It’s Gaidhlig ; it means
“Honor to the Dead”
It’s Gaidhlig ; it means
“Honor to the Dead”
That would be me.
In answer to questions about my immediate whereabouts this weekend at the Bookmarks Book Festival in Winston-Salem, NC:
1:00 – 1:45 PM – talk/reading on Main Stage
1:45 – 3:30 (with bathroom break somewhere in there, I hope) – book-signing
(No, there will NOT be copies of THE EXILE available; it won’t be released until the launch part on Sept. 21)
3:30 – 4:15 – Panel discussion with two NC authors (whose names I unfortunately forget) about “Sense of Place” – on Main Stage
4:15 – more book-signing, if anyone still needs it.
MANY thanks to all the kind people who’ve welcomed me to NC and invited me to come places, eat with them, etc. I’m afraid that I’m only there for the one day, though, and am meeting with smaller groups all morning, and dining with the Festival organizers Saturday evening. Much Obliged, though, and I’ll hope for more leisure to meet with y’all next time!
Oh–while we’re at it, I see the Poisoned Pen has put up a Really Nice blogpost about the launch part for THE EXILE at
Right, unexpurgated art. Well, here’s the deal: There is a section at the end of THE EXILE (the new graphic novel), titled “The Making of THE EXILE,” which is a behind-the-scenes look at the collaboration between me and Hoang Nguyen, who did the artwork for the book. It includes a mention of one panel, showing part of Jamie and Claire’s wedding night, where the publishing people (reluctantly [g]) decided that the art was a little _too_ graphic, and opted to have Hoang draw a blanket over part of the view. However, Betsy Mitchell, the editor, told me that I could put the original panel up on my website and blog, once the book was out–and I mentioned that while writing my part of the “Making Of” section.
Well, next thing I know, someone tells me that Random House Canada (who are also publishing the book) have uploaded the “Making Of” section to scribd–the link is
here–and all kinds of people are going nuts looking for the dirty art. [g]
I hadn’t expected the “Making Of” section to be available prior to publication, so the art wasn’t up yet. (And it’s not _that_ explicit, anyway) But I was away from home when all this hit over the weekend, so just now having time to get it up. There you are–enjoy!
Or at least I _think_ it’s still Monday. Leapt into a plane this morning and flew home from Atlanta, after a delightful—but busy!—weekend at DragonCon and the Decatur Book Festival. (Well, it was Monday when I started this; now it’s Tuesday…my, how time does fly…)
Both these events are wonderful, but it would be hard to imagine two gatherings (both involving thousands of people) more dissimilar. The Decatur Book Festival is charming: it’s held in Decatur (reasonably enough), a suburb some eight miles outside Atlanta, a small town with an old-fashioned Southern (with a capital “S”) feel to it, and occupies the center of the town, with white tents arranged around the Old Courthouse, and reading venues here and there—I spoke in the Presbyterian Church, which is their largest venue (someone told me it holds 900 people, and there were just about that many in it, I think).
There’s a street filled with food-vendor’s booths, selling everything from ice-cold lemonade (regular and cherry (pronounced “cheery”)) to fried dough (with powdered sugar) and fried fish and dirty rice. The tents running up and down the streets hold everything book-related (and a few things having Not That Much to do with books, like jewelry and music CD’s): the publications of various companies, small and large, writer’s organizations, book-binders, literacy organizations, children’s books, travel books, philosophical and spiritual books, and a group called Muslims for Peace, handing out information and answering questions about Islam.
The streets themselves are full of families; there’s something for everyone—including the “Ladybug Girl Parade” and a storyteller’s tent, to say nothing of the readings and talks for more adult guests. But the mood is cheerful, laid back, and peaceful; there’s something going on everywhere you look, but the overall sense is one of happy, calm expectancy.
DragonCon is…er…NOT calm. [cough] This is (I think) the biggest sf/fantasy convention in the world. It occupies the entirety of _five_ huge convention hotels in downtown Atlanta, and hosts something like 50,000 people.
You know how one describes any outre’ social gathering as being “like the cantina scene in “Star Wars””? Well, the public aspect of DragonCon _is_ the cantina scene from “Star Wars”.
