This was, for quite some time, the opening scene of Doppelganger. For information on where it came from and why I ended up deleting it, see the commentary at the end.
Cheap pipe smoke made a discernible haze in the stifling air of the tavern. Despite the many windows opened to catch a breeze, it refused to dissipate outside; instead it hovered at nose-level, causing more than one of the serving women who threaded her way between the tables to cough.
The patrons at the table in the corner were below the bulk of the haze, but it was unlikely they would have noticed it even if they weren’t. All were watching the cards in their hand, or the cards on the table, or each other, with the intensity of gamblers in a game whose stakes are rising uncomfortably high.
The dark-haired man who sat nearest the door moved to place another coin on the table, then hesitated. His finger tapped the coin, wavering between picking up the card it would buy him and returning it to his purse.
“Get on with it,” the man across from him growled. He looked like a professional soldier, with a lumpy nose and a scar slanting down one jaw.
The other player flinched, then sighed. With a grimace, he left the coin on the table and took the top card from the stack. His expression did not lighten when he looked at its face.
The next man tossed another coin down with a negligent flip and took his card. His clothes were too expensive and well-made for the general cut of patrons in the tavern; they marked him as the son of a minor nobleman or a rich merchant, out slumming, spending his father’s money. He had been betting high all night, prodding the others on, raising the stakes of the game. Much of the tension around the table could be laid at his feet.
Play then passed to one of the two women sitting across from each other at the table. Her worn brown leathers and battered but well-maintained equipment labeled her as a mercenary. She stood above the tavern-scum level of hired muscle, with their mismatched and ill-kempt arms, but below the sort of merc who could snag high-paying jobs with silk caravans. Despite the goading of the spoiled young man to her right, she was conservative in her betting. It would be easy to gamble away the money she might need to buy herself food in the next week, and she knew it. She considered her cards carefully, biting her lower lip, then bought another card. Her face did not change at all as she looked at it; there was no sign of whether it was good or bad.
The soldier’s eyes flickered in annoyance at her lack of expression. Robbed of any edge in his own choice, he glared at his cards, then bought another one. The man next to him took one look at his own hand, then shook his head and laid them face-down on the table.
There was a quiet murmur as he folded, but the second woman did not seem to notice. Like her counterpart across the table, she had on well-worn leathers and carried steel at her side, but the former’s black-dyed shade and the latter’s distinctive styling were too individualistic for an average mercenary. Chances were she was a Hunter, but no one wanted to ask. She didn’t look like the sociable, chatting type.
She bought another card. Betting ensued for several minutes, driving the indecisive man to fold as well. Then glances flashed around the table, and then the four who were still in the game laid down their hands.
The rich young man’s hand was weak, but he took the loss with no more than a careless grin. The female merc sighed as she saw her own hand, a number straight, outmatched by that of the soldier, who laid down three Towers and two Scrolls.
The other woman had the five Primes.
The soldier stared at the cards for a moment. The Primes of Stones, Feathers, Waves, Suns, and Void, all in a neat row. The black-garbed woman’s face was not gloating, merely steady as she looked back at him. Soft curses came from the fop and the man next to him. The odds of drawing such a hand were minuscule, and they all knew it.
“Bloody witch,” the soldier muttered under his breath, but not quietly enough.
The table crashed to the floor, taking the fop with it. The merc danced clear, putting one hand to her blade, but she did not pull it. Drawing steel inside town walls could call down serious trouble.
The other woman had no care for such concerns. Her slender dagger was at the soldier’s throat, a hair’s pressure from drawing blood, as she slammed his back into the wall. The other players backed up hastily, as did everyone else nearby. People were already slipping outside, not wanting to be associated with the impending trouble.
“I am not one of them,” the woman snarled in a low, furious voice. “Don’t ever say that again!”
The soldier wasn’t stupid. He nodded as much as her blade at his neck would allow. As if one of the witches would be here, in a common tavern, playing cards. Even their serving-women, the strange, taciturn women known as Cousins, were unlikely come to a place like this. He had not meant the comment seriously, despite the woman’s red hair; her reaction had been entirely unexpected.
The tavern’s bouncers arrived on the scene. But as soon as one of them touched the woman’s arm, she threw him off disdainfully, re-sheathing her blade. With one last glare at the shaken soldier, she left the tavern. Patrons tripped over themselves, trying to get out of her way.
The words got polished a little along the way, but minor changes aside, this is the first part of Doppelganger that ever got written. (Which makes it ironic that it’s not even in the book.) Herewith the story of this scene: its birth, life, and eventual death. (And possible resurrection! But not likely.)
The summer that I was seventeen, I was trying to be good about getting exercise, and so I made a habit of going to our athletic club and swimming laps. Now, swimming is much more pleasant for me than running or stationary biking, but the downside is that you can’t do something else at the same time, like watch TV or read a book. So it’s kind of boring. To keep myself entertained — and to give my creativity a workout at the same time — I began doing minor writing exercises in my head. I don’t know how many I actually ended up doing, but I do know that at one point I set myself to describe a group of people sitting around the table. My mental camera went around, seeing one person after another much in the way you see above, and then I arrived at the woman in black.
My subconscious offered up the tidbit that she was a Hunter, then shrugged and refused to be more helpful when I asked it what a Hunter was.
So that was where the novel originally started. In fact, it started there for years, before I finally cut the scene. Why did I? Well, to be absolutely honest, because I was submitting it to an agent who only wanted to see the first five pages and a synopsis, and though I liked the scene, it pretty much filled those five pages, and I felt rather uncomfortably that, standing on its own, this scene looked a little too Standard Fantasy. Plus, looking at it more objectively, a lot of it was wasted. There’s paragraph after paragraph describing those other people, which would be absolutely fine if any of them appeared ever again.
But they don’t. They’re throwaway extras. Upon whom I was lavishing more than two manuscript pages of description.
The scene is still a part of the narrative; it may never appear in the text, but it sets up the fight that is now the first scene (originally the second scene) of the novel. Mirage’s winnings are what they’re trying to mug her for. And the incident in this scene is what sets their minds on her being a witch, or a Cousin.
Honestly, a part of me still misses this scene. It was there for too many years for me not to get used to having it be part of the story’s flow; the new opening scene still feels a little abrupt to me. Maybe it is. But I realized — and this was what made me cut the scene — that in my imagination, it was very cinematic. The camera was moving through the room, circling around the table, probably as the opening credits appeared. And that was the rub: it might make a useful starter to a movie, but for a novel, it was too much passive description. So away it went. If anybody were ever to make a movie of this book and ask me for input, who knows; I might try to put it back in. But I’m writing novels, not screenplays, and so away it went in the end.