The fiery arrow was not, by itself, enough to finish off the abomination, but the way that fire spread over its body Einarr didn’t think it would last much longer, and its flailing was very shortly going to put his team in danger. He raised his voice and cupped a hand to his mouth. “Jorir! Everyone to me!”

Then he turned his attention back to the field. Whether the team fighting at the edges of the field heard him or not, they were not trying to fall back – which was good. He was about to send some reinforcements. With five teams on the field, they still only had twenty men – counting himself – and at least that many cursed warriors. That wasn’t even counting their Talon Knight handlers.

One of the teams of the cursed was hurrying across the field directly toward him, heedless of the arrows that still stubbornly fell like rain in spite of the tower’s instability.

There’s one thing I can do, anyway. Einarr quickly drew and called lightning down on their heads. That stopped the knights in their metal armor and most of the cursed warriors. Between holding the half-burned abomination in place and shaking up the tower archers, all this magic was starting to give Einarr a headache – not enough to stop him, yet, but he was definitely not used to fighting this way.

Jorir and the eleven remaining men who had been trying to take down the monstrosity surrounded Einarr and Irding now, forming a circle of steel around them. Irding looked grateful not to have to block arrows for the moment. A moment later they were joined by the late-come team on the field.

Jorir glanced over his shoulder to his liege lord. “Now what?”

Einarr glanced his men over and nodded to himself. Down five men was probably the best he could hope for, under the circumstances. “I want one, or maybe two men to cover me. Until I can get some proper healing on my leg, I’ll only be a hindrance in hand to hand, but I can still use runes. The rest of you divide up: one group goes for the fight on the edge of the field, the other one takes on those guys.”

He pointed across the field at the group of enemies that was picking its way across the field toward them. “I’ll back everyone up as best I can. Mind the tower: I don’t know how much more shaking it can take, and whoever they have up there is damnably determined.”

“Aye, sir!” several of the men answered at once. Arkja already led about five of them over to the struggling team on the side: with the three they had left, that should suffice.

Jorir set his feet and looked at Irding. “I’ll cover Lord Einarr. You’re better on the offense.”

That earned the dvergr a rakish grin. “You’re right about that. Thanks for the breather, though.”

Einarr glanced around at the field of battle: the arrowfall from the tower had nearly ceased, but Einarr didn’t dare let up on his earth circle yet. Then he looked at Jorir: the dvergr was spattered all over with the abomination’s black blood.

“We have a moment. Let me do something about that.”

Jorir harrumphed. “Get us both, then. This spot won’t stay calm for long, I don’t think.”

“Would we really want it to?” Einarr dashed off the purification inscription he and Hrug had come up with after they landed. A moment later, he felt he could breathe easier at least.

The larger group under Irding was clashing with the Talon Knight team half-way across the field now. But, by the same token, more of Einarr’s men were arriving, in good order – and significantly faster than the enemy knights could replenish their number. Very soon, he thought, they would be able to push into the tower and take the fortress itself.


Water sluiced over the deck of the Vidofnir, washing away the black blood of the cultists and the red blood of Stigander’s raiders almost as fast as they could spill it. This was no raid like the one that took his Astrid – oh, no. Neither was it a hastily assembled chase, where the cult ships had been caught off-guard as Vidofnir and Skudbrun fled their stronghold. No, the leadership of the city had seen this battle well enough in advance that they had ships and crews at the ready, so that the trap they thought they had laid for the corrupting priests of Malúnion became instead a trap for them. Stigander, part of the circle guarding Reki from the onslaught of those who hated the clean magics of song and word and art, chopped with his own sword against the cursed. For all that the fleet was beset he could tell that they gave as good as they got. He could worry about the source of their knowledge later.

The anvil, within the harbor, had been neatly smashed, although the burning wreckage still prevented the fleet from entering the harbor en masse. That was fine: it meant that the fleet could focus on the real threat – the demon ships, with their merged, swirling squall above and their black horrors beneath the decks.

Another warrior with the gray pallor of the cursed charged at his circle, trying to break free to end Reki’s battle-fury. Calmly, Stigander raised his shield and caught the blade on its boss, then ran the warrior cleanly through with his own sword. Yet more black blood spurted out on his feet: he was glad he had left Astrid’s rabbit-skin boots at home for this journey. These would have to be burned when all was said and done.

