Vikings and Witches and History--oh my! [Upcoming IP teaser!]
September is here, and good god, where has the year gone? This monthly blog just makes me forcibly cognizant of the passage of time, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. At least fall is on its way and cool weather along with it—as well as my yearly patreon event! Only one more month until I start rolling out my new novella over there for all patrons. I’ve still got another forty-odd pages left to write, but I’m well on schedule and looking forward to unleashing Carnival, a demonic masquerade fever-dream, onto people. It’s been a blast to write so far, and I think it’ll be even more fun to read.
Consider joining us by pledging at least $1 by October to get access to each chapter as it drops every week. You’ll also get access to so many completed novellas and book-length works from past events and serializations on top of our ongoing serialized work Apotheosis, the prequel to Letifer. The support means the world to me, and the more, the merrier!
For this month’s blog, I’ve decided to continue on in the vein of teasing future works, though in this particular case, it may be a throwback as well as a first look. Those who have kept up with me since my early fanfiction days may recall a story I wrote for a big bang event called Aubade. I’ve always intended to turn it into a full-length book, and I’m happy to report that its time to shine is nigh. To give everyone a refresher—or a sneak peek, if you aren’t familiar with this particular old work—let’s take another look at Aubade, a Norse historical fantasy!
I hope you take note of how I describe this story: Norse historical fantasy. Not romance. Not erotica. That isn’t to say this story doesn’t involve traces of both of those things; Aubade does have a sex scene and there is a main character and what could, in the loosest terms possible, be considered a love interest. Just as I put in the author’s note when I first posted it back in 2016 though, I do not consider Aubade romance. It was always intended to be a treatise of a sort, one commenting on toxic masculinity in Old Norse culture, and in part, our own. It follows the story of Sindri, a male völva, as he finds himself strong-armed into curing a mysterious blight ravaging Jarl Iarund’s lands. For those unaware, a völva is a Norse magic-user, a witch for lack of a better term, but one highly respected within a community and relied upon for matters of wisdom, health, and war. The problems Sindri faces from the get-go are related to his gender—in this culture, magic holds a sacred space, but one reserved only for women. The story begins with him imprisoned, awaiting execution for the crime of wielding magic when it isn’t his domain. In any other world, any other situation, the Jarl would see someone like Sindri drowned in the nearest bog. The only problem is, the blight afflicting his lands is clearly caused by magic, and its targets begin with each village’s völva before spreading to the rest in turn.
Sindri is the only magic-wielder left, and Iarund can’t afford to be picky when his rival—smelling weakness—is all but scratching at his door.
I initially came up with the concept of this work after receiving a bevy of asks from a Norwegian fan on tumblr. She was curious if I’d ever heard of völvas before—specifically about how they were known to perform sex-magic during some of their rituals—and asked if I’d ever consider writing something in a similar vein. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the term. To be honest, I wasn’t all that familiar with Norse mythology in general, and my history courses only ever touched on Scandinavia in passing, though some of my medieval courses included talk of vikings and their exploits (as well as my Old English class where we translated the eternity of Beowulf into modern English, but that’s neither here nor there). It was an interesting, unique concept and one that invited a lot of research to execute. I adore both of those things, and given I had a big bang event coming up, I found it the perfect prompt for what would, in turn, become the 90 page-long angst-bomb known as Aubade.
And boy, was it angst-y. There are only a few fics I’ve written that have inspired the emotional response Aubade earned me, but even with those existing, Aubade definitely occupies a league of its own just for the sheer amount of comments I got begging me to change the ending whenever I ended up turning it into a full book. So many people wanted this story to be a romance when it just flat-out couldn’t be one. I’m sorry to disappoint them, but it still won’t be one when I throw it on the rewrite block early next year. It’s going to be the next patreon serialization, and it’s going to be just as painful an experience as it was the first go-around, just this time with another five or so chapters and a more impactful final arc. If you’d like to read the old version, go take a gander at my Ao3; it’s still up there, and even though I find it woefully old, bad, and immaturely written, I think it’ll at least serve as a good indicator of the tone and type of story it’ll be. The ending won’t change—that’s a promise. Just the way we get there.
Even with this story set to be as emotionally grueling for me to write as it will be for you guys to read, I can’t help but be excited to dive into it. I’ve attempted some re-reads of it here and there, but every time I try to read it in full, I fail. I just… cringe so badly when I read it now, and it’s not necessarily just from my antiquated writing. Like I said before, I find it very immaturely handled. I know when I posted it that many people enjoyed it, and I have several close friends who have no problem telling me when I’ve fucked something up who, upon first reading it, praised it highly for the way I handled the heavy themes, but… God, I just don’t see it now. I could have kept things subtler. I could have handled things more deftly. A lot of it was just my inexperience showing through, and I think that’s what keeps me looking ahead at what a great story this could be now that I’m older and better equipped to convey the heavy tones it holds. I don’t want people to leave this book wishing things had been more romantic—I want people to close the book and understand the theme I always intended it to have: sometimes, fate has other plans, and sometimes all you can do is go your separate ways. Some people aren’t meant to be together. In another world, in another time, maybe, but right now? Right now, it’s not meant to be. And that’s okay.
This may be the one story I don’t feel bad about giving the ending away for. To be honest, I want people to know how it ends. It can only end, in my mind, this singular way, and the journey really is the important thing. I won’t tell you what all happens in the inbetween, but I want people to know this story doesn’t end well, but it doesn’t end badly either. It’s meant to be bittersweet, and I feel like that’s an ending you don’t see enough in works like these. In so many stories the characters treat one another horribly and still end up together by the time the movie reaches its credit sequence. If there’s one thing watching a lifetime’s worth of straight romances has taught me, it’s that just being hot and involved in a shared crisis is not the bedrock for a long-lasting relationship. Sure, you’ve saved the world, but do you really think you’re going to last longer than a month without the threat of shit exploding gluing you together? Especially after he did like, the worst shit imaginable in the first half of the movie?
I can’t pretend Aubade is like any movie Hollywood’s made, at least to my admittedly thin movie knowledgebase. These issues go beyond a character’s inherent personality flaws. Redemption arcs are all well and good, but when the issues reside on the societal level, there’s only so much you can do, you know? A person can change, but the person they have to be for the world at large isn’t nearly as malleable. Iarund can be a bad guy. I know he can be a better one, but he won’t, because he can’t, and I’m not willing to forgive him enough for what he could be to change the ending to suit a fairytale cliche.
I know I may be in the minority when I willingly embrace bittersweet endings, but I need to see it in my fiction every now and again. Sometimes you need to acknowledge that the world can be unjust and unfair, and that fairytales don’t actually exist to erase the issues we so glaringly see at the beginning of each story we embark on. Seeing a character survive the unjustness and walk away from it, changed but uncowed, disappointed but buoyed by the realization that there’s more for me out there, better things, and I can still move towards them even though it hurts to walk away… That’s a valuable lesson too, in its own way. It’s more realistic, and I hope people will be able to empathize with Sindri throughout this story because of that.
To be honest, it almost feels like kismet, bringing this story out of the vault right now. I sort of feel like a band going through a new marked “phase.” I had my fae phase, my drow phase, and now we’re in the midst of my “tragic lead witch/vampire” phase, though the latter half of that isn’t so much of a quantifiable output as a behind-the-scenes slow-burn that will be paying dividends as soon as these long-ass books are completed. The first half, however, is where Sindri firmly falls. Someone should really start a support group for my severely maligned witch-boys who keep finding themselves in terrible situations with men who aren’t good for them physically or mentally. My editor will likely be the one to lead the charge—they tell me almost weekly how horrible I am/was to Rehan and Thierry. Adding Sindri to the mix won’t make that much of a difference in their tirades.
But anyway, I suppose I’ll take the time now to tell you some more about our two leads. I’m not too sure what else to talk about in regards to this story beyond that—the fic version is available to the public, and if you’re really curious about the overall premise, it’s there for you right now. The characters, at least, have seen development since Aubade was merely fanfiction, not just some shining new names. Sindri, our woebegotten hero, is a male völva, as I said before. We’ll start with him.
The name Sindri means “sparkling,” which I found rather cute, and he came by his trade by learning it from his mother, a well-respected völva who passed away a few years before the start of Aubade. Sindri has been traveling from the moment he could walk, and running from society’s prejudice almost just as long. He’s noticeably foreign-looking. His father was likely a slave from the West. In almost every way, Sindri is “othered,” and when he isn’t being gawked at for that, he’s being maligned for the great power residing with him instead.
Sindri is probably one of the strongest people in the land, even before the plague took the other völva out. The sad thing is, it doesn’t matter. Throughout the story we explore the old Norse concept of “ergi” and how it directly relates to Sindri’s horrible situation. Like I said before, Aubade is a treatise on toxic masculinity within this culture. Back then, the concept of “manliness/masculinity” was paramount. It meant courage both on and off the battlefield, and, ultimately, a willingness to defend one’s honor, even if it resulted in death. There was a social hierarchy to things much as there is now, and well-defined social rings specific groups of people were meant to occupy. A man’s place was on the battlefield, defending hearth and home. A woman’s place was within the home, or in the case of völvas, alongside the battlefields—in many ways, magic was a form of power women could exert without worry, and it was a point of social standing if they were knowledgeable of such things. But only for women.
For a man to occupy a woman’s place was for a man to physically put himself in the position of a woman. For a man to dabble in magic, it was akin to becoming a woman. Debasement into a woman’s role was one of the worst offenses a man could suffer. If it were a willing debasement, that was a crime against society worthy of death.
There are accounts of male völva being drowned in bogs, laden down with sticks to keep them from surfacing so that the men doing the drowning wouldn’t have to touch them. There are accounts from an old saga of a male völva who was beaten and then burned inside a building when a band of warriors caught him practicing magic. To be considered “agyr” (a conjugated form of “ergi”) was just about the worst insult a man could suffer, and it was so great an offense that the accused could challenge the accuser outright and kill him in response to prove that the claim was false. If the claim was found true, it reduced one in society to the level of a woman, or worse. I recall one source specifically stating that it was akin to being viewed as an animal meant only for breeding, and despite what tumblr history posts will try to tell you, homosexuality was not a well-accepted thing among vikings. To be a passive partner in a homosexual relationship was, again, to willingly debase oneself into a female role. These men were also considered guilty of “ergi.” Dominant partners, however, were not—there’s nothing more masculine than reducing another man in status, evidently, and while I’m positive relationships where this dynamic wasn’t the case exist, the overarching societal perception isn’t as kind.
But this post isn’t meant to be an info-dump on vikings and what not, even if it does allow me to dabble in my degree. Back to the matter at hand: Sindri experiences a lot throughout the story. We find him wasting away in a frigid prison cell, half-starved, abused, and fresh from the betrayal of a village he thought was grateful for the magical help he’d offered them. He is a character abundantly aware of his place in the world and bitterly cognizant of the fact that capture likely means death for him. Still, he is proud of who he is, what he can do, and where he came from. Odin, the All-Father, uses magic—something no one seems to think about when they disparage him for doing the same. There’s a nobility in him that transcends his situation, and I really respect him as a character for how he refuses to fall into the hatred so many people have for him and his kind. He’s kind through it all to those who need kindness most.
Those who have read the old story know this abundantly well. (There’s an MVP in this story that needs no introduction. Coming fresh off my Tempest books, I recall a friend telling me that if I kept putting animal companions in my work I’d get typecasted. The thing is… if Moop wasn’t in this book, it’d be unreadable. Suffice to say, she’ll make it into this extended cut. The world needs her. The world needs Moop.)
Now, for our not-really-a-love-interest, let’s talk a little about Iarund. My memory’s a little foggy on what his name means—I picked out the names like, four or five years ago, and I’m not sure I ever wrote it down. Also, I’m writing this at 12:06 a.m., so I doubt that’s helping things much either. I believe it means “battle-worn” or something to that effect, and he’s the Jarl in our viking not-romance. He’s a quintessential one at that. He believes in the core values this society holds in the highest regard. He defends his territory and cares about his people, and even though he absolutely reviles Sindri and what his existence stands for, he understands that the only chance he has at maintaining his kingdom resides in suffering to let Sindri live—at least, just as long as it takes to cure the curse-plague. Though his men don’t agree with him, Iarund is the sort to see the bigger picture. As dedicated as he is to his beliefs, he is willing to put them aside when the situation needs it—though his prejudice is still loud, regular, and readily exacerbated by the men who look to him as the pinnacle example they all try to follow.
Iarund is a symbol more than a man with desires of his own. He’s a reflection of those around him, and in turn, society. He’s also the worst sort of man while he’s at it. I’m sure you all know the type, the one who is only kind when no one else is looking. The one who makes a show of knocking the books out of your hands when his buddies are around but returns one you missed once they’ve moved on to other targets. He has the capacity to be a better man, but not the flexibility in his position to allow that sort of “weakness” to color him. He’s the man who you hate and can’t help but hate yourself even more for hoping that he’ll get better as the story goes on. And the terrible thing is, he does. He’s not a bad person. I truly believe that. But the world won’t let him show it. It’d need to be changed too much for one man alone to instigate, and we learn in this story just how weak a Jarl actually is.
