Over the course of a week the seas plied by the whalers of Attilsund and, now, the Vidofnir grew colder, until it felt more like they were out early in the spring rather than the middle of summer. That they had not yet seen floating ice did not reassure Einarr about the lack of icebergs in the area.

No ice did not mean no thing, however. Occasionally, through the fog off to the east, he thought he saw the shadow of a ship. When he mentioned it to Bardr, the man nodded and doubled the watch.

The move from calm seas to rough waters was just as gradual. They were a week and a half out from Attilsund when they started doing battle with the sail, and a few days beyond that the currents grew mischievous.

The mysterious ship was closer, when it appeared again, although still too far to make out its banner. The Vidofnir assumed a battle footing until they once again lost sight of their shadow

Svarek was tasked with helping Sivid watch the sounding line, just as Irding joined Erik wrestling the sail. The sea was wearing them down, and their target had not yet come into view through the mist that always seemed to obscure the horizon line. And they whale these waters?

On the thirteenth day, a dark shape seemed to rise in the mist out on the horizon. “Land ho!” came the cry from the forecastle.

“Ready oars!” Stigander ordered.

One hour passed, then another, before they felt the waters begin to tug at their boat in earnest and the sounders called a warning. “Hard starboard!”

The oarsmen put their backs into the turn. A moment later a gust of wind puffed into the sail and chilled their necks. Then the true challenge began.

Einarr’s forearms bulged as he fought with his oar, his ears straining for orders from Captain or sounding line. The Vidofnir pitched underfoot. He could be grateful, at least, that there was no rain to slick the deck.

For what felt like hours they fought their way past hidden shoals and unpredictable winds. Now Einarr saw ice when he looked up and, when he had a moment to breathe and looked behind them, their shadow, following the same approach to the ship-barrow that the Vidofnir had plied. “Looks like we’ve got competition, boys!”

Their shadow-ship bore a blue and white sail, and still they were too far to make out the creature on their banner.

“Let ‘em come!” Erik’s laughter was met with cheers from elsewhere on deck.

“Let’s see if they’ve got the guts for what comes next.” Stigander crossed his arms and stared dead ahead. “Mind your oars! Prepare to retract on my word!”

“Aye, sir!” The Chute was ahead where, based on the sea charts and their best reckoning, the safest route forward would take them up a narrow channel between two large rocks jutting up out of the sea.

Stigander took his time getting the Vidofnir lined up to shoot the gap.

A cold wind filled their sail. “Row for all you’re worth, boys!”

They put their backs into it, unsure even now if the channel would be wide enough for their ship, hoping momentum might carry them through a tight squeeze.

The cliffs drew up rapidly on either side. As the cock’s head of the Vidofnir entered the shadow of the rocks they seemed to loom overhead.

“Oars in!”

With one practiced motion and the clatter of wood striking wood, the oarsmen stowed their oars.

“I want half of you on battle footing. Be on the lookout for kalalintu, or any hostile movements from the ship that’s tailing us. The rest of you stay put in case we have to pole off the rocks.”

Einarr moved to battle footing, feeling only a little bad for those who were too slow to escape oar watch. He wasn’t likely to shiver less than they, and while the possibility of a kalalintu attack was a real danger, they didn’t exactly stir the blood.

“Portside nudge.”

His father’s voice echoed twice as loud off the water’s surface and the rock walls, even over the whistling wind, and Einarr started. Calm down. We’ll make it.

The gobbling screech of kalalintu floated down the chasm to his ears, but the winged fish remained out of sight. Einarr glanced up: the sky had shaded from blue to silver since they’d entered the chute.

“Starboard nudge.”

Einarr managed not to jump that time. The wind seemed to be dying down, though, and he thought he heard the tell-tale creaking of wood from off behind them. It seemed odd, though, that he could not see them now.

He blinked. It wasn’t just the sky that had gone grey: the cliff ledges far above were shrouded with haze, as well as anything more than about a hundred feet forward or back of the Vidofnir. It seemed to have gotten colder, as well: when he exhaled, he could see his breath.

A low muttering rose around the deck of the Vidofnir as the others noticed this as well. Einarr thought he heard some of the men praying forgiveness from the ancestors for what they were about to do. Not that it was likely to do much good. Well. If it came down to it, they could sacrifice some of whatever they found to grant the shipwrecked spirits a proper rest. But first, they had to make it through the chute to the isle of wrecks.

The Vidofnir rocked and wood ground against stone.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

 

Bardr must have purchased miles’ worth of extra rope for this expedition, and as much fresh water as they could store. Even still, it was a short journey from Attilsund, and spirits were high as they loaded the Vidofnir with supplies for a six-week trek to investigate the ship barrow.

