They waited in silence until they were sure Kharmor was out of earshot and off the docks – with the way sound carried over water, the second was required for the first. Then Kaldr turned to Runa.

“What do you know about these Paths of Stone?”

She shook her head, her hair tickling Einarr’s nose. “Little enough. I’d have said they were as much a legend as the High Roads a few years ago.” Runa frowned, scrunching up her nose as she tried to recall. “There was something from my time with the Matrons, though…”

She started to hum, very quietly. Over the last month, Einarr had seen her do that whenever she gave a matter serious thought. “Once, when Loki journeyed to Myrkheimr to claim gifts of appeasement for the gods from the craftsmen of the dvergr…

East, and east he went, to

Wasteland, rock and ice. There

Sought he the entrance, mark’d

By dvergr pride…

She opened her eyes. “There’s more, but I don’t know that it really helps us. At least not yet.”

Thjofgrir scratched at the back of his neck. “Not sure how much that really helps us. East of what? And what in the world does it mean by ‘dvergr pride’?”

Vali laughed, sending a shiver down everyone’s spine. Thjofgrir looked annoyed.

Einarr looked at the transparent face of their resident ghost. “Why is that funny?”

Your pretty little wife should know the answer to that. Even before I was bound to the jar, skalds could never tell you anything straight.”

Runa settled back against Einarr’s chest, and he could hear the smile in her voice. “He’s right, really. That only sounds straightforward. Oh, East is true enough, and probably the line about the wasteland is literal. But there are four great houses of dwarves, one in each direction, for the four original sons of Ymir who held up the heavens.”

Kaldr blinked at that. “Excuse me, what?”

That’s the story, anyway. Probably the truth of it is buried under yet more layers of metaphor. But when Loki went to ask the dvergr for Sif’s golden hair, he traveled to the house in the east. And Mýrarhöfn is already in the eastern seas, and near the warm Imperial waters. If we head east from here, there should be a barren island that holds an entrance to the Paths of Stone.”

Kaldr looked straight at Einarr. “Once it’s light we can consult the charts, but I can think of a couple of likely options if we continue east from here.”

Einarr nodded. “Let’s do it, then. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, I don’t care how you do it, but get us fresh water. …Kaldr, you go with them. Vali, you’re on watch.”

Yes, sir!” came the answering chorus.

As for himself, he had a new wife to see to.


Ten days out of Mýrarhöfn, with land nowhere in sight, Runa found that the rocking of the Villgås no longer agreed with her stomach. That evening, her face still a little green, she admitted to Einarr that her monthlies had been significantly delayed.

Einarr’s cheer echoed across the waves.

Not so loud, my love,” she said, wincing. “I think an alf on the High Roads heard you.”

Let them!” Einarr laughed.

This is joyous news indeed,” Kaldr drawled. He didn’t sound particularly joyous, however. “Tell me, my lord, what happens if we’re attacked with the Lady Runa in this state?”

We protect our Singer, of course. Just as always.”

I see.” Kaldr pursed his lips, evidently still displeased, but said no more.

Runa tisked. “Come now, Kaldr. It’s not like I’m going to suddenly forget all the training I had from the Matrons. Nor does pregnancy typically interfere with Song Magic – if anything, it enhances it.”

Kaldr hummed. Einarr, though, blinked in surprise. “Truly?”

Truly. It’s based on resonance and emotional states, after all.”

Would that not also make your witchcraft less stable, my lady?”

Runa hesitated. “Sometimes,” she finally answered. “Although if I might make a recommendation? Referring to your prince’s wife as a witch is not particularly wise even under ordinary circumstances.”

I will keep that in mind, my lady.” Kaldr offered her a slight bow and moved to the prow, where he stood looking out over the sea.

He is right about one thing, though, Runa.”

She raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue.

You can’t let yourself be reckless now. Let us handle that part, okay?”

Now she smirked, evidently pleased that he’d evaded some trap in the topic. “I will do my best.”

Einarr?” Kaldr called from the prow. There was an unusual urgency to his voice.

Einarr was on his feet in a moment, already moving forward. “Yes, what is it?”

Evasive action!” Kaldr cried. Without thinking, Thjofgrir and Naudrek picked up oars.

A moment later, Einarr had reached the prow and saw for himself. There, in the middle of the open ocean, was the gaping maw of a huge maelstrom.

He was at the rudder in two strides. “Where did that even come from?”

I don’t know! Does it matter?”

Kaldr, direct me! Skip us off the edge!”

Yes, sir!”

Oars, stand by!”

Yes, sir!”

Port side, row with all your might! Hard starboard!”

Slowly, the Villgås turned. Einarr could feel the sucking of the maelstrom pulling at the rudder already.

Einarr – steady out! Starboard oar, jump in!”

Einarr relaxed his grip on the rudder at the same time Thjofgrir threw his back into rowing. Runa started to look green again as the ship pitched over the swirling waves. With a creak, the prow started to turn back toward the ocean’s maw.

Einarr! Starboard again, now!”

