Author’s Note: This marks the end of Book 13. Book 14 will begin on 12/7/2021.

When the Villgås finally returned to Breidelstein harbor, almost six months after its departure, they were met by a cheering mass of people on the docks – including, this time, Stigander himself. Einarr and Runa stood on the deck as the other four men took them to their berth. When their hull tapped the dock, Einarr hopped across himself to lash their boat fast even as Thjofgrir and Jorir put the gangplank in place.

Einarr kissed his father’s hands, and then moved to the gangplank to help the women down.

First was Runa, and everyone cheered a little louder when she made her appearance on the plank. Her swollen belly was plain for all to see, and while it had caused them some difficulty on the water no-one really minded: there would be, in very short order, an heir for the Prince, and that would be as much cause for celebration in the town as their return itself.

After Runa came Jennora – also with child, as it happened. Brandir had been serious about sending his sister as Jorir’s wife, and the two had been married during the farewell feast itself. It was highly irregular, even among dvergr so far as Einarr knew, but they both seemed happy. The crowd was less certain what to think about the svartdvergr woman, but when she was joined on the plank by Jorir and she took his arm their uncertainty seemed to vanish.

They were followed swiftly by the Singer the Matrons had sent to keep an eye on Runa and her babe – as well as the rest of the crew. They had all, save Jennora, been exposed to a great deal of the black blood, after all, and the effects of its corruption could be insidious.

She also carried Vali’s jar. When the Matrons had asked for volunteers among their healers, it had been curiosity about the strange spirit that had prodded her to join them.

Eydri and Reki were there as well – Eydri looking eager, and Reki under the shade of her cloak with her usual calm demeanor. The crowd continued to cheer as Kaldr and Naudrek and Thjofgrir descended, but Stigander had claimed Einarr’s attention.

“By the gods, when did this happen?” He gestured at Runa’s belly. “Surely you didn’t -”

Einarr shook his head. “No. We had no idea until it was too late. But, according to the Matrons, all is well even after everything we went through down there. …Think you’re ready to be a grandfather?”

Stigander laughed. “More than! And let’s see, I see Jorir has returned to us as well. You’ll have to introduce me properly to his new wife… but we seem to be missing someone. Could Vali not stand the idea of a crowd?”

“That’s complicated, I’m afraid, and something best spoken of in a rather more private setting.”

“Of course, of course.” They started walking up the road towards the cliff and the Hold. “Did you have any trouble with the League?”


Two weeks after the Villgås returned to port, the winter ice hit and the bay froze over completely – they had to stop the occasional intrepid youth from trekking out on snowshoes to taunt the bones of the Weavess, it was frozen so hard.

For three months, Breidelstein was in the grip of a fierce winter, and for three months it seemed like every woman in the Hold was constantly occupied with needle and thread.

Then, on a very wet night just as the grip of the cold was beginning to break, and as snowdrops were beginning to peek out from under the thick blanket of snow, Einarr was summoned by a maidservant to Runa’s side: it was time.

Einarr raced through the Hold to get there. He arrived just in time to hear the angry wail of a newborn and see his wife’s exhausted smile. Then the midwife was holding the baby out for him to take, and the little one commanded all his attention.

“…It’s a boy?” He couldn’t guess why, but he was whispering.

Runa nodded. Einarr laughed, then noticed that his son – my son! – was shivering. Quickly, he handed him to his wife.

“How do you feel about Alfvin for a name?”

She smirked at him as she took the babe and held him to her breast. “What, so you can tweak Ystävä’s nose?”

Einarr chuckled: the thought honestly hadn’t crossed his mind, although now that she mentioned it he was tempted. “No, because of the Oracle’s price.”

She frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

“When she named me Cursebreaker, she also read my weave. For payment… she wanted my firstborn to come and study under her, since my own education was so ‘lacking.’”

“What?!”

“Not until he’s eight! We were still drifters, then: it seemed like a good opportunity.”

Runa sighed and shook her head. “I don’t have the energy to debate that now.” She smiled down at the little reddish infant snuggled against her. “Alfvin is a fine name. Between the Oracle, and Ystävä, and Melja, it’s certainly got the ring of truth to it.”

That night, Einarr was left alone to spend time with his new family.

