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’ War 3.29

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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.

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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.

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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…

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.46

Here it is, a bit late, but full of goodness nonetheless.

This is my weekly serial, you can find the first post here.

If you need to catch up a bit here is last week’s post.

Here is a helpful guide.

“Come now, old wolf, my spear thirsts!” said Thyra, showing her teeth as she smiled.

I smiled, despite the grim reminder of my shame. The other Nordan in the room, those who would see my name dragged in the mud, who would scoff at me in my exile, who nipped at my heels in my shame, looked at the two of us askance. Despite the tales and sagas, we always seem to forget that their are honourable people even among enemies and exiles. Thus when Thyra Hurnsdottir, the unbroken spear, a hero among them sought my company loud and bold, many of them stared.

Of course, Thyra had ever spoken in my defence, even on the day when I was banished.

“Your spear will get its fill this day,” I said.

I must admit that I was touched. Myrrhn is a grand old city, and it is my home as much as the North is now, but I still ache for the acceptance of my people. I still yearn to overcome my failure and cast off the yoke of exile.

“As will the blades of anyone who is willing to join you,” I added. Joining Ragnar the exile was too much for many of these men, even against the Devout, but going into battle with Thyra Hurnsdottir was a different story.

Harald Magnison and his sons stood.

“By Furis’s Bloody axe,” said Harald, looking as if he had just swallowed a pint of pitch. “My son rests uneasy. I will follow you into battle, exile, and avenge him, even if it means my death.”

His sons echoed his sentiments heartily. They ran their flesh of their forearms, just below the wrists, along the blades of their weapon, sealing their oath in blood. Several others stood and moved to support Thyra: a worthy dozen, hard men and women who had earned their names on the battlefield and were not afraid of the Devout.

“Lead on, Ragnar,” said Thyra.

“This should be interesting,” said Murith, looking up at me through a sea of legs.

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My heart pounded all the harder with Thyra and my countrymen at my back. Visions of glory danced in my head, chased by the fearful hounds of failure. I wanted this to go well. Perhaps I would win redemption this time. Or perhaps even Thyra would turn against me if this went badly.

We raced through the streets, following the signs that the others had left for us, pausing only for a couple of watchmen that Murith trusted. The people of the city gave us a wide berth, and with sergeant Murith at our head, the officials look the other way. I could see the smoke from fires in other places in the city, and my ears picked  up the distant sounds of battle. The Devout had unleashed their distractions it seemed.

We crossed past the Bazaar, over the bridge into the Old Port and then into the junkers of the Clinging Slum, over the Sunken Isle. The Isles of Myrrhn, even the slums, are crowded. The clinging slum is a mass of boats and tiny cliff-dwellings that shelter over the remains of the Sunken Isle and the Old Port. We ventured into the heart of these, earning fearful stares, until we came upon a towering rock thrusting out of the water. In the side of the rock was an old sewer entrance.

The signs pointed down, into the dark tunnels that now lay beneath the waves.

“Will we be able to navigate that?” asked Thyra, looking down the tunnel.

“Looks good as far as I can see,” said Murith.

“If the Devout can manage, so can we,” I answered. “Check your weapons everyone, this looks like a lovely place for an ambush.”

And then I vaulted into the tunnel, striding forward toward the ancient rungs that would take me down into the dark below.

 

Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.45

Tis very late, but I cannot sleep without appeasing the wolf.

Shadow Wolf is my weekly serial, here is the first post.

Here is last week’s post if you missed it.

Here is a helpful guide. And here is a little bit about the Devout.

“He may not believe you Ragnar Grimfang, but I do,” said Thyra Hurnsdottir.

I turned, feeling a chill run down my spine. Thyra Hurnsdottir had not changed very much since we’d last met. She was tall, well-built, and eagle-eyed. Her hair was hidden by her helm, but I knew there was no grey in those red-blonde locks, even though nearly four decades had passed. I could almost picture her covered in mud and gore like that day on the Spearmarch, the day when I died my first death.

For a moment I was there on the field again. I could feel the ground shaking as the enemy charged. So many. Who could have though that a small forest could have disgorged such a blood-feast? The king, the High King of all the North, refused to run. Weather old Sigurd decided to hold his ground out of stubborn pride or to buy time for his family to escape I could not say. I was sworn to hold at his side. I saw my death coming in that screaming horde, Skraelings and murder wights, and muttered a quick prayer to Skygge and Garm.

We met them head on, charging into the onrushing horde. Thyra was beside me. At first we made great headway. Sigurd and his Carls clove into the screaming, frenzied Skraelings, seemingly unstoppable. Bright blades rose and fell, red with blood. The air was thick with the war-shouts of the North and muttered oaths to the gods of my people. It watched a murder wight, fearsome and fell-handed come upon the High King in battle, swinging a dread blade. Old Sigurd caught that terrible sword on his own and struck the wight’s head from its shoulders in a single blow. It was glorious. For that one moment we felt as if we could do anything. I howled and I heard Thyra screaming next to me. Our weapons were light as air, our armour was unbreakable. We pushed on, full of red joy.

And then the tip of our wedge broke. I saw a shadow behind the High King and then he was gone. The tip of our spear was blunted. We began to falter. The remaining murder wights rallied the Skraelings driving them into. The pushed into our lines like blizzard winds through an old barn. The line disintegrated. Men went down. For every Skraeling we killed two more took its place. We fought in knots, then pairs, then finally alone. The tide of bodies drew me away from Thyra and I watched hopelessly as a murder wight came upon her, brandishing a black sword in one hand and the heads of the fallen in the other. I tried to push my way to her, hacking, spitting, cursing. I went berserk, lost myself in the battle-rage and that is all that I remember.

Thyra made her name on the field that day. Where most were killed or cursed, she stood her ground and became a legend. The saga of Thyra Hurnsdottir and the band of ten and how they held the High Kings body until reinforcements came is well known. They were they only survivors of the Kingslaying at Spearmarch not executed or exiled. Such were their deeds.

“Thyra,” I said, looking down.

“Let us not be maudlin, old wolf,” said Thyra. “I have followed rumours of the Devout to this port. I take it as a good sign that you are here to lead me to them. Come now, my spear thirsts!”