Tag: Jarl Hroaldr

9.4 – A New Quest

It was with a heavy heart and no small amount of trepidation that the Vidofnir once more entered the harbor at Kjellvic. Liupold returned to the Arkona, although the dromon did not immediately weigh anchor. The Eikthyrnir followed Stigander up to the docks, where the two ships were met by the harbormaster, whom Einarr had spoken to before.

He wasn’t sure if it was a positive sign or not that it was only the harbormaster who greeted them. On the one hand, it was probably a good sign that the people of the town were more interested in putting their lives back together than driving them off with torches and pitchforks. On the other hand, it also led him to doubt Trabbi’s claim.

“What news from the Hall?” The Harbormaster asked in response to Stigander’s hail.

Stigander shook his head. “Nothing but ash. The bastard took the Jarl and the Lady.”

Now fire sparked in the other man’s eye. “They what?”

“I thought Bollinn was back. Didn’t he say?”

The harbormaster shook his head. Probably, from what he knew of the Brunnings, they were trying to avoid panicking the townspeople. “I’ll call up the militia. Be surprised if they didn’t want to join you.”

Father and son nodded in tandem, then Einarr paused. “What happened to the mayor?”

The harbormaster gestured broadly at the town behind him. After a pause, he sighed. “They found him on the green. Gutted. Couldn’t tell you if he was still alive when the fire swept through.”

Einarr winced. Stigander merely nodded again. “That’s of a piece with what little news has come out of Breidelstein.”

“It’s true, then?”

“So it seems. It’s well past time I dealt with Ulfr’s treachery, anyway. …Is the shipwright about?”

“Oh, aye. You’ll find him down where he always is. He’ll be right glad to have your ship off his hands, I wager. …Oh, but, my Lord? You might warn your men against too much drink while they’re in town.”

“Surely no-one actually believes that calumny?”

“None as know you, no. Not many others, I wager, but you know what drink can do to a man’s wits.”

Stigander hummed, and then they were off.


As soon as Einarr laid eyes on the rams-head prow he knew the ship to be at least the equal of any he’d seen in Eskiborg. The wood seemed to glow from within, and the shipwright had seemed to know just from looking at him how Einarr would want to run his ship. It was no Eikthyrnir, to outrace anything she came up against, but neither was it a Bjorn, thick and bulky and tough but slow. It was, like the beast on her prow, built for balance.

The shipwright – who was otherwise quite happy to take Stigander’s coin – stared sullenly at him as he examined the new ship. His new ship. “She’s beautiful,” Einarr said, running his hand down the klinks.

“You better believe she is. An’ I’ll wager she’s as eager to fight as you lot are. Just keep the bloody wolves away from here, wouldya?”

“By the time we’re done with them, you’ll not have anything to worry about save some pelts,” Stigander’s voice was quiet and level as he answered.

Oddly, that did nothing to ease the other man’s glower. Instead, he pocketed their coin and mumbled a “pleasure doin’ business with you” before wandering off to elsewhere in his workspace.

Einarr shrugged then turned his attention back to the ship. She had fewer benches than the Vidofnir, but that was fine. She was likely to be running at half crew until they took Breidelstein at least, anyway. The awning stretched a good ten feet back from the mast, and could be collapsed quickly at need through an ingenious series of catches to roll up in itself. Einarr would have to study that, and have Jorir take a look as well.

“Where is Jorir, anyway? I’d have thought he’d want to be here for this.”

“He did, but he had some business with the smith. There’ll be time enough for you and all your crew to take it in – later. Right now, I want to hear all about what happened with the elves while you inspect her.”

Einarr chuckled. Oh. Of course. “Sounds good, pabbi.”


A handful of Vidofnings gathered that night at the lone public hall of Kjellvic, one of the few structures left largely untouched by the Wolfling’s raid, to share stories and recruit sailors for this next expedition. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind what they had to do.

The sun had well set, although it was still far too early for people to be too deeply into their cups, when Einarr called for the attention of the hall. The townspeople had fallen to the sort of merrymaking only possible after a hard day’s work when one has just escaped catastrophe, and was in danger of turning rowdy later. That meant, however, that this was the perfect time.

“Good people of Kjellvic,” Einarr shouted over the din, raising his tankard high. The room began to quiet almost immediately. “On behalf of my father and all the Vidofnings, I thank you for your trust in our friendship. What has happened here, while we were away, is the result of the usuper’s cowardice and envy.”

Someone in the back of the hall jeered.

“I know. We have allowed him his games for far too long… But, at last, we have what we need to retake our home and re-grow the friendship between our two lands! We have, however, only three ships, two of which are under strength. When the Vidofnir sails forth to unravel the Weaving, and take back our lands and rescue our friends, who among you will sail with us to rescue your Lord the Jarl and the Lady Runa?”

A loud cheer went up, and Einarr, Jorir, and Bardr spent the rest of the night talking, man-to-man, with the volunteers.


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9.3 – Wolfling Raid

Stigander froze in his tracks, then seemed to sway a little as the words hit him harder than any physical blow. “Too late?” he finally managed.

Einarr and Trabbi both moved to where Stigander stood poleaxed. Einarr arrived first, despite the old fisherman being much closer. “What do you mean, too late?”

Trabbi, his face as ashen as the rest of him, shook his head slowly. “The raiders been gone for days, now. All that’s left here is to save what remains. Build again, if we find the Jarl.”

Stigander recovered himself. “I think you’d better come down to the Vidofnir with us, have some food and drink. Then you can tell us what happened.”

Trabbi nodded as though still half-dazed. “I think that might be a good idea. Can’t tell you when I last ate.”


Three days before the Arkona, the Eikthyrnir and the Vidofnir narrowly avoided doing battle in the harbor, a drakken with a wolf’s head on the prow arrived. They made no pretense of friendship: this was a raid, and the wolf’s raiders were searching for someone.

Stigander.

As soon as they saw the Vidofnir wasn’t in port, they made sure everyone at the Hall – and, Trabbi supposed, likely everyone in the town – knew that they had come for the thief Stigander and the ship he had stolen from Breidelstein, the Vidofnir. The wolflings were trying to draw them out.

The battle at the Hall was the worst any of them had seen in years. The men of the Skudbrun fought valiantly, and gave chase, but just yesterday had limped back, unable to follow further. They did confirm one thing, though.

Trabbi stared into the ale in the wooden tankard they had brought him. “The Wolfling ship – we never got its name – had both the Jarl and the Lady Runa aboard. Captive.”

Stigander’s face had gone red with rage, and Einarr saw his beard twitching in time with the muscle over his jaw. “He has the nerve to call me a thief?”

Einarr, though, was preoccupied with another bit of that story. “Was she unharmed?”

The odds that the Jarl had been taken without a fight, and therefore without injury, were almost nil. Trabbi sighed. “As near as Bollinn could tell. She was gagged and tied to the mast when he saw her, and my Lord was trussed up like a boar. Also gagged: apparently their Captain wasn’t willing to deal with my Lord’s temper.”

Stigander had calmed a little. “No. He wouldn’t be.”

“Father?”

“The Captain of the ship that razed Kjell is most likely Ulfr son of Urdr. My half-brother, and your uncle.”

Einarr hesitated a moment, then hummed agreement into his own cup. “It couldn’t be anyone else, with the story Trabbi told.”

“I’d hoped to have a little longer to muster forces…”

Einarr shook his head. “We should have realized we were out of time last summer, when I came back with the Örlögnir. I’ve already lived longer than most Cursebreakers manage, and it seems like every time I turn around someone has raised the stakes on me. My ship is ready?”

“Assuming it wasn’t damaged in the assault on the town. Even after last fall, I’ve only got a skeleton crew I can spare you.”

“I’m sure that will work itself out.”

“I imagine,” Trabbi interrupted. He looked and sounded much more alive now that he was out of the smoking ruin and fed. “I imagine that, if you put round the town what you’re doing, you’ll have a good number of able bodies wanting to get their own back against the raiders.”

“See?” Einarr looked more seriously at Trabbi now. “How badly was the Skudbrun damaged?”

“You’d have to ask Bollinn, but I’m sure they’ll be itching to go.” Ulfr had Jarl Hroaldr, after all.

Now Einarr turned to the foreigners in their midst. “You have delivered me, as promised, to my father’s ship and my own people. I have no more hold on you, and if you wish to return the Princess to Imperial waters, not a soul will hold it against you. On the other hand…”

Liupold shook his head. “For myself, I would chase this justice with you, and I know that there are many among my crew who admire you for your work on Hohenwerth. There are just as many, however, who despise the Clans beyond all reason. My Mate among them. I fear I must return south with the Arkona.”

Einarr inclined his head. He had expected as much, but they were going to be facing the entire strength of the land that used to be home, with whatever navy and whatever loyalty the Weaver and her bastard son managed to forge.

Bea, however, straightened her shoulders. “I will come. As a token of goodwill, let us say.”

“Your Highness!” Liupold protested.

“I have made up my mind, Captain. This Cursebreaker intrigues me, and I believe it is not only in my Patron’s interest but the interest of the Empire to ensure his success and continued survival. I will go.”

Liupold looked to Einarr and Stigander for assistance and found none. Neither did Trabbi, the Jarl’s retainer, look inclined to stop her. Finally he sighed. “In that case, I would ask that you fight on my behalf, as well.”

She beamed. “Of course. I will send you with a missive in my own hand, in case Father should object.”

Liupold rolled his eyes, and Einarr suddenly wondered if all highborn women were so overbearing. “Well,” he said, to change the subject. “In that case, it sounds as though we should get back to town. And… hope my uncle’s slander did not take hold.”

Trabbi nodded, slowly. “I think you have little to fear, there. Lord Stigander and his crew are well-known, after all, not only for your friendship to Lord Hroaldr but also for your generosity in town.”

That was true, as far as it went, but Einarr was uneasy nonetheless.


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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.

8.12 – A New Quest

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

“Of course not.” Einarr paused. “Father. I’m glad that you recognize I’ve met your requirements, and look forward to formalizing the terms of our engagement upon my return.”

Jarl Hroaldr fell silent for a long moment, studying Einarr. It had been a gamble, but the way Einarr saw it he won either way. Either the Jarl corrected him, in which case he didn’t have to go fight the kraken. Or he didn’t, in which case all he had to do was make it back and their engagement could proceed.

The Jarl opened his mouth to speak, but the man from the Order cut him off.

“Excellent! I am glad to hear you have such faith in your future son-in-law, and look forward to working with him to eradicate this menace.”

Well, that was that. Einarr watched as the tendons in the Jarl’s neck shifted as he swallowed whatever it was he’d been about to say. He couldn’t take it back now.

Of course, neither could Einarr. But all that meant was he had to come back alive and uncorrupted. He gave Liupold a slightly wan smile. “I’ll do what I can. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go speak with my companions.”

As he rose and walked away from their circle, he felt someone watching him. Glancing surreptitiously over his shoulder, he saw the Jarl glaring daggers at him. Einarr rolled his other shoulder in half a shrug.

The four friends he had brought from Eskiborg reacted to the news with surprising equanimity – a sure sign, Einarr thought, that they did not truly understand what they would be facing. Still, what could he say but ‘thank you’?

“Eydri, will you work with Runa and see if the two of you can figure anything out about these creatures or the corruption or what have you? She’s quite a good scholar, despite being ‘only’ an apprentice.”

“I don’t mind. I’d like to make her acquaintance anyway, if I’m going to be working with you for any length of time.”

Einarr nodded and Eydri went to speak with Runa.

“Naudrek, Liupold seems like a personable fellow. See if you can’t get on his good side, would you?” He lowered his voice. “It struck me, just a bit ago, how this could be some sort of Imperial trick. Do what you can to make sure we’re not walking into a noose, would you?”

“Gladly. Valuable information, that.”

“Excellent. Hrug, I want you to help me figure out a way to trap the thing, like the Village used to imprison the Shroud, sort of. Are you up for that?”

The other man grunted and flashed half a smile. Good: it wouldn’t be easy, but at least it should be interesting, and a good use of the man’s newfound expertise.


Liupold was, of course, in a hurry to be on their way, but the Arkona and the Eikthyrnir both needed to be resupplied, and after Captain Kormund’s tale when they arrived at port the two ships needed to leave together, as well.

Kormund, for his part, readily agreed to take a message to Stigander at Breidhaugr. Considering that the last contact he’d had with the Vidofnings had been before he traveled the elven roads to study in the Shrouded Village, this took a considerable load off of Einarr’s shoulders.

“Thank you, and good luck.”

“I believe I should be saying that to you, don’t you think?” Kormund raised an eyebrow even as the two shook hands. “Stay sharp. There’s something about this whole situation that smells fishy to me.”

“I will, and me, too. Thank you for all your help so far.”

“My pleasure. I look forward to having an ale with you and your father in Raenshold.”

Then Kormund climbed aboard the Eikthyrnir and Einarr strode up the plank to the deck of the Arkona.

Einarr’s first impression of the dromon was of luxury and spaciousness. No-one’s bedroll sat on the deck: it looked like, no-one’s had to. He saw a ladder heading down to a lower deck. Is that why dromon were so much taller than longships?

Evidently so. Liupold, still chatting in a friendly manner, led the four of them down the ladder to a room that seemed somewhat smaller than the deck above. A door let out on the far end, and the room was lined with mats laid out on the floor and hammocks strung from the walls. “This is where most of the crew sleeps, in shifts. Out that door is the lower tier of oars, but we shouldn’t need to use them while you’re aboard.”

Einarr grunted. On the one hand, no-one would have to sleep out in the rain. On the other hand, even with no-one else in it the air in here was close and stifling.

“There’s also a galley on this deck, and a few small separate rooms. I have one, and I have prepared a second one for the lady Eydri. This is also the deck where the galley is.”

“I’m sorry,” Naudrek interrupted. “Galley?”

“The kitchen? Where food is prepared?”

Einarr wrinkled his nose: no wonder the steerage room felt so hot. He had gone from being impressed to being once more convinced of the longship’s superiority rather more rapidly than expected. “So the men sleeping off-duty are the first ones to burn if there’s a fire?”

“Not at all. There’s a fire wall of clay between the two rooms.”

Einarr nodded his understanding. If he’d tryed to say anything, he would have insulted his host’s ship, and that would have been poor form. Still, he was getting some ideas for how to fight off the black kraken that was supposedly waiting for them. The Arkona might even still be able to fight afterwards.

Einarr did not dislike Liupold. He seemed like an honorable fellow, for all that he was a Conehead. But the Konneul Empire was not above trickery, and the Order worked hand in hand with the Empire. It would be acceptable if the Arkona was not in fighting shape, so long as she could still sail.


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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 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.

8.11 – Petition

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

The only way Einarr could have been more glad to see a shore, he thought, would be if it were Breidelstein, and their victory complete. As it was, Kjell had begun to feel almost like a home itself, and Einarr could not quite disguise his pleasure at seeing it again.

The only shadow on the whole affair came from the dromon sailing in their wake. Their captain had acceeded to the escort and the flag of surrender easily enough, which said to Einarr that the problem might actually be more serious than they had let on. So far as that went, he was torn. On the one hand, if one were to assign blame for the release of those horrors, it would fall to the crews of the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun. On the other hand, they were creatures which should not exist in the first place, and the fault of their existence could be laid squarely at the feet of the svartalfr cult.

Well. Soon they would be able to put the matter before Father, Bollinn, and Jarl Hroaldr. In the meantime, the Eikthyrnir sailed around to find a berth in town.

The harbormaster in Kjellvic was quite put out, in fact, by the presence of the dromon, even after Captain Kormund claimed it was his prize – over the objections of the Valkyrian captain, of course.

The Vidofnir was not docked in the harbor, although it was entirely possible Stigander had beached her in the inlet near the hall instead. He did get a glimpse, however, of the rams-head prow Father had commissioned for him last year.

It was with a spring in his step that Einarr led his new companions, as well as Captains Kormund and Liupold, down the road to Kjell Hall, where he expected to find Runa as well as the Vidofnings.

He was, unfortunately, disappointed. Runa was there, and while they were permitted to greet each other the Jarl kept her close to hand for the entirety of his visit. The Vidofnir, he learned, had set out on the equinox headed for Breidhaugr in hopes of finding some clue as to Einarr’s whereabouts. Still, however, Bollinn of the Skudbrun was expected back any day now. When Liupold of the Arkona requested consultation with them, the Jarl also sent for the retired Kragnir at Einarr’s suggestion.

On the third day after their arrival at the Hall, Bollinn arrived. All of the captains, Einarr, and the Jarl seated themselves near the fire pit to hear Liupold’s petition.

“One of the islands that the Arkona defends from attack,” he began, much more diplomatically than before. “Suddenly went silent. We went in to investigate. The village… the village was dead. Massacred. We wondered, at first, if one of the Clan ships had turned rogue…”

He never finished that thought, as everyone else in the circle shook their heads vehemently ‘no.’ Such behavior was unthinkable among the Clans.

“We learned soon enough not. We left the village and sent a squad’s worth of priests in to see to last rights and purification. Not long thereafter, a Valkyrie appeared before me.” His tale went on in that vein, and was either the truth or a remarkably well-practiced lie, for Einarr could detect no meaningful difference between what he had been told when they finally confronted their tail and now.

“Captain Liupold wished to convince my father and I to travel south and deal with the issue, under the theory that they would not be loose were it not for our rescue of Runa.” Einarr left it there: he could see the same answer he had given on Bollinn’s and Kragnir’s faces already. The Jarl schooled his expression somewhat more, however, and Einarr found he could not tell what he was thinking.

“Hopeless,” Bollinn began.

“Pointless,” Kragnir continued. “If you had any idea how many men we lost, fighting the cultists and those helbeasts in the first place, you wouldn’t ask. You want to blame someone, blame the cult. They might even have someone left you could hold responsible.”

Bollinn crossed his arms. “Bleed the villagers. Anyone with black blood has to die – they’re too far gone. As for the rest… I suppose it’s possible they could be saved, depending. You might be able to convince the Matrons on Breidhaugr to share the formula for their medicine, but my understanding is that it only delays the effects. Stigander has the distaff.”

Liupold’s brow creased. “The distaff?”

“The Matrons required Frigg’s distaff in order to fully cleanse us of the corruption. I was sent to retrieve it from the Tower of Ravens, where I encountered a Valkyrie. When I went to study with the alfs, I left it with Father. We will have need of it.”

Liupold nodded. “That fits with what Hrist said of you. I’d wondered how she knew the Clans had produced another Cursebreaker.”

“What did Hrist say of me?”

“Enough that I knew you on sight. But it’s really not important right now. What I need to know is, will you come?”

“We’ve already told you how to deal with this curse. You don’t need me, just the stones to do it.” Unless they would then turn around and use this as a pretext for war against the Clans. Einarr had to bite his tongue to keep from saying that aloud, and hope this ‘Hrist’ wasn’t spying on him right now.

Jarl Hroaldr smiled, and the expression sent shivers down Einarr’s spine. “They are right, I’m afraid. However… I believe an agreement may be reached. I will not be sending the Skudbrun with you. But I expect my future son-in-law may have some insights that will prove useful to you in dealing with the outbreak, especially since he’s fought this great black squid before. Surely you have no objection to that, do you, son?”

Well, it seemed like the Jarl was still against Einarr marrying Runa. His mouth felt suddenly dry. “Of course not.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

5.24 – Second Chance

That cut on his side was going to be a problem. It wasn’t likely to kill him, he didn’t think, but the blood showed no sign of slowing yet. Well. A bandage was just cloth, and he was wearing plenty of that. Einarr gripped the hem of his tunic and tore.

The fabric came off in a spiral. When he thought it was long enough, he held the strip tightly against Sinmora’s blade and sawed down. Then, gritting his teeth the entire time, he wrapped the makeshift bandage about his chest and over his opposite shoulder to hold the rest of the tunic tight against his wound.

Once it was tied, Einarr tested his work with a pair of deep breaths. That should hold. He looked around the room at the statues, now out of any semblance of order… except the statues of his father and the Jarl had not budged. He furrowed his eyebrows: that was plainly the clue. What else might it mean?

A brightness caught his eye from the floor at his feet: the Valkyrie’s feather. He stooped to pick it up, and Einarr’s fingers tingled as they gripped the shaft. Why she had left it, he could not begin to guess. Carefully, to avoid dripping blood on it, he threaded it through the buckle of his baldric.

His hand brushed against the pouch at his belt, where the wooden broach rested. Mysteries upon mysteries. Einarr sighed. Even should those runes spell out the answer to this puzzle, it was of no use to him here. He shook his head and harrumphed. If the answer was not in the relationship ties between the images, what might it be?

Einarr stepped slowly over to stand before the images of his father and Runa’s. They stood – or sat – implacably, facing each other. The Jarl sat on his throne, looming over all below him, while Stigander stood exhorting unseen hosts. It would be hard to imagine two more different images…

That’s it! For all that Jarl Hroaldr and Stigander were old friends, they were in many ways mirrors of each other. Thus, if his hunch was right, each image would have a mirror of sorts on the floor somewhere.

He thought he had the trick of it, at least. Moving the statues had been cumbersome before. Now he was tired from the fight and wounded besides. Each step across the room reminded him of the shards in his shins, but at least his makeshift bandage quelled the fire in his side.

He slotted Arring, with his massive strength, opposite of Barri, who like Einarr was faster than he was strong. Jorir faced Tyr, the ageless and wise blacksmith against the aged and wise sailor. Einarr frowned at this one, but could think of no more sensible option. Runa, the Jarl’s daughter, would be matched with him, Jarl’s daughter to Thane’s son and so many other mirrors besides.

The real trouble was attached to the image of Erik and Sivid dicing together. Ordinarily, Einarr would have matched each as the other’s opposite… so then, what to do when they were shown together? Einarr paced a lap around the room, pondering this. There were few other options remaining.

He stopped when he once again came face to face with the pairing of Jorir and Tyr, which he had not been happy with. The two had as much in common as in opposition. The image of Jorir, however, showed him working at a forge. Erik and Sivid, on the other hand, were at play. It was so simple he had almost missed it.

Finally, once all the statues were in place, Einarr approached the last remaining depression in the floor with some trepidation. His hands had started to shake, which he blamed on fatigue. That what remained of his tunic was sodden with blood had nothing to do with it. With a deep breath, Einarr took his place in the display.

Instead of a lance of pain through his head there was a grinding noise as the statues all turned on their bases. Some of the pairs rearranged themselves on the floor, leaving a broad open path across the floor of the room. At the end of the path, he could now see a door that had not been there before. Einarr breathed an unconscious sigh of relief as he hurried down the path. He did not think he could face the Valkyrie a second time.

Einarr raised his uninjured hand and pulled on the door. A blinding light flashed.

He stood on the landing of a stairway heading up. Around him on the landing were Jorir, Runa, Erik and Irding. He smiled and opened his mouth to greet his friends, but suddenly the world tried to turn upside down.

Einarr blinked several times, partly in surprise to see he was leaning on Erik’s shoulder – When did that happen? – and partly because the world seemed to have gone blurry around him.

“He’s hurt,” Runa was saying, and he could hear sogginess in her voice. “Come now, quickly, we have to get him someplace flat at least.”

Erik started slowly up the stairs. Einarr tried to lift his feet, but with each step it felt more as though he were being dragged. Something about the situation seemed familiar, and recently so.

“My medicine pouch is down on the boat,” Jorir grumbled.

“Why on earth would you leave it there?” Runa’s question was a good one. She growled in frustration and then began to sing.

The song was like a cool breeze across Einarr’s face, and he relaxed into it. Runa mumbled something about the wound looking bad, and Jorir’s sarcastic rumble answered. He lifted a foot to aid Erik, but the combination of injury and song magic was too much for him right then. Einarr drifted into unconsciousness to the sound of Runa’s voice.


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5.22 – Mortality

There was no statue of Trabbi, the loyal retainer, or of the former Captain Kragnir – but there was one of Bollinn who replaced him, which would fill the same role. On he went, connecting a figure of Bardr pouring over sea charts to Stigander, and on back through the crew and the Kjellings. Something strange happened when he found himself face to face with a simulacrum of the apothecary from Kem. Ordinarily he would have paired him with Erik, given the events on the island, but Sivid had not been there at all, and the only image of Erik had them together.

His next best guess was, as with Jorir, to connect the man to himself. He thought he knew where he would have to stand for that, as there was no simulacrum of himself to be found on the floor.

Einarr dripped with sweat by the time he slid the statue of Jorir into place. That was the last one, though, and as he expected there was still an empty depression on the floor, with connections running to several other figures. With a deep breath, he stepped down into the last remaining depression.

At first, nothing happened. Then, when he was running over who might be improperly tied, lightning lanced through his brain. A scream of pain tore out of his throat at the sudden onslaught. Einarr dropped to his knees.

When he recovered his feet, Einarr stumbled over to the stand where the verse of his clue had been.

The bit of doggerel was no more – or at least the page had been turned. In its place, he saw these words writ large:

Fool! Lack you wisdom as well?
Mortal ties such as these are easily severed
Think ye deeper.

A sound like thunder cracked. Einarr, his head still aching, winced. When he looked back up, he realized he was no longer alone in the room.

Standing between the images of the Jarl and his father, the tip of her sword planted between her feet, was a woman beside whom even Runa would appear plain. Long auburn hair hung in a braid past the bottom of her gleaming breastplate, and on her head was a golden-winged helmet so finely worked the feathers looked real. Even in her floor-length skirt there could be no doubt she was dangerous: the giant white eagle wings on her back alone would have dispelled that notion.

Einarr’s mouth went dry even as his palms grew clammy. “A V-v-v-valkyrie?” he asked under his breath as he dropped to his knees. He knew sneaking in here for the Örlögnir was always going to be riskier than going after the Isinntog, but somehow he had still not expected this.

“Do not fool yourself, young warrior. That you have come this far is because you were allowed to, but even when the cause is just my Lord’s forbearance is finite.” The Valkyrie’s voice was a deep alto, but sharp and clear like good steel.

“Of course, great lady.”

“You may have a second chance.”

Einarr lifted his head and opened his mouth to thank her, but the valkyrie was not done yet.

“If you can survive five exchanges in battle with me.”

Einarr felt his face grow pale. Survive five rounds against a real, honest-to-goodness Valkyrie? He swallowed once more, trying to find his voice. “And should I refuse, or fail?”

“Your soul is mine.”

“To become Einherjar?”

She smiled a wolf’s smile. “To be cast down to Hel. You will die as a thief, should you die here.”

He swallowed again. I don’t have to land a hit. I just have to not get hit. No problem. He did not find this particularly reassuring. What he said, though, was “It seems I have no choice.”

The Valkyrie nodded. “Make ready, then.”

With the scrape of steel on steel, the comforting weight of Sinmora was in Einarr’s hand. He raised his shield and stood at defense, studying his opponent.

She, too, took a battle stance, raising her long, double-edged sword until it was vertical. She bore no shield: Einarr had no doubt that should someone get past her native skill those pauldrons and bracers would blunt any blow.

He could not see her feet under the long, heavy skirt. That would make this more difficult, but still not impossible. Not by itself, anyway. Pressing his mouth into a line, he met her gaze and nodded.

The Valkyrie moved almost impossibly fast. In the space between two breaths she had crossed the distance between them, her shoulders turned into the blow she intended to bring down on Einarr’s head. Before sight could become thought he had brought up his shield, and her sword struck the boss like a bell.

He danced back, his hand tingling from the force of the blow even as the ringing continued in his ears. His own blow had swung for her side and somehow been turned away by the very air.

She offered him a nod. “You have decent reflexes, but it will not be enough to save you.”

“I rather hope you are wrong, there. You’re quite quick.”

“That’s not all I am.”

She rushed in again, this time bringing her sword up in an underhand swipe toward Einarr’s legs. He slid to the side, away from the blow, even as he brought Sinmora down and once more steel rang against steel.

“That’s two.”

“You have not yet attacked me seriously.”

“Nor have you. You let me see both of those attacks coming.”

She flashed her vulpine grin again and chuckled. “Perhaps. I rather wanted you to feel you were doing well. I hate for people to die unfulfilled.”

The Valkyrie unfurled her wings, and the tips brushed the heads of two statues ten feet apart. With a blast of wind she rose up into the air and lowered her sword at him. “Let’s take this more seriously, then, shall we?”


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5.21 – Relational Maze

Einarr stumbled through the door, blinking at the flash of light that had momentarily blinded him. Frowning, he looked about the room to see that it was filled with… not really statues, they weren’t solid enough for that, but more images of people he knew, all frozen in place in poses that spoke of daily life. There was Father, looking as though he was exhorting his crew, there Runa bent over a tafl board, there Jorir behind an anvil. Jarl Hroaldr sat tall in his throne, leaning forward as though passing judgement, while Erik and Sivid sat dicing. He furrowed his brow: this was rather eerie, but he was not at all certain what he was intended to do here, and there did not seem to be any doors.

Well. Perhaps a closer examination of the room would reveal the trick of it. Einarr wound his way through the ephemeral images of his friends and family, searching for some bit of writing on wall or floor that would point him in the right direction. Finally he came to the center of the room, where stood a broad pedestal, nearly waist-high. In the center of this pedestal, a good five paces away from the edge, an open book rested on a stand. My only hint, and it’s bound to be in runes. With a sigh, he climbed up onto the pedestal and walked toward the book.

Einarr’s skin prickled as he approached the book: it seemed to almost crackle with the magic of the gods. If that was any measure, this book would dwarf the Isinntog in power. He stepped up to the stand and rested his hands on the edges before looking down.

The page it was opened to was covered in runes, but as he stood blinking at the page he saw the Imperial script appear between the lines. Halfway down the first page, he looked over his shoulder, but still saw only the unmoving images of people he knew. The book. It’s describing what I’m doing right now. How…?

Out of curiosity, he tried to turn the page forward, but it was stuck. With a shrug, he flipped backwards. Everything was described in exacting detail – their journey to the Tower, the memory chambers, Erik and Irding’s victory over a stenjätte (there was a stenjätte in the tower?), and Jorir and Runa’s victory in a game of tafl.

Unnerved, Einarr took another lap around the room, looking for any other clue as to how he would escape – or who might be working such a spell on the book. Eventually, his feet brought him back to the book in the center of the room. The text from before was gone. Instead, in the center of one page, were these lines:

Prince of virtues   inspirer of men
Remember your burden   shared among many
Reorder your thoughts   aid also your friends
And open the path

It was doggerel, not what he expected of Wotan at all… but perhaps a raven familiar cannot quite appreciate poetry the same way? Whatever the case, it was the closest thing to a clue he had found.

The room was filled with images of the people in his life, and he could not honestly say that among those his eye was drawn to he was more imposed upon than imposing. Runa, perhaps, and he thought it balanced with the Jarl and with Jorir… but Einarr knew better than to think his father wanted to reclaim Breidelstein for his own benefit. And how many men on the crew helped him because they liked him, and how many because he was Stigander’s son?

Einarr shook his head. If that was true, then there must be some pattern among the images standing in the room that would let him open the door. First, he would attempt to put the images in some semblance of order.

Contrary to appearances, they were solid statues, although they moved with relative ease once he rocked them out of the depressions they sat in. He would start, he decided, by arranging them according to how he knew them – from the ship, from Kjell, and so on.

Some of the statues, he quickly discovered, were far heavier than others, even relative to their size. The Jarl, for example, was beyond his strength to budge, and his father moved only with great difficulty. He frowned: why could he move Erik and Sivid – who, interestingly, were all in one piece – with ease, but not Father and not Jarl Hroaldr?

As he braced himself again to shove his father’s statue out of its depression, he happened to look down. In the floor, a shallow groove ran between those two statues. Of course: Jarl Hroaldr was Father’s childhood friend, and this was something to do with relationships. He stopped trying to move the statue of his father: that friendship was too important to all three of them, and likely Runa besides.

Then he stopped in his tracks. If that was the case, that meant there would be something connecting to the Jarl’s statue to mark where Runa’s was supposed to go. And, given Einarr’s relationship to Runa, very likely there would be a connection to Stigander, as well. He went in search of Runa’s statue, which had been moved up against a wall early in his sorting attempt.

When he returned with it, however, he saw that there were two possible places that could be intended for Runa – and if he got one in a valid spot that was still wrong, he didn’t know if he could move it again. Runa, then, he left, and then went in search of a statue of Trabbi or Captain Kragnir of the Skudbrun. This was beginning to make sense, but if he didn’t want to be trapped in here forever he needed to get on it. Even the light statues weren’t precisely easy to move, after all.


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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.

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5.3 – Medicinal Bath

Three paces outside the door of the hall his tune trailed off and he stopped, now seeing what was in store for them.

Set up in the Hall yard were two large wooden tubs on a platform over a bonfire. Steam rose up into the midsummer morning, and the air smelled strongly of peppermint and lavender. It was true that Einarr had wanted a bath for weeks now. For all that these were washing tubs, however, this looked more like a scalding pot.

The plump Matron looked up from her nalbinding and hailed him with a smile. “Good morning!”

“I think that my companions and I should make a poor meal, honored Amma.”

To her credit, and Einarr’s relief, she laughed. “You’ll not be cooked unless you stay in too long. ‘Tis a bath, but for the herbs to work it must be hot.”

“More purification?”

“As much as we can do. The corruption has had long to work on your men: we must drive it back as hard and as fast as we can if you are to succeed in your quest.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. This was the first any such quest had been mentioned to him, although that there would be one did not surprise him.

“Well, up you go. There are baskets above for your things.”

When he stepped over the side of the tub, it was as though someone had brewed medicinal tea in a hot spring. The fragrance filled his nose and threatened to make him cough, it was so strong. Still, he thought he would prefer not to grow tentacles, and so he breathed shallowly until he could grow used to the odor. His feet turned pink almost immediately, but too hot or not he intended to take full advantage.

Barri and Sivid emerged from the hall as he was scrubbing his arms. By the thunderstruck look on both their faces, he knew exactly what they were thinking. “Good morrow! Come on in, the water’s fine.”

“Are you sure we’re not being softened up for a pudding?” Sivid asked as he climbed the platform.

Einarr belly laughed. “Would you eat something that smelled like this?”

Barri coughed. As eloquent a response as Einarr could hope for, he laughed again.

***

All nine of their party had been steeped and scrubbed before the sun had crested the forest canopy, and with Runa returned to them they fell to the morning’s porridge with berries and cream. That was when the oaken crone took her seat at the head of the table – although Einarr noted that she was not eating. For a time, she merely sat in silence.

Impatient, Einarr broke her reverie between bites. “I understand there’s some sort of quest you require of us?”

She pressed her lips into a thin line and looked flatly at Einarr. “Yes. I suppose Saetild said something this morning?”

“Is that her name? The cheerful, plump one? We haven’t actually been introduced to any of you.”

The oaken crone sighed, the sound like rustling leaves. “Quite.”

“So? What sort of horrific danger do I have to face in order to save us all from the corrupted blood of the cult that kidnapped Runa?”

Now it was the crone’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Rather cynical for one so young.”

“Honored Amma. My year began with the issuance of a purportedly impossible quest by Jarl Hroaldr after our ill-conceived attempt to elope, during which I had to not only avoid the giant’s notice, but also fight his dog and his dwarf. We both know I’m going to have to take the quest, so let’s not mince words about what I’m getting myself into.”

She lowered her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. “There is an order to these things, but since it has already been breached…”

She took a deep breath before continuing. “Some ways to the east of here, a tower sits upon a solitary rock jutting up out of the sea. From the water, you cannot see the top of this tower, but birds constantly flock about it, for it is the Tower of Ravens. It is said that Huginn and Muninn make their homes there when their master does not have need of them.”

Einarr looked at her as he continued to eat. So far, this didn’t sound too terrible.

“At the top of the tower, under the protection of Huginn, Muninn, and their guards, is a distaff made of hazel wood and inlaid with ivory: the Őrlögnir.”

Einarr nearly choked on his porridge while the other Vidofnings failed to suppress a laugh. “I need a magical what now?”

“A distaff – you know, like your Mamma used to keep fibre untangled while she spun?”

“Yes, I know what a distaff is. How is that supposed to help us here, with the cult or the corruption or anything?”

The oaken crone had the pained look of someone forced to explain matters to a particularly dull child. “What did I say it was made of?”

“Hazel and ivory.”

“Very good. And what are the properties of hazel and ivory?”

“I’m supposed to know that, how?”

“Gah!” She threw a hand up above her head. “Do they teach our warriors nothing? Hazel for wisdom and purification, ivory for purity. Applied correctly, the Őrlögnir can break any curse or purify any corruption. Now do you see?”

“…I think I’m beginning to.”

“Good. I recommend you prepare yourself. The sooner you leave to seek the Tower, the more of your crewmen you can save.”

More questions rushed to Einarr’s lips, but the oaken crone was already striding stiffly out of the room. He turned to Reki, his eyebrows raised questioningly.

“Ask me this afternoon. I must go before the Conclave with Sivid now, to haggle.”

Einarr suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. “Of course. Good luck.”

Reki nodded, her mind already on what she might say to persuade the crones, as Einarr tried to get an answer out of Runa – only to discover that she, too, had left the room at some point over breakfast. Einarr sighed in exasperation and shoved another spoonful of porridge in his mouth.


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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.

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4.28 – Duel

Captain Kragnir’s face was flushed scarlet with rage as he faced his Mate in the middle of the challenge circle. Bollinn, for his part, seemed possessed of a colder anger.

“Give me a reason why I shouldn’t challenge you for command?” Bollinn’s voice carried across the water, level and firm. “When you accepted their surrender, you put our crew in danger, and tried to bring our Lady into the same hazard. Had we reached home it would have been not just our crew, but all of the Jarl’s domain.”

“Jarl Hroaldr charged me to take the defeated as thralls. By challenging me, you challenge our lord.”

“I think even our Jarl would have looked at those creatures and ordered their execution. If you cut them, they bleed black – same as those monstrosities they hid in their boats. Give them half a chance in battle and they no longer even resemble men. If my choices are to drown or to challenge you, then lift your sword.” Bollinn dropped into a ready stance, his eyes glued to his Captain’s.

“So be it.”

Then the two men were in the clinch, long sword against hand axe, and the rest of the Brunnings cheered from the circle. More than half of them looked to be cheering for Bollinn.

On the deck of the Vidofnir, wagers were quietly being placed – not just for who would win, but for how they would win. Einarr ignored the organizer when the whispers came around to his ear, his mouth set in a grim line. Meanwhile, across the way, Bollinn was weaving around his Captain’s guard like a dog worrying a bear.

The Mate may not have had the raw power of his Captain, but Bollinn more than made up for that with the speed and skill he had displayed down in the circle fort. Three times Einarr noted a moment where Bollinn could have ended the fight, but didn’t – waiting, he would guess, for his Captain to yield and take the lesser loss of face.

Kragnir’s swings became less wild as rage gave way to wariness. Too late, however: Einarr could see the path of the duel, and the Skudbrun’s Captain was rapidly running out of options. Einarr looked away from the fight to see a grim look on his father’s face, some paces to his left. Stigander must see the same thing Einarr did, perhaps even more plainly: having pressed Bollinn to the challenge, it was Kragnir who would fall this day.

Stigander shook his head and turned away from the duel. Resolved, Einarr turned his head back towards it even as Kragnir dropped to his knees.

Bollinn stood before his former Captain, his axe extended for a final strike, and swallowed. “Yield.”

“Finish me, then.” Kragnir’s voice was weary, to Einarr’s ear.

“No.”

The former Captain of the Skudbrun was the only one who looked shocked.

“I did not wish to challenge you in the first place, and I see no reason why any other Kjelling should learn of this. You will live. When we return home, we will say you have decided to retire. And none of us will ever say a word about why. Isn’t that right, men?”

An affirming shout rose, first from the Brunnings and then from the Vidofnings.

“Are we agreed?”

Slowly, reluctantly, Kragnir nodded his assent. Einarr did not know if the man had a family ashore, or any other trade to turn to, but even without those things it was a fair agreement.

“Back to work, men, and weigh anchor! The Lady Runa was expected weeks ago.”

***

As the uneventful weeks passed following the battle against the Grendel and her allies, Einarr felt his unease begin to dissipate. Runa’s presence, and that of no few friends from Kjell Hall, surely helped. Even so, that uneasiness still lingered at the periphery of his awareness. I’m sure it’s just that we’re so undermanned…

He shook his head, trying to clear away the unseasonably gloomy thoughts, as Breidhaugr’s green shores drew nearer. Here they would find a shipwright for the Vidofnir, and here they would have a chance to recruit men for their lost cause (that might not be so lost as he had thought).

The Skudbrun, now under Bollinn’s command, led the Vidofnir around the north shore of the island until they arrived at East Port – the only town on the island. Compared to Mikilgata, East Port was both small and bright: there would be a shipwright, although more than likely only one. Einarr hoped he would be good. As the Vidofnir docked, Trabbi approached Einarr.

“Been talking with Lady Runa’s guard,” he said without preamble.

“And?”

“And as her betrothed we think you ought to join us as we escort her to the Skald’s Hall.”

Einarr cocked an eyebrow and, unable to keep mockery from his tone, replied. “Are you sure? After all, I might try to run off with her again.”

Trabbi actually laughed. “I don’t think anyone save maybe the Jarl believes you would. And even if you were that stupid, how would you get off Breidhaugr?”

“I’m sure she’d think of something.” Einarr rolled his eyes. “But no, I’m not dumb enough to try and elope when we’re already promised.”

“And that is exactly what we decided. Are you coming?”

“Yes, I rather think I am. I may have some questions to ask of the Matrons of the Hall.”

Trabbi shrugged as though that were unimportant and clapped his former rival on the shoulder. “Good to have you along. I’ll make sure the Captain knows. We leave straightaway after docking.”

Einarr shook his head, suppressing a chuckle. For a man he’d bested at glìma not four months back, the fisherman was surprisingly friendly. But if Einarr would be joining the escort, he had tasks to accomplish as his father’s heir before they docked.

 


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4.26 – A New Deal

Einarr froze a moment, frowning, certain that he’d offended her but not sure why. Then, unbidden, the memory of the bird-thing’s transformation forced itself to the forefront of his brain again and made his stomach twist. Reki was no monster, but everyone was going to be on edge today.

Some more than others, it appeared. One or two of the younger deck hands were still cowering beneath the railing, covering their heads or hugging their arms tight across their chests, their eyes still plainly fixated on one of the two monstrosities that had revealed itself today. Einarr left them their privacy: either Runa’s song could mend their minds or it couldn’t, but there would be no honor in calling them out for cowardice.

Runa was tending the wounded, still, a very full water skin in her hand. He would give her time for her voice to rest – and maybe see if he couldn’t help Reki out with that as well. Decided, now, he headed back to where his father and Captain Kragnir still stood. They were not arguing – not yet – but from the set of their shoulders they couldn’t be far off.

“This is not a matter of trusting your honor, Stigander,” Kragnir was saying. “The boy has already tried to steal his bride once. My Jarl would have my head if I left her unsupervised on your ship.”

“So instead you want to keep her aboard a ship with the ones we just rescued her from? Who may not even be men anymore?”

“They surrendered themselves to be made into thralls. Would a beast do that?”

“A cunning one, aye.”

Einarr cleared his throat.

Both Captains turned to glare at him. “What?”

“Father, not all of the men have reacted well to what they saw today. I suspect it may be the same for them. What if some of the Brunnings – those who might be uneasy, say, with the new thralls and their strange cult – came aboard? It’s not like we’re in any position to go raiding now.”

“You are proposing that I send the feeble-minded to guard the honor of our Lady?” Captain Kragnir’s eyes appeared ready to pop out of his skull and his face began to redden.

“Who said anything about the feeble-minded? I’ve seen the cultists exposed for what they are three times now: you’ll not get me aboard ship with one, let alone your crew of thralls. Even if you do cut out their tongues so they can’t spread their filth.”

“My son does have a good head on his shoulders, when he bothers to use it.” Stigander grumbled. “What’s more, he’s right about something else, as well. We’d be hard-pressed to defend ourselves right now, let alone go raiding, and we do have business with the Conclave. Send over Trabbi and some of the others while you train your new ‘prizes,’ and we’ll make sure to take care of any wounded you get while defending us on our way there. It even keeps the young Lady out of harm’s way should there be a fight.”

Kragnir’s glare fell on Einarr, but he said nothing. After what felt like a long time, he seemed to realize there was nothing to say – nothing reasonable, anyway. With a growl, the Brunning Captain gave a nod and a wave of his hand.

“Think on taking their tongues, Captain,” Einarr said, meeting the man’s eye again. “We don’t know how they win converts, after all.”

Captain Kragnir harrumphed, and Einarr refused to push the issue. When he turned, he saw Bollinn speaking with Jorir: one way or another, the thralls would be dealt with. Finally, it felt as though the day were at an end. The wave of exhaustion that had pushed him back from the front lines early in the fight against the Grendel started to reassert itself, and with it came an unaccustomed queasiness.

Einarr blinked and looked at the sky: at some point, afternoon had started to dim into twilight. No wonder he felt tired, then. Given the fighting that day, both inside the cave temple and on the open waves, surely none would blame him if he were to rest until Snorli had supper prepared. Wish I could wash first…

On his way to his bedroll, Einarr glanced over the side: however far they may have floated since battle’s end, it looked as though there was still blood in the water. Even if he convinced someone to help him back aboard, taking a dip would just leave him bloody and salted. He folded his legs beneath him on top of his blanket and practically fell backwards. Halfway down he stopped when what felt like a knob of glass jabbed into his ribs.

Einarr sat up with a jolt and felt the color drain from his face as his throat clenched. The post-battle nausea was definitely not normal… but that could hardly be called a normal battle, either. He swallowed and tamped down on the feeling before turning to find out what it was that had tried to stab him.

Sitting in the middle of his bedroll, as though he had placed it there himself, was an Imperial-style painted ceramic jar with a knob in the center of the lid. Einarr furrowed his eyebrows. Those red figures on the black background seemed familiar, somehow. “Where did this come from?”

He did not realize he’d spoken aloud until someone answered him – Asi, from three berths down. “It’s not yours?”

“I mean, I suppose I’m the one that found it, back in the Allthane’s stash… could’ve sworn I’d tossed it, though.”

“Huh. Might hang on to it this time. You don’t look so good.”

Einarr grunted. “Nothing a good sauna wouldn’t solve, I don’t think. I’ll check with the Singers later.”

He would, if he still felt sick once their voices had a chance to rest. In the meantime, he had no intention of moving from this spot until dinner called.


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