When Einarr and his team ventured forth the next morning most of East Port was still asleep, such that even on the busier docks the sound of the ocean lapping the shore and the call of sea birds dominated the air as they approached the shed where Sor kept his fishing boats. He and his men were up and about, of course, and this little section of the sleepy little town had the bustle of a much larger settlement.

Looking about, Einarr spotted a man of Trabbi’s approximate stature and age coiling a rope about his forearm. “Excuse me! Are you the owner?”

“Depends. Who’s asking?”

“Name’s Einarr, of the Vidofnir. The head of the Conclave of Singers told me you’d have a boat I could use.”

The man swore as though this were an old annoyance. “She did, did she? Wish she’d ask me if I’ve got one available first. What sort of terrible water does she want to send one of my boats into this time?”

“East. I’m guessing there’s some sort of reef, because she said a longship would have trouble.”

Sor grumbled. “Well at least that’s better than the last group she sent out on a quest. I won’t have to worry about kalalintu destroying my boat this time, or an unexpected bit of whitewater. Fine. I’ll have one ready for you at the evening tide.”

“My thanks. We will be ready.”

Sor harrumphed and went back to his work, grumbling about demanding women being a tax on their sons. Einarr’s mouth twisted in a half-smile as they made their way back to the public hall. Now if only he had a better idea what to prepare for.


True to his word, Sor had one of his fishing boats set aside and waiting for the five of them as the sun was brushing the horizon behind them. Einarr thought it might well have been the worst of his fleet: the fabric of the sail hung soddenly, although the deck was dry, and the railing made it look as though the ship had seen battle. His disappointment must have shown: Sor snorted.

“She’ll get you where you need to go, and back, if you take proper care of her. If you don’t take proper care of her, I’ll have to ask that you replace my boat – unless you can convince my dearest mother at the Conclave to do so.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. Not terribly hospitable of him, but it began to sound as though the crone took advantage of him regularly. Anyone’s patience might wear thin after a few years of that. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

The other man grunted. “Good. I’ve left you a net, since it sounds as though you don’t know how far east you need to sail. And, good luck, whatever this is they’ve sent you haring off to find.”

“My thanks, again. I suspect we will need it.”

Only now did Sor turn his eye to the rest of his party. When his eyes landed on Runa, they narrowed. “A Singer? You did bring a cask or three of mead, then, for the throat?”

Runa stepped forward, her shoulders square and her hands folded in front of her. “I assure you I am prepared for whatever harm might befall my voice.”

The man grunted. “Well, she’s all yours, then. And remember: I want her back in one piece!”

“Of course.” Einarr repressed his own sigh of annoyance until after Sor had moved off to deal with his actual work for the evening. “All aboard. Let’s not miss the tide.”

Painted on the side of the boat in the Imperial script was the name Gestrisni: when Einarr noticed it, he chuckled. The man’s hospitality was, indeed, just about worn out to judge by the state of the boat.

The sky had begun to darken, although the sun had not yet disappeared from the sky, when the Gestrisni plied out of the harbor with Erik and Irding at the oars and Einarr on the tiller.

It was not until they were safely out of harbor and the wind had caught the heavy sail that Erik leaned on his oar and looked expectantly at Einarr. “So. Last time we stole a magic necklace from a jotün, you made a friend and I almost lost my leg. What are we after this time?”

Einarr combed fingers through his hair, glad of the darkness to obscure his face. It still sounded strange to him. “Frigg’s distaff.”

Father and son both chuckled to hear that.

“Laugh now. According to the Conclave, it will cleanse us of the cult’s corruption… and it sounds like it can break the curse on Breidelstein, too.”

“Well, if that ain’t something.” Erik smoothed his hand over his beard. “Still seems like a mighty strange thing to ask for.”

“You’re not wrong. To make matters more interesting, remember that the tower we’re headed for is the nest of Huginn and Muninn.”

Runa moved a half-step closer to her betrothed and twined her fingers in his. The others cursed.

“We’re stealing from Wotan?” Irding jumped to his feet as it finally clicked.

“Afraid so.”

“The item we need belongs to Frigg, however, and our cause is worthy. My hope is that she will stay his hand for us.” Runa answered, her voice low.

“We might also wish to hope she does so quickly enough. He knows seithir and he’s a berserker. One wrong move and we’re screwed.” Jorir’s head was tilted back, looking at the moon.

