Naudrek sniffed, and nodded, and was joined in agreement by Kaldr and Thjofgrir.

“Why fish?” Einarr asked. Whatever it was, they were sure not to like the reason.

“Maybe they want to bury us in mackerel?” Naudrek asked with a shrug and half a smile.

Even Kaldr chuckled. “Unlikely. But whatever the smell is coming from, I don’t think we really have a choice but to go on, do we?”

He was right: there was no way to go but forward, and had not been for quite some time – even if they could have gotten back out of this pit. Einarr nodded. “Be on your guard. Vali, give Runa a hand if you can. Everyone else, same as before.”

Runa gagged a little. “Faugh! That’s strong. Smells like a warehouse full of blubber.”

“At least it’s not… rancid… Dammit.” Einarr’s remembrance of the whaler’s warehouse on Langavik started a cascade, and suddenly he knew what they were smelling. “That’s a lot of whale oil. I don’t know what we’re going to find, for sure, but shields ready.”

A chorus of “Aye, sir,” traveled around the circle, and then they formed up.

The stairway down was broader than the passages above had been, so although Einarr couldn’t guess why he wasn’t going to complain. Rather than travel down single-file, he formed a circle of guards around Runa in the center, with himself on her left and Naudrek on the right while Kaldr and Thjofgrir took point and rearguard, respectively. Nothing would get to Runa if he had any say in the matter.

Down they went, cautiously, one step at a time with their shields held ready. The fish smell only grew stronger.

They had gone perhaps twenty steps down, deeper into the earth, when Einarr heard a popping sound from overhead. He tensed.

From the ceiling just ahead of Kaldr, from a divot that would ordinarily have looked just like part of the scrollwork, an intense blast of the fishy smell of whale oil was followed immediately by a gout of flame.

Runa ducked, throwing her arms up over her head instinctively. It was a good reflex, but in the moment unnecessary: Kaldr managed to raise his shield in time to block the blast of flame.

“Is everyone all right?” Kaldr asked as the last sparks fell out of the air.

Einarr glanced around at the rest of the group. “So it appears. How’s your shield?”

“A little singed, but it should hold up.”

“Good.” He frowned, contemplating a ward he had inadvertently taught himself in his time with the alfs. No good. No time, and I don’t think I could get all of us at once. “Let’s keep going. Eyes open, everyone.”

He was reminding himself as much as any of them. Any loose stone could trigger another blast of fire, so far as he knew, and he had no idea how quickly – or even if – it could burn again.

Fifteen steps further down, Einarr heard another pop.

“Shields!” He yelled, even as a gout of flame shot toward them – this time from the wall right next to him. He only barely managed to pivot in time to shield Runa, let alone himself, from the blast. He growled as the handle and boss of his shield heated against his arm, but not from any burn.

Einarr was beginning to understand why so many thought the dvergr intractable asses.

“Let’s move!” He bellowed. His voice echoed even over the dying fwoosh of flame. Vali vanished, almost certainly retreating into his jar on Runa’s shoulder.

The next blast came from behind. Thjofgrir did not escape unscathed: there was a smell of burning hair perceptible even over the smell of whale oil as he whirled to bring up his own shield against the onslaught. Runa, as the only one without a shield, patted out the sparks as the blast faded.

“My thanks, Lady.”

Then they were moving again, with no time for Runa to respond.

The stairway wound about and curved, much as the paths above had, and for all their hurry every handful of steps they would be forced to freeze and weather yet another blast of flame, from which direction none of them could say.

When a blast struck at them from near the floor ahead of them Kaldr, his face twisted in annoyance and, probably, pain (the boss of his shield was beginning to glow from the heat). “We’re doing this wrong,” he announced with his usual calm.

“What do you mean?” Naudrek was a little out of breath. Actually, it looked like they all were.

As the spout of flames seemed to retreat back into its origin, Kaldr took a big breath. “We’re treating this like a boarding action, but it’s not. Rather than racing ahead and praying we block the next shot of fire, why not go slowly and form a shield wall?”

It was a good idea. Einarr wished he’d thought of it himself… but he had spent most of his life as a freeboater. Kaldr had much more experience fighting on land than he did. He nodded his assent. “A solid plan. We’ll still need to protect Runa, though. Thjofgrir, are you comfortable going down backwards?”

The big man grimaced, but nodded his assent. “Don’t see as there’s much choice in the matter.”

With a shrug, Einarr looked over at his current Mate. “Say something if we need to rotate, then. Sorry, Runa, this might get a little snug.”

The men gathered shoulder to shoulder – the only way that four shields could form a shield wall around another person – and started back down the stairway.

Not one of them could tell what would trigger the next pop and gout of flame: there did not seem to be any loose stones, and no-one had tripped over anything – and yet, there was nothing magical about this. A concealed tube would spray forth whale oil at the same moment something struck a spark, igniting the oil.

As another gout of flame sprayed forth from near the ceiling, Einarr growled in annoyance. He’d had just about enough of this interminable stairway and its inexhaustible flamethrowers that were in the process of destroying their shields. Certainly he wouldn’t trust his in a battle after this – and if it weren’t outright destroyed, it might just glow forever, he was afraid. The char was already obscuring his light rune, and the light had in no way faltered. He’d caught his breath some time ago, but the awkward pace and the constant vigilance had rendered him altogether too conscious of the fatigue building in arms and legs.

The dvergr were certainly trying to make good on their promise of death to all intruders. Dammit, Jorir, this had better be worth it.

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.

 

The tricky part was getting Runa across.

Thjofgrir had taken a running leap across the space marked out by Vali and, since none of them had been able to spot the expected ‘keyhole,’ deliberately triggered and then destroyed the hinges at the top. That was not going to win them any love from the dvergr, Einarr feared, but it had neatly solved the problem.

