Over the next three weeks, representatives of more clans filtered in to Breidelstein, and during that time Einarr held three more evening saunas with captains who had seen the destruction first-hand. Some of them were spooked. All of them listened with interest to Einarr’s tale of fighting against the demon fleet.

At last, however, the date of the Althing was at hand, and the time for private negotiations was at an end.

The first day was taken up with the reading of the Laws and with the reaffirming – and, in the case of Breidelstein, often the mending – of old alliances. It would be many years before they could fully undo the damage done to the clan by the Weavess’ machinations. Einarr was present with his father for many of these negotiations, but while he managed to make the proper noises in support of his father, mentally he was rehearsing for the next day.

On the second day of the Althing, the representatives of all the gathered clans met to discuss their way forward, given the League’s activities and the destruction being wreaked upon the islands. Einarr sat with the other captains of Breidelstein, listening to the old men debate. His nervousness was rapidly turning to irritation.

Runa, with the Singer’s delegation, smiled at him from across the room. Alfvin, he knew, was with his nurse, so they needn’t worry about the baby disturbing the proceedings.

“It seems to me,” the Jarl of Búdholm was saying, “That all we’re really dealing with is this so-called League, and perhaps some rogue freeboaters who don’t like them infringing on their turf.”

“How many freeboaters do you know with Painters on board?” Bollinn’s voice called out across the crowd.

“Painters get enthralled from time to time. One of them could easily have decided to work his Art for his new master.”

Einarr sighed and pressed his hands to his knees, rising finally to his feet. “Could have, perhaps. But I myself have seen the messages these so-called ‘Painters’ have burned into stone walls. They are written in Runes, and they spew acid against all those who practice seithir. No Imperial Painter educated enough to read runes would inscribe such a thing, or be willing to work his Art for one who believed such things.”

“Oh?” Someone else asked archly. “The Prince of Breidelstein has great wisdom, to know what an Imperial dog will or will not do.”

“Peace, Kjartan,” answered Jarl Hroaldr. “The young Cursebreaker has seen more of the world than any five of us combined. Besides, if Painters are even half so well taught as our own Singers, it would be hard to convince one to declare himself a scourge upon the land.”

“So says his father-in-law, anyway.”

“Peace!” Thane Geirleif of Ulfkirk roared. “The Prince of Breidelstein has the floor.”

Einarr bowed respectfully to the man in the neutral seat. “My thanks, Lord Geirleif. It is true that Jarl Hroaldr is my father-in-law. It is also true that I was on my father’s ship, for all intents and purposes a freeboater myself, since the age of eleven. Then, a decade later, things really got interesting when they told me I was a Cursebreaker.” He let himself smile a little, to show it was meant as levity. “I have traveled the alfen High Roads and braved the Paths of Stone – and even rescued an Imperial princess from a corrupted kraken and its meat puppets. While I may have met a Painter on that quest, I was not aware of doing so. However, it is as Jarl Hroaldr says. The devotees of Malùnion despise the Arts, and make no use of the rune magic – only the letters. Any Painter who fell into their hands would either be slaughtered immediately or sacrificed to their god, in exchange for some measure of his power.”

“I still have seen no evidence–!”

“That this cult even exists, Lord Kjartan? I am glad you have not. I could wish I had not. Nevertheless, it lives – nay, thrives! – in the shadows of our world. The League’s methods are misguided. I might even call them idiotic. But. Their goal is a right one. And, in pursuing it, they have discovered that the Squiddies had not just a presence but a veritable redoubt in the catacombs of Kem.”

“Which was destroyed by the League.” Tore of Hrafnhaugr chimed in.

“Which was destroyed by the League. And which nearly destroyed the League in the process – or its expeditionary force, at least. There was a single survivor. And, thanks to that single survivor, we now know where to go in order to strike at the heart of Malùnion’s worship. With a little luck, working together we can sever this corruption from our world before the rot can infect anyplace else.”

“You speak as though the existence of this so-called cult is certain. Nothing I have heard here suggests anything of the sort, however.” Thane Olaf of Sweindalr objected.

Einarr smirked. “Would you have me tell you of the svartalfr fortress beneath a nameless island near Langavik, what they did to Langavik and what they were going to do to my wife? Of the ships that traveled with monstrosities beneath their decks and storms above their masts? Of the black blood that sickens and corrupts everything it touches? Of the meat-puppets a creature of Malùnion created to serve its will in the warm waters of the Empire? Or would you have me call forth Jorir and Jennora, to tell of what the worshipers of Malùnion did to Nilthiad in svartalfheimr over two hundred years? Do you wish to hear from Bollinn of Kjell what they found at Kliftorp? The cult is very real, my lord, and your own Captain has seen the evidence for himself.”

Annoyed, Thane Olaf glared at Serk, who nodded that yes, he had.

Thane Olaf snorted. “I suppose a quest such as this would be a suitable test for a young Cursebreaker, wouldn’t it?”

Einarr wanted to laugh. According to Runa, for a Cursebreaker he was quite old. That was beside the point, however. “Of course. We, the men of Breidelstein, will sail forth to smash this threat where it hides. I cannot in good conscience allow their depredations to continue. I and my Heidrun will be going, with or without help. If you choose to hide behind your own cowardice, that is no affair of mine. However, there is plenty of glory to go around, and every ship we send is one more arrow aimed at the black heart of Malùnion.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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

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

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

 

The Heidrun ran up the white flag as they approached the freehold Gabriel led them to. Even so, as he waited at the top of the gangplank, while Gabriel approached up the beach, they were greeted by a sturdy older woman wielding a massive axe in one hand and a proper shield in the other. She scowled fiercely at the approaching boat, and Einarr thought she would likely give a good accounting of herself, just on sheer determination.

Then she saw Gabriel and let the axe head drop. “You’re alive? Then, is…?”
Gabriel nodded. “He’s in Breidelstein: they say we can start over there. Kem is gone.”

Relief and fury warred on the woman’s face – relief, he was sure, for the safety of her husband. Fury, he didn’t have to guess at.

“Leave Flatey? Start over? Are you mad?”

“What else are we supposed to do? With Kem gone, we’ve no-one to trade with between here and Breidelstein. No apothecary, no herb witch. One bad winter would kill us all.”

“The lad is right,” Einarr chimed in, still standing on the deck. “It might not even take a bad winter: there are monsters at sea now. Raenshold has men who have fought them before, and a good harbor, and lots of unworked land to boot. I’m afraid the Heidrun isn’t equipped to carry much livestock, but we’ve enough cargo space for anything else you care to bring.”

