Tag: Wotan is kind of a jerk

5.30 – Escaping the Tower

“I’ll catch up by the time you reach the apothecary room.” Einarr flashed a cocky grin at his liege-man before he dashed back into the room, toward the fireplace. Had the familiars left their feathers on purpose, like the Valkyrie had? He couldn’t say, but they were sure to be just as magical.

Einarr bent to scoop up the two feathers without slowing down, then skidded around the giant perch.

The doorway stood empty. Good. Now to fulfill his end of the promise. Einarr tucked the feathers, black as night, into the pouch at his belt and poured on the speed. The distaff was like a goad against his back, and he was glad it wasn’t any longer. Perhaps another foot of length and he’d have had to worry about it tangling in his legs.

He shot through the doorway and cornered hard on the landing to take the stairs two at a time. The rumbling beneath his feet was rougher now, although somehow he felt certain the tower was not breaking apart.

That might actually be worse. Something whizzed past his face and a warm line stung his cheek. Was something firing arrows up at him? He took the stairs at full tilt, two and sometimes three at a time. Another arrow flew, and this one trimmed his sleeve. Were these warning shots?

By the time he reached the floor below he saw Jorir’s boot disappearing down the opposite stairwell. So he hadn’t been quite as quick as he thought he would be: the important part was that he was right behind.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and Einarr froze just before the threshold of the stairway leading down. Not a step too soon: the axe that dropped from above trimmed the ends of his beard already. He risked a quick glance around: just a trap.

Then he heard Runa’s shriek echoing up the stair. Einarr leapt forward, the back of the blade scraping against the bottom of his boots, and all but flew down the steps. He counted and ignored not one but three slices into his legs in his haste to reach them.

Erik stood, his feet planted and one hand braced against the wall, the other extended and holding Runa by her delicate wrist. Runa herself hung from that arm, scrabbling for purchase with her fine boots against what had suddenly become a smooth ramp instead of stairs. She gasped as though in pain, and only in that moment did Einarr realize he, too, was gasping for air. She’s fine. Calm down.

Jorir shot him a poisonous look, which he ignored as he slipped up to stand next to Erik. “Runa. Reach up your other hand for me.

She looked up at him from panic-ringed eyes and her breathing slowed. She managed a nod and slowly stretched her other arm out. Einarr’s hand closed around hers.

“Okay. Now we’re going to pull you back up, all right?”

“Please.” She still sounded like she was in pain: perhaps the jolt of her rescue had dislocated a shoulder?

“Ready? One, two, and … heave.”

Runa was not heavy, especially not for two men who had their balance back, and so a handful of heartbeats later Runa stood a step above them, dusting herself off and making a show of testing her shoulder and rubbing at the wrist Erik had grabbed.

“Right. Well. On we go. Watch your step.” He felt bad about the floor dropping out from under Runa: these traps were almost certainly his fault, after all – but not so bad that he was willing to drop the prize. Instead, he stepped forward onto the ramp and pushed off with his back foot, so that he was able to slide down the stone much as he had slid down a mound of coins early in the spring.

The ramp went all the way down to the landing for the next floor, and Einarr was not the only one who could not quite contain a laugh as they skied down. He was certain he heard Irding, and quite possibly Erik, as he half-ran, half-stumbled off the ramp and into the third floor challenge room. The door on the other side stood open. Feeling jaunty, Einarr sauntered forward.

The smell of ozone was his only warning. Einarr froze.

Lightning cracked down in the center of the room.

Seconds later, as the others skidded up behind him, lightning struck again. In the exact same spot. Einarr frowned, counting.

Five seconds before the third strike. He could make it. The Vidofnings could make it. Could Runa? Much as he loved her, she was more than a little pampered.

Well, nothing for it. Five seconds after the third strike came the fourth. The light had not fully faded from his eyes before Einarr was moving again, dashing for the far door with every ounce of speed he could muster.

The next time lightning struck, the hair on his head crackled with static – but he was clear. Einarr stopped to wait at the door for his friends to run the gauntlet.

Irding came next. It looked like he was trying to beat Einarr’s time. Einarr shook his head, smiling at the other young man as he crossed the finish line into the stair. Einarr’s hair had merely stood on end: Irding’s smelled of smoke.

Erik and Jorir made it with little issue, despite their twin and opposite problems of size. That only left Runa, who stood staring across at Einarr with indecision. He nodded encouragement to her, beckoning her on, and she set her jaw. That’s my Runa.

The lightning sizzled down again, and then Runa made her break across the floor, her dress trailing behind her. Einarr caught her hands as another flash appeared.

She was smoking. Or, rather, her skirt was. Runa herself seemed to be fine.

“Turn around.” When she obliged, Einarr beat out the flames licking her skirt at the edges of where the lightning had struck.

Nothing else in the tower slowed them more than a moment. There were more arrows and knives, and even another ramp, but as the sun sank below the horizon and seemed to light the sea on fire they stood in the Gestrisni catching their breath.

“See, Jorir? Not a problem at all.” Einarr could not quite repress a smile. In spite of everything, that had almost been fun.

“Are ye sure about that, lad?” Jorir’s voice was oddly flat, but Einarr still heard the edge in it.

“Why, what do you —” He turned his head to look at his man-at-arms and suddenly he knew what the problem was. The Gestrisni now sat in the open ocean, not a rock to be seen. All around them, the water was perfectly still, and there wasn’t so much as a breeze to stir a lock of hair among them. He had to let that sink in a moment before he found anything to say. “I hope we’re all ready to row.”

Jorir grunted. “I’m decent at navigating by the stars, as well. At least we won’t be striking out blindly.”

Erik snorted. “You let me an’ Irding worry about the oars, Einarr. You and your lady should keep watch.”

To that, Einarr nodded easy agreement. “My thanks. In that case, oh fearless navigator, let’s have a look at the charts.”


 

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6.1 – Coming Soon

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So ends Book 5 of Einarr’s adventures. Book 6 will pick up right where we left off, with our heroes lost in the middle of the ocean, on November 13. By then, I should be comfortably ensconced in my new home in Pago Pago. If you’d like to read about our adventures abroad (with an infant!), I will be starting a separate blog for just that purpose.

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

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

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

5.29 – Örlögnir

Runa frowned at the distaffs laying neatly in a row on the shelf of the loft. The description the Matrons had left them had only narrowed it down to two, and she seemed as reluctant to risk picking one up to examine it as Einarr was.

“The Örlögnir untangles fate,” she mused. “Probably our clue is in the pattern of the inlay.”

Einarr peered more closely at the two they were considering. “But… they look the same to me?”

On each, there was a pattern of cross-hatching that seemed vaguely familiar to him, as well as a small round symbol that was difficult to discern in the smoky light up here. It could have been either the Vegvisir or the Helm of Awe, he just couldn’t see without picking it up.

Runa solved this issue neatly by kneeling on the floor to examine the two hazel and ivory distaffs. Feeling stupid, Einarr crouched next to her.

One of the distaffs was plainly the Helm of Awe, and the other was the Runic Compass. Protection, and Guidance. Only, either of them could be appropriate here, depending on if the craftsman considered it primarily curative or if its use would be more broadly entwined with the Norns’ workings.

He looked at Runa from the corner of his eye, hoping she might have a better idea. Her lips were pursed into a line, and her eyes darted between them. Comparing, he was sure. “Well?”

“A moment. It’s down to the hatching.”

Einarr grunted agreement.

“We’re looking at either the Web of Wyrd or Gugnir, on both of them, but I feel like my eyes are playing tricks on me in the light.”

“That one has the Helm of Awe, if it helps.” He pointed to the one on the right, with crossed diamonds encircling the handle in bands. “And that one has the Runic Compass.”

She nodded, frowning. “That’s what I thought I saw, yes. …If only there were a surface I could draw on.”

“Plenty of dust on the floor.”

Runa hummed, looking doubtfully down at the floorboards. “It will have to do, I suppose. Fine.”

She turned toward him and stretched an arm down to draw some quick lines in the dust, and her braid slipped down over her elegant shoulder. Beautiful and brilliant. Could any man be luckier?

