I’ve been working on revisions for my next fairy tale novel (and NaNo novel of 2014) and so thought I’d share another scene with all of you… This is very early in the book, just after a strange and decidedly unfriendly young woman has crashed into Forrest’s life. His mother insists they should be understanding and friendly, but he has doubts. This scene also explores one of the major magic systems of the book. Enjoy!
Forrest went back to the kitchen. He could see Karina through the doorway before he entered the room, and he found himself stopping on the threshold to look at her. Alone in the room, she had let her shoulders slump. She clutched the clasp of her cloak with one hand and played with her spoon with the other, tracing patterns in the bottom of her emptied bowl of porridge. She was staring into the bowl, expression…sad? Forlorn? Some emotion he hadn’t seen on her face previously.
All right. Maybe she was lost and scared. Maybe.
He deliberately stepped audibly on the wooden floor as he came into the room. In an eyeblink her shoulders were straight again and her face had wiped smooth of any expression at all except faint disinterest.
“There’s more porridge in the pot if you want it,” he said, even though he was pretty sure that hadn’t been why she was staring into the empty bowl.
Her gaze flicked to the pot hanging over the fire. “I can see that.”
Maybe lost and scared, but still unfriendly. “Right,” he said, pulling out a chair at the opposite side of the table with possibly more force than was necessary. He sat down and unrolled the half-made scarf, concentrating his attention on untangling the loose end of the yarn and lining up the last row of stitches on the needle.
“So you don’t just tie bows,” Karina drawled, “you also knit?”
Everything about how she said it, even the way her head was leaning on her hand, made it clear this was meant to be provoking. But…well, even if she had started the hostilities, he could still try to be friendly. And he had no idea why he was supposed to be provoked anyway. “Yes, I also knit. It’s pretty common. Most people around here do.”
Still a provoking tone, but he still had no idea what she was trying to get at. “Yes. So?”
She shrugged and looked away. “Where I’m from, men don’t knit.”
His eyebrows rose. “Why not?”
“Because it’s something women do.”
He considered that, stitched three stitches, and said, “That’s not an explanation, that’s just restating the same thing from the other direction.”
She turned to face him again and said slowly and clearly, “It’s not men’s work.”
“I got that to begin with, but it’s still just a restatement. And not making any sense.” He raised one hand, spread his fingers. “It’s not like male and female hands are significantly different.”
“Yes, but…” She trailed off and frowned. “It’s just what is.”
“Not here. Where did you say you were from again?”
The frown deepened. “I didn’t.”
Before he could push that one any farther, Mother leaned in the doorway to say, “I’m going out to feed the chickens, I’ll be back in a few minutes. Try your best not to kill each other while I’m gone.”
Forrest winced, but managed to notice Karina flush, and felt a little better.
No one said anything for the length of three rows of knitting, until finally Karina asked, “So are you knitting a magic scarf?”
He’d had enough time to take enough deep breaths to be able to answer civilly. “Just a variation on a basic Luck scarf.”
“Oh. A lucky scarf.”
Lost and scared, and he was trying to be friendly. Right. Except he sometimes got very tired of being nice. All the same, he nicely, politely, with all sorts of friendly overtones, said, “It’s for Clara’s birthday, so it’s 28 stitches wide because her birthday is on the 28th day of the month. Each purple stripe is seven rows, because seven is traditionally the best number for luck and purple the best color for invoking luck, and each blue stripe is six rows wide because there are six of us in the family, and invoking familial power is always a good idea when knitting something intended to provide both luck and general protection. Assuming you actually like your family, of course.”
She was staring at him. “Of course.”
“You asked,” he said with a smile. And he didn’t mind demonstrating that here at least was something he knew much more about than she did.
Assuming she believed his explanation, which seemed doubtful when she asked, “And how much of that did you just make up?”
“None of it.”
“Uh-huh. So everyone around here would know that six stitches is for luck—”
“Seven rows,” he corrected, “although it could be seven stitches, except that’s too narrow to be much use for most projects.” She was still staring, with an unnervingly blank expression. He took a breath, finished a row with the last two stitches and swapped needles between his hands to began on the next. “This is all sort of a specialty of our island, although you’ll find magical knitting in other parts of Marileigh, just less of it. And apparently it’s not done at all in that unspecified place you’re from.”
“No. So are you a powerful…stitch magician?” She was drawling again, and even with his gaze on his knitting he could see that her head was back at that provoking tilt.
He gritted his teeth. “That’s not a term.” They rarely called it anything. It was common enough to not need a name; everyone knew what it was. Some old stories called it spellspinning. He thought of trying to explain that, when knitting wasn’t the same thing as spinning, although the spinning was part of it too and of course it was all connected—but he thought of Karina’s inevitable mocking gaze and decided to just not even mention that. What was her actual question? Right, about his ability. “No, I’m just average.”
“But Rosie likes how you tie bows?”
At that he looked up from his stitches to lock gazes. “Yes,” he said evenly, and kept staring until she looked away. Mocking his island’s magical tradition was one thing. Taking a jab at his youngest sister was something else.
To her credit, she at least looked abashed. “Sorry about that one,” she muttered, gaze lowering.
Maybe the very small victory made him feel generous. He grinned and said, “But not about the rest?”
“Not at all,” she said, with the closest thing to a genuine smile he’d seen from her yet.
And look for the complete novel, The Lioness and the Spellspinners, in fall of 2016!