Einarr hurried his crew along as best he could, but Thjofgrir’s injury was going to be an issue until Runa’s song had a chance to do its work. The beast – whatever it was – would still be slowed somewhat by the rubble in the way, but they couldn’t exactly move full speed right now, either. He had taken the rear since Kaldr was bearing Thjofgrir, but that meant he couldn’t carry Runa. He was actually impressed at how well she was maintaining her Song at this pace, but it wasn’t going to gain them any time. They needed either an exit or a hiding place, and they needed it fast. Not that he had the first clue what a hiding place would even look like in this circumstance. There had to be something he could do to slow it down, just a little more.

But, as with the rest of the paths, there was no sign of any supports holding up the ceiling, nor were there cracks in the wall he could exploit. The idea of runes flitted through his mind again, but he shook his head firmly. No runes, not unless it was absolutely critical. Not when he didn’t know what sort of magics the dvergr might turn against them.

“Hey!” Naudrek’s voice rang down the tunnel from up ahead. “I think I found something!”

With great relief, Einarr scooped Thjofgrir’s other arm across his shoulder. “We’re coming!”

Now that there were two of them carrying the other man’s weight they went faster, although still no faster than Runa could move while Singing.

Naudrek and Vali led them into a wide-open room with a narrow entrance – narrow enough that two men could effectively hold off any number of assailants, if they were fresh. None of them were anything like fresh, but still Naudrek moved to bar the door as the last of their crew staggered in. Kaldr joined him as Einarr helped Thjofgrir to sit and Runa turned her full attention to mending his injured leg.

That left Einarr and Vali to examine their momentary shelter. Einarr laid his shield by Runa’s side so there was at least a little light for her to work with. Sweat beaded her brow, although it was no warmer in this room than it had been in the passages beyond. Perhaps she was more exhausted than she let on.

As he got a good look at the room, though, he wished he had it with him. The light itself was steady, but at that distance and that angle it cast strange shadows over the multitude of carved beasts that lined the walls. He saw creatures as mundane as stags, wolves, and bears, but also coiling dragons and hideous sea creatures. There were even a few that looked not unlike tafl pieces. Each and every statue that he passed, Einarr saw that the eyes were set with some sort of faintly glowing green gem.

They had nearly completed a circuit of the room, without finding any other exit, when the beast’s incongruous chirp echoed into the room. Everyone turned to look towards the door, Thjofgrir still massaging his injured leg as Runa took a moment to rest her voice.

“How’s it feeling?” Einarr asked Thjofgrir.

“Better.” He suited action to words and pulled his boot back on. “We had another hour, I’d be right as rain.”

Einarr nodded. That was more or less what he’d expected. “Right then. Stay off it for a bit longer, I think, then go backup Kaldr and Naudrek. Runa, rest up while you can. Won’t be long. We’ll keep looking for another way out of here.”

Runa gave him a wan smile even as she drew the water skin from her belt. She raised it to her mouth and drank long and deeply.

Einarr turned his attention back to the problem at hand, but by the time he completed his circuit of the room with its eerie statues he still hadn’t found anything that looked like a way through.

Then Vali gave a quick, quiet whistle from the far side of the cavern. Einarr crossed the room at a trot, sparing a glance for his wife who still sat near where she had treated Thjofgrir. She looked less pale, he thought, although in the dim light of his shield it was difficult to be certain. Vali was still waving him on, though.

“What did you find?” he asked as he drew near the apparition. He was fairly sure he heard the familiar wet slapping footsteps of their pursuer again.

“It’s well-hidden, but I think I’ve spotted the passage.”

“Oh, thank the gods.”

“Gods, or ghosts?” Vali winked at him mischievously, then sobered again. “But really, don’t thank me yet. We still have to figure out how to get it open.”

“Show me.”

It was a door, as cleverly concealed as the one they had found initially, just before bypassing the elemental traps at the very top of the Paths. Only this one was locked – as Vali was able to confirm. Probably this was an access hatch for the poor sots sent to clean up after the fools who dared the tunnels.

Einarr took a deep breath. Before, it had taken all of them to push open a stone door like this – only that one hadn’t been locked, or even seemed to have a catch. This one was plainly designed to open only from one side – the other one.

A continuous stream of chirps echoed through the room now, and Einarr imagined he could hear the scraping of claws over the wet smack of the beast’s footsteps. They had found their exit, but they were out of time. He drew out his chalk once more and inscribed a – Bjarkan. The Rune of Liberation.

Please let this work. He willed the rune to life.

A moment later, lances of white fire seemed to stab into his eyes and ears. For a moment, all the world was pain. And then it grew black.


Runa whipped her head around at Einarr’s unexpected scream of pain. The men at the door were ready to fight, and so was she if she had to, but she had expected danger to come from the other direction.

Einarr clutched at his head and sank to his knees – and then the shield winked out.

Runa was on her feet in a heartbeat, wondering if she could make it across the floor in the pitch darkness without falling flat on her face.

The question quickly became moot. All around the chamber, the eyes of the fantastic carved beasts began to glow, as green as ghost light.

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Kaldr took up position just inside the circle of warm air, surprised at himself for his easy agreement. Nothing he said was false, and his clothes seemed to be growing drier by the second. Only, he felt none of his usual apprehension about sorcery. Indeed, primarily what he felt was the comfort of a thick fur blanket, and drowsy.

Behind him, the others had all but collapsed to the ground, sitting around Einarr and supporting him while he slept. How restful that sleep was, given that he was somehow powering this respite of theirs, Kaldr could not guess. They, too, all looked drowsy, but that was only natural. When you went into a steam room after a long winter’s day chopping wood, or hunting, it was only natural to feel a bit drowsy.

He didn’t think much of it when Runa rested her head on Einarr’s arm and drifted off into sleep, as well. She shouldn’t even be here! She was holding up remarkably well, considering her condition and her physical… well, not really frailty, but certainly she was sheltered and soft.

