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.

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.

 

Burned hair. Singed sleeves. Blistering skin on arms and legs and – yes – even faces. Einarr and his band rotated their way down the flaming hell of the staircase, and with every blast of flame their fatigue grew. Even Runa, much to Einarr’s shame – did not escape burns. Long before they reached a landing at the bottom, she began to Sing to maintain their stamina.

When, finally, all five of them stood on the first level ground they had come across in what felt like hours – and may have actually been – they stood for a long minute in their shell, panting and looking about the room they had come to.

It was, by all appearances, an empty room. A passage continued on some thirty feet ahead of them. The walls here, too, were carved, but where the intricate scrollwork and fanciful figures there served to conceal the nozzles of their fire traps, the carvings here were definitely martial in nature.

“Is everyone all right?” Einarr asked, knowing full well that everyone was injured, and began to lower his shield.

Thjofgrir, too, began to relax. “Well as can be expected, I think. Our shields are ruined, though.”

“Better our shields than our bodies,” Kaldr answered. His eyes still scanned the room suspiciously, and Einarr thought he saw gooseflesh on the man’s neck.

Einarr hummed in agreement. “We could all use a break,” he started to say, when a very familiar pop sounded from the opposite wall.

As one – almost – they raised their overheated, charred shields to defend against another blast. But what came their way here was not more fire.

It was javelins.

And the “almost” was Thjofgrir. His shield lagged just a heartbeat beyond the others – due to fatigue or his awkward posture or his burns, Einarr could not guess. But that heartbeat made all the difference.

Most of the javelins bounced off their shields, or even fell short. But Einarr and Naudrek both felt the heavy impact of the javelin against their shields – where it stuck. Thjofgrir cried out in pain. When Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder, he saw the big man clutching his shoulder with his sword arm. Then the man growled and brought the shield up anyway, knocking the shaft of the javelin to the side.

That was the first volley.

“Kaldr! Shield him. Naudrek – shield Runa and me. Runa, I need you to use the Healing song.” Einarr dropped his shield, the javelin still lodged fast in the wood.

Thjofgrir was already gingerly pulling at the shaft of the javelin, but not having any luck dislodging it. It didn’t take Einarr long to see why: the head of the javelin was barbed. They were angon, not mere javelins. Einarr drew his belt knife as he moved to assist and the first notes of the Song of Healing flowed over them.

That was when the second volley flew, barbed heads coming at them again from seemingly every direction.

Without thinking, Einarr turned to shield the wounded Thjofgrir with his back. He heard a curse from Naudrek, but nothing really registered beyond keeping their wounded friend alive. He brought his knife up towards Thjofgrir’s shoulder. “This is going to hurt.”

One of the angon crashed into the center of his back. The impact made him stagger, but curiously he felt no blood, and he was not impaled. The brokkrsteel. Once again, he had Jorir’s foresight to thank for his own life – but now was not the time. Without wasting another breath, he slashed across the shoulder wound with the knife, opening it up enough to extract the barbs of the angon.

Thjofgrir was going to need more than just the Song of Healing, but now that the angon was out they should be able to bandage it. It looked as though the Song was already working to stanch the flow of blood.

As quickly as he had come to aid, Einarr spun out and picked up his half-destroyed shield. It was unweildy with the javelin stuck through it, but their best hope of survival was to ignore that and fight on.

Thjofgrir still held his wound closed with his hand, but he was steadier on his feet already. They had to get out of here.

As the volley of angon finished, Einarr took a deep breath. “Run for the tunnel!”

Runa, unable to Sing and run at the same time, threw her arms about Einarr’s neck and rode on his back as they frantically tried to escape the hail of fire.

Kaldr held back, letting Naudrek move forward into the lead so that he could assist Thjofgrir – which Einarr appreciated, even as he was entirely unsurprised by it. Those two had been working together for at least a decade now.

Now that they were moving again it was a constant barrage, as though there were layers upon layers of whatever was launching these, and each one would reset itself. Einarr felt sluggish: the angon tore through Runa’s skirts, which trailed behind them like a flag, and scratched across his calf, but somehow he managed to shield both their bodies from the wicked tips. Even still, he was not that much ahead of Kaldr and Thjofgrir when he rushed through the threshold of the tunnel and stood, panting, while Runa set herself down and smoothed her skirts. She gave him a grateful smile as she continued to Sing.

Naudrek proved himself once again: as Thjofgrir and Kaldr staggered through, he thrust a long, thick cloth at Kaldr. “For the arm.”

“Be quick,” Einarr said, his breathing still coming in gasps. “The dvergr aren’t likely to have set things up to give any respite at this point.”

Kaldr did not waste any breath answering: he simply nodded his acknowledgment as he deftly tied the cloth around Thjofgrir’s shoulder. Thjofgrir tested the binding by rolling his arm – as well as the ceiling would allow – and gave his Captain a nod.

“We’re ready.”

“Good.” Einarr gestured for Naudrek to lead on even as he spoke. “Runa, when you think Thjofgrir’s shoulder is put back together well enough, we could really use that other Song.”

Einarr’s legs were beginning to feel like jelly, and his arms weren’t much better, but he was plagued by the certainty that to stop now would mean death.

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.

