The passage ahead looked much as it had before: a long stretch of rough stone. In the dim light given off by his glowing sword, he could not tell for how much longer it continued straight. There was nothing to learn there – not yet.
Instead, he turned a weighing eye on Troa. He’d managed to avoid working directly with the man for almost the whole year. It was stupid, and he knew it was stupid, but the scout had interfered in his duel.
It was stupid, because the Althane had not fought fairly from the beginning, but that niggling annoyance that he’d tried to put away at the time still crouched in the back of his brain like some mangy cur. Einarr pursed his lips.
“Look, Einarr, I know —”
“The Althane was an honorless dog. We should have been better.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“So long as you understand that, come along.”
Jorir looked up at Runa. They had worked well together at the Tower of Ravens last year, and then in getting off that gods-forsaken island. On the other hand, based on what he’d seen this spring, he wasn’t entirely certain she’d learned anything from that. He harrumphed. “Looks like we’re working together again.”
“I should think you’d be used to me by now.” Runa spared him a glance, but turned back to studying the space around them even as she spoke.
“No place to go but forward, milady. Every breath we stand here, the crone gets farther away.”
“You’re right. Lead on: I’ll be right behind with the light.”
They had gone no more than another ten paces when they were brought up short by a high rough wall blocking the passage.
“A dead-end?” Runa whined. “We can’t climb that.”
Jorir stood staring at it for a long moment, thinking. The wall was, if his estimation was correct, a good seven feet high, but her lamp illuminated a deeper darkness above. “We can, and we have to, I think. There’s a ledge, about seven feet up. I’ll wager that’s our way forward.”
“Seven feet? And how do you propose we reach that?”
“I make more than half that distance just by myself. If you can hold me steady on your shoulders, I can climb up there and pull you after.”
Runa looked at him long and hard, blinking once or twice. In the flickering light from her lamp, she looked like a fish. Jorir had to work not to chuckle.
“Fine. All I have to do is brace myself while you stand on my shoulders, right?”
“Right.” He pursed his lips, thinking. “Crouch down. I’ll climb on your shoulders directly. Your legs’re plenty strong, right?”
I hope so. He wasn’t entirely certain how he’d explain to Einarr the necessity of climbing his betrothed like a tree otherwise. Dwarves were stockier than humans in general, though, and Jorir was not only a warrior but a blacksmith. If the girl wasn’t stronger than she looked, they might have to think up another way.
Runa crouched down low to the ground, and Jorir clambered up to sit on her shoulders before resting his hands on the wall before them.
“By the gods, man,” she complained once his weight had settled.
“Can you stand?”
In answer, Runa slowly began to rise. Jorir could feel the strain in her back as she struggled to lift both of them. But, at last, she stood. The ledge was only a little out of reach from where he sat.
“Doin’ well so far.”
She grunted in answer. “Hurry.”
Carefully, Jorir rose to standing on her shoulders.
“How can someone so short be so heavy?” she complained as he sought for handholds on top of the ledge.
“Y’ever paid attention to how much a cat weighs, compared to a chicken?”
“I can’t… say I have.”
Jorir finally got both arms braced on the ledge above and gave a tiny jump, just enough to pull himself up. “Muscles. Dwarves have lots of muscles. Hand me the lamp.”
She held it up towards his outstretched hand. It would have been much easier to grab had this not been a standard bedroom lamp, but as it was he had to stretch to catch the handle. “If I’d known you were so heavy, I’d have gone up first.”
“Oh? And then pulled me after?”
He regretted, a little, that he could not see her face in the silence that followed. The wall had evidently only been the first part of the trap. Shaking his head, he set the lamp down near the wall of the passage and stretched out on the ground, his hands held out for Runa to grab.
Once she had a firm grip, she pressed her boots against the rough surface of the wall and climbed that way until she could rest her torso against the upper floor. Then she saw it, too.
They now stood on a narrow ledge, just wide enough for Jorir to lay flat across like he had been. On the other side of that ledge was a pit, the bottom of which was staked with vicious-looking pikes. She could not see an opposite edge in the poor light.
“D’ye see that lighter patch, right there?” Jorir pointed.
“Unless I’m mistaken, that’s another ledge.”
“How does that help us? It’s far too far to jump.”
Jorir harrumphed again. “Maybe for you. It’s also our only way forward, as near as I can tell.”
Runa rolled her eyes. “Great. So what am I supposed to do, wait here? I can’t make that jump.”
Before she had quite finished speaking, Jorir had grabbed her by the shoulders. Then he kicked her feet out from under her and began to spin. Once, twice, and on the third time he released, like throwing a discus.
Runa sailed across the gap with a squawk of fury. Jorir shook his head, knowing he would pay for this, and leapt after.
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