“So. Where to next?”
Einarr stared for a long moment, not yet quite able to believe his eyes. The jar that had stuck to him like a bad copper all summer, was itself haunted? And the creature doing the haunting… didn’t seem overly concerned about being dead, so long as he was free to move about.
Said creature appeared as a tall and stocky man, tow-headed with beard and hair alike tied in thick braids. How much of that was residual from life, Einarr could not begin to guess. What almost had to be, however, was the look of earnest eagerness on Vali’s face.
It was that eagerness that did it, Einarr thought, then realized he was still staring. Someone poked him in the ribs and he shook his head: Runa, of all people, had recovered her wits first.
“Once we’re off this island,” Einarr answered, only a little belatedly. “We’re headed to rejoin my Father’s crew on Breidhaugr. But first, we’re going to have a look around in here.”
The spirit raised his head, sniffed the air, and then smiled. “Very good! There doesn’t seem to be any residual dark energy, but it does feel like someone hid something good in here.”
Einarr raised an eyebrow, but did not try to stop the others as they went looking for anything worth bringing back. “How can you tell?”
Vali offered him an almost rakish smile. “Ever since I was bound to that jar, I’ve learned a few things about magical energy. What it does, yes, but more how it tastes. It’s basically my food. That big giant curse you just fed me? Was more or less like eating a whole stag by myself. I shouldn’t need more for a good long time – but I can still smell other dishes around the room. For example, the dwarf’s shield is particularly pungent. …You did know his shield was magic, right?”
Einarr laughed in spite of himself, nodding. “Yes, I know.”
“Best get hunting, if you don’t want to miss out on the good stuff.” Vali waggled his eyebrows, but Einarr knew all but one of them better than that. Still, though, Runa was sitting up now, apparently unharmed, and they were still in a hurry.
The others had finally lit torches, having deemed the dull glow of the walls insufficient for the search. Jorir knelt off to one side, fingering a piece of maille with what looked like glee in his eyes. Curious, Einarr wandered over.
“Something good?” He asked as he approached his man-at-arms.
Jorir glanced over at him, chortling. “Good timing, milord. Here, try this on.”
The maille that Jorir tossed at Einarr – tossed, as though it were some linen tunic! – glinted gold in the torchlight. Einarr reached out with both hands, scrambling to catch it. The maille shirt landed with a strangely musical rattle and spilled over the sides of his hands, but did not fall. It was shockingly light.
“What’s this now?” Einarr turned the maille about in his hands until he could hold it up by the shoulders.
“Something to replace that battered hunk of iron you call maille, my Lord,” Jorir chuckled, then went on. “That is maille forged by the smiths of Brokkr, strengthened by powdered diamonds and lightened by the bristles of the golden boar. You’ll not find better steel anywhere. It’s said that even the failures from the forges of Brokkr were infused with magic, and that is no failure.”
“I can’t -” Einarr started to protest.
“Yes, you can. I found it, and I am presenting it to my liege lord because I’d like to keep him alive. I can’t tell you what the magic in it does, but no ordinary blade will get past Brokkrsteel.”
Einarr paused, staring at the dwarf. “Thank you,” he said finally.
Jorir grinned at him, looking for all the world like the cat that got the cream, and wandered off to continue the search. It was more than a little strange to see a reaction like that from the normally staid Jorir. Einarr shrugged: he would get it from his liege man eventually. In the meantime, there was treasure to be had.
In addition to Einarr’s new maille that delighted Jorir so well, they found a shield for Arkja, a pair of small axes for Irding and another for Erik, and a helm nearly as nice as the maille that would fit Jorir’s head but not Einarr’s. There were other goods, but none so practical. Runa claimed for herself a bit of jewelry, rubies set in gold, and the rest would be presented to Stigander with the rest of the treasure from the island. Their haul divided, they set forth toward the already laden Gestrisni.
Some hours later than when they had entered, they emerged blinking into the sunlight of the tiny cove. Einarr carried Vali’s jar under one arm, his old maille in the same hand, as they went to rejoin the rest of the crew. The new maille, he thought, would take some getting used to: he could barely tell he was wearing it, and in the light of the sun the golden sheen of the metal was almost distracting.
Vali himself walked along the shore with them, doing a credible impersonation of the living so long as one did not look too closely. His feet never quite seemed to meet the ground, and if one stared too intently one could see through him. Still, though, under the circumstances it seemed best not to ask the others to accept a ghost into their midst. Not yet, anyway.
Up ahead, on the beach, the remainder of Arkja’s gang of would-be bandits sat about on the beach tending to their gear and watching the boat primarily by being in its vicinity. Einarr sighed: while this island was likely safe, that would not long be the case. He would have to have a word with them. He raised an arm in greeting and hailed the men.
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