Einarr staggered to his feet, trying desperately to catch his breath. Thankfully, the others seemed to have the cat well in hand – for now, anyway. He watched as they ducked and weaved around the creature, taking their shots as they came. Thankfully, too, Sinmora had done more than just devour its double. It was favoring the injured foot heavily: probably, soon they would have to worry about the beast trying to run away. Which meant Einarr really needed to get his sword back.

He could breathe again: that was sufficient. Einarr raised his shield and barreled back into the fight. Kaldr, on his left, acknowledged him with a glance.

“Cover me.” Einarr ducked his head and ran on, shield first, to get closer to the big cat’s paw. The trouble, of course, would be getting close enough to knock the blade free without getting stepped on: the beast was easily as big as a fimbulvulf.

It growled, and Einarr heard its tentacles whip out at the others. He was being ignored, and for now that was fine. For just a moment, the injured paw touched the ground.

Jorir ran across, under its belly, and chopped at one of the hind legs. Here, too, the injured paw touched down for just a moment, as though to steady the massive body.

Einarr readied himself. If he timed it just right, he thought he could grab Sinmora during one of these momentary shifts.

The great cat danced about, taking cut after cut – and inflicting several of its own, to be sure. It was also starting to backpedal: there could not be much time before it decided there were tastier morsels elsewhere.

When Thjofgrir’s blade cut deep into the other foreleg, Einarr saw his best chance. As the claws touched the earth once more, he dashed forward. His hand closed on Sinmora’s hilt, his grip somehow firm in spite of the earlier wound. Einarr pulled.

The monstrous cat screamed.

It wheeled on its hind leg and dashed off into the forest, its double popping back into existence before it was fully out of sight.

The others gathered around Einarr. For a moment, they all stood watching its flight through the forest. Finally, Einarr took a deep breath. “Is everyone all right?”

“I think, my lord, we should be asking you that,” Jorir grumbled.

“A little sore, is all. Was anyone else wounded, though? And how bloody are you? A proper purification is probably beyond me, but I’m certain I could manage a stop gap until we return to camp.”

“It didn’t touch me,” Troa answered. “But I suspect it would be wise for you four.”

Twenty minutes later, after Einarr traced a purifying rune on each of them (including Troa), they too were running off into the forest, on the trail of the strange cat they hoped would lead them to the Hold.


Ordinarily, a cat would be difficult to track, especially at night. Ordinarily, however, that cat would not be wounded, bleeding, and bigger than a horse.

As dawn broke, the five men crouched in the underbrush on a ridge north of the rather imposing fortress maintained by the priesthood of Malúnion. Below, the fortress walls stretched upward at least three stories. The early morning sun made the walls glow like pale gold, and the tower in their center thrust toward the sky like a spear of the gods. Below, within the walls, a town was waking up in shadow.

Kaldr gave a low whistle. “Did those maniacs really build this?”

Jorir grunted. “Unlikely, I think, unless they brought in my kin to do it. But I expect this place was like Nilthiad – conquered from within.”

Einarr contemplated venturing down the ridge and exploring the fortress himself. His legs twitched, but before he could stand Kaldr spoke again.

“We should head back to camp. Now that we know where to send our teams, scouts will be better equipped to get the information we need.”

Reluctantly, Einarr nodded. “You’re right, of course. And this will give us a leg up on plotting our strategy.” Just because Kaldr was right didn’t mean he had to like it.

Their trek cross-country back to their camp was far less eventful than the nighttime journey had been, although it did provide them a better opportunity to study the lay of the land. From the ridge, the land sloped steadily downward toward the shore where the boats were beached. The forest was mixed evergreen and seasonal, and if Einarr was any judge, he thought it looked unusually healthy – especially if it had creatures such as that cat hunting it. He took a cutting of some berry bushes as they walked by, with the intention of having them inspected by Eydri and Hrug.

When they strolled back into camp around mid-morning, they were greeted by a great deal of hustle and the anxious faces of their subordinates. Eydri stormed up to them, with Naudrek right behind. “There you are! What happened to you?”

Einarr gave a lopsided grin. “The biggest cat you ever saw, and the location of the Hold.”

“Bah. Oh, by the gods, you look terrible. Hrug set up a purification circle down by the water if anyone needs it.”

“Thank you, Eydri. I think we’ll take advantage of that. Troa, will you see to it they know where to find the fortress before you come down?”

“Of course, sir.”

As much as Einarr would have preferred to rest, now was not the time. The rest of the day was spent gathered over the makeshift table the guard crew had put together, making plans based on the charts as they knew it – and as they grew to know it over the course of the day, as scouting parties filled in the gaps of their knowledge.

One party reported that, while the beast was likely corrupted by the cult, it may not actually have been kept by the cult: they found a cave on the northeast side of the island that fairly reeked of cat – and had blood spatters just outside the entrance. They had not ventured into the cave to confirm any of this, of course, and Einarr gave his pardon for that immediately. He wouldn’t have either, under the circumstances – although it might become necessary to put the beast down before they began their assault on the island. If all went well, he thought, he and Kaldr should have a strategy and a message for the fleet early the next morning.

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon. Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr e-book through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

 

Hastily, they reformed into a circle. A single giant cat was bad enough, especially since they could count on it being corrupted. But two?