Even as Kaldr’s words reached his ears, Einarr was leaning his weight into the steering oar. It fought him, hard.

A wave washed over the deck and Einarr caught the strong odor of fish in the water. He swore: every sailor knew what that meant. “Kraken!”

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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.

 

“Evening, strangers. My thanks for the invitation.”

“The pleasure is ours. Have a seat.”

The dwarf rumbled: it might have been a laugh. “Not many strangers call dining with a dark dwarf a pleasure.”

Einarr offered a friendly smile. “A good friend of mine happens to be a dark dwarf. My name’s Einarr.”

“Hmm. Kharmor.”

Kaldr nodded and gave his own name.

“Here. First round’s on me,” Einarr volunteered. They spoke lightly for a time, with Vali hovering behind Einarr and whispering in his ear occasionally. Kharmor didn’t seem to be able to see the ghost – at the very least, he gave no sign of doing so.

After a couple of rounds like this, Einarr started telling stories about his journeys with Jorir – omitting the name, at first.

“Seems like a serious fellow, this friend of yours.”

“Aye, Jorir can be very serious. But he’s been a steady hand and an even keel for me, too, and we’ve been through some crazy adventures in the last few years.”

“…Jorir?” Kharmor started at the name.

Yes, that’s my liege man.”

“That all the name he’s given you?”

“Well, yes. He’s a smith, and he’s made plain that there’s a matter he will need my help with. Which is why I don’t understand why he ran off.”

Slowly, Kharmor nodded. “Jorir the cursed blacksmith, whose works can never hold the spark of magic. I assure you he had his reasons.”

“It’s just–”

“I do not doubt your sincerity. But you and your man both would be better served by returning home to wait for him.”

Kaldr tried to interject here, but he, too was cut off.

“You can be of no help to him, and you will only bring harm to yourselves. Go home.” Kharmor the dwarf rose from his seat with an air of finality and turned his back on the table. “In thanks for the food and drink, I will give you one last word of advice. Leave this place, by morning if you can. There are others of my kin who will not be so understanding as I.”

As the dwarf stumped loudly out of the hall, Einarr surveyed the room around them. It had grown considerably quieter, and a significant portion of the other patrons stared daggers at them. He cleared his throat.

“I think,” Kaldr muttered into his cup. “That our new friend was right about one thing, at least.”

“We do seem to be wearing out our welcome rather quickly,” Einarr agreed, looking very intently down into his trancheon to scrape up the last spoonful or two of stew. “Vali, I hope you had better luck than we did.”

“Maybe a bit, chief.”

“Good. Tell me later. Let’s finish what’s in front of us, pay, and leave. Wouldn’t want it to look like we were following him out.”


After one very tense walk across the hostile thieves’ den they found themselves in, the three men boarded the Villgås and breathed a sigh of relief. They all took seats in a rough circle on the deck: Einarr, still feeling the sting of the insults hurled early in the day, pulled Runa into his lap. Kaldr rolled his eyes. Naudrek and Thjofgrir smirked.

After her initial squawk of surprise, Runa settled back against his chest. Evidently she wasn’t too mad about being left on the ship, which was good. He would make it worth her while, later. For now, though… “Report.”

Naudrek rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “Shouldn’t we be asking you that?”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow. “I will be reporting the results of our investigation. But first, Thjofgrir, tell me you’ve already started bringing on fresh water?”

“Started? Yes. Finished? That’s another matter.”

Kaldr groaned.

Einarr sympathised. They still had some extra, because the Villgås had a deep draft, but counting on that was never wise. “Fine,” he said. “It is what it is. Nothing strange happened here?”

“No, sir,” Naudrek answered. “We’ve more or less been ignored.”

Einarr nodded now. “Vali? Tell me you found something beyond what our little friend from the Grotto told us.”

“Oh, aye,” the ghost said with a grin. “And from his own mouth, no less. Why do you think I nudged him your direction? Only trouble is…”

“He wasn’t so willing to talk to outsiders?”

“You’ll find,” rumbled a vaguely familiar voice from behind, “that no-one who lives here really welcomes strangers.”

Vali faded until he was just a faint outline to Einarr’s eyes. Einarr’s hands tightened on Runa’s hips unconsciously and she squirmed until he adjusted them. It was… distracting.

Einarr turned to look at their new guest, who stood respectfully just off the deck of the ship. “So we noticed. Come aboard.”

Kharmor smirked and took that step, his boots clumping heavily on the wood. “As you wish.”

“To what do we owe the honor? You made it quite plain earlier there was nothing more you would tell us.”

Could tell you. Not there, anyway. Then I waited outside and followed you to your boat. I’m amazed you didn’t notice.”

Vali’s outline smirked. Einarr was beginning to hate that expression. Kharmor, it seemed, still didn’t see the ghost.

“My kinsman that you seek – Jorir. He’s a criminal in our lands.”

Einarr raised both eyebrows in surprise and disbelief.

“He went against the will of our Thane – that’s why he left in the first place, when I was just a child. As far as we knew, he was dead. If word’s gotten out that he’s active again, though, he might have been called back home.”

