Einarr’s scream was followed quickly by Runa’s as the light shifted from one, central source of dim white light to a diffuse green. Kaldr spun on his heels, only to see his Prince collapsing to the floor, and the Lady racing across to where he fell.

“What happened?” he called across as he returned his attention to the hall beyond. The beast was far too close for comfort.

“I don’t know!” It was Vali who answered: Kaldr assumed the Lady was examining Einarr. “We finally found the door, but there didn’t seem to be any way to open it from this side. So Einarr drew Bjarkan, and then… this.” Disconcertingly, he cackled.

Kaldr tightened his grip on his sword. This could get very bad, very fast.

Not much light reached the passage, but what did was just enough to prove they were out of time. A fleshy-looking white rod impacted with the wall, just at the edge of what Kaldr could see, and then vanished again.

“Runa? Is he all right?”

“He’ll be fine, I think. The backlash knocked him out, but -”

The beast’s chirrup, from down the hall, sounded more like the hunting cry of a wyrm at this distance. Whatever it was, there wouldn’t be much choice but to fight it.

“But?”

“But his breathing is normal. I’m not sure… no! Damn these dvergr! It’s the statues!”

An unnerving giggle echoed through the chambers, plainly from the apparition.

“Explain. Quickly.” Kaldr took a step back from the doorway so that he would be half-hidden by the stone and motioned for Thjofgrir and Naudrek to do the same. It was starting to sound like Vali would be little help here.

“Sculpting is the Art of Defense. It basically cancels static magic.”

Thunderous footsteps sounded in the hall, far too close to the door.

“It’s not great for me, either, but I’ll do what I can.”

Kaldr met eyes with Thjofgrir. The other man gave a familiar wry grin. Naudrek looked grim as he limbered his shoulders and neck. They were in for the fight of their lives, but it looked like they were all up for it.

Kree-ee-ee!

The noise reverberated so loudly Kaldr worried it would bring down the ceiling on them, dvergr work or no. Then it stuck its head inside, even as a glowing green mist rose up around them all. Are you trying to help us or not, Vali? Even if he was, Kaldr wasn’t certain how helpful thick fog was going to be here.

The beast’s head was shaped like a snake’s, but instead of dry scales here they saw moist, slimy-looking skin and gill slits, like a fish might have. Between the cheeks and the gills, little tentacles writhed like worms in a frill around its head.

“Now!” Kaldr shouted, unnecessarily. Thjofgrir was already in motion, his blade held in both hands and his shield still slung over his shoulder. It hissed as blood welled up from the cut, but even from this angle Kaldr could tell it was just a shallow strike.

The creature’s head had fit through the door, but it was having to fight to get its shoulders in. Kaldr lunged forward and cut at the gills. Its skin felt preternaturally tough, though, so even though he knew it to be a solid hit, it too merely welled with a thin line of blood.

Naudrek, in the center, saw both of these blows glance off the beast’s slimy flesh. He stood a moment longer, studying the creature. Then, with a nod to himself, he took a step back and then leaped onto its nose, sword-tip first.

The beast let out another of its shockingly loud chirps and shook its head, this way and that, trying to shake off the prey that had stuck its nose. Well. It didn’t like that.

Kaldr was up next to its neck, now, even as its first four-toed leg was wriggling through. Each of those toes had claws as long as a dagger, and likely just as sharp.

The eerie, mad laughter echoed through the room again, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. The fog no longer seemed to glow in and of itself, but rather little balls of what he could only term ghost fire hung in the air around the beast’s head. Kaldr could see it squinting against the light, sideways membranes squeezing to cover most of the eye.

There was something strangely familiar about the form of this beast, but Kaldr did not have time to dwell on it. He stabbed his sword forward, straight into the gills.

It hissed and tried to close its gills around his sword.

He hopped back. Too hasty. What else might work?

Then the beast got its second leg in. Now that its shoulders were through the door, there was very little to bar the slimy creature from getting to all of them. Very little, save for the four of them. Kaldr had to do better than that.

Naudrek had gained his footing again, just long enough to retrieve his sword from its nose and plunge it down again. It hissed and reared up, trying to dislodge the offending creature on the ceiling. While it was stretched up on its toes, Kaldr hacked at them.

This time, his blow did what he expected it to, and three of the beast’s webbed toes were sheared off.

That got its attention. It twisted its head around and bit at Kaldr.

Naudrek, still on its nose, drew out his sword again and stabbed at the inside of the jaw, just behind the row of sharp, needle-like teeth. Amazingly, he did not lose his sword to its bite.

And that was when Vali, the apparition bound to a jar, began to wail.

Kaldr was only aware of it at first as a prickling on the back of his neck and a feeling of deep unease, even above fighting this monstrosity that had been chasing them for who knows how long through these accursed tunnels. But then the feeling of unease grew until it felt like the room was vibrating with it, and with the hollow rage of a spirit forever bound to – what?

Even the hungry beast seemed to shiver at the sound – right up until Thjofgrir took its other foreleg at the knee. Now it lay, half inside their only sanctuary, on its chest, hissing and chirping and biting around itself left and right. Kaldr almost felt sorry for it: it was now down two legs. They would have to kill it, if they could.

That was the moment that Runa began to Sing.

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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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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

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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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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.

 

The tricky part was getting Runa across.

Thjofgrir had taken a running leap across the space marked out by Vali and, since none of them had been able to spot the expected ‘keyhole,’ deliberately triggered and then destroyed the hinges at the top. That was not going to win them any love from the dvergr, Einarr feared, but it had neatly solved the problem.

Once Einarr and Kaldr were both returned to the path, Thjofgrir tossed the rope across to Naudrek, and the two of them braced themselves against the walls, the rope pulled tight and tied about their waists.

Runa bit her lower lip, trying to determine the best way across. With a nod to herself, she sat on the ledge and grabbed the rope in both hands, then swung across hand-over-hand like she was hanging from a tree branch. Einarr, trying not to hold his breath, sat down with his legs over the edge to help her up when she was in reach.

Halfway across the rope, she nearly missed her grasp. Einarr felt his heart leap in his throat, but she didn’t even cry out. Instead, she swung her legs back and forth until she had the momentum to reach for it again. Moments later, he was helping her up onto the ledge and out of the way of Naudrek as he, too, leaped across.

When it was plain that they were still all in one piece, they started off down the tunnel once more, perhaps a little more warily now that they knew there were still traps to be reckoned with.

From here the trail became more complicated, with side passages and intersections showing up at irregular intervals as they walked. They kept to the left, as that had worked relatively well before, but still Einarr marked their path with chalk. They sent Vali ahead now to seek out more of the trap shutters. Now that they knew to look for them, they were easy enough to avoid, and not one of them was eager to test their luck again against those wicked spikes.

It seemed strange, honestly, that their path had not trended more steeply downward. Myrkheim was underground, after all, and he was certain there were divers that could go deeper than they already had. Not that that sort of measure meant much on a magical path, he supposed: the High Roads seemed to compress distances as you traveled along them, so that a sea voyage of weeks took only a few hours. Could it be that this path did something similar, only with elevation?

After they had avoided a large handful of those pits, they found themselves facing a dead end. The dvergr had gone to the trouble to inscribe a message on the wall ahead of them:

Think ye strong
Surviving these pratfalls?
Yet the path forward lays behind
And it is only the fool
Who outwits himself.

Einarr growled at the cheap taunt, then read it aloud. “Back we go, everyone. Much slower: I want every inch of this tunnel examined so we don’t miss our turn again.”

Back they went. The walls and floor all seemed just as solid this time through as they had initially – right up until they got to the last of the pit traps.

When they had first passed that final pit, they had all scoffed. It was like the dvergr just didn’t care by then: “oh – heh heh heh – have another pit just for fun.”

Einarr and Kaldr stood at the edge of that trap and shared a look. “What do you think?” Einarr asked, already knowing the answer.

“I think if you wanted every inch examined, we need to at least look. We know where the mechanism is now, so we should be able to lock it open almost as well as we locked it closed before.”

Einarr nodded. The first pit trap had not had any exits, but that didn’t mean the others wouldn’t. And it would go a long way toward explaining the shoddy work on hiding this one. “Once it’s open, who wants to be the first one down?”

Vali did a handstand. “What? Not going to just order me to do it?”

“Nope. Taking volunteers this time.”

“Well that’s silly of you. Once the door’s open I shouldn’t be trapped down there, and you all have to worry about those spikes. Just send me and be done with it.” From someone else, the words could have sounded petulant, but that was one expression he’d never yet seen on the ghost.

