by December 12th, 2012-
Writers, if they’re smart, always cut something out of their books somewhere between first draft and publication. Often, that “something” is “quite a lot of things,” or in some cases, “literally everything except some tangentially related idea.” New material supplants old, or the old is excised simply because it adds nothing to the work, and therefore doesn’t require replacing. With THE FOLLY OF THE WORLD (UK | US | AUS), a conversation with my (brilliant) editor at Orbit led to my taking an early draft of the novel and scrapping a full two-thirds of it, salvaging a superior bit here or there but discarding the bulk. It was the right decision, and the vast majority of those undercooked—and by this point rather spoiled—words will stay where they belong, on the compost heap of my mind, so that the unused odds and ends can fertilize new ideas.
Below you’ll find an exception to my clumsy gardening metaphor; a deleted scene from the novel that I’ve opted to publish here on the Orbit blog, rather than discarding it all together. From my zero draft of THE FOLLY OF THE WORLD until midway through the revision process, this short chapter was part of the book. Usually it was the opening of the novel, but I also tried using it as the ending. I was able to fiddle with its placement in the text, and I feel comfortable showing it to you here, for the very reason I ended up cutting it from the book: it fleetingly alludes to a character and events from the novel, but doesn’t directly impact the cast or plot. You might think that this textual isolation would make it an easy choice for the chopping block, but no—for one thing, it adds a potential layer to one of the chapters in the finished novel, and for another, it embodies the spirit of the work in a detached fashion that I find all the more satisfying for its disconnect from (almost) everything else in the book.
Here then, for those of a curious inclination, is a complete, albeit rather rough, deleted scene from THE FOLLY OF THE WORLD. If you give this a read before getting a hold of the novel, feel free to incorporate the events laid out below into the greater tapestry. If you’d rather not, that’s cool, too—if this were in any way vital to the book, it wouldn’t have ended up on the cutting room floor. With no further ado, let us turn to a small town in the medieval Low Countries, and a very bad day for a not all-together-faultless fellow…
“To Be Suspended Between Sky and Earth”
What exactly Heaven was doing that cold Easter morning could not be ascertained through the thick clouds the color of boiled calf brains, and as Bent Friso was led to the gallows his thoughts alternated between escape and the life that had brought him there. The escape he envisioned was less dramatic than others had fantasized, or, indeed, attempted, involving a last minute reprieve from an ambiguous authority figure. That would be nice.
Bent had spent most of his days in Sneek, and quarreled at least twice a week with Jelle Friso for the bulk of their respective lifetimes. Jelle was, in addition to being a card cheat, a liar, and a general piece of shit, Bent’s cousin, a fact that had never sat well with either of them. In the modest—if not humble—West Friesland village there should have been more than enough room for two men to keep their distance from one another, but somehow the warren of muddy streets and alleys that dipped between the squat grey buildings always brought them face to face, the cramped bridges crisscrossing the narrow, floodwater-dark canals forcing them to rub against one another in passing when neither would yield the right of way.
Bent noticed the amount of garbage and excrement hurled at him as the wagon bounced to the gibbet seemed to be far less than what he had seen at other executions, and surely that proved that at least some of his neighbors agreed that Jelle had had it coming. Yes, peering closer at the crowd Bent could see it was mostly children doing the throwing, as clear a sign as a saint materializing to exonerate him that Jelle had most assuredly deserved the stabbing Bent had administered upon catching his cousin cheating for the umpteenth time.
