The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.56

This is my weekly serial, written raw and uncut!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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“I can’t believe your going back to Myrrhn, Old Wolf.”

“Twenty years is a long time Thyra, I’ve built a life there.”

“You have friends here, too.”

I laughed. “How long will you remain here, Sea Wolf? I’d wager with your wandering ways I will see you as much in Myrrhn as I would at King’s Hall.”

Thyra nodded.

“Besides,” I continued, “my exile may be over, but my clan still hates me, and the king I once served is long dead. The North will always be in my heart, but it is no longer my home.”

Thyra frowned, but it was not in her nature to sulk; after a moment she turned back to me with a sly grin. “Are you certain you’re not a Sea Wolf, wanting to live your life in search of strange places and exotic peoples?”

“A fine compliment, but you’ve seen how well I sail.”

“Hah! we’ll have plenty of time to practice on the way back to Cassander’s shield, brother.”

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Three days after ending my exile, High King Athelbjorn abdicated in favour of his sister, Svana. Knowing what I knew, it was a wise decision; his secret was too great a weakness for the most powerful man in the North.

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The return trip to Myrrhn was free of both bad weather, and bloodshed. The city was shrouded in mist as we arrived, robbing me of a breathtaking view of the place that I had called home for so many years.

“I’ll miss you, old wolf,” said Thyra after we drank a parting round in the great hall of Cassander’s Shield.

“Then visit more often.”

“I’ll try. We’ll see where the wind blows me.”

“Thyra Hurnsdottir, you have been a true friend to me. You never doubted me. You risked your own reputation in supporting an exile. I owe you a debt, old friend… if ever you need shelter from a storm, Sea Wolf, seek me out.”

“I will. Farewell, Ragnar Skyggesson. May the gods watch over you on distant shores.”

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The mist lifted by the time I reached the house I shared with Vethri and Eiskra. The streets were crowded with people, most of them in a hurry, but I did not mind.

My stomach growled as I caught the scent of a steak and kidney pie cooked in Pelaram gravy from one of the charming little restaurants down the street.

There were no guards at the door, and for a moment, as I sounded the bell and heard no movement, I wondered if they’d gone out or…

Then door opened. The Twins and Carmen were there, enjoying red wine and brandy as they conducted Union business. It was a cheerful reunion.

I had just finished telling them as much as I dared of my meeting with Athelbjorn, feet up, glass of brandy in hand, when a knock sounded at the door. Carmen went to answer the door, leaving me alone with Vethri and Eiskra.

“I knew you’d come back,” said Eiskra quietly.

I nodded and smiled, but before I could speak, Carmen led a familiar figure into the room.

“I was hoping to find you here, Ragnar,” said Murith. “I could use your help…”

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And that is it, for now. Thanks for reading. I will be starting up another serial in a week or two!

 

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.55

This is my weekly serial, written raw and uncut!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Kingshall was unfamiliar to me now. I kept recognizing bits of the place, but twenty years of prosperity and peace between the clans had shifted much of what I once remembered. The mountains, the hall, and the ocean remained the same at least.

I spent much of the next week drinking with Thyra, telling tales to fellow Nordan, and exploring the city. At some point the realization that I was just a visitor settled on me. The North would always be my homeland, but even if my exile was ended, it was no still not my home.

I longed for Myrrhn, for the people I knew, and for my life there. What was there for me here? My kin were dead or strangers to me, while my clan still resented me because of Wolki,

Once my mind was made up to return to Myrrhn, I began to enjoy my time in Kingshall, experiencing everything that I could, and savouring the tastes and sights without reservation. The rest of the time passed quickly.

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The ceremony was better attended than I was expecting. Thyra and the remaining handful of old Siggurd’s Kingsguard stood at the fore. They were heroes one and all and their presence signaled that they supported my return to their number.

Thyra looked bright and proud at their head, the most loyal guardian of a favoured king. Her heroism was true in my mind, even if that of the man she once served was tarnished.

Jarls, Karls, and others of the nobility of Nordan lands were present, along with those warriors of note and priests to the gods who were willing to attend. They lined the sides of the hall, watching as I passed. Wolki glared at me, but since the cancellation of my exile restored some lost honour to our clan, he could not forgo attendance. I smiled at him. The gesture was not lost on those present and a ripple of laughter passed through the Sea Wolf contingent, with the sons of Harald Magnisson standing proud behind their clan lord. I recognized a few other faces, most of them much older than when I last saw them.

Berkhilda was there, standing proud among the contingent from Clan Furis. I stopped and nodded to the fierce, fiery haired warrior, earning a small smile. No doubt she would want to hear how our battle with Cinder led to the recovery of Garmsbita.

