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.

 

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.

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.

 

They waited in silence until they were sure Kharmor was out of earshot and off the docks – with the way sound carried over water, the second was required for the first. Then Kaldr turned to Runa.

“What do you know about these Paths of Stone?”

She shook her head, her hair tickling Einarr’s nose. “Little enough. I’d have said they were as much a legend as the High Roads a few years ago.” Runa frowned, scrunching up her nose as she tried to recall. “There was something from my time with the Matrons, though…”

She started to hum, very quietly. Over the last month, Einarr had seen her do that whenever she gave a matter serious thought. “Once, when Loki journeyed to Myrkheimr to claim gifts of appeasement for the gods from the craftsmen of the dvergr…

East, and east he went, to

Wasteland, rock and ice. There

Sought he the entrance, mark’d

By dvergr pride…

She opened her eyes. “There’s more, but I don’t know that it really helps us. At least not yet.”

Thjofgrir scratched at the back of his neck. “Not sure how much that really helps us. East of what? And what in the world does it mean by ‘dvergr pride’?”

Vali laughed, sending a shiver down everyone’s spine. Thjofgrir looked annoyed.

Einarr looked at the transparent face of their resident ghost. “Why is that funny?”

Your pretty little wife should know the answer to that. Even before I was bound to the jar, skalds could never tell you anything straight.”

Runa settled back against Einarr’s chest, and he could hear the smile in her voice. “He’s right, really. That only sounds straightforward. Oh, East is true enough, and probably the line about the wasteland is literal. But there are four great houses of dwarves, one in each direction, for the four original sons of Ymir who held up the heavens.”

Kaldr blinked at that. “Excuse me, what?”

That’s the story, anyway. Probably the truth of it is buried under yet more layers of metaphor. But when Loki went to ask the dvergr for Sif’s golden hair, he traveled to the house in the east. And Mýrarhöfn is already in the eastern seas, and near the warm Imperial waters. If we head east from here, there should be a barren island that holds an entrance to the Paths of Stone.”

Kaldr looked straight at Einarr. “Once it’s light we can consult the charts, but I can think of a couple of likely options if we continue east from here.”

Einarr nodded. “Let’s do it, then. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, I don’t care how you do it, but get us fresh water. …Kaldr, you go with them. Vali, you’re on watch.”

Yes, sir!” came the answering chorus.

As for himself, he had a new wife to see to.


Ten days out of Mýrarhöfn, with land nowhere in sight, Runa found that the rocking of the Villgås no longer agreed with her stomach. That evening, her face still a little green, she admitted to Einarr that her monthlies had been significantly delayed.

Einarr’s cheer echoed across the waves.

Not so loud, my love,” she said, wincing. “I think an alf on the High Roads heard you.”

Let them!” Einarr laughed.

This is joyous news indeed,” Kaldr drawled. He didn’t sound particularly joyous, however. “Tell me, my lord, what happens if we’re attacked with the Lady Runa in this state?”

We protect our Singer, of course. Just as always.”

I see.” Kaldr pursed his lips, evidently still displeased, but said no more.

Runa tisked. “Come now, Kaldr. It’s not like I’m going to suddenly forget all the training I had from the Matrons. Nor does pregnancy typically interfere with Song Magic – if anything, it enhances it.”

Kaldr hummed. Einarr, though, blinked in surprise. “Truly?”

Truly. It’s based on resonance and emotional states, after all.”

Would that not also make your witchcraft less stable, my lady?”

Runa hesitated. “Sometimes,” she finally answered. “Although if I might make a recommendation? Referring to your prince’s wife as a witch is not particularly wise even under ordinary circumstances.”

I will keep that in mind, my lady.” Kaldr offered her a slight bow and moved to the prow, where he stood looking out over the sea.

He is right about one thing, though, Runa.”

She raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue.

You can’t let yourself be reckless now. Let us handle that part, okay?”

Now she smirked, evidently pleased that he’d evaded some trap in the topic. “I will do my best.”

Einarr?” Kaldr called from the prow. There was an unusual urgency to his voice.

Einarr was on his feet in a moment, already moving forward. “Yes, what is it?”

Evasive action!” Kaldr cried. Without thinking, Thjofgrir and Naudrek picked up oars.

