#writephoto: Cyningsmere

An extract from the first draft of a WIP. For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto. Sue obviously knows this world well.

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It was evening when the little river narrowed as it approached its source, its course rapid, leaping exuberantly between rocks, singing to itself between the climbing valley sides. They were climbing too, hills cloaked in the slender trunks of birch and rowan. Halli hurried. It was as though she sensed the sunset and was afraid she might miss it. Trees ran along the ridge of the valley, but the forest had thinned and the trees were low and twisted.

When they reached the top, the sky was revealed and even Jon drew in his breath with admiration. Deep pink light covered the sky in a glowing veil. There were no clouds, but he knew there would never be any stars that the eye could see. Halli gave a tiny cry of wonder and turned about on herself, head flung back, taking in the great circle of the horizon. Jon pointed to a mirror-like expanse between the hills, as pink as the sky and as bright.

“Cyningsmere.”

The slopes around the lake were bare of trees and to the south and west, Jon could just about make out the irregular hillocks of hayricks and the pale stripes of harvested land. Here and there, the stripes were dark—peas, beans and vetch, he guessed, still to be picked. Halli was right, it was a sizeable settlement and perhaps they would need labourers. Halli sighed.

“How can the folk here be so mawkish when there’s skies like this to look on?”

“They probably think it’s full of those ghost birds and whales waiting to drop on them and rip their livers out.” He grinned but Halli frowned.

“They’re mebbe right. Have you ever been to the Tidelands then, Jónsi Edvardsson? You’d know what the tide brings in?”

Jon was on the point of spluttering with indignant laughter, but Jónsi stopped him. “You’re right, I haven’t seen the Tidelands, but I have seen the Mistlands, and I know that the race of giant warriors is just a bunch of terrified kids.”

Halli was silent. Jon felt her fear that instead of the Heartlands, all that lay beyond the Tidelands might be just another despotic regime with its own brand of illusions created to keep a boundary of mirrors in place. Hrolf chimed in with his dog wisdom.

All mens fearing be. All mens clouds in eyes having.

Jon reached for Halli’s hand. “The problem’s the darkness, all these mists. I don’t know how you can get rid of them, but these bogey men they’re supposed to be full of, they’re just a bit too convenient. It’s where the fear grows.”

Halli thought about it. “Aye, happen you’re right. It’s easy to frighten folk with terrors they can’t see. There’s enough real ones it doesn’t take much to imagine summat worse. Harder to believe in summat better that nobody’s ever seen. Do you think it’s there, Jónsi?”

“The Heartlands? I don’t know. The people are as shifty as the light here. Some of them must have a lot to hide. Maybe there is something they don’t want us to know about. Something better.”

Halli gazed across the evening to the pink glow that was Cyningsmere. “Let’s go then. Your father’s down there in the cyning’s great house. That’s where your path leads.”

“What about you?”

She didn’t turn, didn’t let him see her face. “I’ll keep on until I find where I’m going.”

Jon had let the question out that he had been keeping to himself. It had become a burden and he wanted to share it. Halli always knew the answers. He couldn’t believe she wouldn’t know how he was to take his father home, find his own way home and not leave her. His journey was a circle, he knew that, but Halli, he had somehow thought would be sharing it.

“I don’t want you to…I want to go with you.” It sounded lame and pathetic and he knew what she would say.

“Who ever gets what he wants?”

End of the beginning

On a tangent from the WIP for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge. I know, the stars aren’t out yet, I’m anticipating.

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The hills were white with a dusting of snow and the air was crisp and clear. Overhead, the sky was full of stars.

“You’d never see a sight like that in London,” Jon said.

Holly didn’t need to look up; she had the shape of the stars printed on the back of her eyes.

“Why d’you think I came back?”

The muscles of Jon’s jaw twitched as he mastered the deep feeling of hurt. “I thought maybe, it might have been, you know, like because…”

Holly smiled and the tip of her nose turned up, inviting him to kiss it. “Because o’ you? Is that what you’re trying to spit out?”

He forced himself to look at her, into the eyes he knew would be full of gentle mockery. She had never been taken in by his self-importance, always cut him down to size. He wished…he wished…

Holly took his face in her hands and drew him close, so close he could feel the hot whisper of her breath. “O’ course it was, you daft mullock.”

Then she kissed him, and apart from the two of them, in all the universe, there were only stars.

Robin and the frost

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt and for dverse, a poem written in quatrains using the rhyming scheme of one of my favourite poems, Yeats’s When you are old and grey.

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When crisp snaps frost at fall of winter night,

The trees fill with the sound of restless birds

That cannot put into our human words

Their anguish at the fading of the light.

 

For winter creeps the dark boughs and the fields

With slender fingers, knife-sharp, cold as steel,

And snaps the thread of life, winds up the reel,

While some small, tender-beating bird heart yields.

 

I heard you, robin sing, my heart was drawn

To the sweet liquid stream of crystal notes,

As delicate as feather down that floats

on sea-wind—robin, will you see the dawn?

One ending in sight

For the #writephoto challenge. Into the final furlong with my WIP. I’m dreading finishing it. Thanks for another fitting photo, Sue.

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“I never did see one o’ them bird monsters. I watched, every time the tide flowed in and the mists rolled over the trees. I heard ’em though.” Halli looked curiously at Jon. “Where did they go?”

Jon shrugged, his eyes on the green line of hills along the horizon. “Probably with the fish ghosts and all that other crap. Maybe back into the ocean. Maybe we’ll meet one when we take the boat out.”

Halli gave him that look, part scornful, part commiserating. “You think you ken everything, don’t you Jónsi Edvardsson? I told you, I heard ’em an’ I felt their great wings beating, but you can’t see nowt in the mists. You know that.”

