The weather on WIP Wednesday

My current first draft WIP is set in 1816, the year without a summer, and the weather is almost another character in the book. So I figured this week I’d seek extracts from my author friends where weather becomes a plot device. Or any other natural phenomenon. If you don’t have a storm or a heat-wave, how about a volcano or a plague of locusts?

Here’s mine, from House of Thorns.

Bear walked down to the village, seeing evidence of the night’s storm on either side of him, in deeper puddles and streams, downed branches from trees, and flattened crops in the fields.

At Rose Cottage, Miss Neatham was fretting herself to flinders, though she tried not to show it. He’d seen her bite back words all morning, since he carried her downstairs and set her up in the parlour, with a book to read and strict instructions not to move. Each time he went in to ask her where to find something, or to bring her something to eat or drink, or just to check that she was following instructions, he could read the anxiety about her father on her open face. “When will you go to the village?” she did not say, but it was written clearly for him to see — a supposition she confirmed with her deep sigh of relief when he said, “The rain looks as if it is clearing. I’ll go down to the village now, Miss Neatham. I have a few things to buy, and I will check on your father.”

Miss Neatham had clearly been a provident housekeeper, for the house was fully stocked with all the staples, but they could do with some fresh bread and he’d buy more meat, too. He could not help but draw the conclusion that her financial situation took a dire turn for the worse thanks to Pelman’s intervention on his behalf.

He would have to see how the situation could be corrected. And he needed to see if Mrs Able was available for another week or so. Otherwise, Miss Neatham would go home to that horrid little hovel and put her ankle at risk by looking after the old man herself.

In the main streeet, straw had been laid on the worst mud patches, but the steep alley to Miss Neatham’s abode was scoured into deep treacherous ruts, and he kept to the sides where a few inches of relatively dry ground gave him better purchase for his boots.

The quavering voice of the old man raised in a shriek distracted him from his focus on his footing. “Help! Murder! Help!” Neatham was shouting.

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11 thoughts on “The weather on WIP Wednesday

  1. This also takes place in 1816:

    “It was raining, that peculiarly English drizzle which was unexpectedly penetrating. It had already soaked through the two modest capes of the curricle driver’s coat in spite of the carriage’s hood raised over him. He could feel icy fingers insinuating themselves through the material of the coat itself.
    His companion shook himself. “Damned rain is dripping off my hat down the back of my neck now. Do you suppose it’s much further?”
    “Shouldn’t be, not according to that map the lawyer drew for us,” the driver responded. “We passed through Andover a while ago. Anyway, you would insist on coming with me. Why did you come with me, by the way?”
    His companion ignored the question. “There’s someone in that field, look. Right over by the other side. We could always call him over, ask him the way.”
    They drove on in silence for another mile or so.
    “You could have bought something a bit more weather-proof than a curricle, too.” The passenger hunched down further into the seat, his hands thrust into his pockets.
    “Yes, and I could have spent a whole lot more money, and had to buy a team of four instead of a pair, and employed a coachman, and a footman, and a groom. Before I knew where I was, I’d have a whole retinue, with a valet to boot no doubt. Besides, I always wanted a nice fast, sporty curricle, if I couldn’t have a high perch phaeton.” The driver sounded defensive, as well he might with his shirt sticking to his skin with the rain.
    “Can’t imagine a high perch phaeton making it over these roads, we’d have been in the ditch before the first day was out. But at least you can keep warm driving. I don’t even have that.” He sighed. “It was never like this in Spain. You knew what to expect of the weather over there. I can’t believe that we had sleet falling on us when we left town. It’s May, dammit! Do you want me to take the ribbons for a bit?”
    “No thanks,” the driver replied. “It’s as you said, at least driving keeps me a bit warmer.”

  2. Ah, the weather. I love playing with it, particularly when it mirrors the mood of the scene. I haven’t used it much yet in my WIP, but it features lots in “Earl of Shadows” — particularly during John’s little foray into continental warfare in Holland, when it pretty much rained the whole time (one of John’s actual letters from the time reads “we hardly know what it is to be dry”).

    The last battle on 6 October 1799 was especially affected by rain and poor visibility, and I tried to imagine what it was like… John and his brigade have been ordered into the sand dunes to support Britain’s Russian allies, who’ve been smashed outside the Dutch town of Castricum.

    ***

    John found himself once more leaving the flatland paths for the sodden sand that sucked at his horse’s hooves and layered itself across everything in a thin film. The dunes here were shallower than the massive, forest-fringed sand hills at Schoorl, but they still formed an impressive network of hills and valleys edged with dense scrub, and John wanted to keep well away from them. He had lost Hutchinson’s brigade to his left. They were close, but although it was only about four o’clock in the afternoon, the mist had already blotted out the sun, and it felt like dusk.

    As the brigade approached the walls of Castricum the sound of firing grew louder. Reports brought back by the brigade’s skirmishing party suggested the Russians were very close, and John ordered each battalion to form a line in the expectation of meeting the Allies at any moment. The men took a few minutes to complete the manoeuvre, tired from their march and unnerved by the booming of cannons and the rattling of musketry in the gloom. John’s insides were in knots. He felt as though he was wearing a cold, wet blindfold, and every shadow looming out of the mist was a potential enemy.