To Einarr’s mind, most of the crew were too focused on the potential rewards once they got there by half. He didn’t doubt they could do it, of course, but those who failed to respect the sea were often claimed by her. For his part, he joined his father in reviewing the local charts.

The waters of Svartlauf seemed an apt comparison indeed. While there was unlikely to be an eternal tempest surrounding this area, the rock formations suggested terrible winds indeed.

“I’m glad we’ve a Singer with such a powerful voice,” he said at one point, tapping a particularly narrow passage where the currents were likely to be troublesome. “I’m not sure we would have been able to hear Astrid over these winds. What do you make of this? Will we fit?”

Stigander hummed in thought. “Hope so, otherwise we’ll have to back out and circle around, come in over here.”

Einarr shuddered. “You mean where we’d have to pole off the rocks to get anywhere? I’ll take my chances with the chute. That was bad enough in the Gufuskalam.”

“Which reminds me. Has anyone thought to ask about kalalintu?”

“No more than an ordinary harassment,” Bardr put in. “A flock, maybe two. Nowhere near a colony.”

“That’s something.” Einarr glanced up to see Irding and Svarek hovering just within earshot of their conversation. “A moment.”

The two newcomers to the crew tried to make themselves look busy as he approached. “What seems to be the trouble?”

“Ah, no trouble, sir.” Svarek started, but he wouldn’t look at Einarr while he said it.

“Bollocks. You two are nervous as fresh-weaned deer, and I’m quite sure I saw you joining in with everyone when we voted. Out with it.”

Irding scratched the back of his skull sheepishly. “Ah, well, it’s like this. We were talking in the square earlier, nothin’ too serious, about what we might find out there. One of the village boys must’ve overheard, ‘cause he comes by and tells us we’re fools fer goin’, ‘cause even if we get past the rocks we’ll have spirits to deal with.”

“Spirits?” Einarr raised an eyebrow.

“The restless dead,” Svarek filled in.

Now Einarr smiled, shaking his head. “Lads, if that’s all you’re worried about, get back to work. Even if the island is haunted, we’ve got one of the finest Singers I’ve ever met. She’ll keep our courage up, and so long as we’ve got that spirits can’t touch us. Okay?”

They both nodded, although Einarr thought he saw them swallow first. “Good work, finding that out though. Now get back to work. We’ll be sailing soon.”

Bardr raised an eyebrow as he returned to the table where the charts were spread out.

“One of the locals brought up the possibility of spirits.”

“Ah.” Bardr nodded. With as many sailors as were likely unburied on that island, it was a reasonable concern, but not one they were totally unprepared for.

“I’m sure she does, but Reki does know the grave songs, right?”

“I’ve never met a Singer who didn’t,” Stigander grumbled. “But I’ll confirm.”

***

When the Vidofnir put off from Attilsund with the evening tide, it was with an odd mix of sobriety and ebullience. Reki, as she stepped to the bow of the ship to begin the recitation, carried silence in her wake: there were two who had not yet heard the Song of Raen, for they had not been in port long enough at Apalvik to warrant its recitation. Truth be told, were it not for the dangerous waters they approached, they might have let it slide for the few days they had been here.

Watching the new crew’s reactions to the Song was interesting. Svarek wept – as some few did, their first hearing, although it felt to Einarr as though there were a personal note to it. Irding, on the other hand, stood by his father’s side, clenching and unclenching his fist. He’s going to fit right in.

Then, as the last lines faded over the water, Einarr sidled back to the prow to join his own father, Bardr, and Jorir with a cask of mead. Knowing he was their way of breaking the curse brought them little closer to actually doing so, after all.

Dawn this far north, when it came, was crisp and bright, with little of the warmth you might see in the sky farther south.

“All right, you lot, let’s move!” Bardr was bellowing to bring those still addled by last night’s drink to their feet. “We’ve got two weeks before the waters get rough, and we’ve still got a few things left to repair from those thrice-cursed Valkyries.”

Einarr yawned, well aware that they were all above the water line, and not much more troublesome than a split in a deck board or a weak patch of sail. It would have been nice, though, if Bardr had shown a little consideration for the morning after the recitation.

The rest of the crew was stirring, with about as much enthusiasm as Einarr felt. Fine. We’re up. Best get moving or I’ll freeze. He stood, stomping his feet in his boots to start the blood flowing. It was strange, though: they had only just left Attilsund, and already the temperature seemed to have dropped rather drastically. Mentally, he cursed.

