Tag: weird old man

6.21 – Ghost Town

The trail through the hills, now that there was no longer a troll haunting it, would have been a pleasant hike on any other island. The midday sun was bright, and a crisp breeze played with the grass. It was almost, Einarr thought, like the island was conspiring to keep people from even trying to leave. He shook his head: far better to concern himself with the task at hand. Things were looking up: all they needed was to resupply their ship, and then they could set sail. By the time the town Auna had mentioned came into view, his step felt positively light.

Jorir cleared his throat. “Not to be a worrywart, milord, but have you given any thought as to how we’re going to pay for our supplies?”

“With only the four of us, we’re not exactly equipped to raid the town, are we.” Einarr had the beginnings of an idea, but no way of knowing if it would work.

“I’m sure we would make a game showing of it…” Erik trailed off, a ‘but’ hanging heavily off the end of that sentence.

“But we probably wouldn’t get everything we needed, and we’d probably have to steal a boat in the process. Furthermore, if these are men of the Clans, raiding them while they’re here just seems cruel.”

Runa muttered a relieved thanks to the gods under her breath. No battle chanter was she, and unlikely to become one even after Einarr had his own ship.

“No, Jorir. My intent is to find some likely sailors in town, offer them a chance off this rock. Just think how bitter the old fisherman was: someone’s bound to jump at the idea of a second chance.” At least, he hoped someone would. Preferably several someones, so he could weed out the more malicious breed. Even if Father would tolerate them on the Vidofnir, which he wouldn’t, there was a certain sort of sailor that Einarr did not want on any ship Runa also rode.

Jorir frowned, but before he could object Erik spoke up. “The numbers are in our favor, I suppose.”

“Only,” Runa followed on. “Auna made it sound like the townspeople were… unpleasant, at best.”

Einarr grunted. “There is that. And if we can’t find anyone that Bardr or Father would be willing to have aboard, we can figure something else out.” Not that he had any idea what that might be.

The town ahead of them resolved itself into a collection of stone buildings and thatched roofs that made Apalvik look large. Still, though, it was no smaller than Kjellvic, where they’d found Irding and Svarek. It would do. It would have to.

On the outskirts of town, Einarr paused. “What do you lay the odds are that there’s more than one public hall in the whole town?”

“Low,” Erik and Jorir answered together.

“Good. In that case, keep together. Just like we did in Apalvik, Jorir.”

The dwarf grunted acknowledgement. If he was irritated by the role he had been given, or by the need for it, he did not show it. Based on statements Jorir had made, it sounded as though the svartdvergr nations had earned their reputation for treachery long before Jorir first set out on his quest.

Einarr continued into the town, the streets ahead of him uniformly hard-packed dirt and strangely quiet for late afternoon. Ordinarily Einarr would have expected to see craftsmen and laborers headed home for the night, maybe carrying dinner with them. But with the exception of the occasional dog he saw no-one.

“Auna did say there were people here…” Erik looked around as they walked, scratching his beard.

“Um.” Einarr was just as troubled by this as Erik sounded. While it simplified matters if the goods they needed were just there for the taking, entire towns were not in the habit of just disappearing. “So, what happened to them?”

Jorir cleared his throat. “As much as I hate to ask it, is it any of our concern?”

Runa’s look of shock was not feigned. In a way, it was a shame she would never make a battle chanter: reactions like those would help keep Einarr human.

“No, he’s right.” Erik spoke up, saving Einarr from having to. “As much as we could use extra hands on deck, our primary concern is getting the distaff back to the Matrons so they can cure the others. Unless whatever happened here is going to keep us from getting out of here, we have no reason to spend extra time or energy here.”

Einarr frowned, latching on to something Erik had said. “I think we might, actually. That old fisherman – he told us it was impossible to leave, but not why. Runa, you said you didn’t know of any way of leaving this place, either, but surely someone must have tried. We need to find them, and find out what happened, if we don’t want to end up washing ashore here again.”

