Over the next three weeks, representatives of more clans filtered in to Breidelstein, and during that time Einarr held three more evening saunas with captains who had seen the destruction first-hand. Some of them were spooked. All of them listened with interest to Einarr’s tale of fighting against the demon fleet.
At last, however, the date of the Althing was at hand, and the time for private negotiations was at an end.
The first day was taken up with the reading of the Laws and with the reaffirming – and, in the case of Breidelstein, often the mending – of old alliances. It would be many years before they could fully undo the damage done to the clan by the Weavess’ machinations. Einarr was present with his father for many of these negotiations, but while he managed to make the proper noises in support of his father, mentally he was rehearsing for the next day.
On the second day of the Althing, the representatives of all the gathered clans met to discuss their way forward, given the League’s activities and the destruction being wreaked upon the islands. Einarr sat with the other captains of Breidelstein, listening to the old men debate. His nervousness was rapidly turning to irritation.
Runa, with the Singer’s delegation, smiled at him from across the room. Alfvin, he knew, was with his nurse, so they needn’t worry about the baby disturbing the proceedings.
“It seems to me,” the Jarl of Búdholm was saying, “That all we’re really dealing with is this so-called League, and perhaps some rogue freeboaters who don’t like them infringing on their turf.”
“How many freeboaters do you know with Painters on board?” Bollinn’s voice called out across the crowd.
“Painters get enthralled from time to time. One of them could easily have decided to work his Art for his new master.”
Einarr sighed and pressed his hands to his knees, rising finally to his feet. “Could have, perhaps. But I myself have seen the messages these so-called ‘Painters’ have burned into stone walls. They are written in Runes, and they spew acid against all those who practice seithir. No Imperial Painter educated enough to read runes would inscribe such a thing, or be willing to work his Art for one who believed such things.”
“Oh?” Someone else asked archly. “The Prince of Breidelstein has great wisdom, to know what an Imperial dog will or will not do.”
“Peace, Kjartan,” answered Jarl Hroaldr. “The young Cursebreaker has seen more of the world than any five of us combined. Besides, if Painters are even half so well taught as our own Singers, it would be hard to convince one to declare himself a scourge upon the land.”
“So says his father-in-law, anyway.”
“Peace!” Thane Geirleif of Ulfkirk roared. “The Prince of Breidelstein has the floor.”
Einarr bowed respectfully to the man in the neutral seat. “My thanks, Lord Geirleif. It is true that Jarl Hroaldr is my father-in-law. It is also true that I was on my father’s ship, for all intents and purposes a freeboater myself, since the age of eleven. Then, a decade later, things really got interesting when they told me I was a Cursebreaker.” He let himself smile a little, to show it was meant as levity. “I have traveled the alfen High Roads and braved the Paths of Stone – and even rescued an Imperial princess from a corrupted kraken and its meat puppets. While I may have met a Painter on that quest, I was not aware of doing so. However, it is as Jarl Hroaldr says. The devotees of Malùnion despise the Arts, and make no use of the rune magic – only the letters. Any Painter who fell into their hands would either be slaughtered immediately or sacrificed to their god, in exchange for some measure of his power.”
“I still have seen no evidence–!”
“That this cult even exists, Lord Kjartan? I am glad you have not. I could wish I had not. Nevertheless, it lives – nay, thrives! – in the shadows of our world. The League’s methods are misguided. I might even call them idiotic. But. Their goal is a right one. And, in pursuing it, they have discovered that the Squiddies had not just a presence but a veritable redoubt in the catacombs of Kem.”
“Which was destroyed by the League.” Tore of Hrafnhaugr chimed in.
“Which was destroyed by the League. And which nearly destroyed the League in the process – or its expeditionary force, at least. There was a single survivor. And, thanks to that single survivor, we now know where to go in order to strike at the heart of Malùnion’s worship. With a little luck, working together we can sever this corruption from our world before the rot can infect anyplace else.”
“You speak as though the existence of this so-called cult is certain. Nothing I have heard here suggests anything of the sort, however.” Thane Olaf of Sweindalr objected.
Einarr smirked. “Would you have me tell you of the svartalfr fortress beneath a nameless island near Langavik, what they did to Langavik and what they were going to do to my wife? Of the ships that traveled with monstrosities beneath their decks and storms above their masts? Of the black blood that sickens and corrupts everything it touches? Of the meat-puppets a creature of Malùnion created to serve its will in the warm waters of the Empire? Or would you have me call forth Jorir and Jennora, to tell of what the worshipers of Malùnion did to Nilthiad in svartalfheimr over two hundred years? Do you wish to hear from Bollinn of Kjell what they found at Kliftorp? The cult is very real, my lord, and your own Captain has seen the evidence for himself.”
Annoyed, Thane Olaf glared at Serk, who nodded that yes, he had.
Thane Olaf snorted. “I suppose a quest such as this would be a suitable test for a young Cursebreaker, wouldn’t it?”
Einarr wanted to laugh. According to Runa, for a Cursebreaker he was quite old. That was beside the point, however. “Of course. We, the men of Breidelstein, will sail forth to smash this threat where it hides. I cannot in good conscience allow their depredations to continue. I and my Heidrun will be going, with or without help. If you choose to hide behind your own cowardice, that is no affair of mine. However, there is plenty of glory to go around, and every ship we send is one more arrow aimed at the black heart of Malùnion.”
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.
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