Tag: Song Magic

8.14 – Kettleness

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

Hohenwerth island looked like the island of the cult in miniature in many ways, although for the moment it lacked the blackness of that bigger, more northerly island. Steep shale slopes rose from the surface of the water, topped by the green of good farmland and orchards. A sinister silence hung over the area, though, and it didn’t take Einarr long to realize why. There were no fishing boats out on the water, despite the time and the weather.

All eyes on deck were glued to the shore as an inlet came into view and, behind it, a village.

Even from here it was plain the village was a husk. Deserted, Einarr would have said, if not for Liupold’s story. Dead.

“That,” Captain Liupold confirmed, “is all that remains of Kettleness.”

Einarr hated to have to ask it, but: “Have the dead been properly buried?”

“The priests were arriving to deal with them when we left.”

“I do not know Imperial burial practices. But if so much as one body remains in the village, you will do for them as we did for Langavik. Eydri, would you be willing to assist in this?”

“Of course.”

“What happened at Langavik?” Liupold asked.

“While we were tracking the ship that kidnapped Runa, we put into port there. Hoping for information. Well, we got some… although not exactly the way we hoped. The entire city was painted with blood. Men hung from meat hooks. Some of them were disemboweled…”

“Survivors?”

“None. The city became their pyre, and we sailed on. Then we picked up the storm they rode and it led us to the island where all of this started.” The horror remained, although not so visceral as at the time. Still his eyes remained glued to the husk of a village he could see on shore. Had the priests done their job, or had they been corrupted in turn?

“Drop anchor,” Liupold ordered. “Ready the landing boat: I’ll be taking our guests ashore.”

His Mate protested, but the Captain was having none of it. “We’ve both been ashore here already. You have the Arkona, I have responsibility for what happens here.”


An almost eerie feeling of oppression hung heavy over the landing party as they stepped ashore. Liupold was the only one who had been here before, but Einarr was certain he knew what he was about to see. Naudrek, Hrug, Eydri, and Burkhart and Rambert from the Arkona followed. The two Arkonites tried to put on a brave face for the outsiders in their midst, but the four from the Clans merely plunged grimly ahead.

Einarr had thought, based on relative sizes and that someone had already come through here, that Kettleness couldn’t possibly be as disturbing as Langavik had been. And, in a way, he was right.

It was worse.

As soon as they entered the circle of huts the smell of rotting flesh assailed his nose. Blood stained the ground dark and painted the walls of the huts, and though it appeared black Einarr suspected that was due to time, not corruption. After all, he had not known the cultists to murder their own like this.

Bodies hung by the neck from tree branches, although they may not have died from the hanging. Flies buzzed about their bloated faces that still showed evidence of brutal beatings. Some of them also showed open wounds in their sides. Einarr wanted to retch.

Liupold, too, had turned a sickly shade of green. He motioned for them to leave the ruined village, and their companions gladly followed.

Once they had caught their breath, back on the beach by their landing boat, Einarr turned an angry look on the Order Captain. “What became of your vaunted priests, eh, knight? The gods need no intercessors: that could have been avoided if you and your crew had simply given them rites yourself.”

Burkhart looked especially shaken. “There were priests… among the bodies.”

“Aye,” Liupold agreed. “But not all of them. So where are the rest?”

“My guess? Southwaite. I could be wrong, they could be using Langtoft as their stronghold, but I suspect they want some distance from the open ocean to prepare.” Einarr did not try to keep the venom from his voice. “We will perform rites for the villagers in the way of our people, so that this will not become an isle of the dead, but you must light the pyre yourselves.”

Liupold hesitated a moment, but eventually nodded. “Yes, that is fair. Funeral pyres are not our way… but I do not expect the survivors will allow us time to dig proper graves here.”

Inwardly, Einarr breathed a sigh of relief. That the village, at least, and probably the entire island must be put to flame was unquestioned. But if Einarr or any of his companions lit the fire, the Empire could later twist that to their own ends to make war on the north, and that he could not allow.

Eydri took over from here, setting Einarr and Naudrek to preparing the ground while Hrug, with a nod of approval from Einarr, began inscribing runes on the beach.

Finally it was ready. Liupold stood in front of Eydri, lit torches in hand, while Einarr and Naudrek formed an honor guard behind her. Then she opened her mouth to sing the dirge.

It ranked among the most beautiful tunes Einarr had ever heard. He had known, from hearing her perform in Eskiborg, that she was a skilled Singer. He had not imagined, however, that a funeral dirge could transport the living as well as the dead.

As the flames consumed the village, licking the afternoon sky and traveling up the village trees, Einarr imagined he could see the spirits of the dead within the purifying white smoke of the pyre.


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8.6 – Ambush

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

For a day and a half they rowed in short shifts, although by the morning of that second day Einarr could see what the captain was leading the Valkyrian ship toward. Just ahead in their path stood a collection of tiny, rocky islands not unlike the ones where Einarr had fought off a flock of kalalintu with Erik and Tyr the year before. The sort of waters one typically tries to avoid – unless, of course, he idea is to lose a tail, or to lay in wait.

“Half speed,” Captain Kormund ordered. With a gesture, he personally relieved the man at the tiller.

All that afternoon they wove in and out of the rocks, sometimes moving deliberately into full view of the Valkyrian ship before ducking back into hiding behind one of the larger rocks. The Eikthyrnir had the sleekness and swiftness of the deer on her figurehead, but that did not make her prey.

That night, the sea anchor was dropped near the center of the grouping in a place sheltered by the rocks. Come morning, no-one should still be fatigued from rowing.

As the sun rose, with the dromon now also approaching the rocks, the Eikthyrnir crept out of the grouping to lay in wait behind one of the larger exterior masses – one large enough to be thought a small island.

Einarr and Naudrek prepared to board. Eydri conferred with the regular Singer aboard, coordinating to ensure they harmonized properly. For hours they held like this.

A sound like a rushing waterfall came suddenly from their stern. Einarr turned in time to see the last of the gout of flame dying, far short of the Eikthyrnir’s hull, let alone her mast. Now flames flickered on the surface of the water itself.

They had sea-fire. And that was plainly a warning shot. But, how did they know where the Eikthyrnir hid? Or even that the ship was hiding, rather than fled? Those thoughts were quickly tamped down as Einarr raced for the stern. Battle was at hand, and thus there would be no time for pondering why.

More questions arose, though, when he reached the stern. The two watchers had been felled by a single arrow apiece – one in the throat, the other, more impressively, through an eye. If they could do that, why had there not been a volley of arrows?

“To oars!” The order came in the moment Einarr stood staring dumb at the two fallen men. About half the crew took up oars. The rest took up position to repel boarders with Einarr. Hrug, he saw, was strapping a shield to his stump. Did he intend to fight with his off hand? Einarr checked his grip on his shield and drew Sinmora.

Still he wondered why they had not yet launched a proper volley. The Eikthyrnir had been caught unawares in her own ambush: had the dromon wished, the battle could be already over, the ship ablaze and half her crew dead to arrow fire – especially if they had the sort of archers aboard who could take a man in the eye like that. What was going on? Why risk boarding?

He was out of time for wondering. The other ship, too, had been coming about, and now boarding lines flew in both directions.

Two voices raised in harmony and Einarr felt the battle fury begin to build. If the Valkyrian ship wanted a fight, a fight they would have. He hacked through an enemy line that tried to find puchase just ahead of him, and then their own lines drew taut.

He was not among the first across the lines, out of long habit more than anything else. On the Vidofnir, his father had forbidden it: he was the only heir, and likely to remain so. He was, however, among the first of the second wave, after the initial clash over open water. No sooner had he leapt up to the bulwark, however, than the lines fell slack again, tumbling a good number of sailors from both sides into the water.

Einarr braced himself, but something stopped the boats before they could collide and crush their sailors between them. They had hardly even crossed swords, and already this was one of the strangest battles Einarr could remember. What was going on?

He was not to have his answer then, as the boarding lines were cast off of both ships and lowered to allow sailors to climb back aboard. Another gout of flame issued from the bow of the dromon, as though warning them against trying to board again, and the other ship unfurled her sail and turned for open ocean.

The battle chant stopped before the fury could take full hold – thank the gods for perceptive Singers – and leaving the boat in confusion.

Mate Hraerek’s voice cut across the noise on the deck, encapsulating the moment. “What in Hel’s name just happened?”

“That’s the Order. Not only did they force that fight, they broke it off, too.” Einarr said to no-one in particular. He remembered Naudrek’s jest from the other day. Actual Valkyrie or not, it did look like someone’s orders got countermanded. “So who ordered the attack, and who ordered the belay?”

“Was it belayed, or was the whole action just a warning?” Vari wondered from just behind Einarr.

“What do you mean?”

“Their Captain obviously figured out that we were trying to drive them off with an ambush. Really, I’ve never seen the Captain outmaneuvered like that before. If the Order has leaders like that…” He trailed off, then shook his head. “Anyway, like I was saying. Neither shot of sea-fire came anywhere near us. They released no volleys. That whole thing looked like a warning to me, like they wanted us to know they could crush us whenever they wanted. So if that’s the case, why are they following us?”

“Maybe they want us to lead them somewhere?”

“That’s my thought. Only, where?”


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7.28 – Bells

Bowl of porridge in hand, the Singer came and sat across from Einarr at breakfast the next morning. “I’m told,” she said, lifting a spoonful. “That you wanted to talk to me. You looking for a battle chanter?”

Einarr smiled and shook his head, giving himself a chance to swallow. “Not exactly – although I will be in the spring, I expect.”

“Need rites performed? That’s not really…”

“Actually, I was hoping you could interpret something for me.”

She blinked. “Are you sure you need a Singer?”

“It’s a bit of a musical puzzle, you see.”

Now she looked intrigued, so Einarr described the vision his runestone had given him. When he finished, a distinctly amused smile appeared on her face.

“A puzzle for a warrior, perhaps, but plain as day to a Singer. The answer you’re looking for is ‘resonance,’ and it’s the principle that all Song Magic is based on.”

Einarr furrowed his brow, still not sure what she meant.

“A Singer creates an emotional effect with her choice of Song, and then the Song resonates with her listeners and the effect is amplified. The better we are, the more control we have over this resonance. In the same way, this Shroud you seek appears to resonate with fire. It grows stronger when exposed to fire, or when a rune is used to produce it.”

“So if I want to ‘wake up’ Sinmora, intentionally…”

“You need to figure out what she was resonating with. I suspect the answer is actually not ice, or the ice ward would not have been consumed.”

Now Einarr nodded, his face brightening. “Thank you. I think I at least know where to start, now.”

She smiled again – prettily, he thought, but no match for Runa’s. “My pleasure. Let me know if you want help figuring out what: you’ve got me curious now.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. But first I have a dive to locate. Heh – come to think of it, there was a bell associated with that, too.”

Now she laughed. “Afraid I can’t help you there. I’m Singing here precisely to avoid that sort of place – at least until I find a ship.”

“I’ll keep you in mind once my Hrútur is ready.” And he would: even if, by some miracle, Harl Hroaldr permitted his marriage in the spring, Runa was unlikely to be interested in the life of a battle-chanter.


After breakfast, his porridge unexpectedly supplemented with fresh sausages, Einarr reserved a bed for the coming night and tromped back out into the streets. As he walked, he turned over in his mind everything he could remember about that fight and that vault.

The most obvious thing to test would be parts of the wards laid over that vault, but Einarr was not too proud to admit they were far beyond his skill. While he could – and probably would – test individual runes, Einarr thought the key probably lay elsewhere. Or, at least he hoped it did. He was approaching the harbor, though, and so now was not the time to be distracted, no matter how important the problem he gnawed on was.

Yesterday, he had searched north of the main road. Today, he would try south.

The south side of the docks district appeared to cater to wealthier clientele, Einarr soon learned. This suited Einarr well enough, so long as they still had some cheap ale halls of the sort that would put rugs down even on the dance floor. And given that he was looking for a place related to a golden bell, and didn’t want to be stabbed in the back in the process, it might even be better.

Once again he spent his morning traipsing up and down the side streets of the docks, and once again asked for directions at a food stall – this one selling fried fish balls. “Hallo,” he said, eyeing the food. “Packet of five, if you please.”

The merchant snorted. “That all? You’re not working hard enough.”

Einarr just shrugged: searching the city was hungrier work than studying the runes, to be sure, but not so hungry as rowing a longship, and certainly not so hungry as unloading the deep-bellied knarr. “There a public hall around here named for a fancy bell?”

The dumpling vendor from the day before had looked at Einarr as though he were daft: this man acted as though Einarr were utterly cracked. “Not in this part of town, son. Maybe back west in the merchant district.”

Einarr shook his head. “Well, maybe it’s not the name, then. The alfs gave me a quest, and I need to find a place where men dance on rugs in order to catch up with it. Maybe it was that you could hear a golden bell from the place?”

Now the man frowned. “If the alfs sent you for it, the place must exist. …You didn’t do anything to make them mad, did you?”

Now Einarr shook his head. “I mean, this quest could be called penance, but they definitely want it done right.”

The man hummed, thinking, as he made a show of selecting five of the largest of the fish balls, as though he thought Einarr were too thin. “I still don’t have any idea what place you’re looking for, but I might know of someone who does. Only trouble is…”

“Yes?” Einarr had an inkling where the man was going with this, but he would hear him out.

“He’s not exactly the sort an honorable man wants to have dealings with, if you get my drift.”

Einarr sighed. He’d have been fine with being wrong about that. “I do, but unless we want the Muspel Shroud getting off the island, I think I’d better meet with him.”

The merchant blinked. “What’s the Muspel Shroud?”

“The artifact the alfs had imprisoned. Some idiot thief tried to steal it and it got loose. Now it’s my job to stop it.”

Now the man went pale as the pieces clicked into place. “Oh. You’d best come with me, then. Fjotli! Watch the counter! I’ve got to step off for a bit.”


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7.27 – Eskiborg

All around Einarr people walked through the motions of daily life, utterly unknowing (or unconcerned by) the fiery doom flying about the island.

Einarr walked up and down the city streets getting the lay of the place, his eyes open for public halls or an obvious path to the docks. The sheer numbers of people pressed in on him, so many more endangered now – because of him.

Unconsciously, he drew his shoulders in until he walked half-hunched like a thief. What was he supposed to do, here in the city? He was one man, and there were hundreds of places the Shroud could hide here. For all he knew, the Shroud had already finished with the Hall and was ensconced below the deck of its ship.

Einarr shook his head. No sense thinking like that. The divination had said he would get three chances: that had to mean he would find the thing if he just kept looking. With a grimace he straightened his shoulders and picked up his pace.

He passed a handful of public halls as he roamed the upper city, but none with the air of dilapidation he had seen in Melja’s divination. Most likely, then, that meant it was a Hall for dockworkers and sailors – the sort of place Erik would go for a brawl, or Sivid for a contest. That was fine by him: if the Shroud was confined to the harbor area, that was less ground Einarr had to keep an eye on.

The harbor road and the main road were, Einarr soon discovered, one and the same, the broad street sloping gently downward past homes and merchant’s shops and into the heart of a shipyard.

Einarr had never seen so many half-built ships in one place in his life, and the vast majority were longships or their less-agile cousins, the merchant-favored knarr. Nothing up on blocks, though, bore a bear’s head that he could see. That meant it was most likely a ship in service – which only made sense, if the Shroud intended to escape on it.

The main road of the harbor district seemed as clean and lively as the street had farther inland: Einarr began to repeat his pattern from above. The sun was already high in the sky, but he found nothing smelled appetizing. He should eat… If you buy a couple of those dumplings, maybe the cook will know something about the place you’re looking for.

It was a long shot, but the hope of information gave him the impetus he needed to put food in his belly, and he knew he would think more clearly once he had eaten. “Two, please.”

The man on the other side of the counter of the wooden shanty grunted and took his coins and pulled a cabbage leaf from the head he had handy.

“There a Hall around these parts that likes putting down rugs?”

The man raised an eyebrow. “That’s an awfully funny question to be askin’. You got some to sell or somethin’?”

Einarr opened his mouth to object, but thought better of it. It would be easier than explaining. He shrugged. “Something like that.”

The man rolled his eyes so hard they took his head with them. “’Ere’s a couple I know. Not sure they’ll have much coin for buying new, now, mind: mostly use ‘em to keep mud down.”

That sounded like exactly the sort of place Einarr was looking for, and he said so.

Lookin’ for? Are ye daft? …Y’know what, never mind. Go straight down that-a-way and hang a right at the sign of the Ferret. There’s four or five dives between there and the waterfront. Just don’t come whinin’ to me with your guts hangin’ out, understood?”

“You have my word.” Einarr chuckled to himself as he walked away with a pair of dumplings wrapped in cabbage and, more precious than food, a place to start hunting in earnest.


Einarr trudged out of what was quite thoroughly the rough part of Eskiborg as the sun began to set, he was no closer to knowing what Hall the Shroud would hide in than before he spoke with the dumpling man. As urgent as his quest was, though, he needed a place to stay the night where he would not find a knife in his ribs come morning, and he needed a Singer to consult with. Thankfully, he had an idea where to find both of these at once.

Einarr trudged the last few hundred steps up the main thoroughfare in the dim of twilight to the hall he had thought looked promising when he spotted it: The Bronze Archer.

Warm light spilled out from the still-open door, and lively music with it. As he thought he’d seen earlier, a comely young woman sang with the rest of the musicians, and unless he missed his guess she was keeping everyone’s energy high. With a smile and a spring in his step that hadn’t been there earlier, Einarr stepped into the Bronze Archer and let the warmth of the room envelop him.

The singer was definitely working her magic on the crowd – not that anyone in that crowd was going to mind. A hallingdanse was already in full swing, and those not participating still made merry, talking and laughing over ale and stew and bread alike. With a smile, Einarr took a seat on the end of a bench and waved for the serving maid.

“What’ll it be?”

“A bowl of whatever supper is, a tankard, and a place to sleep if you’ve got one.”

She gave him a smile and a wink. “Traveler’s special, comin’ right up! I’ll let the mistress know you’re lookin’ for a bed.”

There was nothing more he could do tonight, except try to talk to that Singer once the dance was done, and he couldn’t arrange for that until the mistress of the house came by. In the meantime, he intended to enjoy his meal.


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If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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

6.33 – Ghost Stories

“There never was any old man.”

Arkja’s pronouncement fell on the deck of the Gestrisni like a brick of lead.

A million questions flooded Einarr’s brain at once, such that he could not ask any of them – merely sat, staring, at the pronouncer.

Irding recovered first. “So this is twice this season we’ve run up against ghosts. At least this one wasn’t trying to entrap us into his crew.”

Now it was Arkja’s turn to gape. “Twice this season? What sort of vessel are you taking us to?”

Einarr held up an open hand, palm towards the deck. “This has been a bad year…”

Arkja hummed, not apparently reassured, but Runa broke in before the talk could spiral out of hand. “It is Einarr’s nature as a Cursebreaker, newly awakened and coming to the fore. Once we are away from the island, I will be helping him learn how to deal with it – but now I must Sing, so that we have a chance of breaking free.”

***

Einarr relieved Irding from his night watch as the first hints of grey dawn touched the horizon.

Irding thanked him with a yawn and pressed an arm against his still-healing rib. As the other man trudged back towards his bedroll, Einarr turned towards the sea ahead of them. There was not a cloud to be seen in the sky, and a pleasant breeze tugged at his hair.

And then, as the light increased, an all-too-familiar shore appeared ahead of them. At first it seemed almost ghostly, and he entertained the idea that it might be a mirage, but as the light rose it grew more and more substantial.

Runa’s night-long vigil had done nothing, save exhaust her voice. There was the shack, and standing tiny on the shore the ghost of an old man. With a sinking feeling in his breast, Einarr made the announcement:

“Land, ho.”

Jorir looked up from the mortar where he was preparing a restorative for their exhausted Singer. “So the Lady’s song…”

Einarr shook his head. “Didn’t help at all. Poor Runa.”

“Well, milord, we expected to be turned back at least once.”

“But we expected to learn something in the attempt!”

A peal of laughter rang out from Irding’s bedroll. “All of that – for nothing?”

The rest of their cobbled-together crew was beginning to rise. Einarr ordered, “Prepare for landing.”

Jorir came up to stand beside his liege lord. “We have learned something, I think. We’ve learned that it’s not an illusion or a trick of the mind turning people back.”

Einarr cast a sidelong look at his man-at-arms. “Which leaves us with – what, exactly?”

“Something intrinsic to the island, I expect, or at least trapped here with us.”

Einarr harrumphed. That was cold comfort at best right now. He could only hope the Matrons were still keeping the corruption of the black blood at bay for those left behind.

The sun was full in the sky by the time the Gestrisni sat once more on the sand of the Isle. Well before that the figure of the old man vanished, although Einarr did not see if he’d done so in the ordinary way or not.

Once they were all on land again a fire was built on the beach, and some few of their more perishable provisions set to roasting. The melancholy mood of the night before still – or perhaps only again – held sway. As they ate, Arkja stared into the fire, a faraway look on his face.

“It occurs to me,” he mused, biting off a hunk of fish. “There’s a story I heard, a local legend, from one of my patrons not long after I landed. Well before Päron, or whoever he was, started terrorizing the town.” He fell quiet for a long moment.

It was Irding who finally broke the silence, once it became plain Arkja was content to let it stretch. “Well? Go on.”

“No one alive has ever known anyone to live in that shack, it’s true… but there are those as talk of a terror that walks these shores, an evil spirit in the guise of an old man. They say calamity follows him like an old friend, and fell magic clings to him. He was the first, you see, first in a long line of devils doomed to be forgotten.”

Einarr, too, sat staring into the fire as he contemplated this. Confusion fairly radiated off of Erik, though – and once again it was Irding who broke the silence.

“How is this supposed to help us?”

“It means the creepy old man who took us in that night may be just as much a revenant as the Päron we fought in the town,” Runa explained, certain that some of the others were just as lost. “And maybe, if we can break the chain binding him to the moral realm we can free ourselves, as well. Not that we have a lot to go on.”

Einarr stood abruptly. “We need to search that shack.”

Runa followed him, up the beach to the tiny shack, as did Jorir. The old man was not at home when Einarr opened the door, although it looked almost as though he had merely stepped out for a minute. A stew, very similar to the one Einarr remembered, already bubbled in the pot for the night’s dinner, and the wooden bowls and spoons did not appear to have moved. All of this, they could safely ignore.

Runa moved to examine the lone shelf not filled with cooking implements, while Jorir and Einarr stepped over to what served as the old man’s bed.

No-one spoke as they searched. It would have felt crass: this already felt like a breach of hospitality. And yet…

Jorir rolled under the crude bed frame even as Einarr lifted the pillow. Beneath it, old and yellowed but otherwise well-preserved, was a bound book. There was a golden key on a fine chain wrapped about the cover, but no lock. Gently, Einarr unwound the chain and opened the book.


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

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

 

6.26 – Spirit Bait

Before Einarr put his new recruits to work, curiosity burned a question through his lips. “What was it drove everyone out of the town, anyway?”

Arkja shrugged, shaking his head helplessly. “Some sort of ghost, we all figured. Right up until people started keeling over, bleeding out their ears.”

Einarr looked at Runa, who shook her head. “It might still be some sort of ghost Or it might not. I’d never heard of a leshy before, either.”

He nodded. “So when everyone fled the town…?”

“Broad daylight. A group of folks in the town square all died at once when the wailing picked up, and that were the last straw.” This from one of the men Einarr had pegged as a farmer.

Einarr frowned. They would have to deal with that spirit, one way or another. He stared at the mouth of the tunnel that had led them here and set his jaw. The four of them, against some sort of malign spirit. Einarr wasn’t even sure how it would manage to kill someone by bursting their ears.

Yes, technically it wasn’t just the four of them now. Arkja might even be able to hold his own in a fight, with some capable backup. But those seven were to see about supplies, and Einarr wasn’t about to send them off without the closest thing to a warrior they had.

Which left the four of them to take on a spirit of unknown abilities, when they were really in no condition for dealing with one at all. He shook his head. “No time like the present. Runa, do you think ear plugs might work against this thing?”

“Can’t hurt to try.”

Well, it could, depending on how the creature was bursting ears, but it was the best idea he had. And it would certainly make the wailing more bearable. Thus.

Einarr was in no hurry to pour hot wax in his ears again, though. He turned his attention to one of the three farmers in Arkja’s group. He was going to have to get names soon. “Do you know where we might come by some loose cotton or wool?”

“Believe so, Lord. Me neighbor raises sheep, she does. Imagine I kin get some clean wool from there.”

“Good! See to it. Enough for all of us to plug our ears. …Don’t bother trying to hide what we’re up to.” A riot at this point seemed unlikely at best, and the attempt might earn them some goodwill. The man was already on his way off to his neighbor’s.

“There’s that accounted for. Runa, Jorir, if either of you has an idea for beating back a ghost that won’t turn into another debacle like the Allthane did, I’m all ears.”

***

The escape tunnel, dug during spare moments by Arkja beginning long before the advent of the ghost, seemed no less threatening now that they were marching towards danger, their pockets full of wool roving. Einarr was coming to the conclusion he just didn’t belong underground.

They didn’t have a plan. Einarr would have been much happier if they had. One of the hazards, though, of being on the Isle of the Forgotten was that its inhabitants had been, largely. So whatever this was they faced, neither Singer nor dwarf had ever encountered as much as a scrap of a legend.

There were two different creatures it sounded similar to, at least: a nokken, since its victims seemed to drown, or a draugr. Einarr did not like the idea that the two types of spirit shared a common source, but under the circumstances it was an idea worth entertaining. Not that he had any idea how to send an ordinary draugr back to its grave: the Allthane had been able to communicate, however removed from reality it was. He was reasonably certain most draugr couldn’t speak, though.

No, they did not have a plan. But if (and it was a mighty if) the spirit was drowning people on dry land in the middle of the day, they thought they had a prayer.

Einarr blinked and realized they were approaching the tunnel exit. He shook his head, trying to clear it, as they began the ascent up into the Salty Maid. Now was not the time to be worrying.

The streets of the town looked, if anything, even emptier in the bright light of midday. Wind whistled between the buildings and created an eddy out of sparse dried leaves.

How much time was left in the season? Was that even the same here? Einarr froze momentarily, but shook it off. Time enough to worry about that later. Focus. They had a ghost to kill – or at least drive off. And it was going to take each and every one of them to pull it off. The town square was just past the sign of the Salty Maid, and that was where the spirit had been most active.

There was one thing the victims all had in common, Arkja had been able to tell them: they had all been telling stories when they died. It didn’t seem to matter what kind of story: the wise old man sharing legends with a younger man and the fisherman boasting about his catch met the same fate.

Which explained why the wailing began when it did, at least – and why it didn’t follow them into the tunnel. And it gave them a way to draw out the spirit, although not one Einarr was happy about. Once they knew that much, though, Runa insisted.

The woman herself stood in the center of the square, looking supremely confident. “Once upon a time,” Runa intoned, her ears already stopped with wool. Einarr, Erik, and Jorir now put in their own plugs, and the world took on a muffled feel. He was glad one of them was confident, at any rate.

Even through the roving Einarr could hear the wailing begin.

“A great hero fell into ignominy and was cursed, banished to the shores of the Isle of the Forgotten.” Runa’s intonation moved slowly into the syncopated rhythm of the Song of Sight, a song to pierce the veil and strip away illusions. That Runa knew it was the only reason they thought they had a prayer.

Einarr, Jorir, and Erik moved into a circle around their Singer, their weapons in hand, as they searched for the strange spirit that had an issue with stories.

“This hero wandered the Isle alone for many years, until his shame and his solitude drove him mad. Eventually the hero died, but his shade could not rest easy.”

The wind that whistled through the streets tugged at Einarr’s beard and stood his hackles on end. That was a wind belonging to the depths of winter. Still, though, he saw nothing.

“The shade continued to wander, alone, for another long time. And then, finally, someone else found their way to the Isle’s shores.”

Something down the street, down past the Maid, stirred up a dust cloud as it raced towards the four in the square.


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6.18 – Troll

With a thud as hard as one of the boulders he had been tossing, the troll whose presence Einarr had suspected showed himself. A hideous specimen even for the breed, he glared at them with red eyes from beneath a heavy brow. The stench of unwashed flesh assaulted Einarr’s nose.

In that same moment, the great stupid man-beast threw back its head and roared. It swung its club overhead so fast it whistled. Einarr drew Sinmora and hefted his shield: he had hoped to avoid this, but not really expected to. Erik and Jorir, too, had set themselves for battle, even as Runa hopped backward a few paces.

The troll charged straight down the middle and brought its thigh-size club down. Jorir flung himself to the side. The impact of the club against the ground sent gravel flying. Jorir rolled to his feet, though, apparently unharmed, shook his head, and dashed in towards the troll’s feet.

Erik had to dodge a backhanded sweep as the troll brought its club back up, but that too was an opportunity. He rose from under the swing of the troll’s arm and chopped at its elbow. Blood welled, and the creature roared, but it seemed Erik’s strike had been just off the mark: it could still use its arm.

Einarr moved in, then, as the creature tried to focus on Erik and avoid Jorir’s harrying of its legs at the same time. Its back was wide open, and Sinmora cut a broad swath across it. He had to be missing something, though: the troll that had flushed them out by throwing rocks would have to be a clever specimen, and this one was not fighting like he had any brains at all.

As though on cue, the gash that he had just opened along its back began to knit itself together. Einarr bit off a curse: how were they supposed to drop the thing, or even drive it off, if they couldn’t hurt it?

Is that why it fought stupidly? Because it had never needed to learn to fight well? That gave him the sliver of an idea. Einarr gave up on large, sweeping cuts: he had Erik for those, and Jorir to keep it on its toes. The Vidofnings would be the wolf pack, and the troll a stag, and soon enough the sun would rise or the troll would decide they were too much trouble.

Erik began to circle the creature, hacking at the arm that held the club at every chance. It wasn’t long before he, too, realized that he wasn’t actually hurting the beast – or not enough to matter.

“Keep going!” Einarr called as he hacked down at the thickly muscled neck. “Time is on our side!” Especially if Runa…

Yes. She was beginning to Sing, the same Song she had used on the boat early that spring to keep his strength up. The same song she had bottled to get him and Erik and Tyr through the storm around Svartlauf. So long as her voice held out, they could hold.

So long as Runa had stayed silent, however, the troll had been content to focus its ministrations on the three warriors among them. Now that the voice of a Singer rang over the fields, Einarr realized his error.

With a mighty kick, the troll sent Jorir tumbling away from its knees. The dwarf rolled to his feet almost immediately, but even in the dark Einarr could tell he looked winded.

Einarr moved in to strike at the creature’s hideous face right as it began to swing its club in a full circle around it. He felt the wind driven from his lungs even as he saw Erik be bowled aside like firewood.

And then the troll charged at Runa.

Einarr found sufficient air to dash to his feet. He was not aware of crossing the distance, only that one moment he saw the troll’s aim – Runa – and the next he was there, between the avalanche of beast-man and his bride.

He set his feet and braced his shield for the coming blow. “Over my dead body.”

The troll’s momentum bowled it into Einarr and pushed him back a distance of several paces – right through where Runa would have been, if she had not had the good sense to get out of the way.

“Music lady need,” the troll grunted. Einarr rocked back on his heels, surprised.

“You can’t have her.” He held Sinmora ready, even though he knew there was little he could do with his blade.

“Music lady need. Fix head-bad. Music lady take.”

Einarr rolled his eyes and hoped Runa would forgive him what he was about to say. For all he knew, ‘fix head-bad’ would still mean ‘throw in stew.’ “‘Music lady’ woman mine. ‘Music lady’ no take.”

“Einarr… perhaps we should go with it.”

“You want to end up in a cookpot?”

“I didn’t say we trust it. But have you ever heard of a troll seeking help before?”

Einarr shook his head.

“Then might I suggest this is your Cursebreaker calling, bringing us a new puzzle to solve and maybe even a new friend to make?”

“Yes! Yes! Music lady come, fix head-bad, troll no hurt music lady friends.”

“There are hours left until daybreak. What have we got to lose, really?”

Einarr had a few ideas. Chief among them, their heads. But this, right here, was not a fight they could win now. Reluctantly, he nodded. “Fine. We’ll see what it wants.”

He turned to their erstwhile opponent. “Troll. Music lady will come. Rest of us, also come. Troll no harm music lady or warriors?”

“Troll no harm. Troll-friend now. High honor.”

Einarr was sure it was. To the trolls, anyway. As the creature lumbered happily off toward the ridge, he rubbed his forehead. If Runa was wrong, this could get very bad, very quickly.


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6.14 – Aftermath

Einarr awoke after fitful sleep as the world around them grew lighter with the daybreak. True to his word, Jorir still stood near the embers of last night’s fire, looking fresher than any man had right to after the day they’d had yesterday: something to be said for dwarven constitution, Einarr thought.

“Morning,” he said with a groan as he sat up.

Jorir hummed, poking the ashes of their fire with a stick.

Einarr yawned and stretched, missing his bed roll from the Vidofnir. “You up for another long day’s slog?”

“It’s not me you should worry about.” Jorir stabbed down at the ashes with particular vigor, revealing a bit of still-glowing charcoal. “It’s the boy and your lady.”

Einarr chuckled. ‘The boy’ could only be Irding, who had to be within a handful of years of Einarr’s own age – but with as long as dwarves lived, would any of them be more than children? “Runa’s hardier than you give her credit for, I think. Or stubborn enough as to make no difference. And if our invalid needs a rest, we’ve more than one pair of shoulders big enough to carry a load.”

“Who’re you calling invalid?” Irding did not sit up as he spoke.

Einarr smirked. “You,” he called over his shoulder.

“Well, okay then. Fair enough.” There was a long pause, filled with some pained grunting, as Irding pushed himself to sit. When he spoke again, he was a little breathless. “I really wish I could deny that right now.”

“We’ll get back to Auna’s village, and unless I miss my guess she’ll have some way of actually healing that.”

“You think?” Irding seemed to be in good humor, even if his side did obviously pain him. Out of the corner of his eye, Einarr saw Runa sit up and rub at her eyes.

Einarr could only shrug. “Maybe? I don’t rightly know what the Art of the hulder can do. But there’s only one way to find out.”

Runa stood, moving over to stand near the remnants of the fire as though looking for warmth. “I doubt they’ll have actual healing magic that surpasses the song seithir, although I could be wrong. Likely, however, they’ll have herb lore we don’t.”

Jorir harrumphed.

“No-one disputes your skill,” she continued. “But you are a blacksmith by trade, not an herb-witch or Imperial apothecary, and even herb-witches speak of long-lost formulae.”

“As fascinating as this is,” Erik rumbled from behind Einarr. “I’d rather not be here when the Woodsman’s thralls return.”

Einarr nodded. “Oh, good, you’re up. I agree, we should be off. Irding? You up for walking right off the bat?”

“Depends. Is the alternative getting flung around like a sack of turnips? Because I could really do without that again.”

