The ruins of Eskidal bore a striking resemblance to what remained of Kem, save for one minor detail: there were no runes. Even on buildings which were still more or less intact, neither Einarr nor Hrug could find a trace of a fire rune, and never mind that the fire had plainly burned hot – perhaps as hot as the Muspel shroud. It was a puzzle – right up until they reached the central square.

The square was only lightly touched by the fire, somehow, although ordinarily you would have expected the fire to burn hottest in the center – that was strange by itself, and enough to set Einarr, Hrug, and Eydri looking for the remains of a ward. While they were preoccupied with that, however, The other three, however, were looking a little higher, and so they were the ones who noticed.

“Um, Captain?” Irding called from across the square.

“What is it?”

“Did we ever do anything about those beasties that escaped the demon ships?”

Einarr grimaced and shook his head, knowing Irding couldn’t see him. He broke off his search for runes and crossed to where Irding stood looking up. “Just the kraken, and only by chance. Why?”

“I think the flying one might have been here.” He pointed.

Above, almost at rooftop level, long gashes had been cut into the walls. They looked like the chops made in a practice dummy, if the student was a giant.

“The flying one, with eyes and beaks and wings in all the wrong places?”

“Not sure what else would be big enough to do that, are you?”

“A dragon?” He thought he might rather face a dragon, under the circumstances. Then he shook his head. “A joke. I highly doubt they could bring a dragon properly under their control, and if it wasn’t controlled, they wouldn’t live long enough to use it.”

Irding nodded. “More or less my thought, yeah.”

“That still doesn’t explain the fire, though. I’m going to keep searching for signs of magic. Well spotted, Irding. Keep up the search.”


Mid-afternoon that day, well before the light began to fade, the search teams gathered together on the beach in front of their boats. The mood was subdued.

With a deep breath, Einarr started them off. “First of all, did anyone find any survivors?”

Some of the others in the crowd exchanged uncomfortable looks.

“With all due respect, with the sort of slaughter as happened in the streets, do you really think there were survivors?” A voice asked from the crowd.

Einarr glanced down at the ground, disappointed but not surprised, before looking in the direction of the voice. “No, not really. But if there had been, we would have wanted to get their story first. It was the story of a survivor, after all, that led us this far. My team and I came across some interesting results, but I should like to hear from the rest of you, first.”

Bardr stepped forward. “Then let the Vidofnir start things off with the obvious. The attackers, whoever they were, used fire to drive the people of the city out into the streets, where they were slaughtered wholesale. Once we moved closer to the city center, however, we found evidence that this was almost certainly an attack by the worshipers of Malùnion: on the walls of a temple to the true gods, we found imprecations against them, and their magics and Arts, painted in blood. Reki read them for us, as the Vidofning most familiar with runes.”

They went around in this way, each group reporting what they had found. Many of them, as Einarr had suspected, were too taken aback by the apparent ferocity of the carnage to note much more than the obvious conclusion – or, perhaps, simply unlucky in their search. One other team came across the giant claw marks, as well, and suggested that they could mean a dragon had been responsible instead of the cult. It would explain the apparent heat of the fires, after all. Einarr gave a half-smile, amused and sorry to have to burst their bubble.

“We saw those claw marks, too,” he said, when everyone else had reported their findings. We also found a runic ward around the city center – a very old one, probably dating to the early days of the city if not to its founding. Unfortunately, though, the runes painted on the temple point to the squiddies, and there is a monster associated with the squiddies that could make those claw marks.”

The crowd fell silent and stared at him, expectantly.

“A few years ago, my wife was captured by this selfsame cult – some of you have heard this story already. I did not yet have my own ship, but my father’s Vidofnir and the Skudbrun of Kjell managed to claim her back and take down a full four enemy ships, each of which traveled under the umbrella of a black squall and carried, instead of cargo, an abomination beneath its deck. One of them could fly, and it was pretty easily big enough to have made those cuts.”

“So, a bird, instead of a dragon?” Someone in the back asked. “I’ll take feathers over scales any day.”

Einarr shook his head, smiling a little. “You would? I’d rather fight the dragon. The dragon’s very blood won’t be corrupted, and its scales may be softer than the abomination’s skin. Furthermore, the sight of a dragon isn’t likely to drive a man mad – except, perhaps, for gold. Has anyone got a fletcher aboard?”

Four or five men, scattered throughout, said they had.

“Good. Before we leave we’ll send men into the forest. Make as many arrows as you can. We’ll need pitch, too, and any cloth we can scavenge. The more flaming arrows we can fire, the better this fight will go.” He paused, thinking. I wonder if there is any way I can make contact with Beatrix or Liupold? Sea fire would be a boon where we’re going. “Is there anything else?”

Aema stepped forward. “There’s still the matter of the unburied dead.”

Einarr was a little surprised to see she was still on the Skudbrun. “I suppose there’s not really much left to burn for a pyre, is there.”

Aema shook her head in agreement.

“In that case, while we are gathering wood for arrows, we will also bring whatever brush we can and pile it in the city. That should provide the tinder. The rest, I will leave to you and your sisters.”

 

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.

