Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim is out! Here is one of my favourite passages from the book, with a little author commentary afterward.
The test called the Waters of Sorrow took place in a specially constructed channel fed by the waters from the ice-melt atop the Father’s Pulpit, the mountain in which most of the halls of Khazak Khrim were built. The test was simple enough: Durekk would be lowered into the channel and expected to make his way to the other side. Of course, he would be submerged over his head, pushing against rapidly flowing water that was cold enough to sap the warmth from his body in less than a minute. On the other side of that channel waited a steep ramp that the survivors of the test would not only have to find as they pushed their way to the other edge and find the strength to climb while fighting hypothermia, fatigue, and lack of breath. It was daunting, but it was the only way to prove one was worthy to join the greatest warriors in the world.
Prince Thorkhrim himself was overseeing the testing this year. Of all the many sons of old king Keurik, Thorkhrim was the most respected among The Blood. Not only had he been initiated into their ranks at an early age, but his heroism had been proven many times on the field of battle since then. No other living Dwarf had earned so many accolades. Thorkhrim favoured The Blood and they favoured him.
“Candidates!” the Prince’s voice carried clear and strong over the sound of the waters. “This is the final obstacle between you and your destiny. If you survive these waters, you will join The Blood. You will be elevated to the status of Nobility with all of the rights and privileges of your station. You will be blessed in the eyes of the Forge Father and your offspring will have the right to train to join the Blood. Your clan will be honoured as well. It will not be easy. I am often told to emphasize the harshness of the cold waters and the difficulty you will face holding your breath for the long minutes required to claw your way across. But you have all heard of the Waters of Sorrow; I would rather tell you of what awaits you on the other side. The warmth of fire and feast, women ready to serve you, and above all the honour of standing with me as we defend these sacred halls and earn our place at the Forge Father’s right hand!”
Durekk cheered, even though his throat was parched from hours of marching without water. The other aspirants raised their voices as well.
The first dwarf lowered into the river was Herlin of Stonebreaker. The fast-flowing waters of the channel were so deep that only the tip of Herlin`s back-banner stood out, yet they were clear enough that he could see the other man’s form well. The tip of his weapon glittered like a diamond in sun and snowmelt.
As soon as he touched bottom Herlin began to push against the waters. He struggled about halfway before he paused. After a breathless moment, the banner began to move again, more slowly this time. Then less than two paces from the ramp, it shuddered to a halt once more. Several voices, led by the prince shouted encouragement. The banner twitched for a moment, then stopped. The cheers slowly grew silent. Durekk’s heart felt heavy. Herlin had been a good man from a good family. They hooked the banner and pulled the body out of the water to return the precious armour and the corpse to clan Stonebreaker. They treated his body like that of a warrior, despite his death. At this stage in the testing, even failure was an honour.
The next candidate, Keldin of Sharpedge, forged his way steadily across the waters, never wavering. The cheers grew louder as he approached the other side. As he emerged from the water, the prince himself greeted the new member of The Blood by slitting the throat of a sacrifice, a strong Niyiki boy. Keldin’s massive heaume was removed from his head and the prince poured steaming blood, mixed with whiskey, down his throat. Keldin’s armour was removed by comely dwarf maidens and a shapely Orcish slave-girl, all naked, and then he was led away, dazed and smiling, to the feast.
Durekk wanted nothing more than to join him.
This passage was added well after the first draft. Durekk is a character that I added to give the reader some insight into the rank and file of the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim, especially The Blood. He appears in several passages as a minor character.
The Blood are warrior nobility, like the Spartans, Knights, or Samurai. They are born into it, and train their whole lives, with the weak being weeded out by horrific tests. The Waters of Sorrow is the last of these horrific hazing rituals. Anyone who survives is part of The Blood until the day they die, bringing great honour to family and clan.
The Blood combine the worst elements of Nazis, Confederate Slavers, and Crusade/Jihad Theocracies with a twisted view of reincarnation thrown in for good measure. That they are fantasy Dwarves is mostly incidental — it just makes sense that people who believe in defensive architecture had a better chance of surviving the Reckoning, after all. Despite all of this, Durekk is almost likeable. He has empathy, to a point. He is determined, optimistic, and brave. Of course, he is also a fanatic whose views on race, gender, and religion are shocking to modern sensibilities (represented by the Domains). The point is that bad people don’t immediately grow horns and start cackling, it helps to understand where the Vvath are coming from.
Another point of interest is how The Blood immediately begin an orgiastic feast after The Waters of Sorrow, complete with comely maidens and sex slaves (ew). They are accepted now, the kings of Khazak Khrim. The test is not a demonstration of competence or certification in a particular set of skills, but rather a claiming of position and birthright.