A midsummer storm loomed on the horizon the next dawn as the fleet of ships, led by Einarr on the Heidrun, sailed out of Blávík harbor. Einarr bared his teeth, wondering if that was a natural storm or if they would have to face one of the demon ships so soon into their journey.

“Problem, sir?” Naudrek said as he passed by.

“Probably not.” Einarr made his face relax. “Just not sure I like the look of those clouds up ahead.”

Naudrek peered ahead at the sky and shrugged. “We could check with Hrug. But, I hear parts of the Empire are prone to storms this time of year, and we are headed south.”

“You’re probably right. Just make sure the lookouts stay sharp.”

“Aye, sir.”

Naudrek plainly did not understand Einarr’s caution, and that was fine. He would, as soon as they ran into one of the demon ships that quite literally rode storms the way some Valkyrie ships bound the wind to their sails. It was true they were sailing south towards Imperial waters, but Naudrek had not come face to face with their enemy on the water before.

As the fleet, now in open water, turned towards the southwest at full sail, the day did not grow brighter so much as more watery. When the drizzle began to rap against the deck and spit in his face, Einarr was at last satisfied that this was ordinary bad weather. There would be some among them who took it as a bad omen, though. While Einarr was not among them, he went to speak with Eydri. They would need to be careful about morale on this journey.


After three weeks of relentless drizzle, Einarr almost wished they would run up against one of the demon ships. It would give them a chance to fight together, and for the other ships to catch a glimpse of what they were really up against. Instead, they had nothing but cold, wet, dreary days ahead of them until they reached their next resupply point.

“Land, ho!” The cry came from the bow.

Einarr returned, briefly, to his awning to check the charts before stepping back out into the spitting rain. “Run up the truce flag. We’ll resupply here, and maybe be able to get some information.”

It was, sadly, not to be. When the fleet drew nearer to the island ahead, they saw smoke hovering above what used to be a settlement like a grim cloud.

“So much for the resupply,” Jorir grumbled.

“Quite.” Einarr sighed. “We might still be able to get some information – about the cult, or about the League, or maybe both. Send a message around. Each ship is to land a team to investigate. I want everyone to get a feel for the sort of destruction we’re looking at if we fail.”

The nearer the Heidrun drew to shore, the deeper Einarr felt the pit in his stomach growing. This had been razed, not three weeks, but perhaps three days ago, and quite possibly less. “Jorir, you have the ship. Naudrek, Hrug, Eydri – I’m sorry, but I need you all to come ashore. Who else thinks they have the stomach for this?”

Predictably, he found no shortage of volunteers. Some, it was plain, were full of bravado. Irding he brought, even though he had been there at Langavik, and also Arkja. “This won’t be like at Kem. We don’t have to comb the whole city ourselves – thank the gods. Most of the rest of the fleet has never encountered this pack of rabid wolves before, so I’m not expecting a lot of information out of them. I’m counting on you five to help me uncover the information we need from these ruins. The rest of you, be ready. There’s no telling what we might find out there.”

A few minutes later, the Heidrun was the first ship of the fleet to go ashore, and as the rest of the fleet came ashore or laid boarding planks to let them cross to the ground, Einarr’s team was the first to set foot on an island the charts named Eskidal.

No sooner had he set foot on the sandy shore than the charnel smell from what had once been a city struck Einarr’s nose. He tried not to gag, with only moderate success. But this was no place to falter: his hand on Sinmora’s hilt, he led the way into Eskidal.

Before he reached what remained of the city, he was flanked by Bardr and by Kaldr.

“The place is already burned. So how come it smells worse than Langavik?” Bardr asked no-one in particular.

Einarr snorted, then scrubbed at his nose to keep from breathing in more of the foul air. “We’re about to find out.”

Kaldr was frowning. “We saw nothing like this as we approached their dvergr stronghold…”

“Jorir told me they had been more or less in control of Nilthiad when he left. These are the actions of a conqueror, not a shepherd.”

Now Kaldr snorted. “A conqueror? Hardly. A destroyer, more like.”

Bollinn cleared his throat from just behind the three of them. “It does rather look that way, doesn’t it?”

“Well. So that’s four teams I can count on to keep their heads.” Einarr managed a wan smile. “If you see crude rune work, that’s probably League work. If you see whole sentences, that’s the Squiddies… Kaldr, is there someone in your team who can read runes?”

“I can, actually.”

The statement was so unexpected, and stated so matter-of-factly, Einarr turned to stare.

“It was only practical, after everything that happened in Nilthiad.”

Will wonders never cease. They had reached the charred edges of what had once been a city, now. Streaming out behind them were more groups of warriors, moving in groups according to their clans and their ships. The four groups split up again, each headed in a different direction through the city.

Eydri held a sleeve up to cover her nose as she stared around at their surroundings. The buildings were little more than cinders and charred posts, but… “The fire came before the slaughter.”

In spite of himself, Einarr was impressed at how calm her voice was. “They set fire to people’s homes, then murdered them as they tried to escape the flames.”

Arkja’s face was pale. “That’s…”

“I know.” Einarr nodded. “I agree, Eydri. But I’m not seeing any runes at all, let alone fire runes. Are you, Hrug?”

The mute shook his head.

“These houses are pretty far gone,” Naudrek mused. “Are you sure the runes would still be visible?”

Einarr opened his mouth to say no, just as Hrug was nodding his head yes. Einarr shrugged. “If either of us could tell, he could. Let’s go farther in: I don’t think we’re going to learn much here.”

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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

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

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

 

The Heidrun ran up the white flag as they approached the freehold Gabriel led them to. Even so, as he waited at the top of the gangplank, while Gabriel approached up the beach, they were greeted by a sturdy older woman wielding a massive axe in one hand and a proper shield in the other. She scowled fiercely at the approaching boat, and Einarr thought she would likely give a good accounting of herself, just on sheer determination.

