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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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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“Mind your step,” Melja warned as he entered the room.

The warning was well-taken. At first glance it seemed as though every surface of the chamber was covered in gently glowing runes in baffling configurations. Einarr stopped in his tracks, scanning the room.

Gradually, the overwhelming formations resolved themselves into more recognizeable, if not comprehensible, configurations. Concentric circles of text ringed the floor, but as he watched a path, almost like stepping stones, began to emerge.

Ah. So that’s how. Feeling more confident, Einarr stepped out onto the revealed path. Melja, several paces ahead, paused for Einarr to catch up as the Shroud continued to twitch as though in a breeze.

“This is amazing,” Einarr breathed as he caught up.

“This is necessary. The last time the Shroud was active, entire villages were consumed.”

“Why wasn’t it destroyed?”

“What makes you think they didn’t try?”

This just kept getting better. Einarr swallowed and turned his attention back to the web of wards they walked through. “So what, exactly, will we be doing here?”

“I will be checking the integrity of the keystone inscriptions. You will be adding your will to the force of the inscriptions.”

“Meaning…?”

“Touch where I tell you to, and turn your will to them, just as if you were activating one of your own inscriptions.”

“…Ah.” Einarr at least knew what that would look like. He wasn’t sure how much sense it actually made. Still, though, once they got started the work proceeded swiftly and Einarr soon discovered that what he’d thought to be senseless was actually base simplicity in practice.

Einarr’s stomach had begun to grumble by the time they left the elaborate chamber and the guard locked the door behind them.

“Don’t wait to let us know if anything changes,” Melja said.

The guard nodded seriously and said “of course,” even though the admonition was thoroughly unnecessary. As they walked back toward the village, Einarr began to feel truly silly about his fears.


He had nearly managed to forget his earlier trepidation as first days, and then weeks passed after the reinforcing of the wards.

When the alarm came, it was not from the temple but from the port town, more than a day’s hike away. A small boat had docked, and its lone occupant had demanded to know the route to the Shrouded Village. From the Headman, at the point of a flaming sword.

“This is bad,” Melja said when the messenger arrived. What followed was a scramble, near panic but not, as the alfr of the village prepared themselves to drive off this interloper.

They did not have long to wait: the questing man was bare hours behind the messenger. He rode up on a fine bay, its coat lathered and its eyes rolling wildly. The newcomer pulled up with such force that his poor horse half reared.

The man stared down imperiously at the villagers, Einarr and Melja at the fore. His eyes were as cold and blue as ice, but his wild mane of hair was black as night. “Is this the Shrouded Village?”

Melja’s voice was cold and just as proud when he answered, “It is.”

The black-haired man smirked. “Excellent. I have come to relieve you of it, by order of my master Virid, Chief of the Giants of Eldurgardr.”

“Tell your master that the alfs of the Shrouded Village sent you off with your tail between your legs, and that not even Wotan himself can order the thing’s release.”

The man laughed. “Excellent. I shall indeed tell him that the alfs fled before my Brannmerke when I present the Muspel Shroud to him.”

As the man spoke he dismounted and drew the long sword that hung at his hip. The blade burst into flames as it cleared its sheath – flames very similar to those which had been invoked in the garden several weeks prior.

“Put that thing away! You’ll kill us all,” Melja snapped.

At the same moment, Einarr was stepping forward, his hand on Sinmora’s hilt. “You’ll have to go through me, first,” he growled.

“Through… you?” He spat. “You are a nithing, a coward, a woman clad in her father’s castoffs. If you were a true man there’d be nothing left to plunder here.”

“Slanderer. Fool. If I were what you say, I’d not be here at all. Come, then, and we will prove who is man and who is nithing.” Einarr’s voice was steady and cool in the face of the other man’s insults. Sinmora cleared her shath with a gentle rasp and he readied his shield.

The villagers backed away swiftly from the impending clash. While all of them could fight at need, none of them were warriors in the way Einarr was. As swift as they were, though, it was only just fast enough.

The foreigner leapt to the fight like a wolf lunges for a kill. Reflexively Einarr brought his shield up: the blade clanged against the shield boss and flames licked its wooden edges.

Before the foreign hothead could pull back, Einarr cut forward. Sinmora bit into his opponent’s maille, but the other man only laughed.

Then the flaming sword arced through the air again, and again Einarr barely managed to bring his shield to bear. He felt the boss dent under the force of the blow, and smelled burning paint.

“So the woman has some guts after all! Make this interesting now.”

Einarr resettled his stance and spat. This was not looking good. He tried to feint right, looking for some opening he could use, some way past the man’s guard, and finding none. Sinmora was batted away. Again he tried and again recieved only mockery for his efforts. Finally the ice-eyed hothead rolled his eyes and spat again.

“Tcheh. Boring.”

The next blow shattered Einarr’s shield. The one after dented his helmet and set his ears to ringing as he dropped to his knees. “I think we know who the nithing is now, don’t we?”


Vote for Vikings on Top Web Fiction!

Table of Contents

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.