Einarr ignored the throbbing in his temples as the last of his men gathered together around the now-silent tower. They had lost two or three handfulls of men out of the crews of two ships – more than Einarr liked, after his years wandering, but acceptable under the circumstances.

The arrows had ceased to fall some time ago: Einarr guessed that the captain of the archers had given it up for futile. That was good, because the quaking earth had begun to cause problems for Einarr’s men, as well. It was also bad, though, because those archers would almost certainly be waiting on the other side of the tower door. Because he expected an ambush inside, Einarr had inscribed a on the door, and another on the flagstones below it.

Irding took the fore, flanked by Arkja and Troa. Jorir stayed at the back with Einarr: he had made it plain his intention was to guard his liege lord. For his part, Einarr was grateful. He could not see the wound in his leg well enough to heal it properly, and healed poorly was often worse than not healed at all.

“Shields up, on my mark,” Einarr said. He took a deep breath. “Three, two one — now.”

His men brought their shields up into a wall. A heartbeat after the last rattle, he used his configuration to blast open the door ahead of them. Irding led the charge through the haze of the blast and into the tower.

The door opened into an empty antechamber. One set of stairs followed the wall up to the next floor, and across the room another led down – into what horrors, Einarr did not care to speculate.

Empty was unexpected, but the men knew what to do. About half split off to take the heights of the tower, while Einarr and Jorir went with the rest down into the depths. Probably the men heading up would get the glory of taking the leader’s head, but practically speaking Einarr would more likely be needed to deal with whatever horrors they had called into being.

As soon as the door to the second floor was opened the fighting began again, but the defenders had missed an opportunity: they hadn’t been holding the stairs here. Irding bowled over the lone archer in the door while he was still sighting his shot, and the upstairs team began pouring through.

The door heading down was barred from below. Jorir hefted his axe to begin chopping at it, but Einarr raised a hand to stop him. “The longer this takes, the more time they have to prepare a trap. Let me.”

Drawing a pair of thorns took almost no time at all, and though the thrumming in his head spiked it did not remain high after he had blown away this second door, and the front runners rushed once more through the gap.

Below, the stairway was lined with torches burning in a familiar blue flame. If Einarr had needed any further confirmation that this was the same cult that had killed Astrid and kidnapped Runa just a few short years ago, this was it.

They were vulnerable going down the stairs: there was no barrier separating the outside of the stair from the open air and the long drop to the next floor, and they were perhaps halfway down it when that floor lit up in the poisonous blue of the torchlight. “Shields up and keep moving!”

The order was likely unnecessary, but Einarr intended to spend the lives of his men dearly if he had to at all.

A moment later and the volley of arrows from below flew across empty space, burying their heads in shields and the cracks of stone. He did not hear anyone cry out: he hoped that meant no-one else had been taken in a leg.

The lighting in here was dim, and the footing on the stairway was bad, but all they had to do was weather the arrows until they reached the bottom – except that from the top of the stairs Einarr could already see that the base of the stairs was mobbed with cursed warriors. They would get in each other’s way, certainly, but they would also prevent the invaders from breaching the floor.

This time, though, he would let his men push through. He could think of nothing he could do that would not also risk them, and he was well aware that he was pushing his magic in ways he never had before. Not since Elder Melja’s winter training, and probably not then. For the moment, he slipped his chalk back into his pouch and limbered the bow he had acquired on the field above.


Serk of Sweindalr, aboard his own Björtstag, had hacked his way across to the enemy ship. As Captain, ordinarily he would hang back, but after what had happened at Kaldreik he knew he could not. It was not merely atrocities the Björtstag had witnessed there, after all – otherwise, Halla would still be with them, and still require his protection.

A gang of cursed warriors was clustering around the mast: that didn’t look good. With a roar of borrowed fury, he charged into them and struck about with his sword. The cursed warriors, with their sickly gray skin and their mad eyes, scattered under the onslaught. Einarr of Breidelstein had alluded to monsters aboard these ships, and Serk intended to see that they had no chance to free such a creature.

A screech sounded from the deck behind him, and one of the mad-eyed warriors ceased even to appear human. In place of his arms he grew squid tentacles, and his head became a massive beak still somehow covered in eyes. Serk’s mouth curled into a rictus grin: had it been one of those, then, that did for his Halla? He charged again, and in one mighty blow he severed its transformed head from its once-human body.

He would have vengeance for his bride on the cultists of Malúnion.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

Jorir shouldered his way forward as Einarr slipped back into the open space behind their line. I wonder how the other teams are getting on? He shook his head: there was no way to find out, and he had more important matters to hand.

In one smooth motion he slid Sinmora back into her sheath and drew a piece of chalk from his belt pouch. The simplest way to crack rock is with Isa – ice. One single downward stroke accomplished that – but then he hesitated. Isa was stasis, so by itself it wouldn’t do much. He needed something else to actually sunder the block.

