Tag: Huginn and Muninn

6.3 -Engimýri

Behind them lay the sandy beach they had just climbed. Ahead of them, on the other side of a good-sized meadow, lay the blackest forest Einarr had ever seen – darker and more imposing by far than the giant wood on Svartlauf. The trees were all of the ordinary size, but packed so densely it would be impossible for sun to reach the forest floor, with needles darker than the darkest fir. In that spot, a strange reluctance seized their feet and all of them paused, staring at the wood ahead of them and the cliffs beyond it.

“Something in there ought to do for a mast, anyway.” Jorir broke the silence that had fallen as they contemplated the steps ahead. “I mislike the look of that wood, though.”

Einarr and Erik both hummed in agreement, and Einarr was reasonably certain their hesitation had nothing to do with the old fisherman they had left to his nets on the beach. Einarr took a deep breath then and stepped forward. “Well, nothing for it.”

As he stepped into the grass, the ground squelched under Einarr’s boot. Well, perhaps not surprising, given the storm the night before. With a sigh, he pressed on, and the others followed. The ground grew wetter with every step, and soon the mud sucked at his boots, trying to pull them from his feet.

Runa had the worst of it: the hem of her skirt soon grew sodden as she slogged through the meadow-marsh, kicking it ahead of her with every step so it would not tangle in her legs. To her credit, she did not complain, although before long Einarr wondered if she simply did not have the breath to speak. Without a word he let the others pass him and dropped to a knee in the mud.

“My lady.”

For just a moment, he thought she would take him to task for foolishness, but evidently she thought better of it. With a breathless nod, she pinned her skirts up to her knees against Einarr’s back and wrapped her arms about his neck. As he rose he staggered a bit before he found his balance again. Now it was doubly hard to keep his boots, and every step came with the spectre of a slip that would spill both of them in the mud.

“My thanks, dear one” she had murmured in his ear as he rose. It would have been worthwhile even if she hadn’t, but the intimate words brought a smile to his face even as he trudged forward to overtake Jorir once more.

Finally, though, the land began to rise a little as they neared the forest’s edge, and dry a little as it did. They began passing the rotted stumps of deadfalls, and sometimes the gray wood itself, and soon they neared the shadow of the wood. Here they stopped again, by a stump that was merely grayed by time and not yet rotted. Runa got down, and the others all took a moment to catch their breath.

“So this is a thoroughly miserable little island,” Erik said eventually.

Irding agreed. “My thoughts exactly. I’m not sure if I hope there’s a village here or not.”

“I expect there is,” Runa mused. “But I suspect if we find it we’ll wish we hadn’t.”

“Because of what the old man said?” Einarr wasn’t sure the old man wasn’t crazy, but as the Oracle had made abundantly clear there were some definite gaps in his education.

“Quite right.”

“Don’t take this amiss, Lady Runa,” Irding said. “But… I always thought the Isle of the Forgotten was just a bedtime story.”

Jorir actually laughed. “Can’t blame that’un on the Cap’n, milady.”

“Everything you’ve seen,” she grumbled, “and I still hear protests of just a story. Just! Have the Singers kept the lore for nothing?”

“Not nothing, surely.” This was going to blow up fast if Einarr didn’t calm her down. “But since not one of us seems to know what we’re in for…?”

“Bah. Fine.” Runa looked a little mollified, at least. “Basically, the Isle of the Forgotten is the opposite of Valhalla, only apparently you don’t have to die to get there.”

Erik scratched his head. “I thought that was Hel…”

Now it was Runa’s turn to laugh. “Hardly. Those who are taken by Hel can still be remembered, even if not well thought of. The Isle of the Forgotten? That’s where nobodies go. Those who waste their lives, with no deeds at all to speak of – or those who run afoul of certain powerful entities.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Yes, I understand that this is my fault. Can we drop it and move on with getting out of here?”

“If we can.” Runa met his eyes there, and the look did nothing to soften her words. “To the best of my knowledge, there is no way off the Isle.”

For the second time that morning time seemed to freeze for Einarr as another’s words hung in the air before him. Could he really have brought such a terrible fate on their heads? Not just theirs, but everyone waiting for them, as well?

Jorir cleared his throat and the spell was broken.

“If landing here is a curse, then plainly I must find a way to break it. That is, apparently, what I do.”

“Let us hope so.”

Only at this point did he break eye contact with his betrothed, when the contest of wills had been agreed a draw. “Now then. I think we’ve sat around talking long enough, don’t you?”

Murmurs of agreement spread around the other sailors, and they once again turned to face the forest. Somehow it felt just as black up close as it had from across the marsh. The difference was, from here they could see scars on trees and earth alike, as though some great battle had taken place here, and recently.

“Let’s find what we need and get out of here,” Jorir grumbled. “I’d rather beg the old man for another night’s lodging than stay in there if I don’t have to.”


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5.30 – Escaping the Tower

“I’ll catch up by the time you reach the apothecary room.” Einarr flashed a cocky grin at his liege-man before he dashed back into the room, toward the fireplace. Had the familiars left their feathers on purpose, like the Valkyrie had? He couldn’t say, but they were sure to be just as magical.

Einarr bent to scoop up the two feathers without slowing down, then skidded around the giant perch.

The doorway stood empty. Good. Now to fulfill his end of the promise. Einarr tucked the feathers, black as night, into the pouch at his belt and poured on the speed. The distaff was like a goad against his back, and he was glad it wasn’t any longer. Perhaps another foot of length and he’d have had to worry about it tangling in his legs.

He shot through the doorway and cornered hard on the landing to take the stairs two at a time. The rumbling beneath his feet was rougher now, although somehow he felt certain the tower was not breaking apart.

That might actually be worse. Something whizzed past his face and a warm line stung his cheek. Was something firing arrows up at him? He took the stairs at full tilt, two and sometimes three at a time. Another arrow flew, and this one trimmed his sleeve. Were these warning shots?

By the time he reached the floor below he saw Jorir’s boot disappearing down the opposite stairwell. So he hadn’t been quite as quick as he thought he would be: the important part was that he was right behind.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and Einarr froze just before the threshold of the stairway leading down. Not a step too soon: the axe that dropped from above trimmed the ends of his beard already. He risked a quick glance around: just a trap.

Then he heard Runa’s shriek echoing up the stair. Einarr leapt forward, the back of the blade scraping against the bottom of his boots, and all but flew down the steps. He counted and ignored not one but three slices into his legs in his haste to reach them.

Erik stood, his feet planted and one hand braced against the wall, the other extended and holding Runa by her delicate wrist. Runa herself hung from that arm, scrabbling for purchase with her fine boots against what had suddenly become a smooth ramp instead of stairs. She gasped as though in pain, and only in that moment did Einarr realize he, too, was gasping for air. She’s fine. Calm down.

Jorir shot him a poisonous look, which he ignored as he slipped up to stand next to Erik. “Runa. Reach up your other hand for me.

She looked up at him from panic-ringed eyes and her breathing slowed. She managed a nod and slowly stretched her other arm out. Einarr’s hand closed around hers.

“Okay. Now we’re going to pull you back up, all right?”

“Please.” She still sounded like she was in pain: perhaps the jolt of her rescue had dislocated a shoulder?

“Ready? One, two, and … heave.”

Runa was not heavy, especially not for two men who had their balance back, and so a handful of heartbeats later Runa stood a step above them, dusting herself off and making a show of testing her shoulder and rubbing at the wrist Erik had grabbed.

“Right. Well. On we go. Watch your step.” He felt bad about the floor dropping out from under Runa: these traps were almost certainly his fault, after all – but not so bad that he was willing to drop the prize. Instead, he stepped forward onto the ramp and pushed off with his back foot, so that he was able to slide down the stone much as he had slid down a mound of coins early in the spring.

The ramp went all the way down to the landing for the next floor, and Einarr was not the only one who could not quite contain a laugh as they skied down. He was certain he heard Irding, and quite possibly Erik, as he half-ran, half-stumbled off the ramp and into the third floor challenge room. The door on the other side stood open. Feeling jaunty, Einarr sauntered forward.

The smell of ozone was his only warning. Einarr froze.

Lightning cracked down in the center of the room.

Seconds later, as the others skidded up behind him, lightning struck again. In the exact same spot. Einarr frowned, counting.

Five seconds before the third strike. He could make it. The Vidofnings could make it. Could Runa? Much as he loved her, she was more than a little pampered.

Well, nothing for it. Five seconds after the third strike came the fourth. The light had not fully faded from his eyes before Einarr was moving again, dashing for the far door with every ounce of speed he could muster.

The next time lightning struck, the hair on his head crackled with static – but he was clear. Einarr stopped to wait at the door for his friends to run the gauntlet.

Irding came next. It looked like he was trying to beat Einarr’s time. Einarr shook his head, smiling at the other young man as he crossed the finish line into the stair. Einarr’s hair had merely stood on end: Irding’s smelled of smoke.

Erik and Jorir made it with little issue, despite their twin and opposite problems of size. That only left Runa, who stood staring across at Einarr with indecision. He nodded encouragement to her, beckoning her on, and she set her jaw. That’s my Runa.

The lightning sizzled down again, and then Runa made her break across the floor, her dress trailing behind her. Einarr caught her hands as another flash appeared.

She was smoking. Or, rather, her skirt was. Runa herself seemed to be fine.

“Turn around.” When she obliged, Einarr beat out the flames licking her skirt at the edges of where the lightning had struck.

Nothing else in the tower slowed them more than a moment. There were more arrows and knives, and even another ramp, but as the sun sank below the horizon and seemed to light the sea on fire they stood in the Gestrisni catching their breath.

“See, Jorir? Not a problem at all.” Einarr could not quite repress a smile. In spite of everything, that had almost been fun.

“Are ye sure about that, lad?” Jorir’s voice was oddly flat, but Einarr still heard the edge in it.

“Why, what do you —” He turned his head to look at his man-at-arms and suddenly he knew what the problem was. The Gestrisni now sat in the open ocean, not a rock to be seen. All around them, the water was perfectly still, and there wasn’t so much as a breeze to stir a lock of hair among them. He had to let that sink in a moment before he found anything to say. “I hope we’re all ready to row.”

Jorir grunted. “I’m decent at navigating by the stars, as well. At least we won’t be striking out blindly.”

Erik snorted. “You let me an’ Irding worry about the oars, Einarr. You and your lady should keep watch.”

To that, Einarr nodded easy agreement. “My thanks. In that case, oh fearless navigator, let’s have a look at the charts.”


 

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6.1 – Coming Soon

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So ends Book 5 of Einarr’s adventures. Book 6 will pick up right where we left off, with our heroes lost in the middle of the ocean, on November 13. By then, I should be comfortably ensconced in my new home in Pago Pago. If you’d like to read about our adventures abroad (with an infant!), I will be starting a separate blog for just that purpose.

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 Smashwords, 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.

5.29 – Örlögnir

Runa frowned at the distaffs laying neatly in a row on the shelf of the loft. The description the Matrons had left them had only narrowed it down to two, and she seemed as reluctant to risk picking one up to examine it as Einarr was.

“The Örlögnir untangles fate,” she mused. “Probably our clue is in the pattern of the inlay.”

Einarr peered more closely at the two they were considering. “But… they look the same to me?”

On each, there was a pattern of cross-hatching that seemed vaguely familiar to him, as well as a small round symbol that was difficult to discern in the smoky light up here. It could have been either the Vegvisir or the Helm of Awe, he just couldn’t see without picking it up.

Runa solved this issue neatly by kneeling on the floor to examine the two hazel and ivory distaffs. Feeling stupid, Einarr crouched next to her.

One of the distaffs was plainly the Helm of Awe, and the other was the Runic Compass. Protection, and Guidance. Only, either of them could be appropriate here, depending on if the craftsman considered it primarily curative or if its use would be more broadly entwined with the Norns’ workings.

He looked at Runa from the corner of his eye, hoping she might have a better idea. Her lips were pursed into a line, and her eyes darted between them. Comparing, he was sure. “Well?”

“A moment. It’s down to the hatching.”

Einarr grunted agreement.

“We’re looking at either the Web of Wyrd or Gugnir, on both of them, but I feel like my eyes are playing tricks on me in the light.”

“That one has the Helm of Awe, if it helps.” He pointed to the one on the right, with crossed diamonds encircling the handle in bands. “And that one has the Runic Compass.”

She nodded, frowning. “That’s what I thought I saw, yes. …If only there were a surface I could draw on.”

“Plenty of dust on the floor.”

Runa hummed, looking doubtfully down at the floorboards. “It will have to do, I suppose. Fine.”

She turned toward him and stretched an arm down to draw some quick lines in the dust, and her braid slipped down over her elegant shoulder. Beautiful and brilliant. Could any man be luckier?

Runa cleared her throat and shot him an impatient look.

Right. Focus, man. “Sorry.”

She hummed and looked back down at the hatch mark patterns she had drawn in the dust. “One of these is Gugnir. The other is the Web of Wyrd. We want the one – I think – that has the Web of Wyrd drawn on it.”

Einarr looked down and examined them. They were both familiar, and very similar to each other. The primary difference, as he studied her work, seemed to be the vertical lines running through the angles. “The web is the one built like a ladder of the other, more or less?”

“More or less, yes.”

He nodded, then turned his attention back to the line of artefacts. If he wanted the cross-hatch pattern that was bounded by three lines, then that meant… He got down on his knees and leaned against the edge of the shelf. His eyes, too, seemed to be playing tricks, but being named Cursebreaker had to be worth something, didn’t it?

He peered, and as he peered he blinked, and slowly the inlay pattern of ivory on pale wood came clear. The one that was banded by the Web of Wyrd was also the one stamped with the Vegvisir.

Einarr swallowed. Logically, that had to be right, didn’t it? With no little hesitation, he reached out for the distaff on the left.

Runa’s voice stopped his hand inches from the handle. “Are you sure?”

He paused, considering, and turned his head to look over his shoulder. “It shows the Web of Wyrd, like you said I should look for, and the Runic Compass. Guidance and Fate. That sounds like what we were told to look for, doesn’t it?”

She pressed her lips together, still worried, but nodded. “Yes, that makes sense. Only…”

“Only?”

“Only this feels too straightforward.”

“You’re saying I should take the one stamped with the Helm of Awe and Gugnir?”

“No…”

“I think it’s our best bet. You said it yourself, you’ve had little to do other than study. If you say we want the web pattern and not the spear pattern, I’ll trust you.”

“But what if…?”

“You’re wrong? Then we fail. But sometimes, you just have to trust your gut. And my gut says we reasoned right.”

Einarr gave himself no more time to deliberate. As the last word left his mouth, his hand closed on the handle of the distaff he had chosen.

A cawing erupted from the floor below, and Einarr felt a vibration beneath his feet. He doubted the tower would actually collapse about their heads, but there was absolutely no reason to stay now.

Einarr thrust the distaff through his baldric and slid down the side rails of the ladder, but then he stopped. He would not be his father’s son if he did not help the lady down, after all.

Runa hardly needed the help, although she accepted it with grace. Then they were off again, their companions standing at the top of the stair and waving them on to hurry. Of Huginn and Muninn, Einarr saw no sign save a pair of black feathers on the ground in front of the fire. The white one woven into his buckle caught his eye and he paused. On impulse, he turned to the others. “Go on ahead. I’ll catch up.”

“Are ye daft, man?” Jorir looked at him as though he quite believed his Lord was.

Einarr grinned back. This was foolish, sure, but it was also not an opportunity he could stand to let pass. “Perhaps. Don’t worry: I’ll be fine. I’ll catch up by the time you hit the apothecary room.”


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! 

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 Smashwords, 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.

5.28 – Huginn and Muninn

A fireplace dominated one wall of the long, rectangular room, and in front of that fireplace stood a thick pine pole. A pair of posts extended out from either side of the pole, and once the feathers settled down Einarr faced the impassive stares of two enormous ravens. He swallowed.

Unsure how one addresses the beings one intends to steal from, he took a step further into the room. “I am Einarr, son of Stigander, of Raenshold. I believe you know why we are here.”

One of the ravens cocked its head to the side and croaked “Cursebreaker.”

The other one dipped as though to grab a morsel of food from thin air. “First accursed.”

“I’m… going to take that as a yes.” Einarr stepped further into the room, never taking his eyes from Wotan’s familiars.

The one who had dipped its head lifted it again with a jerk to stare past Einarr. Runa stepped into the hall, all grace and beauty and self-assurance.

“I hope you will forgive our intrusion, noble birds,” she crooned.

The first raven lifted its open beak in the air and seemed to laugh at her pretense. No-one called ravens noble, even if they were a god’s familiars. “Wily,” it cawed.

“Broken Breaker,” the other began. “Unsnarl the web you hang in.”

“Frigg permits.”

“Wotan reclaims.”

“Be quick!”

Einarr started toward where he could just make out a ladder into what would ordinarily be a loft.

“Touch nothing.”

He stopped at the last command. “Which is it?”

Both birds spoke together now. “Be quick! Touch nothing. Cursebreaker must break his own curse.”

“Hand of Hel grows strong.”

“Frigg permits. Wotan reclaims.”

Confused, Einarr looked with a furrowed brow to first Runa, who shrugged, and then Jorir, still outside the door.

“The Örlögnir,” Jorir mouthed. “Just don’t take anything else.”

Ah. Right. He nodded gratefully at his liege-man and hurried for the dimly glimpsed ladder.

The hall grew smoky as Einarr neared the loft, and his steps seemed to echo in his own ears, but he could still hear the clipped phrases of Huginn and Muninn as Runa attempted to speak with them. It seemed to him that they were teasing her, the thought of which amused him more than he would admit – to her.

Up the ladder he went, the side rails clattering against the wall with every step. The smoke above was thick enough to make his eyes and throat burn: he hoped he could recognize the Örlögnir for what it was: it had been a good long time since he had seen Grimhildr spinning, and he didn’t remember much about hers other than it was a long rod with a pointed end.

The loft was filled with chests, stacked haphazardly, many of them half-open. Inside some of them glinted gold or jewels to tempt a saint. Einarr paused before the fourth of these before shaking his head. They had plenty of wealth after the Allthane’s hoard, or at least they should, but they had no other way of quelling the black blood that tainted both their crews.

“Going to have to try harder than that to throw me off,” he muttered as he continued back, his eyes scanning for the half-remembered shape.

One of the ravens below laughed. The raucous caw grated on Einarr’s nerves.

Then, finally, he spotted a shelf running along the side of the loft. An arrow slit in the wall allowed a thin beam of light to slant down along its length. On it lay a series of rods.

“They said it was… ivory inlaid,” he muttered, trying to remember exactly how the wise women had described it. Five of the rods before him, however, had ivory inlays of various designs. That narrowed it down a little, anyway. But what was the type of wood?

Holly? Hazel? Birch? It was something pale, he felt certain. That narrowed it down to four, at least. …There was someone else along who would know. Runa had been there when the quest was handed down, and was a Singer besides. With a nod, he fixed the place in his mind and went back to the ladder to call across the room. “Runa?”

A raven cackled, as though it knew why he called.

“What is it?” She sounded exasperated.

“Can you leave the others to converse with our hosts? I could use a hand.”

“Go, Lady,” Jorir rumbled, audible all the way across the hall.

Runa exchanged a few words with the dwarf, too low for Einarr to hear, and then nodded. She picked up her skirts and headed back toward the loft.

“I’d hardly call it conversing,” she muttered as she dusted off her hands. “Blasted birds just love being cryptic.”

“Aren’t you the one who was excited to match wits with them?”

Runa hummed. “So what was it you wanted me for?”

“There are a lot of distaffs up here, assuming I remember aright what one looks like. I’ve got it down to four. I’m hoping you can help me narrow it down.”

She smiled at him, and his heart skipped a beat again just like it had every time last winter. “Let’s have a look.”

Einarr led her back toward the shelf. “I don’t suppose you managed to figure out what happens if we get the wrong one?”

She shook her head. “Best case? We get back and find out the Matron’s ritual doesn’t work. Worst case, we bring the tower down on our heads and the ritual fails.”

“I was afraid of that. Well. Let’s figure this out right, then.”

The rods all lay on the shelf exactly where Einarr had found them. He had not dared move them around as he sorted, just in case the ravens’ “touch nothing” had been a little more literal than Jorir seemed to think.

“That one,” he pointed to one that looked like birch with ivory knotwork. “Or one of these three.” The last set, all near to each other, was one holly and two hazel, if his woodcraft did not fail him.

Runa pursed her lips. “Hazel and ivory, they said, for purification. …Which I think means it’s one of these two?”

Einarr groaned. He’d been afraid of that, as the only sample there were two of. If he could touch them… but no. All of them were sure to be magical in some way or another. Nothing for it but to go over the lore. “What else do we know of the distaff?”


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! 

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 Smashwords, 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.

5.26 – Poultice

Runa’s song had become little more than a buzzing in the background of Jorir’s attention as he bruised the honeyed leaves in the mortar and prayed the other two would hurry up.

At least Lord Einarr didn’t seem to be growing any worse now. Given enough time, the song magic could probably handle it. Only, they didn’t have that much time. Einarr needed to be back on his feet before they approached their goal, or they might not make it out. At least, Jorir didn’t think any of them would be willing to leave him behind. Even Irding, though new to the crew, seemed to have taken to the Captain’s son.

“Feathery leaves and flat flower clusters, right?”

Jorir nearly jumped out of his skin at Erik’s sudden voice behind him. “Right.”

“There aren’t any white ones, but I found some that are kind of pink?”

He turned around to see the big man holding a pot with the flower he spoke of and rolled his eyes. “Yes, also yarrow. Let me clip some before you take it back. Irding should be looking for the touch-me-nots. …See if you can’t find some woundwort, while you’re at it.”

Finally. That was two of the three plants he needed. If the wound were less grievous, he might try to poultice with just these elements. Under the circumstances, though, Jorir thought it better to be safe. He pinched the yarrow stems and scraped the tiny leaves into his mortar and returned to mixing.

Minutes passed, and still no touch-me-nots. Jorir looked up from his task in irritation. He didn’t think he could wait much longer to apply the poultice – both for the potency of the herbs and the state of his Lord.

On the far side of the room, Erik and Irding appeared to be arguing at a whisper over two plants with yellow flowers – neither of which looked like a touch-me-not from this distance. With a growl, he stood up and hefted the heavy mortar.

“What is taking you so long,” he growled as he approached the two. “…Are you seriously arguing over a buttercup and a goldenrod? Neither of those are what I sent you for.”

Irding frowned down at the goldenrod he had in his hand. “Not a whole lot of yellow flowers out here.”

How does anyone not know a touch-me-not? “It looks like a drinking horn with a wide mouth. Next thing I know you’ll bring me wolfsbane for woundwort!”

“Wolfsbane I know,” Erik rumbled.

“That’s something, anyway. Hurry it up a bit: the longer this takes, the worse it gets.” Jorir turned and walked back towards his Lord on his sickbed.