“They must be mates,” Troa gasped as he ducked a tentacle.

“You think?” Thjofgrir cut at the tentacle as it withdrew, with no apparent effect.

“Otherwise they’d be fighting each other, I think.”

Based on the farm cats Einarr had encountered, he expected that was right. A paw swiped at him, and he narrowly dodged all but the edge of it. The new welt on his sword hand shouldn’t interfere too much with his grip, he hoped. “Not sure that helps us.”

“It most assuredly does not.” Kaldr sidestepped as the other beast took a swipe at him.

The cats started circling again, taking a tentative swipe now and then with paw or tentacle. Einarr, watching them as they watched him, had a thought.

“Troa,” he muttered in the comparative quiet. “Ready your bow. When I give the word, Jorir and I will take one. Kaldr, you and Thjofgrir take the other. Troa, take your shots as you can.”

“Aye, sir,” echoed around their huddle.

They shifted around so that Troa stood in the center. Einarr heard the distinctive sound of stretching a bow string.

“Ready,” Troa whispered.

“On my mark.” Einarr watched as the cats circled, testing them, waiting for the key moment. “Now!”

Einarr and Jorir charged.

Kaldr and Thjofgrir charged in the opposite direction.

Troa’s bowstring twanged.

Einarr took a flying leap towards the monster’s shoulder, hoping to injure the tentacle as well as the leg.

While he was still in the air, Jorir made a mighty chop against the creature’s foreleg. It danced back, but Jorir froze. Einarr brought Sinmora straight down into the base of the creature’s neck. It should have been a killing blow.

Einarr blinked in surprise as his blade met no resistance. His vision clouded momentarily as his head went through where the cat’s neck should have been. Then the ground was rushing up uncomfortably fast, and it was all Einarr could do to land on his feet. He was still a young man, but his knees groaned. He rose slowly to his feet and looked at Jorir. “Did you just see that?”

The dvergr nodded, then hefted his axe again. “We’d best go give the others a hand.”

Jorir was moving even as he spoke, and Einarr did not wait for him to finish, either.

Kaldr and Thjofgrir looked to be having a harder time of it – and no surprise. Einarr charged in again, this time aiming to hamstring the beast that was most assuredly real. He nodded to Troa as he ran past: the scout had seen it, too – and possibly an arrow pass through the double, as well.

“Hey!” Thjofgrir tried to object when Jorir batted a tentacle away from him.

“Not real,” Jorir answered the unstated.

“Don’t take your eyes off this one,” Einarr added. “If it has the cunning of a hound, it will try to confuse us again.”

The fight redoubled, then. Einarr dove under its belly, raking Sinmora along the soft flesh there.

The cat screamed. He’d drawn blood, evidently, but it was only a flesh wound. Which, on further reflection, he thought he should be grateful for: had he gutted it then and there, he most assuredly would have been doused in its blood.

No sooner had he regained his feet than it lashed out at him with one of its tentacles. This time, the wide pad at the end grabbed hold of his middle and squeezed.

Troa and Kaldr converged on the tentacle at almost the same moment. Kaldr’s blade embedded itself in the squid-like tentacle that had grabbed hold of his prince, followed by two arrows in quick succession. Blood sprayed: it was hard to tell for certain in the light of Einarr’s shield, but the stench was foul – more like a swamp than like iron.

The cat leapt over their heads and across the clearing to stand once again near its double – which, despite having no-one attacking it, still bled from the tentacle that had nearly been severed and a belly wound. Einarr blinked, already uncertain which was which despite the fact that they had only just moved.

Kaldr and Jorir exchanged a look. Thjofgrir sighed dramatically.

Troa fired off two arrows in rapid succession, one at each beast. “Left, milord.”

“My thanks.” Einarr raised Sinmora and charged once more into the fight. The handle seemed to pulse in his hand in time with his heartbeat. Glancing down, he saw that it was not merely a welt on his hand: it bled, and the dark red of his blood mixed with the deeper darkness of the monster’s. Hel and damnation. There were purifying rituals: he would worry later.

Sinmora’s pulsing reminded him of something, though. There was nothing saying it would work, of course, but it couldn’t hurt to try. The double was obviously magical, after all. He focused, and the blade itself began to pulse. Einarr thought he could actually hear the chiming of bells in tune with the pulsation. Once again he launched himself into the air, aiming for the beast’s shoulder. This time, though, he faced a giant paw sweeping around to smack him out of the air.

Einarr twisted around and brought Sinmora’s edge down, not on the shoulder of the great cat, but on its toe. It screamed again, and again blood spurted from out of the deep gouge he had cut in its paw. He thought his twist had carried him away from the worst of the blood spray, at least.

Sinmora gave a much larger pulse, and an audible chime, and then the double winked out of existence.

Then the cat yanked its injured paw back, and the momentum sent Einarr flying backward. His flight was stopped by the trunk of a massive pine tree – thankfully with no branches to impale him. He grunted involuntarily.

That was when he realized Sinmora was still embedded in its paw.

 

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.

 

Along the shore of the inlet stood a grove of trees that hung out over the water. To its left, a stretch of sand glowed in the moonlight: they could hardly ask for a better location to go ashore and conceal the boats.

Once the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf were camouflaged by the trees, the twin crews made a cold camp. About twenty men stayed behind to guard the ships and ensure all was in readiness. Everyone else formed into teams to search the island. Then, they were off. Probably there was no cause for haste, given the protections they had seen on the islands during their approach. By the same token, however, sooner or later someone was going to spot the fleet sitting at anchor, and at that point their situation would grow significantly worse.

Einarr was moving in a group with Jorir, Kaldr, Thjofgrir, and Troa: Eydri had been disappointed, but her knowledge was more likely to be valuable with the ships than scouting. The forest at night was disorienting at best, although in other circumstances – and with the right company – it could have been pretty. The oak branches swayed in a breeze that never reached the forest floor, causing the dappled patches of moonlight and shadow to shift unpredictably.

Troa led the way, with Jorir right behind him: the svartdvergr couldn’t quite match the scout for stealth, but he more than made up for it with his dvergr senses. Einarr came next, flanked by Kaldr and Thjofgrir – neither of whom, he thought, would actually be any better if it came to a fight in these circumstances. But, no matter.

They had gone perhaps an hour into the forest, drawing ever farther away from their ships and the other search crews, when a low, groaning rumble made Einarr’s ears strain. “Shh!”

Everyone froze. The sound came again.

“Beast, or tree?”

Troa glanced up at the branches overhead. Their sway did not seem to have changed. “Beast, I think.”

Kaldr grunted in agreement: Einarr saw his shield shift on his shoulder. “Has anyone spotted any tracks?”

Jorir shook his head. “Not yet – not in this light. Even dvergr have trouble tracking beasts under the moon.”

“We’ll just have to keep going, then. Keep your wits.”

He was certain the admonishment was unnecessary, on one level, but on another it was critical. They moved on, and as they went Einarr found it more natural to rest his hand on Sinmora’s hilt.

A peculiar, not entirely pleasant odor crossed his nose. Einarr sniffed, then had to stifle a cough. “I think we’ve entered its territory,” he whispered.

“Aye, we have,” Jorir agreed. “Come look at this.”

It was hard to make out in the dark, but there, plain as day, were marks from claws being dragged through the dirt. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but that looks feline to me.”

“Based on the scratches in the trees, maybe,” Troa mused. “Only, I’ve never heard of a cat that big before.”

“Nor I,” Einarr answered. “But we have to remember who we’re dealing with here. I fought a Singer who had been turned into a Troll: making a cat five times its normal size shouldn’t be that difficult.”

Thjofgrir sniffed then, and chuckled. “If that’s a cat, best check your boots. Someone just stepped in cat shit.”

Einarr’s eyes went wide, and suddenly he was glad no-one could see his face. He cursed, perhaps more loudly than he should have. “Privy or no privy, a giant cat’s hunting ground is no place to be at night. We should move on.”

“Of course, sir.” Thjofgrir’s voice was still amused: Einarr hadn’t hidden anything.

The growl sounded again, closer this time. Now Einarr smiled in spite of himself. “So, funny thing about cat shit. It can cover our scents.”


“Tromping through cat excrement will cover our trail, you say?” Kaldr asked, his shield up and his sword drawn.

“It should have! I’m rusty, but I’m not that rusty.”

“Lord Einarr is right.” Troa’s voice was calm, but his posture was just as tense as everyone else’s. “When hunting alone, it is considered wise to scent yourself with the waste of the creature you hunt.”

At the edge of the clearing where they now stood shoulder to shoulder, they could see a pair of giant green cat eyes glowing from the shadow of the forest.

Thjofgrir, incongruously, belly-laughed and banged his blade against his shield. “Nothing like a fight to get the blood pumping. Maybe we’ll be lucky and it will be tasty.”

“Not likely.” Einarr steadied his stance and glanced down at Jorir, on his right. Sure enough, the dvergr was already steady as a rock, waiting for the beast to pounce.

“More likely it’s some sort of corrupted horror. Not that we’ll be able to tell in this light.”

“My lord,” Jorir rumbled, never looking away from where the cat crouched. “If I may, now might be an excellent time for a little light. I will cover you while you inscribe.”

Einarr frowned. They were out in the open, on the one hand, and any light he made would be a beacon to their enemies. On the other hand, this cat was the only other creature they had seen all night, and lighting their footing would help tilt the odds of this fight. “All right.”

Einarr stepped back. Jorir stepped over. Neither of these actions had finished when the cat leapt out of the clearing, clearly sensing a weakness. Tentacles lashed at Jorir and at Troa, at either end of the line, and the black-striped face snarled even as it swiped at Kaldr.

Jorir, to his credit, chopped at the tentacle that had swiped for him without a second’s hesitation.

Einarr finished drawing the light rune on his shield and activated it. Then he glanced off to his side and realized: there were two of them.

The beasts snarled again, weirdly in sync, and flinched back from the sudden brightness. If there were two of them, though… “Form a circle!”

“A what? Why?” Kaldr slashed at the beast’s face with his sword, buying himself enough space to glance over and back at Einarr. “By all the gods, where did that one come from?”

 

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.

 

In the end, they had to dispatch Hrug to assist with burning what remained of the city. There simply wasn’t enough left which would burn hot enough to properly cremate those slain in Eskidal, but a funerary circle added the strength of Hrug’s will to the flames and reduced the charnel ground to ash. The midday sky behind them was orange-lit gray from the blaze as the fleet made its slow exit from the shallow waters around the island.

When the smell of smoke no longer filled his nostrils, Einarr called Hrug aside to discuss the nugget of an idea he’d had while they were scavenging for supplies. They had several weeks still to go on the water, after all: that might be long enough to make contact with some old friends who would also like to see these madmen put out of their misery.


Another month on the water took the fleet to within sight of the island chain mentioned in the cultist’s documents found on Kem. A week ago, Einarr and Hrug had attempted their ritual, but there was no way to know if it worked or not.

Now the green mounds of Kratíste were before them, and soon it would be moot whether his message reached Beatrix or not. Still, with no intelligence yet about the islands before them, this was about as close as they dared to come – a fleet of ships was not a subtle thing, after all.

Einarr gave the signal and all but one other boat dropped its sails and backed water. This was followed by a splashing of sea anchors. Now the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf sailed forward alone, to land on an unobserved section of beach and scout out what lay ahead.

The Heidrun set a circuitous course toward the south, approaching the islands obliquely. If Fortune were on their side, they would be able to spot a likely landing place without being spotted – or at least noted – themselves.

After another hour like this, Einarr spotted small drakken, quite obviously on patrol. He frowned, thinking: they could keep going as they were, and when they were eventually noticed they could claim to be freeboaters, and perhaps a little lost.

He glanced back at his crew and smiled to himself: no freeboater ship was ever as well-equipped as his Heidrunings now were, and some aboard the Lúmskulf were better.

“Take us a little further out from shore,” he ordered. “Then we’ll drop sail and wait for nightfall, go in under oars. It’s been a while since most of us have been on a proper raid, I think: I hope no-one’s gotten rusty.”

The comment was met by a wave of laughter.

Naudrek dropped the sea anchor when Einarr gave the word, and the Lúmskulf pulled up alongside. Kaldr seemed pleased when he heard the plan.

“Why do I feel like you’re surprised?”

“Because I am, a little.” Kaldr chuckled, quietly enough that Einarr almost didn’t hear it. “You are, from time to time, somewhat hasty, my lord. Or perhaps the dvergr is rubbing off on you.”

“And you, my friend, appear to have learned to relax.” Had they been on the same ship, Einarr would have clapped Kaldr on the shoulder. “Any thoughts on where to come in from?”

“Thjofgrir spotted shadows on the coast just a little ways back from here: probably a cove or a fjord we could hide in.”

“Good. We’ll go there, provided we can find it again by starlight.”


The good news was, the patrol ships all disappeared at sunset. The bad news was, nothing appeared to replace them. Einarr stood, staring across the water, as the last rays of sunset disappeared over the horizon and the sky became deep indigo. They were lucky: there was a full moon, so no-one would be tempted to light a torch. It also meant any human watchers would have an easier time seeing them, but there were always tradeoffs.

The question was, with no sentries at night, what hunted there?

“Kaldr? Jorir? Any thoughts?”

“Not much choice but to go on, is there?” Jorir grumbled. “If they’ve got monsters guarding the water, well, we’ve dealt with monsters before.”

“I’m afraid Jorir’s right. Unless you want to lead the fleet to war with next to no understanding of our enemy, we haven’t much choice.”

With a sigh, he nodded to himself. “You’re right, of course. Out oars!”

Einarr was proud of his men: they brought their oars into place with nary a scrape of wood nor a splash of water. Now they just had to maintain that. “Forward, now. Quickly and quietly.”

The two directives were not, quite, mutually exclusive, but it was a difficult thing to manage. Einarr noted every splash of water on the oars, and flinched when a pair accidentally clacked together, even though the bigger danger was probably staring up at them from under their hulls.

He let the Lúmskulf take the lead: it was Thjofgrir, after all, who had spotted the cove. Behind the other ship’s outline, the bulk of the island grew ever larger. Under the light of the moon, the towering oak forest looked like tufts of hair on a giant’s head, and Einarr shook his own to rid himself of the image.

The moon was beginning to set by the time the Lúmskulf and the Heidrun nosed their way into the inlet Thjofgrir had noticed. A quick look around told Einarr it was a promising place, and a good place to hide their boats while they searched for the actual stronghold.

That was when a wave crested under his hull and caused both ships to roll precariously. At the same time, a deep rumbling growl carried across the water to them.

I knew this was going too well. “Jorir? Any thoughts?”

“Whatever that creature is, it’s in the forest. Probably thinks we look tasty.”

“You don’t think it’s related to that strange wave?”

“It could be, but I doubt it. Even if it is, what could we do?”

Einarr hummed. He didn’t like it, but Jorir was right, of course. And after that fimbulvulf the jotun kept, he didn’t figure he had much room to worry about land monsters. “Very well. Find a good open spot for beaching, then we need to find a way to hide ourselves.”

 

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.

 

The ruins of Eskidal bore a striking resemblance to what remained of Kem, save for one minor detail: there were no runes. Even on buildings which were still more or less intact, neither Einarr nor Hrug could find a trace of a fire rune, and never mind that the fire had plainly burned hot – perhaps as hot as the Muspel shroud. It was a puzzle – right up until they reached the central square.

The square was only lightly touched by the fire, somehow, although ordinarily you would have expected the fire to burn hottest in the center – that was strange by itself, and enough to set Einarr, Hrug, and Eydri looking for the remains of a ward. While they were preoccupied with that, however, The other three, however, were looking a little higher, and so they were the ones who noticed.

“Um, Captain?” Irding called from across the square.

“What is it?”

“Did we ever do anything about those beasties that escaped the demon ships?”

Einarr grimaced and shook his head, knowing Irding couldn’t see him. He broke off his search for runes and crossed to where Irding stood looking up. “Just the kraken, and only by chance. Why?”

“I think the flying one might have been here.” He pointed.

Above, almost at rooftop level, long gashes had been cut into the walls. They looked like the chops made in a practice dummy, if the student was a giant.

“The flying one, with eyes and beaks and wings in all the wrong places?”

“Not sure what else would be big enough to do that, are you?”

“A dragon?” He thought he might rather face a dragon, under the circumstances. Then he shook his head. “A joke. I highly doubt they could bring a dragon properly under their control, and if it wasn’t controlled, they wouldn’t live long enough to use it.”

Irding nodded. “More or less my thought, yeah.”

“That still doesn’t explain the fire, though. I’m going to keep searching for signs of magic. Well spotted, Irding. Keep up the search.”


Mid-afternoon that day, well before the light began to fade, the search teams gathered together on the beach in front of their boats. The mood was subdued.

With a deep breath, Einarr started them off. “First of all, did anyone find any survivors?”

Some of the others in the crowd exchanged uncomfortable looks.

“With all due respect, with the sort of slaughter as happened in the streets, do you really think there were survivors?” A voice asked from the crowd.

Einarr glanced down at the ground, disappointed but not surprised, before looking in the direction of the voice. “No, not really. But if there had been, we would have wanted to get their story first. It was the story of a survivor, after all, that led us this far. My team and I came across some interesting results, but I should like to hear from the rest of you, first.”

Bardr stepped forward. “Then let the Vidofnir start things off with the obvious. The attackers, whoever they were, used fire to drive the people of the city out into the streets, where they were slaughtered wholesale. Once we moved closer to the city center, however, we found evidence that this was almost certainly an attack by the worshipers of Malùnion: on the walls of a temple to the true gods, we found imprecations against them, and their magics and Arts, painted in blood. Reki read them for us, as the Vidofning most familiar with runes.”

They went around in this way, each group reporting what they had found. Many of them, as Einarr had suspected, were too taken aback by the apparent ferocity of the carnage to note much more than the obvious conclusion – or, perhaps, simply unlucky in their search. One other team came across the giant claw marks, as well, and suggested that they could mean a dragon had been responsible instead of the cult. It would explain the apparent heat of the fires, after all. Einarr gave a half-smile, amused and sorry to have to burst their bubble.

“We saw those claw marks, too,” he said, when everyone else had reported their findings. We also found a runic ward around the city center – a very old one, probably dating to the early days of the city if not to its founding. Unfortunately, though, the runes painted on the temple point to the squiddies, and there is a monster associated with the squiddies that could make those claw marks.”

The crowd fell silent and stared at him, expectantly.

“A few years ago, my wife was captured by this selfsame cult – some of you have heard this story already. I did not yet have my own ship, but my father’s Vidofnir and the Skudbrun of Kjell managed to claim her back and take down a full four enemy ships, each of which traveled under the umbrella of a black squall and carried, instead of cargo, an abomination beneath its deck. One of them could fly, and it was pretty easily big enough to have made those cuts.”

“So, a bird, instead of a dragon?” Someone in the back asked. “I’ll take feathers over scales any day.”

Einarr shook his head, smiling a little. “You would? I’d rather fight the dragon. The dragon’s very blood won’t be corrupted, and its scales may be softer than the abomination’s skin. Furthermore, the sight of a dragon isn’t likely to drive a man mad – except, perhaps, for gold. Has anyone got a fletcher aboard?”

Four or five men, scattered throughout, said they had.

“Good. Before we leave we’ll send men into the forest. Make as many arrows as you can. We’ll need pitch, too, and any cloth we can scavenge. The more flaming arrows we can fire, the better this fight will go.” He paused, thinking. I wonder if there is any way I can make contact with Beatrix or Liupold? Sea fire would be a boon where we’re going. “Is there anything else?”

Aema stepped forward. “There’s still the matter of the unburied dead.”

Einarr was a little surprised to see she was still on the Skudbrun. “I suppose there’s not really much left to burn for a pyre, is there.”

Aema shook her head in agreement.

“In that case, while we are gathering wood for arrows, we will also bring whatever brush we can and pile it in the city. That should provide the tinder. The rest, I will leave to you and your sisters.”

 

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.

 

A midsummer storm loomed on the horizon the next dawn as the fleet of ships, led by Einarr on the Heidrun, sailed out of Blávík harbor. Einarr bared his teeth, wondering if that was a natural storm or if they would have to face one of the demon ships so soon into their journey.

“Problem, sir?” Naudrek said as he passed by.

“Probably not.” Einarr made his face relax. “Just not sure I like the look of those clouds up ahead.”

Naudrek peered ahead at the sky and shrugged. “We could check with Hrug. But, I hear parts of the Empire are prone to storms this time of year, and we are headed south.”

“You’re probably right. Just make sure the lookouts stay sharp.”

“Aye, sir.”

Naudrek plainly did not understand Einarr’s caution, and that was fine. He would, as soon as they ran into one of the demon ships that quite literally rode storms the way some Valkyrie ships bound the wind to their sails. It was true they were sailing south towards Imperial waters, but Naudrek had not come face to face with their enemy on the water before.

As the fleet, now in open water, turned towards the southwest at full sail, the day did not grow brighter so much as more watery. When the drizzle began to rap against the deck and spit in his face, Einarr was at last satisfied that this was ordinary bad weather. There would be some among them who took it as a bad omen, though. While Einarr was not among them, he went to speak with Eydri. They would need to be careful about morale on this journey.


After three weeks of relentless drizzle, Einarr almost wished they would run up against one of the demon ships. It would give them a chance to fight together, and for the other ships to catch a glimpse of what they were really up against. Instead, they had nothing but cold, wet, dreary days ahead of them until they reached their next resupply point.

“Land, ho!” The cry came from the bow.

Einarr returned, briefly, to his awning to check the charts before stepping back out into the spitting rain. “Run up the truce flag. We’ll resupply here, and maybe be able to get some information.”

It was, sadly, not to be. When the fleet drew nearer to the island ahead, they saw smoke hovering above what used to be a settlement like a grim cloud.

“So much for the resupply,” Jorir grumbled.

“Quite.” Einarr sighed. “We might still be able to get some information – about the cult, or about the League, or maybe both. Send a message around. Each ship is to land a team to investigate. I want everyone to get a feel for the sort of destruction we’re looking at if we fail.”

The nearer the Heidrun drew to shore, the deeper Einarr felt the pit in his stomach growing. This had been razed, not three weeks, but perhaps three days ago, and quite possibly less. “Jorir, you have the ship. Naudrek, Hrug, Eydri – I’m sorry, but I need you all to come ashore. Who else thinks they have the stomach for this?”

Predictably, he found no shortage of volunteers. Some, it was plain, were full of bravado. Irding he brought, even though he had been there at Langavik, and also Arkja. “This won’t be like at Kem. We don’t have to comb the whole city ourselves – thank the gods. Most of the rest of the fleet has never encountered this pack of rabid wolves before, so I’m not expecting a lot of information out of them. I’m counting on you five to help me uncover the information we need from these ruins. The rest of you, be ready. There’s no telling what we might find out there.”

A few minutes later, the Heidrun was the first ship of the fleet to go ashore, and as the rest of the fleet came ashore or laid boarding planks to let them cross to the ground, Einarr’s team was the first to set foot on an island the charts named Eskidal.

No sooner had he set foot on the sandy shore than the charnel smell from what had once been a city struck Einarr’s nose. He tried not to gag, with only moderate success. But this was no place to falter: his hand on Sinmora’s hilt, he led the way into Eskidal.

Before he reached what remained of the city, he was flanked by Bardr and by Kaldr.

“The place is already burned. So how come it smells worse than Langavik?” Bardr asked no-one in particular.

Einarr snorted, then scrubbed at his nose to keep from breathing in more of the foul air. “We’re about to find out.”

Kaldr was frowning. “We saw nothing like this as we approached their dvergr stronghold…”

“Jorir told me they had been more or less in control of Nilthiad when he left. These are the actions of a conqueror, not a shepherd.”

Now Kaldr snorted. “A conqueror? Hardly. A destroyer, more like.”

Bollinn cleared his throat from just behind the three of them. “It does rather look that way, doesn’t it?”

“Well. So that’s four teams I can count on to keep their heads.” Einarr managed a wan smile. “If you see crude rune work, that’s probably League work. If you see whole sentences, that’s the Squiddies… Kaldr, is there someone in your team who can read runes?”

“I can, actually.”

The statement was so unexpected, and stated so matter-of-factly, Einarr turned to stare.

“It was only practical, after everything that happened in Nilthiad.”

Will wonders never cease. They had reached the charred edges of what had once been a city, now. Streaming out behind them were more groups of warriors, moving in groups according to their clans and their ships. The four groups split up again, each headed in a different direction through the city.

Eydri held a sleeve up to cover her nose as she stared around at their surroundings. The buildings were little more than cinders and charred posts, but… “The fire came before the slaughter.”

In spite of himself, Einarr was impressed at how calm her voice was. “They set fire to people’s homes, then murdered them as they tried to escape the flames.”

Arkja’s face was pale. “That’s…”

“I know.” Einarr nodded. “I agree, Eydri. But I’m not seeing any runes at all, let alone fire runes. Are you, Hrug?”

The mute shook his head.

“These houses are pretty far gone,” Naudrek mused. “Are you sure the runes would still be visible?”

Einarr opened his mouth to say no, just as Hrug was nodding his head yes. Einarr shrugged. “If either of us could tell, he could. Let’s go farther in: I don’t think we’re going to learn much here.”

 

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.

 

No matter how they searched Blávík, they could find no sign of the League that had so recently run the city in all but name. The townspeople simply shrugged: they didn’t know what had happened, they were just glad the League was gone.

But the League was not all that had vanished. So, too, had Jarl Illugi.

When Stigander returned from his visit to the Jarl’s Hall, he sent word around. They would have a conference of Captains that evening at one of the larger public halls in Blávík: the Blue Steel. Most, but not all, of the Captains gave their crew shore leave for the evening, save for a handful of watchmen. With that many warriors loose on the city it could have been chaos – but wouldn’t be. After the depredations of the League, the mood among the Fleet was one of pride.

Einarr, Stigander, and Kaldr were among the last to arrive at the Blue Steel – by design. As they entered, Sivid rose from where he had been lounging just inside the door to fall in between Einarr and Stigander.

“Missing anyone?” Stigander asked, sotto voce.

“One or two of the freeboater captains. I think they might have joined their crew on watch, though, from what I’ve heard.”

Einarr nodded. “Any Singers in attendance?”

“Not one. Just the men tonight.”

Einarr tsked. That was both good and bad.

Stigander seemed to think the same. “If matters turn toward the esoteric, I may need you to bring Reki.”

“Of course, my lord.”

The four of them approached the head of the table, and Sivid peeled off to take a seat near the wall. Einarr noted that he very carefully chose one that fell in the shadow of a support pole. Then Stigander sat, as well – not at the head of the table. This felt odd to Einarr, even though it was his right and his duty to take the lead on this expedition. He stepped up to the head of the table and addressed the Captains.

“Gentlemen! Thank you for coming.”

Some men raised their tankards or their horns in his direction, and the low rumble of conversation stilled.

“As some of you may already know, the League has seemingly vanished from Blávík without a trace. Thus, the ships we currently have in harbor are all of us. But. Even in this room there are fifty of us, representing fifty ships, and I would pit fifty good warriors of the clans against five hundred cultists.”

Sivid chortled from his seat in the shadows. “Indeed, and you have before!”

Einarr inclined his head toward his friend’s seat. “Indeed, we have. Not too many years ago, the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun together took on an enclave of the cult of Malùnion and won, and we must have fought off that many people in the city alone, before we account for the demon ships. It can be done!

“The price for such an action was steep, however. It was all we could do to limp to Eastport on the Matrons’ isle for help, to fix our ships and heal our wounds. And, even still, we were fortunate. The Matrons had a quest for me, and in spite of everything, I returned in time with the artifact to prevent the corruption from claiming any who survived. We no longer have that artifact.”

“What?” Someone in the back called out. Einarr thought it might have been Tore. “Why in the world would you get rid of an artifact?”

“I’m afraid Frigg claimed it back after we broke the weaver’s curse that held Breidelstein in thrall to usurpers. Nevertheless. We sail the day after tomorrow. Tonight, I would have your commitment to see this through. I, on the Heidrun, will be taking the lead, and we will defer to Kaldr on the Lúmskulf in matters of strategy.”

An angry rumble started among the other captains, but truth be told, Einarr could think of no-one better for a strategist.

“I have chosen the Lúmskulf not because they are my countrymen, but because I have been on the receiving end of Kaldr’s strategies and found them to be troublesome, despite being hampered from above and below. I trust this man’s mind. If any of you would put glory before success, you may leave and try your hand alone.”

The angry rumble died down.

“As I thought.” He drew his belt knife. “And so I swear, before all of you – as Cursebreaker, as Prince of Breidelstein, and on my honor as a man – that this fleet will grind the church of Malùnion to dust, and their worshipers will spread their vile corruption no more!” As he swore his oath, he drew the blade across his palm and held it up so that the others could see the line of blood. “Who will swear with me?”

One by one, the other captains drew their own blood and clasped hands with Einarr – even his own father. There would be no turning back now for any of them. Once their oaths were sworn they fell to laying plans.


When dawn broke, nearly 3,000 men and Singers gathered in an open field outside Blávík. In the center of the field stood a stone altar, a bonfire, and – a little ways off, to avoid spooking them unnecessarily – a pen filled with goats and pigs.

When Einarr had been naught but a sailor on the Vidofnir, the idea of sacrificing to the gods like this would have been ludicrous. They had not been terribly religious, any of them – at least, not until after the Örlögnir had saved them all from a fate worse than death, and that plainly on willing loan from Frigg herself.

Even if the Vidofnings hadn’t regained a sense of gratitude to the gods, however, there were plenty of other crews that would take strength from such a ceremony. And, likely, drawing the attention of the gods to their endeavor could only help their chances. From everything Einarr knew, not even Loki could find favor with Malùnion and his methods.

The Singers gathered to either side of the altar and began to chant. No-one else spoke, until the priestess of Frigg spoke words over the first sacrifice. Its blood spread over the altar, and Frigg’s portion was given to the fire while the rest was prepared for the gathered warriors.

And so it continued, until the setting sun dyed the ground as crimson as the altar. They would sail at dawn.

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.

