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Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Casting Runes

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
 
 
     The mocking cackle of crows drawled hollow through the leaden air. Its breath ruffled ashen leaves, stirring the iron scent of blood through banners that hung silent in glory and horror. The smell of smoke moved stiffly behind it; burned trees, burned flesh; corpses caught by the last wandering flames.
     A warrior, painted with blood, gilded with wounds, cast his eyes over the sun-bathed fields. Even now he could hear female voices raised in warsong. But where once they'd thrummed like a pulse in his ears, now they were soft, and as golden as the moor.
     Motion dragged his listless gaze up towards the sun.
     Dark shapes were circling.
     They grew larger as he watched them, descending, angling through the updrafts like silver eagles. Timeless sun glinted from low steel helms.
     Then an awesome, strangling terror dragged him suddenly to his knees, and his gaze crashed to the ground.
     With a clatter, a shadow fell.
     The air stiffened. The silence beneath the rattle of armour was deafening, beneath the sure and measured steps of booted feet. It grew worse as they ceased, at the clunk of a weapon butt striking the blood-spattered ground before him.
     Foolish curiosity lifted his gaze. The same primal horror cast it right back down.
     The valkyrie's presence pressed heavily upon him as she tucked away her vast, steel-tipped wings. "Cunning," her voice was a terrible melody, "restraint, patience; you have exercised experience and demonstrated great wisdom. This has brought you victory, and with it a glorious death. Rise, Viskhugr. You are being summoned."
     The warrior's eyes tore up to her in shock. Her own were concealed beneath her visor, but her round lips were passive. "This battle is not worthy of my death," he dared. "There is no glory in this worthy of Valhalla! There is more I can yet do! Do not insult me - let me earn my place in blood and true glory, not through pity or spite!"
     Beautiful lips pulled back in a snarl, as promising of swift injury as a wolf's. "We do not open the way to Valhalla through pity or spite. If we pitied you, you would be left to struggle and die in your bed. If we felt spite, we would strip you of your weapons and set you back upon the field. You would join Hel - or worse, the ranks of haugbui or draugr. It is through our graces that you are here in this moment. You have earned this honour, your place in Valhalla, through blood and through wisdom."
     A ruffle of wings drew his eye. Twenty-one ravens had gathered, perching upon axe, shield and rock around him. Not one of them picked at the bodies with the crows. Their abyssal black eyes fixed him astutely.
     "Glory," her voice rose again, "is delivered by more than axe alone."
     But he could only shake his head. "...No." His gaze returned to her, wild and desperate. "No. Not like this."
     She didn't move. Her lips didn't curl. Instead, she waited. Another gust of blood-tinged breeze stirred the grass. Her tone was steel when she finally spoke.
     "You vowed to bring your clan to greatness. You vowed to rise, yourself, to the einherjar, to die in blood and glory. That same heart drove this battle; its path to victory was shaped by the same determination - your own planning and forward thinking. You enforced your ideas, set them into action. You have made no blind, blustering declarations; you have not led your clan heedlessly with naught but a rallying cry into the edges of axes.
     "You used your enemies' habits against them. You trusted in their flaws, used your intuition in the absense of theirs. They wouldn't presume you would emerge from the forest, themselves so fearful of its denizens, nor that you should offer tribute to these denizens and use the world around you rather than steel or fire alone.
     "Despite the unorthodox approach, your clan trusted in your leadership as they would in a father, though but three are your own blood. Because you had proven yourself before, completed your rite of passage and set others out on their own. You have overseen your people, guided by axe, and by wisdom, and by the will of the All-Father. None could doubt in your plans."
     "That is not enough," he blustered, but her lips didn't change.
     "No? You have brought harmony to five clans, turning to bloodshed only when needed. Your actions are considered. For that, your own people remain safe, fed and unchallenged, and you have won the loyalty of the rest. You fight the wondrous compulsion of battle and bloodshed when it will not bring victory, mastering your own willpower, while at all times moving forwards, trampling your enemies even in passivity. You have mastered your strength, of body and mind.
     "You retained faith in your own ideas, even while the enemy turned the tide and your warriors sought to return to the bear-headed tactics they learned in the womb. You held fast. And your clan rallied - for their trust, even in the stirrings of a slipping victory, was unbreakable. They trusted your confidence."
     "We should have failed. We only gained the upper hand because of--"
     "Wind. It shifted and dragged a sheet of smoke from the forests the vaesen permitted to be burned."
     "My plan failed. It was luck."
     "And yet many accept that luck is a foundation of life. Fate. Change. Reward. Punishment."
     "Luck is meaningless!"
     "Only because you fear that you could not alter it. No man has control over every aspect of his life. Those who believe otherwise exercise it poorly. These, who disregard fortune, fate, who take everything into their own hands, for their own gain - they are always dealt with." A smile of amusement vaguely touched her lips. "Do not look so frightened. You led your people into this glorious battle because it was necessary. And when luck favoured you, you embraced it. You chose this battle - so did your people - and they followed you away from practiced tactics, into new dangers and risks, and succeeded. You embraced its necessity, and made a wondrous thing of it, knowing that death and change would strike harder if you resisted. You did not succumb to fear. You did not succumb to the arrogance of past victories. You stayed true to yourself, and your clan stayed true to you.
     "The arrival of these heretics would break your world. Upon this, you understood, did you not, that there was more to fight for than land, wealth, food and retribution? That is what led you to this battlefield. This battle was not an effort to reach Valhalla. This was an effort to retain your people's identity. And so, my sisters and I have come. To deliver you, Viskhugr, and others, to Valhalla."
     But the warrior said nothing. Axe clutched tightly in his hands, his eyes roved over the crimson earth as though searching for options - answers, or a way out.
     The valkyrie saw this through an impenetrable visor. She hefted her battlespear, and the ring of fine steel blades sang through the stillness as her magnificent wings unfolded. "Still you reject it." Her tone was unchanging; stubborn and patient. "Do not forget your lessons of life in death. The beating of your heart is fleeting; the wisdom of ages that has shaped your identity - that is carved in stone. Your life and its trials were leading to this moment. To this judgement. Do not shun it through pride, through blind conviction of power, or because it did not fit your expectations. Were these not also lessons that you learned?"
     Slowly, his eyes lifted, darkened by shame. Her chin followed in satisfaction.
     With a graceful sweep of her outstretched wings, she rose up above him. Every gust from their powerful beats stirred red dust into the dying smoke. "Trust your soul to me. Abandon fear, and embrace your reward. You have been judged and called. This is what you have been seeking. Now you have found it. Rise."
     The sunlight dulled.
     Winged figures, eternally glinting, launched into the air from across the battlefield, whipping plumes of smoke and embers in their wake. Banners snapped in the gusts. Heat dulled the glint of shields. Crows cawed. Their mockery was lost in the roar of warsong.
     His fingers tightened about the axe hilt.
     Another plume erupted as he stood up on his feet.

 
This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2021 Kim Wedlock



Friday, 4 June 2021

Veysuul - Book Cover Reveal

It's cover reveal day!


     I'm so excited about this cover. I'm always excited about them, but this was ambitious, and suits the final installment of a trilogy that I've poured the vast majority of my time into over the past seven years. I've had help and guidance from the wonderful Frenone on readability, and have come out with something I'm genuinely proud of, and I hope does the trilogy justice.


     The gold and embroidery were some of my favourite things to paint, and the hands easily the worst. But I learned a lot through the project - and through writing it, too - and that in itself is always a win. I really hope you all like it!

 

Veysuul will be available for Kindle pre-order on July 1st
and will be released with paperback on August 1st 2021.