Category: Einarr Stiganderson

6.39 – Departure

Arkja’s men returned Einarr’s greeting with enthusiasm, evidently unaware they had been slacking off on their watch. Well, no matter: Einarr would set them to watching in teams on the boat, with one of the Vidofnings to supervise. It wasn’t like he could really fault Saergar for checking the nets, or Hàkon for taking a whetstone to their axes.

When the seven of them from the river cave were just outside the circle made by their watchers, Einarr bent over to plant Vali’s jar in the sand. Straightening, he said, “All right, lads! We should be able to make another go of it with the tide tonight, but first we’ve got a hold to rearrange!”

This pronouncement was met by a round of cheers – not, Einarr thought, for the work itself but rather for the treasure they all carried. “Welcome back, Lord,” Hàkon said as it tapered off. “Who’s that with you?”

Einarr mimed clapping the ghost’s shoulder. “This is Vali, and on my honor he is the one we have to thank for getting us past this latest challenge.”

Vali turned his face down sheepishly and scratched at the back of his head, but Einarr didn’t give him the chance to try and deny it.

“I’ve offered him the same deal I offered you lot, so let’s get moving and get off this rock!”

This was greeted by somewhat less enthusiastic cheers, and Einarr could tell by watching faces how many were familiar with their food stores. To their credit, though, no-one objected – or even looked sideways at the jar. Had anyone even realized it was missing yet? They might not have, depending on how it had been stowed. That was going to take some explaining, once that jar was recognized.

Einarr gave a mental shrug and hefted the jar under his arm again. He would delay that moment as long as possible, so the men could get used to Vali before learning he was yet another ghost.

“If I stow the jar below, will you be able to act normally on deck?”

“I don’t forsee a problem there, no. I do still wonder if you’re not selling these men short, though.”

Einarr shook his head. “Maybe. Certainly I wouldn’t be bothering if Arkja hadn’t suggested it: he knows these men better than I do right now.”

Vali grunted. “And how well do you know Arkja?”

“Not as well as I’d like, but well enough to see a decent sailor. He said he got here through cowardice, but I’ve seen none of that.”

“Hmph. There is a certain strain of cowardice that is reckless as regards one’s own self but craven where others are concerned. Be cautious: it is an easy trap to fall into.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow, looking sidelong at the man. “You speak from experience?”

“The Althane’s Mate fell into that trap. I was already a jar by then, but it’s how they all ultimately ended up like that.”

Einarr grunted now. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Certainly it should be told before they sailed, much as the Lay of Raen, the night before, had not been purely ceremonial. But unless it was discovered earlier, Einarr would give them some hours to speak with Vali as a man.

***

Though there were still three hours until the tide turned, all was in readiness as the sun turned sky and ocean alike to fire. A smaller fire crackled on the beach, and around it gathered Einarr’s rag-tag band of thirteen. It was odd to realize that in the time since he had washed ashore he had nearly doubled the size of his crew. He dearly hoped that Father and Bardr might find them all worthy of a berth: the Vidofnir was in desperate need of sailors after everything they had seen that summer. And, if he was honest, he had come to like these men.

Vali sat close to the fire, the image of a tankard in his hand as he spoke animatedly with Saergar about hunting walrus. Einarr leaned back to stare at the sky and watch the first stars come out. This was going well: he hoped it would continue.

Einarr rose, brushing sand from his trousers. “Before long, gentlemen, it will be time to climb aboard and cast off. Before we do so, however, there are things I would say to you all.”

He had their attention now: good. Einarr swallowed, unaccountably nervous. A quick glance up, however, confirmed his suspicions: the sky was familiar again.

“First off, thank you for all the work you put in making the Gestrisni seaworthy again. I think we may have made her better than when we first set off from Breidhaugr.”

They were all giving him a strange look now. It was not in the ordinary way for a Captain to thank his crew like that, Einarr supposed. Still, there was no way to go but forward.

“Second, I would ask that you all look up for a moment, and take in the sky.” He paused until he heard noises of pleased surprise from those he’d brought with him. “Looks a little more familiar, doesn’t it? And for the actual breaking of that curse, it’s Vali we have to thank.”

A couple of people cheered, although in the firelight Einarr could not tell who. He chuckled. “What the rest of you may not know is, Vali has been with me for most of the summer, we just didn’t realize it.”

Hàkon’s voice popped up over the crackle of the fire. “Why? ‘Cause he’s a ghost?”

A laugh went up, and a somewhat hardier cheer than the one before.

“Because Vali is a – wait, you knew?”

“I can see straight through him!” Everyone laughed now, including Vali and Einarr. There had evidently been nothing to worry about.

“Yes,” Einarr continued. “Vali is apparently a ghost tied to that Imperial jar that keeps showing up whenever it thinks it can give me a headache.”

Good natured laughter rose once more about the fire. There were questions for Vali, some of which were even answered. And, as the tide turned, the Gestrisni set sail once more for the port that she called home, where Stigander and the others sat awaiting the Distaff.


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7.1 – Coming Soon

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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So ends book 6 of the Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. Book 7 will pick up on Breidhaugr, after Einarr has rejoined his father’s crew, on 4/30/2019.

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.

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

 

6.38 – Treasure Chamber

“So. Where to next?”

Einarr stared for a long moment, not yet quite able to believe his eyes. The jar that had stuck to him like a bad copper all summer, was itself haunted? And the creature doing the haunting… didn’t seem overly concerned about being dead, so long as he was free to move about.

Said creature appeared as a tall and stocky man, tow-headed with beard and hair alike tied in thick braids. How much of that was residual from life, Einarr could not begin to guess. What almost had to be, however, was the look of earnest eagerness on Vali’s face.

It was that eagerness that did it, Einarr thought, then realized he was still staring. Someone poked him in the ribs and he shook his head: Runa, of all people, had recovered her wits first.

“Once we’re off this island,” Einarr answered, only a little belatedly. “We’re headed to rejoin my Father’s crew on Breidhaugr. But first, we’re going to have a look around in here.”

