The Chronicles of Cora Gunn

by Clare Saxby. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2022

Ben Macdui, the highest peak in the Cairngorms, March 1857.

Cora Gunn was dangling at the end of a rope when the blizzard descended. The men had lowered her over the lip of the crag, high above Loch Avon, which had been glinting in sunshine seconds earlier. As the lightest of the quartz miners, Cora had been forced to grow used to heights, but the storm was so violent her old panic took hold.

‘Hallo! Get me up!’ Cora span on the rope from which she’d been peering for the sparkle of crystal in the cliff wall. As she scanned the granite sky for a break in the weather, she glimpsed a dark shape on the higher slope.

The rope yanked and Cora gasped as snow whipped into her eyes. She rose in fits as the miners hauled her back to the edge of the crag. They tugged her to safety and as she sat on the frozen rock, untying her harness with clumsy fingers, she had to shout to be heard.

‘I saw someone! There!’ Cora pointed to the slope; there was the figure again, thigh-deep in snow. The men with her peered into the blur.

‘It’s a lassie! What the devil’s a lassie doing up here!’

Cora stared at the girl now perched by the fire in the miners’ grimy quarters. She wore a borrowed coat over a patchwork of skins and coloured cloth, beautiful but jarring. A cluster of miners stood around her, their foreman, McLeod, in front.

He bent again to bark into her face. ‘I said what’s yer name missy?’

She continued to gaze into the fire. McLeod threw his arms wide. ‘Is she lame-headed? Where. Do. You. Hail. From.’