January, 2010


20
Jan 10

**ANVIL ROCK: Another Lost Story**

By John Shirley

He stood at the window, looking out at the gray afternoon; the chill sea stretched out, waiting  with vast, cold assurance below his cliffside house.

Grigsby had managed not to go to the locked closet for three weeks. He did drugs, he got drunk, he gambled, he chased women. It kept him away from the closet. He knew full well these things were vices; he knew it wasn’t good for him to distract himself that way. But he reasoned that it was better than opening the closet.

Now, standing by the window, his back to the closet—but feeling its pull, which was surely, oh most definitely just in his imagination—he thought about destroying the machine locked within it. But he didn’t move; he didn’t go to the tool shed for the sledge hammer. He simply stood looking out the window. It was winter in British Columbia, and the sea, constrained by the rocky islands of the Sound, shrugged its chill gray body restlessly, thrashing to white spume against the rocks. Very cold, that water would be. Very cold.

Perhaps…he could go somewhere else. Somewhere earlier. But it always happened that he merged with his earlier self, remembering where he’d come from—remembering the future—but able to make only minor changes in the past. So he’d be drawn as if through a sluice to that  Spring day overlooking Anvil Rock, though it took years to get there.

Perhaps he might perfect the machine, to go elsewhere…before his birth. Or to go somewhere after his death. But…

But it called to him now.

Try again. This time you can save her. This time…

Strange phrase, that, ‘this time’. In view of…what he’d learned. “‘This time,’” Grigsby murmured. “This time. This time.”

The phone rang. Stopped ringing. Rang again. Stopped ringing. Rang again. Again, again.

It was Sanguelo, of course. He was always very insistent. He would want clarity on the new mine in Santo Miguel. He would want to know if the proper Brazilian authorities had been bribed. Ring. He would want to know if Grigsby were going to supervise the open-pit mine himself. Ring, ring. If the gold assay was indeed confirmed. Ring, ring, ring. If their legal problems had been dealt with…

“Go the hell away!” Grigsby shouted, never turning from the window; his voice rattling the glass.

As if chastened, the phone stopped ringing.

Grigsby snorted. “First time he’s…” His voice trailed off. He gazed out the window.

The key in his pocket seemed to press against his hip. The key to the closet.

Grigsby felt the shift inside him that meant he was going to give in. He wasn’t going to go to Vancouver to find women, to take drugs, to throw money at a card table; to feel himself slowly burning away, like a slow fuse. No. He was going to do something worse. It was worse because it seemed hopeless. Maddeningly hopeless. Because it meant reliving that day.

He was sorry he’d ever funded Kosinksi’s research. “I can take your consciousness back in time. It remains to be seen if your body can go…”

Anybody else would have sent him packing, after mad-sounding remarks of that kind. Many had, in fact—Kosinsky had already tried over a hundred possible funders. Grigsby had been a long-shot—he was interested in funding research into mine engineering, not quantum theory, not time travel. But Kosinski was his wife’s nephew, and he was sentimental about her memory, so…he’d given him some money to work with. And then, a year later, it had happened and he’d gone desperately to Kosinski and then…

Who knew?

He should have shot the bastard, not paid him. But maybe this time…

He sighed, and turned away from the window, walked across the empty room to the closet, and unlocked it. Inside was…

#

“Hey Dad! Are we going or not!”

Grigsby looked up from his PC to see his daughter,  Maria, smiling nervously at him from the doorway. She was an earnest, deeply tanned graduate student—very nearly always, as now, in jeans and work-shirt — with her mother’s long wavy black hair and her father’s blue eyes; and now she had that “There’s something I want to talk to you about” look. She liked to have these talks, always about something she regarded as deeply serious and epochal, in fine restaurants, on the beach, in the back of a cathedral, someplace that seemed to impart drama to the discussion. Today it was a walk along the cliffs near his sprawling house.

It would be her house, one day, he thought. She was his only child and her mother was five years in the grave. If she would just wait for her time—let him be himself while she waited—

“Coming, dad?”

“You bet. We taking a lunch?”

“No, I’m going to make lunch for you on the deck, after. It’s a beautiful day…”

He looked wistfully at his email. Jose Sanguelo had a very urgent tone—was quite disturbed about the bad publicity, the sudden judicial interference in Grigsby Gold Mines Ltd, when all had been so sweetly copasetic with the Brazilian authorities for so many years. Still, it would keep an hour or so.