A moment later, Einarr had reached the prow and saw for himself. There, in the middle of the open ocean, was the gaping maw of a huge maelstrom.

He was at the rudder in two strides. “Where did that even come from?”

I don’t know! Does it matter?”

Kaldr, direct me! Skip us off the edge!”

Yes, sir!”

Oars, stand by!”

Yes, sir!”

Port side, row with all your might! Hard starboard!”

Slowly, the Villgås turned. Einarr could feel the sucking of the maelstrom pulling at the rudder already.

Einarr – steady out! Starboard oar, jump in!”

Einarr relaxed his grip on the rudder at the same time Thjofgrir threw his back into rowing. Runa started to look green again as the ship pitched over the swirling waves. With a creak, the prow started to turn back toward the ocean’s maw.

Einarr! Starboard again, now!”

Even as Kaldr’s words reached his ears, Einarr was leaning his weight into the steering oar. It fought him, hard.

A wave washed over the deck and Einarr caught the strong odor of fish in the water. He swore: every sailor knew what that meant. “Kraken!”

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.

 

“Evening, strangers. My thanks for the invitation.”

“The pleasure is ours. Have a seat.”

The dwarf rumbled: it might have been a laugh. “Not many strangers call dining with a dark dwarf a pleasure.”

Einarr offered a friendly smile. “A good friend of mine happens to be a dark dwarf. My name’s Einarr.”

“Hmm. Kharmor.”

Kaldr nodded and gave his own name.

“Here. First round’s on me,” Einarr volunteered. They spoke lightly for a time, with Vali hovering behind Einarr and whispering in his ear occasionally. Kharmor didn’t seem to be able to see the ghost – at the very least, he gave no sign of doing so.

After a couple of rounds like this, Einarr started telling stories about his journeys with Jorir – omitting the name, at first.

“Seems like a serious fellow, this friend of yours.”

“Aye, Jorir can be very serious. But he’s been a steady hand and an even keel for me, too, and we’ve been through some crazy adventures in the last few years.”

“…Jorir?” Kharmor started at the name.

Yes, that’s my liege man.”

“That all the name he’s given you?”

“Well, yes. He’s a smith, and he’s made plain that there’s a matter he will need my help with. Which is why I don’t understand why he ran off.”

Slowly, Kharmor nodded. “Jorir the cursed blacksmith, whose works can never hold the spark of magic. I assure you he had his reasons.”

“It’s just–”

“I do not doubt your sincerity. But you and your man both would be better served by returning home to wait for him.”

Kaldr tried to interject here, but he, too was cut off.

“You can be of no help to him, and you will only bring harm to yourselves. Go home.” Kharmor the dwarf rose from his seat with an air of finality and turned his back on the table. “In thanks for the food and drink, I will give you one last word of advice. Leave this place, by morning if you can. There are others of my kin who will not be so understanding as I.”

As the dwarf stumped loudly out of the hall, Einarr surveyed the room around them. It had grown considerably quieter, and a significant portion of the other patrons stared daggers at them. He cleared his throat.

“I think,” Kaldr muttered into his cup. “That our new friend was right about one thing, at least.”

“We do seem to be wearing out our welcome rather quickly,” Einarr agreed, looking very intently down into his trancheon to scrape up the last spoonful or two of stew. “Vali, I hope you had better luck than we did.”

“Maybe a bit, chief.”

“Good. Tell me later. Let’s finish what’s in front of us, pay, and leave. Wouldn’t want it to look like we were following him out.”


After one very tense walk across the hostile thieves’ den they found themselves in, the three men boarded the Villgås and breathed a sigh of relief. They all took seats in a rough circle on the deck: Einarr, still feeling the sting of the insults hurled early in the day, pulled Runa into his lap. Kaldr rolled his eyes. Naudrek and Thjofgrir smirked.

After her initial squawk of surprise, Runa settled back against his chest. Evidently she wasn’t too mad about being left on the ship, which was good. He would make it worth her while, later. For now, though… “Report.”

Naudrek rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “Shouldn’t we be asking you that?”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow. “I will be reporting the results of our investigation. But first, Thjofgrir, tell me you’ve already started bringing on fresh water?”

“Started? Yes. Finished? That’s another matter.”

Kaldr groaned.

Einarr sympathised. They still had some extra, because the Villgås had a deep draft, but counting on that was never wise. “Fine,” he said. “It is what it is. Nothing strange happened here?”

“No, sir,” Naudrek answered. “We’ve more or less been ignored.”

Einarr nodded now. “Vali? Tell me you found something beyond what our little friend from the Grotto told us.”

“Oh, aye,” the ghost said with a grin. “And from his own mouth, no less. Why do you think I nudged him your direction? Only trouble is…”

“He wasn’t so willing to talk to outsiders?”

“You’ll find,” rumbled a vaguely familiar voice from behind, “that no-one who lives here really welcomes strangers.”

Vali faded until he was just a faint outline to Einarr’s eyes. Einarr’s hands tightened on Runa’s hips unconsciously and she squirmed until he adjusted them. It was… distracting.

Einarr turned to look at their new guest, who stood respectfully just off the deck of the ship. “So we noticed. Come aboard.”

Kharmor smirked and took that step, his boots clumping heavily on the wood. “As you wish.”

“To what do we owe the honor? You made it quite plain earlier there was nothing more you would tell us.”

Could tell you. Not there, anyway. Then I waited outside and followed you to your boat. I’m amazed you didn’t notice.”

Vali’s outline smirked. Einarr was beginning to hate that expression. Kharmor, it seemed, still didn’t see the ghost.

“My kinsman that you seek – Jorir. He’s a criminal in our lands.”

Einarr raised both eyebrows in surprise and disbelief.

“He went against the will of our Thane – that’s why he left in the first place, when I was just a child. As far as we knew, he was dead. If word’s gotten out that he’s active again, though, he might have been called back home.”

“Home?”

“The alfs have the High Roads. We have our own means of reaching our homeland. I don’t recommend you try it.”

“Whyever not?” Thjofgrir asked.

“Because no human who treads the Paths of Stone ever returns.” He paused a long moment, fixing all of them with a level look. “There. I’ve said my piece. Get home with you. Either you’ll have word from your liege man, or you won’t. Either way, there’s nothing you can do by following after him.”

Without another word, Kharmor stumped back down to the docks. For a long moment, they sat in silence.

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.

 

Their second stop was at a place called The Grey Gate. Other than being a less-likely haunt for freeboaters on leave, its chief benefit was its proximity to the foundry and the timber yard in the city. Once again Einarr and Kaldr seated themselves in an unobtrusive corner, ordered a pair of ales, and sat watching the crowd.

Kaldr spotted them first: a pair of smiths, one of them a svartdvergr. They spoke briefly, and then the dwarf – far stockier and more scarred than Jorir – left again.

Einarr nodded, pleased. “All right. Hold your thumbs – here goes nothing.”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow, but obliged. It was a silly gesture, but Einarr still felt a little more confident as he sauntered over to the table where the smith still sat.

“Pardon me, friend. Mind if I sit down?”

The smith gave him a withering look, but gestured at the seat nonetheless.

“Many thanks. I’m new in town, but a friend came through before me – a smith. I was hoping you might be able to help me find him.”

The other man took a long drink of his ale, plainly ignoring Einarr.

“Oh, where are my manners. The next one’s on me.”

That, at least, got a harrumph out of the man. He took another long pull on his drink, obviously sizing Einarr up the entire time. “What makes you think I know anything about your friend?”

Einarr shrugged. “Call it a hunch.”

The man’s look could have humbled one of the Matrons. “Fine then. What makes you think he wants to be found?”

“I don’t, really. But disappearing like this just isn’t like him. And I know something terrible is going on in his homeland – something he’s said in the past he’ll need my aid on.”

The smith snorted. “Go home, Princeling. You and your stuffed-shirt bodyguard. Your ‘friend’ disappeared here, either he don’t want to be found or he’s dead. Either way, your kind don’t belong here.”

With a sigh, Einarr stood and dropped a coin on the table. “There. That should cover your next few – as thanks.”

Einarr took two steps back towards where Kaldr waited in the corner, still trying to be inconspicuous, before the man called after him. “Waitaminute. You sound like someone I’ve heard before. Not too long ago, neither.”