“Home?”

“The alfs have the High Roads. We have our own means of reaching our homeland. I don’t recommend you try it.”

“Whyever not?” Thjofgrir asked.

“Because no human who treads the Paths of Stone ever returns.” He paused a long moment, fixing all of them with a level look. “There. I’ve said my piece. Get home with you. Either you’ll have word from your liege man, or you won’t. Either way, there’s nothing you can do by following after him.”

Without another word, Kharmor stumped back down to the docks. For a long moment, they sat in silence.

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.

 

Their second stop was at a place called The Grey Gate. Other than being a less-likely haunt for freeboaters on leave, its chief benefit was its proximity to the foundry and the timber yard in the city. Once again Einarr and Kaldr seated themselves in an unobtrusive corner, ordered a pair of ales, and sat watching the crowd.

Kaldr spotted them first: a pair of smiths, one of them a svartdvergr. They spoke briefly, and then the dwarf – far stockier and more scarred than Jorir – left again.

Einarr nodded, pleased. “All right. Hold your thumbs – here goes nothing.”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow, but obliged. It was a silly gesture, but Einarr still felt a little more confident as he sauntered over to the table where the smith still sat.

“Pardon me, friend. Mind if I sit down?”

The smith gave him a withering look, but gestured at the seat nonetheless.

“Many thanks. I’m new in town, but a friend came through before me – a smith. I was hoping you might be able to help me find him.”

The other man took a long drink of his ale, plainly ignoring Einarr.

“Oh, where are my manners. The next one’s on me.”

That, at least, got a harrumph out of the man. He took another long pull on his drink, obviously sizing Einarr up the entire time. “What makes you think I know anything about your friend?”

Einarr shrugged. “Call it a hunch.”

The man’s look could have humbled one of the Matrons. “Fine then. What makes you think he wants to be found?”

“I don’t, really. But disappearing like this just isn’t like him. And I know something terrible is going on in his homeland – something he’s said in the past he’ll need my aid on.”

The smith snorted. “Go home, Princeling. You and your stuffed-shirt bodyguard. Your ‘friend’ disappeared here, either he don’t want to be found or he’s dead. Either way, your kind don’t belong here.”

With a sigh, Einarr stood and dropped a coin on the table. “There. That should cover your next few – as thanks.”

Einarr took two steps back towards where Kaldr waited in the corner, still trying to be inconspicuous, before the man called after him. “Waitaminute. You sound like someone I’ve heard before. Not too long ago, neither.”

Einarr turned, a tight smile curving his lips but not reaching his cheeks, let alone his eyes. “Surely not. My homeland is a good ways from here.”

“No… I’m sure of it now. Your tongue has the same way of it as that young fella who was here just a few weeks back. You people just don’t know when to give up!” He stood violently at the table, slamming his hands down flat and calling the attention of everyone else in the Hall. “Oy! This one’s asking around after the dwarves!”

A Singer could not have inspired a quicker fury than those words imposed upon the room. Einarr wanted to explain, but there was no point. Nothing he could say would be heard by anyone in the room.

Kaldr realized it too. He suddenly appeared at Einarr’s back, wary and ready to draw. “My Lord…”

“Mm. Time to go, I think.”

The hiss of steel from around the room confirmed that hunch.

“Quickly?”

“Double-time.”

They started towards the door, Einarr facing the room, Kaldr at his back leading the way to the exit and safety. Neither of them was a slouch in a fight, but two against fifty seemed like poor odds under these circumstances. They had not gone three steps before a shout arose from the other patrons and they began to charge after the retreating prince and his retainer.


By the time they had lost their pursuers, it was nearly supper time. They both agreed that they needed to try at least once more that day: the longer they took, the colder the trail became, after all. On the one hand, the hour was a boon. There would be more people about, and that meant both that they would stand out less and that they would have a better chance of finding a lead. Hopefully not another one that remembered Finn. On the other hand, if things went wrong again…

Tired and footsore, they settled on a nearby place called the Salty Grotto. Despite the name, this was easily the highest-quality establishment they had visited yet. The rugs were not only not muddy, they were also not threadbare, and if the long tables saw great use they were also well-tended, as the surface was polished smooth and not at all sticky.

Once again they found themselves a place near a wall and called for ale and food – a full meal, this time, instead of a simple loaf to pretend to eat.

The Grotto was a lively house at the dinner hour. Local tradesmen – and some whole families, although not many – nearly filled the room. A lutist plucked a lively tune from near the front of the room, and when their stew arrived it smelled nearly as good as some of the things Snorli had come up with back on the Vidofnir.

Over everything, Einarr heard the door thump open at the entrance and turned to look. But there’s no-one… oh, there he is. A black-haired dwarf with skin nearly the color of bronze sauntered in and surveyed the room. Einarr couldn’t tell, immediately, what his profession was, although he was perhaps the shortest, stockiest dwarf Einarr had ever met. He also seemed to be looking for a seat. I’ll take this chance. He waved the dwarf over.

It took a moment for the svartdvergr to notice, but eventually he clumped over, his iron boots clanking a little against the floor. A mercenary, then?

