Eydri’s eyes grew wide and she raised her hands to cover her mouth. “Oh, my.”
That got Finn’s attention. He came to look over their shoulders. “What is it?”
“Oh, no. Oh, my,” she said again. Finn looked at her for a long moment before she answered. “Unless I’m very much mistaken… Hrug, that rune is a Merkstave Fehu, yes?”
Eydri swallowed. “That means… this is the Fehugim.”
“That… doesn’t sound bad, though? Fehu is prosperity, right?”
“No. No it definitely is bad. All the lore claims the gem is in the treasure vault of Wotan, though.” She closed the lid, gently.
Hrug tapped a finger loudly on the bound tablet sitting on the floor by his knee.
“The guests who uniformly attacked their hosts? Hm. You could have a point.”
“Would someone mind explaining this to the man in the room?”
Hrug leapt halfway to his feet, his one hand pulled back to punch the scout, who backpedaled.
“Sorry. Sorry. Old habits, and all.”
Hrug, looking not at all mollified, snorted and sat back down, still glaring at Finn.
Eydri, too, gave him a cold look before she spoke. “Mind your tongue, and remember that your own prince is no slouch with the runes.”
“Yes, my lady.”
Now that Finn appeared suitable cowed, Eydri answered. “Wotan, in his wanderings, will sometimes decide to test the hospitality of some homesteader here in the islands. Surely you’ve heard the stories.”
The newly chastened scout nodded. “Oh, that. But this seems a little extreme even for Wotan, don’t you think?”
Eydri shook her head. “Maybe not. Think about it: when some poor soul gets made an example of in the tales, it’s usually because he turned the traveller away or was rude. But if Ragnar was more bandit than Thane…”
Einarr stood at the standing stones blocking the mouth of a hastily constructed barrow. The soil above, on the mound, looked like it had recently been disturbed. He raised his hand to run his fingers over the runic inscription over the door. Who carved that, I wonder? Given what little he knew of the circumstances, he doubted there would be many willing to at the time. Perhaps one of Grandfather Raen’s retainers? There must have been a few men who went with him, or he wouldn’t have had a crew to leave.
Naudrek and Troa stood behind him to either side, flanking what would soon be a door.
“This looks like the one,” Einarr said. “How much daylight do we have left?”
“An hour, maybe two.”
Einarr sighed. Probably, he could get the sword back today. But then he would be leaving an open barrow behind them as they trekked across draugr-infested lands at night. They would be pushing it to get back before sunset as it was. “Fine. First thing in the morning. Troa, find me a long stick. Let’s stick a flag by the door so we can find it quickly.”
Not long after, a lonely scrap of cloth fluttered fitfully in front of the barrow that they were reasonably sure belonged to Ragnar, Raen’s father. Einarr let out a deep breath: it would have to do. “Let’s go. Daylight’s wasting.”
The draugr they had faced the night before had been feeble, wasted things, and even with all of them fighting through to their base camp had been exhausting. Einarr set a hard pace, jogging where they could. That he would have to face what remained of his great-grandfather was a given at this point and Einarr preferred to save his strength for that.
A fire was already burning brightly in the room they had taken for their camp when Einarr and his companions returned, glowing brightly into the dim twilight. They heard the rattle of bones behind them as they crossed the threshold: that had been far too close for comfort.
“Welcome back,” Eydri said as they stood, catching their breaths.
“My thanks,” Einarr answered. “Any luck on your search?”
Eydri and Hrug shared a look, then Eydri turned the question around on him. “Some. What of yours?”
“Oh, I found the one. Looks like something digs through the top at intervals, too. We’ll try to put the stone back over the entrance when I’m done, but…”
“Now. What was it you found?”
Eydri lifted a box off their makeshift table in the back of the room and straightened. Her movements were both strangely slow and strangely jerky, as though she couldn’t quite convince herself of something. Then she thrust the box across at Einarr.
He recognized it instantly. “From the store-room. The rune-sealed ‘recipe box.’”
She nodded. “I remembered it this morning. Hrug and I worked together on it. You should see what’s inside.”
Einarr raised an eyebrow, but lifted the lid of the box. Inside, a fist-sized ruby rested on a silken pillow. A glowing ᚠ seemed to hang suspended inside.
Behind him, Naudrek whistled. “That’s a mighty valuable gem there. No wonder it was sealed away.”
Einarr wrinkled is brow. “It’s more than that, Naudrek. That rune… the branches usually stick out to the right. It’s backwards.” He shook his head. “But I don’t remember all the divination meanings of the sticks. Sorry, Eydri. You’re going to have to explain a bit more.”
“What if I told you it’s the Fehugim, and its last known location was in the treasure hall of Wotan.”
“More of Wotan’s treasure? I had nothing to do with this one.”
Eydri laughed. Troa, over by the door, cleared his throat. “You might want to close that box.”
Einarr let the box lid fall with a clack as he asked “What’s going on?”
“Whatever it is, it’s drawing attention.”
Einarr scowled. “Guard the doors, everyone. Eydri, keep talking.”
“Yes, sir.” She took the box from him even as he moved to take up a place next to Naudrek. From outside the doors, they could hear groaning and the shuffling of feet.