Eydri, thank the gods, had seen at a glance the situation and kept herself within a few steps of the door. The acoustics in this room proved to be excellent, so while that would not help anyone who required healing it would take some of the pressure off the others.

Hrug moved in an arc to the right, tracing the path of Einarr’s circle to meet him in the middle.

The avatar on the dais chortled. “Not only more sacrifices, but Makers, too. How delicious.” It stretched out an arm, and one of the octopus arms behind it stretched as well, as though the body was no more than a puppet.

Einarr traced the next rune in his pattern. Jorir and the others began a slow approach towards the being behind so much of the trouble they had faced over the last three years, weaving back and forth in a pattern meant to look as though they meandered forward. Meanwhile, Svarek prattled on about some nonsense. Anything they could do to keep it distracted. Even better if they could keep it occupied long enough to launch the first strike.

Two steps on, and he knelt to trace again. The pounding of running feet once again echoed from the corridor behind Eydri: Einarr glanced over his shoulder as surreptitiously as possible: when Svarek arrived with only the sorcerers, Einarr had assumed the others would not be coming. But, such was not the case: Kaldr and Thjofgrir burst out from under the threshold. Thjofgrir gave one of his cocky grins as he saw the situation: Kaldr gave his second a nod and settled in to protect their Singer.

“There are still more of you?” The double voice of the avatar almost seemed to purr. “Lovely. But I grow tired of this endless prating.”

Einarr shuddered as he felt its eyes pass over him. He was in range. So was Hrug. If it realized what they were doing, Hrug would be the obvious first target… but so far, it had paid them no mind. Was Eydri actually out of range?

“You, there. The late-come brute. You I claim first.” One of the octopus arms shot out towards Thjofgrir. He brought up his sword to block, but the questing tentacle of energy wrapped around his chest and hoisted him high into the air. He kicked, and tried to drive his blade into the tentacle, but the blade could not cut whatever stuff it was Malùnion was made of.

“Thjofgrir!” Kaldr cried out at the same moment Troa’s bowstring twanged. Einarr could spare no attention, now that the battle was joined, to how it would go: he and Hrug had to finish their circle, otherwise they were all doomed.


Tore of the Sterkenbjorn contorted his face into something approximating a grin. Even under the effects of the Song, his men grew weary, and while they had sunk some few of the demon ships with their unnatural cargo there were still far too many ahead. As he saw the last of the Squiddies on the Sterkenbjorn go overboard, he raised his sword high and growled a battle cry. “Forward!” They could not stop now – not if any of them wanted to return home alive.

As Captain, ordinarily he would have stayed behind to guard their Singer. Ordinarily, though, they would have a Singer. Luta had fallen – indeed, she was the only one who had fallen – when the thrice-damned Squiddies set upon their ship before they’d even reached Breidelstein. And that was before they’d put in for water and found the town razed to the ground. The blood of the cultists had now painted his deck black, even under the onslaught of the storms they rode. Now it was time to paint their decks black. He hopped up on the boarding line and dashed across, glad of the chance to stretch his wings a little. He only hoped the cursed Squiddies ran out of men before the fleet did. Either way, he supposed, it would be an awesome story to tell over a horn of cider.


“Put me down, you cowardly spawn of an outlaw!” Thjofgrir still hurled imprecations, as though by main force of will he could do what his sword could not and free himself from the grasp of the octopus. Once it had him in its grip, however, it ignored him in favor of attempting to capture others of the ‘sacrifices.’ Thankfully, Thjofgrir’s misfortune was instruction to the rest of them. Rather than trying to block, even Jorir simply dodged. Still, it was only a matter of time before its bloodthirst won out over its greed.

Nearly there. He and Hrug each had only a handful of runes left to draw before they could activate their alfenring – and then they would learn whether it was good enough, or if they were, in fact, destined to be so much food for a dark god.

Thjofgrir struggled mightily to break free, but every time Einarr looked up it seemed as though the spiritual octopus held him more tightly. It was a wonder he could still breathe.

Einarr stooped again to draw his last rune. Next to him, Hrug was doing the same. Both of them had made it around behind the avatar, and if anything he looked even more horrific when you couldn’t see his meat-puppet. The head was as much squid as octopus, with shimmering scales like a sea serpent’s.

“You slimy piece of filth,” Thjofgrir said. This was followed by an audible crack and a scream. “You will never so much as see Midgard: we will end you before you take so much as a step from this room.”

Hrug and Einarr laid their hands on the edge of the circle, and the chalk lines began to grow white and green, traveling like the fire of life around their formation. When they met on the far side, tiny tendrils of vine began to grow up out of the light.

Disconcertingly, Malùnion laughed. Was it not enough? In the near silence that followed, Einarr could pick out the sound of drops of liquid striking the stone floor.

A moment later, a sword clattered to the ground inside the rune circle, and this was followed very swiftly by the dull thud of a body. Einarr stared in horror.

“Thjof!” Kaldr cried again, despair in his voice, and charged forward in spite of his self-appointed duty to Eydri.

Arring screamed a wordless rage. Einarr rose slowly to his feet and drew Sinmora.

And the tendrils of vine came to life.

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.

 

Physically speaking, the figure before them was still a man – or, perhaps, some sort of giant kin, for he seemed to have grown in size by several feet. Seemed, that is, for while Einarr undoubtedly now had to look further up to see his face, his presence now seemed to fill the room. The shadow of the black mass of energy was still visible behind the old priest, only instead of questing tendrils it now seemed like the arms of a massive octopus curling behind the man who had been the (presumably) High Priest of Malùnion.

