For the first time in a very long time, Kaldr saw the red haze of the battle fury pressing at the edges of his vision. It was a mark of just how exhausted he was that he contemplated accepting it, just this once. When he realized that, he physically shook his head to shake it off. One of them, at least, had to keep his wits about him. Thjofgrir was quite plainly in its grip, as was Naudrek. They must have (reasonably) assumed he would play the Captain here.

He fought off the Song as hard as he fought off the enormous, wounded salamander.

The beast shot its tongue toward where Runa stood over Einarr. All three of them lunged at once to slash at the exposed flesh. For a wonder, their blades bit deep.

The salamander – he was reasonably certain that’s what he was looking at, overgrown though it was – reared back and shrieked in pain, as inhuman a sound as Kaldr had ever heard. Salamander blood splashed everywhere.

He turned his attention back to its gills: the shot would be tricky, but he felt certain it would be the best way to injure the beast.

In and out he darted, trying with every lunge to stab deep within the beast’s gills. Even at full strength, with all of them fighting and fresh, this would have been a difficult fight. Here, their Captain was down, Vali was keening most unpleasantly, and even a quick glance at Runa showed the strain she was under.

Kaldr was panting furiously as the three of them fought off the beast. He wasn’t sure any longer whether or not it mattered if he kept his wits: there was nothing to this fight except to cut and retreat.

Then the very air around them began to vibrate, thrumming in his ears. He spared another glance across the room at Runa.

Her eyes were squeezed shut, and her mouth open wide, but the tone of her voice was shifting subtly downwards, as though intending to twine with Vali’s mad keening.

He hoped she was doing that on purpose, whatever it was. The throbbing of the air in his ears grew worse, until even the beast became distracted by the noise. It thrashed its head this way and that, like a dog with a bee in its ear. Then, it tried to scoot backwards out of the room the same way it had wriggled in. As it did so, it flared its gills.

Kaldr reacted. He lunged for the opening with all his strength, plunging his sword into the exposed inner flesh of the beast’s neck. Blood spurted out around his blade and the salamander began to thrash in earnest.

Naudrek jumped nimbly out of the way before it could slam him against the wall with its head. Thjofgrir took a different approach.

Still under the effects of Runa’s Song, Thjofgrir jumped up to land on the wildly shaking head. Deliberately, one step at a time, he walked up its slimy nose until he stood right beside the beast’s eye. Then, with a scream of Song-fueled rage, he drove his sword point home just behind its eye. With a shudder, the salamander collapsed to the floor and ceased moving.

Runa’s Song shifted, and Kaldr no longer felt the red mist of rage pulsing at his mind. The keening, however, modulated with it, so that the thrumming in the air never ceased. And now, without the battle fury to distract him, Kaldr became aware of something else pulsing at the edges of his mind.

Now it was his turn to shudder, him and the other two who had been doing the actual work of fighting the beast. Suddenly he was a small boy again, alone and hiding in the corner while pabbi railed drunkenly at his mother over… nothing, so far as Kaldr could tell. Some seithir had worked her magic on him, again, and convinced him to give her all his coin. Mother didn’t deserve that, but he knew better than to help. The man’s temper couldn’t abide that.

That memory was followed by a rush of raw emotion, so strong even Kaldr felt himself sinking to his knees. Fear. Anger. Loneliness. Pain, too, but nearly subsumed by the others.

His shoulders shuddering, he turned bleary eyes to the others. Coming down off the battle fury, as they were, it seemed to be hitting them harder. The green light of the statues’ eyes reflected wetly off of Thjofgrir’s cheeks where he knelt, staring silently towards the ceiling.

Naudrek had curled up into a ball on the floor.

And Runa was no longer Singing.

Wait. If she’s not Singing, then where is that thrumming coming from? He didn’t know much about Song magic, but he had heard enough ordinary music to be familiar with the effect. So then, was Vali causing all of this by himself? Kaldr forced himself to his feet under the inhuman, almost physical weight of loneliness that was bearing down on him. He stumbled towards the Singer and nearly choked when he tried to speak. “Runa?”

“We’ve got to get the jar out of here!” Her voice sounded wet with tears, as well. Interesting: he had rarely known Singers to be affected by other Songs.

“How?” It came out as a wail, but how much of the despair was his own he could not guess.

“I don’t know!” She inhaled loudly, a deep, sobbing, shuddering breath. “I can try to give you strength to burst it.”

Kaldr shook his head. That would take too long, he expected. Damn that apparition. The throbbing keening echoing through the room made it almost impossible to think, though. “There’s got to be… some sort of emergency catch. In case one of their own gets trapped.”

He spared a look for Einarr. He was probably the happiest among them, peacefully unconscious and unaware of the havoc around them. Sadly, they could not knock themselves unconscious to escape this, not without handing themselves to the tender mercies of the dvergr. “Help me search?”

“But…” Runa glanced worriedly between Einarr and Kaldr. Pregnant women were often overly emotional. She must have a will of iron to be holding together even this well under the onslaught.

“I think he’ll be fine on his own. We, on the other hand…”

He could just see her nod, one hand at her face. When she rose, it was unsteady. “You’re right, of course. And who knows what will happen to poor Vali after this…”

Kaldr stared. In this situation, it was the ghost she worried about?

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.

 

Einarr’s scream was followed quickly by Runa’s as the light shifted from one, central source of dim white light to a diffuse green. Kaldr spun on his heels, only to see his Prince collapsing to the floor, and the Lady racing across to where he fell.

“What happened?” he called across as he returned his attention to the hall beyond. The beast was far too close for comfort.

“I don’t know!” It was Vali who answered: Kaldr assumed the Lady was examining Einarr. “We finally found the door, but there didn’t seem to be any way to open it from this side. So Einarr drew Bjarkan, and then… this.” Disconcertingly, he cackled.

Kaldr tightened his grip on his sword. This could get very bad, very fast.

Not much light reached the passage, but what did was just enough to prove they were out of time. A fleshy-looking white rod impacted with the wall, just at the edge of what Kaldr could see, and then vanished again.

“Runa? Is he all right?”

“He’ll be fine, I think. The backlash knocked him out, but -”

The beast’s chirrup, from down the hall, sounded more like the hunting cry of a wyrm at this distance. Whatever it was, there wouldn’t be much choice but to fight it.

“But?”

“But his breathing is normal. I’m not sure… no! Damn these dvergr! It’s the statues!”

An unnerving giggle echoed through the chambers, plainly from the apparition.

“Explain. Quickly.” Kaldr took a step back from the doorway so that he would be half-hidden by the stone and motioned for Thjofgrir and Naudrek to do the same. It was starting to sound like Vali would be little help here.

“Sculpting is the Art of Defense. It basically cancels static magic.”

Thunderous footsteps sounded in the hall, far too close to the door.

“It’s not great for me, either, but I’ll do what I can.”

Kaldr met eyes with Thjofgrir. The other man gave a familiar wry grin. Naudrek looked grim as he limbered his shoulders and neck. They were in for the fight of their lives, but it looked like they were all up for it.

Kree-ee-ee!

The noise reverberated so loudly Kaldr worried it would bring down the ceiling on them, dvergr work or no. Then it stuck its head inside, even as a glowing green mist rose up around them all. Are you trying to help us or not, Vali? Even if he was, Kaldr wasn’t certain how helpful thick fog was going to be here.

The beast’s head was shaped like a snake’s, but instead of dry scales here they saw moist, slimy-looking skin and gill slits, like a fish might have. Between the cheeks and the gills, little tentacles writhed like worms in a frill around its head.

“Now!” Kaldr shouted, unnecessarily. Thjofgrir was already in motion, his blade held in both hands and his shield still slung over his shoulder. It hissed as blood welled up from the cut, but even from this angle Kaldr could tell it was just a shallow strike.

The creature’s head had fit through the door, but it was having to fight to get its shoulders in. Kaldr lunged forward and cut at the gills. Its skin felt preternaturally tough, though, so even though he knew it to be a solid hit, it too merely welled with a thin line of blood.

Naudrek, in the center, saw both of these blows glance off the beast’s slimy flesh. He stood a moment longer, studying the creature. Then, with a nod to himself, he took a step back and then leaped onto its nose, sword-tip first.

The beast let out another of its shockingly loud chirps and shook its head, this way and that, trying to shake off the prey that had stuck its nose. Well. It didn’t like that.

Kaldr was up next to its neck, now, even as its first four-toed leg was wriggling through. Each of those toes had claws as long as a dagger, and likely just as sharp.

The eerie, mad laughter echoed through the room again, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. The fog no longer seemed to glow in and of itself, but rather little balls of what he could only term ghost fire hung in the air around the beast’s head. Kaldr could see it squinting against the light, sideways membranes squeezing to cover most of the eye.

There was something strangely familiar about the form of this beast, but Kaldr did not have time to dwell on it. He stabbed his sword forward, straight into the gills.

It hissed and tried to close its gills around his sword.

He hopped back. Too hasty. What else might work?

Then the beast got its second leg in. Now that its shoulders were through the door, there was very little to bar the slimy creature from getting to all of them. Very little, save for the four of them. Kaldr had to do better than that.

Naudrek had gained his footing again, just long enough to retrieve his sword from its nose and plunge it down again. It hissed and reared up, trying to dislodge the offending creature on the ceiling. While it was stretched up on its toes, Kaldr hacked at them.

This time, his blow did what he expected it to, and three of the beast’s webbed toes were sheared off.

That got its attention. It twisted its head around and bit at Kaldr.

Naudrek, still on its nose, drew out his sword again and stabbed at the inside of the jaw, just behind the row of sharp, needle-like teeth. Amazingly, he did not lose his sword to its bite.

And that was when Vali, the apparition bound to a jar, began to wail.

Kaldr was only aware of it at first as a prickling on the back of his neck and a feeling of deep unease, even above fighting this monstrosity that had been chasing them for who knows how long through these accursed tunnels. But then the feeling of unease grew until it felt like the room was vibrating with it, and with the hollow rage of a spirit forever bound to – what?

Even the hungry beast seemed to shiver at the sound – right up until Thjofgrir took its other foreleg at the knee. Now it lay, half inside their only sanctuary, on its chest, hissing and chirping and biting around itself left and right. Kaldr almost felt sorry for it: it was now down two legs. They would have to kill it, if they could.

That was the moment that Runa began to Sing.

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.

 

Einarr hurried his crew along as best he could, but Thjofgrir’s injury was going to be an issue until Runa’s song had a chance to do its work. The beast – whatever it was – would still be slowed somewhat by the rubble in the way, but they couldn’t exactly move full speed right now, either. He had taken the rear since Kaldr was bearing Thjofgrir, but that meant he couldn’t carry Runa. He was actually impressed at how well she was maintaining her Song at this pace, but it wasn’t going to gain them any time. They needed either an exit or a hiding place, and they needed it fast. Not that he had the first clue what a hiding place would even look like in this circumstance. There had to be something he could do to slow it down, just a little more.

But, as with the rest of the paths, there was no sign of any supports holding up the ceiling, nor were there cracks in the wall he could exploit. The idea of runes flitted through his mind again, but he shook his head firmly. No runes, not unless it was absolutely critical. Not when he didn’t know what sort of magics the dvergr might turn against them.

“Hey!” Naudrek’s voice rang down the tunnel from up ahead. “I think I found something!”

With great relief, Einarr scooped Thjofgrir’s other arm across his shoulder. “We’re coming!”

Now that there were two of them carrying the other man’s weight they went faster, although still no faster than Runa could move while Singing.

Naudrek and Vali led them into a wide-open room with a narrow entrance – narrow enough that two men could effectively hold off any number of assailants, if they were fresh. None of them were anything like fresh, but still Naudrek moved to bar the door as the last of their crew staggered in. Kaldr joined him as Einarr helped Thjofgrir to sit and Runa turned her full attention to mending his injured leg.

That left Einarr and Vali to examine their momentary shelter. Einarr laid his shield by Runa’s side so there was at least a little light for her to work with. Sweat beaded her brow, although it was no warmer in this room than it had been in the passages beyond. Perhaps she was more exhausted than she let on.

As he got a good look at the room, though, he wished he had it with him. The light itself was steady, but at that distance and that angle it cast strange shadows over the multitude of carved beasts that lined the walls. He saw creatures as mundane as stags, wolves, and bears, but also coiling dragons and hideous sea creatures. There were even a few that looked not unlike tafl pieces. Each and every statue that he passed, Einarr saw that the eyes were set with some sort of faintly glowing green gem.

They had nearly completed a circuit of the room, without finding any other exit, when the beast’s incongruous chirp echoed into the room. Everyone turned to look towards the door, Thjofgrir still massaging his injured leg as Runa took a moment to rest her voice.

“How’s it feeling?” Einarr asked Thjofgrir.

“Better.” He suited action to words and pulled his boot back on. “We had another hour, I’d be right as rain.”

Einarr nodded. That was more or less what he’d expected. “Right then. Stay off it for a bit longer, I think, then go backup Kaldr and Naudrek. Runa, rest up while you can. Won’t be long. We’ll keep looking for another way out of here.”

Runa gave him a wan smile even as she drew the water skin from her belt. She raised it to her mouth and drank long and deeply.

Einarr turned his attention back to the problem at hand, but by the time he completed his circuit of the room with its eerie statues he still hadn’t found anything that looked like a way through.

Then Vali gave a quick, quiet whistle from the far side of the cavern. Einarr crossed the room at a trot, sparing a glance for his wife who still sat near where she had treated Thjofgrir. She looked less pale, he thought, although in the dim light of his shield it was difficult to be certain. Vali was still waving him on, though.

“What did you find?” he asked as he drew near the apparition. He was fairly sure he heard the familiar wet slapping footsteps of their pursuer again.

“It’s well-hidden, but I think I’ve spotted the passage.”

“Oh, thank the gods.”

“Gods, or ghosts?” Vali winked at him mischievously, then sobered again. “But really, don’t thank me yet. We still have to figure out how to get it open.”

“Show me.”

It was a door, as cleverly concealed as the one they had found initially, just before bypassing the elemental traps at the very top of the Paths. Only this one was locked – as Vali was able to confirm. Probably this was an access hatch for the poor sots sent to clean up after the fools who dared the tunnels.

Einarr took a deep breath. Before, it had taken all of them to push open a stone door like this – only that one hadn’t been locked, or even seemed to have a catch. This one was plainly designed to open only from one side – the other one.

A continuous stream of chirps echoed through the room now, and Einarr imagined he could hear the scraping of claws over the wet smack of the beast’s footsteps. They had found their exit, but they were out of time. He drew out his chalk once more and inscribed a – Bjarkan. The Rune of Liberation.

Please let this work. He willed the rune to life.

A moment later, lances of white fire seemed to stab into his eyes and ears. For a moment, all the world was pain. And then it grew black.


Runa whipped her head around at Einarr’s unexpected scream of pain. The men at the door were ready to fight, and so was she if she had to, but she had expected danger to come from the other direction.

Einarr clutched at his head and sank to his knees – and then the shield winked out.

Runa was on her feet in a heartbeat, wondering if she could make it across the floor in the pitch darkness without falling flat on her face.

The question quickly became moot. All around the chamber, the eyes of the fantastic carved beasts began to glow, as green as ghost light.

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.

 

Burned hair. Singed sleeves. Blistering skin on arms and legs and – yes – even faces. Einarr and his band rotated their way down the flaming hell of the staircase, and with every blast of flame their fatigue grew. Even Runa, much to Einarr’s shame – did not escape burns. Long before they reached a landing at the bottom, she began to Sing to maintain their stamina.

When, finally, all five of them stood on the first level ground they had come across in what felt like hours – and may have actually been – they stood for a long minute in their shell, panting and looking about the room they had come to.

It was, by all appearances, an empty room. A passage continued on some thirty feet ahead of them. The walls here, too, were carved, but where the intricate scrollwork and fanciful figures there served to conceal the nozzles of their fire traps, the carvings here were definitely martial in nature.

“Is everyone all right?” Einarr asked, knowing full well that everyone was injured, and began to lower his shield.

Thjofgrir, too, began to relax. “Well as can be expected, I think. Our shields are ruined, though.”

“Better our shields than our bodies,” Kaldr answered. His eyes still scanned the room suspiciously, and Einarr thought he saw gooseflesh on the man’s neck.

Einarr hummed in agreement. “We could all use a break,” he started to say, when a very familiar pop sounded from the opposite wall.

As one – almost – they raised their overheated, charred shields to defend against another blast. But what came their way here was not more fire.

It was javelins.

And the “almost” was Thjofgrir. His shield lagged just a heartbeat beyond the others – due to fatigue or his awkward posture or his burns, Einarr could not guess. But that heartbeat made all the difference.

Most of the javelins bounced off their shields, or even fell short. But Einarr and Naudrek both felt the heavy impact of the javelin against their shields – where it stuck. Thjofgrir cried out in pain. When Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder, he saw the big man clutching his shoulder with his sword arm. Then the man growled and brought the shield up anyway, knocking the shaft of the javelin to the side.

That was the first volley.

“Kaldr! Shield him. Naudrek – shield Runa and me. Runa, I need you to use the Healing song.” Einarr dropped his shield, the javelin still lodged fast in the wood.

Thjofgrir was already gingerly pulling at the shaft of the javelin, but not having any luck dislodging it. It didn’t take Einarr long to see why: the head of the javelin was barbed. They were angon, not mere javelins. Einarr drew his belt knife as he moved to assist and the first notes of the Song of Healing flowed over them.

That was when the second volley flew, barbed heads coming at them again from seemingly every direction.

Without thinking, Einarr turned to shield the wounded Thjofgrir with his back. He heard a curse from Naudrek, but nothing really registered beyond keeping their wounded friend alive. He brought his knife up towards Thjofgrir’s shoulder. “This is going to hurt.”

One of the angon crashed into the center of his back. The impact made him stagger, but curiously he felt no blood, and he was not impaled. The brokkrsteel. Once again, he had Jorir’s foresight to thank for his own life – but now was not the time. Without wasting another breath, he slashed across the shoulder wound with the knife, opening it up enough to extract the barbs of the angon.

Thjofgrir was going to need more than just the Song of Healing, but now that the angon was out they should be able to bandage it. It looked as though the Song was already working to stanch the flow of blood.

As quickly as he had come to aid, Einarr spun out and picked up his half-destroyed shield. It was unweildy with the javelin stuck through it, but their best hope of survival was to ignore that and fight on.

Thjofgrir still held his wound closed with his hand, but he was steadier on his feet already. They had to get out of here.

As the volley of angon finished, Einarr took a deep breath. “Run for the tunnel!”

Runa, unable to Sing and run at the same time, threw her arms about Einarr’s neck and rode on his back as they frantically tried to escape the hail of fire.

Kaldr held back, letting Naudrek move forward into the lead so that he could assist Thjofgrir – which Einarr appreciated, even as he was entirely unsurprised by it. Those two had been working together for at least a decade now.

Now that they were moving again it was a constant barrage, as though there were layers upon layers of whatever was launching these, and each one would reset itself. Einarr felt sluggish: the angon tore through Runa’s skirts, which trailed behind them like a flag, and scratched across his calf, but somehow he managed to shield both their bodies from the wicked tips. Even still, he was not that much ahead of Kaldr and Thjofgrir when he rushed through the threshold of the tunnel and stood, panting, while Runa set herself down and smoothed her skirts. She gave him a grateful smile as she continued to Sing.

Naudrek proved himself once again: as Thjofgrir and Kaldr staggered through, he thrust a long, thick cloth at Kaldr. “For the arm.”

“Be quick,” Einarr said, his breathing still coming in gasps. “The dvergr aren’t likely to have set things up to give any respite at this point.”

Kaldr did not waste any breath answering: he simply nodded his acknowledgment as he deftly tied the cloth around Thjofgrir’s shoulder. Thjofgrir tested the binding by rolling his arm – as well as the ceiling would allow – and gave his Captain a nod.

“We’re ready.”

“Good.” Einarr gestured for Naudrek to lead on even as he spoke. “Runa, when you think Thjofgrir’s shoulder is put back together well enough, we could really use that other Song.”

Einarr’s legs were beginning to feel like jelly, and his arms weren’t much better, but he was plagued by the certainty that to stop now would mean death.

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.

 

Sinmora slashed down and a draugr collapsed into a pile of bones, only to begin reassembling itself almost immediately. Troa stomped on the pile of bones and moved into the hole it left even as he took out the legs of the one behind it. Then Finn stepped forward as Troa had before.

They fought, and as they fought they crept their way forward, keeping the two most vulnerable in the center of their circle. Even as they moved forward, though, the walking dead reassembled themselves in their wake.

A bony claw clutched at Einarr’s wrist. He kicked, the sole of his boot striking the skeletal form in what would have been its nose, had it still possessed one. It stumbled backward anyway, knocked off balance by the blow. “Hrug! Tell me you have something you can do!”

The mute sorcerer grunted.

“He’s trying,” Eydri hollered, her voice sounding less raspy now. “Runes also… resist.”

Shit. “Fine,” he growled. “That means its up to the rest of us. Forward! Defend the center.”

On they pressed, knocking aside or trampling the abominations of Hel on their way back to their defensible camp. Finally, panting, Einarr and Naudrek stood shoulder to shoulder in the doorway of their camp, holding back the pursuing soldiers of the dead. Troa and Finn took up a post in the other door while Odvir set about building up their fire.

At last Odvir sat back from the fire pit with a groan and the warm orange glow of a wood fire pressed against the darkness all around. Slowly, as the firelight shone on the backs of the defenders and slipped past them to illuminate the draugr, the enemy fell back into the night as quietly as they had appeared.

Minutes passed. Einarr and Naudrek scanned the darkness outside the chamber they had all mentally designated as ‘home’ for the duration of this quest, and the draugr did not reappear. Finally Einarr took a deep breath and turned back to the rest of his team.

Eydri was looking over Finn. Odvir sported a bandage around his wrist and several visible bruises. Hrug was looking through the tablet he had brought from the records room, his brow creased in concentration.

“What happened out there?” Einarr demanded.

Eydri shook her head. Einarr waited. Finally, she answered. “I don’t know. When I tried to Sing, it was like my throat was suddenly dry and sore. Water hasn’t helped – not that the water on this cursed island is any better than the bread in town was.”

Einarr frowned. “Dry throats happen. I’m not going to worry unless it happens again… but all the same, men, let’s not count on the Song Magic. What about Hrug?”

The question was still addressed to Eydri, who had seen, and Hrug didn’t even look up from his tablet. “That’s a little harder to explain. He traced a rune on the ground, and stared at it like he always does, but nothing happened. Then he pulled out one of his runestones, and the lines on it flickered like wet kindling and went out.”

Einarr blinked, wide-eyed, and turned a questioning look on Hrug, who nodded. “That is troubling. And neither of you have any idea what could cause such a thing?”

Hrug shook his head and turned his attention back to the tablet he was searching. He must have seen something important in there, earlier: Einarr wasn’t about to begrudge him his reading this night.

Eydri also shook her head and gave a deep sigh. “This being Hel’s domain by itself doesn’t explain it. I need to know more before I could do anything more than take a shot in the dark.”

Einarr nodded. “Fine. Double watches tonight, everyone. There’s no telling if they’ll try to take us again when we’re off our guard.” An idea occurred to him. “Eydri… as a test, try to sing us a lullaby.”

“A… you want me to try to put you all to sleep?”

“Sure. If it works, we can wake up the first watch ourselves. If it doesn’t we know.”

“As you wish.” Eydri closed her eyes and centered herself.

“You’re throat’s not dry right now, is it?”

“No.”

He waved her to go ahead, and her nostrils flared as she took a deep breath in. Then she opened her mouth to sing. The lovely, sweet notes of a lullaby drifted out across their camp, and for the space of a few heartbeats Einarr thought it would work. Then, as before, Eydri seemed to choke on the words and dissolved into a hacking cough. Einarr handed her his water skin as she rasped out “No good.”

He nodded. “Right. So, gents, it’s time to prove Kaldr wrong. We can’t depend on magic here, in spite of having three seithir along. It sounds like our runestones might work, if we’re lucky, but best to assume they won’t. Once we find Ragnar’s barrow I want you five to figure out what is going on here, and if it’s something I’ll need to deal with before we can leave.”

“Surely you’re not going to leave yourself unguarded in the barrow?”

