27 April 2011

More History Than Anyone Should Have To Deal With

Sixty years ago - 1951 to be precise - petrol was 3s 4d (that's shillings and pre-decimal pence) per UK gallon of  4.5 litres, making the cost equivalent to 3.5p a litre in today's money. For the non-Brits reading this, it is currently coming in at around £1.33 a litre, that's a whisker short of £6 a UK gallon. A pint of beer cost 1s 3d (1/3d I believe we used to write it), and a three bedroomed semi-detached house £1,450 - which I know to be correct as I've just found the receipt to my parents' house bought in 1952. The average weekly full-time wage was £8 6s 0d for men; £4 9s 10d for women (equivalent to £8.30/£4.49 in modern money).

Still nostalgic for the "good old days"? Well try this one. In 1951, that's six years after the end of the Second World War, the meat ration per person stood at its lowest level ever, 10d (4p) worth per week for an adult, which could buy you, if you could find it, 4ounces of rump steak. And meat didn't finally come off ration until 1954. Pretty dire, eh?

I thought so until I was reading Alan Wilkinson's blog. He's a writer friend of mine who, in true English eccentric style, has gone to live on the Nebraska range for six months, ostensibly alone, to write. The family who own the land got it under the Homestead Act in 1904 and lived first in a dug-out, then in a sod-house, before building the first home-made block-built ranch-house in 1923. It's now used as a hunting lodge, and it's the house he's staying in. There's a lot of history mixed in with his observations. Drop by, you'll find it interesting.

24 April 2011

#SampleSunday 20: Beneath The Shining Mountains Chapter 4 Pt1

Having been placed in unacceptable danger in the enemy Shoshone village - by accident or negligence - and putting himself in an unenviable position with the experienced war band leader by covering for a man he considers his friend, Winter Man's heart is no longer filled with lovers' games.

