Friday, January 13, 2017

The World of Winterskin: The Southern Reaches

This is a harsh landscape they tread.

With pitchforks and hoes, they cultivate packed ground frozen from years of unyielding winters. It seems useless, hacking away at bitter dirt mixed with ice and inlaid with stone. Sweat breaks on their brows for naught, sweat won't make the land grow anything. Sweat only freezes. Salt only kills. The farmer curses, fixing his skullcap, dropping his pick. Swallowed by men at work, he gazes around the field. Looks to the darkened forest beyond with a furtive glance. Today, they wonder when the first creature will fall upon them. Will it be a wraith this time? A shade wrapped in inky night intent on swallowing their souls? Or will it be something uglier? Something that has stolen the skin of a comrade who has fallen the day before, perhaps? Will it be apparition, or man?

In the fields, there is a watchman. A single armored man where there should be four. Should be, but the village cannot spare anymore farmers, nor anymore boys. With his eyes glued to the encroaching shade at the farmers backs, he recounts the ways monsters take and never give. He recounts his time in the north—the summer, the food, the women. He recounts the worlds of a pompous man; a man rich and enthralled by the golden hand of fortune, “Humans are the only monsters worthy of fear.” With a hand on the hilt of his ax and the other on his chin, he wonders if an ax can cut through a ghost. He wonders, if the sagging skin of a blighter breaks, will the blood burn through his skin or kill him outright? And now the watchman spits, cursing the rich man and cursing the well-endowed north.

Human monsters existed, but those could be taken down by ax or blade. By words or conscience. True monsters were another thing entirely. The north knew nothing of fear.

In the townships, women tie themselves to tiny, starving, villages. Here, the sky is gray. Here, the clouds charge through the wide panorama of sky, promising snow. Rain, sleet, hail. The seasons are never kind to southern folk. Winter is an imposing presence, like the shadow of a husband, leather switch dangling. Eyes feverish as they press upon the back of a heaving wife. The village matriarch looks up, sitting upon the roof of her one room hovel. With deep brown eyes—the only color in this town—she sees flashes of white. Flashes of snow. And as the thatch roof beneath her bites into her bony bottom, she looks towards the ground and spits.

Her daughter, a woodcutter with massive shoulders and a missing nostril, shudders at the saliva smattering into the frozen ground. With the heavy head of her ax weighing down her shoulder, she can't stop and look up. Trudging around the telltale spot of her mother's daily curses, she keeps her eyes straight forward. A gaggle of girls mirroring her—woodcutters all—follow as she makes her way out of the village and into the encroaching treeline. They pass the group of farmers hacking and picking at a land that won't give back. They nod to the watchman and for them he says a prayer. For this is a harsh landscape they tread, harsher still in the black forest beyond.

For me, worldbuilding goes perfectly with ambience music. What do you like to listen to when worldbuilding, character building, or writing in general? I'd love to know!

Winterskin debuts Febuary 9th! Join my newsletter to know exactly when it hits Amazon.


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