Table of Contents
? Title Page Copyright Page Dedication
1 White Wolf 2 A Mercy 3 Night Caller 4 The Troll Wall 5 The Loss of Sons 6 Wolfsangel 7 What Was Lost 8 Fury 9 Varieties of Darkness 10 The Dead God’s Bride 11 An Invitation 12 Enemies 13 The King’s Men 14 The Prince and the Wolf 15 A Captive 16 An Engagement 17 Strange Meeting 18 The Raid 19 Endings 20 A Hard Road Forward 21 The Drowning Pool 22 Magical Thinking 23 Running Wolf 24 Trial 25 Escape 26 Into the Unknown 27 Haithabyr 28 Bargains 29 The Drum 30 Politics 31 A Plan 32 The Wine Road 33 An Explanation 34 From the Fog 35 A Wolf’s Treat 36 The Blood Mire 37 The Hunters 38 What Is Within 39 The Nature of Magic 40 Wolf Hunt 41 Werewolf 42 Success for the Sorcerer
43 A Sacrifice 44 For Love 45 Buried Treasure 46 From the Dark 47 Descent 48 The Pool of Tears 49 Manifestation 50 Alone 51 Reward 52 King and Queen 53 The Battle in the Hoard Cave 54 Tracking 55 Fenrisulfr 56 The Dead 57 Travellers’ Tales
?M. D. LACHLAN
?A Gollancz eBook
?Copyright ? M.D. Lachlan 2010
?All rights reserved.
?The right of M.D. Lachlan to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him
in accordance with the
?Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
?First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Gollancz
?The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
?5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
?London, WC2H 9EA
?An Hachette UK Company
?This eBook first published in 2010 by Gollancz.
?A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
? eISBN : 978 0 5750 8962 4
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To my son James
Prince you cannot
talk about me
For you ate
a wolf’s treat,
shedding your brother’s
you sucked on wounds
with a cold snout,
being hated by all.
FIRST POEM OF HELGI HUNDINGSBANI
THE POETIC EDDA
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were
necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing
good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being - and who is willing to destroy a
piece of his own heart?
1 White Wolf
Varrin gripped the shaft of his spear and scanned the dark horizon, fighting for balance as thewaves rocked the little longship. There, he was sure, was the river his lord had described, abroad mouth between two headlands, one like a dragon’s back, the other like a stretching dog.It fitted well enough, he thought, if you looked at it with half an eye.
‘Lord Authun, king, I think this is it.’
The man sitting in his cloak with his back to the prow awoke. His long white hair seemed almostto shine under the bright lantern of the half moon. He stood slowly, his limbs stiff withinaction and the cold. He turned his attention to the shore.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘this is as was revealed.’
Varrin, a giant of a man a head and a half taller than the king, touched an amulet he wore athis neck at the mention of prophecy. ‘We wait until dawn and then try the river, lord?’
Authun shook his head.
‘Now,’ he said. ‘Odin is with us.’
Varrin nodded. Normally he would have regarded it as very unwise to negotiate an unknown riverin the dark. With his king at his side, anything felt possible. Authun was a Volsung, a directdescendant of the gods and was a vessel for their powers.
The tide was slow but with the boat, and the crew were well rested from the favourable windthat had carried them for a couple of days and eager to get to the oars. Everything was goingwell, and no wonder with the king on board. His magic, Varrin felt sure, had blessed theirjourney.
The men bent their backs pulling through the waves, propelling themselves at speed towards theriver. The ship was more stable under oar than under sail and its sudden steadiness seemed toreflect the purpose Varrin felt as he heaved the boat through the surf. They were going into afight, no question, and Varrin was ready.
Ten warriors crewed the ship, only ten including the king, but Varrin felt no uncertainty, norscarcely any nervousness. He was with his lord, King Authun, victor of innumerable battles,slayer of the giant Geat, Gyrd the Mighty. If Authun thought ten men were enough for their taskthen ten men were enough. It was a trick of the gods that such a man had not produced an heir.The rumour was that Authun was descended from Odin, the chief of the gods. That battle-fondpoet felt threatened by his fierce descendant and had cursed Authun to sire only femalechildren. He could not risk him producing an even mightier son.
Varrin shivered when he thought of the consequences if Authun did not father a boy. He wouldhave to name an heir, with all the trouble and bloodshed that would cause. Only Authun’s nameheld the factions of his kingdom together. Without it, there would be slaughter and then theirenemies would pounce. He glanced at the king and smiled to himself. He wouldn’t put it pasthim to live for ever.
Varrin looked into the black hills and wondered why they had come to that land. It was morethan just plunder, it seemed, because their ship had slipped away from a quiet beach a day upthe coast from their hall, no kinsmen to bid them farewell, no feasting before they left. Onlythe war gear, the bright heads of the axes, a shield decorated with a painted wolf’s head,another with a raven, spoke of their mission. The images bore a clear message to their enemies:‘We will make a feast for these creatures.’
They rushed upon the river’s mouth but slowed as the water became more shallow. They did notstop for soundings; Authun just made his way to the prow of the ship and leaned out over thewater, directing the rudderman. Varrin smirked to the man at the oar opposite as the ship slidinto the river like a knife into a sheath. The other oarsman, a young man of seventeen or so
who had never travelled with Authun before, grinned back. ‘You were right - he isincredible,’ his expression said. They were proud of their king.
The flood tide took them up the river. The channel became perilous and narrow, split into theland between sharp cliffs and hard boulders, but the king found the course. An hour inland withthe dark tight about them, their only light a pale slice of moon high in the sky, the push ofthe current began to fade and the rowing got harder. In front of them a sandbank loomedmidstream and Authun signalled for the boat to beach upon it. The small ship was designed forjust such a landing and grounded with a slight judder.
Authun turned to his men and spoke their names in turn.
‘Vigi, Eyvind, Egil, Hella, Kol, Vott, Grani, Arngeir. We are kinsmen and sworn brothers.There can be no lies between us. None of you shall return from this journey. Only Varrin willcome back with me to the coast to steer the ship. By the time the sun rises you will all befeasting with your forefathers in the halls of Odin or Freya.’
The men largely received the news of their impending deaths without expression. They werewarriors, raised with the certainty of death in battle. A couple smiled, pleased that theywould die at their king’s side.
‘I would die with my kinsmen,’ said Varrin.
‘Your time will come soon enough,’ said Authun.
He looked at Varrin, the nearest he had to a friend. The giant would be needed to get the boatback into the river and to help him with whatever perils they faced back down the whale road totheir home. After that he would let him die.
‘I have no responsibility to tell you why you must die, other than it is my will that youshould. But know that they will sing tales of your deeds until the world ends. We are here totake a magic child, one who will secure the future of our people for ever and one who will bemy heir.’
‘What of the child your wife carries?’ said Varrin.
‘There is no child,’ said Authun. ‘It is a deception of the mountain witches.’
The men drew in breath. Authun was a good king, fair and generous, a giver of rings. He hadnever even killed a slave in drunkenness, as kings were wont to do. This was shocking news,though. The men despised liars and this was very near to a lie. Also, it bore the mark ofmagic, and women’s magic at that.
The warriors shifted in their seats. Death did not scare them; they found it as companionableas a dog. But the mountain witches terrified them. Only the king, half a god himself, couldspeak to the witches and even he had to be wary. Their advice had proved true in the past butthe sacrifices they demanded were terrible and always the same - children: boys for servants,girls to continue their strange traditions.
‘The child is a captive in the village here, taken from the sorcerers of the far west,’ saidAuthun. ‘He is a son of the gods and will lead us to greatness. These farmers do not yetrealise what they have. We will part them from it before they do. The village is defended onlyby farmers but there are warriors not two hours’ ride away.’
He looked out into the dark. Somewhere in the distance the sky was taking on a soft pink glow.
‘Their beacons are lit,’ he said. ‘We can expect opposition. We will find the child with apriest of their god. The building is marked like this, as their holy places are.’ He made across with his fingers. ‘Follow me as we fight to their temple, then we cut our way back tothe boat. By that time the tide will have turned and I will leave you to your glory. You willbe heroes and your fame will be everlasting. The village is five bends of the river away.
The men nodded and went quietly to their work. Spears were unstrapped from the rear of theship, helmets and thick tunics taken from barrels, war axes unpacked and tied to their backs.Varrin and Egil had the honour of dressing the king, helping him into his precious mail hauberk- a byrnie, as the men called it - and placing the golden wolf helm, symbol of his family, ontohis head. The helmet was the best that could be made, open at the face save for shining cheekguards that made it look as if a giant wolf was swallowing Authun’s head from the rear. From adistance, in the splendid helmet, his eyes blackened with soot, the king would appear as aterrifying wolf-headed man. The warriors placed rings on the king’s arms, tied a golden beltat his waist, took off his sea cloak and put on one of golden thread.
Varrin passed the king his shield with its snarling wolf’s head. Then it was time to take outthe sword, the only one on the boat, in its white-jewelled scabbard. As Varrin took it from itsstorage barrel, it caught the moonlight. It was a sword unlike any other. The Norse blades wereshort and straight, useful for hacking close up in conjunction with a shield. This sword thoughwas long and thin with a pronounced curve to it. It was stronger than any straight sword and,though lighter, had cut through enemy weapons many times. Authun had bought it for a fortunefrom a southern merchant who said it came from ‘beyond the dawn’ - by which Authun hadsupposed he meant the east. Wherever it came from, Authun knew it was enchanted, forged - asthe merchant said - by magical smiths in the legendary kingdoms of the sands. The merchant hadnamed it Shamsir, and Authun had kept the name as it seemed to contain the stir of the desertwinds, or at least how he imagined they would sound. His men called it the Moonsword.
The king was ready. In his war gear he looked terrible and splendid, a god. In fact, comparedto his kinsmen, Authun had little taste for ornamentation. The display was for a reason - toinspire awe in his foes. Varrin looked at the king. The West Men would need their courage, hethought. Before long the others were ready too. Authun filled their drinking horns himself.
‘To the endless feasts in the halls of the slain,’ said Hella.
‘To the endless feasts in the halls of the slain,’ replied the rest of the men, under theirbreath in case the enemy should be nearby. They all drank a deep draught, and then another. Thehorns were refilled and refilled as the boat was prodded by oar from the sandbank and got underway again, rounding the bends towards their prey. As Authun had noted, they had been seen. TheWest Men were no fools and kept watch on the mouths of the rivers. Already, even before thevillage came into view they could see the flickering lights of its warning beacons filling thesky. They would have to be quick, to strike before a body of men could be mustered to facethem. No matter, they were used to that.
The final bend was taken and Varrin had the impression of a village already being sacked. Thebeacons were blazing all along the beach and up a hill. The fires revealed what Varrinconsidered a very large settlement of twenty houses leading up to a building with a cross onits roof. Well, at least they knew where it was.
The West Men had been clever. The beach was backed by cut staves on top of a cliff the heightof a man. There was only one entrance to the settlement from the river, a gap you wouldstruggle to fit a cart through. It would have been easy to defend had the defenders been properwarriors. Even from the boat in the flickering firelight Varrin could see by the way the menheld their spears and shields that they were more used to tilling fields than fighting. Therewere gaps in their shield wall and a couple of spears pointed at the moon. They would have beenbetter advised to direct their tips to the invaders, because the moon wasn’t going to cut offtheir heads.
The king was the first off the boat, splashing into the knee-deep water and walking up thebeach at the pace of a man carrying a basket of mussels rather than a warrior facing his enemy.The troop followed him, three behind, then four in a shield wedge. Two remained on the boat toguard it.