Tag: Raenshold

10.31 – Struggle

“You there! What goes on here?” Stigander leveled a finger at one of the better-equipped townsfolk who had joined their ranks.

He blinked and pointed at himself, a dumbfounded look on his face.

“Yes, you! Why have the townsfolk taken up arms against the Thane here?” He hated to phrase it that way, but the odds were good this man still thought of the Usurper that way.

Now the man nodded in understanding. “Thane Ulfr’s men claim you are rebels. Well, his men treat us as thralls, even though we are free men. If it means we are rid of them, rebels we will be.”

Stigander looked again at the man. He was malnourished, and unkempt as one would expect of a drunkard, but his blue eyes were clear and proud.

“I am Stigander, son of Raen, and while Ulfr calls me a rebel I am in fact the rightful Thane. I will remember your resolve.”

The townsman blanched a little as Stigander began shouldering his way back to the front of his crew’s line, but returned to the battle at hand. How many of these people even remember what happened all those years ago? He can’t be much older than Einarr… Stigander growled low in his throat: that line of thinking was a distraction he did not need right now.

Perhaps a hundred feet ahead the road began its steep, switchbacked ascent up the cliffs to Raenshold.

The wolflings had fallen back to the far side of the square and reset their shield wall yet again, in the familiar pattern. Yet again, he and his Vidofnings surged forward to batter it down. This time, though, it did not buckle like so much rotted timber.

Battle screams roared from either side of the square as wolfling warriors fell upon them from both sides at once. Stigander and his crewmen were boxed in. To stay in the square would be foolish, and if they somehow managed to batter through the forward line then they had to worry about wolflings nipping at their heels. That left only one option: turn their own tactic against them. “Fall back!”


Beatrix had been startled to see Einarr’s bride chasing after her into the thick of combat: the Singers, after all, had been meant to stay behind. But, the other girl at least knew enough about combat to keep herself out of danger, and her Song was useful enough.

Bea frowned, though: she could tell they were losing momentum, but not why. Certainly it shouldn’t be fatigue, not with the Singer working her Art. And they weren’t outnumbered, at least not once you counted the local reinforcements. They had to reach the cliff road, though: Lord Stigander had been clear. And yet, they were on the verge of being pushed back. Do I dare let us lean on our back foot?

It was not immediately clear she would have a choice. The wolflings were massing ahead, and her group had been the smallest of the three forces. She frowned. Their forward progress had almost stalled, but if they could make the next intersection she might be able to reroute. The difficulty would be not letting the line fall apart when they inevitably reached the narrow footpaths that were ever-present and never meant for more than one or two abreast.

The Song magic that had been sustaining her thus far cut off with a shriek, not so much of pain or fear as of rage. Bea’s head snapped around: there was Runa, the Cursebreaker’s bride, biting the hand of the wolfling who had tried to capture her. She seemed to have drawn blood, too. The girl stabbed backwards at her assailant with the knife all Singers wore, but Bea didn’t think it had yet drawn blood.

She cursed. Where had the wolfling even come from? This was why fighting through a city was so terrible: even when you thought your back was secure, someone could sneak around behind with a poisoned knife. Perhaps one of Beatrix’s sisters could have let her rival be taken like this, but Beatrix could not – a trait that had often hampered her in Imperial politics.

“Fall back!” If they gave a little ground, Bea could drop back without leaving a hole in the middle of their line. They would just have to find their way forward again from there.


Jorir stood, his axe and golden shield at the ready, just outside of Lord Einarr’s rune circle, staring toward the bulwark.

Someone was in the water. Several someones, he thought, and if this ship wasn’t their target he was a farmer.

Jorir glanced over his shoulder, and wished for the umpteenth time he could tell how close they were to finishing the ritual. Curse that witch and the helspawn she rode in on. I’m a dwarf – I’m supposed to be good with runes! At least he was sure it was doing something: the feeling of magic crackled in the air like lightning.

The gentle splashing in the water went silent, only to be followed by the sounds of boots climbing on wood. Jorir flexed his grip on his axe handle and glanced over at his fellow bodyguard.

Naudrek had set himself for battle nearly as quickly as Jorir had, and without needing Jorir to say anything. With a little luck, that meant the invaders still didn’t know they were discovered.

The first of the invaders appeared over the side of the bulwark, their hair streaming water, with scramasax clenched in their teeth as they climbed the Heidrun’s clinks.

Naudrek moved on cat’s feet over to where the wolfling was emerging from the water, his blade held low, and raised one foot. The sole of his boot impacted the first wolfling’s forehead and he lost his grip, tumbling into the water.

Jorir charged forward, much more noisily, and raised his shield over his head. The edge of the shield hit the second man’s teeth with a gong, followed by another splash.

Now men were coming up the other side, though, three and four at a time. Jorir shared a look with Naudrek before the other man raced back across the deck to fend off that group of attackers. Jorir looked back over his shoulder at Einarr, hoping for some clue that they were nearly done.

He still couldn’t tell. He raised his axe and stepped forward to block as many as he could.

Then the crackling magic at his back went still and the pressure vanished. For a heartbeat, everything was still.

In the next heartbeat, it was as though the world itself exploded. A wave of magic crashed over the deck of the Heidrun and rippled out over the water, towards the fighting in the town.


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10.29 – Pivot

No sooner had Irding’s boots hit the dock than he was off and running, his eyes scanning ahead for his father’s back. Erik was exactly who he wanted at his side in this fight, and not only because the man was his only real tie to the island. After last fall, with the golem in the tower and all that nonsense on the Isle, there were few he would trust to have his back more.

Thankfully he was easy to spot: he was perhaps the biggest of Lord Stigander’s men, excepting maybe Stigander himself. Erik was taking the right flank: Irding hurried to catch up, shouldering his way smoothly through the stream of his allies. Somehow, he managed not to trip anyone up, although the occasional muffled curse said he called it close a few times.

Still, when he reached the front of his father’s line, the big bear of a man rewarded him with a grin. “Thought you were on the left, though?”

Irding offered a cheeky grin in return. “Swapped with Bea. Convinced her I’d do better with some of the old hands.”

“Hah! Who you calling old?”

Irding did not have time for the obvious rejoinder: they finally met with some wolfling resistance. It was odd for it to have taken so long: they were well outside the docks, now. Wouldn’t the town itself usually mount some resistance to a war party? With a mental shrug, he turned his full attention to the battle at hand: so much the better if they didn’t. The Captains wanted this as bloodless as possible, after all.

After all the craziness of last year, Irding found this assault on a city to be refreshingly straightforward. They would press forward, the wolflings would fall back. He would stab forward like a spear, and soon enough the rest of the line was even with his position. Erik looked concerned, but Irding couldn’t fathom why. If the wolfling flank was weak, all they had to do was take advantage of it – wasn’t it?


For the second time, Kaldr’s cell door opened to the blindingly dim light of the corridor without the cackling of the witch. He blinked toward the light, squinting to try to make out who it was.

Oh. Just the guard. It irritated him how rough his voice sounded. He couldn’t have been down here that long… could he? “Am I to be given an extra ration today, then?”

“His Lordship the Thane has summoned you to his Hall.”

Kaldr’s eyebrows rose. “The Thing is convened?”

The gaoler shook his head even as he took hold of the chain that still trailed between Kaldr’s two hands. “On your feet.”

Slowly, stiffly, Kaldr rose and followed the man out. If he wasn’t to be tried, then why had Lord Ulfr summoned him?

After what felt like an interminable number of stairs, they came to the entrance of the tower and stepped out into the bright light of day. Kaldr had to stop and lift the crook of his elbow to shade his light-starved eyes. He could hear fighting in the distance.

He was not given more time to observe, or even adjust to the light. His gaoler tugged on his lead chain and nearly pulled him from his feet. Kaldr followed.

As the door was flung open to the Hall, Kaldr could see that Lord Ulfr had waited only impatiently. The Thane paced, his hands gripped behind his back and his shoulders hunched forward as he stared at the groove he was trying to wear in the floor.

“The prisoner kneels before you, my Lord,” the gaoler announced.

Ulfr turned to the source of the voice and stared at him from feral, angry eyes. “Unchain him and begone,” he spat.

The gaoler cast a pitying look at Kaldr as he turned to obey. Kaldr was reluctantly impressed: he did not even sigh at the peevishness of their Thane. The chains fell free from Kaldr’s wrists, and he allowed himself the luxury of chafing at the wrists once. Then he raised his head and looked levelly at his Thane.

“Why am I summoned?”

For a long moment, Ulfr did not answer, merely continued his pacing even as he stared at Kaldr with those same half-mad eyes in that florid face. Kaldr waited.

Finally, the Thane spat on the ground at his feet. “You are to take command of the city defenses.”

Kaldr was momentarily stunned. This was quite a reversal. Before he could ask why, however, his Thane volunteered an answer.

Mother says the threads are clear and you are our only chance at holding what is rightfully ours. Acquit yourself well and I will pardon your earlier treachery. Fail, and we fall. Am I understood?”

“Perfectly.” Kaldr snapped his mouth shut on the word. He could not trust himself to say more: this meant that he owed his freedom, not to his Thane but to the weaver witch, who had until now taken such delight in bleeding him for her foul magics. It took all the restraint he had not to grind his teeth just then.

“Good.” Ulfr turned back to his pacing. Kaldr knew a dismissal when he saw one: he turned stiffly on his heel and marched back out of the hall. Free, at least for now. There was a room in the tower, above the witch’s workshop: he would conduct his defense from there.

As he crossed the courtyard yet again, he summoned one of Lord Ulfr’s passing thralls. “Find me Thjofgrir.”

The man grew pale, but stammered out his promise to try. That was enough to make Kaldr give him his full attention.

“Thjofgrir should be with my crew in the city. Don’t tell me you don’t know how to find them?”

“N-n-n-no, sir, it’s just…”

“Just?”

“It’s just, we can’t get there. The rebels hold that part of the city.”

Kaldr breathed out his nose. “Fine. Go about your business, then.” If the rebels were already that deep into Breidelstein, things were dire indeed.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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10.23 – Return to Raenshold

Kaldr knew he should have been glad of a quiet journey back to the capital. Unfortunately, every man aboard knew what was happening, and so the mood of his ship was as rough as the waves in his head. No-one suggested treason – not openly, anyway, or at least not where he could hear – but Kaldr could see the anger simmering just under the surface. A fight at least would have allowed his men to work off some steam.

As it was, he kept his usual calm demeanor as an example to his men, and watched the horizon for the cliffs of Breidelsteinn.

There were no guards waiting at the harbor to escort him before their Thane: that was something, at least. It seemed as though, while the harbormaster obviously expected his return, no-one else knew anything at all was out of the ordinary. Kaldr was pleased, on one level, that he arrived to see a perfectly ordinary day at the docks. It was somewhat surreal to walk through, nonetheless.

Their ship secured, Kaldr set off up the docks for the cliff road. Thjofgrir motioned for one of their men to watch the ship and then fell in beside his Captain. For a long while, they walked in silence, but Kaldr could feel the muscles in his jaw working, and he was certain his Mate had picked up on it. Finally, when they reached the cliff road and there were fewer – one might almost say no more – people about, Kaldr spoke.

“Something about this doesn’t make sense.” Kaldr pitched his voice low, certain that Thjofgrir would hear and equally certain no-one else could.

“What is that, Sir?”

“Why now?”

There was a long pause. It seemed Thjofgrir had been taken aback by the question. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“I have hunted many a quarry for our Lord. Each time, I study my opponent and take them out methodically. It takes longer, but my victory is assured. So, why now, when he pitted me against his single biggest foe, would he call me back?”

Thjofgrir did not answer, but Kaldr could almost hear the man’s shrug.

“Do not follow me into the Hold. One of us needs to stay with the ship.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And don’t let them mutiny. I am only their Captain, understand?”

Thjofgrir’s agreement was slower in coming that time, but it did come. It would have to do.


They had parted ways at the last switchback before the gate house. One of the guards might have seen Thjofgrir, but Kaldr doubted it. Even if they had, it would have been easy enough to explain. Two guards stood before the gate, spears in hand, and stared severely out towards the water.

“I am Captain Kaldr, presenting myself to our Lord Ulfr as ordered,” he announced.

One of the guards – the thinner one, with a hint of jaundice about his face – turned to look directly at him even as he beckoned for someone behind him. “You’re late.”

“I came with all possible speed…” Oh, never mind. This one didn’t actually care. Kaldr wondered, though, how quickly Ulfr thought he could have arrived, given where he left from?

A thickset man stepped forward from the shadows of the gate bearing rough-looking iron manacles. Kaldr scowled at them.

“You insult me, sirs.”

“Orders is orders, Captain, and we has orders to take you prisoner.”

So I’m to be stripped of my commission and made a prisoner? For devising a strategem that was working? Still, he held out his hands, and managed to avoid rolling his eyes in the process. It was a good thing he’d sent Thjofgrir back: his Mate could never have borne this. The iron closed firmly around his wrists: it was just as rough as it looked, and almost painfully cold.

The man with the manacles took hold of the chain that connected them and turned his back on the town and the water. When Kaldr did not immediately start walking, he yanked on the chain.

They crossed under the shadow of the gates to stride down the broad lane leading through the rings of buildings to the central Hold, where Lord Ulfr would be waiting. The sky was disconcertingly bright and blue as Kaldr was marched through the streets, as though the gods were having a laugh at his expense. No matter: soon enough, this would all be settled out, and he would be able to return to his command. It seemed as though nearly the entire fleet was out on the water: the streets were empty of everyone save the Lord’s thralls and the occasional sycophant.

The stone fortress at the heart of Raenshold seemed to loom overhead in the sunlight. Inside, Kaldr nearly stumbled a time or two before his eyes could adjust to the sudden gloom. The lack of light did not seem to bother his guard, somehow, curse the man.

Finally, they stopped before the large oaken door of the Thane’s Hall. It had seen little use of late: Lord Ulfr was well aware that his coffers could no longer afford the feasts of Kaldr’s youth, even if he could not see the root of the problem. The guard stopped in front of the door and took the end of the chain in his second hand.

Kaldr raised an eyebrow. What nonsense is this?

With flair suited to a jester in court, the guard swung the end of the chain against a metal plate on a stand to the side of the door. The sound reverberated up and down the corridor. Kaldr felt rather like he was standing inside a bell when it rang.

Slowly, the door creaked open. Before him lay the threadbare rugs that still led down the center of the hall to the Thane’s seat. Kaldr allowed his gaze to travel up that rug to the end of the hall. There, slouching across his father’s seat as though it were a sleeping couch, waited Lord Ulfr.

“You’re late.”


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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.

10.14 – Reconnaissance

Kaldr awoke to the smell of smoke with the rising of the dawn. A low growl rumbled in his throat as he sat up. Those idiots.

That they would conduct a raid was expected. He had given leave, after all – as much because he was certain Urek would have sent one anyway as because it was good to make sure the rebels remembered they were there. But this was not the smell of wood smoke. He smelled meat.

He looked around the deck of his ship: most of them seemed unaware anything was amiss, and that was as it should be. Some, though, wore scowls as dark as Kaldr’s thoughts.

“Thjofgrir?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Find Skon. Send him up the fjord. Reconnaissance only. I want to know what was destroyed and how many died. Tell him to be quick, but not to let himself be seen.”

“Yes, sir.” No sooner had Thjofgrir answered, though, than a familiar and grating laugh sounded from behind them, in the direction of Urek’s ship. Slowly, making sure his expression was properly schooled, Kaldr turned to face the man.

“Now that’s how it’s done!” Urek was leaning on the bulwark of his ship and looking smugly across at Kaldr.

“Do tell me, precisely what is ‘how it’s done’?” If he’s killed the townsfolk, I will put his head on a pike.

“Those cursed rebels will come slinking out of there with their tails between their legs now, just you wait. Lundholm can’t very well resupply them when they have to see to their own stores!”

In spite of himself, Kaldr could feel his face go pale. On the one hand, Urek had complied with the letter of his instructions. On the other hand, in terms of ill will, this was almost worse. “You didn’t…”

The man took a long, over-dramatic sniff of the air. “Proof is on the wind, sir. The men who went raiding last night didn’t draw steel on anyone but rebels, but they burned everything they could.”

Kaldr closed his eyes and counted slowly to ten under his breath. Urek, around the time he hit “two” and had not answered, walked away laughing to himself.

“Thjofgrir.” He opened his eyes and looked at his Mate. “Cancel that reconnaissance. Urek is a fool and a braggart, but not a liar.”

“As you say, sir.”


After all the fires had been put out and the food pulled from the smokehouse and the drying shed, the people of Lundholm had lost fully half their stores before accounting for the damage done at the boat house. Einarr could not fault their anger, although it rankled to be the object of it when they had done everything in their power to stop the attack.

They would not be able to finish the resupply now. The men of Lundholm would have to rebuild their own stores, and there simply were not enough materials to go around to handle both.

At the same time, though, they were in no condition to fight their way out of the fjord. Thus, with the noon sun high in the sky, Stigander turned to Elder Vilding with one last request. “Do you have a map?”

“A map? What in Hel’s name do you want with a map?”

Captain Kormund pressed his hands together. “Elder Vilding. There is currently a blockade at the mouth of the fjord that we would have to pass through one at a time. While we would, no doubt, take them down, we would take them down with us. But if Stigander and Einarr do not reach Raenshold, you will never be free of the Usurper. Thus, we need another way out.”

“Our boats are already on dry land,” Einarr filled in.

The Elder spluttered. “Surely you don’t mean to portage your ships across the whole island?”

Stigander nodded. “If a way exists, it may save us. So, please, as one final favor before you are rid of us.”

Now Elder Vilding sighed. “Such a route exists. Or did, last fall. There’s a hermitage on the southwestern coast with a small, rocky beach. Haven’t seen old Gotlief yet this year, and Dagny needs honey for her mead soon.”

Stigander nodded. “So long as it’s broad enough to launch a ship, that sounds like exactly what we need.”

“There is no map – not like what you’re thinking of. We had one, twenty years ago, but it burned up in one of the Usurper’s raids.”

“That’s fine,” Einarr put in quickly. “If you’ll show us the road, we can send a man or two on ahead to scout out the way.”

Vilding hummed. “And while we wait for these scouts of yours to return?”

“We will divide our men in half, if you allow it.” Stigander answered easily. “The first half will help clean up the mess left by the wolflings. The other half will keep making arrows, drawing water, and harvesting pitch. It’s the only way we have a chance of making it back to Raenshold.”

A low grumble rose from among the villagers, but the Elder shook his head. “Fine. And half of any game you take comes back to us, to replace what was burnt.”

“Done.”

The young man who had hailed them when they first arrived stepped forward. “I will go with the scouts, Elder.”

Elder Vilding scowled at the man. “We need you out hunting.”

“More than we need someone Lord Gotlief recognizes running up to the hermitage? The old monk doesn’t take kindly to trespassers.”

“Have it your way.”

The man bobbed his head and darted off into one of the nearby huts. Meanwhile, Stigander had made his decision as well. “Troa. Boti. You’re our scouts. If there’s an obstacle on the road, it’s on you to figure out how to clear it.”

“Yes, sir!” they chorused, quite obviously pleased.

“You’re to head out as soon as your guide is ready. Make sure you are, as well.”


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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.

9.25 – Bloody Threads

For a moment, the six women stood stunned. Of all the things that had gone mysteriously well, this was the strangest. Reki’s neck prickled in alarm: glancing to right and left, Aema and Eydri looked no easier than she felt.

All around stood spools of thread of all colors, vats of dye, and half-finished tapestries. What truly arrested the attention, though, was the room’s centerpiece.

Urdr’s loom was tall and visibly heavy, the wood so heavily carved and gilt that it was difficult to see how age-darkened the timbers were. On it hung one of those half-finished tapestries: Reki could see the masts of three indistinct ships off to the left, while on the right there was a circle of women – although she could not tell what they were doing. She rather thought she knew anyway.

In front of the loom, though, sat the Weavess herself. Her leathery skin practically crinkled over itself, and her hair hung in lank strings as though she could not be bothered with it. Those falcon eyes, though, looked at the six purported guests who had just charged into her workshop not with anger, annoyance, or even fear, but with amusement. “So you’re finally here.”

Bea took a step forward, her mouth set in a stubborn line belied by the unease Reki read in her shoulders.

“Welcome, your Highness,” the old crone purred.

Beatrix stopped in her tracks.

“Oh, yes, I know who you are, Princess Beatrix Maria Gundahar. I would have known even if my spies had learned nothing.” Urdr’s expression retained its malicious amusement.

Undissuaded, Beatrix strode forward, the point of her sword lowered at the crone. “Step aside.”

Urdr actually laughed, a sound like pinecones scraping against stones. “I know why you have come, you and the troop of Singers that idiot Kaldr brought under our roof. You are here, you think, to destroy my Weaving of Inevitable Victory.”

“If you know that much, then -”

“You are wrong. Even could my weaving be broken by such a paltry thing,” the crone’s gaze lingered contemptuously on Bea’s blade, “the fate that brought you here is different.

“You do not understand.” She clucked, as though in annoyance at poor students. Then, her eyes glittered coldly. “But you will. Tell me, croaker, what is the Art of Weaving?”

The Singers bristled slightly a moment, at both insult and apparent lecture. Whatever trap there might be was still hidden from Reki’s eyes. As such, she wanted to keep the Weavess talking, and so she answered. “Weaving is a means of reading, and sometimes binding, the future, is it not?”

“Good! Very good! Just as the songs say and your matrons claim,” Urdr cackled. She dropped her voice, then. “And yet – common, shallow, and wrong.”

“Unlike your Song – a fleeting, ephemeral touch, vanishing in a heartbeat – Weaving is permanence. Do you not know that the Norns Weave? As their weaving, so is all Weaving. It is blood, and flesh, and bone, the very stuff of life. Not merely Fate, but all that makes it up.

“My threads are not merely the bone and sinew and blood of my Art, and not so different from the bone and sinew and blood of those they bind.” Urdr gestured past her loom to a stack of pale thread, undyed, an empty basin, and a spinning wheel. “My shears are as mighty as a thousand swords. How could it not be, when the Norns themselves are the mistresses of my Art?”

Runa shuddered. Reki, carefully schooling her face, saw Eydri bristle and Bea’s eyes desperately seek an opening, even as the crone held her gaze like a snake.

“I’ll tell you a further secret, children. Weaving binds more tightly if it has a… physical connection to those it rules. Hair is an easy way to do this, although not a particularly effective one. Blood is better.

“Do you know now why you are here?” Urdr’s snaggle-toothed smile was a horrifying void as she stood, moving toward an empty dying basin. As though in concession to her age she moved with bone-creaking slowness, but it was the only such concession she seemed to allow. “Blood of a southern princess. Blood of a Jarl. Blood of song from across all the isles. What a masterful Binding you will become. My line will not end merely as thanes of a forgotten island, or even masters of this sea. Oh no. Far greater things await, for which you shall be the foundation.” She whistled sharply, piercingly.

Four guards rushed into the room – two from behind them, and two from another door she had not noticed – heavily armed and plainly ready for them. From the steel bands about their brows to the leather boots on their feet, Reki had seen no-one at Raenshold with better-kept armor, and if their swords showed signs of heavy use it was surely due to age. Not one of Urdr’s bodyguards appeared to be younger than thirty summers, and each of them had the cold glint of a battle-hardened mercenary in their eyes. Already the door was blocked.

The crone smiled gently, yet all the more hideously for that. “Know despair, for my Weaving lies before you, yet forever outside of your grasp. But even still, be joyous, young ones, for you shall soon become the very foundation of the world.

“Seize them.”


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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.

9.24 – Into the Tower

Reki sat up in alarm. “They’re here?”

“So it sounds.”

“All right, ladies. Everybody up! We have a job to do.”

Eydri sat up and dusted off her skirts as though she hadn’t actually been asleep. For how long, Reki couldn’t begin to guess. Runa and Svana both stirred with a groan, as though they were feeling the lack of sleep from the last two nights. They would need a few minutes, she thought, but that was fine. So did the rest of them.

“Chances are good this caught them by surprise, too,” she said. “If we hurry, and we’re lucky, we might be able to beat them to the weaving room, but we’re out of time for skulking. Gather your things, those of you who have them: I very much doubt we’ll be coming back here.”

“At least not before Lord Stigander has reclaimed Breidelstein,” Runa agreed. “And who knows what will happen in the meantime.” The girl slung her pack over her shoulder, alert more quickly than Reki had thought possible. “Let’s go. The sooner we wreck that loom, the sooner we get back where we belong, and the sooner Father gets freed.”

Svana moved only a little more slowly, but she, too, was ready to be gone from this place.

“We all remember how to find the weavings, correct?”

One by one, they nodded. “All right. In that case, let us make haste cautiously.”


Escaping their chambers was easy. Surprisingly, the guards were not at their post, with no sign of their whereabouts.

The streets and alleys of Raenshold were perversely easier to navigate unnoticed now, as warriors girt themselves to repel raiders below and children scrambled – either for a good vantage point or for a place to hide, depending on their age and temperament. Bea rushed straight for the tower at the main gate, the sword on her back all the excuse she needed to shoulder through the crowds as though she were rushing to the defense of the town below.

Reki and the others slipped quietly through her wake, never falling far behind, but always maintaining their composure as Singers. No-one, under these circumstances, was going to question them.

No-one, that is, except the men still standing guard at the entrance to the tower. They took one look at the group of women quick-stepping their direction and moved to stand shoulder to shoulder, blocking the door.

Svana opened her mouth to Sing, but Reki held up a forestalling hand. A lullaby was one thing in the middle of the night. Now? Now, even if it worked they would draw more attention to themselves. “We need to figure out a distr …”

Before Reki could finish, Bea strode forward.

“Stand aside,” Beatrix demanded, and in that moment she was not just the Imperial Princess, she was the commander of a fleet.

It was not good enough. “The Lord has commanded no-one is to come in or out of here until the raiders are repelled.”

To her credit, Bea hardly even blinked. “Oh? And are you going to tell him that’s why the Lady Urdr had no bodyguard? We were sent to ensure her safety.”

“The Lady Urdr’s bodyguard team is still up there,” the other guard snapped. “What sort of idiots do you take us for?”

“That’s last night’s team,” drawled the first guard. “They haven’t been relieved yet.”

“What are you talking about? Of course they haven’t. Shift change isn’t for another hour.”

Reki and Aema exchanged a glance from behind Bea as the two guards began to argue. With a nod, they slipped around to either side and went for the door.

The guards, caught up in their argument, paid them no heed. Amused, Reki did not fail to note that the second guard kept leading his fellow around by the nose. Why that would be, she could only guess, but she was glad of it.

The door closed behind them with a thunk, and Svana slid the bar into place. Now instead of yelling at each other the two guards – both the gullible one and the insolent one – pounded on the door, shouting after the women to let them in. If Reki were to guess, only about half of the protests were sincere.

That shouldn’t have worked. Why did that work? She shook her head. We need to hurry.

Reki set her concerns aside for the moment, to be addressed later. Up the tower they went, to the third floor where they had heard Ulfr and Urdr the night before. They passed no-one as they raced upwards save for thralls, who seemed utterly unconcerned about the commotion outside.

Don’t get cocky, Reki reminded herself. Once we’ve wrecked the weaving, we still have to escape. It hardly bore thinking of, how they might be treated if they were caught and made prisoners in truth. Ulfr had ordered Runa broken for no better reason than information she did not have: under threat of rape Reki, too, would break the taboo, and once she was free there might not be much left of Breidelstein for Lord Stigander to reclaim. Best for all if it did not come to that, and for that reason… “Runa.”

“What?” The girl sounded a little winded, but they did not dare let up.

“Do you remember how your ‘rescuers’ got you to the harbor before?”

“Well enough.”

“You could lead us down it?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” They crested the third flight of steps. Ahead, Reki saw the door they had watched last night, only now it stood open. Perversely, sunlight streamed out into the hallway, though it would have made no sense for the Weavess to work in a windowless room. “There it is.”

Bea’s hand rested on the hilt of her sword as she watched the door. Aema passed about the water skin she had managed to keep with her. Reki, too, kept a wary eye on the Weavess’ room as she sipped from the skin, half expecting the Weavess’ actual bodyguards to come boiling out of the room at any moment.

At long last the companions exchanged a nod of readiness. Bea’s sword hissed out of its sheath and she led the surge into the Weavess’ workshop. Inside, amid the baskets of thread, Urdr relaxed on the bench of her loom, a look of amusement on her papery face. Otherwise, they were alone.


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9.14 – Breidelstein

The captain of the wolf-headed boat they rode on finally deigned to introduce himself to the circle of Singers he had aboard when the noon sun hung high in the sky. The man wore a wolf pelt over his shoulders, pinned to the cloth of his tunic with gold-and-ivory pins. Reki raised an eyebrow: somehow, given how long she had been left to bake in the sun, she had not expected the Captain to be wealthy enough for such ostentation. Her eyes ached from the brightness, and she had accepted hours ago that she would have a painful sunburn to deal with.

Still, even beyond the rich pins, the Captain was not the sort of man she would have expected. He seemed almost bloodless, of the sort who is nearly impossible to rattle, as he actually looked down his nose at his distinguished ‘guests’ standing before him, encircled by their ‘honor guard’ and denied even a shawl or a cloak for shade. “Good day to you, ladies,” he began. “I hope you are enjoying your stay aboard my ship?”

“It’s lovely,” Reki answered through clenched teeth. She struggled not to squint at the man. “Although the accommodations seem a little spare. Tell me, are all of your lord’s guests treated so warmly?”

The corner of his lip curled in a sneer. “I should think you would be glad of the light. It can’t be healthy, being always hidden away from view like that.” Reki seethed, but the man wasn’t done. “You should be honored. You are the first sorcerers of any stripe to set foot on my deck, and you’re being escorted to the Lord himself. A rare honor indeed.”

Bea stepped forward. “Now wait just a moment-”

“Hold your tongue, woman.”

Beatrix was so surprised she actually did.

“I do not hold with the use of Song, or of any of the other so-called Arts. They make men disinclined to rely on their own power. That I have allowed not one but six of you aboard is a testament to my devotion to Thane Ulfr. While you are aboard you will not be ill-treated, but neither will you be allowed to wander about at your leisure, nor to conceal your doings. I do not trust those who can so freely manipulate men’s hearts. Some call this a failing: I call it wisdom. And now, please, I hope you enjoy the rest of your journey. We should reach port early on the morrow.”

As the Captain turned on his heel and stepped away, his boots clicking on the deck as though he were perpetually walking on stones, Reki’s jaw dropped.

Runa’s face had gone red, and not from the sun. “Who does he think,” she started to mutter.

“Well.” Eydri said, sounding as nonplussed as Reki felt. “That explains a few things.”

“More than I cared to know, truth be told,” Reki answered. “How does a man like that come to be a captain at all – let alone a rich one?”

Aema shook her head. “Does it matter? We know now that we’re stuck like this until he sees fit to escort us up to Raenshold. Here, Reki, you can at least sit in my shadow. It’s not much, but…”

“Thank you Aema. I’ll take you up on that.” Reki shifted a little bit and sank down onto the deck. The other woman’s shadow was poor shade at best, but it was still better than nothing.


Breidelstein harbor was broad and deep, with high cliffs rising to either side and up behind the port town itself. As they drew near, a path up the cliffs became visible, and Reki got her first glimpse of Raenshold where it squatted over the port like an overprotective hound.

The town was unnaturally subdued as they were led through it under armed guard, and it had nothing to do with the six of them. If it had, the people they passed would have either stared or pointedly looked away. Instead, they went on with their day as though nothing out of the ordinary was going on. A surprisingly high portion of the city appeared unwell. Malnourished, really. It was as though Ulfr had proven to be unskillful at rulership after he seized the reins of power.

Reki snorted quietly and suppressed a smirk – not at the people’s misfortune, but at the fate common to usurpers. Would men never learn? Leadership was a skill like any other, and rulership passed from father to son so that the skill could be taught. Would be taught, barring gross incompetence, as a consequence of raising the heir.

The walk up the road leading to the Hall was steep even after accounting for the switchbacks. No matter what else Reki wanted to say about Stigander’s father, the man had good tactical sense. This may well have been one of the most defensible locations she had ever seen. Were it not for the Weaver’s treachery, it might never have fallen.

She glanced over. Beatrix walked between the rest of them and the sheer drop below, as though she, too, were guarding them. She couldn’t help but like the Imperial Princess, so very different from the Lady Runa and not just in culture. How she could have been mistaken for a Singer was a mystery none of them had an answer to yet, but for her part Reki was glad to have someone along who thought like a warrior. Later, when they finally slipped the leash of their guards, they could wonder about things like that. Right now, though, Reki needed to be preparing herself to face lord Stigander’s half-brother.

It felt impossible, and yet she knew it was not, not truly. All she knew about the man she had learned from the Lay, but that should be enough to extrapolate from. That and the (ahem) quality of the man who had been sent to capture them. And she was almost out of time: the grim stone walls of Raenshold towered over their party now. Their so-called honor guard did not slow as they neared the gate, though Reki wished they might. The time was at hand.


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2.16 – Desperate Battle

One down, five to go… Four. Einarr stared through the gap in the circle where his fallen opponent had been and set his jaw. A cry of shock from the other side of Arring said his partner had felled another, but already more Valkyries rushed towards their circle. In only a moment, the two fallen would be replaced by four more. A hollow space opened up in his belly: if there were this many men to deal with the two of them, the fight was going badly all over.

Four men became eight. Einarr could spare no thought for the shallow cuts that got through his guard or for the fate of his fellows. Three times his boot nearly crushed Bardr’s nose as he dodged a blow. Three times he moved in time, but on the third he stumbled.

“Einarr!” Arring lunged, ignoring for a moment the flock of vultures trying to peck out their eyes. Einarr’s shoulder slammed into his crewmate’s back, but the man didn’t budge.

“Thanks,” he grunted. Einarr took the opportunity to lash out with a boot toward one of the Valkyries within range. He heard the satisfying snap when foot hit nose, and the sailor cursed even as blood began to flow down his face.

Such a minor thing was not enough to knock the fight out of a Valkyrie, of course. Einarr launched himself off Arring’s back with a roar. Sinmora whistled as the blade drove for the man’s skull.

He, too, had allies, though. A saber flashed, and instead of the sound of steel biting flesh it was steel striking steel that rang out.

Einarr snarled, ripping his blade back to cut thrice at the three men ahead of him. Blood bloomed on their tunics. Two of them turned a sickly green and dropped to their knees, clutching their stomachs as though to hold in their innards. The third snarled back.

Moist heat gushed from Einarr’s calf. Pain would come later. That was a deep one, but not as deep as the one the Valkyrie got in return. If he lived, he would never father another child.

Einarr’s lungs burned. Even under the full strength of Reki’s song fatigue slowed his arms and fear clutched at his throat. This was like no other battle he had seen. It seemed as though there were no end to the Valkyries, even though their hunting parties were never more than two ships together. Their assailants had ebbed, if only for a moment. He inhaled deeply, smelling sour bile and the iron tang of blood.

Arring’s voice rang out. “Behind you!”

Einarr turned. A javelin – not a crossbow bolt, a javelin – hurtled for his breast. Ah, so that’s why I didn’t feel anything. There was no time to dodge. There was no time to bring his shield or sword to bear. The fates had decreed that this moment was his time.

Einarr lowered his eyelids, accepting his fate. In the moment before they closed, Arring’s sturdy figure seemed to fly into the path of the javelin.

Einarr’s eyes flew open again when he saw what was happening. He screamed in denial.

The javelin found the weak point in Arring’s mail. Blood spurted from his back even as Einarr dashed forward to catch his crewmate… his friend. The world went red.

The next thing Einarr was aware of, he stood alone in a pile of corpses. At his feet lay Bardr and Arring, both gone. A few other lone figures remained of the Vidofnir’s crew, each surrounded by a ring mound of bodies. Jorir. Reki. Erik. One or two others… Father.

He strode to where the others gathered around Stigander, the wound in his leg somehow vanished. “Father.”

“Einarr.” The words were calm and level, but both knew the other’s heart at this moment.

“How many are left?”

“Just those you see here.”

Einarr nodded, looking down at his blood-stained boots. “Where will you take us now?”

Stigander’s voice was tired when he finally answered. “I don’t know.”

“You’re not giving up?” He lifted his head to meet his father’s gaze with a challenge.

Stigander shook his head.

“Good.”

“I’ll be damned if I know how we’re supposed to win back Raenshold with just the few of us, though. And this just cost us everything we’ve earned towards winning the hand of your bride.”

“It was always going to be a matter of wits, Father. Our birthright was stolen from us by guile, and by guile it shall be won.”

“We will still require force of arms to back up our wits, son. After this, we’ll be lucky to find enough men to crew our ship, let alone turn our cause from doom.”

“We’ll find a way. If for no other reason, Father, than the battle here today.”

Now his father looked alarmed, but Einarr did not give him the chance to interrupt.

“The Order of the Valkyrie has wronged the sons of Raen and the men of Breidelsteinn this day – grievously. And they will pay, Father.”

“They already have, Einarr. Look around you. We were outnumbered, and yet it is we who yet live.”

“Are you really all right with that, Father?”

“Even our entire clan does not have the resources to go after the Order of the Valkyrie. Others have tried, and wiped themselves from the map in the process.”

“Then we shall gather other clans to our cause.”

“You realize they’ve an agreement with the Empire, right?”

“So be it. The Vidofnir is my home, and her crew my family. I will not allow this to stand.” He heard the coldness in his own voice as the words left his mouth. He had never experienced rage as a cold thing before, but in this moment it was right. The Order of the Valkyries, and by extension the Empire, would not rest until every Clan was wiped out – their hunters today showed that well enough. If defending his kin meant taking the battle to them, then so be it.

“I swear before all of you, by steel and by stone, by the one bound beneath a tree and she who stirs the winds, that our kin shall be avenged, even if it takes my whole life to do it.”

He stood there, staring, for a long moment before he realized that his father was frozen rather than speechless. The sound of silver bells drifted to his ears on the wind from out of nowhere.


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2.13 – Fidelity & Honor

“Runa is my only child, and likely to remain so. He who marries her will become my heir. Rise, son, and take the hand of the prize you’ve fought so hard for.”

Raenshold. The Jarl was asking him to forswear Raenshold… his father… his birthright… and accept a jarldom in its place? Einarr shook his head as he climbed unsteadily to his feet, certain he must have heard wrong. “My lord, surely you jest?”

“Not at all.” The Jarl’s face was open and honest, as though the thought never crossed his mind that Einarr might be bound by another oath.

Einarr risked a glance back at the hall: his father’s face was grim, as was Bardr’s. Erik and Tyr looked concerned. Now he glanced down to Jorir, and unless Einarr was very much mistaken that was fear he saw there. Runa, though, gave him an encouraging smile and nod, trying to convince him to go ahead and accept. As though she did not know what her father asked of him.

Einarr set his mouth and turned his attention back to the Jarl. “My lord Jarl, every man under my Father’s command has sworn to return and reclaim Breidelsteinn.”

“Do you not have your own ship, your own crew, now?”

“Why would that matter?”

The Jarl blinked now. “Is Raenshold truly even a memory for you? Is it not merely the stories your father’s men tell to while away the time as you wander the waves? I am offering you the security of your own lands with my daughter’s hand.”

“It is true, we have lived as vagabonds since the Weaving, and my memories of home are faint and dim, their patchwork filled in by the stories told aboard the Vidofnir. But Raenshold is and ever will be home, and I was born to be a Thane, as was Father before me. You ask me now to settle for a jarldom in foreign waters, and let my birthright be usurped again?” Einarr raised his gaze to meet the Jarl’s, unflinching, and pursed his lips. Anger was beginning to smolder in his breast, and he worried he would say too much.

“You have been a homeless wanderer, sailing from port to port with never an end in sight. While you are unwed, that is fine for you, but I am no father if I allow my one and only daughter to lead that kind of life. Her hand in marriage is bound to these lands by a chain even the gods might not shatter.”

“Bound by you alone, and you hold the key.” Rage threatened to boil up, but if he fought his father-in-law over this he lost, no matter who won. “You say you are my father’s friend, and yet you try to seduce me into betraying him? Nay, Jarl. Runa shall be my bride, and none other, and no other than Raenshold shall be our home.”

“You’re being unreasonable.”

“Actually, I rather think you are. You would make a nithing of me.”

The sound of silver bells filled Einarr’s ears and the Jarl froze. Einarr looked about, surprised: no-one in the Hall so much as blinked, save one. The strangely familiar lady’s maid with the long golden hair and the elfin features. She curtsied, and as she rose she turned to walk away. The scene in Kjell hall faded with every step she took into the distance, until it was replaced with the alpine meadow where he had first seen the woman. Einarr shook his head to clear it before stepping back toward the path where he had evidently left the rest of his companions. I hope I’m not too far behind.

***

The sound of silver bells rang in Jorir’s ears and he stepped forward over the threshold between reality and dreaming. He didn’t know how it was done, but he had been through the tests before.

The scene in front of his eyes was the last one he expected, however. The light faded, its color yellowing, until he stood in a torch-lit stone hall. To every side svartdverger made merry. It took his eyes a minute to adjust, but when they did he saw the sigil of Chief Soggvar – King of Iron and Brass. I’m… home?

Jorir’s face lit up, for now he recognized the faces of his kinsmen. Some of them he was quite sure were dead, and others he suspected were, but in the world of the Oracle’s trial that did not matter. His eye lit on his brother’s face and he could not smother his astonished grin. He stepped over and put a hand on the other dwarf’s shoulder. “Brotti? What’re you doin’ here?”

“Waiting, little brother. We all are.” When his brother turned to face him, Jorir had a moment’s double-vision: Brotti’s face turned ashen, and the shadow of an axe cut across it. Jorir blinked and the vision cleared.

Jorir smiled again at his brother, but this time it was wan. I had a feeling.

“Go. The Thane would welcome you himself.”

“Aye.” He nodded, studying Brotti’s face even as he clapped him on the shoulder. Living or not, this would likely be the last time Jorir saw him. After a long moment, he turned towards the throne where Thane Soggvar sat looking dour – moreso even than Jorir was used to. Things must have got bad after he left.

Slowly Jorir stepped towards the throne, and slowly he knelt before his chieftain and bowed his head. He felt the large, heavy hand of the king settle on the back of his head with surprising gentleness. It was cold and clammy.

“Welcome home, son of the mountains. We have expected you.”

“I beg you to forgive my tardiness, my king.”

The hand raised again off his head. “It is of no matter. We have endured.”

Have you? “Thank the gods,” he said, as though he had noticed nothing amiss.

“What have you discovered on your long journey?”

“I have found the Cursebreaker.”

“Well! Cause for celebration indeed! Bring out the mead! In the morning, we will sacrifice to the gods for their beneficence!”

Jorir tried to smile in response to the Thane’s enthusiasm, but the signs within his vision suggested he was too late.


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2.12 – Faithless Hospitality

The tinkling sound of silver bells filled Einarr’s ears. Testing the fidelity of my love for Runa? Nothing simpler… surely that can’t be it, though? Well, no matter. He hefted the sack of treasure slung over his shoulder so the weight rested more comfortably and the coins tinkled again. Walking along the path up towards Kjell Hall, he whistled a jaunty tune. Jorir was only a pace behind him with another sack of treasure, and over this last quest they had filled out the crew of the Hvalaskurdr. His longship Hvalaskurdr. He had a ship. He had a crew. He had brought more gifts than even Jarl Hroaldr could have thought to ask for. If that wasn’t sufficient, even yet lacking a hall of his own, Einarr could rightly accuse the man of faithlessness.

Einarr stepped through the tree line and into the meadow. Not another quarter-mile in, the gate of the palisade around the hall stood open for them. The crew of the Vidofnir awaited inside, with the Kjellings, for news of his success. A broad grin split his wide moustache and he strode on, stopping just two steps outside the door.

“Hail to the Jarl of Kjell! Einarr, son of Stigander, son of Raen, has returned from his quest!”

“Hail, and well-met!” The Jarl’s voice carried out of the hall nearly as cheerfully as it had for Stigander just after their encounter with the Grendel. “The son of Stigander is welcome to my hall!”

Einarr stepped across the threshold and into the shadow of the hall. He reached up to remove his knit cap – when did I put that on? – as his eyes adjusted to the dimness. The smells of meat and mead filled his nose, and rowdy calls of greeting and good cheer assaulted his ears. Stigander stepped up in front of him and clapped him on the shoulders, grinning behind his yellow beard.

“We carried word ahead of you, my boy, since you had someone to retrieve. Everyone’s dying to hear it from your own lips, though.”

He returned his father’s smile in kind, certain that Stigander saw the warmth of his affection behind it. Soon, very soon, they would find a way to reclaim their birthright, and then Stigander could be the thane they all knew he should have been.

The Jarl’s voice rose above the crowd. “Come! Show us the proof of your valor!”

“Well, go on.” Stigander took his cap from him and offered a wordless nod of appreciation to the dwarf.

All eyes – Vidofning and Kjelling alike – were on Einarr and his liege-man as they strode the length of the hall towards the clearing in front of Jarl Hroaldr’s seat.

The light shifted, and Einarr caught a glimpse of Runa, sitting with her lady’s maid in the corner. It was strange: Einarr had thought the maid was a mousey little brown-haired woman, but today the one who attended his love had elfin grace and ridiculously long gold hair – fairer, if it were possible, than Runa’s. He took in so much with a glance before his eye was drawn back to the princess. She sat with her hands pressed against the seat and her shoulders thrust forward, looking up at him furtively from under lowered brows. When she met his gaze, she bit her lower lip. His heart began to race. My lady…

The Jarl cleared his throat: evidently Einarr had been staring. Abashed, he knelt before his father’s friend and set the sack down in front of him with a clatter of precious metal.

“My lord Jarl, I have returned under my own sail and with my own crew, bearing gold and treasure in accordance with the tasks you have placed upon me.” He opened the sack and reached down in among the silver and gold and jewels, looking for the artifact he knew the Jarl would want. There it is. He reached both hands down into the treasure sack and carefully began to remove the goblet.

“In token of these accomplishments, I offer you the Fierbinte, taken from the Imperial city of Krasimirburg during our raids.” He raised the goblet by its stem, resting its base on his other hand to keep it steady. The cup was solid gold and encrusted with rubies and sapphires over every inch of the outside. Inside, it was perpetually filled with a blood-red wine that never seemed to spill. “According to the Imperials we questioned, it is said that the one who drinks from the Fierbinte shall know neither disease nor the progress of time for a full turning of the seasons, but that the god of war shall be their constant companion.”

Jarl Hroaldr reached out to cup the goblet’s basin with both hands and lifted it overhead. A cheer rose up around the hall from the Kjellings: the Vidofnings, Einarr was certain, wanted no part of such a thing. Not until they reclaimed their home.

Once the cheering had died down, the Jarl turned and set the goblet carefully on the table as though it were capable of spilling. His attention returned to Einarr. “Rise, Einarr, son of Stigander, son of Raen. Your dedication is most admirable, and so I am willing to overlook that you have not gained a hall. Rise, and take the hand of Runa, and make Kjell your home henceforward. My Thane, Lord Hragnar, sails for Kjell even as we speak to take your oath to him and this land.”

The hall fell silent. To Einarr, the sudden stillness felt as though the world were crashing around his ears. His face felt slack. “I… what?”

“Runa is my only child, and likely to remain so. He who marries her will become my heir. Rise, son, and take the hand of the prize you’ve fought so hard for.”

Raenshold. The Jarl was asking him to forswear Raenshold… his father… his birthright… and accept a Jarldom in its place? Einarr shook his head as he climbed unsteadily to his feet, certain he must have heard wrong. “My Lord, surely you jest?”


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