I’ve been working on a novel for a while now—an adaptation of The Saga of the Jomsvikings, which was written in Old Icelandic in the 13th century. It tells of an elite band of viking warriors residing in the fortress of Jomsborg on the island of Jom. They were theoretically real, though it’s hard to say how much truth there is to the story. They appear in other sagas, including the ones I based my first YA novel Seidman on. But by then, they were in decline. They appear briefly at the battle of Svoldr, when King Olaf Tryggvason was defeated, but they quickly decided to sit the battle out.
This novel will be an adult MM romance, because, frankly, the story begs to be a MM romance. It’s a fortress full of young men, and no women are allowed. The Norse were a very homophobic society, but I can’t imagine a context like this in which absolutely no sexual activity occurred. Conveniently, the saga has a gap of three years between the initial founding and selection of warriors and the death of their leader, which led to their decline. I’ve written up to that point, and now I’ve begun to fill in those three years. That’s where the romance will really take place.
I decided to tell the story from the POV of two characters not actually in the saga: Bragi and Asleif.
Bragi is older than most of the men in the fortress, and he’s seen a lot of combat. He’s weary of the death he sees on the battlefield, but he’s a survivor and he takes pride in his skill with a blade. At Jomsborg, he’s given the opportunity to pass some of his knowledge of fighting techniques along to others and help keep them alive. The actor who most closely resembles him is Travis Fimmel from Vikings.
Asleif is young, and he has endured a lot of teasing over the years because of his feminine features, even after he grew to stand over his comrades. He’s skilled and cocky, and sees Bragi as a challenge. But he also senses a strong sexual undercurrent between them. Bragi is hesitant to pursue it, but Asleif gleefully chases after him, despite the danger of discovery. I found this picture online, which I believe is of Alexander Skarsgard, and despite the modern clothes and background, it perfectly represents the image I have of Asleif in my head.
The novel has been coming along slowly, in part because the saga is very short and sparse. I’m having to flesh out a lot of scenes. It also requires a lot of research into Viking fighting styles, locations (Jomsborg was most likely on the island of Wolin in modern-day Poland), and what life would be like in that environment. But it’s coming along.
Here’s an excerpt from when Asleif is being tested in mock combat to see if he can be accepted into Jomsborg. He’s part of Vagn’s crew — Vagn being a 12-year-old boy with his own raiding fleet, and no I didn’t make that up — and the entire crew is fighting against the men already residing in Jomsborg.
Asleif parried a thrust to his midsection, and then bashed his attacker in the face with his shield. The Jomsviking staggered back. He seemed to be readying himself for another charge, but Bragi came up behind him and forcefully shoved him aside. “Leave him! He’s mine!”
The warriors swarming Asleif suddenly drew back, forming a circle around him and Bragi. Asleif was so startled, he almost failed to parry Bragi’s attack—almost. He deflected Bragi’s sword with the head of his axe in a quick upward and outward motion.
“Good!” Bragi shouted delightedly.
Asleif knew then that Bragi wanted him to test him, rather than kill him. Not that it was going to be easy. Bragi’s next cut was swift and powerful, looping around Asleif’s arm and coming up inside. Asleif barely managed to jump back in time to prevent a nasty cut to his abdomen. As it was, the tip of Bragi’s sword cut through his tunic, before he slammed down upon it with the edge of his shield.
It was a hasty move, and it opened his upper body up for an attack. Bragi lost no time in crashing down upon Asleif’s head with his own shield. Asleif had a thick head—he’d be the first to admit it. And he was wearing a helmet. So the blow didn’t knock him unconscious, but it rattled him. He staggered back.
“You went easy on me,” he grumbled. “You could have easily hit my eyes or my throat.”
Bragi grinned. “Now, what would be the fun in that?”
It pissed Asleif off to be treated like a child. But he’d also seen in just the few blows they’d exchanged that Bragi’s skill was equal to his own. Possibly—though he was loathe to admit it—greater. He’d never defeat the man, as long as he stayed on the defensive. Bragi could keep coming at him until he collapsed or opened himself up again. Asleif would have to go on the attack. But a charge could prove foolhardy. If Bragi managed to sidestep, Asleif’s momentum might carry him past and open him up to an attack from the rear.
Instead, he began walking slowly forward, whipping his axe around in a swirling motion and striking against Bragi’s shield so fast it was impossible to count the blows. Bragi was forced to duck behind the shield and edge backward. Any attempt to thrust his sword at Asleif would merely damage the blade against the axe.
At last, the shield cracked loudly and split in two. Asleif immediately drew back, surrendering his advantage, rather than bringing his axe down upon Bragi’s arms or head.
Bragi tossed his broken shield aside, but he was laughing. “Excellent!”
In the distance, someone blew a horn.
“Give him a shield!” Asleif shouted, panting.
A man tossed one into the air, and Bragi caught it. But then he stepped forward with the pommel of his sword held outward. “Let’s see how you do with a sword.”
The men around them laughed, and someone shouted, “This isn’t a fight! It’s a lesson!”
That evoked more laughter. But Asleif was up to the challenge, so he reached for Bragi’s weapon. But as he clasped it, a second horn called out over the strand.
Bragi glanced up. “It seems the fight is over.”
It was true. Straightening, Asleif looked over the heads of those nearby and saw that everywhere men were sheathing swords and catching their breath. Some had cuts on their bodies and their clothes were blood-spattered, but if anyone was severely injured, Asleif saw no sign of it. All appeared to be standing.
“Get out of my way!”
The men near him parted to let Vagn through. The boy looked healthy enough, despite a bloody gash on his shield arm. “Asleif!” he shouted in exasperation, “Did you miss the entire battle? We won!”