5.18 – Closed Circle

Irding and Erik skidded across the room and into the wall on the far side, the impact knocking the wind from the younger man. That was most likely both of them with some broken ribs, Erik thought.

Both men spoke at once as they came to their feet. “What did you think you were doing?”

“Saving you!” The answers came in unison, as well.

Erik paused, staring at the son he only recently learned he had, and a laugh as big as he was bubbled up from deep within his belly. Irding looked faintly outraged.

“There’s no doubt we’re related, you and I,” Erik said as the laughter simmered down into a chuckle and his ribs burned.

Now it was Irding’s turn to laugh, clutching his own side. “We are a pair, aren’t we?”

Erik nodded, still catching his breath a little. “Now let’s see if we can’t find the rest of them.”

***

When Einarr vanished in a flash of light, Jorir and Runa rushed after with wordless cries of alarm. It was only after Jorir blinked the specks of light from his vision that he realized he was in a room with only his lord’s chosen wench for company, and no exit. “Well ain’t that a fine thing.”

Runa stamped a foot in frustration even as she scanned the room, looking for some sort of clue as to what had happened, or how to get out. “Quite a fix we’re in, yes.”

Jorir hummed. That wasn’t exactly what he meant, but telling a Singer exactly what he thought of her when they were trapped in a room alone together did not seem like his best course of action.

They circled the room in silence, inspecting every inch of wall and floor for a clue to the key out. Soon, a tendril of song reached Jorir’s ear. He was instantly on edge. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to focus, if you don’t mind. I think I’ve found something, but I’m not sure what it means.”

“Read it aloud?”

Runa furrowed her brow. “Are you sure?”

If the inscription were magic, reading it aloud could have unpredictable consequences. Unfortunately, as a result of his curse, whenever Jorir attempted to read runes he saw only a blur. “Not like I can read anything in this tower.”

She cleared her throat and read:

Alone I wage war,
wounded by steel,
wounded by swords.
Weary of war,
weary of blades.
I battle often.
All I see
is savage fighting.
No assistance will come
for my cursed self,
ere I demise
amidst men.
But the enemy strikes me
with sharp edges:
smiths made those
with mighty hammers.
They batter me in cities.
I shall abide
the meeting of foes.
Among healers
I never met
in men’s towns
those who with herbs
could heal my wounds.
But the wounds and cuts
become wider
through death-blows
day and night.

Jorir frowned. As martial as that was, little wonder some pampered princess wouldn’t get it. Only, he was going to need a minute to put it together as well. “It’s to be riddles, then. Be mindful of tricks.”

“Naturally. The ravens aren’t likely to have set this up on their own.”

He nodded and lapsed back into silence. Something incapable of healing, at least in the conventional sense. Probably something inanimate, then, like some kind of armor. “…A shield, I think. A chain shirt would fall apart before a wound in it would widen.”

The blurry patch on the wall began to glow blue, and a very solid-looking shield appeared on the wall.

“Huh. Well that’s unexpected.”

Runa seemed less impressed: still there was no door whatsoever.

“Shall we see if there are more?”

“Not like we have another option.”

Someone needed to break her of that moody petulance, preferably before she married Einarr, and preferably not him. He didn’t think he could explain to his lord or her father why he’d boxed her ears, and he was certain that would end up happening. “Well, lead on then, miss indispensable.”

Her eye twitched, but for now she said nothing. Now they walked together around the perimeter of the room, each watching for the next riddle as best they could.

Jorir spotted it – on the floor at their feet this time, and only because there was a wide expanse of stone that seemed to have no texture to it. “Milady.”

Runa stopped and lifted a questioning eyebrow at him. Somehow, when she did it, it felt as though she were being imperious.

He tried not to twitch. “Look down.”

“Who are those girls,” she began. “That go for the king? They charge the unarmed chief. The black fighters defend all day while the white ones attack.”

Jorir snorted, fingering the king he still carried with him. “Rather short and rather obvious.”

“Rather. It’s a game of tafl.”

The blurry patch of the floor began to glow, red this time, and before Jorir could blink he found himself surrounded by man-sized tafl pieces. “What in the world…?”

He was almost knocked over when the floor tile he stood on began to shift on the floor, jerking as it negotiated its way around the other tiles. The stone at their feet was now black. Others, he saw, had turned to white.

“I don’t like the looks of this,” Jorir muttered.

“Nor I.”

The block they stood upon was navigating its way to the center of the room, where it finally stopped. As the rest of the floor pieces came to their final resting places, Jorir saw that they were surrounded by the black pieces, all of which stood taller than Runa. Outside those, he was sure, were the white attackers.

“My lord says you can play?”

“Rather well, if I do say so myself. Einarr can’t beat me anymore.”

“Wonderful. Can you see the board?”

“Not at all.”

Jorir spat a curse. Fat lot of good it did for either of them to know how to play when neither could read the lay of the land.

One of the black pieces rotated on its base, and a hole opened up near the top, where a man’s face might be. “Do not be alarmed. At the beginning of each turn we, your warriors, will report to you the state of the battle.”

Runa drew herself up, looking every inch a noble. “Very good. Standard rules?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Jorir hated to ask, but it was better to know in advance. “What happens should we lose?”

“Any captured piece will be destroyed.”

“But what of us?”

“Any captured piece. This includes the King.”

Jorir swallowed hard even as Runa gasped.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

5.19 – Coming Soon

Table of Contents


Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! Today’s riddles are brought to you by the Exeter Book and Odin’s Riddles, found on aethelraed.ddns.net

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.

5.17 – Stenjätte

With a wordless shout of rage, Erik came hurtling back into the fray. It wasn’t just his own skin on the line, now that Irding had joined the fight, and that meant losing simply wasn’t an option.

Was it really in the first place? His conscience muttered in the Captain’s voice and fell silent as Erik brought his axe down not on the ankle, which seemed no less sturdy for the whittling it had taken, but instead on the haft of the golem’s blade. A crack ran along the stone haft from Erik’s blow, too slender to have enough strength in rigid rock as it would have in either wood or steel.

“Oh, jolly good. At last you’re getting serious.” The golem actually seemed to smile at that. Erik couldn’t tell if it wanted to lose or if it just wanted a challenge: either way, he had no intention of swimming back, one-armed or otherwise.

Not that it gave him time to ponder the question. The stenjätte yanked its axe up from where it had wedged into the floor and brought it up to its shoulder. Irding leaped over its head to avoid the blow.

A heartbeat later the golem swung again, paying no heed to the fragile state of his weapon. Erik had to jump to avoid being caught by the wide sweep that covered most of the room.

He landed on the bit of the stenjätte’s axe and grinned at his opponent. Now it was a dance, and while Erik couldn’t hope to keep up with Sivid, Einarr, or even the Captain at the hallingdanse he was no slouch.

The golem gave his axe a toss to turn its blade the other way: Erik’s backflip landed him in the middle of the second side and the crack in the handle grew. Then it rotated the blade to face upwards.

Erik, feeling cheeky, ran up the slope of the bit and balanced on the edge. Then it was the stenjätte’s turn to grin.

Erik’s cheeky grin turned to wide-eyed shock as the golem swung upward with both hands. Irding cursed as the space where he stood to harry it from above became a vise of shoulder and ear.

At the top of the swing Erik realized he was headed in an arc for the floor. He had two choices, and one of them was surely fatal. Erik launched himself to the side as the axe came down towards the floor again.

The axe bit plowed into the stone of the floor, throwing up shards and dust, and the sound of the blow was followed by a mighty crack as the stenjätte’s axe handle shattered.

Their opponent laughed. When it straightened, it held the broken axe handle the way one would hold a club.

“Wonderful! I say, if you keep this up perhaps I shall let you keep your arms to swim home.”

“How generous.” Irding spat as though to punctuate his thoughts on said generosity.

“Well I can’t very well just let you pass. You haven’t defeated me yet. And unless I’m very much mistaken, you’re just about out of tricks.”

Erik shook dust from his hair, his wind mostly recovered. “If you think that means anything, you don’t know humans very well.”

The golem laughed again. “Wonderful spirit. All right then, try your utmost. Perhaps you’ll be the mortals to surprise me.”

Erik dropped back into a fighting posture. “Well, Irding, any ideas to take its head?”

“Not sure it would care about that, either. You nearly hacked off its foot and it didn’t even slow down. Someone made the thing: there has to be something keeping it moving.”

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Erik frowned. “So, some source of magic? Runes, maybe, or something that glows?”

“Maybe?”

“I can hear your plotting, you know. It won’t help.”

Erik grunted. “I’ll buy time. You see if you can spot anything it might be.”

He saw Irding nod from the corner of his eye and charged back into the fight. Let’s see if disarming him the rest of the way will work…

Lacking the weight of the stone axe head, the golem was faster than before. Erik dashed in only to be driven back by quick swings of the broken handle.

He sidestepped another pair of swings before bringing his trusty, probably ruined, axe down again on the slender haft. Chips crumbled off the end, but Erik still had no desire to feel its bite.

“Any luck?” He called, dodging another jab and knocking another several inches off the stone rod.

“Give me a minute!”

“You’re wasting your time. You won’t find anything.”

“That-” Erik brought his axe down hard on the haft, breaking off several more inches of crumbling stone. “Remains to be seen.”

“It really doesn’t, I’m afraid.” The golem swung again at Erik, who threw himself into a roll to avoid the blow. “You are right, I have a key, but you’ll not find it about the room.”

Erik sprang up from his roll as the wind from the club passed overhead, just a moment too late to get another strike in on it. “Oh? Since you’re feeling so generous, then, where is it?”

The low rumbling sound that was the golem’s laughter sounded again. “I thought you’d never ask. It’s right here.”

A circle of runes began to glow yellow on its chest. Erik could see no way up there. Irding had managed, once, but Erik wasn’t certain he could reach the golem’s heart from its shoulder. Not without taking a fall. Erik cursed. I should have kept at his foot. Knock him over, get the heart.

“Why are you telling us this?”

“Master created me to challenge those who attempt his tower millenia ago. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve had a proper challenge? Hit my key, if you can!” The golem swung again, this time at Irding. The boy – man – sprawled flat on the floor just ahead of the club.

“By all the conventions of duelling, we beat you when your axe broke.”

“But I exist to fight! So, come!” The golem swung at Erik again.

Rather than dodge, Erik took a deep breath and braced himself. As the improvised club sailed towards his chest, he wrapped both arms around it even as it knocked the breath from his lungs. Probably broke a rib or two. He clung there, desperately gasping for air, as the club continued to sail through the air.

His trajectory changed: Erik scrabbled up the club towards the golem’s arm and once again narrowly avoided being slammed into the floor.

“I say, you are quite heavy. This is not a proper way of fighting.”

Erik roared as he neared the stenjätte’s shoulder. “I’m not a proper man!”

He gathered his legs under himself, staring at the runes that still glowed over where a man’s heart should be. Won’t hurt worse than the wolf’s bite. He launched himself, axe pulled back and ready to strike, across the golem’s chest. When Erik buried his blade in the center of the rune circle, he thought he saw a look of gratitude pass the golem’s face. Then he curled himself into a ball, ready to roll with the fall.

Right up until he collided not with hard stone but with the body of the only other person in the room.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


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.

5.16 – Floor Three

On the far side of the second room full of fairy lights, the four humans in the party sat on the steps recovering their wind. Einarr’s bleeding had stopped as soon as he was awake, although his tongue felt swollen and tender in his mouth. Irding claimed he was fine, but both his eyes were fiercely bloodshot. So long as he could see, though, Einarr would leave it be.

“So that was the trap, then.” Erik mused. “Use the first floor to put us off our guards, and then sucker punch us the second time around.”

“Seems so,” Einarr answered. “And if you don’t survive the changes in the memory, that’s it. If we’re all ready, we should get moving again. No telling what all else awaits us, and we need that relic.”

Runa took a deep breath and pushed to her feet.“Let’s go, then. Irding, you’re sure you can see all right?”

“I’ve got a monster of a headache, but I can see. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“What was your memory, anyway?” Einarr had trouble imagining what could have caused that sort of eye injury without actually destroying the eyes.

“The pox that killed my mother. She started getting nosebleeds, then hacking blood, and then it got to her eyes and ears. Didn’t last long after that. Not sure how I was supposed to win my way free of it.”

“Maybe you weren’t.” Erik also stood, frowning, and then they were climbing again.

The staircase curved steeply upwards, still lit by the now-ominous seeming fairy lights. Eventually it came to a landing blocked by a door, nearly identical to the ones below. It lacked only the runes. With a shrug, Einarr opened the door. As he stepped through, a flash of light nearly blinded him.

***

Erik and Irding, bringing up the rear, frowned as they saw their companions step through the door and seemingly disappear. “Be careful, son.”

Irding hummed. “Not sure you get to call me that, Erik. I’m going in.”

With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, Erik followed. Irding wouldn’t have sought him out if he hadn’t wanted to know him, right?

A flash of light brought tears to his eyes that he had to blink away. When he could see again, he was in a circular room with no door. In the center of the room stood a stenjätte in the form of an idealized warrior, bare-chested and leaning on the handle of a massive battle-axe. And then it began to talk in a voice as hard as stone.

“I say, good day to you sirs. It seems as though you had sufficient wisdom to face your pasts, but not to turn around and avoid my test. Very good, then.”

Erik and Irding looked at each other, nonplussed.

“The task is simple. You must best me in combat. Should you win, you may rejoin your companions and go on your way. Should you lose, I will tear off your arm and toss you into the monster-infested sea below – good luck swimming home. Come at me, singly or together – your choice, but know that you each only get one chance at me.”

Erik smiled a cocky grin, swinging his axe up to rest on his shoulder. “Stand back and let yer pabbi show you how it’s done.”

“Are you insane?” Irding started to protest, but got no farther before the stenjätte answered.

“Very good, then. Here, I’m feeling generous. Go ahead and take the first blow.”

Erik cocked and eyebrow, but shrugged. “As you wish.”

He circled the golem, limbering up his arm as he studied his foe, looking for any chink in its rock-hard defense. There! He surged forward, bringing his axe around in an upward swing toward the back of the stenjätte’s knee. A flake of stone crumbled and fell to the floor as dust.

“And so it begins with a scratch. Very well, then.” It pivoted on its two massive feet and brought its own axe down towards Erik.

He leapt forward, barely avoiding the blow that would have surely crushed his head. You idiot. What do you think you’re doing? Too late now… At least Erik knew that his axe could cut the thing, however shallowly. If he could not bite deep, then, he would just have to bite often and hope his stamina held out. Erik pressed his lips into a line.

He spun out of the reach of another deadly blow and ran in close to bring his axe down in a mighty blow on the stenjätte’s ankle. A slightly larger chip of stone fell away. That just might work. Erik kept close to the golem’s legs, at least keeping it from landing a solid blow on his head. Slowly, blow by blow, the stenjätte’s ankles grew thinner.

It was not going to be enough. Erik didn’t fight this way: when he chopped, his enemies fell. Now is face felt hot and he could not catch his breath. Even if he could have matched the stamina of a golem, however, his axe was beginning to dull. Just. Keep. Going!

The heavy crash of the giant’s axe into the tiles sent shrapnel flying into Erik’s back and he howled in pain. He’d felt worse, but only once – when the fimbulvulf had nearly taken his leg, this last spring. The force of the blow sent him three steps forward.

