Monday, March 17, 2008

Snow Moon Rising excerpt by Lori L Lake

The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 15 of Snow Moon Rising by Lori L Lake, an epic novel about Mischka Gallo, a proud Roma woman living in Poland before WWII. When she meets Pippi Stanek, the "Gypsy" and the German girl become fast friends, but then WWII begins, all of Europe is in turmoil, and Mischka and her family are in danger. The Nazi forces will not stop until they've rounded up every Gypsy, Jew, dissident, and homosexual. On the run and separated from her family, Mischka can hardly comprehend the obstacles that face her, and when she is captured, she must use all her wits just to stay alive. Can Mischka survive through the hell of the war and find her family and Pippi, too?

Snow Moon Rising, winner of the 2007 Golden Crown Literary Award and the Ann Bannon Popular Choice Award, takes place in a world beset by war where two women on either side of the conflagration breach the divide - and save one another. A stunning novel of two women's enduring love and friendship across family, clan, and cultural barriers, it's a story of desperation and honor, hope and fear at a time when the world was split into a million pieces.

Snow Moon Rising
Regal Crest Enterprises (October 17, 2006)
ISBN: 1932300503


Poland – North of the Tatras Mountains, November, 1942 (Snow Moon)

WHEN THE MOON was high in the sky, they reached the foothills of the Tatras Mountains, at one of the lower passes of the Carpathian Range. Depending upon where they made their ascent and descent, they would likely pass through Slovakia, but it was less than a hundred miles south to Hungary. They pushed on as another hour passed, then two. The moon disappeared behind clouds and they were forced to slow and let the animals find the path. Mischka realized dawn was a little over an hour away.

The horses clearly suffered from fatigue, but after a brief water break, again Bersh urged them ahead. “We must get past the foothills and into terrain where it’s more difficult for the German carts to travel. Come. We move on. Stay close. The path twists and turns many ways now.”

Thrum…thrum…thrum… Each time her horse’s hooves hit the ground, the jolt jarred Mischka and kept her awake. She was beyond tired, and her little mare must be exhausted. Mischka leaned forward, her thick hair falling down around her face and onto the horse’s sweaty neck. She patted the mare, willing energy to flow to her. “Thank you, Maisie,” she whispered. “Stay with me. It’s not long now.”

The path narrowed and went east, then later meandered and switched back to the west as they went up an incline that became more pronounced. She turned her head to look down the hill and across the valley they had fled from. Squinting, she noticed a tiny pinprick of golden light bobbing along several miles away, maybe a lantern on a cart or wagon. Perhaps a man carried it, but even from this distance, it seemed to be moving too fast—unless the man were running, and she thought that unlikely. She watched for another minute, paying no attention to Maisie, so Mischka was surprised when her mare shifted course and she was no longer able to see the light. Soon enough, they traveled southeast on the incline. The path forked, and they went to the left, then came around due east. Over her right shoulder, she watched and waited. After a few moments, from a grove of trees, the light emerged again, closer than ever.

This was not good, not good at all. To complicate matters, the blackness of the night was diminishing. She could see that the kumpania still had quite some distance before exiting the foothills and getting to the scrub trees around the base of the mountain. Once the sun came up, they would be in full sight unless they could make it into the trees.

They came to another fork, and this time the troupe went right, avoiding a very steep grade. Mischka scanned for the pass in the dark mountain looming ahead. As far as she could tell, her people could travel through the foothills by staying on increasingly narrow paths that led up to the pass, or they could travel along wider trails that ran parallel to the mountain’s apex and periodically forked off to the south. Bersh was alternating between gradual slope and narrow path, which gave the laboring horses an easier time.

Was it her imagination, or was the bobbing light slightly bigger now? Soon its progress would be concealed by the scrub brush in the foothills, and then she would have no way to gauge how far ahead the kumpania was or how close their pursuers had drawn. At some point, the Germans—for she was now certain they were soldiers—were going to have to stop to unhitch their horses from the carts, but that wouldn’t take much time.

She glanced behind. Three horses labored behind her bearing Aladar’s son, Shandor, then Gyorgy, and finally Tobar riding with Emil’s son Palko. She pulled up, and the end of the procession came to a stop as she shifted to the side and looked over her shoulder.

Shandor, obviously half-asleep, mumbled, “What’s the matter?”

“Shhh…” she said. “They’re closer than we think, and they mustn’t hear us. Sound travels too easily up here.”

Tobar said, “You’ve seen the light, too.” It was a statement, not a question.

“What light?” Shandor whispered.

“The soldiers are only a matter of minutes away,” Mischka said. “As soon as they unhitch their horses, they will race up the mountain and fall upon our families. We must draw them away—give the caravan time to get over the pass and elude them on the other side.”

“How do you propose to do that?” Gyorgy cupped a hand over his mouth to muffle his words.

Tobar grinned, and his beard shook. “We take them on a wild chicken chase, right Mischka?”