Then she saw Gabriel and let the axe head drop. “You’re alive? Then, is…?”
Gabriel nodded. “He’s in Breidelstein: they say we can start over there. Kem is gone.”

Relief and fury warred on the woman’s face – relief, he was sure, for the safety of her husband. Fury, he didn’t have to guess at.

“Leave Flatey? Start over? Are you mad?”

“What else are we supposed to do? With Kem gone, we’ve no-one to trade with between here and Breidelstein. No apothecary, no herb witch. One bad winter would kill us all.”

“The lad is right,” Einarr chimed in, still standing on the deck. “It might not even take a bad winter: there are monsters at sea now. Raenshold has men who have fought them before, and a good harbor, and lots of unworked land to boot. I’m afraid the Heidrun isn’t equipped to carry much livestock, but we’ve enough cargo space for anything else you care to bring.”

The woman stood there, staring at both of them, her mouth working soundlessly, for a long time. As the quiet dragged on, the fury faded from her face and her shoulders began to sag.

“You may as well come ashore. We’ll need some time to pack.”


Einarr’s Heidrunings were still gripped with a solemn urgency when they docked once more in Breidelstein. Gabriel’s master waited at the docks for his family – which plainly included Gabriel, no matter what his technical status was. Einarr was pleased that had worked out as well as it had, even with everything else weighing on his mind.

Gorgny also greeted their return at the docks: Einarr was always a little surprised the man was willing to walk down to the port for this sort of thing: he was at least as old as Tyr, and hadn’t spent most of the last twenty years at sea – and that wasn’t accounting for his duties towards Grandfather Raen. Still, if it was Gorgny here and not Father or Kaldr, that meant they were absorbed in other important matters.

Einarr and his commanders disembarked to join him, escorting the former Captain of the League, Thrand, and the seven of them set off at a quick pace for the cliff road. “What’s happened while we’ve been out?” Einarr asked Gorgny.

“I see you’ve returned with another new face, milord?” The old advisor raised an eyebrow.

The meaning was plain. “He’s our captive, but also a refugee. Lone survivor of the massacre of Kem.”

Gorgny nodded. “Representatives have been arriving since not long after you left, milord. I’m sure they are all waiting to learn what you have found out.”

Fair enough. Einarr wasn’t entirely certain how trustworthy Thrand was at this point, either, and that was after traveling with the man. “So long as they allow us enough time to wash the salt off – and maybe for the rest of my crew to finish unloading and do the same. Any other reports of razed settlements?”

“I’m afraid so, milord. The Kjellings ran into one on their way, as did one or two other representatives. The Captain of the Skudbrun seemed particularly disturbed by what he saw.”

“Understandably so. He’s seen it before, too. … Let those who found the massacres know that, should they wish to compare notes, I intend to sweat out the ashes of Kem in the sauna tonight. I would like a chance to speak with them privately. Probably for the best if Father does not attend: I will let him know what I intend.”

“Yes, milord.”

“By that same token, before dinner I will be in my chambers with Runa and Alfvin. We are not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.”

“Of course, milord.”


Einarr sat in the sauna, a towel wrapped about his waist, his elbows on his knees and his eyes closed. He was glad Bollinn was here: that would make matters easier, even accounting for the close ties between their clans. He still didn’t know who the other two were: he hoped he could count on them to see what was necessary.

Einarr heard a rap on the door. “Enter.”

A blast of cool air reminded Einarr of just how hot it was in here: he stood and dipped some water over the coals. When he returned to the bench, Bollinn sat across from him.

“Einarr.”

“Good to see you. How’re the Brunnings holding up?”

Bollinn shrugged. “Langavik wasn’t necessarily worse, but everything that followed was. We’ll hold up just fine.”

Einarr nodded. “Where was it?”

“Kliftorp.”

Einarr blinked. He had to think a long time to remember anything about them. “Hard to make an example out of a tiny place like that, I’d think.”

“Lots of cloth coming out of Kliftorp in the last five or ten years, and a lot of skillful Weavers.”

“Ah.” Now it made sense.

Another rap came on the door, followed by an unfamiliar, although not unpleasant, voice. “We were told we should visit the sauna tonight?”

“Yes. Please, enter, join us.”

The two who entered were built like Einarr’s father, but much closer to his own age, and bore the scars of many battles. One of them had hair almost as red as Einarr’s – and a nose that had been broken more than once. The other was as blond as Stigander and as paunchy as Erik.

“Tore, Captain of the Sterkerbjorn out of Hrafnhaugr,” the redhead introduced himself.

“A pleasure. Not sure I ever had the pleasure of seeing Hrafnhaugr.”

Tore smirked. “Not much reason for a ship of freeboaters to head that way.”

Einarr nodded his acknowledgment, then turned to the man who looked shockingly like a younger version of his father.

“Serk, of the Björtstag. From Sweindalr.”

Bollinn waved silently: evidently, they’d all been here long enough to become acquainted already.

“Good to meet you both, and I’m glad you came. I’m certain you can guess why I called you all here tonight.”

“Oh, aye, that’s not hard to figure.” Tore settled himself on a bench and fixed a level eye at Einarr. “What I want to know is why?”

Serk, too, took a seat on a bench and settled himself leaning against a wall. “I’d like to know that, myself. I’m not sure there’s really much to talk about, is there?”

“A couple years ago, I might have thought the same. Then the worshipers of a dark demigod named Malùnion kidnapped my wife…”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr 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.

 

It was good to sail with a full crew again. Naudrek had ceded the post of Mate back to Jorir in good graces, now that the svartdvergr was returned to them. Eydri and Hrug were back in their proper places as well, and Vali’s jar was stowed unobtrusively below. Erik had gone with Sivid, but Irding and Arring had come aboard the Heidrun, as had Svarek and the men from the Forgotten Isle. The rest of his crew he filled with volunteers in consultation with Sivid and Kaldr.