And then the golem stumbled, his foot landing where Erik had been standing just seconds before. Erik looked up: on its shoulders, his legs wrapped about its neck, was Irding. His son brought his own axe down on its head – to no more effect than Erik’s blade alone, of course, but between the two of them…

Erik set about his task with renewed vigor. Bad enough that his son had needed to jump in to save him: he couldn’t very well just let Irding finish the job. Erik let loose a war cry.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


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.

5.15 – Altered Memory

The edge of the spiral staircase he hurtled toward marked a bright line between safety and the abyss beyond. Jorir twisted around in midair, reaching with the axe in his hand for the steps.

The axe bit caught with a thunk in a join. He hissed in pain as it dislocated his shoulder.

Einarr’s boots scraped against the steps, and Jorir had a moment’s panic that his future master would kick his lifeline free. Instead the sound was followed by the creaking of the door’s hinge and the solid sound of wood against stone as he pulled it closed behind him.

Jorir blew through flared nostrils before climbing hand over hand up the haft of his weapon until the lip of the stair was within reach. Then, with a heave, he pulled his chest up over the stone and swung his legs around. For a moment he lay there, catching his breath and enjoying once more the sensation of being alive.

“Right,” he said aloud to the empty chamber. “Now for the next unpleasant task. Time to go talk to my erstwhile master.”

***

That part, at least, played out the way he remembered. Now Jorir was following his new master through the passages leading away from the midden and towards his own domain on the island. Every step of the way, his decision to surrender to the man had become more and more obviously the right one – even if in the event he hadn’t realized it.

After far longer than Jorir thought it should have taken him, Einarr finally arrived at the stair leading down to the water. Rather than taking the obvious path, though, the red-haired man stood gobsmacked at its top. Jorir shook his head. Fine. My turn, I guess.

Jorir charged, his boots slapping against the smooth stone of the floor here.

Einarr pivoted to see what was coming and his eyes grew wide, but he had no more time to react. Jorir barreled into Einarr’s belly shoulder-first, and they both went tumbling down the spiral staircase.

Down they fell, Jorir and the man who was his ticket off this island. Why did I ever think this was a good idea? He threw his weight to the left to avoid bashing his head against the edge of a step. Thankfully the cave below was a much shorter distance than the surface. He managed to avoid rolling into the wall at the foot of the stair, but barely, and took his time dusting himself off from the fall.

Einarr drew Sinmora. “Give me one reason I shouldn’t run you through, dwarf.”

“Oh, because fighting me worked so well for you before.” Please don’t think too hard about that.

“You mean in the way that it gave me time to get what I came for?”

Jorir shook his head. “I want to offer you a deal. Once that torc leaves this island, anyone still here is trapped. He’ll have my head if I’m here when that happens. I can gamble on beating you in a fight, or I can lead you off this rock – provided you take me with you.”

“Why should I trust you? Three times now you’ve tried to kill me, four if we count alerting your master.”

Jorir barked a laugh, although for a different reason than the first time around. “Because I can see which way the wind’s blowing. Lord Fraener owns me for trying exactly the same gods-damned stunt you’re up to, but I’ll be buggered if I don’t think you might actually manage it. Make me your prisoner and take me to your Captain if it makes you feel better.”

Einarr raised a skeptical eyebrow and did not sheath his sword.

“This is me surrendering, fool.” As if to prove his point, the dwarf folded his hands against the back of his head. “There’s rope over against the wall if you feel the need to bind me.”

“I might just do that. Drop your axe on the ground and kneel.”

Jorir shrugged, unhooked the axe from his belt and tossed it off to the side before dropping to his knees. Einarr kicked it farther away as he backed away toward the rope Jorir had indicated. That’s going to be an issue.

Einarr bound him hand and foot, tightly enough that he thought he might lose blood flow to the area, and then circled back around to face his captive. End of the rope in hand, and Sinmora’s blade pointed at Jorir’s throat, Einarr faced the dwarf. “Now. Swear to me before the gods that you intend us no ill.”

The dwarf’s face turned sober. He remembered this oath well: it was among the strongest among his clan. “By steel and by stone, by the one bound beneath a tree and she who stirs the winds, I, Jorir, shall cause no harm to you or yours. By axe and by spear, by flame and by frost, I swear myself to your service. So shall it be until the heavens perish or my lord releases me.”

Einarr nodded, but stood in silence for a long moment. His arm twitched back, and Jorir suppressed the urge to flinch.

Did I make it?

Finally, after what felt like an eternity of kneeling on the stone, his new master turned the sword around to offer Jorir the hilt.

***

Jorir’s eyes snapped open, his face covered in sweat, to see that he still stood in the room full of bubbles, and he still felt every bruise he’d taken in that altered memory – although, oddly, not the shoulder injury. He was not about to complain about that, although it looked as though he would have to search for his axe.

The path to the doorway was clear. Good. It also seemed as though the bubbles were no longer hunting him – even better. Then he glanced over his shoulder.

All four of the others were in the room, staring blankly off into space with horrified expressions on their faces. Not one of them was unmarked by injuries, and a good number of them more serious than Jorir’s bruises. Irding was bleeding from an eye, and Einarr from the corner of his mouth.

Without a second thought, Jorir sprang back towards his Lord’s companions. Aren’t they also your companions, a voice in the back of his head whispered. He ignored it.

“Time to end this,” Jorir growled. With a leg sweep, he brought his liege lord to his knees and slapped him across the face. Three times he did this, until Einarr began to blink rapidly and his eyes started to refocus. Then he moved on – Irding appeared the next most critical.

“What happened?” Einarr sounded dazed.

“Help me wake the others. I’ll explain later.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


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.

5.14 – Raven Dreams

Jorir held out a hand to stop the other two even as Runa charged forward. “Hard enough to get through this without anyone else stirring the air. No sense facing more than you have to.”

Erik grunted. Irding, youth that he was, looked as though he wanted to scoff – right up until he opened his mouth.

Jorir snorted as realization dawned on the young man’s face. “Besides. As his man at arms, I’m next.”

Irding drew his brow down, a different thought occurring to him. “How do you know what we face will be bad?”

“I don’t, really. But we’re being tested by a pair of ravens. That tells me we’ll be seeing death and battle.”

Erik’s face was set in a grim mask, visible even through the beard. “The dwarf is right, son. Best brace yourself.”

Irding shifted uncomfortably and said no more. Jorir turned his attention back to the room full of glowing bubbles. With a hum so low it was nearly a growl, he started forth, his mind carefully blank of everything save the obstacles in his path.

He had hoped, briefly, that his reduced stature would make his passage easier, but it was not to be. He stepped forward and held his breath as an errant bubble passed right through his leg without popping. Nothing happened. Okay then. It’s not just if they touch you. He ducked and weaved and rolled his way across the room, until he finally saw a clear path to where Einarr and his Lady waited. Jorir breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped through the door to guard them, facing the top of the stairs beyond.

Erik and Irding were not far behind him, looking shaken by whatever it was they had seen but not otherwise harmed. It seems I was lucky.

“Shall we continue?”

“Yes, my lord.” Jorir began his steady tromp up the stairs, positioned in the middle of the steps so that none of the reckless youths behind him might dash past. Erik would never learn that he, too, fit that description by Jorir’s reckoning.

The second door they came to looked nearly identical to the first. Jorir stretched and caught hold of the door pull: on the other side was another room filled with the same glowing bubbles as the first floor. Jorir quirked an eyebrow.

“Again?” Irding said from behind. “This tower isn’t half so dangerous as I expected.”

Jorir allowed himself the luxury of a mental groan. Thanks for that, man. At the very least he could be the one to test that, instead of his lord. “Might I have the honor of going first, my lord?”

Einarr gestured forward, and Jorir stalked in. He dodged the first bubble that came for him, and the second, but unlike the first floor it was as though these were actively seeking his head. It wasn’t long at all before three right together rushed towards his face.

He could not dodge: there was nowhere to go. Instead, he gritted his teeth and closed his eyes as the cold, filmy membrane covered his face.

When he opened his eyes, he stood before a very familiar and much-hated forge in a monstrously large cave. Something that happened while I was Fraener’s slave, then? There were no shortage of other places his trial could have taken place: at least here there were a limited range of indignities he could have to relive.

Footsteps sounded from one of the natural side passages. From the sound alone he could tell it was not the giant. Men, then, come to steal from Fraener much as I tried. That doesn’t narrow it down much. “You may as well come the rest of the way in,” he growled. “I already know you’re there.”

The man who stepped forward out of the darkness beyond his forge-fire’s light was the last one he expected to see: red-haired, obviously strong but not over large, with a distinctive sword at his hip. Einarr?

“Yes, of course. My apologies, sir dwarf, but I did not expect to find anyone smaller than a tree on the island.”

Jorir laughed, but there was little mirth in it. “Sit down. Have a drink, rest a bit by the fire.”

Einarr blinked. He was suspicious, of course. He had every right to be, under these circumstances. “Am I to understand that you’re extending hospitality to me? That, according to the dictates of the gods, you will see to it that I come to no further harm on the island?”

Jorir snorted. It hadn’t been poisoned the first time, technically. Just a brew that didn’t tend to agree with humans. “Fine. Don’t, then. Why are you here?”

“I don’t suppose you’d be able to tell me how to get to Fraener’s Hall, would you?”

“You want to go to the jotünhall, do you? Can’t see why anyone would want to do that.”

“Even still, I fear I must go. Do you know the way?”

“Oh, aye, I can take you there. But it won’t be for free. And you probably won’t thank me for it if I do.”

Einarr sighed. “Of course it won’t…I’m afraid I haven’t anything of value on me. Perhaps some sort of a contest? A… game of wits, perhaps?”

“You would riddle with me? If you win, I will take you there. If you lose, I will give you to the master for dinner.” It had been a very long time since Jorir had anyone to match wits with: Fraener was stone dumb, and most of the men who came treasure hunting here preferred to solve problems with their swords. As for feeding him to the giant, it was one of Fraener’s requirements of his thraldom.

Einarr grimaced. “Come now, are we barbarians? What think you of tafl?”

“Unfortunately, my board is missing a piece.”

“Is it the king?”

Jorir nodded, and Einarr produced the piece from the pouch hanging limply from his belt. “Let’s play. My king, my defense.”

“As you like.”

Jorir tried to remember how he had played that day, in order to keep as close to the memory as possible. Something about Einarr’s play, though, seemed… wrong. In spite of how this went, it began to look as though he would win. “And here I thought you must be good at this game.”

