#writephoto: Una One-Eye

I’m into the last pages of the last polish of volume one of my new epic Norse-Celtic historical fantasy saga. Sue’s photo obviously takes me to winter in Vænnland. This bit for the Thursday Photo Prompt isn’t the actual text, but a scene from the story.


The little red horse was lost to sight among the dense tree trunks of the Jötunnskögr. Hakki’s cries of wonderment at each flash of bird-colour, each flicker of sunlight on a glittering icicle had faded into the distance. Una trudged through the snow, scarcely noticing the thickening silence, her thoughts too full of the thrall’s strange unsettling behaviour. She wanted to trust him, needed to feel that she was not alone with her baby brother to protect from the fishmen.

Fiachra was right when he said they had no choice but to flee. Bjarni, unnatural son and brother, would not hesitate to tell the Guardians that his sister and small brother were trollkarls. The thrall too. He had always hated Fiachra for being all that he was not, even though he was not a free man, and Bjarni had the right to beat him and kill him if he so desired. That was not the question. What troubled Una was why Fiachra was so keen to save her and Hakki from discovery. It would have been so much easier for him to take the horse and make for the coast and freedom. Why did he burden himself with a one-eyed girl and a child of three springs?

She shivered. A cloud must have passed over the sun. Suddenly, the forest was even darker than before. Una looked about uneasily, aware at last of the utter silence, the deepening cold, the choking, tense sensation of withheld breath, and the inevitability of approaching danger. A tree branch trembled and shed its burden of snow. Beneath her feet, Una felt the rumbling of the earth. A breeze, sharp and cutting brought the salt smell of the distant sea, and with the roar of snapping tree trunks, the ground before her erupted in a fountain of earth, snow and broken branches. A mass, a whale, a long ship with its oars and serpentine prow, surged from the earth and she was drenched in sea water.

Sea beast!

They had found her, tracked her along the underground waterways, into the roots of the mountain. The eye that wasn’t there throbbed, and power filled her from the soles of her feet to the tips of her fingers. An eyeless head swung round, drawn to her body heat, and opened a circular maw where curved teeth spiralled out of sight into the darkness of the sinewy throat. Swallowing her terror, she raised a hand.

Do it, Una!

In her head, Hakki’s voice commanded, and her features twisted into a desperate resolve. With a cry, she threw the sapphire fire that boiled inside her at the swaying head.


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.



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.

To the four winds


South wind bends the slender stems
Of flowers bowed beneath its light caress
Scattering the perfume gathered in cool bowls
Of petals cupped around the flowers’ heart.
Wind from the west blusters and blows
Herding rain clouds straight from the sea
Barging the skeins of voyaging geese
Tossing light and shade from a changing sky.
Cold bites hard when the wind’s in the east
Dry and bitter with the arid taste of steppes
Ruffling the feathers of huddled birds
Sweeping the sky smooth as an icebound lake.
But when the winter wind roars from the icefields of the north
I hear ancient sagas in its chilly voice
Told beneath the smoky beams of halls that rotted long ago
Tossed upon the backs of glassy waves
And chanted by the sea grey clouds
Rowing the turbulent snowy sky.