Einarr rounded a corner in the track he had blindly followed toward the well and breathed a sigh of relief to see his companions there. In terrain such as this, you might not have to fail a test to become hopelessly lost. Stigander and Arring were blinking back out of the dream, confusion turning to understanding and determination.

Jorir stepped back onto the path from the other direction. Whatever his trial had been, he still wore the pain of it on his face.

Einarr caught his liege man’s eye and quirked an eyebrow, but the dwarf only shook his head, slowly, in response.

Now Sivid was blinking back to consciousness. The skinny man swallowed hard, his mouth twisted into a rictus, but in no more than the time it had taken the rest of them to realize their circumstances he had schooled his face again.

“The Oracle doesn’t take kindly to people sharing their trials together,” Jorir stated before anyone could broach the subject. His voice was husky. “Your vision will have been drawn from your own experiences, but it may contain glimpses of things to come… or that have already come to pass.”

“We should continue.” Stigander’s voice rumbled. He, too, looked unhappy at what he had seen, but had more of determination about it than the dwarf.

“Yes, Father.” What did they see? For his part, Einarr had known what sort of man Jarl Hroaldr was, and so his vision had not troubled him unduly. Seeing the reactions of his companions, however, he worried a little about how the other two trials would be.

The path to the Weaver’s Palace continued to wind its way upward, through the ever-sparser forest and into alpine meadows, surpassing even Svartlauf in wildness. They were wild, but Einarr felt no menace in these fields. He would have been hard pressed to say how much of that related to the knowledge that no jotün prowled this island.

As the morning wore on towards noon the clouds dispersed and the wildflowers growing to either side of the path almost seemed to glow in the newfound sunlight. Jorir growled at them not to relax too much here, as the second trial could begin at any time now, but otherwise they walked in silence. The further they climbed, the harsher the path became.

A haze seemed to settle around Einarr’s thoughts. Two steps later, he found himself on the deck of a ship – not the Vidofnir. His first impression was of a dromon: looking about himself, he saw the all-too-familiar wing and spear.

That was the moment when he realized he already wielded Sinmora, and the weight of his hauberk dragged on his shoulders. His shield appeared to be lost, but now Reki’s voice lured him into battle although the Singer was nowhere to be seen.

To his left, Jorir and Erik fought back-to-back and Einarr chuckled to see the smallest member of the crew defending for the one of the largest. To his right was another matter.

A circle of Valkyries had formed around sturdy, staid Arring and looked set to overwhelm him. Having seen that, there was only one thing for Einarr to do: he dashed the half-dozen steps that would bring him to the outside of their circle.

Einarr swung. The light glinted off Sinmora’s blade, and he cut a wide gash across the Valkyrie’s back. To his credit, the man did not cry out, but he did give way as Einarr drove himself like a wedge through their encirclement to join his crewmate at the center.

It was only after he’d broken through that he saw Arring stood guard over the fallen body of Bardr. His crewman must have seen shock in his eyes, because the man’s nod seemed to carry ‘he’s alive’ along with his thanks for the assist. He scooped up their Mate’s shield and stood back-to-back with the other man. Two against six was somewhat better odds than he’d had before, even if his help was the one man onboard who could not be allowed to die. Maybe I am too reckless?

He had no more time for thought. A pair of sabers cut towards Einarr in the same breath. He slammed his shield out to catch the one on his left with a satisfying thud, but then he had only one hand to put behind his longsword parry.

Einarr had no focus for anything but the onslaught of blades. Reki’s song drew him ever deeper into the battle-fury – it was strange, though, and oddly wonderful, to realize that he had all the strength of her song and yet retained all of his faculties. The Valkyries pressed the two of them hard, and with Bardr down between them Einarr had little room to maneuver.

He lashed out with Sinmora at one of the three harrying him. The man looked stunned for an instant as he withdrew the blade and blood welled from beneath his chin. A strangling noise escaped his mouth and the Valkyrie fell. One down, five to go…

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“Runa is my only child, and likely to remain so. He who marries her will become my heir. Rise, son, and take the hand of the prize you’ve fought so hard for.”

Raenshold. The Jarl was asking him to forswear Raenshold… his father… his birthright… and accept a jarldom in its place? Einarr shook his head as he climbed unsteadily to his feet, certain he must have heard wrong. “My lord, surely you jest?”

“Not at all.” The Jarl’s face was open and honest, as though the thought never crossed his mind that Einarr might be bound by another oath.

Einarr risked a glance back at the hall: his father’s face was grim, as was Bardr’s. Erik and Tyr looked concerned. Now he glanced down to Jorir, and unless Einarr was very much mistaken that was fear he saw there. Runa, though, gave him an encouraging smile and nod, trying to convince him to go ahead and accept. As though she did not know what her father asked of him.

Einarr set his mouth and turned his attention back to the Jarl. “My lord Jarl, every man under my Father’s command has sworn to return and reclaim Breidelsteinn.”

“Do you not have your own ship, your own crew, now?”

“Why would that matter?”

The Jarl blinked now. “Is Raenshold truly even a memory for you? Is it not merely the stories your father’s men tell to while away the time as you wander the waves? I am offering you the security of your own lands with my daughter’s hand.”

“It is true, we have lived as vagabonds since the Weaving, and my memories of home are faint and dim, their patchwork filled in by the stories told aboard the Vidofnir. But Raenshold is and ever will be home, and I was born to be a Thane, as was Father before me. You ask me now to settle for a jarldom in foreign waters, and let my birthright be usurped again?” Einarr raised his gaze to meet the Jarl’s, unflinching, and pursed his lips. Anger was beginning to smolder in his breast, and he worried he would say too much.

“You have been a homeless wanderer, sailing from port to port with never an end in sight. While you are unwed, that is fine for you, but I am no father if I allow my one and only daughter to lead that kind of life. Her hand in marriage is bound to these lands by a chain even the gods might not shatter.”

“Bound by you alone, and you hold the key.” Rage threatened to boil up, but if he fought his father-in-law over this he lost, no matter who won. “You say you are my father’s friend, and yet you try to seduce me into betraying him? Nay, Jarl. Runa shall be my bride, and none other, and no other than Raenshold shall be our home.”

“You’re being unreasonable.”

“Actually, I rather think you are. You would make a nithing of me.”

The sound of silver bells filled Einarr’s ears and the Jarl froze. Einarr looked about, surprised: no-one in the Hall so much as blinked, save one. The strangely familiar lady’s maid with the long golden hair and the elfin features. She curtsied, and as she rose she turned to walk away. The scene in Kjell hall faded with every step she took into the distance, until it was replaced with the alpine meadow where he had first seen the woman. Einarr shook his head to clear it before stepping back toward the path where he had evidently left the rest of his companions. I hope I’m not too far behind.


The sound of silver bells rang in Jorir’s ears and he stepped forward over the threshold between reality and dreaming. He didn’t know how it was done, but he had been through the tests before.

The scene in front of his eyes was the last one he expected, however. The light faded, its color yellowing, until he stood in a torch-lit stone hall. To every side svartdverger made merry. It took his eyes a minute to adjust, but when they did he saw the sigil of Chief Soggvar – King of Iron and Brass. I’m… home?

Jorir’s face lit up, for now he recognized the faces of his kinsmen. Some of them he was quite sure were dead, and others he suspected were, but in the world of the Oracle’s trial that did not matter. His eye lit on his brother’s face and he could not smother his astonished grin. He stepped over and put a hand on the other dwarf’s shoulder. “Brotti? What’re you doin’ here?”

“Waiting, little brother. We all are.” When his brother turned to face him, Jorir had a moment’s double-vision: Brotti’s face turned ashen, and the shadow of an axe cut across it. Jorir blinked and the vision cleared.

Jorir smiled again at his brother, but this time it was wan. I had a feeling.

“Go. The Thane would welcome you himself.”

“Aye.” He nodded, studying Brotti’s face even as he clapped him on the shoulder. Living or not, this would likely be the last time Jorir saw him. After a long moment, he turned towards the throne where Thane Soggvar sat looking dour – moreso even than Jorir was used to. Things must have got bad after he left.

Slowly Jorir stepped towards the throne, and slowly he knelt before his chieftain and bowed his head. He felt the large, heavy hand of the king settle on the back of his head with surprising gentleness. It was cold and clammy.

“Welcome home, son of the mountains. We have expected you.”

“I beg you to forgive my tardiness, my king.”

The hand raised again off his head. “It is of no matter. We have endured.”

Have you? “Thank the gods,” he said, as though he had noticed nothing amiss.

“What have you discovered on your long journey?”

“I have found the Cursebreaker.”

“Well! Cause for celebration indeed! Bring out the mead! In the morning, we will sacrifice to the gods for their beneficence!”

Jorir tried to smile in response to the Thane’s enthusiasm, but the signs within his vision suggested he was too late.

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