Some of these posts, I’ve decided, will be stuff I’ve written previously that I think might deserve an airing. This one is the opening of a sprawling fantasy epic that failed to sprawl a few years ago. The concept was consciously archetypal fantasy, multi-stranded and featuring trolls and humans. And maybe elves. I worked it all out with a writing buddy of mine who we will call Dan because his name is Dan: a brilliant writer with a really twisted imagination; the short stories he used to show me were hilarious, toe-curlingly disgusting, really great. I must get back in touch with him.
Anyway, probably the most original aspect of the idea was the race of creatures that feature in this extract: Holder folk. We conceived them as a race of animalistic giants (I always pictured them with bear-like features) long-since extinct, who had been re-animated to serve the race of humans. This intro establishes Hengist, the Holder protagonist of this strand of the story:
That afternoon, as the pale sun reached the highest point on its journey and the Holderfolk returned home, Hengist found himself fascinated by his left hand. He held it up and turned it in the light, watched the thick fingers curl as though they belonged to someone else. He felt as if he had never truly seen it before and suddenly it became an alien thing, a creature attached to him against his will, both entrancing and terrifying.
Hengist tried to picture it as it might have been before he was Raised. His mind’s eye added reddish-brown to the grey of his hair, replaced the missing fingernails and made them thick and long, grew brown flesh upon the smallest finger, which was now only parched white bone. He had no memory of that time, at least nothing that could be relied upon. None of the Holderfolk remembered save for the briefest and most enigmatic glimpses. And it was a sin to try. What mattered was the here and the now.
“Are you with us, Bror Hengist?” Tarvin asked, noticing his friend’s distraction and slowed pace.
“Yes, vinur, I am here,” Hengist replied after a pause. He smiled weakly. “I was just…”
“I know,” Tarvin interrupted. “You were in a dream.” He looked to his left and right to check they were out of earshot of the other Holders then leaned in. “Remember what Aldre Gremel told you, vinur. No more dreaming, it distracts us from the Path.”
Tarvin was a good man and a loyal friend and Hengist knew he was right. He nodded his acquiescence and indicated that they should pick up the pace. One or two of the Holders in front of them had noticed their conference and were casting back furrowed glances. They caught up and returned to the line.
After another hour’s march they arrived home. Their path had brought them through the fringes of the forest, which now gave onto a snow-lined path, excavated by their daily travels. The path wound shallowly down an incline and ended abruptly at the Holdergate, which was already rumbling slowly open. The moment the opening was large enough to admit the leader of the procession, he entered and the others filed behind him. It took another sandglass for them all to enter along with the timber, herbs and game it had been their job to find.
As he shuffled forward, Hengist noticed a pair of human children standing beside the gate, attracted by the spectacle; a boy and a girl, no more than seven or eight, dressed in scarlet clothing, the boy carrying a toy boat whittled by his father from forest oak. As the procession passed the boy tossed the boat without warning and it struck Hengist on the forehead, making a dent in his dry flesh.
“I hit it!” the child exclaimed, leaping triumphantly on the spot and punching the air. They both grinned up at Hengist as though he were inanimate, nothing more than a randomly-chosen landmark for their game. They were so fragile, the humans. Their skin was thin, their bones light and easily broken. Not even in the summer, when the snows lessened and the air was less biting, could they go abroad without layer upon layer of clothing to keep them from freezing.
Hengist crouched down to pick up the boat. Even on his knees he was three times the height of the girl, who was a few inches taller than her brother. The toy floated in his open hand, lost on the grey sea of his massive palm. Just then their mother approached; she had lost sight of them as she waited for her servingman at the market and approached with a red and flustered face.
“What in the name of the Path is this?!” she exclaimed. Hengist’s ears folded back on his head and he felt his hair tingle.
He held the boat out and the boy snatched it back without a word. The family headed back in the direction of the town square without another word, the mother chastising her son as they went. Hengist’s gaze fell upon his hand as it had before. The lines in his palm were deep and jagged, meandering like the lines of Holderfolk who toiled, day after day to bring supplies.
“Hengist!” Tarvin whispered as he nearly crashed into his friend. He rose, touched his newly-damaged forehead and continued through the Holdergate.