Fighting a Kraken was a losing proposition, ordinarily, even in a longship with a full crew. Einarr didn’t want to think about what their chances were in the Villgås, with only the six of them. Five, really: Runa’s queasiness had not been helped by their abrupt maneuvers. That also meant, of course, that they could not count on her to bolster their stamina for the flight.

All of this ran through Einarr’s mind in the split second after the odor of rotting fish assaulted his nose. The last time he had encountered a kraken, Hrug had devised a clever ritual to destroy the beast’s corruption. This one, at least, seemed to be of the ordinary variety. If they could run quickly enough, they might be able to dodge its grasping tentacles.

“Kaldr! Trade me!”

Wordlessly, Kaldr scrambled back to the stern to take control of the rudder. He probably had the instincts to dodge the hungry beast, but the man’s true strength was in forethought. Einarr, though, had outlived all but one of the Cursebreakers he had ever heard of. More than once he had spotted a way through and taken it without realizing that’s what he was doing. If he was going to gamble on someone’s instincts, it would be his own.

Ahead of them, the sea still churned. Behind them, the whirling maelstrom still grabbed at the Villgås, threatening to turn them back and suck them into the maw of the beast.

“Vali! Up high. Tell me what you see.”

“Aye-aye!”

The water off their starboard bow bubbled as though something big were moving just beneath it. “Port twenty-five!”

The ship groaned as her course was abruptly changed, but there could be no faulting her alacrity. The blue-grey tentacle burst up out of the water as they were rowing past it and crashed back into the roiling water, sluicing their deck with foul-smelling water once more.

“Ease off, Kaldr.” They had a clear path forward now.

“No!” Vali’s shout rang across the water as his translucent figure zipped back towards the deck. “Turn about!”

Einarr lowered his brows. “You want me to go back towards the maelstrom’s heart?”

“Better than rowing straight into the maw of the beast. We’re dead-center over the body right now.”

That didn’t make any sense. “Then what’s causing the maelstrom?”

“Not the kraken!”

Einarr swore. “You heard him! Bring us around!”

Another tentacle burst out from under the water’s surface just ahead of the Villgås’s original path. It, too, crashed down into the water, and the waves of its fall rocked the boat precipitously.

“Runa!”

“Y-yes?” She sounded miserable – not that he was surprised under the circumstances.

“My bow, and some arrows. Unless you want to be squid food, I need them now, and you’re the only one who can get them.”

He heard a noise that could have been a groan and could have been agreement. It took far longer than he liked, as he called instructions back to Kaldr for their heading, but as they neared the narrow strait Vali said would be safe to sail through she stumbled up beside him. She held out his bow in one hand and the quiver in the other and offered a wan smile.

“Thank you,” he said even as he strung the bow. “Get back amidships. We’ll get through.”

She nodded and stumbled back the way she’d come, clutching her stomach. He sincerely hoped this would not last.

Then began the tense work of breaking free. Einarr stood at the prow, an arrow nocked, and called out directions to Kaldr on the steering oar and Naudrek and Thjofgrir on the oars. Vali provided him eyes in the sky, which was invaluable for getting them through the ever-changing narrow strait between the maw of the beast and the maw of the sea. Occasionally a tentacle would come too close to the Villgås. Einarr only shot if they were in imminent danger of being capsized, but those shots let the kraken know there was something there. The more he shot, the more often he had to shoot.

After what felt like an eternity, when he was down to a single arrow in his quiver, he saw calm waters ahead. A quick glance around confirmed it: one more push should get them past hunting kraken and maelstrom alike. “Lash her steady, Kaldr!” He called over his shoulder. “Lash her steady, and take an oar!”

Einarr dropped his arrow back in its quiver, tossed the bow over his shoulder, and rushed to the oar that would be opposite Kaldr’s. A moment later, he was joined by his Mate for the voyage.

“Hang on, Runa. Double-quick time, men! One last push will see us free!”
Einarr and Kaldr put their backs into it, rowing as hard as they could for the open waters ahead of this impossible strait.

A shadow dimmed the light of the sun: Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder.
The kraken had not given up yet. A tentacle rose high above them, and was about to come plunging down on their deck.

“Faster!”

He had not been certain it was actually possible, but somehow they managed to coax just a little more speed out of the Villgås. The tentacle crashed into the roiling water behind them, and the waves of its fall sent them airborn, just for a moment. They landed with a splash that doused all of them once more, washing away most of the fish smell from the deck, and the wind caught their sail once more. The Villgås sailed on.

Naudrek pulled his oar in and sat down with a thump, catching his breath. Thjofgrir also looked winded. Einarr went straight to where Runa leaned against the mast. Her color was already better, and he smiled at her. “Anyone care to venture a guess as to where that came from?”

