The Blood Trail


At the end of the second chapter of Deathquest, the Blood Trail begins. The companions ride out of Castle Bristlen at the forefront of the Death Procession and continue upon it throughout the entire first book, until they are consumed by it. The Blood Trail has many names: 'The Death Wagon', and 'Plowing the Wake of the Valkyrie'; basically it is the road taken by invading armies carving a bloody path of destruction as they march through a foreign land.

Several of my first readers objected to the Blood Trail. The adventures of the companions, they said, happened with unrealistic frequency. I considered their criticisms seriously, but finally decided to disregard them. They, like most of us, live quiet lives, where major occurrences are not a daily event. To them, a sudden and constant influx of chaos into their lives would be unthinkable.

But war is chaos; a soldier on the front line doesn't relax or sleep peacefully: their days and nights are filled with the constant and very real threat of being attacked.

If you are near a war, then you are in a war. The companions are being chased by thousands of savage Norse warriors; whatever route they took, the Blood Trail would follow them. They could have snuck away, and fled from the army in an unexpected direction, but not without abandoning Eric. But Eric led the rescue of Eloise in Wolven Forest; Eloise refused to abandon him.

In the LOTR, everything went from perfect to terrible with a few minor exceptions. LOTR trivia masters know that the songs of Eru Ilúvatar were perfect, but that Melkor slowly ruined each song, and Tolkien's world was a reflection of those songs. The world of LOTR has a special, unique character; hobbits, elves, dwarves, trolls, and a complex history and mythology that make LOTR more than just a reflection of JRR Tolkien's imagination.

In Harry Potter, the same is true; the characters learn stories that are more legend than history in a hidden world with shops and banks and schools that mirror their muggle counterparts, but all with a special flavor unique to their world. These witch- and wizard-twists makes those novels (much better than the movies) into a world unto itself. House elves, merfolk, and the evils of hatred, bigotry, and the mania of unlimited ambition make the HP universe unique and fun.

In both LOTR and HP, their worlds are characters as real as Frodo or Hermione. Those worlds exist apart from their characters; those worlds would be instantly recognized in other stories with different characters. I wanted my world of Dark Ages England to be just as special, and the Blood Trail is a major part of both Deathquest and The Mourning Trail.

Creating my world was a challenge because England actually exists, and many historians know what life was like in the Dark Ages; centuries passed with very little change. To have shown life there as it usually was would have been boring; I wanted The VIKINGS! Trilogy to be fast-paced, an action-adventure novel, and my world had to be unique and interesting. Simply adding magic to a common medieval landscape would not have been enough; my world would not have had a life without my characters in it. I added the Blood Trail to give urgency to an otherwise technologically and socially stagnant land. (Yggdrasil is the land which shares the most in common with LOTR and HP, but I wanted my version of England to share some of those qualities, too.)

Some of my readers have visited England and argued that I should have described specific places, but that was never my intent. There is a city of Madrone in England, but not where I put it: my Madrone was named after the SCA barony in which I learned to fight, nothing else. The barony where I was made an honorary sergeant has its name snuck into the third book, and I wanted to add the name of the shire that I made into a barony (I was its seneschal), but it just didn't fit with the other place-names; perhaps in another book I'll find a place for it.

Some places I added as an oasis against the Blood Trail. The Baron's Hunting Lodge, Farmer Tiller's house, the tavern in Madrone, the magic clearing where the Seer's master led them, the return to the castle, and the first few days of life aboard the dragonship: these are places where the companions could rest, places to slow the action and let the reader breathe. Without these places, the stress of the first two books would have been insurmountable.

The Blood Trail is traveled twice, from its start in Castle Bristlen to the moment that the companions sail out of Demril Harbor. The first time is the dangerous path, where Svenson Two-Sword is only hours behind. The second time is supposed to be worse; the companions must witness first-hand the swath of destruction that they plowed. Living on the Blood Trail has dire consequences; that is the price that my companions must pay for living in the character of my Dark Ages world.

The VIKINGS! Trilogy has three distinct worlds: The Blood Trail, the open sea, and Yggdrasil. I tried to give each a unique flavor, and in each book I added humorous events to lighten the tension which I strove to maintain throughout all three books (like Karl's slapped cheeks under the willow, the viking raiders that boarded their ship, and Radsvid).

Well, that's the essence of the Blood Trail; a terrible calamity that lasts far longer than its invading army does. If this is taken as my personal view of the waste and tragedy that is war, I will support that opinion.