When dawn broke, the water outside their little cove roiled, as though it were teeming with something just beneath the surface. Almost certainly something horrific, under the circumstances. There would be no getting a small boat through, and while they might be able to get one ship through, the cost was far steeper than either Captain was willing to bear – especially when Kaldr, knowing that he would be tasked with their strategy, had a handful of pigeons aboard. It was not a perfect solution, but it would save them a useless fight.

It also changed their strategy entirely. Since the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf were already on the inside, so to speak, they would go with a two-pronged assault. When they had enough information to draw a reasonable map of the shore, they sent a copy of that by pigeon, with instructions to get in place but wait their attack on a signal from shore.

Stigander sent a response from the Vidofnir – “Understood and underway. Monsters here, too.”

Great. Well, it’s no fun if it’s easy, right? After all this time, Einarr wasn’t really sure he believed that anymore. He handed the note to Kaldr. “Troa!”

“Yes, lord?”

“How many scout groups do we have out right now?”

“Four, sir.”

“Good. Send four men after them, let them know we’ll be taking part in a ground assault and to focus on approaches and defenses from landward.” Einarr frowned, thinking, as Troa hurried off to handle the matter.

“Jorir?”

The dvergr had been heading out toward the edges of camp, probably to assist in fortifying their position. He stopped and turned when Einarr called for him. “Aye?”

“I’ll help with the fortifications here. Give Kaldr a hand with the assault plans – this sort of planning isn’t really my strong suit.”

“As you wish.” Jorir looked amused, and Einarr couldn’t really blame him. How often, after all, had his ‘plans’ been nothing more than dumb luck and the willingness to seize it?

Their camp was screened from the water by a barrier of trees and brush they had left in place for just such a purpose, but should one of the patrol ships become curious they could still be in trouble. Especially since there was only so much one could do to hide a ship on the beach. What could be done had been done the day before: right now, they were busy building fortifications to protect their encampment from anything that happened upon them from the landward side. Einarr grabbed a sharpened post and added it to the palisade.

He was just beginning to work up a good sweat when, further down the line, someone sounded the alarm. “Draugr! Draugr!”

He let go of the post he was steadying and hurried toward the site of the alarm. It was almost certainly not a draugr, but it might perhaps be a fully corrupted enemy scout.

Sinmora was out of her sheath and in hand when he arrived. He had been right about one thing, at least: it was certainly not draugr. However, unless Einarr was very much mistaken, there was a full crew’s worth of corrupted scouts shambling towards their camp. They had been too slow: now they had to fight well and fight hard, or all their efforts at stealth would be for naught.

“To arms!” Einarr gave the order and plunged into the fray. Behind him, the call was taken up even as more of their crewmen drew steel and fell to.

One of the corrupted warriors caught his attention – larger and fiercer than the others, and roaring about himself like some sort of berserker. Without putting any conscious thought into it, Einarr began fighting his way over to the big one. The farther he moved, the more of the black blood spattered over him. After this, I don’t care how much attention it draws, we’re putting a purification circle on the camp itself.

As he reached the berserker, greeting it by slamming Sinmora into its shield, he realized Jorir was by his side. While Einarr kept the berserker’s attention, Jorir circled around behind it and buried his axe in its hamstrings – taking no small dose of the corrupted blood himself in the process.

“Thanks,” Einarr said, taking a moment to catch his breath. “Any idea how they found us?”

The dvergr slashed at another corrupted warrior who came within reach and harrumphed. “I’ll give you one guess.”

The cat. “I was afraid of that.”

Unfortunately for the corrupted warriors of the cult, a sizable number of Einarr and Kaldr’s men were veterans – if not of fighting cultists, then of several wars. A single crew’s worth of men, even with the enhanced strength and fortitude that came with the corruption and madness, did not make for an impressive battle. It did, however, prove that they could not afford to stay still any longer.

As the rest of the crew was looking about, taking stock of where the battle had struck hardest, Einarr knew what they had to do. “Pack up, move out! Hrug, you’re with me. We’ll let the others handle our things. We’ve all been in contact with the black blood now, so you and I have some work to do.”


