Time to introduce the third character of the love triangle in The Dreamless City, my steampunk urban fantasy novel. Daschel Stagunner has been more of a challenge for me to write throughout the whole story. I have been many things in my life, but a teenage boy was not one of them. Nissa, on the other hand, seems to pop onto the page. It should be mentioned that while many of my protagonists seem… acquisitional… I have no tendencies towards kleptomania.
As always, constructive comments and suggestions are welcomed.
Nissa knocked on the oak-paneled door and waited, shifting from foot to foot. She did not hear anything. She wanted to get this over with and get back to the stables, even if it meant more of Reynard’s rules. This sneakthief knew she did not belong abovestairs. Turning the knob, she opened the door and slipped inside.
She intended to put Daschel’s gloves on the carved mahogany dresser and leave, but once she was inside the bedroom, Nissa decided it would not hurt to take a look around and acquaint herself with her employer’s family.
The dresser was covered with bits of paper covered in precise handwriting, receipts from fancy cafes, ticket stubs from theater shows, and all sorts of coins. Not just schills, he had carelessly scattered frankels across the gleaming finish. There was even a golden crown buried under the detritus of so many pockets.
Nissa’s fingers itched. No one would know, especially not with the haphazard way things were organized. It would be insurance for when this gig finally ran out. She did not fool herself into thinking this was a long-term arrangement. She was so obviously different from everyone else on this hill, even the other servants. She felt like a pigeon among the doves.
She selected a few schills, a couple frankels, and, in a moment of greed, the golden crown. Her fingers were running over the curved edge of the heavy coin as the door opened. Alarmed, she swept her hand over the top of the dresser, knocking everything to the floor, covering anything she may have disturbed in a broad swath of disarray. She whirled around.
Daschel stood in the doorway, his hand on the knob, a bemused expression on his face.
“I usually have some warning before a lass shows up in my bedroom,” he said.
“You left these in the stables,” Nissa said, waiving the leather gloves in front of her as explanation before setting them on the dresser. She scratched her left cuff nervously, slipping a coin into her sleeve. “I was returning them.”
“I’ve always been that way. I misplace things like my gloves all the time.” Daschel flashed a grin and ran a rueful hand through his golden mane. It managed to look artfully disheveled where the same gesture would have made Nissa’s hair stand up like stork feathers. “I hope you didn’t tell Reynard. He’ll tease me about this for ages.”
“Actually, Reynard told me to bring the gloves up here. Said he didn’t have time to mess with it, and didn’t want them cluttering up his tack room.” She shrugged, tucking a coin into the other cuff.
“Sounds like our head groom is trying to get rid of you as fast as possible. Not surprising, if you’re making half the mess in the stables that you made of my bedroom.”
Nissa shoved her hands in her pockets sheepishly. In went two more coins. Chink, chink.
“Are you going to stand there or are you going to clean it up?” he asked. “I’m not calling a maid for this.”
Nissa rubbed the back of her neck, feigning embarrassment, and slipped the golden crown into her collar. She felt it slide down her spine to land tucked in her waistband. Ka-chink. “I didn’t mean to make a mess,” she said, bending down cautiously to pick up the papers and remaining coins on the expensive carpet. She did not want any of her pilfered prizes to jingle and give her away.
“Hope you do a better job mucking out stalls than you did with this simple errand. Hate for my father to kick you out when you just arrived,” he said.
She stood up, papers and coins in her hands, and found Daschel standing uncomfortably close to her. They were the same height, and she mistakenly made eye contact with him. She held his gaze, not wanting to seem weak by breaking away first.
His eyes were the clear blue of the sky on a summer afternoon. They looked so open and innocent, like she could trust him with her secrets. But what secrets could she tell this Hightown lad that would not have him turning away from her? How she lived on the streets? How she could not remember the last time she had slept in clean sheets? She blushed and looked away, losing her internal battle.
“Can I ask you a question?” he asked quietly.
Nissa nodded, but did not look at Daschel. He made her feel entirely too much like being honest for her comfort.
“How did you do that with Elysees yesterday? I swear that damn horse was going to run himself off a cliff before you caught ahold of him. I’ve never seen a lass make a flying mount like that before. ”
“I traveled with a circus during a winter some years ago. They had stunt riders who showed me a few tricks. If you thought that was amazing, you should have seen the things their dog could do on the back of a pony. You’d swear it could fly,” Nissa said, guiding the conversation down a safer path.
“I thought you were magnificent. You really made an impression on Elysees too. I’ve never seen him respond to someone like that before. He has so much natural ability, but it’s almost impossible to get him to focus. I’ve never seen a horse that loved to run so much but didn’t have the instinct for racing.”
“He’s a remarkable horse. I’m sure you figure him out,” Nissa said.
“I’m glad that I ran into you, albeit I didn’t expect it to be in my rooms.” Daschel was still standing close to her, watching her face intently. The reminder of the bedroom made Nissa swallow.
“I wanted to ask you if you would help us with Elysees’ training,” Daschel continued, placing a warm hand on her shoulder. “I think you could be what we’ve needed to get him ready for the races.”
“Won’t Reynard have a problem with that? He doesn’t care for me much,” Nissa said. This had not been a wise decision to open the bedroom door, coins be damned. She did not need to get tied up in a mucking mess like this.
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll talk to him this evening. It will all work out great.” Daschel flashed a lazy smile and gave her shoulder a squeeze before releasing it.
Nissa nodded, relieved he had not tried to kiss her. She would have been marched out the front gates for sure. As she piled the papers and coins beside the leather gloves, she realized it was not wise to argue with her employer’s son. However, she had her doubts Reynard, the head groom, would accept the changes so readily.
Thanks for checking out this excerpt from my work-in-progress. If you have suggestions, please feel free to share.