They waited in silence until they were sure Kharmor was out of earshot and off the docks – with the way sound carried over water, the second was required for the first. Then Kaldr turned to Runa.
“What do you know about these Paths of Stone?”
She shook her head, her hair tickling Einarr’s nose. “Little enough. I’d have said they were as much a legend as the High Roads a few years ago.” Runa frowned, scrunching up her nose as she tried to recall. “There was something from my time with the Matrons, though…”
She started to hum, very quietly. Over the last month, Einarr had seen her do that whenever she gave a matter serious thought. “Once, when Loki journeyed to Myrkheimr to claim gifts of appeasement for the gods from the craftsmen of the dvergr…
East, and east he went, to
Wasteland, rock and ice. There
Sought he the entrance, mark’d
By dvergr pride…
She opened her eyes. “There’s more, but I don’t know that it really helps us. At least not yet.”
Thjofgrir scratched at the back of his neck. “Not sure how much that really helps us. East of what? And what in the world does it mean by ‘dvergr pride’?”
Vali laughed, sending a shiver down everyone’s spine. Thjofgrir looked annoyed.
Einarr looked at the transparent face of their resident ghost. “Why is that funny?”
“Your pretty little wife should know the answer to that. Even before I was bound to the jar, skalds could never tell you anything straight.”
Runa settled back against Einarr’s chest, and he could hear the smile in her voice. “He’s right, really. That only sounds straightforward. Oh, East is true enough, and probably the line about the wasteland is literal. But there are four great houses of dwarves, one in each direction, for the four original sons of Ymir who held up the heavens.”
Kaldr blinked at that. “Excuse me, what?”
“That’s the story, anyway. Probably the truth of it is buried under yet more layers of metaphor. But when Loki went to ask the dvergr for Sif’s golden hair, he traveled to the house in the east. And Mýrarhöfn is already in the eastern seas, and near the warm Imperial waters. If we head east from here, there should be a barren island that holds an entrance to the Paths of Stone.”
Kaldr looked straight at Einarr. “Once it’s light we can consult the charts, but I can think of a couple of likely options if we continue east from here.”
Einarr nodded. “Let’s do it, then. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, I don’t care how you do it, but get us fresh water. …Kaldr, you go with them. Vali, you’re on watch.”
“Yes, sir!” came the answering chorus.
As for himself, he had a new wife to see to.
Ten days out of Mýrarhöfn, with land nowhere in sight, Runa found that the rocking of the Villgås no longer agreed with her stomach. That evening, her face still a little green, she admitted to Einarr that her monthlies had been significantly delayed.
Einarr’s cheer echoed across the waves.
“Not so loud, my love,” she said, wincing. “I think an alf on the High Roads heard you.”
“Let them!” Einarr laughed.
“This is joyous news indeed,” Kaldr drawled. He didn’t sound particularly joyous, however. “Tell me, my lord, what happens if we’re attacked with the Lady Runa in this state?”
“We protect our Singer, of course. Just as always.”
“I see.” Kaldr pursed his lips, evidently still displeased, but said no more.
Runa tisked. “Come now, Kaldr. It’s not like I’m going to suddenly forget all the training I had from the Matrons. Nor does pregnancy typically interfere with Song Magic – if anything, it enhances it.”
Kaldr hummed. Einarr, though, blinked in surprise. “Truly?”
“Truly. It’s based on resonance and emotional states, after all.”
“Would that not also make your witchcraft less stable, my lady?”
Runa hesitated. “Sometimes,” she finally answered. “Although if I might make a recommendation? Referring to your prince’s wife as a witch is not particularly wise even under ordinary circumstances.”
“I will keep that in mind, my lady.” Kaldr offered her a slight bow and moved to the prow, where he stood looking out over the sea.
“He is right about one thing, though, Runa.”
She raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue.
“You can’t let yourself be reckless now. Let us handle that part, okay?”
Now she smirked, evidently pleased that he’d evaded some trap in the topic. “I will do my best.”
“Einarr?” Kaldr called from the prow. There was an unusual urgency to his voice.
Einarr was on his feet in a moment, already moving forward. “Yes, what is it?”
“Evasive action!” Kaldr cried. Without thinking, Thjofgrir and Naudrek picked up oars.
A moment later, Einarr had reached the prow and saw for himself. There, in the middle of the open ocean, was the gaping maw of a huge maelstrom.
He was at the rudder in two strides. “Where did that even come from?”
“I don’t know! Does it matter?”
“Kaldr, direct me! Skip us off the edge!”
“Oars, stand by!”
“Port side, row with all your might! Hard starboard!”
Slowly, the Villgås turned. Einarr could feel the sucking of the maelstrom pulling at the rudder already.
“Einarr – steady out! Starboard oar, jump in!”
Einarr relaxed his grip on the rudder at the same time Thjofgrir threw his back into rowing. Runa started to look green again as the ship pitched over the swirling waves. With a creak, the prow started to turn back toward the ocean’s maw.
“Einarr! Starboard again, now!”
Even as Kaldr’s words reached his ears, Einarr was leaning his weight into the steering oar. It fought him, hard.
A wave washed over the deck and Einarr caught the strong odor of fish in the water. He swore: every sailor knew what that meant. “Kraken!”
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