Sunrise: a summer solstice sample

From The Bones of the Earth

As today is the summer solstice, with the longest daylight hours of the year, I thought I’d share with you an excerpt describing one particular summer solstice, 1,427 years ago.

Vorona, the shaman, led the villagers in the hymn to Zaria, the heavenly bride of the sun, to pull the sun over the horizon. They lifted freshly-cut maple branches and sang to the kupalo, the spirits who came out of the forest at the end of winter to spend the summer under the growing grain. The sun rose; Javor saw Elli wearing flowers in her hair, dancing with the other marriageable girls in a separate circle around Grat, the popular girl who had been chosen to be kupailo. The kupailo girl threw out wreaths of flowers; the girls who caught them would be married by fall. The kupailo was supposed to be the most beautiful, but Javor thought Elli was prettier than Grat.

Javor watched intently, hoping and at the same time dreading that Elli would catch a wreath. Before she could, they heard a rapid drumming noise. Someone yelled “horsemen!”

Down the hill, in front of a cloud of dust, mounted men rode fast toward the village. Javor counted: five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Immediately, the villagers dropped their maple branches and ran for their homes—there was no time to get to the holody, the wooden stockade around the low hill. Riders were invariably soldiers, and that meant trouble.

The women hid in their huts while the men gathered in the centre of the village. The riders reined in hard enough to make their horses rear. They were all armoured and helmeted, with long black hair and beards. They all wore leather armour reinforced with iron strips and studs. Each had a shield on his back, straps over each shoulder, a sword at his side and a small battle-axe on his saddle.

The leader was a large man. In their armour, his shoulders looked to Javor to be wider than any he had ever seen, and his bare forearms rippled with muscle. He bore a horrible scar across his nose. He barked with broken grammar and a harsh, strange accent, “Who headman here is?”

Roslaw stepped forward. “We are a peaceful village, sir. We want no trouble.”

The rider stared at him. “I Krajan am, Lord of this region in the name of King Bayan,” he barked. “This village owe tribute to Bayan, King of the Avars, Overlord of the Empire.”

“But Maurice is the Roman emperor,” said Old Oresh. The oldest man in the village, he looked up at the man on horseback, swaying a little.

Krajan guided his horse over to Oresh. So fast Javor could hardly see it, Krajan struck Oresh with an iron bar. The old man toppled face-first into the ground and lay still. From a hut, a woman screamed.

The Bones of the Earth

Book One of the Dark Age trilogy

Image of the book, The Bones of the Earth

The Dark Age, eastern Europe: the earth has decided to rid itself of humanity with earthquakes, volcanoes and new plagues. Civilizations, even the mighty Roman Empire, crumble under the pressure of barbarian waves that are fleeing worse terrors.

Rejected by his own people, pursued by a dragon, young Javor heads for Constantinople, the centre of civilization, looking for answers to the puzzle of his great-grandfather’s dagger and the murder of his family. On the ancient, crumbling Roman highway across haunted, deserted Dacia, Javor rescues the beautiful Danisa from a human sacrifice. He cannot help falling in love with her.

But Danisa has her own plans, and when she is kidnapped again, Javor has to wonder: what is the connection between his dagger, his lover and his enemies?

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