On the fragile page beneath Einarr’s fingertips, writing in a surprisingly delicate hand filled the first page of the book. At first glance it appeared to be in no writing Einarr had ever seen – not runes, and certainly not Imperial script. Then it was as though the words on the page began to swim around, rearranging themselves into something recognizable.
“Runa? Jorir? I think you’ll want to see this.”
Chronicle of the Cursebreaker’s Exile
I, Guthbrandr son of Eyvindr, the first of that name, record these events not for posterity but for my own sanity – however much of it yet remains.
Let me state first that, of everything which has befallen me, I was warned. The very method that ensured my survival these many years has led directly to my downfall. If there can be a ‘dark art’ of curse breaking, I have fallen to it.
A ‘dark art’ of breaking curses? Einarr blinked: he didn’t think he’d been doing anything more than muddling along. Could you really call that an Art? Or, perhaps, Einarr was still skating through on luck alone? The old man continued:
I, in my third year after being Called, discovered a method that allowed me to take the magic powering a curse and repurpose it once the curse was broken. I thought myself so clever: here, finally, was a way to grow strong enough to meet every challenge thrown at me, without losing any more.
Fool that I was! I thought the raw power purified once the thrall was broken, and I made it my own. But I could not fully turn it, and so it coalesced within and turned me, corrupting me.
And I was warned.
Now I sit here and rot on the island where at last my foolish pride came due. The Isle I had thought to free, but instead threw under the shadow of an even more powerful curse: my own, corrupted soul. This island, which used to be so vibrant, is now wiped from the minds of those outside, doomed to be forgot – it, and everything on it.
The door of the shack closed with a bang. Startled, guilty, Einarr looked at the door like a deer suddenly confronted with wolves. The old man stood in the doorway, unsurprised and unconcerned, looking for all the world as though he had not only expected but intended for Einarr to find the journal.
It took Einarr only a moment to understand. “Guthbrandr Eyvindersen?”
“The very same.”
“I’m told that no-one else on the island can see you.”
“Oh, my body long since rotted into dust. Even my bones, I wager, somewhere here on this beach.”
“Am I to take it you wish us to break the curse of the Island?”
The old man nodded. “It’s not the island that’s cursed, my boy. It’s me. You’d do well to remember that. But I reckon it’s the only way you and your friends get out of here.”
Einarr stood to face the shade of his predecessor. “So? What do we need to do?”
Guthbrandr held up one hand. “All in good time. First, why don’t you tell me why you lot washed up here?”
With a sigh, and looking vaguely embarrassed, Einarr reached into the pouch that hung from his belt and produced two lustrous, unruffled black feathers.
The old man’s face twisted in confusion.
“I was tasked with retrieving something from the Tower of Ravens – something my father and his crew need very desperately right now. On the way up the tower, I got a Valkyrie’s feather.” He gestured to the buckle of his baldric.
The old man nodded in understanding. “So when you’d won your prize and those were just lying there, how could you resist?”
“I have to admit, after what I just read I’m not sure that makes me feel any better.”
The old man threw his head back and laughed. “You’ll do all right, boy. But if you want my help, there’s a price.”
“Go on.” That was only to be expected. Breaking this one would probably destroy the shade, after all.
“You take that little book of mine with you, and you let people know I existed.”
Einarr didn’t even have to think about that one. “I would even if you hadn’t asked.”
Guthbrandr lowered his head in thanks. When he raised it again, he said, “In that case, put that gold chain around your neck and follow me.”
The three of them picked up a small trail of followers as they walked down the beach after the erstwhile Cursebreaker. First were Erik and Irding, come to see this through to the end, and then Arkja – to sate his curiosity, as far as Einarr could tell. He could not begin to think how this must look to the man. The other newcomers were quite sure they wanted to be nowhere near a Cursebreaker in action. On the one hand, Einarr couldn’t fault them for that. On the other, it did make him wonder how they would fare on the Vidofnir.
Einarr followed his predecessor down the beach to the south. The same direction he had come from just the other day. Whatever it was that bound him, then, must be hidden somewhere in that direction.
The coast curved back to the right, so that the Gestrisni was hidden from view by a dune. Not long after, a tiny inlet led into what appeared to be an equally tiny cave. Guthbrandr did not hesitate, but led them into the brackish water and up into the cave. The passage was narrow, but even in the very center the water only came up to Einarr’s knees.
The light of the entrance had shrunk to a pinprick by the time Guthbrandr came to an abrupt stop in a wider area. There seemed to be dry ground to either side, here, and while it was hard to be sure, Einarr thought he saw bits of tarnished silver in among the river rocks.
“I can go no further,” the shade announced.
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