There are bars (multiple; impromptu portable bars are set up around most of the escalators) on all the floors, thronged with…well, you name it. If you can imagine it, you’ll see it there—and a Whole Lot of Stuff Nobody Ever Even THOUGHT of Before, too. (Thinking here specifically of the man—naked save for a fur Speedo—painted red from scalp to shoe-sole, with four nails through each nipple. (I told my husband about this and he said, “Either he has big nipples, or they were small nails.” Small nails. Real ones, though.)
About half the participants are in costume, and I do mean “Costume.” As in, these people take their costuming Very Seriously, and dress up as anything from their favorite anime character to an undead cabaret dancer (one of the finalists from last year’s masquerade—which I had the privilege of judging, meaning I got to see everything from a distance of about six feet), Chthulhu, or a Black Ops team from Another World (which one, I don’t know; I was afraid to ask. They aren’t _supposed_ to carry real weapons, but…). There’s an official parade in costume on Saturday morning, but believe me, you can see just about everything simply by standing in one place in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency (the main hub of the con) and letting it all thunder past you. (“The nerd herd is particularly thick tonight,” one panelist remarked, explaining his late arrival, disheveled and panting.)
While the Decatur Book Festival lasts two days and is impeccably organized, DragonCon lasts four (more or less) and…well, in all justice, _I_ wouldn’t want to be responsible for scheduling several hundred presenters and allotting them room in a multi-hotel labyrinth that would baffle the Minotaur.
Several of the hotels are linked physically, both above and below-ground, and all of the “writer’s-track” panels and events were held in the bowels of the earth, two or three stories _under_ the hotel complex. This made finding the locations for various panels a little challenging, but the hotels did tend to scatter staff members with a lavish hand, so it wasn’t that hard to find someone to ask. Still, the schedulers were inclined to put eight people or so on a panel, just to insure that three or four of them showed up on time—with the result that sometimes you really _had_ eight or nine people on a panel, which is a little unwieldy.
I was the official guest of the Decatur Book Festival, but the DBF is more than generous in sharing guests with DragonCon, and goes so far as to provide free transportation back and forth between Decatur and downtown Atlanta (and the airport) during the weekend. I took full advantage of this, as I had to make _three_ round trips on Friday, in between DragonCon events.
My chief reason—other than the fact that I enjoy it [g] –for attending this year was to promote the upcoming publication of THE EXILE (yes, yes, yes, I know you want the unexpurgated artwork from the wedding night scene; it’ll be along in the next blog entry), and I was delighted to have everyone show such enthusiasm for the book! (My editor, Betsy Mitchell, came to DragonCon to do a panel on the graphic novel with me, and brought me a copy of the Actual Book! Always a thrill [g], when something you’ve worked on for months or years is suddenly embodied and you hold it in your hands—and this is a particular pleasure, since it’s physically beautiful, as well as A Real Book.
I did have other minor things to do, though; I did a number of panels on writing—always a lot of fun—and a very interesting one in Decatur, with several YA authors, for an audience of younger readers (and their parents). Don’t know as they’ll ask me to do that one again, though, as one of the questions was which book I remembered most vividly from my teen years and I replied—honestly—that it was FANNY HILL. [cough]
Also brought a number of the Outlander: The Musical CD’s with me, and sold them at my signing in Decatur, courtesy of The Little Shop of Stories, who hosted my event. Happy to say I sold pretty much all of them—though I’d given some to my son (see below) to carry in his suitcase, and neglected to get them back before the event. (No worries; I’ll take those with me to the Bookmarks Festival in Winston-Salem next weekend.)—and people seemed thrilled to have them.
(I’m planning to have at least some CD’s at all the independent book-store events on the book-tour, later this month, so if you’d rather not go to the bother of setting up a PayPal account (and paying shipping) or waiting ‘til we get the Amazon/iTunes connections going, _and_ you’ll be in one of the places I’ll be….I’ll have a CD for you there! [g] (Special Event Price – $15.00!))
Beyond the pleasure of meeting fans, talking about writing, and sharing fabulous music, I was also supporting the efforts of a couple of Worthy Young Men.
