Tag: Melja

7.34 – Master’s Prerogative

Three days later, Einarr was buoyant when he caught his first glimpse of the easternmost farm of the village. He had returned from a quest, and for the first time since Jarl Hroaldr had sent him to rob the jotün he actually felt richer for the victory. There was, after all, no-one to bury this time.

As the three men walked past, Hrug cradling the bandaged stump of his arm as best he could, the alfs of the village welcomed them warmly. Einarr suspected word had come ahead, somehow – or, as was always possible, they had performed another of their divinations. The welcome was far warmer than he would have expected, even just for himself.

Melja stood in the village square, dressed as he always was in the rough, almost monastic clothes that Einarr had come to expect from the villagers. “Well, well, well,” he chuckled. “If it isn’t the hero of the decade, returned to us. With friends, no less!”

“Ah, yes. Elder Melja, allow me to present Naudrek and Hrug,” he said, gesturing to each in turn. “Formerly of the Bjorn. Their assistance ensured the Shroud was destroyed, and in turn they have no ship to return to.”

Melja glanced at Hrug and nodded: why he could no longer sail was obvious. But then he turned his eye towards Naudrek and raised an eyebrow at Einarr.

“I’m afraid we, ah, stepped on his Captain’s toes a little in the process of fighting the Shroud.”

Naudrek snorted. “He treats that ship like it was his only child. I bullied the lookout to let you on, and we cut up the deck. I shoulda known better, really.”

Einarr turned back to Melja with a shrug. “And there you have it.”

The Elder nodded. “I take it you managed to discover the key to awakening Sinmora?”

“Yes, thanks to a Singer in the port. Sinmora… she seemed to eat the Shroud. Just like she seemed to eat the magic of the wards. All she needed was to touch it, once she was resonating.”

“Resonance, you say. Interesting… Well, we’ll have time enough to examine the sword while you’re here.” Melja looked back at Hrug, considering. “Well, in that case, you are well come to the Shrouded Village. The quest was a part of Einarr’s training… but I think we can see about some reward for the two of you.”

“Thank you, sir.” Naudrek bobbed his head, as though he weren’t sure if he should bow or not. Einarr remembered the feeling.

“Mira and I still have some room. Einarr, show them to the house and then meet me at the archive. There’s much to do yet if you want to rejoin your ship in the spring.”

“In the spring? I thought I was to go back in late fall, before the end of the Season.”

“Oh, goodness, no,” Melja chuckled. “If you’d had no talent for the working, maybe, but you’ve got the knack and you’re clever besides. I simply can’t send you back half-trained.”

“What do you mean, you can’t send me back?”

“You have shown surprising talent for the runes – far more than I expected when our mutual friend brought you here – and you have already stumbled upon an excellent way of killing yourself with them if you leave here half-trained. Which you would, if I sent you back to your ship this fall. Especially given the time you lost to hunting the Shroud.”

Which, he did not add, would not have been free in the first place were it not for Einarr’s mysterious sword. He did not need to: it had been said already.

“My Father expects me back. He has commissioned a second ship, one which I’m to helm, which will be ready on our return to Kjell.” Runa also expected him back, but he did not intend to mention her. Or his eagerness to brag of his deeds before Jarl Hroaldr.

“Nevertheless, you will stay. I daresay your father desires a live heir more than a dead one, and if the price of that is that someone else helms your ship in the interim, then that is the price that must be paid. You cannot leave here. Not so early.”

“When Ystävä arrives to take me back to Breidhaugr—”

“Our mutual friend has already been made aware of the situation. He will not be coming until the spring.”

Einarr gaped for a long minute. Was this what came of dealing with alfs? “This is not what we agreed on!”

Melja drew himself up to his full height and stared down at Einarr, all trace of warmth gone from his demeanor. “I am modifying the agreement. As your Master in the art of Runes, I declare that you are not ready. Should I let you loose on the world as you are now, you would be a menace to yourself and those around you. Now. Show your guests to the longhouse. There is work to be done.”

The old alfr turned and stalked away into the village. Einarr must have twitched, as though he intended to go after him, because he felt a pair of restraining hands on his arms. When he turned to look, Hrug shook his head.

“Pretty sure that’s a fight you don’t want to win.” Naudrek looked more serious than Einarr had seen since he got kicked off the Bjorn.

“I only came here to learn how to read them in the first place.”

“And yet, you’ve not hesitated to use them once, that I’ve seen. An’ you’re an honorable man, but you’re also a clever one. Best listen to him, don’t you think?”

Einarr grumbled, still staring after Melja. Finally he gave a sharp tug at the hem of his tunic. “Fine. You’re… not wrong. This way.”

Spring, then. Spring, at the earliest, before he could boast of his deeds to the Jarl. Before he could hear Erik and Bardr and Jorir’s tales of what had happened while he was away. Spring, at the earliest, before he could see Runa. He quashed a growl, knowing that Melja and Naudrek and the old Singer, whose hands he saw in this, were right.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!  Here ends book 7: Einarr and the Crimson Shroud. Book 8 will begin on Oct. 1, 2019, and marks the beginning of an entirely new arc in the story. I hope you’re looking forward to it!

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.

