Beowulf

Sneak Peek: The Legendary Inge

Prologue

Dirt and blood filled his senses, gritty and glorious. The heady reek of his midnight kills always exulted his spirits, confirmed that he was terrible, invincible. He thrived on shadow and darkness and the destruction he could wreak under their cover.

Tonight was no different. He had infiltrated the same hall, had slaughtered his nighttime meal, and now he picked its flesh from within its armored shell as its fellows scrambled away in fear.

The creatures were so pitifully weak. His razor-sharp claws made short work of the ones that tried to fight back. He would eat his fill, gorging on their flesh until his belly swelled, and then lope away into the night, back to the darkling warmth of his nest, there to sleep away the long day to come.

Another sinewy lump slid down his gullet. Shouts rang from the hall’s entrance and the fire of torches followed. The light pierced his eyes. He raised one scaly arm to block it from sight, only to meet the heavy blow of a double-edged sword.

Pesky creatures, to think that they could harm him.

Lightning-quick his claws lashed out at the attacker, but they met not the armored shell nor the muscled flesh it guarded. Power flared and forced them back.

Magic.

He feared neither blade nor spell. He was immune to magic and metal both, had been endowed with those immunities by his creator. The one who wielded them both would be a troublesome pest, however. His meal forgotten, he sought to silence that newcomer.

It was lithe, even for his swift movements. The blade caught his skin and glanced off again two, three, four times. Magic filled the room and the other creatures, emboldened, started forward with weapons of their own. His claws could not strike. Spells and that double-edged sword both moved to defend almost before he could attack. Torches flashed before him, waved with menacing cries as their bearers backed him into a corner.

There would be no more feasting tonight, not with such resistance as this.

He leapt bodily over the pathetic cluster, felt the sword glance off his hide yet again, and escaped through the same window he had entered. Wrath coursed through him at the disruption, and his stomach gurgled its protest, unsated. Behind him, the creatures vaulted from the window and followed him into the waning night.

No one had ever given him chase before. He made his way slow enough not to lose them, could hear them behind him even now, the fools. If he lured them far enough into the forest, he could secure the rest of his meal. The hunted was truly the hunter. Dawn was near, with its cursed, piercing sunlight—nearer than he had thought—but his cave was not too far distant. There he could take refuge.

It would make the perfect trap for the meal that pursued him.

Even as he bounded on that course, though, a tantalizing smell drifted across his path. He skidded to a halt and breathed the aroma deeply. It was young, fresh and tender, a smell that made his mouth water. Accustomed to sinewy meals, he treasured those rare, supple morsels of youthful flesh. His heart lurched with anticipation and his legs instantly carried him in pursuit of that smell.

It was not far away, the young one. He crashed through the woods into a clearing and paused to take stock. Gleefully he surveyed the youth, saw the horror flash across its hairless face, felt a twist of gluttony in his gut at the rare treat of which he would partake. The pursuers shouted in the forest behind him, but he had more than enough time to kill this prey and carry it away with him to his nesting place.

The youth saw its death in his eyes. It swung the sword in its hand into a defensive position, body taut with terror.

With a leering grin he lunged. He feared no blades; the metal would glance off his skin, ineffective. As his claws extended to capture his delectable treat, the sword shot forward. It connected with the spot directly between his eyes, and he did not flinch.

There was a sickening crunch of bone, and agonizing pain. Surprise coursed through him in that fleeting instant before death.

Alas, the blade was not metal. It was wood, to which he was not immune.

My Swedish Grandmother Made Me Do It

“And now, Beowulf, best of men, I wish to love you in my heart as my son. From this time forth, keep well this new kinship.”

(Beowulf, lines 946b-949a)

It's all fun and games until someone's hair catches fire.

It’s all fun and games until someone’s hair catches fire.

My grandmother is a full-blooded Swede and an avid genealogist. The daughter of immigrants, she honored her heritage throughout her life and distilled drops of it upon her children and grandchildren. Her garden had tomten instead of elves. Her house had orange dala horses and blue-and-yellow motifs. Christmas Eve with its smorgasbord was the focal holiday instead of Christmas Day. And Denmark was inherently inferior. (I’m sorry, Denmark. I’m sure you and Sweden are on much better terms now than you were a hundred years ago.)

We ate Swedish pancakes, and pepparkakor, and meatballs. A badge of honor went to anyone brave enough to try the pickled herring. We celebrated St. Lucia’s day with saffron buns and candle wax in our hair. Sweden, or an echo of it, was in our blood.

When I was in my early teens, Mormor took a handful of us cousins with her to the family history library, there to search out a collection of missing great-something half-uncles. Their father’s surname had been Kjallstrom, but the army changed it to Valler or Waller. One of the sons, as Valler/Waller, enlisted as well, only to be given the surname of Holst. The three brothers had immigrated to the Midwest, where their trail went dry.

Mormor didn’t know whether to look under Valler, Waller, or Holst, or even Magnusson (the patronymic of their father’s given name). We found them under Holst (all three of them, despite only one of them having received that surname from the army), in Iowa.

What, you might ask, does any of this have to do with Beowulf? All through my formative years, I was taught to value anything even remotely Scandinavian. The Old English epic takes place in Denmark and Sweden (or Geatland, as it’s called in the poem, and Götland, according to modern maps). In my years as a Beowulf skeptic (described in this post), its connection to Sweden was probably the only thing I thought worthwhile about it.

Except that it mostly took place in Denmark. See the above note. (I’m sorry, Denmark! I really am! You are wonderful in your own right!)

So, growing up, I was programmed with elements of Swedish culture and tradition—elements a hundred or more years removed. Thus, when a handful of lines from Beowulf spawned a story idea, and then that idea jostled around in the mental cocktail of my brain, what emerged—almost immediately—was heavily influenced by that Scandinavian heritage. It was as though all those childhood ghosts rose up as one and said, “This story is ours. We claim it.”

And, ultimately, I wrote it to entertain my grandmother.

She turned 90 on March 26. Happy Belated Birthday, Mormor! This one’s for you!

IngeTitlePlate

Plagued by misfortune, Ingrid Norling treks into the woods to clear her head. She emerges a monster-slayer, the shaken executioner of a creature so ferocious that even the king’s strongest warriors could not destroy it. In a land that reveres swords and worships strength, this accidental heroism earns Inge an audience at court and a most ill-fated prize: King Halvard impulsively adopts her and names her as his heir.

Under constant guard to prevent her escape, Inge confronts the ignoble underbelly of the royal court: a despotic king, a clueless princess, a proud warrior, and a dangerous intrigue. As secrets unravel around her, the castle threatens to become an elaborate deathtrap. Inge must keep her wits close and her weapons closer. The monster in the woods was only the beginning.

Despite the Scandinavian and classical literary influences, this book is firmly planted in the fantasy genre. Look for it in June. Probably.

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Literary Influences: Beowulf

BeowulfHwæt!

(Did it work? Do I have your attention?)

Beowulf is one of those works of literature that, quite honestly, never interested me. Some beefy warrior kills a monster, and then he kills another one, and there’s a dragon in there somewhere, and at the end (spoiler alert!), he dies. I maintained a scornful disinterest for this epic over the course of a decade, until my conversion in my mid-twenties. Here’s how it went down.

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