Einarr shook his head, an amused smile playing on his face. “The job is yours, then. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, if you would jam it open?”

Now that they knew where to look for the mechanism, they were not reliant on Thjofgrir’s ability to destroy the hinges. Before long, the last pit stood open before them.

It was easily a 20-foot drop to the floor, and once again the pit was filled with those unnaturally smooth, sharp stalagmites. Vali wasted no time in floating down into the bear trap, and before long they heard his otherworldly laughter floating up into their tunnel. “Cheeky bastards.”

“What did you find?”

“Stairs. Get ye down here.” Vali chuckled again.

There was still no good place to tie a rope, so Thjofgrir once again tied it about his waist and braced himself as the others slid down.

“Everyone clear?” He called down from above.  Runa moved further out of the way even as she still shook her rope-burned hands.

“Clear!”

Thjofgrir made another of his impressive leaps off the ledge. Unlike Einarr, before, he turned himself and managed to roll off his shield and his shoulder in spite of the stalagmites. Naudrek whistled, impressed.

As he had come to expect, Vali’s report was accurate, and yet left out certain rather large details – largely ones, Einarr expected, that struck him as funny. In this case, there was in fact a staircase leading down from the wall immediately under where Einarr and the rest of his team stood. The walls of that stair, in stark contrast to the walls above, were ornately carved with elaborate scrollwork over every inch. The stairs were not carved, of course, but they were narrow and steep, and evidently formed of blocks rather than cut from the living rock.

Runa, standing a little back of the entryway, reached for her herbal pack – probably after more peppermint.

Einarr’s nose twitched. “Does anyone else smell something fishy?”

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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.

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.

 

Where Einarr had expected to see a third switchback, they were instead presented with a fork in the road. There was, of course, no good way of telling which way was north down here, and so with a shrug they turned left.

A little further on, the path split again. Again they went left.

Then left. Einarr growled softly in the back of his throat. This was taking too long: had they missed a turn?

Kaldr stopped, evidently sensing Einarr’s hesitancy. “What is it?”

Einarr shook his head, knowing his Mate wouldn’t see it. “I don’t know. Something feels off, is all.”

“Is there anything that doesn’t feel off down here?”

Naudrek, behind Runa, snorted.

Einarr smirked. “Not really, no.” He sighed, then. “Keep your eyes open. This may be the dvergr’s path… or we may have missed another secret and wandered into more traps.”

He could hear the frown in Runa’s voice as she spoke. “Should we douse the shield and try your runestone again?”

“Not if there’s any way around it. Have you ever stared out over the open ocean at noon on a clear day, when the sun shimmers on the water?”

“Far too often,” Thjofgrir answered from the rear.

Einarr nodded to himself. That was a much better comparison for a sailor than a Singer, after all. “After a while, your eyes start to hurt. It’s too bright. Using the runestone is like that, if instead of just the water the sun was also reflecting off the air around you. I feel like if we tried that down here we’d blind someone.”

Runa said nothing: he hoped that meant she understood.

“Go on, Kaldr. There’s not really anything else we can do but keep walking.”

A little further on, they came to a room where pathways branched off like spokes on a wheel. Kaldr paused at the entrance, surveying the room. “Left and right are basically meaningless here. I count eight branches.”

Einarr sighed and closed his eyes, clearing his mind. Then, with a nod, he opened them again and drew his chalk from the pouch at his belt. “Third to the right. I’ll mark it with chalk as we go.”

“Why right?”

He shrugged. “Call it a hunch.”

As they neared the center of the room, though, a wave of vertigo swept over Einarr and he felt himself stagger. He raised his head and blinked, trying to re-orient himself, even as he saw the others doing the same. “What was that?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Kaldr grumbled. “How are you feeling, Lady Runa?”

“A little unsteady yet, but don’t worry about me. The peppermint has my stomach well in order.”

Einarr wrapped an arm about her waist. “Say something if you need a break, all right?”

“Of course.” She offered him a slightly wan smile, but it did not look any more ill than he felt.

“It was third from the right, wasn’t it?”

“Third from the right, counted from the passage we just left.”

“…And which one was that?” Naudrek asked.

A moment of silence passed as they all realized – even Vali – that they just didn’t know.

“Did you make a chalk mark as we left?” Kaldr asked.