The spirit raised his head, sniffed the air, and then smiled. “Very good! There doesn’t seem to be any residual dark energy, but it does feel like someone hid something good in here.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow, but did not try to stop the others as they went looking for anything worth bringing back. “How can you tell?”

Vali offered him an almost rakish smile. “Ever since I was bound to that jar, I’ve learned a few things about magical energy. What it does, yes, but more how it tastes. It’s basically my food. That big giant curse you just fed me? Was more or less like eating a whole stag by myself. I shouldn’t need more for a good long time – but I can still smell other dishes around the room. For example, the dwarf’s shield is particularly pungent. …You did know his shield was magic, right?”

Einarr laughed in spite of himself, nodding. “Yes, I know.”

“Best get hunting, if you don’t want to miss out on the good stuff.” Vali waggled his eyebrows, but Einarr knew all but one of them better than that. Still, though, Runa was sitting up now, apparently unharmed, and they were still in a hurry.

The others had finally lit torches, having deemed the dull glow of the walls insufficient for the search. Jorir knelt off to one side, fingering a piece of maille with what looked like glee in his eyes. Curious, Einarr wandered over.

“Something good?” He asked as he approached his man-at-arms.

Jorir glanced over at him, chortling. “Good timing, milord. Here, try this on.”

The maille that Jorir tossed at Einarr – tossed, as though it were some linen tunic! – glinted gold in the torchlight. Einarr reached out with both hands, scrambling to catch it. The maille shirt landed with a strangely musical rattle and spilled over the sides of his hands, but did not fall. It was shockingly light.

“What’s this now?” Einarr turned the maille about in his hands until he could hold it up by the shoulders.

“Something to replace that battered hunk of iron you call maille, my Lord,” Jorir chuckled, then went on. “That is maille forged by the smiths of Brokkr, strengthened by powdered diamonds and lightened by the bristles of the golden boar. You’ll not find better steel anywhere. It’s said that even the failures from the forges of Brokkr were infused with magic, and that is no failure.”

“I can’t -” Einarr started to protest.

“Yes, you can. I found it, and I am presenting it to my liege lord because I’d like to keep him alive. I can’t tell you what the magic in it does, but no ordinary blade will get past Brokkrsteel.”

Einarr paused, staring at the dwarf. “Thank you,” he said finally.

Jorir grinned at him, looking for all the world like the cat that got the cream, and wandered off to continue the search. It was more than a little strange to see a reaction like that from the normally staid Jorir. Einarr shrugged: he would get it from his liege man eventually. In the meantime, there was treasure to be had.

***

In addition to Einarr’s new maille that delighted Jorir so well, they found a shield for Arkja, a pair of small axes for Irding and another for Erik, and a helm nearly as nice as the maille that would fit Jorir’s head but not Einarr’s. There were other goods, but none so practical. Runa claimed for herself a bit of jewelry, rubies set in gold, and the rest would be presented to Stigander with the rest of the treasure from the island. Their haul divided, they set forth toward the already laden Gestrisni.

Some hours later than when they had entered, they emerged blinking into the sunlight of the tiny cove. Einarr carried Vali’s jar under one arm, his old maille in the same hand, as they went to rejoin the rest of the crew. The new maille, he thought, would take some getting used to: he could barely tell he was wearing it, and in the light of the sun the golden sheen of the metal was almost distracting.

Vali himself walked along the shore with them, doing a credible impersonation of the living so long as one did not look too closely. His feet never quite seemed to meet the ground, and if one stared too intently one could see through him. Still, though, under the circumstances it seemed best not to ask the others to accept a ghost into their midst. Not yet, anyway.

Up ahead, on the beach, the remainder of Arkja’s gang of would-be bandits sat about on the beach tending to their gear and watching the boat primarily by being in its vicinity. Einarr sighed: while this island was likely safe, that would not long be the case. He would have to have a word with them. He raised an arm in greeting and hailed the men.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

 

6.37 – Haunts

The five Vidofnings and Runa now ringed the chamber that grew steadily colder – cold enough, now, that the water from his breath caught in the hairs of his beard. Could enough to redden their noses and fingers, soon. At the center of the room, a purple-black cloud of energy writhed. Between Einarr and this cloud stood Arkja, inviting the tendril that reached tentatively in his direction.

Einarr shifted his stance, his hand on Sinmora’s hilt waiting to draw. After Arkja volunteered, Runa had given him the seed of a plan. Now, if only it worked.

The dark energy had nearly reached brave – whatever he might say about himself – Arkja. Now Runa opened herself to the energy, just as he had. Truth be told, Einarr was still against this, but he had been overruled. She was the only other one who had not come into direct contact with the black blood.

The tendril seemed to pause then, sniffing at Arkja as though it were a hound. Even as the first tendril paused, though, a second emerged, headed for Runa – and somewhat more eagerly. Because she was a Singer? Einarr could only guess. The mass at the center, though, looked just the same as it had at the beginning.

Jorir was next, once the tendril had nearly reached Runa, and once again the earlier arms paused, as though considering their target. Did this mean it could only move one such tentacle at a time? That would be a lucky chance, if so.

More importantly, the center was beginning to appear somehow thin. Where before it had the appearance of an impenetrable roiling cloud, now it was more akin to a thick fog.

Next was Erik and either it began to sense something amiss or it was not sure it liked Erik as a potential host. Hesitant or not, however, still it sent out the questing energy tendril, and now the central cloud was visibly decreased. Einarr thought he could see something small and solid floating in the center of it.

Now it was Irding’s turn. At first, all seemed to be going according to plan. Einarr’s hand tightened on Sinmora’s hilt, waiting for his moment.

Then, without warning, the energy in all of the tentacles but one surged backwards, through the central core and out into the one remaining tendril: the one facing Runa. That one surged forward, towards its chosen target.

Einarr’s scream of denial moved his feet faster than he had ever though possible. In that same heartbeat Sinmora flashed from her sheath.

He could still see the black orb at the cloud’s heart. As his feet closed the distance between him and the orb he brought Sinmora up and swung.

With a crack he felt his blade strike crystal, and a thousand tiny shards rained down to the stone at his feet. Without the orb to anchor it, most of the power dissipated.

But he had not been fast enough to stop all of it. The whites of Runa’s eyes turned momentarily black even as they rolled up inside her head. She slumped to the ground.

“No!” Once again Einarr raced forward, this time skidding to a stop on his knees next to the unconscious Singer. “No no no. This is why I didn’t want you in the circle. Don’t do this…”

Einarr trailed off as he finally realized that they were no longer alone in the room. There, over by the strange jar that seemed to be somehow attached to him, stood a man of about Stigander’s age, cracking his neck and stretching his limbs as though he had been long confined.

Einarr gathered Runa’s limp form protectively against himself. The others closed ranks ahead of him, still leaving a clear view of the stranger in their midst.

“By the gods, it’s good to be able to manifest again,” the stranger said to no-one in particular.

“Who are you,” Einarr demanded. “And how did you get here?”

The stranger turned to look curiously at the six of them, as though noticing them for the first time. “Oh. Hello. Name’s Vali. As for how I got here… Well, that gets a little complicated. The short answer is, I’m stuck with the jar… What’s the matter with your lady friend?”

“Up until just a moment ago there was a large quantity of curse energy gathered here,” Jorir began, but got no further.

“I know. It’s why I’m out of the jar.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Some of it got in her.”

Vali nodded. “Ah, I see. Here: I can take care of that for you.”

“And I should trust you with her – why?”

“I already owe you my freedom twice over, man. Do you need more than that?”

Einarr glanced down. Runa was breathing heavily and her eyelids fluttered. He looked back up at the stranger in their midst, still suspicious.

“Good gods, man, where do you think the rest of the energy went? It’s why I’m standing here before you, rather than still stuck in that blasted jar. I can get the corruption out of her without any issue at all, and use it myself.”

Einarr glanced once more down at Runa, then sighed and relaxed his grip on her. “I’m afraid I have no choice. Fine. But if she comes to harm by your hand…”

“Never fear,” Vali said, somewhat more gently now. “I’ve no intention of interfering in another man’s love story.”

The stranger bent down and his fingertips brushed Runa’s brow. A moment later, her breathing calmed, and her eyes fluttered open. They looked normal. As she stood, Einarr inclined his head to him.

“You have my thanks. ”

Vali grinned. “It was the least I could do. You, after all, rescued me from that dreadful little island I was stuck on, and you let me free of my jar for the first time in absolute ages.  I can’t wait to live it up a little – well, so to speak. So, where to next?”


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

 

6.36 – The Plan

Einarr and his companions stood gathered outside the hidden chamber in the river cave. Before them, inside, a glowing purple cloud of magical energy hung in midair. If they wanted off this island, they had to get rid of it. If they wanted to get out of here alive, they had to be very careful about it.

Always before, when Einarr had faced a ghost, there had been some physical aspect to be dealt with, and he had been able to leave the metaphysical to the Singers. But the look he saw on Runa’s face was not one of confidence. And while the wheels were turning, what sort of man would he be if he left it all to her, anyway.

Which left Einarr with the problem of how to get rid of a cloud of magical energy. He thought, if he wanted to, he could take that energy into himself and grow stronger. He even thought he could purify the energy properly…

Einarr shook his head. That way lay madness, and probably his own death. Based on what the old man had said, that was the very same trap he had fallen into, who knows how long ago.

“I think…” he paused, considering his realization. “I think it wants me to use it.”

“Are you telling me that thing’s alive?” Horror warred with incredulity in Jorir’s voice.

“Sort of? Crudely.”

“That doesn’t help us as much as you might think, dear heart,” Runa breathed.

“But it helps us a little? More than I expected.”

Runa hummed. Her eyes twitched back and forth, though, and Einarr was sure she was on the verge of an idea. Then her face relaxed and she breathed a sigh. Runa shook her head. “No, sorry. That won’t work.”

“What won’t work?” Jorir stood stock still, staring at the cloud of energy. Of all of them, he was the second most likely to come up with a strategy.

“Like with the revenant before – draw it out with something it wants, then cut it down when it takes the bait. But the only thing we know it wants…” She trailed off, but no-one needed to guess at why.

Jorir nodded. “Far too big a risk. Far too big.”

A throat cleared behind them, and Arkja’s voice sounded tentatively behind them. “Now, I don’t know what all’s going on with you, why you think it can’t touch you without killing you, but is there a reason I can’t do it?”

The Vidofnings and Runa all shared a look. Erik shrugged. Irding began to puff himself up, getting ready to put himself up as a candidate too.

“Irding, I think you took almost as much of the black blood as I did. Let’s not test the limits of the Matrons’ purification, shall we?”

The other young man shifted his shoulders, visibly deflating, but said nothing. Einarr turned his attention to the newcomer.

“Not long ago, the Lady Runa was kidnapped by some svartalfr cultists. When we did battle with them, they all had black, corrupted blood. So did the monsters in their holds. Some men who were exposed to less than we were have already died of it, or worse. So Arkja, if you think your will is strong enough to resist the corruption, I’m willing to let you try.”

Arkja touched his forelock in acknowledgement. If the man had landed here as a result of cowardice, like he said, then Einarr was inclined to let him try to redeem himself, even if only in his own eyes.

“That still leaves the question of how to destroy the cloud once it makes itself vulnerable.”

Jorir harrumphed. “That’s assuming it does leave itself open when its trying to take you over.”

Erik hummed. “Are we sure it’s going to try to take over whoever absorbs it?”

“Yes.” Einarr could answer that without hesitation. “This is the concentrated curse energy that Guthbrandr took into himself in life. Right now it’s almost as though there’s a voice, whispering in my ear, trying to convince me to make his same error. It wants to be able to act again.”

As though in response, lightning flashed within the roiling purple mass. It may have been his imagination, but Einarr thought he heard a rumble of thunder.

“So no, I don’t know that it will be vulnerable while it’s in the process of possessing someone. I’m also sure I don’t have any better ideas, and this whole Cursebreaking thing seems to be a matter of following my hunches. So, Arkja, if you’re willing, I’m inclined to try it. Unless someone else has a better idea?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“Great. Now if we do this right, it should dissipate before any harm comes to Arkja. But how do we do that, and what do we do if that fails?”

***

Arkja stood nervously in front of the chamber door. The others were arrayed around the room, Einarr standing just behind him. Everyone’s weapons were drawn – everyone’s save for Arkja’s, of course.

“All right. Whenever you’re ready, just inhale deeply, like you’re trying to suck it in. And picture yourself breathing it in like smoke while you do.” Einarr took half a step back and stood with his feet shoulder-width apart. As he adjusted his stance, his leg brushed against something, and he heard the scraping sound of ceramic against stone. He glanced down to see a very familiar looking clay jar sitting by his feet, as though it had been there the whole time. Einarr shrugged uncomfortably, trying not to let it disturb his focus. Strange enough that it would appear on their boat on these shores: it had never before appeared off of the deck of whatever ship Einarr was currently traveling in.

Arkja stared intently at his foe. In his shoes, Einarr would have to screw up his courage, as well. The air in the chamber grew chill, and the cloud of purple energy extended a tendril towards Arkja.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

 

6.35 – The Key

“I can go no further,” Guthbrandr announced. “Ahead you will find… me, for lack of a better term. Take care that you, yourselves, do not become infected by its poison: I think even your Valkyrie’s feather would fail to keep you sane then. And know that I lay no more claim to anything in there which has survived these centuries.”

“You have our thanks.” Einarr inclined his head to the gruff old man.

He chuckled darkly. “I should be thanking you, I think. If you think I’ve made your journey easier…”

“I think you’ve made our continued journey possible, at this point. Which is a fair sight better than driving ourselves mad with endless sailing.”

The old man shook his head, still chuckling. “Well – never mind. If you win, you’ll not see me again, so this is farewell.”

With that, the shade that was all that remained of Guthbrandr Eyvindersen strolled nonchalantly back toward the mouth of the cave and faded from view. As he went, Arkja’s eyes suddenly went wide. “Well I’ll be.”

Einarr peered ahead, searching for some sign of what they were after. “You still didn’t think he existed? Your story is what put us on the right track in the first place.”

“It was a campfire story…”

Einarr started forward, Jorir and Erik close behind.

“You’d be surprised,” Runa said, falling in behind them. “How many of those have their roots in history. Especially the ones that stick around.”

“Keep your wits about you,” Einarr ordered. “We don’t actually know what we’re facing here, other than some sort of corruption.” And gods only knew what more contamination might do to him, Erik, or Irding.

***

The river cave twisted on for some distance further, until the daylight from outside was well and truly gone. Strangely, they did not need to strike a torch: some sort of dull, greyish ambient light suffused the cave.

Einarr stopped short when he saw ahead of him what appeared to be a keyhole set in an otherwise blank section of the cave wall. Ahead, the ceiling sloped sharply downwards, until it nearly touched the water’s surface. His brow knit for a moment in consternation and he opened his mouth to ask why, but then cut himself off with a sigh.

“I want to say that this is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, but after this last season it’s nowhere close.”

Erik barked a laugh. “Ain’t that the truth. Nothin’ for it but to see what’s on the other side, though.”

He could hear Arkja muttering about what he’d signed himself up for even as Irding urged him on. With a sympathetic half-smile, Einarr lifted the key on its chain from around his neck. Based on all the information he had, there really was nothing else to be done.

Einarr slipped the golden key into its lock. It turned smoothly, and with a click a seam opened in the rock wall.

As they watched, the vertical line of the seam spread outwards in both directions until it formed the outline of a door. With another click, followed by the grinding of stone against stone, the door opened inward.

The space beyond the door was blacker than night at first, but in the span of time it took Einarr to blink an eldritch purple light popped into existence. Surprised, Einarr glanced back at his companions. A shout of alarm escaped his lips.

He could see skin – faintly, and tinted blue-purple like the light led him to expect, but the whites of their eyes and where they showed teeth glowed like stars.

The others (they were actually still his companions, right?) likewise recoiled in surprise and horror. Arkja hopped all the way across the width of the cave, his scramasax leaping into his hands. “Back, demons!”

“Look who’s talking,” Irding shouted, moving between the frightened local and Einarr, his own axe free of its belt loop. Even Einarr had drawn steel in that first moment of shock.

“Everybody, calm down!” It was Jorir who took charge in that moment. “Nothing we were told suggests we’re up against a puppetting beast, so let’s not let it in our heads at the drop of a hat.”

Einarr cleared his throat, suddenly very glad his man at arms was a sensible sort. “Jorir’s right. If we turn on each other right away, we’ll never be free – none of us.”

Now that the initial shock was past, it was true he could feel a pulsing ill will, a concentrated source of evil – but it was through the door which had just opened. “The thing we need to defeat is in there.”

Irding stared into the darkened, oddly glowing chamber for a long moment. “But, there’s nothing there. Nothing to fight, anyway.”

“No,” Einarr mused. “No, there wouldn’t be. The old man said this is where he was, and that really all that remained of who he was – was a shade of his will, and the accumulated, corrupted magical power he had taken into himself.”

Runa’s face, ghoulish in the light, nodded encouragingly.

“That means, if my guess is right, we have to some how disperse that,” he pointed with Sinmora’s bare blade. “Without getting any on us. The Matrons may have quelled the black blood’s influence, but we know we’re not fully purified. And I would never forgive myself if we made it this far only to fall to a ball of light.”

The thing he had pointed at, the aforementioned ball of light, looked like nothing so much as a cloud swirling in the middle of the chamber, roughly round but churning as though it were a storm in and of itself, black and glowing violet and reaching.

Arkja, who had edged closer to get a better look at the thing which set all their hearts to pounding, asked the relevant question. “How?”

Einarr set his mouth in a grim line. “If I knew the answer to that, we’d already be doing it.”


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Table of Contents


Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

6.34 – Journal

On the fragile page beneath Einarr’s fingertips, writing in a surprisingly delicate hand filled the first page of the book. At first glance it appeared to be in no writing Einarr had ever seen – not runes, and certainly not Imperial script. Then it was as though the words on the page began to swim around, rearranging themselves into something recognizable.

“Runa? Jorir? I think you’ll want to see this.”

Chronicle of the Cursebreaker’s Exile

I, Guthbrandr son of Eyvindr, the first of that name, record these events not for posterity but for my own sanity – however much of it yet remains.

Let me state first that, of everything which has befallen me, I was warned. The very method that ensured my survival these many years has led directly to my downfall. If there can be a ‘dark art’ of curse breaking, I have fallen to it.

A ‘dark art’ of breaking curses? Einarr blinked: he didn’t think he’d been doing anything more than muddling along. Could you really call that an Art? Or, perhaps, Einarr was still skating through on luck alone? The old man continued:

I, in my third year after being Called, discovered a method that allowed me to take the magic powering a curse and repurpose it once the curse was broken. I thought myself so clever: here, finally, was a way to grow strong enough to meet every challenge thrown at me, without losing any more.

Fool that I was! I thought the raw power purified once the thrall was broken, and I made it my own. But I could not fully turn it, and so it coalesced within and turned me, corrupting me.

And I was warned.

Now I sit here and rot on the island where at last my foolish pride came due. The Isle I had thought to free, but instead threw under the shadow of an even more powerful curse: my own, corrupted soul. This island, which used to be so vibrant, is now wiped from the minds of those outside, doomed to be forgot – it, and everything on it.

The door of the shack closed with a bang. Startled, guilty, Einarr looked at the door like a deer suddenly confronted with wolves. The old man stood in the doorway, unsurprised and unconcerned, looking for all the world as though he had not only expected but intended for Einarr to find the journal.

It took Einarr only a moment to understand. “Guthbrandr Eyvindersen?”

“The very same.”

“I’m told that no-one else on the island can see you.”

“Oh, my body long since rotted into dust. Even my bones, I wager, somewhere here on this beach.”

“Am I to take it you wish us to break the curse of the Island?”

The old man nodded. “It’s not the island that’s cursed, my boy. It’s me. You’d do well to remember that. But I reckon it’s the only way you and your friends get out of here.”

Einarr stood to face the shade of his predecessor. “So? What do we need to do?”

Guthbrandr held up one hand. “All in good time. First, why don’t you tell me why you lot washed up here?”

With a sigh, and looking vaguely embarrassed, Einarr reached into the pouch that hung from his belt and produced two lustrous, unruffled black feathers.

The old man’s face twisted in confusion.

“I was tasked with retrieving something from the Tower of Ravens – something my father and his crew need very desperately right now. On the way up the tower, I got a Valkyrie’s feather.” He gestured to the buckle of his baldric.

The old man nodded in understanding. “So when you’d won your prize and those were just lying there, how could you resist?”

“I have to admit, after what I just read I’m not sure that makes me feel any better.”

The old man threw his head back and laughed. “You’ll do all right, boy. But if you want my help, there’s a price.”

“Go on.” That was only to be expected. Breaking this one would probably destroy the shade, after all.

“You take that little book of mine with you, and you let people know I existed.”

Einarr didn’t even have to think about that one. “I would even if you hadn’t asked.”

Guthbrandr lowered his head in thanks. When he raised it again, he said, “In that case, put that gold chain around your neck and follow me.”

***

The three of them picked up a small trail of followers as they walked down the beach after the erstwhile Cursebreaker. First were Erik and Irding, come to see this through to the end, and then Arkja – to sate his curiosity, as far as Einarr could tell. He could not begin to think how this must look to the man. The other newcomers were quite sure they wanted to be nowhere near a Cursebreaker in action. On the one hand, Einarr couldn’t fault them for that. On the other, it did make him wonder how they would fare on the Vidofnir.

Einarr followed his predecessor down the beach to the south. The same direction he had come from just the other day. Whatever it was that bound him, then, must be hidden somewhere in that direction.

The coast curved back to the right, so that the Gestrisni was hidden from view by a dune. Not long after, a tiny inlet led into what appeared to be an equally tiny cave. Guthbrandr did not hesitate, but led them into the brackish water and up into the cave. The passage was narrow, but even in the very center the water only came up to Einarr’s knees.

The light of the entrance had shrunk to a pinprick by the time Guthbrandr came to an abrupt stop in a wider area. There seemed to be dry ground to either side, here, and while it was hard to be sure, Einarr thought he saw bits of tarnished silver in among the river rocks.

“I can go no further,” the shade announced.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

 

6.33 – Ghost Stories

“There never was any old man.”

Arkja’s pronouncement fell on the deck of the Gestrisni like a brick of lead.

A million questions flooded Einarr’s brain at once, such that he could not ask any of them – merely sat, staring, at the pronouncer.

Irding recovered first. “So this is twice this season we’ve run up against ghosts. At least this one wasn’t trying to entrap us into his crew.”

Now it was Arkja’s turn to gape. “Twice this season? What sort of vessel are you taking us to?”

Einarr held up an open hand, palm towards the deck. “This has been a bad year…”

Arkja hummed, not apparently reassured, but Runa broke in before the talk could spiral out of hand. “It is Einarr’s nature as a Cursebreaker, newly awakened and coming to the fore. Once we are away from the island, I will be helping him learn how to deal with it – but now I must Sing, so that we have a chance of breaking free.”

***

Einarr relieved Irding from his night watch as the first hints of grey dawn touched the horizon.

Irding thanked him with a yawn and pressed an arm against his still-healing rib. As the other man trudged back towards his bedroll, Einarr turned towards the sea ahead of them. There was not a cloud to be seen in the sky, and a pleasant breeze tugged at his hair.

And then, as the light increased, an all-too-familiar shore appeared ahead of them. At first it seemed almost ghostly, and he entertained the idea that it might be a mirage, but as the light rose it grew more and more substantial.

Runa’s night-long vigil had done nothing, save exhaust her voice. There was the shack, and standing tiny on the shore the ghost of an old man. With a sinking feeling in his breast, Einarr made the announcement:

“Land, ho.”

Jorir looked up from the mortar where he was preparing a restorative for their exhausted Singer. “So the Lady’s song…”

Einarr shook his head. “Didn’t help at all. Poor Runa.”

“Well, milord, we expected to be turned back at least once.”

“But we expected to learn something in the attempt!”

A peal of laughter rang out from Irding’s bedroll. “All of that – for nothing?”

The rest of their cobbled-together crew was beginning to rise. Einarr ordered, “Prepare for landing.”

Jorir came up to stand beside his liege lord. “We have learned something, I think. We’ve learned that it’s not an illusion or a trick of the mind turning people back.”

Einarr cast a sidelong look at his man-at-arms. “Which leaves us with – what, exactly?”

“Something intrinsic to the island, I expect, or at least trapped here with us.”

Einarr harrumphed. That was cold comfort at best right now. He could only hope the Matrons were still keeping the corruption of the black blood at bay for those left behind.

The sun was full in the sky by the time the Gestrisni sat once more on the sand of the Isle. Well before that the figure of the old man vanished, although Einarr did not see if he’d done so in the ordinary way or not.

Once they were all on land again a fire was built on the beach, and some few of their more perishable provisions set to roasting. The melancholy mood of the night before still – or perhaps only again – held sway. As they ate, Arkja stared into the fire, a faraway look on his face.

“It occurs to me,” he mused, biting off a hunk of fish. “There’s a story I heard, a local legend, from one of my patrons not long after I landed. Well before Päron, or whoever he was, started terrorizing the town.” He fell quiet for a long moment.

It was Irding who finally broke the silence, once it became plain Arkja was content to let it stretch. “Well? Go on.”

“No one alive has ever known anyone to live in that shack, it’s true… but there are those as talk of a terror that walks these shores, an evil spirit in the guise of an old man. They say calamity follows him like an old friend, and fell magic clings to him. He was the first, you see, first in a long line of devils doomed to be forgotten.”

Einarr, too, sat staring into the fire as he contemplated this. Confusion fairly radiated off of Erik, though – and once again it was Irding who broke the silence.

“How is this supposed to help us?”

“It means the creepy old man who took us in that night may be just as much a revenant as the Päron we fought in the town,” Runa explained, certain that some of the others were just as lost. “And maybe, if we can break the chain binding him to the moral realm we can free ourselves, as well. Not that we have a lot to go on.”

Einarr stood abruptly. “We need to search that shack.”

Runa followed him, up the beach to the tiny shack, as did Jorir. The old man was not at home when Einarr opened the door, although it looked almost as though he had merely stepped out for a minute. A stew, very similar to the one Einarr remembered, already bubbled in the pot for the night’s dinner, and the wooden bowls and spoons did not appear to have moved. All of this, they could safely ignore.

Runa moved to examine the lone shelf not filled with cooking implements, while Jorir and Einarr stepped over to what served as the old man’s bed.

No-one spoke as they searched. It would have felt crass: this already felt like a breach of hospitality. And yet…

Jorir rolled under the crude bed frame even as Einarr lifted the pillow. Beneath it, old and yellowed but otherwise well-preserved, was a bound book. There was a golden key on a fine chain wrapped about the cover, but no lock. Gently, Einarr unwound the chain and opened the book.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

 

6.32 – Departure

While fixing the Gestrisni went about as well as Einarr could have hoped, that still left them groping for an answer, or even just a clue, of how to get past the magic trapping them here.

“We may have to just go, with the expectation of being turned back once,” Runa finally said. Arkja’s men had already told them what little they knew – some of it from personal experience.

Einarr frowned and crossed his arms. The old fisherman who “welcomed” them to the island was still, days later, nowhere to be found on shore. If it weren’t for the furnished cabin near their boat, he might have wondered if the man really existed.

“You’re not wrong,” Einarr said finally. I don’t like the idea of wasting time that way, but it does begin to seem as though nobody knows.”

“Seems to me,” Jorir mused, “that the waste of time would be sticking around after she’s fixed, looking for information that may not even exist.”

Erik harrumphed. Einarr nodded.

“That is, more or less, the conclusion I was reaching. I kind of wish we had Sivid along right now, though.”

Irding raised an eyebrow. Arkja, as the only member of the newcomers working on the escape plan instead of loading, looked confused.

Einarr smiled at the confusion. “Irding, you’ve only been aboard a few months, so maybe you haven’t noticed yet. Sivid may be Unlucky, but everything seems to work out when he’s around.”

“Then why’s he unlucky?” Arkja asked.

Einarr smiled again. He couldn’t give the whole answer – that wasn’t his to tell – but he didn’t have to. “Bad at dice.”

“And that earned him a moniker?”

“You’ll understand when you meet him.”

The leader of the newcomers shrugged. “Do you still need me, then? The boys could use a hand with the loading.”

“Go ahead. I expect the rest of us will be along shortly… Actually, I think we’re basically done here. Irding, why don’t you go with him?”

Erik’s son tipped his head in assent and followed the one-time tavern keeper off to the ship, where he would supervise as much as help. Erik and Jorir had agreed to give the manifest a final check, and so soon it was once again just Einarr and Runa.

Finally. In all the activity, Einarr still hadn’t managed to make his request of her.

Runa had started to turn away, likely headed for their camp and the cook fire.

“Wait a moment.”

She turned back, her brows raised questioningly.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask of you for a while now, actually…”

She did not fill the silence, merely waited expectantly for him to continue. For Einarr’s part, he kept telling himself it was a stupid thing to be embarrassed about – not that that made him less so, of course.

“Runa, will you teach me how to read the runes? With everything that’s gone on, if we hadn’t had a Singer along we never would have made it out. But I’m not always going to be able to rely on having someone else available to interpret…”

Runa held up a hand to stop his babbling. “Of course I will teach you, Runes and something of Story both. I would like for us to actually be wed one day, rather than being a widowed maid.”

Einarr inclined his head, and was surprised at the hoarseness of his voice when he said “Thank you.”

***

The morning after all was deemed to be in readiness, the strange old fisherman returned to shore. Einarr first caught sight of him ambling down the shore from the south, which struck him as odd: even now, none of them had seen the man’s boat.

“Good morrow!” He raised a hand in greeting as the old man continued up the beach towards them.

“Is it?” he growled, a familiar echo of their first day on the island. “I wonder.”

“Of course it is. We’re finally ready to try our luck.”

The old man stopped a moment to stare at the repaired Gestrisni, apparently unimpressed. He harrumphed and resumed his walk up the beach, ignoring the fools on their quest.

A wild impulse seized Einarr. “We’ve still got room aboard, if you want to test your fate with ours.”

The old man stopped again, threw back his head, and laughed. “Why would I steal you kids’ chance of getting off?”

Einarr’s mind went momentarily blank, but when he opened his mouth the only possible answer spilled forth, almost of its own volition. “Because the captain of this vessel has been named a Cursebreaker.”

The old man shook his head now. “That’s the only reason I think you have a chance at all, kid. Leave this old fool to his justly earned exile.”

Einarr shared a look with Runa, then shook his head. He was curious, but they had wasted too much time on this accursed island already. The men from the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun were waiting. Einarr and Runa walked toward their ship.

“Milord?” Arkja popped his head up over the railing. “There’s some sort of large jar on the deck. Where do you want it?”

Einarr blinked. How had that gotten here? He sighed, shaking his head. “Just stow it in the hold, I guess. Make use of it if you can.”

“A… jar?” Runa looked at him sidelong.

“It’s a long story. We’ll have time on our way.”

Runa hummed, looking amused, and let it rest.

***

That evening, Runa performed the Lay of Raen at Einarr’s request, and for the benefit of the newcomers. In the melancholy mood that always followed, Jorir and the other Vidofnings gathered together near the prow of the boat to talk. It wasn’t private, but it was as near as they could manage.

Staring out over the railing at the stars on the sea, Jorir scratched his beard thoughtfully. “It’s a shame we couldn’t do anything for the old man.”

Even as Einarr was nodding in agreement, Arkja’s brows knit in confusion from just outside their circle. “Old man? What old man?”

“The old fisherman on the beach? I told him we still had room, but he refused?”

The erstwhile tavern keeper slowly shook his head. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but there was no old man on the beach. That shack you kept checking has stood empty for as long as anyone I’ve ever talked to can remember.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

6.31 – Gathering Together

“I did, milord.” The earnest-faced fisherman stepped forward, looking vaguely embarrassed.

Einarr nodded, curious as to why the man would be embarrassed – but now was not the time. “Good job. Keep it up. Do we have the tools you’ll need?”

The yellow-haired man straightened. “I believe so, milord. Got the basics, anyway. Anything else we should be able to improvise, although it’d be nice to have the shed for working in.”

Einarr frowned, considering anew, then shook his head. “I think we’d lose more time bringing it here than we’d save. Unless that storm did more damage than I think it did… Has anyone found a cart yet?”

Erik shrugged. “Not that I know of. You might check with Arkja.”

Einarr grunted acknowledgment. “All right. Good plan. I’ll go do that. Runa?”

She hummed at him, as though her mind had been elsewhere.

“Want to come help me look for a cart? Even if Arkja has one, odds are good we’ll need a second one for the gold.” He started off back towards the center of town, trusting her to follow.

She did not disappoint, settling into an easy walk by his side. “You’re just going to take it, without so much as a by-your-leave?”

“Well, yes. How do you think it was gathered in the first place?” He risked a glance at her face: yes, she apparently was that sheltered. “We’re raiders, Runa. We take what we want through guile, treachery, and main force, no matter what pretty rules we dress it up with among the Clans. What did you think went on with the Skudbrun while they were out all season?”

She opened her mouth, but could only stammer a little in response.

Einarr shook his head a little. “I know, it probably never occurred to you to wonder, and raiding doesn’t just fill the coffers – but fill them it does. That secret room in the back of the boat shed is filled with the ill-gotten gains of some unfortunate raider, turned fisher or boatwright once he realized he couldn’t break free. And the odds are very good he’s either long dead or he has dirty yellow hair and a scarred face.”

He could hear Arkja and Jorir shouting instructions now: they must have commandeered part of the group Erik was looking after. Einarr turned to smile at his beloved, only to have to stifle a laugh. She was pouting, of all things!

Einarr turned quickly back around. “Don’t be like that,” he said soothingly. “I’m sorry. If it weren’t for me, you probably never would have had cause to know that at all.”

As though in answer, she twined her fingers in his and shook her head. “No, it’s fine. Father’s told me before I need to be clear-eyed about things. Sooner or later it would have come up.”

She raised her head and looked at him sidelong. “Do you really think that ugly man used to be a raider?”

“Up until just a bit ago I’d have said the only experienced man among them was Arkja. Now I’m not so sure.”

In the intersection just ahead, Arkja and the dwarf who mistrusted him were in the midst of a discussion, probably regarding numbers.

“How goes,” Einarr called, alerting them to his approach.

“Well as can be expected,” Jorir answered. “We’ve got salt pork and jerky and dried plants of some sort, but maybe four barrels that don’t leak.”

Einarr almost laughed. “You’re working with the tavern-keeper! Can’t we make it up with ale?”

“I don’t know. How drunk do you want to be when we land?”

Now Einarr did laugh. “Remember the barrels already on board. The old man should know where we can fill them.”

Jorir harrumphed in a way that told Einarr the dwarf had, in fact, not accounted for those.

“Anyway. Arkja, I’m heading off to look for another cart. We’re going to need it.”

“Only one?” The tavern-keeper was scowling at the provisions surrounding them in the street.

“At least one. The blond fisherman with all the scars-”

“Saergar?”

“Maybe?” Einarr had not yet gotten most of their names. “Anyway, he found someone’s old stash of treasure. Like to take back what we can.”

Arkja grunted. “I certainly wouldn’t complain about not coming back empty-handed.”

They wouldn’t be, technically, but Einarr saw now reason to mention the distaff to him just yet.

“If we must go overland to your derelict, see if you can find two? The one from the Maid is already full.”

“Will do.”

***

In the morning all was in readiness, and the (now somewhat larger) group set off down the track leading through the troll’s hunting ground. As… congenial as the troll had been before, when it needed something, Einarr was just as glad not to run into the creature again.

On the third night after leaving the abandoned town they arrived at the hulder village and retrieved Irding. The hulder did not trust the men of the town, and so they were not invited to camp among them that night. Erik wondered aloud why that might be, but Arkja’s evasive answer told Einarr as much as he needed to know. It was going to be his task and Erik’s to cut the new mast anyway.

Irding, for his part, looked to be as hale and healthy as one could expect a bare week after cracking a rib. He saw the new crew members, took a long minute to openly size them up, and shrugged. “Just one more thing to tell me around the fire tonight,” he said. The tales ran long, that night, but no-one seemed to mind.

The next day they arrived at the beach where the Gestrisni still lay beached. The old fisherman was nowhere to be seen: probably, Einarr thought, that meant he was out on the water. The grim old man was working, and so should they be: they had a ship to fix and an escape to plan, after all.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

6.30 – Discoveries

“As for you, my Lady Singer, I have questions.”

Runa smiled up at him impishly, hugging his arm. “Walk with me, my Lord, and I may have answers to give.”

Einarr and his betrothed wandered the empty streets arm-in-arm, neither of them minding in this moment that desertion that had bothered him not long before. Eventually they came to a broad, tree-lined green, and Runa guided him over to sit in the shade of a large oak. Only then did she let go of his arm, to turn and lean against his side.

“Even half a season seems like such a long time…” She sighed, content.

Amused, Einarr arched an eyebrow. “Even after waiting seven years from our first meeting?”

She jostled his ribs with an elbow. “That’s different.”

He chuckled. “You’re not wrong. And when Trabbi told me you’d been captured…”

“You have no idea how surprised I was they’d gone to Lord Stigander for help.”

“Surprised… and glad?”

She nodded, then changed the subject. “So what did you want to ask me?”

He laughed again, this time thoughtful. “Oh, where to begin. Let’s start with how you knew the ghost’s story.”

Runa shook her head. “Honestly? I guessed. There are a limited number of reasons someone ends up here, most of which have blessed nothing to do with offending Wotan’s familiars.”

“Hey now.”

“I tease, I tease. In all seriousness, though, most people end up here through cowardice, ignominy, or both. When it didn’t burst our ears immediately, I thought I might be on to something.”

“And naming it Päron? How did you jump from ignominy to a children’s fable?”

“Stories… change over time. It’s one of the things the Matrons teach us, early on.” Here she paused, as though considering.

“While we were with the Matrons, I was given a good-sized list of manuscripts to copy – it’s part of how they teach us. Mixed into this stack were some shockingly old parchments. The sort of thing the Matrons typically handle themselves, because of how delicate they are. It may have been a mistake, but I doubt it. Anyway, one of these manuscripts had a much older telling of the Päronskaft story, followed by someone’s extrapolations of the story’s original source…

“And it was like a puzzle box popped open in front of me while you were fighting. The Päron who was described in that history, whose story morphed into an imp spinning gold, would fit exactly with the character I had just described.”

“Huh.” Einarr sat for a minute, considering the wild improbability. “I guess,” he added after a long moment. “I guess that’s lucky for us.”

Runa sat very still, almost as though she were frozen. “Maybe so, or maybe…”

A long pause followed, and the next words she spoke all came out in a rush. “Einarr, I think someone is looking out for you. Someone powerful. Most Cursebreakers don’t survive their first challenge, but just since you were named this spring you’ve bested three.”

Einarr blinked and tried not to laugh. Not just after, but because of the events of this summer, she decided he was being protected? It was almost ludicrous on its face.

He must not have hidden his reaction as well as he thought, because she elbowed him in the ribs again. “Don’t laugh.”

“Sorry, sorry. But you have to understand, this has been the roughest season I can remember, especially for lost crew, and we haven’t much more than the Althane’s horde to show for it… Don’t cheapen those lives we lost, Runa. The only outside ‘help’ I’ve had this summer came from that weird elf who insisted on giving us that broach.”

He could feel her stiffen, as though he had managed to offend with that. Well, so be it, then. The Vidofnir had paid in blood and treasure for what they’d accomplished, and he did not wish that lessened by giving credit to some nameless other.

Neither, though, did he want to weather the storm of an angry Runa – and there was yet one thing he needed to ask of her. “Runa, I need a favor -”

“There you are!” Erik’s voice cut through the air, shattering the stillness even as he cut off Einarr’s request.

Einarr sighed. It would have to wait, then. Erik wouldn’t have come like this without good reason. “Here I am. What’s going on?”

The big man grinned. “You need to see this. And then remind me of it if I give you crap about the raven feathers again.”

“Oh?” This should be good. Erik was practically bouncing with excitement.

***

Erik led Einarr and Runa back to the harbor, where Arkja’s less experienced men waited. (At least, Einarr hoped they weren’t trying to guard anything. A child could have snuck past them.)

“So what was it I just had to see?”

“Just wait.” Erik walked up to the large double doors that led into a boat shed. Swinging the shed open, he said, “That little tunnel of Arkja’s isn’t the only secret in this town.”

Inside, the building was dominated by a large trestle such as one might use for boat repair – not that Einarr thought it would be worthwhile bringing the Gestrisni all the way here before they tried to fix her. But that wasn’t the interesting part.

In what would otherwise be a wall of cabinets and hanging tools, a door stood open. Behind that door, Einarr saw what was unmistakably gold. He looked at Erik, agog.

Erik grinned. “My thought exactly. Gestrisni’s got a good-sized hold for what she is.”

“And the gods only know we could use a break like this. Have you…”

“Counted it? No, not hardly. I’d guess something less than half what we got from the Althane’s horde.”

“How did you…” Einarr shook his head. “No. There’s a story here, I’m sure, but it can wait. Who found it?”

One of the fishermen, a man with lank yellow hair and scars crisscrossing his earnest face, stepped forward. “I did, milord.”


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