He stood and looked for his coat—and then saw that she was holding it out to him, smiling.

#

Yellow crocuses were blooming along the cliff path, waving in the wind amidst  new grass. The grass had a fresh greenness, that seemed the very color of innocence. The breakers below were cottony white, in the Spring sunshine, almost the same color as the few wispy clouds in the turquoise sky. A brisk wind whipped their hair, it was true, but there was nearly always a wind here.

“You still seeing that lawyer kid?” he asked her.

His daughter laughed and shook his head. “Oh my God, if he could hear you call him a lawyer kid. He’s thirty one.”

“Just seems boyish to me, I guess. More like just out of college.”

“Because he’s an idealist?”

“There’s being an idealist and then there’s being silly. He always pushes everything too far.”

“Well…he doesn’t, dad. I mean…I met him when he was working with Amnesty International, in Sao Paulo—they’re very established and serious. They’re not some flaky organization. The UN respects them.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t respect the UN either. What was it you wanted to talk to me about? You had that earnest carrying-the-world-on-your-shoulders look.”

She scowled. That face-transfiguring scowl she inherited from her mom. From pretty to ridiculous in a split second. “It’s pretty serious, dad.” She dropped the scowl and stopped at the peak of the cliff, turning to gaze at him, hair whipping around her face. She brushed a few strands from her eyes, squinting in the bright sunlight. “What I carry on my shoulders is my karma—you’ve paid for everything I have with blood money.”

He stared at her. She’d tasked him about his mines before but never so self righteously, so bluntly. “So—would you like to repay me the college funds? Like me to take away the annuity?”

“I won’t be taking the annuity anymore, actually. And you may need the money, for your own lawyers. Dad—” Maria made a sound that was something close to a moan. “I had to help Joel when he—he’s representing the Santos family.”

He felt like he’d been struck by a baseball bat. “Your fiancé is representing the people who’re suing me?”

“The Santos brothers have moved to Vancouver. And…” She licked her lips. “I think I’m getting chapped up here. Maybe we should go in the house.”

“No! Just stay right there and tell me exactly what you mean by you had to ‘help’ him!”

“I…copied some of your files. The money transfers to Colonel Vega. Dad, you paid those soldiers to murder those people so they’d stop talking about the cyanide from the mine—so they’d keep quiet about your company poisoning the village. What was I going to do? I…look, you’re my dad and I love you. I didn’t want to just…screw you over, even for a good cause, from a…like, from a distance. I wanted to tell you face to face what I’d done. I think you should own up to it and…pay restitution. I mean, up here, you’re not likely to be prosecuted for hiring—”

“I didn’t hire anybody to kill anyone anywhere!”

Of course it was a lie. But he had learned that lies work best when you’re deeply insistent, over and over. And he was never going to cop to having anyone killed—especially not to Maria.

“Dad—I know what you did. You were sloppy about the emails. We have the money trail. You paid to kill those people to keep them quiet. And…it has to end. I mean, Joel told me about it and I…couldn’t believe it. I thought of you as tough and conservative and even ruthless but –not without human feelings. I figure you managed to…to forget they were people too, for awhile. I know you have human feelings, dad. You were good to me and mom. Mostly. But…”

“So Joel poisoned your mind!” (Why was he saying that, again? This time…he must remember. The closet. The closet. The future. He must…but it was so hard to believe it, so hard to…)

“Dad—should we go over the paperwork? You made me an officer in the company and I…on that authority I gave it to the prosecutor. Now like I said he won’t be able to—”

“You gave…you let that boy tell you what to think and you turned your own father in…you….” (No! This time he…but he felt so caught up, so angry, so…) “You treacherous little bitch! I ‘m already under investigation for taxes—” All the blue had sucked out of the sky—it seemed white now, with veins of red. The sea seemed to roar in fury—in demand. The wind whined in pity for him—stabbed in the back by his own child…a child he had given everything to!

“I didn’t know that you were under—”

“And now you’re going to help them destroy me! You already have!” (This time, remember—the closet—but the feeling was so strong, so…)

“Dad—it has to stop! It’s a matter of conscience! Someone has to—to stop people like you! I’m so ashamed of our family, of the way we live of—”

That was what did it. Ashamed of our family.

He lashed out, backhanded her, and she staggered for a moment, teetered, and there was a second when he might have, might have, might have caught her. (Now! Remember! The closet, you–)

But then Maria was falling backwards over the cliff, screaming. Falling, falling. Striking Anvil Rock below…And he was looking over the edge, wanting to throw himself after her, but not having the courage.

