In the next heartbeat Sinmora was in Einarr’s hand. He pressed himself against the central pillar as he raised the sword to parry the dwarf’s blade. That was a long drop off the other side – one he definitely did not intend to take himself.

Axe struck long sword and the dwarf jumped backward, eyeing the drop himself.

“You could have just opened the door and been on about your business, you know.”

“Just like you could have turned back after your friend got chomped. My master is most displeased about his dog.”

“The wolf should be fine. My friend, on the other hand…”

“Got what he deserves.” The dwarf lunged again, striking out at Einarr’s chest from his position on the high ground.

Clang! This blow, too, was parried. Einarr edged up a step and struck at the dwarf’s inside arm.

The dwarf dodged back. He, too, was wary of the long drop. Caution wasn’t going to win this fight, then.

“If you put your axe down and open the door, neither of us has to die.”

“I let you through, my master kills me. I kill you, he rewards me. Now, which would you choose?”

Einarr shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He lunged upward, his body low to the stairs, and slashed at the dwarf’s knees.

His opponent jumped, and Einarr was forced backwards to avoid the plunging axe aimed for his head.

The dwarf drove the axe with such force that the head bit into a join in the stone stairs. He tugged on the handle, but it was wedged fast.

Einarr saw his opportunity and seized it. He surged forward, shoulder first, knocking the dwarf up the stairs and away from his weapon. Before the dwarf had time to blink Einarr followed through with a backhand strike to his mouth. The crunching sound suggested he’d broken teeth. A flat-footed kick landed on the dwarf’s face and he stumbled backward another step.

That gave the dwarf just enough time to regain his balance and counter-surge. He bent at the waist and charged forward in a tackle. Einarr backpedaled a step or two, but tightened his stomach in time to avoid being winded.

For his trouble, the dwarf got a knee to the jaw. He spat blood but did not let go. Einarr’s lips curled into the rictus of a snarl as he brought his elbow down on the base of the dwarf’s skull.

Now the dwarf slumped, releasing his grip about Einarr’s waist as he slipped to the rough stone stair beneath their feet.

Einarr puffed air through his moustache. Finally. He started to pick his way around the dwarf’s unconscious form, and then an idea hit him. He turned, only for a moment, and pocketed the key that the dwarf kept on a thong about his neck. “I’ll be taking that.”

Now Einarr took the rest of the stairs back to the landing, stepping as softly as he could. He opened the door and bent over to peek through.

What he saw made little sense: flagstones the size of carts, and wooden pillars that rose beyond what he could see from his hiding place. He neither heard nor felt the thunderous steps of the Jotün, and so he slipped outside the dwarf-sized door embedded in the giant-sized wall and locked it behind him.

He turned. Staring upward, the tree-like pillars were the legs of an oversized table and chairs. Crates and barrels and sacks were piled haphazardly against the walls. I wonder if this is how rats see the world? It was a struggle not to gawk. The room reeked of stale sweat and rotted meat. Einarr wrinkled his nose as he surveyed the room, looking for a better vantage point.

The table legs were too smooth to climb, and the bench likely wouldn’t get him any better of a view. Besides, if he climbed the table he might have to see where that smell was coming from. Instead, he moved in front of the stacks along the wall. A stack of potato sacks looked like it would do, but more promising was the pyramid of crates in the corner ahead.

The nearer he drew, the better the crates looked. The slats were rough-hewn, with enough space between that he could use them as hand- or foot-holds. Up he went, pulling himself up the outside of the boards like an oversised inchworm. At the top of each crate he took the time to look around the room, not wanting to go any higher than he had to in order to locate his goal.

He scaled three chests in this manner before he could see across the top of the jotün’s table and get an idea of what sort of a hall this solitary giant kept.

The top of the table was littered with the remains of past meals, dirty dishes and bones alike. Einarr forced himself to look away from the carnage of the table to study the walls.

There were doors about the hall into other rooms. This in itself was unusual, although he wondered why the Jotün bothered: the only one closed was the one he had locked behind himself. The third thing he noticed was that the owner did not, in fact appear to be home. No figure slept in the bed behind the large double-doors in the back, just as he had not felt the giant’s footsteps earlier. If Fraener was out about the island hunting, that was so much the better for Einarr – provided, of course, he was not hunting the Gufuskalam.

One door stood closer to closed than the others, and it was through there Einarr spotted the glint of gold. There we go.


