Einarr blinked back to consciousness with the faces of Melja and Mira staring down at him and a strange tingling on his forehead and shield arm. He knit his brow. “What happened?”

“The fool has gone to free the Shroud!” Melja’s voice was husky, as though from shouting. “Our runes had no effect. At this rate…”

Einarr nodded, pushing himself to his feet. “I’ll not lose a second time,” he swore.

With Sinmora back in her sheath, and a new shield on his arm, Einarr set off at a jog for the temple.

Catching up with the man before he found the temple was a lost cause, Einarr was sure. That meant he would be facing the thief at the temple – hopefully before he found the vault, but Einarr would not hold his breath for that.

As Einarr jogged the trail, glad it was clearly marked, he replayed their earlier fight. It had been, he thought, like going up against Erik, except that so far as Erik was concerned, sparring was play. But even outmassed and out-reached as Einarr was, even with that magic sword, Einarr knew there had to be a way to fight the thief. He just hoped he had enough time to discover what that was.

As Einarr entered the open field surrounding the temple, he saw the thief’s horse grazing hungrily. The thief was nowhere in sight. Einarr sighed and picked up his pace: time was running out.

It was easy, unfortunately, to track the thief’s progress through the temple by the scorch marks he left on walls and floor alike. Einarr could think of no reason for those, or for the sword to be drawn in the first place. Had he been expecting guards? That seemed unlikely. The man’s wanton destruction did suggest a means under his skin, however. Those most willing to show off their swords, after all, were also said to be lacking in manhood – if not perhaps in quite the same way as those who turn to magic. Provoking the man would never be Einarr’s first choice of tactics, but under the circumstances it might be the best available.

The door to the cellar stood open. Einarr slid down the ladder, the smell of blood and burned flesh already assaulting his nose. Anger began to bubble in his stomach, and harder when he saw the body of the guard. That had been no fight: that was butchery.

Behind the body, the door to the vault also stood open. Inside, the brash man with the fiery sword strode straight towards the crimson fabric, his prize, at the center of the wards. The Shroud now snapped and cracked like a banner in high wind.

Einarr planted his feet at the threshold and drew Sinmora. He leveled his blade at the burly man. “That’s far enough.”

The thief stopped in his tracks. Then, slowly, ostentatiously casually, he rotated on one foot to face the door. He wore a smug grin like a mask. “Well. Look who’s back for more.”

“I can’t let you break that seal.”

“Like you can stop me?” He spat to the side and leered at Einarr. “You might as well just bend over and take your beating.”

“You’ll not find me so easy the second time. Now step out of that room and answer for yourself, you pig-sticker.”


“Tell me, on those cold winter nights, is it pigs or goats you turn to for comfort?”

“Say that again.”

“Did I mumble? You don’t like it, come out here and fight me properly.” The enclosed space of the cellar would level the playing field between them, at least. And with the other man hopefully not thinking clearly…

The black-haired man charged at Einarr, barrelling forward fast enough that Einarr had to skip backward to get out of the way. A quick sidestep took him out of the man’s path and left an opening. Sinmora slashed, and the man howled.

The thief gathered himself and took his sword in both hands, his eyes never leaving Einarr’s. “You’ll regret that.”

“Will I? Your swordplay makes me wonder if I wasn’t right. Has a woman ever graced your bed?”

With a wordless scream, the thief charged for Einarr yet again, his fiery blade unavoidable this time.

Einarr brought Sinmora and his shield up to guard. Sinmora seemed to pulse with power, but Einarr had no time to question that. He turned the blade aside with his shield boss, narrowly, and scrambled back around behind his opponent.

Which is why he saw the runes in the vault begin to glow with an eldritch blue light. Hel. That can’t be good. I need to finish this quickly

Sinmora pulsed a second time as Einarr brought her up to guard against the incoming blow. Last time, it was at about this point in the fight that the man battered down Einarr’s guard.

In the instant before their blades met, Einarr saw a flash of cold blue light from inside the vault. A whirlpool of energy formed with Sinmora at the center, drawing it in, and then it was the blade itself glowing with the cold energy of the runes.

Steel clashed against steel, and ice crystals formed all up and down the length of Sinmora’s blade. Einarr nearly dropped it from cold and surprise. That white, icy energy suddenly infusing Sinmora attacked the flames running along the length of the other blade. Extinguishing them.

A heartbeat later, it was over. The thief’s blade clattered to the floor, now evidently just an ordinary long sword, as its owner stared at it in disbelief.

Einarr stared at the blade in his hand, dumbfounded. That had never happened before. There would have been stories if it had.

The thief, no longer paying any attention to his prize in the vault, also stared dumbly at the weapons. With a strangled scream, he scrambled back towards the cellar entrance.

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As agreed, Einarr rose with the sun the next morning and was promptly set to work gathering eggs and drawing water. When that was done there were goats to milk, and Mira quite cheerfully set him to building up the hearth fire while she prepared breakfast for the three of them. Einarr did the work gladly: as he had thought the night before, it was very like being back at Afi’s freehold. Not that Afi would have approved of Einarr learning runes any more than his father did.

After breakfast, Einarr expected Melja to sit him down in a room somewhere with quill and ink and birch bark. Instead, he was led to the stream outside the village and there given a lecture on all the properties of water.

It was nearly midday before Melja determined Einarr was ‘ready’ for the form of the rune for smaller bodies of water. There was, evidently, a different rune used when dealing with the sea.

After lunch, Einarr was put to work on more chores. This time, however, he was instructed to find as many opportunities to use that one rune as he could. The goal was to have it mastered by dinner.

“Well, Einarr? Do you think you understand the Rune of Flowing now?”

Einarr shook his head. “I feel like I know it, but I’m not sure that’s the same thing here. I could tell you all of its meanings, and at least a dozen ways to use it, but I don’t think that’s really what you’re asking here.”

Mira cackled. “This one is clever, he is. Clever, and wiser than he looks.”

“Thanks,” he drawled, sarcasm heavy in his voice.

Melja laughed now. “Of course he’s wiser than you expect, Mira. He’s been raiding half his life, I wager, and wasn’t too proud to ask for help. If you hadn’t been named Cursebreaker, that alone could save your skin.”

Einarr chuckled, not a little bitterly. “Of that I am all too aware. Part of me wonders if all our answers together were worth the Oracle naming me.”

Melja and Mira both shook their heads.

“A burden, it’s true,” Mira started.

“But if you hadn’t been Called by the Oracle, you’d have learned of it by circumstance.” Melja’s voice was solemn, brooking no opposition, as though he were lecturing again. Einarr shuddered at the thought of facing the cultists without knowing that the world was out to kill him.

“It’s been a long first day, and you did well with ûr. Tomorrow we will study ár.”

For two weeks, Einarr’s studies continued in this manner. He learned the runes of water and ice, of earth, and of protection but, strangely, not of fire. Some of them, such as the dancing rune, seemed obscure and were tricky, to say the least, to practice in the course of afternoon labor. In the evening, at the end of those two weeks, Einarr asked about it.

“The rune of fire is a fell thing,” Melja intoned. “You will learn it, true, but last. It is more often laid to cause destruction than to prevent it, and never in daily life.”

“Whyever not? Surely the will of the worker determines the use of the tool?”

“Ordinarily, yes, but it is also a rune of sickness and death. Used incautiously, it brings calamity.”

“Are you saying that fire is inherently corrupting?” Einarr furrowed his brow. That made no sense: the dead were burned, after all.

“No, not inherently. It is still a rune that requires careful intention to use and…” he trailed off.


“And we require our students have a little more experience before we teach it.” These words came out in a rush: Einarr suspected they were not what Melja had begun to say.

Still, for now, it was an answer he could afford to accept. Something, though, was definitely strange about this elven village on a Midgardr isle. “I take it, then, that the reason the village is here is also… more advanced knowledge?”

“Yes, exactly!” That, too, sounded less than honest, though Einarr could not put a finger on why. There was not, however, any good way to press the man on the question at this moment.

He caught a hint of the answer just two days later.

Over the course of studying the sun rune, during the afternoon labors, Einarr grew too hasty and made a careless mistake: he failed to properly connect two legs of the figure. It was the sort of mistake any apprentice might make, particularly one engrossed in the throes of experimentation. The reaction, however, was dramatic.

He had been set to weeding one of the vegetable patches. The first test, he used the rune to improve the light for the cabbages and onions. The second, he used another aspect of the rune, intending to smite only the weeds with lightning. (As for why the sun and lightning were tied to the same rune, he had no guesses.) Rather than a small puff of smoke and the smell of oncoming rain, however, the particular weed in front of him began to smoke. Soon, fire was licking at the stems and threatening the vegetables around it.

Melja was already sprinting across the patch. Hastily, Einarr drew water and protection runes, hoping to mitigate the damage. Fire, after all, should kill the interloper just as well as lightning. Something was wrong, though: his ward, that based on the nature of the two runes should have worked, did nothing to quench or even slow the fire.

“What happened?” Melja bellowed in Einarr’s ear as he ran up.

“I don’t know! Every time before, it’s been a tiny lightning bolt. Why isn’t the water protection stopping it?”

Hardly bothering to look at Einarr’s attempts, Melja traced his own sequence of runes, almost identical to Einarr’s, and the fire went out. Standing before them was a very blackened, mostly dead weed.

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On the fragile page beneath Einarr’s fingertips, writing in a surprisingly delicate hand filled the first page of the book. At first glance it appeared to be in no writing Einarr had ever seen – not runes, and certainly not Imperial script. Then it was as though the words on the page began to swim around, rearranging themselves into something recognizable.

“Runa? Jorir? I think you’ll want to see this.”

Chronicle of the Cursebreaker’s Exile

I, Guthbrandr son of Eyvindr, the first of that name, record these events not for posterity but for my own sanity – however much of it yet remains.

Let me state first that, of everything which has befallen me, I was warned. The very method that ensured my survival these many years has led directly to my downfall. If there can be a ‘dark art’ of curse breaking, I have fallen to it.

A ‘dark art’ of breaking curses? Einarr blinked: he didn’t think he’d been doing anything more than muddling along. Could you really call that an Art? Or, perhaps, Einarr was still skating through on luck alone? The old man continued:

I, in my third year after being Called, discovered a method that allowed me to take the magic powering a curse and repurpose it once the curse was broken. I thought myself so clever: here, finally, was a way to grow strong enough to meet every challenge thrown at me, without losing any more.

Fool that I was! I thought the raw power purified once the thrall was broken, and I made it my own. But I could not fully turn it, and so it coalesced within and turned me, corrupting me.

And I was warned.

Now I sit here and rot on the island where at last my foolish pride came due. The Isle I had thought to free, but instead threw under the shadow of an even more powerful curse: my own, corrupted soul. This island, which used to be so vibrant, is now wiped from the minds of those outside, doomed to be forgot – it, and everything on it.

The door of the shack closed with a bang. Startled, guilty, Einarr looked at the door like a deer suddenly confronted with wolves. The old man stood in the doorway, unsurprised and unconcerned, looking for all the world as though he had not only expected but intended for Einarr to find the journal.

It took Einarr only a moment to understand. “Guthbrandr Eyvindersen?”

“The very same.”

“I’m told that no-one else on the island can see you.”

“Oh, my body long since rotted into dust. Even my bones, I wager, somewhere here on this beach.”

“Am I to take it you wish us to break the curse of the Island?”

The old man nodded. “It’s not the island that’s cursed, my boy. It’s me. You’d do well to remember that. But I reckon it’s the only way you and your friends get out of here.”

Einarr stood to face the shade of his predecessor. “So? What do we need to do?”

Guthbrandr held up one hand. “All in good time. First, why don’t you tell me why you lot washed up here?”

With a sigh, and looking vaguely embarrassed, Einarr reached into the pouch that hung from his belt and produced two lustrous, unruffled black feathers.

The old man’s face twisted in confusion.

“I was tasked with retrieving something from the Tower of Ravens – something my father and his crew need very desperately right now. On the way up the tower, I got a Valkyrie’s feather.” He gestured to the buckle of his baldric.

The old man nodded in understanding. “So when you’d won your prize and those were just lying there, how could you resist?”

“I have to admit, after what I just read I’m not sure that makes me feel any better.”

The old man threw his head back and laughed. “You’ll do all right, boy. But if you want my help, there’s a price.”

“Go on.” That was only to be expected. Breaking this one would probably destroy the shade, after all.

“You take that little book of mine with you, and you let people know I existed.”

Einarr didn’t even have to think about that one. “I would even if you hadn’t asked.”

Guthbrandr lowered his head in thanks. When he raised it again, he said, “In that case, put that gold chain around your neck and follow me.”


The three of them picked up a small trail of followers as they walked down the beach after the erstwhile Cursebreaker. First were Erik and Irding, come to see this through to the end, and then Arkja – to sate his curiosity, as far as Einarr could tell. He could not begin to think how this must look to the man. The other newcomers were quite sure they wanted to be nowhere near a Cursebreaker in action. On the one hand, Einarr couldn’t fault them for that. On the other, it did make him wonder how they would fare on the Vidofnir.

Einarr followed his predecessor down the beach to the south. The same direction he had come from just the other day. Whatever it was that bound him, then, must be hidden somewhere in that direction.

The coast curved back to the right, so that the Gestrisni was hidden from view by a dune. Not long after, a tiny inlet led into what appeared to be an equally tiny cave. Guthbrandr did not hesitate, but led them into the brackish water and up into the cave. The passage was narrow, but even in the very center the water only came up to Einarr’s knees.

The light of the entrance had shrunk to a pinprick by the time Guthbrandr came to an abrupt stop in a wider area. There seemed to be dry ground to either side, here, and while it was hard to be sure, Einarr thought he saw bits of tarnished silver in among the river rocks.

“I can go no further,” the shade announced.

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