Monday, February 13, 2012
First Words, First Kiss?
In a sense, the opening of a novel is a come-hither kiss of greeting to a reader. We expect different greetings from different types of books. My latest, Eve of All Hallows, is a historical fantasy novella, and the opening, as one might expect, evokes a time long past and a world more magical than our own. It’s about a secret druid queen who must teach and test a brash young Anglo-Saxon king who seeks a boon only she can grant. I hope you like it.
EVE OF ALL HALLOWS
Samhain, 594 AD, in an Eastern Vale of Gwynedd
At midnight following the last sunset of the old year and before the first sunrise of the new, the walls betwixt this world and the next shuddered, slipped, and fell. Gwyn was there to catch them, seeking tasks and truths, as her mother had once done, and all her grandmothers before them. Samhain it was, so alone Gwyn sat upon a hawthorn stump, gazing into the flames beneath her cauldron, awaiting any who might come to share her fire and a cup of warming broth.
Many came and told their tales. Gwyn listened carefully to each one so she might commit their words to memory. There were other nights the Visitors came to her, but none so important as on this night of summer’s turn to winter. She welcomed all who appeared, be they kindly fat old women, children lost in the woods, hunting wolves, madmen, goblins, half-formed wights, or shadowy spirits. She heard their tales, or simply kept them company if they did not speak. Samhain was hers, and none were turned away no matter how gruesome their appearance or the tales they brought.
When the eastern darkness shrank before the faintest graying breath of dawn, Gwyn blinked and, finding herself alone, rose to stir her soup and ladle a dipperful into her cup. It was almost to her lips, the steam warming her nose with woodsy herbs and the good meaty scent of her oldest hen, when a gentle cough stopped her.
Beside her stood a small, wizened being. An old man, perhaps, but she thought not. He put her in mind of a barrow wight who’d borrowed a woolen cloak and cap from some unsuspecting traveler. His pale, bland features peeked in and out beneath the shadows of his cap, the shape roughly a man’s, but lacking human details. No eyebrows. The nose but barely there. A smooth, unsmiling mouth.
“Sit, my lord, if you would share my fire and cup. You are most welcome.” She offered him her soup, noting how the cup glided from her hands without a touch. She gestured to one of the stumps beside her, and seated herself when he did.
“Thank you, Lady.” He sipped the broth. “Ah. A kind and fertile land you have here. This was a happy hen.” He sipped again. “The parsley greened upon fat roots. The onion swelled thick and sweet in the sheltering earth. The water carried joy out of the mountains. The salt sings with the hale heart of ancient seas.”
When he was finished, he set the earthenware cup upon the ground. The sky was moving on toward dawn, and he would soon leave, Gwyn knew, but she did not hurry him. Daylight would not harm him.
“I sought you from my home in the north, Lady, for I have news of one who will come to you before this year ends and the next follows on its wings. He is like a bright storm one moment and a dark flood the next. We have watched him since he was a babe, my kin and I, and he is now a man grown. King he has become in the Old Green Hills. Yet his path is not clear. He wavers between the dark and light. He needs a tempering hand, Lady. One such as yours. To guide him. He doesn’t know how deeply he can scar the land. He cares not. He cares for his people, but not the land that makes them and gives them life. There is . . . concern.”
“What would you have me do?” Gwyn asked. She had seen this soul when scrying. Felt him in the cold east wind. Seen his hands drip blood in visions.
“Teach him to respect the Mother.”
Gwyn was silent whilst she sent her spirit searching for this young king. When she found him, she sighed. “He will not listen. He harkens only to his own will.”
Eve of All Hallows is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other on-line booksellers.
If you’d like to enter the drawing to win a free copy, please leave a comment. The winner will be announced Saturday, February 18, 2012.