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Bjarki’s Saga

Another Chuck Wendig challenge: tell a story in ten chapters, and no more than 1000 words. This one comes to about 720. I think the brevity of the saga style lends itself rather well to the format.

Bjarki’s Saga


One

Bjarki was a Jarl amongst the Northmen, a proud and generous giver of gold and silver; many renowned warriors were in his hird, and the greatest skalds wrote poems of his prowess in battle and of the deeds of his ancestors.

Two
One summer, Bjarki wished to go raiding amongst the peoples across the sea, who were known to possess rich treasures. And so he went to his cousin Gunnlaug and entrusted him the care of his lands during his absence. And Bjarki and Gunnlaug broke bread, and swore oaths to seal their loyalty and friendship, and Bjarki was content.

Three
Then Bjarki took his longboats and his huscarls across the sea. But scarcely had the sails disappeared beneath the horizon before Gunnlaug, treacherous and greedy in spirit, broke his oaths and seized his kinsman’s manor and all his lands.

Four
Bjarki went amongst the people across the sea, and he raided and plundered all summer, and when his longship was filled with treasure, he went home. Suspecting nothing of his cousin’s treachery and longing for the comforts of home, he went to his manor. But there had Gunnlaug laid ambushes; the kinslayer’s sin was in his thoughts. Many of Bjarki’s warriors died that day, and his longboats were burned to ashes, and the Jarl himself, ignominiously, was forced to flee.

Five
Enraged, Bjarki went to the King to plead his case and demand justice. But the King was weak and indecisive, and he held his crown at the pleasure of the Jarls, amongst whom Gunnlaug was now the strongest. And so Bjarki’s claim was denied and he was unjustly exiled from the realm.

Six
Three winters and three summers then did Bjarki wander in the Northlands. And he did many great feats of arms and valour in that time; but always the thoughts of the injustice that had been done to him festered in his mind. And he made no friends in that time, although that would have served an exile well; a wrong having once been done against him, he had come to expect nothing better from any man.

Seven
At last came Bjarki to the lands of Frostinnheim, where the giants dwelled. And the witch-king of the giants held feasts for him, and spoke to him of dark secrets and made many promises that took root in his soul; and so, thirsting for vengeance and restitution, Bjarki renounced his honour, and he swore oaths and entered pacts with demon princes and devil lords and all manner of creatures that wish evil upon mankind.

Eight
Then Bjarki returned from exile, terrible to behold, with an army of trolls and mares and wraiths and many things that walk and fly and slither in the dark; and the royal host took the field against him, but no huscarl or liðsman in the realm could match arms against his foul forces. Struck down was then Gunnlaug the Oathbreaker, and struck down was the King who had denied him justice, and none was there on the blood-soaked field who dared oppose him.

Nine
Now Bjarki was crowned King. But evil had poisoned his soul and body; where once he had ruled as a wise and generous Jarl, he now reigned as a cruel and greedy King. And before long, the realm grew restless, and the people named him Ill-Ruler and Svárta-Jarl and rose up in rebellion against his foul laws. And though Bjarki went forth with great strength and cruelty against those who took arms against him, every part of the realm was filled with dissent; each Jarl did as he pleased and paid no heed to the wishes of the crown.

Ten
At last King Bjarki Ill-Ruler died, having seen only two score and seven summers in his life. But soon after his death, the Emperor of the South brought an army of many knights and archers to the Northlands, and ravaged as it was by many years of strife and torn by dissent, the realm could not withstand him. Thus was the kingdom of the North brought down and added to the lands of the Empire, and this was the end of the freedom of the Northmen. Let this then be the lesson of the life of Bjarki Jarl: That the King rules well that rules wisely and justly, keeping the peace in the realm and securing justice for his people; but treason, dishonour and injustice will bring even the strongest realm to fall.

———
(Image: Detail from “Håkon den Gode og bøndene ved blotet på Mære” by Peter Nicolai Arbo, public domain.)

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Alissa

Time for the weekly Wendig challenge, this week a story written about the excellent picture below, taken by Mr Wendig himself. This one went rather experimental for effect – not sure if it works, so as usual, let me know.

