Tag: weird old man

6.35 – The Key

“I can go no further,” Guthbrandr announced. “Ahead you will find… me, for lack of a better term. Take care that you, yourselves, do not become infected by its poison: I think even your Valkyrie’s feather would fail to keep you sane then. And know that I lay no more claim to anything in there which has survived these centuries.”

“You have our thanks.” Einarr inclined his head to the gruff old man.

He chuckled darkly. “I should be thanking you, I think. If you think I’ve made your journey easier…”

“I think you’ve made our continued journey possible, at this point. Which is a fair sight better than driving ourselves mad with endless sailing.”

The old man shook his head, still chuckling. “Well – never mind. If you win, you’ll not see me again, so this is farewell.”

With that, the shade that was all that remained of Guthbrandr Eyvindersen strolled nonchalantly back toward the mouth of the cave and faded from view. As he went, Arkja’s eyes suddenly went wide. “Well I’ll be.”

Einarr peered ahead, searching for some sign of what they were after. “You still didn’t think he existed? Your story is what put us on the right track in the first place.”

“It was a campfire story…”

Einarr started forward, Jorir and Erik close behind.

“You’d be surprised,” Runa said, falling in behind them. “How many of those have their roots in history. Especially the ones that stick around.”

“Keep your wits about you,” Einarr ordered. “We don’t actually know what we’re facing here, other than some sort of corruption.” And gods only knew what more contamination might do to him, Erik, or Irding.

***

The river cave twisted on for some distance further, until the daylight from outside was well and truly gone. Strangely, they did not need to strike a torch: some sort of dull, greyish ambient light suffused the cave.

Einarr stopped short when he saw ahead of him what appeared to be a keyhole set in an otherwise blank section of the cave wall. Ahead, the ceiling sloped sharply downwards, until it nearly touched the water’s surface. His brow knit for a moment in consternation and he opened his mouth to ask why, but then cut himself off with a sigh.

“I want to say that this is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, but after this last season it’s nowhere close.”

Erik barked a laugh. “Ain’t that the truth. Nothin’ for it but to see what’s on the other side, though.”

He could hear Arkja muttering about what he’d signed himself up for even as Irding urged him on. With a sympathetic half-smile, Einarr lifted the key on its chain from around his neck. Based on all the information he had, there really was nothing else to be done.

Einarr slipped the golden key into its lock. It turned smoothly, and with a click a seam opened in the rock wall.

As they watched, the vertical line of the seam spread outwards in both directions until it formed the outline of a door. With another click, followed by the grinding of stone against stone, the door opened inward.

The space beyond the door was blacker than night at first, but in the span of time it took Einarr to blink an eldritch purple light popped into existence. Surprised, Einarr glanced back at his companions. A shout of alarm escaped his lips.

He could see skin – faintly, and tinted blue-purple like the light led him to expect, but the whites of their eyes and where they showed teeth glowed like stars.

The others (they were actually still his companions, right?) likewise recoiled in surprise and horror. Arkja hopped all the way across the width of the cave, his scramasax leaping into his hands. “Back, demons!”

“Look who’s talking,” Irding shouted, moving between the frightened local and Einarr, his own axe free of its belt loop. Even Einarr had drawn steel in that first moment of shock.

“Everybody, calm down!” It was Jorir who took charge in that moment. “Nothing we were told suggests we’re up against a puppetting beast, so let’s not let it in our heads at the drop of a hat.”

Einarr cleared his throat, suddenly very glad his man at arms was a sensible sort. “Jorir’s right. If we turn on each other right away, we’ll never be free – none of us.”

Now that the initial shock was past, it was true he could feel a pulsing ill will, a concentrated source of evil – but it was through the door which had just opened. “The thing we need to defeat is in there.”

Irding stared into the darkened, oddly glowing chamber for a long moment. “But, there’s nothing there. Nothing to fight, anyway.”

“No,” Einarr mused. “No, there wouldn’t be. The old man said this is where he was, and that really all that remained of who he was – was a shade of his will, and the accumulated, corrupted magical power he had taken into himself.”

Runa’s face, ghoulish in the light, nodded encouragingly.

“That means, if my guess is right, we have to some how disperse that,” he pointed with Sinmora’s bare blade. “Without getting any on us. The Matrons may have quelled the black blood’s influence, but we know we’re not fully purified. And I would never forgive myself if we made it this far only to fall to a ball of light.”

The thing he had pointed at, the aforementioned ball of light, looked like nothing so much as a cloud swirling in the middle of the chamber, roughly round but churning as though it were a storm in and of itself, black and glowing violet and reaching.

Arkja, who had edged closer to get a better look at the thing which set all their hearts to pounding, asked the relevant question. “How?”

Einarr set his mouth in a grim line. “If I knew the answer to that, we’d already be doing it.”


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6.34 – Journal

On the fragile page beneath Einarr’s fingertips, writing in a surprisingly delicate hand filled the first page of the book. At first glance it appeared to be in no writing Einarr had ever seen – not runes, and certainly not Imperial script. Then it was as though the words on the page began to swim around, rearranging themselves into something recognizable.

“Runa? Jorir? I think you’ll want to see this.”

Chronicle of the Cursebreaker’s Exile

I, Guthbrandr son of Eyvindr, the first of that name, record these events not for posterity but for my own sanity – however much of it yet remains.

Let me state first that, of everything which has befallen me, I was warned. The very method that ensured my survival these many years has led directly to my downfall. If there can be a ‘dark art’ of curse breaking, I have fallen to it.

A ‘dark art’ of breaking curses? Einarr blinked: he didn’t think he’d been doing anything more than muddling along. Could you really call that an Art? Or, perhaps, Einarr was still skating through on luck alone? The old man continued:

I, in my third year after being Called, discovered a method that allowed me to take the magic powering a curse and repurpose it once the curse was broken. I thought myself so clever: here, finally, was a way to grow strong enough to meet every challenge thrown at me, without losing any more.

Fool that I was! I thought the raw power purified once the thrall was broken, and I made it my own. But I could not fully turn it, and so it coalesced within and turned me, corrupting me.

And I was warned.

Now I sit here and rot on the island where at last my foolish pride came due. The Isle I had thought to free, but instead threw under the shadow of an even more powerful curse: my own, corrupted soul. This island, which used to be so vibrant, is now wiped from the minds of those outside, doomed to be forgot – it, and everything on it.

The door of the shack closed with a bang. Startled, guilty, Einarr looked at the door like a deer suddenly confronted with wolves. The old man stood in the doorway, unsurprised and unconcerned, looking for all the world as though he had not only expected but intended for Einarr to find the journal.

It took Einarr only a moment to understand. “Guthbrandr Eyvindersen?”

“The very same.”

“I’m told that no-one else on the island can see you.”

“Oh, my body long since rotted into dust. Even my bones, I wager, somewhere here on this beach.”

“Am I to take it you wish us to break the curse of the Island?”

The old man nodded. “It’s not the island that’s cursed, my boy. It’s me. You’d do well to remember that. But I reckon it’s the only way you and your friends get out of here.”

Einarr stood to face the shade of his predecessor. “So? What do we need to do?”

Guthbrandr held up one hand. “All in good time. First, why don’t you tell me why you lot washed up here?”

With a sigh, and looking vaguely embarrassed, Einarr reached into the pouch that hung from his belt and produced two lustrous, unruffled black feathers.

The old man’s face twisted in confusion.

“I was tasked with retrieving something from the Tower of Ravens – something my father and his crew need very desperately right now. On the way up the tower, I got a Valkyrie’s feather.” He gestured to the buckle of his baldric.

The old man nodded in understanding. “So when you’d won your prize and those were just lying there, how could you resist?”

“I have to admit, after what I just read I’m not sure that makes me feel any better.”

The old man threw his head back and laughed. “You’ll do all right, boy. But if you want my help, there’s a price.”

“Go on.” That was only to be expected. Breaking this one would probably destroy the shade, after all.

“You take that little book of mine with you, and you let people know I existed.”

Einarr didn’t even have to think about that one. “I would even if you hadn’t asked.”

Guthbrandr lowered his head in thanks. When he raised it again, he said, “In that case, put that gold chain around your neck and follow me.”

***

The three of them picked up a small trail of followers as they walked down the beach after the erstwhile Cursebreaker. First were Erik and Irding, come to see this through to the end, and then Arkja – to sate his curiosity, as far as Einarr could tell. He could not begin to think how this must look to the man. The other newcomers were quite sure they wanted to be nowhere near a Cursebreaker in action. On the one hand, Einarr couldn’t fault them for that. On the other, it did make him wonder how they would fare on the Vidofnir.

Einarr followed his predecessor down the beach to the south. The same direction he had come from just the other day. Whatever it was that bound him, then, must be hidden somewhere in that direction.

The coast curved back to the right, so that the Gestrisni was hidden from view by a dune. Not long after, a tiny inlet led into what appeared to be an equally tiny cave. Guthbrandr did not hesitate, but led them into the brackish water and up into the cave. The passage was narrow, but even in the very center the water only came up to Einarr’s knees.

The light of the entrance had shrunk to a pinprick by the time Guthbrandr came to an abrupt stop in a wider area. There seemed to be dry ground to either side, here, and while it was hard to be sure, Einarr thought he saw bits of tarnished silver in among the river rocks.

“I can go no further,” the shade announced.


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6.32 – Departure

While fixing the Gestrisni went about as well as Einarr could have hoped, that still left them groping for an answer, or even just a clue, of how to get past the magic trapping them here.

“We may have to just go, with the expectation of being turned back once,” Runa finally said. Arkja’s men had already told them what little they knew – some of it from personal experience.

Einarr frowned and crossed his arms. The old fisherman who “welcomed” them to the island was still, days later, nowhere to be found on shore. If it weren’t for the furnished cabin near their boat, he might have wondered if the man really existed.

“You’re not wrong,” Einarr said finally. I don’t like the idea of wasting time that way, but it does begin to seem as though nobody knows.”

“Seems to me,” Jorir mused, “that the waste of time would be sticking around after she’s fixed, looking for information that may not even exist.”

Erik harrumphed. Einarr nodded.

“That is, more or less, the conclusion I was reaching. I kind of wish we had Sivid along right now, though.”

Irding raised an eyebrow. Arkja, as the only member of the newcomers working on the escape plan instead of loading, looked confused.

Einarr smiled at the confusion. “Irding, you’ve only been aboard a few months, so maybe you haven’t noticed yet. Sivid may be Unlucky, but everything seems to work out when he’s around.”

“Then why’s he unlucky?” Arkja asked.

Einarr smiled again. He couldn’t give the whole answer – that wasn’t his to tell – but he didn’t have to. “Bad at dice.”

“And that earned him a moniker?”

“You’ll understand when you meet him.”

The leader of the newcomers shrugged. “Do you still need me, then? The boys could use a hand with the loading.”

“Go ahead. I expect the rest of us will be along shortly… Actually, I think we’re basically done here. Irding, why don’t you go with him?”

Erik’s son tipped his head in assent and followed the one-time tavern keeper off to the ship, where he would supervise as much as help. Erik and Jorir had agreed to give the manifest a final check, and so soon it was once again just Einarr and Runa.

Finally. In all the activity, Einarr still hadn’t managed to make his request of her.

Runa had started to turn away, likely headed for their camp and the cook fire.

“Wait a moment.”

She turned back, her brows raised questioningly.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask of you for a while now, actually…”

She did not fill the silence, merely waited expectantly for him to continue. For Einarr’s part, he kept telling himself it was a stupid thing to be embarrassed about – not that that made him less so, of course.

“Runa, will you teach me how to read the runes? With everything that’s gone on, if we hadn’t had a Singer along we never would have made it out. But I’m not always going to be able to rely on having someone else available to interpret…”

Runa held up a hand to stop his babbling. “Of course I will teach you, Runes and something of Story both. I would like for us to actually be wed one day, rather than being a widowed maid.”

Einarr inclined his head, and was surprised at the hoarseness of his voice when he said “Thank you.”

***

The morning after all was deemed to be in readiness, the strange old fisherman returned to shore. Einarr first caught sight of him ambling down the shore from the south, which struck him as odd: even now, none of them had seen the man’s boat.

“Good morrow!” He raised a hand in greeting as the old man continued up the beach towards them.

“Is it?” he growled, a familiar echo of their first day on the island. “I wonder.”

“Of course it is. We’re finally ready to try our luck.”

The old man stopped a moment to stare at the repaired Gestrisni, apparently unimpressed. He harrumphed and resumed his walk up the beach, ignoring the fools on their quest.

A wild impulse seized Einarr. “We’ve still got room aboard, if you want to test your fate with ours.”

The old man stopped again, threw back his head, and laughed. “Why would I steal you kids’ chance of getting off?”

Einarr’s mind went momentarily blank, but when he opened his mouth the only possible answer spilled forth, almost of its own volition. “Because the captain of this vessel has been named a Cursebreaker.”

The old man shook his head now. “That’s the only reason I think you have a chance at all, kid. Leave this old fool to his justly earned exile.”

Einarr shared a look with Runa, then shook his head. He was curious, but they had wasted too much time on this accursed island already. The men from the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun were waiting. Einarr and Runa walked toward their ship.

“Milord?” Arkja popped his head up over the railing. “There’s some sort of large jar on the deck. Where do you want it?”

Einarr blinked. How had that gotten here? He sighed, shaking his head. “Just stow it in the hold, I guess. Make use of it if you can.”

“A… jar?” Runa looked at him sidelong.

“It’s a long story. We’ll have time on our way.”

Runa hummed, looking amused, and let it rest.

***

That evening, Runa performed the Lay of Raen at Einarr’s request, and for the benefit of the newcomers. In the melancholy mood that always followed, Jorir and the other Vidofnings gathered together near the prow of the boat to talk. It wasn’t private, but it was as near as they could manage.

Staring out over the railing at the stars on the sea, Jorir scratched his beard thoughtfully. “It’s a shame we couldn’t do anything for the old man.”

Even as Einarr was nodding in agreement, Arkja’s brows knit in confusion from just outside their circle. “Old man? What old man?”

“The old fisherman on the beach? I told him we still had room, but he refused?”

The erstwhile tavern keeper slowly shook his head. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but there was no old man on the beach. That shack you kept checking has stood empty for as long as anyone I’ve ever talked to can remember.”


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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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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.

6.2 – 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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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.

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.