My most sincere apologies: I was certain I had scheduled this for the regular time last night. I can only assume that my click to Schedule did not actually register before life intruded.

“A guardian? What do you mean?” Kaldr’s brows lowered.

“Just that.” Runa sighed. “The High Roads of Ljosalfheim require magical knowledge particular to the alfs to even find, let alone enter. The dvergr will be no more keen to allow mortals into their realms: if the entrance to the paths is a physical place, it stands to reason that there would be gates or guardians or such, if only to keep treasure-hunters at bay.”

Einarr hummed. “Given that Ystava took me along the High Roads, the dwarves – especially the svartdvergr – may well be less welcoming of outsiders.”

Kaldr nodded. “Then we must be even more on our guard.”

“Agreed. Vali, we’ll be counting on your sharp eyes.”

“I haven’t got any eyes, though?”

Einarr rolled his own. “However it works for you, then. We couldn’t have got past that kraken without you.”

The ghost smirked even as he started up into the air. “Sure couldn’t.”

As Vali rose up to hover, almost invisible, in the air above the deck, Kaldr cleared his throat. “I was actually hoping you could give us some idea what else we might be facing.”

She offered a chuckle, but looked as though she regretted it immediately. “I’m afraid I haven’t the foggiest… Einarr, be a dear and get the waterproof satchel from my things? There should be some peppermint in there.”

“Peppermint?”

“To settle my stomach.”

Einarr was halfway across the deck to their awning when Vali called down. “You’re all looking for a barren island, right?”

“That’s right”

“I found one. Bearing northeast from here, just past the horizon.”


The island Vali found was massive – easily as large as the stories told of some of the larger Imperial lands. As they approached, it became plain what the next gate to pass was: they had to find the entrance first. There may have been some mosses and lichens that called the island home, but from the sea this was land that appeared to support nothing. Dry, reddish-brown dirt spread over its entire surface, broken only by the rocks that lay strewn across the plain. They had to sail for an hour just to find a beach where the Villgås could land.

Around them, everything was eerily quiet. There did not even appear to be shore birds, which put Einarr on edge. He could think of two reasons, now, why the island would be uninhabited: the kraken, and whatever it was that kept the birds away. When he vaulted over the bulwark to help beach their boat, the splash of their boots in the water and the gentle rushing of the waves were the only noises he heard.

Even the scraping of the gangplank as Thjofgrir slid it into place seemed unnaturally loud. Einarr gave Runa his hand as she descended the plank, but his attention was on the land around them.

Vali was already ashore. Naudrek carried his jar: if they didn’t intend to leave the ghost behind, they would need it.

“Did you see anything when you were up above?” Einarr asked him, but Vali shook his head.

“Afraid not. Nothing but rock and dirt and glacier.”

Einarr grunted. While it was entirely possible that there was magic keeping creatures away from this place, it still stood his hair on end. He looked up, checking the path of the sun through the sky. Mid-afternoon. Fine. “All right, everyone. Unload everything – and I do mean everything – off the Villgås and make camp. I’m going to set up a ward. It should mean nothing bothers the boat while we’re exploring, but it’ll keep us out to in the interim. And be cautious. This place could just be warded, or it could be that something nasty lives here we just haven’t seen yet.” He hummed, considering. “Vali, I’m going to be relying on you again. While we’re setting up here, scout around. Make sure there’s nothing hiding nearby that will try to sneak out and bite us in our sleep.”

The ghost smirked. “What, and miss all the fun of unloading water casks? How will I ever bear up?”

“You mean miss the chance to taunt the rest of us, don’t you?” Einarr half-chuckled at the thought of Vali popping up out of the lid of one of the casks, then shook his head. Vali was a joker, which was good, but losing precious supplies to a joke would not be. “There’ll be time enough for your japes once we’re settled in for the night.”

“Aye, sir.” Vali’s amused chortle carried back over the empty ground as he floated off on his mission.

Once he was safely out of earshot,Kaldr leveled a flat look at Einarr. “You make the most interesting friends, my lord.”

“Indeed. A cursed blacksmith, a ghost in a jar, a magic-hating strategist… makes life more fun, doesn’t it?”

Kaldr’s only reaction to hearing himself included on that list was a slight widening of the eyes before his normally calm expression returned. “Indeed.”

Runa took Vali’s jar from Naudrek and placed it firmly on the ground while the other four climbed back aboard the ship and began unloading. Einarr, meanwhile, took a sharp-edged rock from the ground and used it to begin drawing a ward very similar to the one he had used on the Heidrun at Thorndjupr. While he worked, he was dimly aware of the tramp of boots up and down the gangplank. After a while, as he was nearly finished, he heard Runa’s sweet voice begin to sing – nothing in particular, that he could tell, although the cheerful tune still lifted his spirits.

He would give them the afternoon and evening to rest and recover from their narrow escape the day before. Tomorrow would bring hard travel of a different sort, and unknown dangers besides. For tonight they could be merry, and he could finally celebrate Runa’s good news.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook 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.

 

Fighting a Kraken was a losing proposition, ordinarily, even in a longship with a full crew. Einarr didn’t want to think about what their chances were in the Villgås, with only the six of them. Five, really: Runa’s queasiness had not been helped by their abrupt maneuvers. That also meant, of course, that they could not count on her to bolster their stamina for the flight.

