The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.43

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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The Twins insisted that I dress appropriately for my meeting with Lily Gemarkand. The Kaemoul’s Playhouse was where the wealthy of Old Town and the Merchant Houses mixed with the creatives of Myrrhn. This was apparently of such importance, that it required that I dress in the ‘manner of a gentleman’, which meant tights, a ridiculously puffed up shirt with ruffles on the sleeves and collar, long soft boots, and a very tall hat. I drew the line at trimming my beard.

“The only way a razor will be applied to my jaw is if it opens my throat first, girls.”

I was bathed, perfumed, and given a crash course on etiquette.

“Try to make a good impression, dear, many of these people are our best patrons,” admonished Vethri.

“I am meeting with our avowed enemy, and a women who locked me in a cage with a Devout warrior,” I growled.

“Hardly a situation which you go out of your way to avoid, given that you were in a pit-fight with a werewolf a fortnight ago,” said Eiskra.

“That was different.”

“Sure thing, Ragnar.”

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The Kaemoul’s Playground was on Belltower, the islet that house the beaurocracy and much of the grand old buildings from the early days of Myrrhn. The Playhouse was a converted gladiatorial arena, magnificently restored by Akbar the Kaemoul, Myrrhn’s wealthiest man at the time. It was built in the ancient Archaean style with tall columns braced by arches, surrounding a massive open space.

The Playhouse was renowned for theater and music. The performance that evening was ‘Chloe & Jaques’ a recently written play about the last Empress and Emperor of Archaea, favoured figures in romance and heroic tales.

Lily’s box was once reserved for Archaean high nobility come to spend an afternoon watching slave-warriors butcher each other or face off against monsters on the sands below. It was tastefully decorated, with tessellated murals depicting scenes of violence that played out many centuries ago. I particularly liked the one that depicted the legendary swordsman Kael facing a strange abomination with a second, tiny figure growing from its chest in front of a roaring crowd. It was spacious and richly appointed, as befitted one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the city.

Lily Gemarkand stood at the front of the box, next to her ever-present bodyguard. She was dressed in green silk and wore an abundance of emeralds.

“Welcome Ragnar Skyggesson,” she said. “I am pleased that you accepted my invitation.”

“I must admit that I am curious, Lily. Your path has crossed mine again and again, often at times that seem more like the hand of fate that coincidence.”

“Have you forgiven me for testing you, Ragnar?”

“No.”

She laughed.

“Let us begin with Diamond Silvermane,” she said. “My sister and I had plans for the Doxies’s, you know that. When I found out that Madame Glorianna, had Sapphire murdered, I wanted to destroy the the Union. Diamond has convinced me that this was… irrational.”

“It is. Who is Diamond Silvermane to you, Lily?”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’ War 3.36

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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Eiskra was the first to greet me as I climbed out of the pit, throwing her arms around me, heedless of the blood. I breathed in her scent and let her take some of my weight. As a fellow Twiceborn, Eiskra was much stronger than a normal woman of her size.

Thyra slapped me on the pauldron and smiled. “That was one for the Sagas, Ragnar.”

“I am just happy to have survived.”

“Don’t be coy, my friend,” said Thyra, “Word of this battle is going to spread among our kin. Am I right Nordan?”

The room around the fighting pit thundered with cheers. Eiskra and Carmen seemed to yell loudest, adding their voices to the din. Vethri and Murith just looked relieved, while Git was unreadable and Renoit’s eyes seemed to roam the room like a watchful wolf-hound’s.

In fact, the only ones not celebrating or relieved were my own clan. Wolki was staring at me with an unreadable expression while most of the others looked like they might be willing to challenge me right then and there.

“This, along with the fact that the exemplar of Furis has called for your return, will surely grant you an audience with King Valdur,” said Thyra.

An audience with King Valdur was at the forefront of my thoughts, considering the vision that I had when I held his father’s sword.

“The exemplar of Furis? what’s that?” asked Carmen.

“The exemplars are the living embodiment of their deity,” said Vethri. “They are not priests, exactly, but they are agents of their God and are considered above mortal politics.”

“It is said the your friend Berkhilde made quite an impression on Clan Furis,” said Thyra.

I smiled at the thought. It had been months since Berhilda, a half-Nordan vampire, had sailed into the North. I was certain that the tales of her deeds had grown by now, but pleased to hear that her mother’s clan had accepted her without reservation. The North is not always as accepting as Myrrhn.

Everyone wanted to congratulate me, and the rest of the night was lost in drinking and the telling of tales. In the morning I left with The Twins and Carmen. Thyra escorted us from the old fortress.

“I want you to come with me into the North, old friend,” said Thyra. “I know you have much to keep you here, but the king’s sword fell into your hands. It should be you who returns it.”

I nodded. Thyra did not know that I knew the identity of the man who killed our King. I wonder what she would do with the knowledge. Thyra was always one to confront her problems directly, no matter the cost. I was not certain that this was the best course of action.

“Are you certain that King Valdur and his sister will welcome an exile, even if he bears their father’s sword?”

“It was they who bid me to return your old armour, Ragnar,” said Thyra. “Come with me to the North. Meet Siggurd’s children and reclaim your name.”

“I will,” I said. “But it will have to wait until spring. I have business here, my own and Siggurd’s. I would not want to meet with King Valdur without full knowledge of the mysteries surrounding this sword.”

Thyra opened her mouth to speak, but pause. “What do you know Old Wolf? have your memories returned at last?”

“Yes,” I said. “Skygge has blessed me with a grand secret; one that demands the King’s ear. But I do not have the whole of it, and I do not want to spoil the telling.”

Thyra stepped close. “Ragnar, if you think you can leave me out of the revenge taking for my king…”

I laughed. “No Thyra, this will be decided in The Hall of the High King; I just need to fill in all of the gaps before I make my accusations.”

“Was it Wolki? I will gut him like a fish.”

“No. Your part in this is clear, Thyra Hurnsdottir, you are the bright sword who cleaves a path. Let them know that I am coming, and that I bear news. Bring them the Sword and recommend me to them. Until then, I am a wolf and I will do what a wolf must do.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.35

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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Blood dripped from our wounds as the Demon of Clan Shadow Wolf faced me.

The people around the fighting pit chanted and shouted. Many of them hated Ulfgorr, which made me surprisingly popular despite my exile.

My sword was steady in my hands despite wounds and fatigue. I felt sharp, almost like I could see better than I ever had before. I was in the moment, as they say in Myrrhn, experiencing that transcendent clarity where time seems to flow like molasses and everything in perfectly clear. Perhaps Skygge was with me, brought by the secret that I now carried; of course it could be that blood loss was making me giddy. Either way, now was a vital moment.

Ulfgorr was watching me warily. I was surprised at his lack of aggression. Then I realized that the cut on his face was rapidly healing, the flesh on either side of the cut pulling together like amorous red worms. I understood his strategy immediately. He was healing and not trying to hide it, which meant that he wanted me to come to him.

But while the flesh of the cut on his face was healing, the cut on his side in the midst of the burn was not. Git’s fire hindered the beast’s regeneration.

He expected me to attack and was waiting for it. But I knew this. Now was the time to turn it to my advantage and break the stalemate.

I stepped back and reached behind my back with my left, grinning savagely at Ulfgorr. I saw the realization flash through his eyes. To him, it looked like I was reaching for an item. Perhaps it was something he feared. Perhaps it was a one of Git’s fire flasks.

With supernatural swiftness, the long-limbed monstrosity lunged at me, wicked claws slashing, eyes flashing with mad hatred.

I was bluffing. As he swept in, I went low, grabbed my blade in both hands and slashed up and into him with all my might. Committed to his attack, Ulfgorr could not dodge. My greatsword connected with shocking force. Blood splashed on my face and I felt a tremor run through the blade as it shattered.

My slash carried me to one side of Ulfgorr’s charge. The beast fell to ground on the other, leaving a smear of blood on the ground as his momentum carried him a few paces closer to the wall.

I was left with a broken sword.

“Still alive Ulfgorr?” I asked, strolling toward the twitching body. I could see that he was, his monstrous frame trying to get up, his flesh trying to mend. I could not let that happen.

I drew my knife and approached, It was unwise to turn him over, but it was the honourable thing to do. I nudged his bulk over and looked the beast in the eye. His chest was a ruin. His eyes were wide, with fear or hate, I cannot say. He grabbed my leg with shocking strength and raised his jaws to bite. But my knife found his heart, my strong hand twisted, and the Demon of Clan Shadow Wolf was no more.

Cheers erupted from above me. I felt exultation, mostly at simply being alive.

At my feet, Ulfgorr’s form shifted back into that of a man. He looked almost pathetic, naked and torn, but my countrymen were expecting a line, I could tell, something that they could recite to end the tale with a flourish when they told it.

“Tis a shame,” I said loudly, looking at the body below me. “I was looking forward to having the ugliest fur cloak in all the North.”

And they cheered. Most of them.

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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.

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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 pulled back my sword and smashed it into his face, hitting hard despite the awkward angle. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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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.

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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.

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