Tag: Ulfr

9.10 – Stealth

“Wait,” Stigander rumbled.

Everyone froze, looking at him expectantly.

“There is still one order of business. You two.”

The two men who had brought Runa to them stiffened, although they did not – quite – yelp.

“You are sworn to Ulfr, the son of the Weaver, are you not?”

“Y-y-yes, sir,” stammered the one who had done most of the talking thus far.

“You now stand before Stigander, son of Raen, rightful ruler of these lands. Will you forswear your false lord and swear to me?”

They stood staring at him, the muscles in their jaws working, but no sound came forth.

“I would be willing to overlook much, were you to renounce the usurper and join us in our fight.”

One of them looked like he was about to choke on his tongue. Finally, he exhaled loudly. “We cannot, your lordship. We are compelled.”

Stigander nodded brusquely. “Bind them. I will take them as prisoners aboard the Vidofnir. Lady Runa-”

“I will board my Lord Einarr’s ship, of course.” She had managed to compose herself, at least mostly, but there was no mistaking that her eyes were still red.

Stigander lowered his head in acqueiscence. The thrill that Einarr felt at the prospect was quickly damped: there were going to be some awkward introductions to make.

“My Lady,” he said, still pleased in spite of everything, and offered her his arm. “Right this way. You know Jorir, of course. This is Naudrek: he assisted me greatly last fall, and came along with me from Eskiborg.”

Runa nodded, seeming a little distracted. That, though, could be the late hour and the recent stress of her captivity.

Einarr glanced up as they approached the Heidrun: as he had expected, Bea was standing at the edge waiting for them. What he had not expected was the weighing look on her face, as though she had seen something unusual and now studied the two of them on their approach.

Irding and Bea both leaned out over the bulwark, though, and offered Runa a hand up into the ship. Runa cast a cold look at Bea before accepting Irding’s assistance.

“And who, praytell, might this be?” she asked as Einarr’s boots hit the deck.

“Runa, my love, allow me to introduce Beatrix Maria Gundahar, fourth Imperial Princess and leader of the Hrist Brigade. Bea, this is Runa Hroaldsdottir, my betrothed.” He twined his fingers in Runa’s as he spoke and did not look at Bea except to confirm where she was. Let her find room there, if she could.

Runa blinked once, surprised, then fixed a frosty glare on the other woman. “And why, praytell, is there an Imperial Princess aboard your ship?”

“That,” Bea put in, her own voice as haughty and frosty as Runa’s. “Is a very long story, best saved for when we are not in a hurry to be back out on the water, racing to the rescue of your own father.”

Runa hummed, openly studying the other woman. Bea fixed Runa with a steady look. After what felt like forever, they each looked away. Neither looked defeated.

Well. That could have gone better. She’s not going to be jealous of Eydri, too, is she?


The three ships slipped back out onto the open ocean as silently as they had plied it before, although it soon became plain silence alone would not preserve them as they made their way to the heart of Breidelstein. A new layer of stars had appeared, it seemed, right above the water level. Only rather than star stuff, these were torches, born upon the decks of ships meant to bring back Runa and the two who Ulfr undoubtedly judged traitors.

Mercifully, both Bea and Runa were less interested in pursuing their fight than they were in evading capture, so the deck of the Heidrun was blessedly silent, save for the occasional creak of wood or the small splash of an oar entering the water.

There were enough ships out, actually, that rather than extinguish their torches Stigander had them light more, so that they could hide in plain sight, as it were. The idea made Einarr want to hold his breath, but after the third time they passed within hailing range of another ship without drawing notice he put it from his mind.

When the sky first began to hint at grey dawn, the Vidofnir veered off towards a cluster of rocks in the northern part of the archipelago, as they had discussed. No-one ever came here, or they hadn’t fifteen years ago, simply because they had no reason to except in the fall during seal hunts.

On the north side of a rock that was almost large enough to be an island, the three ships lowered their sea anchors. Today they would rest here: then, at night, when they could once more pass unnoticed through the Usurper’s waters, they would make their way to a bay on the far side of the main island. Around midmorning, when the watches were settled, Einarr crawled into his bedroll and went to sleep.

At sunset, Einarr awoke. Something was amiss. He raised his head to look around, but could not see what was troubling him that way.

Einarr slid out from beneath his wool blanket and propped himself up on his elbows. All was silent, and nothing moved. Still he could not see why.

He stood. When he had gone to sleep, there had been three ships: his, his father’s, and Captain Kormund’s. Now he counted at least a dozen, and at a glance four of those had wolves carved on the prow.

The men who were supposed to be on watch had been disabled to a man. He saw them now, stacked like cordwood in the middle of the deck. As he stared about himself, he realized there was no sign of Eydri. Of Bea. Of Runa.

Einarr wanted to scream: if it weren’t for the muffled curses he could make out now from the hog-tied watchmen, he might think this was all some terrible nightmare. What is going on?


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9.6 – Sinmora

The blue and gold sail of the Eikthyrnir and the gold and white of the Heidrun flanked the blue and white of the Vidofnir as they sailed past the island where Einarr’s grandfather had once taught him to hunt, one summer after the curse was laid but before he was old enough to join the crew.

Einarr had been a little concerned with allowing Bea on any of their boats – not because she was Imperial, but because she was a princess – but those fears had rapidly proved unfounded. On their first full day out of Kjellvic she had asked Irding to spar with her – what the impetus for this was, Einarr never learned. He became aware of it when a circle formed just ahead of the mast and the laying of bets caught his ear. Curious, he went to investigate.

The spearwoman at the head of the most aggressive faction of the Order of the Valkyrie faced the most reckless of the warriors aboard the new-minted Heidrun and proceeded to mop the deck with him. What’s more, she did it in such a way that Einarr was convinced the result would have been the same against Erik, Sivid, or even Arring. Then she reached out a hand to help him to his feet, and just like that she was a sailor like all the others.

Now they were entering the waters around Breidelstein, and the princess who had thought to lure him to the Empire seemed just as determined as all the others to end the usurpers’ rule. Well, perhaps he shouldn’t be surprised. She’d had a strong sense of justice since he met her. Still, though, that she was like this when she knew they were aiming to rescue his betrothed… he could not think ill of her, no matter who she was affiliated with.

The main island was just peeking into view over the horizon as they passed Afi’s old freehold – long since fallen to ruin, after the Wolf’s raiders came. Einarr shuddered involuntarily. Before the raiders had left, Afi had given him Sinmora and sent him up into the mountains to live and watch for the Vidofnir. Einarr had never seen either of his step-grandparents again after that. Just one more crime to be laid at the feet of the Wolf. Soon, though, they would be met by ships under Urdr’s and Ulfr’s control.

Einarr’s hands itched. He wanted very much to take up the Örlögnir and study it, much as Hrug was now doing from beneath the awning, but he didn’t dare. The theft had been not only detected but allowed, and who knew when Wotan or his wife might demand the artifact’s return. He couldn’t count on being able to use it more than once: what if, in examining it, he activated the thing?

From behind him, Jorir cleared his throat. When Einarr turned to look, his Mate and first man-at-arms beckoned him back to the stern. The dwarf sat at his whetstone and drizzled a fine line of water over it.

“Something amiss?”

“You. You’re making the men nervous, pacing up there like some sort of caged animal. Now. Take a seat, and hand me your sword. Magic-touched or not, I’m sure her edge could use a little loving care.”

A little sheepish, Einarr handed Sinmora to the svartdvergr and sat cross-legged on the deck. “Sorry.”

“Now nobody faults your nerves, under the circumstances. Your first command, and the culmination of your father’s bloody quest? Who wouldn’t be. But no-one wants a Captain so wrapped up in their own heads that they’re not sure he even knows where they’re sailing.”

“You’re right, of course.”

Jorir harrumphed, as though that much were obvious. “So tell me what happened with Sinmora here.”

This wasn’t the first time Jorir had asked to hear that, nor the first time Einarr had told it. He wasn’t sure what the dwarf thought he could learn, hearing it again, but the act of telling the tale did help calm his nerves.

When he was about halfway through the tale, around the time he was working with Eydri, Bea arrived. Quietly, she folded her legs under herself and sat listening as intently as Jorir. When he was done, she continued to stare at the blade Jorir was sharpening.

“Do you have any idea what you have in that sword, there?” She asked, finally.

“A good blade, sturdy and true, that’s been by my side for more than a decade.”

She shook her head. “Maybe so, but that’s not what I meant. Whoever forged that blade must have had uncommon magic about them. In all my schooling, in all the histories I’ve read, nowhere does it mention anything about an enchantment that allows a blade to eat magic. Nowhere, in more than a thousand years of history. Do you know who forged it?”