First of these being Samuel Sykes (www.samsykes.com), hot new author of heroic fantasy, and [cough] my son. His first novel, TOME OF THE UNDERGATES, was published in the UK earlier this year, but comes out in the US this month. Having got an agent, a three-book contract, published in six countries, and good reviews, all on his own, he’s now willing to admit that he’s related to me. [g]
Sam was at DragonCon, promoting the US release of TOME, so I took a copy with me to my various panels and talks and was allowed to brag on it and show off the very attractive cover (see above). Pleased to note that Sam’s publisher had brought 50 copies of TOME to the Con—all of which sold by Sunday morning. (I didn’t do _nearly_ that well with _my_ first book…)
The second young man being Allan Scott-Douglas, who sings the role of Jamie Fraser on the Outlander: The Musical CD. Allan told me that owing to the kind interest of all the Outlander fans, he was #2 “most viewed actor” on the UK castingcallpro website for professional actors—“Only behind the new girl on Coronation Street.” I laughed and said that if he wanted to be #1, I’d mention him while in Atlanta, and we’d see what happened.
So…I did, and y’all made him #1 within about 24 hours—MANY thanks!
(Though I think I rather shocked him by reporting that I’d had a good response to his photo (in kilt) at the “Sex in Science-Fiction” panel. “How on earth did you manage to use my picture in a panel on sex?!” being his rather agitated reply. “I’m glad they liked it…but a little weirded out!” (Granted, that sort of panel usually starts on a low note and heads straight downhill, but not to worry; I didn’t do anything even slightly undignified. It’s just that the moderator’s first question was, “So…what do you personally find sexy in sf or fantasy? Let’s start with you, Dr. Gabaldon…” –whereupon, moved by inspiration, I pulled Allan’s photo out of the folder I was carrying and solemnly displayed it to the crowd, all of whom burst into applause. Responding to the iconic “Man-in-Kilt” image, I mean, not Allan’s personal attributes. (Coulda been worse. One of the DragonCon events was (I kid you not) “Men in Kilts…woman with leaf-blower.”))
Only justice, though, that a man in a kilt then made _me_ blush, in Decatur. [g] During the Q&A following my talk, a tall, nice-looking gentleman at the back of the church stood up and told me that he’d been impressed by the accuracy of my depictions of the area of North Carolina near where he lived, and would like to offer his services if I needed any research—adding that he would put his resources at my disposal.
OK. I’d already told all my indelicate kilt stories. [cough] So I laughed, thanked him, and said, “In terms of resources—I won’t ask whether you have a kilt.” Whereupon he stepped out into the aisle, arms spread, displaying…a very becoming kilt. [g]
Anyway, it was a terrific weekend—if Really, Really Busy—and I had a wonderful time meeting so many nice people!
Here are some brief video clips from the live launch of “Outlander: The Musical” in Aberdeen last month!
(Apologies for the poor sound; these were done with a small hand-held camera.)
IT’S GONNA BE A BUSY WEEKEND!!
I’ll be appearing at the Decatur Book Festival and Dragon*Con in Atlanta this weekend—pretty much simultaneously! Events and times are listed below (please note that I won’t be doing the events scheduled for Monday!).
Now, normally, I don’t Twitter [g]–no time!–but it strikes me that this weekend might just be the kind of situation where that might be helpful. So—just in case y’all want to follow me temporarily, my Twitter ID is “Writer_DG.”
DECATUR BOOK FESTIVAL
All my events in Decatur will be on Saturday afternoon (Sept. 4):
1:00 PM – “Meet and Greet” in the AJC tent. This is a brief opportunity to chat with readers. It’s not a book-signing.
3:00 PM – main talk/reading – Presbyterian Church. I’ll talk about anything y’all would like to hear about
(The talk will be followed by a book-signing—usually held across the street. !!!I will have a limited number of Outlander: The Musical” CD’s!!! available at this signing. (limited by the number I can carry…))
5:00 PM – Panel. “Break in Case of Emergency: This Book Could Save Your Life!” on The Escape teen stage. (Advice from adult authors on books to read.)
***An Hour with Diana Gabaldon
D. Gabaldon; Mon 10:00 am; Intl. C
Outlander in Graphic Terms
Diana and Betsy discuss how the graphic
version came to be and the transition
from prose to graphic novel. D. Gabaldon,
B. Mitchell; Fri 5:30 pm; Fairlie [H]
(We’ll be showing off some of the art–and will have an Actual Book to show, too!)
Sexy Science Fiction
What makes a book sexy? Naked women
and actual sex scenes? Or are there other
literary pheromones at work? J. Ward,
G. Martin, D. Gabaldon, D. Whiteside, G
Mitchell (M); Fri 10:00 pm; Fairlie [H]
Trends in Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
This panel will discuss the very fluid
paranormal/urban fantasy fiction market.
