7.30 – Midnight Assault

They were well into the midnight watch, and shadows cast by the fire flickering in the hearth sent shadows dancing over the walls. Hrug grunted and jostled Einarr with an elbow. Dutifully, but without much hope, Einarr turned to look, expecting just another false alarm.

Something slid through the smoke and down into the firelight. For just an instant, Einarr thought he saw red.

The color only lasted a moment, but now Einarr could see something moving even after it was out of the light. He nodded for Hrug as he shifted to face the fluttering Shroud, unsure if the man saw. Either way, he reset his grip on Sinmora’s handle even as he brought the blade back up to guard.

Naudrek moved around, as well, and now the three men formed a line watching the movement of deeper darkness through the room. If it knew they watched, it gave no sign.

Einarr focused his will on Sinmora, feeling for the humming vibration that he thought meant he was close to awakening its power, even as he followed the Shroud’s path through the room (for there was no mistaking it for anything but the Shroud).

Still the thing ignored them. It was headed for the side of the room where the trestle tables never were, where the proprietress put down rugs that kept down the mud and made the hallingdanse, which she actively encouraged, treacherous sport indeed.

Carefully, Einarr stepped forward, followed a moment later by his two unexpected allies. They, more than anything, made him feel that this was possible tonight. Thus it was that as they stalked toward their apparently unwary prey, a smile played at the corners of his mouth.

As they approached, Naudrek took hold of a long candlestick and held it up like one would a brand.

The Shroud began to glow with a light the color of molten rock, casting the entirety of the hall in an evil red light. The temperature of the room seemed to grow noticeably hotter, to the point where sweat began to bead on Einarr’s forehead almost immediately.

That was the moment the Shroud abruptly changed direction, zipping back toward the three who had thought themselves unnoticed.

Naudrek thrust forward with the candlestick, and as it momentarily tangled itself around the would-be brand Einarr saw that there were no tears to be seen in its fabric. A moment of fear pulsed behind his ears, followed quickly by the resolve to end this here, and Sinmora began to hum.

The Shroud untangled itself from the candlestick to reveal a half-melted, burning candle. Hrug gave a wordless yell and slashed at the delicate-looking material, only to have the artifact wrap itself around the blade. Soon after Hrug’s yell changed in timber from defiance to pain as the sword flashed white hot. The guard melted against his hand and fused to the hilt, which glowed red even through the leather bindings. The smell of burned flesh rose like smoke. Eldritch fire began to climb up Hrug’s arm and the man screamed again.

Einarr did not think, he merely acted. Fast as lightning, Sinmora cleaved through Hrug’s arm at the elbow. The forearm was ash before it hit the floor.

Hrug staggered backward, clutching at the stump of his arm, his face grown pale and his eyes and mouth open wide in a silent scream.

“No!” Naudrek screamed.

Einarr ripped the hem from his tunic. Hrug would still die, if Einarr didn’t move quickly, and that was something he could not allow. The man had stepped up to help with no thought of reward. The malign red light in the room faded as Einarr wrapped the tourniquet just above the cut he himself had caused. Someone caught Hrug as he began to collapse and lowered him gently to the floor – Naudrek, Einarr saw.

The rest of the hall was beginning to rouse itself, now, in response to the commotion.

One of the sailors who had turned their backs on Einarr before demanded “What goes on here?”

“The Muspel Shroud was here. Someone call for an herb-witch!”

“The Shroud…” Naudrek muttered, his voice full of hate.

“We’ve still got one more chance.”

“It got away. Up through the smoke hole.”

“We know where it’s going. He will live, and he will have vengeance.”

The other man grunted.

“Is someone going for a healer?” Einarr asked the room. The owner had stumbled out, bleary-eyed and somehow even more rumpled than when Einarr had first met her. “This man needs an herb-witch, or a Singer.”

The owner shouted out a name, and a boy some years younger than Einarr appeared from the loft – one of her sons, he guessed – and slipped out the door. “He’ll have one. Shroud gone?”

“From here.”

The owner nodded, then turned and went back in to her bed closet.

Einarr looked to Naudrek, who was checking his friend’s body over for other injuries. “We should go after it.”

With only a little reluctance the other man agreed. “You will be avenged,” he muttered to the fallen Hrug. “Follow me.”

The two of them stepped out into the moonlight streets of the docks district and Einarr was struck once again by how large Eskiborg was. Naudrek took off at a jog, and Einarr followed. Not many minutes later, they passed the boy from the Pot leading a rather bleary-looking middle-aged woman going the other way.

Naudrek did not lead them to the broad, main street that cut through the city like a sword, but rather deeper into the twisty, narrow streets of the Docks district. Before long the only thing Einarr was certain of was that they headed generally east, toward the water’s edge, where the Bjorn floated, awaiting both its stowaway and the pursuers.


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7.29 – The Pewter Pot

Einarr stood before what was unmistakeably the public hall from the vision, glad to have found it but wishing he had found it some other way. He shuddered: the man may as well have been a snake on two legs, the way menace and charm both seemed to hang about his head like a miasma. But, he wanted the Shroud dealt with as much as the next person – perhaps more, as he actually had people under his care – and his information was sound.

The sign of the Pewter Pot swung from its post where it hung outside the place itself. Einarr stared at it a good long minute after his guide excused himself, suddenly reluctant to enter. The building still stood, but that didn’t really mean much. There was nothing for it, though, so Einarr stepped inside.

The Hall was considerably cleaner than Einarr had expected based on the vision, although his informant had hinted as much. Now he just needed to convince the owner to let him work – well, that was all he had to do here, for now.

The woman who ran the Pewter Pot wore the sallow skin and lank hair of a hard life like one who doesn’t much care anymore. Still, after a (mercifully brief) conversation, the words “Muspel Shroud” and “hunting” convinced her to cooperate. By the time he returned to the Bronze Archer that evening, he had the first layer of wards laid.

Three more nights he spent at the Bronze Archer, working with Eydri the Singer to discover Sinmora’s secret. At the end of the third day they thought they were on the right track.

That third day, however, was also the day rumors began to swirl about mysterious disappearances in the city. That night, he gave up his bunk at the Bronze Archer for one at the Pewter Pot.


Whatever else Einarr wanted to say about the place, The Pewter Pot was lively after dark. He sat on the corner of the table nearest the door and watched the room, the patrons doing their best to forget the cares of the day with poor drink and their pick of company. The musicians were not on Reki’s level, or even Eydri’s, for that matter, but they kept a good pace for the players of the hallingdanse and did not make Einarr want to cover his ears.

It was not here yet. In the three days since he had drawn the ward, nothing had tripped it, and there was not a scrap of red cloth gone to keeping down mud on the floor. The vision suggested that the Shroud would hide itself in among the rugs, although after the debacle at Armad’s Hall he was not sure how much he wanted to count on that.

Towards the end of what would have been first watch on the Vidofnir the crowd began to thin, and soon it was only Einarr and a few hard-luck sailors left who had taken bunks here. Einarr had just kicked off his second boot when he felt the tingling sensation that meant the ward had been breached.

He didn’t bother with his boots: he took Sinmora in hand and stepped out toward the center of the floor.

Two of the sailors raised an eyebrow and rolled over, putting their backs to the room. None of their never-mind, the postures said clear as day. The other two, though, stopped what they were doing.

“Something the matter?” One of them asked, his thick accent screaming Empire even though he looked Clan bred and born.

Einarr only hesitated a moment over how much to tell them. “I’m on an alfr-quest, hunting an evil artifact. It’s coming.”

Neither the borderlander nor his companion hesitated a moment. Both men rose and took up their own weapons to join Einarr, ready to fight in nothing but their trousers.

“You don’t have to do this.”

“Who said anything about have to?” The borderlander grinned. “I’ll join you same reason I joined my Captain: it sounds like fun. Ain’t that right, Hrug?”

The other man grinned broadly. Einarr was appalled to see that he was missing not only half his teeth but also his tongue.

“Welcome aboard then, I guess. Name’s Einarr. You?”

“Naudrek. So what are we fighting?”

“You been on-island long enough to hear about the Muspel Shroud?”

Naudrek shook his head. “Something to do with fire, I presume.”

“It touches you, you’re ash. If I don’t destroy it here, I only get one more chance, and I’ve yet to spot a ship in port with a bear’s head.”

“It’s headed for the Bjorn? Aw, Hel, now I really have to help you.”

“That your ship?”

Naudrek nodded.

“Well then, let’s hope we get it here before we have to try to get it out of there.”

The three men put their backs together, their swords drawn and ready. Einarr watched the front door, Naudrek the kitchen, Hrug the fireplace. Minutes passed: nothing happened.

“You’re sure it’s coming?”

“It breached the alfs’ ward.” Something equally powerful had, anyway, and he had no reason to believe this island harbored two such artifacts. Hrug grunted. Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder, but the man merely acknowledged his answer. “Don’t underestimate the Shroud. It played me for a fool once before. It may simply be waiting for us to drop our guard.”

“If that’s the case, what’s to prevent it just moving on to the ship?”

“I believe there’s something it wants to accomplish here… although I couldn’t tell you what. Any of the rest of these fellows on your crew?”

“Afraid not.”

“Then either it’s looking to hitch a ride with one of you, or it’s looking to kill again before it leaves. You seen anyone obviously slumming it here the last few nights?”

“Just you, but that don’t mean much.”

Einarr grunted. “This could be a long night, then.”

“All the more reason to lend a hand, don’t you think?” Naudrek grinned at Einarr over his shoulder. Einarr grinned back.

“Couldn’t have said it better.”


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7.28 – Bells

Bowl of porridge in hand, the Singer came and sat across from Einarr at breakfast the next morning. “I’m told,” she said, lifting a spoonful. “That you wanted to talk to me. You looking for a battle chanter?”

Einarr smiled and shook his head, giving himself a chance to swallow. “Not exactly – although I will be in the spring, I expect.”

“Need rites performed? That’s not really…”

“Actually, I was hoping you could interpret something for me.”

She blinked. “Are you sure you need a Singer?”

“It’s a bit of a musical puzzle, you see.”

Now she looked intrigued, so Einarr described the vision his runestone had given him. When he finished, a distinctly amused smile appeared on her face.

“A puzzle for a warrior, perhaps, but plain as day to a Singer. The answer you’re looking for is ‘resonance,’ and it’s the principle that all Song Magic is based on.”

Einarr furrowed his brow, still not sure what she meant.

“A Singer creates an emotional effect with her choice of Song, and then the Song resonates with her listeners and the effect is amplified. The better we are, the more control we have over this resonance. In the same way, this Shroud you seek appears to resonate with fire. It grows stronger when exposed to fire, or when a rune is used to produce it.”

“So if I want to ‘wake up’ Sinmora, intentionally…”

“You need to figure out what she was resonating with. I suspect the answer is actually not ice, or the ice ward would not have been consumed.”

Now Einarr nodded, his face brightening. “Thank you. I think I at least know where to start, now.”

She smiled again – prettily, he thought, but no match for Runa’s. “My pleasure. Let me know if you want help figuring out what: you’ve got me curious now.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. But first I have a dive to locate. Heh – come to think of it, there was a bell associated with that, too.”

Now she laughed. “Afraid I can’t help you there. I’m Singing here precisely to avoid that sort of place – at least until I find a ship.”

“I’ll keep you in mind once my Hrútur is ready.” And he would: even if, by some miracle, Harl Hroaldr permitted his marriage in the spring, Runa was unlikely to be interested in the life of a battle-chanter.


After breakfast, his porridge unexpectedly supplemented with fresh sausages, Einarr reserved a bed for the coming night and tromped back out into the streets. As he walked, he turned over in his mind everything he could remember about that fight and that vault.

The most obvious thing to test would be parts of the wards laid over that vault, but Einarr was not too proud to admit they were far beyond his skill. While he could – and probably would – test individual runes, Einarr thought the key probably lay elsewhere. Or, at least he hoped it did. He was approaching the harbor, though, and so now was not the time to be distracted, no matter how important the problem he gnawed on was.

Yesterday, he had searched north of the main road. Today, he would try south.

The south side of the docks district appeared to cater to wealthier clientele, Einarr soon learned. This suited Einarr well enough, so long as they still had some cheap ale halls of the sort that would put rugs down even on the dance floor. And given that he was looking for a place related to a golden bell, and didn’t want to be stabbed in the back in the process, it might even be better.

Once again he spent his morning traipsing up and down the side streets of the docks, and once again asked for directions at a food stall – this one selling fried fish balls. “Hallo,” he said, eyeing the food. “Packet of five, if you please.”

The merchant snorted. “That all? You’re not working hard enough.”

Einarr just shrugged: searching the city was hungrier work than studying the runes, to be sure, but not so hungry as rowing a longship, and certainly not so hungry as unloading the deep-bellied knarr. “There a public hall around here named for a fancy bell?”

The dumpling vendor from the day before had looked at Einarr as though he were daft: this man acted as though Einarr were utterly cracked. “Not in this part of town, son. Maybe back west in the merchant district.”

Einarr shook his head. “Well, maybe it’s not the name, then. The alfs gave me a quest, and I need to find a place where men dance on rugs in order to catch up with it. Maybe it was that you could hear a golden bell from the place?”

Now the man frowned. “If the alfs sent you for it, the place must exist. …You didn’t do anything to make them mad, did you?”

Now Einarr shook his head. “I mean, this quest could be called penance, but they definitely want it done right.”

The man hummed, thinking, as he made a show of selecting five of the largest of the fish balls, as though he thought Einarr were too thin. “I still don’t have any idea what place you’re looking for, but I might know of someone who does. Only trouble is…”

“Yes?” Einarr had an inkling where the man was going with this, but he would hear him out.

“He’s not exactly the sort an honorable man wants to have dealings with, if you get my drift.”

Einarr sighed. He’d have been fine with being wrong about that. “I do, but unless we want the Muspel Shroud getting off the island, I think I’d better meet with him.”

The merchant blinked. “What’s the Muspel Shroud?”

“The artifact the alfs had imprisoned. Some idiot thief tried to steal it and it got loose. Now it’s my job to stop it.”

Now the man went pale as the pieces clicked into place. “Oh. You’d best come with me, then. Fjotli! Watch the counter! I’ve got to step off for a bit.”


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7.27 – Eskiborg

All around Einarr people walked through the motions of daily life, utterly unknowing (or unconcerned by) the fiery doom flying about the island.

Einarr walked up and down the city streets getting the lay of the place, his eyes open for public halls or an obvious path to the docks. The sheer numbers of people pressed in on him, so many more endangered now – because of him.

Unconsciously, he drew his shoulders in until he walked half-hunched like a thief. What was he supposed to do, here in the city? He was one man, and there were hundreds of places the Shroud could hide here. For all he knew, the Shroud had already finished with the Hall and was ensconced below the deck of its ship.

Einarr shook his head. No sense thinking like that. The divination had said he would get three chances: that had to mean he would find the thing if he just kept looking. With a grimace he straightened his shoulders and picked up his pace.

He passed a handful of public halls as he roamed the upper city, but none with the air of dilapidation he had seen in Melja’s divination. Most likely, then, that meant it was a Hall for dockworkers and sailors – the sort of place Erik would go for a brawl, or Sivid for a contest. That was fine by him: if the Shroud was confined to the harbor area, that was less ground Einarr had to keep an eye on.

The harbor road and the main road were, Einarr soon discovered, one and the same, the broad street sloping gently downward past homes and merchant’s shops and into the heart of a shipyard.

Einarr had never seen so many half-built ships in one place in his life, and the vast majority were longships or their less-agile cousins, the merchant-favored knarr. Nothing up on blocks, though, bore a bear’s head that he could see. That meant it was most likely a ship in service – which only made sense, if the Shroud intended to escape on it.

The main road of the harbor district seemed as clean and lively as the street had farther inland: Einarr began to repeat his pattern from above. The sun was already high in the sky, but he found nothing smelled appetizing. He should eat… If you buy a couple of those dumplings, maybe the cook will know something about the place you’re looking for.

It was a long shot, but the hope of information gave him the impetus he needed to put food in his belly, and he knew he would think more clearly once he had eaten. “Two, please.”

The man on the other side of the counter of the wooden shanty grunted and took his coins and pulled a cabbage leaf from the head he had handy.

“There a Hall around these parts that likes putting down rugs?”

The man raised an eyebrow. “That’s an awfully funny question to be askin’. You got some to sell or somethin’?”

Einarr opened his mouth to object, but thought better of it. It would be easier than explaining. He shrugged. “Something like that.”

The man rolled his eyes so hard they took his head with them. “’Ere’s a couple I know. Not sure they’ll have much coin for buying new, now, mind: mostly use ‘em to keep mud down.”

That sounded like exactly the sort of place Einarr was looking for, and he said so.

Lookin’ for? Are ye daft? …Y’know what, never mind. Go straight down that-a-way and hang a right at the sign of the Ferret. There’s four or five dives between there and the waterfront. Just don’t come whinin’ to me with your guts hangin’ out, understood?”

“You have my word.” Einarr chuckled to himself as he walked away with a pair of dumplings wrapped in cabbage and, more precious than food, a place to start hunting in earnest.


Einarr trudged out of what was quite thoroughly the rough part of Eskiborg as the sun began to set, he was no closer to knowing what Hall the Shroud would hide in than before he spoke with the dumpling man. As urgent as his quest was, though, he needed a place to stay the night where he would not find a knife in his ribs come morning, and he needed a Singer to consult with. Thankfully, he had an idea where to find both of these at once.

Einarr trudged the last few hundred steps up the main thoroughfare in the dim of twilight to the hall he had thought looked promising when he spotted it: The Bronze Archer.

Warm light spilled out from the still-open door, and lively music with it. As he thought he’d seen earlier, a comely young woman sang with the rest of the musicians, and unless he missed his guess she was keeping everyone’s energy high. With a smile and a spring in his step that hadn’t been there earlier, Einarr stepped into the Bronze Archer and let the warmth of the room envelop him.

The singer was definitely working her magic on the crowd – not that anyone in that crowd was going to mind. A hallingdanse was already in full swing, and those not participating still made merry, talking and laughing over ale and stew and bread alike. With a smile, Einarr took a seat on the end of a bench and waved for the serving maid.

“What’ll it be?”

“A bowl of whatever supper is, a tankard, and a place to sleep if you’ve got one.”

She gave him a smile and a wink. “Traveler’s special, comin’ right up! I’ll let the mistress know you’re lookin’ for a bed.”

There was nothing more he could do tonight, except try to talk to that Singer once the dance was done, and he couldn’t arrange for that until the mistress of the house came by. In the meantime, he intended to enjoy his meal.


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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 Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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

7.26 – Wisdom of Runes

Einarr rode out from the young new Jarl’s Hall as light was just beginning to touch the sky. He’d have left immediately, but riding in the middle of the night, unrested, with a likely still-frightened horse seemed an excellent way to break his neck. So, he waited.

Shame burned in his mind, as hot as the Shroud. If he hadn’t let himself be distracted by the stable fire, would Hridi still be alive?

Maybe not. His failure that night was twofold, after all. First, he had let himself be distracted by the stable fire, and while horseflesh was worth saving it was not his duty. Obviously that was the Shroud’s intention, though – asuming it was as free-willed as Melja seemed to think.

Second, though, and more critically, he had failed to awaken Sinmoira’s power when he needed it most. That was the one that rankled. He had, after all, arrived in time to save the woman. He had simply failed to do it.

He rode away from the Hall, his mouth set in a grim line.

The problem, he thought, is that I don’t actually know how I woke her up in the first place.

Einarr reined in and looked about. The Hall was long since out of sight, and he saw no sign that anyone was likely to travel this way today. It looked to be a long, lonely rode through the forest. He would simply have to work it out as he traveled.

A hard edge jabbed at his thigh from inside his money pouch. The Runestone? Einarr shook his head. He at least wanted to try working it out on his own first.


The sun was high in the sky when Einarr finally stopped for lunch, no closer to working out the mystery of Sinmora’s new power than he had been when he started.

The trouble was, at least in part, that he first had to create a magical effect for Sinmora to ‘eat,’ and he was still very much a novice at the runic arts. If the old grandmother Geiti were here, perhaps he could convince her to Sing something it would be obvious if Sinmora disrupted, but she was not.

As he chewed a piece of jerky, he thought again of the Runestone he had carved back before he returned to the Shrouded Village. A Wisdom Rune, so that he could find his way through whatever quandaries his Calling threw his way. Carved with his own life force. A half-smile cracked his face. Stop being so stubborn. Do you want to keep stopping every five minutes to draw a new ward?

Einarr pulled the carved piece of wood from the money pouch on his belt. It was simple, without any of the ostentation he had seen on Wotan’s key broaches from the Tower of the Ravens. Just a smooth, square-ish bead of wood, carved with the ᚩ.

How did this even work? If he divined the answer like this, where would it come from? His own mind? Wotan?

Now he knew why he was so reluctant to use the stone. If he didn’t know the source of the answer, how could he trust it? But Runic divinations, the real ones, were among the best, even if the answers did tend toward the cryptic. He pursed his lips and pressed the bead against his forehead, between his eyebrows and focused.

He saw himself down in the temple vault once more, fighting the thief. The wards still existed.

The thief bellowed in rage and charged at Einarr’s past self, the screams oddly muted. Past-Einarr brought Sinmora up to guard, and as the blade gave its remembered pulse, the clear tone of a tower bell sounded in Einarr’s ears.

The fight continued as before. The eldritch runes began to glow in the vault, and Sinmora pulsed a second time. A second time, the bell sounded in Einarr’s ears. The walls of the vault seemed to vibrate with the sound of it.

The vision ended. Einarr drew his brows down in consternation and tore off another bite of jerky. What… did that even mean?

He turned the question over in his mind the rest of the afternoon as he continued his ride toward the port city of Eskiborg. As night fell, with family farms scattered to either side of the road, he was no closer to an answer.

Eskiborg, he estimated, would be another few hours’ ride yet. The roads here were passable enough that the dray was unlikely to trip and kill them both, but still he thought it best to rest for the evening. Better chances of finding a place to sleep in the city if he did not arrive in the wee hours of the morning.

As he stretched out by the side of the road, his cloak flung over his shoulders for a blanket, he sighed. I’m not getting anywhere with the question this way. There’s sure to be a Singer in town. Someone who knows music should understand.


A low haze hung in the sky when Einarr arose the next morning. To his mind there was something ominous about it, but none of the farmers he passed seemed troubled. His dray, too, plodded along as though nothing were out of the ordinary. Must just be nerves, since I know what I’m facing.

Eskiborg may have been as large a city as Kem, and as he approached its outskirts he learned that the haze that had troubled him all morning was in fact wood smoke. Armad’s Clan could be, if they chose, fabulously wealthy: the hardwood forests here produced superb timber for building ships and halls alike, and while that morning he saw no evidence that they built dromon for the Empire itself, but merchant ships were not outside the realm of possibility.

Dread settled in the pit of Einarr’s stomach. One ship, out of what looked to be a massive shipyard, and all he had to go on was a bear’s head. He needed to stop the Shroud before that.


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7.25 – Inferno

Einarr knew which way was out only because he could still feel cooler air on his back. Ahead of him, fire spouted from every surface and smoke filled the air. The only thing louder than the crackle of flames was the occasional scream of a horse.

He kept his arm up as a mostly futile shield against the worst of the heat, trying to remember if the stableboy kept his tools on the right or the left. Taking a gamble, he checked left.

A puff of flame shot up from the floor when he stepped on straw flooring, the dust igniting immediately. He drew back long enough for the tiny fireball to go out. This was the right way, then, and if the picket rope wasn’t already burning he should be able to cut it and free the horses soon.

A black mass rose up before him: the wall of the first stall, he thought. He lowered his arm and still couldn’t see the rope in the confusion of flames before him. He couldn’t waste time searching, though, not half-blind as he was. He moved around to face what he thought was a stall, raised Sinmora overhead in both hands, and cut down with enough force to split a log.

A momentary tug of resistance told him he’d done it. That should at least give the horses on this side a fighting chance. Einarr pivoted on his feet and pressed toward the other side. He coughed and half-stumbled, suddenly light headed. Come on. Just one more, and then you can get out.

He almost stumbled again as he brought his sword overhead, but here, too, he felt the rope give way under the blade. Good. Now I just need to…

Einarr swayed on his feet. The smoke was getting to be too much. Where was the exit? He had gone along the left side, and when he cut that one the door should have been on his left. He was facing the opposite way now, so…

The furry bulk of a horse bumped up against his side and stopped. He didn’t question how or why, just wrapped his fingers into its mane and let the brave creature half-drag him out into the fresh air.

Outside, still clinging to the mane of the dray he’d borrowed from the alfen village, he saw the fire brigade moving buckets of water. None of them paid him any attention.

Armad, Eifidi, and Hridi were nowhere to be seen. Not that he was sure he’d be able to tell the two women apart at this point.

He coughed and blinked to clear his vision. The horse was not who he’d come here to save. He patted the dray on the neck and headed back toward the hall, only stumbling a little.

For the second time that night, a scream cut the air. This time, a woman’s. Einarr ran, mentally cursing himself for a fool.


In the short time since he had left to free the horses, the scene in the hall had become chaos. Armad stood on the table, waving a hunting spear around like a flag. The woman dressed as a Lady was the one who had screamed: Eifidi, if he still had their game straight in his smoke-addled head. That meant Hridi, dressed as the nursemaid, was the one holding at bay the Muspel Shroud with a tall candelabrum.

The diaphanous crimson cloth writhed and stretched like a jellyfish in the water. Candlelight reflected off its folds in a way that might, under other circumstances, have been beautiful. But the candelabrum was beginning to give, and Hridi’s face was nothing less than desperate.

For the second time that night, Einarr drew Sinmora. You eat magic these days, right? Only one way to find out if it would work against the Shroud: he rushed to Hridi’s side.

She glanced over at him, the look on her face chiding him without words for taking so long to get here. He rolled his shoulder in a half shrug: he had no excuse, and so he hoped she would not demand an answer.

The Shroud was currently tangled in the arms of the candelabrum. Einarr lunged forward and cut at it once, twice, three times – but Sinmora’s blade did not even manage to do as much as the late Jarl’s hunting knife.

Einarr frowned as the candelabrum jerked in Hridi’s grasp. The Jarl had managed to damage it, at least. He changed his grip on the sword, holding it in both hands with the point down. Please work.

The Shroud untangled itself and began to slip through the arms of the candelabrum as Sinmora descended.

Sinmora pinned the cloth against the flagstone floor, her tip wedged neatly in a join. A smile began to steal onto Einarr’s face as the cloth continued to struggle.

The sound of tearing fabric wiped any hint of relief from Einarr’s face. Still Sinmora did nothing more than any other blade might.

With a sound like rotted cloth, the Shroud tore free of where Einarr and Sinmora had it pinned.

Hridi didn’t even have time to scream. The cloth wound itself about her body and plastered itself against her face. In the next moment, the true Lady Regent was gone, leaving Armad and his nursemaid, the body double, standing in the hallway, stunned.

The Shroud, moving faster than even a diving hawk or a hunting trout, shot across the room to the hearth and up the chimney.

Sinmora dropped to the ground with a clatter of steel on stone. Einarr’s jaw hung open. He had failed: how could he have failed?

The pleading eyes of the boy turned to him now. Einarr worked his jaw, trying to find his voice. There were no words of comfort he could offer the boy, not truly. Slowly, he bent to pick up Sinmora. As the blade slid home in its sheath, he turned to Armad.

“I have failed you here, young Lord. I will not do so again. I will stop the Shroud, and your family will be avenged.”


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7.24 – Wards

It took some hours before Einarr was able to stop raging at the sheer, petty irresponsibility of the Lady’s missive, but eventually he was able to sleep that night.

In the quiet hour before dawn, Einarr was awakened by a small, insistent nagging feeling. He lay still, staring through the darkness at the ceiling, trying to figure out what it was he had missed. Then it came again, louder this time. The wards!

Einarr was up, buckling on Sinmora, within the span of two heartbeats. His eyes were already adjusted to the darkness of the hall, and he slipped quietly between sleeping forms toward the High Seat, where he had seen the Shroud draped in Melja’s divination.

The sound of lowered voices caught his attention from the small servant’s closet behind the Seat. It was far earlier than he expected even kitchen thralls to be up and about, so who… or perhaps a better question would be why? Einarr continued past the chair, where he had intended to stand to face the Shroud, to see a light on in the closet.

As he approached, the voices became distinctly feminine, and then distinctly familiar. Einarr knit his brows and continued to move silently towards the closet: why would Lady Hridi and Eifidi be conversing in there, at this hour, of all things?

“I recognize that he’s unhappy about it, but will he do it?” Eifidi asked, her voice both low and sharp.

“Hard to say.” Hridi’s answer sounded almost deferential: Einarr could not quite credit that it was the same person he had spoken with earlier in the day. He paused outside the door, listening. “He seems quite caught up his ‘responsibility’ for dealing with the thing.”

Eifidi made an exasperated noise. “Men can be so stubborn sometimes.”

“Now be fair, my lady. He has gone out of his way not to interfere with us, and does not know your brother’s court.”

Wait, what? Einarr stepped forward, pushing the door open so that he could look at the conspiring women. He stared at them, and as he spoke his voice was cool. “My ladies, a magical artifact has just tripped the wards and is headed towards the hall.”

“Thank you, sir. I trust you will deal with it.” The dismissal, from the woman dressed as Lady Hridi, was plain.

“What is going on here?”

“I thought you said you had no interest in meddling in Clan affairs.”

“So I did. But I feel as though I am being made a dupe, and I do not appreciate it.”

“It truly has nothing to do with you. Follow the letter of my missive, and you shall fulfill your duty admirably.”

Looking at them together, conspiring like this, suddenly it dawned on him what he had missed. “I understand. Lady Hridi, Eifidi. Stick together for the moment, if you would. Maybe pay a visit to the boy. I have an artifact to find.”

Two more wards had gone off as he spoke with the Lady Regent and her body-double. They were right: this was some sort of elaborate game they played, and it was not him they intended to dupe but some or all of those who played at politics in the late Jarl’s court. He wanted to spit: when he finally became Thane (and may he be old when that day finally came), he would forbid such underhanded dealing. Those who could not be discouraged would be disgraced – somehow.

As they left the room past him, he was struck by a troubling thought. “Is there another lamp at hand? I shall want some light to ensure I don’t miss the Shroud.”

“In the back of the closet,” Eifidi answered, her voice as sweet as he was accustomed to hearing it. “I would thank you to behave around us exactly as you have been the past several days.”

“Of course.” That shouldn’t be difficult: he hadn’t interacted much at all with ‘Eifidi,’ and he still disliked ‘Hridi,’ although for very different reasons now.

“You have our thanks.”

Einarr hummed, and the women slipped off into the night and their own sleeping area.

Candle lamp in hand, Einarr returned to the main room. The artifact had not yet breached the Hall, he was sure: he had finished that ward well before dinner, and it had not triggered. Even so, he very carefully patrolled the Hall. There had been no mistaking its location in the vision, after all. As expected, the Shroud was not yet inside.

That was when a horse’s scream shattered the night.

Einarr, still clutching the lamp, raced for the door, droplets of oil flinging about him as he moved. Something had attacked the stables, and Einarr had one guess as to what it was.

A blazing inferno lit up the night: the last time Einarr had seen a blaze even half so hot, it was the one he lit for the Althane’s burial rites. Swearing, he dropped the lamp now and poured on more speed. The alfs’ dray was in there. She wasn’t much of a horse, but he intended to return her – alive – if at all possible.

Some small part of him had expected charging into a burning building to be, yes, dangerously hot, but brightly lit. If it was, he could not tell. As soon as he crossed the threshold, one arm held up to shield his face, the smoke stung his eyes so that he felt half-blind and choked his lungs. The heat bore down on him like nothing he’d ever felt before – this was a physical suppression, but even more it was a spiritual one.

Come on, Einarr. All you have to do is make sure the horses can get out. He drew Sinmora: this was a simple stable on a half-rural island. If he could find the ropes, he could free all the horses with two quick cuts and be out of there.

Now all he had to do was find the ropes through the smoke and the heat.


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7.23 – Layers

Days passed with Einarr the restless guest of Armad and the Lady Hridi. The longer he spent under their roof, however, the more certain he became that something was amiss.

The boy acted like any other ten year old, save that he still grieved for his family. Einarr had some idea what that was like, given the number of stepmothers he had known and learned to love before they were torn away. He let the boy mourn however he needed to, and otherwise spent what time he could as a friend.

No, the trouble was with Eifidi and the Lady Hridi. Placing the two women next to each other was like looking at one in a mirror, and he was not certain which one would be the real woman. Their appearances were similar enough that they could have been twins, were one not nursemaid to the other’s nephew, but where Eifidi was kind and attentive and all the things a proper mother should be, Lady Hridi was cold, almost cruel, calculation, her ambition plain for all to see. And yet, she was Regent, named so by the late Jarl himself.

Melja had been quite sure that it was Hridi who was the target, and yet Einarr was not convinced. The face he had seen in the vision was hers, but softer. More like Eifidi’s. He would have to watch them both, just to be sure. Somehow.

Meanwhile, though, he had preparations to lay. Chief among these was a ward, designed ages ago and taught to him by Melja, that would alert him when an artifact entered the area.

He had asked, in a break from memorizing the ward, how wards were different from runestones. The answer had been longwinded and convoluted, and even now Einarr wasn’t sure he understood. It all sounded very mystical, besides, but they had been in a hurry and so Einarr had nodded his head and moved on. It was something to do with power coming from the world around them, rather than from the practitioner.

While the Hall went about their daily tasks, then, Einarr spent the first few days walking in concentric circles about the land, inscribing layers of the alarm as he had been taught. When he reached the outer wall of the Hall itself, as he went along behind the building, he was stopped by a soft step behind him.

“Why are you here?” The Lady Hridi’s voice was cool and imperious, as he had come to expect. He did not turn around.

“I am here to stop the Muspel Shroud, as I said when I first arrived.”

“Surely you don’t expect me to believe that’s all of it?” The question was arch, frankly disbelieving.

“Whether you believe it or not, that is all that brought me here, and almost all that keeps me here. I have no interest in interfering in your Clan: my own has troubles enough.”

“I have seen you with my nephew. The boy is far too trusting for his own good: if I find you have been pouring poison in his ear about me…”

Einarr stood, dusting off his hands on his trouser legs, and turned to face her. “My Lady, there is no need to pour poison about you. You are poison, or may as well be.”

Her face began to redden and her eyes widened in outrage.

Einarr did not give her a chance to go on. “You are right, the boy is probably far too trusting for his own good. I understand from Onnir that he had older brothers expected to inherit – and, frankly, I expect he will grow out of it in good time on his own. But as it stands, were it not for the boy and my responsibility to stop the Shroud, I would wash my hands of this place. None of your brother’s loyalists can stand you. Remember that, as Armad grows into his Jarldom.”

She stood there, apparently stunned, for a long moment. Einarr started to turn back to his work, but was stopped by the sound he had least expected to hear: bubbling, girlish laughter. He turned his full attention back to Hridi to see her collapsed against the wall, her hand pressed against her side. She pushed off the wall and staggered away, still holding her side as she continued to giggle.

He stared, not entirely sure he believed what he was seeing. That was, unmistakeably, Hridi he had been speaking to, both in dress and mannerism. He had half expected to be thrown out of the Hall for that, although it needed to be said. Perhaps she was just too shocked, and the reprisal would come later?

Einarr shook his head and retuned to the Ward. No matter how much he might dislike the woman, he had sworn to capture or destroy the Shroud, and he did not want to find out what happened if it reached the city.


At dinner that night, a neatly folded and sealed piece of parchment was slipped under his truncheon. He slipped his knife under the resin seal and was greeted by an ornate, flowing lady’s hand.

After our exchange of the afternoon, I find myself no longer in need of your services as a bodyguard. Armad would be most distraught, however, should something happen to the nursemaid. As you are so fond of them, I think it should be no difficulty whatsoever to focus your attentions on her.

He sat staring, utterly uncomprehending, at this letter for longer than he should have. A heat began to build in his belly, not unlike the battle fury and yet quite distinct. He found he wanted nothing so much as to scream – at her, at the sky, it did not matter – but to do so in the Hall, when everyone was gathered, would be truly poor form. Quietly, calmly, Einarr rose from his spot at the table and walked very deliberately for the door.

The sky seemed unimpressed by his battle cry.


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

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

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

7.22 – Hall of the Fallen

When Einarr left the village this time, it was on the back of a plowhorse – an even-tempered and quick-footed beast with the roughest gait Einarr had ever had the misfortune to encounter. It took him less than a hundred yards down the road to determine his first destination: the late Jarl’s hunting lodge.

On horseback, knowing his destination, it took Einarr less than half a day to ride what had taken him a whole day to reach half-lost on foot. He could have gone back in time to that first day he had approached the hall, save only for the presence of the horse. Hidir was again chopping logs for firewood, and at the sound of approaching hoofbeats Onnir hurried up, dirt still clinging to his hands and knees.

The two attendants greeted Einarr with a mix of warmth and concern. They knew, after all, the object of his quest. Onnir, wiping the dirt from his hands with a bit of old cloth, spoke first. “What brings you back out here? I thought you’d gone to find the trail.”

“I had, and I have. I need to get to the Hall outside Eskiborg, as quickly as I can.”

Hidir knit his brows. “What? Why?”

“According to the alfs’ divination, the boy’s aunt is next.”

Onnir spat. “Hridi? Good riddance. We can tell you the fastest way, sure, but sister of my Lord or not I’m not sure she’s worth saving.”

“The boy loves her,” Hidir countered.

“She’ll make him into a puppet! You know all she wants is the throne.”

“Whatever she may or may not do in the future, she’s my first and best chance to stop the Shroud. Now please – I can’t imagine I have much time.”

The two exchanged a look, then Hidir hurried off toward the stalls.

“Wait here,” Onnir said, turning towards the hall. “I’ll get Armad.”

“Is he well enough to travel?”

“He’s recovering well, yes. And he’d never forgive us if we left him behind.”

Einarr nodded his assent and the man-at-arms dashed off.

Within a quarter hour, Einarr’s dray had been joined by three other, much finer, horses, with Onnir, Hidir, and Armad on their backs. Then they were off, the two men at arms taking both fore and rear as they protected their new charge. Armad, for his part, was still a little pale, but carried himself admirably.


Even on horseback they were not able to reach their destination in one day – not even had they started from the lodge early in the morning. Camp that night was tense, especially after Armad heard from Einarr what they were about, and in the morning they rode with dogged determination.

It was noon on that second day when they rode up to Armad’s hall, their horses breathing heavily and lathered with sweat. Armad took the lead: “Where is Aunt Hridi?”

A kindly-looking middle-aged woman pushed her way forward in the crowd – not the woman from the divination, but one very like her. “Young Master! I’m so glad to see you. Is there trouble?”

Armad swung down off his horse and ran toward her. “Eifidi!”

The older woman laid her hand on his head. “When the ljosalfr messenger reached us with news of the Shroud, we were worried.”

The boy buried his face in the woman’s skirts to try to hide how he immediately teared up. Einarr could not fault him: to distract the crowd from their new Jarl’s display of emotion, he stepped forward. “If you’ve had a message about the Shroud, then you know why I am here.”

A look of horror passed over the woman’s – Eifidi’s – face. “Surely not here?”

Einarr nodded. “I believe its next target to be the lady Regent of Eskiborg. Where is she?”

“Inside. Please, this way.”


The woman called Eifidi and the late Jarl’s sister Hridi were alike enough Einarr would have thought them sisters, were Eifidi not apparently a nursemaid to the boy. But where Eifidi’s warmth was genuine, Hridi’s appeared as a mask to Einarr. He thought it easy to see why she was not well-liked, but Einarr was not here to meddle in the affairs of the clan.

“Lady Hridi. I have reason to believe that you are the Shroud’s next target.”

The lady paled a moment, but recovered herself swiftly. “I see. Is there something you intend to do to stop it, or do you tell me only so I may make peace with the gods?”

“I was too late to save the Jarl or his family. Armad survived by his own perserverance. I do not intend to allow it to kill again, whether I have to destroy or capture the thing.”

She nodded once, curtly. “I understand. The alfs sent you, and so I will trust in the alfs of the village, given to the care of this Shroud for centuries. Have I a part to play in your plan on my life?”

“I intend to play for your life, my lady, not assume it is forfeit already. If you go about your day as usual, it should be sufficient. I would ask, however, that everyone be cautious of red cloths.”

“I assure you, we already have been.”

Einarr took that for a dismissal and showed himself out with a slight bow. As he strode away, he found he could not quite reconcile the woman in the vision with the one he had just spoken to. That Hridi would not be well-liked as no surprise: the woman was naked ambition, or near enough. But Melja had been certain it was her, and Melja had sounded as certain as the Oracle when he pronounced who the victim was. Even Jarl Hroaldr has a tender side. You just can only see it with Runa. Melja’s vision was the surest thing he had to go on: he would have to trust it, at least for now.


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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.