Once Einarr and Kaldr were both returned to the path, Thjofgrir tossed the rope across to Naudrek, and the two of them braced themselves against the walls, the rope pulled tight and tied about their waists.

Runa bit her lower lip, trying to determine the best way across. With a nod to herself, she sat on the ledge and grabbed the rope in both hands, then swung across hand-over-hand like she was hanging from a tree branch. Einarr, trying not to hold his breath, sat down with his legs over the edge to help her up when she was in reach.

Halfway across the rope, she nearly missed her grasp. Einarr felt his heart leap in his throat, but she didn’t even cry out. Instead, she swung her legs back and forth until she had the momentum to reach for it again. Moments later, he was helping her up onto the ledge and out of the way of Naudrek as he, too, leaped across.

When it was plain that they were still all in one piece, they started off down the tunnel once more, perhaps a little more warily now that they knew there were still traps to be reckoned with.

From here the trail became more complicated, with side passages and intersections showing up at irregular intervals as they walked. They kept to the left, as that had worked relatively well before, but still Einarr marked their path with chalk. They sent Vali ahead now to seek out more of the trap shutters. Now that they knew to look for them, they were easy enough to avoid, and not one of them was eager to test their luck again against those wicked spikes.

It seemed strange, honestly, that their path had not trended more steeply downward. Myrkheim was underground, after all, and he was certain there were divers that could go deeper than they already had. Not that that sort of measure meant much on a magical path, he supposed: the High Roads seemed to compress distances as you traveled along them, so that a sea voyage of weeks took only a few hours. Could it be that this path did something similar, only with elevation?

After they had avoided a large handful of those pits, they found themselves facing a dead end. The dvergr had gone to the trouble to inscribe a message on the wall ahead of them:

Think ye strong
Surviving these pratfalls?
Yet the path forward lays behind
And it is only the fool
Who outwits himself.

Einarr growled at the cheap taunt, then read it aloud. “Back we go, everyone. Much slower: I want every inch of this tunnel examined so we don’t miss our turn again.”

Back they went. The walls and floor all seemed just as solid this time through as they had initially – right up until they got to the last of the pit traps.

When they had first passed that final pit, they had all scoffed. It was like the dvergr just didn’t care by then: “oh – heh heh heh – have another pit just for fun.”

Einarr and Kaldr stood at the edge of that trap and shared a look. “What do you think?” Einarr asked, already knowing the answer.

“I think if you wanted every inch examined, we need to at least look. We know where the mechanism is now, so we should be able to lock it open almost as well as we locked it closed before.”

Einarr nodded. The first pit trap had not had any exits, but that didn’t mean the others wouldn’t. And it would go a long way toward explaining the shoddy work on hiding this one. “Once it’s open, who wants to be the first one down?”

Vali did a handstand. “What? Not going to just order me to do it?”

“Nope. Taking volunteers this time.”

“Well that’s silly of you. Once the door’s open I shouldn’t be trapped down there, and you all have to worry about those spikes. Just send me and be done with it.” From someone else, the words could have sounded petulant, but that was one expression he’d never yet seen on the ghost.

Einarr shook his head, an amused smile playing on his face. “The job is yours, then. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, if you would jam it open?”

Now that they knew where to look for the mechanism, they were not reliant on Thjofgrir’s ability to destroy the hinges. Before long, the last pit stood open before them.

It was easily a 20-foot drop to the floor, and once again the pit was filled with those unnaturally smooth, sharp stalagmites. Vali wasted no time in floating down into the bear trap, and before long they heard his otherworldly laughter floating up into their tunnel. “Cheeky bastards.”

“What did you find?”

“Stairs. Get ye down here.” Vali chuckled again.

There was still no good place to tie a rope, so Thjofgrir once again tied it about his waist and braced himself as the others slid down.

“Everyone clear?” He called down from above.  Runa moved further out of the way even as she still shook her rope-burned hands.

“Clear!”

Thjofgrir made another of his impressive leaps off the ledge. Unlike Einarr, before, he turned himself and managed to roll off his shield and his shoulder in spite of the stalagmites. Naudrek whistled, impressed.

As he had come to expect, Vali’s report was accurate, and yet left out certain rather large details – largely ones, Einarr expected, that struck him as funny. In this case, there was in fact a staircase leading down from the wall immediately under where Einarr and the rest of his team stood. The walls of that stair, in stark contrast to the walls above, were ornately carved with elaborate scrollwork over every inch. The stairs were not carved, of course, but they were narrow and steep, and evidently formed of blocks rather than cut from the living rock.

Runa, standing a little back of the entryway, reached for her herbal pack – probably after more peppermint.

Einarr’s nose twitched. “Does anyone else smell something fishy?”

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.

 

A clicking sound, like a knife being stropped, sounded twice and abruptly the tunnel was plunged into darkness. Runa froze in her tracks, blinking, her eyes straining for any light. “Einarr?”

She disliked how tremulous her voice sounded just there, but there was nothing she could do about it now. She cleared her throat and called again. “Einarr? Kaldr?”

Nothing, and still she could not see. She wasn’t certain why she expected there would be any light, but it didn’t keep her from wishing.

“Lady Runa, did you see what happened?” Thjofgrir asked from behind her.

She took a deep breath, calming her breath if not her nerves. “I’m afraid not. Vali? Can you tell what happened?”

“I’m afraid I didn’t see it personally, but I think I can guess. Sit tight: I’ll be right back.”