A moment of quiet aboard the Vidofnir gave him enough time to take a breath and assess. They had cleared the cursed from their decks, and the spear-wielding elites, as well, but outside of those who guarded their Singer his own crew had already boarded the enemy ship. That was a perilous place to be, true, but it was also exactly where they belonged. Stigander raised his horn to his lips and blew. All up and down the line, he heard answers from those Captains as were in a position to give one. About half, he judged. Not good enough yet.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

When dawn broke, the water outside their little cove roiled, as though it were teeming with something just beneath the surface. Almost certainly something horrific, under the circumstances. There would be no getting a small boat through, and while they might be able to get one ship through, the cost was far steeper than either Captain was willing to bear – especially when Kaldr, knowing that he would be tasked with their strategy, had a handful of pigeons aboard. It was not a perfect solution, but it would save them a useless fight.

It also changed their strategy entirely. Since the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf were already on the inside, so to speak, they would go with a two-pronged assault. When they had enough information to draw a reasonable map of the shore, they sent a copy of that by pigeon, with instructions to get in place but wait their attack on a signal from shore.

Stigander sent a response from the Vidofnir – “Understood and underway. Monsters here, too.”

Great. Well, it’s no fun if it’s easy, right? After all this time, Einarr wasn’t really sure he believed that anymore. He handed the note to Kaldr. “Troa!”

“Yes, lord?”

“How many scout groups do we have out right now?”

“Four, sir.”

“Good. Send four men after them, let them know we’ll be taking part in a ground assault and to focus on approaches and defenses from landward.” Einarr frowned, thinking, as Troa hurried off to handle the matter.

“Jorir?”

The dvergr had been heading out toward the edges of camp, probably to assist in fortifying their position. He stopped and turned when Einarr called for him. “Aye?”

“I’ll help with the fortifications here. Give Kaldr a hand with the assault plans – this sort of planning isn’t really my strong suit.”

“As you wish.” Jorir looked amused, and Einarr couldn’t really blame him. How often, after all, had his ‘plans’ been nothing more than dumb luck and the willingness to seize it?

Their camp was screened from the water by a barrier of trees and brush they had left in place for just such a purpose, but should one of the patrol ships become curious they could still be in trouble. Especially since there was only so much one could do to hide a ship on the beach. What could be done had been done the day before: right now, they were busy building fortifications to protect their encampment from anything that happened upon them from the landward side. Einarr grabbed a sharpened post and added it to the palisade.

He was just beginning to work up a good sweat when, further down the line, someone sounded the alarm. “Draugr! Draugr!”

He let go of the post he was steadying and hurried toward the site of the alarm. It was almost certainly not a draugr, but it might perhaps be a fully corrupted enemy scout.

Sinmora was out of her sheath and in hand when he arrived. He had been right about one thing, at least: it was certainly not draugr. However, unless Einarr was very much mistaken, there was a full crew’s worth of corrupted scouts shambling towards their camp. They had been too slow: now they had to fight well and fight hard, or all their efforts at stealth would be for naught.

“To arms!” Einarr gave the order and plunged into the fray. Behind him, the call was taken up even as more of their crewmen drew steel and fell to.

One of the corrupted warriors caught his attention – larger and fiercer than the others, and roaring about himself like some sort of berserker. Without putting any conscious thought into it, Einarr began fighting his way over to the big one. The farther he moved, the more of the black blood spattered over him. After this, I don’t care how much attention it draws, we’re putting a purification circle on the camp itself.

As he reached the berserker, greeting it by slamming Sinmora into its shield, he realized Jorir was by his side. While Einarr kept the berserker’s attention, Jorir circled around behind it and buried his axe in its hamstrings – taking no small dose of the corrupted blood himself in the process.

“Thanks,” Einarr said, taking a moment to catch his breath. “Any idea how they found us?”

The dvergr slashed at another corrupted warrior who came within reach and harrumphed. “I’ll give you one guess.”

The cat. “I was afraid of that.”

Unfortunately for the corrupted warriors of the cult, a sizable number of Einarr and Kaldr’s men were veterans – if not of fighting cultists, then of several wars. A single crew’s worth of men, even with the enhanced strength and fortitude that came with the corruption and madness, did not make for an impressive battle. It did, however, prove that they could not afford to stay still any longer.

As the rest of the crew was looking about, taking stock of where the battle had struck hardest, Einarr knew what they had to do. “Pack up, move out! Hrug, you’re with me. We’ll let the others handle our things. We’ve all been in contact with the black blood now, so you and I have some work to do.”


Einarr kept Jorir, Kaldr, Hrug, and Naudrek in his team. Since there was no more camp to guard – only a few men to keep watch over their boats – Eydri went with Arkja to send word to the scouts and refresh their spirits. Einarr intended for them to return to the place where they had observed the fortress from the other night: it was a good vantage point to observe the lay of the land, and defensible by itself – provided, of course, that the same scouts who had just wrecked their camp had not infested it, as well.

