“I did, milord.” The earnest-faced fisherman stepped forward, looking vaguely embarrassed.

Einarr nodded, curious as to why the man would be embarrassed – but now was not the time. “Good job. Keep it up. Do we have the tools you’ll need?”

The yellow-haired man straightened. “I believe so, milord. Got the basics, anyway. Anything else we should be able to improvise, although it’d be nice to have the shed for working in.”

Einarr frowned, considering anew, then shook his head. “I think we’d lose more time bringing it here than we’d save. Unless that storm did more damage than I think it did… Has anyone found a cart yet?”

Erik shrugged. “Not that I know of. You might check with Arkja.”

Einarr grunted acknowledgment. “All right. Good plan. I’ll go do that. Runa?”

She hummed at him, as though her mind had been elsewhere.

“Want to come help me look for a cart? Even if Arkja has one, odds are good we’ll need a second one for the gold.” He started off back towards the center of town, trusting her to follow.

She did not disappoint, settling into an easy walk by his side. “You’re just going to take it, without so much as a by-your-leave?”

“Well, yes. How do you think it was gathered in the first place?” He risked a glance at her face: yes, she apparently was that sheltered. “We’re raiders, Runa. We take what we want through guile, treachery, and main force, no matter what pretty rules we dress it up with among the Clans. What did you think went on with the Skudbrun while they were out all season?”

She opened her mouth, but could only stammer a little in response.

Einarr shook his head a little. “I know, it probably never occurred to you to wonder, and raiding doesn’t just fill the coffers – but fill them it does. That secret room in the back of the boat shed is filled with the ill-gotten gains of some unfortunate raider, turned fisher or boatwright once he realized he couldn’t break free. And the odds are very good he’s either long dead or he has dirty yellow hair and a scarred face.”

He could hear Arkja and Jorir shouting instructions now: they must have commandeered part of the group Erik was looking after. Einarr turned to smile at his beloved, only to have to stifle a laugh. She was pouting, of all things!

Einarr turned quickly back around. “Don’t be like that,” he said soothingly. “I’m sorry. If it weren’t for me, you probably never would have had cause to know that at all.”

As though in answer, she twined her fingers in his and shook her head. “No, it’s fine. Father’s told me before I need to be clear-eyed about things. Sooner or later it would have come up.”

She raised her head and looked at him sidelong. “Do you really think that ugly man used to be a raider?”

“Up until just a bit ago I’d have said the only experienced man among them was Arkja. Now I’m not so sure.”

In the intersection just ahead, Arkja and the dwarf who mistrusted him were in the midst of a discussion, probably regarding numbers.

“How goes,” Einarr called, alerting them to his approach.

“Well as can be expected,” Jorir answered. “We’ve got salt pork and jerky and dried plants of some sort, but maybe four barrels that don’t leak.”

Einarr almost laughed. “You’re working with the tavern-keeper! Can’t we make it up with ale?”

“I don’t know. How drunk do you want to be when we land?”

Now Einarr did laugh. “Remember the barrels already on board. The old man should know where we can fill them.”

Jorir harrumphed in a way that told Einarr the dwarf had, in fact, not accounted for those.

“Anyway. Arkja, I’m heading off to look for another cart. We’re going to need it.”

“Only one?” The tavern-keeper was scowling at the provisions surrounding them in the street.

“At least one. The blond fisherman with all the scars-”

“Saergar?”

“Maybe?” Einarr had not yet gotten most of their names. “Anyway, he found someone’s old stash of treasure. Like to take back what we can.”

Arkja grunted. “I certainly wouldn’t complain about not coming back empty-handed.”

They wouldn’t be, technically, but Einarr saw now reason to mention the distaff to him just yet.

“If we must go overland to your derelict, see if you can find two? The one from the Maid is already full.”

“Will do.”

***

In the morning all was in readiness, and the (now somewhat larger) group set off down the track leading through the troll’s hunting ground. As… congenial as the troll had been before, when it needed something, Einarr was just as glad not to run into the creature again.

On the third night after leaving the abandoned town they arrived at the hulder village and retrieved Irding. The hulder did not trust the men of the town, and so they were not invited to camp among them that night. Erik wondered aloud why that might be, but Arkja’s evasive answer told Einarr as much as he needed to know. It was going to be his task and Erik’s to cut the new mast anyway.

Irding, for his part, looked to be as hale and healthy as one could expect a bare week after cracking a rib. He saw the new crew members, took a long minute to openly size them up, and shrugged. “Just one more thing to tell me around the fire tonight,” he said. The tales ran long, that night, but no-one seemed to mind.

The next day they arrived at the beach where the Gestrisni still lay beached. The old fisherman was nowhere to be seen: probably, Einarr thought, that meant he was out on the water. The grim old man was working, and so should they be: they had a ship to fix and an escape to plan, after all.


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“As for you, my Lady Singer, I have questions.”

Runa smiled up at him impishly, hugging his arm. “Walk with me, my Lord, and I may have answers to give.”

Einarr and his betrothed wandered the empty streets arm-in-arm, neither of them minding in this moment that desertion that had bothered him not long before. Eventually they came to a broad, tree-lined green, and Runa guided him over to sit in the shade of a large oak. Only then did she let go of his arm, to turn and lean against his side.

