This is the first draft of the first chapter of Emma’s Story. It is not the finished product but will be tweaked and edited in the days and weeks to come. However, it is a readable version and it will give you an impression of what I’m trying to do with the story.
I’ve also included a soundtrack (because I can). It may or may not be to your liking, but it’s some of the music I enjoy listening to while I write.
Emma’s Story – Chapter 1
Winter had grown old over the forests and the hillsides, and little by little the days grew longer, but not by much, for spring was still far away. In the burrows, lanterns and candles kept the darkness at bay, and where anfylk gathered, they talked of summer.
This is where our story begins – in a burrow, in Rastebo, near the foot of the hill, just after dinner.
Here, we meet a young woman, a few years of age, yet still not married. There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s strong, healthy, and sensible – and she’ll run a quality burrow one day. Easy on the eye she is too. Curly brown hair falls down her shoulders and her cheeks are round as apples. The brown fur that covers her feet and legs below the knee is soft and thick. Quick to smile she is too. It makes her eyes sparkle.
Yet, she is still not married, and that is where our story begins.
“Mother. Father.” Emma stepped into the dining room and stopped, her apron folded over her arm. “The kitchen’s taken care of.” She ticked the tasks off on her fingers. “Dishes washed, left-overs stored, and we’ve taken the trash out.”
Her father, at his end of the table, gave a short nod, and her mother, over at the other end, did too.
“I’ve put Elmot to bed, and he was sleeping last I checked. Edgren and Viola are getting the rest of the children ready.”
Herman cleared his throat. “Wasn’t Edgren going down to Stefan’s to watch their little one?”
“Yes.” Emma straightened up a little, making sure to hold her head high. “He’ll be there to keep an eye on their Per while Stefan and Lisa are at the meeting. I’ll send him on his way as soon as I’m back.”
“Good, good.” Her father nodded. “Sounds like you’ve got it all under control.” He scratched his chin and glanced over at his wife at the other end of the table. “We’ll be heading up to the inn for the meeting in a moment then. You’ll be joining us Emma, right?”
Emma clasped her hands in front of her. “Yes, dad, as soon as the kids are in bed. Viola said she’ll stay awake until we’re back – in case anything happens.”
Go-Hanna raised her hand to her face and coughed into her fist. “Make sure they’re all in bed before you leave, but try and make it quick so you’re not late. It wouldn’t look good if you stumbled in after the meeting began.”
“No mother.” She forced herself to smile. “I know. I’ll be there in time.”
“That’s a good daughter. I’m sure you will.”
“Yes mother.” Emma clenched her jaws and bowed her head, focusing her eyes on the middle of the table.
“And…” Go-Hanna paused to clear her throat. “Daughter. I’ll be going home right away after the meeting. No need for you to rush back.” She pulled a big, friendly smile on to her face. “You can stay a while and talk with your friends. Torkel will be there you know.”
Emma’s sighed, and her shoulders slumped. “Yes mother. I know.”
Her mother stiffened and sat up a little straighter. “Don’t you sigh at me daughter. You’ve dawdled long enough.”
“Yes mother,” she said through clenched teeth. “I know…”
“Good. The village has its eyes on you. Don’t forget that.”
Herman cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. “That’s enough dear. I’m sure she won’t forget. She just needs some time.”
Go-Hanna rounded on her husband and bore her eyes into him. “She’s had plenty of time. Life doesn’t wait.”
“Of course. Of course.” Herman splayed his hands. “But our Emma’s a good lass, she’ll do right by us. Don’t you worry my dear.”
His wife frowned at him and then nodded, but said nothing.
“Are you ready?” He pushed his chair back and stood up. “We’d better get going.”
“Goodbye mother. Goodbye father. I’ll be there soon.” Emma curtsied, turned, and left the room.
Her chores done, a young woman steps out from her mother’s burrow. Snow groans under her bare feet, and high above, the stars sing the song of the night, in words that no one can hear.
She hurries through the garden and past the stables, where horses dream of warmer days. Up the road through the village, to the inn at the top of the hill, she turns. It has a name, the inn, and sometimes the villagers argue about what it is, but just for fun. No one really cares. There’s just one inn.
It’s a small village.
Halfway to the inn, she stops. She should hurry, but she stops, and sighs. To her right, in the dark, under the snow, an empty burrow waits for the laughter of children and the snoring of parents – for a family.
She wants one. She wants a family so bad. A burrow, a garden, children six or eight, and a husband.
Again, she sighs. She wants a family; he wants her. He has a burrow; she knows to run it. They should marry. It should be easy, but it’s not.
A head shakes. Shoulders slump, and a young woman starts up the hill once more. Life doesn’t wait, and it won’t do to be late for the meeting.
The inn is full of people and the young woman stops inside the door. Her face grows flush and sweat beads on her brow. Her ears grow dull with the noise of the crowd.
The fire on its hearth is kept low. It’s warm enough as it is.
