It was just past noon when Einarr and his companions arrived at the wall of ice that marked the glacier. If they had thought to find relief from the heat, they were disappointed. Waves of cold air sloughed off the side of the glacier and left their skin feeling clammy in the heat of the wasteland. They stood for a long moment, taking in the sight before them. The ice sheet stretched as far as the eye could see to their left and their right, its base as red as their boots from the surrounding dirt.

It was Naudrek who broke the silence. “Well? Now what?”

Einarr stared at the dirty ice in front of them, pondering. They had continued east from their camp, and the wall ran from north to south. But it was the svartdvergr they sought, not the foldvergr. “We go north,” he declared.

Everyone but Runa looked perplexed.

“The pale dwarves mostly live in Imperial territory, right?”

Kaldr blinked, nonplussed. “I… suppose?”

“Then it stands to reason the entrance to svartdvergr territory would be farther north.”

Runa stifled laughter.

Naudrek knit his brows. “Why is that funny?”

“He’s right, but for the silliest reason. The svartdvergr live to the north because the north is darker and colder. If, for some unknown reason, you needed to travel to Hel’s domain you’d seek out your entrance in the farthest reaches of the north, and Svartalfheim should be reachable by going north on the High Roads.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “So I was right. Anyway. We go north, and we’re burning daylight…” Now he frowned. It was already past noon: he turned to face Kaldr, but spoke generally. “If we continue our search, we will not make it back to camp before nightfall. Likely we’ll need to sup on what we brought with us. As far away from camp as the glacier is, I think it might be a good idea to return to camp for the night and move it forward in the morning. …Yes, I believe that is what we must do, unless anyone objects?”

There were some groans, but no-one voiced any compelling objections.

“Good. We’ll mark our trail back to the Villgås as we go.”

And thus began their long trek back to their camp. In the morning, the camp would travel with them as far as the glacier wall.


Their camp, which had thrust up from the plain like a Thane’s hold just the night before, seemed small and insignificant in the shadow of the glacier wall. Runa and Naudrek remained in camp that afternoon to finish setting it up and ensure there was supper to hand while the others began their search in earnest. They covered very little ground that afternoon: Thjofgrir quickly discovered the ground so close to the glacier was treacherous, a thin layer of slippery mud over rock.

They went on like this for three days, moving camp again early on the third. By afternoon of the fourth day, even Einarr had begun to despair of finding the path they sought. And so it was that four of them set out with heavy hearts on the morning of the fifth day, as they had no other options. It was Naudrek’s turn at camp again, to attend to Runa’s (still sparse) needs and guard their provisions.

Around mid-afternoon, they came across another of the numerous cracks leading into the wall. Usually, they sent Vali in to see how deep it went and if there was anything promising about it, and inevitably Vali returned shaking his incorporeal head. This one, however, was far larger than anything they had yet come across – more of a cave than a crack. With a wordless nod, Kaldr stationed himself on guard outside the cave entrance while Einarr and Thjofgrir followed Vali into the ice.

The dampness which had radiated off the glacier walls outside was, inside, as cold as the depths of winter. Einarr’s nose quickly grew red with cold, but he paid it little mind. Five paces in and the light itself turned blue. Fifteen paces in, Einarr paused to trace the sun rune on his shield boss for light. He granted it only a little power, so they would not blind themselves. There were strange black blobs frozen in the ice around them – likely rocks, he thought, but it was impossible to truly tell under the circumstances.

The floor of the cave was covered with a shallow stream of water that flowed under the glacier, so that their every step splashed, and the splashing noise echoed up and down the passage that did not seem to end.

The ice cave narrowed down around their heads, forcing them to crawl on their hands and knees. Just as Einarr was beginning to believe this was just another dead end, though, the cave opened up around them until the light from his shield could not fill the space. Above them in the darkness, crystals glittered like stars. Thjofgrir whistled.

A whisper echoed down the passage behind them. Kaldr must be wondering what happened.

“Come down here!” Einarr called back, hoping the other man could hear him. “We found something!”

Picking randomly, Einarr started off along the left-hand wall. He was surprised to discover that the walls here were stone. “Wouldn’t the glacier destroy this place, then?” he mused aloud.

“Shouldn’t the plains have been cold as we marched for the glacier?” Thjofgrir tossed back.

Einarr barked a laugh. “You’re right. There I go again, expecting this place to behave reasonably, when we’re plainly dealing with magic at a horrendous scale.”

“Exactly!” Kaldr’s Mate grinned back at him. “Glad we’re on the same page.”

Einarr felt a chill – which was surprising, given their surroundings, as he nearly walked through Vali. “What is it?”

The ghost pointed just ahead of himself, where he stared up dumbly at an ornate, rune-carved arch in the wall of the room. “This looks promising.”