All of this ran through Einarr’s mind in the split second after the odor of rotting fish assaulted his nose. The last time he had encountered a kraken, Hrug had devised a clever ritual to destroy the beast’s corruption. This one, at least, seemed to be of the ordinary variety. If they could run quickly enough, they might be able to dodge its grasping tentacles.

“Kaldr! Trade me!”

Wordlessly, Kaldr scrambled back to the stern to take control of the rudder. He probably had the instincts to dodge the hungry beast, but the man’s true strength was in forethought. Einarr, though, had outlived all but one of the Cursebreakers he had ever heard of. More than once he had spotted a way through and taken it without realizing that’s what he was doing. If he was going to gamble on someone’s instincts, it would be his own.

Ahead of them, the sea still churned. Behind them, the whirling maelstrom still grabbed at the Villgås, threatening to turn them back and suck them into the maw of the beast.

“Vali! Up high. Tell me what you see.”

“Aye-aye!”

The water off their starboard bow bubbled as though something big were moving just beneath it. “Port twenty-five!”

The ship groaned as her course was abruptly changed, but there could be no faulting her alacrity. The blue-grey tentacle burst up out of the water as they were rowing past it and crashed back into the roiling water, sluicing their deck with foul-smelling water once more.

“Ease off, Kaldr.” They had a clear path forward now.

“No!” Vali’s shout rang across the water as his translucent figure zipped back towards the deck. “Turn about!”

Einarr lowered his brows. “You want me to go back towards the maelstrom’s heart?”

“Better than rowing straight into the maw of the beast. We’re dead-center over the body right now.”

That didn’t make any sense. “Then what’s causing the maelstrom?”

“Not the kraken!”

Einarr swore. “You heard him! Bring us around!”

Another tentacle burst out from under the water’s surface just ahead of the Villgås’s original path. It, too, crashed down into the water, and the waves of its fall rocked the boat precipitously.

“Runa!”

“Y-yes?” She sounded miserable – not that he was surprised under the circumstances.

“My bow, and some arrows. Unless you want to be squid food, I need them now, and you’re the only one who can get them.”

He heard a noise that could have been a groan and could have been agreement. It took far longer than he liked, as he called instructions back to Kaldr for their heading, but as they neared the narrow strait Vali said would be safe to sail through she stumbled up beside him. She held out his bow in one hand and the quiver in the other and offered a wan smile.

“Thank you,” he said even as he strung the bow. “Get back amidships. We’ll get through.”

She nodded and stumbled back the way she’d come, clutching her stomach. He sincerely hoped this would not last.

Then began the tense work of breaking free. Einarr stood at the prow, an arrow nocked, and called out directions to Kaldr on the steering oar and Naudrek and Thjofgrir on the oars. Vali provided him eyes in the sky, which was invaluable for getting them through the ever-changing narrow strait between the maw of the beast and the maw of the sea. Occasionally a tentacle would come too close to the Villgås. Einarr only shot if they were in imminent danger of being capsized, but those shots let the kraken know there was something there. The more he shot, the more often he had to shoot.

After what felt like an eternity, when he was down to a single arrow in his quiver, he saw calm waters ahead. A quick glance around confirmed it: one more push should get them past hunting kraken and maelstrom alike. “Lash her steady, Kaldr!” He called over his shoulder. “Lash her steady, and take an oar!”

Einarr dropped his arrow back in its quiver, tossed the bow over his shoulder, and rushed to the oar that would be opposite Kaldr’s. A moment later, he was joined by his Mate for the voyage.

“Hang on, Runa. Double-quick time, men! One last push will see us free!”
Einarr and Kaldr put their backs into it, rowing as hard as they could for the open waters ahead of this impossible strait.

A shadow dimmed the light of the sun: Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder.
The kraken had not given up yet. A tentacle rose high above them, and was about to come plunging down on their deck.

“Faster!”

He had not been certain it was actually possible, but somehow they managed to coax just a little more speed out of the Villgås. The tentacle crashed into the roiling water behind them, and the waves of its fall sent them airborn, just for a moment. They landed with a splash that doused all of them once more, washing away most of the fish smell from the deck, and the wind caught their sail once more. The Villgås sailed on.

Naudrek pulled his oar in and sat down with a thump, catching his breath. Thjofgrir also looked winded. Einarr went straight to where Runa leaned against the mast. Her color was already better, and he smiled at her. “Anyone care to venture a guess as to where that came from?”

Runa sat up. “I couldn’t say for certain, but I think that was a guardian. I think we’re getting close.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook 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.

 

They waited in silence until they were sure Kharmor was out of earshot and off the docks – with the way sound carried over water, the second was required for the first. Then Kaldr turned to Runa.

“What do you know about these Paths of Stone?”

She shook her head, her hair tickling Einarr’s nose. “Little enough. I’d have said they were as much a legend as the High Roads a few years ago.” Runa frowned, scrunching up her nose as she tried to recall. “There was something from my time with the Matrons, though…”

She started to hum, very quietly. Over the last month, Einarr had seen her do that whenever she gave a matter serious thought. “Once, when Loki journeyed to Myrkheimr to claim gifts of appeasement for the gods from the craftsmen of the dvergr…

East, and east he went, to

Wasteland, rock and ice. There

Sought he the entrance, mark’d

By dvergr pride…

She opened her eyes. “There’s more, but I don’t know that it really helps us. At least not yet.”

