Tag: Sivid

10.21 – Frothing Urek

The sweat on Sivid’s brow was only partially to do with the fire. He had found himself face to face with the man they called Frothing Urek, and decided to test his luck. If it were not for the fire, he thought he would be doing better. As it was, he found himself hemmed in by a beast of a man before him and licking flames to either side. The bulwark was far too close to his back for comfort, as well.

He ducked another swing of Urek’s hammer and lost another half-step of ground. I have two choices. Neither of them is good. If he tried to vault over the man’s head, there was an excellent chance he would take a hammer to the head. It might or might not leave the contents intact, but he didn’t want to take that gamble.

His other option, Sivid thought, was to borrow a move from the hall dance. If he kicked for the rafters, he might still be able to get over the flames without getting scorched. Maybe he could even do it in such a way that Urek would miss him. If he was going to try, though, it needed to be quickly. The wolfling deck was going up like a dry forest: either the boat was older than the Vidofnir or the Captain had neglected her maintenance.

He licked his lips. The heat from the blaze dried them immediately. It has to be the rafters. Wait for it…

Urek pulled back for another swipe at the quick man’s chest. Sivid gathered himself: if he didn’t time this just right…

Urek’s hammer whistled through the air. Sivid hopped to the left, pulling his ribs back towards his spine. The air of the hammer’s passage pressed his shirt against his skin even through his maille. Then his toes touched the deck and he bent his knees deeply.

While Urek was still caught in the momentum of that swing, Sivid propelled himself into the air. He kicked his legs out to the side, straining for height. The heat of the fire pressed against his face and his hands, and he smelled burning hair, but it did not touch his skin.

Sivid landed on the deck on the side of the flames nearer to his allies. He paused a moment, still crouching, to catch his balance, and a stupid grin split his features. He’d made it.

That was when the hammer’s backswing clipped him in the shoulder. Even as glancing a blow as that was sent Sivid flying – into his allies’ line, thankfully. He hit the opposite bulwark with a crack and lay on the too-warm deck clutching his broken shoulder.


Einarr watched as Sivid made the landing of his dancing leap. The man was a genius at the dance – but this was a battle, and the hammer-wielding Captain hardly seemed to notice. Einarr opened his mouth to shout a warning, but it was almost like he moved in slow-motion: before the words had reached his lips, Sivid was already tumbling back across the wolfling ship.

Einarr turned hard eyes on the man responsible. Sivid was a good friend: captain or no captain, Einarr would take out the man with the hammer. He adjusted his grip on his shield as he stepped up to take his friend’s place, Sinmora coming up into position.

Urek grinned ferally at Einarr, as plainly in the grip of the fury as if his eyes had been red. Einarr eyed his hammer warily: like a battle axe, he thought, only instead of lopping off limbs it would crush them. Well. I guess I just can’t let myself get hit.

You mean, like Sivid did? He clamped down on the wry voice in the back of his head. The voice had a point, of course – it always did – but Einarr couldn’t let that get in the way of what had to happen.

Urek started swinging his hammer in a figure-eight pattern in front of him. The big man stepped slowly forward.

Einarr frowned, watching. He shifted his weight to the balls of his feet, ready to dodge wherever he had to. Whatever his skill as a captain – and Einarr thought it likely low – he was certainly a threat on the battlefield.

Urek’s gaze shifted momentarily and Einarr felt a familiar presence at his knee. Jorir had caught up. The dwarf knew what to do: Einarr’s stance shifted a little. The knowledge that his man at arms had his back meant he could focus on the fight before him.

Urek’s hammer dropped to his side and swung up overhead as he surged forward. The blow was meant for his head, he was sure: Einarr dodged right and then ducked in to slash with Sinmora at the man’s belly. The maille jangled, but Einarr smiled anyway.

There was rust.

The blood of unknown enemies had, in fact, become rust in the joins of his maille as the years went on. Sooner or later it was inevitable… but he was wearing rusty maille. Does he not realize? Or is it simply the best he can get?

It hardly mattered. Einarr sprang back out of the man’s reach before he, too, fell victim to a backswing.

The next blow tried to take Einarr’s head off at the shoulders. He ducked, and while Urek’s guard was still open from the giant swing of the hammer he charged in. The boss of his shield struck against the man’s ribs with a dull clang and he pulled back once more. Urek grunted but seemed otherwise unimpressed.

