The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.34

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.

<>

Ulfgorr lunged aross the fighting pit, his long legs eating the distance in a single step. Jaws slavering, eyes wide, slashing at me with talons like wicked knives.

Giving ground too quickly would leave me in a bad place, so I stood and swung my greatsword into his wrist. The force of the blow stopped his swing and my blade cut to the bone and came back bloody.

Rather than stop or flinch like any sane being, Ulfgorr simply snarled and kept coming, swinging his other set of claws at my face. I turned and took the hit on shoulder, The talons did not cut through my Kingsmail, but they did drive the rings through the leather undercoat and into my flesh, which was uncomfortable enough.

Worse yet, I staggered, almost losing my footing as Ulfgorr swept in, that nightmare mouth seeming to devour the light above as it snapped toward my face.

My only option was to fall. Ulfgorr’s feet were less dangerous than his teeth and claw. I hit the ground and thrust my blade up with desperate strength. Ulfgorr snapping down to bite me, took the sword in the shoulder. His foul blood spilled out of the wound, flowing down the channel in the middle of the blade and over my hands.

Rather than pull away, the beast reached out with his talons, seizing my helm from either side. I kept pushing on the blade, but a chill ran down my spine as his thump claws snapped into focus inches from my eyes. I twisted my face quickly and they scored my cheek and upper lip. Ulfgorr growled and inched his thumb talons along my face toward my eyes. I twisted the blade, but he did not flinch. My boot connected with his knees and groin, but he did not budge. I thrashed as he closed. Desperate, I lashed out. This time my hobnailed boot connected with the side of his leg. To my surprise that made the beast move. He let go of my helm and grabbed the leg that I kicked him with. As he stood, I felt his weight pull off the sword. I swung it backhanded toward his leg. I felt the shock of the hit and Ulfgorr stumbled.

Pulling my foot away, I heaved myself to my feat. Ulfgorr was already upon me. I barely had time to swing, catching him in the side where my kick hurt him; the burnt side where Git’s fire had melted flesh and fur. He slammed into me, bearing me to the ground, roaring in pain and fury as my steel ripped into his flesh. It was a hideous sound, made all the worse by his charnel breath and the smell of burnt flesh.

Ulfgorr held me down and slashed a talon across my chest. My kingsmail finally gave way a little under his assault, and I felt those grim claws bit into me.

But my sword was still in his sore spot and I jerked the blade deeper into the cut. Ulfgorr threw back his head and howled. I drew blade my blade and smashed it into his face. Blood splashed from the beast and he fell back, freeing me. I stumbled to my feet.

Ulfgorr stood, a great cut across his face. He regarded me through hate-filled eyes and snarled showing teeth through the blood.

I lifted my blade, ready for the next clash.

<>

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.33

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.

<>

It is disconcerting to lose track of something as large as Ulfgorr, let alone in a space where he would be within striking distance. I fought the temptation to strike the spot where he faded into the shadows, knowing it would be a fatal mistake. Calm was elusive, and my heart thundered in my chest.

Backing into a corner was tempting, but I did not want to back into my enemy. If Ulfgorr got a solid grip on me, I was done. He was just too strong.

I listened, tuning out the sounds of the crowd, jeering Ulfgorr and calling him to fight. The jingle of mail and weapons from dozens of heavily armed warriors. the sounds of footfalls and shifting wood. The sound of the storm above us. My own heart. My own thoughts.

And as it all came into focus, I heard the beast, right behind me, his jaws inches from my neck. Ulfgorr was leaving nothing to chance. I had but a heartbeat to act as his arms closed around me, lifting me off the ground in a gruesome embrace. His jaws closed around my neck and the only thing that kept me from dying in that moment was the thick steel gorget that protected my spine and throat. Even so, Ulfgorr’s teeth pierced my flesh in places, and blood ran down my chest. Through the din I heard a woman’s voice cry out.

I did not struggle against his grip. Ulfgorr was too strong. But as he had grasped me I had remembered the small glass flask that Git had given me. For a long moment I struggled to get it off my belt. I almost fumbled and dropped it. But in the end fate smiled upon me and I got a good grip on the orb.