Seeing the dark red splash around her head, below, diluting to pink when the wave of high tide  washed over her…

Then the machine in the closet detected the ‘moment of return’ setting and he was caught up in a vortex, screaming, twisting…stopping.

Swaying in the dusty closet. Sobbing in the darkness.

He fumbled for the door, opened it, stepped blinking out into the room, with only moments having passed from the time he’d entered the closet. The winter light came pale through the window of the barren room; the room that had been Maria’s bedroom.

He closed the closet door behind him and went to the window.

How many times is that? he asked himself. He thought about it. How many times have I gone back?

At least three hundred.

Next time. Next time, the three hundred and first time.

Next time he wouldn’t kill her.

[end]


18
Jan 10

*THE CLOUD OF UNSEEING: A Lost Story*

By John Shirley

“No one may leave here,” said the Leader. “We must commune with the great Cosmic Eye. And after–”

“And after,” interrupted Smythe, who had  catalyzed this rebellion against the Leader  of the Sect of the Cosmic Eye, “there will be  more of the same. You will interpret the Eye’s signals in a way convenient to you–as ever!”

There was a murmur of agreement from the sect’s assemblage in the great hall they’d built in the forest. “Wait!” called Luella Fiske, known for her flares of inspiration. “Yes, our leader got lost in vanity and fell into darkness! Let us pray to the Eye and ask if the leader gives us light—or darkness!”

Even as she said it the Eye at the Center of the Cosmos sent its reply: Though bright with noon light, in the next moment the room was plunged into unbroken darkness; an obscurity deeper than eclipse enwrapped them. The Leader yelped in fear,  ran gibbering out of the building—and was blinded by the sunshine when he passed out of the pool of black the Eye had imposed.

The others chose to stay in complete darkness, until the Eye should lift the shadow on its own. As the days and nights passed, their other senses became more acute, as if the darkness forced them to subtler feelings, an exquisite sensitivity that slowly allowed them to see again using a light conducted from within, so that the pool of darkness slowly dissolved, and they saw the world once more. Then they went their own way, none of them ever needing a Leader to tell them about the great Eye again, since they each  looked on the world with the eye of the Eye…

[end]


15
Jan 10

** THE LOVELY BONES**

Movie review by John Shirley
The Lovely Bones
The man who managed to film Lord Of The Rings has chosen to adapt the introspective afterlife novel The Lovely Bones, and once again he’s taken some liberties. But the result is a surprisingly seamless fusion of Hitchcock and Salvador Dali.

As with LOTR, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s Bones is the sum of its aesthetic choices, times the auteur’s vision. Jackson brings a vibrant surrealism and suspense to the adaptation, and it says a lot that he chose Brian Eno to do the music for it. Spoilers below.

The Lovely Bones is the story of young Susie Salmon, who’s murdered by a serial killer, and who then observes the aftermath as a ghost. A girl in her early teens, Susie is compellingly played by the luminous Saoirse Ronan. She observes the grief of her family, and their floundering responses as the police consider every possible suspect but the right one; she experiences an afterlife that seems a strangely logical mix of its own rules and her internal world. (In places it’s a little like a subtler version of What Dreams May Come, without the philosophy-and without a Cuba Gooding, Jr). She resists complete absorption into the next world, drawn back to psychically finger the residue of her own uncompleted life.

The novel’s story is told by the murdered girl. In the book, Susie says: “My murderer was a man from our neighborhood. My mother liked his border flowers, and my dad talked to him once about fertilizer.” This voice, as voice-over, usually simple, sometimes penetrating, neatly interlaces and tightens the film’s narration. The use of voiceover is famously a cinematic bugaboo, a chain holding many films back – it mars Kubrick’s otherwise brilliant film noir, The Killing – but occasionally it can work, and here’s the occasion. Saoirse Ronan’s voiceover brings the first-person voice of the novel into the film, so that we feel haunted by her as we watch events unfold. Jackson uses the voiceover just enough, and in just the right places.

