Last week, a junior literary agent left New York to pursue another life. Not really of note, you might say. But this agent was the rather special Maddie Raffel. Maddie was the assistant to my agent, Josh Getzler, and had landed a deal in her own right. Maddie had her own reasons for leaving the world of publishing, as well as issues relating to the industry. Josh wrote about it on his blog, linking it to a thought-provoking piece about where the publishing industry is at right now. You can read the full post here, and I recommend you do.
All of us who have worked with Maddie wish her well. And as a writer, what do I have to give her except a tale I found in the medieval archives? (Note: it is unlikely to have been dug up with Richard III). Here it is.
Maid Madeleine, The Merchant and The Medieval Manuscript
“Hurry up, Maddie! We’re going to be late.”
Maid Madeleine quickened her step at Merchant Getzler’s urge.
Ahead, atop a high mound, its pale-yellow walls gleaming in the early winter sun, lay the castle. Though founded as the Castle Isbn, many called it the castle of dreams. For it was from here that tales, stories, epics, sagas, and misery memoirs came that held the people of the land in thrall.
“Maddie.” Merchant Getzler’s tone was sharp as he halted. “I hope this isn’t straying into omniscient POV?”
Maid Madeleine flushed. Merchant Getzler had an exacting eye. Why, he could almost always locate his carriage from whence he had left it the day before. “Internal narrative, I assure you,” she said.
They set off again. The throng surrounding the castle was thicker than ever this morning. Hordes of citizens, waiting. Some clutched older manuscripts, sharing them with their fellow goodreaders, discussing each one at length. Most just waited, noses already buried in an unfurled manuscript, half an ear open for an interesting announcement from the battlements. Some sat in small groups, listening to storytellers read from their own parchments, handing over coin when the story pleased them, exclaiming happily at the modest cost and how quickly they had the story in their hands. But a few, solitary folk stared at the castle, stared at it with a fierce intensity, knuckles white as their fists clutched at the front of their cloaks.
“I see the scribes are here as usual,” she said.
“You know,” said Merchant Getzler. “They really can blink. They’re not going to miss the call if they do.” He put a courteous hand to the shoulder of a bearded man who carried a huge sack. “Excuse me, merchant coming through.”
The man wheeled round. “Merchant? Merchant, eh?” A bubble of spit flew from his mouth as he smashed his sack to the ground. “I don’t need any follogagging merchants!” The man ripped a manuscript from his sack. “Lookee here! I’ve sold 4,000,000 of these. Meself!”
“Wow,” said Merchant Getzler.
“You might indeed say wow, Mr Merchant, “ said the man. “Just listen to what you’ve missed.”
Merchant Getzler went to leave on but the man ripped open the roll and began to read.
“I woke up to the cockerel crowing and I didn’t know where I was and beside me there was a half nekked body of a woman and I didn’t know who she was and then I saw she was dead and then I thought there was a murky secret here and then there was a serial killer who was psychic and then there was a pandemic and I thought well first I’ll have a shower and then I’ll go to work-”
“Like I said, wow,” said Merchant Getzler. “And you’ve sold how many, you say?”
“For how much each?”
The man stared at Merchant Getzler. “I sell ‘em for free. Don’t you merchant guys know anything?”
“Probably not. Good day, sir.” Merchant Getzler motioned to Madeleine.
Madeleine clutched her stack of manuscripts as the man hauled his sack back on to his shoulders and pushed past her.
“Hey!” He shouted to a nearby group of goodreaders, waving his open copy. “Look at this! Bestseller!”
“Quick, Maddie. While he’s not looking.”
Madeleine didn’t need telling twice. She hurried away, her footing unsteady on the melting snow from last night’s heavy fall.
The rampart led steeply to the castle gates, the guards making sure that only those who were summoned could enter.
Madeleine followed the merchant as the guards waved them through to a wide courtyard. Her pulse tripped faster as she saw the group of knights in one corner, already deep in conversation with other merchants. She increased her pace and skidded on the icy cobbles. Her manuscripts flew from her grasp and landed in a heap of wet snow.
Merchant Getzler wheeled round. “Heaven’s sake, Maddie. Get those out of that pile of slush. Now. Before somebody sees.”
Madeleine hunkered down and scooped them back up in her hands, cursing silently at her mistake. She’d had all these prepared and ready as she always did. She handed them to Merchant Getzler. This was where the tales could be sold, sold for a princely sum.
She crossed the courtyard with the merchant, both waiting politely as the knights were in deep discussion. They were all here, as usual.
Sir Hachette, with his clothes of fine, French silk. Sir Harper de Collins, his surcoat emblazoned with red flames atop the blue of the ocean’s waves. Sir Simon & Sir Schuster, for all the world like two men who moved as one. Laird Mac Millan, the rough woven wool of the Celts high on his red-haired legs though the morn be chilled.