As they moved, Einarr spoke quietly with Kaldr. “Once we’re emplaced again, we’ll need to move quickly. There’s only so fast the ships can get around, true, but coordinating on the ground will take some time as well… and I fear there may be more cats like the one that still troubles us.”

Kaldr nodded. “Of course, milord. You think the cat is what led them to us?”

“Indirectly, perhaps, but I suspect so, yes. So does Jorir.”

“That makes us all agreed, then. I will do what I can, but my chief constraint will be the speed at which we can get the scout reports.”

“I understand. Do what you can.”

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

Along the shore of the inlet stood a grove of trees that hung out over the water. To its left, a stretch of sand glowed in the moonlight: they could hardly ask for a better location to go ashore and conceal the boats.

Once the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf were camouflaged by the trees, the twin crews made a cold camp. About twenty men stayed behind to guard the ships and ensure all was in readiness. Everyone else formed into teams to search the island. Then, they were off. Probably there was no cause for haste, given the protections they had seen on the islands during their approach. By the same token, however, sooner or later someone was going to spot the fleet sitting at anchor, and at that point their situation would grow significantly worse.

Einarr was moving in a group with Jorir, Kaldr, Thjofgrir, and Troa: Eydri had been disappointed, but her knowledge was more likely to be valuable with the ships than scouting. The forest at night was disorienting at best, although in other circumstances – and with the right company – it could have been pretty. The oak branches swayed in a breeze that never reached the forest floor, causing the dappled patches of moonlight and shadow to shift unpredictably.

Troa led the way, with Jorir right behind him: the svartdvergr couldn’t quite match the scout for stealth, but he more than made up for it with his dvergr senses. Einarr came next, flanked by Kaldr and Thjofgrir – neither of whom, he thought, would actually be any better if it came to a fight in these circumstances. But, no matter.

They had gone perhaps an hour into the forest, drawing ever farther away from their ships and the other search crews, when a low, groaning rumble made Einarr’s ears strain. “Shh!”

Everyone froze. The sound came again.

“Beast, or tree?”

Troa glanced up at the branches overhead. Their sway did not seem to have changed. “Beast, I think.”

Kaldr grunted in agreement: Einarr saw his shield shift on his shoulder. “Has anyone spotted any tracks?”

Jorir shook his head. “Not yet – not in this light. Even dvergr have trouble tracking beasts under the moon.”

“We’ll just have to keep going, then. Keep your wits.”

He was certain the admonishment was unnecessary, on one level, but on another it was critical. They moved on, and as they went Einarr found it more natural to rest his hand on Sinmora’s hilt.

A peculiar, not entirely pleasant odor crossed his nose. Einarr sniffed, then had to stifle a cough. “I think we’ve entered its territory,” he whispered.

“Aye, we have,” Jorir agreed. “Come look at this.”

It was hard to make out in the dark, but there, plain as day, were marks from claws being dragged through the dirt. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but that looks feline to me.”

“Based on the scratches in the trees, maybe,” Troa mused. “Only, I’ve never heard of a cat that big before.”

“Nor I,” Einarr answered. “But we have to remember who we’re dealing with here. I fought a Singer who had been turned into a Troll: making a cat five times its normal size shouldn’t be that difficult.”

Thjofgrir sniffed then, and chuckled. “If that’s a cat, best check your boots. Someone just stepped in cat shit.”

Einarr’s eyes went wide, and suddenly he was glad no-one could see his face. He cursed, perhaps more loudly than he should have. “Privy or no privy, a giant cat’s hunting ground is no place to be at night. We should move on.”

“Of course, sir.” Thjofgrir’s voice was still amused: Einarr hadn’t hidden anything.

The growl sounded again, closer this time. Now Einarr smiled in spite of himself. “So, funny thing about cat shit. It can cover our scents.”


“Tromping through cat excrement will cover our trail, you say?” Kaldr asked, his shield up and his sword drawn.

“It should have! I’m rusty, but I’m not that rusty.”

“Lord Einarr is right.” Troa’s voice was calm, but his posture was just as tense as everyone else’s. “When hunting alone, it is considered wise to scent yourself with the waste of the creature you hunt.”

At the edge of the clearing where they now stood shoulder to shoulder, they could see a pair of giant green cat eyes glowing from the shadow of the forest.

Thjofgrir, incongruously, belly-laughed and banged his blade against his shield. “Nothing like a fight to get the blood pumping. Maybe we’ll be lucky and it will be tasty.”

“Not likely.” Einarr steadied his stance and glanced down at Jorir, on his right. Sure enough, the dvergr was already steady as a rock, waiting for the beast to pounce.

“More likely it’s some sort of corrupted horror. Not that we’ll be able to tell in this light.”

“My lord,” Jorir rumbled, never looking away from where the cat crouched. “If I may, now might be an excellent time for a little light. I will cover you while you inscribe.”

Einarr frowned. They were out in the open, on the one hand, and any light he made would be a beacon to their enemies. On the other hand, this cat was the only other creature they had seen all night, and lighting their footing would help tilt the odds of this fight. “All right.”

Einarr stepped back. Jorir stepped over. Neither of these actions had finished when the cat leapt out of the clearing, clearly sensing a weakness. Tentacles lashed at Jorir and at Troa, at either end of the line, and the black-striped face snarled even as it swiped at Kaldr.

Jorir, to his credit, chopped at the tentacle that had swiped for him without a second’s hesitation.

Einarr finished drawing the light rune on his shield and activated it. Then he glanced off to his side and realized: there were two of them.

The beasts snarled again, weirdly in sync, and flinched back from the sudden brightness. If there were two of them, though… “Form a circle!”

“A what? Why?” Kaldr slashed at the beast’s face with his sword, buying himself enough space to glance over and back at Einarr. “By all the gods, where did that one come from?”

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The comment was met by a wave of laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Kaldr? Jorir? Any thoughts?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye, sir.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

“So much for the resupply,” Jorir grumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can, actually.”

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

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

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

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

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

Arkja’s face was pale. “That’s…”

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

The mute shook his head.

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

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

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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

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

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

 

The Heidrun ran up the white flag as they approached the freehold Gabriel led them to. Even so, as he waited at the top of the gangplank, while Gabriel approached up the beach, they were greeted by a sturdy older woman wielding a massive axe in one hand and a proper shield in the other. She scowled fiercely at the approaching boat, and Einarr thought she would likely give a good accounting of herself, just on sheer determination.

Then she saw Gabriel and let the axe head drop. “You’re alive? Then, is…?”
Gabriel nodded. “He’s in Breidelstein: they say we can start over there. Kem is gone.”

Relief and fury warred on the woman’s face – relief, he was sure, for the safety of her husband. Fury, he didn’t have to guess at.

“Leave Flatey? Start over? Are you mad?”

“What else are we supposed to do? With Kem gone, we’ve no-one to trade with between here and Breidelstein. No apothecary, no herb witch. One bad winter would kill us all.”

“The lad is right,” Einarr chimed in, still standing on the deck. “It might not even take a bad winter: there are monsters at sea now. Raenshold has men who have fought them before, and a good harbor, and lots of unworked land to boot. I’m afraid the Heidrun isn’t equipped to carry much livestock, but we’ve enough cargo space for anything else you care to bring.”

The woman stood there, staring at both of them, her mouth working soundlessly, for a long time. As the quiet dragged on, the fury faded from her face and her shoulders began to sag.

“You may as well come ashore. We’ll need some time to pack.”


Einarr’s Heidrunings were still gripped with a solemn urgency when they docked once more in Breidelstein. Gabriel’s master waited at the docks for his family – which plainly included Gabriel, no matter what his technical status was. Einarr was pleased that had worked out as well as it had, even with everything else weighing on his mind.

Gorgny also greeted their return at the docks: Einarr was always a little surprised the man was willing to walk down to the port for this sort of thing: he was at least as old as Tyr, and hadn’t spent most of the last twenty years at sea – and that wasn’t accounting for his duties towards Grandfather Raen. Still, if it was Gorgny here and not Father or Kaldr, that meant they were absorbed in other important matters.

Einarr and his commanders disembarked to join him, escorting the former Captain of the League, Thrand, and the seven of them set off at a quick pace for the cliff road. “What’s happened while we’ve been out?” Einarr asked Gorgny.

“I see you’ve returned with another new face, milord?” The old advisor raised an eyebrow.

The meaning was plain. “He’s our captive, but also a refugee. Lone survivor of the massacre of Kem.”

Gorgny nodded. “Representatives have been arriving since not long after you left, milord. I’m sure they are all waiting to learn what you have found out.”

Fair enough. Einarr wasn’t entirely certain how trustworthy Thrand was at this point, either, and that was after traveling with the man. “So long as they allow us enough time to wash the salt off – and maybe for the rest of my crew to finish unloading and do the same. Any other reports of razed settlements?”