“Even half a season seems like such a long time…” She sighed, content.

Amused, Einarr arched an eyebrow. “Even after waiting seven years from our first meeting?”

She jostled his ribs with an elbow. “That’s different.”

He chuckled. “You’re not wrong. And when Trabbi told me you’d been captured…”

“You have no idea how surprised I was they’d gone to Lord Stigander for help.”

“Surprised… and glad?”

She nodded, then changed the subject. “So what did you want to ask me?”

He laughed again, this time thoughtful. “Oh, where to begin. Let’s start with how you knew the ghost’s story.”

Runa shook her head. “Honestly? I guessed. There are a limited number of reasons someone ends up here, most of which have blessed nothing to do with offending Wotan’s familiars.”

“Hey now.”

“I tease, I tease. In all seriousness, though, most people end up here through cowardice, ignominy, or both. When it didn’t burst our ears immediately, I thought I might be on to something.”

“And naming it Päron? How did you jump from ignominy to a children’s fable?”

“Stories… change over time. It’s one of the things the Matrons teach us, early on.” Here she paused, as though considering.

“While we were with the Matrons, I was given a good-sized list of manuscripts to copy – it’s part of how they teach us. Mixed into this stack were some shockingly old parchments. The sort of thing the Matrons typically handle themselves, because of how delicate they are. It may have been a mistake, but I doubt it. Anyway, one of these manuscripts had a much older telling of the Päronskaft story, followed by someone’s extrapolations of the story’s original source…

“And it was like a puzzle box popped open in front of me while you were fighting. The Päron who was described in that history, whose story morphed into an imp spinning gold, would fit exactly with the character I had just described.”

“Huh.” Einarr sat for a minute, considering the wild improbability. “I guess,” he added after a long moment. “I guess that’s lucky for us.”

Runa sat very still, almost as though she were frozen. “Maybe so, or maybe…”

A long pause followed, and the next words she spoke all came out in a rush. “Einarr, I think someone is looking out for you. Someone powerful. Most Cursebreakers don’t survive their first challenge, but just since you were named this spring you’ve bested three.”

Einarr blinked and tried not to laugh. Not just after, but because of the events of this summer, she decided he was being protected? It was almost ludicrous on its face.

He must not have hidden his reaction as well as he thought, because she elbowed him in the ribs again. “Don’t laugh.”

“Sorry, sorry. But you have to understand, this has been the roughest season I can remember, especially for lost crew, and we haven’t much more than the Althane’s horde to show for it… Don’t cheapen those lives we lost, Runa. The only outside ‘help’ I’ve had this summer came from that weird elf who insisted on giving us that broach.”

He could feel her stiffen, as though he had managed to offend with that. Well, so be it, then. The Vidofnir had paid in blood and treasure for what they’d accomplished, and he did not wish that lessened by giving credit to some nameless other.

Neither, though, did he want to weather the storm of an angry Runa – and there was yet one thing he needed to ask of her. “Runa, I need a favor -”

“There you are!” Erik’s voice cut through the air, shattering the stillness even as he cut off Einarr’s request.

Einarr sighed. It would have to wait, then. Erik wouldn’t have come like this without good reason. “Here I am. What’s going on?”

The big man grinned. “You need to see this. And then remind me of it if I give you crap about the raven feathers again.”

“Oh?” This should be good. Erik was practically bouncing with excitement.

***

Erik led Einarr and Runa back to the harbor, where Arkja’s less experienced men waited. (At least, Einarr hoped they weren’t trying to guard anything. A child could have snuck past them.)

“So what was it I just had to see?”

“Just wait.” Erik walked up to the large double doors that led into a boat shed. Swinging the shed open, he said, “That little tunnel of Arkja’s isn’t the only secret in this town.”

Inside, the building was dominated by a large trestle such as one might use for boat repair – not that Einarr thought it would be worthwhile bringing the Gestrisni all the way here before they tried to fix her. But that wasn’t the interesting part.

In what would otherwise be a wall of cabinets and hanging tools, a door stood open. Behind that door, Einarr saw what was unmistakably gold. He looked at Erik, agog.

Erik grinned. “My thought exactly. Gestrisni’s got a good-sized hold for what she is.”

“And the gods only know we could use a break like this. Have you…”

“Counted it? No, not hardly. I’d guess something less than half what we got from the Althane’s horde.”

“How did you…” Einarr shook his head. “No. There’s a story here, I’m sure, but it can wait. Who found it?”

One of the fishermen, a man with lank yellow hair and scars crisscrossing his earnest face, stepped forward. “I did, milord.”


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Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

Though the spirit had evidently dissipated the wind still howled about the little town. Somehow, now that all sense of threat was gone, the empty streets felt even more deserted than before.

Einarr took a deep breath and promised himself he would press Runa further – later. “At least the townspeople can come back now.”

“Assuming they want to.” Erik looked around and scratched his beard. “Based on what Arkja told us, I’m not sure that’s a good bet.”

“If the town is actually abandoned, that’s even more reason to start our resupply. Arkja’s men should be here soon: let’s have a look around while we wait.”