The woman stood there, staring at both of them, her mouth working soundlessly, for a long time. As the quiet dragged on, the fury faded from her face and her shoulders began to sag.

“You may as well come ashore. We’ll need some time to pack.”


Einarr’s Heidrunings were still gripped with a solemn urgency when they docked once more in Breidelstein. Gabriel’s master waited at the docks for his family – which plainly included Gabriel, no matter what his technical status was. Einarr was pleased that had worked out as well as it had, even with everything else weighing on his mind.

Gorgny also greeted their return at the docks: Einarr was always a little surprised the man was willing to walk down to the port for this sort of thing: he was at least as old as Tyr, and hadn’t spent most of the last twenty years at sea – and that wasn’t accounting for his duties towards Grandfather Raen. Still, if it was Gorgny here and not Father or Kaldr, that meant they were absorbed in other important matters.

Einarr and his commanders disembarked to join him, escorting the former Captain of the League, Thrand, and the seven of them set off at a quick pace for the cliff road. “What’s happened while we’ve been out?” Einarr asked Gorgny.

“I see you’ve returned with another new face, milord?” The old advisor raised an eyebrow.

The meaning was plain. “He’s our captive, but also a refugee. Lone survivor of the massacre of Kem.”

Gorgny nodded. “Representatives have been arriving since not long after you left, milord. I’m sure they are all waiting to learn what you have found out.”

Fair enough. Einarr wasn’t entirely certain how trustworthy Thrand was at this point, either, and that was after traveling with the man. “So long as they allow us enough time to wash the salt off – and maybe for the rest of my crew to finish unloading and do the same. Any other reports of razed settlements?”

“I’m afraid so, milord. The Kjellings ran into one on their way, as did one or two other representatives. The Captain of the Skudbrun seemed particularly disturbed by what he saw.”

“Understandably so. He’s seen it before, too. … Let those who found the massacres know that, should they wish to compare notes, I intend to sweat out the ashes of Kem in the sauna tonight. I would like a chance to speak with them privately. Probably for the best if Father does not attend: I will let him know what I intend.”

“Yes, milord.”

“By that same token, before dinner I will be in my chambers with Runa and Alfvin. We are not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.”

“Of course, milord.”


Einarr sat in the sauna, a towel wrapped about his waist, his elbows on his knees and his eyes closed. He was glad Bollinn was here: that would make matters easier, even accounting for the close ties between their clans. He still didn’t know who the other two were: he hoped he could count on them to see what was necessary.

Einarr heard a rap on the door. “Enter.”

A blast of cool air reminded Einarr of just how hot it was in here: he stood and dipped some water over the coals. When he returned to the bench, Bollinn sat across from him.

“Einarr.”

“Good to see you. How’re the Brunnings holding up?”

Bollinn shrugged. “Langavik wasn’t necessarily worse, but everything that followed was. We’ll hold up just fine.”

Einarr nodded. “Where was it?”

“Kliftorp.”

Einarr blinked. He had to think a long time to remember anything about them. “Hard to make an example out of a tiny place like that, I’d think.”

“Lots of cloth coming out of Kliftorp in the last five or ten years, and a lot of skillful Weavers.”

“Ah.” Now it made sense.

Another rap came on the door, followed by an unfamiliar, although not unpleasant, voice. “We were told we should visit the sauna tonight?”

“Yes. Please, enter, join us.”

The two who entered were built like Einarr’s father, but much closer to his own age, and bore the scars of many battles. One of them had hair almost as red as Einarr’s – and a nose that had been broken more than once. The other was as blond as Stigander and as paunchy as Erik.

“Tore, Captain of the Sterkerbjorn out of Hrafnhaugr,” the redhead introduced himself.

“A pleasure. Not sure I ever had the pleasure of seeing Hrafnhaugr.”

Tore smirked. “Not much reason for a ship of freeboaters to head that way.”

Einarr nodded his acknowledgment, then turned to the man who looked shockingly like a younger version of his father.

“Serk, of the Björtstag. From Sweindalr.”

Bollinn waved silently: evidently, they’d all been here long enough to become acquainted already.

“Good to meet you both, and I’m glad you came. I’m certain you can guess why I called you all here tonight.”

“Oh, aye, that’s not hard to figure.” Tore settled himself on a bench and fixed a level eye at Einarr. “What I want to know is why?”

Serk, too, took a seat on a bench and settled himself leaning against a wall. “I’d like to know that, myself. I’m not sure there’s really much to talk about, is there?”

“A couple years ago, I might have thought the same. Then the worshipers of a dark demigod named Malùnion kidnapped my wife…”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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

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

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

 

One week following the birth of the new Prince Alfvin, Thane Stigander of Raenshold sent out letters to everyone he – or his father – had ever called a friend. The selfsame League that had tried to conscript Einarr on the eve of his wedding was now seeking allies more broadly among the clans, and neither Einarr nor Stigander had any doubts they would be just as ruthless about it. Then, while Breidelstein repaired its warships and sharpened its blades for war, Einarr took his father’s advice to concentrate on his wife and his new son.

At the end of the first month the Skudbrun arrived, with word not only from Jarl Hroaldr but also from his Lord. Feathers were not so ruffled over Runa’s marriage that Thane Thorgnyr would blind himself to the reality over the waves. Another month passed, however, and then a third, with no word from any of the other Clans. The mood in the Hold grew tense.

Then, at last, another boat arrived in Breidelstein harbor – no bigger than the Villgås, and in far worse repair. She was crewed by only a pair of men, who rowed for the docks with an air of desperate relief.

The men were messengers from Kem, and when they were taken up to the Hold with their messages, the mood went from tense to outright grim.

Stigander met them in the main hall. When they were shown in, one of them knelt. The other, with a wild look in his eyes, took an extra step forward. “Milord, please -”

Bardr placed himself between the messenger and his Thane. The messenger stopped where he stood, but kept talking.

“Please, Lord Thane. Help us. Kem is… Kem is…”

“Kem is what?” Bardr demanded.

“Gone, sir.” The other man spoke quietly without raising his head. “The boy and I left our freehold for supplies, only when we arrived… when we arrived, the city was naught but a smoking ruin.”

“If’n you please, milord,” said the younger, more spooked of the two. “Lord Einarr showed me mercy, some years ago when I was nothin’ but a footpad. So we thought…”

Stigander grunted. “I’d been wondering what was happening. But Kem’s an awful long way to sail in a little skiff like that. Where did you resupply?”