“What sort of man needs help retrieving the sword for his own wedding? The draugr left us alone all day, and went away when we got the fire going. So long as I’m careful about my timing, I’ll be fine. I’m more worried about those two.” He pointed to Eydri and Hrug.

Hrug was staring at him intently, one finger tapping at a place on the tablet in his lap.

“What do you have for me, Hrug?”

The mute sorcerer stood up and crossed the room in two strides to thrust the page before Einarr. He looked down and sighed, then took the seat by the fire Hrug had just vacated. He would need it to be able to read the old birchbark.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

Einarr and Troa were out of the room before they heard Eydri’s footsteps start to catch up. Her complaints registered a moment later.

“Warn a girl before you take off like that! Whatever happened to sticking together for everything?”

Einarr and Troa muttered apologies but did not slow. The sound of fighting grew closer, but still Einarr worried they would not reach the two scouts in time. When, not much later, the ruins once again grew quiet, Einarr ran faster.

When he saw the two, though, in an open space near the edge of the ruins, they were apparently unharmed. Finn stood leaning on the hilt of his blade, and Odvir rested on a tumbled-down section of wall, both catching their breath and staring into the forest.

“What happened?” Einarr demanded just as Naudrek and Hrug pounded up behind them.

Finn, straightening as he wiped a forearm across his brow, turned to face his Captain. “Wolves, sir.”

Naudrek knitted his brow. “Wolves? At this time of day?”

Odvir nodded and turned to face them as well, evidently deciding they weren’t likely to come back. “Yes, sir. Wolves — half-starved, by the look of them.”

Troa nodded in understanding. “That makes sense, actually. Not like we saw any sign of game yesterday. They probably survive on squirrels and the odd villager.”

Einarr sighed. “I don’t like this. Let’s hurry: I don’t want to stay on this island a minute longer than I have to.”

With noises of agreement all around, they returned to their search quarters with new urgency.


It was nearly evening, and the light had begun to take on the same sullen red of sunset as they had seen the night before, when Naudrek’s excited whoop echoed through the ruined walls of the old hold.

Einarr sat back on his heels and breathed a sigh of relief, glad that he didn’t have to pry open another rotting chest.

Eydri stood up and dusted off her hands. “Shall we go see what he’s found?”

“With pleasure.”

Troa stood with a groan. “How can one hold have so many storehouses?”

Einarr chuckled. “This place must have been rich, once. Which makes the fall into this all the more troublesome.”

“According to the herb-witch, we can find out what happened now that we’re here.” She was already gliding toward the exit. Einarr and Troa took up positions to either side of her as they made their way across the ruins. By the time they arrived, the light was outright dim.

The room where they found Naudrek and Hrug still somehow had part of its stone roof, and its walls were filled with chests and scroll cases. Hrug was reading over a curling page of birch bark when they arrived, but looked up briefly to offer Einarr a pleased smile. Naudrek was scanning one of the scrolls.

“If this isn’t it,” he said as they entered. “Then it’s long gone. Come take a look at this!”

Troa cleared his throat, a little nervously, and took up a post at the door. Not much later he clasped hands with Finn and Odvir as they arrived.

“All things considered, my lord,” Odvir ventured. “But shouldn’t we be getting back to camp soon?”

Einarr looked up and blinked. “It is getting a bit dim for reading.”

Troa cleared his throat again. “And wasn’t it about this time of day that the drowned draugr caught that fishing boat?”

Naudrek blinked, stunned. Einarr understood: he could hardly believe he’d forgotten it, even with the excitement of finally finding the hold records. “Of course. If you think you’ve got something useful, bring it. Otherwise we can keep looking in the morning.”

Without a moment’s hesitation Hrug tucked the tablet under the stump of his other arm even as Naudrek let his scroll roll up and left it on the table. Then they were out, darting across the open spaces of the ruined courtyard as though they were deep into enemy waters – which, Einarr supposed, was entirely too accurate.

A light mist appeared around them, although the day had been dry. Einarr moved his hand to rest on Sinmora’s hilt and did not slow. It was not ghost light – not yet, anyway – but it did not have to be. They should have gone back to camp ages ago, even before Naudrek and Hrug had made their find. Now…

Shapes moved in the mist. Their outlines were human, but that was impossible. Briefly the idea of his Wisdom runestone crossed his mind, but he put it aside. Seeing too well could be just as much an issue as seeing too poorly, after all. “Blades out, everyone. Seithir in the middle. Hrug, can you do anything about this mist?”

The mute runemaster grunted: Einarr hoped that was an affirmative. He heard the rasp of blades leaving their sheathes as they formed a defensive circle.

“Eydri, be ready. I think we’re going to have to fight our way back to camp.”

“Of course, my lord.”

Sometimes Einarr really wished he didn’t know she was attracted to him. It made moments like this awkward. But, in the end, it didn’t matter. What mattered was surviving the night.

The first of the figures solidified out of the mist: a stumbling, shambling skeletal figure, still clothed in the tattered, rotting remnants of the clothes it had died in.

“Draugr,” he said aloud, unnecessarily. He slashed downward across its neck with Sinmora, but if the rattling bones did more than pause he could not see it. “Eydri?”

The Singer drew in a deep breath to Sing, but before she got more than a few notes out she choked and coughed as though the mist were smoke in her lungs.

“Eydri?” He asked again, more alarmed this time. Before she answered he heard the gurgle of water from her skin.

“Run,” she rasped, still sounding raspy and half-choked.

They ran, striking with blade and foot alike as they tried to clear a path back to the presumptive safety of their camp.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

For more than a fortnight they sailed on, following the charts as best they could as they weathered the ordinary spring storms. While there had been more than a few cold, wet nights, Einarr was just as glad that was all they had faced so far: an island that could drive Grandfather out, and that had earned the name of “Thorn Deep,” was sure to have something unpleasant waiting – especially given Einarr’s calling. Thus, he took the blustery weather as a blessing.

Right up until black storm clouds appeared out of a blue sky off to the north and began speeding toward Einarr and the Heidrun.

It was Troa who spotted the clouds first, and announced their presence with a dread-laced “Oh, Helvíti.”

Einarr looked up and understood immediately. “Cult ship approaching! Prepare for battle! Guards to the Singer.”

Captain or not, heir or not, Einarr was in far less danger than Eydri. Not everyone aboard had experienced combat with the svartalfr cult, but they should at least have heard about it by now. There was a jangle of maille as the warriors dressed for battle and an air of grim determination fell over the ship.

Please don’t let them have one of those horrors…

Einarr, too, pulled on his maille and helmet, then stepped up beside Naudrek as the guards formed around Eydri.

“Ready the fire arrows,” he ordered. “We want to avoid boarding as long as we can.”

“Yes, sir… Is it really one of those demon ships you talked about?”

“Probably. Need the arrows ready before we can see that, though.”

“Of course, sir.” Naudrek was a good man, but he was not as practiced a Mate as Jorir. No matter: Jorir was quite right about where he was most needed now.

Damn it, though, why did we have to run into one of these things on this trip? Einarr would have been perfectly happy avoiding them for the rest of his days. Unlikely, of course, considering he was a Cursebreaker.

The black storm cloud that heralded the approach of a demon ship bore down on the Heidrun as they readied themselves. Those who already wore their maille watched the horizon grimly, awaiting the first sight of one of the demon-headed black ships. The wind lashed at their faces. Raindrops had begun to sting Einarr’s skin by the time the shadow of the cult ship appeared in the storm.

“Brace yourselves, men! Not only are we fighting in a storm, even in death the enemy can kill you – or worse. This first volley of fire arrows is critical: you’ll have plenty of time to adjust your aim for the wind. Steady yourselves, now.”

There was a general shifting of feet on the deck, but no-one spoke. Visibility dropped precipitously as the two ships closed. The wind began to howl.

“Light volley!” Einarr shouted to be heard over the wind. “Ready!”

The archers drew back, the tips of their arrows bright spots of light against the black clouds above.

“Aim!”

As promised, he held them at this command for longer than usual, waiting for a steady moment or a break between gusts. At last, one came.

“Fire!” The arrows streaked through the air like shooting stars, all intent on destroying the evil that sailed this sea. One or two of them winked out under the onslaught of the storm carried in the belly of the demon ship, and one or two more missed their mark, but the rest scored their hit. One caught in the sail, which began to smolder darkly.

There would be no time for a second volley – not that Einarr had really expected one. The ships were too close now for anything but boarding – or perhaps a ram or Sea-Fire, if this were a dromon. Some detached corner of Einarr’s mind wondered if an alliance with the Empire would grant them access to that sea-fire of theirs. The rest of his mind was focused on the enemy ahead. “Prepare for boarding!”

Einarr stepped back to join the men who had circled about Eydri. The fanatics hated Song Magic and hunted Singers: that was how Father had lost Astrid. Einarr did not intend to let them have his friend. The rest of the crew scrambled: bows were tossed back toward the command circle, and the archers took up the boarding lines.

Eydri began to Sing, and almost immediately the red Fury began to pulse at the edges of Einarr’s vision. It was easy to ignore after the last year: Einarr hated how used to it he had grown.

The black-painted prow sliced through the water and turned sharply. Boarding lines flew from both decks.

No sooner had the lines drew taught than men from both ships were up, contesting for the right to board the other’s ship.

Einarr’s men were strong. Much stronger than they had been last summer when they stormed the cult’s island to rescue Runa: some few of the cultist helspawn made it across, but most were on the back foot. Einarr harrumphed even as he slid Sinmora from her sheath.

One of the cultists rushed the “command” circle protecting Eydri. Everyone’s weapons were out and ready, but Einarr stepped forward with a growl. This was not a man he faced: it was a mad dog, and he would see it put down. He stepped forward and raised Sinmora high over head, his shield firmly in place. On the second step, as the clamor of battle carried across the deck and over the water, he brought his blade around and separated the cultist’s head from his shoulders. Einarr stepped back quickly: the corrupting black blood dripped from Sinmora, and spatters darkened his glove, but had not touched him.

“No quarter!” He bellowed. A savage yell was the best answer he could have hoped for. Eydri sang louder.

Einarr strode across the deck to peer at the battle on the other ship and frowned. On the one hand, the demon ships must be destroyed with prejudice. On the other hand… “Fall back!” He ordered as he saw the cultists starting to cluster around the mast. “Naudrek – a torch!”

“Aye, Sir.”

The Heidrunings hurried back across the boarding lines, cutting the enemy lines as they went and unhooking (most of) their own. Einarr stood at the bulwark, torch in hand, and waited. When everyone was returned, he tossed the torch on the demon ship’s deck. “Full sail! Get us out of this squall, Naudrek.”

As the Heidrun sliced through the waves away from the demon ship, purifying flames began to lick up the boards of its bulwark, and a thick black smoke rose up to feed the cloud overhead.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

“Another weakling from the rebels? You are nothing more than flies. We should have squashed you ages ago.” Urek did not give Einarr time to retort: the hammer was already singing through the air, and for what felt like ages all Einarr could do was dodge.

“Funny thing about flies,” Einarr gasped out while they were in the clinch. “Enough bites will still kill a man.” He leapt out of the clinch to the side and drove forward to strike at the weak spot with Sinmora.

Urek grunted as a blow struck him across the ribs a second time. More importantly, Einarr thought he heard the grinding of metal links. Urek glared down at him from one eye. Einarr sprang back before his opponent could try to take him in a bear hug.

“I’d like to see you try, little fly.”

Rather than answer that, Einarr slipped back in under the man’s guard to strike again at the weakening maille. The gods smiled on him here, for even a man in the grips of the fury might realize when someone was trying to break his armor given three strong hits like this: an axe bit into Urek’s calf at the same moment he struck for the maille.

Einarr spared a scowl for his dwarven retainer while Urek yelped. Thoroughly unnecessary. The dwarf, of course, ignored him, and he could not spare more than a moment’s attention. The enemy captain recovered himself rapidly, and swung his hammer with renewed vigor. Einarr had to step quickly to avoid a fate very like Sivid’s.

Jorir’s plan had been a solid one, though. If Einarr focused too much on the gash that was forming in Urek’s maille, sooner or later the man would cover the weakness.

The next opening Einarr saw, he struck not at the half-smashed section of maille but at the big man’s hamstring. Blood now flowed freely down both legs and under his feet. Flames licked the edges of the puddle, and Jorir’s axe crashed into Urek’s side. Broken chains tumbled to the deck, audible even over the din of battle.

Urek roared in rage and brought his hammer down hard on the dwarf’s golden shield. A sound like a gong rang over the combatants.

Now! Einarr’s angle was not ideal, but there was the gash. He couldn’t give Urek time to recover. He twisted on the balls of his feet to bring Sinmora around in a mighty cut.

The longsword’s blade bit deep into Urek’s side, and blood welled out of the wound as Einarr finished the cut.

Even that barely slowed the man. He fought like an enraged bear, all teeth and claws and fury. Given the blood on the deck boards and the blood spurting from his side, the man would fall soon even if Einarr did nothing. That wasn’t an option, however.

Urek swung his hammer wildly, plowing down unwary friends and foes alike as though he were rage personified, and Urek’s allies showed no sign of quitting while their captain still fought. Even if the fire took them.

Einarr growled as he danced away from yet another hammer swing. This was exactly why Father had taught him how to resist the fury: men made stupid decisions while in its grip, and no Captain could afford those sorts of mistakes.

The very hammer that made Urek so deadly also proved to be his downfall. His wild swings left an opening every time. A daring man could take advantage of that. Daring, or desperate. Einarr reset his shield and drove forward with Sinmora’s point.

Urek’s howls cut off abruptly as the longsword drove through his belly and up into his lungs. The hammer, raised to strike downward at the opponent who refused to die, clattered down against Einarr’s shield and fell to the deck.

Sinmora tried to stick in the man’s chest. Breathing heavily, the smoke burning his throat and covering the smell of viscera, Einarr gave it a quarter turn and withdrew his blade.

The Song still pulsed at the edge of his awareness, but it didn’t matter. Einarr looked at Jorir, currently standing on guard against three very distracted wolflings, and gestured towards the Heidrun. “Fall back.”

Jorir backed away from his opponents, who were still too shocked by the death of their Captain to pursue. The dwarf’s voice rang over the din. “Fall back!”

Drenched in sweat, Einarr wearily crossed across to his own boat. The rest of the Heidrunings followed in good order. Meanwhile, on the wolfling vessels, it looked as though their leadership had abandoned them entirely. Most of the sailors fled the burning ship like a frightened herd of sheep. Those who didn’t still stared dumbly at the body of Frothing Urek. One by one, the Singers brought their men down out of the battle fury.

“Get us off that ship!” Einarr called to his crew, his throat raw. He was just glad the wood in his own boat was still green. Even with that there were the beginnings of scorch marks where the boats had been tied.

The Vidofnir, singed a little, rowed a little ways further out of the fjord, to where the water was wide enough the Heidrun could come alongside, and waited.

Urek’s ship tried to pull away, but even from this distance Einarr could tell it was too late. The dry wood of the wolfling ships kindled quickly.

As the Heidrun pulled up alongside the Vidofnir, Einarr ordered his men to drop anchor. Before long the Eikthyrnir came to join them, the third and final wolfling ship fleeing into the distance. The men of the allied crews stood silent vigil as the wolfling ships became their funeral pyres. Finally, as the sun dropped below the horizon, the last flame died.

The signal lamp flared to life on the deck of the Vidofnir. Father was calling for a meeting, and Einarr knew why. None of those Captains had been the threat they had faced so far. So, where was Kaldr?


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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.

Two more of the pocket of wolflings fell before Sinmora’s blade. The others looked shaken: perhaps, then, he could get through to them. “Surrender and quarter will be given.”

The man in front of the others hardened his jaw, although his eyes were still wide with fear.

“Are we not countrymen?”

The man in front found enough of his spine to spit on the deck and answer. “You rebel scum are no countrymen of mine.”

So that’s how it was going to be, was it? Einarr’s jaw hardened in turn. He had tried: there were witnesses to show he had tried to save these mens’ lives. “Then fight like men!”

Einarr did not give in to the battle fury, although the wolflings could be forgiven for thinking he had. With a roar he brought his blade up again overhead.

The men broke and ran. Einarr shook his head: these were the men who had been giving them so much trouble? Even had his uncle been the legitimate heir, if these were the men in his service he would have no right to rule.

Jorir harrumphed from beside him.

Einarr spared his Mate and liege-man a glance. “Have you ever seen such cowardice?”

“Not in a long time, my lord.”

Einarr hummed. “I’m going across.”

“Not without me, ye’re not.”

“That’s fine. I’ll want you there anyway, I expect.”

With a grunt of assent, Jorir shouldered his shield of golden fire and stamped his feet in his boots. “Let’s go, then.”

On the wolfling ship, the first wave of Heidrunings and Vidofnings were locked in the clinch with the enemy crew. They already held most of the deck but, much like the wolflings Einarr had frightened off his own ship, these were refusing to back down. He frowned: was this the Weaving at work?

It almost had to be, but there was nothing he could do about it right now. They needed the distaff to dissolve Urdr’s curse, and even if they had not been locked in combat it would be far too risky to try that now. Einarr shouldered his way forward toward the line: if these men would not surrender, as it appeared they would not, they were lost.

Jorir matched him step for step, their charge building across the deck boards, and when the dwarf raised his voice in a battle yell Einarr joined him. They crashed into the enemy line and broke through with almost no resistance.

Others followed, and soon the deck was filled with pockets of wolflings fighting desperately to stave off the “rebel” assault. Einarr frowned again: this was too easy.

The smell of burning pitch tickled his nostrils. Einarr looked up in time to see the other wolfling ship, the one trapped in the fjord, with a blazing line of fire on its deck. Or, rather, above its deck, on the arrows of the archers arrayed for a volley.

He could hear the order to fire echo from the other ship.

“Shields! Now!” Ignoring the wolfling in front of him for a moment, he spun around to face the Heidrun. “Hrug!”

For his trouble, he felt the searing heat of a sword slice across the back of his leg as he spun the rest of the way around. Einarr found he could not care: he raised his shield overhead even as he thrust forward with Sinmora at the man’s gut.

The wolfling doubled over as two feet of steel thrust through his belly. A moment later, fire arrows rained down around him, thudding into the deck and catching the wolfling ship ablaze.

