Ice Fair

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All month long I’m going to be hosting the posts of other people as part of my 2015 Giftmas Blog Tour. All the guest bloggers are welcome to write about anything they’d like so long as their post touched on a December holiday in some way, no matter how tangentially. The blog tour extends beyond my blog as well, and I will do my best to link to each external post from the blog tour’s main page and share them on social media using the hashtag #GiftmasTour.

But wait! There’s more!

We’re also giving away a whole whack of prizes (check out the list here) which you can enter to win using the Rafflecoper code below. Whatever December holiday you celebrate (or don’t) winning a stack of books will make it better!

Ice Fair

by Simon Kewin

This is an edited extract from Witch King, the third volume in the Cloven Land fantasy trilogy, a book I’m currently working on.

In the land of Andar they don’t have Christmas, but they do have Midwinter festivities. For three days between the end of the old year and the start of the new, the old rules are set aside and people celebrate the turning of the year with lights and games and joyous – even wild – celebrations.

At the city of Guilden, if the winter is cold enough, they have an Ice Fair on the frozen river An. It’s a place that isn’t really a place, being on the river, as well as a time that isn’t really a time, being the gap between the years. For that short period, control of the city is handed over to a Lord of Misrule and there is much merriment and craziness.

In this scene the heroine, Cait, a girl from our world, is in Andar attending the Ice Fair. She is deeply troubled and unable to enjoy the festivities. A terrible threat hangs over the city, and indeed all of Andar, because an invasion is coming across the frozen river. The nightmares from people’s fireside tales are coming. The problem is that most of the people are having far too good a time to listen to her dire warnings…

The following day, a procession of fire snaked its way across the ice from Guilden. A long procession of revellers walked onto the ice, many carrying smoking torches that filled the night air with scents of pine-resin and honey. Everyone was muffled up in layers of wool and fur, but their eyes were bright, reflecting the thousand lights of the torches and lanterns of the Ice Fair.

The people walked toward a line of unlit bonfires, rising like a small mountain range to one side of the bay. Each district of Guilden built their own fire, a competition to discover who could create the biggest and the most outlandish effigy for the top. The crowds cheered as the Lord of Misrule walked down the line, setting each bonfire alight. Flames licked up the sides of them. Some were truly enormous, fifty or sixty feet tall. More than one was crowned with an effigy of the Doge in a golden chair, but others had exaggerated monsters that were, perhaps, their builders’ idea of the undain.

Cait stepped back from the fires as they flames took hold, the raging yellow lighting up the faces of the assembled crowds. It was strange and troubling to be surrounded by so much merriment. She wished she could enjoy it. Wished she could lose herself in the fun and forget what was coming.

There had to be thousands on the ice now, people of all ages. A hubbub of voices filled the night air: shouts, laughter, the occasional scream. She wondered if they were screams of delight or terror. Each time, she thought it had to be the start of the attack, but each time it turned out to be nothing worse than drunken revellers chasing each other.

She walked through the fair, past jugglers keeping four, five, six flaming torches in the air, past stalls selling roasting chestnuts and meat from spit-roast animals. There seemed to be very little trouble, although occasionally a laughing youth weaved headlong through the crowds, pursued by some shouting, red-faced merchant.

She walked farther still, through swept drifts of snow that crunched and cracked beneath her feet. The crowds began to thin out and the stalls become more scattered. Overhead, the stars blazed down in the cold air, reflecting so perfectly in the swept ice that it felt like she was walking through the air, depths beneath her and gulfs above. She reached a line of iron braziers. In the distance, guards paced about for warmth, no doubt wishing they were having fun at the fair like everyone else. A chill wind had picked up, making Cait’s cheeks sting. She had to be nearly beyond Guilden Bay, out on the river proper, its vast waters surging beneath her feet.

She turned to survey the scene behind her. The twinkling lights from the fair and, beyond, the houses and palaces of Guilden, windows all glowing with candle fire. Some of the black powder had been salvaged for a firework display. Bright globes of stars blossomed over the scene as rocket after rocket was launched into the sky. She could hear the whoops and roars of delight over the background jumble of voices.

She turned away again. Westward, apart from the stars, it was fully dark. She walked for ten more minutes, alone on the ice, until she saw the line of bobbing, twinkling torches moving across the ice toward her. At the same moment, the mournful cry of warning horns from the sentries wailed through the night air…

 

 

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