Although this series is fantasy, I chose to make the geography very similar to that of western Canada. In volume one, we travel through a land of northern forests, grasslands, dry badlands, and mountains (similar to Saskatchewan and Alberta).
I also decided to include some cultural elements from present day Canada, as well as those of other countries. So there are people who speak French, nomadic grasslands people, and wild cattle similar to bison. There is also a trading city with language based on ancient Rome, architecture similar to parts of Spain, and elements of the Arabian peninsula.
Queen of Fire is available from Amazon and on Kindle, as well as available at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
I am currently working on Book Two, and have completed a first draft of Child of Dragons.
Queen of Fire
I’M KNEELING in dirt, grubbing around the strawberries, weeding between herbs, and whispering encouragement to make our garden grow. Mother always says that plants do better if you talk to them, and she must be right because we produce some of the best food around. Of course, she has traded for seeds from far away, and has plants that no one else in the area has seen before, like lettuce. She’s also been able to transplant wild things such as onions and make them grow bigger.
These are probably some of the reasons why people mutter about Mother and me – a woman in the village turns away as we pass, or talks behind her hands to a neighbour. A couple of children might follow us, then run when I swivel to look at them. I’ve never heard the word ‘witch’ uttered; though I’m sure they gossip out of our hearing. Still, even the ones who look at us askance don’t hesitate to buy our vegetables or to take advantage of Mother’s herbal lore.
I yank at a weed which refuses to budge. A weed is any plant that grows where you don’t want it. Like me stuck here in this clearing in the woods. I wonder what it would take to release our roots, propel us out of this place where I’ve lived all my life. These days I find our three-room cottage nestled into a low hill too cramped, though I used to love it.
Mother’s voice carries over the sound of leaves rustling in the aspens nearby, bird song and a faint rush of water. She is using tones of persuasion, but I manage to ignore her for the moment. She knows where I am and could easily take the few steps from the house to the garden. As I finish and stand up, her call comes again.
This time there is an undercurrent of temptation, like a lure to a hungry fish in the river. I want to resist that coaxing tone, be like the girl I saw the other day in the village who stamped her foot, turned her back on her mother and ran away down the street. I’m too old for tantrums, but can make a small rebellion by staying here.
“Rowan!” Her voice commands me now. I’ve heard her use that tone on a trader who tried to cheat her and know it’s not to be resisted.
I throw a last weed on the pile, brush dirt off my hands and skirt. “Yes, Mother?”
She sits on a stool by the door of our cottage as she often does, finger weaving grass and twigs with lengths of spun wool. In this pose she appears gentle and innocuous, one of the many guises she uses. Various shapes and sizes of her creations hang from roof, rafters and trees – triangles, star shapes and hexagons, the shades of tree, leaf, earth, sky and cloud. Their intricate interlacing and knots capture and hold the eye, are meant to snare evil intentions and keep them imprisoned, but I wonder if that’s just superstition. Mother taught me to make them when I was small; I liked them because they were pretty. Now and then the wind blows a few away, but even with that we have a surfeit of them, and I wish she’d stop.
“Have you seen Thea?” Mother asks, tilting her head in the way that is so familiar and as irritating as a pebble in my shoe. Many things about her annoy me these days, and I swallow a sigh.
“The goat is gone again?” I brush at the strand of black hair tickling my nose, then notice that there’s mud on the back of my hand, probably transferred to my face now. “No, I haven’t seen her.”
“I don’t know what’s the matter with her the last few days. She’s continually wandering off.” Mother shoos at the chickens pecking the ground around her feet.
I rest my back against a tree, not ready to give her reasons why the goat may have disappeared. It could tell her too much about my own thoughts, though Mother probably knows that I’m increasingly discontent. My friend Lynx and his family passed through a few weeks ago heading north as they always do at the beginning of summer. They left us some of last years’ wild grain, which grows in shallow lakes. It’s delicious with meat and vegetables or with milk. I suggested to Mother that we travel with Lynx’s family for a couple of days. We could have harvested herbs and other plants as we went. Mother didn’t agree. I considered running away then, but this year they were fourteen with the new baby and on thinking it over, I wasn’t sure I could stand the crowd. When Lynx and I first met, he couldn’t believe that my mother and I lived alone.
“Only two of you?” he said. “Where’s the rest of your family?”
A good question, but I changed the subject by asking him about the land to the north of us. Where the trees stop is beautiful in a different way than the forest, Lynx told me – you can see all the way to the place where earth meets sky. I try to imagine long stretches of flat land where a person can see nearly to forever and wonder where animals find places to hide. Lynx says there are vast herds of a kind of huge deer, myriads of birds and small creatures. He spoke of a sky crammed with stars at night, and circular sunsets, as well as a time when the sun barely dips to the horizon at all.
“Thea may have gone looking for excitement,” I say.
“Hmm?” Mother glances at me and puts down her weaving. “I’m going after that goat.”
Purplish-grey clouds are massing over the trees to the west. “Storm coming,” I say.
Mother gathers her white-streaked red hair in both hands, twists it into a knot at her neck. I wonder whether my father had black hair and that’s where I got mine from. Mother never talks about him anymore, though when I was small she used to say that he’d gone on a long journey. I remember nagging her to describe him and asking what games he played with me; she would start talking about something else or snap at me to stop pestering her. I think he must be dead, must have been dead all this time and Mother didn’t know how to tell a child that he wasn’t coming back.
“I’m going to find that stupid goat before she falls in the river and is swept away,” Mother snaps. “You shut her kids into the shed with the donkey, and close the chickens in there, too.” She frowns. “Pay close attention to what needs to be done. You’ve been abstracted lately.”
I feel a sudden lurch of guilt, my stomach roils. “Wait,” I say and dash into the cottage. Mother’s green-dyed leather cloak hangs on a hook beside mine just inside the door. I bring it to her. “In case you’re caught in the rain.”
A smile lights her grey eyes and she touches my cheek in thanks, then briefly the necklace of leather, wooden beads and a sapphire at my throat. She made it for my fifteenth birthday, just a fortnight ago, and I love it. I have a sudden impulse to hug her, but she has already stepped away.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come along?” I call as she starts off.
She turns. “No. Keep the stew warm and stir it once in a while so it doesn’t burn.”
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