Bar Scene Blogfest – Steam Palace
Bar scenes are the staple of my novels. I think every great novel has a bar scene in it somewhere. I also think that a lot of great writing actually occurs in bars. There are a lot of bar scenes in Steam Palace, mostly because the Steam Palace is, in essence, a giant floating bar. Some of the scenes are a lot more engaging than this one, but since it comes early in the story and more or less introduces a character, I figured I’d run with it today. He’s not on the Steam Palace—this is just the local watering hole in Podunk.
“Your mother actually threw you out? Your own mother?” His companion Bob was another wounded former Aeronaut, his hand torn off while repairing a driveshaft.
His mother, the town’s only doctor, and the Duchy’s only real surgeon of merit, had caught him stealing into the opium cabinet. She had begged him to allow her to amputate, but he had refused, so she patched him up as best she could. His hands shook, and his mind circled around sneaking back to steal the drug, but instead, he waved to the serving wench for another round.
“What are you going to do,” asked Bob. Instead of sitting at a proper table, cripples and the like shared barrels standing on end at the rear of the tavern.
“I’d rather be shot in the other knee than endure the torture of losing opium,” he said. “But I cannot be a prisoner to it either. I don’t know. Who in this town would hire a one-legged cripple?”
“At least you have your horse.”
A most painful experience to mount. “Well. There may come a time when I’m forced to sell her for food, I fear. Or opium.”
“To opium!” The men clinked drinks. Thomas slurped another shot and rubbed his bandages. The joint had been completely blown away, now broken bone rubbed on broken bone. It would never heal, and he would never put weight on that leg again. He clutched his companion.
“By the Furies…did you see her? Over there!”
The fellow looked around. “What?”
Thomas sat up. The girl appeared through a doorway, heading towards the front. “Oh my word. No.”
“What? What?” Bob’s mouth hung open.
Thomas swallowed. “It’s her. Here.”
The man cuffed him in the face. “Snap out of it.”
The girl carried bottle after huge bottle into the back, then dragged an ice sack, and then carried some boxes. He shook his head in wonder. “It’s the Princess.”
“Whoa, a Princess? You still on opium?”
The girl ran back out.
Thomas gripped his fellow’s arm. “It is her. Sophia Stratton.”
“What’s a…a sofee stratarm, Captain?”
“Miss Sophia Stratton. The most cold-hearted, meanest, and most patrician woman this side of the Connecticut. But—if you ask me, the most beautiful. We call her the Princess of Podunk, and if you ever heard her talk, you’d understand. I’ll bet you anything that she’s still not married.”
Bob bent to look but she had exited. “Yeah. I’d be happy if one of them whores upstairs gave me a second look.”
The room shook from the sound of a shotgun. Thomas pushed himself up, his heart pounding. “Sophia’s out there!”
He hobbled out to the porch on crutches, after the patrons. Sophia stood her ground while a crowd assembled around her, her face black and angered—no different than usual. Once assembled, she spouted a litany of insults and berated the gathered townsfolk.
“Some princess,” said Bob, helping Thomas stand. “She’s got them mean eyes and a forked tongue.”
Thomas could not pull his gaze away as she stood fearless in the midst of the hostiles. A smart person would flee the mob, but she laid into them with every verbal contrivance at her disposal. Her eyes were sharp, not mean, her tongue quick, not forked. He felt a touch of pride at her valor in the face of such opposition. Or was that the alcohol talking?
The mob shared no such emotion. They carried her down the street above their heads, laughing and whooping. They tossed her high, and she landed with a splash, embedded in the muck. Thomas’s heart went out to her, but in his condition, he could do naught but watch.
She pulled herself up, her head hung low. The masses hurled imprecations at her as she scraped the mud from her face.
“Come on, let’s get another round,” called his companion, but Thomas stood his ground, unable to pull himself away from the spectacle.
The patrons filed back into the tavern. The girl dragged herself through the mud. She appeared unhurt, and pulled herself to her feet using a leg of the mechohorse. She looked up at him and he froze, unable to pull his gaze away from her.
“What are you looking at,” she screamed, shaking her fist.
Thomas turned towards the door, but couldn’t stop watching. She crawled into the cockpit and fired up the mechohorse, which flung mud as high as the eaves of the buildings as it raced away.
He shoved his way back through the door and hobbled back to his barrel. Bob smiled. “You sure know how to have fun in this town. I guess the Princess won’t be coming around anymore.”
Thomas stared at his glass of whiskey, freshly poured. A thought coalesced in his alcohol-addled brain. “Did she say where she was going?”
“I think Hartford. Why?”
Thomas sighed. “If I know her, she’ll be travelling alone through the river trail.”
His companion studied him. “What are you going to do? Stalk her?”
Thomas shrugged and downed his drink. “Maybe a change of scenery would be a good thing. Hell, when do any of us leave this shithole aside from the Service? Instead of tossing her in the mud, we should have carried her right out of town on our shoulders, cheering all the way.” He slammed his hand down on the barrel. “That’s it. Tomorrow, I’m leaving. If the Princess can do it, so can I.”
His companion dropped face-first onto the barrel, unconscious. Thomas finished his friend’s drink and then ordered two more.
The scene previous to this one is the exact same scene from Sophia’s point of view, which is why there’s a bit of hand-waving over what she said, why she’s there, and what exactly happens to her.
Any comments/critiques welcome!