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The Birth of a Novel - Proverbs and Destiny 3 - Morning sickness

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  1. Painting Caerfai Bay Pembrokeshire
  2. October 9th 2014

A man dies, but his word lives forever.

Picture are like words, but done with a brush instead of a pen. They too can live forever.

i was fortunate in not suffering morning sickness, but there's a stage in every novel that feels like that. You've conceived, you know what the ending has to be, but how to get through the months in between? Lightning never strikes twice? Yesterday our house was struck by lightning… twice! I was working on my laptop at the time and felt the shock through the keyboard. There was no thunder in warning, no time to unplug, just a crack and a bang and everything went dead. They say lightning never strikes twice, they’re right, for in our case this makes it five times in all. The only damage this time was to my desktop computer, my router and my wireless extender, all fried to a crisp, and a short period with no electricity and iffy water as the pump in the water board’s pump-house was also knocked out. The result, today, is no internet and no e-mail, though I still have fifty retweets of my promotion of The Silence of the Stones to thank folk for and lord know how many I shall have to answer when I log on next. However, I have been painting seascapes, which is something I’ve not had time to do for a while. See above. Although I’ve enjoyed getting back to painting, it feels odd to be out of contact with the world. Hopefully, tomorrow, my new router will arrive and get me back on-line and I can post this next excerpt of Destiny.

I find it’s made me more aware of Kiya and Raphel’s isolation in their non-computer world and how quickly life can change. It’s reminded me that it wasn’t so long ago when, if you wanted to speak to someone, you walked to their home, hoped they were in, or someone knew where they were, and talked to them face to face, or failing that wrote them a letter, posted it and waited for a reply to drop through your letterbox. Communities were more isolated then, and the members of it closer as a result, and people didn’t travel so far from home. Communities were made up of people who were related through birth or marriage and all relied on one another in times of need. Kiya and Raphel’s community is strengthened by being further isolated by the difficult terrain from all but a few small similar communities, and united by the stories passed down by word of mouth, giving all a deep sense of belonging, a common ancestry and a common knowledge-base.

Their friend, Abe, therefore, being one of a very few journeymen-traders from across the mountains, is a stranger to many of Kiya and Raphel’s customs, and a figure of some mystery to them. He is welcomed by the villagers, not just because he brings goods they can trade for, but because he is a window into a wider and unknown world. A world of which Kiya and Raphel are blissfully ignorant, not having internet access. In fact, they are blissfully ignorant of all the things in their world that may threaten them from afar. In a world of terrorism, global warming, over-stretched resources, pests and Ebola, maybe they are luckier than we are who know what may be waiting around the corner? Maybe, had they had i-phones, they’d have been more prepared for what was to come and could have averted it, but then I wouldn’t be telling their story.

Faced with Alaric, the Northman, a man totally different from anyone Kiya has seen before, a warlike brute of a man of such stature that he dwarfs her people, and given her background, Kiya’s actions are altruistic and heroic.

Excerpt 3:

Every fibre of Kiya’s body yelled run: every instinct yelled scream. She threw down her bag, raised her knife and faced the man, her scream dying in her throat. Her body swayed as she tried to anticipate his next move. With speed that belied his size, he leapt on her, grabbed her wrist, twisted the knife from her fingers and bore her to the ground. She kicked at his legs, scratched his face with her free hand, and sank her teeth into his shoulder. 

‘Stop it, you wildcat.’ He gripped both her arms and then crushed her to his chest. ‘If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead.’

She could hardly breathe. ‘Let… me… go.’

‘I’ll let you go if you stop trying to gouge my eyes out.’

She let her limbs go limp and he relaxed his grip. Twisting out of his arms she lunged for her knife, but he kicked aside her hand. Her blade rattled against stone as it bounced over and over down the mountainside.

She held her hand, wincing, sure he’d broken some fingers and looked up at him. He had pale blue eyes that showed no hint of compassion: his light yellow hair was long, lank and drawn back in a loose knot. He stood head and shoulders above her and was as broad as two men, and muscular. His clothes were made of soft leather, supple as if chewed soft for many months: a labour of love for his woman. His boots were worn and scuffed, suggesting he had travelled far, and at his side and back hung an armoury of weapons. She steeled herself to look back into his eyes. ‘What do you want from me?’

‘My name is Alaric, The Chosen.’ He gestured back in the direction of the smoke and flames. ‘They’re all dead.’

She kept her face impassive and raised her chin. ‘And I am Kiya, The Herbalist.’ She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d destroyed everything, and everyone she cared about. He leaned closer, making her gag: he stank of smoke, blood, guts and burning.

‘Where are the girls and women?’

‘You’ve killed them all.’

‘Grey-beards, milk-chins and withered wombs are a burden, and no use to me.’ He smiled, showing yellow teeth. ‘And they couldn’t run fast enough. I came for the older girls and young women. Dark-eyed girls and women. Take me to them and I’ll spare your pretty hide.’

She shuddered. ‘Never.’

‘So there are girls and women?’

‘We were a small village. We had no warning. I doubt any escaped.’

‘Men will search when it’s light.’ He gripped her arm. ‘If you are the only one left, that makes my task easier. It’s you who are The Gift. You will come with me.’

***

A tallow lamp burned with a yellow flame, picking out the frightened faces of women, children and old men. On the walls were strange symbols written by a long-forgotten people in a long-forgotten language: black greasy smoke drifted upwards to a ceiling that lay in deep shadow.

Abe glanced around: mothers had carried their children here, helped by the older men who were fit enough to make it to the caverns but too frail to fight. So many familiar faces were missing.

It was cold, for they daren’t light a fire even though the caverns were deep. Used for generations as a place of safety, the straight-hewn passages, tumbled now, had many narrow branches and rooms hidden far from the outside world. A milk cow, which had been lowered on ropes through a fissure high in the rock above, stamped her feet and chewed at hay at the edge of the circle of light. A nanny goat bleated softly. At least, forewarned, the children had milk and the cave was provisioned for many days.

Anxious faces surrounded him in the flickering light, the children too afraid to sleep. Their desperate scramble to safety would stay with them forever and, if they survived the night, pass into story. He shook his head; they were so few.

Moti, an Abbaa Bokku, an elder of Guddaa Mana, sat beside him and put a wrinkled brown hand on his wrinkled pale one. ‘But for you, Abe, none of us would have survived. You came back to warn us, and for that I thank you.’

‘You know you’re like family to me. I was on my way down to M’gouna. I’m long overdue there and I have trade with them. I’d not gone far, and was hurrying… dragging along my over-burdened donkey, not paying proper attention.’ He was making excuses, but he needed to explain. ‘I have a long road over the mountains before winter, if I’m to get home this year. If I’d seen the signs sooner… realized what the two burned houses meant. If I’d come faster…’

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