Not far behind him, before anyone thought to close the door, Vali slipped in.

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 stepped out into the road running past the end of the pier and looked up and down it. Calling it a road may have been generous: he had seen cart paths that were better maintained. Deep muddy ruts scarred the surface, with standing water in several of them.

Board walks lined the sides of the road, but they were so crammed full of stalls it was impossible to actually walk along them. Well: this would hardly be the first time Einarr had gotten his boots dirty. Still, the quality of merchant did not leave him feeling hopeful.

On his left, Kaldr sniffed. “Have they no pride?” he muttered.

Einarr couldn’t quite suppress a smirk. “It might be better for us if that were the case, but I think you’ll find that pride is not what they’re lacking.”

Kaldr only hummed, his eyes scanning the crowd before them. Einarr felt sure he was looking for threats and not leads.

One direction seemed as good as the other. With a mental shrug, Einarr turned to his right. The smells coming from this direction had more to do with grilled meat than with stable muck, at least. Kaldr fell into step on his left. The walks packed with stalls and their patrons continued until the road made a sharp turn inland.

“Wandering the streets won’t do us much good,” Kaldr mused.

“No,” Einarr agreed, pitching his voice for Kaldr’s ears only. “We need a place we can sit and listen for a spell. Keep your eyes open for a public hall.”

“Surely you don’t expect there to be many people in such a place at this hour?”

“In a town like this? You’d be surprised. Besides, it always seemed to work well for Bardr when we needed to go recruiting.”

The signboard over the first hall they found – more of a den, really, Einarr thought – had ‘The Silent Hog’ scrawled across it in Imperial script. With a shared shrug and a nod, they went in.

Inside, the Silent Hog was not particularly quiet, although it made the Pewter Pot in Eskiborg look nice by comparison. The rugs scattered across the floor were nearly as muddy as the road outside, and all across the room men sat at tables dicing and drinking – never mind that it was not yet noon. Without too much trouble, Einarr spotted a place near the far wall that was currently unoccupied and flagged down a barmaid.

Five minutes later, as they sat across a table from each other with bread and ale, Einarr looked at Kaldr and said “And now, we wait.”

“For what?”

“Don’t know yet. Drink slowly, nibble, listen. If nothing interesting happens, we can move on and try again somewhere else.”

Kaldr shook his head. “I’ll admit, this is a little outside my expertise. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have Thjofgrir with you?”

Einarr chuckled. “Little late for cold feet now, isn’t it? But yes, I’m quite sure. It’s mostly a matter of knowing what to listen for.”

He turned his head to survey the room at a surge in the general noise level of the hall – some freeboater winning at dice, he expected, but no-one stood out of the crowd. He had another sip of his truly terrible ale and popped a morsel of bread in his mouth – that, at least, was quite good and fresh.

Kaldr cleared his throat. “Don’t look now, but I think someone is spoiling for a fight.”

Hey!” A rough voice called from over Einarr’s shoulder even as he turned to look.

I been watching you. Y’ain’t here ta drink, an’ y’ain’t here ta dice, so what’re you tryin’ ta pull?” The man was rail thin, but easily as tall as Erik, and his yellow hair twisted into greasy knots. He loomed over their table as he approached, one hand on the hilt of his belt knife.

Einarr put on a friendly smile. “Nothing like that, friend. We’re just looking for a friend of ours. Can we buy you a drink?”

Bah! Pair o’ pretty boys like you won’t find any friends here.”

Kaldr quirked an eyebrow. Einarr clenched his teeth, but only briefly. He couldn’t very well admit to being a prince, though, for the very same reason he hadn’t dared to bring Runa ashore.

I’ll have to let my wife know she has competition from other men, I suppose,” Einarr answered, his voice tight as he looked at Kaldr. He jerked his head toward the door: they weren’t going to learn anything here now.

A likely story!” The ruffian continued his taunts, plainly looking for a brawl that Einarr had no desire to provide. “Run off then. You might ‘ave better luck at the Cocksroost!”

Einarr frowned, sizing the man up. Not weak, plainly, but the fact that no-one else at the hall had come along suggested he might get away with it. While the ruffian laughed, evidently thinking he’d found a coward, Einarr pulled back his fist and let loose. He felt the satisfying crunch of bone as the ruffian’s nose shattered and his eyes rolled up in his head. “Let’s go.”

Silence fell over the room. As expected, when the scraggly man went down no-one came to his assistance. Einarr dropped a pair of coins on the table and left without paying him so much as another glance. Kaldr stalked after.

That was hardly called for,” he murmured.

My honor, and yours, disagree. Sometimes, the best thing to do with a man like that is give him what he’s after, good and hard.”

Word will spread, and it will be harder to lay low.”

Word will spread, and we should dissuade more such… nonsense. Now we need to find another place to listen.”

Might I suggest looking for one near a local foundry?”

Einarr gave that some thought. Not all svartdvergr were blacksmiths, but Jorir was. “Agreed.”

