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

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




“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…

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