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The Tale Of Jon Handshaker, Chapter One

Updated on December 5, 2012

The Tale Of Jon Handshaker

Chapter One

Playing Hooky

Jon Lamb was having little luck. He had fished the shallow, cold, mountain creeks of the Reservation Lands for trout and grayling, but he was new to this city and to the wide, slow rivers that encompassed it.

The Festival of the Dog Star, the first sighting of the summer star, was one of four given over for public purification. People, public spirited, or simply ever mindful of their neighbors' eyes, were diligently cleaning their homes, shops, and streets. They burned richly scented pine boughs in hopes of warding off the summer fevers brought on by insects and the heavy, humid air. Jon Lamb was playing hooky.

The honeycart men were working overtime. Instead of their usual leisurely dozen or two cartloads each, morning through afternoon, on Purification Days they worked from dawn till past dusk, pulling heavy cartloads of the unclean or unwanted. From the Sunset Gate the road and the Great River flowed in tandem.

The hundred-odd West Gate honeycart men went back and forth the statutory one-quarter mile. They ran the carts down the low bank at that point, right out into the ankle-deep shallows, where the bottom was smooth rock. They dumped the cities unmentionables into the water and then quickly stirred the water with their staves. Then they hauled the carts, with their oversized barrels, back up the bank and onto the main road.

Jon fished just upstream from the dumping (he wasn’t so uneducated as to fish downstream, though many didn't care). He floated his baited hook back and forth on a short line from a fourteen foot pole, just as he had learned from Old Uncle back home.

With only the honeycarts to break the monotony of fishless fishing, Jon grew more and more distracted as the morning wore on. Playing hooky from his duties wasn’t turning out as much fun as he had thought it might be. Finally, he simply propped his pole between some rocks, and, pulling out a book from his bag, began to read. He was vaguely aware of the carts going by, and he could see the dumping from where he sat.

One of the honeycart men caught his eye, an over-muscled giant with a great full mane of hair, who seemed to be watching him each time he made the trip to or from the city. Not shy, Jon waved at him and shouted hello as the giant returned toward the city with his empty honeycart. The giant didn’t reply except to nod once deeply, almost a bow. He strode on, his ragged gray uniform gaping at the seams, where his almost ridiculous musculature flexed and bulged.

Jon continued reading, a textbook on ancient landfall history, required for the first level. I may be playing hooky, he thought, but at least I keep up with the reading. More than most of those bloodless Lambs. He so justified abandoning them all to scrubbing the old building inside and out, rooftop and attic to basement storerooms. I just don’t like those filthy coal-rooms in the basement, and I cleaned them all just last week anyway. Why a coal-room needs cleaning anyway... Without effort, he avoided thinking about why he had had to clean them.

The book was getting interesting for a change, a detailed account of the old rebellion that had ended with the formation of the Reservation Lands. Quite different from the story he had heard all his life growing up there. A shouted "Halloo" broke through his reading, and he looked up to see the giant standing above him at the verge of the road. The other honeycart men continued on by, a dozen in sight at any time.

"Boy! You won't get any damn fish there," the man shouted as he scrambled down the steep bank. He skidded to a stop with one foot in the river, and stretched up to get the kinks out of his back, muscles bulging and joints cracking. "Too damn hot for the fishies today. Try over under that damn tree," he said in a lower, gravely voice, pulling his foot from the water and pointing at an undercut oak, fallen in the spring floods. "They like the shade on a damn hot day." Then he grinned a big-toothed grin, "Me too." After a brief pause, rolling his eyes up as if deep in thought, he added a quiet, "Damn if I don’t."

Jon was speechless for a moment, a rare enough condition for him. He had never even spoken to any casteman before, and certainly never to one from the lowest caste of all, the Sewage Haulers Caste. The Honeycart Men, as they liked to call themselves. And with all of those damns. It was just too much. He couldn’t help himself, and broke into astounded laughter. That seemed to set off the easy-natured giant as well, and his ever-present grin widened into an open-mouthed smile, and then laughter. The two stood on the riverbank bellowing laughs at each other.

One of the passing honeycart men shouted down in barely intelligible caste cant, "Yas fine par a lafin idiotsh, if ya ashk me!" As they ran down to panting chuckles, the giant repeated, "If you want to catch any damn fishes, you gotta get out of that damn sun." He pointed meaningfully up at the sun overhead, as if Jon wouldn’t know which sun he had meant.

