Tag: Arring

10.48 – The Thing

Over the course of the next three weeks, something more than half of all the jarls who once swore allegiance to Raen arrived in port at Breidelstein or sent pigeons explaining why they couldn’t. Stigander made a point of greeting each and every Jarl personally, after which they would spend some time in hushed conversation while their crews unloaded barrels of ale and mead and other contributions to the coming festival.

Tyr, Kaldr, and Jorir had disagreed with Einarr’s thoughts on taking oaths, and in the end their thinking won. The renewal of vows would take place after the trial of Urdr.

Thus, at the end of three weeks, when careful note had been made of those Jarls who had not arrived for the Thing – excuse or no – a true Thing was held in Breidelstein for the first time in more than a decade. When the Jarls assembled in a circle around the courtyard, they stared at the figures in the center with grim solemnity.

A wooden seat had been brought out for Raen. The old man sat, stooped and feeble but alert, and he stared about himself with childlike wonder. Many was the man who winced to see their former Thane in such a reduced state – and winced again when Urdr was brought forth in chains, led once more by Arring and Erik and Thjofgrir. Raen physically shrank away from the crone. Gorgny, who attended him on the stage, comforted him like he would a child.

Einarr, from his place at Stigander’s side, fought to keep a straight face at the sight of his grandfather. He could see from the corner of his eye the knotting of muscles in his father’s jaw. But the two of them had to remain neutral, despite being among the aggrieved.

“This Thing is assembled,” Stigander intoned. “Before you are Raen, your former Thane, and the Weavess Urdr, who is accused. Gorgny, you may state your case.”

Raen’s oldest and most loyal liege-man straightened, leaving a comforting hand on Raen’s shoulder. “Men of the Thing, this woman and her son are solely responsible for the current state of these islands. She used her Weaving to bind the fates of all Breidelstein and unseat Lord Raen. In his place, she installed her son Ulfr, and the two of them have taxed the citizens beyond all measure. She has imprisoned and tortured Lord Raen, whom she claimed was her husband, as well as countless others who have passed through the dungeon here. She has practiced Black Arts in order to hold power for herself and her son. Free men of the Thing, I lay all these things at the feet of this woman.”

A low rumble passed around the assembled Jarls. Then Stigander stepped forward. “Weavess Urdr. You stand accused before the Thing of high treason, treason against your Thane, practicing the black arts, murder by means of magic, and of practicing the torturer’s arts. Among your accusers, your victims, are members of this Thing. Have you any defense?”

The crone straightened, haughty and defiant even now. “You dare to try me here, with my accusers among the judges?”

“I see none in this circle who have added to the weight of charges laid out by Gorgny.”

“And yet you yourself are a son of Raen. Does that not make your judgment invalid?”

“It is not my judgement you have to fear. You will offer no defense, then?”

A cold stare was his only answer. Stigander shrugged. “Are there any present who would stand in her defense?”

No-one stepped forward. On its face, Einarr thought Urdr’s claim had merit. Unfortunately for her, that was the nature of crimes against a Thane, and there was no way to call an Althing. Her tricks would find no purchase here.

“Very well,” Stigander boomed. “The penalty for any one of these crimes is death, and so I put the question before this Thing. Did this woman conspire to overthrow the rightful Thane of Breidelstein?”

A chorus of “Ayes” rang around the circle.

“In the overthrow of the Thane Raen, by whom she bore a son, did she practice the black art of curse-weaving?”

Once again each man in the circle answered aye.

“Was the rightful Thane, a man she has called her husband, tortured by her hand?”

There were fewer ‘ayes’ this time, likely because the Jarls hesitated to confirm a charge that was not so self-evident.

“Very well. Based on the determination of this Thing, who have witnessed the actions of the accused, the weavess Urdr is guilty. You shall be stripped of all you posess and chained to a rock in the harbor, where you may look upon the lands you so desired until your bones fall into the sea.”

“Arring. Erik. Thjofgrir. See to it.”

The three men named snapped off an “Aye,sir,” as though they were still aboard ships before leading the crone out of the circle of the Thing. If there was one thing that could be said to her credit, it was that her pride did not desert her as she was led to her death. She held her head high and stared defiantly forward.

“Now that the unpleasantness is concluded, there is one more bit of formality to handle before the festivities begin. Kaldr Kerasson, step forward.”

Kaldr moved with the calm grace that everyone who knew him was accustomed to and knelt before Stigander.

“Earlier, during the fighting, you laid your life before me. Now I will have your oath.” Stigander drew Grjóthrun from the scabbard on his baldric and held the hilt out toward the man called the Ice Wolf.

The reswearing of those whose bonds had been severed, first by the witch and then by Einarr, took until it was full dark. A bonfire – a real one, this time – was lit in the field, and the feast table laid near it. Musicians from the town had offered their services for a place at the table and been welcomed.

It was a night of celebration and the reforging of bonds long tested. Finally, Breidelstein could begin the long road toward rebuilding its former glory.

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10.47 – Unbinding

A light like golden dawn shone from the grass behind Einarr, illuminating the faces before him. Those who were bound most loosely by the curse – Stigander, Kormund, most of their crews, Kaldr – watched in respectful silence, as they would a grave ship. Among the townsfolk, some looked pained. Others, nauseous. That was a result of the dissonance, and would pass in time.

Those who had fought under Ulfr had, in general, stronger reactions. Some vomited. Others dropped to their knees, clutching their heads. A bare handful had been bound so tightly their minds could not accept the dissonance and they fled into the forest. Einarr watched calmly, hiding his surprise that there were any of those here to witness the ritual.

Urdr had aged a century in a little over ten minutes. Einarr had called her a crone before, but the destruction of her work sapped her of vitality. Once again he stifled a pang of pity: for what she and her son had worked on Breidelstein, this was only a partial measure of justice. Arring stood behind her, holding her on her feet to witness the undoing of her schemes.

Eventually, those with homes in the city below began to drift towards the gate house and rest. Of the warriors who remained, those who were less affected aided those in greater distress towards rooms where they might rest. Arring, Erik, and Thjofgrir led Urdr to the dungeon, where she would await the convenience of the Thing.

The bonfire of tapestries continued in the center of the circle. Stigander’s eyes did not rest, searching over the faces that remained, plainly looking for someone, although Einarr could not guess who.

He was not needed here. Einarr drove the end of the distaff into the rune circle. For just a moment, the ivory inlay flashed with the same light as the working below. He was not entirely certain what that meant, but now that it was there he did not think he should move it – at least not until the working was finished.

The Örlögnir stood on its own. With a sigh and a mental shrug, Einarr left the bonfire of light to join the rest of his crewmates.

When dawn broke, Einarr rose from his sleeping couch not quite able to accept that it was his. The odd sense of displacement, though, he knew was temporary. More urgently, there was work to be done.

Einarr followed the smell of wood smoke to a cookfire outside the hall, where he found his father and an older man crouched near the fire, speaking in hushed tones. Einarr thought he recognized the man, but with the haze of long years he couldn’t be certain.

“His Lordship is resting in town, under the care of an herb-witch,” the old man was saying.

Stigander nodded in understanding. “I only saw him for a moment. He looked weak. How is he, really?”

The old man looked up and straight at Einarr, his eyes suddenly hooded. Stigander turned around and waved for him to join them.

“Uncle Gorgny, you remember Einarr, don’t you?”

Uncle Gorgny! So that’s why he looked familiar. Einarr smiled.

Gorgny looked poleaxed. He finally stammered out “The Cursebreaker is your very own son?”

“My very own.”

“It’s not that surprising that he wouldn’t recognize me, Father. Last time I saw Uncle Gorgny, I was just a small boy.”

Stigander turned his attention back to Raen’s closest advisor. “Well? How is my father?”

“…Weak, as you say, Lord. I have reason to believe much of the blood in those tapestries was his. But that was not the only way in which she tortured him. Now that she is gone, and he is free, I hope he will recover.”

Stigander set his mouth grimly. “I understand.”

“You are not surprised.” Gorgny watched Stigander for confirmation.

“I suspected. Last spring we paid a visit to an Oracle: she left me virtually certain.” He sighed, then shook his head. “We will need to visit him, sooner rather than later, and not just because he’s family.”

“Then…” Einarr couldn’t finish the thought.

“Trying to give your grandfather back his seat is likely to be impossible, based on everything I’ve heard.”

“Unfortunately true,” Gorgny agreed. “Even if Raen were as hale as you, the years under the usurper cost him a great deal of support, and even more honor.”

“That should be mitigated once the Jarls realize Ulfr didn’t actually have Grandfather’s support.” That his grandfather was still alive was nothing short of miraculous. Unfortunately, it also made what came next complicated.

“Not enough, I’m afraid,” Stigander rumbled. “But it’s moot anyway. Be thankfull, Einarr, that your sorcery in the harbor brought Kaldr to his senses. You are no more prepared to be a Thane than your uncle was. How long before the Thing can be assembled?”

Gorgny sighed. “At least a week. More likely two.”

“Good. I want careful count kept of who comes and who doesn’t. Clans have fractured over less than this.”

“Of course, my Prince.” Gorgny pressed his hands against his knees and rose, allowing himself the luxury of a groan. He, too, was getting on in years, but he had not been subjected to the witch’s tender ministrations. “There is much yet to do before the Jarls begin to arrive. If you will excuse me.”

“Of course. And, Uncle Gorgny, it’s good to see you again.”

The old retainer offered Stigander a tight smile. “It’s good you came back.”

Einarr furrowed his brow. Once Gorgny had crossed half the courtyard, he turned his attention back to his father. “What’s wrong with him?”

Stigander sighed. “You heard it too, then. I have never questioned his loyalty to your grandfather, not once. I suspect he just has some soul-searching to do. He may blame himself. He may be worried about Father. Maybe it’s all of the above.”

“You should start taking men’s oaths, Father. The sooner the better.”

“You’re not wrong. But that won’t help him.”

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10.46 – Unweaving

Einarr set about drawing the rune circle he and Hrug had devised while the Usurper’s former thralls made trip after trip from Urdr’s workroom, each time returning loaded down with tapestries which were then piled haphazardly in the center of the circle. “Draw” was perhaps a misnomer, though: the area he chose for this was in the center of a small grassy field. No chalk or charcoal would do: he cut the lines into the soft soil with the end of the Örlögnir. The distaff felt warm to Einarr’s touch as he worked: he hoped that meant that the Lady Frigg understood.

At some point during all this, Arring arrived with some proper iron shackles for the old woman, and even distracted Einarr did not miss that he brought both arm and leg irons. Well. Based on his answer from the Oracle, perhaps Arring had more reason than some to despise the witch. Even as he locked the shackles around her frail-seeming limbs, though, she watched.

As they began piling her life’s work in the middle of Einarr’s circle, she cackled. “Those tapestries are woven of the blood and bone of the clan. What do you expect your half-learned runes will do, Cursebreaker? You are no immortal.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow, but continued to draw. “So I am not.”

“And yet you will try your mortal will against the lifeblood of the clan?”

“If it were only my will, or even my will and Hrug’s, perhaps we would fail – although I suspect the ‘lifeblood of the clan’ rather objects to being used in such a way. Tell me, witch. Do you know what this is?” He lifted the Örlögnir from the line it carved and showed it to the growing crowd.

“A rather pretty distaff.” Somehow Urdr managed to sneer down at it even locked in irons as she now was. “Probably never been used for actual spinning.”

“That I couldn’t say. You see, this distaff belongs to the Lady Frigg herself. Do you happen to know the properties of hazel and ivory?”

She scowled, but did not answer, and Einarr went back to his work.

“I didn’t, this time last year. This, lady Urdr, is the Örlögnir. According to the Matrons, it purifies.”

Urdr contined to scowl and turned her head away, her chin thrust forward stubbornly. Einarr went back to ignoring her.

At last, all the warriors and a good number of the townsfolk had gathered around the working, as much out of curiosity as anything. A number of them, Einarr suspected, did not quite understand what it was he was ending. They were there because the rule of the Usurper and the Weavess had been intolerable, and so they had thrown their lot in with the so-called rebels.

He hoped this would not cause them too much distress. Kaldr had spoken of a bad headache when he first broke free, during the assault: Einarr suspected that might not be the worst, for some.

Finally, though, it was ready. Einarr straightened from his rune circle and walked once around its perimeter, taking in the faces of those who had come to watch. Some faces stood out, of course, primarily those of the Vidofnings and their allies in the assault. Jarl Hroaldr stood by Stigander’s side, tall and nearly as proud as his old friend, and much improved since his rescue from the witch. Kaldr stood with the Mates – including his own. A few others. Everyone met his gaze steadily, somber and expectant.

Satisfied, Einarr stopped on the south side of the circle, facing north. There was nothing to be said. Not yet. Very deliberately, he placed his feet on the edge of the circle, his stance a little broader than usual. The polished wood and ivory of the distaff gleamed in his hands in the light of the sun.

Einarr gripped the Örlögnir in both hands and raised it overhead. I hope this works… With a sudden violent thrust, he brought the base of the distaff back down to the ground, resting its end in the line of the rune circle he stood on. At the same time, he willed the runes to life.

Golden light spread around the circle like the light of a sunrise. Even in the full light of day, Einarr was sure that anyone near enough to see the ground could see the magic at work. Then the outer circle was completed, and the light rushed inwards. As it touched the edges of the tapestries piled in the center, they began to shimmer and smoke.

Urdr shrieked as the shimmer crawled along the surface of her work. Einarr would not be surprised if she fought to rush forward, but it was Arring who held her chains. She would not be able to throw herself on this conflagration. His attention was held by the light, and his will was currently captive to the Örlögnir.

As the light-fire grew over the pile of tapestries, Einarr was fascinated by what he saw. The cloth did not burn, not precisely. It was the dyes that smoked. His gaze was drawn ever inward, until it became plain that the individual threads of the cloth were pulling themselves apart, dancing in the light-fire like a million tiny worms.

Einarr blinked, actually grateful at this moment for Urdr’s panicked shrieking, and pulled his attention outward. Already he could feel a headache forming. There was no sense allowing himself to be swept away on the magic. He glanced over his shoulder.

A number of the townsfolk, and all of Ulfr’s former men, held their heads as though the dissonance were coming through. Urdr dropped to her knees, panting, as Arring stood firm, the chains that bound her hands and feet grasped firmly in his hand. In this moment, Einarr could almost pity her. Almost, but not quite.

He turned around the Örlögnir to face the onlookers. Behind him, the light-fire consumed the curse that had beset these islands for almost twenty years.

“The Norns always correct their weave.”

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10.37 – Regathering

Beatrix nodded brusquely and thrust the bit of cloth she’d been using to dab at Runa’s face into her hands. “I expect you’re right. Lead on.”

Runa was only a little slower getting to her feet. She took a moment to dust off her skirts. Einarr was suddenly reminded of the little girl he’d seen out trying to wrangle goats and smiled.


“Nothing. Just glad you’re all right. Are we ready?”

The doors to the Hall stood open, and spilling out into the courtyard in front of them was a flurry of activity. Standing at the center of this, exactly where Einarr expected to find him, was Father, barking orders. Swirling around him like the inner edge of a storm’s eye were Bardr, Kormund, Hraerek, and …Kaldr?

Einarr glanced over his shoulder at the two women, suddenly glad none of the other Singers had arrived yet. Their attention seemed caught closer to the fringes of the crowd, which he took for a good thing under the circumstances. “Father! What news?”

Stigander looked up from the discussion he was holding with his Mate and waved the four of them over. “Einarr! Glad to see you made it. Everything went smoothly down below?”

“As well as I could have hoped. Hrug’s going to be out of it for a while, but I can’t rely on him for everything.”

Kaldr looked up from the message he had just finished dispatching to turn a questioning eye on Stigander. Behind Einarr, Beatrix and Runa stiffened as they could no longer ignore the man’s presence.

“This is my son, Kaldr. Einarr is the Cursebreaker.”

Kaldr pivoted on his heels, clapped a fist to his chest, and bowed to Einarr. Einarr blinked, unable to process what he was seeing at first.


“Your ritual allowed at least one man to slip free entirely of the Weavess’ work.”

“I see.”

“Are you certain it was the ritual?” Bea’s voice was tight.

Kaldr did not rise. “I assure you, my lady, my actions at that time were taken out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.”

Beatrix hummed, evidently skeptical.

“I believe, actually, that you’ve met all of these people, Kaldr,” Stigander went on smoothly. “It was Einarr’s ship you took for your platform right after you stole the Singers from our decks. Runa is the daughter of Jarl Hroaldr – who is also in our safekeeping now. Someday I will want to hear just how you managed that.”

Kaldr did not even shift his shoulders to show discomfort. “Of course, my lord.”

“The svartdverger is Einarr’s right-hand man – and among the truest of liege men. And this,” Stigander continued. “Is Beatrix Mari… bah. Beatrix. She is no Singer, but an Imperial princess who happened to decide our cause was just.”

For once the man looked surprised. “You have my apologies, my lady, for the error.”

“Lord Stigander!” One of the newer Vidofnings approached, who had signed since Einarr wintered with the elves, dodging through the whirling chaos of men that surrounded the captains. For the first time in a very long time, Einarr did not know everyone who was a part of his father’s crew.

“Yes, what is it?”

“The Weavess’ work room – it’s empty, sir. We can’t find her anywhere.”

Einarr could see his father swallowing a shout. Berating the messenger would do no-one any good. “Keep looking! Comb that tower top to bottom: she couldn’t have got far, not at her age.”

“My lord,” Kaldr demurred. “She almost never left the tower. She climbed the stairs between her workroom and the dungeon several times a day.”

Runa gasped, her fingers moving to cover her mouth.

Einarr turned to look at her. “What is it?”

“The secret door! Bea, you remember. She was turning the lock in the door when we came back down to steal the Victory weaving. You tried to break it down.”

Beatrix winced. “That door. You’re right, that has to be where she went.”

Einarr met Stigander’s gaze and saw his own thoughts writ there. “I’ll go, Father. You, too, Jorir?” When the dwarf nodded, he continued. “Great. Runa, you’ll lead the way?”


“In that case, we just need someone who can deal with the lock… Sivid should still be down in the harbor. Do we have anyone else who can pick a lock, or do we need Arring?”

Stigander nodded, then raised a hand to his mouth and called over his shoulder. “Troa!”

Runa raced back across the courtyard for the tower, followed closely by Einarr, Jorir, and Troa. Beatrix had wanted to come as well, but before Troa arrived she had been drawn into the exigencies of diplomacy with the soon-to-be-restored Thane. Perhaps that was not what she had in mind when she joined Einarr’s cause, but no matter how much she wanted to continue the assault, her place was now at the Hall with the leadership. Truth be told, Runa should have stayed as well: she would have almost as many letters to draft, come the evening.

Troa pelted along at Einarr’s side, very carefully looking straight ahead. Einarr’s fault, that: after the duel with the Althane’s shade, Einarr had never been entirely comfortable around him. Knowing the aversion was irrational did not help. There were more important matters to hand, though, so Einarr also kept his attention focused on Runa’s back, urging her faster. That they were chasing an old woman was no comfort: the Weavess had managed to build her own private escape route. Who knew what they might find waiting for them inside? And the longer they took to get there, the more time the crone had to prepare.

Faster, Runa. Faster.

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9.2 – Vidofnir

The order was given, and Arring tossed a rope across to the rowboat. Einarr lashed the boats together and pulled himself up onto the old, familiar deck. Grinning broadly, he clasped arms with Arring before turning around to offer a hand up to those who wished for one.

“Where’s Father?” He asked as soon as the last of them was aboard, still grinning at everyone around him. His companions were all looking around, some more bemused than others.

Arring pointed towards the bow, where Stigander stood waiting in a cleared area just ahead of the mast, his arms crossed but looking just as pleased to see Einarr. Next to him was Reki, and he felt as much as saw Eydri tense. Now was not the time for that conversation, though. He straightened the hem of his tunic and strode forward.

Stigander appeared to be listening to something Reki was muttering. The albino woman never once took her eyes from Einarr’s group. What had happened between her and Eydri? Surely there must have been something. Still, Stigander nodded, and as Einarr drew up with the mast a grin split his thick yellow beard.

“At last, my troublemaker returns to us!” Stigander laughed and reached out his arms.

Einarr met the gesture in kind, taking his father in a manly embrace for just a moment.

“Welcome back, son,” Stigander said more quietly.

“Thank you, Father.” He clapped his father on the shoulder once more before turning. “And now I’m afraid there are introductions to be made and common cause to be made.” He ran through the introductions a second time, this time starting with Bea, followed by Liupold, and then the others in order of their respective rank. He did not fail to notice that Eydri and Reki both seemed to avoid looking at one another.

“And that’s where we stand, Father,” he finished.

“I see. Welcome aboard, I suppose.” Stigander watched Bea quietly, the way a cat watches a hunting dog.

“The honor is mine,” Bea said smoothly, extending her hand. “I understand one of my ships gave you some trouble last spring: for that, you have my apologies.”

Stigander hummed and turned his attention to Liupold. “Captain Liupold of the Arkona. My Mate informs me that your ship is apparently not to blame for the sacking of my friend’s land?”

“That is correct, Captain. The Arkona arrived earlier today bearing your son and the others following a service they performed in Imperial waters.”

That got a raised eyebrow from Stigander, and Einarr knew they would have a great deal to discuss later.

Liupold was still speaking. “We arrived to find the town already in flames and sent a boat ashore to determine what had occurred here. We were still determining that when your two ships arrived and opened fire on us.”

“An unfortunate misunderstanding.”

“And, under the circumstances, an understandable one. But we had not yet learned the identity of the raiders when we had to break off to secure this cease-fire.”

Stigander turned to Einarr. “The Hall?”

Einarr shook his head. “Also hit. Also burning, I think, but the harbormaster didn’t know how bad, and everyone else was too busy putting out fires. And we do know one thing, actually. The ship responsible had a wolf’s head on the prow.”

Stigander looked stricken. “We have to get to Kjell Hall.”

“You know that ship, Father?”

“In my time, I have known three ships to bear that animal. Two of them are long since broken, but all three of them were terrors of the sea. Bardr! My horn.”


“In the meantime… Captain Liupold, your Highness. Do you intend to see this through? Or, having delivered your cargo, will you return south to safer waters?” He did not say flee, but all among them heard it.

Bea straightened, as haughty as ever a princess could be. “We shall see it through, shan’t we, Captain? The Cursebreaker is of great interest to me.”

Einarr rolled his eyes, fairly certain she couldn’t see, and groaned internally. She would complicate matters greatly.

“I was just about to say the same, your Highness,” Liupold was saying.

“Very good. Then if you would kindly return to your ship, so no-one decides I have made hostages of you, we should be underway.”

The three ships slipped from the harbor almost without further incident. However, where the Vidofnir and the Eikthyrnir could simply reverse course, the Arkona had to be turned about. While this was not a difficult maneuver, it did slow their progress. Einarr wondered idly if the harbormaster had paid any attention to what was going on out on the waves.

Just a few hours later, the two longboats and an Imperial rowboat beached themselves just up the river from the narrow bay near the Hall. The forest appeared untouched, which was a mercy. Whatever they had done, there would be survivors even out here.

Still, only a relatively small party was sent up the forest trail. Einarr and Stigander, Reki, Captain Kormund, Bea, Rambert, and Jorir – who had been just as pleased to see him, in his way, as Stigander. “We’ve much to discuss, you and I – once we’ve confirmed the safety of your Lady, of course,” he’d said.

“You’re right, we do. Glad to see you well.”

That had been the end of it, for the time being. Now the seven of them hurried up the bay trail toward Kjell Hall. Einarr spotted chop marks in the forest around the trail, although he could not discern their purpose.

When the Hall came into view in its clearing in the trees, it was a burnt-out ruin. Men still moved within the confines of its walls, searching among the ashes for who-knew-what. Stigander took off at a run for the walls, and the rest of the party followed after.

“Trabbi? Trabbi, is that you?”

The old retainer rose from the pile of ash he sifted through to look, numb, at the man who addressed him. “You’re too late.”

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

8.3 – Captain Kormund

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

As planned, Einarr, Eydri, Naudrek and Hrug came to breakfast looking more presentable than Einarr thought he had ever seen the other two men, and tidier than he had felt since leaving Kjell for Svartlauf last spring. He had even taken the time to braid his own hair and moustache, and those hung down farther than the beard he’d allowed to grow over the winter. He still wasn’t sure he was going to keep that, although there were definite advantages now that it no longer came in patchy.

As they walked down the broad main avenue that led from the Archer straight to the docks, Einarr thought they made a striking figure – especially for a group of sailors come seeking work. He heard the beginnings of a fight stirring like the first signs of a storm.

A crowd had already gathered ahead of them, and Einarr could hear raised voices, although he could not tell why they were arguing. He shouldered his way through the crowd.

On the docks, two men built like Arring argued. A small stack of barrels sat next to the blond man, whose back was to the ship. The other man, swarthy enough to make Jorir look pale, gesticulated wildly as he held forth. It had been his voice Einarr had heard, primarily.

Above, at the top of the gangplank, a well-dressed man stood with his arms crossed, frowning down at the scene below. Braids tamed hair that was redder than Einarr’s, and what sections were not tied still made a bushy mane. Einarr pointed the man out to Hrug, one eyebrow raised in question. The other man nodded.

Right. Time to make a good impression, then. I hope. This looked like your garden-variety trade argument, and ordinarily he would leave it alone. Ordinarily, though, he wouldn’t be trying to get on the good side of the Captain involved – a man who looked, to Einarr’s eye, not just fastidious but also stern. Einarr stepped forward into the open space around the two men, his hands held out placatingly. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, what seems to be the issue here?”

“This two-faced worm’s trying to pass off sour cider as good Imperial wine!” The swarthy man’s face, Einarr thought, could not ordinarily be this red.

The blond man, meanwhile, had remained remarkably cool under the onslaught. “I had thought, when you introduced yourself as a wine seller, that you had some idea what you sold. It is not my fault you cannot tell an Imperial auslese from vinagered cider.”

Einarr stopped to stare at the two men. This was why involving yourself in someone else’s bickering was a poor decision. With a sigh, he turned back to the crowd. “Eydri? I’m afraid wine was never to my taste.”

With a laugh, the Singer came forward. “All right then. Draw a taste and we will see who is true and who is false.”

The blond man shrugged and turned to the tapped cask on top of the stack.

The swarthy man, though, started to bluster. “Now wait just a second! Who do you think you are, interfering with our business?”

Einarr shrugged, tamping down on the smirk that threatened to give him away. “Just a passing sailor. You’re interfering with everyone else’s business, though.”

“Oh, so I’m just supposed to let them cheat me so I don’t inconvenience anyone else? Is that it?”

“Not at all. If they’re actually cheating you. My friend Eydri happens to know a thing or two about wine. If it’s as bad as you say it is, why not let her taste it?”

“Wait. You’re calling me a liar, aren’t you?”

“Not at all. I’m offering impartial judgement. The only one accusing anyone of lying is you.”

The swarthy man’s blustering turned to an angry stammer. Finally he glared at Einarr and Eydri before declaring to all on the docks that they “hadn’t heard the last of this” and storming off.

Einarr could not quite suppress a chuckle as he turned back around to face the men of the stag ship. They looked… somewhat put out, and he wasn’t sure if it was because of the obnoxious merchant or because Einarr had just spoiled a deal. He put on his best princely demeanor. “Sorry – should I not have poked my nose in?”

The blond man snorted and started picking up the casks, but the man on the gangplank stepped forward.

“Not at all,” he said. His voice sounded like it would be more at home in a thane’s hall than the deck of a ship. “I was here because we expected him to try to cheat us like that. You defused that nicely.”

“Happy to be of service.” Einarr bowed slightly, as one does when about to introduce themselves. Eydri, Naudrek, and Hrug started forward to join him at the base of the gangplank.

“What can I do for you?” Evidently, the red-haired man saw through Einarr.

He cleared his throat. “I am Einarr Stigandersen, of the longship Vidofnir. My companions and I need to reach Kjell, where we can rejoin my father’s ship. I was hoping you might be willing to take us on, even if only partway.”

The red-haired man studied them all for a long moment. “Stigander… Vidofnir… I believe I knew your father, once upon a time. Certainly you remind me of a man I used to know. What will your companions bring to my Eikthyrnir?”

“Eydri is a battle chanter and a scholar. It has been my experience that such people are always of value to a ship. Naudrek and I are both good sword-arms and strong at an oar at need. Hrug can predict the weather and… other things, given sufficient time to prepare.”

The red-haired man raised an eyebrow. “A human weathervane, eh? No, I’ll not ask how. But I believe we can work something out, for the son of an old friend. Come aboard and we will speak further. I am Kormund Arnesen, Captain. But I imagine you already knew that.”

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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.

5.23 – Valkyrie

“Let’s take this more seriously, then, shall we?” With a blast of wind the Valkyrie was in the air, hovering as no natural creature could, her sword leveled at Einarr. He swallowed, cursing the bravado that made him call her out. This was not how he won, not if he had a choice in the matter. He was not Erik or Arring with their massive strength, or Sivid with his speed, and calling her out had been not at all clever.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. On impulse, he dove into a forward roll: the wind of the blade’s passage chased his back, and a small piece of red hair dropped toward the floor.

Einarr rolled back to his feet and took a wild swing towards where the valkyrie had been only a moment before. His blade met only air. He spun on the balls of his feet, searching for his opponent. That was three, right?

“I think not, mortal. You wouldn’t deprive me of the thrill of the contest, would you?”

I was afraid of that. But, how can…?

“I am chooser of the slain, young thief. I must have some way of sorting the chaff from the wheat.”

Of course she could read his mind. As much as he had immediately regretted his choice to call her out, now he regretted it more. Not clever at all. “So now I must fight an opponent who can read my thoughts? That hardly seems sporting.”

“I thought you wanted a challenge. Come, Cursebreaker! Let us test your mettle!”

The same impulse that made him roll forward last time now froze him in his tracks. In that same heartbeat he felt the passage of a blade before his nose. Stone shards flew from the crack that appeared on the floor before his feet, embedding themselves in his legs. He hissed and tried to strike forward at where she must be, but her attack had not yet finished. With a crack of wood, steel pierced through his shield and into the flesh of his arm. A howl escaped his throat. Still he could see neither Valkyrie nor blade.

Einarr risked a glance up. White flickered in his peripheral vision and he hurried to follow it. No matter how fast he turned, however, the creature was always just a hair faster. The effort threatened to make him dizzy, and the shards in his legs throbbed with every step.

Rather than continue the futile effort, Einarr stopped. With a deep breath, he closed his eyes and listened. It had not been by sight, thus far, that he had evaded her blows but by reflex. He would wait, still, for that same reflex to guide his blade.

Her voice echoed through the room. “Let this strike be engraved on your soul.”

That didn’t sound good. His focus wavered, just for a moment. Enough to remind him of his own weakness. He tried to put the thought from his mind, and mostly succeeded. Well enough, at least, that when the urge to move came he twisted and brought Sinmora around. Steel rang against steel.

Einarr grinned, although the pressure on his blade was enormous. His arm shook with the strain of it. In the tales he sometimes heard about blind warriors with preternatural skill, but he had never credited them much. Perhaps there was something to those stories after all.

It wasn’t enough. Sinmora’s tip, braced against the stone of the floor, gave way with a scrape and a spark. The blade practically flew back from the blow as the valkyrie’s blade cut deep into his ribs. White-hot agony flared from the wound as he stumbled backwards, clutching a hand to his side. He hardly noticed the shards in his legs now.

The Valkyrie hummed. “Not bad, Cursebreaker. But how long do you think you can keep that up?”

“That was five by the terms you set,” Einarr said through gritted teeth. Blood ran down his side and arm, and his shins felt hot and wet. His shield was nearly broken, but even if it was whole he would have trouble holding it now.

The valkyrie’s chuckle filled the room with its statues. “Was it, Cursebreaker?”

He could feel the ball of emotion that was the Valkyrie circling him, now, as though she were a wolf and he the rabbit. With a little luck, he could take two more. He hoped. Einarr pressed his arm against the slice on his side. He couldn’t afford to lose too much blood here.

“Somehow this is unsatisfying.”

So she intended to continue insisting the first two were invalid? That rankled, but Einarr was far more focused on keeping pressure against the wound in his ribs than on calling her out. If she intended to attack him again, all he could do would be to weather the storm.

Einarr stood clutching his broken shield, Sinmora at the ready. His eyes remained closed, listening. Concentrating. Waiting for the Valkyrie to strike. Feeling the sticky wetness of blood on his side. On his hand. He felt no urge to dodge, or freeze. No need to do anything at all. After a while, Einarr opened his eyes.

He was alone in the room once more. The statues had once again been scattered about the room, seemingly at random. Something glowed at his feet: when he looked down, he saw a single feather. Einarr furrowed his brow. Why…?

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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! 

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

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

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

4.22 – Black Horror

A report as of the snapping of planks rang out over the ocean, echoing loudly off the rocks that had hidden the Vidofnir from three of their four pursuers. Everyone aboard stopped in their tracks and turned to stare at the burning Grendel, half expecting the ship to have cracked in two somehow.

If only it had been that straightforward. Smoke billowed up from the deck, even under the constant barrage of rain from the Grendel’s storm, but the fire had not yet caused their enemy to capsize. Instead, several tendrils of blackness extended upwards, waving about where the mast had been. One of them had wrapped itself about the mast and was waving it about in the air. Were it not for that one tentacle, they might have mistaken them for smoke.

“Row! Row, you fools!” Jorir shouted, and some of the Vidofnings began to stir themselves – Stigander among them. It wasn’t going to be fast enough.

The Grendel’s mast went sailing overhead, just barely missing their own sail. Einarr turned to face the last, desperate gasp of their foe, shield and sword at the ready. How are we supposed to fight this thing?

Not with the battle fury, that much was certain. Even if they hadn’t all just come down from it, Einarr was sure this thing was the source of the keening that had shattered the effect before. The distant sound of splashing said the Grendelings – those who still lived, anyway – were abandoning their ship.

A tentacle stretched across the gap between their ships – widening, now, but only slowly. A triad of arrows embedded themselves in the blackish flesh, but it did not seem to care.

“Kraken?” Someone asked, incredulous.

“Can’t be.” Einarr shook his head, not that he expected anyone to be looking at him. “Its body is under their deck. Somehow.”

If they weren’t careful, it would soon be on their own: that first tentative tentacle grabbed hold of the Vidofnir’s railing. Others were trailing in their direction, but the one in the lead mattered most right now. He charged forward and hacked downward with Sinmora once, twice, three times before he even managed to draw blood.

“Erik! Arring! Where are you?” If Sinmora could barely scratch the thing…

Erik’s laughter sounded from two paces behind him. “You telling me you can’t even break free of a little octopus without my help?”

A moment later a pair of axes drove into the break in its hide like wedges and black blood sprayed out over the defenders. The tentacle flinched but did not let go.

“Some octopus. Anyone care to wager whether it’s going to eat us or just bust open our ship?” Einarr was not really in the mood for Erik’s jokes, but it was better to roll with them. The big man laughed again even as he was drawing his battle-axe back for another swing.

Someone screamed from the other side of the deck, followed by a splash when they were knocked overboard.

“More chopping, less laughing.” Arring grunted, frowning, before hurrying across to deal with this new threat.

Einarr stabbed deep into the tentacle in front of him, to be rewarded by that eerie keening wail from the Grendel. Sinmora popped free just as Erik’s axe bit home again, and then there was a monstrous tentacle thrashing about on deck.

Einarr and Erik danced out of the way, although not before being further doused in its foul blood. The other defenders at the prow rushed in to hoist the thing overboard.

Across the deck, Arring had organized four or five others so that they all struck in sequence before taking the thing itself in a bear hug. The tentacle stretched as the rowers began to pick up speed. Another round of strikes severed it, and then Arring tossed the end overboard as though it were nothing.

Not fast enough, unfortunately. Three more grasping arms wrapped themselves about the Vidofnir’s prow – enough that Stigander gave the order to stop rowing. Einarr heard but could not care as he rushed forward to hack at the sickly black-green flesh that now grappled with the ship he called home.

He was not alone. Like woodcutters, the young warriors of the Vidofnir hacked at the trunk-like appendages with the only weapons they had to hand even as a fresh volley of flaming arrows soared overhead.

Einarr glanced up at the sound, and could not make sense of what he saw rising from beneath the deck boards of the Grendel. It almost seemed to bubble upwards, as though it was made of boiling pitch, but as it rose thick stone-colored carapace seemed to harden around it from the bottom up.

He paused, unable for a long moment to draw his eyes away from the spectacle on the enemy vessel. The flaming arrows that struck it – as most of them did, for there was no way the monstrosity could ordinarily have fit beneath the deck boards – caused another keening wail to rise. Whatever it was, it did not like fire.

The sound of an axe striking hide beside him brought Einarr back to his senses and he caught Irding giving him a dirty look. Einarr shook his head and brought his sword back down into the narrow cut Erik’s son had widened for him – by more than one stroke.

The tentacles were twitching, now, and Einarr could hear the wood of the railing begin to creak and crack. Dammit, no!

Without waiting on Irding to take another blow, Einarr brought Sinmora back around with all of his strength and drove it deep into the wound. The cracking stopped, at least for the moment: it had felt that.

He had no time to appreciate the effect of his blow, however: Irding’s blade was already sweeping down after Einarr’s. A quick twist of the wrist let him pull Sinmora directly back just a hair’s breadth before Irding would have dulled the both of them with his own blow. It was a contest, now, to see who could strike deepest and withdraw most quickly, and the risk of a chipped blade was worth freeing the Vidofnir of her bonds all the more swiftly.

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4.17 – Pursuit

For a moment Einarr stared dumbly after her. It had only been a few months since he’d seen her, and yet he could not tear his eyes away. His reverie was finally broken when Barri, his winter rival, elbowed him in the ribs. Einarr turned to look and the man wagged his eyebrows before gesturing for Einarr to go on ahead.

He rolled his eyes, but took the invitation. Neither Jorir nor Sivid would board before him, under the circumstances. If he’d been the one member of the crew who could not die before they visited the Oracle…

The others followed right on his heels, the treacherous rocking of the plank under their feet largely ignored as they rushed for the deck of the Vidofnir. Sooner or later the cult would turn up a foe that was not repulsed by the sun, and they needed to be well clear before that occurred.

“Everyone’s aboard?”

Erik shook his head, his eyes glued to the familiar skinny frame of Sivid, still below.

“Oy!” Einarr called down. “What d’ye think ye’re doing? Get up here!”

“Don’t worry about me.” Sivid didn’t move save to rub his palms together where he stood. “I’ll meet you all back at Kjell Hall this winter, if I don’t catch up to you sooner.”

“Are ye mad?” Jorir answered before Einarr could, but the sentiments were the same. “Ye’re death won’t even do any good down there.”

“Sometimes, dwarf, a man just needs to test his luck. I’ll see you all this winter!” Sivid gave them no more time to try and persuade him. Blade in hand, he dashed back out onto the pier.

Einarr furrowed his eyebrows. He knew the man’s luck ran in strange currents, but no matter where Sivid thought he was in terms of luck Einarr could see no purpose to this sacrifice.

Erik, too, was scowling down at the pier, although Einarr thought he detected more than a hint of stoic resolve in the set of the man’s jaw. Erik took hold of the plank connecting them all to the pier and started to pull. “Sivid, you rat! Now who’m I s’posed to fleece at dice?”

Sivid did not answer. Arring came up to see what the commotion was, blinked, and then grinned.

Einarr frowned at the strong man. “What’s so funny?”

“You’ll see.” Arring then wandered a few paces further down the deck, towards the far end of the aftcastle. A low growl escaped Einarr’s throat and he turned to watch what would surely be the end of a good man. It was every man’s right to choose when and how to die… but this just seemed so fruitless.

Those who had been waiting their return already pulled at the oars, with Stigander himself calling the cadence. Down on the pier, no fewer than three monstrous bodies already lay at Sivid’s feet.

A line snapped tight. Sivid’s hands flew up in the air instinctively even as his face hit the stone below. Einarr blinked, unable to quite credit the sight of Sivid being pulled in like a fish on a pike. Then a splash echoed in their ears even as the figures on the pier pressed closer to the end.

Einarr rushed to the aftcastle. Arring, hand over hand, was pulling in a rope, and now over the sound of a person being dragged through the water came cries of outrage from Sivid. A peek over the stern confirmed that Sivid, in spite of his protestations, was now climbing the rope that still wrapped about his leg.

For a long moment, all Einarr could do was stare. Arring had been among those to visit the Oracle, as well: could he know about Sivid’s luck? Laughter welled up in his chest as the thought faded.

He was still laughing quietly when Sivid’s soaked head appeared over the Vidofnir’s railing, spitting water and cursing at the strong man who had so rapidly reeled him in.

Arring laughed in his face. “You nearly keelhauled yourself, you know? If I hadn’t heard the commotion you’d be underwater right now.”

Sivid did not look mollified, but he did snap his mouth closed. Einarr shook his head and looked back out towards the pier.

Even in the strange half-light of the circle fort behind them the movement on the pier was unmistakable. The forward-most line of the creatures was still, but beyond them was a moving swarm of bodies, all flowing into the ships at dock. Einarr raised his voice to call over his shoulder. “Draken aft!”

Likely they still had a little time before the ships were prepared, but to douse the lights would disadvantage them more than their pursuers. Stigander increased the rowers’ cadence. What I wouldn’t do for a favorable wind right now…

Then the Vidofnir rounded the first bend in the cave and the pier dropped out of sight. Certain, now, that Sivid was securely aboard, Einarr hurried forward to take his place on one of the undermanned oars. Haste would be their best ally here: to a man the others joined him.

For a time, all they heard was the creak of wood and the call of three separate cadences – the Vidofnir’s, the Skudbrun’s, and the enemy’s.

They rounded another curve, and the grey light of a storm at sea began to make itself known, at first hardly noticeable over the blaze of torchlight, but growing stronger by the minute as they rowed. Einarr took a deep breath, trying not to hope for an easy escape.

A black shape appeared ahead of them on the water, rowing as languidly inward as the Vidofnir and Skudbrun were hurried outward.

“Draken, dead ahead!” Came the call from the forecastle.

“Port side – oars in! Evade!” Stigander barked.

Einarr was starboard, and they held their oars steady against the Vidofnir’s side while they waited. The unknown draken pressed itself against the far wall of the cave. As the two ships slipped past each other, Einarr did a double-take. He wasn’t likely to ever forget the demon’s head carved at the prow of that boat, or the blackness of the wood. That was the Grendel.

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4.10 – Strike Team

“I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news,” Einarr said when the crews were assembled on the deck of the Vidofnir. “The bad news, some of you already know. This is definitely a stronghold for some sort of cult, and it seems like a well-established one.”

He and Sivid had managed to slip back past the gate guards by causing a minor commotion on the far side of the market and disappearing back into the crowd. It had only bought them a moment, but a moment was all they needed. They had been the last pair to arrive: most of the other pairs had remained outside the walls, and those that had not ventured nowhere near the center of the circle.

“The good news is, I’m afraid, qualified. You see, we found her…”

The assembled Vidofnings and Brunnings were subdued as they waited for the promised qualifier. Sivid sat on the railing behind him, having graciously allowed Einarr to make the announcement.

“…In the dungeon of the keep. Healthy, by the sound of things, at least so far, but locked in the dungeon in the center of the hold. …And in slipping out, we were nearly discovered. At the very least they will know that outsiders have broken in to the dungeon stair.”

A grumbling rose among the gathered crews. The expressions of many of the men of the Skudbrun matched Einarr’s mood. Among the Vidofnings, only Stigander’s came close. These were the men who agreed both that the rescue must happen and that there were no good options.

Stigander stepped forward into the area cleared around Einarr and Sivid. “So this is where we stand. The Grendel doesn’t seem to be in port now, so we can focus our attention on the young Lady. Two ships hardly seems sufficient to take on the hold in a straight-up fight, so let’s not waste our time thinking about it. When dinner rolls around, I want ideas.”

Captain Kragnir snorted and shook his head but said nothing. Stigander may not run an orthodox ship, but he did run an effective one.

“We won’t be able to hide back here forever, people. Move!”

That sounded more like a captain to the Brunnings. The men scattered in groups of two and three.


Dark thoughts of cowardice floated through Einarr’s mind as he stood once more on the dock, his hood pulled up over his face. Had Sivid not stopped him, they could have had Runa aboard with this island behind them already. What good had reporting in done them? It meant there were now five warriors instead of two who would have to sneak into the dungeon, and three besides who would try to sabotage the walls. Two would have been sufficient that afternoon.

He shook his head. That’s not fair to Sivid, and you know it.

Jorir stood beside him on the deck this time. Sivid was going, too, of course – he knew how to operate the lock. From the Skudbrun, Barri was along while Trabbi awaited, sour-faced, on deck. The skills of a fisherman were not what would be needed tonight. Rounding out their party was Bollinn, Captain Kragnir’s first mate. Hair as blond as Stigander’s glinted out from under the hood which could not quite hide his hooked nose no matter how far forward he pulled it. Einarr had met the man only a few times, but he always came across as a capable sort.

The three men of the distraction should be off the pier and climbing towards the wall, now. It was time to go. Einarr strode down the pier as though he belonged there, impatience hastening his steps. Sivid was right behind him, followed in short order by the rest of their team. All was quiet until they approached the gateless face of the wall nearest the port.

From the top of the wall, warm yellow light sprang into existence as someone lit one of the spear throwers on fire. Cries of alarm drifted down towards them, but Einarr was already running up the road toward the gate. Their window wouldn’t last long.

The market gate stood ajar and unguarded, evidently forgotten for the moment because of the chaos within. Get in and get out – don’t get stuck fighting on the walls, men. Erik and Arring were both up there, and neither was a man the Vidofnir could afford to lose. Of course, he had insisted on being the head of the spear for the infiltration, so did he really have room to complain about the Brunnings not pulling their weight?

The market inside was not alight, but it was thoroughly overturned. Einarr and his entourage – bodyguards? A snide corner of his mind supplied idly – barely slowed as they hurdled overturned barrels and crates to get past the market and into the back streets of the circle fortress.

Once they were away from the commotion at the walls the city felt oddly quiet. Einarr shrugged; the feeling pricked between his shoulders, but if it meant less fighting to do then so much the better. Bollinn’s hood had fallen back as they raced through the market – unfortunate, that. He reached up to tug his back into place and realized that it, too, no longer covered his head. Well.

With a sigh of annoyance he gave it up and picked up his pace. Five men loped through the nearly deserted streets under the eerie purple glow of the local lanterns. Einarr did not slow until they neared the wide open area about the keep itself. This time, rather than being an apparent class of some sort, the field was filled with the armored figures of warriors.

Einarr cursed under his breath. “Looks like the distraction only half worked.”

“Let’s see how things look by the dungeon entrance before we do something desperate, eh?” Sivid answered, his voice low but somehow amused. At what, Einarr could not guess.

He looked at the gambler for a long moment before shaking it off. “Right. Back we go.”

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