    The rain had eased, but the mist rising from the canals and the gun-smoke hanging over the fields combined so thickly that John did not see the Russians until they were a couple of hundred yards away. The green-coated troops were running in some disorder, their white breeches turned grey with mud. Hardly any of them carried muskets; some stumbled and fell, and were trampled by their colleagues following.

    ‘What on earth…?’ Colonel Cholmondeley muttered, moments before the Russians ran headlong into the 2nd Battalion of the 4th.

    The confusion was instantaneous. John’s men stood their ground, but the Russians desperately tried to break their way through, shouting something chilling in their guttural language that John could not understand.

    ‘Damn you!’ Hodgson’s terrifying baritone rose above the chaos. He rode among the fleeing Russians, beating at them with the flat of his sword, but there were too many. ‘Get back, you dogs! Get back!’

    John could hear a dull rumble, like thunder preceding a storm. ‘What has happened? Where is their commander?’ he called out to Chetham, but the aide was staring at something beyond the furred caps of the Russian soldiers, his eyes round and his mouth hanging open. John followed Chetham’s gaze, and saw for the first time what the Russians were running from.

    A dark shadow moved across the field and resolved itself into a line of horses – hundreds of horses, the cuirasses of their riders winking as they hammered across the muddy soil. John could see the clumps of earth thrown up by the hooves; he heard an officer bark out an order in French, then the rasp of metal against leather as hundreds of curved swords left their scabbards.

    Cavalry.

  3. Weather or natural disasters do give lovely hurdles. We forget today when weather only inconveniences us or we miss a new movie, but isolation and shortages were real issues. My stories aren’t in settings where weather is an issue, but I recently did a fanfic where the leads were first responders to a Yellowstone supervolcano on a colony world and the government was slow for evacuation. One of the victims put the moves on the rescue worker and it wasn’t a romance. Playing with the acid, pumice, unstable air currents, connected mass of volcanos and the crust floating in lakes of magma visible from orbit was enough to frighten even sometimes jaded leads as they tried to pull people out. It worked well as the events also taught a lesson within the longer story.

      • Excerpt from a Star Wars fanfic. Characters and galaxy are property of Lucas/Disney and no profit comes from freely posted stories. (disclaimer is just to be safe) This alternate universe is several years after The Phantom Menace events and is basically YA. It’s part of a story where Anakin is smuggling letters back to his mother.
        = = = = =

        Obi-Wan and I had other missions, Mom, but they were more routine. Another training mission on Korun was harsh. Nothing really interesting happened until a disaster call reached Master Plo and he called us. The Senate would have debated it for weeks, and Chancellor Palpatine would apologize to me for how slow consensus was.

        Not that it was more important to help. Or that people were dying.

        Master Plo raised at least thirty Jedi, of every field rank, to come to Thoi-Driss right away with ships. Millions had already died, I could feel the dimming of the Force from orbit. I might have been feeling the drop in the Living Force from the Mid-Rim when we were called. Distance isn’t always a factor, Mom.

        I doubt the details reached you on that rock, but a super-volcano exploded with ash and rocks covering maybe a third of the only major continent. Sunlight was dimmed and temperatures collapsed world-wide. There wasn’t a lot of people living there, in the millions, not like the trillion living on Coruscant. But the dead zone kept spreading and ash in their lungs was killing them slowly even when buildings collapsing didn’t.

        A major city hadn’t been far from the first eruption. Then it was gone, and we could feel so very few still alive in that area when we got there. After a while, all those deaths made it so dark as the Force mourned. I couldn’t even cry as we worked, I was numb. Orbital vids showed that a region of the crust dissolved. At first there was one volcano breaking the crust, then two, the land seemed more forge than solid rock.

        The Order sent the first waves of rescue and evacuation ships, the Senate just doesn’t have anything that acts quickly. A week was fast to the Chancellor, and I could tell he just wasn’t that upset.

        The ship we used wasn’t that big, but it was fast and sturdy and maneuverable. We went further into the worst areas to pull people out. We were close enough that chunks of pumice bounced off our hull even with the best shielding. Flying through that was worse than a pod race, because the magma didn’t think. Obi-Wan let me pilot. We could cram only in the dozens for each run and worked non stop for days. We had several medical droids on board for the survivors.

        The biggest open space was in the cockpit and the press made me nervous. Even piloting couldn’t help with feeling hemmed in by metal and bodies.

        Obi-Wan kept sending comfort.

        Some didn’t make it to the far island in a once tropical zone, that was the staging area for survivors.

        We got a lot out, Mom. A lot died.

        The refugee camp was crowded with so many thousands coughing and weak, as the Council sent more ships with food and supplies from the AgriCorps. And portable desalination units, so there was plenty of water at least.

        The Senate dithered and took a vacation for some kriffing holiday.

        So there was no place for these people to go from here.

        By this time there were about a hundred Jedi spread out over the island. The new survivors coming in, had dwindled to nothing. A lot of the native emergency people didn’t make it, so we had to patrol and settle disputes over what they had carried away. Some saved jewels and fancy clothing, the idiots.

        Mom, I think you get that I’m not so good at disputes, so I was running patrols while one transport that had lift issues was used to house kriffing thugs that kept forming gangs to take from other survivors.

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