Tag: Flashback

5.13 – Hero Worship

Runa stood at the entry to the room full of bubbles and swallowed. It was one of the most beautiful sights she had ever seen, but the thought of what she was likely to see set her stomach churning. Einarr had not hesitated: she owed it to him – to them – not to flinch. As he ducked under one of the green-glowing globes, Runa entered the room.

She took sideways, gliding steps, ever mindful of where the bubbles were, knowing she was going to make a mistake. Do not fear, she told herself. He’s right in front of you: you can face anything. Runa swallowed again, willing herself to believe it.

She stopped. In front of her, the bubbles floated in a solid wall. On the other side, she was sure, the exit would be in view. All she had to do was step forward.

Runa wiped sweaty palms against her skirt and set her mouth in a determined line. With a deep breath, she gripped her skirts and strode forward, into the wall of memory.

***

Runa studied the harbor from her perch high in a tree, hoping to see a draken on the horizon. Not just any draken, of course: she wanted the Vidofnings to come this winter. She was old enough to know there was no rational reason, just that she thought things would be better if they were here.

“Runa? Runa, where are you?” Her nursemaid’s voice called, still a ways off. Runa hurried back toward the center of the tree, where the woman was less likely to spot her. It would be even odds whether she was madder about Runa shirking her chores or that she’d climbed a tree.

Where are you, Einarr? You need to come back this winter. It had been four years since the Vidofnir had wintered with Father. Surely he would want to see their Captain, too? Especially with Mama sick…

“Runa, your mother is calling.”

Runa sighed. Well, shoot. I can’t very well ignore that, now can I. Frowning, she scrambled down the tree as quick as she dared. Her knees were scraped by the time she dropped from the lowest branch to the ground.

“There you are!” Her nursemaid bustled up from down the path even as Runa reached down to straighten her skirts and brush away the pine needles. “Up in a tree again, really! Aren’t there better things for you to do with your time than risk your own neck?”

“Yes’m,” Runa muttered. She knew it was irrational, and so there was no point in trying to explain. She would let them think her spoiled; in this one way, they were right.

Her nursemaid took Runa by the arm and roughly brushed at the forest leavings stuck to her clothes. “Never mind. The Lady is calling for you, you don’t want to keep her waiting.”

Runa shook her head. “Did she say why?”

“Does she need a reason to want to see her only daughter?”

Runa met her nursemaid’s eyes and saw worry there, too. She swallowed the lump that tried to form in her throat. “Let go. I’ll go straight there.”

“Your face is all smudged, dearie. Let me clean up the worst of it.”

“It’s fine. Let’s not keep Mama waiting.” She didn’t give her poor nursemaid a choice. Runa yanked her arm free and ran up the path through the woods toward Kjell Hall. I’m coming…

The miasma that had hung over the hall all year had not changed, for better or for worse. That was some small comfort: it meant Mama was still there. Still, the path had never felt so long as it did that afternoon. It almost seemed as though the path were growing longer as she ran. I was walking by the time I made it to the palisade, that day. Runa slowed her footfalls, not out of breath but allowing the dread of that summer, of that day, to grow in her breast once more.

Finally she was able to reach her father’s Hall. The air was heavy inside, and smelled of medicine. Even when she hadn’t been sneaking off to watch for ships Runa had sought excuses to be outside all summer. The smell of death was almost impossible to bear.

Her nursemaid arrived only a few minutes after Runa. As the girl walked, calmly and with her head held high, towards her mother’s sickbed she followed a pace behind. Runa was only a little bothered when the woman reached out to pluck a twig from where it had caught in her braid on the way down the tree.

Father’s herbalist stood in the doorway, mortar in hand, mixing up the concoction that hung in the air and filled Runa’s nose. She cleared her throat.

“Nurse Arga tells me my mother wished to see me?”

The herbalist stepped out of the way and wordlessly continued crushing the herbs in his mortar. Inside, Mama was propped up on pillows and smiling, but nearly as pale as snow. What little hair she had left hung limp and stringy from her head.

“Runa, dear. Come here, let me look at you.”

Hesitation slowed her steps, but Runa entered nonetheless and took her mother’s hand. “Mama.”

“You are… such a beautiful girl.” Her mother smiled, and for a moment it was as though the sickness had never touched her. “Sit down. We have much to discuss, and I fear I have little time.”

“Yes, Mama.”

Runa blinked, and saw that she was once more surrounded by the fairy lights. Her eyes stung, and her stomach did flip-flops as though she would throw up: after that day, her mother had never spoken again. Not far before her the exit door stood open, and, just on the other side of it, the proud straight shoulders of her hero.

“Einarr!” She breathed, and dashed for the exit.


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

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

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

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.

5.12 – Among the Leaves So Green

Einarr was quite pleased with himself for spotting a fresh trail before his grandfather pointed it out to him, not many minutes up the forest path. Then they were off the beaten path, Einarr peering at the ground as they went for pellets or for the nigh-invisible shadows of hoofprints on the needle-strewn ground. At every turn he tried to find the mark before his grandfather could point it out. He managed perhaps half the time.

“Why do deer have to hide so well,” he grumbled at one point.

“Because they’re weaker than the wolf and the bear, of course. There are three choices in life, Einarr: be strong, be clever, or be dead. Best of all is to be strong and clever.”

“Yes, afi.” It was far from the first time Einarr heard those words of wisdom.

They finally caught up with the young buck where he slept high on the mountain, near a stream bed thick with berry bushes. The summer was young enough that its antlers were still velveted. That it was a buck was good: that meant their quarry was fair game. Does, he knew, were off-limits until almost the end of raiding season.

The buck raised its head while they crept into position, its ears pricked, and looked around warily. The best is to be both strong and clever, because there will always be someone better than you. It was the end of his grandfather’s saying, and even at ten Einarr understood its meaning in his bones. If Grandfather Raen had been a little stronger, or a little cleverer, Raenshold would not be lost to him and Father would not be dependent on Grimhildr’s family.

Having satisfied itself that there were no predators around, the buck lurched to its feet and stepped daintily down to the water’s edge.

“Be ready,” his grandfather whispered even as he knocked an arrow to his own bow. Einarr nodded and followed suit.

The buck looked around again, to make doubly sure he wasn’t being watched. After what felt like ages, every moment Einarr afraid they would be spotted and their quarry would flee, it lowered its nose to the stream and drank.

His grandfather drew back his bow in one smooth motion. Einarr copied the motion, as he had been taught. Not quite smoothly, though: the arrow clacked against the bowstaff and the buck raised its head in alarm.

Afi’s arrow flew true and struck the deer behind its shoulder. A moment later, as the buck tried to turn and flee, Einarr’s arrow stuck in its flank.

“Tcheh.” It was a bad shot and he knew it, but there was no time to berate himself over it. His grandfather was already running after the buck, easily as spry as Father.

Their target made it three bounds away from the stream before collapsing in a bramble of berry vines. With a shrug, Einarr drew the hunting knife at his belt and began cutting a path through to the deer inside.

There was something wrong in the air, Einarr thought, but his ten-year-old self did not have the experience to recognize it. At this moment, dressing the deer to carry it back to amma occupied his full attention. When afi threw their prize over his shoulders, Einarr picked up a pair of the berry-laden vines he had just cut. Even if amma didn’t use any with the venison, there would be plenty for dessert and breakfast the next day.

They cut sideways across the mountain towards the main path, and reached it in the middle of a fair-sized meadow. The view over the island below took Einarr’s breath away, the forest and fields spreading out and blending into the sea beyond almost seamlessly. The sea, on which a pair of longships loomed entirely too close to their freehold. Smoke rose from the roof of his grandmother’s hall.

His grandfather froze in his tracks like a frightened buck, staring at his home. “Svari,” he breathed.

Einarr’s grandfather flew down the mountain path faster than any arrow, the buck forgotten across his shoulders. Einarr raced to keep up, willing his comparatively short legs to move faster than they ever had before. The freehold was under attack, and there was no-one below save his grandmother and the two thralls in the field.

Einarr ran with all the speed his young legs could muster, but even still his grandfather quickly outpaced him. Why would anyone raid a freehold like this one? A single farm on an island that was mostly covered by forest didn’t exactly scream treasure.

He could hear the raucous laughter of the raiders as soon as he reached the forest’s edge, his vine whips dropped somewhere on the mountain above. Steel clashed, and Einarr hoped it was his grandfather’s blade against the raiders’. A last gasp of fear propelled him onward even faster, when he thought such a thing should have been impossible.

He was too late. They were too late: afi knelt over amma’s lifeless form, weeping and covered in blood. Einarr could not tell how much of it was his. The Hall was a disaster: even the paving stones of the floor had been pried up in the raiders’ search for treasure.

“What… why?” Einarr managed to choke out.

His grandfather shook his head, his shoulders shaking. “Your Father is cursed, Einarr. I knew I never should have let Grimhildr marry into your line, and now look what happened.”

Afi…”

“This is not your fault. Nonetheless, this will be your last summer here.” He paused, staring at the face of his dead wife, for what felt like eternity. “Go to my bed. There is a small compartment under the mattress – I very much doubt the raiders will have found it. Bring me what you find inside.”

“Yes, grandfather.”

Einarr’s eyes opened. His cheeks were soaked, and all around him were bubbles filled with glowbugs. His hand was clutched tight about Sinmora’s hilt – the last thing Grimhildr’s father ever did for him. He could see the way out now.


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

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

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

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.

5.11 – Bubbles

The sound of stone grinding on stone signalled the puzzle door closing behind them, although they were already far enough up the steep stair that the reduction in light was hardly noticeable. Where in the caves of the svartalfr cult the passages had been lit by a strange blue flame, here the stairwell seemed to have globes filled with glowbugs where one would otherwise expect torches.

Runa smiled with delight. “Well this seems downright friendly.”

“So far,” Jorir grumbled. “Remember who lives here.”

“Compared to where I just was? I might quite enjoy taking a meal with a pair of ravens.”

“Before or after you robbed their loft?” Irding’s voice came from behind them all. He sounded nervous.

“Oh, before of course.” Runa took his flat jibe and ran with it. “If all went well, I might be able to convince them to just give it to me, and then we’re all better off, aren’t we?”

Einarr couldn’t quite suppress a chuckle. “Oh, aye. Except for them, when Wotan finds out what happened to his wife’s bauble.”

“Oh, but what a game that would be, to match wits with Huginn and Muninn.”

“Is that the real reason you came along?”

“That’s the reason I wanted to come along, yes. My points in favor were all valid, though.”

From a few stairs farther up, Jorir hushed them. “Another door ahead.”

Einarr nodded sharply, although he thought none but Runa would see. “Let’s have a look, then.”

He hurried up the five steps to the door Jorir spotted and pressed his ear against the wood. On the other side, all was silence. The dwarf joined him, and when his liege man looked up Einarr raised an eyebrow at him. Jorir shrugged, and Einarr pulled open the door.

The room on the other side appeared to be filled with floating globes of the same glowbugs used to light the hall, but otherwise empty. Einarr drew his brows down in confusion for a moment. Whatever they faced, it was obviously magical. “Runa, what do you make of this?”

“Hmm?” It took her a little longer to reach this second landing and see the strangely lovely sight. Then it took her a moment longer, as she could not quite manage not to admire the effect.

“Runa?”

“‘Thought’ and ‘Memory’ live here: I’ll warrant this is a test of some kind, and that it relates to the residents’ natures.”

“A trial based on our memories?” He shuddered.“Still think these things look friendly?”

“Compared to that weird blue fire they used in the cave? Absolutely. We won’t be able to get to the door without contacting at least a few of the bubbles, I don’t think. Be careful, keep your wits about you, and we should all make it across.”

Einarr snorted. “Great. It’s the Oracle all over again. Well, nothing for it.”

With a shrug he slipped into the room. Almost immediately one brushed against his arm and he held his breath, waiting for the vision that never came. Two steps farther in he crept, the others coming cautiously behind. Einarr made it another pair of steps before his attempt to duck under one bubble brought his head straight up into the middle of another. A thin film clung to his face, cold and almost slippery feeling. Then he was no longer in the room of glowing bubbles.

***

A familiar, familial-looking longhouse surrounded Einarr where he sat, his feet kicking the air, at the table. A well-polished wooden bowl filled with his grandmother’s porridge with berries and nuts sat in front of him. And if there were nuts in the bowl, that meant grandfather would be taking him hunting. Grandmother sat by the light of the door working with a rabbit skin. Outside, the sky was blue and the sun bright… but Einarr thought he knew what day this was.

“You’d best hurry. Your afi is waiting.”

“Yes, Amma.” Einarr scooped up another mouthful of porridge. He paused with the bite in his mouth to roll the long-missed flavor around on his tongue before giving in, shoveling the rest of his breakfast into his mouth with the same enthusiasm he had felt when he was ten. Not a morsel was left behind when he raced out the door, grabbing his bow and his knife on the way.

Mother’s – Grimhildr’s – parents had a freehold in a chain of islands some ways southwest of cursed Breidelstein, and that was where Einarr stayed for most of the raiding season – and would, until Father thought him old enough to act as a deckhand. Which meant that summer saw him roaming the forested mountain behind their freehold, hunting deer and gathering herbs and berries until the Vidofnir returned with stories in the fall or Afi had to take their fishing boat out to Mikilltorp.

As soon as Einarr stepped outside he saw his grandfather waiting by the gate dividing the field, where the two thralls tended matters, to the wood behind. Einarr ran, knowing both that Afi would not wait now that he was out of the hall and that he’d kept the man waiting too long already.

He caught up when the white-haired man was crossing the threshold into the evergreen wood that dominated the rest of the island. “Are we going after bear today, Afi?”

His grandfather’s thick white beard split to reveal a warm smile. “Deer again, my young wolf. We’ll want something a mite bit tougher than these sticks for bear.”

“What about boar?” Einarr bounced on his toes as he hurried alongside his grandfather.

Now the man laughed. “Maybe I’ll teach you how to hunt boar when your father comes back. But tonight calls for venison!”

“So… more tracking practice?” Tracking was, to Einarr’s mind, the least interesting and most difficult part of hunting.

“More tracking practice. You’re getting better, you know.”

“Better than bad is still not good.” He complained, but only half-heartedly, and turned his attention to the path ahead of them and the brilliant green of the forest around. His grandfather let the complaint pass without comment as they continued deeper into the wood.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

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

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

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.

1.3 – In the Hall of the Sea King

Seven years earlier

The soothsayers claimed snow was coming, even though they should ordinarily have had another month. Even though it was bright and sunny over the Hall. But it was unwise to go against the soothsayers in matters of weather or fate, and Captain Stigander set several of his best lookouts up into trees to watch the horizon.

“Not you,” Stigander said when Einarr started to climb a tree.

“What? Why not?” He didn’t want to whine. He’d been a deckhand long enough not to whine, but his voice cracked on the ‘what’ to make it sound like one.

“Deckhands operate on deck. Go help bring in the goats.”

“Yes, sir.” His fingers only itched a little with the urge to climb: once they were up there, they probably weren’t coming down for quite a while, and that would be boring. More boring than wrestling goats, certainly, and there were always a few. He dashed off across the meadow to join the goat-herds, already headed further into the interior of the island.

“Hey-yo,” he called as he caught up. Many of the other boys responded in kind. Most of them did not yet even have the haze of downy stubble that was beginning to grace Einarr’s chin.

The goats had already wandered out from the rockiest area of the island when they found them, perhaps sensing the impending storm as the soothsayers did. The goat-herd hailed the group from a distance of fifty paces. “What news?”

“The Ice descends,” answered one of the few boys there older than Einarr, a hint of melodrama in his voice.

“Ugh,” groaned the goat-herd. “Seriously?”

“That’s what we’re told.”

They moved around behind the herd of goats and began marching forward in a line, back toward the Hall. The goats, of course, mostly ignored them, slipping between legs or kicking back when they got tired of being kneed by walking teenagers. Then someone had the idea to make a game of it; whoever carried or led the most goats back to the winter pen, won. Anyone who hurt a goat by accident got a penalty to their count. It was understood that anyone who hurt a goat on purpose would be thrashed by everyone else.

