The music is “Heart of Courage” by Two Steps From Hell
Bergen’s story developed separate from Kallan’s and Rune and quickly too. Within a few months, I had an entire back story on Bergen that I didn’t see coming. It happened in such a way that I was completely unaware it had happened at all. Suddenly, there was more story than I had room for (something I would learn is a norm for Bergen). Furthermore, if I indulged, Bergen’s story would overshadow Kallan’s arc in Dolor and Shadow. But Bergen’s story did so much to answer the mystery that is Bergen. The conclusion I came up with was two series: Kallan’s as seen in Dolor and Shadow and Bergen’s, which I had not yet written. Although, book three of Kallan’s arc brings Bergen to the forefront and keeps him there for the rest of the series, I had only a limited amount of time to get Bergen’s back history in.
In January of 2015, I began writing a series of novellas featuring Bergen. The novellas are related to the Tales of the Drui series, contain no spoilers, and are not required reading to understand the main stories featuring Kallan and Rune. They do add to the world and provide more of a back story to Bergen and are designed to fill in the Drui world.
Here is a short from Bergen that does so well to summarize how Bergen’s story begins.
Chapter 1 – written – edited – ready for editor
Chapter 2 – written
Chapter 3 – written 1,600 words
Chapter 4 – outlined
Goal: 30,000 words max (This is a novella)
A Serious Word From Bergen
“I used to be an adventurer once,” Bergen mutters while balancing his beer in an attempt to peer down the neck to the bottom. “I studied afar in the green lands of Eire with the finest of scholars.”
You, the tavern, and the beer seemed to vanish as a distant look sweeps his eyes. Bergen gazes upon the walls of the tavern and the dust-covered counter made bar.
“They had secrets there, secrets none dared write about,” he explains. “Secrets they buried in stories. To preserve their stories, the masters took an apprentice and taught him. For every master there was an apprentice. But there were so many stories that those stories accumulated year after year. Apprentices studied and mastered the oral songs until they too were masters. Then they learned new songs and new stories filled with new secrets. Every day, these masters would recite every verse, every song, every word they had every memorized so as to keep the words fresh. Their life equaled a hundred lifetime of masters. It took a life time to become a master. Many apprentices died unable to reach the lesson’s end. They left the masters alone, with none to take on the secrets and stories.”
Bergen paused to take back another drink. he sighs and returns the beer to the table. He stares at his hands in thought.
“Secrets were buried. Secrets to youth, to life, to the gods, and to weapons. Secrets that could wipe out entire civilizations. With each master to each apprentice the stories grew.”
Bergen raised his dark eyes to you, suddenly remembering you were there listening.
“What would a master who was facing death desire above all else?”
He knows you won’t answer and doesn’t wait for a response.
“He would desire immortality,” he says. “I am the last apprentice. Only I know the songs that speak of those secrets.”
Her song found me on the road and pulled at me like something out of a dream like when you know you have to find the end to a tunnel. So you look, but you’re not sure what it is you’re looking for.
I knew what I had to find, the moment I saw from within the trees, her kneeling beside a small stream that cut through the wood. Her long strands of red hair fell like strips of fire down her shoulders to her breasts that swelled when she leaned forward to fill a bucket with water. She brushed back a lock of hair that framed her slender face allowing me a better view in which to linger while she sang something in a language I couldn’t understand.
Like the land, the language seemed to be born of enchantment or spells, the kind children don’t hesitate to believe in, the kind that gives myth to dragons and lore. The moment I stepped off the boat and touched foot down into Eire’s Land I felt it. The earth rolled with a life preserved by its stories. Legends gave life to this realm. This woman was just like the land, mesmerizing. Her voice pulled me in like a witch’s spell. I couldn’t look away, not that I tried. I just stood in the trees and watched, letting the rolls and breathes of her native tongue slide through me.
She noticed me the moment her song was done and she raised her eyes. I gulped and a ball of heat slid down my pants. I suspected she had known I was there before I found her. She smiled, which only made things more uncomfortable for me.
“Dia dhuit,” she said.
Even without singing, her words were like music.
I emerged from my corner and entered the glen where the sun touched down on her crimson hair. Curiously, she eyed my foreign features just as the other Eire landers had at the docks. I was tall compared to her people, insanely tall, and my black, short hair contrasted their native red. While her people appeared to be part of the spell that seemed to naturally cling to this land, I must have appeared wild and untamed, almost out of place. I smirked, unable to hold back that boast. Despite my features, she seemed undaunted by my arrival.
“You are from the north,” she said.
My language in her mouth stirred other ideas I kept to myself. I nodded and approached her stream, her bucket, and her.
“I am.” I took a knee, dumped my bag to the grass, and cupped the water to my mouth. I felt her watch me drink. We were only a few feet apart, but that space filled with exhilarating tension that encouraged me closer. Instead, I splashed the water over my face and rubbed a hand over my neck to relieve some of the heat her attention coaxed from me. The day was mild and the air, thick with humidity as if the summer sea pushed a cloud through the island. Even the water felt like spell-craft here.
“What brings a Northman to the isle of Eire?” He voice was one endless song.
“Rumors,” I said and decided to stop there. Leave her wondering.
“Yes.” I rested my arm on my knee and liberally looked her over. She matched my boldness with a playful smile that only encouraged me. “Ages ago a man returned with a bride he plucked from these lands. Her beauty surpassed anything unseen in the north and rumors stirred of women whose beauty matched that of Freyja’s.” I shrugged for affect. At least most of that was true. “I had to see for myself.”
Her smile grew and I caught the green of earth in her eyes. So much, they reminded me of the forests of home. She had a splattering of freckles only seen up close and the wild red locks framed her pale face like nothing I had seen in Alfheim. While the women back at home were strong and beautiful, she had strength within as if he secreted it away beneath a gentle demeanor that lured me in and I went, willingly. She carried an exotic air about her much like this land and everything about her was simply unique.
“And?” she asked encouraging the compliment I was ready to give. I said nothing, knowing my silence would evoke her question. “Are the rumors true?”
She held my gaze and didn’t falter or shy away when I stared back at her. She had the kind of eyes I could fall into and so I did. If I leaned, I suspected she would mirror my forwardness and meet me half way, but this, I wanted to savor.
“There is a glen in the north,” I said. “Every morning the sun spills its light over the greens of that field. A waterfall pours into a gorge there, catching the sunlight. Its waters cascade like a river of precious gems.” I paused, cradling the tension between us. “Its beauty unrivaled ‘til now.”
Her breasts rose and fell with her hastened breath and, while I resisted the urge to look down, I could see her neck and bosom flush red and my body too eagerly responded. When she stood suddenly and turned her blessed backside to me, I gratefully, quietly exhaled and shook the fog from my head. I needed to move. The look in her eye beckoned me to follow. Well, maybe it didn’t, but I decided it so. I took up my bag and fell in step beside her then relieved her of the bucket of water, purposely brushing my hand with hers.
“Why are you really here?” She asked.
I smiled at her wit. She hadn’t bought my lie for a moment. Good girl.
I breathed in the fresh morning air. “To immortalize myself in song.”
She nearly stumbled, composed herself then chuckled softly at my wit. I liked that. It encouraged me and so I grinned.
“Hardly a deed one would call noble,” she said still smiling. Her brogue encouraged my charm so I shrugged again.
“Noble can wait,” I said. “That’s what I plan to do after I’ve made a name for myself.”
I could feel her watching me again, but I held my gaze on the trees ahead. “Well, only at first,” I said. “I figured I would do all the things I write about doing in song. Then I thought about how much more terrible I would be if people knew who I was while doing them. And who better to teach me song than the masters themselves?”
“You sailed all the way from the northern realms to commission the services of the master Bards?”
I held back a smile and made my declaration. “That’s right.”
“To immortalize yourself in song before you carry out the deeds you plan to write about.”
“Yes.” I still wouldn’t look at her and I could feel it unsettling her.
She stopped and I followed her lead. We had reached a dry stone wall that met the road I had followed from the docks before her voice had lured me away. I turned to her as she shoved her hand through her hair, arranging it so that it was out of the way of her face, the supple swell of her breasts, and the slender curve of her neck. She threw back her shoulders and raised her eyes to mine.
