Vali’s warning left Einarr thunderstruck: hadn’t they just passed a deadfall? “Another one?” He managed to say eventually.

“And in better repair than the one before. You’ll never make it through here carrying the lady: not sure you will anyway.”

“It’s fine. Put me down: I’ve rested enough.”

As Einarr opened his mouth to ask if she was sure, the beast’s ear-piercing chirp rang through the passage again. The sound alone was enough to dislodge some of the looser stones. Instead, he turned to Vali as Runa climbed down off his back. “Can you see where the keystones are?”

“Not well. I’ll do my best to warn you, but…”

“Fine. Let’s go!” There was no time for arguing or explanations: Einarr felt certain the creature was gaining on them with every step.

Vali looked thoughtful for a moment, then his eyes brightened as an idea occurred to him. He floated forward through the passage, and in his wake bits of stone along the walls and ceiling illuminated in the virulent green of ghost light. Every last one of these was placed such that Einarr had to dodge around it – and some of them he nearly stumbled into anyway. Einarr was as thankful for the ghost’s presence as he was shocked they had done as well as they had.

The wet sounds of the beast’s footsteps were clearly audible now, and moving quickly. And it almost certainly wouldn’t care about this deadfall, much like it hadn’t cared about the one before. There was not room to carry Runa, so he reached back and grabbed her hand. “Faster!”

He and Naudrek ran faster, pulling Runa along in their wake. When Naudrek danced around a protruding lance of stone highlighted by Vali’s ghost light, Einarr didn’t even think what he needed to do. He pulled Runa forward in a spin, as though they were dancing, and both their feet left the ground as Einarr turned so that the lance passed just above his back.

Then his feet touched the ground again, and Runa’s as well, and they were running again. It was a move that he would have to remember the next time he found himself at a Hallingdanse – although Sivid was sure to show him up almost immediately.

A moment later he heard a muffled curse from Thjofgrir, but there was no following rumble of moving stone so he must not have hit the keystone.

How are its feet still wet? We must have run a mile at least! He didn’t know where the thought came from, except that it touched on the nature of the beast: it didn’t matter, right now – and never would, if Einarr had his way. Even before this chase, none of them had been in any condition to fight a monster of the deep.

Finally, just up ahead, Einarr saw the walls of the passage grow smooth again. Thank the gods! He had to fight the urge to pour on more speed, though: he suspected Runa was already having trouble keeping her feet, and getting through the deadfall would not end their race.

He practically leaped over the last few feet and past the final glowing keystone for the deadfall and did not slow his pace. A curse from Thjofgrir made him turn his head to look: the big man had tripped and rammed his shoulder into that selfsame keystone. Ghost light clung to the arm in question, although Vali quickly extinguished it.

The walls of loose stone began to rumble, and bits of debris fell from the ceiling in thin streams.

“Run!” Einarr bellowed back, knowing that he already was.

Thjofgrir righted himself and half-stumbled back into his run, his fatigue made worse by the extreme stoop he was forced to move in. Larger, fist-sized rocks started to tumble from the ceiling, as the keystone began to slowly slide down the wall.

Further down the hall, at the very edge of what Vali’s ghost light still illuminated, a massive silver-grey rod shot out and collided with the wall ahead of it. Einarr only got a glimpse, it moved so fast, but that hastened the deadfall.

Thjofgrir propelled himself forward, trying to get out of the way of the fast-descending rubble. As he stretched out into his desperate dive, he collided with Kaldr, sending them both sprawling to the floor.

Einarr, Naudrek, and Runa all stopped in their tracks, turning to see.

The deadfall gave way and several tons of rubble came crashing to the floor of the cave. This one, evidently, had also been a deeper deadfall than the one before, as the rock nearly filled the passage behind them.

Kaldr rolled to his back and sat up. “Thjofgrir? Are you all right?”

Kaldr’s Mate looked up, a pained expression on his face. “I’m trapped. Go on: that thing’s going to burrow through this just like it did the other.”

