“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 interior.


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

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

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

Eydri’s eyes grew wide and she raised her hands to cover her mouth. “Oh, my.”

That got Finn’s attention. He came to look over their shoulders. “What is it?”

“Oh, no. Oh, my,” she said again. Finn looked at her for a long moment before she answered. “Unless I’m very much mistaken… Hrug, that rune is a Merkstave Fehu, yes?”

Hrug nodded.

Eydri swallowed. “That means… this is the Fehugim.”

“That… doesn’t sound bad, though? Fehu is prosperity, right?”

“No. No it definitely is bad. All the lore claims the gem is in the treasure vault of Wotan, though.” She closed the lid, gently.

Hrug tapped a finger loudly on the bound tablet sitting on the floor by his knee.

“The guests who uniformly attacked their hosts? Hm. You could have a point.”

“Would someone mind explaining this to the man in the room?”

Hrug leapt halfway to his feet, his one hand pulled back to punch the scout, who backpedaled.

“Sorry. Sorry. Old habits, and all.”

Hrug, looking not at all mollified, snorted and sat back down, still glaring at Finn.

Eydri, too, gave him a cold look before she spoke. “Mind your tongue, and remember that your own prince is no slouch with the runes.”

“Yes, my lady.”

Now that Finn appeared suitable cowed, Eydri answered. “Wotan, in his wanderings, will sometimes decide to test the hospitality of some homesteader here in the islands. Surely you’ve heard the stories.”

The newly chastened scout nodded. “Oh, that. But this seems a little extreme even for Wotan, don’t you think?”

Eydri shook her head. “Maybe not. Think about it: when some poor soul gets made an example of in the tales, it’s usually because he turned the traveller away or was rude. But if Ragnar was more bandit than Thane…”

“Then… Oh.”

“Right.”

 

 

Einarr stood at the standing stones blocking the mouth of a hastily constructed barrow. The soil above, on the mound, looked like it had recently been disturbed. He raised his hand to run his fingers over the runic inscription over the door. Who carved that, I wonder? Given what little he knew of the circumstances, he doubted there would be many willing to at the time. Perhaps one of Grandfather Raen’s retainers? There must have been a few men who went with him, or he wouldn’t have had a crew to leave.

Naudrek and Troa stood behind him to either side, flanking what would soon be a door.

“This looks like the one,” Einarr said. “How much daylight do we have left?”

“An hour, maybe two.”

Einarr sighed. Probably, he could get the sword back today. But then he would be leaving an open barrow behind them as they trekked across draugr-infested lands at night. They would be pushing it to get back before sunset as it was. “Fine. First thing in the morning. Troa, find me a long stick. Let’s stick a flag by the door so we can find it quickly.”

Not long after, a lonely scrap of cloth fluttered fitfully in front of the barrow that they were reasonably sure belonged to Ragnar, Raen’s father. Einarr let out a deep breath: it would have to do. “Let’s go. Daylight’s wasting.”

The draugr they had faced the night before had been feeble, wasted things, and even with all of them fighting through to their base camp had been exhausting. Einarr set a hard pace, jogging where they could. That he would have to face what remained of his great-grandfather was a given at this point and Einarr preferred to save his strength for that.

A fire was already burning brightly in the room they had taken for their camp when Einarr and his companions returned, glowing brightly into the dim twilight. They heard the rattle of bones behind them as they crossed the threshold: that had been far too close for comfort.

“Welcome back,” Eydri said as they stood, catching their breaths.

“My thanks,” Einarr answered. “Any luck on your search?”

Eydri and Hrug shared a look, then Eydri turned the question around on him. “Some. What of yours?”

“Oh, I found the one. Looks like something digs through the top at intervals, too. We’ll try to put the stone back over the entrance when I’m done, but…”

“I understand.”

“Now. What was it you found?”

Eydri lifted a box off their makeshift table in the back of the room and straightened. Her movements were both strangely slow and strangely jerky, as though she couldn’t quite convince herself of something. Then she thrust the box across at Einarr.

