Shade in a mist

Diana has a prompt for this novel-writing month, to write a short piece of prose or a poem from the POV of something from a different world. It so happens, I’m doing that more or less, and anything that helps the WIP along is welcome.

The image is one I found in my gallery. It’s from a reblog of one of Kerfe Roig’s posts.

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He sees through the mists now, the shade that was a child once before becoming a giant, a colossus, a warrior. He sees what the men don’t see, with their living eyes full of mist and their ears full of the fluttering of wings. Shades. Owls perhaps. They see in the dark, through what isn’t there. The shade thinks like the child he is, but he is wiser than the men because he has seen death.

The men look up, and the shade realises he has been fluttering among the leafless branches, letting papery sounds like words fall from his non-existence lips. One of the men is full of fear. His eyes roll. The shade sees the whites, smells the sweaty smell of terror. The other is not fearful. His face shows sadness. He understands what the mists do, how they change people and twist things until nobody sees the truth behind the illusion. This man left his pride behind, the shade thinks and watches curiously.

All around him shades gather, fluttering, papery, not like the silence of owls. The big fearful man casts about again and suddenly he sees, the trees full of shades, children with outstretched hands, arms turning into wings, papery, owl-like growing silent as they grow stronger. The proud sad man clasps the other’s hand, the big man bows his head and the shade knows that he is weeping. Like the parents wept when their children were chosen. Shades now, ravelling up the mist, taking its strength, growing strong, winged, like owls.

“Go,” the proud, sad man says, “fly. This place is dying. Take your memories with you and forgive us.”

The shade blinks. The man is right, the mist is shrinking and the wings are growing, beating. He feels light, a little sad, but a tremor of excitement runs through him, through all the shades, gathered, whispering in their papery voices, and he beats his wings, leaps, soars, scattering the mists. The men look up in wonderment. The shades fill the sky that fills with light, and somewhere inside, a child laughs.

#writephoto: White ships

And Sue has decided that I’ve been away from my WIP quite long enough. Back to it. For her Thursday photo prompt.

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Unease settles on the shoulders of the white lady. Sedge bristles about the lake island, but Evienne wonders how long it will stay out of mortal sight. The changes that she has helped initiate are gathering momentum and threads of the weave are flying loose. She stands, letting the gentle movement of the water draw the folds of her satin dress back and forth. White sails fill the pool at her feet and her eyes are full of clouds. Something is escaping her, and she fears it is destiny. She has been here before, on the shore watching, while a white-sailed ship flies to disaster, but this time, the disaster will be none of her doing.

Clouds billow and fill the pool like white sails. Richard’s fleet, she hopes, and breathes calm, as much as she can, on the waters of the Irish Sea. But there is something else, a darkness on the edge of the vision, pacing about it like a hungry wolf. In the pool rimmed by rushes, the face of a young man with hard, discontented eyes floats to the surface like a dead fish.

He does not see her, would not believe in her even if he did, but Evienne peers into the irises of pale grey-blue and sees not ships with sails like clouds, but banners fluttering, red and yellow that sweep the blue sky. The sky is above a keep—Striguil. The eyes, narrow and the colour of rain, glitter, as little cogs and wheels turn, calculating.

She knows this face and although it is not so different to many soldier’s faces, she dreads it more than most. Richard’s enterprise, her daughters’ happiness, the white-sailed ships are all part of the fate that she has woven. The pale-eyed knight is not in this future of her making, and clutched in his fist she recognises the threads she lost in the wind.

 

#writephoto: Aoife

Another snippet of WIP to go with Sue Vincent’s appropriately atmospheric photo.

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“I have met him, the chieftain you told me of. We have come to an agreement.”

He tells her, hoping she will already know, be able to reassure him that this was the right move to make. Evienne smiles, her lips parting on white teeth.

“He is a rough man by all accounts, but a clever one and he values wisdom and culture.”

Richard nods slowly. “That is the impression he gave. Ruthless too. I wonder if it is hereditary.”

Evienne’s smile broadens. “And the bargain?”

“I help him win back his title, and he gives me his daughter in marriage.”

“And?”

“He makes me his heir. Is she the one you saw, the daughter?”

“Look. I will show you.”

She takes Richard’s hand and leads him to the deep, still pool where the sedge grows in a half-circle, and the sun and moon fit neatly between their trembling walls.

“Look.”

