Tooth and Blade: Chapter 1

Salvete!

Guess what? The first Tooth and Blade novella is now live world-wide on Kindle! To celebrate, I thought I would share the first chapter… More than that, I wanted to share an amazing illustration inspired by the story. It was created by my friend and former colleague, Dr Yvette Hunt. Enjoy!

Chapter 1: Teeth

“They aren’t like our kind, Dóta. They are beasts.”

My mother’s warning echoed through my head, but it would not stop me. I tiptoed through our cave, my path lit by glowing mushrooms which clung to the walls. Módor’s wrath would be great if she caught me near her treasure hoard. She was afraid of what I would find there, the truth of what I was. I pressed my lips together and shook off my fear. No matter the risk, I had to know.

Points of rock jutted from the floor like razors as I edged along the passage. Icy droplets fell from the ceiling and ran down the back of my neck. I shuddered as they crawled down my spine and pulled my sheepskin tighter.

I’m not sure how old I was when I figured out I wasn’t like Módor. Perhaps it was the day I stumbled and cut my palm on a rock. My blood had run hot and dripped to the ground. Módor had stroked my face to comfort me and for the first time I realized her touch gave me shivers. Then she traced her long nail over the wound and licked it. For an instant her eyes glowed like coals. “There now,” she had said. “Nothing to fear, my girl.” And Módor had smiled with pointed teeth.

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I pressed my way through the jagged gap in the wall which led to Módor’s treasure chamber. Módor had chosen a special chamber for her spoils, lit by a spear-shaft of sunlight from a hole in the ceiling far overhead. The light stabbed at my eyes and I squeezed them shut for a moment. When they had grown used to the light, I blinked and looked about. The piled gold shone bright and the gems winked like stars. I ignored the silver cauldrons, coins and fire-stones, for glittering trinkets could tell me nothing. In the corner of the chamber I spied what I was after. A pile of tarnished chain mail and bones, all that was left of the man foolish enough to challenge my mother. Time had picked the skeleton clean long ago; only a few slivers of decayed flesh remained. The dead warrior still clutched a great sword. A rusted helm protected his skull.

Hands trembling, I picked up the skull and held it up to the light. Flakes of rust fell away from the helmet to show boar-shapes etched into the metal. The head. It was the head I needed to see, not some rusted bit of iron. I pulled the helmet off and threw it aside. A thrill of fear passed through me as it clanked to the ground. My brother’s ears were delicate. Even the smallest noise would make Grethor bawl for Módor.

Moments passed, but nothing happened. Telling myself it was safe, I peered closer at the skull. The empty sockets stared back at me. I traced my thumb over the teeth and ran my tongue over my own. The warrior’s teeth were rounded.

Like mine.

My fears became truth. A beast, that’s what I was. A child of men.

I set the skull down upon the floor, bent to study the body. To judge by the length of the man’s leg-bones, he was taller than most, though he was a dwarf compared to Módor and Grethor. Would I grow to that height? At sixteen, I sensed my growing was done but couldn’t be sure. Another reason to learn more about my kind. The warrior’s mail was crusted with brown and rotted tatters of linen still clung to the skeleton. Clothing, I knew. Grethor had told me once how the creatures of the world above wore a kind of second hide as I wore my sheepskin.

The sunlight caught on something shiny beside the corpse. Without thinking I reached for it and held it up to the light. It was a small disc of polished amber hanging from a rotted leather cord, some kind of amulet. No mere trinket, this. Men must have crafted it in another age, so the gods would protect them. Some of the grime fell away as I rubbed the amulet between my fingers and light shot through veins of yellow in the amber. It was as though the amulet held the sun, waiting to escape. A pretty thing. Perhaps I should put it back? Some instinct told me no; it belonged to me. I slipped it inside my sheepskin. The amulet lay warm against my chest. The feeling was delicious in the coldness of the cave. It had lain hidden under the corpse so long, nobody would miss it. I hoped.

“Well. Hello, Dóta.”

I whirled to find Grethor’s yellow-green eyes staring down at me. His mottled skin flushed dark and his bitter smell filled the cavern. Under his arm Grethor carried his old leather sack. He hissed. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing.” The guilt pressed down upon my shoulders, but I forced myself to stand tall. Had he seen me take the amulet?

“Nothing, eh?” Big Brother’s forked tongue flicked from the corner of his mouth. “Thought you’d peek at Módor’s hoard, I guess. Ought to be more careful. You know how fiercely Módor guards her gold.” He pointed at the scars on his cheek and smirked.

My eyes flicked to the skeleton. “Humans like it too.” The words spilled from my mouth without thought.

His pointed ears pricked up. “And what do you know of humans?”

