Trapped in 9th century Iceland, they have one chance to save humanity: teach the Vikings to build a ship capable of reaching the stars.
For your reading pleasure, here is a preview chapter from my upcoming book, The Dream of the Iron Dragon. If you enjoy this sample, make sure you use the links at the bottom of the post to pre-order your copy!
Gunnar Bjornson stood still at the head of the group, peering into the woods to his right. No one spoke for some time. Even the birds had been temporarily shocked into silence.
“Was it a skystone?” asked the man behind him at last. This was Leif, the dark-haired young warrior who had joined their party ten days ago at Trondelag. Leif was competent enough, but he was young and over-eager.
Gunnar shook his head. “You saw that thing. Its lines were like a ship’s.”
“A sky ship?” asked Leif asked dubiously, standing next to Gunnar. The other men waited dutifully behind. “Do even the gods possess such things?”
“I don’t know,” Gunnar said. “But I intend to find out. It looked like that thing hit the ground only a few miles north of here. The trees are sparse here, so we should have no trouble finding it.”
“Is that wise, Gunnar?” Leif asked. “I understood we were expected at Svelvig tonight. The king himself will be arriving soon.”
“I’m aware of our instructions, Leif,” Gunnar said irritably. “Do you think Harald was aware a ship made of metal would be falling from the sky when he gave them?”
“Certainly not, sir. But we don’t know for certain it was a sky ship.”
“Whatever it is, I think we can assume Harald will grant us some leeway under the circumstances. Even if it is only a skystone, it’s worth looking into. I heard of a skystone falling in Denmark that was made of pure iron. Enough to make twenty swords. Do you think Harald would forgive us a day’s tardiness for twenty swords?”
“I should think so, sir.”
“Then we head north. Figure on another day of travel.”
“Yes, sir,” the men murmured together. Gunnar steered his mount to the right. Leif and the others followed.
It was nearly midday when the group emerged from the woods into the clearing and started across the plain. It wasn’t long before they began to see signs of impact.
“Look at that,” Leif said, pointing at a gash in the ground that had been cleared of snow and the top several inches of soil. It was perhaps four yards wide and ten yards long. A great mound of snow and earth lay at the far end of the gash. Beyond this, the ground was unbroken for perhaps a hundred yards. Then there was another gash, somewhat shorter and more irregular in shape.
“Gunnar,” said the man behind Leif, whose name was Thorvald. Thorvald was a mountain of a man, a hand taller than the others. He rarely spoke.
Gunnar turned to look where Thorvald was pointing. A dark gray object lay in the snow a stone’s throw away. Gunnar walked toward the object. The others followed.
“What is it?” Leif asked, as the others approached.
Gunnar bent down to pick the thing up. It was a piece of flat material, perfectly rectangular, about the length of his arm and half as wide, and as thick as his forefinger. He lifted it easily. The weight and flexibility reminded him of birch bark.
“A shield?” Thorvald suggested.
“No place to hold onto it,” Gunnar said. “I think it’s part of the sky ship.” He tried to tear the material and failed. “It’s strong, and looks to be waterproof. Would be good building material. If you could shape it, it would make a nice saddle.” He bent the panel as far as he could, but it sprang back to its former shape as soon as he let it go. Gunnar shrugged. “Here, Leif, you hold it.”
Leif scowled but took the thing without complaint, tucking it under his arm. Gunnar knew he shouldn’t antagonize the young man, but he couldn’t help himself. They were ill-equipped to haul cargo; he would simply have to carry it.
They continued to the next gash in the ground. Before they reached it, they could see another gash after it, and another after that. The distance between the gashes grew gradually shorter as they went.
“It hit like a flat stone striking the surface of water,” Ivar said. “It tumbled end over end, many times.” Ivar was the youngest member of the group.
Gunnar nodded. He pointed at a gray thing sticking out of the snow to his right. “There’s another one. Leif, go get it.” The fifth member of the group, a man named Steinar, stifled a laugh at Leif’s expense.
Leif wordlessly walked to the flat panel jutting out of the snow and picked it up. He tucked it next to the one already under his arm. By the time he had returned to the group, Gunnar had pointed out another.
Leif sighed. “Sir,” he said, “there’s a limit to how many of these things I can carry.”
“Perhaps,” Gunnar replied disinterestedly, “but we haven’t reached it yet.” As he finished speaking, he pointed to another panel in the distance. Leif hung his head but went after the thing. He was carrying six of the gray panels by the time they spotted the silvery object in the distance.
“Amazing,” Gunnar said. “It seems to be mostly intact. Follow me.”
As they got nearer to the fallen object, Gunnar was more certain than ever that it was some sort of craft, fabricated by human—or human-like—hands. It was even shaped roughly like a ship, with a long middle and two tapered ends, although it was somewhat larger than even the biggest long ships. The main difference was the wings and tailfins, which made it look a little like a gigantic silver starling. The wings weren’t quite right, though. They seemed to be fixed in place and were too small, proportionally speaking. Even if it were possible for a bird of this size to fly, it would need much larger wings to stay airborne. It was no surprise that such a craft would plunge from the sky; Gunnar could hardly imagine it getting aloft in the first place. Gunnar and his men were approaching from the rear left of the craft. He drew his sword, and the others followed, their weapons at the ready.
Gunnar reached the tail of the craft and stopped, listening. All was quiet. He motioned for Ivar and Thorvald to go around the left side while he, Leif and Steinar took the right. Gunnar crept along the side of the craft, unsure what he was looking for. Assuming he was correct about it being a ship, it had to have a door somewhere. Where would they put it? On top? In the stern? The metal exterior of the craft was incredibly smooth and uniform. Whoever fashioned it knew more about metallurgy than even the famed Frankish blacksmiths. Gunnar was not one for fanciful stories, but he began to wonder whether it was perhaps dwarves or giants who had built the craft. Might the door be enchanted somehow, making it impossible for a mere human to see?
So disconcerted was he by this possibility that Gunnar did not at first notice the man sitting with his back against the craft, looking right at him with a bemused smile on his face. Gunnar stopped and gripped his sword tightly in front of him.
The man spoke something that sounded like a greeting, but Gunnar could not understand him. Other than his drab, tightly fitting clothing, the man did not look in any way unusual. He did not look like a Norseman, but could easily pass for a Frank or Saxon. Gunnar noticed that the man was sitting on a sort of box that had been propped against the craft as a seat. In his hands, the man held a finely molded piece of metal. The main body was shaped like an oblong box; the man was holding it by a handle the protruded from the bottom. The man lifted the object before him, as if making sure that Gunnar saw it. He spoke again, in the same strange tongue. His tone was firm but not impolite. It occurred to Gunnar that the thing might be a weapon. It certainly didn’t look intimidating.
“Who are you?” Gunnar said, hoping that the man might speak the Norsemen’s tongue in addition to his own.
The man shook his head and said something else that Gunnar could not interpret. Something about this man was very strange, something Gunnar could not quite put his finger on. No, the problem was not that he was strange; it was that he was too familiar. This was no dwarf or giant, but merely a man. The language was clearly not Nordic, and Gunnar knew enough German to eliminate that possibility, but the words did sound vaguely Germanic.
“It sounds a little like English,” Leif said.
“You speak English?”
“Some. I occasionally translate for foreigners who visit my jarl.” Leif was still carrying the gray panels he had picked out of the snow.
“Put those down, you fool,” Gunnar snapped.
Leif dropped the panels.
Gunnar saw Ivar peeking around the front of the craft. Gunnar held up his hand and Ivar halted where he was. Thorvald stopped just behind Ivar. The stranger glanced in Ivar’s direction, but he didn’t seem concerned at the prospect of being surrounded by armed men. Gunnar wondered if the stranger knew something he didn’t. Were there more men hidden somewhere? There was nothing but undisturbed snow all around them. If there had been others in the craft, they were still inside.
The stranger continued to stare back at him with a slightly bemused look on his face. Gunnar wondered whether the man’s calm demeanor was a bluff. Given the exotic nature of the craft, it was not inconceivable that he was protected by some powerful magic, but Gunnar tended to favor simpler explanations: the stranger was hiding his fear to unsettle Gunnar and his men.
Gunnar turned to Leif. “Ask this man who he is and where he came from.”
Leif nodded. “I will try.” He thought for a moment, and then spoke a few halting words.
The stranger regarded Leif curiously, as if he were a dog walking on his hind legs. After a moment, the stranger said something back to him. Leif frowned.
“It isn’t English,” Leif said. “But it’s similar. It might be Friesian, or some dialect of German.”
“Can you talk to him or not?”
Leif spoke another series of halting words to the stranger. The stranger responded, speaking very slowly. He gestured toward the sky. He said a few more words, patting his chest with his fingertips.
“He says…” Leif started. “That is, I think he is saying that he comes from a place very far away. He calls himself Gabe.”
“Good,” Gunnar said. “Tell him my name. And ask him what this thing is.” He gestured to the craft. “Ask him where he was going, and why it fell to the ground.”
Another slow, halting exchange followed.
“He calls it a ‘sky ship,’” Leif said. “His people are at war. Their ship was damaged in a fight. A battle.”
“Then there are other ships like this one?”
Gabe seemed to understand what he was asking. He replied, and Leif translated. “He says there are other, but they are very far away. I think he means to say that they are not a threat to us.”
“What about the enemy who damaged his ship? Could they not have followed?”
Leif and Gabe engaged in another halting exchange.
“The enemy ship fell into the sea. His ship is the only one in this area.”
“Are there others inside the craft?”
Leif pointed at the craft and spoke several more words.
Gabe shook his head.
“He is alone?” Gunnar said.
“He claims to be,” Leif said. “Or he doesn’t want to answer the question. I can’t be sure which.”
“There are others inside,” Gunnar said. “Count on that. Ask him what he intends to do now.”
Leif spoke again, and Gabe replied, motioning at the panels at Leif’s feet.
“He says he wants to… add these pieces to his ship?” Leif said uncertainly.
Gabe shook his head and spoke again. He gestured at other pieces of the ship that had fallen to the snow around them.
“Repair,” Gunnar said. “He wants to repair his ship. Ask him how long it will take.”
Leif spoke again, and Gabe laughed. He said something and then pointed at the sun.
“A long time he, said. He spoke the word for moon.”
“Months,” Gunnar said. “Maybe years. Tell him this land belongs to King Harald. If he wishes to stay here to repair his ship, he will have to request an audience with Harald directly.”
Leif translated as best he could. Gabe shook his head.
“What’s that?” Gunnar said. “He’s refusing to ask for permission?”
Leif spoke again, and Gabe replied curtly. He patted his weapon as he did so. Leif did not need to translate.
“I tire of this,” Gunnar said. “Tell him he has no choice. This land and everything on it is the property of King Harald. He can come with us to plead his case before the king or he can die.”
Leif translated as best he could. Gabe seemed to understand, but he merely shrugged and patted his weapon again.
“Kill him, Ivar,” Gunnar said.
Ivar took a step forward, brandishing his sword in front of him. The stranger calmly stood up, holding his weapon before him. A loud bang sounded, like an iron hammer hitting granite, and a tuft of snow exploded between Ivar’s feet. Ivar gave a yelp took a step back. The others stared at Gabe in shock.
Gabe said something and patted the weapon again.
“What is that thing?” Ivar said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“He can’t kill all of us,” Gunnar said, keeping his tone pleasant to disguise the content. “On my mark, we all attack at once. Ready? Now.”
The four of them lunged forward. Gunnar’s foot came down on a patch of packed snow and slipped, causing him to fall to his knees. As he fell, a deafening boom filled his ears. Ivar, to his right, howled and fell backwards. Another thunderclap and Thorvald dropped his sword and fell forward, clutching his belly. With the third boom, Ivar shrieked and slumped to the ground. The foreigner now had his weapon pointed at Leif, who’d barely had time to draw his hunting knife. It was over before Gunnar could get to his feet. He backed away and sheathed his sword.
The stranger, still composed, said something Gunnar couldn’t understand. Gunnar turned to Ivar, who was lying on the ground to his left, softly whimpering. Blood spread rapidly across the snow underneath him. To Gunnar’s right, Thorvald and Steinar appeared to be already dead.
“You son of a whore,” Gunnar hissed. “You don’t know what you’ve just started.” He backed slowly away from Gabe several more steps. Ivar, lying on his back, reached for him and tried to speak. Blood poured from his mouth, and he began to cough uncontrollably. The young man would be dead soon. He turned and walked away, ignoring Ivar’s gasps for breath. Behind him, the stranger’s weapon boomed again and Ivar was silent.
“What—what do we do?” Leif asked, walking behind Gunnar.
“Continue to Svelvig,” Gunnar said. “If these people want a fight, we will give it to them.”
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Length: 480 pages
Estimated delivery date: January 16, 2018