Apricots and Wolfsbane by KM Pohlkamp [Extract]

This week’s post is another extract! I’m excited to share with you the first chapter of Apricots and Wolfsbane, which I was just informed is the winner of the 2018 Texas Association of Authors Book Award for Historical Fiction/Tudor.

I feel like this book is going to be filled with A LOT of suspense! If you’re interested in grabbing yourself a copy, and link will be on the home page.

Stay tuned for the second half of the chapter on Friday!

A word from KM Pohlkamp,

“Men have accomplished most “firsts” in history, but there are some notable exceptions. A

woman invented Kevlar. A woman discovered pulsars. A woman wrote the first computer

program. More surprisingly, the world’s first serial killer belonged to the more “fragile” and

“demure” gender. I first came across that fact in fall of 2016: the worlds first serial killer was a woman.

Inspired by the notion confession could provide a source of false permission, I lifted Locusta’s inspiration out of Rome and placed my novel at the height of the Catholic church in Tudor England – my favorite historical period. The exact year is open within the novel, but I imagine it to be ~1520.”

•••

Chapter 1

The violent display of convulsions lasted longer than I anticipated.

With my boots propped on the table, I remember watching beads of wax roll down the candle, marking time between my victim’s spasms. The brothel room was sparse, and the bed in the corner remained undisturbed. I had assumed the role of temptress that evening, but delivered a different climax.

I savored the fear on my victim’s face as much as my own unlaced mead. The sweetness of both danced on my palate. His repulsive gagging, however, I endured with patience.

My target focused upon me. His hand shook, reaching out in a misplaced plea for aid. Instead, I raised my goblet in a final toast while he turned purple. He glanced towards his spilled glass, and then studied my face with new understanding. With his last remnants of life, he pieced together what I had done. Those little moments made the act so delicious. And as his body collapsed upon the floor, I added one more success to my mental tally.

Murder just never got old.

The scratching of my chair sliding across the uneven floor broke the sudden, serene silence of the room. Driven by curiosity, my boots echoed with each step towards my victim.

The man’s eyes contained a lingering remnant of vibrancy despite the departure of the soul they once served. White froth percolated from his open mouth, overflowing the orifice to trail down his neck. It was not an honorable death, but my client had paid for certainty, not dignity.

Curious, I examined the large ruby on the victim’s pointer finger which matched the client’s description — an ornate setting with a coat of arms on one side of the gem and a mare’s head on the opposite. The worked piece of silver did not seem important enough to procure my service, but as a professional, I had not asked for justification, only payment. Material significance so often motivated patrons to fill my coffers. I recognized the inherent sin, but I never judged a client’s reason. I was not qualified to cast the first stone.

I did admire my victim. After all, he was a fellow criminal. I believed his talents as a thief must have been remarkable to pilfer the ring unnoticed from the finger of its owner. I often boasted of my own sleight of hand, but admittedly, I could not accomplish such a feat. Though in my defense, assassin clearly trumped thief.

After donning the black leather gloves concealed within the lacings of my bodice, I returned to business. I pushed the tipped chair out of the way and pulled on the ring, but my motion abruptly halted.

Caught at the knuckle, the gem did not budge.

I stared at his limp hand, dumbfounded, before a flame of focus burst through my body. How I craved and savored that rush. That high, and the feeling of power, motivated my ghastly craft all those years. Despite the stress, I never lost control of my emotions on the job. No matter the circumstance, I learned to remain calm and reason through any dilemma. That night was no different.

Grabbing the corpse’s wrist in one hand, I pulled on the metal band with all my strength. Still, the damn ring did not move, even with my heel braced against his chest. But through the sound of my grunting, the unexpected scratching of a nearby rat interrupted my efforts.

The rodent stood tall on his hind legs, observing the entertainment outside his hole in the floorboard. What else could I do except laugh in amusement? There was something poetic about the meager creature being the singular witness to the growing farce, while beyond the chamber door, an entire brothel remained unaware.

But their ignorance would not last for long.

By God’s nails, I was not going to degrade myself to play tug of war with a corpse, nor disgrace my spit to serve as lubrication. I retrieved the dagger from my boot and sawed through the bone of the blasted digit. In contrast, his purse strings cut with ease and the contained sum gave me confidence the proprietor would retain his promised discretion. Eager to depart, I cleansed the ring with the pure decanter of mead and left the contaminated gloves on the table.

I threw the finger to the rat.

Sheathing the dagger in the waist of my skirt, I returned to the main hall where boisterous music assaulted my ears, accompanied by drunken laughter. I added a meager sigh to the noise, surveying the sweaty, depraved crowd between me and the door. My eyes had long grown accustomed to the salacious activities occurring in every direction, but the obscene filth still violated my morals. Keeping my head down, I managed to pass through the horde without gagging before one wandering hand grasped my rear. After a quick flash of my dagger, the drunkard relented. I longed to add to the rat’s dinner, but still on the job, I could not afford a confrontation.

Humanity is a self-absorbed species. Throughout my career, I exploited that trait. The truth allowed me to disregard the number of potential witnesses within the brothel. No one would remember a plain maiden come morning and only the stewsman knew what occurred in the backroom. He smiled when he caught my glance. I gave the coin purse a gentle toss in his direction, glad the mess was now his problem. After retrieving my cloak from the hook by the door, I departed into the vacant streets of Marfield, knowing where I must go.

•••

front cover

I'm a lover of all things Tudor, and historical - fiction or fact. My aim is to bring together writers of all calibers to share their work with like minded people!

One thought on “Apricots and Wolfsbane by KM Pohlkamp [Extract]

  1. My usual practice, where there are 2 parts to the story, is to comment once I have read the second. This will still apply to “Apricots and Wolfsbane” but I will just say that it has started very descriptively, leaving the reader in no doubt about the main character and her deed and it seems suspense will be in abundance as the story unfolds.

    Like

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