The two men set off down the street in the way that they had come, knowing they would need to go inland eventually – but where there were stables, there would be horses to shoe.

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.

 

Stigander went so far as to provide the karve for their search – one of the benefits, he said, of being back where they belonged – while Einarr and Kaldr assembled their team. Thjofgrir’s presence was as critical for Kaldr as Naudrek’s was for Einarr. After much deliberation, they agreed that Vali was their best choice for a scout, especially in the sorts of places they expected their search to take them.

The trouble came when Runa overheard Einarr speaking to Eydri about going.

“You’re not seriously thinking of leaving me behind?”

Uh-oh. Einarr steeled himself and turned to face his new wife. “I was, actually. We can’t know what sort of circumstances we’ll find ourselves in. It’s sure to be dangerous, and –”

“No ‘ands,’ Einarr. I don’t mind if you also bring along Eydri, but I’m not going to let you leave me behind.”

“But –”

“No buts. Jorir’s gotten me out of a tough scrape or two already: I intend to return the favor.”

Somehow, Einarr wasn’t certain that would be a good thing for Jorir, but he knew very well when Runa wasn’t going to budge on an issue. With a sigh, he turned to Eydri.

“It’s fine,” she said, but she wouldn’t look him in the eye.

“Are you sure? If you still want to go, I can check supplies with Kaldr. Vali doesn’t exactly eat much.”

“No, it’s fine. I haven’t sailed with Jorir all that much, and Kaldr is… Kaldr. Lady Runa has the right of it …If you’ll excuse me.”

Eydri left the room with some haste. Einarr looked after her as she entered the hall, puzzled. “Whatever can have gotten into her?”

Runa smiled, looking for all the world like a cat with cream. “Nothing you need concern yourself over. Just give her a little time and all will be well again.”

“…If you say so. Well, you’ve made it plain I can’t stop you, so you’d best make sure you’re packed.”

“Our things have already been seen to.”

“…I see.” Gods preserve me from willful women… The thought was as fond as his smile, though, as he wrapped an arm around his wife. “In that case, we should check in with Kaldr and Thjofgrir down at the pier.”


Kaldr, as expected, had complained – perhaps more loudly than he would have for Eydri, but his complaints were expected. Even he, however, could not deny the usefulness of someone well-versed in lore for their journey.

That it was Runa, however. That was a bone of contention. He argued long and strongly against her inclusion, and each and every argument against was one which Einarr had expected. Even agreed with, on some level. Finally, however, when Runa’s voice grew haughty and every fiber of her being began to quiver with anger, Einarr stepped in. There was simply nothing to be done, after all – she had as much right to search for Jorir as the two of them, and politics be damned.

Kaldr let loose a heavy sigh. “As my lord wills it, then,” he said with a bow, and left to see to some other matter aboard their karve.

They sailed the next day aboard the boat they had dubbed the Villgås, and after two and a half uneventful weeks on the open water they saw the shores of Mýrarhöfn rise over the horizon. Save for being the only land they’d seen in more than a week, there was not much remarkable about the terrain. The largest portion of what they could see was taken up by the port.

Even from the water Einarr could see that the port city looked run-down. With its reputation for attracting freeboaters of the roughest sort, it was unfortunately what he’d expected. He frowned: here was where he wished Eydri hadn’t bowed out so quickly. He could have used her on the ground in a place like this. Runa, though… well, she was tougher than one would expect, but he still couldn’t bring her ashore, not without a very good reason. She would be eaten alive in a place like this. He turned his gaze away from the approaching harbor and back over the deck to survey his crew and snorted, his decision made.

“All right, everyone. Once we make land, here’s how this will work. Thjofgrir, Naudrek, and Runa will stay aboard to guard the ship. No, Runa, that’s not optional. There’s very few Singers I’ve met I wouldn’t order to stay aboard in a place like this.” Runa huffed. Einarr found, for once, he didn’t care. “Vali, you can get into places the rest of us simply can’t. I expect you to be doing the heavy lifting on this search. Trust your instincts… and try not to scare anyone to death.”

As expected, Runa glared daggers at Einarr, but kept her mouth shut. At least for now. Vali smirked. “Aye, sir,” was all he said.

“Kaldr, you and I are going to go asking questions in all the wrong sorts of places.”

“Of course, my lord.”

He paused. He had half-expected Kaldr to suggest Thjofgrir or Naudrek in his place: truth be told, he wasn’t certain one or both of them might be better for the job. Well, whatever the reason, Einarr wanted a cool head at his back if he got into trouble. “Good. We’re going armed. If you’ve got a sturdy leather coat it’s probably better than maille here.”

Kaldr nodded, evidently in agreement. “The less attention we draw to ourselves, the better. Keep in mind, everyone, that Finn hit a stone wall every time it came out he was searching for a svartdvergr.”

“Hm. That could make things more interesting.” Einarr shrugged. “Not like there’s much we can do about it until we’re out there. Is everyone ready?”

Runa still looked cross, but her two bodyguards nodded easily.

“As ready as we can be, then,” Kaldr answered. It looked like Vali was already gone.

