Einarr ignored the throbbing in his temples as the last of his men gathered together around the now-silent tower. They had lost two or three handfulls of men out of the crews of two ships – more than Einarr liked, after his years wandering, but acceptable under the circumstances.
The arrows had ceased to fall some time ago: Einarr guessed that the captain of the archers had given it up for futile. That was good, because the quaking earth had begun to cause problems for Einarr’s men, as well. It was also bad, though, because those archers would almost certainly be waiting on the other side of the tower door. Because he expected an ambush inside, Einarr had inscribed a ᚦ on the door, and another on the flagstones below it.
Irding took the fore, flanked by Arkja and Troa. Jorir stayed at the back with Einarr: he had made it plain his intention was to guard his liege lord. For his part, Einarr was grateful. He could not see the wound in his leg well enough to heal it properly, and healed poorly was often worse than not healed at all.
“Shields up, on my mark,” Einarr said. He took a deep breath. “Three, two one — now.”
His men brought their shields up into a wall. A heartbeat after the last rattle, he used his ᚦ configuration to blast open the door ahead of them. Irding led the charge through the haze of the blast and into the tower.
The door opened into an empty antechamber. One set of stairs followed the wall up to the next floor, and across the room another led down – into what horrors, Einarr did not care to speculate.
Empty was unexpected, but the men knew what to do. About half split off to take the heights of the tower, while Einarr and Jorir went with the rest down into the depths. Probably the men heading up would get the glory of taking the leader’s head, but practically speaking Einarr would more likely be needed to deal with whatever horrors they had called into being.
As soon as the door to the second floor was opened the fighting began again, but the defenders had missed an opportunity: they hadn’t been holding the stairs here. Irding bowled over the lone archer in the door while he was still sighting his shot, and the upstairs team began pouring through.
The door heading down was barred from below. Jorir hefted his axe to begin chopping at it, but Einarr raised a hand to stop him. “The longer this takes, the more time they have to prepare a trap. Let me.”
Drawing a pair of thorns took almost no time at all, and though the thrumming in his head spiked it did not remain high after he had blown away this second door, and the front runners rushed once more through the gap.
Below, the stairway was lined with torches burning in a familiar blue flame. If Einarr had needed any further confirmation that this was the same cult that had killed Astrid and kidnapped Runa just a few short years ago, this was it.
They were vulnerable going down the stairs: there was no barrier separating the outside of the stair from the open air and the long drop to the next floor, and they were perhaps halfway down it when that floor lit up in the poisonous blue of the torchlight. “Shields up and keep moving!”
The order was likely unnecessary, but Einarr intended to spend the lives of his men dearly if he had to at all.
A moment later and the volley of arrows from below flew across empty space, burying their heads in shields and the cracks of stone. He did not hear anyone cry out: he hoped that meant no-one else had been taken in a leg.
The lighting in here was dim, and the footing on the stairway was bad, but all they had to do was weather the arrows until they reached the bottom – except that from the top of the stairs Einarr could already see that the base of the stairs was mobbed with cursed warriors. They would get in each other’s way, certainly, but they would also prevent the invaders from breaching the floor.
This time, though, he would let his men push through. He could think of nothing he could do that would not also risk them, and he was well aware that he was pushing his magic in ways he never had before. Not since Elder Melja’s winter training, and probably not then. For the moment, he slipped his chalk back into his pouch and limbered the bow he had acquired on the field above.
Serk of Sweindalr, aboard his own Björtstag, had hacked his way across to the enemy ship. As Captain, ordinarily he would hang back, but after what had happened at Kaldreik he knew he could not. It was not merely atrocities the Björtstag had witnessed there, after all – otherwise, Halla would still be with them, and still require his protection.
A gang of cursed warriors was clustering around the mast: that didn’t look good. With a roar of borrowed fury, he charged into them and struck about with his sword. The cursed warriors, with their sickly gray skin and their mad eyes, scattered under the onslaught. Einarr of Breidelstein had alluded to monsters aboard these ships, and Serk intended to see that they had no chance to free such a creature.
A screech sounded from the deck behind him, and one of the mad-eyed warriors ceased even to appear human. In place of his arms he grew squid tentacles, and his head became a massive beak still somehow covered in eyes. Serk’s mouth curled into a rictus grin: had it been one of those, then, that did for his Halla? He charged again, and in one mighty blow he severed its transformed head from its once-human body.
He would have vengeance for his bride on the cultists of Malúnion.
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.
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 e-book through Draft2Digital, 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.