Tag: Boti

3.31 – A Full Hold

In spite of their exhaustion and soaked feet – and trousers – Einarr’s crew was in high spirits as they returned to the Vidofnir late that morning. The sun said it was nearly midday: as they stepped out of the marsh and onto the sandbar Einarr exchanged a look with Reki. They’d been luckier than any of them had any right to expect. A chuckle rose up from his chest.

Reki opened her mouth as though to say something, but then closed it again. With a sigh she, too, started to laugh, and soon the men were talking and laughing with the ebullience of relief.

“All right, Father, your turn,” Einarr called as they approached the ship.

Stigander studied the approaching group, looking for any sign of new injury and finding none. “Welcome back. Everything’s in order?”

“The Allthane lies buried in the frozen deep. And none too soon, either.”

Stigander nodded. “All right, you lot! On your feet. The faster we load the hold, the sooner we can get off this stinking rock.”

The rest of the Vidofnings pulled themselves over the side of the boat with far less alacrity than was their custom, the fatigue of the night before still showing in the eyes and shoulders of all of them. That few hours’ rest they had claimed while the rites were conducted had not been enough, and everyone knew it. Still, though, as the two strings of Vidofnings crossed paths there were congratulatory gestures all around.

Einarr locked hands with his father as they crossed paths, almost as though they intended to arm wrestle.

“Good job out there.”

Einarr nodded. “Take your time with the portage. Don’t think we’re getting out of here before morning anyway.”

Stigander barked a laugh. “You sound like Bardr.”

“Good! That means I might be on to something.”

Now they both laughed, and clapping each other’s shoulders continued on – Stigander to the treasure hold, and Einarr to the deck of the Vidofnir. When he pulled himself up, he saw that Snorli had remained behind, stirring a cauldron over the ship’s hearth that smelled distinctly of mulled mead.

“You are a lifesaver, man!” Einarr grinned at their cook.

“Gotta stay warm while you dry off somehow, right?” Snorli returned the smile without looking away from the horn he was ladling into. “This is the second cask I’ve opened since last night.”

“And we thank you for both of them. You haven’t seen the haul down there: we won’t need to worry about our resupplies the rest of the season.”

“Good.” Snorli handed the steaming horn to Troa, who had arrived just before Einarr. “Certainly you lot deserve the treat. It’s been ages since we’ve had a fight like that.”

Einarr grunted in agreement. A moment later he, too, had a hot drink in hand and was striding across the deck towards his bedroll. He groaned as he folded grateful legs under him to sit, cross-legged, on the blanket.

“All right, lads. We’ve to keep a lookout… but I’ll be buggered if there’s anything else alive on this rock. Boti, you up for first watch?”

The scout shrugged. Thus far he didn’t seem to have suffered any worse than a headache and a bad goose egg from his knock on the head. “Sure. Someone’s gotta.”

“Thanks. The rest of you…” He turned, then, as he realized what it was he saw from the corner of his eye. “Why is there a jar on my pillow?”

“It was in the cache you found before. Odvir thought you must’ve liked it, since ceramic doesn’t really sell…”

The jar did look familiar, with its Imperial-style painting that had somehow weathered the centuries unchipped, but Einarr shook his head. “There was an ivory tafl set that I wanted, but this… this is just a jar.”

He took a drink of his mead, still staring at the strange jar. I could have sworn I threw that away back then… Einarr shrugged, and turned to the nearest man remaining. He thrust his horn toward the other man. “Hold this for a second.”

Einarr pushed himself up on protesting legs and sore feet. When he picked the jar up, it felt warm to the touch – even accounting for the horn full of hot mead he’d just had clasped in his hands. Odd. He shrugged again and moved aft, towards the sea.

“May the waves carry you to someone who actually has a use for you,” he muttered. Einarr pulled his arm back all the way, twisting for extra force, and pitched the jar as far as he could out toward the open ocean. Even Snorli did no more than shrug. Ceramic was a dicey thing to keep on a longship, as vulnerable in the hold as on deck.

