Swords of Steel

Excerpt from “All Will Be Righted on Samhain” by Howie K. Bentley and David C. Smith:

 

A slow wind moaned through the endless forest of tall, great trees. Bending strongly, heavy branches beat together and knocked out an unaccompanied nighttime dirge. The argent moon frowned on the Briton forest, watching like an eye as Bunduica weaved her way among the dark, gnarled boles. In her right hand she carried a torch; under her left arm was a wiggling bundle; slung over her back was a sack that contained fresh water and some few provisions. Trees began to change, and before the young woman’s eyes, as she hurried, the very light of the moon came alive around her. The old druid’s mistletoe concoction, which the girl had drunk before entering this heavy forest, was taking effect. Immediately, everything around her burst alive—and Bunduica was walking in two worlds at once. Here was the forest, ripe with fearful things and the expectancy of the evil to come, and here was the world alongside it, the sinister prelude of the forest and her immediate surroundings—the original world. Here lakes of blood ran in red waterfalls, and men and women took the forms of written characters—ancient runes—and shape-shifted into horse- and boar-headed chimeras. As Bunduica hurried on, one of these boar-headed men, standing now not far away, looked at her and, lifting his right arm, showed her the decapitated head of a man. He threw back his head, exposing freshly blooded fangs, laughed—and vanished, turned into fog.

The inhabitants of this damned world moved like ghosts free to pass through or pass over time. They shifted and dissolved as scenes of aeons came and went instantly, like the dreams of stars, all around the dazed Bunduica. A flaxen-haired woman, bare-chested, with a well-muscled abdomen but only half-human, slithered through the trees, her head and breasts and arms swaying atop her lower body, which was that of a large serpent. Curling and uncurling, the snake woman moved past a long row of impaled torture victims, some of whom yet lived, writhing and sweating, in the starlit mists. Her head swiveled completely around as she examined these bloody trophies; the back of her head, revealed only briefly as it revolved, was the face of a beast that Bunduica could not identify.

The young woman tried to keep her attention focused on her mission. This other world, she understood, was the result of the druidic potion, and she must not allow it to stand in her way or distract her from her purpose. She had suffered much already, but she was strong. Indeed, she looked like a younger version of her mother, the great Boadicea, with her flaming red hair, taut but feminine physique, alabaster skin, and piercing green eyes—eyes full of haunted memories. But Bunduica had her mother’s iron will, too, so she walked on through the grim forest with complete determination, as if in a trance.

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An excerpt from “The Heart of the Betrayer” by Howie K. Bentley:

Argantyr was surrounded by four warriors. His long black hair and lengthy beard were speckled with blood, and his steel sinews rippled as he stepped into a fighting stance, holding his large broadsword in both hands. His emerald eyes sparkled, and he grinned as the first man rushed in and brought his blade up and down at Argantyr’s head. Argantyr blocked the blow with his sword and made a quick arc with his blade, coming back around to slit the man’s throat. Another foe moved in quickly, thinking that he would have time to sink his dagger into Argantyr’s ribs while he was regaining his balance from the blow he had just dealt. Argantyr’s blade came through and cut down his adversary with the return. A third man came in with a short axe, but Argantyr was on him and quickly cut him down before the man knew what was happening. The blade made a thumping sound as it sliced through the man’s abdomen, and his innards spilled on the ground.

There was a loud growling as a bear-of-a-man came into Argantyr’s view. Argantyr gritted his teeth and braced himself as the giant came wading through the dead bodies of his enemies. The large man’s braided beard and square-cut brown mane were caked with the blood of those who had the misfortune to step into the path of his battle-axe as it had wheeled and spun out the fates of Argantyr’s falling comrades. The man stood at least a whole head taller than Argantyr. A deep booming command issued forth from the bellowing giant as he told Argantyr, “Tell your companions that Ursas sent you to join them in Hel!”

 

An excerpt from “The Heart of the Betrayer” by Howie K. Bentley:

Klak handed the crying infant to Tharat as the wizard told Klak, “You will need to get this powder into his wine cup. It will turn the bravest champion into a cowering cur.” Tharat held up the vial of white powder for Klak to see. “He won’t be able to lay a hand on a weapon without emptying his stomach and groveling before you.” The old wizard had thin white hair, and his filmy blue eyes shifted when he talked. He looked at Klak and snapped his teeth. His right eye was larger than the other and looked off to the far right. He was wearing a dirty brown robe and his tiny, sharp teeth were white as ivory. “This thing will not be easy. The problem will be getting the powder in his cup without him noticing.” The dirty little wizard snapped his teeth again after speaking.

Klak glared at Thrarat, his voice becoming deeper as he told the little man, “You will stop snapping your teeth at me like an old fox getting ready to go into a hen house if you value your life, wizard!” Klak knew that Tharat ate human flesh, but he didn’t care. Klak himself had consumed the flesh of another human being on several occasions when he was changed into the werewolf but had no taste for it when he went about on two legs as a man. He would have long ago dispatched the corrupt little wizard to Hel had it not been for Tharat’s usefulness as a dealer in magickal items and potions that truly worked. The dirty little man fell silent, fearing the Wolf’s ire.

Klak broke the silence. “I don’t care to hear your tales, wizard. I have already taken care of arrangements to get Argantyr to drink the powder.” Klak made a cruel barking sound as he laughed. “His woman is a sloe-eyed slut we took in a raid to the Far East. She is called Arju-Lao. He hasn’t wenched a night since we took her. He tried to set her free, but she wouldn’t go. He thinks that he saved her from me and my men taking her and doing what we want with her, but when Argantyr is deep in slumber or away, she comes to my sleeping quarters and asks me to do as I like. She likes to be treated rough. Once Argantyr is out of the way, I will give her a good beating and put some cuts and bruises on her. She told me how much she likes it. If that fool only knew! He trusts her. She will have no problem getting him to drink the powder.” Klak barked out another laugh. “Once I am shed of Argantyr, I might even brand Arju-Lao and keep her around for a while.”

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