Tag: Vidofnir

9.2 – Vidofnir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An unfortunate misunderstanding.”

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

Stigander turned to Einarr. “The Hall?”

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

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

“You know that ship, Father?”

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

“Sir!”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Trabbi? Trabbi, is that you?”

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


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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.

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9.1 – Burn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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

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

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

8.19 – 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.


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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.

8.8 – Cat and Mouse

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!

“Explain.”

Einarr took a deep breath. Of everything that happened last year, this was the worst. “If these are the islands I think they are, there will be an entrance to a svartalfr fortress under that island.” He gestured, indicating the green-topped island with no apparent beaches. “We chased a ship of cultists here last summer after they kidnapped my bride. They were also responsible for the massacre of Langavik.”

Captain Kormund’s frown turned thoughtful. “It’s true, the svartalfs are unsavory types…”

Einarr shook his head. “No. They’re not… not alfs anymore, the ones who were in the first place. Some of the cultists used to be human, as well, and some were dwarves. But when we fought them, they were all corrupted monsters.”

“Corrupted how?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Black-blooded tentacled horrors wearing men like skinsuits, sir. And if they bled on you, the corruption spread. We dealt them a serious blow in our escape, I think, but… but even the ruins of Langavik would be a more auspicious hiding place.”

“If you had not declared yourself a cursebreaker, I might accuse you of making all this up.”

Einarr shuddered in thinking about the kind of mind that could invent what he had seen. “If anything, sir, I’ve underplayed what we saw here. It was directly responsible for me ending up in the Shrouded Village, half a world away from the Vidofnir.” That was perhaps not strictly true: there was little to do with runes here, after all, but the events led in a straight line.

The Captain paused to think for a moment, then shook his head. “I hear your warning. However, I also hear that the evil creatures which dwelled below were dealt a serious defeat last summer, by your own hand, and that there is an excellent place to hide beneath that island. I have no idea how that Order dromon is matching us knot for knot, but I know that continuing to run as we have will exhaust the men to no effect. Therefore, I believe I will take my chances.” He smiled at Einarr, and it was more the predatory grin of a wolf than anything stag-like.

Einarr straightened up stiffly. “I suppose even telling you that it was our ships that burned Langavik when we found it drenched in blood cannot change your mind?”

“That is correct, sailor. Return to your post.”

“Aye, sir.”

The worst part was not that the captain would not heed his warning. No, under the circumstances that was all too understandable, especially since the Captain hadn’t witnessed the horrors himself. No, the worst part was wondering how much of the cult’s taint still lingered. The storm had broken when they fought last summer – but what did that mean?

The cave waterway was right where Einarr expected it to be. Captain Kormund ordered a stop at the entrance. He hadn’t noticed it before, but on the cliffs outside the cave entrance were grassy ledges. They were small, and probably not terribly comfortable, but a man or maybe two could sit and look out over the ocean. Kormund left two men with a hunting horn and instructions to blow it once an hour if the coast was clear. One of them grabbed a pole and line before he got off the boat. Einarr wasn’t sure he would want to eat the fish from these waters, but ordinarily it would have been a good plan.

Once the lookouts were in place on their perches outside, the Eikthyrnir slipped into the cave where last summer the Vidofnir had once more come face to face with the ship that killed his stepmother.

Einarr fought against holding his breath, but the cave was more or less as they’d left it – at least as far in as Captain Kormund took his ship. The sea anchor was lowered just past where the shadow of the cave wall fell, so that the Eikthyrnir should be all but impossible to spot from the outside. Einarr would not be able to see what became of the city since their battle – but he wasn’t truly sure he wanted to, anyway.

The first time the horn sounded, everyone on board jumped. They hadn’t realized just how tense they were, waiting in the shadows, until it sounded. After that, they relaxed a little and settled in for a long wait. Four times the horn had sounded, then five, and they were beginning to think the dromon had finally turned aside.

At the sixth hour, as counted by Hraerek, there was no horn. The games of dice and other friendly diversions ceased.

Again at the seventh hour they waited for a sound that never came.

At the eighth hour, the dromon appeared in the mouth of the cave and stopped there. Einarr’s breath caught. What had happened to their lookouts? There was no shelter to speak of on their tiny ledges: the Valkyrians could hardly have missed seeing them.

