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.

 

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.

 

Einarr and Jorir stood, back to back, as the three remaining wolflings at the boatyard came warily forward. He would be a prime target, he knew, but whether his uncle would want him alive or dead was an open question. It seemed, though, that the two of them had some reputation already.

Some unspoken word seemed to pass among the wolflings: all at the same moment, they broke for the cover of the trees. Einarr turned to race after them, but then something else caught his eye.

Smoke. There was still at least one of the raiders around, trying again to set a blaze. Einarr growled. “Jorir! Stay on them. I’ll search out the rat.”

Jorir gave a grunt of acknowledgement even as he jogged off into the forest. With a shake of his head, Einarr took a deep sniff of the morning air. The smoke was coming, it seemed, from behind him.

The man would want to escape before the full light of dawn. Burning the ships was probably the main objective, but Einarr would be surprised if there hadn’t been a distraction elsewhere in town. That meant he needed to hurry if he wanted to catch the arsonist. He, too, set off at a jog, but he only made it a few paces before he froze in his tracks.

The smell had not been behind him – not quite. As he moved back toward the village, though, the boat house itself had come into view. Or, rather, the flames that engulfed its dry wood. Where the waterlogged ships had not wanted to catch at all, the outbuilding had apparently gone up all too easily. Einarr stooped to kneel, to trace the runes again, but as he did so a silhouette dashed across in front of the building. Found you.

With one last, regretful look at the boathouse, Einarr took off after the man responsible for the blaze. He could only hope that either Hrug or the town fire brigade would arrive on scene quickly enough to save the shop: he had to catch that man.

Einarr took off at a dead run straight from his crouch. The arsonist wove between trees and around buildings in a way that would have been bewildering in a less familiar setting, a burning brand still in hand, sweeping over every wooden thing he passed. The man was leading him towards the green – away from the river. He must have another mission in town. But, what?

No good could come of it, whatever it was. Straightening for a moment, Einarr slowed enough to shout at the top of his lungs “Fire! Fire at the boathouse!”

Einarr took off again, his legs pumping as fast as he dared in the dim morning twilight, as he ran after the red trail of the arsonist.

He raced out into the very middle of the village green – emptied, naturally, by the attacks elsewhere in town – and trailed the torch along the grass as he changed direction.

Oh no you don’t. The grass was too damp and too trampled to really catch. He cornered hard, trying to shorten the space between them. Where is he going now?

Einarr could see the man he chased now, not that it helped him much. Blond hair, braided. Maille, which suggested there would be a boat waiting on the water, rather than the raiders swimming up. Perhaps broader of shoulder than Einarr but certainly no taller. He looked, from the back, as average as a man could. That wouldn’t matter, though, if Einarr could simply catch up. He pumped his legs faster.

Now he knew what the man was headed for: the smokehouse and the drying shed.

There was no time to limber a bow, even if he had taken it with him. There were no stones he could see along the road – not large enough, anyway, to slow the arsonist. Once more, Einarr begged his legs for more speed. The people of Lundholm would not go hungry on their account.

Faster! Faster!

The arsonist stood just a few paces back from the smokehouse now. The man raised his arm by his head and threw the torch like a spear.

It flew true, somehow, and landed with a clatter on the lid of a súrr vat. It kindled almost immediately.

Einarr launched himself forward. His shoulder plowed into the back of the man’s knees, and both men went down.

Einarr rolled to the side, out from under the wolfling. The arsonist grunted in pain as he landed flat on his back a second time in less than a minute, but he was on his feet only moments after Einarr.

“What have you done?” Einarr demanded.

The wolfling grinned – a singularly unpleasant expression. “Merely exterminated a few pests.”

With a roar of rage that had nothing of red about it, Einarr lunged forward with Sinmora and cleaved his shield in half.

The arsonist was not smiling any longer. He danced back two paces and drew his axe. Behind them, the fire that had so quickly kindled the whey vat was licking at the pole of the shed and the wall of the smokehouse.

The wolfling actually howled before dashing forward, his axe held high overhead.

Einarr brought Sinmora around and dug the edge of her blade into the man’s wide-open side. For his trouble, the arsonist’s axe buried itself in his shoulder.

The flames behind the arsonist were audibly crackling. Einarr spared a glance over his opponent’s shoulder as the man spat blood. He needed to end this quickly if he wanted to save any of the food stores.

