They waited in silence until they were sure Kharmor was out of earshot and off the docks – with the way sound carried over water, the second was required for the first. Then Kaldr turned to Runa.

“What do you know about these Paths of Stone?”

She shook her head, her hair tickling Einarr’s nose. “Little enough. I’d have said they were as much a legend as the High Roads a few years ago.” Runa frowned, scrunching up her nose as she tried to recall. “There was something from my time with the Matrons, though…”

She started to hum, very quietly. Over the last month, Einarr had seen her do that whenever she gave a matter serious thought. “Once, when Loki journeyed to Myrkheimr to claim gifts of appeasement for the gods from the craftsmen of the dvergr…

East, and east he went, to

Wasteland, rock and ice. There

Sought he the entrance, mark’d

By dvergr pride…

She opened her eyes. “There’s more, but I don’t know that it really helps us. At least not yet.”

Thjofgrir scratched at the back of his neck. “Not sure how much that really helps us. East of what? And what in the world does it mean by ‘dvergr pride’?”

Vali laughed, sending a shiver down everyone’s spine. Thjofgrir looked annoyed.

Einarr looked at the transparent face of their resident ghost. “Why is that funny?”

Your pretty little wife should know the answer to that. Even before I was bound to the jar, skalds could never tell you anything straight.”

Runa settled back against Einarr’s chest, and he could hear the smile in her voice. “He’s right, really. That only sounds straightforward. Oh, East is true enough, and probably the line about the wasteland is literal. But there are four great houses of dwarves, one in each direction, for the four original sons of Ymir who held up the heavens.”

Kaldr blinked at that. “Excuse me, what?”

That’s the story, anyway. Probably the truth of it is buried under yet more layers of metaphor. But when Loki went to ask the dvergr for Sif’s golden hair, he traveled to the house in the east. And Mýrarhöfn is already in the eastern seas, and near the warm Imperial waters. If we head east from here, there should be a barren island that holds an entrance to the Paths of Stone.”

Kaldr looked straight at Einarr. “Once it’s light we can consult the charts, but I can think of a couple of likely options if we continue east from here.”

Einarr nodded. “Let’s do it, then. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, I don’t care how you do it, but get us fresh water. …Kaldr, you go with them. Vali, you’re on watch.”

Yes, sir!” came the answering chorus.

As for himself, he had a new wife to see to.


Ten days out of Mýrarhöfn, with land nowhere in sight, Runa found that the rocking of the Villgås no longer agreed with her stomach. That evening, her face still a little green, she admitted to Einarr that her monthlies had been significantly delayed.

Einarr’s cheer echoed across the waves.

Not so loud, my love,” she said, wincing. “I think an alf on the High Roads heard you.”

Let them!” Einarr laughed.

This is joyous news indeed,” Kaldr drawled. He didn’t sound particularly joyous, however. “Tell me, my lord, what happens if we’re attacked with the Lady Runa in this state?”

We protect our Singer, of course. Just as always.”

I see.” Kaldr pursed his lips, evidently still displeased, but said no more.

Runa tisked. “Come now, Kaldr. It’s not like I’m going to suddenly forget all the training I had from the Matrons. Nor does pregnancy typically interfere with Song Magic – if anything, it enhances it.”

Kaldr hummed. Einarr, though, blinked in surprise. “Truly?”

Truly. It’s based on resonance and emotional states, after all.”

Would that not also make your witchcraft less stable, my lady?”

Runa hesitated. “Sometimes,” she finally answered. “Although if I might make a recommendation? Referring to your prince’s wife as a witch is not particularly wise even under ordinary circumstances.”

I will keep that in mind, my lady.” Kaldr offered her a slight bow and moved to the prow, where he stood looking out over the sea.

He is right about one thing, though, Runa.”

She raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue.

You can’t let yourself be reckless now. Let us handle that part, okay?”

Now she smirked, evidently pleased that he’d evaded some trap in the topic. “I will do my best.”

Einarr?” Kaldr called from the prow. There was an unusual urgency to his voice.

Einarr was on his feet in a moment, already moving forward. “Yes, what is it?”

Evasive action!” Kaldr cried. Without thinking, Thjofgrir and Naudrek picked up oars.

A moment later, Einarr had reached the prow and saw for himself. There, in the middle of the open ocean, was the gaping maw of a huge maelstrom.

He was at the rudder in two strides. “Where did that even come from?”

I don’t know! Does it matter?”

Kaldr, direct me! Skip us off the edge!”

Yes, sir!”

Oars, stand by!”

Yes, sir!”

Port side, row with all your might! Hard starboard!”

Slowly, the Villgås turned. Einarr could feel the sucking of the maelstrom pulling at the rudder already.

Einarr – steady out! Starboard oar, jump in!”

Einarr relaxed his grip on the rudder at the same time Thjofgrir threw his back into rowing. Runa started to look green again as the ship pitched over the swirling waves. With a creak, the prow started to turn back toward the ocean’s maw.

Einarr! Starboard again, now!”

Even as Kaldr’s words reached his ears, Einarr was leaning his weight into the steering oar. It fought him, hard.

A wave washed over the deck and Einarr caught the strong odor of fish in the water. He swore: every sailor knew what that meant. “Kraken!”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

 

“Evening, strangers. My thanks for the invitation.”

“The pleasure is ours. Have a seat.”

The dwarf rumbled: it might have been a laugh. “Not many strangers call dining with a dark dwarf a pleasure.”

Einarr offered a friendly smile. “A good friend of mine happens to be a dark dwarf. My name’s Einarr.”

“Hmm. Kharmor.”

Kaldr nodded and gave his own name.

“Here. First round’s on me,” Einarr volunteered. They spoke lightly for a time, with Vali hovering behind Einarr and whispering in his ear occasionally. Kharmor didn’t seem to be able to see the ghost – at the very least, he gave no sign of doing so.

After a couple of rounds like this, Einarr started telling stories about his journeys with Jorir – omitting the name, at first.

“Seems like a serious fellow, this friend of yours.”

“Aye, Jorir can be very serious. But he’s been a steady hand and an even keel for me, too, and we’ve been through some crazy adventures in the last few years.”

“…Jorir?” Kharmor started at the name.

Yes, that’s my liege man.”

“That all the name he’s given you?”

“Well, yes. He’s a smith, and he’s made plain that there’s a matter he will need my help with. Which is why I don’t understand why he ran off.”

Slowly, Kharmor nodded. “Jorir the cursed blacksmith, whose works can never hold the spark of magic. I assure you he had his reasons.”

“It’s just–”

“I do not doubt your sincerity. But you and your man both would be better served by returning home to wait for him.”

Kaldr tried to interject here, but he, too was cut off.

“You can be of no help to him, and you will only bring harm to yourselves. Go home.” Kharmor the dwarf rose from his seat with an air of finality and turned his back on the table. “In thanks for the food and drink, I will give you one last word of advice. Leave this place, by morning if you can. There are others of my kin who will not be so understanding as I.”

As the dwarf stumped loudly out of the hall, Einarr surveyed the room around them. It had grown considerably quieter, and a significant portion of the other patrons stared daggers at them. He cleared his throat.

“I think,” Kaldr muttered into his cup. “That our new friend was right about one thing, at least.”

“We do seem to be wearing out our welcome rather quickly,” Einarr agreed, looking very intently down into his trancheon to scrape up the last spoonful or two of stew. “Vali, I hope you had better luck than we did.”

“Maybe a bit, chief.”

“Good. Tell me later. Let’s finish what’s in front of us, pay, and leave. Wouldn’t want it to look like we were following him out.”


After one very tense walk across the hostile thieves’ den they found themselves in, the three men boarded the Villgås and breathed a sigh of relief. They all took seats in a rough circle on the deck: Einarr, still feeling the sting of the insults hurled early in the day, pulled Runa into his lap. Kaldr rolled his eyes. Naudrek and Thjofgrir smirked.

After her initial squawk of surprise, Runa settled back against his chest. Evidently she wasn’t too mad about being left on the ship, which was good. He would make it worth her while, later. For now, though… “Report.”

Naudrek rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “Shouldn’t we be asking you that?”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow. “I will be reporting the results of our investigation. But first, Thjofgrir, tell me you’ve already started bringing on fresh water?”

“Started? Yes. Finished? That’s another matter.”

Kaldr groaned.

Einarr sympathised. They still had some extra, because the Villgås had a deep draft, but counting on that was never wise. “Fine,” he said. “It is what it is. Nothing strange happened here?”

“No, sir,” Naudrek answered. “We’ve more or less been ignored.”

Einarr nodded now. “Vali? Tell me you found something beyond what our little friend from the Grotto told us.”

“Oh, aye,” the ghost said with a grin. “And from his own mouth, no less. Why do you think I nudged him your direction? Only trouble is…”

“He wasn’t so willing to talk to outsiders?”

“You’ll find,” rumbled a vaguely familiar voice from behind, “that no-one who lives here really welcomes strangers.”

Vali faded until he was just a faint outline to Einarr’s eyes. Einarr’s hands tightened on Runa’s hips unconsciously and she squirmed until he adjusted them. It was… distracting.

Einarr turned to look at their new guest, who stood respectfully just off the deck of the ship. “So we noticed. Come aboard.”

Kharmor smirked and took that step, his boots clumping heavily on the wood. “As you wish.”

“To what do we owe the honor? You made it quite plain earlier there was nothing more you would tell us.”

Could tell you. Not there, anyway. Then I waited outside and followed you to your boat. I’m amazed you didn’t notice.”

Vali’s outline smirked. Einarr was beginning to hate that expression. Kharmor, it seemed, still didn’t see the ghost.

“My kinsman that you seek – Jorir. He’s a criminal in our lands.”

Einarr raised both eyebrows in surprise and disbelief.

“He went against the will of our Thane – that’s why he left in the first place, when I was just a child. As far as we knew, he was dead. If word’s gotten out that he’s active again, though, he might have been called back home.”

“Home?”

“The alfs have the High Roads. We have our own means of reaching our homeland. I don’t recommend you try it.”

“Whyever not?” Thjofgrir asked.

“Because no human who treads the Paths of Stone ever returns.” He paused a long moment, fixing all of them with a level look. “There. I’ve said my piece. Get home with you. Either you’ll have word from your liege man, or you won’t. Either way, there’s nothing you can do by following after him.”

Without another word, Kharmor stumped back down to the docks. For a long moment, they sat in silence.

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.

 

Stigander went so far as to provide the karve for their search – one of the benefits, he said, of being back where they belonged – while Einarr and Kaldr assembled their team. Thjofgrir’s presence was as critical for Kaldr as Naudrek’s was for Einarr. After much deliberation, they agreed that Vali was their best choice for a scout, especially in the sorts of places they expected their search to take them.

The trouble came when Runa overheard Einarr speaking to Eydri about going.

“You’re not seriously thinking of leaving me behind?”

Uh-oh. Einarr steeled himself and turned to face his new wife. “I was, actually. We can’t know what sort of circumstances we’ll find ourselves in. It’s sure to be dangerous, and –”

“No ‘ands,’ Einarr. I don’t mind if you also bring along Eydri, but I’m not going to let you leave me behind.”

“But –”

“No buts. Jorir’s gotten me out of a tough scrape or two already: I intend to return the favor.”

Somehow, Einarr wasn’t certain that would be a good thing for Jorir, but he knew very well when Runa wasn’t going to budge on an issue. With a sigh, he turned to Eydri.

“It’s fine,” she said, but she wouldn’t look him in the eye.

“Are you sure? If you still want to go, I can check supplies with Kaldr. Vali doesn’t exactly eat much.”

“No, it’s fine. I haven’t sailed with Jorir all that much, and Kaldr is… Kaldr. Lady Runa has the right of it …If you’ll excuse me.”

Eydri left the room with some haste. Einarr looked after her as she entered the hall, puzzled. “Whatever can have gotten into her?”

Runa smiled, looking for all the world like a cat with cream. “Nothing you need concern yourself over. Just give her a little time and all will be well again.”

“…If you say so. Well, you’ve made it plain I can’t stop you, so you’d best make sure you’re packed.”

“Our things have already been seen to.”

“…I see.” Gods preserve me from willful women… The thought was as fond as his smile, though, as he wrapped an arm around his wife. “In that case, we should check in with Kaldr and Thjofgrir down at the pier.”


Kaldr, as expected, had complained – perhaps more loudly than he would have for Eydri, but his complaints were expected. Even he, however, could not deny the usefulness of someone well-versed in lore for their journey.

That it was Runa, however. That was a bone of contention. He argued long and strongly against her inclusion, and each and every argument against was one which Einarr had expected. Even agreed with, on some level. Finally, however, when Runa’s voice grew haughty and every fiber of her being began to quiver with anger, Einarr stepped in. There was simply nothing to be done, after all – she had as much right to search for Jorir as the two of them, and politics be damned.

Kaldr let loose a heavy sigh. “As my lord wills it, then,” he said with a bow, and left to see to some other matter aboard their karve.

They sailed the next day aboard the boat they had dubbed the Villgås, and after two and a half uneventful weeks on the open water they saw the shores of Mýrarhöfn rise over the horizon. Save for being the only land they’d seen in more than a week, there was not much remarkable about the terrain. The largest portion of what they could see was taken up by the port.

Even from the water Einarr could see that the port city looked run-down. With its reputation for attracting freeboaters of the roughest sort, it was unfortunately what he’d expected. He frowned: here was where he wished Eydri hadn’t bowed out so quickly. He could have used her on the ground in a place like this. Runa, though… well, she was tougher than one would expect, but he still couldn’t bring her ashore, not without a very good reason. She would be eaten alive in a place like this. He turned his gaze away from the approaching harbor and back over the deck to survey his crew and snorted, his decision made.

“All right, everyone. Once we make land, here’s how this will work. Thjofgrir, Naudrek, and Runa will stay aboard to guard the ship. No, Runa, that’s not optional. There’s very few Singers I’ve met I wouldn’t order to stay aboard in a place like this.” Runa huffed. Einarr found, for once, he didn’t care. “Vali, you can get into places the rest of us simply can’t. I expect you to be doing the heavy lifting on this search. Trust your instincts… and try not to scare anyone to death.”

As expected, Runa glared daggers at Einarr, but kept her mouth shut. At least for now. Vali smirked. “Aye, sir,” was all he said.

“Kaldr, you and I are going to go asking questions in all the wrong sorts of places.”

“Of course, my lord.”

He paused. He had half-expected Kaldr to suggest Thjofgrir or Naudrek in his place: truth be told, he wasn’t certain one or both of them might be better for the job. Well, whatever the reason, Einarr wanted a cool head at his back if he got into trouble. “Good. We’re going armed. If you’ve got a sturdy leather coat it’s probably better than maille here.”

Kaldr nodded, evidently in agreement. “The less attention we draw to ourselves, the better. Keep in mind, everyone, that Finn hit a stone wall every time it came out he was searching for a svartdvergr.”

“Hm. That could make things more interesting.” Einarr shrugged. “Not like there’s much we can do about it until we’re out there. Is everyone ready?”

Runa still looked cross, but her two bodyguards nodded easily.

“As ready as we can be, then,” Kaldr answered. It looked like Vali was already gone.

“Then I’ll see you all tonight.”

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 wedding was set for three days after Einarr and the Heidrun limped back into port, which meant that they were not, precisely, late. They had, however, called it entirely too close for comfort. The first day, the day they arrived, they were welcomed home with feasting and music, and everyone aboard the Heidrun ended up telling tales of their adventure – everyone, that is, except for Finn, who slipped out of the hall with his bruised face and broken ribs before he could be pestered about what had happened on Blávík. Einarr made a mental note to speak with Stigander about that: it was the sort of thing that might ruin a man, and Finn was a promising scout.

The second day Einarr spent closeted away with his father, Bardr, Kaldr, Uncle Gorgny, and – surprisingly – Jorir. Beyond the repair of the Heidrun there were matters of political import which had made themselves evident over the last two months while he had been at sea, and none of them were good. That the cult was still active, and still possessed storm-riding ships, was troubling on several levels. While the League was a promising development in some ways, in others they seemed more troublesome.

“Truth be told they left a bad taste in my mouth even before they tried to impress us,” Einarr admitted in conference that afternoon.

“What did Eydri think?” Jorir asked.

“Things happened a little quickly for me to get an immediate impression from her, I’m afraid. We should talk with Naudrek about it in more detail: he was out with the group that encountered them first. He didn’t seem terribly impressed, though, even before we realized Finn was missing.”

Stigander grunted his agreement. “That the cult is large enough, and active enough, to inspire such a thing is troubling by itself. That this counter-League is evidently press-ganging whoever it happens across… Well. Something will have to be done.”

“That was my thought, as well.” He put a hand to his chin, considering. “Do you think the Matrons would want to look into it?”

Kaldr looked skeptical. “You want to turn this over to the Singers?”

Jorir, though, shook his head. “No, it’s a good idea. The cultists target them, after all, and there are members of the Circle everywhere.”

“Almost everywhere,” Einarr clarified. “Father, will you take it up with the Singers?”

“I will.”


The day before the wedding was the sauna day. In the morning, Einarr and Jorir took Ragnar’s sword to the dwarf’s forge, where he hemmed and hawed over the blade.

“And you’ve not polished it or sharpened it since you won it?”

“No.”

“And not a speck of rust on it. Remarkable.”

“Could that have something to do with the draugr? It was cursed, I think, and corrupted, but slaying Ragnar did for the first, and some rune fire for the second.”

“It’s possible, I suppose,” Jorir said, still peering closely at the blade. “Well. I’ll sharpen her, and polish her up, and you’ll have a right fine sword to give Runa tomorrow.”

“Good. Good. And… the ring?”

“Hrmph.” The dark-headed dwarf chuckled. “Had that finished weeks ago.” He lapsed into silence, but Einarr did not stand to go. He thought there was more Jorir wanted to say. After taking out a clean cloth and running it along the edge, the dwarf spoke again. “I may not like that lass of yours – she’s spoiled, and too clever for her own good – but I think the two of you will do all right.”