The passage moving ahead was empty and dark. Kaldr roused himself and paced around the edge to look out over the water. If that connected to the open sea – which he thought it did – they could not assume it was safe. After a time, he stirred himself again and completed his circuit.

While he was walking, Vali emerged from his jar and floated, observing the others. Kaldr could admit to himself that the ghost made him uncomfortable, even though Einarr seemed to like him. He continued to pace in a circle, keeping guard around the others.

Thjofgrir yawned. He, too, looked on the verge of sleep. Naudrek had taken out a dice cup and was tossing the dice, then scooping them up without looking at them. Plainly trying to stay awake.

“Hey,” Vali said, swooping down to hover just outside Einarr’s circle. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Kaldr rolled his head and suppressed a yawn before he answered. “Better than freezing to death, isn’t it?”

“Hmm. Maybe.” The apparition seemed uncertain. Kaldr continued his slow walk around the edge of the circle. Truth be told, he wouldn’t mind sitting to rest, either. Perhaps Naudrek would trade places with him?

Vali continued. “It’s just, I think his runes are being interfered with. There’s a black, sort of smoky taste to the magic.”

Kaldr stopped, blinking. “Excuse me… taste?”

“That’s right. Normally, his Lordship’s magic is kind of… apple-like? I don’t know: it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten real food to remember the taste. But it’s crisp and clear and sort of refreshing. And here there’s something else.”

Kaldr eyed the runes on the floor. Was that even possible? He did feel lethargic – but was it more lethargic than the circumstances would account for? He felt his eyelids beginning to droop and started his pacing again. “So what would you have me do?”

“Are you dry?”

Kaldr had to think over that one. “Yes,” he drawled, finally. “Everything but my feet in my boots.”

“Is the Lady dry?”

Lady Runa was, of course, sound asleep on Einarr’s shoulder. Her outer clothes looked dry, of course, but he would have to wake her up to be sure. He tried once more to shake off the lethargy as he reached out a hand to shake her shoulder. Naudrek and Thjofgrir had dozed off while he spoke with Vali.

Runa’s eyes fluttered, but she did not wake. Kaldr clasped a hand around her boot, and very carefully felt at the folds of her skirts. If she woke now, he was as good as dead.

“Mostly,” he answered the apparition.

“Okay. Good. I have a bad feeling about this, so we have two options. One: you can destroy the working. Striking out the lines should break the enchantment and wake everybody up. Two, I can consume it – but I make no promises about leaving you the light on his Lordship’s shield. It’s kind of blended in amongst the rest of it and hard to separate out.”

Kaldr yawned. Was it really as critical as all that? He reached out a hand to shake Einarr’s shoulder. He slumped over, leaning against Naudrek’s sleeping back, and snored more loudly. He appeared to be fully dry.

The sound of an oar slipping out of the water came to his ears – an oar, or a fish jumping. Kaldr had been right about the water. Vali was right: Kaldr reached out with his hand and smudged the lines of Einarr’s sorcery.

At once the warm breeze ceased to be. The passage felt even colder now that it was gone – but Kaldr already felt more awake. He met Vali’s eyes and gave a small nod of appreciation that was returned in kind.

Something splashed in the water again and Naudrek jerked himself awake. Good instincts on that one. He kept himself awake longer than any of the others, too.

“What’s going on?” He still sounded half-asleep, but Kaldr could let that go.

“Not sure. Something in the water.”

Naudrek ran a palm down his face and rose to his feet, shaking Einarr by the shoulder to rouse him. That left Kaldr free to see to Thjofgrir. If they could let the Lady sleep, however, he thought they probably should.

A little bit later, Einarr stood shoulder to shoulder with the others, peering out over the water for any sign of the source of the noise. “What happened?” he asked.

Kaldr shook his head. “Ask Vali. He explained it to me, but it didn’t make a lot of sense.”

Einarr nodded. “I did not expect that to put me out like that. Thank you for handling the watch.”

Kaldr grunted. He hadn’t exactly done anything out of the ordinary. He’d almost gotten them all killed, in fact – if it hadn’t been for Vali’s warning.. “I heard a pair of splashes. You don’t think we’d be getting draugr in here, do you?”

“Gods, I hope not. The properly buried sort were bad enough… Whatever it was, it seems to be gone now.” He turned and knelt to wake Runa. Without the influence of the magic, she woke easily.

“Wh–”

“No time,” Einarr said, cutting off her inevitable question. “We need to get moving again.”

She nodded her understanding and, with a stiffness born of fatigue, she levered herself up off the floor. “Fine. But I expect someone to tell me why I was asleep on the floor of the cave while we move.”

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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.

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For a moment Naudrek merely floated, a pained expression on his face, but he did not let go his air, and after a moment he swam on.

Then a blast of even colder water slammed into Einarr’s side. Thanks to the moment’s warning from Naudrek, he was able to keep Runa from slamming bodily into the wall at the low cost of a shock to his knees. He hardly even felt it!

Worryingly, the water was starting to feel warmer, and Runa was not looking good. She hadn’t yet let go of her air, but he didn’t want to gamble on how long that would last.

He kicked off from the wall, hoping to hurry past the cross-current. Almost immediately, though, he was shoved back toward the cave wall. He tried to turn himself to take the impact again, but this time his legs tangled in Runa’s skirts. She reached down totry to pluck them away, but Einarr could tell immediately it wouldn’t be enough.

Just then, a surge of water came from behind them. Instead of impacting the wall, Einarr found himself being pushed along by Kaldr, with Thjofgrir helping Runa.