Then he noticed something that almost wiped the thought of their lookouts from his mind: the dromon cast no shadow on the water. Indeed, it almost looked as though it cast its own light. Einarr glanced to his side and saw Vari standing there, also staring at the ship that had chased them all this way. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

“It’s… real, right?”

“Sure looks real.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“So’s a jellyfish, under the right conditions. Doesn’t mean I want anything to do with one.”

“Nah, of course not. Only, why?”

“If we knew that, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Someone shushed them, but the dromon was already backing out of the mouth of the cave to continue on its way.

Once it was gone, it was another few hours before the horn sounded the all-clear again. The Eikthyrnir slipped from its hiding place and reclaimed its watchmen, who even after all these hours still seemed badly shaken.


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.

8.4 – Setting Sail

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 Eikthyrnir was not due to leave port for several more days. Einarr chafed at the delay, but preferred not to take his chances on searching out another boat. Especially given that Captain Kormund only brought them on board out of half-remembered friendship for Stigander. Einarr was well aware of how tenuous that made their position on board, and so advised his companions to work twice as hard as they had before. Accusations of favoritism were pure poison on the open sea, and Einarr had no desire to bring that down on his head.

Finally, though, the day dawned when the Eikthyrnir was scheduled to leave port. The weather was clear and cool, as Einarr had come to expect from this island, and his new shipmates did not seem to begrudge him their Captain’s regard. If anything, they seemed to pity him for it. But if there was one thing Einarr was growing used to, it was meeting unreasonably high expectations. If the Captain expected him to live up to his memories of Stigander, well, at least he wasn’t trying to steal from Wotan or escape the forgotten island.

The ship slipped out of the harbor as silently as she had entered it. Had Einarr not been on an oar, he might not have believed they were rowing out, she moved so swiftly and silently. There was barely a ripple as the oars dipped in and out of the sea, and while he could hear the waves lapping at the sides of the Eikthyrnir, it was rather akin to hearing them lap against a sandy shore. Even more than most raiders she was built for speed and for stealth, and Einarr soon discovered that everyone from the lowest deckhand to Hraerek, the ship’s Mate, were quick to boast of it.

Unlike the Vidofnir, there were no post-sailing rituals among the Eikthyrnings. It felt odd to leave port without hearing the Lay of Raen, but neither Eydri nor her senior Singer on board was familiar with it. He shrugged, and that first night out on the water he took some time in his watch to recite the lay to himself. He’d heard it often enough, after all: he’d had it memorized by the time he was 14.

Four days out of port, before they had yet turned north to head towards Kjell but well outside the territory claimed by the Coneheads, Einarr happened to glance toward the stern during supper.

A dromon sat on the horizon, plain as the nose on his face. For an hour, and then two, Einarr watched and waited. The ship seemed, if anything, to be gaining on them. He pursed his lips, thinking. “Excuse me,” he muttered to the men he was eating with.

The men patrolling on watch seemed unconcerned, though, when he pointed the dromon out to them.

“I see him. Nothing to fear,” said Vari, a tall, slender man who nonetheless looked like he would be a terror with the blades at his belt. “We’ve outrun dromon before.”

Einarr looked back out at the dromon, then again at Vari from the corner of his eye. That may be so, but something about this gave him a bad feeling. But, he swallowed his protest and nodded. He was never likely to become anything other than ‘new’ on this ship. Still, he kept his eyes astern.

His turn for watch came around. He gave it half a candle-mark, or so, before he reported the vessel. He definitely thought it was gaining on them.

“Mate Hraerek, I’ve something to report.”

“The dromon off our stern?”

“Aye.”

“Good work. Spotted it hours ago.”

A swell of relief washed over Einarr. “Does it look like it’s gaining to you, sir?”

“Unlikely. I expect it will turn aside eventually. It has no proof we’re raiders, after all.”

“If it’s a Valkyrie ship, that might not matter.”

“What do you mean?”

“Last spring, in the waters between Kjell and Apalvik, the Vidofnir was attacked by one of their hunting ships – and I can tell you from experience that there’s nothing to raid in those waters.”

The Mate furrowed his brow. “Apalvik? Why in the world were you headed there?”

Einarr snorted. “We weren’t, until we had a hold full of Valkyrian treasure to sell.”

That got a laugh out of the man, at least. “Keep an eye on it if it makes you feel better. I assure you, you won’t be the only one. But I wager it will turn aside soon enough. There’s not a lot between Eskiborg and Kjell, either, and our business in Eskiborg was peaceful.”