Einarr had wrestled three does and a young buck into the pen when he noticed a small slip of a girl out among them, her pale blond hair mussed half out of its braid, laughing as she clung to the neck of a particularly headstrong doe that was trying to break for the rocks.

What is she even doing out here? He thought, breaking off from the doe he had been trying to corner. Thankfully the other goat was slowed by the weight of a child hanging on its neck and Einarr was able to get in front of it. The doe stopped just shy of ramming into Einarr and planted her feet, her nostrils flaring. The doe plainly didn’t think she could dodge him with this weight she couldn’t get rid of.

Before the goat could buck and try to throw off its cargo, Einarr bent over and took hold of its slender legs. “You can let go now.”

Once the girl released the goat, he scooped it up over his shoulders. The doe, of course, tried to fight, but with its legs restrained there was a limit to what it could do. “I’ll carry this one back for you.”

“Thanks!” The girl was still a little breathless. “Don’t you try to steal my count, though!”

“Nope, this one’s all yours.” A laugh tried to well up from his belly, but he repressed it. Somehow, he didn’t think she would take that kindly.

“Okay then. I’m Runa.”

“Nice to meet you, Runa. I’m Einarr. Is it fun, having the princess’ name?” They both started walking back toward the pen. Einarr ambled, really, since she wouldn’t have been able to keep up with his longer legs.

“Being the princess is great – except when they try to keep me from playing with the boys.”

Surprised, Einarr nearly let go of the goat that still struggled on his shoulders. That would have ended badly for all three of them. What’s the Princess doing out… oh. Well, she wants to play, let’s see if she can win.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Princess. Come on, we’ll be a team. We’re sure to win, that way.” He was pretty sure he was near the lead before, and it would have been miraculous if she’d managed to get even one goat before this one.

Now

Is that . . . Runa? He shook his head and finished his descent to the bench. Even if it was the princess, she probably didn’t remember him. She had been perhaps ten the last time he’d seen her, and he fourteen. She was a woman, now, and Einarr could think of any number of men more likely to be chosen as her husband. “Heir of Raenshold” meant very little these days. He took a bowl of venison stew and began talking with the men to either side of him, trying not to stare.

Erik, on his left, was talking with one of the Kjellings about the attack on their ship. Einarr couldn’t count the number of times they’d all talked it over when they were off rowing duty, but it still didn’t make any sense. Where had the storm come from? No-one knew. How had the Grendel operated freely in that weather? Some thought it was a ghost ship, filled with the spirits of drowned sailors. Einarr doubted it.

So did the Kjelling Erik was talking to. “If that had been a ghost ship, they wouldn’t have settled for just Astrid.”

“That’s the part that worries me,” Einarr jumped in, the black demon’s head fresh in his mind. Runa was still a distraction from the corner of his eye, but this had been gnawing on him since the attack. “It wasn’t like they settled for Mother at all. They barely even bothered with the rest of us – just enough to keep us away from their target.”

“You think she was targeted?” Erik took a swig of his mead.

“Doesn’t it look that way to you?”

“How could they even have been sure she was there,though?” The man on the other side of Erik leaned forward as he asked the question and looked over at Einarr.

Einarr shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s just what it looks like to me.” That wasn’t quite true: he did have an idea, but it wasn’t one he was certain he could credit. Runa was nodding earnestly at something one of the other Kjellings was saying to her; Einarr blinked, and made himself look back at Erik and the other man. As his eyes flicked across the room, it seemed like Bardr was studying her, as well. Oh, no. Not her, man. “While we’re asking questions, though, why would they risk attacking another ship in a storm?”

“Especially without a battle-chanter of their own,” Erik grumbled.

“They didn’t… you’re right, they didn’t. Or if they did, she wasn’t singing, which amounts to the same thing.”

“You’re sure they weren’t agents of one of the Empires?”

“I… suppose it’s possible?” Einarr hadn’t considered that. From the looks of it, neither had Erik. Finally, though, he shrugged. “Well. Father will want the blood price in blood, I expect, no matter who they are.” He took another mouthful of stew and glanced back toward the princess. When did she grow up?


1.2 – Aftermath 1.4 – Funeral Rites
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