I wanted to share a snippet with you from the upcoming third book in the Grimnir series, The Doom of Odin. In this excerpt, our orcish hero, Grimnir, finds himself in a strange place: he’s in the afterlife of his people, a savage take on the fate of fallen Norse heroes who are taken to Valhalla by the Valkyries. When they die, Grimnir’s folk are banished to the gray and gloomy island of Nástrond, in the shadow of mighty Yggðrasil. Here, they fight among themselves until the Gjallarhorn calls them to Ragnarok. Grimnir, freshly arrived upon that bleak shore, encounters one of his own kind — a kaunr named Skollvaldr, son of Gangr — who is busy strongarming a trio of kaunar youths (called scrags; they function quite like goblins), killing one of them with his spear. Things go south from there . . .
This fight was inspired by a question I put to Christian Cameron: how does a man with an axe and a long-seax win against an enemy with a spear. Graciously, he and his sparring partner, Elisabeth Beattie, made a video to illustrate how it’s done, according to the 14th century Italian weaponsmaster, Fiore.
Here’s the video:
And here’s my take on it:
“Grimnir, is it?” Skollvaldr hawked and spat. “All that, and you’re still nothing but a mud-born wretch of a skrælingr! Bah! Who needs the hand of Grimnir? It’s the head of Grimnir I’ll take to my father! And when we’re done with it, we’ll wrap a pretty ribbon around it and send it back to your bastard sire!”
Grimnir did not move. He merely chuckled, a humorless sound like rocks scraping together; it echoed across the gray landscape, shadow-striped from the lights of Yggðrasil. “You have to take it first, you whoreson dog. Tread with care, though . . . I’m not some miserable scrag!”
Skollvaldr smiled, lips peeling back over jagged teeth. He reached up with his right hand, snatched open the giltwork clasp of his rich red cloak. It fell from his shoulders in a bloody cascade of fabric that drew Grimnir’s covetous eye for a single heartbeat. And in that split-second, that moment he thought the skrælingr distracted, Skollvaldr struck.
His spear swept out in an arc, low and fast, its gory blade whistling; had it connected, it would have severed the muscles and tendons above Grimnir’s knees, crippling him from the outset. Skollvaldr could have finished him, then, at his leisure — and sent a message to scrags and skrælingar, alike.
But Grimnir was neither distracted, nor some slow-witted wretch of a brat. He darted back a step, let the spear pass, and drew his blade from its scabbard. He reversed his grip on Hátr, holding the long-seax point down, and dropped to a fighting crouch. His single eye shone with the murder-lights of Hel, alight in the perpetual gloom of Nástrond.
Skollvaldr did not fight like some wretched manling. He was quick, flashy, full of piss and vinegar. Having missed his mark, he turned the blade’s weight and momentum into a spin, bringing the spear shaft up and across his shoulders. Wood scraped mail; by the end of the maneuver, he, too, had sunk into a fighting crouch, with the spear resting across right shoulder, his right fist clenched around the shaft by his cheek and his left arm extended. He braced the spear loosely between his left thumb and fingers.
His smile never wavered.
Nor did the homicidal glare of Grimnir’s gaze.
The skrælingr started forward, as though he meant to hurl himself on Skollvaldr’s spear. The bearded captain of the True Sons shifted his weight to the right, leaning in to get the best angle for Grimnir’s suicidal rush.
Except, there was no rush. Grimnir feinted. Snarling, he reached down, ripped his axe from its moorings on his belt, and threw it underhanded at Skollvaldr’s head. The short-hafted bearded axe thumped past the bastard’s left ear, driving him even more off balance to the right. Skollvaldr’s spear dipped; the shaft slipped from the cradle of his left hand. The blade scraped stone . . .
His smile faltered.
And that’s when Grimnir struck.
Breath whistling between clenched teeth, he crossed the interval between them in two loping strides and launched himself against the taller kaunr before he could recover. Grimnir’s mailed forearm smashed into the left side of Skollvaldr’s head, rocking it even further to the right. Black blood sprayed from his gashed cheek. The blow exposed the juncture of his neck and shoulder, above the collar of his mail. Sallow flesh gleamed, there, like an invitation, and Grimnir took it.
Grimnir rammed Hátr into the soft hollow formed by the bastard’s collarbone. The long-seax bit deep, sawing through the sack of his lungs to split his wretched heart in two. In his last moments, ‘ere the undeath of Nástrond claimed him, Skollvaldr, son of Gangr, felt Grimnir’s iron fingers clasp the back of his neck, supporting his weight. He felt Grimnir’s hot breath on his lacerated cheek. “Blood doesn’t matter, you swine,” the skrælingr whispered. “Only deeds matter. Remember this when you wake up with a mouth full of dirt, and let it be a lesson.” And with that, Grimnir spat in Skollvaldr’s eye, ripped Hátr free of his fresh corpse, and let him fall.