“I’m afraid you do, milord. That… that was excellent ale you left behind in Blávík. I’m only sorry it was wasted on the likes of us.”

Einarr sighed, loudly. “I ought to charge you for the damages to my Heidrun, but I suppose that would be pointless now. You’re telling me you’ve moved on from press-ganging princes to annihilating whole settlements?”

He wasn’t quite certain how Thrand managed to look more miserable, but he did.

Einarr sighed again. “We’ll deal with the crimes of the League later. Based on what we saw in the square, it is plain to me there was, in fact, some sort of Squiddie presence here in Kem. Which means before we head back to Breidelstein, we need to find their base and figure out what they were up to. Congratulations, Thrand. You’ll not lose your head this day.”

The man looked far more relieved about that than Einarr thought the statement warranted, to the point where he struggled not to weep. Perhaps it was because he had been alone in the wreckage of the city for so long.

“You’re not off the hook, mind. You’re going to help us find this base and figure out what they were up to. Then you’re coming back to Breidelstein with us, after we pick up some freeholders we think might be in need of rescue.”

“Yes, milord. Gladly, milord: I can lead you straight to their hideout: that’s where all the trouble began, milord.”

They passed a cold night in the harbor, lit as much by the glowing embers of Kem as by the moon and the stars above. Einarr ordered a cask of cider warmed to settle the nerves of his crew and keep them alert through their watch.

If there was one mercy, it seemed to be that the League’s fire had kept a city’s worth of dead from rising for vengeance. In the morning, those who had last watch were relieved, and Einarr set off with half the crew to follow Thrand to where he said they had found the cult of Malúnion.

Einarr had thought he was prepared for what he would see there, after searching through the wreckage of the city the previous day. He was wrong.

It wasn’t the gore – to be honest, after the runic blaze the League had managed to set, there wasn’t much of that left on the surface, and down below it was mostly spatters of blood – some corrupted, some still human. Unfortunately, the local ‘temple’ of the cult had some… peculiar design sensibilities.

Eyes. There were eyes everywhere. No matter where Einarr turned, he felt as though he were being watched – which, come to think of it, may have been the point.

Jorir, too, seemed bemused. “The entire time I was in Nilthiad, not once did I run across anything like this.”

“We didn’t see any sign of it at the altar, either – and of all the horrors of that demon, its eyes were not among them.”

“Are we sure this is the same cult?” Eydri wondered.

Thrand cleared his throat. “Absolutely. Or, at least, I don’t know too many men who would call on someone else’s horrible demigod as they rushed to battle.”

“A fair point,” she conceded. “Still, it doesn’t look like they left much behind…”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Thrand actually sounded excited. “I came back to have a look around after the fire had cooled a bit. Even if I am to lose my head, it’s important that someone get this information out into the Clans.”

The half-starved League Captain led them down a narrow flight of stairs, then a ladder, and into a passage that still sloped downward, if only gently.

“How did you even find this place? We must be beneath the catacombs already!” Einarr did not bother trying to hide his surprise. Even if he had been kindly inclined towards Thrand in the first place, this was starting to feel like a trap.

“There are no other people. There is easy access to fresh water just outside the city limits, and there are plenty of fish in the harbor. It wasn’t like I had much else to do since the fire, you know.”

Einarr hummed, but let it drop for now.

“We’re nearly there. Just… ah! Stop. Here.”

The door in the wall was plain and unadorned. Had there been any other doors along this passage, Einarr might not have even noticed it.

Thrand pushed the door open and stepped inside, as certain it was safe as if it were his own home. “I left the missives here once I found them. Safer that way – who knows what might happen to me up there, but someone else could have found this place and gotten the word out.”

“Missives? What missives?” Irding blurted.

“Orders. From home, I think. I’m no sorcerer, but give me enough time and I can puzzle out rune-writing.” He thrust a letter into Einarr’s hand.

With a glance, Einarr was certain the other man was correct. With a brusque nod, he thrust the letter into his pouch. “Search the room! We’ll take anything interesting back up to the Heidrun with us: it would be far too easy to lose track of time down here, and I want wards again tonight.” The restless dead were not the only things that could be kept out that way, after all.


That night, Einarr sat huddled with Hrug and Eydri and Jorir under the Captain’s awning, poring over what appeared to be the most recent orders from their home temple. It was… not good. Even if the League leadership hadn’t gotten a bee in its collective bonnet, the Squiddies were on a definite war footing – and it was a war that would have taken a vast number of clans utterly by surprise, boiling up quite literally from underground and striking at a populace that had no idea there were madmen in their midst.

When morning came, a bleary-eyed Einarr addressed his crew. “We have found what we came for. Now it is our duty to ensure our Thane learns what we have. We will sail around the island and make land near the outskirts of Kem, where Thrand will take us to the water he has relied on since the disaster. Do not worry, Gabriel, I have not forgotten you. Once we have taken on fresh water, we will sail for your master’s freehold and take on those who remain. From there, we will make all possible haste back to Breidelstein. I fear the League has knocked down a hornet’s nest, and it is up to the rest of us to deal with the swarm.”

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.

 

Jorir took a little of his remaining coin, small though it was, to visit the bathhouse that night. He would give Thane Soggvar no excuse to abuse him that he could avoid. The next morning he put formal braids in his beard and – for the first time in many a year – wore the chain of his Guild. There would be some, he was sure, who questioned his right to it. They were welcome to do so. One of the things these two months had allowed him to do was learn just how many in Nilthiad agreed with him – quietly or otherwise. The number was significant. He tromped out through Brandir’s smithy.

“You’re sure I can’t persuade you to just leave town?”

“Quite. Or are you anxious to join me in the human world?”

“Not especially.”

“Then I really can’t. You already know if I disappear they’ll take it out on you. I’ll return.”

“I hope you’re right.”

On those doubtful words, Jorir stepped out into the daylit – if dim – streets of Nilthiad and started on his way for Thane Soggvar’s hall.

The dull placidity of the streets of Nilthiad struck Jorir as even more wrong today than they had yesterday. Even knowing that for most of these people this was just an ordinary day did not change that. As he neared the Thane’s hall, a snippet of conversation drifted across the street to his ears – idle gossip, really. If he were anyone else, he might have dismissed it as both preposterous and unimportant: humans had been captured in the Paths of Stone. Dread tied itself about his legs like lead weights. He remembered all too well the vision the Oracle had given him.

Too soon he stood before the gates of Iron and Brass. They seemed taller than he remembered, somehow – or perhaps it was just the enormity of the quest he followed. With a deep breath, he stepped to the threshold and announced himself to the guards.

“Jorir the Cursed. You are expected.” The dvergr at the gate, the butt of his halberd still pressed against the ground, gestured behind him and another dvergr stepped forward out of the shadows. “You will be escorted to the Hall of the King, where you will humble yourself before our Lord.”

The guard plainly had nothing more to say to the outlaw who stood before him: he returned his hand to grip his halberd and stood in stoic silence, staring out at the road.

Jorir harrumphed but followed the other dvergr without further protest.

The Hall was torchlit and nearly choked with smoke. In spite of that, it was as full as any alehouse at supper – a crude mockery of merriment. Some of the faces he recognized: others were new. Jorir wondered if he had become too accustomed to the manners of the surface folk in his century-plus in Midgard: he could not understand how Lord Soggvar tolerated it. He kept his face neutral as his guard led him towards the Seat of the Thane.

Thane Soggvar slumped in his throne, bored or ill or both, looking ill-tempered. Jorir had a sinking feeling he knew exactly how this was going to go. He cleared his throat and bowed.

“My Lord, I have returned, as requested.”

Soggvar glared down at him from his Seat. He looked unnaturally pale for a svartdvergr, and his skin had taken on a bluish tone. “Welcome home, son of the mountains. We have expected you.” The voice was filled with scorn.

Jorir shifted his shoulders, unable to fully control the reaction. If anything, he looked worse than he had in the vision. “I pray you forgive my tardiness, milord.”

Soggvar snorted. “We have endured. What have you discovered during your long exile?”

The sneering tone was impossible to miss. I am too late. This is too similar. “I have discovered the Cursebreaker. The Oracle tells me he will be able to free this land.”

“Well! Cause for celebration indeed! Bring out the mead! …Pah! Oracles. Alfen soothsayers. What need have we of such nonsense?” Soggvar bared his teeth in what Jorir thought was supposed to be a grin. It looked more than slightly predatory. “In the morning, we will make sacrifices, and all will be right in Nilthiad.”

Jorir thought his heart was about to leap from his chest. This was following the vision-test far too closely for Jorir’s liking. He had to wet his lips before he could speak. “My lord?”

Movement from the shadows behind Thane Soggvar’s throne drew his attention. In spite of himself, knowing what he was about to see, Jorir looked.

Another dvergr, dressed in the furs of a shaman, stepped forward out of the shadows. The engraved golden medallion of one of the Thane’s top advisors glittered in the torchlight. If Thane Soggvar looked half-dead, this shaman looked positively cadaverous. He whispered something in Soggvar’s ear, and the Thane nodded.

No. I know what comes next. Please, by the justice of Tyr and the honor of Thor, let this next bit be wrong!

A commotion stirred in the back of the hall, from the same doors that Jorir had just been escorted through. Reluctantly, he turned to look, just in time to see someone throw ale in the face of the human who now stood in the back of the hall, chained as a prisoner. Another quickly followed, but not quickly enough to keep Jorir from seeing a shock of red whiskers on the man’s chin. Resolved, Jorir looked slowly up at the human’s face, knowing quite well who he would see.

Prince Einarr watched Jorir levelly, his proud gaze never faltering.

Jorir’s breath caught. All his worst fears were, in this moment, confirmed.

The random gossip was true. Lord Einarr had, indeed, done something stupid. And he had arrived far too quickly to have been brought all the way from the dungeons, which meant that somehow, they knew.

Thane Soggvar knows I’m tied to this man. Which means the cult knows.

Which meant that everything he’d worked for just got that much harder.

The dvergr standing to either side of Einarr began walking toward the head of the hall. Einarr, chained as Jorir knew he would be, moved with them, ignoring the jeers of the other dvergr in the Hall.

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.