***

By the time Arkja and his would-be bandits showed up, the four of them had gathered three barrels of clean water, four casks of ale, and sufficient salted fish to last five men as many days. It was a start, but that was all.

“Good news!” Arkja announced as they swaggered in to the square.

Einarr raised a hand in greeting. “Good. We could use some of that right about now.”

The farmer who’d gone to fetch them wool stepped forward. “After I left with the roving, Brynja – my neighbor, with the sheep – called together the village women, y’see.”

Einarr nodded, reasonably sure he liked where this was headed.

“An’ seein’ as you was doin’ us a good turn, they all decided to do one in return, y’see.”

“What Hàkon is getting at,” Arkja said, clapping his friend on the shoulder. “Is that we’ve most of a winter’s worth of preserves we can take with us, an’ access to the well besides.”

Einarr grinned: they would eat well on their way out, it seemed. Then another thought crossed his mind. “Arkja… how many of your men have families on the island?”

Arkja shook his head. “How many men d’ye think would be willing to turn bandit in a place like this if they had a wife? Only people to rob are the locals and your occasional newcomer, like yourselves. And those are few and far between.”

Einarr pressed his lips together and nodded. The question of who, exactly, these men robbed was one he had not let himself think on too hard, and also why he had not guaranteed a berth on the Vidofnir. “And yet your neighbor was willing to help you?”

Hàkon looked sheepish, and scratched at the back of his head.

Arkja shook his head again. “Hàkon didn’t join my little merry band until everyone was fleeing the town. Anyone who knows, probably doesn’t care anymore.”

Jorir harrumphed. “Lucky for us. So, how did you end up stuck out here, cursed to be forgotten?”

“What makes you think I wasn’t born here? Some are.” Arkja’s face was pure innocence, like a child caught stealing pies.

Jorir harrumphed again. “Your armor, for one, and your sword for two. But your answer just confirmed it.”

Now the man laughed, and Einarr was put in mind of Sivid’s mirth whenever he was caught out in a prank. The laughter only lasted a moment, however, and when he spoke he was deadly serious.

“Aye, you’re right. I washed ashore a decade ago, after my own rank cowardice left me lordless, shipless, and adrift. I can assure you, I’ll not make that mistake again.”

Erik and Jorir both hummed in thought, but Einarr waved it off. “Our offer was made, and help has already been received. I’ll not rescind it now. Father has the last word as to a permanent berth anyway.”

“Einarr is right,” Runa said. “We would make villains of ourselves if we backed out now, and likely never escape because of it.”

Einarr inclined his head to her in thanks. The other two hummed again, but let it rest.

“We should gather together everything we have and make a tally. Arkja, am I right in thinking you were the owner of the public hall?”

“The Maid? Right as rain. Never thought I’d actually need that escape tunnel…”

Runa raised an eyebrow. “And yet you were the leader of your little band of misfits? How did you stay in business?”

He winked. “Trade secret, milady. Trade secret.”

“By which he means that so long as the ale was good and they didn’t push their luck, most of the men were willing to look the other way.” Erik crossed his arms, but Einarr suspected had frequented such places more than a few times.

“Putting that aside for now,” Einarr said, cutting off the topic before it could devolve into an argument. “Arkja, run a tally. We need provisions enough for twelve people, preferably to last three weeks of rowing. All we have is a fishing boat, though, so mind the cargo space.”

“Aye, sir.” The man did not salute, but it was a near thing.

“Good. The rest of you, we need tools. Got a boat to fix, and I want to leave her better than I found her.”

“Low bar,” Erik chuckled.

“You’re not wrong. But we’ve been out a lot longer than expected. Like to make it worth the owner’s while.”

The rest of Arkja’s ‘merry band’ headed down toward the docks, fishers and farmers alike.

“Hold a moment,” Einarr called after them. “We haven’t cut our new mast yet. Remember that in your search, please.”

One of the fishermen did throw a sloppy salute. Perhaps his Captain liked them?

“Yer pardon, Lord,” Hàkon began, looking embarrassed. “Is the sail still in good condition?”

Einarr froze a moment, thinking. Had they checked? “Just Einarr, please. But assume it requires patching.”

“Yes, milord.” Hàkon stiffened, but when Einarr offered no further rebuke relaxed and headed back off toward the harbor.

When it was once more just the four of them within earshot, Jorir turned a stern gaze on Einarr. “Let it be said that I do not trust these new sailors you’ve found, milord.”

“Duly noted. For what it’s worth, Jorir, I don’t trust them either. At least not yet.”

The dwarf grunted. “So long as that’s understood, then. I am going to go ‘lend a hand’ to Arkja.”

“Thank you, Jorir. That sounds like an excellent idea.”

A funny expression flickered over Erik’s face and he cleared his throat as Jorir stalked off after the former sailor. “In that case, I shall go and ‘assist’ the poor souls who’ve never really sailed before.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow – they were just searching for tools, after all – but shrugged, if somewhat bemusedly. “Very well.”

As Erik strode off after the group of six, Einarr was suddenly hyper-aware of Runa’s arm snaking into his. He felt himself blush even as a smile spread across his face. “As for you, my Lady Singer, I have questions.”


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Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

Päron? Einarr knit his brows in confusion. Why was she calling it a pear? Päron… Päron… Runa’s story had seemed oddly specific. Päron… “Päronskaft? As in, the imp who spun gold?”

Against all reason, the creature froze and the howl of an angry wind rose above the wailing.

Runa’s voice rose above the wind as well, singing more normally now, and slowly the revenant was absorbed into the whirlwind. Einarr stood watching, wary, even as Jorir and Erik fell back to regroup at his side.

The whirlwind did not advance. Something new seemed to be taking shape within it, blown up from the dust of the street. Slowly it resolved itself, indistinct at first, into the shape of a man.

The reformed revenant stepped forward, through the last vestiges of the whirlwind, looking less tattered and somehow more real than he had before. A leather jerkin hung from his bony shoulders, and the longsword in his hand, held point down, looked better tended. The wailing ceased.

Einarr and his companions were not able to recover their footing quickly enough to take advantage of the creature’s lowered guard, however. In the next heartbeat, the gaunt grey revenant had brought its blade up in a two-handed grip that shielded its body.

Einarr brought Sinmora back up to ready even as Erik and Jorir hefted their axes once more. Einarr had many questions for Runa, but they would have to wait.

Einarr charged forward, a battle cry bursting from his throat. He had duelled the Allthane: now that the revenant was apparently solid the four of them should be more than capable of handling it.

Jorir was only a half-pace behind, though he did not yell. Erik, who did, soon pulled ahead of all of them. His axe came down in a mighty chop.

The revenant hopped backwards with surprising nimbleness as Erik’s axe plowed into the ground.

Thus began an intricate dance, the three living men circling the revenant. Each striking when they saw an opportunity, but rarely connecting. The revenant had, Einarr thought, been a better swordsman in life than the Allthane had, or at least his skills had atrophied less before death.

Before long it became plain to Einarr that they were being toyed with. This “Päron” never once struck back, even when Einarr deliberately left an opening in his guard. It was trying to tire them out – and why not? With the unflagging strength of the dead, it would long outlast its oh-so-mortal attackers.

Worse, it seemed to be working already. Einarr knew he had begun to tire even before Runa named the creature. Erik’s face had gone red, and while Jorir did not yet look tired, Einarr could tell he was beginning to slow down.

Runa had attached three epithets to the creature’s supposed name. One of them, Lecher, Einarr could think of no acceptable way to exploit. Perhaps, however, there was an answer in one of the others. Päron the Avaricious, and the Vain. There had been those traces of gilding on the sword before…

Einarr hopped backward out of the clinch, where his most recent blow had brought him. The revenant smelled like the grave. Erik and Jorir moved in to strike.

“What a waste of gold, putting it on a sword hilt,” Einarr sneered. Jorir’s axe cut at its leg even as Erik chopped higher up. As expected, it jumped over Jorir’s cut and ducked Erik’s in the same movement.

“What sort of man pours his money into a bejewelled sword? It’s a weapon, not a bauble for some woman.” Einarr dashed in to take another swing at the revenant’s chest. It dodged again, but it felt somehow sloppier.

Erik smirked. “Must’ve been compensating, don’t you think?”

Jorir dashed back in for another attack, grinning. “I don’t know any warriors who waste money on fancy swords like that. Only kings and the impotent.”

That got it. The gaunt face of the revenant still managed to contort in rage despite the decayed muscles and another howl rang out.

For one brief moment, Einarr regretted goading the creature to attack. The sword may have once been gilt and bejewelled, but its owner was still a fine swordsman. Then he and Erik and Jorir were wrapped up in the battle to bring the creature down. Its attacks were vicious, and every bit as quick as its defense had suggested. Einarr contorted in ways he hadn’t thought possible to avoid its blade.

Its rage seemed focused on Jorir, though, and it was Jorir that drew it out. In the moment it overextended, all three Vidofnings struck together. Jorir embedded his axe in its foot, pinning it in place. The back of Erik’s axe knocked its head back, so that it stood nearly straight. And then Sinmora clove the revenant in twain, from head to toe.

There was no blood. Instead, the revenant’s body began to crumble like ancient parchment until there was nothing left but a pile of fine dust at their feet. A breeze came up and swept even that away.

Einarr stood still for a long moment after. The spirit had seemed to have an affinity for wind, so none of them were willing to credit their victory so quickly. After a long moment had passed in silence, save for the whistling of the wind, they all sheathed their blades.

“Runa,” Einarr said, straightening and taking a deep breath. “How did you know?”

“How did I know what?” That innocent tone didn’t fool Einarr.

“How did you know what story to tell? And how did you get from there to Päronskaft, of all things?”

Runa gave a small, mysterious smile. “My Singer training comes in handy sometimes.”


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

 

I am on the home stretch in preparing Einarr and the Oracle of Attilsund to go live wherever ebooks are sold! This cover was done by the wonderful William Eyster, Jr of Eyster Artistry Studios.

Oracle cover Wil Eyster

I think he did a great job, and we’re planning on working together on not just covers but other series art going forward.

