Tag: Runa

9.9 – Refugees

Silent as ghosts, the three ships slipped through the night towards Breidelstein and Raenshold. The air of anticipation was almost palpable on the Heidrun: Einarr could only imagine what it must be like on the Vidofnir.

Hrug busied himself about the ship inscribing runes based on what they had discussed with the Matrons on Breidhaugr and his own knowledge of runes from the Shrouded Village. So far as that went, Einarr could only trust he would know what to do when the time came.

A low whistle rolled across the water from the Vidofnir, the signal that another boat approached. The men of the Heidrun, having put on their maille before they sailed from the fjord, limbered their bows. Einarr moved forward, peering over the water to see what they were likely to be dealing with.

Only a fishing boat. For no reason that Einarr could fathom, he was put in mind of the Gufuskalam – the boat Runa had bought after she convinced him to elope. Soon. Just hang on, and I’ll have you free soon…

Someone in the boat waved a torch, as though trying to catch the attention of the ship captains. That was curious. A moment later, the signal to stand down came from the deck of the Vidofnir. Einarr turned his attention there as the fishing boat drew up next to his father’s ship. Right at that moment, Einarr wished he had a rune combination that would let him be part of whatever was going on over there, but so far as he knew even Melja could not do that.

A third time a whistle sounded, this time followed by waves of the torch indicating a change in course. That was very curious.


The Vidofnir led them unerringly to a little cove with a sheltered, sandy shore on an island not far from where they encountered the fishing boat and all three longships sent people ashore to learn what was going on. A tiny fire was already lit on the beach, with a small group of Vidofnings clustered around it, when Einarr vaulted from the deck of the Heidrun. Jorir and Naudrek were not far behind. From the Eikthyrnir, Captain Kormund was joined by his Mate and his Battle Chanter.

Einarr was nearly upon them when he realized who it was that sat, huddled under a shawl, her fingers curled around a steaming horn of something. “Runa?” He all but ran the intervening distance.

There she was: disheveled, with great dark circles beneath her bloodshot eyes, her skin pale except where it showed either the yellow-green of old bruises or, more damningly, the purple of new ones, but still the loveliest creature Einarr had ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on.

“It is you,” he said, a little breathlessly, as he joined the small circle about the fire. “How did you get here? What have they done to you? Are you all right?”

She smiled wanly, but her lip trembled. “So you did come for me. I knew you would. But… but I… I couldn’t wait.”

Einarr felt his throat go dry. He didn’t try to say anything, just pushed forward to take a seat next to her. Runa threw her arms around his neck and started to cry.

An unfamiliar man sitting on her other side spoke then. “His lordship wanted her broken, he said. Said that was going to be the way to get information out of her pabbi. Only, that didn’t sit right. So me an’ another fellow went to talk with the Lady. Seems like the next thing I know, I’m rowing out toward you lot in a fishing boat.”

“You blanked out?” Reki demanded.

“No, ma’am. Only the Lady is very persuasive, and she talked us into it before we quite knew what we were about. I’m mighty glad we found you, though,” he continued. “Gods only know how long before they send out boats to search for the Lady.”

“She is very persuasive, at that,” Einarr said, rubbing Runa’s shoulder. “Did they…?”

Runa shook her head, still without raising it. “But that’s why I couldn’t wait. I thought… I thought these two were sent to…”

Einarr hushed his betrothed soothingly and met his father’s eye darkly. “Never you fear. They will get what’s coming to them.”

Stigander nodded silently at him.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, my lords, but it might be best if we hurried up and got out of the islands. His lordship won’t be pleased once he knows she’s gone, and then he’ll have these waters crawling with boats searching for her.”

Stigander hummed. “Well, you’re right about one thing, anyway. We had best be getting on again. The night’s wasting away while we sit here gabbing. But we’re not leaving.” A wicked grin split Stigander’s yellow moustaches. “Oh, no. The Wolf and the Weaver aren’t getting off so easily this time.”

“No,” Einarr muttered. “No, they are not. Although, one thing confuses me. I was told the Weavess’ curse bound your loyalties to her son, and no matter what you couldn’t act against him. So then, how?”

The one who had been relating their tale sat up proudly. “I’ve not acted against his Lordship. I’ve kept him from staining his honor.”

Somehow, Einarr doubted Ulfr would see it that way, but that was hardly the point. He nodded. “It’s a courageous thing to do, to act against your lord for their own good.”

Elsewhere around the fire, someone hummed. In Einarr’s arms, though, Runa was finally beginning to calm herself. Gently he extricated himself and stood. “Father is right, though. We need to be getting back out on the water. If there will soon be a full fleet out looking for the three of you, then we have even more reason to make haste.”

“Quite right.” It was Captain Kormund. “Let’s load back up and push off before the night grows any older. We don’t want to be caught out on the open water at dawn, after all.”


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9.7 – Ocean Skirmish

“Draken, dead ahead!”

Sailing into view ahead of them, almost like a mirror image, came three draken bearing sails in the red and yellow of Ulfr’s Breidelstein.

“Make ready!” Stigander’s voice rose over the water from the Vidofnir, echoed moments later by Kormund and Einarr. Einarr’s heart pounded in his chest like it hadn’t since he was still a deckhand, and suddenly he wondered if he was really ready to be Captain. Or ready to retake their homeland, for that matter. Fifteen years is a long time…

“To arms!” He ordered again, this time breaking free of the paralysis that threatened to grip his legs. He didn’t have to be sure, he just had to do. Just like everything else since the Oracle had named him Cursebreaker. The chainmail slid over his head as easily as it ever did.

Easier, in some ways. Runa was ahead, captive and bound by the same hands that held his grandfather and all the other men of Breidelstein in thrall. When he thought of it that way, how could he even think of hesitating?

The ships ahead were near enough now that Einarr could make out their prow totems – not one of them a wolf. Well, that was fine. He could hardly expect the usurper to sally forth so early.

His men were readying bows, now – everyone aboard, really, save for Bea and Jorir. She stood, spear in hand, just ahead of him and to the left, with Jorir on the right. Einarr shook his head: there were far worse choices for a bodyguard, he supposed, and if she were ahead of him that meant he could keep an eye on her.

They were almost in range. “Ready volley!” Wait for it…

“Fire!”

Arrows launched from all three ships almost at once, and only a few landed in the water. The counter-volley came at almost the same moment, and the slower among the Heidrunings had to scramble to raise their shields in time. Arrows sprouted from the deck and from shields, but Einarr heard none of the inevitable cries of pain from his deck. “Again!”

Once more, bows drew back, and on his command they loosed arrows and raised shields once more. The time for arrow fire was nearing its end, however: some few of the missiles launched from their opposites were javelins, now.

“Prepare to board!”

About half of his crew shouldered their bows and moved to ready the boarding lines. The other half kept their shields raised, guarding their fellows. Einarr looked on approvingly: this was the start of a good crew, he thought. Hopefully most of them would survive the battles to come.

Eydri’s battle hymn began to take hold on the edges of his mind. He acknowledged it, but did not let himself sink fully under its sway. That was a luxury that was not afforded to Captains: those who lost themselves in its grip were brutally effective – right up until the rage got them killed. Usually sooner rather than later.

Now the enemy boarding lines launched. Einarr could feel the blood pumping in his veins as he drew Sinmora, still resisting the heady call of the battle chant. It would get easier with time, he knew – just so long as he did resist it.

There was no more time for contemplation. The boarding lines grew taut. Quick as a thought, the first wave of men were up and racing along their precarious footing to be the first to reach the other deck.

The enemy sailors, too, were racing across the ropes, trusting in long practice and good luck to keep them out of the water. Where the two forces met in the middle, they clashed, and there were usually two fates possible in that first clash: either you won, and the other man fell, or you lost, and fell to the water below, to swim and hope you could escape being crushed between the ships.

The men of the Heidrun, since they were few in number and mostly still green, had been instructed in a cleverer way of fighting. They were not to clash like rams, horns against horns, on the boarding lines. Instead their first rush was to evade the enemy and slip past to the deck beyond, while those who remained behind defended the Heidrun and their captain from a place of better footing. Einarr had the idea from watching Sivid, and it had the benefit of taunting the enemy while they were securing their own footing.

It seemed to be working. He heard very few splashes, and of the few who fell even fewer were Heidrunings, men of Kjell or experienced sailors either one.

That also meant, however, that the fighting was harder on his own deck. Bea and Jorir closed ranks so that the three of them stood back to back, just behind the first line of defenders.

One man, a fellow built like Stigander but with a wild red mane the color of Einarr’s, crashed through the line of defenders to close with Einarr. He studied the man’s face: could this be an uncle, or a cousin?

Family or not, he was fighting in deadly earnest, and so Einarr did not hesitate to do the same. They exchanged three blows. On the fourth, Einarr buried Sinmora’s blade in his shoulder. The blade slid free and the man clutched at the wound, stumbling backward with a scream of rage and pain. He might live, if their Singer got to him quickly enough, but that had been his sword arm. He would never fight again.

The battle was almost over before it began. Not long after the red-headed bear withdrew, the enemy captains sounded the retreat.

Once their men had cut their way back aboard the Heidrun, and the enemy sailors had fled, the boarding lines were drawn back. Bea stared in consternation at the fleeing ships.

“That was all it took to send them off? Why did your father fear these men so?”

Einarr shook his head. “They were testing us. Those were scout ships. And those men, some of them anyway, are kin. Father does not fear them, he fears for them.”

Bea hummed. She did not look convinced.


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9.4 – A New Quest

It was with a heavy heart and no small amount of trepidation that the Vidofnir once more entered the harbor at Kjellvic. Liupold returned to the Arkona, although the dromon did not immediately weigh anchor. The Eikthyrnir followed Stigander up to the docks, where the two ships were met by the harbormaster, whom Einarr had spoken to before.

He wasn’t sure if it was a positive sign or not that it was only the harbormaster who greeted them. On the one hand, it was probably a good sign that the people of the town were more interested in putting their lives back together than driving them off with torches and pitchforks. On the other hand, it also led him to doubt Trabbi’s claim.

“What news from the Hall?” The Harbormaster asked in response to Stigander’s hail.

Stigander shook his head. “Nothing but ash. The bastard took the Jarl and the Lady.”

Now fire sparked in the other man’s eye. “They what?”

“I thought Bollinn was back. Didn’t he say?”

The harbormaster shook his head. Probably, from what he knew of the Brunnings, they were trying to avoid panicking the townspeople. “I’ll call up the militia. Be surprised if they didn’t want to join you.”

Father and son nodded in tandem, then Einarr paused. “What happened to the mayor?”

The harbormaster gestured broadly at the town behind him. After a pause, he sighed. “They found him on the green. Gutted. Couldn’t tell you if he was still alive when the fire swept through.”

Einarr winced. Stigander merely nodded again. “That’s of a piece with what little news has come out of Breidelstein.”

“It’s true, then?”

“So it seems. It’s well past time I dealt with Ulfr’s treachery, anyway. …Is the shipwright about?”

“Oh, aye. You’ll find him down where he always is. He’ll be right glad to have your ship off his hands, I wager. …Oh, but, my Lord? You might warn your men against too much drink while they’re in town.”

“Surely no-one actually believes that calumny?”

“None as know you, no. Not many others, I wager, but you know what drink can do to a man’s wits.”

Stigander hummed, and then they were off.


As soon as Einarr laid eyes on the rams-head prow he knew the ship to be at least the equal of any he’d seen in Eskiborg. The wood seemed to glow from within, and the shipwright had seemed to know just from looking at him how Einarr would want to run his ship. It was no Eikthyrnir, to outrace anything she came up against, but neither was it a Bjorn, thick and bulky and tough but slow. It was, like the beast on her prow, built for balance.

The shipwright – who was otherwise quite happy to take Stigander’s coin – stared sullenly at him as he examined the new ship. His new ship. “She’s beautiful,” Einarr said, running his hand down the klinks.

“You better believe she is. An’ I’ll wager she’s as eager to fight as you lot are. Just keep the bloody wolves away from here, wouldya?”

“By the time we’re done with them, you’ll not have anything to worry about save some pelts,” Stigander’s voice was quiet and level as he answered.

Oddly, that did nothing to ease the other man’s glower. Instead, he pocketed their coin and mumbled a “pleasure doin’ business with you” before wandering off to elsewhere in his workspace.

Einarr shrugged then turned his attention back to the ship. She had fewer benches than the Vidofnir, but that was fine. She was likely to be running at half crew until they took Breidelstein at least, anyway. The awning stretched a good ten feet back from the mast, and could be collapsed quickly at need through an ingenious series of catches to roll up in itself. Einarr would have to study that, and have Jorir take a look as well.

“Where is Jorir, anyway? I’d have thought he’d want to be here for this.”

“He did, but he had some business with the smith. There’ll be time enough for you and all your crew to take it in – later. Right now, I want to hear all about what happened with the elves while you inspect her.”

Einarr chuckled. Oh. Of course. “Sounds good, pabbi.”


A handful of Vidofnings gathered that night at the lone public hall of Kjellvic, one of the few structures left largely untouched by the Wolfling’s raid, to share stories and recruit sailors for this next expedition. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind what they had to do.

The sun had well set, although it was still far too early for people to be too deeply into their cups, when Einarr called for the attention of the hall. The townspeople had fallen to the sort of merrymaking only possible after a hard day’s work when one has just escaped catastrophe, and was in danger of turning rowdy later. That meant, however, that this was the perfect time.

“Good people of Kjellvic,” Einarr shouted over the din, raising his tankard high. The room began to quiet almost immediately. “On behalf of my father and all the Vidofnings, I thank you for your trust in our friendship. What has happened here, while we were away, is the result of the usuper’s cowardice and envy.”

Someone in the back of the hall jeered.

“I know. We have allowed him his games for far too long… But, at last, we have what we need to retake our home and re-grow the friendship between our two lands! We have, however, only three ships, two of which are under strength. When the Vidofnir sails forth to unravel the Weaving, and take back our lands and rescue our friends, who among you will sail with us to rescue your Lord the Jarl and the Lady Runa?”

A loud cheer went up, and Einarr, Jorir, and Bardr spent the rest of the night talking, man-to-man, with the volunteers.


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9.3 – Wolfling Raid

Stigander froze in his tracks, then seemed to sway a little as the words hit him harder than any physical blow. “Too late?” he finally managed.

Einarr and Trabbi both moved to where Stigander stood poleaxed. Einarr arrived first, despite the old fisherman being much closer. “What do you mean, too late?”

Trabbi, his face as ashen as the rest of him, shook his head slowly. “The raiders been gone for days, now. All that’s left here is to save what remains. Build again, if we find the Jarl.”

Stigander recovered himself. “I think you’d better come down to the Vidofnir with us, have some food and drink. Then you can tell us what happened.”

Trabbi nodded as though still half-dazed. “I think that might be a good idea. Can’t tell you when I last ate.”


Three days before the Arkona, the Eikthyrnir and the Vidofnir narrowly avoided doing battle in the harbor, a drakken with a wolf’s head on the prow arrived. They made no pretense of friendship: this was a raid, and the wolf’s raiders were searching for someone.

Stigander.

As soon as they saw the Vidofnir wasn’t in port, they made sure everyone at the Hall – and, Trabbi supposed, likely everyone in the town – knew that they had come for the thief Stigander and the ship he had stolen from Breidelstein, the Vidofnir. The wolflings were trying to draw them out.

The battle at the Hall was the worst any of them had seen in years. The men of the Skudbrun fought valiantly, and gave chase, but just yesterday had limped back, unable to follow further. They did confirm one thing, though.

Trabbi stared into the ale in the wooden tankard they had brought him. “The Wolfling ship – we never got its name – had both the Jarl and the Lady Runa aboard. Captive.”

Stigander’s face had gone red with rage, and Einarr saw his beard twitching in time with the muscle over his jaw. “He has the nerve to call me a thief?”

Einarr, though, was preoccupied with another bit of that story. “Was she unharmed?”

The odds that the Jarl had been taken without a fight, and therefore without injury, were almost nil. Trabbi sighed. “As near as Bollinn could tell. She was gagged and tied to the mast when he saw her, and my Lord was trussed up like a boar. Also gagged: apparently their Captain wasn’t willing to deal with my Lord’s temper.”

Stigander had calmed a little. “No. He wouldn’t be.”

“Father?”

“The Captain of the ship that razed Kjell is most likely Ulfr son of Urdr. My half-brother, and your uncle.”

Einarr hesitated a moment, then hummed agreement into his own cup. “It couldn’t be anyone else, with the story Trabbi told.”

“I’d hoped to have a little longer to muster forces…”

Einarr shook his head. “We should have realized we were out of time last summer, when I came back with the Örlögnir. I’ve already lived longer than most Cursebreakers manage, and it seems like every time I turn around someone has raised the stakes on me. My ship is ready?”

“Assuming it wasn’t damaged in the assault on the town. Even after last fall, I’ve only got a skeleton crew I can spare you.”

“I’m sure that will work itself out.”

“I imagine,” Trabbi interrupted. He looked and sounded much more alive now that he was out of the smoking ruin and fed. “I imagine that, if you put round the town what you’re doing, you’ll have a good number of able bodies wanting to get their own back against the raiders.”

“See?” Einarr looked more seriously at Trabbi now. “How badly was the Skudbrun damaged?”

“You’d have to ask Bollinn, but I’m sure they’ll be itching to go.” Ulfr had Jarl Hroaldr, after all.

Now Einarr turned to the foreigners in their midst. “You have delivered me, as promised, to my father’s ship and my own people. I have no more hold on you, and if you wish to return the Princess to Imperial waters, not a soul will hold it against you. On the other hand…”

Liupold shook his head. “For myself, I would chase this justice with you, and I know that there are many among my crew who admire you for your work on Hohenwerth. There are just as many, however, who despise the Clans beyond all reason. My Mate among them. I fear I must return south with the Arkona.”

Einarr inclined his head. He had expected as much, but they were going to be facing the entire strength of the land that used to be home, with whatever navy and whatever loyalty the Weaver and her bastard son managed to forge.

Bea, however, straightened her shoulders. “I will come. As a token of goodwill, let us say.”

“Your Highness!” Liupold protested.

“I have made up my mind, Captain. This Cursebreaker intrigues me, and I believe it is not only in my Patron’s interest but the interest of the Empire to ensure his success and continued survival. I will go.”

Liupold looked to Einarr and Stigander for assistance and found none. Neither did Trabbi, the Jarl’s retainer, look inclined to stop her. Finally he sighed. “In that case, I would ask that you fight on my behalf, as well.”

She beamed. “Of course. I will send you with a missive in my own hand, in case Father should object.”

Liupold rolled his eyes, and Einarr suddenly wondered if all highborn women were so overbearing. “Well,” he said, to change the subject. “In that case, it sounds as though we should get back to town. And… hope my uncle’s slander did not take hold.”

Trabbi nodded, slowly. “I think you have little to fear, there. Lord Stigander and his crew are well-known, after all, not only for your friendship to Lord Hroaldr but also for your generosity in town.”

That was true, as far as it went, but Einarr was uneasy nonetheless.


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9.2 – Vidofnir

The order was given, and Arring tossed a rope across to the rowboat. Einarr lashed the boats together and pulled himself up onto the old, familiar deck. Grinning broadly, he clasped arms with Arring before turning around to offer a hand up to those who wished for one.

“Where’s Father?” He asked as soon as the last of them was aboard, still grinning at everyone around him. His companions were all looking around, some more bemused than others.

Arring pointed towards the bow, where Stigander stood waiting in a cleared area just ahead of the mast, his arms crossed but looking just as pleased to see Einarr. Next to him was Reki, and he felt as much as saw Eydri tense. Now was not the time for that conversation, though. He straightened the hem of his tunic and strode forward.

Stigander appeared to be listening to something Reki was muttering. The albino woman never once took her eyes from Einarr’s group. What had happened between her and Eydri? Surely there must have been something. Still, Stigander nodded, and as Einarr drew up with the mast a grin split his thick yellow beard.

“At last, my troublemaker returns to us!” Stigander laughed and reached out his arms.

Einarr met the gesture in kind, taking his father in a manly embrace for just a moment.

“Welcome back, son,” Stigander said more quietly.

“Thank you, Father.” He clapped his father on the shoulder once more before turning. “And now I’m afraid there are introductions to be made and common cause to be made.” He ran through the introductions a second time, this time starting with Bea, followed by Liupold, and then the others in order of their respective rank. He did not fail to notice that Eydri and Reki both seemed to avoid looking at one another.

“And that’s where we stand, Father,” he finished.

“I see. Welcome aboard, I suppose.” Stigander watched Bea quietly, the way a cat watches a hunting dog.

“The honor is mine,” Bea said smoothly, extending her hand. “I understand one of my ships gave you some trouble last spring: for that, you have my apologies.”

Stigander hummed and turned his attention to Liupold. “Captain Liupold of the Arkona. My Mate informs me that your ship is apparently not to blame for the sacking of my friend’s land?”

“That is correct, Captain. The Arkona arrived earlier today bearing your son and the others following a service they performed in Imperial waters.”

That got a raised eyebrow from Stigander, and Einarr knew they would have a great deal to discuss later.

Liupold was still speaking. “We arrived to find the town already in flames and sent a boat ashore to determine what had occurred here. We were still determining that when your two ships arrived and opened fire on us.”

“An unfortunate misunderstanding.”

“And, under the circumstances, an understandable one. But we had not yet learned the identity of the raiders when we had to break off to secure this cease-fire.”

Stigander turned to Einarr. “The Hall?”

Einarr shook his head. “Also hit. Also burning, I think, but the harbormaster didn’t know how bad, and everyone else was too busy putting out fires. And we do know one thing, actually. The ship responsible had a wolf’s head on the prow.”

Stigander looked stricken. “We have to get to Kjell Hall.”

“You know that ship, Father?”

“In my time, I have known three ships to bear that animal. Two of them are long since broken, but all three of them were terrors of the sea. Bardr! My horn.”

“Sir!”

“In the meantime… Captain Liupold, your Highness. Do you intend to see this through? Or, having delivered your cargo, will you return south to safer waters?” He did not say flee, but all among them heard it.

Bea straightened, as haughty as ever a princess could be. “We shall see it through, shan’t we, Captain? The Cursebreaker is of great interest to me.”

Einarr rolled his eyes, fairly certain she couldn’t see, and groaned internally. She would complicate matters greatly.

“I was just about to say the same, your Highness,” Liupold was saying.

“Very good. Then if you would kindly return to your ship, so no-one decides I have made hostages of you, we should be underway.”


The three ships slipped from the harbor almost without further incident. However, where the Vidofnir and the Eikthyrnir could simply reverse course, the Arkona had to be turned about. While this was not a difficult maneuver, it did slow their progress. Einarr wondered idly if the harbormaster had paid any attention to what was going on out on the waves.

Just a few hours later, the two longboats and an Imperial rowboat beached themselves just up the river from the narrow bay near the Hall. The forest appeared untouched, which was a mercy. Whatever they had done, there would be survivors even out here.

Still, only a relatively small party was sent up the forest trail. Einarr and Stigander, Reki, Captain Kormund, Bea, Rambert, and Jorir – who had been just as pleased to see him, in his way, as Stigander. “We’ve much to discuss, you and I – once we’ve confirmed the safety of your Lady, of course,” he’d said.

“You’re right, we do. Glad to see you well.”

That had been the end of it, for the time being. Now the seven of them hurried up the bay trail toward Kjell Hall. Einarr spotted chop marks in the forest around the trail, although he could not discern their purpose.

When the Hall came into view in its clearing in the trees, it was a burnt-out ruin. Men still moved within the confines of its walls, searching among the ashes for who-knew-what. Stigander took off at a run for the walls, and the rest of the party followed after.

“Trabbi? Trabbi, is that you?”

The old retainer rose from the pile of ash he sifted through to look, numb, at the man who addressed him. “You’re too late.”


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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.

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.

9.1 – Burn

With Hrist’s ominous parting words ringing in his ears, it would have been an understatement to call Einarr impatient to return to Kjell. Where before he marveled at the Arkona’s speed, especially for a ship of her size and draft, now it would not have been enough had she been able to fly.

He shared his encounter with Hrist only with Eydri, Naudrek, and Hrug, and while they, too, were now anxious to return that word, too, was insufficient. He spent his days pacing the deck, cursing under his breath the alfs and their High Roads for keeping him from his place on the Vidofnir.

His relentless pacing meant he was among the first to notice the unnatural light on the horizon as they approached Kjell. His throat went dry: had the whole island burned, in some dark reflection of their purification of Hohenwerth? He shook his head. No, that couldn’t be. Whatever it was, though, was bad. He tried everything to make himself sleep, but even under the effects of Eydri’s Lullaby he was subjected to terrible nightmares and fitful slumber.

The next day Kjell came into view and he saw smoke before he saw anything else – great inky clouds of it. The largest of these rose from what was obviously Kjellvic, and Einarr could soon see large swaths of untouched forest. That meant, though, that the other two merging pillars of smoke rose from the Hall and the Chapel, respectively.

Liupold could not coax any more speed out of his ship at this stage: he had done all he could in that regard in the days after Einarr’s encounter with the Valkyrie had led to a shift in his mood. He did, however, keep the Arkona at speed for far longer than he otherwise would have dared.

The Arkona sailed into Kjell harbor far faster than anyone considered safe, for this reason. The people on shore seemed on the verge of panic, held in check only by the keen memory of the harbormaster, who recognized them. When a landing craft was put down, Einarr practically flew to its deck. His companions were close behind, followed by Bea, Rambert and Liupold, and every one of them save Eydri manned an oar.

Eydri sang. Even with the boost she lent them, though, Einarr wanted to tear his hear out for how long it was taking. Threads can be cut, Cursebreaker, Hrist had warned. He did not see the Vidofnir in port: that could only mean it had been Runa under threat.

After minutes that felt like hours, the rowboat sidled up to the dock and Einarr leapt out in front of the harbormaster. “What has happened?” He demanded without preamble or introduction.

The harbormaster studied him for a long and wary moment before he answered. “Ah. You are the Lady Runa’s betrothed, are you not?”

“Yes!” It was an effort not to snap at the man, although that he remembered at all could be counted a small miracle.

For his part, the harbormaster was visibly relieved. “Three days ago, Kjell was hit by a raiding ship with a wolf’s head on the prow. They seemed to be looking for something, or someone. I’m afraid no-one seems to know what. Apparently they didn’t find it, because after they sailed off refugees started arriving from the Hall. They had been asking the same questions there, and stealing everything that was not nailed down in the process. The town is still burning, as you can see, but I think we’ve finally got it contained…”

“Good, good,” Einarr broke in at the first convenient moment. “Horses. We need horses. Are there any available?”

The harbormaster gave him a look as though he’d made a particularly bad joke. “With the town still in flames?”

Einarr shook his head. “No. No, of course you’re right. It’s just… I need to get to the Hall.”

“I understand, my lord, but unless you’re wiling to walk, or take that Conehead ship there back around the island, there just isn’t anything.”

Bea spluttered a little. Einarr heard her whisper “C-conehead?” as though she had never heard the insult applied to them before.

“Oh, wonderful.” The harbormaster sounded genuinely pleased about something. He was staring over Einarr’s shoulder. When he turned to look, he saw what would ordinarily have been the sweetest sight imaginable: the Vidofnir and the Ekthyrnir sailed into port together, both of them under full sail.

“Oh, no.” Einarr’s face dropped. “Back in the boat! Everyone, get back in the boat. I have to talk to my Father, immediately.”


In spite of their best efforts, arrows flew between the two longships and the Arkona before Einarr could get between them in their rowboat. He stood in the middle of the rowboat and shouted. “This is Einarr, son of Stigander. Do not fire! Repeat, do not fire!”

Arrow fire tapered off from the Vidofnir first, then from the Arkona as Walter realized that not only had the other ship relented, his Captain was in the line of fire.

A very familiar face peered over the bulwark at their small boat.

“Bardr! By the gods, it feels like forever. Permission to come aboard?”

“For you? Always. Who are those people?”

“Eydri is a Singer. Naudrek and Hrug are friends who helped me out last fall,” he began the introductions with their own people. “Liupold here is Captain of that vessel you’ve been firing on, and Rambert is from his crew. And this–” he gestured. “Is Her Imperial Highness Beatrix Maria Gundahar, Admiral of the Hrist Brigade and recent captive of that damn kraken the Grendel let loose.”

Bardr stared for a long moment, and Einarr could see him doing the mental gymnastics required to accept this. In the end, though, Einarr’s tenure as a Cursebreaker had subjected them all to far stranger circumstances than those.

“Come aboard, then,” he finally answered, after some guffaws and jeering from further back in the boat. “I look forward to hearing just what the hel happened out there.”


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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.

8.28 – Value

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. Today marks the end of the marathon, as well as the end of book 8. It’s a little shorter than most, but I hope it’s been satisfying. Tomorrow morning, back on the regular posting schedule, will be chapter 1 of Book 9: Einarr and the Wolf’s Flame.

Bea took the proffered cup and held it to hide her mouth. She was Admiral of the Hrist Brigade, was she? Einarr shook his head: probably, all the real power was with the Valkyrie patron. But she could fight, he would give her that. Maybe she wasn’t just a figurehead.

The night passed, and the five who were outsiders to the Arkona spoke quietly among themselves. Bea kept casting furtive glances at Einarr, to the point where he wondered if he’d done something to offend her. She was an Imperial Princess, and had at least in theory, command over the Order’s hunting ships. If she wanted to, she could make his life miserable even from half a world away. If he had offended her, though, it was only through honesty, and he refused to repent of that.

As dawn broke so did their company, each to their respective bunks. That the princess had not displaced Eydri was only because no one wished to put a woman in steerage with the men, and so the two shared a cabin and a cot. They were still abovedecks when Einarr went below to crawl into one of the hammocks where all the common sailors slept.


When he awoke, it was well past noon. He had expected as much of a hangover as he’d gotten after planning with the captain, but strangely his head did not hurt at all. This was strange, but no more worth remarking on than the headache would have been, so he climbed the ladder with a spring in his step for the unexpected good fortune.

Above, the crew was sailing along as normal. A quick glance at the sky showed they were traveling roughly northeast, back towards Kjell and Runa. Satisfied, and certain he would be little more than a passenger on their return, he sauntered over to where she leaned against the bulwark.

“Good morning!”

“It’s after noon.” Eydri stared out over the water, looking thoughtful.

“Princess didn’t keep you awake, did she?” In a longhouse or a hall it would have been nothing, but sharing such close quarters could be problematic if one person was unused to it as Bea almost certainly was.

“No. Well, not exactly.”

“Oh?”

“She loves you, you know. Or thinks she does. Probably if you’d asked last night she would have tried to follow you north.”

Einarr shrugged. “If I’d asked. But why would I? She’s as tied to the Empire as I am to Breidelstein. Maybe more.”

“That’s not the point. …If she ever meets Runa, be as ostentatiously affectionate as you can. Make yourself uncomfortable with it, if you can do it naturally. Otherwise she might think she can steal you away, no matter what you say.”

Einarr blinked. “What… why?”

Eydri sighed. “You are as naive as she is, in some ways. She is a princess, as used to getting her own way as your Runa is. Maybe more: I’ve only met Runa once. When you fight between men, you knock each other about for a while, one of you concedes, and that’s the end of it, right?”

“Right.”

“Women never concede.”

He blinked. That made no sense. “What?”

“Oh, we might back off for a time, to lick our wounds and gather our resources. But when women fight each other it is tooth and claw and vicious slander, until one side or the other has nothing left to give. Do not let Bea think she has an opening between you and Runa, or there will be war.”

Einarr stared at Eydri, still not quite able to believe what he was hearing.

“Have you never wondered why magic is considered womanly?”

He hadn’t, not particularly. He had some vague assumptions that all tied back into why it was dishonorable to fight a woman who hadn’t started it, but nothing concrete.

“Because men are too straightforward. Your honor gets in the way.”

“But man or woman has nothing to do with how honorable someone is.”

Eydri smirked. “Tell me. Whose idea was it to elope?”

“Runa’s.”

She nodded now. “And whose plan did you carry out, in the main, when you tried?”

“Runa’s.”

“If it had been up to you, what would have happened instead?”

“I’d have skipped the escape attempt and challenged Trabbi directly… oh.”

“Yes. Oh. Now pit your Runa against poor Bea.”

Einarr winced. Bea could fight, Einarr would give her that. But Runa was clever as the day was long, and he wasn’t certain Bea could come close to matching her. Which meant… “Bea can’t see an opening between us. And Runa can’t be allowed to see Bea as a threat.”

“Now you’ve got it. I knew you had a good head on those shoulders.”

Einarr was more than a little disturbed to realize Eydri’s look was not that dissimilar to Bea’s of the night before. It must have shown, because Eydri laughed.

“Oh, come on. A girl’s allowed to look.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Not in front of Runa you’re not. You know, when we were leaving Eskiborg, I worried she was going to think you were a threat?”

She nodded slowly. “Smart man. I’m not, of course: I knew you were claimed the moment I met you. But smart.”

“How could you possibly have…?”

Eydri smiled impishly. “That’s a secret.”


Three days passed, and the Arkona sped northward, toward Kjell, toward Runa, toward home. Einarr leaned against the bulwark again, staring out impatiently over the sea, enjoying the sunset as best he could.

“You should not have refused her offer.” A woman’s voice cut through the evening, ominous and familiar. Einarr spun around.

There, hovering effortlessly above the deck of the ship, was Hrist, her black hair shining in the sunlight as much as her golden wings and armor did. No-one else seemed to notice, nor did she cast a shadow. He opened his mouth to challenge her, but she did not give him the opportunity.

“You have no idea of your value, Cursebreaker. It is a waste to leave you in the North, more than even Beatrix knows. But, you were right: there are threads that bind.” She paused, and the look on her face turned predatory. “And threads can be cut.”

The predatory look became a too-wide smile as the Valkyrie faded from sight, until at the last all that lingered was the smile. “Hurry home, Cursebreaker.”


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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.

8.27 – Empire and Clan

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

In spite of their victory, a somber mood hung over the Arkona as it turned northward once more. Too many lives had been lost at Hohenwerth, and not just in battle. Einarr retreated to a quiet corner with Eydri and his men. It would be better, he thought, to give the men of the Order their space, at least for this night.

As the four of them sat quietly, discussing their plans for the coming summer and what they were likely to expect once they finally caught up with Stigander, the sound of boots tapping on the deck boards sounded behind Hrug. All of them looked up.

“Mind if I join you?” Beatrix asked. “I’m not part of the crew here, either.”

“I would imagine not.” Einarr would be surprised if she were a part of any crew, except maybe as a figurehead leader. But, it was that kind of a night. “Have a seat.”

“My thanks. I bring an offering.” She held up a glass bottle with some sort of liquid in it.

Einarr raised an eyebrow. What was that supposed to be?

“Give me your cups. You’ll like this.”

They had been drinking from Einarr’s claimed cask of Eisbock. “Tell you what,” he said. “Hand me yours. Once we’ve all finished this round, we’ll try… whatever that is you’re holding.”

She eyed the dark liquid in their cups before holding out her own. “Fine. …So how did you four find your stay in Imperial waters?”

They all shared a look, wondering for just a moment if they should be honest or polite. Eventually, Einarr shrugged. “It was interesting.”

Bea snorted. “Interesting. Okay, fine, I should have expected that answer. Answer me honestly, now: were you treated well?”

“Well enough. Captain Liupold seems to understand how the Clans work on some level, at least, which helped.”

Bea nodded slowly. “He would. He was raised in Kem.”

“Ah. That explains it, then. Wonderful city.” Einarr smiled in recognition. His cause for going had been unpleasant, but the city itself had seemed almost as nice as Eskiborg.

“I’m sure he would be glad to hear you say that.”

“Liupold’s hospitality left nothing to be desired, although I’m not certain I can say the same for the accomodations.” He chuckled, hoping she would not take it amiss.

She didn’t seem offended, at any rate, but sipped thoughtfully at her cup full of Eisbock before making a face. “This is that ale Liupold was going on about? Uck.” She sighed. “This is getting nowhere. I will be plain.”

Einarr turned his face so that he looked directly at her. She’d spoken as plainly as he could expect of a Conehead before, so this should be interesting.

