I haven’t done any promotion for a while, and this isn’t really promotion, but to celebrate reaching the 20k mark in new writing of the current WIP (second volume of Ys), here’s the unedited opening. It will very likely change, openings often do, but for the moment this is it.
Una One-Eye, Una of the Sapphire Eye, Una Death-Glance, trudged along in silence, carrying the burden of her worries as stoically as a hardy work pony. Hakki, her little brother, danced along in front of her, weaving his small boy dance of joy, always happy to be moving, curious about every movement, every changing colour on the mountain, flash of bird feather, whistle in the wind. He held Goat’s halter but Una suspected the beast would stay by his side anyway. She watched Fiachra from beneath lowered lashes, observing and appraising. Fiachra—thrall, companion, and possibly friend—had a new spring in his step. Although he was burdened with the bags the unfortunate pony was no longer in a position to carry, he seemed not to feel the weight. Winter lingered long in the high passes of the mountains, but the air sang with the promise of milder days, and the grass was greener, the trees covered in a misty haze of new leaf. Una wondered was she the only one to have any doubts about this journey at all.
The Vesturlands were the home of demons, monsters and the Guardians. No one, not even the hunters from her village by the ocean had ventured beyond Hrafngill and taken the rocky path down to the heath lands below. Not even Geirri with his boarhounds and his staghounds. Not even when food was scare in the bleak mid-winter and they said the game knew it was safe beyond the Jötunnsfell so there was meat there for the asking. The Vesturlands were spiked with fastnesses, they said. The black fortresses crowned the peaks with their eyeless walls of basalt, and the Guardians held them with not so much as a band of village drengur. They had no need of armed men. The terror of the fish monsters was enough to keep even the hardiest at a distance, and who would want to brave the Guardians anyway?
Fiachra drew her thoughts back to him. However far they strayed, he pulled them in like a fisherman playing a fish on a line. Was she just a fish on a line? The notion made her frown. Fiachra strode ahead, his long legs untiring, his head held high. She would follow him, but she would not walk with him. As she watched the movement of his shoulders, the rhythm of his stride, the light changed and shifted. She reached out to steady herself, to retain her balance on the earth suddenly treacherous. Dread filled her belly with cold seawater. She knew this feeling; a waking dream was beginning.
Fiachra! she called out in her head but no sound came. She was drifting, away from the waking world and into the dream. She listened, but instead of the insistent voice of the Valdur general she heard the sound of waves. Fiachra’s name caught in her throat and the hand stretched out for balance became an entreaty. Fiachra had gone. His shock of black hair was no longer visible against the sky grown just as dark. Another was there, with hair the colour of ripe barley, a stranger. And the black was not of the sky but a cave, and the stranger with the barley-coloured hair was heading into it. She wanted to call out, to find Hakki and run out of this dream, this vision and wake in the comforting world of birch trees and sunlight. The cave loomed. The barley-headed man marched confidently into the mouth that shivered and stretched. Una tried to scream. The cave was not a cave but a maw, a black gullet.
Please, make him stop! She did not want to see what happened next, but the seers who formed her dreams would not listen. She and the fair-haired stranger were trapped in a vision of horror. The hooks of teeth were clear now, a pale spiral disappearing into the depths of the black throat, hooks that quivered and rippled like rigid flesh. The tunnel narrowed, the throat contracted, and Una screamed. The confident stride broke, and the man turned, a young man, and beneath his barley-coloured hair, his eyes, one blue as the sky, the other brown as a bird’s wing, were wide with surprise.