Richard Zwicker interview and excerpt from his fantasy story, “Wyrd Times”

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am an English teacher living in Vermont, USA with my wife and beagle. I have sold about fifty short stories. Fifteen of them are collected in “Walden Planet and Other Stories,” available on Amazon. My hobbies, in addition to reading and writing, include playing the piano and guitar, jogging, and fighting the good fight against middle age. I lived in Brazil for eight years, but I’m still a lousy soccer player.

Was there an impetus behind your story? If so, tell us about it.

I took a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar called “Isle of Man – Crossroads of Medieval Culture and Languages.” One of the works we studied was “Beowulf.” I’d read it several times before, but this was the first time I was really struck by the notion that Beowulf’s fighting the dragon by himself and leaving the Geats without a leader was not a great move. I wrote a paper on it for the seminar, then later I wrote “Wyrd Times,” where I speculate what might happen to Wiglaff and the Geats after Beowulf’s death.

There is probably only one good answer to the question–“Why do you write?”–and that is you can’t imagine doing anything else, nor would you want to. Do you agree, disagree? Share with us your thoughts on the matter.

For me, there’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment I get when I’ve finally made a story “work.” It’s almost always a struggle, and it always takes time. Also, as much of life is fleeting, I like the relative permanence of the written word. Writing is one excellent antidote to sleepwalking through life.

Do you have any advice for the slavering hordes of starving, slavering writers slavering out there?

Keep polishing your work and get feedback. Read widely. Don’t let rejections get you down. Join a writer’s group. I’ve been a member of Critters.org for nine years and highly recommend it. It’s free, you get a wide range of comments, and you meet other writers.

Use the word “slavering” in a sentence, two if you really need the extra, and feel free to get as wild and creative as you want.

Into every creative life, a little slavering must fall, but slavering can set you free. Slavering can be your salivation.

Tell us about your current project(s), your plans for the future, and any accepted works or work slated to come out this year.

I hope to have my second collection , “The Reopened Cask and Other Stories,” out by May. This summer I AM going to work on a novella or a novel. “The Centropic Oracle” is releasing a podcast of my short story “That Was So Funny I Forgot to Laugh” in April.

 

Wyrd Times

Fantasy story by Richard Zwicker

The once great warrior and dragonslayer Wiglaff has survived to lead his exiled people back to their ancestral homeland. But what could be making the powerful nation which drove them out all those years ago leave so abruptly

The twilit clouds drifted and overlapped like fragmented thoughts. Wiglaff’s ragged band of three hundred men huddled around crackling fires. A copse of trees offered partial shelter against an ocean wind that pelted sand in their eyes and chilled their bones. An ominous howl and murmuring waves echoed in their ears.

They camped a day’s march from Geatland, their ancestral home not lived in for twenty years. In that time they had wrested a life from their exile to the west, waiting for a sign of weakness from the pitiless, occupying Swedes. It finally came a week ago when Eastmund returned with news that the occupiers were inexplicably leaving. At last, the Swedes were vulnerable; the Geats would attack.

As if materialized from the air, Eastmund’s lean, bearded face filled Wiglaff’s line of vision.

“Tomorrow is almost here,” Eastmund said.

Wiglaff grimaced, his face lined with wrinkles, hair, and scars. Eastmund was one of their spies, his light, angular body gifted with the ability to travel without sound. Nonetheless, Wiglaff chided himself for allowing the man to sneak up on him.

“It always is.”

“But this time it will arrive.”

Wiglaff saw in Eastmund’s haunted eyes the need to hurl himself into the type of blood-soaked, apocalyptic battle favored in sagas. This fever had infected most of the warriors. The thought of harnessing it weighed on Wiglaff’s broad shoulders. Most of his adult life he had fought against the belief that wyrd, or fate, controlled their lives. If Eastmund’s information was correct, however, Geatland could be retaken without pointless loss of life.

“Rest, that your body will be ready as your spirit,” Wiglaff said.

“I will be ready,” Eastmund said, retreating to his fire.

Wiglaff pulled his animal skin on tighter, seeking a comfortable position on the lumpy ground. His mind wandered back to the events that thrust him from Beowulf’s loyal warrior to Geat’s exile leader and brought him to this camp.

###

Twenty years ago, an escaped slave sought sanctuary in a dark cave. No one knew whether desperation or insight pushed him deeper to find a dragon’s hoard and steal the fatal goblet. After the dragon went on a rampage, the slave was recaptured and achieved a nameless immortality. He led Beowulf and twelve other Geats, including a young Wiglaff, to the dragon’s lair.

“It is no one’s business but mine to measure strength with this monster and win renown,” the aged Beowulf said to his men outside the cave. “By my own might I shall obtain the gold, or battle will claim your king.”

Wiglaff wondered how a battle with a monster was not their business. How could they stand still, knowing they’d be remembered as fighting men who watched their king die? There was no time for an answer. From silent clouds, the dragon swooped down. Eleven of twelve warriors, roiled by fear and habitual obedience, fled to the safety of the woods.

Wiglaff watched as Beowulf stood his ground, his sword Naegling raised as the fire-breather veered left, claws scraping the ground. Its bone-spiked tail struck the chieftain’s blade with a sickening thud. Remembering the gifts, instruction, and example Beowulf had given him, Wiglaff dove into the smoke-filled fray.

In seconds, a roar of fire charred Wiglaff’s shield, and his left arm hung useless. He watched in horror as Naegling splintered against the dragon’s scaly hide. The monster plunged its venom-filled fangs into Beowulf’s leg, blood splattering the two combatants. With defense impossible, Wiglaff drew his golden sword and pierced the dragon’s neck. A thunderous bellow and acrid smoke upset the young warrior’s balance. Beowulf summoned his last strength, burying his dagger into the dragon’s belly and ripping it open. A gurgling roar sounded the beast’s end, an unholy combination of hate, pain, and blood. Fifty feet of death lay twitching, then still, on gore-scarred ground.

Poison coursing through his body, Beowulf’s last breaths commanded some of the dragon’s ill-gotten gains adorn the dying leader’s memorial barrow.

###

The Geats held aloft flickering torches and sung a pulsing dirge as a flaming boat carried Beowulf’s body into the sea. Aglaeca, one of the warriors that ran, sidled up to Wiglaff, who stood in a trance.

“You will be chosen as our new king.”

Wiglaff shook his head. “I disobeyed Beowulf’s order. One day I will pay for that.”

“You disobeyed for good reason. We have entered an uncertain time. I am not a leader, but you are. I will support you.”

In a speech, Wiglaff accepted the responsibility, but not the designation, of king. No one could replace Beowulf, whose renown had unmanned the Swedes’ numerical advantage and created an aura lasting half a century. Beowulf knew fame must be fed, and his life teemed with heroic exploits to his scorched end. Now, a different type of leader was needed if the Geats were to avoid subjugation and sorrow. To symbolize the change, instead of hoarding what remained of the dragon’s cursed gold, they solemnly buried it in a secret, unmarked location.

As if hearing the crash of the Geats’ invincibility, the Swedes invaded Geatland, not as heroes but as insects to a corpse. The outcome was never in doubt. The Geats fought as always, their thoughts on a distant time when ancestors recited and embellished their exploits. But to what extent should Wiglaff sacrifice their lives to make a point? A turning came when he saw a fat, intoxicated Swede taunt a grievously wounded warrior named Godric, whose promise Wiglaff had always assumed would be cut short by his hot head. Yelling, “Swede!” Wiglaff sliced the aggressor’s throat, whose mouth fluttered with voiceless questions, then stilled.

“Now me,” Godric gasped, his body curled on the ground like a severed claw.

“Now you,” Wiglaff said, gently lifting him.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I need you for another day,” Wiglaff said, breathing heavily from the weight. In saving Godric’s life, he’d tarnished the warrior’s death, for which he’d never be forgiven.

Read the rest and a whole lot more in Red Sun Magazine #3! Buy a copy today!

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Red Sun Magazine publishes speculative science fiction, fantasy, and horror, as well as military sci-fi by military veterans. Visit us at www.redsunmagazine.com.