Book 1 of the Bastard Prince Saga
- Horn of the Kraken
The sun and moon have been devoured by the cosmic wolves Skoll and Hati. Fimbulwinter has enveloped the world in the cold and darkness. Men prey on each other in order to survive. Amid the chaos, in the struggle for the throne, comes a war between brothers.
Hakon, the illegitimate heir to the throne of Norveig, has obtained a horn that can summon a terror from the depths of the ocean. This monstrosity has been sinking the vessels of his half-brother, Jarl Erik Bloodaxe. Erik sends a company of untried heroes to infiltrate Hakon’s stronghold and steal the horn.
As with all things political, there are other agendas. Fjorn, the leader of the team, is Erik’s half-brother who could challenge Erik for the throne. Erik's wife Gunnhild is a powerful sorceress with her own ambitions- could her goals derail the heroes?
In life, sometimes a Jarl wins, and other times a Jarl wins.
Hours later, as human muscle reached its limits, the oars were shipped and Audun cut a course to make best use of the wind while they had it. Fjorn, wrapped in his spare cloak, moved to the tiller oar and sat beside the big man.
“We made good time.” Audun greeted.
“We need to do better. Sigurlina is going to try to mask the dagger’s call, but…”
“She seems young. Would you rather a grey-haired hag with missing teeth dressed in rags?” Audun rested the tiller under his arm and began tracing runes on his axe with his finger.
“You expecting trouble?”
“If you aren’t; you’re a fool.”
Fjorn nodded. “My father told me before I left that I had a store of sense so long as there were no bosoms involved. Did I take Sigurlina aboard because she is a powerful Seith, or because she is a beautiful woman?”READ MORE
“Both. Fjorn, I’ve got a few years on you. I don’t know much about women, but I’ll tell you this. They are never just one thing. Don’t expect them to be. See the person first, then the woman, after that she’s whatever else she is. Now, there’s nothing wrong with some good honest wenching, so long as everyone has their fun, but that’s not all a woman is or is good for.”
“It’s not that. Well, not mostly. Could a more experienced seithkona mask the dagger’s call?”
“Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know that much about the seith way. But she did right well from what you told me about the cave. Ask yourself, would a more experienced captain be better on this boat? We all are what we are, and we do the best we can with what we have. Now, stop worrying and get some sleep or you’ll be useless tomorrow.”
Sigurlina sat at the bow with Munin tucked under her cloak so that only the raven’s head poked out. She ran her hands over the box containing the dagger.
“We should just toss it over the side.” Ragna settled beside Sigurlina.
“That wouldn’t help our handsome, young captain much with the queen, dear. I rather like him, though I do hope you will advise Sigurlina as to certain matters. I sense he may be rather experienced for one so young.” Sigurlina’s voice had a strange timber.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m quite fine, dear.” Sigurlina continued to stroke the wooden box. She smiled at
Munin. “A raven. Tell her I approve. Cats are good too. Snakes sleep too much in the cold to be much use nowadays.”
Ragna looked at her friend and her face went pale. “Who are you, and what have you done with Sigurlina?”
“Shhh, you’ll wake her. I told her I’d drop by. I’m afraid that while she was correct about masking the dagger with the crystals and her life energy, she doesn’t have enough of either to silence its call. My, it is noisy.”
“You give her back or I’ll--,” began Ragna.
“No need to be like that, dear. She’s sleeping. Poor thing has had quite a few days. Still in all, I am proud of her. She’s finally getting a handle on her powers. As things stand, soon she won’t need my gift anymore, and I can get some much-needed rest before the final battle.”
“You’re the grandmother,” Ragna whispered.
Sigurlina’s body smiled. “Don’t worry. My gift helps protect her. Only I know the way around it. She was always so sensitive, far more potential than one so young can control.”
“You should let her go,” hissed Ragna.
Sigurlina’s body sighed. “I will. It is nice to smell the air again in a young, healthy body, but she is my granddaughter. I’ll not hurt her. I’ve done what I can to mask the dagger’s call. It should be harder for the draugar to find you if you keep moving. Oh, and before I go, remember, ship’s sink, so don’t think that the sea will protect you. Goodbye, dear. Give Sigurlina my love. Sigurlina’s body returned the box to her pack, and then settled itself as if in sleep.
Ragna hugged herself. “I just had to make friends with a Seith. Why didn’t I just find a nice merchant and get married? Why?”
