Tag: Vali

10.27 – Spear Thrust

Einarr’s clansmen fought like desperate men, or cornered animals, each believing themselves alone. Einarr had come to expect better discipline from men under Kaldr’s command: was he not here, then, either? Bea and Jorir guarded his flanks, and while the pressure never seemed to let up neither did they seem to be in much danger. Occasionally one would make it past his guards, and Einarr would have to fight as well: as much as he hated cutting down his fellow clansmen, he preferred those moments to the ones where he was free to observe and wonder.

He had heard, of course, that Ulfr was a poor Thane – but only ever third-hand. Father, naturally, took that as a matter of course. But to have the evidence so plainly before his face was galling. Cursed or not, he thought it would almost be better if these men never knew what they had been reduced to under the Usurper.

Eydri paused: Einarr glanced toward his Singer, but she had only stopped to take some water. While no man of the Clans would deliberately shoot a Battle Chanter, there was always the risk of a stray arrow.

Einarr pressed his lips together: this was dragging on too long. He glanced at Bea and at Jorir and nodded. He brought Sinmora up behind his shield and stepped further into the fray. Now was not the time for half-measures, and desperate men broke easily.

Bea and Jorir matched him, foot for foot, as they pressed forward. As Einarr expected, the blockade crew yielded before their onslaught. Soon, they had reached the Heidrun’s bulwark.

Einarr stood for a moment, contemplating the boarding line. They could cross, and take the fight entirely to the blockade ship, but…

The cry came from deep within the blockade line, three different voices at almost the same instant. “It’s cut!”

“Pull back!” Einarr ordered.

The wolfling ships, unmoored from the line and still caught by boarding lines, began to rotate. Soon, they would cross the blockade even if they did nothing.

They were not about to do nothing. The wolflings could not be allowed to cut the boarding lines, not until all their crew were back aboard. With a predatory grin, Einarr jumped up on the bulwark. “We’ll help defend the lines.”

The fighting was still fierce aboard the wolfling vessel, but even there it felt like a ship that had lost its captain. Maybe it had: that would explain the lack of fortitude among its men. If so, however, that made for a shocking number of ships with either bad captains or none at all. Could Ulfr be even worse than we’d thought?

His men were through, now, and lined up in rows. Half had taken oars, and the others had reclaimed their bows. Einarr climbed back up on the bulwark of the wolfling ship. “As soon as you’re both over, cut the lines.”

Jorir grunted even as he took off a man’s leg at the knee. Beatrix, though, was right behind Einarr.

He dashed nimbly across the boarding lines and turned to wait for his man at arms.

It looked as though Jorir was having trouble breaking away. The dwarf could vault up on the bulwark with no issue, normally, but the wolflings pressed him hard.

Einarr took up his own bow. They couldn’t wait much longer, but he could help. He drew, sighting carefully. This would all be for naught if he shot his own liege man by mistake. His arrow flew.

That was the moment Vali made his appearance. It started as a shiver running through the wolflings, and then an unearthly howl began, like wind whistling over the mouth of a sunken cave. The wolflings shared trepidatious glances.

Vali made himself visible, superimposing his own form over that of the dwarf’s. For added effect, Einarr thought, the ghost did not keep himself to the dwarf’s, or even his own, size. Einarr blinked, hardly believing it himself: there, as though growing out of Jorir’s own body, was a spirit nearly three times Einarr’s size.

The wolflings panicked, racing for the farthest possible point from the apparition. Jorir looked about himself in apparent confusion, but only for a moment. With a shrug, he made his way across the boarding line. It was only when he turned to cut it that he saw what had frightened them off, and then he laughed.

“So? Anything?” Einarr asked as Vali vanished from the old ship and appeared, normal size again, on the deck of the Heidrun.

“Not much. Kaldr’s ship is in dock, and Kaldr himself has been removed fom command.”

“You say ‘not much,’ but that means a good deal. Good work, Vali.” Einarr turned to the rest of the crew: they were starting to lag behind the others. “Heidrun, move out!”


The appearance of dirt and decay only grew stronger as they drew nearer to Breidelsteinn town.

Einarr let out a low whistle. “What happened here?” he said, to no-one in particular.

Eydri, sipping at her waterskin, stepped forward. “What usually happens under a usurper. I saw all the signs when we were his ‘guests.’ They abuse their power, without understanding the responsibilities it entails. There’s a reason usurpers are almost universally reviled. And a reason why rulership is inherited.”

Einarr nodded, then swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. No. The clan elders will simply have to accept Father in the Thane’s seat, if Grandfather can’t be.

Eydri chuckled, her eyes warm, but did not explain.

“All we have to do is destroy the Weaving,” he reminded himself. “Once that’s done, the rest of Ulfr’s support should vanish… shouldn’t it?”

“For some, perhaps. I have never dealt with a working on this scale before, but… some people may have grown used to the shackles placed on their loyalty, and not realize they are free for some time after the Weaving is shattered.”

He thought on this for a moment: it made sense. There was a reason Battle Chanters would typically Sing their warriors down out of the battle fury, after all. It took time for calm to return. “I understand.”


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10.26 – The Harbor at Dawn

The proud rooster’s head of the Vidofnir led the way into the mouth of the harbor at Breidelsteinn as the morning sun began to paint the sky vermillion. Einarr scanned the water ahead, curiously detached from the assault to come. There was still too much to do before they even reached the docks to even try thinking of this as a homecoming.