He can see in this? …Of course he can, what am I thinking. “All right. We’re not going anywhere like this.” Runa folded her legs under herself and crossed her arms. She’d known as soon as it was mentioned that bringing Vali along would be worthwhile, but she hadn’t had any idea just how worthwhile.

Vali’s faint luminescence walked forward over the surface of the tunnel. When he got to about where Einarr had been standing when the light went out, Runa could at last see clearly that there was no-one there – Vali’s faint silvery glow painted the walls a bluish color in the empty passage. He examined the walls and the ceiling around him, and then began to sink down into the floor – taking, of course, the light with him.

He stopped when the floor was up to his shins, as though he was wading in the ocean. “Hm. Best not do that, I think.”

“Why? What’s there?”

“Another one of those dwarven barriers. I could push through, but there’s no telling if I could get back again. But I’m sure now: There’s a trap door here, on a shutter. Einarr and Kaldr are down below.”

Panic began to rise in Runa’s throat, but she swallowed it hard. That would do no-one any good. So now what do we do?


Einarr landed hard on his feet and groaned – his knees were greatly displeased by that landing, but it ensured he did not impale himself or shatter anything. Rising on still-vibrating legs, he had a look around.

The floor was littered with unnaturally sharp stalagmites – almost certainly dvergr work, although he could not see how. Halfway across the room, Kaldr stood, evidently examining the wall before him. Einarr made his way through the stalagmites to where his Mate stood. “So how bad does it look?”

Kaldr looked over his shoulder at Einarr, his face expressionless. “Not great.”

Einarr didn’t have to go much further to see what the issue was. “Did they polish these walls?”

“Looks like it.”

That meant, unless they could figure out a way to keep the trap above open long enough to get up a rope and across to the other side, they were stuck down here, separated from the rest of the group. Unless the others decided to drop down here, which… Einarr really hoped they didn’t. “Let’s have a look around. Maybe there’s a passage out of here.”


Runa took another deep breath, clamping down on the sudden wave of fear that swept over her. She’d known she might get overly emotional when she was expecting, but she hadn’t expected it to be quite this soon. Calm yourself. You’ve gotten through worse with him. Then she opened her eyes and looked straight at Vali. “So they have it warded. We really should have expected as much. Can you mark out the edges of the trap for us? Or maybe find the mechanism?” Even if this could be done with magic, mechanically made much more sense.

Vali frowned. “I’ll try.”

All the lore said that a ghost should, if nothing else, be able to spread their essence around like that, and she already knew he could glow when he wanted to. Whether or not there would be a mechanism to find on the top of the trap was, of course, an entirely other question.

Vali moved about over the area of floor Einarr and Kaldr had disappeared through, searching carefully for cracks or something obviously mechanical. Finally, after far too many minutes, three lines appeared in the floor. Two of them cut horizontally across the floor from wall to wall. The third went straight between the midpoints of those two lines.

Naudrek, peering over Runa’s shoulder, whistled. “That’s the trap door?”

“That’s the trap,” Vali confirmed.

“Not even a ledge around the outside. How do the dvergr get past it?”

“My guess is,” Runa answered, “they don’t. Kaldr was right up above: the dvergr almost certainly have a series of secret passages only they know how to find. …If they do have to pass this, though, I expect they have some sort of key to disable the shutter.”

“Great!” Thjofgrir, further back, sounded enthused. “Then all we need to do is -”

“What? Find the keyhole? And if we do, even if we can figure out how to disable it, Einarr and Kaldr are both down there!” Deep breath, Runa. He didn’t mean any harm.

“Bah,” Thjofgrir almost sounded like he was laughing. “Getting those two out of there is the easy part, once we find a keyhole. You leave that part to me.”


Einarr blew through his mustache in consternation. He and Kaldr sat in the middle of the floor, surrounded by stalagmites that could easily pierce their feet through their boots if they tried to climb, and waited. There was, quite literally, nothing else to do. There were no exits. There were no hand-holds, nor anything to loop a rope over. Even if there were, the ceiling was at least sixty feet up. Their one hope lay with Runa.

Schick.

Einarr looked up. That was the sound he’d heard as the floor opened up beneath his feet.

Only this time, it was followed by a pair of very loud bangs.

The shutters did not close again. Far above, he could just see the outline of Thjofgrir leaning over the edge of the trap door. There was no mistaking the grin in his voice, though. “You two need a hand?”

The end of a rope danced in front of Einarr’s eyes.

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.

 

Where Einarr had expected to see a third switchback, they were instead presented with a fork in the road. There was, of course, no good way of telling which way was north down here, and so with a shrug they turned left.

A little further on, the path split again. Again they went left.

Then left. Einarr growled softly in the back of his throat. This was taking too long: had they missed a turn?

Kaldr stopped, evidently sensing Einarr’s hesitancy. “What is it?”

Einarr shook his head, knowing his Mate wouldn’t see it. “I don’t know. Something feels off, is all.”

“Is there anything that doesn’t feel off down here?”

Naudrek, behind Runa, snorted.

Einarr smirked. “Not really, no.” He sighed, then. “Keep your eyes open. This may be the dvergr’s path… or we may have missed another secret and wandered into more traps.”

He could hear the frown in Runa’s voice as she spoke. “Should we douse the shield and try your runestone again?”

“Not if there’s any way around it. Have you ever stared out over the open ocean at noon on a clear day, when the sun shimmers on the water?”

“Far too often,” Thjofgrir answered from the rear.

Einarr nodded to himself. That was a much better comparison for a sailor than a Singer, after all. “After a while, your eyes start to hurt. It’s too bright. Using the runestone is like that, if instead of just the water the sun was also reflecting off the air around you. I feel like if we tried that down here we’d blind someone.”

