Winter - Chapter 1

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This week's challenge: Pride colors. 60 XP per entry.

Today's color/prompt: Orange / Healing

Winter

by Vestrael

Libraries: Adventure, Fantasy, Original Fiction, Series

Published on / 5 Chapter(s) / 5 Review(s)

Updated on

Winter is an ordinary girl living a rather lackluster life, working to help make money for her family, and reading in her spare time. But always, doubt about her seemingly ordinary life, and curiosity about her family's murky history have hid in the corners of her mind. Then when Tirith, a man whose face is as shadowed as his motives, tells her the astonishing secret of her family, Winter is abruptly yanked out of her comfortable reality, and whisked away on a journey that could change her life. (This is still a work in progress, so I will be adding chapters.)

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Chapter 1, the Statue and the Ship

Chapter One

Chapter One

Visitors to Sheepwich always asked about the statue. Was it a real wolf that had been frozen in mid-leap? Did it melt every summer? How did it come to be in the small city of Sheepwich? The locals told them they were being ridiculous, that it was only a statue, to go bother someone else. But they too wondered. The wolf statue had appeared fifteen years previously in a relatively secluded square in the northeast section of town. No one claimed to have carved it. No one claimed to have seen someone else carve it. No one claimed to have seen a cat, frightened by a cow, spooked by the noise of someone chiseling the wolf's stone features. It was just there.

There was something different about the statue. Otherwise it wouldn't have been the subject of so many questions. It seemed alive. Its eyes, carved from pieces of black jet seemed to sparkle with sharp intelligence. Its fur was carved from bluish grey stone that looked to be ice cold, but was always warm to the touch. Luckily, the people of Sheepwich weren't bothered by curious visitors very often. The wolf statue stood in an area of town tourists didn't tend to go to, so not many of them saw it.

Winter saw it though, daily.

For it stood just outside of her house.

Winter woke at dawn to the calling of a crow. Crows are good luck, she thought to herself, rare in the city, though. Getting out of bed and stretching, she moved to the window and let the sun kiss her face. Next she crouched down to rummage under her bed and pulled out a clean, if tattered, folded blouse, and an olive green skirt with several inches cut messily off the bottom. She donned the blouse and looked at the skirt despairingly. If she got anymore or the bottom ripped or stained, she told herself, she couldn't cut anymore of the offending cloth off. For then her knees would show, and only courtesans showed their knees, her father had told her sternly. When she asked how he knew what courtesans looked like, she was forced to duck the gaping head of a fish he was gutting.

Winter turned to the cracked mirror on the wall and began to brush her hair. It was dark brown, nearly black, like that of her father and two of her brothers. Unlike theirs, however, it fell thick and curling to her mid-back. The two other things about her that were different were her ears, sticking out and rather misshapen no matter what she did to them, and her eyes, which were almond shaped and cloudy green.

The sun was rising warmer in the sky now and Winter could hear the family that lived upstairs stirring. Turning away from the mirror, she moved from her bedroom to the kitchen and opened the front door. A blast of cold air struck her face. The sun had made the outdoors look deceptively warm. Closing the door, she took her woolen grey cloak off a peg next to it and fastened it at her throat with a brass clasp.

Once again she stepped out into the wind. The first thing outside she clapped eyes on was the stone wolf outside the door. She rubbed a gloved finger against its right ear and walked on. She too didn't know where the wolf had come from, but she had come to adore it. The statue made her think of things she didn't fully understand, but which always set something blazing in her heart: wild winds, snowstorms, and bonfires in the forest. And the stone always smelled faintly of wood smoke.

Winter crossed the square briskly and walked down a narrow alley between two tall buildings. Ropes spanned the gap above her head, and women were stringing damp laundry out onto them, gossiping as they did so. The sky, robin's egg blue only moments ago, was showing clouds in the western corner of the sky. Winter's mouth twitched. Shadows would help her work.