Then I pushed into into Ulfgorrs leg until the glass broke. When the air touched the concoction within it burst into flame. Even through two layers of armour, the heat made me scream.

But for Ulfgorr, it was far worse. His fur and his skin burned. For a moment, he tried to hold on, his teeth digging further into my neck. Then abruptly, he let go and staggered away, howling in pain. It was a terrible sound, and those above us recoiled.

As Ulfgorr staggered away, his leg burning. I had other concerns. My gauntlet was aflame. The pain was terrible, like setting my palms on a hot skillet. Pulling the knife from my belt I stuck it in through the wrist and pried the gauntlet off. Much of the skin on my right hand came with it. It was a gruesome sight.

Ulfgorr batted at the flames, but the cruel liquid fire only stuck to his hands. He yowled and staggered about, too tough and stubborn to lay down and die like a sensible creature. As I heaved myself to my feet, he thrust his talons into the earth of the pit, snuffing the flames. Then he started grabbing handfuls of the mud and slapping it on his leg.

By the time I reached my sword, the fire on his leg was out. I did not intend to give the Demon Wolf of Darkvale time to recover. Two ground-eating strides carried me to him and I swung with all my might, bring the blade down upon him.

With unnatural speed, the beast leapt away. I caught him with the tip of the blade, opening a long cut from his collabone to his abdomen. Ulfgorr snarled and a long arm whipped out. Dagger-like talons flashed in front my face and I stopped.

My eyes met Ulfgorr’s and I saw the fathomless hatred and hunger within them. He growled at me, showing jagged teeth.

I raised my burnt hand, making rude gesture. “Ulfgorr, your face is as rotten as your heart, come at me and die.”

And he came.

<>

W

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.32

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.

<>

Climbing down into the fighting pit, I tried to ignore the excitement rippling through the Nordan. Many of them recognized Garmsbitta, now held by Thyra. They wondered how such a blade would make its way into the hands of an exile and a Twiceborn like myself. Some saw this as a sign, and a fresh round of wagers were placed, likely in my favour.

I wasn’t so sure. It is best not to count your treasure until you have escaped the dragon’s grasp, as they say; it is the same with Fate. I did not know if Skygge would guide my hand or if the Gods were merely mocking me.

It didn’t matter really. Gods or no, I want to win, to kill Ulfgorr and to confront the man who killed Siggurd. No matter how the advantages were tallied, the only way I could do this would be to fight.

There were whistles and catcalls and cheering above me as Ulfgorr walked to the side of the fighting pit, quite naked. He was even uglier without clothing; his skin was patchy, as if it were stitched together from that of many different men. Cadaverously thin, his ribs stuck out as if they were going to burst through the skin.

Despite his ungainly appearance, Ulfgorr moved with the grace of a predator. He looked down on me and snarled.

“Say goodbye Ragnar.”

It is rare to see a skin-shifter like Ulfgorr change in front of witnesses. I suspect that this is mostly because it takes time, and they are quite vulnerable while it is underway. Ulfgorr decided to make the most of the moment, shifting in front of everyone.

Arms held out to the side, his fingers curled like claws, Ulfgorr looked to the heavens and whispered the name of the keeper of the abyss, the Nordan Goddess who oversees the realm of the damned. Then he began to change. His teeth and nails, began to sharpened and lengthen. Hair began to sprout from his patchy skin, changing into fur. It was still patchy, because Ulfgorr was even more ugly as a werewolf, but at least it covered his body.

With a sickening series of snapping pops his knee joints bent backward while the rest of his bones lengthened. His flesh seemed to melt and crawl underneath hisfur and swell to fill his new frame. Spines ripped through his skin and his mouth lengthened into a ghastly snout full of jagged ivory blades.

As he settled into his new form, Ulfgorr howled, a ghosly grim sound that sent a shiver down my spine. Even for skin-shifter he was unnatural, and it was easy to see why many considered him touched by the dark goddess that he sometimes prayed to. All around the room people drew back instinctively from that sound and the hideous creature that made it.

