More Winterbloom

Winterbloom is now up to 102,522 words long. I am hoping to finish the first draft by the beginning of September, unless I get distracted. And as any writer knows, there are plenty of distractions.

I also know it’s going to need some heavy editing when it’s done. So all the extracts I share are pretty much raw material; lots of loose ends and other stuff.

The next excerpt is taken from Chapter 2, currently titled “The Night Visitors”, because the main characters kept being woken in the middle of the night by unexpected guests.

It had been the day after the Winter Solstice, when Wanderers were accustomed to celebrate the Candle Feast, one of the most important celebrations of the year. On that night, in the coldest part of the year, Yuste had been unable to sleep. She had been troubled by ruminations about the present and the past, worrying in turn about her mother, her niece and her business, which was being neglected while she and Boris lingered in the countryside. In the end, she had risen from her bed and crept downstairs to the kitchen, opening the stove to rekindle the fire. She put on her slippers, for the quarry tiles on the kitchen floor were cold, and considered walking up to the headland to look at the sea, something she was accustomed to doing when she could not sleep.

It was then that someone had knocked, twice, on the back door. All the hairs stood up on the back of Yuste’s neck, and she shivered. She did not know what time of night it was, but midnight had passed, and people seldom came to the house after sunset. If she had not been a shaman, Yuste would have left the door bolted shut and waited for the visitor – if there were a visitor – to leave. As it was, she padded from the kitchen to the back door and started to unlock it, wondering who had decided to disturb them at this late hour. When the door swung open, her heart skipped a beat, and then she was disappointed; there seemed to be nobody there. She was about to close the door, when something made her step over the threshold and look out.

Light and smoke; the fog shot through with gold and shadows. The fields, the track and all the cliff-top were dotted with paper lanterns each glowing with a hidden candle. They were like fireflies whose light turned the mist orange and gold. Yuste gasped. Though it was the season for the Wanderer festival of lights, Yuste and her mother would not have kept the festival because of their mourning. Now it was as if someone had brought the festival to her, lighting these lanterns that could only be seen from her remote homestead. In her mind, she called her niece, and a short while later heard the soft sound of bare feet padding across the flagstone floor. Annat was suddenly beside her, peering over her shoulder. She too was staying at the house where she had grown up, so that Yuste could look after her. Although she was about three months pregnant, she was not showing yet.

‘Oh look – how pretty!’ she said, touching Yuste’s arm.

‘What does it mean?’ said Yuste.

‘I wonder if they are for us?’ said Annat, venturing out in her bare feet and turning round to gaze at the mist.

‘Be careful you don’t catch cold!’ said Yuste, who tended to forget that her niece was not a child any more. Annat turned to look back at her and smiled. Her dark hair was unplaited on her shoulders. Her eyes were large and dark like the eyes of an icon; except that one of them changed colour when it caught the light, making a rainbow spiral. The young woman more powerful than she seemed; she had made the journey into the underworld several times.

There was a rush of sound and light, as if someone had raised a theatre curtain, and Yuste and Annat were no longer alone; a several people stood outside, cloaked and carrying lanterns. It was like a transformation scene, and Annat clapped her hands in delight. Yuste, who felt less confident than her niece, stood on the threshold with her heart thumping, shading her eyes against the light. Then she saw him, facing her like a reflection: her twin brother, the man she had never expected to see again.

‘Yuda?’ she said, her hand on the door handle. She spoke out loud, not sending a thought as she would have done once. ‘Yuda, is it you?’

Their true names were Yehudit and Yehuda, but no-one called them that, not even their parents. Everyone called them Yuste and Yuda, as if they could not be thought of apart. But they had come apart, and lived separate lives, after the quarrel that ended when Yuda attacked Yuste, destroying her powers. It had only been years later that he found a way to restore them. He had shared his own power with her, and they had rediscovered each other, friends once more.