“We foraged, milord,” said the older man. “We tried to stop at two or three other cities on our way, but they were all the same.”

Stigander pressed his lips into a line and nodded. “You’ve done well to reach us. Gorgny, see to it that they are fed and bathed, and rewarded appropriately, then find them some place to stay in the city.” He turned back to the two messengers. “I’m afraid things are likely to get worse before they get better. Go, and take what comfort you can in having found a safe harbor.”

As Gorgny led the two bedraggled men from the hall to see to Stigander’s instructions, Stigander motioned a servant forward. “Fetch Einarr, Reki, and Eydri to my study, then ready another messenger for Kjell.”

“Yes, milord.”


Runa had been displeased at being left out of Stigander’s summons, but then Alfvin had woken up and demanded food. She had sighed and waved Einarr out the door. He arrived at his father’s study just ahead of Reki and Eydri, who both mirrored on their faces the concern he felt. He rapped on the door.

Immediately his father’s voice called out. “Come.”

“Father. You called?”

Stigander looked up from the table and laid his quill down. “Good. You’re all here. Come in, shut the door.”

Reki looked up as she pulled the door to behind her. “Something has happened, then.”

“We’ve just had messengers from Kem. Or, rather, refugees. You remember Langavik?”

It took Einarr a moment to place the name, but when he did he shuddered. Eydri looked blank, of course: of the three, she was the only one who hadn’t seen it.

Reki drew her brows down. “There’s been another massacre?”

“Several, from the sound of things, on the route between Kem and here.” He sighed. “I’ve only just heard of this today, mind, so all I can do is speculate, but…”

Einarr knew exactly what his father was thinking: he thought it, too. “You’re thinking it’s the League.”

“Aye, I am.”

“But Langavik was destroyed by an enclave of the cultists.” Reki’s protest was obligatory, but weak.

Stigander nodded in acknowledgment of the point. “True enough, and the League’s purpose is ostensibly to fight against the cult. However…”

“However,” Einarr cut in. “We know that they are more than willing to resort to underhanded tactics, and we do not have any clear idea how they marshaled support for their League in the first place. Most places you go, after all, are unaware of and untouched by the Squiddies.” The League had tried to enthrall Einarr and his entire crew on their way back from Thorndjupr. If they applied force like that on a larger scale, it could easily turn horrific.

“My thoughts exactly. I’m sending word to Hroaldr and Thorgnyr so that our fleets can join together.”

“But we lack information.” Einarr frowned, pondering. “We could go to Kem – perhaps even should go to Kem – but if we send a fleet and find nothing then we’ve wasted time and supplies that would be better spent elsewhere.”

“Exactly.”

Einarr looked up. “I’ll take the Heidrun, and the messengers if they’re willing to return. Eydri, are you up for this?”

His Singer nodded eagerly: she had seemed dissatisfied ever since the wedding, and Einarr couldn’t even really fault her for that. When she’d signed on with him, after all, it was with the reasonable expectation of excitement.

Stigander grunted. “Good. My thought exactly. Choose your crew carefully, and remember a pigeon roost.”

“I will, Father.” Now he just had to explain to Runa what was going to happen. “Might I suggest sending Kaldr and Thjofgrir out towards Blávík? We know the League held that land only two years ago: if we can get someone on the ground there, it might answer a lot of questions.”

“A good plan. Not Kaldr, though: he’s got a cool head and a keen mind, but I’m not sending anyone in without a Singer to hand at least. …Sivid, I think, and his own ship if he succeeds.”

Sivid? As Captain? Einarr blinked and stifled a laugh. He wasn’t certain if he envied or pitied the man’s new crew. Reki, though, nodded in approval. “A solid choice. With your leave, Stigander, I will travel with Sivid for this expedition. He will need a Singer, and I would like to see the situation for myself.”

“Very well. Good fortune to you all. I look forward to your return.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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

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

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

 

Author’s Note: This marks the end of Book 13. Book 14 will begin on 12/7/2021.

When the Villgås finally returned to Breidelstein harbor, almost six months after its departure, they were met by a cheering mass of people on the docks – including, this time, Stigander himself. Einarr and Runa stood on the deck as the other four men took them to their berth. When their hull tapped the dock, Einarr hopped across himself to lash their boat fast even as Thjofgrir and Jorir put the gangplank in place.

Einarr kissed his father’s hands, and then moved to the gangplank to help the women down.

First was Runa, and everyone cheered a little louder when she made her appearance on the plank. Her swollen belly was plain for all to see, and while it had caused them some difficulty on the water no-one really minded: there would be, in very short order, an heir for the Prince, and that would be as much cause for celebration in the town as their return itself.

After Runa came Jennora – also with child, as it happened. Brandir had been serious about sending his sister as Jorir’s wife, and the two had been married during the farewell feast itself. It was highly irregular, even among dvergr so far as Einarr knew, but they both seemed happy. The crowd was less certain what to think about the svartdvergr woman, but when she was joined on the plank by Jorir and she took his arm their uncertainty seemed to vanish.

They were followed swiftly by the Singer the Matrons had sent to keep an eye on Runa and her babe – as well as the rest of the crew. They had all, save Jennora, been exposed to a great deal of the black blood, after all, and the effects of its corruption could be insidious.

She also carried Vali’s jar. When the Matrons had asked for volunteers among their healers, it had been curiosity about the strange spirit that had prodded her to join them.

Eydri and Reki were there as well – Eydri looking eager, and Reki under the shade of her cloak with her usual calm demeanor. The crowd continued to cheer as Kaldr and Naudrek and Thjofgrir descended, but Stigander had claimed Einarr’s attention.

“By the gods, when did this happen?” He gestured at Runa’s belly. “Surely you didn’t -”

Einarr shook his head. “No. We had no idea until it was too late. But, according to the Matrons, all is well even after everything we went through down there. …Think you’re ready to be a grandfather?”

Stigander laughed. “More than! And let’s see, I see Jorir has returned to us as well. You’ll have to introduce me properly to his new wife… but we seem to be missing someone. Could Vali not stand the idea of a crowd?”

“That’s complicated, I’m afraid, and something best spoken of in a rather more private setting.”

“Of course, of course.” They started walking up the road towards the cliff and the Hold. “Did you have any trouble with the League?”


Two weeks after the Villgås returned to port, the winter ice hit and the bay froze over completely – they had to stop the occasional intrepid youth from trekking out on snowshoes to taunt the bones of the Weavess, it was frozen so hard.

For three months, Breidelstein was in the grip of a fierce winter, and for three months it seemed like every woman in the Hold was constantly occupied with needle and thread.

Then, on a very wet night just as the grip of the cold was beginning to break, and as snowdrops were beginning to peek out from under the thick blanket of snow, Einarr was summoned by a maidservant to Runa’s side: it was time.

Einarr raced through the Hold to get there. He arrived just in time to hear the angry wail of a newborn and see his wife’s exhausted smile. Then the midwife was holding the baby out for him to take, and the little one commanded all his attention.

“…It’s a boy?” He couldn’t guess why, but he was whispering.

Runa nodded. Einarr laughed, then noticed that his son – my son! – was shivering. Quickly, he handed him to his wife.

“How do you feel about Alfvin for a name?”

She smirked at him as she took the babe and held him to her breast. “What, so you can tweak Ystävä’s nose?”

Einarr chuckled: the thought honestly hadn’t crossed his mind, although now that she mentioned it he was tempted. “No, because of the Oracle’s price.”

She frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

“When she named me Cursebreaker, she also read my weave. For payment… she wanted my firstborn to come and study under her, since my own education was so ‘lacking.’”

“What?!”

“Not until he’s eight! We were still drifters, then: it seemed like a good opportunity.”

Runa sighed and shook her head. “I don’t have the energy to debate that now.” She smiled down at the little reddish infant snuggled against her. “Alfvin is a fine name. Between the Oracle, and Ystävä, and Melja, it’s certainly got the ring of truth to it.”

That night, Einarr was left alone to spend time with his new family.

Three weeks later, the League sent out a proclamation.

“To all the Men of the North! We, the League of Free Men, call upon our fellows in the North to join us in battle against the heretical cult responsible for sacking our cities, kidnapping our women, and corrupting our men!” Einarr read. “Representatives of our order will be arriving soon. In these desperate times, we must all band together, or one by one we will find ourselves devoured by the monstrosities of the Squid worshipers. For the sake of all we hold dear, it is time we clans of the North band together under one banner to stamp out this threat.”

Einarr looked up from the paper at his father and Kaldr, incredulous. “Surely we don’t intend to stand for this?”

His father rumbled. “No, not at all.”

“Something about that League has rubbed me the wrong way since we met them,” Einarr grumbled. “Have you contacted any of the other clans?”

“Only Hroaldr’s thus far.” Even as he spoke, Stigander was pulling out fresh paper. “But in order to counter this, we’re going to need some organization of our own.”

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.

 

No matter what else he wanted to say about them, the svartdvergr knew how to throw a party.

One of the mead halls in the city had opened its doors to the Smiths and their allies, and by the time Einarr arrived with his crew it was already full to bursting and raucous with celebration. He shared a grin with Jorir, who once again stood at his side, and they crossed the threshold into the waiting feast.

He was swiftly escorted up to the bar at the head of the room by one of the dvergr already inside, and Jorir and Runa were not far behind. A cheer went up as they were thrust into the seats of honor at the head of the table. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew what was going on, but as he opened his mouth to confirm it he got his answer.

Someone in the crowd rang a knife against one of the silver goblets Einarr could see floating through the room.

A moment later, Gheldram hopped up on the bar – evidently the source of the ringing.

“Almost two hundred years ago, Jorir the Smith was exiled – but his exile served a purpose,” he said, and as he spoke the crowd fell silent. “We, his friends among the Smiths, tasked him to find help. Well, a little over three months ago, he finally returned, and in his wake came the promised help – the human Cursebreaker, to whom Jorir has pledged his life, and some of his most trusted allies. Tomorrow, we must say farewell to their illustrious crew – but tonight, we toast their success!”

A deafening cheer went up around the Hall, and every cup was lifted with it – even Runa’s, although she grimaced as she moved it to her lips and smelled the purifying tea that she was now drinking almost exclusively. Einarr had tasted the stuff, as well: he really couldn’t fault her reaction. On the other hand, they had the babe to think of.

When the revelers had finished their drink, they turned expectant eyes on the three who stood awkwardly at the front of the Hall.

Einarr sighed. It was his turn now, apparently. “My friends! I’m afraid we all got off to a bit of a rough start, but since the battle on the Mount I have found no fault with dvergr hospitality! Alas, it is past time we returned home to Breidelstein: there are many matters which require our attention, and I fear we cannot proceed directly there. And so, on our last night here, I thank you on behalf of all of us for your hospitality and your courage – and I regret to inform you all that, after some little discussion, my good man Jorir will be returning to the surface world with us.”

There were, from around the room, scattered noises of disappointment.

Jorir raised his glass in the air, catching everyone’s attention. “None of that now, you hear? When I first swore to the Cursebreaker, I marveled at my own words, but he has come to earn every one, and then some. I may, someday, return to Myrkheimr and Nilthiad, but if I do it will be because my Lord and his Lady have long since departed. It has been… good to be back, but although we have reclaimed it from the clutches of the Squiddies, and I look forward to the return of Nilthiad’s glory, my place is above.”

This pronouncement was met with a rather mixed reaction: some jeered, jokingly, others laughed, others still sounded disappointed.

That was when Brandir came forward, out of the crowd, leading a female dvergr Einarr did not recognize. She looked bashful, but not timid, and based on the expression on Brandir’s face Einarr wondered how much of this was his idea.

Brandir cleared his throat and gave a sidelong look to the woman. “After… much discussion, my darling sister has convinced me it would not be good to allow you to leave alone, as though you were once again an exile in disgrace. And she has graciously put herself forward, if you will have her, to be your companion and your wife.”

Jorir looked completely poleaxed – as well he might. And Einarr had thought Runa forward at times! Still, he laughed and clapped his liegeman on the shoulder.

Jorir recovered himself and shot a look, half of shock, half of outrage, at his friend. “I… am not opposed, in principle.” He cleared his throat and glanced at the rest of the room. “But perhaps in front of the crowd is not the best place to discuss this?”

The three dvergr went off together back into the crowd, and Einarr turned around to smile at his chuckling wife. “Think there’s enough room on the Villgås for two more people?”

“I think we’ll manage.”


Einarr and the rest of his crew met at the Nilthiad entrance to the Paths of Stone at dvergr dawn the next day, feeling only a little hungover from their revelries the night before. Runa once again carried Vali’s jar. Idly, Einarr wondered if he might have woken up again had someone thought to bring him to the battle on the Mount. There was, of course, no real way to know at this point… and even if he had, there was a lingering question of whether or not he would still be himself. At least they shouldn’t find themselves in need of a scout on their return journey, and they could ask the Matrons when they stopped what to do about their ghostly companion.

Unlike the previous night’s feast, there was not a great crowd to see them off, which suited all of their number well enough. Jorir was the last to arrive, with the rather pretty (even by human standards) Jennora in tow. “Are we all set?” He asked, a bit gruffly.

“You know your way through the Paths, right? I’d really rather not fight my way back up them if that’s all the same to you.”

Jennora looked amused. Jorir harrumphed. “Do I know the way? Of course I do. So does Jennora, should it come to that. If that’s all we’re waiting on, we should get going. Even without all the booby traps, it’s a long hike up.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

Please note, we are drawing close to the end of book 13. There’s one, or perhaps as many as 2, more chapters, and then we will be entering our usual month-long break. We are also nearing the end of the series: I expect there to be one, or perhaps two, books dealing with the cult and the League up above.

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 knelt, his eyes half-lidded, his weight supported by Sinmora’s blade standing upright in the ground of Myrkheimr, panting. He no longer heard the sounds of battle, and the smell of charred squid had replaced the smell of seawater. Therefore, they must have won. Runa’s plan must have worked, or he was certain they would all be dead now. Only, somehow he couldn’t muster up the energy to care – or even open his eyes.

He had been at the limits of his magical ability when Runa had launched the plan – Song Magic could mask fatigue, but it could not create reserves where none remained. Which meant that he owed sacrifices to the gods, which meant he had a pressing need to procure livestock.

Pressing, but not so pressing that he had to move just yet. Which was good.

The moment he had felt the ritual being snatched away from him, he thought sure he would be snatched away with it. Instead, he was allowed to ride the flood, and now he felt as drained – and exhilarated – as though he had taken a fishing boat down a waterfall.

He opened his eyes. Runa and Jorir stood in front of him, peering at his face with no small level of concern. They were flanked by his crew and some of the other dvergr – but someone was definitely missing. Einarr offered Runa and Jorir a wan smile, but then found himself counting the faces before him.

“Brandir. Gheldram. Naudrek. Jorir. Runa. Kaldr. Thjofgrir… What happened to Mornik?”

Gheldram shook his head sadly and pointed off towards the edge of the charred circle that still contained the lifeless husk of the demon. A small form lay huddled there, on a much wetter patch of ground.

Einarr sighed and pushed to his feet. His legs trembled under him, and his first step was a stumble. Somehow, though, he made it across the empty field between where he had weathered the storm and where Mornik lay, visibly trembling and clutching his middle.

Einarr dropped to the ground beside the slender dvergr’s head, glad he had managed to reach Mornik before his legs gave out. It was plain, though, that it was too late for Mornik. His skin was as ashen as any of the cultist’s, and black blood streamed down from the corners of his mouth and from his eyes and nostrils.

Gently, Einarr rolled the dvergr over onto his back. Mornik’s eyes were glazed, and he panted against the pain of the transformation in his body.

“Did we… win?” He managed to ask.

Jorir came up beside Einarr and nodded. “We did,” he added.

The corners of Mornik’s mouth curled up into a rictus. “Good.” He coughed, and more of the black blood dribbled out of his mouth. He met Jorir’s eyes directly now and breathed one more unmistakable word. “Please…”

Jorir nodded again, once, slowly. Then he turned to look at Einarr. “My Lord – everyone – please stand back.”

It was, Einarr knew, the only way. But the fact that Mornik retained enough of his mind to ask for death would make it more difficult for Jorir, not less. “Of course.”

With great difficulty, Einarr found his feet again and half-staggered back several paces. “Runa, if you would?”

Runa took one more look at the face of the dvergr on the ground and blanched. She saw it, too. She nodded and opened her mouth to Sing once more: this time, the funereal air Einarr had last heard from her when they buried Astrid, what felt like an eternity ago.

The six of them turned, and the men all offered a respectful salute to their fallen ally. Einarr felt no small pang of guilt: if he had waited to put their plan into motion… But no. That was foolishness, and all that would have accomplished was making their enemy stronger.

Jorir drew one of the knives from Mornik’s braces and raised it high overhead. “Farewell, my friend,” he said, and plunged the knife down.

In the moment before the killing blow fell, Mornik’s eyes closed, and his mouth relaxed into what was almost a smile, as though if he had to die, he was pleased to die as himself. The body jerked a little as Jorir drove the blade home.

Einarr watched as Jorir calmly removed the glove from that hand and dropped it on the body, then turned and walked back toward them. Einarr did not miss, though, that he never looked up.

As Jorir crossed their line of vigil,  Einarr came to a decision. “Tonight, we will feast our victory and toast the fallen. Tomorrow we will take stock, of what was lost and what remains, and on the third day we will thank the gods.” Then a thought occurred to him and he turned to Brandir. “There… are still priests of the real gods here, aren’t there?”

That broke the tension. Brandir chuckled as he answered in the affirmative, and the seven of them all limped away from the field of battle, Einarr leaning heavily on his liege man’s shoulder.


The Thane’s body was never found. On the other hand, on the top of the standing stone where the high priest of the mad cult had stood, there was a black smear that suggested he had been wiped away in the same torrent of magic that had finally ended the demon beast. It wasn’t proof, but it was sufficient for the dvergr of Nilthiad to convene a Thing and appoint a new Thane.

They went back, while they were taking stock, to examine the husk of the demon beast – Runa thought it might, in some way, be related to the Imperial god Phorcys. It was thoroughly blackened, but rather than char, which would have a tendency to smudge or crumble at a touch, it seemed to have been turned to stone somehow. Not that anyone could explain how, save by Einarr’s strange experience when the circle was active. It was, they thought, yet one more reason to give thanks to the gods: char would spread, and there was no way to know if it would have been cleansed of its corruption.

Finally, after a full week working with the surviving dvergr of Nilthiad, it was time to go. The summer wore on, and even with Jorir’s help it would take them most of a month to reach Breidelstein again – and Runa was already beginning to show. The dvergr, however, were not about to let them go without a proper sendoff: Brandir arranged for another, smaller, feast for the next night, and despite Einarr’s restless feet they were obliged to attend.

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.

 

To say that Einarr was surprised when an arrow stuck in the ground by his boot was putting it mildly: none of the dvergr, thus far, had come so close to striking an ally. Then he noticed the strip of linen tied just ahead of the fletching. He looked up: Runa, he saw, was hurrying between two sets of standing stones, even though her Song had not slackened. Einarr smiled: at some point in the last year, Runa had toughened up.

The shadow of a claw fell over his eyes. Einarr grabbed the arrow and rolled out of the way. Once he was outside the monstrosity’s reach he untied the cloth. On it, hastily scrawled in charcoal, was a simple runic circle. At several points around that circle, she had drawn crude arrows. It was an ambitious idea, but the dvergr were good enough shots it just might work.

Einarr dashed back into the fray, deliberately brushing past Kaldr to pass him the crude plan Runa had drawn up. At the same time, he called out, “Jorir! On me!”

His liege-man obeyed with alacrity, and if the new movements of the “puny” humans caused the demon any concern at all, they could not tell. Certainly, it did not seem to slacken its onslaught.

As Naudrek slipped in to face it head-on, a pair of knives flew through the air to plant themselves in its chest. One tentacle moved to brush them away, much as one might swat at a biting fly.

Please let Runa be right.


Runa stood panting, her hands on her knees after she had jogged a lap around the outside of the sacrificial field. It was probably no worse than anything she had done through the paths of stone, but she felt as though the little one was less happy about it – perhaps that was simply an increased awareness on her part. At any rate, it was done, and she watched with pleasure as the archers placed their arrows with precision to rival any human sharpshooter.

Down below, Einarr seemed to have gotten the right idea as well. Which meant that she needed to get her breath back: they were going to have need of her Song again, and rather rapidly.

Only now was the demon beginning to discover the trap it had allowed to be drawn around it. Runa only hoped her understanding of the runes was correct enough.

Einarr, if he could ever bring himself to admit it, had a better understanding of the runes than she ever would – but he was, first and foremost, a warrior, not a sorcerer. He simply didn’t put much thought into this power that he had gone to so much trouble to learn. But that was okay; she could be creative enough for both of them.

She straightened, taking a deep breath. It looked like they were just about ready, down below, and at the moment Einarr activated that circle they were all going to need all the strength they could get.

She began to Sing.


Just as Einarr was plunging Sinmora into the sea-soaked ground to form the final rune in the circle he heard Runa’s voice once again lifted in Song. That meant that not only was she ready, so was the outer ring of the circle. Grimly, he stabbed down at the earth one final time, closing the merkstave Bjarkan.

Runa’s inscription was simple. Hrug would probably tell them it was crude. Melja would probably outline all the ways it could go wrong. Einarr, in the moment, was aware of this, but it did not matter. If it worked – and he thought it would – it would strike the water pouring through the rift with a lightning bolt while binding everything within the circle to the mass of seawater behind the tear.
“Listen up, you overgrown lobster,” Einarr bellowed, as much to warn his allies as to taunt the thing. “You’re no god, and I’m nobody’s food.”

Then, his feet firmly outside the circle of arrows, he closed his eyes and poured his will into the inscription they had just created together.

They were, at that moment, in the favor of the gods. Einarr felt the power surging through him and into the ground at his feet: it was almost frighteningly strong, as though he were not the one – or perhaps merely the only one – feeding in his will. He sprang further back, certain that, even as he was the catalyst for the working, he could be caught up in it as well.

The water that poured forth from the rift seemed to freeze in place. There was no crackle-boom of a lightning strike. Instead, the water and the soaked ground beneath the demon began to steam, and then to bubble, and then, finally, to glow as though with the light of the sun.

Sol. Of course.

The demon looked about itself in panic, as the full extent of the strange mortal magic its playthings had been working became known to it. But, too late. As it struck out, trying to grab at anything within reach, its crab-like claws rebounded again and again off an invisible barrier.

Now came the moment of truth, and the one thing Einarr had been least sure of: would the binding return them all to whichever hellish domain birthed them, or would it bind open the tear in reality that the cadaverous priest had created?

The demon was convulsing now, as though pinned by Mjolnir itself. Einarr held his breath, watching and praying as only rarely he did. If this did not work, not only was Breidelstein doomed – since its future would fall here, in one single blow – but Nilthiad and perhaps all of Myrkheimr would join the domain of the monstrosity before them.

Slowly, the water that hung still in space between the rift and the ground began to flow backward, into the tear. The light seemed to travel into that other realm, as well, and Einarr caught glimpses of tails and backs, as the denizens of that realm fled the power of the sun.

The demon before them was not so fortunate. Its crimson skin slowly shriveled and blackened under the influence of , until all that was left was the mummified body of some creature that should not exist.

The tear in the sky slowly knit itself back together, and as the magic faded the silence over the Holy Mount of the Temple of Malùnion was deafening. The surviving dvergr stared about, looking from one to another of their number, stunned.

Further in, near the epicenter of the destruction, Einarr the Cursebreaker dropped to his knees.

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.

 

Runa had intended to stay away – she really had. Only, a couple hours after they left, a feeling of impending doom had fallen over her shoulders that she could not shake.

It had been simple to sneak out. The proprietress had many customers, and as she was assisting one group Runa had tossed a shawl over her arms and slipped out into the streets.

Similarly, finding the place had been easy. They had told her where they were going, after all, and she remembered well enough the path they had taken back from the Mount.

The trouble came when she was nearing the Mount itself. First there were the swarms of dvergr milling about on the streets – and while their complexions looked normal, that was no guarantee they were trustworthy – or even not hostile. As she was wondering how best to slip past them all, however, she heard the sounds of battle from further up the mountainside.

Suddenly the streets around the Mount were empty, and the swarms of dvergr split. Most of them charged uphill, plainly Jorir’s allies. The others scattered into the city. Runa left them to their own devices and started winding her way up the mountain, towards her husband and whatever doom it was that awaited him if she couldn’t make it in time.

Runa was about halfway up the back side of the Mount when the tone of the battle above changed. She heard screams – more than one ordinarily expected from a battle – and the light of Myrkheimr’s already-dim sun darkened. Her feeling of foreboding grew deeper, but she was already short of breath as she climbed. The little one was unlikely to let her move any faster, even as tiny as he still was.

She rested a hand on her still-slender stomach momentarily. Just a little farther. We have to go.

Runa was not looking forward to explaining this to Einarr – but that was better than not being able to. She didn’t even really know what it was that she was going to have to do – just that if she didn’t get up there, something terrible was going to happen.

Finally, she made it to the meadow ringed by standing stones and pressed her back against one while she caught her breath. She hadn’t noticed what was happening inside the circle – but first things first. She had to be able to breathe, and breathe calmly, if she wanted to understand her role properly.

Finally, her nerves as steeled as she could make them, Runa turned to look around the pillar hiding her from view.

The meadow was set up as a sort of bowl, with the standing stones set considerably higher than the benches and altar below. Those benches had been overturned, and all the dvergr below seemed to be on the right side. They were fighting transformed cultists and a creature she had trouble even comprehending.

Its skin was crimson. From the waist down, it was a spiny fish, and from the waist up it had the rubbery skin she had come to associate with the abominations of Malùnion on a vaguely humanoid chest. There were too many arms, though, and they were really more akin to tentacles – except they ended in crab-like claws – and the eyeless head looked as though someone had set a squid on its shoulders. Oddly, this did not set off a round of nausea – probably, she thought, because she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing.

In the sky above it was a tear, from which poured seawater at an alarming rate. Glowing eyes blinked out from behind the tear: she shuddered to think what might be lurking on the other side, just waiting for a chance to come through.

That was when lightning crackled down out of a clear sky to strike the demon dominating the field. Perhaps her premonition had been wrong: perhaps they could handle this after all. Whatever was about to happen, she could afford to sit and observe for a time.

Puny humans. You have freed me. I will reward you by letting you feed my ascension.

What was that? Something had changed, and plainly she had missed it, but she couldn’t for the life of her tell what it was.

The men were flagging, though. Even from this distance she could tell that the forces assaulting the demon were almost at the end of their strength, whereas their enemy appeared to have healed itself somehow. That she knew how to help with.

Runa straightened up and squared her shoulders, filling her lungs as deeply as she could: even up here the air smelled of smoke and blood and seawater. Then, she began to Sing, willing the strength of her voice to bring renewal and refreshment to her friends down below. I’m sorry, my love. I could not stay away: you needed me.

She knew the exact moment he realized she was there without even looking. She sang louder, her voice carrying across the amphitheater to reach her friends down below and the brave dvergr still scattered about the standing stones, tossing arrows at the monstrosity.

The arrows themselves didn’t seem to be having much of an effect, but as she watched an idea occurred to her. She darted from pillar to pillar, trying to avoid the abomination’s attention without dropping her Song. There was an archer not that far from where she had been hiding: if she could use him to send a message to Einarr, she thought they might have a chance. As she moved, she tore a scrap of cloth from her sleeve and a bit of charcoal from the amulet bag slung around her neck.

A dvergr archer stood just on the other side of the pillar from her now. She put the large plinth of stone between herself and the demon and paused to scrawl her message on the cloth. She laid a hand on the archer’s shoulder and he jumped. “Can you get this to the one in golden maille?”

The startled dvergr looked at the scrap of cloth in her hand a long moment, seemingly uncomprehending. Just when she was about to ask again, he nodded. “I can, Lady. But I can’t get the same message to the others.”

“You leave that to me.”

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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.

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

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

 

Jorir and Thjofgrir both cursed, one from either side of where Einarr stood, now soaking wet with seawater. Hacking this thing to bits was evidently not the way to banish it back to the other side of that rift. Only, Einarr was the only sorcerer they had, and he was well aware of his fast-approaching limits.

There was only one thing to be done, though. “Keep going! Just try not to cut any more bits off. Something’s bound to change if we take out the priest!”

The priest had never looked terribly healthy to Einarr, although he knew that the faithful of Malùnion often had greater stamina than their appearance would otherwise suggest. Still, one spindly old dvergr man? He couldn’t have that much strength remaining to him – could he?

Einarr took two steps back and pushed his will into Sol again, drawing another, larger lightning bolt to strike the abomination. He thought he heard sizzling this time, and the creature reeled.

“Einarr!” Thjofgrir called. “Can you do that again?”

“Once or twice.” Einarr kept his eyes glued to their foe.

“Great! On my word, give it another one!”

Einarr smirked. Technically, Thjofgrir had no right to order him around – but the battlefield was hardly the place for the shouting of plans. “Ready when you are!”

Einarr’s attention was once again consumed by the battle before them, as the demon fended off their blows and struck out all at once. For several minutes, Einarr was occupied primarily with dodging and striking. It lashed its tail back and forth furiously – putting Einarr, strangely, in mind of a horse trying to buck an unwanted rider.

Einarr became certain he knew what Thjofgrir’s plan was when not just the fish tail but also the humanoid back of the demon began to writhe. It arched and twisted, as though something were crawling on its back.

When Thjofgrir shouted “Now!” Einarr was ready. But it was at that moment Einarr realized the flaw in Thjofgrir’s plan. If he called down the lightning now it would strike Thjofgrir as well as the demon before them. But, he thought there was another way to make it work.

Rather than striking the crimson beast before them, Einarr called down his lightning upon Thjofgrir’s blade. The hilt wrapping should protect Thjofgrir, but the demon beast would have no such guard. The lightning struck home as Thjofgrir’s blade plunged into the creature’s neck.

If he was startled by the change in plan he had no time to show it before black blood welled around the new wound and twin screams echoed over the battlefield once more.

Einarr looked up towards the top of the standing stone where he knew the priest and the thane both stood. It could have been his imagination, but he thought he saw a single flailing arm and a spurt of blood. Could have been, but he didn’t think it was. Thjofgrir leaped to the ground from where he had stood on the demon’s shoulder, and blood still flowed from the wound he had made. Not quickly, but enough to prove that he had not been fully healed by the last of the priest’s life.

A thrashing in his peripheral vision brought Einarr back to the moment. The severed tentacle was in the process of growing what looked like a chest, and it had writhed far closer than Einarr was comfortable with. He brought Sinmora down hard on the half-formed chest and the thing stopped moving – at least for now.

“Now! Before it can recover!” Einarr dashed in close to its scaly body and hacked at it with Sinmora. If it wasn’t recovering any longer, all they had to do was endure long enough to bring it down. A tree can be felled by a skinning knife, after all, if the wielder is stubborn enough.

A low rumble issued from the monstrosity’s chest, and Einarr could not tell if it was a growl of annoyance or of amusement. What could possibly be amusing, though?

The abomination twisted around in a circle, sweeping its full-size claw along the ground and scooping up the bodies of the fallen – friend and foe alike. Then it threw its head back and poured the corpses down its gullet.