Runa said nothing: he hoped that meant she understood.

“Go on, Kaldr. There’s not really anything else we can do but keep walking.”

A little further on, they came to a room where pathways branched off like spokes on a wheel. Kaldr paused at the entrance, surveying the room. “Left and right are basically meaningless here. I count eight branches.”

Einarr sighed and closed his eyes, clearing his mind. Then, with a nod, he opened them again and drew his chalk from the pouch at his belt. “Third to the right. I’ll mark it with chalk as we go.”

“Why right?”

He shrugged. “Call it a hunch.”

As they neared the center of the room, though, a wave of vertigo swept over Einarr and he felt himself stagger. He raised his head and blinked, trying to re-orient himself, even as he saw the others doing the same. “What was that?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Kaldr grumbled. “How are you feeling, Lady Runa?”

“A little unsteady yet, but don’t worry about me. The peppermint has my stomach well in order.”

Einarr wrapped an arm about her waist. “Say something if you need a break, all right?”

“Of course.” She offered him a slightly wan smile, but it did not look any more ill than he felt.

“It was third from the right, wasn’t it?”

“Third from the right, counted from the passage we just left.”

“…And which one was that?” Naudrek asked.

A moment of silence passed as they all realized – even Vali – that they just didn’t know.

“Did you make a chalk mark as we left?” Kaldr asked.

“I did, yes.”

“So where is that?”

Einarr turned around, searching for the mark he had made not two minutes earlier. What looked like a smudge of white was visible on the wall in one of the tunnels off to their left. “I see it. There.”

When they followed the path that led them on, however, they found themselves back at the switchbacks. Einarr pressed his lips into a line. Had it been the wrong path, or had he gotten more turned around than he thought?

They retraced their steps, and once again found themselves at the room with eight doors.

His chalk mark was gone.

Pursing his lips, he made another chalk mark. “Something is very strange here. Try the fifth on the left this time – and let’s hug the wall as we go.

No sooner had Thjofgrir stepped into the room, however, than the wave of vertigo swept over them all again. Once he had his feet, Einarr retraced his steps.

They had not even left the room yet, and his chalk mark was gone. He cursed.

“Kaldr, how many doors had you passed when the vertigo hit?”

“Two… I think.”

“We have to trust something. Three more, then.”

As they filed out of the room, he once more made a chalk mark on the wall.

Not much further on, they came to another Y in the paths. Kaldr stopped short. “I feel like we’ve been here before, too.”

Runa groaned. Einarr couldn’t blame her.

“In that case, let’s backtrack. Back to the wheel room. There’s plainly something in there we’re missing.” It was possible he was wrong, granted. But if the dvergr had gone to all the trouble of putting this kind of a ward on that room, chances were good there was an actual way forward.

As the third wave of vertigo passed, Runa sat down in the middle of the floor. “Sorry. Just give me a minute to chew some more peppermint and drink some water.”

“Take the time you need. I wasn’t planning on moving on right away this time anyway. Everyone else – we’re combing the room. We’re looking for a ninth passage.”

Thjofgrir cleared his throat. “So, maybe this is a silly question, but… what if it’s a trap door we need?”

Einarr paused, considering. It wasn’t a bad thought, but… “I don’t think it will be. Up until this point, the Paths have been big enough a dvergr could have wheeled a small cart up and down. They use these passages to transport their goods for sale, I think.”

Evidently satisfied, Thjofgrir shrugged and nodded. The five of them began their search methodically, from the door they had just entered by and working up both sides of the room.

“Hey!” Naudrek said, when he was a little more than halfway up the left. “I think I found something.”

Einarr stepped away from the section of wall he and Vali examined. “Show me.”

Naudrek was standing in front of a narrow crack in the wall. Even knowing there was something there, Einarr could not see it until he was right next to the wall. “You just might be right,” he mused. “They’d have trouble taking a cart through here, but I think if we all turn sideways and squeeze a little we can get through. Gather up, everyone!”

With obvious reluctance, Runa stood up and moved over to join the rest of them at the crack.

“Kaldr, will you do the honors again?”

“Naturally.”

Einarr followed him in, leading with his illuminated shield. The others squeezed in behind them.

He blinked. What happened to Kaldr?

The next thing he knew, the floor dropped out from beneath his feet.

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.

 

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.”

“Right.”

“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.

Loki dvergr-friend
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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Einarr raised the chisel to the wall and gently tapped it with the hilt of his belt knife. As he drew the vertical line he focused on the defensive aspects of the rune. “We seek” tap “A dvergr friend” tap tap “Who is lost” tap. “We come,” he said, starting on the outward angle, “to aid him in his quest.”

As he connected the outer angle of the , Einarr dropped the chisel as though it had burned him and straightened so that he stood entirely within his ward. He gripped Runa’s hand, waiting for the trap to spring.

And waiting.

He shared a perplexed look with Runa, then took another look around them.

A new message had appeared on the plinth. “Dvergr quests are for dvergr alone. Turn back, ye who are no kin of ours, or know that ye have been warned: all who come this way without dvergr blood will perish.”

Then the door opened with an audible click. Beyond it, the passage lay in deep shadow.

Einarr did not need to look at his companions to know their resolve: he could feel it. He set his jaw and stepped forward, out of his useless ward and into the passage ahead. There was simply no other option: they would return with Jorir or not at all.

Inside, the path traveled in a plumb line forward, with only a slight downward angle. Irritatingly, it was scaled for dwarves. Even Runa had to stoop to avoid bashing her head against the uneven ceiling: Thjofgrir was nearly bent double until he went to his hands and knees. Thankfully, it was also wide enough for dwarves to pass easily, two or perhaps three abreast, so Einarr and his companions adopted a defensive posture. Einarr and Kaldr took the lead, to make the best use of the light that still glowed from Einarr’s shield. Naudrek and a grumbling Thjofgrir were on the rearguard, while Runa and Vali kept to the middle.

Abruptly, after they had gone at least two hundred yards down the abnormally straight tunnel, their path turned hard to the right and they found themselves in a much broader chamber with five doors. Each door bore a pattern of runes on the lintel, just as the door outside had – although none of them had a plinth with a chisel.

Einarr took in the room with a glance. “Well, nothing for it. Split up, and let’s each examine a door. Give a shout if anything looks promising. Otherwise, we’ll all come back to the center after a half of an hour. Agreed?”

Thjofgrir took a look around the room as well before sitting down cross-legged. “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll stay on watch here in the middle.”

Einarr couldn’t really fault the man: the ceiling, after all, was no higher here than it had been in the passage. “Excellent, thank you,” he said. There was no harm in allowing the man his pretext, at least for the moment. Einarr just hoped they wouldn’t have to fight on their way down.

A few minutes later, as they were all split up and examining their respective doors, Runa’s voice carried across the room. “Einarr? What do you make of these lintel runes?”

Einarr shook his head, though. “They’re plainly some sort of ward. Beyond that, without seeing any of the circle they’re a part of? Hrug might have been able to tell you, but I can’t. Why?”

“Just I wondered if they might be able to give us some warning of what we’ll find beyond them. If the svartdvergr Thane is using traps to kill interlopers in here, perhaps if we took some time to understand the traps we could mitigate them.”

He hated to stop moving and take the time, but… Einarr nodded. “Not a bad plan at all. Thjofgrir, if I gave you some chalk, could you copy down the runes from there?”

“I can’t read them…”

“You don’t need to. Actually, it’s probably better if you don’t. That way you can’t accidentally activate something that will kill us all.”

The tall man grunted. “Give me the chalk, then. I’ll do what I can.”


At the end of the half-hour, all that had really been determined was that each and every door was locked, and Thjofgrir had terrible handwriting. Five minutes after that, Einarr had adeptly corrected the copied runes so that they were legible. He and Runa stood staring down at the copies.

“There’s a definite pattern here,” he mused.

“If I was trying to draw a picture of resonance, I’d use a pattern like this, I think,” Runa added.

“Interesting. Okay. Most of these runes are there to amplify the effect or constrain the timing – for defense, naturally. See the thorn there, and the yr. Which means that the traps are set by… these runes. The centerpiece, I should have guessed. I see fire, ice, air, and earth… what in the world?” The centerpiece on the last door was the eiwaz – the dream rune. “Let’s not go there.”

“Whyever not?” Thjofgrir asked.

“That’s the rune for the yew tree and for dreams. Each and every one of these wards is probably going to try to kill us. How would you kill someone with dreams?”

“Ah.” Kaldr shuddered.

“Exactly. There might be a way to evade these traps, but I don’t yet know how… Which element are we most interested in chancing?”

Runa peered over his shoulder. “You know, when you write them out that way, it almost looks like a message. ‘Which end do you wish: Burning, Freezing, Choking, Crushing, or Madness?”

Silence settled over the group as they pondered those words.

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The three of them stood in front of what was very plainly a magical gateway, wondering how they’d missed it until they were right on top of it. Each stone of the arch was carved with a single rune, which glowed faintly. Beside the door, written in Imperial script, was a small plaque, with a plainly magical chisel hanging beside it. “Draw here the Thorn rune and state your intention,” he read.

From behind them, Kaldr cursed loudly. Einarr spun on his heel, startled, but the light did not reach far enough to show what the matter was. The question was answered momentarily, however. As Kaldr walked into the ring of the rune-light on Einarr’s shield, he was still rubbing his forehead even as he scowled at his companions.

“That was truly a wonderful experience, my lord. Thank you for calling me down a dark ice tunnel with no light of my own so that I could bash my head on the ceiling.”

“Sorry, Kaldr. My fault,” Einarr said, stifling a laugh at himself. He wasn’t usually that stupid, but Kaldr would assume he was the one being laughed at. His Mate just hummed.

“At any rate,” he went on. “I think we’ve finally found our entrance.”

“So we have.” Kaldr grunted, rubbing again at the red welt on his forehead. “I don’t like how low that doorway is.”

“That descent’s going to be mighty uncomfortable if that’s all the taller the passage is,” Thjofgrir agreed. He was taller than any of them.

Einarr sighed. “I can’t disagree. But what choice do we have? Come on. Let’s build a cairn outside the cave entrance and go get the others. We’ll pack up the camp and move it right outside in the morning, and start down after that.”

“You wouldn’t rather wait for morning?” Vali asked.

Thjofgrir shrugged. “Once we’re underground, what difference will it make?”


Runa insisted it was important that they start fresh in the morning, so that they could more easily tell one day from the next. Even though she was the one who recommended the delay, however, she,too, chafed at it. Thus, the sun was newly risen on the day after they moved their camp when all six of them together stepped from the barren wasteland under the ice, creeping through the crevice and into the cavern that held the entrance to Myrkheim.

Much as Einarr had, Runa peered at the inscription on the stones of the arch. “Draw here the thorn rune and state your intention,” she read aloud in a thoughtful tone. “It’s plainly after a password.”

“I’m not so sure.” Einarr quickly stepped between Runa and the plinth. “The Thorn rune invokes defense, true… but it also signals danger. The dwarves don’t want humans on their roads, remember? This is probably a trap.”

“You think there’s another entrance in here?” Kaldr asked.

