Tag: Onnir

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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7.15 – Fever

“Over here,” Einarr called upstream at Onnir’s back. Moments later, his guide splashed out of the water and up to the great oak where a small boy huddled.

“Frigg be praised,” he breathed, and scooped the child up. He cradled the boy’s head against his shoulder as he stood up, murmuring to the boy. Onnir met Einarr’s eye and then jerked his head, back the way they had come.

“What of the brother?”

Onnir shook his head. “No sign, and Armad here needs help quickly. We can make the lodge again tonight, but not the Hold.”

Einarr nodded his understanding, but the man was already off. Einarr followed, now keeping a lookout for his guide as they retraced their steps. Given the timing, it was unlikely the Shroud was still in the area, but…

…the half-conscious child whimpered as they went through the campsite where Onnir had found his father’s knife. They paused, only long enough for Einarr to retrieve the knife they had left stuck in the ground, and hurried back toward the lodge they had left only that morning.


Armad lay stretched in his father’s bed, a thick wool blanket pulled up to his chin and a wet cloth on his forehead. Onnir had gone to the hearth in the main room and was boiling a thick porridge against the boy’s waking. Hidir was out chopping wood: Einarr wished he was. It would have given him something to do besides pace, waiting for the boy to be lucid enough to answer questions.

His fingers itched. There were ways of healing with runes, just as Singers were able to heal with their music. But Einarr’s understanding of the runes was still crude, and Melja had warned that it was not often done. Breathe. The boy will wake when he does. No good will come of rushing here.

So he told himself, but it was hard – and moreso because Father was training him to lead. Einarr shook his head and rewet the cloth over Armad’s head.

The boy groaned. Einarr sat up straighter, but his eyes did not open this time.

“How is he?” Onnir’s voice came from the door, a steaming bowl in his hands.

“Still asleep. I keep catching myself trying to puzzle out the runes to help him and having to remind myself I don’t know them. Water might bring the fever down, but even Melja says healing with runes is tricky…”

“As anxious as I am for the young lord to recover, I’d rather not risk something even a master thinks is difficult. Right now, he needs food. Help me sit him up.”

The first spoonful dribbled down the boy’s chin, but his lips began to twitch. The second spoonful was accepted almost eagerly, in spite of the boy’s continued unconsciousness. As they continued, the boy’s eyelids began to flutter. Soon, he was merely half asleep and eating as though he were half-starved.

“Gently, now,” Onnir murmured, and Einarr was not certain if he was talking to the boy or himself. As Onnir neared the bottom of the bowl, awareness came back into the boy’s eyes.

He smiled at the older man. “Uncle. You found me.”

“Yes, Armad. I found you, and brought you back to the Lodge.”

“I’m glad. I had the worst dream. A red mist came, and if it touched you, you disappeared in a flash of red light.” The boy still sounded half-asleep.

Einarr raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

“It sent Father and Mother off somewhere, and it caught Gruki too after we ran, but I hid. Didn’t I do good?”

“Yes, Armad. You did very good.” Einarr could see the strain on Onnir’s face. Armad was already drifting back off to sleep.

“Wake him again,” Einarr said, feeling choked himself. “Please.”

“I don’t think you’re going to get anything clearer from him. For the best he thinks it was a dream, for now. I’ll let him hold on to that, I think, until he’s stronger.”

Einarr nodded his agreement. Probably for the best. “If the fever holds on for more than a couple days, take him to the Shrouded Village. They have a skilled healer, and… and I’m concerned the fever may not be entirely natural.” The Shroud was inextricably linked to fire magic, after all.

Onnir grunted, looking as though he had not considered that. “I’ll do that.”

“You don’t think he saw where it came from?” Einarr tried to put hope in his voice, but it was forlorn anyway. Where the Shroud went from there was a lost cause, with the sort of flight the boy would have had to have taken.

“Even if he did, I don’t think we could trust his account. He’s still caught up in dream logic.”

That was unfortunately probably true. Einarr allowed himself a sigh. “Well. It’s more of a lead than I had, at least. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll stay until morning.”

“Of course. It’s the least we can do, after you found Armad for us.”

Einarr grunted and let himself out of the sick room. Mentally, questions assailed him about the boy and his ability to inherit, but such matters were none of his business. Focus on the Shroud, fix the mess you made. Even if you could do something to help their Clan, they probably wouldn’t want you to.

Dinner that evening was a somber affair. While the child would probably recover at this rate, Onnir and Hidir had just lost their Lord and most of his family. It was a hard thing, and ale flowed freely that night.

Eventually, Einarr slipped off to a corner of the Hall to sleep while the other two drank themselves stupid. He was not in mourning, and he could not afford a hangover in his hunt. Not with as cold and as faint as the trail already was.


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7.14 – Search

It was good, Einarr thought, to have someone watching his back again. Not that the forest would ordinarily have been that dangerous. No, it was just that after spending most of his life on a longship, solitude could feel a little unnatural. Onnir was more a presence ahead of him on the trail than a companion, and a temporary one at that, but that hardly mattered. What did matter was the sense that, soon, he would have a trail to follow.

Or at least he should. While the Shroud had rather thoroughly vanished after escaping the temple, Einarr had been looking for more tangible signs at the time – and somewhat distracted, besides.

“So I’m still a stranger on the island. What can you tell me about the Shroud,” Einarr asked around midmorning, after the drizzle had ceased but before the sky had cleared.

Onnir gave him a strange look over his shoulder. “I imagine you know more about it than I do. You were living out there, after all.”

Einarr shook his head. “I know something of how they kept it, because they had me strengthen the wards not long ago, but Melja has been… reluctant to say much.”

“Truly? How odd. My understanding is that he was among those in favor of informing the islanders.”

“Perhaps because I’m only staying through into the fall?” It made as much sense as anything, and had the advantage of not implying his hosts thought him untrustworthy.

“Perhaps.” Onnir shrugged. “The Muspel Shroud is one of those artifacts you never want to actually find. If a person could bend it to their will, it would still only be an assassin’s tool, but it seems to act according to its own will.”

“How can a piece of cloth -”

“Have a will of its own? We don’t know, but it seems to. Fire, too, can be hard to predict, after all.”

Einarr grunted. He couldn’t exactly disagree, and they plainly know it was tied to fire magic. Otherwise they wouldn’t have known it incinerates its victims.

Onnir stopped and looked around, sniffing the air. “I think we may be close.”

Einarr stopped and drew in a deep breath of the still-damp air. The smell of wet ash caught his attention. “I think you may be right.”

The path they had been following led along the edge of a marshy area of the wood. The low ground to their right, covered in a thin sheet of leaves not yet decomposed from the last winter, looked deceptively easy to travel. To their left, a narrow footpath led towards a thicket and, unless Einarr missed his guess, a hidden camp site.

At the end of the trail, a small level clearing surrounded by thick bushes appeared. At its center was a ring of stones surrounding what had quite recently been a small fire. Based on the ground, this little clearing was used frequently, but because of that Einarr was not at all certain how recently it had been used.

“Best guess, two nights ago,” Onnir answered the unspoken thought. “Which means, just after the Shroud was freed.”

Einarr nodded. “I don’t know how it moves, or what directs it, but I think it could have been here. Let’s see if there are any ashes outside of the fire pit, I guess.”

A quick perusal of the clearing revealed no ashes outside of the fire circle, but Onnir did spot a blade he recognized embedded in the ground and half-hidden by a bush. “He was definitely here,” he mused. “So what happened that night?”

“Was he supposed to be traveling alone?”

Onnir shook his head. “Not quite. Just a small party, though.”

“Known to be loyal?”

“I should say. His Lady and their sons.”

Einarr nodded, his eyes scanning for tracks heading into the forest. A break in the brush caught his eye. “So let’s see who tried to run,” he said, pointing.

***

Einarr was not used to tracking people, but whoever they were following had not even tried to hide their trail, and had crashed through places he would have expected a person to go around. That said panic to Einarr. If they were still alive, they should have good information. If they were not alive, he hoped there would be something left.

The tracks led down to a small brook running towards the nearby marsh, and the farther they went the more certain Einarr was they would find something. The Shroud had been almost too fast to see as it slipped its bonds. Fast enough that Einarr wondered if the would-be thief had even made it up the ladder.

A little ways up the brook, there was a bit of a rocky rise, covered in dense thicket and berry bushes. Einarr pursed his lips: if he were a panicky child, that would look like a wonderful hiding spot, especially if there were some sort of a cave hidden by all the brush. He exchanged a look with Onnir and they both nodded.

Einarr let Onnir lead the way, and the man led them down into the brook, where the water barely came up to their ankles. They waded up into the thicket, peering to either side in search of cave or grotto or small overhang.

“Hello? Are you there?” Onnir’s voice was gentle, but pitched so it would carry. “Gruki? Armad?”

Einarr pushed aside a mat of green falling down to the water from a small overhang. Not there.

“Are you all right?”

On the other side, now, there was a hollowed out space between the roots of a particularly impressive oak. Einarr climbed up to investigate it.

“Armad? Gruki?” Onnir was calling as though his Lord’s children might be capable of responding. After two days it was still possible, he supposed. Let the man call: Einarr would simply check.

Huddled up in hollow in the roots of the oak, a tow-headed young boy was flushed with fever and shivering.

“Over here!”


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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.

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