Einarr turned, a tight smile curving his lips but not reaching his cheeks, let alone his eyes. “Surely not. My homeland is a good ways from here.”

“No… I’m sure of it now. Your tongue has the same way of it as that young fella who was here just a few weeks back. You people just don’t know when to give up!” He stood violently at the table, slamming his hands down flat and calling the attention of everyone else in the Hall. “Oy! This one’s asking around after the dwarves!”

A Singer could not have inspired a quicker fury than those words imposed upon the room. Einarr wanted to explain, but there was no point. Nothing he could say would be heard by anyone in the room.

Kaldr realized it too. He suddenly appeared at Einarr’s back, wary and ready to draw. “My Lord…”

“Mm. Time to go, I think.”

The hiss of steel from around the room confirmed that hunch.

“Quickly?”

“Double-time.”

They started towards the door, Einarr facing the room, Kaldr at his back leading the way to the exit and safety. Neither of them was a slouch in a fight, but two against fifty seemed like poor odds under these circumstances. They had not gone three steps before a shout arose from the other patrons and they began to charge after the retreating prince and his retainer.


By the time they had lost their pursuers, it was nearly supper time. They both agreed that they needed to try at least once more that day: the longer they took, the colder the trail became, after all. On the one hand, the hour was a boon. There would be more people about, and that meant both that they would stand out less and that they would have a better chance of finding a lead. Hopefully not another one that remembered Finn. On the other hand, if things went wrong again…

Tired and footsore, they settled on a nearby place called the Salty Grotto. Despite the name, this was easily the highest-quality establishment they had visited yet. The rugs were not only not muddy, they were also not threadbare, and if the long tables saw great use they were also well-tended, as the surface was polished smooth and not at all sticky.

Once again they found themselves a place near a wall and called for ale and food – a full meal, this time, instead of a simple loaf to pretend to eat.

The Grotto was a lively house at the dinner hour. Local tradesmen – and some whole families, although not many – nearly filled the room. A lutist plucked a lively tune from near the front of the room, and when their stew arrived it smelled nearly as good as some of the things Snorli had come up with back on the Vidofnir.

Over everything, Einarr heard the door thump open at the entrance and turned to look. But there’s no-one… oh, there he is. A black-haired dwarf with skin nearly the color of bronze sauntered in and surveyed the room. Einarr couldn’t tell, immediately, what his profession was, although he was perhaps the shortest, stockiest dwarf Einarr had ever met. He also seemed to be looking for a seat. I’ll take this chance. He waved the dwarf over.

It took a moment for the svartdvergr to notice, but eventually he clumped over, his iron boots clanking a little against the floor. A mercenary, then?

Not far behind him, before anyone thought to close the door, Vali slipped in.

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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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Einarr stepped out into the road running past the end of the pier and looked up and down it. Calling it a road may have been generous: he had seen cart paths that were better maintained. Deep muddy ruts scarred the surface, with standing water in several of them.

Board walks lined the sides of the road, but they were so crammed full of stalls it was impossible to actually walk along them. Well: this would hardly be the first time Einarr had gotten his boots dirty. Still, the quality of merchant did not leave him feeling hopeful.

On his left, Kaldr sniffed. “Have they no pride?” he muttered.

Einarr couldn’t quite suppress a smirk. “It might be better for us if that were the case, but I think you’ll find that pride is not what they’re lacking.”

Kaldr only hummed, his eyes scanning the crowd before them. Einarr felt sure he was looking for threats and not leads.

One direction seemed as good as the other. With a mental shrug, Einarr turned to his right. The smells coming from this direction had more to do with grilled meat than with stable muck, at least. Kaldr fell into step on his left. The walks packed with stalls and their patrons continued until the road made a sharp turn inland.

“Wandering the streets won’t do us much good,” Kaldr mused.

“No,” Einarr agreed, pitching his voice for Kaldr’s ears only. “We need a place we can sit and listen for a spell. Keep your eyes open for a public hall.”

“Surely you don’t expect there to be many people in such a place at this hour?”

“In a town like this? You’d be surprised. Besides, it always seemed to work well for Bardr when we needed to go recruiting.”

The signboard over the first hall they found – more of a den, really, Einarr thought – had ‘The Silent Hog’ scrawled across it in Imperial script. With a shared shrug and a nod, they went in.

