Tag: Malúnion

11.5 – Demon Ship

For more than a fortnight they sailed on, following the charts as best they could as they weathered the ordinary spring storms. While there had been more than a few cold, wet nights, Einarr was just as glad that was all they had faced so far: an island that could drive Grandfather out, and that had earned the name of “Thorn Deep,” was sure to have something unpleasant waiting – especially given Einarr’s calling. Thus, he took the blustery weather as a blessing.

Right up until black storm clouds appeared out of a blue sky off to the north and began speeding toward Einarr and the Heidrun.

It was Troa who spotted the clouds first, and announced their presence with a dread-laced “Oh, Helvíti.”

Einarr looked up and understood immediately. “Cult ship approaching! Prepare for battle! Guards to the Singer.”

Captain or not, heir or not, Einarr was in far less danger than Eydri. Not everyone aboard had experienced combat with the svartalfr cult, but they should at least have heard about it by now. There was a jangle of maille as the warriors dressed for battle and an air of grim determination fell over the ship.

Please don’t let them have one of those horrors…

Einarr, too, pulled on his maille and helmet, then stepped up beside Naudrek as the guards formed around Eydri.

“Ready the fire arrows,” he ordered. “We want to avoid boarding as long as we can.”

“Yes, sir… Is it really one of those demon ships you talked about?”

“Probably. Need the arrows ready before we can see that, though.”

“Of course, sir.” Naudrek was a good man, but he was not as practiced a Mate as Jorir. No matter: Jorir was quite right about where he was most needed now.

Damn it, though, why did we have to run into one of these things on this trip? Einarr would have been perfectly happy avoiding them for the rest of his days. Unlikely, of course, considering he was a Cursebreaker.

The black storm cloud that heralded the approach of a demon ship bore down on the Heidrun as they readied themselves. Those who already wore their maille watched the horizon grimly, awaiting the first sight of one of the demon-headed black ships. The wind lashed at their faces. Raindrops had begun to sting Einarr’s skin by the time the shadow of the cult ship appeared in the storm.

“Brace yourselves, men! Not only are we fighting in a storm, even in death the enemy can kill you – or worse. This first volley of fire arrows is critical: you’ll have plenty of time to adjust your aim for the wind. Steady yourselves, now.”

There was a general shifting of feet on the deck, but no-one spoke. Visibility dropped precipitously as the two ships closed. The wind began to howl.

“Light volley!” Einarr shouted to be heard over the wind. “Ready!”

The archers drew back, the tips of their arrows bright spots of light against the black clouds above.

“Aim!”

As promised, he held them at this command for longer than usual, waiting for a steady moment or a break between gusts. At last, one came.

“Fire!” The arrows streaked through the air like shooting stars, all intent on destroying the evil that sailed this sea. One or two of them winked out under the onslaught of the storm carried in the belly of the demon ship, and one or two more missed their mark, but the rest scored their hit. One caught in the sail, which began to smolder darkly.

There would be no time for a second volley – not that Einarr had really expected one. The ships were too close now for anything but boarding – or perhaps a ram or Sea-Fire, if this were a dromon. Some detached corner of Einarr’s mind wondered if an alliance with the Empire would grant them access to that sea-fire of theirs. The rest of his mind was focused on the enemy ahead. “Prepare for boarding!”

Einarr stepped back to join the men who had circled about Eydri. The fanatics hated Song Magic and hunted Singers: that was how Father had lost Astrid. Einarr did not intend to let them have his friend. The rest of the crew scrambled: bows were tossed back toward the command circle, and the archers took up the boarding lines.

Eydri began to Sing, and almost immediately the red Fury began to pulse at the edges of Einarr’s vision. It was easy to ignore after the last year: Einarr hated how used to it he had grown.

The black-painted prow sliced through the water and turned sharply. Boarding lines flew from both decks.

No sooner had the lines drew taught than men from both ships were up, contesting for the right to board the other’s ship.

Einarr’s men were strong. Much stronger than they had been last summer when they stormed the cult’s island to rescue Runa: some few of the cultist helspawn made it across, but most were on the back foot. Einarr harrumphed even as he slid Sinmora from her sheath.

One of the cultists rushed the “command” circle protecting Eydri. Everyone’s weapons were out and ready, but Einarr stepped forward with a growl. This was not a man he faced: it was a mad dog, and he would see it put down. He stepped forward and raised Sinmora high over head, his shield firmly in place. On the second step, as the clamor of battle carried across the deck and over the water, he brought his blade around and separated the cultist’s head from his shoulders. Einarr stepped back quickly: the corrupting black blood dripped from Sinmora, and spatters darkened his glove, but had not touched him.

“No quarter!” He bellowed. A savage yell was the best answer he could have hoped for. Eydri sang louder.

Einarr strode across the deck to peer at the battle on the other ship and frowned. On the one hand, the demon ships must be destroyed with prejudice. On the other hand… “Fall back!” He ordered as he saw the cultists starting to cluster around the mast. “Naudrek – a torch!”

“Aye, Sir.”

The Heidrunings hurried back across the boarding lines, cutting the enemy lines as they went and unhooking (most of) their own. Einarr stood at the bulwark, torch in hand, and waited. When everyone was returned, he tossed the torch on the demon ship’s deck. “Full sail! Get us out of this squall, Naudrek.”

As the Heidrun sliced through the waves away from the demon ship, purifying flames began to lick up the boards of its bulwark, and a thick black smoke rose up to feed the cloud overhead.


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4.8 – Temple

Sivid hopped down from the crate he had perched himself on, oddly buoyant now that they were past the guards. He jerked his head toward one of the many streets leading away from this little market and turned to go.

“You’ve heard something?” Einarr spoke quietly as they left the crowded square.

“I have an idea, certainly.” Sivid’s voice was equally low, and light as though they were sharing a private joke. “Only, this place is going to be even worse than we thought.”

“Oh? You mean it gets worse than fifty-foot sheer walls lined with throwing strings?”

“Mm-hmm.” Sivid peered down a cross-alley before continuing on at his rapid clip.

“So, what, is this high priest we think we’re looking for the chieftain here?”

“You got it.”

Einarr groaned. It had been the worst thing he could think of: why did it have to be right? With only two ships of men, one of which was still under strength, their chances of taking a hold like this one approached zero. Einarr frowned, now. “If assault wasn’t off the table before, it certainly is now. Which means what we really need is a good way to sneak in.”

“And determine whether or not that’s where your lady is really being held. But I suspect that to be the case.”

Einarr grunted, then grimaced. “Let’s hope the bastard doesn’t have a thing for human women.”

“Or that this god of his prefers his sacrifices unsullied.”

“Either way. If he lays a finger on her…” Einarr clenched his fists.

Sivid nodded. “Easy, though. No sense worrying about that until we’ve found her.”

***

They kept to the quiet passages as much as they could – paths that ran behind buildings and other spaces less frequently used – but this was still a hold, and any good hold would have a broad yard surrounding the central fortress area where the soldiers could train or the children could play.

Here, when Einarr and Sivid inevitably reached the end of their secluded paths, Einarr was not certain what he was seeing. It almost looked like glíma practice, for the men in the yard were practicing hand-to-hand maneuvers… except their maneuvers had more in common with brawling than wrestling. The keep that sat at the center of the yard beyond them seemed to tower above them, its top lost in shadow.

“Let’s see if there’s anything more interesting on the other side, shall we?” Sivid murmured, and Einarr nodded his agreement. Surely the entire keep could not be surrounded by brawlers.

Another street lay just to their left, cutting back into the longhouses that surrounded the keep. Rather than turn around in their tracks, the two Vidofnings continued around the outside of the yard until they reached it.

They did not seem to have drawn undue suspicion as they slipped down this secondary path. As they moved through these surrounding streets, though, Einarr began to feel as though there were eyes all about, following their furtive movements.

They emerged again a quarter circle around the keep, ahead of another gate but still within sight of the edge of the training group. If this was a proper circle fort, it would be better to check the next exit for signs of life. Sivid barely paused before continuing on to the next side-street.

Around they walked through the empty streets this close to the temple keep of Malúnion, and with every step the sensation of being watched – of being followed – grew between Einarr’s shoulder blades. He cleared his throat.

“Perhaps we should go back, let Father know what we’ve found.”

“Don’t let them spook you, boy.” Sivid did not look back at Einarr this time, simply continued to watch ahead as they moved. “If they had anything on us, they’d have moved already. We committed to this gamble, we need to see it through.”

“R-right.” Einarr cleared his throat a little. Something about the keep here had him even more on edge than he’d thought. …But if Runa was in there, and if they had the right island she must be, how could he turn back now?

The gate on the far side of the keep was smaller than either of the other two they had seen thus far and made of the same stone as everything else. They might have missed it were it not for the way its archway was formed in the surrounding wall and the iron bars that reinforced it. Einarr hummed in consternation. Sivid merely sighed.

“Odds that’s the door we want anyway?” Einarr murmured.

“High. If a door like that doesn’t lead to a dungeon…”

Einarr grunted his agreement and slipped out into the broad, empty stone yard of the temple keep, Sivid only a pace behind. That the yard was empty save for them on this side of the keep did nothing to soothe Einarr’s nerves.

He paused a moment to examine the door and scowled: there was no apparent latch. Sivid brushed past him, though, and quickly found the mechanism Einarr had missed.

“Once we’re in there we’re as good as trapped, you realize,” the smaller man murmured, the door still closed under his palm.

“Didn’t you just tell me we had to see this plan through?”

“Oh, aye. Just making sure your guts hadn’t turned to water all of a sudden.” The words were harsh. From any other man, it would have demanded a duel. But, because it was Sivid and because the weird light still allowed Einarr to see the teasing glint in his crewmate’s eye, the taunt earned Sivid little more than a scowl and a gesture to continue.

The door scraped open slowly under Sivid’s palm to reveal a cut-stone stairway headed down. The two men exchanged a look of uneasy surprise and slipped through the arch. When Sivid was three steps down, Einarr pressed his back against the heavy door, pressing it closed with a muffled click.


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4.5 – Runes

Not without some trepidation, Einarr and the others led the two Singers back to the warehouse where they had found the hanged butcher. Aema covered her mouth with a cloth as they approached to avoid the worst of the smell. Reki’s shoulders shuddered once under her heavy cloak, but she did not hesitate. The door swung open under her palm and she stepped across the threshold.

She stepped no closer to the hanged man, however. His slow spin carried him around so that he very shortly faced the living in the door.

Seithmathir,” Reki read.

“Magic-man?” Einarr furrowed his eyebrows, confused. It was odd for a man of the Clans to study the Arts, of course, but never a reason to kill a man that he’d heard of.

“Evidently.” Reki paused a long moment. With her hood still up, Einarr couldn’t tell if she was studying the body or trying to maintain composure. When she spoke again, her voice was hushed. “I think this was carved before they hung him.”

Einarr shuddered as Reki backed away from the corpse.

“We’ll want to burn the town before we leave, if we don’t find anyone left alive.”

Aema nodded. “And if we do, make sure they see to all the bodies. The last thing we need is a port full of the restless dead.”

Bardr grunted in agreement as Reki stepped back outside the warehouse.

“Surely this wasn’t all?”

“No. This was the smallest part of it.” Trabbi led the way this time, back to the square that had confounded all three of them before.

Along the wall of a particularly large warehouse, several bodies were strung up by their wrists and ankles, all with the same wound patterns as the hanged man. These bodies framed a longer message that had apparently been burned into the stone wall. The two Singers stood staring for a time, concentrating on the long message in a nigh-dead alphabet.

“For the sin of harboring witches,” Aema began, haltingly. “The people of Langavik have been punished according to…”

Reki picked it up here. “According to the righteous dictates of Urkúm, High Priest of Malúnion. Let all who come here know…”

“…Know that the time of seithir is at an end, and all who practice such foul magics will be punished.” Aema’s voice sounded somewhat breathless as she finished reading aloud the proclamation.

“This is madness!” Einarr had never heard either of those names before, but the idea of giving up the use of Song Magic – or Weaving, or any of the other Arts – was preposterous.

Trabbi looked just as flummoxed as he felt. If no-one was trained in the Arts, then how would anyone control their effects? Song would not go away just because no more Singers were trained. Cloth would still be necessary, as would the blacksmith’s art.

It was Bardr who had the sense to ask the question they all wanted the answer to. “Who is Malúnion?”

Both singers shook their head.

“It’s an old Elven name, but I couldn’t tell you more than that,” Reki answered. “Maybe Tyr has an idea? He’s been around long enough, who knows what bits of lore he may have picked up.”

Aema cleared her throat. “Urkúm… I believe that’s a svartalfr name.”

All three men groaned.

“So you’re saying we have a svartalfr fanatic, of some god none of us has ever heard of?” Bardr rubbed his forehead.

“So it appears.” Reki sighed. “Not very honest of them to decry magic like this, though. Someone among them learned to Paint, I think.”

“You mean because of how the runes are burned into the rock?” Einarr, too, had found that strange.

“I do.”

Trabbi looked thoughtful. “Could it be, then, that the Imperials themselves are behind these massacres?”

Aema shook her head. “Let’s hope not.”

***

“So there you have it,” Reki finished as both crews gathered on the dock under the fiery orange sunset. “All things considered I think it likely the crew that captured the lady Runa and the crew that killed my predecessor are probably a part of this same cult. I also think it likely, based on the state of the bodies of the town, that we are at least a week behind our target still.”

Stigander and Captain Kragnir frowned at the story the five of them had brought back not an hour previous, but for the moment said nothing.

“Does anyone among the crew recognize the name Malúnion?” Aema directed the question out towards the crew. It was a gamble, but with a little luck…

Jorir spat a curse.

“Can I take that as a yes?”

“Oh, aye.” The svartdvergr shouldered his way forward through the crowd. “Wish I didn’t. Right bastards, are ‘is followers, an’ I will lay coin that this High Priest has convinced some of the others to join him on this damn-fool crusade. Anything that doesn’t come from their pissant demigod is by definition unclean, and Malúnion has nothing to do with the Arts.”

Einarr and Trabbi spoke at once. “Then what do they want with Runa?”

“Sacrifice, unless I miss my guess.”

Einarr shot up straight from the crate he had been leaning against. Trabbi’s reaction was more subdued, but just as worried. “Sacrifice?”

“Aye. They give proper sacrifices to their god, they’re granted magic for a time. Don’t know how long. Left home before the cult could get a proper hold there.”

Stigander rumbled. “Why leave a message here, and not at either of the two previous sites?”

Aema shook her head now. “I don’t know.”

“I can venture a guess.” Captain Kragnir crossed his arms and frowned beneath his brown beard. “Territory.”

The captain of the Skudbrun gave that a long moment to sink in before he continued. “Massacre like this is as good as a declaration of war. We’ve either crossed into territory they claim, or near enough that they’re making a play for it.”

Now there were mutters from all around the intermingled crews.

“The smart thing to do now would be to call a retreat, come back with a fleet in the spring to put the dogs down.”

Einarr, Trabbi, and Stigander all started forward, but before they could object he continued.

“But they have the princess, and if your dwarven friend is right we haven’t much time. Assuming we’re not already too late. And I do not want to be the one to tell the Jarl why we didn’t come back with his daughter – not while we’ve the slightest chance of rescuing her.”

Stigander nodded sharply. “All there is to do, then, is make sure we get her back alive. Bardr! Bollinn! The charts!”


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