Tag: Tyr

10.20 – Berserker

Einarr heard the warriors aboard the trapped wolfling ship give a battle roar only moments before they swarmed over the boarding lines. The ship swayed under the weight of reinforcements even as the fire spread from the arrows along the deck boards.

Einarr set his mouth in a grim line. They needed to take out the wolflings quickly, before this became an inferno. And if they escape, Lundholm is done for.

Their line was solid: he stood shoulder to shoulder with his own men and the men of his father’s ship – it was still odd that those were two different things now. The first boots were pounding across the blackening deck boards. “Brace yourselves!”

Einarr lowered his shoulder. A heartbeat later, the wolflings collided with their shield wall. Einarr stabbed through the gap between his shield and Jorir’s and Sinmora’s tip came away wet with fresh blood.

The wolfling screamed, pain mixed with rage, and did not fall back. Blood ran down his leg from the wound in his thigh, and he brought his axe around to strike at Einarr.

Jorir took the opportunity and drove his axe home in the man’s already-wounded leg. The wolfling hit the deck, hard, and Jorir ensured he would not rise again. Einarr’s attention was already forward, on the next man coming to fill the hole, wondering if their captain, too, would come forward to join the melee.

The next man up tried to put his scramasax in Einarr’s side and lost his hand for his trouble. He staggered backward clutching his stump and Einarr shouldered his way forward into the gap. The crackle of fire on the deck and the reek of smoke lent an unusual urgency to Eydri and Reki’s Song. Still he resisted it: no Captain worth his salt gave in to the battle chant, not if there was any other way.

Slowly, relentlessly, he began cutting his way through the wolflings in search of their Captain. His arm began to tire, and a thousand small wounds burned across his forearms and his legs. The wolflings were falling, but they were falling hard. Where is Kaldr?

He wasn’t even certain this was Kaldr’s ship, based on what the Singers had said of the man.

One man, bigger than the other wolflings, laid about himself with a formidable hammer. Not Kaldr. Might be a leader, though. Not many men wielded hammers on the battlefield: it took a special combination of brawn and coin. Leader or not, though, the man with the hammer was plowing through Einarr’s allies like they were nothing. He raised his sword and pointed across the deck at his target.

Jorir, beside him, grunted agreement.

Einarr shouldered his way through the throng, trying to ignore just how hot it was getting on the wolfling ship. That was another reason to hurry: he couldn’t let the fire spread to the Heidrun.

There was Sivid, giving the enraged hammer-wielder a taste of his own wolf pack tactics. Sivid would bait the man into a wild swing, and while he was open dash in to cut at his legs. It looked like the other wolves were interfering, though. With a grunt, Einarr slid in between Sivid and the man about to take a stab at his kidneys.

Clang! The blade instead hit the boss of Einarr’s shield. “Got your back,” he shouted over his shoulder.

Sivid spared him a glance and a breathless “thanks” before turning back to the enemy captain.


Sivid became aware that the pressure was off his back abruptly. He risked a glance over his shoulder. Einarr? “Thanks,” he managed. Almost immediately he had to duck another swing of the massive hammer the enemy captain used.

This was, without a doubt, Frothing Urek. Tyr had said the man had made Captain somehow: Sivid had just not expected to have to face the man on the field. Why is he in the fury, though? Captain Stigander never takes it…

The hammer still whistled through the air. Sivid bounced out of the way, then lunged in to stab at the man’s exposed leg. Urek was big, but not as big as Erik. Urek was strong, but not as strong as Arring. And even Arring would have had trouble not leaving openings with a weapon like that. Sivid just hoped his stamina would hold out.

The hammer came from above this time. Sivid danced off to the side as the heavy steel head splintered the deck boards where he had been a moment before. The fire crackled, licking at the newly-made kindling.

One way or another, they needed to take Urek out of the picture before this ship took everyone to their graves. It was time to gamble.

Sivid dropped into a low lunge, darting inside the berserker’s reach and stabbing his blade home in the man’s thigh. He couldn’t stay there, though: his blade still in Urek’s leg, he dropped his other hand down to the deck and kicked his heels up.

Urek roared as the blade twisted in his thigh. Sivid’s first boot caught him in the teeth: the second in the jaw, and as he regained his feet he finally drew out the blade.

Urek turned to face Sivid again, a level of disgust showing through the rage as he popped his neck and once more started his hammer moving. Sivid scowled: he hadn’t really expected much out of the kicks, but it had been worth a try.

Urek pressed forward, sweeping his hammer back and forth in front of him, and Sivid was forced to hop backwards with every sweep. He wasn’t getting in under the man’s guard again anytime soon, it looked like.

Sivid glanced to either side nervously: those flames were far too close, and far too high, for his liking, and they hemmed him in. By the same token, he couldn’t go backward too much farther without going over the wrong side. Can I kick the rafters well enough to get clear?


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10.2 – Strategy

A note in Jorir’s voice caught Einarr’s ear. “Well, spit it out. What’s the matter?”

“Only this. How many more skirmishes like that can we take?”

Einarr frowned. “That probably depends on how many volleys we have to fire. You’re concerned about supplies, then.”

“Aye. That, and manpower.”

“You’re right, of course.” Movement caught Einarr’s eye from the deck of the Vidofnir. “That’s Bardr, signalling a conference. You, Tyr, and Eydri, and Vali with me.”

“Not that I question your wisdom, but why the ghost?”

“Same reason as Tyr. Experience.”

Jorir harrumphed but said no more.

Half an hour later, all three Captains were gathered on board the Vidofnir with their Mates and advisors. Einarr had brought the largest contingent, but neither Father nor Captain Kormund so much as batted an eye.

Stigander locked eyes with Tyr and nodded in greeting. “Tyr.”

“C- Stigander.”

“You see anyone you know on those ships?”

“One or two.”

“Good.” Stigander turned his attention now to the other Captains. “How are your crews holding out.”

“Well enough, Father, but…”

Captain Kormund shook his head. “The men are getting tired, Stigander, and we’re going to need not just food and water but arrows and pitch and bandages before long.”

Jorir made a rumbling noise that might have been a chuckle as Einarr nodded.

“Exactly. Is there still a town near Afi’s old freehold?” It had been safe enough for him to summer there after Breidelstein fell, after all.

