I don’t often do this but I am making a one-time exception. Today I’m going to talk about my other crazy hobby. I have two hobbies that eat up my free time. Clearly, the SCA is one. The other is my writing outlet. It’s called NaNoWriMo and it stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a crazy idea to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty (30!) days. Absolutely nutty, right? Get this: tlast year there were 325,142 participants from around the world. There’s more. Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder all have one thing in common: they were written during NaNoWriMo.
So this is where I’m at right now. November is National Novel Writing Month, I’m on day fifteen and I have over 21,000 words. I’m almost half way though and I know it’s going to get harder. I’m a persistent and stubborn chick though and, if I complete this round, I will have completed FOUR (5) manuscripts. I sometimes tell people about this other crazy hobby but usually not. Why not? The question that always follows is, “Why aren’t you published?” My reasons are simple, really. I’m a greedy author and I’m my own harshest critic. I write because I like it and love the characters and worlds I create. Beyond that I don’t care to be published. It sounds like a stupid thing to say, but it’s true.
This year I’ve hit a bigger funk than most and I’m in a rut. The plot bunnies have attacked and I have essentially written myself into a corner. In hopes to reverse the bad ju-ju on my writing I’m going to post an excerpt here. I suppose it’s a way to hold myself accountable. Who knows. This seems like a good idea now but we’ll have to see how good of an idea it is later! In the meantime I hope you enjoy this little bit and please be kind, it hasn’t been edited yet!
It was insane. It was cold enough to freeze the slightest bit of moisture on a person’s face so why was she out here? Saija adjusted her cloak’s hood to cover more of her face and moved the thick woolen scarf to cover her nose. Her big black mount Thor, shuddered and whuffed beneath her. She patted his thick neck and urged him on, through the thick snowdrifts between trees, towards the main road.
One letter, a hastily scribbled missive with an unknown seal, arriving in the middle of the night was the reason she was out in this miserable weather. An old friend was coming to visit…the thought made her mouth pull into a sad smile. They had almost been more than friends. But that had been several years ago and she was a different person now.
Fifteen strides to the main road and she could only see the blinding white snow and the immediate trees and ice-covered branches around her. The only sounds that filled her ears were her own breathing and the howling wind that whipped the small snowflakes with such force that they felt like thousands of miniature daggers wherever they landed on her exposed skin. Saija shrugged and drew up her scarf around her face and pulled down the hood of her thick woolen cloak. Breaking though the wood line she stood on the side of the road looking for signs of a carriage. Thor snorted and shifted impatiently.
“I know, it is impossible to see anything with this weather,” she sighed, “Still I have to make sure they make it safely.”
Staring off down the road covered in swirling snow, Saija let her mind wander. Ten summers ago she had been a young, indulged only daughter of Lord and Lady Icewatch. There had been expensive clothing lavish parties and influential friends. The same things which she now thought frivolous as she sat on her large horse dressed in men’s leathers better suited to the cold climate.
The son of the Lord General, Liam, was one of her best friends and, when she had been the tender age of thirteen summers, talk of a possible marriage between the two. Liam had laughed when Saija had brought up the topic and she remembered blushing furiously. They had grown up side by side, only three summers apart and had climbed trees and ridden horses together. Liam had taught her how to throw knives and shoot arrows. In return she had taught him how to dance and how to make fishing baits with scraps of wool and line. They had been friends and while Saija had harbored deeper feelings for her companion and he knew it, it was never discussed. After being laughed at the first time, Saija simply let the topic lie. Thor stumbled a little over a hidden object, jolting Saija out of her thoughts and nearly out of her saddle. Sajia felt a nervous trickle of sweat run down her back under her leathers that even the frigid cold could not dissuade before her inescapable memories invaded her thoughts again.
Time had passed and in during the harvest month when she was fifteen summers old war had broken out on the southern border of Dnira. The tiny war state of Gnsa had amassed an army and charged over their boarders and massacred whole villages. Men and boys left homes in droves as knights and squires. Liam was among those that left. The war dragged on and news from the south was long in coming. Two summers later news came from the south: Liam had married a General’s daughter and they had a son. Saija remembered her sadness and pain. It was nothing compared to the loss of her parents a few moons later. A raiding party had attacked her parents on the way leaving all but a few men at arms dead.
At the tender age of seventeen summers Saija had become the new Lady Icewatch. Things had changed for her and in turn she had changed. Gone were the fancy clothes and lavish parties. In their place were warm, comfortable shearling lined leather hose and vests and thick woolen over shirts which were more suited to the patrols and weapons practices. She was the Lady Icewatch. Silk and gems couldn’t be worn while protecting her people from the wild raiders of the north.
Thor shivered under her, bringing her back to the present and to the faint sound of bells. Saija turned her large horse to face the oncoming bells. Slowly the dim light of matched lamps that flanked either side of the covered sled pierced the darkness and blinding snow.
“Ho! Driver!” She called out, pitching her voice to carry over the whistling wind and creaking of the sled, “I am your escort to Icewatch!”
The sled drew abreast of her and the two men seated on the front driver’s box squinted against the falling snow to assess their so-called “escort.” She liked these cautious men and thought she might even recognize one of them from her time at court even through the snow and wool cloaks and mufflers they wore. The guard’s hand eased off of the hilt that protruded prominently from his cloak and closed it back up, keeping the warmth inside.
“How much further boy?” The driver asked tiredly but with hope peering at her from under a deep hood, knowing there was an end in sight. Saija ignored the boy comment, besides who could tell anything when dressed in so many layers as she was with only her eyes peeking out at the world?
“We’ll be there in a mark or so. It’s slow going from here to the keep,” she answered as she turned Thor around to walk side by side with the driver, “I am going to ride directly in front of you, follow me and try to keep the horses from dancing too much. Those bells could cause a snowfall,” she warned them before walking Thor to the front of the sled.
Snowfalls were common in the north. The seemingly ever-falling snow piled and gathered on the mountainsides, cliffs and outcroppings to dangerous heights. The slightest sound could set the piles of snow cascading down on top of unsuspecting visitors. It was effective as a defense tactic but hazardous to innocent visitors. It was a snowfall that had killed her mother and father.
Saija guided Thor deftly though the knee-high snow. Though whether she guided him or he guided himself was up for discussion since Saija’s thoughts were with the passengers in the sled behind her.
The missive had requested help. Not money, men or arms which Saija was used to. No, it requested shelter and care for two children. “Please,” he had written, “my wife is gone and I need to make sure they are safe.”
“Though what I’m to do with two children I haven’t the slightest idea,” she muttered into her muffler. While Icewatch suffered raids from the north it was nothing compared to the war raging in the south. Certainly the children would be safer here but what would she do with them?
She could see the watch fires on the tower heights now. It wouldn’t be much longer to the gates then the tall walls of Icewatch would protect them from the worst of the driving snow. The winding approach to the drawbridge and main guard towers was steep and slick with packed snow and an under layer of ice. Saija guided Thor down the slippery slope, looking down to watch his front hooves as he planted them in the snow, watching for any sign that he might slip. She risked a glance behind her watching the progress of the sled. One of the drivers had clambered down and was walking off to the side of the sled trying to find a safe route for the two large draft houses by tapping the packed snow with a cane. She slowed down and approached the drawbridge and gates. “Hoy, gatekeeper!” she called, using all her breath to launch her voice through the storm, “Icewatch guests arrive!” The gatekeeper waved a torch and Saija heard the tell-tale click of the lock on the gate being removed. The drawbridge let down slowly and came to rest with a thud and a stirring cloud of snow. Saija waited for the sled and its driver to catch up to her on the small flat landing before the drawbridge.
“What’s the wait for boy?” The coachman called to her.
“Just a word of caution sir,” Saija motioned to the edge of the bridge, “the drawbridge is narrow and the fall is a long one,” She watched the driver take a look over the edge. What little of his face she could see, paled further before he looked up and nodded back at her. Saija nudged Thor onto the crossing and listened to the sled’s two horses walk on to the bridge. The hollow hoof beats followed her steadily without hesitation. a few breaths and they were in the safety of Icewatch. From inside the walls of the keep were even more impressive. The gray walls soared sixty feet above her head and the irregular shape was interspersed with even taller square towers. The walls cut the wind and snow down some, enough for Saija to lower her hood and remove her muff. The heavy sled pulled up behind her to the stone archway that housed the thick oaken doors to the main hall. A stable boy ran to her to take her horse and show the drivers the way to the stable.
“Niilo,” Saija said to the waif of a boy hidden under the mound of clothing that approached her, “an extra helping of mash tonight and a an orange root, alright?” The mute freckled-faced boy grinned and wiped his running nose on his sleeve before taking the reins to black horse that towered over him. The coachman that had walked in front of the sled approached her as he walked to the side of the coach.
“Are you certain that boy can handle that monster of a horse?”
“Niilo? Those two were practically raised together,” she said warmly watching the twelve-year-old boy and eight year old horse as they walked off together, Thor nuzzling his pocket for a bit of apple, “Welcome to Icewatch sir.”