Runa sat up. “I couldn’t say for certain, but I think that was a guardian. I think we’re getting close.”

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.

 

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!”

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. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

Bea was looking at him expectantly. What she’d told him before? …Oh. Einarr shook his head no.

“You really should. Talent like yours is wasted as a raider, and if power is what you’re after Father can grant you more than you could ever hope to gain as thane over some tiny island.”

“That’s not – ”

“Not power? Is it wealth, then, or a beautiful bride? Not all of my Father’s daughters are married, after all, or even promised…” She trailed off, as though expecting him to take some sort of a hint from that.

“I’m sorry… Bea. I just… haven’t had time to think about it.” It was at least a partial lie. He had dismissed it out of hand when she first mentioned it and moved on to the task at hand. But what was she trying to get at with the nonsense about brides? “Perhaps we should focus on destroying the black kraken?”

She looked at him like he had somehow grown horns and puffed air towards her hairline. Women were strange.

“You’re right, of course,” she said. “I just wanted to remind you of the possibilities.”

“Of course…” A thought occurred to him. Improbable, of course, but not impossible. “While we’re speaking of possibilities… is Hrist your mother?”

Her face fell. “Would it make a difference if she were?”

“Not really. You just look like her, so I wondered.”

Bea nodded, then rose. “Well. I suppose I will leave you to your thoughts, since you don’t seem to want sleep tonight.”

Einarr snorted, but did not retort as she walked away. Let her think what she would. He pulled his blanket over his shoulders and rolled over.


Come morning, it was as though their conversation never happened. This was good: it meant Einarr could focus on the task at hand. And that task was cutting down the monster that had come closest to destroying the Vidofnir and her crew. Einarr wanted no distractions.

The landing boats were already in the water, seeding chum in hopes of drawing the kraken. No-one was really sure what the beast ate, though, only that it had to eat a lot. So they put out chum, and if the black kraken didn’t come for that perhaps it would come for the sharks that did.

Before long the water they had chummed was churning, frothy and red with the blood of the bait – and, probably, some of the sharks caught up in the feeding frenzy. The harpoon boats lay in wait some distance back from the chaos they had sown, thinking that if this did not work at least they could have fresh fish, for a change, that night.

The feeding frenzy was beginning to slow as the bait was consumed. The white and red froth calmed, and while there was still blood in the water it seemed the beasts were growing sated. One of the boats cast its harpoon at a fleeing shark and caught it, based on the way they jerked into motion after. Well, Einarr wouldn’t complain about something fresh for dinner for once, either.

Einarr started to turn away from the baited area: today, they had failed, and tomorrow they would try something different. Then he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and his blood ran cold. A single black tentacle appeared out of the water and wrapped around the harpoon boat that was fighting the shark.

“Look out!” The words were out of Einarr’s mouth before the knowledge he could do nothing reached his brain.

“It’s here!” Walter bellowed, hard on the heels of Einarr’s useless warning.

“Signal the fire ship,” Liupold ordered. “Ready the assault!”

And so it began. Burkhart had won the honor of piloting the fire ship in the initial assault: said he wanted to strike the first blow against the monster that took his brother when the priests fell. After that, no-one tried to gainsay him.

A second tentacle rose above the water and began reaching for the same ill-fated harpoon boat. Silence descended upon the Arkona, and Einarr had to remind himself to breathe.

A long black shape appeared below the water and surfaced like a whale coming up for air. Soon they could see its great red eyes. More tentacles surfaced – somehow too many, even for as large as it was.

The shark boat stopped jerking around on the surface of the water as its crew deployed oars. They were trying to run: so was the shark, still attached to the boat by the harpoon line.

The harpoon boat picked up a sudden burst of speed as the rowers added their power to the panicked shark beneath the water. The black kraken had not expected that. Its first tentacle curled around open air.

Einarr clenched his fist, nails digging into his palm.

The boat scudded along through where the shark chum had been, its course as unpredictable as a panicked animal’s. Time after time a great black tentacle as big around as a tree trunk reached out to grab it and closed on open air.

Meanwhile, the other harpoon boats cast their lines for the black mantle or one of the glowing red eyes of the massive squid. This was not the distraction they had expected, but it was one they had the guts and good sense to take advantage of. Some of their lines drew taut. Others hit the rubbery flesh and bounced harmlessly off into the water, to be pulled back and thrown again.

The running boat turned hard around – far harder than the boat itself was capable of. From the Arkona Einarr could see its deck tilting at a precarious angle as the shark below turned to run away from the underwater grasping arms.

Another tentacle rose up from below the surface of the water and the swell it caused pushed the scudding harpoon boat all the way over. That same tentacle wrapped about the hull of the boat, and Einarr could only pray to Eira that the sailors aboard could all swim.

“Launch!”


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Table of Contents


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.