Stigander frowned. “I haven’t heard if they recovered or not. But there’s not often a lot of news coming out of the smaller islands like that, so we might not have. And if they’re not terribly happy to see me, there were others nearby.”

“Why would they have anything to hold against us?”

Stigander raised his eyebrows. “You were there. You can’t tell me you didn’t know.”

Einarr’s answer was to look at his father with greater confusion.

The older man sighed. “Those raiders who burned the town and killed your grandparents? They were Ulfr’s men, under a false flag. Looking for us.”

“Ah.”

Nevertheless, Stigander nodded to Bardr, who stepped away to give their new heading to Arring at the tiller. That done, Stigander turned back to their conference. “Now then. Tyr, you said you caught sight of some familiar faces during the fighting?”

“Oh, aye. And some of them men I’d never have expected to see live this long, let alone taking the helm.”

Tyr settled himself on a barrel near the mast. “Let’s start with the dangerous one – the one our Singers warned us about.”

Reki scowled. “Kaldr.”

Einarr perked up. “You remember him? Was he as odd about magic before the Weaving?”

“Oh, aye. But you see, I remember his pabbi, too. Man was always blaming his own mistakes on ‘bewitchment,’ and it seemed like he was always in some sort of trouble. But however weird he is about the Arts, that’s not what makes him dangerous.”

Eydri nodded in agreement. “He’s devious as a snake, and just as bloodless.”

“You say ‘devious,’ I say ‘clever,’ and he plainly has a good head for strategy. Is he still following us?”

Einarr glanced back into the wake of their passage and pursed his lips. “Yes.”

“I’d have been more surprised if he wasn’t,” Hraerek grumbled, and Captain Kormund nodded in agreement.

“Plainly he intends to harry us into submission,” Stigander said, his arms crossed. “Just as plainly, we need time to rest the men and resupply our ships if we’re going to win back the Isles. But we’ve already set course to deal with just that. What of the others?”

“Men who, I think, would have long since retired under you or Lord Raen, that I saw. None of whom would have gained their own ship in that circumstance. I suspect the Usurper chose his Captains based on toadying and biddability more than skill. If you can believe it, Stigander, it looks like little Frothing Urek has a commission.”

Stigander snorted. “Him? The one who you could goad into a fight by disagreeing over the weather?”

“The very same.” Tyr chuckled along with his old Captain.

“I wonder if he ever grew out of that?”

“If not,” Kormund mused. “We can use that. He’s also, presumably, the sort who can’t back down?”

“If he’s the same as he used to be, yes.”

Einarr shook his head. “And he’s a Captain? Well. If he’s working under Kaldr, he’s not going to tolerate this harrying strategy. That gives us something we can try, at least.”

The conference continued in this way throughout the rest of the day as the three ships sailed for one of the outlying islands, tailed by three of the wolfling ships keeping just out of bow range. Eventually Einarr sent Vali back to the Heidrun with the plan as it existed.

“And Vali? Ask Hrug to be ready to destroy those rugs when we make landfall.”

The ghost gave a wry smile and a mocking salute before winking out of existence. Einarr shook his head and turned his attention back to their discussion.

Captain Kormund and Hraerek, his Mate, stared, agog.

“Did you… not know about him?”

Kormund cleared his throat. “I had heard you had a ghost among your crew, but…”

“But the sheer insolence of it!” Hraerek chuckled. Bardr smirked.

“Far be it for me to tell you how to run your ship…” Kormund cleared his throat, plainly intending to do just that until Stigander raised a forestalling hand.

“I’ve seen no sign since his return from Svartlauf that suggests discipline slips under his command.”

“Thank you, Father.”

Stigander nodded acknowledgement. “Be cautious, however. The friendlier you are with your crew, the worse it will be when you have to make the hard call.”

Einarr swallowed, then inclined his head in return. He had thought of that, long and hard, after taking Hrug’s hand the previous fall. But, in the end, he knew he could be no other way.

“There is one last thing we must consider, Father.”

“Oh?”

“Will our hunters strike at us in port?”


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9.27 – Harbor Assault

The decks of the Vidofnir and her allies had finally been sluiced clean of the blood of their countrymen. The inscribed runes on the yardarms had evidently had some effect, as they were no longer stymied at every turn. But breaking through always came at a cost, and Einarr mourned those that fell every time. If Einarr’s mood was grim as they neared Breidelsteinn harbor and Raenshold, his father’s was moreso. Some of these had likely been men he’d known, after all, and they had not chosen their bewitchment.

That ensorcellment would end soon, one way or another. Ahead, he could see now the graceful inward sweep of the harbor’s arms around a city huddled at the water’s edge. Looming above stood his grandfather’s Hold. From the water he could see nothing, of course, save the tower at the front gate and the stone walls curving back from it.

That tower was, as father had explained it, the biggest challenge they would face in retaking their home. Now that he was finally seeing it, for the first time since he was a small boy, he understood why. Whatever else anyone wanted to say about Grandfather Raen, the man in his prime had plainly been a superb strategist. Not only had he united the clans of their archipelago under his own banner, he had built that. Either accomplishment would have landed most men a place in the histories.

That made what had happened with the Weavess and the Usurper even more of a disgrace, to Einarr’s mind. His grandfather should be remembered for his feats on the battlefield, dammit! Not one ill-chosen dalliance in his youth.

Einarr shook his head. The harbor was a choke point: they could not avoid facing more of Ulfr’s ships here. Now was not the time for idle musings. He looked around at his crew and nodded. It was that time, however. “Arm yourselves, men!”

A jangle of maille filled the near-silence that followed his orders. There were those of his crew who had come from the Vidofnir – newer men, mostly, and thus mostly those who had never been to these shores before. One man stood out, however: in quiet conference before they left Kjell, Stigander had asked Tyr to serve as Einarr’s advisor, and Tyr had agreed without hesitation. Thus, the oldest salt on the Vidofnir had now sailed under three generations of the same line. Einarr only hoped he could do as well by the man as Stigander had.

They were nearing the harbor mouth now, and no fewer than five wolf’s-head ships had emerged to try to block their path. Einarr once again regretted Eydri’s absence: having a Singer allowed men to fight harder and longer. Well: they had not rescued their captives yet, and thus they would just have to fight smarter.

From the deck of the Vidofnir, in the center, Bardr waved a torch as a signal to the other ships.

