(40k fiction)

There was a bit of a discussion on Tumblr yesterday about female Space Marines, and the lack canonically thereof. I happened to mention a hypothetical situation in which Games Workshop gradually incorporated female-born Space Marines into the 40k setting as a new development in the 41st Millennium over a couple of hundred years of trial and testing. The end result was Freja Fangsdottir became the first female-born Wolf Lord of the Space Wolves and I said I was feeling inspired to write something about her.

@sisterofsilence said, “ Dooooooo it. Dooooooo.”

Today, this happened, with a slight change in her surname, to reflect the Fenrisian name for The Fang.

(Apologies for the length - I can’t work out how to get Read More cuts working on Tumblr.)

The Hill

Flame erupted along the hillside, sending rocks and clods of red earth into the air. A second wave of shells landed among the Space Wolves, and brother Hrolf was lifted from his feet. His power-armoured body crashed down to the right of his pack leader. Inside Freja Aettsdottir’s helm, pack status icons scrolled up her in-helmet display at a speed that only an Astartes’ mind could process; Hrolf would live, but this day’s fighting was over.

‘Sleep it off, Hrolf,’ she advised.

‘Yeah, yeah, just kill those guns, she-wolf,’ the Wolf Guard replied through pain-clenched teeth.

The Stormwolves great company had the Emperor’s Children on the retreat. The Traitors had landed by drop pod and the Imperial Navy aerospace forces had claimed orbital superiority. No one was coming to rescue the warbands on the surface of Panthus. All that remained was to kill them and restore peace to this world. This particular warband had fled to an abandoned stellar observatory in the Euphorbian Uplands. They had dug numerous concentric rings of defences into the red earth, which the Stormwolves now assaulted at eight key points. The Wolves had fought uphill for hours, but they had not faltered.

The Traitors had fought as ferociously as only Astartes could, but they lacked unity and purpose. Their goals in life were to debauch and sensate for its own ends; for the Wolves, mjod and laughter were rewards for performing their duty to the Emperor. Each Emperor’s Child – she cursed the insult inherent in their name – fought alone, caring only for themselves and taking as much pleasure in watching their comrades fall as their foes.

Freja’s Wolf Guard leapt down into the next line of enemy trenches. Freja’s clawed boots crunched down on a pair of cultists, the weight of a fully-armoured Astartes crushing their torsos to ruptured sacks of jelly. Naked, or nearly-naked, men and women lashed at the Stormwolves with bayonets and long knives. A cleaver, borne by a brute of a man with blasphemous runes carved deeply and amateurishly into his pectorals, sparked off her pauldron, but that was the only one of the cultists’ weapons to come close to striking her. She swept wide arcs with her axe, carving through four, five, half a dozen foes at a time in the densely-packed trench. Those beyond her reach fell to her bolt pistol instead.

More shells exploded amongst them, their fragmentation payloads spraying across loyalists and heretics alike. Freja was buffeted but remained standing. She felt and heard hundreds of shards of frag shrapnel whining off her plate, but her helmet reported integrity remained firm. Brother Ulf lost a hand, but just prised his chainsword free of the gauntlet and fought on left-handed. The cultists in the trench were less lucky.

The men and women were naked, or clad only in scanty silks, to begin with, and only a few had strapped on flak vests. Their bodies were reduced to meat rags, scattered across flakboard and draped across razor-wire.

‘The mad bastards are doing our work for us!’ Ulf laughed. He brought his chainsword down on the back of a cultist trying to crawl away. The churning teeth sprayed blood mist through the air. He grinned at Freja with blood-flecked fangs. With four hundred Imperial years under his belt, he was twice her age, but he fought with all the vigour of a Blood Claw. Ulf had repeatedly fought against promotion to Long Fang, insisting it was his way to face the enemy up close. After the third refusal, Bjorn Stormwolf had cuffed him around the ear and elevated him to Wolf Guard instead.

‘How’s your hand?’ Freja asked.

He shrugged. ‘No idea. It’s down there somewhere.’ He nodded at the mess of rent corpses on the duckboards. He examined the stump, which was already closing with cinnabar clots. ‘Huh. I’ve had worse.’

More shells landed, striking the ground before and after the parapet and showering the Wolf Guard with nothing more dangerous than chunks of dislocated turf.

There were four Wolf Guard with her now: one-handed Ulf, Dag the Viper, Ingmar Flaxenhair and Jormund the Grim, with his plasma gun.

Ingmar brushed dirt from the plaits of his beard. ‘Reckon that was deliberate?’