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7.26 – Wisdom of Runes

Einarr rode out from the young new Jarl’s Hall as light was just beginning to touch the sky. He’d have left immediately, but riding in the middle of the night, unrested, with a likely still-frightened horse seemed an excellent way to break his neck. So, he waited.

Shame burned in his mind, as hot as the Shroud. If he hadn’t let himself be distracted by the stable fire, would Hridi still be alive?

Maybe not. His failure that night was twofold, after all. First, he had let himself be distracted by the stable fire, and while horseflesh was worth saving it was not his duty. Obviously that was the Shroud’s intention, though – asuming it was as free-willed as Melja seemed to think.

Second, though, and more critically, he had failed to awaken Sinmoira’s power when he needed it most. That was the one that rankled. He had, after all, arrived in time to save the woman. He had simply failed to do it.

He rode away from the Hall, his mouth set in a grim line.

The problem, he thought, is that I don’t actually know how I woke her up in the first place.

Einarr reined in and looked about. The Hall was long since out of sight, and he saw no sign that anyone was likely to travel this way today. It looked to be a long, lonely rode through the forest. He would simply have to work it out as he traveled.

A hard edge jabbed at his thigh from inside his money pouch. The Runestone? Einarr shook his head. He at least wanted to try working it out on his own first.


The sun was high in the sky when Einarr finally stopped for lunch, no closer to working out the mystery of Sinmora’s new power than he had been when he started.

The trouble was, at least in part, that he first had to create a magical effect for Sinmora to ‘eat,’ and he was still very much a novice at the runic arts. If the old grandmother Geiti were here, perhaps he could convince her to Sing something it would be obvious if Sinmora disrupted, but she was not.

As he chewed a piece of jerky, he thought again of the Runestone he had carved back before he returned to the Shrouded Village. A Wisdom Rune, so that he could find his way through whatever quandaries his Calling threw his way. Carved with his own life force. A half-smile cracked his face. Stop being so stubborn. Do you want to keep stopping every five minutes to draw a new ward?

Einarr pulled the carved piece of wood from the money pouch on his belt. It was simple, without any of the ostentation he had seen on Wotan’s key broaches from the Tower of the Ravens. Just a smooth, square-ish bead of wood, carved with the ᚩ.

How did this even work? If he divined the answer like this, where would it come from? His own mind? Wotan?

Now he knew why he was so reluctant to use the stone. If he didn’t know the source of the answer, how could he trust it? But Runic divinations, the real ones, were among the best, even if the answers did tend toward the cryptic. He pursed his lips and pressed the bead against his forehead, between his eyebrows and focused.

He saw himself down in the temple vault once more, fighting the thief. The wards still existed.

The thief bellowed in rage and charged at Einarr’s past self, the screams oddly muted. Past-Einarr brought Sinmora up to guard, and as the blade gave its remembered pulse, the clear tone of a tower bell sounded in Einarr’s ears.

The fight continued as before. The eldritch runes began to glow in the vault, and Sinmora pulsed a second time. A second time, the bell sounded in Einarr’s ears. The walls of the vault seemed to vibrate with the sound of it.

The vision ended. Einarr drew his brows down in consternation and tore off another bite of jerky. What… did that even mean?

He turned the question over in his mind the rest of the afternoon as he continued his ride toward the port city of Eskiborg. As night fell, with family farms scattered to either side of the road, he was no closer to an answer.

Eskiborg, he estimated, would be another few hours’ ride yet. The roads here were passable enough that the dray was unlikely to trip and kill them both, but still he thought it best to rest for the evening. Better chances of finding a place to sleep in the city if he did not arrive in the wee hours of the morning.

As he stretched out by the side of the road, his cloak flung over his shoulders for a blanket, he sighed. I’m not getting anywhere with the question this way. There’s sure to be a Singer in town. Someone who knows music should understand.


A low haze hung in the sky when Einarr arose the next morning. To his mind there was something ominous about it, but none of the farmers he passed seemed troubled. His dray, too, plodded along as though nothing were out of the ordinary. Must just be nerves, since I know what I’m facing.

Eskiborg may have been as large a city as Kem, and as he approached its outskirts he learned that the haze that had troubled him all morning was in fact wood smoke. Armad’s Clan could be, if they chose, fabulously wealthy: the hardwood forests here produced superb timber for building ships and halls alike, and while that morning he saw no evidence that they built dromon for the Empire itself, but merchant ships were not outside the realm of possibility.

Dread settled in the pit of Einarr’s stomach. One ship, out of what looked to be a massive shipyard, and all he had to go on was a bear’s head. He needed to stop the Shroud before that.


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

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7.23 – Layers

Days passed with Einarr the restless guest of Armad and the Lady Hridi. The longer he spent under their roof, however, the more certain he became that something was amiss.

The boy acted like any other ten year old, save that he still grieved for his family. Einarr had some idea what that was like, given the number of stepmothers he had known and learned to love before they were torn away. He let the boy mourn however he needed to, and otherwise spent what time he could as a friend.

No, the trouble was with Eifidi and the Lady Hridi. Placing the two women next to each other was like looking at one in a mirror, and he was not certain which one would be the real woman. Their appearances were similar enough that they could have been twins, were one not nursemaid to the other’s nephew, but where Eifidi was kind and attentive and all the things a proper mother should be, Lady Hridi was cold, almost cruel, calculation, her ambition plain for all to see. And yet, she was Regent, named so by the late Jarl himself.