“Eyes open for ice, everyone.” They might not see any today, but with as unseasonably cold as the air was Einarr wouldn’t be surprised to see a floe or two. This was going to be a long few weeks.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

 

The crew of the Vidofnir sets sail to investigate a ship’s graveyard not far from Attilsund in search of treasure and tales to tell. The waters they must sail are treacherous, though, and wind and wave are far from the only forces they will need to contend with.

The hike back down the mountain the next morning was cool and crisp and surprisingly straightforward, with the sun washing everything in fresh hues and no visions to slow their progress.

Einarr could not quite have the spirits fitting for the day. Before he met Runa he’d thought he could be perfectly happy with a life spent roaming the waves. He knew if they found a way to undo the Weaving that would end… but the possibility had never quite seemed real. To be honest, this new reality didn’t quite seem real yet, either, but it was a somewhat heavier reality to the one he had not quite managed to let go of yet.

Still, though, Jorir seemed happy, as did Father, and a Calling like this was a call to glory. Einarr shoved the weightier aspects to the back of his mind, turning his focus instead to enjoying the hike ahead of them. The clouds had nearly cleared from his head by the time the trail leveled off at the bottom of the mountain.

The noises coming from the village were nearly as joyous as the conversation among the group that had gone up the mountain, although perhaps somewhat more focused. As they stepped up to the village square, it became plain that Bardr was preparing for something big. They stood there for several moments before the Mate looked up from the stream of supplies he was directing – in both directions, evidently.

“Captain! You’re back!” A surprisingly boyish grin split Bardr’s face as he hurried over to greet the five of them. “The Elder said you’d be down today.”

“And here I am. Looks like you’ve been busy while I was away.”

“And how. Heard a fascinating story from the locals. Provided you agree, we all thought it might be worth checking out.”

Stigander raised an eyebrow.

“It seems some time ago one of their whaling boats caught sight of a ship’s graveyard not many weeks northeast of here. Treacherous shoals keep most ships away… but this whaler thought he saw the figurehead of the last Allthane’s ship.”

Einarr raised his eyebrows in surprise. Jorir whistled. While supposedly the last Allthane had been lost at sea, that was hundreds of years ago.

“D’ye think there’s anythin’ left?” Jorir voiced Einarr’s concern. Stigander nodded along. Sivid, on the other hand, looked like he might have caught Bardr’s enthusiasm.

“Not a whole lot of folks come out this direction, and I’m not gonna lie. Tyr and I looked at the charts the locals keep. Getting in there’s going to be tricky. Getting out, too. But if we can manage it, I’ll lay odds we’ll be set for the year.”

Stigander puffed out his moustache. “Knowing you, you’ve already bought a copy of these charts. Show me.”

***

“All right lads. I understand Bardr’s been filling your heads with all the treasure we’re likely to find if we get in to this ship-barrow, or you all wouldn’t be so excited. I’ll tell you now, though, unless every last one o’ you signs on after I tell you what we’re up against, we’re headed south.” Stigander looked over his men, waiting a moment until he was sure he had everyone’s attention.

There is a reason this island is a ship-barrow. Based on what I’ve seen, the only ones among us who even might have seen waters as dangerous are the three who went to Svartlauf this spring. The currents are tricky, and unless I miss my guess the wind will howl. Once we’re inside, whether we find anything good or not, we have to get out. If we find something good, we’ll have to get out with a heavier ship.” Now he paused to let the murmuring die down again.

“If our circumstances were different than they are in any conceivable way, this would not even be a question. We would head south, and leave the barrow for men with more guts than brains. Now my crew has never lacked for guts. There’s no shame if your good sense overrides your glory seeking here. So. Do we attempt to reach the Allthane’s wreck, or do we seek our fortune through more conventional means?”

Father was being over-cautious, Einarr thought. He’d gotten the Gufuskalam in and out of Svartlauf with only three men, after all. Given that their line was at stake, however, he had trouble faulting his father for it. Too much.

The silence built after Stigander’s question. A few of the men exchanged glances and whispered thoughts. Stigander stood ahead of them, his arms folded, watching.

Then someone called out “All-thane!” It may have been more than one someone speaking together: Einarr couldn’t tell from where he stood.

Then more joined in. “All-thane! All-thane!”

It became a chant. Einarr, too, joined. As Father had said, the Vidofnings had never lacked for bravery, and in just a few short months they would have to provide payment for a new ship… and men to crew it. The promise of treasure, and maybe a little adventure, was sufficient.

Bardr looked smug, standing off to the side. Einarr sidled around the edge of the crew to stand between his father and their second in command. “I think that’s your answer, Father.”

Stigander harrumphed, but his expression said he had expected no less from the men of Breidelsteinn.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

For as nervous as Einarr had been about the answer to his father’s question, he felt no trepidation at all on the matter of his own.

The Oracle, too, seemed less reluctant before his question than she had before Stigander’s, spending less time than she had for anyone save Arring reviewing her materials. She turned to look expectantly at him.

“My lady Oracle, how might I best win over the father of my beloved without betraying my own family?”

She nodded: it was, more or less, the question he was sure she’d expected. With a graceful efficiency the Oracle turned to her loom and began to spin.

As the hours passed, he found he was just as perplexed as to the meaning of his weaving as to Stigander’s, though for entirely different reasons. Images abounded, but while they all connected to him they did not seem to connect to one another. One small consolation, they all appeared to require him to show his mettle and his virtue… although that may not have been as much of a consolation as it seemed.

Before he quite realized she was done, the rhythmic clacking of the shuttles quieted, and instead he heard a single muted clunk of wood on stone.

In expectation of her next demand, he said “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“No, of course not. You are yet young, even among humans.” The Oracle sighed quietly.

“There are no shortcuts, Cursebreaker.” She paused a long moment here. “Your princess’ father must be convinced that you are not the feckless wandering youth your past would suggest. Prove yourself reliable, virtuous, and valiant, and for the sake of your Father’s friendship and his daughter’s devotion he will agree.”

“Do not make the mistake of believing this easy, for life is often less clear-cut than the tests of virtue you underwent to reach this place.” She turned around to face him and stepped forward. In the next moment, she had taken his hands in hers as though she were his mother. “Truth be told, your father could have told you the same with near as much conviction. He would lack only the certainty that his friend’s opposition was neither fated nor everlasting.”

“Apologies, my lady. I did not mean to waste your time.”

“Not a waste, Cursebreaker. Your reading, and your father’s, have allowed you to see the limits of your perception, and that in itself is valuable training. Your calling has already placed a pair of tasks in front of you, both of which will wait a time. Go. Learn. Gather men to impress your princess’ father. When the time comes, you will see what you must do.”

“Thank you, Oracle.”

“That’s better. Now we should rejoin the others.”

***

If the table that night was any less lavishly appointed than the one when they arrived three days previous, it was only because the dinner guests were less hungry for mead and meat when well-rested and no mushrooms had stewed in the mead. As the evening wore on the Oracle took each of them aside separately to speak of payments.

Einarr gave a sympathetic half-smile when it was Arring’s turn. The man grew visibly tense when she called him aside, and stood a half-step farther away from her than looked quite natural. The Oracle had meant well when she declared the man should remarry… but under the circumstances it had been the exact wrong thing to say.

The apprentices moved around the table but kept quiet, leaving the Vidofnings’ conversation to flow naturally wherever it would. Tonight that was to the laying of plans, for tomorrow or the day after they would set sail once more. Sivid was going on at length about how what was needed now was men, first and foremost, when a slender elven hand fell lightly on Einarr’s shoulder.

“We must yet discuss your fee.”

“Of course, milady.”

She led him away from the table and the fire, and in the moonlight she seemed to glow. “Your request was, in truth, but a small thing. Your education, however rushed, is another matter.”

“I understand.”

“Do you? Truth be told, I would rather keep you here, perhaps for a year and a day, to serve as my apprentices do and receive proper instruction. However, I fear time is too short for that, and the Eagle would never agree. You have seen one of the demon ships?”

“Yes.” There was no better word to describe the ship that had stolen Astrid away from his father.

“If they ply the waves already, then experience shall have to teach you. I have at least set you on the path. Thus, this I will demand of you: when your firstborn child passes eight winters, you will send them to me for a year and a day, and they shall pay your debt and gain a proper education in the process.”

Einarr swallowed. “And should my firstborn not reach eight winters?”

“Then you shall send the eldest who reaches that age, although I doubt any such substitution will occur. Do you consent?”

He gave it as a credit that he only had to consider for a moment. An apprenticeship under an Elven oracle was not a chance lightly passed over. “I do.”

“Good. Oh, and do yourself a favor. Learn the runes. Contrary to your father’s opinion, they do come in handy.”

“I shall look into it, milady.”

The Oracle nodded crisply and motioned toward the table where it sounded like Sivid and Arring were arguing over whether coin or crew was most important just now. Einarr had reached the table before he realized she was no longer behind him.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

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.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

 

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.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

The Oracle turned her back on him almost languidly and walked back to the finished tapestry. She raised a hand to touch the lyre that tied itself to a tafl king whenever the instrument appeared. “Tell me, the harp. Is that the pretty young maiden from your vision? The one whose father you wish to ask me how to win?”

“Probably. She is the one who gave me what was later the ‘instrument of Jorir’s defeat.’”

The Oracle nodded. “You may need her ruthlessness, but keep close watch on it.”

“Then… a Tuning…”

“Is the black art of song. You didn’t seriously think the only Art that could be turned to evil was weaving, did you?”

“I…”

The Oracle shook her head. “Weavers bind fate, Singers influence the mind, Painters and Sculptors create physical effects, the work of a good Smith is said to have a soul. Which of these could not be perverted? …But that is not what you are here for. Tell me what you see in your friend’s weaving.”

“The black mountain topped with black clouds is his home, oppressed by a darkness blacker than Urdr’s. The king and the lyre dance about outside the darkness, until the lyre is swallowed by it…” He had to swallow. Didn’t she say the lyre was Runa? “And the king pierces the clouds. When the lyre plays, it rains.”

“Not bad. With the proper training, you could have made a passable soothsayer.”

Einarr grimaced, and the Oracle laughed.

“You see how things connect. It wasn’t perfect, of course, but better than expected – even for a newly fledged Cursebreaker.” She turned her attention to Jorir, and her tone became distant. “Smed Världslig, your fears are exaggerated, but not unfounded. The monstrous ones have gained a foothold in your home, have gained the ear of the thane. The svartdvergr of the mountain will soon descend again into the barbarous caves. Even should you defeat the witch in time, her poison will take time to purge. Gather allies to the cause of your lord, and he will reward you handsomely when the time is right. Act swiftly, but prudently, that the Cursebreaker will be ready when the time approaches. You will know the time by these signs: the eagle will feed on the wolf; demons will claim the waves; and dragons shall bear winged spears.”

Einarr blinked. He had seen none of those symbols on the cloth until she spoke their names, but as she did his eyes were drawn to them. Well. This is why she is the Oracle and I am just a prince with no holdings.

Now she turned a gentle smile on his liege-man. “Take heart, young child of the earth. You yet have time.”

Jorir bowed deeply before the Oracle. “My thanks, my lady. What payment do you require of me this day?”

“Though it has been more than a century since you were last here, this cannot be considered a separate weaving. The presence of the Cursebreaker was both the prerequisite and the payment, and so our debts are paid. Unless you had something else?”

“Nay, lady.”

She nodded before turning her attention back to Einarr. “As for you.” She pursed her lips, considering. “Your fate is sufficiently intertwined with the others that I would have you stay here as I weave for them. This is not like to be a quick process, however, and your threads may become knotted in unexpected ways. Do you assent?”

“These men are my crewmates and my family. If my presence is required, I shall not withhold it.” He did not hesitate, although his mind still reeled from what he had been shown already this morning. How was he going to take in the Weavings of all the rest, as well?

“Good. Watch carefully, as we go. You will learn much that will aid you on your way.”

It took two hours for the Oracle’s assistants to re-string the loom, even working quickly. Then Sivid was called up. Images rose before Einarr’s eyes, one after another, while the Oracle shuttled colored threads backward and forward faster than his eye could follow. Some of them made sense. More of them did not.

Here and there the tafl king reappeared. Did it mean the same thing for Sivid as it did for Jorir? If so, he thought it likely Sivid would no longer count him a friend by the end of it: he would be responsible both for setting the man on the path that would get him what he wanted, and for it’s destruction. Einarr was too dazed by the end of it to really take in the Oracle’s interpretation of the weave.

They broke for lunch, all except the two apprentices. They used the time to set up the loom for Arring’s request.

For about five minutes, Einarr stared into the bowl of nut gruel, clutching his spoon in hand. He sighed and stood, shoving the spoon into the mash in the bowl, to stride across the clearing to where the Oracle took dainty bites of the same stuff. “My lady, might I trouble you for a moment?”

“Sit down, Cursebreaker. You have questions about your friend’s reading this morning?”

“I do.”

“Very well. His was a deceptively simple request, was it not?”

“And one I wonder if he won’t come to regret.”

“You’re concerned about the shattering in his path?”

Einarr nodded. “It looked like it was my fault?”

She shook her head. “Only time will tell. I suspect not, however. That is an inflection point, a point of choice, and I would remind you that I told him as much.”

“I… of course.”

The corner of her mouth quirked in what was not quite a smile. “I suppose this is all rather a lot to take in, isn’t it. Ask Avrindân: she can provide you with something that will sharpen your senses this afternoon. There will not be time to read for you or your father today, so take comfort in that.”

“Thank you, …my lady.” She had thus far shown no inclination to give a name, and Einarr was not inclined to test her on it.

The Oracle nodded, and he ate as he moved over to where Avrindân and the girl with a voice like silver bells still worked.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents