Thursday, December 19, 2013

Impossible Things at Christmas

In the world of Impossible Things, there is no such thing as Christmas. Except that there is, because wherever there's a winter there's a festival in the middle of it, from the Winter Solstice to Saturnalia and on to the our own Christmas, with all its holly, and feeling jolly, and...other things ending in olly.

In Krulland, land of ice and snow and more importantly, my hero Kael, Midwinter is a good old-fashioned feast day in the middle of the darkest part of winter. Here's a little excerpt from Impossible Things on the subject...

Despite Kael’s best efforts, the story of Ishtaer and the Wild Hunt spread through the castle quicker than a forest fire. As with every other story he’d heard about her, it soon became wildly exaggerated, with fire-breathing giant Huntsmen and hellhounds the size of stallions. Ishtaer had, according to rumour, screamed some exciting, inspirational and snappy lines at the invaders, his favourite of which was, ‘You shall not take this place! It! Is! Defended!’

‘I never said that,’ Ishtaer muttered as they passed a family retelling the story amongst themselves.

‘No, I think Eirenn was responsible for that. Don’t worry about it. It makes people feel safer that there’s someone here who frightened off the Wild Hunt.’

She frowned at him, but said nothing. Three days into the Dark, and everyone was getting bored and fractious. Stories were one of the best ways to pass the time, and Eirenn was pretty good at telling them.

‘Are you looking forward to Midwinter?’

‘Yes,’ she said, and added, ‘although I don’t really know what to expect. In Ilanium it was all visits to the Temple and prayers and readings I didn’t understand.’

‘Well, here we have visits to the longhouse for feast food and stories even the kids can understand. Uh. I did mention to you about Midwinter gifts, right?’

She smiled. ‘Yes, you did, and I went shopping in Utgangen with Aune.’ She hesitated. ‘We must write and find out how she’s doing, after the Dark.’

He smiled at the ‘we’. ‘Absolutely. But I did enquire about her sister and it seems she’s a stout farmer’s wife who has been known to intervene in fights between full grown men and come out the champion.’

‘A fierce pair of sisters.’

‘Yeah. I think she’ll be all right.’

‘I hope so,’ Ishtaer said quietly.

‘You can’t save everyone, Ishtaer.’

‘Neither can you,’ she said, and his heart clutched.

He thought again about the gift he’d bought, totally on impulse, walking back from the town hall in Utgangen. The covered market, the only way to shop in such frigid temperatures, was warm and glowing and he’d wandered through, looking for trinkets for the boys for Midwinter. What he hadn’t expected was something calling out to him from one small stall, crying like a siren that it would be perfect for Ishtaer.

He hoped she wouldn’t take it the wrong way. And then again, a small secret part of him hoped she would.

That night they sat around the huge fire in the longhouse, a fire that would burn continuously throughout the Dark, and told stories. Eirenn told once more his very popular and heavily embellished version of Ishtaer’s encounter with the Wild Hunt, and she sat there smiling, saying nothing. Between them sat Garik and Durran, the younger boy curled up against Ishtaer’s side. She put her arm around him, whispered something in his ear that made him smile, and turned her attention back to Eirenn.

Kael’s heart ached at that, even worse when Mags caught his eye and sent him a very speaking glance. We look like a family, he thought, and wished painfully that they were.

When Durran finally drifted off, halfway through Old Alvar’s traditional tale of how the Wild Hunt came to be – traditional in that he traditionally never told it the same way twice – Kael glanced over and saw that Garik was fast asleep, and Ishtaer was about to nod off too.

He nudged her gently, and to his delight she barely flinched. ‘The boys are asleep,’ he said. ‘We should get them to bed.’ She nodded and rose gracefully with Garik already in her

arms. But when she headed towards the door leading to the part of the castle where they slept, Kael stopped her. ‘No. In here.’


‘Yes. It’s traditional to spend Midwinter night all in the same room. Some people even spend the whole Dark in their longhouses. I guess it goes back to when the longhouse was the only room there was.’

‘But, the beds ...’

‘Follow me.

The benches around the edge of the longhouse were used for storage, and tonight they’d been packed with bedrolls and blankets. He made up a couple for the boys, close by each other, then another for himself and, casually, one for Ishtaer too.

‘It’ll tickle them no end to wake up with Brutus next to them,’ he added, and Ishtaer nodded, looking slightly uncertain. ‘You don’t have to stay here. You can go somewhere else, or back to your room if you like.’

She bit her lip and turned her head back to the huge central fire and the group of rapt listeners. Ishtaer was the only castle resident who hadn’t gone chalky white in the dark of the midwinter, where the weak sun showed for less than twenty minutes a day, and her bronze complexion turned golden in the firelight. Her hair shone like a crown.

I love you, Ishtaer, he thought, and wasn’t even surprised by the idea.

‘I’ll stay,’ she said, and he smiled.

Impossible Things is out in February.

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