They finished their lunch in silence. For his part, Einarr kept turning over in his head Jorir’s revelation – the one he plainly did not wish to speak more of. He wasn’t quite certain what to make of his father’s new scrutiny, either. That ‘cursebreaker’ had the ring of a title about it. I’m not entirely certain I like the sound of that.

He found that he had little appetite left. None of the others seemed terribly interested in more food, either: another handful or two of nuts, or a dried fish, and all five of them were on their feet again.

“Well,” Einarr said. His voice felt unnaturally loud after the long silence. “Lead the way.”

Jorir nodded and quick-stepped back toward the path. I should have a word with him about that… but not in front of everyone. Maybe if he could learn what the Oracle had actually told his liege-man it would clear matters up.

Einarr didn’t mind the idea of having a calling, per se. But for that calling to be cursebreaking… that was troubling. Urdr was supposed to be the exception among Weavers, after all, not the rule.

The trail entered a series of steep switchbacks up a nearly sheer granite face.

“Watch your step,” Jorir warned.

Einarr shuddered at the idea of the last vision hitting when a single misstep could send any of them plummeting to their doom. With every step he half expected the sound of bells to ring on the wind, heralding the final test… but with each step all he saw was the trail and the granite face beside him.

The air burned in Einarr’s lungs by the time the trail opened back out into a meadow once more. There were no trees now, and the grasses and shrubs grew low to the ground. He stepped to the side to stand in the grass and catch his breath while Stigander and Arring completed their climb and the sound of bells rang in his ears.

He blinked, and the mountainside was replaced by a large, dimly recognized room. The tapestries hanging on the stone walls were warm and properly abstract, suggesting rather than showing animals and plants, and a large and detailed sea chart was spread out on the table dominating the center of the room.

Standing with him around the table was a white-haired version of his father, Reki, Erik, Jorir… and Runa, also looking older but no less lovely for the matronly cast to her face. I can win her.

“Every last Clan of the north has suffered at the hands of the Order of the Valkyrie. Why will none of the other thanes see that together we have a chance?” Einarr heard the words coming from his own mouth, saw his own fist bang against the table. Oh. So that’s what the situation is.

“Oh, they see it,” Stigander rumbled. “But someone would have to be chosen to lead the navies. They worry more about what that someone might do with command of so many ships and warriors once the threat is eliminated than they do about the Order or the Empire.”

“They’re worried I’ll decide to name myself Althane? Are they crazy?”

“It’s been tried before,” said Jorir. “By rulers older and supposedly wiser than you.”

“Bah. We’ve only just got Breidelsteinn back under control.”

“And not quite that.” Erik crossed his arms. “A couple of the more westerly Jarls are just biding their time, methinks. A lot of trust was lost while we were all out at sea.”

“That was none of our doing, but you all see my point.”

“There’s not many outside our waters who know that, though, son, and if they did it wouldn’t necessarily help us. There’s not a lot within the Allthing with quite the experience we’ve had, and they all have their own priorities to consider as well.”

“You’re right, of course, Father.” Einarr looked back down at the map and snorted. “So. I guess that means the first question is how I convince them, first, to trust me and, second, that doing away with the Valkyries is in their best interest.”

“Start with a story, my lord.” Reki’s low voice had not lost its purr in the years since she joined the Vidofnir. Einarr turned his attention to the Singer’s red eyes and waited. “Tell them, over drinks at the hall perhaps, how the Hunters nearly wiped us out while we still wandered. Tell them of the battle that lead you to swear vengeance. That alone might win you a few.”

“Many of them have already heard the story.”

“Have they? The times I’ve overheard you speaking of it, you’ve said nothing of the actual battle.”

“’At’s a good idea, Reki. Why don’t you let me handle that part: I’ve a fair bit of experience spinning yarns over drinks.”

“Thanks, Erik. I never quite know where to begin.”

The big man laughed. “That is because you didn’t do nearly enough stupid shit while we were roaming.”

Einarr and Stigander both shook their heads, each laughing under their breath.

“All right, so that’s a good place to start. What else might help?”

Jorir glared up at him like he was being stupid. “You’ve got an actual plan in place for winning this, don’t ye? Give them some inkling what it is. Ye’ll be relying on independent action in a buncha different places anyway – why not let them know that. Put their minds at ease a bit.”

“Those independent forces are still going to have to coordinate together, but if they’re not fully under the command of the central force… Father? Do you think that would actually make a difference?”

“For some, maybe. Don’t expect it to allay everyone’s suspicions, though.”

“Of course.” Einarr looked across the table: Runa was biting her lip, as though she were weighing something. “Well, my love? Do you have an idea.”

“Um. Well, there is something I could do to help. I’m not sure it’s a good idea, though.” Runa glanced over at Reki, and suddenly her expression seemed less weighing and more nervous.

Reki’s attention was turned toward the map, and she didn’t seem to catch the look.

“There could be a Tune that might convince them.” Runa emphasized the word tune strangely. Reki’s head snapped up: daggers of ice seemed to shoot across the table at the other Singer.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

The deck of the dromon and the rolling waves and the salt sea air faded gradually from Einarr’s consciousness to be replaced by the sound of wind through the trees and the rustling of grass in the mountain meadows surrounding them. He looked about to get his bearings: he was several paces farther forward than he had been before the vision, but still on the path. If he judged right, Jorir and Sivid’s hard looks meant they were fighting off the vestiges of anger, and he did not think he’d ever seen Arring look sad before.

He nearly did a double-take when he saw his father, however, leaning against a nearby tree looking, of all things, wistful. Stigander had none of the post-vision fogginess about his gaze, though: perhaps he had woken first?

Einarr opened his mouth to ask, but shut it again. Jorir had said the Oracle disliked it when petitioners spoke of their trials, and he was disinclined to get on the Oracle’s bad side before they even arrived.

Sivid blinked awake, followed by the other two, and Einarr suddenly realized that beneath the unease lingering from the visions, hunger gnawed at his belly. He glanced up: the sun had passed its zenith some time ago, although it had still been morning when the second trial began.

Sivid snorted. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m ravenous. You’ve been here before, dwarf, do we have time to stop and eat?”

Jorir’s eyes narrowed at the mousey man. “We can stop and sup and still make it by sundown, human, if the final trial is a short one. If the final trials run long, we might still be climbing under the moon.”

Einarr shook his head, looking down to hide his amused half-smile from Jorir. “Careful about teasing my liege-man, Sivid. He hasn’t spent the last fifteen years watching your eternal jests.”

Sivid laughed. “Sorry, sorry. No harm meant.”

Jorir harrumphed, but before he could say more Stigander cleared his throat.

“I think it’s worth the risk to break for lunch. I think I see a decent spot just over that way.” Their captain pointed off to the side of the trail, where several flat rocks were just visible above the grass.

Einarr knit his brows. “It almost looks like someone arranged that.”

“Someone may well have.” Jorir grumbled, but Einarr did not think he had taken too much offense at Sivid’s rudeness. The dwarf resettled his pack on his shoulders and took a step toward the spot Stigander had mentioned, followed shortly by the rest of the group.

The rocks did not quite form a perfect ring, and there were more rocks than people by a few, but though the rocks were half-buried it still looked as though the stones had been placed deliberately. Well, the Oracle here is supposedly an elf. Aren’t they effectively immortal?

Einarr slung his pack down next to one of the rocks and reached into one of the pockets for a handful of pine nuts and filberts. “So what can you tell us about the Weaver’s Palace?”

“Unless it’s been rebuilt recently, it’s more like a small temple than any sort of a palace. The Oracle lived in a hermitage off a little ways from the rotunda where she met petitioners – I could just see it between the pillars. Her loom, though…” Jorir shook his head and did not continue.

Arring sat forward. “Her loom?”

“Like nothing I’ve seen before or since. You’ll have to see it to understand.”

“So what did you ask, the last time you were here?” The question had been burning at the back of Einarr’s mind for a while now.

“Ah.” Jorir glanced warily at Stigander, then sighed. “I suppose I’ll have to tell ye eventually. Yer da’s not the only one with a curse to break, y’see.”

Now Einarr sat forward, his eyebrows raised. The hand that was seeking a dried fish stopped.

“My smithing… technically, it’s some of the best… but it will never produce magic, so long as I am bound by that witch’s curse.”

Einarr winced, even as Stigander nodded in understanding. A Singer’s magic was ephemeral. Should it fail, there would be no memorial of the failure. For a smith, though… And worse for a dvergr, whose metalworking was their pride.

Jorir wasn’t quite done. He rolled the tafl king between his hands in silence for a pair of breaths. “And now you’ll be wanting to know the answer she gave me. She told me the Cursebreaker would be the one who gifted me the means of my own defeat.”

Einarr stared as Jorir held the king between thumb and forefinger, lifted for all to see.

“You defeated me at tafl, with a king gifted by the one who will be your queen. That you then gifted it to me in return for my oath binds me to both of you. I still do not understand the impulse that prompted me to swear to you. Perhaps the Oracle’s weaving binds fate just as much as any other Weaver’s does. But you are the Cursebreaker, and I would not be surprised if that is part of the answer your lord Father receives as well.”

Father was staring, too, but not at the dwarf. His eyes were glued firmly on his son’s shocked face. Einarr felt the weight of the stare, but his mind was still processing the implications of what Jorir had said.

“We stopped to eat, though. We should eat and go, or we’ll not make it before nightfall.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

The beach they cast off from was little more than a glimmer in the moonlight when Stigander passed command to Bardr for the night. Sivid had drawn the short straw for watch this night, although even among those not on duty few slept. Most drank.

Stigander sprawled in the stern, staring up at the unblinking stars from under where his awning would ordinarily cover. Einarr approached, his boots deliberately loud on the deck, and took a swig from the skin he had just filled. It sloshed as he flopped down to sit by his father. He held it out by way of offer: his father’s paw nearly enclosed his hand when the offer was accepted. Neither man felt the urge to talk. There was little to talk about, until Stigander was deep enough in his cups that he started telling stories of home, and Einarr didn’t think there was enough in that skin to get that far.

Soon enough the skin was flaccid and empty. Before either of them could decide to roll over and sleep, another set of footsteps approached, the strides quicker than most of the crew’s. Einarr looked up from under heavy brows: it was Jorir, a fresh skin in each hand.

He held one up. “For the intrusion.”

Einarr motioned for the dark dwarf to join them. “Not regretting your oath, are you?”

“Feh.” It came out as half a laugh. “No chance.”

Einarr was gratified that his expectation was correct. “Then what can I do for you?”

“It’s more what I can do for you.” Jorir took a long draught from the first skin and passed it to Einarr. “That story tonight… that hasn’t been embellished too much, has it?”

Einarr shook his head.

“No.” Stigander’s voice was startling and husky. “No, that was faithfully writ by my Lahja.”

Jorir gave Einarr a quizzical look.

“Father’s second wife. My mo- the stepmother who raised me.” He had always thought of her as Mamma, but the dwarf was after clarity not sentiment.

The dwarf’s eyes grew round as the moon above. “I’m sorry. I meant no offense.”

Stigander chuckled, a low, rumbling rasp under the circumstances, and sat up. “None taken, I’m sure.” He reached a hand for the skin that Einarr had just finished drinking from.

He passed the skin, as requested. “Not a lot of thanes marry Singers, after all, although I fail to understand why.”

Stigander harrumphed. “Not a lot of Singers with the other qualifications of your dear little Runa, my boy, and not a lot of thanes with the luxury of marrying without them.”

Jorir cleared his throat. “Well. You see, the story put me in mind of someone who helped me once. She might be able to help you. But she does nothing free… and she’s not an easy person to reach.”

The dwarf let the pause after his statement stretch out: Einarr gave an exasperated sigh. “Well, out with it. Who?”

“Out in Attilsund… there’s an old elvish oracle – or at least there was, back before I fell under Fraener’s power. She should still be there, her or one of her apprentices.”

Einarr scoffed. “You want us to talk to a Weaver about undoing a weaving?”

“We’ve spoken with fate-spinners before, but…” Stigander looked thoughtful. “An elvish oracle, of the old, mystic school?” When Jorir nodded, he continued. “Might be worthwhile. They were said to have some very… different notions about their Art. …Yes, I’ll check the charts in the morning. Perhaps worth the detour.”

* * *

“New plan, lads!” Stigander announced entirely too cheerfully early the next day, while about half the crew were still nursing hangovers. One could almost believe he hadn’t been drinking right along with the rest of them, although Einarr knew better.

“Based on information from the two newest members of our crew, we’ll be headed for Attilsund to go consult with a very old, very wise elf who I wager knows a thing or three about Weaves and curses. It’s a bit out of the way, but maybe some gold will fall into our laps on the way, eh?”

“Long as we’re wishing, might as well wish for some wenches ta fall from the sky!” Sivid’s retort earned a round of laughter from around the deck: even Stigander joined in.

“I know. This was going to be a long season anyway, and this little detour is likely to make it longer. But tell me, lads: won’t it be worth it, if it helps us go home?”

Now came the round of cheers from the Vidofnings. Einarr joined in, and if he was less enthusiastic than some of the older men it was only because getting home to a place he barely remembered was no longer his only concern. Not long after the three of them had finished Jorir’s skins and rolled over for sleep, he realized he, too, wished to consult the oracle. Now he wondered who else among the crew might have a question to ask, and what Jorir had meant when he mentioned it would not be free. Surely he could not refer to coin, for that was as ordinary as a school of pike.

Speaking of whom… “Good morning.”

The dwarf grumbled his reply, evidently still a little foggy.

“Not sure if I should thank you or not for that bit of information last night.”

“I’m not, either.”

Einarr snorted. “So then what’s the catch? How does one pay for the services of this wise old elf?”

“Impossible to say, until she declares what she wants of you.”

“Oh? And what did she demand of you, when you sought her aid?”

“A… favor, that I’ve yet to be able to repay.”

“So that’s why you brought it up. Now that you’re free of Svartlauf, you want the debt off your shoulders too.”

There was a long moment where he thought Jorir was about to say something, but finally the dwarf merely nodded.

Einarr hummed. “Well. You’ll tell me what the favor was when you’re ready, I suppose. Someone showed you where I set up your grindstone?”

You set up?” Jorir sighed and shook his head. “Yes, I’ve seen it. As good a location as I could ask for on a longship.”

Einarr nodded. “Yes, I set up. I was on the quest that took me to Svartlauf in the first place because I’d dishonored Father’s name: he couldn’t just let me off.”

Jorir still looked annoyed.

“Mind regrinding Sinmora’s edge for me? Our little fight down in the tunnels nicked it pretty bad.” It was an obvious change of subject, but no less true for that.

“This afternoon. Don’t think I’ll have room to do much before then.”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

The sun touched the water’s edge and the sky took on the color of red gold. The tide would begin to ebb soon, but the crew of the Vidofnir had not yet taken up oars and her sail was still furled. Fifteen years ago, they had fled their homes, and for fifteen years the start of every voyage was marked the same way. Stigander stood in the stern, his feet set wide and his arms crossed as he looked out over his men. Einarr joined him.

Reki stood in the prow of the boat, her cloak thrown open and her head exposed. Her skin washed amber in the light of sunset, and her straight white hair looked as though it were made of spun gold. How her previous crew thought she could be bad luck, Einarr could not understand. What clearer portent of wealth ahead could there be? She opened her mouth, and in low dulcet tones began the recitation they all awaited.

Leafy rug lies under
Lee of rock ridge, the
Free-hearted Raen’s hold
High built, its vigil born
To guard men above gold.
Grant plenty, pious king,
But forget not folly
Of fate-dabbler’s design.

It was his grandfather’s story, the founding of Raenshold well-nigh seventy years ago. Before Raen came to power theirs had been a weak clan, really not much more than a scattering of freeholds across the Breidelsteinn archipelago. Over the course of a decade, Grandfather had transformed Breidelsteinn from the laughingstock of the seas to one of its foremost powers. He had been only forty when he made Stigander the captain of their fleet and settled in to complete the fortress at Raenshold and administer their lands.

The time drew near. A whisper rippled through the crew, no louder than the lapping of water on the hull, as Reki continued to recite. Hands moved to oars, but they did not yet push off. The cue had not yet come.

Raen’s folly, a fair lass
Flax-haired, by eye-gleams held:
Urdr did he woo, under
Umber moon she swooned.
No troth spoke though one she
Took: the ring-breaker Raen
She would wed. When sea-steed
Stole Raen, Urdr did remain.

A low grinding of sand against the hull marked the moment the Vidofnir pushed off the kjelling shores.

Unwisely wooed, Urdr
Bore Ulfr, boy-child of
Greyed eyes, guileful blade.
Threads Urdr traced, fiber spun
While wolf’s fangs he forg’d.
To seek redress on swan’s road
Their uncut thread binds all.

Einarr had been six when his half-uncle and the woman his grandfather had set aside appeared at Raenshold, and had only heard second-hand what happened. His maternal grandparents had requested he come for the summer, and so as they sailed for the summer’s hunt on the waves, Father had left Mamma and him at their freehold. When they all returned late that fall, it was like a black haze hovered over the island. The Vidofnir sailed near enough to port that Einarr could see men dangling like fruit from the hanging tree.

That was when they had been attacked by every longship already in port. Einarr remembered the look on his father’s face when the man had been forced to choose between leading an assault against the force had taken their home and protecting his wife and son. Though it had only lasted for a moment, that was the face of a man in agony.

His father wore that same look now, as he did every time they reached this point of the song and the oars dipped into the water. The Vidofnir had wintered that year at Mamma’s freehold, and that was where Einarr lived until he was old enough to sail with Father. By then, they’d pieced together what happened.

Ulfr did usurp, and Urdr does
Under cursèd thrall snarl
Mountain’s men, and entomb’d
Raen maltreats. Raven-wine
By Art bound, and by Art’s touch
Alone undone: hie home,
Raen’s sons, soon your birthright
Save, and cut the woven chain.

Those who did not row knocked their blades against their shields. Those who did opened their mouths and let loose with the ululating black song – the cry of a warrior who will die for their cause. Einarr closed his eyes and joined them, ignoring for the moment that he was the one person aboard who was not allowed to do so. Stigander was unlikely to produce a second heir now.

As the black song died down, Einarr opened his eyes again and glanced sidelong at his father. The look of anguish from the story was already fading into the sorrowful, grim determination that had become so familiar. With a pang, he realized that this was the first time since he’d come aboard that it had not been one of his stepmothers up there. He leaned over to whisper in Stigander’s ear “You alright?”

His father’s only response was a curt nod, followed by a wan smile before he strode forward toward the middle of the Vidofnir. Einarr did not miss that Bardr thrust a skin at his father, nor the way Stigander drank from it. He sighed: perhaps later he would join his father under his awning and drink until the dawn with him. It would be better for both of them than the melancholy solitude that threatened.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

When Stigander had told him he would be acting as porter for the resupply, Einarr had not quite realized that meant he would be the only porter. He spent the better part of the next three days hauling salted fish, fresh water, and the other sundries that would make their summer on the seas tolerable overland between Kjellvic and the Vidofnir. He could not tell if Jorir had been kept in the dark as to the nature of his task those days, or if the dwarf had declined to intervene: in either case, it did not bear mentioning.

It was not until the evening of the third day that Einarr again had a chance to speak with either Bardr or his father. “So when is someone going to introduce me to the new battle chanter?”

Bardr looked at him sidelong and snorted. “What makes you think we’ve recruited one? Your father has a bit of a reputation right now.”

“You’ve sailed out. The Vidofnir never sails without a skald.”

“True enough. I’ll make sure you’re introduced before we board. She’s no Astrid, but I think you’ll like her anyway.” He took a swig of his night’s tankard, and something caught his eye from across the room. “Well well well.” Bardr nudged Einarr with his elbow. “Look who’s decided to make an appearance, the night before we leave.”

Einarr followed the first mate’s gaze. A woman stood in the shadow of a doorway almost timidly, still draped in the heavy cloak of one who had been sitting out, but her face was still the one that made Einarr’s heart race.

“Excuse me,” he barely remembered to murmur before his feet had taken him around the end of the table and halfway across the hall. Even then it was mostly reflexive. His feet slowed three paces from where she stood, as though some part of him were afraid to scare her off. When her sea-blue eyes raised from the floor to lock with his, he felt warmth rise in his cheeks. “Runa,” he breathed.

“I was only just told you’d returned.” Her voice felt much smaller than he remembered, perhaps a result of her seclusion, but she too flushed.

“I’m glad they found you. We’re just about to leave again.”

She nodded. “I’m glad I didn’t miss you. Tell me how it went?”

***

The Vidofnings were to sail with the evening tide. Despite having loaded the ship himself, a strange reluctance to board weighted his feet to the sand as they prepared to board. He stood, studying the longship he had called home since his tenth year with its fanciful bird’s head, for a long moment

The crunch of boots in the sand alerted Einarr to someone’s approach. A glance back revealed that it was Jorir. “Well, what do you think?”

“Mighty fine looking craft, she is.”

“Glad you think so. She’s the closest thing we have to home.”

“So I’ve heard. Anyone going to bother tellin’ me why?”

“Soon enough. …Which reminds me, Bardr was going to make sure I met the new battle chanter. Where is he?”

“Think I saw him over near the gangplank.”

“Let’s go, then. How many on the crew have you met?”

The dwarf chortled. “Most, I expect. Now ask me how many names I remember.”

Einarr laughed with him. “It’ll come.”

Bardr saw the two of them approaching and waved. “Einarr! Good timing.”

Someone stood between Bardr and the Vidofnir, nearly obscured in the shadow of the boat. As he drew closer, Einarr realized the shadow wasn’t the only thing obscuring them: the stranger’s cloak was pulled closed around them, hood raised, in spite of the afternoon sun. If size was anything to judge by the figure was a woman, which meant he was probably speaking with their new battle chanter. Einarr stepped up next to Bardr and offered the figure a shallow bow of greeting.

“Is this…?” He trailed off.

“Quite. Einarr, this is Reki Fjorisdottir. Reki, meet our Captain’s son, Einarr.”

“A pleasure.” The woman’s voice was low and smooth, as much of a purr as a note.

“The pleasure is mine. And this is Jorir.” He clapped the dwarf, whose patronym he had never yet learned, on the shoulder.

“Sir dwarf.”

“Lady …skald?”

“Quite.”

Einarr found it curious that he had not yet seen this woman, in the hall or as he was loading the ship. He thought he saw white hair under her hood. “Has the Vidofnir been to your liking?”

“Very much so. Your father runs a close ship – much closer than the last I was attached to.”

Einarr glanced at Bardr, but the man gave him no sign what she might mean. “Dare I ask what became of them?”

“Some few of them took it into their heads that I was bad luck and I was put ashore. I shan’t miss them.”

This was not auspicious. Einarr’s glance at Bardr was nervous this time.

“Pure superstition, I assure you.” Icy white hands appeared from beneath her cloak and pulled the hood back just enough that he could catch a glimpse of pink eyes. “My mother and father were ordinary freeholders, and no Artist of any sort has found trace of a curse upon me. It is only that I am somewhat sensitive to the sun.”

It was just like Stigander to bring aboard someone cast off unjustly, and given the state of their holdings superstition was not something they could afford to be too concerned about. “Ah. Well, welcome aboard. I trust Father has told you what happened to Astrid?”

She inclined her head, allowing the hood to fall back over her face. “Of course. And I look forward to hunting those who hunt my fellow Singers.” The soft purr hardened into cold steel.

“We should go aboard. Captain’s waiting on us, and there’s still one more thing we need to do before we sail.” Bardr clapped his shoulder and started up the gangplank.


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents