Tag: cave

1.29 – Escape from Svartlauf

“That piece was given to me before I left on this journey by the woman who will be my bride, so do not scorn it. I’m afraid I’m still going to have to bind you until we’re underway on my boat.” Einarr strode behind Jorir and swiftly wrapped the rope about his wrists in a figure-eight pattern.

“Better than staying here, an’ it’s not like I’ve given you much reason to trust my word. …Satisfied?”

Einarr finished tightening the rope around Jorir’s wrists and let his hand drop to the long tail he’d left to keep hold of the prisoner. “Yeah. Lead on.” He patted the dwarf’s axe that now hung at his own belt near Sinmora.

A small hallway led off from the main chamber they had tumbled into. The Isinntog was now so bright Einarr was tempted to take it off, but that would require trusting the dwarf enough to loose his leash. Instead he squinted against the silvery glow as the sound of water lapping against rock reached his ears.

Jorir led Einarr to a small wooden pier jutting out into an underground stream – the source of the lapping noise. Tied at the pier was a small fishing boat, sized such that the dwarf could have operated it alone.

“It’ll be a bit cramped, but it’ll get us to your boat.”

“Seems seaworthy enough. Get in.”

Jorir shrugged, as though he had been half-expecting something else, and climbed into the prow of the boat. Einarr didn’t trust the dwarf enough to let him row out to the Gufuskalam, and so he would have to sit on the deck boards still trussed.

The seat was uncomfortably narrow and low to the deck when Einarr took his place at the oars. Nothing he couldn’t bear with, however. He slipped the dwarf’s half-hitch and cast off towards the waters inside Svartlauf’s storm.

The only sound was that of the oars slipping through the water until the mouth of the cave came into view around a bend, bright white against the blackness of the rock. “All right, blacksmith, you’ve got until we escape the storm to convince me of your sincerity.”

* * *

To his credit, Jorir had not bored Einarr with begging for his life or babbling. He spoke quietly of his skill as a smith, and during his time on the island he had learned more than a little of carpentry, shipbuilding, and herbs – for the jotün had paid no attention to his well-being unless it should happen to affect his smithing. Jorir preferred that, for even serving Fraener he preferred to avoid his attention when possible.

“If you preferred to avoid his attention, why did you warn him?”

“Oh, envy, partly. But my tunnels were always the most likely way for another thief to get in. I’d have been blamed if I just let you alone.”

Einarr harrumphed and went back to rowing. The dwarf kept up a steady stream of talk: once his skills were in the open, he launched into the story of how he had come to try and steal the Isinntog that now adorned Einarr’s neck. The cave opened out onto a tiny bay some distance around the shore from where the Gufuskalam awaited, but the tiny boat was quick in spite of the size of its load, and within the hour Einarr was able to stand and wave to catch Tyr’s attention.

“And who, pray tell, might this be?” Tyr asked as the fishing boat bumped against the side of their skiff.

“My liege-man, apparently. Former servant of the gods-cursed jotün. Calls himself Jorir.”

Tyr harrumphed even as he gave both man and dwarf a hand into the ship. “And you trust him?”

“If I did, do you think he’d be tied? Little bastard fought tooth and nail to kill me, right up until he decided to surrender and get off this rock. But he has sworn. How’s Erik?”

“Still breathing. Feverish.” Tyr gestured toward where the burly redhead was laid out on the deck, breathing heavily. His leg was splinted but still looked mangled.

“Will he make it to Kjell?” Einarr noted that the dwarf moved as quietly as his stubby legs could carry him towards the sick man, trying to look unobjectionable. Einarr kept one eye on him even as Tyr reached for the sea chart.

Tyr shook his head. “Not with what I can do on the boat. I’ve been studying the charts, though.” He unrolled it, pointing to a nearby chain in the wrong direction. “I think I can keep him alive until we get to the settlement here. Big place, that. They should have an herb-witch if not a songstress we could take him to.”

“Beg pardon,” Jorir interrupted. “This is the one who got chomped by Lord Fraener’s pet?”

“Aye.” Tyr’s answer sounded wary.

“You’ll want the two of you to navigate the storm. If you’ll let me, I’ll see to him. But the sooner you find a real healer, the better.”

“If he dies, I’ll throw you overboard myself.”

“I know you will. But it were no lie when I said I knew a bit of medicine. Enough to be able to splint that leg right, maybe save it for him.”

Einarr shared a look with Tyr. The older man looked nearly as skeptical as he felt, but shrugged. “Worth a shot. I knew that splint wasn’t likely to hold.”

Einarr gave a curt nod. “Very well. Make ready, then: we head for Kem, on the Islands of Flatey.”


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1.23 – Dwarven Tunnels

The dwarf stood from his seat at the table and brushed his hands off on his trousers as Einarr pocketed the king Runa had sent with him. He did not miss that his guide hooked an axe onto his belt before setting off, nor that the dwarf evidently felt no need of a cloak where they were going.

“Right this way, sir.”

“After you.” Einarr followed a full two paces behind, shortening his stride to avoid catching up with the trundling gait of the dwarf and dearly wishing he still had Erik along. Don’t let him give in, Tyr. He would just have to watch his own back this time.

The firelight from the dwarf’s forge cast eerie shadows on the cavern walls as he led Einarr further in, toward the hall where his prize lay hidden.

Eventually the cavern narrowed again into a tunnel not unlike the one Einarr had entered from initially. This time, though, within five paces it opened back out into a circular room from which more tunnels set out in all directions. Rising from the center of the room was a giant-sized pillar, into which were carved dwarf-sized steps.

“How long did it take you to learn your way around down here?”

The dwarf snorted. “Long enough to design the place, and not a moment longer. My master has no interest in the subterrain.”

“Is that so.” A man could be lost forever down here… Rather than leaving it to chance, Einarr dropped a loose thread from his tunic near the mouth of the tunnel they had exited. The dwarf’s hand fell from the axe handle as Einarr looked up.

“So you never said what brought you here.” The dwarf was probing.

“You’re right, I didn’t.”

“Well?”

“Surely there are a limited number of options that would bring a man through the storm to Svartlauf?”

“Oh, aye.” The dwarf rested his hand on the head of his axe as he began the ascent. “But since you’ve already said you didn’t come for his head, I think it would be good to know what item I’m helping some stranger to steal.”

“Would it? I would think that would be more damning when he finds out. Assuming, of course, that is in fact what I’m here to do.”

The dwarf snorted now. “I’ve been outside recently enough to know you for one of the human raiders.”

“Oh?”

“Aye. And unless matters’ve changed a great deal in the meantime, a northerner would fall on their own sword before they helped a jotün. So since we’re imprisoned here, and you said you didn’t need to kill Lord Fraener, the obvious conclusion is you’ve come to steal one of the treasures he brought with him.”

The monstrous men of the Grendel came inexplicably to mind. “Things in the north may be a little more complicated than you remember.”

The dwarf hummed and climbed faster.

Eventually, after climbing farther than Einarr would have thought possible from the cave without ever catching sight of the sky, the stairway terminated in a landing and a stone door.

“My master’s hall is through here.” The dwarf stood to the side, resting both hands casually on the head of his handaxe and staring fixedly at the blank stone wall across the landing.

“What… part of the hall?”

“The main chamber. This is my private entrance.”

“In that case, please. Go ahead.” Einarr had no desire to allow the black-haired, scarred dwarf behind him. Whether he loved his master or not, he knew Einarr intended the jotün harm, and there was profit to be had by betraying Einarr to his master.

“I must return to my forge. My master will be most displeased if I am delayed further.”

“I won’t keep you. Only, the landing is narrow and I do not think I will fit past you.” It was a gamble. Dwarves were not often offended at accusations of broadness, but Einarr was not a large man, which could put the lie to his excuse.

Indeed, the dwarf glared at him for a long moment. When Einarr did not attempt to retract his claim, he grumbled and pulled a key on a chain from within his tunic.

“Tell me, sir dwarf, what did you intend to do when I stepped forward and found the door locked? Would I have had time to accuse you of betrayal, or would there have been an axe in my back before I blinked?”

The dwarf only continued to mutter words in his own tongue. The latch clicked.

“Your lack of an answer is answer enough. Now. Go on through.”

The dwarf removed his key from the lock and hid it back inside his shirt. “Tell me, sir raider, if someone came to steal from your Captain, what would you have done?”

“Slain the man before I played a game of tafl with him. Go on.”

“Go to hel.” The dwarf spun on his heel, the hand that had been reaching for the handle instead unhooking the axe from his belt. He leaped at Einarr, blade swung high overhead.


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1.22 – The Cave

With the morning light came the sound of metal striking metal from deep within the cave, rousing Einarr from his uneasy rest. The glow of fire lit the walls, even though Einarr’s had long since burnt itself to ash.

The noise became more distinct as he crept down the narrow, winding passageway. I wonder what sort of smith would set up in such a place?

Several minutes passed, and Einarr knit his brows. The tunnel had already continued on far longer than he had expected, but still he heard the rhythmic clinking sound of a distant forge hammer from up ahead.