Over in the corner, where young liars drink, stands the man. Tall and round and handsome – blonde as blonde can be. Her best friend since as long as she can remember. He waves his arms in the air, and his mouth shapes the sounds that form her name. Forcing the worry from her heart and a smile to her face she waves back and starts making her way through the room.
At the table, in the corner, where young liars drink, sit her friends. The young man and his brother, her cousin and his wife from the village next east.
Her friends. They smile and wave and as she sits down they trade jokes and laughs. The man orders her a cider and she does not object. She wants whiskey, but she does not want a scene, and there is nothing wrong with cider, is there?
Emma sipped her drink, cold and refreshing in the warm humidity of the inn. She set her mug down, leaned back in her chair, and let her head fall back. It was good to sit down for a bit.
“So, Emma…” Torkel smiled at her and leaned forward with his elbows on the table. “I guess you’re pretty much running the burrow back home now these days, right? I saw your parents come in a good while ago already.
“Well…” Emma cleared her throat.
“I mean, you get a lot of practice, right?”
Hunching up her shoulders, she studied the mug of cider on the table in front of her. ”Well, yes…”
Across the table, Lisa – short and round, with crooked teeth and a darling smile – set down her cider. “Is Viola keeping an eye on the kids now she’s the oldest still home? I mean now that Edgren is at ours?”
“Yes.” Emma smiled, and the tension left her shoulders. “She said she’d stay awake until we’re home again.”
“Aw…” said Torkel. “You should stay and have another drink afterwards. You will, won’t you, right?” He leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow at her.
“Shush now.” Burje – Torkel’s younger brother – raises a hand to forestall further discussion. “It’s starting.”
Everyone turned to look.
Over by the hearth, elder Morten had stepped up. Worn and wrinkled – his bald head glistening with sweat in the heat of the room – he held his hands up, motioning for silence. Table by table, the crowd fell silent.
“Order please. Everyone. Order,” he said once it was quiet enough for him to be heard.
“Dear friends.” He clasped his hands in front of himself and cleared his throat. “As you all know. The bear is still holed up in the old den in Karstensborg. We tried to scare it away, but our success was… Let’s say limited.”
Morten grinned and a few nervous laughs could be heard from hear and there in the room. Next to Emma, Torkel grimaced and clenched his fists.
“Well,” Morten continued. “The good news is that at least no one got hurt.”
“Hey!” Old Lennart’s voice came from the table next to the hearth, loud enough for everyone to hear.
Laughter erupted from the crowd, and a little of the tension left the room. Emma sipped her cider and smiled at the memory. She’d seen it herself. The bear hadn’t had anything to do with it. Yesterday – on the way back from Karstensborg – Lennart had stumbled on a rock hidden under the snow and sprained his ankle.
It had been a long and miserable afternoon. They’d stood chanting outside the hollow until their cheeks turned blue and their throats became sore, but it hadn’t done much good. The bear had come out once, snorted at them, shaken its head, and wandered back into its hollow. They’d left shortly after. It had begun to go dark.
Her smile faded. The chants hadn’t worked. They’d practiced enough, and they said the words right, but even then the bear had just ignored them. Either it was too strong, or the land too deep in sleep – it was old winter after all. It probably didn’t help there were so few of them either.
The words were right. Morten had read them from the Summer Practicals, and they should have worked. It was probably just because it was winter. They just needed more people and it’d be fine.
“Well…” Morten grinned and cleared his throat. “Not badly hurt.”
People smiled and snickered, and not a few mugs were raised in the direction of the table where Lennart and the other oldest sat.
Smiling, Morten raised his hands again. “Be that as it may, if you please, may we move on.” He paused and waited until the room was quiet once more. “The bear is still holed up in Karstensborg and it’s showing no sign it wants to leave.”
Around the tables, faces turned serious. Arms crossed over chests and backs straightened.
“To my mind, our best option is to try again, with a larger group. We should send messages to all the villages nearby and ask them to come and help. It’s in their interest too that we get rid of the bear.” He stopped and let his eyes sweep across the room,
Behind Emma, at another table, August – her father’s cousin – stood up. “We should send to Storvak for a monk. With a monk around we’re sure to have Anna’s blessing. I heard Otter is staying there this winter.”
Torkel jumped to his feet and his hand shot up in the air. “I’ll go! I know all the best routes to get to Storvak the fastest.”
Silence fell over the room, and all faces turned to regard him. Emma stiffened, and her face grew flushed. He was being brazen again – much too young to have traveled so far. It looked so bad. She sat absolutely still and didn’t look at anyone. They probably all stared at him now. Judging him. Judging her. It was bad enough she was expected to marry him. She didn’t need them to question if she’d be able to bring him to hearth too.
She worried enough about that as it were.
Morten turned to Torkel and pinned him with a glare. “Thanks Torkel, for the offer, but it won’t be needed. Lortper already left for Storvak yesterday evening. He should be back the day after tomorrow.”
“Oh…” Torkel’s shoulders slumped and he sat down again, chewing on his lip.
“August?” Morten turned to the other man, still standing up.
“How about snow speaker Tild? Wouldn’t he be able to help?”
“He’s too old,” someone yelled from over in the other end of the room.
“And too drunk,” someone else commented, and the room filled with laughter once more.
“Hey, I was just thinking…” August threw his arms wide and sat down, grumbling to himself.
Morten smiled at him and once more raised his hands to call for silence. “It’s a good idea, but I’m not sure Tild would be all that much use to us. Does anyone know where he spends the winter?”
“I heard Grums,” came a voice from the crowd.
“No, Kuulis Wood.” That was probably Klara, Stefan’s mother, but it was hard to tell in the crowded room.
“Heh, oh well…” Morten cleared his throat. “If he’s somewhere nearby, I guess it won’t hurt to ask him along. Someone will have to go to Kuulis Wood anyway.”
Torkel leaned forward over the table. “I hope I get to go to Kuulis Wood,” he whispered. “It’s been years since I was there last.”
“Shush…” Emma raised a finger to her lips and glared at him.
“How about a shaman?” Tessica – one of the serving girls of the inn – standing over by the counter raised her hand. “There’s young Cherry Blossom over in Gyllenborg. That’s nearby.”
“It’s winter,” said August from the table behind Emma.
“Yes.” Morten nodded. “We’ll have someone going to Gyllenborg to ask for help regardless. Hopefully Cherry Blossom will be able to come.”
“It’s still winter.” August pointed out again. “The land sleeps.”
Morten sighed. “Be that as it may. It’ll still be good to have a shaman around. Every little bit helps.”
August crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Tessica. Tessica, in turn, rolled her eyes and heaved a big, exaggerated sigh. No one said anything.
“I’ve got an idea.” Torkel’s hand shot in the air and he got to his feet.
Emma stared up at him, and her throat grew tight. They probably all stared at him again – wondering what foolishness would come out next. Please don’t say anything reckless. Please. She didn’t dare glance around.
Torkel shifted on his feet. “You know, south of Hemsbo, up in the mountain, there’s a winter fylk homestead.” He paused and cleared his throat. “We could ask them to come and help. They’d kill the bear for us, I’m sure. They’re really great hunters.”
Silence, cold as ice, spread through the room. No wind whispered round the corners of the old house, and even the fire in the hearth seemed to stop its crackling. No one said a thing.
Emma pressed her eyes shut and bit her lip so hard it hurt to keep from screaming in frustration. The idiot. How could he say something like that – in front of the whole village? Had he lost his mind completely?
Over at another table, a chair creaked. Someone set down their drink with a thud. Grumbling whispers crept through the crowd.
“No Torkel.” Elder Morten raised a gnarly old handed and pointed an outstretched finger at the young man. “This bear is on our land, and we will handle it our way.” Teeth clenched and eyes burning he glared at Torkel. “We do not ask the winters for help.”
You could cut the silence with a knife.
Once more Torkel shifted from foot to foot. “Uhm…” He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry…” His face turned red. “I only thought…”
For a moment longer he just stood there, and then he sat down and hung his head.
“Yes,” snapped Morten, still staring at him. “Good.” He took a deep breath, shook his head, and let his shoulders slump. “But let’s keep it reasonable shall we.” Forcing himself to smile, he turned away and looked out over the gathered villagers.
All across the room, chairs creaked, mugs thumped against tables, and fylkin whispered to each other. Outrageous. The winters. You did not mingle with the winter fylk.
Emma caught Lisa studying her across the table. The other woman smiled at her and raised an eyebrow, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to smile back. Instead, she lowered her eyes, crossed her arms over her chest, and stared at the table in front of her.
With an exaggerated sigh Torkel leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table and hunching up his shoulders. “It would work though,” he whispered – his eyes full of excitement. “They winters really are great hunters.”
“That’s enough!” Emma’s hand flew out and she slapped him over the back of the head with the flat of her hand. “No more of that.”
Her cheeks burned and the blood sang in her veins. The idiot just didn’t get it. Married or not, she’d teach him a lesson if he didn’t shut up.
Eyes wide, Torkel shrank back from her. “Yes.” He swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
Over by the hearth, Morten cleared his throad. “Right, well…” He clapped his hands. “Order please. Let’s get back to the matter at hand. We’ll need to send messengers to the villages nearby. Who wants to go?
Torkel shot Emma a glance, hesitated for a moment, and then raised his hand. “I’ll go.”
Emma glared at him, but after Morten had nodded acknowledgement, Torkel lowered his hand again and said nothing else. He even kept his gaze low, not looking up and meeting Emma’s eyes.
To her other side, Burje raised his hand and waved. “Me too.”
It made sense. They were the youngest adults around. They had no little ones of their own, but were old enough to speak for the village. Might as well.
With a sigh, Emma raised her hand in the air. “I’ll go.” She paused and thought for a moment. “I can use our sled.”
This is it. I hope you liked it. Feedback is very welcome, so feel free leave a comment.
Chapter 2 can be found here.