Raven’s Wand review continues – this week with chapter ten, The Hand-of-Fate
Valonia and her witches badly need to discover a secret. Digging out this information couldn’t take too long, so no lengthy spy missions, and it couldn’t rely on obvious and hackneyed plot devices like crystal balls or just ‘saying a spell’. So, Valonia has to crack a secret and has roughly one chapter to do it in. Enter The Hand-of-Fate; this bizarre creature was my way of combining a bit of exposition with an exciting slab of action. Yes, Valonia could have consulted a crystal ball, but then again many, many other witches have done so in stories down the years. Instead she hunts a giant, subterranean six-fingered hand that’s smothered in living tattoos.
The HoF emerges to duel Valonia at a real place called Troller’s Ghyll, which is in the Yorkshire Dales. I just sent the Ghyll a few miles west into Cumberland (as it then was), but the place is fairly accurately described. Plus, Troller’s Ghyll has a famous barghest story attached to it, and was the first haunted place I spent the night alone long ago. No huge black hounds materialized to bother me, but rabbits nibbled my tent guy-lines a bit. On the way to the Ghyll Valonia again highlights the link between witchcraft and midwifery during a chat with Kolfinnia. I was inspired by an account I read of a woman condemned as a witch during the middle-ages; her crime was to assist a pregnant woman during labour. The twisted logic behind this sentence was that God punished Eve by making childbirth painful for all women, and thus anyone attempting to treat that pain was acting against God – now that really is a tale of black magic.
Sunday clashes again with Flora in this chapter, adding further layers to each woman’s character, and while Sunday might sting like a whip she remains all witch. The swan feathers she’s so proud to fix into her hair are either given freely by the birds or exchanged for something – as is the case with all witches. I couldn’t envisage a story about witches honouring the Earth and its creatures and then have those same witches strike a bird from the air with an arrow to pluck its feathers and enjoy a Sunday roast – pardon the pun. And although this principle is very important to me as the writer I didn’t want it to float too close to the surface. The eco/animal message is there, often in what witches don’t say or do. Wildwood foundations remain unseen but they remain ever green.