 

Alissa

I met Alissa at an old crooked tree deep in the forest on the hillside where she sat on the trunk swinging her legs and smiling down to me and I had never seen her before but I loved her the moment I saw her I wanted her as I have never wanted anything in my life and I told the tiny little voice at the back of my head that was trying to tell me something was terribly horribly wrong who is she what is she doing out here would you just think about this to shut up and mind its own business

The fog was lying heavy on the ground among the trees just as it always does on the cold mornings when the wind comes down from the mountains and the air was thick with the tangy smell of freshly cut wood pulp and sap from a tree stump nearby she was beautiful with long red silken hair and sparkling green eyes and skin like brilliant swan feathers and she was so not like any of the girls from the village but strange and mysterious like a leannán sí out of the mists of foreign myths like the antediluvian daughters of Cain like the húli jīng that captured the heart of King Zhou and brought a kingdom to fall

Hi she said and I said hi what’s your name I asked Alissa she replied oh God that smile and I sat down in the moss beside the tree and we talked for what seemed like forever about dreams and the mystic names of trees and the flight of the birds and hidden things no one else would understand until the night came can I see you again I asked and she said sure and she smiled that impish little smile that drove me wild and then she jumped down from the trunk ran through the carpet of soft thick moss and was gone among the trees like an long-forgotten apparition or a figment of a half-remembered dream at first light of dawn

I returned to the crooked tree the next day and thank God she was there again and we talked and the next day again and the day after that until one day there was nothing more to say so she jumped down from her tree just as she did every day only this time she did not run away but came to me I kissed her she tasted like pine trees and clear forest lakes and like fresh blackberries and the crisp air in the early spring morning just after it has rained I kissed her again and again my heart raced and soared while all the while the little voice at the back of my head screamed and clamoured and it was all to no avail for I loved her wanted her

I held her in my arms and pressed her close tightly to me as if I would never let her go her body was warm against mine I touched her she touched me her touch was as fleeting as the soft morning breeze among the hills I took her there beneath the crooked tree and afterwards we lay together in the soft moss meanwhile dark clouds had drawn together above us there was a taste of rain on the wind and the thunder rolled in the distance we should go I said

Not yet she said and all of a sudden her voice wasn’t very playful anymore but rather harsh and commanding and as the rain came down in streams all around and the thunder crashed above my skin started itching no it was worse than an itch it was a thousand tiny little tendrils that pierced my skin in a thousand places like little prickly thorns working their way into my flesh and bones I wanted to scream out in pain but I couldn’t I just couldn’t move a muscle

As I looked she twisted and shifted until her so perfect smooth skin had become rough and brown like the pitted bark on an ancient oak tree and her silken red hair were like a thousand leaves and branches only her eyes were unchanged except when she stared deep into mine I saw only the deep remorseless hatred there a hatred which thirsted thirsted thirsted for my blood

Do you see that she asked and pointed to a stump nearby she was my sister she was tall and fair and the strongest among us until someone from your village cut her down so we wept our bitter tears for her and then we swore revenge she whispered to me and lightly kissed my cheek so from your blood a new sister shall grow to keep us safe and hunger for more blood and by her your village shall never know peace again for from now on there shall be war between your people and ours

And Alissa lay down next to me and embraced me tightly and the thorny branches that were growing though my body burst out through my chest my blood flowed out oh God the pain was unbearable and watered the ground around me and as my vision faded the blood-and-rain-soaked moss grew to cover me and Alissa and then there was only pain and then at last mercifully nothing.

—–

(Photo is copyright © 2007 by Chuck Wendig. All rights reserved (except I hope it’s okay to put it here since he asked us to write about it and all)).

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Dragonsbane

It’s very rare that I write poetry, but I got inspired to write this little thing today. I call the style ‘epic vers libre’. Been playing around a bit with the metre – try reading it out aloud to get the best feel for it.

 

Dragonsbane

I stand for a moment in the mouth of the cave,
feeling the icy cold air and the faint smell of sulphur
wafting out from the depths of the mountain.
I am deadly afraid, nigh paralysed with fear
yet I cannot turn back, for my love is within.

My love is within; the villagers took her,
they brought her to this place, our friends and our neighbours.
They held me back, they tried to reason:
“The dragon has awoken, we must pay it our dues.
Would you have all of us perish in flames and in darkness?
She is only one person; a small price to pay for another year’s peace.”
Then they hardened their hearts to my cries and my pleadings,
and carried her off to the depths of the mountain,
a cowardly tribute paid in tears and in blood.

So I curséd their names and their ancestors, spat on their doorsteps,
swore eternal ill will between their houses and mine.
Then I made for the mountain, wearing no mail but my steely resolve,
clutching the rust-covered sword that my father brought back from the wars;
‘twas a far cry removed from the knights of the legends,
clad cap a pied in gleaming plate armours,
hefting their swords that glowed with magics arcane.

But here, today, no knights stand ready,
only I, who am no warrior; but my love is within.
Gath’ring my courage, I enter;
step by step, I press forward to the heart of the mountain.
A single sputtering torch my light in the darkness,
the chilly stone walls dirty and damp to my touch,
the air still heavier with the rank smell of sulphur and rust.

I turn a corner and see it, the dragon!
Majestic in might, clad in black scales,
borne on wings of shadow and fire,
An image of power from the dawn of the world,
immortal in nature, destruction incarnate.

It sees me! and stirs from its rest, rising up, I am dwarfed by its size;
It speaks! a thundering voice that echoes with the weight of the aeons:
“A little human, how quaint. You disturb my sanctum; explain yourself, and quickly!”
Heart racing, shaking with fear, I raise my humble weapon in defiance:
“The woman I love was brought to you as an offer, but she’s not yours to keep;
I demand her release!”

Its contemptuous laughter resounds through the cavern:
“Then come, little man, I will show you your love.”
I follow the wyrm through the tunnels and shafts
till at last we emerge, a cathedral-esque cavern.
On the shores of a lake, a thousandfold marbly-white statues assembled,
I recognise one; I hurry ahead.

I kneel at the statue; ‘tis the shape of my love, but what have they done?
No breath in her lungs, her heart beats no more,
her body mere cold and unyielding stone.
But wait! not wholly of stone: A single bright tear runs down from her eye.
Again, the dragon laughs his contemptuous laughter:
“There, little man, is your precious love.
But as you can see, I fear that all she can offer is a chilly embrace.”

Blinded with wrath, I strike out at the dragon,
slashing with fury at impenetrable scales,
I call out to any divine that will listen,
I run,
I dodge,
a bite,
a strike from the tail,
a breath of fiery death!
Panicked, I jump on its back, climb up to the head
hang on to the horns with every ounce of my strength.
A single frantic stab at the eye, my swordspoint connects!
From the wound a shower of dragonblood burning like acid,
hissing and marking the floor where it falls all around me.
The creature rears up, roars in torment then falls to the ground
flailing about in the anguish of death till at last it lies still.

Now I wander the world, seeking answers and powers,
wearing the intricate silver-weaved mail of the Sidhelien,
and wielding a sword that was forged by the Karamhul lords.
Men call me ‘Dragonsbane’, honours and patronage are thrown at my feet,
but I pay them no heed; the resolve in my heart remains steady, unchanged.
I will wander the world until I hold in my hand the cure to the curse;
then will I return to the mountain
for my love waits within.

——

And as always: Liked or hated it? Or somewhere in between? I really want to know about it, critique and suggestions just as well as any positive comments.

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The Kawazi Return

For this week’s Wenflafillenge (still trademarked), it’s all about dinosaurs. So… what more do you need to know? Dinosaurs! Enjoy!

 

The Kawazi Return

“Chief M’wakane?” Tawake, first among the Zuwi warriors, bowed down before the lion and tiger skin-covered throne. “There is a member of the Kawazi tribe at the main gate. He requests to see you.”

The Chief’s brow furrowed. That was not a name he had expected ever to hear again. It had only been a year since his Zuwi tribe had defeated the neighbouring Kawazi tribe, added the Kawazi lands to their own, and driven the survivors out of the valley, across the western mountains into the Dark Valley from which no scouts ever returned.

Since then, the Zuwi had grown to become the strongest tribe in this valley, and it was just a question of time, Chief M’wakane expected, before they could subjugate the rest of their neighbours and become the masters of this valley. Then they would set their sights on the fertile valleys to the east, and M’wakane would not just be a simple Chief, but a Haza-k-t-Hazi, a Chief-of-many-Chiefs.

“What does he want?” the Chief asked.

“He would not say. Shall I let him inside?”

“No. I will come to the gate.” Being allowed inside the palisade was not an honour one extended to defeated enemies.

The Chief rose from the throne and stepped outside in the warm sun. Presumably, a few Kawazi survivors and stragglers had returned to this side of the mountains, and were now forced to turn to their conquerors for protection. What an irony that was. If they were sufficiently obsequious, the Chief decided, he might even show mercy to them – install them on a small, infertile patch of land as a client tribe.

The envoy was waiting patiently in front of the gates, clad in the ceremonial skins and carrying a leaf of the hngara palm. At least, M’wakane thought, their destitution had not caused the Kawazi to forget about the proprieties of doing politics.

“Welcome back, Kawazi!” the Chief called out. “Have you come to beg for your survival? For some scraps of food from your old lands, maybe?” The warriors surrounding him laughed with contempt, and the Chief looked around, feeling pleased with himself. The envoy, however, looked neither obsequious nor very humiliated.

“I have not, Chief M’wakane!” the envoy replied. “I have come to offer you and the Zuwi the gift of life! We will not repeat this offer. Return our lands to us and leave us in peace, or you will be ruined as you tried to ruin the Kawazi!”

M’wakane felt the rage boil up in his chest. “You vermin!” he shouted. “You dare to come here before our gate and make demands of the Zuwi, of your betters?! Begone, before I forget you are carrying that palm leaf!”

“So be it,” the envoy said, turned his back on the gate and Chief M’wakane, and walked back to the forest.

Still fuming, M’wakane went back inside the gates as Tawake fell in beside him. “Is it wise to just send them away, my Chief?” he said. “What if…”

He paused and listened. A slight tremor had run through the ground.

M’wakane shrugged. “If you are so concerned, Tawake, take a patrol out and…”

The ground had shook again, stronger this time.

“What is going on?” M’wakane said annoyedly, as loud noises began to come from the forest edge and the guards were shouting warnings.

He and Tawake quickly ran back to the gates and climbed up one of the platforms just in time to see a gigantic dinosaur, the height of five or six grown warriors, stepped out into the clearing. Dozens of smaller dinosaurs followed it, a Kawazi warrior riding astride each one.

Realising the imminent danger, M’wakane quickly jumped to the ground and tried rallying his awestruck warriors. “Don’t just stand there! Sound the alarm! Get your weapons! Organise the defences!”

It was too late. To the sound of battle cries and loud roars from their mounts, the Kawazi force charged forward, reaching the palisade wall in seconds. The large dinosaur tore the gate apart in a single blow as if it was kindling. The horde of smaller ones swarmed around its legs through the gate and began slaughtering the unprepared defenders.

One of the riders broke off and rode slowly towards Chief M’wakane. He did not recognise the rider, but his headdress marked him as the Kawazi Chief. M’wakane quickly considered his options – there were none. Unarmed, he had no chance in a fight, but a Chief did not run. As the beast stopped in front of him and looked down, hunger and rage glowing in its eyes, he still could not help but admire it. Indeed, the Kawazi had tamed destruction made flesh.

“Please,” M’wakane said quietly. “Have mercy.”

“If you wanted mercy, Zuwi, you should have accepted it when it was offered,” the Kawazi Chief said curtly and loosened the reins of his mount. With lightning speed, it shot forward and bit off M’wakane’s head in a single bite.

The Kawazi Chief nudged his dinosaur forward, stepping over M’wkane’s body and slowly climbing the ceremonial hill in the middle of the village. Ignoring the violence and destruction around him, he contemplated the mountains beyond which lay the eastern valleys and the ocean. The Zuwi had taught a harsh lesson to the Kawazi, but one that had been well learned. The key to safety lay in subjugation of all those who could threaten them.

He patted the side of his restless mount while the screams of the dying Zuwi and the smoke from the burning huts rose towards the skies. The strength of their new allies would let the Kawazi finish what the Zuwi had started. Soon, they would ride out as a burning, all-consuming storm, they would conquer the valleys, and take for themselves the title of Haza-k-t-Hazi. Then, and only then, would the Kawazi be safe.

 

——

Liked the story? Hated it? Or somewhere in between? Comments are the sweet, sweet manna that nourishes all writers, so tell me about it! And critique and suggestions for improvement are just as welcome as positive comments; I’ll never get better without them.

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