“Mind your step,” Melja warned as he entered the room.
The warning was well-taken. At first glance it seemed as though every surface of the chamber was covered in gently glowing runes in baffling configurations. Einarr stopped in his tracks, scanning the room.
Gradually, the overwhelming formations resolved themselves into more recognizeable, if not comprehensible, configurations. Concentric circles of text ringed the floor, but as he watched a path, almost like stepping stones, began to emerge.
Ah. So that’s how. Feeling more confident, Einarr stepped out onto the revealed path. Melja, several paces ahead, paused for Einarr to catch up as the Shroud continued to twitch as though in a breeze.
“This is amazing,” Einarr breathed as he caught up.
“This is necessary. The last time the Shroud was active, entire villages were consumed.”
“Why wasn’t it destroyed?”
“What makes you think they didn’t try?”
This just kept getting better. Einarr swallowed and turned his attention back to the web of wards they walked through. “So what, exactly, will we be doing here?”
“I will be checking the integrity of the keystone inscriptions. You will be adding your will to the force of the inscriptions.”
“Touch where I tell you to, and turn your will to them, just as if you were activating one of your own inscriptions.”
“…Ah.” Einarr at least knew what that would look like. He wasn’t sure how much sense it actually made. Still, though, once they got started the work proceeded swiftly and Einarr soon discovered that what he’d thought to be senseless was actually base simplicity in practice.
Einarr’s stomach had begun to grumble by the time they left the elaborate chamber and the guard locked the door behind them.
“Don’t wait to let us know if anything changes,” Melja said.
The guard nodded seriously and said “of course,” even though the admonition was thoroughly unnecessary. As they walked back toward the village, Einarr began to feel truly silly about his fears.
He had nearly managed to forget his earlier trepidation as first days, and then weeks passed after the reinforcing of the wards.
When the alarm came, it was not from the temple but from the port town, more than a day’s hike away. A small boat had docked, and its lone occupant had demanded to know the route to the Shrouded Village. From the Headman, at the point of a flaming sword.
“This is bad,” Melja said when the messenger arrived. What followed was a scramble, near panic but not, as the alfr of the village prepared themselves to drive off this interloper.
They did not have long to wait: the questing man was bare hours behind the messenger. He rode up on a fine bay, its coat lathered and its eyes rolling wildly. The newcomer pulled up with such force that his poor horse half reared.
The man stared down imperiously at the villagers, Einarr and Melja at the fore. His eyes were as cold and blue as ice, but his wild mane of hair was black as night. “Is this the Shrouded Village?”
Melja’s voice was cold and just as proud when he answered, “It is.”
The black-haired man smirked. “Excellent. I have come to relieve you of it, by order of my master Virid, Chief of the Giants of Eldurgardr.”
“Tell your master that the alfs of the Shrouded Village sent you off with your tail between your legs, and that not even Wotan himself can order the thing’s release.”
The man laughed. “Excellent. I shall indeed tell him that the alfs fled before my Brannmerke when I present the Muspel Shroud to him.”
As the man spoke he dismounted and drew the long sword that hung at his hip. The blade burst into flames as it cleared its sheath – flames very similar to those which had been invoked in the garden several weeks prior.
“Put that thing away! You’ll kill us all,” Melja snapped.
At the same moment, Einarr was stepping forward, his hand on Sinmora’s hilt. “You’ll have to go through me, first,” he growled.
“Through… you?” He spat. “You are a nithing, a coward, a woman clad in her father’s castoffs. If you were a true man there’d be nothing left to plunder here.”
“Slanderer. Fool. If I were what you say, I’d not be here at all. Come, then, and we will prove who is man and who is nithing.” Einarr’s voice was steady and cool in the face of the other man’s insults. Sinmora cleared her shath with a gentle rasp and he readied his shield.
The villagers backed away swiftly from the impending clash. While all of them could fight at need, none of them were warriors in the way Einarr was. As swift as they were, though, it was only just fast enough.
The foreigner leapt to the fight like a wolf lunges for a kill. Reflexively Einarr brought his shield up: the blade clanged against the shield boss and flames licked its wooden edges.
Before the foreign hothead could pull back, Einarr cut forward. Sinmora bit into his opponent’s maille, but the other man only laughed.
Then the flaming sword arced through the air again, and again Einarr barely managed to bring his shield to bear. He felt the boss dent under the force of the blow, and smelled burning paint.
“So the woman has some guts after all! Make this interesting now.”
Einarr resettled his stance and spat. This was not looking good. He tried to feint right, looking for some opening he could use, some way past the man’s guard, and finding none. Sinmora was batted away. Again he tried and again recieved only mockery for his efforts. Finally the ice-eyed hothead rolled his eyes and spat again.
The next blow shattered Einarr’s shield. The one after dented his helmet and set his ears to ringing as he dropped to his knees. “I think we know who the nithing is now, don’t we?”
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