Inside, the Silent Hog was not particularly quiet, although it made the Pewter Pot in Eskiborg look nice by comparison. The rugs scattered across the floor were nearly as muddy as the road outside, and all across the room men sat at tables dicing and drinking – never mind that it was not yet noon. Without too much trouble, Einarr spotted a place near the far wall that was currently unoccupied and flagged down a barmaid.

Five minutes later, as they sat across a table from each other with bread and ale, Einarr looked at Kaldr and said “And now, we wait.”

“For what?”

“Don’t know yet. Drink slowly, nibble, listen. If nothing interesting happens, we can move on and try again somewhere else.”

Kaldr shook his head. “I’ll admit, this is a little outside my expertise. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have Thjofgrir with you?”

Einarr chuckled. “Little late for cold feet now, isn’t it? But yes, I’m quite sure. It’s mostly a matter of knowing what to listen for.”

He turned his head to survey the room at a surge in the general noise level of the hall – some freeboater winning at dice, he expected, but no-one stood out of the crowd. He had another sip of his truly terrible ale and popped a morsel of bread in his mouth – that, at least, was quite good and fresh.

Kaldr cleared his throat. “Don’t look now, but I think someone is spoiling for a fight.”

Hey!” A rough voice called from over Einarr’s shoulder even as he turned to look.

I been watching you. Y’ain’t here ta drink, an’ y’ain’t here ta dice, so what’re you tryin’ ta pull?” The man was rail thin, but easily as tall as Erik, and his yellow hair twisted into greasy knots. He loomed over their table as he approached, one hand on the hilt of his belt knife.

Einarr put on a friendly smile. “Nothing like that, friend. We’re just looking for a friend of ours. Can we buy you a drink?”

Bah! Pair o’ pretty boys like you won’t find any friends here.”

Kaldr quirked an eyebrow. Einarr clenched his teeth, but only briefly. He couldn’t very well admit to being a prince, though, for the very same reason he hadn’t dared to bring Runa ashore.

I’ll have to let my wife know she has competition from other men, I suppose,” Einarr answered, his voice tight as he looked at Kaldr. He jerked his head toward the door: they weren’t going to learn anything here now.

A likely story!” The ruffian continued his taunts, plainly looking for a brawl that Einarr had no desire to provide. “Run off then. You might ‘ave better luck at the Cocksroost!”

Einarr frowned, sizing the man up. Not weak, plainly, but the fact that no-one else at the hall had come along suggested he might get away with it. While the ruffian laughed, evidently thinking he’d found a coward, Einarr pulled back his fist and let loose. He felt the satisfying crunch of bone as the ruffian’s nose shattered and his eyes rolled up in his head. “Let’s go.”

Silence fell over the room. As expected, when the scraggly man went down no-one came to his assistance. Einarr dropped a pair of coins on the table and left without paying him so much as another glance. Kaldr stalked after.

That was hardly called for,” he murmured.

My honor, and yours, disagree. Sometimes, the best thing to do with a man like that is give him what he’s after, good and hard.”

Word will spread, and it will be harder to lay low.”

Word will spread, and we should dissuade more such… nonsense. Now we need to find another place to listen.”

Might I suggest looking for one near a local foundry?”

Einarr gave that some thought. Not all svartdvergr were blacksmiths, but Jorir was. “Agreed.”

The two men set off down the street in the way that they had come, knowing they would need to go inland eventually – but where there were stables, there would be horses to shoe.

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.

 

Stigander went so far as to provide the karve for their search – one of the benefits, he said, of being back where they belonged – while Einarr and Kaldr assembled their team. Thjofgrir’s presence was as critical for Kaldr as Naudrek’s was for Einarr. After much deliberation, they agreed that Vali was their best choice for a scout, especially in the sorts of places they expected their search to take them.

The trouble came when Runa overheard Einarr speaking to Eydri about going.

“You’re not seriously thinking of leaving me behind?”

Uh-oh. Einarr steeled himself and turned to face his new wife. “I was, actually. We can’t know what sort of circumstances we’ll find ourselves in. It’s sure to be dangerous, and –”

“No ‘ands,’ Einarr. I don’t mind if you also bring along Eydri, but I’m not going to let you leave me behind.”

