Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be joining the Where Blood Runs Cold blog tour. Where Blood Runs Cold by Giles Kristian is published by Doubleday Books today (that’s Thursday 24th February 2022) and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow later this year. To celebrate publication of Where Blood Runs Cold I have a fantastic extract to share with you today so pull up a comfy chair, grab a coffee and enjoy…
He’s having the dream again. He knows he’s dreaming and still he cannot steer its course. He never can. The figure is more shadow than man. More dark presence than human form. More of a sensation, like the heaviness in your gut when you’ve lashed out and hurt the feelings of someone you love. Or the clenching tightness in your chest when something is broken that you know can’t be fixed.
He feels all this even in the dream. Knowing he’s in the dream. But this time it’s different, and despite the dread, he moves closer.
What are you? he asks.
He sees in the dark form the outline of a face. An eye. And Sofia is here too. Here I am! he shouts to her but she can’t hear him. The terror is on him now. In him. Its claws sinking into the soft meat of his heart. Sofia!
She’s moving towards the figure. No– stay away! Sofia, stay with me!
He hears his daughter scream.
‘Erik!’ He woke with a start, Elise’s voice bringing him back. The fuzzy blue display of the alarm clock sharpened as he swung himself out of bed, heart racing, knowing that the scream had been real. Three twenty-two a.m.
‘She’s having a nightmare,’ Elise said, already on the landing. Erik stumbled after her and through the doorway. Elise pushed open the door of their daughter’s bedroom.
‘Shh, darling. It’s just a dream,’ she soothed, as she sat on the bed beside Sofia and took the girl’s hands in her own.
‘Just a dream.’
Erik exhaled sharply, still trying to blink away his own dream, which clung to his mind and body, heavy as wet clothing.
‘Pappa,’ Sofia said, half awake, half dreaming still.
Erik sat on Sofia’s other side, gently running a hand through her sweat-and sleep-tangled hair, pushing it back from her face. ‘It’s OK, Lillemor, Pappa’s here.’
‘I’ll bring her some water,’ Elise said, leaving Erik with Sofia.
‘It’s OK. You go back to sleep now. I’m here.’ He leant and kissed her on the forehead, holding his lips there a moment. ‘We love you so much.’
She smiled and squashed her head back into the pillow as he stood.
‘Love you,’ she said, her words slurred as if she was already drifting off.
The next morning, he got up early and set to work clearing the rest of the roof. When it was done, he found Elise at the dining table, laptop open, coffee beside her, those two vertical furrows between her eyebrows and nose as subtle as a do not disturb hanger on a hotel room door.
She didn’t need to look up to know what he was thinking.
‘I just need an hour or two,’ she said, frowning at the laptop screen as her fingers danced across the keyboard. How she could type and speak different words at the same time was a mystery to him.
He couldn’t help himself. ‘I thought you weren’t starting for a week?’ he said.
Her right hand left the keys, index finger pointing up.
‘You were on the roof.’
‘You were still in bed,’ he said.
She took a weary breath and looked up at him now, the creases of her concentration frown melting away. ‘It’s my first job back with them. I want to be prepared.’ She gestured at her laptop. ‘And it’s important.’
So he and Sofia drove into town to the Vinmonopolet to buy wine. Once back in the car, he turned, taking a moment to look at her.
‘I can’t believe you’re going to be a teenager,’ he said.
She raised her eyebrows, no doubt recalling all the times they had called her a sulky teenager long before the eve of her thirteenth birthday.
‘I mean it.’ He shook his head. ‘Where has the time gone?’
‘Pappa,’ she said, staring ahead through the windscreen, ‘you promised to take me on the Long Ski when I was thirteen. Remember? A proper trip. Sleeping in snow shelters and everything.’
He kept his eyes on the road. A knot tying in his stomach.
‘You promised, Pappa,’ Sofia pushed.
‘I know,’ he said. ‘But that was a couple of years ago.’
Before Emilie died, he left unsaid, though it was loud enough in the silence.
‘I’m thirteen tomorrow. I’m old enough.’
‘I don’t think we can do it this time,’ he said.
‘But you promised,’ she protested. ‘Emilie asked you, the Easter before last, and you told her to wait until I was thirteen and then the three of us would go together.’
‘I know what I said.’ His words were sharper than he’d intended. Just the mention of her name. ‘But so much has happened since then. It’s different now.’
He glanced at her and she shook her head and turned her face to stare out of the side window.
He remembered that day in crisp detail. Emilie had borrowed her grandfather’s well-thumbed maps, still marked with pen from his own trips, and plotted a five-day, four-night ski tour through woods and across frozen lakes. She had been so excited. But Sofia had been too young to go.
And so Erik had told Emilie that they would wait until Sofia was thirteen and they could all go together. He had known how disappointed Emilie was. And yet she had explained the route plan to Sofia, who had listened wide-eyed and announced to the whole family that she would remind Erik of his promise the day she turned thirteen. He had known she wouldn’t forget.
But it wasn’t Easter now, with its fourteen hours of daylight, when the crisp sunlight offered warmth for the climb and gently melted the snow’s surface, creating perfect conditions for the descent. It was only just February, and the days were short and cold.
‘Let’s give it another year, Lillemor,’ he said. ‘Just one more year and then we’ll go on the Long Ski. A real adventure, I promise.’
Silence. Another promise he wasn’t sure he could keep.
‘Thank God for the directions you emailed me,’ Elise told Karine as they’d stood in the Helgelands’ front porch, stamping snow off their boots and hanging up coats and hats. Turning on the happy family show like throwing the light switch at a winter fair.
‘We’re expecting more snow,’ Lars said, leaning out to look up at the grey cloud blanketing the sky. ‘In a few days you won’t be able to get up here in that.’ He was pointing at the Mitsubishi. ‘Snowmobiles are the only way when we get a heavy fall.’
Karin and Lars were perfect hosts, generous and welcoming, and Lars clearly enjoyed a beer, which gave him enough in common with Erik to see the evening off to a better start than he had expected.
Elise asked if it ever worried them, being so remote, but Lars just chuckled.
‘We love living out here,’ he said, gesturing towards the window. The curtains were open and the snow beyond the glass glowed gently in the black night. ‘We’re not city people, as you can tell.’ He looked over at Karine, who was in the kitchen showing Elise her recipe for fiskeboller, the delicate fish balls in a creamy sauce whose fragrant scent filled the air. ‘If we wanted visitors all the time, we’d live in Tromsø,’ Lars said, a mischievous smile on his face.
Lars must have been in his early sixties, Erik guessed, but he was still broad-shouldered and solid, his hands tanned from so many summers of outside work, even now after the long winter.
‘Ah, there are cabins being built all the time,’ Lars added.
‘Beautiful things of cedar wood. Even the roofs are cedar. Inside, everything cladded in oak. Huge windows with views of the mountains and the sea. Built to follow the contours of the landscape and laid out . . . just so,’ he said, waving a broad hand. He rubbed the bristles on his cheek. ‘Well, you know all this. Karine tells me you’re a carpenter? You must be a busy man with all the houses springing up these days.’
‘Actually, I’m taking some time out,’ Erik replied, feeling Elise’s eyes on him from the kitchen doorway. Time out.
When was the last time he fitted a staircase, window frame, or skirting board? Or looked at a set of blueprints? Ten months ago he had hung a digital Sorry . . . Temporarily Closed sign on his website, and there it hung still. Amdahl Carpentry shut down for business until further notice.
Once dinner was underway, the conversation inevitably turned towards Novotroitsk Nickel, and how the locals felt about the Russian-owned company buying the mineral rights to the old Koppangen copper mine west of town. Lars, Karine and Elise shared their fears about waste being dumped in the fjord. About how the Sami Council was ignored, and how the government was willing to destroy the indigenous land in the north of Norway.
On and on it went, and he listened. Barely. Swirling the wine round his glass as Karine retrieved a letter from her cork board beside the fridge.
‘This came yesterday,’ Karine said, handing it to Elise.
He saw the logo of Novotroitsk Nickel on the letterhead, two blue Ns interlinked like a pair of mountain peaks. ‘They said it was just an exploration project at first,’ Karine said, ‘to see if the old mine had industrial potential. This was about a year ago.’ She gestured at the letter in Elise’s hands.
‘That outlines their intention to explore the abandoned tunnels further and dig three new test pits, pending the results of a feasibility study.’ She pushed her plate away as though talk of the mine’s reopening had soured the food.
Truth was, he was bored of the conversation. Angry too, because he knew this was what Elise cared about. Her obsession. And he’d been wrong to think they could find each other again here in the mountains. Plus, the wine had gone to his head in all its euphoric fuck-it brilliance, and so he told them that the world needed copper if it wanted electricity.
That it was how electricity worked.
‘We’re all for electric cars, right?’ he said. ‘If we’re going to electrify the world to save it, then maybe we have to be prepared to lose some of the old ways.’
‘Are you joking?’ Karine Helgeland asked him, her aspect hardening, suddenly expressing all the cheer of a granite rock face.
‘It’s just the wine talking,’ Elise said, a smile on her lips but anger in her eyes.
Karine suggested they talk about something else, and Lars stood, telling Sofia he had something to show her.
Elise left the table too, carrying dishes to the kitchen. And so he sat alone, watching as Lars showed Sofia the contents of a beautifully carved wooden box that sat on the windowsill. Beyond it, the night loomed, filling the world with black nothingness. Sofia seemed genuinely interested in the old photos of the Helgelands’ ancestors. In the other treasures too: a comb made of reindeer antler which Sofia said looked just like the ones she’d seen in The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. A horn needle case engraved with little reindeer. A leather purse with tin thread embroidery which had belonged to Karine’s great-grandmother. And most exciting, judging from Sofia’s wide eyes, a huge knife which Lars took down from the stone mantlepiece over the stove.
‘We call this a stuorraniibi,’ Lars told her. He smiled at her frown. ‘It just means big knife.’ He shrugged for comic effect, before drawing the blade from the reindeer leather sheath and making a chopping motion with it. It was nearly twenty-five centimetres long. ‘Long and wide enough to cut firewood or small trees to make shelter poles. Strong enough to split reindeer bones.’ He turned it around to hold it by the spine of the blade. ‘Feel the handle.’ He offered it to Sofia. She touched the wood. ‘Birch,’ he said, ‘for a better grip in cold and snow.’
‘I have a Swiss Army knife,’ Sofia said, and no sooner had she spoken the words than the knife was in her hand and she was easing the little blades and tools out one by one, and now Lars was shaking his head as if he had never seen anything so wonderful, much to Sofia’s delight.
Sofia looked more engaged, more interested than she had about anything he’d done with her for a long while. What exactly had he done with her in the last year? They’d gone hiking a few times, picking late summer berries along the trail. He’d taken her to the Alfheim Stadium to watch Tromsø IL lose to Rosenborg in the fourth round of the Norwegian Cup. Oh, and there was the funeral of her sister. That had been a family day together.
He got up, grabbed hold of the three empty wine bottles and carried them to the kitchen counter.
‘Will you have coffee?’ Karine asked them, fetching mugs down from the cupboard.
Elise glanced at him and he knew the answer. At least they could still communicate without words.
‘No, thank you,’ Elise replied. ‘Our little girl turns thirteen tomorrow. We have a big birthday breakfast to get up for.’ She smiled.
Erik looked over at Sofia. She stood at the window, looking west into the night as Lars told her about Karine’s brother, Hánas, who was a reindeer herder.
‘Right now, while we are cosy and warm,’ Lars said, ‘Hánas is somewhere up there on the plateau with his herd.’ He pointed out at the night and the dark shape of the mountain.
‘Sometimes, we see a light in the dark and we know it is Hánas in his tent,’ Karine said, coming over to join her husband and Sofia at the window.
‘It must be beautiful up there,’ Sofia said.
‘But so cold,’ Elise said, miming a shiver as she put a hand on Sofia’s shoulder.
Sofia didn’t seem to notice. She was still looking up at the mountain. Elise and Karine shared a smile, acknowledging the girl’s preoccupation.
‘So have a very happy birthday tomorrow, Sofia,’ Karine said, ‘and make sure your mor and far spoil you all day, starting with a special breakfast.’ She looked out of the window and nodded to the dark distant peaks. ‘Did you know, on my thirteenth birthday, my father took me up there and taught me how to lasso a fully grown reindeer? A big bull, he was. I can still see him in my mind. Antlers like this.’ She threw her hands up. ‘One and a half metres.’
‘Ha!’ Lars exclaimed, wafting her words away with a hand.
‘Were you there, husband?’ she asked, lifting her chin in challenge, so that Erik could see the stubborn young girl she once was. ‘Whose story is this anyway?’
Again, Lars batted the air with a big hand.
‘So after many attempts I lassoed the bull over his great big antlers, and my father had to help me hold the rope – like this,’ she said, miming the action, ‘or that bull would have carried me off and I would probably still be hanging on now. But then we had to get home before dark because we didn’t want to meet a stallo up there.’
Sofia screwed up her face. ‘What’s a stallo ?’
‘Sofia is too old now for stories of stupid great stallos and trolls,’ Lars said. He was standing by an antique cocktail cabinet, pouring himself a brandy in the soft light from the interior.
‘I was just telling Sofia what I did on my thirteenth birthday,’ Karine said. ‘You have to have adventures when you’re young.’
Erik was watching Sofia as she turned to look at him. He knew what she wanted to tell the Helgelands – that he had promised to take her on the Long Ski when she turned thirteen.
Her silence knotted him up inside.
After declining Lars’s offer of brandy, he and Elise thanked their hosts for a lovely evening, said their goodbyes and crowded into the porch with Sofia to put on their coats, boots and hats.
‘Sofia,’ Lars said, coming out after them, ‘I have something for you.’ They turned and waited as he tramped through the snow after them, their warm breath pluming around their faces. ‘Here, Sofia, for your birthday,’ Lars said.
Sofia held out her hands and took the stuorraniibi he offered her, looking at her mother and father for reassurance.
‘Of course, you must only use it with your parents’ permission,’ Lars said, nodding at Elise, then Erik. ‘But I thought . . . well . . . you have your modern pocket knife which can do everything you can possibly think of, but you should also have something from the past, to remember those who came before us.’
Sofia stared at the gift in her hands, open-mouthed. Not knowing what to say.
Erik looked at Elise. Surely she knew what to say. Like, what the hell’s wrong with you, Lars, giving a bloody great Sami knife to a thirteen-year-old-girl? Who does that?
‘You lucky girl,’ Elise said, putting her arm around Sofia’s shoulder. Subtly trying to squeeze a thank you out of her.
‘Thank you, Mr Helgeland,’ Sofia managed, tearing her eyes away from the knife to look Lars in the face.
‘Take care of a good knife and it will take care of you,’ Lars said. Then he raised his hand. ‘So, see you all again.’ He turned and walked back to the house. ‘And happy birthday, Sofia,’ he called, his breath fogging in the glow of his porch light.