The refugees who had arrived from Kem were given a chance to come along. The younger man – who looked vaguely familiar to Einarr, and not at all like someone of the Clans – took them up on it. The older man declined, but also asked that they pay a visit to his farmhold and bring back his wife and their children – a request easily agreed to.

Now, after a week’s hasty preparations, Einarr and the Heidrun set sail for the southwest, where lay Kem on the borders of Imperial waters. Einarr smiled to see Runa and little Alfvin on the docks, watching them leave. For his part, he felt much better knowing they were here, guarded by all the forces his father could muster. She seemed less happy, but the duty of the prince was to lead their forces into the fray, whatever that might be.

Heidrun, too, seemed to be ready to go. Perhaps it was a trick of the wind, but the ship itself felt eager under Einarr’s feet, like a horse feeling its oats. Einarr grinned. It was good to be back on the whale-road.

Unbidden, the image of the body hanging in the warehouse in Langavik came to mind, and his grin turned to a shudder.


Two months – at least – after it was attacked, the ruins of Kem still smoked and smoldered in places. Einarr stood on the deck of the Heidrun staring in stunned silence at the empty pier and the wreckage beyond. No-one aboard spoke.

Finally, after his mind had begun to work again and the silence stretched into a goad, he took a deep breath. Standing here would accomplish nothing. “Naudrek, the ship is yours. Jorir, you’re with me – Gabriel, you too. Eydri, Hrug, choose a handful of men. We’ll split into four groups and quarter the city. The trail’s already long cold, which means we need to be thorough. Be back at the ship by dusk: if there are hungry dead about, we can ward the Heidrun.”

A chorus of ‘aye’s traveled around the deck. Einarr also brought Arkja and Svarek, while Irding went with Eydri’s group and Arring with Hrug’s. Einarr felt somewhat better at that: that meant that all three of their groups had someone who knew at least a little magic, and every one of those sorcerers had at least one powerful warrior with them.

Then they were off, the group commanders trudging down the ash-stained pier at the head of their teams – and it was trudging, for each and every one of them.

Once they had turned off the main road onto one of the innumerable narrow side-streets, Jorir cast a look at Gabriel. “Did you an’ yer Pa set fire to the city, or was it like this when you got here?”

The young man shook his head. “Pa? Me Pa’s dead ten years. The old man’s my master… you didn’t realize?”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. “You seem to be on awfully friendly terms with him for a thrall.”

Gabriel smirked at that. “Maybe so. He’s never gone so far as to adopt me, officially, but that’s how he treats me. You have no idea who I am, do you?”

“None. I’m sorry: it’s been an eventful few years.”

You sold me into thralldom, to pay the apothecary. ‘Twas about what the life of a common footpad was worth, I suppose.”

Einarr and Jorir both stopped in their tracks, the rest of their group sharing looks of confusion.

“That was you?” they asked together.

“That was me. But no, the city was already burned when we got here. If it hadn’t been…” He looked pointedly down at the ground, into the corner where the charred wall of a building still rose from the road, and poked a toe into the ash. What was plainly a human bone rolled free.

“Charnel. I agree: I’ll take the smell of wet ash over the smell of rotting bodies any day. On the other hand, it does complicate our search somewhat.”

Jorir grunted.

Einarr looked around where they stood. Off to the left stood a mostly intact two-story building. “That looks like a promising place to start.”

Inside, they found overturned furniture and splatters of blood, obvious even under the thin coating of ash and soot. Overturned, broken jars were everywhere, but Einarr could not guess at what they might have held. He picked one of them up to examine it more carefully. “The apothecary, you say. He was some sort of relation of your master. Did you find him?”

There was a long pause before the young man answered. “No. Not that that means much under the circumstances.”

“Well. If we find a camp of survivors, so much the better, but that’s not what we’re looking for. The cultists carved up dead bodies: I don’t expect the League to be quite that brutal. Fan out. Once we’ve searched this building we’ll move on to the next.”

“And, if you don’t mind me asking, what are we looking for?” Arkja asked.

“Something unusual, or out of place.” Einarr answered. If we’re lucky, they’ll have left a message someplace for any interlopers who happened by.”

Jorir harrumphed. “And if we’re unlucky, it will have gotten gobbled up by the fire.”

Everyone but Gabriel chuckled. He looked thoughtful. “I think I know where they might have left a message like that.”

Einarr looked at him, waiting.

“There’s a big monument in the town square – not much more than a giant slab, really, carved with the world tree and various doings along its height. They’d be far from the first to scrawl on it, and I’d be surprised if the fire could have touched it.”

Einarr nodded. “Good. We’ll check it out when we get there. We’re better off sticking with the method, though, rather than haring off after an obvious sign that may not exist.”

“Yes, sir,” he answered.

“My lord?” Arkja called from the far side of the house. “What do you make of this?”

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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

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

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

 

One week following the birth of the new Prince Alfvin, Thane Stigander of Raenshold sent out letters to everyone he – or his father – had ever called a friend. The selfsame League that had tried to conscript Einarr on the eve of his wedding was now seeking allies more broadly among the clans, and neither Einarr nor Stigander had any doubts they would be just as ruthless about it. Then, while Breidelstein repaired its warships and sharpened its blades for war, Einarr took his father’s advice to concentrate on his wife and his new son.

At the end of the first month the Skudbrun arrived, with word not only from Jarl Hroaldr but also from his Lord. Feathers were not so ruffled over Runa’s marriage that Thane Thorgnyr would blind himself to the reality over the waves. Another month passed, however, and then a third, with no word from any of the other Clans. The mood in the Hold grew tense.

Then, at last, another boat arrived in Breidelstein harbor – no bigger than the Villgås, and in far worse repair. She was crewed by only a pair of men, who rowed for the docks with an air of desperate relief.

The men were messengers from Kem, and when they were taken up to the Hold with their messages, the mood went from tense to outright grim.

Stigander met them in the main hall. When they were shown in, one of them knelt. The other, with a wild look in his eyes, took an extra step forward. “Milord, please -”

Bardr placed himself between the messenger and his Thane. The messenger stopped where he stood, but kept talking.

“Please, Lord Thane. Help us. Kem is… Kem is…”

“Kem is what?” Bardr demanded.

“Gone, sir.” The other man spoke quietly without raising his head. “The boy and I left our freehold for supplies, only when we arrived… when we arrived, the city was naught but a smoking ruin.”

“If’n you please, milord,” said the younger, more spooked of the two. “Lord Einarr showed me mercy, some years ago when I was nothin’ but a footpad. So we thought…”

Stigander grunted. “I’d been wondering what was happening. But Kem’s an awful long way to sail in a little skiff like that. Where did you resupply?”

“We foraged, milord,” said the older man. “We tried to stop at two or three other cities on our way, but they were all the same.”

Stigander pressed his lips into a line and nodded. “You’ve done well to reach us. Gorgny, see to it that they are fed and bathed, and rewarded appropriately, then find them some place to stay in the city.” He turned back to the two messengers. “I’m afraid things are likely to get worse before they get better. Go, and take what comfort you can in having found a safe harbor.”

As Gorgny led the two bedraggled men from the hall to see to Stigander’s instructions, Stigander motioned a servant forward. “Fetch Einarr, Reki, and Eydri to my study, then ready another messenger for Kjell.”

“Yes, milord.”


Runa had been displeased at being left out of Stigander’s summons, but then Alfvin had woken up and demanded food. She had sighed and waved Einarr out the door. He arrived at his father’s study just ahead of Reki and Eydri, who both mirrored on their faces the concern he felt. He rapped on the door.

Immediately his father’s voice called out. “Come.”

“Father. You called?”

Stigander looked up from the table and laid his quill down. “Good. You’re all here. Come in, shut the door.”

Reki looked up as she pulled the door to behind her. “Something has happened, then.”

“We’ve just had messengers from Kem. Or, rather, refugees. You remember Langavik?”

It took Einarr a moment to place the name, but when he did he shuddered. Eydri looked blank, of course: of the three, she was the only one who hadn’t seen it.

Reki drew her brows down. “There’s been another massacre?”

“Several, from the sound of things, on the route between Kem and here.” He sighed. “I’ve only just heard of this today, mind, so all I can do is speculate, but…”

Einarr knew exactly what his father was thinking: he thought it, too. “You’re thinking it’s the League.”

“Aye, I am.”

“But Langavik was destroyed by an enclave of the cultists.” Reki’s protest was obligatory, but weak.

Stigander nodded in acknowledgment of the point. “True enough, and the League’s purpose is ostensibly to fight against the cult. However…”

“However,” Einarr cut in. “We know that they are more than willing to resort to underhanded tactics, and we do not have any clear idea how they marshaled support for their League in the first place. Most places you go, after all, are unaware of and untouched by the Squiddies.” The League had tried to enthrall Einarr and his entire crew on their way back from Thorndjupr. If they applied force like that on a larger scale, it could easily turn horrific.

“My thoughts exactly. I’m sending word to Hroaldr and Thorgnyr so that our fleets can join together.”

“But we lack information.” Einarr frowned, pondering. “We could go to Kem – perhaps even should go to Kem – but if we send a fleet and find nothing then we’ve wasted time and supplies that would be better spent elsewhere.”

“Exactly.”

Einarr looked up. “I’ll take the Heidrun, and the messengers if they’re willing to return. Eydri, are you up for this?”

His Singer nodded eagerly: she had seemed dissatisfied ever since the wedding, and Einarr couldn’t even really fault her for that. When she’d signed on with him, after all, it was with the reasonable expectation of excitement.

Stigander grunted. “Good. My thought exactly. Choose your crew carefully, and remember a pigeon roost.”

“I will, Father.” Now he just had to explain to Runa what was going to happen. “Might I suggest sending Kaldr and Thjofgrir out towards Blávík? We know the League held that land only two years ago: if we can get someone on the ground there, it might answer a lot of questions.”

“A good plan. Not Kaldr, though: he’s got a cool head and a keen mind, but I’m not sending anyone in without a Singer to hand at least. …Sivid, I think, and his own ship if he succeeds.”

Sivid? As Captain? Einarr blinked and stifled a laugh. He wasn’t certain if he envied or pitied the man’s new crew. Reki, though, nodded in approval. “A solid choice. With your leave, Stigander, I will travel with Sivid for this expedition. He will need a Singer, and I would like to see the situation for myself.”

“Very well. Good fortune to you all. I look forward to your return.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr 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.

 

Naudrek sniffed, and nodded, and was joined in agreement by Kaldr and Thjofgrir.

“Why fish?” Einarr asked. Whatever it was, they were sure not to like the reason.

“Maybe they want to bury us in mackerel?” Naudrek asked with a shrug and half a smile.

Even Kaldr chuckled. “Unlikely. But whatever the smell is coming from, I don’t think we really have a choice but to go on, do we?”

He was right: there was no way to go but forward, and had not been for quite some time – even if they could have gotten back out of this pit. Einarr nodded. “Be on your guard. Vali, give Runa a hand if you can. Everyone else, same as before.”

Runa gagged a little. “Faugh! That’s strong. Smells like a warehouse full of blubber.”

“At least it’s not… rancid… Dammit.” Einarr’s remembrance of the whaler’s warehouse on Langavik started a cascade, and suddenly he knew what they were smelling. “That’s a lot of whale oil. I don’t know what we’re going to find, for sure, but shields ready.”

A chorus of “Aye, sir,” traveled around the circle, and then they formed up.

The stairway down was broader than the passages above had been, so although Einarr couldn’t guess why he wasn’t going to complain. Rather than travel down single-file, he formed a circle of guards around Runa in the center, with himself on her left and Naudrek on the right while Kaldr and Thjofgrir took point and rearguard, respectively. Nothing would get to Runa if he had any say in the matter.

Down they went, cautiously, one step at a time with their shields held ready. The fish smell only grew stronger.

They had gone perhaps twenty steps down, deeper into the earth, when Einarr heard a popping sound from overhead. He tensed.

From the ceiling just ahead of Kaldr, from a divot that would ordinarily have looked just like part of the scrollwork, an intense blast of the fishy smell of whale oil was followed immediately by a gout of flame.

Runa ducked, throwing her arms up over her head instinctively. It was a good reflex, but in the moment unnecessary: Kaldr managed to raise his shield in time to block the blast of flame.

“Is everyone all right?” Kaldr asked as the last sparks fell out of the air.

Einarr glanced around at the rest of the group. “So it appears. How’s your shield?”

“A little singed, but it should hold up.”

“Good.” He frowned, contemplating a ward he had inadvertently taught himself in his time with the alfs. No good. No time, and I don’t think I could get all of us at once. “Let’s keep going. Eyes open, everyone.”

He was reminding himself as much as any of them. Any loose stone could trigger another blast of fire, so far as he knew, and he had no idea how quickly – or even if – it could burn again.

Fifteen steps further down, Einarr heard another pop.

“Shields!” He yelled, even as a gout of flame shot toward them – this time from the wall right next to him. He only barely managed to pivot in time to shield Runa, let alone himself, from the blast. He growled as the handle and boss of his shield heated against his arm, but not from any burn.

Einarr was beginning to understand why so many thought the dvergr intractable asses.

“Let’s move!” He bellowed. His voice echoed even over the dying fwoosh of flame. Vali vanished, almost certainly retreating into his jar on Runa’s shoulder.

The next blast came from behind. Thjofgrir did not escape unscathed: there was a smell of burning hair perceptible even over the smell of whale oil as he whirled to bring up his own shield against the onslaught. Runa, as the only one without a shield, patted out the sparks as the blast faded.

“My thanks, Lady.”

Then they were moving again, with no time for Runa to respond.

The stairway wound about and curved, much as the paths above had, and for all their hurry every handful of steps they would be forced to freeze and weather yet another blast of flame, from which direction none of them could say.

When a blast struck at them from near the floor ahead of them Kaldr, his face twisted in annoyance and, probably, pain (the boss of his shield was beginning to glow from the heat). “We’re doing this wrong,” he announced with his usual calm.

“What do you mean?” Naudrek was a little out of breath. Actually, it looked like they all were.

As the spout of flames seemed to retreat back into its origin, Kaldr took a big breath. “We’re treating this like a boarding action, but it’s not. Rather than racing ahead and praying we block the next shot of fire, why not go slowly and form a shield wall?”

It was a good idea. Einarr wished he’d thought of it himself… but he had spent most of his life as a freeboater. Kaldr had much more experience fighting on land than he did. He nodded his assent. “A solid plan. We’ll still need to protect Runa, though. Thjofgrir, are you comfortable going down backwards?”

The big man grimaced, but nodded his assent. “Don’t see as there’s much choice in the matter.”

With a shrug, Einarr looked over at his current Mate. “Say something if we need to rotate, then. Sorry, Runa, this might get a little snug.”

The men gathered shoulder to shoulder – the only way that four shields could form a shield wall around another person – and started back down the stairway.

Not one of them could tell what would trigger the next pop and gout of flame: there did not seem to be any loose stones, and no-one had tripped over anything – and yet, there was nothing magical about this. A concealed tube would spray forth whale oil at the same moment something struck a spark, igniting the oil.

As another gout of flame sprayed forth from near the ceiling, Einarr growled in annoyance. He’d had just about enough of this interminable stairway and its inexhaustible flamethrowers that were in the process of destroying their shields. Certainly he wouldn’t trust his in a battle after this – and if it weren’t outright destroyed, it might just glow forever, he was afraid. The char was already obscuring his light rune, and the light had in no way faltered. He’d caught his breath some time ago, but the awkward pace and the constant vigilance had rendered him altogether too conscious of the fatigue building in arms and legs.

The dvergr were certainly trying to make good on their promise of death to all intruders. Dammit, Jorir, this had better be worth it.

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!

Hohenwerth island looked like the island of the cult in miniature in many ways, although for the moment it lacked the blackness of that bigger, more northerly island. Steep shale slopes rose from the surface of the water, topped by the green of good farmland and orchards. A sinister silence hung over the area, though, and it didn’t take Einarr long to realize why. There were no fishing boats out on the water, despite the time and the weather.

All eyes on deck were glued to the shore as an inlet came into view and, behind it, a village.

Even from here it was plain the village was a husk. Deserted, Einarr would have said, if not for Liupold’s story. Dead.

“That,” Captain Liupold confirmed, “is all that remains of Kettleness.”

Einarr hated to have to ask it, but: “Have the dead been properly buried?”

“The priests were arriving to deal with them when we left.”

“I do not know Imperial burial practices. But if so much as one body remains in the village, you will do for them as we did for Langavik. Eydri, would you be willing to assist in this?”

“Of course.”

“What happened at Langavik?” Liupold asked.

“While we were tracking the ship that kidnapped Runa, we put into port there. Hoping for information. Well, we got some… although not exactly the way we hoped. The entire city was painted with blood. Men hung from meat hooks. Some of them were disemboweled…”

“Survivors?”

