7.25 – Inferno

Tangled Threads Publishing

Einarr knew which way was out only because he could still feel cooler air on his back. Ahead of him, for spouted from every surface and smoke filled the air. The only thing louder than the crackle of flames was the occasional scream of a horse.

He kept his arm up as a mostly futile shield against the worst of the heat, trying to remember if the stableboy kept his tools on the right or the left. Taking a gamble, he checked left.

A puff of flame shot up from the floor when he stepped on straw flooring, the dust igniting immediately. He drew back long enough for the tiny fireball to go out. This was the right way, then, and if the picket rope wasn’t already burning he should be able to cut it and free the horses soon.

A black mass rose up before him: the wall of…

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7.24 – Wards

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It took some hours before Einarr was able to stop raging at the sheer, petty irresponsibility of the Lady’s missive, but eventually he was able to sleep that night.

In the quiet hour before dawn, Einarr was awakened by a small, insistent nagging feeling. He lay still, staring through the darkness at the ceiling, trying to figure out what it was he had missed. Then it came again, louder this time. The wards!

Einarr was up, buckling on Sinmora, within the span of two heartbeats. His eyes were already adjusted to the darkness of the hall, and he slipped quietly between sleeping forms toward the High Seat, where he had seen the Shroud draped in Melja’s divination.

The sound of lowered voices caught his attention from the small servant’s closet behind the Seat. It was far earlier than he expected even kitchen thralls to be up and about, so who……

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7.23 – Layers

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Days passed with Einarr the restless guest of Armad and the Lady Hridi. The longer he spent under their roof, however, the more certain he became that something was amiss.

The boy acted like any other ten year old, save that he still grieved for his family. Einarr had some idea what that was like, given the number of stepmothers he had known and learned to love before they were torn away. He let the boy mourn however he needed to, and otherwise spent what time he could as a friend.

No, the trouble was with Eifidi and the Lady Hridi. Placing the two women next to each other was like looking at one in a mirror, and he was not certain which one would be the real woman. Their appearances were similar enough that they could have been twins, were one not nursemaid to the other’s nephew, but where…

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7.22 – Hall of the Fallen

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When Einarr left the village this time, it was on the back of a plowhorse – an even-tempered and quick-footed beast with the roughest gait Einarr had ever had the misfortune to encounter. It took him less than a hundred yards down the road to determine his first destination: the late Jarl’s hunting lodge.

On horseback, knowing his destination, it took Einarr less than half a day to ride what had taken him a whole day to reach half-lost on foot. He could have gone back in time to that first day he had approached the hall, save only for the presence of the horse. Hidir was again chopping logs for firewood, and at the sound of approaching hoofbeats Onnir hurried up, dirt still clinging to his hands and knees.

The two attendants greeted Einarr with a mix of warmth and concern. They knew, after all, the object of his…

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7.21 – Divination

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The divination ritual was to be held in the selfsame temple that had housed the Shroud for so long, down in the very vault that had imprisoned it until Sinmora had eaten the magic out of nowhere. I wonder what Vali would have to say about that?

Einarr shook his head, casting off the idle thought. Something about returning to the vault had his stomach doing somersaults, and his mind was just as unsettled. Vali, of course, was half a world away (so far as Einarr knew), on a ship whose adventures should be far tamer and more profitable for Einarr’s absence.

Meanwhile, he had an all-consuming burial cloth floating about the island, seemingly at random – provided it hadn’t yet found a way off the island. That it would was taken as a given by the alfs, although with its tattered end Einarr hoped that would be more difficult…

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7.20 – Return

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At first glance, the Shrouded Village appeared exactly as it had the day the alfr from Breidhaugr delivered him. Surely, though, that could not be the case. Melja had said they would continue their research while he hunted it. Einarr had no reason to doubt that, save for an offhand comment by a cynical old woman he met in the woods. He walked – determinedly, yes, perhaps even doggedly, but still well short of stalking – into the village, to the house where the scrolls were kept.

On the way, Einarr could not help but note that the villagers were going about their daily lives more or less as normal, if perhaps more nervously than before. Was research truly the only preparation they had to make? Did everything fall to Melja and his wife, truly? Einarr shook his head and pressed on, pushing the door to the scroll house open…

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7.19 – Tracking

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It was unmistakeably the same material as the Shroud. Oddly, it did not feel hot to the touch, nor did it burn anything else it came in contact with. For whatever reason, once separated from the whole there was no more magic in it.

This was just as well, Einarr figured, but ultimately unimportant. What mattered to him was the rough, ragged edge that seemed stretched in places. That meant the torn edge of the Shroud should also be ragged and stretched, and thus (he hoped) easier to track.

Or, a voice whispered in the back of his head, you could take the scrap back to your Master in the village and let them divine its location, like old Geiti said they could.

He might find it faster that way, he supposed, but it was still an unworthy thought. He shook his head. “I’ve been spending too much time…

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7.18 – Crone

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Einarr accepted the old crone’s prridge somewhat cautiously. Last night she had spoken of ‘questions,’ and made it sound like more than a few. He wasn’t sure he looked forward to answering them, although he would as honestly as he could.

The porridge, at least, was good. It had a pleasant woodsiness to it that Mira’s did not, and even as he ate he felt his strength returning to him. To Geiti’s apparent amusement, he found himself shoveling the thick grain stew ravenously into his mouth. She, too, ate, though far more sedately.

“I am glad to see your strength returned to you, young Cursebreaker.”

He nodded, buying time to swallow a mouthful. “Thank you for taking care of me. I’ll be sure to pass along your message when I return to the village. For now, though, I must return to my hunt.”

Geiti shook her head, chuckling. Stringy white…

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