‘I’d say so,’ Freja agreed. ‘These trenches are one hundred metres apart. They’re using them for ranging their guns while their chaff bog us down in fighting. We should get moving.’

‘I wasn’t proposing we stop for a picnic,’ Dag muttered as he reloaded his boltgun. He preferred ranged combat, but the chainblade beneath his weapon’s muzzle was as red as any of his comrades’ blades.

As one, the squad vaulted the parapet and continued the uphill run. The rocky ground and steep incline would have exhausted any mortal, but Freja was Astartes, and she barely noticed. The entire way, las- and auto-fire poured down on them from the next trench, and the next beyond that up the slope, but their armour weathered the hail. The flickering las-beams were replied to by searing white bolts from Jormund’s plasma gun and the yellow contrails of bolts from Dag’s boltgun. They fired from the hip without the slightest break in their strides.

Just less than twenty metres from the next trench, the Wolves were hit by artillery once more, toppling the armoured Marines. Freja saw Dag take an improbable direct hit. His head, one arm and much of his torso vanished in a blossom of bone and blood and shattered plate. A fragment of time later, the shell struck the ground and exploded, lifting the remnants of the Space Wolf into the air to land two dozen paces away.

The pack stared in dismay and shock at the suddenness of their brother’s demise. Freja unleashed a feral howl of grief. Ulf, Jormund and Ingmar joined in. The pack was in mourning, and the howl of a mourning Wolf was not plaintive. They resumed their charge at a sprint. There was no conservation of effort. No raising of gauntlets to deflect shots aimed at exposed faces. No mercy. If the carnage in the previous trench had been ferocious, here it was devastating. The cultists here were clad in iron chastity bands around their loins, but their upper layers of skin was peeled off and often pinned back to display gleaming red expanses of dermis. The vile winged claw of the Emperor’s Children was tattooed into exposed tissue, along with the sigil of their god and other marks of damnation. As used to pain and suffering as these deranged souls were, they broke and ran at the fury of the Wolves.

Freja pursued them out of the trench and onto the slopes, smashing the cowards down and trampling their bodies even before they had finished falling.

As inevitably as winter snow on Fenris, more shells fell, ranged perfectly to strike the Emperor’s Children’s own lines. Freja was knocked off her feet by a series of blast waves and pack status runes flickered orange; her brothers were wounded. She blinked, felt around until she felt the thick plasteel of the haft of her axe, and she used that to pull herself to her feet. One of her legs was unresponsive. She was unsure if she was injured and her armour had injected pain relievers, or if the armour’s own servos had been damaged.

A sledgehammer impact struck her head and only her armour’s integral musculature held her upright. Red warning runes flashed on her in-helm display before the screen flickered and died. Her eyepieces were cobwebbed with fractures, so with a thought-impulse she released the neck seals and ripped the helmet away. A crater in the ceramite showed where a bolter shell had ricocheted.

Freed from their confinement, her blonde plait unrolled freely over the battle-scarred ceramite of her breastplate and her wolf-senses exulted at the intensity of the scents and sounds of the battlefield: the blood and ordure of dismembered and disembowelled dead, the chemical sting of fyceline from detonated munitions, the ozone tang of her axe’s power field, and the oil and incense of Astartes battle plate. And perfume. Strong, cloying, perfume.

‘So, the Emperor’s sent his whores to face me?’ The man’s sneer was almost lethargic, but bore with it the promise of untold cruelty.

She looked upon an Emperor’s Child. His glossy-black and pink armour was a jumble of Mark III and later variants of armour, wrapped on the limbs with sheets of human skin bound in place with golden chains. His head was exposed, revealing the face of an demigod

Freja remembered bits and pieces of her early life on Fenris, before the Sky Warriors had come to the aftermath of the Sea Kings’ successful war against the Yalts and, to her surprise, taken her along with a half-dozen male warriors. She had been a shieldmaiden, a woman like any other, and had often sought to impress the handsome young bloods of her tribe. They had been wild-haired, savage, and strong. At the time, she had considered them beautiful, she recalled, although such a word meant nothing to her as an Astartes. Beauty and attraction were concepts as alien to her now as orks or kroot.

This man though, this fallen Astartes, could never have been described as beautiful. His skin was smooth, but overly so, as if carved from marble. His cheekbones were perfect, as if constructed from a Standard Template. His lustrous blonde hair rippled in the wind, but there was a wrongness to the way it moved. He was perfect, but perfect to standards just one step too far away from sanity.

‘I am Freja Aettsdottir,’ she said, tasting blood in her mouth. ‘I am Freja Aettsdottir, Wolf Guard to Bjorn Stormwolf of the Vlka Fenryka. Name yourself so that the skjalds will know who I killed.’

The Traitor Astartes chuckled. He held a long, thin sword in one hand. The weapon had no generator on its hilt, but its slightly-curved blade still crackled with something less natural than a power field. His other hand clutched a severed Astartes head by its thick black hair.

‘I am Consul Cortarius, formerly of the Third Legion under Primarch Fulgrim, now a warrior of the Long War. Today, I have no master.’ Cortarius smiled. ‘And nor do you.’

He tossed the head at her feet. It bounced and landed on its side, facing her. The dead eyes of Bjorn Stormwolf stared through her, his once-firm Astartes jaw slack and weak.

‘He attacked where my forces were strongest. His death was not glorious. He was deafened and stunned by the music of my Marines, and I beheaded him while he knelt. If you live, be sure to tell that to your skjalds.’

Freja sprung at him. Another power-armoured form smashed into her from the side and he stepped smartly away, laughing at her. She picked up a second scent, less powerfully odorous than Cortarius’s, but now far closer. She swung a gauntlet around to strike her attacker, but could only grasp at the edge of a pauldron before being kicked away. Her axe was nowhere to be found.

‘Emperor’s whore,’ Cortarius said, ‘meet Mara, my protégé. Fabius has rarely had an eye for the aesthetic, but I feel in this case he was far closer to the mark than your own apothecaria. You’re… hulking in comparison.’

Freja looked upon the second Emperor’s Child. A daughter, in fact. No Magos Biologis had modified or optimised her geneseed. Her curved, stylised breastplate was cut away to bared her midriff and she lacked armour on her left arm and leg. Mara had the height of an Astartes, but her limbs and stomach were smooth. Her face was delicate and pretty; she looked nothing like a Space Marine. Her hips curved outwards and swayed as she paced the ground in front of Freja in stiletto-heeled boots. Her ruby red lips pouted and her almond eyes glittered emerald green. She held a shock-whip that flicked and leapt at every slight movement of her wrist.

She looked like the kind of warrior young Freja, shieldmaiden of the Sea Kings, dreamt but never truly imagined she would grow to become.

Except wrong in every way.

No warrior could be both as strong as the Astartes that had grappled Freja to the ground, yet as frail as this creature appeared. Mara’s geneseed, if that’s what Bile had used to create her, was tainted by the touch of the Dark Prince.

Cortarius had backed away some distance, an amused half-smile on his too-perfect lips, to observe the duel.

Freja Aettsdottir had no weapons, but a Space Wolf was never defenceless. She lunged low towards Mara’s bare midriff, her fangs bared. The Traitor reacted as expected and snapped her whip at Freja’s vulnerable head. The Space Wolf caught the tip in her gauntlet and her armour’s dampeners struggled to absorb the weapon’s intense electrical pulses. Sparks flared from servos and Freja’s elbow locked straight. With a roar, she wrenched the whip free and the dead-man’s switch in the haft shut down the shock-pulses.

Mara dragged the iron-hard fingernails of her left hand down Freja’s face, only just missing her eyes but tearing open deep gouges in her cheeks and forehead. Freja grabbed the flesh of Mara’s arm above the wrist and pushed it away, before twisting, twisting, until there was a crack and a tear. Mara screamed as her arm was wrenched clear at the elbow.

Blood gushed for shocked seconds before the flow staunched under cinnabar scabs. Perhaps she was an Astartes, Freja realised. If Fabius Bile had deciphered how to create female Astartes, that would double the potential recruitment pool for the Traitor Legions. She hoped that Mara was a prototype the so-called ‘Primogenitor’ could not afford to lose.

Mara reached down to her holstered bolt pistol with her remaining hand, but Freja punched her in her gut, knocking the wind from her. The gun slipped from her fingers to land on the stony hillside. Freja raked her boot down Mara’s calf, the claws ripping open the Traitor’s hamstring. With only one leg protected within its exoskeleton, her armour was unable to keep her upright and she fell.

Cortarius was laughing. The Emperor’s Children were selfish creatures. If he had sense, he would leap in and aid his sister, but Freja realised he was as entertained by Mara’s suffering as by Freja’s own.

Nevertheless, he could yet kill her if he chose to intervene. A ten-thousand-year-old Long Warrior was a terrifying prospect of an opponent.

Freja realised her priority was not to save her own life. She knelt on the fallen Mara’s intact arm and punched her hard in the gut, fingertips straight, and felt skin and muscle part under her Astartes strength. Bile’s creation began to scream as Freja pushed deeper into the hot meat, reaching up under her fused rib cage. Her gauntlet’s touch-sensors felt the rapid drumroll of two hearts, adding more support to Cortarius’ claims about Mara.

There it was. Mara was scrabbling frantically, but Freja could feel the gland inside her chest cavity. It was hard when pressed; the progenoid was already growing a new geneseed. She pulled it out whole. Her arm was drenched red to the elbow. She crushed the organ in her gauntlet.

‘What have you…? Cortarius asked, looking for the first time concerned as to his comrade’s fate. ‘You…’

The blood pouring from Mara’s rent stomach wasn’t hardening; the Emperor’s Daughter was dying. The second progenoid would be embedded, like Freja’s own, inside her neck. That was easier to get at. Freja ripped it out with her teeth and bit it in two.

Cortarius advanced on her, the blade of his sword crackling with the red lightning of his anger. ‘Do you know what I had to do to…’

Freja grabbed Mara’s bolt pistol from the ground and fired repeatedly into Cortarius’ centre of mass. The ancient breastplate took the first three rounds, but then it fractured under the repeated detonations and the next one exploded inside his armour. The consul dropped his sword and fell to his knees.

She found her axe. He opened his mouth to curse her, but only blood came out.

‘I am Freja Aettsdottir,’ she said, ‘Wolf Guard to Bjorn Stormwolf of the Vlka Venryka. When you descend to Hel, you will tell your dark god who killed you.’

The battered remnants of a squad of Grey Hunters from Bjorn Stormwolf’s strike-team approached from further down the hillside. Their sergeant, Thorolf Blackfist, was shame-faced and his cheeks were lined with the tracks of angry tears. They had clearly been beaten back and followed up the route cleared by her own squad. She held up Cortarius’ severed head by its blood-spattered blonde mane and howled.

Thorolf’s squad howled in enraged grief as their sergeant scooped up Bjorn’s head and cradled it in his arms. He looked at Freja and the head that she held in her fist. ‘He is avenged,’ he said.

She nodded and looked up the hill. At any moment, the Emperor’s Children would realise their commander was dead and resume their artillery bombardment. ‘We need to move. There are still Traitors to kill for the Stormwolf.’

Thorolf turned to his men and pointed his chainsword at the observatory. ‘Stormwolf!” he bellowed. ‘Stormwolf!’

‘No!’ called out a Fenrisian voice. ‘The Stormwolf is dead.’

Freja turned to see Ulf clambering out of the trench. Behind him were Jormund the Grim and Ingmar Flaxenhair. Their armour was rent and bloodied, but they still bore their weapons.

‘Aettsdottir!’ Ulf howled, starting up the slope.

‘Aettsdottir!’Jormund roared, as he and Ingmar followed.

Sergeant Thorolf looked down at the head he bore reverently in his hands. The Stormwolf was dead. ‘Aettsdottir!’ he howled.

Freja accepted the honour with a bow of her head and led her company into battle.

Mythical sword, part 1.

This sword was the sword of legendary Danish king Hrólf Kraki. “The best of all swords that have been carried in northern lands”, it was renowned for supernatural sharpness and hardness, as well as for being imbued with the spirits of the king’s 12 faithful berserker bodyguards.

It appears in saga unrelated to Hrólf, it being said that an Icelander, Skeggi of Midfirth, who was chosen by lot to break into the gravemound and plunder it, recovered the sword while doing so, so it may have had some historical reality. Other similar incidents are found in Norse literature, such as Grettir the Strong’s recovery of a sword from a burial mound. Events concerning the recovery of Skofnung are related in chapter 9 and 10 of Kormáks saga.

It also appears in the Laxdœla saga, where it has come into the possession of Eid of Ás. Eid is the son of Midfjardar-Skeggi, who had originally taken Skofnung from Hrólf Kraki’s grave. The sword is handed down from Eid to his kinsman Thorkel Eyjólfsson. Eid lends the sword to Thorkel to kill the outlaw Grim, who had killed Eid’s son. Thorkel fought Grim, but the two became friends, and Thorkel never returned the sword to Eid.

Skofnung is briefly lost when Thorkel’s ship is capsized while sailing around Iceland, and all of those on it drown. The sword stuck fast in some of the timbers of the ship, and washed ashore. It was thus recovered at some point by Thorkel’s son Gellir, as he is mentioned carrying it with him later in the saga. Gellir dies in Denmark returning from pilgrimage to Rome, and is buried at Roskilde, and it seems Skofnung was buried with him (near where the sword was recovered from the burial mound in the first place) because the saga records that Gellir had the sword with him “and it was not recovered afterwards”.