7.5 – The High Road

Their farewells said, with a smile and a wave Einarr turned away from his family to face Ystävä and the Whispering Wood and they started off down the trail.

The alfr offered no conversation, but Einarr was content to enjoy the cool summer morning in quiet. They passed into the shade of the forest, and then from the well-trod path to the Conclave into a thicker, less tame portion of the wood.

Ystävä’s voice shattered the silence. “Be very careful to stick with me, now. The High Roads are treacherous for alfs, let alone men, and if you beome lost it will be nigh impossible to find you again.”

“I understand.”

Satisfied, the alfr spoke some words in a lilting language that Einarr could not place and made a parting motion with his hands. He did not slacken his pace, though, and as Einarr followed him the forest took on an otherworldly feel. The colors grew brighter, and the shadows deeper.

“This is where you trapped me when you gave me that weird broach!”

“Runestone.”

“Whatever.”

“Yes, sort of. We were… I guess you would say halfway between the realms at that point. It was the easiest way to ensure you didn’t fall out of Midgardr’s time.”

“Ah.” Then it hit him. “Wait, those little broaches were runestones?”

“They were. Fairly simple and prosaic ones, to be sure, but runestones nonetheless. What else would Wotan use as a key?”

Einarr grunted. It was a fair point, although he felt somewhat cheated that he had held something imbued with the essence of the gods and not even known it.

“Watch your step now.”

The warning was well-taken. As Einarr followed after his guide, the underbrush seemed to reach out, grasping for his leg even as the earth itself shifted under his forewrad leg. Even with the warning he was nearly knocked flat on his face. “There are no leshen in these parts, are there?”

“Leshen? I’m afraid I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

Probably not, then. By way of conversation, he told the alfr of the one they’d fought on the Isle.

At the end of the tale, Ystävä gave a small shudder. “That, I think, is a creature that we may be better off forgetting.”

“Certainly I would rather not encounter another. …For how long will we be on foot? Should we not be coming to a shore before long?”

The alfr laughed. “My dear boy! I told you, did I not, that we travel on one of the High Roads of Ljosalfheimr? We need nothing so crude as a ship. We ahve already crossed several shores, with no more difficulty than stepping over a stream.”

Startled, Einarr looked down at his feet, then behind him. Sure enough, the path that stretched unnaturally straight behind him was crossed by a handful of streams, and probably by more that had fallen out of sight. He turned his attention forward again and found he had to run to catch up.

“Please don’t fall behind. My intention is to deliver you by nightfall, but I cannot do that if you fall from the path.”

“Er, of course… fall from the path?”

“Traveling the High Roads is an exercise of will and focus. That’s why its so dangerous for Midgardians.”

“I… see,” Einarr said, reasonably sure that he did as he hurried after the suspiciously helpful alfr.


The sun was setting when Ystävä once more warned Einarr to watch his step. This time it was as though his back foot were caught in a fast current, even as his front foot stopped cold. He still couldn’t see any difference in the path they walked – anything that might distinguish where the High Road began or ended. Einarr suppposed it didn’t matter: convenient as it was, he was unlikely to travel this way more than once more in his life, and that to return to Kjell in the fall.

Now that they had paused, though, he had a moment to actually take in his surroundings. The deep golden light of sunset illumined the fluttering leaves of the beech and ash that surrounded them so that they seemed to glow, and even the underbrush seemed strangely vibrant in the fading light. Einarr blinked, staring, as Ystävä stretched tired muscles.

“We’re not still in Ljosalfheimr, are we?”

“Absolutely not. Keeping a mortal on the High Road at night may as well be asking him to disappear.”

Einarr gave a low whistle. “This island, then… wherever we are, it’s amazing.”

“Elder Melja will be glad to hear that.”

“So, we’ve made it, then?”

“We’re in the vicinity. Travel by the High Roads is not a precise art. Come on, then. With a little luck, I’ll have you there by nightfall as I promised.”

