Einarr prowled around the clearing formed by the Allthane’s shades, his focus narrowing in on his opponent. With Troa and Jorir at his back, he had nothing to fear from the ring of enemies and so he waited, watching for his chance.

The Allthane’s sword may have grown rusty, but Einarr thought the man’s spirit still remembered the fight all too well. And then there was the shield-bearer. He had neither axe nor sword nor knife in hand… that Einarr could see. The hand that gripped the shield could hide a small blade, after all, and he did not miss the sheath that hung empty at the man’s belt.

Treachery? Einarr pursed his lips. Fine. He tensed his thighs, his eyes darting between the two. As his eyes fixated on the Allthane, Einarr hurtled forward. He raised Sinmora overhead –

— And struck for the shield-bearer, who had moved to intercept the blow he thought Einarr intended to land. Sinmora’s blade sank into the emaciated flesh of the shade’s shield arm but did not shear through as it had before. Einarr growled and kicked at the shade’s half-severed arm, pulling his sword free. The brittle bone beneath snapped under the force of the kick. Einarr bared his teeth at the revenant.

Neither broken arm nor feral grin seemed to faze his opponents, however. The shield-bearer did not even drop the shield, although one more good hit would give the creature no choice. But now the Allthane was whirling around his shield-bearer, his sword a blur in the sickly green light, and it was all Einarr could do to catch the blows on his own sword or shield.

He growled as the Allthane’s blade hacked at him, as viciously as a warrior under the battle fury. In a moment when the Allthane’s blade was stuck in his shield, Einarr cut for the revenant’s knees.

The shield-bearer slid between them at the last moment and Sinmora clanged against the steel boss of the shield. Einarr turned the backswing to cut again at the creature’s battered arm as he raised his own shield overhead.

The Allthane’s blade came loose. So did the shield-bearer’s arm, still attached to the shield. A hand axe fell onto the back of the boards. Einarr looked up in time to see the Allthane’s blade descending toward his shoulder. He sprang backwards and the blade made sparks against his chain shirt.

Einarr grimaced now. The Allthane really was a cut above the rest of his men. Even the shield-bearer seemed more fragile, although not by much. And Einarr would have to take out the shield-bearer before he could go after the Allthane – at least if he wanted to avoid an axe in his back, that is. Momentarily he regretted the lack of the battle-fury, but Reki was only one woman. The rage would do him no good against wisps of fog.

Einarr flexed his fingers against the grips of both sword and shield. Two on one was hardly his ideal duel, but he could do it. The shield-bearer picked up the shield with his remaining arm: Einarr’s first task was to take him out of the fight. Even without the axe that had fallen to the sand below, he could keep Einarr from his goal.

Einarr shrugged his shoulders, hoping to be rid of the feeling of baleful eyes watching. Which, of course, they were, but they were also becoming a distraction. Only two of the revenants mattered right now, and they were inside the ring with him. Einarr growled as the shield bearer took up his place in front of the Allthane.

From the corner of Einarr’s eye, he saw Jorir kick back one of the circling observers. Not alone.

He spat. “What sort of a coward uses a shield-bearer in this day and age?”

Neither Allthane nor guard rose to the bait. Well, he hadn’t really expected the taunt to work: those two operated off of a different era’s morés. The shield-bearer squared his stance and raised the battered shield into position.

Einarr brought his own shield up to guard his neck and shoulders even as he launched himself back into the attack. At the last instant he turned his shield to the side to strike the Allthane’s shield high with his edge. He heard the splintering of wood as they struck, and lashed out with Sinmora to take the shield-bearer’s head.

The Allthane was chanting again, but that did not stop his shield-bearer from crumpling to the ground at Einarr’s feet. He kicked the shield away from the center of the circle.

While Einarr was preoccupied there, however, the Allthane’s chanting voice had come around behind him. A prickling on the back of his neck was all the warning he had that a strike was imminent.

Einarr dove forward. Dread constricted his throat.

Steel clashed with gold, and the sound rang like a bell behind Einarr. He rolled to his feet.

Behind him, standing where Einarr had not a moment before, Jorir had caught the blade. The Allthane pressed against the golden shield from the Jotun’s horde, and the shield seemed made of golden flame.

“Now, milord!” The dwarf strained under the pressure the Allthane exerted against the shield.

The Allthane stared not at the dwarf, or even at his foe, but at the shield itself, and the circle of revenants cringed away now. It was an opportunity not to be missed.

Einarr leapt forward and brought his long sword up for a mighty cut. Sinmora slashed through the Allthane’s scraggly neck.

In the same instant, Troa’s blade cut halfway through the shade’s emaciated side. Troa spun past the crumpling Allthane and pulled his sword free as Einarr’s momentum carried him several paces towards the ring of shades that still surrounded them.

He wanted to be annoyed at Troa. The man had interfered in a duel, after all… but a duel against the shade of a cannibal? The man had lost all honor in life, and shown little after death. Einarr’s breath came quick and heavy now, but he did not drop his guard. The shades encircling them began to waver, now. Some wandered off into the mist. Others, the show over, rejoined the main battle. Their nearest target? The three men in their midst who had just slain their leader.

Troa and Jorir took up their positions on Einarr’s flank again, just as they had fought their way over here.

“How can someone so accursed good at tafl be so very bad at field strategy?” Jorir grumbled.

Einarr had no answer for him, but now the revenants began to close in on them again and there was no time left to answer.


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The torrent of undeath would have no end if someone did not take out the Allthane. Einarr knew the responsibility was his, both as his father’s son and as the one who had noticed the source of their trouble. He lunged forward and ran through one of the shades that pressed him. He cut at another and tried to catch his liege-man’s attention.

“Jorir!” To be heard over the drone and Reki’s song and the clash of battle he found he had to shout.

Finally, though, the dwarf grunted in recognition.

“We’re going to take the head off this beast. Watch my back?”

“Always.”

Now Einarr grunted his acknowledgement even as he kicked away yet another of the undying corpses that swarmed about. The shortest path to the Allthane’s position led directly past where his father was embroiled in the thick of the fray. With a nod, he began cutting a swath that direction.

As he neared where Stigander battled, one of the other Vidofnings staggered backwards. His father’s flank was exposed, now: Einarr slipped in to fill the gap, now fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with him once more. Jorir slipped in on the other side.

Stigander grunted, grateful to see Einarr still in the fray. “This is endless!”

“Allthane’s reviving them!” Einarr cut off a shade’s arm at the elbow as he raised his sword to block a blow aimed at his head. “I’ll take care of it!”

“An’ I’ll take care o’ ‘im.” Jorir added, scowling out at the press of shades.

Einarr ducked behind his shield to avoid another overhand blow, then offered his father half of a grin. “See? We’ll be fine. Just keep them off us?”

Stigander blew through his moustache as he eviscerated one of the creatures. “Fine.” He risked a glance over his shoulder and whistled before jerking his head forward, back to the fight. “Take Troa, too.”

Jorir growled even as he took another down at the knees. Troa, though, had already joined them, and Einarr was not about to complain about having someone on his other flank. The throng was thick that direction.

“Stay on me!” Einarr shouldered his way towards where the low drone of the Allthane’s voice still sounded. The metal boss of his shield caved in an enemy’s skull like it was rotten fruit and he stood over the body, hacking at the next creature in his path.

Jorir and Troa caught up swiftly, and the three warriors slashed their way through the enemy line with what swiftness they could manage. It was not a battle requiring a great deal of skill, except perhaps in dodging. Though they may have been warriors in life, their skills had atrophied with their muscles. It was, however, both tiring and tiresome. Shoulder to shoulder to shoulder, they kept the ravening undead from overwhelming any of them. Once this was over, they all deserved the strongest drink Einarr could find. He did not care to think what sort of diseases the creatures might spread, given the opportunity.

A fresh wave seemed to come directly for them as they approached the Allthane’s position, just inside the ring of torches. At first Einarr believed this was a matter of the newly raised specters rejoining the battle, but with every step the three men were pressed harder. He spared a glance up, past the line, and his eyes locked with the burning green orbs of the Allthane.

The reanimated dead and the clamor of battle faded to no more than a background annoyance. Einarr screamed a challenge over the din of melee all around them. He slashed down with Sinmora. His opponent fell, cut clean in two, and Einarr stepped over its body. Suddenly the path was clear: there was only open sand between Einarr and the endlessly droning Allthane.

He growled, stalking forward like a cat towards its prey. Jorir and Troa never strayed from his flanks.

The Allthane chanted more loudly, and Einarr felt rather than saw the crowd of restless dead behind him grow thick once more. It could have been a curtain writhing in the wind and dark for all Einarr cared.

“Lay down your swords.”

The shade of the Allthane said one word clearly, the drone of his own magic stopping momentarily. “No.”

“We cannot save you and your men. But we can end your torment.”

The Allthane resumed his chant.

“Lay down your swords!”

His opponents answer could not have been clearer had he spoken it aloud: the gaunt shade of the Allthane drew his own sword. Once, it would have been a blade fit for one who held the loyalty of all the clans. Now, even it was rusting away under the influence of the wet salt air and centuries of disuse.

“Look at your blade. How can one who calls himself Allthane bear to wield it?” The sword would be no less deadly for that, however, should the shade break his guard. Einarr sank a little deeper into his stance and clapped Sinmora’s hilt against his shield. The Allthane’s shield-bearer stepped into position, and they did the same.

The feeling of crowding behind him dissipated. Einarr shrugged, getting used to the feeling of open space once again.

“They’re drawin’ back,” Jorir confirmed.

“That’s because this is a duel now. Should be interesting: I’ve never dueled someone who actually used a shield-bearer before.”

“Don’t get fancy. Remember why we’re here.” Then the feeling of his liege-man and his crewmate disappeared from his back as they stepped away to face the throng.

Einarr and the Allthane began to circle the clearing, watching one another for the barest weakness. Troa and Jorir haunted the corners of Einarr’s peripheral vision, ever wary against one who might try to disrupt the duel. All around them, the writhing curtain of specters in green and black milled, their eyes burning like a row of candle sconces.


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Reki heard their story with a small, sad smile. When it was over she shook her head. “I may know a way… but you must ask yourself if it is worth the lives of any more of the crew, or how many Vidofnings we can afford to spend here. We are already short-handed.”

In the end not a man objected to the course. Einarr did not venture to guess how many were convinced, like him, and how many merely wished to avoid losing face, but once again the decision was unanimous. As the sun set the Vidofnings set a wide perimeter of torches about the beach and prepared themselves for battle. Reki stood tall on the bow, using the carved rooster’s crowing head for balance. That the Allthane would take their continued presence as an excuse to an attack was plain. They merely needed to be ready for whatever horror had set upon the freeboater’s ship.

The two surviving freeboaters were among those on the deck of the Vidofnir, guarding Reki’s back should some of the shades attempt to circle around for her. She was, after all, the lynchpin of this fight.

Einarr and Stigander stood as a two-man line, ahead of all the others, facing the island. That, too, had been contentious, but in the end it was the Thane’s prerogative to lead the charge. The rest of the Vidofnings, save those set back to guard Reki, formed up behind them.

They stood in their battle lines, waiting, almost motionless, as the moon appeared over the deceptively calm sea and the scrub of this so-called island. Still there was no sign of either fog or ghost light. Some in the back rows began to mutter restlessly.

As the moon rose above the level of the plateau a thin mist began to build outside the ring of torches. As it grew thicker a little mist found its way inside, close to the ground at first but then rising as far as a man’s knees. Einarr readied his blade at the same moment, in almost the same motion, as his father did.

“This isle belongs to the dead.” The Allthane’s voice seemed to whisper out of the fog from every direction at once. “And the dead shall take back what is theirs.”

With the shade’s words the torches shifted in color from the welcome yellow light of the living to the sickly green of ghost light. The fog behind began to glow as well, and from it were paired sparks of concentrated green, as though the specters eyes burned with the ghost light. Einarr swallowed against his unease at the sight: even though he had expected it, the move tried to awake a primal fear he was unaccustomed to.

With the change in the light, the dead advanced into the circle of torches. Einarr set his shield.

Reki began to sing.

The notes that poured forth from the bow of the Vidofnir were a far cry from the voice they were accustomed to hearing. Sharp, staccato, and discordant, the sound set Einarr’s teeth on edge.

However unpleasant it was for the Vidofnings to hear, however, it was worse for the Allthane’s crew. The shades who had entered the circle seemed to flicker and waver, until finally they were revealed for what they truly were. Blackened flesh stretched tight over hollow bellies and displayed ribs in stark relief. Lank hair hung in clumps from half-bald scalps. The skin on their faces stretched too tightly over cheekbones, their eye sockets empty of all save the malevolent green fire as they worked their jaws in anticipation of the hot blood of the living.

Stigander clapped the pommel of his sword against his shield. A moment later, the rest of the Vidofnings answered in kind.

The shades were solid. It was time to fight.

Einarr raised Sinmora overhead. In the same breath, he and Stigander began the charge forward into the ghastly forces ahead of them. When Einarr clashed with the first of them, Sinmora cut through the creature’s shoulder with a sound like striking rotted wood.

He had no chance to savor the ease with which the first one fell. Immediately three others set upon him with sword and claw. He hacked the sword arm from the first and ran the second through, only to realize the motion had left his back open to the third.

Einarr whirled to try to defend against the last one, ignoring for the moment the claws scrabbling at his chain shirt from one-arm. There was no time even to bring his shield to bear.

At the last second the emaciated corpse stiffened. A blade very like his own protruded through its ribs, and over the creature’s face he saw his father’s illuminated in the ghost light.

Einarr nodded his thanks and turned back to the melee. There was not time for more: even that was almost too much. Jorir had come up even with them and taken down one-arm in the moment he thought the other would be the end of him.

The Vidofnings gave no ground, but the onslaught of the dead felt as though it would be endless. For every one they took down, it seemed as though three more took their place.

Eventually, Einarr grew conscious of a low drone underlying the sounds of battle and the chant of their Singer. He hopped back from the clinch and sliced his current opponent through its hollow belly. In the moment of quiet that bought him, he cast around, looking for the source of the drone.

The sound had a familiar quality to it, as of a voice he had heard recently. Einarr’s eyes were drawn to the edge of the lighted circle, where the Allthane stood back from the onslaught. His mouth was moving… and the low drone had a similar cadence to the story he had told the night before. And, all around him, the specters that had fallen were taking on new bodies. Einarr set his mouth in determination.


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The Allthane nodded solemnly. “We had been adrift at sea for weeks when the storm washed us up here. What little food we had left was washed away, and I was not the only one killed as we battled the storm. When they found themselves on such a pitiful bit of land as this, the survivors in my crew began to build a barrow for those of us who had fallen. The funeral was held, yes, but when the flames reached our bodies the survivors were overcome by hunger. …And I do not know who among my men is guilty.”

Einarr’s throat constricted at the thought of the feast that had been tempting them for hours now.

“You did well not to eat at my table. For your foresight I will grant you the boon of safe passage off this rock: heed my words and go, for should you tarry I may forget myself.”

Einarr set his jaw, considering. His odds of persuading the Allthane further seemed slim. “We will leave this cavern, but it is not my ship to command. Perhaps our Singer will have an idea what to do.”

None of the dead offered any sort of an answer as he stalked off towards his men clustered by the tunnel up and the exit. No shades barred their way out of the cave, nor were there any remaining above ground as the twelve men emerged from the domain of the ghosts, blinking, into the light of a midday sun. Einarr could not help but breathe a sigh of relief as they emerged into daylight: others, including the two former freeboaters, were not so reserved.

“Father probably has the whole ship scouring the island for us by now. Let’s get our findings and get them back to the Vidofnir.”

***

Einarr took the lead as they marched down the beach toward the waiting ship, hauling their findings awkwardly among them. As soon as the Vidofnir appeared past a bend he could see activity swarming about the ship: perhaps if the repair crew had scavenged sufficient lumber it would explain why they had not run across search parties on their way back. Or, given the size of the sandbar, the search parties may well have given up ages ago. He walked faster.

Not many minutes later they were spotted, and several figures from the swarm split off from the Vidofnir to come and greet them. At the lead, despite having to vault down off the deck, was the burly blond figure of Stigander.

Einarr did not stop his string of men to await the arrival of the other Vidofnings: there was a decision to be made, and he had a feeling he would have some convincing to do if he wanted anyone to pay him any heed. In spite of everything, though, he grinned to see his father racing in their direction.

“Sorry to -” He began, but before he could finish his thought his father’s fist swung out on a giant roundhouse and caught him across the jaw. Einarr dropped the findings he had been carrying. As he righted himself, he lifted a hand to rub at the soon-to-be bruise. “Ow.”

“That,” his father puffed through his moustache. “Was for letting me think you were dead all night.”

Then Stigander pulled him into a bear hug, nearly cracking a rib in the process. “And this is for making it back. What happened?”

“Sorry, Father. I’d have been back if I could have. We were a little trapped.”

“Obviously.” Stigander bent to begin picking up some of the items he’d knocked to the ground. The rest of the crew was beginning to arrive as well.

“I’m afraid we got an invitation we couldn’t refuse… from the shade of the Allthane himself. He holds court in a cave under the plateau, every night I expect.”

“Explain.”

Einarr recounted the events of the night before, briefly.

“And he just let you go?” Irding asked, incredulous.

“Once we’d shattered his illusion? Yes, more or less.”

Stigander narrowed his eyes. “What’s the catch.”

“We must be gone by sunset, lest he and his ‘forget themselves’ again and do unto us as was done to the Yrsirmar the other night. …Oh, by the way, I found a pair of survivors. Arnskar, Kragnir, get up here.”

The two men practically bounced with excitement as they hurried forward at Einarr’s call.

“These two were caught in the spell when we got there, and were helpful in getting us out. Since they lack a ship, and we lack a handful of sailors…”

“We’ll talk about that later. Right now I want you to explain why we shouldn’t just cast off now and get out of here.”

“Father, have I said anything of the sort?”

“It’s written all over your face. Out with it.”

“The Allthane’s ship disappeared how long ago?”

“Centuries.”

“And in all that time, they’ve been trapped in a torment of undeath – all because someone or ones on their crew decided a funeral pyre was a waste of precious meat.”

Stigander blanched. “They turned cannibal?”

With a nod, Einarr agreed: “Some of them did. And the Allthane’s shade doesn’t know which. By this point everyone down there has eaten human flesh. They trap you with their feast. …And I want to send them on, if we can figure out how.”

Stigander’s sigh of exasperation came out as nearly a growl. “You know it’s not properly any of our business.”

“And yet, if it is within our power, it is the right and proper thing to do.”

Stigander gave his son a sideways look as they carried their haul the rest of the way to the Vidofnir. “Have I ever told you how much you take after your mother?”

“Often enough.”

Arnskar cleared his throat from behind them in the line. “If I may be so bold, sirs, I ‘spect if we can do this, the old Allthane wouldn’t mind us helpin’ ourselves to some of the gold down there.”

Einarr snorted. “Even if he did, what could he do about it?”

Now he got a different kind of look from his father.

“Oh, yes, if we can get it to the ship, and it won’t drag us down in the water, there’s enough gold to buy six ships down there, and hire crew besides.” He nearly added ‘if we’re willing to rob a barrow’ – but that was what brought them here in the first place.


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“Once upon a time, I too was a young man,” the Allthane began. “Strong of thigh and quick of wit, I was a thorn in the side of our chieftain. Though all knew it, none dared admit that the Chieftan I was bound to serve, as my father before me, had grown weak and stingy with age. He also had no heir, and the loss of his sons is what many blamed for his temperament. I, young upstart that I was, thought it wrong that our clan should be forced to labor under such a chieftain until the end of his days when the rulership should pass to another.

“Yes, my unification of the clans began with a challenge to a man barely acknowledged as a Jarl. Hardly an auspicious beginning, was it not? And yet.

“This Jarl, though he had no reason to, accepted my challenge, and did not even appoint a shield-bearer for the fight. I sometimes wonder, even now, if he was seeking death. If that is what he sought, well, I fear I was the one to give it to him. The duel was rather one-sided, even with all of the handicaps given to one challenging the chieftain.

“After that, it was generally agreed among the other men of the clan that the one with the temerity to stand up to the old chieftain should become in fact the new leader. Why none of them had done so before, I never learned. Never cared to learn, for in accomplishing my goal I had also gathered for myself a loyal following.

“Our ships were yet in good stead, and it being still early in fall at the time, I sent a boat out in search of those which had not yet returned, to inform them of the good news and instruct them to return home and swear fealty. …That boat never returned.” The Allthane looked down for a long moment before finally setting his goblet on the arm of his throne.

“Those who were still at sea, or at least some of them, had remained loyal to the old chieftan… or had merely taken this as an opportunity to cut themselves loose. At any rate, it was not something I was capable of letting stand. They had their winter in whatever port they happened to find, for none of them returned home that fall, and in the spring I led the rest of our ships in search of the turncoats.

“The first set I found sheltering under the banner of the Atlanings. For generations our two clans had feuded, and so there was no cause to hesitate. We warred with the Atlanings for a month, and we crushed them. Their thane bent his knee and swore fealty to me.”

Einarr sat staring at the Allthane, afraid that if his focus wavered he would be lulled into sleep by the tale. Some among the shades and skeletons were already falling asleep where they sat. Evidently not even the Allthane could be excused from a long story, badly told, in this hall. He went on in that vein for some time: Einarr tuned him out after the third conquest, told exactly as dryly as the first. If nothing else, this explained the desire of the unnamed shade to skip over this portion of history.

After a time, how long he truly had no idea, Jorir stomped on his toe to keep him from nodding off. He gave the dwarf a grateful nod. From the corner of his eye, Einarr saw Tyr blinking rapidly and elbowed him in the ribs. The older man coughed and nodded in turn. Finally it seemed as though the Allthane was wrapping up his tale.

“And thus it was,” he droned, “that I was granted the title of King of the North and crowned Allthane.” He took a drink from the goblet sitting on the arm of his chair, blinking at the mostly drowsing audience.

Before the Allthane could grow angry with anyone and spoil the Vidofning’s chances of freedom, Einarr stepped forward off of the bench… stone? He had been leaning against with a slow clap. “My lord.”

When the Allthane turned his wrathful eyes on Einarr, Einarr could now see the shade beneath the illusion even there. Flesh clung to the bones of his face with not an ounce of meat beneath, and instead of eyes Einarr thought he saw burning fire. “Have you come to mock me, then?”

“Nay, my lord, but to bury you.” He stepped forward slowly and lowered his hands. “For three hundred years you and your men have endured this torture, and for three hundred years you have added to your number those unlucky enough to wash aground here on the same isle you wrecked on. Has this not gone on long enough?”

“It’s no use.” The Allthane’s voice was oddly wet here. Had he still been human in the slightest, Einarr would have thought he struggled not to weep. “’Twas the wreck that killed me, sure, and many of my best men… but the pile of gold you witnessed earlier was my burial mound, assembled by those who remained of the crew. And yet, here we are, with only this half-remembered feast to console us. Begone, you, and trouble us no further. Take your crew and leave this place. Leave this island, or come the rising of the moon we shall come for you as we have come for so many others.”

The golden brightness faded, and before the five living men stood uncounted shades and skeletons, each of which glowed with faint ghostlight.

Einarr did not immediately turn to go, although he motioned his companions to head back towards the others. “If you have received the proper funeral rites, what binds you to this place?”

The remains of the Allthane shook his bony head, lank hair brushing back and forth against his shoulders, and laughter echoed from his chest. “Why? Would you offer to take on tasks left three centuries undone?”

“He might,” Jorir said. Of the four, he had stubbornly remained. “The Oracle named him Cursebreaker.”

If a corpse could seem surprised, the Allthane did. “Well. Had I tasks which required doing before I could rest, perhaps I would give them to you. But that is not what binds us here.”

Einarr spread his hands. “What, then?”

“Cannibalism.”

Einarr felt as though he had been struck by the stone door above. “What did you say?”


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So as some of you already know (if you follow me on Facebook), DH and I are expecting our first come May. I’m doing everything in my power to make sure there will be no interruptions to the web serial schedule, and at the same time working on getting a few other things up on Amazon. (No, I’m sorry, at this point I don’t know when Dance of Desolation will be done.) Coming up in the next few months, though, I expect to have a collected volume of the first book of Einarr’s adventures available, and probably of the second book as well before the little one arrives.

In the midst of all this, and making Christmas presents for some in the immediate family, I’m also having to expand my wardrobe, and I thought I’d share some of how that’s gone so far.

First, a month or two ago now, I made a couple of belly bands from some purple jersey knit following the instructions on Make It Love It. Those have been really comfortable, but I’m not entirely sure how much longer I’ll be able to wear them… or my jeans.

On Thanksgiving, I followed the tutorial here in order to make the tee-shirt from Simplicity 4275 maternity-friendly. I did that in a periwinkle jersey knit and added drop sleeves, and while I’m not wild about the color, and the neck is a bit wide, on the whole I like it. At the moment I don’t have photos of it… but seriously, it’s a tee-shirt.

Then, just last night, I finished what ended up being a long-sleeved dress version of that same top, more or less inspired by the tutorial for a bodycon dress on Cotton and Curls.  I spent longer than I like to admit playing with the measurements from there before it hit me: I could take the modified version of Simplicity 4275 and just make it longer. The result, styled so you can see I’m not entirely a boat, is below. Once again added drop sleeves, because this is not the weather to be going around without them. I need to fix the right sleeve a bit (rookie mistake: always add ease, even with super stretchy knits), and the material choice was not the best, but on the whole I’m happy with it.

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Pardon the bad selfie and the spot on the mirror.

Super comfortable, and works for either “I just don’t care today” (without accessories) or a little nicer (once I add the scarf and some long jewelry). I could do another one in this burgundy knit I have… but I have an idea to use the surplice top from Simplicity 4291 in a similar way, and that almost has to be in red.

“Very good, my Lord. In that case, let me begin with how I won the Isinntog from the Jotün Fraener of Svartlauf.”

“The who of where?”

“Ah, but surely my Lord should know that story! It was ancient when my grandfather was still a babe. Once, long ago, the elves of Skaergard created a torc of surpassing beauty and dedicated it to the goddess Eira. The torc was all of silver, inset with thousands of tiny diamonds, and on each end bore the head of a dragon holding an anchor in its mouth. Inside were inscribed runes that gave it power over the wind and storms.” Einarr may not have been trained as a Singer, but there was no man of the clans worthy of the name who could not tell a rousing story.

“One of the Jotuns, by the name of Fraener, came to the isle of Skaergard after hearing of the wonders of the Isinntog intending to steal it for himself…” The story continued on in this vein, speaking of the vile tricks Fraener had played, and the blood he had shed, in order to win the torc for his own. Once it was in his hands, however, he found that it would only fit the first knuckle of his smallest finger. Satisfied nonetheless, for still he had secured the power of the goddess’ artifact, he left Skaergard and came to the winter island now known as Svartlauf. This island was only accessible, even by him, with the aid of the Isinntog, and so he and his dog made their new home protected from the wrath of the elves by the storm that raged about the island.

“And that brings us to where I come in,” Einarr said after a time, dearly wishing he could have something to drink that would not poison his mind. “In order to win the hand of my fair maiden, her father set me a series of tasks. The first of these was to steal from the Jotun Fraener the Isinntog, which he had so long before stolen from the elves.” He had their attention, he was sure. Once he’d finished this tale, he would ask Jorir to tell the tale of their encounter with the Order of the Valkyrie on their way to visit the Oracle of Attilsund – although he had no intention of sharing the results of their visit.

As he came to the thrilling conclusion of the tale – somewhat modified, of course, to ignore that he had yet more tasks to accomplish – many of the spirits in the crowd burst into cheers. It was probably the first fresh story they had heard in centuries.

“Jorir, where are you, you rogue?”

The svartdverger ambled out of the crowd to stand near his liege lord.

“Surely you’ve a tale to tell, as well now. What about our battle on the sea, not two months ago?”

“We dwarves, well we’ve not got the knack for the telling of tales like you humans do, but I reckon I can give it a whirl. Y’see, milord’s father determined after we rejoined the crew from that self-same mission to Svartlauf that this was going to be a big summer. There was much to do, after all, and already they had lost some weeks waiting on our return.”

Einarr smirked to note that he glossed over his own newness to the crew, but rather than correct him simply merged back into the crowd. Best to be a good audience now, so that when one of the specters inevitably decided to tell a tale of his own they could carry out the plan appropriately.

“Well, the story of Einarr’s family is a long one, and a sad one at that, and doesn’t have much ta do with where I’m going except to set me on the path. You see, I knew about the Oracle living on Attilsund, on account of I’d seen ‘er before, I had. Given the task at hand, that I’d just heard first-hand from their Singer, I thought it might behoove us all to go and pay the Oracle a little visit.”

“Not six weeks out of harbor, and what should we see cutting across the waves but an Imperial dromon – headed straight for us, no less, and the wing and spear painted on her sail.”

Jorir may have claimed dwarves lacked the knack for storytelling, but if Einarr was any judge the dwarf’s telling of that battle bested his own of the trip to Svartlauf. Einarr actually enjoyed listening to his liege-man tell of that battle, even including the part where he himself got scolded for recklessness on the field of battle. Einarr laughed and clapped along with everyone else as Jorir finished up the tale.

He was about to encourage Tyr to tell a story – something from longer ago than last winter, probably. He certainly had plenty of years to choose from – when one of the Allthane’s men took the bait.

“Well, since we’ve newcomers and all, I suppose it might be worth telling this one again.” This was not the show-off, but it was one of the spirits who had been making a nuisance of themselves since the hall dance.

“Everyone knows how the Allthane came to be, of course -”

“I’m afraid not!” Einarr called out.

“How can you not know the tale of how the North was finally unified, once and for all?” The man was indignant, now. Good.

“Because no-one has held the chair of Allthane for three hundred years,” Tyr answered. Now the men in the crowd – all save five of them – jeered and scoffed.

“Ah, but it’s true. How many of you knew the meaning of the wing-and-spear our good dwarf spoke of?”

Silence descended on the hall.

“For my part, I will gladly hear the tale of how our glorious host brought all the tribes under his thumb, for few save the Singers now know it.” Einarr broke the silence. “It is a feat that has not been equalled since.”

The Allthane cleared his throat from behind where Einarr stood facing the gathering. “In that case sit quietly and listen well, for never again shall you have the chance to hear it straight from the man himself.”


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Einarr’s eyes rolled up into his head as the warm odor of food tried to fill his nose, his mouth, take over his mind.

Someone who evidently had not seen the exchange with the show-off took his strange expression to mean that Einarr was choking. Before his vision could truly cloud, a pair of very solid hands was clapping him on the back.

Einarr turned his head and spat out the foul substance – he could not tell what it was by taste, and he did not care to look at it any more now than he had before. “Thank you, friends.”

When he turned to face his benefactors, Einarr blinked. Beneath their illusory feast day clothes, these men were as living as he was. Einarr thought he saw despair in their eyes. He grinned and threw his arms about their necks. “And just the friends I was looking for, too. Come on, and meet the others of my crew.”

Finding a place on the edge of the crowd where they could speak without arousing suspicion was difficult, under the circumstances. Those who had been impressed by his performance at the hall dance wished to congratulate him: evidently the malicious show-off had grown too accustomed to winning. Others would jostle him at any opportunity… and they could not leave the golden light. He tried, and more than once, but each time it was as though the edge of the light formed a wall as solid as stone.

Einarr grunted. This would do. “Show me your hands.”

“Beg pardon?” Confusion was evident on the man’s face.

“Show me your hands.” Einarr held out his own. “Look closely. You’ll see my true nature. I would confirm yours before we go along.”

The other man, who looked vaguely familiar from the ring of dancers, nodded hesitantly. “As you like.”

When he tentatively held his hand out towards Einarr, Einarr clasped it and felt flesh. Einarr nodded: the other man seemed too shocked to say anything.

“Now you.”

The man who had questioned him moved much more confidently than his crewmate had, grasping Einarr’s hand in a firm shake. “So it is you.”

“You’re from the freeboater’s crew?” He kept his voice low, trying not to stand out above the hum of conversation.

“The Yrsirmar, yes. And you were with the group that came to offer aid.”

“I also led the group that came to help later. Not that there was much we could do.” Einarr looked past the man’s shoulder and caught Tyr’s eye, beckoning him over.

“My name is Einarr, son of Stigander, the Captain of the Vidofnir. The man on his way over is Tyr. The dwarf you saw earlier is Jorir.”

The more confident man nodded. “Kragnir. And this here is Arnskar.”

“Good. I’m glad to see you’re still yourselves.”

“Back to bein’ ourselves, you mean.” Arnskar almost stuttered over the words. “Not proud o’ this, but ran so hard from those… those…”

“Spirits.” Einarr filled in. Whatever they looked like wasn’t really important.

“Right. Well. Wasn’t paying enough attention, fell in a hole. Next thing we know we’s at a feast, filling our faces. An’ then the hall dance starts, an’ you’re talking to me like I exist, not like I’m some mask on a stage.”

“Well whaddya make of that, Tyr.” Einarr tried to keep a smile out of his voice. All by accident, and he was still proving the Oracle right.

“Stroke of good luck’s what I make of it,” Tyr grumbled.

“Where’d you last see Jorir?”

“He was aiming to avoid that arrogant prick you couldn’t quite get free of, I think.”

Einarr grunted. “And good luck to him. I just hope he can keep the scoundrel away from here for a while.”

“Sirs… way I see it, we’re all trapped here,” Kragnir started. “What d’ye need us for?”

Now Einarr grinned. “I aim to make it so we’re not all stuck here, and maybe do something about the Allthane’s shade. But I need to know more about this court in order to do it. You’ve been here longer than I: what do you know?”

***

The Allthane knew he was dead, that much was certain. How many of the others did, well, that was another question. Only, the Allthane preferred to pretend he wasn’t dead – so far, nothing that Einarr had not already gathered. Furthermore, Einarr still wasn’t sure he could really blame the Allthane for trying to forget he was a cursed shade stuck wandering a half-drowned rock in the far north.

Where things got interesting was how this played out with the others trapped in the feast with him. The shades, the freeboaters were certain, had been part of the Allthane’s original crew… and Kragnir wondered how many of them had already passed over to the otherworld when the Allthane drew them back. There was a thought that made Einarr shudder every time it occurred to him: to be returned to a mockery of life by the lord you’d served, to fulfill the selfsame function as you had in life, eternally…

Einarr was even more certain that their way out would involve the request of a boon, and just as certain that requesting the honor of burying the Allthane’s remains would earn them a tirade, or worse.

