This is the first 500ish words of my young adult/crossover fantasy novel, The Heartland of the Winter. Enjoy.
The first snowflakes were fluttering through the trees, gently, like tiny feathers. It was a beautiful but ominous sight; for, as those who saw it well knew, while each flake taken separately might be insignificant – a barely noticed moment of cold on the skin – taken all together they could be lethal. For now, each one was melting away to nothing as soon as it landed on the hard ground, as if it had never been. But soon – all too soon – they would start to come thicker and faster, and they would start to settle, and soon the delicate flurry would become a blizzard, and soon after that the forest path would be lost beneath the blanket of white and travel would be impossible. Shenaisa knew all this, and she knew what that would mean for her and her younger sister.
‘Hurry up!’ she called anxiously.
‘I’m coming! I’m tired, can’t we rest for a bit?’ whined back Mardia, who came trotting up behind, red-faced and panting. She was shorter and more stockily built than Shenaisa, and struggled to keep up with her on long walks.
‘No, Mardia, you know we can’t rest, we have to get there before the storm closes in or we’ll be trapped here all night,’ Shenaisa snapped, and then added sarcastically, ‘Do you want to sleep in a snow cave?’
‘No,’ Mardia replied sullenly, ‘but my feet hurt… can’t we stop for a short while?’
‘No we can’t.’ Shenaisa walked on faster than before. It was not a response that brooked any argument; the deep woods of the Greylands at the sharp end of autumn were not a place for casual conversation. Already the snow was falling more thickly and gathering in small patches wherever there was a break in the tree cover.
The two girls knew the path well, having walked it many times before. Even so, they had to keep pausing to check their bearings, looking for signs of human passage, or trying to make out the direction of the sun through the tangled branches and the thick cover of cloud. In some places the path was edged with stones, or there were arrows carved on tree trunks to show the way, but elsewhere it petered out and they had to guess which way to go. Several times they guessed wrongly and then had to back-track, the snow falling steadily around them all the time and gradually obscuring the ground. They picked their way over rocks and twisted roots, crossed frozen streams by bridges made of single unhewn logs, climbed over banks and ditches covered with fallen leaves and waded through patches of thorny undergrowth. Always they kept on going, moving relentlessly through the unchanging and unyielding landscape. Around them the wood was silent, the snow and cloud and cold seeming to muffle all sounds. There was no sign of any other living thing but them, two young girls with unwieldy backpacks trekking alone through trees which stretched endlessly in every direction, with only their woollen caps, rough green clothes and brown leather boots as protection against the immensity of the forest.
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