Jorir sat on a large block in Brandir’s smithy, pressing his hands against his knees to keep from pacing. As he had feared, the situation now was far worse than when he had left.

That was fine. It would be fine: he had found the Cursebreaker. All he had to do now was convince the Thane to let him come. Now if only he hadn’t had to slip off like that…

Brandir hammered away on the axe head he was working on – had been since Jorir had landed more than two months ago. Two months since he’d landed. And still, Thane Soggvar had kept him cooling his heels here in Nilthiad. At least he’d been able to make contact with his friends.

The smiths of the Guild – the young ones, who had not been seduced by the fancies of old men and remained true to their Art – were still biding their time. After Jorir had been caught and cursed they had all formed an agreement. Only, he worried he had taken too long. Jorir grumbled. “He went so far as to summon me back. The least he could do is tell me why.”

“I’m shocked you came. He found you, he wanted you back. I highly doubt he actually wants anything else from you.”

“Bah. If he found me, he could find my human friends, and it was time I came back anyway.”

“So you’ve said. Not that you’d ever get permission to bring humans here.”

“Bah,” Jorir said again, hopping down off the block.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Out.” Perhaps he had grown too used to the human way of doing things, but he thought it reasonable to be restless at this point.

“Nothing is going to have changed with the others, either, you realize.”

“I know. I just need to stretch my legs a bit.”

The door shut with a thud behind Jorir. All he could hear from inside the smithy was the striking of Brandir’s hammer. He briefly considered paying a visit to another one of his fellows, but discarded the idea. It was probable that he would be followed, after all, and there wasn’t really any good to be done by a visit. They’d already discussed their plans into the ground. Instead, he went wandering out toward the outskirts of the city. To the temple district.

All around him, his fellow svartdvergr went about as though nothing were amiss. At least, not on the surface.

Oh, he heard the usual background chatter. People appeared to be living their lives, just as they always had. But nothing felt normal. The svartdvergr had always been rougher-edged than their paler counterparts, but that prickly spirit seemed to be gone now. In its place was a quiet stillness as black as the ocean’s depths. Jorir shuddered: just thinking about it made his skin crawl.

He turned at the next cross-street. He would head for the local brewhouse for a pint, or maybe two. It wouldn’t help, but it was at least something to do.


As Jorir settled down at a small table in the corner of the room, a carved bone stein between his hands, he thought it might be worse than unhelpful. Even here, somehow, the black alienation pricked and prodded at the back of his mind, as though there were something malevolent sitting in the shadows and watching.

Now you’re just being paranoid. He shook his head and took a sip of the ale in his cup, then nearly spat it back out. Warm piss? Suddenly wary again, he scanned the room slowly. As his glance traveled, the few other patrons in the brewhouse hastily averted their eyes from him. So that’s how it is. With a sigh, he lay down a coin on the table – more than that slop was worth, but he didn’t care. He knew those stares: he was being watched – but not by anything hidden. He was recognized, and he didn’t particularly feel like brawling.

Almost ostentatiously, he hooked his thumbs over his belt and sauntered toward the exit. He kept his eyes half-lidded so that he could watch from the corners of his eyes, but it didn’t seem like anyone else in the room cared enough to pick a fight, either.

Why did I come back? The more he thought about it, the more certain he was that Brandir was right. The Thane didn’t have any use for Jorir, Soggvar just wanted him under his thumb. Please don’t let Einarr have done anything stupid.

When he got back to Brandir’s, the door was open. Jorir heard the officious tone of a royal messenger through the open door. Instinctively, he put his back to the wall and stood out of sight, listening.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know where he went.” Brandir’s voice was carefully neutral.

“And yet, he is your responsibility. His Lordship the Thane would speak with the exile: if the exile cannot be found, I suppose that means you intend to explain yourself? Perhaps he will be merciful.” The messenger’s voice was sneering and nasal, and didn’t even attempt to veil the threat behind those words.

Jorir is a friend, not my prisoner.” Brandir bristled audibly.

Jorir chose that moment to reveal himself. “And it is quite true he did not know where I was going. I did not know it myself.”

The supercilious dvergr turned. He was shorter than Jorir, and showed an alarming lack of muscle, and yet he still managed to look down his nose at them both. “His Lordship, Thane Soggvar, and his Holiness Thalkham, High Priest of Malúnion, have decided to reward your patience, exile. Present yourself before your Thane at midday tomorrow.” His piece said, the dvergr turned and strode out, brushing past Jorir as though he were inanimate.

Jorir looked at Brandir.

Brandir looked back levelly. “You don’t actually intend to go, do you?”

“I’m not sure I have much choice.”

“You know he only intends to humiliate you.”

“I’ve put myself in service to a human, Brandir. For the century before that, I was a jotun’s thrall. I’m not sure what shame he could heap on me that I haven’t already inflicted on myself. …And it’s my only chance to ask leave to bring the Cursebreaker.”

Brandir sighed. “Have it your way. I’m still not convinced a Cursebreaker is going to do us any good. Our problem is foolish old men, not Black Arts.”

For the first time in what felt like a long time, Jorir smiled. “I think… you might find it more relevant than it first appears.”

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.

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Fighting a Kraken was a losing proposition, ordinarily, even in a longship with a full crew. Einarr didn’t want to think about what their chances were in the Villgås, with only the six of them. Five, really: Runa’s queasiness had not been helped by their abrupt maneuvers. That also meant, of course, that they could not count on her to bolster their stamina for the flight.

All of this ran through Einarr’s mind in the split second after the odor of rotting fish assaulted his nose. The last time he had encountered a kraken, Hrug had devised a clever ritual to destroy the beast’s corruption. This one, at least, seemed to be of the ordinary variety. If they could run quickly enough, they might be able to dodge its grasping tentacles.

“Kaldr! Trade me!”

Wordlessly, Kaldr scrambled back to the stern to take control of the rudder. He probably had the instincts to dodge the hungry beast, but the man’s true strength was in forethought. Einarr, though, had outlived all but one of the Cursebreakers he had ever heard of. More than once he had spotted a way through and taken it without realizing that’s what he was doing. If he was going to gamble on someone’s instincts, it would be his own.

Ahead of them, the sea still churned. Behind them, the whirling maelstrom still grabbed at the Villgås, threatening to turn them back and suck them into the maw of the beast.