My goal is to have Oracle live as an e-book by February 20. Around that same time I should be able to move Jotunhall from Smashwords, which hasn’t been updated in almost a decade, to Draft2Digital, so if the appearance of the non-Kindle versions was turning you off, it might be worth another look.

Oh, and keep your eyes open: rumors of a wild sale in the area are afoot.

The dust cloud swiftly resolved itself into a whirlwind, and soon thereafter Einarr could make out the features of the revenant it followed.

The spirit’s gaunt face was twisted in rage. Einarr couldn’t have said how he knew that, as what little flesh remained hung from the bones in tatters. A rusty horned helmet sat on its brow, dirty white hair tossed about in the wind of the creature’s own passing.

Einarr settled into his fighting stance, ready to defend Runa. The creature did not appear to realize it could be seen – or, perhaps in its madness and hunger it did not realize any but the storyteller existed.

“Surely, the shade thought, this newcomer will know my name, for before my banishment I was famous indeed. And perhaps they will have word of my clan. And so the shade began to follow the newcomer.”

Einarr sidestepped into the path of the speeding revenant and their swords met in a scrape of metal.

The draugr snarled wordlessly, staring past Einarr at the woman who provoked it.

“Well what d’you know. The Hallkeeper was right,” Einarr said quietly, hoping to divert its attention so they could have a proper fight. “What is it about stories that drives you mad?”

The draugr did not seem to hear him.

“The shade followed that newcomer for years, until another soul was banished to the Isle, but in all that time there was no sign that anyone remembered his name,” Runa continued.

It roared again, and as it lifted its ancient blade to strike at the obstacle in its path Einarr glimpsed the remnants of gilt and empty sockets in the hilt of its sword, as though it had once been encrusted with jewels. Once again steel met steel, and Einarr grinned. “I don’t think so.”

Erik and Jorir were edging around to surround the creature while Runa’s story still kept it distracted.

“For a long time the shade would attach itself to every new face on the island, always hopeful that this time they would know who he had been.”

The draugr took a clumsy swing at the obstacle in its path, which Einarr easily evaded. In return, he sliced across the creature’s ribs.

Sinmora met no resistance.

Einarr’s eyes went wide and he cursed. If the spirit was insubstantial even when they could see it, what were they supposed to do to get rid of it?

The wailing picked up again with even greater intensity than they had heard before, and the whirlwind began to move of its own accord. Jorir ran two paces, launched himself into the air, and cut down into the whirlwind.

Einarr blinked in surprise. Based on everything he knew, that shouldn’t have done anything. And yet, the whirlwind seemed to have weakened. “How -?”

“Not now!” Jorir shouted before he could even finish the question. “Keep the body busy, I’ll handle this.”

Jorir seemed to have an idea – more, it seemed to be working – so with a mental shrug Einarr turned his full attention back to the humanoid figure.

Erik had moved to block its advance while Einarr was distracted. It was now gnashing its teeth at the big man, sword and axe locked in the clinch. Even with a blade that decayed, though, an axe haft was not likely to last long.

“Year after year,” Runa was saying. “More and more people found themselves cursed to be forgotten, and the shade listened to each one. Finally, though, hope turned to despair and despair grew into madness. Not one of these men had so much as heard of this great hero of the past, even as a cautionary tale. The shade, denied the one thing it craved, began to hate the very thing that would deliver it to him.”

Could Runa be telling the revenant’s story? How would she know it? Einarr loosed a primal yell as he slid under Erik’s arm and slashed up at the revenant. Its chest seemed to flicker where Sinmora otherwise would have cut, and then blade met solid blade again.

The wailing was beginning to hurt Einarr’s ears even through the wool roving. He did not think the creature was trying to burst his ears, though – its fixation was still on Runa, whose still sang her story.

Jorir continued to bleed strength from the wind at the creature’s back, but each such mighty blow appeared to sap strength from the dwarf as well as from the whirlwind. Einarr frowned even as he brought his blade up to block the draugr’s next clumsy swing. Something didn’t make sense here.

“Erik. Go help him. I’ve got this.”

“Aye, sir.” With surprising silence the big man slipped out from between the humanoid form of the revenant and Runa, leaving the Lady’s defense entirely to her intended.

The creature hardly seemed to care, except insofar as its path to the storyteller was still blocked. Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder as it pulled back for its next half-hearted blow. Was it actually trying to force its way through, or were they the ones being distracted here?

To her credit, Runa’s voice was still strong, but the woman herself stood unsteadily in the center of the square. Her face was pale, and she continued her recitation with her eyes closed. And still the wailing built.

Einarr took a step back towards her and the revenant followed without missing a beat. Runa’s Song was meant to let them see the truth of the world around them: had this thing somehow defeated it?

No, it couldn’t be. Their fight was still obstructing the creature, he was sure, or they would all be dead by now. So then, was it the noise?

“Runa! How do we shut it up?”

She shook her head and seemed to gather her strength. After a moment, her eyes opened. “Päron the Lecher, Päron the Avaricious, Päron the Vain. Hide yourself away, lest the world remember your deeds!”


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Before Einarr put his new recruits to work, curiosity burned a question through his lips. “What was it drove everyone out of the town, anyway?”