“I did, yes.”

“So where is that?”

Einarr turned around, searching for the mark he had made not two minutes earlier. What looked like a smudge of white was visible on the wall in one of the tunnels off to their left. “I see it. There.”

When they followed the path that led them on, however, they found themselves back at the switchbacks. Einarr pressed his lips into a line. Had it been the wrong path, or had he gotten more turned around than he thought?

They retraced their steps, and once again found themselves at the room with eight doors.

His chalk mark was gone.

Pursing his lips, he made another chalk mark. “Something is very strange here. Try the fifth on the left this time – and let’s hug the wall as we go.

No sooner had Thjofgrir stepped into the room, however, than the wave of vertigo swept over them all again. Once he had his feet, Einarr retraced his steps.

They had not even left the room yet, and his chalk mark was gone. He cursed.

“Kaldr, how many doors had you passed when the vertigo hit?”

“Two… I think.”

“We have to trust something. Three more, then.”

As they filed out of the room, he once more made a chalk mark on the wall.

Not much further on, they came to another Y in the paths. Kaldr stopped short. “I feel like we’ve been here before, too.”

Runa groaned. Einarr couldn’t blame her.

“In that case, let’s backtrack. Back to the wheel room. There’s plainly something in there we’re missing.” It was possible he was wrong, granted. But if the dvergr had gone to all the trouble of putting this kind of a ward on that room, chances were good there was an actual way forward.

As the third wave of vertigo passed, Runa sat down in the middle of the floor. “Sorry. Just give me a minute to chew some more peppermint and drink some water.”

“Take the time you need. I wasn’t planning on moving on right away this time anyway. Everyone else – we’re combing the room. We’re looking for a ninth passage.”

Thjofgrir cleared his throat. “So, maybe this is a silly question, but… what if it’s a trap door we need?”

Einarr paused, considering. It wasn’t a bad thought, but… “I don’t think it will be. Up until this point, the Paths have been big enough a dvergr could have wheeled a small cart up and down. They use these passages to transport their goods for sale, I think.”

Evidently satisfied, Thjofgrir shrugged and nodded. The five of them began their search methodically, from the door they had just entered by and working up both sides of the room.

“Hey!” Naudrek said, when he was a little more than halfway up the left. “I think I found something.”

Einarr stepped away from the section of wall he and Vali examined. “Show me.”

Naudrek was standing in front of a narrow crack in the wall. Even knowing there was something there, Einarr could not see it until he was right next to the wall. “You just might be right,” he mused. “They’d have trouble taking a cart through here, but I think if we all turn sideways and squeeze a little we can get through. Gather up, everyone!”

With obvious reluctance, Runa stood up and moved over to join the rest of them at the crack.

“Kaldr, will you do the honors again?”

“Naturally.”

Einarr followed him in, leading with his illuminated shield. The others squeezed in behind them.

He blinked. What happened to Kaldr?

The next thing he knew, the floor dropped out from beneath his feet.

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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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Abruptly, Kaldr gave a violent shake of his head. “No. None of these. There’s something we’re missing – there has to be.”

“Why’s that?” Thjofgrir asked without looking up from the lines of runes on the floor.

“Because the dwarves use these tunnels. There has to be another door, one that’s hard to find if you’re not a dvergr.”

Einarr nodded, glad that Kaldr had realized and wondering why he, himself, had not. “You’re right, there must be. Runa, do you remember any more of that tale?”

“What t… oh. Sif’s golden hair.”

“Right.”

“Let me think on it.” Once again she began to hum to herself. Einarr had no idea if there was actually magic in the tune or if it was a simple mnemonic, but either way, with a little patience, it usually turned up the information she was looking for.

Loki dvergr-friend
Was gifted knowledge
Of the true path
Beyond all artifice

And so he laughed
To see the choice
Laid before the unwary…

“Sorry. Not sure how much that actually helps here.”

Everyone frowned, considering. At last, Einarr let out a sigh.

“Not helpful after all?” Runa asked, looking far more upset than that would warrant.

“No, not that. I think I can find it… just it’s a trick I don’t like using.”

“More magic?” Kaldr raised an eyebrow, exasperated.

“More magic. When we were chasing down Urdr through her tunnels, Troa and I had to seek out a hidden door like this.” He took his shield off his arm and rested it on the floor by their notes. “Someone toss a cloak over that, mostly. I don’t want to blind myself.”

While they did that, he drew out a piece of chalk and his runestone of ᚫ. He didn’t activate it right away, but stood looking at it pensively until the light was dim. Right. Just as he had done in the tunnel with Troa, Einarr willed the runestone to enhance his sight.

Just as happened last summer, the dim light shining forth from underneath Thjofgrir’s cloak was nearly blindingly bright, and he dared not do more than glance at the obvious, rune-marked doors with their multi-colored flames. He turned his back to them and found that he now looked directly at the passage they had entered through. From the middle of the room, he saw details that he wouldn’t expect to see unless he was right next to the wall. Nothing jumped out at him yet, but he hadn’t really expected it to. He walked towards the far wall of the chamber until every tiny divot in the surface of the stone was plain before his eyes. Then he turned and began walking towards the trap doors, examining every inch of the wall as he went.

As he neared the obvious doors he found he had to squint against the light. They were lined up, one right next to the other, so he walked from the outer edge of ᛃ, on one end, to the outer edge of ᛁ on the other. Fitting, he thought, that ᛇ – dreams – should be in the middle of ᚲ (fire) and ᚻ (air).

He had gone three quarters of the way around the room before he spotted what appeared to be a cunningly made seam in the wall. Even with his currently enhanced vision (which was beginning to give him a headache) he almost couldn’t see it. But, no natural crack would be so regular, or such a perfect arch.

If anything, the hidden doorway was even lower than the obvious ones – if the tunnel was similarly low, Thjofgrir might not be the only one reduced to crawling down on hands and knees. He tapped on the wall with his knuckle, but if it was hollow he could not hear well enough to tell. And there’s simply no way I’m going to try getting this stone to enhance my hearing. In theory, the rune of Wisdom could, for the same reason it could enhance his vision… but he worried about the state of his ears afterwords, if every sound were magnified the way this tiny bit of light was.

“I found it.”

Even as he spoke, he traced the chalk around the outside of the almost-invisible seam.

“You’re sure?” Vali asked.

“As sure as I can be. I’ll finish my circuit, just to verify there’s nothing else.”

There was nothing else, at least so far as he could see. Einarr closed his eyes and let go of the vision enhancement. “Please uncover my shield now.”

“Yes, sir,” Thjofgrir answered. It sounded almost automatic: here was a man who would be lost without a boat to tend. When Einarr opened his eyes and turned around, the big man was settling his cloak back around his shoulders.

“As you might expect of dwarven artistry, there is hardly even a seam to be found, let alone a catch or hinges. I presume we’re all agreed, though, that we need to get it open?”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow again. “Need you even ask?”

“Good. Then come on. Whatever else this door is, it’s solid.”

They spent far more time than Einarr truly liked prodding and shoving at the great stone door concealed in the rock before them. Finally, all four of the living men put their shoulders to it at once.

The door ground slowly open.

Inside, the passage continued. narrower but (thankfully) no shorter than the initial path that placed them before the doors. The floor was just as smooth, and the walls just as plainly carved out. Einarr paused a moment before entering, feeling oddly hesitant. Did I miss something? He shook his head. “Are we ready?”

Kaldr nodded and stepped forward, ready to be the point leader.

“Thjofgrir, you’re our rear guard again …No turning back now.” Einarr gestured, and Kaldr stooped to enter the hidden passage. Einarr followed with the light.

The path now traveled distinctly downward, although not so steeply they wished for stairs. Before long, the path turned gently back around on itself, as though the path were built with small carts in mind. Which, when Einarr thought of it, would make a great deal of sense, given their abilities as craftsmen and the demand among men for dwarven goods. Even now, though, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he was missing something important.

Above them, unseen because their enforced stooping would not allow them to look up, small thorn runes illuminated as they passed.

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 dry wind swept across the barren plain under a gray sky when they awakened the next morning. Einarr, as the first up, sat up to survey the land around them. Not long after, Vali returned from his patrol.

“Well? How bad is it?”

The ghost offered a wan half-smile. “Miles and miles of… this, I’m afraid. Nothing but flat dirt and rocks, except for the glacier that basically cuts the land in half, and most of that is dirt-colored too.”

“Well, at least it should be easy coming back to camp at night?” It was a poor attempt at levity, and Einarr knew it. How were they supposed to find an entrance to the underground if there were no mountains – or even hills – to check for caves? The glacier might hide them, he supposed, but that didn’t do them any good.

“You’re sure about this, then?” Vali sounded uncharacteristically nervous.

“As sure as I can be. Why? Was there something else?”

“No, and that’s the trouble. I’d be less worried if I’d seen signs that anything lives here. But, nothing.”

Einarr shook his head. “I haven’t even seen any moss. There’s nothing to eat, and nothing to nest with. You’re right: it’s eerie, but it’s probably deliberate.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”

“Nor I, really.”

“Then I ask again. Are you certain you want to go forward with this? With not just your wife but your heir along?”

It was a concern: he would be lying if he tried to say it wasn’t. But his gut said Jorir was in trouble, and Einarr couldn’t just abandon the dwarf. Then something struck Einarr and he quirked an eyebrow in amusement. “Why is it the ghost who’s unnerved by all this?”

Vali smiled, but it was a wistful expression. “The same reason grandfathers urge more caution than grandsons. More years, more experience.”

“It hardly matters,” Runa said with a yawn, sitting up behind them. “We’ve got to see this through if we ever want to get back to Breidelstein.”

Einarr paled at that. “What do you mean?”

The others sat upright from their blankets just in time to hear Runa’s answer.

“I mean, that between the kraken and the maelstrom – which, I think we will find, will be the same no matter what direction we sail – we’re stuck in these waters until we have a guide to get us through.”

“Well, that’s that, then,” Thjofgrir said with a wry grin. “No backing down even if we wanted to.”

Kaldr hummed. “Then I suppose it’s for the best we have no intention of doing so. Although, I do wish we could have learned that was a one-way trip before we passed through.”

“I can think of three ways we could have learned that, and the only one which does not involve magic seems highly improbable, Kaldr.” Einarr bristled a little. Kaldr would never suggest divination, by rune or thread, but expecting Runa to have that level of lore was ludicrous.

“Peace, peace. I meant to cast no aspersions.” With a sigh, Kaldr stood. “But if we are stuck here, with no means of resupply, until we can acquire a dvergr guide, I suggest we start our search. We will go hungry long before we die of thirst, but even that will come far too swiftly.”


At Vali’s advice, the party set off for the edge of the glacier. Most likely, unless there were something truly outlandish like a door into nothing, they would find their path under the snow and ice. Before the morning was halfway through, all of them found themselves sweating profusely.

“Why is it so accursed hot?” Naudrek grumbled, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. “We’re marching towards a glacier, aren’t we?”

Runa, chewing a peppermint leaf as she trudged through the dust, answered. “We were just north of Imperial waters when we struck out for this land,” she started. “But I suppose that doesn’t quite answer, does it.”

Einarr offered her a hand to cross a particularly rough patch. “Not exactly, no.”

“This is all a guess, mind you… but I do not think we are entirely in our own world right now. We have reached the doorstep, as it were, still mostly in our own world, but about two steps from Myrkheimr. The rules of Midgard are attenuated, and we can expect to see mysterious phenomena. Count yourselves lucky that thus far all we’ve seen is the silence of a graveyard and the unusual heat.”

She paused, and looked back. “Best hope there is no wind today while we are out.”

They all stopped in their tracks and followed her gaze. The camp had completely disappeared into the haze of the sky, leaving only their tracks in the dust to show where they had come from. There were no landmarks to remember their route by. Einarr closed his eyes and took a deep breath: he could feel it, although it felt oddly attenuated.

“I can find our camp – for now, at least. We’ll slow our pace until noon: Naudrek, I need you to build us blazes. Cairns, spaced out so we can just see one from the next. Everyone else should collect stones as we walk. That way, even if I can’t feel my ward anymore, we should still be able to get back to where I can.”

“Aye, sir,” the men chorused, and Runa nodded her acknowledgment as well. As they began moving again, Kaldr harrumphed. “It seems your seithir has some use, anyway.”

Einarr cast his current Mate a sidelong look. “Certainly more than I expected it to when I started out. Do you want to know the major reason Hrug is so much better at it than I am?”

“I suppose.”

“He actually thinks to use it. We could have known about the kraken and the maelstrom ahead of time, if I were more practiced at divinations.”

“I think, my lord, that it is actually better that we did not know. It would have changed nothing, in the end.”

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.