Three weeks later, the League sent out a proclamation.

“To all the Men of the North! We, the League of Free Men, call upon our fellows in the North to join us in battle against the heretical cult responsible for sacking our cities, kidnapping our women, and corrupting our men!” Einarr read. “Representatives of our order will be arriving soon. In these desperate times, we must all band together, or one by one we will find ourselves devoured by the monstrosities of the Squid worshipers. For the sake of all we hold dear, it is time we clans of the North band together under one banner to stamp out this threat.”

Einarr looked up from the paper at his father and Kaldr, incredulous. “Surely we don’t intend to stand for this?”

His father rumbled. “No, not at all.”

“Something about that League has rubbed me the wrong way since we met them,” Einarr grumbled. “Have you contacted any of the other clans?”

“Only Hroaldr’s thus far.” Even as he spoke, Stigander was pulling out fresh paper. “But in order to counter this, we’re going to need some organization of our own.”

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.

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No matter what else he wanted to say about them, the svartdvergr knew how to throw a party.

One of the mead halls in the city had opened its doors to the Smiths and their allies, and by the time Einarr arrived with his crew it was already full to bursting and raucous with celebration. He shared a grin with Jorir, who once again stood at his side, and they crossed the threshold into the waiting feast.

He was swiftly escorted up to the bar at the head of the room by one of the dvergr already inside, and Jorir and Runa were not far behind. A cheer went up as they were thrust into the seats of honor at the head of the table. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew what was going on, but as he opened his mouth to confirm it he got his answer.

Someone in the crowd rang a knife against one of the silver goblets Einarr could see floating through the room.

A moment later, Gheldram hopped up on the bar – evidently the source of the ringing.

“Almost two hundred years ago, Jorir the Smith was exiled – but his exile served a purpose,” he said, and as he spoke the crowd fell silent. “We, his friends among the Smiths, tasked him to find help. Well, a little over three months ago, he finally returned, and in his wake came the promised help – the human Cursebreaker, to whom Jorir has pledged his life, and some of his most trusted allies. Tomorrow, we must say farewell to their illustrious crew – but tonight, we toast their success!”

A deafening cheer went up around the Hall, and every cup was lifted with it – even Runa’s, although she grimaced as she moved it to her lips and smelled the purifying tea that she was now drinking almost exclusively. Einarr had tasted the stuff, as well: he really couldn’t fault her reaction. On the other hand, they had the babe to think of.

When the revelers had finished their drink, they turned expectant eyes on the three who stood awkwardly at the front of the Hall.

Einarr sighed. It was his turn now, apparently. “My friends! I’m afraid we all got off to a bit of a rough start, but since the battle on the Mount I have found no fault with dvergr hospitality! Alas, it is past time we returned home to Breidelstein: there are many matters which require our attention, and I fear we cannot proceed directly there. And so, on our last night here, I thank you on behalf of all of us for your hospitality and your courage – and I regret to inform you all that, after some little discussion, my good man Jorir will be returning to the surface world with us.”

There were, from around the room, scattered noises of disappointment.

Jorir raised his glass in the air, catching everyone’s attention. “None of that now, you hear? When I first swore to the Cursebreaker, I marveled at my own words, but he has come to earn every one, and then some. I may, someday, return to Myrkheimr and Nilthiad, but if I do it will be because my Lord and his Lady have long since departed. It has been… good to be back, but although we have reclaimed it from the clutches of the Squiddies, and I look forward to the return of Nilthiad’s glory, my place is above.”

This pronouncement was met with a rather mixed reaction: some jeered, jokingly, others laughed, others still sounded disappointed.

That was when Brandir came forward, out of the crowd, leading a female dvergr Einarr did not recognize. She looked bashful, but not timid, and based on the expression on Brandir’s face Einarr wondered how much of this was his idea.

Brandir cleared his throat and gave a sidelong look to the woman. “After… much discussion, my darling sister has convinced me it would not be good to allow you to leave alone, as though you were once again an exile in disgrace. And she has graciously put herself forward, if you will have her, to be your companion and your wife.”

Jorir looked completely poleaxed – as well he might. And Einarr had thought Runa forward at times! Still, he laughed and clapped his liegeman on the shoulder.

Jorir recovered himself and shot a look, half of shock, half of outrage, at his friend. “I… am not opposed, in principle.” He cleared his throat and glanced at the rest of the room. “But perhaps in front of the crowd is not the best place to discuss this?”

The three dvergr went off together back into the crowd, and Einarr turned around to smile at his chuckling wife. “Think there’s enough room on the Villgås for two more people?”

“I think we’ll manage.”


Einarr and the rest of his crew met at the Nilthiad entrance to the Paths of Stone at dvergr dawn the next day, feeling only a little hungover from their revelries the night before. Runa once again carried Vali’s jar. Idly, Einarr wondered if he might have woken up again had someone thought to bring him to the battle on the Mount. There was, of course, no real way to know at this point… and even if he had, there was a lingering question of whether or not he would still be himself. At least they shouldn’t find themselves in need of a scout on their return journey, and they could ask the Matrons when they stopped what to do about their ghostly companion.

Unlike the previous night’s feast, there was not a great crowd to see them off, which suited all of their number well enough. Jorir was the last to arrive, with the rather pretty (even by human standards) Jennora in tow. “Are we all set?” He asked, a bit gruffly.

“You know your way through the Paths, right? I’d really rather not fight my way back up them if that’s all the same to you.”

Jennora looked amused. Jorir harrumphed. “Do I know the way? Of course I do. So does Jennora, should it come to that. If that’s all we’re waiting on, we should get going. Even without all the booby traps, it’s a long hike up.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

Please note, we are drawing close to the end of book 13. There’s one, or perhaps as many as 2, more chapters, and then we will be entering our usual month-long break. We are also nearing the end of the series: I expect there to be one, or perhaps two, books dealing with the cult and the League up above.

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 guard identified as Magnyl hit the ground with a thump, caught unawares by Einarr’s attack. His comrades were not so slow-witted, though. Before their fellow had even come back to his feet, Einarr had kicked out to take one in the teeth and dropped his elbow on the skull of another. They did not draw their weapons: evidently, they wanted their captives as intact as possible. Einarr was just as glad: he could have fought barehanded against a pack of dvergr, but he rated his chances of survival as much better if he didn’t have to.

One of the dvergr unleashed a nasty kick to the back of Einarr’s knee and nearly dropped him to the ground. In his momentary stumble, another planted his fist directly under Einarr’s ribs. That one hurt. Einarr took the opportunity, as he rose, to jab the perpetrator in the eye. This was a knock-down street brawl, nothing more, nothing less, and he meant what he’d said, that they would have to take him seriously to take him in. Never mind that he had turned himself in. This would be pointless if it didn’t mitigate at least some of the terror the Thane’s men were inflicting on the city.

Einarr punched and kicked and bit and gouged, and used every dirty trick he knew, but in the end, it was still one against ten. And, when they pinned him to the ground and bound his hands behind his back, he was battered and bruised. He thought one of them may have managed to break one of his teeth with a well-aimed kick as he fell. Still, through the swelling of his cheek, Einarr smiled. This wasn’t quite how the plan was supposed to go, but it was a satisfying result.

The dvergr stood him back up without gagging him and he grinned. As they marched through the streets towards the Thane’s hall, even now he did not go quietly. As they went, he proclaimed for all to hear that he was the Cursebreaker, brought by one of their own to end this madness – all according to the script they had discussed. Runa had composed the words for him.

“I am Einarr, son of Stigander, son of Raen, prince of Breidelstein, named Cursebreaker! I am here at the behest of Jorir the Smith, to drive out the false gods that have led you astray!”

This earned him cuffs and kicks, and they could have brought him down, had they all piled on again, to gag him – but for some strange reason (possibly because of their audience) they were unwilling to do that. Einarr schooled his face, but in the back of his mind he chuckled. Even the Acolytes and Enforcers of Malùnion had to worry about public opinion.

Finally they arrived back at the Thane’s hall. Einarr was only mildly surprised to find he was taken here, rather than to the Mount. He supposed that said good things about the effects of their assault the other night. They marched him up before the Thane and gave a violent tug upon the bindings that held his wrists so that it was kneel or be bent backwards. Now he flashed a deliberately cocky grin. “So we meet again, your lordship.”

