Tag: Gestrisni

6.32 – Departure

While fixing the Gestrisni went about as well as Einarr could have hoped, that still left them groping for an answer, or even just a clue, of how to get past the magic trapping them here.

“We may have to just go, with the expectation of being turned back once,” Runa finally said. Arkja’s men had already told them what little they knew – some of it from personal experience.

Einarr frowned and crossed his arms. The old fisherman who “welcomed” them to the island was still, days later, nowhere to be found on shore. If it weren’t for the furnished cabin near their boat, he might have wondered if the man really existed.

“You’re not wrong,” Einarr said finally. I don’t like the idea of wasting time that way, but it does begin to seem as though nobody knows.”

“Seems to me,” Jorir mused, “that the waste of time would be sticking around after she’s fixed, looking for information that may not even exist.”

Erik harrumphed. Einarr nodded.

“That is, more or less, the conclusion I was reaching. I kind of wish we had Sivid along right now, though.”

Irding raised an eyebrow. Arkja, as the only member of the newcomers working on the escape plan instead of loading, looked confused.

Einarr smiled at the confusion. “Irding, you’ve only been aboard a few months, so maybe you haven’t noticed yet. Sivid may be Unlucky, but everything seems to work out when he’s around.”

“Then why’s he unlucky?” Arkja asked.

Einarr smiled again. He couldn’t give the whole answer – that wasn’t his to tell – but he didn’t have to. “Bad at dice.”

“And that earned him a moniker?”

“You’ll understand when you meet him.”

The leader of the newcomers shrugged. “Do you still need me, then? The boys could use a hand with the loading.”

“Go ahead. I expect the rest of us will be along shortly… Actually, I think we’re basically done here. Irding, why don’t you go with him?”

Erik’s son tipped his head in assent and followed the one-time tavern keeper off to the ship, where he would supervise as much as help. Erik and Jorir had agreed to give the manifest a final check, and so soon it was once again just Einarr and Runa.

Finally. In all the activity, Einarr still hadn’t managed to make his request of her.

Runa had started to turn away, likely headed for their camp and the cook fire.

“Wait a moment.”

She turned back, her brows raised questioningly.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask of you for a while now, actually…”

She did not fill the silence, merely waited expectantly for him to continue. For Einarr’s part, he kept telling himself it was a stupid thing to be embarrassed about – not that that made him less so, of course.

“Runa, will you teach me how to read the runes? With everything that’s gone on, if we hadn’t had a Singer along we never would have made it out. But I’m not always going to be able to rely on having someone else available to interpret…”

Runa held up a hand to stop his babbling. “Of course I will teach you, Runes and something of Story both. I would like for us to actually be wed one day, rather than being a widowed maid.”

Einarr inclined his head, and was surprised at the hoarseness of his voice when he said “Thank you.”

***

The morning after all was deemed to be in readiness, the strange old fisherman returned to shore. Einarr first caught sight of him ambling down the shore from the south, which struck him as odd: even now, none of them had seen the man’s boat.

“Good morrow!” He raised a hand in greeting as the old man continued up the beach towards them.

“Is it?” he growled, a familiar echo of their first day on the island. “I wonder.”

“Of course it is. We’re finally ready to try our luck.”

The old man stopped a moment to stare at the repaired Gestrisni, apparently unimpressed. He harrumphed and resumed his walk up the beach, ignoring the fools on their quest.

A wild impulse seized Einarr. “We’ve still got room aboard, if you want to test your fate with ours.”

The old man stopped again, threw back his head, and laughed. “Why would I steal you kids’ chance of getting off?”

Einarr’s mind went momentarily blank, but when he opened his mouth the only possible answer spilled forth, almost of its own volition. “Because the captain of this vessel has been named a Cursebreaker.”

The old man shook his head now. “That’s the only reason I think you have a chance at all, kid. Leave this old fool to his justly earned exile.”

Einarr shared a look with Runa, then shook his head. He was curious, but they had wasted too much time on this accursed island already. The men from the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun were waiting. Einarr and Runa walked toward their ship.

“Milord?” Arkja popped his head up over the railing. “There’s some sort of large jar on the deck. Where do you want it?”

Einarr blinked. How had that gotten here? He sighed, shaking his head. “Just stow it in the hold, I guess. Make use of it if you can.”

“A… jar?” Runa looked at him sidelong.

“It’s a long story. We’ll have time on our way.”

Runa hummed, looking amused, and let it rest.

***

That evening, Runa performed the Lay of Raen at Einarr’s request, and for the benefit of the newcomers. In the melancholy mood that always followed, Jorir and the other Vidofnings gathered together near the prow of the boat to talk. It wasn’t private, but it was as near as they could manage.

Staring out over the railing at the stars on the sea, Jorir scratched his beard thoughtfully. “It’s a shame we couldn’t do anything for the old man.”

Even as Einarr was nodding in agreement, Arkja’s brows knit in confusion from just outside their circle. “Old man? What old man?”

“The old fisherman on the beach? I told him we still had room, but he refused?”

The erstwhile tavern keeper slowly shook his head. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but there was no old man on the beach. That shack you kept checking has stood empty for as long as anyone I’ve ever talked to can remember.”


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6.30 – Discoveries

“As for you, my Lady Singer, I have questions.”

Runa smiled up at him impishly, hugging his arm. “Walk with me, my Lord, and I may have answers to give.”

Einarr and his betrothed wandered the empty streets arm-in-arm, neither of them minding in this moment that desertion that had bothered him not long before. Eventually they came to a broad, tree-lined green, and Runa guided him over to sit in the shade of a large oak. Only then did she let go of his arm, to turn and lean against his side.

“Even half a season seems like such a long time…” She sighed, content.

Amused, Einarr arched an eyebrow. “Even after waiting seven years from our first meeting?”

She jostled his ribs with an elbow. “That’s different.”

He chuckled. “You’re not wrong. And when Trabbi told me you’d been captured…”

“You have no idea how surprised I was they’d gone to Lord Stigander for help.”

“Surprised… and glad?”

She nodded, then changed the subject. “So what did you want to ask me?”

He laughed again, this time thoughtful. “Oh, where to begin. Let’s start with how you knew the ghost’s story.”

Runa shook her head. “Honestly? I guessed. There are a limited number of reasons someone ends up here, most of which have blessed nothing to do with offending Wotan’s familiars.”

“Hey now.”

“I tease, I tease. In all seriousness, though, most people end up here through cowardice, ignominy, or both. When it didn’t burst our ears immediately, I thought I might be on to something.”

“And naming it Päron? How did you jump from ignominy to a children’s fable?”

“Stories… change over time. It’s one of the things the Matrons teach us, early on.” Here she paused, as though considering.

“While we were with the Matrons, I was given a good-sized list of manuscripts to copy – it’s part of how they teach us. Mixed into this stack were some shockingly old parchments. The sort of thing the Matrons typically handle themselves, because of how delicate they are. It may have been a mistake, but I doubt it. Anyway, one of these manuscripts had a much older telling of the Päronskaft story, followed by someone’s extrapolations of the story’s original source…

“And it was like a puzzle box popped open in front of me while you were fighting. The Päron who was described in that history, whose story morphed into an imp spinning gold, would fit exactly with the character I had just described.”

“Huh.” Einarr sat for a minute, considering the wild improbability. “I guess,” he added after a long moment. “I guess that’s lucky for us.”

Runa sat very still, almost as though she were frozen. “Maybe so, or maybe…”

A long pause followed, and the next words she spoke all came out in a rush. “Einarr, I think someone is looking out for you. Someone powerful. Most Cursebreakers don’t survive their first challenge, but just since you were named this spring you’ve bested three.”

Einarr blinked and tried not to laugh. Not just after, but because of the events of this summer, she decided he was being protected? It was almost ludicrous on its face.

He must not have hidden his reaction as well as he thought, because she elbowed him in the ribs again. “Don’t laugh.”

“Sorry, sorry. But you have to understand, this has been the roughest season I can remember, especially for lost crew, and we haven’t much more than the Althane’s horde to show for it… Don’t cheapen those lives we lost, Runa. The only outside ‘help’ I’ve had this summer came from that weird elf who insisted on giving us that broach.”

He could feel her stiffen, as though he had managed to offend with that. Well, so be it, then. The Vidofnir had paid in blood and treasure for what they’d accomplished, and he did not wish that lessened by giving credit to some nameless other.

Neither, though, did he want to weather the storm of an angry Runa – and there was yet one thing he needed to ask of her. “Runa, I need a favor -”

“There you are!” Erik’s voice cut through the air, shattering the stillness even as he cut off Einarr’s request.

Einarr sighed. It would have to wait, then. Erik wouldn’t have come like this without good reason. “Here I am. What’s going on?”

The big man grinned. “You need to see this. And then remind me of it if I give you crap about the raven feathers again.”

“Oh?” This should be good. Erik was practically bouncing with excitement.

***

Erik led Einarr and Runa back to the harbor, where Arkja’s less experienced men waited. (At least, Einarr hoped they weren’t trying to guard anything. A child could have snuck past them.)

“So what was it I just had to see?”

“Just wait.” Erik walked up to the large double doors that led into a boat shed. Swinging the shed open, he said, “That little tunnel of Arkja’s isn’t the only secret in this town.”

Inside, the building was dominated by a large trestle such as one might use for boat repair – not that Einarr thought it would be worthwhile bringing the Gestrisni all the way here before they tried to fix her. But that wasn’t the interesting part.

In what would otherwise be a wall of cabinets and hanging tools, a door stood open. Behind that door, Einarr saw what was unmistakably gold. He looked at Erik, agog.

Erik grinned. “My thought exactly. Gestrisni’s got a good-sized hold for what she is.”

“And the gods only know we could use a break like this. Have you…”

“Counted it? No, not hardly. I’d guess something less than half what we got from the Althane’s horde.”

“How did you…” Einarr shook his head. “No. There’s a story here, I’m sure, but it can wait. Who found it?”

One of the fishermen, a man with lank yellow hair and scars crisscrossing his earnest face, stepped forward. “I did, milord.”


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6.4 – Silence of a Startled Wood

At least, Einarr thought, the ground in the forest was not sucking mud. It was, however, one of the few hopeful prospects about it, and most of the issue was a result of how ridiculously dense the wood was. Most of the trees they passed were of insufficient girth to serve as a mast.

Here and there the wood would open out into a meadow, where the sun could reach the forest floor and where underbrush had begun to grow up – only to be viciously cut back and trampled over by whatever creatures lived here. It was almost as though rutting stags had been induced to rage and kept there to battle the whole year through. Or perhaps, instead of stags, there were mad bears loose. Einarr struggled to think of what else could have caused the massive gouges marring earth and trees alike. They were far too large to be from battling men – if men even battled on this island. Assuming Runa was right, Einarr doubted many warriors ended up here. Even if she were wrong, however, it would be unusual for an island to war against itself in this age.

He shook his head. So long as they were quick, it wouldn’t matter what it was that did battle in this forest. The tree before him, however, was yet another in the list that may have been serviceable if it hadn’t been so badly damaged. With a sigh, he shook his head. It wasn’t just the physical scars, of course, but the disease that had taken hold from them. “Any luck, Erik?”

“I wonder what would happen if we took a bunch of little ones and bound ‘em together?”

Erik’s idea wouldn’t have been a bad one, he didn’t think – except that none of them had the tools or experience to put it together. Einarr grunted. “Keep looking, then.”

Irding harrumphed, moving on from another skinny tree. “Further we go, the worse everything looks. What in the world is going on in here?”

“Looks like a war’s on.” Jorir stood between trees, looking out into the forest with his arms crossed. “But as to who’s fighting, or why? Couldn’t tell you.”

“Distempered bears?” Einarr ventured. It was half a joke, but no-one laughed. “I want to say it’s none of our business, but if we’re caught out here when the fighting picks back up…”

“Hello?” Needles crunched under Runa’s feet as she took half a step.

Einarr spun on his heel: had she seen someone? He raised an eyebrow, silently asking the question as she turned to look at him. With a shrug she shook her head and returned to peering out into the wood.

This time the movement caught Einarr’s attention, as well – too fast and too brief for him to tell what it was, but something had dashed between trees.

“Who’s there?”

Again no answer but the silence of a startled wood. Cautiously, Einarr turned in a circle where he stood, but saw nothing.

“…I think it’s time we moved on. We’re not likely to find what we need in this section of forest, and we appear to have attracted someone’s attention.”

It was still a risk, of course, but it seemed a better one than hunting down the whatever it was and threatening it. The five of them were in poor shape to be picking fights. Einarr started walking – east, he was relatively sure, but under the canopy it was hard to tell.

Whatever it was that had hidden from them, it did not try to stop their progress. And, indeed, the signs of battle grew less fierce as they walked, even as the underbrush grew dense and slowed their progress. The very air seemed to become dark and heavy. Einarr felt his hackles stand on end, and he felt sure the eyes now on them were unfriendly.

“Runa? What does the lore of the island tell you about this forest?”

“You’re wanting to know what holds this territory, and that I don’t know. Whatever it is, though, I’d rather take my chances with the creatures we spotted earlier.”

“I think you may be right, there.” Something about this overgrown section of an overgrown wood set his teeth on edge in a way that even the svartalfr cave hadn’t.

No-one objected, although Erik gave an uneasy chuckle.

The brush that had seemed thick on their way in seemed even thicker now that they were trying to leave. Thorns that he would swear hadn’t been there before grabbed at their clothes and scratched at their skin with every step, as though the wood itself were trying to keep them there. Einarr, however, had no intention of accepting the hospitality of such a dark presence. Several times he reached for the sword at his belt, but some instinct warned him against chopping at the brambles.

It was almost a relief when the battle-torn section of the wood came back into view and the light increased. Noon was long since passed: even should they find their new mast today, they would be unable to get it back to the Gestrisni before dark. Better to be in the relative open of contested territory where they could fight back than pinned down by brambles if they came under attack.

As they neared the contested section of forest, Einarr caught a definitive look at the thing that had been watching them initially. It wasn’t truly a thing: it appeared to be a woman, fine-boned and curvaceous, with skin the color of tree bark and loam. He saw her, of course, because now she ran as though the demons of Hel herself pursued.

Einarr stole a glance back at his companions: they saw her, too. He raised a hand and tried to rush forward. Tried, because the brambles caught in his trousers and vines stretched across his shins. He very nearly tripped even as he called out to the fleeing girl.


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6.1 – Landfall

Runa coughed. Again. And again, Irding’s face fell into a scowl. Erik paid his son no mind, merely continued to row. Two weeks had passed since they had escaped the Tower of Ravens, and for two weeks they had been becalmed. Which meant rowing. A lot of rowing meant a lot of singing, ordinarily, to keep their strength up – but Runa’s voice was unused to such long labor.

Einarr’s hands tensed on his fishing line. Fights had sparked from less in the last week. Jorir gave a tug on his own line, and the sound of the sinker pulling through the water defused the moment.

The Gestrisni was low on water, and in two weeks there had been no sign of land where they might find fresh. Which meant that Runa’s voice was in bad condition even when she could sing. This might not have been a problem with a more sea-weathered Singer, who could have taken a turn at oar or rudder or line, but Runa was not accustomed to riding the whale road.

Einarr turned to offer his man at arms a nod of thanks. As he did, though, a darkness on the horizon caught his eye. His brows drew down and he scowled across the water even as the first hint of a breeze tugged at his hair.

“Erik. Storm ahead. Let’s see if we can’t ride the wind.”

“Think this old girl will take it?”

“Think we have another option?”

“No, sir. Let’s go.”

A pair of splashes was followed by the dull rattle of fishhooks on the deck as Einarr and Jorir hurriedly pulled their lines in. Before many minutes had passed, the five had unfurled the sail and turned the Gestrisni about to take advantage of the sudden wind.

This storm blew up nearly as quickly as the one that had brought the Grendel, late the year before. Soon the poor, bedraggled Grestisni was being tossed about on the waves like a young boy’s toy while Runa’s voice cracked over the notes of a song of strength they desperately needed.

And yet, they moved, and for that Einarr was thankful. He had nearly begun to despair of finding land before they all died of thirst, before the storm. Now all they had to do was weather it and find land.

They crested a wave, and the prow of the Gestrisni momentarily pointed straight down, leaving Einarr staring into the deep. He swallowed as the ship righted itself, glad at least that there had been no sign of anything below that might have stared back. He might have done better to heed Erik’s caution – no. That way lay madness. Dangerous or not, riding the wind had been the right call, if only because it got them moving again.

“Brace yourselves!” He just had time to shout before an errant wave crashed over the bow, drenching them all as it washed across the deck. The mast groaned ominously. A string of dwarven curses carried over the wind. Einarr shook his head violently, trying to clear the water from his eyes but only succeeding in whipping about the wet ropes of his beard.

“Everyone okay back there?” He hollered over the wind, never taking his eyes from the sea ahead. Erik and Irding roared wordlessly back. That was four. When Runa’s song picked back up, only a moment later, Einarr nodded to himself. “Steady on, then!”

At the crest of the next wave, Einarr spotted a black shape on the horizon against the darkness of the sky, too rough and angular to be any sort of giant creature, too smooth to be a rock like the one they had just recently left. “Land ho!”

Irding whooped. Einarr allowed himself half of a smile: he couldn’t really disagree with the sentiment. Perhaps their fortune was taking a turn for the better? This was a day for taking chances, and Einarr thought their chances were significantly better on an island than on the water with no provisions.

As the island drew nearer, Einarr could make out the silhouettes of trees near the shore being tossed in the wind. They should have shelter, at least, once they got the Gestrisni ashore. As if in answer to his thoughts, the hull groaned at him. They were near enough now, though, that the pattern of the waves had shifted. Einarr felt the deck swell up under him from behind and gripped the railing as the breaker carried them swiftly towards the unknown shore.

Their feet sank deep in the wet sand of the shore as they hauled the Gestrisni up out of the water, the familiar grind of sand against wood almost inaudible over the crash of waves and the howl of wind. Einarr straightened to have a look around them, now that the fisherman’s boat was out of immediate danger.

A light appeared farther up the shore, a rectangle of fire against the black backdrop of night. It shrank, then, down to a torch-sized ball of flame, and began bobbing closer. The others came up to stand by Einarr, watching as the light walked toward them.

Eventually, the light resolved into an Imperial-style lantern of glass and bronze, dangling from the hand of a weathered old man – old enough, Einarr thought, to make Tyr seem young. The man held the lantern up, peering at them through the rain as they peered at him.

“Storm or no,” the old man cried. “This here is no safe port. Cast off again, if you know what’s good for you.”

“Grandfather,” Einarr answered. “We are two weeks adrift, with no food and little water.”

“And still I say, cast off, before you become cast away.”

Einarr shared a look with the others, who all nodded in agreement. Irding was the first to take a step back toward the Gestrisni, to put his shoulder to her hull and brave the waves again.

A purple flash of lightning split the sky, and the crack of thunder did not drown out the crack of wood as it set mast and sail ablaze.

“Ah.” The old man bobbed his head now, as though in understanding. “Accursed ye be, then. Come, follow me. I’ve warm food to offer, at least, and the roof don’t leak much.”

Under other circumstances, Einarr might have refused such a gloomy old man. At this moment, however, it seemed the best option before them. “My thanks, grandfather. Tell me, what island is this?”

“This?” The man’s laugh was raspy and dry. “This be the Isle of the Forgotten.”


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So begins book 6! I hope the wait was worth it. We’re not quite all moved in, but we’re close, and Pago Pago thus far is lovely.

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.

 

5.30 – Escaping the Tower

“I’ll catch up by the time you reach the apothecary room.” Einarr flashed a cocky grin at his liege-man before he dashed back into the room, toward the fireplace. Had the familiars left their feathers on purpose, like the Valkyrie had? He couldn’t say, but they were sure to be just as magical.

Einarr bent to scoop up the two feathers without slowing down, then skidded around the giant perch.

The doorway stood empty. Good. Now to fulfill his end of the promise. Einarr tucked the feathers, black as night, into the pouch at his belt and poured on the speed. The distaff was like a goad against his back, and he was glad it wasn’t any longer. Perhaps another foot of length and he’d have had to worry about it tangling in his legs.

He shot through the doorway and cornered hard on the landing to take the stairs two at a time. The rumbling beneath his feet was rougher now, although somehow he felt certain the tower was not breaking apart.

That might actually be worse. Something whizzed past his face and a warm line stung his cheek. Was something firing arrows up at him? He took the stairs at full tilt, two and sometimes three at a time. Another arrow flew, and this one trimmed his sleeve. Were these warning shots?

By the time he reached the floor below he saw Jorir’s boot disappearing down the opposite stairwell. So he hadn’t been quite as quick as he thought he would be: the important part was that he was right behind.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and Einarr froze just before the threshold of the stairway leading down. Not a step too soon: the axe that dropped from above trimmed the ends of his beard already. He risked a quick glance around: just a trap.

Then he heard Runa’s shriek echoing up the stair. Einarr leapt forward, the back of the blade scraping against the bottom of his boots, and all but flew down the steps. He counted and ignored not one but three slices into his legs in his haste to reach them.

Erik stood, his feet planted and one hand braced against the wall, the other extended and holding Runa by her delicate wrist. Runa herself hung from that arm, scrabbling for purchase with her fine boots against what had suddenly become a smooth ramp instead of stairs. She gasped as though in pain, and only in that moment did Einarr realize he, too, was gasping for air. She’s fine. Calm down.

Jorir shot him a poisonous look, which he ignored as he slipped up to stand next to Erik. “Runa. Reach up your other hand for me.

She looked up at him from panic-ringed eyes and her breathing slowed. She managed a nod and slowly stretched her other arm out. Einarr’s hand closed around hers.

“Okay. Now we’re going to pull you back up, all right?”

“Please.” She still sounded like she was in pain: perhaps the jolt of her rescue had dislocated a shoulder?

“Ready? One, two, and … heave.”

Runa was not heavy, especially not for two men who had their balance back, and so a handful of heartbeats later Runa stood a step above them, dusting herself off and making a show of testing her shoulder and rubbing at the wrist Erik had grabbed.

“Right. Well. On we go. Watch your step.” He felt bad about the floor dropping out from under Runa: these traps were almost certainly his fault, after all – but not so bad that he was willing to drop the prize. Instead, he stepped forward onto the ramp and pushed off with his back foot, so that he was able to slide down the stone much as he had slid down a mound of coins early in the spring.

The ramp went all the way down to the landing for the next floor, and Einarr was not the only one who could not quite contain a laugh as they skied down. He was certain he heard Irding, and quite possibly Erik, as he half-ran, half-stumbled off the ramp and into the third floor challenge room. The door on the other side stood open. Feeling jaunty, Einarr sauntered forward.

The smell of ozone was his only warning. Einarr froze.

Lightning cracked down in the center of the room.

Seconds later, as the others skidded up behind him, lightning struck again. In the exact same spot. Einarr frowned, counting.

Five seconds before the third strike. He could make it. The Vidofnings could make it. Could Runa? Much as he loved her, she was more than a little pampered.

Well, nothing for it. Five seconds after the third strike came the fourth. The light had not fully faded from his eyes before Einarr was moving again, dashing for the far door with every ounce of speed he could muster.

The next time lightning struck, the hair on his head crackled with static – but he was clear. Einarr stopped to wait at the door for his friends to run the gauntlet.

Irding came next. It looked like he was trying to beat Einarr’s time. Einarr shook his head, smiling at the other young man as he crossed the finish line into the stair. Einarr’s hair had merely stood on end: Irding’s smelled of smoke.

Erik and Jorir made it with little issue, despite their twin and opposite problems of size. That only left Runa, who stood staring across at Einarr with indecision. He nodded encouragement to her, beckoning her on, and she set her jaw. That’s my Runa.

The lightning sizzled down again, and then Runa made her break across the floor, her dress trailing behind her. Einarr caught her hands as another flash appeared.

She was smoking. Or, rather, her skirt was. Runa herself seemed to be fine.

“Turn around.” When she obliged, Einarr beat out the flames licking her skirt at the edges of where the lightning had struck.

Nothing else in the tower slowed them more than a moment. There were more arrows and knives, and even another ramp, but as the sun sank below the horizon and seemed to light the sea on fire they stood in the Gestrisni catching their breath.

“See, Jorir? Not a problem at all.” Einarr could not quite repress a smile. In spite of everything, that had almost been fun.

“Are ye sure about that, lad?” Jorir’s voice was oddly flat, but Einarr still heard the edge in it.

“Why, what do you —” He turned his head to look at his man-at-arms and suddenly he knew what the problem was. The Gestrisni now sat in the open ocean, not a rock to be seen. All around them, the water was perfectly still, and there wasn’t so much as a breeze to stir a lock of hair among them. He had to let that sink in a moment before he found anything to say. “I hope we’re all ready to row.”

Jorir grunted. “I’m decent at navigating by the stars, as well. At least we won’t be striking out blindly.”

Erik snorted. “You let me an’ Irding worry about the oars, Einarr. You and your lady should keep watch.”

To that, Einarr nodded easy agreement. “My thanks. In that case, oh fearless navigator, let’s have a look at the charts.”


 

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6.1 – Coming Soon

Table of Contents


So ends Book 5 of Einarr’s adventures. Book 6 will pick up right where we left off, with our heroes lost in the middle of the ocean, on November 13. By then, I should be comfortably ensconced in my new home in Pago Pago. If you’d like to read about our adventures abroad (with an infant!), I will be starting a separate blog for just that purpose.

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.

5.10 – Into the Tower

Tendrils of mist extended inward toward the tower that rose from the water like some giant’s spear, curling about the Gestrisni and obscuring what rocks might yet hide beneath the surface. Even now that their target was in sight it was slow going.

They wound their way through the reef in silence save for the dip of the oars and the lapping of water on their hull, each and every one of them worrying over what lay ahead. Just as in the thick of the fog, here too Einarr found it impossible to judge the passage of time. First the cave, now the fog: it would be nice, he thought, to be under a properly sunny sky for a time once they were finished here.

After what felt like an eternity of tense floating, the shadow of the tower covered their boat, the thing itself looming from its rocky perch to split the heavens. Carefully they rowed toward a set of man-sized steps carved into the rock flanked by much smaller jagged spires, perfect for mooring their boat. Either the gods were mocking them and this apparent entrance was illusory, or people were occasionally required to venture here legitimately.

The Gestrisni carefully moored from bow and stern across the stairs, Einarr hopped over the railing and onto the bottom of the stair. Turning, he offered his hand to Runa. “My lady.”

She smiled coquettishly, a small blush kissing her cheeks, as she stepped up on the rail and accepted the hand. “Many thanks, milord.”

Erik chuckled and Irding had the poor grace to roll his eyes. Jorir, at least, saw nothing strange about the exchange. Runa ignored them as she joined her betrothed on the step.

“What, jealous, men? I can help you across too – if you think you need it.”

Now Erik roared, the sound of his laughter echoing off of water and stone alike. “Fat chance o’ that. Stand aside, boy, let me show you how it’s done.”

Irding moved hurriedly toward the bow while Einarr tugged Runa up the steps a goodly distance as Erik sauntered across the deck. Then the big man turned, dropped into a momentary lunge, and with two long strides launched himself from the deck. He landed hard on a step not far below Einarr, still several up from the water’s surface, as the Gestrisni rocked violently behind him.

Jorir swore as only a dwarf can swear, and Irding looked pale: now it was Einarr’s turn to laugh, although he did so somewhat more reservedly than Erik had.

“Well come on, you two. The sooner we’re back in East Port, the sooner we can actually unwind for a bit.”

Irding grunted as he, too, landed on the stairs after a somewhat less exuberant jump than his father’s. “Are all raiding seasons this… eventful with the Captain?”

“Not hardly.” Einarr pressed his lips together. Irding had been eager for this adventure: how much more overwhelmed must Svarek feel, after ghosts and monsters and corrupted blood? The men needed rest, maybe even more than they needed more men, but Stigander was surely aware of that even more keenly than Einarr.

Jorir landed almost as heavily as Erik had, although once again not trying to best the man’s long jump. “Shall we?”

With a nod, Einarr and Runa started up the stairway. The others fell in behind.

The path marked by the cut-in stairs spiralled around and up the rock. It could have been no more than eight feet vertically from the water to the tower’s foundation, but it was a steep spiral and by the top of it even the men’s legs burned a little with exertion. Runa, who was not used to such labors, was breathing heavily before the top.

The path finally ended before a smooth round stone set into the rock at eye height. Runes were carved in a ring around the outside, and the stone itself showed a labyrinthine pattern of concentric circles. There was no apparent handle, or even a sign of which way the stone would move to open the passage.

None of this appeared to deter Runa, who stood studying the design while she caught her breath. After a few minutes she began tracing a path through the labyrinth pattern on the portal stone with her finger.

“What is it?”

“Be very glad,” she muttered. “That you brought me along. Reki and Aema are more experienced Singers than I am, but they have spent their lives out raiding whereas I have had little to do with my time other than study. …There it is.”

As she spoke, her finger reached the center of the labyrinth and she pressed down. That first press was followed by several more in diverse locations around the stone. A grinding sound emanated from behind the wall, and the stone began to roll away into the rock.

“So what was that?”

“A puzzle lock, of course. And a fairly straightforward one once you understand the clue.”

“Clue? You mean the runes?”

“What else would I mean? We’d best be going through before it decides to close on our heads.”

Einarr looked up into the passage and frowned. Though it had been carved as steps, it was, at least here, nearly as steep as a ladder. “Jorir. You first. Then I’ll give Runa a hand up, then the rest of us will follow.”

Jorir puffed up his chest, pleased to be given the point position. “Very well, milord.”

The dwarf checked to be sure his shield and his axe were secure before stepping up to the door. He threw a challenging glare at Einarr and Erik both before measuring the distance. With a nod, he rubbed his hands together and crouched down.

His leap for the ledge of the first stair was more impressive than Erik’s long jump off the boat by far, although Einarr had seen its equal once: when they fought beneath Fraëner’s hall on Svartlauf. Jorir caught the ledge with his fingertips easily before pulling himself fully up on the stair.

Irding let out a low whistle, but wisely declined to comment.

“Your turn, milady.” Jorir turned and offered his hand to assist his Lord’s betrothed.

Einarr took a knee to allow Runa to step up on it. Steadying herself on his proffered hand, she accepted Jorir’s hand and made the step with a minimum of stretching.

“My thanks, noble svartdvergr. You are a credit to your tribe.”

“Lady, I am so long removed from my clan that the ill now spoken of us may well be true. For now, though, I believe we have more important matters to hand.” Without another word, Jorir turned and began making his way up the steep stair, one long step at a time. Einarr and the others soon followed.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

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.

5.9 – Undersea Assailant

Einarr cut his shout of surprise short as frigid water closed over his head. The thing that had hold of his leg yanked again, pulling him farther down. Then the downward pull stopped, although the creature did not let go. In that moment, the rope about his waist grew taut and he felt the water begin to move the other direction. His friends were pulling him up, the creature still attached to his leg.

The pause in downward pressure was a brief one, however. What felt like a hundred needles dug into his calf, and then the tug-of-war began between the men aboard the Gestrisni and the creature of the deep. More air escaped his mouth as he screamed involuntarily and he looked at his captured leg.

Staring back at him were the murderous eyes of a great eel, its jaw clamped around his calf. Already his lungs began to burn and the rope cut into his waist, but he hardly noticed between the teeth digging in to the muscle and the primal fear engendered by those eyes. Sinmora was at his belt, but he could think of nothing save getting to the surface, out of the water. Einarr reared his head up and lent his energy to those pulling on the rope even as the eel’s teeth tore into his leg. Better that than to let the creature drown him and feast on his entrails.

Abruptly the creature changed direction, surging up towards the surface – still without letting go. Einarr was able to grab a gulp of fresh air as the rope slackened with the sudden shift before the eel dashed off at an angle to the boat. In desperation he took hold of the rope about his waist in both hands and kicked at the jaws that dragged him along.

“Kill it!” He cried as the rope grew taut again, bringing his head once again above the water. “Kill it now!”

An arrow sailed through the air to land in the water near where the eel gripped Einarr’s leg. He took a deep breath and tightened his hold on the rope.

Another arrow flew and the eel convulsed, but did not stop. Jorir’s arrow – at least, he thought it belonged to the dwarf – now marked the path of the eel through the water. Einarr kicked at the creature again, but his boot just slid over its back. The eel paid him no more mind than any other struggling prey, which galled Einarr to no end. Still he did not dare draw his sword, as much out of worry to lose it in the deep as reluctance to let go of the rope.

Another pair of arrows flew, landing near the one that marked their target, and Einarr was glad of the torch he had placed. Without it, they almost certainly would have been unable to see the eel at all.

The rope was more than tight now: the eel was still fighting its way forward, but it seemed to be tiring, and they were not moving nearly so fast as they had been. The Gestrisni had not put down a sea anchor: it must be pulling them along, as well! A laugh tried to escape his throat, but it transformed midway into a groan. His leg was mostly numb, but not numb enough to dull the pain of those teeth.

A fourth arrow embedded itself in the eel’s back, farther forward this time, and it stopped its struggle. Even in death, however, it did not release its grip on his calf. When the men on the boat reeled Einarr in, they also brought in the giant eel that had thought to make a meal out of him.

When the eel had been hauled aboard in the net left for them and Einarr sat against the railing in a puddle of seawater Runa and Jorir set to work mending the wound on his leg while Erik and Irding began to butcher their catch.

Einarr laughed, his quiet chuckle growing into a full-throated guffaw. Everyone else aboard looked at him as though he’d snapped. He shook his head at the deck before throwing it back to look up into the foggy dimness. “Next time, someone else gets to be the bait.”

Erik was the first to laugh, and laughed the hardest. Runa didn’t seem to think it was funny in the slightest, but he at least got a chuckle out of Irding and Jorir.

“How far did it pull us?”

“Far enough that I can’t see your torch,” Irding answered. “Although I think if we just row backwards a ways we’ll find it again.”

Einarr frowned, contemplating his options. Finally, he decided: “Do it. Once the light comes back into view, let’s place another one before we move forward again.”

***

For hours the Gestrisni’s crew plied its way down the path opened by the unfortunate eel, placing torches where they could, with a little luck, mark their way home. How they would find their markers again after they went out, everyone tried not to think too hard about. Even an extinguished torch, they hoped, would be better than nothing.

After a time which was not identifiable to anyone on board the mist began to lighten around their boat again. Einarr still stood at the tiller, his leg bandaged but not yet fully whole. Perhaps it was something to do with their proximity to the tower, perhaps it was some unknown property of the eel, but even with Jorir’s medicines Runa’s song had not been able to fully heal the wound. He barely noticed it, in truth, except when he shifted his weight too suddenly. Everyone aboard held their breath, this time.

The fog around them began to thin, and soon his friends resolved from shadows to ghosts to flesh and blood once more, wherever they stood on deck.

The cry of gulls, muffled but somehow still nearby, reached their ears. Once more the oars dipped into the water, and as the Gestrisni glided forward a spire seemed to jut up out of the water, as though it aimed to pierce the white sky above. Einarr’s eyes followed the upward movement of the tower until it was lost in the mist, to where birds flocked about its upper reaches.

They had arrived.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

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.

5.7 – A Borrowed Boat

When Einarr and his team ventured forth the next morning most of East Port was still asleep, such that even on the busier docks the sound of the ocean lapping the shore and the call of sea birds dominated the air as they approached the shed where Sor kept his fishing boats. He and his men were up and about, of course, and this little section of the sleepy little town had the bustle of a much larger settlement.

Looking about, Einarr spotted a man of Trabbi’s approximate stature and age coiling a rope about his forearm. “Excuse me! Are you the owner?”

“Depends. Who’s asking?”

“Name’s Einarr, of the Vidofnir. The head of the Conclave of Singers told me you’d have a boat I could use.”

The man swore as though this were an old annoyance. “She did, did she? Wish she’d ask me if I’ve got one available first. What sort of terrible water does she want to send one of my boats into this time?”

“East. I’m guessing there’s some sort of reef, because she said a longship would have trouble.”

Sor grumbled. “Well at least that’s better than the last group she sent out on a quest. I won’t have to worry about kalalintu destroying my boat this time, or an unexpected bit of whitewater. Fine. I’ll have one ready for you at the evening tide.”

“My thanks. We will be ready.”

Sor harrumphed and went back to his work, grumbling about demanding women being a tax on their sons. Einarr’s mouth twisted in a half-smile as they made their way back to the public hall. Now if only he had a better idea what to prepare for.

***

True to his word, Sor had one of his fishing boats set aside and waiting for the five of them as the sun was brushing the horizon behind them. Einarr thought it might well have been the worst of his fleet: the fabric of the sail hung soddenly, although the deck was dry, and the railing made it look as though the ship had seen battle. His disappointment must have shown: Sor snorted.

“She’ll get you where you need to go, and back, if you take proper care of her. If you don’t take proper care of her, I’ll have to ask that you replace my boat – unless you can convince my dearest mother at the Conclave to do so.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. Not terribly hospitable of him, but it began to sound as though the crone took advantage of him regularly. Anyone’s patience might wear thin after a few years of that. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

The other man grunted. “Good. I’ve left you a net, since it sounds as though you don’t know how far east you need to sail. And, good luck, whatever this is they’ve sent you haring off to find.”

“My thanks, again. I suspect we will need it.”

Only now did Sor turn his eye to the rest of his party. When his eyes landed on Runa, they narrowed. “A Singer? You did bring a cask or three of mead, then, for the throat?”

Runa stepped forward, her shoulders square and her hands folded in front of her. “I assure you I am prepared for whatever harm might befall my voice.”

The man grunted. “Well, she’s all yours, then. And remember: I want her back in one piece!”

“Of course.” Einarr repressed his own sigh of annoyance until after Sor had moved off to deal with his actual work for the evening. “All aboard. Let’s not miss the tide.”

Painted on the side of the boat in the Imperial script was the name Gestrisni: when Einarr noticed it, he chuckled. The man’s hospitality was, indeed, just about worn out to judge by the state of the boat.

The sky had begun to darken, although the sun had not yet disappeared from the sky, when the Gestrisni plied out of the harbor with Erik and Irding at the oars and Einarr on the tiller.

It was not until they were safely out of harbor and the wind had caught the heavy sail that Erik leaned on his oar and looked expectantly at Einarr. “So. Last time we stole a magic necklace from a jotün, you made a friend and I almost lost my leg. What are we after this time?”

Einarr combed fingers through his hair, glad of the darkness to obscure his face. It still sounded strange to him. “Frigg’s distaff.”

Father and son both chuckled to hear that.

“Laugh now. According to the Conclave, it will cleanse us of the cult’s corruption… and it sounds like it can break the curse on Breidelstein, too.”

“Well, if that ain’t something.” Erik smoothed his hand over his beard. “Still seems like a mighty strange thing to ask for.”

“You’re not wrong. To make matters more interesting, remember that the tower we’re headed for is the nest of Huginn and Muninn.”

Runa moved a half-step closer to her betrothed and twined her fingers in his. The others cursed.

“We’re stealing from Wotan?” Irding jumped to his feet as it finally clicked.

“Afraid so.”

“The item we need belongs to Frigg, however, and our cause is worthy. My hope is that she will stay his hand for us.” Runa answered, her voice low.

“We might also wish to hope she does so quickly enough. He knows seithir and he’s a berserker. One wrong move and we’re screwed.” Jorir’s head was tilted back, looking at the moon.

“Rather.” Erik drew the word out dryly.

“My thoughts exactly, I’m afraid.” Einarr stepped in before this could become a fight. “But according to the Conclave, the distaff is necessary to prevent us from turning into abominations like we were fighting before. The black blood is corrupting, they said. I will risk calling down the wrath of Wotan on my head to save our crew and the Brunnings any day.”

Jorir hummed. “Never said I disagreed. Just if we’d known we might have had a better idea what to prepare for.”

“We’re looking at a tower likely to be filled with magical traps, riddles, and other trickery. What is there to prepare other than ensuring we have a Singer of our own?” Einarr shook his head. “But if the quest were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun. Right?”

Erik laughed. Soon, the others joined him, and the Gestrisni sailed off into the night.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

5.8 – Coming Soon

Table of Contents

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.