Richard’s heart is trembling, a blade of sedge in the wind, and he peers into the dark depths. As he watches, the surface of the water shivers, silvers and a cloud passes over the sun. The silver clears, darkens, red and autumn leaves and in the centre, a pale pool appears. The moon? The moon shape rises, elongates, an oval, with eyes, green perhaps, or blue, and the red is flowing auburn hair. The chin is strong, proud, the brow high and clear. His eyes open wide in admiration and recognition? He smiles. The face smiles back, the cloud passes and sunlight floods the pool in the sedge with light.

He turns to Evienne, his eyes still full of the vision, but she has gone.

Giants from the sea

Another extract from my historical fantasy novel.

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Ríona watched her brother march purposefully across the meadow in the direction of the little beech wood. Even out in the fields, where no one could see him cradling his bruises, he always held himself straight. Fiachra was the eldest and could have been their father’s heir, but he was also Talannach, and it would not do to draw the attention of the High King. Nothing had been said, but when the clan elected a new leader to succeed Cormac, though her eldest brother’s name would be put forward, Ríona knew he would be passed over. Fiachra was precious and must be protected from the jealousy of High Kings.

She turned back to the meadow where the mares had got over their surprise at the young, impetuous stallion that had suddenly disappeared. What they no longer saw they no longer feared. Heads bent again to the sweet grass. A couple of colts caught Ríona’s attention, and she wondered whether her father would let her have a riding horse, or whether his charioteer had not already marked them. Cormac Mac Niall was indulgent with his only daughter, but his horses were special.

While she watched, the herd began to move uneasily. The old stallion, the herd leader, sniffed the air and snorted. With pricked ears and tail held high, he trotted back and forth, chivvying the mares with their young ones further from the river. The girl watched and raised a hand to shade the morning sun from her eyes. A lone horseman emerged from the belt of woodland that followed the river’s course. His horse moved with an ungainly gait, tired perhaps after a long journey. She peered harder. Not tired, tireless. The horse, massive and jet-black, was a Fomhóire mount, and the girl felt a chill grow in the brisk air.

This was Mac Niall land and the girl was the Mac Niall’s daughter, so she strode to meet the stranger and pushed her unease to the back of her thoughts. The herd had moved closer to the fort and the old stallion stood defiantly, his eyes fixed on the newcomer whose smell was unfamiliar but filled with a strange menace. Ríona’s nostrils too twitched, as if the tide had washed a bloated whale corpse up the river.

The horseman pulled up his mount. “Is Mac Niall here?” he called. The voice was harsh though the speaker had a comely face.

“He is,” the girl replied suspiciously. “What do you want with him?”

“That is between me and Mac Niall.”

“You can tell me just as easily. I am his daughter.”

“And does his daughter have a name?”

“Ríona,” she said begrudgingly. “What is your business?”

There was a silence as the man eyed her as he would a fine horse, and she held his impudent gaze defiantly, willing herself not to blush.

“I was told he has a fine herd of horseflesh. I see that is not all he has that is worth inspecting.” She winced in anger but held her peace. “I was told he had a fine crop of foals this spring, and he might have some to sell.”

“My father rarely parts with his horses, and then only as a gift. He does not sell.”

“Perhaps I can strike a bargain with him.” The horseman slid from the back of his mount and led it by the reins. “I shall speak to him, if you would announce me.”

She was tall, but he stood a head taller. A dark face with dark eyes bent to gaze at her. His features were regular and handsome, but there was a coarseness to the slack set of his mouth and the grain of his skin, and his complexion had an unhealthy greenish hue. She recoiled inwardly, crushing the instinctive urge to put more distance between them, and she held her head high. “Who shall I say is asking for him?”

“Desmond Mac Murrough,” he replied, and his loose lips twisted into an arrogant smirk.

Ríona knew the Mac Murrough’s history as well as she knew her own. It was a story that filled her with revulsion and shame for those forebears who had not destroyed the giants from the sea when they were given the chance. As she watched Desmond mount his horse and let it amble across the fields towards the fort, she saw Fomhóire in his awkward seat, in the graceless posture, shoulders slumped forward. No horseman, Mac Murrough, but an unnatural thing neither fish nor man. It cried out in his blood—seawater tinted his skin, and his breath was the belch from a whale’s belly. Only a Mac Murrough would have thought to turn the breaking of the world to his advantage and mingle the blood of his clan with the beasts from the sea, she thought with disgust. Ríona felt the blood freeze in her veins when she recalled the acquisitive look in his eyes.