“Archers – draw!” The enemy ships seemed a bit far away yet for a volley, but there was sure to be a reason for that. Knowing that if it came to boarding he would have to stay on the Heidrun, Einarr, too, took up his bow and drew. Please, lady Fates, be true.

The Wolf’s ships did not take the defensive posture Einarr had expected them to. Rather, they rushed forward as though desperate. Einarr furrowed his brow: there was a natural narrowing in the harbor mouth not far behind the enemy ships. Why had they not formed a line there?

He shook his head. Perhaps this was the Norn’s work, after all. At any rate his enemy’s tactical misstep was his gain, and Father and Bardr seemed to have anticipated it. They were nearly in range…

“Fire!”

Bowstrings sang as a flock of arrows rose from the decks of the rooster and the ram and the roebuck to strike at the approaching pack of wolves.

No few of them overshot their mark, raining down on the water on the other side of the defending boats. Einarr blinked: he had known of very few boats that fast, and none of them that bore a wolf.

“Ready volley!” Even with the speed of their adversaries, they should have time for at least one more shot. “Fire!”

This time the volley struck true. After a moment’s consideration, Einarr nodded to himself. “Fire at will!”

Einarr sent three more arrows flying before the next signal came: others loosed more. “Prepare for boarding!”

Einarr resettled Sinmora’s baldric as Jorir took his place by Einarr’s side. The dwarf, normally indefatigable, looked tired. Even getting this far had been a long slog: if Jorir was worn out, so were the rest of his men. They would have to end this rapidly. Even so, to leave these ships behind them was to cut off their only means of escape.

He glanced down at Jorir again, weighing his options. They had to either send these dogs back to port with their tails between their legs, or disable them completely. He wasn’t sure which his crew was more capable of, but he had an idea. “Jorir,” he whispered. “You and I have a special operation to take care of.”

“Oh? And what might this be?” The dwarf kept his voice as low as Einarr’s.

“Sabotage.” Einarr offered his leige-man a feral grin. “We can’t fight too long: we’re all exhausted, and there’s still more to come. So we need to give these curs some reason to break off.”

Jorir nodded slowly. “I see your plan, my Lord, and it is sound. But might I suggest you send others? Your place is here, and mine is by your side.”

“Thank you, Jorir, but most of my crew is so wet behind the ears they could swim in the water there. It needs to be you and me if we’re all to get out of this.”

To his credit, the dwarf merely shrugged. “Let’s have it, then.”


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9.5 – War Footing

All the new crew members needed time to arm themselves and see to their affairs, but that suited Einarr and the Vidofnings just fine. Einarr, in particular, had some matters to attend to regarding his new ship. Thus, it was decided that the three ships would sail to war one week hence.

On board the newly-christened Heidrun, Jorir and Naudrek went over the same inspection that Einarr had with his father just days before. Eydri sat on the bulwark, repeating the Lay of Raen to Tyr for what was probably the hundredth time as she worked to memorize it. She and Reki, together with the Battle Chanters from the Eikthyrnir and the Skudbrun, would sing it together as they left Kjell harbor. If all went well, this would be the last voyage the sons of Raen had to begin this way. Meanwhile, Hrug and Vali took each other’s measure in some strange way that Einarr did not fully understand.

“So?” Einarr asked as Naudrek and Jorir were coming to the end of their inspection and looking satisfied. “What do you make of Arkja and his crew, now that you’ve had some more normal sailing around them.”

“Good hardworking boys,” Jorir answered promptly, plopping down on the deck beside his Lord. “I think Arkja knew we were suspicious of him: he seemed more than eager to please.”

“You don’t think he’ll turn coward on us?”

Now Jorir hummed. “I think, so long as he’s not placed under too great a strain, you haven’t much of anything to worry about. Not sure I’d go making him an officer, mind. Hey, Vali – what think you?”

“Oh, aye. Arkja’s loyal enough. Just make sure he’s in front of you when the seas are rough.”

“That’s hardly a ringing endorsement. The man asked to swear to me, and I’m out of excuses to put him off. You two spent the end of last summer watching him. If there’s a reason I should refuse, I need to know it.”

Jorir shrugged. “You’ll be taking some sort of oath from everyone who comes aboard this ship, won’t you? Just have him swear the same.”

Vali shook his head slowly. “The trouble is, we didn’t see the sort of situation that might lead a man like Akel to break.”

“Akel? Who’s Akel?”

“Oh, uh. Right. He was the Mate aboard the Althane’s ship. You remember.”

Einarr nodded. Vali had warned him about Arkja and used the Althane’s Mate as an example.

“So I don’t see any reason not to take him aboard, or even to let him swear to be your man, but I would consider his advice carefully, especially where it concerns the wellbeing of others.”

“Worth doing with most advice, I find. Very well. I’ll trust your judgement.”

Jorir smirked. “I expect no less, by now. So. We’ve told you about the Forgotten men. What can you tell us of Breidelstein?”

Einarr looked sheepish. “Hasn’t Father talked about it? I was only a boy. I’m afraid my recollections aren’t likely to be all that helpful.”

“That’s hardly the point,” Naudrek put in. “We’re about to put our necks on the line for your boyhood home. We want to know what we’re fighting for. And we want to know you remember what we’re fighting for.”

“…Ah. Well, all right then. I guess I should start by saying that, until winter before last, I wasn’t rightly sure I cared if we got our home back. The sea was my home. And then I met Runa again.”


At long last, the Vidofnir and her two allies – fortified with sailors from the Skudbrun, which could not be repaired in time – were fully on war footing. The Vidofnir led the way out of the harbor under oars, and the beat of the cadence drum carried the promise of violence to come.

Once they were out of the harbor the three ships raised their sails and turned north. The drumming continued all that afternoon and into the evening, as the four Singers raised their voices together for the Lay of Raen.

Leafy rug lies under
Lee of rock ridge, the
Free-hearted Raen’s hold
High built, its vigil born
To guard men above gold.
Grant plenty, pious king,
But forget not folly
Of fate-dabbler’s design.

The four voices twined together, echoing over the water between the ships while the drums continued to play. Einarr, for the first time at the helm of his own ship instead of standing by his father’s side, felt a shiver run down his spine at the eerie sound.

Raen’s folly, a fair lass
Flax-haired, by eye-gleams held:
Urdr did he woo, under
Umber moon she swooned.
No troth spoke though one she
Took: the ring-breaker Raen
She would wed. When sea-steed
Stole Raen, Urdr did remain.