“Vali! Up high. Tell me what you see.”

“Aye-aye!”

The water off their starboard bow bubbled as though something big were moving just beneath it. “Port twenty-five!”

The ship groaned as her course was abruptly changed, but there could be no faulting her alacrity. The blue-grey tentacle burst up out of the water as they were rowing past it and crashed back into the roiling water, sluicing their deck with foul-smelling water once more.

“Ease off, Kaldr.” They had a clear path forward now.

“No!” Vali’s shout rang across the water as his translucent figure zipped back towards the deck. “Turn about!”

Einarr lowered his brows. “You want me to go back towards the maelstrom’s heart?”

“Better than rowing straight into the maw of the beast. We’re dead-center over the body right now.”

That didn’t make any sense. “Then what’s causing the maelstrom?”

“Not the kraken!”

Einarr swore. “You heard him! Bring us around!”

Another tentacle burst out from under the water’s surface just ahead of the Villgås’s original path. It, too, crashed down into the water, and the waves of its fall rocked the boat precipitously.

“Runa!”

“Y-yes?” She sounded miserable – not that he was surprised under the circumstances.

“My bow, and some arrows. Unless you want to be squid food, I need them now, and you’re the only one who can get them.”

He heard a noise that could have been a groan and could have been agreement. It took far longer than he liked, as he called instructions back to Kaldr for their heading, but as they neared the narrow strait Vali said would be safe to sail through she stumbled up beside him. She held out his bow in one hand and the quiver in the other and offered a wan smile.

“Thank you,” he said even as he strung the bow. “Get back amidships. We’ll get through.”

She nodded and stumbled back the way she’d come, clutching her stomach. He sincerely hoped this would not last.

Then began the tense work of breaking free. Einarr stood at the prow, an arrow nocked, and called out directions to Kaldr on the steering oar and Naudrek and Thjofgrir on the oars. Vali provided him eyes in the sky, which was invaluable for getting them through the ever-changing narrow strait between the maw of the beast and the maw of the sea. Occasionally a tentacle would come too close to the Villgås. Einarr only shot if they were in imminent danger of being capsized, but those shots let the kraken know there was something there. The more he shot, the more often he had to shoot.

After what felt like an eternity, when he was down to a single arrow in his quiver, he saw calm waters ahead. A quick glance around confirmed it: one more push should get them past hunting kraken and maelstrom alike. “Lash her steady, Kaldr!” He called over his shoulder. “Lash her steady, and take an oar!”

Einarr dropped his arrow back in its quiver, tossed the bow over his shoulder, and rushed to the oar that would be opposite Kaldr’s. A moment later, he was joined by his Mate for the voyage.

“Hang on, Runa. Double-quick time, men! One last push will see us free!”
Einarr and Kaldr put their backs into it, rowing as hard as they could for the open waters ahead of this impossible strait.

A shadow dimmed the light of the sun: Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder.
The kraken had not given up yet. A tentacle rose high above them, and was about to come plunging down on their deck.

“Faster!”

He had not been certain it was actually possible, but somehow they managed to coax just a little more speed out of the Villgås. The tentacle crashed into the roiling water behind them, and the waves of its fall sent them airborn, just for a moment. They landed with a splash that doused all of them once more, washing away most of the fish smell from the deck, and the wind caught their sail once more. The Villgås sailed on.

Naudrek pulled his oar in and sat down with a thump, catching his breath. Thjofgrir also looked winded. Einarr went straight to where Runa leaned against the mast. Her color was already better, and he smiled at her. “Anyone care to venture a guess as to where that came from?”

Runa sat up. “I couldn’t say for certain, but I think that was a guardian. I think we’re getting close.”

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.

 

Author’s note: This marks the end of Book 11, if you hadn’t already guessed. Book 12 will pick up near the end of the honeymoon on 3/23/2021. (Fun fact: this is literally where the term ‘honeymoon’ comes from. The newlyweds were expected to drink mead all through their first month of marriage, as it was thought to increase fertility.)

Einarr stood impatiently behind his father as Stigander took possession of Runa’s dowry. Hroaldr already had the bride price – the Isinntog had been at Kjell since Einarr recovered it, held in surety against the day Einarr proved his merit. He tried not to bounce on his toes with impatience as first Hroaldr and then Stigander spoke at length before what appeared to be half the court and no small number of the Vidofnings.

When, at last, they sealed the bargain with a handshake, the two old friends also clapped each other on the shoulder with a grin. Hroaldr, it seemed, had relaxed considerably since the Usurper had been deposed. Einarr was just as glad: the idea of constantly being at odds with his father-in-law was unappealing, to say the least. Then he shook Hroaldr’s hand, and finally it was time for the procession to the altar.

The ceremony was to be held in the very same field where the Weavings had been destroyed last summer. Only now, in place of a bonfire, they had erected an altar. In the center of the table at the back was Thor’s hammer, cast in silver. On the front corner in the right was Freya’s chariot, worked in gold filigree, and in the left-hand corner the golden boar of Freyr. It seemed like everyone in Breidelstein must have come up the cliff, and that wasn’t even counting the guests who had come from Kjell.

They, however, were little more than a blurred mass in Einarr’s consciousness. He scanned up the aisle until his eyes reached the only person in attendance he actually cared about. There, standing next to the priest, was Runa.

His breath caught in his throat. She was wearing scarlet, with a gold tabard that matched exactly the gold of her hair and a belt of green and gold that hinted at her soft curves. Her hair hung loose down past her hips, and the bridal crown on her head was garlanded with red campion and holly. He blinked, and a slow smile spread over his face as he approached his bride. When he took her hands in his, she smiled back sweetly – almost shyly.

Then the priest began to speak. Einarr paid very little attention: he knew what he was supposed to say, and when, and at this moment he wanted little so much as to drink in the beauty before him. Hesitantly, he put up a hand to tuck her hair behind an ear, just for an excuse to touch it.

After they were all anointed with the blood of the triple sacrifice – Thor’s goat, Freya’s sow, and Freyr’s boar – and the carcasses had been carted off to be butchered and roasted, Einarr drew Ragnar’s sword from its sheath on his baldric and offered the hilt to Runa.

Her eyes moved up the blade from the hilt to the tip, seeking imperfection and finding none. Jorir had seen to its physical perfection, and he as a rune seithir and the Cursebreaker could feel no lingering malevolence. Almost reverently she accepted the sword.

Then it was her turn. The sword she had just accepted from Einarr was rested, momentarily, against the altar in exchange for the sword that probably would have been presented to her mother, once upon a time. He palmed the ring, waiting.

“In the exchange of blades, each of you has accepted that you hold power over one another,” the priest intoned. “But the power to wound cannot make or maintain a marriage. You need also the bonds of honor, of commitment, and of good regard. Hold forth your swords, both of you, and if you accept these bonds place your rings on the other’s blade.”

Smoothly, as though it were a motion she’d practiced a hundred times, Runa once again lifted the longsword before her, the flat of the blade level with the ground. Almost as one, they each reached forward with one hand to rest a ring on the other’s sword. Hers was a delicate band of intertwining gold and silver, set with flakes of ruby. Jorir really outdid himself. His was thicker gold, bearing the patina of age and engraved, inside, with the runes for ‘enduring.’

“Swear now upon the rings you have presented one another, that you will honor one another in all things, that you will strive for harmony, and that each of you will care for and protect the other for so long as you both shall live.”

His hand resting on the ring on the blade of the sword, Einarr looked straight into Runa’s eyes. “I swear it.”

“I swear it,” she echoed.

“Then, in the presence of witnesses and before the gods, I pronounce you man and wife. Don your rings and sheathe your swords and let the bride-running commence!”

Einarr could hear laughter in the priest’s voice as he slipped the ring on Runa’s finger. Ordinarily he would not be the one to announce that, but it seemed as though even the priest was looking forward to the feast. He smiled but otherwise took his time. “If it feels too loose, we can take it back to Jorir.”

“It’s lovely. …This was my grandfather’s ring, which he gave to Mother on his death-bed, and she gave to me for this very day.”

Einarr grunted his understanding. Tearing his gaze away from her face to sheathe her sword was almost physically painful: he made up for it by planting a kiss on her mouth afterwards, to the sound of much cheering from the crowd. Then, while she stood still surprised, he grinned out at the audience. “Loser’s party serves the ale!”

As he bolted down the aisle, he heard her indignant cry of “Wait!”

Einarr laughed and ran harder. It was tradition, after all: he had to beat her there, or who would carry her over the threshold?


Jorir sat on the edges of the feast, watching his lord – and new lady – at the head of the room with a wistful look. They, of course, only had eyes for each other, and after the first cups of mead Jorir couldn’t tell if they were drunk or besotted. Or both, he supposed.

After the hallingdanse, where Sivid once again handily outshone all competitors – although Einarr strutted about some for Runa’s amusement, he could hardly be called a competitor tonight – a red-faced Einarr and a rather giggly Runa fell into a whispered conversation. Very soon, she was also red-faced. Well: that was his cue. Jorir rose and whispered in the ears of the six witnesses – Naudrek, Hrug, Irding, Reki, Aema, and the priestess of Freya – that it was time. Eydri, he noticed, was sitting in the darkest corner of the hall, looking even more wistful than he felt. None of my business.

Runa left first, while he was still signaling the witnesses to the bridal chamber. Not that anyone really doubted, of course, but there were always formalities to fulfill. Once Einarr had left the hall, Jorir waited another handful of minutes and slipped out himself. His pack was ready and waiting, and down in the harbor was a ship that would take him the one place he least wished to go.

Home.


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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.

Dawn came far too quickly for Einarr’s liking. He almost wished he hadn’t bothered to sleep. And yet, he and Hrug had come up against a blank wall. There simply didn’t seem to be anything else to learn from the ruby. So far as either of them could tell, the only magic about it was the rune that glowed in its center, promising misfortune to whoever saw it.

He sat up with a groan and looked about their camp: Finn had sat up for the watch after the battle the night before. He looked haggard, but there was no reason he couldn’t sleep later that morning. Naudrek, on the other hand, had been sensible. When it was plain there would be no further attack by the accursed dead, he had curled up to catch what sleep he could. He, too, sat up from his blanket near the fire, looking somewhat more alert than Einarr felt.

“Morning,” Einarr yawned.

“Morning. Ready to face your great-grandfather?”

“Do I have a choice? Anyone know if draugr sleep during the day, or do they just lurk?”

No-one answered. Eydri and Hrug were still asleep. Troa, who seemed to know more about them than some of the others, shrugged.

“Right. So, we’d best get moving. Troa, I want you to stay here and help protect the seithir. Naudrek and I should be more than enough to get the door open, and I have to go in alone anyway.”

Today, at least, he didn’t argue. The attack last night must worry him, too. “Yes, sir.”

Einarr and Naudrek shared out some jerky and set out on the same path they had followed the morning before. When they arrived, all was as it had been when they left, save that the soil above the doorpost had been freshly churned. For a long moment, Einarr stared at the stone which sealed the entrance to Ragnar’s barrow. Finally he took a long breath.

“Ready?” Naudrek asked.

“Would I be this nervous if I wasn’t the Cursebreaker?”

“On this island? More, or you’d be a fool.”

Einarr gave his friend a wan smile. “Thanks. I’m as ready as I can be, I think.”

They crouched and put their shoulders to the massive marker stone. With a heave and a groan they pushed, and the entryway slowly inched open. Finally, when both men were winded and sweat dripped down their brows in the cool morning, the door stood open into darkness like a gaping maw.

“Good luck. I will watch out here.”

Einarr clapped his shoulder. “My thanks.”

He gave himself no further time to deliberate. Einarr pivoted on the balls of his feet and stepped across the threshold into the darkness of the barrow.

The difference was absolute. The – admittedly wan – morning light of Thorndjupr penetrated as though through a thick curtain. Einarr paused a moment, blinking, and slowly his eyes adjusted to the gloom.

To his right and his left, he saw what looked like piles of armor resting against the wall. Just past that were urns with staves sticking out like bristles – likely spear shafts, actually. Einarr took another step forward, and then another. The hall of treasure went on far further than Einarr had thought possible, based on the size of the mound.

Up ahead, something shifted. A metallic clinking, as of coins sliding across each other, followed the movement. Einarr froze and squinted, trying to make out forms deeper in the darkness.

“So, finally you come.” The voice was dry and raspy as sand.

“It took me a great deal of trouble to find you.”

“So what business does the get of my worthless son have in my home? Come to finish the job?”

“Raen Ragnarsson is a hero to our clan. Is, note: your son still lives, in spite of everything.”

A sound like rustling leaves carried through the darkness, and it took Einarr a moment to realize the creature was laughing. “Hero. Bah. That sounds just like him. Heroism doesn’t keep the coffers full.”

“And yet. Here I stand, your great-grandson, to claim your sword as a bridegift as the tradition requires. If I must fight you for it, I have prepared.”

The creature that had been Ragnar stood and walked forward. Its eyes seemed to shine in the darkness, far higher than the eyes of any man should be. The deeper darkness that was its body was massive, its broad shoulders half again as tall as Einarr, with thick-sinewed legs to match. “Have you, now, my boy? Have you really?”

The creature stopped just in front of Einarr. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but it seemed as though its flesh were actually black. Even still, Einarr met its gaze unflinchingly.

“Your bride would not thank you for the gift of that sword, get of Raen, nor would your own get when he grew to claim it. Mind you, I am not over-fond of the thing either after all these years.”

Einarr let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “If you tell me it is cursed, I will tell you I expected that as well.”

The creature laughed again. “And why, praytell, would you expect such a thing?”

“I have met the people of the town, and seen the state of your island, and read the records in your hold. I am still not entirely clear what happened to cause Raen to be driven off, but I know you were a faithless host.”

The creature snorted and turned around. “I did nothing out of the ordinary. But even if that were the case, what did you expect to do about such a curse?”

“For nearly three years now, I have been known as the Cursebreaker. Either I will cleanse the blade, or I will die.”


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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.

The serving boy – who, if Einarr guessed aright, couldn’t be more than 12, hugged his tray against himself and backed away from Einarr and his party.

“Now, now. We’re not angry about anything.” Although some would be about biting down on a rock, especially with as uninspired as the broth was.

“D-d-d- Da!” He shouted over his shoulder, in the direction of the kitchen. Einarr sighed. He hated dealing with insular islands. They always made things harder than they needed to be.

A little later, after Einarr, Eydri, and Naudrek had sipped silently at their thin soup for a while, a middle-aged man came blustering out behind the serving boy. He was broad-shouldered: in any other land, he would have been large. Here, the shoulders looked outsized on his too-thin chest. His greasy black hair was tied back in a ponytail, and anger roiled on his sallow brow like an uncertain thunderstorm.

“What is the meaning of this?” the man spluttered. “My boy has done nothing to cause offense.”

“Never said he had,” Einarr answered smoothly. “Although you might want to speak to your miller. I nearly broke a tooth on that bread.”

The man drew himself up straighter. “Made from the finest flour on island.”

Einarr quirked an eyebrow. “I’m sorry to hear that. But I stopped your boy to ask some questions: we just landed, you see, and we don’t know our way around.”

The man immediately slumped back down. “If you’ve just landed, then the only thing you need to know is when the tide will turn so you can leave. There’s nothing here for you.”

Einarr shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I have reason to believe my great-grandfather’s barrow is somewhere on this island. I am to be married soon, and since my father and my grandfather still live I require his sword.”

The man shook his head. “It’s not worth it. Probably already rusted away, anyhow.”

“You don’t even know who’s grave I’m looking for.”

“No, but you said it was your great-grandfather. That means his blade has been in the ground for at least fifty years. You’re better off having one forged.”

“I’m afraid there is no time after making this trip. Please. I am Einarr, son of Stigander, son of Raen, son of Ragnar. Do you know anything? Or know anyone who might?”

“Ragnar?” The anger was back on the man’s brow again, and he peered piercingly down his aquiline nose at the three strangers in his hall. Then he spat on the floor by Einarr’s foot. “Get out of here, the lot of you. The sons of Ragnar aren’t welcome here.”

“But…”

“Out!”

Surprised by the man’s fury, the three Heidrunings allowed themselves to be run out of the hall. Out in the street, Einarr turned to Eydri.

“Well that was unexpected. I don’t suppose you know of any Singers on the island?”

She shook her head. “Not that are part of the Matrons’ circle. There’s sure to be a wise woman or a priest or a monk somewhere around, though.”

Naudrek wasn’t much happier about that than Einarr. With a grumbling round of sighs, though, they set out across the town in search of whoever served as the town lore-keeper. Once or twice Einarr was compelled to identify himself, and each time he mentioned Ragnar the locals grew hostile.

“I’d really like to know what happened back then,” Eydri muttered.

“You and me both,” Einarr agreed.

“I think we might find out soon. There’s the signboard for the old herb-witch.”

“Oh, thank goodness.” Einarr and Eydri both strode past where Naudrek stood pointing, and he took up his place flanking the Singer.

Eydri knocked at the door frame, and an old woman’s voice invited them in.

Inside, the herb-witch’s hut was close but clean-smelling. An old woman, at least as old as Grandfather Raen, stood at a table pouring hot water into a tea pot. “Not very often strangers come here. How can this old woman help you?”

Einarr took a deep breath. “I seek the barrow of Ragnar.”

The old woman turned half-blind eyes their direction and raised an eyebrow. “And what would you want with that?”

“I am to wed soon, but I require my ancestor’s sword for the ceremony.”

The old woman hummed thoughtfully. “Everyone on this island knows the location of Ragnar’s hold. Not one of them will go within a mile of it. You are here, I presume, because no-one would tell you?”

“That is correct.”

“I am not so kind as the townsfolk. I will tell you where it is.”

“Th—”

“Don’t thank me, boy. This island has devoured warriors a thousand times stronger than you. If you value your lives, you will turn around and leave before nightfall. This island belongs to Hel.”

Eydri took a deep breath. “Grandmother… what happened here?”

“If you live to reach the hold, you will learn.”

“This man—” she gestured at Einarr. “Is the Cursebreaker.”

“Tcheh. Poor fool.”

“He was named Cursebreaker two years ago, and yet he still lives.”

“Eydri.” Einarr put a hand on her shoulder. He was well aware that he tempted fate with every journey. “That doesn’t help.”

