The sound of a great bell reverberated around the temple of Malùnion, loud enough that Einarr would have covered his ears if he hadn’t been holding on to Sinmora’s hilt for dear life.

Einarr had no idea what this was going to do, but he already knew Sinmora was not going to devour the working on the ground: the vines still bound Malùnion’s meat-puppet after all.

The vines beneath Einarr’s feet bucked wildly as their captive reeled. Sinmora had done something, anyway: the dark blood that slicked her blade as Einarr pulled it free no longer hissed and steamed, and the meat-puppet’s struggles had much of the wounded beast about them. Once more he fell to, hacking at the octopus arm in front of him, Sinmora’s power was unique, and it was powerful – powerful enough to destroy an artifact of Muspelheim, even – but he very much doubted that it was powerful enough to unravel a demigod.

Arring, too, had made it up to the body of their foe finally, and Kaldr. All three of them chopped at the body of their enemy as it flailed about. They were inside its guard – one of the most dangerous places for your enemy to be – and either it needed to protect the body of its meat puppet or it simply could not see them.

Jorir, however, was not yet inside its guard, nor was Naudrek or Troa, which meant those three received the brunt of its attack. Please let Hrug have fallen back from the edge of the circle. Between the vines and the writhing black presence of Malùnion, Einarr could not see the Rune Master. If Hrug fell, so did their working, and Einarr very much doubted there would be a chance to draw a second one.

Jorir approached from Einarr’s left, using that same slow, dogged advance that he had been before. The resonance had done what it could: Einarr side-stepped and plunged Sinmora towards the tentacle that was beating at his liege man. Once, long ago when they first discovered the existence of this cult, they had freed the Vidofnir from a cursed kraken by hacking off a tentacle, much as one would fell a large tree. Now he tried to do the same here. He chopped wildly at the tentacle, but it was so large, and its flesh so strange, it was hard to tell if he was actually making progress.

The next thing he was aware of, a second sword was swinging in rhythm with his own. Einarr glanced to the side, only to see Kaldr’s normally stoic face twisted in unaccustomed emotion as he, too, tried to spare Jorir Thjofgrir’s fate. There was nothing to be said: Einarr simply kept chopping.

The arm they chopped at raised high overhead, well out of reach. Einarr rolled to come up on the other side of it. In so doing, he got a better look at the battlefield.

Hrug stood well back of the circle that bound their foe. Naudrek, faster and nimbler than the dvergr, was chopping at an arm on the other side opposite the enraged Arring while Troa took advantage of the distraction to close the distance. Then the arm came crashing down again, and Jorir rolled to the right in order to avoid being crushed by its weight – if a mass of energy like Malùnion actually had weight. Two steps more and the dvergr was at Einarr’s side, his own axes digging into the arm that had been giving him so much trouble before.

“Glad you could make it,” Einarr managed to say.

Jorir merely grunted and chopped again.

An idea occurred to Einarr. “Buy me some time.”

With his shield hand he drew forth his chalk once more and sat to carefully draw a on the sole of each boot – Gār, the spear rune. Then he willed the runes to life, and a tiny blade extended from the center of each rune. Einarr got unsteadily back to his feet and resettled his shield and his grip on Sinmora. “Jorir – sidestep!”

Jorir threw himself two steps closer to the body of the beast, and Einarr charged straight at the tentacle that still lay on the vines that held them all up to battle it. When he reached the arm, he did not stop. Instead, he raised one foot and plunged the blade on its sole into the flesh before him like a piton. A heartbeat later, he slammed Sinmora’s blade into the arm and brought his other bladed shoe up.

His momentum was not so great that it was akin to running – more like climbing a cliff with no good handholds. Still, he kept on, dragging Sinmora through the flesh as he went and carving a line through the massive arm that went all the way across the top.

They were making decent progress and cutting the damn thing off, but not fast enough. They were all exhausted: the only reason they could fight so well was that Eydri’s magic masked their fatigue.

As he neared the top of the arm, Malùnion jerked it back up into the air. Even with his blades it was all Einarr could do not to be thrown the way Arring and Kaldr had been earlier.

Something else caught his eye, though. Just as they had before, the vines were trailing the line of blood all the way up, and into the deeper cuts that Kaldr and Jorir were working at. In fact, the area around Malùnion’s wounds seemed to be stiffening.

As the shaking stopped, Einarr rose to his feet again. “Hrug! The vines can end this!”
Then he continued on down the other side, raking Sinmora down into the wound he and Kaldr had been working on before.

Einarr once again could not see to know if it was Hrug’s doing, but a thick tendril of vine could be seen crawling along the deepest part of the incision.

Kaldr still hacked away, and his face was still raw. Einarr watched as the vines began to tighten in the wound he had cut and nodded. “We’re all inside. Make for the body of the priest,” he ordered.

Kaldr spared him a glance and a nod. “As you wish.”

Einarr didn’t wait to see what he would do: Kaldr knew his job, just as all the rest of them did. They would see to Thjofgrir once Malùnion had fallen.

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

In the middle of the night, Einarr was awakened by an idea. The keepers of the lodge might not think too highly of him for learning the runes, but Einarr had known very few who would refuse magical aid outright. Besides, he hadn’t practiced since he left the village.

Quietly, although he thought it unlikely he would wake the stupefied men at arms, Einarr made his way from the Lodge into the garden they kept. He had done this as practice some weeks ago in Mira’s garden, and while tedious he thought it would be some measure to repaying their aid and hospitality.

Einarr let himself into the vegetable patch and made his way carefully to the far corner. There, in the dirt around a pumpkin mound, he traced the ᛃ and willed it active, strengthening the plant and encouraging the fruit to grow. He went on, repeating this process as he went. About halfway through the garden, an idea occurred to him: he knew he could use one rune to affect multiple plants, although at somewhat reduced effect. He also knew that one could power more than one rune at a time, else how would inscriptions of multiple runes work? Thus, could he inscribe the rune multiple times, once for each plot, and then activate them all together?

He might have preferred to test this in Mira’s garden, but based on what they had taught him it should work – and let him finish before dawn. He went to work.

The sky was just beginning to lighten as Einarr traced the rune in the dirt by the cabbages. With a deep breath, he looked out over the garden and nodded. He focused his will and activated each of the runes he had just laboriously traced.

A moment’s lightheadedness came over him and he blinked, but then he saw the leaves of the garden vegetables grow lusher and straighter, just as if he had done each plant one at a time, and smiled. On that note, before any of the men of the Lodge were awake, Einarr took his leave.

The morning wore on as Einarr retraced their steps from the previous day, and as he walked it began to grate on him that he was neglecting the training he was brought out here for. Inscribing a rune, though, took little enough concentration that he thought he could at least get practice with the forms as he walked. There would be no trail to pick up until he reached the old campsite anyway.

Einarr picked up a long stick he found by the side of the trail, and would periodically pause to inscribe a rune in the ground – something that would either benefit what was nearby, or at least do no harm. He would inscribe a rune, with one of its characteristics firmly in mind, and activate it, and move on.

Eventually, though, he ran out of runes he could practice in this way, so instead he found himself a strip of birch bark and charred the end of his stick – with his flint, not the rune – in order to write things out as he traveled. Now then. He hadn’t wanted to practice hagall – scrawling in the dirt with a stick. The rune was far too finicky for that, and even on his birch bark with a shorter implement he found he needed to stop and concentrate on what he was doing.

As he finished the last stroke and examined his work for flaws, the rune glowed faintly sky blue and a chill breeze began to eddy around him. The breeze was oddly constant as he took a few steps, and then a few more. He looked again at the bark in his hands: the rune still glowed, faintly, although Einarr was not aware of powering it. Was this how the wards on the shroud had worked? He laughed, pleased at the discovery, and tried willing the wind rune on the page to stop.

He was more than a little surprised when it did. How convenient. With a grin, Einarr paused at a large rock by the side of the path and used his knife to cut free the section of bark that could call the wind. This he put in the pouch at his belt before moving on.

Next he drew the rune of wisdom – – and cut it free, as well. If there was one thing he had often wished for over the course of the past year, it was wisdom beyond his years. This he followed with the rune of self – ᛗ – and the shield rune – ᛉ.

Fatigue settled over Einarr’s limbs as he walked, although it was not yet noon. That’s what I get for rising in the middle of the night, I suppose. Einarr shrugged. He would stop and rest for a little once he found a promising spot on the trail. He wasn’t far from the campsite, though, even with how this had slowed his pace, and so he pressed on.

There was still birch bark left. On a lark, he made a chip for the generous rune (ᚷ) and one for the ocean rune (ᛚ). After all, if he could make these in advance and then use them at need, there was no reason not to.

His feet felt like lead now, inexplicably. Had he truly grown so soft during his time with the alfs? He shook his head. There was enough bark left for one more, and then he would stop to focus on his hunt. The rune of journeys, I think. With a nod, he began to inscribe the ᚱ on the birch bark. As he finished the last stroke, he felt his awareness begin to swim. A powerful feeling of vertigo swept over him, and the forest faded to black.


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.

The same qualities that made the woods about the Shrouded Village pleasant to live in – their brightness, their openness – also made them accursedly easy to get lost in. Within half a day Einarr learned to set his blazes within sight of each other to avoid walking in circles.