“Yura bitch,” remarked Munin from the folds of Sigurlina’s cloak.
“You shut up you black chicken, or its bread and chestnut stuffing in your future.” “Yura bitch,” repeated the bird as its head disappeared under the cloak.
After almost three days filled with nothing but sea spray and shifts on the oars, they were passing through the narrows at the tip of Skane. Sigurlina worked a rowing station while one of the oarsmen, Halfdan, relived himself over the side. Ragna stirred a pot of fish stew over the ship’s brazier.
The ship rocked to the side and Halfdan pitched into the water.
“Man overboard, back oar,” called Kjorn. The boat stopped and all eyes turned to the sea.
“Munin, look for him,” ordered Sigurlina. The raven took to the air.
I see him. Starboard aft. I Arrrrrr.” One of the oarsmen released a shriek like a terrified child.
Fjorn drew his blade and rushed towards the man.
“Surt’s flaming nuts!” swore Vidurr.
A black hand clutched the side of the ship. A moment later a helmed head with glowing blue eyes lifted above the gunwale. The face looked like it had been charred black by a fire.
“Repel boarders,” called Fjorn, as he brought his blade down on the blackened arm. The arm pulled back, and the draugar dropped into the sea.
“Get Halfdan aboard. Watch the gunwales,” snapped Fjorn.
A screech sounded from the Skane shore that sent a shudder through everyone. Vidurr swung for something dark above the gunwale. There was the sound of metal striking metal. The thing continued to rise.
Audun threw a line over the stern to Halfdan who grabbed it.
Sigurlina clutched her staff.
“Watch for it.” Fjorn snapped at her as he leapt across the boat and brought his sword forward in a clumsy, amateurish ark. A dark blade rose up to block the blow, opening the draugar’s defences. Sigurlina thrust the base of her staff into the draugar’s throat; driving it into the water.
“Get that man aboard,” yelled Fjorn.
Audun released the rope, reached into the water and hauled Halfdan over the gunwale; leaving him jackknifed at the hips half in and half out of the ship. Halfdan spewed his guts into the boat then dragged himself forward.
“Halfdan’s aboard.” Audun grabbed the tiller. Bracing the steering oar in his armpit, he traced a series of the runes tattooed on his forearm.
“Man the oars. Move. Move. Move,” ordered Fjorn.
Ragna slipped the short sword she’d “acquired” out of its sheath and watched the gunwale. A black hand appeared on the edge of the ship. “Here,” she screamed and chopped down on the fingers. A gauntlet blacker than night turned the blow. The horrid, scorched form of a draugar scrambled into the ship and lashed out at Ragna. Ragna dodged the worst of the blow, but still fell unconscious. The draugar seemed to grow in strength as if it had given its wounds to the diminutive woman.
“Get away from her, you beast of Hel.” Audun brought his battle-axe forward with a furry worthy of Thor himself. The draugar lashed out, but the big man’s skin turned the blow as if it was made of iron. The axe struck home with a thunderous retort. The draugar was blasted into the water.
“Row, by the gods, row,” bellowed Fjorn.
The crew drove their oars into the water. The longship jerked forward.
Audun dove for the tiller oar and steered them into deeper water.
Vidurr watched the gunwale on one side while Kjorn watched the other.
Munin flew in and landed on Sigurlina’s shoulder. “It’s falling behind, but there are two more on the shore.”
“We’re clear for now, but there are two more on the shore,” relayed Sigurlina. “Freya!” She rushed to where Ragna lay in the bottom of the boat.
“Is she,” asked Fjorn who moved to her side.
“She’s still breathing, but it’s shallow.”
Fjorn closed his eyes and sang.
“Youth to the Gods, golden apples of grace.
Idun’s power, heal mortals of faith.”
Sparkling light enveloped Ragna. Her breathing deepened, but she was still unconscious. “Let me try.” Sigurlina laid her hands on her friend and breathed deeply. It was like the hundreds of times she had practised with her grandmother, only now the stakes were her friend’s life. A light due seamed to cover Ragna as her breathing grew deeper. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked blurrily about.
“Why do I let you talk me into these things?” She glowered at Sigurlina, and then slipped back into sleep.
Ed Greenwood wrote:
Solid, entertaining story with a fun cast of characters and a fascinating, wonderfully brought to life setting. Despite its short length, there was great detail and I love how historical accuracy blended with Norse fantasy. The beginning felt a little rushed and be warned, this book is in dire want of both a good proofread and a good format, but if you can look past those, it was a fun book.
Amazon Customer on Amazon.ca wrote:
HORN OF THE KRAKEN tells a vivid, stirring adventure tale that gives the reader a wild ride, but it also features that most enjoyable of reading experiences: characters who leap off the page and seem real, with all of their humor and anger and cutting comments. Great fun! Recommended!
MMP on Amazon UK wrote:
Finally got around to finishing this book. I give it two thumbs up. A great mix of hard history and high fantasy. I like how it didn't dumb down terminology. Like, it called the Native Americans "Skrealings". It could of easily referred to them as "Savages" (Not that I would, but historically speaking it's what the Vikings would of thought). If your lacking in your Viking Era history, maybe be prepared to Google a bunch of stuff, but it was a great story. You will not be disappointed.
Erin Lale on Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen wrote:
A fictionalised Norse saga that is an historically accurate telling of the Norse culture, beliefs, way of life, myths and legends. The historical world comes to life as crusaders and Vikings clash. Fantasy that is educational and entertaining.
Set in the Fate of the Norns universe originated by Andrew Valkauskas, Horn of the Kraken by Stephen B. Pearl is the first in a new series within that universe. This is a universe full of magic and fantastical beasts, where the Norns choose human champions.
Based on historical conversion-era Europe, featuring some historical figures such as Eric Blood-Axe, Horn of the Kraken is also set during Fimbulwinter, the prelude to Ragnarok.
Fimbulwinter is the breakdown in the cycle of the seasons in which the sun never rises again and winter lasts until the end of the world. The world’s central problem is the mass failure of agriculture, and the world’s politics centers on the impact that would have if it occurred during the Viking Age. The villains, who are Christians out to convert the heathen and control the world’s economy and political structures, are using a mysterious new superweapon, the Horn of the Kraken.
Into this come five chosen heroes. Fjorn is a nobleman and a fighter/bard. Politics stalks him because of his bloodlines. Sigurlina is a seidhkona, a type of heathen witch with powers of necromancy and healing. She serves Freya and is sworn to avenge her family against Christian ruler Hakon. Audun is a rune master who has a near-death experience at the hands of the Christian enemy that echoes the story of Odin’s runic initiation on the Tree. Ragna is a thief. She tags along to get out of town ahead of trouble. Vidurr is a werewolf who serves Surtr, the king of the fiery underworld who is prophesied to fight against the gods at Ragnarok and destroy the world. Vidurr’s sole desire in life is to avenge his family against the Christian “crusaders.” Although those who serve Odin and those who serve Surtr are theological enemies within heathenry, they join forces against the outside threat of the Christians. Pearl knows enough about heathenry to portray both the Odin’s man and the Surtr’s man as having no god-based conflict with the Freya’s woman.
The beginning of the book is a little clunky as the five heroes and the villain are all introduced individually, but after the characters start interacting, the story turns into a wild ride on a longship of doom. The fights and the intricate political intrigue are both historically plausible. The magic, character development, and sneaky dirty tricks are all equally believable and exciting.
My favorite character was the talking raven, Muninn, who became delightfully funny as the book developed. I also liked that there were a couple of Christian characters who were good guys, since making every Christian in the book a cardboard villain would have detracted from the believability of the world and its intrigues. The ebook copy I read could have used some more copyediting, but as it was an advance reading copy supplied to the magazine by the publisher, those issues will hopefully be fixed in the full published edition. Although the quest for the Horn is over by the end, several major political plots are unresolved, so there is obviously another book coming. I can’t wait to read the next installment of the crazy adventures of this unlikely band!
There’s something here for readers of all types of historical fantasy: those most interested in the historical elements, those most interested in the pagan details, those who enjoy stories that resemble Dungeons and Dragons parties on adventures, humor fans, even zombie fans who love to read about the draugr, the zombie of Norse mythology. Every name is straight out of the lore. Every piece of equipment, clothing, weaponry, and even most of the magic is right out of history. I recommend this book for those interested in reading authentic heathen stories, or just a rip-roaring good tale.
This review by Erin Lale of Horn of the Kraken by Stephen B. Pearl is based on an eARC (electronic Advance Reading Copy) supplied by the publisher to Witches & Pagans Magazine.