The skeletal draugr milled about outside their door, in numbers like they had seen during their panicked flight the night before – only this time, their interest had been caught by the people in the room.
“Do you they want the gem?”
“Almost certainly.” Eydri’s voice echoed Troa’s just a heartbeat behind.
“They were just milling about, like we’ve seen before, until right after you opened that box,” Troa explained.
“The only thing draugr seek more than wealth is flesh,” Eydri added. “Even if I hadn’t named the thing, one of them could have seen it.”
They were starting to press at the door, now. Further back, Einarr thought he saw the large, fleshy bodies of stronger draugr. “Fine. This still doesn’t fit with their behavior last night.”
“This is Hel’s domain.” Eydri’s voice was low and flat. “Care to lay odds that she wants it?”
“Or us?” Troa asked, his face grim. He stood ready not to strike but to grapple with the creatures.
Einarr drew his blade and frowned. “No bet. So what does it actually do?”
“I’m not sure. You’ll have to work on that with Hrug.”
The other seithir grunted, and bones rattled from the far door.
A somewhat fleshier draugr came within reach of Einarr and he kicked out with one foot, sending it reeling back. “Little busy now.”
Behind the first ranks of the largely skeletal draugr – the men who looked like they may have starved to death, given what Einarr had seen of the island, or who were starved in death – he could see the shadowy shambling forms of larger, fleshier abominations. Did that mean they were stronger, or just more recently dead?
Troa had one by the shoulders now, and Einarr thought it would soon be pinned. He caved in the skull of another that pressed in towards them and the bones clattered to the ground. It would reform soon enough, though.
“Einarr!” Troa grunted as he forced the abomination slowly to its knees. “Take its head.”
The scout gave an exasperated shout. “It’s the only way to kill them! Didn’t you pay attention to the stories?”
Einarr only hesitated a moment, as a memory of his duel against the reventant of the Althane flashed in his mind. Then he raised Sinmora and swung. “Duck!”
Troa ducked, and Sinmora slashed through the air where his head had been and severed the skeletal neck of the draugr. It clattered to the ground and the bones lay still.
Troa, panting a little from the grapple, set himself to face the next one. “We have to destroy them, or we will all fall.”
He was right, of course. “So we just have to take their heads?”
Troa shook his head even as he entered the clutch with the next one in line – the one whos head Einarr had caved in. “You have to wrestle… them… into submission first. There’s a… reason glíma… is so important.”
The broken skull didn’t seem to be slowing that one down, at any rate. But if that was what it took… Einarr kicked out at the draugr’s knees. Troa saw what he was doing and followed up with a sweep that took the creature down. When Troa had it pinned, Einarr took its head.
They had a moment’s respite. Einarr sheathed Sinmora. “Draw. I’ll get the next one.”
Troa rose mutely and nodded. A moment later, his sword hissed from its scabbard.
“This is what you were thinking of when we fought the Althane, wasn’t it?” Einarr didn’t look at his comrade as he sized up the apparent next target. Suddenly he was very glad that so many of the draugr on this island were weirdly emaciated.
The draugr came within reach. Einarr gave it no time to prepare itself: as soon as it was within arm’s reach, he swept his arm around the back of its head and pulled it off balance. It stumbled forward, and he followed up with a vicious kick to the kneecap.
The full moon climbed over the horizon, and slowly the press of draugr slackened, until finally the seven stood catching their breaths and scanning the darkness outside for further threats.
Einarr looked around at his crewmen. Finn clutched at a shoulder. “Is anyone hurt?”
“Not seriously,” the young scout answered. Einarr frowned.
“Eydri, will you see what you can do?”
As she moved to tend to the man, he went on. “Seems like we have yet another reason for me to deal with my great-grandfather tomorrow. The way things are going, I’m not sure I trust our camp to be safe for a third night.”
There were murmurs of agreement all around.
“Now. Without opening the box or naming the thing, what do we know about it?”
“It’s deceptively named,” Finn started. His shoulder did not appear to be bleeding, at least.
“It belongs—or at least belonged—to Wotan.” Odvir added, seated near his door.
“The draugr, or perhaps their mistress, want it.” Troa still watched out the door he had defended.
“But we do not know what it does, if it does anything, or how it came to be in one of the storerooms here.” Einarr finished. It had not felt magical, the way some things did, when he touched it – but neither did Sinmora. “Join me by the fire, Hrug, and let’s see if we can work out anything regarding its nature.”
By the time the moon set and the light failed them, they were fairly certain of only one thing: the Fehugim was not, in itself, magical save for the internally glowing rune. With a sigh, Einarr rubbed his brow and pulled his cloak over himself like a blanket and lay down. Dawn would come all too soon, and he needed at least a little rest before he dared the grave of Ragnar’s draugr.
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