Unwisely wooed, Urdr
Bore Ulfr, boy-child of
Greyed eyes, guileful blade.
Threads Urdr traced, fiber spun
While wolf’s fangs he forg’d.
To seek redress on swan’s road
Their uncut thread binds all
.

The mood aboard ship – Einarr assumed all three ships – had nothing of the melancholy he was used to. No: this time was different in every regard. This time, the ritual was performed not for remembrance but for determination. The Weavess and her usurper son would, finally, after sixteen long years, face justice for their crimes.

Without realizing he did so, Einarr joined his own voice to the voices of the Singers.

Ulfr did usurp, and Urdr does
Under cursèd thrall snarl
Mountain’s men, and entomb’d
Raen maltreats. Raven-wine
By Art bound, and by Art’s touch
Alone undone: hie home,
Raen’s sons, soon your birthright
Save, and cut the woven chain.

He was not alone. He heard his Father’s voice, and Tyr’s. Erik. Sivid. One by one, all the Vidofnings who had been with the ship for even half of those years raised their voices, until it was less a Lay and more of a Chant. They were declaring their enemy’s crimes before sea and wind and sky, and this time they would not be turned back.


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7.9 – Temple

The Shroud, Melja said, was stored in an inner chamber of the village’s temple to the gods. The morning, like most mornings on the island, was bright and clear even under the fluttering canopy of birch and ash as Melja led Einarr down an unfamiliar path.

The path sloped gently upward here, and the ground became less marshy as they went. Between the warm morning sun and the birdsong floating through the branches, Einarr was momentarily tempted to forget the serious errand they were on. With a sigh and a question he brought himself back to reality: “So why is the Shroud here, anyway?”

Melja did not answer for the space of a few strides. “It is imprisoned here, under the watchful gazes of god and runemaster alike.”

“But it’s an item?”

“Aye, so it is. And?”

“How do you imprison an item? It’s not like they go anywhere on their own.”

“Ordinarily, I would agree. But the Shroud seems to operate under its own set of rules. It took the finest runemasters of its day to catch the thing, and no few Art Practictioners besides, so if it starts to stir we reinforce its cage.”

Einarr made a noise like understanding and fell quiet. Melja had known he was a Cursebreaker before he ever agreed to teach Einarr, and was taking him out here anyway: perhaps Einarr was just being paranoid.

The path continued to rise in elevation, if slowly, and soon Einarr began to see oaks in among the ash and birch and beech. Around midmorning a clearing opened before them, broad as a field. At the far side, with the forest nestled comfortably behind it, stood an unassuming, whitewashed building with a pair of towers rising from its roof. The two men paused for a moment at the edge of this clearing.

Einarr, suddenly curious, asked “Who lives here?”

“This is Wotan’s temple, in the main, but also Tyr and Eira.”

“Eira, truly?” The Vidofnings tended to worship her, when they worshipped. Perhaps it was a good sign?

“Wotan is not the only god skilled at runecraft.”

“I suppose not.” Still, the pit in his stomach seemed to grow larger by another stone. He did not often offer up prayers to Eira, but as they neared the unassuming temple one passed his lips.

“Is something the matter?” One of Melja’s upswept eyebrows was raised even higher than usual.

Einarr shook his head. “Just – it’s been a long summer. Some of what I’ve been through already has me jumping at shadows, is all.”

Melja chuckled, not unkindly. “Don’t be so quick to dismiss those instincts: they could save your life one day. I have, however, taken extra precautions already this morning. Watch your step, do nothing in haste, and we’ll make it back to the village in one piece.”

“Of… of course.” Einarr knew Melja was probably right, but that did little to soothe his nerves as the big elf pulled open the temple doors.

Light slanted into the somewhat dusty chamber from behind them. At the far side of the room, a carving of Wotan in his sorceror’s robes, a raven perched on either shoulder, stood flanked by one-handed Tyr, the just, and merciful Eira, the healer.

Melja strode across the room, his eyes passing with long familiarity over the rows of benches, the statuary, and the pools of light beneath the windows. Einarr had no doubt the alfr would have seen instantly had something been amiss, and that thought was the one that finally allowed him to relax a little.

Melja led them past the priestly purification chamber and down a narrow, but well-made, wooden ladder into the cellar. Someone mortal evidently lived here: the cellar was filled with roots and aging mead. Einarr blinked a few times, and then realized they were not alone in the cellar.

Standing by the far wall was an alfr nearly as burly as Melja, a woodcutter’s axe at his hip and a scroll in hand. He greeted them in the tongue of the light elves.

Melja and Einarr returned the greeting – Einarr by rote, as one of the few phrases he had memorized since arriving at the Shrouded Village.

“Has anything changed?” Melja asked, his voice low.

“Not a thing. It seems restless in there, but not fully awake.”

“Good. The boy will be assisting me as part of his training. I need you to provide backup.”

“With pleasure.”

The guard stepped aside, and Melja traced a complex series of runes Einarr could not track in front of the door. It swung open.

Inside, in the center of the room, a diaphanous crimson cloth lay tumbled over a table. Every now and then, as though a breeze tugged at it, the cloth would twitch. If he had not been prepared, Einarr would have thought it odd for a cloth to be stored in such a way and seen nothing else out of the ordinary. After a month’s training with Melja, however, his vision was more acute.

Concentric circles were inscribed on the floor about the table, and every one of them ringed with runes. The walls and ceiling, too. Einarr recognized the individual runes, of course, and could even work out what some of the combinations would do – but as he stared about the room he felt his jaw drop. This ward work was so far beyond anything Melja had even hinted at.

“The work of generations,” Melja volunteered. “Don’t let this intimidate you: reinforcing the wards is fairly straightforward.”

“Ah, yes. Of course. What do you need me to do?”

“First, focus. Close your eyes and breathe deeply with me.”

It was an exercise Melja had him do frequently, particularly when he judged a task more complicated than usual. This time, Melja joined him at it. With a long exhale, the alfr opened his eyes.

“Now we inspect what came before. The Shroud is forever testing its bonds, and while there are a few places more likely to show wear, we cannot take that for granted.”


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7.1 – Reunion

It was unlikely that the public hall in East Port had seen a celebration of this magnitude in the whole of its existence.