 

“I’m afraid you do, milord. That… that was excellent ale you left behind in Blávík. I’m only sorry it was wasted on the likes of us.”

Einarr sighed, loudly. “I ought to charge you for the damages to my Heidrun, but I suppose that would be pointless now. You’re telling me you’ve moved on from press-ganging princes to annihilating whole settlements?”

He wasn’t quite certain how Thrand managed to look more miserable, but he did.

Einarr sighed again. “We’ll deal with the crimes of the League later. Based on what we saw in the square, it is plain to me there was, in fact, some sort of Squiddie presence here in Kem. Which means before we head back to Breidelstein, we need to find their base and figure out what they were up to. Congratulations, Thrand. You’ll not lose your head this day.”

The man looked far more relieved about that than Einarr thought the statement warranted, to the point where he struggled not to weep. Perhaps it was because he had been alone in the wreckage of the city for so long.

“You’re not off the hook, mind. You’re going to help us find this base and figure out what they were up to. Then you’re coming back to Breidelstein with us, after we pick up some freeholders we think might be in need of rescue.”

“Yes, milord. Gladly, milord: I can lead you straight to their hideout: that’s where all the trouble began, milord.”

They passed a cold night in the harbor, lit as much by the glowing embers of Kem as by the moon and the stars above. Einarr ordered a cask of cider warmed to settle the nerves of his crew and keep them alert through their watch.

If there was one mercy, it seemed to be that the League’s fire had kept a city’s worth of dead from rising for vengeance. In the morning, those who had last watch were relieved, and Einarr set off with half the crew to follow Thrand to where he said they had found the cult of Malúnion.

Einarr had thought he was prepared for what he would see there, after searching through the wreckage of the city the previous day. He was wrong.

It wasn’t the gore – to be honest, after the runic blaze the League had managed to set, there wasn’t much of that left on the surface, and down below it was mostly spatters of blood – some corrupted, some still human. Unfortunately, the local ‘temple’ of the cult had some… peculiar design sensibilities.

Eyes. There were eyes everywhere. No matter where Einarr turned, he felt as though he were being watched – which, come to think of it, may have been the point.

Jorir, too, seemed bemused. “The entire time I was in Nilthiad, not once did I run across anything like this.”

“We didn’t see any sign of it at the altar, either – and of all the horrors of that demon, its eyes were not among them.”

“Are we sure this is the same cult?” Eydri wondered.

Thrand cleared his throat. “Absolutely. Or, at least, I don’t know too many men who would call on someone else’s horrible demigod as they rushed to battle.”

“A fair point,” she conceded. “Still, it doesn’t look like they left much behind…”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Thrand actually sounded excited. “I came back to have a look around after the fire had cooled a bit. Even if I am to lose my head, it’s important that someone get this information out into the Clans.”

The half-starved League Captain led them down a narrow flight of stairs, then a ladder, and into a passage that still sloped downward, if only gently.

“How did you even find this place? We must be beneath the catacombs already!” Einarr did not bother trying to hide his surprise. Even if he had been kindly inclined towards Thrand in the first place, this was starting to feel like a trap.

“There are no other people. There is easy access to fresh water just outside the city limits, and there are plenty of fish in the harbor. It wasn’t like I had much else to do since the fire, you know.”

Einarr hummed, but let it drop for now.

“We’re nearly there. Just… ah! Stop. Here.”

The door in the wall was plain and unadorned. Had there been any other doors along this passage, Einarr might not have even noticed it.

Thrand pushed the door open and stepped inside, as certain it was safe as if it were his own home. “I left the missives here once I found them. Safer that way – who knows what might happen to me up there, but someone else could have found this place and gotten the word out.”

“Missives? What missives?” Irding blurted.

“Orders. From home, I think. I’m no sorcerer, but give me enough time and I can puzzle out rune-writing.” He thrust a letter into Einarr’s hand.

With a glance, Einarr was certain the other man was correct. With a brusque nod, he thrust the letter into his pouch. “Search the room! We’ll take anything interesting back up to the Heidrun with us: it would be far too easy to lose track of time down here, and I want wards again tonight.” The restless dead were not the only things that could be kept out that way, after all.


That night, Einarr sat huddled with Hrug and Eydri and Jorir under the Captain’s awning, poring over what appeared to be the most recent orders from their home temple. It was… not good. Even if the League leadership hadn’t gotten a bee in its collective bonnet, the Squiddies were on a definite war footing – and it was a war that would have taken a vast number of clans utterly by surprise, boiling up quite literally from underground and striking at a populace that had no idea there were madmen in their midst.

When morning came, a bleary-eyed Einarr addressed his crew. “We have found what we came for. Now it is our duty to ensure our Thane learns what we have. We will sail around the island and make land near the outskirts of Kem, where Thrand will take us to the water he has relied on since the disaster. Do not worry, Gabriel, I have not forgotten you. Once we have taken on fresh water, we will sail for your master’s freehold and take on those who remain. From there, we will make all possible haste back to Breidelstein. I fear the League has knocked down a hornet’s nest, and it is up to the rest of us to deal with the swarm.”

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.