Jenny's post on Between Earth and Sky prompted me to post a little, non-spoiler section of Wordcrafter for those of you who have been interested in this novel. While it is "completed" and currently in the querying stage, leaving me with my attention primarily focused on The White Sail's Shaking, it's never really finished until it's published. I even made a couple changes to this bit before posting. But anyhow, here it is.
Chapter 15 - The Harvest Knot
Justin blew a heavy breath and wrapped his arms around his drawn up knees, watching carefully for a hint of the “excitement” Ethan foretold. He saw nothing even resembling it for a time, and it took him by surprise when at last it did come. There was a sudden, tense silence all through the crowd, and then Ash materialized on one side of the blaze and leapt toward it. Justin jerked forward, but Ethan, now sitting upright, body tense, grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back with a breathed, “Wait!”
Justin obediently waited, though he strained against his friend’s hand. The warrior kept on until he drew near the ring, then swerved to the right and ducked away to the far side of the fire from Justin; when he came around on the opposite side again, he had been joined by Sparrow’s lithe form. From every part of the circle warriors continued to join the wild, twisting knot-work of a dance, and though Justin knew many of them, he could not afterward remember who had been there and who had not. Each and every one of them danced with an agility that he would not have expected from them, and took a different part of the dance as characters from Justin’s books played different roles in a plot. No motion of their bodies as they wove around the fire was extraneous, but every whirling step, every flash of firelight on their upturned faces, told a kind of story—one that Justin would not have understood months ago, but that he recognized now.
They danced a tale of wildness and laughter, of summer hunts and winter fires. They danced the dance of the wolves and boar they hunted, and of the horses who were their pride. They danced for the pale blue sky of Tera and the stars that shone in it; they danced for their women and children; they danced for feast and famine, rain and drought, joy and sorrow. They danced for Tera, and they danced for the God who made her. They danced the story of the Horsemen.
The winding dance went on, gaining in numbers until it seemed that it had reached its crescendo and could go no higher. Justin sat enraptured, aching to join them but knowing that he had neither the grace nor the power of a Horseman to dance in the Harvest Knot. He glanced over at Ethan and found the Hound gathered up like a wolf waiting to spring, eyes shining, his whole face full of mingled delight and anxiety as he waited to see if any of the dancers would miss a step. From behind them a boy spoke up, shoving Ethan in the shoulder. “Come, prince, you must join them,” he cried.
Ethan shook his head, still not drawing his gaze from the pattern.
“You must!” the boy persisted. “You are the life of the dancing; the Harvest Knot is missing its heart if you are not part of it.”
Ethan hesitated, and Justin saw it. He glanced at his friend, then at the dancing, then at Justin again, and at last he rose. He shook off his boots and undid the lacing of his tunic, pulling it over his head and tossing it to the laughing boy, and then faced the dancers with a different kind of expectancy than before; he was braced again as for a lunge, waiting for a break in the pattern where he could dive in and become part of the formation, and after what seemed an eternity, it came. He leapt in, and all in a flash Justin saw what the boy meant.
Ethan Prince danced as none of the other warriors did. He danced the way he played his harp, with no set plan, but only a vague idea in his head that he then expanded and embellished and vivified. He could no more dance any other way than he could play a song merely because one was demanded of him; but though his dancing was unrefined, Justin could not imagine the onlookers expecting anything different. He was, as the boy had said, the centre of the Harvest Knot. He was its heart—as he was the heart of his people. Justin had thought the Knot’s story a beautiful one before, but now he knew that if Ethan were to drop out, it would become ugly.
The formation twined around the bonfire again, and Justin caught a glimpse of someone slipping out and changing the Knot slightly. Ethan disappeared in the film of smoke, then reappeared. His bare feet flashed up and seemed to hang in the air for longer than was possible, then came down to the dry earth again with the pounding note of a drum. His face glowed in the wavering firelight and his eyes gleamed jewel-bright, reflecting both his wild delight and his fixed concentration. Watching him and the other dancers, Justin wished to join all the more. He almost did, but then his common sense and embarrassment overwhelmed him and he relaxed back into his place again.
He thought later that this must have gone on for a long time, but it did not seem so as he was watching, for there was always a new twist in the dance, a sudden move that he could not foresee, and it kept the crowd wanting more. These dances were ages old, yet he knew from the fascination each face showed that it was new every year. How could it not be? They had nothing to follow but their own memories and inspiration, and so, by degrees, it changed. But in the midst of his reverie Justin suddenly realized that the dance was drawing to its climax and he leaned forward, waiting for whatever was to come.
The thread of warriors wove back to the place where Ash had begun and then curved, Ethan in the centre, facing the fire and sweeping toward it with doubled strength. Justin knew how it would be now. He waited eagerly for the turn, but it seemed to him that the Hound was going a little too far, that Ash had veered off before now, and that the prince was going to burn himself in the fire. Justin sat with his mouth open, dumb and horrified, incapable of moving; and, as he watched, the Hound gathered himself up and hurtled through the flames.
For a moment he was gone, and then he came into sight again, his body gleaming like burnished copper for an instant, his feet arched and one outstretched to receive the ground again, and, just as the other dancers began to close the gap around the fire, he touched the earth. The breathless crowd waited, ears pricked, to catch the sound of his landing: it was silent. It was as if it had never happened. He stood in the centre of the ring of warriors, poised with his head upflung, only the occasional, spasmodic tightening of the muscles in his belly showing the exertion he had put his body through.
The silence continued for several seconds longer, and then the assembly erupted into cheers as the warriors dispersed. They did not stay to receive the applause of their fellows, but only dropped out and made for the water and mead barrels. Justin scrambled up and went in search of his friend, his heart still thudding in panic, and found him near one of the low, makeshift tables. He stood with his legs widespread and his head back, a mug to his lips as he drained the last of the drink; it was such a common sight that Justin half wondered if he had dreamed the dance and the fire-leaping, until he came nearer and saw that Ethan’s breeches were blackened and singed in places.
“I thought you landed a mite heavy,” Ash was saying, finishing off his mead in two gulps and swinging the goblet at Ethan. “Have you put on a pound or two? You have to be careful what you eat.”
Ethan laughed at the good-natured jest and flung it back with, “I did, did I? Well, you got too near the fire and burned yourself. Here, let me by.” He retreated from the press of the crowd and came to Justin’s side, drawing a deep breath. Putting his fists on his hips, he said, “So, was that exciting enough for you?”
“It was amazing,” Justin stated. “You once told me you could dance, but I did not know you could dance like that.”
Ethan chuckled, brushing himself off as though it would help get rid of the black marks. “Still think the harvest fires are boring?” Justin made a wry face and gave no answer. “So, then,” the Hound continued, “you liked the Knot. Think you will be joining it next time?”