The monstrosity croaked, loud enough to make Einarr’s ears ring. It had been the right call to leave Hrug above – indeed, it had been by far the best way to signal the fleet – but Einarr was not half the sorcerer the mute was. His men leapt at the winged blob again. He heard a whumpf, followed by the crack of stone and a thud. Another man down.

The formation before him, he thought, would work. Or, he hoped it would buy them enough time to destroy the abomination, anyway. He placed his fingers on the edge of the circle and willed it to capture the creature before them.

He could see, although he didn’t think anyone else could, the threads of energy racing along the ground, pooling under the creature’s feet that currently hovered about five inches off the ground. Einarr bit his lip, intent on the goal. If the abomination touched the ground with so much as a toe or a wingtip, they had it.

The pool of magic grew larger, and as it did Einarr noticed a pillar of ice beginning to form in its center. Unusual, but I’ll take it.

The monster-bird bobbed down just a hair farther than it usually did. The ice brushed its claw, and the freezing threads of the magic began climbing up its body.

Hastily, the abomination rose, but the cold that had a hold of its foot continued to spread over its body. It was caught now, no matter how much it struggled. Sinmora practically leaped into Einarr’s hand as he rushed to join the fray.

The creature fought mightily against the forces trying to pin it to the earth. It might have managed to break free, too, if not for the twelve men it also had to fend off if it wanted to survive this. The soothing rune didn’t seem to be having much of an effect: perhaps calm was contrary to its nature? Or, perhaps, the fact that it was under attack prevented the rune from fully taking hold.

A fourth team was running into the killing field, now, in a fighting retreat from a squad of cursed warriors and their knightly commander. Godsdammit.

He still had control of his formation, but if he divided his mind that way he risked loosing the abomination. On the other hand, it was already weakened. If they brought it down, they could turn their full attention to other matters. The challenge was in finding its actual vitals.

He plunged Sinmora deep into the body of the beast, between a wing and an eye. It shrieked – a sound just as hideous as its croak – and stabbed back at him with a beak.

Einarr dodged, using the momentum of a turn to extract his blade. A gout of black blood spurted forth, hissing where it came in contact with the pool of magic.

He felt that like a buzzing in his brain. Oops. Einarr put a stop in the flow. It was either that, cutting off the amount of will he could feed into the seal, or risk exposing his mind directly to the corruption.

Jorir planted an axe behind the wing he had just chopped at, and it fell twitching to the ground. Now Einarr found himself faced with a deep wound, and while it bled profusely it was not spurting at either of them. Once more he plunged Sinmora into the beast’s side, and once more it shrieked and writhed.

Someone on its other side drove home his own mighty blow, and the abomination flapped harder. The ward still held, however, and its struggles seemed to be faltering.

That was when flaming arrows began raining down into the killing field from the arrow slits in the fortress tower.


War drums beat in time from every ship in the fleet, now, and the water below rippled in time with the rhythm calling the sailors to fight. Erik knew even a seasoned warrior should be anxious about a battle like this, with enemies both before and behind and each one of them a match for any ship of the fleet, but it was not fear that made his heart pump and his blood race. The defiled would attempt to swarm them under, and the defiled would be destroyed, he was sure. Any who fell today earned their place in Valhalla.

Not that he intended to fall. And he truly hoped that between the Singers and their two Rune masters they could avoid losing anyone to the corruption. But today – today would be a battle the skalds would sing of for ages upon ages.

Sivid’s boat floated next to the Vidofnir. Erik looked in that direction and grinned, certain that his friend would be too busy to see and not caring. His shield was set, and the weight of his axe in his hand felt good, and that was what mattered.

“Archers! Ready!” Bardr’s voice rang over the deck, echoed by the Mates up and down their line.

The fwoosh of fire went up in a line behind Erik as one of the deckhands lit the arrowheads. This, too, was done all up and down the line.

“Aim!”

From the corner of his eye, Erik could see the line of archers amidships on the other boats, all raise their bows in a wave.

“Fire!”

The archers loosed, and a wave of flaming arrows flew forward into the black storm approaching from the open sea. Perhaps a third as many flew towards the harbor – the surer shot, but also the less critical one. The black storm ships were the more fearsome by far. Erik remembered well what they kept belowdecks in those ships. Of the arrows that flew into the storm, perhaps half found their target. He was gratified to see more than one sail go up in flames: that would ease their load somewhat.

He found himself bouncing on his toes, waiting for the toss of boarding lines. Well, fine: he hadn’t been in a proper sea battle since they re-took Breidelstein. Fighting on land didn’t have quite the same thrill to it.

Then he looked up and abruptly realized the enemy was returning fire. The answering wave of flame was hard to look away from.

Bardr noticed at the same moment he did. “Shields!”

Almost as one, they raised their shields into a wall, protecting not only themselves but the archers behind as well. Getting close, now.

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.

 

No matter how they searched Blávík, they could find no sign of the League that had so recently run the city in all but name. The townspeople simply shrugged: they didn’t know what had happened, they were just glad the League was gone.

But the League was not all that had vanished. So, too, had Jarl Illugi.

When Stigander returned from his visit to the Jarl’s Hall, he sent word around. They would have a conference of Captains that evening at one of the larger public halls in Blávík: the Blue Steel. Most, but not all, of the Captains gave their crew shore leave for the evening, save for a handful of watchmen. With that many warriors loose on the city it could have been chaos – but wouldn’t be. After the depredations of the League, the mood among the Fleet was one of pride.