‘Is it true? Are they back?’
Moon Hawk’s eldest brother gazed at her in open-mouthed astonishment. Adult siblings maintained a strict sense of dignity in their exchanges. His sister’s lack of propriety embarrassed him. Turning to their mother, he spoke directly to her.
‘Bear On The Flat sends me to tell you that Running Fisher has returned with horses and coups. He said that you’d be eager to know.’
Little Face took a step towards him, smiling. ‘Thank you, my son. Were there any injuries?’
He shook his head. ‘Not that I’ve heard. There will be a great deal of singing tonight. Here, I’ve brought you something.’ He opened his hand and showed her the slender dentalium shells he had hidden there. ‘These will look well hanging from your ears.’
Little Face uttered her delight as he tipped them into her offered palm. ‘You’re a good son, Antelope Dancer. You make a mother proud.’
He smiled, nodding his acceptance of her thanks. Without a glance towards Moon Hawk, he bowed his head and went out through the door opening.
Little Face frowned at her daughter. ‘If you talk to him like that again, he’ll refuse to visit us while you’re here.’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t think. I’m—’
‘I know. I know. You’ve been like it for days. I don’t know which is worse, falling over Winter Man every time I leave the lodge, or coping with your anxieties when he’s away from the village. I’ll be pleased when it’s all over.’
Moon Hawk relaxed a little, and smiled. ‘Mother . . . You know you’re enjoying every moment.’
‘Perhaps,’ she mused. ‘But I’ll still be pleased when his family offer you an elk-tooth dress.’
An elk-tooth dress. A wedding gift. It was all Moon Hawk could dream of, that and lying in Winter Man’s arms.
‘Don’t stand there like something carved,’ Little Face admonished. ‘Bathe. Dress. I must paint your face and oil your hair. He will be here soon!’
 The face of Skins The Wolf seemed to be set in a permanent scowl. While Otter Robe had dressed his hair and attached bright beaded temple ornaments to the thin braids he wore in front of his ears, Spider had painstakingly painted his eyes vermilion and his face black, the honour colours of a coup-taker. Running Fisher had divided the captured Shoshone horses, generously keeping no more for himself than he had given to his men, but Skins The Wolf could speak of nothing but the group of boys they’d met some little while before.
‘They’ll have run straight to the village and told everyone we’re here. What surprise will there be when we ride among the lodges now?’
It was the third time he had said those same words. Hillside bent his head nearer Winter Man’s ear as he applied vermilion to the torn skin of his back.
‘He likes to hear his own voice. He sounds like a prairie chicken trying to encourage a mate.’
Winter Man turned his blackened face so that he could see Hillside from the corner of his eye. ‘You sound like something, too, ridiculing his every move.’
Hillside narrowed his eyes. ‘I carry a fire in my chest for him, the way he’s treated us. I don’t know how you can remain so calm.’
Calm? Winter Man nearly laughed. Was that how he looked to Hillside? Was that how he looked to them all?
‘I feel unworthy. I have gained a coup, taken a picketed horse—’
‘—and rescued me.’
Winter Man sighed. ‘I don’t feel that it should be my shoulders these honours should be heaped on.’
‘Then whose shoulders should they be heaped on? Those of Skins The Wolf for deserting us? Your only mistake was to protect him by not disclosing all you saw to Running Fisher. It’s too late to alter that now. It’s gone; it’s past. Your honours are good. You’ll stand tall and raise your head high. What will people think if you skulk into the village hiding your face? What will Moon Hawk think? She’ll be waiting for you to pass her lodge.’ He slapped Winter Man playfully on the shoulder. ‘Say that she won’t be there, all coy and affecting a tired disinterest, while she wears her most prized clothing for you. Ah, you’ll feel differently when the celebrations begin.’
Winter Man hoped so.
When Running Fisher felt the time was right, he told his men to mount their horses. They began at a sedate pace, singing songs of valour and cunning, but as they neared the tipis they eased their mounts into a trot, finally entering the village at a gallop, driving the stolen horses before them.
The village erupted in its excitement. There were calls and shouts. People waved painted robes and ran alongside the horses of the returning men. The air was filled with dust and noise; the women’s continuous high-pitched trilling punctuated by the deafening booms of powder-guns. Round the village, the stolen horses were driven by every tipi so that all might see and admire them.
Once the horses had been shown, Running Fisher paraded his men: Skins The Wolf to the fore in recognition of the precedence of his grand coup, Winter Man behind him leading the roan, the wolves came next, in honour of their duties, and finally Hillside, Otter Robe and Spider in a line bringing up the rear. They stopped outside the lodge of Running Fisher so that his family and clan members could hear the deeds of the raid and applaud his leadership. They stopped outside the lodge of Skins The Wolf so that he could re-enact the taking of his coup for his family. They stopped outside Winter Man’s lodge so that all there might hear at first hand how he’d come to take the roan and save the life of Hillside. Slowly the raiders made their way through the rejoicing village, stopping before a group of Lumpwood society members who sang songs for Skins The Wolf, and again before a group of Fox society members who sang songs for Winter Man.
It was as Hillside had predicted. The jubilation forced all melancholy thoughts from Winter Man’s mind. He was treated as a hero – and he felt like one. He told his tale time and time again, showing off the red-painted wound on his back, emphasizing his bravery as custom demanded. One of his clan-grandfathers, a mentor since before the time of his vision quest, loudly recalled the other deeds Winter Man had accomplished: the taking of a gun, the striking of a second and a third coup, so that the people might know and remember that he was a Good Young Man with a strong heart, destined for mighty things.
Swallow came to hug him and bathe in his glory. Several of his cast-off lovers did the same, but not Moon Hawk. He wondered if she had been standing outside her father’s lodge as the men had paraded by it. He had made a point of not looking, half-hoping that she would seek him out herself.
As the sun slipped towards the mountains and the clamour of the village began to subside, Winter Man felt a new excitement kindle within him. He was pleased Moon Hawk hadn’t come to fawn over him the way his lovers had. Very likely, it would have meant an end to their game. But she hadn’t come. The game was still on – and it was his turn to play.

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20 April 2011

Ebooks: up, Up, and Awaaaay...

It's been news all round lately. 

Yesterday, Scott Nicholson across on  Indiebooksblog.blogspot was good enough to spotlight Torc of Moonlight and so I checked across on Amazon to find that it had been ranked on both sites: on Amazon UK #42 and on Amazon US #60 in the Ghosts category. Yay!

 While I was there I noticed that it had gained another in-depth 5* review, this time from another writer who is also an archaelogist/historian focusing on the period: 
"...The writing is exceptionally elegant and well-crafted. The story is compelling, gradually gaining momentum and building suspense..."
"...The plot is seamless such that the reader may not appreciate the skill it takes to construct a story which interweaves through time in this way. It is a compelling story and one I found difficult to put down once I'd started reading."
Check out the rest Amazon US  Amazon UK
This morning I was sent a link to Assoc American Publishers February Sales Report which makes interesting reading. Ebooks saw a 202.3% growth in Feb 11 over Feb 10, and was ranked #1 of all categories of trade publishing. The point to note, though, is that while 84 US publishers contribute figures to the report, only 16 contribute to Ebook figures. 
So what are the figures for Indie sales? Who knows.

17 April 2011

#SampleSunday 19: Beneath The Shining Mountains Chapter 3 Pt4

Sundays seem to arrive with alarming regularity. Let's hope they continue to! Please Tweet this sample and if you are enjoying the continuing story, take a moment to leave a message.

To bring readers up to date, Moon Hawk has caught Winter Man's attention, but her plan to marry him has had unforeseen consequences. Instead of taking her in his arms, he's joined a raid against the Shoshone, stealing a horse picketed outside its owner's tipi so as to gain a Grand Coup. The raid hasn't gone according to plan, and now Winter Man has to stand by his honour.

The other members of the party had cut a large number of horses from the unguarded herd on the hills surrounding the Shoshone village. Running Fisher had sent them on ahead while he’d waited alone for his three remaining men. They waited now, the horses rested, the men crowding around Skins The Wolf, eagerly listening to details of his coup.
Winter Man felt his heart grow heavy as he rode towards them. There were many questions still in his mind, questions to which he’d found no ready answers.
Hillside slipped from his mount’s back before it had fully drawn to a halt, almost running in his haste to reach Skins The Wolf. He hit him in the shoulder with such force that he nearly knocked him off his feet.
‘You could have killed us!’ he roared.
Skins The Wolf stared at him. Spider and Otter Robe stared, too. Hillside was boiling with such fury that he could hardly speak.
‘Your foolery nearly cost us our lives!’
Skins The Wolf squared his shoulders and took a menacing step towards his accuser. ‘Foolery? I gained a grand coup. You saw me gain it. Are you going to stand before these men and say that you were blind?’
Running Fisher cut between them, separating them with his arms. He looked quickly from one to the other, finally resting his gaze on Skins The Wolf.
‘What is this?’
Skins The Wolf beat his chest with his closed fist. ‘I gained a grand coup,’ he said, his pride glowing in his face.
Ignoring Hillside, Running Fisher turned to Winter Man and called him into the circle. ‘Did you see this coup being taken?’
Winter Man’s stomach knotted. He’d known he would be asked to verify the deed. What was he supposed to say? A man never lied, it was an outrage against one’s Medicine, against First Maker, but could he stand before others and accuse the friend with whom he’d shared so much over the years of leaving himself and Hillside to die at the hands of the Shoshone?
He twisted the riding-thong about his fingers as he stood before Running Fisher. The tired roan nuzzled at his neck.
‘It was a good coup,’ he said in a clear voice. ‘A man and woman were walking between the tipis. Skins The Wolf gave warning of his presence. The man turned to attack him and he took the coup, knocking the man to the ground. The woman began to scream and he hit her with his club.’
‘Smashed in her skull,’ Skins The Wolf qualified with enthusiasm. ‘I felt it shatter beneath the blow.’
‘She fell on the man as he was trying to rise. It gave Skins The Wolf time to strike him, too.’
Winter Man looked straight into Running Fisher’s eyes. Running Fisher stared unflinchingly back into his.
‘And then?’
Winter Man could not say it. There had to be a reason for Skins The Wolf doing what he had, some fact of which he was not aware.
‘And then?’ Running Fisher repeated.
‘I cannot say with certainty what happened next. There was much confusion. I’d taken the picketed horse and—’
‘You were not on its back! I gained my coup first.’
Winter Man felt his jaw sag open, and quickly gritted his teeth to cover his astonishment. From his own lips Skins The Wolf was telling him that he’d known their positions. He’d simply ignored their safety. Winter Man didn’t want to believe what he was hearing.
‘Winter Man had gained the picketed horse,’ Hillside countered vehemently.
‘I had not cut its restraining line,’ Winter Man said. ‘I was waiting in the shadow of the horse for the two Shoshone to pass me.’
‘They would have seen you,’ Skins The Wolf snorted.
For the first time since he’d been called as a witness, Winter Man turned to look at him, and he did not like what he saw. Skins The Wolf was brimming with self admiration. He could hardly keep himself from strutting before them all.
‘I do not think so,’ Winter Man answered thickly. ‘I do not think so.’
‘Then the coup was good?’ Running Fisher asked. Winter Man had to acknowledge that it was. ‘It seems to me that you gained your coups at the same time within sight of one another. Both will stand. Neither will be devalued. It is rare that honours are gained this way, but it does happen.’ He looked from one to the other of them for signs of objections. There was none. ‘Then that is how it will be told.’
Skins The Wolf threw his arms up in jubilation. Whatever Running Fisher said, a grand coup always took precedence over a picketed horse. He curled his arms round the shoulders of Otter Robe and Spider and led them away to tell them, yet again, of the details.
Winter Man turned away, thankful to be able to tend to his new horse as an excuse to be away from the others. He had begun to rub the roan with grass when Running Fisher drew close.
‘Is there anything you wish to tell me?’
‘Tell you?’ he echoed.
‘That you would, perhaps, not wish the others to hear?’
Winter Man forced himself to look at the pipe-carrier. It was obvious the older man knew something was amiss.
‘Skins The Wolf took a horse from me a good while before you and Hillside came into view,’ Running Fisher prompted.
Winter Man ran his hand under the roan’s belly giving himself the opportunity of averting his eyes. ‘I have said. There was much confusion.’
An ominous silence gathered between them. It spoke much of Running Fisher’s true belief. He dropped his gaze and began to turn away, before pulling himself up to look back at his subordinate.
‘A man always holds the truth in his heart. Sometimes his words are the same, sometimes they are slightly different. Keep the truth in your heart in your heart, Winter Man.’
Winter Man watched Running Fisher walk into the darkness, his chest and stomach heaving until he felt bile rise into his throat. He turned to the roan and pushed his face into its flank in an attempt to hide his anguish.
Keep the truth in your heart in your heart. He had been called a liar. As near as possible without the word being spoken, he had been called a liar by a pipe-carrier, by a Good Man. Never change your story, that was what he’d been warned. Never speak of what is truly in your heart now that you have denied its existence.
The shame... The humiliation…
He felt a hand drop heavily on to his shoulder and shuddered under the impact, believing his thoughts had been discovered. It was Hillside.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so harsh. I’m angry with myself. That back of yours will need a salve.’
Winter Man worked his shoulders. ‘It does feel stiff.’
‘A lance skimmed you, I think. Your Medicine was strong today.’ Hillside showed him his arm. It was covered in dried blood from shoulder to elbow. ‘I was nicked by an arrow.’ He chuckled. ‘Both our Medicines were strong today.’ His amusement faded. ‘What did Running Fisher want?’
Winter Man wondered, fleetingly, if he’d the courage to speak of his dishonour, then realised he needed someone to confide in. ‘He wished to know what was truly in my heart. I couldn’t tell him. He called me a liar.’ He hung his head. Would he ever be able to hold it high again? He heard Hillside’s gasp of astonishment, and the pain in his chest increased until he had to grasp the roan for support.
‘To your face? He accused you to your face?’
Winter Man shook his head. ‘His words were couched very well, but he’ll never trust me again.’
‘Will he . . . Will he say this to others?’
‘He won’t need to. He’ll pick men to ride with him and he’ll not pick me. How many times will that happen before others wonder why? I’m disgraced.’
‘No,’ Hillside told him. ‘You are not disgraced. Running Fisher came to me, too, but I added nothing to what you’d witnessed before us all. I’m not disgraced. You are not disgraced. It is Skins The Wolf who has disgraced himself.’
He took a half step back, angling his shoulders as to leave, and then swung round again. ‘Why did he do it? He was there to guard your back, not to take himself a coup. He could have killed us. Why did he do it?’
‘Perhaps he couldn’t resist the opportunity when it presented itself.’
Hillside scoffed. ‘A man says that in defence of a boy on his first raid, not in defence of an experienced man like Skins The Wolf.’ He shook his head, not wanting to believe what had happened. ‘To gain such a coup and then turn and run, leaving us to the Shoshone…’ He raised his head, waving a finger a Winter Man. ‘You came back for me,’ he said. ‘You’d escaped and you rode that horse back into the Shoshone village to rescue me. I told Running Fisher that, and shall recount it to the village when we return. I shall recount it to the members of the Fox society. I shall not forget that you saved my life.’ He patted Winter Man on the arm, and walked away.
The roan turned in a tight circle and came to nuzzle at its new owner. Winter Man slipped a hand under its jaw and patted it. He should have felt exhilarated gaining such a coup, taking such a fine horse. Songs would be sung about the deed. Songs would be sung about his rescue of Hillside. He would be paraded around the village, his valour brought to the notice of everyone. His family, his clan, they would all be proud of him. The women would trill for him. Moon Hawk would trill for him. None of it would wipe away his shame. That would be with him for ever.