Thjofgrir scratched at the back of his neck. “Not sure how much that really helps us. East of what? And what in the world does it mean by ‘dvergr pride’?”

Vali laughed, sending a shiver down everyone’s spine. Thjofgrir looked annoyed.

Einarr looked at the transparent face of their resident ghost. “Why is that funny?”

Your pretty little wife should know the answer to that. Even before I was bound to the jar, skalds could never tell you anything straight.”

Runa settled back against Einarr’s chest, and he could hear the smile in her voice. “He’s right, really. That only sounds straightforward. Oh, East is true enough, and probably the line about the wasteland is literal. But there are four great houses of dwarves, one in each direction, for the four original sons of Ymir who held up the heavens.”

Kaldr blinked at that. “Excuse me, what?”

That’s the story, anyway. Probably the truth of it is buried under yet more layers of metaphor. But when Loki went to ask the dvergr for Sif’s golden hair, he traveled to the house in the east. And Mýrarhöfn is already in the eastern seas, and near the warm Imperial waters. If we head east from here, there should be a barren island that holds an entrance to the Paths of Stone.”

Kaldr looked straight at Einarr. “Once it’s light we can consult the charts, but I can think of a couple of likely options if we continue east from here.”

Einarr nodded. “Let’s do it, then. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, I don’t care how you do it, but get us fresh water. …Kaldr, you go with them. Vali, you’re on watch.”

Yes, sir!” came the answering chorus.

As for himself, he had a new wife to see to.


Ten days out of Mýrarhöfn, with land nowhere in sight, Runa found that the rocking of the Villgås no longer agreed with her stomach. That evening, her face still a little green, she admitted to Einarr that her monthlies had been significantly delayed.

Einarr’s cheer echoed across the waves.

Not so loud, my love,” she said, wincing. “I think an alf on the High Roads heard you.”

Let them!” Einarr laughed.

This is joyous news indeed,” Kaldr drawled. He didn’t sound particularly joyous, however. “Tell me, my lord, what happens if we’re attacked with the Lady Runa in this state?”

We protect our Singer, of course. Just as always.”

I see.” Kaldr pursed his lips, evidently still displeased, but said no more.

Runa tisked. “Come now, Kaldr. It’s not like I’m going to suddenly forget all the training I had from the Matrons. Nor does pregnancy typically interfere with Song Magic – if anything, it enhances it.”

Kaldr hummed. Einarr, though, blinked in surprise. “Truly?”

Truly. It’s based on resonance and emotional states, after all.”

Would that not also make your witchcraft less stable, my lady?”

Runa hesitated. “Sometimes,” she finally answered. “Although if I might make a recommendation? Referring to your prince’s wife as a witch is not particularly wise even under ordinary circumstances.”

I will keep that in mind, my lady.” Kaldr offered her a slight bow and moved to the prow, where he stood looking out over the sea.

He is right about one thing, though, Runa.”

She raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue.

You can’t let yourself be reckless now. Let us handle that part, okay?”

Now she smirked, evidently pleased that he’d evaded some trap in the topic. “I will do my best.”

Einarr?” Kaldr called from the prow. There was an unusual urgency to his voice.

Einarr was on his feet in a moment, already moving forward. “Yes, what is it?”

Evasive action!” Kaldr cried. Without thinking, Thjofgrir and Naudrek picked up oars.

A moment later, Einarr had reached the prow and saw for himself. There, in the middle of the open ocean, was the gaping maw of a huge maelstrom.

He was at the rudder in two strides. “Where did that even come from?”

I don’t know! Does it matter?”

Kaldr, direct me! Skip us off the edge!”

Yes, sir!”

Oars, stand by!”

Yes, sir!”

Port side, row with all your might! Hard starboard!”

Slowly, the Villgås turned. Einarr could feel the sucking of the maelstrom pulling at the rudder already.

Einarr – steady out! Starboard oar, jump in!”

Einarr relaxed his grip on the rudder at the same time Thjofgrir threw his back into rowing. Runa started to look green again as the ship pitched over the swirling waves. With a creak, the prow started to turn back toward the ocean’s maw.

Einarr! Starboard again, now!”

Even as Kaldr’s words reached his ears, Einarr was leaning his weight into the steering oar. It fought him, hard.

A wave washed over the deck and Einarr caught the strong odor of fish in the water. He swore: every sailor knew what that meant. “Kraken!”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook 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.

 

“Evening, strangers. My thanks for the invitation.”

“The pleasure is ours. Have a seat.”

The dwarf rumbled: it might have been a laugh. “Not many strangers call dining with a dark dwarf a pleasure.”

Einarr offered a friendly smile. “A good friend of mine happens to be a dark dwarf. My name’s Einarr.”

“Hmm. Kharmor.”

Kaldr nodded and gave his own name.

“Here. First round’s on me,” Einarr volunteered. They spoke lightly for a time, with Vali hovering behind Einarr and whispering in his ear occasionally. Kharmor didn’t seem to be able to see the ghost – at the very least, he gave no sign of doing so.

After a couple of rounds like this, Einarr started telling stories about his journeys with Jorir – omitting the name, at first.

“Seems like a serious fellow, this friend of yours.”

“Aye, Jorir can be very serious. But he’s been a steady hand and an even keel for me, too, and we’ve been through some crazy adventures in the last few years.”

“…Jorir?” Kharmor started at the name.

Yes, that’s my liege man.”

“That all the name he’s given you?”

“Well, yes. He’s a smith, and he’s made plain that there’s a matter he will need my help with. Which is why I don’t understand why he ran off.”

Slowly, Kharmor nodded. “Jorir the cursed blacksmith, whose works can never hold the spark of magic. I assure you he had his reasons.”

“It’s just–”

“I do not doubt your sincerity. But you and your man both would be better served by returning home to wait for him.”

Kaldr tried to interject here, but he, too was cut off.

“You can be of no help to him, and you will only bring harm to yourselves. Go home.” Kharmor the dwarf rose from his seat with an air of finality and turned his back on the table. “In thanks for the food and drink, I will give you one last word of advice. Leave this place, by morning if you can. There are others of my kin who will not be so understanding as I.”

As the dwarf stumped loudly out of the hall, Einarr surveyed the room around them. It had grown considerably quieter, and a significant portion of the other patrons stared daggers at them. He cleared his throat.

“I think,” Kaldr muttered into his cup. “That our new friend was right about one thing, at least.”

“We do seem to be wearing out our welcome rather quickly,” Einarr agreed, looking very intently down into his trancheon to scrape up the last spoonful or two of stew. “Vali, I hope you had better luck than we did.”

“Maybe a bit, chief.”

“Good. Tell me later. Let’s finish what’s in front of us, pay, and leave. Wouldn’t want it to look like we were following him out.”


After one very tense walk across the hostile thieves’ den they found themselves in, the three men boarded the Villgås and breathed a sigh of relief. They all took seats in a rough circle on the deck: Einarr, still feeling the sting of the insults hurled early in the day, pulled Runa into his lap. Kaldr rolled his eyes. Naudrek and Thjofgrir smirked.

After her initial squawk of surprise, Runa settled back against his chest. Evidently she wasn’t too mad about being left on the ship, which was good. He would make it worth her while, later. For now, though… “Report.”

Naudrek rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “Shouldn’t we be asking you that?”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow. “I will be reporting the results of our investigation. But first, Thjofgrir, tell me you’ve already started bringing on fresh water?”

“Started? Yes. Finished? That’s another matter.”

Kaldr groaned.

Einarr sympathised. They still had some extra, because the Villgås had a deep draft, but counting on that was never wise. “Fine,” he said. “It is what it is. Nothing strange happened here?”

“No, sir,” Naudrek answered. “We’ve more or less been ignored.”

Einarr nodded now. “Vali? Tell me you found something beyond what our little friend from the Grotto told us.”

“Oh, aye,” the ghost said with a grin. “And from his own mouth, no less. Why do you think I nudged him your direction? Only trouble is…”

“He wasn’t so willing to talk to outsiders?”

“You’ll find,” rumbled a vaguely familiar voice from behind, “that no-one who lives here really welcomes strangers.”

Vali faded until he was just a faint outline to Einarr’s eyes. Einarr’s hands tightened on Runa’s hips unconsciously and she squirmed until he adjusted them. It was… distracting.

Einarr turned to look at their new guest, who stood respectfully just off the deck of the ship. “So we noticed. Come aboard.”

Kharmor smirked and took that step, his boots clumping heavily on the wood. “As you wish.”

“To what do we owe the honor? You made it quite plain earlier there was nothing more you would tell us.”

Could tell you. Not there, anyway. Then I waited outside and followed you to your boat. I’m amazed you didn’t notice.”

Vali’s outline smirked. Einarr was beginning to hate that expression. Kharmor, it seemed, still didn’t see the ghost.

“My kinsman that you seek – Jorir. He’s a criminal in our lands.”

Einarr raised both eyebrows in surprise and disbelief.

“He went against the will of our Thane – that’s why he left in the first place, when I was just a child. As far as we knew, he was dead. If word’s gotten out that he’s active again, though, he might have been called back home.”

“Home?”

“The alfs have the High Roads. We have our own means of reaching our homeland. I don’t recommend you try it.”

“Whyever not?” Thjofgrir asked.

“Because no human who treads the Paths of Stone ever returns.” He paused a long moment, fixing all of them with a level look. “There. I’ve said my piece. Get home with you. Either you’ll have word from your liege man, or you won’t. Either way, there’s nothing you can do by following after him.”

Without another word, Kharmor stumped back down to the docks. For a long moment, they sat in silence.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook 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.

 

Their second stop was at a place called The Grey Gate. Other than being a less-likely haunt for freeboaters on leave, its chief benefit was its proximity to the foundry and the timber yard in the city. Once again Einarr and Kaldr seated themselves in an unobtrusive corner, ordered a pair of ales, and sat watching the crowd.

Kaldr spotted them first: a pair of smiths, one of them a svartdvergr. They spoke briefly, and then the dwarf – far stockier and more scarred than Jorir – left again.

