Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Excerpt from my new Novel, "GODDESS OF WAR"

Excerpt from my new Novel, "GODDESS OF WAR"

Dinner. The long table gleams with crystal and silver, shards of shattered light spilling from the coloured facets of jewels draped around long throats.

Hilly and Vinny are seventeen, and it is time for them to be seen. Hilly looks at the women seated around the dinner table, with their bare shoulders and wide eyes. She sees what they are. Breeders, pedigreed wombs. Beautiful, with the slender anxiety of over-bred fillies. She sees Vinny being petted and fĂȘted by the women, sees the vacuous admiration of the effete young men, and the covert lust in the older men's eyes. They are on display, the two of them. In two months they go to Town, to London for the Season. This is dress rehearsal, and for Vinny it is a triumph.

Hilly knows she will not triumph. She has nought of beauty, nor charm; and her intelligence, her inescapable, demanding, unsettling presence will not be what the Ton will be looking for in a Debutant. A Coming-Out Season is, after all - she thinks - a display of women-flesh for sale.

She picks up the draped linen napkin lying on her lap and dabs delicately at her lips to hide a sneer of contempt. Hilly has decided she will not be wed. Her person will not be desirable, but her inheritance will. She is the only child of a very wealthy, frugal father, and there is no entail on the Rutherford Estate. She is a rich catch for a provident man. She must make sure she is not asked for, she must be such a thing as no-man would consider, not even the poorest most debt-ridden, desperate younger son. She must be polite, display her razor mind to its best advantage; her ferocious castrating wit will be her shield.

She will start laying down the pattern of her life. Hilly will be the eccentric adventurous wealthy spinster, free as other women are not free; freed by her very undesirability from any possibility of doubt as to her virtue, freed to do as she pleases. She will start tonight.

Next to her they have seated a retired Colonel. Retired, she judged, but not too old to look for a young, fertile wife. He senses her regard, and turns on her pale, protuberant eyes. “My dear, we bore you, I am sure, with all this talk of Regimental politics and war...”

“Not at all. I am fascinated.” Her voice is her best asset. Clear, warm, beautiful.

The man smiles, even as the man he had been talking to exclaims: “Surely, Davenger, you don't claim we could have used the artillery to better effect! We have to deploy it, after all, and we did run that old desert fox to earth!”

Vinny's father cries “Indeed! We, with our good British hounds, ran him down, tore him apart! What else could you want, Davenger? Victory was ours!”

“It was too expensive a victory, Lucan. We lost too many men to bring down what amounted to little more than a band of bandits.”

“A fox...” Hilly says softly, “A fox, had it the wits, could bring down the Master of the Hunt.”

Her dinner companion leans in, “Indeed, my dear! And how would you go about it, being the fox?”

“I would wave the red flag of my tail in the face of the hounds. I would do what foxes do: I would run; run, but not too fast. I would let the hunt smell me, glimpse me, hunger for the slaying of me. Then when they were blind and baying with the death-lust, I would lure them to a killing ground.”

“Ahh...A strategist.” Davenger smiles.

“A chit of a girl who should be concerned with cross-stitch, not her elders' conversation at table!”

Hilly turns to the man: “Cross-stitch plays on patterns, Sir. Patterns train the mind to reason and logic. Is that not the essence of strategy?”

Next to her Davenger laughs out loud “She's got you running, Cartley, that she has!”

He sobers and adds “And you are right, my dear, a General willing to lay aside pomp for guile would rather be the fox than the mindless hounds. Hounds will chase a scent off a cliff in the heat of a hunt. You would have been a challenging foe, indeed, my dear Miss Fox!”

“A feminine mind, or sensibility could never make the necessary decisions for military leadership. Which is why men are warriors, and women followers.” Cartley protested.

“I don't agree, Cartley. Some of the most appalling atrocities I have ever seen have been committed by women.”

“In India, maybe, but our English women are not savages! And Indian or English, women are not warriors. Feminine sensibilities...”

“Ah...So tell me, Cartley, the ancient Greeks you so admire - homosexuals most of them – and full of feminine sensibilities, were they not warriors?”

“Davenger! There are Ladies present. You are out of bounds, man!”

Davenger turns to Hilly “Now you see why I never rose higher in the military ranks? My sense of what is strategically opportune does not extend to the dinner table and the social mores.”

Hilary finds herself laughing with this man. He leans in closer yet. “Or to my bed. If either of us was a whit less bright, I would take you to wife. As it is, I am curious to see what you will do with your life, little fox.”

Hilly smiles, “As am I , Sir, as am I!”

MAnuela Cardiga

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