Shapers - Part 1 WIP

Deviation Actions

hesir's avatar

Literature Text

In the chill morning air the crude figure of a man is taking shape, his final form as yet unclear; he grimaces through his stick-stiff beard and visored-helm as he struggles to be born beneath the chisel blade and tempered blows of the woodwright’s mallet.

Small wooden flakes, little bits of not-man, fall like spinning seedpods from his unfinished body as it emerges from the thick, oak doorframe, descending gently to the ground where a large grey-muzzled hound lays half asleep, its heavy jowl pressed against the gently shuddering door surround.

The dog, undisturbed until now by the blows of the craftsman's hammer, suddenly lifts its head. Sniffing the air it lets out a grumbling whine, and with the reluctance of an old man struggles to its feet, dragging itself from the dim firelight of the house and into the foggy morning daylight that illuminates the Svear settlement.

The hound is no longer young, and his hips creak and grind like the spars of an abandoned ship on mornings like this. Yet as it pushes its still muscular frame into a run it feels a little of its past vitality return.

Heading down the dirt slope through the quickening village, it avoids the boardwalks where it can and scrabbles across them with great clawed feet where it cannot. Now with purpose, loping past a pair of young women burdened with water-pails, then leaping over an abandoned, yet still smoking camp fire, shoving its way past children and knocking into the early morning inhabitants; barking all the while as if to sound an alarm.

The animal seems to draw the eyes, cries and pointed fingers of the entire waking village, until finally, with nowhere left to run, it reaches the estuary shore and begins to whine and pace, stepping in and out of the water as if unable to contain itself, as if able to smell something coming in under the mist with the morning tide.

For the past few days, by the edge of the river and on the heath-land close to the low walled border of the village, a tented shanty town has been developing. A group of men, denizens of the various small encampments welcome a pair of new arrivals, a father and son who have arrived by land from the south in two covered wagons.

Smoke drifts across the ground from fires both in and outside of the other waking households. While below, by the waters edge, a dozen or so small boats are moored by several rough wooden jetties that stretch into the lapping water.

Three larger ships have been dragged onto the shingle beach, warships, long-ships, dragon-ships, their serpent headed prows stowed away so as not to offend the local spirits of river and shoreline. One of the three, still with its striped awnings pulled over its midsection has a light within, still showing signs of habitation.

Close by a group of children playing by the waters edge stop mid game, one of them points out the dog to his grandfather who leans on his staff gossiping with the washerwomen at the shoreline. Turning the old man nods and whispers to another young lad by his side, who runs back along the path taken by the frantic hound, away and up the slope he runs, toward a large house built upon the higher ground that lay a little way from the shore.

The house, in truth a meeting hall as much as a living space, dominates the settlement of Thingsalla, a settlement which stretches from the brow of a long low hillside in the east and down toward the edge of the wide river.

As the boy reaches the great longhouse a large heavy cloaked man checks his pace. The man, the shorter of two guards posted before the door to the house is armed with a spjot, a tall spear of ash tipped with a broad leafed blade. Shifting the weapon skilfully into the path of the youngster his cloak moves aside revealing a coat of mail and a sword hanging from a sheath slung across his broad chest. The boy points back to the old man by the water and with his assailant distracted, ducks beneath the spear of the disgruntled looking guard, disappearing inside.

Moments later the boy reappears from the doorway of the great hall, a huge, grey bearded and scar-faced man at his side whose mere presence causes the guards to straighten.

Hakon looks toward the river as the old man gestures to the dog with his staff, then shouts.

"The animal smells them… they’re coming!"

"And not before time." the Jarl mumbles under his breath.

Then giving the young boy a hearty smack on the shoulder, his voice booming, shouts.

"Send the word lads! Tovi and Bryn are down river!  Prepare the quayside, we must celebrate and honour our friends! TOVI AND BRYN ARE RETURNED TO US!

With that he strides back into his house.

The old man gestures excitedly to the children who run off in all directions echoing the cry of their chief.



From out of the various barrack houses close to the Jarl's longhouse a large group of hard faced men begin to emerge, rubbing the sleep from their faces with scarred and calloused hands. They greet each other and the morning with the usual curses and crude jokes of soldiers and then stand and watch the children run and shout.

Among them a tall, thick set man of about thirty years looks down river, he is dressed somewhat differently to his companions and bald but for a plaited lock of hair before each ear. Shielding his eyes from the glare of the early morning sun he turns to his companion.

"How does he know who comes?"

His companion, a cheerful looking man, and shorter than the first, is spooning a rough stew of vegatables and meat from a shallow dish into his mouth and beard. The steam from the stew and the mans breath belches out into the cold air as he answers.

"See there? It's the hound. 'Tis Bryn's own, too old for journeying he leaves it here. It senses his master long before we ever see him." Then gesturing to his bowl, "Come, eat something, there's still much to get done, and you'll be needing your strength today Yaros."

Several women, young and old who have been washing clothes beside the water get to their feet and stare into the mists that roll across the bend of the estuary that leads to the sea.

The dog now barks constantly, almost rhythmically, as if in time with the oars of a ship. While high on the hill beyond the Jarl's longhouse a lookout, stood before a large triangle of iron strung up in a wooden frame has spotted the first of the approaching ships and sounds the clanging clamouring alarm and shouts.


Then from out of the mist comes the sound of the oarsmen as they chant out the stroke of the oars, and as the first ships prow rounds the river-bend the gathering crowd begin to cheer and wave, some of the oarsmen stand and wave back. Then two more ships appear out of the mist, a little further behind the first.

The dog unable to wait any longer leaps into the water intent on reaching it's master first. Swimming up to the front of the lead boat the dog continues to bark, whilst trying to avoid swallowing the water.

A sailor standing at the rear of the first ship waves and shouts to the oars-men, and in unison the oars stop and are raised while three other crewmen lean over and pull the huge dog on board. Shaking itself dry it spatters the crewmen sending up a roar of laughter. Another order is given and the oars begin to dip rhythmically once more.

Several of the village’s youths strip off their shirts, and to the cheers of the women on the shore leap into the estuary, some vaulting from the jetties others from the bank itself.  Like the dog before them they swim out to the incoming vessels and are helped aboard, some are pushed off again in jest, some taking crew members with them.

As the ships approach the shore the captains shout their orders and the oars leave the water for the final time, with a practiced formality the sailors stow the oars and go about there various tasks, several from each vessel leap into the water thigh deep and help to beach the ships, while others leap ashore where they are welcomed by the townsfolk.

There will be much banter and reconciliation today.

Children play, excited by the new arrivals. One man, grizzled and fierce looking scoops up two small children, tears in his eyes and on his weather-worn face. Another meets a young woman, looming over her, he sizes her up as if she has changed her appearance, then heaves her over his shoulder and strides up the beach to the laughter of the crowd.

Yet another man steps ashore and is greeted by the old man who points out a ship further down the shore to him, he nods, spits and grunts a question and is then pointed to the encampment on the edge of the village. He heaves a large, ornately carved wooden chest onto his shoulder and strides away.

A fourth man, turns around after having his belongings - several large leather bags - thrown from the ship to where he stands on the shore, and is met by his whole family, an older man who must be his father grips him by the shoulders and greets him.

"Harek! it is good to have you home again."

Harek hugs and kisses them all in turn.

"It's good to be home."

Noticing the woman staring beyond him he turns to look across the river. In the distance, slowly being revealed as the sun burns away the morning mist, a wooden church takes shape, built in the shadow of a hill atop which an ancient standing stone presides. A group of people standing close to the church who have been watching the arrival of the ships turn and walk out of sight. Harek watches them go with an expression of distaste.

"I see those damned stick worshippers have usurped another standing stone. 'Tis time the laws put a stop to it."

Lifting one of the bags higher on his shoulder grunting with it's weight. "Is there any word on it?"

Harek's father rubs his beard nodding.

"Aye, much and nothing at the same time I am sorry to say. Gauti Sihtricson arrived two days ago with a group of native trappers from the far north, he said that no less than six weeks ago he travelled aboard a ship from Mercia to Kaupang upon which a Saxon priest freely ate, slept and walked amongst the Danish crew."

A short blonde man still aboard the ship throws another large bag down to Harek who catches it while still nodding and listening to his father’s news.

The blonde man leaps down from the ship and takes the bag from Harek clapping him on the back in a silent parting, Harek nods his response and returns his attention to his father.  

"He has heard much talk in the bigger towns, the Norwegians look set to convert wholesale beneath the heel of Trygvrrson, and I beleive that many have come here to discuss just that at the Thingmeet, but who knows how the council will go. There will be much to get through I fear... our lives are changing my son."

"And there is the funeral for Kolfrosta." The woman says not taking her eyes from the church.

Harek's father looks back at the church and shakes his head.

"Aye, her family began arriving two weeks ago. It will be a sad but honourable farewell, in the old way. As for these newcomers they are just one more dark turn on a much twisted path, but there can be no doubt that they have bedazzled the youths of Scallingsgar, they say they have twenty or thirty of them living up there. Your cousin Torgis lost his two daughters to them, he says they recognise him no longer. It is as if their faith turns them into distant shades."

The woman turns back to Harek, and reaches up to touch his face.

"The old shaper says that they fool themselves, that their gods where dead before they took up their aegis. Yet still they hang onto them like half weaned children hanging onto the strings of their dead mother’s aprons."

The group nod thoughtfully, then handing one of his bags to the eldest boy and picking up the little girl, Harek turns away from the river and moves up the shore. Nodding towards the ship, he turns to his father.

"We came by way of the Cimbri. The Watch there told us that the kings at Geismar in Hesse have also deigned to bow down to this one god of theirs, and that their demented priests have gone as far as to destroy the last of the Donares Eih... the great oak shrines and their fires are being extinguished, one by one.

A passing sailor in chain-mail carrying a large wooden box, filled with rolls of paper, as well as the usual loot claps Harek on the back, laughing.

"They're nothing but pawns of the Carolingian imperialists Harek!... Puppets of those Gaulish horse eaters."

Harek laughs back as the large sailor continues to expound.

"…And when their expansionist's need for Christian allies has passed, Charlamagne's killers will murder them in their beds soon enough."

"You've spent to much time in the company of Miklagards political scribblers Bosi, you're beginning to sound like one of their damn lawyers." Laughs Harek.

Bosi's eyes widen in mock offence, then grinning replies.

"Good! Good! Then maybe if I should ever lose my way in the mountains, the wolves I meet there will leave me be, thinking I am one of their own."

Bosi's remark is met with more laughter. Harek's father turns to him and says.

"Aye ‘tis a great sadness Charlamagne and his damn priests bring on us, a great sadness. But enough, come let us mark your return, Maccus is here. He arrived not half an hour since by land, and he has with him the finest ale brewed outside of Gladsheim."


Within a reasonable sized domestic dwelling a middle aged woman heaves a cooking pot into place on a hook and chain above a flaming hearth in the centre of the room, she is helped by a young girl of around twelve. Behind her another slightly older girl, dressed in much simpler clothes than the others, is skinning and preparing a pair of rabbits with professional ease. The morning light streams through the door opening, where Aesa a girl of about seventeen stares longingly at all of the activity and bustle down by the estuary.

"Bryn is so very handsome." Then turning to her mother "...Don't you think?"

Aesa’s mother’s house sat about halfway up the hillside and Aesa gazes towards the Jarl's longhouse then back to the shore, where Bryn is being carried into the town on the shoulders of a gang of young men, his hound barking at their heels.

"I think you think too much, and do too little," chides Aesa's mother.

As Aesa watches, two of the young men who where swimming have broken away from the group of new arrivals and run dripping wet back towards their own house on the sloping land to her left.

"Come now Aesa... there'll be plenty of time for your longing looks and sighing at the Jarls feast this evening," says her mother while uncovering a basket store of vegetables. "Help your sister help me finish the morning’s chores and I'll see to it that your father takes us down to see the traders setting out their stalls tonight."

The youngest sister grins broadly at her elder sister who seems satisfied with her mother’s bribe, but turns back for one last look at the shoreline before giving a sigh and turning to take a string of vegetables from her mother. The younger girl is visibly excited at the thought of the evening to come.

"Will we see the horse fights?" She asks.

Her mother looks scandalised at the suggestion.

"I'm not sure that you will my girl, your father would certainly have something to say about it I'm sure."

Just then an old, yet still vital, man appears in the doorway carrying two large pails of water on a pole across his shoulders.

"I'll take you to see the horse fights young Bekkhild." He sets down the water and grins at his granddaughter.

"You'll do no such thing father." Bekkhild's mother wags a stern finger at the old man. "The last thing we need is a repeat of her fishing trip."

The older man ruffles the girl’s hair as she takes up one of the pails, several strands of hair fall across her face which she proceeds to try and blow out of the way, her hands full with the water bucket.  The old man straightens and stretches his back.

"Aye, well that was a long time ago... She's older now and..."

"...that's as may be," interrupts Bekkhild's mother "But I still won't have her gallivanting around a sailors camp and gambling on animal fights."

"But Thora, the girl's a charm. She has the luck of the gods with her."

"Well I'm afraid father, you and the other old men of the town, will just have to find another talisman."

As his daughter turns away the grandfather looks at Bekkhild and pulls a face as if his plan has been rumbled. Bekkhild pouts and pours the water into the cooking pot. As the water hits the heating pot it hisses and sputters, steam rising to fill the room.


Not far away in another house, a little shabbier and the home of the two young men who ran from the beach, Karl stares out of the doorway towards Aesa's house.

"I think she was watching us... She must have seen us swim out to the boats."


"Aye." Karl slumps against the door frame rolling around until he is leaning with his back to it.  He balls up his fists and grips his temples between them. "She makes me so I can't catch my breath."

Eric throws a blanket or cloak at his brother while drying himself on his own.

"Frey's cock, man!, you swoon about like a maid... No wonder father wanted you out of his house, the shame of it eh? He has enough trouble with his six real daughters, let alone the village wags making noises that he has a seventh."

Karl throws his cloak back at his brother. Eric shrugs off the blow and tosses the cloak back to his brother who begins to dry his hair with it. Then draping it about his shoulders he steps out of the door and pressing a finger to each side of his nose in turn blows the snot from his nostrils then steps back into the house.

"If you want her, for pity's sake go up and tell her, and quit subjecting me to your poets whinging."

Karl is still looking over at the house higher up the hill.

"I wouldn't be able to speak... her beauty addles my brain."

Eric laughs.

"Ha! Your brain was addled long before you laid eyes on Purse Oskrudson's daughter."

Walking toward his brother he kicks aside a broken stool.

"Aye, well, maybe you're right." He points at the state of the room. "To have moved into this boar-pit with you brother... 'tis plain I was starvling-dog mad."

Grabbing his brothers ear he twists him around.

"If my boar-pit offends your poets behind, perhaps you'd better sleep in the boat tonight, eh? Go on get yourself fed. There is bjórr and some spiced fish left over from yesterday. We've a mast to mend."


At the edge of the trader’s encampment that continues to grow on the borders of the settlement stands a large tent, a dozen or so men occupy the dimly lit space, old men, merchants and young warriors, eating and drinking on their feet, in a business like atmosphere. The centre of attention is a tall man in his thirties.

The rough table set up in the middle of the tent is dominated by the large wooden chest, around it are various maps, trinkets and silver drinking vessels. Several candles and an oil-burner all lumped together on the table provide the flickering light. One of the older men turns to his neighbour, his eyebrows raised.

"A slaver?"

"Aye... out of Dublin."

"Wrought silver?"

"No doubt..."

"Hmm?... Mabye I should meet with this friend of yours... What say you Ragnar? Irish Silver? We could run north for skins, then drag the lot East to Samarkand."

Ragnar shuffles his hand through the maps on the table and replies without looking up.
"Maybe... If the price is right... I have business up river, but there is no reason I couldn't join up with you on your way back from Samland."

An old man in the group turns to the tall sailor.

"And you my friend, will you be setting out again after the Thingmeet is settled?"

"No, I intend to stay awhile. My kin have need of me and I have missed the feel of land beneath my feet, besides 'tis time I made some long-overdue repairs to the Sea-Raven, and I promised Bjarkmar and Auti Oswulfson three seasons ago to help with the building of their second ship."

"'tis hard work." said the old man.

"Aye" said the tall man, "...but less bloody."

Laughter fills the tent...

"I'm not so sure..." Said the old man smiling. "Young Auti can be as clumsy as a three legged foal... I'd keep your mail-gloves with you, if you want to count to more than seven on your fingers."

More laughter.

Suddenly a chain-mailed arm is thrust through the tent flap, followed by a helm covered head. It is the guard from the longhouse, he nods approvingly then disappears. The group in the tent draw themselves up to their full height as the tent flap is thrown back and the sun is blotted out as a figure stoops, filling the entrance momentarily, then stands.

The Jarl of Thingsalla, Hakon Grimmrson.

An uneasy silence falls over the group, until, looking at the Tall Sailor, the Jarl speaks.

"And so, what have you for us this time pirate?"

The tall sailor’s eyes widen.

"Pirate is it? Maybe I should leave this damned chest unopened, and sail up river some more to a place where the Jarl knows how to welcome his bloody guest?"

Growling the Jarl responds...

"Aye, maybe you should at that." he pauses then finishes the thought "...little brother."

A moment of silence, then they both burst into laughter and hug, a joyous reunion after a long separation.

"It is good to see you safe and well Tovi." says the Jarl in a low voice, then to the whole tent, "There will be a feast tonight in your honour that will rival the eating boards of the Danish Kings."

Tovi Grimmrson gives his elder brother a sideways glance.

"...and wine?"

"Brought in from Gaul by Maccus Hairybreeks himself, especially for your return... I haven't forgotten your sensitive palate."

Laughter again fills the tent as Tovi tries to shrugs the remark off. Then the mood shifts as the two brothers look at each other. The Jarl's eyes drop and a rueful expression falls across his face, and Tovi puts a hand on his brother's shoulder.

