I’ve been talking quite a bit about my current novel WIP, tentatively titled Three Coins of Silver, but haven’t actually shared any excerpts from the draft (at least I don’t think I have; correct me if I’m wrong). I tend to keep early drafts pretty close to the chest, but I want to share a scene I wrote last week, because it’s one that caught me totally by surprise.
Three Coins focuses on three estranged friends – Mavrin, a street magician who doesn’t believe in real magic; Eyasu, a priest who questions the gods; and Deyeri, a retired soldier who avoids conflict – who lost touch after discovering a lost secret about the gods that Mavrin rejected. At the start of the novel, he’s carrying a lot of baggage that starts to get hashed out when he’s reunited with his friends, but the three of them spend the story largely not talking about what they’re really feeling until they’re forced to – cuz that’s what people do.
When I started the scene below, I expected the walls to come down between them a little, almost like old friends falling back into comfortable habits. But while I was writing, I could see Mavrin sitting in front of his friends, and I knew that this was the moment that things were going to suddenly be too much for him – not a few chapters later, when shit really hits the fan, but in this seemingly calm and quiet moment with people who used to be the closest thing he had to family. It was like he was speaking to me, showing me how he would react to the situation I put him in.
And here’s what I came up with (at least the first draft; we’ll see what it looks like after revisions) as an example of how some of the best writing sometimes comes out of nowhere:
“Is there something particular troubling you?”
“Just one thing? Try this entire madcap situation.” A corner of Righteous Authority was poking against Mavrin’s stomach, so he plucked it out and tossed it onto the bench between them. “I can’t decide whether talking with Breck and Kedar made me feel better or worse.”
Eyasu picked up the book and thumbed through the pages. “Everything we found, it was always just theory. Only Ammendul knows the truth about what She wills.”
“And do you honestly still trust in Her? I saw what happened last night, and it was the same thing that happened with Augustina.” Mavrin snatched the book from his friend. “Either these dead people are right, or your magic is all bullshit, just like I thought. I’m not sure I could live with that, in your shoes.”
He regretted his words as soon as he saw Eyasu’s expression darken.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered, studying Damisar’s name on the book’s cover. “I’ve had this thing ten minutes and it’s already making me argue with you.” He tossed it aside again. “I don’t mean to challenge your beliefs. Certainly not now.”
“You are not the only one challenging them. And I understand why you do not believe.”
Mavrin rubbed at his face again, wishing he could pry the fatigue from his eyes. “And I thought those coins floating in my room were the strangest things I’d be dealing with.” He scanned the deck in front of him, and when he caught himself noting every patch of darkness where the sunlight didn’t reach, he said, “There’s something in the shadows, Eyasu. Or there isn’t, and I’m finally losing my mind.”
Trying to pick his words as carefully as possible – for clarity, not to hide anything – he explained what had happened in Vertsa, and what he thought he had seen with Deyeri the night before. As he described it, he sounded crazy to his own ears – or would have, if the last few days hadn’t already been filled with varying levels of crazy.
When he finished, Eyasu said, “I have not seen anything specifically like that. I am afraid I am at a loss.” He let out a thoughtful grunt. “There have always been tales of creatures hiding in shadow. But if it has not harmed you yet…”
Mavrin arched an eyebrow. “You’re not suggesting I just ignore it?”
“We have somewhat more pressing concerns.”
“Lovely. If I get sucked into the void, you’d better save me, so I can throw it in your face later.”
“You have my word,” Eyasu said, without even a glimmer of amusement.
Somewhere nearby, he heard Atera loudly asking if everyone was ready to get underway – not barking orders, but asking for the opinions of her crew, which in his eyes made her a better captain than most. As the sails were unfurled and the Soul started to pull away from the docks, Mavrin decided he should have tried to convince her to kick everyone off her ship. At least then he would have helped somebody.
“Well … are you going to tell me what’s going on with that,” Mavrin said, pointing at Eyasu’s rucksack, “or do I have to guess?”
He thought Eyasu would refuse again. But he said, “On our way here, the Spawn inside those coins … spoke to me.”
