#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.

WIP finished!!!

And another one hits the ‘finished’ pile. I wrote the last line of my YA coming-of-age fantasy yesterday morning and read it through again to see what it sounded like. There were 60k words on the clock on November 1 so I set myself the NaNoWriMo task of finishing it. I reckoned another 25k should do it. It’s at 84K so I wasn’t far out. Perhaps the second draft will add some more; it usually does.

I feel drained now and pleased I got that first scene to run and run until I got a book out of it. If anyone clued up about Anglo-Saxon England and Yorkshire folk would like to give it a once over for clangers, just let me know.

Back to Victorian Gothic horror now…

 

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: Home

Well, I’m progressing with the WIP. The end is in sight. As usual, Sue’s photo slips nicely into the text. It’s more than a prompt, it’s a nudge in the right direction, a kick up the arse.

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Jon left it behind, the safe place that was no longer secret but was still a good place, and made his way through the forest that diminished with each step until it was no more than a copse. The wind had stripped the trees of their leaves and the branches were spindly, young and new-looking. It was cold. A film of frost blurred the outline of grass blades, and dead leaves crunched crisply beneath his tread. Birds whistled low, without much enthusiasm, but his heart pounded with a painful mixture of excitement, regret and a deep sadness.

At the top of the shallow valley, he looked over his shoulder at the grassy knoll that rose gently against the sky. He would always be able to find it, but would it always be the same, a gateway to somewhere else, somewhere impossible? He couldn’t bear the thought of losing so much. As he gazed longingly at the mound that might be only a hill like any other, the first golden light of the rising sun outlined it in fire. The fire spread to the low clouds, running scarlet and purple across the sky, and he hoped with all his heart that this dawn was not burning up the past.

He turned, hurrying then running, through the last of the scrubby trees, across the field empty of horses, and with a rush of emotion, through the gate at the bottom of the cottage garden. There was a light in the kitchen. He was home.

#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.

#writephoto: Tidelands

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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Rags of mist scattered, and a crow bird landed in a heap of ragged feathers at the edge of the clearing. Jon picked up a stone and aimed at the bird. Hrolf growled and Halli looked bemused.

“What’s the maggot pie done to you? It’s half-blind and ancient.”

“They’re bad luck when they’re on their own,” he replied sheepishly but he lowered his hand all the same.

Wise. Bird knows.

“Does it know how to get out of here? Oh, I forgot. Birds can fly, can’t they?”

The magpie tilted its head on one side and opened its beak. It clacked its tongue in a series of hoarse calls, the familiar unmusical utterings of all magpies, but the images that fluttered behind Jon’s eyes made him blink at their brightness. How long was it since he had seen colours, real colours dense enough to draw a finger through and paint with? Blues shading from blue-black through turquoise to the palest of china blues streaked across his vision, pink-purple-violet cupped in tender green, haloed in gold and nasturtium orange. The bird tilted its head the other way. A milky eye peered at him.

Jónsi be listening.

Hrolf was watching him, his ears slightly raised. The bird’s tongue clacked again and he saw waves, a rolling green swell. His vision skimmed the wavetips, and a shoreline grew on the horizon, a forest fringe, hills, but before them rose a line of black cliffs, where the vision broke like impotent waves. The bird sight fluttered again and again, each time repulsed. Jon’s heart sank.

“It’s there. Just over the horizon. But I can’t reach it. It won’t let me in.”

In a rage, he threw the stone across the clearing and into the barely seen trees that huddled about its edge. In the silence that followed the rustle of its flight through the dripping leaves, they all heard the plop of a stone hitting distant water, the slap of a wave against rock.

Halli got to her feet and looked down at Jon with the expression she wore when he had done something particularly stupid.

“If we’re looking for the ocean, we could try that way.”

The magpie gathered its ragged feathers together, leapt into flight and beat its way into the mist. Hrolf barked. Jon knew he was laughing.

#writephoto: No going back

This is a sketch from my next WIP. For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge.

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They scrambled to the top of the hill, and stopped, chests heaving, trying to get their breath back. The tree cover was sparse, rowan and birch and spindly oak trees, and overhead the sky lay, dark and heavy. Jon felt the weight of the dark sky and the pressure of the dark earth, the forest that was black and grey but never green, and the wind that sang in a colourless voice through the bracken.

He gazed out over the treetops to where the place lay where they would be safe. Safe from what, he wasn’t sure, but they had four legs, sometimes two, faces with narrow eyes, but sometimes the grimacing muzzles of dogs that had never been.

Halli recovered from the climb first and was was about to plunge down the hill and back into the forest when something made Jon grab her arm. “Wait,” he whispered. The silence thickened; he couldn’t breath.

Halli looked about in alarm then gasped, “The sky. It’s broken.”

Overhead the grey was as compact as ever, darkening to slate at the far horizon, slate the treetops that moved sluggishly in the wind, but away over the forest, the cloud and mist was torn and through the rent, a golden cascade of sunlight fell in pillars of brilliance.

“What is it?” Halli murmured, her eyes open wide as pools. “What’s happening? Is it the end of the world?”

“It’s the sun,” Jon said, and for the first time since he had burst out of the dark tree tunnel, he smiled.