He recognized it instantly. “From the store-room. The rune-sealed ‘recipe box.’”

She nodded. “I remembered it this morning. Hrug and I worked together on it. You should see what’s inside.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow, but lifted the lid of the box. Inside, a fist-sized ruby rested on a silken pillow. A glowing ᚠ seemed to hang suspended inside.

Behind him, Naudrek whistled. “That’s a mighty valuable gem there. No wonder it was sealed away.”

Einarr wrinkled is brow. “It’s more than that, Naudrek. That rune… the branches usually stick out to the right. It’s backwards.” He shook his head. “But I don’t remember all the divination meanings of the sticks. Sorry, Eydri. You’re going to have to explain a bit more.”

“What if I told you it’s the Fehugim, and its last known location was in the treasure hall of Wotan.”

“More of Wotan’s treasure? I had nothing to do with this one.”

Eydri laughed. Troa, over by the door, cleared his throat. “You might want to close that box.”

Einarr let the box lid fall with a clack as he asked “What’s going on?”

“Whatever it is, it’s drawing attention.”

Einarr scowled. “Guard the doors, everyone. Eydri, keep talking.”

“Yes, sir.” She took the box from him even as he moved to take up a place next to Naudrek. From outside the doors, they could hear groaning and the shuffling of feet.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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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 and Troa were out of the room before they heard Eydri’s footsteps start to catch up. Her complaints registered a moment later.

“Warn a girl before you take off like that! Whatever happened to sticking together for everything?”

Einarr and Troa muttered apologies but did not slow. The sound of fighting grew closer, but still Einarr worried they would not reach the two scouts in time. When, not much later, the ruins once again grew quiet, Einarr ran faster.

When he saw the two, though, in an open space near the edge of the ruins, they were apparently unharmed. Finn stood leaning on the hilt of his blade, and Odvir rested on a tumbled-down section of wall, both catching their breath and staring into the forest.

“What happened?” Einarr demanded just as Naudrek and Hrug pounded up behind them.

Finn, straightening as he wiped a forearm across his brow, turned to face his Captain. “Wolves, sir.”

Naudrek knitted his brow. “Wolves? At this time of day?”

Odvir nodded and turned to face them as well, evidently deciding they weren’t likely to come back. “Yes, sir. Wolves — half-starved, by the look of them.”

Troa nodded in understanding. “That makes sense, actually. Not like we saw any sign of game yesterday. They probably survive on squirrels and the odd villager.”

Einarr sighed. “I don’t like this. Let’s hurry: I don’t want to stay on this island a minute longer than I have to.”

With noises of agreement all around, they returned to their search quarters with new urgency.


It was nearly evening, and the light had begun to take on the same sullen red of sunset as they had seen the night before, when Naudrek’s excited whoop echoed through the ruined walls of the old hold.

Einarr sat back on his heels and breathed a sigh of relief, glad that he didn’t have to pry open another rotting chest.

Eydri stood up and dusted off her hands. “Shall we go see what he’s found?”

“With pleasure.”

Troa stood with a groan. “How can one hold have so many storehouses?”

Einarr chuckled. “This place must have been rich, once. Which makes the fall into this all the more troublesome.”

“According to the herb-witch, we can find out what happened now that we’re here.” She was already gliding toward the exit. Einarr and Troa took up positions to either side of her as they made their way across the ruins. By the time they arrived, the light was outright dim.

The room where they found Naudrek and Hrug still somehow had part of its stone roof, and its walls were filled with chests and scroll cases. Hrug was reading over a curling page of birch bark when they arrived, but looked up briefly to offer Einarr a pleased smile. Naudrek was scanning one of the scrolls.

“If this isn’t it,” he said as they entered. “Then it’s long gone. Come take a look at this!”

Troa cleared his throat, a little nervously, and took up a post at the door. Not much later he clasped hands with Finn and Odvir as they arrived.