Einarr, Stigander, and Kaldr were among the last to arrive at the Blue Steel – by design. As they entered, Sivid rose from where he had been lounging just inside the door to fall in between Einarr and Stigander.

“Missing anyone?” Stigander asked, sotto voce.

“One or two of the freeboater captains. I think they might have joined their crew on watch, though, from what I’ve heard.”

Einarr nodded. “Any Singers in attendance?”

“Not one. Just the men tonight.”

Einarr tsked. That was both good and bad.

Stigander seemed to think the same. “If matters turn toward the esoteric, I may need you to bring Reki.”

“Of course, my lord.”

The four of them approached the head of the table, and Sivid peeled off to take a seat near the wall. Einarr noted that he very carefully chose one that fell in the shadow of a support pole. Then Stigander sat, as well – not at the head of the table. This felt odd to Einarr, even though it was his right and his duty to take the lead on this expedition. He stepped up to the head of the table and addressed the Captains.

“Gentlemen! Thank you for coming.”

Some men raised their tankards or their horns in his direction, and the low rumble of conversation stilled.

“As some of you may already know, the League has seemingly vanished from Blávík without a trace. Thus, the ships we currently have in harbor are all of us. But. Even in this room there are fifty of us, representing fifty ships, and I would pit fifty good warriors of the clans against five hundred cultists.”

Sivid chortled from his seat in the shadows. “Indeed, and you have before!”

Einarr inclined his head toward his friend’s seat. “Indeed, we have. Not too many years ago, the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun together took on an enclave of the cult of Malùnion and won, and we must have fought off that many people in the city alone, before we account for the demon ships. It can be done!

“The price for such an action was steep, however. It was all we could do to limp to Eastport on the Matrons’ isle for help, to fix our ships and heal our wounds. And, even still, we were fortunate. The Matrons had a quest for me, and in spite of everything, I returned in time with the artifact to prevent the corruption from claiming any who survived. We no longer have that artifact.”

“What?” Someone in the back called out. Einarr thought it might have been Tore. “Why in the world would you get rid of an artifact?”

“I’m afraid Frigg claimed it back after we broke the weaver’s curse that held Breidelstein in thrall to usurpers. Nevertheless. We sail the day after tomorrow. Tonight, I would have your commitment to see this through. I, on the Heidrun, will be taking the lead, and we will defer to Kaldr on the Lúmskulf in matters of strategy.”

An angry rumble started among the other captains, but truth be told, Einarr could think of no-one better for a strategist.

“I have chosen the Lúmskulf not because they are my countrymen, but because I have been on the receiving end of Kaldr’s strategies and found them to be troublesome, despite being hampered from above and below. I trust this man’s mind. If any of you would put glory before success, you may leave and try your hand alone.”

The angry rumble died down.

“As I thought.” He drew his belt knife. “And so I swear, before all of you – as Cursebreaker, as Prince of Breidelstein, and on my honor as a man – that this fleet will grind the church of Malùnion to dust, and their worshipers will spread their vile corruption no more!” As he swore his oath, he drew the blade across his palm and held it up so that the others could see the line of blood. “Who will swear with me?”

One by one, the other captains drew their own blood and clasped hands with Einarr – even his own father. There would be no turning back now for any of them. Once their oaths were sworn they fell to laying plans.


When dawn broke, nearly 3,000 men and Singers gathered in an open field outside Blávík. In the center of the field stood a stone altar, a bonfire, and – a little ways off, to avoid spooking them unnecessarily – a pen filled with goats and pigs.

When Einarr had been naught but a sailor on the Vidofnir, the idea of sacrificing to the gods like this would have been ludicrous. They had not been terribly religious, any of them – at least, not until after the Örlögnir had saved them all from a fate worse than death, and that plainly on willing loan from Frigg herself.

Even if the Vidofnings hadn’t regained a sense of gratitude to the gods, however, there were plenty of other crews that would take strength from such a ceremony. And, likely, drawing the attention of the gods to their endeavor could only help their chances. From everything Einarr knew, not even Loki could find favor with Malùnion and his methods.

The Singers gathered to either side of the altar and began to chant. No-one else spoke, until the priestess of Frigg spoke words over the first sacrifice. Its blood spread over the altar, and Frigg’s portion was given to the fire while the rest was prepared for the gathered warriors.

And so it continued, until the setting sun dyed the ground as crimson as the altar. They would sail at dawn.

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.

 

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.

 

At some point after Lord Ulfr ordered him imprisoned, between his irregular meals and while he ran beginner exercises to keep his body spry, the noise of the key in the lock surprised him. For once, he had not heard the old crone’s cackling first. This was most irregular.

Kaldr sat down and leaned against the wall to observe his new visitor.

Even the dim light from the hall was now enough to make Kaldr squint: he peered at the newcomer, but all he could make out was the silhouette of a man.

“Has the Thing finally been assembled?” His voice came out like a croak.

A familiar voice tsked. “What have they done to you?”

“Thjofgrir?”

“It must really be rough if you can’t even recognize your own Mate.”

Kaldr offered a wan smirk. “More that I can barely see you right now. It seems I’m to be kept in the dark in more ways than one.”

“Ain’t that the truth. You’ll be in here a long time if you’re waiting on the Thing to assemble. The rebel ships are on their way again, only our glorious Thane seems to have lost the ability to track them.”

“Tell me, Thjofgrir. If we had been at Lundholm, would things be any different?”

“Is that why you’re so calmly accepting this?” His Mate shook his head. “We might not have lost two Captains, if you had been leading that fight, but are we really worse off for their absence?”

Kaldr allowed himself a derisive snort. “Maybe not.”

“Look, Kaldr, the men and I have been about the town. The people are a hair’s breadth from rioting. Even if Lord Ulfr defeats the rebels, he loses – and I’m not so sure he can defeat them at this point.”

“Whether or not Lord Ulfr is a suitable Thane is not the question at hand here. He is the rightful Thane.”

“I’m not so sure you’re right about that, Captain. If I’m right, a fight against the rebels just might spark the people in the town to join them. And no Thane rules for long after the people turn against him. If you say the word, Captain, we’ll all follow you out of here. It might not be so bad, being a freeboater for a while. There are plenty of other clans who’d be happy to have us as mercenaries…”

“No.”

“Pardon?”

“No. I will not flee like a coward or a common criminal. I have staked my pledge behind Lord Ulfr’s banner, and I intend to see this through.”

He could feel Thjofgrir’s weighing look. Eventually, his second-in-command sighed. “I had a feeling you’d say that. Have it your way. I’ll do what I can to keep the men in line, but their sympathies lie with the town. As do mine.”

“As do mine, in truth. But if things in the town are ever to improve, we must break the hold the Lady Mother has over her son’s mind. …You should go. I hear her in the hall. I wonder how much blood she will let this time…”

“What did you say?”

“Never forget, Thjofgrir. The problem is not Lord Ulfr. The problem is the weaver-witch.”


The Vidofnir led Einarr’s and Kormund’s ships directly for Raenshold. The fact that Urdr had been deprived of her original “weaving of inevitable victory,” or whatever she’d called it, did not mean she could not start a fresh one. The odds were considered good, though, that the longer they took the more likely she could build one up. Thus, they drove straight for Breidelstein.

When the island came into sight on the horizon the three ships weighed anchor and the Captains once more gathered on the deck of the Vidofnir. Sivid sat on the bulwark, staring towards home with a look of annoyance on his face. His broken arm was tied up in a sling: broken bones could only heal so quickly, even with Song Magic, which meant that he was stuck on the ship for the final fight. Einarr gave a wave of greeting, which was answered by a tight-lipped smile.

Their strategy meeting that night was brief. Not much had changed, frankly, from the last time they had made it as far as the harbor, save the number of enemy ships. They had not truly had time to rest at Lundholm, but if the Norns were on their side they shouldn’t need to do much fighting.

This set Sivid cackling from his watchpost, still leaning on the bulwark.

Kormund scowled at him. “What, praytell, is so funny? Stigander, I know you keep a loose ship, but still…”

Stigander and Einarr, and those in the conference who had traveled with them for any length of time, looked amused.

“If the Norns are on our side, you said.” Einarr smirked. “Well, the Usurper is kept in power by a Weavess who practices their dark Art, and -” He gave a momentary pause.

Sivid did not disappoint. “The Norns always correct their weave.”

Kormund furrowed his brow and stared at them, still plainly at a loss.

“It’s rather more literally appropriate here than usual, is all,” Stigander said. Kormund seemed to relax a little.

“For more than fifteen years,” he went on. “The weave over Breidelstein has been drawn more and more out of true by the Weavess. We are about to be as shears for the Norns. So far as they’re concerned, I suspect our petty, political aims matter not one whit.”

“I rather suspect,” Einarr drawled. “That we’re happier that way.” He remembered, again, the threat black-winged Hrist had left him with. As much as he wanted to believe the Aesir and the Vanir weren’t all like that, he wasn’t certain he could.

“I suppose the only question left is, do we push on through the night?” It would leave their men tired for the assault. On the other hand, it would also afford a better opportunity to catch the Usurper’s forces by surprise.

Stigander crossed his arms and lowered his chin. “If you think your men are up for it, I say yes.”

Nods of assent quickly followed from Kormund and Einarr. Then, with that settled, they each returned to their own ship and weighed anchor once more.


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 sweat on Sivid’s brow was only partially to do with the fire. He had found himself face to face with the man they called Frothing Urek, and decided to test his luck. If it were not for the fire, he thought he would be doing better. As it was, he found himself hemmed in by a beast of a man before him and licking flames to either side. The bulwark was far too close to his back for comfort, as well.

He ducked another swing of Urek’s hammer and lost another half-step of ground. I have two choices. Neither of them is good. If he tried to vault over the man’s head, there was an excellent chance he would take a hammer to the head. It might or might not leave the contents intact, but he didn’t want to take that gamble.

His other option, Sivid thought, was to borrow a move from the hall dance. If he kicked for the rafters, he might still be able to get over the flames without getting scorched. Maybe he could even do it in such a way that Urek would miss him. If he was going to try, though, it needed to be quickly. The wolfling deck was going up like a dry forest: either the boat was older than the Vidofnir or the Captain had neglected her maintenance.

He licked his lips. The heat from the blaze dried them immediately. It has to be the rafters. Wait for it…

Urek pulled back for another swipe at the quick man’s chest. Sivid gathered himself: if he didn’t time this just right…

Urek’s hammer whistled through the air. Sivid hopped to the left, pulling his ribs back towards his spine. The air of the hammer’s passage pressed his shirt against his skin even through his maille. Then his toes touched the deck and he bent his knees deeply.

While Urek was still caught in the momentum of that swing, Sivid propelled himself into the air. He kicked his legs out to the side, straining for height. The heat of the fire pressed against his face and his hands, and he smelled burning hair, but it did not touch his skin.

Sivid landed on the deck on the side of the flames nearer to his allies. He paused a moment, still crouching, to catch his balance, and a stupid grin split his features. He’d made it.

That was when the hammer’s backswing clipped him in the shoulder. Even as glancing a blow as that was sent Sivid flying – into his allies’ line, thankfully. He hit the opposite bulwark with a crack and lay on the too-warm deck clutching his broken shoulder.


Einarr watched as Sivid made the landing of his dancing leap. The man was a genius at the dance – but this was a battle, and the hammer-wielding Captain hardly seemed to notice. Einarr opened his mouth to shout a warning, but it was almost like he moved in slow-motion: before the words had reached his lips, Sivid was already tumbling back across the wolfling ship.

Einarr turned hard eyes on the man responsible. Sivid was a good friend: captain or no captain, Einarr would take out the man with the hammer. He adjusted his grip on his shield as he stepped up to take his friend’s place, Sinmora coming up into position.

Urek grinned ferally at Einarr, as plainly in the grip of the fury as if his eyes had been red. Einarr eyed his hammer warily: like a battle axe, he thought, only instead of lopping off limbs it would crush them. Well. I guess I just can’t let myself get hit.

You mean, like Sivid did? He clamped down on the wry voice in the back of his head. The voice had a point, of course – it always did – but Einarr couldn’t let that get in the way of what had to happen.

Urek started swinging his hammer in a figure-eight pattern in front of him. The big man stepped slowly forward.

Einarr frowned, watching. He shifted his weight to the balls of his feet, ready to dodge wherever he had to. Whatever his skill as a captain – and Einarr thought it likely low – he was certainly a threat on the battlefield.

Urek’s gaze shifted momentarily and Einarr felt a familiar presence at his knee. Jorir had caught up. The dwarf knew what to do: Einarr’s stance shifted a little. The knowledge that his man at arms had his back meant he could focus on the fight before him.

Urek’s hammer dropped to his side and swung up overhead as he surged forward. The blow was meant for his head, he was sure: Einarr dodged right and then ducked in to slash with Sinmora at the man’s belly. The maille jangled, but Einarr smiled anyway.

There was rust.

The blood of unknown enemies had, in fact, become rust in the joins of his maille as the years went on. Sooner or later it was inevitable… but he was wearing rusty maille. Does he not realize? Or is it simply the best he can get?

It hardly mattered. Einarr sprang back out of the man’s reach before he, too, fell victim to a backswing.

The next blow tried to take Einarr’s head off at the shoulders. He ducked, and while Urek’s guard was still open from the giant swing of the hammer he charged in. The boss of his shield struck against the man’s ribs with a dull clang and he pulled back once more. Urek grunted but seemed otherwise unimpressed.

“Another weakling from the rebels? You are nothing more than flies. We should have squashed you ages ago.”

Urek did not give him time to retort: the hammer was already singing through the air, and for what felt like ages all Einarr could do was dodge. The man was relentless, and there was no denying his skill with his weapon.


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

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

Einarr heard the warriors aboard the trapped wolfling ship give a battle roar only moments before they swarmed over the boarding lines. The ship swayed under the weight of reinforcements even as the fire spread from the arrows along the deck boards.

Einarr set his mouth in a grim line. They needed to take out the wolflings quickly, before this became an inferno. And if they escape, Lundholm is done for.

Their line was solid: he stood shoulder to shoulder with his own men and the men of his father’s ship – it was still odd that those were two different things now. The first boots were pounding across the blackening deck boards. “Brace yourselves!”

Einarr lowered his shoulder. A heartbeat later, the wolflings collided with their shield wall. Einarr stabbed through the gap between his shield and Jorir’s and Sinmora’s tip came away wet with fresh blood.

The wolfling screamed, pain mixed with rage, and did not fall back. Blood ran down his leg from the wound in his thigh, and he brought his axe around to strike at Einarr.

Jorir took the opportunity and drove his axe home in the man’s already-wounded leg. The wolfling hit the deck, hard, and Jorir ensured he would not rise again. Einarr’s attention was already forward, on the next man coming to fill the hole, wondering if their captain, too, would come forward to join the melee.

The next man up tried to put his scramasax in Einarr’s side and lost his hand for his trouble. He staggered backward clutching his stump and Einarr shouldered his way forward into the gap. The crackle of fire on the deck and the reek of smoke lent an unusual urgency to Eydri and Reki’s Song. Still he resisted it: no Captain worth his salt gave in to the battle chant, not if there was any other way.

Slowly, relentlessly, he began cutting his way through the wolflings in search of their Captain. His arm began to tire, and a thousand small wounds burned across his forearms and his legs. The wolflings were falling, but they were falling hard. Where is Kaldr?

He wasn’t even certain this was Kaldr’s ship, based on what the Singers had said of the man.

One man, bigger than the other wolflings, laid about himself with a formidable hammer. Not Kaldr. Might be a leader, though. Not many men wielded hammers on the battlefield: it took a special combination of brawn and coin. Leader or not, though, the man with the hammer was plowing through Einarr’s allies like they were nothing. He raised his sword and pointed across the deck at his target.

Jorir, beside him, grunted agreement.

Einarr shouldered his way through the throng, trying to ignore just how hot it was getting on the wolfling ship. That was another reason to hurry: he couldn’t let the fire spread to the Heidrun.

There was Sivid, giving the enraged hammer-wielder a taste of his own wolf pack tactics. Sivid would bait the man into a wild swing, and while he was open dash in to cut at his legs. It looked like the other wolves were interfering, though. With a grunt, Einarr slid in between Sivid and the man about to take a stab at his kidneys.

Clang! The blade instead hit the boss of Einarr’s shield. “Got your back,” he shouted over his shoulder.

Sivid spared him a glance and a breathless “thanks” before turning back to the enemy captain.


Sivid became aware that the pressure was off his back abruptly. He risked a glance over his shoulder. Einarr? “Thanks,” he managed. Almost immediately he had to duck another swing of the massive hammer the enemy captain used.

This was, without a doubt, Frothing Urek. Tyr had said the man had made Captain somehow: Sivid had just not expected to have to face the man on the field. Why is he in the fury, though? Captain Stigander never takes it…

The hammer still whistled through the air. Sivid bounced out of the way, then lunged in to stab at the man’s exposed leg. Urek was big, but not as big as Erik. Urek was strong, but not as strong as Arring. And even Arring would have had trouble not leaving openings with a weapon like that. Sivid just hoped his stamina would hold out.

The hammer came from above this time. Sivid danced off to the side as the heavy steel head splintered the deck boards where he had been a moment before. The fire crackled, licking at the newly-made kindling.

One way or another, they needed to take Urek out of the picture before this ship took everyone to their graves. It was time to gamble.

Sivid dropped into a low lunge, darting inside the berserker’s reach and stabbing his blade home in the man’s thigh. He couldn’t stay there, though: his blade still in Urek’s leg, he dropped his other hand down to the deck and kicked his heels up.

Urek roared as the blade twisted in his thigh. Sivid’s first boot caught him in the teeth: the second in the jaw, and as he regained his feet he finally drew out the blade.

Urek turned to face Sivid again, a level of disgust showing through the rage as he popped his neck and once more started his hammer moving. Sivid scowled: he hadn’t really expected much out of the kicks, but it had been worth a try.

Urek pressed forward, sweeping his hammer back and forth in front of him, and Sivid was forced to hop backwards with every sweep. He wasn’t getting in under the man’s guard again anytime soon, it looked like.

Sivid glanced to either side nervously: those flames were far too close, and far too high, for his liking, and they hemmed him in. By the same token, he couldn’t go backward too much farther without going over the wrong side. Can I kick the rafters well enough to get clear?


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

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“Draken, dead ahead!”

Sailing into view ahead of them, almost like a mirror image, came three draken bearing sails in the red and yellow of Ulfr’s Breidelstein.

“Make ready!” Stigander’s voice rose over the water from the Vidofnir, echoed moments later by Kormund and Einarr. Einarr’s heart pounded in his chest like it hadn’t since he was still a deckhand, and suddenly he wondered if he was really ready to be Captain. Or ready to retake their homeland, for that matter. Fifteen years is a long time…

“To arms!” He ordered again, this time breaking free of the paralysis that threatened to grip his legs. He didn’t have to be sure, he just had to do. Just like everything else since the Oracle had named him Cursebreaker. The chainmail slid over his head as easily as it ever did.

Easier, in some ways. Runa was ahead, captive and bound by the same hands that held his grandfather and all the other men of Breidelstein in thrall. When he thought of it that way, how could he even think of hesitating?

The ships ahead were near enough now that Einarr could make out their prow totems – not one of them a wolf. Well, that was fine. He could hardly expect the usurper to sally forth so early.

His men were readying bows, now – everyone aboard, really, save for Bea and Jorir. She stood, spear in hand, just ahead of him and to the left, with Jorir on the right. Einarr shook his head: there were far worse choices for a bodyguard, he supposed, and if she were ahead of him that meant he could keep an eye on her.

They were almost in range. “Ready volley!” Wait for it…

“Fire!”

Arrows launched from all three ships almost at once, and only a few landed in the water. The counter-volley came at almost the same moment, and the slower among the Heidrunings had to scramble to raise their shields in time. Arrows sprouted from the deck and from shields, but Einarr heard none of the inevitable cries of pain from his deck. “Again!”

Once more, bows drew back, and on his command they loosed arrows and raised shields once more. The time for arrow fire was nearing its end, however: some few of the missiles launched from their opposites were javelins, now.

“Prepare to board!”

About half of his crew shouldered their bows and moved to ready the boarding lines. The other half kept their shields raised, guarding their fellows. Einarr looked on approvingly: this was the start of a good crew, he thought. Hopefully most of them would survive the battles to come.

Eydri’s battle hymn began to take hold on the edges of his mind. He acknowledged it, but did not let himself sink fully under its sway. That was a luxury that was not afforded to Captains: those who lost themselves in its grip were brutally effective – right up until the rage got them killed. Usually sooner rather than later.

