Names and Language in Fantasy

Fantasy settings are full of oddly placed umlauts, strange hyphens, and awkward apostrophes that are often maligned online. Which is unfortunate, since coming up with names is one of the hardest parts of writing, and approaching it afraid of committing one of these cardinal sins doesn’t help. But it really isn’t something anyone should worry about, because in the end it’s just mashing syllables together until something that sounds like a noun comes out. Besides, plenty of real words sound strange if you think about them long enough or if the language is unfamiliar to you. Hyphens, umlauts, apostrophes and other unusual characters can be totally appropriate in a name so long as they are not used excessively. One of my favorite fictional names contains an asterisks, and belongs to the Gzilt ship 8*Churken in Hydrogen Sonata by Ian. M. Banks, simply because it is so alien.

When done with a bit of thought, names can communicate aspects of your world’s history and culture without beating the reader over the head with exposition. While at the same time providing plenty of fodder for online fan theories.

Theme is something to consider when coming up with words and names for your setting. Building an entire conlang can be tempting but it is a huge sink of time and effort, and will be difficult for someone without a background in linguistics. It can still be worthwhile though, just like worldbuilding for its own sake can be worthwhile but unless you’re Tolkien designing multiple languages for your setting is probably more than you have time for. Names should still have some consistency though. Unless you are aiming for a multilingual or multicultural faction I’d recommend trying for uniformity in naming conventions to aid immersion.

My preferred method of naming is done by drawing upon real world examples. Much of worldbuilding consists of taking elements from our world that readers will be familiar with and mixing them together to create something new. Drawing on the real world has several advantages; there’s no need to redefine what a sword is or what it’s like to work in an early industrial textile mill. Most readers have some idea of what things are like already. The same can be done with names.

If you have a handful of real world cultures that you are using as inspiration you can use the languages too. Want readers to compare your country to the Holy Roman Empire? Use words like Kaiser and Diet. Want readers to imagine the grandeur and scale of your Rome-inspired faction? Then Latin and Italian may become your best friends. You can insert references and easter eggs, change spellings to make the words your own, and make mundane place names interesting by translating them into languages that are unfamiliar to your audience.

How much do you need to change? Depends.

If you want to really make the world your own then you can use real languages as a basis to create new words. Breaking real words into their component sounds and rearranging them can be a fun exercise to create convincing and easy to pronounce words for your world that will sound new and believable to your readers.

Of course, you don’t need to make your own words at all if you don’t want to. Sometimes the simplest names are the best, and lifting real-world names and placing them in your setting wont matter much to some audiences. Just look at Warhammer Fantasy, the setting is over the top and dripping with grimdark, and takes just about all of its nouns from our world. The Empire’s heavy German inspiration is immediately apparent, and the French and English influences on Bretonnia are likewise obvious. If you take this route you’ll want to be careful to avoid unfortunate implications, like making your orcs out as invaders from the eastern steppes. Don’t do that.

Finally, once you’ve decided on naming schemes you can use them to show your settings history and influence the interactions between characters. A multi-national empire will be filled with different language groups and unless a great deal of effort has been expended on suppressing local dialects characters should be able to encounter names derived from a plethora of different languages. Meanwhile, isolated mountain communities may speak dialects that seem strange to outsiders and cause miss-understandings if different implied meanings or false cognates come into play.

In the end, naming and conlangs can be fun and if making original names is your thing then it can be immensely satisfying. But like many parts of worldbuilding it can easily get out of hand and distract from the story you want to tell. Most people wont care too much anyway as long as their immersion is left intact. So have fun naming. Your readers wont mind.

Summer Reading 2019

We all make promises to ourselves that we can’t keep. We say we’ll go on a diet or go to the gym more, or spend more time outside. If you’re like me you probably tell yourself you’re going to read more. That’s what I told myself at the beginning of the summer and I did, but not as much as I had hoped. I told myself a similar lie when I said that I would get this written over a month ago. And yet here we are.

So here is my very late list of some of the reading I got done this past summer.

Dune

Every fan of science fiction has probably at least heard of Frank Herbert’s masterpiece and with a new movie adaptation on the horizon it’s bound to get even more buzz. I first read the series back in middle school, it was one of the books I would bring with me every day to read on the bus and during study hall. It’s amazing the details you miss out on when you’re fighting to stay awake on the ride to school because you stayed up too late reading the night before.

I’ve been telling myself for years that I would revisit Dune to take in some details that I missed on my first read-through or that simply went over my head at that age. Well, I’ve finally accomplished my goal, or part of it. Back in July I was gifted the book on Audible and finally gave the platform a try (I admit this is a loose definition of reading). I never thought I would enjoy an audiobook but this really changed my mind. The narration brought the characters to life and some sections of the book even boasted separate voice actors for each character. These different voices helped greatly with immersion, especially in the case of Baron Harkonen. My only complaint is that the entire book was not narrated in this style.

I was really amazed by how many details I missed out on. Frank Herbert crafted a book with a complex setting that feels lived in and distant, but familiar at the same. I thought I knew the story well but I felt as if I was experiencing the book again for the first time. These books certainly deserve more than one read to really appreciate.

Velocity Weapon

I haven’t been doing much to keep up with recent scfi, or keep up much with scifi at all. So when I saw Meghan O’Keefe’s Velocity Weapon on sale I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. Boy do I regret staying away from scifi for so long.

O’Keefe introduces us to rogue AI, a wounded gunnery sergeant and her brother, and a thief living in the slums of her planet’s habit domes. The action takes place across two planets and a space ship, and leaves you guessing for much of the book about how they connect and what is real. O’Keefe does a great job keeping the reader in the reader guessing. Several times I tried to guess at an upcoming plot twist and turned out to be right, but the book keeps its secrets leaving readers to discover deeper plots alongside the characters.

The Darkness That Comes Before

I have a friend that has been trying to get me to read some of R. Scott Bakker’s work for years now and this summer I finally picked up the first book of “The Prince of Nothing” which is in turn the first trilogy of Bakker’s “The Second Appocalypse.” Before going on I should point out however that these books are not for young readers, and certainly not for those who might find gruesome of explicit content in their books disturbing. With that said, I very much enjoyed this book.

I started out unsure of how I felt. The book throws a lot at you in the opening chapters and doesn’t give a whole lot of explanation of what is going on. Overtime we learn a few things, Achamian is some kind of sorcerer who belongs to an magical order called the Mandate. Kellhus is a monk who has been sent out to accomplish some task that we aren’t quite sure of yet. And there is a holy war coming that several factions are fighting to take advantage of.

The book has a lot of things that I enjoy including a deep sense of history. The world we’re shown just feels old and there are constant hints of a greater past that has been lost. Bakker’s characters are deeply flawed and readers will likely be hard pressed to say that any of them are truly good. These are characters who have been shaped by a harsh world and their actions show it.

Magic is shown to be incredibly powerful in these books. At one point we are shown a relatively small group of sorcerers who annihilate a much larger force. With that said, magic is not something that is used frequently, at least in the sections that I have read so far. In fact we are told that Achamian, on of our POV characters, is incredibly powerful. Enough so that even the leaders of other magical schools seem to be wary of him and yet in the entire book we only see mentions of his power but few actual demonstrations. If anything I think this shows his strength more than any spell-slinging could.

The Thousand Names

Django Wexler’s books have been on my to-read list for a long time now and I have to say that I regret waiting. The series takes place in a gunpowder fantasy setting and follows a group of soldiers assigned to their kingdom’s colonial forces and in the beginning of this book find themselves faced with the difficult task of reinstalling the local rulers following an anti-imperialist coup. Their situation is then made more difficult by arrival of reinforcements led by an eccentric commander who has other motives for having requested this assignment.

I really enjoyed the book’s focus on the common soldiers and its portrayal of napoleonic style tactics in a fantasy setting. Even though this is a fantasy setting magic is not seen for most of the book. Features that initially seemed magical later turn out to have much more mundane explanations. Not to worry though, the book’s namesake turns out to be central to the plot later on and my initial impressions of the second book lead me to believe that magic will become a bigger part of the plot as the series progresses.

Top Five Magic Systems

For me the best part about the fantasy genre is the magic. I love reading a book with a well-designed system, one that’s believable and is full of possibilities, and by possibilities I don’t just mean those shown on the screen. In my mind a good magic systems should also be one where the audience can imagine new uses not seen “on screen” based on the mechanics they are shown.

1. Codex Alera

It’s hard to beat the appeal of a simple elemental magic system, but it’s very easy to ruin one. In the Codex Alera series Jim Butcher manages to make an elemental magic system that feels natural, is incorporated into the society seen in the books, and doesn’t fall victim to its creators desire for originality. Instead of the normal four elements, this systems has six, making it more closely resemble the chinese elemental system instead of the greek. For each of these elements there is a countless number of nature spirits called ‘furies’ of varying degrees of strength. Most human characters can manipulate all six elements to some degree, but are only particularly skilled with one or two. High Lords, the nobility of the setting, are distinguished by their power over all six.

I love this system because it is intuitive and because it has been completely integrated with Aleran society. Social status and political power are linked to a person’s magical talents and the power of furies is used in place of many technologies that we enjoy in the real world. This integration is so complete that characters have difficulty imagining ways to accomplish tasks without the use of their furies, putting characters who lack a connection to furies at a severe disadvantage in Aleran society.

The differences we see in urban versus rural perceptions of magic is another facet of this system that I really enjoy. Rural inhabits more readily anthropomorphize their furies by assigning them names and personalities, whereas urban residents are more likely to see their furies as merely useful tools. In my mind different interpretations of the same system lends a does or realism to the setting. Real people have differing thoughts and approach the same situations in different ways, and this is nice to see mirrored in a fantasy setting.

2. Full Metal Alchemist

FMA’s alchemical magic, with its strict rules of equivalent exchange and lip-service to scientific principles, is a perfect system for science-enthusiasts. It’s a system with clearly defines rules and ways to break them, which is important in any high fantasy setting and keeps hand-waving to a minimum. Most importantly, it is a system where the costs are clearly shown; an important consideration in high fantasy settings.

Most of the examples of alchemy we see in the series consists of reshaping matter, but we see from the more specialized alchemists practiced by characters like Mustang and Kimblee that much more is possible. From alchestry’s practitioners in Xing we learn that this is another system that is also open to some interpretation.

Unfortunately we don’t get to see many alchemists outside of the military, but from Shou Tucker’s home and the brief glimpses of civilian alchemists attempting to repair damaged buildings we see a little of what every day life is like for an alchemist who has not been completely absorbed by the military. From the reaction of Leto cultists in Reole and the distrust for alchemy held by the Ishvalens we see that the practice of this magic is not as wide spread as the other systems listed here, but admonishments from characters who believe that alchemists should work for the people and the prominent role given to alchemists in Amestris’ military shows the importance of magic to the rest of the setting.

3. Wizard of Earthsea

The magic of true names that Ursula K. Le Guin shows us in Earthsea is a bit more philosophical than the other systems I’ve chosen to include. In this system words have power and people jealously guard their true names. Names are power in this setting, and fully trained wizards dedicate years to learning the true names of everything around them. The consequences of having this power come up several times. The balance of the world puts an inherent limit on what a wizard can do. Many spells are in fact illusions because creating something from nothing would upset the world’s equilibrium.

With the exception of the Kargish lands, magic is thoroughly integrated into the society of Earthsea. Practitioners of magic range from hedge witches, to weather control wizards on ships, to royal advisers. In the first book we are shown the importance of magic when Olgion, a sorcerer, is present for Ged’s naming.

4. Powder Mage

Brian McClellan created multiple magic systems for his Powder Mage series. Normally I am hesitant to embrace a setting with multiple distinct types of magic but these books are the exception. Privileged, Power Mages, and Blood Mages are all relatively rare and we get the sense that magic has changed over time. This sense of evolving magic makes a great fit for the themes of revolution and change often seen in gunpowder fantasy. The practitioners I’m most interested in here are Knacked; people with a single magical talent that can be anything from never needing to sleep to making crops grow in just minutes.

According to the author the Privileged make up a pseudo-aristocracy within the setting, and Powder Mages have obvious military applications, but the Knacked have the biggest influence on the every day. Knacked abilities can make a person rich, and because both men and women are equally likely to find themselves possessing magical talents the sexes are shown to have equal opportunities available to them. We regularly see female heads of state, generals, and soldiers, all of which would be rare in many other settings.

Most importantly for this list, the powers of the knacked best fit my preference for magic that is integrated into every day life. With abilities ranging from mundane to extraordinary the knacked fit into a wide range of niches whereas this setting’s other practitioners are mostly shown employed as either super soldiers or living artillery.

5. Dungeons and Dragons

On first glance this is the most rigid system that I am listing here. Each spell has specific guidelines for who can use it, what it costs, and what it does. The systems also requires players to prepare their spells ahead of time. At first this need for planning and preparation might seem limiting compared to looser systems where spells can be made up on the fly, but D&D players are (in)famous for reading the fine print and coming up with new and creative uses that stretch the limits of what is actually allowed. Go on any D&D forum and you will find users sharing and debating uses for popular spells like Prestidigitation and Thaumatugy. That this system can be interpreted so differently depending on play styles is one of this system’s strengths.

Just how integrated magic is with the rest of the setting will depend on the setting and your group’s DM. Even so, the need for spell components and the utilitarian applications of many spells allows DMs to create settings with entire magical economies with spellslingers on every corner if it suits their campaign.

Worldbuilding: Getting Started

Spend some time of r/worldbuiling and you will see that many posts are from new users asking how to start worldbuilding. The short answer to this is simple-however you want! But since it seems to be such a common question I decided that I would outline my worldbuilding process here for anyone who wants to start but isn’t sure how.

1. Pick a Medium

There are a lot of ways to organize your worldbuilding. For most of my projects I like to start with a nice notebook. This comes with a few limitations, it can be hard to keep topics organized and it can be hard to go back and change major details and keep everything looking neat, but if you are as fanatical about writing implements as I am then it’s a fun way to worldbuild and use your favorite pens at the same time.

Other people use OneNote, word documents, personal wikis, or services like WorldAnvil. In the end it doesn’t matter what medium you use as long as it suits your needs or preferences.

2. Have an Idea

A lot of career advice talks about having an “elevator pitch” ready and you should have the same for your setting. If you’re making a world to run a table top campaign then this pitch might come from your players. Maybe your players want to run a wizard mafia, or find an abandoned city in the far north surrounded by frozen tundra. If you’re worldbuilding for fun or for a story you plan to write you might ask yourself what would happen in a world where the industrial revolution happened a few centuries early or Rome never fell. Once you have a theme to explore or a specific scene in mind you’ll find it much easier to make a setting where those themes or scenes are possible.

3. Pick an Era

Deciding on the level of technology found in your setting is important. It establishes the tools available to your characters, the capabilities of governments, and the resources that countries are willing to go to war over. In a world where everything runs on steam coal will be a much more valuable resource than oil, but if you’re writing diesel-punk this dynamic will be reversed.

When I pick a technology level for a setting I tend to think in terms of centuries. This is just to help visualize the kind of technology and tools available in your setting and should not feel like a limitation. In the end this is your world, if you want to introduce a new technology or put a new spin on historical inventions then do it!

4. Magic

Easily accessible magic will drastically change the dynamics of your world, so deciding if magic is common, or if it exists at all, should happen early on. You should also consider outlining the limits of your world’s magic and whether it can be classified as “hard” or “soft” magic.

If you are considering a world in which divine intervention is a regular occurrence, this would be the time to do it.

5. Make a Map

Our culture is shaped by our environment and who we come in contact with, our economies are shaped by the resources available to us, and these along with other considerations shape the conflicts we engage in. Since you are probably not going to start from the creation of your world and move forward, you’re going to need to picture the “current” state of your world and work backwards to decide what geographic features might have contributed to its current predicament. Mountains, rivers, and oceans can form natural barriers and help explain why a certain culture has stayed relatively isolated, the positions of trade routes, harbors, and rivers will decide where your major cities go.

Scale is important to think about here. You might be tempted to create an entire world map on your first go, but you should consider how much of the world you need to show for your story. Mapping an entire world is fun, but you might find yourself biting off more than you can chew. To combat this I now only map out the region that I plan to focus on and wait to flesh out others areas until I need them.

6. Fill in the Rest

This is the part where you let your imagination run wild. Outline character bios, write the histories of obscure locations or the stories of empires. There’s not really any wrong way to do this. It’s your setting, do what you want with it.

Map of Olsecheny

I’ve decided that it’s about time I shared the map of where my current WIP takes place; the island of Olsecheny.

Rocky, cold, and barren, the island was claimed in the early days of Danic colonialism, but with an apparent lack of natural resources it was mostly ignored by surveyors who would at most land to hunt game for the ship’s cook. It was only when Prince Breton, the youngest son of the Danic King, was made governor of Rahl that the island began to take on any importance.

Breton, who was known for his melancholic moods, found a sense of peace in the island and soon he was spending his summers there, governing Rahl by proxy. He first established the town of Breton’s Landing and engaged in trade with the natives for furs as a way of justifying its existence, but most of his time was spent exploring the island with a small retinue. It was during these journeys that the Prince created some of his most famous poetic works. It was also during this time that he built up a favorable relationship with the native Ouro and married the daughter of one of their chieftains.

Things took a turn for the worse when his father died and his older brother Atias II was crowned King of Danica. Atias II had a long-standing grudge against Breton and began demanding a more ruthless exploitation of the island’s resources. He justified this by claiming that Breton’s was spending far extravagantly on what was essentially a royal hunting lodge, but in truth the cost of maintain Breton’s Landing was little more than a footnote in the royal budget. Atias II just hated his brother.

Breton resisted the inflow of colonists to the island. Atias began using the island as a penal colony, and danic hunters increasingly clashed with the Ouro. When gold was discovered in the island’s central highlands, Atias II decided it was time to push the Ouro out completely. This action was viewed negatively not only by Breton’s supporters but by a significant portion of the Danic nobility. The Ouro were technically one of the Ten Tribes of Danica and pushing them off of their land was seen as a flagrant violation of the National Compact. But in the end Attias II got his way. Breton resigned in protest and went into exile in Olsecheny’s highlands where he eventually died.