Arkja shrugged, shaking his head helplessly. “Some sort of ghost, we all figured. Right up until people started keeling over, bleeding out their ears.”

Einarr looked at Runa, who shook her head. “It might still be some sort of ghost, or it might not. I’d never heard of a leshy before, either.”

He nodded. “So when everyone fled the town…?”

“Broad daylight. A group of folks in the town square all died at once when the wailing picked up, and that were the last straw.” This from one of the men Einarr had pegged as a farmer.

Einarr frowned. They would have to deal with that spirit, one way or another. He stared at the mouth of the tunnel that had led them here and set his jaw. The four of them, against some sort of malign spirit. Einarr wasn’t even sure how it would manage to kill someone by bursting their ears.

Yes, technically it wasn’t just the four of them now. Arkja might even be able to hold his own in a fight, with some capable backup. But those seven were to see about supplies, and Einarr wasn’t about to send them off without the closest thing to a warrior they had.

Which left the four of them to take on a spirit of unknown abilities, when they were really in no condition for dealing with one at all. He shook his head. “No time like the present. Runa, do you think ear plugs might work against this thing?”

“Can’t hurt to try.”

Well, it could, depending on how the creature was bursting ears, but it was the best idea he had. And it would certainly make the wailing more bearable. Thus.

Einarr was in no hurry to pour hot wax in his ears again, though. He turned his attention to one of the three farmers in Arkja’s group. He was going to have to get names soon. “Do you know where we might come by some loose cotton or wool?”

“Believe so, Lord. Me neighbor raises sheep, she does. Imagine I kin get some clean wool from there.”

“Good! See to it. Enough for all of us to plug our ears. …Don’t bother trying to hide what we’re up to.” A riot at this point seemed unlikely at best, and the attempt might earn them some goodwill. The man was already on his way off to his neighbor’s.

“There’s that accounted for. Runa, Jorir, if either of you has an idea for beating back a ghost that won’t turn into another debacle like the Allthane did, I’m all ears.”

***

The escape tunnel, dug during spare moments by Arkja beginning long before the advent of the ghost, seemed no less threatening now that they were marching towards danger, their pockets full of wool roving. Einarr was coming to the conclusion he just didn’t belong underground.

They didn’t have a plan. Einarr would have been much happier if they had. One of the hazards, though, of being on the Isle of the Forgotten was that its inhabitants had been, largely. So whatever this was they faced, neither Singer nor dwarf had ever encountered as much as a scrap of a legend.

There were two different creatures it sounded similar to, at least: a nokken, since its victims seemed to drown, or a draugr. Einarr did not like the idea that the two types of spirit shared a common source, but under the circumstances it was an idea worth entertaining. Not that he had any idea how to send an ordinary draugr back to its grave: the Allthane had been able to communicate, however removed from reality it was. He was reasonably certain most draugr couldn’t speak, though.

No, they did not have a plan. But if (and it was a mighty if) the spirit was drowning people on dry land in the middle of the day, they thought they had a prayer.

Einarr blinked and realized they were approaching the tunnel exit. He shook his head, trying to clear it, as they began the ascent up into the Salty Maid. Now was not the time to be worrying.

The streets of the town looked, if anything, even emptier in the bright light of midday. Wind whistled between the buildings and created an eddy out of sparse dried leaves.

How much time was left in the season? Was that even the same here? Einarr froze momentarily, but shook it off. Time enough to worry about that later. Focus. They had a ghost to kill – or at least drive off. And it was going to take each and every one of them to pull it off. The town square was just past the sign of the Salty Maid, and that was where the spirit had been most active.

There was one thing the victims all had in common, Arkja had been able to tell them: they had all been telling stories when they died. It didn’t seem to matter what kind of story: the wise old man sharing legends with a younger man and the fisherman boasting about his catch met the same fate.

Which explained why the wailing began when it did, at least – and why it didn’t follow them into the tunnel. And it gave them a way to draw out the spirit, although not one Einarr was happy about. Once they knew that much, though, Runa insisted.

The woman herself stood in the center of the square, looking supremely confident. “Once upon a time,” Runa intoned, her ears already stopped with wool. Einarr, Erik, and Jorir now put in their own plugs, and the world took on a muffled feel. He was glad one of them was confident, at any rate.

Even through the roving Einarr could hear the wailing begin.

“A great hero fell into ignominy and was cursed, banished to the shores of the Isle of the Forgotten.” Runa’s intonation moved slowly into the syncopated rhythm of the Song of Sight, a song to pierce the veil and strip away illusions. That Runa knew it was the only reason they thought they had a prayer.

Einarr, Jorir, and Erik moved into a circle around their Singer, their weapons in hand, as they searched for the strange spirit that had an issue with stories.

“This hero wandered the Isle alone for many years, until his shame and his solitude drove him mad. Eventually the hero died, but his shade could not rest easy.”

The wind that whistled through the streets tugged at Einarr’s beard and stood his hackles on end. That was a wind belonging to the depths of winter. Still, though, he saw nothing.

“The shade continued to wander, alone, for another long time. And then, finally, someone else found their way to the Isle’s shores.”

