Their second stop was at a place called The Grey Gate. Other than being a less-likely haunt for freeboaters on leave, its chief benefit was its proximity to the foundry and the timber yard in the city. Once again Einarr and Kaldr seated themselves in an unobtrusive corner, ordered a pair of ales, and sat watching the crowd.

Kaldr spotted them first: a pair of smiths, one of them a svartdvergr. They spoke briefly, and then the dwarf – far stockier and more scarred than Jorir – left again.

Einarr nodded, pleased. “All right. Hold your thumbs – here goes nothing.”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow, but obliged. It was a silly gesture, but Einarr still felt a little more confident as he sauntered over to the table where the smith still sat.

“Pardon me, friend. Mind if I sit down?”

The smith gave him a withering look, but gestured at the seat nonetheless.

“Many thanks. I’m new in town, but a friend came through before me – a smith. I was hoping you might be able to help me find him.”

The other man took a long drink of his ale, plainly ignoring Einarr.

“Oh, where are my manners. The next one’s on me.”

That, at least, got a harrumph out of the man. He took another long pull on his drink, obviously sizing Einarr up the entire time. “What makes you think I know anything about your friend?”

Einarr shrugged. “Call it a hunch.”

The man’s look could have humbled one of the Matrons. “Fine then. What makes you think he wants to be found?”

“I don’t, really. But disappearing like this just isn’t like him. And I know something terrible is going on in his homeland – something he’s said in the past he’ll need my aid on.”

The smith snorted. “Go home, Princeling. You and your stuffed-shirt bodyguard. Your ‘friend’ disappeared here, either he don’t want to be found or he’s dead. Either way, your kind don’t belong here.”

With a sigh, Einarr stood and dropped a coin on the table. “There. That should cover your next few – as thanks.”

Einarr took two steps back towards where Kaldr waited in the corner, still trying to be inconspicuous, before the man called after him. “Waitaminute. You sound like someone I’ve heard before. Not too long ago, neither.”

Einarr turned, a tight smile curving his lips but not reaching his cheeks, let alone his eyes. “Surely not. My homeland is a good ways from here.”

“No… I’m sure of it now. Your tongue has the same way of it as that young fella who was here just a few weeks back. You people just don’t know when to give up!” He stood violently at the table, slamming his hands down flat and calling the attention of everyone else in the Hall. “Oy! This one’s asking around after the dwarves!”

A Singer could not have inspired a quicker fury than those words imposed upon the room. Einarr wanted to explain, but there was no point. Nothing he could say would be heard by anyone in the room.

Kaldr realized it too. He suddenly appeared at Einarr’s back, wary and ready to draw. “My Lord…”

“Mm. Time to go, I think.”

The hiss of steel from around the room confirmed that hunch.

“Quickly?”

“Double-time.”

They started towards the door, Einarr facing the room, Kaldr at his back leading the way to the exit and safety. Neither of them was a slouch in a fight, but two against fifty seemed like poor odds under these circumstances. They had not gone three steps before a shout arose from the other patrons and they began to charge after the retreating prince and his retainer.


By the time they had lost their pursuers, it was nearly supper time. They both agreed that they needed to try at least once more that day: the longer they took, the colder the trail became, after all. On the one hand, the hour was a boon. There would be more people about, and that meant both that they would stand out less and that they would have a better chance of finding a lead. Hopefully not another one that remembered Finn. On the other hand, if things went wrong again…

Tired and footsore, they settled on a nearby place called the Salty Grotto. Despite the name, this was easily the highest-quality establishment they had visited yet. The rugs were not only not muddy, they were also not threadbare, and if the long tables saw great use they were also well-tended, as the surface was polished smooth and not at all sticky.

Once again they found themselves a place near a wall and called for ale and food – a full meal, this time, instead of a simple loaf to pretend to eat.

The Grotto was a lively house at the dinner hour. Local tradesmen – and some whole families, although not many – nearly filled the room. A lutist plucked a lively tune from near the front of the room, and when their stew arrived it smelled nearly as good as some of the things Snorli had come up with back on the Vidofnir.