Well. If he could not take the direct approach, plainly his best option was to trick the Allthane into letting go the facade before asking the boon. Between the three of them, with the knowledge gleaned from the Yrsirmarings, they might just have a chance. Einarr squared his shoulders and strode towards where the Allthane once again sat, twirling his goblet morosely.

“My Thane.” Einarr offered a bow that would embarrass an Imperial, he thought, but the Allthane seemed to thrive on melodrama. “We have danced. We have feasted and drank, but nowhere do I hear stories of men’s exploits. May I regale you with a tale or two of my own?”

The Allthane looked up, still bored, but gave a twirling wave that suggested Einarr was intended to begin.

“Very good, my Lord. In that case, let me begin with how I won the Isinntog from the Jotün Fraener of Svartlauf.”


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Einarr once more offered Jorir the hilt of his sword in token of their pledge, and the dwarf grasped it without hesitation.

“A test, my lord?” Jorir raised an eyebrow, his voice held low.

“I was the one on trial, I think. Well, we gave them a story, anyway.”

“You!” The show-off from the circle thundered, striding into the ring in his spectral fury. “That was no challenge. You planned this!”

“Are not sword dances typically agreed on?” Einarr kept his voice light. If he played this right, the only one to lose honor would be the enraged ghost. “What matter if it was friendly or otherwise?”

“The sword dance is a sacred trial by steel, and you have defiled it! What dispute was this meant to settle?”

“Good sir, I believe you are mistaken. The sword dance is a ritual, true, but one which contains a story. Have we not accomplished that?”

The figure of the show-off wavered, turning almost transparent even as it tried to elongate.

“Stand down!” The voice of the Allthane only seemed to bellow, but it was sufficient to bring the spectre back to its human form. “You forget yourself, and you forget the point of the hallingdanse. The newcomers have impressed me, but you have only served to remind us all of things better left forgot.”

It worked?

“The hallingdanse is over, and the table yet groans with the weight of food. Surely by now our guests have worked up an appetite.”

“Ah…” Even as Einarr was about to object, the light shifted and the room was once again dominated by the feast table and the glow of light reflected off of gold. Even knowing the smells were illusory, the sight of platters of fish – real fish, not the dolphin centerpiece – and the steaming confections like nothing Jarl Hroaldr had ever served now made Einarr’s mouth water. It was true: the hallingdanse had left him hungry.

Jorir, too, stared at the table with wide eyes. He swallowed before turning his head to look at his liege lord. Einarr met his liege man’s gaze and nodded: by winning the hallingdanse, they had left themselves weak to the lure of the spectral food.

Tyr walked up behind them and clapped their shoulders, grinning at each of them. “Well fought out there.”

“Thanks.” Einarr could not keep the dryness from his voice.

“Ready for the harder battle?”

“Not much choice, now is there?” Jorir drawled.

Tyr’s grin disappeared and he turned his face to Einarr. “Not much, no. Any idea how to break us out of the Allthane’s thrall?”

“Not yet. I’d thought to ask for a boon, but somehow I doubt he would wish to hear what I would request.”

Tyr grunted. “You’re likely right, although you may also be on the right track. Now get out there and mingle: we’ll think of something.”

Einarr grumbled. “I’m sure we will. I just hope we can do it quickly enough.”

“That’s what I’m here for, isn’t it?”

Einarr harrumphed and made his way back into the crowd of spirits. When one of them thrust a plate into his hand he took it, not looking at what it held, pretending he couldn’t smell it. Likewise when a cup was pressed into his other hand. That at least he did not have to feign disinterest in: he remembered well the appearance of the liquid without its glamour.

A figure cut across his path, intent on something on the other side of the feast, and it seemed strangely solid. He drew his eyebrows down, remembering the half-alive man from the ring of dancers. Survivors? Perhaps of the freeboaters?

If there were freeboaters caught up in the Allthane’s feast, surely he should try to break them free, as well. Perhaps that was where the key lay? Not in his own men’s freedom, but in that of those who had come before?

He shook his head. No, no-one who claimed to be the Allthane would insist on such disloyalty. Still, though, should he win their freedom perhaps he could also win their loyalty.

Still, though, he was not quite back at the beginning. Should he be able to get through to the captive freeboater, the other man might have valuable insights. It was worth a shot.

Now he mingled with purpose. Einarr had been so surprised by the man’s aspect during the dance that he had not remembered his face, and so he studied each and every man he passed with the intent to pierce their disguise.

So intent was he on his task that he nearly tripped over Jorir, who had evaded all plates and instead been caught up in a game of tafl on the periphery.

“My apologies, gentlemen. Don’t let me interrupt your game… Jorir, is that the piece I think it is?”

“Aye. You’d find his ploy familiar, too. Only, after I win, I’ll not be giving my king away.”

“See that you don’t.” Given the associations Jorir had placed on that piece before, the alternative seemed uncomfortably like being given to the ghosts himself. Now he leaned over and whispered to his warrior. “Keep your eyes open. At least one other man at this feast is alive.”

Jorir nodded. “If I see him, I’ll be sure to tell him.”

Einarr clapped him on the shoulder, nodding in turn. The dwarf was clever: that was no misunderstanding. He meandered back out into the crowd, still studying the men about him in search of one who was actually a man.

“What’s this? Even with food in hand, still you do not eat!” One of the spectral revelers approached, his arms outstretched. It took Einarr only a moment to recognize him as the show-off from the ring.

“Mm? Oh, I do have a plate. I’m afraid my friends and I have much on our minds. If we do not eat, it is only because worry fills our bellies.”

“No worries allowed here, my friend.” He stressed that word in an exceedingly unfriendly way. “Eat! I promise, your cares will vanish with the first morsel.”

“Such a thing will not do, I’m afraid.” Einarr glanced about, hoping there was a table within arm’s reach, to no avail. “Some things simply demand contemplation, and to fail to consider them is the height of indiscipline. Now if you will excuse me, there is someone I am looking for.”

“Oh? How fascinating.” The show-off approached far closer than Einarr was comfortable with. He could feel the cold of the grave emanating from the specter’s body. “Tell me who it is, perhaps I have seen them.”