I carried the old High King’s blade in my arms, the burnished decorations of the massive scabbard glinting in the sun. As I approached Athelbjorn on his dais, Svana at his side, I knelt and held out the blade.

“I, Ragnar Skyggesson, called Grimfang, Exile and Twiceborn have returned carrying a lost treasure of the king whom I failed to protect. I present to you, King Athelbjorn, Garmsbita, your father’s sword, lost when he fell at the battle of Drajinskyg, on the Spearmarch, twenty years ago.”

Athelbjorn looked at the blade for a moment, then descended and drew the weapon, leaving the scabbard in my hands. As he held up the blade, shining in the sun, the people gave a great cheer. I remained kneeling until it died down, thinking of the old days and what I knew now.

When the cheering died down, Athlebjorn spoke. “Ragnar Skyggesson fell on the field at Drajinskyg and later clawed his way out of the grave. He was branded a coward, cursed by the gods for failing to protect my father. But today he has proven those accusations wrong. He has, after twenty years of exile, long after lesser men would give themselves over to bitterness, returned to Kingshall in triumph, having recovered the lost sword of his king. In doing so he has proved that the yoke of exile was placed upon his shoulders wrongly, for no coward could have faced what he faced to recover this blade. Rise Ragnar Skyggesson, your exile is over. Your name will once more be honoured among those who served my father and also among those who have served me. There will be other honours paid to you, but now is a time for celebration. For now let us feast, drink, and tell tales in your honour!”

I rose, clasped hands with the king, and the merriment began.

 

 

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.54

This is my weekly serial, written raw and uncut!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Athelbjorn stared at me in disbelief, as did his sister and his Kingsguard. The Nordan are an honour culture, and vengeance looms large in our minds. My words would seem strange to them.

“You would let this pass?” asked Svana. She seemed almost offended.

“You did.”

Svana’s eyes widened and her nostrils flared, I could see much of Siggurd in her then, though she had better control, if less humour,

“I was only his bodyguard, not his daughter. If you have given up your claim to vengeance, what right do I have to pursue my lesser claim and the strife that would follow?”

Some of the Kingsguard nodded. The shadows in the hall seemed to lessen, as if the eyes of the Gods were satisfied and passed on to other matters, We stood for a moment in silence, until High King Athelbjorn collected himself.

“Forgive me Ragnar Grimfang,” he said, looking at me. “I loved my father, but i could never forgive him for what he did, I challenged him to a duel to the death, you know.”

“You were barely more than a pup. Siggurd was the greatest warrior-king the North has seen for many years. It was a brave challenge, but it would be akin to a man fighting Furis the day after he finishes shield training.”

“Aye. Father said there would be no honour in it, after he knocked me down. I’ve never been much of a fighter.”

“The North has plenty of warriors. You are a good king Athelbjorn, I can see that in all of your deeds since The Spearmarch. If you believe that I was sent by the Gods to judge you, then take that to heart. As long as you are a good king, no one will seek to uncover your secrets. Even Wolki was more interested in protecting his own than finding some way of attacking you.”

“What do you mean, Ragnar?”

“The mystery of of how the Skaelings and Wights ambushed us on the Spearmarch involves a secret route used for smuggling. Wolki sought to kill me to protect that information. Instead, Ulfgorr met his fate.”

“That is good to know. I must say that you are not at all what I expected, Twiceborn.”

“Twenty years in Myrrhn have given me a different perspective, King Athelbjorn. Honour is not everything, especially to a man whose responsibilities extend further than his own sword arm. I have also seen the violence that some do to those closest to them, and learned to admire those who take what path they can to seek redress, even if it is a knife in the back. I will always admire your father for his deeds, and love him for the honour he showed me, but now that I know what he did to his family I will despise him for that. People are complicated and many of those you meet have a touch of the unexpected.”

“Well said. I will lift your exile, Ragnar Skyggesson. There will be a formal event later, but for now let me have the honour of welcoming you home.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.53

This week’s Shadow Wolf is a bit late because I was at Fan Expo in Toronto. Since I was unable to make Gencon 50, this was our big con getaway this year. I have some pictures from the con at the end of this post.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Athelbjorn came to his decision. His was the blade that betrayed his father, the face so long hidden from me, until I held old Siggurd’s blade before facing Ulfgorr. Perhaps his actions were the reason that I escaped death’s clutches and rose as a Twiceborn.

Svana reached the same conclusion as I did and she beat her brother to action.

“Guards, kill the exile!” she said.

The shadows in the hall deepened, and a low growl escaped the dark. The men heeded her orders and began to move. I did not draw my weapons.

“STOP!” roared Athelbjorn, his face twisting. Only when angry did he resemble his father.