“Then I’ll see you all tonight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He could feel Runa glaring at him even without looking.

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

Enter,” came the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mýrarhöfn?”

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

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

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

Not yet -”

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

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

You have my thanks, Father.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

 

The wedding was set for three days after Einarr and the Heidrun limped back into port, which meant that they were not, precisely, late. They had, however, called it entirely too close for comfort. The first day, the day they arrived, they were welcomed home with feasting and music, and everyone aboard the Heidrun ended up telling tales of their adventure – everyone, that is, except for Finn, who slipped out of the hall with his bruised face and broken ribs before he could be pestered about what had happened on Blávík. Einarr made a mental note to speak with Stigander about that: it was the sort of thing that might ruin a man, and Finn was a promising scout.

The second day Einarr spent closeted away with his father, Bardr, Kaldr, Uncle Gorgny, and – surprisingly – Jorir. Beyond the repair of the Heidrun there were matters of political import which had made themselves evident over the last two months while he had been at sea, and none of them were good. That the cult was still active, and still possessed storm-riding ships, was troubling on several levels. While the League was a promising development in some ways, in others they seemed more troublesome.

“Truth be told they left a bad taste in my mouth even before they tried to impress us,” Einarr admitted in conference that afternoon.

“What did Eydri think?” Jorir asked.

“Things happened a little quickly for me to get an immediate impression from her, I’m afraid. We should talk with Naudrek about it in more detail: he was out with the group that encountered them first. He didn’t seem terribly impressed, though, even before we realized Finn was missing.”

Stigander grunted his agreement. “That the cult is large enough, and active enough, to inspire such a thing is troubling by itself. That this counter-League is evidently press-ganging whoever it happens across… Well. Something will have to be done.”

“That was my thought, as well.” He put a hand to his chin, considering. “Do you think the Matrons would want to look into it?”

Kaldr looked skeptical. “You want to turn this over to the Singers?”

Jorir, though, shook his head. “No, it’s a good idea. The cultists target them, after all, and there are members of the Circle everywhere.”

“Almost everywhere,” Einarr clarified. “Father, will you take it up with the Singers?”

“I will.”


The day before the wedding was the sauna day. In the morning, Einarr and Jorir took Ragnar’s sword to the dwarf’s forge, where he hemmed and hawed over the blade.

“And you’ve not polished it or sharpened it since you won it?”

“No.”

“And not a speck of rust on it. Remarkable.”

“Could that have something to do with the draugr? It was cursed, I think, and corrupted, but slaying Ragnar did for the first, and some rune fire for the second.”

“It’s possible, I suppose,” Jorir said, still peering closely at the blade. “Well. I’ll sharpen her, and polish her up, and you’ll have a right fine sword to give Runa tomorrow.”

“Good. Good. And… the ring?”

“Hrmph.” The dark-headed dwarf chuckled. “Had that finished weeks ago.” He lapsed into silence, but Einarr did not stand to go. He thought there was more Jorir wanted to say. After taking out a clean cloth and running it along the edge, the dwarf spoke again. “I may not like that lass of yours – she’s spoiled, and too clever for her own good – but I think the two of you will do all right.”

Einarr nodded. “Thanks.”

Jorir glanced up from his inspection of the century-old longsword. “You’re welcome. Don’t you have someplace to be?”

Einarr nodded again and let himself out. He was meant to meet Father, Uncle Gorgny, and Tyr at the sauna with a priest shortly after noon, and they would stay until past supper. He’d had to force himself to eat a big breakfast that morning, knowing no-one would let him eat until the wedding feast the next night: nerves robbed him of his appetite. Runa would be doing the same, he knew, with Reki and Eydri and gods-only-knew who. Maybe Aema and Tyr’s wife? There weren’t many married women in the hold, after all.

Einarr was bathed and switched and baked, and during all that time the older men talked. And talked. And talked. He was sure it was very important advice about keeping a happy household and such, but he just couldn’t focus. He listened, and nodded dutifully, and promptly forgot everything that was said. For three years, now, he’d worked towards this next day. Maybe that was why he was suddenly such a bundle of nerves?

He wasn’t certain if he actually slept that night. Before he knew it, though, the sky was lightening into the pale blue of morning and it was time to rise. He sat up and raked his fingers back through his hair, catching and breaking up a few snags. He could still smell the herbs from yesterday’s rinse.

There, hanging ready on the post of his bed, was his wedding outfit. He couldn’t begin to guess who had decided he required a silk tunic, but they had found a marvelous shade of blue for it – only the waters of Blávík were bluer, he thought. The trim was tasteful, as well, braids of silver and gold and black – although even after a year he found it odd to dress like a prince rather than a freeboater.

“Right,” he said to himself. “I may as well get started. Where did they leave that ewer this time?”

He needed to dress, and then he would be expected to stand with his father while Stigander and Hroaldr dealt with the purely contractual portion of the affair. They said it would be noon before the ceremony itself began, and already he felt as irritably impatient as a boy. Finally, on this day, there would be none to gainsay what had been true since that winter before they tried to elope: I am hers, and she is mine.