“Silence!” the grey-skinned Thane bellowed. “So. You claim responsibility for the chaos in the streets and for the unprovoked assault on the Holy Mount? Why, after you escaped, you would throw your life away on such a thing I could not guess. But, if you wish so much to be sacrificed to Malùnion, we will grant your wish. On the next auspicious day, there will be a great purge, and the mountain will flow with blood!”

Uh-oh, Einarr thought. I hope I at least bought time for some people to get away. This isn’t the sort of thing they will do without announcing – not according to Gheldram. I just hope my friends are in place early in the proceedings…


Jorir trailed Einarr as far as the gates of the Thane’s hall. He would have tailed him all the way in if he dared, but there was no way to sneak into the Hall itself without being seen. Jennora was still here, and still uncorrupted so far as they knew, so he would just have to trust in her wits. He had a view inside the gates from where he stood in the street, but she was nowhere to be seen. Probably for the best, although he would have liked to speak with her more. With a mental shrug, Jorir continued along his path, taking the first cross-street he came to and circling back towards the bathhouse.

Brandir, he was sure, would have been shocked. After all this time in human lands, Jorir was almost as good at slipping away unnoticed as Mornik was.

When he returned, the others didn’t look his way until he – rather ostentatiously – beat at some dust on his cloak.

Runa wrung her hands. “It is done, then?”

“Aye, so it is. Nothing to do now but wait for news from Jennora.”

“That’s not quite true,” Brandir rumbled.

“You’re right. Einarr made a stink to keep Soggvar’s posses from catching anyone else. We need to start smuggling people out of Nilthiad.”

Gheldram shook his head. “Just as you told the Lady Runa before, Jorir. Just because there is a part of the plan you do not like does not mean it isn’t critical.”

“If our allies cannot reach a safe house on their own, they will simply have to hide in their own homes until the appointed time.” Brandir finished. Kaldr nodded in agreement.

Gheldram sighed. “They will make a show out of sacrificing your Cursebreaker. He may not be first, but he will be early, so as many people as possible witness it. We will simply need to be in place to act early in the rites. We have wagon loads of spare axes: the people will be ready.”

Jorir ran a hand through his hair, looking at the floor. “I still don’t like the idea of throwing away Lord Einarr’s efforts like this.”

Brandir shook his head. “Lord Einarr. Hmph. So, you’ll be leaving with the humans, then.”

“I will. That’s my home, now.”

“Jennora will be disappointed.”

“Whyever for?” She was a comely lass, and a clever one, and Jorir couldn’t for the life of him fathom why she would still be carrying a torch for him.

“You know why. But, long absence or no, I think I know when your mind is made up. She’ll just have to come to terms with it.” Now Brandir sighed. “I think that’s enough talk. There’s work to be done yet.”

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 kept his eyes locked on Jorir as he was marched to the front of the Hall, and Jorir could feel the weight of their disappointment heavy on his shoulders.

Soggvar stood. Despite his sickly appearance, his legs were just as strong as Jorir remembered, and his hands steady. “So,” he said, walking to the front of the dais to examine his prisoner. “This is the leader of the barbarians I was told wandered our paths. I don’t know why you came here, human, but your kind has no place in these lands.”

Jorir cleared his throat. “My Thane.”

Soggvar ignored him, perhaps listening to what the shaman was again whispering in his ears. What new poison could this be?

“But since you ignored all warnings, rejoice! You and your companions will go to be with your gods tomorrow.”

Panic tried to close Jorir’s throat. If they did that… “My Lord!”

Both Einarr and the Thane turned to look at him. Einarr’s eyes were surprised, Soggvar’s contemptuous.

“What?” They both said at once.

“My Thane,” Jorir tried again, more clearly addressing Soggvar. “This man is the Cursebreaker. He can free our land from its terrible circumstances.”

“Indeed, by the flow of his blood. His, and his companions.”

Jorir was entirely certain that was not what the Oracle had foreseen. “No, my Thane. By the strength of his hand and the quickness of his wit, if only you would pay it heed.”

The shaman began to laugh, a raspy hideous cackle. “I said, did I not, that this one had forsaken you? See how hard he tries to save the worthless barbarian scum – barbarian sorcerer, no less.”