Jon took a deep breath. The man was grinning again, and Jon supposed he was simple. Many of the castemen were said to be. That was why they were in protected castes. Funny that he wasn’t speaking cant too. "Are you a fisherman too?" was the first thing that came into his head.

Jon briefly considered asking the man's name, but here in the city it was generally thought rude to ask directly. People made up nicknames for each other as a matter of course, as an art, and most often as a form of humor, subtle sometimes, but usually otherwise. The nickname you carried changed from day to day and even hour by hour, depending on the chance of the day.

An especially apt name could spread in moments, so that people you didn’t even know would greet you, just for the chance to savor the name. Only occasionally would a person carry the same name as long as a year. Jon sometimes wondered how people ever knew whom anyone else was talking about, gossip being the city's most popular vice. No one but he seemed to have much trouble keeping all the nicknames straight.

The giant nodded and said, "When I’m not pulling this damned cart there is nothing I like better. Gives a man time to think. Besides, The Wife likes her damn fish. So do I. Damned if I don’t." Then he turned abruptly and bounded up the bank shouting, "Bye Laugher."

Laugher seemed to Jon a pretty lame nickname even for just one day, but he was probably stuck with it, at least until he got back to the city. So in reply he shouted the equally lame, because so obvious and trite, "Bye, Giant."

The nearest honeycart men laughed too and from then on through the long afternoon Jon Laugher heard one or another of them shout "Hello, Laugher" or "Good-bye, Laugher" or "Catch any fish yet, Laugher?" Lame and low humor, but better than the usual Diamond, or Fatty, or Butter. Worst in its implications was Lamb, the most common of all the nicknames he put up with in the city. And, from under the oak tree, he did indeed catch fish, big, small, carp, bass, drum and more.

Jon Laugher was in no hurry to get home. Even his best friends would no doubt be unhappy to see him, unless it was to see him punished. He had never, even as a small boy allowed the mere fear of punishment to stop him from doing whatever he wanted. But putting off the pain until the last moment had always seemed a good compromise.

So hot afternoon wore into evening and still he caught fish, far more than he could carry home in his small creel. In the excitement of the catching, he thought each time, just one more.

Finally in the deepening dusk, with only a moon up for thin blue light, the last of the honeycarts came rumbling by. Jon saw the Giant emptying a final load of sewage as a few of his caste fellows looked on. Carrying a long string of fish, Jon walked up to them. He heard a bit of their rough conversation before they noticed him.

"Notin much tish 'ear. Notin lak lash 'ear tish tam. Ah got golds an silvers both!"

Whatever they were talking about, in their almost incomprehensible cant, Jon thought that sounded like a boast.

The Giant was just shaking the water from his oversized bare calves, grinning and nodding his head in apparent agreement, or perhaps just slow-witted good nature, when Jon broke into the circle of castemen. "Giant, you said your wife likes fish." And he held up the makeshift stringer in his left hand, with a dozen black bass and yellow river perch on it. Some of the best eating fish.

Giant stood silent, smileless for a change, and looked from the fish to Jon, and back again. All his teeth showed in a sudden, toothy grin. Jon was reminded of a lion showing his fangs, what with his large, round head, and full windblown hair sticking out in all directions.

The Giant extended his hand to accept the fish, and, on a sudden, capricious impulse, Jon Laugher put out his own and grabbed the sewage hauler's rough paw in a firm handshake. Thoroughly shocked by his own impulsive action, he held on strongly for three big shakes, as if to an equal.

There was time for long, deep drawn breaths in silence, then all of the honeycart men began to leave as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, making ripe remarks and shouting rough good-byes. Jon Laugher and the giant stood looking at each other for a moment longer. Giant said diffidently, "Well, my damned name is Rafe, if you wanted to know."

Still in shock at his own action, Jon's mind went off on a tangent. A boy of the King's Blood never touched a caste-man. He took a deep breath to reorient his thoughts and replied, "I am Jon." Again, spoken directly, as if to an equal. The cat was out of the bag. Even at that age, only thirteen, Jon was seldom indecisive. "Good-bye, Rafe Giant. I guess I'm in enough trouble as it is, no need to get caught outside the gates all night, and past curfew already."

Rafe Giant nodded, the silly grin returned, and he reached out to take the fish. He turned and strode quickly away to his cart, without another word.

Here is a link to Chapter Two. Thanks for reading.

In Chapter Two Jon will learn the consequences of his impulsive act, and the punishment. He turns that punishment to his own benefit, accidentally setting himself on a strange course. Chapters One through Three are essentially a prologue, with the violence, blood, death and adventure starting in Chapter Four.


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    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 6 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      SubRon, I agree it starts a bit slow. This won't be going to an agent, so I don't care about that. Thanks for reading, and the comments.

    • SubRon7 profile image

      James W. Nelson 6 years ago from eastern North Dakota

      Interesting story, Tmbridgeland, but I probably won't go beyond this first chapter, mainly because of time, but I do like to read at least one hub of anyone who follows me, and I thank you for the follow, and the comment this morning. I like your writing style, but, if you don't mind I will say, try to get Jon to Giant and dialogue a little more quickly. The reason I kept reading was because I wanted to know if the word "honeycart" was what I thought it was, but that might not be enough to capture an agent, publisher, editor. I've heard that one doesn't have much more time than a few seconds.

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Interesting story. I will enjoy it. God Bless You.

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 6 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      MKOLLER, thanks for the kind comments. And I have NEVER had my writing compared to Mark Twain before! I just wish I deserved it.

    • MKOLLER profile image

      MKOLLER 6 years ago from Klamath Falls, OR

      I have to say I was nostalgic though most of the read. The style and setting are very reminiscent of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. And then there's the phrase, "Damn if I don't." It's fitting for the character, but it's killing me trying to figure out if you referenced it from something. Having the protagonist be of royal blood was a nice twist, too.

      Also, at 1800 words, it's a fair enough length for a chapter. The chapters of the story I'm writing cap out at 1500 words maximum, so perhaps I'n a bit biased. Either way, I give it a good rating.

    • Mark Pitts profile image

      Mark Pitts 6 years ago from United States

      That was really good. Now I have to read the rest!

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 6 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Great read keep going.

      Now I have to follow you to find out what happens

    • babblebreeder28 profile image

      babblebreeder28 6 years ago from The Midwest

      Very interesting characters, can't wait to see what happens in the future chapters. Some parts were a little confusing as far as grammar and sentence structure, but overall very enjoyable. Thanks for sharing!

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Thanks Danielle. Right now there are 40 chapters up, with another going up tonight or tomorrow. I hope you continue to read and comment.


    • Danielle Woerner profile image

      Danielle Woerner 7 years ago from Global via internet

      What an engaging first chapter! I look forward to following along, you've got me hooked into their world, with lots of questions - when, where?

      I've just started to discover a few of you serial writers on Hubpages, and maybe will start to post some of my own works in progress this way. Delightful to find you.

    • Gloshei profile image

      Gloria 7 years ago from France

      Very well written, I was glued to it for ages you are a good writer and your stories should do well. I am keeping my fingers crossed you get it published. Will be on to chapter 2 next to see what Jons outcome is.

      Will be following this one.


    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      ComposerGoneWild, Thanks for the kind words. This is aimed at young adult, essentially mid teens. I do not intend to have this published except perhaps e-book. I have another novel currently makeing the rounds. As for the honey carts, blood etc, all should become clear.

    • ComposerGoneWild profile image

      John Preston Dennis 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Oh my gosh...are they dumping dead bodies into the water?!!? I was a little skeptical to keep reading, but I actually really enjoyed it. I will definitely come back to read the next chapter. I suppose I don't exactly understand the whole giving a person a name or the purpose of their different positions and bloods, but I suppose that will come on another chapter?

      Have you submitted this for publication? If not, you should get it professionally proof-read and do so. It may get denied a few times, but keep trying. (I think J.K. Rowling was turned down around 12 times.) You can also self-publish and then spread the word by selling your books at conventions and such. That is how Christopher Paolini and his Inheritance Trilogy were discovered.

      Good luck and very enjoyable reading! What age group are you going for here?

    • N.E. Wright profile image

      N.E. Wright 7 years ago from Bronx, NY

      I enjoyed this.

      Looking forward to reading chapter two.

      Take Care,


    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      ar.colton, you are right, it does start slowly, something I have considered. As for being Sci-Fi or Fantasy, it reads like both, superficially it is fantasy, but the roots are sci-fi.

