Einarr kept his eyes locked on Jorir as he was marched to the front of the Hall, and Jorir could feel the weight of their disappointment heavy on his shoulders.
Soggvar stood. Despite his sickly appearance, his legs were just as strong as Jorir remembered, and his hands steady. “So,” he said, walking to the front of the dais to examine his prisoner. “This is the leader of the barbarians I was told wandered our paths. I don’t know why you came here, human, but your kind has no place in these lands.”
Jorir cleared his throat. “My Thane.”
Soggvar ignored him, perhaps listening to what the shaman was again whispering in his ears. What new poison could this be?
“But since you ignored all warnings, rejoice! You and your companions will go to be with your gods tomorrow.”
Panic tried to close Jorir’s throat. If they did that… “My Lord!”
Both Einarr and the Thane turned to look at him. Einarr’s eyes were surprised, Soggvar’s contemptuous.
“What?” They both said at once.
“My Thane,” Jorir tried again, more clearly addressing Soggvar. “This man is the Cursebreaker. He can free our land from its terrible circumstances.”
“Indeed, by the flow of his blood. His, and his companions.”
Jorir was entirely certain that was not what the Oracle had foreseen. “No, my Thane. By the strength of his hand and the quickness of his wit, if only you would pay it heed.”
The shaman began to laugh, a raspy hideous cackle. “I said, did I not, that this one had forsaken you? See how hard he tries to save the worthless barbarian scum – barbarian sorcerer, no less.”
Soggvar made a calming gesture with his hand and the shaman lapsed into quiet chuckling.
“These barbarians trespassed deep within the Paths of Stone. Furthermore, they slew the beast we had trained into a guardian, and now we must train a replacement. By all our ancient laws, the first alone is enough to earn them death. Tell me, smith: do these laws now mean nothing to you?”
Jorir gaped, unable to find the words to answer, knowing that anything he said would only make their circumstances worse.
“Get out of my sight, smith. You, take the human away. Make sure they are well entertained: it is their last night among the living, after all.”
Late that evening, Jorir crept up to a servant’s entrance to the fortress. Already there, keeping quietly to the shadows, were three other dvergr: Brandir, a younger smith named Gheldram, and a locksmith by the name of Mornik. He nodded in greeting to each of the three. “Is everything ready?” He whispered.
“Just waiting on the signal,” Brandir answered, just as quietly. As hastily conceived as their present plan was, they knew that Soggvar’s court often drank late into the night. Brandir’s sister worked in the Thane’s kitchens, and many years ago she had obtained a large quantity of sleeping draught.
They didn’t have long to wait. Jorir had only just stepped into the shadow of the wall when the servant’s gate began to open. Peeking out from the other side was a comely young lass bearing a passing resemblance to Brandir. “Swiftly now, and quietly. They’re all snoring in their cups, but it took a tolerable large dose to put his lordship under.”
“My thanks,” Brandir said, just as quietly. “Go on back to your post. We wouldn’t want to raise anyone’s suspicions.”
The four of them slipped inside, and their benefactor sent them all off with a quick smile and a “good luck” before she hurried back off towards the scullery.
“That’s little Jennora?” Jorir muttered as Mornik peeked around the corner, looking for sentries.
“The very same.”
“Hard to believe she’s grown up already.”
“That’s what happens when you miss a pair of centuries.”
Mornik motioned them forward, and they hurried on toward the dungeon’s entrance.
Jennora had been thorough. Ordinarily, there would be a guard on the entrance to the dungeons – and, technically, there was. He, however, slept just as soundly as they’d been told the dvergr in the Hall did. Unfortunately, he lay sprawled across the doorway.
Once they were in they moved faster. There should be plenty of warning down here, even if someone was unlucky enough to be given a dinner patrol, and all the skulking in the world would not help them if the men of the Hall woke up before Einarr was rescued and they were out again. Jorir helped himself to one of the torches ensconced on the wall as they went.
Finally, after a wrong turn or two and far more time than any of them liked, they heard a cough and the croaking of parched throats. Jorir stopped in his tracks and swallowed.
“You’re sure you saw him?” Kaldr’s voice asked.
“I could hardly mistake him at this point. It looked like he was in no great favor, either, too.”
“M-my lord?” Jorir called. His ordinary voice sounded loud to his ears.
“Who’s there?” Einarr asked again, a hard edge to his raspy voice this time.
“A svartdvergr in no great favor. Keep talking: we’re going to get you out.”
A third voice laughed. Jorir thought it was Thjofgrir. “He was right, Captain. Rescue is at hand.”
Mornik went to work on the heavy iron lock.
“I knew you’d come for us, once I saw you up in the Hall.” Einarr laughed, too, very plainly relieved.
“Even if I hadn’t sworn to you…” That got Jorir a sidelong look from Brandir, but he shrugged it away. Now was not the time to explain any of that. “We haven’t much time. The Hall is sleeping, but we have no way of knowing when they might awaken.”
“I understand. Have you seen–”
“Got it!” Mornik exclaimed. There was a click, and the door opened a crack.
“One down,” Naudrek drawled. “Four to go. We’re chained to the walls in here.”
The four dwarves nodded to one another and streamed into the room. Before long, all four Men stood rubbing their wrists where the shackles had held them.
Gheldram whistled. “You must really have given them some trouble. They don’t usually pull out the constricting shackles unless they mean business.”
Thjofgrir smirked. “We had the temerity to kill their pet.”
Gheldram nodded. “That would do it.”
“Let’s go. If we’re lucky, we can still find your things in the storeroom down here,” Brandir said, even as he peered back out into the hall. “We’re clear. Let’s go.”
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