Einarr swallowed. He had no idea how to fight a god – even a demigod, as Jorir termed Malùnion. If they took out the body, would the spirit remain? He had a sinking feeling the answer was ‘yes.’ And, of his team, the only one with a prayer of affecting the spirit was him, with his already over-strained will and the runes. Presently, the god’s avatar seemed to be muttering to itself about the feeling of having a physical form.

He glanced quickly around at his companions. Troa would have an advantage in this fight, so long as the rest of them could keep its attention. Arring sought death, which made him less reliable – but there was no reason to send the strong man that would not be taken as a horrific insult. Especially since, for all his strength, he was slow. Jorir might still know more about the creatures of Malùnion than he did, but he and Naudrek had closed that gap dramatically in Nilthiad. Which left… “Svarek.”

“Aye, my lord!”

“Run back as fast as you can. Take the torch. Bring Eydri and Hrug. Kaldr and Thjofgrir, and the Forgotten warriors too if you see them. Run until your lungs burst, if you have to, but get them here. We’ll keep it busy for as long as we can. Go!”

“Sir!”

Svarek took a moment to holster his axe, and then the sound of boots pounding against pavement stones rang out behind them. That seemed to get the creature’s attention. “Ah. How quaint,” it boomed, still with that odd duplicity of voice. “I see you’ve sent your vassal to bring more sacrifices. Have no fear: I shall accept them. I shall accept all.”

Einarr could think of no circumstance in which that phrase would not be disturbing. His fingers tightened around Sinmora’s hilt. “Who – or what – are you?”

It grinned, and the old man’s lips pulled back all the way to his ears, as though his flesh were made of tree gum. “I am the ancient one. The god of the deeps, and of all the old things which have been forgotten. You are wise, young ones, to pay me homage.”

While it spoke, Einarr looked at his team and motioned to left and right. They would have a better chance against this thing if they weren’t all bunched together – and if the creature thought they had come to pay it homage, that just proved a limit on its power. Now. To keep it talking somehow.

“You are indeed mighty, oh ancient one. Why, oh ancient one, do you destroy our craftsmen and our artists?” Jorir had told him the answer to this one once, long before, but the longer it talked the more time he bought to get Hrug and Eydri in – Hrug, to draw a proper formation while the demigod was otherwise occupied, and Eydri to keep them alive. Of course, he would have to protect the Singer once she opened her mouth: the creature’s answer was already long-winded, but it did seem to confirm that the magics of making were anathema to it.

Wait – the magics of making? Einarr had never thought of it in precisely those terms before. If Malùnion was a creature that could only consume and destroy, was that perhaps the key to its own undoing? He needed more time, and the creature seemed to be winding down.

Jorir had caught on, and plied its attention with another question none of them actually cared about the answer to – except that it gave them time to think. They hunt Singers, but they produce nothing tangible. Therefore, it must be something about creativity itself, or about newness… think!

Then, as Naudrek posed a quandary to the creature – which, judging by its tone, was beginning to find their endless prattle tiresome, it hit him. Quietly, he slipped his chalk once more from his pouch and knelt to draw a rune on the stone floor.

Jorir saw the movement and looked over at Einarr: with Sinmora’s tip held upright, he made a circular motion and started slowly moving to his left.

Unfortunately, Malùnion was not quite so oblivious as that, and since he had begun to tire of the conversation his attention, too, snapped round to where Einarr was drawing a second rune. “You, insect. What do you think you’re doing?”

“When the sacrifices arrive, we must do you proper honor, mustn’t we?”

“Naturally. All must honor me and turn.”

“I was merely preparing the ground for the sacrifice.” With what he had in mind, it could well become a sacrifice, although he didn’t intend it to. And, he thought he heard the pounding of footsteps coming back up the hall behind him. He took the next few paces a little faster: once Hrug and Eydri showed up it would rapidly become obvious that something was afoot.

Then Eydri’s voice carried forward into the temple.

The creature growled and stared up at the entrance from which the sound came. “What?”

Then Svarek rushed in, with Hrug right on his heels.

“Alfenring!” Einarr shouted towards the back of the room at the one-armed mute. He hoped he understood: the man stopped in his tracks and dropped to a knee, evidently drawing runes of his own. Good. Now to defend Eydri, and inscribe the circle all the way around the creature, all while keeping everyone alive. Well, such was the life of a Cursebreaker, he supposed. He shuddered to think that he had somehow grown used to it.

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.

 

Their pool of yellow light soon came to feel like an oasis in the darkening corridor they followed. At first, Einarr wondered if it was merely an illusion, but after a while it became plain that the blue flames on the ensconced torches were actually growing smaller. Was there something about the magic of Malùnion which could not stand the light of day, then? Einarr supposed it would fit. He wasn’t certain he’d ever encountered one under a clear sky.

Eventually, after long enough the inky darkness beyond their torchlight was beginning to unnerve even Einarr, a doorway shone out in front of them. There was light inside – a cold, blue-white light that was a little like looking into the sun. When the light resolved itself into an open doorway, it felt as though they all released their breath together. The moment’s relief, however, was short-lived. “Brace yourselves,” Einarr muttered. “There could be anything in there.”

Then they were moving forward again, weapons not drawn but ready. Einarr led the way through the threshold and stepped, blinking, into the chamber.

When his eyes adjusted, he saw row upon row of benches to either side, stretching forward far enough that he questioned how anyone seated at the back could make out what was going on in the front of the room. This setup was beginning to look familiar, though. “This look like a temple to you, Jorir?”

“Too much so,” he agreed.

“Svarek, Arring, Troa – you remember those beasties under the decks of the svartalfr ships?”

“Unfortunately,” Arring grunted.

“Whatever we meet here is probably going to be worse.”

Svarek groaned. Arring gave a feral-sounding growl. Troa stretched his bowstring.

“Let’s go.” Einarr drew Sinmora and picked up his pace. He had no idea what they were going to meet, but he felt far more comfortable with his blade in his hand.

The chamber was as painfully long as it first appeared, and as they moved forward it spread out from side to side, as well, so that there were multiple columns of the benches on either side, as well. And, now they could see what awaited them on the dais at the far side of the room: an altar, and a man, and a black mass that Einarr could not quite understand at this moment. The man was doing something at the altar, and the mass seemed to be reacting to it – thus, whatever was happening could be nothing good.

He started running. The last time he had been witness to a Squiddie rite, they had summoned that crab-fisted abomination. The others were hot on his heels.

An arrow whizzed past Einarr’s face. He glanced behind to see Troa lowering his bow and sprinting to catch up with the rest of them. Ahead, the priest’s chanting faltered momentarily as he clutched at his shoulder. The arrow must have struck shallowly: it was no longer affixed to the priest, although black blood now seeped into the back of his robes.

The black mass on the altar pulsed and throbbed to the priest’s chanting. Now that they were closer, it looked like nothing so much as the gathered curse energy that had bound the Isle of the Forgotten. For a moment, he wished he had Arkja, but only for a moment.

The mass was beginning to grow. Einarr heard another arrow fly: this one stuck fast in his other shoulder, but the priest hardly seemed to feel it. Rather than stumbling or crying out, he straitened his shoulders and turned around to face them. A maniacal laugh escaped his mouth, and his gaze seemed fixed somewhere above.

“Welcome, welcome!” The priest called out. The mad laughter filled his voice. “I see that our pawn led you straight to us. I am most pleased.”

Einarr slowed, his shield raised and his sword lowered. “Who are you?”

The priest’s voice became solemn suddenly. “I am Búrak, High Priest of Malúnion, and this is His temple. You are just in time.”

That really didn’t sound good. “In time for what?”

A grin split the man’s face nearly from ear to ear without touching his wide eyes. “Ascension.”

The black mass of energy began pulsing more, as though something were trying to punch through its membrane from the inside. The priest held his arms out to either side. Even as Einarr ordered his men to back off, two of the tentacle-like pods reached out and wrapped around the priest’s arms. Slowly – and yet, with alarming speed – the mass grew until it enveloped the mad priest. Purple lightning crackled around the spikes and feelers of the energy mass. Then it seemed to twist in on itself, like wringing water from a cloth.

Troa tried another shot, but it was worse than useless: the arrow burned up, head and all, in a burst of blue flames as it touched the writhing, coiling mass of corruption.

It pulsed upward once, twice, and on the third time it constricted itself down so far the energy seemed to be sucked up by the remnants of the creature inside.

It was no longer accurate to call what emerged from the energy a man, or even a human. It still had the same basic form, but the whites of its eyes had been subsumed into the swirling blue-purple marble of the iris, and its pupils glowed like a cat’s. The skin took on an obvious ash color, as though the last of the life in its veins had been traded for the corruption of Malúnion, and at the end of each finger grew a wicked-looking claw.

Power crackled around those hands now, and as he threw back his hands to laugh two things happened. First, Einarr got a look at his teeth: the needle-sharp teeth of predators everywhere. Second, he began to raise up off the ground.

The laugh had taken on an odd, echo-like sound. When he laughed, it sent chills down Einarr’s spine. When he spoke, it was as though two people spoke at once. “Rejoice, mortals,” it said. “For you have borne witness to my rebirth.”

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 had to believe that the group who ventured up the tower was having an easier time of it. At the very least they hadn’t requested backup before he judged his team ready to press on.

Similarly, he could not spare a thought for the pincered fleet out past the harbor. That there had been no word would have to be taken as hard fighting, no more. So, when Eydri and Hrug had seen to their healing and purification, and Einarr’s head had stopped throbbing quite so badly, he surveyed his men.

Some handful who had been healed needed more time to recuperate – they had been gravely injured, mostly, and the Song Magic could only speed the process so much. Those, and some other handful who were less worn down, were detailed to hold this floor and keep a watchful eye on the harbor. If anyone, friend or foe, came into the harbor they were to send a runner down after Einarr’s team. The fact that he intended to press on did not please Eydri, but even had she not healed his leg quite expertly, Einarr was their war leader. He could not lead from the back – that was not his way.

Einarr, Jorir, and Kaldr stood at the head of the expedition further into the depths. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, and Troa followed close behind. All told, they took a team of perhaps twenty down the broad ramp leading deeper into the earth.

Jorir grumbled as they rounded the first corner of the ramp. “I mislike this passage.”

Kaldr glanced down at the svartdvergr, and there was an edge of humor when he spoke. “It rather reminds me of the Paths of Stone, though. Right before we started falling into pits.”

“My point exactly.” Jorir harrumphed. “And the parts used by dvergr were cut smooth to allow for carts. What do they keep down here that can’t handle stairs?”

“I’m sure we’ll find out, probably sooner than we’d like. Be on the lookout for traps, everyone.”

A chorus of ‘aye’s echoed from behind, but it was really no louder than the tramp of twenty pairs of boots and the clink of twenty sets of maille. Still they went on. Neither Einarr nor Kaldr were happy about giving up the initiative before, so by unspoken agreement they made as much haste as they dared. Einarr strained his eyes trying to peer beyond the watery blue torchlight.

A little further down, with still no sign of a side passage – or even a room – mutters began to carry forward to his ears. The long, gloomy passage was starting to unnerve the men.

“Keep your wits about you, men. Whatever is waiting for us down below, it’s nothing we can’t deal with.” He hoped. Unfortunately, he couldn’t really do much more to lift their spirits than that.

Finally, after what felt like hours, the ramp leveled off into a broad, open cave. The floor was smooth like planed wood, but the walls and ceiling were rough like a natural cave. Three passages branched off from here – right, left, and center. “All right men, take a break. Someone mark the door we just came from. You three–” he pointed at random. “How would you like sentry duty here?”

The three shared an uneasy look, but nodded their agreement.

“Excellent, because someone needs to. Everyone else, split into teams of six. I’ll take center…” Glancing over the men stretching their shoulders and swigging water, he realized something. With a smile, he turned to Arkja. “Looks to me like your whole crew from the Island is here. Why don’t you take the right, while Kaldr and Thjofgrir take the left… Assuming, of course, that Jorir and Naudrek prefer to stick with me?”

The dvergr harrumphed as though that were obvious. Naudrek also agreed. “Indeed, I’d have insisted,” he added.

“Right. That means three more can come with me, and four go with Kaldr. When everyone’s formed up, we’ll continue.


Troa, Svarek, and Arring rounded out Einarr’s team, and he was reasonably sure as they started down the central path the only way their team could be more stalwart was if he’d taken Kaldr and Thjofgrir. Their passage wound about, and Einarr was reasonably certain they were headed generally downwards. When they were a little ways away from the central room, Jorir glanced up at him as they walked. “So, why center?”

“A hunch? Mostly based on the temple in Nilthiad, honestly.”

He grunted. “Thought so. Let’s see how this pans out, then.”

Not much further on, they came to a long gallery of carved and planed pillars. The inner path through the gallery was lit, but nothing past it, so that as you walked through the pillars all you could see was the road ahead of you. To either side, all that was visible beyond the pillars was inky blackness.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” Svarek started. “But, do you think your head could handle giving us one of your glowing runes? This blue flame has me on my last nerve.”

Einarr frowned. Using to create light took very little concentration. By the same token, however, he knew he was near his limits already. Would a beacon of proper light be worth the risk that he would be forced to call on the runes again? Hesitantly, he nodded. “Yes, I can manage that much, at least. I’m not sure how much more we’ll be able to see, mind you.”

“That’s fine, milord. Just so it looks a little more natural.”

Einarr drew out his piece of chalk, but Arring held up a hand. “I think we might be better off just lighting one of our ordinary torches. That way we get something to counteract the cold look of the cultists’ flames.”

Einarr nodded his assent, and Troa drew a torch from the pack he carried everywhere. Arring lit it with practiced ease, and as it flared to life the light did, somehow, start to look less watery and cold and more natural to a surface dweller.

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 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.

 

It was good to sail with a full crew again. Naudrek had ceded the post of Mate back to Jorir in good graces, now that the svartdvergr was returned to them. Eydri and Hrug were back in their proper places as well, and Vali’s jar was stowed unobtrusively below. Erik had gone with Sivid, but Irding and Arring had come aboard the Heidrun, as had Svarek and the men from the Forgotten Isle. The rest of his crew he filled with volunteers in consultation with Sivid and Kaldr.

The refugees who had arrived from Kem were given a chance to come along. The younger man – who looked vaguely familiar to Einarr, and not at all like someone of the Clans – took them up on it. The older man declined, but also asked that they pay a visit to his farmhold and bring back his wife and their children – a request easily agreed to.

Now, after a week’s hasty preparations, Einarr and the Heidrun set sail for the southwest, where lay Kem on the borders of Imperial waters. Einarr smiled to see Runa and little Alfvin on the docks, watching them leave. For his part, he felt much better knowing they were here, guarded by all the forces his father could muster. She seemed less happy, but the duty of the prince was to lead their forces into the fray, whatever that might be.

Heidrun, too, seemed to be ready to go. Perhaps it was a trick of the wind, but the ship itself felt eager under Einarr’s feet, like a horse feeling its oats. Einarr grinned. It was good to be back on the whale-road.

Unbidden, the image of the body hanging in the warehouse in Langavik came to mind, and his grin turned to a shudder.


Two months – at least – after it was attacked, the ruins of Kem still smoked and smoldered in places. Einarr stood on the deck of the Heidrun staring in stunned silence at the empty pier and the wreckage beyond. No-one aboard spoke.

Finally, after his mind had begun to work again and the silence stretched into a goad, he took a deep breath. Standing here would accomplish nothing. “Naudrek, the ship is yours. Jorir, you’re with me – Gabriel, you too. Eydri, Hrug, choose a handful of men. We’ll split into four groups and quarter the city. The trail’s already long cold, which means we need to be thorough. Be back at the ship by dusk: if there are hungry dead about, we can ward the Heidrun.”

A chorus of ‘aye’s traveled around the deck. Einarr also brought Arkja and Svarek, while Irding went with Eydri’s group and Arring with Hrug’s. Einarr felt somewhat better at that: that meant that all three of their groups had someone who knew at least a little magic, and every one of those sorcerers had at least one powerful warrior with them.

Then they were off, the group commanders trudging down the ash-stained pier at the head of their teams – and it was trudging, for each and every one of them.

Once they had turned off the main road onto one of the innumerable narrow side-streets, Jorir cast a look at Gabriel. “Did you an’ yer Pa set fire to the city, or was it like this when you got here?”

