Horror and Fantasy for Halloween on Epic Fantasy Writer

Hi, and welcome to Mysts of Mythos. I had a new article published on the Epic Fantasy Writer blog. In honor of the approaching holiday we are talking about adding horror elements to your fantasy stories and our history with the horror genre. Please go read about my dichotomous relationship with Horror. Click the link below to go check it out.

Crazy for Cthulhu – Kant stand Kreuger


Chapter 4: Mysts Over Paris

Just after matins, December 15th, 1001

Kingdom of the Franks, Paris, Île de la Cité, a large family home

Gabrielle found herself descending the creaking, narrow, stair to the shop. The snores of her sisters, Elodie and Twila, faded with every step down the creaking stair. Though it was dark her feet easily found each step and before her still sleep muddled brain registered what she was doing she stood before the barred door to the street. Her hand was already grasping the smooth handle, shoulder muscles bunching, preparing to lift the heavy, iron reinforced, oak bar. Her eyes blinked, staring at her hand holding the bar-handle. She stopped, a tight feeling at the back of her skull.

Something had awoken her. Something outside? How had she gotten here without waking already?

The young woman stared at her hand resting upon the bar handle which held the main door closed. Papa used this heavy bar for a reason. It was there to keep people out of the shop at night. There were too many poor folk in this city who might be tempted to enter and steal the valuable ores, refined metals, and jewelry inside, if it were not there. What if there was a brigand or two standing outside seeking entry? What if it were the sounds of their approach that had awakened her? They would be all too delighted to have the door opened for them. Shaking her head to clear the remnants of sleep, she took control of her own body, and forced herself to stillness.

The soft whisper of her own shuddering breath was the only sound Gabrielle heard as she listened for any indication of what might have woken her up. Desperately trying to detect sound outside of herself she leaned against the door, ears straining, only to be drowned out by the strangely staccato rhythm of her own heartbeat and the roar of her breath. Her entire body trembled and her chest shook with increasingly ragged gasps. After a few moments there came a light metallic chiming as the bar rattled in its seat until, finally, she gritted her teeth and forced her quivering hands to stillness. Cheeks puffed out and lips blew open as she released first one, and then another, long breath.

Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed. There was no fire alight yet she could see fairly well in what should be almost complete darkness. Her eyes scanned back and forth, trying to find the source of whatever light was helping her see, until she noticed a greenish-blue glow emanating from under the doorway.

The moon was only days from new and the sky had been filled with cold winter clouds when she’d gone to bed, with no wind or any indication conditions would change. It should be pitch black outside. There shouldn’t even be starlight. Yet the longer she stood there the brighter the light seemed to be.

The pounding of her heart faltered, and a chill raced across her skin, when a fine mist began rising from the floor. Her lips thinned to a tight line, trying to hold back the contents of her twirling stomach. Despite her rising fear, she felt a deep curiosity, almost a need, to see what was happening outside.

Two voices inside her head argued against one another. The cautious one said it was madness to open that door with no one else to know what she was doing. It was the other, curious voice, that appealed to her. It counseled against the cowardice of timidity.

The desire to know filled Gabrielle. She needed to see what was going on. What was making that light? Why was it so quiet? The timid voice inside her urged to at least go and wake Papa before opening the door. But if she went upstairs to Papa, he would only see a silly girl asking for him to open the door for her in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. It would be embarrassing. Curiosity finally overrode her caution. With a trembling hand she lifted the bar. Silent, on its well-oiled hinge, the heavy iron bar rotated into its unlocked position. Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle pulled open the door.

“Blessed Virgin!” she gasped, hand leaping to her own throat, momentarily stunned by what she saw. Tingles of fright prickled her skin, causing the fine hair on her arms to raise up on the tips of goose-bumps to weave into the fabric of her woolen night dress. Her fingers found the silver crucifix she wore around her neck, instinctively grasping it. “Oh, Blessed Virgin.”

Again, Gabrielle felt the influence of two different voices arguing inside her head. The child, curious with wonder, told her to step further outside, to explore what she saw. The adult voice counseled against such foolishness. In fact, it screamed at her to slam the door and run, to hide somewhere deep inside the house. Instead, she stood stock still, feet rooted to the ground, paralyzed with indecision and awe. Slowly she looked back and forth, but it was the same everywhere she looked.

Outside, the world was cloaked in a blanket of mist. Growing up a stone’s throw from la Seine, she had experienced plenty of fog in her life. Summer nights gone cold sometimes meant thick mists choking the streets of the Île de la Cité but, It being Winter, this was the season for fog. She should not be surprised to see it now, but tonight’s was different from any she had ever seen. Within the general gloom, were thick, rope-like, tendrils of fog, somehow separate from the greater mass, writhing in a confusing disarray.

Most unsettling, of all, were the lights. Along the squirming ropes of haze floated the source of the illumination that had drawn her outside in the first place. Countless greenish-blue glowing orbs meandered along the lengths of thick brume as if they were ants raiding the pantry. Each individual orb grew brighter, and then dimmer, with every few heartbeats creating a visual cacophony of pulsing illumination.

The combination made for a dizzying display, causing her to reach back for the solidity of the doorframe, and brought visibility to near nothing. Even in the worst of times past she could look down the street to the west and see the church tower. Now she could barely see the building two doors down.

Her other, trembling, hand rose up to cover her open mouth touching the cross to her lips. Gabrielle’s back was tight, her body rigid. Breath came in wheezing gasps, hot breath collecting on her palms to give a cold, clammy, sensation. There was a tingling at the back of her tongue, and an uneasy feeling in her stomach. Without willing it her fingers curled into claws. She pulled in a lungful of air, chest straining against the dark wool of her dress, ready to scream. Only at the last moment did she stop herself from letting out a full-throated wail. If she gave in to her fear she might never stop. Quaking with the effort, Gabrielle let her breath go in halting gasps. Her eyes scanned back and forth through the mist, tracking individual lights until they became lost in the chaotic knots.