“Rather.” Erik drew the word out dryly.

“My thoughts exactly, I’m afraid.” Einarr stepped in before this could become a fight. “But according to the Conclave, the distaff is necessary to prevent us from turning into abominations like we were fighting before. The black blood is corrupting, they said. I will risk calling down the wrath of Wotan on my head to save our crew and the Brunnings any day.”

Jorir hummed. “Never said I disagreed. Just if we’d known we might have had a better idea what to prepare for.”

“We’re looking at a tower likely to be filled with magical traps, riddles, and other trickery. What is there to prepare other than ensuring we have a Singer of our own?” Einarr shook his head. “But if the quest were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun. Right?”

Erik laughed. Soon, the others joined him, and the Gestrisni sailed off into the night.

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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. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.

The public hall where Einarr found the Vidofnings and Brunnings was surprisingly large for a town no bigger than East Port. If Einarr had to take a guess, most of their custom came from ships such as their own, here to call on the Conclave.

A cheer went up as the door swung open under Reki’s hand. Inside the hall was as warm and cheery as one might expect at the end of a good season of raiding. With a grin, Einarr moved to join his crewmates with a drink while Reki went to report to Stigander. All eight of their party were able to breathe a sigh of relief when they saw that there had, in fact, been no transformations as of yet – only the complaints they had grown used to of nausea and headaches as though their crews had both contracted a lingering flu.

Even Reki’s news did not dampen their enthusiasm: if anything, the fact that they had found their “cure” before the corruption had claimed anyone was another victory over the madmen of the cult. Then it was Einarr’s turn.

“I’ve been given another impossible quest, I’m afraid, Father.”

“Feh. Do skalds give any other kind?”

“Not likely.”

“Well, what is it now?”

“I’m to travel to the Tower of Ravens and steal Frigg’s distaff out from under the noses of Huginn and Muninn.”

Stigander looked just as confused as Einarr had. “What in the depths of all the seas do you need that for?”

“Untangling fate, they say, and ridding us of the cult’s corruption for good.”

His father shook his head and wiped his hand down his moustaches, his expression changing from amusement to consternation and back again. “Well, if there’s anyone in this lot who can manage it, I’d lay my odds on you.”

Sivid could do it, if it weren’t for his accursed luck. “Thank you, Father. The Matrons said the tower required a smaller boat to reach: I’m to pay a call on a fisherman in the morning regarding the use of a boat. I’d like to take some of the crew along.”

“Long as they’re up for it, same as before. …This distaff, you said it untangles fate?”

Einarr nodded, and his father harrumphed. There was no need to say it: such a thing could easily break the Weaver’s curse on their homeland. He turned back to the hall full of his fellow Vidofnings.

“All right, everyone! Just like this spring, I need a few of you to venture out in a little fishing boat with me. This time we’re braving the wrath of a god!”

His pronouncement was followed by a peal of laughter, even by those who had heard the Matrons’ pronouncement at the Conclave.

Jorir, to no-one’s surprise, was the first to step forward. “Come hel or high water, I’m with ye.”

Einarr inclined his head at his man-at-arms. “Thank you, Jorir. Who else?”

The next man to step forward was gangly Irding, neither as tall nor as muscle-bound as his father but with the same brown hair and reckless grin. “Sounds like fun. I’ll give it a go.”

Erik’s head snapped around to look at his son. “You sure about that? We got into a heap o’ trouble going after the Isinntog.”

“I know. That’s why it sounds like fun.” Irding grinned at his father, and Erik laughed loudly.

“Who’m I kidding? Of course it does. Count me in, too.”

Einarr’s mouth curled in a half-smile. Irding looked a little less happy at the prospect now that Erik was also along, but it would be good for them. “Great. Anyone else? I expect we’ll have to work our way past traps, and if anyone knows how to read runes it would be a help.”

“I already told you, I’m coming,” Runa said, standing at the table.

“No, you’re not. There’s no telling what sort of violence we might come across.”

“You’re invading the tower of Huginn and Muninn. You need someone familiar with magic, who can read runes. I’m coming.”

Aema, the Brunning’s battle-chanter, stepped forward. “You’re hardly the only one here with those qualifications.”

“No, but I’m the only one here with those qualifications who isn’t needed here. You and Reki both have crews to tend, full of men doused with corrupted blood, and I do not. I may be a Jarl’s daughter, but that doesn’t make me useless.”

“Maybe not,” Trabbi rumbled, “but if anything should happen to you your Father will have my head. He may even if you go along and nothing happens.”

Runa met her erstwhile suitor’s eyes. “On my word of honor, I will not allow that to happen.”

Trabbi scowled back. “You have no more place on that boat than I do, my Lady.”

“That is where you’re wrong.” She turned her attention back to Einarr, and he felt the old familiar thrill. “What was it that the alfr gave you in the wood?”

“Some bauble he thought would help us through the tower, though at the moment I can’t see how.” That had been the way of Runa’s gifts, too, given as they left to seek the Jotünhall.

“Give it here.”

Einarr shrugged and removed the bird-shaped brooch from the pouch at his belt. “Doesn’t the use typically become plain when you need it?”

All three Singers rolled their eyes at him even as Runa took hold of the brooch and blanched.

Einarr couldn’t help the question. “What is it?”

“Let us hope the use becomes plain, because while I can read the runes, they look like so much nonsense.”

Reki threaded her way through the room to take a closer look. She raised pale eyebrows and let loose a low whistle. “Well, at the very least your elf-gift should actually be of use. How did he get this, though?”

“See, Runa? I’m sure we’ll be able to muddle through-”

“So long as you have someone who can read the runes. You need me, and one way or another I’m coming.” Runa’s jaw was set. Einarr turned to Bollinn.

The new Captain of the Skudbrun sighed. “I don’t think there’s any stopping her at this point. Over my own better judgement, I’ll allow it.”

Runa smiled in triumph. Einarr hoped she wouldn’t regret her insistence.

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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

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. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.

Einarr set his jaw. Cursing himself for a fool, and glad he hadn’t moved his feet just there, he turned himself exactly around. He was a decent tracker, even if he’d never been able to do a lot of hunting: with a little luck he’d be able to retrace his own steps.

Behind him, though, the path soon disappeared into an impenetrable bramble of thorns into which his boot prints disappeared. He attempted to follow around the outside of the thicket, but there, too, the thorns grew – so quickly they seemed to sprout and curl before his eyes. Whatever else this trickster spirit is, it certainly is persistent. Frowning harder now, he turned back around and marched further in.

“I don’t know who you are or what you want, but I will have you return me to my friends,” he announced to the forest around him. No answer came, save the trilling of bird song. At least it’s not cawing. Of the many hazards of stealing the Őrlögnir, one that he had not until this moment contemplated was that he would be going against Wotan’s personal spies. He cursed aloud.

“Oh, there’s no cause for that now.” The voice was light and airy, although still masculine, and seemed to come out of thin air.

Einarr stopped, his hand traveling to Sinmora’s hilt. “Who are you?”

The slender, almost effeminate form of a male alfr separated itself from a tree just ahead of him on the path. “Does it matter?”

Einarr would swear the elf had not been there before: his clothes were the color of tree bark, true, but his hair was as golden as the Oracle’s, and his skin fairer than Runa’s. Einarr stared openly at the creature, waiting for an answer.

“You may call me Ystävä.”

Well, that name couldn’t be more obviously fake. “I shall choose my own friends, thank you. What do you want?”

“Let us say that I, too, have an interest in your success on this quest. I have something which may aid you…”

“I see. And what would the price of this aid be?” Everyone knew that alfr “gifts” came at a heavy price.

The elf smirked. “Are you, perhaps, not so stupid as you first appear?”

Einarr bristled, but was not given a chance to retort.

“But I am not here to play games with you. As pleasant as that can be, I must mind your mortal time if this is to work. There is a small task I will ask you to perform with Frigg’s distaff once you acquire it – nothing major, and you will alleviate a great deal of suffering by doing so.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Refuse?” The alfr laughed, the notes as musical as any Singer’s. “Perhaps you are entirely stupid. You allowed yourself to be drawn into my domain, and in my domain you will stay until I decide otherwise. You have my word, on the font of Art itself and by the hand of Tyr, that my request will not violate your conscience or your father’s.”

Einarr glared at the elf. “I mistrust this mysterious task of yours, but you make it plain I have no choice. Very well; give it here and I will be on my way.”

“Wonderful!” The alfr smiled, and a chill ran down Einarr’s spine when it did not touch his eyes.

“Why all this subterfuge, if what you want is so harmless?”

“Well, you see, I am known to the Circle of Singers…”

“And they don’t trust you either?”

“You wound me! What possible reason have I given you to distrust me?”

Einarr did not dignify that with a response even as the elf pouted at him.

“Very well. Spoil my fun. Here. Once you get to the tower, you’ll know what to do with it.” The elf shoved a wooden brooch into Einarr’s hand. When he opened his palm to look, it was in the shape of a raven and covered in runes.

“What -” But when he looked up from the brooch, the elf was already gone. A low growl escaped his throat.

The lush greenery almost seemed to grow back into the earth, it faded so quickly back into the oak wood he had been walking through just this morning.

A thread of song filtered through the trees from off to his right: Runa. How long had they been searching for him? Einarr set off at a jog in search of the voice.

It was not long before he could see his companions stopped on the road: they looked tired, and Reki in particular looked very annoyed by the way she held her shoulders under her cloak.

“Sorry,” he said as he approached the road, before any of them could begin to scold him. “Some ass of an alfr decided he was going to help us whether we wanted it or no.”

Reki scowled at him from under her hood. “Tell me what happened. In detail.”

Einarr sighed. And, as expected, she was even less happy with this turn of events than Einarr had been after hearing the tale.

“I take it this ‘Ystävä’ is known to you?”

“Unfortunately. And while I’m glad he returned you to us with only minimal delay…”

“You also mistrust the ‘task’ he wishes to ask of me. How long since I disappeared?”

“Half a day,” Trabbi grumbled.

Einarr bit off a curse. “Then let us discuss this further once we’re out of his little playground… whoever he actually is.”

Now Reki was not the only one setting a brisk pace: if they wanted to reach East Port before dark, speed was of the essence. Even so it was late afternoon before they emerged from the shadow of the forest, and deep into twilight before they arrived at the outskirts of the town. Einarr flared his nostrils: from here everything appeared normal, at least. There were no screams of tentacled horrors that came to his ears – or any screams at all – which had to be a good sign. He shared a glance with Reki. “Let’s go.”

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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. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.

East Port on the island of Breidhaugr sat like a village in the island’s plains, small and quiet and unassuming. Even still, the paint on the wooden buildings did not flake, and the people they passed smiled and greeted the newcomers to port in a friendly way even when they didn’t seem to be trying to sell something. Einarr felt himself relaxing as they tramped through town on their way to the Hall Road.

Nine all told left East Port for the Skald’s Hall: Runa, Trabbi, Barri and another Brunning, and Einarr were joined by Reki and Sivid with a pair of deck hands to carry the chest full of ancient instruments they had found in the ship-barrow.

The Hall Road wandered west through the meadow that seemed to dominate this island toward the hardwood forest at its center, and the party for the most part was content to bask in the normalcy of birdsong and the wind through the grass.

“Mind your step as we enter the Whispering Wood,” Reki announced as they drew near to the hardwood forest ahead. “It is not quite tame.”

“What do you mean?” Trabbi rumbled.

“There are mischievous spirits within, who will whisper in unwary travellers’ ears to lure them off the path. They mean no harm, we think, only their sense of time is… off.” Runa’s grin was as mischievous as any sprite.

Reki sighed. “Yes, but so long as you stick with the little princess here and myself, you shouldn’t have any trouble. These are just whispers, not full-blown hallucinations like the Oracle trials.”

Runa rolled her eyes. “Where’s the use in a good haunting if you can’t have a little fun with it?”

“My lady Runa.” Reki’s voice sounded like an exasperated tutor’s at this moment. “Were you told why you had been summoned?”


Reki sighed again. “I think I have an idea. Never mind. Just keep with us and keep to the trail and you’ll reach the Hall without issue.”

Einarr could not keep a chuckle from escaping his throat. Runa was just as impish as ever, and just like always no-one else seemed to get the joke. He shook his head when the others started to ask what was funny. “After the ship-barrow, you’re worried about a few will-o’-wisps? I’m sure Reki can handle getting us through here.”

Now the others laughed, a little sheepishly, and Einarr gestured for Reki to lead the way. He fell in next to Runa and Trabbi, a little further back in the line, and took her hand even as she gave him a look of feigned hurt. Trabbi raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

The road crossed over a stream not two paces before it entered the shade of the oaks, and the friendly burbling of water over rocks was of a piece with the warm light filtering through the canopy and the open space between the trees. The road was clearly marked as it continued to wind, and here and there Einarr spotted grassy clearings where one might settle for a meal or an afternoon nap. He found it hard to credit that this wood might be haunted: it seemed more likely the sort of rumor the local huntsmen would spread about to preserve their turf. He cast a glance down at Runa, one eyebrow raised.

“Don’t let your guard down. How do you think people are enticed?”

Einarr grunted and did not press her on the matter, although he heard murmurs from the other men in the party that sounded similarly skeptical.

The sun had begun to set by the time their road led out of the forest and into the broad clearing around the Hall of Skalds, and with the changing of the light the rumors of a haunting became more believable. He was barely aware of it until he felt his shoulders relax as they stepped out and saw the vividly painted sky above the hall. A breeze picked up, and with the rustling of the leaves on the trees came the faint sound of whispers.

Reki heaved a sigh that sounded surprisingly relieved for how she had been talking. “We were lucky. Let’s not count on our return to port being that easy.”

The hall ahead stood like a dark smudge in the twilit meadow, alike to Kjell in form but bearing the weight of centuries of lore and magic. Were it not for the Singers they escorted, the men might have elected to camp in the meadow and approach in the morning. Reki and Runa, however, felt no such inclination. When the two women strode toward the square of firelight that marked the door their escorts had no choice but to follow.

“We are Runa Hroaldrsdottir and Reki Fjorisdottir, currently aboard the Vidofnir,” Reki announced from the threshold. “We and our escorts seek shelter from the Matrons of Song this night.”

“Be welcome, Singer of Snow, apprentice.” The voice belonged to an old woman, as dry and brittle as unfired clay, but still hinting at its former glory. Unmistakable, however, was her irritation at Runa.

“Thank you, honored Amma.” Runa answered calmly with a deep curtsy, as though she did not hear the rebuke in the Matron’s voice. Einarr schooled his face, both to avoid wincing at the dressing-down he thought she was likely to receive and revealing he was impressed by her composure.

Honored Amma, am I?” An old crone at the far end of the Hall stood, and now Einarr had a face to put with the voice. The woman who now strode toward them could have been sister to one of the old oaks outside: stocky, her former height bent and gnarled but not broken, she carried a walking stick that at present was used only for gesticulating.

“If I were honored by you, child, the wind wouldn’t have carried word about your antics this last spring. If I were honored by you, child, you would be able to join the adults at the Hall table. As it is I see only a spoiled brat in front of me. Go stand by the back while we welcome the Singer of Snow and your escorts.”

Now Runa had the good grace to look abashed. “Yes, Amma.”

The crone harrumphed and turned her attention to the rest of the party. “Well. You might as well have a seat, and please forgive our young apprentice for any trouble she may have caused you. There’s plenty of food: the wind and the wood told us you would arrive this evening.”

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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. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.


Einarr froze a moment, frowning, certain that he’d offended her but not sure why. Then, unbidden, the memory of the bird-thing’s transformation forced itself to the forefront of his brain again and made his stomach twist. Reki was no monster, but everyone was going to be on edge today.

Some more than others, it appeared. One or two of the younger deck hands were still cowering beneath the railing, covering their heads or hugging their arms tight across their chests, their eyes still plainly fixated on one of the two monstrosities that had revealed itself today. Einarr left them their privacy: either Runa’s song could mend their minds or it couldn’t, but there would be no honor in calling them out for cowardice.

Runa was tending the wounded, still, a very full water skin in her hand. He would give her time for her voice to rest – and maybe see if he couldn’t help Reki out with that as well. Decided, now, he headed back to where his father and Captain Kragnir still stood. They were not arguing – not yet – but from the set of their shoulders they couldn’t be far off.

“This is not a matter of trusting your honor, Stigander,” Kragnir was saying. “The boy has already tried to steal his bride once. My Jarl would have my head if I left her unsupervised on your ship.”

“So instead you want to keep her aboard a ship with the ones we just rescued her from? Who may not even be men anymore?”

“They surrendered themselves to be made into thralls. Would a beast do that?”

“A cunning one, aye.”

Einarr cleared his throat.

Both Captains turned to glare at him. “What?”

“Father, not all of the men have reacted well to what they saw today. I suspect it may be the same for them. What if some of the Brunnings – those who might be uneasy, say, with the new thralls and their strange cult – came aboard? It’s not like we’re in any position to go raiding now.”

“You are proposing that I send the feeble-minded to guard the honor of our Lady?” Captain Kragnir’s eyes appeared ready to pop out of his skull and his face began to redden.

“Who said anything about the feeble-minded? I’ve seen the cultists exposed for what they are three times now: you’ll not get me aboard ship with one, let alone your crew of thralls. Even if you do cut out their tongues so they can’t spread their filth.”

“My son does have a good head on his shoulders, when he bothers to use it.” Stigander grumbled. “What’s more, he’s right about something else, as well. We’d be hard-pressed to defend ourselves right now, let alone go raiding, and we do have business with the Conclave. Send over Trabbi and some of the others while you train your new ‘prizes,’ and we’ll make sure to take care of any wounded you get while defending us on our way there. It even keeps the young Lady out of harm’s way should there be a fight.”

Kragnir’s glare fell on Einarr, but he said nothing. After what felt like a long time, he seemed to realize there was nothing to say – nothing reasonable, anyway. With a growl, the Brunning Captain gave a nod and a wave of his hand.

“Think on taking their tongues, Captain,” Einarr said, meeting the man’s eye again. “We don’t know how they win converts, after all.”

Captain Kragnir harrumphed, and Einarr refused to push the issue. When he turned, he saw Bollinn speaking with Jorir: one way or another, the thralls would be dealt with. Finally, it felt as though the day were at an end. The wave of exhaustion that had pushed him back from the front lines early in the fight against the Grendel started to reassert itself, and with it came an unaccustomed queasiness.

Einarr blinked and looked at the sky: at some point, afternoon had started to dim into twilight. No wonder he felt tired, then. Given the fighting that day, both inside the cave temple and on the open waves, surely none would blame him if he were to rest until Snorli had supper prepared. Wish I could wash first…

On his way to his bedroll, Einarr glanced over the side: however far they may have floated since battle’s end, it looked as though there was still blood in the water. Even if he convinced someone to help him back aboard, taking a dip would just leave him bloody and salted. He folded his legs beneath him on top of his blanket and practically fell backwards. Halfway down he stopped when what felt like a knob of glass jabbed into his ribs.

Einarr sat up with a jolt and felt the color drain from his face as his throat clenched. The post-battle nausea was definitely not normal… but that could hardly be called a normal battle, either. He swallowed and tamped down on the feeling before turning to find out what it was that had tried to stab him.

Sitting in the middle of his bedroll, as though he had placed it there himself, was an Imperial-style painted ceramic jar with a knob in the center of the lid. Einarr furrowed his eyebrows. Those red figures on the black background seemed familiar, somehow. “Where did this come from?”

He did not realize he’d spoken aloud until someone answered him – Asi, from three berths down. “It’s not yours?”

“I mean, I suppose I’m the one that found it, back in the Allthane’s stash… could’ve sworn I’d tossed it, though.”

“Huh. Might hang on to it this time. You don’t look so good.”

Einarr grunted. “Nothing a good sauna wouldn’t solve, I don’t think. I’ll check with the Singers later.”

He would, if he still felt sick once their voices had a chance to rest. In the meantime, he had no intention of moving from this spot until dinner called.

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Einarr was among the first to slip, cloaked and hooded, off the Vidofnir’s deck and onto the stone pier below. Moments later he was joined by Sivid: Jorir had argued long and hard for the “honor” of accompanying his liege, but the jump to the pier was awkwardly long even for the humans. With stealth a prime concern, they could not risk exposure so early.

In truth most of the crew would venture down, each searching the underground settlement as they saw fit – all but the largest and clumsiest among them, in fact, which meant Jorir was in good company waiting on deck. Likewise from the Skudbrun, Trabbi was among those who were forced to wait on more favorable circumstance.

Sivid adjusted the hood of his cloak before meeting Einarr’s eyes. The man gave a slight nod, and the two of them hurried down the pier on soft soles. Einarr kept them to a fast walk as they neared the more congested areas of the docks. Once or twice he nearly lost track of the mouse-like man when Sivid would dart around a group that blocked the way, but each time found his partner waiting and watching for him on the other side.

“Thanks,” Einarr muttered as they emerged from the pier onto dry land.

“No problem. Can’t go getting separated this early, now can we.”

“Not at all. Any thoughts on where we should start?”

“If I was looking for some place to keep a sacrifice before the event – which I suppose I am – I’d start by looking for a temple of the offending god.”

Einarr opened his mouth and realized he had nothing witty to say to that. Shrugging, he settled on: “Well, let’s have a look then.”


The cave led upward from the dock at a steep angle and quickly narrowed. Here and there Einarr spotted a small side-passage, but given the smells that wafted through them, they had more about them of a slum than of holy ground. Still, it was not very long before Einarr and Sivid involuntarily slowed.

Rising up ahead of them was a smooth stone wall. From high above – a hundred feet if it was ten – the same bluish-purple flames illuminated the passage dimly. It looked like…

“A hold? Here?” Sivid finished the thought for him.

Einarr exhaled, more loudly than he really intended. They could be in a great deal more danger than they had anticipated. “So it would seem.”

“We should go back, report to the Captain.”

“What do we really have to report yet? We should at least try to get inside the walls.”

“And what happens when we can’t get out again?”

Einarr shrugged. “We’ll find a way. Come on.”

Sivid was a gambler and had been for as long as Einarr could remember. All strangeness about ‘luck’ aside, the man knew a good bet from a bad one. So when Sivid made no more objection to Einarr’s suggestion, the younger man was reasonably certain they had a decent chance of managing it.

The pair moved down the long stone road towards the gate of the keep, matching their movements to the other passers-by as best they could. The wall to their right continued on, smooth and unbroken and the color of steel in the strange light as it curved around away from the water.

“I feel like we should have seen a gate by now,” Einarr muttered after a time.

“I feel like we’re walking around a city designed by a paranoid man,” Sivid grumbled. “My best guess says the main gate is on the far side of the keep. Less convenient for day-to-day operations, but also more problematic to assault. Especially with how strong those walls look.”

Einarr glanced up involuntarily. If Sivid’s hunch was right, that meant the top of these walls could bristle with spears like a hedgehog. If Sivid was right, that meant their two ships had no chance of prevailing in an assault. He shrugged a shoulder to rid himself of the uncomfortable tightness building there. His chain mail jangled.

When none of the other travelers reacted to the sound of armor, Einarr relaxed a little. There were other ways to prevail than force, after all.

Finally they could see ahead a dark gash in the wall: the gate. Einarr and Sivid both risked a glance behind them: the water was no longer visible even as a reflection on the walls. Einarr harrumphed, and heard Sivid’s snort. He resettled his hood, trying to ensure his human features were thoroughly obscured. Still, Einarr wondered if that mattered. The crew of the Grendel had seemed to be human, after all… at least when he hadn’t been under Astrid’s battle-fury.

Einarr stopped in his tracks. Odd. Why had he not realized that before now? He shook his head and hurried three steps to catch up with Sivid. They would be within sight of the gate guards soon. Now was not the time.

On the far side of the gate stood an open marketplace. Four or five people would be allowed through unhindered, and then the next handful would be stopped. Well. As hard to find as this place was, it was unlikely many crews found their way by chance. Probably most of these people were well-known here. Einarr glanced at his partner, trying not to swallow. Maybe Sivid had been right?

They were too close now to turn back, though – not without drawing more attention. Einarr hung back a little, pretending to browse at the stalls outside the gates while he watched for an opportunity to enter. Sivid, too, was watching for his chance to cast the dice… metaphorically speaking, thankfully.

A crowd approached from within the gates, and then the wiry Sivid was on the move. Einarr didn’t see how he did it: in the space of two breaths, he had gone from his position outside the gates to take up a spot, perched on something, within, grinning at Einarr.

My turn. Einarr thought he would have poor luck slipping through a crowd like Sivid had. Instead, he watched for one going the other direction and tried to blend in at its edge.

The guard stopped the leader of the group he had joined. Einarr’s heart raced, and more when he realized he did not understand the words they exchanged. He lowered his head, just in case anyone was looking at his face, and focused on breathing quietly. It was only a short exchange: almost before he realized his supposed group began walking again, and Einarr with them. He was in.

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On their return to the Hall, Einarr and Stigander had turned over their skinned prize to the cooks of Kjell and went directly to the sauna to clean up.

At the feast that night, every time Einarr attempted to approach Runa, an older man of the Hall deftly slipped between them – holding her chair here, drowning his offer of tafl with a spontaneous verse there, and casting challenging looks at Einarr the entire time. Runa took all of this with a polite smile that did not touch her eyes. Meanwhile, at every turn he felt the fire in his breast being stoked.

Then the Jarl called for music, and the tables were cleared to allow for dancing. As the drummer and the piper struck up a lively tune and the revelers formed a circle, Runa took her place at her father’s right hand. Without anyone really noticing how he managed it, her new suitor took her other side. Einarr, meanwhile, ended up sandwiched between Erik and the cook he had last seen cleaning their reindeer.

The circle began it’s bouncing step to the beat of the drum. Then the piper and the lyrist launched into the tune itself – a quick number, such that the Hall’s children and those who had already drunk too much were prone to stumbles. This didn’t continue for long, however: within a few bars of the music, Sivid moved to the center of the circle with a clap to the sole of his boot. He was good, one of the best of the Vidofnings, but the hall dance was a competition in its own right. Rather than leave everything on the dance floor then and there, this was a warm-up. He dropped to a bridge and rose again, his hands never touching the floor, and to the rhythm of the drum performed some simple acrobatics. He kicked for the rafters once, and danced out to rejoin the circle at a favorable location.

A man of the was next to enter the circle, and if his agility was lacking he made up for it with spirit. Einarr caught his father’s eye and quirked his head before following the Kjelling into the center. Let’s put on a show…

When the man of the hall danced out, Einarr trotted in at the first acceptable moment. He clicked his heels and slapped his soles once or twice before dropping into a crouch and twirling on the balls of his feet. Before that could bore anyone, Einarr sprang up directly into a backflip and a one-handed cartwheel. He caught sight of the Princess’ face and saw an encouraging smile there. A few scattered cheers rose up from around the circle, and so he made a bouncing circuit inside the wheel before kicking for the rafters himself. Someone a little closer to the Princess let him back into the outer circle, and he was followed by another young man of the Hall. It was poor form, after all, for the guests to try and dominate the Hall dance.

Einarr paid little attention to the new Kjelling. His focus was on the old man with the Jarl’s favor, who had not looked away since he ceded the stage. The rest of the hall seemed to enjoy the performance, however, and Einarr tamped down on his impatience. The only person he cared about besting tonight was the anonymous suitor – a man Einarr expected chosen more for loyalty than any particular skill.

Eventually the greybeard had an opening to slide out onto the stage. He moved immediately into crouching kicks, all the while spinning as he moved around the circle. A bridge into a backflip – no hands – kick the rafters, and then he walked on his hands before springing back to his feet. More cheering – someone called out “Trabbi!” He trotted around the circle once more, quirking his head at Einarr as he passed, and returned to the circle.

Einarr bided his time. The earliest he could return to the floor would be four more dancers, he thought, based on the number on the floor. Much longer than that, though, and it would look like he conceded. He watched, half his brain weighing the other dancers and half determining how best to play on his rival’s performance.

Finally the Hall Dance came back around to where Einarr could step out, and he opened with a prance into a jumping axe kick that clopped against the floor but rattled no-one’s cup. He skipped only a half-circuit before gathering his strength in his thighs. Einarr launched himself in the spinning kick for the rafters, and no sooner had his first foot touched the floor than he hopped up into a hands-free backflip. He heard his crewmates cheering, and probably some of the Kjellings as well, but all that mattered right then was Runa’s smiling eyes. He grinned then: if she liked that, she would love this.

He bent his knees and bounced on his toes, kicking out like Trabbi had done for a time, and motioned to Sivid. The man tossed him a cap. He pulled it over his ears and sprang forward, somersaulting into a headstand. The floor here was a little rough, but it would do: he spun.

The crowd’s delighted laughter turned to excited muttering. Einarr saw another pair of boots step out onto the floor. He knew those boots: they had been a gift from Astrid before the last Ice.

1.6 – Winter Hunt 1.8 – Dance Fight!
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