Friday 6 October 2017

A Shiver of Snow and Sky Extract & Giveaway!

SURPRISE!!! This is my day on the A Shiver of Snow and Sky blog tour! And I have a double-whammy for you all!

For those curious, A Shiver of Snow and Sky is set on the island of Skane where the sky speaks. Beautiful, colourful lights fill the sky, relaying a message from the Goddess. Green means all is well, blue means a snow storm is coming and red... red is rare and it's a warning... 

And the last time the sky turned red, it was seventeen years ago, Ósa was just born and a disease went through her village, killing hundreds of villagers, including her mother. Now Ósa is determined to figure out how to stop the onslaught before it destroys her village... 

Now I have wetted your appetite, I'm going to tease you with an extract from the story and, if that grabs your attention, I have a small contest for you to enter (if you want to enter, all the details will be on the Google Form so check that before you enter, ok?). All the details for the contest is on the form so read before you enter.

With all that out of the way, ONTO THE EXTRACT AND THE CONTEST!!!

Chapter 2

Fear hung like shards of frozen mist in the air. Not just the quiet, inward fear that left one wide-eyed and anxious, but the kind that brought tears to pale faces and cries to the lips of those who could no longer hold it in. Families huddled together in tightly-woven embraces, savouring these precious moments of peace and calm before the plague came back with a bloodied vengeance. Children, young enough to not have been alive last time but old enough to know the stories, wept into their hands. Grown men tried to stay stony-faced and silent, but their eyes glistened with secret tears that would fall when no one was looking.

Despite the crying and embracing and whispering that passed around the people like rustling leaves, we all made our way towards the centre of the village. We acted on instinct. The red lights show. Then comes the bonfire. A large circle of stones had long ago been formed in the village, and it was our gathering point, our place of congregating at various times throughout the year: midsummer, the new year, and it was where we gathered to talk about the red lós. This would be my first time doing so, and the heaviness of that fact made every step a struggle.

On other days, the gatherings were a happy event, causing excitement amongst the children as it meant food and games and stories told by anyone who had one to tell. On the warmest day of the year, we’d sit around in nothing but our thinnest wraps and sip cool drinks, all thoughts of winter fading away into nothingness. This time, though, that excitement was nowhere to be found. This time, I ignored the knot in my stomach as I watched the wan faces of the villagers gathering together to discuss the unspeakable.

Log upon log had been piled within the stones, dripped here and there with oil and stuffed with bits of smaller sticks and twigs for kindling. It was just as I was arriving, rolling with me the round stump of a tree to use as a seat, that a sombre-faced woman sent sparks flying on to the pile, and flames kindled to life. 

I stared into the growing blaze, red lights dancing before my eyes. I watched a few sticks catch fire and burn away, and couldn’t help but wish that we could bethat way. Not the sticks, the fire. Catch on and consume our doubts, our worries. Overcome whatever lay before us with a power that could not be quenched. If that sort of will could catch on, if we could all add fuel to the fire, then perhaps we’d fare better than the last time. Perhaps a few more lives could be saved.

A stump thudded to the ground beside me. Ivar. “All alone?” he said, seating himself and extending his hands towards the warmth. He wasn’t wearing mittens and his hands bore callouses where he’d spent so much time writing, and blisters from shovelling snow. Ivar was from a long line of rune singers, men and women trained in the art of translating the ancient language and the corresponding images into Agric, the language we spoke today. It had made me jealous as a child, the way he could scratch out letters quicker than I could read them. I did everything slower than him, reading and writing in particular. But those were his life blood, his meaning. I could fish and shear sheep, if I cared enough to try, but it was my desire to do something, to know something others might not, that encouraged me to learn the stars.

“Early comers get the best seats,” I replied, watching a small stick go up in flames.

More and more villagers gathered, some bringing wooden chairs from their homes, others bringing boxes, and still others bringing stumps like our own. The oldest man in our village, Ymir, was helped to the fire by his wife and grandson. They placed him in a large wooden chair, and tucked blankets around his shoulders and legs. I’d heard Ymir was nearly one hundred years old, but by the lines on his face, the weight he carried in his eyes, I sometimes felt as though he’d watched the island of Skane itself be born from the waves. He’d taught me about the stars so many years ago, taking me on as a pupil after finding me on a rooftop staring up at the sky. I’d been tracing out their shapes in the snow, learning where to spot them and at what times of year they showed. He told me the stories of the constellations, of the maps they painted and how to use them to find my way when lost.

