Einarr staggered to his feet, trying desperately to catch his breath. Thankfully, the others seemed to have the cat well in hand – for now, anyway. He watched as they ducked and weaved around the creature, taking their shots as they came. Thankfully, too, Sinmora had done more than just devour its double. It was favoring the injured foot heavily: probably, soon they would have to worry about the beast trying to run away. Which meant Einarr really needed to get his sword back.

He could breathe again: that was sufficient. Einarr raised his shield and barreled back into the fight. Kaldr, on his left, acknowledged him with a glance.

“Cover me.” Einarr ducked his head and ran on, shield first, to get closer to the big cat’s paw. The trouble, of course, would be getting close enough to knock the blade free without getting stepped on: the beast was easily as big as a fimbulvulf.

It growled, and Einarr heard its tentacles whip out at the others. He was being ignored, and for now that was fine. For just a moment, the injured paw touched the ground.

Jorir ran across, under its belly, and chopped at one of the hind legs. Here, too, the injured paw touched down for just a moment, as though to steady the massive body.

Einarr readied himself. If he timed it just right, he thought he could grab Sinmora during one of these momentary shifts.

The great cat danced about, taking cut after cut – and inflicting several of its own, to be sure. It was also starting to backpedal: there could not be much time before it decided there were tastier morsels elsewhere.

When Thjofgrir’s blade cut deep into the other foreleg, Einarr saw his best chance. As the claws touched the earth once more, he dashed forward. His hand closed on Sinmora’s hilt, his grip somehow firm in spite of the earlier wound. Einarr pulled.

The monstrous cat screamed.

It wheeled on its hind leg and dashed off into the forest, its double popping back into existence before it was fully out of sight.

The others gathered around Einarr. For a moment, they all stood watching its flight through the forest. Finally, Einarr took a deep breath. “Is everyone all right?”

“I think, my lord, we should be asking you that,” Jorir grumbled.

“A little sore, is all. Was anyone else wounded, though? And how bloody are you? A proper purification is probably beyond me, but I’m certain I could manage a stop gap until we return to camp.”

“It didn’t touch me,” Troa answered. “But I suspect it would be wise for you four.”

Twenty minutes later, after Einarr traced a purifying rune on each of them (including Troa), they too were running off into the forest, on the trail of the strange cat they hoped would lead them to the Hold.


Ordinarily, a cat would be difficult to track, especially at night. Ordinarily, however, that cat would not be wounded, bleeding, and bigger than a horse.

As dawn broke, the five men crouched in the underbrush on a ridge north of the rather imposing fortress maintained by the priesthood of Malúnion. Below, the fortress walls stretched upward at least three stories. The early morning sun made the walls glow like pale gold, and the tower in their center thrust toward the sky like a spear of the gods. Below, within the walls, a town was waking up in shadow.

Kaldr gave a low whistle. “Did those maniacs really build this?”

Jorir grunted. “Unlikely, I think, unless they brought in my kin to do it. But I expect this place was like Nilthiad – conquered from within.”

Einarr contemplated venturing down the ridge and exploring the fortress himself. His legs twitched, but before he could stand Kaldr spoke again.

“We should head back to camp. Now that we know where to send our teams, scouts will be better equipped to get the information we need.”

Reluctantly, Einarr nodded. “You’re right, of course. And this will give us a leg up on plotting our strategy.” Just because Kaldr was right didn’t mean he had to like it.

Their trek cross-country back to their camp was far less eventful than the nighttime journey had been, although it did provide them a better opportunity to study the lay of the land. From the ridge, the land sloped steadily downward toward the shore where the boats were beached. The forest was mixed evergreen and seasonal, and if Einarr was any judge, he thought it looked unusually healthy – especially if it had creatures such as that cat hunting it. He took a cutting of some berry bushes as they walked by, with the intention of having them inspected by Eydri and Hrug.

When they strolled back into camp around mid-morning, they were greeted by a great deal of hustle and the anxious faces of their subordinates. Eydri stormed up to them, with Naudrek right behind. “There you are! What happened to you?”

Einarr gave a lopsided grin. “The biggest cat you ever saw, and the location of the Hold.”

“Bah. Oh, by the gods, you look terrible. Hrug set up a purification circle down by the water if anyone needs it.”

“Thank you, Eydri. I think we’ll take advantage of that. Troa, will you see to it they know where to find the fortress before you come down?”

“Of course, sir.”

As much as Einarr would have preferred to rest, now was not the time. The rest of the day was spent gathered over the makeshift table the guard crew had put together, making plans based on the charts as they knew it – and as they grew to know it over the course of the day, as scouting parties filled in the gaps of their knowledge.

One party reported that, while the beast was likely corrupted by the cult, it may not actually have been kept by the cult: they found a cave on the northeast side of the island that fairly reeked of cat – and had blood spatters just outside the entrance. They had not ventured into the cave to confirm any of this, of course, and Einarr gave his pardon for that immediately. He wouldn’t have either, under the circumstances – although it might become necessary to put the beast down before they began their assault on the island. If all went well, he thought, he and Kaldr should have a strategy and a message for the fleet early the next morning.

 

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.

 

The ruins of Eskidal bore a striking resemblance to what remained of Kem, save for one minor detail: there were no runes. Even on buildings which were still more or less intact, neither Einarr nor Hrug could find a trace of a fire rune, and never mind that the fire had plainly burned hot – perhaps as hot as the Muspel shroud. It was a puzzle – right up until they reached the central square.

The square was only lightly touched by the fire, somehow, although ordinarily you would have expected the fire to burn hottest in the center – that was strange by itself, and enough to set Einarr, Hrug, and Eydri looking for the remains of a ward. While they were preoccupied with that, however, The other three, however, were looking a little higher, and so they were the ones who noticed.

“Um, Captain?” Irding called from across the square.

“What is it?”

“Did we ever do anything about those beasties that escaped the demon ships?”

Einarr grimaced and shook his head, knowing Irding couldn’t see him. He broke off his search for runes and crossed to where Irding stood looking up. “Just the kraken, and only by chance. Why?”

“I think the flying one might have been here.” He pointed.

Above, almost at rooftop level, long gashes had been cut into the walls. They looked like the chops made in a practice dummy, if the student was a giant.

“The flying one, with eyes and beaks and wings in all the wrong places?”

“Not sure what else would be big enough to do that, are you?”

“A dragon?” He thought he might rather face a dragon, under the circumstances. Then he shook his head. “A joke. I highly doubt they could bring a dragon properly under their control, and if it wasn’t controlled, they wouldn’t live long enough to use it.”

Irding nodded. “More or less my thought, yeah.”

“That still doesn’t explain the fire, though. I’m going to keep searching for signs of magic. Well spotted, Irding. Keep up the search.”


Mid-afternoon that day, well before the light began to fade, the search teams gathered together on the beach in front of their boats. The mood was subdued.

With a deep breath, Einarr started them off. “First of all, did anyone find any survivors?”

Some of the others in the crowd exchanged uncomfortable looks.

“With all due respect, with the sort of slaughter as happened in the streets, do you really think there were survivors?” A voice asked from the crowd.

Einarr glanced down at the ground, disappointed but not surprised, before looking in the direction of the voice. “No, not really. But if there had been, we would have wanted to get their story first. It was the story of a survivor, after all, that led us this far. My team and I came across some interesting results, but I should like to hear from the rest of you, first.”

Bardr stepped forward. “Then let the Vidofnir start things off with the obvious. The attackers, whoever they were, used fire to drive the people of the city out into the streets, where they were slaughtered wholesale. Once we moved closer to the city center, however, we found evidence that this was almost certainly an attack by the worshipers of Malùnion: on the walls of a temple to the true gods, we found imprecations against them, and their magics and Arts, painted in blood. Reki read them for us, as the Vidofning most familiar with runes.”

They went around in this way, each group reporting what they had found. Many of them, as Einarr had suspected, were too taken aback by the apparent ferocity of the carnage to note much more than the obvious conclusion – or, perhaps, simply unlucky in their search. One other team came across the giant claw marks, as well, and suggested that they could mean a dragon had been responsible instead of the cult. It would explain the apparent heat of the fires, after all. Einarr gave a half-smile, amused and sorry to have to burst their bubble.

“We saw those claw marks, too,” he said, when everyone else had reported their findings. We also found a runic ward around the city center – a very old one, probably dating to the early days of the city if not to its founding. Unfortunately, though, the runes painted on the temple point to the squiddies, and there is a monster associated with the squiddies that could make those claw marks.”

The crowd fell silent and stared at him, expectantly.

“A few years ago, my wife was captured by this selfsame cult – some of you have heard this story already. I did not yet have my own ship, but my father’s Vidofnir and the Skudbrun of Kjell managed to claim her back and take down a full four enemy ships, each of which traveled under the umbrella of a black squall and carried, instead of cargo, an abomination beneath its deck. One of them could fly, and it was pretty easily big enough to have made those cuts.”

“So, a bird, instead of a dragon?” Someone in the back asked. “I’ll take feathers over scales any day.”

Einarr shook his head, smiling a little. “You would? I’d rather fight the dragon. The dragon’s very blood won’t be corrupted, and its scales may be softer than the abomination’s skin. Furthermore, the sight of a dragon isn’t likely to drive a man mad – except, perhaps, for gold. Has anyone got a fletcher aboard?”

Four or five men, scattered throughout, said they had.

“Good. Before we leave we’ll send men into the forest. Make as many arrows as you can. We’ll need pitch, too, and any cloth we can scavenge. The more flaming arrows we can fire, the better this fight will go.” He paused, thinking. I wonder if there is any way I can make contact with Beatrix or Liupold? Sea fire would be a boon where we’re going. “Is there anything else?”

Aema stepped forward. “There’s still the matter of the unburied dead.”

Einarr was a little surprised to see she was still on the Skudbrun. “I suppose there’s not really much left to burn for a pyre, is there.”

Aema shook her head in agreement.

“In that case, while we are gathering wood for arrows, we will also bring whatever brush we can and pile it in the city. That should provide the tinder. The rest, I will leave to you and your sisters.”

 

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.

 

Once the door closed and Runa had joined them over in the hot, cleansing bath, Einarr turned his attention to Jorir. “You said you think you know where we will find the high priest. Explain.”

Jorir sighed and sunk back so that his head was resting on the stone edge of the hot spring. “It goes back to the Oracle’s visions. You see, in what she showed me, I didn’t manage to rescue you – not from the prison. Instead, everyone gathered at an outdoor shrine on the mountain. A shrine that wasn’t there when I left, by the way. The only way I got you out of it was by offering myself in exchange. Needless to say, we’ve already deviated from that.”

“Quite.” Einarr paused, thoughtfully. “But if, as you say, the final confrontation must take place at this altar you do not know, then I suppose the question becomes where is it – and when?”

Brandir raised an eyebrow. “So that’s why you were so insistent. The where is the easy part. When, since the sacrifice was interrupted, that’s a little more difficult.”

Jorir raised his head and turned a bleak look on Brandir. “Have they sacrificed dvergr there? Or men? Or merely animals?”

Although he was looking at Brandir, it was Gheldram who answered. “Animals, yes. Men, yes. Dvergr rarely.”

“Rarely?”

“Yes, and criminals all. That’s the only way they get away with it.”

“Criminals, you say?” Put in Kaldr.

“Yes, unfortunately.”

“Quite unfortunate. I think, after tonight, they will have a great many of those with an excuse to sacrifice.”

“I cannot deny it,” Brandir answered. “That is why the instructions they were given were quite adamant that they lay low afterward. Very low. While we had not intended to move just yet, this plan has been in the works for a very long time.”

“Even still,” Gheldram continued, “Now that we’ve begun we must needs act quickly.”

“Quite,” Einarr agreed. He paused, thoughtful. “How would it be if one of us turned ourselves in? They would presumably need to choose an auspicious day for the ceremony, yes?”

“Quite right,” Jorir answered.

“Then, if one of us turned ourselves in, as an architect of the chaos of this night, might it forestall the capture of your allies? And could we not then be well aware of the timing for the next half of our strike?”

A knock came on the door. Runa excused herself and went to answer the door. She received some packets of herbs from outside and closed the door again directly. After she had tested each packet, she sprinkled the water with its contents. “Here. This should help with the corruption we were all exposed to tonight.”

They spent the rest of the night planning.


Runa insisted that they, too, take several days to lay low and rest and recuperate after their daring rescue of her in the Holy Mount. Mornik, at a minimum, would not be ready for action for at least a week, and none of them were quite sure what would constitute an auspicious occasion, under the circumstances.

At last, though, news reached their ears that the Thane’s men and the temple enforcers had begun going door-to-door through the city, searching for those who had taken part in the riots, and that they had already captured several with ties to Brandir and Gheldram.

“I was exiled for daring to disagree with the Thane over this, and that was two hundred years ago. I doubt they will be so gentle now,” Jorir rumbled.

Einarr nodded in agreement. “Indeed. It is time.”

“It’s still too early. Mornik’s injuries are still grave.”

“Runa, my darling, you’ve been against this plan from the beginning. No amount of stalling is going to give us a better one: we’ve all tried.” She never used to be this anxious: Einarr was inclined to blame the babe she still carried – not that there was much blame to assign. He could admit to his own anxiety on that front. How long had she been a prisoner there, exposed to their dark magics, before they fought their way through the corrupted? Einarr shook his head: now was not the time to worry over that.

“That doesn’t change that you’re not ready yet.” She set her jaw, but this was one argument she couldn’t win.

“My Lady,” Jorir rumbled. “While I appreciate your concern, the longer we delay the more of my kin will become fodder for Malúnion. If Mornik cannot fight when the day comes, then he cannot fight and we will manage.”

It looked like she was going to protest again, but Kaldr forestalled her. “My Lady. They are right. To delay further would be folly. However, I cannot say that I am easy about you being the bait, my Lord.”

“The only one they want more than me is Jorir, Kaldr. We’ve talked about this, too.” He finished checking over the bundle of belongings he was leaving behind, ensuring that his brokkrsteel maille and Sinmora were easily accessible. The others would carry those hidden in their own things. Better that than having them confiscated and useless in a storeroom somewhere. “And now I must be off. Fortune’s favor, everyone.”

Jorir, sounding a little husky, answered for them all. “And to you.”

Then, with one last embrace from Runa, he slipped out into the streets of Nilthiad.

Three streets down, he tossed back the hood on his cloak and straightened his stance. Now that he was away from the bathhouse, he wanted to be seen.

He didn’t have to go much farther before he spotted what had to be one of the cult’s posses. He put on a lopsided grin, smoothed his mustache, and swaggered up to the heavily armed dvergr with the unhealthy color of the grave. “Leave these poor people alone. I’m the one you’re looking for.”

He got a scornful look from one of the former dvergr before he turned back and pounded once more on the door of some poor fool’s house.

“Hey.” He dropped the false smile and grabbed the dvergr’s wrist. “I said, I’m the one you’re looking for. None of that would have happened except for me.”

The dvergr gave a violent twist to his arm – one which Einarr was reasonably sure should have been impossible – and pounded once more on the door. “We have orders to bring in every treasonous rat who took to the streets that night. Since you’re here, I presume you’ll go quietly. Magnyl, take him in. I’m sure His Lordship will be pleased to see one of his humans returned to the dungeons. And don’t worry: your friends are sure to join you soon enough.”

One of the dvergr – certainly Magnyl, all things considered, reached out and tried to take him by the elbow. Einarr wrested it away almost effortlessly. “Is that so. You’ll regret that. I’m the Cursebreaker. You really think any of this would have happened if I weren’t here? You want to take me in, first you have to take me seriously.”

Einarr was unarmed, but he wasn’t about to let this posse go about their business. A quick sweep with his leg brought the unsuspecting Magnyl ignominiously to the ground.

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 dvergr who faced Thjofgrir was matching him blow for blow, keeping them both locked in the clinch. Other than Arring, Einarr would be hard-pressed to find a man stronger than Thjofgrir, but these were dvergr. Furthermore, they were corrupted dvergr. Rather than wait for the corrupted dvergr to pull his trick, Einarr and Kaldr both charged him, their blades leveled at his back.

As an attack, it failed utterly as the dvergr spun and batted away both their blades in one smooth movement. As a distraction, however, it was a wild success. Thjofgrir rebounded from the clinch and buried his blade across the dvergr’s back. “I had him,” Thjofgrir growled as the corrupted dvergr crumpled to the floor.

“Maybe so,” Einarr allowed, catching his breath. “But it looked to me like he was playing with you. These are monsters, not men, and you never know when they’re going to show their true colors.”

Thjofgrir hummed but offered no more protest.

Einarr, after a quick glance across all of them showed only minimal exposure to the blood, nodded and continued down the hall. Without another word, the others jogged after him.

They encountered no more guards before they reached the hallway Mornik had mentioned. As he rounded the corner, though, Einarr stopped to gape.

The hallway ahead seemed to stretch on for miles, although that should have been impossible – they were inside a mountain, after all – and the walls were nothing but one door after another, with almost no space in between. The space behind those doors couldn’t be anything but cramped, even for a child. Einarr shuddered to think how Runa might be taking such confined captivity.

“Naudrek, you’re with me on the right. Kaldr, Thjofgrir, you take the left. We leapfrog down the line. Any captives who aren’t immediately hostile can go free if their blood is still red.”

A noise of agreement came from all three men together, and they began working their way down the line. When they had gotten about halfway down, leaving the doors open for a handful of unfortunate, weeping dvergr women, Naudrek stopped.

“Come take a look here,” he said.

In front of him, instead of another room, was a steep, unlit stairway heading deeper into the mountain.

“We haven’t found anyone up here with even a hint of magical talent, nor anyone who seems to have been captured recently enough,” Einarr mused. “I think we need to head down.”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

“No,” Einarr answered with a rueful smile. “Just a hunch. Only, based on what I saw before, a woman like Runa is going to be a much more valuable prisoner for them than anyone we’ve seen here.”

“Valuable as a hostage?” Kaldr’s question was reasonable, but that wasn’t it.

“As an experiment.” He felt sick saying it, but that was what he had seen among the svartalfrs. “They make a target out of Singers – maybe those who practice other Arts, as well, but Singers for sure. Part of it is, they claim to hate magic – any magic that doesn’t come from their ‘god,’ anyway. But there was a she-troll we had to fight our way past in their fortress, before. A she-troll, who had once been an ordinary Singer.”

“How do you know?” Naudrek looked vaguely green as he asked the question.

“After we killed her, she turned back.”

“By the gods…” Thjofgrir breathed.

Kaldr shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense, though, that the dvergr cult would be creating monsters like that. Not with how Brandir said they’ve sold themselves here.”

“Doesn’t it? Wouldn’t they need an all-powerful army to defend Nilthiad during Ragnarok?” Einarr shook his head. “Even if no one outside these halls knows about it, we’ve seen plenty of evidence already that they’re turning their own members into monsters, and that’s proof enough for me. There’s a rather significant measure of madness involved in whatever the Squiddies touch.”

“And what if your hunch is wrong?” Naudrek challenged.

“Then we fight our way back up here, I suppose. But I don’t think it is. I think they’ll have Runa much further in than this.”

There was nothing more to be said to that. The others followed him down the staircase, another glowing rock in hand to light their way.

At the bottom was another long hallway, although in this one the doors were spaced somewhat further apart. The cages, while larger, were mostly empty. One or two were occupied, but their occupants were both chained and drugged into a stupor. Einarr did not like to think what that suggested about their mental state, or how controlled they were. They moved on: as horrible as this was, they could not lose sight of their goal. Runa was in here somewhere, and Runa was with child. Please let them be unharmed…


Now that they were well and truly separated from the humans, Jorir and the other dvergr ran down the halls without a care for who they alerted. They had – not entirely selfishly – taken on themselves the task of causing mayhem in the Holy Mount of the Deep Wisdom sect. Once upon a time, he had tried to bridge the gap between the squiddies and the rest of the dvergr: for his trouble, he had been cursed: never more would his smithing produce magic, nevermore would he be able to so much as recognize the runes. And, when he raised the alarm, he had been exiled for his trouble.

This may have been a little personal from the beginning.

Jorir’s mouth curled into a rictus of a grin. With the capture of the Lady Runa, they had just made this very personal. He was going to enjoy this.

He and Brandir approached a wide double-door, leading – he thought – into the outermost temple area. As one, they kicked forward with heavy boots and the doors flung open. It looked like a gathering place, anyway: there were long benches with comfortable-looking cushions, and the walls were draped with ridiculous quantities of cloth. He snatched a torch from its sconce and flung it forward into the room.

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.

 

Grim-faced, Jorir drove the butt of his axe into the solar plexus of the man he had just disarmed. He fell to the ground and did not get up.

From the corner of his eye, Einarr saw one of the black-blooded dvergr coming up on Gheldram from behind. He lunged and embedded Sinmora in its chest. That didn’t drop it, but it did give Gheldram the time he needed to face his new attacker.

Meanwhile, Kaldr had slid in behind where Einarr had been, in order to deftly drop another. His blade flickered, and the corrupted dvergr fell neatly into three pieces.

Einarr turned his attention back to the fight, only to discover that the pursuers had all been dealt with. He nodded to himself, watching as the others also took stock of their situation. Brandir holstered his axe. None of them were soaked in the blood, like the Vidofnings had been when they first fought the abominations, but at the same time they were all splattered with it.

Einarr shrugged his shoulders, uncomfortable – but not, thankfully, feeling sick to his stomach. “Is there anywhere we can bathe around here? The hotter, the better.”

The leader of the dvergr nodded, his gaze locked on a dark patch of mud on the ground in front of him. “This way. I only hope it’s as empty as I expect.”


Three hours later, they soaked in the near-scalding water of what (from the smell) must have been a volcanic hot spring. Einarr was shocked to learn that, during the day, this was actually a fairly popular bath – but, then again, these were dvergr lands.

As a bonus, Mornik was on friendly terms with the proprietor, so the loft of the building would provide a convenient place to hide – at least while they decided what to do. That was where they had stowed their belongings while they took advantage of the sulfurous water. Einarr had already turned a remarkable shade of pink, and several of the others were in much the same state.

“You’ll be pleased to know,” Mornik was saying. “That your Lady appears unharmed. Most displeased, and caged like an animal, but unharmed.”

“So far,” Brandir muttered darkly. Einarr couldn’t help but agree.

“But where is she?” Einarr tried not to snap. Now was not the time for rushing headlong into things, but it was still difficult. “And… was she alone?”

Mornik cleared his throat. “Alone? Well, save for the acolytes. But, well, that’s the thing. And the reason I got caught.”

“Well, go on,” Jorir grumbled.

“She’s in the Mount.”

Einarr shared a confused look with Kaldr and the other humans. The dvergr, though, went pale to a man.

“What does that mean?” Thjofgrir ventured to ask.

Jorir stared at the surface of the water, not evidently seeing it, and his voice was quiet. “That’s their stronghold.”

“Who’s stronghold?” It was Naudrek pumping for information this time.

“The thrice-damned cult’s,” Brandir said, his voice stronger that Jorir’s but just as troubled. “If she’s there, they must have plans for her. She might not even be human when she comes out.”

Einarr dropped his head in his hands and groaned. The spring water was uncomfortably warm on his face, but it hardly registered. “It’s the svartalfr cave all over again.”

Jorir sighed. “Looks like it.”

Kaldr cleared his throat. “I beg your pardon, but as bad as I’ve heard that was, this may be worse. Didn’t you tell me yourself, Jorir, that their magic is a twisted thing? What about–”

“The babe!” Einarr sat back up abruptly with a swish, wet red hair flinging droplets behind him.

All four dvergr roared at once, “The what?”

“Are ye insane?” Jorir added.

“We didn’t know, when we left. We didn’t figure it out until after it was too late to turn back.”

“I don’t know what their foul magics might do to a babe, but I’d rather not find out.” Mornik shuddered, his voice grim. “But the only way we’re getting anything out of there is if we take the whole place, and I don’t think we’re ready.”

Einarr perked up his ears. “Ready?”

“No. No, we’re not – quite.” Brandir agreed. “But… you are the Cursebreaker? You have proof of this?”

“Aye,” Jorir and Kaldr answered together.

“The Oracle herself named him,” Jorir answered. “Even without her signs, that would have been enough for me.”

Kaldr continued. “He destroyed the black weaving laid upon our home for twenty years – and that is only the most recent of his exploits.”

“Good enough. And he’s plainly fought against the cult before: all to the good. Give me two days and I can have the final pieces in place.”

“Two days?” Einarr felt his spirits falling as quickly as they had risen. “Anything could happen in two days. I don’t even know how long we’ve been down here.”

“I’m afraid it’s the best I can do. If we are to have any hope of escaping the Mount alive, there are friends to rouse. We will not take the Mount unless the dvergr reclaim the Hall.”

“Einarr’s right, though,” Jorir rumbled. “We cannae just let the Lady Runa languish in one of Malúnion’s cages. Especially not if she’s with child.”

“It’s the Mount. It’s only gotten more impregnable since you left, Jorir: I’m not sure there’s anything we can do until everything is in place.”

“Messengers walk, rumors fly. But, fine. What if Lord Einarr and I went to investigate on our own?”

“Are ye mad?” This was Mornik, as he decided he’d had enough and stepped out of the water and into a towel. “Just earlier, when we had to fight that posse of theirs? That’s because I wasn’ t light enough on my feet – and you’re twice as heavy. Not to mention you’d be hampering yourself with a human along”

“I hardly think I’d be a hindrance in an investigation like this,” Einarr bristled.

He shook his head. “You’re too tall. I don’t care how sneaky you are, when you stand a full chest higher than anyone else on the street you’re going to stand out.”

“…Oh.”

“ ‘Oh’ is right. Now stop talking nonsense and we can get down to business.”

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.

 

There was, on the outskirts of Nilthiad as on the outskirts of most cities, a rough part of town, where most people weren’t going to ask too many questions so long as you didn’t go making a big deal out of yourself. It was to a small, apparently abandoned house in a neighborhood such as this that Brandir led them all. Not one of them breathed easily until the doors and window had been covered with furs and a single oil lamp lit.

Once they were as secure as they could be, though, Einarr and Jorir both breathed a rather noisy sigh of relief. As the other dvergr dusted off seats and settled around the room a grin spread slowly over Jorir’s face, cutting a thick white gash of teeth through his black beard.

“By the gods, it’s good to see you. …But what in Valhalla’s name possessed you to follow me here?”

Einarr cleared his throat. “The way you vanished, we were all pretty sure you were in trouble. What else could we have done, then?”

The other humans in the room nodded, and Jorir sighed. “So it always is: in trying to avoid a vision, I brought it about.”

Einarr sat up straighter: everyone else just looked puzzled. “Wait, you saw –”

“Everything that happened in the Hall, almost down to the word. That’s why we made that raid tonight.”

“Let me tell you, it took some real convincing. That was more than a decade’s worth of planning we used tonight, not to mention exposing the three of us.” Brandir gestured to himself and the two other dvergr in the room.

“If we hadn’t, though, we’d have left Nilthiad to the mercies of Malúnion and his priests. The next thing in the vision was at an altar where one of us – at least – was going to die.”

“…Are you sure we’ve forestalled that?”

Jorir shook his head ruefully and shrugged. “She said there was more time left than I thought, and they weren’t true visions, but…”

“I understand. As for you three… you have my thanks. Our thanks. But now, I have one more thing I must ask of you.”

Brandir nodded knowingly. “The lass you mentioned.”

“My wife. They have her, and if women are set apart then I shudder to think might be happening to her.”

“Lady Runa always was headstrong. Still, I’m surprised you let her come along.”

“Tell me, Jorir, when was the last time she couldn’t talk her way into anything she wanted? Besides, she said she’s also in your debt.”

“She… did? Whatever for?”

Einarr only shrugged. Brandir, over by the door, chuckled.

“Never thought I’d see the day. You didn’t just swear to this human, Jorir. But. The lass in question is your wife.”

“Yes. Runa…” He had to clear his throat to stop himself waxing poetic about her: that was unlikely to be appreciated or helpful. “Long golden hair, fair skin, brilliant eyes. Has a rather… impish disposition, I would say.”

Thjofgrir snorted. “I believe the word you’re looking for is tart.”

Einarr gave him a sour look. “And she’s a Singer. That’s what really has me worried, honestly, given what I know about the cult.”

Brandir frowned and shared a look with Gheldram and Mornik. “And that’s something any Acolyte would be able to tell. Mornik, do you still…?”

“I know someone who can get in, yeah. I’ll be back.” Without another word, the stealthy dwarf slipped out through the furs.

“Now.” Einarr crossed his arms and turned his attention to Brandir – who really did look like he could be Jorir’s cousin, the more he looked. “A couple of Seasons ago, we fought against a stronghold of Malúnion’s cult. What can you tell me about its hold here?”


The six men stayed holed up in that rathole – as Brandir called it – for the rest of that night and all the next day. Late in the evening there was a commotion outside and Gheldram, as the least recognizable of their number, poked his head out to see what was the matter.

A moment later he came back in. “It’s Mornik! He’s being chased – by the Thane’s men!”

There was no longer any way around it: they were going to have to set themselves against the Thane by fighting his men. Einarr already had his maille halfway on, as did the other humans. Jorir and Brandir were not far behind.

Einarr grabbed Sinmora and dashed out into the street, just as Mornik’s momentum carried him by the door. The street was oddly deserted, other than the two of them and their enemies. Mornik skidded to a halt behind him.

“You found them?” Einarr barked.

“Yes,” Mornik panted, turning to face his pursuers as well.

The men of the hall didn’t seem to know or care that Einarr was there: he charged past after his quarry and took a slash across the arm for his trouble. Black blood welled up from the wound.

Einarr’s eyes fixed on the sight and he swore, loudly.

Jorir was next out the door, and he, too, swore at the sight of the black blood. There was only one thing black blood could mean.

Einarr barked an order over his shoulder. “Don’t let them bleed on you! We haven’t the means to cure the corruption here.”

Jorir and Kaldr took up positions to either side of Einarr. Kaldr cuffed one on the back of the head with the pommel of his sword – to no effect. “And how,” he asked, “Are we supposed to do that?”

“Just do your best!” Jorir roared, embedding his axe in the belly of one of the corrupted. “We’ll figure something out.”

Mornik vanished briefly into their rathole even as Brandir and Gheldram exited to join the fray.

Einarr wished he had his shield: it, at least, could have been used to block some of the gore. Nothing for it. He swung Sinmora again and decapitated one of the corrupted warriors. “You knew about this?”

“No,” Jorir answered, his voice grim, as he deprived another of its sword-arm. He cut his axe sideways, then, and into its side. “But these are no longer kin.”

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.

 

Without another word, the eight men – four dvergr, four humans – slipped out into the hall to follow Gheldram. In silence they crept through the halls of the dungeon until they reached the storeroom, where they set to searching for the belongings of the humans.

“I had half expected you to have… company by the time we got there,” Jorir admitted to Einarr.

“It was threatened, as you heard. I don’t know why they never came to torture us, but I’m not about to complain. …Is there any–”

“Ah! I found the maille.” Gheldram exclaimed. “Looks like they hadn’t decided what to do with it yet.”

“Even the Brokkrsteel?” Jorir’s jaw dropped.

“Even the Brokkrsteel. Come see!”

Einarr clenched his jaw and tried not to sigh as he followed his rescuers over to the haphazard stash of human-sized gear. The one who had picked the locks – Mornik? – moved over to stand and listen at the door.

The clink of chains sounded in Einarr’s ears as the maille in question slid over his head. He only had to pull a few hairs free. “We can’t leave yet,” he said as he settled it on his shoulders.

“Whyever not?”

“We don’t have everyone.”

Einarr watched Jorir’s expression as he clearly counted in his head the faces he’d seen. “You mean you didn’t lose anyone in the Paths?”

“Not one, although it was a near thing a time or two.”

Jorir nodded slowly. “So then we’re missing Eydri? Anyone else?”

“Not Eydri. Runa. Runa, and Vali. She had his jar.”

Jorir cursed – loudly and roundly. The one who could have been Jorir’s relation clapped a hand over his mouth.

“The lass’ll not be here, I’m afraid,” Brandir said, his tone much more measured. “They don’t catch a lot of women, but the few they do go off for… special treatment.”

Einarr blanched.

“Hurry up. We can’t do a damned thing about it standing around here.”

The dvergr at the door gave a low, rising whistle. “Someone’s awake. Hurry it up!”

“Blast. That was less time than expected.”

“Jennora did warn us,” Gheldram muttered.

Einarr glanced around at his companions. “We’re ready.”

Kaldr, Naudrek, and Thjofgrir nodded their silent agreement, and the party of eight slipped back out into the dungeon halls.

They had only gone a couple of turnings before a shout came from behind them. Someone, it seemed, had already discovered their empty cell.

The dvergr started running, but Einarr and the other humans were right behind. They abandoned all pretense at stealth – eight people, charging down stone corridors, will be noisy under any circumstances. Einarr wished they could go faster, but in the twisting corridors of the dvergr dungeon it simply was not possible. Hang on, Runa.

“There they are!” The cry came from a cross-tunnel.

“Just a little more!” Gheldram called back from the lead. Einarr racked his brain, but he could not think of anything he could do with the runestones in his pocket that would throw the Thane’s men off their track.

Mornik had an idea. Einarr saw him throw some sort of powder into one of the torches as he passed, and it began to emit a thick, choking smoke.

When they made it out of the dungeon halls, they saw the courtyard in an uproar. It seemed as though everyone came out of their stupor at once – which seemed very odd, for a sleeping drug. There was no time to consider why, though: Jorir and Brandir looked both ways, then at each other, and nodded before taking off to their left.

Thankfully, the interior of Thane Soggvar’s hold was far smaller than the inside of either the svartalfr ring fort or Raenshold. They only had to dodge one more group of guards before they found themselves in a dim lane, the wall to their left, and what Einarr would call a thrall’s door just ahead.

“Halt!” The cry came from ahead of them, just beyond the thrall’s door. Einarr gripped Sinmora’s hilt, ready to draw.

“Wait. Not here.” Jorir whispered, holding out an arm to block his liege lord’s path.

Before Einarr could ask for an explanation, it became apparent. Even as their enemies were charging forward, Gheldram was coiling a large weighted rope about his arm. He gave a sudden dash forward and cast his net.

Their enemies tangled themselves quite satisfactorily, although there was no time to appreciate his handiwork. Mornik had quite literally kicked open the door. Naudrek and Thjofgrir led the way through.

“That won’t hold them for long,” Brandir said, slightly winded, as he pushed the door closed behind him. “This way. There is a place prepared.”


