REDWING, by Holly Bennett
Published: September 2012
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Cover Art: Juliana Kolesova
The Inside Story
With a musician husband and three sons who all play music, it was only a matter
of time before I wrote a story about a boy musician. And though at first I tried to
make him a pipe player – an older, more traditional instrument – Rowan wasn’t
having it. I just couldn’t shake the image of him bent over his button accordion,
knee jigging in time, playing his heart out. The music I imagined him playing is
similar to the Irish traditional music my husband John plays on the fiddle, while
Samik’s music is more free-flowing and dramatic.
Funnily enough, when I was most of the way through Redwing my youngest son Aaron, a talented jazz keyboard player, acquired a small-sized accordion and started playing it in a band called Ptarmigan.
Read an Excerpt from Redwing
HE PUT OFF getting out of bed for as long as he could, unable to face what he knew
waited for him. The silence had already smothered any hope.
Ettie lay pale but composed, as though she had laid herself out before dying. She
looked so small, thought Rowan—even smaller than in life. My sister. He touched a
blond braid, then her cheek. But it wasn’t her, not any more. Ettie’s cheeks had
been warm, dimpled, never still like this under your hand. And then he was sobbing,
his head pressed into the edge of her bunk, the enormity of loss crushing his heart.
But his mother waited. She had not gone quietly to the deadlands. Bloodstained and
livid with bruises, she looked as though her final battle had been against bludgeon
There was no part of her he could bear to touch. Mumbling out a prayer for her safe
passage, Rowan untucked her bedsheets and wrapped first one side, then the other
over his mother’s body.
By the time he had dragged first his mother’s, then his sister’s, wrapped bodies out
of the caravan and laid them beside his father on the frozen ground, Rowan was
near to collapse. Slow and shaky as an old man, he made his way back to his bunk.
His ragged, helpless weeping seemed like it would never stop, until at last his
exhausted body took over and merciful sleep carried him away.
The silence stretched out, as Rowan stared into the red innards of the stove, trapped
in his memories.
Aydin’s next question pulled him back.
“So. I guess that girl is your sister, then?”
Rowan tried to make sense of the question. He looked around the walls of the
caravan, looking for a picture he knew did not exist. Aydin sipped his tea and waited
calmly, his pale eyes unblinking.
Finally Rowan gave up. “What are you talking about? What girl?”
“The girl who hovers about you.” Aydin shrugged, unconcerned. “Perhaps you do not
see her.” He gave one of his superior smiles. “It would not surprise me.”
Rowan’s reaction was so violent and confused he couldn’t speak. Rage at Aydin’s
callousness, to toy with him so. Grief like a black ocean for the little girl who had
tagged at his heels. And beneath it all whispered a superstitious, hair-prickling
dread, as his traitor mind babbled but what if…
“What’s wrong with you?” The words burst out of him like a curse. “Why would you
say a thing like that? Can you not even respect the dead?”
Aydin took a sip of tea, as though nothing had been said. The smile—a smile
Rowan was very close to wiping from his face, dog or no dog—did not falter. And
when Rowan sputtered into silence, Aydin put his tea down, sat back in his chair,
and looked him straight in the eye.
“She’s small, about up to your chest. She has fair hair—not as light as mine, but
blonde—in two long plaits. She has a round face, round cheeks.”
That means nothing, thought Rowan, though shivery chills were crawling up and
down his spine. Lots of girls have braids. He’s bluffing.
“She wears a purple gemstone at her neck.”
Ettie. Sweet gods of earth and air, it was Ettie. Rowan had won that lump of amethyst
for her at a fair, and she had loved it so much that their father had paid to have a
silversmith fix it to a small loop so she could string it around her neck. She had worn
that stone for the last three years.
She had died wearing it.