Posts Tagged ‘Beowulf’

Ordning and Old Magic Excerpt #1

November 13th, 2010

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.

Retreat to Go Forward

December 28th, 2009

I finished Sword, Staff, and Chalice on Yuletide Eve, which was a nice present. Starting with a plot that was fairly solid but had some gray areas in it, I wrote 120,000 words in under two months, which is a good pace for me. The first draft has been described as a ‘page turner’ by its intrepid first reader (I haven’t even re-read the book myself yet), which is something no one said about Beowulf Stormbringer.

When I was midway through book one, Scott Sigler gave me some good advice, namely that my first book would suck. I resisted that wisdom at the time, but after learning how to do it properly, I can now say that story-wise book one is too internal, linear, and simple. Things come too easily to young Beowulf, and as a result, he has more conflict in his own mind than he does with the world. Not ideal for sword and sorcery… My task right now is to discover my events that complicate and enrich his path toward discovering his own strength and the sword that is a two-edged, um, sword for him.

It is for this reason many people wiser than I have argued that starting your novel-writing career with a series is idiotic—you have to sell the series on the basis of the first book, and guess which one is likely the weakest? However, even if I had gotten that sage advice before starting, I might still have started the way I did. It’s been a wonderful learning experience, and I believe I can finish a strong three book series. Writing a standalone second book might get me to market faster, but speed is not my goal. I don’t want to be published until I’m have something that is fun, satisfying, and just a little edifying, I am ready to maintain a pace of two books a year, and I already have one or two sequels or new projects nearly complete to follow it up.

At the same time as I work on the plot to book one, I want to push ahead with book three (just starting to flesh out the plot now), and I have at least three other projects I am itching to start. That means more living very simply (which as long as I have a roof over my head and enough to eat is actually fine with me), working hard, and writing 3,000 words per day when I’m writing rather than plotting, researching, or editing. All of which I’m really looking forward to.

Today’s Beowulf Snippet

August 13th, 2009

Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote yesterday for Beowulf Stormcrow, the book I’m trying to finish. I like throwing in the little ‘extra’ stories in the narrative, and this is one of ’em:


They talked of small matters after that: the court fashions of Encaras, how horses in Nallen were being purchased and taken south, that the spring silt from the Sennel had been rich and the growing season was plentiful this summer. Eventually the talk slowed as the sky grew dark and the stars glistened high above the table’s flickering candle lanterns. Beowulf, who had only drunk watered wine, grew restless. He had tried to take an interest in the conversation about the Five Cities and had succeeded for a while. But that time had passed and he hungered for more exciting discussion. Where is the singing or saga-telling? Should I play my pipe to liven up the evening?

“Pardon, Born,” he said. “But is this how feasts end in your lands—with no music or stories shared?”

Born roused himself from the contemplation of the night sky. Charlyss leaned her head against his shoulder and he sought not to disturb her comfort. “Do you have skald talents you wish to share with your southern neighbors?”

“I am no skald, but I have some skill with the pipe. Perhaps I could relate a short saga if no one minds.”

“By all means,” said Jaspir. “Enliven our reverie with a bloodthirsty tale from the cold north.”

“They are not all bloody tales,” Beowulf said as he stood up to fetch his goat horn pipe.

When he returned he started the tale he had selected while he walked back and forth. It was the saga of the warrior woman Astrid who had left her husband Wardfris at home while she sailed her battle ship to sea in search of adventure. It was a simple tale, one that might be chanted and sung to introduce a greater saga such as the one of Od’s creation of the world or the ancient hero Olin (namesake to the current Skarlish ruler) who slew three giants in succession on a single day to win a prize of glittering gold from the dragon Ermsiggil whose lashing tail set the waves of the world in motion.

Astrid sailed far and wide, fighting all and overcoming every opponent she faced. Her ship grew heavy with treasure and she sang and danced with her crew, faces flushed with the glow of mead as they savored their triumphs. But when at last she returned home she found that her love had been killed in a raid on her village. Heartbroken, she took her ship into dark waters to seek Wardfris and sails there still, searching for her lost love. You can hear her cry in the sound of the waves crashing against the shore: WARD frissssss, WARD frissssss.

That was the simple story Beowulf had learned as a child and he knew the words of the four stanzas nearly by heart. The rest he could improvise. He was not reckoned a great singer among the Skarlish by any stretch, but his modest skills were amplified by the quiet night air and the absence of other diversions. He liked the lines about fighting best but he could feel the sorrow of Astrid as she searched the dark seas for her sweetheart.

He played the melody on his pipe then chanted the first stanza before singing the refrain:

I would search the dark seas

For my love, Wardfris

I would die a thousand deaths

In return for one lost kiss

The sea calls Wardfris

The sea calls Wardfris

By the second refrain, Charlyss joined in, and then Born and Jaspir too. Beowulf’s own rough voice was complemented by Charlyss’s sweet alto. Together they drew out Wardfrisss, deep and crashing on the first syllable and long and hissing on the second until it sounded like the sea itself sang beyond the trees that lined the clearing in front of Born’s house.

When Beowulf finished, the others applauded, and Born with them—but Beowulf noted that his eyes measured him carefully. There was more to Born than he realized at first. The man could be calm, yes, but he could also speak with power. And there was something in his gaze that suggested he saw further than other men and women.

He mentioned this to Thirl as they prepared to sleep. “How else could a man direct the activities of an insurgent force from a remote location such as this?” Thirl said. “And with no natural authority to boot—no generalship, government office, nothing. If Born could not lead we would not be gathered at his farm.”

“I reckon you’re right.”