“So… what does woundwort look like?” Irding’s voice carried across the floor.

Jorir could not suppress a growl. “It’s a small plant. Little cones at the top covered with purple petals. Just bring the whole pot, if you find it.”

Sounds of affirmation followed Jorir back to the center of the room, but he was not hopeful. Oh, they would try, certainly, but he rated their odds as low. He returned to pulverizing the concoction with somewhat more force than before.

“Ha!” Erik’s voice boomed across the room. Not many moments later, a pair of touch-me-not stems appeared on the floor at Jorir’s knee. “Those, yes?”

“Yes, those.” Jorir breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you. Any luck on the woundwort?”

“Still working on it.”

“Fine. This will do for the moment, but keep looking.” He plucked the flowers off the stems and tossed them into the mortar.

Runa was beginning to look tired, but the paste was finally ready. Jorir turned to his patient: Einarr still looked waxy, and his breathing was labored, but finally Jorir had something to help the body along. He met Runa’s eye. “I’m going to untie his bandage now.”

She nodded, and Jorir’s fingers moved to the sodden knot of cloth that had kept Einarr from bleeding out long before. He tugged once, then twice, and all he elicited was a groan from the patient. Shaking his head, Jorir took his eating knife from his belt and sliced the strip near the knot.

Once the cut was uncovered, and it was a long one, blood welled slowly up. Too slowly for Jorir’s liking, but at least it still flowed. He began to dab the sticky mixture across the red gash in his Lord’s side. As he went, the redness faded from the skin almost immediately, as mind and body went to work knitting the flesh with fresh resources. It was incredible healing, even considering the song at work.

Jorir had treated perhaps half the wound when Irding appeared at his side. “Is this the woundwort?”

The dwarf glanced up at the young man. “That’s a thistle.”

“Why would an herb-witch want thistle?” Irding’s confusion was audible as he wandered back into the room in search of the otherwise common herb. Jorir allowed himself a smirk: it would be a good question, in an ordinary herb-witch’s hut. Here, though, where they were obviously being tested?

Jorir neared the end of the gash and his paste at once. Soon he would have to test whether that stack of muslin was suitable for bandages: he hoped it was. The tester seemed to have given them the materials they would need, so long as they could make use of them.

Einarr groaned again and his eyelids fluttered. Jorir nodded as he dabbed on the last of the paste: remarkable vitality on that one, and a good head on his shoulders. A worthy lord, even if perhaps a little fragile. He laid one of the pieces of muslin down across the wound. As he pressed it into place, a white glow caught his eye. What might that be… a feather? He shook his head. Time enough to ask Einarr about it after he was bandaged.

With a groan, Einarr’s eyes finally opened. “Uh? Hello. Would someone mind telling me why I have straw stabbing into my back?”


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If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, 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.

5.21 – Relational Maze

Einarr stumbled through the door, blinking at the flash of light that had momentarily blinded him. Frowning, he looked about the room to see that it was filled with… not really statues, they weren’t solid enough for that, but more images of people he knew, all frozen in place in poses that spoke of daily life. There was Father, looking as though he was exhorting his crew, there Runa bent over a tafl board, there Jorir behind an anvil. Jarl Hroaldr sat tall in his throne, leaning forward as though passing judgement, while Erik and Sivid sat dicing. He furrowed his brow: this was rather eerie, but he was not at all certain what he was intended to do here, and there did not seem to be any doors.

Well. Perhaps a closer examination of the room would reveal the trick of it. Einarr wound his way through the ephemeral images of his friends and family, searching for some bit of writing on wall or floor that would point him in the right direction. Finally he came to the center of the room, where stood a broad pedestal, nearly waist-high. In the center of this pedestal, a good five paces away from the edge, an open book rested on a stand. My only hint, and it’s bound to be in runes. With a sigh, he climbed up onto the pedestal and walked toward the book.

Einarr’s skin prickled as he approached the book: it seemed to almost crackle with the magic of the gods. If that was any measure, this book would dwarf the Isinntog in power. He stepped up to the stand and rested his hands on the edges before looking down.

The page it was opened to was covered in runes, but as he stood blinking at the page he saw the Imperial script appear between the lines. Halfway down the first page, he looked over his shoulder, but still saw only the unmoving images of people he knew. The book. It’s describing what I’m doing right now. How…?

Out of curiosity, he tried to turn the page forward, but it was stuck. With a shrug, he flipped backwards. Everything was described in exacting detail – their journey to the Tower, the memory chambers, Erik and Irding’s victory over a stenjätte (there was a stenjätte in the tower?), and Jorir and Runa’s victory in a game of tafl.

Unnerved, Einarr took another lap around the room, looking for any other clue as to how he would escape – or who might be working such a spell on the book. Eventually, his feet brought him back to the book in the center of the room. The text from before was gone. Instead, in the center of one page, were these lines:

Prince of virtues   inspirer of men
Remember your burden   shared among many
Reorder your thoughts   aid also your friends
And open the path

It was doggerel, not what he expected of Wotan at all… but perhaps a raven familiar cannot quite appreciate poetry the same way? Whatever the case, it was the closest thing to a clue he had found.

The room was filled with images of the people in his life, and he could not honestly say that among those his eye was drawn to he was more imposed upon than imposing. Runa, perhaps, and he thought it balanced with the Jarl and with Jorir… but Einarr knew better than to think his father wanted to reclaim Breidelstein for his own benefit. And how many men on the crew helped him because they liked him, and how many because he was Stigander’s son?

Einarr shook his head. If that was true, then there must be some pattern among the images standing in the room that would let him open the door. First, he would attempt to put the images in some semblance of order.

Contrary to appearances, they were solid statues, although they moved with relative ease once he rocked them out of the depressions they sat in. He would start, he decided, by arranging them according to how he knew them – from the ship, from Kjell, and so on.

Some of the statues, he quickly discovered, were far heavier than others, even relative to their size. The Jarl, for example, was beyond his strength to budge, and his father moved only with great difficulty. He frowned: why could he move Erik and Sivid – who, interestingly, were all in one piece – with ease, but not Father and not Jarl Hroaldr?

As he braced himself again to shove his father’s statue out of its depression, he happened to look down. In the floor, a shallow groove ran between those two statues. Of course: Jarl Hroaldr was Father’s childhood friend, and this was something to do with relationships. He stopped trying to move the statue of his father: that friendship was too important to all three of them, and likely Runa besides.

Then he stopped in his tracks. If that was the case, that meant there would be something connecting to the Jarl’s statue to mark where Runa’s was supposed to go. And, given Einarr’s relationship to Runa, very likely there would be a connection to Stigander, as well. He went in search of Runa’s statue, which had been moved up against a wall early in his sorting attempt.

When he returned with it, however, he saw that there were two possible places that could be intended for Runa – and if he got one in a valid spot that was still wrong, he didn’t know if he could move it again. Runa, then, he left, and then went in search of a statue of Trabbi or Captain Kragnir of the Skudbrun. This was beginning to make sense, but if he didn’t want to be trapped in here forever he needed to get on it. Even the light statues weren’t precisely easy to move, after all.


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5.20 – Tuichu

Runa was terrifying when she was angry. Jorir once again wondered if Einarr knew what he was getting himself into with her. They charged forward, and at every opportunity offered a riddle. Sometimes she even managed to best their opponent, which was really quite impressive when he considered their opponent was, if not Wotan himself, then the god’s familiars.

Unfortunately, before long her mad charge left them in a bit of a pinch, and every time he tried to contradict her tactics she bulled forward. She had been too reckless with their riddling as well, and even between the two of them they had not been able to guess all their opponent’s riddles. Finally, he snapped. “Runa!”

“What.” Even her voice was icy.

“At this rate ye’ll get us both killed. Calm down. Look around.”

She stopped, took a deep breath, and surveyed the pieces surrounding them. Then she frowned. They were not lost yet, but significant portions of the enemy force were visible through their guards.

“The game was weighted against us from the beginning. Ye should have known this, and then you go off half-mad when it’s proven? This isn’t some match against a love-lorn suitor aiming to gain your favor, lass.”

She exhaled, loudly. “No. No, you’re right. Father would be upset if he knew I could still be goaded like that.”

“He’ll be more upset if you never come back. Put your head on straight.”

“Of course. My apologies.”

Jorir snorted. “Now. Between the two of us, let’s find a way out of this mess. It’s hard to say for certain, but I don’t think we’re set up to use that gambit Einarr pulled on me.”

“I don’t suppose it was a particularly clever feint, relying on the opponent misjudging your creativity?”

“I suppose you could call it that.”

Runa laughed. “Pretty sure I taught him that.”

Jorir rolled his eyes. “Nevertheless, I don’t think we’ve got the arrangement for it.”

“The gambit is not in the lay of the board, the gambit is in one’s wits. Help me think, then: we’ve more than enough pieces to pull this off yet.”

Optimism. That is what Einarr saw in her. Optimism and determination, more than stubborn pride. Perhaps she was a better match than he had believed. With a will, they set to winning the game. There were twice he disagreed with her chosen move, but she gave him time to disagree now, and saved not two but six pieces for it. More than a game for their lives, he was having fun.

“Reichi,” they announced together, five moves after Jorir had woken Runa from her rage.

“Very good, Lord. We’ve nearly made it!” The knight sounded cheerful again, after having been nearly cowed before, and distressed over their apparent drubbing.

“Don’t celebrate just yet. He can still block us.” Jorir peered ahead across the field of play, watching for their unseen opponent’s next move.

Sure enough, one of the white-clad pieces jumped into the center of the path, blocking their route.

“Reichi,” echoed across the battlefield. If they weren’t careful, this exchange could go on for ages.

“How many pieces do we have left that can weather more than one fight?” Jorir demanded of the black knight.

“Three, Lord.”

“How many in range to take that one,” Runa said, pointing at the offending piece.

“One, Lord.” Why the knight treated them as one person, Jorir could not guess, but it had been consistent through the game.

They shared a glance and a nod.

“They should take it, then.”

“Very good, Lord. The riddle, then:

What marvel is it which without I saw,
    before break of dawn?
Upward it flies with eagle’s voice,
    and hard grip its claws the helmet.1

Jorir frowned and buried his chin in his hand. Runa crossed her arms and her eyebrows.

“A dragon with a sore throat?” Jorir shook his head. It didn’t fit with the others they’d heard. “No, too irreverent.”

“Can’t be a kalalintu, either. No-one would compare them to eagles,” Runa mused. “A weathervane?”

“Quite a lot of these have been martial…”

Runa offered “A javelin?”

“Javelins don’t really have a voice when they fly…” Jorir raised his head, his eyes sparkling with realization. “But arrows do. Are we agreed?”

When Runa nodded, he turned to their knight. “Our answer is, an arrow.”

“Excellent, Lord.”

One move further on and they were able to declare reichi again. This time, the opponent did not immediately move to block their path. Jorir scowled across the board. “Carefully, now. I smell another trap.”

“You’re right. He should have moved to block our way again.”

And yet, the only thing they could do was move forward, toward the edge of the board, victory, and the rest of their lives.

“Tuichu,” they declared in unison.

A voice boomed across the playing field.

“You have done well, and reached the edge. Before the game is through, there is one final riddle you must prove. Answer well and true, for this storm shall not be weathered.”

Runa growled, the sound as threatening as a wolf puppy’s. Jorir just rolled his eyes. “Well, let’s have it, then.”

The words rang out over the field:

Two brides did bear, white-blond their locks,
and house-maids were they— ale-casks homeward;
were they not shaped by hand nor by hammers wrought;
yet upright sat he on the isles, who made them.2

Jorir blinked once, then again, searching for anything in the words that would give him a hint and coming up empty. “Nothing martial, this time,” was all he could offer.

Runa, though, had the expression he had seen more than once during this maddening game of Thought and Memory’s design. Thus far, it had always been followed by brilliance. Finally, she looked up and directly at the black knight.

Jorir held his breath. He had no answer to give, but should she miss this one…

“You speak of two swans, heading to the shore to lay their eggs. Correct?”

No answer came. Jorir tensed, half expecting the black knights surrounding them to topple and crush him.

Instead, the tafl board vanished. They stood facing a door.


1: From “The Riddles of King Heithrek,” translated on http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/onp/onp17.htm#fr_4
2: ibid


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

5.19 – Deathmatch Tafl

“Any captured piece will be destroyed.”

Jorir frowned. This may not have been the first time he played tafl for his life, but it was certainly the most overt. And while he had a partner, he had no way of knowing if she was as good as she claimed and little reason to trust her word.

“We don’t seem to have much choice in the matter,” she murmured. “I know you don’t like me, but for Einarr’s sake I think we have to try, don’t you think?”

He grunted. “Fine. Just don’t get in my way.”

“So long as your tactics are sound, I won’t have to.”

It was an effort not to react. She sounded confident enough, at any rate. He turned his attention to the faceless piece that had stood silent since its pronouncement. “Knight. How are our enemies arrayed?”

“We are encircled, Lord, though the path to the northwest appears broader than that at the other corners.”

Jorir shook his head. “Obviously a trap. We break for the s-”

“Northeast,” Runa interrupted.

“That will take us right into the path of the pieces waiting to ambush us.”

“But southeast, which you were about to suggest, is the expected path, and they would be able to turn the ambush there just as well. This way the forces to the west must race to catch up.”

Jorir frowned. She made a decent point, but… “Send two volunteers to the southeast, to draw our enemies’ attention. The rest of us will make for the northwest. If that meets the lady’s approval?”

“I dislike sacrificing pieces so early on, but it is a good play.”

“We are agreed, then. Two men lead a diversion to the southeast. We will then proceed to the northeast.”

“Very good, Lord,” answered the knight.

The order was passed through the ranks, and in short order the knight opened his mouth again. “Our diversion has been spotted by the enemy, Lord. Do you wish to offer a riddle?”

“For what purpose?” Runa knit her brow at the odd request. It was an innocent question, but it sounded more akin to a demand.

“For confusing the enemy, Lord. Our diversion will be more effective if they fail to answer it.”

“A tempting prospect,” she mused.

“Even if we are riddling against Wotan?”

Runa shrugged. “What if the enemy guesses the riddle?”

“Then our diversion will be ineffective, of course,” answered the ever-helpful knight.

Jorir shook his head. “Not worth it, then. If I’m going to sacrifice a piece, I’m going to get some benefit out of it.”

“Very good, Lord.” The knight fell silent, but only for a moment. “Ah, it seems our diversion has encountered the enemy. That would I have which I had yesterday; heed what I had: men’s hamperer, word’s hinderer, and speeder of speech. Answer well this riddle, for the life of your pawn depends on it.”1

It’s a good thing I like riddles, Jorir thought. Two possible answers came to mind, but one seemed considerably more likely. He answered before Runa could open her mouth, “Ale.”

The wench had the audacity to scowl at him: he was certain she’d have answered a Singer, but outside of longship crews very few men wished for their return. Any tongue-lashing she might have delivered, though, was cut off by the knight’s answer.

“Very good, Lord. A magnificent victory.”

Jorir grunted. “Fine. Continue with the plan as stated.”

The second member of their diversion took advantage of the lay of the board to attack one of those laying in wait for the first, and another riddle was posed.

Harshly he clangs, on hard paths treading
    which he has fared before.
Two mouths he has, and mightily kisses,
    and on gold alone he goes.2

Jorir smirked, but let Runa think on this one a bit. For anyone but a blacksmith, it would be a well-chosen riddle. Eventually she shook her head.

“A goldsmith’s hammer.”

“Very good, my Lord. Our diversion seems to be working: how shall we proceed?”

“Northeast, as quietly as possible,” Runa answered without hesitation.

“Very good. Might I recommend offering a riddle, to keep their attention on the diversion?”

Jorir frowned, but Runa nodded. “I have one,” she whispered.

“Very well.”

“Very good, Lord. With what challenge will you cloud the enemy’s eyes?”

Runa cleared her throat and began to intone:

I watched a wondrous creature, a bright unicorn,
bearing away treasure between her white horns,
fetching it home from some distant adventure.
I’m sure she intended to hide her loot in some lofty stronghold
constructed with incredible cunning, her craft.
But then climbing the sky-cliffs a far greater creature arose,
her fiery face familiar to all earth’s inhabitants.
She seized all the spoils, driving the albescent creature
with her wrecked dreams far to the west,
spewing wild insults as she scurried home.
Dust rose heavenward. Dew descended.
Night fled, and afterward
No man knew where the white creature went.3

In spite of himself, Jorir was impressed. Leave it to a Singer to come up with a monstrously hard, beautifully poetic riddle. Soon enough, however, the answer came back, echoing across the field of play: the moon, chased by the sun.

Jorir groaned. Runa, though, looked only a little disappointed and still composed. Perhaps she was as good as she claimed – or perhaps she only had a good game face.

“I suppose it can’t be helped. Only a little harder of a fight this way.”

They crept towards the northeast corner, and it was as though their diversion had never happened. Before long, the diversionary forces were cut off and Jorir ordered them to return to the main group. One of them made it: the other ran up against a hard limit. No piece could survive their third defense, no matter how well they riddled.

That broke Runa’s calm. Jorir grumbled about it’s poor form – if such was the case, it should have been divulged up front – but Runa’s face grew icy cold with anger.

“All right, dwarf. So much for caution. Now we drive through.”


1: From “The Riddles of King Heithrek,” translated on http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/onp/onp17.htm#fr_4
2: ibid
3: Riddle from http://www.thehypertexts.com/The%20Best%20Anglo-Saxon%20Riddles%20and%20Kennings.htm


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If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, 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.

5.18 – Closed Circle

Irding and Erik skidded across the room and into the wall on the far side, the impact knocking the wind from the younger man. That was most likely both of them with some broken ribs, Erik thought.

Both men spoke at once as they came to their feet. “What did you think you were doing?”

“Saving you!” The answers came in unison, as well.

Erik paused, staring at the son he only recently learned he had, and a laugh as big as he was bubbled up from deep within his belly. Irding looked faintly outraged.

“There’s no doubt we’re related, you and I,” Erik said as the laughter simmered down into a chuckle and his ribs burned.

Now it was Irding’s turn to laugh, clutching his own side. “We are a pair, aren’t we?”

Erik nodded, still catching his breath a little. “Now let’s see if we can’t find the rest of them.”

***

When Einarr vanished in a flash of light, Jorir and Runa rushed after with wordless cries of alarm. It was only after Jorir blinked the specks of light from his vision that he realized he was in a room with only his lord’s chosen wench for company, and no exit. “Well ain’t that a fine thing.”

Runa stamped a foot in frustration even as she scanned the room, looking for some sort of clue as to what had happened, or how to get out. “Quite a fix we’re in, yes.”

Jorir hummed. That wasn’t exactly what he meant, but telling a Singer exactly what he thought of her when they were trapped in a room alone together did not seem like his best course of action.

They circled the room in silence, inspecting every inch of wall and floor for a clue to the key out. Soon, a tendril of song reached Jorir’s ear. He was instantly on edge. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to focus, if you don’t mind. I think I’ve found something, but I’m not sure what it means.”

“Read it aloud?”

Runa furrowed her brow. “Are you sure?”

If the inscription were magic, reading it aloud could have unpredictable consequences. Unfortunately, as a result of his curse, whenever Jorir attempted to read runes he saw only a blur. “Not like I can read anything in this tower.”

She cleared her throat and read:

Alone I wage war,
wounded by steel,
wounded by swords.
Weary of war,
weary of blades.
I battle often.
All I see
is savage fighting.
No assistance will come
for my cursed self,
ere I demise
amidst men.
But the enemy strikes me
with sharp edges:
smiths made those
with mighty hammers.
They batter me in cities.
I shall abide
the meeting of foes.
Among healers
I never met
in men’s towns
those who with herbs
could heal my wounds.
But the wounds and cuts
become wider
through death-blows
day and night.

Jorir frowned. As martial as that was, little wonder some pampered princess wouldn’t get it. Only, he was going to need a minute to put it together as well. “It’s to be riddles, then. Be mindful of tricks.”

“Naturally. The ravens aren’t likely to have set this up on their own.”

He nodded and lapsed back into silence. Something incapable of healing, at least in the conventional sense. Probably something inanimate, then, like some kind of armor. “…A shield, I think. A chain shirt would fall apart before a wound in it would widen.”

The blurry patch on the wall began to glow blue, and a very solid-looking shield appeared on the wall.

“Huh. Well that’s unexpected.”

Runa seemed less impressed: still there was no door whatsoever.

“Shall we see if there are more?”

“Not like we have another option.”

Someone needed to break her of that moody petulance, preferably before she married Einarr, and preferably not him. He didn’t think he could explain to his lord or her father why he’d boxed her ears, and he was certain that would end up happening. “Well, lead on then, miss indispensable.”

Her eye twitched, but for now she said nothing. Now they walked together around the perimeter of the room, each watching for the next riddle as best they could.

Jorir spotted it – on the floor at their feet this time, and only because there was a wide expanse of stone that seemed to have no texture to it. “Milady.”

Runa stopped and lifted a questioning eyebrow at him. Somehow, when she did it, it felt as though she were being imperious.

He tried not to twitch. “Look down.”

“Who are those girls,” she began. “That go for the king? They charge the unarmed chief. The black fighters defend all day while the white ones attack.”

Jorir snorted, fingering the king he still carried with him. “Rather short and rather obvious.”

“Rather. It’s a game of tafl.”

The blurry patch of the floor began to glow, red this time, and before Jorir could blink he found himself surrounded by man-sized tafl pieces. “What in the world…?”

He was almost knocked over when the floor tile he stood on began to shift on the floor, jerking as it negotiated its way around the other tiles. The stone at their feet was now black. Others, he saw, had turned to white.

“I don’t like the looks of this,” Jorir muttered.

“Nor I.”

The block they stood upon was navigating its way to the center of the room, where it finally stopped. As the rest of the floor pieces came to their final resting places, Jorir saw that they were surrounded by the black pieces, all of which stood taller than Runa. Outside those, he was sure, were the white attackers.

“My lord says you can play?”

“Rather well, if I do say so myself. Einarr can’t beat me anymore.”

“Wonderful. Can you see the board?”

“Not at all.”

Jorir spat a curse. Fat lot of good it did for either of them to know how to play when neither could read the lay of the land.

One of the black pieces rotated on its base, and a hole opened up near the top, where a man’s face might be. “Do not be alarmed. At the beginning of each turn we, your warriors, will report to you the state of the battle.”

Runa drew herself up, looking every inch a noble. “Very good. Standard rules?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Jorir hated to ask, but it was better to know in advance. “What happens should we lose?”

“Any captured piece will be destroyed.”

“But what of us?”

“Any captured piece. This includes the King.”

Jorir swallowed hard even as Runa gasped.


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! Today’s riddles are brought to you by the Exeter Book and Odin’s Riddles, found on aethelraed.ddns.net

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

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