Tag: runes

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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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.

8.23 – Tying a Net

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!

“So now what do we do?”

Bea’s question was so eager and innocent that, for a moment, no-one could answer. An honest-to-goodness Valkyrie descends, throws down a gauntlet, and then retreats, all while the castle burns around their ears, and she dismisses it with a casual wave of her hand?

Eventually, Einarr found his voice. “First, we make sure Hrug’s plan doesn’t require us to come back here again. It doesn’t, right?”

The mute sorcerer thought for a long moment before nodding in the affirmative.

“Are you sure?” He was certain the man had not had a chance to complete an array. Where was the rest of it going to go?

Hrug’s nod was more certain this time. Einarr would not insult the man by questioning him further: if he said his plan for the island was complete, it would be. “Very well. In that case, I would like to suggest we return to the Arkona and make ready to fight a black-blooded kraken.”

Everyone who knew about the black blood shuddered at the thought. Bea and the two oarsmen looked troubled. Finally, Burkhart spoke up. “Begging your pardon, but what does the color of their blood have to do with anything?”

Einarr clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll explain later.”


Hrug might not have had more runes to lay, but it was decided they did need to do one more thing before leaving the accursed island for the last time. When they left, it was with a string of five fishing boats tied to the back of their landing craft, and Liupold declared that he would send another boat down to the dock by Southwaite to steal any boats moored there, as well.

As they rowed, Einarr made an agreement with Liupold: in exchange for another cask of Eisbock, Einarr would inform the ignorant on the boat of what, exactly, had happened last summer when the Vidofnir first encountered the monstrous cult. Since Einarr refused to tell it more than once, however, and since the ale was stored on the Arkona, Liupold insisted that he tell it before the entirety of the crew, rather than just the ignorant among the landing party.

“Very well. It will be important, after all, for everyone to understand why they should not close with the thing.” Einarr’s mouth twisted wryly: as if being a kraken wasn’t enough, with its ship-crushing tentacles as tough to hew through as any hundred-year tree, oh no. Some poor fool would still try rushing it at that point, out of desperation if nothing else. But if it bled on them…

The landing party was welcomed back warmly by Walter and the rest of the crew, who were thrilled to see Bea back safe and sound, and never mind that Einarr was sure Liupold had claimed there were multiple women and children held captive. Either they had retrieved the only “important” captive, or the Arkona was accustomed to cutting its losses like that. Einarr wasn’t certain he liked the implications of either answer.

But, now that they were safely aboard the Arkona, Liupold sent for the promised cask of Eisbock and gathered everyone together. It was time for Einarr to fulfill his end of the bargain, while those who already knew the tale began preparing a fire ship.

Bea, at the end of the story, looked as though she wanted nothing so much as to comfort Einarr. Even if he was not engaged to Runa, even if they did not have preparations to make, in spite of the horror of it all Einarr did not want to make himself into an object of pity through his story. He avoided Bea for the rest of the day as they busied themselves with the hard work of ensuring no-one had to be purified, by fire or by herb, at the end of this.

There was still one minor issue, however. Hrug could ensure that the fire ship and the harpoon boats would have the wind they needed to move, but someone would still need to guide them in.

“Is there any question?” Einarr asked. “We take volunteers. I’m not going to force a man to take on a suicide quest unless there’s no other choice.”

Echoes of agreement ran around the command circle of the Arkona. Even Walter agreed, in spite of the source of the comment. The man might not like the men of the Clans, but at least he could see sense at need.

At length, after a day and a night, their preparations were ready. The Arkona did not lack for men of bravery: they had had to draw lots among the volunteers for guiding the fire ship. The ‘losers’ of those lots had been assigned to the harpoon ships. All that remained was to lure the black kraken to the surface. It was agreed that they would begin luring the horror at dawn the next morning, so that the men would be fresh.

Einarr, restless, grabbed the blanket off of his bunk and went to stretch out in an out-of-the-way corner above deck. The close stuffiness of the steerage room, he thought, kept him awake. He stretched out on the deck and pillowed his head in his hands, staring up at constellations familiar and unfamiliar.

A female voice broke the silence. “Can’t sleep?”

Eianrr did not immediately recognize her. He lifted his head to look even as he answered “Yeah.”

“It’s a solid plan, you know.” Bea sat down on the deck next to him and leaned back.

“I know. Not that it will work out quite right. Seems like nothing ever does.

“Nothing?”

“Well, maybe not quite nothing.”

“I get it. No plan ever survives first contact. And there’s plenty to worry about with this thing.”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

“Probably not. But I think we’ve got a good chance. …Have you thought on what I told you, before?”


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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.

8.21 – Under Seige

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!

“Do it.”

At Einarr’s word, Liupold and Naudrek tossed the bar out of the way and scrambled back over the makeshift palisade.

No sooner had they righted themselves, javelins in hand, than the press of bodies forced open the door to reveal a writhing mass of the kraken’s flesh-puppets.

They surged into the armory, arms and weapons flailing clumsily. Each time one was struck by arrow or javelin they crumpled to the ground, inert, only to rise again moments later. The killing field slowly filled with the bodies of the puppet master’s servants.

Eydri sang even as she drew her bow, but no illusions fell from Einarr’s eyes this time. They were not monsters wearing human skin, but tools manipulated by the monster directly. He fired another arrow: this one took its target in the eye. It did not rise again.

“The eyes!” He called across the room. “Shoot the eyes!”

The point was momentarily mooted as Hrug lit off one of his fire runes in the center of a mass of the flesh-puppets. With a whoosh like the Arkona’s sea-fire cannon a fireball engulfed them and spread. More of the flesh puppets fell and did not rise again.

It wasn’t much, but Einarr would take it. Good shooting and the occasional ball of fire would get them out of here, and then they could turn this island into an ash heap. He drew back his bow.

Another eye shot, another fallen puppet. But so long as Hrug could keep cleaning them out with the occasional fireball, they could escape this without dousing themselves in corruption.

Einarr just hoped his hand would hold out. It had been a very long time since he had done this much shooting.


Hrug was exhausted. Out of all the arrows and javelins they had started with, a bare handful remained both unshot and unburnt. Rambert had a nasty looking gash on his arm from a lucky shot by one of the flesh-pupppet’s pitchforks… but that was the worst of the damage they had taken.

The armor racks they had used as a palisade were well-nigh destroyed, of course, as was the armor they had left on the racks in question. But the flesh puppets no longer surged into the armory like a tide of hungry death and for that, at least, they could be glad. Einarr wanted little so much as to collapse onto the floor and sleep for a week. Hrug must be feeling it even more, with as much rune work as they had required of him.

Liupold groaned and levered himself back up to his feet, slowly. “We should go before the puppet master decides he wants to try us again.”

“Can everyone move?” Einarr asked as he, too, staggered to his feet.

“I think so,” Rambert answered. Eydri had bandaged the gash on his arm. Einarr hoped that meant it wasn’t bad enough to Sing over, and not that it would require specialized ointments she hadn’t brought ashore.

“Then let’s get out of here. Job’s not done yet.”

With groans and mutters, the eight of them took up the last of the ammunition and moved out of the armory and back into the halls, the fatigue all but forgotten as they jogged once more for the front entrance.

What flesh puppets remained in the hallway seemed uninterested, as though, having tried their skill, the kraken was content to leave them alone. The beast was a horror of the deeps, but did it think like an animal? Had they, in fact, asserted their dominance over it sufficiently that it would show its belly?

Einarr shook his head, chuckling to himself as they moved. What did it matter, if the black, corrupted kraken acted like a submissive dog the next time they saw it? That just made its belly easier to open.

As the front gates closed with a resounding thud behind them, Einarr felt like he could breathe a little easier. According to Naudrek, Hrug had managed to lay more pieces of the array while they were in the citadel, which meant that it should nearly be complete. How he intended to complete the array, Einarr had no idea, but that was why Hrug was Melja’s best student.

They hurried back mostly the way they had come, avoiding what few flesh-puppets they saw and detouring towards the northern coast. If the Coneheads wondered why, they did not ask, and Einarr was not inclined to explain.

Striding down one of the island’s many narrow roads, Bea hustled up beside him. “Your father – he is one of your northern lords? A… chieftan?”

Einarr smirked bitterly. “By birthright, he is a Thane, yes.”

“By birthright only? Not in actuality?”

“That is… complicated.”

Bea nodded, a small frown on her almost otherworldly face. “It would be a shame to waste a talent such as yours on a raiding ship.”

Einarr gave her a sharp look, but she wasn’t done.

“My father, I’m sure, will wish to reward those responsible for my rescue. There could be any number of powerful positions available.” She seemed to see his expression now, and the shadow of refusal in his eyes. “Just think on it. We can talk more later.” The princess Beatrix dropped back to walk with Liupold again.

Einarr shook his head and picked up the pace. What did she think she was suggesting? Easy enough, though, to turn her down when they spoke next.

Finally the burnt husk of Kettleness rose into view over the desolate fields. Nothing now stood between them and the relative safety of the Arkona save a mile or so of ocean. The eight of them hurried down the path to their waiting boat.

The boat was not all that waited them in the inlet. Leaning casually against its side stood a tall, statuesque woman with black hair even longer and more lustrous than Bea’s, wearing a gleaming golden breastplate. Beside her rested her winged helmet and spear.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

8.19 – Imperial Princess

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 woman who stepped out of the cell Liupold opened was tall, lithe, and buxom, with black hair falling to her knees in a thick braid. She wore snug trousers and a swordfighter’s tunic, tied at the sleeves and waist, and if it weren’t for the hay clinging to hair and clothes, the smears of dirt on her face, and some new-looking tears in her clothes Einarr would not have believed her to be so recently a captive. She didn’t even have dark circles under her eyes!

“My lady,” Liupold intoned with a bow. “Let me present the Cursebreaker, Einarr son of Stigander of the longship Vidofnir; Eydri, a Singer of his acquaintance and no small skill; Naudrek, his man-at-arms; and Hrug, a sorcerer trained in the use of runes. Lord Einarr, this is her Imperial Highness, the fourth Princess Beatrix Maria Gundahar.”

Einarr had never met an Imperial princess before, although he had met a landed Thane or two in his time on the Vidofnir. He bowed, much as he would have for one of their offspring. Eydri curtsied. Naudrek bowed deeply enough to hide the blush Einarr glimpsed on his cheek, even as Hrug took a knee.

The princess gave a dismissive upward motion, which Einarr chose to interpret as haste to be out of here – a sentiment which he shared. “We can worry about formal introductions later. First we need to… was one of your men a Painter?”

The princess had noticed the charred corpse of her jailer, and she stared at it as though trying to divine who he had been before.

“No, my lady. I have received something of an education, today: runes are good for more than fortune-telling.”

“But useless in combat,” Einarr cut him off. The last thing he needed was the Empire trying to figure out a way to use rune magic in battle. It could be done, of course, given sufficient rune sorcerers with sufficient runestones, but that was not a discussion he intended to have with any Conehead, let alone one of their royals. “We should go, before that kraken can get reinforcements down her to replace its pet dog.”

She nodded. “Quite right. Have you found my things?”

Liupold shook his head. “Haven’t yet looked.”

“Well then, let’s get to it! Father will be quite cross if he has to fit me for armor again, and the spear is an heirloom.”


It took far longer than anyone among their party liked to find the princess’ – Bea’s, she finally directed them to call her – breastplate and spear. By the time Bea had asked (instructed) Eydri to help her put it on, they could all hear the sounds of the kraken’s flesh-puppets shambling above. It was only a matter of time before they found their way down.

“What can the runes do?” Liupold asked. “Can they get us out? Or even just destroy the flesh-puppets, like your little lightning setup did for the jailer?”

Einarr and Hrug shared a look. Einarr envied the other man a little for not having to explain this. “Rune magic is fundamentally an act of will. The greater the change, the larger the expenditure of will. We could probably catch several of them on fire – but not enough. And there’s no way we have enough arrows and javelins to fend them all off down here.”

“No, I suppose we don’t.”

“Is there a place we could get more? Bows, arrows, javelins, I mean.”

“Yes, there will be an armory. I think I even know where.”

“Good. Then what Hrug and I can probably do is lay runes to keep them away from the staircase long enough for us to get past them. Then all we have to do is evade the flesh-puppets long enough to reach the armory – or the exit, either one. Now that we’ve got the Princess out, there’s no reason not to burn the island, right?”

Bea answered for him when he hesitated. “None.”

“Wonderful. In that case, I have a slight preference for racing back across the island for the ship, but I will leave that to your discretion. In the meantime, Hrug, we have some runes to lay.”

While it did require some syntax, this was one of the easiest and earliest ‘spells’ Elder Melja had taught them. In the village, they used it to keep pests away from their crops. The Elder had always been cagey about whether or not it was also used to keep humans away from the village. Whether or not that was the case, it should be more than sufficient to keep the kraken’s victims from descending on their heads. While they worked, Naudrek and the oarsmen took up positions to either side of the stair, weapons ready.

After what felt like another eternity, Eydri finished buckling on Bea’s breastplate and had it adjusted to her satisfaction. Bea grabbed up her fancy metal-plated spear.

“Are we ready? I feel like the puppeteer has started to notice something amiss.”

Bea, much to Einarr’s surprise, was self-aware enough to apologize for the delay. “Let’s go,” she added, gesturing for Liupold to lead the way.

Up the stairs they raced. Those who had bows had them limbered and arrows nocked as a precaution. Those who did not prayed for room to throw a javelin should the need arise.

The flesh-puppets milled about on the floor above – none of them in the straight line leading up away from the stairs, and most of them not seeming to even realize there was a gap there. Liupold dashed down the hallway and across that intersection like a shot, the rest of the group hard on his heels.

The group of intruders had made it past three more intersections and around a bend before the kraken realized what was going on. Then there was a dull groaning from its puppets as they shambled off after their prey, as rapidly as their rotting legs could carry them.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


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.

8.2 – Berth Hunt

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 last time Einarr had been in Eskiborg, he had compared it in size and hustle to Kem. He now thought that might be underselling Eskiborg somewhat. Not only was it a warm water port, at least as the Clans reckoned such matters, it was a major shipbuilding port, and one where longships and knarr far outnumbered the dromon favored by the Coneheads.*

On the first night, they took beds at the Bronze Archer and split up to canvas the docks – Naudrek with Hrug, Eydri with Einarr. In all that bounty, among all those ships, Einarr was certain they could find berths for the four of them. He had not anticipated, however, the difficulty in finding a temporary berth for a Singer – did not, in fact, fully grasp it until no fewer than four captains asked if she was Einarr’s lover.

He was more than a little taken aback by the assumption, in fact, and it did not take long for worry to begin nibbling away at his brain: was Runa going to make that same assumption?

“It’s a matter of protection,” Eydri finally explained. “We run into similar issues as apprentices, actually.”

“You… do.” Einarr’s spirits drooped. Mentally, he began totting up their resources once more. “If you’re saying we should try to buy a boat, tell me now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be.”

She shook her head. “It will be tricky, but not impossible. Most sailors know better than to assault a Singer, even an apprentice one, but no captain wants to risk one of his men turning out to be that idiot. So they want me to be under someone’s protection. And if I’m your paramour, that makes it even less likely for someone to get drunk and do something truly stupid.”

“I…” Einarr thought about it: he knew that his father had always married their Singers, right up until Reki, but there had never been any doubt in his mind why. Now he wondered. “But Father is the only Captain I know who is typically married to his Battle Chanter.”

Eydri frowned at him, then smirked. “Somehow, I suspect that has more to do with your father. At any rate, you will need to give assurances that I am under your protection, and that you can enforce as much. …Perhaps it would be best if we had not split up.”

