Part 3: Sorcery
with special thanks to the random number generator
"Hear me, Lords of Denmark. I am Countess Christina of Fyn.
"You may know of me - of how my father was cut down by the brutal hand of King Svend of Denmark, of how I refused to follow his shadowed path and instead immersed myself in the ways of the church. You may think me weak and womanly; no doubt my childish visions of justice, love and mercy seem destined to be my downfall. You may think that I am too weak to avenge the bloodstained killers of my family.
"You know nothing. I carry my honour as my torch and I will achieve my revenge - and I will achieve it my way."
"A promise I made to myself when I was young was that I would only marry for love. When I came of age there were many who courted me. Princes and dukes; even a son of the Kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire. However, for all their power and standing these men were weak and contemptible, ugly and violent. I searched farther afield and chose a man who I believed I could love."
"He caught my eye, this soft-spoken, landless knight from Brittany. He was as sharp as a razor wrapped in cloth of black velvet, so deep it absorbed the light around it. And much like my long-suffering mentor, he had his eyes cast downwards, staring into the mud rather than the heavens."
"I wed him in the month of May, and that sun-kissed day shines in my memory, a beacon to which I will always come home."
"... I'm sorry, I seem to have drifted off for a moment there."
"As happy as my days were, there were greater concerns in my life at that time. I girded myself in the armour of faith and descended into the dungeon inhabited by the Heretic, Rune. I spoke to him the Word of God for many days and nights, telling him that though he had fallen far the arms of the Lord Christ would welcome him back if he recanted his blasphemous beliefs. For many days he cursed and shrieked at me in tongues, mouth spewing an endless litany of blasphemies. I overcame, resolute, and I revealed his lies for what they were.
"Eventually, broken before my faith, the sinner recanted all his heretical beliefs and begged the Lord for mercy. I chose to take him at his word and release him and hope he would find a brighter life."
"My husband told me this was a terrible mistake and that the Sorcerer of Gotland would return with vengeance in his heart. I chose to ignore him; as a Christian, I must offer the hand of mercy to any man who asks for it."
"Considering that done, I turned my mind to matters of state. I would need a great deal of money for what came next."
"Though the first invasion of England had been doomed to failure, the Lords of Denmark ensured that the second was not. The Normans were cast down and a Norwegian King now sat upon the English Throne. My men brought me home many treasures from the campaign."
"In this time, I had given birth to a beautiful son whom I named Hamlet."
"And the old king, thinking my heart was as soft and womanly as it seemed, appointed me to look after his pet swans.
"Have you spent much time around the swans? They are beautiful creatures, truly, but they are also the most vicious and spiteful monsters imaginable. They will peck an outstretched hand fiercely enough to draw blood. All their beauty is mere distraction, surrounding hearts like flint.
"I spent much time at court in those days."
"My quiet virtue and serene exterior impressed others much so that His Holiness, the Pope, sent me an elderly priest to act as my personal spiritual guide."
"... While I understood that Rome was far away, and my simple virtues as a woman did not merit much attention, the old fool that was dispatched as my 'guide' seemed almost like an insult. He knew not a tenth of my theology and never rose his debate above simple platitudes to spend all my time in prayer."
"I chose instead to spend much of my time concerned with matters of state. There was no time for a life of quiet religious contemplation if I was to carry out my duty as a daughter."
"I would be required to walk a different path."
"Patience had paid off, and I was finally ready to seek vengeance for my father. However, a more pressing matter arose - the heretic Rune was back to his blasphemous ways again. He had butchered several people in his Satanic rites and sown chaos across the countryside. This I could not abide; I sent my guard to capture him, but like a twisting worm, he escaped.
"For a moment I thought that would be the end of it.
"And then the earth cracked and broke, and the fires of Hell arose upon the land."
"I was called from my castle by a tear-stained commoner who begged my aid. He told me that the Sorcerer of Gotland had kidnapped his daughter and sacrificed her in a bloody ritual to bring damnation and vengeance to my land. He told me that the earth had broken open and the flames of Hell itself were burning the countryside. He told me the Sorcerer was cavorting above the pit, stained in blood and laughing like a demon.
"I took up my sword, bible and holy staff and strode out across the moor to confront the sinner one final time."
"It was as the farmer had said; the demonic pit opened by the Sorcerer was screaming with all the fury and malignancy of Hell, and the countryside was blasted where it was not burning. The Sorcerer himself was dancing around the brim of the pit. I called out a challenge and demanded that he face me, but the cackling madman refused. The light that burned in his eyes was just as unwholesome as the black smoke pouring from the pit, and if I had previously thought myself numb to his blasphemies I was wrong - the torrent of nightmares emerging from his lips shocked even I."