“Another weakling from the rebels? You are nothing more than flies. We should have squashed you ages ago.”

Urek did not give him time to retort: the hammer was already singing through the air, and for what felt like ages all Einarr could do was dodge. The man was relentless, and there was no denying his skill with his weapon.


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10.20 – Berserker

Einarr heard the warriors aboard the trapped wolfling ship give a battle roar only moments before they swarmed over the boarding lines. The ship swayed under the weight of reinforcements even as the fire spread from the arrows along the deck boards.

Einarr set his mouth in a grim line. They needed to take out the wolflings quickly, before this became an inferno. And if they escape, Lundholm is done for.

Their line was solid: he stood shoulder to shoulder with his own men and the men of his father’s ship – it was still odd that those were two different things now. The first boots were pounding across the blackening deck boards. “Brace yourselves!”

Einarr lowered his shoulder. A heartbeat later, the wolflings collided with their shield wall. Einarr stabbed through the gap between his shield and Jorir’s and Sinmora’s tip came away wet with fresh blood.

The wolfling screamed, pain mixed with rage, and did not fall back. Blood ran down his leg from the wound in his thigh, and he brought his axe around to strike at Einarr.

Jorir took the opportunity and drove his axe home in the man’s already-wounded leg. The wolfling hit the deck, hard, and Jorir ensured he would not rise again. Einarr’s attention was already forward, on the next man coming to fill the hole, wondering if their captain, too, would come forward to join the melee.

The next man up tried to put his scramasax in Einarr’s side and lost his hand for his trouble. He staggered backward clutching his stump and Einarr shouldered his way forward into the gap. The crackle of fire on the deck and the reek of smoke lent an unusual urgency to Eydri and Reki’s Song. Still he resisted it: no Captain worth his salt gave in to the battle chant, not if there was any other way.

Slowly, relentlessly, he began cutting his way through the wolflings in search of their Captain. His arm began to tire, and a thousand small wounds burned across his forearms and his legs. The wolflings were falling, but they were falling hard. Where is Kaldr?

He wasn’t even certain this was Kaldr’s ship, based on what the Singers had said of the man.

One man, bigger than the other wolflings, laid about himself with a formidable hammer. Not Kaldr. Might be a leader, though. Not many men wielded hammers on the battlefield: it took a special combination of brawn and coin. Leader or not, though, the man with the hammer was plowing through Einarr’s allies like they were nothing. He raised his sword and pointed across the deck at his target.

Jorir, beside him, grunted agreement.

Einarr shouldered his way through the throng, trying to ignore just how hot it was getting on the wolfling ship. That was another reason to hurry: he couldn’t let the fire spread to the Heidrun.

There was Sivid, giving the enraged hammer-wielder a taste of his own wolf pack tactics. Sivid would bait the man into a wild swing, and while he was open dash in to cut at his legs. It looked like the other wolves were interfering, though. With a grunt, Einarr slid in between Sivid and the man about to take a stab at his kidneys.

Clang! The blade instead hit the boss of Einarr’s shield. “Got your back,” he shouted over his shoulder.

Sivid spared him a glance and a breathless “thanks” before turning back to the enemy captain.


Sivid became aware that the pressure was off his back abruptly. He risked a glance over his shoulder. Einarr? “Thanks,” he managed. Almost immediately he had to duck another swing of the massive hammer the enemy captain used.

This was, without a doubt, Frothing Urek. Tyr had said the man had made Captain somehow: Sivid had just not expected to have to face the man on the field. Why is he in the fury, though? Captain Stigander never takes it…

The hammer still whistled through the air. Sivid bounced out of the way, then lunged in to stab at the man’s exposed leg. Urek was big, but not as big as Erik. Urek was strong, but not as strong as Arring. And even Arring would have had trouble not leaving openings with a weapon like that. Sivid just hoped his stamina would hold out.

The hammer came from above this time. Sivid danced off to the side as the heavy steel head splintered the deck boards where he had been a moment before. The fire crackled, licking at the newly-made kindling.

One way or another, they needed to take Urek out of the picture before this ship took everyone to their graves. It was time to gamble.

Sivid dropped into a low lunge, darting inside the berserker’s reach and stabbing his blade home in the man’s thigh. He couldn’t stay there, though: his blade still in Urek’s leg, he dropped his other hand down to the deck and kicked his heels up.

