Einarr and Troa were out of the room before they heard Eydri’s footsteps start to catch up. Her complaints registered a moment later.
“Warn a girl before you take off like that! Whatever happened to sticking together for everything?”
Einarr and Troa muttered apologies but did not slow. The sound of fighting grew closer, but still Einarr worried they would not reach the two scouts in time. When, not much later, the ruins once again grew quiet, Einarr ran faster.
When he saw the two, though, in an open space near the edge of the ruins, they were apparently unharmed. Finn stood leaning on the hilt of his blade, and Odvir rested on a tumbled-down section of wall, both catching their breath and staring into the forest.
“What happened?” Einarr demanded just as Naudrek and Hrug pounded up behind them.
Finn, straightening as he wiped a forearm across his brow, turned to face his Captain. “Wolves, sir.”
Naudrek knitted his brow. “Wolves? At this time of day?”
Odvir nodded and turned to face them as well, evidently deciding they weren’t likely to come back. “Yes, sir. Wolves — half-starved, by the look of them.”
Troa nodded in understanding. “That makes sense, actually. Not like we saw any sign of game yesterday. They probably survive on squirrels and the odd villager.”
Einarr sighed. “I don’t like this. Let’s hurry: I don’t want to stay on this island a minute longer than I have to.”
With noises of agreement all around, they returned to their search quarters with new urgency.
It was nearly evening, and the light had begun to take on the same sullen red of sunset as they had seen the night before, when Naudrek’s excited whoop echoed through the ruined walls of the old hold.
Einarr sat back on his heels and breathed a sigh of relief, glad that he didn’t have to pry open another rotting chest.
Eydri stood up and dusted off her hands. “Shall we go see what he’s found?”
Troa stood with a groan. “How can one hold have so many storehouses?”
Einarr chuckled. “This place must have been rich, once. Which makes the fall into this all the more troublesome.”
“According to the herb-witch, we can find out what happened now that we’re here.” She was already gliding toward the exit. Einarr and Troa took up positions to either side of her as they made their way across the ruins. By the time they arrived, the light was outright dim.
The room where they found Naudrek and Hrug still somehow had part of its stone roof, and its walls were filled with chests and scroll cases. Hrug was reading over a curling page of birch bark when they arrived, but looked up briefly to offer Einarr a pleased smile. Naudrek was scanning one of the scrolls.
“If this isn’t it,” he said as they entered. “Then it’s long gone. Come take a look at this!”
Troa cleared his throat, a little nervously, and took up a post at the door. Not much later he clasped hands with Finn and Odvir as they arrived.
“All things considered, my lord,” Odvir ventured. “But shouldn’t we be getting back to camp soon?”
Einarr looked up and blinked. “It is getting a bit dim for reading.”
Troa cleared his throat again. “And wasn’t it about this time of day that the drowned draugr caught that fishing boat?”
Naudrek blinked, stunned. Einarr understood: he could hardly believe he’d forgotten it, even with the excitement of finally finding the hold records. “Of course. If you think you’ve got something useful, bring it. Otherwise we can keep looking in the morning.”
Without a moment’s hesitation Hrug tucked the tablet under the stump of his other arm even as Naudrek let his scroll roll up and left it on the table. Then they were out, darting across the open spaces of the ruined courtyard as though they were deep into enemy waters – which, Einarr supposed, was entirely too accurate.
A light mist appeared around them, although the day had been dry. Einarr moved his hand to rest on Sinmora’s hilt and did not slow. It was not ghost light – not yet, anyway – but it did not have to be. They should have gone back to camp ages ago, even before Naudrek and Hrug had made their find. Now…
Shapes moved in the mist. Their outlines were human, but that was impossible. Briefly the idea of his Wisdom runestone crossed his mind, but he put it aside. Seeing too well could be just as much an issue as seeing too poorly, after all. “Blades out, everyone. Seithir in the middle. Hrug, can you do anything about this mist?”
The mute runemaster grunted: Einarr hoped that was an affirmative. He heard the rasp of blades leaving their sheathes as they formed a defensive circle.
“Eydri, be ready. I think we’re going to have to fight our way back to camp.”
“Of course, my lord.”
Sometimes Einarr really wished he didn’t know she was attracted to him. It made moments like this awkward. But, in the end, it didn’t matter. What mattered was surviving the night.
The first of the figures solidified out of the mist: a stumbling, shambling skeletal figure, still clothed in the tattered, rotting remnants of the clothes it had died in.
“Draugr,” he said aloud, unnecessarily. He slashed downward across its neck with Sinmora, but if the rattling bones did more than pause he could not see it. “Eydri?”
The Singer drew in a deep breath to Sing, but before she got more than a few notes out she choked and coughed as though the mist were smoke in her lungs.
“Eydri?” He asked again, more alarmed this time. Before she answered he heard the gurgle of water from her skin.
“Run,” she rasped, still sounding raspy and half-choked.
They ran, striking with blade and foot alike as they tried to clear a path back to the presumptive safety of their camp.
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