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The dwarf stood from his seat at the table and brushed his hands off on his trousers as Einarr pocketed the king Runa had sent with him. He did not miss that his guide hooked an axe onto his belt before setting off, nor that the dwarf evidently felt no need of a cloak where they were going.

“Right this way, sir.”

“After you.” Einarr followed a full two paces behind, shortening his stride to avoid catching up with the trundling gait of the dwarf and dearly wishing he still had Erik along. Don’t let him give in, Tyr. He would just have to watch his own back this time.

The firelight from the dwarf’s forge cast eerie shadows on the cavern walls as he led Einarr further in, toward the hall where his prize lay hidden.

Eventually the cavern narrowed again into a tunnel not unlike the one Einarr had entered from initially. This time, though, within five paces it opened back out into a circular room from which more tunnels set out in all directions. Rising from the center of the room was a giant-sized pillar, into which were carved dwarf-sized steps.

“How long did it take you to learn your way around down here?”

The dwarf snorted. “Long enough to design the place, and not a moment longer. My master has no interest in the subterrain.”

“Is that so.” A man could be lost forever down here… Rather than leaving it to chance, Einarr dropped a loose thread from his tunic near the mouth of the tunnel they had exited. The dwarf’s hand fell from the axe handle as Einarr looked up.

“So you never said what brought you here.” The dwarf was probing.

“You’re right, I didn’t.”

“Well?”

“Surely there are a limited number of options that would bring a man through the storm to Svartlauf?”

“Oh, aye.” The dwarf rested his hand on the head of his axe as he began the ascent. “But since you’ve already said you didn’t come for his head, I think it would be good to know what item I’m helping some stranger to steal.”

“Would it? I would think that would be more damning when he finds out. Assuming, of course, that is in fact what I’m here to do.”

The dwarf snorted now. “I’ve been outside recently enough to know you for one of the human raiders.”

“Oh?”

“Aye. And unless matters’ve changed a great deal in the meantime, a northerner would fall on their own sword before they helped a jotün. So since we’re imprisoned here, and you said you didn’t need to kill Lord Fraener, the obvious conclusion is you’ve come to steal one of the treasures he brought with him.”

The monstrous men of the Grendel came inexplicably to mind. “Things in the north may be a little more complicated than you remember.”

The dwarf hummed and climbed faster.

Eventually, after climbing farther than Einarr would have thought possible from the cave without ever catching sight of the sky, the stairway terminated in a landing and a stone door.

“My master’s hall is through here.” The dwarf stood to the side, resting both hands casually on the head of his handaxe and staring fixedly at the blank stone wall across the landing.

“What… part of the hall?”

“The main chamber. This is my private entrance.”

“In that case, please. Go ahead.” Einarr had no desire to allow the black-haired, scarred dwarf behind him. Whether he loved his master or not, he knew Einarr intended the jotün harm, and there was profit to be had by betraying Einarr to his master.

“I must return to my forge. My master will be most displeased if I am delayed further.”

“I won’t keep you. Only, the landing is narrow and I do not think I will fit past you.” It was a gamble. Dwarves were not often offended at accusations of broadness, but Einarr was not a large man, which could put the lie to his excuse.

Indeed, the dwarf glared at him for a long moment. When Einarr did not attempt to retract his claim, he grumbled and pulled a key on a chain from within his tunic.

“Tell me, sir dwarf, what did you intend to do when I stepped forward and found the door locked? Would I have had time to accuse you of betrayal, or would there have been an axe in my back before I blinked?”

The dwarf only continued to mutter words in his own tongue. The latch clicked.

“Your lack of an answer is answer enough. Now. Go on through.”

The dwarf removed his key from the lock and hid it back inside his shirt. “Tell me, sir raider, if someone came to steal from your Captain, what would you have done?”

“Slain the man before I played a game of tafl with him. Go on.”

“Go to hel.” The dwarf spun on his heel, the hand that had been reaching for the handle instead unhooking the axe from his belt. He leaped at Einarr, blade swung high overhead.


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With the morning light came the sound of metal striking metal from deep within the cave, rousing Einarr from his uneasy rest. The glow of fire lit the walls, even though Einarr’s had long since burnt itself to ash.

The noise became more distinct as he crept down the narrow, winding passageway. I wonder what sort of smith would set up in such a place?

Several minutes passed, and Einarr knit his brows. The tunnel had already continued on far longer than he had expected, but still he heard the rhythmic clinking sound of a distant forge hammer from up ahead.

