Category: Oracle

Cover Reveal

I am on the home stretch in preparing Einarr and the Oracle of Attilsund to go live wherever ebooks are sold! This cover was done by the wonderful William Eyster, Jr of Eyster Artistry Studios.

Oracle cover Wil Eyster

I think he did a great job, and we’re planning on working together on not just covers but other series art going forward.

My goal is to have Oracle live as an e-book by February 20. Around that same time I should be able to move Jotunhall from Smashwords, which hasn’t been updated in almost a decade, to Draft2Digital, so if the appearance of the non-Kindle versions was turning you off, it might be worth another look.

Oh, and keep your eyes open: rumors of a wild sale in the area are afoot.

2.31 – Ship-Barrow

The hike back down the mountain the next morning was cool and crisp and surprisingly straightforward, with the sun washing everything in fresh hues and no visions to slow their progress.

Einarr could not quite have the spirits fitting for the day. Before he met Runa he’d thought he could be perfectly happy with a life spent roaming the waves. He knew if they found a way to undo the Weaving that would end… but the possibility had never quite seemed real. To be honest, this new reality didn’t quite seem real yet, either, but it was a somewhat heavier reality to the one he had not quite managed to let go of yet.

Still, though, Jorir seemed happy, as did Father, and a Calling like this was a call to glory. Einarr shoved the weightier aspects to the back of his mind, turning his focus instead to enjoying the hike ahead of them. The clouds had nearly cleared from his head by the time the trail leveled off at the bottom of the mountain.

The noises coming from the village were nearly as joyous as the conversation among the group that had gone up the mountain, although perhaps somewhat more focused. As they stepped up to the village square, it became plain that Bardr was preparing for something big. They stood there for several moments before the Mate looked up from the stream of supplies he was directing – in both directions, evidently.

“Captain! You’re back!” A surprisingly boyish grin split Bardr’s face as he hurried over to greet the five of them. “The Elder said you’d be down today.”

“And here I am. Looks like you’ve been busy while I was away.”

“And how. Heard a fascinating story from the locals. Provided you agree, we all thought it might be worth checking out.”

Stigander raised an eyebrow.

“It seems some time ago one of their whaling boats caught sight of a ship’s graveyard not many weeks northeast of here. Treacherous shoals keep most ships away… but this whaler thought he saw the figurehead of the last Allthane’s ship.”

Einarr raised his eyebrows in surprise. Jorir whistled. While supposedly the last Allthane had been lost at sea, that was hundreds of years ago.

“D’ye think there’s anythin’ left?” Jorir voiced Einarr’s concern. Stigander nodded along. Sivid, on the other hand, looked like he might have caught Bardr’s enthusiasm.

“Not a whole lot of folks come out this direction, and I’m not gonna lie. Tyr and I looked at the charts the locals keep. Getting in there’s going to be tricky. Getting out, too. But if we can manage it, I’ll lay odds we’ll be set for the year.”

Stigander puffed out his moustache. “Knowing you, you’ve already bought a copy of these charts. Show me.”

***

“All right lads. I understand Bardr’s been filling your heads with all the treasure we’re likely to find if we get in to this ship-barrow, or you all wouldn’t be so excited. I’ll tell you now, though, unless every last one o’ you signs on after I tell you what we’re up against, we’re headed south.” Stigander looked over his men, waiting a moment until he was sure he had everyone’s attention.

There is a reason this island is a ship-barrow. Based on what I’ve seen, the only ones among us who even might have seen waters as dangerous are the three who went to Svartlauf this spring. The currents are tricky, and unless I miss my guess the wind will howl. Once we’re inside, whether we find anything good or not, we have to get out. If we find something good, we’ll have to get out with a heavier ship.” Now he paused to let the murmuring die down again.

“If our circumstances were different than they are in any conceivable way, this would not even be a question. We would head south, and leave the barrow for men with more guts than brains. Now my crew has never lacked for guts. There’s no shame if your good sense overrides your glory seeking here. So. Do we attempt to reach the Allthane’s wreck, or do we seek our fortune through more conventional means?”

Father was being over-cautious, Einarr thought. He’d gotten the Gufuskalam in and out of Svartlauf with only three men, after all. Given that their line was at stake, however, he had trouble faulting his father for it. Too much.

The silence built after Stigander’s question. A few of the men exchanged glances and whispered thoughts. Stigander stood ahead of them, his arms folded, watching.

Then someone called out “All-thane!” It may have been more than one someone speaking together: Einarr couldn’t tell from where he stood.

Then more joined in. “All-thane! All-thane!”

It became a chant. Einarr, too, joined. As Father had said, the Vidofnings had never lacked for bravery, and in just a few short months they would have to provide payment for a new ship… and men to crew it. The promise of treasure, and maybe a little adventure, was sufficient.

Bardr looked smug, standing off to the side. Einarr sidled around the edge of the crew to stand between his father and their second in command. “I think that’s your answer, Father.”

Stigander harrumphed, but his expression said he had expected no less from the men of Breidelsteinn.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

2.30 – Feast

For as nervous as Einarr had been about the answer to his father’s question, he felt no trepidation at all on the matter of his own.

The Oracle, too, seemed less reluctant before his question than she had before Stigander’s, spending less time than she had for anyone save Arring reviewing her materials. She turned to look expectantly at him.

“My lady Oracle, how might I best win over the father of my beloved without betraying my own family?”

She nodded: it was, more or less, the question he was sure she’d expected. With a graceful efficiency the Oracle turned to her loom and began to spin.

As the hours passed, he found he was just as perplexed as to the meaning of his weaving as to Stigander’s, though for entirely different reasons. Images abounded, but while they all connected to him they did not seem to connect to one another. One small consolation, they all appeared to require him to show his mettle and his virtue… although that may not have been as much of a consolation as it seemed.

Before he quite realized she was done, the rhythmic clacking of the shuttles quieted, and instead he heard a single muted clunk of wood on stone.

In expectation of her next demand, he said “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“No, of course not. You are yet young, even among humans.” The Oracle sighed quietly.

“There are no shortcuts, Cursebreaker.” She paused a long moment here. “Your princess’ father must be convinced that you are not the feckless wandering youth your past would suggest. Prove yourself reliable, virtuous, and valiant, and for the sake of your Father’s friendship and his daughter’s devotion he will agree.”

“Do not make the mistake of believing this easy, for life is often less clear-cut than the tests of virtue you underwent to reach this place.” She turned around to face him and stepped forward. In the next moment, she had taken his hands in hers as though she were his mother. “Truth be told, your father could have told you the same with near as much conviction. He would lack only the certainty that his friend’s opposition was neither fated nor everlasting.”

“Apologies, my lady. I did not mean to waste your time.”

“Not a waste, Cursebreaker. Your reading, and your father’s, have allowed you to see the limits of your perception, and that in itself is valuable training. Your calling has already placed a pair of tasks in front of you, both of which will wait a time. Go. Learn. Gather men to impress your princess’ father. When the time comes, you will see what you must do.”

“Thank you, Oracle.”

“That’s better. Now we should rejoin the others.”

***

If the table that night was any less lavishly appointed than the one when they arrived three days previous, it was only because the dinner guests were less hungry for mead and meat when well-rested and no mushrooms had stewed in the mead. As the evening wore on the Oracle took each of them aside separately to speak of payments.

Einarr gave a sympathetic half-smile when it was Arring’s turn. The man grew visibly tense when she called him aside, and stood a half-step farther away from her than looked quite natural. The Oracle had meant well when she declared the man should remarry… but under the circumstances it had been the exact wrong thing to say.

The apprentices moved around the table but kept quiet, leaving the Vidofnings’ conversation to flow naturally wherever it would. Tonight that was to the laying of plans, for tomorrow or the day after they would set sail once more. Sivid was going on at length about how what was needed now was men, first and foremost, when a slender elven hand fell lightly on Einarr’s shoulder.

“We must yet discuss your fee.”

“Of course, milady.”

She led him away from the table and the fire, and in the moonlight she seemed to glow. “Your request was, in truth, but a small thing. Your education, however rushed, is another matter.”

“I understand.”

“Do you? Truth be told, I would rather keep you here, perhaps for a year and a day, to serve as my apprentices do and receive proper instruction. However, I fear time is too short for that, and the Eagle would never agree. You have seen one of the demon ships?”

“Yes.” There was no better word to describe the ship that had stolen Astrid away from his father.

“If they ply the waves already, then experience shall have to teach you. I have at least set you on the path. Thus, this I will demand of you: when your firstborn child passes eight winters, you will send them to me for a year and a day, and they shall pay your debt and gain a proper education in the process.”

Einarr swallowed. “And should my firstborn not reach eight winters?”

“Then you shall send the eldest who reaches that age, although I doubt any such substitution will occur. Do you consent?”

He gave it as a credit that he only had to consider for a moment. An apprenticeship under an Elven oracle was not a chance lightly passed over. “I do.”

“Good. Oh, and do yourself a favor. Learn the runes. Contrary to your father’s opinion, they do come in handy.”

“I shall look into it, milady.”

The Oracle nodded crisply and motioned toward the table where it sounded like Sivid and Arring were arguing over whether coin or crew was most important just now. Einarr had reached the table before he realized she was no longer behind him.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

2.29 – Unweaving

The sky was still pink when the younger apprentice woke father and son with a hand on their shoulders. As they sat up she placed a bowl of the same nut mash they had been eating in their hands and then, as quietly as she’d arrived, slipped back towards the dias where the three elves worked at the loom.

Einarr noticed the food he ate only insofar as to realize they had added honey this morning. It would have been a nice touch, had he not been so focused on what the Oracle’s weaving might reveal. In the bites when he wasn’t worried over that, he chewed over his new-found Calling. It was possible to break a curse without being a Cursebreaker, of course, if you could figure out what thread to tug. But the Black Arts always proliferated before the calling was invoked, or so the stories said.

He realized it was time when the spoon he placed in his mouth came up empty. He looked at the bowl for a long moment before letting out a deep breath. Right. Let’s do this.

A moment later he was on his feet, Stigander only a pace or two ahead of him, marching for the dias where the Oracle and her loom awaited.

“Did you sleep well?” The Oracle did not turn around as she greeted them, her attention still fixated on the colored threads arrayed before her.

Stigander cleared his throat. “As well as can be expected, I think.”

A glance from his father prompted Einarr to answer, as well. “Well enough, yes.” Never mind that he’d had strange dreams of being tied in tapestry cords and pulled one way and another by his friends. Strange did not mean inexplicable, after all.

“Very well.” She rested her fingers on one of the shuttles and paused another moment before spinning around on her toes. “The warp is prepared.”

Stigander waited an awkward moment before he realized that she was waiting for his question. He cleared his throat again. “What must be done in order to unweave the curse on Raenshold and reclaim Breidelsteinn?”

She nodded silently and pursed her lips. It was impossible that the question should be a surprise to her: Arring had mentioned it to her directly, and the Vidofnings had all spoken of it around the fire at night.

Crisply, the Oracle turned back to her loom and lifted a shuttle without looking at it.

From the moment the shuttle touched the frame the wood took on a light of its own, brighter and warmer than the light of the rising dawn. She had gone no more than a few inches when the threads began to shine as well, each in its own color.

On the other weavings, Einarr had been able to make some sense out of the images that came forth. Not so this morning. Rather than images, what materialized on the Oracle’s loom was a cloud of runes surrounding a great gold-colored eagle. Hm. So was the Eagle on Jorir’s tapestry Father, then?

Einarr had time for the idle thought, because he did not know the reading of runes. Neither Raen nor Stigander had ever been a particularly superstitious man, and outside of the enchanting of artifacts it was only shamans and soothsayers who used them. Still he watched, hoping something might strike him as familiar.

One was, but only because of how recently he had seen it. In a few different places on the tapestry, he recognized one of the runes that had been emblazoned on the Isinntogg.

The shadows had all but disappeared with the noonday sun by the time the Oracle lowered her arms and turned to face them once more. “Tell me, Cursebreaker, what do you see?”

He had to shake his head this time. “The Eagle is plainly my father. As for the rest… I’m afraid I never learned the reading of runes.”

“Illiterate? And you call yourself a prince!”

“My lady,” Stigander interrupted. “These characters have not been in common use among the clans for generations. He was to learn statecraft, not the copperweight divinations of a street corner soothsayer.”

The Oracle’s mouth twisted in annoyance. “So be it. But mark you well, the power of the runes is real, no matter how charlatans may abuse them.”

She turned back around to look at the tapestry before her. “Fate’s thread binds all,” she intoned. “Though pliant the cloth may be, the Norns correct their weaves. To cut the thread which binds your long-lost home, to bring the pattern back to light, the clear-eyed must light the blackened tool before the glory of elves, singing praise to the inattentive Norn. Mayhap she will hear you and test you, for norn-pride is a fickle thing.”

Einarr and his father shared a confused look. After a long moment, it became clear that the Oracle had finished. Einarr cleared his throat. “Which means… what, exactly?”

“I am certain, Cursebreaker, that if you bend your minds to it the task will become clear.”

“Son, what she just… read? It sounded like one of the skald’s songs.”

“Very good. If you begin from there, I am certain you will figure it out.” The Oracle’s shoulders relaxed and she turned to face them again. “Now then. If it is all the same to you, I believe it would be in everyone’s best interest to take a little food. This afternoon I will weave for the Cursebreaker, and then I will speak with the four of you regarding the payment I require. Tonight we shall feast again before I send you off.”

Einarr had not noticed the hollow pit of hunger in his gut until just that moment. “As you say, milady.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

 

2.28 – Seeking Kin

The root Avrindân gave him to chew tasted like moldy bread, but he did feel more alert by the time he and Arring stood together on the stone dias. The strong man looked at Einarr for a long, awkward moment before accepting the presence of his prince alongside him for this.

Einarr shrugged. He couldn’t exactly fault the man for that reaction. Sivid hadn’t seemed to mind, but there was a great deal that Sivid didn’t tend to mind that other men did. Like losing. Through all this, the Oracle stood with her hands folded, calmly watching the current supplicant.

Finally Arring stood forward, his hand clenching nervously. He opened his mouth as though to speak, then seemed to think better of it.

The Oracle raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.

Arring sighed and straightened his shoulders. “You see it’s like this, milady. My wife, our bairns, I had to leave behind on Breidelsteinn, and I don’t think we’re like to take our home back without a fight. I’d like to see my family again. Is there anythin’ I can do to help them come through all right?”

“Let no-one accuse you of cowardice.” The Oracle spoke softly and offered him a gentle smile. “For that is one of the bravest questions a man can ask. Brace yourself, for I give you no promises you will like the answer the threads will weave.”

Arring swallowed audibly and nodded. Einarr turned his attention back on the Oracle: his task, once more, was to pay attention and look for connections in the tapestry. The better he became at spotting those, the better he would serve his Calling.

She stepped back towards her loom, unhurried, and contemplated her shuttles. Einarr might have thought her hesitant if he hadn’t seen her do the same for Sivid that morning.

Then the shuttles were flying back and forth through the warp lines, and wood and thread alike soon appeared to glow.

Arring’s tapestry was somewhat more straightforward than either Sivid’s or Jorir’s had been. An ox followed the tafl king and the broken crown against a black wolf and his army of… well, Einarr hoped the skeletons were thralls, because otherwise retaking Breidelsteinn would be a grim task indeed. Then a pile of bones lay scattered around the ox’s feet and it raised its head to trumpet victory.

The next image was nothing but the ox’s bloody head. Einarr caught his breath. Arring groaned.

The final image was almost superfluous. The ox, now whole again, stood with a cow and calves, grazing.

When the Oracle finally lowered her hands from the loom she did not immediately turn around. “I am sorry, Sterker Naut. Your family has already fallen. If it is any consolation, they fought and died honorably, and now sup with the gods.”

She paused a long moment and turned to look at him. “As will you, although the time of your demise remains murky. Remain steadfast and true and you shall see your wife and children again… and do not feel bound to remain unwed until that day comes, for else your line may pass from this land.”

Arring did not look away from the tapestry that still stood on the loom, it’s story daring him to deny it.

The Oracle stepped forward to stand before him, placing her hands on his shoulders. “And that would be unfortunate, for the northern seas are ever in need of men of great honor and strength. Those who sup with the gods are wont to overlook such things, though in life they were unforgivable.”

“I thank you, milady.” Arring sounded like he was choking on phlegm.

“Do you? I wonder. Nevertheless, asking the question marks you among the bravest of men. Bearing the answer so well speaks to your perseverance. You expected this answer?”

He nodded once.

“Then allow my Weaving to free you from uncertainty and open your path forward. Take comfort where you find it, Sterker Naut.”

Einarr did not realize that the sun was setting until he watched Arring trudge down the steps of the dias and the light bathed him in its red-orange glow. “I feel like I shouldn’t have seen that.”

“Perhaps your friend also wishes you had not. …But it is good to remember that sometimes the straightforward path is also the correct one, and not every link is veiled.”

Einarr rolled his shoulder, trying to shrug off the uncomfortable feeling of seeing a man laid out bare for all the world to see. “I suppose so.”

“Come along. The evening grows long, and supper awaits.”

***

Wooden bowl in hand, Einarr folded his legs to sit on the ground next to Stigander around the fire that night. The table had not been set for their second evening in the meadow, but Einarr and Arring at least were in no mood for revelry.

Stigander seemed to accept his son’s desire to sit quietly, if not entirely comfortably. But… the subject of Arring’s weaving was not Einarr’s to tell. And tomorrow the Oracle would weave for each of them. Given what he had seen that day, he was more anxious than excited, and the fatigue of watching all day had begun to catch up with him.

“So your dwarf was right? My son has a calling?” Stigander rumbled after a time.

Einarr nodded, and his father’s first response was a long, loud sigh.

“Gods know we need one… and you’ll bring glory to our name again…”

Stigander sounded as reluctant as Einarr felt. “But it’s a hard road?” When his father nodded, he continued. “Pretty much my thoughts exactly. But I’ll deal with it, and I’ll come out on top. I’m a son of Raen, after all.”

Now his father grinned at him. “That’s my boy. Ready to learn how to unravel Urdr’s work?”

Einarr looked at his father, pursed his lips, and shrugged. The answer was no, but there was no sense bringing that weight down on his father’s head.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

2.27 – Reading the Weave

The Oracle turned her back on him almost languidly and walked back to the finished tapestry. She raised a hand to touch the lyre that tied itself to a tafl king whenever the instrument appeared. “Tell me, the harp. Is that the pretty young maiden from your vision? The one whose father you wish to ask me how to win?”

“Probably. She is the one who gave me what was later the ‘instrument of Jorir’s defeat.’”

The Oracle nodded. “You may need her ruthlessness, but keep close watch on it.”

“Then… a Tuning…”

“Is the black art of song. You didn’t seriously think the only Art that could be turned to evil was weaving, did you?”

“I…”

The Oracle shook her head. “Weavers bind fate, Singers influence the mind, Painters and Sculptors create physical effects, the work of a good Smith is said to have a soul. Which of these could not be perverted? …But that is not what you are here for. Tell me what you see in your friend’s weaving.”

“The black mountain topped with black clouds is his home, oppressed by a darkness blacker than Urdr’s. The king and the lyre dance about outside the darkness, until the lyre is swallowed by it…” He had to swallow. Didn’t she say the lyre was Runa? “And the king pierces the clouds. When the lyre plays, it rains.”

“Not bad. With the proper training, you could have made a passable soothsayer.”

Einarr grimaced, and the Oracle laughed.

“You see how things connect. It wasn’t perfect, of course, but better than expected – even for a newly fledged Cursebreaker.” She turned her attention to Jorir, and her tone became distant. “Smed Världslig, your fears are exaggerated, but not unfounded. The monstrous ones have gained a foothold in your home, have gained the ear of the thane. The svartdvergr of the mountain will soon descend again into the barbarous caves. Even should you defeat the witch in time, her poison will take time to purge. Gather allies to the cause of your lord, and he will reward you handsomely when the time is right. Act swiftly, but prudently, that the Cursebreaker will be ready when the time approaches. You will know the time by these signs: the eagle will feed on the wolf; demons will claim the waves; and dragons shall bear winged spears.”

Einarr blinked. He had seen none of those symbols on the cloth until she spoke their names, but as she did his eyes were drawn to them. Well. This is why she is the Oracle and I am just a prince with no holdings.

Now she turned a gentle smile on his liege-man. “Take heart, young child of the earth. You yet have time.”

Jorir bowed deeply before the Oracle. “My thanks, my lady. What payment do you require of me this day?”

“Though it has been more than a century since you were last here, this cannot be considered a separate weaving. The presence of the Cursebreaker was both the prerequisite and the payment, and so our debts are paid. Unless you had something else?”

“Nay, lady.”

She nodded before turning her attention back to Einarr. “As for you.” She pursed her lips, considering. “Your fate is sufficiently intertwined with the others that I would have you stay here as I weave for them. This is not like to be a quick process, however, and your threads may become knotted in unexpected ways. Do you assent?”

“These men are my crewmates and my family. If my presence is required, I shall not withhold it.” He did not hesitate, although his mind still reeled from what he had been shown already this morning. How was he going to take in the Weavings of all the rest, as well?

“Good. Watch carefully, as we go. You will learn much that will aid you on your way.”

It took two hours for the Oracle’s assistants to re-string the loom, even working quickly. Then Sivid was called up. Images rose before Einarr’s eyes, one after another, while the Oracle shuttled colored threads backward and forward faster than his eye could follow. Some of them made sense. More of them did not.

Here and there the tafl king reappeared. Did it mean the same thing for Sivid as it did for Jorir? If so, he thought it likely Sivid would no longer count him a friend by the end of it: he would be responsible both for setting the man on the path that would get him what he wanted, and for it’s destruction. Einarr was too dazed by the end of it to really take in the Oracle’s interpretation of the weave.

They broke for lunch, all except the two apprentices. They used the time to set up the loom for Arring’s request.

For about five minutes, Einarr stared into the bowl of nut gruel, clutching his spoon in hand. He sighed and stood, shoving the spoon into the mash in the bowl, to stride across the clearing to where the Oracle took dainty bites of the same stuff. “My lady, might I trouble you for a moment?”

“Sit down, Cursebreaker. You have questions about your friend’s reading this morning?”

“I do.”

“Very well. His was a deceptively simple request, was it not?”

“And one I wonder if he won’t come to regret.”

“You’re concerned about the shattering in his path?”

Einarr nodded. “It looked like it was my fault?”

She shook her head. “Only time will tell. I suspect not, however. That is an inflection point, a point of choice, and I would remind you that I told him as much.”

“I… of course.”

The corner of her mouth quirked in what was not quite a smile. “I suppose this is all rather a lot to take in, isn’t it. Ask Avrindân: she can provide you with something that will sharpen your senses this afternoon. There will not be time to read for you or your father today, so take comfort in that.”

“Thank you, …my lady.” She had thus far shown no inclination to give a name, and Einarr was not inclined to test her on it.

The Oracle nodded, and he ate as he moved over to where Avrindân and the girl with a voice like silver bells still worked.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

2.26 – Jorir’s Pledge

Blue sky greeted Einarr’s eyes when they opened, and grass beneath his hands and neck that was soft rather than scratchy. He furrowed his eyebrows, trying to recall how he had wound up on the ground and failing. Already the details of the mushroom-visions had faded from his mind, leaving him with only the feeling of strangeness that comes after a particularly vivid dream.

What good are the mushrooms if you can’t remember what you saw? He sat up, shoulders first, and looked around.

In the morning light, the meadow was a brilliant green, studded here and there with a pop of color from wildflowers. The grass still rustled in the mountain wind, and the sound was punctuated with the occasional trilling of a bird or chirp of a cricket.

Sivid, too, was sitting, although he was no longer blinking the sleep from his eyes. Father and Arring were just beginning to stir, although it seemed odd that last night’s brew would affect them more than him or Sivid. It took Einarr another minute or so to realize that Jorir was not with them.

The sound of humming and the clatter of wood drifted over the meadow from the temple behind him.

Einarr grunted and stood. He slapped at the legs of his pants to clear off the grass that had clung to him overnight and half-turned to look.

Even in the clear light of morning the temple seemed to glow with an inner light. That was definitely where the noise was coming from, and once Einarr turned his attention that way he could also hear the low murmur of conversation. Aha. He straightened and stretched out some of the stiffness that always came of sleeping on the ground.

With a roll of his head and a pop from his neck, Einarr ambled over towards the temple. Jorir stood near the edge of the stone dias, his now-familiar black braids shaking in counterpoint with his head and in time with the clacking sound. Einarr lifted one eyebrow and climbed up to join his swarthy liege-man.

Dominating the center of the temple was a loom that could have come up to a jotün’s knee and as broad as Erik at the shoulders. The glow seemed to come from the warm pine wood of its frame. The Oracle stood in front of the loom, her hands flying from side to side as she worked the shuttles that produced the continual clacking noise.

Her golden hair could not obscure the silver-white dress that clung to her body like a cascade of water. On another woman – perhaps even one of her apprentices – it might have been alluring. On the Oracle it was stunning.

Her weaving slowed as Einarr took in the sight ahead of him.

Jorir cleared his throat. “Milord, you’ll affect her Weaving up here.”

“Oh! My apol-”

“Don’t be so hasty, Smed Världslig.” The Oracle’s voice rang like a bell when she spoke, and both men started. “The Weave of the World has called him up here, and none other. The Cursebreaker will stay, for such is the way he will learn his work.”

“As you wish, my lady.”

She did not answer, though her weaving sped again until the shuttles were moving so fast Einarr nearly couldn’t see them and the sound of knocking wood became a nearly continuous drone. Lord and Warrior stood in silence as she continued her work, and now it was not only the loom and the shuttles which seemed to glow from within but the threads themselves.

