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[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 15 – Black!

Thorgaut looked at the magnificent, black creature before him. Then he looked at the arrows in his hand. Then to the axes on the ground. There wasn’t much he could do now. All he had left were these arrows. He didn’t imagine they would do much good without the bow.

The only thing he could do would be to drive the point of the arrow into one of the creature’s eyes when it jumped at him. He would only get one shot, and it would be a long shot at that. In his tired and weakened condition, he would have to get lucky. And after his run of luck these past few days, he didn’t feel very confident.

But even if he did get lucky and manage to nail it in the eye with one of the arrows, that wasn’t guaranteed to stop it. More than likely, it would infuriate the creature even more.

Thorgaut sighed. Well, this was what he had, and he was going to make use of it. This wasn’t how he had planned to die. But if he did die, he would die with honor.

He didn’t know if dying while fighting a wolf would be enough to get him into Valhalla, but he steeled himself anyway. He wouldn’t make a sound even if the wolf did sink its teeth into his throat. He would die like a genuine, brave Viking and let the Valkyries judge his worthiness in the afterlife.

“Come on you lazy wolf,” he screamed at the black creature before him. “Are you afraid of a man who is tied up in a snare?”

As he said that, another head popped out from behind the bush. This one was snow white. A white wolf as giant as the black one. Then another one. This time gray. Then a yellowish-red wolf.

Thorgaut’s heart sank. This was the end. He would never be king of Jorundarfell, much less king of the North. He steeled himself to accept his fate if his time had finally come.

If so, the words his mother whispered in his ear would never come true. The words of the old crone would all be a lie.

Then he remembered Halldora! Maybe Halldora would find him and bring him back as a shuffler. He could become the king of the shufflers.

The thought excited him. He could rule over a vast, limitless army. At the same time, it also terrified him. If he couldn’t die, he wouldn’t make it to Valhalla. He would never see his friends and family again. They would all enjoy the afterlife, and he would be eternally stuck here with the rest of the undead.

The more he thought about it, the less he liked the idea. Too many things could go wrong, and who knew would happen to his soul in the process. Perhaps it was better to die now as a brave soldier and just be done with it.

He didn’t have much time to think about it though. The wolves drew in closer and tightened the circle around him. And his instincts kicked in as he tried to figure out a way to get out of this mess he was in now.

Thorgaut had only two arrows. And there were at least four wolves that he could see. At most he could stab one or two. There wouldn’t be much he could do after that though. His bare hands wouldn’t do much damage to those massive creatures. He needed a weapon.

The wolves circled in warily. Thorgaut looked pretty harmless hanging upside down. But they had seen their fallen companion and knew it was Thorgaut’s doing. They were smart and knew better than to rush in.

The black wolf was the boldest of the creatures. It pressed in closer and continued to circle him. It sniffed the air cautiously as it moved around him.

Thorgaut stayed still so as not to make any sudden movements that would startle the creature. The thought flickered through his mind that they would sniff him and move on. But then he realized how silly that was. These creatures came in with deadly intent. He remained still and waited for the right moment to strike.

These were interesting creatures. They were different somehow from other wolves Thorgaut had seen growing up. They displayed an intelligence that seemed almost human. The way they interacted with each other was different from other packs he had seen. The snarls and growls of these wolves seemed more expressive than usual.

He recalled the stories of the talking animals of the North that his mother had told him as a child. But he always thought those were fables. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try talking to it.

His father always said that diplomacy was the best option for a king to keep peace. Thorgaut didn’t agree with him though.

Sometimes he thought the old man was getting soft in old age. His father seemed to have lost the fire of his youth. He didn’t want to fight anymore and didn’t stand up for the clan.

It was strange. The Viking culture and religion dictated they must die in battle to enter Valhalla. Now, the old king wanted to take things easy and enjoy the years he had left.

Thorgaut had lost respect for him in the last few battles they had fought. His father had held back and stayed behind the men who were fighting. At first, Thorgaut had thought there was something wrong with him or that he was sick. He had lingered back to watch over him and protect him if he keeled over.

But after two or three battles like that, Thorgaut had given up in exasperation. He left his father in the back and returned to the battle lines. Thorgaut had jumped right back into the fray at the front.

Thorgaut believed that there was a moment for diplomacy and there was a time for fighting. A warrior needed to choose his battles wisely. He also realized that this was one battle that he wasn’t going to win by brute force.

Thorgaut racked his brains trying to think of something intelligent to say. It couldn’t hurt to try in case the wolf could understand him. He had no idea what they wanted or what would keep them from killing him as they seemed intent on doing.

The black wolf had moved in just outside his reach. He gave up trying to think of something intelligent and decided to start talking.

“Hello!” Thorgaut tried. “How are you today?”

“That sounded like a stupid thing to say given the situation,” he thought. Thorgaut wanted to slap himself.

His father had a saying. He tried to remember what it was that the great Jarl Kabbi Skurfasson had said about diplomacy. He couldn’t remember the exact words his father used. But it went something along the lines of, “Flattery makes friends and truth makes enemies.”

Then there was that other saying his father always repeated. “Everyone loves to be flattered, so lay it on thick with your trowel.”

Thorgaut snickered at the thought of flattering this wolf. “My, what large teeth you have, Mr. Wolf.” As if somehow that would convince a deadly wolf to refrain from ripping his throat out. That would be too easy. Just say a few kind words to persuade them to move on. No, he needed something better than that. And he needed a backup plan in case that didn’t work.

He recalled what his mother had said to his father in their last argument right before he left. She was fed up with his silly ideas about diplomacy. Jarl Kabbi had been negotiating a treaty with the Krǫptugrvegr tribes to the East.

His mother, the wise Jorwen Fjelddottir, despised their kind. She warned his father that they weren’t trustworthy. She told him that they would end up disregarding the treaty and cause trouble for him. And even if they didn’t, she found their demands excessive and wanted to send them packing.

That started old Kabbi off on a rant about both sides having to make concessions. He tried to convince her to give in a bit so that everyone came out on the receiving end. He said that they needed to be open for the negotiations to be successful. He was under the delusion that he could tame the wild ones who lived in the mountains.

After spending a long time trying to convince her to live in harmony with their neighbors. When that didn’t work, he attempted to strong-arm her into being more diplomatic.

But she had refused outright and started to leave. Kabbi was livid with anger and threw the silver cup in his hand. It bounced off the wall to her side. Thorgaut didn’t think he was really trying to hit her. He was just throwing one of his silly temper tantrums when things didn’t go his way.

Jorwun turned around a laughed. “That was very diplomatic,” she said. She clapped her hands slowly for good measure.

“I think you’re finally starting to understand what diplomacy is it about.” she continued. “It’s the art of saying ‘Nice doggie!’ till you can find a rock to throw at it. You know their reputation as well as I do. So, if you continue dealing with them, make sure to find a big rock.”

His mother stomped out and refused to take part in the rest of negotiations. His father hadn’t listened to her and gone ahead with the treaty anyway.

Thorgaut knew that treaty would come back to haunt them; even if it didn’t happen now during his father’s reign. But eventually, Thorgaut would have to deal with the Kroptugvegr tribes himself. They had already started making trouble again.