“It can’t hurt to look. If one of us does have to inscribe a Thorn, at the very least I should be able to ward us against it, though.”

Runa raised her eyebrows. “Even while maintaining the light and the ward on the Villgås?”

Einarr smiled. “Of course. The light requires almost no thought at all, and the ward on the ship is tied to all of us.” He did not think he would be able to maintain such a shield for long, but he somehow doubted that would be an issue.

After a careful search, they did find one other door. It, too, was trapped – and somehow Einarr did not think that the svartdvergr had to navigate such traps every time they came to the surface or returned to Myrkheim. Try as they might, however, what remained were two doors. On the first, in order to even open the door, one had to inscribe a rune likely to do significant damage to themselves. In front of the second, the floor rang hollowly under Naudrek’s boots. Probably, if the door was opened incautiously, a trap door would drop open beneath the feet of whoever was standing there. If it weren’t for Runa, Einarr would have preferred to take his chances with the trap door.

With a sigh, they all returned toe the obviously magical, obviously trapped door. For a long moment, they all stood staring at it, and then Einarr drew out a stick of chalk to begin his simple shield ward – one that would simply absorb the impact of an attack, much like his physical shield would.

“Wait a moment.” Thjofgrir held up a hand. “Not one of us has actually tried to open this door without carving anything, have we?”

Einarr shook his head.

“Vali, can you pop through to see if it’s actually locked?”

The ghost shook his head. “The door is sealed to me, as it is now. I suspect something to do with the runes on the arch.”

The big man shrugged and, before anyone could call out a warning, reached out a hand. Lightning arced from the wood of the door to Thjofgrir’s fingers and he pulled the hand back with a yelp.

“That went better than it could have.” Runa’s voice was downright tart, but Einarr nodded in agreement.

“Sorry, Thjofgrir. It was worth a shot, but that would have been a careless mistake for the dvergr to make. Come join us: this shouldn’t take me more than a few minutes to draw.”

By the light from his glowing shield, the ward he provided wound up not only simple but rather crude. Elder Melja would not approve, but it was the best he could manage. “Stand inside the circle, everyone. I’ll carve the thorn.”

“My lord —” Kaldr objected.

“Inscribing a rune in a permanent way like this can drain a man’s vitality – I expect that chisel will ensure that it does. If any of us is going to bear that burden, it should be me. I, after all, have a much better idea of my own limits than any of the rest of you.”

“As you say, my lord.”

With no little hesitation, Einarr lifted the chisel from where it hung on the plinth. This was no Muspel Shroud in terms of power, but it felt just as malign. “I will begin.”

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It was just past noon when Einarr and his companions arrived at the wall of ice that marked the glacier. If they had thought to find relief from the heat, they were disappointed. Waves of cold air sloughed off the side of the glacier and left their skin feeling clammy in the heat of the wasteland. They stood for a long moment, taking in the sight before them. The ice sheet stretched as far as the eye could see to their left and their right, its base as red as their boots from the surrounding dirt.

It was Naudrek who broke the silence. “Well? Now what?”

Einarr stared at the dirty ice in front of them, pondering. They had continued east from their camp, and the wall ran from north to south. But it was the svartdvergr they sought, not the foldvergr. “We go north,” he declared.

Everyone but Runa looked perplexed.

“The pale dwarves mostly live in Imperial territory, right?”

Kaldr blinked, nonplussed. “I… suppose?”

“Then it stands to reason the entrance to svartdvergr territory would be farther north.”

Runa stifled laughter.

Naudrek knit his brows. “Why is that funny?”

“He’s right, but for the silliest reason. The svartdvergr live to the north because the north is darker and colder. If, for some unknown reason, you needed to travel to Hel’s domain you’d seek out your entrance in the farthest reaches of the north, and Svartalfheim should be reachable by going north on the High Roads.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “So I was right. Anyway. We go north, and we’re burning daylight…” Now he frowned. It was already past noon: he turned to face Kaldr, but spoke generally. “If we continue our search, we will not make it back to camp before nightfall. Likely we’ll need to sup on what we brought with us. As far away from camp as the glacier is, I think it might be a good idea to return to camp for the night and move it forward in the morning. …Yes, I believe that is what we must do, unless anyone objects?”

There were some groans, but no-one voiced any compelling objections.

“Good. We’ll mark our trail back to the Villgås as we go.”

And thus began their long trek back to their camp. In the morning, the camp would travel with them as far as the glacier wall.


Their camp, which had thrust up from the plain like a Thane’s hold just the night before, seemed small and insignificant in the shadow of the glacier wall. Runa and Naudrek remained in camp that afternoon to finish setting it up and ensure there was supper to hand while the others began their search in earnest. They covered very little ground that afternoon: Thjofgrir quickly discovered the ground so close to the glacier was treacherous, a thin layer of slippery mud over rock.

They went on like this for three days, moving camp again early on the third. By afternoon of the fourth day, even Einarr had begun to despair of finding the path they sought. And so it was that four of them set out with heavy hearts on the morning of the fifth day, as they had no other options. It was Naudrek’s turn at camp again, to attend to Runa’s (still sparse) needs and guard their provisions.

Around mid-afternoon, they came across another of the numerous cracks leading into the wall. Usually, they sent Vali in to see how deep it went and if there was anything promising about it, and inevitably Vali returned shaking his incorporeal head. This one, however, was far larger than anything they had yet come across – more of a cave than a crack. With a wordless nod, Kaldr stationed himself on guard outside the cave entrance while Einarr and Thjofgrir followed Vali into the ice.

