Swords v. Cthulhu is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and to celebrate its publication we’re posting excerpts from each of the stories. Our next teaser is from Nathan Carson’s “The King of Lapland’s Daughter.” His alt-history saga is set in a land at once familiar and alien, and offers no false promises of a better tomorrow for we who are doomed by birth and damned by the fates…
The elder women of Kvenland peered at King Mauno through the smoke of torchlight and veils of grey braids. Their looks were shifting: one moment stern, in the next ripe with disdain. The windblown skin around those eyes was cracked as the polished hide they wore which shone wherever two furs met and iron fastens failed. Those eyes saw a weak king planted where a strong Queen had sat a fortnight before.
For his part, Mauno at least feigned ignore the body that ruled his hall. He had only collapsed into power of late, the first man to rule Kvenland in living memory. His focus was squarely on the exotic figure of the Bishop before him, garbed in cloths and markings that still felt anachronistic, even alien in the northern wastes. Henrik’s words oft promised pots of gold, but there was something of the serpent in him.
“Henrik, comfort me. I cannot allow my grief to undermine our defenses any longer. My Queen was lost to us in her campaign to the North. She sought to protect our people, yet the only soul to return was a young shieldmaiden who babbled of ‘haystacks with blades for hands.’ So frozen was she to her steed that both bled out when we finally prised them apart.”
He shifted on his hardwood throne, swathed in rich brown furs. Red-jeweled rings on thick gold bands circled his fingers, which dug into the grips of his seat. Black pitch and bird bones were the only ornamentation on that throne.
“I sent our own village priest to do battle on the mere. Neither has he returned. The Jötunn are restless. They stir and stumble south and our kin are in their path. Pray tell me once more how your One God can smite them!”
The Bishop smoothed his raiment and raised both hands, palms forward.
“Your majesty, it is no frost giant incursion. These are damned things from beneath the soil. Stay your sword. I need no army to command them back from whence they slumbered. Only provisions, an escort, and this…”
Henrik drew one hand to his neck, caressed and polished the silver cross on the end of his onyx rosary. Mauno placed a palm on the hilt of his greatsword.
“You shall have warriors too, Henrik. This evil must be sent away. Cast it off the side of the world, and soon. I will follow if I must. Go now and Ukko be with you!” Suddenly his sword slid from its sheath and aimed at the firmament.
Henrik winced at the pagan blasphemy, crossed himself and stole a glance at the tiny disc of solid grey sky that beamed down from the chimney in the center of the roof above. A gust of torch smoke blotted it out; now the ceiling was nothing but rafter and shadow. The great wooden skeleton was a shelter for the surviving leadership of Kvenland. Henrik turned and exited the building’s ribcage with an entourage of hefty bearded warriors, marching face first into the howling cold of morning. The ruling women watched them go, eyeing their firm and muscular legs.
Mauno’s gaze returned to the throng of women that flanked his court.
“It will not do,” he said. “The Bishop will fail. We need a wizard. Who among you can find one?”
There were gasps, then silence and discomfort. Eyes darted, but none made reply. Then,
“Father, I can fetch you a wizard,” said Princess Aili, stepping forward. Even in the shadows of the hall her golden hair seemed woven of summer sunlight…
For the rest, get Swords v. Cthulhu from Stone Skin Press
Nathan Carson is a writer and musician from Portland, Oregon. He is a founding member of the internationally touring doom metal band Witch Mountain. When not on the road, Carson’s byline can be found in Willamette Week and Vice. Decades after discovering Lovecraft through the early eighties role playing game scene, he has recently sat on panels at NecronomiCon, Cthulhucon, Bizarro Con, and Living Dead Con. His weird fiction has been published by Word Horde and lauded in Rue Morgue. A debut novella, Starr Creek, will be published in 2016 by Lazy Fascist Press.