Einarr rounded a corner in the track he had blindly followed toward the well and breathed a sigh of relief to see his companions there. In terrain such as this, you might not have to fail a test to become hopelessly lost. Stigander and Arring were blinking back out of the dream, confusion turning to understanding and determination.
Jorir stepped back onto the path from the other direction. Whatever his trial had been, he still wore the pain of it on his face.
Einarr caught his liege man’s eye and quirked an eyebrow, but the dwarf only shook his head, slowly, in response.
Now Sivid was blinking back to consciousness. The skinny man swallowed hard, his mouth twisted into a rictus, but in no more than the time it had taken the rest of them to realize their circumstances he had schooled his face again.
“The Oracle doesn’t take kindly to people sharing their trials together,” Jorir stated before anyone could broach the subject. His voice was husky. “Your vision will have been drawn from your own experiences, but it may contain glimpses of things to come… or that have already come to pass.”
“We should continue.” Stigander’s voice rumbled. He, too, looked unhappy at what he had seen, but had more of determination about it than the dwarf.
“Yes, Father.” What did they see? For his part, Einarr had known what sort of man Jarl Hroaldr was, and so his vision had not troubled him unduly. Seeing the reactions of his companions, however, he worried a little about how the other two trials would be.
The path to the Weaver’s Palace continued to wind its way upward, through the ever-sparser forest and into alpine meadows, surpassing even Svartlauf in wildness. They were wild, but Einarr felt no menace in these fields. He would have been hard pressed to say how much of that related to the knowledge that no jotün prowled this island.
As the morning wore on towards noon the clouds dispersed and the wildflowers growing to either side of the path almost seemed to glow in the newfound sunlight. Jorir growled at them not to relax too much here, as the second trial could begin at any time now, but otherwise they walked in silence. The further they climbed, the harsher the path became.
A haze seemed to settle around Einarr’s thoughts. Two steps later, he found himself on the deck of a ship – not the Vidofnir. His first impression was of a dromon: looking about himself, he saw the all-too-familiar wing and spear.
That was the moment when he realized he already wielded Sinmora, and the weight of his hauberk dragged on his shoulders. His shield appeared to be lost, but now Reki’s voice lured him into battle although the Singer was nowhere to be seen.
To his left, Jorir and Erik fought back-to-back and Einarr chuckled to see the smallest member of the crew defending for the one of the largest. To his right was another matter.
A circle of Valkyries had formed around sturdy, staid Arring and looked set to overwhelm him. Having seen that, there was only one thing for Einarr to do: he dashed the half-dozen steps that would bring him to the outside of their circle.
Einarr swung. The light glinted off Sinmora’s blade, and he cut a wide gash across the Valkyrie’s back. To his credit, the man did not cry out, but he did give way as Einarr drove himself like a wedge through their encirclement to join his crewmate at the center.
It was only after he’d broken through that he saw Arring stood guard over the fallen body of Bardr. His crewman must have seen shock in his eyes, because the man’s nod seemed to carry ‘he’s alive’ along with his thanks for the assist. Two against six was somewhat better odds than he’d had before, even if his help was the one man onboard who could not be allowed to die. Maybe I am too reckless?
He had no more time for thought. A pair of sabers cut towards Einarr in the same breath. He slammed his shield out to catch the one on his left with a satisfying thud, but then he had only one hand to put behind his longsword parry.
Einarr had no focus for anything but the onslaught of blades. Reki’s song drew him ever deeper into the battle-fury – it was strange, though, and oddly wonderful, to realize that he had all the strength of her song and yet retained all of his faculties. The Valkyries pressed the two of them hard, and with Bardr down between them Einarr had little room to maneuver.
He lashed out with Sinmora at one of the three harrying him. The man looked stunned for an instant as he withdrew the blade and blood welled from beneath his chin. A strangling noise escaped his mouth and the Valkyrie fell. One down, five to go…