“All things considered, my lord,” Odvir ventured. “But shouldn’t we be getting back to camp soon?”

Einarr looked up and blinked. “It is getting a bit dim for reading.”

Troa cleared his throat again. “And wasn’t it about this time of day that the drowned draugr caught that fishing boat?”

Naudrek blinked, stunned. Einarr understood: he could hardly believe he’d forgotten it, even with the excitement of finally finding the hold records. “Of course. If you think you’ve got something useful, bring it. Otherwise we can keep looking in the morning.”

Without a moment’s hesitation Hrug tucked the tablet under the stump of his other arm even as Naudrek let his scroll roll up and left it on the table. Then they were out, darting across the open spaces of the ruined courtyard as though they were deep into enemy waters – which, Einarr supposed, was entirely too accurate.

A light mist appeared around them, although the day had been dry. Einarr moved his hand to rest on Sinmora’s hilt and did not slow. It was not ghost light – not yet, anyway – but it did not have to be. They should have gone back to camp ages ago, even before Naudrek and Hrug had made their find. Now…

Shapes moved in the mist. Their outlines were human, but that was impossible. Briefly the idea of his Wisdom runestone crossed his mind, but he put it aside. Seeing too well could be just as much an issue as seeing too poorly, after all. “Blades out, everyone. Seithir in the middle. Hrug, can you do anything about this mist?”

The mute runemaster grunted: Einarr hoped that was an affirmative. He heard the rasp of blades leaving their sheathes as they formed a defensive circle.

“Eydri, be ready. I think we’re going to have to fight our way back to camp.”

“Of course, my lord.”

Sometimes Einarr really wished he didn’t know she was attracted to him. It made moments like this awkward. But, in the end, it didn’t matter. What mattered was surviving the night.

The first of the figures solidified out of the mist: a stumbling, shambling skeletal figure, still clothed in the tattered, rotting remnants of the clothes it had died in.

“Draugr,” he said aloud, unnecessarily. He slashed downward across its neck with Sinmora, but if the rattling bones did more than pause he could not see it. “Eydri?”

The Singer drew in a deep breath to Sing, but before she got more than a few notes out she choked and coughed as though the mist were smoke in her lungs.

“Eydri?” He asked again, more alarmed this time. Before she answered he heard the gurgle of water from her skin.

“Run,” she rasped, still sounding raspy and half-choked.

They ran, striking with blade and foot alike as they tried to clear a path back to the presumptive safety of their camp.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

Much to Naudrek’s annoyance, Einarr insisted on taking the midnight watch that night. “This is your quest, Einarr. You owe it to yourself to be fresh for it in the morning.”

“You’re right. This is my quest. But I deeply mislike the situation I’ve brought you all into, and of all of us there are three who are best equipped to deal with the minions of Hel. Me, Hrug, and Eydri. And I’m the only one who can keep my own watch.”

“But—” Naudrek tried to protest again.

“But what? Don’t tell me you’re worried I’ll try to handle too much alone?”

The other man clapped his mouth shut. Einarr shook his head, chuckling. “Go to sleep. I’ll wake you first if anything happens. There will be nights enough when I’m the one sleeping the whole night.”

“…As you say.”

Now Einarr sat by the fire, polishing Sinmora’s blade while he waited to see what, if anything, the denizens of this place were going to throw at them this night. When he had relieved Troa’s watch, the man had seen nothing – which under ordinary circumstances meant there was nothing to see, and so far, neither had he.

A wisp of mist floated past outside the door of the chamber where they had made camp, glowing white. Einarr followed it with one eye: it was interesting, but after dealing with the Althane’s court he was not about to go wandering off after ghost light if he didn’t have to, alone or not.

From the other direction, a rattling noise caught his attention, but when he turned to look there was nothing there. That might bear investigating. Einarr stood, keeping hold of Sinmora’s hilt in a loose grip, and stepped softly over to the door. When he got there, though, there was nothing to see. With a sigh, he returned to his spot on the wall and polishing his sword.

Either someone – or something – is watching us, or they’re trying to lure me out. Well, they can watch us sleep if they must, but I won’t be lured. Einarr snorted, and kept a frequent eye turned in either direction.


When Finn, on the dawn watch, woke everyone come morning he reported with some puzzlement that he had seen nothing unusual. Einarr pressed his lips together and knitted his brow, then sighed. “So that means someone was after me, specifically, last night.”

Eydri perked up. “Why? What did you see?”

“Not much. The occasional wisp of ghost light, and once or twice I heard bones rattling. The sorts of things you might do if you deliberately wanted to draw someone out alone.”

Now it was Eydri’s turn to knit her brow. “And if they wanted to draw you out, specifically, was it fair or foul?”

Einarr shrugged. “Don’t know. Doesn’t matter, really. When we’re searching today, though, everyone stays in pairs. I don’t care if you’re just going out to shit, you take someone to watch your back.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now. As soon as we’re all ready, we need to start searching this place, top to bottom. There’s got to be some record of where Grandfather buried Ragnar. We need to stay focused here.” And not get wrapped up in some curse that doesn’t truly have anything to do with you. Get the sword and get home, don’t get wrapped up trying to fix whatever happened here a hundred years ago. The last time he’d done that was on the Althane’s island, and he’d cost the lives of far too many of Father’s crew.

Finn started pulling wooden truncheons from his pack, and it was only then that Einarr realized the other man had spent a good portion of his watch cooking breakfast. He chuckled. “Three cheers for Finn! What have you boiled for us?”

Not long after, with the fire thoroughly doused, they split into three teams. Naudrek and Hrug went southeast, Finn and Odvir went west, and Einarr took Eydri and Troa to the northeast. “Eyes open, blades limber. Good hunting,” he told them all in the courtyard as they parted ways.

“Good hunting,” came the murmured response.

For hours the three of them combed through forgotten guest chambers, store rooms and workshops. Occasionally they would find a bound scroll of birch bark, or a carved slate, but these all appeared to be inventories of what had once been stored within.

The sky overhead was still a flat, overcast grey, such that nothing seemed to cast its shadow. Einarr tried not to focus on it as he searched: it sent shivers down his spine. Anyone could be hiding in a place like this: hiding, and watching, as someone clearly had been the night before. He was, he could admit to himself, just as glad to have a third person along – even if he had argued with Naudrek that morning that the scouts were the ones in most danger.

With a sigh, he blew dust off the top of a moss-covered wooden box that sat, still unopened, in the corner of the current store room. A large tuft of dead moss tumbled down to the ground, revealing the remains of a carving on the lid. He raised an eyebrow: curious, Einarr started brushing away the moss.

The central image was simple enough: it was a longship – not, so far as he could tell, Hel’s – with a dragon’s head on the prow. He’d seen more than one like it already, and all of them had been worthless to him. This one, however, showed the remnants of runework around the edges of the box. Unfortunately, between the light and the age of the work, he couldn’t make it out. “Eydri? What do you make of this?”

The Singer, much smudged by the grime of ages, gave him a frustrated look. “Just another recipe box, isn’t it?”

“Who protects their recipes with rune wards?”

She furrowed her brow and stood to come look. That, however, was when they heard desperate shouts from the west. Einarr and Troa shared a look and a nod, and took off at a dead run towards the commotion.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

It was nearly impossible to tell the passage of time in the twilight gloom of that forest canopy. Here and there they would pass near a spot where a tree had fallen, but even in those brief clearings the only sky they saw was a dull, dead grey. It was their stomachs told them it must be nearly noon, and just as they resolved to break on the road for their midday meal Troa spotted the standing stones off to the left, deeper into the forest.

Einarr sighed. “Nothing is ever easy, is it. All right, gents. Chew some jerky, then Troa, Odvir, and Finn, I need you to look for a track going off in that direction. Would have been a road when Grandfather was a boy, but she said it hadn’t been used since. Everyone else needs to limber up… and under no circumstances is anyone to lay a finger on those standing stones. The herb witch said they belonged to Hel, and I’m not inclined to think that was a figure of speech.”