Einarr kept Jorir, Kaldr, Hrug, and Naudrek in his team. Since there was no more camp to guard – only a few men to keep watch over their boats – Eydri went with Arkja to send word to the scouts and refresh their spirits. Einarr intended for them to return to the place where they had observed the fortress from the other night: it was a good vantage point to observe the lay of the land, and defensible by itself – provided, of course, that the same scouts who had just wrecked their camp had not infested it, as well.

As they moved, Einarr spoke quietly with Kaldr. “Once we’re emplaced again, we’ll need to move quickly. There’s only so fast the ships can get around, true, but coordinating on the ground will take some time as well… and I fear there may be more cats like the one that still troubles us.”

Kaldr nodded. “Of course, milord. You think the cat is what led them to us?”

“Indirectly, perhaps, but I suspect so, yes. So does Jorir.”

“That makes us all agreed, then. I will do what I can, but my chief constraint will be the speed at which we can get the scout reports.”

“I understand. Do what you can.”

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

This is 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.

 

Along the shore of the inlet stood a grove of trees that hung out over the water. To its left, a stretch of sand glowed in the moonlight: they could hardly ask for a better location to go ashore and conceal the boats.

Once the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf were camouflaged by the trees, the twin crews made a cold camp. About twenty men stayed behind to guard the ships and ensure all was in readiness. Everyone else formed into teams to search the island. Then, they were off. Probably there was no cause for haste, given the protections they had seen on the islands during their approach. By the same token, however, sooner or later someone was going to spot the fleet sitting at anchor, and at that point their situation would grow significantly worse.

Einarr was moving in a group with Jorir, Kaldr, Thjofgrir, and Troa: Eydri had been disappointed, but her knowledge was more likely to be valuable with the ships than scouting. The forest at night was disorienting at best, although in other circumstances – and with the right company – it could have been pretty. The oak branches swayed in a breeze that never reached the forest floor, causing the dappled patches of moonlight and shadow to shift unpredictably.

Troa led the way, with Jorir right behind him: the svartdvergr couldn’t quite match the scout for stealth, but he more than made up for it with his dvergr senses. Einarr came next, flanked by Kaldr and Thjofgrir – neither of whom, he thought, would actually be any better if it came to a fight in these circumstances. But, no matter.

They had gone perhaps an hour into the forest, drawing ever farther away from their ships and the other search crews, when a low, groaning rumble made Einarr’s ears strain. “Shh!”

Everyone froze. The sound came again.

“Beast, or tree?”

Troa glanced up at the branches overhead. Their sway did not seem to have changed. “Beast, I think.”

Kaldr grunted in agreement: Einarr saw his shield shift on his shoulder. “Has anyone spotted any tracks?”

Jorir shook his head. “Not yet – not in this light. Even dvergr have trouble tracking beasts under the moon.”

“We’ll just have to keep going, then. Keep your wits.”

He was certain the admonishment was unnecessary, on one level, but on another it was critical. They moved on, and as they went Einarr found it more natural to rest his hand on Sinmora’s hilt.

A peculiar, not entirely pleasant odor crossed his nose. Einarr sniffed, then had to stifle a cough. “I think we’ve entered its territory,” he whispered.

“Aye, we have,” Jorir agreed. “Come look at this.”

It was hard to make out in the dark, but there, plain as day, were marks from claws being dragged through the dirt. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but that looks feline to me.”

“Based on the scratches in the trees, maybe,” Troa mused. “Only, I’ve never heard of a cat that big before.”

“Nor I,” Einarr answered. “But we have to remember who we’re dealing with here. I fought a Singer who had been turned into a Troll: making a cat five times its normal size shouldn’t be that difficult.”

Thjofgrir sniffed then, and chuckled. “If that’s a cat, best check your boots. Someone just stepped in cat shit.”

Einarr’s eyes went wide, and suddenly he was glad no-one could see his face. He cursed, perhaps more loudly than he should have. “Privy or no privy, a giant cat’s hunting ground is no place to be at night. We should move on.”

“Of course, sir.” Thjofgrir’s voice was still amused: Einarr hadn’t hidden anything.

The growl sounded again, closer this time. Now Einarr smiled in spite of himself. “So, funny thing about cat shit. It can cover our scents.”


“Tromping through cat excrement will cover our trail, you say?” Kaldr asked, his shield up and his sword drawn.

“It should have! I’m rusty, but I’m not that rusty.”

“Lord Einarr is right.” Troa’s voice was calm, but his posture was just as tense as everyone else’s. “When hunting alone, it is considered wise to scent yourself with the waste of the creature you hunt.”

At the edge of the clearing where they now stood shoulder to shoulder, they could see a pair of giant green cat eyes glowing from the shadow of the forest.

Thjofgrir, incongruously, belly-laughed and banged his blade against his shield. “Nothing like a fight to get the blood pumping. Maybe we’ll be lucky and it will be tasty.”

“Not likely.” Einarr steadied his stance and glanced down at Jorir, on his right. Sure enough, the dvergr was already steady as a rock, waiting for the beast to pounce.

“More likely it’s some sort of corrupted horror. Not that we’ll be able to tell in this light.”

“My lord,” Jorir rumbled, never looking away from where the cat crouched. “If I may, now might be an excellent time for a little light. I will cover you while you inscribe.”

Einarr frowned. They were out in the open, on the one hand, and any light he made would be a beacon to their enemies. On the other hand, this cat was the only other creature they had seen all night, and lighting their footing would help tilt the odds of this fight. “All right.”

Einarr stepped back. Jorir stepped over. Neither of these actions had finished when the cat leapt out of the clearing, clearly sensing a weakness. Tentacles lashed at Jorir and at Troa, at either end of the line, and the black-striped face snarled even as it swiped at Kaldr.

Jorir, to his credit, chopped at the tentacle that had swiped for him without a second’s hesitation.

Einarr finished drawing the light rune on his shield and activated it. Then he glanced off to his side and realized: there were two of them.

The beasts snarled again, weirdly in sync, and flinched back from the sudden brightness. If there were two of them, though… “Form a circle!”

“A what? Why?” Kaldr slashed at the beast’s face with his sword, buying himself enough space to glance over and back at Einarr. “By all the gods, where did that one come from?”

 

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.

 

In the end, they had to dispatch Hrug to assist with burning what remained of the city. There simply wasn’t enough left which would burn hot enough to properly cremate those slain in Eskidal, but a funerary circle added the strength of Hrug’s will to the flames and reduced the charnel ground to ash. The midday sky behind them was orange-lit gray from the blaze as the fleet made its slow exit from the shallow waters around the island.

When the smell of smoke no longer filled his nostrils, Einarr called Hrug aside to discuss the nugget of an idea he’d had while they were scavenging for supplies. They had several weeks still to go on the water, after all: that might be long enough to make contact with some old friends who would also like to see these madmen put out of their misery.


Another month on the water took the fleet to within sight of the island chain mentioned in the cultist’s documents found on Kem. A week ago, Einarr and Hrug had attempted their ritual, but there was no way to know if it worked or not.

Now the green mounds of Kratíste were before them, and soon it would be moot whether his message reached Beatrix or not. Still, with no intelligence yet about the islands before them, this was about as close as they dared to come – a fleet of ships was not a subtle thing, after all.

Einarr gave the signal and all but one other boat dropped its sails and backed water. This was followed by a splashing of sea anchors. Now the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf sailed forward alone, to land on an unobserved section of beach and scout out what lay ahead.

The Heidrun set a circuitous course toward the south, approaching the islands obliquely. If Fortune were on their side, they would be able to spot a likely landing place without being spotted – or at least noted – themselves.

After another hour like this, Einarr spotted small drakken, quite obviously on patrol. He frowned, thinking: they could keep going as they were, and when they were eventually noticed they could claim to be freeboaters, and perhaps a little lost.

He glanced back at his crew and smiled to himself: no freeboater ship was ever as well-equipped as his Heidrunings now were, and some aboard the Lúmskulf were better.

“Take us a little further out from shore,” he ordered. “Then we’ll drop sail and wait for nightfall, go in under oars. It’s been a while since most of us have been on a proper raid, I think: I hope no-one’s gotten rusty.”

The comment was met by a wave of laughter.

Naudrek dropped the sea anchor when Einarr gave the word, and the Lúmskulf pulled up alongside. Kaldr seemed pleased when he heard the plan.

“Why do I feel like you’re surprised?”

“Because I am, a little.” Kaldr chuckled, quietly enough that Einarr almost didn’t hear it. “You are, from time to time, somewhat hasty, my lord. Or perhaps the dvergr is rubbing off on you.”

“And you, my friend, appear to have learned to relax.” Had they been on the same ship, Einarr would have clapped Kaldr on the shoulder. “Any thoughts on where to come in from?”

“Thjofgrir spotted shadows on the coast just a little ways back from here: probably a cove or a fjord we could hide in.”

“Good. We’ll go there, provided we can find it again by starlight.”


The good news was, the patrol ships all disappeared at sunset. The bad news was, nothing appeared to replace them. Einarr stood, staring across the water, as the last rays of sunset disappeared over the horizon and the sky became deep indigo. They were lucky: there was a full moon, so no-one would be tempted to light a torch. It also meant any human watchers would have an easier time seeing them, but there were always tradeoffs.

The question was, with no sentries at night, what hunted there?

“Kaldr? Jorir? Any thoughts?”

“Not much choice but to go on, is there?” Jorir grumbled. “If they’ve got monsters guarding the water, well, we’ve dealt with monsters before.”

“I’m afraid Jorir’s right. Unless you want to lead the fleet to war with next to no understanding of our enemy, we haven’t much choice.”

With a sigh, he nodded to himself. “You’re right, of course. Out oars!”

Einarr was proud of his men: they brought their oars into place with nary a scrape of wood nor a splash of water. Now they just had to maintain that. “Forward, now. Quickly and quietly.”

The two directives were not, quite, mutually exclusive, but it was a difficult thing to manage. Einarr noted every splash of water on the oars, and flinched when a pair accidentally clacked together, even though the bigger danger was probably staring up at them from under their hulls.

He let the Lúmskulf take the lead: it was Thjofgrir, after all, who had spotted the cove. Behind the other ship’s outline, the bulk of the island grew ever larger. Under the light of the moon, the towering oak forest looked like tufts of hair on a giant’s head, and Einarr shook his own to rid himself of the image.

The moon was beginning to set by the time the Lúmskulf and the Heidrun nosed their way into the inlet Thjofgrir had noticed. A quick look around told Einarr it was a promising place, and a good place to hide their boats while they searched for the actual stronghold.

That was when a wave crested under his hull and caused both ships to roll precariously. At the same time, a deep rumbling growl carried across the water to them.

I knew this was going too well. “Jorir? Any thoughts?”

“Whatever that creature is, it’s in the forest. Probably thinks we look tasty.”

“You don’t think it’s related to that strange wave?”

“It could be, but I doubt it. Even if it is, what could we do?”

Einarr hummed. He didn’t like it, but Jorir was right, of course. And after that fimbulvulf the jotun kept, he didn’t figure he had much room to worry about land monsters. “Very well. Find a good open spot for beaching, then we need to find a way to hide ourselves.”

 

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.

 

No matter how they searched Blávík, they could find no sign of the League that had so recently run the city in all but name. The townspeople simply shrugged: they didn’t know what had happened, they were just glad the League was gone.

But the League was not all that had vanished. So, too, had Jarl Illugi.

When Stigander returned from his visit to the Jarl’s Hall, he sent word around. They would have a conference of Captains that evening at one of the larger public halls in Blávík: the Blue Steel. Most, but not all, of the Captains gave their crew shore leave for the evening, save for a handful of watchmen. With that many warriors loose on the city it could have been chaos – but wouldn’t be. After the depredations of the League, the mood among the Fleet was one of pride.

Einarr, Stigander, and Kaldr were among the last to arrive at the Blue Steel – by design. As they entered, Sivid rose from where he had been lounging just inside the door to fall in between Einarr and Stigander.

“Missing anyone?” Stigander asked, sotto voce.

