Runa was terrifying when she was angry. Jorir once again wondered if Einarr knew what he was getting himself into with her. They charged forward, and at every opportunity offered a riddle. Sometimes she even managed to best their opponent, which was really quite impressive when he considered their opponent was, if not Wotan himself, then the god’s familiars.

Unfortunately, before long her mad charge left them in a bit of a pinch, and every time he tried to contradict her tactics she bulled forward. She had been too reckless with their riddling as well, and even between the two of them they had not been able to guess all their opponent’s riddles. Finally, he snapped. “Runa!”

“What.” Even her voice was icy.

“At this rate ye’ll get us both killed. Calm down. Look around.”

She stopped, took a deep breath, and surveyed the pieces surrounding them. Then she frowned. They were not lost yet, but significant portions of the enemy force were visible through their guards.

“The game was weighted against us from the beginning. Ye should have known this, and then you go off half-mad when it’s proven? This isn’t some match against a love-lorn suitor aiming to gain your favor, lass.”

She exhaled, loudly. “No. No, you’re right. Father would be upset if he knew I could still be goaded like that.”

“He’ll be more upset if you never come back. Put your head on straight.”

“Of course. My apologies.”

Jorir snorted. “Now. Between the two of us, let’s find a way out of this mess. It’s hard to say for certain, but I don’t think we’re set up to use that gambit Einarr pulled on me.”

“I don’t suppose it was a particularly clever feint, relying on the opponent misjudging your creativity?”

“I suppose you could call it that.”

Runa laughed. “Pretty sure I taught him that.”

Jorir rolled his eyes. “Nevertheless, I don’t think we’ve got the arrangement for it.”

“The gambit is not in the lay of the board, the gambit is in one’s wits. Help me think, then: we’ve more than enough pieces to pull this off yet.”

Optimism. That is what Einarr saw in her. Optimism and determination, more than stubborn pride. Perhaps she was a better match than he had believed. With a will, they set to winning the game. There were twice he disagreed with her chosen move, but she gave him time to disagree now, and saved not two but six pieces for it. More than a game for their lives, he was having fun.

“Reichi,” they announced together, five moves after Jorir had woken Runa from her rage.

“Very good, Lord. We’ve nearly made it!” The knight sounded cheerful again, after having been nearly cowed before, and distressed over their apparent drubbing.

“Don’t celebrate just yet. He can still block us.” Jorir peered ahead across the field of play, watching for their unseen opponent’s next move.

Sure enough, one of the white-clad pieces jumped into the center of the path, blocking their route.

“Reichi,” echoed across the battlefield. If they weren’t careful, this exchange could go on for ages.

“How many pieces do we have left that can weather more than one fight?” Jorir demanded of the black knight.

“Three, Lord.”

“How many in range to take that one,” Runa said, pointing at the offending piece.

“One, Lord.” Why the knight treated them as one person, Jorir could not guess, but it had been consistent through the game.

They shared a glance and a nod.

“They should take it, then.”

“Very good, Lord. The riddle, then:

What marvel is it which without I saw,
    before break of dawn?
Upward it flies with eagle’s voice,
    and hard grip its claws the helmet.1

Jorir frowned and buried his chin in his hand. Runa crossed her arms and her eyebrows.

“A dragon with a sore throat?” Jorir shook his head. It didn’t fit with the others they’d heard. “No, too irreverent.”

“Can’t be a kalalintu, either. No-one would compare them to eagles,” Runa mused. “A weathervane?”

“Quite a lot of these have been martial…”

Runa offered “A javelin?”

“Javelins don’t really have a voice when they fly…” Jorir raised his head, his eyes sparkling with realization. “But arrows do. Are we agreed?”

When Runa nodded, he turned to their knight. “Our answer is, an arrow.”

“Excellent, Lord.”

One move further on and they were able to declare reichi again. This time, the opponent did not immediately move to block their path. Jorir scowled across the board. “Carefully, now. I smell another trap.”

“You’re right. He should have moved to block our way again.”

And yet, the only thing they could do was move forward, toward the edge of the board, victory, and the rest of their lives.

“Tuichu,” they declared in unison.

A voice boomed across the playing field.

“You have done well, and reached the edge. Before the game is through, there is one final riddle you must prove. Answer well and true, for this storm shall not be weathered.”

Runa growled, the sound as threatening as a wolf puppy’s. Jorir just rolled his eyes. “Well, let’s have it, then.”

The words rang out over the field:

Two brides did bear, white-blond their locks,
and house-maids were they— ale-casks homeward;
were they not shaped by hand nor by hammers wrought;
yet upright sat he on the isles, who made them.2

Jorir blinked once, then again, searching for anything in the words that would give him a hint and coming up empty. “Nothing martial, this time,” was all he could offer.

Runa, though, had the expression he had seen more than once during this maddening game of Thought and Memory’s design. Thus far, it had always been followed by brilliance. Finally, she looked up and directly at the black knight.

Jorir held his breath. He had no answer to give, but should she miss this one…

“You speak of two swans, heading to the shore to lay their eggs. Correct?”

No answer came. Jorir tensed, half expecting the black knights surrounding them to topple and crush him.

Instead, the tafl board vanished. They stood facing a door.


1: From “The Riddles of King Heithrek,” translated on http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/onp/onp17.htm#fr_4
2: ibid


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! 

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

“Any captured piece will be destroyed.”

Jorir frowned. This may not have been the first time he played tafl for his life, but it was certainly the most overt. And while he had a partner, he had no way of knowing if she was as good as she claimed and little reason to trust her word.

“We don’t seem to have much choice in the matter,” she murmured. “I know you don’t like me, but for Einarr’s sake I think we have to try, don’t you think?”

He grunted. “Fine. Just don’t get in my way.”

“So long as your tactics are sound, I won’t have to.”

It was an effort not to react. She sounded confident enough, at any rate. He turned his attention to the faceless piece that had stood silent since its pronouncement. “Knight. How are our enemies arrayed?”

“We are encircled, Lord, though the path to the northwest appears broader than that at the other corners.”

Jorir shook his head. “Obviously a trap. We break for the s-”

“Northeast,” Runa interrupted.

“That will take us right into the path of the pieces waiting to ambush us.”

“But southeast, which you were about to suggest, is the expected path, and they would be able to turn the ambush there just as well. This way the forces to the west must race to catch up.”

Jorir frowned. She made a decent point, but… “Send two volunteers to the southeast, to draw our enemies’ attention. The rest of us will make for the northwest. If that meets the lady’s approval?”

“I dislike sacrificing pieces so early on, but it is a good play.”

“We are agreed, then. Two men lead a diversion to the southeast. We will then proceed to the northeast.”

“Very good, Lord,” answered the knight.

The order was passed through the ranks, and in short order the knight opened his mouth again. “Our diversion has been spotted by the enemy, Lord. Do you wish to offer a riddle?”

“For what purpose?” Runa knit her brow at the odd request. It was an innocent question, but it sounded more akin to a demand.

“For confusing the enemy, Lord. Our diversion will be more effective if they fail to answer it.”

“A tempting prospect,” she mused.

“Even if we are riddling against Wotan?”

Runa shrugged. “What if the enemy guesses the riddle?”

“Then our diversion will be ineffective, of course,” answered the ever-helpful knight.

Jorir shook his head. “Not worth it, then. If I’m going to sacrifice a piece, I’m going to get some benefit out of it.”

“Very good, Lord.” The knight fell silent, but only for a moment. “Ah, it seems our diversion has encountered the enemy. That would I have which I had yesterday; heed what I had: men’s hamperer, word’s hinderer, and speeder of speech. Answer well this riddle, for the life of your pawn depends on it.”1

It’s a good thing I like riddles, Jorir thought. Two possible answers came to mind, but one seemed considerably more likely. He answered before Runa could open her mouth, “Ale.”

The wench had the audacity to scowl at him: he was certain she’d have answered a Singer, but outside of longship crews very few men wished for their return. Any tongue-lashing she might have delivered, though, was cut off by the knight’s answer.

“Very good, Lord. A magnificent victory.”

Jorir grunted. “Fine. Continue with the plan as stated.”

The second member of their diversion took advantage of the lay of the board to attack one of those laying in wait for the first, and another riddle was posed.

Harshly he clangs, on hard paths treading
    which he has fared before.
Two mouths he has, and mightily kisses,
    and on gold alone he goes.2

Jorir smirked, but let Runa think on this one a bit. For anyone but a blacksmith, it would be a well-chosen riddle. Eventually she shook her head.

“A goldsmith’s hammer.”

“Very good, my Lord. Our diversion seems to be working: how shall we proceed?”

“Northeast, as quietly as possible,” Runa answered without hesitation.

“Very good. Might I recommend offering a riddle, to keep their attention on the diversion?”

Jorir frowned, but Runa nodded. “I have one,” she whispered.

“Very well.”

“Very good, Lord. With what challenge will you cloud the enemy’s eyes?”

Runa cleared her throat and began to intone:

I watched a wondrous creature, a bright unicorn,
bearing away treasure between her white horns,
fetching it home from some distant adventure.
I’m sure she intended to hide her loot in some lofty stronghold
constructed with incredible cunning, her craft.
But then climbing the sky-cliffs a far greater creature arose,
her fiery face familiar to all earth’s inhabitants.
She seized all the spoils, driving the albescent creature
with her wrecked dreams far to the west,
spewing wild insults as she scurried home.
Dust rose heavenward. Dew descended.
Night fled, and afterward
No man knew where the white creature went.3

In spite of himself, Jorir was impressed. Leave it to a Singer to come up with a monstrously hard, beautifully poetic riddle. Soon enough, however, the answer came back, echoing across the field of play: the moon, chased by the sun.

Jorir groaned. Runa, though, looked only a little disappointed and still composed. Perhaps she was as good as she claimed – or perhaps she only had a good game face.

“I suppose it can’t be helped. Only a little harder of a fight this way.”

They crept towards the northeast corner, and it was as though their diversion had never happened. Before long, the diversionary forces were cut off and Jorir ordered them to return to the main group. One of them made it: the other ran up against a hard limit. No piece could survive their third defense, no matter how well they riddled.

That broke Runa’s calm. Jorir grumbled about it’s poor form – if such was the case, it should have been divulged up front – but Runa’s face grew icy cold with anger.

“All right, dwarf. So much for caution. Now we drive through.”


1: From “The Riddles of King Heithrek,” translated on http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/onp/onp17.htm#fr_4
2: ibid
3: Riddle from http://www.thehypertexts.com/The%20Best%20Anglo-Saxon%20Riddles%20and%20Kennings.htm


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents


Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by! 

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.