Swords v. Cthulhu is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and as it shambles toward its summertime publication we’re going to be posting excerpts from each of the stories. Our next teaser is from Natania Barron’s “The Matter of Aude.” No mere pastiche of the Song of Roland, Barron’s piece captures the romanticism of the original while subtly contrasting the hopelessness of a mortal in the Mythos with the lot of women in such antique tales, and indeed, history itself…
It did not take long for the thrill of Aude’s grand scheme to wear off. Once she passed through the high gates of Aachen, disguised as Turpin’s clerk—she had taken the name of Milo—relief quickly found itself replaced by a nagging concern that she would be recognized. Or worse even, that Turpin would betray her.
The bishop had done her a great service in going along with her ruse, but he never would have done so had she not persuaded him with a great and powerful secret. That, and the fact that the Heavenly Mother, the Queen of Heaven, had appeared to her in a dream and told her to keep her brother Olivier from harm. That seemed to carry weight with Turpin.
Aude had always felt a special kinship to the Mother of God, but now all else felt obliterated. Let the men have their Christ the King. She knew the Queen of Heaven spoke to her in ways none of them would ever understand. And now she had a purpose, to save her brother.
Roland was not far ahead of them; she could see the black curls at the nape of his neck just below his golden helmet. Her betrothed. The man she would spend the rest of her life with, should he return from this bitter war with the Saracen king Balan. The man she was expected to have children with, to raise a brighter generation, once peace was restored.
But Aude was not concerned that Roland might recognize her. They had spent such a small amount of time together she was fairly certain he would not know the difference between her and the twenty thousand odd men in their retinue. He had a habit of finding other things to look at when she was near him, anyway. Theirs was a union of rank and reputation and she was not blind to it, even if she played it so.
No, Roland would not be the challenge. Olivier was.
And Olivier was not only her challenge, but her reason for leaving courtly life. It was all due to their king, Charlemagne, sending Olivier to fight a giant. A creature known as Fierabras, who was rumored to be the deformed son of Balan himself.
As she brooded over her brother’s doom, the bishop looked sidelong at her, his narrow gaze taking her in once more. If not for those sly, shifting eyes, he might have been a handsome man.
“You don’t look as nervous as I expected,” said Turpin, leaning over and speaking softly. “Perhaps there’s more of your brother in you than I imagined.”
“I am not afraid, not of the fighting,” she said, keeping her voice low. “The Queen of Heaven has guided my steps and kept me safe, even when I doubted.”
“You should consider trying it on, then, fear,” Turpin said, his smile turning the tip of his beard up just slightly.
“I only want to be close enough to Olivier to help him, when I learn how I may do so.”
“Yes, so you said. The Queen of Heaven will be fighting on your side—who can be against you? You, an ugly girl in a monk’s habit.”
She said nothing and continued forward on her unhappy donkey…
For the rest, get Swords v. Cthulhu from Stone Skin Press
Natania Barron is a word tinkerer with a lifelong love of the fantastic. She has a penchant for the speculative and has written tales of invisible soul-eating birds, giant cephalopod goddesses, gunslinger girls, and killer kudzu, just to name a few. Her work has appeared in Weird Tales, EscapePod, Steampunk Tales, Crossed Genres, Bull Spec, and various anthologies. Her debut novel, Pilgrim of the Sky, was called “… a lush, dreamy fable – both vintage gothic, and modern mystery … lovingly laced with magic and darkness from start to finish” by Cherie Priest. When not venturing in imagined worlds, she can be found in North Carolina, where she lives with her family.