Stigander lowered his glass and sighed. The fortress was burning, and he hadn’t seen a signal yet. That was very shortly going to become moot, however, judging by the commotion on the docks. At least the blockade was already set up. He didn’t even look over his shoulder before he gave the order, certain that Bardr was where Stigander expected. “We can’t wait any longer. Something must have happened to the lookout. Signal the others.”

“Aye, sir.”

Before long the crack of sails could be heard over the fleet once more as the longships closed their circle, trapping the squiddies in their own jar. Or, at least, that was the idea. They hadn’t seen any of the black storm clouds that had marked the monsters in the svartlalfr ships’ holds – not yet, anyway. That might change when they actually put out to sea.

He raised his glass again. Something was off, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what.


A wide open field was all that stood between Einarr’s team and the keep at the center of the fortress. It looked empty, but when Troa rose to begin their dash across the open space Einarr put a hand on his shoulder. “Something’s wrong.”

Movement caught his eye from partway around the killing field. It was another team – and Einarr had no way to stop them. He bit his tongue to keep from crying out. That would not help them, and it would give away their position. Then, he let out a long breath. “Be prepared to move on my mark,” he whispered.

“But you just said -” Irding protested. That earned him a sharp look.

“I know what I said. Situation changed.”

The other team stopped and threw up their arms, as though they were suddenly being buffeted by wind – a wind which Einarr soon felt, too. An unearthly screech filled the air, like the unholy fusion of a raven and a whale. He looked up.

A chill ran down his spine. It was like a hundred birds all sharing one body, with eyes and beaks and wings and legs jutting out at impossible angles and improbable locations. There was no earthly reason it should have been able to fly. And Einarr had seen it before.

It was the beast whose crew had willingly sacrificed themselves to its appetite when it became clear they had lost. It had crawled forth from the wreckage of their hold, a writhing and bubbling blob, and taken on the shape Einarr still could not fully grasp now that it was before him again.

“Oh. Hel.”


Stigander frowned as he stared at the ships now running across the waves toward the blockade, bristling with oars and, he was certain, both blades and arrows to match. This all looked as he expected it to, but there was an insistent tug on his heart whispering that something was about to go very wrong.

A black shadow passed overhead. He looked up to see a massive, multi-winged bird tearing through the sky toward the fortress. Alarm rose in his belly, but not enough to drown out the nagging anxiety. What am I missing?

A crack of thunder from out at sea made him jump. When he turned around, suddenly he understood.

The open sea behind them roiled with the heavy winds stirred up by the black clouds overhead – black as the clouds that bore the Grendel, what felt like ages ago, and her sister ships on the svartalfr island. And there, between storm clouds and churning sea, were twice as many ships as sailed from the harbor. Now he understood what his instincts had been trying to tell him.

They had sailed the entire fleet into a trap, and now they were caught between the hammer and the anvil. Part of him wished he had Kaldr to hand, but the man’s genius was more suited for the laying of traps like these, rather than escaping them. Indeed, that is almost exactly what they had been trying to do.

“Bardr, do you see what I see?”

“I’m afraid so, sir.”

“Good. Sound the horns: battle is joined.” This was not the day he intended to die, but if it came it would be an acceptable one.


Irding cursed a blue streak. It seemed he recognized the monster, too. Troa, grim-faced, limbered his bow.

“I’m down to about ten arrows.”

Einarr nodded. “Irding, Arkja, Jorir, do what you can to divide its attention. Troa, take your shots, but don’t waste them. I’ll see if I can’t pin it down somehow.” Damned if I know how, though.

Jorir cleared his throat. “With all due respect, milord, if you will be doing a working, I will be covering you.”

Einarr nodded at the dvergr. “Thank you. Now let’s go. That’s going to be too much for five men alone.”

The other team had the bright idea to scatter: Einarr approved. No matter how big it was, it only had one body and it was blessedly free of tentacles. He was dimly aware of an arrow flying towards the monstrosity, and of one eye closing, but Einarr’s attention was focused inward. As he ran, he drew his chalk from his pouch.

Someone from the other team charged forward and grabbed hold of one of its taloned legs. That… could be brilliant, or it could be his end, or both.

When he was about halfway across the field, Einarr stopped. This should be close enough without making Jorir’s job any harder. Movement caught his eye: a third team had reached the field and was running in to assist. Good. It took a whole ship just to drive one of these things off last time… I wish I could leave this to Hrug.

He started to draw his rune circle on the paving stones. He would need Isa, he was certain, but he very much doubted he had the will to turn the monster into a block of ice, even with the binding circle. An upside-down Yr would turn a ward inward, to keep whatever was inside from getting out, although if he wasn’t careful he would keep his men from dealing with it that way. Wynn could be used to calm it – that would definitely be useful.

Someone from one of the other teams screamed, and when the sound abruptly cut off Einarr knew it had been his death scream. He nearly activated the circle right then, but bit his lip. He had to think carefully, even now: there would only be one chance at this, so he had to do it right.

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.

 

Einarr’s head swam, although he could feel the hard ground beneath it. The crackle of a nearby campfire was unmistakeable. The last thing he remembered was etching an ᚱ into some birch bark to keep for later use. What… happened? Where am I?

He blinked, and at first all he saw was a brownish blur. When he opened his eyes again, though, his vision was clear. That brown blur was the glow of firelight on the branches of an ash, and beyond that the starry field of night. Einarr groaned.

“Awake, are you?” The creaking voice of an old woman broke the stillness. “I’d begun to wonder if your foolishness had actually killed you.”

With another groan, Einarr pushed himself up on his elbows and squinted at the source of the voice. “What do you mean?”

The woman who sat across the fire from him in a colorless cloak appeared ancient – older, even, than the oldest of the Matrons on Breidhaugr. Old enough that Einarr was surprised to see her out in the forest at all.

“What I mean,” the crone said. “Is that the village alfs never should have let you out of their sight. What were you thinking, carving all those runestones?”

Einarr blinked at her, a little confused. “You mean those chips? I thought they’d be useful…”

“Not much use if you’ve so much of your life tied up in them they kill you. You’re a novice, and a human to boot. There’s no way your soul could support more than a handful.”

Einarr sat all the way up. For just a campfire, the light seemed awfully bright to his eyes right then. “What do you mean?”

The old woman with her drawn features snorted. “Wise enough to listen to your elders, at any rate. Did your alfr master tell you, properly, what the limits of rune magic are?”

“The Runemaster requires time, primarily. Time to inscribe the proper runes for his purpose.”

The crone nodded. “That’s right, so far as it goes. He didn’t mention runestones?”

Einarr shook his head. “I’ve only a few months with them. I only really wanted to learn how to read them. Probably he decided there wasn’t time to teach me.”

She snorted again. “Not quite, I suspect. Runestones are an advanced technique. Not because they’re particularly difficult: any fool can inscribe a rune and make it last. But every one you make ties up a portion of your life energy. With the number you had on you, you’re lucky I found you.”

“I… Yes. Thank you, for that. How long was I out?”

“It’s been a day and a half since I destroyed them for you. As for how long you’d been out before that, I really couldn’t say.”

Einarr blanched. “More than a day… since you destroyed them?”

“That’s right – and a good thing you put them on wood, too. If you’d been fool enough to carve them in stone, this old woman wouldn’t have been able to break them. That’s the only way to reclaim the bits of your spirit, after all.”

“I see.” He did, actually: his eyes finally felt like they were back to normal. “How do you know so much?”

The crone cackled. “You’re not the first over-extended student of the runes this old Singer has seen. Not on this island.”

“Wait, hold on. You’re a Singer?”

“I was, in my youth. Voice is gone, now, but it didn’t take my mind with it.” She laughed again.

Einarr nodded slowly, considering. “You have my thanks for the rescue. Tell me, did you move me from where I was found?”

“You give these old bones a good deal of credit, young man. We are not far off the path where I found you, in a little clearing not many others know. In the morning, you are free to go about your business – although if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get back to that village and bow your neck to Elder Melja. Tell him Geiti sent you scampering back, and if he doesn’t want to lose more students he should stop hiding ‘dangerous’ information.”

Einarr couldn’t keep a small smile off of his face. “I’ll be sure to tell him that when I return. But I can’t go back immediately.”

The crone resettled herself on the ground, leaning forward a bit with interest. “And what, then, has a young novice wandering about like a toddler just finding his feet?”

I think I deserved that one? “The Shroud has been freed.”

“Good gods, man, what are you doing out here? Get back to the village, let the Runemasters handle it.”

“The Runemasters can’t handle it if they can’t find it. I’m trying to make sure they know where to look.”

“And why, praytell, did they let a novice take on that job?”

He sighed. “Forgive me, grandmother Geiti. I’m afraid I haven’t properly introduced myself. I am Einarr, only son of Stigander, the son of Raen of Breidlestein. Wandering prince, veteran raider, no meagre hunter, and the named Cursebreaker besides.”

“Well well well. Now I have even more questions. But, they will wait. It is late, and you are still recovering your strength. Sleep now, and we will speak more in the morning.”

And so Einarr laid his head back down on the bare earth to stare at the stars and the light flickering on the branches above. Sleep eluded him, and he was uncertain if that was because his life energy was returning to him – he felt stronger almost by the minute – or if it was because even here he could not escape his Calling. Eventually, though, he must have dropped off, because when next he opened his eyes the sky was the pale blue of early morning. The smell of berried porridge clung to the morning air. When he sat up, the ancient Singer offered him a toothless smile and a wooden bowl.


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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.