Because Iarund is the weak one in this story. He’s weak because he can’t be free like Sindri is. He has to live within society’s dictated structure, he has to follow its plan to the letter or risk everything he’s built. Toxic masculinity hurts more than those it targets; it also prevents men from engaging with their emotions in healthy ways, from letting them be soft, vulnerable, or fragile. Sindri can seek comfort while Iarund can’t. This isn’t a story about how terrible men are—it’s a story about how terrible the concept of toxic masculinity is for those who have to live with it, men, women, and everyone in between.
To be honest, I don’t expect a lot of people to like this book. I already know I’m going to have to have a disclaimer on the sales page, my website, and likely inside the book as well reminding people what sort of story this actually is. The ones who liked the old version are the ones I’m hoping will appreciate this the most. It’s never been meant to be a feel-good book. You’ll probably cry while reading it. You’ll definitely curse out Iarund and be upset—maybe even triggered—by the actions of his men. If you aren’t a cis man, it’s likely going to be a difficult read at times because so much of Sindri’s experience resonates with the afab/gender non-conforming experience at large. I just hope that those who give it a chance get something positive out of the whole thing, and if that’s asking too much, then at least understand my intentions behind writing it and picking the themes I chose to explore.
I feel like a lot of the work I’m putting out right now has taken a bit of a darker tone than the stuff that came before. I can’t pretend like the Tempest and Duskriven books didn’t have their fair share of dark content—I’m far too fond of putting my characters through the wringer to claim I’ve got clean hands as it is—but the content in Infaust, Ossuary, and soon Aubade are definitely Dark as a genre type. To be honest, I can’t really say why that is. Infaust was dreamt up and written years ago. Same with Aubade. Ossuary is newer, but still an idea from pre-2020. Perhaps we really are just entering the Dark Phase of my publication period, but I do hope you guys know better than to judge this phase as the new normal. I’ve always been, and continue to be, a firm believer in eclectic tones, eclectic genres, and the overarching goal of writing at least one thing for every palate. Lighter things are on the way—need I remind you of the Vigilante trio? And Carnival is much closer in tone to some of the Duskriven stuff than anything else.
There’s still so much more on the way. I really hope you’re all excited for it, and that you give Aubade a chance if you feel up to it—and if not, seriously, no hard feelings. I’m happy to just have you wait for the story after it, and for the continued trust that better is always on the way.
Now, let’s turn things over to some questions. Since Aubade was previously published, there are several die-hard fans who have sought me out just to ask about the rewrite process, and therefore, there are many readers familiar with it and brimming with questions on what might happen or be included in the full version. I’ll try to keep things spoiler-free as much as I can—at least in regards to major spoilers.
Questions come from Instagram and private messages this time!
I’m curious about the historical context of Aubade’s magic topic. Which sources did you use for it? And was there a model or some other inspiration for Sindri’s personality? He is very different from Chrollo’s personality.
Good questions! I can’t pull sources for you at the moment given they’re on my old laptop and buried beneath several years’ worth of other documents, but I’ll definitely have them dug up when it comes time to begin work on this story again. Off the top of my head, I recall reading through several scholarly articles found via my college’s JSTOR account (ah, the perks of having student access to those databases! I miss it terribly), general searches online for open-sourced documents related to the concept of “ergi” which thankfully referenced male magic users to some extent as it was a fairly egregious crime when it came to that term, and a few Old Norse sources that hadn’t been translated for some reason? But that I’d brought to my Old English professor and puzzled our way through together to make sense of the stuff.
There’s also, of course, our good friend Drømde mik en drøm i nat from the Codex Runicus, the oldest known secular song in the Norse world. I stumbled upon that while researching as well as it’s believed to have been sung by a völva to her lover out at sea. That’s what encouraged me to name the story Aubade in the end. I’m a sucker for tragic shit and it just fits far too well to pass up.
But beyond that, like I said before, there really is precious little to be found on this topic. There’s an alright-amount of information on female völva, but very little on male ones. A lot of my research only told me what about the typical female völva, and from there I had to extrapolate what the experience of a male one would be like. Also, never google “Viking Sex Magic” in hopes of learning about traditional völva rituals. You will not find what you are looking for, and it will not be a fun experience! As with most magic in my work, it is mostly made up. Magic is real in this world, so it’s a little difficult to apply it to historical things that, you know, weren’t actually magical. I just tried to incorporate the culture as much as I was able and hoped it all translated well in the story itself.
I intend to do a lot more renewed research once we hit 2023 to refresh myself on all of the information out there, and I know I have a few people (German speakers, believe it or not) who have offered their services in researching and translating some German works on viking culture for me, as they believe the scholarship in that language is a bit more robust than what I’ve got available to me in English. We shall see if anything comes from that. Either way, I’m just excited for a new research project. It’s been entirely too long since my last one.