The dampness which had radiated off the glacier walls outside was, inside, as cold as the depths of winter. Einarr’s nose quickly grew red with cold, but he paid it little mind. Five paces in and the light itself turned blue. Fifteen paces in, Einarr paused to trace the sun rune on his shield boss for light. He granted it only a little power, so they would not blind themselves. There were strange black blobs frozen in the ice around them – likely rocks, he thought, but it was impossible to truly tell under the circumstances.

The floor of the cave was covered with a shallow stream of water that flowed under the glacier, so that their every step splashed, and the splashing noise echoed up and down the passage that did not seem to end.

The ice cave narrowed down around their heads, forcing them to crawl on their hands and knees. Just as Einarr was beginning to believe this was just another dead end, though, the cave opened up around them until the light from his shield could not fill the space. Above them in the darkness, crystals glittered like stars. Thjofgrir whistled.

A whisper echoed down the passage behind them. Kaldr must be wondering what happened.

“Come down here!” Einarr called back, hoping the other man could hear him. “We found something!”

Picking randomly, Einarr started off along the left-hand wall. He was surprised to discover that the walls here were stone. “Wouldn’t the glacier destroy this place, then?” he mused aloud.

“Shouldn’t the plains have been cold as we marched for the glacier?” Thjofgrir tossed back.

Einarr barked a laugh. “You’re right. There I go again, expecting this place to behave reasonably, when we’re plainly dealing with magic at a horrendous scale.”

“Exactly!” Kaldr’s Mate grinned back at him. “Glad we’re on the same page.”

Einarr felt a chill – which was surprising, given their surroundings, as he nearly walked through Vali. “What is it?”

The ghost pointed just ahead of himself, where he stared up dumbly at an ornate, rune-carved arch in the wall of the room. “This looks promising.”

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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.

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A dry wind swept across the barren plain under a gray sky when they awakened the next morning. Einarr, as the first up, sat up to survey the land around them. Not long after, Vali returned from his patrol.

“Well? How bad is it?”

The ghost offered a wan half-smile. “Miles and miles of… this, I’m afraid. Nothing but flat dirt and rocks, except for the glacier that basically cuts the land in half, and most of that is dirt-colored too.”

“Well, at least it should be easy coming back to camp at night?” It was a poor attempt at levity, and Einarr knew it. How were they supposed to find an entrance to the underground if there were no mountains – or even hills – to check for caves? The glacier might hide them, he supposed, but that didn’t do them any good.

“You’re sure about this, then?” Vali sounded uncharacteristically nervous.

“As sure as I can be. Why? Was there something else?”

“No, and that’s the trouble. I’d be less worried if I’d seen signs that anything lives here. But, nothing.”

Einarr shook his head. “I haven’t even seen any moss. There’s nothing to eat, and nothing to nest with. You’re right: it’s eerie, but it’s probably deliberate.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”

“Nor I, really.”

“Then I ask again. Are you certain you want to go forward with this? With not just your wife but your heir along?”

It was a concern: he would be lying if he tried to say it wasn’t. But his gut said Jorir was in trouble, and Einarr couldn’t just abandon the dwarf. Then something struck Einarr and he quirked an eyebrow in amusement. “Why is it the ghost who’s unnerved by all this?”

Vali smiled, but it was a wistful expression. “The same reason grandfathers urge more caution than grandsons. More years, more experience.”

“It hardly matters,” Runa said with a yawn, sitting up behind them. “We’ve got to see this through if we ever want to get back to Breidelstein.”

Einarr paled at that. “What do you mean?”

The others sat upright from their blankets just in time to hear Runa’s answer.

“I mean, that between the kraken and the maelstrom – which, I think we will find, will be the same no matter what direction we sail – we’re stuck in these waters until we have a guide to get us through.”

“Well, that’s that, then,” Thjofgrir said with a wry grin. “No backing down even if we wanted to.”

Kaldr hummed. “Then I suppose it’s for the best we have no intention of doing so. Although, I do wish we could have learned that was a one-way trip before we passed through.”

“I can think of three ways we could have learned that, and the only one which does not involve magic seems highly improbable, Kaldr.” Einarr bristled a little. Kaldr would never suggest divination, by rune or thread, but expecting Runa to have that level of lore was ludicrous.

“Peace, peace. I meant to cast no aspersions.” With a sigh, Kaldr stood. “But if we are stuck here, with no means of resupply, until we can acquire a dvergr guide, I suggest we start our search. We will go hungry long before we die of thirst, but even that will come far too swiftly.”


At Vali’s advice, the party set off for the edge of the glacier. Most likely, unless there were something truly outlandish like a door into nothing, they would find their path under the snow and ice. Before the morning was halfway through, all of them found themselves sweating profusely.

“Why is it so accursed hot?” Naudrek grumbled, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. “We’re marching towards a glacier, aren’t we?”

Runa, chewing a peppermint leaf as she trudged through the dust, answered. “We were just north of Imperial waters when we struck out for this land,” she started. “But I suppose that doesn’t quite answer, does it.”

Einarr offered her a hand to cross a particularly rough patch. “Not exactly, no.”

“This is all a guess, mind you… but I do not think we are entirely in our own world right now. We have reached the doorstep, as it were, still mostly in our own world, but about two steps from Myrkheimr. The rules of Midgard are attenuated, and we can expect to see mysterious phenomena. Count yourselves lucky that thus far all we’ve seen is the silence of a graveyard and the unusual heat.”

She paused, and looked back. “Best hope there is no wind today while we are out.”

They all stopped in their tracks and followed her gaze. The camp had completely disappeared into the haze of the sky, leaving only their tracks in the dust to show where they had come from. There were no landmarks to remember their route by. Einarr closed his eyes and took a deep breath: he could feel it, although it felt oddly attenuated.

