In the end, they had to dispatch Hrug to assist with burning what remained of the city. There simply wasn’t enough left which would burn hot enough to properly cremate those slain in Eskidal, but a funerary circle added the strength of Hrug’s will to the flames and reduced the charnel ground to ash. The midday sky behind them was orange-lit gray from the blaze as the fleet made its slow exit from the shallow waters around the island.

When the smell of smoke no longer filled his nostrils, Einarr called Hrug aside to discuss the nugget of an idea he’d had while they were scavenging for supplies. They had several weeks still to go on the water, after all: that might be long enough to make contact with some old friends who would also like to see these madmen put out of their misery.


Another month on the water took the fleet to within sight of the island chain mentioned in the cultist’s documents found on Kem. A week ago, Einarr and Hrug had attempted their ritual, but there was no way to know if it worked or not.

Now the green mounds of Kratíste were before them, and soon it would be moot whether his message reached Beatrix or not. Still, with no intelligence yet about the islands before them, this was about as close as they dared to come – a fleet of ships was not a subtle thing, after all.

Einarr gave the signal and all but one other boat dropped its sails and backed water. This was followed by a splashing of sea anchors. Now the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf sailed forward alone, to land on an unobserved section of beach and scout out what lay ahead.

The Heidrun set a circuitous course toward the south, approaching the islands obliquely. If Fortune were on their side, they would be able to spot a likely landing place without being spotted – or at least noted – themselves.

After another hour like this, Einarr spotted small drakken, quite obviously on patrol. He frowned, thinking: they could keep going as they were, and when they were eventually noticed they could claim to be freeboaters, and perhaps a little lost.

He glanced back at his crew and smiled to himself: no freeboater ship was ever as well-equipped as his Heidrunings now were, and some aboard the Lúmskulf were better.

“Take us a little further out from shore,” he ordered. “Then we’ll drop sail and wait for nightfall, go in under oars. It’s been a while since most of us have been on a proper raid, I think: I hope no-one’s gotten rusty.”

The comment was met by a wave of laughter.

Naudrek dropped the sea anchor when Einarr gave the word, and the Lúmskulf pulled up alongside. Kaldr seemed pleased when he heard the plan.

“Why do I feel like you’re surprised?”

“Because I am, a little.” Kaldr chuckled, quietly enough that Einarr almost didn’t hear it. “You are, from time to time, somewhat hasty, my lord. Or perhaps the dvergr is rubbing off on you.”

“And you, my friend, appear to have learned to relax.” Had they been on the same ship, Einarr would have clapped Kaldr on the shoulder. “Any thoughts on where to come in from?”

“Thjofgrir spotted shadows on the coast just a little ways back from here: probably a cove or a fjord we could hide in.”

“Good. We’ll go there, provided we can find it again by starlight.”


The good news was, the patrol ships all disappeared at sunset. The bad news was, nothing appeared to replace them. Einarr stood, staring across the water, as the last rays of sunset disappeared over the horizon and the sky became deep indigo. They were lucky: there was a full moon, so no-one would be tempted to light a torch. It also meant any human watchers would have an easier time seeing them, but there were always tradeoffs.

The question was, with no sentries at night, what hunted there?

“Kaldr? Jorir? Any thoughts?”

“Not much choice but to go on, is there?” Jorir grumbled. “If they’ve got monsters guarding the water, well, we’ve dealt with monsters before.”

“I’m afraid Jorir’s right. Unless you want to lead the fleet to war with next to no understanding of our enemy, we haven’t much choice.”

With a sigh, he nodded to himself. “You’re right, of course. Out oars!”

Einarr was proud of his men: they brought their oars into place with nary a scrape of wood nor a splash of water. Now they just had to maintain that. “Forward, now. Quickly and quietly.”

The two directives were not, quite, mutually exclusive, but it was a difficult thing to manage. Einarr noted every splash of water on the oars, and flinched when a pair accidentally clacked together, even though the bigger danger was probably staring up at them from under their hulls.

He let the Lúmskulf take the lead: it was Thjofgrir, after all, who had spotted the cove. Behind the other ship’s outline, the bulk of the island grew ever larger. Under the light of the moon, the towering oak forest looked like tufts of hair on a giant’s head, and Einarr shook his own to rid himself of the image.

The moon was beginning to set by the time the Lúmskulf and the Heidrun nosed their way into the inlet Thjofgrir had noticed. A quick look around told Einarr it was a promising place, and a good place to hide their boats while they searched for the actual stronghold.

That was when a wave crested under his hull and caused both ships to roll precariously. At the same time, a deep rumbling growl carried across the water to them.

I knew this was going too well. “Jorir? Any thoughts?”

“Whatever that creature is, it’s in the forest. Probably thinks we look tasty.”

“You don’t think it’s related to that strange wave?”

“It could be, but I doubt it. Even if it is, what could we do?”

Einarr hummed. He didn’t like it, but Jorir was right, of course. And after that fimbulvulf the jotun kept, he didn’t figure he had much room to worry about land monsters. “Very well. Find a good open spot for beaching, then we need to find a way to hide ourselves.”

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon. Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr e-book through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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

 

A midsummer storm loomed on the horizon the next dawn as the fleet of ships, led by Einarr on the Heidrun, sailed out of Blávík harbor. Einarr bared his teeth, wondering if that was a natural storm or if they would have to face one of the demon ships so soon into their journey.

“Problem, sir?” Naudrek said as he passed by.

“Probably not.” Einarr made his face relax. “Just not sure I like the look of those clouds up ahead.”

Naudrek peered ahead at the sky and shrugged. “We could check with Hrug. But, I hear parts of the Empire are prone to storms this time of year, and we are headed south.”

“You’re probably right. Just make sure the lookouts stay sharp.”

“Aye, sir.”

Naudrek plainly did not understand Einarr’s caution, and that was fine. He would, as soon as they ran into one of the demon ships that quite literally rode storms the way some Valkyrie ships bound the wind to their sails. It was true they were sailing south towards Imperial waters, but Naudrek had not come face to face with their enemy on the water before.

As the fleet, now in open water, turned towards the southwest at full sail, the day did not grow brighter so much as more watery. When the drizzle began to rap against the deck and spit in his face, Einarr was at last satisfied that this was ordinary bad weather. There would be some among them who took it as a bad omen, though. While Einarr was not among them, he went to speak with Eydri. They would need to be careful about morale on this journey.


After three weeks of relentless drizzle, Einarr almost wished they would run up against one of the demon ships. It would give them a chance to fight together, and for the other ships to catch a glimpse of what they were really up against. Instead, they had nothing but cold, wet, dreary days ahead of them until they reached their next resupply point.

“Land, ho!” The cry came from the bow.

Einarr returned, briefly, to his awning to check the charts before stepping back out into the spitting rain. “Run up the truce flag. We’ll resupply here, and maybe be able to get some information.”

It was, sadly, not to be. When the fleet drew nearer to the island ahead, they saw smoke hovering above what used to be a settlement like a grim cloud.

“So much for the resupply,” Jorir grumbled.

“Quite.” Einarr sighed. “We might still be able to get some information – about the cult, or about the League, or maybe both. Send a message around. Each ship is to land a team to investigate. I want everyone to get a feel for the sort of destruction we’re looking at if we fail.”

The nearer the Heidrun drew to shore, the deeper Einarr felt the pit in his stomach growing. This had been razed, not three weeks, but perhaps three days ago, and quite possibly less. “Jorir, you have the ship. Naudrek, Hrug, Eydri – I’m sorry, but I need you all to come ashore. Who else thinks they have the stomach for this?”

Predictably, he found no shortage of volunteers. Some, it was plain, were full of bravado. Irding he brought, even though he had been there at Langavik, and also Arkja. “This won’t be like at Kem. We don’t have to comb the whole city ourselves – thank the gods. Most of the rest of the fleet has never encountered this pack of rabid wolves before, so I’m not expecting a lot of information out of them. I’m counting on you five to help me uncover the information we need from these ruins. The rest of you, be ready. There’s no telling what we might find out there.”

A few minutes later, the Heidrun was the first ship of the fleet to go ashore, and as the rest of the fleet came ashore or laid boarding planks to let them cross to the ground, Einarr’s team was the first to set foot on an island the charts named Eskidal.

No sooner had he set foot on the sandy shore than the charnel smell from what had once been a city struck Einarr’s nose. He tried not to gag, with only moderate success. But this was no place to falter: his hand on Sinmora’s hilt, he led the way into Eskidal.

Before he reached what remained of the city, he was flanked by Bardr and by Kaldr.

“The place is already burned. So how come it smells worse than Langavik?” Bardr asked no-one in particular.

Einarr snorted, then scrubbed at his nose to keep from breathing in more of the foul air. “We’re about to find out.”

Kaldr was frowning. “We saw nothing like this as we approached their dvergr stronghold…”

“Jorir told me they had been more or less in control of Nilthiad when he left. These are the actions of a conqueror, not a shepherd.”

Now Kaldr snorted. “A conqueror? Hardly. A destroyer, more like.”

Bollinn cleared his throat from just behind the three of them. “It does rather look that way, doesn’t it?”

“Well. So that’s four teams I can count on to keep their heads.” Einarr managed a wan smile. “If you see crude rune work, that’s probably League work. If you see whole sentences, that’s the Squiddies… Kaldr, is there someone in your team who can read runes?”

“I can, actually.”

The statement was so unexpected, and stated so matter-of-factly, Einarr turned to stare.

“It was only practical, after everything that happened in Nilthiad.”

Will wonders never cease. They had reached the charred edges of what had once been a city, now. Streaming out behind them were more groups of warriors, moving in groups according to their clans and their ships. The four groups split up again, each headed in a different direction through the city.

Eydri held a sleeve up to cover her nose as she stared around at their surroundings. The buildings were little more than cinders and charred posts, but… “The fire came before the slaughter.”

In spite of himself, Einarr was impressed at how calm her voice was. “They set fire to people’s homes, then murdered them as they tried to escape the flames.”

Arkja’s face was pale. “That’s…”

“I know.” Einarr nodded. “I agree, Eydri. But I’m not seeing any runes at all, let alone fire runes. Are you, Hrug?”

The mute shook his head.

“These houses are pretty far gone,” Naudrek mused. “Are you sure the runes would still be visible?”

Einarr opened his mouth to say no, just as Hrug was nodding his head yes. Einarr shrugged. “If either of us could tell, he could. Let’s go farther in: I don’t think we’re going to learn much here.”

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon. Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr e-book through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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