Einarr nodded, pleased. “All right. Hold your thumbs – here goes nothing.”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow, but obliged. It was a silly gesture, but Einarr still felt a little more confident as he sauntered over to the table where the smith still sat.

“Pardon me, friend. Mind if I sit down?”

The smith gave him a withering look, but gestured at the seat nonetheless.

“Many thanks. I’m new in town, but a friend came through before me – a smith. I was hoping you might be able to help me find him.”

The other man took a long drink of his ale, plainly ignoring Einarr.

“Oh, where are my manners. The next one’s on me.”

That, at least, got a harrumph out of the man. He took another long pull on his drink, obviously sizing Einarr up the entire time. “What makes you think I know anything about your friend?”

Einarr shrugged. “Call it a hunch.”

The man’s look could have humbled one of the Matrons. “Fine then. What makes you think he wants to be found?”

“I don’t, really. But disappearing like this just isn’t like him. And I know something terrible is going on in his homeland – something he’s said in the past he’ll need my aid on.”

The smith snorted. “Go home, Princeling. You and your stuffed-shirt bodyguard. Your ‘friend’ disappeared here, either he don’t want to be found or he’s dead. Either way, your kind don’t belong here.”

With a sigh, Einarr stood and dropped a coin on the table. “There. That should cover your next few – as thanks.”

Einarr took two steps back towards where Kaldr waited in the corner, still trying to be inconspicuous, before the man called after him. “Waitaminute. You sound like someone I’ve heard before. Not too long ago, neither.”

Einarr turned, a tight smile curving his lips but not reaching his cheeks, let alone his eyes. “Surely not. My homeland is a good ways from here.”

“No… I’m sure of it now. Your tongue has the same way of it as that young fella who was here just a few weeks back. You people just don’t know when to give up!” He stood violently at the table, slamming his hands down flat and calling the attention of everyone else in the Hall. “Oy! This one’s asking around after the dwarves!”

A Singer could not have inspired a quicker fury than those words imposed upon the room. Einarr wanted to explain, but there was no point. Nothing he could say would be heard by anyone in the room.

Kaldr realized it too. He suddenly appeared at Einarr’s back, wary and ready to draw. “My Lord…”

“Mm. Time to go, I think.”

The hiss of steel from around the room confirmed that hunch.

“Quickly?”

“Double-time.”

They started towards the door, Einarr facing the room, Kaldr at his back leading the way to the exit and safety. Neither of them was a slouch in a fight, but two against fifty seemed like poor odds under these circumstances. They had not gone three steps before a shout arose from the other patrons and they began to charge after the retreating prince and his retainer.


By the time they had lost their pursuers, it was nearly supper time. They both agreed that they needed to try at least once more that day: the longer they took, the colder the trail became, after all. On the one hand, the hour was a boon. There would be more people about, and that meant both that they would stand out less and that they would have a better chance of finding a lead. Hopefully not another one that remembered Finn. On the other hand, if things went wrong again…

Tired and footsore, they settled on a nearby place called the Salty Grotto. Despite the name, this was easily the highest-quality establishment they had visited yet. The rugs were not only not muddy, they were also not threadbare, and if the long tables saw great use they were also well-tended, as the surface was polished smooth and not at all sticky.

Once again they found themselves a place near a wall and called for ale and food – a full meal, this time, instead of a simple loaf to pretend to eat.

The Grotto was a lively house at the dinner hour. Local tradesmen – and some whole families, although not many – nearly filled the room. A lutist plucked a lively tune from near the front of the room, and when their stew arrived it smelled nearly as good as some of the things Snorli had come up with back on the Vidofnir.

Over everything, Einarr heard the door thump open at the entrance and turned to look. But there’s no-one… oh, there he is. A black-haired dwarf with skin nearly the color of bronze sauntered in and surveyed the room. Einarr couldn’t tell, immediately, what his profession was, although he was perhaps the shortest, stockiest dwarf Einarr had ever met. He also seemed to be looking for a seat. I’ll take this chance. He waved the dwarf over.

It took a moment for the svartdvergr to notice, but eventually he clumped over, his iron boots clanking a little against the floor. A mercenary, then?

Not far behind him, before anyone thought to close the door, Vali slipped in.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook 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.

 

Einarr stepped out into the road running past the end of the pier and looked up and down it. Calling it a road may have been generous: he had seen cart paths that were better maintained. Deep muddy ruts scarred the surface, with standing water in several of them.

Board walks lined the sides of the road, but they were so crammed full of stalls it was impossible to actually walk along them. Well: this would hardly be the first time Einarr had gotten his boots dirty. Still, the quality of merchant did not leave him feeling hopeful.

On his left, Kaldr sniffed. “Have they no pride?” he muttered.

Einarr couldn’t quite suppress a smirk. “It might be better for us if that were the case, but I think you’ll find that pride is not what they’re lacking.”

Kaldr only hummed, his eyes scanning the crowd before them. Einarr felt sure he was looking for threats and not leads.

One direction seemed as good as the other. With a mental shrug, Einarr turned to his right. The smells coming from this direction had more to do with grilled meat than with stable muck, at least. Kaldr fell into step on his left. The walks packed with stalls and their patrons continued until the road made a sharp turn inland.

