Tuesday Jun 2014
This website copyright Maximillian Straker 2014. All rights reserved. No material on this website may be copied, reproduced, or distributed without the prior written consent of the author (with the exception of attributed quotes). All exerpts, short stories, and blogs are works of fiction: all the characters, places, and events portrayed in them are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons, places, and events is unintentional and coincidental. Any and all advice contained within them is for entertainment purposes only, and should not be followed.
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T H E E P I C N E W V I K I N G F A N T A S Y S E R I E S
R A G N A R O K
C h a p t e r O n e
High above Hell, Absolom Orcus opened his eyes. He was not in the same place he had been when he had closed them. A scar-faced warrior with shining golden eyes lingered in memory, tormenting him with news of his defeat, speaking prophetic words to break his heart. The agony of knowing that all his years of work had been undone made Absolom want to cry a river of tears, to hurl himself off a jagged cliff while screaming and tearing out fistfuls of flesh from his face. It seemed unimaginable that his own magnificent existence should be cut short by a man of such brutal irrelevance, a filthy vagabond sneaking through his palace like a kitchen cockroach and cutting off his head while it was still fuzzy from sleep.
My head? Absolom’s head was firmly attached to his shoulders, albeit sewn crudely into place with a leather thong.
He looked around.
He was sitting in a leather armchair, so perfectly comfortable that it felt as if he had spent a lifetime imprinting his buttocks into its plump cushions. The armchair stood on a red Ophirian carpet in the corner of a cozy study. A fireplace crackled in the opposite wall, while bookshelves lined the others, oozing the musty aroma of old leather and well-thumbed pages. A warm red twilight glowed from the only window, coloring the sill’s time-worn stone, while outside the window roiled black storm clouds, tinted across their undersides by the same red glow.
Eight ancient swords scattered across the earth.
An infant Norse king torn from his mother's arms.
A monstrous horde swarming across the idyllic Arcadian fields...
For long centuries Viking prophecies foretold the coming of Ragnarok, the apocalyptic war in which the gods will be slain by an army of giants and the sun and moon devoured by colossal wolves. Now those prophecies are coming to life in this extraordinary new series by Maximillian Straker. Inspired by Viking mythology, Skydra is a wondrous Norse world of icy mountains, gloomy forests, vast seas, and simply unforgettable characters. Don’t miss out on this epic new fantasy adventure.
C H A P T E R O N E
‘Open the gates!’ roared the scar-faced traveller, squinting his lion eyes against the gale, which whipped away his voice and howled between the towers of this icy castle of the far North. The gloomy monolith squatted like a brooding colossus on Mount Hyperborea’s snowy slopes: grey halls carved with ancient angels stood weathering a storm barely relieved in centuries; tall spires pierced the sky, sheltering frozen gargoyles with fanged mouths agape in silent screams; and blocky battlements slippery with ice stood sentinel over a world of sheer drops and frozen outcrops and reluctant winter suns.
A tall knight popped his head up over the parapet, took one look at the traveller, and shouted, ‘Fok off!’ Unlike the traveller, he was properly dressed for the snowy gales of the Dragon’s Back Mountains, being wrapped up snug in a polar bearskin cloak, which concealed the gold-and-scarlet Antaran Cross of his tabard and the oiled chainmail beneath it. The traveller, to the knight’s surprise, wore only boots and trousers and a sleeveless leather jerkin armoured with frosted iron rings. His hair was a spiky black stubble, his eyes seemed backlit by miniature golden suns, and his arms were so grotesquely muscular that he seemed to have some sort of growth disorder. He carried only a rolled-up tent, a pair of curved Sardar swords, and a half-eaten deer leg, which he hadn’t bothered to cook.
‘I said open up, may Thor hammer your balls!’ the traveller insisted, ‘What, are your ears painted on?’
The traveller’s eccentric appearance, along with the fact that he had arrived in winter’s darkest depths, only confirmed in the knight’s mind the impression that he was dealing with a madman — and he was not of a mind to go letting madmen into Chronos’s castle. He waved his crossbow. ‘I told you politely to fok off. I’m going to be awfully annoyed if you make me go to the trouble of loading this.’
