An excerpt from his upcoming novel, Quillifer
by Walter Jon Williams
Text copyright © 2017 by Walter Jon Williams
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form
I can hear the waters of the Dordelle chuckling against the hull of our boat, see the silver moonlight
glow on the rim of our little window, taste the warm night air. Your lilac scent floats in my senses.
By the light of the moon I can see your open eyes, fixed on the dark corner of my cabin, but in truth
staring into your future. For you are beginning a new life, a life apart from everything you knew, and
you are anxious on that account.
I would help you sleep. I have begun life over more than once, and perhaps I can ease your concern
by narrating my own tale. So, come back to bed, my heart, and rest your head on my shoulder, and
I will stroke your hair and tell you how I came to become what I am.
I fear that my life may reveal more folly than wisdom. I will begin with an act of folly, then, as I
hang upside down three storeys above the street, and reflect on the workings of Fate. The wheel had
come full circle, and all in a flash: naught but two minutes ago, I had been sharing a warm feather
bed with Annabel Greyson, the surveyor's daughter; and now I was outside the house, three storeys
above the street, hanging near-naked in a brisk wind, while Annabel's father raged within, seeking
the villain who had debauched his child.
Who, of course, was me.
This is amusing now, and you laugh, but it was no laughing matter to be thus caught up in some
moralist's tale. I resolved to avoid the moralist's last scene, which would almost certainly involve
judgment, whips, and the pillory.
What is it about fathers, and brothers too, that sets them so firmly against the course of true love?
The Greyson house was like most houses in Ethlebight, narrow and deep, with the ground floor
built of solid masonry, and the upper half-timber floors projecting over the street. From the topmost
gable a roof beam extended, and on the end of the beam was a large black iron hook, used to help
lift furniture or supplies to the upper storeys.
I hung from the beam with the iron hook a few inches from my face, and hoped I would not find
myself hanging from the hook itself within the next twenty minutes.
The beam was slick with pigeon droppings. I tried to claw my fingers into the beam like a badger
digging after a burrowing rabbit.
I made my exasperated-bailiff face. All because she asked me to adjust her Mermaid costume. I
had complied out of a spirit of pure chivalry--I had complied with all Annabel's requests--and now
I found myself in this doleful condition, hanging above a shadowy abyss.
It has to be said that Annabel's generous nature had surprised me. I had been paying more attention
to Bethany Driver, another of the Mermaids, but Annabel had broken a lace and asked for aid, and
my fate had lurched onto a new path.
Some hours earlier, I had entered the house via this same gable, to avoid the groom that slept by
the door. Annabel had assured me that her father and his apprentices were away on a survey, her
mother was visiting relatives in Amberstone, and the only servant besides the groom was the deaf
old lady who lit the fires in the morning.
Perhaps the old lady wasn't as deaf as she seemed. Someone, at any rate, had to have sent a
message to Anthony Greyson the surveyor, who must have ridden half the night to show up at his
own door just as the dawn was beginning to brighten the eastern sky. The city gates wouldn't even
have opened yet; Greyson must have bribed his way past the guards.
Hearing the pounding and roaring at the front door, I reacted in an instant--I must admit that I was
not a complete stranger to these sorts of emergencies. I dashed up the stairs and left the house by the
same route I'd entered, though without all my clothing. In the dash up the stairs, I'd been able to tug
on only my shirt. My shoes hung around my neck by their laces, and I held my belt and leather purse
in my teeth. On my head was the cap, black velvet with the red piping and the brim turned up all
around, that marked me as an apprentice lawyer. My hose, doublet, and tunic were clutched in my
hands or piled in a disorderly bundle on my chest.
My situation was made worse by the fact that two of Greyson's apprentices sat on their horses
directly below me. I did not wish to fumble my belongings and make the two men wonder why it had
suddenly begun to rain clothing. Nor could I stay where I was: Greyson had only to look out the
window to see me hanging there, presenting to the viewer the most unflattering view imaginable.