I tried not to cringe, held my shoulders square. My brother could be cruel as Loki and rough as Thor when the mood took him, but I would not quake. “Nothing,” I said.

Smugness filled his face. “Tell Módor, I should. Not right to go poking through her things. One shout from me and she’ll peel the hide from your bones.” Grethor rasped with laughter. “She could sew me a new bag from it.” He thrust the sack at me.

I caught it. “No. Don’t tell her.”

“And what’ll you give me if I keep my tongue still?”

My hands curled into fists. “What do I have to give, Grethor?” The only thing I owned was my sheepskin—and now the amulet. And my brother wasn’t getting them.

He scratched his chin with one of his claws. “A song, sweet sister.”

I released a slow breath. “A song.”

“Just like when we were little.”

“You were never little.”

He shrugged. “Young, then. The bad dreams plague me now as they did then.”

I blinked. “Still?”

Grethor flinched. “Dreams of fire and flashing swords and the man who grips like iron. He comes to rip and tear. One of his kind.” He glanced at the warrior’s skeleton and shuddered. “Every night he comes, since you stopped singing me to sleep. Remember how we’d cuddle?”

I did remember. The earliest thing I could recall was Grethor curled up next to me in the night. It had been nice, when we were children. But as he grew and his muscles thickened, Grethor would squeeze me like a toy until my bones would crack. I would wake to find bruises and that was not so nice. “I can’t, Grethor. Not anymore. You need to learn to sleep on your own.”

Grethor lowered his head. “Such a pretty voice you have. Soft. And I don’t want you to get into trouble with Módor…”

Breath caught in my chest. It was hard to say no to Grethor. “All right. If you want.”

Grethor’s face split into a grin and his teeth were like needles. “Good. Walk with me, Dóta. My belly’s gurgling. I’m going above to get me some meat.” He pulled the sack from my hands. As we left the chamber, I glanced at the corpse one last time. The dead man’s smile was not so fearsome now.

In silence we wound through the passageways. Grethor twisted left and right to squeeze through the narrow gaps in the rock. He was massive as a frost giant, but could press himself through fine cracks. We made our way down to the chamber where he could enter the underground river. Big Brother leapt over the rocks while I stumbled. His eyes were made for the gloom.

The sound of rushing water filled my ears and the rock floor grew slick under my feet. Beneath the river’s surface I could just see the entrance to the underwater tunnel which would take Grethor to the world above.

He laid his clawed hands on my shoulders and they were clammy. “Be good to old Módor and I might bring you back a nice new hide to warm you. And more than that. I’ll bring you back more tales of the world above. Of the sky, trees, animals.” He leaned close, murmured in my ear. “Of humans, even.”

My heartbeat grew faster. “When will you be back?”

He shrugged. “When I’m back.” Grethor drew me to him and sniffed my hair. It was something he’d done ever since he was a child, though I’d never felt the urge to mimic him. Was it because we were not the same kind? Grethor slid into the river, treaded water for a moment. He opened his eyes wide and green fire kindled in them. The light on the water cast shimmers upon the roof of the hollow and then he dived and took the light with him.

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Foundling, the first Tooth and Blade novella, is now available world-wide on Kindle!

$0.99 USD or free on Kindle Unlimited.

Step into a world of haunted meres, iron and magic.

 

Tooth and Blade: The Origin of the Story

Salvete, readers!

Right now I’m thrilled that my first Tooth and Blade novella, Foundling, is going live on Amazon this week. Keep your eyes peeled as I will soon share Chapter 1!

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Here is the blurb:

They call me Peace-weaver. Warmaker. Beast.

My name is Dóta, and I am alone among my clan. The blood runs hot through my veins, though my mother’s touch gives me shivers. The gods of Asgard whisper to me in the night. I am a child of men, a monster unto monsters.

Sixteen years I have dwelled in the shadows beneath the earth. To discover my heritage, I must take up my bone knife and step into the light above. Secrets await me there—beauty, terror, the truth of who I am. Soon I must make an impossible choice, or the nine worlds will be devoured in fire and war.

A monster sheds no tears.

I was first inspired to write Tooth and Blade when I encountered Beowulf as a teen, stepping into the world of heroes and demons, mead halls and monsters. Sharp-eyed readers will recognize many similarities between Tooth and Blade and the epic. I’d consider the villain Grethor a blood relative of Grendel, though my story stands apart as an original creation. I’ve always loved stories told from the viewpoint of an outsider and that appealed to me much more than the idea of a straightforward adaptation.

Though my education is much more in Greco-Roman history than that of medieval Scandinavia, I have done my best to capture the spirit of the age, language and culture, diving deep into the primary sources. In my choice of language, I tried to stick with words of Old English, Germanic or Old Norse roots as much as possible, though I have often used words from Romance languages for the sake of clarity. You may notice that Dóta spins the tale using kennings, one of the favorite tools of a skald.

Though I strive to be authentic in my depiction of the Norse world, I have sought to give Tooth and Blade the timeless quality of myth rather than confine it to any specific region or century. It is enough to know the adventure takes place in a world of haunted meres, iron and magic.

Looking forward to sharing more about Tooth and Blade soon!

Julian

My writerly month: June, 2017

Salvete, readers!

It was a tumultuous month, to say the least.

One of my old friends passed away a few weeks ago. Dealing with this ended up being a large focus of my month. I had planned to attend a local writer’s event, but the funeral was organised for that afternoon. Theoretically, I guess I could have attended the event in the morning and then gone to the funeral, but I thought it was better to focus my energies on helping out my friend’s family that day. Then I delivered a eulogy at the funeral. That’s one of life’s less pleasant story-telling exercises, but really vital. Stories can help people heal. The important thing, as always, is to speak from the heart and make it real. This person was an important character in your life, so you want it to be as genuine as possible. A few people came up to me afterward and said how much they appreciated my speech, so I guess I did okay.

I decided to take a week off from blogging after that. Sorry about that. I needed some head-space.

In the end, finances prevented me from attending this year’s CYA Conference in Brisbane, but I’m really thrilled to see that some of my writer friends have experienced such success this year in the pitch sessions and learned so much from the panellists. And gosh, I’m particularly happy that somebody to whom I gave some encouragement at last year’s conference did so well in the competition! Well done to everybody, but particular congratulations go to the organisers for making this conference as special as it is.

Things are steaming ahead on my current novel. It’s going in a rather different direction to what I initially envisioned, because the characters aren’t quite who I thought they were. Initially I had intended to retell the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf from the viewpoint of a teenage girl. Beowulf was going to be a love interest. However, after spending about 10,000 words developing the female protagonist, I realised it would be a real disservice to her if Beowulf came sweeping in. She doesn’t need a male love interest to be a well-defined character. If anything, adding a male protagonist was in this instance going to undermine her characterisation by robbing her of agency. The solution, of course, is to remove the Beowulf framework and let the story stand on its own. It’s inspired by Beowulf, but is no longer an adaptation. The novel is an original historical fantasy whose heroine is a Viking girl. Stepping away from the canonical text is absolutely exhilarating. It has given me the freedom to create something wholly new, and to take my characters to places they never could have otherwise.

Meanwhile, my amazing co-authors and I are pretty much ready to submit our article for peer review. I’ll keep you posted on that one. I also got some good writerly news last week, which could lead to some better news in the future… But that’s all I’ll say for now.

Until next time,

Valete

My writerly week, ending 5 May, 2017

Salvete, readers!

This week has been very much focused on academic writing. Good news, though! I finally knocked out my contribution to an article and sent the draft to my co-authors. It still needs some work, but it feels great to see a research project that started twelve months ago come to fruition.

I’m now going to focus on blogging and my fiction for a couple of weeks, before turning to the next academic project. I’m ecstatic about this next novel– it’s based on one of my favourite epic poems, Beowulf. I’ve written a draft of some early chapters, then realised I didn’t like the direction it was going down. So I decided to take it back to the drawing board and let it simmer for a few weeks while I worked on an academic project. In the meantime, I downloaded a series of recorded lectures on Beowulf and Norse history. This is one of the things I love about writing. It’s a fantastic vehicle for self-education and growth. And now, after a bit of cogitating on it (read: daydreaming), I’ve got a much clearer sense of where the story needs to go and who my characters are.

And we’re off to a flying start!

The only thing which could impede my productivity at this point is Netflix– I just joined and am slightly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of shows on there. On the one hand, it’s a bit of a time-sucker. On the other, good writing tends to inspire good writing, and by golly there’s some amazing writing in television right now. And then there’s Roman Empire: Reign of Blood, which is… not so amazing. In the meantime, I’m absolutely open to recommendations about Netflix shows.

Oh, and another thing I’m really looking forward to: I’m beta reading a good friend’s script! I love beta reading– I always learn so much, and it feels great to help out fellow writers.

In the meantime, O faithful reader, I have a question for you. Yes, you! How are you enjoying these updates on my writerly weeks? I’ve been contemplating the idea of dropping back to doing one per month. I find them a good way to keep myself accountable and it helps me a lot to look back and realise I have actually accomplished things. And yet I know it can get a bit repetitive to read what amounts to ‘wrote stuff, read stuff, thought about it a bit’ every single week. Let me know in the comments if you’re enjoying these posts, and I’ll let you know what I decide.

Until next time,

Valete