Melja had been quite sure that it was Hridi who was the target, and yet Einarr was not convinced. The face he had seen in the vision was hers, but softer. More like Eifidi’s. He would have to watch them both, just to be sure. Somehow.

Meanwhile, though, he had preparations to lay. Chief among these was a ward, designed ages ago and taught to him by Melja, that would alert him when an artifact entered the area.

He had asked, in a break from memorizing the ward, how wards were different from runestones. The answer had been longwinded and convoluted, and even now Einarr wasn’t sure he understood. It all sounded very mystical, besides, but they had been in a hurry and so Einarr had nodded his head and moved on. It was something to do with power coming from the world around them, rather than from the practitioner.

While the Hall went about their daily tasks, then, Einarr spent the first few days walking in concentric circles about the land, inscribing layers of the alarm as he had been taught. When he reached the outer wall of the Hall itself, as he went along behind the building, he was stopped by a soft step behind him.

“Why are you here?” The Lady Hridi’s voice was cool and imperious, as he had come to expect. He did not turn around.

“I am here to stop the Muspel Shroud, as I said when I first arrived.”

“Surely you don’t expect me to believe that’s all of it?” The question was arch, frankly disbelieving.

“Whether you believe it or not, that is all that brought me here, and almost all that keeps me here. I have no interest in interfering in your Clan: my own has troubles enough.”

“I have seen you with my nephew. The boy is far too trusting for his own good: if I find you have been pouring poison in his ear about me…”

Einarr stood, dusting off his hands on his trouser legs, and turned to face her. “My Lady, there is no need to pour poison about you. You are poison, or may as well be.”

Her face began to redden and her eyes widened in outrage.

Einarr did not give her a chance to go on. “You are right, the boy is probably far too trusting for his own good. I understand from Onnir that he had older brothers expected to inherit – and, frankly, I expect he will grow out of it in good time on his own. But as it stands, were it not for the boy and my responsibility to stop the Shroud, I would wash my hands of this place. None of your brother’s loyalists can stand you. Remember that, as Armad grows into his Jarldom.”

She stood there, apparently stunned, for a long moment. Einarr started to turn back to his work, but was stopped by the sound he had least expected to hear: bubbling, girlish laughter. He turned his full attention back to Hridi to see her collapsed against the wall, her hand pressed against her side. She pushed off the wall and staggered away, still holding her side as she continued to giggle.

He stared, not entirely sure he believed what he was seeing. That was, unmistakeably, Hridi he had been speaking to, both in dress and mannerism. He had half expected to be thrown out of the Hall for that, although it needed to be said. Perhaps she was just too shocked, and the reprisal would come later?

Einarr shook his head and retuned to the Ward. No matter how much he might dislike the woman, he had sworn to capture or destroy the Shroud, and he did not want to find out what happened if it reached the city.


At dinner that night, a neatly folded and sealed piece of parchment was slipped under his truncheon. He slipped his knife under the resin seal and was greeted by an ornate, flowing lady’s hand.

After our exchange of the afternoon, I find myself no longer in need of your services as a bodyguard. Armad would be most distraught, however, should something happen to the nursemaid. As you are so fond of them, I think it should be no difficulty whatsoever to focus your attentions on her.

He sat staring, utterly uncomprehending, at this letter for longer than he should have. A heat began to build in his belly, not unlike the battle fury and yet quite distinct. He found he wanted nothing so much as to scream – at her, at the sky, it did not matter – but to do so in the Hall, when everyone was gathered, would be truly poor form. Quietly, calmly, Einarr rose from his spot at the table and walked very deliberately for the door.

The sky seemed unimpressed by his battle cry.


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7.22 – Hall of the Fallen

When Einarr left the village this time, it was on the back of a plowhorse – an even-tempered and quick-footed beast with the roughest gait Einarr had ever had the misfortune to encounter. It took him less than a hundred yards down the road to determine his first destination: the late Jarl’s hunting lodge.

On horseback, knowing his destination, it took Einarr less than half a day to ride what had taken him a whole day to reach half-lost on foot. He could have gone back in time to that first day he had approached the hall, save only for the presence of the horse. Hidir was again chopping logs for firewood, and at the sound of approaching hoofbeats Onnir hurried up, dirt still clinging to his hands and knees.

The two attendants greeted Einarr with a mix of warmth and concern. They knew, after all, the object of his quest. Onnir, wiping the dirt from his hands with a bit of old cloth, spoke first. “What brings you back out here? I thought you’d gone to find the trail.”

“I had, and I have. I need to get to the Hall outside Eskiborg, as quickly as I can.”

Hidir knit his brows. “What? Why?”

“According to the alfs’ divination, the boy’s aunt is next.”

Onnir spat. “Hridi? Good riddance. We can tell you the fastest way, sure, but sister of my Lord or not I’m not sure she’s worth saving.”

“The boy loves her,” Hidir countered.

“She’ll make him into a puppet! You know all she wants is the throne.”

“Whatever she may or may not do in the future, she’s my first and best chance to stop the Shroud. Now please – I can’t imagine I have much time.”

The two exchanged a look, then Hidir hurried off toward the stalls.

“Wait here,” Onnir said, turning towards the hall. “I’ll get Armad.”

“Is he well enough to travel?”

“He’s recovering well, yes. And he’d never forgive us if we left him behind.”

Einarr nodded his assent and the man-at-arms dashed off.

Within a quarter hour, Einarr’s dray had been joined by three other, much finer, horses, with Onnir, Hidir, and Armad on their backs. Then they were off, the two men at arms taking both fore and rear as they protected their new charge. Armad, for his part, was still a little pale, but carried himself admirably.


Even on horseback they were not able to reach their destination in one day – not even had they started from the lodge early in the morning. Camp that night was tense, especially after Armad heard from Einarr what they were about, and in the morning they rode with dogged determination.

It was noon on that second day when they rode up to Armad’s hall, their horses breathing heavily and lathered with sweat. Armad took the lead: “Where is Aunt Hridi?”

A kindly-looking middle-aged woman pushed her way forward in the crowd – not the woman from the divination, but one very like her. “Young Master! I’m so glad to see you. Is there trouble?”

Armad swung down off his horse and ran toward her. “Eifidi!”

The older woman laid her hand on his head. “When the ljosalfr messenger reached us with news of the Shroud, we were worried.”

The boy buried his face in the woman’s skirts to try to hide how he immediately teared up. Einarr could not fault him: to distract the crowd from their new Jarl’s display of emotion, he stepped forward. “If you’ve had a message about the Shroud, then you know why I am here.”

A look of horror passed over the woman’s – Eifidi’s – face. “Surely not here?”

Einarr nodded. “I believe its next target to be the lady Regent of Eskiborg. Where is she?”

“Inside. Please, this way.”


The woman called Eifidi and the late Jarl’s sister Hridi were alike enough Einarr would have thought them sisters, were Eifidi not apparently a nursemaid to the boy. But where Eifidi’s warmth was genuine, Hridi’s appeared as a mask to Einarr. He thought it easy to see why she was not well-liked, but Einarr was not here to meddle in the affairs of the clan.

“Lady Hridi. I have reason to believe that you are the Shroud’s next target.”

The lady paled a moment, but recovered herself swiftly. “I see. Is there something you intend to do to stop it, or do you tell me only so I may make peace with the gods?”

“I was too late to save the Jarl or his family. Armad survived by his own perserverance. I do not intend to allow it to kill again, whether I have to destroy or capture the thing.”

She nodded once, curtly. “I understand. The alfs sent you, and so I will trust in the alfs of the village, given to the care of this Shroud for centuries. Have I a part to play in your plan on my life?”

“I intend to play for your life, my lady, not assume it is forfeit already. If you go about your day as usual, it should be sufficient. I would ask, however, that everyone be cautious of red cloths.”

“I assure you, we already have been.”

Einarr took that for a dismissal and showed himself out with a slight bow. As he strode away, he found he could not quite reconcile the woman in the vision with the one he had just spoken to. That Hridi would not be well-liked as no surprise: the woman was naked ambition, or near enough. But Melja had been certain it was her, and Melja had sounded as certain as the Oracle when he pronounced who the victim was. Even Jarl Hroaldr has a tender side. You just can only see it with Runa. Melja’s vision was the surest thing he had to go on: he would have to trust it, at least for now.


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7.21 – Divination

The divination ritual was to be held in the selfsame temple that had housed the Shroud for so long, down in the very vault that had imprisoned it until Sinmora had eaten the magic out of nowhere. I wonder what Vali would have to say about that?

Einarr shook his head, casting off the idle thought. Something about returning to the vault had his stomach doing somersaults, and his mind was just as unsettled. Vali, of course, was half a world away (so far as Einarr knew), on a ship whose adventures should be far tamer and more profitable for Einarr’s absence.

Meanwhile, he had an all-consuming burial cloth floating about the island, seemingly at random – provided it hadn’t yet found a way off the island. That it would was taken as a given by the alfs, although with its tattered end Einarr hoped that would be more difficult than otherwise.

He blinked, refocusing on the trail ahead of him. Melja and Mira led Einarr and a handful of villagers to the temple. The weather, as it always seemed to be, was fair. Are we in Imperial waters, or just near them? Another idle thought flitted up, trying to distract him from the task at hand. Knowing he was nervous didn’t help, though, nor did the knowledge that there was nothing to be nervous about at this stage. All that would happen here is a runic divination to locate the Shroud. After that, it was up to him. Melja had made that perfectly clear.

Finally, the air ahead lightened and he saw the broad clearing and the high wooden walls of the temple. His stomach flopped once more, and then Einarr felt his composure returning. This would be no harder than any other challenge he had faced this summer, and possibly easier than some. He wasn’t going up against creatures with corrupted blood this time, after all. Just a piece of cloth animated by some strange, malignant will.

The vault appeared exactly as it had the last time Einarr had descended those steps, save only that the icy blue glow of the ward runes had been replaced by a new rune matrix. This one was not yet active, his eyes told him even if his rudimentary training had not. They all entered the vault and spread out to stand where Melja and his wife directed.

Once they were all spread about the room, Melja stepped carefully into the center of the matrix and placed the scrap of cloth at his feet. He then moved to take his place between Mira and Einarr in their seven fixed points on the outer circle.

Einarr had seen, once or twice when he was new to the Vidofnir, the casting of the runes by street corner fortune-tellers. The patron (or mark, as Father always called them) asked his question, and the fortune teller (charlatan) would cast sticks or dice down before him and read the answer from those.

What Melja performed in that vault was similar only in that both involved the use of runes. He spoke a word in what Einarr thought was the high elven tongue, and as one the runes began to glow with a pale golden light.

Everyone grew still, although he would not have said they moved before. Melja continued to speak in the strange incomprehensible tongue of the ljosalfs, and while Einarr could not understand the words he felt he did not need to. Indeed, he felt rather curiously detached, as though he were watching the ritual as an outside observer.

A mist seemed to rise up in the center of the room, in a column about the scrap of cloth, and in that mist an image appeared.

A chieftan’s seat in his hall appeared, empty. A thick bearskin rug was spread across the floor, and the cloth spread over the chair was crimson. Einarr’s throat clenched: it had already gotten the chieftan: was it going for the boy, now, too?

No. Skirts drifted into view, and the smiling face of a middle-aged woman and Einarr’s throat cleared. But I thought the boy’s mother was on the hunting trip with them?

The image faded, only to be replaced. No lord’s hall here: instead, it was a public hall like those Sivid favored. Einarr could almost smell the salt in the air, and feel the pounding of feet in the hallingdanse, though once again he saw no-one in the image itself. One of the rugs on the ground, though soiled, was the diaphanous crimson of the Shroud. The sound of a golden bell rang out, and then that image too faded from view.

The mist grew darker and blue, and in that blueness appeared the black of a boat at night. Despite the lighting, though, Einarr could see two things about the boat: its crimson sail, and the bear’s head carved on its prow. The image faded, and the mist dispersed.

Einarr and the elves in the circle looked about at each other, blinking in the sudden return to the present. Melja looked up and met Einarr’s eyes.

“Three chances you will have. The Shroud’s next target is the young Armad’s aunt, the regent Hridi in their Hall outside Eskiborg. She is power-hungry and often vicious, but the boy will likely take her death hard at this time. Especially if she, too, falls to the Shroud.”

Einarr nodded slowly. He, too, would much rather not let it take anyone else. Still, though, the port was a not insignificant distance. How long did he have?

“If you fail there,” Melja continued. “It will then make its way into Eskiborg. I’m afraid I’m not familiar enough with the city to know which public hall that was, but I suspect the golden bell we heard to be a clue… If it makes it to the city…”

That was Einarr’s concern, as well. “You all assume it is looking for a way off the island. But if it’s in the city, will it still kill until it takes a boat?”

“Likely yes. I could not tell you if its target at the hall will be for death or for passage, but your final chance will be on that boat.”

“The one with the bear’s head. I wish I could have seen it in better light, but I know what to look for.”

“Good. Then go. And gods be with you.”


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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.

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7.20 – Return

At first glance, the Shrouded Village appeared exactly as it had the day the alfr from Breidhaugr delivered him. Surely, though, that could not be the case. Melja had said they would continue their research while he hunted it. Einarr had no reason to doubt that, save for an offhand comment by a cynical old woman he met in the woods. He walked – determinedly, yes, perhaps even doggedly, but still well short of stalking – into the village, to the house where the scrolls were kept.

On the way, Einarr could not help but note that the villagers were going about their daily lives more or less as normal, if perhaps more nervously than before. Was research truly the only preparation they had to make? Did everything fall to Melja and his wife, truly? Einarr shook his head and pressed on, pushing the door to the scroll house open without announcing himself.

Melja, at least, was where Einarr had expected to find him: at the work table inside, half-buried in texts, all of which appeared to concern the Shroud.

“Good day,” Einarr said, keeping his voice carefully neutral.

“Ah, Einarr. You’re back. Wonderful. Take a seat, I think I’m finally on the right track.” Melja sounded utterly unconcerned, at the very least.

Einarr felt the anger that had been beginning to burn in his belly recede. Not all the way, not with Melja left to do everything himself, but Geiti’s seed of doubt had been diminished. He joined his teacher at the table.

An hour later, to judge by the light, Melja leaned back and pressed his hands to his eyes. “Please, for the love of all the gods, tell me you found something.”

Einarr, too, sat back, but not to rub his eyes. He studied his teacher as he spoke. “A dead Jarl’s son, a burned village, an old woman and a scrap of cloth.” The piece of the Shroud Einarr lay on the table in front of his teacher. “Also, more than a few questions.”

Melja opened his eyes and stared at the cloth, fingering it in silence for a long moment. “The old woman – Geiti?”

Einarr nodded, although he wasn’t sure the alfr saw him.

“What did old Geiti have to say? She didn’t pour poison in your ear, did she?”

“Not as such.” Einarr smirked. “She was too busy calling me an idiot. Although she may be paying you a visit soon. Said I should tell you to stop hiding dangerous information if you didn’t want to lose more students.”

Melja snorted. “And why, praytell, did she say that?”

Einarr shrugged, a little uncomfortably. “Because she found me unconscious, with more than a few runestones on me. I stumbled on the technique practicing on the road.”

