In the cold, forested North-lands – redolent with the aroma of pine, shrouded in snow, and prowled by ice tigers and trolls – Ivvar seeks only to meet his newborn great granddaughter.
Someone else has the same plan.
Traversing the wilderness toward the infant’s home camp, Ivvar must face the woman he once cherished and an ancient scourge of the chilly woodlands in a complicated dance of love and death.
Ivvar’s second chance at happiness – and his life – hang in the balance.
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PRAISE FOR WINTER GLORY
“A little atmospheric gem of a novella… interesting, beautifully written, and worth re-reading.” – Amazon review
“In the starkly beautiful North-lands – a place that Ney-Grimm conveys so clearly it’s like watching a movie on the inside of your skull – two people who once knew and loved each other meet up again. This is their story…” – Amazon review
“The descriptive language is nothing short of gorgeous… I love that the protagonists are older… and they stuck with me long after I had finished reading.” – Amazon review
“The writing is lucid, elegant, smooth. Ney-Grimm creates a fantasy world of Norse legends, but with real people…” – Amazon review
“…in the midst of this excellent adventure story comes an insight so brilliant…”
– Amazon review
EXCERPT FROM WINTER GLORY
His stomach felt curiously hollow. For no reason at all that he could discern.
Ivvar stood to one side of the wide doorway, appreciating the din of hearty men in converse over their noontime meal. So like the rumbling tones of his brothers back home in the refecting-hall of Rakas-lodge. Except these were lowlanders in a lowland village guesthouse on the edge of the vast northern pine forests, not mountain men in an enclave of the high Fiordhammars.
The trappers in their fringed buckskin jackets and pants were in from the woods, waiting for the season to turn from late winter to spring, and the arctic foxes to complete their change from white pelts to red. The loggers, sporting plaid wool jackets and bushy beards, would be gone the instant the rivers shook free of old rotten ice and flowed unhindered, ready to float ponderous pine trunks east to the sawmills. A few ice men in their neutral patterned knit sweaters, reluctant perhaps to return to their farms in the south, enjoyed a last flagon of ale with their friends. Their brutal work of hacking massive cubes of ice from the frozen lakes of the region was over.
Good cheer and robust camaraderie filled the generous space to its rafters and its peeled log walls, the warm gold of old pine.
No reason at all in this warm room full of vigorous conviviality for an echo of old grief to chill Ivvar’s belly.
He’d come straight from the bath house, following a narrow corridor from the back of the inn through to its front hall. Almost like a bee moving between walls of golden honeycomb, save for the vivid stencils of red and white and blue diamond shapes that adorned the pine paneling above the chair rail.
His joints had felt loose and warm from the sauna, and from his morning’s stint of cross-country skiing, the final short leg of his journey before he reached the porch of the Mink and Mug. No old man’s bones for him. Not yet. Even though he was an old man, pushing ninety in another three years. And his hair showed it: shoulder-length dreadlocks of gray streaked with white.
He’d chosen his summer weight tunic and leggings – sage green wool, traced by soft blue designs – knowing the lowlanders kept their buildings hotter than did the mountain folk. He’d remained slipperless for the same reason. The wide pine boards of the floor felt smooth under his bare feet. Well-swept by the staff, evidently.
The proprietress kept a clean house.
The smells of the luncheon would have led him straight to the dining hall, if he’d not already known where to find it. Fragrant buckwheat flapjacks, sweet lingonberry syrup, and rich sausages, threaded by a yeasty hint of ale and the meaty savor of a stew.
But, over it all, the amazing fragrance of baking rye bread.
He drew in a long breath. The food of his mountain home featured few grains. And Ivvar had developed a taste for fresh bread in his lowland travels.
Almost did the aroma of the baking loaves settle the quiver in his belly as he surveyed the room, its long pine tables and benches crowded by rowdy frontiersmen, its cylindrical tile stove – blue and white – radiating heat from its center. A row of square window casements punctuated the far wall, their small circular panes permitting a wavery view of gray sky and snowy pines outside. Wooden booths on a raised level around the edge of the space, one step up from the main floor, provided a few guests a more private meal than could be had at the communal tables.
Ivvar scanned these diners. Mostly holiday lowlanders visiting the back country, he’d guess.
No, not quite.
His gaze stopped on a woman sitting alone in the booth at the far left corner.
She wore Hammarleeding garb – wool tunic and leggings like his – hers drab in subdued ecru decorated by patterns of gray and white. She was bony, rangy, likely quite tall when she stood. And old, like him. She’d pinned her long iron-gray braid around her head like a coronet, and she held herself like a queen, straight and graceful as she sipped her cup of tea.
The frontiersmen began a rollicking ballad about bears dancing in the woods, and the Hammarleeding woman turned her face toward them.
Ivvar felt all the air punch out of his lungs.
She wasn’t beautiful, but she drew him. Lightly tanned skin like his own; straight nose, a little on the long side; flat cheeks. Laugh lines framed her firm mouth. Crow’s feet bordered her level hazel eyes. He suspected she’d reached that calm place where life was just interesting, neither a tragedy to be resisted, nor a passion to be exalted. But what was it about her . . . ? She looked genuine and . . . appealing.
The flutter in his innards grew.
Then lagging memory brought another face before his mind’s eye.
Like to the one across the room from him in the here-and-now. So like. But younger; fifty or more years younger. Jaw clenched, hazel eyes hot, and lips tight with anger. His linking-sister – what these lowlanders would call his wife. His former wife. Paiam.
