Runa frowned at the distaffs laying neatly in a row on the shelf of the loft. The description the Matrons had left them had only narrowed it down to two, and she seemed as reluctant to risk picking one up to examine it as Einarr was.
“The Örlögnir untangles fate,” she mused. “Probably our clue is in the pattern of the inlay.”
Einarr peered more closely at the two they were considering. “But… they look the same to me?”
On each, there was a pattern of cross-hatching that seemed vaguely familiar to him, as well as a small round symbol that was difficult to discern in the smoky light up here. It could have been either the Vegvisir or the Helm of Awe, he just couldn’t see without picking it up.
Runa solved this issue neatly by kneeling on the floor to examine the two hazel and ivory distaffs. Feeling stupid, Einarr crouched next to her.
One of the distaffs was plainly the Helm of Awe, and the other was the Runic Compass. Protection, and Guidance. Only, either of them could be appropriate here, depending on if the craftsman considered it primarily curative or if its use would be more broadly entwined with the Norns’ workings.
He looked at Runa from the corner of his eye, hoping she might have a better idea. Her lips were pursed into a line, and her eyes darted between them. Comparing, he was sure. “Well?”
“A moment. It’s down to the hatching.”
Einarr grunted agreement.
“We’re looking at either the Web of Wyrd or Gugnir, on both of them, but I feel like my eyes are playing tricks on me in the light.”
“That one has the Helm of Awe, if it helps.” He pointed to the one on the right, with crossed diamonds encircling the handle in bands. “And that one has the Runic Compass.”
She nodded, frowning. “That’s what I thought I saw, yes. …If only there were a surface I could draw on.”
“Plenty of dust on the floor.”
Runa hummed, looking doubtfully down at the floorboards. “It will have to do, I suppose. Fine.”
She turned toward him and stretched an arm down to draw some quick lines in the dust, and her braid slipped down over her elegant shoulder. Beautiful and brilliant. Could any man be luckier?
Runa cleared her throat and shot him an impatient look.
Right. Focus, man. “Sorry.”
She hummed and looked back down at the hatch mark patterns she had drawn in the dust. “One of these is Gugnir. The other is the Web of Wyrd. We want the one – I think – that has the Web of Wyrd drawn on it.”
Einarr looked down and examined them. They were both familiar, and very similar to each other. The primary difference, as he studied her work, seemed to be the vertical lines running through the angles. “The web is the one built like a ladder of the other, more or less?”
“More or less, yes.”
He nodded, then turned his attention back to the line of artefacts. If he wanted the cross-hatch pattern that was bounded by three lines, then that meant… He got down on his knees and leaned against the edge of the shelf. His eyes, too, seemed to be playing tricks, but being named Cursebreaker had to be worth something, didn’t it?
He peered, and as he peered he blinked, and slowly the inlay pattern of ivory on pale wood came clear. The one that was banded by the Web of Wyrd was also the one stamped with the Vegvisir.
Einarr swallowed. Logically, that had to be right, didn’t it? With no little hesitation, he reached out for the distaff on the left.
Runa’s voice stopped his hand inches from the handle. “Are you sure?”
He paused, considering, and turned his head to look over his shoulder. “It shows the Web of Wyrd, like you said I should look for, and the Runic Compass. Guidance and Fate. That sounds like what we were told to look for, doesn’t it?”
She pressed her lips together, still worried, but nodded. “Yes, that makes sense. Only…”
“Only this feels too straightforward.”
“You’re saying I should take the one stamped with the Helm of Awe and Gugnir?”
“I think it’s our best bet. You said it yourself, you’ve had little to do other than study. If you say we want the web pattern and not the spear pattern, I’ll trust you.”
“But what if…?”
“You’re wrong? Then we fail. But sometimes, you just have to trust your gut. And my gut says we reasoned right.”
Einarr gave himself no more time to deliberate. As the last word left his mouth, his hand closed on the handle of the distaff he had chosen.
A cawing erupted from the floor below, and Einarr felt a vibration beneath his feet. He doubted the tower would actually collapse about their heads, but there was absolutely no reason to stay now.
Einarr thrust the distaff through his baldric and slid down the side rails of the ladder, but then he stopped. He would not be his father’s son if he did not help the lady down, after all.
Runa hardly needed the help, although she accepted it with grace. Then they were off again, their companions standing at the top of the stair and waving them on to hurry. Of Huginn and Muninn, Einarr saw no sign save a pair of black feathers on the ground in front of the fire. The white one woven into his buckle caught his eye and he paused. On impulse, he turned to the others. “Go on ahead. I’ll catch up.”
“Are ye daft, man?” Jorir looked at him as though he quite believed his Lord was.
Einarr grinned back. This was foolish, sure, but it was also not an opportunity he could stand to let pass. “Perhaps. Don’t worry: I’ll be fine. I’ll catch up by the time you hit the apothecary room.”
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