“The Viking in Yellow” (2014) by Christine Morgan

My favourite moments are when the title and concept come to me in a kapow, often for a themed call like “The Viking in Yellow.” It was just bam all there.
—Christine Morgan, “Christine Morgan: The Closest Thing To Telepathy”

The foreign warriors that went a-viking harried the coasts of Europe, burned towns and looted monasteries of their treasures, raped, pillaged, and plundered…then climbed back into their ships and left, perhaps to return again next year. They were an intrusive force from outside, a force beyond prediction of control. Sometimes they could be bribed, rarely they could be fought off, but often they appeared before defense could be raised, and overwhelmed the coastal settlements…and there was little defense against them.

But when the striped yellow sails appear on the coast…and the grim silent warriors with the odd painted shields march to Marymeade Abbey, led by a chief in a tattered cloak… There are dearer things at stake than silver and golden, lives and virginities…and the Viking in Yellow will claim his own.

A mythos represents more than a collection of tales in the same setting or with shared characters, but variations on a narrative theme. Robert W. Chambers set “The Repairer of Reputations” in an alternate future, one strange to the eyes of 1895, but not unbelievable. The play The King in Yellow has fewer indications of when it is set, but that hardly matters. The Yellow Mythos can be adapted to almost any syntax and setting, by a writer with skill and imagination, the narrative echoes of Chambers’ play can repeat themselves in the far future or the distant past.

How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!
—William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1

Christine Morgan has both considerable skill and imagination. The reality of the small community that exists to serve the abbey and its parent monastery is well-developed, full of small, realistic details. The fear of and reactions to the warriors from the sea is natural, and perhaps appropriate for any normal band of roving Norsemen—but not these gaunt sailors with the strange yellow glyphs on their shields, or the chief with the tattered cloak, a plume of pale yellow horsehair on his helm. When Sister Gehilde defies him, her words echo an old formula:

“You come here, nameless and face-hidden, and call them weak? Call them cowards? For shame! Take off your visor, then! Show yourself unmasked, if you have such strength and courage!”
—Christine Morgan, “The Viking in Yellow” in In the Court of the Yellow King 

The charm of “The Viking in Yellow” is both Morgan’s reflection of the scenes and elements from Chamber’s play and the original details she adds to subtly expand upon that narrative tradition…and she does it without once invoking figures directly in their familiar and ominous capital letters. This is a Yellow Mythos story without any mention of the Yellow Sign, though yellow signs abound; no King in Yellow, though there is a stranger who fulfills the role; no Cassilda and Camilla, though another pair of sisters echo their lines; no Carcosa either, though the lake of Hali makes a brief appearance at the end, with a city of strange towers and black stars.

In plot, it’s a viking raid with a twist; a premise that is laid out and fulfilled without complication. Morgan has written a number of viking previous to this, and teases mundane horrors which are ultimately subverted. The turn of the plot, when it comes, owes a bit more to the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game than anything Lovecraft or Chambers wrote—the kind of stock madness that sees robed cultists crop up in stories like “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer—but it works well enough in context, and faithful execution of a straight premise is satisfying in its own right.

“The Viking in Yellow” was published in In the Court of the Yellow King (2014) and has not yet been republished. Christine Morgan’s other Lovecraftian fiction includes “With Honey Dripping” (2014), “The Mindhouse” (2014), “Unfathomable” (2014), “The Ithiliad” (2014), “Lascivious Tongues” (2014), “Thought He Was A Goner” (2015), “Ninesight” (2015), “Professor Patriot and the Doom That Came to Niceville” (2015), “Incense and Insensibilty” (2015), “Aerkheim’s Horror” (2015), “The Arkham Town Musicians” (2015), “Pippa’s Crayons” (2016), “The Keeper of Memory” (2017), and “Fate of the World” (2017).

Christine Morgan’s viking fiction, including “Aerkheim’s Horror” but not “The Viking in Yellow,” is collected in The Raven’s Table: Viking Stories (2017).

 

 

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