Einarr thought it over a moment, but shook his head. “Tomorrow, if Naudrek has not found something, we will all four go together. But I suspect if we try to find them now we will waste the rest of the day.”

On the second day in Eskiborg, they also returned to their beds empty-handed, their spirits low. It seemed that those who were sailing in the right direction were more than a little spooked by the idea of taking on both an “unprotected” Singer (despite the presence of not one but three companions) and a male sorceror.

“If we find nothing tomorrow, I will check what might be for sale. With a fishing skiff, the four of us can manage.” With a fishing skiff and a little luck, anyway.

“I thought you said you couldn’t afford one?”

“Not properly, no. But if we can find one that doesn’t take on too much water, and the three of you can pitch in for water barrels and fishing gear, I can honestly say I’ve sailed in worse.”

The other three shared a look, then Hrug shook his head and tapped at the tabletop. The rattle of runesticks followed, but instead of casting them down he began to lay them carefully. Will… Not… Need he spelled out.

“You’ve seen something?”

He hesitated, then nodded.

Remembering the divination Melja had worked that led him to these two in the first place, Einarr sat forward eagerly. “What should I look for?”

Hrug looked to Naudrek, who nodded. “After that first day, when we split up, he did his thing. We need a ship with a stag’s head on the prow.”

“A stag.” Not like that was a common ornament at all. He could think of six he’d seen just that afternoon.

Hrug grunted affirmative, and Naudrek continued. “The sail of the ship is blue and yellow striped, and there was a red-headed man with neat braids in his hair and beard. We think he’s the captain.”

“And according to the vision, this ship will have us?”

“I think so. Hrug says so, anyway, and he’s the expert on these sorts of things.”

“Good enough for me.”


Einarr kept his impatience in check over the third day’s fruitless search, albeit with difficulty. Afternoon was waning on their fourth day of searching when a longship slipped into the harbor, sleek and abviously built for speed. The blue-and-gold sail told Einarr their goal had arrived.

As the ship drew up to the dock, Einarr came close enough to note their berth and confirm what he thought to be true: the figurehead was an ornate stag’s head, carved to look as though water ran down the antlers. Einarr nodded, then slipped back into the crowd. He knew well enough that their captain was unlikely to have time for new sailors before morning.

That night, while the four of them sat at table at the Bronze Archer, Einarr laid out their plan for the morning. “Get a good night’s sleep. We’ll breakfast at a normal hour, but then head straight for the docks. We want to arrive a little before mid-morning, I think. Hrug, how ‘neat’ did this captain look?”

The tongueless man sighed and glanced at Naudrek. Sooner or later Einarr would learn to actually communicate with him, but Elder Melja had kept them both far too busy over the winter.

“You might call him fastidious,” Naudrek answered after conferring with his old friend for a moment.

Einarr nodded. “In that case, make sure you come to breakfast bathed and tidy. Just because the divination said we can get berths doesn’t mean we should take them for granted.”


* Conehead: An inhabitant of the Konneul Empire, which occupies the best land and warmest water in this world.


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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.

7.34 – Master’s Prerogative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

7.29 – The Pewter Pot

Einarr stood before what was unmistakeably the public hall from the vision, glad to have found it but wishing he had found it some other way. He shuddered: the man may as well have been a snake on two legs, the way menace and charm both seemed to hang about his head like a miasma. But, he wanted the Shroud dealt with as much as the next person – perhaps more, as he actually had people under his care – and his information was sound.

The sign of the Pewter Pot swung from its post where it hung outside the place itself. Einarr stared at it a good long minute after his guide excused himself, suddenly reluctant to enter. The building still stood, but that didn’t really mean much. There was nothing for it, though, so Einarr stepped inside.

The Hall was considerably cleaner than Einarr had expected based on the vision, although his informant had hinted as much. Now he just needed to convince the owner to let him work – well, that was all he had to do here, for now.

The woman who ran the Pewter Pot wore the sallow skin and lank hair of a hard life like one who doesn’t much care anymore. Still, after a (mercifully brief) conversation, the words “Muspel Shroud” and “hunting” convinced her to cooperate. By the time he returned to the Bronze Archer that evening, he had the first layer of wards laid.

Three more nights he spent at the Bronze Archer, working with Eydri the Singer to discover Sinmora’s secret. At the end of the third day they thought they were on the right track.

That third day, however, was also the day rumors began to swirl about mysterious disappearances in the city. That night, he gave up his bunk at the Bronze Archer for one at the Pewter Pot.


Whatever else Einarr wanted to say about the place, The Pewter Pot was lively after dark. He sat on the corner of the table nearest the door and watched the room, the patrons doing their best to forget the cares of the day with poor drink and their pick of company. The musicians were not on Reki’s level, or even Eydri’s, for that matter, but they kept a good pace for the players of the hallingdanse and did not make Einarr want to cover his ears.

It was not here yet. In the three days since he had drawn the ward, nothing had tripped it, and there was not a scrap of red cloth gone to keeping down mud on the floor. The vision suggested that the Shroud would hide itself in among the rugs, although after the debacle at Armad’s Hall he was not sure how much he wanted to count on that.

Towards the end of what would have been first watch on the Vidofnir the crowd began to thin, and soon it was only Einarr and a few hard-luck sailors left who had taken bunks here. Einarr had just kicked off his second boot when he felt the tingling sensation that meant the ward had been breached.

He didn’t bother with his boots: he took Sinmora in hand and stepped out toward the center of the floor.

Two of the sailors raised an eyebrow and rolled over, putting their backs to the room. None of their never-mind, the postures said clear as day. The other two, though, stopped what they were doing.

“Something the matter?” One of them asked, his thick accent screaming Empire even though he looked Clan bred and born.

Einarr only hesitated a moment over how much to tell them. “I’m on an alfr-quest, hunting an evil artifact. It’s coming.”

Neither the borderlander nor his companion hesitated a moment. Both men rose and took up their own weapons to join Einarr, ready to fight in nothing but their trousers.

“You don’t have to do this.”

“Who said anything about have to?” The borderlander grinned. “I’ll join you same reason I joined my Captain: it sounds like fun. Ain’t that right, Hrug?”

The other man grinned broadly. Einarr was appalled to see that he was missing not only half his teeth but also his tongue.

“Welcome aboard then, I guess. Name’s Einarr. You?”

“Naudrek. So what are we fighting?”

“You been on-island long enough to hear about the Muspel Shroud?”

Naudrek shook his head. “Something to do with fire, I presume.”

“It touches you, you’re ash. If I don’t destroy it here, I only get one more chance, and I’ve yet to spot a ship in port with a bear’s head.”

“It’s headed for the Bjorn? Aw, Hel, now I really have to help you.”

“That your ship?”

Naudrek nodded.

“Well then, let’s hope we get it here before we have to try to get it out of there.”

The three men put their backs together, their swords drawn and ready. Einarr watched the front door, Naudrek the kitchen, Hrug the fireplace. Minutes passed: nothing happened.

“You’re sure it’s coming?”

“It breached the alfs’ ward.” Something equally powerful had, anyway, and he had no reason to believe this island harbored two such artifacts. Hrug grunted. Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder, but the man merely acknowledged his answer. “Don’t underestimate the Shroud. It played me for a fool once before. It may simply be waiting for us to drop our guard.”

“If that’s the case, what’s to prevent it just moving on to the ship?”

“I believe there’s something it wants to accomplish here… although I couldn’t tell you what. Any of the rest of these fellows on your crew?”

“Afraid not.”

“Then either it’s looking to hitch a ride with one of you, or it’s looking to kill again before it leaves. You seen anyone obviously slumming it here the last few nights?”

“Just you, but that don’t mean much.”

Einarr grunted. “This could be a long night, then.”

“All the more reason to lend a hand, don’t you think?” Naudrek grinned at Einarr over his shoulder. Einarr grinned back.

“Couldn’t have said it better.”


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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.

7.26 – Wisdom of Runes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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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.

7.21 – Divination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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

7.17 – Practical Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait, hold on. You’re a Singer?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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