Sunday, April 19, 2015

Touched by the Gods

Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds a week last Friday asked for opening sentences, the intent of which was to provide the prompt for this week's challenge.

We are to pick someone else's sentence contribution, and turn it into a story. The good news is Chuck gives us 2k words this week instead of his standard 1k. The bad news?

There are over 400 opening sentences to choose from.

Quite the challenge. But since I donated an opening sentence last week, I feel obliged to provide a story this week.

So I chose the following, a donation from Susan Adsett: They said everything went right the day his mother died.

And after binge watching episodes to get caught up on Vikings from the History Channel, I could not help but use the show for additional inspiration.

So without further ado, I give you: Touched by the Gods

"They said everything went right the day his mother died." Earl Hugi pointed to a red-headed youth splitting logs into spears for the repair of the village’s fortifications. "As if her death was a good omen."

Ricci raised a hand to shield her eyes from the summer sun, "That is a cruel thing to say."

The earl cracked a half-smile. "Oh they never say it to his face. That lad has been a force to be reckoned with since he kicked free of his mother's womb. During his eighth summer, he killed the man who butchered his brother. With his bare hands, they say."

The red-head dripped with sweat, but he seemed focused, driven. The stack of logs at his feet dwindled at a quick and steady pace. "You speak of what they have said. But have you seen him fight, Uncle?"

He nodded. "He may not have the stature, but the lad's part bear. His hide is unmarred not because he runs from a fight, but because nothing can touch him."

"Why do they never take him raiding, I wonder?"

Her uncle shrugged. "The men grumble that he does not play well with others. Possibly they just feared his mother's curse." 

She turned and fetched up her water pitcher. "The man looks thirsty, does he not?"

"His name is Vegard," she heard Hugi say as she climbed around the moat, "and you're welcome." 

The mud sucked at her feet as she crossed the field to the lumber stand where Vegard worked. Ricci circled around him until she made eye-contact. "Water?"

His storm-colored eyes measured her. He tacked his axe into the log, a makeshift frog to free his hands, and slipped his drinking horn from his belt. "Thank you."

She poured a ration into his horn. "My name is Ricci."

"I know who you are. Princess." He cocked his head towards her uncle. "You and the king’s brother have been watching me. Am I a concern or a curiosity?"

"Perhaps you are both." She tapped her fingers against the pitcher she held, debating. "If you know me, do you know my intent?"

He gulped from his horn and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "The villagers say you are to make the pilgrimage north, to pray at the shrine and offer sacrifices to the gods."

"I am."

"Dangerous, this trip," he said.

"It is."

He finished his horn's portion and secured the vessel back to his belt, waving off her second offer. "So why do you watch me?"

"I am not defenseless, but undertaking such a journey...It is wiser to have an escort, someone to help get me there and back." She chewed on her lip, hoping.

He removed his axe from the stump and resumed his work, splintering a plane from the tip of the log with ease. "Does not your father have warriors?"

"They are raiding still."

"And your betrothed?" His look was challenging, daring.

"Yes. Yes Lunt has warriors."

He hoisted another log to position with a grunt. "Well?"

"I do not trust him or his men," she said. 

"A dilema, that." He settled in with a rhythm to both his breathing and his axe strokes, sharpening the log into a dangerous point. He spoke words between breaths like one reciting an edda. "What has this to do with me, I wonder? Why is it you watch Vegard the Cursed, hmm? What is it you think I shall do for you?"

"Will you go with me?"


His refusal stung. She stifled a sigh. "Then I am sorry I disturbed you. May Odin be pleased with all your victories."

She walked some paces away before she heard the axe sink into the stump again. "Wait, Princess."

She turned. He mopped sweat from his brow and sauntered toward her. She held her ground, even as he stopped within inches of her, his eyes boring into her soul. "What?" she asked, unflinching.

He said nothing, but reached out to tuck her hair behind her ear, exposing her deformity and her reason for seeking the gods’ favor. She tried to turn away, but he gripped her chin and twisted it to the light. At the edge of her vision she could see his stormy eyes inspecting the mark on her cheek, where the cruel hand of Fate had touched her. There was something soft in his expression. Understanding? Or maybe pity? Did he pity her? "My advice, Princess?” he said. “Do not spurn the gift the gods gave you."

"You think this scar a gift? A blessing?" Her gut simmered with anger.

"I do, and yet you hide it behind hair."

"It is ugly."

"It is different."

"Our people look upon me with dread and fear. My father is all too happy to rid himself of his ugly daughter. So I am to wed Lunt, and he shall bring me to his mead-hall where I shall have no father and no friend." She blinked her tears back. She would not cry. "I will go to ask Freya for protection and hope she takes pity on me."

"And I say let them fear you if that is their only ability." He let go of her chin and took a step back. "It is not so bad to be cursed. There’s power in that. Embrace it and they can’t hurt you.”

Water splashed from her pitcher as she pulled her hair back over her scar. "I thank you for your advice," she said and turned away, tears scalding her cheeks.

Her uncle joined her as she approached his longhouse. "He refused?"

"He did. But I don't need him. I don't need anyone. I can make the journey fine on my own."

"Wait, Ricci," he grabbed her arm. "Just wait. Your father should be back soon. The raids will have put him in a better mood. Let me speak with him again. He is not an overly cruel man. He will listen to reason."

"It could still be several days before his homecoming, and yet several days more before his final decision is proclaimed. If I want to make it there and back before the first snows of winter fall..."

"Please, Ricci."