“I want you four to enter my service, as liasons between the Hrist Brigade and the North. I’ve said it before, your talents are wasted on a simple longship…”

“Wait, the what brigade?”

“The Hrist Brigade. We-”

“You hunt us.”

“What?”

“Bea, before I made contact with the Arkona, my last contact with any Order ship was so deep into Clan waters they’d almost come out the other side again. They attacked us, entirely unprovoked, and we lost good men in the battle. While we were taking our spoils, I found the Captain’s orders. The name didn’t mean anything to me at the time, but now I finally understand. The ship’s orders had come through the Hrist Brigade, from the Valkyrie herself!”

“What? That can’t be. I’ve never sent a ship that far north. Are you certain they weren’t… lost?”

“Quite. We were taken by surprise, of course: we’d never heard of a hunter ship coming that far north, either, but the fact remains good men died there for no reason.”

To her credit, Bea seemed genuinely upset by this news.

“Now. You were going to offer me, again, the opportunity to abandon my father and my Clan to the Weaver’s curse that sent us into exile in the first place. To abandon the woman I am promised to, whose hand I have finally secured permission to marry, in order to enter your service as some sort of functionary? If I were the sort of person who would accept such an offer, you wouldn’t have made it.”

She did not answer for a long moment, only stared, dumbstruck, before taking a long pull on the drink she had earlier disdained. Finally, a strange strain in her voice, she muttered “I did not know.”

“I’m sure you didn’t. And if the Lady Hrist is commanding ships behind your back, it may be time to have a word with your patron.” He was about to go on, but she spoke over him without seeming to realize she was.

“Why did no-one tell me you were promised?”

Eydri spoke up. “Why should we have?”

“I see. In that case, I’m sorry to have bothered you. It won’t happen again.”

“Bea, wait.”

The princess, standing, stared down at them, cup in one hand and bottle in the other, as though she could not quite believe them. She was lovely. If he had met her before he found Runa, would he have been so quick to reject the offer?

“Sit down. Finish your cup, and we’ll share in… whatever that is that you brought, and we can boast of our deeds until the sun comes up. I’m not interested in joining the Order. That doesn’t mean I can’t like some of the people in it.”

The princess seemed to deflate as she folded her legs back under her. “Oh,” was all she said.

“You’re coming with us into the North, aren’t you? I’d like you to meet them – Father, for one, and Runa of course.”

“I…”

“She’s a fiery one, she is. I think the two of you might have more than a little in common. …But the North is my home, just as the Empire is yours. And we can’t just abandon our homes.”


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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.

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.

8.11 – Petition

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

The only way Einarr could have been more glad to see a shore, he thought, would be if it were Breidelstein, and their victory complete. As it was, Kjell had begun to feel almost like a home itself, and Einarr could not quite disguise his pleasure at seeing it again.

The only shadow on the whole affair came from the dromon sailing in their wake. Their captain had acceeded to the escort and the flag of surrender easily enough, which said to Einarr that the problem might actually be more serious than they had let on. So far as that went, he was torn. On the one hand, if one were to assign blame for the release of those horrors, it would fall to the crews of the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun. On the other hand, they were creatures which should not exist in the first place, and the fault of their existence could be laid squarely at the feet of the svartalfr cult.

Well. Soon they would be able to put the matter before Father, Bollinn, and Jarl Hroaldr. In the meantime, the Eikthyrnir sailed around to find a berth in town.

The harbormaster in Kjellvic was quite put out, in fact, by the presence of the dromon, even after Captain Kormund claimed it was his prize – over the objections of the Valkyrian captain, of course.

The Vidofnir was not docked in the harbor, although it was entirely possible Stigander had beached her in the inlet near the hall instead. He did get a glimpse, however, of the rams-head prow Father had commissioned for him last year.

It was with a spring in his step that Einarr led his new companions, as well as Captains Kormund and Liupold, down the road to Kjell Hall, where he expected to find Runa as well as the Vidofnings.

He was, unfortunately, disappointed. Runa was there, and while they were permitted to greet each other the Jarl kept her close to hand for the entirety of his visit. The Vidofnir, he learned, had set out on the equinox headed for Breidhaugr in hopes of finding some clue as to Einarr’s whereabouts. Still, however, Bollinn of the Skudbrun was expected back any day now. When Liupold of the Arkona requested consultation with them, the Jarl also sent for the retired Kragnir at Einarr’s suggestion.

On the third day after their arrival at the Hall, Bollinn arrived. All of the captains, Einarr, and the Jarl seated themselves near the fire pit to hear Liupold’s petition.

“One of the islands that the Arkona defends from attack,” he began, much more diplomatically than before. “Suddenly went silent. We went in to investigate. The village… the village was dead. Massacred. We wondered, at first, if one of the Clan ships had turned rogue…”

He never finished that thought, as everyone else in the circle shook their heads vehemently ‘no.’ Such behavior was unthinkable among the Clans.

“We learned soon enough not. We left the village and sent a squad’s worth of priests in to see to last rights and purification. Not long thereafter, a Valkyrie appeared before me.” His tale went on in that vein, and was either the truth or a remarkably well-practiced lie, for Einarr could detect no meaningful difference between what he had been told when they finally confronted their tail and now.

“Captain Liupold wished to convince my father and I to travel south and deal with the issue, under the theory that they would not be loose were it not for our rescue of Runa.” Einarr left it there: he could see the same answer he had given on Bollinn’s and Kragnir’s faces already. The Jarl schooled his expression somewhat more, however, and Einarr found he could not tell what he was thinking.

“Hopeless,” Bollinn began.

“Pointless,” Kragnir continued. “If you had any idea how many men we lost, fighting the cultists and those helbeasts in the first place, you wouldn’t ask. You want to blame someone, blame the cult. They might even have someone left you could hold responsible.”

Bollinn crossed his arms. “Bleed the villagers. Anyone with black blood has to die – they’re too far gone. As for the rest… I suppose it’s possible they could be saved, depending. You might be able to convince the Matrons on Breidhaugr to share the formula for their medicine, but my understanding is that it only delays the effects. Stigander has the distaff.”

Liupold’s brow creased. “The distaff?”

“The Matrons required Frigg’s distaff in order to fully cleanse us of the corruption. I was sent to retrieve it from the Tower of Ravens, where I encountered a Valkyrie. When I went to study with the alfs, I left it with Father. We will have need of it.”

Liupold nodded. “That fits with what Hrist said of you. I’d wondered how she knew the Clans had produced another Cursebreaker.”

“What did Hrist say of me?”

“Enough that I knew you on sight. But it’s really not important right now. What I need to know is, will you come?”

“We’ve already told you how to deal with this curse. You don’t need me, just the stones to do it.” Unless they would then turn around and use this as a pretext for war against the Clans. Einarr had to bite his tongue to keep from saying that aloud, and hope this ‘Hrist’ wasn’t spying on him right now.

Jarl Hroaldr smiled, and the expression sent shivers down Einarr’s spine. “They are right, I’m afraid. However… I believe an agreement may be reached. I will not be sending the Skudbrun with you. But I expect my future son-in-law may have some insights that will prove useful to you in dealing with the outbreak, especially since he’s fought this great black squid before. Surely you have no objection to that, do you, son?”

Well, it seemed like the Jarl was still against Einarr marrying Runa. His mouth felt suddenly dry. “Of course not.”


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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.

7.2 – Seeking

On the morrow, with only a sip of ale to counter the festivities of the night before and while his father proved new recruits, Einarr followed Saetild, the friendliest and least tree-like of the Matrons, down the path through the Whispering Woods. As lovely as the wood first appeared, Einarr felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as they stepped into its shade.

“We’re not likely to run into your little elven ‘friend’ on the path today, are we?”

Saetild grimaced, her grandmotherly face puckering like a prune. “So you’ve met him, then.”

“He introduced himself, yes.”

“Well, the good news is he’s unlikely to trouble you on the path so long as you’re with one of us. The bad news is, he’s one of a very few beings who might know a suitable teacher for you. My sisters and I may well need to invite him in for a time.”

“I’m afraid I already owe him a favor…”

“Then one more should have little impact. Once you’ve dealt with an alfr once, future dealings become easier.”

Einarr wasn’t certain he believed that, having dealt with both the Oracle and the mysterious ‘Ystävä,’ but he supposed it was possible. Saetild, in the way of all grandmothers, kept up a running monologue as they walked. Einarr half tuned her out: it seemed to be largely a recounting of what had happened in East Port while he had been questing, most of which he’d already heard about, interspersed with gossip from the Conclave that might have made sense to Runa but, to his mind, was largely silliness.

“Runa also thought to teach me something of the flow of story – seemed to think that might also improve my chances,” he mused in what felt like an appropriate pause in the flow. Anything to get her to speak sense.

The statement was met with a trill of tinkling laughter. “That girl. If you seemed to have any trouble understanding others’ motives, I might agree. But from everything I’ve seen and heard, you’re good with people. I suspect you already know everything relevant story could teach you.”

Maybe, maybe not. “Did Runa tell you how she dealt with the first revenant we encountered on the Isle of the Forgotten?”

“Oh, the Päronskaft silliness? I suppose there is that, but that comes of being well-versed in the tales themselves, not any deep understanding of how they go together. I suppose someone should look into how she got such old manuscripts…”

Something in the way Saetild said ‘someone’ made Einarr raise an eyebrow. “You added them to her pile, didn’t you?”

The Matron smiled slyly but did not answer.

“How did you know she’d be coming along, let alone that she’d need something so arcane?”

Another sly smile was the only answer he received. Einarr shrugged and Saetild resumed her narration, as though the interruption had never happened. The prickly feeling of being watched returned: something was off this morning.

A peculiar stillness fell around them, and Einarr stopped in his tracks. Saetild, too, stopped where she stood, her plump figure leaning into her walking staff as she trailed off.

“You might as well show yourself, Ystävä. I know you’re here.”

The fair figure of the alfr seemed to step out of a cut in the air ahead of them, and the golden-haired figure offered a theatrical bow. “Did I prove myself sufficiently last time, then? Do I hear my name cross your lips?”

“You canny old fox! This path is protected from your kind: begone!”

“Ah, lady, lady. I was invited. Didn’t you hear him?”

“He never asked you onto the path, and yet there you stand.” She raised her staff threateningly towards the elf, who held up his hands in warding but made no other move.

“I am not on the path at all, dear lady, but above it, I think you will see.”

Einarr cleared his throat. “I’m afraid I have little patience for these sorts of games today, Ystävä. I still don’t believe that’s you’re name, but I did call you by it. And it’s true, your gift was necessary to complete our quest.” He looked at Saetild now. “I thought you said he wouldn’t trouble us with you around.”

“He shouldn’t be able to. This will be raised with the Conclave on my return, you can be sure of it.”

Ystävä, though, grinned, and slipped cat-like around to drape his arms about Saetild’s shoulders. “And am I? Troubling you, that is.”

Saetild jabbed the end of her stick into the elf’s shins. He backed off.

Einarr hummed. “Not yet, I suppose. Why are you here?”

“Well, I live here, in the main.” The mischievous elf waited a long moment before grinning at Einarr’s look of consternation. “Curiosity, mostly. I’d heard that the young Cursebreaker was returned, after what the humans thought was a long time, and wished to see the fruits of my handiwork.”

“All right. You’ve seen them. And now we should be pressing on for the Conclave.”

“The Conclave, where I’ve just heard I’m to be invited to advise the Matrons? I’m here now: why not save us all the trouble of formal audiences and invitations and I can walk along with you, and you can tell me what you want?”

“Because in the Conclave there are protections against your trickery,” Saetild glowered.

“Yes. Namely the other Matrons. Such a stuffy bunch, I have never seen. You’d think they’d never been apprentices themselves.”

Einarr looked down at Saetild, who was glaring ostentatiously at the alfr, and sighed. “Is there any actual harm in it?”

The old woman sighed dramatically. “No. There’s no actual harm in him at all, that we can tell. He’s just a pest who likes to waylay travelers and lead astray apprentices for his own amusement.”

Before Ystävä could put on a show of being offended, Einarr opened his mouth. “Good. I need someone to teach me the reading of runes, or my Calling will be the death of me.”


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