It’s time. The end draws near. There will be two more chapters after this one and then the story’s done and over with.
If you haven’t read any of the previous chapters you can find them on the Stories page, here.
As usual, this is the first draft version of the chapter. It’s bee checked by one test reader, but other than that it’s pretty raw. It’s good enough I’m happy to let it out for anyone to read though, just be aware that changes can and will be made before the final version of the story gets published.
This week’s musical accompaniment is again a set of my own. It’s a mix of dark techno and tribal house. It starts out kind of deep and goes very wild towards the end – at least as far as this kind of music is concerned. The set is unusual in that I picked it out even before I wrote the chapter. I knew the music and I knew what this chapter would be about and it felt like a really good fit.
However, the chapter wasn’t written to fit the set and the set wasn’t compiled to fit the chapter. I just had the idea they’d work together. I’m not too sure about how well it worked out – but at least I had a plan with it.
Emma’s Story – Chapter 11
Outside the inn, in the village, on the hill, the night is full of falling snow. In the forest. Over lakes and roads. Across every hillside as far as anyone knows. Much has come, and more is on its way.
The world is full of falling snow.
Torches and snowlamps have lost their flames, but here and there, by garden gates and burrow doors, lanterns still burn – swarmed by snow flakes, dancing from the sky.
Sensible fylkin know to stay put. The hour is late, the burrows are warm, and this is no weather for idle wandering. It is a night to stay inside, behind doors and under blankets – curled up and wrapped up and perfectly safe.
– – –
In a barn, by a burrow, near the bottom of a hill, two horses sleep. All around, snow falls deep – piling up against wall and door. A world grows silent. A night grows still. All that was sharp grows round. All that was hard grows soft. And an old forest dons a dress to welcome spring.
In a barn draped in snow, sleeping horses dream of summer. Hanging from a rope in the ceiling, a lantern burns low. Faint light floats over wall and beam. Dim shadows drift over tool and tack. Soon, the flame will flicker and die, and the night will be complete.
Any moment now…
A door is torn open. A fury bursts in. No coat. No scarf. Hair full of snow flakes. Eyes full of fire. A chest that heaves. Shoulders that shiver. Purpose that burns.
A young woman brings the lantern back to life. She ties back her hair, rolls up her sleeves, and goes to fetch her horses. She has a job to do. A young man to find. A shame to stave off.
Her village will not be made a den of fools.
– – –
A young woman struggles. A black horse resists. One wants action. One needs rest. Two wills against each other.
Drunk, stubborn, and fueled by rage, a young woman gets a black horse moving. Out of of the box. Out of the barn. Snow still falls, and a night is still dark.
Cold fingers fumble with straps of leather and clasps of brass. She pulls and she grumbles. She mutters and mumbles. Little by little, a horse is tacked to a sled.
– – –
“Daughter! What are you doing?”
Emma spun around, dropping the strap she held and almost losing her balance. Her hand shot out and she steadied herself against Karolina’s flank. Clenching her fists she took a step forward and glared at the other woman.
“Mother. I’m taking the horses out.”
Go-Hanna put her hands on her hips and gave a curt nod. “I can see that. Why?”
Emma snorted and took a step towards her mother. “Torkel’s gone to see the winter fylk to get them to come help with the bear.” Her hand shot out and she pointed off into the night, down the road out of the village. “I’m going up there to stop them and bring him back.”
“Now?” Her mother crossed her arms over her chest, and raised an eyebrow. “It’s long past dark and the horses worked all day.”
“They’ll just have to deal!” Emma kicked at the snow at her feet. “If I wait until the morning it’ll be too late.”
“And you’re drunk too.”
“No!” She stamped her foot into the ground. “I’m not. I’m fine.”
Her mother just stared at her. Then she snorted, gave a quick nod, and walked back towards the burrow.
Her fists still clenched, swaying just a little, Emma remained where she stood, starring after her mother until she disappeared inside the burrow and shut the door.
The snow kept falling.
– – –
A young woman does not give up. Her path is clear and her mind is made up. A black horse is tacked to a sled. A brown horse is woken and dragged outside.
Angry as ever. Young blood aglow. Eyes full of fire. Hair full of snow. Shivering shoulders and lips turning blue.
Two horses are set to a sled, tired but ready to work. A lantern is hung on its pole, faint in the falling snow, but enough to light the way – probably. Snow is brushed away, for while there is need for haste, there is no need for that extra weight.
A young woman’s mother appears once more.
– – –
Emma straightened up from brushing snow off the back seat of the sled. “Mother. I’m still going.” She sighed and pushed a wet lock of hair out of her face. “You can’t stop me.”
Her mother stood by the front of the sled, holding a big burlap sack in her arms. “I brought you a coat, and I wrapped up some leftovers from dinner.” Her jaw set and her movements stiff she placed the sack down on the floor by the driver’s seat. “There’s a hat and scarf as well.”
“Oh, mother…” Emma’s heart beat a little faster, and a warm glow spread through her chest. “Thank you.” She brushed the last snow from the seat, hopped down on the ground, and walked up to where her mother stood.
