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 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 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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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.42

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 the cheering died down. Vethri and Eiskra remained in speaking position. Diamond Silvermane frowned.

“Normally we would call for a vote now,” said Vethri. “As is custom for a leadership challenge. But, given the unusual circumstances, we would like to suggest that a full election be held. The Union is only recently recovered from a fractious end to Madame Glorianna’s leadership and Diamond Silvermane entered the race too late to be given fair consideration. It will also give the rest of you a chance to put forth your vision for The Union, should you wish to throw your name into the contest.”

A ripple went through the crowd. Diamond Silvermane’s exquisite face betrayed some surprise.

“As always, we will put this suggestion to a vote. All those in favour of running a full election, at no cost to the Union, in order to be as fair as possible to Diamond Silvermane and others, raise your hands.”

With a sea of hands thrust into the air, the suggestion carried easily. I could see Diamond’s jaw clench in anger. Her supporters seemed to think they were doing her a favour by supporting the motion, but I could tell that she did not want it this way.

After business was concluded, Diamond Silvermane sauntered off into the crowd without another word. Many of the Doxies fell in behind her.

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“Why is Diamond so angry about another election?” asked Carmen while The Twins wound their way through the Union Hall, greeting people and gathering support. It was a thankless task, and one I was not eager to repeat my part in.

“I don’t rightfully know, Carmen. It did make her angry though.”

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Later on the carriage ride back to our home, I broached the subject.

“We knew that Diamond was fairly confident that she had strong support for a single vote,” said Vethri. “That is based on a read of her personality, and the depths of her backer’s purse. A leadership challenge only gives those present a vote, and allows a secondary vote for the rest of a membership if it carries. Winning the challenge would give her a strong case to the membership at large though. Even if she was unable to carry a leadership vote she would be seen as the main opposition by default. Having her run an open election against, not just us, but all of the other factions. It will cost Lily Gemarkand more money and will force Diamond to navigate the difficult areas of Union politics.”

“What she is trying to say,” Eiskra mock-whispered to Carmen. “Is that we want Diamond to suffer through the same bickering and infighting that we have for the last eighteen months.”

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A few days later, as I was researching the last morsel of information that I needed to return to the North, a letter from Lily Gemarkand arrived. It was addressed not to The Twins, but to me, asking me to attend upon the lady of the Emerald Tower in her private box at the Kaemoul’s Playhouse.

I was intrigued.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.41

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise. Today has been especially crazy, glued to my computer watching the Comey testimony.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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There was loud applause as Diamond Silvermane yielded the floor to Eiskra and Vethri. Her confident delivery and sheer force of beauty had won over many in the hall. I hoped it was a temporary enchantment. She winked at me as she sat down. I did not swoon,

“You all know us,” began Eiskra. “We’ve told our story so many times in the last year, that I am sure that many of ya’ll can recite it by heart.”

There was some muted laughter.

“You all know about Gentleman Jim, and the horrors he inflicted on our sisters before Madame Glorianna and others came together to challenge him. As I’ve said, we have told our part in this story many times. After he left his mark on our faces and then left us to burn with our sisters, we crawled from the ashes, gathered allies, and put Gentleman Jim where he belonged…”

“WITH THE FISHES.” yelled someone.

“Quite so,” said Vethri, taking up where Eiskra left off. “You all know that we went on to prosper, in spite of the ugly scars that Gentleman Jim left us. We are wealthy and powerful now, respected throughout the city. One might even say that we have risen to the level of our ambitions. And yet, we are happy to pay our full dues to The Doxies’s Union, even if we do not see benefit for ourselves. That may seem like a paradox to some, but to anyone who has seen what we have it is not.”

Vethri paused and cast her gaze around the hall.

“You have heard our tale. But what of all of our sisters that died in the flames that day, and did not live to ‘meet their ambitions’? Some of those whores and joyboys had children or family that depended on the money that they brought in. Under Madame Glorianna The Union made sure that they received a stipend. We take care of our own. It took a long time to organize The Union and a much longer time to turn it into the compassionate place it is now. When a doorman gets busted up on the job, The Union makes sure his wages are met and his medical care is paid for. Sometimes, despite our screening, someone gets a disease from one of the clients; we make sure they are cared for. And when a Doxie gets cut bad, as sometimes happens even now, we make sure she can still find dignified employment after she recovers…”

Eiskra stepped forward and added “and sometimes The Union pays the Mercs or the Nightblades to make certain it don’t happen again…”

The room erupted into savage cheers at that. Every Doxie, save perhaps the luckiest, knew someone who had suffered under a cruel client. It was not an easy profession, even in Myrrhn.

“Some people are lucky enough that the world will stay out of their way while they toil and work hard and reach the zenith of their talents,” continued Vethri. “They deserve praise and the riches that they earn. But in the Doxies’s Union we know that some of the best of us get unlucky. A child loses a mother. The pox comes knocking. A trick goes bad. A good man gets a bad wound. The Union dues go to making certain that the unlucky ones are taken care of. They go to making certain that we all have a comfortable retirement when we are too old. No one who hasn’t seen what we have seen likes paying the extra money when they don’t need it, but when you do and you have the price seems more that worthwhile.”

She paused for effect, and then left it there. After a moment, the room erupted into cheers.

 

 

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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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.18

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise. This week as a bonus I was sick and exhausted to boot!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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I drank with Birgir and his men late into the night, long after Wolki and his men left. There was no doubt in my mind that the current master of the Shadow Wolves would seek out his henchman, Ulfgorr. Later, when the beast was healed, he would seek me out again, Wolki would make certain of that. I would have to ready myself for that encounter.

I set those thoughts aside and enjoyed my time with the Sea Wolves. Birgir listened to my tales of Myrrhn and repaid me with a wealth of news from Nordan lands. I found it hard to conceal my hunger for news of my homelands and old friends.

It was dark when I left Cassander’s Shield, I doubted that Wolki and Ulfgorr would dare to attack me so close to protected ground, but I kept to well lit and well-trafficked areas on my return home.

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Vethri and Eiskra greeted me as I returned home. Eiskra seemed amused as I related my exploits at the Nordan stronghold, while Vethri rolled her eyes.

“Did you remember to ask about who killed Rake?” asked Vethri.

“As soon as Wolki spotted me that line of inquiry was scuttled. Given his surprise at my presence though, he could not have been involved.”

“Are you sure he wasn’t faking, Ragnar?” asked Eiskra, her face taking on a comical expression of surprise.

“Wolki never fakes something that would make him seem less knowledgeable or less in control of the situation. His reaction would have been different had he expected me there. He seemed genuinely surprised that Murith and I bested Ulfgorr as well.”

“Speaking of which, with Murith’s testimony you could take news of Ulfgorr’s attack to The Nightblades; they will not look kindly upon an outside assassin acting in Myrrhn,” suggested Vethri.

“I don’t know…”

“Well, it might be worth visiting Night’s Finger regardless,” said Vethri. “If Lily Gemarkand is nervous, she might have a price on her head.”

All active assassination contracts are displayed in Night’s Finger, a process that allowed the potential victim to outbid the person who placed the contract, often creating a bidding war of sorts.

“Couldn’t she just buy it out?”

“Not if her available money is tied up in some other pressing venture,” said Vethri. “It is worth checking…”

“…And asking about Ulfgorr while you are there,” added Eiskra, grinning.

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Night’s Finger is one of the most recognizable structures in Myrrhn. Visible from several islands away, it thrusts arrogantly into the sky, crooked and irregular looking. Its odd appearance is due to the fact that it is actually several adjoining towers that have been built into and atop each other over time.

Night’s Finger dominates the Bonemarket, a small district island in the middle of the Myrrhnese archipelago. The tower itself is off-limits to most, save for the foyer at the very bottom where the public can access various records related to assassinations and buy contracts.

More important clientele can arrange meetings with representatives of The Guild at one of the Luxurious hotels or brothels on Bonemarket, or elsewhere in the city.

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I arranged to meet Murith at the bottom of Night’s Finger, but shortly after entering the Bonemarket I sensed someone was following me. Rather than trying to throw them off my trail, I merely stopped and waited.

After a moment an old woman approached me.

“Ragnar, how did you know?” said a familiar voice; Carmen, once an apprentice to my enemy, Sildus.

It took me a moment to see lithe, beautiful Carmen through the wrinkles. I laughed.

“I had no idea, actually. Just though I was being followed. You should have been more patient my friend.”

“Ugh,” Carmen’s wrinkled prosthetic face took on a sour look briefly. “Your friend Murith arrived early with a watch delegation. They are meeting with Guild representatives. Since this disguise is now useless, I want to change. How about you follow me?”

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