Author’s Note: Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa. This should have been posted months ago. Between March and June of this year, we moved twice – once halfway around the world – and when I wasn’t actively involved in packing/unpacking, I suddenly had the Young Master at home all the time, rather than at Montessori school. None of this was conducive to writing. So, today you will get this chapter, and every day this week you will get another until we reach the end of the story (it’s not far off). Then, sometime next week or perhaps in the first part of the new year, there will be a definitive announcement as to my next project. And, at some point in there, this website will be getting rebuilt, as recent changes appear to have broken my old design at some point in there.
The light behind his allies was blindingly white, and growing larger. It already engulfed the form of Malùnion, and as it grew brighter the sickly greenish-black form grew thinner and fainter. At last, as the bones of the figure appeared to disappear into the light, there was a soundless boom. The light compressed, and then a shockwave traveled out across the temple. His friends, not entirely caught unaware, still stumbled forward. Their torches flickered.
Eydri’s song ended with a croak.
When Einarr’s eyes adjusted, the other four stood over him looking worried. He wrinkled his eyebrows and smiled at them but did not move. He was well aware that something was broken, and in no hurry to find out what. “Why so serious? We won.”
Kaldr glanced over behind them to where the body of Malùnion lay in pieces like so much broken stone. “Aye, we did.”
His voice sounded hoarse – but then again, every one among them was exhausted. Eydri had tears in her eyes when she nodded her agreement.
Troa cleared his throat. “My Lord… can you move?”
“What’s the hurry?”
“The others are waiting, Einarr. They’ll have heard that thunder, and even if everything down here is still stable we should let them know we’ve made it.”
Einarr sighed and nodded. It wasn’t his neck, anyway. “How’s your voice, Eydri?”
She shook her head without saying anything. He certainly couldn’t fault her for wanting to rest it for a time.
“All right, then.” He sat up, and suddenly he knew exactly what was broken: his left shoulder. “Hey Jorir? I could use a sling.”
A wry, if tired, smile cracked the dvergr’s face. “And this time, if my patient dies, it’s the Lady Runa who’ll have my head.” Jorir produced a long piece of cloth from somewhere and moved up to Einarr’s side.
“Heh.” It had been a long time since Einarr had thought of that. “I’m just glad it’s not my thigh – or my back.”
“If I might make a suggestion, milord.” Jorir focused on arranging the arm as carefully as he could.
“Even if this heals perfectly, you might find a two-handed blade serves you better than a shield in the future.”
* * *
Einarr’s team of seven were the last ones to rejoin the others on the upper floor. Kaldr carried the husk that had once been Thjofgrir, and Svarek and Troa had the grim, bloody task of bringing up the ruins of Arring’s body. Both men had died honorably and well: neither of them could be left to rot unburied in a place like this. Einarr leaned on Naudrek’s shoulder with his good arm, Jorir stumping along beside. No-one spoke: while they had won, it had been a hard-fought battle, and the costs had been high.
As they passed through the upper basement, past the entrance to the underground port, the others in the underground force fell in behind them. They caught their leaders’ mood, however, and so when they all emerged from the stairway, blinking in the light of day, it was as though they were an honor guard – for both the living and the dead.
Irding looked up from oiling his blade when the others staggered out, haggard and pale but proud in victory. He raised a fist into the air and gave a ragged cheer. This was picked up by the others who had gone upstairs to take the tower.
Wounded lined the room, all given some measure of first aid, but all would plainly benefit from the attentions of a Singer. Eydri, though, made no offer of help. That strange Song had obviously been a strain, but this was unusual even so.
Einarr directed Naudrek and Jorir over to where Irding rested, sitting on the stair, and he, too, sat. “How did it go up there?”
“About as well as can be expected. We took our knocks… but the defenders didn’t know what to do with themselves. Looks like we should still have enough men to crew both boats, but it might be a little thin.”
“Good. Could you see what was happening in the harbor?”
Irding nodded, looking out across the room. Einarr followed his gaze, and saw Eydri standing very still while Hrug drew a rune circle around her. She was looking at her feet, and had her fists clenched: Einarr hoped Hrug would be able to undo whatever damage had been done.
“They got pincered. Things were looking really grim until those Valkyrie ships showed up.”
“So Beatrix did show up. Good.”
“Beatrix, and something like half her order, it looked like. Their sea-fire was all that saved us.”
Einarr nodded. He was glad, not only that they had won but also that he might get to see a friend again. On the other hand, ensuring that things stayed friendly might be tricky. The Clans and the Empire didn’t often get along, after all. So far as Einarr knew, this might be the first time. “I’m glad I sent for aid, then,” was all he said.
Hrug was activating the circle. Einarr looked up to watch.
There was a brief flash of light around the hem of her skirts. Eydri opened her mouth and said something – Einarr was too far away to hear what. Then her face screwed up as though she were trying not to cry. Her shoulders squared, although she looked at the ground again, and she nodded. Hrug set about crafting a rune circle that, if Einarr was any judge, would cover the entire floor. Meanwhile, Eydri took herself off to a corner, everything about her body language screaming ‘leave me alone.’
Einarr glanced at Naudrek, who still stood by. “Did she say anything to you while I was out down there?”
He shook his head. “I think that may be the problem.”
Oh no. Einarr nodded. “All right. Help me over there.”
Jorir cleared his throat. “Are you sure that’s wise, milord?”
Einarr quirked his mouth in a wry smile. “Maybe not. But Eydri is my friend as much as my Singer. Let’s go see if there’s anything I can do for a friend, eh?”
Naudrek muttered something mostly under his breath. Einarr thought he caught the words “more than you bargained for.”
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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