After the purification ritual, Stigander and Bollinn agreed that some sort of relaxation was in order. The Matrons, unexpectedly, agreed and, what’s more, declared that they would host the feast. Perhaps it was simple relief at no longer having the sword of the black-blooded monsters hanging over the island, but Einarr suspected their jubilance had more to do with the knowledge Runa had brought back.

After the toasts and the speeches had been made – or at least the first round of them – Einarr led Arkja and four of his men over to where Stigander sat conversing with Tyr and Bollinn.

“Father.”

“Son. You did good work out there.”

Einarr shrugged. He’d accomplished his task, sure, but if it weren’t for him they’d have been back a lot sooner, too. “Father, in exchange for their help getting off the island, I told these men I might be able to get them a berth on the Vidofnir.”

Stigander turned fully to face the group. Arkja stood flanked by Hàkon, Saergar, Rig and Oskar. From the corner of his eye he caught sight of Vali leaning ostentatiously against the wall.

“We’re mighty low on crew, certainly. Been a rough season. Any of you men gone raiding before?”

Two of the five stepped forward – Arkja, and Saergar.

“For farmers, the others came by their sea legs easily,” Einarr put in.

Stigander harrumphed. “And they know what sort of a boat this is?”

“They’ve heard the Lay, Father, and some of what’s happened this past year.”

Stigander hummed now, studying the five for a long moment. “Gods know we need men. Come to the docks in the morning. I’ll put you to the test.”

Hàkon, Oskar and Rig tugged at their forelocks and said they would. Saergar, answered as a true sailor: “Aye, sir.”

That left Arkja, who stood clenching and unclenching his fist as though locked in indecision. “My lords, there is one other thing.”

Stigander and Einarr both raised an eyebrow at this.

“It’s been on my mind since the cave on the island, y’see…” He turned to face Einarr square. “I would swear to you, lord, if you’ll have me.”

Einarr blinked, more than a little taken aback. His father looked as though he was torn between amusement and taking offense.

Movement in the periphery caught Einarr’s attention: Vali had started upright from his position against the wall and was shaking his head. There is a certain strain of cowardice, he had said, that is reckless as regards himself, but craven where others are concerned.

Einarr smiled warmly at Arkja. “It’s a bit awkward, having men sworn to me when I’m still serving on my father’s ship. I know, there’s Jorir, but that was a special circumstance.”

“We do, however, have a second ship under commission,” Stigander rumbled. “I expect it to be ready for next season.”

“My thought exactly, Father. So, to avoid any more confusion, why don’t we wait until we’ve claimed my ship?” That would give them the rest of the season to prove the man, at least.

Arkja stiffened momentarily, but then his shoulders relaxed again. “Of course, my lords. That does, indeed, make good sense.”

He lowered his head to them and wandered off, not looking entirely mollified, Einarr shrugged and turned his attention back to Stigander and the others.

“Well played,” his father murmured. “You have questions regarding that one’s character?”

“A few. Something Vali said before we sailed stuck with me.”

“But he’ll not be an issue for me?”

“I don’t think so. He’s eager to prove himself.”

Stigander hummed. Arkja would probably be watched, aboard, but Einarr thought he would have no trouble getting there. “At any rate. We three were just discussion this Vali you brought back…”

“Yes, what about him?”

“Is he really…?”

“A ghost? So far as I can tell, yes.”

“Then how…?”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea. He’s bound, somehow, to that Imperial jar that’s been following me around since the incident with the Althane.”

“But a jar can’t move!”

“So you’d think. You have no idea, though, how many times I threw that one away, only to have it reappear in the most improbable places. Saved Runa, though, this last time.” Einarr motioned for Vali to join them. As the ghost appeared to saunter over from his place against the wall, Einarr continued. “Apparently I triggered something when I picked the jar up in the ship-barrow, so until I either die or otherwise break that connection Vali and I are stuck together. At least, that’s how Runa explained it.”

No sooner had Vali crossed the distance to join them, curiosity writ large on his earnest face, than Tyr and Bollinn engaged him directly. Perhaps because they saw the other figures coming up behind Stigander.

“Runa tells us,” came a wizened old woman’s voice. “That you wish to learn the runes.”

Stigander gave his son a sharp look.

Einarr scratched at the back of his head sheepishly. “Ah, yes, you see… Father, I think I need to. Just in order to survive. If Runa hadn’t insisted on coming along, I don’t think we’d have made it.”

Stigander harrumphed and crossed his arms.

“The boy is right,” croaked the Matron. “And he is wise to seek aid.” She paused here, long enough for Stigander to start to relax and Einarr to straighten.

“And yet,” she went on. “One of our prentice Singers is hardly an appropriate teacher. Oh, I’ve no doubt the girl has tried -” she held up a hand to shush Einarr before he could interrupt. “But even her knowledge is yet shallow. Come with us on the morrow, and we will discover a more suitable teacher for you.”

“Thank you, Lady. So long as my father does not object, I shall take you up on your offer.”

Stigander waved a dismissive hand. “Fine.”


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5.24 – Second Chance

That cut on his side was going to be a problem. It wasn’t likely to kill him, he didn’t think, but the blood showed no sign of slowing yet. Well. A bandage was just cloth, and he was wearing plenty of that. Einarr gripped the hem of his tunic and tore.

The fabric came off in a spiral. When he thought it was long enough, he held the strip tightly against Sinmora’s blade and sawed down. Then, gritting his teeth the entire time, he wrapped the makeshift bandage about his chest and over his opposite shoulder to hold the rest of the tunic tight against his wound.

Once it was tied, Einarr tested his work with a pair of deep breaths. That should hold. He looked around the room at the statues, now out of any semblance of order… except the statues of his father and the Jarl had not budged. He furrowed his eyebrows: that was plainly the clue. What else might it mean?

A brightness caught his eye from the floor at his feet: the Valkyrie’s feather. He stooped to pick it up, and Einarr’s fingers tingled as they gripped the shaft. Why she had left it, he could not begin to guess. Carefully, to avoid dripping blood on it, he threaded it through the buckle of his baldric.

His hand brushed against the pouch at his belt, where the wooden broach rested. Mysteries upon mysteries. Einarr sighed. Even should those runes spell out the answer to this puzzle, it was of no use to him here. He shook his head and harrumphed. If the answer was not in the relationship ties between the images, what might it be?

