Over the next three weeks, representatives of more clans filtered in to Breidelstein, and during that time Einarr held three more evening saunas with captains who had seen the destruction first-hand. Some of them were spooked. All of them listened with interest to Einarr’s tale of fighting against the demon fleet.

At last, however, the date of the Althing was at hand, and the time for private negotiations was at an end.

The first day was taken up with the reading of the Laws and with the reaffirming – and, in the case of Breidelstein, often the mending – of old alliances. It would be many years before they could fully undo the damage done to the clan by the Weavess’ machinations. Einarr was present with his father for many of these negotiations, but while he managed to make the proper noises in support of his father, mentally he was rehearsing for the next day.

On the second day of the Althing, the representatives of all the gathered clans met to discuss their way forward, given the League’s activities and the destruction being wreaked upon the islands. Einarr sat with the other captains of Breidelstein, listening to the old men debate. His nervousness was rapidly turning to irritation.

Runa, with the Singer’s delegation, smiled at him from across the room. Alfvin, he knew, was with his nurse, so they needn’t worry about the baby disturbing the proceedings.

“It seems to me,” the Jarl of Búdholm was saying, “That all we’re really dealing with is this so-called League, and perhaps some rogue freeboaters who don’t like them infringing on their turf.”

“How many freeboaters do you know with Painters on board?” Bollinn’s voice called out across the crowd.

“Painters get enthralled from time to time. One of them could easily have decided to work his Art for his new master.”

Einarr sighed and pressed his hands to his knees, rising finally to his feet. “Could have, perhaps. But I myself have seen the messages these so-called ‘Painters’ have burned into stone walls. They are written in Runes, and they spew acid against all those who practice seithir. No Imperial Painter educated enough to read runes would inscribe such a thing, or be willing to work his Art for one who believed such things.”

“Oh?” Someone else asked archly. “The Prince of Breidelstein has great wisdom, to know what an Imperial dog will or will not do.”

“Peace, Kjartan,” answered Jarl Hroaldr. “The young Cursebreaker has seen more of the world than any five of us combined. Besides, if Painters are even half so well taught as our own Singers, it would be hard to convince one to declare himself a scourge upon the land.”

“So says his father-in-law, anyway.”

“Peace!” Thane Geirleif of Ulfkirk roared. “The Prince of Breidelstein has the floor.”

Einarr bowed respectfully to the man in the neutral seat. “My thanks, Lord Geirleif. It is true that Jarl Hroaldr is my father-in-law. It is also true that I was on my father’s ship, for all intents and purposes a freeboater myself, since the age of eleven. Then, a decade later, things really got interesting when they told me I was a Cursebreaker.” He let himself smile a little, to show it was meant as levity. “I have traveled the alfen High Roads and braved the Paths of Stone – and even rescued an Imperial princess from a corrupted kraken and its meat puppets. While I may have met a Painter on that quest, I was not aware of doing so. However, it is as Jarl Hroaldr says. The devotees of Malùnion despise the Arts, and make no use of the rune magic – only the letters. Any Painter who fell into their hands would either be slaughtered immediately or sacrificed to their god, in exchange for some measure of his power.”

“I still have seen no evidence–!”

“That this cult even exists, Lord Kjartan? I am glad you have not. I could wish I had not. Nevertheless, it lives – nay, thrives! – in the shadows of our world. The League’s methods are misguided. I might even call them idiotic. But. Their goal is a right one. And, in pursuing it, they have discovered that the Squiddies had not just a presence but a veritable redoubt in the catacombs of Kem.”

“Which was destroyed by the League.” Tore of Hrafnhaugr chimed in.

“Which was destroyed by the League. And which nearly destroyed the League in the process – or its expeditionary force, at least. There was a single survivor. And, thanks to that single survivor, we now know where to go in order to strike at the heart of Malùnion’s worship. With a little luck, working together we can sever this corruption from our world before the rot can infect anyplace else.”

“You speak as though the existence of this so-called cult is certain. Nothing I have heard here suggests anything of the sort, however.” Thane Olaf of Sweindalr objected.

Einarr smirked. “Would you have me tell you of the svartalfr fortress beneath a nameless island near Langavik, what they did to Langavik and what they were going to do to my wife? Of the ships that traveled with monstrosities beneath their decks and storms above their masts? Of the black blood that sickens and corrupts everything it touches? Of the meat-puppets a creature of Malùnion created to serve its will in the warm waters of the Empire? Or would you have me call forth Jorir and Jennora, to tell of what the worshipers of Malùnion did to Nilthiad in svartalfheimr over two hundred years? Do you wish to hear from Bollinn of Kjell what they found at Kliftorp? The cult is very real, my lord, and your own Captain has seen the evidence for himself.”

Annoyed, Thane Olaf glared at Serk, who nodded that yes, he had.

Thane Olaf snorted. “I suppose a quest such as this would be a suitable test for a young Cursebreaker, wouldn’t it?”

Einarr wanted to laugh. According to Runa, for a Cursebreaker he was quite old. That was beside the point, however. “Of course. We, the men of Breidelstein, will sail forth to smash this threat where it hides. I cannot in good conscience allow their depredations to continue. I and my Heidrun will be going, with or without help. If you choose to hide behind your own cowardice, that is no affair of mine. However, there is plenty of glory to go around, and every ship we send is one more arrow aimed at the black heart of Malùnion.”

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.

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.

 

The Heidrun ran up the white flag as they approached the freehold Gabriel led them to. Even so, as he waited at the top of the gangplank, while Gabriel approached up the beach, they were greeted by a sturdy older woman wielding a massive axe in one hand and a proper shield in the other. She scowled fiercely at the approaching boat, and Einarr thought she would likely give a good accounting of herself, just on sheer determination.

Then she saw Gabriel and let the axe head drop. “You’re alive? Then, is…?”
Gabriel nodded. “He’s in Breidelstein: they say we can start over there. Kem is gone.”

Relief and fury warred on the woman’s face – relief, he was sure, for the safety of her husband. Fury, he didn’t have to guess at.

“Leave Flatey? Start over? Are you mad?”

“What else are we supposed to do? With Kem gone, we’ve no-one to trade with between here and Breidelstein. No apothecary, no herb witch. One bad winter would kill us all.”

“The lad is right,” Einarr chimed in, still standing on the deck. “It might not even take a bad winter: there are monsters at sea now. Raenshold has men who have fought them before, and a good harbor, and lots of unworked land to boot. I’m afraid the Heidrun isn’t equipped to carry much livestock, but we’ve enough cargo space for anything else you care to bring.”

The woman stood there, staring at both of them, her mouth working soundlessly, for a long time. As the quiet dragged on, the fury faded from her face and her shoulders began to sag.

“You may as well come ashore. We’ll need some time to pack.”


Einarr’s Heidrunings were still gripped with a solemn urgency when they docked once more in Breidelstein. Gabriel’s master waited at the docks for his family – which plainly included Gabriel, no matter what his technical status was. Einarr was pleased that had worked out as well as it had, even with everything else weighing on his mind.

Gorgny also greeted their return at the docks: Einarr was always a little surprised the man was willing to walk down to the port for this sort of thing: he was at least as old as Tyr, and hadn’t spent most of the last twenty years at sea – and that wasn’t accounting for his duties towards Grandfather Raen. Still, if it was Gorgny here and not Father or Kaldr, that meant they were absorbed in other important matters.

Einarr and his commanders disembarked to join him, escorting the former Captain of the League, Thrand, and the seven of them set off at a quick pace for the cliff road. “What’s happened while we’ve been out?” Einarr asked Gorgny.

“I see you’ve returned with another new face, milord?” The old advisor raised an eyebrow.

The meaning was plain. “He’s our captive, but also a refugee. Lone survivor of the massacre of Kem.”

Gorgny nodded. “Representatives have been arriving since not long after you left, milord. I’m sure they are all waiting to learn what you have found out.”

Fair enough. Einarr wasn’t entirely certain how trustworthy Thrand was at this point, either, and that was after traveling with the man. “So long as they allow us enough time to wash the salt off – and maybe for the rest of my crew to finish unloading and do the same. Any other reports of razed settlements?”

“I’m afraid so, milord. The Kjellings ran into one on their way, as did one or two other representatives. The Captain of the Skudbrun seemed particularly disturbed by what he saw.”

“Understandably so. He’s seen it before, too. … Let those who found the massacres know that, should they wish to compare notes, I intend to sweat out the ashes of Kem in the sauna tonight. I would like a chance to speak with them privately. Probably for the best if Father does not attend: I will let him know what I intend.”

“Yes, milord.”

“By that same token, before dinner I will be in my chambers with Runa and Alfvin. We are not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.”

“Of course, milord.”


Einarr sat in the sauna, a towel wrapped about his waist, his elbows on his knees and his eyes closed. He was glad Bollinn was here: that would make matters easier, even accounting for the close ties between their clans. He still didn’t know who the other two were: he hoped he could count on them to see what was necessary.

Einarr heard a rap on the door. “Enter.”

A blast of cool air reminded Einarr of just how hot it was in here: he stood and dipped some water over the coals. When he returned to the bench, Bollinn sat across from him.

“Einarr.”

“Good to see you. How’re the Brunnings holding up?”

Bollinn shrugged. “Langavik wasn’t necessarily worse, but everything that followed was. We’ll hold up just fine.”

Einarr nodded. “Where was it?”

“Kliftorp.”

Einarr blinked. He had to think a long time to remember anything about them. “Hard to make an example out of a tiny place like that, I’d think.”

“Lots of cloth coming out of Kliftorp in the last five or ten years, and a lot of skillful Weavers.”

“Ah.” Now it made sense.

Another rap came on the door, followed by an unfamiliar, although not unpleasant, voice. “We were told we should visit the sauna tonight?”

“Yes. Please, enter, join us.”

The two who entered were built like Einarr’s father, but much closer to his own age, and bore the scars of many battles. One of them had hair almost as red as Einarr’s – and a nose that had been broken more than once. The other was as blond as Stigander and as paunchy as Erik.

“Tore, Captain of the Sterkerbjorn out of Hrafnhaugr,” the redhead introduced himself.

“A pleasure. Not sure I ever had the pleasure of seeing Hrafnhaugr.”

Tore smirked. “Not much reason for a ship of freeboaters to head that way.”

Einarr nodded his acknowledgment, then turned to the man who looked shockingly like a younger version of his father.

“Serk, of the Björtstag. From Sweindalr.”

Bollinn waved silently: evidently, they’d all been here long enough to become acquainted already.

“Good to meet you both, and I’m glad you came. I’m certain you can guess why I called you all here tonight.”

“Oh, aye, that’s not hard to figure.” Tore settled himself on a bench and fixed a level eye at Einarr. “What I want to know is why?”

Serk, too, took a seat on a bench and settled himself leaning against a wall. “I’d like to know that, myself. I’m not sure there’s really much to talk about, is there?”

“A couple years ago, I might have thought the same. Then the worshipers of a dark demigod named Malùnion kidnapped my wife…”

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.

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.

 

“I’m afraid you do, milord. That… that was excellent ale you left behind in Blávík. I’m only sorry it was wasted on the likes of us.”

Einarr sighed, loudly. “I ought to charge you for the damages to my Heidrun, but I suppose that would be pointless now. You’re telling me you’ve moved on from press-ganging princes to annihilating whole settlements?”

He wasn’t quite certain how Thrand managed to look more miserable, but he did.

Einarr sighed again. “We’ll deal with the crimes of the League later. Based on what we saw in the square, it is plain to me there was, in fact, some sort of Squiddie presence here in Kem. Which means before we head back to Breidelstein, we need to find their base and figure out what they were up to. Congratulations, Thrand. You’ll not lose your head this day.”

The man looked far more relieved about that than Einarr thought the statement warranted, to the point where he struggled not to weep. Perhaps it was because he had been alone in the wreckage of the city for so long.

“You’re not off the hook, mind. You’re going to help us find this base and figure out what they were up to. Then you’re coming back to Breidelstein with us, after we pick up some freeholders we think might be in need of rescue.”

“Yes, milord. Gladly, milord: I can lead you straight to their hideout: that’s where all the trouble began, milord.”

They passed a cold night in the harbor, lit as much by the glowing embers of Kem as by the moon and the stars above. Einarr ordered a cask of cider warmed to settle the nerves of his crew and keep them alert through their watch.

If there was one mercy, it seemed to be that the League’s fire had kept a city’s worth of dead from rising for vengeance. In the morning, those who had last watch were relieved, and Einarr set off with half the crew to follow Thrand to where he said they had found the cult of Malúnion.

Einarr had thought he was prepared for what he would see there, after searching through the wreckage of the city the previous day. He was wrong.

It wasn’t the gore – to be honest, after the runic blaze the League had managed to set, there wasn’t much of that left on the surface, and down below it was mostly spatters of blood – some corrupted, some still human. Unfortunately, the local ‘temple’ of the cult had some… peculiar design sensibilities.

Eyes. There were eyes everywhere. No matter where Einarr turned, he felt as though he were being watched – which, come to think of it, may have been the point.

Jorir, too, seemed bemused. “The entire time I was in Nilthiad, not once did I run across anything like this.”

“We didn’t see any sign of it at the altar, either – and of all the horrors of that demon, its eyes were not among them.”

“Are we sure this is the same cult?” Eydri wondered.

Thrand cleared his throat. “Absolutely. Or, at least, I don’t know too many men who would call on someone else’s horrible demigod as they rushed to battle.”

“A fair point,” she conceded. “Still, it doesn’t look like they left much behind…”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Thrand actually sounded excited. “I came back to have a look around after the fire had cooled a bit. Even if I am to lose my head, it’s important that someone get this information out into the Clans.”

The half-starved League Captain led them down a narrow flight of stairs, then a ladder, and into a passage that still sloped downward, if only gently.

“How did you even find this place? We must be beneath the catacombs already!” Einarr did not bother trying to hide his surprise. Even if he had been kindly inclined towards Thrand in the first place, this was starting to feel like a trap.

“There are no other people. There is easy access to fresh water just outside the city limits, and there are plenty of fish in the harbor. It wasn’t like I had much else to do since the fire, you know.”

Einarr hummed, but let it drop for now.

“We’re nearly there. Just… ah! Stop. Here.”

The door in the wall was plain and unadorned. Had there been any other doors along this passage, Einarr might not have even noticed it.

Thrand pushed the door open and stepped inside, as certain it was safe as if it were his own home. “I left the missives here once I found them. Safer that way – who knows what might happen to me up there, but someone else could have found this place and gotten the word out.”

“Missives? What missives?” Irding blurted.

“Orders. From home, I think. I’m no sorcerer, but give me enough time and I can puzzle out rune-writing.” He thrust a letter into Einarr’s hand.

With a glance, Einarr was certain the other man was correct. With a brusque nod, he thrust the letter into his pouch. “Search the room! We’ll take anything interesting back up to the Heidrun with us: it would be far too easy to lose track of time down here, and I want wards again tonight.” The restless dead were not the only things that could be kept out that way, after all.


That night, Einarr sat huddled with Hrug and Eydri and Jorir under the Captain’s awning, poring over what appeared to be the most recent orders from their home temple. It was… not good. Even if the League leadership hadn’t gotten a bee in its collective bonnet, the Squiddies were on a definite war footing – and it was a war that would have taken a vast number of clans utterly by surprise, boiling up quite literally from underground and striking at a populace that had no idea there were madmen in their midst.

When morning came, a bleary-eyed Einarr addressed his crew. “We have found what we came for. Now it is our duty to ensure our Thane learns what we have. We will sail around the island and make land near the outskirts of Kem, where Thrand will take us to the water he has relied on since the disaster. Do not worry, Gabriel, I have not forgotten you. Once we have taken on fresh water, we will sail for your master’s freehold and take on those who remain. From there, we will make all possible haste back to Breidelstein. I fear the League has knocked down a hornet’s nest, and it is up to the rest of us to deal with the swarm.”

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.

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.

 

Arkja stood examining a doorpost that seemed to have escaped the worst of the blaze. Einarr could make out an old and rather worn carving of runes – a blessing of protection on the house, he was sure. But on top of that, and much fresher, were other and different runes, drawn much more crudely.

“This…” he paused, inspecting it a little more closely. “This is part of the inscription that was used to burn the city down. If the Muspel Shroud was still around, it would have been drawn to this like a moth to a lamp.”

Jorir harrumphed. “No doubt the Shroud was a troublesome thing to deal with… but I wonder if it wouldn’t be a help, under the current circumstances.”

“Not sure how. I expect it would show up, discover there was nothing left to burn, and then move on.”

Jorir shrugged but did not try to explain himself.

“Let’s continue on. I think we’ve found everything we’re going to right here.”

They combed the ruins of Kem until the light began to fail. The only living thing anyone saw were crows, come to pick among the coals for anything that might still be edible. Nothing living, however, did not mean they found nothing.

When it was nearly time to turn back to the ship for the night, they reached the central square of the city. Once upon a time, not all that long ago, Einarr was certain they would have found it packed at any time of the day or night. Market stalls would have abounded, selling hot food or fresh vegetables or any number of goods. The buildings of Kem were taller than in most Clan cities, and there would have been people living on the upper levels.

And when the fire swept through, they would have been trapped. Einarr shuddered at the thought.

There was, however, a massive standing stone in the very center of the square, exactly where Gabriel remembered – and apparently untouched by flame. And, as they had hoped, someone had left a message burned into the stone.

Burned? There could be a Painter here, we’re close enough to the Empire, but I feel like I’ve seen that before.

He glanced over to see Jorir standing beside him. “Does that look familiar to you?”

The svartdvergr blinked, then shook his head. “It’s written in runes, isn’t it? All I see is a gray blur.”


The teams all met back up on the Heidrun just before sunset, as they had agreed. It was a somber meeting: no-one could face destruction such as they saw on the island and be easy with it. Once the wards were drawn, Einarr looked around at his crew and asked the expected question. “What did everyone find?”

Hrug’s findings, as reported by Arring, were consistent with what Einarr had found, save that they hadn’t made it as far as the square. There had been traces of some rune workings that had perplexed Hrug, and they had taken time to investigate those.

Eydri, however, offered Einarr a mysterious smile when it was her turn to report. “Of physical evidence, we found no more than either of your groups. However, I think you might be interested in this.”

Irding ushered forward the sunken, disheveled figure of a half-starved man, his hair as wild as his eyes and his body smeared all over with ashes.

“He tells me his name is Thrand, and he hails from Blávík. He has a rather interesting tale to tell.”

The man who stepped forward, out of the protective line of people that sheltered him from notice, fidgeted with his fingers, and his eyes darted this way and that, as though he expected a monster to pop out at him at any moment. His eyes lit on Einarr’s face for a moment longer than they focused on anything else and he squinted at him, as though he were trying to remember something.

“Hello, Thrand. My Singer tells me you have a story I should hear.”

“Y-y-y-yes, milord.” He fell silent again. Just when Einarr was about to prompt him again, Thrand began. “I am… I was the Captain of a League ship. At the beginning of the season, my boat was among those sent out to hunt down and destroy enclaves belonging to the thrice-damned Squid Lovers.

“We’d rooted out two or three enclaves already when we got word that one of their demon ships had been spotted around Kem–”

“Wait. Rooted out? What direction did you come from? Are you to blame for those other settlements around here that were razed?”

“Each and every one of them was deep in the corruption of Malúnion.” He said it with almost crazed conviction. For the moment, Einarr would let it pass. “So yes, we rooted out two or three enclaves before we got credible word that the infection had spread to Kem.

“I didn’t hesitate. We sailed here as quickly as I could make my ship run – and you’ve seen, milord, how fast she can be.”

Einarr looked at the decrepit man again, but still had no idea who it could be. “When we got here, sure enough, there was a demon-headed longship headed into the port. Needless to say, after our successes up to then, we gave chase. Chased it right into the harbor here.”

Einarr stared mutely at the man. Brave was one word you could use for what sounded like this man and his ship had done, but Einarr thought idiotic more appropriate. When he found his voice, he said, “Go on.”

“Well, milord, what we found was… what we found was a mess. We attacked the demon ship. Then … then…” He shook his head, trying to clear it at least enough to talk.

“Then what?”

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was like the streets started boiling, and there were monsters among the men of the city, attacking other men of the city… only it was more like a slaughter. Most of the Flatings had no chance. My men had no real chance, and we’d been training for this day. … The Squid-lovers were doing something. Some sort of ritual, I thought – there was a lot of screaming involved. We… we were the ones who set Kem on fire. It seemed like the least we could do, after what we’d wrought.”

Einarr rested his chin in his hands, thoughtful. Then something odd the man said struck him. Something about how Einarr knew what the man’s ship was capable of stuck out. “Do I… know you?”

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.

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.

 

It was good to sail with a full crew again. Naudrek had ceded the post of Mate back to Jorir in good graces, now that the svartdvergr was returned to them. Eydri and Hrug were back in their proper places as well, and Vali’s jar was stowed unobtrusively below. Erik had gone with Sivid, but Irding and Arring had come aboard the Heidrun, as had Svarek and the men from the Forgotten Isle. The rest of his crew he filled with volunteers in consultation with Sivid and Kaldr.

The refugees who had arrived from Kem were given a chance to come along. The younger man – who looked vaguely familiar to Einarr, and not at all like someone of the Clans – took them up on it. The older man declined, but also asked that they pay a visit to his farmhold and bring back his wife and their children – a request easily agreed to.

Now, after a week’s hasty preparations, Einarr and the Heidrun set sail for the southwest, where lay Kem on the borders of Imperial waters. Einarr smiled to see Runa and little Alfvin on the docks, watching them leave. For his part, he felt much better knowing they were here, guarded by all the forces his father could muster. She seemed less happy, but the duty of the prince was to lead their forces into the fray, whatever that might be.

Heidrun, too, seemed to be ready to go. Perhaps it was a trick of the wind, but the ship itself felt eager under Einarr’s feet, like a horse feeling its oats. Einarr grinned. It was good to be back on the whale-road.

Unbidden, the image of the body hanging in the warehouse in Langavik came to mind, and his grin turned to a shudder.


Two months – at least – after it was attacked, the ruins of Kem still smoked and smoldered in places. Einarr stood on the deck of the Heidrun staring in stunned silence at the empty pier and the wreckage beyond. No-one aboard spoke.

Finally, after his mind had begun to work again and the silence stretched into a goad, he took a deep breath. Standing here would accomplish nothing. “Naudrek, the ship is yours. Jorir, you’re with me – Gabriel, you too. Eydri, Hrug, choose a handful of men. We’ll split into four groups and quarter the city. The trail’s already long cold, which means we need to be thorough. Be back at the ship by dusk: if there are hungry dead about, we can ward the Heidrun.”

A chorus of ‘aye’s traveled around the deck. Einarr also brought Arkja and Svarek, while Irding went with Eydri’s group and Arring with Hrug’s. Einarr felt somewhat better at that: that meant that all three of their groups had someone who knew at least a little magic, and every one of those sorcerers had at least one powerful warrior with them.

Then they were off, the group commanders trudging down the ash-stained pier at the head of their teams – and it was trudging, for each and every one of them.

Once they had turned off the main road onto one of the innumerable narrow side-streets, Jorir cast a look at Gabriel. “Did you an’ yer Pa set fire to the city, or was it like this when you got here?”

The young man shook his head. “Pa? Me Pa’s dead ten years. The old man’s my master… you didn’t realize?”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. “You seem to be on awfully friendly terms with him for a thrall.”

Gabriel smirked at that. “Maybe so. He’s never gone so far as to adopt me, officially, but that’s how he treats me. You have no idea who I am, do you?”

“None. I’m sorry: it’s been an eventful few years.”

You sold me into thralldom, to pay the apothecary. ‘Twas about what the life of a common footpad was worth, I suppose.”

Einarr and Jorir both stopped in their tracks, the rest of their group sharing looks of confusion.

“That was you?” they asked together.

“That was me. But no, the city was already burned when we got here. If it hadn’t been…” He looked pointedly down at the ground, into the corner where the charred wall of a building still rose from the road, and poked a toe into the ash. What was plainly a human bone rolled free.

“Charnel. I agree: I’ll take the smell of wet ash over the smell of rotting bodies any day. On the other hand, it does complicate our search somewhat.”

Jorir grunted.

Einarr looked around where they stood. Off to the left stood a mostly intact two-story building. “That looks like a promising place to start.”

Inside, they found overturned furniture and splatters of blood, obvious even under the thin coating of ash and soot. Overturned, broken jars were everywhere, but Einarr could not guess at what they might have held. He picked one of them up to examine it more carefully. “The apothecary, you say. He was some sort of relation of your master. Did you find him?”

There was a long pause before the young man answered. “No. Not that that means much under the circumstances.”

“Well. If we find a camp of survivors, so much the better, but that’s not what we’re looking for. The cultists carved up dead bodies: I don’t expect the League to be quite that brutal. Fan out. Once we’ve searched this building we’ll move on to the next.”

“And, if you don’t mind me asking, what are we looking for?” Arkja asked.

“Something unusual, or out of place.” Einarr answered. If we’re lucky, they’ll have left a message someplace for any interlopers who happened by.”

Jorir harrumphed. “And if we’re unlucky, it will have gotten gobbled up by the fire.”

Everyone but Gabriel chuckled. He looked thoughtful. “I think I know where they might have left a message like that.”

Einarr looked at him, waiting.

“There’s a big monument in the town square – not much more than a giant slab, really, carved with the world tree and various doings along its height. They’d be far from the first to scrawl on it, and I’d be surprised if the fire could have touched it.”

Einarr nodded. “Good. We’ll check it out when we get there. We’re better off sticking with the method, though, rather than haring off after an obvious sign that may not exist.”

“Yes, sir,” he answered.

“My lord?” Arkja called from the far side of the house. “What do you make of this?”

 

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.

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.

 

Table of Contents

Einarr has his future holdings, his wife, his liege man – and his son. Life should be wonderful – and it would be, except for one dark cloud hovering above the horizon and the knowledge that the Cursebreaker’s life is never peaceful.

Stigander has sent word to their allies and their potential allies about the so-called League of Free Men, which has indicated it intends to grow its numbers by force if necessary. Then, they settled in to wait and prepare, for alliances take time to form. But, when messages finally begin to arrive, they are not pledges of aid but pleas for help. Someone has massacred not one but several trade ports in the northern seas, and nobody can guess who might be next.

Einarr thinks he might know who is responsible, though. Can he get to the bottom of the matter before Breidelstein finds itself with the choice of ‘join or die’?

One week following the birth of the new Prince Alfvin, Thane Stigander of Raenshold sent out letters to everyone he – or his father – had ever called a friend. The selfsame League that had tried to conscript Einarr on the eve of his wedding was now seeking allies more broadly among the clans, and neither Einarr nor Stigander had any doubts they would be just as ruthless about it. Then, while Breidelstein repaired its warships and sharpened its blades for war, Einarr took his father’s advice to concentrate on his wife and his new son.

At the end of the first month the Skudbrun arrived, with word not only from Jarl Hroaldr but also from his Lord. Feathers were not so ruffled over Runa’s marriage that Thane Thorgnyr would blind himself to the reality over the waves. Another month passed, however, and then a third, with no word from any of the other Clans. The mood in the Hold grew tense.

Then, at last, another boat arrived in Breidelstein harbor – no bigger than the Villgås, and in far worse repair. She was crewed by only a pair of men, who rowed for the docks with an air of desperate relief.

The men were messengers from Kem, and when they were taken up to the Hold with their messages, the mood went from tense to outright grim.

Stigander met them in the main hall. When they were shown in, one of them knelt. The other, with a wild look in his eyes, took an extra step forward. “Milord, please -”

Bardr placed himself between the messenger and his Thane. The messenger stopped where he stood, but kept talking.

“Please, Lord Thane. Help us. Kem is… Kem is…”

“Kem is what?” Bardr demanded.

“Gone, sir.” The other man spoke quietly without raising his head. “The boy and I left our freehold for supplies, only when we arrived… when we arrived, the city was naught but a smoking ruin.”

“If’n you please, milord,” said the younger, more spooked of the two. “Lord Einarr showed me mercy, some years ago when I was nothin’ but a footpad. So we thought…”

Stigander grunted. “I’d been wondering what was happening. But Kem’s an awful long way to sail in a little skiff like that. Where did you resupply?”

“We foraged, milord,” said the older man. “We tried to stop at two or three other cities on our way, but they were all the same.”

Stigander pressed his lips into a line and nodded. “You’ve done well to reach us. Gorgny, see to it that they are fed and bathed, and rewarded appropriately, then find them some place to stay in the city.” He turned back to the two messengers. “I’m afraid things are likely to get worse before they get better. Go, and take what comfort you can in having found a safe harbor.”

As Gorgny led the two bedraggled men from the hall to see to Stigander’s instructions, Stigander motioned a servant forward. “Fetch Einarr, Reki, and Eydri to my study, then ready another messenger for Kjell.”

“Yes, milord.”


Runa had been displeased at being left out of Stigander’s summons, but then Alfvin had woken up and demanded food. She had sighed and waved Einarr out the door. He arrived at his father’s study just ahead of Reki and Eydri, who both mirrored on their faces the concern he felt. He rapped on the door.

Immediately his father’s voice called out. “Come.”

“Father. You called?”

Stigander looked up from the table and laid his quill down. “Good. You’re all here. Come in, shut the door.”

Reki looked up as she pulled the door to behind her. “Something has happened, then.”

“We’ve just had messengers from Kem. Or, rather, refugees. You remember Langavik?”

It took Einarr a moment to place the name, but when he did he shuddered. Eydri looked blank, of course: of the three, she was the only one who hadn’t seen it.

Reki drew her brows down. “There’s been another massacre?”

“Several, from the sound of things, on the route between Kem and here.” He sighed. “I’ve only just heard of this today, mind, so all I can do is speculate, but…”

Einarr knew exactly what his father was thinking: he thought it, too. “You’re thinking it’s the League.”

“Aye, I am.”

“But Langavik was destroyed by an enclave of the cultists.” Reki’s protest was obligatory, but weak.

Stigander nodded in acknowledgment of the point. “True enough, and the League’s purpose is ostensibly to fight against the cult. However…”

“However,” Einarr cut in. “We know that they are more than willing to resort to underhanded tactics, and we do not have any clear idea how they marshaled support for their League in the first place. Most places you go, after all, are unaware of and untouched by the Squiddies.” The League had tried to enthrall Einarr and his entire crew on their way back from Thorndjupr. If they applied force like that on a larger scale, it could easily turn horrific.

“My thoughts exactly. I’m sending word to Hroaldr and Thorgnyr so that our fleets can join together.”

“But we lack information.” Einarr frowned, pondering. “We could go to Kem – perhaps even should go to Kem – but if we send a fleet and find nothing then we’ve wasted time and supplies that would be better spent elsewhere.”

“Exactly.”

Einarr looked up. “I’ll take the Heidrun, and the messengers if they’re willing to return. Eydri, are you up for this?”

His Singer nodded eagerly: she had seemed dissatisfied ever since the wedding, and Einarr couldn’t even really fault her for that. When she’d signed on with him, after all, it was with the reasonable expectation of excitement.

Stigander grunted. “Good. My thought exactly. Choose your crew carefully, and remember a pigeon roost.”

“I will, Father.” Now he just had to explain to Runa what was going to happen. “Might I suggest sending Kaldr and Thjofgrir out towards Blávík? We know the League held that land only two years ago: if we can get someone on the ground there, it might answer a lot of questions.”

“A good plan. Not Kaldr, though: he’s got a cool head and a keen mind, but I’m not sending anyone in without a Singer to hand at least. …Sivid, I think, and his own ship if he succeeds.”

Sivid? As Captain? Einarr blinked and stifled a laugh. He wasn’t certain if he envied or pitied the man’s new crew. Reki, though, nodded in approval. “A solid choice. With your leave, Stigander, I will travel with Sivid for this expedition. He will need a Singer, and I would like to see the situation for myself.”

“Very well. Good fortune to you all. I look forward to your return.”

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.

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.

 

Author’s Note: This marks the end of Book 13. Book 14 will begin on 12/7/2021.

When the Villgås finally returned to Breidelstein harbor, almost six months after its departure, they were met by a cheering mass of people on the docks – including, this time, Stigander himself. Einarr and Runa stood on the deck as the other four men took them to their berth. When their hull tapped the dock, Einarr hopped across himself to lash their boat fast even as Thjofgrir and Jorir put the gangplank in place.

Einarr kissed his father’s hands, and then moved to the gangplank to help the women down.

First was Runa, and everyone cheered a little louder when she made her appearance on the plank. Her swollen belly was plain for all to see, and while it had caused them some difficulty on the water no-one really minded: there would be, in very short order, an heir for the Prince, and that would be as much cause for celebration in the town as their return itself.

After Runa came Jennora – also with child, as it happened. Brandir had been serious about sending his sister as Jorir’s wife, and the two had been married during the farewell feast itself. It was highly irregular, even among dvergr so far as Einarr knew, but they both seemed happy. The crowd was less certain what to think about the svartdvergr woman, but when she was joined on the plank by Jorir and she took his arm their uncertainty seemed to vanish.

They were followed swiftly by the Singer the Matrons had sent to keep an eye on Runa and her babe – as well as the rest of the crew. They had all, save Jennora, been exposed to a great deal of the black blood, after all, and the effects of its corruption could be insidious.

She also carried Vali’s jar. When the Matrons had asked for volunteers among their healers, it had been curiosity about the strange spirit that had prodded her to join them.

Eydri and Reki were there as well – Eydri looking eager, and Reki under the shade of her cloak with her usual calm demeanor. The crowd continued to cheer as Kaldr and Naudrek and Thjofgrir descended, but Stigander had claimed Einarr’s attention.

“By the gods, when did this happen?” He gestured at Runa’s belly. “Surely you didn’t -”

Einarr shook his head. “No. We had no idea until it was too late. But, according to the Matrons, all is well even after everything we went through down there. …Think you’re ready to be a grandfather?”

Stigander laughed. “More than! And let’s see, I see Jorir has returned to us as well. You’ll have to introduce me properly to his new wife… but we seem to be missing someone. Could Vali not stand the idea of a crowd?”

“That’s complicated, I’m afraid, and something best spoken of in a rather more private setting.”

“Of course, of course.” They started walking up the road towards the cliff and the Hold. “Did you have any trouble with the League?”


Two weeks after the Villgås returned to port, the winter ice hit and the bay froze over completely – they had to stop the occasional intrepid youth from trekking out on snowshoes to taunt the bones of the Weavess, it was frozen so hard.

For three months, Breidelstein was in the grip of a fierce winter, and for three months it seemed like every woman in the Hold was constantly occupied with needle and thread.

Then, on a very wet night just as the grip of the cold was beginning to break, and as snowdrops were beginning to peek out from under the thick blanket of snow, Einarr was summoned by a maidservant to Runa’s side: it was time.

Einarr raced through the Hold to get there. He arrived just in time to hear the angry wail of a newborn and see his wife’s exhausted smile. Then the midwife was holding the baby out for him to take, and the little one commanded all his attention.

“…It’s a boy?” He couldn’t guess why, but he was whispering.

Runa nodded. Einarr laughed, then noticed that his son – my son! – was shivering. Quickly, he handed him to his wife.

“How do you feel about Alfvin for a name?”

She smirked at him as she took the babe and held him to her breast. “What, so you can tweak Ystävä’s nose?”

Einarr chuckled: the thought honestly hadn’t crossed his mind, although now that she mentioned it he was tempted. “No, because of the Oracle’s price.”

She frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

“When she named me Cursebreaker, she also read my weave. For payment… she wanted my firstborn to come and study under her, since my own education was so ‘lacking.’”

“What?!”

“Not until he’s eight! We were still drifters, then: it seemed like a good opportunity.”

Runa sighed and shook her head. “I don’t have the energy to debate that now.” She smiled down at the little reddish infant snuggled against her. “Alfvin is a fine name. Between the Oracle, and Ystävä, and Melja, it’s certainly got the ring of truth to it.”

That night, Einarr was left alone to spend time with his new family.

Three weeks later, the League sent out a proclamation.

“To all the Men of the North! We, the League of Free Men, call upon our fellows in the North to join us in battle against the heretical cult responsible for sacking our cities, kidnapping our women, and corrupting our men!” Einarr read. “Representatives of our order will be arriving soon. In these desperate times, we must all band together, or one by one we will find ourselves devoured by the monstrosities of the Squid worshipers. For the sake of all we hold dear, it is time we clans of the North band together under one banner to stamp out this threat.”

Einarr looked up from the paper at his father and Kaldr, incredulous. “Surely we don’t intend to stand for this?”

His father rumbled. “No, not at all.”

“Something about that League has rubbed me the wrong way since we met them,” Einarr grumbled. “Have you contacted any of the other clans?”

“Only Hroaldr’s thus far.” Even as he spoke, Stigander was pulling out fresh paper. “But in order to counter this, we’re going to need some organization of our own.”

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.

 

No matter what else he wanted to say about them, the svartdvergr knew how to throw a party.

One of the mead halls in the city had opened its doors to the Smiths and their allies, and by the time Einarr arrived with his crew it was already full to bursting and raucous with celebration. He shared a grin with Jorir, who once again stood at his side, and they crossed the threshold into the waiting feast.

He was swiftly escorted up to the bar at the head of the room by one of the dvergr already inside, and Jorir and Runa were not far behind. A cheer went up as they were thrust into the seats of honor at the head of the table. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew what was going on, but as he opened his mouth to confirm it he got his answer.

Someone in the crowd rang a knife against one of the silver goblets Einarr could see floating through the room.

A moment later, Gheldram hopped up on the bar – evidently the source of the ringing.

“Almost two hundred years ago, Jorir the Smith was exiled – but his exile served a purpose,” he said, and as he spoke the crowd fell silent. “We, his friends among the Smiths, tasked him to find help. Well, a little over three months ago, he finally returned, and in his wake came the promised help – the human Cursebreaker, to whom Jorir has pledged his life, and some of his most trusted allies. Tomorrow, we must say farewell to their illustrious crew – but tonight, we toast their success!”

A deafening cheer went up around the Hall, and every cup was lifted with it – even Runa’s, although she grimaced as she moved it to her lips and smelled the purifying tea that she was now drinking almost exclusively. Einarr had tasted the stuff, as well: he really couldn’t fault her reaction. On the other hand, they had the babe to think of.

When the revelers had finished their drink, they turned expectant eyes on the three who stood awkwardly at the front of the Hall.

Einarr sighed. It was his turn now, apparently. “My friends! I’m afraid we all got off to a bit of a rough start, but since the battle on the Mount I have found no fault with dvergr hospitality! Alas, it is past time we returned home to Breidelstein: there are many matters which require our attention, and I fear we cannot proceed directly there. And so, on our last night here, I thank you on behalf of all of us for your hospitality and your courage – and I regret to inform you all that, after some little discussion, my good man Jorir will be returning to the surface world with us.”

There were, from around the room, scattered noises of disappointment.

Jorir raised his glass in the air, catching everyone’s attention. “None of that now, you hear? When I first swore to the Cursebreaker, I marveled at my own words, but he has come to earn every one, and then some. I may, someday, return to Myrkheimr and Nilthiad, but if I do it will be because my Lord and his Lady have long since departed. It has been… good to be back, but although we have reclaimed it from the clutches of the Squiddies, and I look forward to the return of Nilthiad’s glory, my place is above.”

This pronouncement was met with a rather mixed reaction: some jeered, jokingly, others laughed, others still sounded disappointed.

That was when Brandir came forward, out of the crowd, leading a female dvergr Einarr did not recognize. She looked bashful, but not timid, and based on the expression on Brandir’s face Einarr wondered how much of this was his idea.

Brandir cleared his throat and gave a sidelong look to the woman. “After… much discussion, my darling sister has convinced me it would not be good to allow you to leave alone, as though you were once again an exile in disgrace. And she has graciously put herself forward, if you will have her, to be your companion and your wife.”

Jorir looked completely poleaxed – as well he might. And Einarr had thought Runa forward at times! Still, he laughed and clapped his liegeman on the shoulder.

Jorir recovered himself and shot a look, half of shock, half of outrage, at his friend. “I… am not opposed, in principle.” He cleared his throat and glanced at the rest of the room. “But perhaps in front of the crowd is not the best place to discuss this?”

The three dvergr went off together back into the crowd, and Einarr turned around to smile at his chuckling wife. “Think there’s enough room on the Villgås for two more people?”

“I think we’ll manage.”


Einarr and the rest of his crew met at the Nilthiad entrance to the Paths of Stone at dvergr dawn the next day, feeling only a little hungover from their revelries the night before. Runa once again carried Vali’s jar. Idly, Einarr wondered if he might have woken up again had someone thought to bring him to the battle on the Mount. There was, of course, no real way to know at this point… and even if he had, there was a lingering question of whether or not he would still be himself. At least they shouldn’t find themselves in need of a scout on their return journey, and they could ask the Matrons when they stopped what to do about their ghostly companion.

Unlike the previous night’s feast, there was not a great crowd to see them off, which suited all of their number well enough. Jorir was the last to arrive, with the rather pretty (even by human standards) Jennora in tow. “Are we all set?” He asked, a bit gruffly.

“You know your way through the Paths, right? I’d really rather not fight my way back up them if that’s all the same to you.”

Jennora looked amused. Jorir harrumphed. “Do I know the way? Of course I do. So does Jennora, should it come to that. If that’s all we’re waiting on, we should get going. Even without all the booby traps, it’s a long hike up.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

Please note, we are drawing close to the end of book 13. There’s one, or perhaps as many as 2, more chapters, and then we will be entering our usual month-long break. We are also nearing the end of the series: I expect there to be one, or perhaps two, books dealing with the cult and the League up above.

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 knelt, his eyes half-lidded, his weight supported by Sinmora’s blade standing upright in the ground of Myrkheimr, panting. He no longer heard the sounds of battle, and the smell of charred squid had replaced the smell of seawater. Therefore, they must have won. Runa’s plan must have worked, or he was certain they would all be dead now. Only, somehow he couldn’t muster up the energy to care – or even open his eyes.

He had been at the limits of his magical ability when Runa had launched the plan – Song Magic could mask fatigue, but it could not create reserves where none remained. Which meant that he owed sacrifices to the gods, which meant he had a pressing need to procure livestock.

Pressing, but not so pressing that he had to move just yet. Which was good.

The moment he had felt the ritual being snatched away from him, he thought sure he would be snatched away with it. Instead, he was allowed to ride the flood, and now he felt as drained – and exhilarated – as though he had taken a fishing boat down a waterfall.

He opened his eyes. Runa and Jorir stood in front of him, peering at his face with no small level of concern. They were flanked by his crew and some of the other dvergr – but someone was definitely missing. Einarr offered Runa and Jorir a wan smile, but then found himself counting the faces before him.

“Brandir. Gheldram. Naudrek. Jorir. Runa. Kaldr. Thjofgrir… What happened to Mornik?”

Gheldram shook his head sadly and pointed off towards the edge of the charred circle that still contained the lifeless husk of the demon. A small form lay huddled there, on a much wetter patch of ground.

Einarr sighed and pushed to his feet. His legs trembled under him, and his first step was a stumble. Somehow, though, he made it across the empty field between where he had weathered the storm and where Mornik lay, visibly trembling and clutching his middle.

Einarr dropped to the ground beside the slender dvergr’s head, glad he had managed to reach Mornik before his legs gave out. It was plain, though, that it was too late for Mornik. His skin was as ashen as any of the cultist’s, and black blood streamed down from the corners of his mouth and from his eyes and nostrils.

Gently, Einarr rolled the dvergr over onto his back. Mornik’s eyes were glazed, and he panted against the pain of the transformation in his body.

“Did we… win?” He managed to ask.

Jorir came up beside Einarr and nodded. “We did,” he added.

The corners of Mornik’s mouth curled up into a rictus. “Good.” He coughed, and more of the black blood dribbled out of his mouth. He met Jorir’s eyes directly now and breathed one more unmistakable word. “Please…”

Jorir nodded again, once, slowly. Then he turned to look at Einarr. “My Lord – everyone – please stand back.”

It was, Einarr knew, the only way. But the fact that Mornik retained enough of his mind to ask for death would make it more difficult for Jorir, not less. “Of course.”

With great difficulty, Einarr found his feet again and half-staggered back several paces. “Runa, if you would?”

Runa took one more look at the face of the dvergr on the ground and blanched. She saw it, too. She nodded and opened her mouth to Sing once more: this time, the funereal air Einarr had last heard from her when they buried Astrid, what felt like an eternity ago.

The six of them turned, and the men all offered a respectful salute to their fallen ally. Einarr felt no small pang of guilt: if he had waited to put their plan into motion… But no. That was foolishness, and all that would have accomplished was making their enemy stronger.

Jorir drew one of the knives from Mornik’s braces and raised it high overhead. “Farewell, my friend,” he said, and plunged the knife down.

In the moment before the killing blow fell, Mornik’s eyes closed, and his mouth relaxed into what was almost a smile, as though if he had to die, he was pleased to die as himself. The body jerked a little as Jorir drove the blade home.

Einarr watched as Jorir calmly removed the glove from that hand and dropped it on the body, then turned and walked back toward them. Einarr did not miss, though, that he never looked up.

As Jorir crossed their line of vigil,  Einarr came to a decision. “Tonight, we will feast our victory and toast the fallen. Tomorrow we will take stock, of what was lost and what remains, and on the third day we will thank the gods.” Then a thought occurred to him and he turned to Brandir. “There… are still priests of the real gods here, aren’t there?”

That broke the tension. Brandir chuckled as he answered in the affirmative, and the seven of them all limped away from the field of battle, Einarr leaning heavily on his liege man’s shoulder.


The Thane’s body was never found. On the other hand, on the top of the standing stone where the high priest of the mad cult had stood, there was a black smear that suggested he had been wiped away in the same torrent of magic that had finally ended the demon beast. It wasn’t proof, but it was sufficient for the dvergr of Nilthiad to convene a Thing and appoint a new Thane.

They went back, while they were taking stock, to examine the husk of the demon beast – Runa thought it might, in some way, be related to the Imperial god Phorcys. It was thoroughly blackened, but rather than char, which would have a tendency to smudge or crumble at a touch, it seemed to have been turned to stone somehow. Not that anyone could explain how, save by Einarr’s strange experience when the circle was active. It was, they thought, yet one more reason to give thanks to the gods: char would spread, and there was no way to know if it would have been cleansed of its corruption.

Finally, after a full week working with the surviving dvergr of Nilthiad, it was time to go. The summer wore on, and even with Jorir’s help it would take them most of a month to reach Breidelstein again – and Runa was already beginning to show. The dvergr, however, were not about to let them go without a proper sendoff: Brandir arranged for another, smaller, feast for the next night, and despite Einarr’s restless feet they were obliged to attend.

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