Einarr surveyed the landing below and frowned. That would have been a brutal fight even without everything that came before. They had, in the end, put the cursed warriors down and their knights to rout, but the toll had been heavy. “Jorir.”

“Here, my lord.”

“We hold the fortress town and the first floor, and the men are exhausted. Detail a team, as energetic as you can manage, to fetch Kaldr and the others. Meanwhile, the rest of us who can move will see to the wounded and secure this level.”

“As you wish, milord!”

Einarr nodded, already seeking out the next face he needed – Troa. They would have to divide up the work yet further, and roughly half the men down here underground were out of action.

The scout had a bloody rag tied around his arm when Einarr found him, and he looked pale. Still, though, he was both upright and active. “Troa!”

“Yes, sir!” It was a credit to the man that he was still sharp.

“I’ve sent Jorir and a few others out to bring Kaldr’s team. You take some men and gather up the wounded… over there, I think.” Einarr pointed to what looked like a defensible spot. “We’re fortifying here, for now.”

Troa’s shoulders sagged with relief. “Aye, sir!”

Truth be told, Einarr didn’t like giving up the initiative this way – but if he didn’t give his men at least a little time to rest here none of them were going to make it out alive. Now that that was dealt with, Einarr began grabbing people more or less at random. Two men he posted on the stairs up, and another two at the door to a ramp leading down – and Einarr was certain he didn’t like the look of that. Then, he took Svarek, Arkja, Naudrek and Hakon down a wide, level passage.

Before long, he heard the lapping of the sea, and the smell of brine was in the air. “I’ll lay odds that we find a harbor at the end of this,” he muttered.

Arkja chuckled. “No bet.”

“Let’s just hope its already empty?” Hakon said. “I don’t fancy taking on a whole harbor with just the five of us.”

That earned him a sharp look from Arkja, but Einarr held up his hand for peace. “There’s no cowardice in accepting your limits. That’s why we’re retrenching in the first place.”

“As you say, my lord.” Arkja’s voice was tight, but Einarr decided to let it pass. Up ahead, the watery light from the blue torches grew more intense, if not exactly brighter, and the sea-smell was definitely stronger. Einarr pressed himself against a wall and crept forward. The others followed his lead.

They needn’t have bothered creeping. What they saw would have looked very like an ordinary harbor, save for two things. First, there was no sign of daylight out over the water. Even on the svartalfr island there had been a lighter blackness marking the harbor mouth. Second, there was nothing larger than a two-man skiff still docked, and not a soul in sight.

Naudrek whistled, and in the emptiness the sound was far louder than he could have intended. “Lord Stigander must be having a rough time of it,” he said.

“You’re probably right,” Einarr agreed. “Only, where are all the dock workers?”

“I imagine that’s who we fought on the landing. Some of them, anyway,” Arkja suggested.

“You think they’d waste their knights on the docks?” Naudrek asked, surprised but sincere.

“They wouldn’t have had to, unless the cursed needed to be closely watched. “ Einarr pressed his lips in thought. “They saw us coming, and they had plenty of time to station those knights on the landing. Probably the knights brought the cursed from the harbor once they launched their fleet… I don’t think we need to worry about enemies from the harbor unless Father fails.”

That was a line of thought he didn’t care to pursue under the circumstances. No-one else seemed interested, either, and silence fell for a heavy moment. “Split up,” he ordered eventually. “I’ll take Naudrek right. The rest of you go left. We’ll meet back here.”


Jorir’s team arrived only moments before Einarr’s returned from their investigation of the harbor – which had been just as empty, and just as ordinary, as it first appeared. Experience told him they would have something terrible, and they would keep it underground.

Eydri and Hrug looked tired, but as well as could be expected. Kaldr and Naudrek looked like they had seen better days, and Thjofgrir as well, but slung across Thjofgrir’s back was the unconscious Arring. He still breathed, at least: Einarr could see that much as he hurried up to greet them.

“What happened?”

“Those blasted cats is what happened,” Kaldr grumbled. “Two of them this time – two real ones, so it felt like four. Right as we were about to signal the fleet. Hrug got it off while we were fighting them, but…”

Einarr nodded understanding. “I’m glad you all made it in one piece, at least. Arring… Arring seeks to be reunited with his family.”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow. “I thought he was a bachelor.”

“Widower, I’m afraid. When the Usurper was taking over Breidelstein, his family was killed.”

Kaldr looked pained, but Einarr shook his head. “You’re not so much older than me that you had any hand in it, and it’s not really relevant just this moment. How was the situation at sea?”

“Difficult to say for sure, except that they were laying in wait for the fleet, too. I’m afraid our plan led them right onto the cultist’s anvil. The storms from the demon ships made it hard to tell what was happening, but I know they managed to clear out the ships inside the harbor.”

Einarr groaned. Fortune favor you, Father. He had no more energy he could afford to spend on that, however. He shook his head and turned to Eydri. “How is your voice? Think you can handle some healing? Hrug and I can see to purifying everyone.”

“Yes, I’ll be fine.” She looked at him, and wrinkled her brows as she studied his face. “You look pale. What has happened?”

“It’s nothing. Just an arrow in the leg and too much rune working.”

She pursed her lips. “That’s not nothing. Sit down on the step and I can at least do something about that leg.”

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 proud rooster’s head of the Vidofnir led the way into the mouth of the harbor at Breidelsteinn as the morning sun began to paint the sky vermillion. Einarr scanned the water ahead, curiously detached from the assault to come. There was still too much to do before they even reached the docks to even try thinking of this as a homecoming.

There was no apparent sign of the wolfling fleet, and that worried him. Three ships were accounted for at Lundholm, but that was only three. Even if there were others out raiding or being repaired, Raenshold should support at least ten more ships. One of which would be helmed by Kaldr.

The harbor mouth would have been the ideal place to lay an ambush, but even as the Heidrun and the Eikthyrnir pulled away, deeper into the harbor and closer to their goal, none appeared. Most likely, that meant there would be another blockade, nearer the town.

Einarr nodded: springing an ambush on them now would mainly serve to weaken the blockade line. “At ease, men,” he ordered. “But be ready on those oars.”

It was not impossible that the wolflings would try to drive them into the blockade with a late ambush. It was just less certain than either of the two defense strategies it pulled from.

Under sail, the longships moved nearly silently through the water towards Breidelstein. Even with Einarr’s order, all hands stared ahead nearly as intently as Einarr himself. Bea had come up to join Jorir and Eydri next to Einarr, just forward of the mast. Naudrek, somehow the least tense of anyone aboard, sat next to Hrug. When all was ready, he would signal that it was time to begin the ritual they had devised.

The sky grew lighter. He could start to make out buildings on the shore: the town of Breidelstein. It looked… poorer than Father’s stories had led him to believe. Grayer, as though a thin film of grime had been allowed to coat the whole town. Above, on the edge of the cliff, the tower shone in the sunrise with an ominous light.

Below, on the water, Einarr caught sight of what he had expected to see all along. There, perhaps two hundred yards out from the piers, was a line of longships. He could already see nets slung between them.

So they weren’t just going to roll over and surrender. Not that he’d really expected them to. “Ready volley!”

Half the crew moved a step forward and readied their shields. The other half nocked arrows to bows and drew.

They were not fire arrows, not after Lundholm. Setting the boats ablaze would kill too many men who should be friends: they would just have to cut the nets. This was likely to be a bloody boarding.

“Fire!”

The first volley flew true. A minute later, the blockade answered with a volley of its own. Also not aflame, thankfully. Einarr needed his sorcerer fresh.

His sorcerer. He still wasn’t used to that, not really – nor to the idea that there were some who would call him a sorcerer. But learning the runes had been a matter of necessity… hadn’t it? Whatever his personal feelings on the matter, Wotan himself had sought out magic when the circumstances called for it. Einarr shook his head to clear it. “Ready volley!”

The creaking sound of drawing bows fell once more to silence. “Fire!”

Part of the second volley overshot their targets by a significant margin: well, there hadn’t been much time for aiming. Already he could see their enemies preparing boarding lines. It was time to do the same. “Prepare for boarding! Remember, men: our goal is to cut those nets! The men on those ships are your own clansmen, whether they know us or not!”

His speech, such as it was, was met with a cheer. Einarr turned his attention back to his own deck. “Vali?”

“Yes, Einarr?” The ghost’s voice came from behind him. In spite of himself, Einarr jumped. To his credit, Vali made no comment.

“While you’re out sowing chaos amidst the enemy, I need you to try to find information for me. How many ships they have left, and their Captains, and what sort of force they might have on the ground. Think you can manage?”

Vali gave him a sour look. “I’m a ghost, not a mind-reader.” Then he shook his head. “I’ll hunt out log books. There might be something there you can use.”

“Glad to hear it. Good luck.”

There was nothing quite like having a ghost roll its eyes at you. “Thanks. I’ll need it.”

“Eydri, you’re up.”

She raised an eyebrow, but made no objection. “Yes, sir.” She seemed to grow taller as she drew her shoulders back, and when she opened her mouth to Sing the battle fury began to press against his vision.

Bea stepped up to take her place by Einarr’s left. “Why are you having her Sing already?”

“The faster we beat our way through the blockade, the fresher our men are when we make land.” And the Song didn’t usually carry well through city streets. Too many obstructions.

The answer seemed to satisfy Bea, as she nodded and readied her spear as Einarr turned to check in with Hrug and Naudrek. The sorceror was busy, the Orlognir laid on the deck in front of him as he put the final, last-minute touches on their ritual circle. Naudrek confirmed that all was in order.

The sound of fighting brought his attention back to the matter at hand: the first clash on the ropes was nearly over and the first of his men had made it to the wolfling ships to try to cut the nets.

Einarr brought Sinmora up. The first of their men were also across, and one of them charged across the deck toward Einarr with a feral yell.


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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.