I’m ready to try something new today! This is a guinea pig post, and while I’m nervous, I’m also excited! If you’re reading this, you’re one of the first people to read an excerpt from my historical fantasy trilogy, The Unraveling. And we’re starting where everyone should start – a family dinner!
Taylor Neville pulled back a chair, beckoning for his nephew to take a seat. He looked into the boy’s eager face, hoping he’d developed a dose of common sense. “You’ve been gone for nearly three years, surely you don’t plan to take off again so soon?”
Armand smiled at his uncle, wishing he didn’t have to disappoint him. He was, after all, his uncle’s heir, “I don’t exactly plan on leaving the country.”
His uncle read the unspoken message, “But you don’t plan on taking over the business either.” He picked up the logbook, “You’ve never been one to enjoy accounting, even when you were in charge of it.”
Armand chuckled, “I butchered it. If it weren’t for Duell, they wouldn’t have even been legible.”
“My foreman was too generous,” Taylor Neville conceded. “But that still doesn’t tell me what you’re planning to do. Your mother wished you to be a priest, your father a tradesman. At the moment, you’re neither.” His fingers drummed on the table.
“That’s for certain.” Armand chuckled as he poured himself a glass of wine, “I’ve no skill with trading or a desire to dabble in religion.” He wrinkled his nose in disgust, recalling the intense religious debates he encountered nearly every place he went.
“And your plan? I know you’ve made one.” His uncle rapped his hands loudly on the table, “I’m not that short sighted. And you’re far too full of ideas and big dreams.”
Armand grinned, “Of course I have.” He sipped at the wine, “I would like to move to Curan.”
“The Capitol?” Taylor began tapping his pen impatiently on the table, “Whatever for?”
“During my travels, uncle,” Armand leaned forward, “I met many citizens dissatisfied with our current state of affairs. I’ve also witnessed multiple forms of governing.”
Taylor rubbed his jaw, “I know there’s many who dislike the current state of affairs, Armand. We all wish the prince were on the throne.”
“That’s just it.” Armand’s voice grew, his eyes darkening, “Many are tired of the uncertainty of kings. Why should one man decide how we all live? How do we know the prince is even better than Larston and the Regent?”
“What are you even suggesting, Armand?” Taylor studied his nephews passionate face, “Our discontentment with the Dowager and General Larston can hardly lead us to toppling the prince.”
Armand stood up quickly. He waved his hands as he spoke, excitement filling his voice, “I disagree. Kings are as slippery as mud. Stability lies in the people’s choice. I think we’re ready for a change in government.”
“No doubt your traveling has informed you of the wisdom of republics.” Taylor commented drily, leaning back to look up into Armand’s face.
“Yes, uncle,” Armand placed his hands on the table, leaning towards his uncle, “I’ve seen kingdoms, empires, and a republic. In all of these, no people are happier and more prosperous than the citizens of a republic.”
“Armand,” Taylor laughed, shaking his head slightly, “Your enthusiasm’s certainly passionate. But please,” he rose, pushing his chair back, “Don’t speak so openly. The general,” he gestured towards his throat, “Has executed men for less.”
Armand just grinned, “Promise I’ll be less open in the Capitol.”
“That’s good,” Taylor chuckled, “For, I do hope to precede you in death, nephew.”
A knock on the office door. Armand glanced at the clock grimacing, “It’s probably dinner,” He whispered, “A quarter hour late.”
Taylor tipped his head back, raising his voice to call whoever it was inside. Opening just a crack, his daughter in the doorway. She twisted the doorknob, “You should know, the food’s growing cold as a tomb.”
“Forgive us,” Armand grinned at his cousin, bending his head slightly. Dark curls fell over his eyes, “But it’s entirely my fault we’re late.”
Emily raised her eyebrows, “I’ve no doubt of that,” She shook her head, voice turning slightly more serious, “Since you’ve invited a guest, I’m surprised you’re still late.”
The two gentlemen began to step towards the door, which Emily pushed open a bit wider. Taylor buttoned his cuff, questioning, “A guest, Armand?”
Emily answered for him, “Cecil Dupea,” She tugged at her earing, recalling how he had introduced himself, his apologies, “He even has an accent.”
Armand laughed,“That’s because my friend, Cecil, was raised in Florence. Though I can assure you he’s no Florentine.”
“Run and tell your mother we’re on our way,” Taylor beckoned his daughter forward, “And be sure Cecil has a place at our table.”
“Of course, Papa.” Emily shook her head in slight annoyance, “Mama’s always hospitable.” She turned, darting down the hallway.
Taylor waited till his daughter was out of earshot, “You invited another rebel to eat with us? Is he more outspoken than you?” He picked up his coat, pulling on the dark green jacket.
