“Nothing?” Eydri repeated, aghast.

“Nothing,” Einarr answered. “That gem isn’t magical, and these people aren’t cursed. Now, Hrug, I don’t think the purification circle will need to be very complex. A simple fire rune started the process.”

Hrug nodded. Even with the issues they had with magic here on the island, they should be able to manage that much this evening.

“First thing in the morning we head back to town and the Heidrun. I’d rather not spend another night in harbor, but I expect we’ll have to, and then we can wash the dust of this island from our boots.”

Odvir gave him a quizzical look. “If the island’s not cursed, and you’ve dealt with the draugr, then why—?”

“I’ve dealt with the only draugr I had business with: Ragnar’s, and those who’ve attacked us. This is still Hel’s domain, and likely will be for some time to come.” He handed his empty bowl over to Finn for another scoop of soup, which he drank swiftly. “Come on. There are still things to be done tonight, and we need an early start in the morning.”


When Einarr and Naudrek were awakened for the last watch, it was to the knowledge that the draugr had, once again, mostly ignored their home camp. They had not been out after dark – if barely – they had not taken out the Fehugim, and the most powerful of the creatures was slain. Einarr took this as a good sign even as he wished for more sleep.

As dawn was breaking, Einarr stirred some crumbled bread into the remains of last night’s soup. It wasn’t much, but it should take them to the Heidrun at least, where they could have a proper dinner. Once they had eaten, Einarr took the newly-purified sword of Ragnar — looking much less ominous, now that the corruption had been burned out of the steel — in hand and they set off across the forest for the town of Thorndjupr.

The scouts proved their worth once more as they hiked the return journey to the town of unlife: their blazes were still visible, marking the path they had taken inland in the first place. While this did not speed their journey as much as one might expect, it did mean it was once again noon when the ghastly standing stones hove into view.

Someone was waiting for them there. Or, rather, several someones: Einarr took the lead as they approached, motioning for his companions to get behind him.

Up ahead, in the circle of standing stones, despite the fact that it was the middle of the day, stood seven fleshy draugr – none of whom, thankfully, was half so large as Ragnar. Not that that would save Einarr’s crew, if it came to blows.

“What do you want,” he demanded without preamble.

One of their number, a wasted-looking figure, his skin black as death and clinging to his bones, with stringy white hair falling to his shoulders under a dark iron helm, twitched his head to the side. A rasping voice came from the direction of the draugr, although none of them appeared to speak. “You have the Fehugim,” it rasped.

“What of it?”

The voice was decidedly feminine. The heads of several of the draugr twitched this time. “It is mine. You will leave it here, in this circle, or you will die.”

Einarr frowned. He had intended to leave it with the old herb-witch when he spoke with her, but he hardly suspected the owner of the voice to appreciate that argument. “We will leave the Fehugim with the elders of the town. Will that suffice?”

The voice hissed at him, like some horrific serpent, and repeated “It is mine.”

“It is Wotan’s, is it not? Stolen from him generations ago and lost in the ruins of this island. I mean to see it returned to its rightful place.”

The forest seemed to echo with dry, raspy laughter. “Stolen? Do you truly believe old One-Eye to be so foolish as to allow a mortal to rob him?” The laughter pealed again, and a shiver ran down Einarr’s spine. “That gem is mine, and marks this island as mine. If you do not wish to also be mine, you will leave the gem and be off.”

Still, Einarr hesitated.

“You and your crew would make for fine specimens within my army…”

Einarr exhaled loudly, reminding himself he had no obligation to help these people. Indeed, by the laws of the Thing, he was forbidden to do so. He turned to Hrug. “The gem.”

“You don’t seriously intend to—” Eydri spluttered.

“Yes, I do, Eydri. In fact, I have no choice.” He met her eyes and continued, more quietly. “I’ll explain later.”

She quieted, but that was an angry look he had only ever seen before on Runa’s face. Hrug handed him the rune-worked box. Einarr opened the lid: inside rested the brilliant red Fehugim with it’s light-inscribed rune within.

“Here it is. I’m going to step forward now to leave the gem where you want it.”

“A wise decision.”

“Have your puppets move back.”

She chuckled, the sound very like Ragnar’s. “So untrusting. Very well, young Cursebreaker.”

As one, the draugr walked backwards to the far edge of the stone circle and waited as Einarr moved cautiously forward. When he was just outside the stone circle, he placed the box on the ground and slid it forward. “I have done as you demanded. Now we will continue on our journey.”

“Will you, now? I wonder. What if I’ve decided I want you for my army after all?”

“That was not the agreement. Or would you be named Oathbreaker?”

Silence stretched out long in the forest. Einarr and his companions made a defensive circle around Eydri and Hrug. If Hel decided she would take them, she could certainly try, but they would make her pay for the privilege.

A sound like the snapping of a tree trunk rang through the forest.The draugr that stood guard within the stone circle clattered to the ground, once more the scattered remains they had seen on their way interior.


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

Einarr could hear the sound of the draugr wriggling, trying to work Sinmora loose, over the crackle of flames that burned slowly, like wet logs.

It smelled an awful lot like wet, rotting wood in here, too, now that his focus was slightly removed from the abomination that wanted nothing so much as to devour him. Ragnar’s sword. It has to be close.

The number of weapons in the barrow was significant. It seemed like everywhere Einarr turned he saw spears – in some cases, just spearheads – axes, bows and arrowheads. Nowhere did he see a sword. He moved further in, taking advantage of the light to find the actual bier on which Ragnar had been lain. It would be there, if it was anywhere.

Now he heard the characteristic dry, rustling laugh of the creature. It must be nearly free by now. Then a truly horrific thought occurred to Einarr: if it got free, it would have Sinmora. Where is it… ah!

The light of the fire burning on the draugr glinted off a piece of well-polished metal, straight and beveled. He lunghed forward and found himself standing before a half-rotted wooden bier. That was not usual, but perhaps under the circumstances of Raen’s flight the best he could manage. There, resting across the top of the bier, was the blade of a sword remarkably untouched by time. Einarr grabbed its hilt.

He froze. A wave of nausea passed through him as his hand closed on the grip of the sword, very similar to the corruption he had felt from the black-blooded beasts of the Svartalfr cultists.

“Hello. Of course you’re cursed. Not sure why I expected anything different,” Einarr muttered to himself. He quashed the sense of sickness that radiated from the sword, turned on his heel, and sprinted back across the barrow.

Miraculously, Sinmora still held the draugr pinned to the ground – mostly. It currently lay propped on one elbow, scrabbling at the hilt of Einarr’s blade with its long claws but seemingly unable to get a grip. It seemed Sinmora’s magic-eating ability was having some sort of effect on the creature: the flesh around the wound seemed somehow shriveled, and more charred, than the rest of it, and every time its claws started to close around the hilt they fell open again.

“Ragnar!” Einarr boomed.

Startled, the draugr turned to look at his great-grandson.

Einarr held the blade in a two-handed grip over one shoulder. “You were honorless in life. Your place is with the dishonored dead. I swear to you, you will torment the people you were meant to rule no longer!”

There was very little credit Einarr was willing to extend to this creature, but there was this: it did not flinch from its impending doom. Instead he heard the dry-leaves rustle of its laughter one last time. “It is not I who torments the descendants of those who willingly aided me.”

Einarr took one more stride towards the creature and brought its blade down in a powerful arc. As the fire of Einarr’s rune licked the blade the steel itself began to smoke.

The cut was clean. The draugr’s head, still alight with the purifying essence of flame, tumbled to the floor. Its flesh began to shrivel, and as Einarr yanked Sinmora free of its chest it turned to ash, leaving only blackened bones where the deadly creature had once lain.

Before the flames from his runes could go out, Einarr held the blade of Ragnar’s sword in them. As before, the steel began to smoke. And, it could have been his imagination, but it seemed as though the color of the steel grew lighter.

Finally the flames flickered out of existence, having consumed everything save the old thane’s bones, and Einarr rose. He put the sword back in its sheath and stumbled for the door, the fatigue of his fight suddenly weighing heavily on his legs and his back.

Outside, Naudrek waited anxiously under the same wan grey sky that he had left. After so long inside the barrow, it seemed almost painfully bright.

“There you are! Are you hurt?”

Einarr shook his head, blinking to let his eyes adjust to the light. “How long was I in there?”

“The afternoon wanes. We’d left by this point yesterday.”

“Pah. Water.”

Wordlessly, Naudrek thrust a waterskin into Einarr’s hand.

Einarr took a long drink, capped the skin, and thrust it back at his friend. “Then let’s go.”

Sure that Naudrek was only awaiting the word, he set off at a lope towards the ruined hold and the rest of their companions. He only hoped Finn would have something good cooking when they got back.


It was far darker than either of them was comfortable with when the light of Finn’s cookfire finally illuminated a doorway ahead of them, but for whatever reason the draugr had been quiet so far this evening. Possibly, he thought, there was enough of Ragnar’s essence still in the old sword that the draugr could not sense them. Einarr did not know, and did not care to guess.

Once inside, Einarr rested Ragnar’s blade against one of the walls and sat down heavily in front of the fire. “Evening.”

Eydri arched an eyebrow at him. “Welcome back. How did it go?”

“I’m alive, aren’t I? And I have the sword.”

“Wonderful. But I sense there’s more?”

He nodded. “Before we sleep tonight, I want to set up a purification circle for the blade. I think ending its former master broke the curse itself, but it still feels corrupted a little, I think.”

“And what about the island?”

Einarr shook his head: he’d had nothing to eat since the jerky that morning. “Food first. Eat, then talk. I’m famished.”

Midway through his first bowl, Einarr looked up. “Just exactly what we thought. Wotan’s test of hospitality. Never heard of someone failing that badly, though.”

“So what are we going to do about it?” Eydri asked.

“Nothing.” The surprised look on her face was a rare treat.


 

 

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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.

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

The creature laughed again, this time with what sounded like real mirth. “A Cursebreaker? In my line? Oh ho, that’s rich.” The sound of feet scraping against the stone signaled that he’d turned again, even though Einarr couldn’t see his eyes. “Very well then, Cursebreaker. Face me. It’s the only way to get the sword.”

“How did I know that’s what you were going to say?” Einarr sighed and settled into a wrestler’s crouch. “Before we begin,I don’t suppose you could be persuaded to tell me what happened?”

“Ah-ah-ah. That, too, you’ll only get out of me if you defeat me. If you win, you get the sword and my head, and you can demand information then. If I win… I get a meal.” Einarr could practically hear it grin.

“So be it, then. We may begin whenever.”

A low growl, as of a wolf or a mountain cat, reverberated out of the darkness. Einarr closed his eyes, listening for the approaching scrape of feet or claws against the floor of the barrow.

At the last moment he pivoted, catching the huge, muscular hands with their wickedly sharp claws as the draugr attempted to drop on him from the ceiling. Einarr wouldn’t have thought a creature so large could move so nimbly, and yet it had almost got past his guard. Because of that, he now strained against the weight of the beast. He didn’t dare let Ragnar force him to the floor, and so he shifted to the side.

The massive form of the draugr stumbled past Einarr. The knife-like claws dug in to the back of his wrists, and the pair went spinning through the darkness, neither willing to release his grip on the other.

“Not bad, for meat,” the draugr hissed in his ear, and laughed. “But you’ll have to do better than that.”

Einarr felt the creature tense, and even still it was all he could do to jump out of the way of the kick that flew for his knees. Its toes were as sharp as its hands, and the claws sliced across the flesh of his thighs: the wounds felt like fire.

At the top of his jump, Einarr swung his own feet forward into an aerial kick. They connected, and the shock of the impact rattled his bones, but the draugr hardly moved. He landed, dodging another brutal kick. He was going to be at a disadvantage until he could get the thing flat on the ground.

“You may as well just lie down. I’m far too strong.”

He had the beast by the forearms, barely keeping its claws from him as it pressed ever closer. “You have the strength of the grave, nothing more.”

“More than enough for a boy like you.”

The light from outside seemed to be fading: he didn’t know if that was because he was so deep in the barrow or because time was passing too fast, but he didn’t have space to ponder the question. It lunged.

At the last second, Einarr dodged to the left, still without letting go of its arms. Off-balance, the creature stumbled, and Einarr swept its legs out from under it.

It worked – sort of. Ragnar’s corpse turned its fall into a roll and grabbed at Einarr’s waist. Not even its claws, however, were sharp enough to pierce the Brokkrsteel maille Einarr wore. Thank you, Jorir.

The two rolled across the floor until they finally came to rest with Einarr sitting on his chest even as the corpse continued to prod at Einarr’s armor with its talons. It was pinned, but it was not done yet.

“Oh, dear, whatever shall I do,” the creature mocked. “There’s an insect on my chest, who thinks he has me pinned.”

Einarr frowned, staring down at the cold flesh beneath him. He didn’t know if it would work, but maybe it would at least get the thing to stop talking: he punched, with all his weight and all force of his superior height, at the draugr’s throat.

For a wonder, it seemed the undead still needed to breathe. It choked on the impact.

Einarr punched it again. Already it was struggling to rise under his weight. He drew Sinmora and plunged it between the creature’s ribs, pinning it to the floor.

That wasn’t going to hold it for long. Einarr drew his knife, then. Leaning into Sinmora, he stabbed down into the breastbone. Once and twice before he had to duck a swinging claw, then two more times. He poured his will into the sigil he had just drawn – more will than a single rune had ever before called for.

There was a small fwoosh as the dead flesh caught and illuminated the fire rune he had inscribed there. Einarr sprang back before the flames could catch him, as well.

The creature chuckled, utterly unperturbed by the fire that now spread rapidly over its body. “You thought to stop me with flames of this level?”

Einarr ignored the taunt. He was already searching for Ragnar’s sword – the very blade he had come in search of.

“You’ve lost, Ragnar. Why don’t you go ahead and tell me what killed you?”

“Lost? Hardly. You didn’t overpower me, you merely pinned me to the ground like a bug and set a rather pleasant fire. Can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve been warm. …Well, I suppose that’s worth something. Fine.” It chuckled again. Einarr was growing truly sick of that sound.

“I’m afraid Wotan had some rather strong feelings about my hospitality. As consideration, he left me quite a wondrous gem. You can have it, if you want.”

Einarr glanced over his shoulder. Sure enough, the draugr was wriggling on the floor, slowly working Sinmora out of the earth. Once he was free, Einarr would be faced with an unbent, powerful, flaming draugr. I have to find that sword.


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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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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 skeletal draugr milled about outside their door, in numbers like they had seen during their panicked flight the night before – only this time, their interest had been caught by the people in the room.

“Do you they want the gem?”

“Almost certainly.” Eydri’s voice echoed Troa’s just a heartbeat behind.

“They were just milling about, like we’ve seen before, until right after you opened that box,” Troa explained.

“The only thing draugr seek more than wealth is flesh,” Eydri added. “Even if I hadn’t named the thing, one of them could have seen it.”

They were starting to press at the door, now. Further back, Einarr thought he saw the large, fleshy bodies of stronger draugr. “Fine. This still doesn’t fit with their behavior last night.”

“This is Hel’s domain.” Eydri’s voice was low and flat. “Care to lay odds that she wants it?”

“Or us?” Troa asked, his face grim. He stood ready not to strike but to grapple with the creatures.

Einarr drew his blade and frowned. “No bet. So what does it actually do?”

“I’m not sure. You’ll have to work on that with Hrug.”

The other seithir grunted, and bones rattled from the far door.

A somewhat fleshier draugr came within reach of Einarr and he kicked out with one foot, sending it reeling back. “Little busy now.”

Behind the first ranks of the largely skeletal draugr – the men who looked like they may have starved to death, given what Einarr had seen of the island, or who were starved in death – he could see the shadowy shambling forms of larger, fleshier abominations. Did that mean they were stronger, or just more recently dead?

Troa had one by the shoulders now, and Einarr thought it would soon be pinned. He caved in the skull of another that pressed in towards them and the bones clattered to the ground. It would reform soon enough, though.

“Einarr!” Troa grunted as he forced the abomination slowly to its knees. “Take its head.”

“Huh?”

The scout gave an exasperated shout. “It’s the only way to kill them! Didn’t you pay attention to the stories?”

Einarr only hesitated a moment, as a memory of his duel against the reventant of the Althane flashed in his mind. Then he raised Sinmora and swung. “Duck!”

Troa ducked, and Sinmora slashed through the air where his head had been and severed the skeletal neck of the draugr. It clattered to the ground and the bones lay still.

Troa, panting a little from the grapple, set himself to face the next one. “We have to destroy them, or we will all fall.”

He was right, of course. “So we just have to take their heads?”

Troa shook his head even as he entered the clutch with the next one in line – the one whos head Einarr had caved in. “You have to wrestle… them… into submission first. There’s a… reason glíma… is so important.”

The broken skull didn’t seem to be slowing that one down, at any rate. But if that was what it took… Einarr kicked out at the draugr’s knees. Troa saw what he was doing and followed up with a sweep that took the creature down. When Troa had it pinned, Einarr took its head.

They had a moment’s respite. Einarr sheathed Sinmora. “Draw. I’ll get the next one.”

Troa rose mutely and nodded. A moment later, his sword hissed from its scabbard.

“This is what you were thinking of when we fought the Althane, wasn’t it?” Einarr didn’t look at his comrade as he sized up the apparent next target. Suddenly he was very glad that so many of the draugr on this island were weirdly emaciated.

“Yeah.”

The draugr came within reach. Einarr gave it no time to prepare itself: as soon as it was within arm’s reach, he swept his arm around the back of its head and pulled it off balance. It stumbled forward, and he followed up with a vicious kick to the kneecap.

The full moon climbed over the horizon, and slowly the press of draugr slackened, until finally the seven stood catching their breaths and scanning the darkness outside for further threats.

Einarr looked around at his crewmen. Finn clutched at a shoulder. “Is anyone hurt?”

“Not seriously,” the young scout answered. Einarr frowned.

“Eydri, will you see what you can do?”

As she moved to tend to the man, he went on. “Seems like we have yet another reason for me to deal with my great-grandfather tomorrow. The way things are going, I’m not sure I trust our camp to be safe for a third night.”

There were murmurs of agreement all around.

“Now. Without opening the box or naming the thing, what do we know about it?”

“It’s deceptively named,” Finn started. His shoulder did not appear to be bleeding, at least.

“It belongs—or at least belonged—to Wotan.” Odvir added, seated near his door.

“The draugr, or perhaps their mistress, want it.” Troa still watched out the door he had defended.

“But we do not know what it does, if it does anything, or how it came to be in one of the storerooms here.” Einarr finished. It had not felt magical, the way some things did, when he touched it – but neither did Sinmora. “Join me by the fire, Hrug, and let’s see if we can work out anything regarding its nature.”

By the time the moon set and the light failed them, they were fairly certain of only one thing: the Fehugim was not, in itself, magical save for the internally glowing rune. With a sigh, Einarr rubbed his brow and pulled his cloak over himself like a blanket and lay down. Dawn would come all too soon, and he needed at least a little rest before he dared the grave of Ragnar’s draugr.


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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.

Eydri’s eyes grew wide and she raised her hands to cover her mouth. “Oh, my.”

That got Finn’s attention. He came to look over their shoulders. “What is it?”

“Oh, no. Oh, my,” she said again. Finn looked at her for a long moment before she answered. “Unless I’m very much mistaken… Hrug, that rune is a Merkstave Fehu, yes?”

Hrug nodded.

Eydri swallowed. “That means… this is the Fehugim.”

“That… doesn’t sound bad, though? Fehu is prosperity, right?”

“No. No it definitely is bad. All the lore claims the gem is in the treasure vault of Wotan, though.” She closed the lid, gently.

Hrug tapped a finger loudly on the bound tablet sitting on the floor by his knee.

“The guests who uniformly attacked their hosts? Hm. You could have a point.”

“Would someone mind explaining this to the man in the room?”

Hrug leapt halfway to his feet, his one hand pulled back to punch the scout, who backpedaled.

“Sorry. Sorry. Old habits, and all.”

Hrug, looking not at all mollified, snorted and sat back down, still glaring at Finn.

Eydri, too, gave him a cold look before she spoke. “Mind your tongue, and remember that your own prince is no slouch with the runes.”

“Yes, my lady.”

Now that Finn appeared suitable cowed, Eydri answered. “Wotan, in his wanderings, will sometimes decide to test the hospitality of some homesteader here in the islands. Surely you’ve heard the stories.”

The newly chastened scout nodded. “Oh, that. But this seems a little extreme even for Wotan, don’t you think?”

Eydri shook her head. “Maybe not. Think about it: when some poor soul gets made an example of in the tales, it’s usually because he turned the traveller away or was rude. But if Ragnar was more bandit than Thane…”

“Then… Oh.”

“Right.”

 

 

Einarr stood at the standing stones blocking the mouth of a hastily constructed barrow. The soil above, on the mound, looked like it had recently been disturbed. He raised his hand to run his fingers over the runic inscription over the door. Who carved that, I wonder? Given what little he knew of the circumstances, he doubted there would be many willing to at the time. Perhaps one of Grandfather Raen’s retainers? There must have been a few men who went with him, or he wouldn’t have had a crew to leave.

Naudrek and Troa stood behind him to either side, flanking what would soon be a door.

“This looks like the one,” Einarr said. “How much daylight do we have left?”

“An hour, maybe two.”

Einarr sighed. Probably, he could get the sword back today. But then he would be leaving an open barrow behind them as they trekked across draugr-infested lands at night. They would be pushing it to get back before sunset as it was. “Fine. First thing in the morning. Troa, find me a long stick. Let’s stick a flag by the door so we can find it quickly.”

Not long after, a lonely scrap of cloth fluttered fitfully in front of the barrow that they were reasonably sure belonged to Ragnar, Raen’s father. Einarr let out a deep breath: it would have to do. “Let’s go. Daylight’s wasting.”

The draugr they had faced the night before had been feeble, wasted things, and even with all of them fighting through to their base camp had been exhausting. Einarr set a hard pace, jogging where they could. That he would have to face what remained of his great-grandfather was a given at this point and Einarr preferred to save his strength for that.

A fire was already burning brightly in the room they had taken for their camp when Einarr and his companions returned, glowing brightly into the dim twilight. They heard the rattle of bones behind them as they crossed the threshold: that had been far too close for comfort.

“Welcome back,” Eydri said as they stood, catching their breaths.

“My thanks,” Einarr answered. “Any luck on your search?”

Eydri and Hrug shared a look, then Eydri turned the question around on him. “Some. What of yours?”

“Oh, I found the one. Looks like something digs through the top at intervals, too. We’ll try to put the stone back over the entrance when I’m done, but…”

“I understand.”

“Now. What was it you found?”

Eydri lifted a box off their makeshift table in the back of the room and straightened. Her movements were both strangely slow and strangely jerky, as though she couldn’t quite convince herself of something. Then she thrust the box across at Einarr.

He recognized it instantly. “From the store-room. The rune-sealed ‘recipe box.’”

She nodded. “I remembered it this morning. Hrug and I worked together on it. You should see what’s inside.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow, but lifted the lid of the box. Inside, a fist-sized ruby rested on a silken pillow. A glowing ᚠ seemed to hang suspended inside.

Behind him, Naudrek whistled. “That’s a mighty valuable gem there. No wonder it was sealed away.”

Einarr wrinkled is brow. “It’s more than that, Naudrek. That rune… the branches usually stick out to the right. It’s backwards.” He shook his head. “But I don’t remember all the divination meanings of the sticks. Sorry, Eydri. You’re going to have to explain a bit more.”

“What if I told you it’s the Fehugim, and its last known location was in the treasure hall of Wotan.”

“More of Wotan’s treasure? I had nothing to do with this one.”

Eydri laughed. Troa, over by the door, cleared his throat. “You might want to close that box.”

Einarr let the box lid fall with a clack as he asked “What’s going on?”

“Whatever it is, it’s drawing attention.”

Einarr scowled. “Guard the doors, everyone. Eydri, keep talking.”

“Yes, sir.” She took the box from him even as he moved to take up a place next to Naudrek. From outside the doors, they could hear groaning and the shuffling of feet.


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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 never was any old man.”

Arkja’s pronouncement fell on the deck of the Gestrisni like a brick of lead.

A million questions flooded Einarr’s brain at once, such that he could not ask any of them – merely sat, staring, at the pronouncer.

Irding recovered first. “So this is twice this season we’ve run up against ghosts. At least this one wasn’t trying to entrap us into his crew.”

Now it was Arkja’s turn to gape. “Twice this season? What sort of vessel are you taking us to?”

Einarr held up an open hand, palm towards the deck. “This has been a bad year…”

Arkja hummed, not apparently reassured, but Runa broke in before the talk could spiral out of hand. “It is Einarr’s nature as a Cursebreaker, newly awakened and coming to the fore. Once we are away from the island, I will be helping him learn how to deal with it – but now I must Sing, so that we have a chance of breaking free.”

