Pippin Eira Major grew up amongst sheep and other small herbivores in North Wales. With a shortage of human contact, they developed an overactive imagination and a need to create strong, emotive characters embroiled in exciting scenarios. They write speculative and literary fiction which aims to tackle modern issues and is particularly interested in crafting complex LGBTQ+ characters. Pippin is also the sole member of grunge-pop group Maybe Wednesday. This submission is from an on-going weird fantasy novel about death, dragons, gender roles and how an economy can devastate an entire eco-system.
Extract from the novel The Architects of Everything
The night mists on the mountains were warm and thick against Aleatha’s skin. She could hear things moving in the hidden trees around her, crickets singing their tuneless songs. She brushed her hands along the heavy heads of purple flowers growing as high as her waist, the chill of their fat berries knocking into her calves. Her sharp eyes were useless in the murk, but she wasn’t afraid. The velvety darkness was as familiar as the wet heat against her skin, the few beads of sweat on her back.
Across the lake, she just barely glimpsed the red flash of a toka-bird as it dived, almost pummelling right into the damp earth. In the last instant before it hit, it’s spread the scale-feathers of its wings wide. She heard the last squeak of its prey as it took off again and disappeared into the trees and the mist.
Aleatha’s toes stirred the edge of the water. She waded in up to her waist, her tunic getting heavy with it. In the daylight, the lake was green and shimmering, but at night it was as dark and black as the sky. When she was younger, she would have stripped bare. When she bathed with others during the day, she still would. It was different at night, though, when she came to meet Mirame. It had been different for some time. Aleatha twirled her hand along the surface of the water and then dipped below the surface, her hair fanning around her. She held her breath until her lungs started to scream in her chest, then she breached the water with a gasp.
‘Did you get bored of waiting for me?’ a playful voice asked from the shore. The mist was not hanging low enough that it hid Mirame completely. Aleatha could just make out the lines of her legs as she climbed into the lake, then her knees, the front of her tunic, and finally her face. She was smiling, her eyes bright as stars. Aleatha smiled back at her.
‘You know I don’t like hanging around.’
Mirame flicked water at Aleatha’s face and they both laughed. ‘I had to wait for my father to fall asleep.’
Aleatha splashed her back.
‘How rude,’ Mirame said. She rolled in the water so she could lay flat on its surface. ‘The mist is thick tonight.’
Aleatha rolled her eyes. ‘You always say that.’
‘And you always say that,’ Mirame jibed. Aleatha knocked into Mirame’s foot so she plopped under the water surface again. ‘Hey!’ she yelled when she emerged. Aleatha laughed and dipped back under again, swimming out faster than Mirame could follow. ‘You’re dead when I get my hands on you!’
Aleatha shook her head. ‘You’ll have to catch me first!’ she called, and she dived again.
‘Aleatha, wait!’ she called after her. Aleatha just laughed and picked the pace up. ‘Alea!’ Mirame said. Something about her tone made Aleatha stop and turn. Mirame was quite a few feet away. They were both too far out into the lake to stand on the bottom now, heads and shoulders bobbing as they swirled their limbs to stay afloat.
‘What’s wrong?’ Aleatha said. Mirame sighed. She swam her gentle stroke to breach the distance, and Aleatha didn’t dart off again, although she did consider it.
‘Don’t go off like that tonight. I don’t want to play like children,’ Mirame said. The words stung, but Aleatha pretended they didn’t.
Aleatha reached for Mirame through the water, fingers nudging at her wrist until she laced their hands together. ‘What is it?’ Aleatha asked.
‘Of the water?’ Aleatha asked, with a grin. Mirame didn’t laugh. They had played together in the lake for years. Mirame might not have been as quick as Aleatha, but she was just as skilled as a swimmer. Aleatha had heard in stories about how lakes in far off lands were filled with slimy, scaled beasts, but nothing grew or lived in the lake. In the midday sun, toka-birds would dip into it to wash their scale-feathers, but aside from that, it was used only by the people of Dyry, to bathe and wash their clothes.
Tomorrow the villages would be hung with colours for the festival. When they were children, Aleatha and Mirame had run after the parade, hands clasped like they were beneath the water. They wore purple flowers in their hair and sipped wine from the cups of indulgent adults. Aleatha was the ward of the Watcher, her stoic aunt Kisa, and so the two of them could get away with anything if they smiled right. Mirame was the youngest of her father’s six daughters, barely noticed and allowed to tear around the streets if she so wished. Aleatha remembered feeling larger then, as though she could conquer the world.
‘Did you speak with your father?’ Aleatha asked.
Mirame sank a little deeper into the water so just her eyes peered over the surface.
‘He didn’t say he was going to present you, did he?’ Aleatha demanded.
Mirame disappeared entirely for a moment and resurfaced closer than before. ‘I didn’t speak to him at all,’ she said.
The words rippled across the lake, heavy like a stone.
‘He said last festival you’d have another summer, and the same the festival before. Maybe he’ll never present you at all,’ said Aleatha, but her stomach fluttered. Mirame might not have been worthy of a title, but she was beautiful. Any man would be lucky to have her as a wife, and any father would be a fool not to present her soon, before that beauty began to spoil. It all felt far away in that moment, cloaked by the mist. Aleatha was bolder there, and she twisted her hand out of Mirame’s grip and trailed it up to lie against her cheek.
Mirame was bolder too. She didn’t flinch away when she spoke again.
‘My father is old, now…’
Aleatha smoothed her cheek. ‘He has your sisters’ husbands to light his candles for him. He doesn’t need another.’
‘It’s not right for him to still look after me.’
‘Mira,’ Aleatha sighed. ‘You care for him at least as much as he cares for you. Who cooked your feast-givings?’
‘That’s not the point, and you know it,’ Mirame grumbled.
‘You’re as good as head of your house. He’d be lost without you. He’d be a fool to send you off like that. When are you going to find time to mend his clothes when you’re making new ones for babies?’ Aleatha asked.
‘Stop it,’ Mirame whispered. She closed her eyes. She turned in the water and began to swim to the shore.
‘Where are you going?’ Aleatha called after her.
‘I don’t know,’ Mirame replied. Aleatha watched her climb out of the water and sit on the edge. She curled her knees up against her chest and looked away, across the flickering water.
They used to dress in their mother’s old clothes by the lake and pretend every week was festival week. Mirame would stand at the edge of the water with a handful of Corina roses and Aleatha would declare her name and shout into the trees, asking if anyone would claim her. the only answer would be toka-bird caws and cricket croaks, and they would dive into the pool and laugh and shout until they tired themselves out enough to lie in the roses and look up through the gaps in the trees.
‘Do you remember when we were little, and we used to talk about which of the boys would be our husbands?’ said Mirame.
Aleatha smiled. ‘You always liked Gerat.’
‘The shame of it,’ said Mirame. ‘I was so jealous of you when he asked you for your hand that festival.’
Aleatha smiled wryly, remembering the horror on Gerat’s face as he was marched before Merioch, the head of the village, and forced to renounce his claim. ‘He’s as thick as tree and bright as a post.’
‘You howled about it for weeks,’ Mirame said.
‘I did not,’ Aleatha protested. Mirame raised an eyebrow. Aleatha sighed. ‘Okay, maybe I howled for a few days. You cried at least as much as I did. I got over it.’
‘You did. And so did I,’ said Mirame, her voice quiet again. Aleatha’s gaze traced the edge of her nose, the outline of her lips. Her jaw sloped so elegantly to join with her neck. ‘Promise me something,’ Mirame whispered.
Mirame held out her hand for Aleatha to take. ‘If it happens tomorrow, promise me we’ll still meet like this, always?’
Aleatha clutched Mirame’s fingers. ‘I promise.’
End of extract.