She called to her charioteer to warn her father a guest was on his way and looked about her for Fiachra; the eldest son should be with his father to receive a guest. Her eyes scoured the edge of the beech wood, searching for the awkward fluttering of a bird of prey. She almost sighed with relief when a bird shape darted from the eaves of the wood, its flight jerky and ungraceful. Fiachra.

The bird had not quite landed in the grass before it was stretching and becoming a tall, black-haired youth, tumbling to his knees as the momentum of the bird’s flight carried him on. As soon as his tongue became a man’s once more and he recovered the power of speech, Fiachra asked urgently, “Who was that, Rí? The mount was a Fomhóire beast and its rider had a black look about him.”

“Desmond Mac Murrough. And don’t ask me what he wants.” Her fists clenched in anger. “He says he’s after buying horseflesh. But he’d take a different mare if she were offered.”

Fiachra’s eyes flashed. “The arrogant devil! Was he disrespectful to you? If he was—”

“His kind has no respect for any woman. It’s breeding stock he sees and nothing more. He could no more be disrespectful to me than he could to the Fomhóire brute he was riding. Your place is at home now, with Father. We, at least, know how to show our guests courtesy.”

Ríona’s voice was firm but she was trembling with anger. She tried to bring another acid remark to mind but found nothing, only disgust and anguish. Her brother shook his head and touched her arm lightly. She sighed and took a deep breath to calm her racing heart. “Go, now,” she said. “I shall stay here and watch the horses. They have bonnier faces than the black devil yonder.”

Fiachra nodded and whistled for his riding horse. He understood what his sister feared, for herself and for all the women of all the untainted clans. As he rode back to the fort, images, dark and ancient, poured past behind his eyes, of the time when Mac Murrough’s rise began, and the shameful pact he made with the giants from the sea.

Keeping calm and writing on

Instead of plodding ahead with yet another manuscript that may never see the light of day, I have decided to go back to my favourite, and I think my best story, and have another try at selling it. It’s a saga set in an alternate ninth century, wrapped up in fantasy. Here is a bit from the beginning.

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Una lay curled up with her face to the wall and the dying fire warming her back. She heard her father stumble home and throw his boots by the door, her mother get up from their sleeping place in the alcove to bar the door. In a few moments the only sound was her father’s snoring. But Una could not find sleep. Her mother’s fanciful story of the Guardians had woken the Valdur general who murmured inside her head. Sigmarr. She formed the name in her thoughts and the deep voice was there, filling her head with his murmurings.

She closed her eye, but behind the eye band, the other eye saw, the eye that was no longer there. Shadows moved behind the eye and she peered over the battlements of a high tower onto a devastation, charred and blackened by fire and the ravages of war. At her side she felt Sigmarr’s presence and she was not afraid. Just infinitely sad.

Una, listen, the voice whispered urgently. Look. This is Vænnland, the land of your ancestors. Listen to its story. Sleep and watch.

Una closed her eye tight and shook her head. An army moved below the battlements like a dark sea. She moaned, not wishing to see the beasts that hid in the shadows of that sea.

Una, sleep and listen and see.

Una gave up the struggle and let herself drift into sleep. Drifting, she spread broad wings and became a gull, to soar high over cities of white limestone and pink and green marble, with graceful towers and peaceful gardens and great buildings where the Valdur housed wisdom of all kinds and shared it with the people. Her gull’s eyes saw the teeming fish beneath the waves. The gull flew inland and Una trotted, a red vixen, across rich and prosperous farmland and through forests rich with game.

She became an Elder of the High Council and read the star runes in the night when the Beast fell from the sky. She helped cast the runes of power that would bind the Beast in the deeps. She watched as the Beast raged in its chains and hurled the ocean from its bed in monstrous waves. The High Council was safe, high in the Vardgnæfa, the watchtower set on the highest hill behind Westwater, but the Vænnlanders fled screaming in terror from the devastation of the city and into the mud-filled woods beyond.

In the ruins of the farmland along the banks of Westwater, the Vænnlanders picked their way through the corpses of their livestock and the wreckage of their homes looking for their lost and dead. They raised angry eyes to the tall Vardgnæfa and Una heard their dark mutterings as they buried their dead.