Einarr shook his head. “It was given to me by my stepmother’s parents when I was still a boy. I assume it was his sword, back in his raiding days, but I don’t know. But after last summer, part of me feels like it would have been stranger if something hadn’t happened to it. I’m just glad it was something good.”

She nodded, still watching Jorir as he worked. Fourth princess or not, how had she come to be in charge of a division like the Hrist Brigade? She seemed far too earnest and kind for the leader of a group that hunted longships like whales.

Bea glanced at him briefly and smirked: had he been staring? That was something he could not allow, no matter what was on his mind at the time. He could not allow Runa to get the wrong idea.

“How long have you had that Valkyrie feather in your buckle?” was all she asked.

“Since the Tower of Ravens,” he began, but was interrupted.

“Draken, dead ahead!” came the lookout’s cry.


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9.4 – A New Quest

It was with a heavy heart and no small amount of trepidation that the Vidofnir once more entered the harbor at Kjellvic. Liupold returned to the Arkona, although the dromon did not immediately weigh anchor. The Eikthyrnir followed Stigander up to the docks, where the two ships were met by the harbormaster, whom Einarr had spoken to before.

He wasn’t sure if it was a positive sign or not that it was only the harbormaster who greeted them. On the one hand, it was probably a good sign that the people of the town were more interested in putting their lives back together than driving them off with torches and pitchforks. On the other hand, it also led him to doubt Trabbi’s claim.

“What news from the Hall?” The Harbormaster asked in response to Stigander’s hail.

Stigander shook his head. “Nothing but ash. The bastard took the Jarl and the Lady.”

Now fire sparked in the other man’s eye. “They what?”

“I thought Bollinn was back. Didn’t he say?”

The harbormaster shook his head. Probably, from what he knew of the Brunnings, they were trying to avoid panicking the townspeople. “I’ll call up the militia. Be surprised if they didn’t want to join you.”

Father and son nodded in tandem, then Einarr paused. “What happened to the mayor?”

The harbormaster gestured broadly at the town behind him. After a pause, he sighed. “They found him on the green. Gutted. Couldn’t tell you if he was still alive when the fire swept through.”

Einarr winced. Stigander merely nodded again. “That’s of a piece with what little news has come out of Breidelstein.”

“It’s true, then?”

“So it seems. It’s well past time I dealt with Ulfr’s treachery, anyway. …Is the shipwright about?”

“Oh, aye. You’ll find him down where he always is. He’ll be right glad to have your ship off his hands, I wager. …Oh, but, my Lord? You might warn your men against too much drink while they’re in town.”

“Surely no-one actually believes that calumny?”

“None as know you, no. Not many others, I wager, but you know what drink can do to a man’s wits.”

Stigander hummed, and then they were off.


As soon as Einarr laid eyes on the rams-head prow he knew the ship to be at least the equal of any he’d seen in Eskiborg. The wood seemed to glow from within, and the shipwright had seemed to know just from looking at him how Einarr would want to run his ship. It was no Eikthyrnir, to outrace anything she came up against, but neither was it a Bjorn, thick and bulky and tough but slow. It was, like the beast on her prow, built for balance.

The shipwright – who was otherwise quite happy to take Stigander’s coin – stared sullenly at him as he examined the new ship. His new ship. “She’s beautiful,” Einarr said, running his hand down the klinks.

“You better believe she is. An’ I’ll wager she’s as eager to fight as you lot are. Just keep the bloody wolves away from here, wouldya?”

“By the time we’re done with them, you’ll not have anything to worry about save some pelts,” Stigander’s voice was quiet and level as he answered.

Oddly, that did nothing to ease the other man’s glower. Instead, he pocketed their coin and mumbled a “pleasure doin’ business with you” before wandering off to elsewhere in his workspace.

Einarr shrugged then turned his attention back to the ship. She had fewer benches than the Vidofnir, but that was fine. She was likely to be running at half crew until they took Breidelstein at least, anyway. The awning stretched a good ten feet back from the mast, and could be collapsed quickly at need through an ingenious series of catches to roll up in itself. Einarr would have to study that, and have Jorir take a look as well.

“Where is Jorir, anyway? I’d have thought he’d want to be here for this.”

“He did, but he had some business with the smith. There’ll be time enough for you and all your crew to take it in – later. Right now, I want to hear all about what happened with the elves while you inspect her.”

Einarr chuckled. Oh. Of course. “Sounds good, pabbi.”


A handful of Vidofnings gathered that night at the lone public hall of Kjellvic, one of the few structures left largely untouched by the Wolfling’s raid, to share stories and recruit sailors for this next expedition. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind what they had to do.

The sun had well set, although it was still far too early for people to be too deeply into their cups, when Einarr called for the attention of the hall. The townspeople had fallen to the sort of merrymaking only possible after a hard day’s work when one has just escaped catastrophe, and was in danger of turning rowdy later. That meant, however, that this was the perfect time.

“Good people of Kjellvic,” Einarr shouted over the din, raising his tankard high. The room began to quiet almost immediately. “On behalf of my father and all the Vidofnings, I thank you for your trust in our friendship. What has happened here, while we were away, is the result of the usuper’s cowardice and envy.”

Someone in the back of the hall jeered.

“I know. We have allowed him his games for far too long… But, at last, we have what we need to retake our home and re-grow the friendship between our two lands! We have, however, only three ships, two of which are under strength. When the Vidofnir sails forth to unravel the Weaving, and take back our lands and rescue our friends, who among you will sail with us to rescue your Lord the Jarl and the Lady Runa?”

A loud cheer went up, and Einarr, Jorir, and Bardr spent the rest of the night talking, man-to-man, with the volunteers.


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9.3 – Wolfling Raid

Stigander froze in his tracks, then seemed to sway a little as the words hit him harder than any physical blow. “Too late?” he finally managed.

Einarr and Trabbi both moved to where Stigander stood poleaxed. Einarr arrived first, despite the old fisherman being much closer. “What do you mean, too late?”

Trabbi, his face as ashen as the rest of him, shook his head slowly. “The raiders been gone for days, now. All that’s left here is to save what remains. Build again, if we find the Jarl.”

Stigander recovered himself. “I think you’d better come down to the Vidofnir with us, have some food and drink. Then you can tell us what happened.”

Trabbi nodded as though still half-dazed. “I think that might be a good idea. Can’t tell you when I last ate.”


Three days before the Arkona, the Eikthyrnir and the Vidofnir narrowly avoided doing battle in the harbor, a drakken with a wolf’s head on the prow arrived. They made no pretense of friendship: this was a raid, and the wolf’s raiders were searching for someone.

Stigander.

As soon as they saw the Vidofnir wasn’t in port, they made sure everyone at the Hall – and, Trabbi supposed, likely everyone in the town – knew that they had come for the thief Stigander and the ship he had stolen from Breidelstein, the Vidofnir. The wolflings were trying to draw them out.

The battle at the Hall was the worst any of them had seen in years. The men of the Skudbrun fought valiantly, and gave chase, but just yesterday had limped back, unable to follow further. They did confirm one thing, though.

Trabbi stared into the ale in the wooden tankard they had brought him. “The Wolfling ship – we never got its name – had both the Jarl and the Lady Runa aboard. Captive.”

Stigander’s face had gone red with rage, and Einarr saw his beard twitching in time with the muscle over his jaw. “He has the nerve to call me a thief?”

Einarr, though, was preoccupied with another bit of that story. “Was she unharmed?”

The odds that the Jarl had been taken without a fight, and therefore without injury, were almost nil. Trabbi sighed. “As near as Bollinn could tell. She was gagged and tied to the mast when he saw her, and my Lord was trussed up like a boar. Also gagged: apparently their Captain wasn’t willing to deal with my Lord’s temper.”

Stigander had calmed a little. “No. He wouldn’t be.”

“Father?”

“The Captain of the ship that razed Kjell is most likely Ulfr son of Urdr. My half-brother, and your uncle.”

Einarr hesitated a moment, then hummed agreement into his own cup. “It couldn’t be anyone else, with the story Trabbi told.”

“I’d hoped to have a little longer to muster forces…”

Einarr shook his head. “We should have realized we were out of time last summer, when I came back with the Örlögnir. I’ve already lived longer than most Cursebreakers manage, and it seems like every time I turn around someone has raised the stakes on me. My ship is ready?”

“Assuming it wasn’t damaged in the assault on the town. Even after last fall, I’ve only got a skeleton crew I can spare you.”

“I’m sure that will work itself out.”

“I imagine,” Trabbi interrupted. He looked and sounded much more alive now that he was out of the smoking ruin and fed. “I imagine that, if you put round the town what you’re doing, you’ll have a good number of able bodies wanting to get their own back against the raiders.”

“See?” Einarr looked more seriously at Trabbi now. “How badly was the Skudbrun damaged?”

“You’d have to ask Bollinn, but I’m sure they’ll be itching to go.” Ulfr had Jarl Hroaldr, after all.

Now Einarr turned to the foreigners in their midst. “You have delivered me, as promised, to my father’s ship and my own people. I have no more hold on you, and if you wish to return the Princess to Imperial waters, not a soul will hold it against you. On the other hand…”

Liupold shook his head. “For myself, I would chase this justice with you, and I know that there are many among my crew who admire you for your work on Hohenwerth. There are just as many, however, who despise the Clans beyond all reason. My Mate among them. I fear I must return south with the Arkona.”

Einarr inclined his head. He had expected as much, but they were going to be facing the entire strength of the land that used to be home, with whatever navy and whatever loyalty the Weaver and her bastard son managed to forge.

Bea, however, straightened her shoulders. “I will come. As a token of goodwill, let us say.”

“Your Highness!” Liupold protested.

“I have made up my mind, Captain. This Cursebreaker intrigues me, and I believe it is not only in my Patron’s interest but the interest of the Empire to ensure his success and continued survival. I will go.”

Liupold looked to Einarr and Stigander for assistance and found none. Neither did Trabbi, the Jarl’s retainer, look inclined to stop her. Finally he sighed. “In that case, I would ask that you fight on my behalf, as well.”

She beamed. “Of course. I will send you with a missive in my own hand, in case Father should object.”

Liupold rolled his eyes, and Einarr suddenly wondered if all highborn women were so overbearing. “Well,” he said, to change the subject. “In that case, it sounds as though we should get back to town. And… hope my uncle’s slander did not take hold.”

Trabbi nodded, slowly. “I think you have little to fear, there. Lord Stigander and his crew are well-known, after all, not only for your friendship to Lord Hroaldr but also for your generosity in town.”

That was true, as far as it went, but Einarr was uneasy nonetheless.


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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 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.

2.18 – A Father’s Honor

“If your heart does not remain with the Weaver and the Wolf, swear again before me as you once did before my father Raen.”

A number of grim faces around the hall met Stigander’s request, but no-one protested. Stigander would have been well within his rights to have them put to death, or trial by sword. Within his rights, but foolish: such a blood-letting would have taken generations to return from.

Stigander stood on the dias, flanked by Einarr and Bardr, with Gorgny standing watch just below. Man after man stepped forward and knelt before him, forswearing any allegiance to Ulfr and pledging allegiance to Stigander or his line. No few Singers also presented themselves. Before accepting and offering his counter-pledge, Stigander would look to Gorgny for his affirmation of their sincerity.

Meanwhile, the Vidofnings stood guard around the edges of the hall, looking as uncomfortable and impatient as Stigander felt. That this was necessary at all was a travesty, caused by a single ill-advised dalliance in his father’s youth: never in his life had Stigander been more glad of his policy to never bed a woman not his wife.

At least I won’t have to worry about Einarr. He found his mind wandering as the line moved on – never far, of course, in the seemingly endless stream of pledges and counter-pledges.

After what felt like an eternity of this those gathered in the hall once again stood assembled to either side. Stigander’s gaze slid across the entirety off the hall, and as his eyes lit on each familiar face he smiled a little more openly. “It’s good to be home,” he said, his voice unexpectedly hoarse.

“Tomorrow, there will be work to be done. Tonight, though, let us feast!”

A cheer rose up across the hall, and Stigander stepped down to stand in front of his father’s right-hand man. “Where is Father?”

The scene shifted. Last night’s feast had been one of the wildest Stigander could remember, before or after the Vidofnir had become a vagabond. He thought he had drank too much, although what he felt was more akin to the idea of a hangover than the actual thing. And the next task of the day was to be an unpleasant one, one he’d hoped to avoid.

“When the Weaving unravelled, it came undone all at once,” Gorgny explained. “The Weaver realized what had happened at the same time as all the rest of us, and we caught them before they could escape. They await your judgement.”

Stigander gave a heavy sigh. “Best be on with it.”

Gorgny bowed, and then an unfamiliar-looking woman and appeared before him with a startlingly familiar-looking man, shackled and weighed down with chains, the sole purpose of which seemed to be the weight. The woman, a withered old crone whose long white hair had gone thin and who had lost more than a few of her teeth, stood defiant, but her son was on his knees and would not look up at him. We could almost be twins… The newly resworn jarls formed a circle around them in the center of the room: the Thing would judge.

I suppose she must have been pretty enough in her youth, or she’d never have caught Father’s eye. Stigander met her eyes with a cold stare. To punish her was easy: it would take years for father’s mind to recover, even if his body seemed hale. Gorgny, at least, thought Raen’s mind was still whole enough to mend. Ulfr, though…

Stigander rose, and went to join the circle of leaders surrounding the usurpers. “Weavess Urdr. You stand accused before the Thing of high treason, treason against your husband, practicing the black arts, murder by means of magic and poison, and of practicing the torturer’s arts. Among your accusers, your victims, are members of this Thing. Have you any defense?”

“You dare to try me here, with my accusers among the judges?” The woman may have been a crone, but her voice was as strong as a woman thirty years her junior, and she stood straight and proud.

“You would rather rot in the dungeon until I can call on the thanes and jarls of other lands? Winter approaches: I should think in your shoes I should prefer swift judgement to spending the winter in the dungeon, wondering every day if you might simply have been forgotten. Cold, damp, dark, drafty, and worse than it was before the Weaving forced me into exile.”

Her only response was to meet his hard stare with one of her own.

Stigander gave her a moment. He did not think her neck would bend, and it soon became plain it would not. “Are there any present who will stand in her defense?”

Ulfr moved as though to stand. He planted one foot on the floor, but then placed it back again.

“Even your own son will not stand to defend your actions. Can there be any more damning statement?”

Still Urdr stared at him, but Stigander would not be cowed. “If you will not defend yourself, so be it. The penalty for any one of these crimes is death, and so I put the question before this Thing. Did this woman conspire to overthrow the rightful Thane of Breidelsteinn?”

Not a single Jarl said nay.

“In the overthrow of the thane Raen, by whom she bore a son, did she practice the black art of curse-weaving?”

Once again each man in the circle answered aye.

“Was the rightful Thane, a man she has called her husband, tortured by her hand?”

Some few did not verbally agree to this one, but still there were no nays.

“So be it. Based on the determination of this Thing, who have witnessed the actions of the accused, the weavess Urdr is guilty. You shall be stripped of all you possess and hung in a cage over the sea. You shall be afforded neither food nor fresh water, and even the salt spray shall not reach you. If in four days you yet live, your cage shall be recovered and you shall be burned at the stake.”

He worried for a moment that the punishment would be too harsh, but then the child-like babbling of his father returned to him. This was just.

“Ulfr, son of Urdr. It can be denied by no-one here that you were a willing co-conspirator in your mother’s plan. By strict justice, you should meet her same fate.”

“I cannot deny this.” Even the man’s voice sounded like Stigander’s.

“…Why?”

Ulfr gave no answer, merely continued to stare at the rug beneath his knees.

“If you had come on your own, we could have been brothers.”

“But I could not have come on my own. From the time I was a babe, Mother has spoken of our father as her husband, and alternately doted on his memory and railed against his cruel absence. She promised me the thanedom was rightfully mine… and with the credulity of a child I believed her. The wrong we have done here only became clear to me after we had seized this land and it began to fall apart, and I believed there was naught I could do but try to hold everything together. I will submit to exposure in the cage.”

Justice must be served, but to execute Ulfr would make him a kinslayer. There had to be a better way. “But will you submit to exile, if the Thing agrees?”

Only now did Ulfr look up at Stigander. It was like looking into a mirror. The sound of silver bells drowned out the mirror’s response.


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2.17 – Vision of Home

Stigander caught the sound of silver bells in the wind and steeled himself. The last trial had tried to make him choose between his birthright and his son’s future, as though the two could be separated. That had been bad enough, but surely the trials ahead would be just as wrenching. He took a step forward on the path…

…And found he now stood on a different mountain path, on an island he had not seen in more than a decade. I’m… home?