The Oracle turned to the side as part of her weaving, just for a moment, and Einarr thought he could see what Jorir’s answer was going to be. The pattern seemed clear, although he could not have said why, and he wasn’t at all certain he liked what he saw.

After a timeless period had passed – Einarr could not have said if it was minutes or hours or even days – the tapestry in front of them was complete and the Oracle stepped to the side.

“Your instincts told you true, Jorir,” she began. “And you have fulfilled what I asked of you on your first visit. The Cursebreaker stands before me.”

“Jorir, surely I must be mistaken, but just to be sure. What was the payment asked of you last time you were here?”

The dwarf cleared his throat. “I was to bring you here.”

“Ah.” Annoyance tugged the corners of his mouth into a frown.

“All is as the world weaves it,” the Oracle intoned. “I required your presence here to complete the weaving I performed for him previously, it is true. But it is also true your father has need of my guidance, and that you have need of guidance and wisdom both.”

She stepped over and stood before him, meeting his eyes with steel-grey ones of her own. “You can see the pattern in the weave before you?”

“I see a pattern, certainly.”

She nodded, as though that were his expected response. Given her trade, it may well have been a foretold one. “Good. The ability to see clearly in such a way is a rare gift, and it will allow you to follow your calling.”

Einarr stared at the newly finished tapestry as her words sank like a stone in his gut. “I was afraid you were going to tell me something like that.”

“Afraid? Why? Those who are tasked as Cursebreakers are seated at the head of the Table of Heroes.”

“Because they are only ever called in times of great peril.”

“Aye. And such is upon us.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

2.25 – The Weaver’s Palace

Although the mountain continued to rise off to the north, its tip hidden in clouds even from where they stood, the path Jorir led them on proceeded around the side of the mountain, rather than continuing up it. If anything its general progress was down.

“Not far now,” Jorir called back over his shoulder as the light faded from red sunset to purple night. Einarr was already squinting, trying to see the path within the grass as the light failed. Part of him wished for a place to camp… but even if the Elder’s warning hadn’t meant that camping was dangerous, surely it would be better to reach the Weaver’s Palace before they stopped for the night. He shifted his pack on his shoulders.

The path curved around a rise of rock and dropped into a steep downward slope. Laid out below them was a broad, surprisingly flat meadow, and in the middle of this meadow a blaze of warm light.

The yellow light of torches shone like a beacon ahead of the Vidofnings, glowing from within a circle of stone pillars that could only be the Weaver’s Palace. The five companions found new strength in their legs. Rejuvenated by the sight of their goal, they hastened onward.

A gentle breeze stirred as they approached the open-air chapel, whispering through the night-white meadow grass but carrying no chill to their bones.

The smooth stone columns rose from a flagstone dias, presenting the roof of the structure as an offering to the heavens. Einarr climbed the shallow steps slowly, certain he had never seen a temple such as this before. He felt a sense of rising that had nothing to do with the stairs beneath his feet.

In the center of the dias stood three tall, willowy elven women whose spun-gold hair fell nearly to their knees. If Einarr had to guess he would have put the one in the center as much older than the other two, but he could not have said why.

The woman on the left, whose agelessness felt younger somehow than the other two, stepped forward to welcome them with a smile. Einarr blinked in surprise to realize this was the same strange woman who had appeared in his first vision. So it wasn’t entirely a hallucination.

“Welcome,” she said, and even now her voice had the sound of silver bells to it. “Your trials have proven you worthy to seek my mistress’ guidance, and on the morrow she will weave for you. For tonight, drink with us, and rest in the meadow.”

Jorir stepped up beside Einarr. “Aye, my lady, and our thanks.”

The ageless beauty on the right knit her brows together. “Have we met before?”

“Aye, my lady. I am Jorir of Eylimi’s Mountain. I return with the payment demanded of me.”

“Well. I had begun to suspect the task had proven too much for you,” spoke the oldest of the three. Her low voice reinforced the sense of age about her.

“I was captive a good many years.”

“As you say. Come. Avrindân has prepared the stew and the mushroom mead. We will sup, and in the morning you shall all have your foretellings.”

The Oracle, for that is who Einarr believed she was, turned and glided away from them. Her apprentices fell in behind. They seemed to dip, and then Einarr realized there must be stairs on the opposite side of the temple as well. Jorir was already moving. Einarr and the others were only a heartbeat behind, though.

On the other side of the temple a long table had been set with eight tankards and piled high with wild greens and berries. The smell of roasted rabbit tickled Einarr’s nose and his mouth watered.

Jorir nudged his side. “Eat, then drink,” the dwarf advised.

“Got it.”

Nodding, the two took their places at the table. Einarr passed the warning to his father quietly, and Jorir did the same for Arring, who passed it to Sivid as the man’s hand was reaching for his tankard.

The oracle stood at the head of the table and spread her porcelain hands. “Welcome, weary travelers. There are few who reach my table, but those that do will leave satisfied. Eat your fill, and drain your tankards, and know that you may rest in my demesne without fear.”

The fare was simple, as might be expected of a hermit – however powerful – but simplicity is rarely a measure of quality. There had been meals at Kjell Hall that tasted like ash compared to the food on the table in front of Einarr. With a long day’s hike behind him, Einarr’s appetite was monstrous, and so he took her at her word.

His companions, also, ate their fill, and so intently that there was little room for talk among them. Three times he nearly reached for his tankard, and three times he remembered Jorir’s warning before he raised it to his lips. Eat, then drink. She had called it ‘mushroom mead.’ Did that mean it was like the mushroom ale village soothsayers sometimes used?

He did not know how long he ate before a comfortable fullness spread out from his belly, and with it an unaccustomed lethargy. He had eaten more than enough, although it seemed the table was no less full now than when they sat down to sup. With a nod he picked up the tankard and swirled it a little. By the light of torches it looked golden, but so would water. The smell was earthy and a little sweet.

Einarr quirked his mouth in a half-smile and drank. The last thing he saw that night was the bottom of the tankard.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

2.24 – Arring’s Vald

The platform rose eight feet in the air once the woodcutters had it built, and as sturdy as wood could make it. If Arring judged aright, there would be exactly enough room between the platform and the log for him to put his back into it.

While the woodcutters worked at moving the split out of the way, Arring took the time to plan his throw and allowed himself the luxury of a warm-up. That he could do it was never in doubt, but even for him it would be a difficult lift. Off in the distance, he thought he heard the bleating of goats and the whisper of pipes on the wind. Too far away to be in danger.

With a drawn-out crack the smaller log separated from its twin. The sound of it striking the ramp they’d built was like a giant’s drum, and it rumbled like thunder as it tumbled unevenly down toward the camp.

“Ready the sling!” Arring’s voice boomed nearly as loudly as the tree had. A flurry of movement off to the side revealed several of the woodcutters hauling on the end of a truly massive piece of canvas, easily enough for two sails. How they’d come by it, he could only begin to guess.

Arring turned his attention back to the platform ahead of him. Up he went, hand over hand on the ladder they’d brought up from camp, until his feet were planted firmly on the cross-tied beams.

A woodcutter’s voice echoed through the forest. “Sling secured!”

Arring rubbed his palms together and stepped up to the massive trunk, bending his knees as he pressed shoulder and palms against the rough bark of the log. He shuffled his feet a little, feeling out a place where he thought his boots unlikely to slip.

A goat bleated, far closer than Arring was comfortable with. He glanced down toward the road and the pasture wall but saw nothing from under the log.

Breath filled his lungs and he tensed his thighs, pushing. It did not want to move, but he felt the tell-tale shifting that gave away how it would.

He shifted, and with a groan the giant log began to rise off of the tree it had stuck in.

“Hey! Be careful!” The overseer’s voice rang out down below.

“I’ll just be a minute! One of the goats…” The light voice of a prepubescent boy answered.

Arring cursed. “Get the goat and get them out of here,” he grunted, hoping someone would hear.

His legs were nearly straight, shaking with the effort, but no-one had called the ‘all clear.’ He wasn’t about to set this log down again: either it would stay stuck in the fork, or it would roll down on its own, completely missing the protective sling and probably destroying the shrine. If it stayed stuck, odds were decent he wouldn’t budge it again. At least not today.

It felt like an eternity before the overseer called out again.

“Clear!”

Thank the gods. Arring dipped his knees into a shallow squat before giving a jump, pushing out with his hands against the trunk.

A curse rang out from one of the sling-tenders before wood struck canvas. Arring’s gaze snapped in the direction of the sound: the man had the end of the rope in one hand and a foot braced against the tree it was tied to. Arring couldn’t tell what the actual issue was, but it looked like other woodcutters were already heading to assist.

The canvas tightened. A quick glance revealed six men now straining at the edge of the canvas on the end where something had gone wrong.

Down below, back towards the camp, a boy screamed.

Arring vaulted off the platform and pushed off the falling trunk towards the source of the sound. Damn idiot kid…

The thought was angry, but what clutched at his throat was fear for the boy, fear that he wouldn’t be fast enough.

There they were. Tufts of goat hair showed where the boy’s charge had taken off through the underbrush when the tree came down. The goatherd had tried to follow, but somehow his foot was stuck under a root jutting out into the path of the log.

Arring’s strength was a gift from the gods, and he tried always to use it in accordance with that knowledge. Should this boy die, some might say it was the price he paid for stupidity, or it was bad luck. Arring knew better: it would be his fault, because without him the woodcutters would have found another way. Therefore, the young goatherd was his responsibility.

He charged screaming for where the boy lay stretched on the ground. The intervening space was a green-and-brown blur.

Another heartbeat and the boy would be crushed. With the last of his reserves, Arring stepped under the log and lowered his head, raising his hands to the level of his shoulders.

The force drove him to his knees. Bark pressed against Arring’s shoulders and palms where he knelt, panting, under the massive tree.

Silver bells carried on the wind, much as the goatherd’s pipes had earlier.

***

The five querants for the Oracle of Attilsund stood blinking in the red light of sunset at the top of a granite cliff. Einarr still felt the urge to vomit, and as he turned his head to ensure they were all still there he noted Arring picking himself up off of Father’s shoulder. The other three all seemed to have taken this last vision more or less in stride, to judge by the calm, almost placid looks they wore.

He shrugged one shoulder, forcibly trying to redirect his mind away from the revelations of the vision. He would confront Reki about the contents of his vision later, when they returned to the ship. His purpose here would not be so easily swayed, after all.

“Is everyone all right?” Stigander spoke quietly, but the words still carried over the ever-present wind at this altitude. A series of nods made its way around the group.

“Then we’d best get on. Not much light left, and the Elder warned us against camping out here.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

2.23 – Felling the Bunyan Tree

The sound of silver bells rang in Arring’s ears just as he stepped off the ascent and into the broad meadow at the top of the cliff. He rushed to take another step forward, ending up with his chest uncomfortably close to the Captain’s elbow. Then he blinked.

When he opened his eyes again, he was in a thick forest where even the smallest trees he saw were easily as thick as Erik’s shoulders and a diffuse gray light made it hard to tell direction or distance. Off to his left, he heard the sound of axes striking timber. Must be a woodcutter’s camp nearby. With a shrug he jogged off to investigate.

After a while, the sound of men’s voices rose above the continual thock… thock… thock of chopping wood. They were shouting about something, but the voices were still so indistinct he couldn’t quite tell what. Arring picked up his pace.

As he loped around trees as big as three men, Arring caught notes of urgency in the woodcutter’s voices. He snorted and kept on. Sprinting wasn’t likely to accomplish anything other than winding him.

Finally the source of the noise came into view. No fewer than six woodcutters were clustered around a tree large enough one could carve a longship from it rather than cutting it into boards. A large ring of wood had already been chopped. Some of the wedges they removed had been stacked to the side to use as firewood that night. No matter how much he looked, though, he could not see where they intended it to land. There were only two clear spaces wide enough to accommodate that trunk. In one of them, the woodcutter’s camp was plainly visible. In the other stood a village.

Curious, Arring approached a brown-haired man who stood back, directing their progress. “Hello.”

“Marnin’. What kin I do fer ye?” The man’s accent was strange to Arring’s ears.

“I was wondering if there was something I could do for you, actually. That’s a mighty impressive log you’re aiming to fell.”

“Beauty, ain’t it?”

“Mm. But, where are you planning to put it?”

“Why, straight down that’a’way, o’course.” The woodcutter gestured toward the place Arring felt certain there was a village. “Plenty o’ room ‘fore it hits the near fields.”

“If you say so.”

“We measured as close as we can. Couldn’t get the top out, but she’ll make the squeeze.”

The two men stood in silence a moment longer, Arring trying to decide if he trusted the man’s measure, before the woodcutter spoke again. “You still want to give us a hand, we could use an extra pair of strong arms working an axe.”

Arring gave the man an oddly self-deprecating grin. “I think I just might do that.”

Felling even an ordinary tree was hard labor, but Arring enjoyed the warmth it brought to the muscles of his shoulders and arms, enjoyed the rhythm of swinging an axe against a foe that did not move.

Arring’s shoulders had begun to ache by the time the waist of the tree narrowed sufficiently that they could begin to push.

With a crack and a giant’s groan the massive tree swayed as the woodcutters clustered together and shoved. The sound of wind through the branches was like a squall.

Until it stopped, with the tree propped at an odd angle by a trunk somehow strong enough to stop its charge. When the woodcutters saw this they, too, groaned.

“How are we supposed to get this beast unstuck?” One of them complained aloud.

Arring laughed. “I guess the Norns smile on you lot. Let me have a look.”

He leapt up on the stump, rubbing his palms together, and stepped toward the wall of wood he would need to scale. The other woodcutters looked skeptical, as well they might. Even the Captain or Erik would have trouble with that jump, but while they were taller than Arring they did not have the sheer power of his muscles. Arring bent his knees and jumped for the barky ledge overhead, catching it on the first go and pulling himself up on top of the half-felled log in one fluid motion.

“Don’t worry,” he called down. “I’ll set it down gentle as a babe for ye!”

Arring jogged along the top of the log, swinging around the occasional branch that stood to bar his way, until he reached the hangup.

He pressed his lips together, evaluating his options. As massive as this tree was, the one causing them issues was still larger. Worse, the log had caught in a fork of the other tree, which was probably the only reason it caught at all.

Ordinarily, he would cut the fork, but a quick climb along each of the branches warned him against that. To the left the forest became thicker: cutting that side would only get the log stuck again. To the right, the branch would block the road and crush a shrine. Worse, there would be nothing to stop the log from rolling. The woodcutters could easily end up owing their entire season’s take from restitution alone.

Arring nodded to himself and turned around.

“It’s stuck in a fork,” he announced when he reached the cut edge of the log. “I need your best catchers, a barricade, and one massive sling.”

The overseer frowned. “Show me.”

Arring shrugged, and then they both stood on the log just before its nest. “If we split the log, the top may as well just put down fresh roots. It’ll end up vertical before it actually comes all the way down. Same problem if we send it left, although we might lose less. And, well, look to the right.”

“A shrine of Frol, and Galing’s pasture wall.” The chief woodcutter cursed. “Can’t very well drop a tree on the tree-god’s shrine.”

“Not if you hope for a long life. But if your men can rig up a ramp to catch the branch, we can toss the log into a sling and lower’er down to the ground, nice and easy.”

The woodcutter swallowed. “…Toss?”

“Hm. You’re right. I’ll need a platform, too.”

“You intend to toss this monster?”

“Assuming I can get the proper leverage. Is that a problem?”

“…No, of course not.”

“Good. Let’s get to it, then.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents