Tag: Einarr Stiganderson

7.12 – Broken Cage

The thief’s fiery sword, flaming no longer, fell to the floor with a clatter as the man backed towards the cellar ladder. The man’s eyes were wide, and it was like he couldn’t tell what was most horrifying.

Einarr, though, was too stunned to pursue. Sinmora still shone with the magic it had stolen… from… the wards!

Einarr spun on his heel even as the thief screamed. A red blur whipped past Einarr to the sound of feet racing up the rungs of the ladder. The glow of runes from within the vault was gone. The cellar was now lit only by the icy cold light emanating from Sinmora. The vault was empty.

Einarr now raced up the ladder, Sinmora’s hilt still clutched in his hand. At that moment, two thoughts warred for dominance in his head: where is the Shroud and what just happened?

At the top of the ladder Einarr stopped, trying to spot the thief. He shouldn’t have been that far ahead, but Einarr could neither see nor hear any trace of him.

Frowning, Einarr ran for the exit. He didn’t know where the thief had gone, but it didn’t much matter now. The Muspel Shroud was loose, and if even half what Melja had told him was accurate they were in trouble.

The bay was gone. Einarr had no way of knowing if it was being run into the ground or if it had fallen victim to the Shroud. He sheathed his sword and ran for the village.


Einarr arrived on the outskirts of the village, red-faced and winded, an hour later. Melja demanded, before he had caught his breath, “Did you stop him?”

Einarr shook his head. “I mean, yes, but it didn’t matter. My sword -”

He was interrupted by a long wail from his teacher. “What do you mean, it didn’t matter?”

“My sword… it’s never done anything like this before! My sword ate the wards, and then used that to put out his sword!” He drew Sinmora to show them the blade, still unnaturally cold and glowing faintly even in daylight.

“So the Shroud is free, for the first time in generations,” Melja moaned again, but then seemed to really see the blade held out before him. “What did you say?”

“Sinmora. Always before, she wasn’t magical at all. Then today, fighting that thief, it was like she sucked in all the power from the wards. It put out his sword, but…”

“But it cost us the ward.” The man sighed, then cursed. “You plainly didn’t expect your sword to start pulling power. There’s no point in casting stones. Let’s just… find the thing and lock it back down.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Einarr paused, trying to recall what all he’d been told. “Um, how was it caught the first time?”

“My great-great grandfather set a trap for it.” Melja sighed again. “But, so far as we can tell, he never told anyone how he trapped it. My grandfather said he thought something about the trap was shameful.”

Einarr grimaced. That gave him an unfortunate idea of what might have been involved. “Let’s see if we can’t come up with a cleaner method, then. Surely, as its guardians for so long, there are records of what it can do?”

Melja nodded, suddenly looking very tired. “This way.”


No-one ever saw the thief – or his horse – again. Within the village, it was assumed they fell to the Shroud.

Einarr, closeted away with the dusty scrolls of the Runemasters, quickly grew frustrated. Always before he could consult a Singer, and even if they did not know they could extrapolate. Here, it seemed that the records were all either far too precise or hopelessly vague.

By noon on the second day after the attack, he was fed up. “This is not where I belong here. I’m going to go out and look for the thing, so that hopefully once you have an answer we can just use it.”

Melja looked up from his scroll from under his brows. “That impatience will be the death of you one day, if you’re not careful.”

Einarr snorted. “But not, I think, today. I am not a scholar, Melja, and all my progress with the runes isn’t going to change that. But I am a decent hunter.”

“Suit yourself.”

With a nod of thanks, Einarr excused himself. The clean air outside refreshed his mood immediately, and the clear sky and bright sun made it hard to remember that there was an intelligent piece of cloth on the island, looking for its next prey. What in the name of all the gods am I doing with my life?

He shook his head, shaking off the wry impression that had been haunting him all summer, it seemed. The Shroud had either kept to the forest thus far, or bypassed the village that had for so long been set to watch over its prison. The port, however, was an equally poor place to try to pick up its track: too far away, and likely too large.

Luckily, the local chief maintained a hunting lodge not far from the Shrouded village that he was known to frequent, and when he was not there personally there were some few hired hands who lived there to maintain it. If anyone would have noticed something amiss, it would be a professional hunter. With a spring in his step and his good elven cloak over his shoulders, Einarr set out across the forest.

Now all that was necessary was for Melja or Mira to find something – anything – that could help them defeat the damnable thing.


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7.11 – Rematch

Einarr blinked back to consciousness with the faces of Melja and Mira staring down at him and a strange tingling on his forehead and shield arm. He knit his brow. “What happened?”

“The fool has gone to free the Shroud!” Melja’s voice was husky, as though from shouting. “Our runes had no effect. At this rate…”

Einarr nodded, pushing himself to his feet. “I’ll not lose a second time,” he swore.

With Sinmora back in her sheath, and a new shield on his arm, Einarr set off at a jog for the temple.

Catching up with the man before he found the temple was a lost cause, Einarr was sure. That meant he would be facing the thief at the temple – hopefully before he found the vault, but Einarr would not hold his breath for that.

As Einarr jogged the trail, glad it was clearly marked, he replayed their earlier fight. It had been, he thought, like going up against Erik, except that so far as Erik was concerned, sparring was play. But even outmassed and out-reached as Einarr was, even with that magic sword, Einarr knew there had to be a way to fight the thief. He just hoped he had enough time to discover what that was.

As Einarr entered the open field surrounding the temple, he saw the thief’s horse grazing hungrily. The thief was nowhere in sight. Einarr sighed and picked up his pace: time was running out.

It was easy, unfortunately, to track the thief’s progress through the temple by the scorch marks he left on walls and floor alike. Einarr could think of no reason for those, or for the sword to be drawn in the first place. Had he been expecting guards? That seemed unlikely. The man’s wanton destruction did suggest a means under his skin, however. Those most willing to show off their swords, after all, were also said to be lacking in manhood – if not perhaps in quite the same way as those who turn to magic. Provoking the man would never be Einarr’s first choice of tactics, but under the circumstances it might be the best available.

The door to the cellar stood open. Einarr slid down the ladder, the smell of blood and burned flesh already assaulting his nose. Anger began to bubble in his stomach, and harder when he saw the body of the guard. That had been no fight: that was butchery.

Behind the body, the door to the vault also stood open. Inside, the brash man with the fiery sword strode straight towards the crimson fabric, his prize, at the center of the wards. The Shroud now snapped and cracked like a banner in high wind.

Einarr planted his feet at the threshold and drew Sinmora. He leveled his blade at the burly man. “That’s far enough.”

The thief stopped in his tracks. Then, slowly, ostentatiously casually, he rotated on one foot to face the door. He wore a smug grin like a mask. “Well. Look who’s back for more.”

“I can’t let you break that seal.”

“Like you can stop me?” He spat to the side and leered at Einarr. “You might as well just bend over and take your beating.”

“You’ll not find me so easy the second time. Now step out of that room and answer for yourself, you pig-sticker.”

“…Eh?”

“Tell me, on those cold winter nights, is it pigs or goats you turn to for comfort?”

“Say that again.”

“Did I mumble? You don’t like it, come out here and fight me properly.” The enclosed space of the cellar would level the playing field between them, at least. And with the other man hopefully not thinking clearly…

The black-haired man charged at Einarr, barrelling forward fast enough that Einarr had to skip backward to get out of the way. A quick sidestep took him out of the man’s path and left an opening. Sinmora slashed, and the man howled.

The thief gathered himself and took his sword in both hands, his eyes never leaving Einarr’s. “You’ll regret that.”

“Will I? Your swordplay makes me wonder if I wasn’t right. Has a woman ever graced your bed?”

With a wordless scream, the thief charged for Einarr yet again, his fiery blade unavoidable this time.

Einarr brought Sinmora and his shield up to guard. Sinmora seemed to pulse with power, but Einarr had no time to question that. He turned the blade aside with his shield boss, narrowly, and scrambled back around behind his opponent.

Which is why he saw the runes in the vault begin to glow with an eldritch blue light. Hel. That can’t be good. I need to finish this quickly

Sinmora pulsed a second time as Einarr brought her up to guard against the incoming blow. Last time, it was at about this point in the fight that the man battered down Einarr’s guard.

In the instant before their blades met, Einarr saw a flash of cold blue light from inside the vault. A whirlpool of energy formed with Sinmora at the center, drawing it in, and then it was the blade itself glowing with the cold energy of the runes.

Steel clashed against steel, and ice crystals formed all up and down the length of Sinmora’s blade. Einarr nearly dropped it from cold and surprise. That white, icy energy suddenly infusing Sinmora attacked the flames running along the length of the other blade. Extinguishing them.

A heartbeat later, it was over. The thief’s blade clattered to the floor, now evidently just an ordinary long sword, as its owner stared at it in disbelief.

Einarr stared at the blade in his hand, dumbfounded. That had never happened before. There would have been stories if it had.

The thief, no longer paying any attention to his prize in the vault, also stared dumbly at the weapons. With a strangled scream, he scrambled back towards the cellar entrance.


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7.10 – Wards

“Mind your step,” Melja warned as he entered the room.

The warning was well-taken. At first glance it seemed as though every surface of the chamber was covered in gently glowing runes in baffling configurations. Einarr stopped in his tracks, scanning the room.

Gradually, the overwhelming formations resolved themselves into more recognizeable, if not comprehensible, configurations. Concentric circles of text ringed the floor, but as he watched a path, almost like stepping stones, began to emerge.

Ah. So that’s how. Feeling more confident, Einarr stepped out onto the revealed path. Melja, several paces ahead, paused for Einarr to catch up as the Shroud continued to twitch as though in a breeze.

“This is amazing,” Einarr breathed as he caught up.

“This is necessary. The last time the Shroud was active, entire villages were consumed.”

“Why wasn’t it destroyed?”

“What makes you think they didn’t try?”

This just kept getting better. Einarr swallowed and turned his attention back to the web of wards they walked through. “So what, exactly, will we be doing here?”

“I will be checking the integrity of the keystone inscriptions. You will be adding your will to the force of the inscriptions.”

“Meaning…?”

“Touch where I tell you to, and turn your will to them, just as if you were activating one of your own inscriptions.”

“…Ah.” Einarr at least knew what that would look like. He wasn’t sure how much sense it actually made. Still, though, once they got started the work proceeded swiftly and Einarr soon discovered that what he’d thought to be senseless was actually base simplicity in practice.

Einarr’s stomach had begun to grumble by the time they left the elaborate chamber and the guard locked the door behind them.

“Don’t wait to let us know if anything changes,” Melja said.

The guard nodded seriously and said “of course,” even though the admonition was thoroughly unnecessary. As they walked back toward the village, Einarr began to feel truly silly about his fears.


He had nearly managed to forget his earlier trepidation as first days, and then weeks passed after the reinforcing of the wards.

When the alarm came, it was not from the temple but from the port town, more than a day’s hike away. A small boat had docked, and its lone occupant had demanded to know the route to the Shrouded Village. From the Headman, at the point of a flaming sword.

“This is bad,” Melja said when the messenger arrived. What followed was a scramble, near panic but not, as the alfr of the village prepared themselves to drive off this interloper.

They did not have long to wait: the questing man was bare hours behind the messenger. He rode up on a fine bay, its coat lathered and its eyes rolling wildly. The newcomer pulled up with such force that his poor horse half reared.

The man stared down imperiously at the villagers, Einarr and Melja at the fore. His eyes were as cold and blue as ice, but his wild mane of hair was black as night. “Is this the Shrouded Village?”

Melja’s voice was cold and just as proud when he answered, “It is.”

The black-haired man smirked. “Excellent. I have come to relieve you of it, by order of my master Virid, Chief of the Giants of Eldurgardr.”

“Tell your master that the alfs of the Shrouded Village sent you off with your tail between your legs, and that not even Wotan himself can order the thing’s release.”

The man laughed. “Excellent. I shall indeed tell him that the alfs fled before my Brannmerke when I present the Muspel Shroud to him.”

As the man spoke he dismounted and drew the long sword that hung at his hip. The blade burst into flames as it cleared its sheath – flames very similar to those which had been invoked in the garden several weeks prior.

“Put that thing away! You’ll kill us all,” Melja snapped.

At the same moment, Einarr was stepping forward, his hand on Sinmora’s hilt. “You’ll have to go through me, first,” he growled.

“Through… you?” He spat. “You are a nithing, a coward, a woman clad in her father’s castoffs. If you were a true man there’d be nothing left to plunder here.”

“Slanderer. Fool. If I were what you say, I’d not be here at all. Come, then, and we will prove who is man and who is nithing.” Einarr’s voice was steady and cool in the face of the other man’s insults. Sinmora cleared her shath with a gentle rasp and he readied his shield.

The villagers backed away swiftly from the impending clash. While all of them could fight at need, none of them were warriors in the way Einarr was. As swift as they were, though, it was only just fast enough.

The foreigner leapt to the fight like a wolf lunges for a kill. Reflexively Einarr brought his shield up: the blade clanged against the shield boss and flames licked its wooden edges.

Before the foreign hothead could pull back, Einarr cut forward. Sinmora bit into his opponent’s maille, but the other man only laughed.

Then the flaming sword arced through the air again, and again Einarr barely managed to bring his shield to bear. He felt the boss dent under the force of the blow, and smelled burning paint.

“So the woman has some guts after all! Make this interesting now.”

Einarr resettled his stance and spat. This was not looking good. He tried to feint right, looking for some opening he could use, some way past the man’s guard, and finding none. Sinmora was batted away. Again he tried and again recieved only mockery for his efforts. Finally the ice-eyed hothead rolled his eyes and spat again.

“Tcheh. Boring.”

The next blow shattered Einarr’s shield. The one after dented his helmet and set his ears to ringing as he dropped to his knees. “I think we know who the nithing is now, don’t we?”


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

7.9 – Temple

The Shroud, Melja said, was stored in an inner chamber of the village’s temple to the gods. The morning, like most mornings on the island, was bright and clear even under the fluttering canopy of birch and ash as Melja led Einarr down an unfamiliar path.

The path sloped gently upward here, and the ground became less marshy as they went. Between the warm morning sun and the birdsong floating through the branches, Einarr was momentarily tempted to forget the serious errand they were on. With a sigh and a question he brought himself back to reality: “So why is the Shroud here, anyway?”

Melja did not answer for the space of a few strides. “It is imprisoned here, under the watchful gazes of god and runemaster alike.”

“But it’s an item?”

“Aye, so it is. And?”

“How do you imprison an item? It’s not like they go anywhere on their own.”

“Ordinarily, I would agree. But the Shroud seems to operate under its own set of rules. It took the finest runemasters of its day to catch the thing, and no few Art Practictioners besides, so if it starts to stir we reinforce its cage.”

Einarr made a noise like understanding and fell quiet. Melja had known he was a Cursebreaker before he ever agreed to teach Einarr, and was taking him out here anyway: perhaps Einarr was just being paranoid.

The path continued to rise in elevation, if slowly, and soon Einarr began to see oaks in among the ash and birch and beech. Around midmorning a clearing opened before them, broad as a field. At the far side, with the forest nestled comfortably behind it, stood an unassuming, whitewashed building with a pair of towers rising from its roof. The two men paused for a moment at the edge of this clearing.

Einarr, suddenly curious, asked “Who lives here?”

“This is Wotan’s temple, in the main, but also Tyr and Eira.”

“Eira, truly?” The Vidofnings tended to worship her, when they worshipped. Perhaps it was a good sign?

“Wotan is not the only god skilled at runecraft.”

“I suppose not.” Still, the pit in his stomach seemed to grow larger by another stone. He did not often offer up prayers to Eira, but as they neared the unassuming temple one passed his lips.

“Is something the matter?” One of Melja’s upswept eyebrows was raised even higher than usual.

Einarr shook his head. “Just – it’s been a long summer. Some of what I’ve been through already has me jumping at shadows, is all.”

Melja chuckled, not unkindly. “Don’t be so quick to dismiss those instincts: they could save your life one day. I have, however, taken extra precautions already this morning. Watch your step, do nothing in haste, and we’ll make it back to the village in one piece.”

“Of… of course.” Einarr knew Melja was probably right, but that did little to soothe his nerves as the big elf pulled open the temple doors.

Light slanted into the somewhat dusty chamber from behind them. At the far side of the room, a carving of Wotan in his sorceror’s robes, a raven perched on either shoulder, stood flanked by one-handed Tyr, the just, and merciful Eira, the healer.

Melja strode across the room, his eyes passing with long familiarity over the rows of benches, the statuary, and the pools of light beneath the windows. Einarr had no doubt the alfr would have seen instantly had something been amiss, and that thought was the one that finally allowed him to relax a little.

Melja led them past the priestly purification chamber and down a narrow, but well-made, wooden ladder into the cellar. Someone mortal evidently lived here: the cellar was filled with roots and aging mead. Einarr blinked a few times, and then realized they were not alone in the cellar.

Standing by the far wall was an alfr nearly as burly as Melja, a woodcutter’s axe at his hip and a scroll in hand. He greeted them in the tongue of the light elves.

Melja and Einarr returned the greeting – Einarr by rote, as one of the few phrases he had memorized since arriving at the Shrouded Village.

“Has anything changed?” Melja asked, his voice low.

“Not a thing. It seems restless in there, but not fully awake.”

“Good. The boy will be assisting me as part of his training. I need you to provide backup.”

“With pleasure.”

The guard stepped aside, and Melja traced a complex series of runes Einarr could not track in front of the door. It swung open.

Inside, in the center of the room, a diaphanous crimson cloth lay tumbled over a table. Every now and then, as though a breeze tugged at it, the cloth would twitch. If he had not been prepared, Einarr would have thought it odd for a cloth to be stored in such a way and seen nothing else out of the ordinary. After a month’s training with Melja, however, his vision was more acute.

Concentric circles were inscribed on the floor about the table, and every one of them ringed with runes. The walls and ceiling, too. Einarr recognized the individual runes, of course, and could even work out what some of the combinations would do – but as he stared about the room he felt his jaw drop. This ward work was so far beyond anything Melja had even hinted at.

“The work of generations,” Melja volunteered. “Don’t let this intimidate you: reinforcing the wards is fairly straightforward.”

“Ah, yes. Of course. What do you need me to do?”

“First, focus. Close your eyes and breathe deeply with me.”

It was an exercise Melja had him do frequently, particularly when he judged a task more complicated than usual. This time, Melja joined him at it. With a long exhale, the alfr opened his eyes.

“Now we inspect what came before. The Shroud is forever testing its bonds, and while there are a few places more likely to show wear, we cannot take that for granted.”


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

7.8 – Syntax

The scorched weed stood, accusing, before them.

“Show me what you drew, exactly.” Melja’s voice was more serious than Einarr had ever heard.

Einarr peered at the base of the weed, searching for his mark, but in their haste to stop the blaze it had been obscured. “It was sol, with five points. I will confess that the job was growing tedious, but…”

“Enough. I know what happened now. This is why it is critical to draw each rune with care, each and every time. Sol, drawn with four lines, becomes a pair of kaun, stacked atop each other, if not properly connected.”

Kaun? That’s not one I’ve learned yet.”

“It is not, and that makes this partially my fault. Finish the weeding by hand today. Tomorrow we shall learn kaun, and the day after I will teach you some syntax.”


Einarr felt no great excitement or trepidation over the prospect of learning what Melja termed the “calamatous” rune, although to judge by the elf’s gloomy foreboding after the accident perhaps he should have. Still, he went to the day’s lesson as seriously as he had all the others, with perhaps the added hope of satisfying his curiosity.

The first thing Einarr learned about kaun actually had more to do with syntax than with the rune itself. His rune of warding had failed to contain the fire, and Melja’s had not, because it was his and because he had not drawn it first. Both were of his will, and guarding must always be seen to before destruction. Yet another reason to take extreme care with each inscription.

Furthermore, by doubling the rune as he had, however inadvertantly, he made the fire neither hotter nor more rapacious, but harder to put out. This, of course, would have been nonsense with any ordinary blaze, and Einarr said as much.

“What, of all you have learned these last weeks, has been otherwise?” Melja drawled. “A rune stacked atop itself creates a more durable effect. That is a second reason why your ward was powerless. In another place, or circumstance, that would have been a clever ward, if a simple one.”

Einarr pursed his lips, less pleased by the praise than he would have been on any earlier day. “Another place?”

“Yes, another circumstance.”

“But that’s not what you said. You said another place, like if I’d been foolish enough to make that error on board a ship my ward might have worked.”

Melja sighed. “Yes. Yes, it might have. Because of the Shroud, you see?”

“No, I don’t see. What is the Shroud? Why is this the Shrouded Village?” The perfect opportunity for the questions that had been gnawing at him since his arrival. There would never be a better opportunity to insist on some answers.

Melja gathered himself up as though to rebuke Einarr. He stared imperiously down at him for a long moment before appearing to deflate. “No, I really do have to answer that now, I suppose,” he muttered.

Einarr just looked at him, expectant.

“Very well. The Shroud has not been relevant to our students in a very long time. Most are too incurious to even ask about the name, most of the rest let themselves be put off. But, I suppose there are reasons you were named a Cursebreaker. The Shroud is not what binds our village to Midgardr, but it is why we are bound here. It is also why we stress caution in dealing with the kaun rune. —There will, incidentally, be no practice tonight.”

Einarr nodded, eager to be past the expected revelation.

“The Shroud has not been active for a very long time, thanks in no small part to this village. We are still watching for signs, but I do not believe your… misadventure yesterday awoke it, either.”

At that Einarr raised an eyebrow, but kept silent. He had no intention of interrupting, not over such a minor overstatement.

“The Shroud… reacts to the use of the kaun rune. Violently. No one is sure exactly why. But when it does, nothing is safe from its wrath. This village does not exist to teach runes: it exists to guard the Shroud.”

Einarr frowned. “So, what happens when kaun is invoked away from the island?” He was certain he had seen that shape before – at the Tower of Ravens, he thought.

“Oh, the effect is reduced, somewhat. We think there is some distance past which it doesn’t matter, but we’ve never had a good way of figuring that out – not that didn’t involve deliberately trying to awake the thing.”

So. Either those kaun runes in the tower didn’t matter at all, or every time some fool tried it they risked – what, exactly? Somehow, though, he couldn’t see such a concern stopping Wotan from defending his tower as he pleased.

Which meant that, even here, Einarr was about to be neck-deep in a curse of some kind. With a sigh, he asked the only question that mattered just then: “What does the Shroud do?”

“It consumes. Such is the nature of fire, after all.”


Training, after that, went on as usual. The village continued to keep a wary eye on the Shroud, but no more was said to Einarr after he had been taught of the rune and its existence. Einarr now knew all but a handful of the single runes, and the first rudiments of combining them. And it had only been a month.

He wanted to be pleased with his progress, but the existence of an item like the Shroud, so close to him with his accursed Calling, made him uneasy. So it was with resignation more than any great surprise that he greeted the news, at the end of that month, that the Shroud was stirring.

Only stirring, Melja said, as though Einarr’s very presence did not portend disaster there. It was decided: the next day’s lesson would be on wards, and Einarr would learn to reinforce the ones set on the Shroud.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

7.7 – Apprentice Runecraft

As agreed, Einarr rose with the sun the next morning and was promptly set to work gathering eggs and drawing water. When that was done there were goats to milk, and Mira quite cheerfully set him to building up the hearth fire while she prepared breakfast for the three of them. Einarr did the work gladly: as he had thought the night before, it wsa very like being back at Afi’s freehold. Not that Afi would have approved of Einarr learning runes any more than his father did.

After breakfast, Einarr expected Melja to sit him down in a room somewhere with quill and ink and birch bark. Instead, he was led to the stream outside the village and there given a lecture on all the properties of water.

It was nearly midday before Melja determined Einarr was ‘ready’ for the form of the rune for smaller bodies of water. There was, evidently, a different rune used when dealing with the sea.

After lunch, Einarr was put to work on more chores. This time, however, he was instructed to find as many opportunities to use that one rune as he could. The goal was to have it mastered by dinner.

“Well, Einarr? Do you think you understand the Rune of Flowing now?”

Einarr shook his head. “I feel like I know it, but I’m not sure that’s the same thing here. I could tell you all of its meanings, and at least a dozen ways to use it, but I don’t think that’s really what you’re asking here.”

Mira cackled. “This one is clever, he is. Clever, and wiser than he looks.”

“Thanks,” he drawled, sarcasm heavy in his voice.