Then the head lowered and those mad yellow eyes fixed on me. His snout curled into an impossible smile, all teeth and angles, and he leapt down into the fighting pit, the shadows instantly embracing his monstrous form.

I held up my greatsword and prepared to fight.

<>

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.31

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.

<>

Always when I tried to recollect what happened next, it would fragment, often painfully. Cinder said it was a spell. I would catch sight of a shadow behind the High King and then it would all break apart. There has always been something broken in my memory of that moment. My mind cannot make sense of the image, and it is as if the identity of the killer was ripped from me. But this time I saw what happened to my King. I remembered it all.

<>

The tide of Skraelings carried me away from the King and Thyra. I was alone among the enemy, and vastly outnumbered, but I was armed with a greatsword, which I could swing with abandon, and the Gods were with me. I held my ground and killed the darkspawn until I was standing upon a mound of their corpses.

“Witness me!” I shouted to the sky, and I felt my tired limbs renewed. I fought back toward the King at the tip of the Spear, pushing onward, Garmsbitta held high.

<>

The saying “When the Nordan go to War, they bring their Gods with them!” is true, no matter if you believe in the divine literally or feel that Garms and his children are manifestations of a kind of collective cultural sorcery as they do in Myrrn. What matters is that when my people call upon their Gods, sometimes they will answer.

Even as an exile, I have enough connection to Skygge, progenitor of the Shadow Wolf Clan to summon the ghosts of his wolves now and then, such as when I distracted the assassin Sildus when he confronted me in my home.  That connection also included communicating with the real Shadow Wolves, as Sildus found out in the end.

At Drajinskyg, the name given to the Kingslaying on the Spearmach, I witnessed many divine feats. I saw warriors of Hurn call lightning, and Helma’s favoured stand unharmed after taking terrible blows on their armour. The Gods of the North favour their followers through deeds. Furis favours vengeance and repentance with fury, Hurn rewards courage with strength, Helma protects the loyal and so on. My divine ancestor, Skygge,

<>

Every battle has moments of confusion. In one of these, the traitor struck, driving a knife into the king’s back. My shouts of warning were lost in the din, and try as I might, I could not make those last paces to aid the King. I saw the blade and the hand that gripped it. A young man whose face I knew well. My mind almost withdrew from the memory at the shock of the realization. How could this be?

The traitor’s blade went unnoticed. Mighty Siggurd faltered and in a heartbeat, he was lost. In that moment it seemed as if the Gods left us, and despair washed over us more surely than a tidal wave from some fell storm.

I fought to the bitter end, trying to reach the traitor, to shout to Thyra to kill the viper in their midst. But fate caught me, and the Skraelings cut me down and hacked me to pieces. 

But I did not lie quiet in the mud for long.

<>

Everyone knew what happened after that. Thyra Hurnsdottir and her band of ten recovered Siggurd’s body, but the Skraelings took his sword. Thyra called Hurn himself to aid them, and they held until reinforcements arrived. It was history and legend. But I knew something else.

“Are you alright, Ragnar?” asked Eiskra.

“Did you have a vision?” asked Vethri.

“Yes,” I said, looking up at Wolki. I saw in his gaze that he knew what I knew, and that he saw the same knowledge in my eyes. I do not know how he learned it, but I could see why that knowledge was valuable to him. The fear that I would speak the truth right then was apparent, but the knowledge was too fresh for me to act rashly. First I had to defeat Ulfgorr.

We Shadow Wolves are careful with our secrets. They are valuable to Skygge.

“Are you listening?” I muttered as I turned to the fighting pit. I knew a very big secret.

<>

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.30

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.

<>

She handed me a sword. It was a greatsword, a big Nordan blade of the finest craftsmanship with a pedigree of enchantments second to none. I recognized the blade, even before I drew it.

I was not the only one.

As I pulled the sword from its scabbard the last rays of the sun touched the edge. There could be no doubt then.