“I’m afraid so, milord. The Kjellings ran into one on their way, as did one or two other representatives. The Captain of the Skudbrun seemed particularly disturbed by what he saw.”

“Understandably so. He’s seen it before, too. … Let those who found the massacres know that, should they wish to compare notes, I intend to sweat out the ashes of Kem in the sauna tonight. I would like a chance to speak with them privately. Probably for the best if Father does not attend: I will let him know what I intend.”

“Yes, milord.”

“By that same token, before dinner I will be in my chambers with Runa and Alfvin. We are not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.”

“Of course, milord.”


Einarr sat in the sauna, a towel wrapped about his waist, his elbows on his knees and his eyes closed. He was glad Bollinn was here: that would make matters easier, even accounting for the close ties between their clans. He still didn’t know who the other two were: he hoped he could count on them to see what was necessary.

Einarr heard a rap on the door. “Enter.”

A blast of cool air reminded Einarr of just how hot it was in here: he stood and dipped some water over the coals. When he returned to the bench, Bollinn sat across from him.

“Einarr.”

“Good to see you. How’re the Brunnings holding up?”

Bollinn shrugged. “Langavik wasn’t necessarily worse, but everything that followed was. We’ll hold up just fine.”

Einarr nodded. “Where was it?”

“Kliftorp.”

Einarr blinked. He had to think a long time to remember anything about them. “Hard to make an example out of a tiny place like that, I’d think.”

“Lots of cloth coming out of Kliftorp in the last five or ten years, and a lot of skillful Weavers.”

“Ah.” Now it made sense.

Another rap came on the door, followed by an unfamiliar, although not unpleasant, voice. “We were told we should visit the sauna tonight?”

“Yes. Please, enter, join us.”

The two who entered were built like Einarr’s father, but much closer to his own age, and bore the scars of many battles. One of them had hair almost as red as Einarr’s – and a nose that had been broken more than once. The other was as blond as Stigander and as paunchy as Erik.

“Tore, Captain of the Sterkerbjorn out of Hrafnhaugr,” the redhead introduced himself.

“A pleasure. Not sure I ever had the pleasure of seeing Hrafnhaugr.”

Tore smirked. “Not much reason for a ship of freeboaters to head that way.”

Einarr nodded his acknowledgment, then turned to the man who looked shockingly like a younger version of his father.

“Serk, of the Björtstag. From Sweindalr.”

Bollinn waved silently: evidently, they’d all been here long enough to become acquainted already.

“Good to meet you both, and I’m glad you came. I’m certain you can guess why I called you all here tonight.”

“Oh, aye, that’s not hard to figure.” Tore settled himself on a bench and fixed a level eye at Einarr. “What I want to know is why?”

Serk, too, took a seat on a bench and settled himself leaning against a wall. “I’d like to know that, myself. I’m not sure there’s really much to talk about, is there?”

“A couple years ago, I might have thought the same. Then the worshipers of a dark demigod named Malùnion kidnapped my wife…”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr 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.

 

Arkja stood examining a doorpost that seemed to have escaped the worst of the blaze. Einarr could make out an old and rather worn carving of runes – a blessing of protection on the house, he was sure. But on top of that, and much fresher, were other and different runes, drawn much more crudely.

“This…” he paused, inspecting it a little more closely. “This is part of the inscription that was used to burn the city down. If the Muspel Shroud was still around, it would have been drawn to this like a moth to a lamp.”

Jorir harrumphed. “No doubt the Shroud was a troublesome thing to deal with… but I wonder if it wouldn’t be a help, under the current circumstances.”

“Not sure how. I expect it would show up, discover there was nothing left to burn, and then move on.”

Jorir shrugged but did not try to explain himself.

“Let’s continue on. I think we’ve found everything we’re going to right here.”

They combed the ruins of Kem until the light began to fail. The only living thing anyone saw were crows, come to pick among the coals for anything that might still be edible. Nothing living, however, did not mean they found nothing.

When it was nearly time to turn back to the ship for the night, they reached the central square of the city. Once upon a time, not all that long ago, Einarr was certain they would have found it packed at any time of the day or night. Market stalls would have abounded, selling hot food or fresh vegetables or any number of goods. The buildings of Kem were taller than in most Clan cities, and there would have been people living on the upper levels.

And when the fire swept through, they would have been trapped. Einarr shuddered at the thought.

There was, however, a massive standing stone in the very center of the square, exactly where Gabriel remembered – and apparently untouched by flame. And, as they had hoped, someone had left a message burned into the stone.