The last time he’d seen her, angry at life itself more than at him, but telling him their linking – their marriage – must end.
How had she grown into this serene old grandmother?
For this was Paiam, he had no doubt. None at all. His linking-sister herself, some fifty years down the road, some fifty years wiser by the look of her.
As he watched her, a twinkle came into her eyes, and her wool-slippered foot tapped to the rhythm of the frontiersmen’s song.
Ivvar shifted his weight forward onto his toes to go to her, then abruptly swung around to seek the stairs up to his bednook.
No. He wouldn’t approach her.
He’d left Tukeva-lodge to make his home in Rakas all those years ago, because seeing Paiam while no longer linked to her was too painful. Their love had never cooled. The end of their linking had never been about love’s lack. Nor even fundamental differences. Nothing so simple.
And, away from her, he’d found his peace.
It looked as though she had too.
He would not disturb her. Or himself any more than the sight of her had done.
He felt gloriously replete upon finishing his luncheon, but the room remained overly warm.
He rummaged in his pack for a knob of spruce gum. He chose a fresh piece, hard and crumbly, the way it was at first, but with a burst of freshness so strong as to make it harsh. It would get smooth and sweet after he chewed it a while, and it chased the lingering food tastes from his tongue. He preferred a clean mouth.
Then he pulled on some short-hose and his boots, locked his door, lounged down to the front of The Mink and Mug, and went out.
One of the holiday couples occupied a bench on the front veranda, well bundled in furs and hats, but sitting close and talking softly.
He left them to their private chat, passing down the veranda steps and on into the adjacent woods. He walked until he couldn’t hear the tinking sound drifting from the blacksmith’s or the shouts of the ostlers at the livery or the hearty laugh of the sledwright’s son.
The cloud cover thinned enough to bring a pattern of dapple and light on the rough pine trunks and the thin snow cover. He found a particularly large tree with high branches and a spread of dry pine needles under its shelter. He lowered his long self to the ground and leaned back against the bark. It dug into his shoulderblades pleasantly. He’d not bothered with either his thistlesilk jacket or his cloak. The afternoon was merely pleasantly cool to him. He tipped his head back, feeling the wool of his hair catch on the tree’s texture. He cracked his gum. And thought.
Lowlander families were structured so peculiarly. Husband and wife lived in the same house following their marriage, and all the children from their union lived with them until they reached adulthood. The eldest daughter eventually inherited the farm, if they owned one, and many lowlanders did. The rest of the young struck off on their own. And Silmaren was big, with many frontier lands calling out for settlers.
But the way Hammarleedings arranged things was utterly different from the lowlanders.
A man lived with all his clan-brothers – the whole mob of them, not just his siblings – in the father-lodge. Ivvar’s home had been Tukeva-lodge.
Ivvar grinned, remembering a time when he was very small and the brothers had invented a tumbling game to amuse themselves and their youngest sons. It was winter, and the snow was deep and soft. How he’d flown through the air, a tucked ball of delighted toddler, tossed from man to man. The ride ended with him dunked in a fluffy pile shoveled up for the purpose, laughing. The sisters would never have allowed it.
But Hammarleeding women lived with their clan-sisters in the mother-lodge, so they’d known nothing about that game or any of the other rough fun the brothers devised.
Paiam’s home was Kaunis-lodge, the sister-lodge where the brothers of Tukeva-lodge visited to celebrate Hammarleeding holy days. It was at Kaunis that the linking ceremonies were performed – the lowlanders would call them marriages. In the Kaunis calling hall, he’d linked with Paiam, glorying in her happy radiance.
From the time he’d grown old enough to think of such things, he’d hoped to link with Paiam. He’d loved the clear, strong tone of her voice when she called to her sisters on the slopes outside during the biannual herd-luring rite. The lanky grace of her body when she ran. The assurance in her demeanor.
He’d been cautious in his courtship. She had a temper, he knew. She could be unexpectedly prickly. It would never do to get off on the wrong foot. He wouldn’t get a second chance.
But, as it happened, she’d had her eye on him. She’d hoped he would approach her. After their linking, she’d confessed that she’d always loved his “gentle strength” and been prickly because she was sure he preferred more demure girls.
No, he hadn’t preferred demure girls. Or any other girls. It had always been Paiam. It always would be Paiam.
Except their linking did not last.
Some brothers and sisters preferred a limited linking. Just enough to conceive children, and then the couple parted. But Ivvar had planned to remain linked with Paiam until the end of his days. And she had felt the same. Which made it all the more painful when their linking broke.
Hammarleeding couples didn’t live together the way lowlanders did, but the romantic legend of Aila and Bierran – faithful lovers in the ancient past – inspired many a brother to love his lady to the end of time. Ivvar had hoped to rival Bierran in his steadfastness.
He flashed again to that long ago day when Paiam told him that it was over. “Stay away from me, Ivvar Dainar-spring,” she’d said, that usually clear voice of hers low and tense and angry. “If I am standing in the front of the hall, you stand at the back. If I am dining at a table near the windows in the refectory, you dine at one near the kitchens. If I dance high on the slope during the herd luring, you do so on the downslope. I won’t have you ruining my life!”
Her face had been just as tense and angry as her voice.
He’d done her one better. Made Rakas-lodge his home and celebrated the holy days with its sister-lodge, Illoiset. He’d never seen her again.