The tunnel jogged sharply left, and then directly back in the other direction before opening out into a broad cavern. Like the tunnel behind him, the walls of the cavern did not appear to be man-hewn, and yet the sheer scope of the room suggested that very fact.

He pressed on, stepping softly over the smooth stone floor and moving from stalactite pillar to stalagmite as he crept across the room toward the source of fire at the center of the cavern. The clanging sound never faltered.

As he crept ever closer, the source of the noise resolved itself into a sensible form. The fire burned hot, and next to the fire was an unusually short anvil. Working at this anvil, on some project Einarr could not determine, was a black-haired dwarf. Unless Einarr missed his guess, not all of the dwarf’s visible scars were from his forge.

“You may as well come the rest of the way in,” the dwarf growled. “I already know you’re there.”

Einarr blinked, a little nonplussed. The dwarf shouldn’t have been able to hear him over the noise of his anvil. He stepped out from behind the stone pillar he had sheltered behind. “Yes, of course. My apologies, sir dwarf, but I did not expect to find anyone smaller than a tree on the island.”

The dwarf laughed, but was no mirth in it. “Sit down. Have a drink, rest a bit by the fire.”

“Am I to understand that you’re extending hospitality to me? That, according to the dictates of the gods, you will see to it that I come to no further harm on the island?” He could not keep the disbelief from his voice.

The dwarf snorted. “Fine. Don’t, then. Why are you here.”

“I don’t suppose you’d be able to tell me how to get to Fraener’s Hall, would you?”

“You want to go to the jotün’s hall, do you? Can’t see why anyone would want to do that.”

“Even still, I fear I must go. Do you know the way?”

“Oh, aye, I can take you there. But it won’t be for free. And you probably won’t thank me for it if I do.”

“Of course it won’t.” He sighed: all he had on him was the rope and the sack with Runa’s gift. “I’m afraid I haven’t anything of value on me. Perhaps some sort of a contest? A… game of wits, perhaps?”

“You would riddle with me?” The dwarf sounded unnaturally gleeful at the prospect. “If you win, I will take you there. If you lose, I will give you to the master for dinner.”

Einarr suppressed a groan. Why is it always riddles? I hate riddling. “Come now, are we barbarians? What think you of tafl?”

The dwarf’s face took on a crafty look. “Unfortunately, my board is missing a piece.”

“Is it the king?” Bless you, Runa. How did you ever guess?

The dwarf nodded sagely. Einarr pulled the king from out of the sack where it rested.

“Let’s play. My king, my defense.”

“As you like.”

The dwarf moved away from the fire and spread his board out on the ground of the cave. He set out the game pieces in an unfamiliar pattern. No matter, though; the layout determined tactics, not strategy, and the key to this game was fluid tactics. Einarr studied the board as the dwarf worked, mentally trying and discarding several opening moves.

The dwarf played cautiously at the outset – too cautiously, Einarr thought. Within five moves he’d nearly opened his path to the edge of the board. He was just starting to get cocky when he noticed the smirk his opponent wore. In the next move he was cut off from escape.

By his tenth move, Einarr was beginning to sweat. He hadn’t lost yet, but the dwarf was making him work for it harder than anyone other than Runa had in a long time.

Five more turns passed, with Einarr’s guards getting picked off slowly but surely. As he sat, contemplating his next move, a feeling of deja vu struck. I’ve seen this pattern before. …That’s right. A slow smile spread across his face, despite his attempts to quash it. I tried to corner Runa with this once. Tried, and failed miserably. In three turns she’d crushed the offense, with no more pieces left than he had now.

“Not really sure you have anything to be smiling about,” the dwarf said.

“Mm? Oh, I’m just thinking about the bragging rights I’ll have when I escape your master’s pot and poison the soup on my way out.”

“Are you now.”

Einarr didn’t think the dwarf believed him, but he looked up from under his eyebrows at his opponent and made the first move. “I am. It’s not what I came here for, but how many people can say they slew a jotün in his own hall?”

The dwarf continued on as he had been, apparently not recognizing the shift in tactics. “Not all that many, I’d wager.”

Einarr made his next move. “Now, now, one wager at a time. Raichi, by the way.” Einarr knew he looked smug as he signalled his impending victory, and right now he didn’t care.

The dwarf looked confused, still not seeing the same hole in his line that Einarr had missed those few months ago. He moved to block what he thought Einarr was doing, which left exactly the path free that Einarr had left for Runa.

“Tuichu. I win.”

“So you do.” The dwarf blinked, poleaxed.

“So now you will take me to the jotünhall, as we agreed, and I will not have to figure out how to poison your master.”

“Of course, my young sir. If you will just follow me?” The crafty note was back in the dwarf’s voice. Einarr would have to watch him.


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I once again failed to take a photo before I sat down to eat, but this was too tasty not to share (and simple! Oh-so-simple.) Feel free to change out sausage type or seasonings according to your whim.

Sausage and Mushrooms

  • Servings: 1
  • Time: 45 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 link Italian Sausage, sliced. I used Garlic & Parmesan, because it was leftover and we still do dairy, but it’s really not going to matter.
  • 1 sm sweet onion, diced
  • 4 mushrooms. I used plain ol’ white mushrooms.
  • 1 T butter, for frying
  • 1 t olive oil, for frying
  • Italian Seasoning, crushed, to taste
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Splash of broth or wine, for deglazing
  • salt and pepper, for serving

Directions

  1. Melt your butter in a mid-sized skillet.
  2. Over med-low heat, caramelize your onions (~30 min). About mid-way through the caramelization, add your Italian seasoning and your red pepper flakes.
  3. Once the onions are ready (or at the point when the smell makes you drool and you look in the pan and say good enough), add your mushrooms. Saute until they begin to soften.
  4. Add the sausage and turn the heat up to med-high.
  5. Once the sausage is brown, splash in a little of your broth and continue to cook over med-high heat, scraping frequently with the spatula, until the broth has reduced to where you like it.
  6. Plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

If you try it, I’d love to know what you think!

 

Erik’s weight on Einarr’s narrow shoulders slowed him considerably as he made for the inlet where the Gufuskalam waited with Tyr and their supplies. The man had tried to protest, but every time anything so much as brushed his injured leg he paled.

For Erik’s part, he limped on his good leg, dragging the bad one behind and panting with exertion. The fimbulvulf was restrained, at least for now, which meant that Einarr had some time to search out an entrance to the Hall. But before he could allow himself to do that, he had to get Erik to Tyr. The old sailor had been around long enough to know a touch of medicine.

Blood had begun to well from the leg as the wounds warmed, but the initial freezing had been a boon. More worrisome was the bone: he hoped it was something Tyr could set.

Erik slowed. Einarr glanced at his friend: the man’s face had grown pale.

“Come on. Nearly there.”

Erik nodded, his jaw slack.

“Talk to me, Erik. Stay awake. You can pass out once you’re back on the boat.”

“Right, right.”

Shock was setting in. This could be bad.

“Look, you can see where it gets lighter up ahead. We’re almost out of the woods, and then Tyr will fix you up.”

“Oh, gods. You ever been treated by him?” He still sounded dazed, but at least talking would keep him conscious. Einarr could probably carry him across his shoulders if he had to, but it wasn’t something he wanted to test, either. “Man’s got the touch of a mule.”

“Well let’s hope Father finds us a new Battle Chanter while he’s out hunting the Grendel, then, eh?”

“Yeah.” He grunted in pain, but they were emerging out of the woods and onto the top of the cliff face they had scaled just hours before.

Einarr helped Erik lean against a tree trunk and took the rope from about his shoulders. “I’m going to tie a harness and then try to get Tyr’s attention. We should have enough rope I can get you down there, at least.”

“Might I suggest… a fire?” Erik was still breathing heavily, and the dazed look was returning to his eye.

“Yeah, that’s not a bad idea. Stay with me, here.”

“Right. Sure. Just really… tired over here for some reason.”

“You’re not allowed to pass out until you’re back on the Gufuskalam, understand? That’s an order.” Einarr tugged the last knot tight.

Erik chuckled feebly. “Yes, sir.”

“Ah, there we go.” Einarr took two steps and jumped to catch hold of a dead branch on a sick-looking pine. It snapped halfway up, and Einarr smirked in satisfaction as he landed in the snow. “Fire won’t be much for heat, but it should at least get Tyr’s attention down there.”

“Hey, kid.” Erik’s voice was labored, but he was trying to stay awake at least. Einarr tried not to twitch at being called ‘kid’ again after so many years as he struck flint against the flat of his blade. “Thanks. Jus’ wanted to… make sure… I said that.”

“Stay with me, Erik.” The branch was now a burning brand. He waved it over his head, staring at the Gufuskalam below as though he could will Tyr to look their direction more swiftly.