Knots. In that moment the chaos of ropy tendrils coalesced in her mind as something she could understand. Not long after Papa began planning Martin’s trip to England she had asked Mama to acquire a few examples of English jewelry for her to work from as inspiration. In her observations of Martin and Papa selling pieces she’d noted that people liked things they were familiar with. Perhaps if she could copy English techniques she might make something more attractive to them. The ropy tendrils around her were much like the interlacing knotwork she had begun integrating into her work ever since. Some of the new pieces had already sold to lords of the King’s court.

Though totally surrounded by the knotwork fog and the lights, none were any closer than a couple yards. She reached out and took a step, trying to touch one, only to see the rope of mist smoothly shift away from her, very obviously avoiding her touch. She snatched back her hand and retreated into the doorway. A cold shiver slid down her spine when the lights immediately followed her movement, chasing her back towards her home, yet keeping the same distance. The desire to scream rose up again.

Papa! Mama! She had to wake them!

Gabrielle’s mouth snapped shut. A strangled whimper escaped her lips and she finally turned to scamper back into the house, slamming the door, and letting the bar hammer down behind. She bounded across the shop floor and took the first two steps on the stairwell in one leap. The young woman was gathering her breath to call out, when she heard Papa’s gruff voice from above.

“Who is there?” He said. She heard the scrape of his heavy club that he kept by the door of his bedroom.

“Just me, Papa,” she replied quickly. Her father was strong and she had no desire to find out how hard he could hit with that thing first hand. “Something is happening outside. I’m scared.”

“What do you mean something is happening?” His wide frame eased through the bedroom door and descended the stair as he spoke. “How do you know what’s going on outside? What are you doing awake in the middle of the night?” He stopped for a moment at her hesitation. “You didn’t open the door did you?” A heavy sigh accented by a rumble of exasperation emanated from his chest, before he continued down the stairs, the wood groaning under his hefty frame. “By God, Gabrielle Madelaine, I didn’t think you would be one I had to tell why that bar is in place.”

She fidgeted, unable to answer his questions, sure that he’d already seen guilt written plainly on her face, even in the darkness. Papa set the cudgel upon his shoulder and gently pushed her aside, stepping between her and the door. Gabrielle was too distraught, too fearful of what she’d seen, to protest. And yet her father’s mere presence calmed her fears, allowing her to breath more evenly. He visibly relaxed at the sight of the door shut and barred. A gentle squeeze from his meaty hand upon her shoulder gave further reassurance. Papa would know what it was. He would know what to do.

“There are lights Papa,” she said after taking a breath. “And heavier fog than I’ve ever seen. Lights floating in the fog.”

“Nonsense,” he snapped. “It’s been too cold for heavy fog.”

Even as he spoke she could see his eyes flicking back and forth, his brows furrowed in thought. Papa stepped up before the door and gave her a look of chagrin as he clapped his hand over a knob. He shoved it to the side, opening an iron shuttered portal to the outside.

Gabrielle blushed with mild shame. She had forgotten the portal was there, and that there had been no need to open the door in the middle of the night.

The light emanating through the slot illuminated his neck and chin, drawing his eye. Papa frowned more deeply. He bent his neck a bit to look, and gasped, his hand reaching up to grip the rim of the portal, standing completely still for a short while, head twitching side to side, before stepping away.

“What in God’s good name is all of that out there?” He gasped.

His face had gone slack, jaw dropped open, a finger pointing accusingly out the portal. Gabrielle’s fear instantly returned greater than before. Her unflappable Papa was scared too. If he didn’t know what it was, or what it meant, who would?

“What is going on down there, Abram?” Her mother demanded from upstairs. “Can’t whatever it is wait until morning?”

“What do we tell your mother?” Papa rasped.

“I don’t know!” Gabrielle hissed, foot stamping on the floor, fist clenched at her sides. “You’re supposed to know what to do!”

Papa cleared his throat, hand rubbing the back of his neck.

“I’m not sure Elenor,” Papa replied with a low voice, setting his club against the door. “I… don’t know how to describe it.”

“What…? Don’t…? Augh!”

Steady footsteps approached down the staircase. Gabrielle exchanged glances with her father, knowing that the unease painted on his face was reflected in hers. When Elenor Lefevre reached the bottom Gabrielle could see plainly what she‘d already guessed.

Mama was irritated. Her pretty features were creased with frowns. Golden red hair, normally very well brushed and arranged, stood out in all directions. She stalked across the floor toward them. Her glittering green eyes drilled into them both for a few moments, but then lost focus and drifted past.

Papa stepped aside, and Gabrielle did the same after a brief hesitation. Being the tallest member of the family present, Mama had to bend at the waist to glare through the slot in the door. Gabrielle watched, and waited, to see what the formidable matron of the family would say. The muscles of Mama’s jaws bunched, her lips gone pale in a tight line and nostrils flaring.

“What?” Mama gritted out, stepping back and pointing. ”What is it?”

“I don’t know, my dearest,” Abram said stepping in and enfolding his tall, lithe, wife in his burly arms. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this before.”

Gabrielle timidly stepped up beside them. She desperately wanted to ask her father to include her in his comforting embrace. Her desire to be treated as an adult, now that she had seen her fifteenth winter, gave her pause. She should be able to stand on her own. Yet her feet moved of their own accord. Another hesitant step took her as close to them as she thought she could get away with. She gazed out through the slot. Being so intent on focusing her view out the portal, and not looking as though she were seeking comfort from them, caused the girl to miss her parent’s knowing look between themselves.

