No matter what else he wanted to say about them, the svartdvergr knew how to throw a party.

One of the mead halls in the city had opened its doors to the Smiths and their allies, and by the time Einarr arrived with his crew it was already full to bursting and raucous with celebration. He shared a grin with Jorir, who once again stood at his side, and they crossed the threshold into the waiting feast.

He was swiftly escorted up to the bar at the head of the room by one of the dvergr already inside, and Jorir and Runa were not far behind. A cheer went up as they were thrust into the seats of honor at the head of the table. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew what was going on, but as he opened his mouth to confirm it he got his answer.

Someone in the crowd rang a knife against one of the silver goblets Einarr could see floating through the room.

A moment later, Gheldram hopped up on the bar – evidently the source of the ringing.

“Almost two hundred years ago, Jorir the Smith was exiled – but his exile served a purpose,” he said, and as he spoke the crowd fell silent. “We, his friends among the Smiths, tasked him to find help. Well, a little over three months ago, he finally returned, and in his wake came the promised help – the human Cursebreaker, to whom Jorir has pledged his life, and some of his most trusted allies. Tomorrow, we must say farewell to their illustrious crew – but tonight, we toast their success!”

A deafening cheer went up around the Hall, and every cup was lifted with it – even Runa’s, although she grimaced as she moved it to her lips and smelled the purifying tea that she was now drinking almost exclusively. Einarr had tasted the stuff, as well: he really couldn’t fault her reaction. On the other hand, they had the babe to think of.

When the revelers had finished their drink, they turned expectant eyes on the three who stood awkwardly at the front of the Hall.

Einarr sighed. It was his turn now, apparently. “My friends! I’m afraid we all got off to a bit of a rough start, but since the battle on the Mount I have found no fault with dvergr hospitality! Alas, it is past time we returned home to Breidelstein: there are many matters which require our attention, and I fear we cannot proceed directly there. And so, on our last night here, I thank you on behalf of all of us for your hospitality and your courage – and I regret to inform you all that, after some little discussion, my good man Jorir will be returning to the surface world with us.”

There were, from around the room, scattered noises of disappointment.

Jorir raised his glass in the air, catching everyone’s attention. “None of that now, you hear? When I first swore to the Cursebreaker, I marveled at my own words, but he has come to earn every one, and then some. I may, someday, return to Myrkheimr and Nilthiad, but if I do it will be because my Lord and his Lady have long since departed. It has been… good to be back, but although we have reclaimed it from the clutches of the Squiddies, and I look forward to the return of Nilthiad’s glory, my place is above.”

This pronouncement was met with a rather mixed reaction: some jeered, jokingly, others laughed, others still sounded disappointed.

That was when Brandir came forward, out of the crowd, leading a female dvergr Einarr did not recognize. She looked bashful, but not timid, and based on the expression on Brandir’s face Einarr wondered how much of this was his idea.

Brandir cleared his throat and gave a sidelong look to the woman. “After… much discussion, my darling sister has convinced me it would not be good to allow you to leave alone, as though you were once again an exile in disgrace. And she has graciously put herself forward, if you will have her, to be your companion and your wife.”

Jorir looked completely poleaxed – as well he might. And Einarr had thought Runa forward at times! Still, he laughed and clapped his liegeman on the shoulder.

Jorir recovered himself and shot a look, half of shock, half of outrage, at his friend. “I… am not opposed, in principle.” He cleared his throat and glanced at the rest of the room. “But perhaps in front of the crowd is not the best place to discuss this?”

The three dvergr went off together back into the crowd, and Einarr turned around to smile at his chuckling wife. “Think there’s enough room on the Villgås for two more people?”

“I think we’ll manage.”


Einarr and the rest of his crew met at the Nilthiad entrance to the Paths of Stone at dvergr dawn the next day, feeling only a little hungover from their revelries the night before. Runa once again carried Vali’s jar. Idly, Einarr wondered if he might have woken up again had someone thought to bring him to the battle on the Mount. There was, of course, no real way to know at this point… and even if he had, there was a lingering question of whether or not he would still be himself. At least they shouldn’t find themselves in need of a scout on their return journey, and they could ask the Matrons when they stopped what to do about their ghostly companion.

Unlike the previous night’s feast, there was not a great crowd to see them off, which suited all of their number well enough. Jorir was the last to arrive, with the rather pretty (even by human standards) Jennora in tow. “Are we all set?” He asked, a bit gruffly.

“You know your way through the Paths, right? I’d really rather not fight my way back up them if that’s all the same to you.”

Jennora looked amused. Jorir harrumphed. “Do I know the way? Of course I do. So does Jennora, should it come to that. If that’s all we’re waiting on, we should get going. Even without all the booby traps, it’s a long hike up.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

Please note, we are drawing close to the end of book 13. There’s one, or perhaps as many as 2, more chapters, and then we will be entering our usual month-long break. We are also nearing the end of the series: I expect there to be one, or perhaps two, books dealing with the cult and the League up above.

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.

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.