The Kingsguard froze. Svana drew her blade, glaring at me and taking a step before her brother placed his hand on her shoulder to restrain her.

“I will not have good men sully these halls in my name,” said Athelbjorn. “Heed this Kingsguard: The gods have sent Ragnar Skyggesson here to judge me for my patricide. No matter what happens here you are not to defend me, that is an order. If my sister tries to kill him, restrain her.”

“This isn’t right, brother,” said Svana.

“You and I are not to be the judges of that, Svana,” said Athelbjorn. “Let Ragnar hear my explanation.”

Svana remained quiet, though she glared at me as if trying to murder me through sheer force of will.

“Do you remember my mother, Ragnar?”

Queen Freylorn had been a sturdy woman, much loved by Kingsguard. She had died a year before the battle on the Spearmarch, a terrible accident.

“Yes.”

“My mother and my father had an argument. He pushed her and she fell. That was the cause of her death,” said Athelbjorn. “The greatest hero in the North felled his own wife over a stupid argument. Then, when his back was turned in the battle his own son stabbed him in the back like a coward. I hoped to die that day, but the last of my father’s men saved me. It is only fitting that you have come to collect upon that blood debt, Ragnar Skyggesson, you were one of his Kingsguard and have suffered greatly for my actions. Let my last act be to revoke your exile.”

“No.”

Athelbjorn paused. Svana and the Kingsguard remained poised on the edge of action.

“If the gods wanted you dead Athelbjorn, Skygge would have given this secret to Thyra Hurnsdottir. She would have torn this hall down to get to you and stained the place with your blood. I have been exiled for twenty years, but my mind has not been idle. The ways of the North sometimes seem to demand unthinking vengeance. As Siggurd killed your mother, you killed him, and I should kill you as the final act of vengeance. But my time in Myrrhn has tempered my views. Blind vengeance at all costs is a kind of madness. I have seen how Kingshall has grown under your direction and how loyal your sister and your own Kingsguard are. That speaks well of you. That they did not rebuke of show surprise at your story makes me inclined to believe it to be true. Siggurd was a wrathful man, and sometimes such men have a harder time at peace than they do at war. So no, it will not be your last act as King, I think, at least not on my account.”

“You would forgive me?”

“Forgiveness is not the issue, really. If I struck you down, the North would be plunged into Chaos. Svana is next in line for the throne, but there are those who would question her fitness since she knew of your deed. It would also tarnish the image of your father as a hero of the wars against The Devout. Some would condemn him, others would defend him blindly. It would divide the realm, and our enemies would take advantage.”

“What will you do then?”

“I will return to Myrrhn, hopefully no longer an Exile…”

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Here are the Fan Expo 2017 pics:

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The lineup for photos and autographs in the smaller hall on Saturday.

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Ronan playing Mecard. The demo people for this game/toy were kind enough to entertain people’s kids… which I am grateful for.

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A clay dragon sculpted by one of the talented people at the con.

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There was a lot of cosplay at the con, better variety this year. My photos do not do the details justice at all.

 

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whore’s War 3.52

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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Athelbjorn awaited me in the Great Hall, looking pensive on this throne.  We were alone, save for a dozen heavily armed guards, at least two of which were ascended of some kind, and our bootfalls echoed in the vastness of the place.

Unlike the outside of King’s Hall, the Great Hall held to the traditions of old, being mostly made of wood. Intricate carvings lined the walls and pillars, depicting scenes of history and legend. The pillars nearest the throne, in plain view of the High King and anyone who addressed him, depicted the deeds of his father, Siggurd, the king whom I had served and died for, whom I might die for again.

The wood was fresh and fragrant; the carvings were replaced yearly. The scents of pine, oak, and ironwood mixing with smoke and the hints of a recent revel. It was a joyous smell, much at odds with the heavy occasion.

Svana stepped up to stand beside Athelbjorn. She was good at concealing her feelings, but her hand trembled as she turned to face me.

Athelbjorn stood as I knelt before him. It is not required for a Nordan to take the knee before the High King, but I was of the Kingsguard once… It took him a moment to speak.

“Ragnar Skyggesson, I thank you for returning my father’s sword. You have done us a great service, but this is a delicate matter. What else have you learned?”

“Or remembered,” added Svana.

As she spoke, the shadows seemed to deepen in the hall. Some of the Kingsguard gripped their weapons, muttering oaths to the gods under their breath, ready for battle. Athelbjorn and Svana watched me closely.

“I know who killed your father…”

Athelbjorn’s brow furrowed. A torch spluttered in the shadows of the hall. Svana’s eyes were wide. The Gods were watching us.

“… but it is the why of it that interests me now.”

Athelbjorn’s mouth tightened for a moment, but then he closed his eyes and nodded.

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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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