One thousand years ago, Gudrun lived in Glenailis with her mother and spins and weaves wool to help them provide for themselves, as Gudrun’s father has been away on the trading ships for two years.
Two girls from the opposite ends of time, drawn together by a cataclysmic event which will change both their lives forever.
Tora reached the narrow crest of the ridge, her feet in their thick boots sliding on tussocky grass. The wind blowing in off the North Sea was even colder here, numbing her cheeks, and the setting sun had no warmth to it at all. Tora pulled the sheepskin-lined hood of her new parka tighter around her ears. She hated the cold. Hated the wind. Hated the isolated, grey-green, almost-treeless countryside.
Hated being here in Glenailis in northern Scotland in the depths of winter without Mum and with a Nan she’d never met until two months ago.
At least she couldn’t see Glenailis from here. The small village nestled a little way from the rocky beach in the valley behind her. The valley ahead was narrow and empty of humans. Like Glenailis Valley, it descended in huge flat uneven plateaus like giant steps down to where the waves smashed on to a rocky shore. But unlike Glenailis Valley, most of the steps here were mounded, the dirt and grass piled unevenly across them. The far end of the valley was jagged and uneven, and looked as if a giant had taken a huge bite out of it. Nan had said that was where the hillside had broken away almost a thousand years before and had thundered down the valley to the sea, taking the old village of Glenailis with it. Only a few people had survived. They had moved across to the next valley and built the new village of Glenailis, where Nan’s little stone house sat dug in to the steep hillside, along with a few other farmsteads, and the rest of the village was perched down near the sea behind an ancient stone seawall.
And where, right now, those old stone houses and the cobbled streets, not to mention the seawall and the Great Hall backing onto it, were decorated with streamers and balloons and bunting. And, moored to the long jetty, was the replica Viking ship that the men of Glenailis had built over the last three months. A ship that would soon be set afire by those same men with flaming torches made of pinewood and sent off on the evening tide.
It was a Viking New Year’s celebration, Nan had told her, the Festival of Fire. It had been celebrated on the Winter Solstice every year in Glenailis even before the original town had been buried. Other towns in Scotland had similar festivals. The torches, which were walked around the village from beyond the furthest farmhouse, were supposed to drive the ghosts and negative influences toward the ship, and the burning ship was supposed to take them away, leaving the village cleansed for the new year.
At least Nan hadn’t made her do anything in the Festival. Tora did so not want to spend her afternoon playing stupid old-fashioned festival games with kids she didn’t really know yet. All Nan had said before she left, two bags bulging with food, was, ‘Ye’ll be able t’see the torchlight parade an’ the ship sailin’ off from here, pet, if you won’t come down t’the seawall. ’Tis a grand sight indeed.’
Tora nodded, waited until Nan’s long thin shape disappeared around a bend in the narrow path that led to the village, and set off to climb up the ridge and over into the valley where the original Glenailis had crashed into the sea.
Where, hopefully, she would be alone, with no one sneaking sympathetic looks at her and no Nan with her quiet voice encouraging her to do things she didn’t want to do. Like this stupid Festival.
Mum was dead. How could Tora even think of doing fun stuff when Mum wasn’t here to enjoy it with her?