“Wandering the streets won’t do us much good,” Kaldr mused.

“No,” Einarr agreed, pitching his voice for Kaldr’s ears only. “We need a place we can sit and listen for a spell. Keep your eyes open for a public hall.”

“Surely you don’t expect there to be many people in such a place at this hour?”

“In a town like this? You’d be surprised. Besides, it always seemed to work well for Bardr when we needed to go recruiting.”

The signboard over the first hall they found – more of a den, really, Einarr thought – had ‘The Silent Hog’ scrawled across it in Imperial script. With a shared shrug and a nod, they went in.

Inside, the Silent Hog was not particularly quiet, although it made the Pewter Pot in Eskiborg look nice by comparison. The rugs scattered across the floor were nearly as muddy as the road outside, and all across the room men sat at tables dicing and drinking – never mind that it was not yet noon. Without too much trouble, Einarr spotted a place near the far wall that was currently unoccupied and flagged down a barmaid.

Five minutes later, as they sat across a table from each other with bread and ale, Einarr looked at Kaldr and said “And now, we wait.”

“For what?”

“Don’t know yet. Drink slowly, nibble, listen. If nothing interesting happens, we can move on and try again somewhere else.”

Kaldr shook his head. “I’ll admit, this is a little outside my expertise. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have Thjofgrir with you?”

Einarr chuckled. “Little late for cold feet now, isn’t it? But yes, I’m quite sure. It’s mostly a matter of knowing what to listen for.”

He turned his head to survey the room at a surge in the general noise level of the hall – some freeboater winning at dice, he expected, but no-one stood out of the crowd. He had another sip of his truly terrible ale and popped a morsel of bread in his mouth – that, at least, was quite good and fresh.

Kaldr cleared his throat. “Don’t look now, but I think someone is spoiling for a fight.”

Hey!” A rough voice called from over Einarr’s shoulder even as he turned to look.

I been watching you. Y’ain’t here ta drink, an’ y’ain’t here ta dice, so what’re you tryin’ ta pull?” The man was rail thin, but easily as tall as Erik, and his yellow hair twisted into greasy knots. He loomed over their table as he approached, one hand on the hilt of his belt knife.

Einarr put on a friendly smile. “Nothing like that, friend. We’re just looking for a friend of ours. Can we buy you a drink?”

Bah! Pair o’ pretty boys like you won’t find any friends here.”

Kaldr quirked an eyebrow. Einarr clenched his teeth, but only briefly. He couldn’t very well admit to being a prince, though, for the very same reason he hadn’t dared to bring Runa ashore.

I’ll have to let my wife know she has competition from other men, I suppose,” Einarr answered, his voice tight as he looked at Kaldr. He jerked his head toward the door: they weren’t going to learn anything here now.

A likely story!” The ruffian continued his taunts, plainly looking for a brawl that Einarr had no desire to provide. “Run off then. You might ‘ave better luck at the Cocksroost!”

Einarr frowned, sizing the man up. Not weak, plainly, but the fact that no-one else at the hall had come along suggested he might get away with it. While the ruffian laughed, evidently thinking he’d found a coward, Einarr pulled back his fist and let loose. He felt the satisfying crunch of bone as the ruffian’s nose shattered and his eyes rolled up in his head. “Let’s go.”

Silence fell over the room. As expected, when the scraggly man went down no-one came to his assistance. Einarr dropped a pair of coins on the table and left without paying him so much as another glance. Kaldr stalked after.

That was hardly called for,” he murmured.

My honor, and yours, disagree. Sometimes, the best thing to do with a man like that is give him what he’s after, good and hard.”

Word will spread, and it will be harder to lay low.”

Word will spread, and we should dissuade more such… nonsense. Now we need to find another place to listen.”

Might I suggest looking for one near a local foundry?”

Einarr gave that some thought. Not all svartdvergr were blacksmiths, but Jorir was. “Agreed.”

The two men set off down the street in the way that they had come, knowing they would need to go inland eventually – but where there were stables, there would be horses to shoe.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook 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.

 

Stigander went so far as to provide the karve for their search – one of the benefits, he said, of being back where they belonged – while Einarr and Kaldr assembled their team. Thjofgrir’s presence was as critical for Kaldr as Naudrek’s was for Einarr. After much deliberation, they agreed that Vali was their best choice for a scout, especially in the sorts of places they expected their search to take them.

The trouble came when Runa overheard Einarr speaking to Eydri about going.

“You’re not seriously thinking of leaving me behind?”

Uh-oh. Einarr steeled himself and turned to face his new wife. “I was, actually. We can’t know what sort of circumstances we’ll find ourselves in. It’s sure to be dangerous, and –”

“No ‘ands,’ Einarr. I don’t mind if you also bring along Eydri, but I’m not going to let you leave me behind.”

“But –”

“No buts. Jorir’s gotten me out of a tough scrape or two already: I intend to return the favor.”

Somehow, Einarr wasn’t certain that would be a good thing for Jorir, but he knew very well when Runa wasn’t going to budge on an issue. With a sigh, he turned to Eydri.

“It’s fine,” she said, but she wouldn’t look him in the eye.