Runa’s back ached, and it had nothing to do with the babe. She sat up off the hard stone slab the dvergr acolyte had lain her on – again. She must have undergone these examinations a dozen times just since she’d awakened, and every time was the same. A pair of svartdvergr in pale robes would carry her – against her every protest, and even if she offered to walk, which she had tried once or twice – into this room. There was the slab, and a window with a terrible view, and they would tie weights on her arms and legs to keep her from leaving. Then another dvergr, this one plainly a priest, would enter and check her over, as though he were inspecting livestock, and then leave. If she moved an inch before he left, he would lash her across her back. She had tested this, too.

But, once they had finished with their nonsense, she was allowed to sit up until the dvergr came to carry her back to her cage.

They had not done anything else to her – not that she could tell – and she was certain the babe still lived. They laced all her food with peppermint now – even the meat.

This was entirely too much like how the priests of Malúnion had treated her.

The dvergr entered the room again, surely to carry her back to the cage – cage! – they locked her in. “Well. Faster than usual today.” She did not bother to hide her scorn. It was the least they deserved. “What’s it to be today? Staring at the walls again?”

The acolytes ignored her tart words. She wasn’t entirely certain they even heard them, although they seemed to understand the priest’s words well enough. One of them grabbed her bare ankles, and the other took her roughly under her arms. Briefly she thought about struggling, but the last time she’d done that she’d been unceremoniously dropped on her tail and dragged back to the cage by her ankles.

She glared daggers at Vali’s jar, sitting inert in a corner of the room where she was bound, as the key turned in the lock. Naturally, he wouldn’t wake up, not even to let her vent, let alone to investigate.

Someone was going to pay. And it wasn’t going to be the ghost.

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.

 

Jorir sat on a large block in Brandir’s smithy, pressing his hands against his knees to keep from pacing. As he had feared, the situation now was far worse than when he had left.

That was fine. It would be fine: he had found the Cursebreaker. All he had to do now was convince the Thane to let him come. Now if only he hadn’t had to slip off like that…

Brandir hammered away on the axe head he was working on – had been since Jorir had landed more than two months ago. Two months since he’d landed. And still, Thane Soggvar had kept him cooling his heels here in Nilthiad. At least he’d been able to make contact with his friends.

The smiths of the Guild – the young ones, who had not been seduced by the fancies of old men and remained true to their Art – were still biding their time. After Jorir had been caught and cursed they had all formed an agreement. Only, he worried he had taken too long. Jorir grumbled. “He went so far as to summon me back. The least he could do is tell me why.”

“I’m shocked you came. He found you, he wanted you back. I highly doubt he actually wants anything else from you.”

“Bah. If he found me, he could find my human friends, and it was time I came back anyway.”

“So you’ve said. Not that you’d ever get permission to bring humans here.”

“Bah,” Jorir said again, hopping down off the block.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Out.” Perhaps he had grown too used to the human way of doing things, but he thought it reasonable to be restless at this point.

“Nothing is going to have changed with the others, either, you realize.”

“I know. I just need to stretch my legs a bit.”

The door shut with a thud behind Jorir. All he could hear from inside the smithy was the striking of Brandir’s hammer. He briefly considered paying a visit to another one of his fellows, but discarded the idea. It was probable that he would be followed, after all, and there wasn’t really any good to be done by a visit. They’d already discussed their plans into the ground. Instead, he went wandering out toward the outskirts of the city. To the temple district.

All around him, his fellow svartdvergr went about as though nothing were amiss. At least, not on the surface.

Oh, he heard the usual background chatter. People appeared to be living their lives, just as they always had. But nothing felt normal. The svartdvergr had always been rougher-edged than their paler counterparts, but that prickly spirit seemed to be gone now. In its place was a quiet stillness as black as the ocean’s depths. Jorir shuddered: just thinking about it made his skin crawl.

He turned at the next cross-street. He would head for the local brewhouse for a pint, or maybe two. It wouldn’t help, but it was at least something to do.


As Jorir settled down at a small table in the corner of the room, a carved bone stein between his hands, he thought it might be worse than unhelpful. Even here, somehow, the black alienation pricked and prodded at the back of his mind, as though there were something malevolent sitting in the shadows and watching.

Now you’re just being paranoid. He shook his head and took a sip of the ale in his cup, then nearly spat it back out. Warm piss? Suddenly wary again, he scanned the room slowly. As his glance traveled, the few other patrons in the brewhouse hastily averted their eyes from him. So that’s how it is. With a sigh, he lay down a coin on the table – more than that slop was worth, but he didn’t care. He knew those stares: he was being watched – but not by anything hidden. He was recognized, and he didn’t particularly feel like brawling.

Almost ostentatiously, he hooked his thumbs over his belt and sauntered toward the exit. He kept his eyes half-lidded so that he could watch from the corners of his eyes, but it didn’t seem like anyone else in the room cared enough to pick a fight, either.

Why did I come back? The more he thought about it, the more certain he was that Brandir was right. The Thane didn’t have any use for Jorir, Soggvar just wanted him under his thumb. Please don’t let Einarr have done anything stupid.

When he got back to Brandir’s, the door was open. Jorir heard the officious tone of a royal messenger through the open door. Instinctively, he put his back to the wall and stood out of sight, listening.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know where he went.” Brandir’s voice was carefully neutral.

“And yet, he is your responsibility. His Lordship the Thane would speak with the exile: if the exile cannot be found, I suppose that means you intend to explain yourself? Perhaps he will be merciful.” The messenger’s voice was sneering and nasal, and didn’t even attempt to veil the threat behind those words.

Jorir is a friend, not my prisoner.” Brandir bristled audibly.

Jorir chose that moment to reveal himself. “And it is quite true he did not know where I was going. I did not know it myself.”

The supercilious dvergr turned. He was shorter than Jorir, and showed an alarming lack of muscle, and yet he still managed to look down his nose at them both. “His Lordship, Thane Soggvar, and his Holiness Thalkham, High Priest of Malúnion, have decided to reward your patience, exile. Present yourself before your Thane at midday tomorrow.” His piece said, the dvergr turned and strode out, brushing past Jorir as though he were inanimate.

Jorir looked at Brandir.

Brandir looked back levelly. “You don’t actually intend to go, do you?”

