The thief’s fiery sword, flaming no longer, fell to the floor with a clatter as the man backed towards the cellar ladder. The man’s eyes were wide, and it was like he couldn’t tell what was most horrifying.

Einarr, though, was too stunned to pursue. Sinmora still shone with the magic it had stolen… from… the wards!

Einarr spun on his heel even as the thief screamed. A red blur whipped past Einarr to the sound of feet racing up the rungs of the ladder. The glow of runes from within the vault was gone. The cellar was now lit only by the icy cold light emanating from Sinmora. The vault was empty.

Einarr now raced up the ladder, Sinmora’s hilt still clutched in his hand. At that moment, two thoughts warred for dominance in his head: where is the Shroud and what just happened?

At the top of the ladder Einarr stopped, trying to spot the thief. He shouldn’t have been that far ahead, but Einarr could neither see nor hear any trace of him.

Frowning, Einarr ran for the exit. He didn’t know where the thief had gone, but it didn’t much matter now. The Muspel Shroud was loose, and if even half what Melja had told him was accurate they were in trouble.

The bay was gone. Einarr had no way of knowing if it was being run into the ground or if it had fallen victim to the Shroud. He sheathed his sword and ran for the village.


Einarr arrived on the outskirts of the village, red-faced and winded, an hour later. Melja demanded, before he had caught his breath, “Did you stop him?”

Einarr shook his head. “I mean, yes, but it didn’t matter. My sword -”

He was interrupted by a long wail from his teacher. “What do you mean, it didn’t matter?”

“My sword… it’s never done anything like this before! My sword ate the wards, and then used that to put out his sword!” He drew Sinmora to show them the blade, still unnaturally cold and glowing faintly even in daylight.

“So the Shroud is free, for the first time in generations,” Melja moaned again, but then seemed to really see the blade held out before him. “What did you say?”

“Sinmora. Always before, she wasn’t magical at all. Then today, fighting that thief, it was like she sucked in all the power from the wards. It put out his sword, but…”

“But it cost us the ward.” The man sighed, then cursed. “You plainly didn’t expect your sword to start pulling power. There’s no point in casting stones. Let’s just… find the thing and lock it back down.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Einarr paused, trying to recall what all he’d been told. “Um, how was it caught the first time?”

“My great-great grandfather set a trap for it.” Melja sighed again. “But, so far as we can tell, he never told anyone how he trapped it. My grandfather said he thought something about the trap was shameful.”

Einarr grimaced. That gave him an unfortunate idea of what might have been involved. “Let’s see if we can’t come up with a cleaner method, then. Surely, as its guardians for so long, there are records of what it can do?”

Melja nodded, suddenly looking very tired. “This way.”


No-one ever saw the thief – or his horse – again. Within the village, it was assumed they fell to the Shroud.

Einarr, closeted away with the dusty scrolls of the Runemasters, quickly grew frustrated. Always before he could consult a Singer, and even if they did not know they could extrapolate. Here, it seemed that the records were all either far too precise or hopelessly vague.

By noon on the second day after the attack, he was fed up. “This is not where I belong here. I’m going to go out and look for the thing, so that hopefully once you have an answer we can just use it.”

Melja looked up from his scroll from under his brows. “That impatience will be the death of you one day, if you’re not careful.”

Einarr snorted. “But not, I think, today. I am not a scholar, Melja, and all my progress with the runes isn’t going to change that. But I am a decent hunter.”

“Suit yourself.”

With a nod of thanks, Einarr excused himself. The clean air outside refreshed his mood immediately, and the clear sky and bright sun made it hard to remember that there was an intelligent piece of cloth on the island, looking for its next prey. What in the name of all the gods am I doing with my life?

He shook his head, shaking off the wry impression that had been haunting him all summer, it seemed. The Shroud had either kept to the forest thus far, or bypassed the village that had for so long been set to watch over its prison. The port, however, was an equally poor place to try to pick up its track: too far away, and likely too large.

Luckily, the local chief maintained a hunting lodge not far from the Shrouded village that he was known to frequent, and when he was not there personally there were some few hired hands who lived there to maintain it. If anyone would have noticed something amiss, it would be a professional hunter. With a spring in his step and his good elven cloak over his shoulders, Einarr set out across the forest.

Now all that was necessary was for Melja or Mira to find something – anything – that could help them defeat the damnable thing.


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Einarr took off at a sprint down the pier. The two could not have got far yet, and he remembered their faces. Jorir kept up admirably well, despite his shorter legs.

“You remember what they look like?” Einarr asked between breaths.

“Well enough.”