"Brother I..."

"I know little brother... There is much I would say... but let us save those words until after the feasting... For now I am just grateful to have you back at my side."

The Jarl draws in a long breath, and seemingly with it a brightening of his mood.

"Now come, let us see what you have uncovered in the East eh?" He pauses, eagerly scanning his younger brothers face for a sign. "Did you...?"

Tovi's face is unreadable then he breaks into a grin...

"Aye brother..."

"Damn you Tovi, then what are you waiting for."

Tovi throws back the lid of the chest and gestures to his brother to help himself.

The Jarl, with a child like glee, rakes through the gleaming contents of the horde. He sorts through the various trinkets, disregarding even the most jewelled and golden of them as seemingly worthless. At last he comes across two caskets, one wooden, and one of lead inlaid with bronze and silver. Slowly he raises them up to examine them in the half light of the tent.

"Great Freya’s dug’s man! You found them?"

"…and exactly where you said they would be."

The Jarl places the two caskets on the table, looks at them in turn and then reaches out and picks up the wooden one. One of the other occupants of the tent leans over to look at the box.

"What does the inscription say."

The Jarl traces his hand over the writing on the boxes lid, an inscription written in Latin, Greek and Futhork… Then as if remembering the words rather than reading, he recites.

"Negotium Perambulans In Tenebris… 'That which moves in darkness!'... This is it, just as the old shaper described."

He looks to his brother half for approval, half for a sign that the casket still has its contents intact, and after a nod opens the casket with mixture of childlike excitement and great reverence. Lying inside is a razor sharp, perfectly triangular serrated tooth, about 5 finger breadths along all sides.

"My lord... what is it?" asks one of the other men.

"Tis a great tooth is it not?" says another sailor. "Yet I have never seen such a fang. Not even in the maw of the great white bears."

The Jarl turns, his eyes never leaving the tooth.

"It is more than just a tooth my friend. It is a great relic of elder days, a shard of a myth, drawn from a wooden beam. That, and a gift. A long overdue gift, from an arrogant and hasty child, to his wise and patient tutor."

He then closes the box and rounds on his brother placing his hand on the second casket. "The leaden casket?... It has remained sealed?... No one has opened it?"

"No one..." replies Tovi "Just as you asked.

"Good, good... You have done a great service to me Tovi... and I fear that as long as I live brother, I may never be able to repay you this debt." He places his hand on his brothers shoulder. "Thankyou."

Tovi a concerned look on  his face steps toward his brother.

"Hakon, will you not tell me wh..."

But the Jarl stayed his tongue.

"All in good time little brother, all in good time..."

For all the in and outs of what this is about take a look at this... [link] It should explain the general idea...

I'm nervous... This is still very much a work in progress... The only part of this I'm happy with so far is the opening paragraph and even that needs work... The whole peice (that's the whole peice not just the bit of it badly represented here) is about the act of creation and the responsibility that goes with it, along with the hybridisation of ideas and the selling of them on as original truth...

Jesus that sounded "wanky", but there y'go...

Okay so this is my first run through of converting my "Shapers" project from my "loose script" format to prose proper...

Some of you may have seen it in my scraps... I thought I'd put it up here in the hope that someone would tear into it, and give me some ideas as how to move forward, as I really want to get this going now (along with all the other stuff I'm supposed to be working on).




"SHAPERS - The Ballad of Cahain"


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.

~T.S.Eliot (from Little Gidding)


My narrator's eye is a raven's eye,
all seeing, yet you see me not.
From a cloud perch I see the scurrying vole,
the lovers and the dying dog.
Tearing these fleshy fragments from the bones of the world
and returning them to the single eyed mind
that guides my recording hand.

~ Vedis of Ingholm (This Raven's Eye)

Part One - "Arrivals"
© 2005 - 2023 hesir
Join the community to add your comment. Already a deviant? Log In
tinder's avatar
You spelled believe wrong at some point....
But I want to know whats in the 2nd box damn it! And about the rambling i would say for me just here and there I would take out a couple of descriptive words... like "several strands of hair fall across her face which she proceeds to try and blow out of the way" needn't be so long. "causing hair to fall in her face which she tries to blow out of the way" or " Bekkhild's hair falls in whisps down her face as her father ruffles it playfully and as he hands are full with the water bucket she blows her hair out of the way."

I dunno.

Anyway.. it rambles no more of less than some other published authors I have read. I would say that it takes more concentration to read it and I have a tendancy to skim read... but I love the careful descriptions, specially of the dog.

look forward to more ..... and it's definatly good...