The Loki Sword (Fire Born 3) Chapter One – an extract
The third volume of my Fire Born Viking saga – The Loki Sword – will be out on August 11, 2022 and, to celebrate the event, here is a short extract from the first chapter. My berserker hero Bjarki Bloodhand is somewhere in the frozen north of Scandinavia, seeking the Sami tribe of his mother. He is starving, alone, completely lost and very close to death . . .
Bjarki Bloodhand squinted against the whipping flurries of snow that constantly assaulted his eyes. He wiped a mittened hand across his brow, his face now numb with cold, and thought he saw it again. Something moving out there, on the dim horizon to his right. A dark mass, shifting across the whiteness of the ice fields. In an hour or two, it would be dark again, the days pitifully short up here on this rim of the world, only a brief few hour of light at this time of year. There, yes, movement for sure.
He stumbled forward eagerly, his deerskin-wrapped legs punching through the snow crust and into a foot of airy powder before finding the frozen earth, a wading action more than a walk, and utterly exhausting. He had run out of food the day before and already his belly was gnawing at the back of his spine, all his limbs feeble and jelly-like. He had been walking for many weeks now, northward, ever northwards. A pulse throbbed in his forehead, and everything ached where it was not numb.
The mass grew slowly closer and he could see at last that it was indeed what he had hoped. A stream of dun and cream animals, a herd, moving eastwards, a seemingly endless, grunting softly as they moved. And figures, bundled against the cold but some sporting caps of sky blue and blood red, bold even jaunty in the whiteness of the frozen landscape, in and among the mass of the reindeer herd. Five or six of them now.
He called out to the riders, who were perched on the backs of their reindeer, and drumming their heels to keep their animals moving forward into the very teeth of the storm. But his voice was weak from disuse, the words whipped away by the snow-filled wind. He called again and waved his arms and one of the riders, now a hundred paces away, turned in the saddle to look at him. Bjarki waved his arms again, crossing each other over his head. An invisible dog barked somewhere in the whirling white. The rider kicked his beast out of the herd and came trotting towards him.
A few moments later the two stared at each other, the big scarred Danish warrior, his long blond hair, where it the peeked out from under a shapeless woollen cap, crusted with ice, and diminutive Sami rider, his wide face and slanting eyes below the flash of bright colours from his cap, all framed by a deep hood trimmed with dense white fox fur. Now he asking something that Bjarki did not understand – repeating it, even now shouting it. But Bjarki had only a few hard-gathered words of the Sami tongue in his head, which he now shook to signal his incomprehension.
“Clan of the White Bear?” Bjarki said, trying to pronounce the difficult foreign words clearly despite the howling of the wind. The rider shrugged and signalled a clear negative, a waved glove across his chest.
“Where?” said Bjarki. “The White Bear Clan. Where are they?”
The man extended an arm westwards, and turned his reindeer to go.
“Wait!” yelled Bjarki, now in his own Norse tongue. “Food, I need food.” He made childish eating motions with his own mittened hands.
The man nodded and burrowed in the breast of his heavy, sealskin robe. He fished out a grubby linen bag which he threw towards Bjarki.
“Dying sun,” he said, in passable Norse. “White Bear Clan towards the dying sun. One day. Maybe two.” And he gestured westwards again.
The bag held three sticks of leather-tough dried reindeer meat, which Bjarki chewed, as he turned to face the bloody spill of the early sunset and began to walk. The storm was blowing from behind him now, and seemed to push him towards his destination. One day, maybe two. He would find the clan; he would find his mother’s people, with the gods’ help. And perhaps her people would be able to help him. Help rid him of this curse under which he suffered. He held an image of Yoni in his mind, her sweet face, her violet eyes, as he walked: a girl he had loved, a beautiful young girl that he had horribly slain. The shame and pain of his past actions driving him forward into this snow-whipped wasteland.
One day, maybe two. He willed himself forward, gnawing on the dry stick of meat and gulping down the salty, gamy juice as he struggled on.
They found him in snow drift, half-dead, in a deep and unhealthy sleep, three days later, and erected their kota on that spot so that they could bring him inside the shelter. Bjarki woke to find himself on a pallet of thick furs and blankets with a small boy crouching at his bedside staring in silent fascination at one huge, pink, horribly scarred left arm that was poking out of the thick furs. He looked around the tent, a large, pyramidal shaped structure of hides and long ash poles, with a central, stone-ringed hearth where a large blackened pot was bubbling over a small dung fire.
A young woman came to sit beside him, bringing him a hot drink, some kind of meat broth, and when he sat up to take it, he found he was naked. He asked them about the clan, trotting out one of his few Sami phrases, and the young woman smiled at him charmingly, showing two missing front teeth, and touched a small tattoo on her neck that depicted a crude image of a standing polar bear. She asked him some questions but he had no idea what she was saying and they subsided into a series of nods and smiles. Then she went away and a moment later a much older woman took her place, folding herself cross-legged beside his pallet.
“I am called Fire Dancer,” she said in good Norse. “And you, my big Southron friend, look very much like a man I knew well in years gone by, a strong man like you, a warrior from the Land of Lakes and Forests. But an older one. A man in pain, troubled by a wild spirit living in his body.”
“My father’s name was Hildar Torfinnson – if that is who you mean – and he spent some time with your people, with the White Bear Clan.”
“Hildar, yes, that was his Southron name. Your father, eh? We called him Wolf Heart in this kota. And he and my daughter . . . they mingled their essences in love and made . . . uh, you. I can see it now. You have the resemblance of my daughter Mist-in-the-Morning all around your eyes.”
“You are my . . . my grandmother?”
The old woman took Bjarki’s big left paw in both her hands and smiled at him. Her round face was a mass of wrinkles and lines, the skin yellow and leathery, toughened by many years of snow and sun and wind, the eyes washed out, almost colourless. But he saw that she was beautiful.
He dressed himself in his own clothes and drank some more of the reindeer meat broth and came to sit beside the hearth with the other two dozen members of the household, listing to the rhythm of the talk without comprehending but enjoying the sense of communion and belonging. They ate a hot stew, after a little while, and his grandmother Fire Dancer came to sit beside him and asked him in Norse about his life in the south, and the reasons for his wanderings in the snow, alone, without food or proper clothing on the traditional pathway of the clan’s migrating herds.
“I was seeking you out – you, the White Bear Clan,” Bjarki said. “My mother’s people. My father told me that you had helped him, for a while, to control the wild spirit inside him, a gandr, we call it, which gave him so much anguish and, in the end, was the cause of his death.”
He did not add that he and his sister Tor had killed their own father. Driven mad by the gandr, Hildar had begun indiscriminately slaughtering people in the small village where Bjarki had grown up, on a tiny island in the Dane-Mark. He did not lie, and he would do the same again, but that did not lessen the shame he felt at father-killing, the worst crime of all.
“Galálar,” said Fire Dancer, “that was the word your father used for his own sickness. Do you know the meaning of this word, my grandson?”
Bjarki nodded: “It means that the gandr inside you, the spirit that gives you the power and ferocity of a berserkr in battle, has taken control of you, taken complete command of your heart, and you are its thrall. A man who is Galálar will kill and kill until he is stopped. Until he is dead.”
Fire Dancer peered at him, silent for a long moment. “This is what you fear, grandson, is it not? I see that you, too, have a beast inside you.”
Her glance was so piercing, that Bjarki felt it had bored right into the very core of him. The smoke from the hearth wafted past him and he felt his eyes blur and burn. He wiped away a trickle with the back of his hand.
“My gandr is a bear,” he said. “But, yes, she occupies my heart now. And that is what I fear most – to become Galálar. There was a girl . . .”
He stopped. He did not know this old woman, nor her people, at all. He had been with them in this northern wilderness only a few hours, and yet he felt the urge to reveal all the terrible things there were in his heart.
“Your mother, my beloved daughter now lives in the Spirit-Realm with all our ancestors,” said Fire Dancer. “She passed out of this world in pain and blood, giving up her own life so that you might begin yours.”
“I did not ask her to . . . ”
“It was not for you to decide. This is what we do for our kin, for those we love. And all the folk around this hearth tonight are your kin. You are part of us, and we are part of you. That fellow over there,” she jerked her chin at a middle-aged man who was whittling a piece of antler into a sharp point of the far side of the fire, “he is called Black Hoof, and he is your uncle. The young girl there, Sunlight-on-Snow,” she pointed at the gap-toothed girl who had brought the broth to his bedside earlier, “she is your mother’s sister’s daughter, what you would call your cousin.”
“You are kind to welcome me into your home,” said Bjarki. “When you do not know me – and I was the cause of your daughter’s death.”
“Mist-in-the-Morning is happy in the Spirit-Realm. I know this. Death is nothing but a journey from this realm to another. We all must die; even you, one day. Death has value; it can grant life to the living. In the old days, the Sami had a supreme leader of all the clans, the konagas, who was chosen by all the elders. I little like your Southron kings, I think. But not a great warrior. He or she ruled over the clans, guided them, made the decisions for them all – but also served the people. And from time to time, when great misfortune arose and the Sami people were dying, the konogas would speak with the spirits, and offer his life to them for the wellbeing of the nation. He would say farewell to his folk and walk out into the snows, never to be seen again – except in the Spirit-Realm. His willing sacrifice always placated the spirits – and made his people well.”
“Did my mother wish to die – to give me life?” said Bjarki.
“No, but she was content, at the end. I was beside her when she went. She had given our clan another member – you. So never forget, my strong grandson: we are your people and always will be. So speak of your troubles or do not, Little Bear, just as you wish. You are with your own.”
Bjarki stretched out his long legs and thought for a moment.
“There was a girl,” he said. “We were together. And it was good. Her name was Yoni, and I think now that I could have loved her for my whole life. But I killed her when . . . when the gandr was strong in me. In a battle when she stood with the enemy. I did not hesitate, I just slew her.”
“That is a heavy burden to bear,” said Fire Dancer. “You were in that special state – Galálar – the way your father became at the end of is life?”
“And you wish us to help you ease your pain, your guilt from that?”
“I want you to help me with the bear gandr that lives inside me. To stop it taking control of my body; I want you to curb its power over me. My father said to me once that your people greatly helped him, he said that Mist-in-the-Morning went into the Spirit-Realm and tamed his Wolf spirit, calmed its bloodthirsty ravening, and this soothed him for a time.”
His grandmother did not reply. She knelt by the hearth, reached into a cloth bag and added a few lumps of dried dung to the smouldering fire.
Then sat back on her haunches. “Do you understand what it truly means to go into the Spirit-Realm and meet your totem animal?” she said.
“No,” he said, with complete honesty. “But I know not what else to do. If I do not tame my gandr, or expel her from my heart, or kill her – if I don’t do something – she will end me, soon; she will cause my death.”
“The Spirit-Realm is the domain of Death,” said Fire Dancer. “Few have the courage to visit that place, as my brave daughter did, and even fewer have the strength to go there and return to the Middle-Realm after.”
“I believe that I do have enough . . .” began Bjarki.
Fire Dancer held up a hand to stop him. “We will sleep on this, my child,” she said. “You ask a great deal of your kin. Rest now and sleep, my daughter’s son, and we shall see what wisdom the morning brings.”
The Loki Sword (Fire Born 3) is published on Thursday August 11. To order your copy click here. If you haven’t yet read the two previous volumes of the story – The Last Berserker and The Saxon Wolf – they are now both available as eBooks from Amazon at the special price of 99p – but only for a limited time.