Kaldr took up position just inside the circle of warm air, surprised at himself for his easy agreement. Nothing he said was false, and his clothes seemed to be growing drier by the second. Only, he felt none of his usual apprehension about sorcery. Indeed, primarily what he felt was the comfort of a thick fur blanket, and drowsy.
Behind him, the others had all but collapsed to the ground, sitting around Einarr and supporting him while he slept. How restful that sleep was, given that he was somehow powering this respite of theirs, Kaldr could not guess. They, too, all looked drowsy, but that was only natural. When you went into a steam room after a long winter’s day chopping wood, or hunting, it was only natural to feel a bit drowsy.
He didn’t think much of it when Runa rested her head on Einarr’s arm and drifted off into sleep, as well. She shouldn’t even be here! She was holding up remarkably well, considering her condition and her physical… well, not really frailty, but certainly she was sheltered and soft.
The passage moving ahead was empty and dark. Kaldr roused himself and paced around the edge to look out over the water. If that connected to the open sea – which he thought it did – they could not assume it was safe. After a time, he stirred himself again and completed his circuit.
While he was walking, Vali emerged from his jar and floated, observing the others. Kaldr could admit to himself that the ghost made him uncomfortable, even though Einarr seemed to like him. He continued to pace in a circle, keeping guard around the others.
Thjofgrir yawned. He, too, looked on the verge of sleep. Naudrek had taken out a dice cup and was tossing the dice, then scooping them up without looking at them. Plainly trying to stay awake.
“Hey,” Vali said, swooping down to hover just outside Einarr’s circle. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
Kaldr rolled his head and suppressed a yawn before he answered. “Better than freezing to death, isn’t it?”
“Hmm. Maybe.” The apparition seemed uncertain. Kaldr continued his slow walk around the edge of the circle. Truth be told, he wouldn’t mind sitting to rest, either. Perhaps Naudrek would trade places with him?
Vali continued. “It’s just, I think his runes are being interfered with. There’s a black, sort of smoky taste to the magic.”
Kaldr stopped, blinking. “Excuse me… taste?”
“That’s right. Normally, his Lordship’s magic is kind of… apple-like? I don’t know: it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten real food to remember the taste. But it’s crisp and clear and sort of refreshing. And here there’s something else.”
Kaldr eyed the runes on the floor. Was that even possible? He did feel lethargic – but was it more lethargic than the circumstances would account for? He felt his eyelids beginning to droop and started his pacing again. “So what would you have me do?”
“Are you dry?”
Kaldr had to think over that one. “Yes,” he drawled, finally. “Everything but my feet in my boots.”
“Is the Lady dry?”
Lady Runa was, of course, sound asleep on Einarr’s shoulder. Her outer clothes looked dry, of course, but he would have to wake her up to be sure. He tried once more to shake off the lethargy as he reached out a hand to shake her shoulder. Naudrek and Thjofgrir had dozed off while he spoke with Vali.
Runa’s eyes fluttered, but she did not wake. Kaldr clasped a hand around her boot, and very carefully felt at the folds of her skirts. If she woke now, he was as good as dead.
“Mostly,” he answered the apparition.
“Okay. Good. I have a bad feeling about this, so we have two options. One: you can destroy the working. Striking out the lines should break the enchantment and wake everybody up. Two, I can consume it – but I make no promises about leaving you the light on his Lordship’s shield. It’s kind of blended in amongst the rest of it and hard to separate out.”
Kaldr yawned. Was it really as critical as all that? He reached out a hand to shake Einarr’s shoulder. He slumped over, leaning against Naudrek’s sleeping back, and snored more loudly. He appeared to be fully dry.
The sound of an oar slipping out of the water came to his ears – an oar, or a fish jumping. Kaldr had been right about the water. Vali was right: Kaldr reached out with his hand and smudged the lines of Einarr’s sorcery.
At once the warm breeze ceased to be. The passage felt even colder now that it was gone – but Kaldr already felt more awake. He met Vali’s eyes and gave a small nod of appreciation that was returned in kind.
Something splashed in the water again and Naudrek jerked himself awake. Good instincts on that one. He kept himself awake longer than any of the others, too.
“What’s going on?” He still sounded half-asleep, but Kaldr could let that go.
“Not sure. Something in the water.”
Naudrek ran a palm down his face and rose to his feet, shaking Einarr by the shoulder to rouse him. That left Kaldr free to see to Thjofgrir. If they could let the Lady sleep, however, he thought they probably should.
A little bit later, Einarr stood shoulder to shoulder with the others, peering out over the water for any sign of the source of the noise. “What happened?” he asked.
Kaldr shook his head. “Ask Vali. He explained it to me, but it didn’t make a lot of sense.”
Einarr nodded. “I did not expect that to put me out like that. Thank you for handling the watch.”
Kaldr grunted. He hadn’t exactly done anything out of the ordinary. He’d almost gotten them all killed, in fact – if it hadn’t been for Vali’s warning.. “I heard a pair of splashes. You don’t think we’d be getting draugr in here, do you?”
“Gods, I hope not. The properly buried sort were bad enough… Whatever it was, it seems to be gone now.” He turned and knelt to wake Runa. Without the influence of the magic, she woke easily.
“No time,” Einarr said, cutting off her inevitable question. “We need to get moving again.”
She nodded her understanding and, with a stiffness born of fatigue, she levered herself up off the floor. “Fine. But I expect someone to tell me why I was asleep on the floor of the cave while we move.”
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