Besides the biceps of Kushite wrestler, the traveller had the mind of a violent chess master, gifted with an exceptional talent for rapid strategic assessment. Not that it took a master of strategy to see that his position was exceptionally poor. The high wall and the hostile knight weren’t the only challenges: a gaping chasm separated the castle from the outside world, to be spanned only by the drawbridge, which was raised and seemed frozen to the barbican. Above the drawbridge hung the flared scarlet cross of the Antaran Knights, twice the height of a man and etched with a line of golden Norse runes:
HROKUR AF HEILAGR SKULDALID AF ANTARAN HUSCARL*
‘Take a shot if ye think you’re good enough,’ said the traveller. Though his personality had its fair share of deficiencies, a shortage of bombast was not among them, while his accent managed to combine academic refinement with barrack-room bravado and propel the resonant result with enough force to bully even the howling wind into submission. He seemed the sort of man accustomed to bellowing commands across raging battlefields, and was unmistakably a soldier, though he had the look of both East and West, and could have been anything from a hard-fisted Gothic sergeant to a Free Coast mercenary captain, or perhaps even a Kazar nomad from the broad steppes of Sartargo, making his living through leisurely seasons of elk-herding supplemented by bouts of savage raiding across the rich farmlands of northern Andorra.
Being bowless and beyond sword range, the traveller continued to assault the castle with his barrage of bluster: ‘I’ll climb the wall and jam the bolt so far up your ass your gums’ll bleed. Tell me your name so I can hunt ye down if ye turn tail and flee.’
‘My name is sir,’ the knight replied, loading his crossbow, ‘And I suggest you use it if you’d like to beg for a clean head shot. Otherwise it’s going to be a flesh wound and an unpleasant wait for the wolves, although I dare say they shan’t be too long. And have no fear that I shall flee: I am an Antaran Knight; we do not flee, especially not from the likes of you.’
‘Ye sure talk tough from up on your tower.’
‘I do,’ the knight admitted. ‘That, my friend, is the privilege of tactical advantage, as you would know if you were a real soldier... rather than just another battlefield thug.’
The traveller chuckled. ‘Tactics! I’ve always wanted to learn those. Maybe ye can teach them to me, and in return I’ll take it easy on ye when we’re sparring.’
The knight hesitated in his shot, lowering his crossbow just an inch. ‘You came here to join?’
‘Ja, what the fok else would I be doing in this frozen kakhole?’
‘I don’t know, you have the look of a wandering madman.’
‘And? Are the Antaran Knights no longer recruiting madmen? Madmen are exactly what ye need. I’ll be the best knight to ever don the scarlet cross.’
‘You’ll be the shitkicker who scrubs the latrines — if I decide to let you in. But why should I? We are the most exclusive order of knighthood in the world. Barons and dukes have served in our ranks — even kings. We have no place for knaves and rogues.’
‘I would’ve thought ye had a place for fighters. When I choose men for war I choose hard chargers: I couldn’t care less if they’re the son of a king or the son of a whore. From the sound of things you’re doing nothing here but assembling a collection of noble dandies for a nice dinner party. Real fighters are born in mud and blood — we eat barons and dukes for breakfast.’
‘I happen to be the son of a duke, and I can assure you that I am no dandy. I’ve been handling crossbows from the moment I could pick them up: you should count it a privilege to be shot by me. What are you anyway? A bandit chief? Some sort of mercenary?’
‘I’m your mother’s secret foker. And when I wasn’t busy fathering ye I was a warlord. I’ve commanded an army of a hundred thousand men. Ye sit here in a castle of a hundred and think you’re something special. I would sacrifice your entire order in battle without blinking an eye.’
‘A warlord, ha! Likely story. A whorelord more like. As for my mother, she never foks men with such tiny cocks as yours. I think I recognise you now: you used to be a pimp on the Twilight City waterfront. You’ve commanded a platoon of whores, but that’s about it.’
‘Hehe, that’s not bad, and also partly true. But let’s end our conversation now, before your simple brain runs out of witty things to say. Time to fight.’ The traveller drew one of his swords.
The knight cocked a blond eyebrow. ‘You want to fight sword against crossbow? You’re even more stupid than you look. All right then, you asked for it.’ He raised his crossbow and fired.
The traveller swung his sword. There was a loud clang, and the bolt dropped into the snow. The traveller picked it up, stuck it between his teeth, and bit it in two. He held up the jagged end. ‘That’s gonna hurt when I jam it up your ass.’
The knight was astonished, but well trained, and started reloading automatically. ‘You got lucky,’ he said. ‘And I’m beginning to tire of this game. Tell me your name so I can tell it to the wolves when they bury you in their guts.’
‘Haven’t ye already guessed that from what I told ye? Ye’ve been hiding away from the world for too long. My name is Mandalay Sargon.’
The knight was so startled that he fumbled his crossbow and dropped it over the wall.