Tag: Erik

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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10.30 – Ambush

Kaldr had evidently been the last to know he was about to be freed, and for once Lord Ulfr had not stinted on the manpower at his disposal. Once the Lady Mother declared something, it was evidently unquestionable.

Kaldr would still rather the witch be hanged.

He took the stairs two at a time with a steady, even stride. By the time Kaldr reached the top floor and pushed open the door to the war room, he felt like himself again. Inside, the leaders of Kaldr’s guard stood staring at the map of the city laid out on the table before them. Two of them were arguing about some minor point on a plan Kaldr was reasonably sure would do nothing, based on what he had already heard.

Kaldr ignored the map and the leaders of the guard and went straight for the window that looked out over the town. From there, he could see just how badly this had been bungled so far.

“As you can see, sir,” one of the Guardsmen was saying.

“What I can see is that we need to act quickly if we’re going to repel the rebels. …I’ve run across their ships. How do they have so many men on the ground?”

“That’s just it, sir. The men of the town have taken up with the rebels.”

“See that word of that does not leave this room.” If it did, Kaldr would be surprised if the town existed a month from now.

“We had already agreed as much.”

Kaldr nodded: it was good to confirm that the Guard had some measure of intelligence. He studied the fighting below for another minute before turning to the map on the table.

It did not look good. They were too thin on the ground, with the fleet already out of commission and the townsfolk arrayed against them. “Where are our reinforcements stationed?”

The next ten minutes were a flurry of activity. Kaldr sent more dispatches than he cared to count, but at the end of it he thought they had a chance. He looked up, towards the window, and a strange pulsing caught his eye. Kaldr took two steps closer, then stopped. Out over the harbor, something was glowing. It almost seemed to crackle with light. He knit his brow, then shook his head.

“I don’t know what that is, but we need to stop it. Send a messenger to Thjofgrir on my ship: have them send a team of sailors to put an end to whatever sorcery the rebels are working.”

“Yes, sir!”


Irding was never afterward exactly sure what happened. One minute he was driving forward with the right flank, pushing back the wolflings with the aid of the townspeople. He dashed forward into a gap in the line, far too fast for Erik’s warning to be of any use.

Then he was cut off. He realized almost immediately, when the press at his back was not his allies filling the gap but more wolflings. His eyes went wide, and he felt the fear rising in his gorge. He cut at the foe in front of him, his axe slicing neatly across the man’s thighs, and turned.

Erik, his father, was cutting a bloody swath ahead of himself, pushing towards Irding’s position. In terms of absolute distance, it was not far. All he had to do was meet him halfway.

Irding slashed across the back of one wolfling, then another. The third turned to face him as he pushed closer to his own side of the lines. The wolfling gave him a savage grin.

Irding wasted no time with intimidation. He hacked at his opponent’s knee. The wolfling danced back out of the way of the blow, but that let Irding take another step closer toward his goal.

The other man wasn’t done with him yet, though: he stabbed low, for Irding’s legs, forcing him to give ground or try to block. Irding brought the edge of his shield down on his opponent’s wrist hard: the man’s eyes went wide and he stifled a scream.

A fourth man fell to Erik’s blade, and then the two of them stood back to back in the middle of the melee.

“What happened?” Irding asked over the din.

“Ambush! Enemy reinforcements came in from the side. Oh, look, over there. I see Troa and Odvir.”

Irding looked. Their battle line had broken up into little pockets, and while each one fought fiercely this would not end well.

“You see them? Come on.”

Irding and Erik stood back-to-back, fighting their way towards their allies in an elaborate spinning dance. They gained ground by inches, but Irding could feel his arms beginning to burn with exertion.

“How much farther?” He asked in a momentary gap.

Erik was already surging forward. “We’ll get there.”

Irding lunged forward, striking at the leg of one of the wolflings before he could strike at Erik. The gap closed behind him.

“Troa!” Erik bellowed over the din even as he sent another wolfling flying. “This way!”

There was something uniquely tiring – and tiresome – about fighting to incapacitate. Especially when your opponent was under no such constraints. Irding took another chop at another wolfling’s arm and was rewarded with a scream of pain and a spurt of blood as he dropped his shield to hold the bloody stump. That one was out of the fight, at least.

Another gap opened up, allowing Erik and Irding to surge forward once more. Irding nearly tripped over one of the fallen he had not seen until almost too late: when he looked down and saw it was one of the townsfolk, a pair of slashes across her face in addition to the blow that felled her, rage pulsed in his vision. She hadn’t really looked like Mother, not truly except for the hair, but the idea that someone would mutilate one of their own like that…

“Keep it together,” Erik warned. “The time for charging forward is long past.”

“I understand.”


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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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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.

10.15 – Forest Road

When the sun set that evening, Einarr was as glad for the end of the day’s labors as he was for the return of their scouts. Lundholm would recover: probably without too much trouble, even, for while Urek had instructed his raiders to do as much damage as possible, they had avoided doing much to the villagers themselves.

Still, the cleanup had been back-breaking and tedious. Erik, rising from his work at the boathouse, inspecting their ships, was the first to spot them. He lifted a big hand high in the air and waved. “What ho! Welcome back!”

That signalled the end of work as surely as the setting sun and everyone made their way to the green to hear from the scouts.

“It’s not an easy road,” Troa warned. “Even without the ships, the way is steep, and the forest presses in on either side.”

“In two separate places we had to clear a deadfall from the road,” Boti added. “Those were apparently what kept the old monk away: he seems to be in fine health, and bade us tell you he will arrive with the season’s first and second honey within the fortnight.”

A woman’s voice in the crowd said “oh, thank the gods.” All three scouts smiled as though they had expected that response.

“And the monk accepts that we must go past his hermitage?” Stigander sounded thoughtful.

“Yes,” Troa answered. “I spoke with him myself. He was mostly glad to know the way had been cleared, because he is old and the trees were heavy.”

Stigander’s lips parted in a smile. “Excellent! We leave at first light.”


The wolflings did not launch a second raid on the town that night. When dawn broke and the alarm had not sounded, a quiet cheer went round the waking men of fleet and village alike. As they rose they each headed for the boat house as they chewed a small bit of dried salmon for strength.

Elder Vilding waited for them at the boat house. Stigander, in the lead, motioned the men behind him to wait. “You have our thanks,” he said, offering a small bow.

“And you, ours. I only wish we could have carried out our agreement properly.”

Stigander accepted this with a gracious nod of his head.

“I have sent a guide on ahead to the first fork. He will ensure you do not lose the path.”

“You have my thanks, again.”

A wry smile cracked the old man’s face. “Now go. Give ‘em Hel.”

Stigander grinned, and then they moved on. Each Captain took his place at the bow of his own boat, and then their men put their shoulders to it and lifted.

With no small amount of groaning, of men and wood alike, the Vidofnir, the Heidrun, and the Eikthyrnir rose into the air and began trundling forward like a trio of monstrous centipedes.

The forest road was narrow, as Troa had said. Einarr expected it would also be steep, once they were a little farther inland. Still, it was nothing their crews couldn’t handle. He resettled his shoulder under the weight of his ship. This would be a long portage: perhaps among the longest he had ever attempted. But for all of that, it might just do the trick.


When night fell, the three crews sat atop a mountain with their guide and rested for the evening. In the morning they pressed on, still tired and sore but glad to be past the worst of it.

Mist hung in the air along the road that morning, lending the world around a feeling of unreality. And yet, with the clear sky above and the warm light filtering through the mist, Einarr could almost forget the burden he bore on his back as they made their way down the far side of the mountain. Someone started up a rower’s cadence song. Before long, men all up and down the line were singing it together.

The road led around a series of tight hairpin turns – tight enough and steep enough that it was tricky to maneuver the boats through – but only a little later leveled off. Through the trees ahead, Einarr could see the blue-gray sparkle of the ocean.

“Look ahead!” He called in cadence. “Nearly there!”

Everyone’s spirits picked up at that, and with their spirits rose their pace. The forest opened up ahead of them, and almost before they realized they stood on the edge of a meadow. Off to their left was a small stone house. Smoke rose from the ceiling vent. That must be the hermitage: Einarr could hear buzzing off in the distance.

The road tapered off into nothing from here, but already they could see the grey, rocky shore ahead, and beyond it the beckoning sea.

The cadence song was now replaced by cheerful banter amongst the men. Someone proposed a race: his Mate shot it down.

Einarr maneuvered his Heidrun to move parallel to the Vidofnir so that he could speak quietly with his father.

“We’re not going to just leave the wolflings at the fjord, are we?”

His father shook his head. “If we attack them, we lose one of the primary advantages of slipping out this way. If we don’t, sooner or later they’re going to try raiding Lundholm again. And this time, we won’t be there to help. And that is why tactics must be complemented with both strategy and ethics. No matter the short-term advantages it would gain us, I cannot abandon the town to the wolflings. Not when I’m the one who brought them in the first place.”

Einarr nodded as his boots crunched in the stones on the beach. “You first, father.”

Without breaking his stride at all, Stigander led the head of the Vidofnir into the cold ocean water before them. With only the tiniest of splashes they set the Vidofnir down in the water where she sat groaning on the beach, waiting.


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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.

6.39 – Departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because Vali is a – wait, you knew?”

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

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

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


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

6.38 – Treasure Chamber

“So. Where to next?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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


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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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6.37 – Haunts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have my thanks. ”

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


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6.36 – The Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sort of? Crudely.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone shook their heads.

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

***

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

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

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


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6.35 – The Key

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was a campfire story…”

Einarr started forward, Jorir and Erik close behind.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

6.34 – Journal

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

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

Chronicle of the Cursebreaker’s Exile

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

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

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

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

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

And I was warned.

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

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

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

“The very same.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The old man’s face twisted in confusion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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


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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 ebooks through B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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