He would have to worry about that later though, if he made it out of here alive that was. For now, he needed a ‘rock’ to deal with these wolves.

He didn’t have a rock to deal with these wolves. So, he would have to use his diplomacy skill until he could get a hold of one.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 14 – Gray!

Thorgaut shortened the distance between his hands on the ax handle. He pulled it in close to his body while waiting for the strike. The wolf started to charge, and Thorgaut prepared to swing. The wolf pulled up short and the swing shot over the wolf’s head.

The velocity of the ax’s swing pulled his body around on the rope again, and the wolf watched as he went on past. It came after him, but by that time Thorgaut was swinging back at it. The wolf backed up and turned. It was too late.

Thorgaut managed to connect the blade of the ax with the wolf’s body. As the rope came swinging back, he had the weapon stretched out behind him. The head of the battle ax was almost trailing the ground. His swing was perfectly aligned with the wolf’s fleeing body. It was almost too easy. He swung the ax up between its hind legs and into the wolf’s belly.

The wolf yelped and snarled as it turned back on him. His movement kept pulling him forward and upwards even after the wolf stopped. The ax remained, still stuck in its belly between its legs. Thorgaut wasn’t able to keep his grip on the ax, and it slipped out of his hands. He tried to reach back for it, but he was too far past it. His fingers brushed off the handle, and it fell back to the ground.

The wolf writhed and twisted on the ground as it tried to get the blade of the ax out of its body. Blood poured out of the wound. Thorgaut admired his deadly handiwork as he swung back over the wolf’s body. It looked up at him with a fiery vengeance in its eyes.

Thorgaut realized that now he had no weapon left to fight the wolf. It snarled and leaped at him, but the weight of the ax pulled it back down. By then, Thorgaut had swung on past out of reach.

How long could he keep on swinging away from the wolf’s fangs? He didn’t have any other weapons except for the arrows in his quiver. “The quiver,” he remembered. But he didn’t have time to reach back to pull any out. He was swinging back in towards the wolf and its waiting jaws.

Thorgaut jerked himself forward and upward so he could grab on to the rope between his feet. He pulled himself up as high as he could hoping the wolf wouldn’t be able to reach him in its wounded condition.

The wolf intent on attacking Thorgaut leaped up into the air after him. The blade of the ax came loose in the air and fell to the ground. The weight of the weapon left its body which allowed the wolf to reach up high enough to snap its jaws around the back of Thorgaut’s coat. The coat added some protection, but the tips of the wolf’s fangs still dug into and pierced his side.

Thorgaut roared in pain and anger. The force of the wolf’s leap pushed them both out farther in the swinging arc. The pain caused Thorgaut let go of the rope. His body dropped back down from the weight of the wolf hanging on to him. By that time, they had reached the top of the swing’s arc and headed back again.

He reached around trying to hit the wolf or gouge his fingers in one of its eyes. But the jerk of his body coming back down and the rope coming back down loosened the grip of its jaws. Part of the coat tore, and some of the wolve’s teeth broke forcing it to let go of him as its feet hit the ground.

Thorgaut swung on out and tried to turn his body as he came back around. The wolf was waiting for him, but the wolf’s pull as it fell, threw the swing off to the side. The wolf had to readjust before it jumped which gave Thorgaut an extra moment to prepare.

The wolf leaped high into the air as it had done before when Thorgaut had pulled himself up on the rope. But Thorgaut didn’t pull himself back up. He continued to hang down as far as possible.

The wolf overshot Thorgaut’s head which was still hanging down. Its powerful jaws snapped around his thigh. But by then, Thorgaut had already shoved his hand deep inside the open wound from the ax in the wolf’s belly. He grabbed a fistful of intestines and squeezed as hard as he could.

Thorgaut yanked his hand back out again. As it came out, he grabbed onto the exposed innards with his other hand and pulling even more out. The wolf let go of his leg and dropped to the ground. Thorgaut was still holding onto its innards with both fists. Gravity took over and did the rest. As the wolf fell even more of its intestines and organs came ripping up and out of its body.

The wolf hit the ground shrieking with fury. It tried to pull its legs up under it and turn towards Thorgaut for another attack.

Thorgaut gave another strong pull on the organs in his hand pulling even more out as they came free. The wolf went down, and couldn’t get back up again. It rolled around on the ground whimpering and moaning. The wolf dragged itself off slowly by pulling itself forward with its front paws. It didn’t look up at Thorgaut after that or even look back.

He let go of the bloody mess he was holding in his hands. He relaxed his entire body and let his arms hang down. He twisted a bit to make sure the wolf was still down. It wasn’t hard to tell where it had gone, even though he couldn’t see it anymore.

A trail of blood led behind some bushes where it would lie and lick itself until it died. If it was even still alive, that is. There was so much blood and guts on the ground that Thorgaut didn’t imagine much was left in the wolf’s body.

Thorgaut looked up at the bite on his leg. Between the shredded pants mixed with the blood from his wound, he couldn’t tell how bad it was. He also ran his fingers over the bite on his back and shoulder, but couldn’t determine how severe they were either. The adrenaline rushing through his body blocked the pain so he couldn’t even feel the wounds.

He hung there for a minute before to catch his breath. After a moment, he opened his eyes and looked for his axes. They were still there on the ground. One just below him and the other off to the side where it had fallen out of the wolf’s body. There was no way he could reach it.

Thorgaut remembered the arrows in his quiver if they hadn’t all fallen out. He could try using the edges of the points to cut through the rest of the rope. There wasn’t much there.

He started to reach behind his neck, but the pain from the bite began to kick in. He switched to his other hand and reached back. He could feel the arrows and sighed with relief. His arm was sore, and his hands were numb, so he took care to work them out with caution.

Two of them came right out without much trouble. Thorgaut pulled the arrows around front grinning with satisfaction. Pleased with himself. After everything else that had gone wrong the past few days, he hadn’t expected them out come out at all. Or he half-expected the points to break or fall off as soon as he got them out.

“Whoooo!” he yelled at the top of his lungs as he stretched his arms off to the side.

Thorgaut heard something rustling in the bush where the wolf had dragged itself off to die.

“Great!” he groaned. The last thing he needed was for the wolf to transform into a shuffler. “Imagine that. After all that I went through to kill it, I get killed by an undead wolf that comes back to life after I kill it.”

Thorgaut kept looking in the direction of the bushes until he saw what it was. He froze, and his heart stopped beating for a moment.

Another giant wolf, only this one was pure black. It looked back at it’s fallen comrade and then at Thorgaut with a menacing growl.

The black wolf lifted its head and howled all its rage and fury into the sky. The most bloodcurdling warcry he had ever heard in his life. Chills ran through Thorgaut’s body.

Then the wolf lowered its head and fixed its eyes on his bloody and battered body still hanging from the rope.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 13 – Bait!

Thorgaut reached back with this hand and kept the second ax pressed in place. He wrapped his fingers all the way around it and pulled down on the handle. He couldn’t pull the shaft all the way out of its bindings.

The handles were longer than most. Thorgaut had taken them to the best blacksmith in the region to have them extended. He wanted longer handles to give him extra reach in battle.

His friends laughed at him because his arms already had such a long reach anyway. They said that with the extra length on his handles, he was ready to fight Loki and the giants.

Thorgaut had laughed right along with them. He was a massive warrior, so the handles were proportional to his size and felt right when he gripped them. But now he wished he hadn’t made them quite so long.

He continued to press on the ax up against his back as he slid his fingers farther down the handle. He gave it a firm tug and pulled it out as far as it would come. Then he pressed it back against his body while he slid his fingers back down the handle to get it another tug. It took him several tries before he could finally pull it free.

He had to pause once to stretch and relax his arm. The fact that he was hanging upside down and couldn’t keep himself steady didn’t help any either. He kept swinging and spinning around every time he reached around his back or pulled on the battle ax.

The ax kept getting bunched up between the leather binding straps. Thorgaut had them crisscrossing down the length of the handle. His father told him that they would increase the strength of his grip in battle.

Thorgaut had to work to get the ax off to the side and loosen the bindings. He wiggled it around and twisted it back and forth trying to pull it free. It took him a bit of time and effort to get the ax completely loose.

He felt the bow coming loose, but he didn’t try to hold it in place. If he could get the bow out of the way, it would be easier to get the ax out. He kept wiggling till he felt the bow come loose and let it drop to the ground below.

After that, it was easier to slide the ax out. It still took a few minutes before he was able to work the handle completely out though. But he finally got the ax around the front of his body where he could hold it between both hands.

They were shaking from the effort. The strain of reaching that far behind his back while hanging upside down left them feeling sore. He paused for a few moments to catch his breath and also to stop swinging.

Thorgaut tried to reach the blade of the ax up towards the rope, but it didn’t quite get high enough. He slid his hand as far down the handle as he could while keeping his grip on it. It still didn’t reach the rope though.

He tried to twist his body up and to the side and managed to touch the blade to the rope that way. However, his body bent too far to the right and felt very uncomfortable. So, he centered the ax with both hands between his legs and scrunched his abs to pull himself up towards his feet.

The blade of the ax reached the rope between his feet in a more comfortable position. He tried taking a light swing at the cord, but it didn’t cut into it. All it did was tighten the rope around his feet and jerk them off to the side. His body, of course, followed soon after and he swung around for a bit until he swayed back to a stop.

That didn’t work, so Thorgaut tried sawing the rope with the edge of the ax. The blade seemed to be making progress and cutting through the fibers. It was slow going, but from his position, it looked like he was almost halfway through. His arms and stomach ached from the effort though, so he paused to stretch and relax his muscles.

Thorgaut took a deep breath and pulled himself back up to continue cutting through the rope. It was coming along well, and he had almost cut all the way through when a flash of movement caught his eye. He twisted to get a better view, but it was gone. He turned his body around to get a complete view of the area around him.

He didn’t see anything but gave himself another turn around in both directions to make sure. That was when he saw the giant gray wolf slinking in the opposite direction. “Oh, schmack!” he sighed. He twisted around for a better look and tightened his grip on the ax.

It was the biggest wolf Thorgaut had ever seen in his life. Massive bulk. A huge neck. If he had been standing, it would have come up to his shoulders. For once, Thorgaut felt happy to be off the ground. Not that he was high enough to be out of its reach. Judging by its size and muscular frame, Thorgaut figured it could reach him if it wanted to.

The wolf continued watching him from a distance. It looked like it was trying to decide what to do with this strange two-legged creature. Thorgaut wondered if it had ever seen a human out here in these woods. Much less one that was hanging upside down.

Thorgaut felt like a sitting duck waiting to get eaten. He twisted back up to continue sawing at the rope while keeping an eye on the wolf out of the corner of his eye.

The wolf circled in much closer and crouched lower in attack mode. Thorgaut stopped sawing at the rope. He twisted down into position and swung around to face the wolf.

He overtwisted and swung past his view of the wolf to the point where he couldn’t see it. He tried to twist back as the wolf charged and leaped. Thorgaut swung out with the ax. He swung his arm out too far and completely missed the wolf. But even though his swing was too broad to harm the wolf, it still served to swing his body out of the way.

The wolf’s body shot passed him. The wolf twisted his neck and body in the air. Its jaws snapping inches from his ears. He heard the menacing growl and snap. Relieved he hadn’t been bitten, Thorgaut still shivered at how close its teeth had come.

Thorgaut twisted around looking for the wolf behind him. The wolf had landed and spun back around to face him again. It was gathering itself for another leap. The look in its eyes shocked Thorgaut. The fire and fury in his eyes blazed. It looked strangely like one of the enemy soldiers he faced in battle. Not like any animal on the prowl that he had hunted before.

The wolf leaped into the air towards him once again. Thorgaut swung the ax forward and under towards the wolf. The weapon connected with the wolf, but Thorgaut didn’t have enough power behind it to hurt the wolf from that angle. The swing also didn’t propel Thorgaut out of the wolf’s path.

The wolf snapped out towards his throat. The ax did partially block the wolf’s attack, so it didn’t sink its teeth into his neck. But it still managed to bite into his shoulder. The wolf’s murderous teeth sank through the outer covering of his clothing and into his flesh.

It snapped its jaws shut around his shoulder and gave a sharp pull. The force of its leap and the effect of gravity pulled the wolf’s body away from him giving it even more power. Fortunately, its teeth didn’t get too far into his muscle, but it still managed to draw blood and yank out some flesh. It hurt, and Thorgaut yelled out in pain and fury.

The wolf snarled as it landed. Invigorated by the taste of warm, fresh blood, the wolf howled with excitement.

“Great!” Thorgaut muttered. “Why don’t you go ahead and invite the rest of the pack over for supper, you dumb mutt.”

The wolf prepared for another violent attack. It came in closer underneath him this time before leaping.

The proximity of the wolf allowed Thorgaut to get a solid blow in across the top of its head. Unfortunately, for Thorgaut the blade twisted away in the opposite direction. It didn’t cut into the wolf, but the solid object still made for a nice, firm blow to the side of its skull. The shock of the solid steel at the base of its skull left the wolf stunned. The gray creature fell back down to the ground and whimpered off to the side still circling him.

Thorgaut twisted his body to follow the wolf’s pace and keep an eye on it. His arms ached from the weight of the ax. The blood rushing to his head made his ears roar and his head throb.

The rope had twisted around as far as it was going to go, and had now started to spin back in the opposite direction. Thorgaut couldn’t keep an eye on the wolf. He only saw it once each time he spun around past it.

The wolf didn’t understand what he was doing and had backed up a bit with an angry snarl. Thorgaut reached the ax down and managed to push the head against the ground to slow down his spinning.

The wolf hunched up its hind legs like it was going to attack again. Thorgaut pulled his ax back up in preparation for the attack.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 12 – Trap!

Thorgaut finally gave up looking for his sword. He decided to head back the way he had come until he found something that looked familiar. He knew he must have made a wrong turn somewhere along the way.

He hoped to find something familiar that would point him in the right direction. If that didn’t work, he could always head back towards the sun until he came to the plains. But he didn’t know how he would find his way back to his friends from there.

He walked slowly, paying close attention to everything around him. He often paused to look at the view from the way he had come. It was slow going, but still, he didn’t see anything familiar.

Thorgaut kicked himself mentally for not waiting until his men were ready. He should have brought them all along with him. He knew they didn’t mind having the day off yesterday to kick back and relax. They deserved it after the all the raiding and looting they had done on this trip. Their ship was already full, and they wanted to get home.

But Thorgaut had wanted to press inland a bit farther to see what the opportunities the land held and were available. Opportunitmeaning cities to raid and kingdoms to conquer.

Thorgaut and his friends had left most of the men guarding the ship. Then he had traveled up the river towards the black mountains. He had brought Liut, Bior, and Grimar, three of his best soldiers and closest friends. Katla, the shieldmaiden wanted to tag along, so he had let her come too.

But after three days he had decided to turn back. They hadn’t seen anything impressive. Besides, his friends were chomping at the bits to return to the comfort of their village and loved ones. They had left the town more than two moons ago, and they were already coming upon the third.

They were running low on supplies, so Thorgaut told them to take the day to hunt and fish to restock. It hadn’t been entirely necessary. They could have made it back to the ship with what they had, and even killed some game along the way. But Thorgaut’s adventurous spirit urged him on just a little bit further. He told them he was going hunting, but they all knew he what he was up too and his desire to explore.

Thorgaut trusted them and had confided in them of his plans to take the King Mar Bolverksson’s place. They knew he planned to conquer the Northern regions. They knew he was ambitious and respected him for his leadership and fighting skills. He also knew they each of them had their own secret dreams and ambitions of gaining a commanding position by his side.

So, his friends had taken the time to lash up some simple shelters and set up camp for a few days. Then they had gone fishing for the night. They were still sleeping when he left them. He imagined they had fished all day and then feasted well into the night. But by now, they would be worried about him and wondering what to do.

Most likely they would be out looking for him by now. Liut was an excellent tracker. He would be able to find Thorgaut with the help of those two hounds of his as long as it didn’t rain. If worse came to worse, Thorgaut knew he could set up camp and wait for a day or two till they showed up.

Thorgaut didn’t like the idea of stopping, but it would be better than wandering in circles. It would take his friends longer to find him. Thinking about them made him feel happy. It was good to have a group of loyal friends he could count on. He smiled as he thought of them.

But at the same time, he wanted to find Halldora again. If his friends showed up, they would make him head back to the ship and go home. And then he never would locate Halldora again. She couldn’t be far though. All he had to do was…

Thorgaut heard a loud crack and something pulling at his feet. The ground slipped away from under him. The whole world flipped upside down, and the trees spun wildly around him. He waved his arms and tried to make sense of what was going on. He felt nauseous and almost lost his breakfast. The spinning started to slow down, and the trees stopped whirling around his head. He looked at his feet and saw a rope tied around them.

“Oh, great!” he muttered. “Caught in a trap. Just what I needed.”

Looking on the bright side, he hoped someone would come along soon to check it.

“Hey! Hello. Anyone out there.” he yelled. He paused to listen, but there was only silence. He instinctively reached for his sword and knife belt but came up empty-handed. He remembered that he hadn’t found it earlier. He swore under his breath.

Thorgaut reached behind his neck for the pair of axes he kept with his quiver of arrows. The pair of battle axes were made from the finest steel. The man who sold it to him said it had been forged in the most potent furnaces of the mountain dwarves.

Not that Thorgaut believed him. He grew up hearing stories about elves and dwarves all his life. But he had never seen them. His mother often told him stories of dwarves and other strange creatures. She was a great storyteller. She told the stories as if they had happened to her. She even claimed to have seen the dwarves herself in the lands beyond. That was before Thorgaut’s father had raided her village and slaughtered her family. Then he had made her his shieldmaiden.

His mother was smart. She had wooed her master and convinced him to marry her. She was a good woman and bore him many children. She performed as dutifully as any earl’s wife ever did to keep her position.

Jorwen was a beautiful woman and made for a lovely wife, and mother, and queen. Thorgaut had always been able to tell though that she didn’t truly love his father. Not that she had too. Most earl’s and other members of the royal clan, married for convenience and to expand their power; not necessarily because they were looking for love.

But still, his father hadn’t chosen to marry her to extend his throne and power. He had chosen her for some other unknown reason. Well, he always said it was because he loved her, but Thorgaut knew there was more to the story then he was letting on.

There were whispers that his mother had elven blood flowing through her veins. Others even said that she had used her elven powers to cast a spell and charm his father. He had asked her about it once, but she had laughed it off and denied it.

Thorgaut continued to tug at the axes and pull them out, but they were heavy and pulled down on his neck. They had scrunched up under the quiver since he was hanging upside down. He could only reach back and touch them with his right hand because of the way they had shifted off to the side. He tried to hold the first one between his fingers and pull it free. But it was too heavy, and he lost his grip on it.

The first battle ax slipped from his fingers and fell to the ground below him. Thorgaut sighed in frustration. Things were going so badly for him these days. He was always on top of things and in control. But nothing seemed to go his way out here in these woods. It would have been embarrassing if anyone had been around to see him like this.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 11 – Weird!

Thorgaut knew she wanted to kiss him. He thought about insisting and trying again. But the firmness of her voice made him realize that it would be better to wait for a more opportune moment. He stared at her longingly as if willing her to change her mind. But she didn’t. Halldora turned and walked back to the kitchen.

He sighed in frustration and turned around to step back outside. Vriobrum stood behind him right outside the doorway. The sight of the shuffler standing so close caught him off guard. He jerked backward involuntarily.

“Holy cow! You gave me quite a start there, Vriobrum.” Thorgaut gasped. “Excuse me. Move back. Let me get by.”

Vriobrum didn’t move. He stood there staring Thorgaut down with a challenging look in his eye. He didn’t budge, nor look like he was in any hurry to go anywhere. So, Thorgaut stepped off the path into one of the flower beds to get past the shuffler.

The Viking prince walked out into the woods for a way to clear his head. He needed to find his friends and get back to his camp. But at the same time, he didn’t want to leave Halldora here. Maybe he could convince her toD go with him. She could come in handy down the line.

Halldora could help him with his conquests when he became king. He could march into battle and fight the enemy. If his army started to lose, she could raise those who had died in battle to turn them against their enemy. That would be brilliant.

He would be undefeatable. His army would be unstoppable. He could conquer the Northern kingdoms even faster and easier with her help. Halldora’s army of shufflers was the thing he had been looking for all this time. All of his explorations and adventures had been leading him here even though he hadn’t known what he was looking for exactly.

Thorgaut smiled and started walking back to the house. He would have to go easy on her and find a way to convince her to help him. He couldn’t come right out and ask her to build him an army of the undead. She didn’t seem like the kind who would go for that. No, he would have to be more subtle.