“Ordinarily, I am.” Einarr’s brow creased, and Jorir saw sweat begin to bead there. He would lose in three. Jorir made his next move, and then finally his lord’s face cleared.

Jorir blinked, and then they were at the top of a tall spiral staircase, Sinmora’s tip digging in to his back while he fumbled for the key. He had lost – hadn’t even cheated to ensure the memory played out properly: why was this different?

…Oh, right. Maybe because the next thing that had actually happened was, he had tried to kill the man on the staircase, fearing Fraener’s wrath.He would have serious trouble doing so now.

“Hurry it up,” Einarr growled.

Jorir removed his key from the lock and hid it back inside his shirt. “Tell me, sir raider, if someone came to steal from your Captain, what would you have done?”

“Slain the man before I played a game of tafl with him. Go on.”

“Go to hel.” The dwarf spun on his heel, the hand that had been reaching for the handle instead unhooking the axe from his belt. He leaped at Einarr, axe swung high overhead.

Instead of the expected parry, Einarr danced back two steps. Jorir’s eyes widened as he saw he was about to plunge over the edge of the stair.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


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.

5.13 – Hero Worship

Runa stood at the entry to the room full of bubbles and swallowed. It was one of the most beautiful sights she had ever seen, but the thought of what she was likely to see set her stomach churning. Einarr had not hesitated: she owed it to him – to them – not to flinch. As he ducked under one of the green-glowing globes, Runa entered the room.

She took sideways, gliding steps, ever mindful of where the bubbles were, knowing she was going to make a mistake. Do not fear, she told herself. He’s right in front of you: you can face anything. Runa swallowed again, willing herself to believe it.

She stopped. In front of her, the bubbles floated in a solid wall. On the other side, she was sure, the exit would be in view. All she had to do was step forward.

Runa wiped sweaty palms against her skirt and set her mouth in a determined line. With a deep breath, she gripped her skirts and strode forward, into the wall of memory.

***

Runa studied the harbor from her perch high in a tree, hoping to see a draken on the horizon. Not just any draken, of course: she wanted the Vidofnings to come this winter. She was old enough to know there was no rational reason, just that she thought things would be better if they were here.

“Runa? Runa, where are you?” Her nursemaid’s voice called, still a ways off. Runa hurried back toward the center of the tree, where the woman was less likely to spot her. It would be even odds whether she was madder about Runa shirking her chores or that she’d climbed a tree.

Where are you, Einarr? You need to come back this winter. It had been four years since the Vidofnir had wintered with Father. Surely he would want to see their Captain, too? Especially with Mama sick…

“Runa, your mother is calling.”

Runa sighed. Well, shoot. I can’t very well ignore that, now can I. Frowning, she scrambled down the tree as quick as she dared. Her knees were scraped by the time she dropped from the lowest branch to the ground.

“There you are!” Her nursemaid bustled up from down the path even as Runa reached down to straighten her skirts and brush away the pine needles. “Up in a tree again, really! Aren’t there better things for you to do with your time than risk your own neck?”

“Yes’m,” Runa muttered. She knew it was irrational, and so there was no point in trying to explain. She would let them think her spoiled; in this one way, they were right.

Her nursemaid took Runa by the arm and roughly brushed at the forest leavings stuck to her clothes. “Never mind. The Lady is calling for you, you don’t want to keep her waiting.”

Runa shook her head. “Did she say why?”

“Does she need a reason to want to see her only daughter?”

Runa met her nursemaid’s eyes and saw worry there, too. She swallowed the lump that tried to form in her throat. “Let go. I’ll go straight there.”

“Your face is all smudged, dearie. Let me clean up the worst of it.”

“It’s fine. Let’s not keep Mama waiting.” She didn’t give her poor nursemaid a choice. Runa yanked her arm free and ran up the path through the woods toward Kjell Hall. I’m coming…

The miasma that had hung over the hall all year had not changed, for better or for worse. That was some small comfort: it meant Mama was still there. Still, the path had never felt so long as it did that afternoon. It almost seemed as though the path were growing longer as she ran. I was walking by the time I made it to the palisade, that day. Runa slowed her footfalls, not out of breath but allowing the dread of that summer, of that day, to grow in her breast once more.

Finally she was able to reach her father’s Hall. The air was heavy inside, and smelled of medicine. Even when she hadn’t been sneaking off to watch for ships Runa had sought excuses to be outside all summer. The smell of death was almost impossible to bear.

Her nursemaid arrived only a few minutes after Runa. As the girl walked, calmly and with her head held high, towards her mother’s sickbed she followed a pace behind. Runa was only a little bothered when the woman reached out to pluck a twig from where it had caught in her braid on the way down the tree.

Father’s herbalist stood in the doorway, mortar in hand, mixing up the concoction that hung in the air and filled Runa’s nose. She cleared her throat.

“Nurse Arga tells me my mother wished to see me?”

The herbalist stepped out of the way and wordlessly continued crushing the herbs in his mortar. Inside, Mama was propped up on pillows and smiling, but nearly as pale as snow. What little hair she had left hung limp and stringy from her head.

“Runa, dear. Come here, let me look at you.”

Hesitation slowed her steps, but Runa entered nonetheless and took her mother’s hand. “Mama.”

“You are… such a beautiful girl.” Her mother smiled, and for a moment it was as though the sickness had never touched her. “Sit down. We have much to discuss, and I fear I have little time.”

“Yes, Mama.”

Runa blinked, and saw that she was once more surrounded by the fairy lights. Her eyes stung, and her stomach did flip-flops as though she would throw up: after that day, her mother had never spoken again. Not far before her the exit door stood open, and, just on the other side of it, the proud straight shoulders of her hero.

“Einarr!” She breathed, and dashed for the exit.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


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.

5.12 – Among the Leaves So Green

Einarr was quite pleased with himself for spotting a fresh trail before his grandfather pointed it out to him, not many minutes up the forest path. Then they were off the beaten path, Einarr peering at the ground as they went for pellets or for the nigh-invisible shadows of hoofprints on the needle-strewn ground. At every turn he tried to find the mark before his grandfather could point it out. He managed perhaps half the time.

“Why do deer have to hide so well,” he grumbled at one point.

“Because they’re weaker than the wolf and the bear, of course. There are three choices in life, Einarr: be strong, be clever, or be dead. Best of all is to be strong and clever.”

“Yes, afi.” It was far from the first time Einarr heard those words of wisdom.

They finally caught up with the young buck where he slept high on the mountain, near a stream bed thick with berry bushes. The summer was young enough that its antlers were still velveted. That it was a buck was good: that meant their quarry was fair game. Does, he knew, were off-limits until almost the end of raiding season.

The buck raised its head while they crept into position, its ears pricked, and looked around warily. The best is to be both strong and clever, because there will always be someone better than you. It was the end of his grandfather’s saying, and even at ten Einarr understood its meaning in his bones. If Grandfather Raen had been a little stronger, or a little cleverer, Raenshold would not be lost to him and Father would not be dependent on Grimhildr’s family.

Having satisfied itself that there were no predators around, the buck lurched to its feet and stepped daintily down to the water’s edge.

“Be ready,” his grandfather whispered even as he knocked an arrow to his own bow. Einarr nodded and followed suit.

The buck looked around again, to make doubly sure he wasn’t being watched. After what felt like ages, every moment Einarr afraid they would be spotted and their quarry would flee, it lowered its nose to the stream and drank.

His grandfather drew back his bow in one smooth motion. Einarr copied the motion, as he had been taught. Not quite smoothly, though: the arrow clacked against the bowstaff and the buck raised its head in alarm.

Afi’s arrow flew true and struck the deer behind its shoulder. A moment later, as the buck tried to turn and flee, Einarr’s arrow stuck in its flank.

“Tcheh.” It was a bad shot and he knew it, but there was no time to berate himself over it. His grandfather was already running after the buck, easily as spry as Father.

Their target made it three bounds away from the stream before collapsing in a bramble of berry vines. With a shrug, Einarr drew the hunting knife at his belt and began cutting a path through to the deer inside.

There was something wrong in the air, Einarr thought, but his ten-year-old self did not have the experience to recognize it. At this moment, dressing the deer to carry it back to amma occupied his full attention. When afi threw their prize over his shoulders, Einarr picked up a pair of the berry-laden vines he had just cut. Even if amma didn’t use any with the venison, there would be plenty for dessert and breakfast the next day.

They cut sideways across the mountain towards the main path, and reached it in the middle of a fair-sized meadow. The view over the island below took Einarr’s breath away, the forest and fields spreading out and blending into the sea beyond almost seamlessly. The sea, on which a pair of longships loomed entirely too close to their freehold. Smoke rose from the roof of his grandmother’s hall.

His grandfather froze in his tracks like a frightened buck, staring at his home. “Svari,” he breathed.

Einarr’s grandfather flew down the mountain path faster than any arrow, the buck forgotten across his shoulders. Einarr raced to keep up, willing his comparatively short legs to move faster than they ever had before. The freehold was under attack, and there was no-one below save his grandmother and the two thralls in the field.

Einarr ran with all the speed his young legs could muster, but even still his grandfather quickly outpaced him. Why would anyone raid a freehold like this one? A single farm on an island that was mostly covered by forest didn’t exactly scream treasure.

He could hear the raucous laughter of the raiders as soon as he reached the forest’s edge, his vine whips dropped somewhere on the mountain above. Steel clashed, and Einarr hoped it was his grandfather’s blade against the raiders’. A last gasp of fear propelled him onward even faster, when he thought such a thing should have been impossible.

He was too late. They were too late: afi knelt over amma’s lifeless form, weeping and covered in blood. Einarr could not tell how much of it was his. The Hall was a disaster: even the paving stones of the floor had been pried up in the raiders’ search for treasure.

“What… why?” Einarr managed to choke out.

His grandfather shook his head, his shoulders shaking. “Your Father is cursed, Einarr. I knew I never should have let Grimhildr marry into your line, and now look what happened.”

Afi…”

“This is not your fault. Nonetheless, this will be your last summer here.” He paused, staring at the face of his dead wife, for what felt like eternity. “Go to my bed. There is a small compartment under the mattress – I very much doubt the raiders will have found it. Bring me what you find inside.”

“Yes, grandfather.”

Einarr’s eyes opened. His cheeks were soaked, and all around him were bubbles filled with glowbugs. His hand was clutched tight about Sinmora’s hilt – the last thing Grimhildr’s father ever did for him. He could see the way out now.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


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.

5.11 – Bubbles

The sound of stone grinding on stone signalled the puzzle door closing behind them, although they were already far enough up the steep stair that the reduction in light was hardly noticeable. Where in the caves of the svartalfr cult the passages had been lit by a strange blue flame, here the stairwell seemed to have globes filled with glowbugs where one would otherwise expect torches.

Runa smiled with delight. “Well this seems downright friendly.”

“So far,” Jorir grumbled. “Remember who lives here.”

“Compared to where I just was? I might quite enjoy taking a meal with a pair of ravens.”

“Before or after you robbed their loft?” Irding’s voice came from behind them all. He sounded nervous.

“Oh, before of course.” Runa took his flat jibe and ran with it. “If all went well, I might be able to convince them to just give it to me, and then we’re all better off, aren’t we?”

Einarr couldn’t quite suppress a chuckle. “Oh, aye. Except for them, when Wotan finds out what happened to his wife’s bauble.”

“Oh, but what a game that would be, to match wits with Huginn and Muninn.”

“Is that the real reason you came along?”

“That’s the reason I wanted to come along, yes. My points in favor were all valid, though.”

From a few stairs farther up, Jorir hushed them. “Another door ahead.”

Einarr nodded sharply, although he thought none but Runa would see. “Let’s have a look, then.”

He hurried up the five steps to the door Jorir spotted and pressed his ear against the wood. On the other side, all was silence. The dwarf joined him, and when his liege man looked up Einarr raised an eyebrow at him. Jorir shrugged, and Einarr pulled open the door.

The room on the other side appeared to be filled with floating globes of the same glowbugs used to light the hall, but otherwise empty. Einarr drew his brows down in confusion for a moment. Whatever they faced, it was obviously magical. “Runa, what do you make of this?”

“Hmm?” It took her a little longer to reach this second landing and see the strangely lovely sight. Then it took her a moment longer, as she could not quite manage not to admire the effect.

“Runa?”

“‘Thought’ and ‘Memory’ live here: I’ll warrant this is a test of some kind, and that it relates to the residents’ natures.”

“A trial based on our memories?” He shuddered.“Still think these things look friendly?”

“Compared to that weird blue fire they used in the cave? Absolutely. We won’t be able to get to the door without contacting at least a few of the bubbles, I don’t think. Be careful, keep your wits about you, and we should all make it across.”

Einarr snorted. “Great. It’s the Oracle all over again. Well, nothing for it.”

With a shrug he slipped into the room. Almost immediately one brushed against his arm and he held his breath, waiting for the vision that never came. Two steps farther in he crept, the others coming cautiously behind. Einarr made it another pair of steps before his attempt to duck under one bubble brought his head straight up into the middle of another. A thin film clung to his face, cold and almost slippery feeling. Then he was no longer in the room of glowing bubbles.

***

A familiar, familial-looking longhouse surrounded Einarr where he sat, his feet kicking the air, at the table. A well-polished wooden bowl filled with his grandmother’s porridge with berries and nuts sat in front of him. And if there were nuts in the bowl, that meant grandfather would be taking him hunting. Grandmother sat by the light of the door working with a rabbit skin. Outside, the sky was blue and the sun bright… but Einarr thought he knew what day this was.

“You’d best hurry. Your afi is waiting.”

“Yes, Amma.” Einarr scooped up another mouthful of porridge. He paused with the bite in his mouth to roll the long-missed flavor around on his tongue before giving in, shoveling the rest of his breakfast into his mouth with the same enthusiasm he had felt when he was ten. Not a morsel was left behind when he raced out the door, grabbing his bow and his knife on the way.

Mother’s – Grimhildr’s – parents had a freehold in a chain of islands some ways southwest of cursed Breidelstein, and that was where Einarr stayed for most of the raiding season – and would, until Father thought him old enough to act as a deckhand. Which meant that summer saw him roaming the forested mountain behind their freehold, hunting deer and gathering herbs and berries until the Vidofnir returned with stories in the fall or Afi had to take their fishing boat out to Mikilltorp.

As soon as Einarr stepped outside he saw his grandfather waiting by the gate dividing the field, where the two thralls tended matters, to the wood behind. Einarr ran, knowing both that Afi would not wait now that he was out of the hall and that he’d kept the man waiting too long already.

He caught up when the white-haired man was crossing the threshold into the evergreen wood that dominated the rest of the island. “Are we going after bear today, Afi?”

His grandfather’s thick white beard split to reveal a warm smile. “Deer again, my young wolf. We’ll want something a mite bit tougher than these sticks for bear.”

“What about boar?” Einarr bounced on his toes as he hurried alongside his grandfather.

Now the man laughed. “Maybe I’ll teach you how to hunt boar when your father comes back. But tonight calls for venison!”

“So… more tracking practice?” Tracking was, to Einarr’s mind, the least interesting and most difficult part of hunting.

“More tracking practice. You’re getting better, you know.”

“Better than bad is still not good.” He complained, but only half-heartedly, and turned his attention to the path ahead of them and the brilliant green of the forest around. His grandfather let the complaint pass without comment as they continued deeper into the wood.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

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.

5.10 – Into the Tower

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.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

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.