The young man shook his head. “Pa? Me Pa’s dead ten years. The old man’s my master… you didn’t realize?”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. “You seem to be on awfully friendly terms with him for a thrall.”

Gabriel smirked at that. “Maybe so. He’s never gone so far as to adopt me, officially, but that’s how he treats me. You have no idea who I am, do you?”

“None. I’m sorry: it’s been an eventful few years.”

You sold me into thralldom, to pay the apothecary. ‘Twas about what the life of a common footpad was worth, I suppose.”

Einarr and Jorir both stopped in their tracks, the rest of their group sharing looks of confusion.

“That was you?” they asked together.

“That was me. But no, the city was already burned when we got here. If it hadn’t been…” He looked pointedly down at the ground, into the corner where the charred wall of a building still rose from the road, and poked a toe into the ash. What was plainly a human bone rolled free.

“Charnel. I agree: I’ll take the smell of wet ash over the smell of rotting bodies any day. On the other hand, it does complicate our search somewhat.”

Jorir grunted.

Einarr looked around where they stood. Off to the left stood a mostly intact two-story building. “That looks like a promising place to start.”

Inside, they found overturned furniture and splatters of blood, obvious even under the thin coating of ash and soot. Overturned, broken jars were everywhere, but Einarr could not guess at what they might have held. He picked one of them up to examine it more carefully. “The apothecary, you say. He was some sort of relation of your master. Did you find him?”

There was a long pause before the young man answered. “No. Not that that means much under the circumstances.”

“Well. If we find a camp of survivors, so much the better, but that’s not what we’re looking for. The cultists carved up dead bodies: I don’t expect the League to be quite that brutal. Fan out. Once we’ve searched this building we’ll move on to the next.”

“And, if you don’t mind me asking, what are we looking for?” Arkja asked.

“Something unusual, or out of place.” Einarr answered. If we’re lucky, they’ll have left a message someplace for any interlopers who happened by.”

Jorir harrumphed. “And if we’re unlucky, it will have gotten gobbled up by the fire.”

Everyone but Gabriel chuckled. He looked thoughtful. “I think I know where they might have left a message like that.”

Einarr looked at him, waiting.

“There’s a big monument in the town square – not much more than a giant slab, really, carved with the world tree and various doings along its height. They’d be far from the first to scrawl on it, and I’d be surprised if the fire could have touched it.”

Einarr nodded. “Good. We’ll check it out when we get there. We’re better off sticking with the method, though, rather than haring off after an obvious sign that may not exist.”

“Yes, sir,” he answered.

“My lord?” Arkja called from the far side of the house. “What do you make of this?”

 

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.

 

A flurry of motion aboard the Heidrun followed Einarr’s answer. The sail was unfurled and the men at oars began once more to row. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and if Einarr had to meet his end here, he could do so proudly.

He had no desire to actually do so, of course, but this was a particularly tight pinch they were in. Would it have been better to resort to trickery, pretend to surrender? Einarr shook his head. Had he more time to dally here, perhaps, but they would be calling it close already. Thus, the way forward was through, once again.

By the same token, if he turned the hardened warriors of Breidelstein against the green recruits of this League, or if he turned magic against them, he could easily enough destroy them – and plunge Breidelstein into a war it had no stomach for. He had a narrow path to walk, getting them out of this.

“Ready shields! Svarek, steerboard!” Then he turned his attention inward to his core people. “Naudrek, you have the archers. Don’t volley unless we have to. Eydri, I’m counting on you. We need speed and stamina above all.”

“Yes, sir,” Naudrek answered.

“Of course, milord.” Eydri’s voice was strangely breathless, and even in the dark he thought she looked flushed. Is she feeling all right?

He could worry about that after they were free. “Hrug…” He paused, a sudden idea occurring to him. “Hrug, can you give me a light show? We don’t want to hurt them, just frighten them a little.”

The mute sorcerer nodded his agreement.

“Great. Go to it. Have some fun.”

He pursed his lips into a line and nodded, but Einarr could see a question on his brow. Einarr even knew what it was.

“They seem to be organizing to fight that blasted cult with its corrupted monsters. I would have no quarrel at all with them if they weren’t trying to impress us. Probably they assume we’re freeboaters. If we can get out without destroying them, we should.”

The rune seithir nodded his understanding and agreement and trotted off to the bulwarks, already pulling a piece of chalk from the pouch at his belt.

Now then. They were going to have to shoot the gap between two of the encircling boats. There were only a handful of longships, but most of them were between the Heidrun and the break in the sea wall.

There were two fishing boats together just off the port bow, but if he charged between them he would be headed directly for that sea wall. Could he maneuver quickly enough to get around behind the encirclement and race for the exit? Jumping the seawall might be possible, but would definitely be a good way to get them all stranded here.

He took his place on the platform of the mast. It was now or never. Arrows began to rain on their shields and their deck as they drew nearer the spot Einarr had chosen. “Svarek! Hard aport, now! Hrug – show me what you’ve got!”

“Oars, full speed!” Naudrek bellowed after him.

A line of light appeared all along the edge of the bulwark and all the way up to trace the lines of the ramshead on the prow. The line of light seemed to lift its nose to bugle, then lowered its head as though readying for a charge.

That… had not quite been what Einarr had in mind, but it seemed to be effective. The two fishing boats in the Heidrun’s path, scrambled to row out of the way. Meanwhile the enemy arrows faltered, as though none of them could quite believe what they were seeing. Not that Einarr could really fault them.