Abram and Elenor’s worried expressions softened, and they opened their arms, pulling Gabrielle into their embrace. The family stood together finding comfort in each other and for a few moments ignoring the outside world.

It was the muffled sound of lowing cattle from out of the fog that brought them back to awareness. Gabrielle gazed out the portal trying to find the source of the sound, but it was still so far away.

“Oh, it’s you sir,” Geoffrey’s voice penetrated the darkness of the shop. “What are you all doing down here? And what was that? Some damned fool let their cow loose on the street at night?”

The dark-haired warrior was in his woolen sleeping tunic, securing his sword belt as he emerged from the room that he shared with Papa’s other guards. Even as he spoke the noises of the cow outside was joined by an odd, rhythmic thump. Geoffrey stopped, staring at the strange light illuminating the room through the portal. The second noise drew Gabrielle’s attention back to the portal and she screamed as the thumping sound grew more rapid and loud and close, accompanied by vibrations that she could feel through the soles of her feet.

The door reverberated with a heavy impact, timber frames squealing in protest, and a long shiny black horn punched through the portal.

Chapter Three: Mysts over the Danelaw

The deep of night, December 15th, 1001,

A village on the Nene river East of Peterburh Abbey, Anglia, The Danelaw


With the moon recently set, darkness loomed over the small collection of longhouses sitting upslope from the waters of the slow moving Nene. The lonely mill’s wheelhouse stood close to the shallow bank. It was long past the middle of night. All of the candles and fires in all of the longhouses had been blown out or tamped down. All save one. All of the longhouses lay quiet. All save one.

One single longhouse emanated deep drunken laughter. One single door-frame leaked out a thin aura of warm light into the dark wet night. Inside, deep orange flames curled around the sides of the well seasoned oak and maple logs sitting in the sandstone hearth at the center of the narrow home. A thick thatch roof insulated the building, holding in the heat of the flames. The air smelled of moist thatch, old soot, hot stones and sour beer. A number of candles were lit, standing on wrought iron holders hammered into the wooden posts. Their flames tinged the air in the long-house’s tight quarters with black smoke that twisted into an acrid braid hanging heavy beneath beams of oak and braces of alder. The thatched roof was visible with thin alder frames to support the sodden grass above. A naked hole over the fire was ringed black with soot. The floor below was a packed dirt that ran the length front to back.

On a long worn maple table, two wooden plates were greasy with the remnants of pork, beef and venison sliced from the bones, and what was left of a few rounds of soft cheeses. A few apples and a handful of raisins sat in a large wooden bowl. Bread, dry and crumbling, sat next to a near empty bowl of butter.

“Come on I’ll take three of you at once,” the big red haired man laughed, waving toward the group of four that he faced, and stumbled a bit before catching himself. He seemed to fill the main hearth area all by himself. “We have to make it fair somehow.”

“Go mate with one of your father’s sheep you braggart,” Egil shouted back, his face twisted and red. He jabbed a finger into Bjorn’s chest. “Just because you’re stronger and bigger than any one of use doesn’t mean you have to rub our faces in the horse manure.”

Where moments before he had been looming over everyone in the longhouse,  Bjorn’s handsome, boyish, features transformed from drunken happiness to stricken sadness. Standing nearly seven feet tall and with a thick barrel chest and massive arms, he was huge in comparison to any of his comrades in the longhouse, but now he seemed inches shorter as he hunched his shoulders and held out his hands, palms upward, beseeching his friends forgiveness.

“Egillllll,” the big man whined. “You know I didn’t mean anything by it. You know I don’t…”

He stopped there at a loss for words. He was visibly upset that his friend thought of him that way. Fair-haired Egil, stood there still for a moment, swaying in his own drunkenness, then stepped up and punched his big friend straight in the chest. It was a blow that would stagger, or even knock down, most men. Bjorn just grunted a little bit and put his hand to the spot where the punch landed. Then Egil’s face split into a grin.

“You, my friend, need to learn to be less like a girl and just knock me down when I say something stupid like that. I on the other hand need to learn that what you just said is true and not let my temper get the best of me. What do you say Valsten? And you Kraka? Do we take this big pile of cow dung outside and show him what happens to men who challenge more than they can handle?”

Valstan and Kraka both agreed but the other three occupants of the longhouse decided they were done for the night. They encouraged Bjorn and his friends to take their fun outside until they could be quiet. Egil jeered at them for being unmanly and they answered back that they would all discover who was unmanly come morning. They all laughed together as Bjorn, Egil, Kraka, and Valsten headed toward the door. Valsten opened it and stepped through only to freeze with one foot outside and one foot in. Bjorn ducked his head to go through the door right behind him, not realizing that his friend had stopped, and barreled right into the smaller man.

“Valsten!” Bjorn exclaimed hotly as they both fell sprawling to the ground. His mouth opened, ready to berate the other for stopping in the doorway, but his words stuck in his throat. “Wha.. What?”

Kraka stood at the door with his mouth open and his eyes staring. Egil stepped up beside him, still laughing with their house-mates, until his brows furrowed and he glanced outside himself. When he did he too was struck dumb, his jaw dropping open, and reached out to grab the jamb of the door to steady himself. Bjorn was sure he’d need something to hang onto if he wasn’t already on the ground. All around them was the thickest fog he’d ever seen. The sky was completely blocked out. His mother and father’s house, which lay only a stone’s throw away across the center green was completely invisible behind a curtain of mist. Yet even that was not the most surprising thing. More disquieting even than the thick haze were the foot thick masses of an even thicker vapor swirling within the greater body of fog itself. And even more disturbing than that was the lights that floated along the lengths of the swirling masses. Glowing orbs gave off a ghostly greenish-blue light as they flowed along the tendrils of thick vapor like a line of ants bringing food back to the nest. They were all frozen in stunned silence for a while until a voice from inside the house erupted.

“Close the door you fools! It’s cold out there damn it!”

“Odin’s blood,” Egil shouted, finally torn from his malaise. “What is that?”

“It’s the Wild Hunt,” Kraka exclaimed. “Odin rides with his warrior’s this night.”

After that everything was chaos. All four of them started to talk at once. Valsten and Bjorn scuttled back towards the longhouse. Shouts came from inside the house until one of the sleepers came out and became as confused and fearful as the rest. Finally all seven of the young men who lived in the bachelor’s house were speaking at once, wildly gesticulating, trying to say what they thought and be heard over all the rest. Bjorn stopped speaking as the chaos overwhelmed him, his hands raising as if to cover his ears.

“Quiet!” he shouted as powerfully as his big lungs could manage. “Everybody just be quiet.”

The rest were stunned into peace for a long few heartbeats. It was enough. They were all able to take a few calming breaths. Quickly Bjorn noticed something else. The world was cloaked in total silence. All sound they should have been hearing was not there. No sound from the river rushing by only fifty yards away. No sounds of the swamp frogs. No wind whistled through the branches of nearby trees. In fact he felt no wind at all. There was a complete stillness, all except for the lights moving along the thick ropy tendrils of mist. Chills ran up the length and width of his broad back, causing him to shiver. All of the others, though calmer now, still looked out into the eerie fog with wild eyes glancing back and forth as if looking for something to jump out at any moment.

“Shouting and waving gets us nothing,” he continued. “We can’t look at that if we want reasoned discussion.”

He shoved Valsten back into the house and followed him inside, shutting the door. He turned to Kraka.

“What do you mean Odin rides tonight?”

“Your father has tried to be a good christian since coming here so he hasn’t told you much of our old gods,” ” Egil replied for his friend. “Or let you stay when others here in the village discussed the legends of our people. Tonight is the first night of Yule, but it is also the first night of the Wild Hunt when Odin leads the warriors of Valhalla out to gather the animals for the feast in the mighty hall.”

“I saw it,” Kraka added. “I saw Odin on his eight legged horse.”

“Horse dung,” replied one of the sleepers.

“No, I saw it too,” Valsten stated, coming to stand shoulder to shoulder with his friend. “More than the Wild Hunt though I think. Did you see the serpent in the fog? I think it is Jormungandr letting go of it’s tail. Ragnorok is coming!”

“Well I don’t know,” Bjorn said, before anyone else could interject. “I didn’t see any of that. But I know that this is stranger than anything I’ve ever heard of. Should we wake anyone else? Or do we wait to see if this lasts before alarming anyone else needlessly?”

“I say we wait,” Egil said. “We should watch and see what happens. What if this is just something we’ve never seen before. We’ll get yelled at for waking them for nothing.”

“How can you say this is nothing?” Kraka exclaimed, his voice rising and then cracking. “Whatever it is I’ve never even heard of it before. We should wake our fathers and let them decide what to do.”

Once again multiple voices rose up, and arms waved about. All seven young men argued for different ideas. Some wanted to wake their parents. Others argued for waiting and not looking foolish later on if it turned out to be nothing. Voices were raised and tempers began to flare as the argument ran on for some time.

Then there was a knock on the door. It was so out of place, and so loud, that all of their voices quieted and they turned back to the door. Brow furrowed with confusion Bjorn reached out for the handle and pulled it open. Standing outside the door was an old man. His hair was white, wild and so thick that when it hung over the left side of his face nothing could be seen beneath it. His clothes were old yet well-mended and while he looked like he should be dirty he was in fact clean, though he carried a smell of sour beer, sour mead, and something else that Bjorn couldn’t at first identify.

“Welcome traveler,” he said, stepping back and beckoning inward. “Where do you come from that you are alone this late on Yule night?”

“Thank you,” the man replied in a gravelly voice, then he put a hand over his mouth before hacking a wet sounding cough. “I thank you, truly. It is cold and wet and this fog and the lights are strange. I have come from the east and I travel west. I did not expect to be so lost this night.”

“The east? It would have been dark already in Peterburh for you to leave there and get here by now.”

“Yes, Perterburh,” the old man coughed again. Bjorn automatically helped him to a chair while most of the others stood back, edging away from the sick old man. “Peterburh. I left before nightfall, but I lost my way. Then it grew worse with this strange mist. Glad I am to have found your home.”

“Sit here by the fire,” Bjorn continued, then casually tossed a few more logs on to bring more warmth to the hearth. “You must be cold and hungry. We still have some food left from the Yule feast. Would you eat?”

“No, no food, though I thank you for the offer,” the old man said. “Mead I would drink.”

“Of course,” Bjorn replied.

While the young man moved to get a horn from the table, the others slowly migrated to benches nearby, though none were next to the old man who continued to hack and wheeze. All of them were casting suspicious glances at him. Once Bjorn had poured the last of a small barrel of mead into the horn he voiced their concern.

“What brings you out of your home on the night of Yule?” Bjorn said, setting a wrought iron horn stand down on the table in front of the old man then setting the mead filled horn upon it. “Have you no family to stay with?”

“Family?” the old man replied. He picked up the horn and took a long draught of the golden liquid. Then smacked his lips and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He examined the horn stand while he continued to speak. “I was away from my family, but now I return to them. I have a son that you remind me of quite a bit. Sadly my way back has taken longer than I anticipated. Who has done this work?”

His last question he emphasized by indicating the horn stand. Like all of Snorri’s work it was solid and well made but also intricate and beautiful even in it’s simple black coloration. This one was made of a single long square bar of iron that had been twisted over and over again, bent here and there for legs. A few spots were flattened in certain strategically located spots to allow the horn to set upon it without tipping, and shaped with a cone at the bottom to hold the point of the horn. At the top the twisted metal had been shaped into the visage of a fearsome bear.

“That is the work of my Master, Snorri,” Bjorn admitted. “I hope one day to have half the skill that he does.”

“Ahh, Snorri Half-nose,” the old man replied. “I know his work. He is indeed a man of great skill and honor. I would meet him someday.”

“But he is here now,” Bjorn said standing and pointing. “He lives in this village.”

“No, no,” the old man replied. “There is no need to wake him. Besides, I must go. There are many strides between here and where I go.”

The old man stood and turned up the horn swiftly draining it with a series of expert swallows. The young men all watched with admiration as the old man drank. It took a special skill, developed over time to be able to drink from a horn like that without spilling. The old man did not spill a drop. He set the horn back down into the stand and wiped his lips again.

“I am sure I’ll meet Snorri one day,” he said. “Do not wake him on my account. I am in need of being on my way and only stopped because I was thirsty and heard your voices through the mist.”

“I’ll go with you,” Bjorn said. “The roads can’t be safe at night. Especially not tonight.”

“Oh no,” the old man chuckled, then turned at the doorway to face Bjorn directly holding out his hand. “I can take no one with me. But I admire your politeness, your hospitality and your bravery to offer to guard a strangers back who you do not even know. Your father has much to be proud of and I’ll tell him so personally when I meet him… someday. But not this day. Get some rest boys, I’m thinking tomorrow will be a long, hard day.”

Bjorn held out his own huge hand and they grasped forearms. The old man stared into Bjorn’s eyes with his single visible eye. He had a very firm grip for an old man. A slight shiver ran up his arm from where the old man’s hand gripped his. The old man nodded his head, let go, turned, and strode through the door, letting it bang shut behind him.

An odd sensation lingered in his hand causing Bjorn to flex his fist, looking down at his palm for a few heartbeats, before looking up, his brows bent in thought. Suddenly he shook himself, grabbed the door and ducked through, but when he unbent from crouching through the door, the old man was gone.

Chapter One: Mysts over London

Just past matins, December 15th, 1001,

Londonburh, Royal residence of King Aethelred II of Wessex


Aethelstan awoke suddenly; the hairs on his neck prickled as chills raced over his body. He lay still, his muscles tense, hearing the voice of his teacher and guardian, Harold, echo in his head, “Do not be rash. Wait. Watch. Listen, then act”.

The faint, yet familiar, pop and crackle from still warm embers in his clay hearth did nothing to dispel the sense of something amiss. A quiet sniff brought nothing but the scent of winter’s normal mustiness and a whiff of burning coals. It wasn’t immediately apparent how close to dawn it was. There was no illumination from his hearth, telling him that the fuel had burned long enough to be mostly ash. He was enveloped in a heavy, profound, darkness. Finally his eyes detected a faint glow emanating from behind the tapestry covering his shuttered casement.

With a sigh he quietly peeled his wool blankets to one side while pushing up to sit, sliding his legs over the side of the bed. Finally, from his new angle, he could see the muted glow of the coals in the clay hearth.

The leather grip of his seax, from his bedside table, felt  comforting in his hand as his feet came down on the cold, wooden, floorboards, and he settled into a defensive posture. It seemed preposterous that someone would be here to attack him, but he felt threatened somehow. A frown creased his features as he padded forward, cat-quiet, naturally avoiding the squeaky floorboard. The room was small enough that it took only a few steps to bring him to the outer wall, opposite the foot of his bed.

Aethelstan stopped at the thick woolen tapestry that covered the window this time of year, a final gift from his father’s mother before she died last winter. An ache of sadness clutched his heart over the loss of his beloved Ealdemoder. Gone for nearly a year and he still could be brought to tears knowing he would never see her again. He let his hand slide down over the embroidered fabric, feeling the scene that he knew by heart, even in the dark; King Offa of Mercia standing at the dyke he’d built to guard against the Britons, holding aloft his mighty sword. It didn’t matter to him that such a scene had almost certainly never really happened. It was a representation of the line Offa held against savage invasion. A line he wished his father would hold more strongly.

With a final sigh, he gently pulled it back to listen at the shutters. There was no sound, only a strange greenish-blue light filtering around the edges of the shutter, along with the cool draft of winter. Chest trembling, brows tight, he braced himself for the cold and softly opened the far shutter to peer out.

Aethelstan’s stomach knotted and chills raced down his back, though not from the cold. The city was blanketed in a thick cloak of undulating mist. He knew Lundunburh well, had seen fog here many times before, but never like this. Even in the worst of fogs past he had been able to see an outline of St. Paul’s Cathedral bell tower to the south, which should have been his view through the partially opened shutter. The impenetrable murk blocked his view of the church, about three hundred yards away, completely. He shifted slowly forward, pushing the shutter further open, until he looked straight west. No more than thirty yards away stood the main outer wall of the burh, but it too was completely shrouded in the mists. Even the stars and the sliver of the waning moon, that he should have seen in the sky, were masked by the unnatural mists. He could barely see the cobble road barely twenty-five feet below.

More frightening still, was the thick coils of an even more dense fog that lay, shifting, over the ground below him like rope scattered on the deck of a rolling ship. Only this rope was a foot thick and glowed with countless blue-green lights floating along its length like willowisps. Their strangeness filled him with horror. Overwhelmed, the youth gaped, unable to move. Time passed, unnoticed, as his eyes tracked the lights flowing along the ropes of fog, unable to look away.

Indistinct shouts of men pulled him from his disquiet, to see that he had moved without realizing it. He bit back a curse to see that he was leaning out the now fully opened window without having noticed or intending to. Soon more voices added to the growing cacophony, and yet all of it seemed distant, unfocused. None sounded clear or distinct as if the fog itself were swallowing the sounds of the great city. He could hear confusion and anger, but no clash of steel to indicate battle. Then, close by and behind him, came the sound of heavy boots pounding up the stairs, the jingle of mail and clatter of weapons. The door burst open, brightening the room with a warm light.

Aetheling!” Harold, his mentor and guardian, hissed in a loud tone, but one that would not carry outside the room. “Aethelstan! Where…?”

“I’m here Harold,” Aethelstan said, pushing the tapestry aside. “I’m already awake. What is that marsh muck out there?”

Harold, a broad shouldered man with a thick greying brown beard, but not a single hair on his head, wore a full set of mail with axe and sword hanging from his belt. He held a lighted candle lamp in his left hand. His right gripped the heavy fighting seax stuck through his belt.

“Oh thank the Virgin,” Harold exclaimed. “When I saw your bed empty I thought the elves might have come to take you away in the night.”

Aethelstan frowned, wondering if his mentor really believed that an elf might have taken him away. Harold continued as he came a step closer.

“I was on duty when this… fog swept in. One moment the sky was clear, and the next, this thick mist covered everything. I’ve never seen anything like it. Have you?”

“No,” Aethelstan replied. He closed the shutter and emerged fully from behind the tapestry.

“Oh… Well…,” Harold’s features creased with worry. “Your father, the Cyning, has been roused from his bed. He ordered that I wake you and assist you in waking your brothers. Get what you need to travel. The Cyning doesn’t feel safe in the palace. He wants all of you children moved to the fort while… uh, this… is going on.”

“Good, let’s go,” the young Aetheling replied.

Aethelstan was in his sleeping linens and woolens, but they would have to do. He didn’t want to take the time to change. He cinched a belt about his waist and tucked in the seax. It took him only a few more moments to grab his padded practice tunic, yank on his old leather boots, and snatch up his sword belt with his most prized possession, the sword of King Offa. Father had gifted it to him this past summer in honor of his fifteenth year.

Ecbert, two years younger than he, was in the next room down the hall. When they walked in, Aethelstan’s little brother was sitting up in his bed still blearily rubbing sleep from his eyes.

“Oh good, you’re awake already,” Aethelstan said. “Get up and get dressed.”

“What’s happening?” the boy asked. Pushing back the thick wool blankets he emerged from the warmth of his bed. “Are we in danger?”

“Explanations later. Father wants us all down in the Hall. Grab your gear.”

Aethelstan said the last with a grin. He knew that Ecbert loved fighting as much as he did. If he wanted to get the younger boy up, the best way to do it was with veiled promises of battle. Ecbert leaped from the bed and snatched up his sword which was predictably leaning up against the bedframe. It took the boy only a few more seconds to grab his gambeson. Then he was following them out of the room, pulling it over his head as he went.

“Are the Danes attacking, Harold?” the boy’s muffled voice could be heard through his clothing. Unable, momentarily, to see where he was going the boy bounced off of the door frame with a thud and stumbled a bit before continuing as if nothing had happened.

“No, Aetheling,” the big man answered, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. “Best to let your father tell you.”

Edmund and Eadrid shared the last room in the hallway. Neither had yet grown hair anywhere but their heads so they were still considered children, especially by their older brothers. Children or no, both of them were already up and standing at the window with the shutter wide open and the heavy drapes pulled back.

“There you are my little brothers,” Athelstan said with a smile, as if nothing were odd or strange about what they saw out the casement, hoping they would read his demeanor as reassuring. “Father wants us downstairs. Get yourselves dressed warm and we’ll be off.”

Ecbert was seemingly unaware of his big brother’s attempts to keep their younger brother’s calm. The sights outside the casement were so unique, Aethelstan could hardly be mad when his younger brothers jaw dropped open and he staggered to the casement pointing outside as if no one else had seen what he was looking at yet.

“What? What? What…?” he stuttered, finally leaning against the shutter. He seemed unable to stand on his own for the moment.

“It’s spirits Ecky,” sickly Eadrid said with an eager gleam in his eye. The normal wheeze in his voice was pronounced now. There was a snort of derision from the much more serious Edmund. “I bet they’ve come to punish all of the bad children for Christmas.”

“If that were true they’d have already grabbed you Eddy,” Aethelstan replied, ruffling Eadrid’s hair. He took both little boys by the shoulder, turned them, and pushed them away from the casement. Harold had already pulled out a pair of heavy woolen robes for them. Aethelstan wondered at the ability of little boys to ignore discomfort at times. They’d only been dressed in their sleeping linens and should have been chilled to the bone with both shutters open all the way. He wondered if he’d ever been so unaware. “Now get dressed so we can go down to Father.”

When he’d turned back to Ecbert at the window, his younger brother was still standing there staring outward with a stunned look on his face. Aethelstan stepped up beside him and carefully, so as not to startle him, placed a hand on his shoulder. Ecbert twitched but otherwise remained still.

“What is it Stan? It’s not natural.”

“How should I know?” Aethelstan snorted. “I’ve never seen anything like it before either. All I do know is that Father wants us downstairs. Harold says we’re heading to the Crepelgate Fort until we know more. Father doesn’t feel we’re safe enough here in the palace.” He paused for a moment. “Listen to it. I can hear the shouting from down in the city already.”

The city was hushed. There was no rush of wind against the building and no sound of breeze through the leafless trees nearby. The world outside was completely still. The only sound at all came from men. As before, Aethelstan heard muffled voices, but no clear words. Just then something changed about the sounds coming up from below in the mists. Confusion had turned to dismay, and fear. Aethelstan’s brows furrowed and he tilted his head to the side, trying to hear a little better.

“What is that Stan? Something’s different of a sudden.”

“I hear fighting,” he replied, then turned back into the room. “We better get downstairs. You boys ready yet?”

Eadrid and Edmund were fully robed, with extra hooded cloaks as well. Better dressed for the cold than either of their older brothers, yet now their teeth were chattering. Harold was already herding them toward the door with a bemused shake of his head.

“Come on Ecbert,” Aethelstan urged. “We don’t want to miss our chance to be shuffled away to safety.” He rolled his eyes and grinned conspiratorially.



Lundunburh- Old English name for the walled city of London.

seax-  (Old English) Knife. Used in reference to small kitchen knives all the way up to long blades that might otherwise be called a sword.

Ealdemoder- (Old English) Grandmother.

burh- (Old English) Fortified town. Often a walled city.

Aetheling- (Old English) Title for any child of the King. Used as a last name.

gambeson- (Old French) Thickly padded jacket worn under armor.

Crepelgate- Northwestern gate to the town of Lundunburh. Location of a large fortress.

Chapter Two: Mysts Over Polleswyrth Abbey

After matins, December 15th, 1001,

Polleswyrth Abbey, On the Border of the shires Warwick and Stafford


Merewyn awoke to the soft thud of the door door closing on the slæpern she shared with the other Sisters of her order. Her eyes blinked in the darkness. The only light she could see was a warm flickering orange light coming from beneath the door fading as whoever it was continued down the hall. The young woman shifted under her heavy wool blankets grimacing slightly as she tried to determine why she had woken. Normally light traffic in the room would not have bothered her. There was often another Sister moving about after matins on one task or another. Finally her mind seized on a single sound picked up by her sleep muddled ears. It had been a muffled squeal of surprise. The voice had Sister Inga’s shrill tone, which made sense as she had candle and prayer duty this night. As the footsteps and other sounds faded she picked out another aspect of the noise. Sister Inga had been gasping and whining as if in fright. What is the matter?

Gathering a blanket around her shoulders she sat up in her pallet looking out into the darkness. Long practice allowed her to reach out in the full darkness of the room and pick up her heavy wool habit from the short table she set it upon nightly before bed. Bracing herself from the cold she turned out of her blankets completely. Years of practice gave her the ability to find her slippers on the floor nearby without being able to see them. Working quickly she stepped into her slippers and stood to slip the habit down over her shift while still cloaked in full darkness. Wrapping the habit more tightly about herself she shuffled slowly across the floor to the slæpern door. With a firm pull the thick oaken door creaked softly and swung back into the room to reveal the dimly lit anteroom used for removing mud caked shoes before entering the actual living space. Her brows furrowed in thought because this room should be nearly as dark as the slæpern itself. All of the shutters in the main room were fully closed, barred, and covered in thick tapestries or blankets this time of year. Here in the anteroom the shutters were not covered but they were still closed. That should mean that only a little starlight and moonlight might shine between the cracks. Tonight though was a waning sliver of moon and she thought it should have set by now anyway. So there should be little to no light coming through the shutter at all, but there was quite a bit. It set the room with an eerie greenish-blue light. Timidly she stepped into the anteroom and shut the door softly behind herself. Quietly she crept across the to the shutter and opened it just a crack to peek outside the building. She had to stifle a gasp, hand rising up to cover her mouth, eyes widening.

Soft greenish-blue lights bobbed and weaved as they floated within a thick impenetrable fog. Never had she seen a mist so thick. She should be able to see the spire of the stone church building rising up from behind the other slæpern that lay across the abbey yard from where she stood. Instead it was difficult to even make out the squared walls of the slæpern itself and the church spire was completely hidden from view.

Eyes wide in shock, her mouth hung open, skin pebbling as tingles of fear washed over her body. There were loops and tendrils that moved within the fog carrying the moving lights as they undulated through the fog like a pile of worms in the garden compost. Her heart began to race and her breathing became rapid. A strangled gasp erupted from her mouth until she clamped a hand down over her own lips. The eerie green lights reminded her of eyes dancing at the edge of firelight. Cold green eyes. The fog itself, emanating a soft blue glow, filled the air all around the abbey grounds with light that should let her see a good distance but somehow didn’t. In fact when Merewyn turned her eyes upward the sky was lost in mist, and the lights moved everywhere. Breath came in gasps and whines, her head grew light, vision narrowed and her knees grew weak.

“What are you doing awake Sister Merewyn?”

Merewyn screamed and nearly fainted dead away. Only her hand clutching the door frame allowed her to still stand. Her vision blurred and her heart leaped in her chest, panic welling inside her making her want to run as fast as she could, until she recognized the voice of the Prioress. When she turned to the left Merewyn saw the Mother and Sister Claudia, Mother’s subprioress, followed by Sister Inga.

“Oh Mother, you frightened me,” Merewyn’s voice trembled. “Something woke me. So I came out to see what it might be… and found this. What is it Mother?”

The Prioress was a stern and frightening woman under normal circumstances. Her overbearing presence combined with the, presence of this strange fog, made Merewyn’s heart pound in her chest and her mind think of ways to escape. The Mother’s cold eyes drilled into the young nun as if she could see all of her sins.

“I see. Well come with us, Child. I can’t have you wandering around alone on a night like this.”

Without waiting for any kind of answer from the girl, the Prioress stepped past her and continued on along the path that ringed the inner abbey yard. She was quickly followed by the other two women. With nothing else to do, Merewyn followed the group. Worriedly she pulled out her rosary beads and began to pray with fervent passion under her breath. As the four women turned at the corner of the yard the young woman noted how quiet it was. The abbey was quiet most of the time, but there was an uncanny stillness in the air to go along with the strange fog that utterly surrounded them. She heard no wind at all. There was no creak of branch against branch in the nearby trees. She would have described it as utter tranquility if she were not so terrified. It almost seemed that the very air itself swallowed up the sound of the scuffing of their feet and the swishing of their habits as they walked. The realization sent renewed shivers up her back and caused her to look over her shoulder for the foul beast that was surely ready to pounce upon and eat her. Of course the yard behind her was empty.