Snippets of the discussion floated over to Maid Madeleine and the merchant. “Gentlemen.” Sir Hachette’s tones were as smooth as his robes. “Of course the manuscripts can contain vampyres. Vampyres have been around since the dawn of time. It is only fitting they are in our lore till the crack of doom.”
“I prefer kings,” said Sir Harper de Collins. “Goodwife Mantel says she’s got a bit more on Henry VIII. Who would’ve thought that possible?”
“Who’s?” said Sir Simon.
“Henry?” said Sir Schuster.
“VIII?” said Sir Simon.
“The one that comes after Henry VII,” said Sir Harper de Collins with a withering look.
“Yet we are only up to Henry III, are we not?” asked Sir Hachette. “We’re medieval, remember.”
“Well, we’ve,” said Sir Simon.
“Got a,” said Sir Schuster.
“King, too!” said Sir Simon.
“Really?” said Sir Hachette, eyebrows a perfect arch.
“Yeah,” said Sir Simon.
“Stephen King,” said Sir Schuster.
“Doesn’t have a number, though,” said Sir Simon.
With a sigh, Sir Hachette turned to Mac Millan. “And what do you have in preparation, Mac Millan?”
“This wee beauty.” The Laird held his weapon aloft in triumph. “It’s mah Flatiron. In need of ah bit o’ work. Ye ken?”
Sir Hachette drew breath to reply but a sudden movement from a doorway stopped him.
Silence fell as a large black-and-white flightless bird wandered out, its path random as it weaved across the wet stones and disappeared through an arch.
“Poor thing,” came Merchant Getzler’s whisper in Madeleine's ear. “No-one’s quite sure where it’s going at the moment.” He took a manuscript from her “Now, I’m going in with this, the one by the Hibernian scribe. It’s got knights in. Bet they like it.”
Madeleine held her breath as Merchant Getzler approached the group with a deep bow. They listened carefully to his impassioned description, then passed it round for a look. A few nods came as they read, and hope leapt in Madeleine’s chest.
“Does it have vampyres?” asked Sir Hachette.
“No, my lord,” said Merchant Getzler.
“What about maidens being smacked on the bottom?” said Sir Harper de Collins.
The others all nodded enthusiastically.
“That would,” said Sir Simon.
“Be great!” said Sir Schuster.
“Indeed,” said Sir Hachette. “The goodwives loved that one.”
“Afraid not,” said the merchant.
A disappointed sigh came from the group of knights.
“Then we shall all have to pass. Now please leave us. We have only twenty four phases of the moon to release another manuscript to the citizens. Castle Isbn never sleeps.”
“Thank you, good sirs,” said Merchant Getzler. He returned to Madeleine. “No luck this time. Onward!”
They made their way back down the rampart to where Eileen, the Hibernian scribe, waited as she did every day.
“Anything?” she asked.
“Not this time,” said Merchant Getzler. He drew breath to offer his words of comfort, when movement in the crowd caught his eye.
A young knight who had recently come to the land stood by a huge cart. A tall, tall woman with a bow slung across her shoulders was selling manuscripts from the tottering pile on it.
“Why, it’s Sir Thomas Mercer!” exclaimed the merchant to Madeleine and Eileen. “Now, he likes a thrilling tale. Come.”
They drew close to the cart. The tall woman was expert. No sooner had a coin landed in her hand, then she whipped the right manuscript from the cart and thrust it into the hand of the waiting customer. “Next!” she cried.
Merchant Getzler raised his hat to Sir Thomas Mercer.
After an astonishingly brief exchange, Sir Thomas smiled. “Yep. I’ll buy that.”
Eileen the Hibernian Scribe jumped up and down with excitement. “Really? And will I get to be all famous and have my name and my image on the side of every manuscript saying I lost 14 lbs thanks to This Weird Old Sorcerer’s Trick?”
“I’m a publisher, not a miracle worker, love,” replied Sir Thomas Mercer.
He shook Eileen the Hibernian Scribe’s hand, and they lived Happily Ever Single Book Contract.
“I just love happy endings,” sighed Maid Madeleine.
“Me, too,” said Merchant Getzler.
Madeleine went on. “But you know what?” She waved a hand to the castle. “My scribe will have to wait for all those moonrises until her manuscript can be released.” She chewed on her lip as she surveyed the rest of the scene. “And I’m not sure that all this is for me either. I think I want to go back to the lands of the West.”
Merchant Getzler looked saddened. “That troubles me to hear. But you must be happy in what you do. And whatever that is, you will succeed and flourish, because you are clever and talented and young and loved.”
“Thank you for everything.” She smiled. “Who knows, I may be back.” With a wave, she disappeared into the crowd.
Merchant Getzler raised a hand. “Godspeed, Maddie. We will miss you.”
And we will.
The Fifth Knight is a medieval thriller published by Thomas & Mercer is available now in Kindle and paperback format. You can find it at Amazon.com here and Amazon.co.uk here. It is also available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr and Amazon.it