We’re at the fifth week in my lead-up to the great READ TUESDAY, just three weeks away now. Keep checking that website for information and ideas.
This week the excerpt is from The Talent Seekers, and we discover a lot more about paranormal aspects of life in the princelings world. The story is set in parallel with book 3, Lost City, and Humphrey, the star of the fifth book, is featured in the Prologue to book 3, since it demonstrates just what the inhabitants of the lost city are up to. Humphrey escapes, and as Book 5 starts we find him on the run.
The Talent Seekers (book 5)
Humphrey has joined up with Betty, Freya, and Hywel, all fugitives from their pasts, homeless and frightened. They joined up with another large group of homeless people, living in a cave, but on a trip to market they were overcome by a band of robbers, and then had to escape from an attack by something more sinister. Betty has realised Humphrey has talents in listening through walls, wanting things and getting them mysteriously, and in memorising things. They have taken up temporary residence at White Horse Castle, which is having its annual festival.
From Chapter 8: Wall Running for Beginners
Humphrey tensed, wanting to run from the crush of people, but Freya was on one side and Hywel on the other, so he took comfort from them. He looked up at the side of the courtyard wall. The hundreds of people crowded into the inner courtyard were doing the same. They had listened to the speeches that marked the opening of the Festival; they had watched the running race as twenty persons of assorted ages and sizes dashed around the perimeter of the courtyard four times. Now even more people had squeezed into the courtyard for the first major spectacle of the event: the wall-running competition.
“Your Majesty, royal highnesses, lords, ladies, and gentlemen,” cried a figure dressed in a smart white coat, standing on a platform in the centre of the square. “We come now to the most prestigious running race of the festival! The one hundred and forty-seventh White Horse Aerial Trophy!”
Cheers rang round the yard. As they died down the announcer continued.
“The object is to leave the start window and make your way around the perimeter of the courtyard using the castle walls and any protuberance extending from them. You may not go inside the castle walls, nor on top of them. You may not touch the ground. The first male and first female athlete to regain their start window wins their class. The Trophy is awarded to the first home regardless of sex.”
Some murmurs in the crowd greeted that announcement. This was a change to the previous rules.
“I now present the competitors. From left to right, starting on the far left of the main gate:
“Champion Christopher of Hoy!” Cheers rang out; he was obviously a popular competitor.
“Wingfoot!” Mutters, as this was obviously a pseudonym.
“Aloysius of White Horse!” Ecstatic cheers and some jeers.
“Marcus of White Horse!” Some laughter and a lot of cheers, mainly from Aloysius’s jeerers.
“Glory of Calella!” Polite applause.
“Steven of Henley!” Polite applause.
“Kevin of Deeping!” Some cheers but a lot of boos. Obviously there was some tension between White Horse and Deeping.
“Willoughby the Narrator – and I hope he’ll be fit to tell stories this afternoon!” Cheers.
“Bettina of Sarsen!” Polite applause.
“Agrippina of Longmoor! “ A smattering of applause; people wanted the race to get going.
“Raven of Forest! … and … Princeling Louis of White Horse!” Lots of cheers and some laughter. It sounded like the local princeling was taking part for fun.
“Competitors! Are you ready?
All the competitors leapt from their windows, some no further than their windowsill, others springing to an overhang; they went up to the metal posts that stuck out of the walls at intervals, or down to the first-level windows that were covered by iron bars. The slowest moved painstakingly, clinging on for dear life while they searched for each handhold. Marcus was one of these, and his supporters surged to the area below him, yelling encouragement.
Six competitors leapt like grasshoppers towards the corner of the courtyard, using the sides of the wall. Champion Christopher, Wingfoot, Bettina, Raven, Glory, and Kevin seemed to have the necessary technique. It was astounding to watch them leap from one apparently sheer wall to another projection that had seemed wholly out of reach. Gravity did not exist for them. Princeling Louis started well; much to everybody’s surprise, he managed to emulate the leaders for two corners before he fell off into the admiring crowd below.
The crowd cried “Foul!” as Wingfoot scampered sideways along the wall to a flagpole, elbowing Christopher in the face as he passed him. Christopher fell, but caught a creeper and used it to swing himself back upwards, keeping his feet high and scattering the crowd so as not to be disqualified by touching the ground. With a well-judged leap he knocked Wingfoot from his line as he took his next leap. Christopher gained his next perch to roars of approval while Wingfoot attempted to use the crowd to bounce him back upwards. This was a mistake, since the two people he tried to bounce off grabbed his ankle, which did indeed have winged shoes on them, and pulled him off balance. He hit the ground and scurried away, defeated.
Bettina and Raven were having a fine chase. They had started in adjacent windows, and Raven tracked Bettina, who swung up and along the walls, looped round flagpoles, bounced on the sides of the walls, and cornered like a flying machine. Suddenly Willoughby the Narrator appeared from nowhere and overtook them in three strides, the second one knocking Bettina’s hands from the purchase they had gained on a small outcropping brick.
The crowd gasped as Bettina fell, and roared “Foul!” once again as Raven kicked her while springing over her. Bettina twisted like a gymnast and seemed to change her momentum from downwards to upwards for a few seconds, but gravity took over and she fell into the crowd below. There was warm applause for a valiant effort.
Despite Christopher’s skill, both Kevin and Willoughby were ahead of him. Willoughby the Narrator had huge popular support. Kevin from Deeping had vociferous supporters who were hugely outnumbered.
“Will-o-by, Will-o-by,” was the chant of the enthusiastic onlookers, but Kevin had his eyes on the prize. By twist of fate they had started from the same window. They lunged, neck and neck. Willoughby grabbed the windowsill first – but then Kevin was inside, and Willoughby was dangling by his toenails.
A huge groan came from the crowd, then polite applause as Raven, the only female finisher, gained her window. Champion Christopher slid through his window just as Willoughby pulled himself up and disappeared into the castle interior. The judge declared that Willoughby had finished second and Christopher third. The crowd thought it was the other way round, but Willoughby was just a narrator and needed the second prize reward more than the Champion, so they applauded both of them wildly, the more so because Christopher took it with good grace.
“Well, that was fun,” said Betty as they turned away, joining the rest of the crowd who were making their way to the outer courtyard for the Poetry Festival. Humphrey looked at her, wondering where she’d been.
“I thought you were going to enter,” said Freya.
“I was too late,” Betty said. “They only had room for twelve.”
(c) 2013, 2014 J M Pett
You can buy The Talent Seekers at full price ($2.99) from the following online retailers, although as Read Tuesday approaches there may be some discounts available.
You can also get it from now through to 16 December 2014 at half price with the coupon code GU42R. Just buy the ebook at Smashwords , enter the code, click ‘buy’ and download the version for your eReader.