I wrote a flash fiction a few weeks ago called Before Her Time, about a woman perceived to be a “witch” and the man who loved her. It wasn’t the best thing that I’ve ever written, but it got me thinking about women, power and society. I wanted to think about her origin story, and write more about her. Her world and character really lit up my imagination. It turns out the story has legs. This is the first of multiple stories involving Victoria, the Duchess of Duxbury. It is still a work in progress, which I’ve submitted to my writing group for critique. I’ve already veen given a few really great suggestions, which I’ll be incorporating this week. When I’m done, I’ll post the short story in its entirety on this blog.
Here is the first 1,000 words (and remember, this hasn’t been fully tightened and edited yet, so it will most likely changed between now and the final version).
Finer ships had never been produced in the kingdom, and the Duchess of Duxbury looked upon them with the proudest smile that she could muster. Her men had worked hard, and they were to be rewarded today with the best food and wine she could find. Famers from her duchy and the two surrounding had fallen all over themselves to get a piece of the fortune she was using to purchase the food, wine and ale for the celebration, and she was happy to give.
Five ships were in the docks, fitted and ready to sail to the far corners of an ever expanding world. None of her men were sailors. Those men would be trickling in over the next few days to set the ships on their maiden voyages. When the docks cleared, her men would start anew on five more for another year. This was the third completion of the cycle, and orders came in by the day, along with more skilled craftsmen looking for work. The Duchess stifled a giddy giggle. The success and growth seemed to have happened over night.
“You look like a proud mother looking after her children, Tori,” her good friend and chief advisor, Alistair, observed in a low tone.
Liza, Tori’s governess, overheard and cleared her throat. “The Victoria, Duchess of Duxbury, should be very pleased with the progress of her people. Their hard work is for her benefit, and for the benefit of our great kingdom.”
Tori’s proud smile faded into her unimpressed expression. Liza’s undergarments were always just a bit too tight.
“Will you be addressing the men now, your grace? Shall I have them gathered?” Alistair, too, had better things to do than mind the minder.
“This is their day. Let them have it. I shall address them later. Bring me the dock master. I should like to tour the men’s good work.”
Alistair nodded his head in acknowledgment, but hesitated before he turned to do his duty. Tori’s mind was on other things. She’d noticed something missing from the revelry of the feast on the docks below.
“There aren’t a lot of women here, Liza. Where are the wives? The sweethearts?”
“Since the Duchess chooses to set a poor example by not being married herself,” Liza started. Tori let out an audible and annoyed sigh. Enough to make Liza change course. “I believe that a lot of these men are simply unattached, your grace.”
“These men live here, they eat here, they drink here, and they’ve laundry and other needs. Women usually fill those needs, yet there are none here. This makes no sense, Liza, and it has nothing to do with my attachments.”
Liza tittered for a moment, then gave a sort of shrug. It was odd not to see any other women about. The men were serving themselves ale and food was being served by the farmers who brought it or the cooks who prepared it. Tori thought about this for a few more moments before her attention drifted to the large and beautiful ships that were about to leave her shores. They were beautiful, they were strong, and they were a perfect representation of her land and her people.
Alistair returned with the dockmaster, a tall, older gentleman with a slender build but for noticeable belly built from years of drinking ale. He genuflected, he eyes downcast.
“You’ve built fine ships that will bring more people and money to our duchy, dockmaster. I commend you,” Tori greeted warmly.
The man stood, “to be in the presence of my beautiful duchess is too great a reward, your grace.”
Liza frowned in disapproval, though Tori giggled at the compliment. “Your duchess would like a tour of your ships, good sir. Off you go!”
“Please don’t mind my governess,” Tori’s laugh masked her growing annoyance, “would you please show us your ships.”
The group walked toward the docks and were noticed by the happy workmen, who stopped and cheered as they walked by. Tori loved the attention, rarely having the opportunity to come face to face with happy citizens of her duchy. She stopped and greeted some of the men as they walked passed before they took the long walk down the pier and onto the first ship.
“This is your very basic merchant ship, you grace,” the dockmaster explained as they walked onto the deck, “but it is fast. Probably among the fastest we’ve ever built…”
The others listened with interest, and Tori put on her listening face, but her mind wandered back to the men reveling on the deck. So many men with so few women about tugged at her. She walked around the deck and into the holds below. It was a beautiful ship, with plenty of room for cargo and goods.
The second and third ship were much of the same. She looked about and was generally please. When they got off the third ship, she took steps toward the fourth.
“Your grace, the other two ships are more of the same,” The dockmaster rung his hands, “I would hate to tire you out or, worse, waste your time by showing you identical ships.”
Tori stopped to eye them and noticed differences in the bodies of the last two as compared with the first she’d seen. While the first three were made for speed as well as space, the last two seemed to emphasize more space than nimble speed across the seas.
“I see some details that I think would be nice to look at up close,” Tori said, and took a few steps.
Alistair stepped forward, “your grace, you still must address the gathered men and as you can see, they are already becoming a bit raucous.”
Tori looked the ships over and wondered how much of a difference they would be. They were ships, well made and destined to take the fame of her craftsmen to far places. She turned her back to them and prepared herself for addressing the gathered men.