“They’ve gone,” he said gently. “I think they were shades calling to the shades in the Mistlands. It’s all gone now. Peaceful.” He gazed across the blue to the distant island. “Like the ocean.”

Halli looked too, and Jon knew she was trying not to cry. “I hope Jussi’s mate, Gieri was with ’em.”

He put his arm round her and drew her close. The wind was cold and salt-sticky. Gulls yelled as they skimmed the waves. “Sure he did. I watched them go.”

Halli laid her head on his shoulder. “I could watch this sky forever. I’d stay here if I thought it was the right place, but that’s where I’m off.” She pointed across the water. “Skies’ll be even brighter over there. We’ll find what we’re looking for in the Heartlands. You too, Jónsi.”

Jon didn’t reply. He was as certain as if a voice was telling his story aloud, that the end of his journey was not the Heartlands. His and Halli’s destinations were not the same. He pulled a lock of hair away from her cheek and kissed away the tear.

#writephoto: Hart

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge.

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“Hush,” Halli commanded. “They’re close.”

Jon peered out from the safe place into the mist, at first seeing nothing but the shifting clouds that were not clouds of water vapour. The breeze changed and blew a ragged gap in the obscurity. Silhouetted against the pale mist, a hart raised his head, nervously testing the wind. He sniffed, his ears twisted this way then that, sensing no immediate, definite danger, but Jon knew what was not far behind, creeping with the stealth of hunters. Halli grabbed his arm before he could call out a warning.

They’ll hear, she mouthed silently.

He tried to aim his thoughts at the animal but didn’t know how. The images of the half-men and half-dogs tracking them through the unseen forest flickered in his head, the panting of half-hound tongues and half-men grunting scattered his attempts. It was Hrolf who gave the alarm, a sharp volley of dog words, snapped and chopped, and the hart bounded away. Silence rolled back and Jon strained to hear the excited sound of the hunt that would mean their pursuers also had heard Hrolf’s call.

Gone. Leaper gone. Safe. Men-dogs far being.

He relaxed. The safe place was still safe.

#writephoto: Ocean

I’m not this far on yet, but it’s helpful to sketch out a scene when inspiration strikes. Thanks Sue again 🙂 This snippet of WIP was suggested by Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

 

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Jon raced beneath the dark trees that towered above him, creating a tunnel where no light reached the leafy floor. He was almost out of breath before the tunnel ended in a pale circle, not bright daylight, but more shadow, the shadow of the mountain that leaned away from the forest. Not a glade, but a mountain pasture, high and cold, swept up to a coll between two jagged pillars of rock. The sky was clear. Tide’s out, he thought with relief. He refused to believe in the fairy stories of ghost birds and flying water demons, but he was quite prepared for something nasty to roll in with the tide.

The sky was clear and icy blue, and the short grass was green, true grass green. His heart swelled and he discovered he was still capable of running. He remembered with a jolt that Halli had spent at least one night alone up here without even Hrolf for company. Even? The swelling of his heart became a pang, and he wondered if Hrolf was the final tribute, and would his loss be enough to allow both of them to pass.

He slowed as he reached the col. There was no path, not even a goat track. The grass was sparse, and loose stones slid beneath his feet. The breeze gusted through the col bringing with it the overwhelming scent of the ocean. He hesitated between the stone pillars on either hand, his breath stopped by the sight of the golden water stretching as far as he could see. The blue of the sky was suffused with gold too, a veil that drifted and shifted as it rolled closer.

The tide was turning. He’d soon see what truth there was in the stories. But even more than at the sight of the open sea and the potential terror of the approaching mists, his heart pounded with the fear that Halli might not be there. From the rocks above, a pair of puffins squabbled, a gull swooped in a gale of laughter, and a voice called out.

“Jónsi! What kept you?”

He almost imitated the gull and laughed aloud. She had waited for him! Then came the question he didn’t know how he would answer.

“Where’s Hrolf?”

#writephoto: Borderlands

An excerpt from my WIP, illustrated by Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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The year was turning quicker now and dry leaves lay in deep drifts beneath the trees. They were brown, dull mainly, but just occasionally, Jon caught a glimpse of russet as if the unseen sun caught at a memory. The eye could see further in the Borderlands, see clearer, but there was a sense of oppression, of fear.

They had crept past the village and seen the big house in the centre where the boys were being taught the stories that made heroes of children. They were taught how to obey, how to wield a sword, but most of all they were taught that they were nothing, worthless unless they were chosen. It should become the ambition of every one of them to be the sacrificial offering, if not this Ebbtide, then the next. For three years, from the ages of eight until ten, they would be gathered together at the spring equinox and the autumn, and the name of the chosen child would be called out.

“That was Jussi’s village,” Halli said as they left it behind in its silence. She stared at each of the houses that huddled together yet apart, and wondered if his parents still thought about him. They wouldn’t be among those who took food and comfort to the refugees in the mists. For them, Jussi died the day he was taken to the borderline with his wooden sword strapped to his waist.

“This place was rotten before ever Ed got here,” Jon said. He looked up through the thinning leaves at the pale light that passed for sky. Birds darted among the tree trunks and he even heard their gentle autumn piping, but there were no sounds of human activity. Were they so oppressed by their stupid laws and customs they had stopped speaking to one another?

Then he caught sight of movement at the edge of the village, where the strips of cultivated land ended and the forest began. Men, holding dogs on leashes. Broad, stocky men with a strange rolling gait. Then one of the dogs reared up on its hind legs, raised its muzzle to the wind and began to howl.

Hrolf had already turned off the path and into the deeper forest.

Jónsi being quick. Hare-quick.

Halli followed without asking why. Jon cast a last glance over his shoulder before he plunged after the hound. The dog was still on its hind legs and it was running in awkward ungainly strides in his direction.