This week’s writing sample comes from Kate’s Beowulf-inspired novel, The Legendary Inge (2015). What happens when a scrappy girl accidentally kills a fearsome monster in the woods?
Mayhem, that’s what.
The Legendary Inge, Chapter 1: Just Reward
She had gotten up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, Inge decided. Her nervous eyes glanced down at her dirty, too-large, mud-stained attire and then back up to the majestic man in front of her. King Halvard, the ruler of the six provinces of Elsemark, sat resplendent in his royal garb. His clothing was rich, gold-adorned and brocaded. He wore rings on every finger, and an arrogant expression on his face. The obvious difference in their status was so distracting to her that when he did speak, her brain didn’t quite comprehend his words.
“I… I beg your pardon?” Inge said, baffled.
The monarch’s attention flicked to one side, an overt sign of annoyance at having to repeat himself. Nevertheless, he opened his mouth to pronounce again the words she was certain she had not just heard.
“In honor of your valiant deed this morning, I am adopting you,” he said. Then he added, “From this day onward, you are my son.”
Her left eye twitched. Yes, definitely the wrong side of the bed. Why had she gotten up at all, come to think of it?
A couple of the guards exchanged glances, having observed what their king apparently did not yet realize, that Inge was, despite her cropped hair and muddy trousers, a girl. King Halvard kept speaking, though, oblivious to the raised eyebrows of his minions.
“For half your courage, I would have given a smaller reward, as I have given to others on previous occasions. But you have displayed such bravery this day and have brought such much-needed relief to this house where all my warriors have failed. You shall therefore be my son, and live in my house, and marry my daughter, and—”
“Wait, wait!” she blurted. “That’s impossible!”
A hush fell over the room. Not only had she just contradicted the king, but she had interrupted him to do it. Inge shrank back.
“I-it wasn’t intentional,” she stammered as his stony gaze bored into her. “I only acted out of instinct. I don’t deserve a reward like that.” Part of her desperately hoped that she could get out of this without having to correct the king in full. It was humiliating enough to appear before him in her brother’s worn clothing, but to actually be mistaken for a boy? She didn’t want to have to tell people that she was a girl. They should know that just by looking at her.
Besides, if a reward was the issue, couldn’t he just give her a sack of gold and send her on her way?
King Halvard regarded her with a shrewd eye—though not shrewd enough, a treacherous part of her mind whispered—and said, “That creature has ransacked my halls every night for the past month. It has killed my men and befouled the place. No one could touch it. Its hide repelled the glance of a sword, and its claws and teeth were razor-sharp. You have done what none other could accomplish, and have thus performed an enormous service to the kingdom. Where is my colonel?” he added, and he looked around the room in impatience.
The broad-shouldered, age-weathered man next to Inge stepped forward. He was Jannik Bergstrom, the Captain of the Castle Guard, she had learned. He was also the one responsible for dragging her here before the king. Needless to say, she didn’t much care for him. “Raske stayed behind to dispose of the monster,” he said with an authoritative voice.
The king sniffed. “Oh? If he had done so last night, we might have avoided another casualty.”
Inge thought this was unfair. Her brother had written her that one of the colonels was returning from the border war to deal with a problem. Gunnar had been extremely vague, but he always was when it came to army business, so she hadn’t questioned. This Raske, she surmised, had to have been among the group of soldiers who happened upon her just after she had killed that awful creature in the woods. They had all worn helmets with metal faceplates, and their abrupt appearance on the scene had startled her almost as much as her attacker had.
“How long does it really take to dispose of such a creature?” King Halvard muttered. “I wish he would hurry up about it.”
As if on cue, the wide doors opened at the back of the throne room. The soldiers that lined the walls instinctively straightened and stood at perfect attention. Inge turned to watch the newcomer’s entrance.
He stood out from his fellows not only because he was a head taller than most, not just because his dark hair distinguished him in a room where everyone else was blond, but also because he was the only man not to wear a full beard upon his face. Instead, he had only the newest stubble of a day-old shave, and in a country that deemed such grooming to be unmanly, Inge might have expected catcalls and derision to follow him.
She might have expected it, that is, had he not carried the grisly, mangled head of the aforementioned monster in one hand as he strode into the room. A trail of gore marked his path behind. Not one soldier moved an inch or even dared to meet his determined gaze.
“Raske,” the king drawled in greeting, much to Inge’s astonishment. She had expected a colonel to be older, forty years at least and grizzled from age and battle. This man didn’t look a day over twenty-five.
“My Liege,” Colonel Raske said with a token nod, “I have brought you the trophy you requested.” He tossed the bloody head on the floor at the monarch’s feet.
“Indeed. Captain Bergstrom has just informed me that your success this morning was due to this boy.”
Raske’s gaze followed the path of the king’s outstretched hand to rest upon Inge. His eyes widened in brief, mute surprise. She squirmed uncomfortably, but the colonel only turned a guarded expression back to his king.
“This person killed the monster. That much is true.”
A small thrill of triumph raced through her. Someone else knew she wasn’t a boy!
“I have decided to adopt him as reward,” King Halvard said. “He will marry my daughter and inherit this kingdom when I die. What do you think of that?”
Colonel Raske’s brows shot up, but he caught himself from indulging in a derisive snort. “You are king. Do as you please,” he replied with a vaguely amused glance in Inge’s direction.
That settled it. She hated him too.
“Your Majesty, it is not possible,” she insisted.
Once again the room stilled. The king’s eyes narrowed, and he studied her for a tense moment before demanding, “Are you an only child?”
The question took her by surprise. “What? No, I—”
“Are you your father’s eldest son?”
“N-no, I have a—”
“Then I am within my rights as king to lay claim to you,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I am sure your parents will have no objections.”
“My parents are dead,” she replied out of instinct.
King Halvard made a noise of feigned pity. “There, all the more reason—you are an orphan no longer, my son. What did you say the boy’s name was, Captain?”
Bergstrom cleared his throat. “Inge,” he answered with a sarcastic tone. He knew she was a girl as well.
“Inge,” Halvard mused. “Is that short for Ingolf…? Ingvar…? Ingemar…?”
“Ingrid,” she whispered bitterly. She had had a perfectly horrible morning already, so she decided she might as well humiliate herself in full. Her hands clenched the fabric of her trousers. “I cannot be your son, Your Majesty,” she said in as clear a voice as she could muster.
King Halvard stopped musing about the possible names of the newest addition to his family and puffed up like an indignant bullfrog. “You try my patience. What objection can you possibly raise to my royal generosity?”
Inge’s gaze darted around the room. Every soldier present stared at her—watching her, judging her. She swallowed her apprehension in a sudden spike of anger. Why on earth should she cower before this king, before these soldiers? She had done nothing wrong!
“I cannot be your son because I’m a girl, Your Majesty. My name is Ingrid. Ingrid Norling.”
Her words hung in the air. The king’s retainers all held their breath as they waited for his reaction, but the monarch himself simply stared down at her, chin perched atop his palm, his entire body seemingly frozen.
After what felt like a lifetime, he blinked, languidly. His gaze shifted to his Captain of the Castle Guard. “Bergstrom,” he said with all the composure of a man used to getting his way, “order the servants to prepare a room for my son, and make arrangements to introduce him to the rest of the family and to the nation itself. Go on,” he added, shaking his fingers in a shooing motion. “You are all dismissed.”
Most definitely the wrong side of the bed, Inge thought as an iron grip pulled her stammering from the throne room.
If this sample intrigued you, you’re in luck! The Legendary Inge is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.