A Sorcerer and His Runes

To the mind of a geeky author, “sorcery” is a rich and evocative term that could mean any number of things that may or may not have to do with traditional definitions. To this geeky author, it involves–and I quote:

An arrogant, unsavory bunch, old, flaccid and steeped in centuries of privilege and comfort, these men wielded a fine array of nasty skills particularly suited to war: detailed knowledge of demon hierarchies; a blithe willingness to use spit, blood, seed and sound to control and manipulate the natural order; and the inclination to summon every manner of freak and fiend from the Otherworld to spy, track, hold or kill anyone the sorcerers took an interest in. – The Wolf Lords

A rough crowd, this. Called the Fenrir Brotherhood, they are an ancient order of magicians who serve Loki, Prince of Wiles and the Father of Hel. But Adept Leofwine Klemet has his doubts as to whom his masters serve. Given the order’s bloody, patchy history, in which Leofwine is an expert, if the brotherhood served anyone it was Othin, the Allfather, a master of sorcery and runes who revels in the grim tides of war. A trickster and consummate shapeshifter, Othin would be more than pleased to move in the shadows of Loki’s dastardly reputation.

Fenrir sorcerers tend to have long shadows, and Leofwine is no exception. When his enemies catch up to him (which enemies always do) and reveal a devastating secret involving his little sister Ingifrith, Leofwine goes berserk and does the unthinkable by summoning a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a storm of blood. This redoubtable act gains Leofwine not only the condemnation of his order but also the title of Wolf Lord, a wry designation used by otherworldly beings such as demonic warlords and sea witches to refer to the servants of Loki.

An unwitting votary of the Allfather, who was himself exiled for practicing the magical arts, Leofwine is handy with runes. Simple marks carved or painted on stone, wood or bone, the runes are not only an alphabet but also a sophisticated system of knowledge of patterns of consciousness and existence. Holding the power of those patterns, cast in symbols, stories and metaphor, Leofwine is able to see the forces underlying conscious experience and to use those forces to affect the web that connects all things.

As the legend tells, the god Othin goes to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and hangs himself facing down into the bottomless void beneath the roots of the well. There, he suffers in agony for nine days and nights until he sees the runes in the depths. Then he picks them up and is transformed.

By way of his wits and faults, Leofwine will do the same…runes in hand.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Laguz. The Otherworld, the primordial waters, the source, initiation, the shadows of dreams and the unconscious. Not negative in and of itself, this rune often appears when what you don’t know will hurt you.

A small leather pouch lay on the table by the hearth. Leofwine stopped, held his hand over the snarling wolf embossed on the pouch, and then flicked aside the ties and shook out a rune. The small pale bone of a hare he had killed during his apprenticeship contained a single mark with a hook on top, ridged as a knife, darkened by the blood he had spilled into the rift from his hand. Laguz. Always laguz, the power of the Otherworld, vast, fickle and implacable as the sea. The waters hid secrets, poisons and teeth.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Ansuz. The rune of Othin, the Allfather in the Fylking pantheon. Divine inspiration, magic, the power of words. Beings from the Dark Realms hate ansuz, and it is often used to banish them.

Leofwine’s spine tingled. In the corner, something scrabbled up the woodwork and across the ceiling, rustling the drying plants. It twisted around, its legs growing longer, eight of them, as it lowered itself to the floor from a glistening line. As it touched down, it grew, blocking the door and the windows with a hairy body that smelled of mud. It stared from many baleful eyes, and in the back of whatever it called a throat emerged a gurgling growl.

“Leo,” Ingifrith said, backing away. “It’s not friendly.”

A guardian. The place had always been loosely guarded by the spirits of protective herbs, like the garland someone had left on the door to his workroom. But he had never seen anything like this in here before. No Blackthorn witch would be able to summon it.

Gathering his strength, Leofwine brought his life force into his hand, traced the rune of ansuz in the air and uttered a banishing command in Old Fylking. The creature screeched and fled, landing near a table cluttered with pottery. As the creature skittered beneath, several cups wobbled and crashed to the floor. “I was afraid of this,” Leofwine said. “We have to kill it.”

She stared. “Are you mad?”

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Algiz. Communication with the Otherworld, connection to the gods, protection.

Breath heaving, arms wrapped over his chest, Leofwine awaited the end. His mind was clear. “C’mon,” he grated through his teeth. In one hand, he gripped the algiz rune.

He didn’t pray. He didn’t fear.

The great wolf slammed down in a whirlwind of wrath, the tips of its black fur glinting with frost. Its breath was icy. It bared its teeth, slavering, pale eyes opaque, seeing only shadow. Mist swirled as it gathered its haunches for the kill.

“My life in exchange for death,” Leofwine said. “Kill them. Black as crows, all three, wicked as the lies of gods. They are unworthy of your kind.” His voice trembled as a lump grew in his throat. “My life for death.” He clutched the rune so hard his nails cut into the palm of his hand.

Fenrisúlfr waited.

Leofwine hung his head. A tear broke from his eye and crept down his cheek like fire. “My life to protect her.” Because I didn’t.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Hagalaz. Witch magic, banishment, the rise and rule of buried patterns, stripping veils and catastrophic transformation. When his sister vanishes into the Otherworld, Leofwine is in no way cheered by the appearance of this rune.

Leofwine stood atop a brushy knoll, facing north. Arvakr grazed by his side. A cool, early morning breeze carrying the scent of the sea stirred the leaves on the trees and the wisps of his hair twining from the edge of his hood. He clutched a wound dripping blood in one hand and hagalaz in the other. The rune burned dark against his palm.

Wherever Ingifrith had gone, she meant business. If the gods were on anyone’s side, it was hers.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Thurisaz. Misfortune, demons, opposition, persecution and the torment of women. To Leofwine, this rune makes for a very bad day.

One of the runes had landed near Leofwine’s face. Thurisaz. His throat closed up with a sick laugh that caught and died as Grimar hauled him up and slammed him against a tree. “What do your runes say, sorcerer?” He hissed the word like a curse.

Thurisaz. Breathing heavily, gazing from an eye half swollen shut, Leofwine said, “They say I should’ve hunted you down and killed you long ago.”

Grimar punched him in the stomach again. Leofwine choked, his vision going dark as he doubled over.

“Wrong.” Grimar drew his sword, wrenched Leofwine upright and pressed the blade to his throat. “They say, today you’ll lose your head.”

Not the most wholesome occupation, sorcery. But then again, it can be useful for getting out of sticky situations–as long as one remembers that the gods of sorcerers are tricksters.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction

Finalist, SPFBO 2016

Amazon
Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover ArtThe Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

A wounded immortal warlock bent on reprisal.
An ancient order of sorcerers hungry for power.
Warriors beset by armies of demons and immortals.
And a lonely hedge witch whose dark secrets could change everything.
…If only they could find her.

“Awesome book. Loved the first book also. I hope there will be more in the series.” – Customer Review on Amazon

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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