I’m working on a children’s novel called Cadric and the Devil though I’m thinking of changing the title to just Cadric. It’s set in an alternative version of our world on an island called Bridain (I used to call it Beredain but changed it so it more obviously echoed Britain). It tells the story of a young boy, Cadric, who has a withered arm and leg, a crooked spine and is hated by his father, a famous warrior called Ufric of the Dale. But one day a/the devil comes and takes Cadric’s sister. Only Cadric can bring her back and so he leaves the only life he has ever known and goes out into a world of norki, dragons, the mysterious fain, changelings, pillaging northmen, talking beasts and a strange and powerful stone.
Cadric and the Devil isn’t just a stand alone story, it’s the story of a character from a series of books I’ve been plotting. A genesis story. Those books are called The Never Stone Tales and are set in Bridain a few hundred years after Cadric’s story.
The first book is called Bloodstone. It tells the story of Becca, a young girl who has lived all her life as a dreg in the Skrell pits. The Skrell are goblin-like creatures who have over-run the northern county of Bridain, Skurran (equivalent to Scotland) and use slaves or dregs to mine the earth for steelstone and fellstars, one to make weapons, one to grow rich. Becca and her brother Jimm are dregs but where Becca is strong and resilient, Jimm is weak and sickly. Ten years before the time of Bloodstone there was a war in Bridain. The warlocks, wielders of powerstones, led the darkborn (skrell, smalltrolls, dragons, gobbets, giants, ghouls etc) against those without power and very nearly, under the leadership of the two most powerful warlocks, Lord and Lady Bloodstone, they were almost victorious. But one of their apprentices, a norki named Araz, turned against them and defeated them. Now there are few warlocks left and the darkborn have been chased into hiding. But when Becca escapes the Skrell pits she meets a stranger named Thom Sorrower and her life changes forever.
The books focus on the idea of the Never Stone, the most powerful and dangerous powerstone ever, the first. It was Imilrin’s, the first warlock’s, and he spoke into it the words all warlocks believe. The Never Words. But though Imilrin vanished centuries ago his stone is still out there and when it’s found he is woken and returns to the world. Only a warlock of equaling power can defeat him and Bridain needs the darkborn, warlocks, Blades (an order of knights born to protect the land – pretty much the Knights of the Round Table) and those without magic to unite to defeat Imilrin and his Demons. Will the one warlock who can match Imirlin stand against him or join him?
Cadric’s tale is the catalyst for the events in The Never Stone Tale and so it acts as a sort of prologue to those stories but the novel itself is a lot shorter than Bloodstone.
Bloodstone is around 80,000 words and Cadric and the Devil should run in at 35,000.
Here’s the first chapter of Cadric and the Devil. The prologue. There’s a sort poem before the chapter that gets mutated and changed before later chapters.This prologue focuses not on Cadric but his father, Ufric of the Dale, and we see the horrible consequences of a debt he has long owed.
Cadric and the Devil
Listen, sang the bluebird. The meadow is awake with spring-bloomed flowers and the sheep are grazing on the hillside. The once storm-hungry sea is becalmed and there is merely a whisper of yesterday on the wind to join us in tomorrow. What was is gone and what is will be. Listen, sang the bluebird, the dogs are quietened.
The Dead Hero
Ufric of the Dale was dead.
The battle was over and the Northmen had long moved on to the village beyond the river and soon they would march on unopposed to the city. The western hills were lit with flickering fires and the crows were feeding undisturbed.
His great sword, Thornchild, was at his feet and the body that had once been his was reaching out for the sword’s hilt, frozen, unfulfilled. He wished he could simply kneel and help his old hand find its goal but he knew he was just air now, the memory of a man.
“Look there,” said Fult, the small Hillman with the ever-grimace.
Ufric looked up. Mist clung to the field. It was the mist of souls leaving, he knew that. But his soul would not leave, not while his sword was beyond his hand’s embrace. Fult too had a weapon at his feet. A huge axe, almost as big as Fult. The Hillman had never named the axe. Fult’s old body was hidden beneath the battle-dead, far from the thing that would open the gates to the warrior halls. Fult grimaced.
“Who is it?” said Ulfric, squinting into the mist. He was a big man, a giant of a man. Ufric the Great some called him. Ufric Skullshatterer others. Ufric the Damned was what the Northmen had called him and they were closer to the truth. He was a hero to his own people, had led many a stand against the raiding demons of the ice but now he was old and for many a year he had believed his days of blood and blade were done. He called himself a farmer. But it was a lie of a life and one that never truly gave him contentment. When the Lord from the town beside the sea came to call on him to lift Thornchild and join the war-band, he hadn’t hesitated. His mail and helm were rusty but he scrubbed them and cleaned them well. He saddled his plough horse and he rode to the old road and joined with the lord’s hundred and when they met the king’s thousands they were all of them drunk on their might and their passion for their land and God. This would be the turning of the tide. This day would be the day to finally chase the demons from Bridain. But the demons were not gone and the thousands he rode with were dead. The lord too. The king too. All had been lost and with it went Ufric’s life.
Ufric wondered if this stranger approaching was another of the men he had known and fought beside, whose shields he had locked his shield with and roared a chorus of vulgar words with as the enemy approached.
“Is it Edwic?” said Fult, scratching his crooked nose and grimacing. He had been hoping for his brother all day but Edwic hadn’t come.
Ufric shook his head. He could see the man now. Tall, dressed in strange garb of flowing black robes, his hair as black as the feeding crows, an ash staff thrusting into the mud with every stride. Ufric knew the man well enough. It had been on another battlefield after another bloody day many years ago when they had first met. Ufric had been young then, a boy.
“I can give you your life,” the stranger had said.
Ufric had been clutching his gut, feeling the blood pump, the horrible heat.
“What do I give to you?” Ufric had stuttered, his face paling, his life fading.
“One day I will return to tell you,” the stranger had said and sobbing, begging, Ufric had agreed.
Now that death-wound was just a pale scar across his stomach and the stranger had returned.
Fult grimaced. “Sweet god,” he gasped, stepping back away from his axe, through the arms and legs of the fallen. “It’s Him isn’t it?”
Ufric nodded. He was a man of few words in life. Death had changed little there.
“Ufric of the Dale,” called the stranger as he came closer, “Ufric Deathtrickster.”
Ufric’s hand went instinctively to his hip but there was no blade there. He looked down at his old body. You fool, he thought looking at the broken shell with the cleaved helm, what have you done?
The stranger was smiling as he stepped over the body of a young blonde-locked Northman.
“Well met for a second time, Ufric of the Dale,” the stranger spoke. Slippery words. Ufric remembered the sweet voice well. Then, when his guts had been opened, he had taken the swoon of nausea to be his life ebbing away but now with no life left he felt it again.
The stranger’s eyes were as black as his hair and unblinking, holding Ufric in their constant stare.
Ufric could hear Fult whimpering behind him but the stranger had no interest in the Hillman.
“Well met, stranger,” said Ufric.
The stranger looked down to Ufric’s old body and sighed. “So much death,” he said, “why do you people love death so much?”
Ufric said nothing as the stranger knelt and picked up Thornchild, taking it further away from those outstretched fingers. Ulfric’s arm jerked out to grab for the blade and the stranger laughed.
“What need do you have for this now?” said the stranger and he looked to the cloudless sky, stark and chill. Elsewhere the world was waking to the first fine day of spring, the first day without the rains that had hammered the battlefield and mingled blood with mud, churned up the earth and dragged armoured men low to be dealt the ending blow. Ufric saw no warrior halls up there. Just the vast open sky.
“Ah,” said the stranger, smiling still, “you too long for that place.” He tossed Thornchild away so it clattered against the breastplate of a rich lord’s housecarl. “You are bound here, I think,” said the stranger, “and bound to your debt to me. You remember that debt, don’t you, Ufric?”
Ufric’s head dropped. His heavy brow creased with the memory. “I do,” he said.
The stranger stepped closer and a small murder of crows scattered at his approach, cawing in complaint at their hungers’ disturbance.
Ufric didn’t back away. He had been a strong man in life and some of that strength remained in death. He would not falter now no matter how foolish and reckless his youthful decision had been all those years ago. A debt was a debt. He had lived a life. He had married a good woman. He had fathered a fair daughter with a fair voice. And he had a son. The boy.
“I’m ready to go with you,” said Ufric and he offered his arms out to be led to the stranger’s land.
The stranger laughed. It was a harsh and high sound in the silence of the field. Out of place and cruel in its joy. The crows settled back to feeding.
“Go with me?” said the stranger, frowning. “Why would you go with me? No, Ufric, I have only come to claim my debt not to claim your soul. I am happy for your soul to linger here, swordless and alone. My debt is another price, a richer treasure. A fairer thing.”
Ufric’s heart fell. He fell. His knees sank through his old body. His faint hands pressed to his faint face, a lined and old face, a bearded and broad face.
“Please no,” he said, suddenly understanding what the stranger had come for, “not her, please not her, not my Gliffa.”
The stranger stood over him. His thin and long hand touched Ufric’s head and did not pass through. The stranger stroked Ufric’s hair. “Shush now, Ufric of the Dale. The thing is done, was done on the day I gave you your life. It was always to be this. Listen, can you hear the dogs? What are their names, Gellow and Velp? Wolfhounds, faithful hounds. Can you hear them?”
Ufric listened. His hounds were far away on his little farm in the dale beside the stream, below the low hill where the sheep grazed. Too far away to hear but in the silence of the sorrow-field he could hear them, his hounds baying, calling out. And then the stranger raised his hand and gripped it hard and fast into a fist and the howls turned to yelps and the yelps to still nothingness.
“See, Ufric of the Dale,” said the stranger, “now the debt shall be paid.”
Ufric was sobbing, ghost tears falling down his face. “Please, no, please,” he said but in truth he knew there was no bargaining with the stranger. It was done a time ago, a life ago. It was a debt. “Please, leave her be,” he moaned, whimpering like the boy he had once been, the boy with the opened gut, “she is my all.”
But the stranger did not speak and when Ufric looked up from his grief he saw only the flickering fires on the far hills and the too-blue sky and the ravenous crows. The stranger was gone and the debt was paid. Ufric of the Dale let go all his fury and his scream of pain and anger was like thunder to those in the village beyond the river where the Northmen were pillaging and praising their pagan gods for their victory. Some of them said the sound was their thunder god letting them know he was happy with their victory but others said it was a sound from within the world, from the hollows below, from the depths of hell. And far away a young girl sang a fair song as she swung an empty water pail on her way to the well. It was morning and spring was awoken and the flowers were blooming all around her and she did not fear a thing. But the dogs were silent.