Stigander smiled approvingly at Einarr, but held his peace for the moment. This, too, was as they had agreed. Nor did Bollinn speak up immediately, although Jarl Hroaldr and Thane Thorgnyr had already, privately, committed to the venture. They were forgoing the honor of being “first” to join in order to better gauge the reactions of the other clans.
There was a long pause following the end of his speech. Einarr scanned the room. As his eyes passed over Tore, he saw the Captain glance at his own lord, the Jarl Grimwald – a man with a stony face and hair as steely as his eyes. Grimwald ducked his chin, a motion so quick and slight that Einarr nearly missed it.
Tore rose. “The Sterkerbjorn of Hrafnhaugr will sail.”
If Hrafnhaugr was anything like Kjell, they might only have two or three ships to their name. It was interesting that Jarl Grimwald looked to no man before agreeing, though: unaffiliated jarls were unusual.
Two or three others added their ships to the fleet: Einarr watched Serk. He had actually taken less persuading than Tore had, but Thane Olaf still seemed reluctant. Or, rather, stubborn: Einarr knew a mulish look when he saw one.
Now Bollinn stood. “The Skudbrun sails. We, too, have fought these monsters before – and I assure you, that is not an overstatement. Even the ones who look like men are not: the moment they feel threatened, they may sprout tentacles anywhere on their body, and their blood is as black as night and as poisonous as Loki’s serpent.”
Thane Thorgnyr inclined his head. “Aye. And the Skudbrun of Kjell will not be alone. I was accompanied here by five ships of Geittoft. Word has reached us of these villains from places other than Kjell, and we will gladly throw our strength behind the Cursebreaker and his quest.”
More men threw their lot with Einarr, now – some of them without ships of their own, and still Serk watched for a sign from his Thane.
At last, as the flurry was dying down, Serk practically leapt to his feet. His hands were clenched into fists, and even so, Einarr thought he could see those fists quivering. “Whether or no Sweindalr sails with you, the Björtstag does!”
Thane Olaf whirled on his Captain, fury writ large in every muscle, but before he could speak Serk went on.
“Perhaps you did not see, milord. You stayed aboard when we stopped at Kaldreik… but the things that had been done, there. You are my Thane. You may forbid my crew, or my ship, but should you attempt to forbid me I will be forsworn. I cannot let this rest.”
“You would throw your weight behind one bunch of fools, who merely rush off to clean the mess begun by another group of fools? Not one of the cities we have spoken of would have fallen if it weren’t for that thrice-cursed League and their insanity.”
Serk’s voice dropped, although it was still plainly audible across the Althing. “Not so, my lord. Do I go alone, on a personal quest, or will you allow the Björtstag to bring a portion of the glory home to Sweindalr?
Thane Olaf spat. “Have it your way. But know this: should Sweindalr fall, ‘twill be on your own head!”
Serk bowed to his Thane.
Stigander cleared his throat, amused. “You have my thanks, all of you. To the already assembled fleet, Breidelstein will add five ships above the Heidrun, including my very own Vidofnir. We have no reason to believe the church of Malùnion knows we’re coming, but we should still assume that time is not on our side. The sheer number of settlements which have been massacred since the fall of Kem is proof enough of that. The longer we take, the more clans will fall. The fleet will assemble at Blávík in one month’s time. Two weeks later, we will sail for the stronghold of Malùnion.”
Thane Geirleif took a moment to scan the assembled crowd. “Does anyone care to object to this course of action?”
“Very well then. May the gods go with you all.”
All told, more than fifty ships arrived at Blávík, representing more than fifteen clans. Several groups of freeboaters arrived, as well, having heard of what was happening and willing to help for coin or glory or both. Thrand, when they entered his home port, went ashore under heavy guard and led the crew of the Heidrun to the place where he had always met with the League.
It was empty.
Thrand stood, agape, at the warehouse that he claimed had once housed the League’s operations. “I don’t understand.”
Einarr shook his head. “Kaldr was here while the Heidrun was in Kem. He said they were still in the city then. Let’s have a look around. Maybe we’ll learn something that way.”
When Einarr had been here before, the League had been a major force within the city – major enough that they were able to use the local lord’s resources to attempt to press-gang himself and all of his crew. Now, though? At some point between when Kaldr left and when the fleet arrived, they had apparently vanished into thin air. Einarr pressed his lips together, thinking.
“I’ll ask Father to pay a visit to lord Illugi – that was his name, wasn’t it? Surely, if this is his settlement, he would know what happened to such a large company of freeboaters.”
Thrand blanched. “Perhaps. But… but our Prince always seemed to have a hold on the jarl. He might know something… or he might be gone, too.”
Einarr stood studying Thrand for a long moment. “The men who crewed your ships for your raids. Did they… have anything in common?”
“Of course! We were the best sailors, and the most earnest. Why?”
“Oh, no reason.” He couldn’t exactly tell Thrand that they’d been sent away to die, to get them out of their leader’s way. “Nevertheless, we’ll have Father try, and Hrug and I will see what we can find out with the bones. I’d hoped to bring your fellows along with us, so they could help clean up their own mess, but if that’s not possible then I suppose we’ll have to make do without.” Einarr patted Thrand on the shoulder and started the walk back towards the docks and the Heidrun’s berth.
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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