“Thank you, sir.” While not exactly reassuring, at least the Mate knew about it. He returned to his watch, all the while keeping one eye on the mysterious dromon to their south.

Matters continued like that for another day, and another, during which Einarr became increasingly sure that not only was the ship gaining, it was tailing them. He could see, now, the all-too-familiar wing-and-spear of the Order of the Valkyrie when the wind was right. But if he could, so could the Mate and so could the Captain.

On the seventh day out of port, Captain Kormund called on the skills of Hrug.

“All right, fortune teller. We’re far off the normal trade routes by now, and well out of anything the Coneheads even try to claim. Divine for me who mans that ship and why they follow us.”

Hrug made an exaggerated bow, even going so far as to flourish with his stump. The request had sounded more than a little pompous, although at this point he had come to expect that from this captain. Then the mute looked at Einarr and raised an eyebrow.

“Of course I’ll help.”

“What, you’re a fortune-teller to?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then how is it he asks you for help?”

“Oh, I’ve received the same training. At the same time, even. But he’s better at it. I’m just a Cursebreaker.”


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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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6.32 – Departure

While fixing the Gestrisni went about as well as Einarr could have hoped, that still left them groping for an answer, or even just a clue, of how to get past the magic trapping them here.

“We may have to just go, with the expectation of being turned back once,” Runa finally said. Arkja’s men had already told them what little they knew – some of it from personal experience.

Einarr frowned and crossed his arms. The old fisherman who “welcomed” them to the island was still, days later, nowhere to be found on shore. If it weren’t for the furnished cabin near their boat, he might have wondered if the man really existed.

“You’re not wrong,” Einarr said finally. I don’t like the idea of wasting time that way, but it does begin to seem as though nobody knows.”

“Seems to me,” Jorir mused, “that the waste of time would be sticking around after she’s fixed, looking for information that may not even exist.”

Erik harrumphed. Einarr nodded.

“That is, more or less, the conclusion I was reaching. I kind of wish we had Sivid along right now, though.”

Irding raised an eyebrow. Arkja, as the only member of the newcomers working on the escape plan instead of loading, looked confused.

Einarr smiled at the confusion. “Irding, you’ve only been aboard a few months, so maybe you haven’t noticed yet. Sivid may be Unlucky, but everything seems to work out when he’s around.”

“Then why’s he unlucky?” Arkja asked.

Einarr smiled again. He couldn’t give the whole answer – that wasn’t his to tell – but he didn’t have to. “Bad at dice.”

“And that earned him a moniker?”

“You’ll understand when you meet him.”

The leader of the newcomers shrugged. “Do you still need me, then? The boys could use a hand with the loading.”

“Go ahead. I expect the rest of us will be along shortly… Actually, I think we’re basically done here. Irding, why don’t you go with him?”

Erik’s son tipped his head in assent and followed the one-time tavern keeper off to the ship, where he would supervise as much as help. Erik and Jorir had agreed to give the manifest a final check, and so soon it was once again just Einarr and Runa.

Finally. In all the activity, Einarr still hadn’t managed to make his request of her.

Runa had started to turn away, likely headed for their camp and the cook fire.

“Wait a moment.”

She turned back, her brows raised questioningly.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask of you for a while now, actually…”

She did not fill the silence, merely waited expectantly for him to continue. For Einarr’s part, he kept telling himself it was a stupid thing to be embarrassed about – not that that made him less so, of course.

“Runa, will you teach me how to read the runes? With everything that’s gone on, if we hadn’t had a Singer along we never would have made it out. But I’m not always going to be able to rely on having someone else available to interpret…”

Runa held up a hand to stop his babbling. “Of course I will teach you, Runes and something of Story both. I would like for us to actually be wed one day, rather than being a widowed maid.”

Einarr inclined his head, and was surprised at the hoarseness of his voice when he said “Thank you.”

***

The morning after all was deemed to be in readiness, the strange old fisherman returned to shore. Einarr first caught sight of him ambling down the shore from the south, which struck him as odd: even now, none of them had seen the man’s boat.

“Good morrow!” He raised a hand in greeting as the old man continued up the beach towards them.

“Is it?” he growled, a familiar echo of their first day on the island. “I wonder.”

“Of course it is. We’re finally ready to try our luck.”