C. Burke, C. L. Wilson, J. St. Giles, D.
Gabaldon, L. Gresh, D. Knight; Fri 11:30
am; Manila/Singapore/Hong Kong [H]
Pros Discuss Plot Development
These pros discuss methods of developing
unpredictable, but believable plots. C.
Burke, J. Moore, J. Sherman, J. Maberry,
D. Gabaldon, L. Gresh; Sat 8:30 pm;
Manila/Singapore/Hong Kong [H]
Ingredients for great fiction
A little sugar, a little spice? A surprising
plot, a great cast of characters, intriguing
settings blend into great fiction. N.
Knight, G. Watkins, J. Wurts, A. Sowards,
M. Resnick, C. Eddy, S. M. Stirling,
D. Gabaldon; Sun 5:30 pm; Manila/
Singapore/Hong Kong [H]
Got a question? This is a question and
answer panel that will address questions
from the audience. S. Chastain, D.
Dixon, J. Moore, C. Douglas, J. St. Giles,
D. Gabaldon; Mon 1:00 pm; Manila/
Singapore/Hong Kong [H]
***The Future of Fantastic Fiction
This panel explores markets with wellestablished
authors making suggestions
for audience members. G. Hayes, A.
Martin, E. Moon, J. St. Giles, D. Gabaldon;
Mon 4:00 pm; Manila/Singapore/Hong
*** I’m sorry to miss these events—especially the “Hour with Diana”!—but the unfortunate fact is that the DragonCon programming committee didn’t bother to send me this schedule. I got it from a fan who’d picked it up from the website three days ago—by which time I (rather naturally) had already booked my flights, leaving Monday morning. Will hope to catch up with y’all at one of the other events over the weekend, though!
Why, yes, actually I _have_ (in and amongst everything else) been working on Book Eight. [g] I think I showed you a brief snip of the pickup to the Jem-in-the-tunnel cliffhanger last month; here’s a likewise brief snip of the one between Jamie and Lord John:
Excerpt, Book Eight
Copyright 2010 Diana Gabaldon
He’d been quite resigned to dying. Had expected it from the moment that he’d blurted out, “I have had carnal knowledge of your wife.” The only question in his mind had been whether Fraser would shoot him, stab him, or eviscerate him with his bare hands.
To have the injured husband regard him calmly, and say merely, “Oh? Why?” was not merely unexpected, but…infamous. Absolutely infamous.
“Why?” John Grey repeated, incredulous. “Did you say ‘Why’?”
“I did. And I should appreciate an answer.”
Now that Grey had both eyes open, he could see that Fraser’s outward calm was not quite so impervious as he’d first supposed. There was a pulse beating in Fraser’s temple, and he’d shifted his weight a little, like a man might do in the vicinity of a tavern brawl, not quite ready to commit violence, but readying himself to meet it. Perversely, Grey found this sight steadying.
“What do you bloody mean, ‘why’?” he said, suddenly irritated. “And why aren’t you fucking dead?”
“I often wonder that myself,” Fraser replied politely. “I take it ye thought I was?”
“Yes, and so did your wife! Do you have the faintest idea what the knowledge of your death _did_ to her?”
The dark blue eyes narrowed just a trifle.
“Are ye implying that the news of my death deranged her to such an extent that she lost her reason and took ye to her bed by force? Because,” he went on, neatly cutting off Grey’s heated reply, “unless I’ve been seriously misled regarding your own nature, it would take substantial force to compel ye to any such action. Or am I wrong?”
The eyes stayed narrow. Grey stared back at them. Then he closed his eyes briefly and rubbed both hands hard over his face, like a man waking from nightmare. He dropped his hands and opened his eyes again.
“You are not misled,” he said, through clenched teeth. “And you _are_ wrong.”
(I showed this picture to our excellent web-mistress, who said, “Does every Scot have a kilt pic? What they don’t realize is, all they have to do is go on any Diana Gabaldon fan board, and pick up any single woman they want, from anywhere in the world! *g* Doesn’t even matter what they look like, they just need the kilt and the accent.” )
Kevin is both the singer and the song. By which I mean that he’s the composer and creator of all the music for the Outlander: The Musical CD—and also sings the voices of Dougal MacKenzie and Ian Murray _on_ the CD. (You can hear him as Dougal in “The Message” and as Ian in the hilarious “Why Did I Marry a Fraser?” (in which Jamie and Jenny bicker in the background as Ian and Claire condole with each other: Ian/Claire: “[Frasers]…they’re awkward/and sulky/bad-tempered/and vain” (Jamie: “VAIN?!” Claire: “Yes, you strut about there like a Highland John Wayne…”)) as well as a brief bit in “I Am Ready”).
Kevin’s also aka the Laird of Balnamoon – pronounced, he says, “Bonny Moon” in old Scots—this being the name of his house, “Cotton of Balnamoon,” an ancient structure once belonging to a Jacobite laird named James Carnegy-Arbuthnott*)
* James Carnegy-Arbuthnott, Laird of Balnamoon, favoured the Jacobite cause and was known as the Rebel Laird. He was Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Deputy-Lieutenant of Forfarshire and an officer in Lord Ogilvy’s Angus regiment. He survived the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and fled to Glen Esk where he was harboured by locals until he was betrayed by the local Presbyterian minister. Sent for trial in London, he was acquitted on a misnomer. (In 1745 he had added his wife’s surname and territorial designation of Arbuthnott of Findowrie to his own name, from whence arose the confusion). [From Wikipedia]
Pictures, you say. Well….see, the thing is, if I’m taking pictures, I’m always looking around for something to take a picture _of_. Which is not an unreasonable thing to do, but it stops me actually _seeing_ things.
And it gets in the way of the things that are looking for me.
For instance, the last bit of the recent trip was two and a half days in Ireland. This was research, as part of SCOTTISH PRISONER takes place there—but rather random research, as I wasn’t looking for a specific battlefield or anything of that sort, but just absorbing the vibes of County Galway and Limerick (as well as Dublin) and sitting around in pubs listening to people talk (I have some slight ear for Scots, but none at all for Irish regional accents or idiom).
Well, so. Our path to Limerick took us (by plan) through Athlone, as a certain amount of 17th-century Jacobite plotting went on there, and I thought it might be useful. Nothing specific in mind, though, so we were just driving through the city, looking round in a vague way for the castle. “You don’t know where it is?” asked my husband (gallantly doing all the wrong-side-of-the-road driving, and thus slightly white-knuckled in the narrow streets).
“Nope,” I said cheerily. “I may not even need it, but if I do, I’m sure we’ll find it.” So on we went, reaching the far side of the city pretty fast (it’s a small city, Athlone). Rather than get onto an unfamiliar motorway, we pulled into the parking lot of a shopping center—which was across the street from a park, with a river running through it.
OK. One of my basic principles when on foreign ground is that you always head for water. River, lake, ocean, pond—it doesn’t matter. Something interesting is always going on near water. So we crossed the road, and Doug headed—with logic—right for the river. I stopped dead, at a ratty little poster in a frame, showing faded depictions of the flora and fauna to be found on the River Shannon (that being what we standing next to). I took a quick, but intense look at this, and when I spotted “amphibious bistort,” I heard, clear as anything, the following:
“Fraser glowered at the plant in his hand.
“And what’s that?”
“An amphibious bistort, if I’m not mistaken,” Grey replied, with some pleasure at the name.
“Can ye eat it?”
Grey surveyed the spindly thing critically and shook his head.
“Not unless you were starving.”
“I’m not. Put it back and let’s go.”
Right. So the River Shannon and the amphibious bistort were looking for me—but I certainly wouldn’t have found them, if I’d been looking for church spires or cud-chewing cows to take photos of. (No, I have no idea why these people are where they are; I just know they _are_, because I’ve just seen them there.) And on the way back through town, sure enough, Castle Athlone materialized right in front of us, and I spent a blissful twenty minutes climbing through it. So when the time comes, I can pull that memory up entire, from the tiny flowering plants growing in the cracks of the black stone, to the way the arrow slits widen on the inner aspect, to allow for someone drawing a bow—and I know that a bow-shot from one of those slits would have reached a boat coming ashore from the Shannon (having come down from Lough Rea—don’t ask me who’s in the boat or who’s shooting at them; I don’t know that yet), because I know how far it is from the Castle to the River—not far at all.
And that’s why I don’t take pictures when I travel. (I _do_ collect postcards from art museums.)
So I’m afraid the only picture I came home from Scotland with is the one above, of me and Big Bir—er, me and Mr. Allan Scott-Douglas (the voice of Jamie Fraser on the outlanderthemusical CD), who very graciously came to have a drink with me and sign a bunch of CD’s. (NO, I have _not_ just made some scandalous remark that caused Mr. Scott-Douglas to blush—would I do that? He’s just got a ferocious sunburn from outdoor rehearsals for his next show, “King Arthur”, which is being performed at Craigcrook Castle near Edinburgh, later this month. See here for details.)
[As an afterthought, it seemed only fair to show you a photo of Allan _in_ character, though he's no less charming as himself.]
Oh—before I forget, there’s a brand-new video of the song-snips from Outlander: The Musical, here! (And many, many thanks to the talented Michelle Moore, who made it!)
Not that I have been _entirely_ frivolous over the last couple of weeks. I’ve also just finished a novella titled “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies,” and here’s a bit of it, for your entertainment–hope you enjoy it!
“Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” – excerpt
Copyright 2010 Diana Gabaldon
[This will be published in an anthology titled DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. No, I don’t have a pub date for this yet, but am assuming sometime in 2011.]
“Your servant, sah,” he said to Grey, bowing respectfully. “The Governor’s compliments, and dinner will be served in ten minutes. May I see you to the dining room?”
“You may,” Grey said, reaching hastily for his coat. He didn’t doubt that he could find the dining-room unassisted, but the chance to watch this young man walk…
“You may,” Tom Byrd corrected, entering with his hands full of grooming implements, “once I’ve put his lordship’s hair to rights.” He fixed Grey with a minatory eye. “You’re not a-going in to dinner like that, me lord, and don’t you think it. You sit down there.” He pointed sternly to a stool, and Lieutenant-Colonel Grey, commander of His Majesty’s forces in Jamaica, meekly obeyed the dictates of his nineteen-year-old valet. He didn’t always allow Tom free rein, but in the current circumstance, was just as pleased to have an excuse to sit still in the company of the young black servant.
Tom laid out all his implements neatly on the dressing-table, from a pair of silver hairbrushes to a box of powder and a pair of curling tongs, with the care and attention of a surgeon arraying his knives and saws. Selecting a hairbrush, he leaned closer, peering at Grey’s head, then gasped. “Me lord! Tthere’s a big huge spider–walking right up your temple!”
Grey smacked his temple by reflex, and the spider in question—a clearly visible brown thing nearly a half-inch long—shot off into the air, striking the looking-glass with an audible tap before dropping to the surface of the dressing-table and racing for its life.
Tom and the black servant uttered identical cries of horror and lunged for the creature, colliding in front of the dressing table and falling over in a thrashing heap. Grey, strangling an almost irresistible urge to laugh, stepped over them and dispatched the fleeing spider neatly with the back of his other hairbrush.
He pulled Tom to his feet and dusted him off, allowing the black servant to scramble up by himself. He brushed off all apologies as well, but asked whether the spider had been a deadly one?
“Oh, yes, sah,” the servant assured him fervently. “Should one of those bite you, sah, you would suffer excruciating pain at once. The flesh around the wound would putrefy, you would commence to be fevered within an hour, and in all likelihood, you would not live until dawn.”
“Oh, I see,” Grey said mildly, his flesh creeping briskly. “Well, then. Perhaps you would not mind looking about the room while Tom is at his work? In case such spiders go about in company?”
Grey sat and let Tom brush and plait his hair, watching the young man as he assiduously searched under the bed and dressing-table, pulled out Grey’s trunk, and pulled up the trailing curtains and shook them.
“What is your name?” he asked the young man, noting that Tom’s fingers were trembling badly, and hoping to distract him from thoughts of the hostile wildlife with which Jamaica undoubtedly teemed. Tom was fearless in the streets of London, and perfectly willing to face down ferocious dogs or foaming horses. Spiders, though, were quite another matter.
“Rodrigo, sah,” said the young man, pausing in his curtain-shaking to bow. “Your servant, sah.”
He seemed quite at ease in company, and conversed with them about the town, the weather—he confidently predicted rain in the evening, at about ten o’clock–leading Grey to think that he had likely been employed as a servant in good families for some time. Was the man a slave? he wondered, or a free black?
His admiration for Rodrigo was, he assured himself, the same that he might have for a marvelous piece of sculpture, an elegant painting. And one of his friends did in fact possess a collection of Greek amphorae decorated with scenes that gave him quite the same sort of feeling. He shifted slightly in his seat, crossing his legs. He would be going into dinner soon. He resolved to think of large, hairy spiders, and was making some progress with this subject when something huge and black dropped down the chimney and rushed out of the disused hearth.
All three men shouted and leapt to their feet, stamping madly. This time it was Rodrigo who felled the intruder, crushing it under one sturdy shoe.
“What the devil was that?” Grey asked, bending over to peer at the thing, which was a good three inches long, gleamingly black, and roughly ovoid, with ghastly long, twitching antennae.
“Only a cockroach, sah,” Rodrigo assured him, wiping a hand across a sweating ebon brow. “They will not harm you, but they are most disagreeable. If they come into your bed, they feed upon your eyebrows.”
Tom uttered a small strangled cry. The cockroach, far from being destroyed, had merely been inconvenienced by Rodrigo’s shoe. It now extended thorny legs, heaved itself up and was proceeding about its business, though at a somewhat slower pace. Grey, the hairs prickling on his arms, seized the ash-shovel from among the fireplace implements and scooping up the insect on its blade, jerked open the door and flung the nasty creature as far as he could—which, given his state of mind, was some considerable distance.
Tom was pale as custard when Grey came back in, but picked up his employer’s coat with trembling hands. He dropped it, though, and with a mumbled apology, bent to pick it up again, only to utter a strangled shriek, drop it again, and run backwards, slamming so hard against the wall that Grey heard a crack of laths and plaster.
“What the devil?” He bent, reaching gingerly for the fallen coat.
“Don’t touch it, me lord!” Tom cried, but Grey had seen what the trouble was; a tiny yellow snake slithered out of the blue-velvet folds, head moving to and fro in slow curiosity.
“Well, hallo, there.” He reached out a hand, and as before, the little snake tasted his skin with a flickering tongue, then wove its way up into the palm of his hand. He stood up, cradling it carefully.
Tom and Rodrigo were standing like men turned to stone, staring at him.
“It’s quite harmless,” he assured them. “At least I think so. It must have fallen into my pocket earlier.”
Rodrigo was regaining a little of his nerve. He came forward and looked at the snake, but declined an offer to touch it, putting both hands firmly behind his back.
“That snake likes you, sah,” he said, glancing curiously from the snake to Grey’s face, as though trying to distinguish a reason for such odd particularity.
“Possibly.” The snake had made its way upward and was now wrapped round two of Grey’s fingers, squeezing with remarkable strength. “On the other hand, I believe he may be attempting to kill and eat me. Do you know what his natural food might be?”
Rodrigo laughed at that, displaying very beautiful white teeth, and Grey had such a vision of those teeth, those soft mulberry lips, applied to—he coughed, hard, and looked away.
“He would eat anything that did not try to eat him first, sah,” Rodrigo assured him. “It was probably the sound of the cockroach that made him come out. He would hunt those.”
“What a very admirable sort of snake. Could we find him something to eat, do you think? To encourage him to stay, I mean.”
Tom’s face suggested strongly that if the snake was staying, he was not. On the other hand….he glanced toward the door, whence the cockroach had made its exit, and shuddered. With great reluctance, he reached into his pocket and extracted a rather squashed bread-roll, containing ham and pickle.
This object being placed on the floor before it, the snake inspected it gingerly, ignored bread and pickle, but twining itself carefully about a chunk of ham, squeezed it fiercely into limp submission, then, opening its jaw to an amazing extent, engulfed its prey, to general cheers. Even Tom clapped his hands, and—if not ecstatic at Grey’s suggestion that the snake might be accommodated in the dark space beneath the bed for the sake of preserving Grey’s eyebrows, uttered no objections to this plan, either. The snake being ceremoniously installed and left to digest its meal, Grey was about to ask Rodrigo further questions regarding the natural fauna of the island, but was forestalled by the faint sound of a distant gong.
“Dinner!” he exclaimed, reaching for his now snakeless coat.
“Me lord! Your hair’s not even powdered!” He refused to wear a wig, to Tom’s ongoing dismay, but was obliged in the present instance to submit to powder. This toiletry accomplished in haste, he shrugged into his coat and fled, before Tom could suggest any further refinements to his appearance.