Runa cleared her throat and shot him an impatient look.

Right. Focus, man. “Sorry.”

She hummed and looked back down at the hatch mark patterns she had drawn in the dust. “One of these is Gugnir. The other is the Web of Wyrd. We want the one – I think – that has the Web of Wyrd drawn on it.”

Einarr looked down and examined them. They were both familiar, and very similar to each other. The primary difference, as he studied her work, seemed to be the vertical lines running through the angles. “The web is the one built like a ladder of the other, more or less?”

“More or less, yes.”

He nodded, then turned his attention back to the line of artefacts. If he wanted the cross-hatch pattern that was bounded by three lines, then that meant… He got down on his knees and leaned against the edge of the shelf. His eyes, too, seemed to be playing tricks, but being named Cursebreaker had to be worth something, didn’t it?

He peered, and as he peered he blinked, and slowly the inlay pattern of ivory on pale wood came clear. The one that was banded by the Web of Wyrd was also the one stamped with the Vegvisir.

Einarr swallowed. Logically, that had to be right, didn’t it? With no little hesitation, he reached out for the distaff on the left.

Runa’s voice stopped his hand inches from the handle. “Are you sure?”

He paused, considering, and turned his head to look over his shoulder. “It shows the Web of Wyrd, like you said I should look for, and the Runic Compass. Guidance and Fate. That sounds like what we were told to look for, doesn’t it?”

She pressed her lips together, still worried, but nodded. “Yes, that makes sense. Only…”

“Only?”

“Only this feels too straightforward.”

“You’re saying I should take the one stamped with the Helm of Awe and Gugnir?”

“No…”

“I think it’s our best bet. You said it yourself, you’ve had little to do other than study. If you say we want the web pattern and not the spear pattern, I’ll trust you.”

“But what if…?”

“You’re wrong? Then we fail. But sometimes, you just have to trust your gut. And my gut says we reasoned right.”

Einarr gave himself no more time to deliberate. As the last word left his mouth, his hand closed on the handle of the distaff he had chosen.

A cawing erupted from the floor below, and Einarr felt a vibration beneath his feet. He doubted the tower would actually collapse about their heads, but there was absolutely no reason to stay now.

Einarr thrust the distaff through his baldric and slid down the side rails of the ladder, but then he stopped. He would not be his father’s son if he did not help the lady down, after all.

Runa hardly needed the help, although she accepted it with grace. Then they were off again, their companions standing at the top of the stair and waving them on to hurry. Of Huginn and Muninn, Einarr saw no sign save a pair of black feathers on the ground in front of the fire. The white one woven into his buckle caught his eye and he paused. On impulse, he turned to the others. “Go on ahead. I’ll catch up.”

“Are ye daft, man?” Jorir looked at him as though he quite believed his Lord was.

Einarr grinned back. This was foolish, sure, but it was also not an opportunity he could stand to let pass. “Perhaps. Don’t worry: I’ll be fine. I’ll catch up by the time you hit the apothecary room.”


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! 

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

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

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

5.28 – Huginn and Muninn

A fireplace dominated one wall of the long, rectangular room, and in front of that fireplace stood a thick pine pole. A pair of posts extended out from either side of the pole, and once the feathers settled down Einarr faced the impassive stares of two enormous ravens. He swallowed.

Unsure how one addresses the beings one intends to steal from, he took a step further into the room. “I am Einarr, son of Stigander, of Raenshold. I believe you know why we are here.”

One of the ravens cocked its head to the side and croaked “Cursebreaker.”

The other one dipped as though to grab a morsel of food from thin air. “First accursed.”

“I’m… going to take that as a yes.” Einarr stepped further into the room, never taking his eyes from Wotan’s familiars.

The one who had dipped its head lifted it again with a jerk to stare past Einarr. Runa stepped into the hall, all grace and beauty and self-assurance.

“I hope you will forgive our intrusion, noble birds,” she crooned.

The first raven lifted its open beak in the air and seemed to laugh at her pretense. No-one called ravens noble, even if they were a god’s familiars. “Wily,” it cawed.

“Broken Breaker,” the other began. “Unsnarl the web you hang in.”

“Frigg permits.”

“Wotan reclaims.”

“Be quick!”

Einarr started toward where he could just make out a ladder into what would ordinarily be a loft.

“Touch nothing.”

He stopped at the last command. “Which is it?”

Both birds spoke together now. “Be quick! Touch nothing. Cursebreaker must break his own curse.”

“Hand of Hel grows strong.”

“Frigg permits. Wotan reclaims.”

Confused, Einarr looked with a furrowed brow to first Runa, who shrugged, and then Jorir, still outside the door.

“The Örlögnir,” Jorir mouthed. “Just don’t take anything else.”

Ah. Right. He nodded gratefully at his liege-man and hurried for the dimly glimpsed ladder.

The hall grew smoky as Einarr neared the loft, and his steps seemed to echo in his own ears, but he could still hear the clipped phrases of Huginn and Muninn as Runa attempted to speak with them. It seemed to him that they were teasing her, the thought of which amused him more than he would admit – to her.

Up the ladder he went, the side rails clattering against the wall with every step. The smoke above was thick enough to make his eyes and throat burn: he hoped he could recognize the Örlögnir for what it was: it had been a good long time since he had seen Grimhildr spinning, and he didn’t remember much about hers other than it was a long rod with a pointed end.

The loft was filled with chests, stacked haphazardly, many of them half-open. Inside some of them glinted gold or jewels to tempt a saint. Einarr paused before the fourth of these before shaking his head. They had plenty of wealth after the Allthane’s hoard, or at least they should, but they had no other way of quelling the black blood that tainted both their crews.

“Going to have to try harder than that to throw me off,” he muttered as he continued back, his eyes scanning for the half-remembered shape.

One of the ravens below laughed. The raucous caw grated on Einarr’s nerves.

Then, finally, he spotted a shelf running along the side of the loft. An arrow slit in the wall allowed a thin beam of light to slant down along its length. On it lay a series of rods.

“They said it was… ivory inlaid,” he muttered, trying to remember exactly how the wise women had described it. Five of the rods before him, however, had ivory inlays of various designs. That narrowed it down a little, anyway. But what was the type of wood?

Holly? Hazel? Birch? It was something pale, he felt certain. That narrowed it down to four, at least. …There was someone else along who would know. Runa had been there when the quest was handed down, and was a Singer besides. With a nod, he fixed the place in his mind and went back to the ladder to call across the room. “Runa?”

A raven cackled, as though it knew why he called.

“What is it?” She sounded exasperated.

“Can you leave the others to converse with our hosts? I could use a hand.”

“Go, Lady,” Jorir rumbled, audible all the way across the hall.

Runa exchanged a few words with the dwarf, too low for Einarr to hear, and then nodded. She picked up her skirts and headed back toward the loft.

“I’d hardly call it conversing,” she muttered as she dusted off her hands. “Blasted birds just love being cryptic.”

“Aren’t you the one who was excited to match wits with them?”

Runa hummed. “So what was it you wanted me for?”

“There are a lot of distaffs up here, assuming I remember aright what one looks like. I’ve got it down to four. I’m hoping you can help me narrow it down.”

She smiled at him, and his heart skipped a beat again just like it had every time last winter. “Let’s have a look.”

Einarr led her back toward the shelf. “I don’t suppose you managed to figure out what happens if we get the wrong one?”

She shook her head. “Best case? We get back and find out the Matron’s ritual doesn’t work. Worst case, we bring the tower down on our heads and the ritual fails.”

“I was afraid of that. Well. Let’s figure this out right, then.”

The rods all lay on the shelf exactly where Einarr had found them. He had not dared move them around as he sorted, just in case the ravens’ “touch nothing” had been a little more literal than Jorir seemed to think.

“That one,” he pointed to one that looked like birch with ivory knotwork. “Or one of these three.” The last set, all near to each other, was one holly and two hazel, if his woodcraft did not fail him.

Runa pursed her lips. “Hazel and ivory, they said, for purification. …Which I think means it’s one of these two?”

Einarr groaned. He’d been afraid of that, as the only sample there were two of. If he could touch them… but no. All of them were sure to be magical in some way or another. Nothing for it but to go over the lore. “What else do we know of the distaff?”


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

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

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

5.26 – Poultice

Runa’s song had become little more than a buzzing in the background of Jorir’s attention as he bruised the honeyed leaves in the mortar and prayed the other two would hurry up.

At least Lord Einarr didn’t seem to be growing any worse now. Given enough time, the song magic could probably handle it. Only, they didn’t have that much time. Einarr needed to be back on his feet before they approached their goal, or they might not make it out. At least, Jorir didn’t think any of them would be willing to leave him behind. Even Irding, though new to the crew, seemed to have taken to the Captain’s son.

“Feathery leaves and flat flower clusters, right?”

Jorir nearly jumped out of his skin at Erik’s sudden voice behind him. “Right.”

“There aren’t any white ones, but I found some that are kind of pink?”

He turned around to see the big man holding a pot with the flower he spoke of and rolled his eyes. “Yes, also yarrow. Let me clip some before you take it back. Irding should be looking for the touch-me-nots. …See if you can’t find some woundwort, while you’re at it.”

Finally. That was two of the three plants he needed. If the wound were less grievous, he might try to poultice with just these elements. Under the circumstances, though, Jorir thought it better to be safe. He pinched the yarrow stems and scraped the tiny leaves into his mortar and returned to mixing.

Minutes passed, and still no touch-me-nots. Jorir looked up from his task in irritation. He didn’t think he could wait much longer to apply the poultice – both for the potency of the herbs and the state of his Lord.

On the far side of the room, Erik and Irding appeared to be arguing at a whisper over two plants with yellow flowers – neither of which looked like a touch-me-not from this distance. With a growl, he stood up and hefted the heavy mortar.

“What is taking you so long,” he growled as he approached the two. “…Are you seriously arguing over a buttercup and a goldenrod? Neither of those are what I sent you for.”

Irding frowned down at the goldenrod he had in his hand. “Not a whole lot of yellow flowers out here.”

How does anyone not know a touch-me-not? “It looks like a drinking horn with a wide mouth. Next thing I know you’ll bring me wolfsbane for woundwort!”

“Wolfsbane I know,” Erik rumbled.

“That’s something, anyway. Hurry it up a bit: the longer this takes, the worse it gets.” Jorir turned and walked back towards his Lord on his sickbed.

“So… what does woundwort look like?” Irding’s voice carried across the floor.

Jorir could not suppress a growl. “It’s a small plant. Little cones at the top covered with purple petals. Just bring the whole pot, if you find it.”

Sounds of affirmation followed Jorir back to the center of the room, but he was not hopeful. Oh, they would try, certainly, but he rated their odds as low. He returned to pulverizing the concoction with somewhat more force than before.

“Ha!” Erik’s voice boomed across the room. Not many moments later, a pair of touch-me-not stems appeared on the floor at Jorir’s knee. “Those, yes?”

“Yes, those.” Jorir breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you. Any luck on the woundwort?”

“Still working on it.”

“Fine. This will do for the moment, but keep looking.” He plucked the flowers off the stems and tossed them into the mortar.

Runa was beginning to look tired, but the paste was finally ready. Jorir turned to his patient: Einarr still looked waxy, and his breathing was labored, but finally Jorir had something to help the body along. He met Runa’s eye. “I’m going to untie his bandage now.”

She nodded, and Jorir’s fingers moved to the sodden knot of cloth that had kept Einarr from bleeding out long before. He tugged once, then twice, and all he elicited was a groan from the patient. Shaking his head, Jorir took his eating knife from his belt and sliced the strip near the knot.

Once the cut was uncovered, and it was a long one, blood welled slowly up. Too slowly for Jorir’s liking, but at least it still flowed. He began to dab the sticky mixture across the red gash in his Lord’s side. As he went, the redness faded from the skin almost immediately, as mind and body went to work knitting the flesh with fresh resources. It was incredible healing, even considering the song at work.

Jorir had treated perhaps half the wound when Irding appeared at his side. “Is this the woundwort?”

The dwarf glanced up at the young man. “That’s a thistle.”

“Why would an herb-witch want thistle?” Irding’s confusion was audible as he wandered back into the room in search of the otherwise common herb. Jorir allowed himself a smirk: it would be a good question, in an ordinary herb-witch’s hut. Here, though, where they were obviously being tested?

Jorir neared the end of the gash and his paste at once. Soon he would have to test whether that stack of muslin was suitable for bandages: he hoped it was. The tester seemed to have given them the materials they would need, so long as they could make use of them.

Einarr groaned again and his eyelids fluttered. Jorir nodded as he dabbed on the last of the paste: remarkable vitality on that one, and a good head on his shoulders. A worthy lord, even if perhaps a little fragile. He laid one of the pieces of muslin down across the wound. As he pressed it into place, a white glow caught his eye. What might that be… a feather? He shook his head. Time enough to ask Einarr about it after he was bandaged.

With a groan, Einarr’s eyes finally opened. “Uh? Hello. Would someone mind telling me why I have straw stabbing into my back?”


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! 

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

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

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

5.20 – Tuichu

Runa was terrifying when she was angry. Jorir once again wondered if Einarr knew what he was getting himself into with her. They charged forward, and at every opportunity offered a riddle. Sometimes she even managed to best their opponent, which was really quite impressive when he considered their opponent was, if not Wotan himself, then the god’s familiars.

Unfortunately, before long her mad charge left them in a bit of a pinch, and every time he tried to contradict her tactics she bulled forward. She had been too reckless with their riddling as well, and even between the two of them they had not been able to guess all their opponent’s riddles. Finally, he snapped. “Runa!”

“What.” Even her voice was icy.

“At this rate ye’ll get us both killed. Calm down. Look around.”

She stopped, took a deep breath, and surveyed the pieces surrounding them. Then she frowned. They were not lost yet, but significant portions of the enemy force were visible through their guards.

“The game was weighted against us from the beginning. Ye should have known this, and then you go off half-mad when it’s proven? This isn’t some match against a love-lorn suitor aiming to gain your favor, lass.”

She exhaled, loudly. “No. No, you’re right. Father would be upset if he knew I could still be goaded like that.”

“He’ll be more upset if you never come back. Put your head on straight.”

“Of course. My apologies.”

Jorir snorted. “Now. Between the two of us, let’s find a way out of this mess. It’s hard to say for certain, but I don’t think we’re set up to use that gambit Einarr pulled on me.”

“I don’t suppose it was a particularly clever feint, relying on the opponent misjudging your creativity?”

“I suppose you could call it that.”

Runa laughed. “Pretty sure I taught him that.”

Jorir rolled his eyes. “Nevertheless, I don’t think we’ve got the arrangement for it.”

“The gambit is not in the lay of the board, the gambit is in one’s wits. Help me think, then: we’ve more than enough pieces to pull this off yet.”

Optimism. That is what Einarr saw in her. Optimism and determination, more than stubborn pride. Perhaps she was a better match than he had believed. With a will, they set to winning the game. There were twice he disagreed with her chosen move, but she gave him time to disagree now, and saved not two but six pieces for it. More than a game for their lives, he was having fun.

“Reichi,” they announced together, five moves after Jorir had woken Runa from her rage.

“Very good, Lord. We’ve nearly made it!” The knight sounded cheerful again, after having been nearly cowed before, and distressed over their apparent drubbing.

“Don’t celebrate just yet. He can still block us.” Jorir peered ahead across the field of play, watching for their unseen opponent’s next move.

Sure enough, one of the white-clad pieces jumped into the center of the path, blocking their route.

“Reichi,” echoed across the battlefield. If they weren’t careful, this exchange could go on for ages.

“How many pieces do we have left that can weather more than one fight?” Jorir demanded of the black knight.

“Three, Lord.”

“How many in range to take that one,” Runa said, pointing at the offending piece.

“One, Lord.” Why the knight treated them as one person, Jorir could not guess, but it had been consistent through the game.

They shared a glance and a nod.

“They should take it, then.”

“Very good, Lord. The riddle, then:

What marvel is it which without I saw,
    before break of dawn?
Upward it flies with eagle’s voice,
    and hard grip its claws the helmet.1

Jorir frowned and buried his chin in his hand. Runa crossed her arms and her eyebrows.

“A dragon with a sore throat?” Jorir shook his head. It didn’t fit with the others they’d heard. “No, too irreverent.”

“Can’t be a kalalintu, either. No-one would compare them to eagles,” Runa mused. “A weathervane?”

“Quite a lot of these have been martial…”

Runa offered “A javelin?”

“Javelins don’t really have a voice when they fly…” Jorir raised his head, his eyes sparkling with realization. “But arrows do. Are we agreed?”

When Runa nodded, he turned to their knight. “Our answer is, an arrow.”

“Excellent, Lord.”

One move further on and they were able to declare reichi again. This time, the opponent did not immediately move to block their path. Jorir scowled across the board. “Carefully, now. I smell another trap.”

“You’re right. He should have moved to block our way again.”

And yet, the only thing they could do was move forward, toward the edge of the board, victory, and the rest of their lives.

“Tuichu,” they declared in unison.

A voice boomed across the playing field.

“You have done well, and reached the edge. Before the game is through, there is one final riddle you must prove. Answer well and true, for this storm shall not be weathered.”

Runa growled, the sound as threatening as a wolf puppy’s. Jorir just rolled his eyes. “Well, let’s have it, then.”

The words rang out over the field:

Two brides did bear, white-blond their locks,
and house-maids were they— ale-casks homeward;
were they not shaped by hand nor by hammers wrought;
yet upright sat he on the isles, who made them.2

Jorir blinked once, then again, searching for anything in the words that would give him a hint and coming up empty. “Nothing martial, this time,” was all he could offer.

Runa, though, had the expression he had seen more than once during this maddening game of Thought and Memory’s design. Thus far, it had always been followed by brilliance. Finally, she looked up and directly at the black knight.

Jorir held his breath. He had no answer to give, but should she miss this one…

“You speak of two swans, heading to the shore to lay their eggs. Correct?”

No answer came. Jorir tensed, half expecting the black knights surrounding them to topple and crush him.

Instead, the tafl board vanished. They stood facing a door.


1: From “The Riddles of King Heithrek,” translated on http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/onp/onp17.htm#fr_4
2: ibid


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5.17 – Stenjätte

With a wordless shout of rage, Erik came hurtling back into the fray. It wasn’t just his own skin on the line, now that Irding had joined the fight, and that meant losing simply wasn’t an option.

Was it really in the first place? His conscience muttered in the Captain’s voice and fell silent as Erik brought his axe down not on the ankle, which seemed no less sturdy for the whittling it had taken, but instead on the haft of the golem’s blade. A crack ran along the stone haft from Erik’s blow, too slender to have enough strength in rigid rock as it would have in either wood or steel.

“Oh, jolly good. At last you’re getting serious.” The golem actually seemed to smile at that. Erik couldn’t tell if it wanted to lose or if it just wanted a challenge: either way, he had no intention of swimming back, one-armed or otherwise.

Not that it gave him time to ponder the question. The stenjätte yanked its axe up from where it had wedged into the floor and brought it up to its shoulder. Irding leaped over its head to avoid the blow.

A heartbeat later the golem swung again, paying no heed to the fragile state of his weapon. Erik had to jump to avoid being caught by the wide sweep that covered most of the room.

He landed on the bit of the stenjätte’s axe and grinned at his opponent. Now it was a dance, and while Erik couldn’t hope to keep up with Sivid, Einarr, or even the Captain at the hallingdanse he was no slouch.

The golem gave his axe a toss to turn its blade the other way: Erik’s backflip landed him in the middle of the second side and the crack in the handle grew. Then it rotated the blade to face upwards.

Erik, feeling cheeky, ran up the slope of the bit and balanced on the edge. Then it was the stenjätte’s turn to grin.

Erik’s cheeky grin turned to wide-eyed shock as the golem swung upward with both hands. Irding cursed as the space where he stood to harry it from above became a vise of shoulder and ear.

At the top of the swing Erik realized he was headed in an arc for the floor. He had two choices, and one of them was surely fatal. Erik launched himself to the side as the axe came down towards the floor again.

The axe bit plowed into the stone of the floor, throwing up shards and dust, and the sound of the blow was followed by a mighty crack as the stenjätte’s axe handle shattered.

Their opponent laughed. When it straightened, it held the broken axe handle the way one would hold a club.

“Wonderful! I say, if you keep this up perhaps I shall let you keep your arms to swim home.”

“How generous.” Irding spat as though to punctuate his thoughts on said generosity.

“Well I can’t very well just let you pass. You haven’t defeated me yet. And unless I’m very much mistaken, you’re just about out of tricks.”

Erik shook dust from his hair, his wind mostly recovered. “If you think that means anything, you don’t know humans very well.”

The golem laughed again. “Wonderful spirit. All right then, try your utmost. Perhaps you’ll be the mortals to surprise me.”

Erik dropped back into a fighting posture. “Well, Irding, any ideas to take its head?”

“Not sure it would care about that, either. You nearly hacked off its foot and it didn’t even slow down. Someone made the thing: there has to be something keeping it moving.”

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Erik frowned. “So, some source of magic? Runes, maybe, or something that glows?”

“Maybe?”

“I can hear your plotting, you know. It won’t help.”

Erik grunted. “I’ll buy time. You see if you can spot anything it might be.”

He saw Irding nod from the corner of his eye and charged back into the fight. Let’s see if disarming him the rest of the way will work…

Lacking the weight of the stone axe head, the golem was faster than before. Erik dashed in only to be driven back by quick swings of the broken handle.

He sidestepped another pair of swings before bringing his trusty, probably ruined, axe down again on the slender haft. Chips crumbled off the end, but Erik still had no desire to feel its bite.

“Any luck?” He called, dodging another jab and knocking another several inches off the stone rod.

“Give me a minute!”

“You’re wasting your time. You won’t find anything.”

“That-” Erik brought his axe down hard on the haft, breaking off several more inches of crumbling stone. “Remains to be seen.”

“It really doesn’t, I’m afraid.” The golem swung again at Erik, who threw himself into a roll to avoid the blow. “You are right, I have a key, but you’ll not find it about the room.”

Erik sprang up from his roll as the wind from the club passed overhead, just a moment too late to get another strike in on it. “Oh? Since you’re feeling so generous, then, where is it?”

The low rumbling sound that was the golem’s laughter sounded again. “I thought you’d never ask. It’s right here.”

A circle of runes began to glow yellow on its chest. Erik could see no way up there. Irding had managed, once, but Erik wasn’t certain he could reach the golem’s heart from its shoulder. Not without taking a fall. Erik cursed. I should have kept at his foot. Knock him over, get the heart.

“Why are you telling us this?”

“Master created me to challenge those who attempt his tower millenia ago. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve had a proper challenge? Hit my key, if you can!” The golem swung again, this time at Irding. The boy – man – sprawled flat on the floor just ahead of the club.

“By all the conventions of duelling, we beat you when your axe broke.”

“But I exist to fight! So, come!” The golem swung at Erik again.

Rather than dodge, Erik took a deep breath and braced himself. As the improvised club sailed towards his chest, he wrapped both arms around it even as it knocked the breath from his lungs. Probably broke a rib or two. He clung there, desperately gasping for air, as the club continued to sail through the air.

His trajectory changed: Erik scrabbled up the club towards the golem’s arm and once again narrowly avoided being slammed into the floor.

“I say, you are quite heavy. This is not a proper way of fighting.”

Erik roared as he neared the stenjätte’s shoulder. “I’m not a proper man!”

He gathered his legs under himself, staring at the runes that still glowed over where a man’s heart should be. Won’t hurt worse than the wolf’s bite. He launched himself, axe pulled back and ready to strike, across the golem’s chest. When Erik buried his blade in the center of the rune circle, he thought he saw a look of gratitude pass the golem’s face. Then he curled himself into a ball, ready to roll with the fall.

Right up until he collided not with hard stone but with the body of the only other person in the room.


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

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

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

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