Today, the island is one of the few remnants of Danica’s former empire. While the gold mines continue to turn out a modest profit, national pride is the main reason for keeping it. It’s defense is overseen by a mixed assortment of local militia fighters and soldiers who have fallen out of favor back home in Danica as well as a squadron of olish ships who patrol the region in exchange for use of the coaling facilities at Olsecheny.

This Weekend’s Book Haul

I have a weakness for books.

I’ve starting telling people that reading is not a main hobby of mine, instead I say its buying books. It’s not that I don’t read them. I do. Eventually. I just buy them faster than I can ever seem to read them.

There is just something incredibly soothing about being in a book store, and if I have money in my pocket then it can be hard to stop myself from taking at least one home with me.

I am excited about all of these books, but the ones I am most looking forward to reading are The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I originally read both for the first time in middle school, but I have been wanting to re-read The Lord of the Rings and decided to get a more premium edition to go with the Earthsea Omnibus that I got in October. Then, when my mother saw what I had bought she decided to gift me her illustrated edition of The Hobbit. Which to me seems fitting since it was originally because of her recommendation that I first read these books all those years ago.

Now all that’s left for my collection is a new copy of Dune. Anyone know where I can get a nicely bound version of the book?

WIP Map of Ancorda

The picture now occupying the banner space of this website is a new map of my Sprawling Iron setting that I made using wonderdraft. If you think it looks a little like North America you’d be right. The setting is inspired by 19th century USA and incorporates a heavy dose of fantasy elements.

Ancorda is the main country of this setting and is analogous to the United States. The current year of this map is 835. It is a time when the country is expanding westward and facing a number of the challenges associated with governing these vast new expanses of territory. There are gold rush towns, seedy ports, train heists, and more than a few mystical threats to be found by travelers heading west.

Politically the country is dominated by old aristocratic families who own vast estates on the east coast. These families are descended from the original noble patrons (mostly the younger children and outcasts of established old world families) that came over when the continent was first being colonized. Technically, the power that they wield in the modern day is not due to any noble privileges. Instead, during the founding of the country they were able to tie voting rights to land ownership, and these people own a lot of land which gives them a disproportionate level of representation. As the process of industrialization increases many of these families have turned their estates into manufacturing centers. Besides making them rich, this has allowed them to increase their influence over the population by becoming some of the largest employers of the urban populations.

A number of ancient ruins can be found throughout the country. Most settlers assume the natives to be primitive and simple people. In reality the continent has seen the rise and fall of several empires that at their height would have rivaled the nations of the Old World, and there are still holdouts from these civilizations throughout the country.

Many dangers can be found in this world, from menacing wildlife and bandits, to ancient relics, angry spirits, foreign invaders, and the beginnings of a civil war in the making.

“Dark Green, Wet Fur, and an Echo” – Part 2

The creature roared and lunged at David. He dove to the side at the last moment and felt one of the monster’s teeth drag across his rib cage. Reflexively his hands went to the wound, causing him to slam his rock into his chest.

While he doubled over from his mistake, the creature’s momentum carried it out of the chamber and into the stream. It splashed violently in the water as it reoriented itself, giving David time to regain his composure.

Another roar was let out by the monster as it charged at him again. This time David intended to face it head on.

He ran straight for the creature’s maw as it opened. Its snout knocked the wind out of him and propelled him into the air. Just as he had hoped for.

His trajectory sent him flying towards the creature’s eye. With all the strength that he could muster, David slammed his rock into the beast’s eye, before he himself slammed into the top of the creature’s skull.

The thing let out a blood-curdling howl and attempted to shake him off. David was thrown against the cave wall and for the second time in the course of their fight had the wind knocked out of him.

While the creature continued howling in the cave, David seized on his opportunity to escape and ran back out to the stream. This time he followed it downstream, reasoning that if he followed it he would reach the shore eventually.

Paying little heed to the slippery and uneven path before him. David ran, eager to escape the sound of the creature’s howls that still thundered behind him. He still hadn’t figured what sort of beast it might be, but nothing he had even seen looked quite like what he had just fought.

Only when the howling faded did he risk slowing down to catch his breath. David was unsure of how long he had been running for, but already the cave seemed as if it had no end.

As the combat high faded David also became aware of the beating his body had taken. His head wound was still seeping blood, and the gash on chest had already soaked his shirt. All this was further compounded by the many sore spots he had just acquired that were sure to bruise later.

“And my wrists are still tied,” he said sadly, before pushing those thoughts from his mind. Right now his priority was getting out of the cave.

New sounds began to filter into the cave as he went on. He heard mostly the calls of tropical birds, and tantalizingly, the faint murmur of human voices.

