Whew (wipes forehead)! If you’re with me here in the Northern Hemisphere right now, you’re probably hotter than Heck and wondering when we’re going to get a break from the oppressive blanket of humidity that is currently smothering my corner of the world, at least.
July is fun! Right?
To give us all a refreshing change, I thought I’d share another little snippet from The Singing Shore II: Sky and Stone, which is slated for release on October 1st. But first I should mention that my novella (technically I think it’s actually a novelette) Wolf Island is available in the Other Places, Other Times Fantasy & Sci Fi book giveaway. There’s over 100 books and stories participating, so definitely go and check it out–there should be something for everyone!
And now let’s go take a little tour of the Far North, and check in on my heroine Dasha as she finds herself on an even bigger adventure than she had originally expected! In this excerpt, from the latter half of The Singing Shore II, Dasha is on her own–well, except for Alik, but that’s complicated–and on the run. It’s autumn, and this far North, that means frostbite and hypothermia are stalking her heels. Plus, foraging for nuts and berries is a lot more fun when it’s not your only source of sustenance. And sometimes the very land itself seems determined to thwart her…
They made it down to the shore without incident. Once Dasha reached it, she discovered it was rocky and inhospitable and difficult to walk along. She tried walking East half a verst and ran into a boulder field. She turned back and walked West—and discovered that the shoreline soon melted into an impassable swamp.
Telling herself and Alik that she was not going to cry, she started walking East again. She was hungry and tired, and starting to feel uncomfortably hot. If only there were some way of storing up this heat for the night, when she knew she would be miserably cold. She hated these woods, she hated this land, she hated everything about this journey…
What was that? She and Alik both said it at the same time.
There’s something moving in the woods, she told him. Just up there. Something large.
They were approaching the boulder field again. The boulders ranged from as high as her waist to twice as high as her head, and were thickly strewn across the forest floor. Any space in between them was overgrown with trees and underbrush. The only way to get through it would be to climb over the boulders, a tedious and tiring process, with more than a little risk of hurting herself.
It’s there, she said. The movement had flashed off to her right. Do you think it’s a deer?
It could be, said Alik. It could be anything.
I don’t think it’s hunting us, Dasha said after a moment.
I don’t think so either, agreed Alik.
I’m going to follow it, Dasha decided suddenly. Maybe it knows its way through the boulders. Maybe it’s a deer and it’s showing us the way through the boulders.
Or maybe it’s a wolf, Alik countered.
Maybe it’s a wolf who knows his way through the boulders, Dasha said. How often do wolves attack fully grown people in broad daylight?
Not often. Especially not in fall, when the hunting is good. Be careful even so.
I’ll be careful, Dasha promised, and set off in the direction of where she had last seen the movement.
She didn’t find the deer or whatever it was, but she did find a space between two trees that led to a narrow channel through the boulders. She walked along it, following it deeper and deeper into the boulder field, until she came to a dead end. A high, broad boulder, as big as a house, with a smooth, unclimbable face, blocked her path.
She wanted to say something bad, but she didn’t know anything bad enough to express her feelings. When she told this to Alik, he said he knew quite a few very bad things he could teach her, but he’d do so later. Right now she needed to focus on getting out of here, not cursing and swearing. She could curse and swear all she wanted once she was free.
She felt along the front of the giant boulder. Completely smooth, and slightly convex. The boulder to her right was only head height, but similarly smooth and convex. The boulder to her left had a few tiny ledges that might serve as handholds, but was half again as tall as she was, and overhung a kind of cave at the bottom. She would have to jump up, grab a tiny fingerhold, and try to pull herself up by the tips of her fingers if she wanted to climb it. She was pretty sure she couldn’t do it. She was pretty sure no one could do it.
There was a sudden sound behind her, like falling pebbles. She looked up, startled, just in time to see a skylark soar overhead and feel the liquid notes of his song come pouring down on her from the sky.
There, said Alik. Just back there. Is that a kind of natural chimney you could climb up?
She took a couple of steps back. Indeed, the boulder on her left formed a kind of natural chimney where it butted up against the boulder next to it. There were even ledges that formed something almost like a staircase.
It was still a hard scramble to the top, but when she made it, she found that she could climb up onto the giant boulder easily.
Once there, she was standing on a kind of rock roof, looking out over the treetops. She could see the lake off to her left, and low tree-covered hills ahead. They looked like they would be hard going, but at least they were unlikely to contain a swamp.
She was able to walk along the top of the rocks for a while. Even though she was high up, it was easy going: the boulder tops were flat and clear, and here in the center of the field they were jammed so close together that she could step from rock top to rock top with no danger.
As she got closer to the edge, though, the rocks began to get farther and farther apart, until she came to a deep crevice between two boulders. She couldn’t climb down, since there was no “down” for her to climb to: the boulders were still too close together at the bottom for there to be anywhere for her to walk between them. But the top of the crevice was too broad for her to step across it.
Can you jump? Alik asked.
She eyed it. It was a good pace across. She would have said that she probably could jump it, if she had proper footing and a decent run-up, and, most importantly, the knowledge that nothing terrible would happen if she failed. But all three of those were missing here. The rock she was currently standing on was much rounder and knobblier than the ones she had been walking on previously, and she had had to skip from small boulder to small boulder to reach it. There was nowhere she could get a good running start. And if she failed in her jump, she could go crashing down into the crevice, scraping herself up, maybe smashing bones, maybe getting stuck in the bottom, injured and with no one to rescue her.
I think I need a better way across. To her right a boulder leaned against the one she was currently standing on. It was almost headheight higher than her current position, but with a sloping side and plentiful handholds.
She climbed cautiously to the top. It was only about a pace across, and at first she couldn’t find the courage to stand upright. When she caught a hint of movement in the corner of her eye, she made herself, with a caution all out of proportion to the actual danger she was in, stand up.
A skylark soared across her vision, his song filling her senses. When he was gone, she looked down—and saw Urho standing below, on the edge of the trees.
Fun fact: the boulder field is somewhat inspired by a similar (although more passable) boulder field at Crowders Mountain in NC, as well as a climbing feature at a playground I used to go to as a small child. (I’m betting they don’t have features like that anymore at American playgrounds). Also, if you notice various birds reappearing throughout the story, that’s not a coincidence. Different characters and motifs are associated with different birds, so Urho, for example, is often heralded by or associated with a skylark, as a way to hint at the lyrical, magical side of him that he normally keeps hidden.
I may write more about the various bird motifs in the books later. In the meantime, stay cool, and here are those links again: