Tag: Arring

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.”

“Sir!”

“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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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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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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3.13 – Darkness

For a long moment, darkness and silence held sway. Einarr strained his eyes and his ears, but no light seeped into this cavern from above, and the only sound that reached his ears was the occasional plink of a drop of water falling into a pool below. Finally he heard the distinctive scrape of a fire striker. In the moment before the first spark died without catching, he thought he saw a skeletal figure poised to strike.

Sinmora rasped from her scabbard. He held his blade outstretched, on guard.

The striker sounded again. Again, the torch did not catch. Again, he saw his enemy. Caught, this time, a hint of cloth that suggested it might be the captain he had nearly tripped over earlier.

Now two strikers sounded. He hoped he wasn’t the only one to have seen the apparition… hoped this was not the thing that had killed the freeboaters.

A torch caught and flared to life. Einarr blinked: the skeleton now once again lay prone on the ground, its fingers clutching its neck. Confused, he looked over at Jorir as he sheathed his sword. The dwarf’s hand was on his axe handle, but he had not drawn.

“Tell me you saw that, too,” he muttered.

The dwarf nodded once. “Probably no one else, though. Not in that light.”

Einarr nodded, then strode forward, once again stepping over the cadaver as though it wasn’t there. Jorir, however, was not as forgiving: he stopped long enough to smash the brittle skull with the back of his axe.

“What was that about?” Odvir’s confusion was audible in his voice.

“Never leave an enemy on the field behind you.” Jorir’s answer was flat.

“An… enemy?” It was Irding’s turn to sound skeptical now.

“Aye. An enemy. Surely you’ve not forgotten why svartdvergers are such good miners, have you?” Jorir pointed at his eye. “While you’re remembering that, best remember that the dead walk on this island. Some of them may have ears.”

Einarr could not quite repress a smile when he heard a series of gulps behind him. “Let’s get back to that boat.”

***

Einarr came to the end of the steep passage they had followed down and stopped, staring, at the panel that once again barred their way. Even from this side it appeared to be solid stone, but that wasn’t truly the problem. The problem was the slope they stood on, and the smoothness of the stone under their feet.

“Almost makes you wish we had Arring with us, doesn’t it?”

Erik, at least, chuckled.

“Right. Well. There has to be some way to move it from this side, or there wouldn’t have been anywhere nearly so much gold down there.”

Jorir hummed. “Floor near the walls is like to have more traction than in the center.”

“Here’s hoping it’s enough.” Einarr stepped over to the corner, looking for any break between the hanging slab and the wall that they might be able to use for leverage. He scuffed a boot against the ground under his feet. “Mm. Maybe. No place to put a lever even if we had one, though.”

He paused a moment, considering . “Fjorkar, take the other side. Everyone else, brace us. Erik, Geiti, you fall in last. You’ll have the best footing of any of us here.”

“Aye, sir!” The response to this was somewhat more enthusiastic than the situation warranted, but he could understand wanting to be back in the sea air after the oppressiveness of the cave.

Einarr blew in his hands and rubbed his palms together for grip as he stepped up to take his place against the slab. “Put your backs into it! Ready?”

Fjorkar leaned in on the other side, and the rest of the team moved in to brace the two of them and lend their own strength.

“On three! One, two, now!” His “now” became a shout of exertion as he dug in feet, shoulders, and hands to try to lift the massive stone slab on its hinge.

A crack of light appeared at their feet. Einarr pulled his back foot forward and pushed against the ground. It bought them another inch.

Einarr saw from the corner of his eye that Jorir had slipped out of the formation and stepped toward the center of the passage. His eyes were intent on that crack of light at the floor, and he stood braced.

“What… are you… doing?” Erik grunted.

“Get me six more inches,” was all the dwarf replied.

Six?! Einarr had to trust his liege man, though. “One inch… at a time…”

A pair of hands moved from bracing Einarr to plant themselves on the stone. For an alarming moment, it seemed as though his boots would slip back, but then some little of the pressure from the slab was taken from Einarr’s shoulders. He gathered strength in his legs and gave another shove.

Fjorkar, too, was redoubling his effort, and one of the men on that corner had the same idea.

After what felt like an excruciatingly long time, the gap between the wall and the floor was large enough for Jorir to make his move. The svartdverger dashed forward into the gap, lowering his head to catch the stone on his shoulders.

The momentum from his dash pressed up against the stone slab. Einarr nearly lost his footing as the door swung upwards, until Jorir stood upright, bearing the weight of the stone on his shoulders and hands.

The rest of the team wasted no time scrambling out through the four-foot gap. Einarr, Erik, Fjoirkar, and Geiti were the last to pass through.

“You two. Go on through, hold it open for the rest of us.”

Erik grunted and motioned for Geiti to follow. He had to get down on his knees to get through that gap, but stood and grasped the edge once he was clear.

Now Einarr glanced over at the other two. “On my mark, we all three dash through at once. Get clear quick, or someone’s like to lose a hand. Ready?”

Fjorkar nodded. From his position, all Jorir could really do was grunt. Einarr decided that had to be assent.

“Mark!” He bent his knees and sprang forward. A moment later, the slab fell closed with a thunderous crack.


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3.10 – Search Parties

Stigander knitted his eyebrows at his son’s declaration. “Explain.”

“Those screams we heard? Those were the death-screams of their captain and a few others. Four warriors were quite literally frightened to death on their wreck. Others were torn apart on the beach while they prepared another raid on us. The restless dead walk this isle.”

Stigander nodded. “We expected as much, did we not?”

“Aye. We also expected the kalalintu to be not much of a threat, though.”

“So, what? We should cut our losses and go?”

“Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t,” Irding grumbled. “Vidofnir’s not ready to sail again.”

Einarr shook his head. “I wasn’t suggesting that, Father, although it might be the sensible course to take. But we have nine berths open, and another ship to fill besides. Not to mention what we’ll owe on that ship.”

Stigander pressed a hand to his forehead and pulled his hand back through his hair. “Right. Glad to hear we’re thinking of the same things. Get some sleep. We’ll figure this all out in the morning.”

***

When Einarr awoke the next morning it was to silvery fog so thick he couldn’t see the men to either side of them on the deck. The smell of salt pork called to him, though, and so he was reassured that he was not alone on board. A silly concern, ordinarily, but after what he’d seen last night…

“So who all managed to sleep last night?” He made his voice light and jocular as he approached the hearth and the source of the meaty smell. There were only a handful of men up yet and clustered around the warmth of the breakfast pot, and each and every one of them looked as haggard as he felt.

“How does one typically sleep when the presence of murderous spirits has just been graphically confirmed?” Jorir grumbled. He hadn’t gone along last night, but had awakened when they returned.

“That depends, I rather think, on how exhausted one is beforehand.” Erik, too, took on a half-joking tone which was nearly spoiled by a yawn. “For my part, morning came too soon.”

“No joke.” Einarr sat on the deck between the dwarf and the burly man to warm his hands over the embers. “But we can’t just sit on our hands back here. We’ve an island to search and a boat to fix.”

“That we do, although we’re not likely to do much of either before this fog lifts.” Snorli’s voice sounded from out of the mist as he stepped up to join them and lifted the lid on the pot. “Well, grab your bowls. This cooks much longer and it’ll be mush, not dumplings.”

Those were the magic words. As if on cue, everyone who hadn’t already been hovering over the pot arrived, wooden bowls in hand, and the Vidofnings fell to eating. Even in those close quarters Einarr could make out the faces of less than half the other Vidofnings.

It was, therefore, something of a surprise when Stigander’s voice rang across the deck, clear as a bell although he was nowhere to be seen. “We’ll be forming teams today,” he announced. “The repair crew hasn’t changed. The rest of us will form groups of ten and all search in our own area. The sooner we find what we came for the sooner we can get out of here, and hopefully avoid more personal run-ins with the local monstrosities.”

Einarr pursed his lips. The idea made some sense, but nevertheless left him uneasy. “What does Reki think of this idea? Weren’t we counting on her songs to ward off the dead?”

Rather than letting Stigander convey her meaning, the low-voiced woman answered for herself. “I believe it sensible.” She cleared her throat, but not before Einarr caught hoarseness in it. “By spreading out our forces, we maximize the amount of ground we cover while minimizing the danger to any one group. While I intend to participate in the search, I believe that, barring some emergency during the day, my voice is best preserved for warding the Vidofnir at night.”

Einarr bowed his head in the direction her voice came from. “As you say, it is best that your voice be preserved.”

Stigander took too paces towards where the Vidofnings gathered for breakfast and emerged from the fog. “Bardr and I will each take a team. Einarr, you take one as well. That’s three: I want two more groups. We’ll draw lots for them. I’m passing around a bowl: if you’re interested, drop in your ring.”

Most of the Vidofnings passed the bowl and continued to eat, but there were more than enough clinks of metal against wood to round out the teams and then some. Einarr went over in his head who he would choose for his team as he chewed: Jorir, obviously, or the dwarf would never forgive him. Erik, if the man wasn’t leading a team of his own. Who else?

“Is that everyone?” Bardr asked, only partially obscured by the thick fog.

Unnaturally thick fog? Einarr shook his head to rid himself of the thought. The idea was ludicrous. No-one else answered Bardr, either.

“Very well then. Captain, would you do the honors?”

Stigander cleared his throat and turned towards where Bardr was holding out the bowl. The sound of clinking metal carried across the deck. Eventually, he read out the first name: “Arring takes a team.”

Another long moment of clinking rings followed, and then Father spoke again. “And the last team will be led by… Sivid?”

Einarr’s eyebrows jumped in surprise. Sivid? It was odd for him to step up like this. He had to be counting on that strange luck of his turning in his favor… but the idea left a queasy feeling in Einarr’s stomach. This seemed like one Hel of a gamble.

“Finish your breakfast and arm yourselves, then meet on the beach immediately. Daylight’s wasting.”

“Such as it is,” Erik muttered.


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3.8 – Relics

Einarr and Jorir carried their findings somewhat awkwardly between the two of them, Jorir’s reduced height more than offsetting his greater strength. A pair of small piles was already building on the sandy shore near where Stigander, Bardr, and Reki observed. The pieces of timber they dumped in the pile that would be used to build the pyre, but rather than add the trunk wholesale to the (much smaller) pile of offerings they trundled it over to present to the commanders.

“Father. You and Reki should see this.”

“Oh?” An eyebrow quirked in curiosity, Stigander took a rolling step forward. Reki glided up behind.

With a flourish, Einarr flung open the lid of the trunk to reveal the instruments. If he hadn’t found them himself, he’d never have guessed they had been moldering in a chest on the beach long enough to be buried. Reki raised pale hands to her mouth.

“We found this trunk buried just over there.” Einarr pointed in the direction they’d come. “I know they were none of them musicians, but this is the most valuable thing I’ve found all day.”

“More valuable than you realize, I think,” Reki breathed. She knelt on the sand by the trunk and removed one of the lyres from within, her hand wandering gently over its frame. “The strings are still good, even,” she murmured.

“Mind elaborating?” Stigander’s voice crept towards a growl, although Einarr was sure he was not angry.

“These are relics, which I believe the Grandmasters of our order would pay dearly for. …Older, unless I miss my guess, than even the wreck we came here seeking.” She turned the lyre over in her hands. “Runework, although to what end I am not certain. To burn these would be unforgivable.”

Bardr hummed. “I mislike the idea of destroying runework I don’t know the action of.”

“And yet,” Stigander rumbled. “We have little to offer in the way of grave goods for these men that we do not find here.”

Reki looked like she was about to argue, but Stigander cut her off.

“Now, Reki, I’m not going to sacrifice them unless I have to. But I’ll also not send my men off as paupers, especially not from a place like this.” Stigander looked around as he said this and gave a visible shudder. That the people of Attilsund thought this place haunted was no surprise: Einarr, too, could easily believe it.

“Let’s see what everyone else manages to find. Einarr’s right that none of these men had much use for anything beyond a hunting horn.” He surveyed the beach for a long moment. “Next group that comes back, I want you two to show them where you found this, see if you can find anything else interesting there.”

“Yes, sir.” That had, in truth, gone better than Einarr had expected. Reki’s reaction was anticipated, although somewhat more subdued than he had expected. Having a Singer whose personality was as steady as calm seas was a new experience.

Sivid approached with an armload of wood, and Erik carried a cask under one arm and some carved ivory in the other.

“Good timing, you two!” Bardr called out, catching their attention. They emptied their arms and approached.

“A new task, then?” Sivid brushed the sand from his hands and sleeves even as he spoke.

“Go with Einarr and Jorir. They found the top of a cache, we think.”

Erik gave a lopsided grin even as Sivid allowed himself a whoop.

“Knew we’d find something good here.” Sivid trotted over to join them. Erik walked only a pace behind.

***

The sky was reddening before all was in order for the six-man funeral. They had not, thankfully, had to burn any of the instruments Reki had been so concerned about. Not only had there been more to the stash that Einarr had uncovered, and more appropriate for a warrior’s grave, but other groups had also made interesting discoveries on that section of beach.

Arring brought only half of the watch crew with him, bearing among them the personal effects of their fallen brethren.

Bardr pursed his brow when they showed up. “Did something happen?”

“Drove off a flock of jaegers looking for a new nest. We drew straws, in case the moonlight makes them bolder.”

Bardr nodded, thoughtful. “Good call. If the repair crew finishes before we’re done searching, keep half of them as reinforcements. I’ll make sure they know, as well.”

“Aye, sir.”

The Vidofnings fell silent, then, as the sun dipped below the horizon and Reki’s voice rose above the lapping waves to send forth their spirits to the gods. Even after her voice had trailed off the dirge seemed to continue on the wind that whistled across the shore.

Finally they stepped away from the spectacle. For tonight, everyone would head back to the Vidofnir: the alternative, camping on the beach under the haze of the pyre smoke and the unnatural chill of the air, appealed to no-one. They carried their finds among them, those that had not been burned with the bodies. That there would be no Vidofnings among the restless dead this night did nothing to warm their spirits.

For his part, Einarr was simply glad the freeboaters had not taken advantage of the short watch during the funeral. The fatigue in his arms told him he would do well to not get in another fight tonight.

His boots thunked against the deck boards among a string of wooden thunks as the Vidofnings returned home. No-one spoke: no-one had the energy. Men from the repair crew took night watch, to allow the others their rest. Under the pale light of just the stars it was hard to tell, but Einarr thought the injuries had been light among the watch-crew.

Einarr lowered himself to his bedroll and his thighs groaned with relief as his weight came off them. A good night’s sleep, and then back out in the morning. His eyes began to drift closed.

From off in the direction of the freeboater’s wreck, the shrill screech of terror cut through the night.


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3.7 – Battles’ End

The quick man had at the end not been quick enough, and the enemy leader wasted a precious moment in shock. The first man still stared in horror at the blade protruding from his chest when Arring lunged past him and the blade of his axe took off the enemy leader’s arm at the elbow.

“It’s not too late to retreat,” he growled. The other man’s answer was to let his ally slide from the blade, but his face had gone pale.

“Have it your way.” Arring brought his back foot forward and kicked, hard. The enemy leader went flying again, even as the crack of bone said his chest was caved in. Tveir.

Now he turned. Snorli faced three men, but after Arring he was the man on watch best equipped to deal with that. Haki, though, looked like he might be in some trouble. The man stood watching his opponents, panting, as they circled him the way wolves might circle a deer.

Arring let loose another battle roar and bulled forward at the nearest of the two. It was enough to distract the man from Haki, and then axe met long sword in the bind.

His new opponent snarled, and Arring met it with a feral grin before sliding inside the man’s guard to cut at his knee.

His opponent’s leg buckled with the force of the blow and he howled. Another of the assault squad dashed by him to catch his wounded comrade under the shoulder.

They’re retreating? At least they know when they’re beaten. Arring was inclined to let them go. Some of the others started to pursue.

“Stand down. Our job is here. If they come back we can beat them like the curs they are.”

***

Einarr lunged toward a kalalintu that had come just within reach and nearly tripped over the carcass of one of its fellows. Reki’s battle chant had become a song of Endurance he knew not how long ago, and he was fairly certain it was the only reason any of them could still fight. Sinmora slashed across its back and the creature crumpled. How many is that now?

When the fury had faded he had been relieved to see that they had broken away from the cliff face the creatures were trying to drive them off of – but somehow it felt like there were always more kalalintu.

Except… did he hear them any more? The sea-bird shrieks had blurred and been forgotten ages ago, but now they actually seemed to be gone. Einarr looked up: they stood in the center of a field littered with bodies, not all of them monsters. Sinmora nearly dropped from his hand. He cleaned it on a feathered wing and sheathed his blade before he could lose hold of it.

The kalalintu that wing had belonged to had fallen across the body of Henir. Of the thirty men who had gone to seek their fortune, six had fallen to the bloody birds, and the rational voice in his head whispered that they had been fortunate to lose so few. Still he could not look away. When Henir fell, the arrow he had not had a chance to fire remained stuck to the string.

He swallowed the gorge that threatened to rise and strode over to where Jorir stood tying a bandage for Irding. This made eleven men they had lost so far this summer, between the Valkyries and the kalalintu. Most summers they lost none. “How is he?”

“Well enough, I wager, but we’ll need to watch him for fever. More importantly -”

“What about you?”

Jorir snorted. “I was bloody worthless in that fight, right up until Fari over there hadn’t any more use for that brace of knives he carried. But I’m not wounded. You, though, you look like you’ve been through hell.”

Henir and Fari. They’d been like brothers. At least they would sup with the gods together. “I’ve had better days. …Father. Erik.”

The others were joining them in ones and twos, picking their way across the battlefield.

“Einarr. These things seem awfully tough compared to the flocks this spring to you?”

He nodded. “Smarter, too. Makes me wonder what else we’re up against.”

“Wonder later.” Stigander looked around and sighed. “For right now, we need to get our men down from here and build a proper pyre for those as need it.”

“Yes, sir,” came the unanimous reply.

“I don’t think they’ll try for us again after that thrashing we gave them, but let’s all be a little quicker when someone tells you to cover your ears, got it?”

A chorus of aye’s answered Stigander, and they went to work carting the bodies of the fallen down the narrow trail that had led them to their end in the first place. It was awkward work, but with three men to a body they still had enough people for an honor guard both before and behind their procession.

Down on the beach, Irding and Svarek were dispatched to alert the watch and the repair crews, respectively, of what had occurred. The rest of them, meanwhile, were to gather wood and what funeral goods they could find from about the beach. It was far from ideal, but better a poor funeral than none at all.

His arms half-full of wood, Einarr’s gathering took him over near his liege-man. “What think you, Jorir? Are we going to find anything here that’s worth all this?”

“Find something? Sure. Whether or not its worth what we pay for it, well, only time will tell.”

“Ah, here’s something.” Einarr brushed the sand away from the lid of a half-buried trunk with his free hand, then thought better of it and set down the wood he’d gathered. “Help me dig this out, will you?”

The trunk the two uncovered appeared to have once belonged to a Singer, or perhaps an entire troupe of Singers, and was filled with all manner of instruments and jewelry. Einarr shared a look with Jorir: this should make a fine funerary offering.


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