31 January 2013

Excerpt Thursday: A Thing Done by Tinney Sue Heath

This week, we're welcoming author Tinney Sue Heath, whose latest title is A Thing Done. Join us on Sunday, when Tinney will offer a free paperback copy of the book to a lucky blog visitor in the USA. Here's the blurb: 

In 1216 the noble families of Florence hold great power, but they do not share it easily. Tensions simmer just below the surface. When a Jester's prank-for-hire sets off a brawl, those tensions erupt violently, dividing Florence into hostile factions. A marriage is brokered to make peace, but that fragile alliance crumbles under the pressure of a woman's interference, a scorned bride, and an outraged cry for revenge.

At the center of the conflict is Corrado, the Jester, whose prank began it and who is now pressed into unwilling service by both sides. It will take all his wit and ingenuity to keep himself alive and to prevent the unbridled ambitions of the nobles from destroying the city in a brutal civil war.

**An Excerpt from A Thing Done**

Corrado the Jester and his fellow performers have been hired to perform at a wedding.  The bride's family and friends are gathered, but the groom hasn't arrived yet.  Corrado didn't want to accept this job, but he was not free to explain his reasons to his colleagues, so here they are.  Corrado knows something the others don't, but he can't talk about it.  All he can do is worry, and try to maintain a low profile – hard to do when you're performing.

            Three mellifluous langue d'oc love songs, one spectacular round of juggling, a few uneasy moments of Rufino wobbling around on my stilts, and still no Buondelmonte.  Oh, and there was also the unfortunate episode with Bicci's dog and the rat, but the less said about that the better.  We thought it likely that the flea-ridden Masetto would come back home eventually, and Bicci, who was part of our audience, didn't seem worried.
            Oddo did, however, though he was doing his best not to let it show to the crowd of onlookers.  We were gathered under cloudy skies outside Santa Maria sopra Porta, where we were supposed to welcome the bridegroom and his party, but so far the wedding was a one-sided affair.
            And I was the only one there who knew it was going to remain so.
            In contrast to Oddo's instructions to Buondelmonte to limit the size of his entourage, the Amidei, the Lamberti, the Fifanti, and the Uberti were there in force, dressed as befitted their rank.  The women, in their jewels and fine gowns and gauzy veils, clustered near the church, but the men kept themselves where they could see if someone was coming.
            We four performers had set up opposite the women, on the other side of the piazza.  Ghisola, behind us, was muttering under her breath as she struggled to replace a broken string on Anselmo's vielle while he tapped a tambourine in time to Neri's organetto.  Rufino and I tossed my leather balls back and forth, nothing tricky this time, just a little background color.  It left me able to watch Oddo and Lambertuccio and Mosca.  They were in a tight circle, talking animatedly, looking up frequently to see if anyone had spotted Buondelmonte yet.
            Among the ladies was Selvaggia, dressed in a magnificent scarlet gown with the gold sleeves of her undertunic showing.  She looked short and squat compared to the other young women, but her hair, dark and glossy and abundant, was bound up in an intricate pattern of gold netting and pearls, and I had to admit that it, at least, was lovely.  With her were her mother and several other older women, and also ladies of around her own age or not much more, some wearing a married woman's coif, others with the uncovered plaits or flowing hair of virgins.  The other young women talked and giggled together, but I noticed that Selvaggia stood a little apart.
            One of the coiffed ones was a rare beauty, wearing an artfully fitted gown of a tawny gold, the color people call pelo di lione.  Not even Selvaggia's dress and hair could have diverted attention from that shape and that face. 
            When we first arrived and were setting up, Neri had eyed her appreciatively.
            "Buondelmonte probably wishes he was marrying that one," he said.
            "She's wearing a wimple, you dolt," I said.  "She's married.  She's not available."
            "That doesn't mean a man can't look, and wish, does it?"
            "It ought to mean that," Ghisola said tartly.
            Neri had grinned archly and launched into his first song, while Ghisola wrinkled her nose at him.  They were joking.  I think.
            Meanwhile, it was hard to miss a certain growing agitation among the men.  Buondelmonte should have presented himself long before this point, and I sensed that these men feared a public humiliation.  And with reason.  I could only hope the big lout would have the sense not to ride past these men with Isabella in tow, for I had no wish to witness a bloodbath.
            "Who's the one who looks like an old lion?" Rufino asked, not missing a ball.
            "Lambertuccio.  And the one who looks like a hawk is Mosca," I said, returning yellow for red as blue spun overhead.   Mosca had keen eyes and a hooked nose in a lean, angular face.
            "Oddo's more of a bull," Anselmo chimed in, tapping on his tambourine.
            Neri, still playing his organetto, said out of the side of his mouth, "Don't talk.  You'll drop something."
            "No, we won't," I told him.  "And don't talk out of the side of your mouth.  It looks ridiculous."  The balls kept dancing through the air, the tambourine kept jingling, and Neri kept pressing his little mushroom-shaped keys while we spoke.  Ghisi just shook her head.  She knew when we were showing off for each other.
            Neri finished his istampitta with a flourish, and set his organetto down gently on the ground so that he could take up the little harp he owned jointly with Anselmo.  Ghisola  had passed Anselmo's restrung vielle back to him, so he took over the background music while Neri quietly checked his tuning.
            I juggled with Rufino and kept an eye on Oddo.  This whole situation made me uneasy, but all I could do was to continue to pretend I was as ignorant of what was going on as everyone else was.  I still feared they would make a connection between Buondelmonte and me, but I thought an innocent demeanor would be my best defense, allowing me to claim convincingly that I knew nothing of his plans.

Tinney Sue Heath is the author of A Thing Done, a novel set in 13th century Florence.  Her historical interests are mostly Dantecentric, with occasional forays into Etruscans and the Renaissance.  Learn more at her website, or check out her blog on historical fiction research, or see her author page at Fireship Press.