The old man stopped a moment to stare at the repaired Gestrisni, apparently unimpressed. He harrumphed and resumed his walk up the beach, ignoring the fools on their quest.

A wild impulse seized Einarr. “We’ve still got room aboard, if you want to test your fate with ours.”

The old man stopped again, threw back his head, and laughed. “Why would I steal you kids’ chance of getting off?”

Einarr’s mind went momentarily blank, but when he opened his mouth the only possible answer spilled forth, almost of its own volition. “Because the captain of this vessel has been named a Cursebreaker.”

The old man shook his head now. “That’s the only reason I think you have a chance at all, kid. Leave this old fool to his justly earned exile.”

Einarr shared a look with Runa, then shook his head. He was curious, but they had wasted too much time on this accursed island already. The men from the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun were waiting. Einarr and Runa walked toward their ship.

“Milord?” Arkja popped his head up over the railing. “There’s some sort of large jar on the deck. Where do you want it?”

Einarr blinked. How had that gotten here? He sighed, shaking his head. “Just stow it in the hold, I guess. Make use of it if you can.”

“A… jar?” Runa looked at him sidelong.

“It’s a long story. We’ll have time on our way.”

Runa hummed, looking amused, and let it rest.

***

That evening, Runa performed the Lay of Raen at Einarr’s request, and for the benefit of the newcomers. In the melancholy mood that always followed, Jorir and the other Vidofnings gathered together near the prow of the boat to talk. It wasn’t private, but it was as near as they could manage.

Staring out over the railing at the stars on the sea, Jorir scratched his beard thoughtfully. “It’s a shame we couldn’t do anything for the old man.”

Even as Einarr was nodding in agreement, Arkja’s brows knit in confusion from just outside their circle. “Old man? What old man?”

“The old fisherman on the beach? I told him we still had room, but he refused?”

The erstwhile tavern keeper slowly shook his head. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but there was no old man on the beach. That shack you kept checking has stood empty for as long as anyone I’ve ever talked to can remember.”


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6.30 – Discoveries

“As for you, my Lady Singer, I have questions.”

Runa smiled up at him impishly, hugging his arm. “Walk with me, my Lord, and I may have answers to give.”

Einarr and his betrothed wandered the empty streets arm-in-arm, neither of them minding in this moment that desertion that had bothered him not long before. Eventually they came to a broad, tree-lined green, and Runa guided him over to sit in the shade of a large oak. Only then did she let go of his arm, to turn and lean against his side.

“Even half a season seems like such a long time…” She sighed, content.

Amused, Einarr arched an eyebrow. “Even after waiting seven years from our first meeting?”

She jostled his ribs with an elbow. “That’s different.”

He chuckled. “You’re not wrong. And when Trabbi told me you’d been captured…”

“You have no idea how surprised I was they’d gone to Lord Stigander for help.”

“Surprised… and glad?”

She nodded, then changed the subject. “So what did you want to ask me?”

He laughed again, this time thoughtful. “Oh, where to begin. Let’s start with how you knew the ghost’s story.”

Runa shook her head. “Honestly? I guessed. There are a limited number of reasons someone ends up here, most of which have blessed nothing to do with offending Wotan’s familiars.”

“Hey now.”

“I tease, I tease. In all seriousness, though, most people end up here through cowardice, ignominy, or both. When it didn’t burst our ears immediately, I thought I might be on to something.”

“And naming it Päron? How did you jump from ignominy to a children’s fable?”

“Stories… change over time. It’s one of the things the Matrons teach us, early on.” Here she paused, as though considering.

“While we were with the Matrons, I was given a good-sized list of manuscripts to copy – it’s part of how they teach us. Mixed into this stack were some shockingly old parchments. The sort of thing the Matrons typically handle themselves, because of how delicate they are. It may have been a mistake, but I doubt it. Anyway, one of these manuscripts had a much older telling of the Päronskaft story, followed by someone’s extrapolations of the story’s original source…

“And it was like a puzzle box popped open in front of me while you were fighting. The Päron who was described in that history, whose story morphed into an imp spinning gold, would fit exactly with the character I had just described.”

“Huh.” Einarr sat for a minute, considering the wild improbability. “I guess,” he added after a long moment. “I guess that’s lucky for us.”

Runa sat very still, almost as though she were frozen. “Maybe so, or maybe…”

A long pause followed, and the next words she spoke all came out in a rush. “Einarr, I think someone is looking out for you. Someone powerful. Most Cursebreakers don’t survive their first challenge, but just since you were named this spring you’ve bested three.”