“Are you sure? If you still want to go, I can check supplies with Kaldr. Vali doesn’t exactly eat much.”

“No, it’s fine. I haven’t sailed with Jorir all that much, and Kaldr is… Kaldr. Lady Runa has the right of it …If you’ll excuse me.”

Eydri left the room with some haste. Einarr looked after her as she entered the hall, puzzled. “Whatever can have gotten into her?”

Runa smiled, looking for all the world like a cat with cream. “Nothing you need concern yourself over. Just give her a little time and all will be well again.”

“…If you say so. Well, you’ve made it plain I can’t stop you, so you’d best make sure you’re packed.”

“Our things have already been seen to.”

“…I see.” Gods preserve me from willful women… The thought was as fond as his smile, though, as he wrapped an arm around his wife. “In that case, we should check in with Kaldr and Thjofgrir down at the pier.”


Kaldr, as expected, had complained – perhaps more loudly than he would have for Eydri, but his complaints were expected. Even he, however, could not deny the usefulness of someone well-versed in lore for their journey.

That it was Runa, however. That was a bone of contention. He argued long and strongly against her inclusion, and each and every argument against was one which Einarr had expected. Even agreed with, on some level. Finally, however, when Runa’s voice grew haughty and every fiber of her being began to quiver with anger, Einarr stepped in. There was simply nothing to be done, after all – she had as much right to search for Jorir as the two of them, and politics be damned.

Kaldr let loose a heavy sigh. “As my lord wills it, then,” he said with a bow, and left to see to some other matter aboard their karve.

They sailed the next day aboard the boat they had dubbed the Villgås, and after two and a half uneventful weeks on the open water they saw the shores of Mýrarhöfn rise over the horizon. Save for being the only land they’d seen in more than a week, there was not much remarkable about the terrain. The largest portion of what they could see was taken up by the port.

Even from the water Einarr could see that the port city looked run-down. With its reputation for attracting freeboaters of the roughest sort, it was unfortunately what he’d expected. He frowned: here was where he wished Eydri hadn’t bowed out so quickly. He could have used her on the ground in a place like this. Runa, though… well, she was tougher than one would expect, but he still couldn’t bring her ashore, not without a very good reason. She would be eaten alive in a place like this. He turned his gaze away from the approaching harbor and back over the deck to survey his crew and snorted, his decision made.

“All right, everyone. Once we make land, here’s how this will work. Thjofgrir, Naudrek, and Runa will stay aboard to guard the ship. No, Runa, that’s not optional. There’s very few Singers I’ve met I wouldn’t order to stay aboard in a place like this.” Runa huffed. Einarr found, for once, he didn’t care. “Vali, you can get into places the rest of us simply can’t. I expect you to be doing the heavy lifting on this search. Trust your instincts… and try not to scare anyone to death.”

As expected, Runa glared daggers at Einarr, but kept her mouth shut. At least for now. Vali smirked. “Aye, sir,” was all he said.

“Kaldr, you and I are going to go asking questions in all the wrong sorts of places.”

“Of course, my lord.”

He paused. He had half-expected Kaldr to suggest Thjofgrir or Naudrek in his place: truth be told, he wasn’t certain one or both of them might be better for the job. Well, whatever the reason, Einarr wanted a cool head at his back if he got into trouble. “Good. We’re going armed. If you’ve got a sturdy leather coat it’s probably better than maille here.”

Kaldr nodded, evidently in agreement. “The less attention we draw to ourselves, the better. Keep in mind, everyone, that Finn hit a stone wall every time it came out he was searching for a svartdvergr.”

“Hm. That could make things more interesting.” Einarr shrugged. “Not like there’s much we can do about it until we’re out there. Is everyone ready?”

Runa still looked cross, but her two bodyguards nodded easily.

“As ready as we can be, then,” Kaldr answered. It looked like Vali was already gone.

“Then I’ll see you all tonight.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook 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.

 

Einarr was far gladder than he cared to admit – especially to Runa – to see Breidelstein harbor as it hove into view. Captain Tormud of the Thorfridr had been more than gracious, and had pushed his ship beyond all limits so that they could pay the calls they had to in the allotted time. Nor could he fault the company: what he and Runa lacked in privacy, they gained in discretion from the crew. Unfortunately, not only was this not his Heidrun, but he’d also spent their time ashore engaged in political maneuvering.

Finally, though, the Thorfridr glided up to the pier and stopped with a gentle tap. Einarr stood and stretched and took a quick glance around their tent in the back of the ship. Everything seemed to be in order. “Ready to go?” he asked Runa with a smile.

Runa had not seemed to mind their political duties at all over the course of their honeymoon. On the contrary, she was in her element the entire time, even when facing the Matrons of the Circle. She stretched languidly in a way that accentuated her curves, deliberately teasing him. “I suppose we must.”

“Come now. Father will be expecting us. There is much to tell, after all.” He still enjoyed the view, however.

She laughed, the sound like tinkling chimes, as she rose gracefully to her feet and wrapped her arm around his. “In that case, let us be off.”

The brief scramble of noise that was a practiced docking was already dying down. Einarr shouldered the most important of their packs – the others would be brought up by porters later – and escorted his wife out and across the gangplank. It was a long walk up the cliff to the Hold, but that was no bad thing: Einarr wrapped his arm around Runa’s waist and they strolled leisurely through the streets of Breidelstein.