The wolfling twisted his axe sideways as he wrenched it out of Einarr’s shield arm. Two could play at that game, and the wound was sucking at Sinmora’s blade. With a flick of the wrist he turned the blade and drew her out of the man’s side.


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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.

Now that the ships had been brought fully onto land, their crews moved to sleep among the villagers. Some managed to find space on the floor in a man’s home, but most crowded onto the village green. Einarr thought, although he could not confirm, that the villagers were happier to have them there, as an added measure of security against the wolflings.

Well, they would do what they could, at least. Poor recompense to the villagers was the least of the reasons they did not want to allow the town to be raided and razed. A watch was set, two men from each ship at every change of the guards. When they all finally bedded down with full bellies and clear heads, the sky had been dark for hours already.

Einarr started awake to the sound of the watchmen’s cry in the darkness just before grey dawn. The rattle of maille from all around told of the others also rising as he belted Sinmora about his waist.He paused, straining his ears for any sign of where their assailants were.

The smell of smoke tickled his nose, from off in the direction of the fjord he thought. Had they gone for the boathouse? Einarr started off at a jog, following the smell of smoke.

He was halfway across the town when the hairs on the back of his neck started to prickle. Without thinking he threw himself forward into a roll. With a whizz, an arrow clipped his hair and embedded itself in a house rather than in his thigh. Sinmora slid from her sheath and he brought her to bear even as he rose to his feet.

Einarr stood stock still, studying the night and the shadows around him. There! A dark blur moved between two buildings. Einarr followed, venturing a glance around the corner before stepping out to keep on the trail of the archer who thought to ambush him.

Their path led closer and closer to the boathouse, and now Einarr was almost certain that was where the wolflings had attacked. The archer ducked between a pair of sheds along the road: had he noticed Einarr?

He pressed himself into the shadow of one of the sheds and tiptoed forward. He could hear the other man’s breathing, heavy and labored, as though he was frightened or hurt. Einarr flattened his lips into a thin line and lunged around the corner. “Stand down,” he growled.

The wolfling lunged forward with a desperate shout, and at the last moment Einarr caught a glint of light on the blade of the man’s scramasax. He batted the man’s blade aside with his own.

“Who are you?”

“I have no name to give to rebel scum!” The man’s words were brave, but his voice was more than tinged with desperation.

“Surrender, or die.” Einarr hated to kill a man so obviously out of his depth. Why he was even on a ship was a mystery, let alone a raid – but when one went raiding, one accepted the consequences.

The wolfling’s only answer was to try once more, with another mad cry, to stab Einarr in the belly, through the maille. With a sidestep and a single chop, the man fell to earth unconscious. Einarr allowed himself the luxury of a sigh.

Once more the smell of smoke impinged on his mind, stronger now. Much stronger. He set out at a run for the boathouse, scanning the sky as he went for the telltale reddening of fire.


The first hint of day touched the sky when Einarr arrived at the boathouse. Fires had been set beneath each of the three ships, but none of them had caught. That probably explained why men still tended each of the three blazes with an air of annoyance and desperation.

None of them seemed to have noticed him – yet. Einarr smirked and swiftly traced a pair of runes on the ground. When he poured his will into them, all three fires winked out at once. For a long moment, the wolflings sat blinking at the charred wood that now barely smoked sitting beneath the waterlogged wood of their ships. “Excuse me, sirs, but I don’t believe you belong here.”

As one, all six of them turned to stare blankly at Einarr. Then, one by one, they blinked, and realization began to spread over their faces.

“Hey, isn’t that…” started one.

“Don’t he look a bit like…” a second asked his companion.

A third, back near the Heidrun, jumped to his feet. “It’s Stigander’s whelp! We’ll be heroes if we bring him back!”

Einarr sighed, taking in his surroundings. Other than the boathouse and the three ships, both likely out of reach, he had very few options for cover. With a shrug and a grin, he raised Sinmora and his shield. “I’d like to see you try.”

All six charged him at once, but Einarr was ready.

One of them sprouted an arrow in the back of his thigh before he was halfway across the yard and fell.

A second fell sideways as the stocky figure of a dwarf barrelled into his knees.

With a grin and a shrug, Einarr charged forward as well. He suddenly had friends to watch his back, after all. When he reached the dwarf, he stood back-to-back with him. “Took you long enough.”

“These stubby legs don’t cover ground as fast as yours,” Jorir grumbled back.

Einarr chuckled and changed the subject. “Who’s the archer?”

“Captain Bollinn himself.”

The four wolflings still in the fight circled warily even as Einarr barked a laugh. “Just like old times.”

“These men go down rather easier.” Jorir actually sounded disappointed about that.

One of the four tried his luck, only to stumble when the pair in the center turned to let him run right past them. Before he could recover, Einarr struck with the flat of his blade to the back of the man’s neck. He crumpled.

“Three down, three to go.”


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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.

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

“Of course not.” Einarr paused. “Father. I’m glad that you recognize I’ve met your requirements, and look forward to formalizing the terms of our engagement upon my return.”

Jarl Hroaldr fell silent for a long moment, studying Einarr. It had been a gamble, but the way Einarr saw it he won either way. Either the Jarl corrected him, in which case he didn’t have to go fight the kraken. Or he didn’t, in which case all he had to do was make it back and their engagement could proceed.

The Jarl opened his mouth to speak, but the man from the Order cut him off.

“Excellent! I am glad to hear you have such faith in your future son-in-law, and look forward to working with him to eradicate this menace.”

Well, that was that. Einarr watched as the tendons in the Jarl’s neck shifted as he swallowed whatever it was he’d been about to say. He couldn’t take it back now.

Of course, neither could Einarr. But all that meant was he had to come back alive and uncorrupted. He gave Liupold a slightly wan smile. “I’ll do what I can. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go speak with my companions.”

As he rose and walked away from their circle, he felt someone watching him. Glancing surreptitiously over his shoulder, he saw the Jarl glaring daggers at him. Einarr rolled his other shoulder in half a shrug.

The four friends he had brought from Eskiborg reacted to the news with surprising equanimity – a sure sign, Einarr thought, that they did not truly understand what they would be facing. Still, what could he say but ‘thank you’?

“Eydri, will you work with Runa and see if the two of you can figure anything out about these creatures or the corruption or what have you? She’s quite a good scholar, despite being ‘only’ an apprentice.”

“I don’t mind. I’d like to make her acquaintance anyway, if I’m going to be working with you for any length of time.”

Einarr nodded and Eydri went to speak with Runa.

“Naudrek, Liupold seems like a personable fellow. See if you can’t get on his good side, would you?” He lowered his voice. “It struck me, just a bit ago, how this could be some sort of Imperial trick. Do what you can to make sure we’re not walking into a noose, would you?”

“Gladly. Valuable information, that.”

“Excellent. Hrug, I want you to help me figure out a way to trap the thing, like the Village used to imprison the Shroud, sort of. Are you up for that?”

The other man grunted and flashed half a smile. Good: it wouldn’t be easy, but at least it should be interesting, and a good use of the man’s newfound expertise.


Liupold was, of course, in a hurry to be on their way, but the Arkona and the Eikthyrnir both needed to be resupplied, and after Captain Kormund’s tale when they arrived at port the two ships needed to leave together, as well.

Kormund, for his part, readily agreed to take a message to Stigander at Breidhaugr. Considering that the last contact he’d had with the Vidofnings had been before he traveled the elven roads to study in the Shrouded Village, this took a considerable load off of Einarr’s shoulders.

“Thank you, and good luck.”

“I believe I should be saying that to you, don’t you think?” Kormund raised an eyebrow even as the two shook hands. “Stay sharp. There’s something about this whole situation that smells fishy to me.”

“I will, and me, too. Thank you for all your help so far.”

“My pleasure. I look forward to having an ale with you and your father in Raenshold.”

Then Kormund climbed aboard the Eikthyrnir and Einarr strode up the plank to the deck of the Arkona.

Einarr’s first impression of the dromon was of luxury and spaciousness. No-one’s bedroll sat on the deck: it looked like, no-one’s had to. He saw a ladder heading down to a lower deck. Is that why dromon were so much taller than longships?

Evidently so. Liupold, still chatting in a friendly manner, led the four of them down the ladder to a room that seemed somewhat smaller than the deck above. A door let out on the far end, and the room was lined with mats laid out on the floor and hammocks strung from the walls. “This is where most of the crew sleeps, in shifts. Out that door is the lower tier of oars, but we shouldn’t need to use them while you’re aboard.”

Einarr grunted. On the one hand, no-one would have to sleep out in the rain. On the other hand, even with no-one else in it the air in here was close and stifling.

“There’s also a galley on this deck, and a few small separate rooms. I have one, and I have prepared a second one for the lady Eydri. This is also the deck where the galley is.”

“I’m sorry,” Naudrek interrupted. “Galley?”

“The kitchen? Where food is prepared?”

Einarr wrinkled his nose: no wonder the steerage room felt so hot. He had gone from being impressed to being once more convinced of the longship’s superiority rather more rapidly than expected. “So the men sleeping off-duty are the first ones to burn if there’s a fire?”

“Not at all. There’s a fire wall of clay between the two rooms.”

Einarr nodded his understanding. If he’d tryed to say anything, he would have insulted his host’s ship, and that would have been poor form. Still, he was getting some ideas for how to fight off the black kraken that was supposedly waiting for them. The Arkona might even still be able to fight afterwards.

Einarr did not dislike Liupold. He seemed like an honorable fellow, for all that he was a Conehead. But the Konneul Empire was not above trickery, and the Order worked hand in hand with the Empire. It would be acceptable if the Arkona was not in fighting shape, so long as she could still sail.


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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.

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

The only way Einarr could have been more glad to see a shore, he thought, would be if it were Breidelstein, and their victory complete. As it was, Kjell had begun to feel almost like a home itself, and Einarr could not quite disguise his pleasure at seeing it again.

The only shadow on the whole affair came from the dromon sailing in their wake. Their captain had acceeded to the escort and the flag of surrender easily enough, which said to Einarr that the problem might actually be more serious than they had let on. So far as that went, he was torn. On the one hand, if one were to assign blame for the release of those horrors, it would fall to the crews of the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun. On the other hand, they were creatures which should not exist in the first place, and the fault of their existence could be laid squarely at the feet of the svartalfr cult.

Well. Soon they would be able to put the matter before Father, Bollinn, and Jarl Hroaldr. In the meantime, the Eikthyrnir sailed around to find a berth in town.

The harbormaster in Kjellvic was quite put out, in fact, by the presence of the dromon, even after Captain Kormund claimed it was his prize – over the objections of the Valkyrian captain, of course.

The Vidofnir was not docked in the harbor, although it was entirely possible Stigander had beached her in the inlet near the hall instead. He did get a glimpse, however, of the rams-head prow Father had commissioned for him last year.

It was with a spring in his step that Einarr led his new companions, as well as Captains Kormund and Liupold, down the road to Kjell Hall, where he expected to find Runa as well as the Vidofnings.

He was, unfortunately, disappointed. Runa was there, and while they were permitted to greet each other the Jarl kept her close to hand for the entirety of his visit. The Vidofnir, he learned, had set out on the equinox headed for Breidhaugr in hopes of finding some clue as to Einarr’s whereabouts. Still, however, Bollinn of the Skudbrun was expected back any day now. When Liupold of the Arkona requested consultation with them, the Jarl also sent for the retired Kragnir at Einarr’s suggestion.

On the third day after their arrival at the Hall, Bollinn arrived. All of the captains, Einarr, and the Jarl seated themselves near the fire pit to hear Liupold’s petition.

“One of the islands that the Arkona defends from attack,” he began, much more diplomatically than before. “Suddenly went silent. We went in to investigate. The village… the village was dead. Massacred. We wondered, at first, if one of the Clan ships had turned rogue…”

He never finished that thought, as everyone else in the circle shook their heads vehemently ‘no.’ Such behavior was unthinkable among the Clans.

“We learned soon enough not. We left the village and sent a squad’s worth of priests in to see to last rights and purification. Not long thereafter, a Valkyrie appeared before me.” His tale went on in that vein, and was either the truth or a remarkably well-practiced lie, for Einarr could detect no meaningful difference between what he had been told when they finally confronted their tail and now.

“Captain Liupold wished to convince my father and I to travel south and deal with the issue, under the theory that they would not be loose were it not for our rescue of Runa.” Einarr left it there: he could see the same answer he had given on Bollinn’s and Kragnir’s faces already. The Jarl schooled his expression somewhat more, however, and Einarr found he could not tell what he was thinking.

“Hopeless,” Bollinn began.

“Pointless,” Kragnir continued. “If you had any idea how many men we lost, fighting the cultists and those helbeasts in the first place, you wouldn’t ask. You want to blame someone, blame the cult. They might even have someone left you could hold responsible.”

Bollinn crossed his arms. “Bleed the villagers. Anyone with black blood has to die – they’re too far gone. As for the rest… I suppose it’s possible they could be saved, depending. You might be able to convince the Matrons on Breidhaugr to share the formula for their medicine, but my understanding is that it only delays the effects. Stigander has the distaff.”

Liupold’s brow creased. “The distaff?”

“The Matrons required Frigg’s distaff in order to fully cleanse us of the corruption. I was sent to retrieve it from the Tower of Ravens, where I encountered a Valkyrie. When I went to study with the alfs, I left it with Father. We will have need of it.”

Liupold nodded. “That fits with what Hrist said of you. I’d wondered how she knew the Clans had produced another Cursebreaker.”

“What did Hrist say of me?”

“Enough that I knew you on sight. But it’s really not important right now. What I need to know is, will you come?”

“We’ve already told you how to deal with this curse. You don’t need me, just the stones to do it.” Unless they would then turn around and use this as a pretext for war against the Clans. Einarr had to bite his tongue to keep from saying that aloud, and hope this ‘Hrist’ wasn’t spying on him right now.

Jarl Hroaldr smiled, and the expression sent shivers down Einarr’s spine. “They are right, I’m afraid. However… I believe an agreement may be reached. I will not be sending the Skudbrun with you. But I expect my future son-in-law may have some insights that will prove useful to you in dealing with the outbreak, especially since he’s fought this great black squid before. Surely you have no objection to that, do you, son?”

Well, it seemed like the Jarl was still against Einarr marrying Runa. His mouth felt suddenly dry. “Of course not.”


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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.

It was unlikely that the public hall in East Port had seen a celebration of this magnitude in the whole of its existence.

After the purification ritual, Stigander and Bollinn agreed that some sort of relaxation was in order. The Matrons, unexpectedly, agreed and, what’s more, declared that they would host the feast. Perhaps it was simple relief at no longer having the sword of the black-blooded monsters hanging over the island, but Einarr suspected their jubilance had more to do with the knowledge Runa had brought back.

After the toasts and the speeches had been made – or at least the first round of them – Einarr led Arkja and four of his men over to where Stigander sat conversing with Tyr and Bollinn.

“Father.”

“Son. You did good work out there.”

Einarr shrugged. He’d accomplished his task, sure, but if it weren’t for him they’d have been back a lot sooner, too. “Father, in exchange for their help getting off the island, I told these men I might be able to get them a berth on the Vidofnir.”

Stigander turned fully to face the group. Arkja stood flanked by Hàkon, Saergar, Rig and Oskar. From the corner of his eye he caught sight of Vali leaning ostentatiously against the wall.

“We’re mighty low on crew, certainly. Been a rough season. Any of you men gone raiding before?”

Two of the five stepped forward – Arkja, and Saergar.

“For farmers, the others came by their sea legs easily,” Einarr put in.

Stigander harrumphed. “And they know what sort of a boat this is?”

“They’ve heard the Lay, Father, and some of what’s happened this past year.”

Stigander hummed now, studying the five for a long moment. “Gods know we need men. Come to the docks in the morning. I’ll put you to the test.”

Hàkon, Oskar and Rig tugged at their forelocks and said they would. Saergar, answered as a true sailor: “Aye, sir.”

That left Arkja, who stood clenching and unclenching his fist as though locked in indecision. “My lords, there is one other thing.”

Stigander and Einarr both raised an eyebrow at this.

“It’s been on my mind since the cave on the island, y’see…” He turned to face Einarr square. “I would swear to you, lord, if you’ll have me.”

Einarr blinked, more than a little taken aback. His father looked as though he was torn between amusement and taking offense.

Movement in the periphery caught Einarr’s attention: Vali had started upright from his position against the wall and was shaking his head. There is a certain strain of cowardice, he had said, that is reckless as regards himself, but craven where others are concerned.

Einarr smiled warmly at Arkja. “It’s a bit awkward, having men sworn to me when I’m still serving on my father’s ship. I know, there’s Jorir, but that was a special circumstance.”

“We do, however, have a second ship under commission,” Stigander rumbled. “I expect it to be ready for next season.”

“My thought exactly, Father. So, to avoid any more confusion, why don’t we wait until we’ve claimed my ship?” That would give them the rest of the season to prove the man, at least.

Arkja stiffened momentarily, but then his shoulders relaxed again. “Of course, my lords. That does, indeed, make good sense.”

He lowered his head to them and wandered off, not looking entirely mollified, Einarr shrugged and turned his attention back to Stigander and the others.

“Well played,” his father murmured. “You have questions regarding that one’s character?”

“A few. Something Vali said before we sailed stuck with me.”

“But he’ll not be an issue for me?”

“I don’t think so. He’s eager to prove himself.”

Stigander hummed. Arkja would probably be watched, aboard, but Einarr thought he would have no trouble getting there. “At any rate. We three were just discussion this Vali you brought back…”

“Yes, what about him?”

“Is he really…?”

“A ghost? So far as I can tell, yes.”

“Then how…?”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea. He’s bound, somehow, to that Imperial jar that’s been following me around since the incident with the Althane.”

“But a jar can’t move!”

“So you’d think. You have no idea, though, how many times I threw that one away, only to have it reappear in the most improbable places. Saved Runa, though, this last time.” Einarr motioned for Vali to join them. As the ghost appeared to saunter over from his place against the wall, Einarr continued. “Apparently I triggered something when I picked the jar up in the ship-barrow, so until I either die or otherwise break that connection Vali and I are stuck together. At least, that’s how Runa explained it.”

No sooner had Vali crossed the distance to join them, curiosity writ large on his earnest face, than Tyr and Bollinn engaged him directly. Perhaps because they saw the other figures coming up behind Stigander.

“Runa tells us,” came a wizened old woman’s voice. “That you wish to learn the runes.”

Stigander gave his son a sharp look.

Einarr scratched at the back of his head sheepishly. “Ah, yes, you see… Father, I think I need to. Just in order to survive. If Runa hadn’t insisted on coming along, I don’t think we’d have made it.”

Stigander harrumphed and crossed his arms.

“The boy is right,” croaked the Matron. “And he is wise to seek aid.” She paused here, long enough for Stigander to start to relax and Einarr to straighten.

“And yet,” she went on. “One of our prentice Singers is hardly an appropriate teacher. Oh, I’ve no doubt the girl has tried -” she held up a hand to shush Einarr before he could interrupt. “But even her knowledge is yet shallow. Come with us on the morrow, and we will discover a more suitable teacher for you.”

“Thank you, Lady. So long as my father does not object, I shall take you up on your offer.”

Stigander waved a dismissive hand. “Fine.”


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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.

 

There was no statue of Trabbi, the loyal retainer, or of the former Captain Kragnir – but there was one of Bollinn who replaced him, which would fill the same role. On he went, connecting a figure of Bardr pouring over sea charts to Stigander, and on back through the crew and the Kjellings. Something strange happened when he found himself face to face with a simulacrum of the apothecary from Kem. Ordinarily he would have paired him with Erik, given the events on the island, but Sivid had not been there at all, and the only image of Erik had them together.

His next best guess was, as with Jorir, to connect the man to himself. He thought he knew where he would have to stand for that, as there was no simulacrum of himself to be found on the floor.

Einarr dripped with sweat by the time he slid the statue of Jorir into place. That was the last one, though, and as he expected there was still an empty depression on the floor, with connections running to several other figures. With a deep breath, he stepped down into the last remaining depression.

At first, nothing happened. Then, when he was running over who might be improperly tied, lightning lanced through his brain. A scream of pain tore out of his throat at the sudden onslaught. Einarr dropped to his knees.

When he recovered his feet, Einarr stumbled over to the stand where the verse of his clue had been.

The bit of doggerel was no more – or at least the page had been turned. In its place, he saw these words writ large:

Fool! Lack you wisdom as well?
Mortal ties such as these are easily severed
Think ye deeper.

A sound like thunder cracked. Einarr, his head still aching, winced. When he looked back up, he realized he was no longer alone in the room.

Standing between the images of the Jarl and his father, the tip of her sword planted between her feet, was a woman beside whom even Runa would appear plain. Long auburn hair hung in a braid past the bottom of her gleaming breastplate, and on her head was a golden-winged helmet so finely worked the feathers looked real. Even in her floor-length skirt there could be no doubt she was dangerous: the giant white eagle wings on her back alone would have dispelled that notion.

Einarr’s mouth went dry even as his palms grew clammy. “A V-v-v-valkyrie?” he asked under his breath as he dropped to his knees. He knew sneaking in here for the Örlögnir was always going to be riskier than going after the Isinntog, but somehow he had still not expected this.

“Do not fool yourself, young warrior. That you have come this far is because you were allowed to, but even when the cause is just my Lord’s forbearance is finite.” The Valkyrie’s voice was a deep alto, but sharp and clear like good steel.

“Of course, great lady.”

“You may have a second chance.”

Einarr lifted his head and opened his mouth to thank her, but the valkyrie was not done yet.

“If you can survive five exchanges in battle with me.”

Einarr felt his face grow pale. Survive five rounds against a real, honest-to-goodness Valkyrie? He swallowed once more, trying to find his voice. “And should I refuse, or fail?”

“Your soul is mine.”

“To become Einherjar?”

She smiled a wolf’s smile. “To be cast down to Hel. You will die as a thief, should you die here.”

He swallowed again. I don’t have to land a hit. I just have to not get hit. No problem. He did not find this particularly reassuring. What he said, though, was “It seems I have no choice.”

The Valkyrie nodded. “Make ready, then.”

With the scrape of steel on steel, the comforting weight of Sinmora was in Einarr’s hand. He raised his shield and stood at defense, studying his opponent.

She, too, took a battle stance, raising her long, double-edged sword until it was vertical. She bore no shield: Einarr had no doubt that should someone get past her native skill those pauldrons and bracers would blunt any blow.

He could not see her feet under the long, heavy skirt. That would make this more difficult, but still not impossible. Not by itself, anyway. Pressing his mouth into a line, he met her gaze and nodded.

The Valkyrie moved almost impossibly fast. In the space between two breaths she had crossed the distance between them, her shoulders turned into the blow she intended to bring down on Einarr’s head. Before sight could become thought he had brought up his shield, and her sword struck the boss like a bell.

He danced back, his hand tingling from the force of the blow even as the ringing continued in his ears. His own blow had swung for her side and somehow been turned away by the very air.

She offered him a nod. “You have decent reflexes, but it will not be enough to save you.”

“I rather hope you are wrong, there. You’re quite quick.”

“That’s not all I am.”

She rushed in again, this time bringing her sword up in an underhand swipe toward Einarr’s legs. He slid to the side, away from the blow, even as he brought Sinmora down and once more steel rang against steel.

“That’s two.”

“You have not yet attacked me seriously.”

“Nor have you. You let me see both of those attacks coming.”

She flashed her lupine grin again and chuckled. “Perhaps. I rather wanted you to feel you were doing well. I hate for people to die unfulfilled.”

The Valkyrie unfurled her wings, and the tips brushed the heads of two statues ten feet apart. With a blast of wind she rose up into the air and lowered her sword at him. “Let’s take this more seriously, then, shall we?”


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! 

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 Smashwords, 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 public hall where Einarr found the Vidofnings and Brunnings was surprisingly large for a town no bigger than East Port. If Einarr had to take a guess, most of their custom came from ships such as their own, here to call on the Conclave.

A cheer went up as the door swung open under Reki’s hand. Inside the hall was as warm and cheery as one might expect at the end of a good season of raiding. With a grin, Einarr moved to join his crewmates with a drink while Reki went to report to Stigander. All eight of their party were able to breathe a sigh of relief when they saw that there had, in fact, been no transformations as of yet – only the complaints they had grown used to of nausea and headaches as though their crews had both contracted a lingering flu.

Even Reki’s news did not dampen their enthusiasm: if anything, the fact that they had found their “cure” before the corruption had claimed anyone was another victory over the madmen of the cult. Then it was Einarr’s turn.

“I’ve been given another impossible quest, I’m afraid, Father.”

“Feh. Do skalds give any other kind?”

“Not likely.”

“Well, what is it now?”

“I’m to travel to the Tower of Ravens and steal Frigg’s distaff out from under the noses of Huginn and Muninn.”

Stigander looked just as confused as Einarr had. “What in the depths of all the seas do you need that for?”

“Untangling fate, they say, and ridding us of the cult’s corruption for good.”

His father shook his head and wiped his hand down his moustaches, his expression changing from amusement to consternation and back again. “Well, if there’s anyone in this lot who can manage it, I’d lay my odds on you.”

Sivid could do it, if it weren’t for his accursed luck. “Thank you, Father. The Matrons said the tower required a smaller boat to reach: I’m to pay a call on a fisherman in the morning regarding the use of a boat. I’d like to take some of the crew along.”

“Long as they’re up for it, same as before. …This distaff, you said it untangles fate?”

Einarr nodded, and his father harrumphed. There was no need to say it: such a thing could easily break the Weaver’s curse on their homeland. He turned back to the hall full of his fellow Vidofnings.

“All right, everyone! Just like this spring, I need a few of you to venture out in a little fishing boat with me. This time we’re braving the wrath of a god!”

His pronouncement was followed by a peal of laughter, even by those who had heard the Matrons’ pronouncement at the Conclave.

Jorir, to no-one’s surprise, was the first to step forward. “Come hel or high water, I’m with ye.”

Einarr inclined his head at his man-at-arms. “Thank you, Jorir. Who else?”

The next man to step forward was gangly Irding, neither as tall nor as muscle-bound as his father but with the same brown hair and reckless grin. “Sounds like fun. I’ll give it a go.”

Erik’s head snapped around to look at his son. “You sure about that? We got into a heap o’ trouble going after the Isinntog.”

“I know. That’s why it sounds like fun.” Irding grinned at his father, and Erik laughed loudly.

“Who’m I kidding? Of course it does. Count me in, too.”

Einarr’s mouth curled in a half-smile. Irding looked a little less happy at the prospect now that Erik was also along, but it would be good for them. “Great. Anyone else? I expect we’ll have to work our way past traps, and if anyone knows how to read runes it would be a help.”

“I already told you, I’m coming,” Runa said, standing at the table.

“No, you’re not. There’s no telling what sort of violence we might come across.”

“You’re invading the tower of Huginn and Muninn. You need someone familiar with magic, who can read runes. I’m coming.”

Aema, the Brunning’s battle-chanter, stepped forward. “You’re hardly the only one here with those qualifications.”

“No, but I’m the only one here with those qualifications who isn’t needed here. You and Reki both have crews to tend, full of men doused with corrupted blood, and I do not. I may be a Jarl’s daughter, but that doesn’t make me useless.”

“Maybe not,” Trabbi rumbled, “but if anything should happen to you your Father will have my head. He may even if you go along and nothing happens.”

Runa met her erstwhile suitor’s eyes. “On my word of honor, I will not allow that to happen.”

Trabbi scowled back. “You have no more place on that boat than I do, my Lady.”

“That is where you’re wrong.” She turned her attention back to Einarr, and he felt the old familiar thrill. “What was it that the alfr gave you in the wood?”

“Some bauble he thought would help us through the tower, though at the moment I can’t see how.” That had been the way of Runa’s gifts, too, given as they left to seek the Jotünhall.

“Give it here.”

Einarr shrugged and removed the bird-shaped brooch from the pouch at his belt. “Doesn’t the use typically become plain when you need it?”

All three Singers rolled their eyes at him even as Runa took hold of the brooch and blanched.

Einarr couldn’t help the question. “What is it?”

“Let us hope the use becomes plain, because while I can read the runes, they look like so much nonsense.”

Reki threaded her way through the room to take a closer look. She raised pale eyebrows and let loose a low whistle. “Well, at the very least your elf-gift should actually be of use. How did he get this, though?”

“See, Runa? I’m sure we’ll be able to muddle through-”

“So long as you have someone who can read the runes. You need me, and one way or another I’m coming.” Runa’s jaw was set. Einarr turned to Bollinn.

The new Captain of the Skudbrun sighed. “I don’t think there’s any stopping her at this point. Over my own better judgement, I’ll allow it.”

Runa smiled in triumph. Einarr hoped she wouldn’t regret her insistence.


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