Tag: No guts no glory?

3.28 – Duelling the Shade

Einarr prowled around the clearing formed by the Allthane’s shades, his focus narrowing in on his opponent. With Troa and Jorir at his back, he had nothing to fear from the ring of enemies and so he waited, watching for his chance.

The Allthane’s sword may have grown rusty, but Einarr thought the man’s spirit still remembered the fight all too well. And then there was the shield-bearer. He had neither axe nor sword nor knife in hand… that Einarr could see. The hand that gripped the shield could hide a small blade, after all, and he did not miss the sheath that hung empty at the man’s belt.

Treachery? Einarr pursed his lips. Fine. He tensed his thighs, his eyes darting between the two. As his eyes fixated on the Allthane, Einarr hurtled forward. He raised Sinmora overhead –

— And struck for the shield-bearer, who had moved to intercept the blow he thought Einarr intended to land. Sinmora’s blade sank into the emaciated flesh of the shade’s shield arm but did not shear through as it had before. Einarr growled and kicked at the shade’s half-severed arm, pulling his sword free. The brittle bone beneath snapped under the force of the kick. Einarr bared his teeth at the revenant.

Neither broken arm nor feral grin seemed to faze his opponents, however. The shield-bearer did not even drop the shield, although one more good hit would give the creature no choice. But now the Allthane was whirling around his shield-bearer, his sword a blur in the sickly green light, and it was all Einarr could do to catch the blows on his own sword or shield.

He growled as the Allthane’s blade hacked at him, as viciously as a warrior under the battle fury. In a moment when the Allthane’s blade was stuck in his shield, Einarr cut for the revenant’s knees.

The shield-bearer slid between them at the last moment and Sinmora clanged against the steel boss of the shield. Einarr turned the backswing to cut again at the creature’s battered arm as he raised his own shield overhead.

The Allthane’s blade came loose. So did the shield-bearer’s arm, still attached to the shield. A hand axe fell onto the back of the boards. Einarr looked up in time to see the Allthane’s blade descending toward his shoulder. He sprang backwards and the blade made sparks against his chain shirt.

Einarr grimaced now. The Allthane really was a cut above the rest of his men. Even the shield-bearer seemed more fragile, although not by much. And Einarr would have to take out the shield-bearer before he could go after the Allthane – at least if he wanted to avoid an axe in his back, that is. Momentarily he regretted the lack of the battle-fury, but Reki was only one woman. The rage would do him no good against wisps of fog.

Einarr flexed his fingers against the grips of both sword and shield. Two on one was hardly his ideal duel, but he could do it. The shield-bearer picked up the shield with his remaining arm: Einarr’s first task was to take him out of the fight. Even without the axe that had fallen to the sand below, he could keep Einarr from his goal.

Einarr shrugged his shoulders, hoping to be rid of the feeling of baleful eyes watching. Which, of course, they were, but they were also becoming a distraction. Only two of the revenants mattered right now, and they were inside the ring with him. Einarr growled as the shield bearer took up his place in front of the Allthane.

From the corner of Einarr’s eye, he saw Jorir kick back one of the circling observers. Not alone.

He spat. “What sort of a coward uses a shield-bearer in this day and age?”

Neither Allthane nor guard rose to the bait. Well, he hadn’t really expected the taunt to work: those two operated off of a different era’s morés. The shield-bearer squared his stance and raised the battered shield into position.

Einarr brought his own shield up to guard his neck and shoulders even as he launched himself back into the attack. At the last instant he turned his shield to the side to strike the Allthane’s shield high with his edge. He heard the splintering of wood as they struck, and lashed out with Sinmora to take the shield-bearer’s head.

The Allthane was chanting again, but that did not stop his shield-bearer from crumpling to the ground at Einarr’s feet. He kicked the shield away from the center of the circle.

While Einarr was preoccupied there, however, the Allthane’s chanting voice had come around behind him. A prickling on the back of his neck was all the warning he had that a strike was imminent.

Einarr dove forward. Dread constricted his throat.

Steel clashed with gold, and the sound rang like a bell behind Einarr. He rolled to his feet.

Behind him, standing where Einarr had not a moment before, Jorir had caught the blade. The Allthane pressed against the golden shield from the Jotun’s horde, and the shield seemed made of golden flame.

“Now, milord!” The dwarf strained under the pressure the Allthane exerted against the shield.

The Allthane stared not at the dwarf, or even at his foe, but at the shield itself, and the circle of revenants cringed away now. It was an opportunity not to be missed.

Einarr leapt forward and brought his long sword up for a mighty cut. Sinmora slashed through the Allthane’s scraggly neck.

In the same instant, Troa’s blade cut halfway through the shade’s emaciated side. Troa spun past the crumpling Allthane and pulled his sword free as Einarr’s momentum carried him several paces towards the ring of shades that still surrounded them.