For all Ystävä’s claim that he wasn’t sure exactly where the village lay in relation to them, he set out with a quick confidence through the beech grove to the west, where he could now and then glimpse the darker green of conifers. Thin, soft grasses waved gently in the breeze at Einarr’s feet, and he could see no sign of a marsh other than the grove itself. As pleasant as it was to walk through, this must have been a dry summer on the island. Occasionally a hare would dart across their path, or he would spot a deer farther back from what resolved into a path grazing unconcernedly on the rich grass.

This had to be the most peaceful place Einarr had ever visited. The Rune masters in the village must have something to do with it, for it felt carefully tended, almost garden-like, rather than merely wild. Despite the long day’s walk, Einarr felt a spring coming back into his step. Here, he would learn. And here, the island itself seemed to promise, he, too, would gain a respite from the demands of his unwanted Calling.


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7.4 – Farewells

With some reluctance, the Matrons of the Conclave invited in the alfr calling himself ‘friend’ to sit in their hall and discuss the matter. They were very specific as to the terms of the invitation – so much so that Einarr questioned Saetild’s assertion that he was merely a good-natured pest.

There was a comfortable rug spread on the floor near the hearth, where on cold winter evenings Einarr could imagine the old Matrons gathering to work their nalbinding and discuss business. Only one of these was happening that afternoon, with the golden-haired alfr standing in the middle of the plush fur and addressing the rest of them.

“Some time ago, I visited a village on an isle far to the west of here. I’ll not bore you with all the gory details of my trip, but I learned while I was there that many of the best elven rune-smiths had learned their craft there. It would be intensive training, but they might just be able to get you a basic working knowledge by the end of the summer.”

Einarr drew his brows down. “That takes me away from the Vidofnir for longer than I like…”

Some of the Matrons snorted, as though repressing laughter.

“My dear boy, some of the most brilliant alfish minds have taken years—”

Einarr held up a hand and shook his head. “I know, I know. The cost of learning is time.”

“On the subject of costs,” broke in the Matron who always reminded Einarr of an oak tree. “What price do they demand?”

“Hard labor, for the term of Einarr’s stay in the Shrouded Village.”

The oaken Matron drew down her brows now. “And what price do you ask?”

Ystävä smiled beatifically. “Oh, I am only too happy to help. You see, the favor he owes me requires the recovery of the Örlögnir, but will be greatly aided by a working knowledge of runes.”

To a woman the Matrons looked skeptical.

Ystävä went on, blithely unconcerned. “Besides, in this case the village elder will be paying me a finder’s fee. They have fewer pupils now than they’re used to.”

Einarr’s laugh came out like a bark. He was surprised to hear Saetild’s musical laugh join in.

“Perhaps you aren’t the mercenary I took you for after all,” she chuckled.

“I am exactly as I have always called myself.” The alfr didn’t quite manage to look offended, although he put on a good show of it.

“Be that as it may,” Einarr said, breaking in. “I’ve no objection to working for my supper, and on the whole this sounds like my best option. Only… how am I supposed to find this place, with only the name of a village to go by? And how do I rejoin my ship again at the end of it?”

“Well that, my boy, is the easy part. I am presuming, however, that you have arrangements to make before I whisk you off into parts unknown for the next few months.”

***

Two days later, at dawn, all was in readiness. Stigander, Jorir, and Runa hiked out to the edge of the Whispering Wood with Einarr to see him off. It was a cool morning, and streaks of cloud scudded across the lightening sky as they neared the waypoint.

“You’re sure I can’t convince you to keep on with us?” Stigander’s voice said he knew the answer to that question, but his pride required him to ask one more time anyway.

“You know I have to do this, Father. So many times since we left Attilsund, where the Oracle herself lamented my ignorance, I’ve run up against issues I needed runelore to solve. I’m not always going to have Reki or Runa to save me, after all. Besides, what the Vidofnir needs is to rebuild her crew and get some nice, healthy hauls, not be dragged into whatever weirdness my Calling manages to find next. I’ll meet up with you in the fall, at Kjell.”

Stigander nodded and clapped his son on the shoulder. They stood there a moment before Stigander threw reserve to the wind and embraced his son. “Be careful out there.”

“I will, Father. I’m looking forward to meeting the new crew when I come back.” He took a step back as Stigander’s arms loosened about his shoulders and turned his attention to Jorir.

“Are ye sure ye’d rather not have me along?”

Einarr laughed. “Would that I could. Even if Ystävä could take us both, though, and he was adamant he couldn’t, there’s something I need you to do for me.”

“Is it about that lad Arkja?”

Einarr nodded. “I’d planned on taking the summer to test his mettle, but obviously I can’t now. So I need you, and Vali if he doesn’t suddenly appear under my feet again, to make sure he’s someone I can take into my service without worry.”

“I would even if you hadn’t asked.”

“Thank you.” He thrust out his hand to the dwarf, who clasped it in a hearty handshake.

That only left Runa, who stood back a little from the others, looking half worried and half proud. He smiled at her. “Runa. Of all the faces I shall miss, yours looms largest.”

She nodded, then rushed forward to fling herself into his arms, and he held her close, inhaling her scent. “This is a wonderful thing you do,” she said into his chest. “Only, return to me safe when the season is over.”

“I will,” he murmured. “I will.” They’d had this exact conversation the night before, truth be told, but Einarr would not begrudge Runa another minute, or the one after that.

A throat cleared from behind him, towards the edge of the Wood. “This is all very touching,” Ystävä said. “But I’m afraid we must be going.”

Reluctantly Einarr lowered his arms, and reluctantly Runa stepped away from him. He shouldered his sack of belongings and turned to face the alfr. “I am ready.”


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7.5 – Coming Soon

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7.3 – Elf Bargain

The old Matron hissed at his pronouncement.

“Well,” Ystävä said after a beat. “That is quite the conundrum you’re in then, isn’t it.”

“Yes, and made more difficult by the fact that the boy is either an idiot or hopelessly naive. If that’s the way you bargain, boy, I’ll wash my hands of you.”

“Now, now. I appreciate the candor – and I have reason to want to keep him alive, as well.”

“I can’t very well perform your morally unobjectionable favor if I’m dead, after all.”

Saetild shook her head, her expression that most terrifying of grandmotherly looks: disappointment. “So really what you’re saying is you’re bad at negotiation? And it’s okay this time because of the bad deal you got last time?”

“The alfr demand payment in kind, do they not? That was the way with the Oracle, and that is the way in the legends. In exchange for one favor, which will violate neither my nor my father’s conscience, he provided me with a key that allowed me to reach the treasure vault, which I would otherwise have been unable to do. I fail to see the problem.”

“Ah, you are young yet. You have no idea the horrors that can lurk in favors which appear morally innocuous,” Saetild said darkly.

Ystävä clicked his heels together where he stood. “Nevertheless,” he said, “it is still true that, for the time being, I have a vested interest in helping him stay alive. It is also true that I may have an answer for you.”

The alfr turned now to face Saetild directly. “I must speak with some old friends of mine. Within three nights’ time I will come and stand at the threshold of the Conclave, bearing my answer.”

“I shall ensure the Matrons are made aware – of all of it.”

Ystävä grinned then: it was a wild look, like the smile of a wolf or a wildcat. He bowed, again with a ridiculous flourish, lifted one foot high, and stepped to his left, vanishing back into his cut in the air.

Once he was gone, Einarr turned to Saetild. “Well. Since that’s the case -”

“I think it would be wisest if you returned to the Conclave anyway. We may yet find a rune master who will not require an elf-price of you, and it seems there is much else we could teach you, after all.”

“There is much yet to be done before we leave port, honored Matron. Father was not best pleased that I agreed to travel with you today.”

“I cannot stop you, but think. What are you actually going to be doing back in town if you go? Your father will not want your imput on proving those new sailors you found. They finished their repairs weeks ago, and have not yet started loading. At the Conclave, not only will you have access to all our wisdom, but you will know the moment the alfr returns.”

Einarr opened his mouth to protest, but could find nothing that did not seem childish in front of her reasoning. He closed it again with a click.

“Better. I am not accustomed to either explaining or repeating myself.”

“It would be the height of arrogance to turn down wisdom where it is offered, under the circumstances, I think.”

***

For two days, Einarr was kept busier than any apprentice at the Conclave. During the day he was set to reading beginner texts – the only ones consistently written in Imperial. He suspected Saetild had a strong hand in the selections, however: an improbable number were about bargains gone bad.

By the middle of the second day, the Matrons concluded with no small degree of annoyance that the elf’s contact would likely be the strongest candidate for a Cursebreaker in want of magical knowledge. There was, as Saetild explained it, not only a depth of learning to be had among the long-lived elves, but also a pattern to the matter – a pattern set in motion the first time Einarr and Ystävä had spoken.

All through the third day Einarr was restless. He would stare at the pages and see not words but meaningless loops and lines. To clear his head, he would step outside to chop wood – of which the Matrons approved – or run sword drills, of which they did not. Then, his muscles warm and his mind focused once more, he would sit down to read. Ten minutes later, the words would once again swirl into meaninglessness.

By noon, no-one even tried to get him back to the manuscripts. And so, in the height of midafternoon, he was the first to spot the elf’s return.

It was a subtle thing. Einarr set up one log to be split, and the forest’s edge was empty. He raised the maul and split the log into eight. Wiping his forehead, he looked up again.

Standing just beyond the edge of the wood, in brown trousers and a flamboyantly green tunic, a leather vest belted about his middle, a golden-haired twig of an alfr stood staring expectantly in.

The knot of tension that had been driving Einarr all day loosed and he rolled his shoulders. Finally. He picked up another log to split as one of the apprentice Singers hurried out to see what the Whisperer of the Woods might possibly want.

Ystävä sent the young woman running back with a word and a patronising smile. Some minutes later, the full circle of Matrons came bustling out of the Conclave Hall, many of them settling shawls on their shoulders still. Einarr fell in behind them.

The elf waited until they were all gathered, peering at faces until he was satisfied and giving an “ah!” of recognition when he saw Einarr among them. “I have good news. The village I remembered still exists, and they are happy to take on a Cursebreaker. May we speak inside, or must I give their terms standing here like a beggar?”


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7.2 – Seeking

On the morrow, with only a sip of ale to counter the festivities of the night before and while his father proved new recruits, Einarr followed Saetild, the friendliest and least tree-like of the Matrons, down the path through the Whispering Woods. As lovely as the wood first appeared, Einarr felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as they stepped into its shade.

“We’re not likely to run into your little elven ‘friend’ on the path today, are we?”

Saetild grimaced, her grandmotherly face puckering like a prune. “So you’ve met him, then.”

“He introduced himself, yes.”

“Well, the good news is he’s unlikely to trouble you on the path so long as you’re with one of us. The bad news is, he’s one of a very few beings who might know a suitable teacher for you. My sisters and I may well need to invite him in for a time.”

“I’m afraid I already owe him a favor…”

“Then one more should have little impact. Once you’ve dealt with an alfr once, future dealings become easier.”

Einarr wasn’t certain he believed that, having dealt with both the Oracle and the mysterious ‘Ystävä,’ but he supposed it was possible. Saetild, in the way of all grandmothers, kept up a running monologue as they walked. Einarr half tuned her out: it seemed to be largely a recounting of what had happened in East Port while he had been questing, most of which he’d already heard about, interspersed with gossip from the Conclave that might have made sense to Runa but, to his mind, was largely silliness.

“Runa also thought to teach me something of the flow of story – seemed to think that might also improve my chances,” he mused in what felt like an appropriate pause in the flow. Anything to get her to speak sense.

The statement was met with a trill of tinkling laughter. “That girl. If you seemed to have any trouble understanding others’ motives, I might agree. But from everything I’ve seen and heard, you’re good with people. I suspect you already know everything relevant story could teach you.”

Maybe, maybe not. “Did Runa tell you how she dealt with the first revenant we encountered on the Isle of the Forgotten?”

