Sinmora slashed down and a draugr collapsed into a pile of bones, only to begin reassembling itself almost immediately. Troa stomped on the pile of bones and moved into the hole it left even as he took out the legs of the one behind it. Then Finn stepped forward as Troa had before.

They fought, and as they fought they crept their way forward, keeping the two most vulnerable in the center of their circle. Even as they moved forward, though, the walking dead reassembled themselves in their wake.

A bony claw clutched at Einarr’s wrist. He kicked, the sole of his boot striking the skeletal form in what would have been its nose, had it still possessed one. It stumbled backward anyway, knocked off balance by the blow. “Hrug! Tell me you have something you can do!”

The mute sorcerer grunted.

“He’s trying,” Eydri hollered, her voice sounding less raspy now. “Runes also… resist.”

Shit. “Fine,” he growled. “That means its up to the rest of us. Forward! Defend the center.”

On they pressed, knocking aside or trampling the abominations of Hel on their way back to their defensible camp. Finally, panting, Einarr and Naudrek stood shoulder to shoulder in the doorway of their camp, holding back the pursuing soldiers of the dead. Troa and Finn took up a post in the other door while Odvir set about building up their fire.

At last Odvir sat back from the fire pit with a groan and the warm orange glow of a wood fire pressed against the darkness all around. Slowly, as the firelight shone on the backs of the defenders and slipped past them to illuminate the draugr, the enemy fell back into the night as quietly as they had appeared.

Minutes passed. Einarr and Naudrek scanned the darkness outside the chamber they had all mentally designated as ‘home’ for the duration of this quest, and the draugr did not reappear. Finally Einarr took a deep breath and turned back to the rest of his team.

Eydri was looking over Finn. Odvir sported a bandage around his wrist and several visible bruises. Hrug was looking through the tablet he had brought from the records room, his brow creased in concentration.

“What happened out there?” Einarr demanded.

Eydri shook her head. Einarr waited. Finally, she answered. “I don’t know. When I tried to Sing, it was like my throat was suddenly dry and sore. Water hasn’t helped – not that the water on this cursed island is any better than the bread in town was.”

Einarr frowned. “Dry throats happen. I’m not going to worry unless it happens again… but all the same, men, let’s not count on the Song Magic. What about Hrug?”

The question was still addressed to Eydri, who had seen, and Hrug didn’t even look up from his tablet. “That’s a little harder to explain. He traced a rune on the ground, and stared at it like he always does, but nothing happened. Then he pulled out one of his runestones, and the lines on it flickered like wet kindling and went out.”

Einarr blinked, wide-eyed, and turned a questioning look on Hrug, who nodded. “That is troubling. And neither of you have any idea what could cause such a thing?”

Hrug shook his head and turned his attention back to the tablet he was searching. He must have seen something important in there, earlier: Einarr wasn’t about to begrudge him his reading this night.

Eydri also shook her head and gave a deep sigh. “This being Hel’s domain by itself doesn’t explain it. I need to know more before I could do anything more than take a shot in the dark.”

Einarr nodded. “Fine. Double watches tonight, everyone. There’s no telling if they’ll try to take us again when we’re off our guard.” An idea occurred to him. “Eydri… as a test, try to sing us a lullaby.”

“A… you want me to try to put you all to sleep?”

“Sure. If it works, we can wake up the first watch ourselves. If it doesn’t we know.”

“As you wish.” Eydri closed her eyes and centered herself.

“You’re throat’s not dry right now, is it?”

“No.”

He waved her to go ahead, and her nostrils flared as she took a deep breath in. Then she opened her mouth to sing. The lovely, sweet notes of a lullaby drifted out across their camp, and for the space of a few heartbeats Einarr thought it would work. Then, as before, Eydri seemed to choke on the words and dissolved into a hacking cough. Einarr handed her his water skin as she rasped out “No good.”

He nodded. “Right. So, gents, it’s time to prove Kaldr wrong. We can’t depend on magic here, in spite of having three seithir along. It sounds like our runestones might work, if we’re lucky, but best to assume they won’t. Once we find Ragnar’s barrow I want you five to figure out what is going on here, and if it’s something I’ll need to deal with before we can leave.”

“Surely you’re not going to leave yourself unguarded in the barrow?”

“What sort of man needs help retrieving the sword for his own wedding? The draugr left us alone all day, and went away when we got the fire going. So long as I’m careful about my timing, I’ll be fine. I’m more worried about those two.” He pointed to Eydri and Hrug.

Hrug was staring at him intently, one finger tapping at a place on the tablet in his lap.

“What do you have for me, Hrug?”

The mute sorcerer stood up and crossed the room in two strides to thrust the page before Einarr. He looked down and sighed, then took the seat by the fire Hrug had just vacated. He would need it to be able to read the old birchbark.


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