The old woman looked at him shrewdly and nodded, but did not explain. “Do not attempt to take your whole crew. Those who remain behind will not be welcomed, but it will ensure you have the men to leave again. Ragnar’s hold is far north of here, deep within the forest. You will know you are close by the standing stones. Touch them not: they belong to Hel herself…”

Einarr swallowed and nodded, committing the old woman’s directions to memory. A small, cowardly corner of his mind wondered if it was too late to send a pigeon to Jorir, instructing him to forge a blade.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

A week after their encounter with the accursed ship of the demon cult, a small, dark island appeared on the horizon. According to all the charts, it had to be Thorndjupr.

The sense of gloom hanging over the island only grew more intense as they approached. It wasn’t just that the trees were black pine: it was almost as though the color had been leached from the world around that island. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, but it was grey and so was the water below. The surface of the island looked to be as smooth as a hilltop on the plains save for one tall pillar of a mountain in the very center. It was as though a giant had stood still on the seafloor long enough that an island had grown up over his helmet.

As the harbor town began to become clear on the shore, Einarr stood and looked at the island his grandfather had once called home. “Well,” he said, half to himself. “I guess this is it. At least we aren’t going to have to scale any cliffs – not immediately, anyway.”

He could tell the exact moment when the people in the harbor spotted their incoming ship: it was when the men moving around the docks put down their loads and jogged for shore to cluster in the shadows. Such was the hazard, sometimes, of traveling in a longship. As they drew closer, however, and the men ashore heard no battle chanting, and saw no helmeted heads, they emerged from the shadows to stare sullenly at the incoming ship.

A hollow pit formed in Einarr’s stomach as he stared back, getting a good look at the people that used to be his grandfather’s… or perhaps his great-grandfather’s. He saw no women about whatsoever, and very few children. These were all older, on the cusp of adolescence, and had none of the vigor of childhood about them. To a head, the people of the town were thin, sallow, and as beaten-down as the people of Breidelstein before their liberation.

Einarr drew his shoulders back as they drew in by the pier, even as he shared a wary look with Naudrek. The island was already as ill-favored as the name suggested, and they hadn’t even landed yet. Instead, as the Heidrun slowed to a stop by the pier, he stepped forward and called out to a passing dockworker. “Hail, sir! Is the harbormaster about?”

The man stopped and looked up at him from dark, hooded eyes. “Ain’t no Harbormaster. Ain’t no-one stoppin’ you, either. Come ashore if’n you must, but you’ll find neither treasure nor glory here.”

“My thanks. I seek no glory, nor treasure of the ordinary sort. I seek a sword of my fathers’.”

The dockworker snorted and went about his way.

“That… didn’t go badly,” Einarr muttered to Naudrek and Eydri, who flanked him.

“It didn’t go well, either,” Naudrek said.

“I mislike the looks of this place, Einarr,” Eydri answered, her voice low but urgent. “I know I wanted to come, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is no shame in having a new sword forged.”

“No shame, perhaps, but no time once we return either. No: we are here, and we will see this through. This… seems to be what it means to be a Cursebreaker.”

Eydri snorted, but said no more. At Naudrek’s order, Svarek hopped from the bulwark to the pier and caught the ropes to moor the Heidrun.

Einarr turned to address his crew. “Alright, everyone. We all know why we’re here. We need to find out where the barrow of Grandfather Raen’s father Ragnar is. I assume, although I don’t know, that they were once the lords of this island. Given the …quality of the people we’ve seen thus far, however, it might pay to be a little circumspect in your questions.”

A rumble of agreement moved across the crew of the Heidrun.

“We still need to act quickly, however. We only have a little more than a month before we need to be back in Breidelstein, and most of that time needs to be on the water. So, Hrug, pick two to help you guard the ship. Everyone else, into town. Let’s find out what’s going on.”

Before long, there were only four people aboard ship: Hrug and his two guards, and Einarr. Eydri and Naudrek waited on the pier.

“You brought your rune sticks, right, Hrug?”

When the mute sorcerer nodded, Einarr went on. “Good. Will you see what you can divine about this place? Something gives me the shivers, and I want to know what.”

Hrug nodded again, and Einarr started down the plank with a wave. “Thanks, Hrug. We’ll be back.”


The lack of women out and about in town disturbed Einarr on some level. They weren’t even out working in the yards of houses, or serving in the local public hall. He could not afford to leave Eydri on the ship however, even if he was willing to offend her by suggesting it. Thus, as they moved into the town to ask their questions, she was flanked by himself and Naudrek.

The men in the streets, however, were as uninterested in talking as the dockworker had been. Finally, the three companions made their way back into the public hall and put down some coin for a bit of supper and some information.

The food that came back to them was a thin seafood soup, more broth than anything, and hard dark bread. Gamely, Einarr dunked his bread in the broth and tried to take a bite: for his trouble, he bit down on a pebble that should never have made it out of the mill. He set the bread back on the edge of the wooden truncheon and looked at the boy who had served it. “Can I ask you some questions?”


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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.

For more than a fortnight they sailed on, following the charts as best they could as they weathered the ordinary spring storms. While there had been more than a few cold, wet nights, Einarr was just as glad that was all they had faced so far: an island that could drive Grandfather out, and that had earned the name of “Thorn Deep,” was sure to have something unpleasant waiting – especially given Einarr’s calling. Thus, he took the blustery weather as a blessing.

Right up until black storm clouds appeared out of a blue sky off to the north and began speeding toward Einarr and the Heidrun.

It was Troa who spotted the clouds first, and announced their presence with a dread-laced “Oh, Helvíti.”

Einarr looked up and understood immediately. “Cult ship approaching! Prepare for battle! Guards to the Singer.”

Captain or not, heir or not, Einarr was in far less danger than Eydri. Not everyone aboard had experienced combat with the svartalfr cult, but they should at least have heard about it by now. There was a jangle of maille as the warriors dressed for battle and an air of grim determination fell over the ship.

Please don’t let them have one of those horrors…

Einarr, too, pulled on his maille and helmet, then stepped up beside Naudrek as the guards formed around Eydri.

“Ready the fire arrows,” he ordered. “We want to avoid boarding as long as we can.”

“Yes, sir… Is it really one of those demon ships you talked about?”

“Probably. Need the arrows ready before we can see that, though.”

“Of course, sir.” Naudrek was a good man, but he was not as practiced a Mate as Jorir. No matter: Jorir was quite right about where he was most needed now.

Damn it, though, why did we have to run into one of these things on this trip? Einarr would have been perfectly happy avoiding them for the rest of his days. Unlikely, of course, considering he was a Cursebreaker.

The black storm cloud that heralded the approach of a demon ship bore down on the Heidrun as they readied themselves. Those who already wore their maille watched the horizon grimly, awaiting the first sight of one of the demon-headed black ships. The wind lashed at their faces. Raindrops had begun to sting Einarr’s skin by the time the shadow of the cult ship appeared in the storm.

“Brace yourselves, men! Not only are we fighting in a storm, even in death the enemy can kill you – or worse. This first volley of fire arrows is critical: you’ll have plenty of time to adjust your aim for the wind. Steady yourselves, now.”

There was a general shifting of feet on the deck, but no-one spoke. Visibility dropped precipitously as the two ships closed. The wind began to howl.

“Light volley!” Einarr shouted to be heard over the wind. “Ready!”

The archers drew back, the tips of their arrows bright spots of light against the black clouds above.

“Aim!”

As promised, he held them at this command for longer than usual, waiting for a steady moment or a break between gusts. At last, one came.

“Fire!” The arrows streaked through the air like shooting stars, all intent on destroying the evil that sailed this sea. One or two of them winked out under the onslaught of the storm carried in the belly of the demon ship, and one or two more missed their mark, but the rest scored their hit. One caught in the sail, which began to smolder darkly.

There would be no time for a second volley – not that Einarr had really expected one. The ships were too close now for anything but boarding – or perhaps a ram or Sea-Fire, if this were a dromon. Some detached corner of Einarr’s mind wondered if an alliance with the Empire would grant them access to that sea-fire of theirs. The rest of his mind was focused on the enemy ahead. “Prepare for boarding!”

Einarr stepped back to join the men who had circled about Eydri. The fanatics hated Song Magic and hunted Singers: that was how Father had lost Astrid. Einarr did not intend to let them have his friend. The rest of the crew scrambled: bows were tossed back toward the command circle, and the archers took up the boarding lines.

Eydri began to Sing, and almost immediately the red Fury began to pulse at the edges of Einarr’s vision. It was easy to ignore after the last year: Einarr hated how used to it he had grown.

The black-painted prow sliced through the water and turned sharply. Boarding lines flew from both decks.

No sooner had the lines drew taught than men from both ships were up, contesting for the right to board the other’s ship.

Einarr’s men were strong. Much stronger than they had been last summer when they stormed the cult’s island to rescue Runa: some few of the cultist helspawn made it across, but most were on the back foot. Einarr harrumphed even as he slid Sinmora from her sheath.

One of the cultists rushed the “command” circle protecting Eydri. Everyone’s weapons were out and ready, but Einarr stepped forward with a growl. This was not a man he faced: it was a mad dog, and he would see it put down. He stepped forward and raised Sinmora high over head, his shield firmly in place. On the second step, as the clamor of battle carried across the deck and over the water, he brought his blade around and separated the cultist’s head from his shoulders. Einarr stepped back quickly: the corrupting black blood dripped from Sinmora, and spatters darkened his glove, but had not touched him.

“No quarter!” He bellowed. A savage yell was the best answer he could have hoped for. Eydri sang louder.

Einarr strode across the deck to peer at the battle on the other ship and frowned. On the one hand, the demon ships must be destroyed with prejudice. On the other hand… “Fall back!” He ordered as he saw the cultists starting to cluster around the mast. “Naudrek – a torch!”

“Aye, Sir.”

The Heidrunings hurried back across the boarding lines, cutting the enemy lines as they went and unhooking (most of) their own. Einarr stood at the bulwark, torch in hand, and waited. When everyone was returned, he tossed the torch on the demon ship’s deck. “Full sail! Get us out of this squall, Naudrek.”

As the Heidrun sliced through the waves away from the demon ship, purifying flames began to lick up the boards of its bulwark, and a thick black smoke rose up to feed the cloud overhead.


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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.

A light like golden dawn shone from the grass behind Einarr, illuminating the faces before him. Those who were bound most loosely by the curse – Stigander, Kormund, most of their crews, Kaldr – watched in respectful silence, as they would a grave ship. Among the townsfolk, some looked pained. Others, nauseous. That was a result of the dissonance, and would pass in time.

Those who had fought under Ulfr had, in general, stronger reactions. Some vomited. Others dropped to their knees, clutching their heads. A bare handful had been bound so tightly their minds could not accept the dissonance and they fled into the forest. Einarr watched calmly, hiding his surprise that there were any of those here to witness the ritual.

Urdr had aged a century in a little over ten minutes. Einarr had called her a crone before, but the destruction of her work sapped her of vitality. Once again he stifled a pang of pity: for what she and her son had worked on Breidelstein, this was only a partial measure of justice. Arring stood behind her, holding her on her feet to witness the undoing of her schemes.

Eventually, those with homes in the city below began to drift towards the gate house and rest. Of the warriors who remained, those who were less affected aided those in greater distress towards rooms where they might rest. Arring, Erik, and Thjofgrir led Urdr to the dungeon, where she would await the convenience of the Thing.

The bonfire of tapestries continued in the center of the circle. Stigander’s eyes did not rest, searching over the faces that remained, plainly looking for someone, although Einarr could not guess who.

He was not needed here. Einarr drove the end of the distaff into the rune circle. For just a moment, the ivory inlay flashed with the same light as the working below. He was not entirely certain what that meant, but now that it was there he did not think he should move it – at least not until the working was finished.

The Örlögnir stood on its own. With a sigh and a mental shrug, Einarr left the bonfire of light to join the rest of his crewmates.


When dawn broke, Einarr rose from his sleeping couch not quite able to accept that it was his. The odd sense of displacement, though, he knew was temporary. More urgently, there was work to be done.

Einarr followed the smell of wood smoke to a cookfire outside the hall, where he found his father and an older man crouched near the fire, speaking in hushed tones. Einarr thought he recognized the man, but with the haze of long years he couldn’t be certain.

“His Lordship is resting in town, under the care of an herb-witch,” the old man was saying.

Stigander nodded in understanding. “I only saw him for a moment. He looked weak. How is he, really?”

The old man looked up and straight at Einarr, his eyes suddenly hooded. Stigander turned around and waved for him to join them.

“Uncle Gorgny, you remember Einarr, don’t you?”

Uncle Gorgny! So that’s why he looked familiar. Einarr smiled.

