Einarr stood before what was unmistakeably the public hall from the vision, glad to have found it but wishing he had found it some other way. He shuddered: the man may as well have been a snake on two legs, the way menace and charm both seemed to hang about his head like a miasma. But, he wanted the Shroud dealt with as much as the next person – perhaps more, as he actually had people under his care – and his information was sound.
The sign of the Pewter Pot swung from its post where it hung outside the place itself. Einarr stared at it a good long minute after his guide excused himself, suddenly reluctant to enter. The building still stood, but that didn’t really mean much. There was nothing for it, though, so Einarr stepped inside.
The Hall was considerably cleaner than Einarr had expected based on the vision, although his informant had hinted as much. Now he just needed to convince the owner to let him work – well, that was all he had to do here, for now.
The woman who ran the Pewter Pot wore the sallow skin and lank hair of a hard life like one who doesn’t much care anymore. Still, after a (mercifully brief) conversation, the words “Muspel Shroud” and “hunting” convinced her to cooperate. By the time he returned to the Bronze Archer that evening, he had the first layer of wards laid.
Three more nights he spent at the Bronze Archer, working with Eydri the Singer to discover Sinmora’s secret. At the end of the third day they thought they were on the right track.
That third day, however, was also the day rumors began to swirl about mysterious disappearances in the city. That night, he gave up his bunk at the Bronze Archer for one at the Pewter Pot.
Whatever else Einarr wanted to say about the place, The Pewter Pot was lively after dark. He sat on the corner of the table nearest the door and watched the room, the patrons doing their best to forget the cares of the day with poor drink and their pick of company. The musicians were not on Reki’s level, or even Eydri’s, for that matter, but they kept a good pace for the players of the hallingdanse and did not make Einarr want to cover his ears.
It was not here yet. In the three days since he had drawn the ward, nothing had tripped it, and there was not a scrap of red cloth gone to keeping down mud on the floor. The vision suggested that the Shroud would hide itself in among the rugs, although after the debacle at Armad’s Hall he was not sure how much he wanted to count on that.
Towards the end of what would have been first watch on the Vidofnir the crowd began to thin, and soon it was only Einarr and a few hard-luck sailors left who had taken bunks here. Einarr had just kicked off his second boot when he felt the tingling sensation that meant the ward had been breached.
He didn’t bother with his boots: he took Sinmora in hand and stepped out toward the center of the floor.
Two of the sailors raised an eyebrow and rolled over, putting their backs to the room. None of their never-mind, the postures said clear as day. The other two, though, stopped what they were doing.
“Something the matter?” One of them asked, his thick accent screaming Empire even though he looked Clan bred and born.
Einarr only hesitated a moment over how much to tell them. “I’m on an alfr-quest, hunting an evil artifact. It’s coming.”
Neither the borderlander nor his companion hesitated a moment. Both men rose and took up their own weapons to join Einarr, ready to fight in nothing but their trousers.
“You don’t have to do this.”
“Who said anything about have to?” The borderlander grinned. “I’ll join you same reason I joined my Captain: it sounds like fun. Ain’t that right, Hrug?”
The other man grinned broadly. Einarr was appalled to see that he was missing not only half his teeth but also his tongue.
“Welcome aboard then, I guess. Name’s Einarr. You?”
“Naudrek. So what are we fighting?”
“You been on-island long enough to hear about the Muspel Shroud?”
Naudrek shook his head. “Something to do with fire, I presume.”
“It touches you, you’re ash. If I don’t destroy it here, I only get one more chance, and I’ve yet to spot a ship in port with a bear’s head.”
“It’s headed for the Bjorn? Aw, Hel, now I really have to help you.”
“That your ship?”
“Well then, let’s hope we get it here before we have to try to get it out of there.”
The three men put their backs together, their swords drawn and ready. Einarr watched the front door, Naudrek the kitchen, Hrug the fireplace. Minutes passed: nothing happened.
“You’re sure it’s coming?”
“It breached the alfs’ ward.” Something equally powerful had, anyway, and he had no reason to believe this island harbored two such artifacts. Hrug grunted. Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder, but the man merely acknowledged his answer. “Don’t underestimate the Shroud. It played me for a fool once before. It may simply be waiting for us to drop our guard.”
“If that’s the case, what’s to prevent it just moving on to the ship?”
“I believe there’s something it wants to accomplish here… although I couldn’t tell you what. Any of the rest of these fellows on your crew?”
“Then either it’s looking to hitch a ride with one of you, or it’s looking to kill again before it leaves. You seen anyone obviously slumming it here the last few nights?”
“Just you, but that don’t mean much.”
Einarr grunted. “This could be a long night, then.”
“All the more reason to lend a hand, don’t you think?” Naudrek grinned at Einarr over his shoulder. Einarr grinned back.
“Couldn’t have said it better.”
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