“None. The city became their pyre, and we sailed on. Then we picked up the storm they rode and it led us to the island where all of this started.” The horror remained, although not so visceral as at the time. Still his eyes remained glued to the husk of a village he could see on shore. Had the priests done their job, or had they been corrupted in turn?

“Drop anchor,” Liupold ordered. “Ready the landing boat: I’ll be taking our guests ashore.”

His Mate protested, but the Captain was having none of it. “We’ve both been ashore here already. You have the Arkona, I have responsibility for what happens here.”


An almost eerie feeling of oppression hung heavy over the landing party as they stepped ashore. Liupold was the only one who had been here before, but Einarr was certain he knew what he was about to see. Naudrek, Hrug, Eydri, and Burkhart and Rambert from the Arkona followed. The two Arkonites tried to put on a brave face for the outsiders in their midst, but the four from the Clans merely plunged grimly ahead.

Einarr had thought, based on relative sizes and that someone had already come through here, that Kettleness couldn’t possibly be as disturbing as Langavik had been. And, in a way, he was right.

It was worse.

As soon as they entered the circle of huts the smell of rotting flesh assailed his nose. Blood stained the ground dark and painted the walls of the huts, and though it appeared black Einarr suspected that was due to time, not corruption. After all, he had not known the cultists to murder their own like this.

Bodies hung by the neck from tree branches, although they may not have died from the hanging. Flies buzzed about their bloated faces that still showed evidence of brutal beatings. Some of them also showed open wounds in their sides. Einarr wanted to retch.

Liupold, too, had turned a sickly shade of green. He motioned for them to leave the ruined village, and their companions gladly followed.

Once they had caught their breath, back on the beach by their landing boat, Einarr turned an angry look on the Order Captain. “What became of your vaunted priests, eh, knight? The gods need no intercessors: that could have been avoided if you and your crew had simply given them rites yourself.”

Burkhart looked especially shaken. “There were priests… among the bodies.”

“Aye,” Liupold agreed. “But not all of them. So where are the rest?”

“My guess? Southwaite. I could be wrong, they could be using Langtoft as their stronghold, but I suspect they want some distance from the open ocean to prepare.” Einarr did not try to keep the venom from his voice. “We will perform rites for the villagers in the way of our people, so that this will not become an isle of the dead, but you must light the pyre yourselves.”

Liupold hesitated a moment, but eventually nodded. “Yes, that is fair. Funeral pyres are not our way… but I do not expect the survivors will allow us time to dig proper graves here.”

Inwardly, Einarr breathed a sigh of relief. That the village, at least, and probably the entire island must be put to flame was unquestioned. But if Einarr or any of his companions lit the fire, the Empire could later twist that to their own ends to make war on the north, and that he could not allow.

Eydri took over from here, setting Einarr and Naudrek to preparing the ground while Hrug, with a nod of approval from Einarr, began inscribing runes on the beach.

Finally it was ready. Liupold stood in front of Eydri, lit torches in hand, while Einarr and Naudrek formed an honor guard behind her. Then she opened her mouth to sing the dirge.

It ranked among the most beautiful tunes Einarr had ever heard. He had known, from hearing her perform in Eskiborg, that she was a skilled Singer. He had not imagined, however, that a funeral dirge could transport the living as well as the dead.

As the flames consumed the village, licking the afternoon sky and traveling up the village trees, Einarr imagined he could see the spirits of the dead within the purifying white smoke of the pyre.


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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. 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!

In the morning, whether by excellent foresight or an excess of caution, Captain Kormund ordered that they continue rowing under sail, as the wind remained favorable. He also doubled the watch off their stern. No-one seemed surprised, and if there was grumbling about all the rowing, it was directed at the accursed Imperials who seemed intent on running the Eikthyrnir to ground.

Indeed, come midmorning, a shimmer on the horizon swiftly resolved itself into the all-too-familiar shape of an Imperial dromon under full sail. Another round of cursing traveled around the deck of the ship, and some of the men muttered darkly about effeminate Imperial magicians and enslaved spirits.

Captain Kormund had a whispered conference of rather fierce intensity, and then an order was given that really got the sailors talking.

They dropped the sea anchor and furled the sail. Evidently, the Captain intended to wait for the other ship and confront them directly.

The men readied for boarding. Some of the rasher of their number likely looked forward to taking the fight to their pursuers. Most of them, however, were not so angry as to forget what happened the last time they tried to fight this ship.

The dromon accepted the invitation. Over the next several hours, they watched the ship grow incrementally closer. As it did, two things became plain. First, the ship itself did shine, although in the full light of day it was harder to tell. Second, the nearer the ship drew the harder it was to be angry about it and the easier it was to admit, at least to oneself, that they were afraid of it. Like hiding in a hunting blind while a giant bear searched for berries above your head, as Vold had described it. Naudrek and Hrug looked at Einarr, and he could see in their faces the very thing he was thinking.

Finally, the dromon, too, dropped its sea anchor. They were within hailing distance, if only just. Captain Kormund strode to the bulwark and called across.

“Hail, enemy ship of the Order of the Valkyrie! You are within Clan waters, pursuing a vessel on peaceful errand. If you do not break off we will be forced to seek an alliance against you.”

Einarr tried to think who controlled this area, between the ruins of Langavik and the svartalfr stronghold. Did the thane over Langavik still care? Or had he ceded control to the cult?

“Hail, pirate scum!” Came the reply from the other ship, spoken just as coolly as Kromund’s initial call. Predictably, a dull roar of protest rose up off the deck of the Eikthyrnir.

“We have reason to believe that you will soon be in contact with those responsible for unleashing a curse of corruption upon the peoples of Langtoft and Southwaite, and that they have among their number those capable of ending this affliction.”

Einarr froze. None of the cultists had gotten away, that he knew of, so how…?

“Our information suggests that one of their number may be aboard your ship. If this is so, we will gladly accept him as a guest on the Arkona, but we must still ask that you guide us to those we seek.”

The Captain, to his credit, did not hesitate. “We refuse. I say again, return to your port and leave us be.”

“We refuse. We cannot and will not abandon these people to such a fate. Moreover, the Order holds that responsibility for this curse rests with the Clans, as its origin, which we have just yesterday visited, is within Clan waters.”

Einarr bit off a curse.

“Then it seems we are at an impasse. I had hoped to avoid fighting…”

“You are welcome to try.”

“Wait.” Einarr stepped forward. “I know only one way of ending that curse, and it is bloodshed. If you wish to stop it in its tracks, then burn Langtoft and Southwaite to the ground. Leave none alive, and pray you do not have one of the horrors in the region.”

“You are the one Hrist spoke of?”

“Perhaps. It is true that last summer my father’s ship pursued some kidnappers into the island we just left, and as we escaped we did battle with the svartalfr cultists who lived beneath it. Some of the elder Singers were able to cleanse us of the corruption, but only with the aid of a divine artifact.”

“Then we would ask you to finish what you started, and cleanse these islands of the plague you released upon them, and bring with you the artifact.”

“I cannot go with you.” So long as one of those horrific creatures that had escaped the cultists’ hulls was not in the area, burning it to the ground was still the surest way to ensure it did not spread. “I can warn you not to let the black blood touch you, and I can sincerely wish you the best of luck eradicating the corruption, but it is not me you need, nor any of the Vidofnings. Only the stomach to do what is needed, and the knowledge that those with the black blood are no longer men but monsters.”

There was a long pause from the dromon. “Hrist assures me that your presence will be necessary on the archipelago, and wishes me to mention a… black kraken.”

Now he blanched. “I had hoped that thing would die of its wounds. It was all we could do to keep it from destroying our ship.”

“We would follow you to speak with your father, whatever you say.”

Einarr sighed. “He will tell you what I have told you, and at that point you will be farther from the afflicted towns. But-” and he turned to Captain Kormund. “It is true that the horror of the black kraken would likely still be bound in the hull of a demon-ship called Grendel if we had not fought them there.”

The captain’s nostrils widened momentarily, then he nodded. “Very well. We will escort you as far as this man’s port. But if you do not wish to invite further attack, I recommend sailing in our wake. It may be wise to run up your white flag, if you have such a thing.”


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. 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!

“Explain.”

Einarr took a deep breath. Of everything that happened last year, this was the worst. “If these are the islands I think they are, there will be an entrance to a svartalfr fortress under that island.” He gestured, indicating the green-topped island with no apparent beaches. “We chased a ship of cultists here last summer after they kidnapped my bride. They were also responsible for the massacre of Langavik.”

Captain Kormund’s frown turned thoughtful. “It’s true, the svartalfs are unsavory types…”

Einarr shook his head. “No. They’re not… not alfs anymore, the ones who were in the first place. Some of the cultists used to be human, as well, and some were dwarves. But when we fought them, they were all corrupted monsters.”

“Corrupted how?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Black-blooded tentacled horrors wearing men like skinsuits, sir. And if they bled on you, the corruption spread. We dealt them a serious blow in our escape, I think, but… but even the ruins of Langavik would be a more auspicious hiding place.”

“If you had not declared yourself a cursebreaker, I might accuse you of making all this up.”

Einarr shuddered in thinking about the kind of mind that could invent what he had seen. “If anything, sir, I’ve underplayed what we saw here. It was directly responsible for me ending up in the Shrouded Village, half a world away from the Vidofnir.” That was perhaps not strictly true: there was little to do with runes here, after all, but the events led in a straight line.

The Captain paused to think for a moment, then shook his head. “I hear your warning. However, I also hear that the evil creatures which dwelled below were dealt a serious defeat last summer, by your own hand, and that there is an excellent place to hide beneath that island. I have no idea how that Order dromon is matching us knot for knot, but I know that continuing to run as we have will exhaust the men to no effect. Therefore, I believe I will take my chances.” He smiled at Einarr, and it was more the predatory grin of a wolf than anything stag-like.

Einarr straightened up stiffly. “I suppose even telling you that it was our ships that burned Langavik when we found it drenched in blood cannot change your mind?”

“That is correct, sailor. Return to your post.”

“Aye, sir.”

The worst part was not that the captain would not heed his warning. No, under the circumstances that was all too understandable, especially since the Captain hadn’t witnessed the horrors himself. No, the worst part was wondering how much of the cult’s taint still lingered. The storm had broken when they fought last summer – but what did that mean?

The cave waterway was right where Einarr expected it to be. Captain Kormund ordered a stop at the entrance. He hadn’t noticed it before, but on the cliffs outside the cave entrance were grassy ledges. They were small, and probably not terribly comfortable, but a man or maybe two could sit and look out over the ocean. Kormund left two men with a hunting horn and instructions to blow it once an hour if the coast was clear. One of them grabbed a pole and line before he got off the boat. Einarr wasn’t sure he would want to eat the fish from these waters, but ordinarily it would have been a good plan.

Once the lookouts were in place on their perches outside, the Eikthyrnir slipped into the cave where last summer the Vidofnir had once more come face to face with the ship that killed his stepmother.

Einarr fought against holding his breath, but the cave was more or less as they’d left it – at least as far in as Captain Kormund took his ship. The sea anchor was lowered just past where the shadow of the cave wall fell, so that the Eikthyrnir should be all but impossible to spot from the outside. Einarr would not be able to see what became of the city since their battle – but he wasn’t truly sure he wanted to, anyway.

The first time the horn sounded, everyone on board jumped. They hadn’t realized just how tense they were, waiting in the shadows, until it sounded. After that, they relaxed a little and settled in for a long wait. Four times the horn had sounded, then five, and they were beginning to think the dromon had finally turned aside.

At the sixth hour, as counted by Hraerek, there was no horn. The games of dice and other friendly diversions ceased.

Again at the seventh hour they waited for a sound that never came.

At the eighth hour, the dromon appeared in the mouth of the cave and stopped there. Einarr’s breath caught. What had happened to their lookouts? There was no shelter to speak of on their tiny ledges: the Valkyrians could hardly have missed seeing them.

Then he noticed something that almost wiped the thought of their lookouts from his mind: the dromon cast no shadow on the water. Indeed, it almost looked as though it cast its own light. Einarr glanced to his side and saw Vari standing there, also staring at the ship that had chased them all this way. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

“It’s… real, right?”

“Sure looks real.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“So’s a jellyfish, under the right conditions. Doesn’t mean I want anything to do with one.”

“Nah, of course not. Only, why?”

“If we knew that, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Someone shushed them, but the dromon was already backing out of the mouth of the cave to continue on its way.

Once it was gone, it was another few hours before the horn sounded the all-clear again. The Eikthyrnir slipped from its hiding place and reclaimed its watchmen, who even after all these hours still seemed badly shaken.


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.

The remains of Langavik were an inferno behind them as the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun sailed out of port. While the sailors had put the town to the torch, the Singers stood on the dock and performed proper rites for the dead. No-one aboard either ship cared to look back at the horror they had found even as the blaze turned the sky to orange night.

Between the navigators of both crews, Einarr thought they had a good idea where to look… but that may have been the least satisfying conjecture he had ever heard. If there was one thing Einarr was glad of right now, it was his turn on the oars. He threw his back into every stroke, knowing that exhausting himself would be the only way he slept that night – or for most nights after, until his bride was back in his arms.

A dark elf fanatic, helming a cult that sacrificed people. And they had Runa. How could any man rest easy in that circumstance? And so, he rowed, because passing out drunk on the water would not be tolerated.

A few days out from the charred ruins of Langavik, the sky to the north grew dark, as though there were storm clouds just out of sight. With grim certainty, Vidofnir and Skudbrun turned towards the darkness, and before two more days had passed the storm they had sought – and the island they expected – loomed on the horizon.

The island seemed almost to shelter beneath the storm, but even before they passed under the shadow of clouds it looked like one of Hel’s hands reaching up from the underworld. A massive mountain seemed to stretch directly up from the dark waters, its craggy cliffs promising no safe harbor or beach to land on. Above, blackness roiled, although there was little wind below.

The sound of oars slipping through the water and the glow of torches from the decks were all that proved the two ships’ existence on their long, spiralling approach. On board, those who did not row peered towards the coast in search of any sign of habitation, or even simply an inlet where they might put in to continue their search on foot.

Two and a half turns around the island, Einarr spotted a deeper darkness along the coast, within what was now plainly a broad fjord and easily large enough for a longship to enter. “Sound ho!”

Watching sailors from further down the ship hurried up to see for themselves, and Einarr pointed toward the likely entrance to the island.

“The cult is led by a svartalfr, isn’t it? Everything I’ve heard says they prefer to live underground.”

“You think they’d build a dock in a cave?” Sivid sounded skeptical.

“One that size? Why wouldn’t they?”

Sivid had no answer for that. After a brief consultation between Captains and Mates, the two ships turned inwards, toward the hoped-for dock.

***

As the two ships slipped under the mouth of the cave, those aboard held their breath. Torches illuminated the stone walls in warm yellow light – which is more than could be said for their effect outside the underground inlet. As men shifted, chain mail jangled softly. Only the men still at oars – among them the newcomers aboard the Vidofnir – had not yet equipped themselves for battle.

For his part, Einarr hoped it would not come to that – not immediately, anyway. Not until they knew how to get Runa out. Once she was safe her captors could rot. His grip tightened on Sinmora’s hilt at his belt.

The underground river they floated along curved off to the right, and now Einarr could hear the distant echoes of voices from ahead, and see the reflection of whatever it was they used for light against the far wall of the cavern. Whatever they burned, its color was colder.

Stigander ordered their torches extinguished as they came around the bend, plunging the crew of the Vidofnir into near-blackness. A moment later the Skudbrun followed suit, and all were glad the current was slow. Eventually, though, the men’s eyes began to adjust, and even the small amount of cold bluish light from ahead was enough that they could see the outlines of their path.

Ahead, where the light was concentrated if not much brighter, a stone quay could be seen as a matte patch against the rippling water, and shadows seemed to move in the distance.

Stigander held up a hand. The rowers nearest him spread the word to those before and behind – reverse and hold. What the captain expected to see from here, none were certain… but Einarr, too, strained his eyes towards the subterranean harbor before them, hoping against hope that one of those shadows would resolve itself into a human woman with flaxen hair. That, at least, would prove that she hadn’t provoked them into acting hastily.

More likely she was biding her time, waiting for a chance to escape – or so Einarr told himself. He growled and did not look away.

The Skudbrun came up alongside the Vidofnir and a low-voiced question floated across the gap. “What news?”

Stigander shook his head, as though anyone more than five feet away could have seen the action. “Still can’t see. Any closer and we’ll be seen, though.”

Captain Kragnir growled. “Ships aplenty at the dock. You see any familiar-looking banners?”

“Not as yet. …Let’s ease in to the end of the quay. Pretend like we belong there, at least for now.”

Kragnir grunted in agreement, and once again the two ships began to crawl forward. Still Einarr saw no sign of either his beloved or the crew that killed Astrid not quite a year ago.

As they neared the pier, the two human ships weighed their sea anchor. A moment later, just before their hulls would have bumped into the stone edge of the pier, they pulled up short. None of the shadows on shore looked in their direction.

“Good,” Stigander muttered. The less attention they attracted from those on shore, the easier this became.


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