Einarr blinked and tried not to laugh. Not just after, but because of the events of this summer, she decided he was being protected? It was almost ludicrous on its face.

He must not have hidden his reaction as well as he thought, because she elbowed him in the ribs again. “Don’t laugh.”

“Sorry, sorry. But you have to understand, this has been the roughest season I can remember, especially for lost crew, and we haven’t much more than the Althane’s horde to show for it… Don’t cheapen those lives we lost, Runa. The only outside ‘help’ I’ve had this summer came from that weird elf who insisted on giving us that broach.”

He could feel her stiffen, as though he had managed to offend with that. Well, so be it, then. The Vidofnir had paid in blood and treasure for what they’d accomplished, and he did not wish that lessened by giving credit to some nameless other.

Neither, though, did he want to weather the storm of an angry Runa – and there was yet one thing he needed to ask of her. “Runa, I need a favor -”

“There you are!” Erik’s voice cut through the air, shattering the stillness even as he cut off Einarr’s request.

Einarr sighed. It would have to wait, then. Erik wouldn’t have come like this without good reason. “Here I am. What’s going on?”

The big man grinned. “You need to see this. And then remind me of it if I give you crap about the raven feathers again.”

“Oh?” This should be good. Erik was practically bouncing with excitement.

***

Erik led Einarr and Runa back to the harbor, where Arkja’s less experienced men waited. (At least, Einarr hoped they weren’t trying to guard anything. A child could have snuck past them.)

“So what was it I just had to see?”

“Just wait.” Erik walked up to the large double doors that led into a boat shed. Swinging the shed open, he said, “That little tunnel of Arkja’s isn’t the only secret in this town.”

Inside, the building was dominated by a large trestle such as one might use for boat repair – not that Einarr thought it would be worthwhile bringing the Gestrisni all the way here before they tried to fix her. But that wasn’t the interesting part.

In what would otherwise be a wall of cabinets and hanging tools, a door stood open. Behind that door, Einarr saw what was unmistakably gold. He looked at Erik, agog.

Erik grinned. “My thought exactly. Gestrisni’s got a good-sized hold for what she is.”

“And the gods only know we could use a break like this. Have you…”

“Counted it? No, not hardly. I’d guess something less than half what we got from the Althane’s horde.”

“How did you…” Einarr shook his head. “No. There’s a story here, I’m sure, but it can wait. Who found it?”

One of the fishermen, a man with lank yellow hair and scars crisscrossing his earnest face, stepped forward. “I did, milord.”


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6.25 – Banditry

Einarr bared his teeth at their assailants in a feral grin. So they thought they were raiders, did they? Farmers turned to banditry, fishermen who might make decent warriors if given a few years practice. They had spirit, at least. Sinmora practically leapt into his hand. He would teach them who they were up against and gladly – and then he would offer these desperate men a chance to get off this rock.

It felt like it had been ages since he’d fought against men who were actually men – since their unfortunate run-in with the Valkyrian Hunters early in the spring, Einarr thought. Unfortunately, he had not underestimated the skill of their opponents here. They did not so much put up a fight as receive a sound drubbing from the experienced raiders of the Vidofnir.

Perhaps a minute later, even their leader sat huddled in the center of a ring formed by Einarr and his companions. Had one of them decided to run they probably could have escaped, but not one tried. Einarr folded his arms across his chest and stepped forward.

“Full points for bravery, gents, but you chose your target wrong this time. Or perhaps right, depending on how you look at it.”

Scramasax visibly gathered himself up and leaned forward. “‘Twere my idea, Lord. I’m the one as convinced ‘em all, once we ‘ad to leave the town. Let them go.”

Einarr smirked, and the leader of the would-be bandits quailed. “Don’t go leaping off of any cliffs just yet. My friends and I, we’re part of an actual longship crew, and that longship happens to have some open oars for brave men.”

The townsmen exchanged confused looks, as well they might. Einarr expected there were few if any raiding ships that landed on these shores.

“We’ve a fishing boat down the coast aways in need of repair. Anyone willing to help us fix it up and get off this rock, I’ll put in a word for with our Captain when we make it back.”

Scramasax’s men did not look as thrilled at the prospect as he’d hoped – although their relief at apparently being spared was evident.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, Lord,” one of the fishermen said, scratching sheepishly at the back of his head. “But there ain’t no way off this island. Cursed, it is, and all of us on it.”