Then another thought occurred to him: if they were under assault from this side, wasn’t it likely there would be more enemies on the other side of the wall? In that case…

Einarr activated first, and cold began to radiate off the stone. He could actually see the cold air falling away from it. Then he drew a and put the full force of his will into it, directing it like a hammer blow away and into the fortress.

The stone shattered like a thunderclap.

The cursed warriors pressing his team froze as though stunned by the noise. From the other side of the wall, Einarr heard shouts of surprise and pain as whoever waited there was pelted by the shattered block.

“Let’s move!” Einarr traded his chalk for his sword once again and ducked into the opening Jorir had cut before the dust had begun to clear.

When he emerged from the cloud he saw five or six men – ordinary men, so far as he could tell – sporting well-tended maille and shields made entirely of steel. If these men had the black blood, they had not yet succumbed to it. Einarr dropped into a wary guard as his companions dashed through behind him. Jorir came last and stood facing their impromptu gate, taking out the cursed ones as they tried to follow.

“Who do you serve?” Einarr demanded.

One of the men they faced laughed, but didn’t lower his guard. “I’ll ask the questions here.”

Einarr was well aware of the absurdity. “If those black-blooded men and the tentacled cats are your allies, then we are foes. But your squad appears to be in their right mind. Who do you serve?”

Now the man sneered back. “How dare you compare my men and me to animals such as those! We are of the Talon Knights, elite guard of the Holy City Cresurgh!”

“Holy – to whom?” Troa’s usual calm felt unusually tight to Einarr.

The spokesman went on as though they hadn’t said anything. “Those cats, and the animals pressing at the gates, are as pets to our order.”

Why am I not surprised? Einarr tensed, ready to strike the moment he saw a weakness.

Irding made an opening. He let loose a war cry and charged, both axes held behind himself. He chopped at the spokesman’s knees.

The knight jumped back to avoid the blow. Irding smoothly pivoted to bury one axe in the leg of a different knight.

Meanwhile, the talkative one had taken his eyes off of Einarr. Now! Einarr lunged, shield first, to shove him off-balance. As the knight stumbled, Einarr brought Sinmora down to chop at his opponent’s elbow.

Sinmora clanged off the shield. Somehow, he had the presence of mind to catch himself with one hand and bring the shield around, even with the surprise attack.

The knight, crouched over backwards, sneered at Einarr. Then there was a flash of silver, and before Einarr could react his opponent was upright again, if still crouching, and the breeze cooled a trickle of blood through a new slice in Einarr’s trousers.

“Tsk. You might almost be as good as you think you are.” A drop of blood dripped from the knight’s spear. Einarr had not realized that was what the man wielded until just that second.

“Thanks. I try.” Einarr did not take his eyes off the rising knight. That was faster than he’d ever heard of a man being. Was it Malúnion’s power, or was he just that good? Arkja had drawn his blade, as well, and he and Irding each fought two of these Talon Knights while Einarr dueled their leader. Meanwhile, Jorir and Troa were still busy trying to keep the cursed warriors from coming through and overwhelming them. I need to end this quickly. “Holy City, huh? So, is everyone here a damn Squiddie?”

The semi-permanent sneer on the man’s face twisted into a snarl. “Watch your tongue!”

Einarr had to fend off three strikes in quick succession. He turned the spear on the first one and side-stepped the second, but the third put a second tear in his pant leg. Still, Einarr was satisfied. The knight was an excellent warrior, but he was easily nettled. He thought he saw how to break past his guard, too, but he wanted to test it again before he committed.

“Talon knights? Don’t you mean tentacle knights?”

As hoped, that provoked another flurry of stabs from the knight’s spear. And, as Einarr thought, when in the middle of one of those flurries, the man dropped his shield. Not very far, and not for very long, but it would be enough. He dropped into a low stance, Sinmora held up and back, as though he were going to try his shield charge again. “Real question, though, Squid knight. How many of those cursed warriors used to be knights like you?”

The knight’s face reddened at the appellation of ‘squid knight.’ He might not even have heard the question. This time he abandoned defense entirely and stabbed for Einarr’s belly.

Einarr sidestepped. The tip of his spear caught in the brokkrsteel maille and snapped. The knight stumbled forward, and Einarr brought Sinmora down. The knight had been moving just a little too quickly, though, and so rather than striking the knight’s head from his shoulders it clashed against the back of his silvered armor. Some of the silvering flaked off: underneath, it was black as coal.

“Holy City, my foot. Malúnion is nothing more than a minion of Hel, and before this day is through you will know it personally!”

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.

 

After three days of sneaking and scouting and planning, Troa reported that the rest of the fleet had been spotted off the southern coast. That meant two things: there was only so much time before the Squiddies moved, and they needed to move first.