“I can find our camp – for now, at least. We’ll slow our pace until noon: Naudrek, I need you to build us blazes. Cairns, spaced out so we can just see one from the next. Everyone else should collect stones as we walk. That way, even if I can’t feel my ward anymore, we should still be able to get back to where I can.”

“Aye, sir,” the men chorused, and Runa nodded her acknowledgment as well. As they began moving again, Kaldr harrumphed. “It seems your seithir has some use, anyway.”

Einarr cast his current Mate a sidelong look. “Certainly more than I expected it to when I started out. Do you want to know the major reason Hrug is so much better at it than I am?”

“I suppose.”

“He actually thinks to use it. We could have known about the kraken and the maelstrom ahead of time, if I were more practiced at divinations.”

“I think, my lord, that it is actually better that we did not know. It would have changed nothing, in the end.”

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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.

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“A guardian? What do you mean?” Kaldr’s brows lowered.

“Just that.” Runa sighed. “The High Roads of Ljosalfheim require magical knowledge particular to the alfs to even find, let alone enter. The dvergr will be no more keen to allow mortals into their realms: if the entrance to the paths is a physical place, it stands to reason that there would be gates or guardians or such, if only to keep treasure-hunters at bay.”

Einarr hummed. “Given that Ystava took me along the High Roads, the dwarves – especially the svartdvergr – may well be less welcoming of outsiders.”

Kaldr nodded. “Then we must be even more on our guard.”

“Agreed. Vali, we’ll be counting on your sharp eyes.”

“I haven’t got any eyes, though?”

Einarr rolled his own. “However it works for you, then. We couldn’t have got past that kraken without you.”

The ghost smirked even as he started up into the air. “Sure couldn’t.”

As Vali rose up to hover, almost invisible, in the air above the deck, Kaldr cleared his throat. “I was actually hoping you could give us some idea what else we might be facing.”

She offered a chuckle, but looked as though she regretted it immediately. “I’m afraid I haven’t the foggiest… Einarr, be a dear and get the waterproof satchel from my things? There should be some peppermint in there.”

“Peppermint?”

“To settle my stomach.”

Einarr was halfway across the deck to their awning when Vali called down. “You’re all looking for a barren island, right?”

“That’s right”

“I found one. Bearing northeast from here, just past the horizon.”


The island Vali found was massive – easily as large as the stories told of some of the larger Imperial lands. As they approached, it became plain what the next gate to pass was: they had to find the entrance first. There may have been some mosses and lichens that called the island home, but from the sea this was land that appeared to support nothing. Dry, reddish-brown dirt spread over its entire surface, broken only by the rocks that lay strewn across the plain. They had to sail for an hour just to find a beach where the Villgås could land.

Around them, everything was eerily quiet. There did not even appear to be shore birds, which put Einarr on edge. He could think of two reasons, now, why the island would be uninhabited: the kraken, and whatever it was that kept the birds away. When he vaulted over the bulwark to help beach their boat, the splash of their boots in the water and the gentle rushing of the waves were the only noises he heard.

Even the scraping of the gangplank as Thjofgrir slid it into place seemed unnaturally loud. Einarr gave Runa his hand as she descended the plank, but his attention was on the land around them.

Vali was already ashore. Naudrek carried his jar: if they didn’t intend to leave the ghost behind, they would need it.

“Did you see anything when you were up above?” Einarr asked him, but Vali shook his head.

“Afraid not. Nothing but rock and dirt and glacier.”

Einarr grunted. While it was entirely possible that there was magic keeping creatures away from this place, it still stood his hair on end. He looked up, checking the path of the sun through the sky. Mid-afternoon. Fine. “All right, everyone. Unload everything – and I do mean everything – off the Villgås and make camp. I’m going to set up a ward. It should mean nothing bothers the boat while we’re exploring, but it’ll keep us out too in the interim. And be cautious. This place could just be warded, or it could be that something nasty lives here we just haven’t seen yet.” He hummed, considering. “Vali, I’m going to be relying on you again. While we’re setting up here, scout around. Make sure there’s nothing hiding nearby that will try to sneak out and bite us in our sleep.”

The ghost smirked. “What, and miss all the fun of unloading water casks? How will I ever bear up?”

“You mean miss the chance to taunt the rest of us, don’t you?” Einarr half-chuckled at the thought of Vali popping up out of the lid of one of the casks, then shook his head. Vali was a joker, which was good, but losing precious supplies to a joke would not be. “There’ll be time enough for your japes once we’re settled in for the night.”

“Aye, sir.” Vali’s amused chortle carried back over the empty ground as he floated off on his mission.

Once he was safely out of earshot,Kaldr leveled a flat look at Einarr. “You make the most interesting friends, my lord.”

“Indeed. A cursed blacksmith, a ghost in a jar, a magic-hating strategist… makes life more fun, doesn’t it?”

Kaldr’s only reaction to hearing himself included on that list was a slight widening of the eyes before his normally calm expression returned. “Indeed.”

Runa took Vali’s jar from Naudrek and placed it firmly on the ground while the other four climbed back aboard the ship and began unloading. Einarr, meanwhile, took a sharp-edged rock from the ground and used it to begin drawing a ward very similar to the one he had used on the Heidrun at Thorndjupr. While he worked, he was dimly aware of the tramp of boots up and down the gangplank. After a while, as he was nearly finished, he heard Runa’s sweet voice begin to sing – nothing in particular, that he could tell, although the cheerful tune still lifted his spirits.

He would give them the afternoon and evening to rest and recover from their narrow escape the day before. Tomorrow would bring hard travel of a different sort, and unknown dangers besides. For tonight they could be merry, and he could finally celebrate Runa’s good news.

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