Okay, yeah, I really got kicked in the balls by Amazon’s adult filter. And my productivity has not been so great since then! But I’m getting my shit together. Colum’s Viking Captivity is starting to pick up in sales, and I’m putting my energy into Colum III: Warrior Slave. Fuck, Vikings are hot! So here’s the first 2000-ish words of the first draft of Colum III to thank you for your patience (no, no sexin’ yet but there is plenty to come!).
For once, Colum thought, the enemy was ready for them. The weather hadn’t helped the Vikings; the seas had resisted their plan to land at dawn, and the skies had spitefully cleared the coast of fog. The will of the gods, he shrugged, putting his back to the oars with the rest of the raiders. Not that he believed in the Viking gods any more than the Christian one, but it made as much sense as any other explanation.
The monastery had a bell tower, and a man posted on the lookout for dawn raiders – Vikings almost always came at dawn, striking when the world was most peaceful and unwary. But the word had spread across the isles, from the mainland to Shetland, the Orkneys, Ireland, Man…get up early if you want to live, get up early and be on the watch.
He could hear the bell ringing the alarm, carried across the clear seas over the sigh of the ocean and the shriek of the gulls. But this time, armed men came pouring out of the gates – well-armed men, he saw as the ship drew nearer to the beach, not locals pressed into service. Professionals.
He looked at Viggo, standing in the prow of the ship, seeing what Colum and all the others were seeing. The dragon’s head was mounted on the prow of the ship – fair warning that they were come to take what was theirs by right of arms, and yet Colum knew that as they drew closer, the look on Viggo’s face would be far more fearsome to the men on the beach than the awful wooden beast could ever be.
In smooth, synchronized movements, the oars came up, the ship beached, and the brightly colored Viking shields, hung on the outside of the ship as much for display as for convenience, were strapped on as the men jumped out of the ship and slogged through the knee-deep water to the shore.
Colum stayed on board the ship with the other slaves, excluded, forbidden from battle. It frustrated him no end to see his beloved Viggo draw his sword and begin to pound it on his shield, all of the men following suit, a dreadful sound to make the enemy’s bowels quiver. I can fight! he shouted silently. But no slave could stand with warriors in a shield wall. It was unthinkable. Colum had been freed and had fought a man to the death to save his friend, true – but as the price for the chance to do so, he had returned to Viggo’s household as a thrall once more.
The Vikings put up the shield wall, the left side of each man’s shield overlapping the right side of the next man’s. This allowed them to thrust with their right hand without losing protection. It was like a wall of death that crushed everything in its path, like the path of the lava that destroyed Pompeii which Colum had read about in Pliny.
Only these were King’s men in front of them. Colum swallowed hard as the men met in battle, the Vikings bellowing not more than the warriors on the other side. The clash of arms was beautiful and terrible to behold, and Colum found himself torn between anxiously watching Viggo and observing the battle as a whole. As a warrior he wanted to see the progress of the whole and yet, as a lover, he cared only for his master.
“Swine head!” their leader shouted, and the men suddenly backed up and formed a wedge, a triangle that would meet the shield wall and knock a hole in it. The Vikings stiffened but the enemy knew what they were doing – they had tested the wall, found the least fierce warriors, and now formed their wedge to break the wall at that point.
The Vikings’ wall bent back like a bow, but even the strongest bow could snap with enough pressure. Colum saw a man fall, clutching his severed tendon, the other side using Viking tactics – sweeping down with their blades, attacking the feet. Wise men put strips of iron in their boots to keep this from happening, but that was no defense against sharp thrusts.
The wall would break. Viggo shouted at the men to tighten up, moved himself out of the wall to race down the line to reinforce the weak spot. But it wouldn’t hold, Colum could see.
“To hell with this,” he said, grabbing a long Dane ax, as tall as he was himself, and jumping out of the ship. He raced up the beach, up to Viggo’s side, and with his own not inconsiderable lungs, gave his own warrior’s cry as he brought the ax down, hooking on the top of an enemy shield. “Spear!” he shouted as the shield was lowered by the force of his attack. The man to his left, Gagi, saw the opening and didn’t hesitate. The enemy screamed as the spear spiked his guts.
Colum raised the ax again and brought it down on a man’s helmet, using the flat end to keep it from getting stuck. And again he pulled down a shield with the edge of the blade, and this time it was Viggo’s sword that plunged through the hole.
“The slave!” Viggo shouted. “The slave fights! Will you do less than the slave?”
“NO!” the others shouted. “NO!”
And the tide turned, as battles will when one side gains heart and the other loses it.
“To my right,” Viggo commanded Colum, and he obeyed. Then it was as if Colum, Viggo, and the man on Viggo’s right, Klaufi, were one – Klaufi meant “the clumsy one,” and he may have been that elsewhere but not on the battlefield. Viggo and Klaufi could sense when Colum’s ax was coming down, and they were ready when the man whose shield, or skull, it battered was jarred for even a moment. Klaufi’s shield lurched forward, completing the opening by shoving the other man’s shield backwards, and Viggo thrust with his long sword, bringing death.
Soon the enemy’s line broke, and men begin to run away. Some of the younger, faster Vikings chased them down and killed them anyway, but most of them now turned their attention to the monastery.
Viggo halted them at the gate. “You know the rule.” His tone brooked no dissent.
The men nodded. The killing was over for the day, unless there was resistance inside.
Colum stepped forward and shouted up at the wall in Gaelic. “Open the gates, brothers. Open them peacefully and you will not be harmed. I swear it.”
“Who are you?”
“You know who I am.”
A pause. “You are the heretic! The one who betrayed Iona to the pagans! Who opened the gates to them and drank your brothers’ blood with them!”
Colum’s eyes widened. This was the story that was told about him? He who had been the only one to step forth to defend Iona, crudely armed with what was at hand, and had been knocked on the head for it?
“Swear on your soul that these are lies. Oh, that’s right!” The voice mocked. “Your soul is damned!”
Colum’s face darkened. “We are coming through this gate. Do not resist and you will not be harmed. These men will swear it on their gods.”
“You may as well swear on the devil!”
Colum turned to Viggo, whose face was contorted with the effort of holding back his laughter. Then it softened, as he saw the agony on Colum’s face, the pain of what the Church was doing to his reputation. Then it hardened again, as he resolved to make them all pay for what they had done to his beloved slave. And more, what they had done to a brave man’s reputation – the only man who had stood, alone, against him, defied him, to try and save the men he was now accused of helping kill.
“No,” Colum said. “Please. The truth will out. In time.”
Viggo nodded. “The battering ram,” he said, and six men dashed back to the ship to get it.
The gate’s ability to keep the world out was more symbolic than practical, and was down in a minute. Inside, it was hard to say who was more frenzied, the chickens clucking furiously around the yard or the monks comically attempting to hide in barrels or under straw.
The raiders had swords drawn as they approached the building where the treasure lay, but only in the event that someone got any ideas about attacking. Nobody did.
The treasure was poorly hidden under a false floor, and they made short work of packing it up.
“What is this?” Gagi asked, puzzling over an ornate silver box with nothing in it but a feather.
Colum laughed. “That, my lord, is a feather from the dove released by Noah, at the end of the flood that God sent to punish the world.”
Gagi frowned. “It looks fresh to me.”
“It probably is, lord. Though the monks would tell you that’s because it’s holy.”
Gagi shrugged, dropping the feather to the floor as he stuffed the box into a bag.
Colum hoisted two heavy bags, one over each shoulder, his role that of slave again. Nobody had said a word about his actions at the shield wall, and he expected none. He had done what needed doing – wasn’t that what slaves did?
He was last out of the gates. By the time the Vikings had cleared out, the monks had started to come out of hiding, amazed at the Lord’s good grace in sparing them. They gathered in the courtyard to pray and sing His Praises.
Not the Lord’s will, Colum thought, but mine. He turned back to the kneeling monks, who stopped their prayers to look at him in fear.
“Remember this day. Remember that Colum of Iona spared your lives. Think on that next time you hear lies about me. Let the world know of barbarian mercy.”
He dug a silver chain out of the bag, and threw it on the ground. “To pay for a new gate.”
He struggled with the bags, which seemed to get heavier with each step down to the beach. He stopped to catch his breath, bent over, hands on knees. The battle fever that had carried him this far suddenly left him, and he was spent. He couldn’t take another step. He just had to rest…
Then there were men on either side of him, two who took the bags, two who helped him to his feet – Gagi and Klaufi, whom he had fought beside in the wall. Warriors, helping a slave! What had the world come to?
“Come, brother,” Gagi said, and Colum’s eyes widened.
He looked up to see the other warriors watching. One of them began to clap his sword against his shield. Then another, and then another. He looked to Viggo, whose face was impassive but whose eyes were…Colum’s insides warmed at the look of pride on his lover’s face.
Gagi and Klaufi took him to Viggo. “Viggo,” Gagi said, “this man is no thrall. He saved the day today. You know it, I know it, we all know it.”
Viggo nodded. “Pack the ship.” He smiled at Colum. “When we get home, we will perform the ritual.”
The men roared their assent, gathering around Colum, clapping him on the back. A flagon was produced, and Colum was made to drink it all as the men cheered.
The words of Dýrfinna, the sorceress, came back to him: Free, slave, free, slave, free. The circle was complete.