NaNoWriMo 2020 Planning Journey: Sneak Peeks

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As I mentioned in my last planning journey post, I’m writing out scenes that happen before the novel as a way to get to know my characters better before November and starting the actual novel.  Today I wanted to share some sneak peeks and a few of the scenes I’ve written so you can see exactly what I mean.  These are fairly rough (just drafted, a very quick copy edit, and with placeholders and inconsistencies intact) but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

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Meet Emma

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 [Note: nine years old, arriving at Verity household]

Emma waited until the coach had come to a complete stop before jumping down from the seat on the back.  She stepped around the side and waited for her cousin, who had been driving it, to tell her what to do.  She wasn’t entirely sure how she was supposed to know what to do now that she was here at the Verity’s ancestral home.

“Alright?” her cousin asked softly as he stepped down from the driver’s seat.

Emma nodded.  Being on the seat at the back meant she could move around a lot more than if she’d had to ride inside with their passengers.

“Just stay there and look dutiful for now,” he whispered to her before opening the coach door.

Emma shifted slightly so she was standing with her back to the coach wheel and faced the mansion.  That at least gave her something to look at as she stood quietly, hands folded against her belly like her mother taught her.

The mansion was huge.  Mother had told her that the family didn’t all live here anymore, and that they didn’t even use the entire mansion, but it was still intimidatingly huge.  It was four stories tall, taller than any building she’d ever seen.  Even the clock tower in town was only three stories tall.  The mansion was made of some kind of smooth white stone that practically glowed in the late evening light.  There were huge windows on every floor with real glass in them, not the thick bubbly kind like they had in the town hall back home, but the smooth clear kind.

She was going to be some kind of maid now, and she really hoped it wasn’t the cleaning kind.  Mother had taught her everything she might need to know.  How to clean, cook basic things, follow recipes she didn’t know, properly serve at table, dress and undress a noble lady in all the fancy clothes that were impossible to get into by yourself, style and care for hair, and assist a woman with basically any every day need.

Mother had also taught her how to be properly deferential to her employers and anyone of rank.  Emma worried about that part the most.  She was used to interacting with her mother and her younger siblings and the other families in their little town.  She’d never even seen a noble before.  Not that the Verity family were actual nobles, but she was supposed to treat them as if they were because they were her employers.

Emma continued studying the mansion as her cousin helped the two passengers from the coach and assured them their luggage would be delivered to their rooms presently.  She never turned her head as she watched the two young men walk away from the coach and up the three steps to the grand door of the mansion, which opened for them.

Once they had disappeared inside, two other men walked out, dressed in matching outfits.  Brown slacks with sharp creases, white shirts, and sharp brown vests that matched their slacks.

“Well met,” the taller of the two said, offering his hand to her cousin.  “I hope the drive wasn’t too awful.”

“The weather held the whole way, so it was fairly pleasant,” her cousin replied, laughing as he clasped hands with the man.  “This is my little cousin, Emma,” he continued, turning and beckoning her forward.

“Please to meet you,” Emma said, dipping a curtsy when she stopped beside her brother.

The shorter man laughed.  “They said you’d have good manners,” he said with a smile.  “No need to be so formal with us,” he added, smiling down at her.  “I’m Neal and this is Owen,” he continued.  “We work here, just like you, so you only have to be formal with us when we’re in front of a Verity or a guest.”

“Thank you for letting me know,” Emma replied.

“You’ll get a uniform,” Owen said, “which will be the same as all the other women employed in the house proper, and we’re wearing the uniform for men in the house proper, so you’ll be able to easily tell who the other servants are.”

Emma nodded.  That was useful information.

“Let’s get the luggage in first, then we’ll take you in to see Hollis, who can tell you all about your new job.”

“Should I help?” Emma asked.

“You can get little things,” her cousin answered.  “There are a few boxes in the coach under the seat.  If you can gather those, we’ll get the trunks.”

Emma nodded and turned back to the coach to gather things.  She would be polite and helpful.  Mother had stressed that, even when interacting with her fellow servants.

It didn’t take them long to carry everything inside, and other servants came to take everything away to the right rooms.  When they were done, Emma stood beside the empty coach unsure what to do next.  Her cousin went down on one knee so he was the same height as her and gave her a hug.

“You’ll do fine here,” he told her.  He’d been working as one of the family’s coachmen since he was twelve.  Emma was only nine.  “Just remember what your mother taught you and everything will be fine.”

Emma nodded and hugged him tight before he could stand up again.

He laughed and hugged her back before getting to his feet and reaching up onto the top of the coach.  He lifted down her little bag of belongings and handed it to her.

“I’ll see you when I come through,” he told her, patting her on the head before getting back into the driver’s seat and clicking to the horses.  He needed to see them safely to the stables and get a fresh pair for his next journey.

“This way then,” Neal said to Emma.

Emma followed him back into the house and then through a side door she hadn’t even noticed before—it was very well concealed—that lead into a narrow hallway and then into a large pantry room.  At least she assumed it was a pantry based on the lack of cooking facilities and the preponderance of vegetables and other food stuffs.

There were three women at work in the room, but only one, the oldest based on her gray hair, turned when they entered.

“Ah, this must be young Emma,” the woman said, smiling over at them.

“It is indeed,” Neal replied.

Emma dipped a curtsy even though they’d told her she didn’t need to.  If this was Hollis, then she was the head maid, which meant she was in charge of Emma and all the other maids in the house.

“She taught you well, she did,” Hollis said.  “Remember your manners in front of the family and guests, but we don’t stand on ceremony and such when we’re back in the working parts of the house.”

“Yes, mistress,” Emma replied.

“And you can just call me Hollis,” she added.  “In public you generally shouldn’t actually respond to me with more than a nod and curtsy.  We’re generally to be seen as little as possible and not heard if it can be helped.”

Emma nodded.

“Let me show you where you can put away your things and then introduce you to your new charge,” Hollis said, waving Emma forward as she turned toward the other door on the far side of the room.

This lead to the kitchen, which was bustling, but also incredibly clean.  It helped that they had the fancy steam powered cooking machines her mother had described, rather than a fire.  It meant no soot and ash to worry about.

Hollis lead her through the kitchen and out the other side into what appeared to be a dining room.  From there, they went into a wide and airy hallway and through another cleverly hidden door into another narrow hallway lit by some kind of indirect glow.  Emma wasn’t sure if it was sunlight coming from hidden windows, or if there were some sort of fancy advanced lighting somewhere.  Mother had known about the cooking machines, but didn’t know much about the other technologies the nobles and the richest commoners had access to now.

At the end of the long narrow hallway, Hollis took a right and walked all the way down to a narrow set of stairs that took them up to the second floor, where they went right again before exiting through a door Emma was worried she wouldn’t even be able to identify on her own.  They walked across another large airy hallway and into a suite of rooms.

“This is Catherine’s suite,” Hollis told Emma.  “She’s just turned nine years old, so a little bit younger than you are.”

Emma’s birthday was seven months past.  It was only the day after that they’d gotten the notice about when she would start work at the Verity household.

“You’ll be her personal maid,” Hollis explained.  “You’ll stay in this room,” she continued, opening another carefully concealed door that led into a tiny chamber with just enough room for a bed, a chest of three drawers with a pitcher and wash basin on top, and a candle in a holder.  “You’ll spend most of your time attending Catherine, but may occasionally be asked to help with other tasks if she’s away or while she’s in her lessons.”

“So I’ll assist her with anything she needs then?” Emma asked.  She knew what was expected of a lady’s made to an actual lady, but what did a little girl need?

“Yes,” Hollis replied.  “You’ll assist with bathing and dressing and the usual things, but you’ll also bring her meals if she takes them in her room, attend her if she is ever ill, and generally keep watch on her health and wellbeing.  You won’t be primarily responsible for the cleaning of her suite, which happens twice a week during her lessons, but you will make up the bed in the mornings and change linens as needed between cleanings, and deal with any messes that need immediate attention.”

Emma nodded.  That all made sense.

“You will also attend her whenever she asks,” Hollis added.  “Catherine has always been a fairly solitary child, so I don’t know how much she’ll ask of you, but if she wishes to go out into the gardens or take walks, she may ask you to accompany her.”

