Tuesday, 29 September 2009
Title: Winter Song
Author: Colin Harvey
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Release Date: 1st Ocotber 2009
The planet had fallen off the map. When Karl Allman's spaceship crashed, he had only one question: "HOW THE HELL DO I GET OUT OF HERE?"
Rock-hard sci-fi adventure. No-one here gets out alive.
Winter Song is another title in the strong list Angry Robot Books has released since it's inception earlier this year. The new imprint has had good reviews for its titles and when I saw this one coming up for an October release I was very interested - any sci-fi set in a future where humanity has expanded across the galaxy is something I want to hear more about. Winter Song was not quite what I expected, but it delivered an entertaining read in an unforgiving environment.
Following Karl Allman as he crash lands on a forgotten and primitive colony world where the terraforming looks like it's going backwards, Winter Song is a novel that has more than a few surprises up its sleeve. I was expecting to walk into this with a more typical human vs alien world theme where there were many strange and wonderful creatures. What I got was a story focused on human characters that developed and grew with each situation they face.
Isheimur is a cold planet whose colony was set up with Icelandic heritage, and with strong willed characters in the leadership roles within the village, Karl finds himself in a difficult and frustrating situation. Ragnar, the village leader, believes in a harsh rule. He is not an unfair person, but with stores low and an extra pair of hands needed, he forces Karl to stay and help the village. Bera, a young woman in the village, is unpopular due to an unwed pregnancy. What is worse is the fact that she won't reveal the father to Ragnar. For this she is treated with little courtesy and often outright scorn. So when Karl arrives, half starved and in need of help, Bera is tasked with his treatment, leading to a friendship and quest to find the mysterious Winter Song, a relic of a long forgotten seed ship.
Winter Song is very much a look at what a culture will revert to if needed. It gives a very in depth look at the relationships between the main characters, the control a leader such as Ragnar has over his village and how a new and completely different personality fits into an established way of life. I very much enjoyed the character building in Winter Song and though that Colin Harvey did a great job at making the characters relatable and interesting, allowing the story to be carried on their shoulders quite easily and showing that communication can be very important.
Winter Song has some surprising and compelling twists, turns and events. From the start where we see a fully fledged sci-fi starship crash through to the unforgiving environment of Isheimur, Colin Harvey gives the reader a good, solid story. His characters are enjoyable to read, the setting is interesting in its own right and raises many questions, and the story is well developed and told in such a way that you want to read on, the pages turning all too easily. Whether or not we will return to this universe is another question - the ending certainly leaves the option available, although I happy it finished as it did.
If you enjoy a character driven, intelligent and thoughtful novel then Winter Song is one you should be picking up. Highly recommended.
Thursday, 24 September 2009
Title: The Colour of Magic
Author: Terry Pratchett
Release Date: 18th January 1985
Twoflower was a tourist, the first ever seen on the Discworld. Tourist, Rincewind decided, meant idiot.
Somewhere on the frontier between thought and reality exists the Discworld, a parallel time and place which might sound and smell very much like our own, but which looks completely different. It plays by different rules. Certainly it refuses to succumb to the quaint notion that universes are ruled by pure logic and the harmony of numbers.
But just because the Disc is different doesn’t mean that some things don’t stay the same. Its very existence is about to be threatened by a strange new blight: the arrival of the first tourist, upon whose survival rests the peace and prosperity of the land. But if the person charged with maintaining that survival in the face of robbers, mercenaries and, well, Death is a spectacularly inept wizard, a little logic might turn out to be a very good idea...
Who hasn't heard of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books? They're one of the biggest selling British fantasy series in print and during the nineties the a string of top ten Sunday Times bestsellers made Pratchett the UK's biggest selling author. All of this begs the question: why haven't I read any before now? It's a good one too and I honestly can't answer it. Still, I've now seen the error of my ways and started the Discworld books where they all began: The Colour of Magic.
I knew that the Discworld books were fantasy with humour, but I really didn't appreciate what that meant until I started reading The Colour of Magic. From the first meetings with Rincewind, the wizard, and Twoflower, the tourist, I knew that there was going to be something special about the book. The way that the characters are instantly likable makes the book such a blast to read. The adventures we follow Rincewind and Twoflower on is an excellent way to introduce the reader to the many wonders of the Discworld.
The main premise of this particular story is that Twoflower is the first tourist of Discworld and that Rincewind has been tasked (albeit not entirely voluntarily) with his protection. We follow Twoflower as he wants to see the sights and events of the city of Ankh-Morpork along with anywhere else he can go. With the initial stages set to character and, to an extent, worldbuilding, we get to see many interesting things and start to get a good feel for the world. Pratchett is able to convey the information in such a way that it doesn't feel like a chore in any way and that we have a good chuckle while he does so.
Once the events move away from the city the book takes on a broader and more traditional fantasy adventure, although with two characters that seem not to know what exactly they're doing in any given situation. I enjoyed the pace of these events and the many wonderful things that Pratchett introduces. However, it got to a point where the story skipped forward six months and I felt completely out of kilter from then on. What was building up to be a really enjoyable book suddenly took a downturn and, ultimately, bought the book down a notch or two from what it could have been.
In general I enjoyed The Colour of Magic, although the pacing issue in the second half affected how much the enjoyment was. I'm very eager to read more in the Discworld series and hope that Pratchett can build successfully upon these promising beginnings - something I keep hearing he has done very well!
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
Friday, 18 September 2009
Title: Emperor's Mercy
Author: Henry Zou
Publisher: Black Library
Release Date: 3rd August 2009
Inquisitor Roth and his henchman Silverstein are sent to the worlds of the Medina Corridor to uncover the location of a set of ancient artefacts. Meanwhile, the Ironclads, a force of Chaos traitors, invades the subsector in search of their artefacts for their own nefarious ends. With the Ironclads’ indomitable army crushing all before it, will Roth be able to find the artefacts in time and prevent a terrible cataclysm engulfing the Medina worlds?
I've been enjoying the W40K books and stories I've read this year and although I'm always wanting to pick up more and more, I'm still daunted by the sheer number of novels out there. So, I picked up Emperor's Mercy because it sounded like a good stand alone novel in the Warhammer 40K universe and luckily it was exactly the sort of book I needed to read as it gives a relative newcomer the chance to take in the little details without being overwhelmed. That isn't to say that it lacks the full flavoured history the Warhammer enjoys, it just does it in a positive and accessible way.