***

The group of five moved through the Woodsman’s forest without more than the usual entanglements that day. They were attacked by neither beast nor bird, and the creeping vines that had reached out to tangle their feet the day before seemed once more to be ordinary vines.

Einarr tried not to be suspicious at how easy their task had apparently been, and to take heart in the hope of aid once they returned. Nothing had actually been promised, he reminded himself, save the friendship of the hulder. Surely, though, that must be worth some healing, some food, and the freedom to cut a new mast?

Irding chewed yet more willow bark, even as he rode on his father’s back. He had finally accepted the aid around midday – and for the best, as he was moving slowly enough the others were making ready to insist.

Even without the delays of a clinging wood the afternoon grew long before they reached the battle lines. The ground appeared even more torn up than usual, as though the fighting between leshy and hulder had been especially fierce while Runa carved their inscription for them.

When they had left the morning before, the torn up ground of the battlefield stopped a good distance yet from the hulder village, and so on their return they expected to return to virgin forest before they saw any sign of the spirits. When the huts suddenly became visible from just beyond the edge of the torn-up ground, then, Einarr stopped in his tracks.

The village itself had been spared, it appeared, but signs of the fighting were visible in its paths in the form of wounded warriors and those who tended to them. With a sigh, Einarr shook his head and continued on. Irding lifted his head to see why they had paused. A low whistle escaped him.

The five of them made it perhaps a hundred yards into the village before the familiar, wizened figure of Auna appeared in front of them, seemingly out of nowhere. “Have you succeeded, then?”

Runa stepped forward to stand even with Einarr. “The spell activated late last night, with the leshy in the clearing with us.”

“And you all survived?” Auna’s shock was visible.

Einarr glanced over his shoulder toward Erik and Irding. “It was a near thing, I’m afraid. Did it work?”

“I… not so well as I hoped, if that’s the case. The battle was fierce last night.”

“So it seems,” Jorir grumbled. “Perhaps tomorrow night will be the proof.”

“Let us hope so. You did not try to fight it?”

Einarr shrugged. “Didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. It showed up before Runa had finished the inscription. But I think we all felt the spell go off before I coshed it on the head.”

She brought slender wooden fingers up to her mouth, then shook her head. It worried her, plainly, but all she said was “Come. You have done us the service we asked. We will see to your injuries, and tonight we shall see if you bought us some reprieve.”

“You have my thanks, Elder Auna,” Einarr said with a respectful bow before following her deeper into the village.


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6.12 – Wolves

The exposed slate of the cave walls shone white in the moonlight, a gaping maw of blackness beneath daring them to enter the Woodsman’s lair. Einarr whistled through his teeth – one long, one short, one long again. Rustling in the underbrush signaled his companions’ arrival, and so Einarr pointed ahead at what Runa had found. “Perhaps we haven’t entirely lost fortune’s favor?”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Jorir grumbled. “How do we know he’s not at home?”

Runa kept her voice to a whisper when she snapped back. “We wouldn’t have any way of knowing that even if we’d arrived in the middle of the afternoon.”

“Think you’re up for climbing a tree, Irding?” Einarr was thinking aloud more than anything. “We’ll need a lookout anyway.”

“Think I’ll manage somehow. I don’t suppose I could get another pinch of willow bark to chew?”

With a harrumph, Jorir tossed him a small pouch. “Don’t use any more than you have to. That’s all I have.”

Irding hummed even as he helped himself to a pinch of the pain-killer. “Right. Up I go.”

The forest around them began to stir as Irding, injured and in pain, rather loudly scaled a nearby oak. There was no time to waste. “Runa. Let’s go.”

Runa was moving before he finished speaking, slipping out into the clearing as silently as she had moved the night they had attempted to elope. Einarr thought it best not to question why she was so skillful at sneaking. Knowing what he already did of her as a child suggested an answer, anyway. He followed close behind, and Erik just a pace behind him.

No sooner had they crossed the threshold from shadow to moonlight than the forest behind them came violently to life once more. Irding wrapped arms and legs about the trunk as the tree began to shake, although it did not seem able to do more than that. Grimacing, Irding shimmied up to hug the tree at a good height to see around.

On the ground, Runa had in hand the small chisel and hammer that Auna had provided her. She knelt beside the bare slate at the entrance to the cave and began to chant under her breath even before she brought the tools to bear. Einarr, Jorir, and Erik took up positions around her, weapons drawn.

No sooner had the chisel clinked against the stone than the first wave hit. The grass grabbed at their boots, even as flocks of birds dived at them. That they were pecking at Einarr’s head and not clawing with talons told him they not owls, but that was cold comfort here. He used Sinmora not as a sword but as a swatter, waving it about to keep the creatures off his head. The birds did, slowly, die at their feet, but none of them kept a kill count.

Runa’s voice grew to be audible over the din of screeching birds, and the steady beat of the chisel kept time.

Einarr slashed through a cloud of the Woodsman’s possessed minions, knocking one from the air and guarding his head from the rest. In the momentary gap caused by Sinmora’s passing, he saw silver-furred wolves stalking out of the wood from all directions.

The wolf directly in front of him had antlers. It snarled, showing larger than average teeth.

Einarr stilled, his attention fully on the new threat. The birds flew off as though dismissed.

The wolves prowled forward. Except for the one, they all appeared to be normal. Einarr met the glare of the antlered wolf from under his lowered brow and raised Sinmora. He would claim this challenge.

The wolf snarled again and lunged forward. In a heartbeat the antlered wolf closed the distance, and Einarr frantically swung Sinmora down to turn its bite. No natural wolf could be so quick: a gift of the leshy, perhaps?

Einarr could spare no more time on consideration. The antlered wolf snapped at his legs again and again, with odd twists of the head as he dashed back out to strike again. Trying to trip Einarr with the horns. Sinmora cut its hide, but shallowly.

Runa still chanted over the nearly inaudible beat of her hammer and chisel.

One of the wolves tried to slip between Einarr and Jorir while Einarr focused on the leader. As though they were of one mind, prince and dwarf pivoted. Sinmora slipped between its ribs even as Jorir’s axe laid open its belly.

The kill came with a price, however. The pack leader could not let such an opportunity pass. Einarr howled as its jaws closed about his calf and pulled.

Einarr did not go down. He yanked his sword out of the dead wolf and hacked at the pack leader, but already the creature had hopped backwards, licking Einarr’s blood off its chops.

Another wolf tried for his other leg. Einarr twisted out of the way and brought his blade down to cut across the side of its neck.

The pack leader took his attention from Einarr long enough to growl at the wounded interloper. The opportunist put its tail between its legs and hurried off to join the assault on Erik.

The big man was, of all things, laughing. Perhaps after their encounter with the fimbulvulf that spring, a pack of normal wolves seemed less threatening? Einarr shook his head and refocused on the pack leader. To either side of him, Jorir and Erik fought off the ordinary beasts, their task made easier by the wolves’ focus on Runa in the center.

Arrows flew from above, as carefully placed as Irding could manage. Still Einarr’s focus was on the pack leader. It, too, stood back now, evaluating its opponent much like Einarr evaluated it.

Runa’s chanting grew louder and faster. Did that mean she was almost done? Einarr settled back into his stance, his eyes locked on the red ones of the antlered wolf.


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6.10 – Grasping Branches

As though on cue, the forest itself seemed to come alive around them. The grass and the twining berry vines that trailed along the ground reached up to grab his boots, and the bushes and brambles around the clearing began to visibly grow into a wall. So much for not attracting attention.

“Run!” Einarr suited words to action and sprinted for the far edge, around the bear, hoping the others would be quick enough to outpace the rapidly coiling plant matter. Runa he had no fear for, as she still sat on his shoulders.

Erik practically stepped on his heels, he was so close, and Jorir was right behind him. There came a crash of breaking branches and a curse from Irding. Einarr turned in time to see the man’s axe raised high.

“Irding, no!”

It was too late. The iron axe blade chopped down into the vegetation and Irding, his breathing heavy, surged forward.

The branches redoubled their growth, seeming to reach after him like grasping claws. Einarr had not been certain until that moment that using a weapon would draw any more attention than wrestling the bear-creature had, but here was the proof. The forest around them erupted into raucous chaos. Crows cawed from all around. Wolves howled. Bears roared – although not from just behind them, thankfully. And even over all of that, Einarr would swear he could hear the plants that hindered them growing.

Irding’s face was pale and pained, and his breath came heavy. Einarr frowned.

“Erik. Carry him.”

The big man grunted, and without waiting for Irding’s inevitable refusal scooped his son up over his shoulder like a sack of cabbages.

Irding gasped in pain, but they had no time to resettle. “Bear with it,” Erik grumbled, and they were off again.

Einarr had no idea how long they’d run before the grasping vines slackened their pace, as though unsure of where their quarry had gone after such a long chase. Einarr had no doubt the plants had been hunting them. Had anything else? He shook his head as he slowed to a jog, and then a stop. “I think we’re clear.”

“For now, maybe,” Runa said. “Are you ever going to put me down?”

Einarr dropped to one knee and unwrapped his arm from around her legs. It wasn’t that he’d forgotten he was carrying her – the weight of another human on his shoulder was not something he could forget while running – but this was the first moment they’d had to pause and catch their breath. Runa trailed her fingers along the line of his jaw as she slipped gracefully down. It was thanks enough, so far as he was concerned.

Erik raised a hand to his forehead and looked around. Irding appeared to have passed out during the run. “Does anyone happen to know if we were even running in the right direction?”

Einarr was reasonably certain they had started out in the right direction, at least, but once they were moving his biggest concern had been keeping them out of the clutches of the forest. He shook his head. “I lost track.”

“I couldn’t tell you if we’re any closer to the lair or nay,” Jorir said, pointing off to their right. “But I’m pretty sure we need to head that way.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow before turning to look. “You mean because it looks the darkest and most impassable?”

Jorir nodded. “It would fit with what we’ve seen so far, wouldn’t it?”

Erik hummed, stepping over to a moderately clear space on the forest floor. “Maybe so. But there’s something else we need to take care of first.”

Kneeling, Erik slung his unconscious son down as gently as he could. “Going to need all of us to keep the lady safe, I think.”

Einarr felt an irrational stab of annoyance. If Irding hadn’t drawn his axe, they would not have been put to flight, and he had only been slowed because he had fought poorly, earlier. Frowning, he shook off such dark thoughts. “Not like none of us have ever been reckless before, right? Runa, will you see what you can do for him?”

She hummed and moved to kneel beside the injured man. With practiced motions – more practiced than he had expected, honestly – she examined his chest under the battered maille. A few minutes later, she shook her head.

“You were right. He broke a rib when the bear was tossing him around like a rag doll.” She cast an accusatory look at Erik. “If you’d been able to carry him more gently, I might be able to Sing him back into the fight, but its aggravated now. We’ll need to set it, and if we cannot let it heal naturally it will weaken him.”

Erik shook his head. “Now look what you’ve done to yourself, my boy.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. “How’s your leg?”

Erik harrumphed but said nothing. He was spared further commentary when Irding awakened with a gasp and a groan.

“Good. Ye’re awake,” Jorir grumbled. “At least now you can look after yerself.”

“Can you set the break?” Einarr thought the chances were good Irding would have to do a fair bit more than hide in a tree to look after himself once Runa began her part. Runa and Jorir both shook their heads.

“Not without bringing the wrath o’ the wood back down on our heads, I think.”

Irding sat up with a grimace and frowned down at the maille now laying on the forest floor beside him. “Surely there must be some way. A sore chest never stopped me before…”

An idea struck Einarr. “Belts. Rethread your weapons on your belts, and we’ll use our baldrics. That should help, shouldn’t it?”

Runa hesitated, thinking it over, before nodding. “It should work. Take off your shirt, Irding.”

“Quickly now. If there were wolves on our trail, we won’t know it until we’re surrounded. The sooner we’re moving, the better.”


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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.