Einarr rode out from the young new Jarl’s Hall as light was just beginning to touch the sky. He’d have left immediately, but riding in the middle of the night, unrested, with a likely still-frightened horse seemed an excellent way to break his neck. So, he waited.
Shame burned in his mind, as hot as the Shroud. If he hadn’t let himself be distracted by the stable fire, would Hridi still be alive?
Maybe not. His failure that night was twofold, after all. First, he had let himself be distracted by the stable fire, and while horseflesh was worth saving it was not his duty. Obviously that was the Shroud’s intention, though – asuming it was as free-willed as Melja seemed to think.
Second, though, and more critically, he had failed to awaken Sinmoira’s power when he needed it most. That was the one that rankled. He had, after all, arrived in time to save the woman. He had simply failed to do it.
He rode away from the Hall, his mouth set in a grim line.
The problem, he thought, is that I don’t actually know how I woke her up in the first place.
Einarr reined in and looked about. The Hall was long since out of sight, and he saw no sign that anyone was likely to travel this way today. It looked to be a long, lonely rode through the forest. He would simply have to work it out as he traveled.
A hard edge jabbed at his thigh from inside his money pouch. The Runestone? Einarr shook his head. He at least wanted to try working it out on his own first.
The sun was high in the sky when Einarr finally stopped for lunch, no closer to working out the mystery of Sinmora’s new power than he had been when he started.
The trouble was, at least in part, that he first had to create a magical effect for Sinmora to ‘eat,’ and he was still very much a novice at the runic arts. If the old grandmother Geiti were here, perhaps he could convince her to Sing something it would be obvious if Sinmora disrupted, but she was not.
As he chewed a piece of jerky, he thought again of the Runestone he had carved back before he returned to the Shrouded Village. A Wisdom Rune, so that he could find his way through whatever quandaries his Calling threw his way. Carved with his own life force. A half-smile cracked his face. Stop being so stubborn. Do you want to keep stopping every five minutes to draw a new ward?
Einarr pulled the carved piece of wood from the money pouch on his belt. It was simple, without any of the ostentation he had seen on Wotan’s key broaches from the Tower of the Ravens. Just a smooth, square-ish bead of wood, carved with the ᚩ.
How did this even work? If he divined the answer like this, where would it come from? His own mind? Wotan?
Now he knew why he was so reluctant to use the stone. If he didn’t know the source of the answer, how could he trust it? But Runic divinations, the real ones, were among the best, even if the answers did tend toward the cryptic. He pursed his lips and pressed the bead against his forehead, between his eyebrows and focused.
He saw himself down in the temple vault once more, fighting the thief. The wards still existed.
The thief bellowed in rage and charged at Einarr’s past self, the screams oddly muted. Past-Einarr brought Sinmora up to guard, and as the blade gave its remembered pulse, the clear tone of a tower bell sounded in Einarr’s ears.
The fight continued as before. The eldritch runes began to glow in the vault, and Sinmora pulsed a second time. A second time, the bell sounded in Einarr’s ears. The walls of the vault seemed to vibrate with the sound of it.
The vision ended. Einarr drew his brows down in consternation and tore off another bite of jerky. What… did that even mean?
He turned the question over in his mind the rest of the afternoon as he continued his ride toward the port city of Eskiborg. As night fell, with family farms scattered to either side of the road, he was no closer to an answer.
Eskiborg, he estimated, would be another few hours’ ride yet. The roads here were passable enough that the dray was unlikely to trip and kill them both, but still he thought it best to rest for the evening. Better chances of finding a place to sleep in the city if he did not arrive in the wee hours of the morning.
As he stretched out by the side of the road, his cloak flung over his shoulders for a blanket, he sighed. I’m not getting anywhere with the question this way. There’s sure to be a Singer in town. Someone who knows music should understand.
A low haze hung in the sky when Einarr arose the next morning. To his mind there was something ominous about it, but none of the farmers he passed seemed troubled. His dray, too, plodded along as though nothing were out of the ordinary. Must just be nerves, since I know what I’m facing.
Eskiborg may have been as large a city as Kem, and as he approached its outskirts he learned that the haze that had troubled him all morning was in fact wood smoke. Armad’s Clan could be, if they chose, fabulously wealthy: the hardwood forests here produced superb timber for building ships and halls alike, and while that morning he saw no evidence that they built dromon for the Empire itself, but merchant ships were not outside the realm of possibility.
Dread settled in the pit of Einarr’s stomach. One ship, out of what looked to be a massive shipyard, and all he had to go on was a bear’s head. He needed to stop the Shroud before that.
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