Something down the street, down past the Maid, stirred up a dust cloud as it raced towards the four in the square.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

Einarr bared his teeth at their assailants in a feral grin. So they thought they were raiders, did they? Farmers turned to banditry, fishermen who might make decent warriors if given a few years practice. They had spirit, at least. Sinmora practically leapt into his hand. He would teach them who they were up against and gladly – and then he would offer these desperate men a chance to get off this rock.

It felt like it had been ages since he’d fought against men who were actually men – since their unfortunate run-in with the Valkyrian Hunters early in the spring, Einarr thought. Unfortunately, he had not underestimated the skill of their opponents here. They did not so much put up a fight as receive a sound drubbing from the experienced raiders of the Vidofnir.

Perhaps a minute later, even their leader sat huddled in the center of a ring formed by Einarr and his companions. Had one of them decided to run they probably could have escaped, but not one tried. Einarr folded his arms across his chest and stepped forward.

“Full points for bravery, gents, but you chose your target wrong this time. Or perhaps right, depending on how you look at it.”

Scramasax visibly gathered himself up and leaned forward. “‘Twere my idea, Lord. I’m the one as convinced ‘em all, once we ‘ad to leave the town. Let them go.”

Einarr smirked, and the leader of the would-be bandits quailed. “Don’t go leaping off of any cliffs just yet. My friends and I, we’re part of an actual longship crew, and that longship happens to have some open oars for brave men.”

The townsmen exchanged confused looks, as well they might. Einarr expected there were few if any raiding ships that landed on these shores.

“We’ve a fishing boat down the coast aways in need of repair. Anyone willing to help us fix it up and get off this rock, I’ll put in a word for with our Captain when we make it back.”

Scramasax’s men did not look as thrilled at the prospect as he’d hoped – although their relief at apparently being spared was evident.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, Lord,” one of the fishermen said, scratching sheepishly at the back of his head. “But there ain’t no way off this island. Cursed, it is, and all of us on it.”

“There’s always some way past a curse, even if nobody’s found it before. That’s what Cursebreakers are Called for, after all.” Einarr hoped they were less familiar with the lore than he had been. “Even if you’re right, though, my Father – our ship – is counting on our return. I can’t give up, not while there’s even a prayer of getting back to them.”

Scramasax cleared his throat to speak, but Einarr held up a hand to forestall him. “What’s your name?”

“Ah, Arkja, Lord.”

Einarr nodded. “Sorry. Go on.”

“Your wench there – ah, my apologies, no offense intended, but – is she a Singer?”

“I am,” Runa answered for herself, her annoyance audibly constrained.

“The ‘wench,’ as you so delicately termed her, is my bride, and I will thank you to remember that.”

“Yes, of course, Lord. I meant no aspersions. Only, if we’ve a Singer, maybe there’s a chance.”

“Explain.”

“Well you see, Lord, it’s like this. Those as try an’ sail away from here always end up back where they started, wi’ no memory of having turned about.”

“That certainly sounds like something the song seithir could get us past.” Runa still sounded dubious.

“Well, not by itself, I don’t think, Lady.”

The man’s obsequiousness was beginning to grate on Einarr’s nerves.

“Haven’t been many, but some Singers has washed up here before, an’ the magic alone wasn’t enough to get them past it.”

Jorir grunted. “Wouldn’t be much of a curse if it was, I think.”

Some of the captives looked uncomfortable now that Jorir had drawn attention to himself. But so long as no-one tried to start trouble over it, Einarr would let it rest. “So. It’s the four of us, plus one injured man back with the hulder. If you’re willing to help us supply our boat and make her seaworthy again, we’re willing to take you aboard, with the possibility of a permanent berth on the Vidofnir. Who’s in?”

One or two of the would-be bandits glanced nervously at Jorir – Arkja not among them – but not one of them hesitated more than a moment. Einarr could work with that.

“Good. Welcome aboard the Gestrisni, such as she is. She needs a mast and provisions, and could do with some other repairs as well. She got us here, though, so I expect she’ll get us back to Breidhaugr all right.”

“A – mast, you say, Lord?”

“Indeed. It was struck by lightning when the storm washed us ashore.”

Arkja looked uncomfortable, as though there was news he did not wish to bring up. “Um, beggin’ yer pardon, Lord -”

Einarr rolled his eyes and held up a hand. “Please. Such… servility is neither necessary nor proper. I am Einarr. Jorir – the dwarf – is my man at arms.” He pointed at each of the men in turn. “Erik has been on my father’s ship longer than I have, and has had my back since I joined. And if you’re going to tell me the forest is too dangerous to cut a new mast, we’ve already dealt with it.”

“I see, um, L- Einarr.” Where had he learned to cringe like that? No matter: the man had a spine, he just needed to lose some old habits.

Erik was staring at the conscripted men, his arms folded across his chest and his gaze weighing them like cuts of meat. Einarr would ask the man’s opinion later, once Arkja’s men had been put to work.

In the meantime, they had a ship to resupply. “All right. Enough standing around. Let’s get to it.”