Burned? There could be a Painter here, we’re close enough to the Empire, but I feel like I’ve seen that before.

He glanced over to see Jorir standing beside him. “Does that look familiar to you?”

The svartdvergr blinked, then shook his head. “It’s written in runes, isn’t it? All I see is a gray blur.”


The teams all met back up on the Heidrun just before sunset, as they had agreed. It was a somber meeting: no-one could face destruction such as they saw on the island and be easy with it. Once the wards were drawn, Einarr looked around at his crew and asked the expected question. “What did everyone find?”

Hrug’s findings, as reported by Arring, were consistent with what Einarr had found, save that they hadn’t made it as far as the square. There had been traces of some rune workings that had perplexed Hrug, and they had taken time to investigate those.

Eydri, however, offered Einarr a mysterious smile when it was her turn to report. “Of physical evidence, we found no more than either of your groups. However, I think you might be interested in this.”

Irding ushered forward the sunken, disheveled figure of a half-starved man, his hair as wild as his eyes and his body smeared all over with ashes.

“He tells me his name is Thrand, and he hails from Blávík. He has a rather interesting tale to tell.”

The man who stepped forward, out of the protective line of people that sheltered him from notice, fidgeted with his fingers, and his eyes darted this way and that, as though he expected a monster to pop out at him at any moment. His eyes lit on Einarr’s face for a moment longer than they focused on anything else and he squinted at him, as though he were trying to remember something.

“Hello, Thrand. My Singer tells me you have a story I should hear.”

“Y-y-y-yes, milord.” He fell silent again. Just when Einarr was about to prompt him again, Thrand began. “I am… I was the Captain of a League ship. At the beginning of the season, my boat was among those sent out to hunt down and destroy enclaves belonging to the thrice-damned Squid Lovers.

“We’d rooted out two or three enclaves already when we got word that one of their demon ships had been spotted around Kem–”

“Wait. Rooted out? What direction did you come from? Are you to blame for those other settlements around here that were razed?”

“Each and every one of them was deep in the corruption of Malúnion.” He said it with almost crazed conviction. For the moment, Einarr would let it pass. “So yes, we rooted out two or three enclaves before we got credible word that the infection had spread to Kem.

“I didn’t hesitate. We sailed here as quickly as I could make my ship run – and you’ve seen, milord, how fast she can be.”

Einarr looked at the decrepit man again, but still had no idea who it could be. “When we got here, sure enough, there was a demon-headed longship headed into the port. Needless to say, after our successes up to then, we gave chase. Chased it right into the harbor here.”

Einarr stared mutely at the man. Brave was one word you could use for what sounded like this man and his ship had done, but Einarr thought idiotic more appropriate. When he found his voice, he said, “Go on.”

“Well, milord, what we found was… what we found was a mess. We attacked the demon ship. Then … then…” He shook his head, trying to clear it at least enough to talk.

“Then what?”

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was like the streets started boiling, and there were monsters among the men of the city, attacking other men of the city… only it was more like a slaughter. Most of the Flatings had no chance. My men had no real chance, and we’d been training for this day. … The Squid-lovers were doing something. Some sort of ritual, I thought – there was a lot of screaming involved. We… we were the ones who set Kem on fire. It seemed like the least we could do, after what we’d wrought.”

Einarr rested his chin in his hands, thoughtful. Then something odd the man said struck him. Something about how Einarr knew what the man’s ship was capable of stuck out. “Do I… know you?”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr 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.

 

It was good to sail with a full crew again. Naudrek had ceded the post of Mate back to Jorir in good graces, now that the svartdvergr was returned to them. Eydri and Hrug were back in their proper places as well, and Vali’s jar was stowed unobtrusively below. Erik had gone with Sivid, but Irding and Arring had come aboard the Heidrun, as had Svarek and the men from the Forgotten Isle. The rest of his crew he filled with volunteers in consultation with Sivid and Kaldr.

The refugees who had arrived from Kem were given a chance to come along. The younger man – who looked vaguely familiar to Einarr, and not at all like someone of the Clans – took them up on it. The older man declined, but also asked that they pay a visit to his farmhold and bring back his wife and their children – a request easily agreed to.

Now, after a week’s hasty preparations, Einarr and the Heidrun set sail for the southwest, where lay Kem on the borders of Imperial waters. Einarr smiled to see Runa and little Alfvin on the docks, watching them leave. For his part, he felt much better knowing they were here, guarded by all the forces his father could muster. She seemed less happy, but the duty of the prince was to lead their forces into the fray, whatever that might be.

