Ordning and Old Magic Excerpt #1

November 13th, 2010 by David Leave a reply »

Here’s a relatively short scene from my National Novel Writing Month project in progress, Ordning and Old Magic. This was about 1/3 of a day’s writing, and it’s pretty much as typed out—I did look through it to fix a few typos, but that’s about it. This is a fantasy novel concerning the antics of a young warrior named Beowulf, his almost paramour Freya, and their friend Thirl. Along with agriculture, anti-empire rebels, the fading of magic from the world, and water rights.

***

Beowulf equipped himself for a night journey with sword and axe, dagger, and another dagger tucked in his boot for good measure. He wrapped himself in a sturdy cloak with a hood he could draw low over his face so he could travel with less notice. He found the fourth room behind the tavern, which served a stew that smelled none too good and small beer. No wonder this Maldin travels to sup and drink in an alehouse less conveniently located than this one. The door to the room was locked and the window was dark.

He had a long wait in the cool autumn evening, passing the time by mentally moving through the weapon forms Riven had taught him.

“My best student was a fighter named Carnic,” the old man had told him once. “He practiced constantly in his mind, even when his body was tired. He thought of new combinations for attack in defense in the abstract then put them to use the next day. Soon, no one wanted to face him, even with wooden staves.”

“You don’t mean Carnic the Conqueror?” Beowulf had asked wonderingly. Had the one-eyed swordmaster taught that great a man?

“He got that name later,” Riven said. He had seemed irritable about it, so Beowulf had not questioned him further. But slowly, he had tried to emulate Carnic’s practice, and now he had advanced to the point where he could envisage entire battles in his mind, working through scenarios where he was attacked by multiple men with different weapons. But he kept one eye on the stairs while doing so.

His combat reverie was interrupted by a creak on the stairs several hours after sunset. A bulky man wrapped in a dark cloak hove into view as Beowulf faded around the corner. He waited until the man fumbled with a heavy iron key, cursing as the simple lock refused to turn. Finally, it raspingly opened and the cloaked man pushed the door inward. Beowulf waited until the man was halfway through the door and then sprang forward, shoving him inside with his dagger against his back. A dagger was better than his sword for close-up work like this.

Maldin extended his arms carefully with his back to Beowulf. “Who sent you?” he asked in a gruff voice.

“We have a common friend who gave you Ordning coin. I want conversation with you, nothing more. Turn around so we can talk man to man.”

Maldin’s face was surprisingly handsome, although bearing the marks of debauchery. Too little exercise and too much food and ale had expanded his body, but his visage showed the hallmarks of the good-looking youth he must have once been. He stared at Beowulf sullenly.

“I hear you’ve been getting money from the spiders. What are doing for them?”

“You heard wrong.”

“I gave you a chance to talk. You should take advantage of the opportunity.”

“Get stuffed.” Maldin’s lip curled.

Beowulf crashed his fist into the knife man’s nose, blood spraying from the impact. Quicker than he expected from a big man with his body going to rot, Maldin’s hand went to his belt for one of the knives he had strapped under his jerkin. Beowulf had noted the bulge, however, and was ready for him. With the butt of the dagger in his left hand, he smashed the back of Maldin’s wrist. The larger man released his hold on the knife he was drawing and howled in pain. He put his left hand first on his hurt wrist then on his bleeding nose.

“That’s just a taste so you know I’m not a lad who can be trifled with,” Beowulf said. “I’m not interested in killing you. I will if I have to, but I’m more interested in the generals than the foot soldiers.”

“Whud do ‘oo want to know?” Maldin said through the blood running down from his cupped hand.

“That’s more like it,” Beowulf said approvingly, keeping a careful eye on him. For all he knew, the knife man was ambidextrous and might let fly with a dagger with his still intact left hand. “What are the spiders up to?”

“I don’ know, havump dun nuffin’myet.”

“Speak clearly, man!”

Maldin took his hand from his nose, inspecting the blood on it. Beowulf had figured him right. Most knife men liked to let their blades do their fighting for them rather than their fists. Maldin was probably unused to having his face pounded, especially by a youthful opponent fifty pounds lighter than he.

“I haven’t done anything for them yet. Just took a retainer for future services.”

“They’re so flush with cash they can pay you do nothing?”

Maldin shrugged. “Dunno. But I ain’t done nothing against you and your lot.”

“But you were paid with the expectation that you would.”

“Maybe so.”

“Who paid you?”

“Can’t say.”

Beowulf flexed his knuckles. “That was just a love tap I gave you before. There’s plenty more places on your face I can hurt. And it’s the last intact part of your body from the look of you.”

Maldin bent his head in submission. “All right, all right, but you have to keep this secret. If they know I squealed, they’ll kill me.”

“If you don’t squeal, I’ll kill you now, so pick your poison.”

The knife man tried to breathe through his nose to calm himself, but choked on the blood, which was just beginning to slow. He drew a shuddering breath through his mouth, coughing on some blood and then swallowing it. “It’s the bag man who paid me. His name’s Gask. Flinder Gask.”

“Gask. Got it.” Beowulf gave Maldin a long look. It would be safer to kill him to keep him from telling tales. It would send a clear message to other thugs that they should think twice about opposing Beowulf, too.

But he could not bear to slaughter a man over whom he had the advantage. He thought about giving Maldin a chance to go for his knives so he could kill him in battle. But that would be cruel, like trapping animals just so they could be hunted, as some of the nobles did for sport.

“You were in a bar fight and got your nose bloodied. You never saw me and we never had this little chat. It’s better for both of us that way. Understand?”

Maldin nodded slowly, as if unsure Beowulf was not softening him up before cutting his jugular.

“If I ever find out you’ve done differently, I’ll come for you again. And there will be no pleasant chitchat, just blood to satisfy my sword. It doesn’t like to go long without feeding, so it’s hoping you didn’t listen well to my words.”

With a final glare, Beowulf turned and left the room, slamming the door closed behind him. A year ago, he might have felt trepidation confronting such a one as Maldin. Now, it was no more than a job, one that gave little satisfaction. It’s the root of the weed I want to pull, not the tendrils.

Beowulf went straight home and went to bed, nodding to the guard at the entrance to the Copper Dragon as he passed.

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