It was the sword of Siggurd the Stormbreaker, bane of The Devout, High King of the North. My king, the king I served, who fell at Drajinskyg where I died and rose again before my exile.

Memory washed over me like a hurricane swell.

<>

The Skraeling boiled out of the woods, a foul tide of screeching hate. We faced them, but we were taken aback. The Spearmarch was near settled lands. How could such a horde appear so close to all we held dear? Such was the sense of disbelief that men who would normally throw themselves into danger without hesitation lost heart. When the enemy charged, shaking the ground under their innumerable boots all seemed lost.

Their javelins blackened the sky, and though we were well armoured and shielded, men began to die.

But, Siggurd the Stormbreaker, the High King of all the North, was not one to run from an enemy in his own lands. He moved calmly to the front of the army, pushing his way through his protesting Kingsguard, myself the only member of the Shadow Wolf Clan honoured with a position among them in more than a hundred years. His gaze swept the enemy and then he spat dismissively and lifted his sword, Garmsbita, above his head. Invoking the Gods to witness the battle he rallied. His last line, the last words from my king are still clear in my mind.

“Nordan, do not fear. Stand with me now brothers and let us show Gods and Ancestors that we are brave and true; Come ruin! Come glory! Come courage and red joy!”

As he spoke, he raised Garmsbitta above his head and then, as now, it caught the last rays of the sun. It seemed like the coming of dawn to those of us around him. Our lines reformed and we met them like the heroes of old come to life.

<>

Siggurd was a canny fighter. He knew that such a horde would have more than Skraeling chieftains pushing it. He led the fight to them, and we followed him.

“Looks like the Gods have seen fit to give us a little excitement,” I said to Thyra.

“A keg of Furis’s finest, if you can best me in the tally, little wolf,” she said.

We fought, shoulder to shoulder, a rock in the stream, until misfortune struck

<>

Siggurd faced the wight king and struck him down, separating head from body with a single great blow from Garmsbitta. It was a glorious moment, worthy of song, and we raised our voices, drowning out the Skraeling din. Our enemy began to panic, several other wightkin fell to Nordan blade, and the joy of battle was upon me.

And then came that dark moment, when a shadow fell across the king, and he fell, never to rise again. Victory game way to ruin and though I fought to the bitter end, I was dragged down, and torn apart, tasting blood and despair and then darkness.

Before, no matter how hard I tried to focus on that moment, on that shadow behind the king, on what truly killed Siggurd, I was never able to. 

This time I saw. I remembered it all.

<>

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’ War 3.29

<>

That I came to my duel with Ulfgorr wearing the heraldry of The Kingsguard was not lost on those who came to watch.

The fighting ground at Cassander’s Watch was a deep pit, lined with the same stone blocks that made up the outer wall of the keep. The sides were twice the height of a man with vicious iron stakes pointed downward to discourage climbing out before the fight was over. It was surrounded by five tiers of galleries, none of which contained seats.

Today each of the galleries was full of people standing shoulder to shoulder, Nordan with a smattering of Myrrhnese. Men and women shouted my name, some on praise while others heaped scorn. Wolki, standing amidst a knot of Shadow Wolf Clan all painted for a night attack, merely spat when he met my eye.

Birgir of Clan Sea Wolf offered offered me a warmer greeting. Taking my hand a clasping it.

“I’ve wagered heavily on you, Ragnar, and called on the Gods to see you through this,” he said. “The Sea Wolf Clan would be pleased to host your retinue on the second floor, if it pleases you.”

“You have my thanks, Birgir.”

I was genuinely touched. Birgir was risking a loss of face by showing me so much support. I was just an exile, and likely soon to lose a duel to the death.

“You can thank me by taking the Demon Wolf’s head,” said Birgir, smiling. “And giving my clan the honour of hosting the feast once you have done so.”

“That honour belongs to me, Birgir Hurnsson,” said Thyra. “I have stood by this man since you you were nothing more than a tadpole in your da’s left stone.”

Birgir laughed. “Peace Thyra, I have no wish to feel the wrath of Furis’s favourite daughter! Let us feast him together then.”

“I am honoured that you have such confidence in me. I am honoured by all of this support. Thank you friends. Thank you for coming here.”

“It was a long walk Ragnar,” said Murith. “You had better give Ulfgorr a kick in the arse.”

“I will, Murith, just for you.”

Vethri and Eiskra stepped forward. Vethri, I expected to be calm; she rarely shows emotion during a crisis. I found it odd that Eiskra was relaxed; she is more excitable than a wolverine on ragebloom oil.

“You are ready for this fight, Ragnar,” said Vethri. “It is time for you to regain your honour.”

“We will not let you fall here,” said Eiskra, looking over her shoulder. “We don’t want to lose you.”

“And so your friends called in a favour,” said Carmen, emerging from the throng, looking distinctly like a Nordan shield maiden complete with mail and marks of war. “It seems that the Doxies’s Union has valuable information; knowledge that even the Nightblades are willing to trade dearly for.”

“No one can fight this fight but me, Carmen…”

“Of course, male ego made manifest in law, I understand,” said Carmen. “I do, however, have something that will help you.”

And she handed me a sword.

<>

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.28″

It has been an eventful week here. A windstorm blew shingles off my house yesterday, which is not common in this part of the world. I am dead tired, but here nonetheless. 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.

<>

The fortress of Cassander’s Shield brooded, outlined in red and gold as the sun set behind it. The docks were thick with longships showing the shields of every clan, with the heraldry of many prominent Nordan among them.

They did not challenge me at the gates of the bridge to the Nordan quarter this time. Instead, the guards, four grey-bearded veterans clasped hands with me as I passed.

“Gods be with ye, Grimfang,” said the eldest.

It appeared that Ulfgorr was even less popular than an exile.

“My thanks, warrior. It is unfortunate that you are stuck out here on guard duty.”

“Mayhap he has no stomach for slaughter, old wolf,” said another of the veterans. They all laughed at this, and I did as well; Nordan have a peculiar sense of humour. Behind us the Twins exchanged glances with Murith,

“If I die, at least I will die with honour.”

“That is true,” said the first.

“Let us hope that the gods smile upon ye, Shadow Wolf,” said the second.

“And that your sword strikes true,” said the third.

“And that your shield is as strong as your will,” said the last.

I nodded and led my procession through the gates. The Twins were with me, of course, as was Murith, Git, and Renoit. There were a great many more besides; friends from The Doxies’s Union and people that I had helped or adventured with over my decades in Myrrhn. Whores and mercenaries bumped elbows with scholars and merchants. It was quite touching.

As we approached the steps leading to the great metal doors of the fortress, I caught a familiar scent. I looked up to see her standing before me, clad in bright armour and bearing her fell spear.

“Thyra! I did not expect to see you here.”

“Old fool. I crossed half an ocean riding Hurn’s own storm to get here. I would not fail to bear witness when my sword-brother faces the demon wolf himself.”

“Ah, you do me too much honour Thyra. You are a hero of the North, the last of Siggurd’s Kingsquard. I am but an exile, shamed for falling before my king.”

“Put away the long face brother. You are not so shamed that this cannot lift your heart.”

And she held up a suit of armour identical to the one that I last wore on the day of my exile from Nordan lands. It was finely made kingsmail with black plate pauldrons, gorget, and vambraces. On it was the insignia of Siggurd ‘Stormbreaker’, once the high king of the North and with that of his successor.

“The Queen?”

“No, the boy. He is old enough to lead now. When I asked, he gave his blessing. Perhaps this will give Wolki pause.”

My mind had trouble keeping pace. The young High King had given me permission to wear this sacred armour; it was a great and unexpected honour. I could not understand why it was being bestowed upon me, save as a courtesy to Thyra, who was a real hero.

“Thank you, old friend.”

“May it bring you victory this time, Ragnar.”

Of course, one might look upon the armour as a last comfort from a merciful king to a fallen exile meeting an honourable death…

<>