A week after their encounter with the accursed ship of the demon cult, a small, dark island appeared on the horizon. According to all the charts, it had to be Thorndjupr.
The sense of gloom hanging over the island only grew more intense as they approached. It wasn’t just that the trees were black pine: it was almost as though the color had been leached from the world around that island. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, but it was grey and so was the water below. The surface of the island looked to be as smooth as a hilltop on the plains save for one tall pillar of a mountain in the very center. It was as though a giant had stood still on the seafloor long enough that an island had grown up over his helmet.
As the harbor town began to become clear on the shore, Einarr stood and looked at the island his grandfather had once called home. “Well,” he said, half to himself. “I guess this is it. At least we aren’t going to have to scale any cliffs – not immediately, anyway.”
He could tell the exact moment when the people in the harbor spotted their incoming ship: it was when the men moving around the docks put down their loads and jogged for shore to cluster in the shadows. Such was the hazard, sometimes, of traveling in a longship. As they drew closer, however, and the men ashore heard no battle chanting, and saw no helmeted heads, they emerged from the shadows to stare sullenly at the incoming ship.
A hollow pit formed in Einarr’s stomach as he stared back, getting a good look at the people that used to be his grandfather’s… or perhaps his great-grandfather’s. He saw no women about whatsoever, and very few children. These were all older, on the cusp of adolescence, and had none of the vigor of childhood about them. To a head, the people of the town were thin, sallow, and as beaten-down as the people of Breidelstein before their liberation.
Einarr drew his shoulders back as they drew in by the pier, even as he shared a wary look with Naudrek. The island was already as ill-favored as the name suggested, and they hadn’t even landed yet. Instead, as the Heidrun slowed to a stop by the pier, he stepped forward and called out to a passing dockworker. “Hail, sir! Is the harbormaster about?”
The man stopped and looked up at him from dark, hooded eyes. “Ain’t no Harbormaster. Ain’t no-one stoppin’ you, either. Come ashore if’n you must, but you’ll find neither treasure nor glory here.”
“My thanks. I seek no glory, nor treasure of the ordinary sort. I seek a sword of my fathers’.”
The dockworker snorted and went about his way.
“That… didn’t go badly,” Einarr muttered to Naudrek and Eydri, who flanked him.
“It didn’t go well, either,” Naudrek said.
“I mislike the looks of this place, Einarr,” Eydri answered, her voice low but urgent. “I know I wanted to come, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is no shame in having a new sword forged.”
“No shame, perhaps, but no time once we return either. No: we are here, and we will see this through. This… seems to be what it means to be a Cursebreaker.”
Eydri snorted, but said no more. At Naudrek’s order, Svarek hopped from the bulwark to the pier and caught the ropes to moor the Heidrun.
Einarr turned to address his crew. “Alright, everyone. We all know why we’re here. We need to find out where the barrow of Grandfather Raen’s father Ragnar is. I assume, although I don’t know, that they were once the lords of this island. Given the …quality of the people we’ve seen thus far, however, it might pay to be a little circumspect in your questions.”
A rumble of agreement moved across the crew of the Heidrun.
“We still need to act quickly, however. We only have a little more than a month before we need to be back in Breidelstein, and most of that time needs to be on the water. So, Hrug, pick two to help you guard the ship. Everyone else, into town. Let’s find out what’s going on.”
Before long, there were only four people aboard ship: Hrug and his two guards, and Einarr. Eydri and Naudrek waited on the pier.
“You brought your rune sticks, right, Hrug?”
When the mute sorcerer nodded, Einarr went on. “Good. Will you see what you can divine about this place? Something gives me the shivers, and I want to know what.”
Hrug nodded again, and Einarr started down the plank with a wave. “Thanks, Hrug. We’ll be back.”
The lack of women out and about in town disturbed Einarr on some level. They weren’t even out working in the yards of houses, or serving in the local public hall. He could not afford to leave Eydri on the ship however, even if he was willing to offend her by suggesting it. Thus, as they moved into the town to ask their questions, she was flanked by himself and Naudrek.
The men in the streets, however, were as uninterested in talking as the dockworker had been. Finally, the three companions made their way back into the public hall and put down some coin for a bit of supper and some information.
The food that came back to them was a thin seafood soup, more broth than anything, and hard dark bread. Gamely, Einarr dunked his bread in the broth and tried to take a bite: for his trouble, he bit down on a pebble that should never have made it out of the mill. He set the bread back on the edge of the wooden truncheon and looked at the boy who had served it. “Can I ask you some questions?”
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