We know early on – as in the novel – that Susie Salmon will be murdered, because she tells us so. But somehow Jackson makes us afraid for her anyway, though her doom is a kind of fait accompli from the first. Jackson stretches out the suspense about who does it for awhile, but by the end of the first act you know it’s “Mr. Harvey.” The psychopathic Mr Harvey, a predator who can be just charming enough to be well camouflaged, is played with creepy brilliance by Stanley Tucci – you absolutely know that this character is a guy from your neighborhood who’s very fussy about his flowers, very punctual, lives alone. You accept that he builds dollhouses – perhaps miniature houses is a better description – as a hobby. And somehow his little quirks quite logically dovetail with the fact that he likes to rape, murder, and dismember young girls. We infer we shouldn’t trust people who are too neat, wound too tight, and too charming. Good advice. The scenes where Mr. Harvey stalks Susie, and entraps her in the little pre-adolescent play-chamber he builds, like a dollhouse, under the cornfield – a resonantly symbolic setting – are quite frightening. One knows what will happen, and it doesn’t help. Jackson’s skills at suspense and the elucidation of fear – the bringing of background fear cracklingly into the foreground, at precisely the right moment – are powerfully in evidence.

The afterlife of The Lovely Bones has its various facets, like the Bible’s “many mansions”; there is a kind of dark afterlife bardo feel to part of it, but there’s also the freedom of living one’s dreams, in a light-hearted way, as a fourteen year old girl. Never forget, when Jackson shows you her afterlife, that it’s her afterlife. It’s the afterlife of a girl in her early teens. In one segment that might strike some as a bit airyfairy, there is a Little Prince style planet; there are butterflies and teen-fantasy outfits. She even sees herself fleetingly on the cover of a teen magazine. But this isn’t your afterlife. It’s the afterlife of a girl who had teen heartthrob photos on her bedroom wall. That sequence is not overlong, and it makes sense. And it’s just a portion of her life-after-death – other parts are almost Mordor-like; are certainly fraught with symbol and infused with a living presence, so that we’re never surprised when it responds to psychological impulses from Susie or the mortal world. The scenes in the Next World are often spectacular – and yet they meld potently with the drama of the mortal world.

Susie’s relationship with her father, likably played by Mark Wahlberg, is more powerful than her relationship with her mother – Rachel Weisz—whom we know largely from her grief. Her father is obsessed with finding her killer, and is thoroughly unsuited for it – eventually, spiritually guided by Susie in an understated way, he intuits the killer’s identity. When he tries to do something about it, his fury bears bitter fruit, in keeping with the film’s theme of acceptance over hatred.

It may be that the second act, at times, doesn’t quite cohere, doesn’t always lead immaculately into the third. Occasionally it seems episodic. But the film’s imagery and characters exert a pull that draws us relentlessly along, and the third act plays out compellingly.

Susie’s sister is the one who finds the evidence the blind, flailing adults overlook while Susan Sarandon, as the alcoholic, bohemian grandmother — holds the family together. Chainsmoking, endearingly incompetent , the character is wonderful, completely convincing, and sometimes quite funny. Sarandon may get a best-supporting-actress nomination for this – she simply becomes this woman.

Susie’s murder has been with us from the first, in a way, but chronologically it comes right after she meets a stunningly Byronic young immigrant from Britain (reminiscent of the young man the girls love from the Twilight pictures), who might have been her soul-mate… had she not been murdered; had her life, with all its drama and joy, its highs and troughs not been brutally, maddeningly, senselessly and oh-so-pointlessly interrupted. This is one of the film’s most poignant throughlines, and provides some of its emotional resolution, in time. Just in time – to rescue an ending that some might find a little unsatisfying.

The film strays in some places from Sebold’s narrative, but the end belongs to the novel, a resolution as much emotional as plot-driven. It’s a denouement written by an artist, not by a Hollywood screenwriter. There must have been some Suits feeling angst over that ending, when the studio distributors saw it. (I notice they aren’t spending a lot of money promoting The Lovely Bones.) Not that it’s a bad ending – it’s just deep. And they don’t like deep. Will they recognize the cunning symbolism of the faces in the dollhouse windows? The little ships suddenly taking shape in the bottles?

I found the ending to be just frustrating enough — about as frustrating as our world is. And it is another example of choices defining an adaptation. Some fans of the book may carp about certain freedoms Jackson took, but most will hopefully see that in this very creative, authoritative film Peter Jackson preserves the characters, the theme, the dread, the delight found in the novel – and has added just enough of his own.