“And tell me, Man of the north,” she said.
“Bergen,” I said. One step closer and we would touch.
“Bergen.” She rolled my name in her mouth around a native breath that teased my desires. I suddenly couldn’t take my eyes off her mouth. “Tell me, Bergen, what will your first song be?”
“Yes, Bergen,” A man’s voice growled.
The lady bowed her head and lowered her eyes as she abandoned her pose and stepped back, putting a good two…three paces between us while her face flushed as red as her hair. Beside the wall, where neither of us could see, a man, ugly, cold, and almost sickly looking, emerged. His brows were wild and untamed while his sad excuse for a beard, collected into an unnatural, manicured point to protrude further than the crooked beak he tried to pass off as a nose.
He scowled at me with a pair of beady black eyes, the kind you expect from a vulture or a rat. “What will your first song be?” he sneered.
I didn’t answer. Now that my attention was no longer on the woman, I noticed the bustling village she had led me to just beyond the vast earthwork walls. Every structure was made entirely of stone and covered in ivy and moss. Shops and smiths, stables and farms where sheep and cows grazed alongside mills and homes surrounded the base of a mound and, at its top, a dry stone wall encased a ringfort, no doubt where the Ri himself sat lording over the people of Caiseal.
“Ciardha,” he said, not daring to take his eyes from mine. “Get on with your chores.”
I heard her sheepish reply. “Yes, Athair.”
Fumbling, she took the bucket from me. I could smell her sweet scent of woman and managed to steal a second brush with her hand before she took back the bucket and scurried off. The flash of red caught the corner of my eye and the lady, Ciardha, was gone.
Athair. I eyed the great brute with loathing and pure disdain from which no evils can equate. He matched my eye and I knew he felt the same for me. As sweet and delectable as Ciardha had been, this small man was vile and uncouth.
“In the lands of my fathers, it is a great dishonor to interfere with a man where a lady is concerned,” I said once I was sure Ciardha was out of earshot,
“Where that lady is concerned, it is my duty to interfere,” he growled in his rancid voice. “That lady is my pupil.”
It was on.
“She has a will of her own,” I said.
“And a mother I have to answer to should she allow herself to become dissuaded by the sea dog that stands before me.”
He puffed out his chest and I puffed out mine, we sized the other up then down, confirmed our disdain, then I decided to move on. I shifted the weight of my bag on my shoulder and started in Ciardha’s shadow.
“No man is to enter these walls without reporting his business to me,” he said. I afforded him my finest glare. “Only those who have received the Master Bard’s approval may enter here.”
“I seek the Master Bards of Caiseal. I was told they live here. Where may I find them?”
His thin lips curled into a smile I could fix with my fist.
“You already have.”
Wait, what? “Y—you’re…”
He bowed his head in a half-nod and I curled my fingers.
“Master Bard,” he said smugly with the stench of arrogance he didn’t hold back. “Yes.”
That ball of heat Ciardha had dumped down my pants, moved into my chest.
“Follow me,” he said and swept into the village with an arrogance that seemed to part the way for me. Just like a diseased rat.
He led me down a worn road and up the stone laid steps that climbed the bailey. Through the gate I was met with an entourage of soldiers dressed sporting yellow belts around their tunics and armed with bows and slings, but mostly pikes.
I followed my detestable host of rancid lure to a stone house tucked against the fortification that greeted any and all hopefuls, I assumed. The door creaked and my eyes went to work studying the countless baubles and jars filled with red bubbling brews and liquids positioned carefully over tiny fires lit mystically beneath the glass with no flint or workings of a proper fire. Scrolls of vellum filled one wall while artifacts and brick-a-brack I couldn’t identify cluttered a countless number of shelves shoved behind a large wooden desk in the center of the room.
One window, high and lined with colored glass imported from the deserts permitted some light aside from the several candles that lit the room. The air was thick and stuffy and it smelled like used foot wraps and old, dirty man that made me want to wretch.
Athair took his seat behind his desk with an arrogance that made me want to bash his skull in. Instead, I watched him steeple his fingers and smile.
“So,” he began. I frowned at his crooked, yellow teeth. “You seek to enter my services.”
Feeling too much like a mouse forced to perform for the snake, I said nothing.
“And with what do you bring to protest your worth?”
I continued to say nothing.
“What grand things have you to offer that proves your valor to me?”
He rocked in his chair. It creaked. I hated him for that too.
“Recite,” he said at once.
He chuckled amused at his own game.
“You think we just play songs?” he asked. “You think us simple, musicians sold on dreams and drugged with starry-eyed tales of heroes?” The ugly, old man slapped his desk and frowned as if I had spoken to offend. “A bard isn’t about songs and dance and random wandering lute playing. We are not children with stories and dreams. A bard is a servant.”
He stood from his chair and I let him preach.
“We are servants born with the highest of honors, born from the bloodline of Danu herself! Ours is a dedicated service we commit a lifetime to so that we can recall every note, every word of story. Bards are the legend keepers, the record keepers. Bards are historians. When one dies, we lose a piece of our history unless we succeed in passing it along. It is our goal for any apprentice to become a Master so that he too may take on an apprentice to pass on the words of his master. A bard remembers for everyone, to keep the culture alive. You wish to come to my service? Recite!” He slapped his desk again to conclude his pompous lecture.
My mind was a blank. “I have prepared nothing.”
“What a shame.” His smile was anything, but sincere. “Amuse me. Improvise. Free style.”
“What shall I tell?”
He tried to suppress a grin and, instead, mangled his already contorted face.
“Why don’t you tell me everything you just said.” I furrowed my brow. “Every word you exchanged with Ciardha,” he said, “Every moment, every word, every nasty little thought you had in your head. Let’s see how skilled you truly are. How honest you are.”
I felt the blood drain leaving behind a stiff chill that encouraged me to wretch on his floor.
“Everything?” I asked.
“Everything,” he grinned. He knew he had me. “Every nuance, every thought, every idea you had in your dark mind. And don’t consider lying. Part of the bard’s trade is to detect liars.”
I recalled every flux in my body that Ciardha had evoked from me. The heat, the private thoughts I harbored. The thought of recalling those thoughts now to him…I swallowed down my first mouthful of vomit.
“Where would you have me st—”
“From the beginning,” Athair said. “From the moment you met my Ciardha.”
If I declined, he would deny my entrance and the journey would be for naught. If I recited everything, every thought, every moment I had with Ciardha, I still held a chance in my favor. And if I lied, I would risk the same fate as if I refused. I swallowed my humility and forced the words, “Very well,” I said then began.
Bergen finished his recitation and stared hating the headmaster’s pointy red beard and narrow eyes. The tale had been easy enough to recite having just happened, but he couldn’t ignore the discomfort that had settled into the bottom of his stomach while he retold his meeting with Ciardha.
Through the entire recitation, Athair hadn’t moved, but stood staring. Bergen expected an eye twitch, but the cold stare he got back was far worse. None of it was like the tension that sat stagnant between them now.
“Get out,” Athair said.
Bergen blinked back disbelief.
“That’s it? I did as you asked. I recited everything.”
“‘Crooked beak he tried to pass off as a nose’,” Athair repeated Bergen’s words back to him. Okay, so maybe I did lay it on a little thick. “You said be honest,” Bergen said and Athair dropped his shoulders with an air of finality.
“Isn’t there a second test or a trial I can take to get in?” Bergen said.
Athair scoffed. “I never said there was a trial. I never said you even had a chance to get in.”
“Then why did you ask me to recite all that?”
“I told you,” Athair sneered. “I have a duty to the girl to report to her mother. You have disclosed everything I need that satisfies me. Now good day!”
“Athair, please!” Bergen dropped his fists to the desk as Athair took his seat.
“Athair, sea dog,” he said, “is Eire’s word for ‘father.’ Ciardha is my daughter.”
Another mouthful of sick filled Bergen’s throat.
Bergen turned on his heel and marched himself out of Athair’s chambers.