“I brought our Lady’s Roots for the horses too.”
Emma gasped. The Lady’s Roots. Her mother must be really worried – even more worried than she’d thought. “Mother. You shouldn’t have.”
Go-Hanna rummaged through the sack she’d put into the sled and pulled out a small bag from within it. “They’re from the carrots we buried under the old apple tree last spring. I’ll feed them to the horses. That way they’ll last you through the night.”
“Uhm…” Emma swallowed. “Are you sure?”
Her mother produced a carrot from the little bag and held it out to Karolina. She didn’t look up. “They’ve run far today. They’ll need the Lady’s help if they’re going to get anywhere tonight.” The carrot glowed slightly in the darkness. “Just make sure you put them up for a good rest once you get there.”
The black horse made short work of the carrot, and Go-Hanna reached into the bag for another one to feed her.
“Mother. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
She looked at her – an old woman bundled up against the cold, feeding the horses in the falling snow. One day she would be that woman – making tough decisions for her own children, doing what it took, looking after her family and her village. One day.
Blinking, to clear the snow from her eyes, Emma turned to the sack and pulled out the coat. It was her father’s old fisherman’s coat. Warm and thick. A little too big, and a little too heavy. It smelled of dirt, sweat, and pipe weed. It smelt safe. This coat had kept him warm through many a cold winter afternoon on the ice on the lake.
Emma stopped and frowned. Why had her mother packed her father’s coat? Her own was just as warm. Where was her coat? She chewed on her lip as she pulled the coat over her shoulders, pushed her arms through. And her scarf? She wound the scarf from the sack around her neck, and plopped the hat on her head.
Her coat was at the inn. Under the bench where Trula sat. She and Burje. Holding hands. Smiling.
She’d keep her father’s coat.
“Daughter.” Her mother appeared from around the back of the cart, still holding the bag with the carrots. “There is one for you as well.” She held the bag out, and for a moment her gaze wavered – but only for a moment.
Go-Hanna pulled herself together again – not a trace of a doubt on her face. “Make sure you get some rest once you arrive.”
Emma looked from her mother, to the bag, and back to her mother again. Had she hesitated? She – her mother?
“The need is great, and the winters’ homestead is far. Just bring your man home, and keep us from shame.”
Hesitating for a moment, Emma swallowed, and then reached out and took the bag. “Yes mother. I will.”
– – –
A yard lies empty and dark. Falling snow fills up the tracks left by a young woman and her horses. Where a sled once stood a faint hole remains, and soon that too will be gone.
An old mother stands alone outside her burrow, stands still, stands tall. Eventually, she sighs and goes back inside.
Snow piles up against barn and door. A world grows silent. A night grows still. All that was sharp grows round. All that was hard grows soft. And an old forest sleeps under new, white covers.
– – –
The carrot does nothing. A young woman feels no change. Two horses drag a sled through heavy snow. Step by tired step. A lantern on a pole has lost its use. All she sees is falling snow. An endless swarm of frozen flies.
She must trust they find their way, for she knows not where they are, and she will not turn back.
Will never turn back.
A road is a river in the night. A sled an island in the dark. Snowflakes dance like butterflies, and a lantern’s glow is ever weaker.
A young woman no longer sees where she is going. No longer sees the ground. She cowers in her father’s coat, pulls her hat down, and wants to cry. The carrot does nothing, and the butterflies eat the light.
The darkness eats her horses. The darkness eats her sled. It tugs at her coat. It pulls at her hair. She sees nothing. She is nowhere. Flies of ice and butterflies of frost.
She must trust they find their way, for she will not turn back.
Will never turn back.
A young woman closes her eyes against the darkness.
She sees her horses, red and orange, racing through the night. She sees their glowing hearts, pumping gold through veins of glass, and their eyes burn like the suns of summer.
Their heat warms her face. Melts her frozen eyebrows. Fills her tired lungs with life.
A young woman can be still no more. She stands. She stretches. She arches her back and she cranes her neck. She tears her coat open, and throws her hat away. The wind whips her face, and the snow pulls her hair, and the darkness takes her sight away.
She defies everything.
She raises her arms and opens her mouth and sings to the night. She opens her heart and sings to the sky. She opens herself and sings to the world. And the world sings with her.
Racing through the darkness, drawn by steeds of summer, a young woman is the turning of the seasons. She is the last storm of winter and the first flower of spring. She is the rain of autumn.
But most of all she is a daughter of summer and she will never turn back.
– – –
The darkness is gone now.
The night holds no secrets.
A young woman sees everything.
Her hair a mane of frost. Her eyes aglow with summer.
Horses that would sleep, fly on wings of dream, breathing plumes of fire. Hooves thunder over freshly fallen snow. A sled is trailed by lightning.
A young woman stands at the front of her carriage. Her coat torn open and her scarf a banner on the wind.
She feels no cold.
She knows no fear.
Her heart is full of joy and her song is full power.
She rides with her goddess this night and the forest itself steps out of her way.
That’s all for this week. I hope you enjoyed it (I know I did).
You can read Chapter 12 here.