Tag: Kaldr

9.22 – Kaldr

Reki did not look away from Runa’s face. The spoiled young apprentice almost looked like she was about to cry.

“Whether she’d done what to Einarr?” Bea asked again. “Does it have anything to do with what happened to the pair who arrived on the boat with her?”

Reki raised an eyebrow – the one furthest from her Imperial Highness. If Bea was sharp enough to pick up on that, with no training in Song at all, then either Runa’s desperate move was clumsier than Reki thought or there was more to Beatrix than she let on. “It’s nothing you need to concern yourself with,” was Reki’s answer.

Bea pressed her lips together into a line. “I think it might be, actually. But now is not the time. I would speak of this later.”

Reki snorted. Beatrix might try. “Did you find a way through?”

“This way. You’re not planning on putting those two to sleep, are you?”

Reki shook her head. She had considered it, briefly, but it would raise too many questions if anyone were to discover them. “We’ll figure that out when we get there.”

Beatrix led them through the alleys between buildings quickly and quietly until they moved up against the outer wall of the Hold. The moon would be setting soon, and the wall fell into shadow. As they neared the tower, the sound of raised voices carried down to them from a lit window overhead. They froze.

“My Lord! Sooner or later, your mother’s skill will fail you. What then?” It was Kaldr.

“You’ve said quite enough, Kaldr!” Ulfr’s response was significantly angrier than his liege man’s.

“You follow these weavings with such devotion, you don’t even know why you’re meant to do these things! My Lord, you can think for yourself! Now if only you would.”

Reki whistled quietly. The man was treading on dangerous ground. Would be, with any Thane or petty Jarl she had ever met – even Stigander. Probably even Einarr.

“Mother is my adviser because her advice has never yet failed me.” Ulfr’s voice was audibly tight, even from so far below. “If you cannot accept that, you may leave my service.”

Reki shared a look with her companions, eyebrows raised, to the sound of a slamming door. But if they had heard that, then so had all of the guards. Perhaps – if they had only a little luck – perhaps Kaldr would be distraction enough of himself. She continued forward along the wall: had anyone else heard that? Did she want anyone else to know about it, under the circumstances? To the extent that it destabilized the Usurper’s regime? Yes, yes she did. Be as loud as you dare, Kaldr, she thought with a small smile.

She led her fellow prisoners forward to the corner where the tower rose out from the wall like a great tree, guarding the gate and all who passed through it, and then around the curve of its walls to where she could just make out the two warriors standing guard on the entrance to the dungeon.

Kaldr was stalking away down the same road Reki and the others had been led along on their arrival, headed, she surmised, for bed and sleep. There, she waited, until he was long out of view and, she hoped, out of earshot. No-one had followed him. On the other hand, she thought it unlikely anyone else was likely to visit the tower this night.

Is it a trap? Just a mummer’s ruse, put on for our benefit? … She shook her head. What would it matter, if it were? It did not change what they had to do. She motioned for Svana to Sing the men to sleep.


This was it. Reki was certain that they had found where Urdr worked her Weavings. There were only two problems.

The first, was that after his argument with Kaldr last night, neither Ulfr nor Urdr had left the room. She was certain they were both in there: she could hear them conversing, although they kept their voices low enough she could glean nothing.

The second was that the horizon was just beginning to lighten and the tower was already beginning to come alive. She shifted her shoulders, uncomfortably aware of Eydri pressed against her back and Runa’s omnipresent elbow in her ribs from where they hid, watching, in a storage room near where the Weavess worked. The door, cracked slightly open, gave Reki and Aema an excellent view of the weaving room and allowed a trickle of cool air in. Every time Reki thought the hallway clear, however, a thrall would rush into view, carrying this or that in preparation for the day to come. She growled, frustration escaping as quietly as she could make it before she burst.

Finally she felt safe to open the door and slip into the corridor. She paused only a moment, glancing up and down to take her bearings, before striding off towards the stairs as though she belonged. The others were hard on her heels.

Down the stairs they went, trying hard to keep up their pace in spite of the soft soles of their boots. A presence ahead of her brought her up short, however. Standing on the stairs, not two steps below her, Kaldr glared coldly at them all. Reki met the man’s green-blue eyes levelly, trying not to show her surprise.

They stood like that for what felt like eternity. Finally, the Captain grunted, inclined his head as though in greeting, and stood aside for them to continue downward.

Warily, not taking her eyes off the man, Reki returned his nod in kind and slipped past, regaining the guise of ‘belonging’ as soon as he was out of her direct line of view.

“Be cautious, ladies,” he muttered as they passed. “If you are caught, all pretense will be broken.”


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9.21 – Taboo

There had been no small amount of discussion among the Singers for how to best slip past their guard on this second night’s search. Thank the Gods, Runa had not even alluded to Tuning again, although Reki thought that was more because of Bea’s presence than out of any insight on her part. In the end, they decided they had to chance the lullaby again. Only this time it was Svana who Sang, since her voice was the highest and softest of everyone’s.

“Why are you a battle-chanter?” Reki asked, her curiosity getting the better of her, as they hurried to the hold’s lone tower.

The plump woman offered a small smile. “Family matters, I’m afraid.”

“Ah.” That explained precisely nothing, and yet everything it needed to. They hurried on.

The tower was built overlooking the cliff face that led down to Breidelstein town and served as over watch as well as dungeon. They were perhaps halfway across the courtyard in the middle of the ring fort when they heard their first patrol.

Reki ducked between the nearest two long houses, the others close on her heels. As the last of their number disappeared under the deeper shadows of the buildings, a pair of guards with wooden wolf’s-head brooches holding their cloaks closed swaggered by. Reki frowned: ordinarily, the most emotion you saw on the face of a patrolling guard was boredom. These men were scowling. What that meant, she could not begin to guess, but she was sure it would be important. Had they been discovered already?

She shook her head. If that was the case, why hadn’t they sounded an alarm? The pretense that they were not prisoners here was thinner than a poor man’s bedclothes, and just as tattered. No matter: they would learn, and one way or another it would be soon enough.

The men did not speak between themselves as they passed. Bea crept forward toward the end of the alley to peer after them: eventually, she nodded. Reki headed on down the alleyway, rather than back out to the main street. There was no sense courting danger by moving so openly.

Despite their caution, they narrowly missed three more patrols as they inched their way across the hold. Last night there had been none. It was almost as though Ulfr – or, more likely, his seneschal – had been put on alert. Had Kaldr lied when he said he would not expose them?

Whether he lied or not, they still had a job to do. After what felt like half the night, the six of them crouched in the shadows of a longhouse. Ahead of them stood a broad open yard and the entrance to the tower.

A man stood on either side of the door. One of the two stood straight and alert, one hand resting on top of the axe at his hip. The other leaned casually against the wall, his arms crossed and one foot planted against the stone behind him. Moonlight glinted in his eyes, though, and Reki judged him to be the more dangerous of the two.

Bea hummed. “Let me scout around the perimeter,” she whispered. “Maybe there’s a better way in.”

Reki nodded. That was all the permission she needed: the Imperial Princess vanished into the night. They could not even hear gravel under her soft-soled boots.

Runa raised her chin after the girl, as though she were glad to see Bea gone. After another minute passed, and without a word to any of the rest of them, Runa stepped forward to stand between Reki and Eydri. A low hum emanated from her throat – low, and oddly soothing.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Reki raised her hand and clapped Runa on one side of her head, even as Eydri did the same on the other side.

“Ow!” Runa exclaimed, then clapped her hands over her mouth.

The more alert-looking of the guards had not moved, but the lounging man’s eyes now scanned the yard. After what felt like forever, he relaxed again. A sigh of relief rippled over the waiting women.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Reki hissed. “That is taboo!”

“We overlooked it with those men who ‘helped’ you escape,” Eydri muttered. “Do not expect us to be so lenient in the future.”

“I fail to see what the problem is,” Runa said, thankfully remembering to keep her voice down this time – although it may have been haughtier for it. “A tiny tuning adjustment would have them just let us in, with no need to sneak across the wide, brightly lit yard. Father is over there, and who knows what else we might find. Wouldn’t it be better to have allies at our back?”

Reki stared at the Apprentice, speechless, for a long moment. Finally, the words she managed to splutter were “Are you an idiot?”

“Has your father taught you no sense?” Eydri muttered at the same time.

“Do you know why Tuning is taboo, Apprentice? You should.”

Runa’s brow knit in confusion.

“It can be argued that it is we Singers who rule the northern seas, not the petty jarls and thanes. Do you know why? Because we have their ears. We know the stories and the songs, the histories, and because of this we are valuable as advisors. But what happens if Tuning becomes as widely known as Curse Weaving?”

The apprentice blinked in apparent confusion – or perhaps startlement at the older women’s vehemence.

Eydri picked up here. “You think Kaldr mad? Good, because that is how the Matrons wish it. But if the taboo becomes known? Not just you, but all Singers, become pariahs. Because Kaldr’s wariness is vindicated.”

Runa blanched, even under the moonlight, but Reki wasn’t done. “Your beloved Einarr already knows. The Oracle spilled the beans. You want to know what question he all but begged me to answer? Whether or not you’d done it to him. Think about that.”

“Whether she’d done what to Einarr?” The question came from Bea, approaching from back up the alley way she’d left earlier.


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9.19 – Interlude

As the six women retired to gain what little sleep they might before a servant inevitably summoned them to break their fast, Bea looked thoughtful. “You know, he seems like an ass, but he is not just a Captain but a wealthy one, and one with the king – er, thane’s – ear. You don’t rise that high with that strange of a view without support from below.”

Reki furrowed her eyebrows, but it was Aema who asked the question. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that his crew probably adores him. They’ll call him a paragon of virtue, I wager, and odds are good they’ll cite more than one of your nine.”

“…Our nine?” Aema arched an eyebrow, even as Svana and Eydri nodded.

“Your nine serve well enough among the Clans, where everyone fights everyone else and you don’t have to manage much beyond a few islands. But the Empire? If we weren’t a little less prickly than you lot, we’d never have lasted. All of that’s not really important right now, though.”

“She’s right,” Svana opined. “A man who was merely lucky, or who merely had the favor of his Lord, would not have risen so high. And its not clear to me he actually has the favor of his lord.”

Reki nodded. “I don’t see how it helps us right this instant, but its worth remembering. Let’s sleep on it: maybe something will suggest itself.”

Runa looked like she was chewing on her cheek: well, the girl would decide to share her thought if she thought it wise. “Try to get some rest, ladies. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

Reki felt like she had no sooner closed her eyes than there came a rapping on the door to their prison. With a groan, she sat up, still bone-weary and stiff besides. “Who is it?” She managed to croak.

“A-a-a-a-agnar, lady. M-m-m-my l-l-l-lord calls.”

Calls for what? She narrowly stopped herself from asking: it would be faster to go and see than to wait for poor Agnar to spit out the answer. “Please allow us a moment to freshen up.”

“P-p-p-p-please make haste, l-l-l-lady.”

Reki sighed, thankful that the only ones to see were her fellow prisoners. Was this Ulfr’s idea, or Urdr’s? Reki suspected Urdr’s, especially if Kaldr was not the only one to realize they had slipped out the night before. But refusing was not an option, not truly. Dragging weary limbs, she roused her fellows and attempted to wipe away the worst of the sleep-muss.


It was sunset before the six of them were once again sent back to their cell, and in all the hours of the day not once were they let out of the watchful view of either Urdr or one of her lackeys. Still, Reki was pleased at how they had handled themselves. They should still have a night or two before things became desperate.

Supper was to be brought to them, and likely a much poorer affair than the night before. That was no matter: based on what they’d seen in the larder, she wasn’t certain the banquet had been any more nourishing than the bread and broth she expected. One of Urdr’s attendants, though, had let slip something interesting in Reki’s hearing, and now she waited only on the guard who would come bearing their supper to share it.

Finally, once the thrall had left their tureens of broth and their fresh – very fresh, they still smelled of yeast and butter – loaves, they could count on being alone save for the guard outside the door. That one, Reki was fairly certain, couldn’t actually hear them so long as they kept their voices down.

“So, ladies, I’ve learned something interesting. What of the rest of you?”

Eydri bobbed her head as she sipped at the soup. “You know where the wolf was right before he summoned us? Consulting his mother’s loom. Some of the thralls were complaining about how early the old woman gets up to Weave. I guess they do that every day.”

Aema looked surprised. “They do that every day – and the thralls felt safe complaining about it?”

Eydri shrugged. “I think Reki was right: I think we’re here on the Norns business. The weave on this island has to be beyond distorted.”

Svana hummed. “That means Captain Kaldr is a natural ally – if something can convince him to turn on his master.”

Reki took a sip of her own soup, then tore off a piece of bread and dipped it in the broth. “With Urdr’s black weaving still in effect, that’s not likely.”

“Well, not on its own,” Runa volunteered, her shoulders hunched up around her ears. All four of the other Singers turned cold looks on the apprentice.

Bea looked confused. “What do you mean, not on its own?”

“I mean we could…” Runa seemed to realize who she was speaking in front of – namely, a non-Singer. “We could help it along.”

“Yes, we could,” Reki said, her voice as icy as her skin. “By destroying whatever weaving this is that’s keeping Ulfr victorious.”

“We don’t even know where that is!” Runa protested.

“Actually,” Reki smiled, the corners of her mouth turning up like a mischeivous fox’s. “I think we might.”

All five of the other women sat up. “Oh?”

“After he returned from the Oracle, Lord Stigander said something about his father still being alive, at least according to a vision he’d been given. I hadn’t given it too much thought, to be honest – right up until one of Urdr’s attendants started talking about helping her up and down stairs. Every day. I don’t know about you, but I doubt she’s going to that sort of trouble for Lord Hroaldr.”

I think,” Reki said quietly, drawing them all in. “I think its time we checked the dungeon.”


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9.18 – Search

They kept the shutters open that night after they returned to their newly-swept, properly bedded prison, even after extinguishing the lamps they themselves used and retiring. Each one lay still under the covers, listening to the night sounds and watching as the light from outside shifted ever closer to natural moonlight.

As the midnight hour approached, as they had all agreed, they rose and slipped noiselessly toward the door. There was very little time before their three ships approached the harbor, and as they expected they, too, had a part to play in retaking Breidelstein.

The guard had dutifully locked the door, but that was only a small impediment. As Aema Sang the man to sleep, Bea slid the blade of her knife through the crack between the door and the frame to slide the lock open. Before long, snores emanated from outside their door. Bea rose and, with a nod from the other women, opened the door.

Outside, the hold was thoroughly asleep. Ulfr had suggested that his mother’s Art had more than a little to do with his strength in battle, which meant there was likely a tapestry. Now all they had to do was find it and destroy it. Unfortunately, they had been here less than a day and had seen almost nothing of the Hold.

Taking a stab in the dark, Reki led them towards the main hall. Urdr was an old crone, and Reki did not doubt for an instant that Ulfr’s excuse regarding her joints had the benefit of truth. It would make sense, then, if she kept her loom and her thread close by.

Once inside, the six split up into two teams. Runa and Aema went with Reki to the next building down, while the other three took the hall where they had dined with the usurper.

Said building seemed to be, in fact, the larder. “I’d be shocked if we found anything here,” Aema muttered.

“You and me both.” Reki sighed. “But better to have a look now than discount it and have to come back.”

Dutifully the three women set to exploring the larder. Based on what she saw, Reki hoped the usurper didn’t eat like they had every night, although she wasn’t going to bet on it. The only thing that resembled a proper Hold’s larder was the quantity of food: the quality of most of that food would have seen paupers looking askance. A cloud of gnats emerged from the bag of onions Reki had just discovered was beginning to rot.

“My Lady Runa,” Aema said with a sigh. “You’ve been here longer than we have. I don’t suppose you have any insight?”

“Not unless she does her Weaving near the dungeon. When I escaped, my rescuers and I went straight for a boat.”

Reki hummed. ‘Rescuers’ was an interesting term to use for those poor sots, although she suspected they’d deserved what they got. But so long as Runa made no move to break the taboo again, she would let it be. That said, the dungeon seemed almost as unlikely a place for a loom as the larder.

“About the dungeon, though…”

“Of course we’ll aim to free Lord Hroaldr while we’re here, my Lady.” Aema seemed to know exactly what was on the girl’s mind, for which Reki was glad.

She came up short in front of the far end of the long building. No secret compartments, no hidden passages, just moldering vegetables and well-cured meats. “Well, that’s this building done. On to the next.”

Each group went through another building this way before the sky began to lighten and they called a halt for the night. They walked back as silently as they had left their comfortable prison, ready to slip back in unnoticed and make their excuses for fatigue when the rest of the hold awakened.

It was not to be. A man leaned against the wall by the closed, but not locked, door where the sleeping guard had slumped, his arms folded over his chest and his ankles crossed. As they approached his features grew clearer in the deep twilight before false dawn. He looked up at them from under lowered brows, his nose a pale dagger pointed toward the ground. It was Kaldr.

“An odd time for a stroll, ladies.”

Reki stopped and straightened, drawing back her shoulders. “Captain Kaldr. What brings you out here?”

“I heard music as I prepared myself for sleep, and thought ‘surely they cannot be so dim as all that?’ I regret to see I was wrong.”

“We required the use of the privy,” Svana said, thinking quickly. “And thought it best not to go alone, under the circumstances.”

“Oh, truly?” Kaldr stood up off the wall, his voice frankly disbelieving. “And it takes a group of six women six whole hours to complete a trip to the privy?”

Reki stared at him a long moment, taking his measure. This was the man who declared his hatred of Song – of all Arts, really, based on his argument in the Hall. Her odds of persuading him seemed slim at best. “What do you intend to do?”

“Tonight? When all you managed to do was tire yourselves out and pick up the smell of old onions? Nothing. Just know that, even if you manage to bypass the guard on your chambers, I will be watching you.”

“We will take that under consideration.”

Kaldr grunted and stalked off into the early morning dimness. None of them moved until he had disappeared into another of the buildings within the ring fort. Then Reki stepped quickly, the other five hard on her heels. None of them felt secure until the door was once more shut and bolted behind them.

“Well.” Bea said as she flopped down on her bedding. “That one is more observant than we gave him credit for. What are we going to do about him?”

Reki lowered her eyes and shook her head. “We were insufficiently cautious tonight. Tomorrow night we will be prepared. I just don’t know how yet.”


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9.15 – Ulfr

The oversized wooden door opened inwards before the group of women and their so-called honor guard to reveal an equally oversized hall. As Reki strode forward, her shoulders squared, at the head of her companions her impression was of walking through a great, empty cavern. Their soft-soled boots still managed to echo through the stone room. There did not even appear to be trestles for a long table, although it was possible those were merely stored elsewhere in a hold such as this.

At the far end of the hall stood the Thane’s seat, large and ornately carved oak, polished to a shine. As they drew closer, Reki noted that there were no cushions on the chair, and wondered if the lack of a rug – or any furnishings, really – was truly the desire of the man sitting, slumped, in the worn seat.

If she had not known he was Stigander’s half-brother, she never would have guessed. The man looked not unlike his name suggested: a rangy, scrappy lone wolf who had to fight for what he needed and steal what he wanted. His ashen brown hair fell across his face, hiding his eyes, and a sharp nose poked out from above a thin beard.

In front of the throne, the Captain of the boat that had brought them in was giving his report. “Sire, you rely too thoroughly on your mother’s bits of cloth! There is no honor in all this skulking about.”

“That’s enough, Captain Kaldr. I’ll hear no more against her, or her Weavings. They have never yet betrayed me.” Ulfr surged to his feet before his liege man, but the anger quieted from his face almost as quickly.

“My Lord -”

“No. More. See to your ship, Kaldr. Let me focus on our next moves.”

Captain Kaldr bowed deeply, and Reki caught a glimpse of cold disapproval on the man’s face when it was hidden from his Lord. Interesting. When he straightened, however, his face was calm once again, and the captain strode from the room without so much as a glance at Reki and her companions.

Ulfr, no longer confronted by a man at arms with a message he disliked, paced restlessly, his eyes watching the approaching women. He looked even more like a wolf now than he had before. The leader of the honor guard reached ten paces from the throne and knelt before his Thane.

“Rise,” Ulfr sneered. “Who are these?”

The guard leader stood but did not look his Lord in the face, a fact that Reki filed away for later consideration. “These,” he said, emphasizing the word, “Are the Singers that were aboard the three rebel ships.”

Rebel? It seemed an odd choice of words to Reki, but that was hardly the point to challenge the Usurper on. If she challenged him, today. It might be better to pretend servility, at least until she could figure out what was going on. Her eyes darted to either side: Runa was on her left, and Bea on her right. It was a struggle not to shake her head at her own thoughts. Neither of them would be able to feign that.

“The only one I wanted was Runa Hroaldrsdottir. Why do you trouble me with the others?”

The second in command of the honor guard looked embarrassed and started to speak, but his leader surreptitiously elbowed him in the ribs.

“My Lord, they are three ships and they carried no fewer than six Singers, once you count in the young Lady Runa. By capturing all of them, we have dealt your foes a major blow.”

Ulfr stared disdainfully at the man who had spoken. “Tell me. Your own Captain forbids Song Magic aboard. What makes you think no other ship can fight without it?”

He only stammered a little, Reki noted, before he parroted back the same idea Kaldr had used on board his ship. “Reliance on Magic makes them weak, sir. Without it, they’ll be no threat.”

Ulfr snorted but did not try to correct the man. Probably adjudged it as impossible as changing Kaldr’s mind on the subject. “Very well. This was uneccessary, but acceptable tactics nonetheless.”

Finally Ulfr turned his attention to the captives, and all trace of the hungry wolf disappeared from his demeanor save a slight stoop to his shoulders. Reki pasted a sickly-sweet smile on her face, waiting to see how he would try to play this.

“Ladies. Welcome to my court. My sincerest apologies for any unpleasantness you may have faced along the way: I’m afraid Captain Kaldr has some rather… unorthodox ideas.”

Unorthodox. That was the word. Was he really going to try to pretend that he hadn’t just had that conversation right in front of them? Well, two could play at that game. She kept the smile plastered to her face. “No trouble at all, Lord. Your invitation was most gracious.”

“How could I do otherwise, with such a delegation of Singers in my waters? I assure you, any discomfort you may have endured on the Mánagarmr will be remedied here in my Hall. Have they given you rooms yet? …No, they couldn’t have, could they.” He clapped his hands. Moments later a thrall appeared, the dark circles under his eyes the only color Reki could see on the man. “See to it they have comfortable chambers, and have the sauna heated. I trust the Lady Runa would prefer to remain with her father?”

Out of the corner of her eye, Reki saw the apprentice blanch. Not that she would have let them separate her anyway. “That will not be necessary,” she purred. “The Lady Runa has training we must see to, even at a time such as this.”

Ulfr offered her a gallant, if shallow, bow. “As my lady wishes. Agnar here will show you to your chambers. If it is not too much trouble, I would ask that you all join Mother and I for supper this evening.”

“We should be delighted.”


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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 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.