Now his master snorted again. “And, since I’d not mentioned them, you didn’t know your limit. All right, I can tolerate the old witch long enough to admit fault there. How many had you made before you blacked out?”

“Seven, I think.” He hadn’t been paying too much attention, at the time, but he saw no reason to mention that.

“Not bad, for a human novice. Keep yourself to no more than four, for now, and you should be fine. You may eventually be able to maintain more, but for the time being that should be a safe upper limit.”

Einarr nodded, glad to have it confirmed.

“You haven’t made any more since then?”

“Just one. The Óss.”

Melja tilted his head to the side. “An interesting choice. Most of our students pick something a little more… offensive for their first runestone.”

Einarr shrugged. He was and always would be a warrior first and foremost, even if he couldn’t rely on brute strength to carry him through. He supposed it might be too much to ask someone like Melja to really understand that, in some ways, he had more in common with the thief than he did with the rest of the village.

“Don’t take that the wrong way,” Melja added, perhaps reading something on Einarr’s face he had not intended to show. “I approve. The Wisdom Rune is one I often wish a student would choose. Only, think carefully on the answers you receive from it. They are not always, or even usually, straightforward.”

“I understand.”

“But. You had questions. Ask, and I will endeavor to answer. Remember that, for all that we have been guarding it for generations, there is still much we do not know about the Shroud.”

Einarr nodded once. “I’ll start smaller, then. Why are you the only one in the village who is working on this?”

Melja blinked at him blankly a few times, then smiled as realization dawned. “My dear boy, their work is done. The divination ritual is only waiting this scrap of cloth you’ve brought us.”

“I- you- … How did you know I would find it?”

“This in particular? We didn’t. This is both the best and the worst possible talisman you could have found for the ritual. But that you would come back, with something we could use as a focus? Almost inevitable.”

Einarr leaned his elbows forward on the heavy wooden table. “So what if I hadn’t gone?”

Melja shook his head. “Were you an alfr, or perhaps even a dvergr, that might have been a question, but you are human, and, as you yourself have said, a warrior. That you would go eventually was never a question. Honestly, you stuck around longer than anyone other than Mira expected.”

Einarr stared at Melja for a long moment, his shock at the revelation slowly giving way to annoyance. Gods, but the alfs could be infuriating sometimes. Finally he took a long, slow breath and let it out. “All right. So since everything I’ve done so far has been according to plan, how do we end this?”


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7.19 – Tracking

It was unmistakeably the same material as the Shroud. Oddly, it did not feel hot to the touch, nor did it burn anything else it came in contact with. For whatever reason, once separated from the whole there was no more magic in it.

This was just as well, Einarr figured, but ultimately unimportant. What mattered to him was the rough, ragged edge that seemed stretched in places. That meant the torn edge of the Shroud should also be ragged and stretched, and thus (he hoped) easier to track.

Or, a voice whispered in the back of his head, you could take the scrap back to your Master in the village and let them divine its location, like old Geiti said they could.

He might find it faster that way, he supposed, but it was still an unworthy thought. He shook his head. “I’ve been spending too much time around magicians,” he muttered.

No matter what Melja said, he was partly responsible for the Shroud’s release – however unintended it was. And the Shroud was in the process of killing its way across the island, to what purpose Einarr could not guess. He owed it to the Shrouds victims to at least try to discover their fates. Then they could be properly mourned, if not buried, and the restless dead would not trouble the island. Thus resolved, he shoved the scrap of cloth in the pouch at his belt and began peering at foliage and twigs, looking for burned ends.

Now that he knew what he was looking for, the signs were there to be found: a singed sprig of leaves here, a blackened blaze against the white bark of a birch there (and when he found that, he blessed the chief whose son they had found). Had the Shroud not been wounded, as it were, it would not have left such a sloppy trail.

Or, would it? He had no idea what drove the thing. Did it even care that it had been torn? He fingered the scrap of cloth in his pouch. Perhaps it would be best to go back to the village after all. After half a day of tracking it as it floated, seemingly aimless among the trees, he began to wonder.

He stopped and closed his eyes. If he were here, what would Jorir tell me? Had it been less than a season since the svartdvergr swore to him under suspicious circumstances? The dwarf had proven his worth – even his loyalty and his friendship – many times over already. Einarr smiled, because he already knew the answer to that: it had been Jorir’s voice before, telling him to go back to the village. He took a deep breath —

—And smelled smoke. Not faint and damp and faded, like he had been all day, but fresh and pungent woodsmoke. His eyes snapped open and he began to run, following his nose, toward the source of the smell.


Einarr could hardly believe his eyes. He had thought the Shrouded Village to be the only hidden village on the island, but here before him stood the smoking ruin of another. Had it been on the coast, he would have assumed a particularly vicious group of raiders, but he was still in the middle of the hardwood forest that seemed to dominate this island.

Here and there a timber jutted out, but little else remained beyond charred rubble. Einarr stopped at the edge of the village, frozen. Was this…

A sound of sobbing came from further into the village, and Einarr was moving again. Someone survived this?

The sound came from what must have once been the village green, but now was a scene of horror as herb-witches and whoever in the village had an ounce of song magic tended to the bodies still living among the rows of corpses. The sobbing he had heard came from a group of small children, huddled together near the edge of the green for comfort.

He left the children to comfort each other: likely their parents were among the dead. What little he knew about the Shroud said it had not done this, and yet he could not think the smell of smoke would be this fresh had the thief somehow ransacked the village by himself. An old woman was placing thin copper coins over where a man’s eyes used to be: he approached her.

“Honored grandmother… what happened here?”

She looked up sharply and squinted at him for a long moment. “Ye be a stranger. What brings ye?”

“I hunt the Shroud.”

“Then on the right track ye be. Old Snor’s home was the worst burnt, and the first, and still no sign of Snor.”

Einarr stared around them for a long moment. “All of this, from one man’s house?”

“’Tis a long story, an’ a sad one, but if’n you hunt the thing that started it, best be on wit’ ye. This village is finished, but at least we’ll be avenged.”

“I understand, grandmother. Good fortune to you all…” It felt ridiculous to wish it, and yet what else was he to do? Condolences from a stranger would only ring hollow. But he would see them avenged, that was certain. Them and all the other victims on the island.

He took his time leaving the village, scouring the forest border all the way around until he was certain he knew which direction the Shroud went. The smell of burnt thatch and charred flesh stung his nose the entire time.

When he left, though it was not West, towards the sea, after the Shroud. There was still too much he didn’t know, too many questions, for him to be out chasing it through the forest. He would take word, and the scrap, to Melja. And tonight he would carve the first of his three runestones: . After all, he wouldn’t necessarily have a dwarf to rely on all the time, either.


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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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7.17 – Practical Magic

Einarr’s head swam, although he could feel the hard ground beneath it. The crackle of a nearby campfire was unmistakeable. The last thing he remembered was etching an ᚱ into some birch bark to keep for later use. What… happened? Where am I?

He blinked, and at first all he saw was a brownish blur. When he opened his eyes again, though, his vision was clear. That brown blur was the glow of firelight on the branches of an ash, and beyond that the starry field of night. Einarr groaned.

“Awake, are you?” The creaking voice of an old woman broke the stillness. “I’d begun to wonder if your foolishness had actually killed you.”

With another groan, Einarr pushed himself up on his elbows and squinted at the source of the voice. “What do you mean?”

The woman who sat across the fire from him in a colorless cloak appeared ancient – older, even, than the oldest of the Matrons on Breidhaugr. Old enough that Einarr was surprised to see her out in the forest at all.

“What I mean,” the crone said. “Is that the village alfs never should have let you out of their sight. What were you thinking, carving all those runestones?”

Einarr blinked at her, a little confused. “You mean those chips? I thought they’d be useful…”

“Not much use if you’ve so much of your life tied up in them they kill you. You’re a novice, and a human to boot. There’s no way your soul could support more than a handful.”

Einarr sat all the way up. For just a campfire, the light seemed awfully bright to his eyes right then. “What do you mean?”

The old woman with her drawn features snorted. “Wise enough to listen to your elders, at any rate. Did your alfr master tell you, properly, what the limits of rune magic are?”

“The Runemaster requires time, primarily. Time to inscribe the proper runes for his purpose.”

The crone nodded. “That’s right, so far as it goes. He didn’t mention runestones?”

Einarr shook his head. “I’ve only a few months with them. I only really wanted to learn how to read them. Probably he decided there wasn’t time to teach me.”

She snorted again. “Not quite, I suspect. Runestones are an advanced technique. Not because they’re particularly difficult: any fool can inscribe a rune and make it last. But every one you make ties up a portion of your life energy. With the number you had on you, you’re lucky I found you.”

“I… Yes. Thank you, for that. How long was I out?”

“It’s been a day and a half since I destroyed them for you. As for how long you’d been out before that, I really couldn’t say.”

Einarr blanched. “More than a day… since you destroyed them?”

“That’s right – and a good thing you put them on wood, too. If you’d been fool enough to carve them in stone, this old woman wouldn’t have been able to break them. That’s the only way to reclaim the bits of your spirit, after all.”

“I see.” He did, actually: his eyes finally felt like they were back to normal. “How do you know so much?”

The crone cackled. “You’re not the first over-extended student of the runes this old Singer has seen. Not on this island.”

“Wait, hold on. You’re a Singer?”

“I was, in my youth. Voice is gone, now, but it didn’t take my mind with it.” She laughed again.

Einarr nodded slowly, considering. “You have my thanks for the rescue. Tell me, did you move me from where I was found?”

“You give these old bones a good deal of credit, young man. We are not far off the path where I found you, in a little clearing not many others know. In the morning, you are free to go about your business – although if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get back to that village and bow your neck to Elder Melja. Tell him Geiti sent you scampering back, and if he doesn’t want to lose more students he should stop hiding ‘dangerous’ information.”

Einarr couldn’t keep a small smile off of his face. “I’ll be sure to tell him that when I return. But I can’t go back immediately.”

The crone resettled herself on the ground, leaning forward a bit with interest. “And what, then, has a young novice wandering about like a toddler just finding his feet?”

I think I deserved that one? “The Shroud has been freed.”

“Good gods, man, what are you doing out here? Get back to the village, let the Runemasters handle it.”

“The Runemasters can’t handle it if they can’t find it. I’m trying to make sure they know where to look.”

“And why, praytell, did they let a novice take on that job?”

He sighed. “Forgive me, grandmother Geiti. I’m afraid I haven’t properly introduced myself. I am Einarr, only son of Stigander, the son of Raen of Breidlestein. Wandering prince, veteran raider, no meagre hunter, and the named Cursebreaker besides.”

“Well well well. Now I have even more questions. But, they will wait. It is late, and you are still recovering your strength. Sleep now, and we will speak more in the morning.”

And so Einarr laid his head back down on the bare earth to stare at the stars and the light flickering on the branches above. Sleep eluded him, and he was uncertain if that was because his life energy was returning to him – he felt stronger almost by the minute – or if it was because even here he could not escape his Calling. Eventually, though, he must have dropped off, because when next he opened his eyes the sky was the pale blue of early morning. The smell of berried porridge clung to the morning air. When he sat up, the ancient Singer offered him a toothless smile and a wooden bowl.


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7.16 – Runestones

In the middle of the night, Einarr was awakened by an idea. The keepers of the lodge might not think too highly of him for learning the runes, but Einarr had known very few who would refuse magical aid outright. Besides, he hadn’t practiced since he left the village.

Quietly, although he thought it unlikely he would wake the stupefied men at arms, Einarr made his way from the Lodge into the garden they kept. He had done this as practice some weeks ago in Mira’s garden, and while tedious he thought it would be some measure to repaying their aid and hospitality.

Einarr let himself into the vegetable patch and made his way carefully to the far corner. There, in the dirt around a pumpkin mound, he traced the ᛃ and willed it active, strengthening the plant and encouraging the fruit to grow. He went on, repeating this process as he went. About halfway through the garden, an idea occurred to him: he knew he could use one rune to affect multiple plants, although at somewhat reduced effect. He also knew that one could power more than one rune at a time, else how would inscriptions of multiple runes work? Thus, could he inscribe the rune multiple times, once for each plot, and then activate them all together?

He might have preferred to test this in Mira’s garden, but based on what they had taught him it should work – and let him finish before dawn. He went to work.

The sky was just beginning to lighten as Einarr traced the rune in the dirt by the cabbages. With a deep breath, he looked out over the garden and nodded. He focused his will and activated each of the runes he had just laboriously traced.

A moment’s lightheadedness came over him and he blinked, but then he saw the leaves of the garden vegetables grow lusher and straighter, just as if he had done each plant one at a time, and smiled. On that note, before any of the men of the Lodge were awake, Einarr took his leave.

The morning wore on as Einarr retraced their steps from the previous day, and as he walked it began to grate on him that he was neglecting the training he was brought out here for. Inscribing a rune, though, took little enough concentration that he thought he could at least get practice with the forms as he walked. There would be no trail to pick up until he reached the old campsite anyway.

Einarr picked up a long stick he found by the side of the trail, and would periodically pause to inscribe a rune in the ground – something that would either benefit what was nearby, or at least do no harm. He would inscribe a rune, with one of its characteristics firmly in mind, and activate it, and move on.

Eventually, though, he ran out of runes he could practice in this way, so instead he found himself a strip of birch bark and charred the end of his stick – with his flint, not the rune – in order to write things out as he traveled. Now then. He hadn’t wanted to practice hagall – scrawling in the dirt with a stick. The rune was far too finicky for that, and even on his birch bark with a shorter implement he found he needed to stop and concentrate on what he was doing.

As he finished the last stroke and examined his work for flaws, the rune glowed faintly sky blue and a chill breeze began to eddy around him. The breeze was oddly constant as he took a few steps, and then a few more. He looked again at the bark in his hands: the rune still glowed, faintly, although Einarr was not aware of powering it. Was this how the wards on the shroud had worked? He laughed, pleased at the discovery, and tried willing the wind rune on the page to stop.

He was more than a little surprised when it did. How convenient. With a grin, Einarr paused at a large rock by the side of the path and used his knife to cut free the section of bark that could call the wind. This he put in the pouch at his belt before moving on.

Next he drew the rune of wisdom – – and cut it free, as well. If there was one thing he had often wished for over the course of the past year, it was wisdom beyond his years. This he followed with the rune of self – ᛗ – and the shield rune – ᛉ.

Fatigue settled over Einarr’s limbs as he walked, although it was not yet noon. That’s what I get for rising in the middle of the night, I suppose. Einarr shrugged. He would stop and rest for a little once he found a promising spot on the trail. He wasn’t far from the campsite, though, even with how this had slowed his pace, and so he pressed on.

There was still birch bark left. On a lark, he made a chip for the generous rune (ᚷ) and one for the ocean rune (ᛚ). After all, if he could make these in advance and then use them at need, there was no reason not to.

His feet felt like lead now, inexplicably. Had he truly grown so soft during his time with the alfs? He shook his head. There was enough bark left for one more, and then he would stop to focus on his hunt. The rune of journeys, I think. With a nod, he began to inscribe the ᚱ on the birch bark. As he finished the last stroke, he felt his awareness begin to swim. A powerful feeling of vertigo swept over him, and the forest faded to black.


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