No matter how they searched Blávík, they could find no sign of the League that had so recently run the city in all but name. The townspeople simply shrugged: they didn’t know what had happened, they were just glad the League was gone.
But the League was not all that had vanished. So, too, had Jarl Illugi.
When Stigander returned from his visit to the Jarl’s Hall, he sent word around. They would have a conference of Captains that evening at one of the larger public halls in Blávík: the Blue Steel. Most, but not all, of the Captains gave their crew shore leave for the evening, save for a handful of watchmen. With that many warriors loose on the city it could have been chaos – but wouldn’t be. After the depredations of the League, the mood among the Fleet was one of pride.
Einarr, Stigander, and Kaldr were among the last to arrive at the Blue Steel – by design. As they entered, Sivid rose from where he had been lounging just inside the door to fall in between Einarr and Stigander.
“Missing anyone?” Stigander asked, sotto voce.
“One or two of the freeboater captains. I think they might have joined their crew on watch, though, from what I’ve heard.”
Einarr nodded. “Any Singers in attendance?”
“Not one. Just the men tonight.”
Einarr tsked. That was both good and bad.
Stigander seemed to think the same. “If matters turn toward the esoteric, I may need you to bring Reki.”
“Of course, my lord.”
The four of them approached the head of the table, and Sivid peeled off to take a seat near the wall. Einarr noted that he very carefully chose one that fell in the shadow of a support pole. Then Stigander sat, as well – not at the head of the table. This felt odd to Einarr, even though it was his right and his duty to take the lead on this expedition. He stepped up to the head of the table and addressed the Captains.
“Gentlemen! Thank you for coming.”
Some men raised their tankards or their horns in his direction, and the low rumble of conversation stilled.
“As some of you may already know, the League has seemingly vanished from Blávík without a trace. Thus, the ships we currently have in harbor are all of us. But. Even in this room there are fifty of us, representing fifty ships, and I would pit fifty good warriors of the clans against five hundred cultists.”
Sivid chortled from his seat in the shadows. “Indeed, and you have before!”
Einarr inclined his head toward his friend’s seat. “Indeed, we have. Not too many years ago, the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun together took on an enclave of the cult of Malùnion and won, and we must have fought off that many people in the city alone, before we account for the demon ships. It can be done!
“The price for such an action was steep, however. It was all we could do to limp to Eastport on the Matrons’ isle for help, to fix our ships and heal our wounds. And, even still, we were fortunate. The Matrons had a quest for me, and in spite of everything, I returned in time with the artifact to prevent the corruption from claiming any who survived. We no longer have that artifact.”
“What?” Someone in the back called out. Einarr thought it might have been Tore. “Why in the world would you get rid of an artifact?”
“I’m afraid Frigg claimed it back after we broke the weaver’s curse that held Breidelstein in thrall to usurpers. Nevertheless. We sail the day after tomorrow. Tonight, I would have your commitment to see this through. I, on the Heidrun, will be taking the lead, and we will defer to Kaldr on the Lúmskulf in matters of strategy.”
An angry rumble started among the other captains, but truth be told, Einarr could think of no-one better for a strategist.
“I have chosen the Lúmskulf not because they are my countrymen, but because I have been on the receiving end of Kaldr’s strategies and found them to be troublesome, despite being hampered from above and below. I trust this man’s mind. If any of you would put glory before success, you may leave and try your hand alone.”
The angry rumble died down.
“As I thought.” He drew his belt knife. “And so I swear, before all of you – as Cursebreaker, as Prince of Breidelstein, and on my honor as a man – that this fleet will grind the church of Malùnion to dust, and their worshipers will spread their vile corruption no more!” As he swore his oath, he drew the blade across his palm and held it up so that the others could see the line of blood. “Who will swear with me?”
One by one, the other captains drew their own blood and clasped hands with Einarr – even his own father. There would be no turning back now for any of them. Once their oaths were sworn they fell to laying plans.
When dawn broke, nearly 3,000 men and Singers gathered in an open field outside Blávík. In the center of the field stood a stone altar, a bonfire, and – a little ways off, to avoid spooking them unnecessarily – a pen filled with goats and pigs.
When Einarr had been naught but a sailor on the Vidofnir, the idea of sacrificing to the gods like this would have been ludicrous. They had not been terribly religious, any of them – at least, not until after the Örlögnir had saved them all from a fate worse than death, and that plainly on willing loan from Frigg herself.
Even if the Vidofnings hadn’t regained a sense of gratitude to the gods, however, there were plenty of other crews that would take strength from such a ceremony. And, likely, drawing the attention of the gods to their endeavor could only help their chances. From everything Einarr knew, not even Loki could find favor with Malùnion and his methods.
The Singers gathered to either side of the altar and began to chant. No-one else spoke, until the priestess of Frigg spoke words over the first sacrifice. Its blood spread over the altar, and Frigg’s portion was given to the fire while the rest was prepared for the gathered warriors.
And so it continued, until the setting sun dyed the ground as crimson as the altar. They would sail at dawn.
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.
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