13 April 2011

Interesting who you meet in the ether…

I’m just getting the hang of Twitter. Well, I’m not really; I feel as though I am wallowing in a morass, but I’m doing my best, even if it sometimes seems ineffectual. Let’s face it, if I could easily squeeze my thoughts, n’er my life, into 140 characters, I wouldn’t be a novelist.

However, despite my vapid attempts at promotion, people follow me. Which is always a surprise. Even more of a surprise is who these people are.

The latest is CircleKRanch who/which ‘focuses on pedigree quarter horses…’. Okay, I can see the connection between that and, say, my novel Beneath The Shining Mountains. The surprise is that CircleKRanch hails from... the Czech Republic. Yeah, really. I find that worthy of archiving so I can find out more. Then there’s the ‘biomedical scientist and author of book on the Picts’. Now how did that come about? And what’s the story behind the writer from Ohio who is working on a trilogy about Robert The Bruce?

Ah…I see the irony.I'd better quit while I'm ahead.

But doesn’t it just go to show that stories are everywhere. And aren’t we all the richer for it?

10 April 2011

#SampleSunday 18: Beneath The Shining Mountains Chapter 3 Pt3

Busy week. Given two talks and spent time on research projects, so my TBDone list grows rather than shrinks. Such is a writer's life.

However, #SampleSunday carries on. This excerpt might seem action-filled - Winter Man is on a horse-raid so as to get the better of Moon Hawk by parading a fine mount - but the intricacies of building on the page a viable lifestyle alien to our own are much in evidence, especially how men behaved, or were supposed to.


