Einarr had to believe that the group who ventured up the tower was having an easier time of it. At the very least they hadn’t requested backup before he judged his team ready to press on.
Similarly, he could not spare a thought for the pincered fleet out past the harbor. That there had been no word would have to be taken as hard fighting, no more. So, when Eydri and Hrug had seen to their healing and purification, and Einarr’s head had stopped throbbing quite so badly, he surveyed his men.
Some handful who had been healed needed more time to recuperate – they had been gravely injured, mostly, and the Song Magic could only speed the process so much. Those, and some other handful who were less worn down, were detailed to hold this floor and keep a watchful eye on the harbor. If anyone, friend or foe, came into the harbor they were to send a runner down after Einarr’s team. The fact that he intended to press on did not please Eydri, but even had she not healed his leg quite expertly, Einarr was their war leader. He could not lead from the back – that was not his way.
Einarr, Jorir, and Kaldr stood at the head of the expedition further into the depths. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, and Troa followed close behind. All told, they took a team of perhaps twenty down the broad ramp leading deeper into the earth.
Jorir grumbled as they rounded the first corner of the ramp. “I mislike this passage.”
Kaldr glanced down at the svartdvergr, and there was an edge of humor when he spoke. “It rather reminds me of the Paths of Stone, though. Right before we started falling into pits.”
“My point exactly.” Jorir harrumphed. “And the parts used by dvergr were cut smooth to allow for carts. What do they keep down here that can’t handle stairs?”
“I’m sure we’ll find out, probably sooner than we’d like. Be on the lookout for traps, everyone.”
A chorus of ‘aye’s echoed from behind, but it was really no louder than the tramp of twenty pairs of boots and the clink of twenty sets of maille. Still they went on. Neither Einarr nor Kaldr were happy about giving up the initiative before, so by unspoken agreement they made as much haste as they dared. Einarr strained his eyes trying to peer beyond the watery blue torchlight.
A little further down, with still no sign of a side passage – or even a room – mutters began to carry forward to his ears. The long, gloomy passage was starting to unnerve the men.
“Keep your wits about you, men. Whatever is waiting for us down below, it’s nothing we can’t deal with.” He hoped. Unfortunately, he couldn’t really do much more to lift their spirits than that.
Finally, after what felt like hours, the ramp leveled off into a broad, open cave. The floor was smooth like planed wood, but the walls and ceiling were rough like a natural cave. Three passages branched off from here – right, left, and center. “All right men, take a break. Someone mark the door we just came from. You three–” he pointed at random. “How would you like sentry duty here?”
The three shared an uneasy look, but nodded their agreement.
“Excellent, because someone needs to. Everyone else, split into teams of six. I’ll take center…” Glancing over the men stretching their shoulders and swigging water, he realized something. With a smile, he turned to Arkja. “Looks to me like your whole crew from the Island is here. Why don’t you take the right, while Kaldr and Thjofgrir take the left… Assuming, of course, that Jorir and Naudrek prefer to stick with me?”
The dvergr harrumphed as though that were obvious. Naudrek also agreed. “Indeed, I’d have insisted,” he added.
“Right. That means three more can come with me, and four go with Kaldr. When everyone’s formed up, we’ll continue.
Troa, Svarek, and Arring rounded out Einarr’s team, and he was reasonably sure as they started down the central path the only way their team could be more stalwart was if he’d taken Kaldr and Thjofgrir. Their passage wound about, and Einarr was reasonably certain they were headed generally downwards. When they were a little ways away from the central room, Jorir glanced up at him as they walked. “So, why center?”
“A hunch? Mostly based on the temple in Nilthiad, honestly.”
He grunted. “Thought so. Let’s see how this pans out, then.”
Not much further on, they came to a long gallery of carved and planed pillars. The inner path through the gallery was lit, but nothing past it, so that as you walked through the pillars all you could see was the road ahead of you. To either side, all that was visible beyond the pillars was inky blackness.
“Begging your pardon, sir,” Svarek started. “But, do you think your head could handle giving us one of your glowing runes? This blue flame has me on my last nerve.”
Einarr frowned. Using ᛊ to create light took very little concentration. By the same token, however, he knew he was near his limits already. Would a beacon of proper light be worth the risk that he would be forced to call on the runes again? Hesitantly, he nodded. “Yes, I can manage that much, at least. I’m not sure how much more we’ll be able to see, mind you.”
“That’s fine, milord. Just so it looks a little more natural.”
Einarr drew out his piece of chalk, but Arring held up a hand. “I think we might be better off just lighting one of our ordinary torches. That way we get something to counteract the cold look of the cultists’ flames.”
Einarr nodded his assent, and Troa drew a torch from the pack he carried everywhere. Arring lit it with practiced ease, and as it flared to life the light did, somehow, start to look less watery and cold and more natural to a surface dweller.
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!
This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.
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