25 Sep 2017

Gate of Air by Resa Nelson


Gate of Air
Resa Nelson
(Dragon Gods, #1)
Publication date: June 19th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Frayka must find and convince the dragon gods of the Far East to appease the gods of her Northland heritage. If she fails, her own Northlander gods will destroy all the mortals who once promised to worship them.
The Far East is a mysterious place of legend to Northlanders like Frayka. Only an old map can show her how to get there. Once she arrives, all of Frayka’s sensibilities put her in danger. And every dangerous turn delays her from finding the dragon gods whose help she so desperately needs.
Although Frayka looks like a Far Easterner, she is a powerful Northlander warrior who is quick to voice her thoughts. She is trained to fight and won’t hesitate to do so.
But everything about Frayka puts her in deadly peril in the Far East, where the laws are strict and the punishment cruel.
Especially when the one being punished is a woman.
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Excerpt
By the time Frayka and Njall sailed the ship close enough to guide it onto the smooth beach, everyone in Blackstone stood there waiting for them, waving and shouting. Like all Northlanders (other than Frayka), men and women alike had long blonde hair, pale skin, and blue eyes.
“They must have seen us coming in,” Njall said, waving back at them. “That’s what I call timely help.”
Frayka spotted her father, mother, and siblings in the crowd. Although happy to see them, her stomach remained in knots.
The men of Blackstone waded into the incoming waves, gripped the ship’s low rail, and dragged the ship onto the pitch-black sand.
Bright green grassy fields stretched beyond the beach. Beyond those fields stood Blackstone, the only settlement in the Land of Ice. Its small houses were made of stone walls and sod roofs growing long grass. Wisps of smoke escaped from the hole in the center of each roof.
Frayka’s father, Thorkel, wore green linen trousers and a bright yellow shirt. Sidling next to the beached ship, he held his arms open and beamed. “Frayka! You be home at last!”
Finally, the knot in Frayka’s stomach loosened. Climbing over the ship’s rail, she relished the feel of the hard, wet sand beneath her feet and welcomed her father’s embrace.
Thorkel sneezed.
Releasing him, Frayka said, “You’re drenched. We should get you home and into dry clothes before you catch cold.”
“I be fine,” Thorkel said while he watched his favorite daughter exchange embraces with her mother and siblings. “But you look worse for the wear. You be all right, girl?”
For the first time since leaving the Land of Ice, Frayka felt keenly aware of the sorry state of her clothing.
Like all Northlander women, Frayka wore an outfit made of layers. Her outerwear, a lightweight red coat gaping open in the front, bore dark stains and a large tear. Underneath, the dress that had once been bright blue now looked dreary and faded. A formerly light beige under-dress peeked above the blue dress’s neckline but now bore the color of mud. The two large silver brooches pinning the red over-dress to the blue dress at each shoulder were dented. And a string of amber and silver beads that once connected the brooches had been yanked free long ago.
The dagger tucked under the leather belt looped around her waist had seen better days.
“I’m fine, Father,” Frayka said. She smiled. “I just don’t look it.”
“Frayka’s a fine warrior,” Njall said, pushing his way through the crowd to join her side.
Following, Rognvald clapped a hand on his son Njall’s shoulder. “We know, boy. We got word.”
“Word?” Njall said, turning to look at Rognvald. “How, Pa?”
Rognvald winked. “Plenty of time to tell that story. More pressing matters at hand.” He grinned.
Entering the settlement of small stone homes, Frayka saw the life she’d left behind. Children ran and played around the houses. Young men and women carried empty pails as they walked toward a path leading to the nearby waterfall. Like Frayka, they all stood tall. Unlike Frayka, they all had long blonde hair, falling to the waists of men and women alike.
Frayka allowed herself to relax, happy to listen to her father babble while they walked arm and arm into Blackstone.
Thorkel sniffed. “I never be so proud and feared at the same time as when those ice dragons stomped the ground and made the land around Blackstone split apart. I figured you must have seen it happen in a portent. You be the only one to go across and fight those dragons before the chasm got too big for the rest of us to cross. Then you be gone missing. And later Njall be gone missing, too.” Thorkel’s voice caught. “Worried something fierce about you and Njall.”
Frayka squeezed his arm. “I’m sorry you worried. I didn’t mean for that to happen. But I did tell you I’d had a portent and that I would be fighting sorcery.”
Rognvald nudged Thorkel. “No sense in getting all sentimental. First things first. Tell them about the marriage house.”
“Marriage house?” Frayka said. “Someone is getting married?”
“This way,” Thorkel said, pulling her by the hand while the rest of their family followed along with Rognvald and Njall. “We got word about you heading home a few weeks ago, just enough time for the building.”
Thorkel led the way into a new stone cottage with a sod roof so fresh that the seams of the sod strips forming the roof had not yet grown together.
Stepping into the one-room home, Frayka paused at the change of bright sunlight to a dim interior. A hearth stood in the center of the room, ready for its first fire to be lit. The opening in the roof allowed a weak stream of light to filter inside. A few water buckets leaned against a stone wall.
Thorkel took Frayka and Njall by the hand and marched them toward a sleeping pallet large enough for two. Their families gathered round.
Exchanging a startled look with Njall, Frayka said, “I don’t understand. Is someone getting married today?”
“Of course!” Thorkel said with a laugh. “It be you and Njall!”
“We’ve been gone for the better part of a year,” Frayka said to her father. “Why do you think we want to get married? Njall always hated me and called me names.”
Rognvald nudged his son with a laugh. “Everyone knows boys tease the girls they like. Njall ain’t hating you. He called you names to show he noticed you.”
Njall considered his father’s words and gave Frayka a sheepish look. “Never thought much about it before, but I can’t argue with that.”
“There has to be more,” Frayka said. “What aren’t you telling us?”
Thorkel’s eyes gleamed with pride, but before he could speak, his own family cut him off.
Frayka’s five younger sisters broke into a fit of nasty giggles, gathered around their mother like chicks around a hen.
The gleam in Thorkel’s eyes faded, and he slumped like a man kicked to the ground by a group of thieves.
Frayka tensed. She remembered a time long ago when her mother beamed at the sight of Thorkel, happy to be married to him. She remembered when her mother had taken joy in the simple tasks of everyday life. But everything changed when her mother took up with a small cluster of gossips in Blackstone and became one of them. Bitterness and judgment replaced her mother’s sense of joy. Before long, all of Frayka’s sisters behaved the same.
“It’s all because of Thorkel’s silly story,” Frayka’s mother said with a poorly disguised smirk. “I told him it was nonsense. I told him you had no interest in marrying Njall.” She paused for effect. “Or any other man, for that matter.”
Frayka’s sisters burst into another round of cruel giggles.
Hands on hips, Frayka stared them down. “What is that supposed to mean?”
One by one, each sister slung her opinion at Frayka.
“You’re no woman.”
“You want to be a man!”
“Acting like you’re too good for woman’s work.”
“Acting like keeping the keys to the home is beneath you.”
“That’s why you’ll never get married!”
Anger bubbled inside Frayka like boiling lava. But before she let that anger loose, she felt the calming touch of her father’s hand on her shoulder.
“Never mind them empty heads, my girl,” Thorkel said. “They got no faith in what we saw. Me and Rognvald.”
Forgetting the female side of her family, Frayka turned toward her father. Although he had the height and pale features of all other Northlanders, Thorkel’s grandmother came from the Far East. More than ever, Frayka felt connected to him in a way that she doubted she would ever feel with her mother or sisters again. Put off by the way she saw her mother treat her father, Frayka gave her family allegiance to Thorkel alone. “What did you see?”
Gazing at his daughter, the gleam returned to Thorkel’s eyes. “We spent all these months worrying over the two of you, me and Rognvald. Wondering where you went to. Fretting we would never set eyes on you again. Then your friends came running to us after going to the waterfall to fetch water. Said they saw something magical in the water that asked to speak to the families of you and him.” Thorkel pointed at Njall.
“Only us believed your friends and what they said they saw in the water,” Rognvald said. Casting a dark look at the others gathered inside the new stone house, he said, “They was right to come to us. Me and Thorkel seen things none of you can ever understand.”
Frayka smiled, taking his meaning to heart. She relished her childhood memories of all the far-fetched stories her father spun. Stories about his days in the Northlands with Rognvald when they were brigands and the bad men who hired them. Stories about a Northlander woman covered with scars from being chewed up and spit out by a dragon, and how she became a blacksmith making swords for dragonslayers. Stories about dragons and ghosts and people who could change how they looked just by thinking about it.
Secretly, Frayka believed every word to be true. And now that she’d travelled and seen far-fetched sights with her own eyes, no one could convince her that anything her father told her was exaggerated or made up.
Catching Njall’s gaze, she saw the same conviction on his face. “What happened next?” she asked Rognvald.
Rognvald draped a conspiratorial arm around Njall’s shoulder and pulled his son close. “Me and Thorkel went to the waterfall and met the sprite.”
“Sprite?” Njall said. “A water sprite?”
Thorkel nodded. “Or some such creature. Pretty little thing. Standing like a woman in front of the waterfall, but made of nothing but water herself. Voice as sweet as morning dew.”
“That’s what you say about every female,” Rognvald scoffed. “Sounded irritating as a bleating sheep to me.” To his son and Frayka, he added, “But she claimed you two was safe.”
“She said you be coming home soon,” Thorkel said. “And we should expect you to marry. She likes you both quite a lot. Spoke fondly of you.”
Again, Frayka caught Njall’s gaze, and the solemn expression on his face convinced her they were thinking the same thing.
Norah. Last year we helped a water goddess. We assumed she’d abandoned us, but she helped us instead.
“Enough of this,” Frayka’s mother said, her voice hostile and coarse. “You spent the past few weeks building a house they’ll never use. Frayka has no intent of marrying Njall or anyone else. I dare say we’ll be stuck with her for life.”
The five sisters glared at Frayka as their mother herded them out the door.
Njall, his family, and Thorkel remained inside the house with Frayka.
“Be that what you want?” Thorkel said to Frayka. “Or be you wanting something else?”
When Njall smiled at Frayka, she remembered her long-ago portent that told her she must marry Njall because he alone had the ability to father children who would carry on Frayka’s ability to foretell the future. She remembered how her fondness for Njall had grown when he proved himself through kindness, loyalty, and respect. And during their return home by ship, they had spent every night becoming as intimate as a husband and wife.
The portents may not always come true exactly as I see them, but they do come true.
Frayka returned Njall’s smile. “I believe today is just as good a day as any to get married.”


Author Bio:
Resa Nelson is the author of the 4-book Dragonslayer series: The Dragonslayer’s Sword (nominated for the Nebula Award, finalist for the EPPIE Award), The Iron Maiden , The Stone of Darkness , and The Dragon's Egg . Her 4-book Dragonfly series takes place after the Dragonslayer series.
Her standalone novels include the mystery/thrillers All Of Us Were Sophie and Our Lady of the Absolute .
Resa has been selling short stories professionally since 1988. She is a longtime member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), and she is a graduate of the Clarion SF Workshop. Resa was the TV/Movie Columnist for Realms of Fantasy magazine for 13 years as well as a regular contributor to SCI FI magazine. She has sold over 200 articles to magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom.

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