He wanted to be annoyed at Troa. The man had interfered in a duel, after all… but a duel against the shade of a cannibal? The man had lost all honor in life, and shown little after death. Einarr’s breath came quick and heavy now, but he did not drop his guard. The shades encircling them began to waver, now. Some wandered off into the mist. Others, the show over, rejoined the main battle. Their nearest target? The three men in their midst who had just slain their leader.

Troa and Jorir took up their positions on Einarr’s flank again, just as they had fought their way over here.

“How can someone so accursed good at tafl be so very bad at field strategy?” Jorir grumbled.

Einarr had no answer for him, but now the revenants began to close in on them again and there was no time left to answer.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

2.31 – Ship-Barrow

The hike back down the mountain the next morning was cool and crisp and surprisingly straightforward, with the sun washing everything in fresh hues and no visions to slow their progress.

Einarr could not quite have the spirits fitting for the day. Before he met Runa he’d thought he could be perfectly happy with a life spent roaming the waves. He knew if they found a way to undo the Weaving that would end… but the possibility had never quite seemed real. To be honest, this new reality didn’t quite seem real yet, either, but it was a somewhat heavier reality to the one he had not quite managed to let go of yet.

Still, though, Jorir seemed happy, as did Father, and a Calling like this was a call to glory. Einarr shoved the weightier aspects to the back of his mind, turning his focus instead to enjoying the hike ahead of them. The clouds had nearly cleared from his head by the time the trail leveled off at the bottom of the mountain.

The noises coming from the village were nearly as joyous as the conversation among the group that had gone up the mountain, although perhaps somewhat more focused. As they stepped up to the village square, it became plain that Bardr was preparing for something big. They stood there for several moments before the Mate looked up from the stream of supplies he was directing – in both directions, evidently.

“Captain! You’re back!” A surprisingly boyish grin split Bardr’s face as he hurried over to greet the five of them. “The Elder said you’d be down today.”

“And here I am. Looks like you’ve been busy while I was away.”

“And how. Heard a fascinating story from the locals. Provided you agree, we all thought it might be worth checking out.”

Stigander raised an eyebrow.

“It seems some time ago one of their whaling boats caught sight of a ship’s graveyard not many weeks northeast of here. Treacherous shoals keep most ships away… but this whaler thought he saw the figurehead of the last Allthane’s ship.”

Einarr raised his eyebrows in surprise. Jorir whistled. While supposedly the last Allthane had been lost at sea, that was hundreds of years ago.

“D’ye think there’s anythin’ left?” Jorir voiced Einarr’s concern. Stigander nodded along. Sivid, on the other hand, looked like he might have caught Bardr’s enthusiasm.

“Not a whole lot of folks come out this direction, and I’m not gonna lie. Tyr and I looked at the charts the locals keep. Getting in there’s going to be tricky. Getting out, too. But if we can manage it, I’ll lay odds we’ll be set for the year.”

Stigander puffed out his moustache. “Knowing you, you’ve already bought a copy of these charts. Show me.”

***

“All right lads. I understand Bardr’s been filling your heads with all the treasure we’re likely to find if we get in to this ship-barrow, or you all wouldn’t be so excited. I’ll tell you now, though, unless every last one o’ you signs on after I tell you what we’re up against, we’re headed south.” Stigander looked over his men, waiting a moment until he was sure he had everyone’s attention.

There is a reason this island is a ship-barrow. Based on what I’ve seen, the only ones among us who even might have seen waters as dangerous are the three who went to Svartlauf this spring. The currents are tricky, and unless I miss my guess the wind will howl. Once we’re inside, whether we find anything good or not, we have to get out. If we find something good, we’ll have to get out with a heavier ship.” Now he paused to let the murmuring die down again.

“If our circumstances were different than they are in any conceivable way, this would not even be a question. We would head south, and leave the barrow for men with more guts than brains. Now my crew has never lacked for guts. There’s no shame if your good sense overrides your glory seeking here. So. Do we attempt to reach the Allthane’s wreck, or do we seek our fortune through more conventional means?”

Father was being over-cautious, Einarr thought. He’d gotten the Gufuskalam in and out of Svartlauf with only three men, after all. Given that their line was at stake, however, he had trouble faulting his father for it. Too much.

The silence built after Stigander’s question. A few of the men exchanged glances and whispered thoughts. Stigander stood ahead of them, his arms folded, watching.

Then someone called out “All-thane!” It may have been more than one someone speaking together: Einarr couldn’t tell from where he stood.

Then more joined in. “All-thane! All-thane!”

It became a chant. Einarr, too, joined. As Father had said, the Vidofnings had never lacked for bravery, and in just a few short months they would have to provide payment for a new ship… and men to crew it. The promise of treasure, and maybe a little adventure, was sufficient.

Bardr looked smug, standing off to the side. Einarr sidled around the edge of the crew to stand between his father and their second in command. “I think that’s your answer, Father.”

Stigander harrumphed, but his expression said he had expected no less from the men of Breidelsteinn.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

2.27 – Reading the Weave

The Oracle turned her back on him almost languidly and walked back to the finished tapestry. She raised a hand to touch the lyre that tied itself to a tafl king whenever the instrument appeared. “Tell me, the harp. Is that the pretty young maiden from your vision? The one whose father you wish to ask me how to win?”

“Probably. She is the one who gave me what was later the ‘instrument of Jorir’s defeat.’”

The Oracle nodded. “You may need her ruthlessness, but keep close watch on it.”

“Then… a Tuning…”

“Is the black art of song. You didn’t seriously think the only Art that could be turned to evil was weaving, did you?”

“I…”

The Oracle shook her head. “Weavers bind fate, Singers influence the mind, Painters and Sculptors create physical effects, the work of a good Smith is said to have a soul. Which of these could not be perverted? …But that is not what you are here for. Tell me what you see in your friend’s weaving.”

“The black mountain topped with black clouds is his home, oppressed by a darkness blacker than Urdr’s. The king and the lyre dance about outside the darkness, until the lyre is swallowed by it…” He had to swallow. Didn’t she say the lyre was Runa? “And the king pierces the clouds. When the lyre plays, it rains.”

“Not bad. With the proper training, you could have made a passable soothsayer.”

Einarr grimaced, and the Oracle laughed.

“You see how things connect. It wasn’t perfect, of course, but better than expected – even for a newly fledged Cursebreaker.” She turned her attention to Jorir, and her tone became distant. “Smed Världslig, your fears are exaggerated, but not unfounded. The monstrous ones have gained a foothold in your home, have gained the ear of the thane. The svartdvergr of the mountain will soon descend again into the barbarous caves. Even should you defeat the witch in time, her poison will take time to purge. Gather allies to the cause of your lord, and he will reward you handsomely when the time is right. Act swiftly, but prudently, that the Cursebreaker will be ready when the time approaches. You will know the time by these signs: the eagle will feed on the wolf; demons will claim the waves; and dragons shall bear winged spears.”

Einarr blinked. He had seen none of those symbols on the cloth until she spoke their names, but as she did his eyes were drawn to them. Well. This is why she is the Oracle and I am just a prince with no holdings.

Now she turned a gentle smile on his liege-man. “Take heart, young child of the earth. You yet have time.”

Jorir bowed deeply before the Oracle. “My thanks, my lady. What payment do you require of me this day?”

“Though it has been more than a century since you were last here, this cannot be considered a separate weaving. The presence of the Cursebreaker was both the prerequisite and the payment, and so our debts are paid. Unless you had something else?”

“Nay, lady.”

She nodded before turning her attention back to Einarr. “As for you.” She pursed her lips, considering. “Your fate is sufficiently intertwined with the others that I would have you stay here as I weave for them. This is not like to be a quick process, however, and your threads may become knotted in unexpected ways. Do you assent?”

“These men are my crewmates and my family. If my presence is required, I shall not withhold it.” He did not hesitate, although his mind still reeled from what he had been shown already this morning. How was he going to take in the Weavings of all the rest, as well?

“Good. Watch carefully, as we go. You will learn much that will aid you on your way.”

It took two hours for the Oracle’s assistants to re-string the loom, even working quickly. Then Sivid was called up. Images rose before Einarr’s eyes, one after another, while the Oracle shuttled colored threads backward and forward faster than his eye could follow. Some of them made sense. More of them did not.

Here and there the tafl king reappeared. Did it mean the same thing for Sivid as it did for Jorir? If so, he thought it likely Sivid would no longer count him a friend by the end of it: he would be responsible both for setting the man on the path that would get him what he wanted, and for it’s destruction. Einarr was too dazed by the end of it to really take in the Oracle’s interpretation of the weave.

They broke for lunch, all except the two apprentices. They used the time to set up the loom for Arring’s request.

For about five minutes, Einarr stared into the bowl of nut gruel, clutching his spoon in hand. He sighed and stood, shoving the spoon into the mash in the bowl, to stride across the clearing to where the Oracle took dainty bites of the same stuff. “My lady, might I trouble you for a moment?”

“Sit down, Cursebreaker. You have questions about your friend’s reading this morning?”

“I do.”

“Very well. His was a deceptively simple request, was it not?”

“And one I wonder if he won’t come to regret.”

“You’re concerned about the shattering in his path?”

Einarr nodded. “It looked like it was my fault?”

She shook her head. “Only time will tell. I suspect not, however. That is an inflection point, a point of choice, and I would remind you that I told him as much.”

“I… of course.”

The corner of her mouth quirked in what was not quite a smile. “I suppose this is all rather a lot to take in, isn’t it. Ask Avrindân: she can provide you with something that will sharpen your senses this afternoon. There will not be time to read for you or your father today, so take comfort in that.”

“Thank you, …my lady.” She had thus far shown no inclination to give a name, and Einarr was not inclined to test her on it.

The Oracle nodded, and he ate as he moved over to where Avrindân and the girl with a voice like silver bells still worked.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents