I love a lot of things about this short story: its voice, its quirky character Loesie, who will be a character in a novel that follows the events in this short story, and the isolated feel of the farm with its people who are wise through experience, and not formal education.
The setting is based, of course, on random real-life facts about the pre-industrial area in mainland Europe that today is the Netherlands. The geography is–ahem–concentrated. Most of the names are made up, although one or two are real. For this story in particular, if you close your eyes and think away the cars and electricity lines, you could be forgiven to think not much has changed. The farms are still there, the truncated willows are still there, the lapwings and buttercups are still there. Just add magic… oh, and bears.
I’ve copied the first scene below. Click on the image for the link to Smashwords to download the entire story. The novel, which will most likely be called For Queen and Country, will be out some time later. Loesie will feature in the book, but not as the main character.
Clicking on the picture will take you to Smashwords. This link will take you to Amazon
The river behind Granma’s house runs deep. The water’s like a vat of dirty milk, all murky, with eddies and floating sticks that twirl and twirl downstream.
From the top of the dike, with only green fields and willows around me, I can see the other side – just. Maybe I could make out a person if they stood on the bank, but I’s not sure ’cause no one ever does. The other side is Gelre and them’s bad as they come, at least so says Granpa in between stuffing his pipe and stripping willow twigs.
No one with half a brain would try to cross the river. No one ever could.
Except the man and his enormous horse.
I were cutting willow switches, and then I seen them in the middle of the water. Two heads, a black horse’s and a man’s. It seemed the horse was walking-like, on the bottom, but I don’t know ‘s the river has a bottom. But whatever it were doing, the horse were coming straight for me.
I hid in the tree, which were pretty silly-like, ’cause a willow’s no leaves in early spring.
The man didn’t see me, or he pretended as much he didn’t see me as I pretended to be a bird. Or something.
He had hair red as a fox, all curly, and the bit below his shoulders were wet and dripped water onto his jerkin.
The horse – it were huge, with a long mane and masses of fluff around hooves big as Ma’s milking bucket. It were noisy-like, snorting and blowing and grumbling.
The stranger sat straight on the horse’s back, no saddle, and grabbed a breath of wind in his hand. He whispered into it, and let it go. He were using magic. His eyes met mine and my cheeks glowed like they’s on fire.
He kicked the horse’s sides and rode off. The orange spot that were his hair grew smaller and smaller amongst the grass and the buttercups.