As for your other question, I don’t think I have any model for Sindri’s personality in particular. I tend to write with a set amount of archetypes that I change up based on the story at hand. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Rehan, Thierry, and now Sindri are all very thematically similar. They are all outcasts with their backs against a wall being forced to react to a bad situation as it grows worse in hopes of keeping their heads above water. I think the big difference between Sindri and Chrollo is that Chrollo is almost never out of his depth. Sindri, in contrast, is by design always struggling to stay afloat.
I really enjoy writing protagonists like this because they are very easy to get behind and root for. You feel a much deeper kinship with them because they are only doing what they have to in order to survive, and if they manage to be kind despite that, as Sindri will be (not Rehan or Thierry though lol), you just root for them even more and feel proud of them for keeping their humanity when it would have been so much easier to throw it away. I know Sindri will change from how he was portrayed when he was still just Chrollo in the fanfic. He’s going to undergo a lot of personality tweaks and some alterations, but I want him to end up kind at the end of this. He defends himself and those he thinks need defending, and he never strikes out unless provoked. He’s stronger than Iarund and all of his men combined—still, he only wields his power to help others. He’s living proof that kindness can be more powerful than any sword, even if society refuses to believe that. Even if the proof is right in front of them too!
Am I allowed to forcefully put them in a happy relationship in my mind? Yes or yes?
Seems to me like you’ve rigged this little quiz XD I mean, more power to you if you choose to think of it like that. You wouldn’t be the only one to do that, going off the comments on the fic itself. A lot of people begged me to give the full version a happy, romantic ending or cursed me out for not letting them get together, but if you’re able to look past Iarund’s shortcomings and still want him to win Sindri’s love at the end of this, then by all means, daydream away. Personally, I don’t want them to be together, but that’s why fandom exists. The world is your oyster, and your headcanons are always valid.
Why do you make us suffer like this?
So you know what it means to be happy.
Really though, I do it because sometimes I get tired of writing nice things and I want to dust off other emotions and have my fun that way. Writing is all about evoking emotions in the reader. They don’t always have to be good feelings, and I find it cathartic to indulge in heavy concepts like this so I don’t get bored by writing the same thing over and over again. As always, I do try to give people notice before they read my work if it’s going to be intense content, but I think you guys pick up the stuff because you know it’s going to make you feel things you wouldn’t have felt otherwise. You’re still here waiting for the rewrite, so I gotta imagine you enjoyed the suffering XD
Here’s to the pain, and may your tears always fill my goblet to the brim!
Can Moop get her own spin-off series?
Now this is a fun question! While I firmly believe Moop is deserving of one and would be one hell of an animal childrens’ show star, no, I have no plans to make a Moop spin-off. That’s probably because I don’t know how to write something like that. What I do know though is that I always mulled over the idea of having an Aubade sequel/spiritual sequel stand-alone, one involving actually giving Sindri a happy ever after with someone who could accept him and be with him without anything getting in the way. It either involved another male völva or a traveling mercenary coming across Sindri in the woods where he eventually made his home, either by accident or on purpose. If it was on purpose, the warrior would be there to ask for a spell, and if by accident, he would have been injured on the road and Sindri would have felt honor bound to lend him aid, even if aiding him did invite potential betrayal or exposure once he went on his way. Moop at that point would have become Sindri’s familiar and would always be a little lamb.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to writing this—to be honest, Aubade doesn’t really NEED a sequel, and I’m not convinced making one wouldn’t lessen the impact it holds by ending the way it does—but it was a thought I had and would be the closest thing Moop could get to a spin-off of her own. Who knows though. It may become a completely different story with new characters in the future. I’m currently hitting a point where I need to come up with some future story ideas, and this may be revisited at some point. Keep an eye out, I suppose. Perhaps this post teases two future IPs for the price of one XD
But anyway, that’s it for this month. Hopefully you guys found this… fun? I say the word “fun” a lot when it comes to things that probably aren’t very fun. Maybe “edifying” is the word I should use instead? Either way, I hope it whet your whistle for this story if it is indeed something you are interested in reading. As it currently stands, we’re set to wrap up on Apotheosis in… April, I think, of 2023 over on patreon. That means that May should bring with it not only flowers, but the first chapter of Aubade, too. Consider joining us for it then, or hop on now and join us for Carnival in October. If you like lovesick demons, 2008-era Goths, and infernal masquerades, it’s definitely a story you won’t want to miss <3
As always, until next time!