Sneezing My Head Off

Here's my life at the moment:

Type type sneeze type sneeze type type sneeze sneeze type.  Glare at empty antihistamine package in disgust.

Type sneeze type sneeze. Repeat.

These are the kind of days that truly infuriate me. I had a very rare block of time. This afternoon should have been productive. Instead, after four uninterrupted hours at the keyboard, I'm left with the kind of red nose one normally associates with circus clowns and a page and a half of lackluster prose.

In all likelihood, I'll be lucky to salvage two paragraphs from today's miserable writing session.  Maybe less.  In retrospect, I probably should have just taken a nap.

Sigh. I was looking forward to writing this part of Brown River Queen, too.  Markhat and crew have just boarded the Queen, and are seeing her interior for the first time.  She's quite a boat -- four hundred feet long and a hundred feet wide, every inch of her devoted to gambling, boozing, and comfort.

I'm basing her on the real gambling boats that plied the Mississippi in the 1800s. My research into steamboats was fascinating; I had no idea such large, lavish craft existed. The steam engines themselves were marvels. Deadly dangerous marvels, sure, but marvels nonetheless. Our forebears not only laughed at danger, but spent a lot of time giving it face-slaps and yanking its nose, ala The Three Stooges.  When those boilers blew, they made impressive holes in the landscape.

But never fear, Markhat fans -- I'll hopefully wake up tomorrow sneeze-free and ready to work.

Until then, since I'm incapable of extended coherent original thought, here's a brief excerpt from the work in progress, Brown River Queen:

“I’m here to hire the famous Captain Markhat on behalf of House Avalante.”
            “Didn’t you read the placard?  I’m a humble finder, not a Captain.  My marching days are done.  I’ve taken up pacifism and a strict philosophy of passive non-violence.”
            “What’s your philosophy on five hundred crowns, paid in gold, for taking a relaxing dinner cruise down the Brown River to Bel Loit and back?  With meals, booze, and as many of these cigars as you can carry thrown in for free?”
            I blew out a ragged column of grey-brown smoke.
            “I’m flexible on such matters.   But I’m troubled by the offer of five hundred crowns.”
            “Make it six hundred, then.”
            “I will.  If I decide to take it at all.  Because that’s a lot of gold, Mr. Prestley.  Even Avalante doesn’t just hand the stuff out to see my winning smile.  What exactly is worth seven hundred crowns to House Avalante?”
            Evis winced.  “You are, believe it or not.  Look.  This isn’t just any old party barge outing.  The Brown River Queen is a palace with a hull.  The guest list reads like Yule at the High House.  Ministers.  Lords.  Ladies.  Opera stars.  Generals.  ”
            “And?  You said it was pleasure cruise.  We won the war and didn’t lose so much as a potato wagon.  Handshakes and promotions all around.  Why do you need me, for eight hundred crowns?”
            Evis lifted his hands in surrender.
            “Because the Regent himself is coming along for the ride,” he said, in a whisper.  “Yes.  You heard me.  The Regent.  For every ten who love him there are a thousand who want to scoop out his eyes and boil them and feed them to him.”
            “On your boat.”
            “On our boat.  This is it, Markhat.  It’s the culmination of thirty years of negotiations and diplomacy and bribery.  House Avalante is a single step away from taking its place at the right hand of the most powerful man in the world.  He’ll have his bodyguards.  He’ll have his staff.  He’ll have his spies and his informants and his eyes and his ears, and that’s just fine with us.  But Markhat, we want the man kept safe.  We want trouble kept off the Queen.  We want a nice quiet cruise from here to Bel Loit and back, and the House figures if anyone can spot trouble coming we don't see it’s you.”
            “When you look at things that way, nine hundred crowns is really quite a bargain.”
            “Nine hundred crowns it is.”  Evis blew another smoke ring and then sailed a second one through it.  “And one more thing.  Bring the missus.  She eats, drinks, stays for free, courtesy of Avalante.  Is that a deal?”
            “An even thousand crowns for watching rich folks drink.  I think you just bought yourself a finder, Mr. Prestley.”