Welcome to my stop on the Runemarks blog tour where I am more than happy to host another extract.
To make sure you read these in the right order you might want to visit Ourfirstyearhere.wordpress.com to read Day 8.
If you want to read all the previous and future extracts then this will direct you where you need to go. Isn’t the artwork just gorjuss?
Right, down to business
It’s been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion – the Order – has taken its place. In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand – a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don’t know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy’s only real friend, her ruinmark – or runemark, as he calls it – is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else… Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.
Day 9 – Extract
MALBRY WAS A VILLAGE OF some eight hundred souls. A quiet place, or so it seemed, set between mountain ridges in the valley of the river Strond, which divided the Uplands from the Wilderlands to the north before finally making its way south towards World’s End and into the One Sea.
The mountains – called the Seven Sleepers, though no one remembered exactly why – were bitter and snow-cloaked all year round, and there was only one pass, the Hindarfell, which was blocked by snow three months in the year. This remoteness affected the valley folk; they kept to themselves, were suspicious of strangers, and (but for Nat Parson, who had once made a pilgrimage as far as World’s End, and who considered himself quite the traveller) had little to do with the world outside.
There were a dozen little settlements in the valley, from Farnley Tyas at the foot of the mountains to Pease Green at the far side of Little Bear Wood. But Malbry was the biggest and the most important. It housed the valley’s only parson, the largest church, the best inns and the wealthiest farmers. Its houses were built of stone, not wood; there was a smithy, a glassworks, a covered market. Its inhabitants thought themselves better than most, and looked down on the folk of Pog Hill or Fettleﬁelds and laughed in secret at their country ways. The only thorn in Malbry’s side stood roughly two miles from the village. The locals called it Red Horse Hill, and most folk avoided it because of the tales that collected there, and for the goblins that lived beneath its ﬂanks.
Once, it was said, there had been a castle on the Hill. Malbry itself had been part of its ﬁefdom, growing crops for the lord of that land – but all that had been a long time ago, before Tribulation and the End of the World. Nowadays there was nothing to see: only a few standing stones, too large to have been looted from the ruins; and, of course, the Red Horse cut into the clay.
It had long been known as a goblin stronghold. Such places drew them, the villagers said, lured them with promises of treasure and tales of the Elder Age. But it was only in recent years that the Good Folk had ventured as far as the village.
Fourteen years, to be precise; which was exactly when Jed Smith’s pretty wife Julia had died giving birth to their second daughter. Few doubted that the two were linked; or that the rust-coloured mark on the palm of the child’s hand was the sign of some dreadful misfortune to come.
And so it was. From that day forth, that Harvestmonth, the goblins had been drawn to the blacksmith’s child. The midwife had seen them, so she said, perched on the baby’s pinewood crib, or grinning from inside the warming pan, or tumbling the blankets. At ﬁrst the rumours were scarcely voiced. Nan Fey was mad, just like her old granddam, and it was best to take anything she said with a dose of salt. But as time passed, and goblin sightings were reported by such respectable sources as the parson, his wife Ethelberta and even Torval Bishop from over the pass, the rumours grew and soon everyone was wondering how the Smiths, of all people – the Smiths, who never dreamed, went to church every day and would no more have ﬂung themselves into the river Strond than truckle with the Good Folk – could have given birth to two so very different daughters.
Mae Smith, with her cowslip curls, was widely held to be the prettiest and least imaginative girl in the valley. Jed Smith said she was the image of her poor mother, and it almost broke his heart to see her so, though he smiled when he said it, and his eyes were like stars.
But Maddy was dark, just like an Outlander, and there was no light in Jed’s eyes when he looked at her only an odd kind of measuring look, as if he were weighing Maddy against her dead mother, and ﬁnding that he had been sold short.
Jed Smith was not the only one to think so. As she grew older, Maddy discovered that she had disappointed almost everyone. An awkward girl with a sullen mouth, a curtain of hair and a tendency to slouch, she had neither Mae’s sweet nature nor her sweet face. Her eyes were rather beautiful, halfway between grey and gold, but few people ever noticed this, and it was widely believed that Maddy Smith was ugly; a troublemaker; too clever for her own good; too stubborn – or too slack – to change.
Of course folk agreed that it was not her fault she was so brown, or her sister so pretty; but a smile costs nothing, as the saying goes, and if only the girl had made an effort once in a while, or even showed a little gratitude for all the help and free advice she had been given, then maybe she would have settled down.
But she did not. From the beginning Maddy was wild: never laughed; never cried; never brushed her hair; fought with Adam Scattergood and broke his nose; and if that wasn’t already bad enough, showed signs of being clever – disastrous in a girl – with a tongue on her that could be downright rude.
No one mentioned the ruinmark, of course. In fact for the ﬁrst seven years of her life no one had even explained to Maddy what it meant, though Mae pulled faces and called it your blemish and was surprised when Maddy refused to wear the mittens sent to her father by the village’s charitable – and ever-hopeful – widows.
Someone needed to put things straight with the girl, and at last Nat Parson accepted the unpleasant duty of telling her the facts. Maddy didn’t understand much of it, littered as it was with quotes from the Good Book, but she understood his contempt – and behind it, his fear. It was all there, in the chapter of the Good Book that they called the Book of Tribulation: how after the battle the old gods – the Seer-folk of that time – had been cast into Netherworld; but how in dreams they could still endure, like dandelion seeds on the wind, to enter the minds of the wicked and weak, forever hoping to be reborn . . .
‘And so their demon blood lives on,’ had said the parson, ‘passed from man to woman, beast to beast. And here you are, by no fault of your own, and as long as you say your prayers and remember your place, there’s no reason why you should not lead as worthwhile a life as any of the rest of us, and earn forgiveness at the hand of the Nameless One.’
Now Maddy had never liked Nat Parson. She watched him in silence as he spoke, occasionally lifting her left hand and peering at him insolently through the circle of her thumb and foreﬁnger. Nat itched to slap her, but Laws knew what powers her demon blood had given her, and, he wanted as little to do with the girl as possible. The Order would have known what to do with the child. But this was Malbry, not World’s End, and even such a stickler as Nat knew better than to try to enforce World’s End law so far from the Universal City.
‘Do – you – understand?’ He spoke loudly and slowly.
Perhaps she was simple, like Crazy Nan Fey. In any case she did not reply, but watched him again through her crooked ﬁngers until at last he sighed and went away.
After that, or so it seemed, Jed Smith’s youngest daughter had grown wilder than ever. She stopped going to church, lived out in Little Bear Wood for days on end, and spent hours at a time talking to herself (or, more likely, to the goblins). And when the other children played jump-stone around the pond, or went to Nat Parson’s Sunday school, Maddy ran off to Red Horse Hill, or pestered Crazy Nan for tales, or, worse still, made up tales about terrible, impossible things that she told the younger ones to give them nightmares.
She was an embarrassment to Mae, who was merry as a blue-jay (and as brainless), and who would have made a brilliant marriage but for her unruly sister. As compensation, Mae was spoiled and indulged far more than was good for her, while Maddy grew up sullen, unregarded and angry.
And sullen and angry she might have remained, but for what happened on Red Horse Hill in the summer of her seventh year.
The blog tour continues tomorrow with another extract over at nutpress.co.uk