Sunday, March 8, 2015
First 5 Pages March Workshop - Carpinello
Name: Cheryl Carpinello
Genre: Middle Grade XXX
Title: Guinevere: At the Dawn of Legend—Cedwyn’s Story
A strong north wind rushed down the valley, scattering leaves already yellowed and blown down earlier by another north wind. Already the smell of winter filled the air, crisp and sharp with the promise of early snow instead of the mild fall usually seen.
It also carried another winter on its breath. A light dusting of ash lay upon the castle parapets and floated down on the roofs turning them a grayish-white. These days ashes covered every level surface and every nook, inside and outside. On days like today when the wind raced through, people tried to breathe shallow to avoid inhaling the acrid smoke carried from the winter up north.
Throughout the spring and summer, conflict ripped through the northern country bringing death to many and sending the ashes of whole villages, burnt to the ground instead of surrendering, south into the lands loyal to the one king. In response, legions of men rode north, knights of those shires pledged to and supporting one land, one king. The land being Britain; the king being Arthur Pendragon.
A slender young woman, chin resting on her hands, gazed north, almost oblivious, to the gusts whipping the golden hair escaping from the cowl of her dark green cloak. Days seemed to have passed since the sun last smiled on her land. Then a nasty gale raised up and whipped the hood off her head, revealing underneath the innocent but lined face of a young princess, just past fifteen years. A princess who should have been a queen.
A sigh escaped her blood-spotted lips, cracked and sore from a week of standing on this parapet while the wind destroyed the summer in her land. She waited each day for movement through the trees that would signal the coming home of the knights from the north. No sign of her father or King Arthur.
Months overdue was her marriage. Another change because of the fighting, the refusal of the northern clans to give up their freedom for a different freedom under Arthur. Two months ago, her father had left with a contingent of knights to bolster Arthur’s troops. Two months and no word, just ashes and smoke.
On one hand, she was relieved. As much as she loved Arthur and had given her consent to the marriage, she—like the northern clans—was reluctant to give up her freedom. However, she also feared for the lives of her father, Arthur, and those who fought with them. As each day ended with no messenger, the strain began to show on the faces and in the tempers of those in the castle.
The gossip of the women had grown silent replaced with the almost daily scolding of children punctuated at times by the swish of a willow stick and a cry of a child. And among the men left—those essential to castle life and those too old or unfit for battle—quarrels had broken out, quarrels over small inane things like too much wood taken by Cook from old Sauder the blacksmith. Quarrels that the princess had to mediate between old friends with the help of her self-appointed guardian Brywyn. Quarrels for which the solutions given were weak and sometimes only ceased hostilities for an afternoon or an evening.
She wrinkled her forehead as she replayed those scenes and showed no interest in leaving the battlements to entertain the afternoon’s lineup. Then her lips gently curved up as she remembered Brywyn’s orders for her to ride to the abbey this afternoon and escort the priests back to the castle in the morning for weekly prayers. It’s not that the reminder was needed, but that her shoulders—on which she had taken the running of the castle and the overseeing of all its inhabitants—needed a rest.
Closing her eyes, she silently thanked Brywyn for the hundredth time.
“Guin’ver!” The young man’s newly deepened voice broke through her thoughts.
The growing smile softened the lines on her forehead as Guinevere opened her eyes, turned, and waved before running to the steps down to the ground and Cedwyn who waited, as always, impatiently.
Inside the forest, the smoke thinned; the branches acted as a filter, and after an hour’s ride, the air smelled fresher and held a hint of pine. Only when a strong gust rifled through the tree tops did a shower of ash flutter down.
Two horses stood in a small glen munching on tuffs of green within reach of their bridled heads. Reins tied to sturdy branches kept them from wandering. Like their riders, the horses couldn’t have been more different. The biggest horse’s black coat—at over seventeen hands—looked almost grey with the ash and sweat mixed on it. Huge legs with thick white stockings stomped the padded ground more out of habit than a need to keep the flies away The black coarse tail twitched from one side to another for the same reason. Occasionally it tossed its head causing the black and white mane to rustle in the air and to keep the forelock out of its eyes. Unlike the smaller sorrel horse beside it, this was a retired battle mount whose job was to carry a princess and keep her out of harm’s way.
The slender sorrel stood at only fifteen hands, just tall enough to avoid the label of pony, a label it would have reacted to with a snort and a barring of teeth. Patches of white hair over its shoulders and rump spoke of years in a harness and its muscled legs told of a life pulling the war wagon loaded with supplies from camp to camp. Like its friend beside it, this mount was also retired. Both left behind on this current campaign, it having been decided that their duty had been done. The sorrel now was responsible for the boy, the princess’ best friend and loyal follower.
Both horses raised their heads and turned at the thrashing sounds coming from the bushes across the glen. Before seeing the cause, they quickly lowered their heads and hurriedly grabbed at the remaining tuffs of grass, stuffing their mouths. Break time was over.
Guinevere and Cedwyn pushed aside bushes with one hand and entered the clearing Their other hands doing as the horses had—stuffing the last of the wild raspberries into their mouth, and wiping at the escaping juice. Cedwyn spoke first.
“Those berries were almost as good as Cook’s circlette.”
Guinevere nodded, her mouth too full to answer. She took an animal skin filled with water off her horse, drank some, and passed it to Cedwyn. He drank his fill and handed it back.
“Yes, it was,” Guinevere said. “I’m glad we stopped, but if we don’t ride on quickly, it will be too dark to find the turnoff to the abbey.” She slipped a small booted foot into her stirrup and mounted her horse thankful for the split skirt Brywyn made her so she could ride astride. It was clumsy riding sidesaddle. She waited while Cedwyn mounted the sorrel.
A rush of wind found the glen and swirled fallen leaves caught in its grasp round and round like a dervish, a devil’s whirlwind. The war horse’s head jerked up and with ears flattened, it stared back the way they had come. The sorrel imitated it, but with teeth barred. Both horses pranced nervously and shook their heads. The sorrel backed up and prepared to bolt.