First Chapter Second Place/Historical Fiction: Legacy of Luck by Christy Nicholas
August 13, 2016
Legacy of Luck by Christy Nicholas is the Second Place winner in the Historical Fiction category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
Award-Winning First Chapter
Éamonn Doherty loved the sound of the dice.
The soft clatter of the bone cubes as they rattled in the cup was music to his ears. As he tossed them onto the dirt clearing, he prayed to Saint Cajetan for luck. A trader from Venice had told him about the Italian saint of gamblers. He didn’t know if an Italian saint would listen to prayers from an Irish Traveler, but prayers could never hurt.
He rolled a nine. For the game of Hazard, it was a good start.
He took a deep swig of his small ale, and waited while the other player rolled the dice, to determine their own point.
It wasn’t easy to see the faded pips on the carved dice by flickering firelight. The spring sunset was dying, closing the first day of the annual horse fair.
The second player didn’t cast well. Éamonn smiled, showing white, even teeth. This was going to be grand fun.
He jabbed his brother Ruari in the ribs. “What?” Ruari hissed.
“I’m more interested in the scenery.” Éamonn’s brother gestured at a gaggle of young women in bright-colored skirts, giggling and glancing in the direction of the gambling men. One with dark hair flashed him an inviting smile.
“Hmph.” At the ripe old age of eighteen, Éamonn had fantastic luck with lovely ladies. But he got great pleasure from gambling, and he was on a good run. There was always time to pursue the fillies later. He ran a hand through his white-blond hair, making it stick up. The dice clicked again.
Ruari tried his chances with gambling once in a while. He wasn’t quick enough to make a great winner, but did enjoy the game. Éamonn liked him nearby in case things got ugly. A bad losing streak could turn the gentlest of men into an angry lout, intent on beating their money from fair winners.
Éamonn glanced to his other side at his cousin, Ciaran Kilbane. He was a better gambler, but not as reliable. Éamonn sighed and got on with his work. He rolled the dice again, hoping to beat the last roll.
He was still winning an hour later when Ciaran got up without a word. Glancing up in confusion, Éamonn watched his cousin’s slim, dark form disappear behind one of the shadowy wagon shapes. He glanced at Ruari, who shrugged in confusion. They grinned when Ciaran returned with a squat stone bottle. He had brought out the poitín.
Since the law passed almost a hundred years ago requiring a tax paid on all spirits, many people distilled their own in secret.
Ciaran passed the harsh spirit around. Éamonn took a long swig, which made him splutter and cough. This batch was rough and raw. That was all to the good, though. It would make his opponents sloppy.
Ruari didn’t take a sip, but this wasn’t unusual. Stolid and steady, Éamonn’s brother rarely let himself get out of control. He was like the Rock of Gibraltar, that one.
Looking at the dice, he saw his opponent had beaten him in the latest round. How had that happened? He gave the poitín bottle a suspicious glare. Surely he wasn’t so drunk already?
He picked the dice up and rattled his cup, with another silent prayer. He closed his eyes, cast, and then opened them. Ah, there it was. He was on top again.
Éamonn loved winning. It was more thrilling than tumbling a lovely young lady, or riding a spirited horse. Better than dancing or drinking. The problem was, he could never stop when he was on top. It was always one more roll, one more chance to be even better.
He threw again.
Éamonn couldn’t escape.
The gloomy shapes grabbed at his ankles and his arms while he slogged past, slow motion. Every step was mired in the boggy ground, no matter how hard he ran. With a small cry, he sat up, panting and sweating.
He’d always had dreams of being chased. Sometimes he was able to get away more quickly, but usually not.
Éamonn shook the sleep from his head and splashed icy water on his face. It shocked him awake but his head still throbbed. He blew his hooked nose, and then regretted the action.
It hadn’t been such a great night. He’d lost everything he had won that evening, plus some of his stake. Ah well, he could always win it back today.
He wandered through the horse stalls, checking out the racers. He examined the muscular flank of a bay cob, and then the strong neck of a roan and white vanner with white feathers. The percheron would be no good. Éamonn had no idea why the owner would even enter such a heavy draft horse in a race. The cob had the best chance. The gelding appeared eager, ready to beat every other beast. He liked the horse’s spirit.
Still looking at the gelding, he turned to go find the betting stall, and slammed into someone.
Staggering back, he gazed to who had blocked his progress.
A slim raven-haired girl with bright blue eyes stared up at him, her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. She had a faded blue skirt and white blouse, and a cream-colored kerchief on her head.
“Well?” One of her eyebrow lifted.
“Well what? I was just walking along, minding my own business—” Éamonn started out nonchalant.
“When you decided—with no warning, mind you!—to turn your heel and crash into me. You stepped on my foot!” She looked fetching when she was trying to be fierce. Freckles stood out stark on her fair skin.
“Ah, well, we can’t have that, now, can we? Shall I rub your foot to make it better?” He bent as if to take her shoe off
She skittered back. “Don’t you touch me.”
He straightened. She’s as flighty as a filly. He arched one eyebrow, trying to keep the smile from his blue-green eyes.
“Aren’t you going to at least apologize?”
He grinned and bowed. “My abject apologies, Mistress—?”
Her dimples deepened. “Deirdre. I’m Deirdre O’Malley.”
“Mistress Deirdre. I am Éamonn Doherty, at your service.” He reached for her hand. It was tiny, held in his own massive hand. He kissed her fingertips, and she snatched her hand away. He still couldn’t tell if she was angry or flirting. Perhaps some of both?
She flung her long black hair back off her shoulders and turned to go.
“Wait, Mistress Deirdre, please don’t go just yet!”
She stopped, but didn’t turn back to him.
“May I have the honor of a dance this evening?”
She didn’t answer, but turned her head with a knowing smile, and skipped off.
He grinned and ran a hand through his hair. The day was looking up already.