“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 in.


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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 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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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 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.