The fatal quarrel with Jelle had occurred the night Bent returned after living for almost a year with a girl in Harns. That domestic arrangement, like so much in Bent’s life, had gone belly-up, and so he was admittedly in a sour mood when he sat down at the back table of The White Pony with Jelle and their mutual friends. His card mates were trying to catch Bent up on local affairs, particularly some madman cutting up a few of the local militia, but he paid them no mind, staring incredulously as his cousin dropped his cards on the floor of the tavern not two hands in, the old fraud scrambling under the table to pick them up. Rather than softening Bent’s antipathy, the time apart from Jelle had hardened his hatred like, well, something that got hard, maybe in a fire or something, Bent wasn’t sure, but the point was that the break from Jelle’s cheating had only made it less tolerable. If only he hadn’t been so terrible at it Bent might have spared him the knife, but the cheek of it, carrying on as if nobody knew what he was up to, the dirty—
The wagon stopped, arresting Bent’s thoughts along with its wheels. Two guards clambered into the cart, and another pair went to work untying Bent’s ankles from the rings in the bed of the wagon, a detail he had never noticed when watching the executions…but then, in all fairness, he was usually only half-awake at the things. He realized with some disappointment that he was crying. Looking up at the hangman—Nienke Tjaard’s boy, Dieuwe—Bent began to panic, for the priest was absent from the platform, and in his place was Kai the Dwarf. What this substitution might herald Bent could not imagine.
After his legs were freed the two guards on the ground went to the rear of the wagon, and the pair standing beside Bent hoisted him up by his armpits and crab-walked him to the edge. The condemned man realized his ankles were still tied together, and the thick coils of rope binding his arms to his sides pinched him through his increasingly sweaty tunic. Something very wrong was happening, something even worse than the many hangings he had witnessed in this same square, but even if they hadn’t shoved a gag into his mouth back at the cell he would have been too scared to ask what they were doing. The men passed him down from the cart and then carried him like a felled hart up the stairs, two men holding his feet and the other pair his shoulders, and finally he was set back on his feet between the hangman and the dwarf.
Nienke Tjaard’s boy, Dieuwe, who sometimes played with Bent and his friends and must have known Jelle was a cheat who had it coming, placed the noose around Bent’s neck and tugged it tight. Kai made a face that was halfway between a smile and a frown as he looked up at Bent, then spit on his palm and rubbed his stubby hands together. Seeing the village assembled beneath him gave Bent a rush of light-headedness, and he might have tumbled over the side and hanged himself if Dieuwe hadn’t caught his shoulder, the hangman giving him a gentle squeeze. This was it.
Then, there, suddenly, at the edge of the crowd—a priest! Not old Sven, but any priest was better than none, and this one had a kindly look to him. The cassocked man came quickly to the stairs, his pale blue eyes meeting Bent’s brown ones, and then he made the sign of the cross at the foot of the stairs and spoke, addressing the crowd as much as Bent.
“Bent Friso, you are condemned to death for the murder of your cousin Jelle Friso. Do you repent this shedding of blood?”
In that moment Bent truly did, thinking now that perhaps he could have let Jelle off with a stern beating. Hell, he hadn’t even meant to stab the cozener more than once, he just got carried away. Unable to speak through the gag, Bent nodded, keeping his chin lowered so the priest could anoint his forehead and tie the blindfold in place, as was the custom, but the old man did not climb the stairs, instead exchanging a glance with the hangman.
Dieuwe picked Bent up by the tight loops of rope pinning his arms to his sides and carried him to the edge of the platform, and thinking he was to be thus hurled over the edge, Bent let out a whine. The hangman set him down on the cusp, however, Bent’s feet jutting out over the precipice of death, a thin patch on the toe of his left shoe inexplicably catching his notice, and Bent breathed what he knew must be his last breath. It was a cold one, like inhaling the spray of ice from the back of the sleigh he had ridden on once as a child, the memory of such happy, snowy days of innocence burning his heart even as the chill air burned his lungs. Kai stepped beside Dieuwe, and Bent heard him mutter an apology or curse or prayer, he wasn’t sure which, and then the dwarf locked his arms around Bent’s thighs. As soon as Kai’s hands were clasped Dieuwe gave Bent a solid shove.
In the moment before his neck snapped and his skin tore from the added weight around his legs, Bent tried to think something, anything, he didn’t care what so long as he didn’t leave this world aimless, wandering, but before he could settle on a final thought his spine was ripped out of joint and he died, the dwarf losing his grip and tumbling free, falling through the frigid morning air with all the impossible slowness that should have accompanied Bent’s hanging, an eternal descent with the bottom never reached before everything went dark as the deep before the creation of light.