“One or two of the freeboater captains. I think they might have joined their crew on watch, though, from what I’ve heard.”

Einarr nodded. “Any Singers in attendance?”

“Not one. Just the men tonight.”

Einarr tsked. That was both good and bad.

Stigander seemed to think the same. “If matters turn toward the esoteric, I may need you to bring Reki.”

“Of course, my lord.”

The four of them approached the head of the table, and Sivid peeled off to take a seat near the wall. Einarr noted that he very carefully chose one that fell in the shadow of a support pole. Then Stigander sat, as well – not at the head of the table. This felt odd to Einarr, even though it was his right and his duty to take the lead on this expedition. He stepped up to the head of the table and addressed the Captains.

“Gentlemen! Thank you for coming.”

Some men raised their tankards or their horns in his direction, and the low rumble of conversation stilled.

“As some of you may already know, the League has seemingly vanished from Blávík without a trace. Thus, the ships we currently have in harbor are all of us. But. Even in this room there are fifty of us, representing fifty ships, and I would pit fifty good warriors of the clans against five hundred cultists.”

Sivid chortled from his seat in the shadows. “Indeed, and you have before!”

Einarr inclined his head toward his friend’s seat. “Indeed, we have. Not too many years ago, the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun together took on an enclave of the cult of Malùnion and won, and we must have fought off that many people in the city alone, before we account for the demon ships. It can be done!

“The price for such an action was steep, however. It was all we could do to limp to Eastport on the Matrons’ isle for help, to fix our ships and heal our wounds. And, even still, we were fortunate. The Matrons had a quest for me, and in spite of everything, I returned in time with the artifact to prevent the corruption from claiming any who survived. We no longer have that artifact.”

“What?” Someone in the back called out. Einarr thought it might have been Tore. “Why in the world would you get rid of an artifact?”

“I’m afraid Frigg claimed it back after we broke the weaver’s curse that held Breidelstein in thrall to usurpers. Nevertheless. We sail the day after tomorrow. Tonight, I would have your commitment to see this through. I, on the Heidrun, will be taking the lead, and we will defer to Kaldr on the Lúmskulf in matters of strategy.”

An angry rumble started among the other captains, but truth be told, Einarr could think of no-one better for a strategist.

“I have chosen the Lúmskulf not because they are my countrymen, but because I have been on the receiving end of Kaldr’s strategies and found them to be troublesome, despite being hampered from above and below. I trust this man’s mind. If any of you would put glory before success, you may leave and try your hand alone.”

The angry rumble died down.

“As I thought.” He drew his belt knife. “And so I swear, before all of you – as Cursebreaker, as Prince of Breidelstein, and on my honor as a man – that this fleet will grind the church of Malùnion to dust, and their worshipers will spread their vile corruption no more!” As he swore his oath, he drew the blade across his palm and held it up so that the others could see the line of blood. “Who will swear with me?”

One by one, the other captains drew their own blood and clasped hands with Einarr – even his own father. There would be no turning back now for any of them. Once their oaths were sworn they fell to laying plans.


When dawn broke, nearly 3,000 men and Singers gathered in an open field outside Blávík. In the center of the field stood a stone altar, a bonfire, and – a little ways off, to avoid spooking them unnecessarily – a pen filled with goats and pigs.

When Einarr had been naught but a sailor on the Vidofnir, the idea of sacrificing to the gods like this would have been ludicrous. They had not been terribly religious, any of them – at least, not until after the Örlögnir had saved them all from a fate worse than death, and that plainly on willing loan from Frigg herself.

Even if the Vidofnings hadn’t regained a sense of gratitude to the gods, however, there were plenty of other crews that would take strength from such a ceremony. And, likely, drawing the attention of the gods to their endeavor could only help their chances. From everything Einarr knew, not even Loki could find favor with Malùnion and his methods.

The Singers gathered to either side of the altar and began to chant. No-one else spoke, until the priestess of Frigg spoke words over the first sacrifice. Its blood spread over the altar, and Frigg’s portion was given to the fire while the rest was prepared for the gathered warriors.

And so it continued, until the setting sun dyed the ground as crimson as the altar. They would sail at dawn.

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.