“Ooph!” she exclaimed as she collided with Sister Inga who had stopped behind the Prioress. “My apologies Sister…”

More words stuck in her throat as she saw the Mother had stopped next to the closed doorway of the wool carding house. She was just standing there, not moving, and Merewyn couldn’t understand why until her eyes wandered upward slightly. Sister Inga turned to address her directly and so did not see what had stopped the Mother in her tracks.

“That’s all right Sister Merewyn,” replied the older woman. “I’m a bit aflutter myself right now.”

Trying to offer her Sister the attention she deserved was almost impossible with her eyes drawn to the vision of the church spire, barely seen through the fog, surrounded by the ghostly apparitions floating along in the tendrils of fog. It was then that the young woman noticed that the other nun was also breathing rapidly and that her face was flushed and fearful in appearance. Knowing that she wasn’t the only one who was frightened somehow did not give Merewyn any relief or satisfaction. In fact, seeing the church enveloped in this frightful mist only enhanced her terror when she knew that there might be true reason to fear. She remembered one saying, among the many, that her mother was often repeating when she was a child. “When both dogs are growling,” her mother used to say. “You know for sure that something or someone is outside the door.” If Merewyn wasn’t the only one who was worried, then to her mind, that meant that there must be something to be truly worried about. It was what to be worried about that confused her so. What was this strange fog? What were those lights? What was happening? Was it everywhere? Or just here? God would protect the abbey. Wouldn’t He?

“What is it Sister?” asked Sister Inga when she saw that Merewyn wasn’t looking at her. Then she turned behind her and gasped in shock to see the church herself. “Oh!”

The Mother Superior raised her hands onto her hips and glared out into the strange fog as if by her grim gaze she could banish it back to where it had come from. The greenish lights moved through the cold blue fog unaffected by the Mother’s determined stare. It seemed to Merewyn that there were more lights than had been there only a few minutes before. Sister Inga clutched at her crucifix and her eyes goggled at the sight of the tendrils of fog twisting through the air. Merewyn saw how calm the Mother seemed to be and drew a sense of serenity from her example.

“Hmph,” grunted the Mother and pointed upward. “The lights move about but they only come so close to the slæperns. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my life.”

Merewyn’s eyes opened wide in some shock to hear the Mother say that. The Mother was OLD. She had to be at least fifty. To a young woman who had only seen sixteen summers that was very old. If the Mother had never seen anything like it then it had never happened as far as Merewyn was concerned. Despite her surprise at that knowledge the young woman also perceived what the Mother Superior had said. Indeed the lights seemed to stay at least two or three paces away from the slæperns while they moved freely about any of the other buildings. Though the fog itself seemed to be everywhere. A sudden realization dawned on her. The fog had even somehow filled the buildings themselves and the lights were avoiding coming close to any place that held another person. In fact she noticed now that the lights floated about their small group but came no closer than the Mother’s aforementioned two or three paces. She wanted to run but everywhere she looked there was the fog.

“Sister Inga, go with Sister Claudia,” commanded the Mother Superior. “Wake all of our sleeping Sisters softly, quietly and gently. I must go speak with the Abbot. He must be told about this if he hasn’t been already. I don’t want want anyone walking out in this alone, including myself, so Sister Merewyn will come with me. When you have gathered all of the Sisters bring them to the church. We will gather there and pray.”

Sister Inga’s eyes bulged and she looked to be on the verge of open disobedience. The subprioress stepped close with a face set in determination. Merewyn was sure that there was about to be a serious discussion about faith in God and obedience to His will as voiced by His earthly representative, but then a muffled sound emerged from the fog that caused them all to look out into the strange night. The young woman strained to see but the fog and the lights were so thick that it was impossible to see much more than ten paces. Then she smiled because even if she couldn’t see him she could recognize that deep voice.

Brother Ulfrick was a grey haired old man who, it was said, had been at the abbey his whole life. Merewyn thought he must be older than the Mother. It was rare that any of the nuns interacted with any of the men in the abbey across the large inner yard. Sometimes they would see the brothers as they tended the fields. Many times, while working in the gardens or sitting carding wool, she would hear him curse while he worked on one maintenance project or another. His language was often so colorful that it made her face turn red with embarrassment. Before long he would cross himself, fall to his knees and pray to God. It always made her laugh to see. Even considering only a few words had passed between them directly, Merewyn was very fond of the old Brother and his strange yet endearing way of loving God.

“Ah, Mother,” Ulfrick’s gravelly voice rumbled. “The Abbott has asked me to see you. He wishes to speak with you immediately, but I see that you were already on your way.”

“Yes I was,” she replied. “It is well that he is already awake. Sister Claudia, Sister Inga, do as I have said. Perhaps by the time that you have gathered our Sisters together and ensured that they are clothed properly I will have been able to get one of our brothers to set out a line of torches between here and the church.”

Without another glance the Mother strode past Brother Ulfrick and down the path towards the Abbott’s dwelling. He was the only one among all of them who had a house to himself. With a squeak Merewyn hopped forward before the Mother could disappear into the mists. Ulfrick only chuckled softly and turned to follow close behind.



slæpern- (Old English) Dormitory/sleeping quarters

matins- (Latin) Monastic nighttime liturgy. Approximately midnight.

Prioress- Title of office, just below Abbess or Abbot. Also referred to as Mother.

Subprioress- unofficial title. Assistant to the Prioress.