Einarr stepped slowly over to stand before the images of his father and Runa’s. They stood – or sat – implacably, facing each other. The Jarl sat on his throne, looming over all below him, while Stigander stood exhorting unseen hosts. It would be hard to imagine two more different images…

That’s it! For all that Jarl Hroaldr and Stigander were old friends, they were in many ways mirrors of each other. Thus, if his hunch was right, each image would have a mirror of sorts on the floor somewhere.

He thought he had the trick of it, at least. Moving the statues had been cumbersome before. Now he was tired from the fight and wounded besides. Each step across the room reminded him of the shards in his shins, but at least his makeshift bandage quelled the fire in his side.

He slotted Arring, with his massive strength, opposite of Barri, who like Einarr was faster than he was strong. Jorir faced Tyr, the ageless and wise blacksmith against the aged and wise sailor. Einarr frowned at this one, but could think of no more sensible option. Runa, the Jarl’s daughter, would be matched with him, Jarl’s daughter to Thane’s son and so many other mirrors besides.

The real trouble was attached to the image of Erik and Sivid dicing together. Ordinarily, Einarr would have matched each as the other’s opposite… so then, what to do when they were shown together? Einarr paced a lap around the room, pondering this. There were few other options remaining.

He stopped when he once again came face to face with the pairing of Jorir and Tyr, which he had not been happy with. The two had as much in common as in opposition. The image of Jorir, however, showed him working at a forge. Erik and Sivid, on the other hand, were at play. It was so simple he had almost missed it.

Finally, once all the statues were in place, Einarr approached the last remaining depression in the floor with some trepidation. His hands had started to shake, which he blamed on fatigue. That what remained of his tunic was sodden with blood had nothing to do with it. With a deep breath, Einarr took his place in the display.

Instead of a lance of pain through his head there was a grinding noise as the statues all turned on their bases. Some of the pairs rearranged themselves on the floor, leaving a broad open path across the floor of the room. At the end of the path, he could now see a door that had not been there before. Einarr breathed an unconscious sigh of relief as he hurried down the path. He did not think he could face the Valkyrie a second time.

Einarr raised his uninjured hand and pulled on the door. A blinding light flashed.

He stood on the landing of a stairway heading up. Around him on the landing were Jorir, Runa, Erik and Irding. He smiled and opened his mouth to greet his friends, but suddenly the world tried to turn upside down.

Einarr blinked several times, partly in surprise to see he was leaning on Erik’s shoulder – When did that happen? – and partly because the world seemed to have gone blurry around him.

“He’s hurt,” Runa was saying, and he could hear sogginess in her voice. “Come now, quickly, we have to get him someplace flat at least.”

Erik started slowly up the stairs. Einarr tried to lift his feet, but with each step it felt more as though he were being dragged. Something about the situation seemed familiar, and recently so.

“My medicine pouch is down on the boat,” Jorir grumbled.

“Why on earth would you leave it there?” Runa’s question was a good one. She growled in frustration and then began to sing.

The song was like a cool breeze across Einarr’s face, and he relaxed into it. Runa mumbled something about the wound looking bad, and Jorir’s sarcastic rumble answered. He lifted a foot to aid Erik, but the combination of injury and song magic was too much for him right then. Einarr drifted into unconsciousness to the sound of Runa’s voice.


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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 Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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3.23 – Telling of Tales

“Very good, my Lord. In that case, let me begin with how I won the Isinntog from the Jotün Fraener of Svartlauf.”

“The who of where?”

“Ah, but surely my Lord should know that story! It was ancient when my grandfather was still a babe. Once, long ago, the elves of Skaergard created a torc of surpassing beauty and dedicated it to the goddess Eira. The torc was all of silver, inset with thousands of tiny diamonds, and on each end bore the head of a dragon holding an anchor in its mouth. Inside were inscribed runes that gave it power over the wind and storms.” Einarr may not have been trained as a Singer, but there was no man of the clans worthy of the name who could not tell a rousing story.

“One of the Jotuns, by the name of Fraener, came to the isle of Skaergard after hearing of the wonders of the Isinntog intending to steal it for himself…” The story continued on in this vein, speaking of the vile tricks Fraener had played, and the blood he had shed, in order to win the torc for his own. Once it was in his hands, however, he found that it would only fit the first knuckle of his smallest finger. Satisfied nonetheless, for still he had secured the power of the goddess’ artifact, he left Skaergard and came to the winter island now known as Svartlauf. This island was only accessible, even by him, with the aid of the Isinntog, and so he and his dog made their new home protected from the wrath of the elves by the storm that raged about the island.

“And that brings us to where I come in,” Einarr said after a time, dearly wishing he could have something to drink that would not poison his mind. “In order to win the hand of my fair maiden, her father set me a series of tasks. The first of these was to steal from the Jotun Fraener the Isinntog, which he had so long before stolen from the elves.” He had their attention, he was sure. Once he’d finished this tale, he would ask Jorir to tell the tale of their encounter with the Order of the Valkyrie on their way to visit the Oracle of Attilsund – although he had no intention of sharing the results of their visit.

As he came to the thrilling conclusion of the tale – somewhat modified, of course, to ignore that he had yet more tasks to accomplish – many of the spirits in the crowd burst into cheers. It was probably the first fresh story they had heard in centuries.

“Jorir, where are you, you rogue?”

The svartdverger ambled out of the crowd to stand near his liege lord.

“Surely you’ve a tale to tell, as well now. What about our battle on the sea, not two months ago?”

“We dwarves, well we’ve not got the knack for the telling of tales like you humans do, but I reckon I can give it a whirl. Y’see, milord’s father determined after we rejoined the crew from that self-same mission to Svartlauf that this was going to be a big summer. There was much to do, after all, and already they had lost some weeks waiting on our return.”

Einarr smirked to note that he glossed over his own newness to the crew, but rather than correct him simply merged back into the crowd. Best to be a good audience now, so that when one of the specters inevitably decided to tell a tale of his own they could carry out the plan appropriately.

“Well, the story of Einarr’s family is a long one, and a sad one at that, and doesn’t have much ta do with where I’m going except to set me on the path. You see, I knew about the Oracle living on Attilsund, on account of I’d seen ‘er before, I had. Given the task at hand, that I’d just heard first-hand from their Singer, I thought it might behoove us all to go and pay the Oracle a little visit.”

“Not six weeks out of harbor, and what should we see cutting across the waves but an Imperial dromon – headed straight for us, no less, and the wing and spear painted on her sail.”

Jorir may have claimed dwarves lacked the knack for storytelling, but if Einarr was any judge the dwarf’s telling of that battle bested his own of the trip to Svartlauf. Einarr actually enjoyed listening to his liege-man tell of that battle, even including the part where he himself got scolded for recklessness on the field of battle. Einarr laughed and clapped along with everyone else as Jorir finished up the tale.

He was about to encourage Tyr to tell a story – something from longer ago than last winter, probably. He certainly had plenty of years to choose from – when one of the Allthane’s men took the bait.

“Well, since we’ve newcomers and all, I suppose it might be worth telling this one again.” This was not the show-off, but it was one of the spirits who had been making a nuisance of themselves since the hall dance.

“Everyone knows how the Allthane came to be, of course -”

“I’m afraid not!” Einarr called out.

“How can you not know the tale of how the North was finally unified, once and for all?” The man was indignant, now. Good.

“Because no-one has held the chair of Allthane for three hundred years,” Tyr answered. Now the men in the crowd – all save five of them – jeered and scoffed.

“Ah, but it’s true. How many of you knew the meaning of the wing-and-spear our good dwarf spoke of?”

Silence descended on the hall.

“For my part, I will gladly hear the tale of how our glorious host brought all the tribes under his thumb, for few save the Singers now know it.” Einarr broke the silence. “It is a feat that has not been equalled since.”

The Allthane cleared his throat from behind where Einarr stood facing the gathering. “In that case sit quietly and listen well, for never again shall you have the chance to hear it straight from the man himself.”


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3.22 – Unexpected Allies

Einarr’s eyes rolled up into his head as the warm odor of food tried to fill his nose, his mouth, take over his mind.

Someone who evidently had not seen the exchange with the show-off took his strange expression to mean that Einarr was choking. Before his vision could truly cloud, a pair of very solid hands was clapping him on the back.

Einarr turned his head and spat out the foul substance – he could not tell what it was by taste, and he did not care to look at it any more now than he had before. “Thank you, friends.”

When he turned to face his benefactors, Einarr blinked. Beneath their illusory feast day clothes, these men were as living as he was. Einarr thought he saw despair in their eyes. He grinned and threw his arms about their necks. “And just the friends I was looking for, too. Come on, and meet the others of my crew.”

Finding a place on the edge of the crowd where they could speak without arousing suspicion was difficult, under the circumstances. Those who had been impressed by his performance at the hall dance wished to congratulate him: evidently the malicious show-off had grown too accustomed to winning. Others would jostle him at any opportunity… and they could not leave the golden light. He tried, and more than once, but each time it was as though the edge of the light formed a wall as solid as stone.

Einarr grunted. This would do. “Show me your hands.”

“Beg pardon?” Confusion was evident on the man’s face.

“Show me your hands.” Einarr held out his own. “Look closely. You’ll see my true nature. I would confirm yours before we go along.”

The other man, who looked vaguely familiar from the ring of dancers, nodded hesitantly. “As you like.”

When he tentatively held his hand out towards Einarr, Einarr clasped it and felt flesh. Einarr nodded: the other man seemed too shocked to say anything.

“Now you.”

The man who had questioned him moved much more confidently than his crewmate had, grasping Einarr’s hand in a firm shake. “So it is you.”

“You’re from the freeboater’s crew?” He kept his voice low, trying not to stand out above the hum of conversation.

“The Yrsirmar, yes. And you were with the group that came to offer aid.”

“I also led the group that came to help later. Not that there was much we could do.” Einarr looked past the man’s shoulder and caught Tyr’s eye, beckoning him over.

“My name is Einarr, son of Stigander, the Captain of the Vidofnir. The man on his way over is Tyr. The dwarf you saw earlier is Jorir.”

The more confident man nodded. “Kragnir. And this here is Arnskar.”

“Good. I’m glad to see you’re still yourselves.”

“Back to bein’ ourselves, you mean.” Arnskar almost stuttered over the words. “Not proud o’ this, but ran so hard from those… those…”

“Spirits.” Einarr filled in. Whatever they looked like wasn’t really important.

“Right. Well. Wasn’t paying enough attention, fell in a hole. Next thing we know we’s at a feast, filling our faces. An’ then the hall dance starts, an’ you’re talking to me like I exist, not like I’m some mask on a stage.”

“Well whaddya make of that, Tyr.” Einarr tried to keep a smile out of his voice. All by accident, and he was still proving the Oracle right.

“Stroke of good luck’s what I make of it,” Tyr grumbled.

“Where’d you last see Jorir?”

“He was aiming to avoid that arrogant prick you couldn’t quite get free of, I think.”

Einarr grunted. “And good luck to him. I just hope he can keep the scoundrel away from here for a while.”

“Sirs… way I see it, we’re all trapped here,” Kragnir started. “What d’ye need us for?”

Now Einarr grinned. “I aim to make it so we’re not all stuck here, and maybe do something about the Allthane’s shade. But I need to know more about this court in order to do it. You’ve been here longer than I: what do you know?”

***

The Allthane knew he was dead, that much was certain. How many of the others did, well, that was another question. Only, the Allthane preferred to pretend he wasn’t dead – so far, nothing that Einarr had not already gathered. Furthermore, Einarr still wasn’t sure he could really blame the Allthane for trying to forget he was a cursed shade stuck wandering a half-drowned rock in the far north.

Where things got interesting was how this played out with the others trapped in the feast with him. The shades, the freeboaters were certain, had been part of the Allthane’s original crew… and Kragnir wondered how many of them had already passed over to the otherworld when the Allthane drew them back. There was a thought that made Einarr shudder every time it occurred to him: to be returned to a mockery of life by the lord you’d served, to fulfill the selfsame function as you had in life, eternally…

Einarr was even more certain that their way out would involve the request of a boon, and just as certain that requesting the honor of burying the Allthane’s remains would earn them a tirade, or worse.

Well. If he could not take the direct approach, plainly his best option was to trick the Allthane into letting go the facade before asking the boon. Between the three of them, with the knowledge gleaned from the Yrsirmarings, they might just have a chance. Einarr squared his shoulders and strode towards where the Allthane once again sat, twirling his goblet morosely.

“My Thane.” Einarr offered a bow that would embarrass an Imperial, he thought, but the Allthane seemed to thrive on melodrama. “We have danced. We have feasted and drank, but nowhere do I hear stories of men’s exploits. May I regale you with a tale or two of my own?”