Heidrun, too, seemed to be ready to go. Perhaps it was a trick of the wind, but the ship itself felt eager under Einarr’s feet, like a horse feeling its oats. Einarr grinned. It was good to be back on the whale-road.

Unbidden, the image of the body hanging in the warehouse in Langavik came to mind, and his grin turned to a shudder.


Two months – at least – after it was attacked, the ruins of Kem still smoked and smoldered in places. Einarr stood on the deck of the Heidrun staring in stunned silence at the empty pier and the wreckage beyond. No-one aboard spoke.

Finally, after his mind had begun to work again and the silence stretched into a goad, he took a deep breath. Standing here would accomplish nothing. “Naudrek, the ship is yours. Jorir, you’re with me – Gabriel, you too. Eydri, Hrug, choose a handful of men. We’ll split into four groups and quarter the city. The trail’s already long cold, which means we need to be thorough. Be back at the ship by dusk: if there are hungry dead about, we can ward the Heidrun.”

A chorus of ‘aye’s traveled around the deck. Einarr also brought Arkja and Svarek, while Irding went with Eydri’s group and Arring with Hrug’s. Einarr felt somewhat better at that: that meant that all three of their groups had someone who knew at least a little magic, and every one of those sorcerers had at least one powerful warrior with them.

Then they were off, the group commanders trudging down the ash-stained pier at the head of their teams – and it was trudging, for each and every one of them.

Once they had turned off the main road onto one of the innumerable narrow side-streets, Jorir cast a look at Gabriel. “Did you an’ yer Pa set fire to the city, or was it like this when you got here?”

The young man shook his head. “Pa? Me Pa’s dead ten years. The old man’s my master… you didn’t realize?”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. “You seem to be on awfully friendly terms with him for a thrall.”

Gabriel smirked at that. “Maybe so. He’s never gone so far as to adopt me, officially, but that’s how he treats me. You have no idea who I am, do you?”

“None. I’m sorry: it’s been an eventful few years.”

You sold me into thralldom, to pay the apothecary. ‘Twas about what the life of a common footpad was worth, I suppose.”

Einarr and Jorir both stopped in their tracks, the rest of their group sharing looks of confusion.

“That was you?” they asked together.

“That was me. But no, the city was already burned when we got here. If it hadn’t been…” He looked pointedly down at the ground, into the corner where the charred wall of a building still rose from the road, and poked a toe into the ash. What was plainly a human bone rolled free.

“Charnel. I agree: I’ll take the smell of wet ash over the smell of rotting bodies any day. On the other hand, it does complicate our search somewhat.”

Jorir grunted.

Einarr looked around where they stood. Off to the left stood a mostly intact two-story building. “That looks like a promising place to start.”

Inside, they found overturned furniture and splatters of blood, obvious even under the thin coating of ash and soot. Overturned, broken jars were everywhere, but Einarr could not guess at what they might have held. He picked one of them up to examine it more carefully. “The apothecary, you say. He was some sort of relation of your master. Did you find him?”

There was a long pause before the young man answered. “No. Not that that means much under the circumstances.”

“Well. If we find a camp of survivors, so much the better, but that’s not what we’re looking for. The cultists carved up dead bodies: I don’t expect the League to be quite that brutal. Fan out. Once we’ve searched this building we’ll move on to the next.”

“And, if you don’t mind me asking, what are we looking for?” Arkja asked.

“Something unusual, or out of place.” Einarr answered. If we’re lucky, they’ll have left a message someplace for any interlopers who happened by.”

Jorir harrumphed. “And if we’re unlucky, it will have gotten gobbled up by the fire.”

Everyone but Gabriel chuckled. He looked thoughtful. “I think I know where they might have left a message like that.”

Einarr looked at him, waiting.

“There’s a big monument in the town square – not much more than a giant slab, really, carved with the world tree and various doings along its height. They’d be far from the first to scrawl on it, and I’d be surprised if the fire could have touched it.”

Einarr nodded. “Good. We’ll check it out when we get there. We’re better off sticking with the method, though, rather than haring off after an obvious sign that may not exist.”

“Yes, sir,” he answered.

“My lord?” Arkja called from the far side of the house. “What do you make of this?”

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

Einarr was far gladder than he cared to admit – especially to Runa – to see Breidelstein harbor as it hove into view. Captain Tormud of the Thorfridr had been more than gracious, and had pushed his ship beyond all limits so that they could pay the calls they had to in the allotted time. Nor could he fault the company: what he and Runa lacked in privacy, they gained in discretion from the crew. Unfortunately, not only was this not his Heidrun, but he’d also spent their time ashore engaged in political maneuvering.

