The hallway that Einarr crept down, following the sound of the voices, was not long. What struck him as strange, though, was how empty it was. The guards who had passed earlier never returned – assuming they were, in fact, guards and not priests or thralls on some errand. They knew they were under assault, though – and could guess at what the attackers were after. So then, why?

A large double door stood closed ahead of them, and the light from around its edges was bright like an aurora. The chanting came from inside.

The five stole up to the door and listened, but could hear nothing save the same chanting that had drawn them here in the first place. If the layout inside were typical of surface temples, the odds were good they could slip in unnoticed… but based on what Jorir had said of this cult, Einarr was not impressed with the chances of anything about them being normal.

Still, he wasn’t certain how much choice he had. There was no cross-corridor here, to look for another entrance. He scowled at the door, as though that would change anything, and stepped up to push it a shoulder’s width open.

Despite the loudness of the echoing chants, when Einarr pressed his eye to the opening he could tell it was only sparsely filled. He furrowed his brow, but still saw no better chance. Einarr sidled through the door, stepping as swiftly and as softly as he could manage on the still-carpeted flagstone.

There were guards in the room, it seemed, although they were stationed about the altar at the far side. Even as brightly lit as this place was, however, it did not reach all corners, and he did not think they could see him.

The focus of all in the room was the white-haired svartaflr at the altar, leading the other monks in their chant. That Einarr could make out no fresh blood at the front, nor any signs of struggle, gave him hope. Slowly, Einarr crept around the outskirts of the temple, keeping his back to the wall.

Barri and Bollinn, seeing the same two side-doors Einarr did, each with a guard stationed in front of it, split off the other direction. One of them, they hoped, must hide Runa. The challenge was going to be getting past the guards without inciting a melee.

The guard at attention ahead of them may as well have been a statue for all the life they could see in him, and the helm that covered his head effectively obscured whether he was man or monster. Not that it mattered, where Runa was involved.

Sivid slipped past Einarr, followed only moments later by Jorir. The dwarf could be wickedly cunning, Einarr knew from experience, and Sivid was sometimes too clever by half. Einarr nodded to himself and let them take the lead.

When they drew near enough that it seemed inevitable the man would notice them, Jorir dashed forward on his toes, right in front of the guard.

“Wh-!” The guard started to cry out, not so oblivious that he could miss a dwarf nearly treading on his toes. That was when Sivid moved in, his hand slipping under the helmet to cover where a man’s mouth would be even as his knife sunk between the guard’s ribs under his arm.

Muffled protests came from under the helmet as Sivid grimaced but did not remove his hand. Then the guard began to slump, and Einarr slid in to help lower him against the wall. Sivid shook his hand as though it were in pain. The guard’s knees locked of their own volition, and so he appeared mostly upright as the three Vidofnings slipped through the door behind him.

The passageway they entered was in many ways akin to the secret passage they had left not long before: the floor was bare flagstone, the walls were rough-cut stone, and every ten paces or so they passed a lantern. The passage seemed to curve around the outside of the large temple room they had just left, moving inexorably towards the back. If this didn’t lead to a short-term prison cell, it would lead to priestly quarters. Either of which could hold Runa. Einarr walked faster.

Finally they came to a small, unassuming wooden door – the first change of any sort they had run across since entering the passage. Einarr reached for the handle, anxiety clawing at his stomach, and more frantically as time went on. Let this be it.

He saw Sivid’s hand raised for him to wait even as he undid the latch. A corner of his mind shrugged: nothing for it now. He practically tossed the door to the side and dashed through.

The room on the other side was not the one he expected to see. The passageway opened into a broad room lined with not cells but cages, and those each easily big enough for a large bear… or a troll. Einarr’s lips curled in distaste. A pair of larger doors sat in the back wall, and across from them stood an open doorway, much like the one they had just exited. Barri’s brassy head was just emerging from the passage and into the twilight of the larger area.

He looked again. There was a fifth door, one he had somehow almost missed, opposite the closed back doors. That one had to lead out into the temple, where they would present the sacrifice.

“She’s in here.” Einarr barked the words as though he were on deck and not deep in enemy territory. He found he could not care at this moment. “She has to be.”

Einarr set off, looking in every cage he passed until he came to an intersection. A low growl rose in his throat: this was going to take forever. …But that stack of crates off to his left might help. His boots thudded against the wood as he leapt up towards the top. He was so close now: he would never forgive himself if the cult got to her before he did. Runa…

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Sivid hopped down from the crate he had perched himself on, oddly buoyant now that they were past the guards. He jerked his head toward one of the many streets leading away from this little market and turned to go.

“You’ve heard something?” Einarr spoke quietly as they left the crowded square.

“I have an idea, certainly.” Sivid’s voice was equally low, and light as though they were sharing a private joke. “Only, this place is going to be even worse than we thought.”

“Oh? You mean it gets worse than fifty-foot sheer walls lined with throwing strings?”

“Mm-hmm.” Sivid peered down a cross-alley before continuing on at his rapid clip.

“So, what, is this high priest we think we’re looking for the chieftain here?”

“You got it.”

Einarr groaned. It had been the worst thing he could think of: why did it have to be right? With only two ships of men, one of which was still under strength, their chances of taking a hold like this one approached zero. Einarr frowned, now. “If assault wasn’t off the table before, it certainly is now. Which means what we really need is a good way to sneak in.”

“And determine whether or not that’s where your lady is really being held. But I suspect that to be the case.”

Einarr grunted, then grimaced. “Let’s hope the bastard doesn’t have a thing for human women.”

“Or that this god of his prefers his sacrifices unsullied.”

“Either way. If he lays a finger on her…” Einarr clenched his fists.

Sivid nodded. “Easy, though. No sense worrying about that until we’ve found her.”


They kept to the quiet passages as much as they could – paths that ran behind buildings and other spaces less frequently used – but this was still a hold, and any good hold would have a broad yard surrounding the central fortress area where the soldiers could train or the children could play.

Here, when Einarr and Sivid inevitably reached the end of their secluded paths, Einarr was not certain what he was seeing. It almost looked like glíma practice, for the men in the yard were practicing hand-to-hand maneuvers… except their maneuvers had more in common with brawling than wrestling. The keep that sat at the center of the yard beyond them seemed to tower above them, its top lost in shadow.

“Let’s see if there’s anything more interesting on the other side, shall we?” Sivid murmured, and Einarr nodded his agreement. Surely the entire keep could not be surrounded by brawlers.

Another street lay just to their left, cutting back into the longhouses that surrounded the keep. Rather than turn around in their tracks, the two Vidofnings continued around the outside of the yard until they reached it.

They did not seem to have drawn undue suspicion as they slipped down this secondary path. As they moved through these surrounding streets, though, Einarr began to feel as though there were eyes all about, following their furtive movements.

They emerged again a quarter circle around the keep, ahead of another gate but still within sight of the edge of the training group. If this was a proper circle fort, it would be better to check the next exit for signs of life. Sivid barely paused before continuing on to the next side-street.

Around they walked through the empty streets this close to the temple keep of Malúnion, and with every step the sensation of being watched – of being followed – grew between Einarr’s shoulder blades. He cleared his throat.

“Perhaps we should go back, let Father know what we’ve found.”

“Don’t let them spook you, boy.” Sivid did not look back at Einarr this time, simply continued to watch ahead as they moved. “If they had anything on us, they’d have moved already. We committed to this gamble, we need to see it through.”

“R-right.” Einarr cleared his throat a little. Something about the keep here had him even more on edge than he’d thought. …But if Runa was in there, and if they had the right island she must be, how could he turn back now?

The gate on the far side of the keep was smaller than either of the other two they had seen thus far and made of the same stone as everything else. They might have missed it were it not for the way its archway was formed in the surrounding wall and the iron bars that reinforced it. Einarr hummed in consternation. Sivid merely sighed.

“Odds that’s the door we want anyway?” Einarr murmured.

“High. If a door like that doesn’t lead to a dungeon…”

Einarr grunted his agreement and slipped out into the broad, empty stone yard of the temple keep, Sivid only a pace behind. That the yard was empty save for them on this side of the keep did nothing to soothe Einarr’s nerves.

He paused a moment to examine the door and scowled: there was no apparent latch. Sivid brushed past him, though, and quickly found the mechanism Einarr had missed.

“Once we’re in there we’re as good as trapped, you realize,” the smaller man murmured, the door still closed under his palm.

“Didn’t you just tell me we had to see this plan through?”

“Oh, aye. Just making sure your guts hadn’t turned to water all of a sudden.” The words were harsh. From any other man, it would have demanded a duel. But, because it was Sivid and because the weird light still allowed Einarr to see the teasing glint in his crewmate’s eye, the taunt earned Sivid little more than a scowl and a gesture to continue.

The door scraped open slowly under Sivid’s palm to reveal a cut-stone stairway headed down. The two men exchanged a look of uneasy surprise and slipped through the arch. When Sivid was three steps down, Einarr pressed his back against the heavy door, pressing it closed with a muffled click.

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