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Thursday 1 July 2021

Veysuul Now Open For Pre-Orders!

   Veysuul is now open for Kindle pre-orders! Paperbacks will follow on release date - August 1st.
   The pre-order is a promotional price and will increase on release day, so be sure to purchase your copy through July!

Here are the most common pre-order links - or you can search 'Veysuul' on your preferred Amazon.

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Wednesday 9 June 2021

Casting Runes

Collaboration with Frenone for a limited-run tarot set

Estimated reading time: 6 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
Written for a collaborative project with Frenone.

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.

Monday 10 May 2021

The Hagfish

Estimated read time: 12 minutes

    The waves don't lap. There is no movement. The sea is dead. The water is haunted.

     The songs of whales and a thousand dead voices were the girl's only company beneath the waves. She was young when it happened, a wee merbairn, and the memories she carried from that hazy time didn't make very much sense. But, young as she was, she didn't try to understand their shapes, shadows or colours, and instead she grew, played and thrived as any other merbairn would have, making do with the whale calves, the shoals, the turtles and the kelp in the absence of anyone else, and wove her young magic into the currents to better their games. She was adored and cared for by every creature in the sea, and none more so than the elder whales. When they knocked and drummed their warnings, they were as much for her as for each other, and they dove as one into the depths while the long, sleek shadows cut rigidly across the waves far above.
     But as much as they loved her, she learned quickly that she was different. The calves weren't as small or as agile, they ate more than she did, and they didn't have to carry a drum to communicate. They also slept more than she did, which often left her alone in the cold, quiet dark of the sea, with voices and memories that she knew in her heart were not really her own. It was in those lonely moments that she would lift the small box that hung around her neck, open up its lid, and peer inside at the never-ending darkness with a curiosity that hurt her soul. And when the voices inside began to sing, she would bang the small drum at her side in tandem, and her own voice would lift with them, the most bleak and heartbroken of them all. Because it was then, with the music box open in the palm of her webbed hand, that those tangled memories started to take on some kind of shape.
     But the darkness never held her for long. An elder would always soon appear, drawn by the solemn call of her drum, and gently nudge her stumpy horns before luring her away to brighter waters with a playful jet of bubbles. Then, the calves would wake, and the wonderful games would distract her all over again.

     Over the years, the merbairn grew into a kind and cheerful young maiden, with fins and a tail of deep-ocean indigo, horns that rivalled the sea dragons', and a beauty that outshone the moon. She'd also become an agile hunter, a fast thinker, and her magic could spin hordes of the whales' shrimp into a feeding whirlpool.
     But a compulsion had grown with her. She still followed the whales' commands when the shadows cut through the surface, she still braided the kelp and teased the calves with her spells, she still played in the elders' jets of bubbles. But the voices in her music box had begun to speak to her in the quiet, even when the lid was closed. Not even her dreams were an escape. And when they grew too loud, she lifted the lid despite herself, and her voice rose with their keening song while her heart sank only deeper.
     And so it was that on one warm spring day, when the box was open in her hand and those shadows passed overhead, trailing their great nets and streaming their colours through the dry azure far above, all reason fled her. The whales dove, they drummed their call, but she wouldn't hear them. With a sharp flick of her tail and an understanding that lay out of her reach, she abandoned her kelp-tangled home and darted after those colossal shadows instead.
     Miles she swam, until her fins were ragged, her heart pulsed in her throat, and the voices fell strangely silent. Here, at the sudden edge of the sea, the shadows numbered in the dozens. The water, too, had changed, its life diminished, and the taste of something familiar yet forgotten laced the funnelling current.
     But it wasn't that which consumed her attention, nor the huge, impossibly smooth and straight-sided rock interrupting the waves that turned her blood cold, nor the nets of fish being dragged out of the water that stoked her horror.
     As if snared on a hook themselves, her black eyes followed the slow, downward drift of the glittering fish scales as they sank to settle among the broken corals, shattered stone, and strange, smooth, grinning rocks.
     The moment her gaze touched them, the voices erupted inside the box, and the shapes, shadows and colours crashed into place.
     Water rushed from her gills.

     A sea teeming with fish, whales, seals and gannets.
     People like herself, and people with two rigid fins, smiling and trading through the water, exchanging silks and metals and fish.
     The people like her guiding those long, sleek shadows safely around reefs, saving the homes inside them.
     Her people leaving the waters, swimming through a narrow inlet to a greater, warmer place, to return home later by tradition.
     Smiles fade when the Mer return, with more twin-finned people trading for fish. Concern among the Mer, they can't keep up with their needs.
     Nets full of fish, many shadows, no smiles between Mer and Landfolk.
     Reefs destroyed, homes lost to careless clumsy shadows.
     The Mer migrate again, reluctantly.
     They return to more growth of Landfolk.
     Scowls and mistrust, Mer in seclusion, Mer in fear. Would their world last much longer? Would it still stand after the next migration?
     Talk along the currents: perhaps, this time, they wouldn't return at all.
     They gather. They leave.
     Landfolk waiting at the straits. The Mer taken by surprise.
     Harpoons. Blood. Pain.
     The Mer's magic was too late.
     All dead, or fled. None would ever return to the Kazimiri Sea.

     But one had been left behind.