***

An hour passed before the larger group of Vidofnings began to return with sacks full of gold from the ancient horde, and then Einarr and his companions were moving again, stowing the gold in every spare crevice they could find underneath the deck boards. The way people were moving, no one would be up for rowing without a full night’s rest.

Stigander and Erik, to no one’s surprise, carried the largest loads slung over their shoulders as though it was nothing, and their two sacks filled the Vidofnir until she was nearly fit to burst.

“Much still left down there?”

“We didn’t even get half of it,” Erik laughed.

Einarr shook his head. “Maybe now we know why they wrecked?”

“Maybe.” Bardr sounded less amused. “Let’s just hope we’re not too heavy to get out of here.”

Vidofnir’s nimble enough. I’m sure we’ll manage.”

“You mean like we did on our way in, where we almost got a rock through our hull? We’ll be lower in the water now. A lot lower.”

“I think we all decided that was a risk we were willing to take, wasn’t it?” Einarr looked levelly at his father’s first Mate. This plan had been his idea in the first place, after all.

Bardr just grunted, acknowledging that fact as well as his misgivings.

“Long as we all get some proper rest tonight we’ll be fine.” Erik stepped in: Einarr wasn’t sure he was as reassuring as he wanted to be.

“I’m… sure you’re right.” Bardr didn’t sound convinced, but it wasn’t the sort of thing one argued about at this point in a raid.

“’Course I’m right!” Erik laughed and clapped the Mate on his shoulder so hard he nearly stumbled. “Pretty sure that’s why the Captain keeps me around.”


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3.17 – Underground

The maw of the cave seemed to yawn behind them as they were pressed ever back. It offered an opportunity, though: he could see no ghost light from within its dubious shelter. They could make a stand there…

…Although it seemed they would quickly do so with steel rather than flame. His flaming brand was nearly reduced to a glowing stick, as were many others from the cluster of Vidofnings. Jorir must have lost his secondary flame some time ago, and now the fire of the “fresh” one burned near his fingers.

Some of the others had already switched to steel, and bore the marks of it in sunken faces and wide eyes. Einarr was both amazed and grateful that they still had everyone… but the vengeful spirits who had them nearly surrounded would not be satisfied so easily.

Worse, they had all been fighting for hours. Even Erik and Jorir must be starting to tire. The mouth of the cave was not so wide that it would take all of them to cover it.

Einarr stepped around, using one lip of the cave mouth to protect his shoulder. It was far from ideal, but it was all he had. “Fall in beside me!”

They did, with Tyr and Boti unabashedly falling into the secondary line for a breather. Three others, essentially at random, were also shoved behind the main line. It would be their turn again soon enough.

It seemed merely getting them to the cave, with the barrow hidden down below, was not the spirits’ sole objective. Still they drove the men back, step by step, closer to the broken slab of stone they had left behind them.

Only the broken slab seemed to be missing, as they drew closer. Rather than cracked rock, in the dim glow of the ghost light and their failing weapons, he saw only an abyss of blackness. Dread clawed at his gut, but they were powerless to stop the spirits drive deeper into the cave.

That was when a blast of ether slammed into him from the apparently solid wall to his right.

***

Einarr awoke some time later not to the expected darkness of the cavern below, or even to the filtered daylight of the cave above, but to the golden glow of a grand feast. He sat up and groaned, lifting a hand to his head to feel for damage. The side of his face was tender, but he felt nothing sticky like blood.

The rest of his team was slowly coming to, as well. None of them seemed unduly harmed by the… tumble, if he had to guess, down the steep passageway, and so Einarr turned his attention to the strange scene playing out in the middle of the cavern, where earlier he would have sworn was not just water but deep water.

A feast table now dominated the room, set all in gold that seemed to glow from within. On it were all sorts of tempting foods, from suckling pig to brilliantly shining apples to a whole walrus that seemed to take up half the table by itself, and men of the north – clan Heireidung, unless he was mistaken – gathered around to partake in the bounty.

The man at the head of the table was dressed more richly than any clan chief Einarr had heard of, all in red sable and dark blue shot through with thread of gold. He was big – easily as big a man as Erik, with the same pale blond hair of his father and grandfather. The man sat, a massive jeweled goblet in hand, watching the merriment of his men but not joining in it. He appeared troubled by something… morose… The sorrow of the grave?