Una became a salmon and swam the furious currents, through the turbulent deeps. Blood and ash clouded the water. The Beast was silent, but waves of pure wickedness pulsed through the walls of its prison, sending visions of red blood and carnage coursing through the ocean. Giant morays were drawn inexorably to the place, their primitive senses filled with the taste and scent of raw, bloody flesh.

The salmon Una beat her tail to avoid their path, but the morays paid the fish no mind. The fury emanating from the Beast reached out to the terrible creatures, ensnared them, and spawned the servants of the Beast, the servants that would stride through the waves and destroy the Valdur. The servants that would release their master.

Sacks of grey, gelatinous eggs throbbed and shivered with life. Grey larvae wriggled free, biting and tearing at egg cases and other larvae in blind savagery. As they grew and developed, gorged on the flesh of their brothers, the servants kicked their way to the surface, their lungs craving air, dissatisfied with the taste of salt water. As they rose heavily from the depths, they grew thick leather garments, salt-laden and water-drenched, their pale fish eyes blinked in the grey light of a winter morning and they clawed heavy cowls over their scaly faces.

Una salmon leapt and became a gull that soared, a trotting vixen and finally a girl sleeping in an uneasy troubled dream—a dream of Guardians marching heavily up the pebble strand, and troll-children with an expression of sorrow and pleading in their eyes, one blue as the sky, the other brown as a bird’s wing.

WIP update

Just an update on my writing activity—In Paradisio is almost finished. I had imagined a first draught of around 65k as I tend to add on another 10-15% during edits. I know, editing’s supposed to make the ms shorter, but it never seems to work out that way for me.

Anyway, it’s closer to 75k so far and I’m taking my time over the last chapters as I want this series to go out in a blaze of glory, and writing blazes of glory is so much fun!

Here’s another short extract from the beginning.

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Tully didn’t seem to be paying any attention to what Hanael was saying. His face was glowing. He was staring at the wall that was more like an optical illusion than solid stone.

“I can see it,” he whispered. “I can see Paradisio.”

“They won’t let your dad in.” Carla nudged him.

Tully turned to her, his eyes full of stars. “It’s fantastic!”

“They won’t let your dad in,” she repeated angrily. “Or my mum and dad either. Are you going to tell him or shall I?”

“Tell who what?” Tully appeared genuinely confused. “You’ll be okay, won’t you Dad? We’ll just have a look around and be right back.” He stared at Carla. “What’s the matter?”

Carla didn’t answer. She planted her spear in the ground and jabbed a finger at Hanael. “Either we all go in, or we all stay out. So? What’s it to be?”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Erelah fussed. “There’s no need to start a war.”

“There’s no need to let ourselves be bullied either.” Carla’s chin jutted. “You go in if you want. The rest of us will have a little discussion first, about whether this place is all it’s cracked up to be.”

“Hang on,” Jack said. “If Paradisio is on the other side of that wall, what’s this?” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand to encompass the misty landscape, the half-seen buildings and shadowy figures. “It doesn’t look real!”

Hanael gave a dismissive shrug. “It’s as real as those who inhabit it. Soon, perhaps, it will no longer be…necessary.”

Carla felt cold. This was not what she had been expecting. She reached out tentatively to the sky above, thinking to walk among the stars, perhaps find the dreams of the elusive inhabitants of this place that was somewhere between real and unreal. Her thoughts raced higher, through the misty light, high enough to be beyond the pull of the world below. But there were no stars above. She met a smooth, glittering wall, opaque but full as an opal of glinting colours. There were no paths to walk, no stars to guide, no dreams to hear. The air was silent.

She dropped back to the ground, into the mists that veiled buildings and hills and reached for Tully’s hand. He was drifting. She wanted to feel him physically close, to draw him back from wherever it was she sensed him floating towards. He sighed, as if he was waking from a beautiful dream that had nothing to do with the strange unreality of the misty country.

“Okay. All for one, and one for all.” He lifted the bronze trumpet to his lips again and Carla held her breath. He took a deep breath and blew. The sound billowed and expanded, loud and incredibly sweet. Like birdsong and thunder at the same time. The melody rose higher and higher and like veils of mist falling away one by one, a wide door appeared in the wall. The music faded.

“I think that settles the argument,” Tully said, and strode into the second circle of Paradisio.