There was, on the outskirts of Nilthiad as on the outskirts of most cities, a rough part of town, where most people weren’t going to ask too many questions so long as you didn’t go making a big deal out of yourself. It was to a small, apparently abandoned house in a neighborhood such as this that Brandir led them all. Not one of them breathed easily until the doors and window had been covered with furs and a single oil lamp lit.
Once they were as secure as they could be, though, Einarr and Jorir both breathed a rather noisy sigh of relief. As the other dvergr dusted off seats and settled around the room a grin spread slowly over Jorir’s face, cutting a thick white gash of teeth through his black beard.
“By the gods, it’s good to see you. …But what in Valhalla’s name possessed you to follow me here?”
Einarr cleared his throat. “The way you vanished, we were all pretty sure you were in trouble. What else could we have done, then?”
The other humans in the room nodded, and Jorir sighed. “So it always is: in trying to avoid a vision, I brought it about.”
Einarr sat up straighter: everyone else just looked puzzled. “Wait, you saw –”
“Everything that happened in the Hall, almost down to the word. That’s why we made that raid tonight.”
“Let me tell you, it took some real convincing. That was more than a decade’s worth of planning we used tonight, not to mention exposing the three of us.” Brandir gestured to himself and the two other dvergr in the room.
“If we hadn’t, though, we’d have left Nilthiad to the mercies of Malúnion and his priests. The next thing in the vision was at an altar where one of us – at least – was going to die.”
“…Are you sure we’ve forestalled that?”
Jorir shook his head ruefully and shrugged. “She said there was more time left than I thought, and they weren’t true visions, but…”
“I understand. As for you three… you have my thanks. Our thanks. But now, I have one more thing I must ask of you.”
Brandir nodded knowingly. “The lass you mentioned.”
“My wife. They have her, and if women are set apart then I shudder to think might be happening to her.”
“Lady Runa always was headstrong. Still, I’m surprised you let her come along.”
“Tell me, Jorir, when was the last time she couldn’t talk her way into anything she wanted? Besides, she said she’s also in your debt.”
“She… did? Whatever for?”
Einarr only shrugged. Brandir, over by the door, chuckled.
“Never thought I’d see the day. You didn’t just swear to this human, Jorir. But. The lass in question is your wife.”
“Yes. Runa…” He had to clear his throat to stop himself waxing poetic about her: that was unlikely to be appreciated or helpful. “Long golden hair, fair skin, brilliant eyes. Has a rather… impish disposition, I would say.”
Thjofgrir snorted. “I believe the word you’re looking for is tart.”
Einarr gave him a sour look. “And she’s a Singer. That’s what really has me worried, honestly, given what I know about the cult.”
Brandir frowned and shared a look with Gheldram and Mornik. “And that’s something any Acolyte would be able to tell. Mornik, do you still…?”
“I know someone who can get in, yeah. I’ll be back.” Without another word, the stealthy dwarf slipped out through the furs.
“Now.” Einarr crossed his arms and turned his attention to Brandir – who really did look like he could be Jorir’s cousin, the more he looked. “A couple of Seasons ago, we fought against a stronghold of Malúnion’s cult. What can you tell me about its hold here?”
The six men stayed holed up in that rathole – as Brandir called it – for the rest of that night and all the next day. Late in the evening there was a commotion outside and Gheldram, as the least recognizable of their number, poked his head out to see what was the matter.
A moment later he came back in. “It’s Mornik! He’s being chased – by the Thane’s men!”
There was no longer any way around it: they were going to have to set themselves against the Thane by fighting his men. Einarr already had his maille halfway on, as did the other humans. Jorir and Brandir were not far behind.
Einarr grabbed Sinmora and dashed out into the street, just as Mornik’s momentum carried him by the door. The street was oddly deserted, other than the two of them and their enemies. Mornik skidded to a halt behind him.
“You found them?” Einarr barked.
“Yes,” Mornik panted, turning to face his pursuers as well.
The men of the hall didn’t seem to know or care that Einarr was there: he charged past after his quarry and took a slash across the arm for his trouble. Black blood welled up from the wound.
Einarr’s eyes fixed on the sight and he swore, loudly.
Jorir was next out the door, and he, too, swore at the sight of the black blood. There was only one thing black blood could mean.
Einarr barked an order over his shoulder. “Don’t let them bleed on you! We haven’t the means to cure the corruption here.”
Jorir and Kaldr took up positions to either side of Einarr. Kaldr cuffed one on the back of the head with the pommel of his sword – to no effect. “And how,” he asked, “Are we supposed to do that?”
“Just do your best!” Jorir roared, embedding his axe in the belly of one of the corrupted. “We’ll figure something out.”
Mornik vanished briefly into their rathole even as Brandir and Gheldram exited to join the fray.
Einarr wished he had his shield: it, at least, could have been used to block some of the gore. Nothing for it. He swung Sinmora again and decapitated one of the corrupted warriors. “You knew about this?”
“No,” Jorir answered, his voice grim, as he deprived another of its sword-arm. He cut his axe sideways, then, and into its side. “But these are no longer kin.”
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