Gorgny looked poleaxed. He finally stammered out “The Cursebreaker is your very own son?”

“My very own.”

“It’s not that surprising that he wouldn’t recognize me, Father. Last time I saw Uncle Gorgny, I was just a small boy.”

Stigander turned his attention back to Raen’s closest advisor. “Well? How is my father?”

“…Weak, as you say, Lord. I have reason to believe much of the blood in those tapestries was his. But that was not the only way in which she tortured him. Now that she is gone, and he is free, I hope he will recover.”

Stigander set his mouth grimly. “I understand.”

“You are not surprised.” Gorgny watched Stigander for confirmation.

“I suspected. Last spring we paid a visit to an Oracle: she left me virtually certain.” He sighed, then shook his head. “We will need to visit him, sooner rather than later, and not just because he’s family.”

“Then…” Einarr couldn’t finish the thought.

“Trying to give your grandfather back his seat is likely to be impossible, based on everything I’ve heard.”

“Unfortunately true,” Gorgny agreed. “Even if Raen were as hale as you, the years under the usurper cost him a great deal of support, and even more honor.”

“That should be mitigated once the Jarls realize Ulfr didn’t actually have Grandfather’s support.” That his grandfather was still alive was nothing short of miraculous. Unfortunately, it also made what came next complicated.

“Not enough, I’m afraid,” Stigander rumbled. “But it’s moot anyway. Be thankfull, Einarr, that your sorcery in the harbor brought Kaldr to his senses. You are no more prepared to be a Thane than your uncle was. How long before the Thing can be assembled?”

Gorgny sighed. “At least a week. More likely two.”

“Good. I want careful count kept of who comes and who doesn’t. Clans have fractured over less than this.”

“Of course, my Prince.” Gorgny pressed his hands against his knees and rose, allowing himself the luxury of a groan. He, too, was getting on in years, but he had not been subjected to the witch’s tender ministrations. “There is much yet to do before the Jarls begin to arrive. If you will excuse me.”

“Of course. And, Uncle Gorgny, it’s good to see you again.”

The old retainer offered Stigander a tight smile. “It’s good you came back.”

Einarr furrowed his brow. Once Gorgny had crossed half the courtyard, he turned his attention back to his father. “What’s wrong with him?”

Stigander sighed. “You heard it too, then. I have never questioned his loyalty to your grandfather, not once. I suspect he just has some soul-searching to do. He may blame himself. He may be worried about Father. Maybe it’s all of the above.”

“You should start taking men’s oaths, Father. The sooner the better.”

“You’re not wrong. But that won’t help him.”


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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.

Beatrix nodded brusquely and thrust the bit of cloth she’d been using to dab at Runa’s face into her hands. “I expect you’re right. Lead on.”

Runa was only a little slower getting to her feet. She took a moment to dust off her skirts. Einarr was suddenly reminded of the little girl he’d seen out trying to wrangle goats and smiled.

“…What?”

“Nothing. Just glad you’re all right. Are we ready?”

The doors to the Hall stood open, and spilling out into the courtyard in front of them was a flurry of activity. Standing at the center of this, exactly where Einarr expected to find him, was Father, barking orders. Swirling around him like the inner edge of a storm’s eye were Bardr, Kormund, Hraerek, and …Kaldr?

Einarr glanced over his shoulder at the two women, suddenly glad none of the other Singers had arrived yet. Their attention seemed caught closer to the fringes of the crowd, which he took for a good thing under the circumstances. “Father! What news?”

Stigander looked up from the discussion he was holding with his Mate and waved the four of them over. “Einarr! Glad to see you made it. Everything went smoothly down below?”

“As well as I could have hoped. Hrug’s going to be out of it for a while, but I can’t rely on him for everything.”

Kaldr looked up from the message he had just finished dispatching to turn a questioning eye on Stigander. Behind Einarr, Beatrix and Runa stiffened as they could no longer ignore the man’s presence.

“This is my son, Kaldr. Einarr is the Cursebreaker.”

Kaldr pivoted on his heels, clapped a fist to his chest, and bowed to Einarr. Einarr blinked, unable to process what he was seeing at first.

“Father?”

“Your ritual allowed at least one man to slip free entirely of the Weavess’ work.”

“I see.”

“Are you certain it was the ritual?” Bea’s voice was tight.

Kaldr did not rise. “I assure you, my lady, my actions at that time were taken out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.”

Beatrix hummed, evidently skeptical.

“I believe, actually, that you’ve met all of these people, Kaldr,” Stigander went on smoothly. “It was Einarr’s ship you took for your platform right after you stole the Singers from our decks. Runa is the daughter of Jarl Hroaldr – who is also in our safekeeping now. Someday I will want to hear just how you managed that.”

Kaldr did not even shift his shoulders to show discomfort. “Of course, my lord.”

“The svartdverger is Einarr’s right-hand man – and among the truest of liege men. And this,” Stigander continued. “Is Beatrix Mari… bah. Beatrix. She is no Singer, but an Imperial princess who happened to decide our cause was just.”

For once the man looked surprised. “You have my apologies, my lady, for the error.”

“Lord Stigander!” One of the newer Vidofnings approached, who had signed since Einarr wintered with the elves, dodging through the whirling chaos of men that surrounded the captains. For the first time in a very long time, Einarr did not know everyone who was a part of his father’s crew.

“Yes, what is it?”

“The Weavess’ work room – it’s empty, sir. We can’t find her anywhere.”

Einarr could see his father swallowing a shout. Berating the messenger would do no-one any good. “Keep looking! Comb that tower top to bottom: she couldn’t have got far, not at her age.”

“My lord,” Kaldr demurred. “She almost never left the tower. She climbed the stairs between her workroom and the dungeon several times a day.”

Runa gasped, her fingers moving to cover her mouth.

Einarr turned to look at her. “What is it?”

“The secret door! Bea, you remember. She was turning the lock in the door when we came back down to steal the Victory weaving. You tried to break it down.”

Beatrix winced. “That door. You’re right, that has to be where she went.”

Einarr met Stigander’s gaze and saw his own thoughts writ there. “I’ll go, Father. You, too, Jorir?” When the dwarf nodded, he continued. “Great. Runa, you’ll lead the way?”

“Naturally.”

“In that case, we just need someone who can deal with the lock… Sivid should still be down in the harbor. Do we have anyone else who can pick a lock, or do we need Arring?”

Stigander nodded, then raised a hand to his mouth and called over his shoulder. “Troa!”


Runa raced back across the courtyard for the tower, followed closely by Einarr, Jorir, and Troa. Beatrix had wanted to come as well, but before Troa arrived she had been drawn into the exigencies of diplomacy with the soon-to-be-restored Thane. Perhaps that was not what she had in mind when she joined Einarr’s cause, but no matter how much she wanted to continue the assault, her place was now at the Hall with the leadership. Truth be told, Runa should have stayed as well: she would have almost as many letters to draft, come the evening.

Troa pelted along at Einarr’s side, very carefully looking straight ahead. Einarr’s fault, that: after the duel with the Althane’s shade, Einarr had never been entirely comfortable around him. Knowing the aversion was irrational did not help. There were more important matters to hand, though, so Einarr also kept his attention focused on Runa’s back, urging her faster. That they were chasing an old woman was no comfort: the Weavess had managed to build her own private escape route. Who knew what they might find waiting for them inside? And the longer they took to get there, the more time the crone had to prepare.

Faster, Runa. Faster.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

“You there! What goes on here?” Stigander leveled a finger at one of the better-equipped townsfolk who had joined their ranks.

He blinked and pointed at himself, a dumbfounded look on his face.

“Yes, you! Why have the townsfolk taken up arms against the Thane here?” He hated to phrase it that way, but the odds were good this man still thought of the Usurper that way.

Now the man nodded in understanding. “Thane Ulfr’s men claim you are rebels. Well, his men treat us as thralls, even though we are free men. If it means we are rid of them, rebels we will be.”

Stigander looked again at the man. He was malnourished, and unkempt as one would expect of a drunkard, but his blue eyes were clear and proud.

“I am Stigander, son of Raen, and while Ulfr calls me a rebel I am in fact the rightful Thane. I will remember your resolve.”

The townsman blanched a little as Stigander began shouldering his way back to the front of his crew’s line, but returned to the battle at hand. How many of these people even remember what happened all those years ago? He can’t be much older than Einarr… Stigander growled low in his throat: that line of thinking was a distraction he did not need right now.

Perhaps a hundred feet ahead the road began its steep, switchbacked ascent up the cliffs to Raenshold.

The wolflings had fallen back to the far side of the square and reset their shield wall yet again, in the familiar pattern. Yet again, he and his Vidofnings surged forward to batter it down. This time, though, it did not buckle like so much rotted timber.

Battle screams roared from either side of the square as wolfling warriors fell upon them from both sides at once. Stigander and his crewmen were boxed in. To stay in the square would be foolish, and if they somehow managed to batter through the forward line then they had to worry about wolflings nipping at their heels. That left only one option: turn their own tactic against them. “Fall back!”


Beatrix had been startled to see Einarr’s bride chasing after her into the thick of combat: the Singers, after all, had been meant to stay behind. But, the other girl at least knew enough about combat to keep herself out of danger, and her Song was useful enough.

Bea frowned, though: she could tell they were losing momentum, but not why. Certainly it shouldn’t be fatigue, not with the Singer working her Art. And they weren’t outnumbered, at least not once you counted the local reinforcements. They had to reach the cliff road, though: Lord Stigander had been clear. And yet, they were on the verge of being pushed back. Do I dare let us lean on our back foot?

It was not immediately clear she would have a choice. The wolflings were massing ahead, and her group had been the smallest of the three forces. She frowned. Their forward progress had almost stalled, but if they could make the next intersection she might be able to reroute. The difficulty would be not letting the line fall apart when they inevitably reached the narrow footpaths that were ever-present and never meant for more than one or two abreast.

The Song magic that had been sustaining her thus far cut off with a shriek, not so much of pain or fear as of rage. Bea’s head snapped around: there was Runa, the Cursebreaker’s bride, biting the hand of the wolfling who had tried to capture her. She seemed to have drawn blood, too. The girl stabbed backwards at her assailant with the knife all Singers wore, but Bea didn’t think it had yet drawn blood.

She cursed. Where had the wolfling even come from? This was why fighting through a city was so terrible: even when you thought your back was secure, someone could sneak around behind with a poisoned knife. Perhaps one of Beatrix’s sisters could have let her rival be taken like this, but Beatrix could not – a trait that had often hampered her in Imperial politics.

“Fall back!” If they gave a little ground, Bea could drop back without leaving a hole in the middle of their line. They would just have to find their way forward again from there.


Jorir stood, his axe and golden shield at the ready, just outside of Lord Einarr’s rune circle, staring toward the bulwark.

Someone was in the water. Several someones, he thought, and if this ship wasn’t their target he was a farmer.

Jorir glanced over his shoulder, and wished for the umpteenth time he could tell how close they were to finishing the ritual. Curse that witch and the helspawn she rode in on. I’m a dwarf – I’m supposed to be good with runes! At least he was sure it was doing something: the feeling of magic crackled in the air like lightning.

The gentle splashing in the water went silent, only to be followed by the sounds of boots climbing on wood. Jorir flexed his grip on his axe handle and glanced over at his fellow bodyguard.

Naudrek had set himself for battle nearly as quickly as Jorir had, and without needing Jorir to say anything. With a little luck, that meant the invaders still didn’t know they were discovered.

The first of the invaders appeared over the side of the bulwark, their hair streaming water, with scramasax clenched in their teeth as they climbed the Heidrun’s clinks.

Naudrek moved on cat’s feet over to where the wolfling was emerging from the water, his blade held low, and raised one foot. The sole of his boot impacted the first wolfling’s forehead and he lost his grip, tumbling into the water.

Jorir charged forward, much more noisily, and raised his shield over his head. The edge of the shield hit the second man’s teeth with a gong, followed by another splash.

Now men were coming up the other side, though, three and four at a time. Jorir shared a look with Naudrek before the other man raced back across the deck to fend off that group of attackers. Jorir looked back over his shoulder at Einarr, hoping for some clue that they were nearly done.

He still couldn’t tell. He raised his axe and stepped forward to block as many as he could.

Then the crackling magic at his back went still and the pressure vanished. For a heartbeat, everything was still.

In the next heartbeat, it was as though the world itself exploded. A wave of magic crashed over the deck of the Heidrun and rippled out over the water, towards the fighting in the town.


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