Urek roared as the blade twisted in his thigh. Sivid’s first boot caught him in the teeth: the second in the jaw, and as he regained his feet he finally drew out the blade.

Urek turned to face Sivid again, a level of disgust showing through the rage as he popped his neck and once more started his hammer moving. Sivid scowled: he hadn’t really expected much out of the kicks, but it had been worth a try.

Urek pressed forward, sweeping his hammer back and forth in front of him, and Sivid was forced to hop backwards with every sweep. He wasn’t getting in under the man’s guard again anytime soon, it looked like.

Sivid glanced to either side nervously: those flames were far too close, and far too high, for his liking, and they hemmed him in. By the same token, he couldn’t go backward too much farther without going over the wrong side. Can I kick the rafters well enough to get clear?


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9.7 – Ocean Skirmish

“Draken, dead ahead!”

Sailing into view ahead of them, almost like a mirror image, came three draken bearing sails in the red and yellow of Ulfr’s Breidelstein.

“Make ready!” Stigander’s voice rose over the water from the Vidofnir, echoed moments later by Kormund and Einarr. Einarr’s heart pounded in his chest like it hadn’t since he was still a deckhand, and suddenly he wondered if he was really ready to be Captain. Or ready to retake their homeland, for that matter. Fifteen years is a long time…

“To arms!” He ordered again, this time breaking free of the paralysis that threatened to grip his legs. He didn’t have to be sure, he just had to do. Just like everything else since the Oracle had named him Cursebreaker. The chainmail slid over his head as easily as it ever did.

Easier, in some ways. Runa was ahead, captive and bound by the same hands that held his grandfather and all the other men of Breidelstein in thrall. When he thought of it that way, how could he even think of hesitating?

The ships ahead were near enough now that Einarr could make out their prow totems – not one of them a wolf. Well, that was fine. He could hardly expect the usurper to sally forth so early.

His men were readying bows, now – everyone aboard, really, save for Bea and Jorir. She stood, spear in hand, just ahead of him and to the left, with Jorir on the right. Einarr shook his head: there were far worse choices for a bodyguard, he supposed, and if she were ahead of him that meant he could keep an eye on her.

They were almost in range. “Ready volley!” Wait for it…

“Fire!”

Arrows launched from all three ships almost at once, and only a few landed in the water. The counter-volley came at almost the same moment, and the slower among the Heidrunings had to scramble to raise their shields in time. Arrows sprouted from the deck and from shields, but Einarr heard none of the inevitable cries of pain from his deck. “Again!”

Once more, bows drew back, and on his command they loosed arrows and raised shields once more. The time for arrow fire was nearing its end, however: some few of the missiles launched from their opposites were javelins, now.

“Prepare to board!”

About half of his crew shouldered their bows and moved to ready the boarding lines. The other half kept their shields raised, guarding their fellows. Einarr looked on approvingly: this was the start of a good crew, he thought. Hopefully most of them would survive the battles to come.

Eydri’s battle hymn began to take hold on the edges of his mind. He acknowledged it, but did not let himself sink fully under its sway. That was a luxury that was not afforded to Captains: those who lost themselves in its grip were brutally effective – right up until the rage got them killed. Usually sooner rather than later.

Now the enemy boarding lines launched. Einarr could feel the blood pumping in his veins as he drew Sinmora, still resisting the heady call of the battle chant. It would get easier with time, he knew – just so long as he did resist it.

There was no more time for contemplation. The boarding lines grew taut. Quick as a thought, the first wave of men were up and racing along their precarious footing to be the first to reach the other deck.

The enemy sailors, too, were racing across the ropes, trusting in long practice and good luck to keep them out of the water. Where the two forces met in the middle, they clashed, and there were usually two fates possible in that first clash: either you won, and the other man fell, or you lost, and fell to the water below, to swim and hope you could escape being crushed between the ships.

The men of the Heidrun, since they were few in number and mostly still green, had been instructed in a cleverer way of fighting. They were not to clash like rams, horns against horns, on the boarding lines. Instead their first rush was to evade the enemy and slip past to the deck beyond, while those who remained behind defended the Heidrun and their captain from a place of better footing. Einarr had the idea from watching Sivid, and it had the benefit of taunting the enemy while they were securing their own footing.

It seemed to be working. He heard very few splashes, and of the few who fell even fewer were Heidrunings, men of Kjell or experienced sailors either one.

That also meant, however, that the fighting was harder on his own deck. Bea and Jorir closed ranks so that the three of them stood back to back, just behind the first line of defenders.

One man, a fellow built like Stigander but with a wild red mane the color of Einarr’s, crashed through the line of defenders to close with Einarr. He studied the man’s face: could this be an uncle, or a cousin?

Family or not, he was fighting in deadly earnest, and so Einarr did not hesitate to do the same. They exchanged three blows. On the fourth, Einarr buried Sinmora’s blade in his shoulder. The blade slid free and the man clutched at the wound, stumbling backward with a scream of rage and pain. He might live, if their Singer got to him quickly enough, but that had been his sword arm. He would never fight again.

The battle was almost over before it began. Not long after the red-headed bear withdrew, the enemy captains sounded the retreat.

Once their men had cut their way back aboard the Heidrun, and the enemy sailors had fled, the boarding lines were drawn back. Bea stared in consternation at the fleeing ships.

“That was all it took to send them off? Why did your father fear these men so?”

Einarr shook his head. “They were testing us. Those were scout ships. And those men, some of them anyway, are kin. Father does not fear them, he fears for them.”

Bea hummed. She did not look convinced.


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5.24 – Second Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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5.23 – Valkyrie

“Let’s take this more seriously, then, shall we?” With a blast of wind the Valkyrie was in the air, hovering as no natural creature could, her sword leveled at Einarr. He swallowed, cursing the bravado that made him call her out. This was not how he won, not if he had a choice in the matter. He was not Erik or Arring with their massive strength, or Sivid with his speed, and calling her out had been not at all clever.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. On impulse, he dove into a forward roll: the wind of the blade’s passage chased his back, and a small piece of red hair dropped toward the floor.

Einarr rolled back to his feet and took a wild swing towards where the valkyrie had been only a moment before. His blade met only air. He spun on the balls of his feet, searching for his opponent. That was three, right?

“I think not, mortal. You wouldn’t deprive me of the thrill of the contest, would you?”

I was afraid of that. But, how can…?

“I am chooser of the slain, young thief. I must have some way of sorting the chaff from the wheat.”

Of course she could read his mind. As much as he had immediately regretted his choice to call her out, now he regretted it more. Not clever at all. “So now I must fight an opponent who can read my thoughts? That hardly seems sporting.”

“I thought you wanted a challenge. Come, Cursebreaker! Let us test your mettle!”

The same impulse that made him roll forward last time now froze him in his tracks. In that same heartbeat he felt the passage of a blade before his nose. Stone shards flew from the crack that appeared on the floor before his feet, embedding themselves in his legs. He hissed and tried to strike forward at where she must be, but her attack had not yet finished. With a crack of wood, steel pierced through his shield and into the flesh of his arm. A howl escaped his throat. Still he could see neither Valkyrie nor blade.

Einarr risked a glance up. White flickered in his peripheral vision and he hurried to follow it. No matter how fast he turned, however, the creature was always just a hair faster. The effort threatened to make him dizzy, and the shards in his legs throbbed with every step.

Rather than continue the futile effort, Einarr stopped. With a deep breath, he closed his eyes and listened. It had not been by sight, thus far, that he had evaded her blows but by reflex. He would wait, still, for that same reflex to guide his blade.

Her voice echoed through the room. “Let this strike be engraved on your soul.”

That didn’t sound good. His focus wavered, just for a moment. Enough to remind him of his own weakness. He tried to put the thought from his mind, and mostly succeeded. Well enough, at least, that when the urge to move came he twisted and brought Sinmora around. Steel rang against steel.

Einarr grinned, although the pressure on his blade was enormous. His arm shook with the strain of it. In the tales he sometimes heard about blind warriors with preternatural skill, but he had never credited them much. Perhaps there was something to those stories after all.

It wasn’t enough. Sinmora’s tip, braced against the stone of the floor, gave way with a scrape and a spark. The blade practically flew back from the blow as the valkyrie’s blade cut deep into his ribs. White-hot agony flared from the wound as he stumbled backwards, clutching a hand to his side. He hardly noticed the shards in his legs now.

The Valkyrie hummed. “Not bad, Cursebreaker. But how long do you think you can keep that up?”

“That was five by the terms you set,” Einarr said through gritted teeth. Blood ran down his side and arm, and his shins felt hot and wet. His shield was nearly broken, but even if it was whole he would have trouble holding it now.

The valkyrie’s chuckle filled the room with its statues. “Was it, Cursebreaker?”

He could feel the ball of emotion that was the Valkyrie circling him, now, as though she were a wolf and he the rabbit. With a little luck, he could take two more. He hoped. Einarr pressed his arm against the slice on his side. He couldn’t afford to lose too much blood here.

“Somehow this is unsatisfying.”

So she intended to continue insisting the first two were invalid? That rankled, but Einarr was far more focused on keeping pressure against the wound in his ribs than on calling her out. If she intended to attack him again, all he could do would be to weather the storm.

Einarr stood clutching his broken shield, Sinmora at the ready. His eyes remained closed, listening. Concentrating. Waiting for the Valkyrie to strike. Feeling the sticky wetness of blood on his side. On his hand. He felt no urge to dodge, or freeze. No need to do anything at all. After a while, Einarr opened his eyes.

He was alone in the room once more. The statues had once again been scattered about the room, seemingly at random. Something glowed at his feet: when he looked down, he saw a single feather. Einarr furrowed his brow. Why…?


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5.22 – Mortality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course, great lady.”

“You may have a second chance.”

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

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

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

“Your soul is mine.”

“To become Einherjar?”

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

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

The Valkyrie nodded. “Make ready, then.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not all I am.”

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

“That’s two.”

“You have not yet attacked me seriously.”

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

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

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


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If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

5.17 – Stenjätte

With a wordless shout of rage, Erik came hurtling back into the fray. It wasn’t just his own skin on the line, now that Irding had joined the fight, and that meant losing simply wasn’t an option.

Was it really in the first place? His conscience muttered in the Captain’s voice and fell silent as Erik brought his axe down not on the ankle, which seemed no less sturdy for the whittling it had taken, but instead on the haft of the golem’s blade. A crack ran along the stone haft from Erik’s blow, too slender to have enough strength in rigid rock as it would have in either wood or steel.

“Oh, jolly good. At last you’re getting serious.” The golem actually seemed to smile at that. Erik couldn’t tell if it wanted to lose or if it just wanted a challenge: either way, he had no intention of swimming back, one-armed or otherwise.

Not that it gave him time to ponder the question. The stenjätte yanked its axe up from where it had wedged into the floor and brought it up to its shoulder. Irding leaped over its head to avoid the blow.

A heartbeat later the golem swung again, paying no heed to the fragile state of his weapon. Erik had to jump to avoid being caught by the wide sweep that covered most of the room.

He landed on the bit of the stenjätte’s axe and grinned at his opponent. Now it was a dance, and while Erik couldn’t hope to keep up with Sivid, Einarr, or even the Captain at the hallingdanse he was no slouch.

The golem gave his axe a toss to turn its blade the other way: Erik’s backflip landed him in the middle of the second side and the crack in the handle grew. Then it rotated the blade to face upwards.

Erik, feeling cheeky, ran up the slope of the bit and balanced on the edge. Then it was the stenjätte’s turn to grin.

Erik’s cheeky grin turned to wide-eyed shock as the golem swung upward with both hands. Irding cursed as the space where he stood to harry it from above became a vise of shoulder and ear.

At the top of the swing Erik realized he was headed in an arc for the floor. He had two choices, and one of them was surely fatal. Erik launched himself to the side as the axe came down towards the floor again.

The axe bit plowed into the stone of the floor, throwing up shards and dust, and the sound of the blow was followed by a mighty crack as the stenjätte’s axe handle shattered.

Their opponent laughed. When it straightened, it held the broken axe handle the way one would hold a club.

“Wonderful! I say, if you keep this up perhaps I shall let you keep your arms to swim home.”

“How generous.” Irding spat as though to punctuate his thoughts on said generosity.

“Well I can’t very well just let you pass. You haven’t defeated me yet. And unless I’m very much mistaken, you’re just about out of tricks.”

Erik shook dust from his hair, his wind mostly recovered. “If you think that means anything, you don’t know humans very well.”

