The monstrosity croaked, loud enough to make Einarr’s ears ring. It had been the right call to leave Hrug above – indeed, it had been by far the best way to signal the fleet – but Einarr was not half the sorcerer the mute was. His men leapt at the winged blob again. He heard a whumpf, followed by the crack of stone and a thud. Another man down.

The formation before him, he thought, would work. Or, he hoped it would buy them enough time to destroy the abomination, anyway. He placed his fingers on the edge of the circle and willed it to capture the creature before them.

He could see, although he didn’t think anyone else could, the threads of energy racing along the ground, pooling under the creature’s feet that currently hovered about five inches off the ground. Einarr bit his lip, intent on the goal. If the abomination touched the ground with so much as a toe or a wingtip, they had it.

The pool of magic grew larger, and as it did Einarr noticed a pillar of ice beginning to form in its center. Unusual, but I’ll take it.

The monster-bird bobbed down just a hair farther than it usually did. The ice brushed its claw, and the freezing threads of the magic began climbing up its body.

Hastily, the abomination rose, but the cold that had a hold of its foot continued to spread over its body. It was caught now, no matter how much it struggled. Sinmora practically leaped into Einarr’s hand as he rushed to join the fray.

The creature fought mightily against the forces trying to pin it to the earth. It might have managed to break free, too, if not for the twelve men it also had to fend off if it wanted to survive this. The soothing rune didn’t seem to be having much of an effect: perhaps calm was contrary to its nature? Or, perhaps, the fact that it was under attack prevented the rune from fully taking hold.

A fourth team was running into the killing field, now, in a fighting retreat from a squad of cursed warriors and their knightly commander. Godsdammit.

He still had control of his formation, but if he divided his mind that way he risked loosing the abomination. On the other hand, it was already weakened. If they brought it down, they could turn their full attention to other matters. The challenge was in finding its actual vitals.

He plunged Sinmora deep into the body of the beast, between a wing and an eye. It shrieked – a sound just as hideous as its croak – and stabbed back at him with a beak.

Einarr dodged, using the momentum of a turn to extract his blade. A gout of black blood spurted forth, hissing where it came in contact with the pool of magic.

He felt that like a buzzing in his brain. Oops. Einarr put a stop in the flow. It was either that, cutting off the amount of will he could feed into the seal, or risk exposing his mind directly to the corruption.

Jorir planted an axe behind the wing he had just chopped at, and it fell twitching to the ground. Now Einarr found himself faced with a deep wound, and while it bled profusely it was not spurting at either of them. Once more he plunged Sinmora into the beast’s side, and once more it shrieked and writhed.

Someone on its other side drove home his own mighty blow, and the abomination flapped harder. The ward still held, however, and its struggles seemed to be faltering.

That was when flaming arrows began raining down into the killing field from the arrow slits in the fortress tower.


War drums beat in time from every ship in the fleet, now, and the water below rippled in time with the rhythm calling the sailors to fight. Erik knew even a seasoned warrior should be anxious about a battle like this, with enemies both before and behind and each one of them a match for any ship of the fleet, but it was not fear that made his heart pump and his blood race. The defiled would attempt to swarm them under, and the defiled would be destroyed, he was sure. Any who fell today earned their place in Valhalla.

Not that he intended to fall. And he truly hoped that between the Singers and their two Rune masters they could avoid losing anyone to the corruption. But today – today would be a battle the skalds would sing of for ages upon ages.

Sivid’s boat floated next to the Vidofnir. Erik looked in that direction and grinned, certain that his friend would be too busy to see and not caring. His shield was set, and the weight of his axe in his hand felt good, and that was what mattered.

“Archers! Ready!” Bardr’s voice rang over the deck, echoed by the Mates up and down their line.

The fwoosh of fire went up in a line behind Erik as one of the deckhands lit the arrowheads. This, too, was done all up and down the line.

“Aim!”

From the corner of his eye, Erik could see the line of archers amidships on the other boats, all raise their bows in a wave.

“Fire!”

The archers loosed, and a wave of flaming arrows flew forward into the black storm approaching from the open sea. Perhaps a third as many flew towards the harbor – the surer shot, but also the less critical one. The black storm ships were the more fearsome by far. Erik remembered well what they kept belowdecks in those ships. Of the arrows that flew into the storm, perhaps half found their target. He was gratified to see more than one sail go up in flames: that would ease their load somewhat.

He found himself bouncing on his toes, waiting for the toss of boarding lines. Well, fine: he hadn’t been in a proper sea battle since they re-took Breidelstein. Fighting on land didn’t have quite the same thrill to it.

Then he looked up and abruptly realized the enemy was returning fire. The answering wave of flame was hard to look away from.

Bardr noticed at the same moment he did. “Shields!”

Almost as one, they raised their shields into a wall, protecting not only themselves but the archers behind as well. Getting close, now.

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.

 

Sinmora slashed down and a draugr collapsed into a pile of bones, only to begin reassembling itself almost immediately. Troa stomped on the pile of bones and moved into the hole it left even as he took out the legs of the one behind it. Then Finn stepped forward as Troa had before.

They fought, and as they fought they crept their way forward, keeping the two most vulnerable in the center of their circle. Even as they moved forward, though, the walking dead reassembled themselves in their wake.

A bony claw clutched at Einarr’s wrist. He kicked, the sole of his boot striking the skeletal form in what would have been its nose, had it still possessed one. It stumbled backward anyway, knocked off balance by the blow. “Hrug! Tell me you have something you can do!”

The mute sorcerer grunted.

“He’s trying,” Eydri hollered, her voice sounding less raspy now. “Runes also… resist.”

Shit. “Fine,” he growled. “That means its up to the rest of us. Forward! Defend the center.”

On they pressed, knocking aside or trampling the abominations of Hel on their way back to their defensible camp. Finally, panting, Einarr and Naudrek stood shoulder to shoulder in the doorway of their camp, holding back the pursuing soldiers of the dead. Troa and Finn took up a post in the other door while Odvir set about building up their fire.

At last Odvir sat back from the fire pit with a groan and the warm orange glow of a wood fire pressed against the darkness all around. Slowly, as the firelight shone on the backs of the defenders and slipped past them to illuminate the draugr, the enemy fell back into the night as quietly as they had appeared.

Minutes passed. Einarr and Naudrek scanned the darkness outside the chamber they had all mentally designated as ‘home’ for the duration of this quest, and the draugr did not reappear. Finally Einarr took a deep breath and turned back to the rest of his team.

Eydri was looking over Finn. Odvir sported a bandage around his wrist and several visible bruises. Hrug was looking through the tablet he had brought from the records room, his brow creased in concentration.

“What happened out there?” Einarr demanded.

Eydri shook her head. Einarr waited. Finally, she answered. “I don’t know. When I tried to Sing, it was like my throat was suddenly dry and sore. Water hasn’t helped – not that the water on this cursed island is any better than the bread in town was.”

Einarr frowned. “Dry throats happen. I’m not going to worry unless it happens again… but all the same, men, let’s not count on the Song Magic. What about Hrug?”

The question was still addressed to Eydri, who had seen, and Hrug didn’t even look up from his tablet. “That’s a little harder to explain. He traced a rune on the ground, and stared at it like he always does, but nothing happened. Then he pulled out one of his runestones, and the lines on it flickered like wet kindling and went out.”

Einarr blinked, wide-eyed, and turned a questioning look on Hrug, who nodded. “That is troubling. And neither of you have any idea what could cause such a thing?”

Hrug shook his head and turned his attention back to the tablet he was searching. He must have seen something important in there, earlier: Einarr wasn’t about to begrudge him his reading this night.

Eydri also shook her head and gave a deep sigh. “This being Hel’s domain by itself doesn’t explain it. I need to know more before I could do anything more than take a shot in the dark.”

Einarr nodded. “Fine. Double watches tonight, everyone. There’s no telling if they’ll try to take us again when we’re off our guard.” An idea occurred to him. “Eydri… as a test, try to sing us a lullaby.”

“A… you want me to try to put you all to sleep?”

“Sure. If it works, we can wake up the first watch ourselves. If it doesn’t we know.”

“As you wish.” Eydri closed her eyes and centered herself.

“You’re throat’s not dry right now, is it?”

“No.”

He waved her to go ahead, and her nostrils flared as she took a deep breath in. Then she opened her mouth to sing. The lovely, sweet notes of a lullaby drifted out across their camp, and for the space of a few heartbeats Einarr thought it would work. Then, as before, Eydri seemed to choke on the words and dissolved into a hacking cough. Einarr handed her his water skin as she rasped out “No good.”

He nodded. “Right. So, gents, it’s time to prove Kaldr wrong. We can’t depend on magic here, in spite of having three seithir along. It sounds like our runestones might work, if we’re lucky, but best to assume they won’t. Once we find Ragnar’s barrow I want you five to figure out what is going on here, and if it’s something I’ll need to deal with before we can leave.”

“Surely you’re not going to leave yourself unguarded in the barrow?”

“What sort of man needs help retrieving the sword for his own wedding? The draugr left us alone all day, and went away when we got the fire going. So long as I’m careful about my timing, I’ll be fine. I’m more worried about those two.” He pointed to Eydri and Hrug.

Hrug was staring at him intently, one finger tapping at a place on the tablet in his lap.

“What do you have for me, Hrug?”

The mute sorcerer stood up and crossed the room in two strides to thrust the page before Einarr. He looked down and sighed, then took the seat by the fire Hrug had just vacated. He would need it to be able to read the old birchbark.


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Table of Contents


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.