 

Stigander smiled approvingly at Einarr, but held his peace for the moment. This, too, was as they had agreed. Nor did Bollinn speak up immediately, although Jarl Hroaldr and Thane Thorgnyr had already, privately, committed to the venture. They were forgoing the honor of being “first” to join in order to better gauge the reactions of the other clans.

There was a long pause following the end of his speech. Einarr scanned the room. As his eyes passed over Tore, he saw the Captain glance at his own lord, the Jarl Grimwald – a man with a stony face and hair as steely as his eyes. Grimwald ducked his chin, a motion so quick and slight that Einarr nearly missed it.

Tore rose. “The Sterkerbjorn of Hrafnhaugr will sail.”

If Hrafnhaugr was anything like Kjell, they might only have two or three ships to their name. It was interesting that Jarl Grimwald looked to no man before agreeing, though: unaffiliated jarls were unusual.

Two or three others added their ships to the fleet: Einarr watched Serk. He had actually taken less persuading than Tore had, but Thane Olaf still seemed reluctant. Or, rather, stubborn: Einarr knew a mulish look when he saw one.

Now Bollinn stood. “The Skudbrun sails. We, too, have fought these monsters before – and I assure you, that is not an overstatement. Even the ones who look like men are not: the moment they feel threatened, they may sprout tentacles anywhere on their body, and their blood is as black as night and as poisonous as Loki’s serpent.”

Thane Thorgnyr inclined his head. “Aye. And the Skudbrun of Kjell will not be alone. I was accompanied here by five ships of Geittoft. Word has reached us of these villains from places other than Kjell, and we will gladly throw our strength behind the Cursebreaker and his quest.”

More men threw their lot with Einarr, now – some of them without ships of their own, and still Serk watched for a sign from his Thane.

At last, as the flurry was dying down, Serk practically leapt to his feet. His hands were clenched into fists, and even so, Einarr thought he could see those fists quivering. “Whether or no Sweindalr sails with you, the Björtstag does!”

Thane Olaf whirled on his Captain, fury writ large in every muscle, but before he could speak Serk went on.

“Perhaps you did not see, milord. You stayed aboard when we stopped at Kaldreik… but the things that had been done, there. You are my Thane. You may forbid my crew, or my ship, but should you attempt to forbid me I will be forsworn. I cannot let this rest.”

“You would throw your weight behind one bunch of fools, who merely rush off to clean the mess begun by another group of fools? Not one of the cities we have spoken of would have fallen if it weren’t for that thrice-cursed League and their insanity.”

Serk’s voice dropped, although it was still plainly audible across the Althing. “Not so, my lord. Do I go alone, on a personal quest, or will you allow the Björtstag to bring a portion of the glory home to Sweindalr?|

Thane Olaf spat. “Have it your way. But know this: should Sweindalr fall, ‘twill be on your own head!”

Serk bowed to his Thane.

Stigander cleared his throat, amused. “You have my thanks, all of you. To the already assembled fleet, Breidelstein will add five ships above the Heidrun, including my very own Vidofnir. We have no reason to believe the church of Malùnion knows we’re coming, but we should still assume that time is not on our side. The sheer number of settlements which have been massacred since the fall of Kem is proof enough of that. The longer we take, the more clans will fall. The fleet will assemble at Blávík in one month’s time. Two weeks later, we will sail for the stronghold of Malùnion.”

Thane Geirleif took a moment to scan the assembled crowd. “Does anyone care to object to this course of action?”

No-one spoke.

“Very well then. May the gods go with you all.”


All told, more than fifty ships arrived at Blávík, representing more than fifteen clans. Several groups of freeboaters arrived, as well, having heard of what was happening and willing to help for coin or glory or both. Thrand, when they entered his home port, went ashore under heavy guard and led the crew of the Heidrun to the place where he had always met with the League.

It was empty.

Thrand stood, agape, at the warehouse that he claimed had once housed the League’s operations. “I don’t understand.”

Einarr shook his head. “Kaldr was here while the Heidrun was in Kem. He said they were still in the city then. Let’s have a look around. Maybe we’ll learn something that way.”

When Einarr had been here before, the League had been a major force within the city – major enough that they were able to use the local lord’s resources to attempt to press-gang himself and all of his crew. Now, though? At some point between when Kaldr left and when the fleet arrived, they had apparently vanished into thin air. Einarr pressed his lips together, thinking.

“I’ll ask Father to pay a visit to lord Illugi – that was his name, wasn’t it? Surely, if this is his settlement, he would know what happened to such a large company of freeboaters.”

Thrand blanched. “Perhaps. But… but our Prince always seemed to have a hold on the jarl. He might know something… or he might be gone, too.”

Einarr stood studying Thrand for a long moment. “The men who crewed your ships for your raids. Did they… have anything in common?”

“Of course! We were the best sailors, and the most earnest. Why?”

“Oh, no reason.” He couldn’t exactly tell Thrand that they’d been sent away to die, to get them out of their leader’s way. “Nevertheless, we’ll have Father try, and Hrug and I will see what we can find out with the bones. I’d hoped to bring your fellows along with us, so they could help clean up their own mess, but if that’s not possible then I suppose we’ll have to make do without.” Einarr patted Thrand on the shoulder and started the walk back towards the docks and the Heidrun’s berth.

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.

 

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.