They pulled up short where the pier met dry land. There were only two ways the boys could have gone; a disturbance in the dockside market crowd said the answer was left. A heartbeat later Einarr, too, was dashing off after the ripples his fish made as it swam through the crowd.

He did not hear the dwarf’s footsteps pounding after him; a glance over his shoulder revealed Jorir examining something on the pavement. A glance was all he could spare, however, as the crowd was reluctant to be shouldered aside a second time in so short a period.

Scowling, Einarr gathered his breath without slowing. “Stop! Thief!”

Now the crowd parted for him easily. He began to close on the fugitive more quickly: it seemed some of the people farther ahead didn’t care to let the boy escape either. Bellowing like that had been risky: while Kem was at least nominally Northern, and the Gufuskalam was here on legitimate business, this close to Imperial waters it was still chancy.

“Thief!” He yelled again for good measure.

A dark-haired man in a butcher’s apron sauntered towards Einarr from down the street, clutching the boy’s arm in his outsized hand. The treasure sack was nowhere to be seen. “This the brat you’re looking for?”

“One of ‘em. Where’s your friend?”

The thief spat at the ground. For his trouble, Einarr boxed his ear.

“Seems like every other week this one an’ his lads are in and out of the guard-house.” The butcher jerked the young man forward and offered his arm to Einarr. “Do as you will.”

Einarr gripped the arm hard enough the boy winced. “Come with me.” Hopefully Jorir got the other one.

* * *

Jorir had, in fact, found the other one. He returned to the Gufuskalam only a few minutes after Einarr did, dragging his prisoner rather more unceremoniously than Einarr had. From the looks of them, Tyr hadn’t gone overboard without a fight. Both boys were shoved down on unattended crates on the pier, where a somewhat drier Tyr had joined his crewmates.

“These the ones?”

“Them’s the ones.”

“I think this is what you were looking for?” Jorir handed the sack he carried in his other hand to Einarr.

A quick glance inside revealed that everything was accounted for. He inclined his head to the dwarf in thanks. “Now. What to do with the two of you.”

The two young men sat sullenly, not yet seeing an escape.

“You see, as the son of a Thane, ordinarily I’d have my choice of punishments. Couple of strong backs like yours would make valuable thralls. I could gift you to my future father-in-law.” Now they looked nervous. That’s more like it. “Lucky for you, I don’t have room for two more people on that little boat of mine.” He waited until their expressions brightened, as though they thought they might get away with it after all.

Einarr smirked. “Or maybe not so lucky. In the process of stealing from me, you also attacked an unconscious man, and tried to drown another of my men. Back home, I’d be well within my rights to have you executed. I could hand you over to the guard and let you take your chances with the gallows.” Not that he would, even if he had a home port, but if he could put the fear of the gods in these two so much the better. “…Hm. Now there’s a thought. You see, I have little enough coin on me, and I expect to owe a fair amount to Master Mathis, there, who has been so kind as to treat the man you assaulted. Master Mathis, would you have a use for a pair of strong backs and deft fingers that plainly have nothing better to do with themselves?”

The apothecary studied them for a moment. “Not I. Keeping thralls in the city is frowned upon. But my brother-in-law maintains a homestead elsewhere in the Islands, and is forever complaining about a lack of hands to keep up with the work.”

“There you go, then,” Einarr said, looking at the boys as if that sealed the deal. “As you were so foolish as to steal from a Prince, plainly what is required is for you to learn the value of honest work. Master Mathis, will you accept these two scoundrels as payment for your services to my friend there?”

The apothecary’s smile was thin and not at all pleasant as he looked over the two thieves as one might inspect a horse. “Yes, I think a farm is just the place for a pair like the two of you, and I suspect I will more than make up for the loss in the foodstuffs of my sister’s gratitude.” He extended a hand toward Einarr, and the two shook on the deal. “Now, since that is dealt with, I’ve already explained to Tyr the treatment your patient will require while you sail. The medicines are in an oilcloth, I’m sure he can point it out if one of you will be taking charge of the care. He should recover his senses any time now.”

“We appreciate it. Will he… will he walk again?”

Mathis shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s too early to say. The knee didn’t seem to be too badly damaged, so it is possible.”

“Thank you. …Your brother-in-law, he is a good man, yes?” Einarr whispered the last: most men saw the value in treating their thralls well, but there were always exceptions.

The apothecary nodded. “My pleasure. And now,” he turned his attention to the newly-minted thralls, who were looking around as though for an escape route. “I must be going, before these two get it into their thick heads to do something stupid. Again.”

Mathis took the boys by their ears and led them off towards his apothecary.

“Well. That took gratifyingly little time. We should be able to get out with the next tide. Tyr, do we have the coin to reprovision?”

“Already seen to.”

“Wonderful. Next stop, Kjell Hall!”


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Einarr had been sure the map was because the harborman didn’t expect he could read right up until he saw the directions that were sketched therein. “Many thanks,” he said, gesturing with the paper. Then he had set out with Jorir into the twisting warrens of Kem’s back streets, glad he had left the bag of treasures stowed under the Gufuskalam’s deck.

“Have you ever been here before,” he asked Jorir quietly.

“Not recently enough to be any help,” the dwarf grumbled back.

“Wasn’t after help. Harborman’s map covers that.” Einarr glanced sidelong down at his new liege-man. “What’s got you so sour of a sudden?

“A man’s life hangs by a thread, and mine’s tied t’it. You’d be sour, too.”

Ah. That. He turned to the left down a not-quite-muddy street, shaking his head. “My apologies. Neither Tyr nor I doubt that you’ve done everything in your power to keep Erik alive. That was a far stronger oath you swore back on Svartlauf than I asked for: it should have been enough on its own, but…”

“Fine.”

“I will release you if you wish. We have no hall, and only my Father’s ship, to return to.”

“You think me so fickle?”

“I’m not sure what to think of you.” Einarr shrugged. “But, I think this is the place.” He gave the courtesy of a rap on the door before stepping inside the healer’s shop.

Einarr’s first impression was of stepping into the home of an herb-witch. Shelves filled with vials and bottles and tiny sacks lined the walls, and the spicy smell of bog myrtle hung in the air. He also smelled something metallic, though, and no herb-witch he’d ever known kept a stock this large. They appeared to be the only two people in the room. “Hello?”

Einarr had to look twice to believe what he saw when a man’s head popped up from behind the counter. It was uncommon, but not unheard of, for a man to be trained in song-magic, but this was no Singer’s place, and no Northern man would be allowed near the apprenticeship of an herb-witch. The face that appeared, though, had the bearing of an Imperial – the second surprise. “I am Mathis.” He glanced at the dwarf as he stood, his height nearly identical to Einarr’s. “Might I ask what brings such an interesting company to my apothecary?”

“My friend, back on our skiff. He’s injured. The harborman sent us.” Truth be told, Einarr wasn’t entirely certain about trusting Erik to some Imperial “apothecary,” but he thought seeking out a Singer here would likely be fruitless.

“Can you be more specific?” Mathis was already gathering supplies into a sack, however.

Jorir spoke up. “Took a nasty hit to the leg. It’s crushed. I think I’ve managed to break the fever, and I’ve got it splinted best I could, but it still doesn’t look right t’me.”

“How long ago?”

“About ten days.” Einarr could ignore for now the strangeness of a male herb-witch: his manner was the same as the best ones in the more northerly ports.

Mathis tisked. “Well, I’ll have a look.” Several vials and smaller sacks moved from the shelf behind his counter into the bag he packed. “Gerrit! Mind the counter. I’m headed to the docks.”

***

As they drew near the pier, Einarr sped his pace as the sound of shouting carried over the water, forcing Jorir to break into a jog. He heard a splash from the direction of the Gufuskalam. Moments later, a pair of scruffy-looking teenagers dashed past their little party. Einarr didn’t get a good look, but he thought they were more likely Imperial than of the North. Einarr loped forward, anxious to find out what had happened on their skiff.

When he reached the Gufuskalam, Einarr received his second shock of the day. Tyr was just then pulling himself from the water, cursing a blue streak. On board, the deck boards were tossed about. Erik still lay with his foot in the air, but he had acquired a rather red mark on the left side of his face. “What happened here?”

“Thieves is what happened, and right cheeky ones at that!”

Jorir led Mathis down to the patient, explaining quietly what had already been done, what had seemed to help and what hadn’t.

“Thieves? The wisest sailor on the Vidofnir, and you got taken down by thieves?”

Tyr glowered at him. “You won’t be laughing when you think about what they were after. Bastards kicked Erik in the face, knocked me into the water, and made off with the whole cursed sack!”

“Godsdamn!” Einarr kicked at the concrete under his feet. “I saw them on our way here.” Chasing down a pair of thieves on his own left him at a disadvantage. Taking Jorir meant hoping the dwarf could keep up. Taking Tyr meant he left the two unknowns alone on their boat, and while he didn’t think Jorir would try to take off without them… “Tyr, go ahead and dry off, keep an eye on things. Give Mathis a hand if he needs it. Jorir, we have some thieves to catch.”

The dwarf’s black beard split in a wicked-looking grin.


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