Einarr nodded. “Thanks.”

Jorir glanced up from his inspection of the century-old longsword. “You’re welcome. Don’t you have someplace to be?”

Einarr nodded again and let himself out. He was meant to meet Father, Uncle Gorgny, and Tyr at the sauna with a priest shortly after noon, and they would stay until past supper. He’d had to force himself to eat a big breakfast that morning, knowing no-one would let him eat until the wedding feast the next night: nerves robbed him of his appetite. Runa would be doing the same, he knew, with Reki and Eydri and gods-only-knew who. Maybe Aema and Tyr’s wife? There weren’t many married women in the hold, after all.

Einarr was bathed and switched and baked, and during all that time the older men talked. And talked. And talked. He was sure it was very important advice about keeping a happy household and such, but he just couldn’t focus. He listened, and nodded dutifully, and promptly forgot everything that was said. For three years, now, he’d worked towards this next day. Maybe that was why he was suddenly such a bundle of nerves?

He wasn’t certain if he actually slept that night. Before he knew it, though, the sky was lightening into the pale blue of morning and it was time to rise. He sat up and raked his fingers back through his hair, catching and breaking up a few snags. He could still smell the herbs from yesterday’s rinse.

There, hanging ready on the post of his bed, was his wedding outfit. He couldn’t begin to guess who had decided he required a silk tunic, but they had found a marvelous shade of blue for it – only the waters of Blávík were bluer, he thought. The trim was tasteful, as well, braids of silver and gold and black – although even after a year he found it odd to dress like a prince rather than a freeboater.

“Right,” he said to himself. “I may as well get started. Where did they leave that ewer this time?”

He needed to dress, and then he would be expected to stand with his father while Stigander and Hroaldr dealt with the purely contractual portion of the affair. They said it would be noon before the ceremony itself began, and already he felt as irritably impatient as a boy. Finally, on this day, there would be none to gainsay what had been true since that winter before they tried to elope: I am hers, and she is mine.


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Table of Contents


Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

As dawn broke the Heidrun limped into a tiny cove on an equally tiny island not far from the treacherous Blávík so that she could be properly inspected for damage after their rather hasty departure.

A cursory inspection under the deck boards confirmed that she was not taking on water – even slowly. It was as dry as when they’d loaded her, although a number of the water casks had been tumbled about by the jolt and had to be reset while Finn went for a swim.

By midmorning the crew had hauled him out of the water. “Got a nasty-looking gouge running along next to the keel, but she’ll hold.”

Einarr sighed. “Is it bad enough the wood will swell?”

“Very likely. Six inches to the left, though, and it could have split the keel.”

That was small comfort. It merely meant that the repairs would be expensive, rather than impossible. Still, it wasn’t something they could fix with the Heidrun in the water. On the other hand, the odds that they could make it home with that wound were pretty good. Einarr nodded. “Very well. Get yourself warmed up. Oar team, get us back out on the open ocean. We have a wedding to attend.”


Thanks be to all the gods, the remainder of their journey was uneventful. By the time the Heidrun entered port she had been reinforced from within twice to prevent her taking on water, and the swelling of the klinker was bad enough that she listed uncomfortably to starboard.

By the time they moored themselves at the pier, a large crowd had gathered, including no small number from the Hold. Einarr smiled to see Jorir, Kaldr, and Father all near the front of the crowd. They must have started down the cliff as he sailed past the weaver-witch’s rock. He took up Ragnar’s sword and slung its baldric over his shoulder.

With a nod to Naudrek, Einarr vaulted over the bulwark to land on the pier. Stigander was waiting.

“Welcome home, my boy.”

“Thanks.”

“Aye, welcome back, milord.” Jorir stood just behind Stigander, looking pleased if not entirely happy. But then, sometimes it was hard to tell behind the dwarven beard.

“You’ve got it, then?”

By way of an answer, Einarr held up the extra blade he carried. “There is much to tell, but we’ve had nothing but fish to eat for weeks now.”

“Of course, of course.” His father clapped him on the shoulder, and they started up the pier even as the crew still aboard set the gangplank in place. “What happened to your ship?”

“That’s part of what there is to tell. But, how is Grandfather?”

“Much the same, I’m afraid. A thousand deaths were not enough for that woman.”

Einarr hummed his agreement. “I feel like we ought to thank him, though, for leaving Thorndjupr.”

“That bad?”

“Worse.”

As they wound their way through town and up the cliff road to the hold Einarr began telling what they had learned of the place Raen had left in his youth to establish his Hold on Breidelstein, and of the cult and of the League that had tried to press-gang his crew in Blávík.

“That is troubling.”

“Quite. Best to assume that they didn’t believe me when I said I was a prince, rather than a freeboater. At least for now.”

“What, you don’t want to have to go beat some sense into them for your honeymoon?”

“Not remotely. And if we went to war Blávík is even farther away than Kjell. We’ve only just finished pacifying our own holdings – it is finished, right?”

“We haven’t had to put out any fires while you were gone, at least.”

Einarr grumbled, and then his stomach grumbled. Stigander laughed.

“Dinner will be waiting when we get there, never fear. So that’s when your ship took damage?”

“Aye, and that will be a tale to tell of an evening.” Einarr chuckled. That was exactly the sort of fireside tale that warriors loved, and it would certainly be more fun to tell than to experience. “Have the Kjellings arrived yet?”

“Last week.” Now Stigander chuckled. “Your Runa was not the only one disappointed you were gone.”

“Oh?” Probably Bollinn, maybe some of the other warriors.

“I don’t know what you did for Hroaldr, but he’s been almost as anxious about you as she has.”

Einarr stopped in his tracks and blinked at his father in surprise. “Maybe it has something to do with destroying the Weavings?”

“Maybe so, maybe so.” Stigander looked amused.

Einarr stepped more lightly now, knowing that his bride waited in the hold at the top of the cliff.

As they rounded the last switchback and the gate came into view, Einarr could see a small crowd gathered there, as well. Einarr thought he saw a figure with long golden hair in a pale dress near the front: he stepped more quickly. When he drew near enough to make out the face, he grinned. Sure enough, it was Runa.

He did not feel the intervening ground. The next thing he knew his arms were around her waist and they spun, the ground still sloping under his feet. He didn’t care. She laughed, brilliantly, joyously, and her hair was like a halo around them. She smelled of spices. Cheers went up from the others gathered to greet them as they straggled up the road. Even Hroaldr, also standing near the front of the crowd, looked pleased. Even with his father’s warning, Einarr had not expected his future father-in-law to be anything more than an enemy.

Reluctantly, he set Runa’s feet back on earth and they moved forward, arm in arm, for Einarr to greet the others.

Hroaldr clasped his hand, a tight smile showing beneath his neatly-trimmed beard. “You’re late.”


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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.

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

A flurry of motion aboard the Heidrun followed Einarr’s answer. The sail was unfurled and the men at oars began once more to row. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and if Einarr had to meet his end here, he could do so proudly.

He had no desire to actually do so, of course, but this was a particularly tight pinch they were in. Would it have been better to resort to trickery, pretend to surrender? Einarr shook his head. Had he more time to dally here, perhaps, but they would be calling it close already. Thus, the way forward was through, once again.

By the same token, if he turned the hardened warriors of Breidelstein against the green recruits of this League, or if he turned magic against them, he could easily enough destroy them – and plunge Breidelstein into a war it had no stomach for. He had a narrow path to walk, getting them out of this.

“Ready shields! Svarek, steerboard!” Then he turned his attention inward to his core people. “Naudrek, you have the archers. Don’t volley unless we have to. Eydri, I’m counting on you. We need speed and stamina above all.”

“Yes, sir,” Naudrek answered.

“Of course, milord.” Eydri’s voice was strangely breathless, and even in the dark he thought she looked flushed. Is she feeling all right?

He could worry about that after they were free. “Hrug…” He paused, a sudden idea occurring to him. “Hrug, can you give me a light show? We don’t want to hurt them, just frighten them a little.”

The mute sorcerer nodded his agreement.

“Great. Go to it. Have some fun.”

He pursed his lips into a line and nodded, but Einarr could see a question on his brow. Einarr even knew what it was.

“They seem to be organizing to fight that blasted cult with its corrupted monsters. I would have no quarrel at all with them if they weren’t trying to impress us. Probably they assume we’re freeboaters. If we can get out without destroying them, we should.”

The rune seithir nodded his understanding and agreement and trotted off to the bulwarks, already pulling a piece of chalk from the pouch at his belt.

Now then. They were going to have to shoot the gap between two of the encircling boats. There were only a handful of longships, but most of them were between the Heidrun and the break in the sea wall.

There were two fishing boats together just off the port bow, but if he charged between them he would be headed directly for that sea wall. Could he maneuver quickly enough to get around behind the encirclement and race for the exit? Jumping the seawall might be possible, but would definitely be a good way to get them all stranded here.

He took his place on the platform of the mast. It was now or never. Arrows began to rain on their shields and their deck as they drew nearer the spot Einarr had chosen. “Svarek! Hard aport, now! Hrug – show me what you’ve got!”

“Oars, full speed!” Naudrek bellowed after him.

A line of light appeared all along the edge of the bulwark and all the way up to trace the lines of the ramshead on the prow. The line of light seemed to lift its nose to bugle, then lowered its head as though readying for a charge.

That… had not quite been what Einarr had in mind, but it seemed to be effective. The two fishing boats in the Heidrun’s path, scrambled to row out of the way. Meanwhile the enemy arrows faltered, as though none of them could quite believe what they were seeing. Not that Einarr could really fault them.

“Svarek, on my mark, throw us hard to starboard, then even out.”

“Aye, sir.”

Three… two… one… “Mark!”

The mast wobbled over the water as the ship abruptly turned almost in place on the water and the Heidrun shot forward – behind the League ships that had tried to capture her.

Someone onboard whooped – too soon. The League ships were taking up oars to give chase, true, but there was a larger problem to hand.

They weren’t going to clear the seawall.

They had good momentum. If Einarr tried to turn farther he would lose some of that, and some of the distance he had wanted to open up with their enemies. More importantly, though, they would still scrape against the seawall. Or, if they held steady, it might be enough to jump the seawall.

Heidrun, my Heidrun, I’m sorry. “Hold steady, Svarek!”

There was a collective intake of breath as large swaths of the crew realized what was about to happen.

“Brace!”

As one, the oars lifted into the air and the shield men dropped to their knees. Then there was a jolt, and a jump, and a terrible scraping as of rough stone on wood.

Please let us make it.

For a moment it seemed as though the Heidrun hung in midair. Then, with a splash, she skipped twice on the surface of the ocean. Momentum carried her forward at first, and then the wind filled her sail and she was off into the night.

Einarr exhaled loudly, relief flooding his belly as it became plain they’d made it past the difficult part. He could just make out, from the torchlight on their decks, the longships of Blávík leaving the harbor. Now, though, there was a goodly distance between them, and it was unlikely they would pursue too far.

“Shields down, everyone,” he ordered. He frowned, pondering, then decided it was worth the risk. “Get me a light. Naudrek, we need to find a safe harbor – secluded, this time – to check for damage and set ourselves up to fish on our way home.” And then I’ll get you to a proper shipwright, he promised his boat, and let you have a nice long rest for my honeymoon.


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

Some of the ambushers carried torches with them: the light in the square was now enough that Einarr could see just how badly Finn had been beaten.

One of his eyes was swollen shut, and the other was crusted with dried blood from a head wound. A rope bound Finn’s wrists too tightly, and he dangled from the stocks like a side of meat. He was all over bruises, although Einarr thought he’d avoided any broken bones, and it was impossible to tell how much of the blood on his maille was his and how much belonged to the League toughs. They had laid his scramasax at his feet, snapped in two. Finn groaned.

Einarr growled. With one swift strike he cut down the scout, who slumped to his knees.

“Can you walk?” Einarr sidestepped to avoid the back of a stumbling fighter.

Finn groaned and tried to rise, but fell back on his haunches. Einarr wasn’t entirely sure he was actually conscious.

“Right then. Heidrunings, to me!” They were, as the ambushers planned, in a bad place. However, thus far his men had had very little trouble keeping the toughs away from him. As his crew formed a defensive wall around him, Einarr sheathed his sword and knelt beside the half-conscious Finn. He slid the man’s arm across his shoulders and rose.

Finn hung like a sack of cabbages. Grumbling a little, and using his other arm to steady the body, Einarr started slowly back towards their ship and the hoped-for safety of the harbor.

As they neared the edge of the square their progress ground nearly to a halt. The League fighters – no few of whom wore the same blue and white as the escort ships’ sails – pressed them hard, and Einarr’s escort had all it could manage not to go under the sheer mass of people that converged against them.

Einarr pressed his lips into a thin line. He could reach Sinmora, but he could not fight and carry Finn at the same time. And, while he was skilled with a blade, he was not sufficiently skilled to make a difference if he handed their wounded friend off to one of the others. But his blade was not his only means of fighting these days.

He glanced down at the ground at his feet. The dirt was hard-packed, but still he could see a thin layer of loose soil, as marked out by footprints. It would be enough. Einarr shifted his weight to the side supporting Finn and drew a Thorn: . He poured his will into the rune, and a wave of force seemed to knock aside the first rank of enemies.

The rest of the League warriors seemed to vanish then, like rats in an alley. Einarr dragged his foot across the rune, obscuring it. His men had come to accept that he could use seithir, but he had no intention of letting their enemies know it.

“Let’s go,” he said as his escort stood, momentarily flummoxed by the sudden lack of battle.


The streets were suspiciously empty as Einarr and his crew rushed back towards the Heidrun. It was, he thought, impossible that the League would give up so easily after they went to the trouble of capturing one of his crew and stringing him up like a side of meat.

“Troa!” He called up as his men formed a wall on the pier and he began dragging the wounded scout up the gangplank.

He leaned over the bulwark, looking positively eager to be rid of the temporary command. “Captain!”

“Is everything ready?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Good! As soon as Finn here is secure, we’re going.” The plank bounced as his company started single-file up after him, Eydri in the lead.

“Now, sir? The tide…”

“Now or never, I’m afraid.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll ready the oars.”

Eydri and Hrug took Finn amidships to lay him near Einarr’s awning – probably the safest place if they met with trouble – while Einarr and Naudrek organized the rest of the crew. Those who did not have an oar were instructed to ready their bows. Arrows they had, of course, but Einarr cursed when he realized that they had expended almost all of their fire arrows on the cult ship. He had plainly been in too much of a hurry as they left: that was an oversight that could have killed them all when they still wandered on the Vidofnir. Burning the Blávíkin ships would have been a last resort anyway, but it would have been nice to have the option.

Finally, though, they were ready. Odvir released their mooring, and the only sounds as they rowed out into the night were the creak of timbers and the gentle splashing of the oars dipping into the water.

All their caution was for naught, though. As the Heidrun neared the mouth of harbor, a ring of fire sprang up around them over the water. Ships, bearing torches. After the first surge of surprise passed, Einarr stood calmly near the mast, studying their situation.

It wasn’t good. The Heidrun glided to a stop, waiting for Einarr’s orders. They were a lone longship, surrounded by local vessels that all appeared to be bristling with warriors. At least half of them bore the blue-and-white that seemed to indicate they were part of the Jarl’s war band. Including, unless Einarr was very much mistaken, the ship he had just presented that cask of ale to.

He strode to the bow, trying to determine which boat was in charge of the fleet. None of the fishing boats: of that he was quite sure. Of the others…

“Einarr son of Stigander son of Raen,” boomed a familiar voice. “Surrender quietly and pledge yourselves to the League.”

Angry mutters rose from the deck of the Heidrun. There was only one possible response.

“Go to Hel.”


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

Einarr spent the first morning after they sailed restless, worrying simultaneously that he had done too much and too little. But, as the grey skies over the grey lands slipped back over the horizon, he turned his attention to more pressing matters. Namely, arriving home in time for his own wedding.

Based on the charts, he and Naudrek had agreed that they should be able to make it to Blávík, resupply, and be back on the water with enough time, barring unforseen circumstances, to get him home with a few days to spare. The fact that they were down to a matter of days was somewhat concerning, however.

As they neared Blávík, the source of the name became plain. Facing the Heidrunings was some of the brightest, bluest water Einarr had ever heard of north of Imperial waters. He whistled, impressed.

Equally plain, however, was the local opinion of interlopers. No fewer than three longships with blue and white sails came slicing across the water towards them as they neared the harbor.

“Run up the flag of peace, men! We want no quarrel.”

The patrol ships still moved to block their way. Einarr had to furl sail rather rapidly to avoid striking the center ship, but he turned the Heidrun in time. He moved to the bulwark and stood with one foot on the side to address the opposing Captain. “I am Einarr, son of Stigander, Thane of Breidelstein. We seek resupply here on our way home.”

The other Captain snorted. “A likely story. No ship comes out of those waters.”

“They’ve a bad infestation of draugr, I’m afraid. Bad water and food, to boot.”

The man squinted across at him. “So how do I know you’re not in league with them? Last anyone knew, Thorndjupr was a den of robbers.”

Einarr sighed. “I suppose you don’t know, although by now news should have reached here that Breidelstein had been reclaimed by its rightful Thane. Even if you hadn’t heard, though, our coin is good – and our own. I’m afraid I’m rather in a hurry, though.”

The Captain, who had not introduced himself, waited expectantly.

“I’m to be married in a little less than a month. At Raenshold.”

That got a reaction. The man spluttered a little. “What in blazes are you doing out here, then?”

“My last bit of preparation. Now, may we land?”

With much grumbling, the Blávíkin Captain gave orders to his other ships to escort the Heidrun into port.

“You have my thanks. We require food and water and ale, and then we’ll be on our way.”

“Hmph.”


Two of the three escort ships docked to either side of the Heidrun. Einarr ground his teeth in annoyance, but did not challenge them. Given what he knew of Thorndjupr, he’d be an uneasy neighbor with them as well. “Naudrek! Get your teams together. The quicker we get out of here, the better.”