Suddenly, he heard voices above him.

“Reckon he’s been eaten yet?”

“Aye. That bastard is all bones by now.”

David pulled himself closer to the wall. Was it the pirates? Somewhere above him he could hear their voices. He waited, expecting that at any moment one of them might look down into the cave and spot him.

“Sure was quite a ruckus. Think the old girl is having her fun?”

“Ha! Yeah. Almost as much fun as we had with his crew!”

David felt the anger well up inside him. He tamped it down. He was in no position to exact vengeance. Still, he took the voices as a sign that he was nearing the exit.

The cave finally ended. At its mouth the shallow stream that he had been following fell off a short cliff before snaking between the trees of the island’s jungle.

Again he could hear the voices from before. David ducked back into the cave just as a pair of men appeared before the entrance.

Both were unassuming and, David observed, drunk. Despite carrying weapons it was clear that neither of them were expecting trouble. They probably counted on the monster to take care of prisoners without issue.

With his hands still tied, David’s options were limited. His only real chance of success would be to tackle one of them, and hope they broke his fall off the cliff. He sized both of them up. The one on his left was a giant of a man, but carried only a knife, while the one on his right was equipped with both knife and pistol. Right it was.

Once he decided on a course of action he charged. Thinking about it anymore wouldn’t do him much good.

Both men yelled in surprised as he made contact with his target. Followed by the screams of his victim as he and David tumbled over the ledge. David closed his eyes and prayed. He’d find out soon whether he had timed his attack right or not.

The impact came quickly and was accompanied by a sickening crack as the man’s next snapped. Above him on the ledge, the man’s companion had already drawn his knife and was making his over to a narrow footpath that would bring him to David.

David lunged for the dead man’s pistol.He clumsily pulled it from its holster and managed to cock it.

With careful aim he fired as the second man rounded the corner onto the footpath. A bloody hole appeared in the man’s chest and he tumbled down the hill.

From the cave, David heard a muted roar. He beast had followed him.

Working quickly, he drew the knife from the first man’s belt and used it to cut the ropes binding his wrists together. He felt immediate relief from the chafed skin and stressed joints, but he had little time to enjoy it. The creature was sure to be closing in on him.

He tucked the knife into his own belt and took off running down the hill. Running down the incline he had little control over his trajectory, he cared little so long as it was away from that monster.

Soon he noticed the scent of salt water on the air. Finally he was getting close to shore.

He came too, or rather ran into, a low wooden fence that surrounded a small village on the beach. In appearance it was little different from any of the other countless illicit settlements built by pirates and smugglers.

If he squinted he could make out the silhouettes of four ships anchored offshore. David’s heart lept into his throat when he caught sight of his ship, the Sovereign, anchored safely beside the others. If he could reach it he would be saved. Although he had never put them to use, he knew that the ship had old enchantments that would allow a single man to sail her for a short time. His only obstacles were the village before him, and the monster behind him.

Inspiration struck when he looked down at his own blood-stained shirt. He had blinded the creature hadn’t he? The only way it could be tracking him was by scent, and he had left plenty of his own blood back in the cave.

Another roar came from behind him and he saw several heads in the village turn to look in his direction. He had to act fast. One last burst of action and he would be free.

David vaulted over the fence and ran up to the first building he saw. In his predicament he couldn’t afford to be picked. A glance over his shoulder told him that the beast was near, and currently crashing through the foliage outside the fence.

Hurriedly, David drew his knife and made a deep cut across his palm.He smeared the resulting blood along the wall and took off running towards the beach just in time to hear the monster crash into the house he had just marked.

He ran, paying little heed to the people around him or who he shoved out of his way. The crowds for their part were too distracted by the monster to pay attention to an escaped prisoner. Screams filled the air. Men ran to get their rifles, or just ran. Whatever semblance of order that had existed before descended into chaos, as the blind and angry beast tore into everything within its reach.

All along the shore people were scrambling for their boats. David could hardly believe his luck when he actually spotted an abandoned rowboat. He dove into it, allowing his momentum to carry the boat for the first few feet. Then he grabbed the oars and began paddling, ignoring the protests of his battered body.

Now he was treated to an uninterrupted view of the hell he had unleashed upon the village. Already several buildings had caught fire, and the flames were spreading. The futile crack of gunshots reached out to him across the water. David knew that massed volleys would be needed to take the monder down, and he doubted that the pirates had sufficient discipline to pull it off.

Where he should have felt guilt of the terror he had drawn to them, he only felt satisfaction. He had brought about his vengeance, even if it been inadvertent. David allowed himself this one emotion after a day of suppressing all others that came to him.

As he came up alongside the Sovereign he felt a strange sense of peace even as he watched the continued destruction. He’d being returning to an empty ship, as far as he knew the rest of the crew had been killed. He alone had lived.

He started laughing.

Imposter Syndrome

A cold wind swept over the surface of the tiny lake, buffeting Erik as he sat down on the gravel shore. He shivered, he had been gone a long time and was no longer used to the weather. Behind him, his new body guards stood ever watchful and seemingly unbothered by the wind. He looked out over the lake, examining the curve of it’s shoreline, and the gentle ripples that travelled along its surface.

As he sat there a singular thought consumed him, the same though that had occupied every waking moment he had had for the past week; he should not be there. No, he decided, it was more than a thought, it was a feeling, an instinct. One that reached deep into his core. He was neither worthy enough, nor suited for the task before him, and yet it was he who had been chosen.

He reached into his pocket and retrieved the crumpled letter that had been delivered to him just days before. When it had arrived, they had found him living in a small fishing hut in greece, the valkyrie that had delivered it was stern, as was typical for her type, but through her facade he had sensed a deep worry. It was then that he had found out that his brother Poul had died two weeks earlier, and he had learned what was to be his own fate.

You, Erik. Who have strayed far from northern shores and wandered for these past eight years, have been chosen by decree, vote, and fate, to rise to the demands of destiny. This is both a great honor, and burden, one that you have been judged capable of bearing. You will return to the land of your fathers with all haste. All travel arrangements have been made. Synnove, whose presence now indicates both the validity and urgency of this message, shall be your guide in whatever path you choose. We, your humble servants, eagerly await your return.

It hadn’t been a choice, not really. Returning home would have been the only way to find out what happened to his brother, and he knew that Synnove would have killed him if he refused. It never helped to have potential rival claimants running around. A flight out of Athens, with a connection through Germany, had brought him to Stockholm. Where yet another plane had waited to fly him to the little valley in which he now sat. All through the journey, Synnove had been a perfectly silent and infuriating travel companion. As she stood behind him now he was just as annoyed by her imposing presence as he had been when she watched him sleep on the plane.

Not that she was the only one watching him. A score of valkyries had dispersed themselves around him, trying their best to look disinterested. Meanwhile, if he looked around the lake and to the compound that sat on it’s northern shore, he could see security details bearing a dozen different family crests. Each house was especially suspicious of the other. He had learned on arrival that his brother had been killed in the most recent of ten assassinations that had taken place over the previous year. Everyone he had asked had heard a different rumor, all about a supposed new and unnamed Loki that was behind the assassinations. A few, although those were in the minority, thought that this might finally herald the arrival of Surtur, and the beginning of Ragnarok. Erik was partial to the idea that some foreign actor was trying to drive a wedge between the houses, but he didn’t go so far as to claim that this was the beginning of Ragnarok.

In such a tense environment each of the houses was accusing the others, and all feared that someone might interfere with the coronation. The Norns had bowed to the intense political pressure and allowed each house to send security details, on the condition that only the valkyries would have direct access to Erik.

Taking another look at the openness of his surroundings, he was surprised that his guards had let him come outside. Without trying he could spot half a dozen places around the lake that would be perfect for a sniper. No doubt Synnove was cross with him. The thought of her seething beneath her expressional face gave him a small amount of satisfaction, but was of little comfort.

Poul’s reasons for choosing him were clear. As his brother, Erik was unlikely to have killed him, and being away for eight years meant that he was distanced enough from the local politics that the houses would accepted him as a relatively neutral party. Thirdly, his travels had been extensive, and for a community that could at times become so consumed by its internal affairs that “worldliness” was correlated with wisdom in their minds. He glanced up at the compound, there was still time to escape. Not that the valkyries would let him get that far. He pushed those thoughts away. It was his duty to go on with it, both as a northman, and in memory of his brother.

A bell tolled in the compound.

“It’s time to go,” announced Synnove. It was the first time he had heard her speak in days. Erik brought himself to his feet. Might as well get it over with.

They followed him to the lake’s northern shore, where a set of covered stone stairs led up to the rest of the compound. The stone stairs were ancient, Erik would never have dreamed of trying to guess just how old they were, and the Norns weren’t inclined to reveal much about themselves. The steps were lines by wooden columns carved into the shapes of trees that supported sculpted roof of wooden leaves. To Erik’s displeasure it didn’t do much to stop the wind.

The stairs winded him. There he was having spent eight years walking across Europe, and still he could be defeated by a set of stairs. “Some All-Father I’ll be, huh?”

“A fine one indeed, sire,” said Synnove beside him.

Erik looked at her, surprised that he couldn’t detect any hint of sarcasm. “Do you think so?”

“Of course,” Synnove replied. “The best leaders are the ones who don’t want to be. It keeps you humble.”

“I hope you’re right…say, which way do we go now?” They had reached the top of the stairs, putting them in the middle of a long, curving hallway that went along the outside of the building.

“This way sire. We’ll take the long route.” Synnove led him down the hallway, which was lined on the outside wall with statues of past Odins and other warriors of note. Along the inside wall was the massive tapestry that the Norns labored on endlessly. Anytime something of note happened in the world the Norns wove its story into their great tapestry. Layers and layers of vibrant fabric were wrapped around the center of the building. Synnove took him to the leading edge of the textile, where a pair of younger norns were working on the tapestry.

His brother’s statue sat regally at the tapestry’s end, and upon closer inspection Erik noticed that they were adding his brother’s death to the weave. A stylized image of Poul was shown clutching a gunshot wound to the chest, and without any information on the shooter, an image of loki was used instead. The Norns had always favored style of fact.

“We don’t have time to wait,” Synnove reminded him. “Here, take these. They’ll help with the pain.” She handed him a pair of white tablets. Erik nodded his thanks and swallowed them quickly. Now that he was so close to the coronation he was filled with an overwhelming desire to get it over with.

The inner wall had a single arched entryway that the tapestry was woven around to accommodate. Inside was the great courtyard that took up most of the compound. In the center grew a massive oak tree, with a gray stone slab placed among its roots. The three eldest of the Norns presided over this slab, flanked by valkyries and various dignitaries. A host of arctic dwarves stood off to Erik’s left, and in the oak’s branches he thought he was able see the flutter of the elvish delegations. No words were spoken as Erik approached, and took his place at the slab across from the Norns.

“Erik Larson,” spoke the the most prominent of the three. “Do you accept the mantle that has been offered to you?”

“I,” Erik paused and looked around him. Most coronations were done with a sense of melancholy, it was a chance to say goodbye to the old ruler and welcome the new. He could see that his coronation would not be like that. On every face he saw sadness, worry, fear. It wasn’t about what he wanted, he realized. It was about what he needed to do. These people needed someone to lead them, who they felt they could trust, they needed him. “I do.”

Her wizened old face smiled sadly, and she nodded. Around the came the below of hunting horns, and a group a valkyries emerged from the arch behind Erik carrying a body obscured by  funeral wrappings.

The lead Norn drew a knife from beneath her robes and stepped around the slab. In unison they began to speak. “As we commend the body of the All-Father to the heavens, we welcome into our midst a new ruler. Erik Larson. Fate and circumstance have chosen you to lead us. Circumstances that once forced you away from our lands have now caused you to return, and fate decrees that it is you who will become our next Odin. Kneel.”

Erik lowered himself to his knees, and the Norn moved closer.

“Having accepted this burden you will now pay the price of wisdom. As have all those who have walked before you,” they declared.

Erik braced himself for what was to come. The lead Norn grasped his head and brought the knife close, and with a well practiced flick of the blade she removed his left eye. Erik recoiled and pressed his hand to the now empty socket. He fought every urge to cry out. He had to remain stoic. He had to prove that he could take the pain.

This was the price that every Odin paid for wisdom. It was felt that a leader could not lead until he knew pain. That before he declare war he must know something of it’s costs. That a leader must be willing to sacrifice for his people.

A pair of valkyries came and took him. Carrying him between them as if he were a sack of flower, they brought him around the slab, behind the Norns, where a small pond sat between the roots. He was dropped in, the strong arms of the valkyries holding him beneath the surface as he struggled for air.

Be patient, he told himself. He knew that this was just another part of the coronation, but what if it wasn’t? For a moment that thought entered his mind that it could have all been a ruse to eliminate the only person with reason to avenge Poul’s death. Where the Norns to blame? They were not ones to take such overt actions. No. He had to trust in the Norns, he had to let this happen.

As his struggling stopped he no longer felt the pressure exerted by the valkyries. A single hand reached down and grasped his, pulling him from the water. He gasped for air as he broke the surface and was pulled to his feet. Before him stood Synnove, his hand firmly grasped in hers. Behind her stood the Norns, watching, as they always did.

“Hail Odin! Father of all!” Cried the Norns. Synnove and the Norns bowed, followed by the host of assembled dignitaries. An attendant hurried up to him and kneeled at his feet, offering a lit torch. Erik accepted the torch and looked to the slab. The oiled and bound body of his brother had been placed upon on the slab, and piled high with oiled logs and cuttings from the tree.

Erik walked towards the slab. Reaching under his collar he pulled forth a medallion which Poul had once give him as a gift. He placed in over his brother’s heart, and lowered the torch to start the pyre.