined not to distract him. “Montmorency wants nothing more than to cheat Orléans out of the prestige and power of an imperial marriage. He won’t hesitate to quash Orléans’s prospects in order to further the Dauphin’s. And his own.”

François’s face clouded as he contemplated this slight to his favorite son. “Young Charles, ruling Milan with the blessing of the Emperor, does pose a serious threat to Henri’s eastern flank,” he admitted.

“Exactly. Montmorency is no fool. Knowing how your nobles favor Orléans over the Dauphin, he is loath to place young Charles in a position where he could easily be led astray.”

François laughed, a clear and hearty peal. “God’s blood, Annette, without a doubt your fancy runs wilder than Montmorency’s. The connétable but seeks to take advantage of the Emperor’s empty bed, not forestall a rebellion! Easier to snare the Hapsburg fox with a morsel like Marguerite than negotiate endlessly over the price of the infanta.” He reached out and pulled Anne close, nuzzling her neck. “You may be sure I’ll keep you close at hand when the Emperor draws nigh.”

She pushed away from his chest, certain she had misheard. “The Emperor comes to France?”

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There's a lot of history and politics in this scene--I'd love to hear your thoughts on how I handled it. Too much information, too clumsily presented? This is only a draft, so I'd really appreciate feedback. 

12 comments:

Marissa said...

I liked this! I know very little about this period, but I thought the dialogue was solid and conveyed the information without feeling unnatural.

The only descriptors that took me out of the story: swallowing a laugh and quivering skin.

Great work!

Julianne Douglas said...

Thanks, Marissa. I rewrote that "swallowing a laugh" bit several times and still haven't hit on the right combo. It's always good to find my own reservations echoed by others...I should trust my judgement when something doesn't seem right.

Thanks for reading.

sue laybourn said...

It works for me. I found it very easy to imagine a conversation like that and very easy to visualise. I could almost hear the King's footsteps as he paced the chamber.
It certainly didn't reek of the dreaded info-dump lol!

Nice one.

Julianne Douglas said...

Thanks, Sue! Glad to hear I avoided the info-dump.

Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Julianne Douglas said...

Based on Marissa's comments and my own misgivings, I edited the line in question, so you won't find it if you're looking! I think the beginning of the sixth paragraph reads better now.

Gretchen said...

I think you've done an excellent job capturing the sound and feel of the period. It took me a few paragraphs to adjust to the style, but its authenticity is astounding.

inkwench said...

Lots of information, but you did a great job of presenting in a way wasn't info-dumpy. The conversation felt very natural to me, and I really liked the period feel.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Enjoyed it! Loved your use of words like "puddled" and "flexed."

bqdell said...

I have to say the "memory of their hurried coupling" gave me the willies.

I'm excited to find that you're writing about Marguerite! What have your main resources been? (I ordered one book from the library and discovered quickly that it was about the wrong Marguerite of Navarre!) I have The Heptameron on order at B&N, and The Pearl of Princesses bookmarked.

I'd love to read your first book.

Julianne Douglas said...

Thanks, inkwench, Gretchen, and Susan! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

bqdell--I meant to mention it in the note, but the Marguerite in question here is not François's sister Marguerite de Navarre, but his daughter. It's really a challenge to differentiate between the characters when so many of them share names, even across genders. Montmorency's name is Anne (even though he's a man), as is Madame d'Etampes's. Since François wouldn't call the latter by her title, I decided to have him call her Annette. I usually use Orléans when talking about François's youngest son Charles, since Charles V is the Emperor.

As for Marguerite de Navarre, I wasn't planning on having her figure too prominently in this novel (I hope to give her a novel of her own someday), but then Anne decided to write her a letter at the end of this chapter, so I guess I'll have to invite her to the party...Anne d'Heilly and MdeN were great friends. Marguerite dedicated a poetic work to her, in which one of the characters is thought to be an allegorical representation of Anne herself. Anne was an accomplished scholar like Marguerite. I think their intellectual pursuits, their common affinity for evangelical reform, and their love for François was what bound them together.

It's been a long time since I read works specifically about Marguerite, so I'll have to look them up for you. Offhand I can think of an old literary biography by Pierre Jourda, I believe.

lucyp said...

What I like about this is that we learn as much about Francois's character and the way he relates to "Annette" as we learn about the historical information you need to convey through their conversation.

What about cutting out "memory of" from the first line?

Julianne Douglas said...

Good point, Lucy! Done.