When their path eventually took them up to the gates of the Hold, Kaldr was waiting for them, a grim expression on his face.

“Well now,” Einarr said with a lopsided smile. “You’re as cheery as ever. Good to see you, too, Kaldr. Where’s Father?”

“In his study, waiting on the two of you with pastries and the second to last bottle of your wedding mead.” The corner of Kaldr’s mouth actually quirked upwards in amusement. “Walk with me. There’s been an incident since you left: I thought you should know before you spoke with your father.”

“What? What happened? Tell me I don’t have another island to go pacify…”

“No, not at all. Your father managed to smooth the remaining ruffled feathers at your wedding, I think. No… it’s Jorir.”

“Jorir?” He stopped. The dwarf was both loyal and reliable. What sort of trouble could he have gotten into in a month? Runa bit her lower lip, evidently worried.

“He’s missing. Ever since your wedding night.” Kaldr did not stop walking, forcing the other two to jog in order to catch up.

“What?” Einarr was caught between shock and outrage. “Why did no-one tell me?”

“You would have gone haring off after him, rather than attending to your wife and the other duties of your honeymoon.”

He glanced down at Runa, knowing it was true. “But he’s my liege man, and my friend.”

He could feel Runa glaring at him even without looking.

Leaving aside the happiness of your marriage – which would suffer greatly in those circumstances – and the necessity of you producing an heir before one of your misadventures gets you killed, that still could not have been allowed. For nearly twenty years, now, Breidelstein had been completely isolated from the rest of the world. That little cruise we arranged for you was to show the other clans that era is over, and things have changed. …And here we are. Lord Stigander awaits, milord. And now that you are briefed, you can intelligently discuss your next steps.” Kaldr rapped loudly on the door to Stigander’s study.

Enter,” came the answer.

Kaldr pushed open the door and gestured for Einarr and Runa to enter first.

You’re back!” Stigander grinned as he stood and opened his arms wide. Kaldr quietly stepped inside and closed the door behind himself.

Home at last,” Einarr smiled, embracing his father. “Anything interesting happen while we were away?”

Stigander hesitated. “No, of course not. As usual, all the excitement followed you around.”

All of it? Then what’s this I hear about Jorir disappearing into the night?”

His father sighed, seeming to deflate a little, and glanced at Kaldr. “Have a seat, all of you. …Honey cakes?”

Einarr and Runa each accepted one, but Einarr did not bite into his immediately. “Kaldr tells me Jorir has been gone since my wedding night. Surely someone has gone in search of him, at least?”

Aye. Finn returned two days ago. He managed to track your man to Mýrarhöfn, but he lost the trail there.”

Mýrarhöfn?”

Kaldr cleared his throat. “A free isle a good ways east of Kem, not far north of Imperial waters. As I understand it, it’s rather rough and lawless.”

Quite right,” Stigander agreed. “I expect, now that you know, you want to head out after him?”

Of course.” Einarr answered absently, rubbing his chin with his forefinger. “Kem’s not exactly close by . Is the Heidrun seaworthy?”

Not yet -”

We’ll be taking my boat,” Kaldr put in. When Einarr raised a questioning eyebrow at him, he quirked one in turn. “I’ve grown rather fond of him myself, you know.”

Stigander harrumphed. “You have my leave to go, but I recommend a karve or a small knarr rather than a longship. It will be a long journey, and we can’t send a lot of people, not with the League active. Choose your men, and good fortune go with you.”

You have my thanks, Father.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook 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.

 

Table of Contents

After three long years, Einarr was finally able to marry his beloved Runa. No sooner do the two return from their honeymoon, however, than they learn something terrible has happened in their absence: Jorir, Einarr’s best friend, First Mate, and sworn liege man, has disappeared!

A search was organized, but they lost the trail in Mýrarhöfn, one of the roughest, most lawless ports in the cold seas. Now Einarr must set out once more with a small, elite band in search of the missing dwarf, all while evading the newly-formed League, the Order of the Valkyrie, and Einarr’s own penchant for finding himself in hot water.

Book Six Pre-Order Now Live!

Book six of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen, Einarr and the Isle of the Forgotten, is now available for pre-order on Amazon and Books2Read

And check out that cover work by the talented William Eyster! I wrote the book, and I wouldn’t mind a vacation there. He’s also provided a couple of illustrations for the interior again. Many thanks for your hard work, once again! (And if you haven’t seen it, he was also kind enough to provide the new banner image for the site.)

An Unexpected Detour

Einarr and his companions have made it out of the Tower of Ravens intact, but on their way out they touched something they shouldn’t have. Now they’re becalmed in an unfamiliar sea. While fish are plentiful, water is becoming an issue.

When a storm blows up, Einarr decides to take a chance and ride the squall. Their little fishing boat takes them to unknown shores and wrecks on the beach. Now they have to contend with a rag-tag group of souls doomed to oblivion – all trapped, as they are, on the Isle of the Forgotten. Can they break free of the cursed isle’s clutches in time, or will they return to find the crew of the Vidofnir has succumbed to their own curse?