Emma nodded again.  So she was possibly a bit of a companion as well as a maid.  That made slightly more sense given how young she was.  Her mother hadn’t been given a place until she was twelve, and had only left it when her back was injured and she could no longer do the work.  Thankfully her father was able to support them both until her mother was well enough to take in sewing work.  Emma had helped with that for almost as long as she could remember, but they’d always known the Verity family would offer Emma a place.

“If you ever have any questions, you can come see me about them.  Catherine should be back from her lessons momentarily.  I’ll return during dinner to show you where everything is that you’ll need in her suite, tomorrow during her morning lessons I’ll show you where everything else is.”

Emma nodded again.  She hoped Catherine was a nice girl.  Her mother had warned her that not all nobles and rich commoners were kind to their servants.  Emma hoped perhaps a nine-year-old like herself wouldn’t have learned to be cruel yet.

Hollis led Emma back out of her little room and Emma closed the door behind them.  She glanced around the sitting room, which was actually quite large.  It had a couch, a chaise, and two chairs grouped around a fireplace with a low table between them.  There was also a writing desk in one corner of the room with a few books stacked on it and several quills in the stand with the ink.

There was only one door leading further into the suite, so Emma assumed that would be the dressing room with Catherine’s bedchamber being beyond that.

“Do you have any questions before Catherine arrives?” Hollis asked.

“What is the proper address for her?” Emma asked.  Catherine wasn’t a noble, so she wasn’t Lady Catherine, but she was Emma’s employer’s child and Emma’s charge.

“I recommend starting with Miss Catherine,” Hollis replied.  “She will let you know if she prefers something else when you are in private, which you can use whenever it’s just the two of you and other servants to hear.  In front of the master and mistress of the house, you should always address her as Miss Catherine.  Master Verity and Mistress Verity will be your normal address for them, and any other family members in the house should be miss or mister and their first name.  At present there are [a dozen?] members of the family staying here.”

Emma nodded.  That was a lot of names to learn.  “If I don’t recall someone’s name, would a simple miss or mister be appropriate?” she asked.

“That should suffice,” Hollis replied.  “You shouldn’t be seeing them much outside Catherine’s company, and she’ll likely supply names for you during conversation.  She’s incredibly polite and tends to make fairly formal greetings even among her own family.”

Emma nodded.  That would be helpful.  She’d learn all the names soon enough, but having help at the start would be good.

The door opened then, and Emma quickly resumed her proper posture, hands folded across her belly and looked over at the door to see who walked in.

The girl was almost a hand shorter than Emma with a delicate build, a tumble of brown curls loosely tied at her neck, and hazel eyes that sparkled as she quickly surveyed the room.  She smiled when she saw Emma and Hollis standing off to one side.

“You must be Emma,” she said, walking over to them.

“It’s nice to meet you, Miss Catherine,” Emma said, dipping a curtsey.

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” Catherine said, actually curtseying back to Emma.  “You can just call me Catherine.”

“Of course,” Emma replied.

“I’ll leave Emma to help you get ready for supper,” Hollis said.

[Notes to self: If I ever use this scene formally, go back and fix things so that the first thing Emma does is get her uniform and a few spares, and then be taken to C’s rooms.  She’d have needed a bit of cleaning up from the dirt of the road since she traveled outside on the back of the coach.  Also dinner is noon meal and supper is evening meal.]

“How can I assist you?” Emma asked after the door closed behind Hollis.

“I’m supposed to wear the nicer dresses for dinner, and mother likes my hair up,” Catherine said.  “For day wear I have simpler dresses and I can get away with wearing my hair like this as long as I don’t have something scheduled that involves mother.”

Emma followed Catherine across the sitting room and into the room beyond, which was a quite elaborate dressing room.  In one corner, perfectly placed to have the best light, there was a vanity with a stool in front of it and a large and elaborately framed mirror on a swivel mounted to the vanity.  The opposite corner was sectioned off with a folding screen and beside that was a long rack full of dresses and other clothing hanging neatly.  A few items where shrouded in white cloth, so Emma assumed those were the most costly and elaborate dresses.

“Do you have a preference of dress this evening?” Emma asked, glancing at the options.  There were a few dozen similar to the one Catherine was currently wearing in a variety of pastel shades, which Emma assumed were her day dresses.  The next set seemed to be in slightly darker colors and richer fabrics.  They also came in a wider variety of styles.

“Nothing too elaborate for supper at home,” Catherine said.  “When we have guests someone usually sets out the dress mother wants me to wear, and she supervises the packing when I travel.”

Emma nodded and went to the rack to quickly assess the dresses available.  She found one in a medium blue that was fairly simple except for the more elaborate bustle and the decorative trim on the jacket.  She stretched up to remove it from the rack and hang it on the hook on the outside of the folding screen.

“Is this acceptable?” Emma asked.

“Yes,” Catherine said, “that’s exactly right for supper.”

Emma smiled and dipped a curtsy, happy that she’d selected something appropriate based on Catherine’s instructions.

“Do you have a preferred routine before supper?” Emma asked.

“Unless I’ve been outside, I usually just need my hair done and to change,” Catherine replied.  “If I’ve been outside, I might need to a bit of a wash depending.”

“Would you prefer I do your hair before or after taking off your day dress?” Emma asked.

“After would be lovely,” Catherine said, smiling at Emma.  “It’s nice to get out of things for a little.”

Emma nodded and smiled back.  Catherine was very well spoken and sounded so much like an adult.  Emma hadn’t done much playing in the past several months, but she didn’t remember the other children being so formal when she’d had a chance to play with them back in town.

Catherine stepped over to the screen, standing next to a panel that Emma noticed had an empty hanger on it for the dress.

Emma followed and began to unbutton the back of Catherine’s dress.  The buttons were small and covered with the same cloth as the dress was made out of so they blended in with the rest of the dress.  There sure were a lot of them though.  It was a good thing Emma had nimble little fingers.  Once all the buttons were undone, Emma gently eased the dress off Catherine’s shoulders and bent down so it would pool around Catherine’s feet.

Catherine stepped out over the skirt and moved toward the screen, slipping out of her shoes as Emma stood and hung up the dress.

Emma left the day dress hanging on the screen for the time being.  She’d need to ask Hollis what the procedures were for caring for Catherine’s clothing.  They likely wouldn’t need to be laundered every time Catherine wore them.  When she turned back, Catherine had already seated herself on the stool by the vanity.  Emma noticed that her feet didn’t touch the ground.  Catherine was still rather small for nine years old.

“Do you prefer simple styles or elaborate ones?” Emma asked as she stepped up behind Catherine and carefully untied the ribbon holding her curls back from her face.

“I prefer simple styles like this one,” Catherine said, “but mother prefers more elaborate styles.  For supper at home, I can get away with something simple, but up and contained.  For guests or when we travel, you’ll have to learn the elaborate ones.”

“I know a wide variety of styles,” Emma replied, pulling the box of hair pins closer to the edge of the vanity so she could reach them easily.  “But I am always eager to learn more,” she added, realizing she might have sounded rude.”

“I don’t even know how to braid,” Catherine said.

“I could teach you,” Emma offered as she began to pin Catherine’s curls into place.  She would do a simple pile of curls at the back of Catherine’s head tonight, something up and contained, but that would show off the volume of beautiful hair Catherine had.

“Really?” Catherine asked, starting to turn, but stopping herself short.

“Of course,” Emma replied.  There was no particular need for Catherine to know how to braid, but Emma’s mother had told her that if she could do little things to please the person she served, it would benefit her later, and this was a very small thing.

Catherine’s smile was huge as she looked at Emma through the mirror.  “No one else has ever offered to teach me anything.”

“I’m sure it simply didn’t occur to them that you would wish to know,” Emma replied.  Catherine’s hair was incredibly soft and a joy to work with.  It took the pins easily and actually stayed in place.  Curls were often easier to deal with that straight hair, because they had texture to them.

“Maybe,” Catherine replied.

Emma quickly finished pinning up Catherine’s curls and picked up the hand mirror so she could show Catherine in the mirror.

“Oh, I like this one,” Catherine, said, smiling.  “It looks fancy, but doesn’t take long to do.”