The hunting lodge he sought sat in a clearing much like the one that held the elven temple. Had he not wasted time getting turned around, Einarr thought he should have found it by midafternoon. As it happened, though, he stepped into the clearing to the smell of wood smoke and the sound of chopping wood just as the golden afternoon began to dim into grey twilight.

“Hallo there!” He called from the tree line. Einarr approached openly, making a point to keep his hands visible and empty. He had no intention of being mistaken for a bandit.

Einarr had crossed about half the distance when two men appeared. They wore simple tunics and trousers, and one of them had an axe slipped through his belt.

“Evening, stranger,” said the one with the axe, wary.

“Good evening.” Einarr stood with his open empty palms facing the two men. “Is the Lord of the Hall in?”

It was, evidently, the wrong question. Both men tensed, and the woodcutter reached for his axe.

Einarr raised his hands defensively, open palms out. “I have come from the alfr village near here. I just want to talk.”

“But you’re a human,” said the apparently unarmed one.

“I came to learn how to read the runes.”

The woodcutter did a poor job of smothering a sneer. “So what brings a sorcerer’s apprentice here?”

“There’s trouble afoot. Have either of you seen anything unusual in the last few days?”

They didn’t relax, exactly, but they lowered their guard. “Trouble, you say,” said the woodcutter. “Perhaps you had better come inside.”

The chief’s hunting lodge was well-kept: Einarr suspected it served as a secondary court or perhaps as a summer entertainment for his men-at-arms. The usual trophies were on display: reindeer antlers, animal skin rugs, the teeth and claws of various predators.

The two guardians gestured at the long table as they led Einarr inside. “Sit,” said the unarmed one. “Speak. Supper will be on soon.”

Einarr swung a leg over one of the benches at the long table, glad to be off his feet. “Two days ago, a stranger showed up in the alfr village, after the artifact that they guard.”

“The Muspel Shroud. Everyone on the island knows of it.” The woodcutter sounded grim.

Einarr inclined his head. “Then I think you know where this is headed.”

“Aye, as soon as you said trouble, although I wish I’d been wrong. I suppose it got the young fool?”

“Yes, we believe so – him and his horse. They’re working on a way to deal with the thing again. Meanwhile, I’m trying to find it.”

The unarmed man, over at the soup pot, could not quite control the tremor in his hands as he dished up three bowls. “Eat up,” he said, bringing the bowls to the table. “It’s not much of a last meal, but at least it’s hot.”

Einarr half-smiled, but when the implication hit he half stood, pushing back from the table. “Last meal?”

“Relax,” the woodcutter said. “We’re not such cowards that we’d take our own lives without even an enemy in sight. Just if the Shroud is loose, that means any meal could be your last. Best to enjoy what life you have left.”

“…Ah.” Einarr sat back down slowly, and smelled of the soup very carefully before taking a sip. “Why do you know about the Shroud?”

“Because the alfs wanted to avoid witch hunts and panic should the thing ever get loose. They’re big on their secrets, the alfs are, but that’s not one of them. Unfortunately…”

“Unfortunately, that probably means our Lord is lost, as well. He sent word that he would be coming out, but he should have arrived yesterday.”

Einarr sat up. “While I hope that is not the case, would you tell me the route he usually travels to come here? And what sort of remains I might be looking for, should the Shroud have consumed him.”

The woodcutter laughed. It was not a happy sound. “You think the Shroud leaves remains? If you’re lucky, you might find some ash.”

Einarr took another sip of the soup, pondering that. Back at the temple, had he smelled burned flesh? Had there been too much dust in the air as he climbed out of the cellar? He nodded, slowly. “I see. That has been extraordinarily helpful.”

The other man shrugged. “Not a one of us wants that thing loose. Stay here tonight. In the morning, I’ll trace the path with you.”

“You have my thanks.”

“Just find the thing so that the Runemasters can deal with it.”

“That is my intention.” And if I’m lucky, Mira and Melja will get an answer to me before I find it.


A fine misting rain fell when the three rose the next morning. It would be gone by midday – it always was, on this island – but it meant the morning’s travel would be damp and cold. Einarr shrugged and buckled his cloak about his neck: maybe the rain would help if they encountered the artifact. Not likely, but a man can dream, can’t he?

Onnir – the man who had been unarmed yesterday – today carried a scramasax and a hunting bow, and was dressed for hunting. He was checking over his bowstring as Einarr left the hall. “Are we ready?”

“To find a trail? Absolutely. Lead on, friend. How are you with that blade?”

He shrugged. “Passable. Better with the bow.”

“I’ll trust you with my back, then. Shall we go?”

Onnir grunted and started off down the path in an odd, almost bouncing gait. Einarr followed close on his heels.


Table of Contents

Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!


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.