Einarr looked over his shoulder once more, but the Heidrun was safe. Hrug must have gotten the shields up in time. He turned his attention back to the fight, only to see the other wolfling ship sailing up to join the fray. Boarding lines whistled through the air, and the line in front of Einarr gave a ragged cheer.

Einarr scowled at the lines around him. They could not keep the other ship from joining the fray – not without exposing their backs to the warriors already aboard – but they could control where they fought the enemy reinforcements.

“Heidrunings! Vidofnings! Fall back!”

If they formed a solid line on the other side of the mast, possibly even almost as far as the other bulwark, then the wolfling lines would have to advance through the fire to get at them. That was worth it.


Urek grinned a wolf’s grin as boarding lines flew toward Vittir’s ship. That volley hadn’t landed quite where he wanted it to, but fire was always effective. A little niggling voice in the back of his head wondered what sort of witchcraft that was, that protected the Heidrun, but it was easy to ignore. The only thing that mattered right now was the battle ahead of him.

Urek settled his grip on his shield and drew his prized hammer from its hook on his belt. He swung it back and forth a few times, limbering his arm for the fight to come and nodded in satisfaction.

Now. Where is she. Ah. There. “Gudrun! We are about to put an end to the rebels once and for all. Give us a Song!”

For a very long moment she just looked at him. Sometimes, Urek wondered if his very own battle chanter looked down on him. If he could ever confirm it, he would put her in her place, but so far she had always done her duty.

As the boarding hooks gripped the bulwarks of Vittir’s ship, Gudrun raised her voice in a suitably victorious-sounding battle chant. The red haze of the fury began to pulse at the edges of Urek’s vision. With a roar he accepted it. The other warriors on board joined him in his battle cry and they charged across the lines.


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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.

The beat of Hàkon’s drum changed, subtly, from the rower’s cadence to a battle drum as the men hastily donned their maille. Eydri caught Einarr’s eye as he approached and inclined her head in acknowledgement. Good: it seemed she knew exactly what he had in mind. Einarr took up a position just forward of the mast and looked out over the water, studying their enemies.

It was a blockade, like the wolves had tried to keep them in Breidelsteinn harbor. There, though, they had used a runic trick and who knows how much of their store of good luck to confuse the wolves. Einarr still couldn’t believe how well that worked: the fleet Captain must have been incompetent as well as unlucky to botch things that badly. He was not willing to assume that of Kaldr.

They could scatter, and try to meet back up after losing their tails. Dangerous, but possible, if either he or Kormund knew where Stigander was headed next. Einarr didn’t, which meant probably Kormund didn’t either, so that was out. He frowned.

“Naudrek. Keep your eyes on the Vidofnir. Let me know the moment you see a signal.”

“Aye, sir!”

“How’s Hrug holding up?” Getting past that previous blockade had taken a lot out of both of them, but the one-armed sorcer had been overextending himself for a lot longer than that.

Jorir cleared his throat as he held up Einarr’s maille shirt. “Bored, near as I can tell. You’ll have to ask him if he’s up for another miracle.”

Einarr grunted and pulled the shirt over his arms. “I’d best go do that, then.”

The fact that he didn’t know already was irksome, but there hadn’t been a great deal of time for discussion since Hrug’s last ‘miracle.’ Things had been moving entirely too quickly on this expedition for niceties such as making sure your sorcerer wasn’t working himself to death.


The lookout on board the Eikthyrnir spotted what looked like a gap in the wolfling’s line. There was a tense moment aboard the Heidrun while Einarr and Jorir considered whether it was a trap, and whether or not such a trap was worth trying anyway. Einarr didn’t see much choice in the matter: either they made a break for it or they settled on the island behind them. Jorir urged caution.

Eventually, though, they agreed to spring the trap. There was no more time to dither. Stigander pulled the Vidofnir forward to be the point of their spear. Einarr took the right flank, while Kormund came up on the left.

Every third man aboard the Heidrun stood guarding the rowers with shields and axes. Another third had their bows limbered and a few of their scant remaining arrows to hand. They could not afford more than one, maybe two volleys here. The idea, though, was to move quickly enough they would not need more than that.

Stigander’s hunting horn echoed over the water and the Vidofnir began its rush.

Kormund’s horn joined Stigander’s as the Eikthyrnir also surged forward.

With a long breath, Einarr brought his own horn up to his mouth and joined his voice to theirs. Hàkon’s cadence shifted slightly as the oarsmen began to row with all speed. The voices of all five Singers lifted over the waves in the wake of the hunting horns call, and they were committed.

Behind Einarr, seated on the deck near Eydri and Runa, Hrug traced the now-familiar runes of a ward at his knees. He had insisted he had the wherewithal to fight, and Einarr was in no position to argue. Let Kaldr sneer all he wants: I’ll not scorn a tool at my disposal.

The three ships surged through the water for the gap in Kaldr’s line. It should be sufficient, barely, for their wedge to slip through with a little luck and a lot of speed.

A cloud of arrows in the sky showed when they had entered bow range. Einarr set his mouth and watched, waiting.

A second volley flew their way. More of these landed on the deck or planted themselves in shields, but still most flew wide. The wind was excellent for sailing, but evidently giving their archers trouble. Einarr glanced down at Hrug, but his one-armed friend showed no sign of having toyed with the wind.

Finally the people on the deck of the wolfling ships looked recognizably human to Einarr. A third flock of arrows rose into the sky. “Archers! Fire!”

The answering volleys from the Vidofnir, the Heidrun, and the Eikthyrnir were striking home even as the three ships came into boarding line range – of one ship. Einarr groaned to see that one of the ships on the edge of the gap was pulling back and firing again. If they weren’t careful, they would be encircled. Maybe even if they were careful.

He signalled for Hàkon to speed his cadence. Some of the slower oarsmen might have trouble keeping up if they held it for a long time, but for a short sprint they should be able to manage.

The ship ahead of them was still falling back, although even from here Einarr could see boarding lines being readied. He caught himself settling into a fighting stance and shrugged his shoulders: it was far too early for the Captain to be preparing to fight – not hand to hand, anyway. He glanced behind them.

Sure enough, another of the wolfling ships – Einarr thought it was Kaldr’s, although he couldn’t say for certain – was trying to sneak behind them. This was about to get very, very messy.


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