Finally, though, the Thorfridr glided up to the pier and stopped with a gentle tap. Einarr stood and stretched and took a quick glance around their tent in the back of the ship. Everything seemed to be in order. “Ready to go?” he asked Runa with a smile.

Runa had not seemed to mind their political duties at all over the course of their honeymoon. On the contrary, she was in her element the entire time, even when facing the Matrons of the Circle. She stretched languidly in a way that accentuated her curves, deliberately teasing him. “I suppose we must.”

“Come now. Father will be expecting us. There is much to tell, after all.” He still enjoyed the view, however.

She laughed, the sound like tinkling chimes, as she rose gracefully to her feet and wrapped her arm around his. “In that case, let us be off.”

The brief scramble of noise that was a practiced docking was already dying down. Einarr shouldered the most important of their packs – the others would be brought up by porters later – and escorted his wife out and across the gangplank. It was a long walk up the cliff to the Hold, but that was no bad thing: Einarr wrapped his arm around Runa’s waist and they strolled leisurely through the streets of Breidelstein.

When their path eventually took them up to the gates of the Hold, Kaldr was waiting for them, a grim expression on his face.

“Well now,” Einarr said with a lopsided smile. “You’re as cheery as ever. Good to see you, too, Kaldr. Where’s Father?”

“In his study, waiting on the two of you with pastries and the second to last bottle of your wedding mead.” The corner of Kaldr’s mouth actually quirked upwards in amusement. “Walk with me. There’s been an incident since you left: I thought you should know before you spoke with your father.”

“What? What happened? Tell me I don’t have another island to go pacify…”

“No, not at all. Your father managed to smooth the remaining ruffled feathers at your wedding, I think. No… it’s Jorir.”

“Jorir?” He stopped. The dwarf was both loyal and reliable. What sort of trouble could he have gotten into in a month? Runa bit her lower lip, evidently worried.

“He’s missing. Ever since your wedding night.” Kaldr did not stop walking, forcing the other two to jog in order to catch up.

“What?” Einarr was caught between shock and outrage. “Why did no-one tell me?”

“You would have gone haring off after him, rather than attending to your wife and the other duties of your honeymoon.”

He glanced down at Runa, knowing it was true. “But he’s my liege man, and my friend.”

He could feel Runa glaring at him even without looking.

Leaving aside the happiness of your marriage – which would suffer greatly in those circumstances – and the necessity of you producing an heir before one of your misadventures gets you killed, that still could not have been allowed. For nearly twenty years, now, Breidelstein had been completely isolated from the rest of the world. That little cruise we arranged for you was to show the other clans that era is over, and things have changed. …And here we are. Lord Stigander awaits, milord. And now that you are briefed, you can intelligently discuss your next steps.” Kaldr rapped loudly on the door to Stigander’s study.

Enter,” came the answer.

Kaldr pushed open the door and gestured for Einarr and Runa to enter first.

You’re back!” Stigander grinned as he stood and opened his arms wide. Kaldr quietly stepped inside and closed the door behind himself.

Home at last,” Einarr smiled, embracing his father. “Anything interesting happen while we were away?”

Stigander hesitated. “No, of course not. As usual, all the excitement followed you around.”

All of it? Then what’s this I hear about Jorir disappearing into the night?”

His father sighed, seeming to deflate a little, and glanced at Kaldr. “Have a seat, all of you. …Honey cakes?”

Einarr and Runa each accepted one, but Einarr did not bite into his immediately. “Kaldr tells me Jorir has been gone since my wedding night. Surely someone has gone in search of him, at least?”

Aye. Finn returned two days ago. He managed to track your man to Mýrarhöfn, but he lost the trail there.”

Mýrarhöfn?”

Kaldr cleared his throat. “A free isle a good ways east of Kem, not far north of Imperial waters. As I understand it, it’s rather rough and lawless.”

Quite right,” Stigander agreed. “I expect, now that you know, you want to head out after him?”

Of course.” Einarr answered absently, rubbing his chin with his forefinger. “Kem’s not exactly close by . Is the Heidrun seaworthy?”

Not yet -”

We’ll be taking my boat,” Kaldr put in. When Einarr raised a questioning eyebrow at him, he quirked one in turn. “I’ve grown rather fond of him myself, you know.”

Stigander harrumphed. “You have my leave to go, but I recommend a karve or a small knarr rather than a longship. It will be a long journey, and we can’t send a lot of people, not with the League active. Choose your men, and good fortune go with you.”

You have my thanks, Father.”

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.