One week following the birth of the new Prince Alfvin, Thane Stigander of Raenshold sent out letters to everyone he – or his father – had ever called a friend. The selfsame League that had tried to conscript Einarr on the eve of his wedding was now seeking allies more broadly among the clans, and neither Einarr nor Stigander had any doubts they would be just as ruthless about it. Then, while Breidelstein repaired its warships and sharpened its blades for war, Einarr took his father’s advice to concentrate on his wife and his new son.
At the end of the first month the Skudbrun arrived, with word not only from Jarl Hroaldr but also from his Lord. Feathers were not so ruffled over Runa’s marriage that Thane Thorgnyr would blind himself to the reality over the waves. Another month passed, however, and then a third, with no word from any of the other Clans. The mood in the Hold grew tense.
Then, at last, another boat arrived in Breidelstein harbor – no bigger than the Villgås, and in far worse repair. She was crewed by only a pair of men, who rowed for the docks with an air of desperate relief.
The men were messengers from Kem, and when they were taken up to the Hold with their messages, the mood went from tense to outright grim.
Stigander met them in the main hall. When they were shown in, one of them knelt. The other, with a wild look in his eyes, took an extra step forward. “Milord, please -”
Bardr placed himself between the messenger and his Thane. The messenger stopped where he stood, but kept talking.
“Please, Lord Thane. Help us. Kem is… Kem is…”
“Kem is what?” Bardr demanded.
“Gone, sir.” The other man spoke quietly without raising his head. “The boy and I left our freehold for supplies, only when we arrived… when we arrived, the city was naught but a smoking ruin.”
“If’n you please, milord,” said the younger, more spooked of the two. “Lord Einarr showed me mercy, some years ago when I was nothin’ but a footpad. So we thought…”
Stigander grunted. “I’d been wondering what was happening. But Kem’s an awful long way to sail in a little skiff like that. Where did you resupply?”
“We foraged, milord,” said the older man. “We tried to stop at two or three other cities on our way, but they were all the same.”
Stigander pressed his lips into a line and nodded. “You’ve done well to reach us. Gorgny, see to it that they are fed and bathed, and rewarded appropriately, then find them some place to stay in the city.” He turned back to the two messengers. “I’m afraid things are likely to get worse before they get better. Go, and take what comfort you can in having found a safe harbor.”
As Gorgny led the two bedraggled men from the hall to see to Stigander’s instructions, Stigander motioned a servant forward. “Fetch Einarr, Reki, and Eydri to my study, then ready another messenger for Kjell.”
Runa had been displeased at being left out of Stigander’s summons, but then Alfvin had woken up and demanded food. She had sighed and waved Einarr out the door. He arrived at his father’s study just ahead of Reki and Eydri, who both mirrored on their faces the concern he felt. He rapped on the door.
Immediately his father’s voice called out. “Come.”
“Father. You called?”
Stigander looked up from the table and laid his quill down. “Good. You’re all here. Come in, shut the door.”
Reki looked up as she pulled the door to behind her. “Something has happened, then.”
“We’ve just had messengers from Kem. Or, rather, refugees. You remember Langavik?”
It took Einarr a moment to place the name, but when he did he shuddered. Eydri looked blank, of course: of the three, she was the only one who hadn’t seen it.
Reki drew her brows down. “There’s been another massacre?”
“Several, from the sound of things, on the route between Kem and here.” He sighed. “I’ve only just heard of this today, mind, so all I can do is speculate, but…”
Einarr knew exactly what his father was thinking: he thought it, too. “You’re thinking it’s the League.”
“Aye, I am.”
“But Langavik was destroyed by an enclave of the cultists.” Reki’s protest was obligatory, but weak.
Stigander nodded in acknowledgment of the point. “True enough, and the League’s purpose is ostensibly to fight against the cult. However…”
“However,” Einarr cut in. “We know that they are more than willing to resort to underhanded tactics, and we do not have any clear idea how they marshaled support for their League in the first place. Most places you go, after all, are unaware of and untouched by the Squiddies.” The League had tried to enthrall Einarr and his entire crew on their way back from Thorndjupr. If they applied force like that on a larger scale, it could easily turn horrific.
“My thoughts exactly. I’m sending word to Hroaldr and Thorgnyr so that our fleets can join together.”
“But we lack information.” Einarr frowned, pondering. “We could go to Kem – perhaps even should go to Kem – but if we send a fleet and find nothing then we’ve wasted time and supplies that would be better spent elsewhere.”
Einarr looked up. “I’ll take the Heidrun, and the messengers if they’re willing to return. Eydri, are you up for this?”
His Singer nodded eagerly: she had seemed dissatisfied ever since the wedding, and Einarr couldn’t even really fault her for that. When she’d signed on with him, after all, it was with the reasonable expectation of excitement.
Stigander grunted. “Good. My thought exactly. Choose your crew carefully, and remember a pigeon roost.”
“I will, Father.” Now he just had to explain to Runa what was going to happen. “Might I suggest sending Kaldr and Thjofgrir out towards Blávík? We know the League held that land only two years ago: if we can get someone on the ground there, it might answer a lot of questions.”
“A good plan. Not Kaldr, though: he’s got a cool head and a keen mind, but I’m not sending anyone in without a Singer to hand at least. …Sivid, I think, and his own ship if he succeeds.”
Sivid? As Captain? Einarr blinked and stifled a laugh. He wasn’t certain if he envied or pitied the man’s new crew. Reki, though, nodded in approval. “A solid choice. With your leave, Stigander, I will travel with Sivid for this expedition. He will need a Singer, and I would like to see the situation for myself.”
“Very well. Good fortune to you all. I look forward to your return.”
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!
So begins what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.
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