“Your hair is a delight to work with,” Emma replied. 

Catherine just smiled and nodded, so Emma put the hand mirror back on the vanity and pushed the hair pin box back to where it had been.

“When do you need to be ready for supper?” Emma asked as she took a step back from Catherine.

“Not for half an hour,” Catherine replied.

“Would you prefer to dress now, or closer to supper time?” Emma asked.  Catherine had mentioned liking to be out of the layers earlier.

“This is fine for now,” Catherine said, sliding off the stool and moving toward the door leading further into her suite.  “Let me show you my room and tell you about things,” she said, waving Emma after her.

Emma followed when Catherine opened the door to the other room, which was Catherine’s bed chamber as expected, but it was also a bit more than that, she realized.  There were bookcases between the windows and two large upholstered chairs in one corner near the window that looked out on the south side of the house.

“These are my books,” Catherine said, turning to smile at Emma.  “I’m allowed to loan them out if I want, so you’re allowed to read them as long as they stay in the suite, which includes your room.”

“Oh,” Emma said softly.  She could sort of read.

“Do you like to read?” Catherine asked, hopping up into one of the chairs, which looked incredibly plush and comfortable.

“I don’t know,” Emma replied.

“Oh, can you read?” Catherine asked.  “I didn’t even think to ask, I’m sorry.”

“I can a little,” Emma replied, taking a few steps into the room.  “I don’t have much formal schooling.  Mother taught me enough to read a shopping list or sound out the words on directions left for me, but we didn’t practice it much.”

“Oh, well, you’ll have to practice while I do the work my tutors give me,” Catherine said.  “I love having someone to talk to about what I read, so I’d love it if you’d practice so you could read stories with me.”

“If it doesn’t interfere with my duties, I’m sure I can do that,” Emma replied.

“Oh, it shouldn’t,” Catherine said, smiling happily.  “Hollis said you’ll have very little responsibility aside from me, and I don’t take much work except before dinner.  Besides, you could think of it as part of your work if you needed to.  It’s something you’ll do so you can be a better companion for me.  Mother and Father said that’s the primary reason they wanted you specifically, because you’re a distant cousin and my age and we can be good companions.”

“I’d like that,” Emma replied.  Hollis had mentioned that Catherine was a solitary child.  Maybe that wasn’t entirely by choice.  It sounded a lot like Catherine wanted a friend, and Emma was more than eager to be a friend to Catherine.

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Meet Nadine

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[Note: Nadine is 13 at this point.]

Nadine stood as still as she possibly could while her mother’s maids dressed her and did her hair.

Her own maids had been deemed too young and inexperienced for the task today.  Her mother hadn’t explained why yet.  Nadine very rarely knew why things were happening.  Nadine knew that if she was being fussed over this much, then whoever they were seeing today was important and Nadine needed to be on her best possible behavior.

“This will have to do if we don’t want to be late,” Nadine’s mother said after the maids had spent hours tweaking every possible aspect of Nadine’s appearance.

When the maids stepped away, Nadine very slowly stepped forward toward her mother, being careful not to disarrange anything the maids had spent time on.

“Come,” her mother said, turning and walking out of the room.

Nadine held in the sigh and followed at a properly sedate pace.  If she moved too fast she was sure her hair would come undone and her dress would fall apart.  She felt ridiculous in the overly fancy thing.

When she followed her mother into the formal dining room to find her father conversing with the king and the Royal Vizier, Nadine began to understand why her mother had made such a fuss.  A royal visit was indeed worth fussing over.  She wasn’t sure why she was being included in one, but that was beside the point.

Nadine followed her mother and played the perfect miniature lady as she was introduced to the king and his party.  No one was named for her, because she was expected to know everyone in the royal family on site and any of the important person surrounding them.  She knew the vizier was Archibald Verity, a commoner from a family with a long history of filling the role, and that it was the king’s second son and third child, Corentin, who stood quietly beside his father.  The royal consort wasn’t with them today, and neither was the heiress, Princess Josephine.  This was expected as the royal consort had been quite ill for the past few months.