***

Einarr relieved Irding from his night watch as the first hints of grey dawn touched the horizon.

Irding thanked him with a yawn and pressed an arm against his still-healing rib. As the other man trudged back towards his bedroll, Einarr turned towards the sea ahead of them. There was not a cloud to be seen in the sky, and a pleasant breeze tugged at his hair.

And then, as the light increased, an all-too-familiar shore appeared ahead of them. At first it seemed almost ghostly, and he entertained the idea that it might be a mirage, but as the light rose it grew more and more substantial.

Runa’s night-long vigil had done nothing, save exhaust her voice. There was the shack, and standing tiny on the shore the ghost of an old man. With a sinking feeling in his breast, Einarr made the announcement:

“Land, ho.”

Jorir looked up from the mortar where he was preparing a restorative for their exhausted Singer. “So the Lady’s song…”

Einarr shook his head. “Didn’t help at all. Poor Runa.”

“Well, milord, we expected to be turned back at least once.”

“But we expected to learn something in the attempt!”

A peal of laughter rang out from Irding’s bedroll. “All of that – for nothing?”

The rest of their cobbled-together crew was beginning to rise. Einarr ordered, “Prepare for landing.”

Jorir came up to stand beside his liege lord. “We have learned something, I think. We’ve learned that it’s not an illusion or a trick of the mind turning people back.”

Einarr cast a sidelong look at his man-at-arms. “Which leaves us with – what, exactly?”

“Something intrinsic to the island, I expect, or at least trapped here with us.”

Einarr harrumphed. That was cold comfort at best right now. He could only hope the Matrons were still keeping the corruption of the black blood at bay for those left behind.

The sun was full in the sky by the time the Gestrisni sat once more on the sand of the Isle. Well before that the figure of the old man vanished, although Einarr did not see if he’d done so in the ordinary way or not.

Once they were all on land again a fire was built on the beach, and some few of their more perishable provisions set to roasting. The melancholy mood of the night before still – or perhaps only again – held sway. As they ate, Arkja stared into the fire, a faraway look on his face.

“It occurs to me,” he mused, biting off a hunk of fish. “There’s a story I heard, a local legend, from one of my patrons not long after I landed. Well before Päron, or whoever he was, started terrorizing the town.” He fell quiet for a long moment.

It was Irding who finally broke the silence, once it became plain Arkja was content to let it stretch. “Well? Go on.”

“No one alive has ever known anyone to live in that shack, it’s true… but there are those as talk of a terror that walks these shores, an evil spirit in the guise of an old man. They say calamity follows him like an old friend, and fell magic clings to him. He was the first, you see, first in a long line of devils doomed to be forgotten.”

Einarr, too, sat staring into the fire as he contemplated this. Confusion fairly radiated off of Erik, though – and once again it was Irding who broke the silence.

“How is this supposed to help us?”

“It means the creepy old man who took us in that night may be just as much a revenant as the Päron we fought in the town,” Runa explained, certain that some of the others were just as lost. “And maybe, if we can break the chain binding him to the moral realm we can free ourselves, as well. Not that we have a lot to go on.”

Einarr stood abruptly. “We need to search that shack.”

Runa followed him, up the beach to the tiny shack, as did Jorir. The old man was not at home when Einarr opened the door, although it looked almost as though he had merely stepped out for a minute. A stew, very similar to the one Einarr remembered, already bubbled in the pot for the night’s dinner, and the wooden bowls and spoons did not appear to have moved. All of this, they could safely ignore.

Runa moved to examine the lone shelf not filled with cooking implements, while Jorir and Einarr stepped over to what served as the old man’s bed.

No-one spoke as they searched. It would have felt crass: this already felt like a breach of hospitality. And yet…

Jorir rolled under the crude bed frame even as Einarr lifted the pillow. Beneath it, old and yellowed but otherwise well-preserved, was a bound book. There was a golden key on a fine chain wrapped about the cover, but no lock. Gently, Einarr unwound the chain and opened the book.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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 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.

 

Just a quick heads up to let everyone know, you can now vote for my web serial on topwebfiction.com! If you’ve been following the adventure of Einarr and the crew of the Vidofnir, I’d appreciate it if you popped over there and clicked to show your support. (You don’t have to register to vote, although you would if you wanted to leave a full review at webfictionguide.com.)