“Yes, sir!”

While Naudrek and perhaps half the crew went into Blávík town to haggle, Einarr and the others had the—much duller—task of readying the ship for loading. There were empty casks and crates to be disposed of, and it was always a good idea to check the ship over for damage, even if you hadn’t seen combat since your last port, and a hundred other minor matters. Had their welcoming party been less hostile, Einarr might have traded Naudrek places anyway, but under the circumstances he thought it might be construed as hostile.

Hours passed, and the day wore on. As the sky began to deepen into twilight, the first of the teams returned hauling casks of ale and casks of water. Thank goodness.

All seemed to be going smoothly until, after perhaps half of the casks had been loaded, the second team arrived all-but empty handed. Naudrek approached Einarr, his eyes darting up and down the pier nervously.

Einarr raised an eyebrow. They could always fish, if they had to, but… “What happened?”

Naudrek came up close and spoke lowly in Einarr’s ear even as he thrust a scroll into his hand. “Trouble. Not just for us.”

Unrolling the scroll, Einarr took it in at a glance. Then his brow furrowed: something didn’t make sense. “Explain.”

“They’re forming a league to fight those crazy cultists. The ones who let loose the black kraken, I think. Only this so-called ‘League’ is buying up all the food. More than one townsperson complained they couldn’t even get cabbages.”

“…Odd.”

“Well, it gets worse. Some puffed-up young rooster overheard us trying to get something – anything – from the smokehouse. He swaggers up – you know the type – and tries to get us to join up with the League. ‘This town can only feed one army, but you can get in on it,’ that sort of thing. Only when that doesn’t work he tries threats. Odvir and I are sure as sure that we were tailed back here.”

“So they know what ship you’re on. And odds are solid they’ll think we’re freeboaters.” Einarr nodded unhappily. “Fine. I’ll make sure the watch knows – unless you think we’ll have a good tide tonight?”

“You think our escorts will let us out under cover of darkness?”

Einarr bit back a curse. “No. No, you’re right.” He pursed his lips, thinking. “I’m going to pay a visit to one of our guides. We have any of our own ale still in the hold?”

“A little.”

“Bring me a keg. I’m going to try to make nice. Maybe I can get some information about this ‘league’ out of them.”

“Good luck, Einarr.”

He nodded. “You, too. Be ready: if I think we can slip out before the moon’s up, we will. …Where’s Finn?”

“Finn? He was with us just…” Now Naudrek swore, as his eyes scanned the laboring crew and discovered that the scout was nowhere to be seen.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

More than a little unnerved, Einarr and his companions stepped up their pace. Not one of them wanted to be anywhere other than the deck of the Heidrun when the sun set that evening. The only thing that stopped any of them from thinking of sailing that very night was the memory of the fishing boat caught out in the harbor.

Einarr breathed a small sigh of relief when they stepped into the village proper and saw the sun sitting still a good hour above the horizon.

As they hurried through the town towards the docks and the safety of their ship, they drew quite a crowd of the villagers: those who, before, had averted their eyes from strangers venturing into the woods now followed with some strange mixture of curiosity, hope, and expectancy. Perhaps the herb-witch had spread the word that Einarr was a Cursebreaker. Not one of them said anything, though, until they were all aboard ship, and all continued to ignore the townspeople.

The herb-witch opened a path to the front with her cane. “You live. All of you.”

“We do.”

“And?”

“I have acquired and purified my wedding sword. We will sail with the morning tide.” There were matters to attend to before any boat could sail, even on a return journey.

“And what of the island?”

“What of it?”

“The Singer said you were the Cursebreaker. Are we…”

“Free? Not hardly.”

“But…”

Einarr sighed noisily. “It is not a curse that holds you in thrall to Hel, lady.” He gave a hard stare at the crowd gathered on the docks. What he had to say would throw them into chaos: would they try to storm his boat, if he announced it to the crowd? It wasn’t worth the risk. “You, and only you, may come aboard in return for the information you provided us when we landed.”

“The evening grows long, Cursebreaker.”

Einarr just looked at her. Finally, she sighed.

“Very well. The rest of you, get home.”

A sense of sullen disappointment hung in the air as, with a low mumble, the villagers dispersed up the pier toward the roads of the town. Even as they did so, the old herb-witch’s boots clunked as she climbed the gangplank.

Einarr turned to face her and crossed his arms, waiting until she stood on the deck before him.

“So just how bad is it?” she asked, weary resignation depressing her voice more than they had heard before.

“Bad. Have you any Singers at all on the island?”

She shook her head. “As the island slipped into Hel’s clutches, those who did not flee took sick and died.”

Einarr grunted: he had expected as much. “I’ll be blunt, then. So far as we can tell, Ragnar failed one of Wotan’s tests of hospitality rather spectacularly. It was plain, from the records we found, that the people of the village were complicit in the robberies, and so the gods simply… left. It is not just that this is Hel’s domain, it’s that none of the other gods will lift a finger for Thorndjupr.”

She blinked in surprise. “But none of us were a part of what went on then. Even I was just a girl…”

“And yet, you would have benefited. Nevertheless, I believe that Thorndjupr and its people have been made Outlaw by the gods themselves. What you choose to do about that is on you, of course. Perhaps when the last of your generation dies, the rest will be free… but I’m not certain I would bank your children’s future on that.”

The old woman looked pale now.

“In your shoes, I might send some intrepid youths out to contact a priest. Perhaps, with sufficient rites and sacrifices, the gods will have mercy.”

She nodded, but even that nod seemed to carry despair. “When we drove out the prince, your grandfather, he said something about a gem. I don’t suppose?”

“The Fehugim? That, I’m afraid, is in the hands of the Lady of the island again. We left it with her sentries in the standing stones, but I don’t recommend trying to get it back. You’ll have to look elsewhere for your sacrifices.”

“I see.” The old herb-witch’s voice was quiet and dark. “I hope you’ll pardon me, but I can’t quite bring myself to thank you for all that you’ve told me.”

Just as well. Einarr shrugged. “Make of it what you will. Can you make it back to your house before dark?”