He explained what had happened while Mavrin was performing for the Soul’s crew, though he glossed over what the Spawn showed him once it got into his mind. Mavrin didn’t pry. When Eyasu finished, he didn’t look any less tired, but some of the somberness seemed to leave his voice.
Mavrin considered kicking the rucksack across the deck until it fell into the bay. “Have you heard it since you carved that second box?”
Eyasu shook his head.
“Well, hopefully that means those charms of yours worked, and it isn’t just sleeping or something.” He frowned. “Is it strange that the box is containing that thing, but your other magic hasn’t worked?”
“Magic is inconsistent, it seems,” Eyasu admitted.
“Uyekel described Spawn as having different kinds of power. Maybe the one in there is less powerful than the one we saw yesterday.” Mavrin thought about what he had just said, and for the first time in a while a genuine smile crept onto his face. “It’s never dull talking to you, is it?”
“I have always tried to keep you on your toes. It is the cows’ job to knock you off them.”
When Mavrin glanced over at him, a mischievous smile had crept onto Eyasu’s face. A low, throaty chuckle rumbled somewhere deep in his chest, and that set off something in Mavrin. He put a hand over his mouth to stifle it, but that only made it worse, and soon they were both laughing so hard that Mavrin eventually ran out of air and started coughing.
Eyasu’s steadying hand on his arm made him giggle all over again.
By the time they were both under control, Mavrin massaged his weathered face and noticed Deyeri standing across the deck, arms crossed.
“Did you two take up day-drinking?”
“That was only one time,” Eyasu started saying, at the same time Mavrin said, “It’s this bastard’s fault,” and when they looked at each other they almost broke into another fit of exhausted, worn-out laughter.
As Mavrin caught his breath again, he noticed Deyeri smiling. Not ironically or by force; this was the natural smile he remembered, the one that just slightly pulled at the corners of her lips, as though she was keeping most of her amusement to herself and letting the world catch a glimpse. He could remember how that smile could grow, when they were alone and comfortable, and wondered how many other people had seen that effect on her.
The soreness in his lungs melted away, replaced by a deeper ache that started somewhere below his diaphragm and drifted upward into the rest of his body, as he looked at the two people who had been his closest friends, long ago.
“I’m sorry,” he said. Eyasu gave him a curious look, while Deyeri lowered her gaze and tapped her heel idly against the deck. “I’m sure if I wasn’t so much of a fool I could come up with a more eloquent way to say this. Or maybe there’s too much for me to apologize for.”
Now that he had looked at them once, he couldn’t again, since he knew all he would see is the scars that both of his friends bore. All because of me. He hadn’t run from ideas or truths before; he had turned his back on them. Not because he thought they would judge him, but because they would have supported and helped him, and he had been more comfortable accepting his fear and hiding from it.
And the more he thought about it, the more he realized that was just the start.
“I walked away from it. Twenty-seven years, thinking none of it mattered. Not paying attention. And people are dead. That poor girl is dead because of me,” Mavrin said, unable to control the shaking in his voice.
Looking away from them didn’t matter. He could still see the scars gouged into Eyasu’s scalp and the way his shoulders shook as he desperately tried to save the ignorant in Tanardell. He could hear the hurt in Deyeri’s voice as she told him to never call her love ever again, and her gasp of pain as the Spawn pierced her mind.
“Everything is my fault. And I don’t know how to apologize for it.”
His hand was trembling even worse than his voice when Deyeri crouched in front of him and took it in both of hers. He couldn’t meet her eyes, not wanting to see the blame or disgust in them. He waited for her to call him a fool, or slap him, or tell him he had no right to try to apologize, knowing he deserved all of that, and maybe worse.
Deyeri’s eyes were glimmering and wet, and before he could blame himself for that, too, she squeezed his hand.
For an instant, Mavrin was back in their room in the Citadel, twenty-seven years earlier, when he told her he was researching something that scared him, and that he didn’t know when he could tell her about it. She had leaned against him in their bed and he had known she understood, that she trusted him and could wait for him, because of two simple words.
The same words she said now. Only this time, they hurt in ways he couldn’t articulate.
Deyeri kept holding his hand. Eyasu gripped his shoulder.
And Mavrin hung his head, as old tears fell at his feet.