The first thing I'll say about Emperor's Mercy is that Henry Zou knows how to write a story of war. The battle scenes are immense and so well described I had clear visions of what was going on at the time, who was doing what and just how the battle was unfolding. I'd definitely say that although there is a story going on within these pages, the strongest point is this descriptiveness and the battles, fights and skirmishes present throughout.
I can't ignore that story behind this layer of war, a search for the ancient Old Kings of Medina, a myth in themselves, that have untold destructive power to those that possess them. We also have the political side behind the war - the quest of Inquisitor Roth to find out if the Chaos forces know of the Old Kings and if it is their mission to find them and his difficulty with the commander of the fleet. This step back from the warfare on the ground is a pleasant and refreshing change that adds so much more depth to the novel. What could quite easily have been a solid war story is raised up a level by having a well constructed and interesting story behind it.
Emperor's Mercy has its good points and its bad points: the battles. While what I said earlier stands true, it also means that a majority of the book is taken up by them. If you like this then there is no problem at all, but I did find myself wanting more time away from the fighting to enjoy the characters more. Although this is a personal preference I can't recommend it without this reservation. However, in the end I did enjoy Emperor's Mercy and I look forward to seeing what else Henry Zou gives us in the future.
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
This is the cover for Tony Ballantyne's follow up to the highly enjoyable Twisted Metal (review), Blood and Iron. I liked the cover to Twisted Metal but this is by far a superior one. The contrast between the robot army and the red background really makes it stand out and it fits the title perfectly. Blood and Iron is due out from Tor UK in April 2010.
Friday, 11 September 2009
Buy Winter Song from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Play.com, The Book Depository
When she leaves you alone for a little while, you taste the straw that is your bedding. It’s almost inedible, but overwhelmed by hunger you force it down. When she returns and catches you, she scolds you. “I’ve bought you extra gruel,” she adds. “It’s all there is.”
You get most of it in your mouth, finishing it within seconds. You lick the plate clean with what the rational part of your mind flags with inappropriate haste (inappropriate to what?), then you nuzzle amongst the straw and lick it clean.
“Oh, Loki.” Bera gently touches your arm. “You have to start behaving more like a man, and less an animal, or Ragnar will have all the excuse he needs to get rid of you.” You look up at her, drinking in her features. She says, “Does my looks repel even you, my child-man? Or do you not care? He didn’t.”
Then, as if the food has awoken some animal from its slumbers the world is again full of voices shouting mostly meaningless words:
“Humanity has split into a myriad of factions–”
“Isheimur’s low gravity and inability to generate carbon dioxide through vulcanism render the colony sub-optimal, unlikely to return the company’s investment–”
People behave as if you’re a zoo exhibit. Like the tides the pain that accompanies the strangeness (and yes, the terrible beauty) recedes for a while, before sweeping in to the shoreline of your mind and you start gibbering again.
One of the gawpers is a pregnant woman who nudges her friend, an older woman. “See? He’s possessed: Jabbering like he’s got a head full of spirits. I reckon that he’s a seidr.”
“Don’t let our Gothi hear you talk like that,” Bera says from the doorway. Even though part of your mind is still in the here-and-now and you’re aware of your surroundings, you hadn’t noticed her arrive. “He’ll flay you alive if he hears you talking about warlocks and spirits. You know how he is.”
“Who are you to tell us what we should talk about, girl?” The pregnant woman backs toward the doorway. “His science is failing. Our founders wanted us to keep to the old ways. Well, the Norse Gods and magic are among the old ways.”
“The old ways included birth without anaesthetic, Salbjerg,” Bera says. “Think that that’s one old way we should return to? Our founders wanted us to cherry-pick the best of the old ways, not embrace every superstition.”
“Perhaps Pappi’s grown tolerant in his old age?” Salbjerg says to her friend. “I remember a time when a chit of a girl who got herself knocked up without keeping hold of the man’s dick would have had the skin peeled from her back one layer at a time.”
“Or maybe Pappi is the Pappi,” the older woman says, leering.
Bera doesn’t answer at first. Then she looks up. “Do you fear that I lay with your Bjarney, Salbjerg? You’ve nothing to worry about. He’s never even glanced at me. I promise you that.”
“Of course I wasn’t worried, you little slut.” The flush rising to Salbjerg’s face gives the lie to that. “Why would my man want a nothing like you?”
You watch Bera’s jaw work, and a part of you feels a surge of protectiveness toward her. She shouldn’t have to take such abuse. Ignoring the voices momentarily, you let out a low growl and both the women step back.
“You should go now,” Bera says. “Before Loki decides that he prefers cannibalism to starving to death. He might take a chunk out of you, Salbjerg.”
The women back away, muttering, and when they’ve gone, Bera laughs softly to herself. “Quite the lioness defending her cub, aren’t I, Loki? Who’d have thought milk-and-water Bera would bare her teeth so?”
But you arch to let the voices out, and clutch at your head, she holds you, shushing you.
Later, when the smell of burning has faded away, and the pain has receded to a level that’s almost bearable, you fall silent.
Bera is joined by a ruddy faced giant. She says to him, “Help me get him into the wheelbarrow, Yngi.”
You whimper when you try to stand, but when they ease their grip, you grab a pillar, and hold yourself up with it. They grip you under an arm each, and Bera nudges you toward the wheelbarrow, where they settle you into it.
“Thanks, Yngi,” she says.
“What are you going to do with him?” Yngi says.
“I’m going to wheel him outside,” Bera says.
The Other is pushing at you, pushing you down into a pit of blackness. Your skull isn’t large enough to contain both of you. You moan and clutch the sides of your head. The Other has awoken, and his voice is the loudest of them all, begging to be allowed his body back – as if it is his, the madman.
“Hush, now,” Bera croons. She pushes the wheelbarrow, grunting with the effort, and the world tilts alarmingly. You would get out, but the effort makes the barrow lurch, and at her urging you sit still.
“Ooh, look!” calls out the woman Thorbjorg who visited the barn earlier. “Bera’s got herself a pram! Taking baby for a walk?”
There are subdued laughs at this, but Hilda says fiercely, “Thorbjorg! She may have lapsed, but no woman deserves mockery after losing a child!”
Thorbjorg looks sulky.
“What are you doing, Bera?” Hilda says.
“He’s permanently hungry,” Bera says. “And then I realized there are lichens he can eat.” Your world tips and she half-laughs, half-cries, “Aagh! He’s falling!”
