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RuneWarriors by James Jennewein
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It's the eve of the Festival of Greatness and Dane has a big problem. He's yet to choose his nickname. Dane the Dangerous? Dane the Despicable? He can't decide. But when Dane sees his proud father shamed by the evil tyrant Thidrek the Terrifying, Dane's indignation earns him a moniker that sticks—Dane the Defiant! And when Thidrek kidnaps Dane's beloved Astrid in hopes of trading her for the ultimate power of the gods, Dane defiantly goes after him like a bat out of Valhalla. Braving treacherous seas, deadly creatures, and a lovestarved Frost Giant, Dane and his rowdy band of Norseboys embark on an epic quest to end Thidrek's reign of terror and take their place among the greatest Viking heroes of all time.

HarperCollins; June 2009
320 pages; ISBN 9780061957413
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Title: RuneWarriors
Author: James Jennewein; Tom S. Parker

Chapter One

A Lesson Is Learned While Peeing In The Snow

The boy was alone in the woods and the snow was falling fast, big, fat flakes twirling down out of the darkening sky, drifting higher. The sun had sunk from view, and the towering trees had thrown deep shadows over the snow. Stopping to rest, he gazed upward into the spruces and pines, their great limbs moving in the wind like giant arms that might reach down and grab him. He caught some falling snowflakes on his tongue, and the fun of it made him feel less afraid.

He had turned nine years old that day, and as was the custom, his father and other village eldermen had taken him on his first hunt. They'd been tracking a herd of elk when the boy, bored by the waiting and the watching, felt the call of nature and wandered off behind a tree to relieve himself. While watering the tree, he had spied a trail of fresh tracks in the snow, what looked to be paw prints of the rare white fox. Knowing this creature's pelt to be highly prized, the boy had pulled up his trousers and followed the trail, bow and arrow in hand, eager to make his first kill. But the tracks had led to an icy stream, where he had soon lost his way. He had watched the fat snowflakes as they fell upon the water, amazed that they stayed so long there before melting. He had listened to the pocka-pocka of a woodpecker and peered up into the blue-shadowed tree limbs to find where it was perched. It wasn't until the bird flew away that the boy looked round and realized he had wandered off too far, and his people were gone. He had hurried back to where he thought they were, but the winds and rising snow had covered their tracks and they were nowhere to be found. He had cried out for his father, but the empty whistling of the wind was all he heard in answer.

The boy had wandered alone through the forest for what seemed a long time, and now he felt small, helpless, and alone. He was cold, scared, and—not wanting to believe it—utterly lost. He drew his coat tighter and began to walk on, the snowdrifts now nearly to his knees. He heard a sound. A huffing, snuffling sort of noise that seemed to be coming from a copse of trees just a few paces away. He listened. There it was again. Was it the fox? A wolf perhaps? No, the rustling branches were too high off the ground. It had to be something . . . bigger.

His heart thumping, he tried to run but fell facedown in a snowdrift. When he sat up, brushing ice flakes from his face, the thing came out of the trees—a giant brown bear, with steam gusting from its jaws and bits of glistening ice visible on its dark, shaggy fur. For a terrible moment the bear just stood there on all fours, eyeing the boy. Clearly ravenous, having just awakened from a winter-long hibernation, it reared up on its hind legs and let out a roar, a sound that chilled the boy's blood.

The boy took off, scrambling and falling in the snow, moving with everything he had, when all at once another great furred creature came out of the trees in front of him—and the boy ran straight into its arms.

He let out a scream, and behind him the roar of the bear grew louder. At any moment his head and limbs would be torn from his body, and he braced himself for the certain death he knew was upon him. But then the furred creature that held him pushed him aside. He saw the creature's sparkling blue eyes, red beard, and long iron-tipped spear, and the boy realized he had run into the arms of his father.

Dressed in a long, thick coat of gray wolf fur, his father bravely stood his ground as the great beast charged. And when his father reared back with his spear and gave a war cry, the bear, too, stopped running and reared up on its haunches and let out a sickening roar of its own, as if to say, You're mine, old man. The boy cried out, fearing his father would be devoured. But then, with one sure, swift thrust, the bearded man hurled the spear through the air—and there was silence. The spear had gone straight through the bear's heart, and with one whining groan, the great beast fell over dead and its roar was heard no more.

Other men of the hunting party, all very hairy and scary looking, with their spears and knives and other implements of destruction, now came out of the trees to attend to the bear and to congratulate Voldar the Vile, the man who had killed it.

In truth, the boy knew Voldar wasn't really vile; testy would better describe him. At times, his mother called him Voldar the Vile and Irascible and Peevish and Cranky, but never to his face. He was a broad-shouldered, bushy-bearded man with a flinty gaze that could strike fear into the bravest of men. And when he spoke, his voice had the ring of steel in it. The fact that he also had the breath of a rotting walrus carcass may have further explained his powers of intimidation.

The boy blinked in awe at his father, crying tears of joy, astonished that they both still lived. The great man turned and glared at his son. For a moment it seemed Voldar might erupt in anger, as he often did, exploding in colorful oaths such as, "What in Thor's befouling backside!" or the ever-popular "I'll be dipped in weasel spit!" But instead, he turned to the men and said with a good-natured growl, "Somebody grog me! My throat's afire!"

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