This horse would live to graze the spring grass. It would live to produce young of its own. How Moon Hawk would look when he paraded this horse in front of her.
The lodge was quite dark. No sound came from it that he could hear. Perhaps the occupants were singing in another tipi. Winter Man stole round its covering to the edge of the shadow cast by an adjacent lodge. He spied Hillside. Hillside could also see him, because he gave the signal that meant all was well. Winter Man looked for Skins The Wolf, but his friend must have been too well hidden for him to be noticed.
Winter Man eased himself into the starlight. The roan saw him and pulled slightly on the restraining rope tied about its neck. Winter Man stood a moment, letting the animal see him, showing himself for what he was. Slowly, he advanced upon it. The roan eyed him with distrust. Winter Man began shushing to it, holding out his free hand so that the horse might take his scent. His other hand loosened the plaited riding-thong from his belt, ready to slip the loop over the animal’s lower jaw. He advanced further, attempting to stroke the horse’s nose. It bared its teeth at him, bared its teeth like a dog. Winter Man’s blood ran cold. If the horse began to shy . . .
‘Quiet, horse,’ he whispered. ‘I am Winter Man. You are my horse now. Accept me as your rider and I shall tie red streamers in your mane. I shall paint my honours on your coat and ride you in parades so that all might gaze upon you and say, “Winter Man’s horse is the most prized among all the Apsaroke horses.”.’
The roan pricked its ears at his words and eyed him afresh. It seemed a little quieter. Winter Man smoothed his hand down its neck and across its shoulders. It stamped a hoof and flicked its tail, but it did not try to pull away from him. He looped the riding-thong and slipped it about the horse’s neck, deciding that a choke harness might be a prudent idea. The animal snorted, annoyed that it should be meddled with.
Winter Man licked his own lips as he prised the horse’s lips apart and eased its jaw open. It had good teeth, the sort that could bite off a man’s fingers. Carefully, he moved the jaw-thong into position and tightened it.
He was ready.
Expelling his held breath he raised his head to signal to Hillside, but Hillside was frantically signalling to him. Away to the left, two figures were walking slowly between the tipis. They seemed to be bent, large shouldered. Lovers sharing a robe. And they were walking towards Winter Man.
He ducked beneath the roan’s neck to stand in its shadow. Yes, lovers. They were engrossed in each other. If the horse did not whinny and he did not move, they would come and walk straight by him and not notice his existence. He watched them come towards him. His heart beat so hard that it hurt his ribs. Keep still, he told himself. All he had to do was keep perfectly still. He glanced across to where Hillside had been standing, but he had retreated into the shadows. Winter Man looked back towards the lovers. His stomach lurched. There were three figures now, one behind the other two. Skins The Wolf! What was he doing?
In a moment of horrified perception, Winter Man realised exactly what Skins The Wolf was doing. He was getting ready to count a grand coup — in the middle of a Shoshone village.
Everything moved slowly then, so very slowly, yet so terrifyingly fast. The cry that leapt from the mouth of Skins The Wolf could have been heard clear beyond the edge of the village. The Shoshone unravelled himself from the robe and his lover’s arms with admirable speed, but he was not quick enough to dodge the blow Skins The Wolf delivered with his fist. The man fell to the ground as the Apsaroke’s cry of victory rent the air. His call was still jangling in Winter Man’s ears as the Shoshone woman began to scream. Skins The Wolf silenced her with a single blow from his stone-headed club. She fell heavily, knocking into her rising lover. Skins The Wolf dealt another blow, and, without a single look around him, darted away between two lodges.
Winter Man grasped the roan’s mane and heaved himself on to its bare back. All around him people were spilling from tipis, wondering what had happened. Winter Man drew his knife and cut the restraining rope which picketed the horse, leaving the loop and a short lead dangling from its neck. Free at last, the roan skittered backwards. Winter Man crouched low on its back, trying to control it with his knees, trying not to look conspicuous. He glanced about him. Where was Hillside?
The roan shied. It rose on its hind legs, a deep bellow forcing its way up its throat. Every Shoshone in the village looked at Winter Man. Their cries were unintelligible to him, but he knew what they meant. He had to get out of there. He had to get out of there quickly.
He fought with the roan, finally bringing it under his control. A searing pain streaked across his back. Men seemed to be all around him. He pushed one down with his foot, lashed another in the face with the end of the riding-thong. Then the horse was moving, kicking out with its hooves, lengthening its stride. A tipi loomed in front of it. The horse veered to the left to be confronted by a propped-up travois. The roan leapt it as fluidly as a springing mountain cat. Winter Man felt the blood surge in his veins. He would escape. He would live. Freedom was his!
Where was Hillside? He looked behind him. No one had caught a horse to follow him. No one, not even the enraged Shoshone. He reined in the roan and turned it back towards the village. Hillside was in there somewhere, without a horse, without a friend to die beside. Winter Man kicked the roan, kicked at its belly until it galloped like a true spirit-dog, streaking its mane and tail out behind it in the wind it created. They were upon the lodges before Winter Man realised. The Shoshone threw themselves aside as they galloped through, curving this way and that to create more confusion. The frantic pace fired the roan. It hardly needed a touch of command. It was, indeed, a spirit-dog sent by First Maker. Winter Man filled his lungs and cried out the fighting call of the Fox warrior society. Almost at once he was answered. Hillside was still alive.
Winter Man dragged the roan to a standstill and looked in all directions. A crouching figure darted from the shadow of a nearby tipi. Winter Man’s fingers sought his sheathed knife before he realised it was Hillside. A hand was raised. A hand was lowered. They clasped each other about the forearm and Winter Man pulled Hillside up behind him. He felt the fletching of an arrow pass his face and he kicked the roan into motion. The Shoshone were organising. Their initial surprise had been swept aside. They would be running for their horses, ready to give chase.
‘Go! Go! Go!’ Hillside shrieked.
The two Apsaroke went like the wind. Winter Man gave the roan every encouragement and the roan gave them all its speed, so sure-footed that it did not falter at the creek; it did not hesitate as the land broke up into a series of narrow gullies. It leapt them with ease, one and two and three. All Winter Man had to do was to keep heading it where he hoped the other Apsaroke were waiting.
They came upon Running Fisher long before Winter Man expected to. He was alone, sitting astride his captured mount, the riding-thongs of two others held in his hand. Hillside slipped from the back of the roan on to the back of one of the spare horses.
‘Change your horse!’ Running Fisher commanded. ‘The roan is tired.’
Winter Man shook his head. The roan was tired, but if he changed mounts now, he might lose it. ‘Skins The Wolf ?’
Running Fisher pointed ahead and kicked his own horse forward. Hillside and Winter Man followed him. Winter Man repeatedly thrashed the end of the riding thong across the horse’s rump, forcing from it reserves of speed and endurance it hadn’t known it owned. At any other time Winter Man would have continually praised it for such a feat, glorified its triumph, but his mind was full of confusion and doubts.
Skins The Wolf was alive and well. Running Fisher had already given him a horse, but… Skins The Wolf had been on foot. To have arrived before himself and Hillside, he must have run from the village as soon as he’d taken the coup. Winter Man wouldn’t accept that it was possible. He and Skins The Wolf had been on horse-raids since early manhood. It was inconceivable that one so experienced couldn’t have been aware of what would happen as soon as the coup was called. He’d known Hillside and himself were there. He must have done.
If you enjoyed this excerpt, leave a comment or Tweet the post. Thanks.