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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.


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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.

That night, Raenshold feasted in celebration of the victorious return of the Vidofnir and the Heidrun. From his seat by Father’s side, Einarr grinned across the table at the unflappable Kaldr and took a deep draught. He was mostly glad to be home, but it was hard to pass up a chance to nettle the man. “What you need,” he said, wiping the foam from his beard with the back of his hand, “Is to relax a little. Isn’t that right, Jorir?”

The dwarf, at Einarr’s side, chuckled.

Kaldr gave one of his trademark placid looks to the heir apparent. “I fail to see what is so relaxing about playing the fool.”

“Ease up, Einarr. That is relaxed.”

Einarr rolled his eyes in mock exasperation and picked up a joint of rabbit from his truncheon. “You, too?”

Jorir’s eyes twinkled with mirth. Plainly the dwarf knew something Einarr did not, but he had no chance to press. Stigander nudged his right shoulder and motioned with his head to come off to the side. Einarr stood immediately and followed, taking his meat with him.

“What is it, Father?”

“While you were out, we finally managed to learn where the ancestral barrows are.”

“You have?” Einarr’s eyebrows climbed with surprise – and relief.

Stigander nodded. Getting anything out of Grandfather Raen was difficult these days, but even before the witch got her claws in him he’d never spoken of where he’d come from originally. “I got a name, yes, and Reki’s confirmed it’s a real place.”

“Thank goodness. Now all I have to do is get the sword.”

“All is right. You’ve got two months before the wedding. With a fast ship and no delays, you’ll spend six weeks on the water. And we still don’t know anything about the place.”

“How is that different from any of our adventures these last few years? It seems like everything went crazy after they got Astrid.”

His father grunted in agreement.

“So where am I going? I’ll need a day or two to resupply the Heidrun, but I can leave right after.”

“Thorndjupr.”

Einarr grimaced. “Well there’s an ill-favored name.”

“You’re not wrong. Take whoever you please for your crew: you’ve fought among the men more than I have, recently.”

“Thank you, Father.” Einarr gave one last, regretful look towards the feast-table with his truncheon still half-filled with food and then turned away from the hall, tearing the last of the meat from the rabbit joint as he left. It seemed his rest would be brief: he now had an expedition to plan, and the first thing to do was consult the sea charts.

Finally, an ancestral sword was attainable. The wedding could go on.

And this might actually be fun.


At dawn the following day, a messenger was sent to the harbor with instructions to resupply the Heidrun with all haste.

Over breakfast, Einarr called together Jorir, Reki, and Eydri in conference. “I have a location.”

Reki nodded: she had helped Father find it, after all.

“Day after tomorrow, I sail on the Heidrun for some place called Thorndjupr, with no idea what I’ll find there save my great-grandfather’s barrow, and as of yet no clear idea about my crew. If Reki’s willing to come along, though, I thought you might like a break, Eydri.”

Eydri drew herself up as though she were somehow offended. “Is my lord the prince dissatisfied?”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Not at all. I only thought that, since you’ve been out for most of these thrice-cursed pacification ventures, you might like to rest a little. And as much as you’ve been out, Reki has been land-bound.”

Reki shook her head, chuckling a little. “I appreciate the thought, Einarr, but I think I will decline. I have my own matters to attend to here.”

Einarr nodded at both of them. “As you wish. I wanted to lay the option before you both.”

Eydri snorted. “We’re going to retrieve an ancestral sword from your family barrow, the sword your bride will hold in safekeeping for your heir, on an island your grandfather left for unknown reasons. And you expected me to pass this up? I signed on to follow the Cursebreaker. This is the most interesting thing you’ve done all year.”

Einarr sighed. He wished she hadn’t put it quite so bluntly, but she was right. Given his usually fatal Calling, and the name of the island, a quest that was supposed to be straightforward almost certainly wouldn’t be. “And now that we’ve been cursed to peril,” he said, turning to Jorir. “What of you?”

“Nay, Lord,” the dwarf grumbled. “Take Naudrek, though. He’ll watch your back in my stead.”

“Oh? And what, praytell, conspires to keep you here?”

Jorir gave a wan laugh. “You do. Or, rather, your wedding does. I’ll be surprised if you return much before time: someone has to see to your interests.”

Einarr nodded. It was true: there were few he could trust half so well as Jorir to see it done properly. “Thank you, my friend.”

The dwarf snorted. “Thank me when you come back in one piece.”

“I’m sure I will. But that still leaves the rest of the crew.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Reki said, standing smoothly.

Einarr gave the albino Singer a smile and a nod as she took her morning bread and glided across the Hall to where Stigander sat in a conference very similar to Einarr’s.

“So if Naudrek is acting as Mate, I’ve at least got to give Hrug a chance to come… He’s seemed a bit restless lately, anyway.”

Eydri nodded agreement, and the three fell to discussing who was fresh, and who had reason to stay and to go. All three agreed that Vali should stay: there was no sense stirring up the dead by bringing a ghost into their midst. Likewise Tyr, who was as old as Uncle Gorgny, and Erik, Irding, and Arring. This was not a quest to take berserkers on.