The Allthane looked up, still bored, but gave a twirling wave that suggested Einarr was intended to begin.

“Very good, my Lord. In that case, let me begin with how I won the Isinntog from the Jotün Fraener of Svartlauf.”


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3.21 – Enticement of Food

Einarr once more offered Jorir the hilt of his sword in token of their pledge, and the dwarf grasped it without hesitation.

“A test, my lord?” Jorir raised an eyebrow, his voice held low.

“I was the one on trial, I think. Well, we gave them a story, anyway.”

“You!” The show-off from the circle thundered, striding into the ring in his spectral fury. “That was no challenge. You planned this!”

“Are not sword dances typically agreed on?” Einarr kept his voice light. If he played this right, the only one to lose honor would be the enraged ghost. “What matter if it was friendly or otherwise?”

“The sword dance is a sacred trial by steel, and you have defiled it! What dispute was this meant to settle?”

“Good sir, I believe you are mistaken. The sword dance is a ritual, true, but one which contains a story. Have we not accomplished that?”

The figure of the show-off wavered, turning almost transparent even as it tried to elongate.

“Stand down!” The voice of the Allthane only seemed to bellow, but it was sufficient to bring the spectre back to its human form. “You forget yourself, and you forget the point of the hallingdanse. The newcomers have impressed me, but you have only served to remind us all of things better left forgot.”

It worked?

“The hallingdanse is over, and the table yet groans with the weight of food. Surely by now our guests have worked up an appetite.”

“Ah…” Even as Einarr was about to object, the light shifted and the room was once again dominated by the feast table and the glow of light reflected off of gold. Even knowing the smells were illusory, the sight of platters of fish – real fish, not the dolphin centerpiece – and the steaming confections like nothing Jarl Hroaldr had ever served now made Einarr’s mouth water. It was true: the hallingdanse had left him hungry.

Jorir, too, stared at the table with wide eyes. He swallowed before turning his head to look at his liege lord. Einarr met his liege man’s gaze and nodded: by winning the hallingdanse, they had left themselves weak to the lure of the spectral food.

Tyr walked up behind them and clapped their shoulders, grinning at each of them. “Well fought out there.”

“Thanks.” Einarr could not keep the dryness from his voice.

“Ready for the harder battle?”

“Not much choice, now is there?” Jorir drawled.

Tyr’s grin disappeared and he turned his face to Einarr. “Not much, no. Any idea how to break us out of the Allthane’s thrall?”

“Not yet. I’d thought to ask for a boon, but somehow I doubt he would wish to hear what I would request.”

Tyr grunted. “You’re likely right, although you may also be on the right track. Now get out there and mingle: we’ll think of something.”

Einarr grumbled. “I’m sure we will. I just hope we can do it quickly enough.”

“That’s what I’m here for, isn’t it?”

Einarr harrumphed and made his way back into the crowd of spirits. When one of them thrust a plate into his hand he took it, not looking at what it held, pretending he couldn’t smell it. Likewise when a cup was pressed into his other hand. That at least he did not have to feign disinterest in: he remembered well the appearance of the liquid without its glamour.

A figure cut across his path, intent on something on the other side of the feast, and it seemed strangely solid. He drew his eyebrows down, remembering the half-alive man from the ring of dancers. Survivors? Perhaps of the freeboaters?

If there were freeboaters caught up in the Allthane’s feast, surely he should try to break them free, as well. Perhaps that was where the key lay? Not in his own men’s freedom, but in that of those who had come before?

He shook his head. No, no-one who claimed to be the Allthane would insist on such disloyalty. Still, though, should he win their freedom perhaps he could also win their loyalty.

Still, though, he was not quite back at the beginning. Should he be able to get through to the captive freeboater, the other man might have valuable insights. It was worth a shot.

Now he mingled with purpose. Einarr had been so surprised by the man’s aspect during the dance that he had not remembered his face, and so he studied each and every man he passed with the intent to pierce their disguise.

So intent was he on his task that he nearly tripped over Jorir, who had evaded all plates and instead been caught up in a game of tafl on the periphery.

“My apologies, gentlemen. Don’t let me interrupt your game… Jorir, is that the piece I think it is?”

“Aye. You’d find his ploy familiar, too. Only, after I win, I’ll not be giving my king away.”

“See that you don’t.” Given the associations Jorir had placed on that piece before, the alternative seemed uncomfortably like being given to the ghosts himself. Now he leaned over and whispered to his warrior. “Keep your eyes open. At least one other man at this feast is alive.”

Jorir nodded. “If I see him, I’ll be sure to tell him.”

Einarr clapped him on the shoulder, nodding in turn. The dwarf was clever: that was no misunderstanding. He meandered back out into the crowd, still studying the men about him in search of one who was actually a man.

“What’s this? Even with food in hand, still you do not eat!” One of the spectral revelers approached, his arms outstretched. It took Einarr only a moment to recognize him as the show-off from the ring.

“Mm? Oh, I do have a plate. I’m afraid my friends and I have much on our minds. If we do not eat, it is only because worry fills our bellies.”

“No worries allowed here, my friend.” He stressed that word in an exceedingly unfriendly way. “Eat! I promise, your cares will vanish with the first morsel.”

“Such a thing will not do, I’m afraid.” Einarr glanced about, hoping there was a table within arm’s reach, to no avail. “Some things simply demand contemplation, and to fail to consider them is the height of indiscipline. Now if you will excuse me, there is someone I am looking for.”

“Oh? How fascinating.” The show-off approached far closer than Einarr was comfortable with. He could feel the cold of the grave emanating from the specter’s body. “Tell me who it is, perhaps I have seen them.”

“I didn’t get a good look at their face, and I’m afraid I know no-one’s name here.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.”

Einarr wanted to groan as a force pressed briefly down against the plate in his hand. When it vanished the plate was lighter.

“He w-” Einarr cut himself off as the show-off’s hand lifted, a mess of unidentified food clutched in his fingers. Einarr pressed his lips together as he realized what the man intended, but not before a morsel made its way through.

“Relax. Join the feast. Have fun.” The spirit smiled maliciously and thumped Einarr on the back as he stalked away into the crowd. Einarr nearly choked trying not to swallow the tainted food. A warm sensation flooded his mouth.


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