Authors: Barbara Campbell
“LORD OF THE OAK. LORD OF THE HOLLY. WE STAND BEFORE YOU. Lords of the First Forest, we come to witness.”
The air trembled. A shiver ran down Struath’s spine as the energy flowed around him and through him, through all of the watchers—a circle of living power surrounding the Tree. A shudder rippled through the massive trunk. The sweeping boughs of the Holly shook as the Lord of the Waning Year offered the challenge. The Oak rattled its spindly branches, accepting.
Then the Holly attacked. The finger-length spikes of its leaves carved long gouges in the Oak’s trunk. Struath sang with the others. Each day since Midsummer, the Oak-Lord’s strength had dwindled, and with it the strength of the sun. Tonight, his power was at its lowest ebb, yet somehow, the Lord of the Waxing Year must prevail.
A great bulge ran up the trunk of the Tree. Twigs burst out of the Oak’s naked limbs. They grew thick and strong, swelling with power. The Oak lashed the Holly, the sharp retort of cracking branches punctuating the singing. Green boughs sagged. Red berries, large as fists, rained down.
The Holly’s limbs shriveled, retreating before the burgeoning power of the Oak. Even as relief surged through him, Struath heard a high-pitched whine. The chanting faltered.
The Oak split with a horrifying shriek of rending wood. Shards of wood, longer than any spear, catapulted through the air. Men and women fled screaming, trampling those in their path. Struath stood frozen as one of the flying spears shattered a man’s head. Another impaled a woman on a birch where her body hung, twitching.
The Tree shrieked again. Struath raised his head as the Oak shuddered and ripped away from the trunk of the Tree. Blackness filled the jagged scar. In the blackness, stars red as blood gleamed with an unholy light as they swirled, slowly coalescing into a shape. A hand, Struath realized. An outstretched hand, the fingers curling and uncurling as if reaching for him… .
Writing may be a solitary art, but writers need the support of colleagues, friends, and family to accomplish their goals. To list them all would require a coffee table edition of
. Short of that, I’d like to acknowledge the following people whose contributions helped improve this book and kept me (relatively) sane while I wrote it:
Jeanne Cavelos, director of the Odyssey workshop. A terrific teacher, Jeanne’s enthusiasm, generosity, and discerning criticism create the perfect environment for writers to learn from each other and hone their skills.
The 2001 and 2002 participants of The Never-Ending Odyssey whose critiques helped shape the book. Special thanks to the following folks who attended both workshops: Daniel Fitzgerald, Marty Hiller, Rita Oakes, Larry Taylor, and Susan Winston.
Laurie Lanzdorf and Michael Samerdyke who critiqued the never-ending first draft of
and remained my friends 180,000 words later.
Susan Herner, loyal agent and friend, who always kept the faith and always kept me going.
Sheila Gilbert for her insight, her patience, and her sense of humor. Every author should be blessed with such an editor and be welcomed so warmly into the world of publishing.
And finally, my husband David Lofink, who read every word of every draft, made invaluable suggestions that changed the course of the story, and offered love and encouragement in good times and bad. He is my heartwood and I dedicate this novel to him.
Winter has come.
It walks the leafless forest and the frost-rimed fields.
It spreads its mantle of snow on the sleeping earth.
It breathes on the waters and locks them in silence.
It whistles on the hilltops, piercing the air with its
It devours the sun with fangs of icicles.
It clasps my hand with frozen fingers and chuckles
as I shiver.
Winter has come, wearing a crown of holly leaves.
EAR IS THE ENEMY.
Careful not to awaken his brother, Darak flung his mantle over his shoulders and eased aside the bearskin that hung across the doorway. As cold as their hut had been, the frigid air outside stole his breath. Stifling a cough, he swiped his watering eyes with the back of his hand.
Scudding clouds hid the face of the moon goddess, but to the north, pale stars flickered, their light too faint to show more than the smudged shapes of the nearest huts. Old Sim’s snores offered a droning counterpoint to the whimper of a babe, quickly muffled as it found its mother’s breast in the darkness.
Darak quelled the unexpected rush of resentment the ordinary sounds evoked. He had only himself to blame. When Tinnean declared his intention of becoming the Tree-Father’s apprentice, he had dismissed it as a whim. After the ceremony took place at Midsummer, he had convinced himself that his impulsive brother would soon tire of the rigorous training. When his brother remained resolute, he had argued with him. Then came the series of calamities that had devastated the tribe, driving concerns about Tinnean’s future from his mind. Autumn found his brother spending every evening with the Tree-Father, leaving him to sit by the fire pit, fighting the emptiness of their hut and the bitterness of his memories. Since then, he had clung to the belief that his brother would realize his error, that like all the men in their line, he would follow the hunter’s path.