“I didn’t get a good look at their face, and I’m afraid I know no-one’s name here.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.”

Einarr wanted to groan as a force pressed briefly down against the plate in his hand. When it vanished the plate was lighter.

“He w-” Einarr cut himself off as the show-off’s hand lifted, a mess of unidentified food clutched in his fingers. Einarr pressed his lips together as he realized what the man intended, but not before a morsel made its way through.

“Relax. Join the feast. Have fun.” The spirit smiled maliciously and thumped Einarr on the back as he stalked away into the crowd. Einarr nearly choked trying not to swallow the tainted food. A warm sensation flooded his mouth.


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Einarr made his opening moves especially eye-catching this round. From his hop-skip out he did a handspring and landed on his toes in a crouch. Rather than rising from his crouch, he bounced around the ring like that, kicking a foot with each bounce, his arms folded. Once he’d completed his circuit he moved to the center of the circle, still kicking with every move. Once he was sure he had their attention, waiting for the inevitable surprise, he leapt straight up into the air and kicked both legs out in front of him. At the apex of his jump he swung them behind and up into the air to land on his hands.

Now he aped some of Jorir’s fancy handwork, partially because it made for a good show but also to give the dwarf an excuse to “challenge” him. When he decided the fancy kicks had had their day, he placed the soles of his feet together and began hopping on his hands.

Then an idea struck. He extended his left leg high in the air and lowered his right down towards the floor. Just when he was sure everyone expected him to come down, Einarr raised his right hand to grab his toe. You can do this. The balance was trickier than he expected, but he had this. From this pose he threw the weight of his horizontal leg outward…

And spun on his palm. Oh, gods, that hurt on the rough stone floor that only looked like polished wood. But it got a cheer from the audience – a cheer he could not quite grin at, under the circumstances.

Thankfully Jorir did not make him wait much longer. The dwarf chose this moment to swagger out into the ring, his arms extended to the audience, his hands seeming to beckon them from cheers to jeers. Four strides into the circle, he pounded a hand against the ground and raised a fist to the air before matching every move Einarr had just made.

When Jorir made it plain that’s what he intended to do, Einarr lowered his feet to the ground and stepped back towards the ring – but not into it. Instead, he pretended as though he were leaning against a wall, his arms crossed, critiquing his liege-man’s performance to the surprisingly solid-looking man behind him in the circle.

Einarr shook his head a little. Now was not the time to focus on that. Right now, he needed to concentrate on beating the spirits who had proposed this contest, for that was likely the only way out. He glanced back at the man again: even after the reminder that the circle was made up of ghosts, he could not see this person as anything other than alive.

Jorir spun on his hand now. I wonder if that’s as painful for his hide as it was for mine? That was his cue, though.

Einarr drove his fist towards the floor – although, with his greater height, he did not actually pound the ground with it – before raising it into the air above his head. Challenge accepted.

Jorir’s dismount from the Thurisaz rune spin was somewhat less graceful than Einarr’s, but not a soul in the hallingdanse seemed to care. Everyone recognized what they intended at this point, and only those who had not cared to share it before knew it was planned.

In the same moment Jorir unhooked his axe from his belt Einarr drew Sinmora, and now the real mutters began from about the circle. Everyone knew the sword dance, knew that it was ceremonial. To use live steel was dangerous, unusual, but not unheard of. Einarr raised his long sword toward the ceiling even as Jorir tapped the haft of his axe against the ground.

No coin changed hands in this circle. Likely gambling had long since lost all meaning among the Allthane’s crew. No matter: they aimed to impress, not to win a pot.

Now they moved into the clash. Einarr made a testing swipe with his sword, which was met easily by his axe. In the rhythm of the dance they both turned toward the crowd to egg them on before the spin took them back into ritual combat.

A pair of testing swipes matched the rhythm of the drum with clashing steel before the dance turned them back around, and then a set of three cuts. Now the tune shifted, and the testing feints were at an end.

Both of them, it seemed, had their battle on the jotunhall’s stair in mind as they came together in the clinch and sprang back again. Einarr was perversely tempted to bark at his liege man, but that would be perceived as an insult too far. Probably by Jorir, as well. Still, though, that meant that soon the dwarf would…

Here it came. Jorir danced back from Einarr’s last lunge a good distance farther than he ordinarily would have and turned, his knees bent. The dwarf ran six paces back towards their duel and launched himself into the air.

Back on the island, had they not been on a stair, Einarr would have slid under the dwarf and cut into his legs without hesitation. Now, though, that was simply not an option. Nor was allowing the dwarf’s momentum to send him barreling into the circle, as would likely have happened if he simply avoided the attack. Instead, Einarr dropped to his knees and raised Sinmora over head. Steel met steel in a thunderous clang.

No sooner had Jorir’s toes touched the ground, though, than Einarr gave a shove with his blade. The dwarf leapt lightly back: perhaps he would have been able to stop himself from hitting the crowd behind them. No matter: an artful dodge, no matter how clever, was still not as well-received as a skillful parry. Both showed skill, but only the former could suggest cowardice.

Now they circled, testing each other’s guards again while the rhythm of the song allowed. Einarr grinned: he saw his chance, and he didn’t mind letting Jorir know he did.

As the music shifted again, Einarr dropped to a low crouch, balancing himself with his hands as he launched a sweeping kick against the dwarf’s stocky legs. Jorir attempted to leap over the sweep, much as Father had last winter, but unlike Stigander Jorir misjudged the height of Einarr’s kick. The toe of his boot caught the back of Jorir’s heel and the dwarf tumbled backwards.

The proper way to end the fight would be to place the tip of his blade at Jorir’s throat. Einarr felt his arm shake as he raised the sword slowly in that direction, though. No. Instead, he flipped Sinmora around and held the blade under his arm, his hand on top of the hilt as he offered it to his liege man.

That was the moment the show-off of the competition realized they’d been had.


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