Melja laughed now. “Of course he’s wiser than you expect, Mira. He’s been raiding half his life, I wager, and wasn’t too proud to ask for help. If you hadn’t been named Cursebreaker, that alone could save your skin.”

Einarr chuckled, not a little bitterly. “Of that I am all too aware. Part of me wonders if all our answers together were worth the Oracle naming me.”

Melja and Mira both shook their heads.

“A burden, it’s true,” Mira started.

“But if you hadn’t been Called by the Oracle, you’d have learned of it by circumstance.” Melja’s voice was solemn, brooking no opposition, as though he were lecturing again. Einarr shuddered at the thought of facing the cultists without knowing that the world was out to kill him.

“It’s been a long first day, and you did well with ûr. Tomorrow we will study ár.”


For two weeks, Einarr’s studies continued in this manner. He learned the runes of water and ice, of earth, and of protection but, strangely, not of fire. Some of them, such as the dancing rune, seemed obscure and were tricky, to say the least, to practice in the course of afternoon labor. In the evening, at the end of those two weeks, Einarr asked about it.

“The rune of fire is a fell thing,” Melja intoned. “You will learn it, true, but last. It is more often laid to cause destruction than to prevent it, and never in daily life.”

“Whyever not? Surely the will of the worker determines the use of the tool?”

“Ordinarily, yes, but it is also a rune of sickness and death. Used incautiously, it brings calamity.”

“Are you saying that fire is inherently corrupting?” Einarr furrowed his brow. That made no sense: the dead were burned, after all.

“No, not inherently. It is still a rune that requires careful intention to use and…” he trailed off.

“And?”

“And we require our students have a little more experience before we teach it.” These words came out in a rush: Einarr suspected they were not what Melja had begun to say.

Still, for now, it was an answer he could afford to accept. Something, though, was definitely strange about this elven village on a Midgardr isle. “I take it, then, that the reason the village is here is also… more advanced knowledge?”

“Yes, exactly!” That, too, sounded less than honest, though Einarr could not put a finger on why. There was not, however, any good way to press the man on the question at this moment.

He caught a hint of the answer just two days later.

Over the course of studying the sun rune, during the afternoon labors, Einarr grew too hasty and made a careless mistake: he failed to properly connect two legs of the figure. It was the sort of mistake any apprentice might make, particularly one engrossed in the throes of experimentation. The reaction, however, was dramatic.

He had been set to weeding one of the vegetable patches. The first test, he used the rune to improve the light for the cabbages and onions. The second, he used another aspect of the rune, intending to smite only the weeds with lightning. (As for why the sun and lightning were tied to the same rune, he had no guesses.) Rather than a small puff of smoke and the smell of oncoming rain, however, the particular weed in front of him began to smoke. Soon, fire was licking at the stems and threatening the vegetables around it.

Melja was already sprinting across the patch. Hastily, Einarr drew water and protection runes, hoping to mitigate the damage. Fire, after all, should kill the interloper just as well as lightning. Something was wrong, though: his ward, that based on the nature of the two runes should have worked, did nothing to quench or even slow the fire.

“What happened?” Melja bellowed in Einarr’s ear as he ran up.

“I don’t know! Every time before, it’s been a tiny lightning bolt. Why isn’t the water protection stopping it?”

Hardly bothering to look at Einarr’s attempts, Melja traced his own sequence of runes, almost identical to Einarr’s, and the fire went out. Standing before them was a very blackened, mostly dead weed.

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7.6 – The Shrouded Village

The light had dimmed from its lustrous gold by the time Ystävä led Einarr out of the trackless wood and onto a broad path – broad enough that a wagon could be driven down it at need, if barely. The sky had turned the white of early dusk, and from the trees about them he could hear the calls of birds setlting in for the night.

“Nearly there,” Ystävä muttered as he strode off south along the trail. Needlessly, Einarr thought. Within a hundred paces he could smell the tang of wood smoke and hear the sounds of village life. Not many paces further on, Einarr caught sight of buildings.

It was, somehow, not in the slightest what Einarr expected and exactly what it had to be. There were no spiralling towers, or even any true stone. The village reminded him a bit of the freehold where he stayed with Grimhildr’s parents as a youth. Walls of treated timber, rooved with thatch or shakes or, if the inhabitant was truly well-off, tile. Inside, the floors would be covered in fresh, or at least fresh-ish, rushes.

Einarr smiled. He remembered those few summers, before he was given Sinmora, fondly. If this was that sort of place, he thought he would do well.

His guide was already striding deeper into the village – heading, it appeared, to the largest of the buildings with a tile roof. Einarr hurried to once more close the gap between them.

Those few people he still saw out and about looked more like farmers than rune masters, but with the appearance of the village that fit. Still, though, he wondered. “If these alfs are all rune masters,” he murmured when he caught up to Ystävä. “Why does there not seem to be any magic in the village?”

Why they were on Midgardr and not Alfheim was another question, but not one he wanted to ask just then.

Ystävä smiled cryptically. “You’ll see.”

Then they stopped, the tile-roofed home before them, light spilling out from under the shutters. Ystävä rapped lightly on the door and stood back.

The deep baritone that sounded from within was unmistakeably annoyed. “Whoever you are,” he said. “You’d best have an excelent reason for interrupting my supper!”

Ystävä smiled, amused (although Einarr was not certain what could be amusing). “How about a new student, Elder Melja?”

The door burst open before them. Filling the open doorway, framed by the welcoming glow of candlelight, stood an alfr man with the golden hair and upswept features one expects of his race. If it were not for those, Einarr might have thought he was looking at a particularly well-formed human man: he towered over the two of them, broad-shouldered and clean-shaven.

“There you are, you old dog! I’d begun to think the human had gotten cold feet!”

“No, no. You know how chancy the High Road can be, though.”

The village elder laughed. “Too true. Come in, come in. You’ll be resting the night, I trust?”

As they followed Melja into the warmly lit room, Ystävä bowed his head as though to demure. “I’d hate to impose.”

“Nonsense! Stay, rest, visit your mysterious lady in the morning. The High Road is no place to be at night.”

Ystävä gave that small, amused smile again and said “If you insist.”

Inside, the home was as simple as Einarr expected, and as welcoming. A woman, as slight as the Elder was large, ladled the night’s meal into a pair of bowls. The smell of fresh bread tickled his nose, and he felt his cheeks color in embarrasment when his stomach had the audacity to rumble loudly.

The Elder laughed, not unkindly. “I imagine you’ve not eaten all day, have you?”

Einarr shook his head: they had not stopped more than a moment during the day’s travel.

“I beg your pardon,” Ystävä said. “Allow me to introduce Einarr, son of Stigander, son of Raen, scion of Breidelstein and Cursebreaker, so named by the Oracle at Attilsund.”

“Welcome, young Cursebreaker. Sit, eat, and we will speak once the edge has come off your hunger. Are their places set, my love?”

“Aye, ready and cooling while you lot flap your jaws. Sit! Eat! Be welcome in our home.” The woman’s voice was pleasant, if aged in a way her husband’s was not.

Einarr’s family was half an ocean, give or take, away, and yet this first meal in an unknown village was one of the most pleasant he had experienced in recent memory. No doom-seeking axe now hung over his neck. Melja, with Mira his wife, welcomed him into their home as though he were a long-lost son, and over the course of their conversation he learned that he was neither the first nor the fifth human they had instructed in the course of their long alfish lives. They made him so comfortable, in this short stretch of time, that the question he had not wanted to ask earlier came unbidden to his lips.

“So why is the Shrouded Village on Midgardr?”

Melja paused a long moment, looking more sober than Einarr had yet seen him. “That is a long story, which will be better explained over the course of your training. You are road-weary tonight: there will be plenty of time to explore these mysteries later.”

Einarr inclined his head, not entirely satisfied. Still, a promise of more to come would do, for now.

Since the topic had turned, however obliquely, to training, Melja explained how the next several weeks were going to go. Einarr would rise with the sun and assist with chores in the mundane way. There was always wood to be chopped and chickens to be fed, after all. Then, after breakfast, he would learn the form and reading and nuance of a single rune, and in the afternoon put that rune to practical use. What was meant, exactly, by practical use Melja did not explain, but Einarr was satisfied. That night he slept soundly under the roof of his new tutors.


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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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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.