He blinked, hardly believing what his eyes were showing him. The road beneath his feet, laboriously cut into the granite face, switchbacked above and below. Behind him marched the Vidofnings, savage jubilation painting each and every face. Even Einarr’s, which left a twinge of heartsickness behind. Far below, the Vidofnir bobbed in the water alongside a ship with an unfamiliar ramshead on the prow – Einarr’s ship, it had to be.

The men behind him furrowed their brows. They’re waiting on me. He stepped forward again even as he turned his head to look up the rock face. There, rising above, were the unmistakable grey stone walls of Breidelsteinn. I’m home.

His pace quickened. The Usurper must have already lost, or there would be warriors on the road, and arrows would rain on their heads. Instead, all was peaceful. It was time to reclaim the honor stolen from his father.

As they marched, he heard the strains of the Lay of Raen carry up the road and the corner of his mouth quirked in a smile. That was some impressive breath control Reki had, if she was willing to sing while they marched. At least, he thought it was Reki.

At the top of the switchbacks Stigander stopped again. The gates stood open wide. In the center of the passage, his father’s first liege-man knelt before him. Clustered in the shadows behind, the Jarls and Captains of Breidelsteinn prostrated themselves. No. Not like this. These men were my friends.

But now they were his subjects. Even if his father were still fit to rule, which Stigander thought unlikely, the Clan would never accept him at its head again. They might not accept him, for that matter. Stigander closed his eyes and swallowed hard on the melancholy that threatened to overtake him. Done is done. You knew this would be part of the price.

When he opened his eyes again they were hard. He had hesitated too long already, when now was the time for decisiveness. Three firm steps forward brought him to just ahead of where the man knelt. “Gorgny Agnarsson, do you swear on the names of your father and your grandfather that the Weaver’s sorcery no longer holds you?”

“In the names of Agnar and Hagrlaug, I swear my mind is no longer clouded by sorcery, and may my heart burst if I lie.” Shame practically dripped from the man’s voice.

Stigander nodded, accepting the attestation. Uncle Gorgny had always been an honest man. “Then swear to me as you once swore to my father.”

“My lord prince, Lord Raen yet lives, and though all the clan may forsake him, I will not.”

Stigander snorted, but his face softened a little. “You realize under the circumstances that could mean your death?”

“I do, and I will make any oath you ask of me – except that one, so long as my lord Raen still lives and breathes.”

“Rise, then.” Stigander suppressed a sigh. If he had wanted to prove the man wasn’t a traitor, this managed it nearly as well. “How is Father?”

“Battered but not broken. Never broken.”

“Good.” He smiled at the man he had always thought of as an uncle and clapped him on the shoulder. Stigander had not dared hope that his father would survive this. It would be good for Einarr to meet his grandfather again.

Stigander turned his father’s liege-man and stepped over the threshold. “What of the rest of them?”

“The ones you see? Penitents all. It’s as though we all woke from a bad dream not long ago. The rest are shackled and awaiting justice.”

He nodded now. “I will take the oaths of the penitents in the main hall.”

“Yes, my lord prince.”

His father’s hall had changed under the influence of the Usurper and the Weaver. Raen had made it larger than it had to be so everyone would be welcome, and they were. The lively good cheer he remembered had fled over the intervening years, tossed out with the rugs and candelabrum that were nowhere to be seen on his return. His brother had left it empty, cold, and dark.

Stigander set his mouth in a hard line. Restoring the hall would be easy, compared to the rest of what he had to do. He slowed for the last few steps up on to the dias, feeling their weight.

The seat of the Thane stood before him, polished and painted wood that had never before this moment intimidated him. Stigander blew a breath through his moustache. Rather than sit, he turned to face the men now filling the hall behind him and motioned at a few of them to join him: Gorgny, Bardr, Einarr. As Gorgny stepped into place beside him, he caught the man’s eye. “Uncle, where is Father?”

“Resting, under the care of an herb-witch.”

Stigander winced a little. “Urdr was quite cruel, then.” When Gorgny nodded, he shifted his attention to the hall.

“People of Breidelsteinn,” he began, his voice filling the hall. “It has taken long years, but at last Urdr’s Weaving has been unraveled – by none other than my own son Einarr.”

He allowed a minute for the cheering to die down before he continued. “I do not believe that any of you who stand before me were in their right mind during the Usurper’s reign… but much can change as the years fall away. My friends, I believe that you are all still my friends, and I would ask you to swear to this. If your heart does not remain with the Weaver and the Wolf, swear again before me as you once did before my father Raen.”


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2.4 – The Song of Raen

The sun touched the water’s edge and the sky took on the color of red gold. The tide would begin to ebb soon, but the crew of the Vidofnir had not yet taken up oars and her sail was still furled. Fifteen years ago, they had fled their homes, and for fifteen years the start of every voyage was marked the same way. Stigander stood in the stern, his feet set wide and his arms crossed as he looked out over his men. Einarr joined him.

Reki stood in the prow of the boat, her cloak thrown open and her head exposed. Her skin washed amber in the light of sunset, and her straight white hair looked as though it were made of spun gold. How her previous crew thought she could be bad luck, Einarr could not understand. What clearer portent of wealth ahead could there be? She opened her mouth, and in low dulcet tones began the recitation they all awaited.

Leafy rug lies under
Lee of rock ridge, the
Free-hearted Raen’s hold
High built, its vigil born
To guard men above gold.
Grant plenty, pious king,
But forget not folly
Of fate-dabbler’s design.

It was his grandfather’s story, the founding of Raenshold well-nigh seventy years ago. Before Raen came to power theirs had been a weak clan, really not much more than a scattering of freeholds across the Breidelsteinn archipelago. Over the course of a decade, Grandfather had transformed Breidelsteinn from the laughingstock of the seas to one of its foremost powers. He had been only forty when he made Stigander the captain of their fleet and settled in to complete the fortress at Raenshold and administer their lands.

The time drew near. A whisper rippled through the crew, no louder than the lapping of water on the hull, as Reki continued to recite. Hands moved to oars, but they did not yet push off. The cue had not yet come.

Raen’s folly, a fair lass
Flax-haired, by eye-gleams held:
Urdr did he woo, under
Umber moon she swooned.
No troth spoke though one she
Took: the ring-breaker Raen
She would wed. When sea-steed
Stole Raen, Urdr did remain.

A low grinding of sand against the hull marked the moment the Vidofnir pushed off the kjelling shores.

Unwisely wooed, Urdr
Bore Ulfr, boy-child of
Greyed eyes, guileful blade.
Threads Urdr traced, fiber spun
While wolf’s fangs he forg’d.
To seek redress on swan’s road
Their uncut thread binds all.

Einarr had been six when his half-uncle and the woman his grandfather had set aside appeared at Raenshold, and had only heard second-hand what happened. His maternal grandparents had requested he come for the summer, and so as they sailed for the summer’s hunt on the waves, Father had left Mamma and him at their freehold. When they all returned late that fall, it was like a black haze hovered over the island. The Vidofnir sailed near enough to port that Einarr could see men dangling like fruit from the hanging tree.

That was when they had been attacked by every longship already in port. Einarr remembered the look on his father’s face when the man had been forced to choose between leading an assault against the force had taken their home and protecting his wife and son. Though it had only lasted for a moment, that was the face of a man in agony.

His father wore that same look now, as he did every time they reached this point of the song and the oars dipped into the water. The Vidofnir had wintered that year at Mamma’s freehold, and that was where Einarr lived until he was old enough to sail with Father. By then, they’d pieced together what happened.

Ulfr did usurp, and Urdr does
Under cursèd thrall snarl
Mountain’s men, and entomb’d
Raen maltreats. Raven-wine
By Art bound, and by Art’s touch
Alone undone: hie home,
Raen’s sons, soon your birthright
Save, and cut the woven chain.

Those who did not row knocked their blades against their shields. Those who did opened their mouths and let loose with the ululating black song – the cry of a warrior who will die for their cause. Einarr closed his eyes and joined them, ignoring for the moment that he was the one person aboard who was not allowed to do so. Stigander was unlikely to produce a second heir now.

As the black song died down, Einarr opened his eyes again and glanced sidelong at his father. The look of anguish from the story was already fading into the sorrowful, grim determination that had become so familiar. With a pang, he realized that this was the first time since he’d come aboard that it had not been one of his stepmothers up there. He leaned over to whisper in Stigander’s ear “You alright?”

His father’s only response was a curt nod, followed by a wan smile before he strode forward toward the middle of the Vidofnir. Einarr did not miss that Bardr thrust a skin at his father, nor the way Stigander drank from it. He sighed: perhaps later he would join his father under his awning and drink until the dawn with him. It would be better for both of them than the melancholy solitude that threatened.


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