The golem laughed again. “Wonderful spirit. All right then, try your utmost. Perhaps you’ll be the mortals to surprise me.”

Erik dropped back into a fighting posture. “Well, Irding, any ideas to take its head?”

“Not sure it would care about that, either. You nearly hacked off its foot and it didn’t even slow down. Someone made the thing: there has to be something keeping it moving.”

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Erik frowned. “So, some source of magic? Runes, maybe, or something that glows?”

“Maybe?”

“I can hear your plotting, you know. It won’t help.”

Erik grunted. “I’ll buy time. You see if you can spot anything it might be.”

He saw Irding nod from the corner of his eye and charged back into the fight. Let’s see if disarming him the rest of the way will work…

Lacking the weight of the stone axe head, the golem was faster than before. Erik dashed in only to be driven back by quick swings of the broken handle.

He sidestepped another pair of swings before bringing his trusty, probably ruined, axe down again on the slender haft. Chips crumbled off the end, but Erik still had no desire to feel its bite.

“Any luck?” He called, dodging another jab and knocking another several inches off the stone rod.

“Give me a minute!”

“You’re wasting your time. You won’t find anything.”

“That-” Erik brought his axe down hard on the haft, breaking off several more inches of crumbling stone. “Remains to be seen.”

“It really doesn’t, I’m afraid.” The golem swung again at Erik, who threw himself into a roll to avoid the blow. “You are right, I have a key, but you’ll not find it about the room.”

Erik sprang up from his roll as the wind from the club passed overhead, just a moment too late to get another strike in on it. “Oh? Since you’re feeling so generous, then, where is it?”

The low rumbling sound that was the golem’s laughter sounded again. “I thought you’d never ask. It’s right here.”

A circle of runes began to glow yellow on its chest. Erik could see no way up there. Irding had managed, once, but Erik wasn’t certain he could reach the golem’s heart from its shoulder. Not without taking a fall. Erik cursed. I should have kept at his foot. Knock him over, get the heart.

“Why are you telling us this?”

“Master created me to challenge those who attempt his tower millenia ago. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve had a proper challenge? Hit my key, if you can!” The golem swung again, this time at Irding. The boy – man – sprawled flat on the floor just ahead of the club.

“By all the conventions of duelling, we beat you when your axe broke.”

“But I exist to fight! So, come!” The golem swung at Erik again.

Rather than dodge, Erik took a deep breath and braced himself. As the improvised club sailed towards his chest, he wrapped both arms around it even as it knocked the breath from his lungs. Probably broke a rib or two. He clung there, desperately gasping for air, as the club continued to sail through the air.

His trajectory changed: Erik scrabbled up the club towards the golem’s arm and once again narrowly avoided being slammed into the floor.

“I say, you are quite heavy. This is not a proper way of fighting.”

Erik roared as he neared the stenjätte’s shoulder. “I’m not a proper man!”

He gathered his legs under himself, staring at the runes that still glowed over where a man’s heart should be. Won’t hurt worse than the wolf’s bite. He launched himself, axe pulled back and ready to strike, across the golem’s chest. When Erik buried his blade in the center of the rune circle, he thought he saw a look of gratitude pass the golem’s face. Then he curled himself into a ball, ready to roll with the fall.

Right up until he collided not with hard stone but with the body of the only other person in the room.


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

5.4 – Hasty Departure

Reki came to dinner the evening after their fragrant baths looking satisfied with herself, and Runa came looking chastened. Einarr felt a little sorry for her: if she had spent the entirety of his quest to the Jotünhall in seclusion, as he believed she had, surely this was unnecessary? Moments later, he remembered what he had been told about “tuning,” and felt a little less sorry. Shaking his head, he swung a leg over the bench to take a seat next to his betrothed anyway. The smell of lavender tickled his nose, but on her it brought a smile to his eye.

He set to on the night’s stew, but this was not to be a night for eating and conversing amongst themselves – or with the other apprentices, as he had learned the young women universally were. The oaken crone, the leader of their Circle of Elders, stood at the head of the table as they were eating.

“It is good, from time to time, to have visitors from the Clans. It ensures that we do not grow so wrapped up in our own matters that we forget the wider world. However, brief though it was, on the morrow it will be time for our guests to depart. A matter of no small urgency has been brought to our attention, and while they seek the tools they need to fix it, so have we preparations to make. Do not fail in your quest, and return to us when you have completed it.”

Reki stood. “Honored Amma, you have our thanks. Even were it not for the quest, I should beg our leave of you in the morning. There are many more men who were exposed to the corruption you discovered in us back in port.”

The old woman inclined her head. “Then go forth. Speak with Sor down on the docks: tell him we sent you, and that you require one of his fishing boats. A longship is too large to gain entrance to the Tower.”

Einarr swallowed and wiped his moustache before answering. “My thanks, honored Amma.”

Quiet fell again around the hall as everyone returned to eating. As the low buzz of conversation started back up, Runa elbowed Einarr to get his attention.

“I’m coming with you,” she muttered into her bowl.

He, too, kept his voice low and his face forward as he replied. “Is this something the Matrons have decreed?”

“Something I have decided myself.”

“I’m against it. Who knows what we’ll run into there.”

“I have an idea. You’ll need me.”

“No.” It was far too dangerous. She did not push him farther, but he would have to watch her.

***

The next morning, when the sky was still the pale blue of early morning, the nine set out for East Port and their waiting companions. As early as it was, though, Reki and Runa both rushed about as though they wanted to be gone an hour before.

“Easy, now,” Trabbi was saying. “It’s not like a few extra minutes is going to kill anyone.”

“Are you sure about that?” Reki snapped.

“Enough.” Einarr stepped in. “We do need to hurry, but racing about like this isn’t helping anyone. Who are we still waiting on, anyway?”

“One of your porters,” Barri drawled.

“Then we’re not waiting on anyone.” Sivid sounded reluctant. “Saetild wanted to keep him behind, said he was worse off than the rest of us. Not that it makes much sense to me.”

“Amma Saetild is one of the best among us with medicine and the healing songs. If she wishes to keep the man behind, there’s a reason. Thus, let’s be off. The sooner we’re back in port, the sooner I can treat everyone else.” Reki scooped up her pack and strode down the path toward the forest, not waiting to see if anyone else followed.

One by one, led by Einarr, they did, and soon were walking beneath the canopy of oak leaves once more. The morning light filtered through the leaves above, turning subtly green. The atmosphere in the forest this morning did much to lift Einarr’s spirits. After the cleansing he’d had at the hands of the Matrons the lingering unease from the battle against the cult had finally faded – reason enough for cheer, he thought. And if evading Wotan’s spies to steal his wife’s distaff was perhaps one of the more foolish things he had ever tried, it felt more like a game than like a matter of life or death.

A rustling from out in the woods caught his attention, and Runa’s voice called out from its direction. “Einarr, come see!”

He blinked, and looked behind him down the path. Einarr did not see Runa there, nor ahead when he double-checked. With a shrug, he turned off in the direction of her voice. May as well see what she wants.

The path opened before him, lusher and more full of life than the road had been, and he wondered why the road did not pass through this way, instead.

“Oh, Einarr, it’s wonderful!”

What could she possibly have found in a forest like this? She couldn’t have been off the path for more than a few minutes. …And why couldn’t he see her yet? “Runa? Where are you hiding?”

“I’m just over here, in a clearing.”

This was beginning to seem strange, but Runa did have a fondness for pranks. This was exactly the sort of thing he could see her doing back in her father’s holdings.

…Only they weren’t on Kjell island. And both Singers had warned them against leaving the road in the Whispering Wood. Einarr stopped in his tracks. In every direction, all he could see was lush greenery, very little of which he recognized. I am an idiot.


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.

5.3 – Medicinal Bath

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

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

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

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

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

“More purification?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hazel and ivory.”

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

“I’m supposed to know that, how?”

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

“…I think I’m beginning to.”

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

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

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

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

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


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If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.

5.2 – Wise Women’s Table

“Please, be seated. There’ll be no leaving until morning at the earliest anyway.” The old matron moved deftly to the side of the door and began shooing their party in, towards the long table with its pot of stew – rabbit, if Einarr’s nose didn’t lie. He allowed himself to be swept into the Hall and to a place at the table.

There were nine of them, and eight empty bowls set along the table. Given that Runa had been sent to stand at the back with the servants, that accounted for all of them. Einarr had never known Singers to be able to divine: perhaps there was something to the rumors about the wood? Einarr shrugged and settled on the rough wooden bench.

“Now. I know why our wayward apprentice has come, although she shall be expected to explain her tardiness.” The crone spoke as she settled herself back into the seat at the head of the table. “I was surprised to hear that the daughter of Fjori was returning to the Hall. Is the sun troubling you again?”

“Not at all, Amma.” Reki was near breathless, as though she actually were a child addressing her grandmother. “During a recent raid, we found a chest filled with instruments. I convinced my Captain that the Conclave might wish to buy them.”

The old crone snorted. “Buy them. Feh. We shall have a look in the morning.”

“Thank you, Amma.” In the worst case scenario, they would be demanded as hospitality gifts. For all that the Vidofnir needed the coin, Einarr would be hard pressed to see that as a loss if the Matrons were able to answer his questions.

One of the other old women at the table – more like a willow in stature than like the oak of her superior’s mein – was staring at them as they settled. Einarr stared a challenge back at the woman’s face, but she appeared not to notice. Once everyone was seated, she waved imperiously towards the back of the room.

A young woman in plain white wool stepped hurriedly forward.

“Add some extra nutmeg to tonight’s mulling, and a good amount of angelica.”

The girl curtsied and hurried out the back of the hall.

Reki’s brows drew down in concern. Evidently that combination meant something to her. “Is something amiss?”

“Yes, child,” said the willowy crone, her voice somewhat less desiccated than her oaken superior. “There is corruption at work among you… on all of you save the apprentice and him.” She pointed at Trabbi.

“Corruption?” Barri stood, shock warring with offense on his face.

“Sit down, Barri.” Einarr could share neither emotion with the man, and even he heard weariness in his voice. “Think. Did any of us feel entirely well after that last battle?”

“The Heir of Raen knows of what I speak?” The willowy crone’s surprise sounded genuine.

“Unfortunately. Of those of us here, the Lady Runa and Trabbi are the only two who did not come into direct contact with the black blood of those monsters. I know I, for one, felt ill following that battle, and it had nothing to do with fatigue.”

Sivid was nodding along. “I, too, felt strangely ill, although I put it down to my own imagination.”

“But tell me,” Einarr sat forward, leaning over his bowl and absently reaching for the stew ladle. “How could you tell?”

All six of the crones at the head of the table burst into laughter at the question, the sound of rustling leaves and water burbling over stone. “We are called the Matrons of Song, are we not?” Asked the oaken leader of the crones.

When Einarr nodded, she continued. “The world sings to us, and in this way we can see your plight… Cursebreaker.”

Einarr wanted to swear. On top of everything else, she could see that?

The willowy crone cackled. “And why wouldn’t we? These herbs I’ve ordered, they will hold the corruption at bay – for a time.”

The headmistress cleared her throat. “Such matters are better discussed in the bright light of day. For now, there is stew and bread aplenty, and berries besides. Eat and be welcome.”

A third Matron, this one plump and warm like the grandmother Einarr remembered, clapped her hands and three of the young women in the back of the hall stepped off to the side and began to play.

It was a quiet, contemplative tune, and before Einarr had finished half his stew he felt the tension of the summer’s journey begin to melt away. By the time they had finished their meal, as they all sat around sipping at the spiced mead, every last one of them was fighting an exhausted sleep.

“Rest, children.” Through half-lidded eyes, Einarr saw the oaken crone standing over them. “Rest now, for on the morrow there is work to be done.”

***

Einarr awoke with a start to the clear light of early morning filtering in through the door of an unfamiliar hall. He patted his chest to find that he had been stripped down to just a tunic and breeches. Horror rising in his gullet, he blinked to clear his vision and cast his eyes around.

There, at the foot of the mat he’d been lain in, the rest of his clothes were folded neatly with Sinmora laid across the top. So why did they put us all to sleep, then?

He snatched up his clean-smelling clothes and began to dress. Somehow there was no longer even a hint of darkening from the blood that had nearly covered him in the battle against the cultists.

…Purification of the corruption. Of course. He exhaled loudly and finished dressing, a smile now tugging at the corners of his mouth. They were not some Jarl’s hall full of warriors, whose only recourse against monsters such as those was bloodshed: they were wise women, and the Conclave of Singers could be counted on to act for the benefit of the Clans. When he snugged Sinmora’s belt about his waist and strode out into the daylight, a jaunty tune popped into his head and he began to whistle.


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.