3 April 2011

#SampleSunday 17: Beneath The Shining Mountains Chapter 3 Pt2

It won't be long, now, before I curtail these serialised excerpts from Beneath The Shining Mountains, so enjoy while you can. After taking Moon Hawk's dare to heart, we left Winter Man joining others on a horse raid, but events aren't going quite according to plan...

He thought of Moon Hawk, of her dark, beguiling eyes gazing at him over the top of the buffalo robe that night she’d come out of the lodge. He thought of the contemptuous look she’d given him when they’d spoken at the root-digging. He, a Good Young Man, and she’d treated him shamefully in front of all those old women. If he didn’t return with a picketed horse as he’d promised, he would forever hear her laughter ringing in his ears.
‘We are raiding horses,’ Running Fisher said. ‘Horses from the Shoshone who dared to enter our lands to steal our own.’ His arms were folded about his pipe-bag as if around a new-born child. He looked very grave, and went on, ‘These Bannock have been given to us like wounded antelope caught in a thicket. They have been given to us as a test by First Maker. We shall not fail that test. We shall skirt the Bannock. We shall not show ourselves to them. We shall raid horses from the Shoshone. It is what I prayed for. It is what I was promised.’ He turned away, indicating that there was to be no discussion.
They altered their route and took a wide circle round the Bannock, travelling until the sliver of the risen moon was high overhead. Running Fisher finally called a halt. For the first time since leaving the Apsaroke village, they wrapped themselves in their buffalo robes and stretched out on the ground to sleep.
Winter Man stared up at the silver arc almost lost in the winking stars. His thoughts were not of its beauty, nor of the stories his people told about its origin. His mind dwelled on the fine horse he would take, and on the moist lips of the woman who would trill to acclaim his victory. Perhaps, if he was very patient, those lips would kiss his own. It was a thought which stirred his blood.
It was still dark when Running Fisher bade them rise and begin their trek afresh. He called a stop at dawn so that he could meditate with his Medicine. Winter Man and Hillside gave prayers to the rising sun, asking that they might stand at the next dawn and give thanks for their deliverance. That night, they knew, would be the night they entered the Shoshone village.
Frost and Hunts The Enemy returned to the group just before noon. A village had been sighted. It was not particularly large, but had a good herd of horses distributed over the surrounding hills. Frost had witnessed a horse-race. A large roan had won it easily. The animal had been washed in the nearby creek and led into the midst of the village. A picketed horse. A roan. Winter Man decided that that was the horse for him.
They hid the rest of the day in a dry wash, joking and sleeping and wagering on dice. Each was nervous, but none would admit it to the others. As the shadows lengthened and the twilight grew, each took himself away from the group and spoke privately with his Medicine. There were rites to be fulfilled, taboos to be upheld, prayers to be sung. With the onset of night, they set off.
Winter Man, Hillside and Skins The Wolf went straight to the edge of the village. There would be little time, they knew, before the others began to cut horses from the herd. They would do it as quietly as they could, but horses were inquisitive creatures, easily unnerved. It took only one startled animal to set the rest in motion. Such a noise would bring every Shoshone alive down on them.
Winter Man crouched behind a woman’s willow lodge, his friends at his shoulders. He was breathing hard, too hard, he knew, and perspiration was beginning to bead on his naked back. There was too much noise in the village, too much movement for the depth of the night. He could hear drumming from several lodges, and voices were lifting in song. The Shoshone were celebrating. He wished it were otherwise, but it was not. There was no point in waiting for them to sleep. The Shoshone could still be singing at dawn.
He hung his head, staring at the packed earth between his knees. His friends were waiting for his decision, for his instructions. Their lives depended on him now, the way all their lives depended on Running Fisher. Leadership was, indeed, a heavy responsibility. His head snapped up. His eyes took in the scene again. He turned with purpose to his friends and gave his instructions by sign alone. They signalled their acknowledgments, and left him.
Winter Man moved outside the circle of the glowing lodges, watching every footfall for dry firewood and discarded possessions, his eyes staring into small impenetrable shadows in case he came across a dog. If he set a dog barking, he might as well stand and sing his death song.
He crouched low as he heard voices laughing in the night. Two young men, decked in their finery. They passed on the other side of the tipi he hid behind and didn’t notice him. Winter Man strained his ears to hear what they were saying, as he knew a little of the Shoshone tongue. Their peoples did not always think of each other as enemies, but the young men’s words were spoken too quickly for him to grasp.
He moved across the gap into the shadow of another tipi. There was a horse picketed outside its door, a chestnut, a fine horse, but not the one he was seeking. He had told his friends that he would take the roan. To change his mind might place them in jeopardy. A man brazenly courted ill-luck by changing his mind once a raid had been mounted. Winter Man padded on. He caught sight of Hillside moving between the tipis some little way off, and sent a silent prayer to First Maker that his friend should keep his head down. Of Skins The Wolf he could see nothing. Then he saw the horse. The roan.
There was no wondering at how it had won its race so easily. The length of its leg was truly amazing. He had seen long-legged horses at the fur-traders’ fort to the north. He had even bartered all his skins for one after seeing it run, but it had been no good as a buffalo-horse, and had not been strong enough to survive the harshness of the winter; but this horse, this roan . . . Its parentage was mixed. It had the sturdy body of horses he knew well. This one would live to graze the spring grass. It would live to produce young of its own. How Moon Hawk would look when he paraded this horse in front of her.

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