Thank the gods. Hagall and Kaun, to warm and dry us… no. Kaun is as like to scorch us. Sol. Sun and wind is what we need. Relieved of some of the burden of pressing forward, aiding Kaldr as much as Kaldr aided him, Einarr found he had a moment to think of what to do to save them from freezing after they exited the water. But, try as he might, he could not come up with an inscription with just those two runes, not in his current state.

It was not long after they all made it past the cross-current that the water began to grow shallower once more, and soon Einarr’s head was above water and he was trudging once more up the more-noticeable slope of the tunnel floor. Behind him, he heard Runa’s initial gasp for air, followed by no small amount of coughing. He glanced over his shoulder to see that she leaned heavily on Thjofgrir’s shoulder as he pulled them both towards the shallows of the frigid water.

Einarr and Kaldr, as they too emerged, leaned on each other’s shoulders. All of them were worn thin at this point – but their coming enforced rest was a cold comfort at best. Protection. Will that make for a proper … no. What I really need is like a whirlpool of warm air. …

That line, too, led nowhere.

Everyone’s lips and fingers were blue as they all stood shivering on once-again dry rock. Moving around would generate some heat, but not enough.

“Toss your cloaks around someone else’s shoulders. Huddle up,” he managed to say through numb lips and chattering teeth. It was a wonder anyone could understand him, but they did. Einarr stepped to the middle this time and drew out a piece of very wet, very cold chalk. He chafed it between his palms a little and was gratified to see that it still left white on his hands.

“Stamp your feet or something. Move around a bit. Keep us all from freezing while I try to figure out what Master Melja would do.”

“Y-y-y-you mean we hhhhhave to keep moving?” Runa complained. “I’m… so… tired. Can’t we just huddle up like this and go to sleep?”

She had dark circles under her eyes, but otherwise her skin was the blue-white of an iceberg. She probably was legitimately exhausted, too, but…

“Not if you want to wake up again. Come on. Have some trust.”

If he could have let her draw the inscription, he would have. But he had only a fuzzy idea of how it should look, and his mind was foggy too. He started to draw.

, for the warmth of the sun. His companions swayed in the circle around him.

, to move the air and warm their whole bodies and dry their clothes. The rhythmic stamp of their feet assured him no one had yet succumbed, despite their long stint in the water.

He pressed his chalk to the ground, thinking to draw , but that still seemed wrong. Kaldr groaned, a sleepy sound. Then, it hit him.

They were all exhausted, all wounded. To continue on, to reach their destination and aid their friend, they needed stamina. Rest and comfort. They needed .

He blinked several times rapidly. He was starting to have trouble staying awake himself. “Just… a little… longer,” he told them, distantly aware that he was slurring his words. That was fine: there was only one thing he needed to do now. He pressed his fingers against the triangle of runes he had just drawn and poured his will into the enchantment.


Runa, standing in the circle as her beloved had ordered, was only half-conscious when a warm breeze began to play around her ankles. It felt warm even though it was blowing through the wet fabric of her dress, which was impressive. She blinked, re-focusing her eyes.

There, on the floor of the tunnel in the middle of the circle, a neat triangle of runes glowed with light like sunlight. Einarr sat on the floor, his back to her, his hands still touching his diagram. She took a deep breath, and realized that her fatigue no longer felt so overwhelming. She let herself relax a little, her shoulders drooping as the warm breeze brought blood back to her skin.

Then she looked more closely at Einarr. Something didn’t look right. His shoulders slumped forward, and as she dropped to her knees to put a hand to his shoulder, she realized that his mouth hung open. A sound like a muffled shriek escaped her throat, and she put a hand to her mouth.

“My lady?” Kaldr, too, sounded groggy, and like his lips were still numb. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s Einarr, he’s…” She looked up at Kaldr, panic plain on her face.

“Not possible,” Naudrek said. “The runes are still going. I can feel myself drying out as we speak.”

“Yes, but look at him!”

Runa couldn’t tell if Kaldr was humoring her or genuinely alarmed as well, but the Mate knelt down beside his Lord and reached out a hand to feel for a pulse. Just then, before Kaldr could lay cold-reddened fingers against Einarr’s throat, Einarr’s shoulders heaved and he produced a tremendous snore.

“Oh.” Runa offered a wan smile by way of apology. She felt like she was normally sharper than this. Naudrek and Thjofgrir both chuckled – not, she thought, at her overreaction.

Kaldr, too, gave a thin smile. “Conscious or not, his sorcery seems to be affecting him, as well. We do not appear to be in immediate danger: likely the dvergr thought it worthwhile to give the wetting a chance to kill us, even if we happened to make it out of the water. Perhaps it would be worth our while to pause here – at least long enough for the sorcery to do its job.”

Next

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Abruptly, Kaldr gave a violent shake of his head. “No. None of these. There’s something we’re missing – there has to be.”

“Why’s that?” Thjofgrir asked without looking up from the lines of runes on the floor.

“Because the dwarves use these tunnels. There has to be another door, one that’s hard to find if you’re not a dvergr.”

Einarr nodded, glad that Kaldr had realized and wondering why he, himself, had not. “You’re right, there must be. Runa, do you remember any more of that tale?”

“What t… oh. Sif’s golden hair.”

“Right.”

“Let me think on it.” Once again she began to hum to herself. Einarr had no idea if there was actually magic in the tune or if it was a simple mnemonic, but either way, with a little patience, it usually turned up the information she was looking for.

Loki dvergr-friend
Was gifted knowledge
Of the true path
Beyond all artifice

And so he laughed
To see the choice
Laid before the unwary…

“Sorry. Not sure how much that actually helps here.”

Everyone frowned, considering. At last, Einarr let out a sigh.

“Not helpful after all?” Runa asked, looking far more upset than that would warrant.

“No, not that. I think I can find it… just it’s a trick I don’t like using.”

“More magic?” Kaldr raised an eyebrow, exasperated.

“More magic. When we were chasing down Urdr through her tunnels, Troa and I had to seek out a hidden door like this.” He took his shield off his arm and rested it on the floor by their notes. “Someone toss a cloak over that, mostly. I don’t want to blind myself.”

While they did that, he drew out a piece of chalk and his runestone of ᚫ. He didn’t activate it right away, but stood looking at it pensively until the light was dim. Right. Just as he had done in the tunnel with Troa, Einarr willed the runestone to enhance his sight.

Just as happened last summer, the dim light shining forth from underneath Thjofgrir’s cloak was nearly blindingly bright, and he dared not do more than glance at the obvious, rune-marked doors with their multi-colored flames. He turned his back to them and found that he now looked directly at the passage they had entered through. From the middle of the room, he saw details that he wouldn’t expect to see unless he was right next to the wall. Nothing jumped out at him yet, but he hadn’t really expected it to. He walked towards the far wall of the chamber until every tiny divot in the surface of the stone was plain before his eyes. Then he turned and began walking towards the trap doors, examining every inch of the wall as he went.

As he neared the obvious doors he found he had to squint against the light. They were lined up, one right next to the other, so he walked from the outer edge of ᛃ, on one end, to the outer edge of ᛁ on the other. Fitting, he thought, that ᛇ – dreams – should be in the middle of ᚲ (fire) and ᚻ (air).

He had gone three quarters of the way around the room before he spotted what appeared to be a cunningly made seam in the wall. Even with his currently enhanced vision (which was beginning to give him a headache) he almost couldn’t see it. But, no natural crack would be so regular, or such a perfect arch.

If anything, the hidden doorway was even lower than the obvious ones – if the tunnel was similarly low, Thjofgrir might not be the only one reduced to crawling down on hands and knees. He tapped on the wall with his knuckle, but if it was hollow he could not hear well enough to tell. And there’s simply no way I’m going to try getting this stone to enhance my hearing. In theory, the rune of Wisdom could, for the same reason it could enhance his vision… but he worried about the state of his ears afterwords, if every sound were magnified the way this tiny bit of light was.

“I found it.”

Even as he spoke, he traced the chalk around the outside of the almost-invisible seam.

“You’re sure?” Vali asked.

“As sure as I can be. I’ll finish my circuit, just to verify there’s nothing else.”

There was nothing else, at least so far as he could see. Einarr closed his eyes and let go of the vision enhancement. “Please uncover my shield now.”

“Yes, sir,” Thjofgrir answered. It sounded almost automatic: here was a man who would be lost without a boat to tend. When Einarr opened his eyes and turned around, the big man was settling his cloak back around his shoulders.

“As you might expect of dwarven artistry, there is hardly even a seam to be found, let alone a catch or hinges. I presume we’re all agreed, though, that we need to get it open?”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow again. “Need you even ask?”

“Good. Then come on. Whatever else this door is, it’s solid.”

They spent far more time than Einarr truly liked prodding and shoving at the great stone door concealed in the rock before them. Finally, all four of the living men put their shoulders to it at once.

The door ground slowly open.

Inside, the passage continued. narrower but (thankfully) no shorter than the initial path that placed them before the doors. The floor was just as smooth, and the walls just as plainly carved out. Einarr paused a moment before entering, feeling oddly hesitant. Did I miss something? He shook his head. “Are we ready?”

Kaldr nodded and stepped forward, ready to be the point leader.

“Thjofgrir, you’re our rear guard again …No turning back now.” Einarr gestured, and Kaldr stooped to enter the hidden passage. Einarr followed with the light.

The path now traveled distinctly downward, although not so steeply they wished for stairs. Before long, the path turned gently back around on itself, as though the path were built with small carts in mind. Which, when Einarr thought of it, would make a great deal of sense, given their abilities as craftsmen and the demand among men for dwarven goods. Even now, though, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he was missing something important.

Above them, unseen because their enforced stooping would not allow them to look up, small thorn runes illuminated as they passed.

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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.

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Einarr raised the chisel to the wall and gently tapped it with the hilt of his belt knife. As he drew the vertical line he focused on the defensive aspects of the rune. “We seek” tap “A dvergr friend” tap tap “Who is lost” tap. “We come,” he said, starting on the outward angle, “to aid him in his quest.”

As he connected the outer angle of the , Einarr dropped the chisel as though it had burned him and straightened so that he stood entirely within his ward. He gripped Runa’s hand, waiting for the trap to spring.

And waiting.

He shared a perplexed look with Runa, then took another look around them.

A new message had appeared on the plinth. “Dvergr quests are for dvergr alone. Turn back, ye who are no kin of ours, or know that ye have been warned: all who come this way without dvergr blood will perish.”

Then the door opened with an audible click. Beyond it, the passage lay in deep shadow.

Einarr did not need to look at his companions to know their resolve: he could feel it. He set his jaw and stepped forward, out of his useless ward and into the passage ahead. There was simply no other option: they would return with Jorir or not at all.

Inside, the path traveled in a plumb line forward, with only a slight downward angle. Irritatingly, it was scaled for dwarves. Even Runa had to stoop to avoid bashing her head against the uneven ceiling: Thjofgrir was nearly bent double until he went to his hands and knees. Thankfully, it was also wide enough for dwarves to pass easily, two or perhaps three abreast, so Einarr and his companions adopted a defensive posture. Einarr and Kaldr took the lead, to make the best use of the light that still glowed from Einarr’s shield. Naudrek and a grumbling Thjofgrir were on the rearguard, while Runa and Vali kept to the middle.

Abruptly, after they had gone at least two hundred yards down the abnormally straight tunnel, their path turned hard to the right and they found themselves in a much broader chamber with five doors. Each door bore a pattern of runes on the lintel, just as the door outside had – although none of them had a plinth with a chisel.

Einarr took in the room with a glance. “Well, nothing for it. Split up, and let’s each examine a door. Give a shout if anything looks promising. Otherwise, we’ll all come back to the center after a half of an hour. Agreed?”

Thjofgrir took a look around the room as well before sitting down cross-legged. “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll stay on watch here in the middle.”

Einarr couldn’t really fault the man: the ceiling, after all, was no higher here than it had been in the passage. “Excellent, thank you,” he said. There was no harm in allowing the man his pretext, at least for the moment. Einarr just hoped they wouldn’t have to fight on their way down.

A few minutes later, as they were all split up and examining their respective doors, Runa’s voice carried across the room. “Einarr? What do you make of these lintel runes?”

Einarr shook his head, though. “They’re plainly some sort of ward. Beyond that, without seeing any of the circle they’re a part of? Hrug might have been able to tell you, but I can’t. Why?”

“Just I wondered if they might be able to give us some warning of what we’ll find beyond them. If the svartdvergr Thane is using traps to kill interlopers in here, perhaps if we took some time to understand the traps we could mitigate them.”

He hated to stop moving and take the time, but… Einarr nodded. “Not a bad plan at all. Thjofgrir, if I gave you some chalk, could you copy down the runes from there?”

“I can’t read them…”

“You don’t need to. Actually, it’s probably better if you don’t. That way you can’t accidentally activate something that will kill us all.”

The tall man grunted. “Give me the chalk, then. I’ll do what I can.”


At the end of the half-hour, all that had really been determined was that each and every door was locked, and Thjofgrir had terrible handwriting. Five minutes after that, Einarr had adeptly corrected the copied runes so that they were legible. He and Runa stood staring down at the copies.

“There’s a definite pattern here,” he mused.

“If I was trying to draw a picture of resonance, I’d use a pattern like this, I think,” Runa added.

“Interesting. Okay. Most of these runes are there to amplify the effect or constrain the timing – for defense, naturally. See the thorn there, and the yr. Which means that the traps are set by… these runes. The centerpiece, I should have guessed. I see fire, ice, air, and earth… what in the world?” The centerpiece on the last door was the eiwaz – the dream rune. “Let’s not go there.”

“Whyever not?” Thjofgrir asked.

“That’s the rune for the yew tree and for dreams. Each and every one of these wards is probably going to try to kill us. How would you kill someone with dreams?”

“Ah.” Kaldr shuddered.

“Exactly. There might be a way to evade these traps, but I don’t yet know how… Which element are we most interested in chancing?”

Runa peered over his shoulder. “You know, when you write them out that way, it almost looks like a message. ‘Which end do you wish: Burning, Freezing, Choking, Crushing, or Madness?”

Silence settled over the group as they pondered those words.

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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.

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The three of them stood in front of what was very plainly a magical gateway, wondering how they’d missed it until they were right on top of it. Each stone of the arch was carved with a single rune, which glowed faintly. Beside the door, written in Imperial script, was a small plaque, with a plainly magical chisel hanging beside it. “Draw here the Thorn rune and state your intention,” he read.

From behind them, Kaldr cursed loudly. Einarr spun on his heel, startled, but the light did not reach far enough to show what the matter was. The question was answered momentarily, however. As Kaldr walked into the ring of the rune-light on Einarr’s shield, he was still rubbing his forehead even as he scowled at his companions.

“That was truly a wonderful experience, my lord. Thank you for calling me down a dark ice tunnel with no light of my own so that I could bash my head on the ceiling.”

“Sorry, Kaldr. My fault,” Einarr said, stifling a laugh at himself. He wasn’t usually that stupid, but Kaldr would assume he was the one being laughed at. His Mate just hummed.

“At any rate,” he went on. “I think we’ve finally found our entrance.”

“So we have.” Kaldr grunted, rubbing again at the red welt on his forehead. “I don’t like how low that doorway is.”

“That descent’s going to be mighty uncomfortable if that’s all the taller the passage is,” Thjofgrir agreed. He was taller than any of them.

Einarr sighed. “I can’t disagree. But what choice do we have? Come on. Let’s build a cairn outside the cave entrance and go get the others. We’ll pack up the camp and move it right outside in the morning, and start down after that.”

“You wouldn’t rather wait for morning?” Vali asked.

Thjofgrir shrugged. “Once we’re underground, what difference will it make?”


Runa insisted it was important that they start fresh in the morning, so that they could more easily tell one day from the next. Even though she was the one who recommended the delay, however, she,too, chafed at it. Thus, the sun was newly risen on the day after they moved their camp when all six of them together stepped from the barren wasteland under the ice, creeping through the crevice and into the cavern that held the entrance to Myrkheim.

Much as Einarr had, Runa peered at the inscription on the stones of the arch. “Draw here the thorn rune and state your intention,” she read aloud in a thoughtful tone. “It’s plainly after a password.”

“I’m not so sure.” Einarr quickly stepped between Runa and the plinth. “The Thorn rune invokes defense, true… but it also signals danger. The dwarves don’t want humans on their roads, remember? This is probably a trap.”

“You think there’s another entrance in here?” Kaldr asked.

“It can’t hurt to look. If one of us does have to inscribe a Thorn, at the very least I should be able to ward us against it, though.”

Runa raised her eyebrows. “Even while maintaining the light and the ward on the Villgås?”

Einarr smiled. “Of course. The light requires almost no thought at all, and the ward on the ship is tied to all of us.” He did not think he would be able to maintain such a shield for long, but he somehow doubted that would be an issue.

After a careful search, they did find one other door. It, too, was trapped – and somehow Einarr did not think that the svartdvergr had to navigate such traps every time they came to the surface or returned to Myrkheim. Try as they might, however, what remained were two doors. On the first, in order to even open the door, one had to inscribe a rune likely to do significant damage to themselves. In front of the second, the floor rang hollowly under Naudrek’s boots. Probably, if the door was opened incautiously, a trap door would drop open beneath the feet of whoever was standing there. If it weren’t for Runa, Einarr would have preferred to take his chances with the trap door.

With a sigh, they all returned toe the obviously magical, obviously trapped door. For a long moment, they all stood staring at it, and then Einarr drew out a stick of chalk to begin his simple shield ward – one that would simply absorb the impact of an attack, much like his physical shield would.

“Wait a moment.” Thjofgrir held up a hand. “Not one of us has actually tried to open this door without carving anything, have we?”

Einarr shook his head.

“Vali, can you pop through to see if it’s actually locked?”

The ghost shook his head. “The door is sealed to me, as it is now. I suspect something to do with the runes on the arch.”

The big man shrugged and, before anyone could call out a warning, reached out a hand. Lightning arced from the wood of the door to Thjofgrir’s fingers and he pulled the hand back with a yelp.

“That went better than it could have.” Runa’s voice was downright tart, but Einarr nodded in agreement.

“Sorry, Thjofgrir. It was worth a shot, but that would have been a careless mistake for the dvergr to make. Come join us: this shouldn’t take me more than a few minutes to draw.”

By the light from his glowing shield, the ward he provided wound up not only simple but rather crude. Elder Melja would not approve, but it was the best he could manage. “Stand inside the circle, everyone. I’ll carve the thorn.”

“My lord —” Kaldr objected.

“Inscribing a rune in a permanent way like this can drain a man’s vitality – I expect that chisel will ensure that it does. If any of us is going to bear that burden, it should be me. I, after all, have a much better idea of my own limits than any of the rest of you.”

“As you say, my lord.”

With no little hesitation, Einarr lifted the chisel from where it hung on the plinth. This was no Muspel Shroud in terms of power, but it felt just as malign. “I will begin.”

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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.”

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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.

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Author’s note: This marks the end of Book 11, if you hadn’t already guessed. Book 12 will pick up near the end of the honeymoon on 3/23/2021. (Fun fact: this is literally where the term ‘honeymoon’ comes from. The newlyweds were expected to drink mead all through their first month of marriage, as it was thought to increase fertility.)

Einarr stood impatiently behind his father as Stigander took possession of Runa’s dowry. Hroaldr already had the bride price – the Isinntog had been at Kjell since Einarr recovered it, held in surety against the day Einarr proved his merit. He tried not to bounce on his toes with impatience as first Hroaldr and then Stigander spoke at length before what appeared to be half the court and no small number of the Vidofnings.

When, at last, they sealed the bargain with a handshake, the two old friends also clapped each other on the shoulder with a grin. Hroaldr, it seemed, had relaxed considerably since the Usurper had been deposed. Einarr was just as glad: the idea of constantly being at odds with his father-in-law was unappealing, to say the least. Then he shook Hroaldr’s hand, and finally it was time for the procession to the altar.

The ceremony was to be held in the very same field where the Weavings had been destroyed last summer. Only now, in place of a bonfire, they had erected an altar. In the center of the table at the back was Thor’s hammer, cast in silver. On the front corner in the right was Freya’s chariot, worked in gold filigree, and in the left-hand corner the golden boar of Freyr. It seemed like everyone in Breidelstein must have come up the cliff, and that wasn’t even counting the guests who had come from Kjell.

They, however, were little more than a blurred mass in Einarr’s consciousness. He scanned up the aisle until his eyes reached the only person in attendance he actually cared about. There, standing next to the priest, was Runa.

His breath caught in his throat. She was wearing scarlet, with a gold tabard that matched exactly the gold of her hair and a belt of green and gold that hinted at her soft curves. Her hair hung loose down past her hips, and the bridal crown on her head was garlanded with red campion and holly. He blinked, and a slow smile spread over his face as he approached his bride. When he took her hands in his, she smiled back sweetly – almost shyly.

Then the priest began to speak. Einarr paid very little attention: he knew what he was supposed to say, and when, and at this moment he wanted little so much as to drink in the beauty before him. Hesitantly, he put up a hand to tuck her hair behind an ear, just for an excuse to touch it.

After they were all anointed with the blood of the triple sacrifice – Thor’s goat, Freya’s sow, and Freyr’s boar – and the carcasses had been carted off to be butchered and roasted, Einarr drew Ragnar’s sword from its sheath on his baldric and offered the hilt to Runa.

Her eyes moved up the blade from the hilt to the tip, seeking imperfection and finding none. Jorir had seen to its physical perfection, and he as a rune seithir and the Cursebreaker could feel no lingering malevolence. Almost reverently she accepted the sword.

Then it was her turn. The sword she had just accepted from Einarr was rested, momentarily, against the altar in exchange for the sword that probably would have been presented to her mother, once upon a time. He palmed the ring, waiting.

“In the exchange of blades, each of you has accepted that you hold power over one another,” the priest intoned. “But the power to wound cannot make or maintain a marriage. You need also the bonds of honor, of commitment, and of good regard. Hold forth your swords, both of you, and if you accept these bonds place your rings on the other’s blade.”

Smoothly, as though it were a motion she’d practiced a hundred times, Runa once again lifted the longsword before her, the flat of the blade level with the ground. Almost as one, they each reached forward with one hand to rest a ring on the other’s sword. Hers was a delicate band of intertwining gold and silver, set with flakes of ruby. Jorir really outdid himself. His was thicker gold, bearing the patina of age and engraved, inside, with the runes for ‘enduring.’

“Swear now upon the rings you have presented one another, that you will honor one another in all things, that you will strive for harmony, and that each of you will care for and protect the other for so long as you both shall live.”

His hand resting on the ring on the blade of the sword, Einarr looked straight into Runa’s eyes. “I swear it.”

“I swear it,” she echoed.

“Then, in the presence of witnesses and before the gods, I pronounce you man and wife. Don your rings and sheathe your swords and let the bride-running commence!”

Einarr could hear laughter in the priest’s voice as he slipped the ring on Runa’s finger. Ordinarily he would not be the one to announce that, but it seemed as though even the priest was looking forward to the feast. He smiled but otherwise took his time. “If it feels too loose, we can take it back to Jorir.”

“It’s lovely. …This was my grandfather’s ring, which he gave to Mother on his death-bed, and she gave to me for this very day.”

Einarr grunted his understanding. Tearing his gaze away from her face to sheathe her sword was almost physically painful: he made up for it by planting a kiss on her mouth afterwards, to the sound of much cheering from the crowd. Then, while she stood still surprised, he grinned out at the audience. “Loser’s party serves the ale!”

As he bolted down the aisle, he heard her indignant cry of “Wait!”

Einarr laughed and ran harder. It was tradition, after all: he had to beat her there, or who would carry her over the threshold?


Jorir sat on the edges of the feast, watching his lord – and new lady – at the head of the room with a wistful look. They, of course, only had eyes for each other, and after the first cups of mead Jorir couldn’t tell if they were drunk or besotted. Or both, he supposed.

After the hallingdanse, where Sivid once again handily outshone all competitors – although Einarr strutted about some for Runa’s amusement, he could hardly be called a competitor tonight – a red-faced Einarr and a rather giggly Runa fell into a whispered conversation. Very soon, she was also red-faced. Well: that was his cue. Jorir rose and whispered in the ears of the six witnesses – Naudrek, Hrug, Irding, Reki, Aema, and the priestess of Freya – that it was time. Eydri, he noticed, was sitting in the darkest corner of the hall, looking even more wistful than he felt. None of my business.

Runa left first, while he was still signaling the witnesses to the bridal chamber. Not that anyone really doubted, of course, but there were always formalities to fulfill. Once Einarr had left the hall, Jorir waited another handful of minutes and slipped out himself. His pack was ready and waiting, and down in the harbor was a ship that would take him the one place he least wished to go.

Home.


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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.

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Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

A flurry of motion aboard the Heidrun followed Einarr’s answer. The sail was unfurled and the men at oars began once more to row. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and if Einarr had to meet his end here, he could do so proudly.

He had no desire to actually do so, of course, but this was a particularly tight pinch they were in. Would it have been better to resort to trickery, pretend to surrender? Einarr shook his head. Had he more time to dally here, perhaps, but they would be calling it close already. Thus, the way forward was through, once again.

By the same token, if he turned the hardened warriors of Breidelstein against the green recruits of this League, or if he turned magic against them, he could easily enough destroy them – and plunge Breidelstein into a war it had no stomach for. He had a narrow path to walk, getting them out of this.

“Ready shields! Svarek, steerboard!” Then he turned his attention inward to his core people. “Naudrek, you have the archers. Don’t volley unless we have to. Eydri, I’m counting on you. We need speed and stamina above all.”

“Yes, sir,” Naudrek answered.

“Of course, milord.” Eydri’s voice was strangely breathless, and even in the dark he thought she looked flushed. Is she feeling all right?

He could worry about that after they were free. “Hrug…” He paused, a sudden idea occurring to him. “Hrug, can you give me a light show? We don’t want to hurt them, just frighten them a little.”

The mute sorcerer nodded his agreement.

“Great. Go to it. Have some fun.”

He pursed his lips into a line and nodded, but Einarr could see a question on his brow. Einarr even knew what it was.

“They seem to be organizing to fight that blasted cult with its corrupted monsters. I would have no quarrel at all with them if they weren’t trying to impress us. Probably they assume we’re freeboaters. If we can get out without destroying them, we should.”

The rune seithir nodded his understanding and agreement and trotted off to the bulwarks, already pulling a piece of chalk from the pouch at his belt.

Now then. They were going to have to shoot the gap between two of the encircling boats. There were only a handful of longships, but most of them were between the Heidrun and the break in the sea wall.

There were two fishing boats together just off the port bow, but if he charged between them he would be headed directly for that sea wall. Could he maneuver quickly enough to get around behind the encirclement and race for the exit? Jumping the seawall might be possible, but would definitely be a good way to get them all stranded here.

He took his place on the platform of the mast. It was now or never. Arrows began to rain on their shields and their deck as they drew nearer the spot Einarr had chosen. “Svarek! Hard aport, now! Hrug – show me what you’ve got!”

“Oars, full speed!” Naudrek bellowed after him.

A line of light appeared all along the edge of the bulwark and all the way up to trace the lines of the ramshead on the prow. The line of light seemed to lift its nose to bugle, then lowered its head as though readying for a charge.

That… had not quite been what Einarr had in mind, but it seemed to be effective. The two fishing boats in the Heidrun’s path, scrambled to row out of the way. Meanwhile the enemy arrows faltered, as though none of them could quite believe what they were seeing. Not that Einarr could really fault them.

“Svarek, on my mark, throw us hard to starboard, then even out.”

“Aye, sir.”

Three… two… one… “Mark!”

The mast wobbled over the water as the ship abruptly turned almost in place on the water and the Heidrun shot forward – behind the League ships that had tried to capture her.

Someone onboard whooped – too soon. The League ships were taking up oars to give chase, true, but there was a larger problem to hand.

They weren’t going to clear the seawall.

They had good momentum. If Einarr tried to turn farther he would lose some of that, and some of the distance he had wanted to open up with their enemies. More importantly, though, they would still scrape against the seawall. Or, if they held steady, it might be enough to jump the seawall.

Heidrun, my Heidrun, I’m sorry. “Hold steady, Svarek!”

There was a collective intake of breath as large swaths of the crew realized what was about to happen.

“Brace!”

As one, the oars lifted into the air and the shield men dropped to their knees. Then there was a jolt, and a jump, and a terrible scraping as of rough stone on wood.

Please let us make it.

For a moment it seemed as though the Heidrun hung in midair. Then, with a splash, she skipped twice on the surface of the ocean. Momentum carried her forward at first, and then the wind filled her sail and she was off into the night.

Einarr exhaled loudly, relief flooding his belly as it became plain they’d made it past the difficult part. He could just make out, from the torchlight on their decks, the longships of Blávík leaving the harbor. Now, though, there was a goodly distance between them, and it was unlikely they would pursue too far.

“Shields down, everyone,” he ordered. He frowned, pondering, then decided it was worth the risk. “Get me a light. Naudrek, we need to find a safe harbor – secluded, this time – to check for damage and set ourselves up to fish on our way home.” And then I’ll get you to a proper shipwright, he promised his boat, and let you have a nice long rest for my honeymoon.


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Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

“Nothing?” Eydri repeated, aghast.

“Nothing,” Einarr answered. “That gem isn’t magical, and these people aren’t cursed. Now, Hrug, I don’t think the purification circle will need to be very complex. A simple fire rune started the process.”

Hrug nodded. Even with the issues they had with magic here on the island, they should be able to manage that much this evening.

“First thing in the morning we head back to town and the Heidrun. I’d rather not spend another night in harbor, but I expect we’ll have to, and then we can wash the dust of this island from our boots.”

Odvir gave him a quizzical look. “If the island’s not cursed, and you’ve dealt with the draugr, then why—?”

“I’ve dealt with the only draugr I had business with: Ragnar’s, and those who’ve attacked us. This is still Hel’s domain, and likely will be for some time to come.” He handed his empty bowl over to Finn for another scoop of soup, which he drank swiftly. “Come on. There are still things to be done tonight, and we need an early start in the morning.”


When Einarr and Naudrek were awakened for the last watch, it was to the knowledge that the draugr had, once again, mostly ignored their home camp. They had not been out after dark – if barely – they had not taken out the Fehugim, and the most powerful of the creatures was slain. Einarr took this as a good sign even as he wished for more sleep.

As dawn was breaking, Einarr stirred some crumbled bread into the remains of last night’s soup. It wasn’t much, but it should take them to the Heidrun at least, where they could have a proper dinner. Once they had eaten, Einarr took the newly-purified sword of Ragnar — looking much less ominous, now that the corruption had been burned out of the steel — in hand and they set off across the forest for the town of Thorndjupr.

The scouts proved their worth once more as they hiked the return journey to the town of unlife: their blazes were still visible, marking the path they had taken inland in the first place. While this did not speed their journey as much as one might expect, it did mean it was once again noon when the ghastly standing stones hove into view.

Someone was waiting for them there. Or, rather, several someones: Einarr took the lead as they approached, motioning for his companions to get behind him.

Up ahead, in the circle of standing stones, despite the fact that it was the middle of the day, stood seven fleshy draugr – none of whom, thankfully, was half so large as Ragnar. Not that that would save Einarr’s crew, if it came to blows.

“What do you want,” he demanded without preamble.

One of their number, a wasted-looking figure, his skin black as death and clinging to his bones, with stringy white hair falling to his shoulders under a dark iron helm, twitched his head to the side. A rasping voice came from the direction of the draugr, although none of them appeared to speak. “You have the Fehugim,” it rasped.

“What of it?”

The voice was decidedly feminine. The heads of several of the draugr twitched this time. “It is mine. You will leave it here, in this circle, or you will die.”

Einarr frowned. He had intended to leave it with the old herb-witch when he spoke with her, but he hardly suspected the owner of the voice to appreciate that argument. “We will leave the Fehugim with the elders of the town. Will that suffice?”

The voice hissed at him, like some horrific serpent, and repeated “It is mine.”

“It is Wotan’s, is it not? Stolen from him generations ago and lost in the ruins of this island. I mean to see it returned to its rightful place.”

The forest seemed to echo with dry, raspy laughter. “Stolen? Do you truly believe old One-Eye to be so foolish as to allow a mortal to rob him?” The laughter pealed again, and a shiver ran down Einarr’s spine. “That gem is mine, and marks this island as mine. If you do not wish to also be mine, you will leave the gem and be off.”

Still, Einarr hesitated.

“You and your crew would make for fine specimens within my army…”

Einarr exhaled loudly, reminding himself he had no obligation to help these people. Indeed, by the laws of the Thing, he was forbidden to do so. He turned to Hrug. “The gem.”

“You don’t seriously intend to—” Eydri spluttered.

“Yes, I do, Eydri. In fact, I have no choice.” He met her eyes and continued, more quietly. “I’ll explain later.”

She quieted, but that was an angry look he had only ever seen before on Runa’s face. Hrug handed him the rune-worked box. Einarr opened the lid: inside rested the brilliant red Fehugim with it’s light-inscribed rune within.

“Here it is. I’m going to step forward now to leave the gem where you want it.”

“A wise decision.”

“Have your puppets move back.”

She chuckled, the sound very like Ragnar’s. “So untrusting. Very well, young Cursebreaker.”

As one, the draugr walked backwards to the far edge of the stone circle and waited as Einarr moved cautiously forward. When he was just outside the stone circle, he placed the box on the ground and slid it forward. “I have done as you demanded. Now we will continue on our journey.”

“Will you, now? I wonder. What if I’ve decided I want you for my army after all?”

“That was not the agreement. Or would you be named Oathbreaker?”

Silence stretched out long in the forest. Einarr and his companions made a defensive circle around Eydri and Hrug. If Hel decided she would take them, she could certainly try, but they would make her pay for the privilege.

A sound like the snapping of a tree trunk rang through the forest.The draugr that stood guard within the stone circle clattered to the ground, once more the scattered remains they had seen on their way in.


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