There was no apparent sign of the wolfling fleet, and that worried him. Three ships were accounted for at Lundholm, but that was only three. Even if there were others out raiding or being repaired, Raenshold should support at least ten more ships. One of which would be helmed by Kaldr.

The harbor mouth would have been the ideal place to lay an ambush, but even as the Heidrun and the Eikthyrnir pulled away, deeper into the harbor and closer to their goal, none appeared. Most likely, that meant there would be another blockade, nearer the town.

Einarr nodded: springing an ambush on them now would mainly serve to weaken the blockade line. “At ease, men,” he ordered. “But be ready on those oars.”

It was not impossible that the wolflings would try to drive them into the blockade with a late ambush. It was just less certain than either of the two defense strategies it pulled from.

Under sail, the longships moved nearly silently through the water towards Breidelstein. Even with Einarr’s order, all hands stared ahead nearly as intently as Einarr himself. Bea had come up to join Jorir and Eydri next to Einarr, just forward of the mast. Naudrek, somehow the least tense of anyone aboard, sat next to Hrug. When all was ready, he would signal that it was time to begin the ritual they had devised.

The sky grew lighter. He could start to make out buildings on the shore: the town of Breidelstein. It looked… poorer than Father’s stories had led him to believe. Grayer, as though a thin film of grime had been allowed to coat the whole town. Above, on the edge of the cliff, the tower shone in the sunrise with an ominous light.

Below, on the water, Einarr caught sight of what he had expected to see all along. There, perhaps two hundred yards out from the piers, was a line of longships. He could already see nets slung between them.

So they weren’t just going to roll over and surrender. Not that he’d really expected them to. “Ready volley!”

Half the crew moved a step forward and readied their shields. The other half nocked arrows to bows and drew.

They were not fire arrows, not after Lundholm. Setting the boats ablaze would kill too many men who should be friends: they would just have to cut the nets. This was likely to be a bloody boarding.

“Fire!”

The first volley flew true. A minute later, the blockade answered with a volley of its own. Also not aflame, thankfully. Einarr needed his sorcerer fresh.

His sorcerer. He still wasn’t used to that, not really – nor to the idea that there were some who would call him a sorcerer. But learning the runes had been a matter of necessity… hadn’t it? Whatever his personal feelings on the matter, Wotan himself had sought out magic when the circumstances called for it. Einarr shook his head to clear it. “Ready volley!”

The creaking sound of drawing bows fell once more to silence. “Fire!”

Part of the second volley overshot their targets by a significant margin: well, there hadn’t been much time for aiming. Already he could see their enemies preparing boarding lines. It was time to do the same. “Prepare for boarding! Remember, men: our goal is to cut those nets! The men on those ships are your own clansmen, whether they know us or not!”

His speech, such as it was, was met with a cheer. Einarr turned his attention back to his own deck. “Vali?”

“Yes, Einarr?” The ghost’s voice came from behind him. In spite of himself, Einarr jumped. To his credit, Vali made no comment.

“While you’re out sowing chaos amidst the enemy, I need you to try to find information for me. How many ships they have left, and their Captains, and what sort of force they might have on the ground. Think you can manage?”

Vali gave him a sour look. “I’m a ghost, not a mind-reader.” Then he shook his head. “I’ll hunt out log books. There might be something there you can use.”

“Glad to hear it. Good luck.”

There was nothing quite like having a ghost roll its eyes at you. “Thanks. I’ll need it.”

“Eydri, you’re up.”

She raised an eyebrow, but made no objection. “Yes, sir.” She seemed to grow taller as she drew her shoulders back, and when she opened her mouth to Sing the battle fury began to press against his vision.

Bea stepped up to take her place by Einarr’s left. “Why are you having her Sing already?”

“The faster we beat our way through the blockade, the fresher our men are when we make land.” And the Song didn’t usually carry well through city streets. Too many obstructions.

The answer seemed to satisfy Bea, as she nodded and readied her spear as Einarr turned to check in with Hrug and Naudrek. The sorceror was busy, the Orlognir laid on the deck in front of him as he put the final, last-minute touches on their ritual circle. Naudrek confirmed that all was in order.

The sound of fighting brought his attention back to the matter at hand: the first clash on the ropes was nearly over and the first of his men had made it to the wolfling ships to try to cut the nets.

Einarr brought Sinmora up. The first of their men were also across, and one of them charged across the deck toward Einarr with a feral yell.


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10.2 – Strategy

A note in Jorir’s voice caught Einarr’s ear. “Well, spit it out. What’s the matter?”

“Only this. How many more skirmishes like that can we take?”

Einarr frowned. “That probably depends on how many volleys we have to fire. You’re concerned about supplies, then.”

“Aye. That, and manpower.”

“You’re right, of course.” Movement caught Einarr’s eye from the deck of the Vidofnir. “That’s Bardr, signalling a conference. You, Tyr, and Eydri, and Vali with me.”

“Not that I question your wisdom, but why the ghost?”

“Same reason as Tyr. Experience.”

Jorir harrumphed but said no more.

Half an hour later, all three Captains were gathered on board the Vidofnir with their Mates and advisors. Einarr had brought the largest contingent, but neither Father nor Captain Kormund so much as batted an eye.

Stigander locked eyes with Tyr and nodded in greeting. “Tyr.”

“C- Stigander.”

“You see anyone you know on those ships?”

“One or two.”

“Good.” Stigander turned his attention now to the other Captains. “How are your crews holding out.”

“Well enough, Father, but…”

Captain Kormund shook his head. “The men are getting tired, Stigander, and we’re going to need not just food and water but arrows and pitch and bandages before long.”

Jorir made a rumbling noise that might have been a chuckle as Einarr nodded.

“Exactly. Is there still a town near Afi’s old freehold?” It had been safe enough for him to summer there after Breidelstein fell, after all.

Stigander frowned. “I haven’t heard if they recovered or not. But there’s not often a lot of news coming out of the smaller islands like that, so we might not have. And if they’re not terribly happy to see me, there were others nearby.”

“Why would they have anything to hold against us?”

Stigander raised his eyebrows. “You were there. You can’t tell me you didn’t know.”

Einarr’s answer was to look at his father with greater confusion.

The older man sighed. “Those raiders who burned the town and killed your grandparents? They were Ulfr’s men, under a false flag. Looking for us.”

“Ah.”

Nevertheless, Stigander nodded to Bardr, who stepped away to give their new heading to Arring at the tiller. That done, Stigander turned back to their conference. “Now then. Tyr, you said you caught sight of some familiar faces during the fighting?”

“Oh, aye. And some of them men I’d never have expected to see live this long, let alone taking the helm.”

Tyr settled himself on a barrel near the mast. “Let’s start with the dangerous one – the one our Singers warned us about.”

Reki scowled. “Kaldr.”

Einarr perked up. “You remember him? Was he as odd about magic before the Weaving?”

“Oh, aye. But you see, I remember his pabbi, too. Man was always blaming his own mistakes on ‘bewitchment,’ and it seemed like he was always in some sort of trouble. But however weird he is about the Arts, that’s not what makes him dangerous.”

Eydri nodded in agreement. “He’s devious as a snake, and just as bloodless.”

“You say ‘devious,’ I say ‘clever,’ and he plainly has a good head for strategy. Is he still following us?”

Einarr glanced back into the wake of their passage and pursed his lips. “Yes.”

“I’d have been more surprised if he wasn’t,” Hraerek grumbled, and Captain Kormund nodded in agreement.

“Plainly he intends to harry us into submission,” Stigander said, his arms crossed. “Just as plainly, we need time to rest the men and resupply our ships if we’re going to win back the Isles. But we’ve already set course to deal with just that. What of the others?”

“Men who, I think, would have long since retired under you or Lord Raen, that I saw. None of whom would have gained their own ship in that circumstance. I suspect the Usurper chose his Captains based on toadying and biddability more than skill. If you can believe it, Stigander, it looks like little Frothing Urek has a commission.”

Stigander snorted. “Him? The one who you could goad into a fight by disagreeing over the weather?”

“The very same.” Tyr chuckled along with his old Captain.

“I wonder if he ever grew out of that?”

“If not,” Kormund mused. “We can use that. He’s also, presumably, the sort who can’t back down?”

“If he’s the same as he used to be, yes.”

Einarr shook his head. “And he’s a Captain? Well. If he’s working under Kaldr, he’s not going to tolerate this harrying strategy. That gives us something we can try, at least.”

The conference continued in this way throughout the rest of the day as the three ships sailed for one of the outlying islands, tailed by three of the wolfling ships keeping just out of bow range. Eventually Einarr sent Vali back to the Heidrun with the plan as it existed.

“And Vali? Ask Hrug to be ready to destroy those rugs when we make landfall.”

The ghost gave a wry smile and a mocking salute before winking out of existence. Einarr shook his head and turned his attention back to their discussion.

Captain Kormund and Hraerek, his Mate, stared, agog.

“Did you… not know about him?”

Kormund cleared his throat. “I had heard you had a ghost among your crew, but…”

“But the sheer insolence of it!” Hraerek chuckled. Bardr smirked.

“Far be it for me to tell you how to run your ship…” Kormund cleared his throat, plainly intending to do just that until Stigander raised a forestalling hand.

“I’ve seen no sign since his return from Svartlauf that suggests discipline slips under his command.”

“Thank you, Father.”

Stigander nodded acknowledgement. “Be cautious, however. The friendlier you are with your crew, the worse it will be when you have to make the hard call.”

Einarr swallowed, then inclined his head in return. He had thought of that, long and hard, after taking Hrug’s hand the previous fall. But, in the end, he knew he could be no other way.

“There is one last thing we must consider, Father.”

“Oh?”

“Will our hunters strike at us in port?”


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9.5 – War Footing

All the new crew members needed time to arm themselves and see to their affairs, but that suited Einarr and the Vidofnings just fine. Einarr, in particular, had some matters to attend to regarding his new ship. Thus, it was decided that the three ships would sail to war one week hence.

On board the newly-christened Heidrun, Jorir and Naudrek went over the same inspection that Einarr had with his father just days before. Eydri sat on the bulwark, repeating the Lay of Raen to Tyr for what was probably the hundredth time as she worked to memorize it. She and Reki, together with the Battle Chanters from the Eikthyrnir and the Skudbrun, would sing it together as they left Kjell harbor. If all went well, this would be the last voyage the sons of Raen had to begin this way. Meanwhile, Hrug and Vali took each other’s measure in some strange way that Einarr did not fully understand.

“So?” Einarr asked as Naudrek and Jorir were coming to the end of their inspection and looking satisfied. “What do you make of Arkja and his crew, now that you’ve had some more normal sailing around them.”

“Good hardworking boys,” Jorir answered promptly, plopping down on the deck beside his Lord. “I think Arkja knew we were suspicious of him: he seemed more than eager to please.”

“You don’t think he’ll turn coward on us?”

Now Jorir hummed. “I think, so long as he’s not placed under too great a strain, you haven’t much of anything to worry about. Not sure I’d go making him an officer, mind. Hey, Vali – what think you?”

“Oh, aye. Arkja’s loyal enough. Just make sure he’s in front of you when the seas are rough.”

“That’s hardly a ringing endorsement. The man asked to swear to me, and I’m out of excuses to put him off. You two spent the end of last summer watching him. If there’s a reason I should refuse, I need to know it.”

Jorir shrugged. “You’ll be taking some sort of oath from everyone who comes aboard this ship, won’t you? Just have him swear the same.”

Vali shook his head slowly. “The trouble is, we didn’t see the sort of situation that might lead a man like Akel to break.”

“Akel? Who’s Akel?”

“Oh, uh. Right. He was the Mate aboard the Althane’s ship. You remember.”

Einarr nodded. Vali had warned him about Arkja and used the Althane’s Mate as an example.

“So I don’t see any reason not to take him aboard, or even to let him swear to be your man, but I would consider his advice carefully, especially where it concerns the wellbeing of others.”

“Worth doing with most advice, I find. Very well. I’ll trust your judgement.”

Jorir smirked. “I expect no less, by now. So. We’ve told you about the Forgotten men. What can you tell us of Breidelstein?”

Einarr looked sheepish. “Hasn’t Father talked about it? I was only a boy. I’m afraid my recollections aren’t likely to be all that helpful.”

“That’s hardly the point,” Naudrek put in. “We’re about to put our necks on the line for your boyhood home. We want to know what we’re fighting for. And we want to know you remember what we’re fighting for.”

“…Ah. Well, all right then. I guess I should start by saying that, until winter before last, I wasn’t rightly sure I cared if we got our home back. The sea was my home. And then I met Runa again.”


At long last, the Vidofnir and her two allies – fortified with sailors from the Skudbrun, which could not be repaired in time – were fully on war footing. The Vidofnir led the way out of the harbor under oars, and the beat of the cadence drum carried the promise of violence to come.

Once they were out of the harbor the three ships raised their sails and turned north. The drumming continued all that afternoon and into the evening, as the four Singers raised their voices together for the Lay of Raen.

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.

The four voices twined together, echoing over the water between the ships while the drums continued to play. Einarr, for the first time at the helm of his own ship instead of standing by his father’s side, felt a shiver run down his spine at the eerie sound.

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.

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
.

The mood aboard ship – Einarr assumed all three ships – had nothing of the melancholy he was used to. No: this time was different in every regard. This time, the ritual was performed not for remembrance but for determination. The Weavess and her usurper son would, finally, after sixteen long years, face justice for their crimes.

Without realizing he did so, Einarr joined his own voice to the voices of the Singers.

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.

He was not alone. He heard his Father’s voice, and Tyr’s. Erik. Sivid. One by one, all the Vidofnings who had been with the ship for even half of those years raised their voices, until it was less a Lay and more of a Chant. They were declaring their enemy’s crimes before sea and wind and sky, and this time they would not be turned back.


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7.21 – Divination

The divination ritual was to be held in the selfsame temple that had housed the Shroud for so long, down in the very vault that had imprisoned it until Sinmora had eaten the magic out of nowhere. I wonder what Vali would have to say about that?

Einarr shook his head, casting off the idle thought. Something about returning to the vault had his stomach doing somersaults, and his mind was just as unsettled. Vali, of course, was half a world away (so far as Einarr knew), on a ship whose adventures should be far tamer and more profitable for Einarr’s absence.

Meanwhile, he had an all-consuming burial cloth floating about the island, seemingly at random – provided it hadn’t yet found a way off the island. That it would was taken as a given by the alfs, although with its tattered end Einarr hoped that would be more difficult than otherwise.

He blinked, refocusing on the trail ahead of him. Melja and Mira led Einarr and a handful of villagers to the temple. The weather, as it always seemed to be, was fair. Are we in Imperial waters, or just near them? Another idle thought flitted up, trying to distract him from the task at hand. Knowing he was nervous didn’t help, though, nor did the knowledge that there was nothing to be nervous about at this stage. All that would happen here is a runic divination to locate the Shroud. After that, it was up to him. Melja had made that perfectly clear.

Finally, the air ahead lightened and he saw the broad clearing and the high wooden walls of the temple. His stomach flopped once more, and then Einarr felt his composure returning. This would be no harder than any other challenge he had faced this summer, and possibly easier than some. He wasn’t going up against creatures with corrupted blood this time, after all. Just a piece of cloth animated by some strange, malignant will.

The vault appeared exactly as it had the last time Einarr had descended those steps, save only that the icy blue glow of the ward runes had been replaced by a new rune matrix. This one was not yet active, his eyes told him even if his rudimentary training had not. They all entered the vault and spread out to stand where Melja and his wife directed.

Once they were all spread about the room, Melja stepped carefully into the center of the matrix and placed the scrap of cloth at his feet. He then moved to take his place between Mira and Einarr in their seven fixed points on the outer circle.

Einarr had seen, once or twice when he was new to the Vidofnir, the casting of the runes by street corner fortune-tellers. The patron (or mark, as Father always called them) asked his question, and the fortune teller (charlatan) would cast sticks or dice down before him and read the answer from those.

What Melja performed in that vault was similar only in that both involved the use of runes. He spoke a word in what Einarr thought was the high elven tongue, and as one the runes began to glow with a pale golden light.

Everyone grew still, although he would not have said they moved before. Melja continued to speak in the strange incomprehensible tongue of the ljosalfs, and while Einarr could not understand the words he felt he did not need to. Indeed, he felt rather curiously detached, as though he were watching the ritual as an outside observer.

A mist seemed to rise up in the center of the room, in a column about the scrap of cloth, and in that mist an image appeared.

A chieftan’s seat in his hall appeared, empty. A thick bearskin rug was spread across the floor, and the cloth spread over the chair was crimson. Einarr’s throat clenched: it had already gotten the chieftan: was it going for the boy, now, too?

No. Skirts drifted into view, and the smiling face of a middle-aged woman and Einarr’s throat cleared. But I thought the boy’s mother was on the hunting trip with them?

The image faded, only to be replaced. No lord’s hall here: instead, it was a public hall like those Sivid favored. Einarr could almost smell the salt in the air, and feel the pounding of feet in the hallingdanse, though once again he saw no-one in the image itself. One of the rugs on the ground, though soiled, was the diaphanous crimson of the Shroud. The sound of a golden bell rang out, and then that image too faded from view.

The mist grew darker and blue, and in that blueness appeared the black of a boat at night. Despite the lighting, though, Einarr could see two things about the boat: its crimson sail, and the bear’s head carved on its prow. The image faded, and the mist dispersed.

Einarr and the elves in the circle looked about at each other, blinking in the sudden return to the present. Melja looked up and met Einarr’s eyes.

“Three chances you will have. The Shroud’s next target is the young Armad’s aunt, the regent Hridi in their Hall outside Eskiborg. She is power-hungry and often vicious, but the boy will likely take her death hard at this time. Especially if she, too, falls to the Shroud.”

Einarr nodded slowly. He, too, would much rather not let it take anyone else. Still, though, the port was a not insignificant distance. How long did he have?

“If you fail there,” Melja continued. “It will then make its way into Eskiborg. I’m afraid I’m not familiar enough with the city to know which public hall that was, but I suspect the golden bell we heard to be a clue… If it makes it to the city…”

That was Einarr’s concern, as well. “You all assume it is looking for a way off the island. But if it’s in the city, will it still kill until it takes a boat?”

“Likely yes. I could not tell you if its target at the hall will be for death or for passage, but your final chance will be on that boat.”

“The one with the bear’s head. I wish I could have seen it in better light, but I know what to look for.”

“Good. Then go. And gods be with you.”


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

7.1 – Reunion

It was unlikely that the public hall in East Port had seen a celebration of this magnitude in the whole of its existence.

After the purification ritual, Stigander and Bollinn agreed that some sort of relaxation was in order. The Matrons, unexpectedly, agreed and, what’s more, declared that they would host the feast. Perhaps it was simple relief at no longer having the sword of the black-blooded monsters hanging over the island, but Einarr suspected their jubilance had more to do with the knowledge Runa had brought back.

After the toasts and the speeches had been made – or at least the first round of them – Einarr led Arkja and four of his men over to where Stigander sat conversing with Tyr and Bollinn.

“Father.”

“Son. You did good work out there.”

Einarr shrugged. He’d accomplished his task, sure, but if it weren’t for him they’d have been back a lot sooner, too. “Father, in exchange for their help getting off the island, I told these men I might be able to get them a berth on the Vidofnir.”

Stigander turned fully to face the group. Arkja stood flanked by Hàkon, Saergar, Rig and Oskar. From the corner of his eye he caught sight of Vali leaning ostentatiously against the wall.

“We’re mighty low on crew, certainly. Been a rough season. Any of you men gone raiding before?”

Two of the five stepped forward – Arkja, and Saergar.

“For farmers, the others came by their sea legs easily,” Einarr put in.

Stigander harrumphed. “And they know what sort of a boat this is?”

“They’ve heard the Lay, Father, and some of what’s happened this past year.”

Stigander hummed now, studying the five for a long moment. “Gods know we need men. Come to the docks in the morning. I’ll put you to the test.”

Hàkon, Oskar and Rig tugged at their forelocks and said they would. Saergar, answered as a true sailor: “Aye, sir.”

That left Arkja, who stood clenching and unclenching his fist as though locked in indecision. “My lords, there is one other thing.”

Stigander and Einarr both raised an eyebrow at this.

“It’s been on my mind since the cave on the island, y’see…” He turned to face Einarr square. “I would swear to you, lord, if you’ll have me.”

Einarr blinked, more than a little taken aback. His father looked as though he was torn between amusement and taking offense.

Movement in the periphery caught Einarr’s attention: Vali had started upright from his position against the wall and was shaking his head. There is a certain strain of cowardice, he had said, that is reckless as regards himself, but craven where others are concerned.

Einarr smiled warmly at Arkja. “It’s a bit awkward, having men sworn to me when I’m still serving on my father’s ship. I know, there’s Jorir, but that was a special circumstance.”

“We do, however, have a second ship under commission,” Stigander rumbled. “I expect it to be ready for next season.”

“My thought exactly, Father. So, to avoid any more confusion, why don’t we wait until we’ve claimed my ship?” That would give them the rest of the season to prove the man, at least.

Arkja stiffened momentarily, but then his shoulders relaxed again. “Of course, my lords. That does, indeed, make good sense.”

He lowered his head to them and wandered off, not looking entirely mollified, Einarr shrugged and turned his attention back to Stigander and the others.

“Well played,” his father murmured. “You have questions regarding that one’s character?”

“A few. Something Vali said before we sailed stuck with me.”

“But he’ll not be an issue for me?”

“I don’t think so. He’s eager to prove himself.”

Stigander hummed. Arkja would probably be watched, aboard, but Einarr thought he would have no trouble getting there. “At any rate. We three were just discussion this Vali you brought back…”

“Yes, what about him?”

“Is he really…?”

“A ghost? So far as I can tell, yes.”

“Then how…?”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea. He’s bound, somehow, to that Imperial jar that’s been following me around since the incident with the Althane.”

“But a jar can’t move!”

“So you’d think. You have no idea, though, how many times I threw that one away, only to have it reappear in the most improbable places. Saved Runa, though, this last time.” Einarr motioned for Vali to join them. As the ghost appeared to saunter over from his place against the wall, Einarr continued. “Apparently I triggered something when I picked the jar up in the ship-barrow, so until I either die or otherwise break that connection Vali and I are stuck together. At least, that’s how Runa explained it.”

No sooner had Vali crossed the distance to join them, curiosity writ large on his earnest face, than Tyr and Bollinn engaged him directly. Perhaps because they saw the other figures coming up behind Stigander.

“Runa tells us,” came a wizened old woman’s voice. “That you wish to learn the runes.”

Stigander gave his son a sharp look.

Einarr scratched at the back of his head sheepishly. “Ah, yes, you see… Father, I think I need to. Just in order to survive. If Runa hadn’t insisted on coming along, I don’t think we’d have made it.”

Stigander harrumphed and crossed his arms.

“The boy is right,” croaked the Matron. “And he is wise to seek aid.” She paused here, long enough for Stigander to start to relax and Einarr to straighten.

“And yet,” she went on. “One of our prentice Singers is hardly an appropriate teacher. Oh, I’ve no doubt the girl has tried -” she held up a hand to shush Einarr before he could interrupt. “But even her knowledge is yet shallow. Come with us on the morrow, and we will discover a more suitable teacher for you.”

“Thank you, Lady. So long as my father does not object, I shall take you up on your offer.”

Stigander waved a dismissive hand. “Fine.”


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

 

6.39 – Departure

Arkja’s men returned Einarr’s greeting with enthusiasm, evidently unaware they had been slacking off on their watch. Well, no matter: Einarr would set them to watching in teams on the boat, with one of the Vidofnings to supervise. It wasn’t like he could really fault Saergar for checking the nets, or Hàkon for taking a whetstone to their axes.

When the seven of them from the river cave were just outside the circle made by their watchers, Einarr bent over to plant Vali’s jar in the sand. Straightening, he said, “All right, lads! We should be able to make another go of it with the tide tonight, but first we’ve got a hold to rearrange!”

This pronouncement was met by a round of cheers – not, Einarr thought, for the work itself but rather for the treasure they all carried. “Welcome back, Lord,” Hàkon said as it tapered off. “Who’s that with you?”

Einarr mimed clapping the ghost’s shoulder. “This is Vali, and on my honor he is the one we have to thank for getting us past this latest challenge.”

Vali turned his face down sheepishly and scratched at the back of his head, but Einarr didn’t give him the chance to try and deny it.

“I’ve offered him the same deal I offered you lot, so let’s get moving and get off this rock!”

This was greeted by somewhat less enthusiastic cheers, and Einarr could tell by watching faces how many were familiar with their food stores. To their credit, though, no-one objected – or even looked sideways at the jar. Had anyone even realized it was missing yet? They might not have, depending on how it had been stowed. That was going to take some explaining, once that jar was recognized.

Einarr gave a mental shrug and hefted the jar under his arm again. He would delay that moment as long as possible, so the men could get used to Vali before learning he was yet another ghost.

“If I stow the jar below, will you be able to act normally on deck?”

“I don’t forsee a problem there, no. I do still wonder if you’re not selling these men short, though.”

Einarr shook his head. “Maybe. Certainly I wouldn’t be bothering if Arkja hadn’t suggested it: he knows these men better than I do right now.”

Vali grunted. “And how well do you know Arkja?”

“Not as well as I’d like, but well enough to see a decent sailor. He said he got here through cowardice, but I’ve seen none of that.”

“Hmph. There is a certain strain of cowardice that is reckless as regards one’s own self but craven where others are concerned. Be cautious: it is an easy trap to fall into.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow, looking sidelong at the man. “You speak from experience?”

“The Althane’s Mate fell into that trap. I was already a jar by then, but it’s how they all ultimately ended up like that.”

Einarr grunted now. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Certainly it should be told before they sailed, much as the Lay of Raen, the night before, had not been purely ceremonial. But unless it was discovered earlier, Einarr would give them some hours to speak with Vali as a man.

***

Though there were still three hours until the tide turned, all was in readiness as the sun turned sky and ocean alike to fire. A smaller fire crackled on the beach, and around it gathered Einarr’s rag-tag band of thirteen. It was odd to realize that in the time since he had washed ashore he had nearly doubled the size of his crew. He dearly hoped that Father and Bardr might find them all worthy of a berth: the Vidofnir was in desperate need of sailors after everything they had seen that summer. And, if he was honest, he had come to like these men.

Vali sat close to the fire, the image of a tankard in his hand as he spoke animatedly with Saergar about hunting walrus. Einarr leaned back to stare at the sky and watch the first stars come out. This was going well: he hoped it would continue.

Einarr rose, brushing sand from his trousers. “Before long, gentlemen, it will be time to climb aboard and cast off. Before we do so, however, there are things I would say to you all.”

He had their attention now: good. Einarr swallowed, unaccountably nervous. A quick glance up, however, confirmed his suspicions: the sky was familiar again.

“First off, thank you for all the work you put in making the Gestrisni seaworthy again. I think we may have made her better than when we first set off from Breidhaugr.”

They were all giving him a strange look now. It was not in the ordinary way for a Captain to thank his crew like that, Einarr supposed. Still, there was no way to go but forward.

“Second, I would ask that you all look up for a moment, and take in the sky.” He paused until he heard noises of pleased surprise from those he’d brought with him. “Looks a little more familiar, doesn’t it? And for the actual breaking of that curse, it’s Vali we have to thank.”

A couple of people cheered, although in the firelight Einarr could not tell who. He chuckled. “What the rest of you may not know is, Vali has been with me for most of the summer, we just didn’t realize it.”

Hàkon’s voice popped up over the crackle of the fire. “Why? ‘Cause he’s a ghost?”

A laugh went up, and a somewhat hardier cheer than the one before.

“Because Vali is a – wait, you knew?”

“I can see straight through him!” Everyone laughed now, including Vali and Einarr. There had evidently been nothing to worry about.

“Yes,” Einarr continued. “Vali is apparently a ghost tied to that Imperial jar that keeps showing up whenever it thinks it can give me a headache.”

Good natured laughter rose once more about the fire. There were questions for Vali, some of which were even answered. And, as the tide turned, the Gestrisni set sail once more for the port that she called home, where Stigander and the others sat awaiting the Distaff.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So ends book 6 of the Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. Book 7 will pick up on Breidhaugr, after Einarr has rejoined his father’s crew, on 4/30/2019.

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.

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

 

6.38 – Treasure Chamber

“So. Where to next?”

Einarr stared for a long moment, not yet quite able to believe his eyes. The jar that had stuck to him like a bad copper all summer, was itself haunted? And the creature doing the haunting… didn’t seem overly concerned about being dead, so long as he was free to move about.

Said creature appeared as a tall and stocky man, tow-headed with beard and hair alike tied in thick braids. How much of that was residual from life, Einarr could not begin to guess. What almost had to be, however, was the look of earnest eagerness on Vali’s face.

It was that eagerness that did it, Einarr thought, then realized he was still staring. Someone poked him in the ribs and he shook his head: Runa, of all people, had recovered her wits first.

“Once we’re off this island,” Einarr answered, only a little belatedly. “We’re headed to rejoin my Father’s crew on Breidhaugr. But first, we’re going to have a look around in here.”

The spirit raised his head, sniffed the air, and then smiled. “Very good! There doesn’t seem to be any residual dark energy, but it does feel like someone hid something good in here.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow, but did not try to stop the others as they went looking for anything worth bringing back. “How can you tell?”

Vali offered him an almost rakish smile. “Ever since I was bound to that jar, I’ve learned a few things about magical energy. What it does, yes, but more how it tastes. It’s basically my food. That big giant curse you just fed me? Was more or less like eating a whole stag by myself. I shouldn’t need more for a good long time – but I can still smell other dishes around the room. For example, the dwarf’s shield is particularly pungent. …You did know his shield was magic, right?”

Einarr laughed in spite of himself, nodding. “Yes, I know.”

“Best get hunting, if you don’t want to miss out on the good stuff.” Vali waggled his eyebrows, but Einarr knew all but one of them better than that. Still, though, Runa was sitting up now, apparently unharmed, and they were still in a hurry.

The others had finally lit torches, having deemed the dull glow of the walls insufficient for the search. Jorir knelt off to one side, fingering a piece of maille with what looked like glee in his eyes. Curious, Einarr wandered over.

“Something good?” He asked as he approached his man-at-arms.

Jorir glanced over at him, chortling. “Good timing, milord. Here, try this on.”

The maille that Jorir tossed at Einarr – tossed, as though it were some linen tunic! – glinted gold in the torchlight. Einarr reached out with both hands, scrambling to catch it. The maille shirt landed with a strangely musical rattle and spilled over the sides of his hands, but did not fall. It was shockingly light.

“What’s this now?” Einarr turned the maille about in his hands until he could hold it up by the shoulders.

“Something to replace that battered hunk of iron you call maille, my Lord,” Jorir chuckled, then went on. “That is maille forged by the smiths of Brokkr, strengthened by powdered diamonds and lightened by the bristles of the golden boar. You’ll not find better steel anywhere. It’s said that even the failures from the forges of Brokkr were infused with magic, and that is no failure.”

“I can’t -” Einarr started to protest.

“Yes, you can. I found it, and I am presenting it to my liege lord because I’d like to keep him alive. I can’t tell you what the magic in it does, but no ordinary blade will get past Brokkrsteel.”

Einarr paused, staring at the dwarf. “Thank you,” he said finally.

Jorir grinned at him, looking for all the world like the cat that got the cream, and wandered off to continue the search. It was more than a little strange to see a reaction like that from the normally staid Jorir. Einarr shrugged: he would get it from his liege man eventually. In the meantime, there was treasure to be had.

***

In addition to Einarr’s new maille that delighted Jorir so well, they found a shield for Arkja, a pair of small axes for Irding and another for Erik, and a helm nearly as nice as the maille that would fit Jorir’s head but not Einarr’s. There were other goods, but none so practical. Runa claimed for herself a bit of jewelry, rubies set in gold, and the rest would be presented to Stigander with the rest of the treasure from the island. Their haul divided, they set forth toward the already laden Gestrisni.

Some hours later than when they had entered, they emerged blinking into the sunlight of the tiny cove. Einarr carried Vali’s jar under one arm, his old maille in the same hand, as they went to rejoin the rest of the crew. The new maille, he thought, would take some getting used to: he could barely tell he was wearing it, and in the light of the sun the golden sheen of the metal was almost distracting.

Vali himself walked along the shore with them, doing a credible impersonation of the living so long as one did not look too closely. His feet never quite seemed to meet the ground, and if one stared too intently one could see through him. Still, though, under the circumstances it seemed best not to ask the others to accept a ghost into their midst. Not yet, anyway.

Up ahead, on the beach, the remainder of Arkja’s gang of would-be bandits sat about on the beach tending to their gear and watching the boat primarily by being in its vicinity. Einarr sighed: while this island was likely safe, that would not long be the case. He would have to have a word with them. He raised an arm in greeting and hailed the men.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

 

6.37 – Haunts

The five Vidofnings and Runa now ringed the chamber that grew steadily colder – cold enough, now, that the water from his breath caught in the hairs of his beard. Could enough to redden their noses and fingers, soon. At the center of the room, a purple-black cloud of energy writhed. Between Einarr and this cloud stood Arkja, inviting the tendril that reached tentatively in his direction.

Einarr shifted his stance, his hand on Sinmora’s hilt waiting to draw. After Arkja volunteered, Runa had given him the seed of a plan. Now, if only it worked.

The dark energy had nearly reached brave – whatever he might say about himself – Arkja. Now Runa opened herself to the energy, just as he had. Truth be told, Einarr was still against this, but he had been overruled. She was the only other one who had not come into direct contact with the black blood.

The tendril seemed to pause then, sniffing at Arkja as though it were a hound. Even as the first tendril paused, though, a second emerged, headed for Runa – and somewhat more eagerly. Because she was a Singer? Einarr could only guess. The mass at the center, though, looked just the same as it had at the beginning.

Jorir was next, once the tendril had nearly reached Runa, and once again the earlier arms paused, as though considering their target. Did this mean it could only move one such tentacle at a time? That would be a lucky chance, if so.

More importantly, the center was beginning to appear somehow thin. Where before it had the appearance of an impenetrable roiling cloud, now it was more akin to a thick fog.

Next was Erik and either it began to sense something amiss or it was not sure it liked Erik as a potential host. Hesitant or not, however, still it sent out the questing energy tendril, and now the central cloud was visibly decreased. Einarr thought he could see something small and solid floating in the center of it.

Now it was Irding’s turn. At first, all seemed to be going according to plan. Einarr’s hand tightened on Sinmora’s hilt, waiting for his moment.

Then, without warning, the energy in all of the tentacles but one surged backwards, through the central core and out into the one remaining tendril: the one facing Runa. That one surged forward, towards its chosen target.

Einarr’s scream of denial moved his feet faster than he had ever though possible. In that same heartbeat Sinmora flashed from her sheath.

He could still see the black orb at the cloud’s heart. As his feet closed the distance between him and the orb he brought Sinmora up and swung.

With a crack he felt his blade strike crystal, and a thousand tiny shards rained down to the stone at his feet. Without the orb to anchor it, most of the power dissipated.

But he had not been fast enough to stop all of it. The whites of Runa’s eyes turned momentarily black even as they rolled up inside her head. She slumped to the ground.

“No!” Once again Einarr raced forward, this time skidding to a stop on his knees next to the unconscious Singer. “No no no. This is why I didn’t want you in the circle. Don’t do this…”

Einarr trailed off as he finally realized that they were no longer alone in the room. There, over by the strange jar that seemed to be somehow attached to him, stood a man of about Stigander’s age, cracking his neck and stretching his limbs as though he had been long confined.

Einarr gathered Runa’s limp form protectively against himself. The others closed ranks ahead of him, still leaving a clear view of the stranger in their midst.

“By the gods, it’s good to be able to manifest again,” the stranger said to no-one in particular.

“Who are you,” Einarr demanded. “And how did you get here?”

The stranger turned to look curiously at the six of them, as though noticing them for the first time. “Oh. Hello. Name’s Vali. As for how I got here… Well, that gets a little complicated. The short answer is, I’m stuck with the jar… What’s the matter with your lady friend?”

“Up until just a moment ago there was a large quantity of curse energy gathered here,” Jorir began, but got no further.

“I know. It’s why I’m out of the jar.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Some of it got in her.”

Vali nodded. “Ah, I see. Here: I can take care of that for you.”

“And I should trust you with her – why?”

“I already owe you my freedom twice over, man. Do you need more than that?”

Einarr glanced down. Runa was breathing heavily and her eyelids fluttered. He looked back up at the stranger in their midst, still suspicious.

“Good gods, man, where do you think the rest of the energy went? It’s why I’m standing here before you, rather than still stuck in that blasted jar. I can get the corruption out of her without any issue at all, and use it myself.”

Einarr glanced once more down at Runa, then sighed and relaxed his grip on her. “I’m afraid I have no choice. Fine. But if she comes to harm by your hand…”

“Never fear,” Vali said, somewhat more gently now. “I’ve no intention of interfering in another man’s love story.”

The stranger bent down and his fingertips brushed Runa’s brow. A moment later, her breathing calmed, and her eyes fluttered open. They looked normal. As she stood, Einarr inclined his head to him.

“You have my thanks. ”

Vali grinned. “It was the least I could do. You, after all, rescued me from that dreadful little island I was stuck on, and you let me free of my jar for the first time in absolute ages.  I can’t wait to live it up a little – well, so to speak. So, where to next?”


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

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