He walked back in the direction he had come, but couldn’t find his way back into the meadow. “This is ridiculous,” he thought. “How come I keep getting lost in these woods,” he muttered. Something was off, but he couldn’t place it.

After walking around for another fifteen minutes, he stopped underneath a large tree. He sat down to catch his breath. It was early, so the sun was still in the East. That meant if he walked into the sun, he should come back out to the open plains he had been on yesterday. From there, he could find the jacket that marked the trail back into the woods. Then he could follow it back into Halldora’s glade.

Everything had been so strange around these woods. Directions seemed to be fluid and changing. Just when Thorgaut thought he was getting somewhere, he ended up being someplace unexpected.

He had heard of places like this. Locations full of magic where time and space were different. “Halldora could have something to do with it. She could have placed a spell over it to protect herself and the shufflers from being discovered.” he thought to himself.

Thorgaut decided to climb the tree to get a look around and get his bearings. He unbuckled the belt that held his sheath and put it under a bush near the roots of the tree. He climbed as high as he felt comfortable with the branches holding his weight.

He looked around but didn’t see anything familiar. He should have been able to see Halldora’s glade. He couldn’t even tell where the forest ended and the plains began. The only thing he could see were trees spreading out in all directions. He did see a mountain range off in the distance that looked somewhat familiar. It may have been the one he had seen across the plains during yesterday’s trek. But he couldn’t be sure from here. And he sure didn’t want to risk getting even more lost.

This was such a frustrating feeling. By Thorgaut’s calculations, he should be right near Halldora’s glade. Granted, she did have it well hidden from outsiders. Anyone who didn’t know what they were looking for wouldn’t even notice it. But now that he knew where she was, he should be able to find it. Or at least see something that looked familiar.

“Halldora! Halldora!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “Are you there? Can you hear me? Helloooooooo!”

Thogaut paused to listen if she answered back. But there was nothing out of the ordinary. He heard the usual sounds of the forest and the wind in the trees. He yelled a few more times, but no one replied.

He sighed and climbed back down. This was ridiculous. Here he had found a lovely woman out here in the middle of the woods who could help him conquer the North. And now he had gotten himself lost again for the third time in a row, and he might not be able to find her.

Why did he keep turned around in these woods? And who was the woman that had been screaming the night before? It apparently couldn’t have been Halldora. Those were a few of the thousand unanswered questions swirling around in his mind.

When Thorgaut reached the bottom of the tree, he walked over to the bush where he had left his sword. He reached down to pick it up, but it wasn’t there. He knelt down and felt around. He pulled the branches and leaves back, but he couldn’t find it. Thorgaut looked around to see if other bushes looked similar. Maybe he was looking under the wrong shrub.

But there weren’t any that looked like that particular thicket. There was no way he could have confused it. He looked around to see if some animal had dragged it off. There were no tracks or trails to show what could have happened though.

There was something going on around here. That was for sure. This whole situation was starting to feel like one of those scary stories Thorgaut’s mother used to tell him before putting him to bed. They would leave him feeling sleepless and terrified in the dark long after she had gone from his room. She said the tales were to toughen him up and make a man out of him. But he never remembered her telling any of those stories to his brothers.

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 10 – Sorry!

Thorgaut walked out from under the shade of the house and trees. He basked for a moment in the sunshine. Then he took a deep breath and exhaled with a loud sigh.

He barely noticed the scent of the flowers wafting up from the garden. The chirping of the purple birds flitting from tree to tree escaped his senses as well.

His mind was spinning a million miles an hour. He tried to process everything he had learned about the shufflers. So, Halldora had created and surrounded herself with a small group of undead corpses. And she could control them at will.

Vriobrum shuffled by on his way to the flowerbed. Thorgaut watched him go past and then followed from a short distance. Vriobrum glanced back once, but then ignored Thorgaut after that. He watched Vriobrum trying to pick weeds from among the flowers.

It was uncomfortable to watch him bend over and work at such weird, stiff angles. Vriobrum’s clumsy fingers often missed the weeds entirely. Sometimes he would even uproot a flowering plant.

Thorgaut drew closer within talking distance and waited until the shuffler looked up. “Hello!” Thorgaut said as he raised a hand in acknowledgment. The shuffler didn’t say anything but did maintain eye contact.

“It’s a nice day. Huh?” Thorgaut said. He looked up at the light blue sky and blazing white sun above him. He wondered if Vriobrum noticed the details of the things around him.

Vriobrum returned to picking the weeds. Thorgaut took a few steps forward until he stood on the opposite side of the flowerbed. The shuffler stopped what he was doing but didn’t look up this time. Thorgaut reached out a hand and picked a few of the ornery sprouts too.

“So, Halldora tells me that you were a mighty warrior once,” Thorgaut said. Vriobrum didn’t answer. He continued picking more weeds.

“It must be frustrating to be stuck like this,” Thorgaut said quietly. “You wanted me to put you out of your misery last night along with your friends. Didn’t you?”

The shuffler didn’t say anything. It stood up without looking at him and shuffled off towards the house. Thorgaut finished pulling a few final weeds that Vriobrum had missed. Then he walked back to the house too.

Halldora was standing in the doorway watching him. He caught her eye and fixed his gaze on her as he walked toward the hut. He admired her slim, lithe figure. The way her dark hair swirled around her face and neck as she swept the floor.

She wasn’t the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. But she wasn’t ugly either. Her only real defect was her height. She was shorter than he preferred. He liked women who came up to his eyes. He couldn’t complain though. Who expected to get lost in the unexplored woods of the North and then stumble across a pretty woman anyway.

He found her to be pretty in her own way. Maybe it was just because she was different than most of the woman in his region. Most of the princesses and royal women he met were all too pale and pasty looking. They looked like they didn’t get much sun. But he could tell that Halldora spent plenty of time in the outdoors by the sheen of her sunkissed skin.

He stood in the doorway and watched her sweep the floor. Each stroke of the broom bringing her closer in his direction until she was directly in front of him. She was so close the swirls of her dress brushed against him. He caught a whiff of her scent and took a deep breath. She smelled like wild daisies. It was intoxicating.

Thorgaut started to reach out and touch her. He wanted to take her in his arms and draw her in close. Kiss her and be kissed back by those soft lips.

Halldora stopped sweeping just inches away from him. She wiped a few strands of hair out of her face and pulled them back to fix them in place. A few stray strands she had missed still hung over her eyes. She jerked her head to the side to toss them back, but that didn’t work either.

The stubborn strands still stuck to her cheeks. So, she tried to puff at them with her breath to blow them out of the way. Her hands were still busy tying back the rest of her hair.

She didn’t break eye contact with Thorgaut the entire time. He stood mesmerized, watching with bated breath. She had an aura of beauty and charm that left him transfixed.

She noticed the intentness of his gaze and blushed. “What is it?” she asked.

It had been a long time since he had felt this way around a woman. Most of the silly girls who came to see him at his father’s lodge bored him. He realized he had been staring and shrugged nonchalantly. You remind me of someone I once knew.”

Halldora smiled revealing a perfect set of white teeth and finished tying her hair back.

Thorgaut reached out and grabbed the few stray strands that were still there. The hair swayed and escaped his grasp. His large fingers felt clumsy like the shufflers he had seen earlier. He didn’t want to poke Halldora in the eye, so he brushed them to the side with a single finger. The tip of his finger trailed along the edges of her cheekbones. Her skin felt so soft and smooth under his touch.

Halldora caught her breath and closed her eyes. She turned her face up and to the side to follow the trail of his finger caressing her cheek and into her hair. He let the rest of his fingers trail into and down her curls. He squeezed his fingers and thumb together to apply pressure as he pulled down on the locks of her hair.

When he reached the ends of her hair, he played with the loose strands between his fingers. He ran his hand back down through her hair several times, gathering more each time.

Halldora opened her eyes and gazed into his. Thorgaut tugged at her hair, guiding her head closer to his. He glanced down at her lips and then back up into her eyes. Then he slid his hand around the nape of her neck and grasped her gently but firmly.

He pulled her in for a kiss, and his lips almost brushed against hers. But at the last instant Halldora pushed the broom that was still in her hands against his chest to hold him back. She turned her head right before he could kiss her.

“No, Thorgaut. Stop,” she whispered in a low, husky voice. “We shouldn’t. I can’t. I’m sorry.”

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 9 – Vriobrum!

Thorgaut was ready to crash. The event of the evening left him feeling wound up and tense. It also felt wrong to lie down in the bed of a man he had just killed. So, he didn’t think he would get much sleep as he prepared to lie down.

But exhaustion got the best of him, and he fell asleep even before his head hit the pillow. He had a strange dream of himself walking around like a shuffler in the forest still looking for his friends.

But the sensation of transforming into a shuffler became more vivid and realistic. He felt unable to breathe as if he was slowly suffocating. When he awoke, he realized why. The sheet had somehow wrapped itself around his face and neck during the night.

Thorgaut unwrapped the sheet and pulled it off his face. Then he laid back down and tried to sleep again. His anxious mind wouldn’t allow it though. It whirled along at a furious pace and refused to let fall asleep again.

The smell of meat roasting over an open fire also didn’t help any, and his stomach started growling. He tossed and turned for a few minutes longer, then finally rolled out of bed to get dressed. He followed his nose to the kitchen where Halldora was setting the table. She smiled warmly.

“Did you sleep well?” she asked as she handed him a cup of tea.

Thorgaut grunted and shrugged as he took the cup.

“Are you feeling okay this morning?” she asked.

He shook his head and sighed. Halldora reached out a hand to touch his forehead. He reflexively slapped it away. He saw a flicker of fear on her face.

“Are you able to say anything, Thorgaut?” she asked him gently.

“Of course,” he growled. “Why wouldn’t I be.”

She smiled and turned around to pour a bowl of porridge. Halldora put it on the table in front of him. She sliced some bread and spread a generous helping of butter across it.

Thorgaut realized why she had seemed so interested in his silence.

“You thought I was becoming a shuffler. Didn’t you?” he asked her. He stared at her intently as she took a bite of her bread.

She chewed slowly and swallowed her food before looking up at him. “It could have been a possibility, I suppose, after your fight with them last night?”

“How so?” Thorgaut asked. He continued to watch her for any sign of reaction.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” she asked. Halldora pointed to the bowl that he hadn’t yet touched. Thorgaut shook his head. He no longer felt hungry. A mix of smoldering anger and burning curiosity took hold of him. Curiosity about how she created and controlled these creatures. And at the same time, anger that she had put his life in danger.

“I dreamt that I had become one of those things,” he said.

She looked at him in shock. “Really? What happened?” she asked.

“Nothing much. I was out looking for my friends in the woods, but I couldn’t breathe and woke up.” He continued to watch her, but couldn’t read any of her expressions. She hid them well.

“It’s possible that you’re in the process of turning.”

“Turning?” he asked. “You mean, like becoming one of those things myself.”

“Did any of them bite or scratch you in the scuffle? Or did their vomit and blood splatter on you?”

Thorgaut stirred his porridge slowly as he tried to remember the events of the night before. He looked up at her and shook his head.

“I don’t think so,” Thorgaut replied. “They weren’t very fast, and they weren’t armed. So, they didn’t harm me. One did throw up near me though.”

Her face showed no expression, and she still displayed no sign of emotion. So, Thorgaut couldn’t get a read on what she was thinking.

The idea that he might be turning into one of the shufflers terrified him like no battle ever had. His father had raised him to fight to the death.

Death was not something he had been taught to fear. His people believed that death was merely another step forward into the afterlife. One more step in his life experience and journey.

But the thought of not being able to die. Or worse yet transformed into one of those things was horrifying. If Thorgaut were unable to fight and die a warrior’s death, he would continue to suffer on forever. And once turned, he would no longer be able to fulfill his duties and earn his position as a warrior worthy of Odin’s hall.

Everything around Thorgaut seemed to slow down and come to a standstill. Even time itself seemed to slow down and pause to allow the realization to sink in. His life was ending, and there was nothing he could do. Everything became crystal clear, and his senses seemed to magnify everything around him.

The buzz of a fly around the bread was deafening. The smell of the freshly baked bread and roasting meat made his mouth water. The glint of the sun rays shining through the window reflected in Halldora’s bright blue eyes. The taste of the herbs on his tongue that lingered on his taste buds long after he had finished drinking his tea.

Every cell in his body suddenly seemed to come alive and pulse with rhythm and life. The moment seemed to stretch on as fear and denial swept over him.

Then the rage began to build. Thorgaut wanted to slam his fist on the table and then throw it over. He wanted to grab Halldora and choke the life out of her, and then chop off that stupid shuffler’s head. But he squeezed his fists and tried to control himself.

“How do I know if I’m turning into one of those things?” he roared. He looked down at his hands and realized he was shaking. Thorgaut took a deep breath and placed his hands on his lap. He looked up again and saw that Halldora had backed away. There was fear in her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said and sat back. “I just don’t want to become one of those things.”

Halldora stepped forward and placed her hand on his shoulder. “I don’t think you are,” she said. “I only asked you that because you didn’t answer my questions this morning. Inability to speak is one of the first noticeable signs. Shufflers can’t talk, so I just thought…” Her voice trailed off.

Thorgaut gave a sigh of relief and chuckled nervously. “You gave me a real scare there for a minute.”

She smiled back at him. He noticed that her eyes twinkled in a way that took his breath away. Halldora turned away under his gaze and started to clear the table.

“So, how did you create these shufflers?” he asked. “You just collect some shuffler vomit and sprinkle on your friends as they lay dying.”

She returned to the table and shook her head sadly.

“Creating a true shuffler is an ancient art of the necromancers among my people. My father grew up among them and learned their ways. He made sure my brothers and I all learned the ancient arts as part of our education.”

“So, you chant a spell, wave your hands, and voila. Out comes a shuffler?” he asked.

“Not exactly. It involves invoking Hades and making a blood pact. Hades is a bloodthirsty creature and always requires a sacrifice. He is the original shuffler master.”

“You invoked Hades and sold your soul in exchange for the lives of your friends?”

Thorgaut shook his head in awe. “I knew you had some real gumption living out here in the woods by yourself, but that’s crazy.”

Halldora had her head down and sat quietly.

“So, what did Hades demand in exchange?” he asked.

“Everything. Hades required everything I had and even what I didn’t have,” she said glumly. “But at the time, I had already lost my family and everything I held dear. I didn’t think I had anything left to lose. All I wanted was to avenge the deaths of my family and friends.”

“He’s coming to collect his due,” Thorgaut stated. He knew. He had heard the legends and tales of old. Halldora would pay the ultimate price. He didn’t know what it was yet and wasn’t sure he wanted to. So, he changed the topic back to the shufflers.

“So, when shuffler blood or vomit touches someone, they turn into a shuffler as well?” he asked?

“Yes,” she replied. “The true shufflers are the reanimated corpses of the dead or almost dead. But the second generation of shufflers turned by blood or vomit are still living souls. The effects aren’t as strong in them, and they can’t be controlled as easily.”

“That’s why Vriobrum is different from the other shufflers,” Thorgaut exclaimed.

She nodded. “The effects become weaker with each passing generation. After several generations, a person doesn’t fully change. They just get sick. I’ve even heard that a seventh generation shuffler eventually healed himself.”

[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 8 – Halldora!

Thorgaut cleaned his sword and gathered up his stuff that had been scattered around in the scuffle. He wasn’t about to yell out or make any more noise that would attract another horde of these nasty things. Then he tied a bundle of sticks together to make a torch and then set off down the trail. The shuffler followed him and Thorgaut stopped.

“Now, wait! You can’t walk behind me. I don’t trust you. You stay. Got it?”

The creature continued to stare at him without saying a thing. Thorgaut sighed. He took off running to put some distance between himself and the shuffler. After running a little way, he looked back. It was following him at his normal shuffling pace. So, he ran a little more just to put plenty of distance between himself and the creepy creature.

Thorgaut followed the trail all the way back to where it had ended earlier. He stopped when he came to the dead end again. He walked around trying to find a way to get around it. Thorgaut didn’t find anything though and came back to the trail.

By this time, the shuffler had almost reached him. Thorgaut waited for him to catch up with him and then stop, but this time it kept on walking. It stepped right into the bushes and pushed on through until it disappeared.

Thorgaut kept watching and listening, but nothing happened.He waited for a bit to see if the shuffler would return. Nothing. Thorgaut pushed tentatively at the branches. They gave way fairly easily. He slipped through and came out into a small clearing.

He saw a woman in the middle of the clearing with a broom in her hand. She was sweeping the ground around the fire. It was such a surreal sight that Thorgaut couldn’t say anything. He just looked on and observed the strange and unexpected scene.

The woman looked up and smiled pleasantly. “Come on in,” she said warmly. “Sit here by the fire and have a cup of tea with me.”

Thorgaut walked forward numbly trying to process what was going. Who was this lady? What was she doing in the middle of the forest at night? A witch? Was this a dream?

“Hi!” he stammered. He was at a loss for words. The woman pointed to a seat on the ground and picked up a cup to pour him some tea.

He took the cup and then sat down. He looked at it suspiciously. She smiled when she realized what he was thinking.

“Oh, c’mon now. You don’t think I’m going to poison the first good-looking guy that shows up in my forest in over a year do you?” The woman laughed again and took the cup from his hands. She took a sip and handed it back to him.

“See! Perfectly good tea made from freshly plucked forest herbs. Nothing deadly enough to kill a nice big man like you.” she said ominously. Her eyes flickered over to the shuffler that was still standing off to the side. “I’m Halldora Grimardottir of Dysjǫrð. It’s nice to meet you.”

Thorgaut burst out laughing. Deep spasms of nervous laughter that he couldn’t have stopped even if he had wanted to. She just stood and watched him with a smile on her face until he got himself under control.

“It’s okay. I understand. You must be a shy guy, and get nervous around a confident, self-assured woman. No?”

Thorgaut shook his head vigorously. “No, that’s not it at all. Sorry. I’m Thorgaut Kabbisson of Jorundarfell. I really don’t know why I laughed. This whole situation is just so surreal.”

“I understand,” she said with a mischevious glint in her eye. “It’s not every night that you meet a shuffler.”

Thorgaut grunted and glanced over in the creature’s direction. He turned back and scowled at her. “Dysjǫrð the Grave World? Huh. I guess you take that quite literally. Huh?”

She looked down at the ground and sighed. “Yeah! Well, the forest can be a dangerous place for a woman on her own. They help me keep the place up and protect me from strangers.”

“Strangers like me? Is that what you mean?” he asked angrily. “You just send your minions out to kill anyone who enters your forest without question.”

“No, of course not,” she replied. “I heard someone screaming, and sent them out to see what was going on. You were the one who attacked first and killed Vriobrum.”

Vriobrum,” he said. “You mean you actually give each of these things a name? What? Are they like pets or something?”

“No. They’re not pets, but they are real people with a birth name.” she retorted. “Do you think the undead are just born that way?”

Thorgaut put his cup down and stood up. He paced around the fire in silence. “This is messed up. You living all alone out here in the woods with a bunch of these undead creatures.’

“They were my friends,” she said softly. “Our kingdom was overthrown, and my family was put to death. I alone escaped with their help. They died defending me. I felt guilty that they died for me. They could have stayed behind, but they chose to follow me. So, I brought them back. And now, you’ve slaughtered them.”

“I’m sorry.” he stammered and hung his head in shame under her gaze. “I didn’t know that. I just assumed that they were coming to kill me.”

Halldora smiled sadly and shook her head. “I understand why you did it. It’s best for them. Their souls have been released to the afterlife again. But I will miss them.”

Thorgaut sat down in shock, trying to wrap his head around the events of the evening and the information he had just learned. Not that he felt guilty. He was a warrior, and warriors killed. But learning of the existence of the shufflers and how they came to be, just blew his mind.

Halldora wiped a tear from her eye and stood up. She walked over to a hut and went inside. She stepped back out through the door and motioned him over.

He had so many questions whirling through his head. Thorgaut opened his mouth, but she shook her head and placed her fingers on his lips.

“Please. Let’s talk about this tomorrow.” Halldora said. “I know you have a lot of question, but it’s late. We should get some sleep.”

The door was low, so Thorgaut had to duck to get through. But on the inside, the house was much bigger then he expected. The floor slanted down below the level of the ground and opened into a spacious living area that looked fit for a queen.

A bit more rustic than what she would have been used to having in a palace. Nothing made of ivory and marble. She was alone in the forest of course, but everything was still very nicely made.

Thorgaut let out a long, slow whistle as he looked around at the surroundings and decoration. He glanced at Halldora out of the corner of her and she was beaming with pleasure at the genuine admiration that was so evident on his face.

[Rise of the Drakemen] Infiltration: Chapter 1 – Welcome to the Topside

When the Drakemen begin to infiltrate our world Anna dreams of taking power dominating all mankind without them even realizing what has happened. But when Rumwold and Valagnar find someone as powerful as she is, she must do whatever it takes to turn their weapon to her side.

This will be up soon…as I am currently writing the first chapter!

Read More Of Dave Bailey’s Stories

NorthWorld: Thorgaut Kabbisson – A Viking Fantasy Saga where you can follow Thorgaut Kabbisson on his journey to become king of the North and a young Viking boy’s growth into manhood to become the hero of legends and campfire tales.

Edge of the Universe: Art Journals – A naive, young scientist creates a DNA-splicing machine with the potential to eradicate sickness and disease. But when an ancient alien race tries to use his technology for evil and to enslave mankind, a desperate father must do whatever it takes to stop them and save his daughter.

Ectype Reports: Karina & The Clones – In a secret underground lab full of cloned bodies, an ambitious, Brazilian scientist develops a project to back up memories and transfer the souls of paraplegic soldiers into a new body to heal the sick, change the world, and win the Nobel Peace Prize. But when a conniving general manipulates her into using the technology to hijack the president’s body and take over the white house while building himself a personal army of cloned soldiers, Jenny must do whatever it takes to return him to his own body, put a stop to his evil plan, and shut down her life’s work before anyone else can get their hands on it.

[Edge of the Universe] Art Journals: Chapter 1 – The Accident

Art pulled into the driveway in his Beamer. He waited for the garage door to open and then pulled in. He shut off the engine and waited for the top of the convertible to close. When it finished, he opened the door and got out. He grabbed his briefcase and entered the house.

He walked down the hall and saw Karen in the kitchen.

“Hey, Hon! I’m home.” He said. “Hmm. That smells good. What’s for supper?”

Karen turned and smiled. “Hey. You’re here early. What happened?”

“It’s not early. I clocked out at 5.” He retorted. Karen didn’t say anything. She just smiled as if to say, “Yeah. Right?”

“Okay. So, I am a bit earlier than usual.” He said with a shrug.

“Well, your supper is in the oven. Jenny and I already ate.”

“What? You didn’t wait for me?” he asked sounding genuinely hurt.

Karen laughed. “You never get home before nine.”

“That’s not true. Don’t exaggerate. I was home early last week. By seven..ish I think.”

Karen rolled her eyes and walked towards the door. She placed her hand on his shoulder and patted it lightly as she went left the room.

Art shrugged and opened the oven. He pulled out the plate of food and put it on the counter. He opened the dishwasher to get a fork and knife. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes. He dug in and ate with relish. He loved Karen’s cooking. If she would just stop nagging him all the time about everything he would be a happy man.

He finished his plate off quickly and washed it down with a glass of root beer. He felt hungry still, so he raided the fridge. He pulled out some apple pie that had been leftover from his weekly Wednesday night poker party.

Art sniffed it. “Still smells pretty good.” He had forgotten about it all about it otherwise, he would have eaten it before. He grabbed a box of butter pecan ice cream from the bottom shelf of the freezer. He piled several scoops on top of the pie.

He put a spoonful of the cold, sweet treat in his mouth. Art closed his eyes and savored the moment. “Absolute perfection. Why does cold food that’s leftover, often taste better than when it’s fresh.” he wondered.

Art carried his bowl and continued eating as he walked down the hall to his bedroom. His feet padded softly in the lush, blue carpet. He loved the feel of the soft material under his feet and always walked barefoot around the house.

He had never had carpet in a house growing up as a child. He had grown up in a low-income family that didn’t have many extras. His father paid the bills and spent the rest on booze. His mother had done crochet on the side to make a little extra money buy clothes and for herself and the kids. That was when she had any left over from buying groceries when her husband had run out of money.

But it wasn’t just because his family was poor, that he hadn’t had grown up with carpeting. Hardly anyone in his country installed carpeting in their home. Most of the people in his community only had dirt floors. If they were lucky, they had cement floors. And if they were rich, they had ceramic tiling.

Life hadn’t always been easy for Art and his siblings growing up in northern Brazil. His mother had struggled to keep twelve hungry mouths fed. She had to work hard and be creative to make money and food stretch each month.

So, Art had learned to appreciate all the fine things around him. The little things that most people took for granted. Things like carpeting, apple pie, and butter pecan ice cream. He savored them at every opportunity, like now as he walked down the hall to his bedroom.

He considered himself lucky to escape his little rural community. The cycle of poverty engulfed those of his family who were still alive. His father had died of liver cirrhosis when he was still thirteen. Not that Art had cared when he died, nor missed him after he had gone.

The family did miss the little money that he didn’t spend on liquor, but that was about it. His mother had soon remarried, but her second husband hadn’t been much better. He drank too and often beat the children over the slightest thing. Art had started working when he was fourteen just to have an excuse to get away from the house.

He went into the bedroom to change his clothes. Art put on a pair of swimming trunks. He finished off the bowl of ice cream and washed his hands. Then he headed off to find Karen and Jenny in the pool. He looked at the picture of the gringo framed on the wall. He touched the photo and said thank you as he went down the hall.

He worked for the gringo who lived on an enormous cattle ranch in the area where Art had grown up. Art spent most of his time out in the country to stay away from the city and avoid his step-father’s lashings. He did go in on the weekends, but just long enough to check in on his mother. He would drop off some food or a little money for her and the kids.

Art always drove by the local bar to make sure his step-father was there and away from the house before he went to see her. Art had been a hard worker and managed to impress the gringo. Art took advantage of the opportunity to learn English with him and his family. He pretended he didn’t speak any Portuguese and forced himself to speak only English.

When he was seventeen, the family returned to the United States. They invited Art to come along for a visit. He ended up getting into a good university program. There he had met Karen, and well, that had been fifteen years ago. He was now here in the good ol’ USA living his happily ever after. Art had never looked back or returned to Brazil.

He walked back to the kitchen and put his bowl in the dishwasher. He mentally patted himself on the back. See, he was a good husband. Why did Karen have to nag about the little things like what time he came home? She should know that he was out trying to provide for the family.

He heard Jenny laughing and looked out through the window. He sighed in exasperation. There she was running around the edge of the pool again. Their dog was chasing her, and she wasn’t paying much attention to her surroundings.

Art had told her a million times not to run on the slippery, wet edge of the pool. And Karen didn’t back him up or try to make Jenny stop. Art thought she spoiled Jenny by letting her do whatever she wanted. That was the price of growing up without any significant cares or worries.

People didn’t realize what they had. They let their kids do whatever they wanted and get away with murder. He didn’t want his kids growing up like that. Karen didn’t understand his background or how he had been raised. He needed to have a serious conversation with her again. At the very least, keep her safe by not letting her run around the pool.

He opened the door and yelled “Jenny! What have I told you about running around the edge of the pool.”

She quit running and turned her head to look back at him. The dog didn’t stop though. It kept right on running and barking. It barreled right into the back of her legs. Its forward momentum knocked Jenny off balance, and she started to topple over. His worse nightmare playing out in slow motion right before his eyes.

Chapter 2 is coming soon…

Kindle Unlimited

Or you can jump way ahead and read ‘Art’s Final Battle‘ on Kindle Unlimited. This was the original short story that I wrote about Art and his daughter Jenny.

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