It is just about two years to the day since my novel The Folly of the World was published, and in honor of such an admittedly inauspicious occasion I've dug up one of the rough chapters that didn't quite make it into the final draft. In the course of its development this book underwent far more radical alterations than my previous two novels, with literally hundreds of pages left on the cutting room floor, but this bit allllllllmost made it into the book...and being one of the last to go, it fits with the final product, so I don't mind sharing it. By contrast, I don't think I'll be displaying any of the chapters which featured Jeanne d'Arc macking on Jo or Gilles de Rais turning into an eel-monster--like I said, this book went through some pretty extreme mutations along the way. This particular chapter would have appeared midway through the novel, as one of the first sections from Sander's perspective after we find out he's passed himself off as Jan but before things take a turn. With no further ado, then, here is a chapter that almost was, but wasn't.
Excised Chapter: “It is Healthy to Piss on a Fire”
His Worship Graaf Jan Tieselen had an appointment with the honorable Laurent Denize scheduled for noon, but Sander decided to blow off his lawyer in favor of a rat hunt. Laurent would be irritated, and so would Hobbe, whenever Laurent complained to the Count, but they could both kiss the Devil’s ass, and Sander’s besides—the rain had finally let up after a solid week of drizzly nonsense, and that meant the rats would be out in force down at Trash Island. Throwing open the shutters and letting in the sun, Sander eschewed his pot and pissed out the window, admiring the play of light on the long thread of gold unspooling from cherry cock to cheery canal.
Had his father ever made his water from such height? Doubtful, unless the dastard had climbed a tree just to drain the eel. Jan might have, in his youth, but Sander got by very well these days without speculating on dead men in general, and not the one that made him queasy in particular. Let the past stay in its grave. Was that something people said? They should, it made more sense than a lot of the nonsense folk jabbered on about. He shook off with a flourish, and waved to a pale lad in a window across the canal. The young man pretended not to notice, pinning up red curtains that promptly fell in front of him, like a lolling dog’s tongue obscuring its tooth. Funny how many houses across the way had put up curtains of late—real winter was still a long way off, knock the sill and make a prayer.
Sander was in high spirits as he dressed himself in fine rose leggings and a cream jerkin, but the smudges of grease on the tasseled elbows of his umber coat made him frown. Lansloet was neglecting his duties. If the miserable old skeleton thought his master didn’t know what he got up to on his attic expeditions he was even dafter than Sander suspected. Whether a man chose to spend his leisure time jerking off in a loft was his own business, but by the love of Lizzy and the rest of the saints he’d properly clean Sander’s gear before waxing his own.
Wait a breath—who was that handsome rake on the east wall, looking as fine as a flower? Funny, as much time as he’d spent in the well as a boy he’d never really taken the time to inspect his reflection, never had much notion at all of how he might appear to a random set of peepers. Or his own, come to that. Admiring himself in the tin mirror framed to look like a stylized sun, Sander frowned. His left eye had a thick pea green goopus pooled in the lashes. Disgusting. The bowl on the dry sink beneath the mirror was cold to the touch. Lazy sack of beggars’ bones. Lansloet must have realized that Sander rarely washed in the mornings, and had taken it as an excuse to slack on providing hot water.
“Thinks I’m some witless cunt, doesn’t know old from fresh,” Sander muttered as he daubed the edge of his sleeve into the bowl and pressed it to his face. The eye was itchier than usual, but after a few passes of the cuff he’d got all the slime off it. Blinking in the mirror, he looked back at the picture of genteel good looks—roughly trimmed goatee and mustache, with a fashionable shadow of stubble filling in the rest of his neck and cheeks, yellow teeth flecked with only a little black, steel blue eyes shot through with crimson squiggles, wiry nose hair barely protruding from their caves. Looking good!
No answer. Sander stalked around the room, finding the wool trousers he’d worn out to the inn the night before and removing the whole belt rather than fucking with the purse’s tight knot. He fit the leather strap above his hips and cinched it well before buckling—stupid leggings didn’t have belt loops, he’d have to see that Lansloet or one of the wenches took care of that next time he wasn’t wearing them. The purse still had some jingle to it, so he couldn’t have had too good a time at the White Horse.
“Lansloet!” Still nothing. Dour old goat reminded Sander of his grandfather, always just sitting there and staring like a toad that might be dead or might just be daft. He left his chambers and contemplated the narrow stair leading up to the attic. Place was big as a castle yet theirs were the only two rooms on the second story, his at the back of the house and Jo’s at the front, meaning if Lansloet was hiding up there he was trapped.
But no. Better to check downstairs first—Sander was increasingly of a mood to let himself grow properly angry before confronting the servant, and nothing would piss him off more than discovering that Lansloet had been above him the whole time. He stomped to the end of the hall, giving Jo’s door a vicious kick before heading downstairs. Lazy bitch would sleep the day away, give her half the chance.
“Lansloet!” Sander’s heels bounced loudly down the narrow stairs and he skipped the last few altogether, landing beside his boots in the foyer. There were voices drifting through the break between the recently repainted double doors of the study, and he looked to the rack by the front door. There was a thick, pearl-hued cloak hanging from the end, and a swagger stick of matching white ash propped against the wall beneath it. That son of a faithless fuck.
No matter, he wasn’t caught yet. Lowering himself as quietly as possible onto the bottom step, Sander shoved his feet into a pair of polished turnshoes. It would be muddy as the Devil’s garden out there but his boots would take too long to get on, and this venture called for haste as well as silence. Buggers were tight as new tail, but they’d let him in soon enough. If he’d untied them at the start it would have been easy, but now that he was committed he’d just have to—there!
Standing up, he heard the discussion in the study come to a pause. They were no doubt looking to the study door. They could stare forever like a pair of stinking statues for all he cared, he’d never heard them at all. He’d have to pop by Poorter’s to borrow a bow since all of his were either in there or back up in his room, but dealing with the pudding-wrangler was a small price for avoiding Hobbe on as fine a ratting day as they’d had all autumn.
A chair squeaked in the study as somebody rose, but they were too late. With a satisfied grin Sander popped the latch and dashed out the door, leaping down the front steps like his ass was one fire and—
—nearly careened into Laurent, who was wiping some shit from his shoes on the bottom of the stoop. The lawyer stumbled backwards with a surprisingly dignified squawk as Sander tried to avert his course mid-flight, flailing his arms and coming down in a crouch on the cobblestones beside Laurent. For a moment the old buck rabbit impulse came on Sander, to punch this jester in the poffertjes and make a run for it down the street, to dash through refuse-crowded alleys and over narrow stone bridges until he hit the harbor, and then away, away, over river and meer, through field and forest, away, away…
“Graaf Tieselen,” said Laurent, with a rude little bow that was so mocking in its posture that Sander had half a mind to slap the dirty swindler before reminding himself that Laurent treated everyone with the same shabbiness, even Hobbe. Hey there, that was a rather appealing hat he wore—was it velvet? Nice stitching, very nice.
“There you two are,” said Hobbe from the doorway of Sander’s house. “I heard a commotion, and made to run off whatever hounds were screwing on your step.”
The lawyer said something in his native French to the Count, and they both had a laugh while Sander straightened back up and weighed whether or not to attack these ticks, here and now, damn the consequences. He wasn’t some toothless grampa to be mocked at his own home by a Frank and a wank, and his hands clenched to fists at his slightly doughy sides. He was going ratting, by all the saints, and these assholes would eat street before they stopped him.
“Come, come,” said Laurent, shaking his wide, leather document valise at Sander. “When you didn’t make our appointment I knew I’d better bring the contracts to you. This so-called Bumpkin you’ve been cozying up with is going to make us all a rather tidy little profit, and I don’t want to give him time to reevaluate his commitment. Graafs as gullible as he are not so common as sheep who walk on hind legs, yes?”
“I…I missed our appointment?” said Sander, allowing the older man to take his elbow and lead him back toward his house. The blue sky was treacherous as a cloak of the same cloth, apparently—what time was it? “What time is it?”
“Later than you think,” called Hobbe, retreating back into the foyer. “I was just telling Jolanda, we have much to discuss when Laurent is done with you.”
Sander paused on his step, desperate for escape. None to be had. Wait, who the devil was that? A shadowy figure was watching them from down where the lane bent to the left, but Sander immediately set his jaw against the notion—he was only shadowy because of the afternoon sun, only watching because that’s what people did, watch each other. Like this pair of crows was always minding him, minding his cellar. Minding his larder.
“I was thinking we’d all dine together, yes?” Hobbe’s voice drifted out of the doorway.
“Excellent,” said Laurent before Sander could splutter out a protest. “These will take us at least until the food is ready, but I don’t see why you shouldn’t oversee the contracts as well, Count Wurfbain. After all, without your facilitation I don’t suppose we could have sewn up the arrangements so neatly, though I hear our dear Graaf Tieselen did a wonderful job brokering the initial deal.”
“I did, didn’t I,” Sander said, looking forlornly down Blaakstreet to where the curious stranger had moved on around the bend. The empty cobble lane was set with gems of azure sky and mousy white clouds where the shrinking puddles reflected the heavens. As fine weather for ratting as was ever ruined by the schemes of goddamn ponces. The Graaf Jan Tieselen reentered his grand house, and did not emerge again that day.
Happy holidays, everyone, and may your proverbs always stay proverbial!