Tag: Breidelsteinn

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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10.36 – An End to Fighting

“Very well, Kaldr Kerasson. Stand, and hear the judgement of the Thane of Breidelstein.” Stigander watched the man from the corner of his eye. When Kaldr stood and turned to face Stigander, his expression showed grim acceptance.

Stigander reversed his grip on his sword even as he lowered it, so that it came around in a smooth sweeping motion, and thrust the hilt towards Kaldr. “You will swear to me, before my Vidofnings tried and true, that you will serve me and strive ever and always for the good of this land.”

Kaldr blinked, evidently nonplussed.

“I will not waste talent laid before me. We will put an end to this senseless fighting, and then I will have your oath.”

Kaldr dropped to his knees and his shoulders sagged, as though he had been relieved of a great weight. Stigander could not quite repress a smile as he sheathed his sword and offered his hand instead.

“Stand, Kaldr Kerasson. There is work yet to be done before all can be put to right.”

“We had best hurry if we are to catch the Witch. She is likely in her workshop in the tower, but once she learns all is lost there’s no telling what she will do.”


The pulse of will that exploded out from the deck of the Heidrun left even its creators stunned for a time. The wolflings who had attempted to assault their deck were blown backwards into the water. No-one who was on board was in any state to pull them out, though, even assuming they were not still hostile.

Einarr shook his head as he came out of it. That had easily been the most intense rune-working he had ever been part of, and he had been mostly fresh when they set it off. He looked at Hrug: the mute was slumped over, half-conscious at best and breathing heavily, but still breathing. That was something. Einarr had relied on him too much since they began retaking his homeland, and the strain had been evident even before this.

Jorir had already shaken off the effects of the magic and stood steadfast. Naudrek looked shaken but otherwise unharmed. And evidently Frigg had determined that their task was not yet done, because the Örlögnir still lay at his feet in the center of the expended runic circle. Einarr nodded to himself and then met Naudrek’s eye.

“Keep an eye on him.” Einarr gestured with his head toward Hrug. “Jorir and I have to get the Örlögnir up to the Hold. Send Vali if you run into anything you can’t handle.”

“Yes, sir!”

Truth be told, Einarr would have preferred to have those two with him, but Hrug was in no condition to climb that cliff, and Naudrek would never leave his sworn brother behind. He scooped up the Örlögnir and threaded it through his baldric before turning his attention to Jorir. “Let’s go.”

The dwarf just grunted and lifted a plank to let them down to the pier.

As Einarr and his liege man made their way through the town of Breidelstein, Einarr was struck by how busy the place was – or, rather, should have been. Despite the evidence of a long string of lean years this was a city that had once done brisk business.

He heard the sound of fighting from time to time as they jogged, but only in small pockets far from the main thoroughfare. But stamping out sparks was not how he ended this. The fighting would only stop when he destroyed the Weavess’ work and ended her curse for good. Einarr shook his head and jogged on, Jorir keeping pace easily.

He did slow when he started up the cliff road, and was pleasantly surprised to find it clear of enemies. At the top, lounging in the gate house, he saw Erik and Irding – somewhat the worse for wear, but nothing like how badly injured they’d become on the Isle of the Forgotten.

“Erik. Irding. Well-fought.”

“Well-fought, Einarr!” Erik clapped him on the shoulder as he came within range. “We were in a spot of trouble before your spell went off, I don’t mind telling you. Whatever that was you did, it was like they lost all their will to fight.”

Einarr smiled back at his friend. “I’m glad it helped. Where’s Father?”

“Headed for the Hall, last I saw.”

“Thanks.”

He had not been to Raenshold since he was a small child, but the Hall was the centerpiece of the entire courtyard and hard to miss. He jogged off in that direction, but had not gotten far before he saw a sight he never would have imagined: Bea and Runa were tending each others wounds.

Einarr stopped in his tracks. Why by all the gods is Runa here? All the Singers were supposed to have stayed back with the ships. She knew that, and she’d even been told why, so… She had some bruising around her mouth, and what looked like a minor gash on one arm, but Bea looked only a little worse. He needed to find Father, to hear where they stood, but how could he not check in with her? “Runa? What happened? Why aren’t you with the other Singers?”

She gave him a rueful smile even as Bea dabbed at a cut on her face. “I wanted to help. Didn’t realize you weren’t with the assault until the magic swept by.”

Beatrix rolled her eyes at Einarr, but whatever was going on between those two he intended to stay out of it. Besides, given their personal positions, they would be needed at the Hall in short order. “I’m glad you’re all right. …Come on: there are messages that will need to be sent, I’m sure Father will need both of you.”


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10.35 – In Raen’s Hall

From the time the three groups of their forces rejoined at the base of the cliff road almost to the tower gate, all they saw was the backs of the defenders fleeing before them. For all that Stigander did not want to slay more of his clansmen than he had to, it made him more than a little worried his half-brother had turned them all into cowards.

With two switchbacks left before the gates the wolflings set up a defensive line. Stigander raised his shield and charged, all his allies hot on his heels. The man who had rallied the line plainly had some skill, or there would not have been one at all. It was not enough to let them hold, or even offer more than token resistance, though. The line buckled like thin kindling.

Stigander refused to give up the momentum of his charge, and so they kept going. Running up the road was not generally recommended, even for a young man, but when they came up to the last stretch before the gate Stigander was not even winded. Ahead, about half the number of warriors as had tried to hold below now bristled from the gate house like a hedgehog.

They were about as fearsome as a hedgehog, too. Blades clashed against shields for two exchanges before Ulfr’s men were once again overcome with – what? Stigander hoped it was doubt, induced by Einarr’s runes, but he saw fear on more faces than he was truly comfortable with. Where he would expect the defense to be growing more fierce, it instead seemed to be the opposite.

It had been sixteen years since Stigander had set foot in his father’s hold, but in spite of everything done to the city below the courtyard looked almost exactly as he remembered it save for one, small detail: there were no people. Not that he expected to see the movements of daily life when an invasion was happening, but still there should have been someone – even if only messengers running from the crumbled battle lines to their supposed thane.

It was not until he flung open the door to the Hall, his men flanking him in victory, that he remembered the differences in the vision the Oracle had given him. He stopped. His father’s hall, built large, felt twice as empty without the rugs and tapestries and trophies. Cold, and barren, and he suspected even if there were a fire in the hearth it would be the same. His father’s seat sat empty on its low dais.

A man sat on the edge of the dais, his sword held upright with its point resting on the flagstones between his feet, watching the door as a man who has accepted his fate. Blood was spattered across the man’s face and tunic. His expression was calm and resolute, although his eyes were hooded. This could only be Kaldr, the Captain who had caused them so much trouble on their journey here. On the floor behind him, Stigander saw a headless corpse and an expansive puddle of blood.

Stigander had only seen his half-brother once, and that in passing, but he had no doubt whose corpse that was. Although he had long harbored the hope that he would not have to kill Ulfr, would not become a kinslayer, he was still surprised to feel sorrow at the man’s passing. Was I truly so foolish as to believe he would not have to die? He clenched his fist, but still his arm shook.

As Stigander took in the scene before him, Kaldr spoke. “Lord Stigander Raenson. The usurper, your half-brother, is dead. As the slayer of your kin, and a steadfast enemy of your approach, my life is forfeit should you wish to claim it.”

Stigander tore his eyes away from the fallen body of the usurper to look more closely at the one who had slain him. “Why?”

“The blood price must be paid…”

“That is not what I asked!” He snapped in spite of himself. “As early as this morning, you called this man Lord, and yet you slew him. Why?”

Kaldr’s mouth tightened and he lowered his gaze toward the floor. “Because I learned the truth and knew he must die. By the laws of the Althing, it should be the rightful Thane who dispenses justice, but to go from the rule of a usurper to that of a kinslayer… it was too much.”

Stigander nodded slowly, chewing over the man’s words. This should not be complicated, and yet… He stepped up onto the dais and walked slowly towards the corpse sprawled on the ground. Ulfr’s body still clutched Grjóthrun in both hands, his grip proclaiming that he had never before used a sword. Stigander reached down to grasp his brother’s head by its hair and lift it up. The man’s grizzled hair stuck out in every direction where it had slipped free of the cut-off braid. Its face was contorted with rage and desperation: at least Ulfr had not died a coward. Stigander placed the head back near its former body. He turned and stepped back off the dais, not caring that his boots had picked up some of the blood.

Facing Kaldr once more, he drew his father’s sword. He held it upright, studying the blade as he spoke. “Very well, Kaldr Kerasson. Stand, and hear the judgement of the Thane of Breidelstein.”


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10.34 – The Ice Wolf

“What?” Ulfr demanded, his smug certainty suddenly evaporating into angry confusion. A vein twitched at his temple as his eyes grew wide.

Kaldr’s blood boiled in fury, not merely at the truth of having been ensorcelled – enthralled! – but at the lack of mettle of the man who had controlled him. With the practice of long years, he forced his emotions down. This was a battle like any other. Calmness was the order of the day.

The sounds of battle drifted in through the arrow slits. The Vidofnings drew nearer at a rapid clip, if Kaldr was any judge of matters. Thjofgrir had not held, and although he hoped his Mate had not fallen Kaldr was glad.

“Have you forgotten, Usurper?” Kaldr breathed out his icy rage. “By your own words, if I go to seek justice, I will forget, and you will escape.”

He chuckled bitterly. “No, perhaps you will not escape this time. Breidelstein cannot hold Stigander back now, if the men defending the hold have even a fragment of my doubt. By all reports, they have more than that. But that seems an un-fitting end for a man of your stature, does it not?

“So you command that I go. I will not. You command that I forget. I will not. Consider it my last loyalty, as Breidelsteinn’s Ice Wolf. If justice cannot be had… then only injustice remains, does it not?”

“You cannot!” Ulfr responded, a hint of desperation beginning to enter his voice. “You are bound in the Weaving! You should not be able to even think such things!”

“Have you forgotten so easily, Thane, your loyal captain’s advice about relying on magic?” Kaldr advanced on the throne, marveling at the ease of it. He drew his blade with a slow, satisfying rasp. “Magic fails. I do not know what the ritual performed on Stigander’s ships did – but something has unraveled. The Witch’s threads have slipped – and I am unbound.”

He paused. “Your crimes against Breidelsteinn and its people demand death, but I do not wish to kill an unarmed man. Draw your sword and die on your feet, if you are a man at all.”

Ulfr bore no weapon, though the great blade, Grjóthrun, hung in the Hall as the sign of his Thaneship. The Usurper scrambled from the throne toward the hanging sword. “Does your fifteen-year oath mean nothing to you?”

“Strange you should say that, Ulfr, considering that you were just mocking me for my loyalty.” Kaldr strode easily after the fleeing man. “But if you think about it, you’ll see that my oath demands this.”

Ulfr grasped Grjóthrun and turned, confusion evident on his face as he raised the blade in unpracticed hands. Kaldr responded with the feral grin of a wolf who has captured his prey. “As you said – I am fated to be loyal to Breidelstein’s Thane.” And a man who makes thralls of his free subjects is no Thane.

Ulfr opened his mouth – to protest, likely, that Kaldr had made his point for him – then stiffened as he realized the true meaning of Kaldr’s words.

The sounds of fighting echoed more strongly through the Hall. They were at the gate, by the sound of things, but if Thjofgrir could not hold the gate would crumble. He maintained his icy smile, though it did not touch his eyes. “Stigander and his men draw near, Ulfr. One way or another, it ends.”

Ulfr raised the blade with a shout and lunged at Kaldr, throwing himself entirely off-balance and nearly falling on his face. He had spent decades in indolence, and Kaldr was a Captain of warriors, trained as a warrior himself from his youth. Kaldr stepped aside easily and struck, his blade steady and sure. Ulfr’s body collapsed to the stone floor, his head rolling over twice before coming to rest in the rapidly expanding pool of his own blood.

“You lived as a coward and a tyrant. For honor, you should have died as a dog, executed by the rightful Thane when he retakes his place.” He regarded the headless body of the man who had raped his home for so long. “But we cannot permit Breidelstein go from the hands of a Usurper to those of a Kinslayer.”

This would be his last act, in all likelihood, but it would be the act of a free man. The price for killing one of the Thane’s blood – no matter how deserved – would need to be paid. But with his sacrifice, Breidelstein would be able to move forward.

I wish I could see it.

Kaldr did not give a second glance to the body on the floor, but moved to sit on the edge of the dais by the foot of the throne. He rested his sword point-down between his feet, his elbows on his knees, and took a deep breath as he awaited his Fate.

When the door swung open not many minutes later, he faced the true Thane with the equanimity he had always prided himself on.


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10.33 – Ulfr

Lord Ulfr relaxed back in his seat as though the response bored him. “Your place is defending the Hold, Captain Kaldr. Or have you already forgotten how tenuous your position here is?”

“Not at all, my lord.” Kaldr tasted bile as he realized he could feel nothing but loathing for his Thane. He dares call himself a wolf? Kaldr cleared his throat, trying to ensure his voice was steady. “My Lord, I fear the day is lost. Our men are losing their will to fight.”

“Then remind them what my displeasure feels like!”

“My lord, the lash can only take you so far. Sooner or later, the lashed man will take hold of the whip and turn it against his master. Already word has reached me that your warriors are beginning to question whether or not the Hold is worth defending.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying that, whether or not you are Lord Raen’s true-born son, whether or not he acknowledged you as heir, you have not been behaving as a Thane should. Tell me, Lord, what your father said when named you heir?”

“My father is an old, senile fool. What does it matter?”

“It matters, Lord, because I suddenly cannot remember the event. Granted I was young and inexperienced at the time, but such an event would have echoed throughout the Clan. Especially since the rebel leader had been well-liked, as I recall. I, who have counted myself among your most loyal servants, cannot think of a single reason we would have acclaimed you as Thane. —Wait, that’s not quite true. I can think of one. The Lady Witch.”

Lord Ulfr actually rolled his eyes. Kaldr had to be mistaken, but for a moment it seemed as though there was amusement glinting over that petulant face. Amusement, where he had expected anger at the aspersion cast against the witch. “Sixteen years is a long time, Kaldr. Are you certain your sudden anger is not twisting your memory?”

“Quite the opposite, I assure you. In the time since you have taken power and driven off the rebels who now assault our shores, you have driven Breidelstein – the prosperous city your father made – into penury. You have rewarded the boot-lickers and the stupid while driving the competent and the honorable to seek their fortunes elsewhere. You have stripped your father’s hall of all its comfort and its warmth – and for the life of me, I cannot fathom why.”

Lord Ulfr had sat up straight while Kaldr was talking, and now sat smirking down at his subject, a wicked light gleaming in his eye. “You call yourself loyal and yet you question me now, of all times? Fine. I will answer your questions, Kaldr. I am the Thane, and all of you, my Captains, exist to obey me.”

“You have always thought of my mother as a chain about my neck, Kaldr, but you’re wrong. Mother is my sword and my shield, and the reason I sit here on this throne before you. It was Mother’s plan that made everyone on Breidelstein acknowledge me, the eldest son, as the true heir of Raen. It was her masterpiece: the tapestry that brought all of these islands under my thumb and bound everyone to my service. You say I should fear my own lash? Hardly. Not one person living here has the wherewithal to challenge me, because we have bound their fates in a tapestry. I am well aware that Mother has let no small amount of your blood. Think of it as medicine, to rid the land of Breidelstein of its imperfections. You should be proud: your own body has been used to perfect this country under my rule.”

Kaldr rocked back on his heels involuntarily. Did Ulfr know what he was confessing to?

“Sixteen years ago, Mother and I sailed to these islands, determined to make my father acknowledge me. We had been poor, before, but through her Weaving Mother had managed to save up enough to buy us passage here. While we sailed, she began work on her masterpiece. By the time we arrived, all that was left to do was one single, finishing touch. We walked openly into this very hall and stood before my father and declared ourselves. The man had the audacity to claim he had no son besides Stigander! So when we returned to our room, Mother finished the piece. Oh, there was some fighting at first, and then some more after the Vidofnir came back with my baby brother, all unawares. But Breidelstein is mine, and it always will be. Fate binds it to me.”

That’s madness. “Ulfr,” — no ‘Lord’ for him now, nor ever again — “…do you understand what you are confessing? This witchcraft, this madness, goes beyond mere treason! Even if you drive off Stigander, you’ll be pulled down by your own Captains and people — myself among them — once I share the truth.” Even weakened, he was more of a warrior than Ulfr – younger, stronger, faster. The Usurper could not stop him.

The madman on the throne laughed as though bored. “Kaldr, Kaldr, Kaldr. My ever-loyal Ice Wolf. We have danced this dance before, you and I, so very many times. When Falkenjorg shook free after a long raid and rebelled — do you not remember your first hunt? Of returning to confront me after your victory with the words pledged by a dying man? Or your doubts after I ordered the waste of Aldvik? Truly, you are so quick to doubt that I would have had you executed long before had Mother not insisted that your talents were of use to me …and were you not so amusing.”

“Why —”

“— Would I tell you? It’s almost tiresome how you always ask the same questions. I tell you because, even knowing, you cannot escape. What will happen is what has always happened.” Ulfr’s eyes blazed with merriment. “You will storm out in your righteous fury, swearing to rally the Captains and the people, to overthrow me for the good of Breidelstein. I surely cannot stop you from doing so, alone. Within ten paces, you will forget why you are angry. Within twenty, our words. Within thirty, all your anger, and you will return to ask and serve my will, as you always have. After all, it is your Fate to be a loyal captain in the service of Breidelstein’s Thane. So go, Ice-Wolf, go and know the hopelessness of your defiance, and that you serve at my pleasure.”

Kaldr stiffened, staring at the indolent figure on the throne. He could not remember, not truly, but he did not doubt the madman’s words. But here, now, at the Fall of Breidelstein, he could feel the bonds that held him unraveling. He clenched his jaw and raised his face to the Usurper, expression clear and proud. “No, Ulfr. I will not go. Let us end it, Thane.”


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10.32 – Unraveling

A wave of blinding light swept over the town below and through the war room. Kaldr staggered where he stood. So did everyone else in the war room, and for a long moment the sounds of fighting in the city below fell silent. What… was that?

Whatever it was, the direction of the battle below would be decided on the ground. One side was bound to recover first, and they would win the day. He walked over to the window and waited. While he waited, he massaged his temples as he looked out on the battle below. Whatever else the burst had done, it had given him a headache. But a mere headache won’t help the rebels.

Evidently it was more than just a headache for some. The shield walls – the very core of his bait and encirclement strategy, which had been whittling away at the rebel invaders – began to buckle. It was not long before the battle lines began to push once more toward the cliff road and Raenshold. Thjofgrir had arrived just minutes before the shockwave had passed over, and he confirmed the worst of what Kaldr had pieced together: not only had the townspeople decided to take up arms, some of the sailors and guards were questioning whether Lord Ulfr was worth defending. Thjofgrir said nothing of Kaldr’s own men, and Kaldr assumed nothing.

Did they have enough healthy men to blockade the cliff road? They might, if they placed themselves on top of one of the switchbacks… But morale was so low as to be almost nonexistent. If the rebels pushed too much farther, it was likely that their defense would crumble. There might even be turncoats on the ground, if there weren’t already.

If only this blasted headache wasn’t clouding his thoughts!

He would be fine, he was sure, if the witch hadn’t been bleeding him down in the dungeons. His confinement – he hadn’t bothered to ask how long it was – had left him weakened.

“Thjofgrir, take command of the switchbacks and hold them.”

His Mate nodded an acknowledgement and dashed off. Thjofgrir would buy them time, and Kaldr would find the men to hold even if he had to join them himself. They must, else they would allow the true-born son of Raen to be cast from his throne in favor of the usurper brother.

The blood beat in his temples like a drum.

Ulfr is not true-born, but bastard.

He shook his head: where had that come from? Whatever its source, he knew the thought for truth. Bastard or not, however, Ulfr had the right of the throne. He was the elder brother, and acknowledged by his father.

Was he? When did that happen, and how? …Why did we acclaim him as our Thane?

Kaldr felt as though someone were stabbing blades of light through his eyes and he staggered again, catching himself on the window ledge before he collapsed to the floor. He scoured his mind, searching for answers and finding only uncertainty and more questions.

One after another, he remembered the thousand insults that Ulfr had given. His own father, half-starved and thrown in the dungeon to rot. His Hall, stripped of warmth and life to pay for – what? His Captains, chosen not for any particular skill but for fawning sycophancy and absolute loyalty, sent hither and yon for – what? His people. The people of Breidelstein, taxed beyond all reason both in coin and in labor, for – what? And there, looming in the background of it all, the hunched, cackling figure of his Lady Mother, the witch. The Weaver-witch.

Kaldr pressed his palm into the cold stone of the window ledge and pushed himself to standing while all these thoughts ran through his head. For a while, he stood, staring blankly at the stones he was pressing under his palms. This has to end. He raised his head, his hawk’s gaze fixed on the horizon, and squared his shoulders. Then he turned and stalked wordlessly toward the door.

“Sir, where are you going?”

“Lord Ulfr’s Hall. I have questions.”


For the third time that day Kaldr crossed the courtyard between the tower gate and the Thane’s Hall. The sky was brilliantly blue, but thunderheads trailed in his wake. No guards tried to stop him as he reached the hall where Ulfr sat: they had all been called down to aid in the defense. If Thjofgrir could not hold the road, Ulfr would fall.

His head pounded again when he realized a new point of discord: he did not care, just now, if Ulfr fell.

He raised his arms and did not hear the clink of chains, nor miss the weight of iron about his wrists. With all his rage-born strength, he flung the doors wide. The heavy wood struck the stone walls dully. Kaldr marched forward, his fists clenched at his sides.

Ulfr now lounged in the Thane’s seat, the very image of an indolent, petulant youth in the body of an aging man. How long does he spend on those braids every day, wondered the rebellious part of Kaldr’s mind. It was the only part that seemed coherent right now.

“My Lord.”

Ulfr turned dull blue eyes on the Captain he had just this morning released from captivity. “Kaldr. We have won the day, then?”

“Quite the contrary, my lord. When I left the war room, the rebels had nearly reached the cliff road. I’ve ordered our forces to retrench to the switchbacks—”

“Then why are you here?”

“For answers, my Lord.”


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10.29 – Pivot

No sooner had Irding’s boots hit the dock than he was off and running, his eyes scanning ahead for his father’s back. Erik was exactly who he wanted at his side in this fight, and not only because the man was his only real tie to the island. After last fall, with the golem in the tower and all that nonsense on the Isle, there were few he would trust to have his back more.

Thankfully he was easy to spot: he was perhaps the biggest of Lord Stigander’s men, excepting maybe Stigander himself. Erik was taking the right flank: Irding hurried to catch up, shouldering his way smoothly through the stream of his allies. Somehow, he managed not to trip anyone up, although the occasional muffled curse said he called it close a few times.

Still, when he reached the front of his father’s line, the big bear of a man rewarded him with a grin. “Thought you were on the left, though?”

Irding offered a cheeky grin in return. “Swapped with Bea. Convinced her I’d do better with some of the old hands.”

“Hah! Who you calling old?”

Irding did not have time for the obvious rejoinder: they finally met with some wolfling resistance. It was odd for it to have taken so long: they were well outside the docks, now. Wouldn’t the town itself usually mount some resistance to a war party? With a mental shrug, he turned his full attention to the battle at hand: so much the better if they didn’t. The Captains wanted this as bloodless as possible, after all.

After all the craziness of last year, Irding found this assault on a city to be refreshingly straightforward. They would press forward, the wolflings would fall back. He would stab forward like a spear, and soon enough the rest of the line was even with his position. Erik looked concerned, but Irding couldn’t fathom why. If the wolfling flank was weak, all they had to do was take advantage of it – wasn’t it?


For the second time, Kaldr’s cell door opened to the blindingly dim light of the corridor without the cackling of the witch. He blinked toward the light, squinting to try to make out who it was.

Oh. Just the guard. It irritated him how rough his voice sounded. He couldn’t have been down here that long… could he? “Am I to be given an extra ration today, then?”

“His Lordship the Thane has summoned you to his Hall.”

Kaldr’s eyebrows rose. “The Thing is convened?”

The gaoler shook his head even as he took hold of the chain that still trailed between Kaldr’s two hands. “On your feet.”

Slowly, stiffly, Kaldr rose and followed the man out. If he wasn’t to be tried, then why had Lord Ulfr summoned him?

After what felt like an interminable number of stairs, they came to the entrance of the tower and stepped out into the bright light of day. Kaldr had to stop and lift the crook of his elbow to shade his light-starved eyes. He could hear fighting in the distance.

He was not given more time to observe, or even adjust to the light. His gaoler tugged on his lead chain and nearly pulled him from his feet. Kaldr followed.

As the door was flung open to the Hall, Kaldr could see that Lord Ulfr had waited only impatiently. The Thane paced, his hands gripped behind his back and his shoulders hunched forward as he stared at the groove he was trying to wear in the floor.

“The prisoner kneels before you, my Lord,” the gaoler announced.

Ulfr turned to the source of the voice and stared at him from feral, angry eyes. “Unchain him and begone,” he spat.

The gaoler cast a pitying look at Kaldr as he turned to obey. Kaldr was reluctantly impressed: he did not even sigh at the peevishness of their Thane. The chains fell free from Kaldr’s wrists, and he allowed himself the luxury of chafing at the wrists once. Then he raised his head and looked levelly at his Thane.

“Why am I summoned?”

For a long moment, Ulfr did not answer, merely continued his pacing even as he stared at Kaldr with those same half-mad eyes in that florid face. Kaldr waited.

Finally, the Thane spat on the ground at his feet. “You are to take command of the city defenses.”

Kaldr was momentarily stunned. This was quite a reversal. Before he could ask why, however, his Thane volunteered an answer.

Mother says the threads are clear and you are our only chance at holding what is rightfully ours. Acquit yourself well and I will pardon your earlier treachery. Fail, and we fall. Am I understood?”

“Perfectly.” Kaldr snapped his mouth shut on the word. He could not trust himself to say more: this meant that he owed his freedom, not to his Thane but to the weaver witch, who had until now taken such delight in bleeding him for her foul magics. It took all the restraint he had not to grind his teeth just then.

“Good.” Ulfr turned back to his pacing. Kaldr knew a dismissal when he saw one: he turned stiffly on his heel and marched back out of the hall. Free, at least for now. There was a room in the tower, above the witch’s workshop: he would conduct his defense from there.

As he crossed the courtyard yet again, he summoned one of Lord Ulfr’s passing thralls. “Find me Thjofgrir.”

The man grew pale, but stammered out his promise to try. That was enough to make Kaldr give him his full attention.

“Thjofgrir should be with my crew in the city. Don’t tell me you don’t know how to find them?”

“N-n-n-no, sir, it’s just…”

“Just?”

“It’s just, we can’t get there. The rebels hold that part of the city.”

Kaldr breathed out his nose. “Fine. Go about your business, then.” If the rebels were already that deep into Breidelstein, things were dire indeed.


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

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

10.28 – Assault

The ships of the blockade gave chase, once they had uncoupled the rest of their boats. Captain Kormund and the Eikthyrnir hung back to harrass them at least long enough for Einarr and Hrug to carry out their part of the plan.

Breidelstein grew larger as they neared the shore, resolving itself into the various warehouses and halls that made up a city. Up close like this, it seemed somehow… smaller than he had expected, and Einarr did not know how much of that was Ulfr’s fault. Einarr, after all, only had childhood memories and his father’s stories to rely on.

Naudrek cleared his throat. “Hrug’s ready whenever you are.”

“I understand.”

“You think this is going to work?”

“It should.” I hope. Father would be taking most of both their crews on the assault. With Kormund still engaged behind them, both groups were counting on the success of Einarr’s ritual.

Einarr glanced at the Örlögnir where it rested on the deck in the center of their rune circle. Would they get a second chance, if it didn’t work? He shook his head: it was too late to worry about that now.

“Naudrek, Jorir, get us docked. Hrug and I are going to be busy for a while.”

“Yes, Captain!”

“Einarr wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to being a “Captain.” He tried not to twitch.

With a glance at Hrug, who still sat cross-legged on the deck, Einarr took his place in the center of the array with the distaff. “Let’s begin.”


Runa stood at the bulwark behind the gangplank, wrapping her fingers in the folds of her skirts and chewing her lip. Once again, she had been left behind – and not just that but ordered to stay behind with her father. Even though she knew she could be of use to Einarr out there, just like she was on the Isle of the Forgotten.

There was the Heidrun, docking now. As expected, Einarr’s crew was also joining the main assault… and was that Bea? …Yes, there went Beatrix, the Imperial Princess, in her fancy breastplate and with her fancy spear. Bea was definitely going to stick close to Einarr, if only to try to impress him. Thus, if Runa stuck with Beatrix, she could remind him she, too, was good to have around.

Still biting her lip, Runa looked over her shoulder. There was Aema, speaking with Father. There was Reki, tending to Sivid’s shoulder. Neither of them was paying attention: it was now or never.

She chose now. Without another thought, she raced down the gangplank after her rival.

Runa ran through the streets of Breidelstein, pelting heedlessly around corners as she tried to catch up. She kept one hand clutching the hilt of her belt knife, just in case, but none of the locals tried to stop her.

As she rounded the next corner she slid to a halt, suddenly faced with the chaos of melee. How had she not realized how close she was?

That didn’t matter. She was here, now, and there was Bea. No sign of Einarr, but he was sure to be nearby. If she was to prove her worth, she would have to support them properly. Runa opened her mouth and began to Sing.

She did not sing to invoke the battle fury: they were here to recapture the island, not merely raid it. It would not do to send the warriors forward indiscriminately.

Instead, she sang to lift their fatigue and strengthen their resolve. She saw Bea glance back, startled, but only for a moment. In the next instant she had returned her attention to the fight at hand.

Beatrix was like a whirlwind in the battle line. Runa could not help but admire the speed and grace with which the Valkyrie plied her spear. If Einarr had wanted a wife to fight alongside him, he could make no better choice.

Stop that, she thought, dashing away the grimness that threatened to choke her voice. That had never been her role, would never be her role, and Einarr knew it. If she intended to prove her worth, it was not combat she needed to excel at.

The line followed Bea as they continued to advance into the city. Runa walked after them, keeping at least half a city block between herself and the fighting, and sang more strongly. If she happened to make Bea look good while she shone, well, so be it.


Contrary to his usual practice, Stigander was among the first off the Vidofnir. It felt good to finally step on the ground he had once called home. If he was honest, it felt even better to visit some measure of payback on the traitors – poor ensorceled men defending the Usurper’s hold on the land. He turned the flat of his blade forward and laid about himself relentlessly.

The wolflings fell back before the liberators’ onslaught like barley before the scythe. Stigander pressed their advantage, driving straight up the main road that led to the cliff.

The further they went, the stronger their ranks seemed to grow. As Stigander looked to either side, he realized that the ordinary townsfolk were falling in behind him, bearing whatever weapons they had to hand. He blinked, gratified but confused. This was not normal behavior.

There was a large square just ahead. Much like the rest of the city, it appeared much grimmer than Stigander remembered. Still, though, it would provide a good place to regroup, and he had questions. They pressed on, taking full advantage of their enemies’ poor morale.

The Usurper’s men fell back to the next strong point. Stigander motioned his men forward even as he fell back, looking for a likely candidate.

The men of the Vidofnir and the Heidrun who fought with needed no encouragement to press on. His shoulders itched to give up the front line, but there was information he needed. Stigander spotted one of the locals who was a little better equipped than the rest.

He pointed at the man. “You there. What goes on here?”


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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.

10.26 – The Harbor at Dawn

The proud rooster’s head of the Vidofnir led the way into the mouth of the harbor at Breidelsteinn as the morning sun began to paint the sky vermillion. Einarr scanned the water ahead, curiously detached from the assault to come. There was still too much to do before they even reached the docks to even try thinking of this as a homecoming.

There was no apparent sign of the wolfling fleet, and that worried him. Three ships were accounted for at Lundholm, but that was only three. Even if there were others out raiding or being repaired, Raenshold should support at least ten more ships. One of which would be helmed by Kaldr.

The harbor mouth would have been the ideal place to lay an ambush, but even as the Heidrun and the Eikthyrnir pulled away, deeper into the harbor and closer to their goal, none appeared. Most likely, that meant there would be another blockade, nearer the town.

Einarr nodded: springing an ambush on them now would mainly serve to weaken the blockade line. “At ease, men,” he ordered. “But be ready on those oars.”

It was not impossible that the wolflings would try to drive them into the blockade with a late ambush. It was just less certain than either of the two defense strategies it pulled from.

Under sail, the longships moved nearly silently through the water towards Breidelstein. Even with Einarr’s order, all hands stared ahead nearly as intently as Einarr himself. Bea had come up to join Jorir and Eydri next to Einarr, just forward of the mast. Naudrek, somehow the least tense of anyone aboard, sat next to Hrug. When all was ready, he would signal that it was time to begin the ritual they had devised.

The sky grew lighter. He could start to make out buildings on the shore: the town of Breidelstein. It looked… poorer than Father’s stories had led him to believe. Grayer, as though a thin film of grime had been allowed to coat the whole town. Above, on the edge of the cliff, the tower shone in the sunrise with an ominous light.

Below, on the water, Einarr caught sight of what he had expected to see all along. There, perhaps two hundred yards out from the piers, was a line of longships. He could already see nets slung between them.

So they weren’t just going to roll over and surrender. Not that he’d really expected them to. “Ready volley!”

Half the crew moved a step forward and readied their shields. The other half nocked arrows to bows and drew.

They were not fire arrows, not after Lundholm. Setting the boats ablaze would kill too many men who should be friends: they would just have to cut the nets. This was likely to be a bloody boarding.

“Fire!”

The first volley flew true. A minute later, the blockade answered with a volley of its own. Also not aflame, thankfully. Einarr needed his sorcerer fresh.

His sorcerer. He still wasn’t used to that, not really – nor to the idea that there were some who would call him a sorcerer. But learning the runes had been a matter of necessity… hadn’t it? Whatever his personal feelings on the matter, Wotan himself had sought out magic when the circumstances called for it. Einarr shook his head to clear it. “Ready volley!”

The creaking sound of drawing bows fell once more to silence. “Fire!”

Part of the second volley overshot their targets by a significant margin: well, there hadn’t been much time for aiming. Already he could see their enemies preparing boarding lines. It was time to do the same. “Prepare for boarding! Remember, men: our goal is to cut those nets! The men on those ships are your own clansmen, whether they know us or not!”

His speech, such as it was, was met with a cheer. Einarr turned his attention back to his own deck. “Vali?”

“Yes, Einarr?” The ghost’s voice came from behind him. In spite of himself, Einarr jumped. To his credit, Vali made no comment.

“While you’re out sowing chaos amidst the enemy, I need you to try to find information for me. How many ships they have left, and their Captains, and what sort of force they might have on the ground. Think you can manage?”

Vali gave him a sour look. “I’m a ghost, not a mind-reader.” Then he shook his head. “I’ll hunt out log books. There might be something there you can use.”

“Glad to hear it. Good luck.”

There was nothing quite like having a ghost roll its eyes at you. “Thanks. I’ll need it.”

“Eydri, you’re up.”

She raised an eyebrow, but made no objection. “Yes, sir.” She seemed to grow taller as she drew her shoulders back, and when she opened her mouth to Sing the battle fury began to press against his vision.

Bea stepped up to take her place by Einarr’s left. “Why are you having her Sing already?”

“The faster we beat our way through the blockade, the fresher our men are when we make land.” And the Song didn’t usually carry well through city streets. Too many obstructions.

The answer seemed to satisfy Bea, as she nodded and readied her spear as Einarr turned to check in with Hrug and Naudrek. The sorceror was busy, the Orlognir laid on the deck in front of him as he put the final, last-minute touches on their ritual circle. Naudrek confirmed that all was in order.

The sound of fighting brought his attention back to the matter at hand: the first clash on the ropes was nearly over and the first of his men had made it to the wolfling ships to try to cut the nets.

Einarr brought Sinmora up. The first of their men were also across, and one of them charged across the deck toward Einarr with a feral yell.


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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.