Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

The winter’s ice was not so thick around the Shrouded Village, and while he was never short of work to do Einarr found that the winter passed quickly – dare he say, even pleasantly. Almost before he realized it the first day of Spring arrived.

Naudrek had made himself useful about the village as he could over the winter, but showed neither interest nor aptitude with the runes. For that reason he spent far more time than he liked with nothing to do save spar with Einarr.

Hrug, on the other hand, saw for himself a way to reclaim his life in the study of runes and threw himself at it with gusto. Einarr could hardly blame the man, although it stung a bit that Hrug seemed to be the better student. Still, no matter. ‘Ystäva’ was expected on the equinox, and Einarr had made his preparations to leave with Naudrek, Hrug, and Eydri, the Singer who had wintered in Eskiborg in reliance on his own assurances.

The day of the equinox was unseasonably stormy and cold, and Melja’s mood grew as foul as the weather as the day stretched on.

Noon passed, and then midafternoon. As the day waned to evening, Melja called the four of them aside.

“It is as I feared. Something has rendered the High Roads impassable, or he would already be here.”

Einarr let loose a low growl of frustration. “So now what do we do?”

Melja drew himself up to his full height. “There is much you could yet learn, if you were willing to stay and wait on the High Road to stabilize…” Here he paused, gauging Einarr’s reaction. “But you have been anxious to return to your crew for half the winter at least, and there is no telling how long the Roads will be unusable.”

Einarr nodded. “I don’t wish to seem ungrateful, of course, but a part of me fears I have already tarried too long.”

“Then I suggest you get yourselves a boat. You’ve the start of a good crew here, if a little unorthodox. You should be able to make your way north to Kjell, at the very least.”

Einarr ran over the options in his head before answering. “I can’t afford the sort of boat we’d need,” he admitted. A little skiff like the Gufuskalam would do it, but he suspected even that would run too high. “Which means we need to find ourselves berths with someone headed that way.”

He glanced around at his newfound companions. Eydri was a Singer: she would be easy. He and Naudrek were a pair of good sword-arms: that also shouldn’t be an issue. But then there was Hrug…

“All right, everyone. How do we sell a superstitious Captain on taking along a new-minted Runemage?”

Eydri cleared her throat. “Two new-minted Runemages, I believe you mean.”

“I don’t have to be anything more than a swordsman for whatever berth we find. Honestly, I’d prefer that. Fewer questions to answer. But for all his valor and skill as a sailor, Hrug is a one-armed mute. I’ve never met a Captain who would take a warrior or an oarsmen in that condition. Sorry, Hrug.”

The man in question gave a grunt and a shrug, which Einarr took to mean he wasn’t bothered.

“But just because he can’t fight physically doesn’t mean he’s not valuable to the right crew. Especially since he’s a fair sight better with the runes than I will probably ever be. But we need the right Captain and the right crew, or there will be no end of trouble.” There was a certain strain of thinking among some of the Clans that made magic use out to be unmanly. Ending up on board a ship with someone like last fall’s thief, for example, could be disastrous.

“You’re pretty good with divinations, right?” Naudrek nudged his friend’s arm. “Imagine it’d get boring, but you’d be the best weathercock a ship could ask for.”

Hrug made a face, but nodded agreement.

“Good. Actually, that is an excellent idea, Naudrek. Let’s plan on starting there, and then if the Captain needs further convincing we can mention that Rune magic can do more than just predict the weather, if necessary.”

Melja cleared his throat at that. “Be very careful with that. Changing the weather can lead to… unfortunate and unexpected consequences that might not be immediately obvious.”

Hrug nodded impatiently, as though this were a lecture he’d had more than once. Well, that would hardly be surprising. Melja was nothing if not thorough.

“Of course,” Einarr said for his own part, even though he had not had that lecture drummed into his skull. “But the ability to raise the wind or quiet a wave is one I think every seaman has dreamed of, at some point or another. Being able to offer that to a Captain, even if only in extremity, is valuable.”

Melja grunted, not apparently satisfied but willing to leave it at that.

“Are we decided, then?” Nods of assent traveled around the little circle. “Good. Eydri, when you left, what sort of ships were in port?”

The four set out for Eskiborg from the Shrouded Village the next morning, if not precisely in good cheer then in high spirits to be moving again. Not one of them was accustomed to long stretches in the same place, so the prospect of movement appealed to all of them.

The weather had improved from the day before, somewhat; the storm had passed, at least, although the air was still unusually chill for this far south. Einarr breathed deeply of the newly-cleaned air as he passed the last farmhouse of the Village. The forest stretched out ahead of him to all sides, the trees seeming to line themselves up into rows upon rows of good timber. With a nod, he set off again, and the scrape of his boots on the ground was one of the most satisfying sounds he had heard in what felt like a very long time.

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