Tag: weaving

10.24 -Audience

Kaldr walked swiftly forward into the chamber, his chain dragging on the ground behind him. “My Lord, I pushed my ship as fast as she could go.”

“The journey from Lundholm should be possible in half the time it took you to arrive.”

Kaldr stopped. His Thane was evidently in no mood to be reasonable: it was, in theory, possible to cover the distance that quickly. If you had a following wind the entire way, and if you pressed your crew to row the entire distance. The wind had not been so kind, and he had been unwilling to drive his crew to either mutiny or exhaustion – the two most probable results of such a demand. “The winds were unfavorable, my Lord.”

Ulfr snorted. He still lounged across his father’s chair, which always made him look like a petulant teenager despite the gray in his hair and the wrinkles on his face. Saying as much, of course, was not generally considered wise.

Abruptly, he swung his legs down off the arm of the chair and sat up straight, leaning forward toward Kaldr. “What was unfavorable has been your behavior ever since the rebels entered our waters. First I had to curry favor with those witches you captured so the thrice-cursed Matrons will continue to leave us alone.” Ulfr pushed himself forward out of the chair to stand on his dais.

“Then, after they escape – with some of Mother’s most important workings, mind – she tells me you had a hand in their escape. When the girl was critical to my keeping the upper hand over the rebels. Mother’s Weaving is never wrong.” Ulfr gesticulated wildly. “Then Urek’s pigeon arrives. What was I supposed to think when he said you were a rank coward, that you had let the rebels slip through your grasp not once, not twice, but no fewer than three times? Hm?”

Kaldr lifted his chin to meet his Thane’s eyes. He would not be so easily cowed. “You know my methods of hunting, my Lord. This hunt was no different from any other. Had I not been precipitously called back, the rebels would have been in hand in short order.”

“Wrong again, Kaldr. Broki’s pigeon arrived this morning. The rebels launched a sneak attack on your vaunted blockade. Urek and Vittir are dead, and Broki’s ship is hardly seaworthy.”

“If a sneak attack was successful, then surely it was the watch to blame.” There was only one way out of Lundholm. Wasn’t there?”

“They were attacked from the open water, behind their position.” Ulfr spat the words.

Kaldr blinked, unable to entirely cover his surprise. They shouldn’t have been able to get to the open water from there. So, how?

“Kaldr Kerasson, I hereby strip you of your rank and privileges. I find the allegations of treason against your Thane credible. You shall await the pleasure of the Thing in the dungeon.”

Kaldr swallowed, but bowed his head in acceptance. If such was the Thane’s pleasure, he could wait a little. Or, perhaps, Lord Ulfr would calm down and come to his senses. It was true that, on the surface at least, the sequence of events could lead one to believe him a traitor. That he was not was, for now, immaterial.

The guard moved forward to once again take hold of Kaldr’s chain.

“Take him away.”

The guard bowed his head and strode brusquely out of the room. Kaldr found himself faced with the option of walking or being dragged by his wrists: he chose the former.

The path to the dungeon took him back across the yard to the tower of the gate house. Before, it had seemed as though those few he passed ignored him. Now something irrational in his mind tried to convince him they laughed. As always, he ignored it, and walked to his fate with the pride and dignity of an innocent man, which scandal could not touch.


The weaver-witch – Lord Ulfr’s Lady Mother, he corrected himself – waited for Kaldr at the door to his cell, making no attempt to hide her glee at his predicament.

“What do you want?” If there was a hard edge to his voice, he thought it could be excused under the circumstances.

Lady Urdr smiled even more broadly and brought a hand to her collar. “Why, I only wished to welcome you back, Captain Kaldr. It seems you and I will be sharing a roof for the forseeable future, so I thought I might be neighborly.”

Kaldr managed not to snort, but it was a near thing.

Lady Urdr’s smile did not touch her eyes as she moved in to whisper – loudly – in his ear. “Welcome to my parlor, little boy. We’ll have such fun here. Perhaps you’ll even take part in some of my work.”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow and looked down his nose at the crazy old woman. She cackled. His jailer opened his cell and he stepped in, grateful to be shut away from her. As the door closed on his back, darkness fell around him.

Over the next… while – Kaldr found it difficult to measure the passage of time from inside a cell with neither light nor air from the outside – he grew accustomed to the sound of cackling laughter from the dungeon hallway, and the stifling closeness of his cell.

That laughter always presaged one of Lady Urdr’s visits. One would think, as the only person he ever saw, he would have grown fonder of the woman – or perhaps not. It was not in his nature, after all, to grow fond of any witch, and she was a particularly sadistic one. She bled him regularly: he could never quite make out why, but he was sure she was up to no good. It was never enough to keep him from the training he had devised for himself, though. He could not, after all, afford to grow weak while he awaited the pleasure of the Thing.


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9.25 – Bloody Threads

For a moment, the six women stood stunned. Of all the things that had gone mysteriously well, this was the strangest. Reki’s neck prickled in alarm: glancing to right and left, Aema and Eydri looked no easier than she felt.

All around stood spools of thread of all colors, vats of dye, and half-finished tapestries. What truly arrested the attention, though, was the room’s centerpiece.

Urdr’s loom was tall and visibly heavy, the wood so heavily carved and gilt that it was difficult to see how age-darkened the timbers were. On it hung one of those half-finished tapestries: Reki could see the masts of three indistinct ships off to the left, while on the right there was a circle of women – although she could not tell what they were doing. She rather thought she knew anyway.

In front of the loom, though, sat the Weavess herself. Her leathery skin practically crinkled over itself, and her hair hung in lank strings as though she could not be bothered with it. Those falcon eyes, though, looked at the six purported guests who had just charged into her workshop not with anger, annoyance, or even fear, but with amusement. “So you’re finally here.”

Bea took a step forward, her mouth set in a stubborn line belied by the unease Reki read in her shoulders.

“Welcome, your Highness,” the old crone purred.

Beatrix stopped in her tracks.

“Oh, yes, I know who you are, Princess Beatrix Maria Gundahar. I would have known even if my spies had learned nothing.” Urdr’s expression retained its malicious amusement.

Undissuaded, Beatrix strode forward, the point of her sword lowered at the crone. “Step aside.”

Urdr actually laughed, a sound like pinecones scraping against stones. “I know why you have come, you and the troop of Singers that idiot Kaldr brought under our roof. You are here, you think, to destroy my Weaving of Inevitable Victory.”

“If you know that much, then -”

“You are wrong. Even could my weaving be broken by such a paltry thing,” the crone’s gaze lingered contemptuously on Bea’s blade, “the fate that brought you here is different.

“You do not understand.” She clucked, as though in annoyance at poor students. Then, her eyes glittered coldly. “But you will. Tell me, croaker, what is the Art of Weaving?”

The Singers bristled slightly a moment, at both insult and apparent lecture. Whatever trap there might be was still hidden from Reki’s eyes. As such, she wanted to keep the Weavess talking, and so she answered. “Weaving is a means of reading, and sometimes binding, the future, is it not?”

“Good! Very good! Just as the songs say and your matrons claim,” Urdr cackled. She dropped her voice, then. “And yet – common, shallow, and wrong.”

“Unlike your Song – a fleeting, ephemeral touch, vanishing in a heartbeat – Weaving is permanence. Do you not know that the Norns Weave? As their weaving, so is all Weaving. It is blood, and flesh, and bone, the very stuff of life. Not merely Fate, but all that makes it up.

“My threads are not merely the bone and sinew and blood of my Art, and not so different from the bone and sinew and blood of those they bind.” Urdr gestured past her loom to a stack of pale thread, undyed, an empty basin, and a spinning wheel. “My shears are as mighty as a thousand swords. How could it not be, when the Norns themselves are the mistresses of my Art?”

Runa shuddered. Reki, carefully schooling her face, saw Eydri bristle and Bea’s eyes desperately seek an opening, even as the crone held her gaze like a snake.

“I’ll tell you a further secret, children. Weaving binds more tightly if it has a… physical connection to those it rules. Hair is an easy way to do this, although not a particularly effective one. Blood is better.

“Do you know now why you are here?” Urdr’s snaggle-toothed smile was a horrifying void as she stood, moving toward an empty dying basin. As though in concession to her age she moved with bone-creaking slowness, but it was the only such concession she seemed to allow. “Blood of a southern princess. Blood of a Jarl. Blood of song from across all the isles. What a masterful Binding you will become. My line will not end merely as thanes of a forgotten island, or even masters of this sea. Oh no. Far greater things await, for which you shall be the foundation.” She whistled sharply, piercingly.

Four guards rushed into the room – two from behind them, and two from another door she had not noticed – heavily armed and plainly ready for them. From the steel bands about their brows to the leather boots on their feet, Reki had seen no-one at Raenshold with better-kept armor, and if their swords showed signs of heavy use it was surely due to age. Not one of Urdr’s bodyguards appeared to be younger than thirty summers, and each of them had the cold glint of a battle-hardened mercenary in their eyes. Already the door was blocked.

The crone smiled gently, yet all the more hideously for that. “Know despair, for my Weaving lies before you, yet forever outside of your grasp. But even still, be joyous, young ones, for you shall soon become the very foundation of the world.

“Seize them.”


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9.24 – Into the Tower

Reki sat up in alarm. “They’re here?”

“So it sounds.”

“All right, ladies. Everybody up! We have a job to do.”

Eydri sat up and dusted off her skirts as though she hadn’t actually been asleep. For how long, Reki couldn’t begin to guess. Runa and Svana both stirred with a groan, as though they were feeling the lack of sleep from the last two nights. They would need a few minutes, she thought, but that was fine. So did the rest of them.

“Chances are good this caught them by surprise, too,” she said. “If we hurry, and we’re lucky, we might be able to beat them to the weaving room, but we’re out of time for skulking. Gather your things, those of you who have them: I very much doubt we’ll be coming back here.”

“At least not before Lord Stigander has reclaimed Breidelstein,” Runa agreed. “And who knows what will happen in the meantime.” The girl slung her pack over her shoulder, alert more quickly than Reki had thought possible. “Let’s go. The sooner we wreck that loom, the sooner we get back where we belong, and the sooner Father gets freed.”

Svana moved only a little more slowly, but she, too, was ready to be gone from this place.

“We all remember how to find the weavings, correct?”

One by one, they nodded. “All right. In that case, let us make haste cautiously.”


Escaping their chambers was easy. Surprisingly, the guards were not at their post, with no sign of their whereabouts.

The streets and alleys of Raenshold were perversely easier to navigate unnoticed now, as warriors girt themselves to repel raiders below and children scrambled – either for a good vantage point or for a place to hide, depending on their age and temperament. Bea rushed straight for the tower at the main gate, the sword on her back all the excuse she needed to shoulder through the crowds as though she were rushing to the defense of the town below.

Reki and the others slipped quietly through her wake, never falling far behind, but always maintaining their composure as Singers. No-one, under these circumstances, was going to question them.

No-one, that is, except the men still standing guard at the entrance to the tower. They took one look at the group of women quick-stepping their direction and moved to stand shoulder to shoulder, blocking the door.

Svana opened her mouth to Sing, but Reki held up a forestalling hand. A lullaby was one thing in the middle of the night. Now? Now, even if it worked they would draw more attention to themselves. “We need to figure out a distr …”

Before Reki could finish, Bea strode forward.

“Stand aside,” Beatrix demanded, and in that moment she was not just the Imperial Princess, she was the commander of a fleet.

It was not good enough. “The Lord has commanded no-one is to come in or out of here until the raiders are repelled.”

To her credit, Bea hardly even blinked. “Oh? And are you going to tell him that’s why the Lady Urdr had no bodyguard? We were sent to ensure her safety.”

“The Lady Urdr’s bodyguard team is still up there,” the other guard snapped. “What sort of idiots do you take us for?”

“That’s last night’s team,” drawled the first guard. “They haven’t been relieved yet.”

“What are you talking about? Of course they haven’t. Shift change isn’t for another hour.”

Reki and Aema exchanged a glance from behind Bea as the two guards began to argue. With a nod, they slipped around to either side and went for the door.

The guards, caught up in their argument, paid them no heed. Amused, Reki did not fail to note that the second guard kept leading his fellow around by the nose. Why that would be, she could only guess, but she was glad of it.

The door closed behind them with a thunk, and Svana slid the bar into place. Now instead of yelling at each other the two guards – both the gullible one and the insolent one – pounded on the door, shouting after the women to let them in. If Reki were to guess, only about half of the protests were sincere.

That shouldn’t have worked. Why did that work? She shook her head. We need to hurry.

Reki set her concerns aside for the moment, to be addressed later. Up the tower they went, to the third floor where they had heard Ulfr and Urdr the night before. They passed no-one as they raced upwards save for thralls, who seemed utterly unconcerned about the commotion outside.

Don’t get cocky, Reki reminded herself. Once we’ve wrecked the weaving, we still have to escape. It hardly bore thinking of, how they might be treated if they were caught and made prisoners in truth. Ulfr had ordered Runa broken for no better reason than information she did not have: under threat of rape Reki, too, would break the taboo, and once she was free there might not be much left of Breidelstein for Lord Stigander to reclaim. Best for all if it did not come to that, and for that reason… “Runa.”

“What?” The girl sounded a little winded, but they did not dare let up.

“Do you remember how your ‘rescuers’ got you to the harbor before?”

“Well enough.”

“You could lead us down it?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” They crested the third flight of steps. Ahead, Reki saw the door they had watched last night, only now it stood open. Perversely, sunlight streamed out into the hallway, though it would have made no sense for the Weavess to work in a windowless room. “There it is.”

Bea’s hand rested on the hilt of her sword as she watched the door. Aema passed about the water skin she had managed to keep with her. Reki, too, kept a wary eye on the Weavess’ room as she sipped from the skin, half expecting the Weavess’ actual bodyguards to come boiling out of the room at any moment.

At long last the companions exchanged a nod of readiness. Bea’s sword hissed out of its sheath and she led the surge into the Weavess’ workshop. Inside, amid the baskets of thread, Urdr relaxed on the bench of her loom, a look of amusement on her papery face. Otherwise, they were alone.


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9.20 – Audacity

Einarr paced up and down the beach of the tiny island where they had been forced aground. Less than a full day after the capture of the women, more ships had come to harry them. It was almost as though the Usurper knew where they were going to be. Father had not given himself over to pacing, but Einarr could see the restlessness in his face. Out there, on the water, half a dozen ships circled like sharks, waiting for the three beached boats to make a run for it. Waiting for sport.

The men were building lean-tos on the beach. They hadn’t been ordered to, but none of the Captains saw fit to gainsay them. Better to have the shelter, Einarr thought, than to be stuck in the elements should it decide to pour before they were ready. Soon or late, there would be a plan. They had already wasted too much time here, though, to Einarr’s way of thinking. The longer they waited, the more ships would join that hungry pack.

An idea came to him. “Hrug! Jorir!”

Einarr looked about: neither of his friends was in view. Grumbling, he went in search of them. There were very few places on this island they might be, and he only had to check two of them before he discovered the svartdvergr sharpening swords in the company of the mute.

“Just the two I was looking for!”

Jorir looked up, startled, but did not cease grinding Irding’s chipped axe bit. Hrug waved a relaxed greeting, not looking up from the diagram he had sketched in the sand.

Einarr folded his legs to sit on the sand with them. Now that he got a better look at it, he thought Hrug was tinkering with the pattern they would need to destroy the Weaving. With a grunt, he looked back up. “How much do you two know about disrupting Weavings?”

Hrug gave him a sour look.

“No, not that one. We’ve all grumbled about how they seem to know exactly where to find us. We also know for a fact that they have a Weaver on their side. I suppose its possible she’s not working her Art to keep her son in power, but I doubt it.”

“And you’re thinking that you and Hrug might be able to do something about it?” Jorir sounded skeptical. He kept his attention firmly on Irding’s blade: Einarr was sure it must have been sharpened since they returned from the Isle of the Forgotten, but it didn’t really look like it.

“Possibly. You have the most experience with Weavers out of all of us, Jorir, and as a blacksmith you must have at least some experience with Runes. Between you, me, and Hrug, we ought to be able to come up with something.”

Jorir frowned. “Maybe. But my knowledge of runes is all theoretical. Thanks to my own curse, I can’t even see runes, let alone read them.”

Einarr blinked. “So you are cursed.” His father had suspected that Jorir was under some sort of curse of his own, but it had never actually come up before now.

“Aye.”

“And when, exactly, were you intending to ask me to do something about this?”

“When your own affairs had been tidied, not before.”

Einarr hummed. For all that the svartdvergr had a reputation nearly as bad as the svartalfr’s, Einarr had found no fault with Jorir as a retainer: while it would have been nice to know of the handicap earlier, he could not truly fault the dwarf. “All right. That won’t stop you from pondering runes with Hrug and I. Now. Our odds of being able to affect whatever spell Urdr’s woven directly are vanishingly small. So how do we use runes to hide from fate?”


Stigander brightened briefly when Einarr told him of the plan he’d hammered out with Hrug and Jorir, but then slumped back down into a bored despond. “That’s wonderful, son – once we’re off this island. But how do we get past them?” He gestured emphatically out over the water at the drakken lying in wait.

Einarr could not quite suppress a grin. “Audaciously, Father. How else?”

Stigander quirked an eyebrow and stayed silent.

“In all seriousness, Father, isn’t that what you and Kormund and I need to figure out? Or perhaps the three of us and our Mates?”


The last fire of daylight had vanished from the sky when the three ships slipped from the shore of their tiny refuge island out onto the open ocean, where a pack of the Wolf’s ships circled hungrily.

Einarr, standing under the mast, stared out over the black water and the indigo, pinpricked sky. A small smile played on his mouth. The answer he had sought from Jorir and Hrug had actually came from Sivid, in the end. “The Norns always correct their weave,” he had muttered darkly, rolling dice between his fingers.

The Norns always correct their weave. It was so simple, Einarr had nearly missed it. Across the yardarms of all three ships, they had written in runes the words “cursebreaker” and “reweaver,” and every man aboard had said a prayer that the Norns would help them in their task. Even Sivid. If Urdr was abusing her power the way Einarr expected, then surely the weavers of Fate would aid them in their task.

Now all they had to do was break past Ulfr’s trained hounds without putting any more blood in the water then they had to. That was why they were sailing dark now: it would never get them past the enemy encirclement, but it just might let the Vidofnir and her sister ships make good use of a little shock-and-awe.

The air hung still over their boats. The only sound was the lapping of water against the hulls and the occasional gentle swish of the oars. At each man’s feet, in a tiny rock oven, a torch smoldered. It was almost time.


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5.6 – At the Blue Hall

The public hall where Einarr found the Vidofnings and Brunnings was surprisingly large for a town no bigger than East Port. If Einarr had to take a guess, most of their custom came from ships such as their own, here to call on the Conclave.

A cheer went up as the door swung open under Reki’s hand. Inside the hall was as warm and cheery as one might expect at the end of a good season of raiding. With a grin, Einarr moved to join his crewmates with a drink while Reki went to report to Stigander. All eight of their party were able to breathe a sigh of relief when they saw that there had, in fact, been no transformations as of yet – only the complaints they had grown used to of nausea and headaches as though their crews had both contracted a lingering flu.

Even Reki’s news did not dampen their enthusiasm: if anything, the fact that they had found their “cure” before the corruption had claimed anyone was another victory over the madmen of the cult. Then it was Einarr’s turn.

“I’ve been given another impossible quest, I’m afraid, Father.”

“Feh. Do skalds give any other kind?”

“Not likely.”

“Well, what is it now?”

“I’m to travel to the Tower of Ravens and steal Frigg’s distaff out from under the noses of Huginn and Muninn.”

Stigander looked just as confused as Einarr had. “What in the depths of all the seas do you need that for?”

“Untangling fate, they say, and ridding us of the cult’s corruption for good.”

His father shook his head and wiped his hand down his moustaches, his expression changing from amusement to consternation and back again. “Well, if there’s anyone in this lot who can manage it, I’d lay my odds on you.”

Sivid could do it, if it weren’t for his accursed luck. “Thank you, Father. The Matrons said the tower required a smaller boat to reach: I’m to pay a call on a fisherman in the morning regarding the use of a boat. I’d like to take some of the crew along.”

“Long as they’re up for it, same as before. …This distaff, you said it untangles fate?”

Einarr nodded, and his father harrumphed. There was no need to say it: such a thing could easily break the Weaver’s curse on their homeland. He turned back to the hall full of his fellow Vidofnings.

“All right, everyone! Just like this spring, I need a few of you to venture out in a little fishing boat with me. This time we’re braving the wrath of a god!”

His pronouncement was followed by a peal of laughter, even by those who had heard the Matrons’ pronouncement at the Conclave.

Jorir, to no-one’s surprise, was the first to step forward. “Come hel or high water, I’m with ye.”

Einarr inclined his head at his man-at-arms. “Thank you, Jorir. Who else?”

The next man to step forward was gangly Irding, neither as tall nor as muscle-bound as his father but with the same brown hair and reckless grin. “Sounds like fun. I’ll give it a go.”

Erik’s head snapped around to look at his son. “You sure about that? We got into a heap o’ trouble going after the Isinntog.”

“I know. That’s why it sounds like fun.” Irding grinned at his father, and Erik laughed loudly.

“Who’m I kidding? Of course it does. Count me in, too.”

Einarr’s mouth curled in a half-smile. Irding looked a little less happy at the prospect now that Erik was also along, but it would be good for them. “Great. Anyone else? I expect we’ll have to work our way past traps, and if anyone knows how to read runes it would be a help.”

“I already told you, I’m coming,” Runa said, standing at the table.

“No, you’re not. There’s no telling what sort of violence we might come across.”

“You’re invading the tower of Huginn and Muninn. You need someone familiar with magic, who can read runes. I’m coming.”

Aema, the Brunning’s battle-chanter, stepped forward. “You’re hardly the only one here with those qualifications.”

“No, but I’m the only one here with those qualifications who isn’t needed here. You and Reki both have crews to tend, full of men doused with corrupted blood, and I do not. I may be a Jarl’s daughter, but that doesn’t make me useless.”

“Maybe not,” Trabbi rumbled, “but if anything should happen to you your Father will have my head. He may even if you go along and nothing happens.”

Runa met her erstwhile suitor’s eyes. “On my word of honor, I will not allow that to happen.”

Trabbi scowled back. “You have no more place on that boat than I do, my Lady.”

“That is where you’re wrong.” She turned her attention back to Einarr, and he felt the old familiar thrill. “What was it that the alfr gave you in the wood?”

“Some bauble he thought would help us through the tower, though at the moment I can’t see how.” That had been the way of Runa’s gifts, too, given as they left to seek the Jotünhall.

“Give it here.”

Einarr shrugged and removed the bird-shaped brooch from the pouch at his belt. “Doesn’t the use typically become plain when you need it?”

All three Singers rolled their eyes at him even as Runa took hold of the brooch and blanched.

Einarr couldn’t help the question. “What is it?”

“Let us hope the use becomes plain, because while I can read the runes, they look like so much nonsense.”

Reki threaded her way through the room to take a closer look. She raised pale eyebrows and let loose a low whistle. “Well, at the very least your elf-gift should actually be of use. How did he get this, though?”

“See, Runa? I’m sure we’ll be able to muddle through-”

“So long as you have someone who can read the runes. You need me, and one way or another I’m coming.” Runa’s jaw was set. Einarr turned to Bollinn.

The new Captain of the Skudbrun sighed. “I don’t think there’s any stopping her at this point. Over my own better judgement, I’ll allow it.”

Runa smiled in triumph. Einarr hoped she wouldn’t regret her insistence.


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4.5 – Runes

Not without some trepidation, Einarr and the others led the two Singers back to the warehouse where they had found the hanged butcher. Aema covered her mouth with a cloth as they approached to avoid the worst of the smell. Reki’s shoulders shuddered once under her heavy cloak, but she did not hesitate. The door swung open under her palm and she stepped across the threshold.

She stepped no closer to the hanged man, however. His slow spin carried him around so that he very shortly faced the living in the door.

Seithmathir,” Reki read.

“Magic-man?” Einarr furrowed his eyebrows, confused. It was odd for a man of the Clans to study the Arts, of course, but never a reason to kill a man that he’d heard of.

“Evidently.” Reki paused a long moment. With her hood still up, Einarr couldn’t tell if she was studying the body or trying to maintain composure. When she spoke again, her voice was hushed. “I think this was carved before they hung him.”

Einarr shuddered as Reki backed away from the corpse.

“We’ll want to burn the town before we leave, if we don’t find anyone left alive.”

Aema nodded. “And if we do, make sure they see to all the bodies. The last thing we need is a port full of the restless dead.”

Bardr grunted in agreement as Reki stepped back outside the warehouse.

“Surely this wasn’t all?”

“No. This was the smallest part of it.” Trabbi led the way this time, back to the square that had confounded all three of them before.

Along the wall of a particularly large warehouse, several bodies were strung up by their wrists and ankles, all with the same wound patterns as the hanged man. These bodies framed a longer message that had apparently been burned into the stone wall. The two Singers stood staring for a time, concentrating on the long message in a nigh-dead alphabet.

“For the sin of harboring witches,” Aema began, haltingly. “The people of Langavik have been punished according to…”

Reki picked it up here. “According to the righteous dictates of Urkúm, High Priest of Malúnion. Let all who come here know…”

“…Know that the time of seithir is at an end, and all who practice such foul magics will be punished.” Aema’s voice sounded somewhat breathless as she finished reading aloud the proclamation.

“This is madness!” Einarr had never heard either of those names before, but the idea of giving up the use of Song Magic – or Weaving, or any of the other Arts – was preposterous.

Trabbi looked just as flummoxed as he felt. If no-one was trained in the Arts, then how would anyone control their effects? Song would not go away just because no more Singers were trained. Cloth would still be necessary, as would the blacksmith’s art.

It was Bardr who had the sense to ask the question they all wanted the answer to. “Who is Malúnion?”

Both singers shook their head.

“It’s an old Elven name, but I couldn’t tell you more than that,” Reki answered. “Maybe Tyr has an idea? He’s been around long enough, who knows what bits of lore he may have picked up.”

Aema cleared her throat. “Urkúm… I believe that’s a svartalfr name.”

All three men groaned.

“So you’re saying we have a svartalfr fanatic, of some god none of us has ever heard of?” Bardr rubbed his forehead.

“So it appears.” Reki sighed. “Not very honest of them to decry magic like this, though. Someone among them learned to Paint, I think.”

“You mean because of how the runes are burned into the rock?” Einarr, too, had found that strange.

“I do.”

Trabbi looked thoughtful. “Could it be, then, that the Imperials themselves are behind these massacres?”

Aema shook her head. “Let’s hope not.”

***

“So there you have it,” Reki finished as both crews gathered on the dock under the fiery orange sunset. “All things considered I think it likely the crew that captured the lady Runa and the crew that killed my predecessor are probably a part of this same cult. I also think it likely, based on the state of the bodies of the town, that we are at least a week behind our target still.”

Stigander and Captain Kragnir frowned at the story the five of them had brought back not an hour previous, but for the moment said nothing.

“Does anyone among the crew recognize the name Malúnion?” Aema directed the question out towards the crew. It was a gamble, but with a little luck…

Jorir spat a curse.

“Can I take that as a yes?”

“Oh, aye.” The svartdvergr shouldered his way forward through the crowd. “Wish I didn’t. Right bastards, are ‘is followers, an’ I will lay coin that this High Priest has convinced some of the others to join him on this damn-fool crusade. Anything that doesn’t come from their pissant demigod is by definition unclean, and Malúnion has nothing to do with the Arts.”

Einarr and Trabbi spoke at once. “Then what do they want with Runa?”

“Sacrifice, unless I miss my guess.”

Einarr shot up straight from the crate he had been leaning against. Trabbi’s reaction was more subdued, but just as worried. “Sacrifice?”

“Aye. They give proper sacrifices to their god, they’re granted magic for a time. Don’t know how long. Left home before the cult could get a proper hold there.”

Stigander rumbled. “Why leave a message here, and not at either of the two previous sites?”

Aema shook her head now. “I don’t know.”

“I can venture a guess.” Captain Kragnir crossed his arms and frowned beneath his brown beard. “Territory.”

The captain of the Skudbrun gave that a long moment to sink in before he continued. “Massacre like this is as good as a declaration of war. We’ve either crossed into territory they claim, or near enough that they’re making a play for it.”

Now there were mutters from all around the intermingled crews.

“The smart thing to do now would be to call a retreat, come back with a fleet in the spring to put the dogs down.”

Einarr, Trabbi, and Stigander all started forward, but before they could object he continued.

“But they have the princess, and if your dwarven friend is right we haven’t much time. Assuming we’re not already too late. And I do not want to be the one to tell the Jarl why we didn’t come back with his daughter – not while we’ve the slightest chance of rescuing her.”

Stigander nodded sharply. “All there is to do, then, is make sure we get her back alive. Bardr! Bollinn! The charts!”


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2.29 – Unweaving

The sky was still pink when the younger apprentice woke father and son with a hand on their shoulders. As they sat up she placed a bowl of the same nut mash they had been eating in their hands and then, as quietly as she’d arrived, slipped back towards the dias where the three elves worked at the loom.

Einarr noticed the food he ate only insofar as to realize they had added honey this morning. It would have been a nice touch, had he not been so focused on what the Oracle’s weaving might reveal. In the bites when he wasn’t worried over that, he chewed over his new-found Calling. It was possible to break a curse without being a Cursebreaker, of course, if you could figure out what thread to tug. But the Black Arts always proliferated before the calling was invoked, or so the stories said.

He realized it was time when the spoon he placed in his mouth came up empty. He looked at the bowl for a long moment before letting out a deep breath. Right. Let’s do this.

A moment later he was on his feet, Stigander only a pace or two ahead of him, marching for the dias where the Oracle and her loom awaited.

“Did you sleep well?” The Oracle did not turn around as she greeted them, her attention still fixated on the colored threads arrayed before her.

Stigander cleared his throat. “As well as can be expected, I think.”

A glance from his father prompted Einarr to answer, as well. “Well enough, yes.” Never mind that he’d had strange dreams of being tied in tapestry cords and pulled one way and another by his friends. Strange did not mean inexplicable, after all.

“Very well.” She rested her fingers on one of the shuttles and paused another moment before spinning around on her toes. “The warp is prepared.”

Stigander waited an awkward moment before he realized that she was waiting for his question. He cleared his throat again. “What must be done in order to unweave the curse on Raenshold and reclaim Breidelsteinn?”

She nodded silently and pursed her lips. It was impossible that the question should be a surprise to her: Arring had mentioned it to her directly, and the Vidofnings had all spoken of it around the fire at night.

Crisply, the Oracle turned back to her loom and lifted a shuttle without looking at it.

From the moment the shuttle touched the frame the wood took on a light of its own, brighter and warmer than the light of the rising dawn. She had gone no more than a few inches when the threads began to shine as well, each in its own color.

On the other weavings, Einarr had been able to make some sense out of the images that came forth. Not so this morning. Rather than images, what materialized on the Oracle’s loom was a cloud of runes surrounding a great gold-colored eagle. Hm. So was the Eagle on Jorir’s tapestry Father, then?

Einarr had time for the idle thought, because he did not know the reading of runes. Neither Raen nor Stigander had ever been a particularly superstitious man, and outside of the enchanting of artifacts it was only shamans and soothsayers who used them. Still he watched, hoping something might strike him as familiar.

One was, but only because of how recently he had seen it. In a few different places on the tapestry, he recognized one of the runes that had been emblazoned on the Isinntogg.

The shadows had all but disappeared with the noonday sun by the time the Oracle lowered her arms and turned to face them once more. “Tell me, Cursebreaker, what do you see?”

He had to shake his head this time. “The Eagle is plainly my father. As for the rest… I’m afraid I never learned the reading of runes.”

“Illiterate? And you call yourself a prince!”

“My lady,” Stigander interrupted. “These characters have not been in common use among the clans for generations. He was to learn statecraft, not the copperweight divinations of a street corner soothsayer.”

The Oracle’s mouth twisted in annoyance. “So be it. But mark you well, the power of the runes is real, no matter how charlatans may abuse them.”

She turned back around to look at the tapestry before her. “Fate’s thread binds all,” she intoned. “Though pliant the cloth may be, the Norns correct their weaves. To cut the thread which binds your long-lost home, to bring the pattern back to light, the clear-eyed must light the blackened tool before the glory of elves, singing praise to the inattentive Norn. Mayhap she will hear you and test you, for norn-pride is a fickle thing.”

Einarr and his father shared a confused look. After a long moment, it became clear that the Oracle had finished. Einarr cleared his throat. “Which means… what, exactly?”

“I am certain, Cursebreaker, that if you bend your minds to it the task will become clear.”

“Son, what she just… read? It sounded like one of the skald’s songs.”

“Very good. If you begin from there, I am certain you will figure it out.” The Oracle’s shoulders relaxed and she turned to face them again. “Now then. If it is all the same to you, I believe it would be in everyone’s best interest to take a little food. This afternoon I will weave for the Cursebreaker, and then I will speak with the four of you regarding the payment I require. Tonight we shall feast again before I send you off.”

Einarr had not noticed the hollow pit of hunger in his gut until just that moment. “As you say, milady.”


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2.28 – Seeking Kin

The root Avrindân gave him to chew tasted like moldy bread, but he did feel more alert by the time he and Arring stood together on the stone dias. The strong man looked at Einarr for a long, awkward moment before accepting the presence of his prince alongside him for this.

Einarr shrugged. He couldn’t exactly fault the man for that reaction. Sivid hadn’t seemed to mind, but there was a great deal that Sivid didn’t tend to mind that other men did. Like losing. Through all this, the Oracle stood with her hands folded, calmly watching the current supplicant.

Finally Arring stood forward, his hand clenching nervously. He opened his mouth as though to speak, then seemed to think better of it.

The Oracle raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.

Arring sighed and straightened his shoulders. “You see it’s like this, milady. My wife, our bairns, I had to leave behind on Breidelsteinn, and I don’t think we’re like to take our home back without a fight. I’d like to see my family again. Is there anythin’ I can do to help them come through all right?”

“Let no-one accuse you of cowardice.” The Oracle spoke softly and offered him a gentle smile. “For that is one of the bravest questions a man can ask. Brace yourself, for I give you no promises you will like the answer the threads will weave.”

Arring swallowed audibly and nodded. Einarr turned his attention back on the Oracle: his task, once more, was to pay attention and look for connections in the tapestry. The better he became at spotting those, the better he would serve his Calling.

She stepped back towards her loom, unhurried, and contemplated her shuttles. Einarr might have thought her hesitant if he hadn’t seen her do the same for Sivid that morning.

Then the shuttles were flying back and forth through the warp lines, and wood and thread alike soon appeared to glow.

Arring’s tapestry was somewhat more straightforward than either Sivid’s or Jorir’s had been. An ox followed the tafl king and the broken crown against a black wolf and his army of… well, Einarr hoped the skeletons were thralls, because otherwise retaking Breidelsteinn would be a grim task indeed. Then a pile of bones lay scattered around the ox’s feet and it raised its head to trumpet victory.

The next image was nothing but the ox’s bloody head. Einarr caught his breath. Arring groaned.

The final image was almost superfluous. The ox, now whole again, stood with a cow and calves, grazing.

When the Oracle finally lowered her hands from the loom she did not immediately turn around. “I am sorry, Sterker Naut. Your family has already fallen. If it is any consolation, they fought and died honorably, and now sup with the gods.”

She paused a long moment and turned to look at him. “As will you, although the time of your demise remains murky. Remain steadfast and true and you shall see your wife and children again… and do not feel bound to remain unwed until that day comes, for else your line may pass from this land.”

Arring did not look away from the tapestry that still stood on the loom, it’s story daring him to deny it.

The Oracle stepped forward to stand before him, placing her hands on his shoulders. “And that would be unfortunate, for the northern seas are ever in need of men of great honor and strength. Those who sup with the gods are wont to overlook such things, though in life they were unforgivable.”

“I thank you, milady.” Arring sounded like he was choking on phlegm.

“Do you? I wonder. Nevertheless, asking the question marks you among the bravest of men. Bearing the answer so well speaks to your perseverance. You expected this answer?”

He nodded once.

“Then allow my Weaving to free you from uncertainty and open your path forward. Take comfort where you find it, Sterker Naut.”

Einarr did not realize that the sun was setting until he watched Arring trudge down the steps of the dias and the light bathed him in its red-orange glow. “I feel like I shouldn’t have seen that.”

“Perhaps your friend also wishes you had not. …But it is good to remember that sometimes the straightforward path is also the correct one, and not every link is veiled.”

Einarr rolled his shoulder, trying to shrug off the uncomfortable feeling of seeing a man laid out bare for all the world to see. “I suppose so.”

“Come along. The evening grows long, and supper awaits.”

***

Wooden bowl in hand, Einarr folded his legs to sit on the ground next to Stigander around the fire that night. The table had not been set for their second evening in the meadow, but Einarr and Arring at least were in no mood for revelry.

Stigander seemed to accept his son’s desire to sit quietly, if not entirely comfortably. But… the subject of Arring’s weaving was not Einarr’s to tell. And tomorrow the Oracle would weave for each of them. Given what he had seen that day, he was more anxious than excited, and the fatigue of watching all day had begun to catch up with him.

“So your dwarf was right? My son has a calling?” Stigander rumbled after a time.

Einarr nodded, and his father’s first response was a long, loud sigh.

“Gods know we need one… and you’ll bring glory to our name again…”

Stigander sounded as reluctant as Einarr felt. “But it’s a hard road?” When his father nodded, he continued. “Pretty much my thoughts exactly. But I’ll deal with it, and I’ll come out on top. I’m a son of Raen, after all.”

Now his father grinned at him. “That’s my boy. Ready to learn how to unravel Urdr’s work?”

Einarr looked at his father, pursed his lips, and shrugged. The answer was no, but there was no sense bringing that weight down on his father’s head.


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2.22 – Hall Dance

Sivid gave himself a few turns to size up the opposition before venturing in for his warmup round. The puffed-up rooster of a man who looked just about to take his leave was not likely to be much competition, but he thought he saw a few others who could put on a show. Others like him – small, wiry, quick, better at dodging than taking a blow and might just have something to prove because of it. They always made the best dancers, and he should know.

The rooster pranced out of the center after nearly botching a simple handspring to be replaced by a serious-faced young man – one of the ones Sivid thought would be a worthy opponent.

The boy put himself through a number of contortions in the center – more than Sivid would ordinarily consider for the first round. He watched and weighed: the boy had promise, but no joy. Well. Time to show him how to have some fun out there.

Sivid danced. He hadn’t intended to pull out all the stops in his first run out there… but the music and the cheers from the crowd and the glares from the rooster and the too-serious kid all egged him on and it was fun. If he judged right, he could have his pick of the ladies tonight if he wanted to.

Oops. Best let someone else have the stage for a bit. He pranced around the outside of the circle, offering a small bow to a few of the other competitors, before slipping in to a gap that opened for him – not coincidentally flanked by a pair of lovelies he might be willing to buy a drink later.

His choice of location earned him even harder glares from the rooster and the kid. Sivid quirked an eyebrow. Interesting.

He still wasn’t going to take it easy on them. If he didn’t make them fight for the attention of the girls they liked, the girls wouldn’t be properly appreciated.

Three more rounds this went on. Ordinarily he would remember every move that was made in the rounds, but tonight they were a blur. He knew they’d made him work for it, though, just like he knew he’d risen to the occasion. The purse for the hallingdanse was his, and the comely young blonds who had so graciously opened the circle for him fluttered their eyelashes his direction.

“That was a good dance, everyone. This round’s on me!” He wouldn’t actually do more than buy a drink and flirt with the women here: unlike Erik, he’d taken Lord Raen’s lesson to heart. On the other hand, openly flirting with those two women seemed like to provoke a duel he didn’t care to fight.

The rooster and the boy accepted their mugs with tight-lipped smiles, not mollified but not yet certain how best to challenge Sivid the interloper. For his part, Sivid bought the round and then directed his attention to a pert redhead, rather older than the two blonds and saucy in the game they played.

It was the rooster who first approached him, but the over-serious boy stood at his shoulder with his arms crossed. Had they… ah, the rooster was playing the fool to make his friend look good.

Sivid crossed his arms and shook his head, not bothering to hide his amusement. “It was a good hall dance, boys, let’s leave it at that.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. Dagny’s been trying to convince her father to call off her engagement with my friend here, and after what you pulled she won’t even look at him.”

“And why does Dagny want to end the engagement in the first place? Good-looking lad like him, surely it can’t be that he doesn’t know how to smile? How to enjoy himself?”

Based on the glowers coming from the younger men, he’d hit the nail on the head.

“It’s not my dancing that made this Dagny turn away from you, son. Learn to have a little fun. Relax. If you can’t even lose a simple hall dance without taking it so hard, what’s going to happen if, gods forbid, the flux takes your son?”

The boy’s face started to redden with anger. “She’d have come back to me tonight, if you hadn’t shown me up so badly.”

“I showed up everyone out there tonight. But if I hadn’t been there, she’d have turned to someone else instead. Someone who had a smile on his face and didn’t move like he’d just been buggered with a pole.”

Fire burned in the boy’s eyes now, and his face was redder than the saucy wench’s hair.

Sivid gave a mental sigh. He’d wanted to avoid a fight here, but if someone didn’t set him straight this kid was just going to make some unlucky wench miserable for the rest of their lives. “Oh, I know. You’re still blaming me. That a habit o’yours, blaming someone else when things don’t go your way?” He looked levelly at the boy for a long moment. “Try me again when you’ve grown up a little, let me enjoy my evening.”

Sivid turned back to his drink and the game of wits he’d been engaged in.

“Dice with me.”

Sivid sighed and looked back down at the table before turning his attention to the earnest brat. “No.”

“You have offered me a mortal insult. You have robbed me of my chance to win back my love. There may be truth in what you say about me, which is why I challenge you with dice rather than swords. But you will dice with me.”

Sivid’s fingers twitched. It would be the easiest thing in the world to trounce this brat with a roll of the bones… but when he won at dice bad things happened. Randomly, but without fail. “I will take any challenge other than dice, boy. You look like a hearty sort: why don’t we arm-wrestle. Then you can show off your strength to this Dagny you’re so intent on.”

“My strength has never been in question. My luck, on the other hand…”

Sivid shook his head. As much as he wanted to teach this brat a lesson… “That wouldn’t be a fair test of your luck, boy.”

“How could anything be a better test of luck?”

“Because I always know how the dice will fall, and the Norns always correct their weave. Either I give you a hollow victory, or I bring calamity on my own head.”

Silence fell in the hall.

“Go away, kid. Find some other way to impress your wench.”

Silver bells tinkled.


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2.19 – A Moment of Respite

The deck of the dromon and the rolling waves and the salt sea air faded gradually from Einarr’s consciousness to be replaced by the sound of wind through the trees and the rustling of grass in the mountain meadows surrounding them. He looked about to get his bearings: he was several paces farther forward than he had been before the vision, but still on the path. If he judged right, Jorir and Sivid’s hard looks meant they were fighting off the vestiges of anger, and he did not think he’d ever seen Arring look sad before.

He nearly did a double-take when he saw his father, however, leaning against a nearby tree looking, of all things, wistful. Stigander had none of the post-vision fogginess about his gaze, though: perhaps he had woken first?

Einarr opened his mouth to ask, but shut it again. Jorir had said the Oracle disliked it when petitioners spoke of their trials, and he was disinclined to get on the Oracle’s bad side before they even arrived.

Sivid blinked awake, followed by the other two, and Einarr suddenly realized that beneath the unease lingering from the visions, hunger gnawed at his belly. He glanced up: the sun had passed its zenith some time ago, although it had still been morning when the second trial began.

Sivid snorted. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m ravenous. You’ve been here before, dwarf, do we have time to stop and eat?”

Jorir’s eyes narrowed at the mousey man. “We can stop and sup and still make it by sundown, human, if the final trial is a short one. If the final trials run long, we might still be climbing under the moon.”

Einarr shook his head, looking down to hide his amused half-smile from Jorir. “Careful about teasing my liege-man, Sivid. He hasn’t spent the last fifteen years watching your eternal jests.”

Sivid laughed. “Sorry, sorry. No harm meant.”

Jorir harrumphed, but before he could say more Stigander cleared his throat.

“I think it’s worth the risk to break for lunch. I think I see a decent spot just over that way.” Their captain pointed off to the side of the trail, where several flat rocks were just visible above the grass.

Einarr knit his brows. “It almost looks like someone arranged that.”

“Someone may well have.” Jorir grumbled, but Einarr did not think he had taken too much offense at Sivid’s rudeness. The dwarf resettled his pack on his shoulders and took a step toward the spot Stigander had mentioned, followed shortly by the rest of the group.

The rocks did not quite form a perfect ring, and there were more rocks than people by a few, but though the rocks were half-buried it still looked as though the stones had been placed deliberately. Well, the Oracle here is supposedly an elf. Aren’t they effectively immortal?

Einarr slung his pack down next to one of the rocks and reached into one of the pockets for a handful of pine nuts and filberts. “So what can you tell us about the Weaver’s Palace?”

“Unless it’s been rebuilt recently, it’s more like a small temple than any sort of a palace. The Oracle lived in a hermitage off a little ways from the rotunda where she met petitioners – I could just see it between the pillars. Her loom, though…” Jorir shook his head and did not continue.

Arring sat forward. “Her loom?”

“Like nothing I’ve seen before or since. You’ll have to see it to understand.”

“So what did you ask, the last time you were here?” The question had been burning at the back of Einarr’s mind for a while now.

“Ah.” Jorir glanced warily at Stigander, then sighed. “I suppose I’ll have to tell ye eventually. Yer da’s not the only one with a curse to break, y’see.”

Now Einarr sat forward, his eyebrows raised. The hand that was seeking a dried fish stopped.

“My smithing… technically, it’s some of the best… but it will never produce magic, so long as I am bound by that witch’s curse.”

Einarr winced, even as Stigander nodded in understanding. A Singer’s magic was ephemeral. Should it fail, there would be no memorial of the failure. For a smith, though… And worse for a dvergr, whose metalworking was their pride.

Jorir wasn’t quite done. He rolled the tafl king between his hands in silence for a pair of breaths. “And now you’ll be wanting to know the answer she gave me. She told me the Cursebreaker would be the one who gifted me the means of my own defeat.”

Einarr stared as Jorir held the king between thumb and forefinger, lifted for all to see.

“You defeated me at tafl, with a king gifted by the one who will be your queen. That you then gifted it to me in return for my oath binds me to both of you. I still do not understand the impulse that prompted me to swear to you. Perhaps the Oracle’s weaving binds fate just as much as any other Weaver’s does. But you are the Cursebreaker, and I would not be surprised if that is part of the answer your lord Father receives as well.”

Father was staring, too, but not at the dwarf. His eyes were glued firmly on his son’s shocked face. Einarr felt the weight of the stare, but his mind was still processing the implications of what Jorir had said.

“We stopped to eat, though. We should eat and go, or we’ll not make it before nightfall.”


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