There were rumbles of assent from his companions, and they set about their tasks. The three scouts hadn’t been searching long before Finn called out. He sounded troubled, though. “I think I’ve found it.”

Einarr, still chewing on his jerky, came over to have a look. There, winding off into the forest, was what appeared to be not much more than a pair of deer tracks moving oddly parallel to each other. To Einarr, too, that looked like what they sought. Disturbingly, though, the end of the track was strewn about with sun-bleached bones. Human bones, unless he missed his guess. He cleared his throat. “I think so too. Good work.”

Why couldn’t Grandfather have just been a young hothead, out for adventure and a name for himself? Einarr sighed. With what they’d heard, and what they saw in the harbor… “Looks like it’s not just the bay,” is what he said. “Let’s move. We need to be encamped in the ruins before sunset.”

“Yes, sir!” everyone answered – even Eydri, who was not exactly under his command.

The track wound through the center of the standing stones. As they passed through, Einarr saw twisted, deformed figures of people carved on the stones and, dividing them, what had to be Naglfar. He shivered: were those carved intentionally? He couldn’t imagine who could be persuaded to make such a thing: even the demon cultists were sane enough to shun the grave if they could. “What are we looking at here, Eydri?”

“A bad sign,” she answered, and clapped her mouth shut. A moment later, she sighed. “We need to hurry on to the ruins. The longer we linger, the more danger there is.”

Reluctantly, Einarr nodded and frowned. “Should we prepare torches?”

She frowned now, but it looked like thinking. “No. Not yet, anyway. Based on the bones, I suspect steel will suffice.”

“You heard her. Let’s move. Daylight’s wasting.”


Some distance past the standing stones, the track faded into oblivion. Under the forest canopy, one direction looked much the same as any other. The only guide post that remained constant was the single spike of mountain in the center of the island, and in order to check that they had to send someone up a tree.

The forest twilight took on the color of late afternoon before one of them spotted the tumble-down stones of what used to be an outer wall of the hold and Einarr felt himself relaxing, if only a little. That the safety of the old hold was only relative was never in doubt. Still, though, it was bound to be more defensible than the forest. They picked up the pace.

The forest had, somehow, still not grown up into the courtyard of the old hold. As they crossed the open land that would once have served as a killing field, the setting sun tinged the crumbling stone walls red.

Inside, grass grew up between the flagstones, and moss fuzzed the walls. Most of the roof was gone, and the walls cast long shadows beneath their feet. Einarr pressed onward and inward, searching for a room that was still mostly enclosed. He wasn’t taking any chances here, not after what they saw at the circle of standing stones.

They finally came to a chamber, with four mostly solid walls and only two exits for anyone who couldn’t fly, as the sky overhead shaded from the sullen red of sunset into the deep blue-grey of twilight. “This will have to do,” Einarr said, still looking around. His eyes lingered in the deeper shadows of corners, trying to determine if anything already lurked. “Troa, Finn, make sure the walls aren’t hiding anything. Odvir, we need wood. We’re making camp here, everyone.”

Eydri slung her pack down on the ground with a groan. “I haven’t walked that far in a day in a very long time.”

Naudrek snorted. “It’s not the distance. It’s the ownership.”

Hrug grunted his agreement as he sat by the Singer. He started rummaging around in his pack, and soon pulled out his rune sticks.

Einarr stood near the center of the room and bounced on his toes. As much as it had been a long march today, still he itched to begin his explorations – even though the light had nearly failed, and even though they knew they trespassed in Hel’s dominion. He shook his head and knelt on the ground, a few feet from the seithir. He gathered up bits of moss and dead grass that came readily to hand and began to kindle a fire.

By the time Odvir arrived with his first armload of firewood, the kindling had started, and as the sky darkened into a starless black their fire lent the room a cheery warmth to press against the night.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


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.