Abruptly, Kaldr gave a violent shake of his head. “No. None of these. There’s something we’re missing – there has to be.”
“Why’s that?” Thjofgrir asked without looking up from the lines of runes on the floor.
“Because the dwarves use these tunnels. There has to be another door, one that’s hard to find if you’re not a dvergr.”
Einarr nodded, glad that Kaldr had realized and wondering why he, himself, had not. “You’re right, there must be. Runa, do you remember any more of that tale?”
“What t… oh. Sif’s golden hair.”
“Let me think on it.” Once again she began to hum to herself. Einarr had no idea if there was actually magic in the tune or if it was a simple mnemonic, but either way, with a little patience, it usually turned up the information she was looking for.
Was gifted knowledge
Of the true path
Beyond all artifice
And so he laughed
To see the choice
Laid before the unwary…
“Sorry. Not sure how much that actually helps here.”
Everyone frowned, considering. At last, Einarr let out a sigh.
“Not helpful after all?” Runa asked, looking far more upset than that would warrant.
“No, not that. I think I can find it… just it’s a trick I don’t like using.”
“More magic?” Kaldr raised an eyebrow, exasperated.
“More magic. When we were chasing down Urdr through her tunnels, Troa and I had to seek out a hidden door like this.” He took his shield off his arm and rested it on the floor by their notes. “Someone toss a cloak over that, mostly. I don’t want to blind myself.”
While they did that, he drew out a piece of chalk and his runestone of ᚫ. He didn’t activate it right away, but stood looking at it pensively until the light was dim. Right. Just as he had done in the tunnel with Troa, Einarr willed the runestone to enhance his sight.
Just as happened last summer, the dim light shining forth from underneath Thjofgrir’s cloak was nearly blindingly bright, and he dared not do more than glance at the obvious, rune-marked doors with their multi-colored flames. He turned his back to them and found that he now looked directly at the passage they had entered through. From the middle of the room, he saw details that he wouldn’t expect to see unless he was right next to the wall. Nothing jumped out at him yet, but he hadn’t really expected it to. He walked towards the far wall of the chamber until every tiny divot in the surface of the stone was plain before his eyes. Then he turned and began walking towards the trap doors, examining every inch of the wall as he went.
As he neared the obvious doors he found he had to squint against the light. They were lined up, one right next to the other, so he walked from the outer edge of ᛃ, on one end, to the outer edge of ᛁ on the other. Fitting, he thought, that ᛇ – dreams – should be in the middle of ᚲ (fire) and ᚻ (air).
He had gone three quarters of the way around the room before he spotted what appeared to be a cunningly made seam in the wall. Even with his currently enhanced vision (which was beginning to give him a headache) he almost couldn’t see it. But, no natural crack would be so regular, or such a perfect arch.
If anything, the hidden doorway was even lower than the obvious ones – if the tunnel was similarly low, Thjofgrir might not be the only one reduced to crawling down on hands and knees. He tapped on the wall with his knuckle, but if it was hollow he could not hear well enough to tell. And there’s simply no way I’m going to try getting this stone to enhance my hearing. In theory, the rune of Wisdom could, for the same reason it could enhance his vision… but he worried about the state of his ears afterwords, if every sound were magnified the way this tiny bit of light was.
“I found it.”
Even as he spoke, he traced the chalk around the outside of the almost-invisible seam.
“You’re sure?” Vali asked.
“As sure as I can be. I’ll finish my circuit, just to verify there’s nothing else.”
There was nothing else, at least so far as he could see. Einarr closed his eyes and let go of the vision enhancement. “Please uncover my shield now.”
“Yes, sir,” Thjofgrir answered. It sounded almost automatic: here was a man who would be lost without a boat to tend. When Einarr opened his eyes and turned around, the big man was settling his cloak back around his shoulders.
“As you might expect of dwarven artistry, there is hardly even a seam to be found, let alone a catch or hinges. I presume we’re all agreed, though, that we need to get it open?”
Kaldr raised an eyebrow again. “Need you even ask?”
“Good. Then come on. Whatever else this door is, it’s solid.”
They spent far more time than Einarr truly liked prodding and shoving at the great stone door concealed in the rock before them. Finally, all four of the living men put their shoulders to it at once.
The door ground slowly open.
Inside, the passage continued. narrower but (thankfully) no shorter than the initial path that placed them before the doors. The floor was just as smooth, and the walls just as plainly carved out. Einarr paused a moment before entering, feeling oddly hesitant. Did I miss something? He shook his head. “Are we ready?”
Kaldr nodded and stepped forward, ready to be the point leader.
“Thjofgrir, you’re our rear guard again …No turning back now.” Einarr gestured, and Kaldr stooped to enter the hidden passage. Einarr followed with the light.
The path now traveled distinctly downward, although not so steeply they wished for stairs. Before long, the path turned gently back around on itself, as though the path were built with small carts in mind. Which, when Einarr thought of it, would make a great deal of sense, given their abilities as craftsmen and the demand among men for dwarven goods. Even now, though, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he was missing something important.
Above them, unseen because their enforced stooping would not allow them to look up, small thorn runes illuminated as they passed.
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