When you revise a story you inevitably end up discarding sections to the greater good of the whole. Sometimes, often, these sections are dearly beloveds and it breaks our hearts to see them go.
This is a section I’ve snipped out of my WIP and I can’t resign myself to consigning it to the bin.
Finna dreams of the Rök
Many fathoms beneath the waves, the Beast roared and hurled itself against the rocky walls of its prison, sending gouts of steam high into the ink-black sky. On the coast road to Silverfoss, foot soldiers, mere farmboys and fishermen, cringed, fearing the weight of the sky, the towering seas and the soulless raging from the ocean’s depths. But their taskmasters urged them on, careless of the unfettered elements, the torrential rain slicking off their shagreen garments, no more aware of the cold than deep water fish.
“It’s those fuckin’ odd-eyed fiends doin’ this,” Jussi Bjornsson said, looking fearfully out across the heaving water. “’T’ain’t natural, the sea chuckin’ itself about like that!”
His lined fisherman’s face was pale beneath the weathering, and his worries were not so much about the sea, but about his children left behind and how his wife would feed them. Frodi Four-Fingers nodded sagely. They had never been friends, not when they were simple neighbours, but now, with their world rushing towards its end, they stuck together like brothers. Frodi clutched his pike tighter and spat in the direction of the ocean. The wind caught his spittle and flicked it back into his flying hair. His thoughts were for his sons hauling a siege engine, and the youngest who was already dead—an exhausted stumble and down he’d gone, under the wheels of the great wooden tower.
“You’d think they were stirring up the sea beasts against us—they’ve stirred up everything else! Crops die, beasts sicken, fish won’t shoal—even the bairns are born dead. What’s left to us, Jussi, lad?”
Jussi opened his mouth to reply as a whiplash caught him across the shoulders. His pack took the force of the blow and he cried out more in fear than in pain.
“Move,” the voice hissed from above. Mounted on a massive black horse, the Dyrbörn loomed over the men, his heavy cowl casting his face in deep shadow. Only the eyes reflected a dull light, flat and pale, like the eyes of a dead fish. “You want your land back? Then work for it, idlers!”
The two men scuttled to catch up with the rest of their troop, bowed beneath the weight of their weapons and their packs full of parts for the construction of a catapult. They dared a glance at one another, and each saw fear in the other’s eyes. Before them lay the splendid borg of Silverfoss, where the Svartur trollkarls plotted and feasted, and let the land go to rack and ruin. Behind them, driving them on, were the Dyrbörn, Guardians in the common tongue, shrouded in their garb of strange, rough-grained leather. Their faces, only dimly glimpsed within the shadows of deep cowls, left an impression of sea carrion, of fleshy gills and inhuman teeth.
Above the thunder of the waves and the roar of the storm, the men were aware of a third power, a dark, evil presence that the sea barely contained. They knew it for the Beast, though the word never left their lips, and only their hatred of the Svartur trollkarls who had beggared them was greater than their horror of the creatures from the sea, and the terror that lurked beneath it.
Frodi spat again in disgust and despair, and hoisted his lumpy pack higher on his shoulder. With Jussi at his side, he fixed his eyes on the tall spires and towers of Silverfoss and let hatred take command. Hatred of the trollkarls who lived surrounded by wealth and riches while his children lived on kelp and the slimy dead things the ocean tossed up. He let it boil in his blood, dark and hopeless, until even his dead boy was forgotten.
In their watchtowers and along their battlements, the Valdur looked on as the Dyrbörn and their army of Vænnlanders swarmed down on Silverfoss from the north. The city faced the ocean, and at its back, a broad plain rose to a high ridge lit by the dying light of day and the flickering lightning of the coming storm. Sigmarr watched, his scarred soldier’s face blank and unruffled as the darkness clotted along the ridge of the nearest hills. Soon Vænnland would be no more—the Valdur seerlore would hurl the sea from its bed, draw the fire from the deeps, and the very bones of the earth would shake. The sea would cover Vænnland’s broken back, and the crawling sea fiends would be washed away. And with them would die everything Sigmarr held dear—that was the price.
The forest was already gone. Thousand-year-old oaks and yews had been hacked down; the earth lay bleeding. Here and there, a solitary tree stood, stark and black, burnt to a charred post. On the spikes that had once borne green leaves and been called branches, pendulous fruits swayed in the wind from the sea. Traitors. Rebels. Fathers who wanted only to return to their families. All dead. Hanged. Examples for the rest. Even at such a distance the stench of death reached the city. Sigmarr’s heart went out to his people, mislead and enthralled by the Dyrbörn, the Children of the Beast.
“How long?” Sigmarr’s closest thegn, Ageirr lowered the spyglass and turned to his general.
Sigmarr’s face was lined with worry and compassion. “How long before they attack? Or how long before we end it all?”
Ageirr swallowed hard. “Is there really no other way?”
Sigmarr placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder. It was a hand roughened with calluses, strong and firm. It was a hand like his face, criss-crossed with white scars against the tan of his skin. A soldier’s hand. “We could kill them all, Vænnlanders and Dyrbörn. The sea fiends have iron and steel and an army thousands strong, but we have seerlore.”
Sigmarr shook his head wearily. “Would you have us rule over a charnel house? A dead world of ash and bare rock? The Dyrbörn will not rest until they have freed the Beast. As long as there is Valdur seerlore in the world they will try to harness it to that purpose. That is why they were created.”
Ageirr worshiped Sigmarr, but the bitterness of the words dashed the last of his hopes. “Would that we had crushed the vermin as soon as they crawled ashore!”
Sigmarr grasped his thegn’s shoulder. “Whatever stayed the hand of the Council—pity or pride—makes no matter now. Ragnarök, the destruction of the world and the skapariar who made it, is the only way to put the Valdur seerlore out of their reach.”
“Will nothing survive the Rök?”
“A little. Enough.” Sigmarr smiled suddenly and his lined face was transformed. “One day a child will be born from the line of Valdur and all the craft, all the wisdom, all the seerlore of the Valdur will pass into his tiny fists. When he grows, he will crush the sea slugs of Dyrbörn and fetter the Beast forever. He will raise up from the ocean the world we are about to destroy, and it will live again.”
Ageirr forced a grin. “So, there is hope, in a baby not yet born.”
Sigmarr nodded. “Hope. For the world to come, yes.”
But he was thinking of the present world, of his own wife and his own children, and tears crept into the corners of his eyes, one blue as the sky, the other, brown as a bird’s wing.