Einarr could hear the sound of the draugr wriggling, trying to work Sinmora loose, over the crackle of flames that burned slowly, like wet logs.
It smelled an awful lot like wet, rotting wood in here, too, now that his focus was slightly removed from the abomination that wanted nothing so much as to devour him. Ragnar’s sword. It has to be close.
The number of weapons in the barrow was significant. It seemed like everywhere Einarr turned he saw spears – in some cases, just spearheads – axes, bows and arrowheads. Nowhere did he see a sword. He moved further in, taking advantage of the light to find the actual bier on which Ragnar had been lain. It would be there, if it was anywhere.
Now he heard the characteristic dry, rustling laugh of the creature. It must be nearly free by now. Then a truly horrific thought occurred to Einarr: if it got free, it would have Sinmora. Where is it… ah!
The light of the fire burning on the draugr glinted off a piece of well-polished metal, straight and beveled. He lunghed forward and found himself standing before a half-rotted wooden bier. That was not usual, but perhaps under the circumstances of Raen’s flight the best he could manage. There, resting across the top of the bier, was the blade of a sword remarkably untouched by time. Einarr grabbed its hilt.
He froze. A wave of nausea passed through him as his hand closed on the grip of the sword, very similar to the corruption he had felt from the black-blooded beasts of the Svartalfr cultists.
“Hello. Of course you’re cursed. Not sure why I expected anything different,” Einarr muttered to himself. He quashed the sense of sickness that radiated from the sword, turned on his heel, and sprinted back across the barrow.
Miraculously, Sinmora still held the draugr pinned to the ground – mostly. It currently lay propped on one elbow, scrabbling at the hilt of Einarr’s blade with its long claws but seemingly unable to get a grip. It seemed Sinmora’s magic-eating ability was having some sort of effect on the creature: the flesh around the wound seemed somehow shriveled, and more charred, than the rest of it, and every time its claws started to close around the hilt they fell open again.
“Ragnar!” Einarr boomed.
Startled, the draugr turned to look at his great-grandson.
Einarr held the blade in a two-handed grip over one shoulder. “You were honorless in life. Your place is with the dishonored dead. I swear to you, you will torment the people you were meant to rule no longer!”
There was very little credit Einarr was willing to extend to this creature, but there was this: it did not flinch from its impending doom. Instead he heard the dry-leaves rustle of its laughter one last time. “It is not I who torments the descendants of those who willingly aided me.”
Einarr took one more stride towards the creature and brought its blade down in a powerful arc. As the fire of Einarr’s rune licked the blade the steel itself began to smoke.
The cut was clean. The draugr’s head, still alight with the purifying essence of flame, tumbled to the floor. Its flesh began to shrivel, and as Einarr yanked Sinmora free of its chest it turned to ash, leaving only blackened bones where the deadly creature had once lain.
Before the flames from his runes could go out, Einarr held the blade of Ragnar’s sword in them. As before, the steel began to smoke. And, it could have been his imagination, but it seemed as though the color of the steel grew lighter.
Finally the flames flickered out of existence, having consumed everything save the old thane’s bones, and Einarr rose. He put the sword back in its sheath and stumbled for the door, the fatigue of his fight suddenly weighing heavily on his legs and his back.
Outside, Naudrek waited anxiously under the same wan grey sky that he had left. After so long inside the barrow, it seemed almost painfully bright.
“There you are! Are you hurt?”
Einarr shook his head, blinking to let his eyes adjust to the light. “How long was I in there?”
“The afternoon wanes. We’d left by this point yesterday.”
Wordlessly, Naudrek thrust a waterskin into Einarr’s hand.
Einarr took a long drink, capped the skin, and thrust it back at his friend. “Then let’s go.”
Sure that Naudrek was only awaiting the word, he set off at a lope towards the ruined hold and the rest of their companions. He only hoped Finn would have something good cooking when they got back.
It was far darker than either of them was comfortable with when the light of Finn’s cookfire finally illuminated a doorway ahead of them, but for whatever reason the draugr had been quiet so far this evening. Possibly, he thought, there was enough of Ragnar’s essence still in the old sword that the draugr could not sense them. Einarr did not know, and did not care to guess.
Once inside, Einarr rested Ragnar’s blade against one of the walls and sat down heavily in front of the fire. “Evening.”
Eydri arched an eyebrow at him. “Welcome back. How did it go?”
“I’m alive, aren’t I? And I have the sword.”
“Wonderful. But I sense there’s more?”
He nodded. “Before we sleep tonight, I want to set up a purification circle for the blade. I think ending its former master broke the curse itself, but it still feels corrupted a little, I think.”
“And what about the island?”
Einarr shook his head: he’d had nothing to eat since the jerky that morning. “Food first. Eat, then talk. I’m famished.”
Midway through his first bowl, Einarr looked up. “Just exactly what we thought. Wotan’s test of hospitality. Never heard of someone failing that badly, though.”
“So what are we going to do about it?” Eydri asked.
“Nothing.” The surprised look on her face was a rare treat.
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