     Her body shook. Her fins tremored. Her fists and jaw clenched. Her fury threatened to boil the water around her as she stared, unblinking, at those many skulls. But the voices still shrieked. And they had grown; voices she'd never heard before chimed now through the clamour. Voices that had never spoken - or voices that had never been with her to begin with.
     And more voices from above.
     Her black, seething eyes flashed towards the surface, where shapes and shadows darted around, and she watched them, impotent, while they multiplied. A tell-tale click; instinct lurched her to the side as a harpoon cut through the water.
     A wretched roar tore just as readily from her throat, throbbing through the straits, just as another harpoon broke through, and another, and another. None hit her; she was far too fast. But she didn't wait for them to get a lucky shot. Her magic whipped the water up into a clumsy spout and scattered the gathering figures. She fled in the chaos. Fury carried her away.
     Her muscles shook as she swam, her jaw knotted, her sharp teeth were grit. Her black eyes stared ahead, blinded and stained by hatred.
     Her compulsion was satisfied; she had her answers, and she had her memories - and others'. The Mer were the Keepers of Memory. Of time, truth and understanding. Of heart and story. Of forgiveness and repair. Of grudges and vengeance.
     Her future was decided for her in that moment. And she would bide her time over years to achieve it.

     A thick mist hung over the water as the fishermen hauled in their nets, and low hearts only sank deeper at the sight of them. The catches were failing, and superstitions were already being muttered on the wind: old tales, old mistakes, and old fortunes being repaid. Not everyone believed it; 'a turn in the currents', or 'a shift in the wind.' "All will be well next season."
     But it was not these who suffered the correction. Nor was it the superstitious who suffered their imagination. The strike was as real and indiscriminate as the waves.
     Every soul on board heard the knock and drum of gray whales while the sea fell eerily still. Every eye watched the fog dissipate and a fine rain fall upwards. Every hand gripped the rails while they watched the kelp twist and spin far below, as if in the grip of a rising maelstrom.
     And every heart froze at the black eyes set in a beautifully fearsome face staring back at them from the centre, while the crying song of a charnel choir spiked and trembled the water.
     Fear crashed over them like a wave. Orders were barked, the harpoons were manned, the sails unfurled, and every free hand was put to the oars. But not one soul survived the crushing descent of the boat. And no stories or warnings returned for the rest.
     When the ship failed to return, the superstitions grew; tales of kraken, of whale gods, of serpents and drowned spirits circulated while more ships set out, only to vanish to those unnatural clutches. It took time before they learned and finally sailed out in groups of three. The carnage didn't stop, but at least now there were witnesses, all baring matching stories of whale song summoning a multi-headed guardian, at whose hands the sea came to life, and from whose many mouths sang a saline lullaby of death.
     Hungrier than they were fearful, the people gathered, they organised, and they set out in search of the drumming of whales to lay their cunning traps.

     The mermaid found and destroyed the clumsy traps with ease, tripping them without a catch and freeing whatever wasn't so lucky, right beneath the ships' very hulls. With water itself as her cloak, she was as good as invisible; it perfectly hid the long, flowing drape of her midnight-blue tail and mane, the moonlight shine of her skin, and the strong, black, curling horns that crowned her regal head. And when she let herself be seen, with the music box about her neck, drum on her hip, corset of bones and string of jaws along her waist, the open mouths of her own crying people, she was a vision of terror.
     But that vision wasn't enough. She continued to hunt the Landfolk, she continued to follow in their shadows as they moved, blind in their own arrogance. And the sea became violent. Before long, death tainted the water. For every ship she destroyed, more creatures were killed in response - anything that could have been her. As she hunted through the reefs, she found squid and octopus dismembered and discarded. Tracking through open water, she found jellyfish harpooned or tangled. Recovering in the shallows, she found sharks and dolphins gutted. And in the sanctuary of the kelp-tangled waters she'd grown up in, while her people lay dead leagues away, she found the whales who had adopted her floating belly-up, mouths agape, and the currents deathly silent.
     The sound of blood rushing furiously through her veins granted only a thin trickle of mercy, and rage rose fast enough to obliterate paralysis.
     The water thickened around her, it tremored and boiled, then compressed and twisted in her wake as she spun from the massacre and sped like a wretched harpoon through the water, while a cataclysmic bellow tore from her fair mouth, and every voice of memory in her care roared along with her.

     The people gathered in silence along the coast, staring out to the horizon. The screaming - they'd each heard it, or heard of it, but never within range of the shore. Looks were exchanged, between fishermen and wives, apprentices and merchants. Then came the drumming. The knock and bellow of whales. But they'd killed all the whales, just like their fathers had killed all the Mer. It couldn't be...
     The docks burst to life, and panic spread to the town. All scrambled for nets, leapt onto ships and loaded the harpoons, reached for their spears. Then a call rose up: "a swell in the water!" and all wide eyes tore back out to sea.
     The bulge was surging towards them. The ships rocked with the draw of the water, and the shore shrank away from the coast. Harpoons were turned and aimed; knuckles over spears turned white. Lumps formed in throats. They readied themselves, even as they watched the wave rise higher than the highest mast, and stop against its own momentum.
     They stared aghast into that waiting wall of water, watching mindlessly while kelp like a hundred tentacles shook and knotted inside it, enchanted by fear as the giant, fish-tailed woman of black and white, surrounded by bones and a tempest of dark hair, howled and bellowed with every spirit lost to the sea, each crying out in their own pain and blame.
     And they wept as the edge of their senses returned, and the hagfish smiled a sharp-toothed grin, one twisted by rage, heartache and madness.
     The people could do nothing but stare and sob as she spread her arms and crashed the sea upon them.

     The waves don't lap. There is no movement. The sea is dead. The water is haunted, by distant rain over open water, the knocks of gray whales, and the songs of a thousand dead voices. 

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