“There’s always some way past a curse, even if nobody’s found it before. That’s what Cursebreakers are Called for, after all.” Einarr hoped they were less familiar with the lore than he had been. “Even if you’re right, though, my Father – our ship – is counting on our return. I can’t give up, not while there’s even a prayer of getting back to them.”

Scramasax cleared his throat to speak, but Einarr held up a hand to forestall him. “What’s your name?”

“Ah, Arkja, Lord.”

Einarr nodded. “Sorry. Go on.”

“Your wench there – ah, my apologies, no offense intended, but – is she a Singer?”

“I am,” Runa answered for herself, her annoyance audibly constrained.

“The ‘wench,’ as you so delicately termed her, is my bride, and I will thank you to remember that.”

“Yes, of course, Lord. I meant no aspersions. Only, if we’ve a Singer, maybe there’s a chance.”

“Explain.”

“Well you see, Lord, it’s like this. Those as try an’ sail away from here always end up back where they started, wi’ no memory of having turned about.”

“That certainly sounds like something the song seithir could get us past.” Runa still sounded dubious.

“Well, not by itself, I don’t think, Lady.”

The man’s obsequiousness was beginning to grate on Einarr’s nerves.

“Haven’t been many, but some Singers has washed up here before, an’ the magic alone wasn’t enough to get them past it.”

Jorir grunted. “Wouldn’t be much of a curse if it was, I think.”

Some of the captives looked uncomfortable now that Jorir had drawn attention to himself. But so long as no-one tried to start trouble over it, Einarr would let it rest. “So. It’s the four of us, plus one injured man back with the hulder. If you’re willing to help us supply our boat and make her seaworthy again, we’re willing to take you aboard, with the possibility of a permanent berth on the Vidofnir. Who’s in?”

One or two of the would-be bandits glanced nervously at Jorir – Arkja not among them – but not one of them hesitated more than a moment. Einarr could work with that.

“Good. Welcome aboard the Gestrisni, such as she is. She needs a mast and provisions, and could do with some other repairs as well. She got us here, though, so I expect she’ll get us back to Breidhaugr all right.”

“A – mast, you say, Lord?”

“Indeed. It was struck by lightning when the storm washed us ashore.”

Arkja looked uncomfortable, as though there was news he did not wish to bring up. “Um, beggin’ yer pardon, Lord -”

Einarr rolled his eyes and held up a hand. “Please. Such… servility is neither necessary nor proper. I am Einarr. Jorir – the dwarf – is my man at arms.” He pointed at each of the men in turn. “Erik has been on my father’s ship longer than I have, and has had my back since I joined. And if you’re going to tell me the forest is too dangerous to cut a new mast, we’ve already dealt with it.”

“I see, um, L- Einarr.” Where had he learned to cringe like that? No matter: the man had a spine, he just needed to lose some old habits.

Erik was staring at the conscripted men, his arms folded across his chest and his gaze weighing them like cuts of meat. Einarr would ask the man’s opinion later, once Arkja’s men had been put to work.

In the meantime, they had a ship to resupply. “All right. Enough standing around. Let’s get to it.”


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6.26 – Coming Soon

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6.20 – Lair

“No.”

For a second, the troll’s face hung slack and stupid. Einarr could see the moment when it realized she meant it: rage began to build like a squall on the ocean, until finally the storm broke. The creature roared: “What?”

Einarr and his companions flinched away from the thunderous noise. Not that he could blame the troll entirely. “Um, Runa, isn’t that why we came all this way?”

“I’m not going in there, Einarr. Not with it smelling like a half-rotted carcass someone tossed in an outhouse. Whatever this ‘bad-head’ is, the first step to curing it is cleaning their lair.”

“Poison light comes. Lair clean enough. Music lady fix bad-head.”

“I cannot treat anyone in a place that smells like that. I will not be able to breathe, let alone sing, and I may well vomit. I cannot ‘fix bad-head’ or anything else under those circumstances.”

She had a point, but Einarr doubted the troll could see that. Especially since it had minutes to get inside before the sun turned it to stone. He sighed and turned to the troll. “Look. She’s right, but I know you can’t be out much longer either. So why don’t…” Einarr glanced at Erik. He was going to hate this. “Why don’t we see what we can do to make your cave less smelly.”

Predictably, he got a long flat look from Erik. That didn’t sound like he intended to fight him about it, at any rate, and right now that was what he cared about. The faster Runa was able to fulfill her promise, the sooner they could get back on the water. Einarr already shuddered to think how many of their friends might have been claimed by the insanity of the black blood.

The troll looked at Einarr just as stupidly as he had looked at Runa’s refusal. It was dancing a little, anxious to be inside. “Music lady friends want help?”

Want was probably a strong word, but he went with it. “We do.”

“Good good. In come. Make good for music lady.” The troll darted under the cover of the cave roof then, and beckoned them to follow.

Einarr made it wait a little longer. “Runa. Hide yourself somewhere, will you? Climb a tree. If something happens… if we end up in the cookpot…”

She raised her chin haughtily. “What sort of a woman do you take me for? I will climb a tree, but if they turn on you I will have my vengeance on them.”

Jorir had caught up, he saw. Einarr opened his mouth to protest, but stopped himself. Good enough. “We’ll hurry.”

The sound of tearing cloth caught his attention. When he turned around, Jorir was offering him a square of fabric: the other two already had some tied to cover their noses. Gratefully, Einarr accepted the mask. “Let’s go,” he said once the knot was secure.

***

The troll’s lair was filthy, of course, but not in the manner of a beast’s filth. Beasts could be relied on not to shit in their own bed. Trolls, evidently, were more akin to the most worthless class of humanity, and could not. They had no more than stepped inside the cave when Einarr wished he’d told them to wait for evening, for under any other circumstance here would say this did not need cleaned, but rather burned.

By midday, however, the worst of the filth had been washed away, revealing a pair of mouldering straw mats and a fire pit near the entrance. On one of those straw mats slept a troll even uglier than the one who had led them here, and plainly the one suffering from “bad head.” Not that Einarr had any clearer idea what that meant now that Runa could stomach entering the cave to see to her patient.

Einarr frowned out at the meadow beyond the cave. That there was nothing he could do to help rankled, somehow, and keeping watch outside of a troll cave seemed singularly useless – even when one of the trolls in residence was rather thoroughly incapacitated.

Erik, for his part, had taken out a knife and begun carving a piece of wood he’d found outside the cave. He seemed strangely relaxed, given the circumstances.

“Never took you for a whittler,” Einarr said to break the silence.

Erik shrugged one shoulder and continued carving. “Times like these, gives me something to do besides worry. And let’s face it, we’ll need fish hooks when we get off this rock.”

Einarr snorted. “That we will. You don’t think this was a mistake?”

“What, coming here to help a troll? Nah. She may be spoiled rotten, but your Lady has a decent head on her shoulders, and she knows the Tales besides. Between her an’ you, we’ll get back to the Cap’n. I’m sure of it.”

Einarr didn’t answer right away, staring out across the field. It was quite picturesque under the midmorning sun, actually. It was hard to believe that a troll lived here at all, let alone that there was anything dangerous lurking in the grass. Finally he managed to get his voice to work again, even if he did still choke a little on the words. “Thank you, Erik.”

“You are your father’s son, lad. I told you this spring: not a man aboard the Vidofnir wouldn’t follow you to the gates of Hel itself.” Erik paused, and shot a sidelong look at him, and his mouth curled in wry humor. “Of course, that’s before they all hear about the raven feathers.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Quiet, you. You’d have done the same thing, in my shoes.”

“I’m pretty sure it would have been Irding if he’d seen them.” Erik chuckled now. “That’s what it is to be a young hothead.”

Erik’s mouth opened to say more, but then Runa’s voice carried forward from the back of the cave. “…- bad air. Make sure he gets out of the cave every night, even if you have to carry him yourself. Your brother should come back to his right mind over the next few days, so long as you do that and keep this place…” She hesitated, and disgust filled her voice when she settled on the word. “Clean. Cleaner than we found it this morning. Move the fire outside. Dig yourselves a pit away from the door. And if he starts trashing things, give him a little Frigg’s grass.”

The familiar troll’s voice made a noise of agreement.

“Good,” Jorir answered. “And now, we must go.”

Jorir and Runa emerged from the cave a moment later and took a deep breath of the comparatively fresh air.

Einarr straightened off of the wall where he leaned. “Ready, then?”

“More than,” the two answered together.

Jorir set out ahead. “Come on,” he said. “I know the way back to the ridge.”


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