The herb-witch glanced up at the sky and nodded even as she gripped a small pendant Einarr had not before realized she wore. “I will manage. Safe journey to you, then.”

She turned and clumped slowly back down the gangplank and up the pier towards the town. Einarr watched her go, his lips pressed into a tight line.

“Bah!” He muttered once she was out of earshot. “I probably told her too much.”

Eydri, looking thoughtful, shook her head. “I don’t think so. We come away owing outlaws nothing, and being owed nothing by them.”

“Maybe.” But, done was done, and there was work still ahead before they could sail free and brush the dust of this land from their boots. “Naudrek! The charts. We can’t resupply here.”

“Yes, sir!”

He followed his Mate over to where the charts were stored and they fell to planning. He had very little slack in their course, but the men couldn’t sail without water, either.

All of that evening, Einarr felt as though he were being watched. When he looked back over the land he saw nothing. He turned, once, to look out over the harbor.

There, just under the surface of the water, he saw hundreds of pairs of flashing red eyes. The cruel Queen of the Damned was watching them, although he did not sense any bloodlust coming from beneath the waves.

Einarr set a triple watch that night. Once the sky lightened, the Heidrun set sail with the dawn tide.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

“Nothing?” Eydri repeated, aghast.

“Nothing,” Einarr answered. “That gem isn’t magical, and these people aren’t cursed. Now, Hrug, I don’t think the purification circle will need to be very complex. A simple fire rune started the process.”

Hrug nodded. Even with the issues they had with magic here on the island, they should be able to manage that much this evening.

“First thing in the morning we head back to town and the Heidrun. I’d rather not spend another night in harbor, but I expect we’ll have to, and then we can wash the dust of this island from our boots.”

Odvir gave him a quizzical look. “If the island’s not cursed, and you’ve dealt with the draugr, then why—?”

“I’ve dealt with the only draugr I had business with: Ragnar’s, and those who’ve attacked us. This is still Hel’s domain, and likely will be for some time to come.” He handed his empty bowl over to Finn for another scoop of soup, which he drank swiftly. “Come on. There are still things to be done tonight, and we need an early start in the morning.”


When Einarr and Naudrek were awakened for the last watch, it was to the knowledge that the draugr had, once again, mostly ignored their home camp. They had not been out after dark – if barely – they had not taken out the Fehugim, and the most powerful of the creatures was slain. Einarr took this as a good sign even as he wished for more sleep.

As dawn was breaking, Einarr stirred some crumbled bread into the remains of last night’s soup. It wasn’t much, but it should take them to the Heidrun at least, where they could have a proper dinner. Once they had eaten, Einarr took the newly-purified sword of Ragnar — looking much less ominous, now that the corruption had been burned out of the steel — in hand and they set off across the forest for the town of Thorndjupr.

The scouts proved their worth once more as they hiked the return journey to the town of unlife: their blazes were still visible, marking the path they had taken inland in the first place. While this did not speed their journey as much as one might expect, it did mean it was once again noon when the ghastly standing stones hove into view.

Someone was waiting for them there. Or, rather, several someones: Einarr took the lead as they approached, motioning for his companions to get behind him.

Up ahead, in the circle of standing stones, despite the fact that it was the middle of the day, stood seven fleshy draugr – none of whom, thankfully, was half so large as Ragnar. Not that that would save Einarr’s crew, if it came to blows.

“What do you want,” he demanded without preamble.

One of their number, a wasted-looking figure, his skin black as death and clinging to his bones, with stringy white hair falling to his shoulders under a dark iron helm, twitched his head to the side. A rasping voice came from the direction of the draugr, although none of them appeared to speak. “You have the Fehugim,” it rasped.

“What of it?”

The voice was decidedly feminine. The heads of several of the draugr twitched this time. “It is mine. You will leave it here, in this circle, or you will die.”

Einarr frowned. He had intended to leave it with the old herb-witch when he spoke with her, but he hardly suspected the owner of the voice to appreciate that argument. “We will leave the Fehugim with the elders of the town. Will that suffice?”

The voice hissed at him, like some horrific serpent, and repeated “It is mine.”

“It is Wotan’s, is it not? Stolen from him generations ago and lost in the ruins of this island. I mean to see it returned to its rightful place.”

The forest seemed to echo with dry, raspy laughter. “Stolen? Do you truly believe old One-Eye to be so foolish as to allow a mortal to rob him?” The laughter pealed again, and a shiver ran down Einarr’s spine. “That gem is mine, and marks this island as mine. If you do not wish to also be mine, you will leave the gem and be off.”

Still, Einarr hesitated.

“You and your crew would make for fine specimens within my army…”

Einarr exhaled loudly, reminding himself he had no obligation to help these people. Indeed, by the laws of the Thing, he was forbidden to do so. He turned to Hrug. “The gem.”

“You don’t seriously intend to—” Eydri spluttered.

“Yes, I do, Eydri. In fact, I have no choice.” He met her eyes and continued, more quietly. “I’ll explain later.”

She quieted, but that was an angry look he had only ever seen before on Runa’s face. Hrug handed him the rune-worked box. Einarr opened the lid: inside rested the brilliant red Fehugim with it’s light-inscribed rune within.

“Here it is. I’m going to step forward now to leave the gem where you want it.”

“A wise decision.”

“Have your puppets move back.”

She chuckled, the sound very like Ragnar’s. “So untrusting. Very well, young Cursebreaker.”

As one, the draugr walked backwards to the far edge of the stone circle and waited as Einarr moved cautiously forward. When he was just outside the stone circle, he placed the box on the ground and slid it forward. “I have done as you demanded. Now we will continue on our journey.”

“Will you, now? I wonder. What if I’ve decided I want you for my army after all?”

“That was not the agreement. Or would you be named Oathbreaker?”

Silence stretched out long in the forest. Einarr and his companions made a defensive circle around Eydri and Hrug. If Hel decided she would take them, she could certainly try, but they would make her pay for the privilege.

A sound like the snapping of a tree trunk rang through the forest.The draugr that stood guard within the stone circle clattered to the ground, once more the scattered remains they had seen on their way in.


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