“Yes. But someone has to catch up and pass the word to Bersh. He needs to go all out, straight up the mountain. No more gentle slopes. Once the sun comes up, we’ll be easy prey.”

Gyorgy said, “We three men will draw them away. Mischka, you pass the word ahead.”

“No, my brother. You have a family. I have none. You go deliver the word. Besides, we need someone strong at the end of the procession, just in case they do catch up.”

“She’s right, Gyorgy,” Tobar said. “Shandor and I are single men. Your children depend upon you.”

“Papa will kill me,” Gyorgy whispered in a heated voice. “I can’t leave you, Mischka. What if you’re caught?”

Shandor raised his chin high. “We shall not be caught. How ridiculous.”

Mischka didn’t comment on Shandor’s ego. “We don’t have time to debate. Go. Leave it to us, Gyorgy. We’ll meet you at the bottom of the mountain.”

“Yes,” Tobar whispered. “Here, take Palko.” They quickly transferred the youth from in front of Tobar to Gyorgy’s horse, and once he was settled, Tobar shook Gyorgy’s hand. “Go, my friend. We’ll soon be back together on the other side of the mountain.”

Gyorgy sighed, then in a firm whisper he said, “Meet us at the campground in the low reaches of the south side of the mountain. We will wait—or leave a lookout for you. If you’re delayed more than a few hours, then travel southward through the Slovak lands—to the farm village of Miskolc in Hungary. We’ll post someone in the woods in case the town is in enemy hands. Godspeed, my sister and brothers!”

They jockeyed their horses around, and bade farewell, and almost immediately Tobar said, “They come. I hear them in the distance. We must work together now. Make a lot of noise and run west for at least two miles. Shandor, take the upper path that runs there.” He pointed ahead of them to the left. “Mischka, you shall take the middle path, and I’ll take the low path.“

“No, Tobar,” Mischka said, “you stand the greatest risk of capture.”

“Don’t worry about me. Ox is the strongest, hardiest horse and I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve. Shandor, do nothing foolish. Stay out ahead of them. Make a lot of noise to attract them to the west. Our families must make it over the pass. Once we draw them away, circle up and over to the southwest. Whatever you do, keep moving southwest and angling upwards. Understand?”

“I wish we had Emil’s gun,” Mischka said.

Tobar smiled a wicked, toothy grin. “We’ll kill them with our bare hands if it comes to that.” He took a deep breath. “All right, time to run like foxes through the forest.” Palms up, he held his hands out, and his companions grabbed his big mitts. Through her leather gloves, Mischka squeezed his hand tight.

“Go like the spirits,” he said. “I’ll bring up the rear.”

Mischka spurred her horse forward, her heart beating fast in her chest. Behind her, Shandor let out a whoop. The Snow Moon had gradually disappeared, and the bloody edge of the sun arose over the horizon, spreading a pale stain of light over the foothills that Mischka and her companions rode so furiously across.

MISCHKA WASN’T SURE how far she and Maisie traveled. The sun was up, casting rays, and she felt faint warmth on the back of her neck. Although she saw mist gushing out of her mouth with each breath, she wasn’t aware of the cold. She felt only worry, extreme fatigue, the heat of exertion. Both she and the horse could see the ground better now that more light was filtering through the scrub. She heard sounds of pursuit, but far off in the distance. Should she slow her flight? What if they stopped giving chase and went back after the caravan? Torn, she decided to continue on so long as she could hear the hoofbeats and shouts.

She wondered if Bersh would be able to make the mad scramble up the mountain into Slovak territory and if soldiers would be there, too. Even if the kumpania managed to make it into the Slovak lands, how long would it take them to cross into Hungary? She hoped Tobar and Shandor were faring well and that the three of them had a chance of reuniting at the pass and traveling on together.

She came to a fork and angled uphill to the left, deciding she had traveled due west long enough. The little mare stumbled on the incline. Clacking her tongue against the roof of her mouth and nudging with her knees, Mischka urged her forward. So intent was she on spurring the horse that she didn’t see the washout until she was almost upon it. A huge section of rock had slid down the hill forming a twenty-foot-high barricade that couldn’t be crossed.

She reined in her horse, and the little mare skidded to a halt, sides heaving and sweat pouring off her flanks. Sick with panic, Mischka looked behind her. She could hear the pursuers and guessed she had only minutes to find another path to take. She had to get down to that fork and come at this from a different angle. She coaxed Maisie around and loped back down the trail to take a different route at the fork she’d passed earlier. Much to her dismay, she saw how much in the open she was and how easily her brown horse and dark brown clothing must stand out in the midst of so much gray and tan. But Maisie’s hooves found purchase, and when she’d gone far enough to bypass the washout, a surge of adrenaline coursed through her. It was now or never. Tightening her grip on the reins, she tucked in behind the velvety brown head, and prodded the little horse back up the hill.

At the next turn of the trail, she broke through a thicket of low-hanging branches and yanked Maisie up short—face-to-face with a band of soldiers.

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