“That just means we’ll have to hurry. Runa, catch your breath quick as you can. We’re going to need your voice.”

She nodded silently, it looked like she was already working on that.

“Now, come on. We’ve got some digging to do.”

All three standing men moved up to the fallen rock. Einarr thought it shouldn’t take them very long to dig him out, based on how the rocks had arranged themselves, provided his feet had escaped crushing.

“What are you doing?” Thjofgrir protested. “You really think I’m going to be able to walk? Run!”

“Yes, actually,” Kaldr answered, cool and unflappable as ever.

“Just hold on. We’ll have you out of there soon enough, and Runa will fix you up right away.” Einarr had already started shifting stones. They could hear the angry chirps of whatever the beast behind them was, but it sounded like this was enough rock to stymie even it, at least for a while.

Thjofgrir was only buried about halfway up his calves, and the stone was as loose as Einarr thought here on the edge of the fall. With all the strength their exhausted muscles could muster the three of them moved stone until Naudrek and Kaldr could take Thjofgrir’s arms and haul him out from underneath.

His feet were tender, but not bloodied, and while he could put no weight on his left leg, his right was fine. Runa began the Song of Healing even before he was fully upright, and if her voice sounded tired it did not diminish the strength of her Song. They started off again, Thjofgrir leaning on Kaldr’s shoulder and limping as quickly as he could. Einarr moved into the rear and they started to jog, just as the sound of tumbling stone started up again. The beast had found its way forward.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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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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They all covered their ears involuntarily at the creature’s angry shout. A small cascade of dirt and pebbles were dislodged from the rough ceiling here.

Naudrek dropped into a run again even as Einarr opened his mouth. Einarr stepped to the side as Runa picked up her skirts and started to follow after Naudrek. “Kaldr, Thjofgrir, this stone looks loose. Try to drop the ceiling, then catch up. Vali, see if you can’t give them a hand.”

“Sir!” Kaldr bellowed in agreement.

“Good fortune.” Then Einarr, too, ran after Naudrek.

Kaldr turned where he stood to look at the passage around them while Thjofgrir loosened up his arms. Based on the quality of the stone here, this was almost certainly intended to be a deadfall. Why it hadn’t triggered, Kaldr couldn’t guess, but he would certainly use it to his advantage. Fortune would have nothing to do with it. “Ready?”

“Let’s bust some walls.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about being used as a glorified lamp,” Vali groused, “but I’d hurry if I were you. I got a look at it before. It’s quick, and slippery, and it could get both of you in its mouth whole.”

“My thanks for the warning – and the light, however irksome that may be.” Kaldr drew his sword. “We could use the extra eyes, too, to be frank. There’s bound to be a weak spot that will send all this loose stuff tumbling down.”

Vali chuckled. “Is that all? Try over there.” He pointed to a section of the wall that looked much like any other.

Kaldr moved to inspect the section of face that Vali indicated. It did, indeed, look like all they would need to do would be to dislodge one stone in order to bring it all down. Unfortunately, that spot was right in the middle of the deadfall. If they simply knocked it loose, they would bring the trap down on their own heads, and their shields were definitely not up to a rockfall of that magnitude.

Kaldr frowned, staring at the spot. “Vali… how big is the beast?”

“Massive.”

Kaldr thought he could hear the wet footfalls behind them again – and a scratching noise, too. “Big enough it could brush the wall here without really trying?”

“Probably.”

He didn’t have time to deliberate: there was only one path forward he could see, anyway. He drew the knife from his belt and wedged it into a vertical crack in the stone. Assuming the deadfall trap was only malfunctioning and not outright jammed, their pursuer should trigger it when he brushed against the handle. He didn’t like this sort of gamble, but sometimes the odds were just against you. “Let’s go.”

“That’s all?” Thjofgrir actually sounded disappointed.

“Afraid so. We should hurry: even if this works, I don’t think it’ll stop the beast for long.” Kaldr started to trot down the passage, then paused. “Hey, Vali? Earlier, you said you made the entrance to this passage colder. I don’t suppose you could make my knife warmer?”

