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 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.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

That night, Raenshold feasted in celebration of the victorious return of the Vidofnir and the Heidrun. From his seat by Father’s side, Einarr grinned across the table at the unflappable Kaldr and took a deep draught. He was mostly glad to be home, but it was hard to pass up a chance to nettle the man. “What you need,” he said, wiping the foam from his beard with the back of his hand, “Is to relax a little. Isn’t that right, Jorir?”

The dwarf, at Einarr’s side, chuckled.

Kaldr gave one of his trademark placid looks to the heir apparent. “I fail to see what is so relaxing about playing the fool.”

“Ease up, Einarr. That is relaxed.”

Einarr rolled his eyes in mock exasperation and picked up a joint of rabbit from his truncheon. “You, too?”

Jorir’s eyes twinkled with mirth. Plainly the dwarf knew something Einarr did not, but he had no chance to press. Stigander nudged his right shoulder and motioned with his head to come off to the side. Einarr stood immediately and followed, taking his meat with him.

“What is it, Father?”

“While you were out, we finally managed to learn where the ancestral barrows are.”

“You have?” Einarr’s eyebrows climbed with surprise – and relief.

Stigander nodded. Getting anything out of Grandfather Raen was difficult these days, but even before the witch got her claws in him he’d never spoken of where he’d come from originally. “I got a name, yes, and Reki’s confirmed it’s a real place.”

“Thank goodness. Now all I have to do is get the sword.”

“All is right. You’ve got two months before the wedding. With a fast ship and no delays, you’ll spend six weeks on the water. And we still don’t know anything about the place.”

“How is that different from any of our adventures these last few years? It seems like everything went crazy after they got Astrid.”

His father grunted in agreement.

“So where am I going? I’ll need a day or two to resupply the Heidrun, but I can leave right after.”

“Thorndjupr.”

Einarr grimaced. “Well there’s an ill-favored name.”

“You’re not wrong. Take whoever you please for your crew: you’ve fought among the men more than I have, recently.”

“Thank you, Father.” Einarr gave one last, regretful look towards the feast-table with his truncheon still half-filled with food and then turned away from the hall, tearing the last of the meat from the rabbit joint as he left. It seemed his rest would be brief: he now had an expedition to plan, and the first thing to do was consult the sea charts.

Finally, an ancestral sword was attainable. The wedding could go on.

And this might actually be fun.


At dawn the following day, a messenger was sent to the harbor with instructions to resupply the Heidrun with all haste.

Over breakfast, Einarr called together Jorir, Reki, and Eydri in conference. “I have a location.”

Reki nodded: she had helped Father find it, after all.

“Day after tomorrow, I sail on the Heidrun for some place called Thorndjupr, with no idea what I’ll find there save my great-grandfather’s barrow, and as of yet no clear idea about my crew. If Reki’s willing to come along, though, I thought you might like a break, Eydri.”

Eydri drew herself up as though she were somehow offended. “Is my lord the prince dissatisfied?”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Not at all. I only thought that, since you’ve been out for most of these thrice-cursed pacification ventures, you might like to rest a little. And as much as you’ve been out, Reki has been land-bound.”

Reki shook her head, chuckling a little. “I appreciate the thought, Einarr, but I think I will decline. I have my own matters to attend to here.”

Einarr nodded at both of them. “As you wish. I wanted to lay the option before you both.”

Eydri snorted. “We’re going to retrieve an ancestral sword from your family barrow, the sword your bride will hold in safekeeping for your heir, on an island your grandfather left for unknown reasons. And you expected me to pass this up? I signed on to follow the Cursebreaker. This is the most interesting thing you’ve done all year.”

Einarr sighed. He wished she hadn’t put it quite so bluntly, but she was right. Given his usually fatal Calling, and the name of the island, a quest that was supposed to be straightforward almost certainly wouldn’t be. “And now that we’ve been cursed to peril,” he said, turning to Jorir. “What of you?”

“Nay, Lord,” the dwarf grumbled. “Take Naudrek, though. He’ll watch your back in my stead.”

“Oh? And what, praytell, conspires to keep you here?”

Jorir gave a wan laugh. “You do. Or, rather, your wedding does. I’ll be surprised if you return much before time: someone has to see to your interests.”

Einarr nodded. It was true: there were few he could trust half so well as Jorir to see it done properly. “Thank you, my friend.”

The dwarf snorted. “Thank me when you come back in one piece.”

“I’m sure I will. But that still leaves the rest of the crew.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Reki said, standing smoothly.

Einarr gave the albino Singer a smile and a nod as she took her morning bread and glided across the Hall to where Stigander sat in a conference very similar to Einarr’s.

“So if Naudrek is acting as Mate, I’ve at least got to give Hrug a chance to come… He’s seemed a bit restless lately, anyway.”

Eydri nodded agreement, and the three fell to discussing who was fresh, and who had reason to stay and to go. All three agreed that Vali should stay: there was no sense stirring up the dead by bringing a ghost into their midst. Likewise Tyr, who was as old as Uncle Gorgny, and Erik, Irding, and Arring. This was not a quest to take berserkers on.


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.