Over everything, Einarr heard the door thump open at the entrance and turned to look. But there’s no-one… oh, there he is. A black-haired dwarf with skin nearly the color of bronze sauntered in and surveyed the room. Einarr couldn’t tell, immediately, what his profession was, although he was perhaps the shortest, stockiest dwarf Einarr had ever met. He also seemed to be looking for a seat. I’ll take this chance. He waved the dwarf over.

It took a moment for the svartdvergr to notice, but eventually he clumped over, his iron boots clanking a little against the floor. A mercenary, then?

Not far behind him, before anyone thought to close the door, Vali slipped in.

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.

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Some of the ambushers carried torches with them: the light in the square was now enough that Einarr could see just how badly Finn had been beaten.

One of his eyes was swollen shut, and the other was crusted with dried blood from a head wound. A rope bound Finn’s wrists too tightly, and he dangled from the stocks like a side of meat. He was all over bruises, although Einarr thought he’d avoided any broken bones, and it was impossible to tell how much of the blood on his maille was his and how much belonged to the League toughs. They had laid his scramasax at his feet, snapped in two. Finn groaned.

Einarr growled. With one swift strike he cut down the scout, who slumped to his knees.

“Can you walk?” Einarr sidestepped to avoid the back of a stumbling fighter.

Finn groaned and tried to rise, but fell back on his haunches. Einarr wasn’t entirely sure he was actually conscious.

“Right then. Heidrunings, to me!” They were, as the ambushers planned, in a bad place. However, thus far his men had had very little trouble keeping the toughs away from him. As his crew formed a defensive wall around him, Einarr sheathed his sword and knelt beside the half-conscious Finn. He slid the man’s arm across his shoulders and rose.

Finn hung like a sack of cabbages. Grumbling a little, and using his other arm to steady the body, Einarr started slowly back towards their ship and the hoped-for safety of the harbor.

As they neared the edge of the square their progress ground nearly to a halt. The League fighters – no few of whom wore the same blue and white as the escort ships’ sails – pressed them hard, and Einarr’s escort had all it could manage not to go under the sheer mass of people that converged against them.

Einarr pressed his lips into a thin line. He could reach Sinmora, but he could not fight and carry Finn at the same time. And, while he was skilled with a blade, he was not sufficiently skilled to make a difference if he handed their wounded friend off to one of the others. But his blade was not his only means of fighting these days.

He glanced down at the ground at his feet. The dirt was hard-packed, but still he could see a thin layer of loose soil, as marked out by footprints. It would be enough. Einarr shifted his weight to the side supporting Finn and drew a Thorn: . He poured his will into the rune, and a wave of force seemed to knock aside the first rank of enemies.

The rest of the League warriors seemed to vanish then, like rats in an alley. Einarr dragged his foot across the rune, obscuring it. His men had come to accept that he could use seithir, but he had no intention of letting their enemies know it.

“Let’s go,” he said as his escort stood, momentarily flummoxed by the sudden lack of battle.


The streets were suspiciously empty as Einarr and his crew rushed back towards the Heidrun. It was, he thought, impossible that the League would give up so easily after they went to the trouble of capturing one of his crew and stringing him up like a side of meat.

“Troa!” He called up as his men formed a wall on the pier and he began dragging the wounded scout up the gangplank.

He leaned over the bulwark, looking positively eager to be rid of the temporary command. “Captain!”

“Is everything ready?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Good! As soon as Finn here is secure, we’re going.” The plank bounced as his company started single-file up after him, Eydri in the lead.

“Now, sir? The tide…”

“Now or never, I’m afraid.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll ready the oars.”

Eydri and Hrug took Finn amidships to lay him near Einarr’s awning – probably the safest place if they met with trouble – while Einarr and Naudrek organized the rest of the crew. Those who did not have an oar were instructed to ready their bows. Arrows they had, of course, but Einarr cursed when he realized that they had expended almost all of their fire arrows on the cult ship. He had plainly been in too much of a hurry as they left: that was an oversight that could have killed them all when they still wandered on the Vidofnir. Burning the Blávíkin ships would have been a last resort anyway, but it would have been nice to have the option.

