A Gathering of Ravens, Twilight of the Gods

The Mother of the Beast

During the course of A Gathering of Ravens, Grimnir repeatedly boasts of his lineage: he is the son of Bálegyr; “Bálegyr of the Eye,” he crows, “son of Ymir, champion of the Sly One and master of the wolf ships of the kaunar!”  His pride in his sire is almost palpable — even though he has barely any memory of him.

That name had been a talisman for as long as Grimnir could remember, its owner nothing short of the god in whose shadow he had dwelt; he had no memory of his sire save as the echo of a thunderous voice, a menacing shape roughhewn from half-recalled memories and tales grown wild in the retelling.

But his mother, however . . .

larp orc 4

But more than anything, the name conjured for Grimnir an image of his mother, Skríkja, dark and fell-handed with arms upraised in defiance of the wretched gods of the North: “Así att-Súlfr Bálegyr skiara tar nekumanza!” she would scream in bitterness, her voice hard as the gnawing ice. “Bálegyr is the Wolf, come to devour your entrails!” The night of his death, she’d seen in the heavens a single eye, unblinking, wreathed in fire . . .

She is only mentioned one more time: “Skríkja, who was as fell-handed as any warrior.”  So, who was she?  Who was Skríkja, wife of the near-mythical Bálegyr and mother to Grimnir and Hrungnir?  Facts about her are thin upon the ground.  From an as-yet unpublished short story (“Long-Beard’s Gold”), we know that she was the daughter of a chief of the kaunar — “Belted about his waist, in a sheath of worked leather, he carried a bone-hilted long seax – a birth-gift from his mother’s sire, one of the Nine Fathers of the kaunar.”  Her elder brother was Gífr, who was Grimnir’s guardian and tutor after Bálegyr’s death at Mag Tuiredh; she was a savage fighter in her own right, “as fell-handed as any warrior.”  And that’s the extent of what is known.

But what of her life . . . and her death?  Grimnir does not mention her again in A Gathering of Ravens.  Was she alive when Hrungnir was slain?  Did she outlive her brother, Gífr, who died during the reign of Charlemagne?  Or did she depart this world for another of the Nine Worlds after Bálegyr’s passing?


I feel much will be revealed in Twilight of the Gods, as Grimnir is forced to deal with a pair of women vying for his attention: the warrior-woman Úlfrún, and young Dísa, who longs to be kaunar.  Perhaps Skríkja’s shade can be coaxed from “Nástrond, under the shadows of Niðafjoll” where her people gather to await Ragnarok.

Stay tuned . . .


A Gathering of Ravens

The True Face of Grimnir

A while back, I posted about the Four Faces of Grimnir — four artistic representations of what Grimnir may have looked like.  Well, this morning I stumbled across an actual photograph of my profane and savage protagonist.  It’s not a perfect likeness, but it’s got more right going for it than wrong.  Here’s how I describe him:

The flickering firelight threw Grimnir’s features in sharp relief. While it had the same construction as a human face, its planes and angles were long and sharp, vulpine in the half-light of the cave. Coarse black hair, woven with gold beads and discs of carved bone, framed eyes like splinters of red-hot iron, set deep into a craggy brow. He was broad of chest and long of arm, slouch-backed in his posture, with tattoos in cinder and woad snaking across his swarthy hide. Grimnir was clad in antiquated splendor: a sleeveless hauberk of iron rings sewn onto black leather, a kilt of poorly tanned horsehide cut from the flanks of a dappled roan, a cloak of wolf-skins, and arm-rings of gold, silver, and wrought iron. One black-nailed hand rested on the worn ivory hilt of a long seax.

And here he is in the flesh:

Grimnir 1

Obviously the hair is different, as are the eyes.  Otherwise . . . that’s him, Gentle Readers.  That’s how I see him in my mind.  In reality, it’s a prosthetic make-up job for a member of a Czech Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP) group.  But, take note Hollywood people: you want to make A Gathering of Ravens into a movie?  Forget CGI.  Hire the guy who designed this bit of SFX to design the prosthetics, and the excellent actor Stephen Ure to play Grimnir (Ure played the more memorable Orcs in LOTR).  I’d watch the hell out of that!

A Gathering of Ravens

The Art of Zoltan

Last year, as we prepared for the publication of A Gathering of Ravens, one hope I had was for each section of the book to bear a piece of art, an illustration relevant to the content.  Through the medium of Facebook, I met California-based artist and creator Robert Zoltan.  Zoltan was interested in doing the cover, if that position was available, and as a way of showcasing his awesome talent he created a series of illustrations based on my descriptions.

Oh my god.  They were gorgeous.  Zoltan is a painter of some note, but where he really shines is with classic pen-and-ink drawings.  Here, for the first time, is the gallery of illustrations created by Zoltan:

The first comes from a deleted scene, where Grimnir encounters the Washer in the Water:

On a whim, he changed direction and followed the sound. It led him east, down into a wooded hollow between two low ridges. He sprang down shelves of lichen-slick rock, split by ash and alder boles, until he reached the heart of the hollow. Here, amid thickets of hazel as densely woven as wattles, a creek bubbled along in its stony bed, swollen with runoff from the ridges above. The sound came clearer, now. A wet, rhythmic slap-slap-slap. Grimnir’s nostrils flared. He caught a fleeting scent, like ancient cloth mixed with day-old blood. “Well, well!” he said to himself. “Not all of them are gone, after all.” And like a shadow the skraelingr crept along, following the sound downstream.


“Grimnir Scrithing”

Next came another study of Grimnir, this time from a scene in the section of the book where he and Étaín get separated outside the besieged town of Nunna’s Ford:

The sky above glowed brighter as the town of Nunna’s Ford burned, throwing the ruins into sharp silhouette; screams filtered over the crown of the hill and down to the stream bank. Grimnir’s keen ears picked out faint cries of triumph mingled with pleas of mercy. But the miasma of thatch-smoke and roasting flesh filling his nostrils told him there would be none.

Shielded by bulrushes and willow fronds, Grimnir crouched and watched his Saxon enemies.


“Grimnir Stalking”

The next piece is one of the more heartfelt works of art I’ve seen.  It is a character study of Étaín — weary, her world upended, her faith sorely tested.  We sent Zoltan photos of my wife in similar poses, and he incorporated elements of those photos into his work.  It brought her to tears:

Étaín circled the ruin, calming herself and breathing deeply. The snow was coming down heavier, now; it stuck to the brown wool of her cassock – cut no different from the monastic habit of a Benedictine monk. She pulled up the hood, its peak casting her thin face in shadow, and folded her hands into the voluminous sleeves. She walked with a slow and measured pace, as though taking a turn about the grounds of her cloister.

As she passed what must have been the entrance to the steading, she looked up. For an instant, morning sunlight pierced the clouds to illuminate the lintel and center-post, creating the silhouette of a mighty crucifix. Étaín stopped. Hope filled her breast. She crossed herself, knelt in the swirling snow, and prayed.


“Etain and Cross”

The next piece ranks among my favorites.  It’s a sumptuous blend of colors and imagery that captures the Witch of Dubhlinn in her finest moment — weaving the doom of men in the chords of a song:

From a chest against the wall, near her brocaded divan, she drew forth a triangular cláirseach, the small harp favored by her people. Of willow and oak was its sound-box, and its graceful neck was carved and inlaid with bone; it bore twenty-nine strings of spun silver wire, with a thirtieth string wrought of black iron that had fallen from the sky. Kormlada sat in a straight-backed chair and teased out an eerie melody with her fingertips. “His pride,” she said. “And he is a proud creature. Proud of his deceit, proud of his lies, proud to claim what is not his portion to claim.” Her eyes crinkled as a subtle theme emerged from the melody; the soft sounds snared the incense smoke, weaving it into disembodied figures that danced and writhed . . .

And, with a smile of unrivaled malice, the Witch of Dubhlinn began to sing.

Kormlada Zoltan


Finally, we have an homage to the master of thunderous fury, Frank Frazetta.  Grimnir in the Battle of the Plain of Chluain Tarbh, outside the walls of Dubhlinn.  Here is a creature in his element: raw, profane, violent; his quest for vengeance hangs on the edge of a sword:

Trumpets howled and shrieked over the din, but not to relay orders. This was no game of thrones where generals sacrificed and maneuvered on the backs of their soldiers; this was the most primal sort of conflict – Odin’s weather, the red chaos of slaughter – where men stood breast to breast and shield to shield, and dealt the same blows they took in kind.

Spears cracked and shivered. Shields split. Links of woven mail parted beneath the edge of an axe. Swords flashed in the rising dust, and blood dampened the earth. Thunderous cries mixed with piteous howls. Men struck and reeled; the dying clasped the knees of the living like a lover refusing to be put aside for another. The air – so bright and clear only moments before – reeked now of iron scraping iron; it was redolent with the coppery stench of spilled gore, with the hot stink of vomit, and with the fetor riven bellies.

Grimnir was in his element. Laughing, he came at Bjarki low and fast; his axe sang clear of its moorings, lashed out, and rebounded from the face of Half-Dane’s shield.


“Grimnir Triumphant”

There is a particular pleasure in seeing what you’ve written come to life.  I cherish these images, for they’re proof something can exist outside the boundaries of my imagination.

Visit Robert Zoltan’s website to view more of his art, and follow his blog at Dream Tower Media for updates on his current project, an illustrated edition of E. R. Burroughs A Princess of Mars!  You might even consider becoming a patron!

Postscript: The publisher ultimately decided to do the cover for A Gathering of Ravens in-house.  This, though, was the cover Zoltan created:



All images are copyright Zoltan.  Used with permission.