"As a Christian, I knew this abomination could not stand. I drew my sword and ventured down to the brim of the pit to confront the Sorcerer directly and end his life with my own hand. With a prayer on my lips and a blade in my hand, I smote at him, but the fiend dodged like a bloodstained horsefly. Cackling, he climbed like a spider around the brim, taunting me and trying to lure me deeper into the Pit, and while I kept pace at first the ground was slippery and my sword was unbalancing. Far worse, the screaming of the tormented souls and the hot breath of Lucifer weighed heavily upon me. The madman was simply waiting for me to slip and fall into the fires of the pit, and I did not want to risk my Christian soul to end the life of one sinner.
"I drew back and considered my options."
"It was obvious to me that black sorcery was best countered with miracles and faith. I gathered those men of learning I could lay my hands on, including my misguided old Priest, and strode back towards the Pit."
"Together, the three of us bellowed out a litany of abjuration and exorcism into the howling mouth of the void. Our voices rose together over the screams of the damned, but the old mystic roared back. For six hours we stood locked in battle, heaven against hell. While sometimes the sky would seem to clear and the madman would howl in fury, another surge of hellfire and sulphuric smoke would send us stumbling back. While my faith was strong, my allies quickly fell behind, fumbling the chant and even occasionally repeating the words of the Sinner like goldfish. While their hearts were true, their minds were not strong enough to endure blasphemy of this magnitude, and I pulled them back to save their souls."
"So I contemplated my options again, alone in the dark. Already my failure to close this infernal rift was causing me shame and humiliation. I decided in that night that I had to turn the dark techniques of the Sorcerer of Gotland against him. He had taught me the ways of sacrifice, and I had listened even if I had not believed."
"I gathered the common folk and their cattle, and I drove them together in a great stampede towards the pit of Hell!"
"I heard a brief scream from below, as the Sorcerer saw dozens of cows falling over the edge of the pit into the rift. One of the bloated animals struck him and crushed his body under it's weight, forever ending the life of the Sorcerer of Gotland. And finally, the pit was so filled with dead bovines that there was no passage for the flame or smoke of Hell.
"Lucifer had been defeated! Praise Jesus!"
"What should have been my moment of triumph turned to ashes in my mouth. While I had been closing Satan's gate, the man who had killed my father had passed away peacefully of old age. The delay had cost me my revenge. I wept bitter tears of fury and cursed the old bastard for not clinging to life for two more years."
"In his place, his hated bastard, Bjorn. He was a viper, and he would pay for the sins of his father."
"But if I was to bring him down, I would bring him down MY way - through righteousness and valour, not underhanded scheming."
"My focus consumed all my life. I stopped eating, determined not to let my ambition slip away from me again.
"I gathered support from the discontented nobles of the realm, and ensured my land was ready for war.
"And then, finally - I was ready. My finances were secure. My allies were committed. I stood at the eve of revolution.
"And I was in that moment betrayed."
"How cruel are men? In my hour of greatest trial, in the moment when I needed him most, my husband begged me to put aside my thoughts of revenge. He told me my plan was foolish and would never work, and that I wasn't ready. And even if I won, he said, I would have gained nothing! I was not fighting for myself, I was fighting to press the claims of some selfish Duke who cared nothing for me. My political position would be weakened direly even if I won.
"He begged me to flee with him, take our children, leave Denmark behind and live happily.
"How cruel are men?"
"I left him behind, along with my heart."
"I contracted the Grand Company Mercenaries to ride with me to confront the King. They were a boisterous band, and chivalrous, and reminded me much of the Hedge Knights I had idolised as a child. They respected me as a leader as well as a woman."
"Some even swore themselves to my service permanently as bodyguards. They remain with me to this day."
"Two great battles were fought. I remember the sound of swords, the hot breath of horses, the clash of cavalry and a sky nightmarishly dark with arrows. I remember the first man I killed - he pulled me from my horse and we fought in the mud until I impaled him through the skull with my knife. I remember cold medical curiosity taking over in place of pounding fear and terrible adrenaline; examining how his brains spilled from the gap in his helmet."
"We were victorious.
"And this was my vengeance, that I promised you, that I bided my time for. My own position was not advanced one step, but a far greater victory was achieved this day: The Yngling Dynasty, and all it's bastard heirs, no longer reign in Denmark. My foes have been brought low and are shamed, and without a crown they are exposed."
"And the new king, whom my politicking has raised to power...
"Ah, me. How beautiful he was."