She rounded a corner and came out into the open marketplace. Already, the square was bustling. Vendors were selling bread, cloth, ink, and, most of all: fish. The smell of it was strong and ever-present in Sheepwich, a fishing town that stood on the northwest coast of the Vitranic Ocean sheltered in an inlet. And with fish, there were scavengers. Seagulls swooped low over the square, screaming their delight as they carried off rotting seafood. Dogs and cats were constantly underfoot, dodging the seabirds and making off with vendors goods. Urchins as well pillaged from the square. The vendors constantly were on guard against thieves. There were some who, in Winter's opinion were fierce enough to belong in the very front lines of the army of the Republic of Clydale.

At least, the government said it was a Republic. Winter's father disagreed, claiming that all the politicians were corrupt, that the government was taking his money, and that they had been better off fifteen years ago, under the rule of the monarchy. Winter didn't care. She had no interest in politics, and would merely sit back and let her brother Isaiah argue in favour of the Republic whenever Dad went off on one of these rants.

Shaking herself out of her reverie, Winter moved into the center of the square and scanned the growing crowd. Dad had said they needed bread…She spotted the baker's stand and hurried toward it. She stood at the back of the small queue for bread and watched the vendor, a large woman with arms made muscular from kneading dough. The woman ducked behind the counter to fetch a loaf of bread and Winter sprang. She had always prided herself on her agility, having only twice been caught doing her work.

Winter leapt forward and snatched a round loaf, still warm from the oven and tucked it inside her cloak. She heard the vendor bellowing after her as she ran, “Come back, ye bloody urchin! I'll…” But Winter wasn't listening. She darted out of the square and sat down in the alleyway, pulling out the bread from her cloak. She inhaled its scent and her mouth watered. She longed to take a bite, but this bread was strictly for the family. If she wanted food for herself, she'd have to go back and steal something else.

In the meantime, there were more errands to run. Winter put the bread in a cloth sack she'd brought along and tucked it once again inside her cloak, where its fresh-baked heat warmed her.

For the next half-hour, Winter ran back and forth between the market and the alleyway, pinching cheese, a second loaf of bread, apples, and finally, a steaming pot pie for herself. Sitting down in the alley, digging into the pie, she mentally rifled through her list of errands. Nothing else came to mind. Now she would go down the shore to do her daily work.

Winter loved being near the sea, even if she hated the smell of fish. The fact that she worked near the sea made her job less unpleasant. She hurried up to a burly man standing on the shoreline.

“Cal, I'm here.”

Cal turned around quickly. “You're late.” He accused.

“Sorry Cal, I had some errands to run.”

“No matter, get to work. There's a shipment of bananas just in from Nipoa.”

“What's a banana, Cal?”

“Never you mind.”

Winter shrugged and walked out to the water. It foamed around her boots and already Winter's toes felt damp. She walked along the shoreline to the pier and out to the edge where a great Nipoan galleon was anchored.

Sheepwitch was not a major trading city, so Winter had seen a ship from somewhere as far as Nipoa only twice before. Both times she had strained to see, but never caught sight of, one of the sailors from Nipoa. Her older brother Isaiah had told her that their skin was burnt, like bread left too long on the hearth. “Why?” she had breathed.

“Well,” Isaiah had told her, straightening his glasses, “since its so hot in Nipoa, their skin gets charred by the over-hot sun.”

“Does it hurt?”

“I don't know,” he had said. “you should ask if you happen to meet one.”

So, now Winter stood on tiptoe, increasing her slight height by a few inches, trying to see over the tall sides of the galleon. She fell back onto her feet. No luck. They must duck whenever she tried to see them.

The shiphand next to her grinned. “Don't worry, Winter. This bunch're comin' off the ship, Cal says. Can't say I blame `em. It's a bloody long voyage from Nipoa.”

Winter stood on tiptoe again. “Will they bring bananas?”

The shiphand laughed. He was one of the several men she had made friends with over the years. Her brother Habe thought it strange that she had so few female friends, but as she tried to explain to him, she never saw other girls during her daily routines. And those she did care to socialize with she knew her brother wouldn't approve of.

“Reckon so.” The shiphand said. Just then, the gangplank was lowered and a group of men descended, leading donkeys carrying boxes and burlap sacks on their backs.

Winter gazed at the men with keen interest. It was true, their skin was a deep, russet brown color. But while Winter had imagined it would be like the lifeless dark color of burnt bread, when she saw them, she thought them rather beautiful. Their brown skin gleamed wet with sea spray. They had slender torsos, strong noses, and hair as black as charcoal. Then Winter noticed their clothes and a slightly derisive smirk played about her mouth. Imagine wearing only knee-length trousers and a loose shirt in Sheepwich in November. The clothes merchants were going to make a fortune today. If they planned to stay even overnight, the sailors would need some good wool coats to keep from catching frostbite.

So preoccupied was she with the Nipoans, Winter did not notice the slender, hooded, red haired man who followed the sailors off the ship, leading a silver-grey horse behind him. Instead of following the Nipoans with their train of donkeys over to Winter and the others, the man walked the other way, west, along the beach and back towards the buildings of Sheepwitch.

It was now dusk, and Winter left the beach to return home. Weaving her way along the streets, the sack of filched goods on her back, she thought about the sailors. Only two of them spoke Kledish, her native tongue, and one of them told her that they planned to stay a week. He was perhaps 3 years older than her, 18 or 19 at most. She had wanted to ask what a banana was, but she didn't want him to think her ignorant. Instead, she asked his name.

“Maharvain,” he replied, voice thickened by a rather exotic accent. “And yours?”

“Winter.”

“That is an unusual name.”

Winter scowled, all to used to this remark. “My mother named me.” That was what her father had said when she asked him why she was named after a season. When she asked where her mother was now, he would quickly find some unfinished chore for her to do. She had since stopped asking.

Now, she looked back up at Maharvain. His brow was slightly furrowed in thought. Before he could ask what kind of person would be cruel enough to name their daughter after a season, Winter said, “Well, I must be going home now. Perhaps I'll see you in the city before you leave.” She winced inwardly at how awkward she was, but Maharvain didn't seem to care.

He nodded. “Goodbye, Winter.”

Now, Winter opened her front door, barely glancing at the wolf outside as she stroked its ear once again, and hung her cloak on a peg by the door. If she had bothered to look at it, she would have seen its eyes gleaming emerald in the darkness. “Isaiah, Habe, Brian, I'm home!” she called.

Brian came out into the kitchen to greet her. He was the youngest of her brothers, twelve years old only last month, and also, the only one of them with fair hair. “Oh, `ello Winter, whadya get?” He started to open the sack she'd placed on the table.

She slapped his hand away. “None until supper. Is Dad back from the docks yet?”

Brian sulked. “No.”

Habe, the middle brother also popped into the kitchen. “We're expecting him back any minute, though.”

“Oh. Where's Isaiah?”

Habe smirked. “Where do you think?”

Winter didn't have to guess. Isaiah would be in his and Habe's room, reading for a change. Isaiah and Habe were the only two of the four siblings who were fully related to each other. All four of them shared the same father, Coster Rose, but only Isaiah and Habe were both born of the same mother. Brian was born to a different woman, and Winter, another one entirely.

Coster had not been lucky in his wives. Isaiah and Habe's mother, and Coster's first wife, Liana had died of fever, while Brian's mother, Enna had died in childbirth. And Winter's mother? Winter just assumed that her fate had been so terrible that her father still didn't like to talk about it. Sometimes she wondered if he would remarry. It had been 12 years since Enna had died and Brian was born. Winter wondered if he was afraid to marry again, for fear of cursing another woman with his bad luck.

Just then, Coster himself entered the house, smelling, as usual, of fish. “Allo, m'dear.” He spread his arms to embrace her, but she stepped back, plugging her nose with one hand.

Please wash your hands first.” It wasn't a request. He shrugged.

“Very well.” Coster stepped outside again to the pump to wash his hands. Inside, Habe shouted for Isaiah to “Get his lazy arse out here and help with supper.” Isaiah came out looking annoyed but eventually pitched in reluctantly. Coster returned, dusting white powder off the shoulders of his coat.

Snowing out,” he said unnecessarily.

Winter grinned and ran outside to feel the chill. She loved the snow. She turned around once, face upturned to the black sky and falling flakes, then stepped back inside, snow sparkling like a crown on her black hair, cheeks flushed, and eyes glittering with an otherworldly light. For a split second, in the light of the lanterns, she looked un-human and profoundly out of place.

Then, “I'm starving.” Said she, “Let's eat.”

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