The five men hurried through the fortress town at Troa’s lead, keeping to small side streets and alleys as much as they could. Still, they could not avoid all combat, and they were not the only team that ran into trouble, based on the sound of things.

The clang of battle could be distantly heard in every direction save one – the coast – and at any given intersection it could jump out at them from any direction. I’m not sure what you’re waiting on, Kaldr, but I think they’re distracted.

They cut down another pair of men in leather jerkins carrying spears and hurried on their way. It seemed as though they might cut through everyone in the fortress in their race to the center.


Kaldr, Arring, and Thjofgrir encircled Eydri and Hrug as best they could. Kaldr had moved past cursing himself for underestimating their enemy and on to the serious work of keeping the sorcerers from being eaten by the pair of doubled cats toying with them.

Eydri sang, of course – that was her function, and in another circumstance her voice might have even been pleasant. Arring and Thjofgrir accepted her aid, and Kaldr could admit he was sorely tempted. Still, he was just as glad to be accustomed to shrugging it off. Someone other than Hrug needed a clear head, after all.

One of the two cats tried to pounce on him. Kaldr scrambled out of the way even as Arring, a feral snarl fixed on his face, launched himself at its paws. The cat and its double shrieked as the strong man buried his axe in its toe up to the haft. A smaller creature would have lost the toe, or even the paw, to a blow like that, but not this one.

Arring had, however, caught its full attention, and Kaldr was grateful. He stepped up between the cat and its double.

Maybe Arring didn’t quite have its full attention. One of the tentacles lashed out toward him – which was fine. Actually, it simplified things. Kaldr sidestepped again, pivoting on one foot and wrapping his arms around the tentacle, just below the wider paw at its tip.

The tentacle thrashed about in the air, and for a moment it was all Kaldr could do to hang on. He needed to get down to the cat’s back, but if he loosened his grip now he would just go flying – probably into a tree. For just a moment the tentacle stopped more or less upright, and Kaldr got a look at the city below: smoke rose from multiple locations. Their land raiders had encountered resistance earlier than they’d hoped… and substantial resistance, at that. He loosened his grip just enough to start sliding down the tentacle. “Hrug! Light it up!”

The cat thrashed its tentacle madly and Kaldr nearly lost his hold before he could stop his slide. This isn’t working. He pressed himself against the clammy flesh and risked letting go with one hand. So far, so good, although momentum was not his ally at the moment.

Somehow, Kaldr managed to get his free hand to the knife they all carried at their belts – usually used for eating. He suspected this one would need a good long time in a fire before he’d be willing to trust it with food again. When his hand closed on the hilt, he jerked it free of its sheath and plunged it into the tentacle. Greasy black blood welled up around the blade — the cat yowled and thrashed harder. Abruptly it brought its other tentacle into play, scraping the injured one along the bottom of the other tentacle. Trying to scrape Kaldr off.

That slowed the thrashing enough, however. Glancing down, Kaldr confirmed that he was dangling above its shoulders. He pulled his knife free and sheathed it, allowing the black blood to flow faster, and hung on for dear life with only his legs. Only for a moment, however. As soon as his sword was free of its scabbard, he let go.

Kaldr fell, sword-first, ten feet down to land on the creature’s back, between its shoulder blades. A third time it screamed as the longsword plunged deep into its vitals. It reeled, and Kaldr was now faced with the problem of staying on. The signal still hadn’t gone up: he risked a glance toward the others.

Arring still divided this one’s attention, although unless Kaldr missed his guess the strong man was wounded now. Thjofgrir was also fighting hard, trying to keep the other beast from getting past him and to the sorcerers. He, too, looked as though he had seen better days. The real trouble was, Thjofgrir by himself was not enough to keep the other cat away from Eydri and Hrug. It was damnably intelligent, too. It had noticed that they were defending the woman and the one-handed man, and had begun more or less ignoring Thjofgrir.

Hrug, bless the man, had become a sorcerer because it was the option least offensive to his pride. He remained a warrior at heart, even if his weapons now were symbols traced on the ground. The signal had not gone up because all his attention was focused on the barrier he had erected around the two of them – hastily, Kaldr expected, as they had been taken completely unawares by the beasts. That was why the signal had not yet gone up. Well. Let’s see if I can do something about that.

Kaldr wrenched his blade free of the cat’s back and plunged it deep once more at the same moment Arring buried his axe in its jaw.

It swayed again, and lifted its head as though to yowl to the heavens. Then all the strength seemed to go out of its mighty legs and it collapsed to the ground. It didn’t even twitch. I must have pierced its heart.

He was covered in the black blood, but for the moment that didn’t matter. He pulled his sword free and ran down the head toward the sorcerers. “Arring! Help Thjofgrir! I’ll cover them.”

The man’s answering growl was more animal than human. Once Eydri had sung them down out of the rage, he would have to have a talk with the man.

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.

 

Why, you may be asking yourself, would anyone bother making this from scratch when a box is just a buck? It’s a rice pilaf convenience food.

My first answer is to point you at the list of ingredients for their flavor packet. This also allows you the option to either brown the broken vermicelli before you add the rice or omit it entirely for gluten-free.

DH has a couple favorite meals from childhood that require chicken Rice-a-Roni, so this is what I came up with so that I can make them without the ingredients list making me blanch.

Homemade Chicken “Rice-a-Roni”

Serves: 2

  • 2/3 c long-grain white rice
  • ~1/4-1/3 c vermicelli noodles, broken into small pieces (usually ~1 inch)
  • 4/3 c chicken broth: I use Pacific brand bone broth
  • Onion powder, to taste
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Parsley flakes, to taste
  • 2 T butter or ghee, for sautéeing

Melt your butter or ghee (or other oil of choice) in your skillet of choice. Add the broken vermicelli noodles and sautée until they begin to turn golden, then add the rice and sautée briefly. Add chicken broth, onion powder, salt, pepper and parsley flakes and bring to a low boil. Cover your skillet and reduce heat: simmer 20-25 minutes, or until rice is done.

I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m sure you could use beef or vegetable broth instead. If you play with it, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear how it comes out.