“Oh, the Päronskaft silliness? I suppose there is that, but that comes of being well-versed in the tales themselves, not any deep understanding of how they go together. I suppose someone should look into how she got such old manuscripts…”

Something in the way Saetild said ‘someone’ made Einarr raise an eyebrow. “You added them to her pile, didn’t you?”

The Matron smiled slyly but did not answer.

“How did you know she’d be coming along, let alone that she’d need something so arcane?”

Another sly smile was the only answer he received. Einarr shrugged and Saetild resumed her narration, as though the interruption had never happened. The prickly feeling of being watched returned: something was off this morning.

A peculiar stillness fell around them, and Einarr stopped in his tracks. Saetild, too, stopped where she stood, her plump figure leaning into her walking staff as she trailed off.

“You might as well show yourself, Ystävä. I know you’re here.”

The fair figure of the alfr seemed to step out of a cut in the air ahead of them, and the golden-haired figure offered a theatrical bow. “Did I prove myself sufficiently last time, then? Do I hear my name cross your lips?”

“You canny old fox! This path is protected from your kind: begone!”

“Ah, lady, lady. I was invited. Didn’t you hear him?”

“He never asked you onto the path, and yet there you stand.” She raised her staff threateningly towards the elf, who held up his hands in warding but made no other move.

“I am not on the path at all, dear lady, but above it, I think you will see.”

Einarr cleared his throat. “I’m afraid I have little patience for these sorts of games today, Ystävä. I still don’t believe that’s you’re name, but I did call you by it. And it’s true, your gift was necessary to complete our quest.” He looked at Saetild now. “I thought you said he wouldn’t trouble us with you around.”

“He shouldn’t be able to. This will be raised with the Conclave on my return, you can be sure of it.”

Ystävä, though, grinned, and slipped cat-like around to drape his arms about Saetild’s shoulders. “And am I? Troubling you, that is.”

Saetild jabbed the end of her stick into the elf’s shins. He backed off.

Einarr hummed. “Not yet, I suppose. Why are you here?”

“Well, I live here, in the main.” The mischievous elf waited a long moment before grinning at Einarr’s look of consternation. “Curiosity, mostly. I’d heard that the young Cursebreaker was returned, after what the humans thought was a long time, and wished to see the fruits of my handiwork.”

“All right. You’ve seen them. And now we should be pressing on for the Conclave.”

“The Conclave, where I’ve just heard I’m to be invited to advise the Matrons? I’m here now: why not save us all the trouble of formal audiences and invitations and I can walk along with you, and you can tell me what you want?”

“Because in the Conclave there are protections against your trickery,” Saetild glowered.

“Yes. Namely the other Matrons. Such a stuffy bunch, I have never seen. You’d think they’d never been apprentices themselves.”

Einarr looked down at Saetild, who was glaring ostentatiously at the alfr, and sighed. “Is there any actual harm in it?”

The old woman sighed dramatically. “No. There’s no actual harm in him at all, that we can tell. He’s just a pest who likes to waylay travelers and lead astray apprentices for his own amusement.”

Before Ystävä could put on a show of being offended, Einarr opened his mouth. “Good. I need someone to teach me the reading of runes, or my Calling will be the death of me.”


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7.1 – Reunion

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

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

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

“Father.”

“Son. You did good work out there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stigander and Einarr both raised an eyebrow at this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But he’ll not be an issue for me?”

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

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

“Yes, what about him?”

“Is he really…?”

“A ghost? So far as I can tell, yes.”

“Then how…?”

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

“But a jar can’t move!”

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

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

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

Stigander gave his son a sharp look.

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

Stigander harrumphed and crossed his arms.

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

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

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

Stigander waved a dismissive hand. “Fine.”


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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.

 

Book 7: Einarr and the Crimson Shroud

After freeing the Isle of the Forgotten from its curse and returning to his family waiting on Breidhaugr, Einarr takes on a new kind of quest: the quest for knowledge. As he has travelled, it has become plain that he must learn the magic of runes or perish.

6.39 – Departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because Vali is a – wait, you knew?”

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

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

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


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

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

 

6.38 – Treasure Chamber

“So. Where to next?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

 

6.37 – Haunts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have my thanks. ”

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


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


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.