      Jean Baluka, I am looking for a publisher too, but for a different novel than this one.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 7 years ago from New Jersey

      I saw you on the forum because I'm trying to find a publisher for a book, and am writing on here to become better. I like Hubpages and am having fun. I read your first chapter and think it's good! I'm going to continue reading it. It has lots of description, which is good.

    • ar.colton profile image

      Mikal Smith 7 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Hey tm,

      Your characters do come to life pretty quickly but to be honest I got a little bored. It's important to grip the reader from sentence number one. You can't wait till a later chapter to allow your book to pick up speed otherwise you might lose readers after chapter one.

      Definitely have something going here though. Also, I didn't realize it was sci fi until I read your tags. Guessed it was fantasy. May want to get that in there in chapter one so people know what they are reading.

      I look forward to the rest!

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 7 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      That is a nice way of putting it, Thanks! Broke the mold on the way out for sure. :0)

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Hi Lilly, saw your profile. You're an original!

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 7 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      Yes! I do a lot of grilling! I grill it, then write about it. Grilling is food and facts...:0)Write On!

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Hi LillyGrillzit. Great name. Does it mean you do a lot of grilling? I grilled yesterday, standing in the snow.

      14 chapters up so far, with links to the next chapters at the bottom of each.

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 7 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      Wow, I found this as my friend gg.zaino shared it on FB. Wow again. Of course I will read this series. You had me at 'honeycart' man, and Reservation lands. I'm in.

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Thanks much GregZ, I appreciate the kind words. As of today 12 chapters of this story are posted, with more going up every few days to a week.

    • gg.zaino profile image

      greg g zaino 7 years ago from L'America- Big Pine Key, Florida

      Tmbridgeland, this surely is some fine writing. You capture much in your words. Your character's personalities immediately took life...Write on!

      I will be back for another read my friend.

      Peace~ gregZ

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Thanks Jordan. This was the very first story I ever wrote. So some things might not be quite there. I am revising like crazy as I post these chapters.

    • profile image

      Jordan Mierek 7 years ago

      Great story. I remember this, and hope you keep writing. My only advice would be to add in more descriptions, so the readers can visualize more.

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Thanks shape-shifter and mimind. I know the feeling exactly. I have been working and writing full time plus, so no reading time.

    • mimind profile image

      mimind 7 years ago from THE UNITED STATES

      Came on to see what you are up to looks like you have been busy nice work I shall move on to the other parts gotta pace myself or Ill be up all night reading and regreat it tomorrow when the sun comes up

    • shape_shifter profile image

      shape_shifter 7 years ago from The Free Waters of Planet Earth

      Very interesting so far! Finally had enough time to check it out without dropping over unconscious from my writing chair from lack of sleep... lol Good work!

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      There is a link to chapter two, just above the comments.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      At first I thought I wasn't going to like this, as I prefer stories rooted in my own version of reality.

      However, your description of Jon and glimpses of the structure of this society have pulled me in to the tale.

      What a good start!

      I suggest that when you publish chapter 2 that you add a link at the bottom of this hub.

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      One coming up soon, chapter two.

    • ACSutliff profile image

      ACSutliff 7 years ago

      No Problem, tmbridgeland. I hope to help, and welcome to hubpages! Keep on posting!

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      ACSutliff, thanks so much. I will definitely read your hub. I am pretty new here and not very savvy, so I need all the good advice I can find.

      More posted tonight, late.

    • ACSutliff profile image

      ACSutliff 7 years ago


      I found this hub through the forums. I'm excited to find more serial writers like myself. It can be lonely at times, so we have to stick together.

      Oooh, they have a caste system. How interesting. I enjoyed the way you described the honeycart man Giant, and the cant of that lower caste, very nice details. I want to know more about John and his noble blood. Such a nice guy, giving his fish away! He will make a fine hero for your story.


      PS: Don't forget to group your hubs together! I have a hub that might help you do that:

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Thanks. Chapter two should be up today.

    • profile image

      writeasageek 7 years ago

      I will look up to this next time surely!

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      KristenGrace. Thanks so much for the comment. I was getting lonely. :-) The story will pick up speed very shortly, in the next chapter, which I believe to be funny, and the following chapters that are fairly violent. More chapters will be posted soon.

    • KristenGrace profile image

      KristenGrace 7 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Well written with great attention to detail. Must admit I don't typically read the genre of fantasy / science fiction, but I could follow the story, and believe it is off to an interesting start!