As it swallowed, Einarr saw its wounds begin to heal once again. Then it threw its arms down and its shoulders moved up and down to the pulsation of its roar.

That almost had to be laughter. Einarr slashed at its belly again, wracking his brain to try and figure out what the thing could find so funny.

Puny humans. You have freed me. I will reward you by letting you feed my ascension. The voice reverberated in Einarr’s mind. He was reasonably certain the others heard it, as well.

Oh. That would certainly be a reason to laugh, Einarr supposed. He wished, momentarily, that he had Hrug or Eydri along – either of them, he would have been willing to risk at this fight, where he could not have risked Runa. And either of them would have brought knowledge and firepower that they desperately needed. Their strength was nearly spent, and yet their foe…

A wordless melody carried over the field of battle and Einarr felt his strength returning to him. The melody seemed familiar: were there Singers among the dvergr, too?

There almost have to be, he told himself.

The giant crimson man-fish didn’t seem to care about the sudden music: it struck down with one massive claw at Kaldr, who rolled expertly out of the way.

Jorir, behind him, had a look of annoyed relief on his face as he buried his axe in its stomach once more. Then the tune shifted and all became clear to Einarr once more.

Out from behind one of the standing stones, well out of reach of the altar or the abomination, stepped the figure of a human woman with hair the color of spun flax. Einarr’s mouth went dry and now panic rose in his gorge. She knew why she had to stay away – had even agreed to it. And now, if Einarr didn’t finish this creature quickly (and bloodlessly!) he risked not only himself and his wife, but also the future of Breidelstein!

So what was Runa doing here?

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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.

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.

 

Movement caught Einarr’s eye from down below. Something was headed his way, and it bore only a vague resemblance to a man. It wasn’t going to make it in time to keep him from testing his stone, though.

He gripped the carved bit of shale and willed lightning to strike the two figures standing atop the standing stone.

Sure enough, lightning crackled down out of the clear sky. But, at the last moment, it arced away, and the crimson flesh of the monstrosity glowed and steamed. It hissed and turned its eyeless head to look directly at Einarr.

That… could have gone better. With a shrug, Einarr shoved the shale back into his pouch and gripped Sinmora’s hilt in both hands. If the only way to end this fight was to end the monstrosity on the ground, then he supposed that was what he would have to do.

The smaller abomination was close enough now that he could see nauseatingly familiar details: whatever the corruption turned people into, it seemed to have no particular need for a head. Once again, there were tentacles sprouting out of its neck, and even the fingers that gripped its axe haft looked black and rubbery and boneless.

This was going to be a slaughter – and this time, there would be no Örlögnir to claim to save them all. Thank the gods Runa isn’t here.

He charged the approaching abomination and chopped down into what was once a shoulder. The bonelessness was real: his blade sheared through flesh and muscle with no real resistance. Now on the ground before him were two halves of what had once been a dvergr, twitching but apparently out of the fight. Einarr vaulted over the remains without slowing. His test had taken him out of the melee, which could easily turn into a costly mistake.

As he approached he discovered that it wasn’t just steam radiating off the beast’s body: he could smell charred flesh, although he could not see any. Had even that wound on the monster, absorbed on behalf of its master, rebounded on the priest?

He was just outside the creature’s reach when a thought occurred to him. Why should he keep his runestones in his pouch? He could use them at need if he simply tucked them into the wrapping about his wrists. Abruptly he sprang back. Taking cover for a moment, he tucked ᛉ and ᛊ into the bindings around his right wrist.

He was about to add ᚨ when something large and heavy crashed into the bench he sheltered behind. He threw himself out of the way, clutching the mouth of his pouch closed with one hand while the other kept its hold on Sinmora.

The bench shattered. Chunks of stone flew in all directions, some large enough to crack skulls. Einarr felt two of the smaller ones bounce off the back of his maille – that was going to leave a bruise. In one swift motion, he tied his pouch closed again.

One of the giant red claws was pulling back from where it had landed. A shadow flew across the ground, about the same size as the withdrawing claw. Einarr dived again, coming out on the other side of the shadow. Once again the creature narrowly missed him.

Einarr threw his will into holding up an Yr shield even as he raced in towards the gigantic red tail on the sodden ground. The smell of salt and rotting fish assailed his nose.

More tentacles beat at him as he ran, but bounced harmlessly off the shield. The more he was hit, however, the harder he found it to focus on the shield.

When Einarr was within ten paces of the crimson horror, he let his Yr shield drop and instead willed the Sol stone to life. This time, however, he didn’t bother targeting the priest. Once again lightning crackled, and the creature hissed under the onslaught.

Einarr had almost managed to tune out the priest’s shrieks as its pet stole its vitality. That one, however, echoed across the field. Einarr wasn’t certain what would happen when the monster finished devouring its master’s life, but he was certain they would find out soon.

The plate-sized scales on its fish-like tail flared after the lightning had faded. Einarr was just in range: he lunged forward and thrust Sinmora into the exposed flesh. From the corner of his eye, it looked like the others had taken advantage of the exposure, as well. Black blood spurted out towards them and muddied the water at their feet.

A crab-clawed tentacle struck down towards Einarr’s position. Before he could react, Jorir had launched himself into the air. With an aerial somersault that Einarr honestly envied, Jorir brought the blade of his axe down on the tentacle.

The writhing arm was sheared in two. The half that was still attached to the monster flailed about in midair, spraying blood everywhere, while the other half dropped, headed right for Einarr’s head.

There was nowhere to dodge. Mentally, he was beginning to feel drained, but there was no other way. He threw his arms up over his head and willed the Yr shield back to life.

The still-writhing severed claw impacted the shield and slid down, smearing the shield with the corrupted blood and obscuring Einarr’s vision.

That blood was going to be troublesome… but maybe not as bad as it could have been. The ground at his feet was soft and wet, after all. Einarr got down on one knee and traced another rune – Lögr.

Perhaps it was a measure of his fatigue, or perhaps it was because he stood right next to an abomination from the deeps, but that didn’t quite have the effect he expected. He had wanted to sluice off the top of his shield, so he could drop it without worry. Instead, he called forth a gout of water from the rift that still hovered in midair, blasting off not only his shield but also hitting the monster itself with enough strength to push it back.

As the water pressure fell, Einarr shrugged and let his shield drop as well. That was unexpected, but helpful at least.

Only, the creature’s tentacled arm seemed to have grown back. Worse, the claw which had been lopped off seemed to be trying to grow a new body, like some bizarre relative of a starfish.

Well, Hel. Now what?

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