It was the Allthane’s barrow we stumbled across this morning, and casually spoke of looting. Einarr wanted to kick himself for his own stupidity – stupidity that had nearly gotten him and his men killed. Cautiously he rose from the damp stone beneath him.

His boots were dry. How long had they been out? Or was it merely a part of the apparition before him? Einarr looked down, not expecting to see anything by the light of the spectral feast before them but seeing anyway. He was not wearing his ordinary sea boots: these were dress boots, made of rabbit skin and died as crimson as the Allthane’s tunic. His trousers, too, were not his ordinary sea wear, nor was his tunic. He was dressed for a feast – for the feast set out ahead of them.

The others, too, were now rising, and as they stood they, too were transformed into celebrants. Confusion mixed with delight on many of their faces, and became calm certainty on the wisest among them.

Tyr spoke the warning first. “You realize this is a trap, right?”

“Undoubtedly,” Einarr answered. “But I’m not sure it’s one we can avoid at this point. We’ve been trapped since the fog fell: maybe this will be our way out?”

“Eat and drink nothing of that table.” Jorir somehow sounded even more grim than Tyr. “If you get swept up in the feast, you’re trapped.”

“Seen this before, have you?”

“Not personally, but the stories leave an impression.”

Einarr pursed his lips. “If that’s the case, I don’t want anyone over there who doesn’t have to be. Irding, Boti, you keep an ear open. Sooner or later Father will send a search party.” Here he hesitated. He wanted to tell Erik to stay behind as well, as the man was nothing if not impetuous, but…

Jorir took the decision from him, in a way the man was sure not to object to. “Erik, will ye watch our backs? If it looks like one o’ us is starting ta lose it, we’ll need someone to snap us out of the enchantment.”

Erik smirked: he knew exactly why this was being asked of him and not, for example, the level-headed Tyr. “Yes, I’ll stay back. Come now: I like a feast as well as the next man, but you know what this one lacks?”

“What?”

“The smell of meat and ale. Look at that spread – pretty as a picture. And just as lifeless. I’m good.”

Einarr nodded. “Thanks, Erik. What about you, Tyr?”

“You’re about to go engage a dead man in a battle of wits. I’m coming.”


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3.15 – Lost in the Mist

Once again they stood before the hasty flag Jorir had constructed to mark their find. Even in the fog, Einarr could see the frosty puffs of his breath.

“This may have been a terrible idea.” They were the words on everyone’s mind, he was sure.

“So, what next?” Jorir asked the practical question. “I don’t intend to just stand around here and freeze.”

“No. No, you’re right. We can’t just stand around doing nothing. Do we try going the opposite direction, or do we try cutting across the bog? Men?”

“Awfully cheap enchantment if we can get out of it just by turning around,” grumbled Irding.”

“Agreed, although sometimes the simplest tricks are the most effective.”

“I don’t think it will be that simple, either.” Tyr shook his head. “On the other hand, this is a lot to portage through that swamp. It might be worth trying. And if night falls, we have plenty of firewood handy.”

“Furthermore,” Troa ventured. “Right now, we’re walking in circles on a beach, so we know it’s not natural. You know what’s easy to do in a swamp, even without interference?”

“Walking in circles. Right. Well, let’s give this one more try, heading east this time. If it gets dark, or much colder, we’ll light a fire here.”

As soon as they tried to turn east, it was as though the air itself resisted them. Einarr tried to resist the temptation to hope that meant the easy solution would save them.

Before long it became clear that was not the only thing they had to resist. The further east they pushed, the harder it was to avoid veering into either the marsh, on the one hand, or the sea on the other. And yet, after something approaching another hour, they once again found themselves face to face with the flag. A chorus of groans rose from Einarr’s team.

“Well, we knew it wouldn’t be that easy, I suppose.” He sighed. This meant their next best option involved porting their find through the swamp behind them. Assuming the distortion wouldn’t take hold there, too, as it might. But, there was something else amiss.

Einarr furrowed his brow. They had been walking for, as a guess, three hours now. And it had been around noon when they ventured out in search of their missing hunters. Which meant the daylight should have faded into evening by now, if not night. And yet, the light had not changed since they emerged from the cave.

This time he did not bite off his curse. “Blast and damnation, I missed it. All right, men. We’ve been out here a long time already, between our search and rescue and trying to break free of this beach. Unless I miss my guess, we’re all feeling it by now, but there’s one more thing to do before we can call it a day.”

A series of grumbles followed, but Einarr was not deaf to the relief they hid.

“Everyone with an axe, we need wood for a bonfire. Everyone else, help me build a ring.”

***

Einarr had worried, for a time, if the damp wood cut from the hull of the ship would actually light – or if their kindling would, for that matter. It took several tries, but as night finally fell the stack caught. Now the ten men sat around the fire, large enough and hot enough that those on the other side were difficult to see, and dried their boots.

Boti had some small luck fishing while the rest prepared the fire, and so they were able to at least take the edge off their hunger. For his part, Einarr was unsatisfied, and he suspected that carried over, but there was little more they could have done about it.

One benefit of the darkness and the fire was to make it impossible to tell if the fog still clung to the beach like barnacles. Einarr found himself hoping someone among the crew would see their flame and come to the rescue when they did not return tonight. Hoping, in spite of the suspicion that any rescuers would quickly become as trapped as they themselves had.

Erik started to rumble a ribald shanty Einarr had heard a few times previous – most likely something the man had picked up when he was a freeboater, although it was hard to know for certain. Whatever magic the song might have had was aimed at inducing cheer – or at least that was the effect when an ordinary man sang it. Soon the rest of the team was joining in – either laughing and clapping along or, here and there, jumping in for a verse of their own.

Einarr smiled and let them. That he could not quite bring himself to revel didn’t mean they could not enjoy themselves. Probably for the best that he be the only one to chew over what they would do tomorrow.

He blinked and looked over his shoulder, away from the fire. He could have sworn he’d seen something, but when he looked directly there was nothing within the firelight. Einarr shrugged a shoulder uncomfortably and returned to his thoughts. If they could rig up some sort of hand cart in the morning, venturing across the marsh might be their best bet…

There it was again. Only now when he turned his head to look, he saw a sickly green mist rising from the brush line of the swamp. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, not wanting to believe what he saw.

As chance would have it, Irding sat to his right. Einarr tapped the man’s shoulder to get his attention and pointed behind them. When Irding looked back, he seemed confused.

Jorir, on Einarr’s left, noticed the exchange and glanced back as well. Only, his glance turned quickly into a horrified stare. “Ghost light.”

Now Einarr groaned, even as he lunged forward to steal a brand from out of the fire. “Make ready for company, men!”


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3.14 – Unnatural Chill

The crack of falling stone echoed through the cave and Einarr flinched from the noise, reflexively covering his ears. His men did, as well.

As the sound died down and the ringing in their ears subsided, it became plain that their ears were not the only thing wounded in the onslaught. The slab they had just fought their way past was now cracked, and perhaps nearly broken. Einarr’s mouth curled into a frown: on the one hand, it would be simple to find again, and possibly worthwhile breaking the slab altogether. On the other hand, he still wasn’t certain what all they were dealing with on this island, or what might set them off.

He shook his head to clear it and strode towards the mouth of the cave. “We’ve a boat to finish scavenging, assuming no-one else found it before we got back.”

***

Mist had settled down on the sandbar again by the time they found Jorir’s flag and the boat it marked, although the light suggested it was still midafternoon and a chill breeze blew. “All right, lads, let’s finish this up and get back home. We stick together from here on out.”

A chorus of ‘ayes’ made its way around his team, and as a unit they streamed in through the giant crack in its hull.

In truth, now that they had returned to the derelict, the treasures they found here seemed small. It was difficult to forget the wealth piled underground, but Einarr was not willing to chance leaving here with anything less than a full hold. Rather than go back inside after removing an arm load of mostly ivory, Einarr decided someone should parcel the stack out in lots.

Much of what remained in the hold was ivory, in fact, and most of it already carved into trinkets or keepsake boxes. In some ways, that was even better than gold, as it would weigh less heavily on the Vidofnir’s hold, and there was always someone who would pay exorbitantly for it. One of these turned out to be a complete tafl set: that he resolved to claim for himself, as a gift.

One piece in the pile stood out not because of its workmanship – which was still excellent – but because of the plainness of its material. It was a simple ceramic urn, painted in the old Imperial style. Somehow it felt warm in his hands in spite of the unseasonable chill in the air. The jar was painted well, of course, and the paint was exquisitely preserved… but the more he thought about it, the less he could justify the space it would take in the hold. As fragile as it must be, even if it survived the voyage, even if they found a buyer, they would be hard pressed to get a worthwhile price for it. Einarr shrugged and tossed the jar off to the side, where it thudded into the sand.

“It looks like we’re about done in there,” Jorir said. He carried a portrait that had somehow survived the ravages of time – or at least its frame had. Einarr couldn’t see the painting itself from this angle.

“I thought so, too. What’s that you’ve got?”

“Someone’s vanity. Canvas doesn’t seem too rotted, even with the wet air.”

“Great. Add it to the stack over there, then.” Einarr pointed to one of the smaller piles. Unless it was backed with boarding, it was going to be a pain for anyone to carry… but if the frame was actually gold as it appeared, it was likely worth it.

One by one his team returned, carrying more ivory or sometimes a bit of gold or silver they had missed earlier in the day. Einarr shivered: the light was still that of a foggy afternoon, but the temperature now felt like the dead of winter.

“I think we’ve got it. Let’s load up and head back to the Vidofnir.”

Erik nodded. By the redness of his nose, Einarr was not the only one feeling the cold.

***

They marched down the sandbar to the west, unwilling to tramp through the bog with their arms filled with gold and ivory. Einarr kept the sound of the ocean always on his right. They walked for more than half an hour, though, and saw no trace of the rest of the crew, or any other derelicts. Perhaps they’ve already headed back? It was always possible that there was a stretch of sand that did not play host to a wreck or two.

Einarr shrugged his shoulders and continued on. At last, after nearly an hour of trudging along the shore, the shape of another ship hove into view. It was not the Vidofnir. The masthead was wrong, and as they drew nearer he could see it was a well-preserved derelict, frozen in a familiar attitude. He pressed on, increasingly sure that they should have seen sign of another team by now.

Until he saw Jorir’s flag, still planted in the sand where he had marked their find.

Einarr stopped short, staring. The sound of the sea was still on his right. There were no footsteps in the sand ahead of him.

“Troa.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Do you see what I see?”

“…Aye.”

Einarr bit off a curse. “Hand me half your load. You take the lead… How is Boti?”

“Still a bit disoriented.”

“Fine. Just… make sure I haven’t just led us all in a circle, would you? Get us back to the Vidofnir.”

“Of course.”

It should not have required a tracker, following the sand bar down around the outside of the island to reach their destination. It was a straight path. And yet…

An hour later, they found themselves back at Jorir’s flag.


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3.12 – Vanishing

The first thing that caught Einarr’s attention about the cave was the scattering of skulls not five paces in. Someone had thought to take shelter here, long ago, and been eaten by kalalintu. At least, he assumed as much: it was possible they had died of starvation before the kalalintu nested above, but the other possibility seemed the more likely.

The walls were solid stone as far as he could see, although the torchlight fell short of the back. His light held aloft like a brand, his other hand rested on Sinmora’s hilt for reassurance.

Slowly he walked deeper into the cave. Nothing. No cracks in the walls where they might have pressed forward, no gaping pits in the floor they might have fallen through, no tracks, no new blazes. Einarr spun on his heel as his mind raced, searching for anything he might have missed.

He glanced down at Jorir as his eyes roved about the room, but the dwarf’s brows were furrowed in consternation.

From nearer the entrance, Tyr cursed to the sound of rolling stones. Einarr shouldered his way back, swallowing hard to ignore the pounding of his pulse.

“What happened?” Tyr stood bent over, his leg held out at an odd angle with his boot under a lip of rock virtually indistinguishable from the floor.

