“Evening, strangers. My thanks for the invitation.”
“The pleasure is ours. Have a seat.”
The dwarf rumbled: it might have been a laugh. “Not many strangers call dining with a dark dwarf a pleasure.”
Einarr offered a friendly smile. “A good friend of mine happens to be a dark dwarf. My name’s Einarr.”
Kaldr nodded and gave his own name.
“Here. First round’s on me,” Einarr volunteered. They spoke lightly for a time, with Vali hovering behind Einarr and whispering in his ear occasionally. Kharmor didn’t seem to be able to see the ghost – at the very least, he gave no sign of doing so.
After a couple of rounds like this, Einarr started telling stories about his journeys with Jorir – omitting the name, at first.
“Seems like a serious fellow, this friend of yours.”
“Aye, Jorir can be very serious. But he’s been a steady hand and an even keel for me, too, and we’ve been through some crazy adventures in the last few years.”
“…Jorir?” Kharmor started at the name.
“Yes, that’s my liege man.”
“That all the name he’s given you?”
“Well, yes. He’s a smith, and he’s made plain that there’s a matter he will need my help with. Which is why I don’t understand why he ran off.”
Slowly, Kharmor nodded. “Jorir the cursed blacksmith, whose works can never hold the spark of magic. I assure you he had his reasons.”
“I do not doubt your sincerity. But you and your man both would be better served by returning home to wait for him.”
Kaldr tried to interject here, but he, too was cut off.
“You can be of no help to him, and you will only bring harm to yourselves. Go home.” Kharmor the dwarf rose from his seat with an air of finality and turned his back on the table. “In thanks for the food and drink, I will give you one last word of advice. Leave this place, by morning if you can. There are others of my kin who will not be so understanding as I.”
As the dwarf stumped loudly out of the hall, Einarr surveyed the room around them. It had grown considerably quieter, and a significant portion of the other patrons stared daggers at them. He cleared his throat.
“I think,” Kaldr muttered into his cup. “That our new friend was right about one thing, at least.”
“We do seem to be wearing out our welcome rather quickly,” Einarr agreed, looking very intently down into his trancheon to scrape up the last spoonful or two of stew. “Vali, I hope you had better luck than we did.”
“Maybe a bit, chief.”
“Good. Tell me later. Let’s finish what’s in front of us, pay, and leave. Wouldn’t want it to look like we were following him out.”
After one very tense walk across the hostile thieves’ den they found themselves in, the three men boarded the Villgås and breathed a sigh of relief. They all took seats in a rough circle on the deck: Einarr, still feeling the sting of the insults hurled early in the day, pulled Runa into his lap. Kaldr rolled his eyes. Naudrek and Thjofgrir smirked.
After her initial squawk of surprise, Runa settled back against his chest. Evidently she wasn’t too mad about being left on the ship, which was good. He would make it worth her while, later. For now, though… “Report.”
Naudrek rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “Shouldn’t we be asking you that?”
Kaldr raised an eyebrow. “I will be reporting the results of our investigation. But first, Thjofgrir, tell me you’ve already started bringing on fresh water?”
“Started? Yes. Finished? That’s another matter.”
Einarr sympathised. They still had some extra, because the Villgås had a deep draft, but counting on that was never wise. “Fine,” he said. “It is what it is. Nothing strange happened here?”
“No, sir,” Naudrek answered. “We’ve more or less been ignored.”
Einarr nodded now. “Vali? Tell me you found something beyond what our little friend from the Grotto told us.”
“Oh, aye,” the ghost said with a grin. “And from his own mouth, no less. Why do you think I nudged him your direction? Only trouble is…”
“He wasn’t so willing to talk to outsiders?”
“You’ll find,” rumbled a vaguely familiar voice from behind, “that no-one who lives here really welcomes strangers.”
Vali faded until he was just a faint outline to Einarr’s eyes. Einarr’s hands tightened on Runa’s hips unconsciously and she squirmed until he adjusted them. It was… distracting.
Einarr turned to look at their new guest, who stood respectfully just off the deck of the ship. “So we noticed. Come aboard.”
Kharmor smirked and took that step, his boots clumping heavily on the wood. “As you wish.”
“To what do we owe the honor? You made it quite plain earlier there was nothing more you would tell us.”
“Could tell you. Not there, anyway. Then I waited outside and followed you to your boat. I’m amazed you didn’t notice.”
Vali’s outline smirked. Einarr was beginning to hate that expression. Kharmor, it seemed, still didn’t see the ghost.
“My kinsman that you seek – Jorir. He’s a criminal in our lands.”
Einarr raised both eyebrows in surprise and disbelief.
“He went against the will of our Thane – that’s why he left in the first place, when I was just a child. As far as we knew, he was dead. If word’s gotten out that he’s active again, though, he might have been called back home.”
“The alfs have the High Roads. We have our own means of reaching our homeland. I don’t recommend you try it.”
“Whyever not?” Thjofgrir asked.
“Because no human who treads the Paths of Stone ever returns.” He paused a long moment, fixing all of them with a level look. “There. I’ve said my piece. Get home with you. Either you’ll have word from your liege man, or you won’t. Either way, there’s nothing you can do by following after him.”
Without another word, Kharmor stumped back down to the docks. For a long moment, they sat in silence.
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!
If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.
If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.
Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.