“Svarek, on my mark, throw us hard to starboard, then even out.”

“Aye, sir.”

Three… two… one… “Mark!”

The mast wobbled over the water as the ship abruptly turned almost in place on the water and the Heidrun shot forward – behind the League ships that had tried to capture her.

Someone onboard whooped – too soon. The League ships were taking up oars to give chase, true, but there was a larger problem to hand.

They weren’t going to clear the seawall.

They had good momentum. If Einarr tried to turn farther he would lose some of that, and some of the distance he had wanted to open up with their enemies. More importantly, though, they would still scrape against the seawall. Or, if they held steady, it might be enough to jump the seawall.

Heidrun, my Heidrun, I’m sorry. “Hold steady, Svarek!”

There was a collective intake of breath as large swaths of the crew realized what was about to happen.

“Brace!”

As one, the oars lifted into the air and the shield men dropped to their knees. Then there was a jolt, and a jump, and a terrible scraping as of rough stone on wood.

Please let us make it.

For a moment it seemed as though the Heidrun hung in midair. Then, with a splash, she skipped twice on the surface of the ocean. Momentum carried her forward at first, and then the wind filled her sail and she was off into the night.

Einarr exhaled loudly, relief flooding his belly as it became plain they’d made it past the difficult part. He could just make out, from the torchlight on their decks, the longships of Blávík leaving the harbor. Now, though, there was a goodly distance between them, and it was unlikely they would pursue too far.

“Shields down, everyone,” he ordered. He frowned, pondering, then decided it was worth the risk. “Get me a light. Naudrek, we need to find a safe harbor – secluded, this time – to check for damage and set ourselves up to fish on our way home.” And then I’ll get you to a proper shipwright, he promised his boat, and let you have a nice long rest for my honeymoon.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

As afternoon faded into evening the last stragglers made it back to the Heidrun. Svarek had managed to acquire some cabbages and fresh fish ashore and was currently boiling them into one of his marvelous soups. Everyone looked discouraged. Everyone, that is, except for Einarr’s team and Hrug. They were merely resigned.

“I’m afraid I gave you some bad advice earlier. Had I known how poorly thought of Ragnar was when Grandfather left, I’d have come up with some other way of asking around.”

He heard a few scattered grumblings, but no-one interrupted.

“The bad news is, the only public hall in town is not a place you can – or should, I think – stay. Anyone who doesn’t come with me will have to stay on the ship.”

Svarek snorted. “Bread’s full of rocks, anyway.”

“Oh, you too?” Einarr chuckled, then sighed. “The good news is, between the herb-witch and the rune sticks I know both where to go and who to bring with me. Hrug and I will ward the ship before we leave—”

The sorcerer held up his hand in mute protest.

“Don’t be so surprised, old man. We talked about this. If we do these wards properly they won’t need you here, and I very well might. I mislike what that old woman said about ‘Hel’s domain.’ I hope she’s just being macabre, but…”

“But we all follow the Cursebreaker,” Eydri finished.

“Yes, that. So I’m only taking a handful of people with me, and the rest of you get to stay put and guard the ship.” Against what, he could not guess, but he wasn’t about to put them off their guard that way. “Now. Coming with me – and no arguments, now, we all talked this over very carefully among ourselves. Hrug, Naudrek, Eydri, Troa, Finn, and Odvir. Ready yourselves for the expedition. Everyone else, you know what to do.”

The sky was shading from pale grey to dark grey. Out over the water, movement caught Einarr’s eye. A lone fishing boat sped across the surface of the water, its oars creating their own wakes in the still surface of the water. Despite the strange, desperate speed of the rowers, however, the boat seemed to be slowing – and sinking. The closer to shore it drew, the lower in the water it sat.

“Hey, that fisher needs help!” Odvir exclaimed.

“…Yeah, you’re right.” Einarr was about to order his men to oars, but then Eydri held out a forestalling arm.

“No, don’t.”

“What?”

“We can’t help.” Eydri looked pale.

The water around the hull of the boat seemed to be writhing, as though grey tendrils reached up and roiled around its sides. They could hear the shouts and pounding of the fishermen aboard as they tried to fight off whatever it was that had now stopped them in the water.

Then a crack like thunder echoed over the surface of the water and the boat broke in two. Now the voices of the fishermen turned to cries of fear as skinny black bodies dragged the capsized boat and all its occupants beneath the surface.

“What did we just watch?” Naudrek asked, his voice hollow with sickened wonder.

“I had wondered,” Eydri started. “What the old herb witch meant when she called this island Hel’s domain. I think… I think we know, now.”

Einarr grunted agreement, his eyes glued to the place where the water still roiled from the death-struggles of the fishermen. “Be on your guard, everyone. Hrug, let’s get started.”


The ward Einarr and Hrug laid over the ship was surprisingly similar to the one Elder Melja had maintained over the Crimson Shroud, except that it was set to keep things out rather than in – in this case, things that were not alive. It would draw its power from the entirety of the crew, which would distribute its need to the point that no one should be unduly inconvenienced. This was in place before the midnight watch began.

At dawn, Einarr and his team shouldered their packs and tramped across to the dock. Svarek would take command while they were gone: the young wanderer had proven himself steady and reliable over the course of the last year. And with that, Einarr led the others back through the town.

Even dawn could not bring cheer or color to the streets of this town. Einarr noted with interest, however, that now it was the women who were out and about, sweeping yards and doing the ordinary, day-to-day tasks that keep a town from squalor. Still, though, he saw no children. Perhaps, given what they knew about the island, this was rational on the part of the people. It did not make it less unnerving, however.

The townsfolk, for their part, shied away from the travelers as they passed, and it was plain they did not intend to speak to the strangers. Thus it was that Einarr and his companions passed through the town in silence.

The forest pressed hard against the edge of the town to the north and fell into the gloom of twilight. Eydri and Finn lit torches.

The forest was not, in fact, black pine – or at least not entirely – but a mix of hard and soft wood. But, like everything else on the island, the colors were dulled and greyed, only reinforcing the feeling of death and decay that seemed to hang over everything.

“According to the herb witch,” Einarr reminded them. “We need to follow the old road north until we reach the standing stones. After that things get trickier.”

“Tricky – how?” Odvir asked, his eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Ghost-light, lost in the mist tricky, I’m afraid. That’s why you and Troa are with me, frankly.” They were two of the only ones on board who had faced the Althane two years ago.

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Troa groaned.

“Let’s keep going, though. The sooner we get to the ruins of the old hold, the better.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

The trail through the hills, now that there was no longer a troll haunting it, would have been a pleasant hike on any other island. The midday sun was bright, and a crisp breeze played with the grass. It was almost, Einarr thought, like the island was conspiring to keep people from even trying to leave. He shook his head: far better to concern himself with the task at hand. Things were looking up: all they needed was to resupply their ship, and then they could set sail. By the time the town Auna had mentioned came into view, his step felt positively light.

Jorir cleared his throat. “Not to be a worrywart, milord, but have you given any thought as to how we’re going to pay for our supplies?”

“With only the four of us, we’re not exactly equipped to raid the town, are we.” Einarr had the beginnings of an idea, but no way of knowing if it would work.

“I’m sure we would make a game showing of it…” Erik trailed off, a ‘but’ hanging heavily off the end of that sentence.

“But we probably wouldn’t get everything we needed, and we’d probably have to steal a boat in the process. Furthermore, if these are men of the Clans, raiding them while they’re here just seems cruel.”

Runa muttered a relieved thanks to the gods under her breath. No battle chanter was she, and unlikely to become one even after Einarr had his own ship.

“No, Jorir. My intent is to find some likely sailors in town, offer them a chance off this rock. Just think how bitter the old fisherman was: someone’s bound to jump at the idea of a second chance.” At least, he hoped someone would. Preferably several someones, so he could weed out the more malicious breed. Even if Father would tolerate them on the Vidofnir, which he wouldn’t, there was a certain sort of sailor that Einarr did not want on any ship Runa also rode.

Jorir frowned, but before he could object Erik spoke up. “The numbers are in our favor, I suppose.”

“Only,” Runa followed on. “Auna made it sound like the townspeople were… unpleasant, at best.”

Einarr grunted. “There is that. And if we can’t find anyone that Bardr or Father would be willing to have aboard, we can figure something else out.” Not that he had any idea what that might be.

The town ahead of them resolved itself into a collection of stone buildings and thatched roofs that made Apalvik look large. Still, though, it was no smaller than Kjellvic, where they’d found Irding and Svarek. It would do. It would have to.

On the outskirts of town, Einarr paused. “What do you lay the odds are that there’s more than one public hall in the whole town?”

“Low,” Erik and Jorir answered together.

“Good. In that case, keep together. Just like we did in Apalvik, Jorir.”

The dwarf grunted acknowledgement. If he was irritated by the role he had been given, or by the need for it, he did not show it. Based on statements Jorir had made, it sounded as though the svartdvergr nations had earned their reputation for treachery long before Jorir first set out on his quest.

Einarr continued into the town, the streets ahead of him uniformly hard-packed dirt and strangely quiet for late afternoon. Ordinarily Einarr would have expected to see craftsmen and laborers headed home for the night, maybe carrying dinner with them. But with the exception of the occasional dog he saw no-one.

“Auna did say there were people here…” Erik looked around as they walked, scratching his beard.

“Um.” Einarr was just as troubled by this as Erik sounded. While it simplified matters if the goods they needed were just there for the taking, entire towns were not in the habit of just disappearing. “So, what happened to them?”

Jorir cleared his throat. “As much as I hate to ask it, is it any of our concern?”

Runa’s look of shock was not feigned. In a way, it was a shame she would never make a battle chanter: reactions like those would help keep Einarr human.

“No, he’s right.” Erik spoke up, saving Einarr from having to. “As much as we could use extra hands on deck, our primary concern is getting the distaff back to the Matrons so they can cure the others. Unless whatever happened here is going to keep us from getting out of here, we have no reason to spend extra time or energy here.”

Einarr frowned, latching on to something Erik had said. “I think we might, actually. That old fisherman – he told us it was impossible to leave, but not why. Runa, you said you didn’t know of any way of leaving this place, either, but surely someone must have tried. We need to find them, and find out what happened, if we don’t want to end up washing ashore here again.”

Runa nodded emphatically, as though that was exactly why she wanted to investigate why the town was empty. The corner of Einarr’s mouth curled in amusement, but he let it slide.

“We should find the public hall anyway. That’ll give us a place to sleep and a place to discuss, if nothing else. And who knows: maybe someone else will be hiding out in there who knows what’s going on.” Their decision made, and their mood somewhat improved as a result, they set off down the street.

From the street, the abandonment of the town seemed complete. Here and there doors stood open, or shutters, their insides stripped bare in apparent haste. The people had left, then, and with at least a little warning. That was both good and bad. Bad, because they were less likely to find someone capable of answering questions. But good, because it meant the townspeople had a better chance of being alive – wherever they were.

Finally, as the sky transitioned from dusk to true dark, they stood before the signboard of a public hall: The Salty Maid, it read. Here, too, the door stood open, and the interior was dark. But it was a place to begin. Einarr stepped across the threshold.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

Tendrils of mist extended inward toward the tower that rose from the water like some giant’s spear, curling about the Gestrisni and obscuring what rocks might yet hide beneath the surface. Even now that their target was in sight it was slow going.

They wound their way through the reef in silence save for the dip of the oars and the lapping of water on their hull, each and every one of them worrying over what lay ahead. Just as in the thick of the fog, here too Einarr found it impossible to judge the passage of time. First the cave, now the fog: it would be nice, he thought, to be under a properly sunny sky for a time once they were finished here.

After what felt like an eternity of tense floating, the shadow of the tower covered their boat, the thing itself looming from its rocky perch to split the heavens. Carefully they rowed toward a set of man-sized steps carved into the rock flanked by much smaller jagged spires, perfect for mooring their boat. Either the gods were mocking them and this apparent entrance was illusory, or people were occasionally required to venture here legitimately.

The Gestrisni carefully moored from bow and stern across the stairs, Einarr hopped over the railing and onto the bottom of the stair. Turning, he offered his hand to Runa. “My lady.”

She smiled coquettishly, a small blush kissing her cheeks, as she stepped up on the rail and accepted the hand. “Many thanks, milord.”

Erik chuckled and Irding had the poor grace to roll his eyes. Jorir, at least, saw nothing strange about the exchange. Runa ignored them as she joined her betrothed on the step.

“What, jealous, men? I can help you across too – if you think you need it.”

Now Erik roared, the sound of his laughter echoing off of water and stone alike. “Fat chance o’ that. Stand aside, boy, let me show you how it’s done.”

Irding moved hurriedly toward the bow while Einarr tugged Runa up the steps a goodly distance as Erik sauntered across the deck. Then the big man turned, dropped into a momentary lunge, and with two long strides launched himself from the deck. He landed hard on a step not far below Einarr, still several up from the water’s surface, as the Gestrisni rocked violently behind him.

Jorir swore as only a dwarf can swear, and Irding looked pale: now it was Einarr’s turn to laugh, although he did so somewhat more reservedly than Erik had.

“Well come on, you two. The sooner we’re back in East Port, the sooner we can actually unwind for a bit.”

Irding grunted as he, too, landed on the stairs after a somewhat less exuberant jump than his father’s. “Are all raiding seasons this… eventful with the Captain?”

“Not hardly.” Einarr pressed his lips together. Irding had been eager for this adventure: how much more overwhelmed must Svarek feel, after ghosts and monsters and corrupted blood? The men needed rest, maybe even more than they needed more men, but Stigander was surely aware of that even more keenly than Einarr.

Jorir landed almost as heavily as Erik had, although once again not trying to best the man’s long jump. “Shall we?”

With a nod, Einarr and Runa started up the stairway. The others fell in behind.

The path marked by the cut-in stairs spiralled around and up the rock. It could have been no more than eight feet vertically from the water to the tower’s foundation, but it was a steep spiral and by the top of it even the men’s legs burned a little with exertion. Runa, who was not used to such labors, was breathing heavily before the top.

The path finally ended before a smooth round stone set into the rock at eye height. Runes were carved in a ring around the outside, and the stone itself showed a labyrinthine pattern of concentric circles. There was no apparent handle, or even a sign of which way the stone would move to open the passage.

None of this appeared to deter Runa, who stood studying the design while she caught her breath. After a few minutes she began tracing a path through the labyrinth pattern on the portal stone with her finger.

“What is it?”

“Be very glad,” she muttered. “That you brought me along. Reki and Aema are more experienced Singers than I am, but they have spent their lives out raiding whereas I have had little to do with my time other than study. …There it is.”

As she spoke, her finger reached the center of the labyrinth and she pressed down. That first press was followed by several more in diverse locations around the stone. A grinding sound emanated from behind the wall, and the stone began to roll away into the rock.

“So what was that?”

“A puzzle lock, of course. And a fairly straightforward one once you understand the clue.”

“Clue? You mean the runes?”

“What else would I mean? We’d best be going through before it decides to close on our heads.”

Einarr looked up into the passage and frowned. Though it had been carved as steps, it was, at least here, nearly as steep as a ladder. “Jorir. You first. Then I’ll give Runa a hand up, then the rest of us will follow.”

Jorir puffed up his chest, pleased to be given the point position. “Very well, milord.”

The dwarf checked to be sure his shield and his axe were secure before stepping up to the door. He threw a challenging glare at Einarr and Erik both before measuring the distance. With a nod, he rubbed his hands together and crouched down.

His leap for the ledge of the first stair was more impressive than Erik’s long jump off the boat by far, although Einarr had seen its equal once: when they fought beneath Fraëner’s hall on Svartlauf. Jorir caught the ledge with his fingertips easily before pulling himself fully up on the stair.

Irding let out a low whistle, but wisely declined to comment.

“Your turn, milady.” Jorir turned and offered his hand to assist his Lord’s betrothed.

Einarr took a knee to allow Runa to step up on it. Steadying herself on his proffered hand, she accepted Jorir’s hand and made the step with a minimum of stretching.

“My thanks, noble svartdvergr. You are a credit to your tribe.”

“Lady, I am so long removed from my clan that the ill now spoken of us may well be true. For now, though, I believe we have more important matters to hand.” Without another word, Jorir turned and began making his way up the steep stair, one long step at a time. Einarr and the others soon followed.


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