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?”
“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.”
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