The grass is sweet and juicy, and as you lie prone on the ground you tear at it with your teeth, feeling some trickle down your chin. “Don’t eat that, Loki,” Bera says. “You can’t digest grass. Come on now, leave it!”
A noise catches your attention, just for a moment. A man whose name you don’t know – he has never been into the barn – dances on stilt-like legs. “Bera haad a little lamb,” he sings as he stops. “Baa, baa,” he bleats in that thin little voice that disrupted your eating.
A part of you notes, The young of all species share common characteristics; large eyes, small, thin voices. Although from his size he’s merely mimicking a cub, what’s more interesting is that you responded to the stimulus of what you thought was a youngster in distress. Maybe that’s a sign that this pseudo-autism is losing its grip.
You ignore the voice, and return to chewing the grass. At the same time the man stops his little dance and stands normally as Bera shouts, “Stop it, Thorir!”
Your chewing is again interrupted, by the man bleating, “I’m another of Ra-a-gn-a-ar’s little lost lambs; please let me suck on your titties, Bera-a-a–” His bleating is cut short by a thud, and he topples forward.
Ragnar stands over him, opening and closing his right hand, rubbing at its knuckles. “If you weren’t my son-in-law, Thorir, we’d be duelling at dawn tomorrow for that insult.”
“I– I didn’t mean to insult you,” Thorir says. “I was merely teasing Bera.”
“Even if what you say is true,” Ragnar says. “Your insult of my foster-daughter is an implicit slur of me. Though I would expect nothing more of Thorir the Stupid. How did you persuade Hilda you were worthy of her at the Spring Fair? Ye Gods, you must be good at shagging, because you’re good for nothing else. Get up, you cur!”
Thorir drags his knees toward his head, and pushes himself upright.
Your head is yanked back, the pain so excruciating that you your fugue is broken, as Bera shrieks, “Don’t hurt him!”
“You were eating grass?” the red-faced chieftain bellows over background laughter that subsides instantly at his glare.
“It’s the nanophytes,” you say, though you don’t understand half of the words that the Other pushes out of your mouth; he’s wresting control from you. “I’ve lost so much weight to the lifegel that the nanophytes have taken control. They’re assimilating them, but that requires energy. I’d need to eat a lot anyway to regain the lost mass, but on top of that I need thousands of calories a day. Every day. I’m so hungry, I’ll eat anything – even if I can’t digest it the nanophytes are swarming up into my gullet and converting the fuel directly.”
Ragnar is staring at you with both pity and revulsion. “You can talk. Even if half is gibberish.”
“The lingua-weave,” you say. “It intercepts what you say in your tongue while it’s still in my auditory nerves. That’s why I can’t watch your lips – it confuses the signals. When I reply in Anglish, it intercepts the signal again, takes control of the mouth and vocal cords, and turns it into Isheimuri.”
Ragnar clearly doesn’t understand. “Stop. Prattling.” He separates the words for emphasis. “Do something useful. Help the women work.”
You stare at him, still chewing on a mouthful of cud, as he stomps away.-
“The AIs’ presence is probably the one unifying thing that stops humanity from exterminating itself–”
“Come and help us pick lichens, Bera,” a woman says, baring her teeth in a rictus that you catalogue as a smile. Her teeth are crooked and irregular, but her lips are full, and again you feel a surge of desire for her.
“This report’s conclusion is that without constant access to technology the Isheimur colony’s long-term survival is unlikely –
She looks down at the gown that Bera draped over you, and her face is red, but she smiles. “My,” she says, “he certainly is a big boy, isn’t he, Bera?” You interpret this as reciprocatory interest, but before you can reach for her, Bera pushes you back into the wheeled device.
“Hormonal imbalance,” the Other says in that too-deep voice. “Testosterone and adrenaline will be re-absorbed into the bloodstream.”
You find it difficult to concentrate on anything. The sky is too big, the suns too bright, the wind too chill. Absently, the cataloguing part of you notices the absence of odours, as if the weather is so cold that it’s frozen them. You rotate your head around, staring at the sky and grassy hillocks that lead up to hills dotted with white blobs, that the cataloguing part identifies as sheep, domestic animal kept for meat and wool.
“Sheep,” you say, tasting the word.
Bera laughs. “You’re getting better!” Her words turn into a sob.
“You see this?” Bera says, pointing to a plant that covers several nearby rocks. “It’s edible moss, called lichens. We’re going to pick it, and you eat what you want, Loki, and we put the rest into this bag, here. You see?” She crouches on all fours, and you notice her haunches straining against her dress. She picks some of the plant, shows you, then loads it into the canvas bag that she is carrying. “Okay?”
You don’t answer, but pick at the lichen. However, it all goes into your mouth, and none of it into the bag.
Suddenly Bera stiffens. “Loki, do not move – not if you want to live.”
You stiffen, and watch her climb slowly to her feet. She calls out, “Asgerd, there’s a snolfur here. Can you make some noise?”
On cue, the others let out whoops and shrieks and yells, and stomp toward them in a long straight line. Bera nods, and you slowly turn your head, and follow her gaze to where something like a metre and a half-high weasel is backing away, baring sabre teeth. It turns and speeds away with a liquid, rippling motion belying its stocky frame.
“That,” Bera says to you, and lets out a long sigh, “Was a snolfur. It probably wouldn’t have attacked you. They prefer to feed on carrion. But then again, they’re not usually this far north so early in the fall. So maybe things are changing.”
“It’s likely to be a sign of a hard winter,” The woman Asgerd explains. “The longer the snolfurs stay toward the South Pole before venturing north the better.”
She seems one of only a few people, with Bera and the man Yngi, to be friendly.
You sketch a smile, and return to picking the lichens. They are dark-green and have a curious musty odour.
Most of the lichens end up in your belly rather than in the sack, but no one seems to mind. The others seem content to ignore you as long as you do not eat grass. The cataloguing part of your mind describes this as appropriate behaviour.
Eating grass is clearly not appropriate behaviour.
There are days of this routine. Some days you have pangs of hunger, and you eat straw or rip bits of wood from the beams if you are indoors, or if you are outside, grass or even earth (the grubs in it are tasty). Little by little you totter around the barn. Your legs are still unsteady, but your body grow stronger every day. Your mind, however, is still fragmented. There is the cataloguing part, there is you, and there is the Other.