The tunnel jogged sharply left, and then directly back in the other direction before opening out into a broad cavern. Like the tunnel behind him, the walls of the cavern did not appear to be man-hewn, and yet the sheer scope of the room suggested that very fact.

He pressed on, stepping softly over the smooth stone floor and moving from stalactite pillar to stalagmite as he crept across the room toward the source of fire at the center of the cavern. The clanging sound never faltered.

As he crept ever closer, the source of the noise resolved itself into a sensible form. The fire burned hot, and next to the fire was an unusually short anvil. Working at this anvil, on some project Einarr could not determine, was a black-haired dwarf. Unless Einarr missed his guess, not all of the dwarf’s visible scars were from his forge.

“You may as well come the rest of the way in,” the dwarf growled. “I already know you’re there.”

Einarr blinked, a little nonplussed. The dwarf shouldn’t have been able to hear him over the noise of his anvil. He stepped out from behind the stone pillar he had sheltered behind. “Yes, of course. My apologies, sir dwarf, but I did not expect to find anyone smaller than a tree on the island.”

The dwarf laughed, but was no mirth in it. “Sit down. Have a drink, rest a bit by the fire.”

“Am I to understand that you’re extending hospitality to me? That, according to the dictates of the gods, you will see to it that I come to no further harm on the island?” He could not keep the disbelief from his voice.

The dwarf snorted. “Fine. Don’t, then. Why are you here.”

“I don’t suppose you’d be able to tell me how to get to Fraener’s Hall, would you?”

“You want to go to the jotün’s hall, do you? Can’t see why anyone would want to do that.”

“Even still, I fear I must go. Do you know the way?”

“Oh, aye, I can take you there. But it won’t be for free. And you probably won’t thank me for it if I do.”

“Of course it won’t.” He sighed: all he had on him was the rope and the sack with Runa’s gift. “I’m afraid I haven’t anything of value on me. Perhaps some sort of a contest? A… game of wits, perhaps?”

“You would riddle with me?” The dwarf sounded unnaturally gleeful at the prospect. “If you win, I will take you there. If you lose, I will give you to the master for dinner.”

Einarr suppressed a groan. Why is it always riddles? I hate riddling. “Come now, are we barbarians? What think you of tafl?”

The dwarf’s face took on a crafty look. “Unfortunately, my board is missing a piece.”

“Is it the king?” Bless you, Runa. How did you ever guess?

The dwarf nodded sagely. Einarr pulled the king from out of the sack where it rested.

“Let’s play. My king, my defense.”

“As you like.”

The dwarf moved away from the fire and spread his board out on the ground of the cave. He set out the game pieces in an unfamiliar pattern. No matter, though; the layout determined tactics, not strategy, and the key to this game was fluid tactics. Einarr studied the board as the dwarf worked, mentally trying and discarding several opening moves.

The dwarf played cautiously at the outset – too cautiously, Einarr thought. Within five moves he’d nearly opened his path to the edge of the board. He was just starting to get cocky when he noticed the smirk his opponent wore. In the next move he was cut off from escape.

By his tenth move, Einarr was beginning to sweat. He hadn’t lost yet, but the dwarf was making him work for it harder than anyone other than Runa had in a long time.

Five more turns passed, with Einarr’s guards getting picked off slowly but surely. As he sat, contemplating his next move, a feeling of deja vu struck. I’ve seen this pattern before. …That’s right. A slow smile spread across his face, despite his attempts to quash it. I tried to corner Runa with this once. Tried, and failed miserably. In three turns she’d crushed the offense, with no more pieces left than he had now.

“Not really sure you have anything to be smiling about,” the dwarf said.

“Mm? Oh, I’m just thinking about the bragging rights I’ll have when I escape your master’s pot and poison the soup on my way out.”

“Are you now.”

Einarr didn’t think the dwarf believed him, but he looked up from under his eyebrows at his opponent and made the first move. “I am. It’s not what I came here for, but how many people can say they slew a jotün in his own hall?”

The dwarf continued on as he had been, apparently not recognizing the shift in tactics. “Not all that many, I’d wager.”

Einarr made his next move. “Now, now, one wager at a time. Raichi, by the way.” Einarr knew he looked smug as he signalled his impending victory, and right now he didn’t care.

The dwarf looked confused, still not seeing the same hole in his line that Einarr had missed those few months ago. He moved to block what he thought Einarr was doing, which left exactly the path free that Einarr had left for Runa.

“Tuichu. I win.”

“So you do.” The dwarf blinked, poleaxed.

“So now you will take me to the jotünhall, as we agreed, and I will not have to figure out how to poison your master.”

“Of course, my young sir. If you will just follow me?” The crafty note was back in the dwarf’s voice. Einarr would have to watch him.


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