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.

 

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.