Tag: Valkyrie

8.28 – Value

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. Today marks the end of the marathon, as well as the end of book 8. It’s a little shorter than most, but I hope it’s been satisfying. Tomorrow morning, back on the regular posting schedule, will be chapter 1 of Book 9: Einarr and the Wolf’s Flame.

Bea took the proffered cup and held it to hide her mouth. She was Admiral of the Hrist Brigade, was she? Einarr shook his head: probably, all the real power was with the Valkyrie patron. But she could fight, he would give her that. Maybe she wasn’t just a figurehead.

The night passed, and the five who were outsiders to the Arkona spoke quietly among themselves. Bea kept casting furtive glances at Einarr, to the point where he wondered if he’d done something to offend her. She was an Imperial Princess, and had at least in theory, command over the Order’s hunting ships. If she wanted to, she could make his life miserable even from half a world away. If he had offended her, though, it was only through honesty, and he refused to repent of that.

As dawn broke so did their company, each to their respective bunks. That the princess had not displaced Eydri was only because no one wished to put a woman in steerage with the men, and so the two shared a cabin and a cot. They were still abovedecks when Einarr went below to crawl into one of the hammocks where all the common sailors slept.


When he awoke, it was well past noon. He had expected as much of a hangover as he’d gotten after planning with the captain, but strangely his head did not hurt at all. This was strange, but no more worth remarking on than the headache would have been, so he climbed the ladder with a spring in his step for the unexpected good fortune.

Above, the crew was sailing along as normal. A quick glance at the sky showed they were traveling roughly northeast, back towards Kjell and Runa. Satisfied, and certain he would be little more than a passenger on their return, he sauntered over to where she leaned against the bulwark.

“Good morning!”

“It’s after noon.” Eydri stared out over the water, looking thoughtful.

“Princess didn’t keep you awake, did she?” In a longhouse or a hall it would have been nothing, but sharing such close quarters could be problematic if one person was unused to it as Bea almost certainly was.

“No. Well, not exactly.”

“Oh?”

“She loves you, you know. Or thinks she does. Probably if you’d asked last night she would have tried to follow you north.”

Einarr shrugged. “If I’d asked. But why would I? She’s as tied to the Empire as I am to Breidelstein. Maybe more.”

“That’s not the point. …If she ever meets Runa, be as ostentatiously affectionate as you can. Make yourself uncomfortable with it, if you can do it naturally. Otherwise she might think she can steal you away, no matter what you say.”

Einarr blinked. “What… why?”

Eydri sighed. “You are as naive as she is, in some ways. She is a princess, as used to getting her own way as your Runa is. Maybe more: I’ve only met Runa once. When you fight between men, you knock each other about for a while, one of you concedes, and that’s the end of it, right?”

“Right.”

“Women never concede.”

He blinked. That made no sense. “What?”

“Oh, we might back off for a time, to lick our wounds and gather our resources. But when women fight each other it is tooth and claw and vicious slander, until one side or the other has nothing left to give. Do not let Bea think she has an opening between you and Runa, or there will be war.”

Einarr stared at Eydri, still not quite able to believe what he was hearing.

“Have you never wondered why magic is considered womanly?”

He hadn’t, not particularly. He had some vague assumptions that all tied back into why it was dishonorable to fight a woman who hadn’t started it, but nothing concrete.

“Because men are too straightforward. Your honor gets in the way.”

“But man or woman has nothing to do with how honorable someone is.”

Eydri smirked. “Tell me. Whose idea was it to elope?”

“Runa’s.”

She nodded now. “And whose plan did you carry out, in the main, when you tried?”

“Runa’s.”

“If it had been up to you, what would have happened instead?”

“I’d have skipped the escape attempt and challenged Trabbi directly… oh.”

“Yes. Oh. Now pit your Runa against poor Bea.”

Einarr winced. Bea could fight, Einarr would give her that. But Runa was clever as the day was long, and he wasn’t certain Bea could come close to matching her. Which meant… “Bea can’t see an opening between us. And Runa can’t be allowed to see Bea as a threat.”

“Now you’ve got it. I knew you had a good head on those shoulders.”

Einarr was more than a little disturbed to realize Eydri’s look was not that dissimilar to Bea’s of the night before. It must have shown, because Eydri laughed.

“Oh, come on. A girl’s allowed to look.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Not in front of Runa you’re not. You know, when we were leaving Eskiborg, I worried she was going to think you were a threat?”

She nodded slowly. “Smart man. I’m not, of course: I knew you were claimed the moment I met you. But smart.”

“How could you possibly have…?”

Eydri smiled impishly. “That’s a secret.”


Three days passed, and the Arkona sped northward, toward Kjell, toward Runa, toward home. Einarr leaned against the bulwark again, staring out impatiently over the sea, enjoying the sunset as best he could.

“You should not have refused her offer.” A woman’s voice cut through the evening, ominous and familiar. Einarr spun around.

There, hovering effortlessly above the deck of the ship, was Hrist, her black hair shining in the sunlight as much as her golden wings and armor did. No-one else seemed to notice, nor did she cast a shadow. He opened his mouth to challenge her, but she did not give him the opportunity.

“You have no idea of your value, Cursebreaker. It is a waste to leave you in the North, more than even Beatrix knows. But, you were right: there are threads that bind.” She paused, and the look on her face turned predatory. “And threads can be cut.”

The predatory look became a too-wide smile as the Valkyrie faded from sight, until at the last all that lingered was the smile. “Hurry home, Cursebreaker.”


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8.22 – Hrist

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

The landing boat that waited to take the eight of them back to the Arkona was not unattended. Leaning casually against the side of the boat, as though she had been out for a stroll, stood a woman who looked remarkably like an older Bea, only if possible more supernaturally beautiful.

Einarr subconsciously slowed, his feet dragging to a stop, even as Captain Liupold and Bea hurried forward. The two oarsmen hung back with Einarr and his companions – not, he thought, out of any great trepidation at the woman’s presence, but out of respect for rank.

“Lady Hrist, you’re back,” Liupold said, taking a knee about ten paces in front of where the woman lounged.

…No. Einarr took a closer look. Her hair was a different color, and she wore trousers instead of the impossible skirt armor, but breastplate, helmet and spear alone should have been enough for him to realize. That was a Valkyrie ahead, and one apparently known to Captain Liupold and the Princess.

Better to the Princess, apparently, than to Liupold. The ship Captain had stopped a respectful distance back. Bea, on the other hand, went right up to her and knelt before her in an oddly familial gesture. The Valkyrie – Hrist, Einarr assumed, cupped the princess’ head in her hands.

Now Einarr’s caution turned to confusion. That was definitely an honest-to-goodness Valkyrie. So why…?

The grin on Bea’s face was positively girlish as she stood and turned to beckon the rest of the group forward. Liupold, too, looked delighted as he turned back around.

“Everyone,” he said. “Allow me to present the Lady Hrist, Patron of the Order of the Valkyrie.”

Liupold made no attempt to introduce them to her: probably, Einarr thought, that meant she was already aware of their identities.

The last time Einarr had met a Valkyrie, she had tried to kill him. On the other hand, Liupold had said it was Hrist who said he would be required. He swallowed his nerves and stepped forward as smoothly as he could. “I am honored, Lady.”

She inclined her head slightly. “Cursebreaker. My sister tells me you acquitted yourself well.”

“I am glad to hear it.” That didn’t seem to match with what she’d said at the time, but perhaps distance lent perspective even to Valkyries.

“Are you still wondering why I required your presence here?”

He looked pointedly between Hrist and the Princess. “I would guess you wished for some insurance as to the health of a… favorite?” Or she wasn’t entirely above midgardian politics. If Bea wasn’t somehow related to the Valkyrie, he would eat his own foot.

“A not unreasonable venture, Cursebreaker, but don’t get ahead of yourself. That the horror is loose in the seas at all is your responsibility, and therefore I will have you clean up your own mess.”

She sounded harsh, but he did not miss the implications of the first statement. “I understand,” he said.

“Do you?” The Valkyrie met his eyes, challenging.

He returned the gaze unyieldingly. “Was it you who ensured the Arkona could always find the Eikthyrnir?”

“In a way.”

“Were you on board the Arkona when we left Kjellvic?”

“No. I had other matters to attend to, I’m afraid.”

Einarr hummed, but did not challenge it. The Valkyrie’s were Wotan’s reapers, after all: why should they be limited to mortal means of travel?

“At any rate, you have rescued Beatrix, and for that I thank you.”

Einarr inclined his head again. “You’re very welcome. But to what do we owe the honor of your visit? Surely you didn’t come out here just to talk pleasantries?”

She smirked now. “Indeed, I did not. When my sister spoke with me about you, she said it was a shame she could not have claimed your soul. I wish to witness your mettle myself.”

Einarr could not quite keep a straight face at the idea. “My Lady, I have yet to finish the task you set for my companions and I. If I am to face you-”

She snorted. “Who said anything about facing me? You may have survived your exchanges against my sister by luck and by guile: such would not avail you against me. No, this task is my test.”

A million retorts sprang to Einarr’s mind and his lip curled in a sneer before he could stop it – but none of those retorts would be wise under the circumstances. She had tried to provoke him, but Einarr was not some mad dog.

Bea was looking at the Valkyrie with something approaching disapproval, to Einarr’s surprise. Could this have something to do with that strange offer she had tried to make earlier?

“I have already sworn that we will help the Arkona to destroy the black kraken. All that remains to be done to cleanse this island is to burn it, although I leave this task to Liupold and his crew.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You are cannier than I have come to expect of your vaunted Clans. Very well: but in that case, we shall not burn the island before you have defeated the beast.”

Einarr glanced at Hrug. The man nodded slowly: Einarr hoped that meant his array would still work. “Fine,” he said. “There will be other ways to draw it out.”

Now, finally, the Valkyrie straightened. “Good. We’re agreed, then. I have other matters to attend to, but I’m sure Beatrix can keep you barbarians in line.”

Naudrek and Hrug bristled, but Einarr wasn’t at all sure she was only referring to them. That disdainful glance had encompassed the Conehead men, as well.

Hrist strode off up the path toward Kettleness, and as she moved her armor and her hair began to shine with an otherworldly light. As she neared the top of the rise, just before she would have gone around a bend and been lost to sight, she vanished in a flash like sunlight on glass.

Beatrix rolled her eyes. “She’s always like that. So, now what do we do?”


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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.

8.21 – Under Seige

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

“Do it.”

At Einarr’s word, Liupold and Naudrek tossed the bar out of the way and scrambled back over the makeshift palisade.

No sooner had they righted themselves, javelins in hand, than the press of bodies forced open the door to reveal a writhing mass of the kraken’s flesh-puppets.

They surged into the armory, arms and weapons flailing clumsily. Each time one was struck by arrow or javelin they crumpled to the ground, inert, only to rise again moments later. The killing field slowly filled with the bodies of the puppet master’s servants.

Eydri sang even as she drew her bow, but no illusions fell from Einarr’s eyes this time. They were not monsters wearing human skin, but tools manipulated by the monster directly. He fired another arrow: this one took its target in the eye. It did not rise again.

“The eyes!” He called across the room. “Shoot the eyes!”

The point was momentarily mooted as Hrug lit off one of his fire runes in the center of a mass of the flesh-puppets. With a whoosh like the Arkona’s sea-fire cannon a fireball engulfed them and spread. More of the flesh puppets fell and did not rise again.

It wasn’t much, but Einarr would take it. Good shooting and the occasional ball of fire would get them out of here, and then they could turn this island into an ash heap. He drew back his bow.

Another eye shot, another fallen puppet. But so long as Hrug could keep cleaning them out with the occasional fireball, they could escape this without dousing themselves in corruption.

Einarr just hoped his hand would hold out. It had been a very long time since he had done this much shooting.


Hrug was exhausted. Out of all the arrows and javelins they had started with, a bare handful remained both unshot and unburnt. Rambert had a nasty looking gash on his arm from a lucky shot by one of the flesh-pupppet’s pitchforks… but that was the worst of the damage they had taken.

The armor racks they had used as a palisade were well-nigh destroyed, of course, as was the armor they had left on the racks in question. But the flesh puppets no longer surged into the armory like a tide of hungry death and for that, at least, they could be glad. Einarr wanted little so much as to collapse onto the floor and sleep for a week. Hrug must be feeling it even more, with as much rune work as they had required of him.

Liupold groaned and levered himself back up to his feet, slowly. “We should go before the puppet master decides he wants to try us again.”

“Can everyone move?” Einarr asked as he, too, staggered to his feet.

“I think so,” Rambert answered. Eydri had bandaged the gash on his arm. Einarr hoped that meant it wasn’t bad enough to Sing over, and not that it would require specialized ointments she hadn’t brought ashore.

“Then let’s get out of here. Job’s not done yet.”

With groans and mutters, the eight of them took up the last of the ammunition and moved out of the armory and back into the halls, the fatigue all but forgotten as they jogged once more for the front entrance.

What flesh puppets remained in the hallway seemed uninterested, as though, having tried their skill, the kraken was content to leave them alone. The beast was a horror of the deeps, but did it think like an animal? Had they, in fact, asserted their dominance over it sufficiently that it would show its belly?

Einarr shook his head, chuckling to himself as they moved. What did it matter, if the black, corrupted kraken acted like a submissive dog the next time they saw it? That just made its belly easier to open.

As the front gates closed with a resounding thud behind them, Einarr felt like he could breathe a little easier. According to Naudrek, Hrug had managed to lay more pieces of the array while they were in the citadel, which meant that it should nearly be complete. How he intended to complete the array, Einarr had no idea, but that was why Hrug was Melja’s best student.

They hurried back mostly the way they had come, avoiding what few flesh-puppets they saw and detouring towards the northern coast. If the Coneheads wondered why, they did not ask, and Einarr was not inclined to explain.

Striding down one of the island’s many narrow roads, Bea hustled up beside him. “Your father – he is one of your northern lords? A… chieftan?”

Einarr smirked bitterly. “By birthright, he is a Thane, yes.”

“By birthright only? Not in actuality?”

“That is… complicated.”

Bea nodded, a small frown on her almost otherworldly face. “It would be a shame to waste a talent such as yours on a raiding ship.”

Einarr gave her a sharp look, but she wasn’t done.

“My father, I’m sure, will wish to reward those responsible for my rescue. There could be any number of powerful positions available.” She seemed to see his expression now, and the shadow of refusal in his eyes. “Just think on it. We can talk more later.” The princess Beatrix dropped back to walk with Liupold again.

Einarr shook his head and picked up the pace. What did she think she was suggesting? Easy enough, though, to turn her down when they spoke next.

Finally the burnt husk of Kettleness rose into view over the desolate fields. Nothing now stood between them and the relative safety of the Arkona save a mile or so of ocean. The eight of them hurried down the path to their waiting boat.

The boat was not all that waited them in the inlet. Leaning casually against its side stood a tall, statuesque woman with black hair even longer and more lustrous than Bea’s, wearing a gleaming golden breastplate. Beside her rested her winged helmet and spear.


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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.

8.9 – Into the Night

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

As the Eikthyrnir retrieved the two men on lookout on the cliffs, Einarr and Naudrek were the first to step up and offer them a hand back to the boat. Both men seemed shaken and pale, as though they had just seen some sort of apparition.

“What happened out there?” Einarr asked without thinking.

Bjar, the first of the men, shook his head. “Where’s the Captain?”

“Here.” Kormund stepped forward from his position near the mast. “Go ahead.”

“That ship… There’s somethin’ not natural about it.”

Kormund audibly rolled his eyes at that. “Yes, we’d all gathered that much already.”

Bjar shook his head, though, swinging it wildly from side to side. “Once that ship got up close, we couldn’t have blown that horn if we’d wanted to. Was all I could do to stay on the ledge.”

Einarr and Kormund both turned their attention to the other lookout.

“Is that so, Vold?”

The other, smaller man nodded as vehemently as Bjar had shaken his head. “It was like… when you were a boy, did you ever see a bear while you were hunting?”

“Of course…”

“Well, think how this would have felt. Your ten-year-old self is out hunting with a friend. You build a nice blind, and you’re in a prime spot to bring home some venison for dinner. Now imagine if the biggest bear you’ve ever seen, big enough maybe to swallow you whole, came up and started sniffing around that blind. That’s more or less what it was like being near that ship.”

That was certainly an… evocative description. The captain turned back to Bjar, an eyebrow raised.

“Er… yeah, that’s basically what it was like… although I think you’ve been spending too much time around the Singers.”

“So the ship moves faster – far faster – than it should,” Einarr mused. “It glows, and it can scare the living daylights out of grown men just by being there. If it wasn’t for that last one, I might give some credence to the rumors of bound wind spirits.”

“You can’t bind wind spirits,” Naudrek objected. “It’s against their very nature.”

“We can’t bind wind spirits. We can’t get magic out of paint, though, either, and the Coneheads can. Who knows what other strange magics they might have.”

Naudrek raised an eyebrow at him, but did not say what they were both thinking – what if it really was the Valkyrie he’d fought in the tower, out to finish what she’d started? Father would kill him if he became Einherjar now. …The thought almost made him laugh. Instead, he asked “Captain, what did Hrug’s divination show you?”

The Captain sighed. “Not as much as I hoped, honestly. I saw them chasing us, dogged as any hound, but not an inkling as to why.”

Einarr wanted to kick himself: that was why they should have done the full divination, of course! He should have seen it at the time. It still would have been a problem to set up the array on the deck of a moving ship, of course. Still, the time for that had passed. There would be other ways, now, of figuring out what the Order was after.

“You’re sure they’re actually gone?” Naudrek was asking the two watchmen.

“As sure as we can be. They sailed off out of sight, but we were sort of stuck against the side of the island.”

The Captain nodded and clapped Bjar on the shoulder. “Good work. Let’s get back on the water. I want us rowing under sail again, as long as the wind is with us. Let’s not give them a chance to catch up so easily again.”


All that afternoon and into the night they sailed on. No-one was yet willing to believe they’d actually given the Valkyrian ship the slip, but that night an undercurrent of excitement filled the gossip.

“That ship shined like gold,” some said.

“The wood must come from alfheim,” others answered.

“It’s not the wind carrying that ship along, it’s an otherworldly team of horses!”

“Are you sure,” Naudrek asked him quietly, after the ship had settled into its night routine. “That Valkyrie you told me about isn’t after your head?”

Einarr slowly shook his head. No, he wasn’t. She had said she was unsatisfied by the result of their duel – as well she might have been. He had survived five exchanges, barely. A sixth likely would have done him in. But so far as he knew the Order of the Valkyrie did not actually have anything to do with Wotan’s harvesters of the slain. They were, perhaps uncharitably, a group of mercenaries running a protection scheme on outlying Imperial villages. Why, then, would a real Valkyrie want anything to do with them? “It just doesn’t seem likely,” was what he said.

“If you say so. There’s just a lot of little things that start to look an awful lot like that ship has some sort of divine help.”

Einarr grunted. He couldn’t disagree. “They don’t seem to want to fight us, though. But what do they want us to show them? That’s the only other purpose I can figure out.”

“Is there anything we really want an Order ship to see in Clan waters? You’ve said it yourself: they hunt us for sport.”

“No, nothing I can think of. I just don’t know as we have a choice other than leading them along right now. What are we going to do, lay another ambush? Not likely, the way they shot us down before.”

Naudrek groaned. “I don’t know. I’m out of ideas. What do you think we should do?”

“The only thing we can do. Sail on, and wait. I’ve got a hunch they’ll tell us what they want. I think they might even do it in such a way that we can make a choice.”

“What makes you so sure?”

Einarr barked a laugh. “Do I sound sure? This is all gut feeling and conjecture. We’ll see, come morning, if the Captain agrees.”


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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.

5.23 – Valkyrie

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

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

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

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

I was afraid of that. But, how can…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Somehow this is unsatisfying.”

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

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

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


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