“I’m not sure I have much choice.”

“You know he only intends to humiliate you.”

“I’ve put myself in service to a human, Brandir. For the century before that, I was a jotun’s thrall. I’m not sure what shame he could heap on me that I haven’t already inflicted on myself. …And it’s my only chance to ask leave to bring the Cursebreaker.”

Brandir sighed. “Have it your way. I’m still not convinced a Cursebreaker is going to do us any good. Our problem is foolish old men, not Black Arts.”

For the first time in what felt like a long time, Jorir smiled. “I think… you might find it more relevant than it first appears.”

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.

 

For more than a fortnight they sailed on, following the charts as best they could as they weathered the ordinary spring storms. While there had been more than a few cold, wet nights, Einarr was just as glad that was all they had faced so far: an island that could drive Grandfather out, and that had earned the name of “Thorn Deep,” was sure to have something unpleasant waiting – especially given Einarr’s calling. Thus, he took the blustery weather as a blessing.

Right up until black storm clouds appeared out of a blue sky off to the north and began speeding toward Einarr and the Heidrun.

It was Troa who spotted the clouds first, and announced their presence with a dread-laced “Oh, Helvíti.”

Einarr looked up and understood immediately. “Cult ship approaching! Prepare for battle! Guards to the Singer.”

Captain or not, heir or not, Einarr was in far less danger than Eydri. Not everyone aboard had experienced combat with the svartalfr cult, but they should at least have heard about it by now. There was a jangle of maille as the warriors dressed for battle and an air of grim determination fell over the ship.

Please don’t let them have one of those horrors…

Einarr, too, pulled on his maille and helmet, then stepped up beside Naudrek as the guards formed around Eydri.

“Ready the fire arrows,” he ordered. “We want to avoid boarding as long as we can.”

“Yes, sir… Is it really one of those demon ships you talked about?”

“Probably. Need the arrows ready before we can see that, though.”

“Of course, sir.” Naudrek was a good man, but he was not as practiced a Mate as Jorir. No matter: Jorir was quite right about where he was most needed now.

Damn it, though, why did we have to run into one of these things on this trip? Einarr would have been perfectly happy avoiding them for the rest of his days. Unlikely, of course, considering he was a Cursebreaker.

The black storm cloud that heralded the approach of a demon ship bore down on the Heidrun as they readied themselves. Those who already wore their maille watched the horizon grimly, awaiting the first sight of one of the demon-headed black ships. The wind lashed at their faces. Raindrops had begun to sting Einarr’s skin by the time the shadow of the cult ship appeared in the storm.

“Brace yourselves, men! Not only are we fighting in a storm, even in death the enemy can kill you – or worse. This first volley of fire arrows is critical: you’ll have plenty of time to adjust your aim for the wind. Steady yourselves, now.”

There was a general shifting of feet on the deck, but no-one spoke. Visibility dropped precipitously as the two ships closed. The wind began to howl.

“Light volley!” Einarr shouted to be heard over the wind. “Ready!”

The archers drew back, the tips of their arrows bright spots of light against the black clouds above.

“Aim!”

As promised, he held them at this command for longer than usual, waiting for a steady moment or a break between gusts. At last, one came.

“Fire!” The arrows streaked through the air like shooting stars, all intent on destroying the evil that sailed this sea. One or two of them winked out under the onslaught of the storm carried in the belly of the demon ship, and one or two more missed their mark, but the rest scored their hit. One caught in the sail, which began to smolder darkly.

There would be no time for a second volley – not that Einarr had really expected one. The ships were too close now for anything but boarding – or perhaps a ram or Sea-Fire, if this were a dromon. Some detached corner of Einarr’s mind wondered if an alliance with the Empire would grant them access to that sea-fire of theirs. The rest of his mind was focused on the enemy ahead. “Prepare for boarding!”

Einarr stepped back to join the men who had circled about Eydri. The fanatics hated Song Magic and hunted Singers: that was how Father had lost Astrid. Einarr did not intend to let them have his friend. The rest of the crew scrambled: bows were tossed back toward the command circle, and the archers took up the boarding lines.

Eydri began to Sing, and almost immediately the red Fury began to pulse at the edges of Einarr’s vision. It was easy to ignore after the last year: Einarr hated how used to it he had grown.

The black-painted prow sliced through the water and turned sharply. Boarding lines flew from both decks.

No sooner had the lines drew taught than men from both ships were up, contesting for the right to board the other’s ship.

Einarr’s men were strong. Much stronger than they had been last summer when they stormed the cult’s island to rescue Runa: some few of the cultist helspawn made it across, but most were on the back foot. Einarr harrumphed even as he slid Sinmora from her sheath.

One of the cultists rushed the “command” circle protecting Eydri. Everyone’s weapons were out and ready, but Einarr stepped forward with a growl. This was not a man he faced: it was a mad dog, and he would see it put down. He stepped forward and raised Sinmora high over head, his shield firmly in place. On the second step, as the clamor of battle carried across the deck and over the water, he brought his blade around and separated the cultist’s head from his shoulders. Einarr stepped back quickly: the corrupting black blood dripped from Sinmora, and spatters darkened his glove, but had not touched him.

“No quarter!” He bellowed. A savage yell was the best answer he could have hoped for. Eydri sang louder.

Einarr strode across the deck to peer at the battle on the other ship and frowned. On the one hand, the demon ships must be destroyed with prejudice. On the other hand… “Fall back!” He ordered as he saw the cultists starting to cluster around the mast. “Naudrek – a torch!”

“Aye, Sir.”

The Heidrunings hurried back across the boarding lines, cutting the enemy lines as they went and unhooking (most of) their own. Einarr stood at the bulwark, torch in hand, and waited. When everyone was returned, he tossed the torch on the demon ship’s deck. “Full sail! Get us out of this squall, Naudrek.”

As the Heidrun sliced through the waves away from the demon ship, purifying flames began to lick up the boards of its bulwark, and a thick black smoke rose up to feed the cloud overhead.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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.