At dawn on the fourth day since they abandoned their initial camp, the crews of the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf crept towards the fortress below in small teams. Each team had a variation on the same goal: enter the fortress, cause mayhem, and open the way for the main assault of the fleet. They were all aware of the giant cats that seemed to be in two places at once and the not-men who had assaulted the camp. They had been warned of other abominations they might face. No-one expected this to be pretty or easy.

Kaldr remained on the ridge, along with Thjofgrir, Eydri, Hrug, and Arring. Their task was to observe the taking of the fortress from the outside and send up a signal for the waiting fleet.

Einarr’s team was filled with old, familiar faces. Jorir, of course, who guarded his liege lord like a hound guards its master. Then Irding, and Arkja, and Troa. Einarr wished he could have brought Vali along, but they had not yet found a way to reawaken the ghost from his jar.

As they crouched in the bushes, a narrow stretch of open ground all that separated them from the fortress walls, Einarr found himself wishing for a great deal more time. “It looks to me like the best way in would be underground,” he muttered.

Jorir, at his side, harrumphed. “You’re starting to think like a dvergr. I don’t agree, though.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow and waited for his liege man to go on.

“That is old masonry. You can tell by how weathered it is. It looks as though they’ve kept it free of moss, but I wager it wouldn’t be hard to just slide a block free. The difficulty comes in knowing who – or what – is on the other side.”

That didn’t sound terribly easy to Einarr. Perhaps there was a dvergr trick to it? “Wouldn’t that take a long time and be noisy? I think we may just have to go looking for a thrall’s gate.”

Troa shook his head. “We’ve circled this fortress twice. There aren’t any.”

“No…! Then how do they get rid of…?”

“I suggest everyone avoid swimming in the harbor.”

Jorir, though, was still studying the wall. “No, I can do it. But I’ll need the rest of you on lookout while I do.”

Einarr didn’t see many other choices at this point. There weren’t likely to be crowds they could hide in, after all. He nodded, their course now set. “Arkja, how are you with a bow? Think you can keep up with Troa?”

“I’ll do my best, milord.”

“Good. See that you do. Irding, you and I will patrol a perimeter – make sure nothing sneaks up on us from down here. Troa, Arkja, take care of anyone too observant on the wall.”

When they were certain the coast was clear, Jorir dashed across the killing field. His maille didn’t even clink. A moment later, the sound of metal tapping stone reached their ears. An initial glance made it look as though Jorir were right: if they could give him time to work, he could open the hole they needed.

“Now it’s on us. Good fortune, everyone.”

Hours passed. Other than Jorir’s persistent tapping on the wall, they heard nothing but the occasional trill of birdsong. Certainly there were no more of the cats yet – and it had been big enough, it would have had trouble maneuvering inside city walls. As the sun neared its zenith, Einarr fancied he could see a sliver of light in the crack Jorir was introducing into the wall. That was also when he heard the sounds of struggle from Irding’s direction. Einarr spun on his heel to go assist, but even as he did, two bowstrings twanged and quiet settled around them once more. He returned to his own patrol, only to find himself face to face with one of the not-men.

A strangled cry of surprise leapt from his throat, but his body was faster. Sinmora came to hand and beheaded the monster. He stood still a long moment, waiting to be sure it wasn’t going to get back up in spite of everything. And that was when he heard a cry of surprise from Arkja and Troa, whose attention was focused on the walls and who were encumbered by their bows. This time Einarr did run.

He reached the two scouts at the same moment Irding did. They were backing towards Jorir and the wall and firing as they went. Their arrows, however, appeared to be doing nothing to the handful of not-men who approached with blades drawn. Einarr cursed. Obviously, they had been spotted some time ago: this was obviously an ambush. He lowered Sinmora and charged at one who was about to bury his axe in Troa’s arm. The worry that their entire plan was foiled put fire in his blood.

Irding put himself between Arkja and a cursed warrior wielding a pair of hunting knives.

The initial surge out of the forest had been only a handful, but Einarr could see movement in the shadows already. With two strikes he took the legs out from under the axe man in front of him and then, on the back swing, buried his blade in its chest. Irding dispatched the knife wielder with similar speed, but it would do them little good.

“Jorir? Are you nearly done?”

“Aye. One good blast would open it now.”

Einarr growled as he caught another cursed warrior’s axe on his shield and answered it with a sword to its belly. He didn’t want to draw that much attention if he could avoid it. “And without one?”

“I break up the stone with my axes. Not great on the blades.”

And probably another hour’s worth of work. The not-men were coming out into the killing field in greater numbers now. Soon, it wouldn’t matter if they hadn’t notified anyone inside: this fight would be plain for all to see. “Fine. Trade me places.”

 

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.

 

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.