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It was unmistakeably the same material as the Shroud. Oddly, it did not feel hot to the touch, nor did it burn anything else it came in contact with. For whatever reason, once separated from the whole there was no more magic in it.

This was just as well, Einarr figured, but ultimately unimportant. What mattered to him was the rough, ragged edge that seemed stretched in places. That meant the torn edge of the Shroud should also be ragged and stretched, and thus (he hoped) easier to track.

Or, a voice whispered in the back of his head, you could take the scrap back to your Master in the village and let them divine its location, like old Geiti said they could.

He might find it faster that way, he supposed, but it was still an unworthy thought. He shook his head. “I’ve been spending too much time around magicians,” he muttered.

No matter what Melja said, he was partly responsible for the Shroud’s release – however unintended it was. And the Shroud was in the process of killing its way across the island, to what purpose Einarr could not guess. He owed it to the Shrouds victims to at least try to discover their fates. Then they could be properly mourned, if not buried, and the restless dead would not trouble the island. Thus resolved, he shoved the scrap of cloth in the pouch at his belt and began peering at foliage and twigs, looking for burned ends.

Now that he knew what he was looking for, the signs were there to be found: a singed sprig of leaves here, a blackened blaze against the white bark of a birch there (and when he found that, he blessed the chief whose son they had found). Had the Shroud not been wounded, as it were, it would not have left such a sloppy trail.

Or, would it? He had no idea what drove the thing. Did it even care that it had been torn? He fingered the scrap of cloth in his pouch. Perhaps it would be best to go back to the village after all. After half a day of tracking it as it floated, seemingly aimless among the trees, he began to wonder.

He stopped and closed his eyes. If he were here, what would Jorir tell me? Had it been less than a season since the svartdvergr swore to him under suspicious circumstances? The dwarf had proven his worth – even his loyalty and his friendship – many times over already. Einarr smiled, because he already knew the answer to that: it had been Jorir’s voice before, telling him to go back to the village. He took a deep breath —

—And smelled smoke. Not faint and damp and faded, like he had been all day, but fresh and pungent woodsmoke. His eyes snapped open and he began to run, following his nose, toward the source of the smell.


Einarr could hardly believe his eyes. He had thought the Shrouded Village to be the only hidden village on the island, but here before him stood the smoking ruin of another. Had it been on the coast, he would have assumed a particularly vicious group of raiders, but he was still in the middle of the hardwood forest that seemed to dominate this island.

Here and there a timber jutted out, but little else remained beyond charred rubble. Einarr stopped at the edge of the village, frozen. Was this…

A sound of sobbing came from further into the village, and Einarr was moving again. Someone survived this?

The sound came from what must have once been the village green, but now was a scene of horror as herb-witches and whoever in the village had an ounce of song magic tended to the bodies still living among the rows of corpses. The sobbing he had heard came from a group of small children, huddled together near the edge of the green for comfort.

He left the children to comfort each other: likely their parents were among the dead. What little he knew about the Shroud said it had not done this, and yet he could not think the smell of smoke would be this fresh had the thief somehow ransacked the village by himself. An old woman was placing thin copper coins over where a man’s eyes used to be: he approached her.

“Honored grandmother… what happened here?”

She looked up sharply and squinted at him for a long moment. “Ye be a stranger. What brings ye?”

“I hunt the Shroud.”

“Then on the right track ye be. Old Snor’s home was the worst burnt, and the first, and still no sign of Snor.”

Einarr stared around them for a long moment. “All of this, from one man’s house?”

“’Tis a long story, an’ a sad one, but if’n you hunt the thing that started it, best be on wit’ ye. This village is finished, but at least we’ll be avenged.”

“I understand, grandmother. Good fortune to you all…” It felt ridiculous to wish it, and yet what else was he to do? Condolences from a stranger would only ring hollow. But he would see them avenged, that was certain. Them and all the other victims on the island.

He took his time leaving the village, scouring the forest border all the way around until he was certain he knew which direction the Shroud went. The smell of burnt thatch and charred flesh stung his nose the entire time.

When he left, though it was not West, towards the sea, after the Shroud. There was still too much he didn’t know, too many questions, for him to be out chasing it through the forest. He would take word, and the scrap, to Melja. And tonight he would carve the first of his three runestones: . After all, he wouldn’t necessarily have a dwarf to rely on all the time, either.


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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.

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The same qualities that made the woods about the Shrouded Village pleasant to live in – their brightness, their openness – also made them accursedly easy to get lost in. Within half a day Einarr learned to set his blazes within sight of each other to avoid walking in circles.

The hunting lodge he sought sat in a clearing much like the one that held the elven temple. Had he not wasted time getting turned around, Einarr thought he should have found it by midafternoon. As it happened, though, he stepped into the clearing to the smell of wood smoke and the sound of chopping wood just as the golden afternoon began to dim into grey twilight.

“Hallo there!” He called from the tree line. Einarr approached openly, making a point to keep his hands visible and empty. He had no intention of being mistaken for a bandit.

Einarr had crossed about half the distance when two men appeared. They wore simple tunics and trousers, and one of them had an axe slipped through his belt.

“Evening, stranger,” said the one with the axe, wary.

“Good evening.” Einarr stood with his open empty palms facing the two men. “Is the Lord of the Hall in?”

It was, evidently, the wrong question. Both men tensed, and the woodcutter reached for his axe.

Einarr raised his hands defensively, open palms out. “I have come from the alfr village near here. I just want to talk.”

“But you’re a human,” said the apparently unarmed one.

“I came to learn how to read the runes.”

The woodcutter did a poor job of smothering a sneer. “So what brings a sorcerer’s apprentice here?”

“There’s trouble afoot. Have either of you seen anything unusual in the last few days?”

They didn’t relax, exactly, but they lowered their guard. “Trouble, you say,” said the woodcutter. “Perhaps you had better come inside.”

The chief’s hunting lodge was well-kept: Einarr suspected it served as a secondary court or perhaps as a summer entertainment for his men-at-arms. The usual trophies were on display: reindeer antlers, animal skin rugs, the teeth and claws of various predators.

The two guardians gestured at the long table as they led Einarr inside. “Sit,” said the unarmed one. “Speak. Supper will be on soon.”

Einarr swung a leg over one of the benches at the long table, glad to be off his feet. “Two days ago, a stranger showed up in the alfr village, after the artifact that they guard.”

“The Muspel Shroud. Everyone on the island knows of it.” The woodcutter sounded grim.

Einarr inclined his head. “Then I think you know where this is headed.”

“Aye, as soon as you said trouble, although I wish I’d been wrong. I suppose it got the young fool?”

“Yes, we believe so – him and his horse. They’re working on a way to deal with the thing again. Meanwhile, I’m trying to find it.”

The unarmed man, over at the soup pot, could not quite control the tremor in his hands as he dished up three bowls. “Eat up,” he said, bringing the bowls to the table. “It’s not much of a last meal, but at least it’s hot.”

Einarr half-smiled, but when the implication hit he half stood, pushing back from the table. “Last meal?”

“Relax,” the woodcutter said. “We’re not such cowards that we’d take our own lives without even an enemy in sight. Just if the Shroud is loose, that means any meal could be your last. Best to enjoy what life you have left.”

“…Ah.” Einarr sat back down slowly, and smelled of the soup very carefully before taking a sip. “Why do you know about the Shroud?”

“Because the alfs wanted to avoid witch hunts and panic should the thing ever get loose. They’re big on their secrets, the alfs are, but that’s not one of them. Unfortunately…”

“Unfortunately, that probably means our Lord is lost, as well. He sent word that he would be coming out, but he should have arrived yesterday.”

Einarr sat up. “While I hope that is not the case, would you tell me the route he usually travels to come here? And what sort of remains I might be looking for, should the Shroud have consumed him.”

The woodcutter laughed. It was not a happy sound. “You think the Shroud leaves remains? If you’re lucky, you might find some ash.”

Einarr took another sip of the soup, pondering that. Back at the temple, had he smelled burned flesh? Had there been too much dust in the air as he climbed out of the cellar? He nodded, slowly. “I see. That has been extraordinarily helpful.”

The other man shrugged. “Not a one of us wants that thing loose. Stay here tonight. In the morning, I’ll trace the path with you.”

“You have my thanks.”

“Just find the thing so that the Runemasters can deal with it.”

“That is my intention.” And if I’m lucky, Mira and Melja will get an answer to me before I find it.


A fine misting rain fell when the three rose the next morning. It would be gone by midday – it always was, on this island – but it meant the morning’s travel would be damp and cold. Einarr shrugged and buckled his cloak about his neck: maybe the rain would help if they encountered the artifact. Not likely, but a man can dream, can’t he?

Onnir – the man who had been unarmed yesterday – today carried a scramasax and a hunting bow, and was dressed for hunting. He was checking over his bowstring as Einarr left the hall. “Are we ready?”

“To find a trail? Absolutely. Lead on, friend. How are you with that blade?”

He shrugged. “Passable. Better with the bow.”

“I’ll trust you with my back, then. Shall we go?”

Onnir grunted and started off down the path in an odd, almost bouncing gait. Einarr followed close on his heels.


Table of Contents

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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 Draft2Digital, 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.