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.

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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.

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.

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The four burst into Urdr’s workroom, Runa in the lead but only by a pace. The sailor’s report had been not quite accurate: the witch was gone, and there were a number of blank spaces on the wall and on her racks where tapestries had been until very recently, but she had been smart enough to leave her equipment behind. Einarr was a little surprised she had taken the tapestries along, truth be told. The only reason he could think of were the workings they must support. And, therefore, the workings I must destroy. He hoped Frigg did not decide to reclaim her distaff too soon.

The other thing Einarr did not see was the door Runa had mentioned. Then again, if it were cleverly hidden he probably wouldn’t. Runa, however, walked confidently across the floor of the room, her hair flashing like spun gold even dirtied as it was. Let the Jarl try to keep her from me now…

Troa had already joined Runa at the door, and together they searched for the mechanism. Einarr shook his head: he couldn’t very well afford to lose his focus watching her, so instead he made a circuit around the outside of the room, examining walls and racks and the tools of her trade.

He had not thought the Weavess could inspire more than disgust in his bones, but her workroom looked to be as much torture chamber as weaving workshop. The rage began to build in his chest and behind his eyes as he moved to stand beside his beloved. “Death is too good for her,” he muttered for Runa’s ears alone.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” she answered in the same tone. “Don’t forget we have to take her before your father, though.”

“Never fear.”

“There,” Troa announced to the sound of a click. A long crack opened in the joins of the wooden wall. “We’re in.”

“Let’s go.”

The door swung open into the room, revealing a dark passage that seemed to go on too far. A quick glance around the room revealed a mostly-full oil lamp on one of the tables. Runa grabbed it almost as quickly as Einarr spotted it, and then they crossed the threshold.

Almost immediately the hairs on the back of Einarr’s neck began to prickle. He didn’t know if there was actually magic in the air, but given whose escape route this was… He drew Sinmora and held the blade ready. “Be careful, everyone. She may well have traps set up for just such an occasion. Troa?”

“Yes, sir.” The scout moved up beside Einarr, his eyes carefully scanning every surface of the cave as they moved forward. Between the two of them, they should be able to avoid most of the surprises Urdr could have left behind.

They hurried down the tunnel as swiftly as they dared. After a time, the smooth worked stone of the keep ended. Einarr stopped in his tracks before he crossed the line, swiftly enough that Runa and their lamp nearly collided with his back.

“What is it?”

“I’ve been feeling magic in this tunnel since we stepped in. It’s… different, just ahead of us. Stand back a bit: I’m going to try something.”

Even as they all withdrew up the hall he was focusing on his sword. It had been a while since he needed to do this, although perhaps not so long as it felt like. Just like in the working earlier, he focused his will, only this time it was on Sinmora.

The blade seemed to pulse before him like a living thing, and like a living thing it felt hungry for the magic that surrounded them. Einarr hesitated only a moment: he had seen nothing to suggest that the magic was integral to the tunnel, after all. He raised Sinmora overhead and cut the air over the threshold.

A rushing sound like wind screaming through jagged rocks filled the room around them. Jorir brought his shield and axe up as though expecting an attack. Runa and Troa looked around frantically, trying to spot the source of the sound.

When the noise ended, Einarr relaxed. The oppressive feeling of ambient magic ahead of them had faded.

“Einarr – your sword!” Runa stammered. “It’s glowing!”

Oh. Right. Of the four of them, only Jorir knew about that, and even he hadn’t seen it. “Over the course of last winter, Sinmora… awakened. It’s a long story, but we shouldn’t have to worry about magical traps any longer.”

“I still say we need ta grill Lord Stigander over the provenance of that sword. I’ve never heard of any smith as could do that.”

Einarr shrugged and sheathed his blade. It couldn’t hurt, he supposed, but there hadn’t yet been a good time. “Later. For now, we have a witch to catch.”

Again they trotted down the hall, now somewhat more confident on their way than before.

“I don’t get it,” Troa grumbled. “The Weavess has had almost twenty years to build her escape route. Surely this can’t—”

“Look out!” Jorir bellowed, grabbing Runa by the waist of her skirt and pulling her back even as he kicked out with one booted foot to send Einarr reeling forward.

A metal shutter shot upward, dividing the team neatly in half. Einarr swore. Runa yelped. Troa spun on his heel and gaped.

Einarr stared at the shutter for a long moment. Unless his eyes deceived him – and in the poor light, it was possible – the upper edge of the shutter was a blade. That thin wetness sliding down their side of the barrier could have been blade oil, but Einarr suspected poison. “Are you two all right over there?”

“Fine,” Runa answered, sounding a little breathless and a lot exasperated. “It looks like there’s another path forward over here, too. What about you?”

“Fine, thanks to Jorir.” He cast a sidelong look at Troa, but refrained from asking how the scout had missed this one. Sinmora’s glow had just gone from interesting to necessary: he hoped it would last. “You two go on ahead down your path. We’ll keep on this way and meet you at the end.”

“Yes, milord,” Jorir answered.

Runa’s voice followed almost immediately: “Be careful.”

“Of course. You, too. I’m counting on you, Jorir. Make sure you both get out of here.”

With the dwarf’s answering grunt, Einarr turned to look down the passage he faced with only Troa at his back.


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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.