She shook her head. He meant well, but he could not protect her forever. "My betrothed made it clear that he is disappointed with my face. I have no choice if indeed my father insists on this marriage. Look, they have the grain stores and we have the warriors. It is a good match withal, good for our people. The gods have to intervene. They have to.”

He frowned, sorrow lining his face. “In my experience, the gods don’t have to do anything.”

A commotion broke out behind them. Ricci wiped her tears away and took a breath before turning. A crowd had already formed a line and blocked her view. But above a wave of cries and shouts, she heard Lunt call someone to combat by blood right.

“That can’t be good,” Hugi said, nudging Ricci’s elbow. “Come, I am the law while your father is away.”

Ricci set her pitcher down and jogged after her uncle to the circle where they clawed their way through to the middle. There, Lunt hurled insults with puffed chest and wild arms at the red-headed Vegard, who stood steadfast and silent at his lumber stand. “I will not allow such an insult from a Leiding to go unanswered” Lunt held a hand out and asked his shield-brothers for a sword. “I shall teach this one the consequence of seducing another man’s wife.”

“I think he’s talking about you, Ricci,” Hugi whispered before stepping into the ring. “I am the earl and I am the king’s voice while he is absent. You will tell me your grievance and I will tell you what action you can have as retribution.”

“Only moments ago, I caught this man touching my bride, your own niece, as if he had liberty to do so.” Lunt made a show of testing the balance of his sword, dancing it between his hands.

“The princess is not your bride. Not yet.” Hugi twisted about, addressing those gathered. “It is true our king intends for his daughter Ricci to wive this man. The bond will unite two communities and make them stronger. But, it is not yet official and such a union cannot and will not be held in the king’s absence.”

“That man's intent was to despoil my property before I receive her,” Lunt growled. "I will have justice."

Ricci caught up, shaking her head free of confusion. “I assure you, my husband, my future, Vegard has done nothing—“

Her intended interrupted, “You are fortunate that I will still champion you. That mark on your face will earn you no other suitor as fine as me.”

“I do not need your protection, Sir,” Ricci shouted, unable to swallow her anger any longer. “I am a shield-maid in my own right and--”

“Oh shut up! All of you,” Vegard broke his silence and stepped forward, still unarmed. “If this man is eager to die, let’s just get on with it.”

Hugi shook his head. “Vegard, my word—“

“I said shut it. Let the bastard spill my blood if he thinks he can.” Vegard spit. “Ordinarily I wouldn’t waste my time on his ilk, but I haven’t killed anyone since the quarter moon, so why not?”

Before either Ricci or Hugi could protest further, Lunt, a great beast of a man, lunged toward Vegard like a bear at a hound, his sword raised for a swipe down across the shoulder blade. Unarmed Vegard stepped forward and twisted, wrenching away Lunt’s blade with his right hand while his left elbow struck Lunt’s nose. The sound of breaking bone resonated and Lunt pitched to his knees. Vegard plunged the sword down into Lunt’s neck, completely severing the spinal cord.

Lunt was dead; his body a sheath to his own blade, the hilt jutting out atop blood--soaked shoulders. Vegard nodded and took his axe up at his lumber stand, 

The people dispersed. Lunt’s shield-brothers glowered at the red-headed Leiding, but made no additional challenge as they collected their brother’s corpse. Hugi looked bemused. “Well. That’s one solution, I suppose.”

“Provided Lunt’s cheiftan does not retaliate.” Ricci watched Vegard for a time considering their conversation and the advice he gave. With dexterous fingers, she plaited the hair she once hid behind. 

“When Father returns, Vegard will want for nothing.”

“My brother will not like it.”

“He will have no choice. You and I will show him he has no choice.”

“And how exactly do you plan on convincing him without getting us both executed? It was a good union for our people. Our warriors. Their grain stores.”

Ricci smiled, no longer burdened by Fate. “It is a simple matter, Uncle. We appeal to Father’s blood lust. We have warriors. We will have their stores.”

“You speak of conquest.” Hugi chuckled. “My brother will wonder why he did not think of that in the first place. And your pilgrimage?”

“It is no longer necessary. I have already been touched by the gods.” 

So that's what I got this week. Feel free to leave comments or constructive criticism if you would like. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


  1. This was brilliant. Definitely evokes the Vikings show but also Bernard Cornwell's Saxon novels (he's one of my favorite authors!). I would read more of this! Will you continue it at all?

    1. Thanks! I have a lot of irons in the fire but I left it open for more, just in case. I can never completely let go of any of my characters.

      I am pleased you enjoyed your visit. Thanks again for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I like how you work with dialog. It rings very realistic. I find it difficult to work inside a word limit. Does this greatly affect your writing? (I didn't count how many words this piece is.)

    1. Thanks! My pieces do tend to be dialogue heavy, so I'm glad that my dialogues come across well.

      This particular story clocks in at 1832 words. Keeping within a word limit can be a very daunting task, I almost always have to go back and edit down to the word count. I didn't have to with this piece, but that's rare.

      And yes. The practice of writing within the structure of a word limit has greatly affected how I write, and certainly how I edit. I have a tendency to ramble (as this comment I'm sure will prove) but a word limit forces me to seek out better words to convey meaning (can I do it with one word or do I have to use three) and it helps me focus on the story I'm trying to tell, getting from point A to point B in the cleanest possible way.

      I am willing to help you out if you like, as I'm sure others are in the Terrible Minds community. Just give me a shout!

      I hope you enjoyed your visit here. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts!