The fiery arrow was not, by itself, enough to finish off the abomination, but the way that fire spread over its body Einarr didn’t think it would last much longer, and its flailing was very shortly going to put his team in danger. He raised his voice and cupped a hand to his mouth. “Jorir! Everyone to me!”

Then he turned his attention back to the field. Whether the team fighting at the edges of the field heard him or not, they were not trying to fall back – which was good. He was about to send some reinforcements. With five teams on the field, they still only had twenty men – counting himself – and at least that many cursed warriors. That wasn’t even counting their Talon Knight handlers.

One of the teams of the cursed was hurrying across the field directly toward him, heedless of the arrows that still stubbornly fell like rain in spite of the tower’s instability.

There’s one thing I can do, anyway. Einarr quickly drew and called lightning down on their heads. That stopped the knights in their metal armor and most of the cursed warriors. Between holding the half-burned abomination in place and shaking up the tower archers, all this magic was starting to give Einarr a headache – not enough to stop him, yet, but he was definitely not used to fighting this way.

Jorir and the eleven remaining men who had been trying to take down the monstrosity surrounded Einarr and Irding now, forming a circle of steel around them. Irding looked grateful not to have to block arrows for the moment. A moment later they were joined by the late-come team on the field.

Jorir glanced over his shoulder to his liege lord. “Now what?”

Einarr glanced his men over and nodded to himself. Down five men was probably the best he could hope for, under the circumstances. “I want one, or maybe two men to cover me. Until I can get some proper healing on my leg, I’ll only be a hindrance in hand to hand, but I can still use runes. The rest of you divide up: one group goes for the fight on the edge of the field, the other one takes on those guys.”

He pointed across the field at the group of enemies that was picking its way across the field toward them. “I’ll back everyone up as best I can. Mind the tower: I don’t know how much more shaking it can take, and whoever they have up there is damnably determined.”

“Aye, sir!” several of the men answered at once. Arkja already led about five of them over to the struggling team on the side: with the three they had left, that should suffice.

Jorir set his feet and looked at Irding. “I’ll cover Lord Einarr. You’re better on the offense.”

That earned the dvergr a rakish grin. “You’re right about that. Thanks for the breather, though.”

Einarr glanced around at the field of battle: the arrowfall from the tower had nearly ceased, but Einarr didn’t dare let up on his earth circle yet. Then he looked at Jorir: the dvergr was spattered all over with the abomination’s black blood.

“We have a moment. Let me do something about that.”

Jorir harrumphed. “Get us both, then. This spot won’t stay calm for long, I don’t think.”

“Would we really want it to?” Einarr dashed off the purification inscription he and Hrug had come up with after they landed. A moment later, he felt he could breathe easier at least.

The larger group under Irding was clashing with the Talon Knight team half-way across the field now. But, by the same token, more of Einarr’s men were arriving, in good order – and significantly faster than the enemy knights could replenish their number. Very soon, he thought, they would be able to push into the tower and take the fortress itself.


Water sluiced over the deck of the Vidofnir, washing away the black blood of the cultists and the red blood of Stigander’s raiders almost as fast as they could spill it. This was no raid like the one that took his Astrid – oh, no. Neither was it a hastily assembled chase, where the cult ships had been caught off-guard as Vidofnir and Skudbrun fled their stronghold. No, the leadership of the city had seen this battle well enough in advance that they had ships and crews at the ready, so that the trap they thought they had laid for the corrupting priests of Malúnion became instead a trap for them. Stigander, part of the circle guarding Reki from the onslaught of those who hated the clean magics of song and word and art, chopped with his own sword against the cursed. For all that the fleet was beset he could tell that they gave as good as they got. He could worry about the source of their knowledge later.

The anvil, within the harbor, had been neatly smashed, although the burning wreckage still prevented the fleet from entering the harbor en masse. That was fine: it meant that the fleet could focus on the real threat – the demon ships, with their merged, swirling squall above and their black horrors beneath the decks.

Another warrior with the gray pallor of the cursed charged at his circle, trying to break free to end Reki’s battle-fury. Calmly, Stigander raised his shield and caught the blade on its boss, then ran the warrior cleanly through with his own sword. Yet more black blood spurted out on his feet: he was glad he had left Astrid’s rabbit-skin boots at home for this journey. These would have to be burned when all was said and done.

A moment of quiet aboard the Vidofnir gave him enough time to take a breath and assess. They had cleared the cursed from their decks, and the spear-wielding elites, as well, but outside of those who guarded their Singer his own crew had already boarded the enemy ship. That was a perilous place to be, true, but it was also exactly where they belonged. Stigander raised his horn to his lips and blew. All up and down the line, he heard answers from those Captains as were in a position to give one. About half, he judged. Not good enough yet.

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.

 

The ruins of Eskidal bore a striking resemblance to what remained of Kem, save for one minor detail: there were no runes. Even on buildings which were still more or less intact, neither Einarr nor Hrug could find a trace of a fire rune, and never mind that the fire had plainly burned hot – perhaps as hot as the Muspel shroud. It was a puzzle – right up until they reached the central square.

The square was only lightly touched by the fire, somehow, although ordinarily you would have expected the fire to burn hottest in the center – that was strange by itself, and enough to set Einarr, Hrug, and Eydri looking for the remains of a ward. While they were preoccupied with that, however, The other three, however, were looking a little higher, and so they were the ones who noticed.

“Um, Captain?” Irding called from across the square.

“What is it?”

“Did we ever do anything about those beasties that escaped the demon ships?”

Einarr grimaced and shook his head, knowing Irding couldn’t see him. He broke off his search for runes and crossed to where Irding stood looking up. “Just the kraken, and only by chance. Why?”

“I think the flying one might have been here.” He pointed.

Above, almost at rooftop level, long gashes had been cut into the walls. They looked like the chops made in a practice dummy, if the student was a giant.

“The flying one, with eyes and beaks and wings in all the wrong places?”

“Not sure what else would be big enough to do that, are you?”

“A dragon?” He thought he might rather face a dragon, under the circumstances. Then he shook his head. “A joke. I highly doubt they could bring a dragon properly under their control, and if it wasn’t controlled, they wouldn’t live long enough to use it.”

Irding nodded. “More or less my thought, yeah.”

“That still doesn’t explain the fire, though. I’m going to keep searching for signs of magic. Well spotted, Irding. Keep up the search.”


Mid-afternoon that day, well before the light began to fade, the search teams gathered together on the beach in front of their boats. The mood was subdued.

With a deep breath, Einarr started them off. “First of all, did anyone find any survivors?”

Some of the others in the crowd exchanged uncomfortable looks.

“With all due respect, with the sort of slaughter as happened in the streets, do you really think there were survivors?” A voice asked from the crowd.

Einarr glanced down at the ground, disappointed but not surprised, before looking in the direction of the voice. “No, not really. But if there had been, we would have wanted to get their story first. It was the story of a survivor, after all, that led us this far. My team and I came across some interesting results, but I should like to hear from the rest of you, first.”

Bardr stepped forward. “Then let the Vidofnir start things off with the obvious. The attackers, whoever they were, used fire to drive the people of the city out into the streets, where they were slaughtered wholesale. Once we moved closer to the city center, however, we found evidence that this was almost certainly an attack by the worshipers of Malùnion: on the walls of a temple to the true gods, we found imprecations against them, and their magics and Arts, painted in blood. Reki read them for us, as the Vidofning most familiar with runes.”

They went around in this way, each group reporting what they had found. Many of them, as Einarr had suspected, were too taken aback by the apparent ferocity of the carnage to note much more than the obvious conclusion – or, perhaps, simply unlucky in their search. One other team came across the giant claw marks, as well, and suggested that they could mean a dragon had been responsible instead of the cult. It would explain the apparent heat of the fires, after all. Einarr gave a half-smile, amused and sorry to have to burst their bubble.

“We saw those claw marks, too,” he said, when everyone else had reported their findings. We also found a runic ward around the city center – a very old one, probably dating to the early days of the city if not to its founding. Unfortunately, though, the runes painted on the temple point to the squiddies, and there is a monster associated with the squiddies that could make those claw marks.”

The crowd fell silent and stared at him, expectantly.

“A few years ago, my wife was captured by this selfsame cult – some of you have heard this story already. I did not yet have my own ship, but my father’s Vidofnir and the Skudbrun of Kjell managed to claim her back and take down a full four enemy ships, each of which traveled under the umbrella of a black squall and carried, instead of cargo, an abomination beneath its deck. One of them could fly, and it was pretty easily big enough to have made those cuts.”

“So, a bird, instead of a dragon?” Someone in the back asked. “I’ll take feathers over scales any day.”

Einarr shook his head, smiling a little. “You would? I’d rather fight the dragon. The dragon’s very blood won’t be corrupted, and its scales may be softer than the abomination’s skin. Furthermore, the sight of a dragon isn’t likely to drive a man mad – except, perhaps, for gold. Has anyone got a fletcher aboard?”

Four or five men, scattered throughout, said they had.

“Good. Before we leave we’ll send men into the forest. Make as many arrows as you can. We’ll need pitch, too, and any cloth we can scavenge. The more flaming arrows we can fire, the better this fight will go.” He paused, thinking. I wonder if there is any way I can make contact with Beatrix or Liupold? Sea fire would be a boon where we’re going. “Is there anything else?”

Aema stepped forward. “There’s still the matter of the unburied dead.”

Einarr was a little surprised to see she was still on the Skudbrun. “I suppose there’s not really much left to burn for a pyre, is there.”

Aema shook her head in agreement.

“In that case, while we are gathering wood for arrows, we will also bring whatever brush we can and pile it in the city. That should provide the tinder. The rest, I will leave to you and your sisters.”

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

Stigander smiled approvingly at Einarr, but held his peace for the moment. This, too, was as they had agreed. Nor did Bollinn speak up immediately, although Jarl Hroaldr and Thane Thorgnyr had already, privately, committed to the venture. They were forgoing the honor of being “first” to join in order to better gauge the reactions of the other clans.

There was a long pause following the end of his speech. Einarr scanned the room. As his eyes passed over Tore, he saw the Captain glance at his own lord, the Jarl Grimwald – a man with a stony face and hair as steely as his eyes. Grimwald ducked his chin, a motion so quick and slight that Einarr nearly missed it.

Tore rose. “The Sterkerbjorn of Hrafnhaugr will sail.”

If Hrafnhaugr was anything like Kjell, they might only have two or three ships to their name. It was interesting that Jarl Grimwald looked to no man before agreeing, though: unaffiliated jarls were unusual.

Two or three others added their ships to the fleet: Einarr watched Serk. He had actually taken less persuading than Tore had, but Thane Olaf still seemed reluctant. Or, rather, stubborn: Einarr knew a mulish look when he saw one.

Now Bollinn stood. “The Skudbrun sails. We, too, have fought these monsters before – and I assure you, that is not an overstatement. Even the ones who look like men are not: the moment they feel threatened, they may sprout tentacles anywhere on their body, and their blood is as black as night and as poisonous as Loki’s serpent.”

Thane Thorgnyr inclined his head. “Aye. And the Skudbrun of Kjell will not be alone. I was accompanied here by five ships of Geittoft. Word has reached us of these villains from places other than Kjell, and we will gladly throw our strength behind the Cursebreaker and his quest.”

More men threw their lot with Einarr, now – some of them without ships of their own, and still Serk watched for a sign from his Thane.

At last, as the flurry was dying down, Serk practically leapt to his feet. His hands were clenched into fists, and even so, Einarr thought he could see those fists quivering. “Whether or no Sweindalr sails with you, the Björtstag does!”

Thane Olaf whirled on his Captain, fury writ large in every muscle, but before he could speak Serk went on.

“Perhaps you did not see, milord. You stayed aboard when we stopped at Kaldreik… but the things that had been done, there. You are my Thane. You may forbid my crew, or my ship, but should you attempt to forbid me I will be forsworn. I cannot let this rest.”

“You would throw your weight behind one bunch of fools, who merely rush off to clean the mess begun by another group of fools? Not one of the cities we have spoken of would have fallen if it weren’t for that thrice-cursed League and their insanity.”

Serk’s voice dropped, although it was still plainly audible across the Althing. “Not so, my lord. Do I go alone, on a personal quest, or will you allow the Björtstag to bring a portion of the glory home to Sweindalr?

Thane Olaf spat. “Have it your way. But know this: should Sweindalr fall, ‘twill be on your own head!”

Serk bowed to his Thane.

Stigander cleared his throat, amused. “You have my thanks, all of you. To the already assembled fleet, Breidelstein will add five ships above the Heidrun, including my very own Vidofnir. We have no reason to believe the church of Malùnion knows we’re coming, but we should still assume that time is not on our side. The sheer number of settlements which have been massacred since the fall of Kem is proof enough of that. The longer we take, the more clans will fall. The fleet will assemble at Blávík in one month’s time. Two weeks later, we will sail for the stronghold of Malùnion.”

Thane Geirleif took a moment to scan the assembled crowd. “Does anyone care to object to this course of action?”

No-one spoke.

“Very well then. May the gods go with you all.”


All told, more than fifty ships arrived at Blávík, representing more than fifteen clans. Several groups of freeboaters arrived, as well, having heard of what was happening and willing to help for coin or glory or both. Thrand, when they entered his home port, went ashore under heavy guard and led the crew of the Heidrun to the place where he had always met with the League.

It was empty.

Thrand stood, agape, at the warehouse that he claimed had once housed the League’s operations. “I don’t understand.”

Einarr shook his head. “Kaldr was here while the Heidrun was in Kem. He said they were still in the city then. Let’s have a look around. Maybe we’ll learn something that way.”

When Einarr had been here before, the League had been a major force within the city – major enough that they were able to use the local lord’s resources to attempt to press-gang himself and all of his crew. Now, though? At some point between when Kaldr left and when the fleet arrived, they had apparently vanished into thin air. Einarr pressed his lips together, thinking.

“I’ll ask Father to pay a visit to lord Illugi – that was his name, wasn’t it? Surely, if this is his settlement, he would know what happened to such a large company of freeboaters.”

Thrand blanched. “Perhaps. But… but our Prince always seemed to have a hold on the jarl. He might know something… or he might be gone, too.”

Einarr stood studying Thrand for a long moment. “The men who crewed your ships for your raids. Did they… have anything in common?”

“Of course! We were the best sailors, and the most earnest. Why?”

“Oh, no reason.” He couldn’t exactly tell Thrand that they’d been sent away to die, to get them out of their leader’s way. “Nevertheless, we’ll have Father try, and Hrug and I will see what we can find out with the bones. I’d hoped to bring your fellows along with us, so they could help clean up their own mess, but if that’s not possible then I suppose we’ll have to make do without.” Einarr patted Thrand on the shoulder and started the walk back towards the docks and the Heidrun’s berth.

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.

 

All the new crew members needed time to arm themselves and see to their affairs, but that suited Einarr and the Vidofnings just fine. Einarr, in particular, had some matters to attend to regarding his new ship. Thus, it was decided that the three ships would sail to war one week hence.

On board the newly-christened Heidrun, Jorir and Naudrek went over the same inspection that Einarr had with his father just days before. Eydri sat on the bulwark, repeating the Lay of Raen to Tyr for what was probably the hundredth time as she worked to memorize it. She and Reki, together with the Battle Chanters from the Eikthyrnir and the Skudbrun, would sing it together as they left Kjell harbor. If all went well, this would be the last voyage the sons of Raen had to begin this way. Meanwhile, Hrug and Vali took each other’s measure in some strange way that Einarr did not fully understand.

“So?” Einarr asked as Naudrek and Jorir were coming to the end of their inspection and looking satisfied. “What do you make of Arkja and his crew, now that you’ve had some more normal sailing around them.”

“Good hardworking boys,” Jorir answered promptly, plopping down on the deck beside his Lord. “I think Arkja knew we were suspicious of him: he seemed more than eager to please.”

“You don’t think he’ll turn coward on us?”

Now Jorir hummed. “I think, so long as he’s not placed under too great a strain, you haven’t much of anything to worry about. Not sure I’d go making him an officer, mind. Hey, Vali – what think you?”

“Oh, aye. Arkja’s loyal enough. Just make sure he’s in front of you when the seas are rough.”

“That’s hardly a ringing endorsement. The man asked to swear to me, and I’m out of excuses to put him off. You two spent the end of last summer watching him. If there’s a reason I should refuse, I need to know it.”

Jorir shrugged. “You’ll be taking some sort of oath from everyone who comes aboard this ship, won’t you? Just have him swear the same.”

Vali shook his head slowly. “The trouble is, we didn’t see the sort of situation that might lead a man like Akel to break.”

“Akel? Who’s Akel?”

“Oh, uh. Right. He was the Mate aboard the Althane’s ship. You remember.”

Einarr nodded. Vali had warned him about Arkja and used the Althane’s Mate as an example.

“So I don’t see any reason not to take him aboard, or even to let him swear to be your man, but I would consider his advice carefully, especially where it concerns the wellbeing of others.”

“Worth doing with most advice, I find. Very well. I’ll trust your judgement.”

Jorir smirked. “I expect no less, by now. So. We’ve told you about the Forgotten men. What can you tell us of Breidelstein?”

Einarr looked sheepish. “Hasn’t Father talked about it? I was only a boy. I’m afraid my recollections aren’t likely to be all that helpful.”

“That’s hardly the point,” Naudrek put in. “We’re about to put our necks on the line for your boyhood home. We want to know what we’re fighting for. And we want to know you remember what we’re fighting for.”

“…Ah. Well, all right then. I guess I should start by saying that, until winter before last, I wasn’t rightly sure I cared if we got our home back. The sea was my home. And then I met Runa again.”


At long last, the Vidofnir and her two allies – fortified with sailors from the Skudbrun, which could not be repaired in time – were fully on war footing. The Vidofnir led the way out of the harbor under oars, and the beat of the cadence drum carried the promise of violence to come.

Once they were out of the harbor the three ships raised their sails and turned north. The drumming continued all that afternoon and into the evening, as the four Singers raised their voices together for the Lay of Raen.

Leafy rug lies under
Lee of rock ridge, the
Free-hearted Raen’s hold
High built, its vigil born
To guard men above gold.
Grant plenty, pious king,
But forget not folly
Of fate-dabbler’s design.

The four voices twined together, echoing over the water between the ships while the drums continued to play. Einarr, for the first time at the helm of his own ship instead of standing by his father’s side, felt a shiver run down his spine at the eerie sound.

Raen’s folly, a fair lass
Flax-haired, by eye-gleams held:
Urdr did he woo, under
Umber moon she swooned.
No troth spoke though one she
Took: the ring-breaker Raen
She would wed. When sea-steed
Stole Raen, Urdr did remain.

Unwisely wooed, Urdr
Bore Ulfr, boy-child of
Greyed eyes, guileful blade.
Threads Urdr traced, fiber spun
While wolf’s fangs he forg’d.
To seek redress on swan’s road
Their uncut thread binds all
.

The mood aboard ship – Einarr assumed all three ships – had nothing of the melancholy he was used to. No: this time was different in every regard. This time, the ritual was performed not for remembrance but for determination. The Weavess and her usurper son would, finally, after sixteen long years, face justice for their crimes.

Without realizing he did so, Einarr joined his own voice to the voices of the Singers.

Ulfr did usurp, and Urdr does
Under cursèd thrall snarl
Mountain’s men, and entomb’d
Raen maltreats. Raven-wine
By Art bound, and by Art’s touch
Alone undone: hie home,
Raen’s sons, soon your birthright
Save, and cut the woven chain.

He was not alone. He heard his Father’s voice, and Tyr’s. Erik. Sivid. One by one, all the Vidofnings who had been with the ship for even half of those years raised their voices, until it was less a Lay and more of a Chant. They were declaring their enemy’s crimes before sea and wind and sky, and this time they would not be turned back.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

The only way Einarr could have been more glad to see a shore, he thought, would be if it were Breidelstein, and their victory complete. As it was, Kjell had begun to feel almost like a home itself, and Einarr could not quite disguise his pleasure at seeing it again.

The only shadow on the whole affair came from the dromon sailing in their wake. Their captain had acceeded to the escort and the flag of surrender easily enough, which said to Einarr that the problem might actually be more serious than they had let on. So far as that went, he was torn. On the one hand, if one were to assign blame for the release of those horrors, it would fall to the crews of the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun. On the other hand, they were creatures which should not exist in the first place, and the fault of their existence could be laid squarely at the feet of the svartalfr cult.

Well. Soon they would be able to put the matter before Father, Bollinn, and Jarl Hroaldr. In the meantime, the Eikthyrnir sailed around to find a berth in town.

The harbormaster in Kjellvic was quite put out, in fact, by the presence of the dromon, even after Captain Kormund claimed it was his prize – over the objections of the Valkyrian captain, of course.

The Vidofnir was not docked in the harbor, although it was entirely possible Stigander had beached her in the inlet near the hall instead. He did get a glimpse, however, of the rams-head prow Father had commissioned for him last year.

It was with a spring in his step that Einarr led his new companions, as well as Captains Kormund and Liupold, down the road to Kjell Hall, where he expected to find Runa as well as the Vidofnings.

He was, unfortunately, disappointed. Runa was there, and while they were permitted to greet each other the Jarl kept her close to hand for the entirety of his visit. The Vidofnir, he learned, had set out on the equinox headed for Breidhaugr in hopes of finding some clue as to Einarr’s whereabouts. Still, however, Bollinn of the Skudbrun was expected back any day now. When Liupold of the Arkona requested consultation with them, the Jarl also sent for the retired Kragnir at Einarr’s suggestion.

On the third day after their arrival at the Hall, Bollinn arrived. All of the captains, Einarr, and the Jarl seated themselves near the fire pit to hear Liupold’s petition.

“One of the islands that the Arkona defends from attack,” he began, much more diplomatically than before. “Suddenly went silent. We went in to investigate. The village… the village was dead. Massacred. We wondered, at first, if one of the Clan ships had turned rogue…”

He never finished that thought, as everyone else in the circle shook their heads vehemently ‘no.’ Such behavior was unthinkable among the Clans.

“We learned soon enough not. We left the village and sent a squad’s worth of priests in to see to last rights and purification. Not long thereafter, a Valkyrie appeared before me.” His tale went on in that vein, and was either the truth or a remarkably well-practiced lie, for Einarr could detect no meaningful difference between what he had been told when they finally confronted their tail and now.

“Captain Liupold wished to convince my father and I to travel south and deal with the issue, under the theory that they would not be loose were it not for our rescue of Runa.” Einarr left it there: he could see the same answer he had given on Bollinn’s and Kragnir’s faces already. The Jarl schooled his expression somewhat more, however, and Einarr found he could not tell what he was thinking.

“Hopeless,” Bollinn began.

“Pointless,” Kragnir continued. “If you had any idea how many men we lost, fighting the cultists and those helbeasts in the first place, you wouldn’t ask. You want to blame someone, blame the cult. They might even have someone left you could hold responsible.”

Bollinn crossed his arms. “Bleed the villagers. Anyone with black blood has to die – they’re too far gone. As for the rest… I suppose it’s possible they could be saved, depending. You might be able to convince the Matrons on Breidhaugr to share the formula for their medicine, but my understanding is that it only delays the effects. Stigander has the distaff.”

Liupold’s brow creased. “The distaff?”

“The Matrons required Frigg’s distaff in order to fully cleanse us of the corruption. I was sent to retrieve it from the Tower of Ravens, where I encountered a Valkyrie. When I went to study with the alfs, I left it with Father. We will have need of it.”

Liupold nodded. “That fits with what Hrist said of you. I’d wondered how she knew the Clans had produced another Cursebreaker.”

“What did Hrist say of me?”

“Enough that I knew you on sight. But it’s really not important right now. What I need to know is, will you come?”

“We’ve already told you how to deal with this curse. You don’t need me, just the stones to do it.” Unless they would then turn around and use this as a pretext for war against the Clans. Einarr had to bite his tongue to keep from saying that aloud, and hope this ‘Hrist’ wasn’t spying on him right now.

Jarl Hroaldr smiled, and the expression sent shivers down Einarr’s spine. “They are right, I’m afraid. However… I believe an agreement may be reached. I will not be sending the Skudbrun with you. But I expect my future son-in-law may have some insights that will prove useful to you in dealing with the outbreak, especially since he’s fought this great black squid before. Surely you have no objection to that, do you, son?”

Well, it seemed like the Jarl was still against Einarr marrying Runa. His mouth felt suddenly dry. “Of course not.”


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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.

While fixing the Gestrisni went about as well as Einarr could have hoped, that still left them groping for an answer, or even just a clue, of how to get past the magic trapping them here.

“We may have to just go, with the expectation of being turned back once,” Runa finally said. Arkja’s men had already told them what little they knew – some of it from personal experience.

Einarr frowned and crossed his arms. The old fisherman who “welcomed” them to the island was still, days later, nowhere to be found on shore. If it weren’t for the furnished cabin near their boat, he might have wondered if the man really existed.

“You’re not wrong,” Einarr said finally. I don’t like the idea of wasting time that way, but it does begin to seem as though nobody knows.”

“Seems to me,” Jorir mused, “that the waste of time would be sticking around after she’s fixed, looking for information that may not even exist.”

Erik harrumphed. Einarr nodded.

“That is, more or less, the conclusion I was reaching. I kind of wish we had Sivid along right now, though.”

Irding raised an eyebrow. Arkja, as the only member of the newcomers working on the escape plan instead of loading, looked confused.

Einarr smiled at the confusion. “Irding, you’ve only been aboard a few months, so maybe you haven’t noticed yet. Sivid may be Unlucky, but everything seems to work out when he’s around.”

“Then why’s he unlucky?” Arkja asked.

Einarr smiled again. He couldn’t give the whole answer – that wasn’t his to tell – but he didn’t have to. “Bad at dice.”

“And that earned him a moniker?”

“You’ll understand when you meet him.”

The leader of the newcomers shrugged. “Do you still need me, then? The boys could use a hand with the loading.”

“Go ahead. I expect the rest of us will be along shortly… Actually, I think we’re basically done here. Irding, why don’t you go with him?”

Erik’s son tipped his head in assent and followed the one-time tavern keeper off to the ship, where he would supervise as much as help. Erik and Jorir had agreed to give the manifest a final check, and so soon it was once again just Einarr and Runa.

Finally. In all the activity, Einarr still hadn’t managed to make his request of her.

Runa had started to turn away, likely headed for their camp and the cook fire.

“Wait a moment.”

She turned back, her brows raised questioningly.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask of you for a while now, actually…”

She did not fill the silence, merely waited expectantly for him to continue. For Einarr’s part, he kept telling himself it was a stupid thing to be embarrassed about – not that that made him less so, of course.

“Runa, will you teach me how to read the runes? With everything that’s gone on, if we hadn’t had a Singer along we never would have made it out. But I’m not always going to be able to rely on having someone else available to interpret…”

Runa held up a hand to stop his babbling. “Of course I will teach you, Runes and something of Story both. I would like for us to actually be wed one day, rather than being a widowed maid.”

Einarr inclined his head, and was surprised at the hoarseness of his voice when he said “Thank you.”

***

The morning after all was deemed to be in readiness, the strange old fisherman returned to shore. Einarr first caught sight of him ambling down the shore from the south, which struck him as odd: even now, none of them had seen the man’s boat.

“Good morrow!” He raised a hand in greeting as the old man continued up the beach towards them.

“Is it?” he growled, a familiar echo of their first day on the island. “I wonder.”

“Of course it is. We’re finally ready to try our luck.”

The old man stopped a moment to stare at the repaired Gestrisni, apparently unimpressed. He harrumphed and resumed his walk up the beach, ignoring the fools on their quest.

A wild impulse seized Einarr. “We’ve still got room aboard, if you want to test your fate with ours.”

The old man stopped again, threw back his head, and laughed. “Why would I steal you kids’ chance of getting off?”

Einarr’s mind went momentarily blank, but when he opened his mouth the only possible answer spilled forth, almost of its own volition. “Because the captain of this vessel has been named a Cursebreaker.”

The old man shook his head now. “That’s the only reason I think you have a chance at all, kid. Leave this old fool to his justly earned exile.”

Einarr shared a look with Runa, then shook his head. He was curious, but they had wasted too much time on this accursed island already. The men from the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun were waiting. Einarr and Runa walked toward their ship.

“Milord?” Arkja popped his head up over the railing. “There’s some sort of large jar on the deck. Where do you want it?”

Einarr blinked. How had that gotten here? He sighed, shaking his head. “Just stow it in the hold, I guess. Make use of it if you can.”

“A… jar?” Runa looked at him sidelong.

“It’s a long story. We’ll have time on our way.”

Runa hummed, looking amused, and let it rest.

***

That evening, Runa performed the Lay of Raen at Einarr’s request, and for the benefit of the newcomers. In the melancholy mood that always followed, Jorir and the other Vidofnings gathered together near the prow of the boat to talk. It wasn’t private, but it was as near as they could manage.

Staring out over the railing at the stars on the sea, Jorir scratched his beard thoughtfully. “It’s a shame we couldn’t do anything for the old man.”

Even as Einarr was nodding in agreement, Arkja’s brows knit in confusion from just outside their circle. “Old man? What old man?”

“The old fisherman on the beach? I told him we still had room, but he refused?”

The erstwhile tavern keeper slowly shook his head. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but there was no old man on the beach. That shack you kept checking has stood empty for as long as anyone I’ve ever talked to can remember.”


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through 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.

The public hall where Einarr found the Vidofnings and Brunnings was surprisingly large for a town no bigger than East Port. If Einarr had to take a guess, most of their custom came from ships such as their own, here to call on the Conclave.

A cheer went up as the door swung open under Reki’s hand. Inside the hall was as warm and cheery as one might expect at the end of a good season of raiding. With a grin, Einarr moved to join his crewmates with a drink while Reki went to report to Stigander. All eight of their party were able to breathe a sigh of relief when they saw that there had, in fact, been no transformations as of yet – only the complaints they had grown used to of nausea and headaches as though their crews had both contracted a lingering flu.

Even Reki’s news did not dampen their enthusiasm: if anything, the fact that they had found their “cure” before the corruption had claimed anyone was another victory over the madmen of the cult. Then it was Einarr’s turn.

“I’ve been given another impossible quest, I’m afraid, Father.”

“Feh. Do skalds give any other kind?”

“Not likely.”

“Well, what is it now?”

“I’m to travel to the Tower of Ravens and steal Frigg’s distaff out from under the noses of Huginn and Muninn.”

Stigander looked just as confused as Einarr had. “What in the depths of all the seas do you need that for?”

“Untangling fate, they say, and ridding us of the cult’s corruption for good.”

His father shook his head and wiped his hand down his moustaches, his expression changing from amusement to consternation and back again. “Well, if there’s anyone in this lot who can manage it, I’d lay my odds on you.”

Sivid could do it, if it weren’t for his accursed luck. “Thank you, Father. The Matrons said the tower required a smaller boat to reach: I’m to pay a call on a fisherman in the morning regarding the use of a boat. I’d like to take some of the crew along.”

“Long as they’re up for it, same as before. …This distaff, you said it untangles fate?”

Einarr nodded, and his father harrumphed. There was no need to say it: such a thing could easily break the Weaver’s curse on their homeland. He turned back to the hall full of his fellow Vidofnings.

“All right, everyone! Just like this spring, I need a few of you to venture out in a little fishing boat with me. This time we’re braving the wrath of a god!”

His pronouncement was followed by a peal of laughter, even by those who had heard the Matrons’ pronouncement at the Conclave.

Jorir, to no-one’s surprise, was the first to step forward. “Come hel or high water, I’m with ye.”

Einarr inclined his head at his man-at-arms. “Thank you, Jorir. Who else?”

The next man to step forward was gangly Irding, neither as tall nor as muscle-bound as his father but with the same brown hair and reckless grin. “Sounds like fun. I’ll give it a go.”

Erik’s head snapped around to look at his son. “You sure about that? We got into a heap o’ trouble going after the Isinntog.”

“I know. That’s why it sounds like fun.” Irding grinned at his father, and Erik laughed loudly.

“Who’m I kidding? Of course it does. Count me in, too.”

Einarr’s mouth curled in a half-smile. Irding looked a little less happy at the prospect now that Erik was also along, but it would be good for them. “Great. Anyone else? I expect we’ll have to work our way past traps, and if anyone knows how to read runes it would be a help.”

“I already told you, I’m coming,” Runa said, standing at the table.

“No, you’re not. There’s no telling what sort of violence we might come across.”

“You’re invading the tower of Huginn and Muninn. You need someone familiar with magic, who can read runes. I’m coming.”

Aema, the Brunning’s battle-chanter, stepped forward. “You’re hardly the only one here with those qualifications.”

“No, but I’m the only one here with those qualifications who isn’t needed here. You and Reki both have crews to tend, full of men doused with corrupted blood, and I do not. I may be a Jarl’s daughter, but that doesn’t make me useless.”

“Maybe not,” Trabbi rumbled, “but if anything should happen to you your Father will have my head. He may even if you go along and nothing happens.”

Runa met her erstwhile suitor’s eyes. “On my word of honor, I will not allow that to happen.”

Trabbi scowled back. “You have no more place on that boat than I do, my Lady.”

“That is where you’re wrong.” She turned her attention back to Einarr, and he felt the old familiar thrill. “What was it that the alfr gave you in the wood?”

“Some bauble he thought would help us through the tower, though at the moment I can’t see how.” That had been the way of Runa’s gifts, too, given as they left to seek the Jotünhall.

“Give it here.”

Einarr shrugged and removed the bird-shaped brooch from the pouch at his belt. “Doesn’t the use typically become plain when you need it?”

All three Singers rolled their eyes at him even as Runa took hold of the brooch and blanched.

Einarr couldn’t help the question. “What is it?”

“Let us hope the use becomes plain, because while I can read the runes, they look like so much nonsense.”

Reki threaded her way through the room to take a closer look. She raised pale eyebrows and let loose a low whistle. “Well, at the very least your elf-gift should actually be of use. How did he get this, though?”

“See, Runa? I’m sure we’ll be able to muddle through-”

“So long as you have someone who can read the runes. You need me, and one way or another I’m coming.” Runa’s jaw was set. Einarr turned to Bollinn.

The new Captain of the Skudbrun sighed. “I don’t think there’s any stopping her at this point. Over my own better judgement, I’ll allow it.”

Runa smiled in triumph. Einarr hoped she wouldn’t regret her insistence.


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Captain Kragnir’s face was flushed scarlet with rage as he faced his Mate in the middle of the challenge circle. Bollinn, for his part, seemed possessed of a colder anger.

“Give me a reason why I shouldn’t challenge you for command?” Bollinn’s voice carried across the water, level and firm. “When you accepted their surrender, you put our crew in danger, and tried to bring our Lady into the same hazard. Had we reached home it would have been not just our crew, but all of the Jarl’s domain.”

“Jarl Hroaldr charged me to take the defeated as thralls. By challenging me, you challenge our lord.”

“I think even our Jarl would have looked at those creatures and ordered their execution. If you cut them, they bleed black – same as those monstrosities they hid in their boats. Give them half a chance in battle and they no longer even resemble men. If my choices are to drown or to challenge you, then lift your sword.” Bollinn dropped into a ready stance, his eyes glued to his Captain’s.

“So be it.”

Then the two men were in the clinch, long sword against hand axe, and the rest of the Brunnings cheered from the circle. More than half of them looked to be cheering for Bollinn.

On the deck of the Vidofnir, wagers were quietly being placed – not just for who would win, but for how they would win. Einarr ignored the organizer when the whispers came around to his ear, his mouth set in a grim line. Meanwhile, across the way, Bollinn was weaving around his Captain’s guard like a dog worrying a bear.

The Mate may not have had the raw power of his Captain, but Bollinn more than made up for that with the speed and skill he had displayed down in the circle fort. Three times Einarr noted a moment where Bollinn could have ended the fight, but didn’t – waiting, he would guess, for his Captain to yield and take the lesser loss of face.

Kragnir’s swings became less wild as rage gave way to wariness. Too late, however: Einarr could see the path of the duel, and the Skudbrun’s Captain was rapidly running out of options. Einarr looked away from the fight to see a grim look on his father’s face, some paces to his left. Stigander must see the same thing Einarr did, perhaps even more plainly: having pressed Bollinn to the challenge, it was Kragnir who would fall this day.

Stigander shook his head and turned away from the duel. Resolved, Einarr turned his head back towards it even as Kragnir dropped to his knees.

Bollinn stood before his former Captain, his axe extended for a final strike, and swallowed. “Yield.”

“Finish me, then.” Kragnir’s voice was weary, to Einarr’s ear.

“No.”

The former Captain of the Skudbrun was the only one who looked shocked.

“I did not wish to challenge you in the first place, and I see no reason why any other Kjelling should learn of this. You will live. When we return home, we will say you have decided to retire. And none of us will ever say a word about why. Isn’t that right, men?”

An affirming shout rose, first from the Brunnings and then from the Vidofnings.

“Are we agreed?”

Slowly, reluctantly, Kragnir nodded his assent. Einarr did not know if the man had a family ashore, or any other trade to turn to, but even without those things it was a fair agreement.

“Back to work, men, and weigh anchor! The Lady Runa was expected weeks ago.”

***

As the uneventful weeks passed following the battle against the Grendel and her allies, Einarr felt his unease begin to dissipate. Runa’s presence, and that of no few friends from Kjell Hall, surely helped. Even so, that uneasiness still lingered at the periphery of his awareness. I’m sure it’s just that we’re so undermanned…

He shook his head, trying to clear away the unseasonably gloomy thoughts, as Breidhaugr’s green shores drew nearer. Here they would find a shipwright for the Vidofnir, and here they would have a chance to recruit men for their lost cause (that might not be so lost as he had thought).

The Skudbrun, now under Bollinn’s command, led the Vidofnir around the north shore of the island until they arrived at East Port – the only town on the island. Compared to Mikilgata, East Port was both small and bright: there would be a shipwright, although more than likely only one. Einarr hoped he would be good. As the Vidofnir docked, Trabbi approached Einarr.

“Been talking with Lady Runa’s guard,” he said without preamble.

“And?”

“And as her betrothed we think you ought to join us as we escort her to the Skald’s Hall.”

Einarr cocked an eyebrow and, unable to keep mockery from his tone, replied. “Are you sure? After all, I might try to run off with her again.”

Trabbi actually laughed. “I don’t think anyone save maybe the Jarl believes you would. And even if you were that stupid, how would you get off Breidhaugr?”

“I’m sure she’d think of something.” Einarr rolled his eyes. “But no, I’m not dumb enough to try and elope when we’re already promised.”

“And that is exactly what we decided. Are you coming?”

“Yes, I rather think I am. I may have some questions to ask of the Matrons of the Hall.”

Trabbi shrugged as though that were unimportant and clapped his former rival on the shoulder. “Good to have you along. I’ll make sure the Captain knows. We leave straightaway after docking.”

Einarr shook his head, suppressing a chuckle. For a man he’d bested at glìma not four months back, the fisherman was surprisingly friendly. But if Einarr would be joining the escort, he had tasks to accomplish as his father’s heir before they docked.

 


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The black storm blowing around the last of the cult ships had begun to dissipate before the Skudbrun and the Vidofnir limped out of the fullest extent of its shadow. As the sky grew brighter, some of the crew brightened as well, as though the horrors of the mysterious cult were banished with the weather.

Einarr envied them, in a way. He lay back on his bedroll, determined to rest until dinner. He’d only been fighting all day, after all, and that was reason enough. Never mind the strange nausea that gripped his throat, or that he now knew why a Cursebreaker had been named. Who else could be expected to deal with fanatics like those? Sighing, he rolled over, only to find himself face to face with that blasted jar.

A grumble of annoyance escaped Einarr’s throat and he contemplated pitching the thing overboard again. But, no: perhaps Runa would want it, or if not Runa one of the men’s wives ashore. Still, it was more than strange that it should find its way back to the ship like this.

His irritated contemplation was cut off by the aroma of grilled fish and the call to food. Finally. His stomach had finally started to settle as the day’s gory work grew more distant, and Einarr expected food to cure the end of it. Food, and a flask or two of whatever cask they opened up.

Einarr pried himself up off his blanket on the deck, his muscles grown as stiff as his blood-soaked clothes. Most of the rest of the crew looked equally sore: they had earned their rest this day. It was only a shame they had not been able to loot the cult ships… or then again, perhaps not.

The sound of a man retching carried forward from the aftcastle. Einarr winced, knowing he’d felt the same not long before, and joined his fellows in pretending it hadn’t happened. The atmosphere on the ship felt brittle tonight: tight smiles that touched no-one’s eyes, friends whose eyes refused to meet, and not one voice was heard to speak of the day’s victory. Einarr frowned as he approached Snorli and the night’s meal. He could not truly blame anyone, but this could be trouble if it persisted. Well, give them a day to process everything.

They ate in near-silence. Those who did speak did so in hushed tones, and what little Einarr was able to catch had more to do with the Conclave ahead than the storm behind. With a dissatisfied grunt, Einarr filled a skin with ale and moved to join Jorir and Erik in silence.

The Skudbrun still ran just ahead of them, and the difference in the day’s fight was plain in the twilight. Its rails were unbroken and its sail largely whole even if it was painted in the same black blood that had drenched everyone who fought.

It was good that they had a friendly escort for this journey: there were few aboard the Vidofnir fit to fight at present. Even still, if the Skudbrun itself was healthier, the crew still aboard must have been just as brittle. Even over the rush of wind and the crash of waves against the two hulls, as they ate the sound of shouting carried to the deck of the Vidofnir.

Erik grunted. “Anyone care to lay odds they’re fighting about the thralls?”

“No bet.” Einarr shook his head. “Anyone raised to Captain should have better sense than to take monsters in men’s clothing as thralls.”

“Madness takes many forms.” Jorir let that statement hang, and a shiver ran down Einarr’s spine.

At length, Erik broke the silence that descended. “Your man at arms is a bundle of cheer, isn’t he?”

Einarr hummed and looked straight at the dwarf. “But rarely wrong, that I’ve seen.”

“Unless I misread that Bollinn fellow, the issue will resolve itself by dawn.”

There were other concerns that followed that statement, and Bollinn had been a good man to have at his back. “Then let’s hope Captain Kragnir doesn’t come down on him too hard in the morning.”

Erik raised his flask to that, and Einarr and Jorir brought theirs up in agreement. As the light fell, so did silence over the deck of the Vidofnir.

Some hours later, as Einarr lay awake staring at the moon, the splash of a man overboard reached his ears. He started to rise when no cry went up from either ship: had the night watch not seen?

The second splash came from ahead of the Vidofnir, where the Skudbrun ran as a black silhouette against the indigo sky. Even as Einarr focused on the other ship a smaller silhouette launched away from the deck, arms and legs flailing in the air as though they were trying to fly before plunging downward into the icy deep.

Einarr swallowed, worried for a moment about who was throwing whom aboard the other ship. He heard no fighting, however, even as another shape took flight from the deck and plunged towards the sea. No Brunning – no warrior – would allow themselves to be thrown overboard without a fight. I hope Bollinn isn’t punished too severely for this.

If even half of the Brunnings aboard agreed with their Mate, he shouldn’t be. Not unless Captain Kragnir truly was gripped by some sort of madness. Einarr shrugged his shoulders uneasily and dropped quietly back to his bedroll. He counted time now by the splashes of thralls as they were cast into the deep. As Jorir predicted, before grey dawn lightened the sky the splashing ceased.

Shortly after true dawn, the Skudbrun dropped its sea anchor. As the Vidofnir pulled up alongside, Stigander gave the order to drop their own. On the deck of the other ship, Bollinn stood with square shoulders facing their Captain. Both of them had bare steel in hand.


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