The Loki Sword (Fire Born 3) Prologue – an extract
I’ve just sent the final edit of The Loki Sword, the third volume in my Fire Born series, off to my publisher. And I’m not expecting to see it again until it’s published. So that is cause for a small celebration! To give you a taste of the book – which is an epic quest story that takes place in Central Europe in the late 8th century – here is an extract from the beginning. It will be published in August 2022. Hope you like it!
Prologue: The Taste of Death
Tor watched her brother Bjarki leap over the barricade of mud, shields and ancient stones in a single bound, and hurtle down the hill towards the foe. His comrades were slower getting past the obstacles – but not much.
They were not many more than a score of fighters by then but they all streamed down the slope in a tight, howling, pack, heading straight for the Black Cloak camping ground. The warriors were screaming their war cries as they charged but Bjarki now had fallen silent, and was racing away ahead of the field, with his lofted sword seeming to glow blood-red in the dying light of that day. Tor was roughly in the middle of the swarm, toting shield and spear. She knew that skinny old Valtyr, also armed with a spear, was stumbling along disjointedly only a few paces behind her.
Now they were only two hundred yards from the Christian lines. And she heard the trumpets of the Black Cloaks sounding the alarm, and saw the first unit of troops, half a cunei at least, who had been that night’s sentries, forming up calmly to block their path. These Scholares were the best troops in Francia, perhaps in the whole Middle Realm. And they could not be caught napping – even by this most unorthodox of attacks.
A hundred paces away now, and the dismounted Black Cloaks had formed a fine, solid wall, a double line of troopers, forty of them, shields locked, helmeted heads tucked in tight, bristling with steel spear points.
And Bjarki was charging heedlessly towards the centre of them.
Seventy paces away now.
“Archers,” yelled Tor. “Archers halt. Thin their middle, thin it now.”
She skidded to a stop and was glad to see her four bowmen scramble to a halt beside her. All panting hard from the run.
They drew out arrows, nocked, pulled back the string and loosed at the fat line of Black Cloaks, aiming for the very centre of the shield wall. One of the men shot too long, his shaft sailing high over the heads of the enemy. Another shot wide; his arrow smacking into shield of the Frank on the centre-left of the line. But the third drew, loosed and shot true, and so did the fourth. Their twin arrows hissing lethally into the centre of the enemy shield wall, and causing a ripple of displacement as a Frank fell.
“The middle, target the very centre of the shield wall,” yelled Tor.
All four archers, plucked up a second arrow, and loosed again.
And struck. Just a shaved heartbeat before Bjarki’s huge charging form smashed into the middle of the thick line of dark-clad enemy troops.
The light shower of arrows had done little damage – one man killed, perhaps, another skewered in the shoulder – and these experienced troops were quick to coalesce again, closing up their ranks instinctively. But the shower of lethal shafts gave them all just enough pause for Bjarki to get his hurtling body inside the middle of the shield wall, to bullock wildly, massively, left and right, and begin laying about himself with his sword.
The blade, wielded by an immensely strong, battle-crazed warrior seemed to cut through shield, helm and armour, flesh and bone with ease.
As Bjarki shoved the Franks back with his own shield and sliced at limbs and faces with his sword, a widening bloody gap was created in the previously tight-knit line of Black Cloaks, and the rest of his warriors piled in behind him, screaming their hatred, opening up the hole that the berserkr had created in the enemy wall, and ripping the Franks’ formation open. They shredded it, dismembered it, split it apart.
In half a dozen heartbeats, the shield wall was no more; dazed Black Cloaks were reeling back on all sides. And Bjarki was still roaring and stamping, hacking and stomping, and slaughtering any man within range of his bloody sword, any man who had the courage to stand before him. His comrades were hard on his heels, howling, shoving the now terrified Franks in all directions, spears flickering out to rip away Christian lives.
Tor’s four bowmen, still fifty yards away, loosed two more volleys, and two more, after which they ran eagerly down the hill to join the fray.
“Ward Bjarki Bloodhand; guard the berserkr!” Tor yelled as she ran.
A group of three Black Cloaks on foot saw Tor and her comrades sprinting towards them, shouted a challenge, and stood so as to bar their careening path. While he was still running – to Tor’s astonishment – one of the bowmen plucked a shaft, nocked and loosed, and sunk it into the leading Black Cloak’s neck. Tor took a heavy chop on her shield from the second man, threw the sword off its painted leather face and buried her own in the man’s belly. He made a whooshing sound like a punctured pig’s bladder and collapsed. The third man took to his heels and ran away.
Bjarki was still going full pelt, Tor saw, screaming, slathered and dripping.
It was clear the berserkr was heading towards the black tent – yes, and there, throwing open the flap and striding out, Tor recognised the tall Black Cloak captain. Bjarki saw him too, howled at him like mad dog, changed direction slightly, and began to bound towards the astonished enemy officer, whirling his red-glistening sword in great loops as he charged.
There was a thunder of hooves and before Bjarki could get within a dozen yards of the captain of the Franks, a score of cavalry surged round from behind the huge tent and crashed straight into the berserkr’s massive form, bowling him over like a kicked ball of rags, the iron-shod hooves of the horses knocking him this way and that. The Black Cloak riders, thundering over his body, jabbed down with their javelins at Bjarki’s rolling, jerking, thrashing body, plunging their steel points into his flesh. They reined in, turned quickly, and rode over her brother all over again.
Tor shouted: “No!” And lost sight of the berserkr in the dust cloud.
A huge Black Cloak officer on foot popped up in front of Tor and she was obliged to exchange a series of cuts with this warrior, his helmet plume nodding like a fighting cock’s wattle – before an archer put a yard of ash through the man’s chest from a dozen paces and ended the bout.
When Tor looked again towards the black tent, she saw all her comrades swarming over the Frankish riders, leaping up at the men in their saddles, hauling them down to earth, where they savaged them with swords and knives. Others were duelling with the mounted men, lunging up at them with spears, or cowering beneath the hacking swords and the pawing hooves of their horses. There was no sign of Bjarki at all.
Where was he? Where was her big bad Rekkr brother?
Tor stared about her wildly. Bjarki was gone, disappeared – dead, no doubt at all. Trampled under the plunging hooves of the cavalry. That knowledge struck her like a kick to the heart. Bjarki’s plan had failed.
Her brother was dead.
The Loki Sword (Fire Born 3) will be published by Canelo on 11 August 2022, but you can pre-order it here. The first two books in the series – The Last Berserker (Fire Born 1) and The Saxon Wolf (Fire Born 2) – are now available as eBooks, audiobooks or paperbacks