Móri, Ivar’s little cousin, came to sit at our feet, some sticks in his hands. Whittling was a favourite pastime of Ivar’s, when he wasn’t reading runes, and he’d passed it down to some of the children. I tugged at a blond wisp of his Móri’s and he swatted me away like a fly without bothering to look up.

Across the fire, Father sat with my sister, Anneka. Her face was deathly white, shiny patches on her cheeks where tears were drying in the heat of the fire. Her eyes caught mine for a heartbeat before she looked away. I watched, through the licking flames, the light dance in my father’s eyes. When compared with Ymir, he Maybe he had been, once upon a time. To me, he was just my father. A symbol of strength, of respect, and sometimes of fear.

Once as a child, I’d heard Anneka ask him if he couldn’t perhaps be a bit softer. Why he insisted on that harsh exterior that sometimes frightened us to the point of tears. His response had been unyielding, yet even so young, I’d understood it.

“Our ancestors didn’t come here, didn’t sail an unfamiliar sea to start a life for us that would be easy. They knew it would be hard, and hard it is. It’s the weak ones who fall, Anneka. It’s the frail who succumb. I won’t let you be weak. I won’t watch you fall. It’s not in my blood and I won’t let it be in yours.”

A new understanding of him had dawned then, and while there were still times when he frightened me, still times when anger at him burned so hot I feared it would come out in some unforgivable action, that understanding remained.

“Tonight,” Ymir began, “we saw the red lós.”

All our eyes turned obediently to him, a chill settling into the air despite the fire. Ymir’s age and presence demanded respect from everyone around him. When he spoke, people listened.

“Many of you younger folk” – he looked to me and Ivar, who sat near him – “won’t remember the last time they shone in the sky. They were the same, back then, starting out so simple and ... unthreatening, but transforming. I was younger, perhaps not too much younger” – a faint smile – “but young enough that the lights made me angry.”

I looked to the ground, recalling the fire that had run through my veins when the red lights bled in the sky.

“But the one thing we all, every single one of us since the first of our boots landed here, have had to accept is that we cannot understand it. The Goddess sees fit to warn us, to put us on our guard, but not to give us an explanation. That’d be meddling. Meddling in the affairs of mere mortals, and that’s crossing a boundary that’s been in place since the dawn of time.”

A few whispers passed around the group and the fire crackled. People leaned in, eyes glistening with curiosity and reflections from the flames. Móri carried on whittling, as though he wasn’t listening, but I could sense the straining of his ears, the way his hands paused in their work every few seconds to hear better.

“Seventeen years ago was the first time I saw the red lights,” Ymir continued softly. “It still seems like yesterday. Before that, I’d only heard stories from my father. When he was a young boy, they’d glowed once. It was ten days before they knew why. Days before a villager followed a trail of blood through the trees to where a body lay in the snow, raging with fever and bleeding from their eyes and nose. It caught on like kindling, sweeping through the village and taking one life after another. By the end, only half of them remained. The oldest was a mere forty, the youngest was ten.”

The youngest was ten. Maybe I was lucky. Lucky to have survived as a baby when so many before me had perished.

Not a noise could be heard in the cold night air. Mouths hung open, but we had all forgotten how to breathe. An unexplainable urge gripped me. I wanted to reach over and take Ivar’s hand, to squeeze it until my own hand shook. Not out of fright, but a desire to know I wasn’t alone.

“And again, seventeen years ago,” Ymir continued, softer. “Again, it happened, and again it took so many of our lives. Again, husbands were torn from their wives, and children were separated from their mothers by the unforgiving boundary of life and death.”

I could have sworn he glanced at me.

“It should be different this time,” someone shouted from the group, a middle-aged man I barely knew. His eyes blazed as he spoke, fuelled by a passion born from fear. “Anyone who shows signs of illness, anyone at all, should be quarantined. We know what will happen if we don’t.”

A few nodded, and a few shook their heads. I did nothing, only stared at the man, turning his words over in my mind. I’d seen the fever caves before. Crept in the early morning hours to the caves north of the village, where horrors had been etched into the very air around them. It was where some of the ill had been herded, left to die alone, away from their families, cold and feverish. Some died quickly from the plague, others froze to death. Some families, like mine, wouldn’t let their ill be taken. My father wouldn’t part with my mother until she’d passed, and her body was moved to one of the fever caves to be burned. The ash had long since disappeared, but some bones remained, those that had defied the fire out of will or sheer luck, refusing to be taken from Skane. That was all that remained: the charred shards of bones that even the animals wouldn’t touch.

No one was meant to go there, but tell a child not to do something and it creates a burning desire so intense that nothing else can quench it.

I wished I hadn’t.

The moment I saw the bones, I had emptied my stomach into the snow. They could have been my mother’s. Such a blanket of darkness had been cast over the group that, noticing it, Ymir turned to me.

“Ósa. Perhaps you could tell us a story about the stars.” He smiled weakly and I couldn’t say no. We were all a part of this, but the children didn’t deserve such evils.

For a long moment, I gazed into the fire, sorting through my roaring thoughts. There were so many stories, but they’d fallen from my mind and vanished at Ymir’s words. All I could remember were vague hints, unclear shapes.

A long breath of cold air and my thoughts returned to me. It couldn’t be a dark tale, not after what we’d just heard. The red lights brought with them shadows and darkness enough, yet so many of the stories were tragedies or horrors; finding a happy one was next to impossible. Blocking out the fire with a hand, I craned my neck to look up and the story stared back at me.

“Once,” I began, keeping my eyes on the stars, “there was an immortal princess who roamed the world, forever heartbroken, for all those whom she loved had died. Many men had fallen for her, consumed by her otherworldly beauty, but one by one they’d passed on, taken from the world by their mortality. Yet on the princess lived, one lifetime of despair after another. So one day, while weeping from her heartbreak and unable to bear it any longer, she begged the Goddess to remove her from the pain she was doomed to endure for eternity. And, taking pity upon her, the Goddess pulled her from the earth and placed her as a constellation in the sky, beside the Warrior, so she wouldn’t be alone. And at long last, the Immortal had had found a love of which she would never be robbed, one she could cherish for ever. The Warrior loved her so fiercely, he placed a ring of light on her finger, so she would for ever be reminded of his love. And that is the brightest star in the constellation, there to the right.” I pointed to the brilliant, glistening star overhead, and it warmed my heart. No matter what happened here in Skane, no matter how bleak our future looked, that love would live on, until even the stars crumbled from the sky and the universe around us went dark. There was beauty in that, and hope. On days like these, hope was a welcome friend.

Now the children’s eyes were wide as they stared up into the heavens, and seeing it brought me a small spark of happiness. Some of the cold from earlier had been chased away. It was just a story, they were just words, but there was a comfort in it. 

The time for stories had to end, and when it did, that chill settled back into my bones. Several girls offered to walk the children home for bed, but nearly everyone else remained. Once again, all eyes were on Ymir, though mouths stayed silent. Everyone burned with questions, but we waited for Ymir to speak first.

I threw a small twig into the fire.

“I know what you all want to hear,” Ymir said quietly, but with that sense of firm understanding that begged respect. “You all want to hear that this time, we have a plan. That we know what can be done about it. That we know how to save everyone. I might as well tell you right now, it isn’t so. I don’t know how to prevent it any more than you do.” He looked into his lap and played with the corner of the blanket. “But what we can do is be extra vigilant. Last time it came within days. It could start in any one of us.”

His words filled the air around us with a hopelessness so heavy it was a struggle to breathe. I pulled at the wraps around my neck to alleviate some of the pressure, but it did nothing. Beside me, Ivar’s gaze was firmly on the ground, his mouth set in a thin line. Good. I was glad to see him as angry as I was.

“Don’t let this lack of understanding dampen your resolve to survive,” Ymir went on. “Many of us have lived through the red lights once before, and hopefully, many of us will do so again. Stay watchful. If you feel unwell, if something strikes you as out of place, tell someone. Tell me. Tell anyone you can find. Do not prolong our ignorance. Perhaps with some cunning and forethought, more of us will survive this time.”

Though many of us will die.

My mind finished the thought for him, and I ground my teeth so loudly that Ivar shot me a sideways glance. I shook my head and he looked away.

Waiting and watching wouldn’t save our lives. Sitting by and hoping wouldn’t give doomed souls a few extra days. I looked around the group. In a few weeks, some of these faces would be gone. Some of these friends and family members would die. I could lie in my bed and hope for their salvation until they were taken one by one, or I could fuel this anger inside me and use it to find a way to help them.

1 comment:

  1. Ooh I'm in love with the writing style! I definitely need to get my hands on this!
    Cora ❤