Soggvar made a calming gesture with his hand and the shaman lapsed into quiet chuckling.

“These barbarians trespassed deep within the Paths of Stone. Furthermore, they slew the beast we had trained into a guardian, and now we must train a replacement. By all our ancient laws, the first alone is enough to earn them death. Tell me, smith: do these laws now mean nothing to you?”

Jorir gaped, unable to find the words to answer, knowing that anything he said would only make their circumstances worse.

“Get out of my sight, smith. You, take the human away. Make sure they are well entertained: it is their last night among the living, after all.”


Late that evening, Jorir crept up to a servant’s entrance to the fortress. Already there, keeping quietly to the shadows, were three other dvergr: Brandir, a younger smith named Gheldram, and a locksmith by the name of Mornik. He nodded in greeting to each of the three. “Is everything ready?” He whispered.

“Just waiting on the signal,” Brandir answered, just as quietly. As hastily conceived as their present plan was, they knew that Soggvar’s court often drank late into the night. Brandir’s sister worked in the Thane’s kitchens, and many years ago she had obtained a large quantity of sleeping draught.

They didn’t have long to wait. Jorir had only just stepped into the shadow of the wall when the servant’s gate began to open. Peeking out from the other side was a comely young lass bearing a passing resemblance to Brandir. “Swiftly now, and quietly. They’re all snoring in their cups, but it took a tolerable large dose to put his lordship under.”

“My thanks,” Brandir said, just as quietly. “Go on back to your post. We wouldn’t want to raise anyone’s suspicions.”

The four of them slipped inside, and their benefactor sent them all off with a quick smile and a “good luck” before she hurried back off towards the scullery.

“That’s little Jennora?” Jorir muttered as Mornik peeked around the corner, looking for sentries.

“The very same.”

“Hard to believe she’s grown up already.”

“That’s what happens when you miss a pair of centuries.”

Mornik motioned them forward, and they hurried on toward the dungeon’s entrance.

Jennora had been thorough. Ordinarily, there would be a guard on the entrance to the dungeons – and, technically, there was. He, however, slept just as soundly as they’d been told the dvergr in the Hall did. Unfortunately, he lay sprawled across the doorway.

Once they were in they moved faster. There should be plenty of warning down here, even if someone was unlucky enough to be given a dinner patrol, and all the skulking in the world would not help them if the men of the Hall woke up before Einarr was rescued and they were out again. Jorir helped himself to one of the torches ensconced on the wall as they went.

Finally, after a wrong turn or two and far more time than any of them liked, they heard a cough and the croaking of parched throats. Jorir stopped in his tracks and swallowed.

“You’re sure you saw him?” Kaldr’s voice asked.

“I could hardly mistake him at this point. It looked like he was in no great favor, either, too.”

“M-my lord?” Jorir called. His ordinary voice sounded loud to his ears.

“Who’s there?” Einarr asked again, a hard edge to his raspy voice this time.

“A svartdvergr in no great favor. Keep talking: we’re going to get you out.”

A third voice laughed. Jorir thought it was Thjofgrir. “He was right, Captain. Rescue is at hand.”

Mornik went to work on the heavy iron lock.

“I knew you’d come for us, once I saw you up in the Hall.” Einarr laughed, too, very plainly relieved.

“Even if I hadn’t sworn to you…” That got Jorir a sidelong look from Brandir, but he shrugged it away. Now was not the time to explain any of that. “We haven’t much time. The Hall is sleeping, but we have no way of knowing when they might awaken.”

“I understand. Have you seen–”

“Got it!” Mornik exclaimed. There was a click, and the door opened a crack.

“One down,” Naudrek drawled. “Four to go. We’re chained to the walls in here.”

The four dwarves nodded to one another and streamed into the room. Before long, all four Men stood rubbing their wrists where the shackles had held them.

Gheldram whistled. “You must really have given them some trouble. They don’t usually pull out the constricting shackles unless they mean business.”

Thjofgrir smirked. “We had the temerity to kill their pet.”

Gheldram nodded. “That would do it.”

“Let’s go. If we’re lucky, we can still find your things in the storeroom down here,” Brandir said, even as he peered back out into the hall. “We’re clear. Let’s go.”

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.