The Heidrun ran up the white flag as they approached the freehold Gabriel led them to. Even so, as he waited at the top of the gangplank, while Gabriel approached up the beach, they were greeted by a sturdy older woman wielding a massive axe in one hand and a proper shield in the other. She scowled fiercely at the approaching boat, and Einarr thought she would likely give a good accounting of herself, just on sheer determination.

Then she saw Gabriel and let the axe head drop. “You’re alive? Then, is…?”
Gabriel nodded. “He’s in Breidelstein: they say we can start over there. Kem is gone.”

Relief and fury warred on the woman’s face – relief, he was sure, for the safety of her husband. Fury, he didn’t have to guess at.

“Leave Flatey? Start over? Are you mad?”

“What else are we supposed to do? With Kem gone, we’ve no-one to trade with between here and Breidelstein. No apothecary, no herb witch. One bad winter would kill us all.”

“The lad is right,” Einarr chimed in, still standing on the deck. “It might not even take a bad winter: there are monsters at sea now. Raenshold has men who have fought them before, and a good harbor, and lots of unworked land to boot. I’m afraid the Heidrun isn’t equipped to carry much livestock, but we’ve enough cargo space for anything else you care to bring.”

The woman stood there, staring at both of them, her mouth working soundlessly, for a long time. As the quiet dragged on, the fury faded from her face and her shoulders began to sag.

“You may as well come ashore. We’ll need some time to pack.”


Einarr’s Heidrunings were still gripped with a solemn urgency when they docked once more in Breidelstein. Gabriel’s master waited at the docks for his family – which plainly included Gabriel, no matter what his technical status was. Einarr was pleased that had worked out as well as it had, even with everything else weighing on his mind.

Gorgny also greeted their return at the docks: Einarr was always a little surprised the man was willing to walk down to the port for this sort of thing: he was at least as old as Tyr, and hadn’t spent most of the last twenty years at sea – and that wasn’t accounting for his duties towards Grandfather Raen. Still, if it was Gorgny here and not Father or Kaldr, that meant they were absorbed in other important matters.

Einarr and his commanders disembarked to join him, escorting the former Captain of the League, Thrand, and the seven of them set off at a quick pace for the cliff road. “What’s happened while we’ve been out?” Einarr asked Gorgny.

“I see you’ve returned with another new face, milord?” The old advisor raised an eyebrow.

The meaning was plain. “He’s our captive, but also a refugee. Lone survivor of the massacre of Kem.”

Gorgny nodded. “Representatives have been arriving since not long after you left, milord. I’m sure they are all waiting to learn what you have found out.”

Fair enough. Einarr wasn’t entirely certain how trustworthy Thrand was at this point, either, and that was after traveling with the man. “So long as they allow us enough time to wash the salt off – and maybe for the rest of my crew to finish unloading and do the same. Any other reports of razed settlements?”

“I’m afraid so, milord. The Kjellings ran into one on their way, as did one or two other representatives. The Captain of the Skudbrun seemed particularly disturbed by what he saw.”

“Understandably so. He’s seen it before, too. … Let those who found the massacres know that, should they wish to compare notes, I intend to sweat out the ashes of Kem in the sauna tonight. I would like a chance to speak with them privately. Probably for the best if Father does not attend: I will let him know what I intend.”

“Yes, milord.”

“By that same token, before dinner I will be in my chambers with Runa and Alfvin. We are not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.”

“Of course, milord.”


Einarr sat in the sauna, a towel wrapped about his waist, his elbows on his knees and his eyes closed. He was glad Bollinn was here: that would make matters easier, even accounting for the close ties between their clans. He still didn’t know who the other two were: he hoped he could count on them to see what was necessary.

Einarr heard a rap on the door. “Enter.”

A blast of cool air reminded Einarr of just how hot it was in here: he stood and dipped some water over the coals. When he returned to the bench, Bollinn sat across from him.

“Einarr.”

“Good to see you. How’re the Brunnings holding up?”

Bollinn shrugged. “Langavik wasn’t necessarily worse, but everything that followed was. We’ll hold up just fine.”

Einarr nodded. “Where was it?”

“Kliftorp.”

Einarr blinked. He had to think a long time to remember anything about them. “Hard to make an example out of a tiny place like that, I’d think.”

“Lots of cloth coming out of Kliftorp in the last five or ten years, and a lot of skillful Weavers.”

“Ah.” Now it made sense.

Another rap came on the door, followed by an unfamiliar, although not unpleasant, voice. “We were told we should visit the sauna tonight?”

“Yes. Please, enter, join us.”

The two who entered were built like Einarr’s father, but much closer to his own age, and bore the scars of many battles. One of them had hair almost as red as Einarr’s – and a nose that had been broken more than once. The other was as blond as Stigander and as paunchy as Erik.

“Tore, Captain of the Sterkerbjorn out of Hrafnhaugr,” the redhead introduced himself.

“A pleasure. Not sure I ever had the pleasure of seeing Hrafnhaugr.”

Tore smirked. “Not much reason for a ship of freeboaters to head that way.”

Einarr nodded his acknowledgment, then turned to the man who looked shockingly like a younger version of his father.

“Serk, of the Björtstag. From Sweindalr.”

Bollinn waved silently: evidently, they’d all been here long enough to become acquainted already.

“Good to meet you both, and I’m glad you came. I’m certain you can guess why I called you all here tonight.”

“Oh, aye, that’s not hard to figure.” Tore settled himself on a bench and fixed a level eye at Einarr. “What I want to know is why?”

Serk, too, took a seat on a bench and settled himself leaning against a wall. “I’d like to know that, myself. I’m not sure there’s really much to talk about, is there?”

“A couple years ago, I might have thought the same. Then the worshipers of a dark demigod named Malùnion kidnapped my wife…”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

“I’m afraid you do, milord. That… that was excellent ale you left behind in Blávík. I’m only sorry it was wasted on the likes of us.”

Einarr sighed, loudly. “I ought to charge you for the damages to my Heidrun, but I suppose that would be pointless now. You’re telling me you’ve moved on from press-ganging princes to annihilating whole settlements?”

He wasn’t quite certain how Thrand managed to look more miserable, but he did.

Einarr sighed again. “We’ll deal with the crimes of the League later. Based on what we saw in the square, it is plain to me there was, in fact, some sort of Squiddie presence here in Kem. Which means before we head back to Breidelstein, we need to find their base and figure out what they were up to. Congratulations, Thrand. You’ll not lose your head this day.”

The man looked far more relieved about that than Einarr thought the statement warranted, to the point where he struggled not to weep. Perhaps it was because he had been alone in the wreckage of the city for so long.

“You’re not off the hook, mind. You’re going to help us find this base and figure out what they were up to. Then you’re coming back to Breidelstein with us, after we pick up some freeholders we think might be in need of rescue.”

“Yes, milord. Gladly, milord: I can lead you straight to their hideout: that’s where all the trouble began, milord.”

They passed a cold night in the harbor, lit as much by the glowing embers of Kem as by the moon and the stars above. Einarr ordered a cask of cider warmed to settle the nerves of his crew and keep them alert through their watch.

If there was one mercy, it seemed to be that the League’s fire had kept a city’s worth of dead from rising for vengeance. In the morning, those who had last watch were relieved, and Einarr set off with half the crew to follow Thrand to where he said they had found the cult of Malúnion.

Einarr had thought he was prepared for what he would see there, after searching through the wreckage of the city the previous day. He was wrong.

It wasn’t the gore – to be honest, after the runic blaze the League had managed to set, there wasn’t much of that left on the surface, and down below it was mostly spatters of blood – some corrupted, some still human. Unfortunately, the local ‘temple’ of the cult had some… peculiar design sensibilities.

Eyes. There were eyes everywhere. No matter where Einarr turned, he felt as though he were being watched – which, come to think of it, may have been the point.

Jorir, too, seemed bemused. “The entire time I was in Nilthiad, not once did I run across anything like this.”

“We didn’t see any sign of it at the altar, either – and of all the horrors of that demon, its eyes were not among them.”

“Are we sure this is the same cult?” Eydri wondered.

Thrand cleared his throat. “Absolutely. Or, at least, I don’t know too many men who would call on someone else’s horrible demigod as they rushed to battle.”

“A fair point,” she conceded. “Still, it doesn’t look like they left much behind…”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Thrand actually sounded excited. “I came back to have a look around after the fire had cooled a bit. Even if I am to lose my head, it’s important that someone get this information out into the Clans.”

The half-starved League Captain led them down a narrow flight of stairs, then a ladder, and into a passage that still sloped downward, if only gently.

“How did you even find this place? We must be beneath the catacombs already!” Einarr did not bother trying to hide his surprise. Even if he had been kindly inclined towards Thrand in the first place, this was starting to feel like a trap.

“There are no other people. There is easy access to fresh water just outside the city limits, and there are plenty of fish in the harbor. It wasn’t like I had much else to do since the fire, you know.”

Einarr hummed, but let it drop for now.

“We’re nearly there. Just… ah! Stop. Here.”

The door in the wall was plain and unadorned. Had there been any other doors along this passage, Einarr might not have even noticed it.

Thrand pushed the door open and stepped inside, as certain it was safe as if it were his own home. “I left the missives here once I found them. Safer that way – who knows what might happen to me up there, but someone else could have found this place and gotten the word out.”

“Missives? What missives?” Irding blurted.

“Orders. From home, I think. I’m no sorcerer, but give me enough time and I can puzzle out rune-writing.” He thrust a letter into Einarr’s hand.

With a glance, Einarr was certain the other man was correct. With a brusque nod, he thrust the letter into his pouch. “Search the room! We’ll take anything interesting back up to the Heidrun with us: it would be far too easy to lose track of time down here, and I want wards again tonight.” The restless dead were not the only things that could be kept out that way, after all.


That night, Einarr sat huddled with Hrug and Eydri and Jorir under the Captain’s awning, poring over what appeared to be the most recent orders from their home temple. It was… not good. Even if the League leadership hadn’t gotten a bee in its collective bonnet, the Squiddies were on a definite war footing – and it was a war that would have taken a vast number of clans utterly by surprise, boiling up quite literally from underground and striking at a populace that had no idea there were madmen in their midst.

When morning came, a bleary-eyed Einarr addressed his crew. “We have found what we came for. Now it is our duty to ensure our Thane learns what we have. We will sail around the island and make land near the outskirts of Kem, where Thrand will take us to the water he has relied on since the disaster. Do not worry, Gabriel, I have not forgotten you. Once we have taken on fresh water, we will sail for your master’s freehold and take on those who remain. From there, we will make all possible haste back to Breidelstein. I fear the League has knocked down a hornet’s nest, and it is up to the rest of us to deal with the swarm.”

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.

 

Arkja stood examining a doorpost that seemed to have escaped the worst of the blaze. Einarr could make out an old and rather worn carving of runes – a blessing of protection on the house, he was sure. But on top of that, and much fresher, were other and different runes, drawn much more crudely.

“This…” he paused, inspecting it a little more closely. “This is part of the inscription that was used to burn the city down. If the Muspel Shroud was still around, it would have been drawn to this like a moth to a lamp.”

Jorir harrumphed. “No doubt the Shroud was a troublesome thing to deal with… but I wonder if it wouldn’t be a help, under the current circumstances.”

“Not sure how. I expect it would show up, discover there was nothing left to burn, and then move on.”

Jorir shrugged but did not try to explain himself.

“Let’s continue on. I think we’ve found everything we’re going to right here.”

They combed the ruins of Kem until the light began to fail. The only living thing anyone saw were crows, come to pick among the coals for anything that might still be edible. Nothing living, however, did not mean they found nothing.

When it was nearly time to turn back to the ship for the night, they reached the central square of the city. Once upon a time, not all that long ago, Einarr was certain they would have found it packed at any time of the day or night. Market stalls would have abounded, selling hot food or fresh vegetables or any number of goods. The buildings of Kem were taller than in most Clan cities, and there would have been people living on the upper levels.

And when the fire swept through, they would have been trapped. Einarr shuddered at the thought.

There was, however, a massive standing stone in the very center of the square, exactly where Gabriel remembered – and apparently untouched by flame. And, as they had hoped, someone had left a message burned into the stone.

Burned? There could be a Painter here, we’re close enough to the Empire, but I feel like I’ve seen that before.

He glanced over to see Jorir standing beside him. “Does that look familiar to you?”

The svartdvergr blinked, then shook his head. “It’s written in runes, isn’t it? All I see is a gray blur.”


The teams all met back up on the Heidrun just before sunset, as they had agreed. It was a somber meeting: no-one could face destruction such as they saw on the island and be easy with it. Once the wards were drawn, Einarr looked around at his crew and asked the expected question. “What did everyone find?”

Hrug’s findings, as reported by Arring, were consistent with what Einarr had found, save that they hadn’t made it as far as the square. There had been traces of some rune workings that had perplexed Hrug, and they had taken time to investigate those.

Eydri, however, offered Einarr a mysterious smile when it was her turn to report. “Of physical evidence, we found no more than either of your groups. However, I think you might be interested in this.”

Irding ushered forward the sunken, disheveled figure of a half-starved man, his hair as wild as his eyes and his body smeared all over with ashes.

“He tells me his name is Thrand, and he hails from Blávík. He has a rather interesting tale to tell.”

The man who stepped forward, out of the protective line of people that sheltered him from notice, fidgeted with his fingers, and his eyes darted this way and that, as though he expected a monster to pop out at him at any moment. His eyes lit on Einarr’s face for a moment longer than they focused on anything else and he squinted at him, as though he were trying to remember something.

“Hello, Thrand. My Singer tells me you have a story I should hear.”

“Y-y-y-yes, milord.” He fell silent again. Just when Einarr was about to prompt him again, Thrand began. “I am… I was the Captain of a League ship. At the beginning of the season, my boat was among those sent out to hunt down and destroy enclaves belonging to the thrice-damned Squid Lovers.

“We’d rooted out two or three enclaves already when we got word that one of their demon ships had been spotted around Kem–”

“Wait. Rooted out? What direction did you come from? Are you to blame for those other settlements around here that were razed?”

“Each and every one of them was deep in the corruption of Malúnion.” He said it with almost crazed conviction. For the moment, Einarr would let it pass. “So yes, we rooted out two or three enclaves before we got credible word that the infection had spread to Kem.

“I didn’t hesitate. We sailed here as quickly as I could make my ship run – and you’ve seen, milord, how fast she can be.”

Einarr looked at the decrepit man again, but still had no idea who it could be. “When we got here, sure enough, there was a demon-headed longship headed into the port. Needless to say, after our successes up to then, we gave chase. Chased it right into the harbor here.”

Einarr stared mutely at the man. Brave was one word you could use for what sounded like this man and his ship had done, but Einarr thought idiotic more appropriate. When he found his voice, he said, “Go on.”

“Well, milord, what we found was… what we found was a mess. We attacked the demon ship. Then … then…” He shook his head, trying to clear it at least enough to talk.

“Then what?”

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was like the streets started boiling, and there were monsters among the men of the city, attacking other men of the city… only it was more like a slaughter. Most of the Flatings had no chance. My men had no real chance, and we’d been training for this day. … The Squid-lovers were doing something. Some sort of ritual, I thought – there was a lot of screaming involved. We… we were the ones who set Kem on fire. It seemed like the least we could do, after what we’d wrought.”

Einarr rested his chin in his hands, thoughtful. Then something odd the man said struck him. Something about how Einarr knew what the man’s ship was capable of stuck out. “Do I… know you?”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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