“But –”

“No buts. Jorir’s gotten me out of a tough scrape or two already: I intend to return the favor.”

Somehow, Einarr wasn’t certain that would be a good thing for Jorir, but he knew very well when Runa wasn’t going to budge on an issue. With a sigh, he turned to Eydri.

“It’s fine,” she said, but she wouldn’t look him in the eye.

“Are you sure? If you still want to go, I can check supplies with Kaldr. Vali doesn’t exactly eat much.”

“No, it’s fine. I haven’t sailed with Jorir all that much, and Kaldr is… Kaldr. Lady Runa has the right of it …If you’ll excuse me.”

Eydri left the room with some haste. Einarr looked after her as she entered the hall, puzzled. “Whatever can have gotten into her?”

Runa smiled, looking for all the world like a cat with cream. “Nothing you need concern yourself over. Just give her a little time and all will be well again.”

“…If you say so. Well, you’ve made it plain I can’t stop you, so you’d best make sure you’re packed.”

“Our things have already been seen to.”

“…I see.” Gods preserve me from willful women… The thought was as fond as his smile, though, as he wrapped an arm around his wife. “In that case, we should check in with Kaldr and Thjofgrir down at the pier.”


Kaldr, as expected, had complained – perhaps more loudly than he would have for Eydri, but his complaints were expected. Even he, however, could not deny the usefulness of someone well-versed in lore for their journey.

That it was Runa, however. That was a bone of contention. He argued long and strongly against her inclusion, and each and every argument against was one which Einarr had expected. Even agreed with, on some level. Finally, however, when Runa’s voice grew haughty and every fiber of her being began to quiver with anger, Einarr stepped in. There was simply nothing to be done, after all – she had as much right to search for Jorir as the two of them, and politics be damned.

Kaldr let loose a heavy sigh. “As my lord wills it, then,” he said with a bow, and left to see to some other matter aboard their karve.

They sailed the next day aboard the boat they had dubbed the Villgås, and after two and a half uneventful weeks on the open water they saw the shores of Mýrarhöfn rise over the horizon. Save for being the only land they’d seen in more than a week, there was not much remarkable about the terrain. The largest portion of what they could see was taken up by the port.

Even from the water Einarr could see that the port city looked run-down. With its reputation for attracting freeboaters of the roughest sort, it was unfortunately what he’d expected. He frowned: here was where he wished Eydri hadn’t bowed out so quickly. He could have used her on the ground in a place like this. Runa, though… well, she was tougher than one would expect, but he still couldn’t bring her ashore, not without a very good reason. She would be eaten alive in a place like this. He turned his gaze away from the approaching harbor and back over the deck to survey his crew and snorted, his decision made.

“All right, everyone. Once we make land, here’s how this will work. Thjofgrir, Naudrek, and Runa will stay aboard to guard the ship. No, Runa, that’s not optional. There’s very few Singers I’ve met I wouldn’t order to stay aboard in a place like this.” Runa huffed. Einarr found, for once, he didn’t care. “Vali, you can get into places the rest of us simply can’t. I expect you to be doing the heavy lifting on this search. Trust your instincts… and try not to scare anyone to death.”

As expected, Runa glared daggers at Einarr, but kept her mouth shut. At least for now. Vali smirked. “Aye, sir,” was all he said.

“Kaldr, you and I are going to go asking questions in all the wrong sorts of places.”

“Of course, my lord.”

He paused. He had half-expected Kaldr to suggest Thjofgrir or Naudrek in his place: truth be told, he wasn’t certain one or both of them might be better for the job. Well, whatever the reason, Einarr wanted a cool head at his back if he got into trouble. “Good. We’re going armed. If you’ve got a sturdy leather coat it’s probably better than maille here.”

Kaldr nodded, evidently in agreement. “The less attention we draw to ourselves, the better. Keep in mind, everyone, that Finn hit a stone wall every time it came out he was searching for a svartdvergr.”

“Hm. That could make things more interesting.” Einarr shrugged. “Not like there’s much we can do about it until we’re out there. Is everyone ready?”

Runa still looked cross, but her two bodyguards nodded easily.

“As ready as we can be, then,” Kaldr answered. It looked like Vali was already gone.

“Then I’ll see you all tonight.”

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.