Extract from The Last Berserker: Prologue
The day has come. It’s finally here. The Last Berserker, the first volume in the Fire Born series, my new action-packed Viking Age saga, is now available as an eBook here. To celebrate the launch of this gloriously bloodthirsty adventure – which The Times newspaper called “a gory, gleeful treat” – here is an extract from the beginning of the novel, the Prologue . . .
The Rekkr limped towards the village, the butt of his long-handled axe dragging a furrow in the sandy soil. He hummed to himself as he approached the gate in the fence that surrounded the tiny settlement by the sea. It was a simple four-note tune, rhythmic, repetitive, hypnotic. An ancient melody. The vibration deep in his throat suppressed the frailty of his much-wounded body and coaxed the Beastonce more from its lair within his heart.
He was a huge man, his scarred face toad-ugly under a greasy fringe of hair; his heavy shoulders made bulkier by the fur cloak draped over his back. The filth-matted fur vambraces, which protected his forearms, made his upper limbs appear absurdly large, particularly when combined with the ropes of coiled muscle on display. A loincloth and a pair of leather greaves, sewn with iron strips and strapped over his boots, completed his costume.
Fifty paces from the rickety gate, he hefted the axe on to his shoulder and broke into a lumbering trot, increasing to the full charge as he neared the wooden fence. The humming rose in pitch and volume to become a terrible keening screech, and then an open-throated, piss-curdling scream. At a full sprint, he threw his massive body against the collection of sun-faded sticks held together by thongs and hemp-twine and crunched through the gate, bursting out the other side, into the village itself, in a shower of debris.
The two gate-guards, village men armed with no more than fishing spears and wicker shields, were already running by the time he had brushed the splinters from his fur-cloaked shoulders. The Rekkr threw back his head, lifted the axe high in both hands and roared with mingled rage and triumph.
Then he set to work.
He strode to the nearest house, a slumped hovel of wattle and daub with a sagging turf roof. He ripped the leather curtain aside, swung low and sank his axe into the groin of a man who lunged out at him with a bait knife in hand. He booted the collapsing man’s body back into the cottage and, chuckling and calling out a jovial word of greeting, he followed it inside.
The air was ripped apart by the sounds of violence – shouts of anger first, then squelches and cracks, then screams of pain. Finally a woman’s voice pleading, begging – cut horribly short. The Rekkr emerged a few moments later, spattered all over with gore, and laughing like a donkey.
He shook the axe-head free of its slick coating, droplets scattering, and stumbled on into the heart of the village. A bitch, a big mongrel with a good deal of wolfhound in her, barked at him, and circled growling, sensing his evil. The Rekkr leapt, fast as a snake, and the animal was swatted away with a single blow, half her ribs crushed. She whined, staggered and fell.
A shield wall had formed, halfway up the only street in the settlement: a dozen men, all the males of fighting age within the village. They huddled together, trembling pitifully, behind three round, lime-wood shields. A few wavering spears, and five or six swords, pointed in the Rekkr’s direction. The intruder loped eagerly towards them, gathering speed, chuckling and swinging the long bloody axe in ever wider loops around his shaggy head.
The shield wall fared no better than the gate. The Rekkr smashed straight through it; then, he hacked left and right, killing with practised ease.
He took a sword thrust to his left side, the steel scraping over his naked ribs, but paid not the slightest heed – the Beast possessed him now and he had no understanding of pain. The long axe hissed through the air and plunged into living flesh. Again. And again. Blood spraying in wider arcs, as the blade sank into human meat and was swept back for another strike.
The five unwounded men of the shield wall now ran for their lives, scattering – and the Rekkr let them go. Seven men were curled on the bloody earth, coughing, bleeding, dying. He stamped on a twitching fellow’s head, crushing the skull like an egg under his iron-shod boot. Then, unexpectedly, the Rekkr stooped and picked up the dead man’s sword in his free hand, an ancient one, but well made by a craftsman; he gave it a few trial swishes.
The Rekkr then set to work on the houses, zig-zagging across the street from one to another, to make sure he did not overlook any victims. In each dwelling, he kicked open the door, pushed inside and killed, sword in one hand, axe in the other. He slew the old, the young, women and their children.
Slathered in gore, like a dread creature from a nightmare, the Rekkr approached the last and biggest building in the village, a timber longhouse.
The fur of his great-cloak was now utterly soaked; his vambraces were soggy and glistening red. Of the heavy features of his filth-caked face, only his cold dead eyes could be distinguished and a glimpse of yellow teeth in his mad, almost jubilant smile. He stood for a moment outside the gable-ended longhouse – looking up at its stout beams, and the oak-wood door, no doubt barricaded by now. The window shutters were all closed too, barred from the inside. Blood dripped from the Rekkr’s weapons, held loosely in both his hands, pattering like raindrops on to the dust below each blade.
He began to hum once more.
Inside the longhouse, the survivors of the village, no more than a dozen folk, mostly women and children, were gathered on the far side of the hearth. A grandmother clutched two of her dead son’s children, a girl and boy no more than ten and eleven years old, one under each arm. She squeezed them tight, crushing them to her, and tried to still their whimpers.
“Hush now,” she said. “He cannot get in. He will soon be gone.”
The boy threw off her arm and ran to the side of the house where, after rummaging among the pots and pans, he unearthed a small eating knife.
One matron seized a yard-long cooking spit from the hearth, and swept its iron length clear of soot and grease, with one motion of her hand.
Then they heard it. A drone like a swarm of angry bees. Very close. Just outside the door, but now moving – there! – over by the east wall.
An eerie scraping sound; a loud scratching.
“Get gone, demon!” said the matron. “We’re not frightened of you.”
A crash. Another. A splintering.
The girl let out a shrill little wail. The humming grew louder.
“Hush, little one,” said her grandmother. “He cannot get inside here.”
The Rekkr hacked apart the rough wattle-and-daub exterior of the hall with the axe, kicked through the thin inner planks and burst into the hall. It took him no more than a few moments, and his huge fur-clad shoulders were erupting the gloomy interior, like a monstrous chick emerging from the egg.
His humming had reached the pitch of fury.
A doddering greybeard tried to stand in his way and the Rekkr skewered him through the loins with the ancient sword and, turning and swinging the bloody axe with his other hand, he hewed the head clean off the howling matron who tried to stab him in the belly with her roasting spit.
The rest of the inhabitants cowered by the long rectangular fire-trough in the centre of the hall, resigned to their fate, all except for a white-faced boy, who charged at the Rekkr from the shadows, yelling shrilly, the sharp eating knife in his hand. The Rekkr killed him with a sideways flick of the axe, a casual, almost friendly blow, which smashed the little boy’s right cheekbone into several pieces, driving the shards deep into his small skull.
The Rekkr loomed over the last few folk huddled by the long hearth, breathing from his exertions. His gaze crawled all over them like a fly on a freshly made corpse. Then he fixed on one of the older girls, a pretty blonde.
“Freya, my sweet,” he said. The words were clogged in his throat, as if they were too large or too jagged to come out. “I have come . . . for you.”
If you would like to buy a copy of The Last Berserker it is available now as an eBook from Amazon and other e-tailers, and the paperback will be out on February 25. The audio book is scheduled to be released in May, 2021