The apparition shook his head. “I’m a ghost, not spawn of Hel.”

Kaldr shrugged. “Too bad. We’ll just have to hope, then.” And he took off at a dead run after Einarr’s party, with Thjofgrir and Vali close behind.


Einarr heard pounding feet coming up behind him: glancing over his shoulder, it was the other three. A moment later there was another loud chirrup and the crashing of stone against stone. Troublingly, the rockfall did not seem to quiet the beast at all.

“No luck?” Einarr asked as Kaldr and the others fell in behind him. They had kept a more moderate pace, both in deference to Runa and in hopes of letting the others catch up more easily.

“Not enough, I’m afraid. I liked that knife, too.”

“We all get through this, I’ll have Jorir make you a new one, exactly how you want it.”

Kaldr snorted and said no more. No-one did: they all had focused their energy on finding a way to give it the slip.

The passage wound on for quite a while, as featureless as they had come to expect outside of the flaming stairs and the vestibule of javelins. Einarr could not yet hear the wet footsteps they knew meant the beast was approaching, but its occasional high-pitched chirp was definitely getting closer. He thought, briefly, of pulling out his Óss runestone again… but the dvergr had done something that interfered with the runes. In this place, he wasn’t certain he could trust even Wotan’s rune. Best to save those for when there was no other way, and he didn’t think they’d run out of options yet.

“See anything?” he asked Naudrek after a while, but the other man just shook his head and kept running. Runa was getting winded again: they were asking too much of her, and he feared for the child.

Einarr sighed. He felt like he’d been reliant on Vali’s strange powers too much this trip… and yet, the ghost had come along as a scout. “Vali! We need you to zip ahead. Anything strange or unusual you see – anything at all – report back.”

“Will do.” This time, at least, he didn’t look cross over the matter.

A glance over his shoulder showed Runa gamely pushing on, but she needed far more than their unexpected sleep earlier. It wouldn’t slow them appreciably at this point, so Einarr held up a hand for those behind him to wait. With no explanation whatever, he dropped to one knee.

“I beg your pardon?” Runa asked, perplexed.

“Hop on. I’ll carry you.”

A stubborn look flitted over her face, but it softened almost immediately. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“Why do you think I am?”

They were coming into another area of rough rock walls and loose stone. Somehow they’d managed to avoid triggering the last one, although the beast had not been so lucky. Nothing for it but to pray…

“Wait!” Vali came zipping back, almost as quickly as he’d raced off.

Without question, the others skidded to a stop. “What is it?” Einarr asked.

“Deadfall – right over head. One wrong step from where you are and you’ll all be buried.”

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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Kaldr took up position just inside the circle of warm air, surprised at himself for his easy agreement. Nothing he said was false, and his clothes seemed to be growing drier by the second. Only, he felt none of his usual apprehension about sorcery. Indeed, primarily what he felt was the comfort of a thick fur blanket, and drowsy.

Behind him, the others had all but collapsed to the ground, sitting around Einarr and supporting him while he slept. How restful that sleep was, given that he was somehow powering this respite of theirs, Kaldr could not guess. They, too, all looked drowsy, but that was only natural. When you went into a steam room after a long winter’s day chopping wood, or hunting, it was only natural to feel a bit drowsy.

He didn’t think much of it when Runa rested her head on Einarr’s arm and drifted off into sleep, as well. She shouldn’t even be here! She was holding up remarkably well, considering her condition and her physical… well, not really frailty, but certainly she was sheltered and soft.

The passage moving ahead was empty and dark. Kaldr roused himself and paced around the edge to look out over the water. If that connected to the open sea – which he thought it did – they could not assume it was safe. After a time, he stirred himself again and completed his circuit.

While he was walking, Vali emerged from his jar and floated, observing the others. Kaldr could admit to himself that the ghost made him uncomfortable, even though Einarr seemed to like him. He continued to pace in a circle, keeping guard around the others.

Thjofgrir yawned. He, too, looked on the verge of sleep. Naudrek had taken out a dice cup and was tossing the dice, then scooping them up without looking at them. Plainly trying to stay awake.

“Hey,” Vali said, swooping down to hover just outside Einarr’s circle. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Kaldr rolled his head and suppressed a yawn before he answered. “Better than freezing to death, isn’t it?”

“Hmm. Maybe.” The apparition seemed uncertain. Kaldr continued his slow walk around the edge of the circle. Truth be told, he wouldn’t mind sitting to rest, either. Perhaps Naudrek would trade places with him?

Vali continued. “It’s just, I think his runes are being interfered with. There’s a black, sort of smoky taste to the magic.”

Kaldr stopped, blinking. “Excuse me… taste?”

“That’s right. Normally, his Lordship’s magic is kind of… apple-like? I don’t know: it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten real food to remember the taste. But it’s crisp and clear and sort of refreshing. And here there’s something else.”

Kaldr eyed the runes on the floor. Was that even possible? He did feel lethargic – but was it more lethargic than the circumstances would account for? He felt his eyelids beginning to droop and started his pacing again. “So what would you have me do?”

“Are you dry?”

Kaldr had to think over that one. “Yes,” he drawled, finally. “Everything but my feet in my boots.”

“Is the Lady dry?”

Lady Runa was, of course, sound asleep on Einarr’s shoulder. Her outer clothes looked dry, of course, but he would have to wake her up to be sure. He tried once more to shake off the lethargy as he reached out a hand to shake her shoulder. Naudrek and Thjofgrir had dozed off while he spoke with Vali.

Runa’s eyes fluttered, but she did not wake. Kaldr clasped a hand around her boot, and very carefully felt at the folds of her skirts. If she woke now, he was as good as dead.

“Mostly,” he answered the apparition.

“Okay. Good. I have a bad feeling about this, so we have two options. One: you can destroy the working. Striking out the lines should break the enchantment and wake everybody up. Two, I can consume it – but I make no promises about leaving you the light on his Lordship’s shield. It’s kind of blended in amongst the rest of it and hard to separate out.”

Kaldr yawned. Was it really as critical as all that? He reached out a hand to shake Einarr’s shoulder. He slumped over, leaning against Naudrek’s sleeping back, and snored more loudly. He appeared to be fully dry.

The sound of an oar slipping out of the water came to his ears – an oar, or a fish jumping. Kaldr had been right about the water. Vali was right: Kaldr reached out with his hand and smudged the lines of Einarr’s sorcery.

At once the warm breeze ceased to be. The passage felt even colder now that it was gone – but Kaldr already felt more awake. He met Vali’s eyes and gave a small nod of appreciation that was returned in kind.

Something splashed in the water again and Naudrek jerked himself awake. Good instincts on that one. He kept himself awake longer than any of the others, too.

“What’s going on?” He still sounded half-asleep, but Kaldr could let that go.

“Not sure. Something in the water.”

Naudrek ran a palm down his face and rose to his feet, shaking Einarr by the shoulder to rouse him. That left Kaldr free to see to Thjofgrir. If they could let the Lady sleep, however, he thought they probably should.

A little bit later, Einarr stood shoulder to shoulder with the others, peering out over the water for any sign of the source of the noise. “What happened?” he asked.

Kaldr shook his head. “Ask Vali. He explained it to me, but it didn’t make a lot of sense.”

Einarr nodded. “I did not expect that to put me out like that. Thank you for handling the watch.”

Kaldr grunted. He hadn’t exactly done anything out of the ordinary. He’d almost gotten them all killed, in fact – if it hadn’t been for Vali’s warning.. “I heard a pair of splashes. You don’t think we’d be getting draugr in here, do you?”

“Gods, I hope not. The properly buried sort were bad enough… Whatever it was, it seems to be gone now.” He turned and knelt to wake Runa. Without the influence of the magic, she woke easily.

“Wh–”

“No time,” Einarr said, cutting off her inevitable question. “We need to get moving again.”

She nodded her understanding and, with a stiffness born of fatigue, she levered herself up off the floor. “Fine. But I expect someone to tell me why I was asleep on the floor of the cave while we move.”

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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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For a moment Naudrek merely floated, a pained expression on his face, but he did not let go his air, and after a moment he swam on.

Then a blast of even colder water slammed into Einarr’s side. Thanks to the moment’s warning from Naudrek, he was able to keep Runa from slamming bodily into the wall at the low cost of a shock to his knees. He hardly even felt it!

Worryingly, the water was starting to feel warmer, and Runa was not looking good. She hadn’t yet let go of her air, but he didn’t want to gamble on how long that would last.

He kicked off from the wall, hoping to hurry past the cross-current. Almost immediately, though, he was shoved back toward the cave wall. He tried to turn himself to take the impact again, but this time his legs tangled in Runa’s skirts. She reached down totry to pluck them away, but Einarr could tell immediately it wouldn’t be enough.

Just then, a surge of water came from behind them. Instead of impacting the wall, Einarr found himself being pushed along by Kaldr, with Thjofgrir helping Runa.

Thank the gods. Hagall and Kaun, to warm and dry us… no. Kaun is as like to scorch us. Sol. Sun and wind is what we need. Relieved of some of the burden of pressing forward, aiding Kaldr as much as Kaldr aided him, Einarr found he had a moment to think of what to do to save them from freezing after they exited the water. But, try as he might, he could not come up with an inscription with just those two runes, not in his current state.

It was not long after they all made it past the cross-current that the water began to grow shallower once more, and soon Einarr’s head was above water and he was trudging once more up the more-noticeable slope of the tunnel floor. Behind him, he heard Runa’s initial gasp for air, followed by no small amount of coughing. He glanced over his shoulder to see that she leaned heavily on Thjofgrir’s shoulder as he pulled them both towards the shallows of the frigid water.

Einarr and Kaldr, as they too emerged, leaned on each other’s shoulders. All of them were worn thin at this point – but their coming enforced rest was a cold comfort at best. Protection. Will that make for a proper … no. What I really need is like a whirlpool of warm air. …

That line, too, led nowhere.

Everyone’s lips and fingers were blue as they all stood shivering on once-again dry rock. Moving around would generate some heat, but not enough.

“Toss your cloaks around someone else’s shoulders. Huddle up,” he managed to say through numb lips and chattering teeth. It was a wonder anyone could understand him, but they did. Einarr stepped to the middle this time and drew out a piece of very wet, very cold chalk. He chafed it between his palms a little and was gratified to see that it still left white on his hands.

“Stamp your feet or something. Move around a bit. Keep us all from freezing while I try to figure out what Master Melja would do.”

“Y-y-y-you mean we hhhhhave to keep moving?” Runa complained. “I’m… so… tired. Can’t we just huddle up like this and go to sleep?”

She had dark circles under her eyes, but otherwise her skin was the blue-white of an iceberg. She probably was legitimately exhausted, too, but…

“Not if you want to wake up again. Come on. Have some trust.”

If he could have let her draw the inscription, he would have. But he had only a fuzzy idea of how it should look, and his mind was foggy too. He started to draw.

, for the warmth of the sun. His companions swayed in the circle around him.

, to move the air and warm their whole bodies and dry their clothes. The rhythmic stamp of their feet assured him no one had yet succumbed, despite their long stint in the water.

He pressed his chalk to the ground, thinking to draw , but that still seemed wrong. Kaldr groaned, a sleepy sound. Then, it hit him.

They were all exhausted, all wounded. To continue on, to reach their destination and aid their friend, they needed stamina. Rest and comfort. They needed .

He blinked several times rapidly. He was starting to have trouble staying awake himself. “Just… a little… longer,” he told them, distantly aware that he was slurring his words. That was fine: there was only one thing he needed to do now. He pressed his fingers against the triangle of runes he had just drawn and poured his will into the enchantment.


Runa, standing in the circle as her beloved had ordered, was only half-conscious when a warm breeze began to play around her ankles. It felt warm even though it was blowing through the wet fabric of her dress, which was impressive. She blinked, re-focusing her eyes.

There, on the floor of the tunnel in the middle of the circle, a neat triangle of runes glowed with light like sunlight. Einarr sat on the floor, his back to her, his hands still touching his diagram. She took a deep breath, and realized that her fatigue no longer felt so overwhelming. She let herself relax a little, her shoulders drooping as the warm breeze brought blood back to her skin.

Then she looked more closely at Einarr. Something didn’t look right. His shoulders slumped forward, and as she dropped to her knees to put a hand to his shoulder, she realized that his mouth hung open. A sound like a muffled shriek escaped her throat, and she put a hand to her mouth.

“My lady?” Kaldr, too, sounded groggy, and like his lips were still numb. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s Einarr, he’s…” She looked up at Kaldr, panic plain on her face.

“Not possible,” Naudrek said. “The runes are still going. I can feel myself drying out as we speak.”

“Yes, but look at him!”

Runa couldn’t tell if Kaldr was humoring her or genuinely alarmed as well, but the Mate knelt down beside his Lord and reached out a hand to feel for a pulse. Just then, before Kaldr could lay cold-reddened fingers against Einarr’s throat, Einarr’s shoulders heaved and he produced a tremendous snore.

“Oh.” Runa offered a wan smile by way of apology. She felt like she was normally sharper than this. Naudrek and Thjofgrir both chuckled – not, she thought, at her overreaction.

Kaldr, too, gave a thin smile. “Conscious or not, his sorcery seems to be affecting him, as well. We do not appear to be in immediate danger: likely the dvergr thought it worthwhile to give the wetting a chance to kill us, even if we happened to make it out of the water. Perhaps it would be worth our while to pause here – at least long enough for the sorcery to do its job.”

Next

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.

 

Einarr could hear the breath in his throat as he stumbled again in the corridor. Ahead of him, Naudrek didn’t look much better off – and this was after Runa had returned to the Song of Stamina. They weren’t even running, just now, merely trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other. There was only so much their bodies could handle, after all, and the dvergr traps were rapidly pushing them past it.

Almost like the dvergr had promised death to any who came this way.

The thought was fleeting, and unhelpful. Einarr quickly returned his focus to getting them all past whatever they were going to run up against next.

Naudrek stopped in his tracks and held up a hand for the others to wait as well. He shook his head, like he was trying to get water out of his ears, took a deep breath, and held it. A moment later, he let it go with an audible pah. “Does anyone else smell seawater?”

Dutifully, Einarr took a deep breath of his own: yes, that was definitely a sea-smell down here, in tunnels which had thus far been entirely dry. They must have left behind the sections of tunnel that were also used by dvergr when they ventured down that staircase. Though their exertions had masked it, the air down here had the chill that was common to all caves. Getting wet was going to be a problem. The floor remained smooth: he glanced down, and in the stretch of his light he saw no sharp spikes – but the floor was distinctly damp looking.

“Boots in your packs, everyone. Roll up your trousers – Runa, tie up your skirts as best you can. Thjofgrir, how good a swimmer are you?”

“Best on our boat,” he answered, gesturing at Kaldr, and Einarr didn’t think he was merely boasting.

“Good. Runa, give Thjofgrir the jar. You’re going to have enough trouble as it is with your clothes if we have to swim, there’s no sense weighing you down more with a jar full of water.”

He was hoping they wouldn’t have to do more than wade, and if that was the case this would allow them all to put on dry boots when they were past the water. If it wasn’t, though, they were still better off in the water with bare feet.

In spite of everything, it felt good to take off his boots. He flexed his toes against the damp stone floor and wondered just how cold the water ahead would be. Soon, everyone stood barefoot in the light of his shield, and Thjofgrir now held the jar upside down over his shoulder. Vali had not made any protests – at least, not yet – so Einarr said nothing. It might, maybe, keep the jar from filling with water, but whether that would be a boon or not when they were swimming he could not guess.

“All right. Forward, then.”

On they trudged, and the farther they went the more water they splashed through. It increased almost imperceptibly at first, their footsteps moving only slowly from wet smacking sounds to gentle splashes. Almost before they knew it the water was up to their ankles, and painfully biting cold. Runa made quiet growling noises as the icy water lanced at her ankles and her shins. Einarr could sympathize, but he was glad she made no complaints. There wasn’t really anything he could do about it.

They continued on, and soon the water was splashing around their knees. It seemed to be rising faster now, although the slope of the floor was still too shallow to draw attention to itself otherwise. Einarr thought he felt the water swirling around his rapidly numbing ankles, as though they were walking into a current. He only considered a moment. “Runa, come ahead of me.”

“What? Why?”

He offered her a rakish grin, even though there was nothing funny about their situation. “Why, so I can be the one to catch you if you fall, of course.”

Naudrek, ahead, shook his head and chuckled. She laughed, looking pleased, and complied. He had made a joke out of it, but it wasn’t, really. Runa had traveled some, but she was not a sailor.

Einarr drew in a muffled gasp as the water began climbing up his thighs and soaking his trousers. By the gods, that’s cold! His knees and his shins still ached from the icy water, but he was starting to have trouble feeling his toes. He turned his attention downward, which helped him keep his feet a little better now that they were nearly numb.

Before long, the water was creeping up over their waists, and it became clear that all their supplies would also be soaked. I hope our water skins are sealed tight. There was no point lifting their packs over their heads, even if they’d had the strength to spare. The passage had not grown any taller down here, and Einarr could see, not that far ahead, the surface of the water lapping at the roof. The current was definitely getting stronger, too. So far Runa had managed to keep her feet in spite of everything, but still he stood ready to keep her from being washed away.

The water lapped now about his armpits. I hope my chalk survives the passage. I should think about how to dry us out on the other side. That, of course, assumed there was another side: he tamped down on the idea of a dead end hard. Drowning would be an effective end, but hard to ensure in a flooded section like this. Probably the water was meant to sap their strength and soak them through, for something on the other side to finish the job.

Naudrek, still in the lead, took several deep breaths and plunged beneath the surface of the water. Runa pressed a hand against the ceiling as she imitated him, with Einarr and the others right behind.

Einarr was a little surprised that the cold could still shock him, but as it closed over his head it did. He managed not to let go of his breath as he slowly batted his eyes open. Naudrek swam ahead, still within the circle of light from Einarr’s damaged shield. Behind him, Runa struggled forward. Her skirts dragged her downward, and the current caught the cloth so that it swirled around her legs.

Einarr could not see the bottom. If they drowned here, their bodies would be gone forever. He kicked forward and took Runa’s arm over his shoulder. He could get her through like this, he was certain.

Naudrek was suddenly shoved from the side and struck up against the wall of the passage.

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.

 

Burned hair. Singed sleeves. Blistering skin on arms and legs and – yes – even faces. Einarr and his band rotated their way down the flaming hell of the staircase, and with every blast of flame their fatigue grew. Even Runa, much to Einarr’s shame – did not escape burns. Long before they reached a landing at the bottom, she began to Sing to maintain their stamina.

When, finally, all five of them stood on the first level ground they had come across in what felt like hours – and may have actually been – they stood for a long minute in their shell, panting and looking about the room they had come to.

It was, by all appearances, an empty room. A passage continued on some thirty feet ahead of them. The walls here, too, were carved, but where the intricate scrollwork and fanciful figures there served to conceal the nozzles of their fire traps, the carvings here were definitely martial in nature.

“Is everyone all right?” Einarr asked, knowing full well that everyone was injured, and began to lower his shield.

Thjofgrir, too, began to relax. “Well as can be expected, I think. Our shields are ruined, though.”

“Better our shields than our bodies,” Kaldr answered. His eyes still scanned the room suspiciously, and Einarr thought he saw gooseflesh on the man’s neck.

Einarr hummed in agreement. “We could all use a break,” he started to say, when a very familiar pop sounded from the opposite wall.

As one – almost – they raised their overheated, charred shields to defend against another blast. But what came their way here was not more fire.

It was javelins.

And the “almost” was Thjofgrir. His shield lagged just a heartbeat beyond the others – due to fatigue or his awkward posture or his burns, Einarr could not guess. But that heartbeat made all the difference.

Most of the javelins bounced off their shields, or even fell short. But Einarr and Naudrek both felt the heavy impact of the javelin against their shields – where it stuck. Thjofgrir cried out in pain. When Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder, he saw the big man clutching his shoulder with his sword arm. Then the man growled and brought the shield up anyway, knocking the shaft of the javelin to the side.

That was the first volley.

“Kaldr! Shield him. Naudrek – shield Runa and me. Runa, I need you to use the Healing song.” Einarr dropped his shield, the javelin still lodged fast in the wood.

Thjofgrir was already gingerly pulling at the shaft of the javelin, but not having any luck dislodging it. It didn’t take Einarr long to see why: the head of the javelin was barbed. They were angon, not mere javelins. Einarr drew his belt knife as he moved to assist and the first notes of the Song of Healing flowed over them.

That was when the second volley flew, barbed heads coming at them again from seemingly every direction.

Without thinking, Einarr turned to shield the wounded Thjofgrir with his back. He heard a curse from Naudrek, but nothing really registered beyond keeping their wounded friend alive. He brought his knife up towards Thjofgrir’s shoulder. “This is going to hurt.”

One of the angon crashed into the center of his back. The impact made him stagger, but curiously he felt no blood, and he was not impaled. The brokkrsteel. Once again, he had Jorir’s foresight to thank for his own life – but now was not the time. Without wasting another breath, he slashed across the shoulder wound with the knife, opening it up enough to extract the barbs of the angon.

Thjofgrir was going to need more than just the Song of Healing, but now that the angon was out they should be able to bandage it. It looked as though the Song was already working to stanch the flow of blood.

As quickly as he had come to aid, Einarr spun out and picked up his half-destroyed shield. It was unweildy with the javelin stuck through it, but their best hope of survival was to ignore that and fight on.

Thjofgrir still held his wound closed with his hand, but he was steadier on his feet already. They had to get out of here.

As the volley of angon finished, Einarr took a deep breath. “Run for the tunnel!”

Runa, unable to Sing and run at the same time, threw her arms about Einarr’s neck and rode on his back as they frantically tried to escape the hail of fire.

Kaldr held back, letting Naudrek move forward into the lead so that he could assist Thjofgrir – which Einarr appreciated, even as he was entirely unsurprised by it. Those two had been working together for at least a decade now.

Now that they were moving again it was a constant barrage, as though there were layers upon layers of whatever was launching these, and each one would reset itself. Einarr felt sluggish: the angon tore through Runa’s skirts, which trailed behind them like a flag, and scratched across his calf, but somehow he managed to shield both their bodies from the wicked tips. Even still, he was not that much ahead of Kaldr and Thjofgrir when he rushed through the threshold of the tunnel and stood, panting, while Runa set herself down and smoothed her skirts. She gave him a grateful smile as she continued to Sing.

Naudrek proved himself once again: as Thjofgrir and Kaldr staggered through, he thrust a long, thick cloth at Kaldr. “For the arm.”

“Be quick,” Einarr said, his breathing still coming in gasps. “The dvergr aren’t likely to have set things up to give any respite at this point.”

Kaldr did not waste any breath answering: he simply nodded his acknowledgment as he deftly tied the cloth around Thjofgrir’s shoulder. Thjofgrir tested the binding by rolling his arm – as well as the ceiling would allow – and gave his Captain a nod.

“We’re ready.”

“Good.” Einarr gestured for Naudrek to lead on even as he spoke. “Runa, when you think Thjofgrir’s shoulder is put back together well enough, we could really use that other Song.”

Einarr’s legs were beginning to feel like jelly, and his arms weren’t much better, but he was plagued by the certainty that to stop now would mean death.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

 

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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