Three days later, Einarr was buoyant when he caught his first glimpse of the easternmost farm of the village. He had returned from a quest, and for the first time since Jarl Hroaldr had sent him to rob the jotün he actually felt richer for the victory. There was, after all, no-one to bury this time.
As the three men walked past, Hrug cradling the bandaged stump of his arm as best he could, the alfs of the village welcomed them warmly. Einarr suspected word had come ahead, somehow – or, as was always possible, they had performed another of their divinations. The welcome was far warmer than he would have expected, even just for himself.
Melja stood in the village square, dressed as he always was in the rough, almost monastic clothes that Einarr had come to expect from the villagers. “Well, well, well,” he chuckled. “If it isn’t the hero of the decade, returned to us. With friends, no less!”
“Ah, yes. Elder Melja, allow me to present Naudrek and Hrug,” he said, gesturing to each in turn. “Formerly of the Bjorn. Their assistance ensured the Shroud was destroyed, and in turn they have no ship to return to.”
Melja glanced at Hrug and nodded: why he could no longer sail was obvious. But then he turned his eye towards Naudrek and raised an eyebrow at Einarr.
“I’m afraid we, ah, stepped on his Captain’s toes a little in the process of fighting the Shroud.”
Naudrek snorted. “He treats that ship like it was his only child. I bullied the lookout to let you on, and we cut up the deck. I shoulda known better, really.”
Einarr turned back to Melja with a shrug. “And there you have it.”
The Elder nodded. “I take it you managed to discover the key to awakening Sinmora?”
“Yes, thanks to a Singer in the port. Sinmora… she seemed to eat the Shroud. Just like she seemed to eat the magic of the wards. All she needed was to touch it, once she was resonating.”
“Resonance, you say. Interesting… Well, we’ll have time enough to examine the sword while you’re here.” Melja looked back at Hrug, considering. “Well, in that case, you are well come to the Shrouded Village. The quest was a part of Einarr’s training… but I think we can see about some reward for the two of you.”
“Thank you, sir.” Naudrek bobbed his head, as though he weren’t sure if he should bow or not. Einarr remembered the feeling.
“Mira and I still have some room. Einarr, show them to the house and then meet me at the archive. There’s much to do yet if you want to rejoin your ship in the spring.”
“In the spring? I thought I was to go back in late fall, before the end of the Season.”
“Oh, goodness, no,” Melja chuckled. “If you’d had no talent for the working, maybe, but you’ve got the knack and you’re clever besides. I simply can’t send you back half-trained.”
“What do you mean, you can’t send me back?”
“You have shown surprising talent for the runes – far more than I expected when our mutual friend brought you here – and you have already stumbled upon an excellent way of killing yourself with them if you leave here half-trained. Which you would, if I sent you back to your ship this fall. Especially given the time you lost to hunting the Shroud.”
Which, he did not add, would not have been free in the first place were it not for Einarr’s mysterious sword. He did not need to: it had been said already.
“My Father expects me back. He has commissioned a second ship, one which I’m to helm, which will be ready on our return to Kjell.” Runa also expected him back, but he did not intend to mention her. Or his eagerness to brag of his deeds before Jarl Hroaldr.
“Nevertheless, you will stay. I daresay your father desires a live heir more than a dead one, and if the price of that is that someone else helms your ship in the interim, then that is the price that must be paid. You cannot leave here. Not so early.”
“When Ystävä arrives to take me back to Breidhaugr—”
“Our mutual friend has already been made aware of the situation. He will not be coming until the spring.”
Einarr gaped for a long minute. Was this what came of dealing with alfs? “This is not what we agreed on!”
Melja drew himself up to his full height and stared down at Einarr, all trace of warmth gone from his demeanor. “I am modifying the agreement. As your Master in the art of Runes, I declare that you are not ready. Should I let you loose on the world as you are now, you would be a menace to yourself and those around you. Now. Show your guests to the longhouse. There is work to be done.”
The old alfr turned and stalked away into the village. Einarr must have twitched, as though he intended to go after him, because he felt a pair of restraining hands on his arms. When he turned to look, Hrug shook his head.
“Pretty sure that’s a fight you don’t want to win.” Naudrek looked more serious than Einarr had seen since he got kicked off the Bjorn.
“I only came here to learn how to read them in the first place.”
“And yet, you’ve not hesitated to use them once, that I’ve seen. An’ you’re an honorable man, but you’re also a clever one. Best listen to him, don’t you think?”
Einarr grumbled, still staring after Melja. Finally he gave a sharp tug at the hem of his tunic. “Fine. You’re… not wrong. This way.”
Spring, then. Spring, at the earliest, before he could boast of his deeds to the Jarl. Before he could hear Erik and Bardr and Jorir’s tales of what had happened while he was away. Spring, at the earliest, before he could see Runa. He quashed a growl, knowing that Melja and Naudrek and the old Singer, whose hands he saw in this, were right.
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! Here ends book 7: Einarr and the Crimson Shroud. Book 8 will begin on Oct. 1, 2019, and marks the beginning of an entirely new arc in the story. I hope you’re looking forward to it!
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