The boat began to row in their direction. Thank the gods. Einarr set the brand down over the lip of the cliff, the fire over the open water, and turned back inland. “Okay, Erik. Let’s get you in the harness.”

The burly man lay unconscious in the snowbank, his back still propped up by the tree trunk.

***

With Erik out cold, Einarr had to get Tyr up the cliff face in order to safely lower Erik back down, but eventually they managed. The older man looked grim as he promised to do what he could, but Einarr was sure Erik would pull through. The Vidofnings were tough, after all.

Now, as the sun dropped toward the treetops in the distance and the light began to fade, Einarr crept through the forest on his own and started at every sound. Tyr had tried to convince him to stay on the boat for the night, but the longer he waited the more likely the wolf would have freed itself. Deeper into the forest he moved, and nearer to the great Hall at its center. Einarr shivered in spite of his heavy wool cloak: the farther into the forest he went, the colder it grew. He thought he was further inland than where they had fought the wolf, now, but he could not tell for certain.

Einarr would need to find shelter of some sort before night fell, and it would need to be some place the fimbulvulf wouldn’t fit. He blinked, and realized only then that the growing darkness was not just a matter of the thick wood. Hel. He scanned his surroundings.

A brighter patch of forest caught his attention, not too far off, and within he could see the dark grey stone of one of those strange pillars. Worth a shot.

The terrain opened up a little as he approached the pillar, so that the light of the rising moon actually reached the ground. Inside a clearing, the pillar rose from a pile of smaller rocks and pierced the darkening sky. Einarr pursed his lips: this did not look promising.

The ground shook beneath his feet, and then a pause. Then it happened again. Einarr looked up in the second pause, just before a third shaking tumbled loose some of the smaller rocks about the pillar.

A man with skin the color of a frozen corpse waded through the forest as though it were tall grass and whistled. The fimbulvulf bayed in response, but the sound did not cover the noise of a rolling stone from the clearing ahead.

Now he saw a blackness in the rocks around the bottom of the pillar, a hole revealed by the tremors of the jotün’s steps. Einarr didn’t think twice about the dubious safety of such a cave: it would keep him out of the fimbulvulf’s jaws and the jotün’s pot alike, and it might even give him a place to light a fire for the night.


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The sun in the eye of the storm may have been warm enough by comparison, but the island itself had not yet escaped winter’s chill. More than once as they scaled the rock face Einarr and Erik both nearly lost their footing thanks to the thin layer of hoarfrost that covered the stone.

Einarr grimaced as he gripped the lip of the cliff with bare fingers and felt the wet bite of snow against his skin. He pulled himself up onto the ground above and into the windward side of a snow drift, then hurried out of the way so Erik could do the same. He beat the snow off the knees of his trousers and gauged their surroundings as Erik followed him over the lip. He patted the sack at his hip to reassure himself Runa’s gift had not been lost.

The surface of Svartlauf was covered in a thick forest of trees and shrubs with dark, almost black needles in spite of the snow. The air hung silent and still, with not so much as a chattering squirrel to relieve the heavy atmosphere. The two men exchanged a look before stepping softly forward into the wood. Snow crunched beneath their feet despite their best efforts. Erik adjusted the rope looped across his chest. The idea was ludicrous, but it felt as though so much as a broken twig would alert the fimbulvulf to their presence – no matter where it happened to be.

Game trails criss-crossed the overgrown forest floor through never-melting snow. Einarr and Erik picked their way across these, avoiding the largest of them where they could, speaking only in whispers when they had to speak at all, wending their way toward the stone Hall in the center of the island they had glimpsed from the water.

It was Erik who first realized they had attracted the attention of the wolf. He held up his hand for Einarr to wait. When Einarr quirked an eyebrow at him, he pointed first at his ear, and then off to their left.

Einarr turned his head enough to look from the corner of his eye.

A silver-furred fimbulvulf, easily as big as a dray, watched them with red eyes. A low growl carried over the underbrush to Einarr’s ear. He moved his hand to rest on Sinmora’s hilt.

“If I distract it,” Einarr murmured, still not turning to look directly at it. “Will you be able to take it down?”

Erik openly studied the giant wolf. “Watch me.”

Einarr nodded, then crouched down, his hand searching for a rock under the drifted snow. At the same time, Erik moved off in the direction they had been going in. Einarr lost sight of him in the underbrush almost immediately.

His fingers closed around a smooth stone. Got you.

In one motion he stood and drew back his arm. The wolf had turned its gaze after Erik, but that wasn’t where Einarr wanted its attention. He pitched the stone in his hand as hard as he could, and it struck the giant wolf in the snout. It yelped, snapping its head back around to Einarr. The fimbulvulf growled, crouching as though to pounce.

“Over here, you mangy cur!” Einarr took off down the path Erik left behind him, hoping the man would quickly find a good spot for an ambush.

The giant wolf was right on his heels. Einarr only kept ahead of it by virtue of the narrowness of Erik’s path through oversized trees. He could often feel the moist wind of the creature’s breath on his back, and then he would dive into a nearby bramble or duck around a tree to try and slow it.

Einarr dodged around a skinny spruce, paying more attention to the fimbulvulf behind him than to the ground he ran across. Instead of the ordinary sinking of snow, his boot struck unyielding ice. He slid, windmilling his arms to remain upright.

The ice patch was narrow. The sliding foot struck solid earth again and Einarr pitched forward, his other foot planting solidly on the ground through the snow. The sound of shattering wood rang through the forest. He glanced over his shoulder.

The fimbulvulf had bitten clean through the spruce tree where Einarr’s head would have been if not for the ice. It shook its head, splintered wood dropping from its jaws, and lowered itself to strike again.

Any time now, Erik. The trail he had initially followed had turned off just a few steps before Einarr dodged around that tree.

The wolf lunged for him, and Einarr leapt to the left. He felt a chill as the jaw snapped closed just inches from his leg.

Movement from the branches of a large pine caught Einarr’s eye for just a moment. Not close enough. He turned his full attention back to the great silver beast that fully intended to make a snack out of him. Slowly, ever so slowly, he began to edge around so that when the fimbulvulf came for him again he would move closer to where Erik lay in wait.

The beast growled, its breath riming the trees to either side.

“That’s right, you overgrown puppy,” Einarr muttered. “Come and get me. I’ll be a tasty little snack.”

It snarled, and the noise shook snow free from branches. It must have heard him. A cocky grin spread on Einarr’s face and he crouched, ready to spring in any direction to avoid the beast’s jaws.

The giant wolf gathered itself for another lunge, its eyes fixed on Einarr. It swished its tail as it shifted from foot to foot, waiting for the moment when its prey might be off-guard.

Einarr feinted left. The fimbulvulf twitched forward, but didn’t bite at the maneuver. He grinned.

Einarr spun on the ball of his foot and took off at a sprint towards the tree where Erik hid. The sound of breaking branches told him the wolf had taken the bait.

“Raaaah!” Erik yelled as he plunged toward the beast’s back. The fimbulvulf stopped in its tracks, looking around for the source of the attack. At the last moment it twisted, nearly faster than the eye could follow. Instead of the hairy silver back of the wolf, Erik plunged face-first toward the snow-covered ground.

He rolled. Instead of landing on his belly, he tucked so that his shoulder took the brunt of the fall and tumbled over to crouch in the snow.

The fimbulvulf growled at both of them now, baring its fangs.

“You all right over there?” Einarr did not take his eyes from the giant wolf as he spoke

“Fine. Now what?”

“Don’t get eaten?”

The fimbulvulf lunged. Einarr dove to the left and felt the ice-touched wind of the creature’s jaw as it snapped closed on the air between them. Erik was rising at the same moment, staring warily at the rangy wolf’s head that was now between them.

It jerked its head, glancing at each of them in turn. Einarr tensed, shifting his weight to the balls of his feet. Erik was stronger, but he was faster. He would try to draw its attention again.

Erik was dropping down into a crouch, his right hand creeping toward the axe at his belt. Einarr pursed his lips: he would rather not kill the beast, if he was honest. For all they knew, it was the jotün’s pet.

The fimbulvulf growled again, a rumble that shook the trees around them. Einarr jumped back into a slightly wider clearing. The beast spasmed after the fleeing prey, and Erik took that as his moment to try for the its back again.

Once again, however, the creature displayed its uncanny reflexes. Rather than lunging after Einarr, the fimbulvulf brought its nose around and snapped. Its jaw closed around Erik’s leg with a sickening crunch.

Erik howled, and the sound was oddly vulpine for such a bear-like man. Blood stained his trousers where the great icy teeth had broken the skin. It was thanks to that same ice, however, that there was only a little blood.

“Erik!” Einarr started that direction, but was pulled up short by the wolf that had now turned its full attention on him. “All right, you mongrel. That’s how you want to fight?” A rasp of metal carried over the snow, and Sinmora was in his hand. The wolf would learn that he, too, had fangs.

The fimbulvulf lunged for Einarr, now. He sidestepped, bringing Sinmora around to strike at the great silver wolf. The clash of sword against fang vibrated in Einarr’s palms and frost rimed the blade where it had met the tooth.

Einarr jumped back. He needed to put some distance between himself and it, to see its next move when it did.

Erik rose again, his hand on a tree for balance, near the wolf’s hind leg. His red-stained leg did not seem quite straight, or quite solid. The fimbulvulf snarled. Einarr allowed a low growl to well in his own chest.

It lunged for him again, and again he deflected the bite with his blade. In the lunge, the fimbulvulf’s tail brushed past Erik. Einarr lost track of his friend again. The wolf demanded his full attention as they returned to their stand-off.

The wolf did not lunge for him again. Instead the fimbulvulf lurched to the side, biting at the base of its tail like a common dog.

Einarr nearly lost the opening to confusion. At the last moment he charged in, and with the flat of the blade landed a mighty blow on the wolf’s slender, tree-sized shin.

The fimbulvulf yelped and turned again to snarl at Einarr, but now its attention was divided by the feeling of something pulling at its fur. It snapped alternately at Einarr and the unexpected thing crawling up its back, too aggravated to actually hit either of them, but its thrashing also kept Einarr from the attack.

Erik appeared over the slope of the fimbulvulf’s shoulders, pulling himself forward toward the creature’s neck by the strength of his arms. In spite of himself, Einarr grinned to see his crewmate reappear.

He dodged forward, worrying at the fimbulvulf’s legs to keep its attention divided, smacking it with the flat of his blade where he could.

“I’ve got it!” Erik’s voice was a little breathless from exertion, but carried none of the pain Einarr would have expected.

Einarr ducked and rolled out from behind the fimbulvulf’s forepaws. When he turned again to look at the wolf, Erik was clinging to its fur with one hand and his good leg tossed over its spine. The other flopped limply against its shoulder while his other arm wrapped about the creature’s neck in a stranglehold. For the first time, Einarr thought he saw fear in the wolf’s eyes.

“Try not to kill it!” They were civilized, after all, and civilized men did not kill one anothers’ dogs.

Feeling the pressure around its throat, the fimbulvuf rolled. Erik yelled in pain as the full weight of the wolf rolled over his leg, but his grip would not be so easily dislodged. Erik squeezed, and the wolf began to pant. It rubbed up against a tree, trying to dislodge this new assailant. Erik grimaced as his shoulder rammed into the rough bark, but did not let go. Compared to the roll, that was nothing.

By the time Einarr had gathered enough green wood to hobble the fimbulvulf – at least until it woke up – it lay unconscious on the forest floor. Without a word Einarr handed a handful of flexible branches to his friend to strip the bark from and set about tying figure eights around its legs with some already stripped. The wolf’s breath sent icy puffs of fog up into the atmosphere.

“Come on. Let’s get you back to the ship. Tyr will know what to do about that leg.”

“What… about… the Isintogg?”

“We took care of the wolf. I think I can manage the rest.”


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The Gufuskalam launched out of the storm and into the calm waters beyond it. Rain and sleet still pelted Einarr’s back, but he hardly noticed it now.

Black, water-slicked cliffs shot from the ocean’s surface up fifty feet or more. Above, the black-leaved forest where the fimbulvulf was said to dwell loomed over them, rapidly swallowing their view of what lay inland. Before it was hidden from view, Einarr saw massive stone walls rising up from near the center of the island. The roof was also stone, he thought, and the entire edifice was nearly three times the size of Kjell Hall. It stood on four stone pillars that shot up from the forest floor. There was nothing it could be save the Jotünhall.

More of these massive pillars lined a path or a road of sorts down from the hall to the water’s edge through a break in the rock wall. The cliffs retreated from the water in the path made by the pillars. In the shadow of one of these pillars Einarr thought he saw a rocky cove.

“There. Do you see it?”

Erik raised his hand to shade his eyes from the new-found sun and nodded.

“I think we should land there.”

“Aye, Captain.” Even Tyr’s voice was weary of their journey.

“Once we’ve made land, you two should rest here. Reprovision if you can. I need to go in alone.”

Erik looked like he wanted to protest.

“I think we should all take some time to rest and dry off before anyone ventures into the island.” Tyr’s voice was firm, and it was hard to mistake that for anything but the voice of experience. “That cove is going to be in shadow all day. If I may, I would like to suggest we get a little closer to the island, weigh the sea anchor, and warm up while we have sunlight.”

Einarr considered a moment before nodding crisply. “You’re right. None of us is in good shape after that storm. Let’s at least get close enough we’re not likely to be seen from the island and take a few hours to dry out.”

***

The three-man crew of the Gufuskalam found a sweet spot, not far from the cliffs, where most of the waves were cut by a rocky reef. All three of them sprawled in the sun, enjoying the feel of the sun on their faces as it dried their bodies, their clothes hung from the yardarm in the wind.

“Yer pabbi gets it, boy, but don’t be surprised if ye’re cut down to deckhand anyway,” Tyr was saying.

Einarr chuckled in wry humor. “If that’s the worst price I pay, I’ve got the kindest Captain on the seas.” It wasn’t just his Captain he’d betrayed, or even just his Father. It was his grandfather’s entire line, and their hope of the future.

“You do, Einarr. You do.” Erik’s voice was uncommonly solemn, especially given the mellow feeling that had descended on them as they floated in the sun.

Einarr raised his head to look at his crewmate. “You speak from experience?”

“More than a little. You know what I was doing before I signed on to the Vidofnir?”

“Nope.” Erik had joined the crew four years before Einarr was even a deckhand. “Father always told me the crew’s past was none of my damn business.”

Now it was Erik’s turn to laugh. “Yer pabbi found me drunk and beat to a pulp in a ditch. Decided to give me a chance when I got up swinging. I may be the only man alive who’s gotten a job for punching his new Captain in the jaw.”

Tyr laughed. “I remember that. Tell ‘im why you were in yer cups in the first place, though.”

Erik made some embarrassed sounding noises. When he didn’t answer, Tyr did.

“He felt guilty, he did, because the Weaver booked passage on his old boat in the first place.”

“I was just a deckhand on a freeboat, sure, but Raenshold was still home. If I’d known what the nither intended…”

“You don’t have to prove your loyalty to me.” Einarr shifted his shoulders uncomfortably, staring up into the sky. “Especially not after I went and tried to steal a bride…”

“Her idea, wasn’t it?”

“Doesn’t matter. I wasn’t forced.”

“No, you weren’t. But neither was she, which matters – to yer pabbi and the Jarl.”

Einarr sighed and stood up. “Maybe. We’ve lounged enough, though. We should hide the boat.” He snatched his pants off the yardarm and beat them against the side to loosen the salt-stiffness, shivering a little as the breeze reached him again.

“Einarr.” Tyr caught his eye as he, too, stood to dress again. “If anyone understands doing something dumb to win the object of his affections, it’s Stigander. And it was obvious to all of us why you felt like you had to go so far.”

“Thanks.” The fact that the rest of the Vidofnings understood didn’t make him feel any better about it, of course.

***

The Gufuskalam slipped quietly into the small, shadowed cove as the sun was nearing the horizon that evening. Erik lowered the anchor into the water with nary a sound even as the weight sunk beneath the water’s surface.

The cove itself was most like a tiny fjord, and once inside its fingers the three men worked by starlight alone. Einarr had intended to enter the island alone, while his companions slept if he had to, but there would be no climbing those walls before daybreak at the earliest, and more likely noon the next day.

“I still want you two here on the boat. Even with all three of us we couldn’t do more than try to evade the fimbulvulf, and we may need to leave quickly.” Einarr tried again to convince them. They were his friends, and he didn’t want to turn this into a test of authority.

“And I’d still be happier if you had someone to watch your back,” Erik countered. “I promised the Captain we’d bring you back safe.”

“Please, Erik. This is my quest.”

“You’re Stigander’s son, all right,” he grunted.

“Proudly.”

“Your quest or not, Erik’s right. I can’t send you up there alone any more than he can. We also won’t need both of us to ensure the boat is ready when you need to leave. Take Erik.”

Einarr exhaled loudly enough that it was nearly a growl. “Fine. I suppose it won’t be bad to have someone watching my back while I’m up there.”

“Yer damn right it won’t.” Erik clapped him on the shoulder. “Now let’s get to it.”

“We’ll be back as soon as we can, but we don’t know what else might be on this island.”

“With a fimbulvulf and a jotün?” Tyr’s question sounded skeptical.

“They’ve got to eat something, right?” Einarr’s joke produced a round of nervous laughter. He tied the sack to his belt and tossed a rope over to catch on the rocky face he would have to climb to get to the island proper.


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