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Hild A Novel by Nicola Griffith

Hild A Novel by Nicola Griffith

Author:Nicola Griffith
Language: eng
Format: mobi
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published: 2013-11-11T18:30:00+00:00


15

IN YORK, the first day of Blodmonath dawned unseasonably mild. High, bright clouds coated the sky as evenly as egg foam. Larks and starlings gathered in flocks on the stubbled fields on either side of the Fosse and every now and again lifted in rushes for the south. To the north, just beyond the louring yew woods, darker rain clouds drifted towards the walls of the inner fort, threatening the rebuilding.

The wīc would grow in the fork of the Ouse and Fosse between the fort and the outer wall. The span of outer wall between Dere Street and the Ouse had long ago fallen into ruin. Edwin had cleared the rubble, redug the ditches, and drained the land. His two new Frankish stonemasons, rebuilding the walls of the inner fort, were notoriously finicky about the damp and the temperature of the strange sandy mud they mixed to stick the stone together. They worked slowly. Edwin fretted. To defend a wīc a fort must be strong. They’d have to make do with a hedge to protect the northeast end of the wīc field.

Hild rose without waking Begu or Gwladus. She wanted to see the laying of the great hedge.

What seemed to Hild to be half the women and men of the vale of York worked in the field that would be the wīc. Children ran about with jars. No one seemed to care about the possibility of rain. They were happy to carry their billhooks and hand axes and knives to the scrubby flatland and work for good portions of food and beer while their children herded their pigs in the wood south of the river to fatten on the early mast fall. This year there would be enough for every pig. There would be bacon and ham and sausage to feed every family all winter. There would be plenty of pork fat to soothe chilblains and fry the mushrooms soon to sprout in the east pasture and along the ditches of the west fields. One or two old women muttered now and again, and shook their heads—such mildness was uncanny, and trouble would come of it—but old women always said such things.

Coelfrith’s woodsmen had already laid out the hedge lines, driving in elm stakes every two feet and marking scrubby trees for saving with splashes of ochre. The strong young men and strapping women grubbed up all the other bushes and saplings. Old men chopped the torn brush into manageable pieces for later. Younger women and unmarried girls cut wands of hazel, and nursing mothers and old women plaited the hazel into great open weaves.

The woodsmen set to work on plashing the marked trees. They lopped a branch here, a branch there—Hild tried to spot the pattern for their choice, but they worked too fast—and with a casual flick of the axe cut the tree almost through at the base and bent it over to weave between the stakes.

The dark, shaped saplings lay all one way like a cat’s just-licked fur.



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