The knight drew back his spear and lowered himself into a guard mirroring Einarr’s. “How dare you!”
“What, don’t believe me? I’ll prove it with steel.”
Einarr could see the madness in his opponent’s eyes now. If he pushed any harder, he might go over the edge – and really, who would want that? He shut his mouth, and he and the knight circled, each looking for a weakness in the other’s guard.
Arkja was proving himself more than capable. It may have been two against one, but it was rather akin to a rat playing two cats off against each other.
Irding, too, seemed to be holding up well, keeping his opponents on their back feet by ferocity rivaling that of an actual berserker.
With Troa’s help, and the narrow passage, it was plain Einarr didn’t need to worry about Jorir, either. Einarr’s mouth curled up in a wolf’s grin.
Before the knight could take advantage of his wandering attention, Einarr shifted up out of his guard and onto the offense. He dashed forward, and even as he raised Sinmora for an overhand blow the enemy took the bait. As his shoulders tensed and twitched forward, Einarr slammed his shield down and its rim clashed loudly against the hilt of the spear. The weapon itself plowed into the ground at Einarr’s feet, and as the knight stumbled forward Einarr brought his knee up into his opponent’s nose at the same moment he brought Sinmora’s hilt down on the back of his neck. There was a dull crack and the knight fell limply to the ground.
Arkja glanced over as he saw the leader of the knights fall. Unless Einarr was mistaken, this was beginning to wear on him – and he was well aware of Irding’s endurance. He took one step more and pivoted so that he was aimed at one of the two Arkja toyed with before thrusting himself forward once more. Here, Einarr was lucky: the man had his spear arm upraised – likely trying to pin Arkja’s foot to the ground. Sinmora’s tip found the hollow under the knight’s shoulder and nearly severed the arm.
The knight screamed, but it was cut abruptly off by a slice of Arkja’s blade. Interestingly, the knights’ blood was still vibrantly red. Corrupted or not, they have affirmed themselves servants of Malúnion.
Now Einarr pointed himself in Irding’s direction: the other one Arkja fought wouldn’t last long. He charged forward once more, and just as his shield was knocking one of Irding’s two off-balance Irding buried his axe in the other’s throat. Now there was only one left, and just as he could see madness in their leader’s eye before, now Einarr could see fear. The question was if he feared their assault more than accusations of cowardice.
Apparently, the word “knight” meant something to this one: the set of his jaw changed, and he took a firmer grip on his weapon as he stared down Irding, who very deliberately did not look at Einarr.
“Be quick about it, then,” Einarr said. They had nearly won their way free of the fortress walls. The last thing they wanted to do was get bogged down here. He sheathed Sinmora and then moved to stand behind Jorir and next to Troa. “What can I do?”
“Can ye seal what we just blasted open?” Jorir asked, taking another chop at the cursed warrior currently trying to force its way through.
“Give me just a moment.” Einarr was certain that he could, at least well enough to stop their enemies. Just as he was about to begin with ᛁ again, it struck him Ice wouldn’t really add anything. What he needed here was Ár, to shape the earth under the wall, and Yr to harden it into a shield. Then the only real question was how long he could maintain it, especially given how often they were calling on the runes for this assault. Just do what you can, he reminded himself, and he drew ᛃᛉ in the ground at Jorir’s feet.
“On my mark, move away from the hole. Ready? Now!”
Jorir jumped back. Einarr activated his inscription.
Immediately there was a sound like a falling boulder and the earth beneath the wall burst up to fill the hole – and froze there. Einarr released his breath and the runes, and they stayed where they were supposed to be. He nodded. “Simple inscriptions are the best.”
Jorir chuckled and looked about to speak, but then a groaning sound came from behind them.
Einarr turned and saw, from the middle of a road strewn with the bodies of the knights, that one of them wasn’t quite dead yet.
“You… worthless… infidel,” it growled. The voice was lower and raspier than before, Einarr thought. “Did you really think one such as I would fall to such trickery?”
“I had hoped as much, yes.” Einarr’s hand moved once again to Sinmora’s hilt, but he did not yet draw. Something was off. “You’ve lost – you, and all your men, and your pets.”
“We have lost, yes. These frail bodies could not stand before your treachery. But we are merely tools of the great god of the deeps, and he will never fall before the likes of you.”
Einarr knew with sudden, sick certainty where this was going, and if the half-dead (or, perhaps, all dead?) body before them stopped talking it would be because it no longer needed to stall. “Take it down, now!”
Already the flesh was beginning to turn gray as a draugr’s, and the shoulders began to twitch unnaturally. His team never hesitated, thank the gods, and almost as one all five of them descended on the transforming body. Not long thereafter, it lay in bloody pieces strewn across the wall road.
“Let’s go. We don’t have any time to lose.” Einarr wiped his sword on the pant leg of one of the fallen knights and trotted off, deeper into the city. The others were not far behind. None of them knew which would last longer, after all: the plug in the wall, or the attention span of the monsters outside.
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!
This is 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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