The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whore’s War 3.51

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The Nordan are not revered as great builders, like The Archaeans or The Dwarves of Old Mithras. Our architecture is mostly wooden and quite functional. The one structure that people take interest in outside of The North is the Great Hall, our equivalent of palace, barracks, and forum all rolled into one.

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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King’s Hall was the Great Hall of the first High King of The Nordan, built when our gods still walked our lands, under the direction of Garm and Helma. At first it was merely a grandiose version of other Great Halls, built to house the representatives of all the clans and decorated with carvings and runes telling the history of our people.

Over time wood was replaced by stone and metal. Walls and towers were added in layers over time, after wars with enemies who could not be turned back by simple fortifications. Scars of particularly impressive sieges became trophies of their own, like the skull of the Dragon Racknir or the fortified camp of King Orlos of Dragmaar.

And as the Great Hall had grown, so had the little town in the bay that it overlooked. unity under the High King brought power and prosperity, which in turn brought trade and the needs of diplomacy, learning, and specialized craftsmen.

King’s Hall was not nearly as large as Myrrhn, and certainly not as cosmopolitan, but it was clean and it seemed to hum with purpose and vigour, and it’s markets were filled with goods from around the world.

It was a fine sight for eyes that had not seen Nordan lands in two decades. It was glorious, all of it, though I found myself looking to the statue of King Siggurd, my king, again. I frowned, once again thinking of that day on The Spearmarch, how he fell, and how I would soon have to confront his killer.

Sadly, I did not think that it was fated to be a glorious confrontation.

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A score of Brighthelms, the guardians of King’s Hall, met us at the docks. The mists were now dissapating and their polished armour glittered in the sun. A golden haired woman stood in front of them, dressed in familiar heraldry, the arms and armour of the King’s Guard but with the iconography of the royal lineage in place of clan markings.

“A hero’s welcome, Ragnar!” said Thyra. “The King’s Sister herself has come to meet you.”

In spite of myself, I smiled. I remembered Svana as a young woman, awkward and shy, always trying to stay out of the way. She had grown tall and strong and regarded me with no hint of shyness.

The people of the north do not bow to their kings and queens, but I inclined my head to Svana as an old gesture of respect. I hoped that she did not harbour me any bitterness. Her expression did not shift.

“Ragnar Skyggesson,” said Svana. “\I have been commanded to escort you to King;s Hall for an immediate audience. High King Athelbjorn wishes to speak to you about matters of import and will not tolerate any delays.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.50

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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As the first Sea Fiends heaved onto the deck, I silently thanked Hurn that the sea was now calm enough for me to keep my footing.

Drawing my axe and hammer, I strode toward the nearest of the beasts, It was better armed and bigger than any of its kind that I had seen before, sporting a kind of chitenous armour over its scaled skin and wielding a polearm like a hooked spear, Huge black eyes narrowed and it hissed at me through a oversized round maw full of jagged teeth.

It was still hissing as I slid across the deck, ducked the hooked spear and smashed its knee with my warhammer. The leg buckled, bone crunching under the impact of good Nordan steel, and then it fell. I came up behind it, kikcing it in the head with my hobnailed boots as it floundered.

The Sea Fiends swarmed the ship, but they were met with sword and shield-wall. I saw Thyra on the bow opposite, silhouetted by flash of distant lightning, heaving one of them overboard on the end of her spear,

Two more came at me, branding their strange spears. I sidestepped a series of thrusts and then knocked one of the spears upward and rammed my shoulder into the Sea Fiend wielding it. The smell of salt and fish washed over me as the sturdy body gave way before my strength. As he fell I turned parried the attack of the second Sea Fiend with my hammer, bringing my axe down, chopping into the flesh of its neck with a splash of blood. The fallen Sea Fiend scrambled to get up , but my hammer met his skull ere he got his feet under him.

Bellowing victory I strode toward the next Sea Fiend. All around me, the crew were driving the Sea Fiends back. I met the cold black eyes of my foe, but before I could close he turned and leapt back into the water.

“Coward,” I cursed, looking around.

The Sea Fiends were abandoning their attack. I saw precious few Nordan among the bodies on the deck.

Thyra strode over to me, grinning.

