As promised, here’s the opening paragraphs of my three current works in progress that are based on the idea of the Greenwood – to my mind, that fictional woodland in constant early summer where all the fairy tales happen. The three stories are given their working titles, i.e. they may change by the time they’re published if they’re published, and in the order I started working on them:
- The Knight’s Daughter
- The Isle of Ravens
- The Dragon Queen
The Knight’s Daughter
There was once a sunset of such vivid colour that everyone who saw it thought it was a sign of something important. Although the matter of precisely what it was a sign of, and how important this was, depended entirely on the observer.1
On the edge of the Greenwood2, a woodsman was standing watch as the sun set. He watched as the sun turned orange, then red, then purple as it fell to the horizon. It was as if the colours were pushing away the day-time blue so that the blue thickened and darkened to the east as the new colours replaced it in the west. The glow it lent to the clouds made them look like a crèche of dragons skimming across the western mountains, breathing their flames into the evening sky.
1. Those several thousand miles from this story and considerably closer to the volcanic source are unlikely to have seen the sunset at all. The interpretation of that particular sign is a bit more obvious.
2. The Greenwood is a literary construct that dates from the later Middle Ages – and potentially just a sort of false nostalgia, given the deforestation of England post-Norman Conquest. At the time and in person, any unmanaged woodland would most likely have been considered “waste land” as it wasn’t worked and produced nothing.
The Isle of Ravens
There was once a great city at the mouth of the great Abus1, on a large sand bar where the river is sluggish and thick with black silt and meets the iron-grey of the North Sea2. This city was the Isle of Ravens3 and, despite its wooden frame, it was said to be a second Camelot and the true capital of the North.
The grand stone docks and quays had been built at great expense with the stone carefully imported from upstream. They sheltered a fleet unmatched outside of London and more than a thousand hearths were taxed within the city’s walls. There were even green fields, although narrow, within the ditches and embankments that enclosed the island and its causeway.
It was the beating, working heart of a great fiefdom, built to be the gateway to England by an earl4 who intended to be the gatekeeper and charge accordingly.
1. The Abus is another name for the Humber that has long since fallen out of use.
2. Currently, there is a narrow sand spit: Spurn, Spurn Head or Spurn Spit.
3. There was an Old Ravenser, a Ravenser Odd and a Ravenspurn that have all been lost to the North Sea in the Middle Ages but none of them match this description exactly.
4. Ravenser Odd was apparently founded by a William de Forz–either the 3rd Earl of Aumale (Albemarle) and Lord of Holderness or his son, the 4th Earl–around 1240.
The Dragon Queen
There was once a Queen of Gwynedd1 who sat at a window sewing while she was great with child. In truth, she was watching the snowy landscape around the castle for signs of the King’s2 hunting party more than she watched her sewing so it will be no surprise that she pricked her finger with the needle.
The Queen exclaimed, startling a raven that sat upon the sill so that it flapped and flew away. It left behind a single, thick black feather. The Queen looked at the red blood beading on her finger, the white snow that fell against the window, and the black feather that lay beside it.3
“Let the child be a boy,” she whispered, “And let his skin be white as the highland snow, his hair as red as his dragon blood, and his eyes as black as a raven’s feather.”4
1. Gwynedd emerged as a kingdom based in north west Wales in the post-Roman era. At various times, it has been large enough to encompass the whole of what we now consider Wales and small enough to fit inside a modern administrative county. As with the other Welsh states, it ceased to exist in 1283.
2. The Welsh states abandoned their titles of “King” for “Prince” around the Twelfth Century due to embarrassment. Their wives never had any particular titles, although women of royal blood were often recognised as princesses.
3. This is a very similar to the opening of the German folk tale Snow White (Schneewittchen) collected by the Grimm brothers but touches on the British and Irish traditions of using a raven to prompt the comparison. It’s more usual for the raven to be dead or in the act of eating a dead animal.
4. And this isn’t generally the comparison that is made.