 

The Valkyrian hunter’s aim was steady. Any moment could give him the clear shot he needed to take out Reki.

Einarr ran, every footfall pounding a resounding ‘no’ against the deck of the Geirskögul. A fighter dodged someone else’s blow into Einarr’s path: Einarr shoved past him roughly, not even noticing if it was hunter or Vidofning. Three steps further on his leg lit up with the heat of being cut. It would hurt, later. Now, all that mattered was the crossbowman whose sights were set on Mother/Reki. The reasoning part of his brain flagged that juxtaposition for later thought.

The hunter had his crossbow snug against his shoulder. His finger was on the trigger. Not close enough…

Einarr willed his legs faster. The hot one felt sluggish: it must have been a bad hit. He raised Sinmora for an overhand strike. Almost there…

Two paces from his target, Einarr roared. That caught his attention: the hunter nearly dropped his crossbow when he looked toward the threat and saw near two hundred pounds of red-headed warrior barreling at him.

The hunter swung his bow around to Einarr, but too late. Einarr’s swing had already begun, and the mighty blow to defend their battle chanter cleaved the man’s skull in two. Tre.

He turned, seeking his next enemy. The cut in his leg was filed away with other irrelevancies, such as why the Geirskögul apparently didn’t have a Painter, the throbbing in his leg, or how Jorir was managing.

A Valkyrie came for him, then, his face contorted by vengeful rage which he did not know how to properly harness. The man’s vengeance for his crewmate broke against the battle fury of Reki’s song. Fjorir.

Einarr’s count hit twenty-five before Reki’s hymn began to slow and the fury ebbed from his mind and his muscles at once. His arms and legs were on fire, and not just from swinging Sinmora about or hefting his shield: that cut to his leg had nearly hamstrung him, it seemed, and his arms were a mess of shallower wounds.

Some few of the Valkyrian crew surrendered – deck hands, mostly, still green enough to be willing to take their chances as thralls in the north. The Valkyries had no cowards in their ranks.

Einarr glanced around: Stigander stood, his arms crossed, watching as his fellows hauled valuables from the hold of the Geirskögul across the planks. He took one step forward, intending to assist, and felt the blood running down his leg. He would be no help like this. Best go see Reki. I guess I’ll see firsthand if her healing song is as good as her battle chant.

No few of his crewmates were clustered around Reki when Einarr hobbled up. A bubble of calm surrounded them, supported by the gentle mood of a Singer’s healing song. That song magic could heal at all was a mystery to those outside the Singer’s ranks: it was a magic that played on the mind, typically. Einarr had asked Grimhildr, once, but the answer had made no sense at the time and been quickly forgotten.

Reki’s sultry voice was one of uncommon power: as Einarr relaxed in the field of her song, he watched as wounds knit themselves before his very eyes. Such a wisp of a woman tied to that voice. Will Sivid get to her first, or Erik, I wonder? They were idle thoughts, no more, as he allowed himself to be swept along.

Some few were not so lucky. The crewmen who knew their way around a medicine bag applied compresses or stitches to wounds too deep to heal with the magic alone – Einarr spotted both Tyr and Jorir among the wound-dressers – and the sound of axe hafts drumming on shields said that at least one of their number would henceforth sup with the gods. Idly, Einarr wondered who: when his mind came free of the song he knew the loss would hit him.

Something jostled Einarr’s healing leg. He rolled his eyes downward to see what: Jorir. He offered the dwarf a drunken smile. “Be good as new soon enough. Scratch like this shouldn’t merit more’n the song.”

Jorir snorted. “Sure, you say that now, after I’ve done poulticed it up. That blade near took your leg off. Give me a look at the rest ‘o you now.”

“Fine, fine, worry wort. …Looks like you fared well enough in the battle.”

Jorir chuckled as he looked Einarr over for more serious wounds. Most of them showed new pink flesh where they had already knit together. “I get the impression these so-called Valkyries aren’t used to fighting dvergr.”

“Not too surprising. Most of the clans are human, after all. They’ve been known to defend földvergr villages, though.”

Jorir snorted. “Földvergr. Pretentious.” He paused, still staring at his lord’s arm. “You’re a reckless fighter, if you’ll pardon me saying so. I might be more mindful of my father’s predicament, in your shoes. Else a lot of people are like to be sore disappointed some day.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth to answer, but the dwarf wasn’t done.

“What were ye thinkin’, dashing half way across the ship like that? Nearly got yerself killed that way, an’ for what?”

Now Einarr pursed his lips. If the dwarf had seen that, he had to answer. “He had his sights on Reki… and this is the first time in a long time that our battle chanter has not also held the title of Mother for me.” He didn’t really understand the juxtaposition himself, yet, only that there was a habit of thought involved.

Jorir nodded, his brows drawn down in thought for a long moment.

Einarr hummed. “Well? Is your poultice safely tied? The death-drumming’s been going for a while now. It’s probably time I investigated.”

“Go on, then. They may not have known what to do with me, but they certainly took their pound o’ flesh.”

Einarr sighed, calling together the energy to stand up and leave the comfortable envelope of song magic. “I was afraid of that.” He wiped the palms of his hands on his pant legs, despite the fact that they were dry. Sooner or later, someone was going to have to deal with the Order of the Valkyrie.


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