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.

Hi, everyone. Allene here. This marks the last chapter of Book 10: Einarr and the Ice Wolf – a book that is nearly half again as long as any other book! This wraps up the first half of the story fairly neatly, and so as opposed to my normal one-month hiatus, I am going to take TWO months in order to plan out the second half of Einarr’s story. I hope, since you’ve stuck with me thus far, that you will return on November 10, 2020, to see Einarr get married and find out what happens with the cult and with Jorir – not necessarily in that order. Thanks for reading!


The second day of the Thing began with the recitation of the law by one of the town elders – a far more festive event than Einarr had expected it could ever be, but more than a decade of misrule may have made a difference there. Afterward everyone was free to attend to their own business, and there was business aplenty to be had. Merchants had set up stalls within the walls of the hold and were displaying the best of their wares. Jarls took tankards together and sat in serious discussion over matters of trade and of weddings and funerals and ships.

At some point midafternoon, Einarr received a summons to attend his Lord Father in the Hall. He had expected this, in truth, but still his guts churned like water.

When he arrived, the doors stood wide open to allow in light and air, but even with the open doors and the torches burning over near where Stigander and Jarl Hroaldr sat in conference the Hall was dim and smoky. Einarr took a deep breath and strode across the hall to the bench where they conversed.

“You sent for me, Father?”

Stigander peered up at his son from under heavy blond brows and smoothed his beard. “Einarr. Have a seat. We have some business to hand, do we not?”

Jarl Hroalr harrumphed. “So it seems.”

Einarr pulled a stool up and swung a leg over. “After everything that’s happened, and you’re still against it?”

Hroaldr grumbled something unintelligible and waved his hand at the other two.

Stigander chuckled. “It’s more that he finds himself in something of a sticky situation. The son of his Thane has also made overtures for Runa’s hand, you see, while we were away, and Runa is his only child. Whoever she marries gains control of Kjell.”

Einarr frowned. “But after everything that happened, Kjell could justifiably cut ties with Thane Thorgnyr and become one of our holdings.”

“Son. I know you’re too young to know this, but even at the height of Raen’s power our control didn’t stretch even halfway to Kjell. When Thorgnyr tries to take back his holding, we will be too far away to do anything about it. And probably otherwise occupied, besides. And Thorgnyr will assume he needs to do that when you marry Runa.”

“Oh, aye, it is a when,” Hroaldr agreed irritably. “I can’t very well deny you’ve met my conditions at this point.”

Einarr brightened. He had been ready to argue that exact point, and here it was conceded without a fight.

“Now we must set a date,” Stigander broke in. “Set a date, and set the wheels in motion.”

Einarr cleared his throat. “If that is the case, aren’t we missing someone?”

The two older men looked at each other – Stigander blankly, but Hroaldr chuckled now. “Runa knows exactly what this meeting is about. She is with the Princess Beatrix and Aema, drafting the first of the letters that will need to be sent. Her idea.”

Einarr could not quash his smile. “It seems like most things are, doesn’t it?”

Now Stigander laughed. “Get used to it, son. Women are good at that.”


The date was fixed for midsummer’s day, a year hence. Einarr had argued for a shorter span as hard as he dared, but it seemed there was no way to get through all the preparations before then. Even without counting the thorny political situation (and getting thornier – Bea’s continued presence made him antsy, even though she had thus far been a reliable ally), apparently wedding mead was supposed to ferment a full nine months.

Not that he recalled his father waiting that long to wed Astrid. Einarr shrugged the thought off: there may have been other considerations there, and he was sure to be occupied in the interim. It’s not like there wouldn’t be plenty to do while he waited: Einarr was sure he was going to have to go knock some sense into some of the jarls who hadn’t come to the Thing.

But, all of that was a matter for another day. Right now, he was home for the first time since he was six years old. He had old friends to celebrate with, and new friends to make.

There, off on the edges of the festivities, Jorir and Kaldr each sat on a stump with a flagon of drink, watching the revelry before them. Jorir’s expression said this was exactly how he wanted it, so Einarr left them to it.

Cheers erupted from a broad field near where Urdr’s spells had quite literally come unraveled, and so he wandered that way. The smell of roasting meat tickled his nose, but after the discussion he’d just had food was the last thing on his mind.

“Einarr! There you are!” Erik’s voice boomed across the field. “The glima tournament’s already started!”

With a grin, Einarr broke into a trot. He hadn’t had a chance to wrestle much since his bout with Trabbi. “Count me in! Who’s up next?”

“Me!” Irding shouted, standing shirtless on a stump with his chest puffed out like a rooster’s, grinning like a loon.

Einarr laughed. “You’re on! Just try not to hold a grudge when I swab the deck with your head.”

He arrived moments later and stripped to the waist. Irding stood ready on the far side of the ring, still grinning.

There was much yet to be done, to restore Breidelstein and the glory of Raen. But as Einarr’s boots joined his tunic on the grass, and his feet pressed into the ground, he knew in his bones that he was home.


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