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The tunnel stretched on long past the point when fatigue made itself known in Einarr’s thighs. They had walked all day to reach the town in the first place, and now whatever had chased away the residents had also done for them. After a time with no sign that the source of the wailing had followed them, Einarr stopped and shook his head.

“We camp here for the night. These tracks are at least a week old: there’s nothing to be gained by forcing ourselves onward tonight.”

Judging by the groans of relief from Erik and Jorir as their packs dropped to the ground, it was the right call. Runa sat on her bag and began unlacing her boots.

Jorir looked about without moving from where he’d stopped. “Not a lot of room for a proper camp here.”

“Plenty of room to stretch out and sleep, though, and less area we have to guard. We’re all exhausted: let’s take advantage of what looks like a safe area while we have it.”

Runa sighed now. “As much as I hate to say it… what about light? Once that torch goes out, what are we going to burn? Once we wake up, if there’s no light, how will we know we’re headed in the right direction?”

Einarr rubbed his forehead. She made a solid argument. He was saved, though, by his man-at-arms.

Jorir cleared his throat. “Beggin’ yer pardon, milady, but everyone does remember that I’m a svartdvergr, right? I don’t rightly need light to get where I’m going.”

“You don’t?” That was news to Einarr, as well.

“Not as such, no. We use some of the old roots in the walls for a fire that will do for on watch, and then we can rekindle that fire-stick o’ yours when its time to move again.”

Einarr paused a moment, studying Jorir’s face under the wavering torch-light, but saw nothing but the dwarf’s calm, sincere regard. “Well. There you have it, I guess,” he finally said. “Wake one of us when you need relief. In the meantime, it sounds as though we need to strip some roots from the walls.”

***

Einarr lay awake in the dim glow of Jorir’s tiny fire for a good while, watching the dwarf from the corner of his eye. Feeling guilty, truth be told, for agreeing to Jorir’s plan so readily. Even with his dwarven fortitude he had to be feeling the last week in his bones. Einarr certainly was.

After a time of watching the dwarf sharpening their blades without so much as a yawn, taking once or twice a pinch of something from his medicine pouch, Jorir turned his head to stare straight at Einarr. Quit worrying and sleep already, the stare seemed to say. With a mental shrug, Einarr acquiesced.

It was Erik who woke him with a solid kick to the thigh.

“What happened? What’s going on?” Einarr blinked in confusion at his barely seen compatriots.

“Jorir went off to investigate something, about half an hour ago as near as I can tell. Not back yet. I think it’s time we went after him.”

“Yes, of course. Why didn’t you wake me sooner?”

“Because I’ve only just decided he’d been gone too long. Only one who looked worse’n you last night was the Lady, an’ you’ll note I’ve not woken her yet.”

“Perhaps not intentionally,” Runa grumbled. “Nevertheless, I am now awake. Whatever could he have felt the need to chase off after in a place like this?”

Erik shrugged, the gesture barely visible in the fading light of their tiny, nearly-dead campfire.

“Whatever it was, we’d best be off. Erik, if you would?”

It took some coaxing, but their improvised torch from the night before finally kindled on some of the embers. Then they were off. Jorir’s heavier, fresher tracks led in the same direction as the earlier sets they had been following, and before Erik’s brand had begun to singe his fingers they could see a lightening ahead of them. Still, however, the only sign of Jorir were the dwarf’s footprints headed inexorably onward.

The tunnel eventually led shallowly upward, to open into a deep green clearing surrounded by pines. Just in front of that tunnel exit, someone had erected a stock. And hanging in that stock, his elbows pinioned behind him, was a very familiar black-haired dwarf.

Einarr rushed forward. “Jorir? What happened?”

“Stop! No, don’t come. An ambush is what happened. And what’s -”

Jorir didn’t get to finish that statement, although its meaning was soon made abundantly clear as a volley of arrows rained down on the little clearing. Sinmora was out of its sheath and in Einarr’s hand as he leapt across the few paces separating him from his man at arms. In one fluid motion he sliced the ropes binding Jorir and spun to face their attackers.

Erik, for his part, shoved Runa behind him and moved to block the mouth of the tunnel as he hefted his axe.

Thank you, Erik. The man may have no intention of settling down, but there were a multitude of reasons why he never lacked for company.

Their assailants were showing themselves now: fishermen, it looked like, and farmers mostly. All but one of them were armed with axes or harpoons in addition to their bows. That one must have been their leader, and in addition to the rough-looking scramasax he clutched in his hand he had a hide coat thrown over his shoulders. These must be the townspeople, then – or some of them.

“We mean you no harm,” Einarr ventured. “Although we will not hesitate to defend ourselves. Are you the people of the town?”

The man with the scramasax grinned ferally at the two in the center of the ambush. “We’ve a right to defend our property, ‘aven’t we?”

Einarr frowned. “What, pray tell, are we accused of, then?”

“Theft. Trespass. And the destruction of the town, as it is now uninhabitable.”

Einarr offered a smile that was meant to be reassuring, although somehow he thought it missed its mark. “Gentlemen, please. We will of course pay the tavern keeper for the food we ate under his roof, but-”

“Oh, aye, and you’ll pay dearly at that. Now, men!”

As one, almost as though they were practiced at this, the men from the town charged the four companions.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.