Now the enemy boarding lines launched. Einarr could feel the blood pumping in his veins as he drew Sinmora, still resisting the heady call of the battle chant. It would get easier with time, he knew – just so long as he did resist it.

There was no more time for contemplation. The boarding lines grew taut. Quick as a thought, the first wave of men were up and racing along their precarious footing to be the first to reach the other deck.

The enemy sailors, too, were racing across the ropes, trusting in long practice and good luck to keep them out of the water. Where the two forces met in the middle, they clashed, and there were usually two fates possible in that first clash: either you won, and the other man fell, or you lost, and fell to the water below, to swim and hope you could escape being crushed between the ships.

The men of the Heidrun, since they were few in number and mostly still green, had been instructed in a cleverer way of fighting. They were not to clash like rams, horns against horns, on the boarding lines. Instead their first rush was to evade the enemy and slip past to the deck beyond, while those who remained behind defended the Heidrun and their captain from a place of better footing. Einarr had the idea from watching Sivid, and it had the benefit of taunting the enemy while they were securing their own footing.

It seemed to be working. He heard very few splashes, and of the few who fell even fewer were Heidrunings, men of Kjell or experienced sailors either one.

That also meant, however, that the fighting was harder on his own deck. Bea and Jorir closed ranks so that the three of them stood back to back, just behind the first line of defenders.

One man, a fellow built like Stigander but with a wild red mane the color of Einarr’s, crashed through the line of defenders to close with Einarr. He studied the man’s face: could this be an uncle, or a cousin?

Family or not, he was fighting in deadly earnest, and so Einarr did not hesitate to do the same. They exchanged three blows. On the fourth, Einarr buried Sinmora’s blade in his shoulder. The blade slid free and the man clutched at the wound, stumbling backward with a scream of rage and pain. He might live, if their Singer got to him quickly enough, but that had been his sword arm. He would never fight again.

The battle was almost over before it began. Not long after the red-headed bear withdrew, the enemy captains sounded the retreat.

Once their men had cut their way back aboard the Heidrun, and the enemy sailors had fled, the boarding lines were drawn back. Bea stared in consternation at the fleeing ships.

“That was all it took to send them off? Why did your father fear these men so?”

Einarr shook his head. “They were testing us. Those were scout ships. And those men, some of them anyway, are kin. Father does not fear them, he fears for them.”

Bea hummed. She did not look convinced.


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

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

That cut on his side was going to be a problem. It wasn’t likely to kill him, he didn’t think, but the blood showed no sign of slowing yet. Well. A bandage was just cloth, and he was wearing plenty of that. Einarr gripped the hem of his tunic and tore.

The fabric came off in a spiral. When he thought it was long enough, he held the strip tightly against Sinmora’s blade and sawed down. Then, gritting his teeth the entire time, he wrapped the makeshift bandage about his chest and over his opposite shoulder to hold the rest of the tunic tight against his wound.

Once it was tied, Einarr tested his work with a pair of deep breaths. That should hold. He looked around the room at the statues, now out of any semblance of order… except the statues of his father and the Jarl had not budged. He furrowed his eyebrows: that was plainly the clue. What else might it mean?

A brightness caught his eye from the floor at his feet: the Valkyrie’s feather. He stooped to pick it up, and Einarr’s fingers tingled as they gripped the shaft. Why she had left it, he could not begin to guess. Carefully, to avoid dripping blood on it, he threaded it through the buckle of his baldric.

His hand brushed against the pouch at his belt, where the wooden broach rested. Mysteries upon mysteries. Einarr sighed. Even should those runes spell out the answer to this puzzle, it was of no use to him here. He shook his head and harrumphed. If the answer was not in the relationship ties between the images, what might it be?

Einarr stepped slowly over to stand before the images of his father and Runa’s. They stood – or sat – implacably, facing each other. The Jarl sat on his throne, looming over all below him, while Stigander stood exhorting unseen hosts. It would be hard to imagine two more different images…

That’s it! For all that Jarl Hroaldr and Stigander were old friends, they were in many ways mirrors of each other. Thus, if his hunch was right, each image would have a mirror of sorts on the floor somewhere.

He thought he had the trick of it, at least. Moving the statues had been cumbersome before. Now he was tired from the fight and wounded besides. Each step across the room reminded him of the shards in his shins, but at least his makeshift bandage quelled the fire in his side.

He slotted Arring, with his massive strength, opposite of Barri, who like Einarr was faster than he was strong. Jorir faced Tyr, the ageless and wise blacksmith against the aged and wise sailor. Einarr frowned at this one, but could think of no more sensible option. Runa, the Jarl’s daughter, would be matched with him, Jarl’s daughter to Thane’s son and so many other mirrors besides.

The real trouble was attached to the image of Erik and Sivid dicing together. Ordinarily, Einarr would have matched each as the other’s opposite… so then, what to do when they were shown together? Einarr paced a lap around the room, pondering this. There were few other options remaining.

He stopped when he once again came face to face with the pairing of Jorir and Tyr, which he had not been happy with. The two had as much in common as in opposition. The image of Jorir, however, showed him working at a forge. Erik and Sivid, on the other hand, were at play. It was so simple he had almost missed it.

Finally, once all the statues were in place, Einarr approached the last remaining depression in the floor with some trepidation. His hands had started to shake, which he blamed on fatigue. That what remained of his tunic was sodden with blood had nothing to do with it. With a deep breath, Einarr took his place in the display.

Instead of a lance of pain through his head there was a grinding noise as the statues all turned on their bases. Some of the pairs rearranged themselves on the floor, leaving a broad open path across the floor of the room. At the end of the path, he could now see a door that had not been there before. Einarr breathed an unconscious sigh of relief as he hurried down the path. He did not think he could face the Valkyrie a second time.

Einarr raised his uninjured hand and pulled on the door. A blinding light flashed.

He stood on the landing of a stairway heading up. Around him on the landing were Jorir, Runa, Erik and Irding. He smiled and opened his mouth to greet his friends, but suddenly the world tried to turn upside down.

Einarr blinked several times, partly in surprise to see he was leaning on Erik’s shoulder – When did that happen? – and partly because the world seemed to have gone blurry around him.

“He’s hurt,” Runa was saying, and he could hear sogginess in her voice. “Come now, quickly, we have to get him someplace flat at least.”

Erik started slowly up the stairs. Einarr tried to lift his feet, but with each step it felt more as though he were being dragged. Something about the situation seemed familiar, and recently so.

“My medicine pouch is down on the boat,” Jorir grumbled.

“Why on earth would you leave it there?” Runa’s question was a good one. She growled in frustration and then began to sing.

The song was like a cool breeze across Einarr’s face, and he relaxed into it. Runa mumbled something about the wound looking bad, and Jorir’s sarcastic rumble answered. He lifted a foot to aid Erik, but the combination of injury and song magic was too much for him right then. Einarr drifted into unconsciousness to the sound of Runa’s voice.


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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 Smashwords, 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.

“Let’s take this more seriously, then, shall we?” With a blast of wind the Valkyrie was in the air, hovering as no natural creature could, her sword leveled at Einarr. He swallowed, cursing the bravado that made him call her out. This was not how he won, not if he had a choice in the matter. He was not Erik or Arring with their massive strength, or Sivid with his speed, and calling her out had been not at all clever.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. On impulse, he dove into a forward roll: the wind of the blade’s passage chased his back, and a small piece of red hair dropped toward the floor.

Einarr rolled back to his feet and took a wild swing towards where the valkyrie had been only a moment before. His blade met only air. He spun on the balls of his feet, searching for his opponent. That was three, right?

“I think not, mortal. You wouldn’t deprive me of the thrill of the contest, would you?”

I was afraid of that. But, how can…?

“I am chooser of the slain, young thief. I must have some way of sorting the chaff from the wheat.”

Of course she could read his mind. As much as he had immediately regretted his choice to call her out, now he regretted it more. Not clever at all. “So now I must fight an opponent who can read my thoughts? That hardly seems sporting.”

“I thought you wanted a challenge. Come, Cursebreaker! Let us test your mettle!”

The same impulse that made him roll forward last time now froze him in his tracks. In that same heartbeat he felt the passage of a blade before his nose. Stone shards flew from the crack that appeared on the floor before his feet, embedding themselves in his legs. He hissed and tried to strike forward at where she must be, but her attack had not yet finished. With a crack of wood, steel pierced through his shield and into the flesh of his arm. A howl escaped his throat. Still he could see neither Valkyrie nor blade.

Einarr risked a glance up. White flickered in his peripheral vision and he hurried to follow it. No matter how fast he turned, however, the creature was always just a hair faster. The effort threatened to make him dizzy, and the shards in his legs throbbed with every step.

Rather than continue the futile effort, Einarr stopped. With a deep breath, he closed his eyes and listened. It had not been by sight, thus far, that he had evaded her blows but by reflex. He would wait, still, for that same reflex to guide his blade.

Her voice echoed through the room. “Let this strike be engraved on your soul.”

That didn’t sound good. His focus wavered, just for a moment. Enough to remind him of his own weakness. He tried to put the thought from his mind, and mostly succeeded. Well enough, at least, that when the urge to move came he twisted and brought Sinmora around. Steel rang against steel.

Einarr grinned, although the pressure on his blade was enormous. His arm shook with the strain of it. In the tales he sometimes heard about blind warriors with preternatural skill, but he had never credited them much. Perhaps there was something to those stories after all.

It wasn’t enough. Sinmora’s tip, braced against the stone of the floor, gave way with a scrape and a spark. The blade practically flew back from the blow as the valkyrie’s blade cut deep into his ribs. White-hot agony flared from the wound as he stumbled backwards, clutching a hand to his side. He hardly noticed the shards in his legs now.

The Valkyrie hummed. “Not bad, Cursebreaker. But how long do you think you can keep that up?”

“That was five by the terms you set,” Einarr said through gritted teeth. Blood ran down his side and arm, and his shins felt hot and wet. His shield was nearly broken, but even if it was whole he would have trouble holding it now.

The valkyrie’s chuckle filled the room with its statues. “Was it, Cursebreaker?”

He could feel the ball of emotion that was the Valkyrie circling him, now, as though she were a wolf and he the rabbit. With a little luck, he could take two more. He hoped. Einarr pressed his arm against the slice on his side. He couldn’t afford to lose too much blood here.

“Somehow this is unsatisfying.”

So she intended to continue insisting the first two were invalid? That rankled, but Einarr was far more focused on keeping pressure against the wound in his ribs than on calling her out. If she intended to attack him again, all he could do would be to weather the storm.

Einarr stood clutching his broken shield, Sinmora at the ready. His eyes remained closed, listening. Concentrating. Waiting for the Valkyrie to strike. Feeling the sticky wetness of blood on his side. On his hand. He felt no urge to dodge, or freeze. No need to do anything at all. After a while, Einarr opened his eyes.

He was alone in the room once more. The statues had once again been scattered about the room, seemingly at random. Something glowed at his feet: when he looked down, he saw a single feather. Einarr furrowed his brow. Why…?


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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 Smashwords, 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.

There was no statue of Trabbi, the loyal retainer, or of the former Captain Kragnir – but there was one of Bollinn who replaced him, which would fill the same role. On he went, connecting a figure of Bardr pouring over sea charts to Stigander, and on back through the crew and the Kjellings. Something strange happened when he found himself face to face with a simulacrum of the apothecary from Kem. Ordinarily he would have paired him with Erik, given the events on the island, but Sivid had not been there at all, and the only image of Erik had them together.

His next best guess was, as with Jorir, to connect the man to himself. He thought he knew where he would have to stand for that, as there was no simulacrum of himself to be found on the floor.

Einarr dripped with sweat by the time he slid the statue of Jorir into place. That was the last one, though, and as he expected there was still an empty depression on the floor, with connections running to several other figures. With a deep breath, he stepped down into the last remaining depression.

At first, nothing happened. Then, when he was running over who might be improperly tied, lightning lanced through his brain. A scream of pain tore out of his throat at the sudden onslaught. Einarr dropped to his knees.

When he recovered his feet, Einarr stumbled over to the stand where the verse of his clue had been.

The bit of doggerel was no more – or at least the page had been turned. In its place, he saw these words writ large:

Fool! Lack you wisdom as well?
Mortal ties such as these are easily severed
Think ye deeper.

A sound like thunder cracked. Einarr, his head still aching, winced. When he looked back up, he realized he was no longer alone in the room.

Standing between the images of the Jarl and his father, the tip of her sword planted between her feet, was a woman beside whom even Runa would appear plain. Long auburn hair hung in a braid past the bottom of her gleaming breastplate, and on her head was a golden-winged helmet so finely worked the feathers looked real. Even in her floor-length skirt there could be no doubt she was dangerous: the giant white eagle wings on her back alone would have dispelled that notion.

Einarr’s mouth went dry even as his palms grew clammy. “A V-v-v-valkyrie?” he asked under his breath as he dropped to his knees. He knew sneaking in here for the Örlögnir was always going to be riskier than going after the Isinntog, but somehow he had still not expected this.

“Do not fool yourself, young warrior. That you have come this far is because you were allowed to, but even when the cause is just my Lord’s forbearance is finite.” The Valkyrie’s voice was a deep alto, but sharp and clear like good steel.

“Of course, great lady.”

“You may have a second chance.”

Einarr lifted his head and opened his mouth to thank her, but the valkyrie was not done yet.

“If you can survive five exchanges in battle with me.”

Einarr felt his face grow pale. Survive five rounds against a real, honest-to-goodness Valkyrie? He swallowed once more, trying to find his voice. “And should I refuse, or fail?”

“Your soul is mine.”

“To become Einherjar?”

She smiled a wolf’s smile. “To be cast down to Hel. You will die as a thief, should you die here.”

He swallowed again. I don’t have to land a hit. I just have to not get hit. No problem. He did not find this particularly reassuring. What he said, though, was “It seems I have no choice.”

The Valkyrie nodded. “Make ready, then.”

With the scrape of steel on steel, the comforting weight of Sinmora was in Einarr’s hand. He raised his shield and stood at defense, studying his opponent.

She, too, took a battle stance, raising her long, double-edged sword until it was vertical. She bore no shield: Einarr had no doubt that should someone get past her native skill those pauldrons and bracers would blunt any blow.

He could not see her feet under the long, heavy skirt. That would make this more difficult, but still not impossible. Not by itself, anyway. Pressing his mouth into a line, he met her gaze and nodded.

The Valkyrie moved almost impossibly fast. In the space between two breaths she had crossed the distance between them, her shoulders turned into the blow she intended to bring down on Einarr’s head. Before sight could become thought he had brought up his shield, and her sword struck the boss like a bell.

He danced back, his hand tingling from the force of the blow even as the ringing continued in his ears. His own blow had swung for her side and somehow been turned away by the very air.

She offered him a nod. “You have decent reflexes, but it will not be enough to save you.”

“I rather hope you are wrong, there. You’re quite quick.”

“That’s not all I am.”

She rushed in again, this time bringing her sword up in an underhand swipe toward Einarr’s legs. He slid to the side, away from the blow, even as he brought Sinmora down and once more steel rang against steel.

“That’s two.”

“You have not yet attacked me seriously.”

“Nor have you. You let me see both of those attacks coming.”

She flashed her lupine grin again and chuckled. “Perhaps. I rather wanted you to feel you were doing well. I hate for people to die unfulfilled.”

The Valkyrie unfurled her wings, and the tips brushed the heads of two statues ten feet apart. With a blast of wind she rose up into the air and lowered her sword at him. “Let’s take this more seriously, then, shall we?”


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