Finally, though, they were ready. Odvir released their mooring, and the only sounds as they rowed out into the night were the creak of timbers and the gentle splashing of the oars dipping into the water.

All their caution was for naught, though. As the Heidrun neared the mouth of harbor, a ring of fire sprang up around them over the water. Ships, bearing torches. After the first surge of surprise passed, Einarr stood calmly near the mast, studying their situation.

It wasn’t good. The Heidrun glided to a stop, waiting for Einarr’s orders. They were a lone longship, surrounded by local vessels that all appeared to be bristling with warriors. At least half of them bore the blue-and-white that seemed to indicate they were part of the Jarl’s war band. Including, unless Einarr was very much mistaken, the ship he had just presented that cask of ale to.

He strode to the bow, trying to determine which boat was in charge of the fleet. None of the fishing boats: of that he was quite sure. Of the others…

“Einarr son of Stigander son of Raen,” boomed a familiar voice. “Surrender quietly and pledge yourselves to the League.”

Angry mutters rose from the deck of the Heidrun. There was only one possible response.

“Go to Hel.”


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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.

Einarr spent the first morning after they sailed restless, worrying simultaneously that he had done too much and too little. But, as the grey skies over the grey lands slipped back over the horizon, he turned his attention to more pressing matters. Namely, arriving home in time for his own wedding.

Based on the charts, he and Naudrek had agreed that they should be able to make it to Blávík, resupply, and be back on the water with enough time, barring unforseen circumstances, to get him home with a few days to spare. The fact that they were down to a matter of days was somewhat concerning, however.

As they neared Blávík, the source of the name became plain. Facing the Heidrunings was some of the brightest, bluest water Einarr had ever heard of north of Imperial waters. He whistled, impressed.

Equally plain, however, was the local opinion of interlopers. No fewer than three longships with blue and white sails came slicing across the water towards them as they neared the harbor.

“Run up the flag of peace, men! We want no quarrel.”

The patrol ships still moved to block their way. Einarr had to furl sail rather rapidly to avoid striking the center ship, but he turned the Heidrun in time. He moved to the bulwark and stood with one foot on the side to address the opposing Captain. “I am Einarr, son of Stigander, Thane of Breidelstein. We seek resupply here on our way home.”

The other Captain snorted. “A likely story. No ship comes out of those waters.”

“They’ve a bad infestation of draugr, I’m afraid. Bad water and food, to boot.”

The man squinted across at him. “So how do I know you’re not in league with them? Last anyone knew, Thorndjupr was a den of robbers.”

Einarr sighed. “I suppose you don’t know, although by now news should have reached here that Breidelstein had been reclaimed by its rightful Thane. Even if you hadn’t heard, though, our coin is good – and our own. I’m afraid I’m rather in a hurry, though.”

The Captain, who had not introduced himself, waited expectantly.

“I’m to be married in a little less than a month. At Raenshold.”

That got a reaction. The man spluttered a little. “What in blazes are you doing out here, then?”

“My last bit of preparation. Now, may we land?”

With much grumbling, the Blávíkin Captain gave orders to his other ships to escort the Heidrun into port.

“You have my thanks. We require food and water and ale, and then we’ll be on our way.”

“Hmph.”


Two of the three escort ships docked to either side of the Heidrun. Einarr ground his teeth in annoyance, but did not challenge them. Given what he knew of Thorndjupr, he’d be an uneasy neighbor with them as well. “Naudrek! Get your teams together. The quicker we get out of here, the better.”

“Yes, sir!”

While Naudrek and perhaps half the crew went into Blávík town to haggle, Einarr and the others had the—much duller—task of readying the ship for loading. There were empty casks and crates to be disposed of, and it was always a good idea to check the ship over for damage, even if you hadn’t seen combat since your last port, and a hundred other minor matters. Had their welcoming party been less hostile, Einarr might have traded Naudrek places anyway, but under the circumstances he thought it might be construed as hostile.

Hours passed, and the day wore on. As the sky began to deepen into twilight, the first of the teams returned hauling casks of ale and casks of water. Thank goodness.

All seemed to be going smoothly until, after perhaps half of the casks had been loaded, the second team arrived all-but empty handed. Naudrek approached Einarr, his eyes darting up and down the pier nervously.

Einarr raised an eyebrow. They could always fish, if they had to, but… “What happened?”

Naudrek came up close and spoke lowly in Einarr’s ear even as he thrust a scroll into his hand. “Trouble. Not just for us.”

Unrolling the scroll, Einarr took it in at a glance. Then his brow furrowed: something didn’t make sense. “Explain.”

“They’re forming a league to fight those crazy cultists. The ones who let loose the black kraken, I think. Only this so-called ‘League’ is buying up all the food. More than one townsperson complained they couldn’t even get cabbages.”

“…Odd.”

“Well, it gets worse. Some puffed-up young rooster overheard us trying to get something – anything – from the smokehouse. He swaggers up – you know the type – and tries to get us to join up with the League. ‘This town can only feed one army, but you can get in on it,’ that sort of thing. Only when that doesn’t work he tries threats. Odvir and I are sure as sure that we were tailed back here.”

“So they know what ship you’re on. And odds are solid they’ll think we’re freeboaters.” Einarr nodded unhappily. “Fine. I’ll make sure the watch knows – unless you think we’ll have a good tide tonight?”

“You think our escorts will let us out under cover of darkness?”

Einarr bit back a curse. “No. No, you’re right.” He pursed his lips, thinking. “I’m going to pay a visit to one of our guides. We have any of our own ale still in the hold?”

“A little.”

“Bring me a keg. I’m going to try to make nice. Maybe I can get some information about this ‘league’ out of them.”

“Good luck, Einarr.”

He nodded. “You, too. Be ready: if I think we can slip out before the moon’s up, we will. …Where’s Finn?”

“Finn? He was with us just…” Now Naudrek swore, as his eyes scanned the laboring crew and discovered that the scout was nowhere to be seen.


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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.

“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.

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.

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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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.

At first light the next day, Einarr set off for the barrow field with Naudrek and Troa, leaving the others to continue their search for answers in the ruins. As they stepped out of the crumbling stone walls, Einarr saw movement off towards the horizon: one of the draugr, shambling into the forest to rest – if the abominations truly rested – for the day.

Half-starved wolves. Draugr, attacking relentlessly any foolish enough to be out after dark. Surely they had already devoured all the game animals and the livestock. The plants all seemed as sickly grey as the sky. What amazed Einarr under these circumstances was that anyone still lived here at all. “Everything about this island seems strange,” he said aloud.

Naudrek snorted. “You’re not wrong. But why do you say it now?”

“Just thinking. Everything we’ve seen here leads almost inevitably to this place being part of Hel’s domain. But she is the keeper of the dishonored dead. So then why is there anyone living here at all? And how are they still alive?”

“Fish,” Troa answered. “And even sickly vegetables are better than none at all. Cabbage grows everywhere.”

Einarr grunted. “Okay. So there’s how. But still, it’s been more than two generations since they ran Grandfather out, and there are children.”

Naudrek frowned. “What was it you and Hrug thought was so interesting the other night?”

“Ragnar… was not a good Thane.”

“The townspeople made that eminently clear.”

“I don’t mean to his people. He was, so far as we could tell, very generous with other peoples’ things.”

“Come again?”

“The tablet Hrug brought out was a basic accounting of stores. Every once in a while, a traveler would stop by Thorndjupr and be granted hospitality at the Hold. And every one of them would turn around and attack the men of the Hold at some point during their stay.”

“Ragnar had that many enemies?”

Einarr shook his head. “Possible, I suppose, but there was only one thing in common among the incidents, and that was Ragnar. And not long after each of them, the leaders of the town would all receive generous gifts from the Thane.” He gave Naudrek a moment for that to sink in. “I think my great-grandfather was a faithless host. And even if he is not draugr himself, I expect his haugbui labors under a curse.”

Silence ruled over their hike for quite a while following that. Around noon, they crested a small rise and found themselves facing gentle, rolling hills and new-growth forest, although the trees looked stunted.

“I think this is it,” Troa said, his mouth curling wryly.

“Wishing you’d brought Eydri yet?”

Einarr snorted. “Only a little. Come on: nothing for it but to start searching. No reason to expect the inscription’s worn away.”


Eydri raised her head from the scroll she was skimming and blew some stray hairs out of her face. It looked like it was about noon, and it felt distinctly like they were getting nowhere here. Inexplicably, she thought again of the rune-covered box Einarr had found the other morning. Did she remember where that store room was?

It was the runes, of course. Einarr was right: no-one sealed their recipe box with runes, and precious few would inscribe them on a jewelry box. She frowned: Finn and Odvir had tried to help, earlier on, but now sat a sullen guard at the doorway. Then she nodded: that was the ticket. These records were getting her nowhere. “Finn. Come with me a minute, will you? I’ve just remembered something important.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The scout stood up eagerly. Hrug glanced up from his tablet and grunted before returning to his reading.

Eydri led the young man through the old ruined hold saying little, trying to remember just which store room they had been in when Finn and Odvir had been attacked the other morning.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what are we looking for?”

She spared him a glance and a half-smile. “Einarr found a rune-worked box the other morning, right before you two were attacked by the wolves. It could be important… but I have to find it again, first.”

Finn nodded, his reddish hair flopping over his ears. “You three had the northeast, right? So I think we need to bear more to the right.”

“Ah, of course. Thank you.”

Working together with the almost comically eager to please Finn, Eydri finally found herself back in the storeroom they had raced out of so quickly the other day. The room looked as though it had been ransacked, and not by them: boxes that Eydri remembered setting carefully back on the shelf were overturned and thrown about the room, as though the stymied draugr had taken out their wrath here.

They had not destroyed the rune box, however. Eydri finally found it cast into a corner – likely where Einarr had dropped it as he raced to the rescue – and half-buried by other forlorn “treasures.” She blew off the surface of the box: in spite of everything, dust flew into the air. There was still moss stuck to the surface in places, as well. Carefully, Eydri lifted the box in both hands. “I’ve found it. We can go back now.”

“Yes’m.” If Finn was perplexed that she did not open the box immediately, he did not show it. Part of her wanted to, but she was too well versed in things of magic. She needed light, and a place to examine the box first.

When they returned to the records room, Hrug came over to examine the box as well. The runic inscription was greatly weathered and hard to decipher, but between the two of them they managed to decipher a vague message relating to fortune and fate. Eydri looked at Hrug, who nodded. There was nothing more to do but to open it.

Carefully, Eydri opened the lid of the box with both thumbs. Inside, on a fine silken pillow, lay an exquisite – and gigantic – ruby. Within the ruby glowed a single rune.


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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.

Einarr sat crosslegged on the ground, near enough the fire that the heat pressed uncomfortably against his thigh. The tablet page appeared to give an accounting of gifts presented by Ragnar to men of the town. It seemed utterly ordinary, so he turned back to the previous page.

That spoke of a traveler who stopped by these islands and was granted hospitality in the Hold. In the dead of the night, it said, the traveler and his crew attacked the men of the hall, but were vanquished and driven off. This was less than a month before the accounting of gifts. Strange that a traveler would violate the laws of hospitality like that, but honorless dogs did exist.

Before that, there were several pages of ordinary seeming accounts, and then a near repeat of the gifts and tale Einarr had just read. Once was not unheard of. Twice in – if he was not mistaken – less than a year was decidedly odd, and Hrug had been certain this was important. “Hrug, am I right in thinking you saw a pattern here?”

He nodded.

“How many times did you see it repeat?”

He held up his single hand with the thumb across his palm, four fingers extended.

Einarr frowned. “Definitely suspicious… although I’m not sure it proves anything by itself.” He sighed, smoothing the hairs of his beard around his mouth. “Well. We know where to go to look tomorrow. Time to turn in, if you’re not on watch. Good night, and good fortune.”


The next morning they were all up at first light after an uneventful watch. Why the abominations left them alone in their camp, none of them could say, but they were all determined not to have a repeat of the night before. Einarr broke his fast with a strip of jerky gnawed on as they returned to the records chamber.

He’d read more of Hrug’s tablet during his watch. The pattern remained consistent, and he didn’t think the world had changed that much since Ragnar’s day. Freeboaters were an unpredictable lot, but the simplest solution to the pattern suggested they were not the faithless ones.

Eydri frowned. “That’s terrible, and all by itself it might explain why Raen left, but it doesn’t explain why all the townspeople hate the name of Ragnar, nor why this island is like it is.”

“No, it doesn’t. Eydri, I want you and Hrug to concentrate on looking for more accountings like this. The rest of us will concentrate on finding the barrows.”

She nodded her agreement, and then the seven of them split up to search the stacks of records.

Just before midday, Odvir gave a triumphant shout. The entire room seemed to vibrate with the sound and he cleared his throat, suddenly embarrassed. He held up one of the parchment scrolls. “Map.”

“Thank goodness! Bring it over here and let’s have a look.”

Everyone save Eydri and Hrug gathered around Einarr as they rolled out Odvir’s find to have a look. The parchment was badly aged, and even though it hadn’t been unrolled in more than fifty years there were places that were badly obscured by dirt, and others that showed some sort of dark stain.

Once upon a time, before whatever it was that drove out the son – or sons? – of Ragnar, this had been an impressively fortified hold. Especially considering the terrain in this area: grandfather Raen must have looked at the cliff overlooking Breidelstein harbor and called it a boon from the gods themselves. After careful study and much discussion, Einarr pointed to what – on the map – was a large clearing between the hold and the mountain spire. “It looks like this is where we’ll find the barrows.”

“That’s a mighty good hike, considering we need to be back in camp before sunset,” Troa mused.

Einar hummed in agreement as he glanced around at his fellows. “That’s why I should go alone.”

Naudrek barked a laugh. “You’re mad.”

“Your father would have our heads.” Troa added.

“And how, praytell, do you expect to tell the right barrow on your own?” Eydri purred from across the room. That was a dangerous sound coming from her.

“I may not have all the lore of the Singers, but it’s not that hard to reason out. Whatever happened with Ragnar, grandfather was run out of town. He wouldn’t have had time to build an elaborate barrow, but he wouldn’t have wanted to leave his own father for carrion, either. So it’s hastily made, and probably as near to the hold as he could manage. You worry about your own task, Eydri, and let me worry about the ritual that every groom in the Clans undertakes before his wedding.”

Eydri rolled her eyes dramatically and pulled down another tablet. Hrug chuckled.

“You’re still not going out there without at least one of us to watch your back.” Naudrek poked Einarr in the chest, eliciting a raised eyebrow.

“I could order you all to stay behind and guard those two.”

Now Troa laughed. “Could. But we all know you’re smarter than that.”

“We’ll come with you.” Naudrek swung his thumb between himself and Troa. “I know we’ll be watching each other’s backs at least as much as yours, but even if that’s all we manage at least you’ll have two extra pairs of eyes.”

“Fine. You win. We’ll leave first thing in the morning: even if we found the barrow this afternoon, we’d have to come right back to camp afterwards.”

Einarr’s acting Mate and the leader of his scouts nodded their heads decisively. Einarr let the parchment roll back up and secured it with the leather thong Odvir handed him.

“Now that that’s decided, we should all give Eydri and Hrug some help. The more I know going in, the better I’ll be able to deal with whatever this island throws at me.”


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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.

Sinmora slashed down and a draugr collapsed into a pile of bones, only to begin reassembling itself almost immediately. Troa stomped on the pile of bones and moved into the hole it left even as he took out the legs of the one behind it. Then Finn stepped forward as Troa had before.

They fought, and as they fought they crept their way forward, keeping the two most vulnerable in the center of their circle. Even as they moved forward, though, the walking dead reassembled themselves in their wake.

A bony claw clutched at Einarr’s wrist. He kicked, the sole of his boot striking the skeletal form in what would have been its nose, had it still possessed one. It stumbled backward anyway, knocked off balance by the blow. “Hrug! Tell me you have something you can do!”

The mute sorcerer grunted.

“He’s trying,” Eydri hollered, her voice sounding less raspy now. “Runes also… resist.”

Shit. “Fine,” he growled. “That means its up to the rest of us. Forward! Defend the center.”

On they pressed, knocking aside or trampling the abominations of Hel on their way back to their defensible camp. Finally, panting, Einarr and Naudrek stood shoulder to shoulder in the doorway of their camp, holding back the pursuing soldiers of the dead. Troa and Finn took up a post in the other door while Odvir set about building up their fire.

At last Odvir sat back from the fire pit with a groan and the warm orange glow of a wood fire pressed against the darkness all around. Slowly, as the firelight shone on the backs of the defenders and slipped past them to illuminate the draugr, the enemy fell back into the night as quietly as they had appeared.

Minutes passed. Einarr and Naudrek scanned the darkness outside the chamber they had all mentally designated as ‘home’ for the duration of this quest, and the draugr did not reappear. Finally Einarr took a deep breath and turned back to the rest of his team.

Eydri was looking over Finn. Odvir sported a bandage around his wrist and several visible bruises. Hrug was looking through the tablet he had brought from the records room, his brow creased in concentration.

“What happened out there?” Einarr demanded.

Eydri shook her head. Einarr waited. Finally, she answered. “I don’t know. When I tried to Sing, it was like my throat was suddenly dry and sore. Water hasn’t helped – not that the water on this cursed island is any better than the bread in town was.”

Einarr frowned. “Dry throats happen. I’m not going to worry unless it happens again… but all the same, men, let’s not count on the Song Magic. What about Hrug?”

The question was still addressed to Eydri, who had seen, and Hrug didn’t even look up from his tablet. “That’s a little harder to explain. He traced a rune on the ground, and stared at it like he always does, but nothing happened. Then he pulled out one of his runestones, and the lines on it flickered like wet kindling and went out.”

Einarr blinked, wide-eyed, and turned a questioning look on Hrug, who nodded. “That is troubling. And neither of you have any idea what could cause such a thing?”

Hrug shook his head and turned his attention back to the tablet he was searching. He must have seen something important in there, earlier: Einarr wasn’t about to begrudge him his reading this night.

Eydri also shook her head and gave a deep sigh. “This being Hel’s domain by itself doesn’t explain it. I need to know more before I could do anything more than take a shot in the dark.”

Einarr nodded. “Fine. Double watches tonight, everyone. There’s no telling if they’ll try to take us again when we’re off our guard.” An idea occurred to him. “Eydri… as a test, try to sing us a lullaby.”

“A… you want me to try to put you all to sleep?”

“Sure. If it works, we can wake up the first watch ourselves. If it doesn’t we know.”

“As you wish.” Eydri closed her eyes and centered herself.

“You’re throat’s not dry right now, is it?”

“No.”

He waved her to go ahead, and her nostrils flared as she took a deep breath in. Then she opened her mouth to sing. The lovely, sweet notes of a lullaby drifted out across their camp, and for the space of a few heartbeats Einarr thought it would work. Then, as before, Eydri seemed to choke on the words and dissolved into a hacking cough. Einarr handed her his water skin as she rasped out “No good.”

He nodded. “Right. So, gents, it’s time to prove Kaldr wrong. We can’t depend on magic here, in spite of having three seithir along. It sounds like our runestones might work, if we’re lucky, but best to assume they won’t. Once we find Ragnar’s barrow I want you five to figure out what is going on here, and if it’s something I’ll need to deal with before we can leave.”

“Surely you’re not going to leave yourself unguarded in the barrow?”

“What sort of man needs help retrieving the sword for his own wedding? The draugr left us alone all day, and went away when we got the fire going. So long as I’m careful about my timing, I’ll be fine. I’m more worried about those two.” He pointed to Eydri and Hrug.

Hrug was staring at him intently, one finger tapping at a place on the tablet in his lap.

“What do you have for me, Hrug?”

The mute sorcerer stood up and crossed the room in two strides to thrust the page before Einarr. He looked down and sighed, then took the seat by the fire Hrug had just vacated. He would need it to be able to read the old birchbark.


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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.