Leading up to The Winter Garden‘s release on March 31st, I will be posting a few excerpts from the story. You can read an excerpt from chapter one here.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Two: Alchemists and Pinnipeds:
Immanuel smiled to himself as he made his way across the lawns and between the medieval buildings, feeling the money from his professor jingle in his pocket. It was bittersweet to finish Otto’s skeleton since he enjoyed spending his afternoons with his mentor, but it would be nice to use the bit of money he earned to have a meal out or buy some new supplies. He wove between the throngs of students and strangers until he reached the massive entrance of the Bodleian Library with its gothic portal and school coats of arms. The warm smell of must and parchment engulfed him as he slipped inside. The cozy, cave-like atmosphere of the Bodleian calmed him on his worst day and had been his refuge since he arrived. The librarian barely looked up from his desk as the lanky, young German signed in and strolled toward a desk among the stacks. He wandered through the shelves searching for those who may be able to help him in his search. It had been weeks since the day at the Thames when the girl fell in and his heart stopped, but he couldn’t help but wonder what his alchemist ancestors created. Every spare moment was spent in the library researching what could have revived her. On a shelf of philosophers stood Magnus, Bacon, and Pseudo-Geber; all were men who sought to wholly understand life but, unlike him, took their studies toward the otherworldly. Immanuel hoped within their spines he would find the curious secret to what had been brewed and bottled in the necklace by his ancestors.
For hours he sat at the desk in solitude and silence with his hands covering his ears and cupping the sides of his face like blinders. Most of what he read made little sense, but as he reached the section on Albertus Magnus, his eyes lit up. Another German had made an elixir of life. He reread the words, but they refused to sink in. The lapis philosophorum had the power to grant life. Immanuel’s eyes passed over the page until they reached the part about how it looked. The immature stone was white but would transform to its most potent form, which was red, with the addition of a reagent. The vial had been a murky milk until it morphed into a sanguine solution upon the addition of his blood. Could his mother’s forbears have left the lapis philosophorum for him as his inheritance?
When Immanuel finally surfaced from the massive volume, his neck was stiff and his hand was cramped beyond cracking. He sat back, clenching his eyes shut, but upon opening them, he suddenly noticed how dark the library had become even with the electric sconces. As he gathered up his belongings, a door opened in the distance, and the lights were extinguished. Immanuel quickly threw on his satchel and grabbed the book by Albertus Magnus to return it to the shelf when their voices rang out in the darkness. He peered around the edge of the bookcase, ready to yell to the librarian that he was still inside when his eyes fell upon three men in the shadows.
“Are you certain he is in here, Higgins?” asked the man in the middle, his voice deep and urbane.
“Very, he is the only one who has not left.” The second intruder’s voice vacillated nervously. “I should know, I have been outside for four bloody hours.”
“Keep it down, or he will hear you. I do not want to have to chase him. Higgins, go toward the back. Thomas, go check the shelves.”
Immanuel carefully padded backwards, keeping an eye on the shrouded men at the other end of the library as he darted toward the Seldon End. His chest tightened as he spun around, hoping to find a place to hide, but all he found was a dead end. He could hide under the tables, but even with the scant amount of light coming in through the windows, he would cast a shadow. Two pairs of feet were rapidly approaching. One of the men called out that the stacks were empty. Immanuel’s heart pounded as his eyes fell on the catwalk above his head. Holding his breath, he inched toward the hall where the men were regrouping and noiselessly climbed the steps on the tips of his toes.
He flattened against the bookcase as the men came in and checked under the desks and near the shelves for any sign of him. What they could want from him, he couldn’t imagine, but he didn’t want to find out. From his hiding place, he watched the figures below move in the waning light. He didn’t recognize them as students or lecturers, and while they weren’t carrying cudgels or guns, it was clear they were hunting for someone. The two who were sent ahead stepped into the lantern light, revealing that they were both at least a dozen years older than he was and better dressed. The man who eagerly sought him under the long desks had a gaunt and haggard countenance with bulging eyes that darted nervously over every surface. The other was a stout man with spectacles, who appeared more fit for servitude or banking than crime.
As their leader emerged from the shadows of the hall, it became clear why they didn’t need to carry weapons. The robust man strode in like a Roman commander. He held his head high and marched past his inferiors. Immanuel swallowed hard as the man put his hands on his hips, causing his ribs to flare and push dangerously against the tailored fabric of his suit and waistcoat. As much as he wanted to monitor the men, he feared that if he looked at them directly, they would feel his gaze and discover him in his darkened corner.
“He isn’t here, sir.”
As the pudgy intruder spoke, Immanuel looked out over the railing toward the arched portal. If he could leap from the second floor and run toward the exit, he might just be able to outrun them, especially since he knew the terrain.
“The German couldn’t have gone far. Thomas, go up there and tell me if you can see him.”
His eyes widened in panic as the fatter man climbed the steps. Immanuel stared up at the inlaid ceiling, taking long, slow breaths to keep from hyperventilating. The fidgety man peered out the window for their prey while their leader lingered under the walkway on the opposite side of the room. The paunchy criminal looked out across the library, gripping the railing until his meaty knuckles turned white. With a final steadying breath, Immanuel knew what he had to do. He clutched The Theatrum Chemicum and began his silent shuffle toward the intruder. In the shadows, the man never noticed as he slunk behind him. Raising the tome high above his head, Immanuel brought it down so hard on the back of the heavy man’s skull that he crumpled against the rail. Immanuel dashed the book to the floor and jumped over the edge. His leg gave out under him as he stumbled forward, ignoring the pain radiating up from his ankle.
For a few fleeting seconds, he thought he would be able to escape until he heard the sound of a bench crashing to the floor and boots thundering behind him on the ancient planks. His satchel slapped against his thigh as the shelves blew past him on either side. Immanuel slammed his wobbly ankle down step after step despite the pain. The door was only feet beyond the deserted librarian’s desk, but as he rounded the corner, the footsteps finally caught up with him. They collided in a pile of wool and leather and fell to the ground with the brawny man easily pinning him. Immanuel flailed and thrashed wildly until he was able to work his arms free from under the man’s body. The bug-eyed Higgins soon joined the pile, but as he reached for Immanuel’s arms, the younger man sent his elbow into the criminal’s nose. When his attacker fell back onto their commander, Immanuel rolled onto his stomach and scrambled to his feet. A claw wrapped around his sore ankle and yanked him back down. Immanuel lay on the floor panting, the wind knocked out of him by the fall, as the man knelt on his back and tightly bound his hands with the strap from his satchel.
“I knew you were in there. Even if I could not see you, I could sense you,” their leader explained in a harsh whisper. His mouth was so close to Immanuel’s ear he could taste the puffs of hot tobacco-ridden breath with each syllable. “I did not expect such a fight from you.”
“The money is in my pocket. I swear, I have nothing else of value,” Immanuel cried with his face pressed into the floor from the man’s weight, but his hands worked frantically against their binds.
“Oh, you have something much more valuable than money that I want. Stop struggling, boy. We are just going to have a little talk.”
Before Immanuel could reply, a sharp pain followed by a flood of cold ran through his arm. Then, the world went black.
44 days until The Winter Garden comes out! If you haven’t read the first book, I hope you will check out The Earl of Brass, and if you like what you read, you can pre-order The Winter Garden (IMD #2) here for 99 cents. I cannot believe there are only 44 days left. As a bonus, here is a little Valentines Day fun from Adam and Immanuel. You’ll meet them soon.