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