Armand sighed, “I detect a note of exasperation, uncle.” He retied his cravat as he spoke, looping the cream fabric through his fingers, “I’m sure Emily’s old enough to face our ideas,” He shook his head, amused that Taylor sent Emily away, “Anyway, Cecil’s a reasonable fellow, one of my closest friends.”
“Then I’ll hope his company’s as invigorating as you, Armand.” Taylor clapped him on the back, “For though we have different political opinions, it’s good to have you back in the country.”
“I’m glad my nephew has made some friends while traveling.” Rebekah Neville smiled towards Cecil. “He can sometimes be too political to make actual conversation.
“I protest, Aunt Rebekah.” Armand raised a hand, leaning forward across his plate, “If my audience doesn’t understand what I’m talking about, it’s not my fault. I’m constantly open to new friendships; it’s other prejudiced people who can’t get along.” Taylor and Rebekah shared a knowing smile, while Emily rolled her eyes in exasperation.
Cecil nodded, brown eyes warm, “Armand is a generous friend, Madame Neville. I am proud to claim his company.” He spoke slowly, words emphasized with the slight lilting accent Emily noticed earlier.
Taylor chuckled, speaking to Cecil, “I believe Rebekah and I’ve seen our more cool headed companions taken aback by Armand’s hot temper. Our city merchants tend to be rather stoic men.”
“Stoic, Uncle.” Armand swallowed, holding up a finger to interrupt, “I’d say they’re just boring. Stoic and even stupid.”
The three laughed, and Armand shrugged, “You disagree?” He waved his hand, pointing his fork at his cousin, “Emily, I’m right, am I not? You’re 16, has any suitor for your hand been less than dull, even completely boring?”
Emily shook her head, laughing. His comparison was enormously accurate, “You’re cruel, Armand.” She brushed back her brown hair, eyes resting on Cecil, his eyes darting between them, watching them laugh. She sipped some water, pausing to catch her breath before asking, “How can you be friends with such a terribly mannered oaf?”
“Ah, Miss Emily,” Cecil shifted, twirling his fork, fingers tight around the metal, “I don’t recall him ever being so terribly mannered before.”
“Truly?” Emily’s eyebrows lifted, as she laughed lightly, “Must be feminine company that causes him to be surly.”
“Hardly, Em.” Taylor winked at his daughter, “For he can be equally as ill-mannered towards your father, when a lady isn’t present.”
“Uncle,” Armand dropped his fork, the silver clanging against the delicate porcelain. His voice rose passionately, while the family struggled to contain their laughter. Emily held a napkin to her lips, biting her lips as Armand’s ears reddened, his voice rising. “You do me a disservice. Being opinionated isn’t equal to rudeness. Only when the company dislikes being questioned can you even think opinions are actually rude.”
“I’m certain we understand you don’tt wish to be considered inconsiderate.” Rebekah spoke gently, bravely keeping her smile in check. Her voice was calming, “It’s more ill-mannered of us to talk about you so much, Armand. Begging your forgiveness. And yours as well, Cecil, for our poor manners tonight.”
“No forgiveness is needed, Madame.” Cecil smiled for the first time, his entire face relaxing as he did. While amused at his friend’s attitude, the idea of laughing at Armand was practically unthinkable. Emily’s easy wit was a welcome contrast to Armand’s political surliness, while Taylor Neville’s subtle quips at Armand’s expense were unsettling.
“I’m simply unused to family conversation, so I have no prior mind as to what would constitute a polite family dinner.” He glanced at each of them, uncertain if Armand’s ire was normal. Did they often tease him? Emily smiled and his brown eyes flew to his plate. His face heated, and he pulled on his stiff cravat. Such bright eyes, he sucked in a breath.
“You’ve no family?” Emily questioned, her tone a mix of curiosity and pity.
“Emily, dear.” Rebekah scolded softly, “You’ve hardly reason to scold Armand now for poor manners.”
Cecil tugged at his cravat, “I do not mind, Ma’am. That is, if I may answer without undermining authority.”
“Oh, Cecil.” Armand swallowed his bite of chicken, while Emily grinned at her mother, “No need to stand on ceremony, my aunt’s not that demanding. You can’t undermine authority here.”
“Armand’s correct on my manners,” Rebekah set down her glass, ignoring Armand’s scoffing eyes, “If it doesn’t bother you, I’m sure we’d be interested in hearing about your life.”
“If it truly interests you,” Cecil laid his knife down, his eyes focused on the wooden grain of the table. He began, hoping to avoid looking back up at Emily. “Though I am afraid the account is rather boring.”
“Family histories always have interesting quirks.” Emily commented, seeming not to notice Cecil’s slight embarrassment, “One can always find something to amuse a crowd.”
“I am not that talented,” Cecil sighed, as he drummed his fingertips on the table. He looked towards Taylor and Rebekah, “It is fairly simple, my own father died when I was four, and my stepfather sent me to school in the Florentine capitol when I was seven. I’ve lived at school in Fitzgerald most of my life.”
“That is a terribly young age,” Emily’s eyes were wide, her voice significantly quieter, “And your mother approved?”
“Unfortunately, I will never know. She died during my eleventh year. My step-parents have given me my inheritance but otherwise we are not close.”
“I was lucky enough to meet Cecil at an essay contest in Pera,” Armand spoke up, “His essay won the top prize, if I can recall.”
“Did it?” Taylor questioned Cecil, who responded in the affirmative.
Armand nodded towards his friend, his mood improved slightly, “Cecil may be modest, but he’s a hidden genius. He graduated at the top of his class.”
“The wisest men tend to be the quietest.” Rebekah spoke, “I am glad you’re friends with Armand, Cecil. My nephew could use a humble influence.” She did not mention her other hopes, having admired Cecil’s obvious propensity for neatness. Armand could certainly use a reminder to comb his hair and tie his cravat.
“Nonsense, Aunt.” Armand raised his eyebrows, color returning to his cheeks, “For humility didn’t win your own affection for Uncle Richard. How many times have you told me his debonair braggadocio won you over?”
Rebekah inclined her head towards Taylor, “But humility added grace to a girlish dream. Cavaliers are adorable, but love rests on stability.” She ran a hand through her husband’s hair, gently straightening the dark waves.
“Not to mention a little humility enabled me to buy out all the tradesmen in Wharton.” Taylor chuckled, before kissing his wife’s wrist. He held her hand, before speaking to his nephew, “Armand, you’ll need Cecil to negotiate anything. Your passion will break every business endeavor you pursue.”
Armand frowned at his uncle. Cecil glanced at his friend before speaking, “Armand is most winning, Mr. Neville. He can make anyone agree with him.”
“I don’t suggest they won’t agree, but whether they offer partnership is another matter entirely.”
The sudden subdued atmosphere chilled Emily. Armand must be pursuing something her father disapproved of, else he wouldn’t sound so severe. No wonder he practically sent her away from his office, from their conversation. She pulled at her nails, wishing she knew what Armand was planning.
But dinner was still happening, and Cecil was kind, much quieter than Armand. If Armand had his way, the entire meal would dissolve into an argument. Another argument over politics. She turned towards Cecil, “I’ve no idea of Florence’s culture. Is the food similar? Or are our desserts completely different?” Emily thought it was stupid, even before she finished asking, but it was only thought she could scramble together.
She briefly worried if Cecil thought it was stupid, by Armand’s grin, he was laughing at her. But, like everything else, Cecil took her question seriously. She nearly sighed in relief, the way his eyes turned thoughtful as he leaned forward, considering the question. Touching his spoon to the cream cheese filling, he mused, “Well, school fare was plain. This dessert is enrapturing.”
“Enrapturing?” Emily’s eyes twinkled, wondering if Cecil was also trying to rescue her horrid line of questioning, “That’s a rather large word for simple pudding.”
“Forgive my disagreement, but the word seems to fit. I always attempt to use the most exact term to express my feelings.” He spoke quietly, each words rich with conviction. Emily blinked, studying his face.
Their eyes met briefly, “At least your honesty couldn’t be mistaken for hot-tempered rashness.” She glanced towards Armand, suddenly aware her cheeks were reddening, “While my cousin’s equally honest, he’s often accused of being too bold.”
“As are you, Emily.” Armand teased, his jesting tone annoying Emily, “For you’re never silent, even in the most austere company.”
“You’d hardly know Armand, for you’ve been absent all the times I’ve been around such austere company.” While she still smiled, she sent her cousin a sharp look, her tone a bit aggravated. He shrugged at her, before turning his eyes back to his plate.
Rebekah Neville rose, “I think it’s time for the ladies to depart and leave you gentleman to your devices.” The gentlemen rose, dipping their heads courteously, Taylor’s short waves cropped close to his face, Armand’s dark curls falling into his eyes, and Cecil’s golden hair glinting in the candlelight.
Emily stood up reluctantly, but her smile did not show it. She followed her mother, though not as elegantly. Her slight frame stopped at the doorframe, hands touching the wood, “A pleasure to meet you, Cecil.” She met his eyes, before turning to her father, “Goodnight, Armand, Papa.”
Whew…I hope you guys enjoyed that! It was super hard to choose a first scene to publish, and I might have chosen the longest one from the first couple of chapters.
But I’m greatly looking forward to hearing your feedback! Now I know you don’t have too much background on the story from this, but I’d still love to hear what you think!
Would you keep reading? Why or Why not?
Which character interests you most? Do you have questions about the characters?
And, would you like to read more scenes? Should future scenes be longer or shorter?