It was a relief when supper was announced and they could all take their seats.  It turned out to just be the six of them dining, so Nadine ended up on her father’s left, next to Prince Corentin, who sat on his own father’s right.  He was very polite and even pulled out Nadine’s chair for her.

Nadine thanked him in an appropriately mild tone and volume, as her mother had always instructed her.

The meal was filled with talk of the kingdom and matters of state.  Her father was an active member of the court so he, the king, and the vizier did all the talking.  Nadine listened politely.  She had listened to her father talk enough that she knew what was happening at court and could follow the conversation well enough.

It wasn’t until the dessert course was served that the conversation seemed to die away.

Nadine could feel her mother’s eyes on her.  She wasn’t doing what her mother wanted, but she’d been given no directions or instructions, so what was she missing?

Nadine glanced at her father and then her mother.  Her mother was indeed staring hard at her, but Nadine could do nothing but return her gaze with a polite expression.  If her mother wanted something, she needed to tell Nadine.

All through dessert, her mother stewed and Nadine remained quietly polite as she enjoyed the fresh fruit and cream.  It wasn’t her fault her mother never told her anything.

After supper, as was the family’s custom when guests had joined them, her father led them out through the large glass paneled doors on one side of the dining hall and onto the gracefully appointed patio that lead out into the family’s famous rose gardens.

Prince Corentin approached Nadine, bowing gracefully.

Nadine curtsied back, unsure if that was the proper response.

“It would be a pleasure to escort two such lovely ladies through the garden,” Prince Corentin said.

“It would be my pleasure as well,” Nadine replied, curtseying again.

When the prince offered her his arm, Nadine glanced sideways at her mother, and seeing a real smile on her face for once, Nadine gently placed her hand on the prince’s forearm.

He walked sedately, and even engaged them in a polite conversation about the garden.  Nadine was able to reply back and even managed to occasionally ask a question or two to keep the conversation moving.  She wasn’t the best at this, and she had very little chance to practice.  Her elder brothers were always the ones going with her parents to functions.  She was usually left at home.

By the time they’d made a complete circuit of the garden and returned to the patio, it was time for the prince to leave with the king and the vizier.

“It was lovely spending time with you this afternoon,” Prince Corentin said, gently taking her hand from his arm and bowing over it, his lips barely touching the back of her hand.

“It was a truly wonderful afternoon,” Nadine replied, barely managing to keep her tone even.  She’d never had anyone kiss her hand like that, and he was a prince.

He smiled at her before turning to follow his father and the vizier back into the house.

Her father went with the, but her mother stopped her from following.

Nadine sat down on the bench beside the door and waited while her mother paced up and down the patio.  It had been quite a while since she’d seen her mother so agitated.

“Well?” Her mother asked as soon as Nadine’s father reappeared in the open patio doorway.

“We’ll be meeting tomorrow to finalize the details,” her father replied.  “It’s all settled except the signatures.  They’re already aware of the dowry and he’s amenable to my desire for the wedding to happen after she turns eighteen.”

Wedding?  Nadine frowned.

“Splendid,” Nadine’s mother said, looking positively and radiantly happy.  She barely even glanced at Nadine before sweeping back into the house and calling for her chamber maid.

“What was agreed upon?” Nadine asked softly.  She didn’t usually question her parents, but she felt this had something to do with her.  She didn’t have any sisters, so a dowry probably meant her.

“Tomorrow I will meet with the king to finalize an agreement for you to be wed to Prince Corentin in the year following your eighteenth birthday,” her father replied.

“Oh, I see,” Nadine replied.  Wed?  To a prince?  She was going to be betrothed to a prince?

“He seemed rather impressed with your gentility this afternoon,” her father said.

“I’m glad,” Nadine replied softly.  Her mother was happy.  That’s what mattered.  When Mother was happy, Nadine was left to herself more and her every action wasn’t picked to pieces for flaws.  This was a very advantageous match after all.  Her father was heavily involved in the court, but their family didn’t have the long standing prestige and pedigree that normally lead to a royal betrothal.

She didn’t know what to think.  Her conversation with Prince Corentin could have happened with any noble anywhere.  There was nothing personal about it.  She knew nothing about him personally and tomorrow her father would sign that she was to marry him?  Oh dear.