“They must have mistaken us for a merchant ship,” she said.

“How did they even know where to find us out here?”

“The gods favoured us with a chance encounter,” said Thyra. “Most of us, at least. The scaled fuckers roam the waters, following the cod, They attack lone ships and other vulnerable targets.”

“We never hear of them in Myrrhn.”

Thyra laughed. “I’ve heard that the merchants of Myrrhn actually pay them for safe passage. Can you imagine?”

“I can. I can also imagine them paying them to attack their rivals. Such is Myrrhn.”

We laughed.

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The ship’s rudder was damaged in the attack, and it took half-a-day to fix it. But after the Sea Fiends we encountered no storms and unusually easy sailing all the way to Nordan lands.

We began to pass other longships, flying the colours of many clans and kin groups. Some of them passed close, sharing news. More than a few them asked after me by name, hailing me for slaying Ulfgorr. The ships of my own clan, The Shadow Wolves, ignored us.

After seven days of good sailing I spotted the high peaks of the Giant’s Teeth mountains, and perched upon a cliff overlooking a mist-clad bay, the great fortress known as King’s Hall.

I was home.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whore’s War 3.49

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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After saying my farewells to Git, Murith, and Renoit I met Thyra at the Nordan port in the Shadow of Cassander’s shield. I was still favoured in the eyes of my Nordan brethren, who were alight with the afterglow of my triumph over Ulfgorr.

The Twins and Carmen escorted me to the dock. We talked of the Union and the need for healing along the way, The shadow of recent trials was passing, and there was a great opportunity for the Doxies to set a brave new direction for the future, one which balanced personal freedom with compassion.

“We will miss you, old wolf,” said Vethri after a farewell kiss.

Eiskra just clung to me, vacillating between indignation that I might leave and farewell sadness.

“Enough,” I said. “If all goes well I will be coming back before the winter storms. If I am lucky my exile will be revoked, but I will not abandon you if it is. Only death can keep me from you, ladies.”

“And perhaps not even that,” said Carmen.

“Alright, go,” said Eiskra, stepping back.

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The Longship I boarded belonged to the sons of Harald Magnisson, friends from a battle beneath the city, the same that claimed Madame Glorianna’s life. They greeted me as I boarded and gave me the best quarters that could be found on such a ship.

As we cast off, powerful oar strokes causing the boat to leap forward, I stood watching the docks. My sharp senses let me keep my friends in sight until we were far enough out on the water for them to give the sail full reign.

I was glorious to be aboard such a ship once again, agile and strong, riding the waves like a beast of the sea. Soon I found myself laughing with Thyra and the crew, enjoying the wind and the salt spray of the ocean as we cut through the water like a blade.

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“Shouldn’t we be closer to land for a storm like this?” I asked, nervously scanning the black clouds overtaking us. Lightning played in the distance.

Thyra laughed. “Look at those waves Ragnar. This is no day to be close to land; we would be dashed to kindling against the rocks.”

“Lovely.”

“Think of it as an honour, brother. Hurn has sent a mighty storm to speed you homeward!”

“Remind me to thank him if I live through this.”

Thyra laughed. Soon after the storm washed over us. The wind came first, howling and gusting, followed shortly by the stinging rain. Then the waves came, getting bigger and bigger until it seemed that we were riding up and down mountains.

Thyra and Harald’s sons were of clan Sea Wolf, and there are no finer sailors to my knowledge, but that storm was unnatural. I heard more than a few of those bold men and women muttering prayers to mighty Hurn. Thyra, of course, was perfectly amused and her laughter carried over the boom of thunder and the sounds of the angry ocean.

My stomach lurched at the peak of each wave. I’d seen my share of storms, but none like this. And then, just as the worst of it seemed past, lightning flashed above us, and in the brightness after I could see ominous black shapes in waters around us.

“Sea Fiends!”

“Thank Hurn!” shouted Thyra. “I was getting bored. To arms men!”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whore’s War 3.48

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Much to everyone’s surprise Diamond Silvermane did not pout or snarl when the vote came and The Twins defeated her handily.

While the Doxies’s did not like paying dues to the Union, they enjoyed what they got for their money. With my name cleared in the murder of Rake, the thoughts of the membership turned to less sensational interests, such as what kind of leadership they wanted going forward. The Twins offered compassion and unity. Diamond Silvermane offered lower fees and an organization that would help the very best achieve their goals.

In the end, trust carried the day more than any ideological message.

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After the vote Union Hall exploded into celebration. ┬áThe Whores’s War was over. The Doxies’s had been under a lot of pressure since the death of Madame Glorianna; I could feel it lifting as music, laughter, and happy voices filled the building.

The Doxies were all dressed in their finest, be it formal or flamboyant, and it was quite the sight as they got up and moved, conversing and dancing. The riot of colours, the mix of styles, scents, and sensibilities was almost overwhelming. I watched as high-class whores from Old-Town brothels danced with burly doormen from Cliffshadow, and Joyboys from Burning Hill laughed with dockside streewalkers.

I smiled as I saw Vethri and Eiskra engaging in animated conversation with Diamond Silvermane across the room. No doubt they were arguing about the direction of the Union, but at least no one was drawing weapons or taking out contracts.

The merriment lasted late into the evening, with ale and wine flowing freely. It was not the worst way to end a war, I suppose.

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Thyra arrived a week later, having born my gift to the High King, Skaeld, and his sister, Vidra.

“They were mighty pleased to receive the sword, Ragnar,” related Thyra. “They have invited you to attend them, as quickly as you can. You may not be an exile for much longer, my friend.”

I nodded, thinking about the identity of old Siggurd’s killer.

“You don’t seem happy, old wolf,” said Thyra. “What did you uncover?”

“I learned that the ambush might have occurred because my clan has a secret pathway through the Spearmarch that the Skraelings stumbled on.”

“Garm’s eye!” exclaimed Thyra. “I knew it! No wonder Wolki has been skulking about; the Shadow Wolves killed our king.”

“Wait, wait Thyra. Before you start a clan war, Wolki had nothing to do with High King Siggurd’s death. The treacherous blow came from someone else.”

“Who?” she asked.

“That is a message that I must bring to the High King and his sister. It is a sensitive matter, you see.”

Thyra’s brow furrowed and she fixed me with a baleful glare. I did not blame her for this; she still wanted vengeance for our dead king. Had she known what I knew she would have started a war.

“It is not as dramatic as you think Thyra. The drama ended long ago. I am not even certain that anything will come from what I know.”

Thyra’s jaw worked.

“Thyra, you will have to trust that Siggurd’s children will know what to do with what I have learned. They are good rulers, are they not?”

“Aye, I trust them. Truth be told they have better judgement than their father in most things.”

I laughed. Siggurd had been a great man, but his temperamental. “And so we owe it to them to decide how they will seek redress. It may not be directly.”

Thyra nodded. “I don’t like the sound of that, but I can see the right of it.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.46

NOTE: Somehow in the middle of the week, an old cloud save of the last post over-wrote the full post. Sorry about that. I have restored the post, in full.

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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On the few nights in Myrrhn when it is neither raining, nor windy, the streets are hot and wet and the night closes about you like a trap.

The crowd from the Kaemoul’s Playhouse thinned quickly, with the majority of the theater-goers seeking shelter in nearby taverns or waiting carriages. The few groups that left on foot were large, loud, and boisterous. I was the only one who went alone into the night.

Moving through the streets, I watched the shadows, half-expecting to be attacked; while Lily and I parted on good terms, it would be foolish of me to think of us as friends. Still, I doubt she would antagonize The Twins with an attack that could be linked to her so easily.

Of course, Lily was not the only enemy I had. Wolki wanted me dead, of that I could be certain. At the very least he would seek revenge for Ulfgorr, but it was likely he would try to protect this secret route as well. I was fairly certain that he did not know about Old King Siggurd’s Killer, but he knew that I knew something. We Shadow Wolves know secrets, and Wolki was always better than the rest of us with intrigue. A knife in the back was his style, and despite recent humiliations, Myrrhn was not yet beyond his reach.

Thus I was not surprised when three forms materialized out of the shadow and mist on the street ahead of me. I sensed two more behind as I grabbed my weapons, a pair of Nordan daggers hidden in my coat-sleeves.

“Oh, look at this gentleman,” said one of the men, tall and lanky. His clothes were poor and worn, and he carried a brutal looking truncheon. He did not look like much of an assassin. “Wots wrong gent? you look a little lost, not right in the head. Give us your coin and we’ll let you be on your way.”

I laughed. Loudly.

As I laughed, one of the would-be-cutpurses who thought he was creeping up behind me moved. My ears picked up the sound of his feet on the cobbles and of his weapon slicing through the air. Still laughing, I stepped to the side and kicked him in the arse as he missed. The goon sprawled on the cobbles. The rest of his compatriots drew knives and started toward me. I stopped laughing.

“Do you sods even know who I am?”

I let them see my daggers as I asked. Nordan daggers are rather large and intimidating.

“You have picked the wrong mark boys. I am no soft gentleman on his way back from a play. Ragnar Skyggesson, Nordan Exile stands before you. I have battle the devout, killed a nasty werewolf, and stopped a mad vampire in this city recently. I helped the Doxies’s Union cast off Gentleman Jim. Maybe you’ve heard of me?”

“It don’t matter,” said the tall skinny one. “Your throat will part easily enough.”

“Maybe so. But I have tasted death and returned, boy. Is it really worth the risk for a little coin?”

They wavered. Somewhere nearby, a wolf howled. They back off and started to walk away.

“Be seeing you Northman,” said tall and skinny as he passed me.

“Step on son, there’s nothing for you here.”

I watched them go. It was possible they would return with reinforcements, but I would be long gone by then. When I was certain that they were out of earshot, I spoke.

“You can come out now, I heard you taking position.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.45

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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“After Wolki threatened me and Cinder betrayed me, I decided that it was best to remand the matter to the Nightblades,” said Lily, her tone light and conversational despite the serious matters we discussed. “They demanded the sword in payment. I don’t even know how they knew that I had it, but I was in no position to refuse. The threats from Wolki stopped–“

‘”If you gave the sword to The Nightblades, how did Cinder end up with it?”

“I had no idea that Cinder had the sword, at any point,” said Lily. “It does explain why she shifted her aggression though. Cinder was an accomplished smuggler and a skilled thief. Her blood magics helped her greatly in that regard. I have no doubt that she could have stolen the sword before the Nightblades hid it away in their vaults. But there is more likely explanation, in my mind; have you considered why the assassins wanted the blade Ragnar?”

“I have. It is connected to the death of the High King of the North and a suspicious ambush. Wolki deems it valuable. The Nightblades would see that alone as something.”

“My thought is that Cinder stole it from them when they were trading it, or as it was moving to or from the trade,” said Lily. “The sword means nothing to The Guild, save the leverage they can get from whomever wants it. Cinder risked her life to get it, drawing the ire of Wolki and the Nightblades.”

No wonder she felt the need to surround herself with an army of crazed vampires and start a war on her way out of town. Where did she come by the sword, Lily?”

“As I said Ragnar, I sent Cinder to acquire some items that would entice Wolki into aiding me.”

“So he knew where the sword was?”

“No, I had an idea of where to find Nordan artifacts, the sort of things recovered from battles and ruins, from previous dealings with your people. As the head of the Gemarkand trading consortium it is my business to gain access to the very best mines in every corner of the world. In addition to the expertise, equipment, and money that I offer, I make sure to play to local customs. Your people love their weapons and armour, so I had an idea of what might entice Wolki to track down poor cousin Gerald for me. After the initial contact to establish boundaries, I paid for Cinder to find what I needed. She found the sword in the wares of a trader who deals with the Hand of Evernight.”

“I thought they were extinct,” I frowned. The Hand of Evernight was a cult that dabbled in Daemon Worship, Vampirism, and the dark gods. They were friends of Skraelings and Murder Wights.

“They probably were,” said Lily, shrugging. “But these groups never remain dead, do they?”

“I suppose not.”

“You seem disappointed, Ragnar.”

“I was hoping for more than a shadowy cult.”

“I see, you were hoping to incriminate Wolki.”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps there is more. I can furnish you with the name of the trader, and help you make contact if you promise to play nice.”

“I would like that. Lily.”

“But first, you have to tell me why Wolki wanted that sword so much.”

“The sword belonged to Siggurd Stormbreaker, High King of the North. It was a family heirloom, passed down for many generations. It seems that Wolki simply wanted it for the same reason that any Nordan would: to gain favour with the High King and Queen for returning their father’s sword.”

“You are leaving something out.”

“The High King was slain in an ambush. It was never discovered who set up the ambush, or how the enemy was able to penetrate so deeply into our lands undetected.”

Lily laughed.

“What?”

“Wolki either wants to protect a hidden route of his that these Skraelings accidentally stumbled on, or he wants knowledge of it. You would be surprised at how protective smugglers are of their hidden paths.”

I could only agree. We watched the rest of the play in amicable silence, enjoying the finest wines. Then I parted with lily and made my way home.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.44

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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“Who is Diamond Silvermane to you, Lily?”

“Honestly Ragnar, sometimes your stupidity astounds me. Picture Diamond, subtract all the gems and the flair. I think she looks an awful lot like her mother.”

Ignoring Lily’s habitual insult, I considered Diamond. She looked an awful lot like many of Myrrhn’s high class Doxies; tall, slim, and fair. But how many women did Lily and I both know.

“Your niece?”

“Yes. One of the reasons that the woman you knew as Sapphire was exiled from the Gemarkand family was little Diamond. My sister was fifteen when she gave birth, as I understand it. She joined the Doxies’s Union so that she could get proper care during the pregnancy, working as a laundress to start.”

As she spoke, the first act of the play began. A tall muscular man dressed all in black and bearing blades spoke words of love to a beautiful woman on the stage.

“It seems odd to me then, Lily, that you would try to destroy the very same organization that helped your sister in her time of need.”

“My sister should have come to me,” said Lily. “I am family. I dislike what the Doxies’s Union represents because it is good business for me to do so, Ragnar. Imagine if the miners in my families holdings got the same idea; it would cost me a fortune. I am hardly alone in this.”

“So Diamond is your niece and you want to control or weaken The Union through her, correct?”

“Yes. Initially I wanted to break the Union, but that was anger over my sister’s death and Madame Glorianna’s part in it. I wanted to ruin her life’s work for what she did to Sapphire.”

I nodded; it was a surprisingly human sentiment coming from Lily Gemarkand. Even if it fell within the realm of spite, it was on behalf of someone else.

“But that is not what you wish to discuss with me, is it Lily?”

“Would you leave us?” Lily looked at her bodyguard. He seemed ready to protest, but nodded after giving me a cold stare. I waited while he walked out of the box and took up position outside.

On the stage the Assassin’s lover was dallying with another man, never a good sign in a Myrrhnese play.

“Do you remember Cinder, Ragnar?” Lily asked.

“I do. It is hard to forget someone who tried to kill me several times. The Bloodhydra now figures in to my saga, I am told. I now know that one of the crates that she was trying to escape with had the sword of King Siggurd in it. Why?”

“Have you ever wondered how Cinder came to have the sword?”

“Of course.”

“And you wonder at Wolki’s involvement with Cinder and myself.”

“Yes.”

“Cinder originally worked for me, as did Wolki. I hired the Lord of your clan to track down an errant claimant to the family fortune who remained beyond my reach. As you might expect, Wolki required something big in return. I hired Cinder and her crew to retrieve some Nordan artifacts. The sword was one of these, but I kept it instead of handing it over to Wolki.”

“Why?”

“I liked the way it looked. I had no idea that it was significant. Cinder felt that I cheated her on compensation and turned against me. That is when she began the whole ‘Cinder’ nonsense actually. Wolki came looking for the sword once he heard that I had it. He threatened me. I’m glad you killed his pet.”

“Ulfgorr. Aye. It was a tough fight, but few will miss him.”

“Wolki will. Without the werewolf protecting him, more Nightblades are likely to be tempted by the money that I am offering for his head.”

I laughed.

“Wolki seemed particularly interested in the sword, and where we acquired it, Ragnar. He seemed very, very interested in making certain that he was the only one who understood the circumstances of how and where it was found. I lied to him and told him that Cinder did not tell me. I am curious to know why he was interested, perhaps you could help me piece it together?”

I laughed. “I think I will.”

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