15
Jan 10

Sample of a fantasy novel I wasnt sure I should continue with…

It was called NORTHMEN…here’s the opening I wrote…

PART ONE

A BLADE DIVERTED MAY FIND ANOTHER MARK

CHAPTER THE FIRST

“If you do not prove yourself in this battle, young Wulfgar,” said Saemunder, his face flickering in the campfire light, “then the Chieftain will find another use for you. You will become a hide-scraper or a scullery boy–and there is no shame in those occupations.” After a moment, using both dirty age-mottled hands to stroke the two forks of his long yellow and white beard, the cadaverous old man added, “If, that is, you are not smote crushingly on the head, or otherwise killed, as for example being spitted by a pike.” Saemunder had an unfortunate penchant for gruesome details, in imagining how others might find their ending—he could make many a grizzled combat veteran wince.

“I will not be a hide scraper, nor especially a scullery boy,” declared Wulfgar the Younger, choosing not to take offense. “My father offered to buy me out of this battle,” he went on, dreamily watching the sparks rise from the campfire. It was one of some five hundred Northmen campfires flickering red across the dark plain of Baltis, and marking the bivuouac of Squorri’s army: there were almost as many red campfires as red sparks at this one.  “I could have accepted a postponement for a year or two,” the boy went on. “I am only fourteen summers—and fifteen is the usual calling-time for warriors. But…” And as always when he boasted, he was aware that he was Stepping Wrong, as his fighting mentor, the warrior Bolle put it, but was unable to stop himself. “…I would not have it that way. I have had my manhood wetted, and I would have my sword wetted as well.” In that comparison, he was quoting the popular Boy Skaldlets, who sniggeringly exchanged such glib, fashionable turns of phrase in song, usually something to do with taking women.

“Yes I heard that you took advantage of that addle-pated Hilga with the Red Patch, and I regretted it,” said Saemunder.

“Took advantage! She tackled me in the furze!”

“And how? You were wandering about woolen-headed as usual, thinking on things not at hand. You were not alert, and so did not elude her! You should have waited for a god-sanctioned coupling!”

“My father says no one waits for that.”

Saemunder snorted. “Your father…” He thought better of finishing the remark, and veered its beginning to another course. “… gave you some wine for the battle?”

“Yes but it is four hours to dawn. You may drink it—it is not the wine of  berserking. I tried that once, when I was blooded, and I could not bear the headache. I am quite capable of finding my own spirit rage. If you want to drink it, then by all means do so if it will stop your mouth.” The boy—called Wulf more often than Wulfgar– was accustomed to speaking to the old man with this disrespect, since in fact Saemunder, though a skald, was just a family retainer, a servant—a freed slave—who could scarce see anymore, could hear well only in one ear, and was a carrier of more fleas than good advice.

Wulf tossed the wine gourd to the old man,  and huddled deeper into his wolfskin, one hand on the sword lying across his knees. The old dented steel broadsword  was too heavy for him, really. He was tall for his age, but lean, his wrists were thin; his arms slender. Even grasping the sword hilt with two hands, the only way he could accurately swing it, he became tired in a few minutes of hewing. (Not that he’d hewed at anything but leathern dummies with it.) And battles could go on and on.

Saemunder drank, Wulf watched the sparks, blinked in the smoke, listened to the murmur of voices, mingled with snores, from the other campfires. The fire was dying down and they had no more of the branches Saemunder had carried from the Western Wood, on the edge of the plain, scavenged when they’d first come ashore and foraged. The wood had been near picked clean—and there was no going far to the East. There were the settlements of the Russ and beyond them, the Baltis fortress of the Elnahere, with its pale, wraithlike inhabitants, its sorcerers and diabolical war machines.

Now, musing, wondering if this were really the last night of his life—it was hard to believe!–Wulf tried to see if, as Bolle had told him, each individual campfire spark went to an individual star, overhead, and added its fire to the star’s. He could smell the sea, the Sea of Baltessa, on the breeze that snapped the flames, coming from just a few leagues away. The plains of Baltis ended, to the south, at stony, foot-bruising beaches and the cold gray sea where the longships of Sqorri’s Northmen were anchored.

The Russ knew they were here, knew they were more than a-viking; knew they were an invasion of conquest, and by now the Russ armies were massing to meet them, to the North, at dawn. How many men in that army? The Russ were said to be able to raise at least a thousand, and one of them, perhaps dozing at a fire like this one, somewhere to the southeast, might be the one who would shatter a boy’s head, as in Saemunder’s dolorous foreseeing; might be sharpening the ax he would use even now. Or he might be the one who—perhaps clumsy with drink, for the Russ without exception drank heavily before battle—might find first Wulf’s blade in his throat. Wulf had killed bear and deer, with great excitement, in the course of a chase. Once, too, he had killed a half-animal, one of the beetle-brows, the Hemf: fur-backed men.  of the mountains. The Hemf he had killed with an arrow, almost by chance. That was scarcely killing a man, though the beast had worn an animal skin about his groin, and a liontooth on a thong about his neck.

Could Wulf kill a man? Bolle had said it was surprising how many strong men—brave men too—quailed when it came to killing other men, face to face. Killing from afar with a spear or an arrow, this was more palatable, easier than seeing the light of life in a man’s eyes and knowing you must snuff it out forever. Krincl, who had clashed with Wulf so often, had always seemed eager and ready to kill men and had done so already, having helped in the reaving of a family who resisted being taken slave when Krincl and his father went a-viking.

Bolle had said: “You must first be willing to kill, and then you must know for a certain that you will kill that man, and if you believe it more than he believes it, then even if he is a better fighter, you will likely be the victor.”

Wulf wished Bolle were here now. But the clanleader was likely asleep—he was proud to say he always slept deeply before a battle—at the tents of the men protecting Sqorri.

Saemunder was halfway into the wineskin, the decanting leading to incanting, a recitation of The Villainy of Gorevulfe, and Wulf was nodding, half in and out of sleep…seeing, in the embers of the fire, the red patch of fur between Hilga’s thick thighs, in the furze…Actually, she’d tackled him twice. He’d tried to leave after the first release, overcome by his own sensations and reeling with the reek of her. But she’d dragged him back for one more.

If he couldn’t out wrestle a stocky girl, could he survive battle? Wulf tried to remember the chant of  invulnerability taught him by Broon, the sorcerer—at the cost of a piece of silver and two coppers– although Bolle did not approve. If you are going to use sorcery, Bolle would say, then use true sorcery. Do not put your confidence in the prattling of old wives even if their prattle is heard in the mouths of old men. Find a true sorcerer—a Seer of the Inner Stone

But a Seer of the Inner Stone, if not mythical, was at least not at hand—was not known in the Northlands apart from rumor. The title Seer of the Inner Stone made Wulf shiver to contemplate. Was the man’s heart turned to stone? How cold he must be! Who could trust such a man? A man’s heart must be stony in battle—but to live that way…

Wulf yawned, deciding to let the Fate Spinners decide if he would live through the morrow, and had just stretched out on the ground to sleep when a multitude gave vent to war cries, on the dark plain to the  Northeast–and he knew it was not the war shout of Northmen.

“The Russ!” Saemunder cried, standing, swaying—actually dropping the wineskin in surprise. “There was no thought that they would come in the night! This is not done! This is not permitted! This is not—”

The rest of his commentary was caught up in the pandemonium, the general shouting and clashing of arms, the thumping of boots, the swish and roar of torches as men rushed by, swords in one hand and blazing sticks in the other. Most of them were rushing toward the fight, to their credit–but not all.

Then he was running, sword in his two hands, wolf cloak flapping at his back,           boots hammering the ground, toward the fight, following the lights of converging torches, the shouting, the war cries, the screams of men. He was distantly aware that Saemunder was coming along behind, calling for him to run away from the battle.

I am running to my death, he thought. Does that make me a fool or a hero?

But he noticed a strange thing then, that more Northmen were coming toward him, their mouths open–their eyes hollow places in their skulls, with the flaring shadows, their beards whipping—than were going toward the fight. What shame was this? Were these normally fearless warriors running from battle?

A few strides more and the moon broke through the clouds, shedding more light on the chaotic scene, the desperate men streaming by. He came to a low rise, a ripple in the plain, and he saw the reason for their panic:

A vast army , many on horseback, was  limned in steel and moonlight. He saw the advancing shield wall of the Russ, notable for the bull’s head, a snorting beast painted on each oval shield, black against yellow. Beyond the shield wall was another, and a third, and a great mass of men behind; in advance of the shield wall horsemen in bright armor were skirmishing, pursuing the fragments of the broken, hastily improvised Northmen line.

And he beheld a strange thing: the horsemen were pale figures with long black hair and dark eyes, their lean faces shorn of beards—at first glance like children in the armor of men, to one of Wulf’s tribe, who were always bearded—and they carried long narrow triangular shields of polished steel, with no emblem at all on them. Their horses, too, were armored, and  many of the horsemen carried lances that spat a blood-red lightning, striking men down before the lancepoints found their hearts…