Tag: elves

7.18 – Crone

Einarr accepted the old crone’s porridge somewhat cautiously. Last night she had spoken of ‘questions,’ and made it sound like more than a few. He wasn’t sure he looked forward to answering them, although he would as honestly as he could.

The porridge, at least, was good. It had a pleasant woodsiness to it that Mira’s did not, and even as he ate he felt his strength returning to him. To Geiti’s apparent amusement, he found himself shoveling the thick grain stew ravenously into his mouth. She, too, ate, though far more sedately.

“I am glad to see your strength returned to you, young Cursebreaker.”

He nodded, buying time to swallow a mouthful. “Thank you for taking care of me. I’ll be sure to pass along your message when I return to the village. For now, though, I must return to my hunt.”

Geiti shook her head, chuckling. Stringy white hair fell forward into her face. “I’d a feeling you were going to say that. You know they have means of tracking it, right? Divining with the runes is more than just fortune-teller’s tricks.”

Now it was Einarr’s turn to shake his head. “I don’t like neglecting my training this way, it’s true… but I am a warrior, not a scholar, and until the Shroud is dealt with it is scholarship they must focus on.”

Geiti snorted. “After all this time, and still those elves don’t understand people. And this time, they’ve sent out a half-literate Cursebreaker to get themselves out of a bind, assuming he doesn’t get himself killed first.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow to hear the woman’s muttering, but said nothing. He wasn’t certain he would put it so uncharitably, but she also wasn’t necessarily wrong. There was, in fact, nothing he could say that would satisfy both hospitality and honesty.

“Don’t you worry yourself over trifles, boy. You go on about your hunt. Maybe, by some stroke of luck, you’ll manage to stop the Shroud before they can. Maybe you’ll even live through it – you look like a scrappy one. Meanwhile, this old woman has work to do.”

Einarr paused, his spoon halfway to his mouth, and stared at her. There was something just a little off about old Geiti. “Who… are you?”

She smirked. “What, do you expect me to throw off my cloak and reveal myself to be Wotan? Frigg? While I may be the Wise Old Woman in the Woods, I am mortal like yourself. I’ve just learned in my years as the highest-ranking Singer on this island something of what to expect of the ljosalfs here. I have something of an understanding with them, you see, although it appears to be past time I paid them another visit.”

“I… see.” Part of him, he was surprised to discover, was a little disappointed that she was not a god in disguise. Most of him, however, was just as glad not to come face to face with either of the Aesir he had robbed earlier this summer.

Now she cackled again. “Be about your hunt, child. You have some idea how to follow the thing?”

“Some, vaguely. I think it might be torn.”

She nodded. “In that case, look for the ends of branches and twigs that have been singed. And if you must make more runestones for yourself, no more than four, and never more than one at a time. At least not until you have a chance to speak with Melja about it. I don’t doubt a stone of two runes would kill you all by itself.”

“Thank you, grandmother. I will remember.”


It took Einarr less than two hours to find his way back to the Chief’s favored campsite where, some four days before, they had found the knife and the trail to the little boy. The new chief, in all likelihood. He pitied the child, but only for a moment. More important by far was finding the Shroud that had in all likelihood orphaned him, and his best chance of doing that was to find the mark his father’s knife had left in the dirt.

He had not, yet, carved himself fresh runestones. The old woman had said four: well, he would keep three about himself, at least for now, but he needed to consider carefully which three.

Einarr stood in the center of the campsite, on the stones of the fire ring, and stared about him. There was the path the children had taken in their mad flight. Unfortunately, that told him little. He allowed himself an exasperated sigh. Calm down. Remember what Afi taught you.

Einarr took a step off to the side and squatted down near the fire ring, closing his eyes. The smell of wet ash still permeated the clearing, somehow, and strongest from the ring in front of him. But that wasn’t the only source.

He pivoted, one knee dropping to the ground, and walked on his knees over to the edge of the clearing. Yes, this was it: this was where Onnir had found the knife stabbed into the ground. Strange that it should have been like that…

…unless someone had been trying to fight off the Shroud. He could see how pinning a thing that was a blindingly fast, flying scarf might be an effective attack. Based on the little boy’s story, it seemed likely that was the case.

The slit was still there, half-hidden by brush. That was probably the only reason it still existed at all. And his nose told him there was a source of char here. He bent down so that his nose was practically touching the ground and dirt got in his whiskers. Nothing on the surface, but that meant little after so long. He combed his fingers over the dirt.

Something tickled his palm. When he moved his hand, in a space that had previously been covered by dust and pebbles, he saw a small patch of diaphanous crimson cloth.


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7.2 – Seeking

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

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

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

“He introduced himself, yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Matron smiled slyly but did not answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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5.6 – At the Blue Hall

The public hall where Einarr found the Vidofnings and Brunnings was surprisingly large for a town no bigger than East Port. If Einarr had to take a guess, most of their custom came from ships such as their own, here to call on the Conclave.

A cheer went up as the door swung open under Reki’s hand. Inside the hall was as warm and cheery as one might expect at the end of a good season of raiding. With a grin, Einarr moved to join his crewmates with a drink while Reki went to report to Stigander. All eight of their party were able to breathe a sigh of relief when they saw that there had, in fact, been no transformations as of yet – only the complaints they had grown used to of nausea and headaches as though their crews had both contracted a lingering flu.

Even Reki’s news did not dampen their enthusiasm: if anything, the fact that they had found their “cure” before the corruption had claimed anyone was another victory over the madmen of the cult. Then it was Einarr’s turn.

“I’ve been given another impossible quest, I’m afraid, Father.”

“Feh. Do skalds give any other kind?”

“Not likely.”

“Well, what is it now?”

“I’m to travel to the Tower of Ravens and steal Frigg’s distaff out from under the noses of Huginn and Muninn.”

Stigander looked just as confused as Einarr had. “What in the depths of all the seas do you need that for?”

“Untangling fate, they say, and ridding us of the cult’s corruption for good.”

His father shook his head and wiped his hand down his moustaches, his expression changing from amusement to consternation and back again. “Well, if there’s anyone in this lot who can manage it, I’d lay my odds on you.”

Sivid could do it, if it weren’t for his accursed luck. “Thank you, Father. The Matrons said the tower required a smaller boat to reach: I’m to pay a call on a fisherman in the morning regarding the use of a boat. I’d like to take some of the crew along.”

“Long as they’re up for it, same as before. …This distaff, you said it untangles fate?”

Einarr nodded, and his father harrumphed. There was no need to say it: such a thing could easily break the Weaver’s curse on their homeland. He turned back to the hall full of his fellow Vidofnings.

“All right, everyone! Just like this spring, I need a few of you to venture out in a little fishing boat with me. This time we’re braving the wrath of a god!”

His pronouncement was followed by a peal of laughter, even by those who had heard the Matrons’ pronouncement at the Conclave.

Jorir, to no-one’s surprise, was the first to step forward. “Come hel or high water, I’m with ye.”

Einarr inclined his head at his man-at-arms. “Thank you, Jorir. Who else?”

The next man to step forward was gangly Irding, neither as tall nor as muscle-bound as his father but with the same brown hair and reckless grin. “Sounds like fun. I’ll give it a go.”

Erik’s head snapped around to look at his son. “You sure about that? We got into a heap o’ trouble going after the Isinntog.”

“I know. That’s why it sounds like fun.” Irding grinned at his father, and Erik laughed loudly.

“Who’m I kidding? Of course it does. Count me in, too.”

Einarr’s mouth curled in a half-smile. Irding looked a little less happy at the prospect now that Erik was also along, but it would be good for them. “Great. Anyone else? I expect we’ll have to work our way past traps, and if anyone knows how to read runes it would be a help.”

“I already told you, I’m coming,” Runa said, standing at the table.

“No, you’re not. There’s no telling what sort of violence we might come across.”

“You’re invading the tower of Huginn and Muninn. You need someone familiar with magic, who can read runes. I’m coming.”

Aema, the Brunning’s battle-chanter, stepped forward. “You’re hardly the only one here with those qualifications.”

“No, but I’m the only one here with those qualifications who isn’t needed here. You and Reki both have crews to tend, full of men doused with corrupted blood, and I do not. I may be a Jarl’s daughter, but that doesn’t make me useless.”

“Maybe not,” Trabbi rumbled, “but if anything should happen to you your Father will have my head. He may even if you go along and nothing happens.”

Runa met her erstwhile suitor’s eyes. “On my word of honor, I will not allow that to happen.”

Trabbi scowled back. “You have no more place on that boat than I do, my Lady.”

“That is where you’re wrong.” She turned her attention back to Einarr, and he felt the old familiar thrill. “What was it that the alfr gave you in the wood?”

“Some bauble he thought would help us through the tower, though at the moment I can’t see how.” That had been the way of Runa’s gifts, too, given as they left to seek the Jotünhall.

“Give it here.”

Einarr shrugged and removed the bird-shaped brooch from the pouch at his belt. “Doesn’t the use typically become plain when you need it?”

All three Singers rolled their eyes at him even as Runa took hold of the brooch and blanched.

Einarr couldn’t help the question. “What is it?”

“Let us hope the use becomes plain, because while I can read the runes, they look like so much nonsense.”

Reki threaded her way through the room to take a closer look. She raised pale eyebrows and let loose a low whistle. “Well, at the very least your elf-gift should actually be of use. How did he get this, though?”

“See, Runa? I’m sure we’ll be able to muddle through-”

“So long as you have someone who can read the runes. You need me, and one way or another I’m coming.” Runa’s jaw was set. Einarr turned to Bollinn.

The new Captain of the Skudbrun sighed. “I don’t think there’s any stopping her at this point. Over my own better judgement, I’ll allow it.”

Runa smiled in triumph. Einarr hoped she wouldn’t regret her insistence.


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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.”


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2.13 – Fidelity & Honor

“Runa is my only child, and likely to remain so. He who marries her will become my heir. Rise, son, and take the hand of the prize you’ve fought so hard for.”

Raenshold. The Jarl was asking him to forswear Raenshold… his father… his birthright… and accept a jarldom in its place? Einarr shook his head as he climbed unsteadily to his feet, certain he must have heard wrong. “My lord, surely you jest?”

“Not at all.” The Jarl’s face was open and honest, as though the thought never crossed his mind that Einarr might be bound by another oath.

Einarr risked a glance back at the hall: his father’s face was grim, as was Bardr’s. Erik and Tyr looked concerned. Now he glanced down to Jorir, and unless Einarr was very much mistaken that was fear he saw there. Runa, though, gave him an encouraging smile and nod, trying to convince him to go ahead and accept. As though she did not know what her father asked of him.

Einarr set his mouth and turned his attention back to the Jarl. “My lord Jarl, every man under my Father’s command has sworn to return and reclaim Breidelsteinn.”

“Do you not have your own ship, your own crew, now?”

“Why would that matter?”

The Jarl blinked now. “Is Raenshold truly even a memory for you? Is it not merely the stories your father’s men tell to while away the time as you wander the waves? I am offering you the security of your own lands with my daughter’s hand.”

“It is true, we have lived as vagabonds since the Weaving, and my memories of home are faint and dim, their patchwork filled in by the stories told aboard the Vidofnir. But Raenshold is and ever will be home, and I was born to be a Thane, as was Father before me. You ask me now to settle for a jarldom in foreign waters, and let my birthright be usurped again?” Einarr raised his gaze to meet the Jarl’s, unflinching, and pursed his lips. Anger was beginning to smolder in his breast, and he worried he would say too much.

“You have been a homeless wanderer, sailing from port to port with never an end in sight. While you are unwed, that is fine for you, but I am no father if I allow my one and only daughter to lead that kind of life. Her hand in marriage is bound to these lands by a chain even the gods might not shatter.”

“Bound by you alone, and you hold the key.” Rage threatened to boil up, but if he fought his father-in-law over this he lost, no matter who won. “You say you are my father’s friend, and yet you try to seduce me into betraying him? Nay, Jarl. Runa shall be my bride, and none other, and no other than Raenshold shall be our home.”

“You’re being unreasonable.”

“Actually, I rather think you are. You would make a nithing of me.”

The sound of silver bells filled Einarr’s ears and the Jarl froze. Einarr looked about, surprised: no-one in the Hall so much as blinked, save one. The strangely familiar lady’s maid with the long golden hair and the elfin features. She curtsied, and as she rose she turned to walk away. The scene in Kjell hall faded with every step she took into the distance, until it was replaced with the alpine meadow where he had first seen the woman. Einarr shook his head to clear it before stepping back toward the path where he had evidently left the rest of his companions. I hope I’m not too far behind.

***

The sound of silver bells rang in Jorir’s ears and he stepped forward over the threshold between reality and dreaming. He didn’t know how it was done, but he had been through the tests before.

The scene in front of his eyes was the last one he expected, however. The light faded, its color yellowing, until he stood in a torch-lit stone hall. To every side svartdverger made merry. It took his eyes a minute to adjust, but when they did he saw the sigil of Chief Soggvar – King of Iron and Brass. I’m… home?

Jorir’s face lit up, for now he recognized the faces of his kinsmen. Some of them he was quite sure were dead, and others he suspected were, but in the world of the Oracle’s trial that did not matter. His eye lit on his brother’s face and he could not smother his astonished grin. He stepped over and put a hand on the other dwarf’s shoulder. “Brotti? What’re you doin’ here?”

“Waiting, little brother. We all are.” When his brother turned to face him, Jorir had a moment’s double-vision: Brotti’s face turned ashen, and the shadow of an axe cut across it. Jorir blinked and the vision cleared.

Jorir smiled again at his brother, but this time it was wan. I had a feeling.

“Go. The Thane would welcome you himself.”

“Aye.” He nodded, studying Brotti’s face even as he clapped him on the shoulder. Living or not, this would likely be the last time Jorir saw him. After a long moment, he turned towards the throne where Thane Soggvar sat looking dour – moreso even than Jorir was used to. Things must have got bad after he left.

Slowly Jorir stepped towards the throne, and slowly he knelt before his chieftain and bowed his head. He felt the large, heavy hand of the king settle on the back of his head with surprising gentleness. It was cold and clammy.

“Welcome home, son of the mountains. We have expected you.”

“I beg you to forgive my tardiness, my king.”

The hand raised again off his head. “It is of no matter. We have endured.”

Have you? “Thank the gods,” he said, as though he had noticed nothing amiss.

“What have you discovered on your long journey?”

“I have found the Cursebreaker.”

“Well! Cause for celebration indeed! Bring out the mead! In the morning, we will sacrifice to the gods for their beneficence!”

Jorir tried to smile in response to the Thane’s enthusiasm, but the signs within his vision suggested he was too late.


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2.5 – News of an Oracle

The beach they cast off from was little more than a glimmer in the moonlight when Stigander passed command to Bardr for the night. Sivid had drawn the short straw for watch this night, although even among those not on duty few slept. Most drank.

Stigander sprawled in the stern, staring up at the unblinking stars from under where his awning would ordinarily cover. Einarr approached, his boots deliberately loud on the deck, and took a swig from the skin he had just filled. It sloshed as he flopped down to sit by his father. He held it out by way of offer: his father’s paw nearly enclosed his hand when the offer was accepted. Neither man felt the urge to talk. There was little to talk about, until Stigander was deep enough in his cups that he started telling stories of home, and Einarr didn’t think there was enough in that skin to get that far.

Soon enough the skin was flaccid and empty. Before either of them could decide to roll over and sleep, another set of footsteps approached, the strides quicker than most of the crew’s. Einarr looked up from under heavy brows: it was Jorir, a fresh skin in each hand.

He held one up. “For the intrusion.”

Einarr motioned for the dark dwarf to join them. “Not regretting your oath, are you?”

“Feh.” It came out as half a laugh. “No chance.”

Einarr was gratified that his expectation was correct. “Then what can I do for you?”

“It’s more what I can do for you.” Jorir took a long draught from the first skin and passed it to Einarr. “That story tonight… that hasn’t been embellished too much, has it?”

Einarr shook his head.

“No.” Stigander’s voice was startling and husky. “No, that was faithfully writ by my Lahja.”

Jorir gave Einarr a quizzical look.

“Father’s second wife. My mo- the stepmother who raised me.” He had always thought of her as Mamma, but the dwarf was after clarity not sentiment.

The dwarf’s eyes grew round as the moon above. “I’m sorry. I meant no offense.”

Stigander chuckled, a low, rumbling rasp under the circumstances, and sat up. “None taken, I’m sure.” He reached a hand for the skin that Einarr had just finished drinking from.

He passed the skin, as requested. “Not a lot of thanes marry Singers, after all, although I fail to understand why.”

Stigander harrumphed. “Not a lot of Singers with the other qualifications of your dear little Runa, my boy, and not a lot of thanes with the luxury of marrying without them.”

Jorir cleared his throat. “Well. You see, the story put me in mind of someone who helped me once. She might be able to help you. But she does nothing free… and she’s not an easy person to reach.”

The dwarf let the pause after his statement stretch out: Einarr gave an exasperated sigh. “Well, out with it. Who?”

“Out in Attilsund… there’s an old elvish oracle – or at least there was, back before I fell under Fraener’s power. She should still be there, her or one of her apprentices.”

Einarr scoffed. “You want us to talk to a Weaver about undoing a weaving?”

“We’ve spoken with fate-spinners before, but…” Stigander looked thoughtful. “An elvish oracle, of the old, mystic school?” When Jorir nodded, he continued. “Might be worthwhile. They were said to have some very… different notions about their Art. …Yes, I’ll check the charts in the morning. Perhaps worth the detour.”

* * *

“New plan, lads!” Stigander announced entirely too cheerfully early the next day, while about half the crew were still nursing hangovers. One could almost believe he hadn’t been drinking right along with the rest of them, although Einarr knew better.

“Based on information from the two newest members of our crew, we’ll be headed for Attilsund to go consult with a very old, very wise elf who I wager knows a thing or three about Weaves and curses. It’s a bit out of the way, but maybe some gold will fall into our laps on the way, eh?”

“Long as we’re wishing, might as well wish for some wenches ta fall from the sky!” Sivid’s retort earned a round of laughter from around the deck: even Stigander joined in.

“I know. This was going to be a long season anyway, and this little detour is likely to make it longer. But tell me, lads: won’t it be worth it, if it helps us go home?”

Now came the round of cheers from the Vidofnings. Einarr joined in, and if he was less enthusiastic than some of the older men it was only because getting home to a place he barely remembered was no longer his only concern. Not long after the three of them had finished Jorir’s skins and rolled over for sleep, he realized he, too, wished to consult the oracle. Now he wondered who else among the crew might have a question to ask, and what Jorir had meant when he mentioned it would not be free. Surely he could not refer to coin, for that was as ordinary as a school of pike.

Speaking of whom… “Good morning.”

The dwarf grumbled his reply, evidently still a little foggy.

“Not sure if I should thank you or not for that bit of information last night.”

“I’m not, either.”

Einarr snorted. “So then what’s the catch? How does one pay for the services of this wise old elf?”

“Impossible to say, until she declares what she wants of you.”

“Oh? And what did she demand of you, when you sought her aid?”

“A… favor, that I’ve yet to be able to repay.”

“So that’s why you brought it up. Now that you’re free of Svartlauf, you want the debt off your shoulders too.”

There was a long moment where he thought Jorir was about to say something, but finally the dwarf merely nodded.

Einarr hummed. “Well. You’ll tell me what the favor was when you’re ready, I suppose. Someone showed you where I set up your grindstone?”

You set up?” Jorir sighed and shook his head. “Yes, I’ve seen it. As good a location as I could ask for on a longship.”

Einarr nodded. “Yes, I set up. I was on the quest that took me to Svartlauf in the first place because I’d dishonored Father’s name: he couldn’t just let me off.”

Jorir still looked annoyed.

“Mind regrinding Sinmora’s edge for me? Our little fight down in the tunnels nicked it pretty bad.” It was an obvious change of subject, but no less true for that.

“This afternoon. Don’t think I’ll have room to do much before then.”


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