SOTN: The Novel
Here’s an excerpt from David Farney’s (as yet unpublished) epic fantasy novel, STORM OF THE NORTH, which begins where Norse mythology ends.
Onund finished his shift at the oar, and another rook took his place on the bench. He peered over the shields where they were slotted along the longship’s top rail to protect rowers from arrows or other missiles. The vessel veritably flew up the still fjord, the moon’s reflection racing on the water ahead of a dragonhead prow as if across a tarnished mirror. Like the harbor road, Captain Soren had spared no opportunity to send his rooks up and down the eight-mile fjord, upon which Onund had rowed his hands raw and learned all the landmarks along its shores.
They passed a promontory known as Halfway Heights when he saw the Jutvik ships — three of them beached one alongside another upon a gravelly shore, to the north of which lay some of Nordheim’s finest pastures.
Onund saw Captain Soren circle his hand in the air from his place at the aft of a neighboring ship.
Of one accord, Nordheim’s three longships turned toward the shoreline; there was only one way to go at this kind of task, Onund knew, and that was to simply hit the beach hard, as a group. His heart beat faster. They approached with such speed that the distance to landfall seemed not so much to decrease as it did to shorten in leaps and bounds.
It wouldn’t be long now.
Onund took up his shield and braced himself for the landing. The Jut ships, so near, appeared to be empty. Captain Soren had given a few scenarios his men might face — indeed this was one of them.
The oarsmen brought in their oars. A moment later the longship heaved onto the shore and came to a scraping halt, as did its two sister-ships. Men tore shields loose from top rails and piled out of the vessels. Onund and Keldan were two of about 450 rooks and warriors fanning out along the beach; steely whispers rose from unsheathed swords as the mass of men formed a line.
Onund drew his axe as he and Keldan ran toward the left flank. He took a place in the line and raised his shield while Keldan nocked an arrow and stood behind. Staring up a grassy rise, Onund detected no glow of torches beyond its moon-rimed crest. Nor could he hear livestock bawling with the distress that the thieving Juts were sure to cause them. Then the sound of shields thudding together overtook all as the Nordheim line tightened to form a human wall.
And so Onund marched toward his first battle.
Eyes wide, shield and shoulder forward, he moved step by step with his fellows up the knoll, his senses as sharp as the great-axe in his hand, his mind clear of all the burdensome thoughts he’d brought with him to Lundgard’s harbor that evening. Up he went, one deliberate yard at a time.
Nearing the crest, Onund watched the knee-deep grass covering it. Hardly a stalk swayed in the windless night. So near the top, he hated being unable to see over the grass; in him rose a discomfort akin to being blindfolded and awaiting a punch. He gripped his axe tightly, ready to strike back. Just a few more paces . . .
From the shore, a horn-blast ripped the silence.
Onund reacted — as did all the men in the Nordheim shield wall — by halting and looking quickly to the rear.
Not 50 yards away and beached next to the three Jut ships, two huge longships appeared. From nowhere. Like ghosts.
What the — ? Onund thought, disbelieving his eyes despite a Jut battle cry meeting his ears. Five hundred warriors scrambled from the previously unseen ships.