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Ten-year-old Zanne has lived on her parents' farm in Garth her whole life, following the seasons as regularly as the years.
Everything changes when raiders come to their village, and Zanne uses her powers to save her family. Zanne's mother - Keeper of the Covenant, binding life to their country - sends her to Covenant school. Zanne needs to be trained, and to put her powers to use for the good of Inland.
But there is a stronger force present than even Zanne realises. The call of the Daymaker, the legendary power from the time of the machines, pulls against the Covenant, and Zanne finds herself on a quest to discover its origins, and the truth of Inland's history...
The first book in the DAYMAKER trilogy, this book by award-winning author Gwyneth Jones, writing as Ann Halam, is perfect for fans of Ursula Le Guin's EARTHSEA trilogy.
Release date: October 18, 2022
Print pages: 240
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But the stillness was not complete. There was a shifting stain on the white coverlet. A band of riders moved in furtively, with a blue glint of weapons, towards an isolated cluster of small homesteads. Luckily, the people of this countryside knew what they had to fear at the dark of the moon at this season. Life might seem very safe and ‘peaceful in this quiet land. But in fact danger was never very far away …
Zanne’s mother came in from the snow. Her big coat, which reached to her ankles, was crusted with it. The children were curled up by the kitchen stove. There were chores undone: it was a very cold night, and the kitchen was a seductive haven. Mother hadn’t taken her boots off in the porch—something you must always do. Snow dropped from them onto the bright rag rug that covered the middle of the stone floor, which Zanne loved because of its colours, and its magical warmth to small bare feet. The little girl saw patches of black dampness growing out of her mother’s white footprints. She knew someone was in bad trouble.
“Kila,” said Zanne’s mother, “wrap yourself up. And the others. Leave the lamps burning. A dark house would only attract them.”
Kila was father’s apprentice, who had come to live with Zanne’s family while she learned to be a weaver. Without a word she ran for the coat cupboard. Father had come in behind mother. He was looking around the kitchen as if he’d never seen it before. Mother was clearing off the farm desk, putting some things in a chest and others into the massive immoveable desk itself. For Zanne the friendly yellow lamp-light disappeared and appeared again as she was thrust into garments: and every time it reappeared something stranger was going on.
“Run,” said mother, and the three children ran, down the bumpy red tiles into the old dairy: the oldest part of the house; a store room now. Father and mother stood at the door. They were holding long stakes split and bound into tines at the head—pitchforks. What on earth could that be for, in the snow?
Zanne was going to ask her father, but he hugged her just then, and for some reason the familiar soft scrub of his beard frightened her into silence. Mother held Kila at arm’s length and touched her on the forehead, on the mouth, on the cusp of her collarbones; making little circles with her finger. Zanne and Bren, her brother, ran to a row of tiny windows deep set in the old dairy’s outer wall. They huffed hot breath on the glass and through the white scratchings of frost saw an extraordinary sight. At the bottom of the farm track, where it met the road to the village, was a crowd of wildfire flares; orange and yellow in the blue-black and snowy darkness. As they watched, two more flares, with bouncing shadows under them, came hurrying down and joined the rest.
“Come away from there,” said Kila. “ ‘We’ve got to keep quiet and not show a light.”
It was deathly cold. Zanne fell asleep and woke up with her cheek squashed painfully on the chest of precious books and papers. She remembered that her mother had not kissed her and made up her mind to cry.
But then something warm brushed her chin. It was the rag rug that her mother had bundled after them, with the chest. It snuggled itself around her, as if someone was tucking her up in bed. When Zanne closed her eyes she could still see the kindly colours. She burrowed her cold nose down and fell asleep again, comforted.
That was a bitter winter. The worst in living memory for the people of Garth, and probably for the whole of Inland. There was fierce discussion at every Covenant meeting over the problem of the raiders. In other parts depredations were more common. Garth was not usually impressed by tales of woe from the tradestowns—the loss of luxuries that should never have been piled up in the first place. It was different when the trouble reached so far as home.
It was the custom of Inland people to make a harvest assessment every year, and each household would give exactly what it could afford in kind or in trade: the dole to be sent in waggons to the border and left there for the miserable outlaws. If the outlaws thought that this was a tribute exacted by terror, let them. It was not, it was charity. Some people said the harvest dole must be too low, otherwise there would be no raiding. Some said it should be cut down to teach the raiders a lesson.
But all this passed over Zanne’s head as she daydreamed through the meetings, or engaged in surreptitious pinching battles with Bren. She had no foreknowledge of the part those adventurers from the Outlands were to play in her life. By summertime (it was the summer she was four years old) she had almost forgotten the night they slept in the dairy. And that was the last hard winter for several years. Garth relapsed into its habitual sleepy peace.
On three sides the fields of Garth were bounded by wooded hills. To the west, beyond Townsend Farm where Zanne lived, the bare sheep downs rolled away into blue distance. Once there had been a city here, long ago when Inland was a very different place. But hardly any trace remained now of “the land of the towers of light”: only a few fragments turned up by the plough or a couple of odd-shaped boulders standing in the corner of a field.
Zanne and her brother and the other Garth children played at “cities” but they didn’t really know what the word meant. The world to them was the seven farms of Garth, with their bean rows and plough and orchard and pasture. Townsend, Upper Valley, Bine End, Eastcot, Shorthouse, Longhill and Low.
It was a small settlement, not big enough for tradespeople. Some of the farms had crafts attached to them by tradition: the pottery kiln at Bine End, the carpentry shop at Low. Other skills came to the valley when tradesfolk married into the farming families, or when children were apprenticed out and brought their learning home. But the nearest shops and streets were a long day’s journey away at Mosden, the tradestown, and Zanne hardly ever saw them. Sometimes she tried to imagine the towers of light: great bars of gold and silver as tall as the hills, marching away, away as far as Mosden. But she could never make the picture real, it was always just a copy of what sunlight looks like coming through rifts in a cloud. “Why can’t I imagine it?” she asked her mother. And mother said. “Because that world is gone, Zanne. Inland is here instead. And your mind, that imagines, is part of Inland.”
Zanne didn’t understand, but she was satisfied. What mother said was always satisfying then, even when it was very mysterious.
The village of Garth itself consisted only of the meeting house with its wooden bell-tower; the Garth Inn for less serious meetings and a row of pensions—little cottages belonging to six old women and five old men who had retired from their farms. Garth Inn family looked out for them and they in turn looked out for any indigent strangers, tended the meeting house and taught Garth children old tales and useful skills (when they could catch them).
Zanne’s father, Hurst, was a weaver. He had been born at the tradestown of Mosden, twenty vales away. As a young man he had travelled the roads with his trade. Now he stayed at home at Townsend and the young came to him to learn.
Townsend was a low white L-shaped house, set with its outhouses in a neat stonewalled yard. It was a prosperous holding. The big kitchen was hung (when raiders were not expected) with beautiful rich coloured cloths, most of them born on Hurst’s big loom that stood in the wide sun-filled loft chamber overhead. Zanne’s little room was in that loft too. Conferred on her with great ceremony when she was five, it had blue curtains with red apples woven into them, and a quilt-cover of green grass and yellow buttercups. However, Garth was a strong covenanting valley and Zanne lived a strict life as a child. She ate bean porridge and bread and honey, little milk or butter and meat only a few days in the year. She used an earth privy and water came from the kitchen pump. At night, unless Zanne’s mother was working at her desk, by two hours after sunset the valley was dark from the downs to the river Moss.
Zanne’s mother, Arles, was Garth’s covener. She led the speakers at those endless meetings when Zanne dozed on the children’s bench at the back. Zanne didn’t mind the meetings. In the summer she watched the swallows flitting in and out of the air slats, and making butterfly shadows over the lime-washed roof space. In the winter she tried to get a bench end by the stove, where she could read the names on the wall. There was her grandmother, Paris Cutler, who died in a bad raid years and years ago. And her grandfather, Negan Townsend, whom she could just about remember. There were great-grandparents and great-great-great as well: but they had been washed over by now. So many layers of names wrapped around Garth meeting. It was a comfortable, safe feeling.
Before the child was old enough for work or lessons, Arles Townsend would often take Zanne in front of her on her pony, on covenanting calls. When the milk was due to go into Mosden, in churns of sycamore wood; or the bales of wool at fleece harvest—Arles and Zanne went down to the waggon road to wish it well. If there was meat to be killed or a tree to be downed; or if a swathe of badland needed sweetening, Zanne’s mother would be called out to the farms. Sometimes she was called to a sick animal, a failed crop or a difficult birth or death; animal or human. But that was rare. Garth people kept the Covenant, and so no harm could come to them. Zanne knew that.
Children were not supposed to watch a meat killing, but of course they had to. Zanne would crouch in the barn with the farm’s own offspring, and peep through the swatches while her mother took a sheep between her knees as if she was going to strip its wool.
Sister don’t blame me, she said (or brother). I will die too, and be eaten. Arles’ strong hands closed under the animal’s narrow chocky jaws—and it was limp and gone. People grumbled that Arles Townsend was too plain spoken. She ought to use some decent long words. The old covener used to say “consumed”—not common munching eaten.
But though Zanne giggled with her friends because it seemed the thing to do, she listened to the grownups and she knew they were wrong. Her mother must be doing it right, because Zanne could feel inside her what happened when the sheep went limp. There was a light like a candleflame. It shook and nearly went out, but mother’s hands kept it steady.
Zanne was a good child. She did her lessons and she did her chores, including the outwork that everybody shared—clearing stones out of ploughland, the horrible potato picking and other more pleasant harvests. She had one marked peculiarity, as little children will: and that was her delight in anything that went up and down or round and round. Even when she was teething as a baby, she never cried if she could watch her father at his loom. Hurst hoped she would be a weaver.
But it turned out the attraction was more general. She was equally entranced by any tool that moved. The greatest treat you could give her was to take her to Mosshole, down the river, and let her watch the water mill where the flour of three valleys was ground. Some of Zanne’s friends told her it was wrong for a covener’s daughter to visit the Mill family. Zanne hadn’t the least idea why. Mother only laughed. She said the parents of those children were welcome to go back to the quern, if they had so much time on their hands.
Zanne loved all her family (except Bren occasionally), and nearly everyone in Garth. But most of all she loved her uncle Lol. He was mother’s brother—a round faced young man with yellow hair and grey eyes like mother and Zanne. Years ago he had taken his share out of the farm; he preferred a wandering life. Still there was always room at Townsend for him, and sometimes he stayed for months. When he was in residence children were drawn to Townsend yard like wasps to an orchard full of windfalls. He was never too busy or too tired to make toys for them or invent games.
Zanne’s father had travelled, but his storytelling was pitiful compared to Lol’s. Uncle Lol had been a horse trader, a wandering player, a pedlar. His past was full of daring ventures, narrow escapes and strange twists of fate. He wore a bright green jacket with gold braid on the collar for everyday, and breeches to match instead of knitted leggings like the country people. Hurst Weaver called his wife’s brother “flash Lolly” and fingered the cloth of that suit with disdain.
Sometimes Lol committed crimes (like the time he was caught teaching some young people how to make a whisky still). Arles said—brother or no brother, next time you need to go to earth, dig yourself a hole and jump in it … But Lol knew (as he told Bren and Zanne) how to lie low and let the storm pass over. He always came back. And his wickedness just made Zanne love him more.
There was one thing about uncle Lol more wonderful than all the rest. He could do magic. He was careful with this skill outside the house, because the people of Garth did not approve of such trickery. But when Zanne was a baby he would put her into fits of laughter by making her beechwood platter grow eyes and mouth and pull faces at her through her dinner. When she got older he would draw pictures that came alive, make her yellow hair crackle with coloured fire; turn an apple she was eating into a bird that pecked her nose and flew away. Once there was an egg that talked when she pulled it out from under her own hen Blackie.
“Don’t blame me, sister” she mumbled, groping in the warm straw still half-asleep.
“I don’t blame you,” piped up the egg cheerfully. “Everybody’s got to go sometime!”
It could not be eaten. Zanne kept it in a box until the yolk rattled like a stone inside, and for years she thought she could still hear it muttering sometimes.
Kila was almost grown up by now. Soon she would leave them for her first trade journey. Men don’t make magic, she declared. They only ma. . .
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