“Went to take a look at a weird shadow and a rock turned under my foot. Give me a hand, will you? I think I’m stuck.”

Einarr and Jorir nodded as Jorir took hold of the man’s foot while Einarr bent to try and turn the rock trapping him to open the gap a little. After much careful prying and pressing, he gave a shove. The rock shifted.

Tyr, braced to pull himself out of the gap as soon as the pressure lifted, staggered back a step or two. Einarr, from his position near the ground, stared into the hole he had made.

“…I think I might know what happened to our two missing scouts.”

***

The slab of stone seemed as though it must have been deliberately placed, although Einarr could not have guessed how or by whom. It was almost as though it hung on a hinge. On the other side, the rock sloped steeply downward, curving towards the center of the plateau.

Einarr had straightened quickly after the passage was revealed to him. Probably the passage would submerge not long after it rounded the corner, at which point his men were probably dead… but he had to check.

“Charcoal. Does anyone have a stick of charcoal or some chalk?”

Odvir brandished a sharp triangle of shale. “Where are we going?”

“Through there.” Einarr pointed at the passage he’d just seen and Odvir nodded. Moments later a sign was scratched on the stone of the wall and they were through, clambering carefully down the incline.

Einarr shivered as they rounded the corner of the passage. No sign of water, yet, but the temperature was falling with every step they took. It would be hard to forgive himself if he killed two men in such a stupid way.

Jorir grumbled about the pace Einarr set, but it sounded half-hearted to his ear.

About fifty feet further on the passage opened out into a broad cavern – far broader than Einarr would have expected the tiny island could have supported. Torchlight glinted off the water forming much of the cavern floor.

Einarr jumped as a voice echoed through the room. He called out. “Hello?”

“Boti! Wake up, man, they found us.” Einarr still couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from, but the excitement it carried was palpable.

“Troa?”

“We’re over here. Follow the wall to your right – and watch your step. There’s more than just wet rock down here.”

Einarr clambered over the rocks, the rest of the team hot on his heels. “We’re coming. Can you move?”

“I’m fine. Boti got a nasty knockabout finding this place… and, well, there’s something you need to see.”

Einarr nearly tripped picking up his pace to get to where they were. When he looked down to see what it was, dread sank in his stomach.

The torch in his hand illuminated the still-clothed skeletal remains of a chief or a captain. The skeleton’s fingers clutched at its throat. He stopped, furrowing his brow, and bent closer. The captain’s sword still hung from his bones, and the hilt showed no sign of rust.

Einarr shook his head and continued on. Tempting as it was to look and see, to rob a captain of his sword – even in death – seemed wrong. And that was before taking into account the spirits haunting this place.

He could see Troa’s shock of straw-colored hair in the flickering light now. Einarr stepped over the remains of the strangled Captain and hurried the last several paces past tide pools and jagged rocks to where the other man was rousting Boti back to consciousness. The man had the beginnings of a bruise covering the side of his face, and if he’d passed out down here that was hardly the end of it. Fortunately, he did seem to be blinking back to consciousness.

Einarr gave a low whistle to see his crewmate’s injury. “What did I need to see, though?”

Troa pointed ahead into another side chamber. From what the torchlight revealed, the entirety of the floor in there appeared to be covered with water. It couldn’t possibly be deep, however.

Catching the firelight of the torches, magnifying it against the water, were piles of gold and jewels; valuables of all sorts the like Einarr had never seen. Even on Svartlauf.

“What… how did this get here?”

Boti groaned as Troa sat him up. “Who knows? I can’t tell if we’re looking at the Allthane’s barrow or the horde of some survivor who couldn’t take the seclusion. Either way…”

Einarr nodded in agreement. “Either way, it’s what we came here looking for. Let’s get out of here, bring another team or two in the morning. In the mean time, we haven’t quite finished with that hulk up above.”

“Aye, sir.” Troa pulled Boti to his feet, the semi-conscious man’s arm slung over his shoulder.

Einarr took two steps back the way they had come. Then, in the same instant, each and every one of their torches snuffed out.


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