Then one morning you awaken, and you feel completely different. The pain has gone. Your head feels clearer than – you don’t know when, because one moment your feet were on fire, and the next you’re here. Wherever here is. You’re lying on straw in a dark building that smells faintly of animals. The smells seem as ingrained as the stains on the dark wooden beams.
A woman, barely a girl enters. Her name is Bera, you realize, although you don’t know how you know. You suspect that your companion has been assimilating data while you’ve been – where?
“Gon t’ayn,” she mouths before you can look away, and her voice in your head says “Good morning.” The translation module will soon synchronize – you hope – but in the meantime you’re careful not to look at her lips, which will be moving in the local dialect.
“Gon t’ayn,” you say back, in your too-deep voice, in what you hope is a serviceable accent, and her eyes widen, and slowly, shyly, she starts to smile.
“Well, well, this is progress, indeed,” she says. “Ragnar will be delighted with this, Loki.”
“Who’s Loki?” you say, wondering whether you’ve misunderstood something. “My name’s Karl. Karl Allman.”
Thursday, 10 September 2009
Buy Winter Song from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Play.com, The Book Depository
The world through your eyes is full of pain and wonder, made even stranger by the whirlwind of voices shrieking for your attention:
“The Mizar Quartet are Sol-type hydrogen-fusing dwarf stars–”
“Isheimuri lingua confirmed as mix of Standard and Icelandic–”
Some voices verge on making sense, but most babble gibberish. Each is accompanied by a dizzying sense of vertigo, and little shocks deep inside your body. Occasionally you smell burning. Sometimes you taste colours, can hear, flickering jeering shadows.
“Absolute magnitude uses the same convention as visual–”
You are dimly aware that the nanophytes within you that keep your muscle tone even as you waste away are locked in a desperate fight against the cannibal predations of the remaining lifegel in a near sub-atomic battle of the idiots. Either through accident or a design flaw, the inhibitors appear to have failed, and if left to themselves will eat you alive.
“The Long Night was the longest conflict since the Hundred Years War–”
A strangely familiar voice cries out, “I won’t lie down and die!”
“The Isheimur populace is likely to suffer genetic drift and disease–”
The man Ragnar’s voice is a rumble from a mouth full of misshapen teeth, his words unintelligible.
“Pappi: estimated height one-metre-eighty, mass eighty kilos–”
The woman beside him answers, her voice lower. Her hair is lighter, but her features equally mismatched, one shoulder slightly higher than the other.
You realize that the voice refusing to die was your own, but it sounds strange. It should be alto but is tenor instead. Perhaps your voice-box was damaged in the accident?
“Pantropy lost favour as Terraforming grew easier–”
The accident. The pain increases as a shard of memory brings with its suddenly perfect recall the accompanying agony: The smell of burning dust, the isolation, the heat. After a while your throat hurts with the scream – which tails off into a whimper.
“A quasar at absolute magnitude −25.5 is 100 times brighter than our galaxy–”
The girl – barely a woman – Bera strokes your head. “Hush, Pappi, he kannske skilja you,” she says. Her breasts ooze milk, and a part of you realizes that while she has given birth in the last three weeks for there to be lactation, there is no sound of a baby. The rational corner of your mind tucks this away for later, but the animal part that has control has you lunging forward on all fours, scrabbling at her clothes.
“Humanity only found other sentient life after four centuries of spaceflight–”
“Neh!” The sting of her palms raining down on your face and head are microscopic compared to the waves of agony that ripple across you, but still they are enough to make you pause. You stare up at her dark hair, wide-set eyes and full mouth and wonder what her lips would taste like if you ripped them from her face.
“Oedipus left for dead with a shepherd but adopted–”
“He eats like an hungradur dyr,” Bera says, becoming more understandable with each sentence, as the lingua-weave begins to take effect. “He almost choked on that meat we fed him before. But he can eat
“An Icelandic chieftain was politician, lawyer, and policeman combined–”
Some residual decorum makes you lurch away from her into a corner.
“Grain was only grown in limited quantites in
“Agh, he’s vomiting! He splashed my best boots!” Pappi kicks you. You growl, but you are too busy gazing at the pool of vomit to attack.
“The Mizar B pair mass approximately 1.6 times that of Sol–”
“No, Pappi! He doesn’t know what he’s doing. The horsemeat was too much for him to digest at this stage of his bati.”
“Well, keep him away. Oh, what’s he doing now? He’s eating his own puke!”
“Nanotechnology requires vast consumption of energy–”
The undigested horsemeat still tastes much as it did before, though now with a rancid flavour that may be the bile that you’ve brought up with it, but there are also others; salt and a metallic taste. By squinting you can zoom right in and see shapes invisible to an unenhanced human eye crawling among the chunks of meat. You have vomited up nanophytes with the food. From somewhere comes the knowledge that vomit is as corrosive as battery acid – their tiny carapaces must be almost indestructible to withstand it.
“Sheep farming was the most common type in
You know you must eat it to get the nanophytes back into your system, but Bera clings onto you, trying to pull you away as you gobble the vomited meat.
“Isheimur has a lower water content than Terra–”
“No, no, Loki! Don’t eat that! Here!” She undoes her blouse but you ignore her, concentrating on re-ingesting the refugee nanophytes. You don’t know whether they’re still locked onto you as their source/target, but you can’t risk them eating the planet in some long-term runaway disaster. You brush against her face; you feel wetness, and note that she is weeping, and another corner of your broken mind wonders why.
Finally, when you’ve eaten all the meat and licked up the liquid, you allow her to guide you to her breast. “It’d give Palli’s death meaning if his milk were to save another’s life,” she whispers.
“Isheimur’s mass is 0.80 of Terra, but it’s gravity is only 0.67 – sub-optimal for atmospheric retention–”
“Jao,” Pappi growls assent.
“At 1.7 AUs, its year is 2.85 Terran years–”
She sobs, even as she strokes your head. “This is the last time I’ll do this,” she says to the Ragnar-man as you nuzzle her nipple. “I wasn’t going to let him feed today, but if it stops him eating his own puke, then I’ll make an exception. But after this, no more breastfeeding: You can whip me or starve me, but I’ll not do it again. I can’t cope with this. It’s like an eighty kilo baby with the habits of a wild animal.”
“Isheimur’s year comprises 1096 days of 22 hours 37 minutes–”
“Agreed,” Ragnar says, and you see the surprise dart across her face. He turns to go. “I’ve no desire to see any more of this sick, feral creature, anyway, even if he has displayed almost superhuman powers of recovery. Odinn’s Beard – to think that he only came out of his stupor yesterday!”
“Hunger is my friend.” The words echo through your mind as you swallow the warm, rich milk. “When I’m trying to lose weight, I embrace my hunger–”
You release her nipple, which she rubs.
The fool that said that clearly never had hunger eating them from within like a black hole, sucking everything into it, consuming it yet still wanting more more more-
“Isheimur is so cold, its air so thin that the colony’s long-term survival is marginal–”
“Stop it!” you scream, clutching your head. Bera frantically hushes you, tries to pour sugared water into your mouth, but you gag.
For a while, as if taking pity, the voices fade away almost to nothing…
“We’ll feed him from our stores for another few days,” Ragnar says.
“You still here?” Bera says. “I thought you’d seen enough of him?”
His laugh is bitter and mocking, devoid of humour. “I can’t help it. I get no pleasure from watching him, but there is a sort of horrible fascination.” Ragnar sighs. “If he keeps this up, we won’t be able to put him to work.” He says, “Just my luck that I’ve probably saved someone with an advanced psychosis. If it’s schizophrenia, that would explain why he was wandering.”
“Schizo–” Bera tries to wrap her lips around the word, which is clearly unfamiliar. Part of you would like to plunge your rigid member into her, but you have suckled at her breast, and another part of you analyzes your memory of mores to determine why this is wrong.
“Schizophrenics,” Ragnar says, “were often considered possessed in the olden days, before people understood personality disorders. Most likely that his family tried to care for him, but finally gave up when he became too much trouble.” When he continues, he seems to be talking to himself. “Food’s always so scarce even at the end of a good summer that we can’t afford to pour it down an invalid’s throat if there’s no chance of recovery.”
“What are you going to do?” Bera asks, moving between you and the Ragnar-man.
But he doesn’t seem to have heard her, instead saying, “The climate, even down here in the tropics, is so harsh that still the toughest Terran-descended crops grow poorly, and we live on the very edge of survival.”
“What are you saying?” Bera says. The fear in her voice hooks your attention away from the pain and the whirling madness of the world.
Ragnar shrugs. “What if we had left him where he lay? No one would have blamed us, leaving an outlaw to die at the teeth of trolls or snolfurs.”
“But you didn’t leave him, did you?” Bera says. “When you brought him here, you made him your responsibility.”
“Aye,” Ragnar says. “No good deed goes unpunished.”
“So what are you going to do now?” Bera says. “Take him back up into the hills? Murder him and toss his body into a geysir? Eat him, if we get hungry enough?”
“Don’t be silly, girl,” Ragnar says. “Remember who you’re talking to.”
“I know who I’m talking to, my lord,” the girl says. You hear the wobble of fear in her voice, but she ploughs on. “A man who’s sworn to uphold the law and customs our forefathers embraced. And now talks of leaving a sick man in the snow?”
“I can remember who I am without needing your reminding.” He leans into her face; you see her swallow, but she doesn’t flinch. “I’ve worked long and hard to earn and keep my people’s respect. I fought off three tribes of trolls at the Battle of Giri Pass. I’ve won the Silver Shield for my verse from the Althing, and been compared with the legendary Egil Skallagrimsson.” He bangs the wooden pillar supporting the barn’s roof as if he is one of the Viking warriors of Old Earth beating out his defiance on his shield. “What have you ever done, girly? Apart from open your legs the minute a man looks at you. Bringing shame on yourself and I, who was foolish enough to take you in! That’ll teach me to think out loud in front of a chit of a girl who misunderstands the processes of thought! I know who I am, girly – remember who you are!”
He stalks from the barn, leaving her shivering, but when she looks up at you, her eyes blaze with triumph. “The danger with myths and heroes, Loki, is that sometimes the myth starts to become more real to the heroes than the truth.”
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
City of Ruin is Mark Charan Newton's follow up to Nights of Villjamur and will be published in June 2010 by Tor UK. This is the awesome art for it, and I like it. A lot. I must admit to not usually being a fan of characters on covers, but every now and then a piece of art comes along that is a shining example of how to do character covers well, and this is one of the best I've seen. You can see Mark's full post about the cover here along with his draft of the blurb.
Now I really must get around to Nights of Villjamur...
Buy Winter Song from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Play.com, The Book Depository
Later, as Bera loaded up the vast tin bath with clothes and ran water from the hot tap into it, it struck her as odd that shape-shifters were always lumped into the same category as trolls and outlaws, snolfurs and other predators. But shape-shifters were so rare that no one – as far as she knew – had ever definitely been attacked by one. Maybe, if she could snatch five minutes on the Oracle later, she’d search.
She managed to turn the tap off before boiling water ran over the pan’s lip; at least – for all Hilda’s carping – there was no shortage of heat and hot water. It was a shame that, according to the Oracle, there was no longer the resource to tip Isheimur’s boundless low-level geo-thermal energy into full-scale vulcanism.
She was used to washing by hand. The farm had finally run out of parts for the antique washing machine when Bera had first arrived from the North, and the Norns refused to consider such parts life-saving, so their petitions via the Oracle for replacements had been useless. But she hated the way it chapped her hands, and the effort required to wring out the sopping clothes left her hands and shoulders aching. Still, she managed to wrestle the sodden blouses and shirts into the mangle, bolt the rollers into place, then turn the handle against a wall of inertia.
She jumped at the voice; “You want help?”
She turned. “Oh, Yngi, you startled me.” Isheimur only knew how Yngi the Halt with his club foot had managed to creep up on her.
His freckled face was as transparent as any window, so she saw his disappointment. She added hastily, “I know you didn’t mean to, but you should cough or clear your throat, or–”
“Okay, Bera.” he said. Ruddy features lit up:“You need help with that? I’m stronger than you are, even if I’m not as clever.”
She shook her head. “No thanks, Yngi. I’m almost done.”
He turned to go, just as Thorbjorg’s voice cut across them: “Yngvar Ragnarsson, get away from that whore!”
Yngi cringed, and Bera swung round at his wife, anger at one humiliation too many finally breaking her self-control. Before she could speak, a shriek from the courtyard interrupted them: “Grandpappi! Granpappi’s coming!”
Bera and Thorbjorg rushed out into the courtyard, Yngi hobbling behind. Both suns were now high in the sky, and Bera had to blink to focus. She followed the other’s gaze down the valley to west, and the men returning from a week at the Summer Fair.
The two men at the front of the group rode shaggy Isheimuri horses, which stood only chest high to a tall man, but were formidably strong. Ragnar liked to brag that his was the strongest horse on Isheimur, and the chunky buttermilk-coloured stallion needed to be to carry his owner and his belongings, which between them probably massed over a hundred and fifty kilos. Arnbjorn rode a slightly smaller horse alongside him.
Surprisingly the other two horses were riderless, and Ragnar’s tenant farmers walked beside their mounts, which were dragging something, but Bera couldn’t make out what it was. Bringing up the rear of the procession were the farmer’s eldest sons. Both had been unbearable ever since Ragnar had agreed to take them to the Summer Fair, and Bera suspected that they would be even more conceited now they had been, and would consider themselves too grand to mix with children. One had been flirting with Bera before she’d become pregnant, but had quickly lost interest when he learned of her condition, and probably wouldn’t even speak to her now.
“Come on, Bera!” Hilda interrupted her daydreaming. “They’re ten minutes away yet, so back to work for a little while.”
Bera resisted the urge to say “Yes, boss.” Sarcasm would only earn her a lecture.
Instead she returned to grappling with the sopping wet clothes until shrieks from her foster-nephews and nieces announced Ragnar’s arrival. His gravelly voice boomed, “What? No hug for your Grandpappi, then?”
She felt the puppy stir beneath her bulky jacket, then return to sleep, and prayed that Brynja would sleep a while longer.
By the time Bera had joined the others but watching from the sidelines, women and children were hugging men, the tenant farmer’s mousey wives had erupted from their own dwellings, and the whole group had aggregated into one swarming, shapeless mass. Only Ragnar stood slightly apart from the reunions, a sad smile on his face.
Then Yngi’s wife Thorbjorg threw her arms around him. “Welcome back, Pappi!” It might have been Bera’s imagination, but she thought she saw him grimace, before he made his dark, brooding features as impassive as before.
He looked across at Bera. She gave him a little smile which she tried to make welcoming, but he only scowled, and she looked away so that he wouldn’t see how hurt she was. All you have to do is give him the name of the father. Make one up if need be.
Except that whichever name she gave Ragnar would be signing a man’s death warrant, if such a name existed – and names were strictly bound by custom, like everything else here. Bera wondered how it would be to grow up on a world that had never splintered away from the rest of humanity, never been driven apart by a seemingly – to the rest of the Galaxy – insane urge to speak a different tongue and adhere to old ways. To call oneself what one liked, to dress how one liked, do what one liked…
“What’s this?” Hilda pointed to a travois, which was hitched to the two horses belonging to the tenant-farmers.
“You heard the noise last night?” Ragnar said. “A meteorite crashed near where we’d camped.” He continued, “We heard what we thought was a small volcano where it fell, so we rushed toward it for a look. It took us a half-hour. When we got there, we found only this character–” Ragnar pointed at the travois “ –lying in the snow.”
Bera eased around for a look, and gasped. The man lying unmoving in the travois was stark naked, his skin a copper so dark as to be almost purple. His massive chest rose and fell irregularly, but apart from that he didn’t move. His eyes were closed. Bera had never seen such muscle definition on a man; corded, sinewy, he took her breath away. The face below the shaven skull was equally striking, with its chiselled zygomatic bones and almost inhuman symmetry. Bera looked down, then away, blushing, then glanced at him again. He was certainly impressive. She made her self focus instead on the splints on his legs.
“Cover him up!” Asgerd said, Ragnar’s older daughter-in-law reaching for a blanket from one of the horses. “He’ll scare the children!”
Ragnar reached out, and his daughter grew still. “You don’t cover burns like that.” He pointed to the man’s lower torso, and clearly broken legs. His legs would have been long, strong and muscular before they were broken.
Bera dragged her attention back to Ragnar, who said, “He was screaming, rolling around in the snow. We couldn’t leave him like that. Either I killed him and I’d no stomach for cold-blooded neck-snapping, or we brought him home.”
“Can we spare the food?” Asgerd said, her thin lips when she closed them giving her opinion: No, we can’t.
“You tell me, ladies.” Ragnar opened his arms to include Hilda and Thorbjorg in the question. “The management of the household is your responsibility, after all. I wouldn’t dream of interfering in your desmense.”
Not much, Bera thought. Ragnar didn’t hesitate when he felt it necessary.
“Of course we can, my lord.” Thorbjorg sensed as always which way the wind was blowing, and said what she guessed he wanted to hear.
Ragnar’s face split with a grin. “Then that’s settled.” He rubbed his hands together.
“How do you know that he’s not a vagrant?” Asgerd said.
“We thought that initially,” Ragnar said. “We were ready to leave him to die, until Bjarney pointed out that a trespassing vagrant can be indentured, if he recovers.” He shrugged. “If he doesn’t recover, he won’t eat, anyway.”
“Hmmph,” Hilda said, but didn’t argue.
“Funny,” Ragnar said, “the snow was stained blue.” Whether it was the colour or simply the fact that the snow was dyed, but it seemed to Bera that Ragnar sounded uneasy. It was so rare that Bera couldn’t help staring.
He caught her looking and straightening, returned to his normal forceful manner. “Here’s someone who can help. Bera, I need someone to safeguard our new investment. You can nurse our new worker.”
Bera looked down, bobbing her head in assent.
Ragnar must have mistaken her shyness for reluctance, or his next words would surely never have been so cruel (at least, she thought, not before you got pregnant): “Well, come on girl! Look to it! You should be grateful – it’ll give you something to think about, take your mind off that dead bastard of yours.”
She felt tears sting her eyes, and lunged toward the travois.
But Ragnar must have seen her well up, for she heard him half-groan, and mutter, “Well, you shouldn’t have brought shame on my house by opening your legs to the first man who ignored your plainness. My darling Gunnhild would spin in her grave if she could see what you’ve turned into.”
Bera wanted to shout that, but for the eruption on Surtsey, she would have gone home as soon as she was pregnant, but that was pointless. Her family was dead, and now she just had to get on with living.
So she didn’t answer, but instead wrestled the stranger off the travois. But in so doing, Bera scraped the stranger’s back on the stones, and he roused screaming from his near-coma. Ragnar shouted, “Yngi! Thorir! Give her a hand with that!”
The two men helped ease the stranger back into the travois and unhitch it. Thorir called, “Where do you want it?” He stood far too close to Bera for her liking.
“Put it in with the animals,” Ragnar said.
Grunting with effort the men picked him up, and staggered toward the stables. Bera shadowed them into the warm, odorous darkness. She gazed at the horses, three of which were hers. But the web of debts incurred had bound her too tight to indulge any fantasies of flight while she was pregnant.
Ragnar appeared in the doorway. “Mind you take good care of him.”
Bera didn’t answer.
When she was sure that Ragnar had gone, she took Brynja from under her furs. Weeping quietly, she let the puppy nuzzle the other nipple from the one she had suckled the night before. “Like
“Let’s hope it doesn’t end in tears,” Ragnar said, making her jump at his unexpected return. Luckily, he was so busy staring at the stranger lying on the hay that he didn’t notice the puppy, instead assuming her reference was to the man. He kept staring at the man, barely able to conceal his repugnance. “It’s an Icelandic tradition, to fear the stranger, but even so, this hairless stranger bothers me. His presence means trouble… we’ll call him Loki. It seems fitting.”
“I’ll do my best for you,” Bera said, shielding Brynja by turning away slightly.
Ragnar roused himself. “You will,” he said. “We’ve a critical time coming. Once the crops ripen fully, it’s a race to get them in. We’ll need every able-bodied hand we can get. He can repay us our hospitality – if he recovers.”
“If he doesn’t? Or he recovers, but stays an invalid?”
“That won’t happen,” Ragnar said. The feral look on his face chilled Bera. “He’ll have an accident before that happens. Clear?”
Bera nodded, swallowing.
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
This is the most awesome cover for Mike Cobley's next novel and sequel to Seeds of Earth, The Orphaned Worlds, due out from Orbit next year. It's done by Steve Stone, the same artist responsible for the Seeds of Earth cover, and follows a similar theme, although this one definitely raises the bar. I can't wait to get around to this one!
Buy Winter Song from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Play.com, The Book Depository
Bera wanted to scream her grief at the night, but that would rouse the farmyard dogs. That would in turn wake the sleepers. She already felt so raw that she might as well have been scoured by sandpaper, and a public lecture from Hilda was more than she could face, so she clamped her jaw shut until it ached.
The farmyard was so cold that her breath threatened to freeze solid in the midnight air – not that Isheimur’s midnight-sky was like other worlds, she gathered:. It would be another five weeks until the equinox, when the Mizar quartet would line up together on Isheimur’s far side, with only the twin moons, Stor and Litid, to illuminate the true-dark for a few hours. Until then, though Gamasol and Deltasol had set within a few hours of one another, the further pair was still high in the sky.
That she could see where to put her feet on the rocky slope up to the grave made the act of mourning her dead son easier, and at least Ragnar had allowed her to bury Palli here, rather than in open ground. The graveyard was in a pocket of such boulder-strewn land that it was good for nothing else, unlike the rest of the valley. Its rocky border at least protected the bodies from burrowing marauders. Snolfurs were another matter – only a precious bullet or arrow would deter one of them.
She clambered past a tapped-out steam-vent which no longer gave its energy to the generator, the metre-wide pipe to the water tank down the hill now disconnected. Putting the sprig of lavender on the unmarked cairn was a pathetic little token, but it was all she had. At the thought of Palli’s little face turning blue, the tears started up again, half-blinding her, freezing on her face as they trickled down.
She crouched, offering prayers, to Wotan, Yahweh – any of the old ones who might exist, just in case – to take care of Palli. Assuming that there was an afterlife, rather than just mouldering in the dirt.
Wiping her eyes, she glimpsed something streak above the top of the Reykleif hills in a flat curve, so it couldn’t be a shape-shifter; nor did any troll ever move that fast. It was fiery bright, so it was most likely a meteor, she decided.
Standing again, she winced. Moving sent slivers of pain shooting through her cramped-up feet, numb even through the fur-lined house-shoes. Taking outside boots would have meant stumbling around in the boot-room, perhaps falling over one of the sleeping farmhands. She didn’t want that. Better her feet froze than to admit to the other women that she still grieved for her beloved bastard.
If her body didn’t give her away: ten days after burying him, her breasts were still swollen and sore, her blouses sodden even through the wadding that she’d shoved into her bra. The others must have noticed, but if they had, for once – in a rare show of restraint – they had said nothing.
Bera turned back, looking down the slope to face Skorradalur. Farmhouses crouching into the hillside formed three sides of a square round a courtyard, with the
She descended the stony, treacherous slope to Ragnarholt, the biggest farmhouse, passing the water-tank which took the excess steam from the newer geo-thermal vent; what wasn’t needed to heat the house was allowed to condense inside its bulk to provide fresh water, so that the settlers didn’t need to venture down to Skorravatn in winter and risk ambush from lurking creatures. It wasn’t the halcyon days of when the farm had fusion power, but it was better than nothing.
Even in the thickening twilight she had to be careful not to turn an ankle on the stony ground. But if its aid in finding her way was a blessing, when the deep boom echoed from the west, waking the farm-dogs into a barrage of barking, it was a curse. Any onlooker could see her picking her way back. She speeded up, and twice nearly fell in hidden dips in the grass. Looking up, the shadowy bulk of Thorir perched in the watch-tower atop the farmhouse hadn’t moved. Hopefully, he was asleep. Thorir was good at that, even though, if he were caught, it would mean a flogging.
The breeze strengthened, the wind-turbines’ blades speeding up.
Brynja caught Bera’s scent and yapped.
“Hush!” Bera hissed.
But instead the puppy redoubled her efforts to slip the leash, where she was tied to the court-yard water-tap. Droplets from the tap had frozen so that Brynja’s feet slipped and skidded on them.
Reluctantly, Bera fondled the little dog’s ears. She was as white and fluffy as the rest of the litter, but they’d all found homes. No one wanted the little runt, though, so Ragnar had banished her to the courtyard, saying, “We can’t afford to throw away what resources we have on animals that aren’t viable, however cute they look now.” If Brynja survived on the scraps that she could scavenge, she would live, but she was already skin and bone.
Desperately, shivering, Brynja tried to climb inside Bera’s coat and nuzzled her blouse.
Still thinking of Palli, and of Ragnar’s ruthlessness, Bera undid the leash, her jaw clamped. Freed, the puppy scrambled inside her coat in a flurry of paws. Brynja nuzzled and nuzzled at her blouse, until Bera sighed. She reached in and undid her bra.
Teeth like needles clamped onto her nipple. The pain made Bera draw her lips back from her teeth in a silent scream, but in a perverse way she welcomed it. However bad it was, it was real, and for a few too-short moments it obliterated memories of a tiny face turning blue and silent.
Finally, the needles grew too fierce, and she prised her bloodied breast away from the seeking mouth. Rocking her furry cargo, humming an almost soundless lullaby, she crept across the farmyard to the back door.
Looking up again, she saw a faint glow to the north-west between the hills.
It’s not any of the suns, she thought, and if that’s a fire, then someone’s farmstead is burning.
But she couldn’t think of any farmhouses in that direction. Too many trolls likely to midnight-raid the settlements, if the old records were true. And if were a fire, then Hilda and the others would already be spilling into the courtyard to answer the distress calls.
She lifted the latch carefully, and ducking to step down into the lobby shut the door behind her.
A light snapping on blinded her, though it was only dim. Her vision cleared to reveal Thorir standing with sword in hand and an evil grin on his face at his cleverness in sneaking down from the watch-tower.
Behind him, his wife Hilda stood with folded arms and bulging eyes: “Bera Sigurdsdottir! What on Isheimur are you doing? Have you lost your wits?”
Nothing Bera could say would spare her from a scolding, so she just slumped.
Hilda said, “Go back on watch, darling, while I sort this out.” She snapped off the light. There were the noises of Thorir leaving, then Hilda hissed, “Stupid girl!”
“Sorry,” Bera said quietly.
“Pappi took you in when his old friend died – you repay us by disturbing our sleep while he’s away?”
Even after six years, you haven’t forgiven me? Bera thought. I don’t want his attention!
As self-appointed surrogate mother, Hilda didn’t hesitate to “correct” Bera whenever Hilda felt it necessary, which was frequently. “We thought you were an outlaw – or worse.”
“Did you hear the sound?” Bera said, in a desperate attempt to distract her foster-sister. “Like muffled thunder.”
“Never mind that,” Hilda said. Although she hadn’t distracted Hilda, Bera’s trick had at least robbed her rant of momentum. “Go back to bed. Try not to fall over the others on the way through.”
Bera wondered how much of Hilda’s anger was that Bera had shown her husband, and therefore Hilda, for the fool he was. If Bera could slip out without him noticing, then raiders could do the same in the opposite direction.
Or whether Hilda thought he hadn’t been sleeping, but that Bera had had paid him in kind to look away. Bera couldn’t tell Hilda that she’d sooner drink acid than go with Ragnar. Hilda wouldn’t believe her, would instead point to the cairn as proof that Bera would go with anyone.
Next day in the kitchen no one spoke to Bera over breakfast, but that wasn’t unusual. She had managed not to bump into the cots of the sleeping children and Farm hands, so no one was angry with her – at least, no more than usual.
All ten of Ragnar’s grandchildren, from the youngest toddler to eight year-old Toti, Hilda’s eldest, sat around the vast table, assembled by nanobots centuries earlier to resemble oak, now stained and pitted with age.
Bera and the other women shuttled pots and plates to and from the vast stove, while the men, were out checking the flocks as always
Except Yngi, of course. Bera had seen him at first sunrise, as Gamasol stained the horizon with its searchlight glare. She had snuck out again and clipped Brynja back to the water-tap, where a few shards of ice had half-melted in the direct sunlight, staining Brynja’s white fur with muddy streaks. The puppy yapped as Bera walked away, but she hurried and was back indoors before anyone noticed… she hoped.
Now she waited her turn for the porridge bowl, and when the others had taken their fill, scraped out the dregs of the weak, watery liquid. She got the last few bits when Thorbjorg said, “Why don’t you lick the pattern off the plate?”
Her face burned, but she didn’t answer Ragnar’s younger daughter-in-law. Thorbjorg was only four years older than Bera, but she was as pretty as Bera was plain, and used her voluptuousness like a weapon on the men. And besides, she was married, so respectable.
“Well?” Thorbjorg challenged.
“There is no pattern,” Bera mumbled.
Thorbjorg’s laugh was a caw. “No there isn’t, is there? You must have licked it off yesterday. Maybe if you weren’t such a greedy pig, your teats would dry up – it’s not as if you need the milk.”
Bera shut her eyes, dug her fingers into her palms.
Hilda must have seen how intense the pain was, and if any of them would understand, she would – now the medic had said that any more pregnancies would pose a life-threatening risk. “That’s enough,” Hilda said. “Save your wit for later, Thorbjorg.”
Bera slid into daydream, her usual refuge. Maybe there was some kind of payback. Bera had felt sorry for Hilda when she’d heard the others talking about it: barren at twenty-seven, with only two children to her name.
“How will we fill this big empty world if we can only have two children?” Thorbjorg had asked, smug in her brood-cow status. Bera had hated her for Hilda then: five children at twenty-one. Yngi might have been addled in the head, but his seed was potent – if it was his. Thorbjorg was always flirting with old Ragnar, always possessive with her hugs and touches.
Bera had wished that it was Thorbjorg who had miscarried instead of Hilda. When the others had gone, she had slipped into Hilda’s room and asked, “Is there anything I can do, Hilda? I’m so sorry to hear about…” and trailed off, not sure what to call it. Loss? Too tame. Miscarriage? Too clinical. So she had left the sentence unfinished.
But Hilda had seemed to understand. She shook her head. “I just want to be alone.”
That had been the last half-civilized conversation between them. They had never been friends, but as long as Bera was duly deferential to Ragnar’s eldest child, they had been civil. But a month later, two months after the Spring Fair, Bera had missed her period, and soon after, she knew that she was pregnant. Refusing to name the father meant that no bill of settlement could be made to another house, and as good as admitted that Bera would sleep with any man.
“Bera!” Hilda’s cry snatched her back, to the other’s amusement.
“Daydreaming again,” Toti said. Like most children, he could spot a legitimate target for teasing. “Bera’s daydreaming, Bera’s dreaming of her boyfriend!” he sang.
“That’ll do, young man!” Hilda said. “Enough of that or you lose your time at the Oracle!”
“Sorry.” Bera went without prompting to the sink to rinse the pots.
“You’re washing clothes today.” Hilda lowered her voice, “I’ve not said anything to the others about your star-gazing, but I will if it happens again. We can’t afford to heat the countryside.”
“But I closed the doors straight away!”
“And we’d have to send out search parties if raiders spirited you off. Bera, you’re so selfish!”
Bera managed not to snap back that she’d be the last person they’d send out rescue parties for, if outlaws, trolls or shape-shifters struck.