Runa nodded emphatically, as though that was exactly why she wanted to investigate why the town was empty. The corner of Einarr’s mouth curled in amusement, but he let it slide.

“We should find the public hall anyway. That’ll give us a place to sleep and a place to discuss, if nothing else. And who knows: maybe someone else will be hiding out in there who knows what’s going on.” Their decision made, and their mood somewhat improved as a result, they set off down the street.

From the street, the abandonment of the town seemed complete. Here and there doors stood open, or shutters, their insides stripped bare in apparent haste. The people had left, then, and with at least a little warning. That was both good and bad. Bad, because they were less likely to find someone capable of answering questions. But good, because it meant the townspeople had a better chance of being alive – wherever they were.

Finally, as the sky transitioned from dusk to true dark, they stood before the signboard of a public hall: The Salty Maid, it read. Here, too, the door stood open, and the interior was dark. But it was a place to begin. Einarr stepped across the threshold.


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6.3 -Engimýri

Behind them lay the sandy beach they had just climbed. Ahead of them, on the other side of a good-sized meadow, lay the blackest forest Einarr had ever seen – darker and more imposing by far than the giant wood on Svartlauf. The trees were all of the ordinary size, but packed so densely it would be impossible for sun to reach the forest floor, with needles darker than the darkest fir. In that spot, a strange reluctance seized their feet and all of them paused, staring at the wood ahead of them and the cliffs beyond it.

“Something in there ought to do for a mast, anyway.” Jorir broke the silence that had fallen as they contemplated the steps ahead. “I mislike the look of that wood, though.”

Einarr and Erik both hummed in agreement, and Einarr was reasonably certain their hesitation had nothing to do with the old fisherman they had left to his nets on the beach. Einarr took a deep breath then and stepped forward. “Well, nothing for it.”

As he stepped into the grass, the ground squelched under Einarr’s boot. Well, perhaps not surprising, given the storm the night before. With a sigh, he pressed on, and the others followed. The ground grew wetter with every step, and soon the mud sucked at his boots, trying to pull them from his feet.

Runa had the worst of it: the hem of her skirt soon grew sodden as she slogged through the meadow-marsh, kicking it ahead of her with every step so it would not tangle in her legs. To her credit, she did not complain, although before long Einarr wondered if she simply did not have the breath to speak. Without a word he let the others pass him and dropped to a knee in the mud.

“My lady.”

For just a moment, he thought she would take him to task for foolishness, but evidently she thought better of it. With a breathless nod, she pinned her skirts up to her knees against Einarr’s back and wrapped her arms about his neck. As he rose he staggered a bit before he found his balance again. Now it was doubly hard to keep his boots, and every step came with the spectre of a slip that would spill both of them in the mud.

“My thanks, dear one” she had murmured in his ear as he rose. It would have been worthwhile even if she hadn’t, but the intimate words brought a smile to his face even as he trudged forward to overtake Jorir once more.

Finally, though, the land began to rise a little as they neared the forest’s edge, and dry a little as it did. They began passing the rotted stumps of deadfalls, and sometimes the gray wood itself, and soon they neared the shadow of the wood. Here they stopped again, by a stump that was merely grayed by time and not yet rotted. Runa got down, and the others all took a moment to catch their breath.

“So this is a thoroughly miserable little island,” Erik said eventually.

Irding agreed. “My thoughts exactly. I’m not sure if I hope there’s a village here or not.”

“I expect there is,” Runa mused. “But I suspect if we find it we’ll wish we hadn’t.”

“Because of what the old man said?” Einarr wasn’t sure the old man wasn’t crazy, but as the Oracle had made abundantly clear there were some definite gaps in his education.

“Quite right.”

“Don’t take this amiss, Lady Runa,” Irding said. “But… I always thought the Isle of the Forgotten was just a bedtime story.”

Jorir actually laughed. “Can’t blame that’un on the Cap’n, milady.”

“Everything you’ve seen,” she grumbled, “and I still hear protests of just a story. Just! Have the Singers kept the lore for nothing?”

“Not nothing, surely.” This was going to blow up fast if Einarr didn’t calm her down. “But since not one of us seems to know what we’re in for…?”

“Bah. Fine.” Runa looked a little mollified, at least. “Basically, the Isle of the Forgotten is the opposite of Valhalla, only apparently you don’t have to die to get there.”

Erik scratched his head. “I thought that was Hel…”

Now it was Runa’s turn to laugh. “Hardly. Those who are taken by Hel can still be remembered, even if not well thought of. The Isle of the Forgotten? That’s where nobodies go. Those who waste their lives, with no deeds at all to speak of – or those who run afoul of certain powerful entities.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Yes, I understand that this is my fault. Can we drop it and move on with getting out of here?”

“If we can.” Runa met his eyes there, and the look did nothing to soften her words. “To the best of my knowledge, there is no way off the Isle.”

For the second time that morning time seemed to freeze for Einarr as another’s words hung in the air before him. Could he really have brought such a terrible fate on their heads? Not just theirs, but everyone waiting for them, as well?

Jorir cleared his throat and the spell was broken.

“If landing here is a curse, then plainly I must find a way to break it. That is, apparently, what I do.”

“Let us hope so.”

Only at this point did he break eye contact with his betrothed, when the contest of wills had been agreed a draw. “Now then. I think we’ve sat around talking long enough, don’t you?”

Murmurs of agreement spread around the other sailors, and they once again turned to face the forest. Somehow it felt just as black up close as it had from across the marsh. The difference was, from here they could see scars on trees and earth alike, as though some great battle had taken place here, and recently.

“Let’s find what we need and get out of here,” Jorir grumbled. “I’d rather beg the old man for another night’s lodging than stay in there if I don’t have to.”


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6.2 – Stew

The old man led the five castaways up the beach, offering no conversation over the howling storm. The building they stopped at was a fisherman’s shack that, even in the darkness, looked nearly as weathered and beaten as the man they followed. A gust of wind caught the door as their host pulled, yanking the cord from his hands and striking the wall with a solid thump.

Inside, three more lanterns like the one the old man carried hung from hooks on the wall so that the inside of the shack was a blaze of light and warmth. An iron stew pot bubbled over a pit fire, and Einarr’s stomach was not the only one that could be heard rumbling.

“Make yerselves at home, such as it is,” their host grumbled. He tossed his oilcloth cloak over a hook without looking and moved slowly over toward his seat by the fire. Even with the cloak, Einarr noted that the ragged cuffs of his pants still dripped.

“Thank you, again.” Einarr tried to mask his wariness from the man, if not from his companions even as they stepped in out of the weather. Here again was a man who went through the forms of hospitality without any love for them.

The old man hummed as he wrung water from his long, gray beard. “I wonder if ye’ll still be sayin’ that in the morning. No matter. Grab yerselves a bowl and warm up. Most I can do fer ye now.”

Einarr kept one eye on the old man even as he filled one of the wooden bowls indicated. The stew smelled of fresh fish and onions, and in the broth floated chunks of parsnip and cabbage. Einarr thought it might have been good even were they not half-starved and frozen. The five companions fell to with a will.

In the morning, when they awoke, the old man was not in the shack. Einarr looked about himself, blinking, for a good minute to ensure he had his bearings.

“Right. Now we’ve found land, I guess it’s time to find out where we are and fix the boat.”

Jorir snorted. “He told us where we are. It just doesn’t help us.”

Erik shook his head. “The Isle of the Forgotten? What is that even supposed to mean?”

“Don’t scoff. If Stigander paid proper heed to the tales, you’d all know what that meant.” Runa’s voice had a hard edge to it, but Einarr was certain she hated to say it. Rather than let the tensions from the ship boil over onto land, though, he broke in.

“Wherever we are, we can’t get back to the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun until we fix our mast. Let’s focus on that, first.”

***

The old fisherman looked no less weathered and no less gruff for the bright light of midmorning, and Einarr had been becalmed too long to be glad of the deep blue, cloudless sky that greeted them that morning. Their host sat on the beach beneath the shade of a large rock mending a net.

“Good morning!” Einarr raised a hand in greeting as he approached the place where their host worked.

“Is it? I wonder.” The old man did not look up from his work, and Einarr rolled his eyes.

“You have our thanks for last night’s meal and the roof over our heads. If we’re ever going to get home, though, we need to fix our ship. Is there a forest on the island?”

“Oh, aye, there’s a wood. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. You’re here, now. May as well settle in and accept it.”

“I’m afraid we can’t do that.”

“Ye’ll go mad, then.” Those words hung in the air before Einarr while the old fisherman turned back to his task. What felt like an age later, the man spoke again without looking up. “Head straight up the beach. You’ll see the wood. ‘Tis a foul place, though – dangerous, and fit for neither man nor beast.”

Einarr set his jaw and turned to face his friends. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could Runa cut him off.

“No. If we are where he says we are, you need someone who knows the lore.”

“The lady is right, milord,” Jorir rumbled. “I’ve heard of the place, but not much, and not in a long time.”

“Besides.” Runa lowered her voice until it was almost as deep as Reki’s, her mouth curling in a sardonic smile. “Do you really want to leave me alone with a strange old man?”

Einarr rolled his eyes again. For all that their host had offered them no harm, it was true that he couldn’t quite bring himself to trust the man. “Fine. How’s your throat this morning?”

“It’ll do in a pinch, but let’s not count on any great feats of song, shall we?”

Einarr harrumphed, but rather than responding he turned to face up the beach.

“Good luck, I suppose.” The old man still did not look up from his netting. The ground beneath their feet had grown stable before the man’s next words reached them: “You’re going to need it.”

“Good riddance to that guy,” Irding muttered.

Einarr nodded in agreement.“Could he have been any gloomier?”

“Before casting aspersions on a helpful old soul, perhaps consider his circumstances?” For all that Runa had insisted on coming, she was coming to the man’s defense rather sharply. “And ours, I’m afraid.”

“If this is the Isle of the Forgotten, those blasted feathers you grabbed had a high price.”

Wonderful. Jorir had managed to rub Einarr’s face in that – again – while somehow agreeing with Runa. As glad as Einarr was that they seemed to be getting along better since the tower, he could wish they would be less harsh about it.

“Maybe so.” He could not let them fall to fighting now. Not if they ever wanted to get back. “Think we can find a new mast in there?”

Spread before them, on the other side of a meadow of perhaps three acres, was a thick forest of dark evergreens. It was time to get to work.


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So begins book 6! I hope the wait was worth it. We’re not quite all moved in, but we’re close, and Pago Pago thus far is lovely.

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

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

6.1 – Landfall

Runa coughed. Again. And again, Irding’s face fell into a scowl. Erik paid his son no mind, merely continued to row. Two weeks had passed since they had escaped the Tower of Ravens, and for two weeks they had been becalmed. Which meant rowing. A lot of rowing meant a lot of singing, ordinarily, to keep their strength up – but Runa’s voice was unused to such long labor.

Einarr’s hands tensed on his fishing line. Fights had sparked from less in the last week. Jorir gave a tug on his own line, and the sound of the sinker pulling through the water defused the moment.

The Gestrisni was low on water, and in two weeks there had been no sign of land where they might find fresh. Which meant that Runa’s voice was in bad condition even when she could sing. This might not have been a problem with a more sea-weathered Singer, who could have taken a turn at oar or rudder or line, but Runa was not accustomed to riding the whale road.

Einarr turned to offer his man at arms a nod of thanks. As he did, though, a darkness on the horizon caught his eye. His brows drew down and he scowled across the water even as the first hint of a breeze tugged at his hair.

“Erik. Storm ahead. Let’s see if we can’t ride the wind.”

“Think this old girl will take it?”

“Think we have another option?”

“No, sir. Let’s go.”

A pair of splashes was followed by the dull rattle of fishhooks on the deck as Einarr and Jorir hurriedly pulled their lines in. Before many minutes had passed, the five had unfurled the sail and turned the Gestrisni about to take advantage of the sudden wind.

This storm blew up nearly as quickly as the one that had brought the Grendel, late the year before. Soon the poor, bedraggled Grestisni was being tossed about on the waves like a young boy’s toy while Runa’s voice cracked over the notes of a song of strength they desperately needed.

And yet, they moved, and for that Einarr was thankful. He had nearly begun to despair of finding land before they all died of thirst, before the storm. Now all they had to do was weather it and find land.

They crested a wave, and the prow of the Gestrisni momentarily pointed straight down, leaving Einarr staring into the deep. He swallowed as the ship righted itself, glad at least that there had been no sign of anything below that might have stared back. He might have done better to heed Erik’s caution – no. That way lay madness. Dangerous or not, riding the wind had been the right call, if only because it got them moving again.

“Brace yourselves!” He just had time to shout before an errant wave crashed over the bow, drenching them all as it washed across the deck. The mast groaned ominously. A string of dwarven curses carried over the wind. Einarr shook his head violently, trying to clear the water from his eyes but only succeeding in whipping about the wet ropes of his beard.

“Everyone okay back there?” He hollered over the wind, never taking his eyes from the sea ahead. Erik and Irding roared wordlessly back. That was four. When Runa’s song picked back up, only a moment later, Einarr nodded to himself. “Steady on, then!”

At the crest of the next wave, Einarr spotted a black shape on the horizon against the darkness of the sky, too rough and angular to be any sort of giant creature, too smooth to be a rock like the one they had just recently left. “Land ho!”

Irding whooped. Einarr allowed himself half of a smile: he couldn’t really disagree with the sentiment. Perhaps their fortune was taking a turn for the better? This was a day for taking chances, and Einarr thought their chances were significantly better on an island than on the water with no provisions.

As the island drew nearer, Einarr could make out the silhouettes of trees near the shore being tossed in the wind. They should have shelter, at least, once they got the Gestrisni ashore. As if in answer to his thoughts, the hull groaned at him. They were near enough now, though, that the pattern of the waves had shifted. Einarr felt the deck swell up under him from behind and gripped the railing as the breaker carried them swiftly towards the unknown shore.

Their feet sank deep in the wet sand of the shore as they hauled the Gestrisni up out of the water, the familiar grind of sand against wood almost inaudible over the crash of waves and the howl of wind. Einarr straightened to have a look around them, now that the fisherman’s boat was out of immediate danger.

A light appeared farther up the shore, a rectangle of fire against the black backdrop of night. It shrank, then, down to a torch-sized ball of flame, and began bobbing closer. The others came up to stand by Einarr, watching as the light walked toward them.

Eventually, the light resolved into an Imperial-style lantern of glass and bronze, dangling from the hand of a weathered old man – old enough, Einarr thought, to make Tyr seem young. The man held the lantern up, peering at them through the rain as they peered at him.

“Storm or no,” the old man cried. “This here is no safe port. Cast off again, if you know what’s good for you.”

“Grandfather,” Einarr answered. “We are two weeks adrift, with no food and little water.”

“And still I say, cast off, before you become cast away.”

Einarr shared a look with the others, who all nodded in agreement. Irding was the first to take a step back toward the Gestrisni, to put his shoulder to her hull and brave the waves again.

A purple flash of lightning split the sky, and the crack of thunder did not drown out the crack of wood as it set mast and sail ablaze.

“Ah.” The old man bobbed his head now, as though in understanding. “Accursed ye be, then. Come, follow me. I’ve warm food to offer, at least, and the roof don’t leak much.”

Under other circumstances, Einarr might have refused such a gloomy old man. At this moment, however, it seemed the best option before them. “My thanks, grandfather. Tell me, what island is this?”

“This?” The man’s laugh was raspy and dry. “This be the Isle of the Forgotten.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


So begins book 6! I hope the wait was worth it. We’re not quite all moved in, but we’re close, and Pago Pago thus far is lovely.

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

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

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