Fleet is a young Sceadu hunter: strong, fast, and fearless. She hunts deep into the frozen mountains in search of meat for her people, for the rains have failed, plunging the Sceadu into hunger.
Fleet’s hunts are long and hard but she has much to look forward to. Soon Siah, the Sceadu’s shamanic leader, will gift Fleet her air-name, and make her a full adult. Then she will be free to marry the man she loves, the handsome healer Ashin. But while Fleet is on hunt, the old leader dies and the Sceadu’s new shaman, visions a very different future for her.
The shaman dreams a quest that will send Fleet over the perilous, ice-locked mountains to the far west, to retrieve a magical talisman to return water and fish to the Sceadu’s streams. And if Fleet fails, she can never be a full adult and never marry Ashin.
But even the Sceadu’s smallest child knows the mountains are impassable.
Fleet refuses the quest. The shaman loves Ashin too and Fleet believes she’s being sent to her death. But in a moment of angry frustration, Fleet commits a terrible wrong, and sets out into the mountains, not expecting to return.
But in a journey that takes her deep into the earth’s darkest places, and even into Death itself, she discovers that only she can save her people. To survive, she must draw on every shred of her hunter strength, and doing the impossible, turns out to be just the beginning.
It started with a single word: sceadu.
This is the Anglo Saxon root word of the modern word shadow. Not only did I like the look of this word but whichever way you pronounce it, whether skee-ard-oo or shar-doo, it makes a great name for a tribe. But what I liked most was the word’s multiple meanings, which are highly relevant to Deep Fantasy. As an ex-geography teacher, I knew all about rain shadows, that is, the fact the land-facing side of a mountain range gets a lot less rainfall than the ocean-facing side. I realised that a lack of rain would make an excellent story-driver. Through my studies of Carl Jung, I knew the shadow is the part of the psyche where we lock away/repress the things we don’t like/won't admit about ourselves. A shadow is the absence of sunlight too, and a shade another name for a ghost. Thus, the word sceadu gave me many ideas around opposites to consider.
Hans Zimmer’s Millennium, track 11, Geerewol Celebrations, second half, is a wild haunting tune that inspired Fleet’s frigid, snow-locked homeland, of Berian-tur. It also fitted Fleet who is the quintessential hunter: strong, independent, brave, and free. If you take the time to listen to Geerewol Celebrations, I hope you’ll see Fleet standing in the snowy peaks, keen eyes searching the slopes, long black hair streaming in the breeze.
The Secondary World
As a Deep Fantasy writer, I’m interested in how opposites are reconciled, and why they must be, and there are many opposites in Heart Hunter.
Berian-tur and the Stead are divided only by an ice-locked mountain range but are very different. The Sceadu of Berian-tur are led by a female shaman (siah/seer) who takes guidance from dreams/visions; the Sunnen of the Stead are led by rational and logical men. The Sceadu are hunters and foragers; the Sunnen are cultivators. Fleet is a hunter; Tel is a gardener. Both peoples are affected by failing rainfall, but react very differently. Other ways of dealing with the lack of water/climate change are explored through the Meduin (who both hunt and cultivate); the Okeanos (who change their fishing habits); the Vulturi (who scavenge and steal); and the absent peoples of the Old Stead, who despite the magnificence of their buildings, are no more.
Different types of love are important too and how they impact relationships. The love between friends, the love of mothers for their children, the love between same sex and different sex couples, the effects of infatuation, promiscuity, and infidelity. Most of the flora and fauna in Heart Hunter are unique to its secondary world but similar things exist in our (primary) world. For instance, the scinton is a type of mountain cat, the berian are bears, and murrows are a small, mole-like animal.
One of the fun things about building secondary worlds is working out how people in these worlds would think and act. Until about six or seven, Little Sisters and Brothers remain unnamed. As their personalities emerge, they are granted an earth-name by the Siah. Adulthood is bestowed by the Siah too, via the air-name which comes to her in dreams/visions. Fleet considers herself adult but must have this formalised through her air-naming before she can marry. But Siah’s dreams suggest Fleet is anything but mature, as does Fleet's behaviour. In contrast, Tel’s position as the head of his household, and the skills that aid the Sunnen, make him adult in their eyes, but like Fleet, he must undergo a lot of changes (and challenges) before he truly becomes a man.
Heart Hunter contrasts world views which are usually seen as opposites: the Sceadu with their female shaman and dream-insights, and the Sunnen, with their male leadership and logic.
In Heart Hunter, the veracity/accuracy of Siah’s dreams and visions could be interpreted as proof of the authenticity of dreams/visions, or as a coincidence, or as something Fleet orchestrates herself. Of course, a coincidence (when two things occur together for no apparent reason) might also be placed in the realm of shamanism or magic. Heart Hunter considers the merits of both world views, how they might interact, and how they might complement each other.
I’ve long been interested in what makes a female hero different (which I explored in my Ph.D thesis). I don’t want to write female heroes who think and act like male heroes (female heroes that I call 'male heroes in drag'). A female hero doesn't need to out-lie, out-fight, out-kill her adversary to be a hero. These are traits traditionally gendered male and traditionally seen as strong, whereas traits traditionally gendered female (such as love, nurturance, connection), have traditionally been seen as weak and implicitly devalued.
When Fleet finds herself in peril, she draws on skills such as submission and verbal trickery, as well as her physical strength to survive, and it is her love for her people that drives her quest. To truly become adult, Tel must 'drop' his male barriers of self-sufficiency, and be open to the vulnerability of love. There are a number of rescues in the story which might seem to conform to the stereotype of the ‘knight in shining armour rescuing the damsel in distress’ but Deep Fantasy explores emotional/psychological rescues as well as physical ones. Tel's rescue of Fleet, looks like a traditional 'male rescue of female', but he uses trickery to complete it, and he can only rescue Fleet, because Fleet has already rescued him emotionally.
The motif of water, in all its forms, is important for Fleet and Tel's journeys to adulthood. Lack of it drives Fleet from her homeland and her need to cross rivers drives her trust in Tel. The ability to control water, makes Tel an adult in the Sunnen's view, but the Marshlands (where water mixes with earth and becomes neither one or the other), almost costs him his life. It is Fleet's ability to navigate this liminal/in between land/waterscapethat saves him. Fleet is congealed, like the ice of her homeland, and must melt/change to become an adult. Tel is confined like the water in the stonestreams he's constructed, and must escape/flow free/take new form. Avalanches of snow bury and kill; ice caves save; oceans drown the unwary; smashing waves confine; and river-crossings create barriers, and force both Fleet and Tel to leave old lives behind.