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The Birth of a Novel - Proverbs and Destiny 6 - The third trimester

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painting - kes_by_ruth_coulson

This is amusing, said the dog when asked to guard a container of cheese - Oromo proverb.

This is Kes, my bitza. I'm sure she is smiling, and thinking of cheese.

It’s four-thirty am GMT. Sleep? What’s sleep? My mind is bursting with thoughts that strain at my heavily-pregnant imagination. My novel is getting swollen ankles, and feeling bloated, as if the ending will never come. All  manner of perceived problems lie ahead before I can deliver my story to a waiting midwife.

I spent most of yesterday producing a book trailer for The Silence of the Stones. It’s my first attempt at anything of this nature, so I’m quite pleased with the result, though I expect it could be better. Anyway, for what it’s worth, you can see it at Maybe you’ll let me know what you think, and how I could improve it. I did rather like the ‘spooky’ music, though.

I imagined re-writing Destiny would be a faster process than starting a new story from scratch, but it isn’t proving so, at least not in these early stages. Kiya and Raphel are very different from my original characters and, having researched the religion and culture of the Berber and Oromo peoples, even though the story is fictional and not set in the present time or the present geographical homelands of the Oromo, the history of these separate peoples must be researched, and merged and blended believably.

Take religion, for example: the Berber are mainly Muslim and the Oromo have been influenced by Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Greek orthodoxy and other religions preached by various ‘invading’ cultures, not that that has stopped a re-emergence of their beliefs in their own god Waqqa, who lives in the sky. The Berber lay their dead to face Mecca. In Oromo culture, grass is spread on the graves so, when Raphel is faced with laying out the dead at Saanqaa Riqicha, he adopts both practices, he being an amalgam of those cultures.

It’s this attention to detail that takes time, two lines of writing can take hours of research, but ultimately creates a believable fictional culture and scenario with rounded, believable characters.

Alaric’s culture will prove even more difficult, in some respects, as it is a wholly fictional culture, imagined from a throwing together of a wide range of different races from the Northern hemisphere. I suppose I was partly influenced by the accepted image of the Vikings as a warlike people: fair, tall, broad, strong, argumentative but loyal to their leader. Certainly, I imagine Alaric as being of Scandinavian descent, and I mean no disrespect to Scandinavians here, but he had to come from somewhere. He is a man with no conscience and little imagination.

Velik, the Northmen’s leader, oddly, I see as tall, slim and dark, apart from his people and yet wielding a power over them. Only now, do I realise he’s a kind of Hitler figure, and every generation has one. Someone who is no greater than any other man, but is a ‘come the moment, come the man’ figure: someone who inspires his people, ultimately not necessarily in a good way, and is supported by them, but a Genghis Khan figure rather than a Martin Luther King one. We should never forget that it is the people who allow these monsters to run riot, but that taking the first stand against a figure who is powerful in the people’s imagination takes more courage than the average person contains. Velik trusting Alaric with Kiya was like trusting a dog to guard cheese but that is his mistake, and Alaric’s, not mine.

If you can imagine the peoples of the north moving south looking for new territory, and the peoples of the south moving north… the immovable and the irresistible... the ensuing conflict over land becomes easier to understand. Anyway, here beginneth Chapter Two and, again, apologies for the delay.


This is amusing, said the dog, when asked to guard a container of cheese. – Oromo proverb.


Chapter Two


The stench of burning filled Kiya’s lungs. Her arm clutched in Alaric’s huge hand, she stumbled after him across the flat space in the centre of the village. Bodies littered the ground and the number of dead Northmen attested to the fight the men of the village had put up. Every male body was Raphel. Every dead woman was Genet or their mother. Every tiny body was Jalene. Too many, she recognized as much-loved friends. Wind-dried tears stiffened her cheeks: she was numb with grief.

Some of the stone-roofed houses built higher into the hillside, still stood undamaged, but Alaric dragged her towards one of the only thatched houses left standing. It was the home she’d built with Raphel from stone and sun-dried mud… they’d cut branches for the roof timbers and gathered reeds from the lake lower down the valley. Her heart hammered in her chest as she entered the low room. Jalene’s cot was empty. Raphel was not here.

She swung to face him. ‘Where are my husband and child?’

‘Dead.’ He flung her onto the bed and ripped open the fastenings of her traveling clothes. He hesitated, as if considering her fate, and she clutched her clothing around her, watching his face. If she could reach the gutting knife, she’d slit him from throat to belly like a fish. As her muscles tensed to move, he threw her back again. ‘Velik gave no orders other than to bring you with us, safe and well. If you are The Gift… or if you are not…’ He appeared to come to a decision. ‘You may die on the way, being so small and weakly, and it would be a shame to waste the spoils of war. I am The Chosen. You are mine by right. I shall enjoy breaking you.’

She had no chance of escape, no hope of reasoning with him: no hope. Why give him the pleasure of a conquest? ‘If you leave me alive, I promise I will kill you. You’ll be forever watching your back.’

He took her in her and Raphel’s bed, the bed where they had loved and where Jalene had been born. His manhood ripped her small body, his weight crushed her, and the stench of his rancid skin made her retch, but she uttered no sound and made no movement. He’d wanted a conquest to brag about, to massage his male ego: although he shook her and hit her, all she gave him was the passion and fight of a limp, dead fish. He stared at her, as if he didn’t understand her, and then got up and went outside.

She rolled onto her side and carefully, holding onto chairs, made it across the room to the rack where the knives hung. She took down the gutting knife with her good hand and returned to her bed. Hiding the knife beneath the bedclothes, she curled into a ball, held her stomach with her hands and let her tears fall. Everyone she loved was gone. ‘Atete, take me. Waqqa take me. Make me spirit. Give me back to those I love.’ She lay awake for a long time, waiting for Alaric to return and take her again, or kill her, but he didn’t come. Finally, the pain subsided and she fell into an exhausted sleep where Jalene was roasted on a spit and eaten, while Alaric laughed.

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