Tag: draugr

6.28 – Reap the Whirlwind

Päron? Einarr knit his brows in confusion. Why was she calling it a pear? Päron… Päron… Runa’s story had seemed oddly specific. Päron… “Päronskaft? As in, the imp who spun gold?”

Against all reason, the creature froze and the howl of an angry wind rose above the wailing.

Runa’s voice rose above the wind as well, singing more normally now, and slowly the revenant was absorbed into the whirlwind. Einarr stood watching, wary, even as Jorir and Erik fell back to regroup at his side.

The whirlwind did not advance. Something new seemed to be taking shape within it, blown up from the dust of the street. Slowly it resolved itself, indistinct at first, into the shape of a man.

The reformed revenant stepped forward, through the last vestiges of the whirlwind, looking less tattered and somehow more real than he had before. A leather jerkin hung from his bony shoulders, and the longsword in his hand, held point down, looked better tended. The wailing ceased.

Einarr and his companions were not able to recover their footing quickly enough to take advantage of the creature’s lowered guard, however. In the next heartbeat, the gaunt grey revenant had brought its blade up in a two-handed grip that shielded its body.

Einarr brought Sinmora back up to ready even as Erik and Jorir hefted their axes once more. Einarr had many questions for Runa, but they would have to wait.

Einarr charged forward, a battle cry bursting from his throat. He had duelled the Allthane: now that the revenant was apparently solid the four of them should be more than capable of handling it.

Jorir was only a half-pace behind, though he did not yell. Erik, who did, soon pulled ahead of all of them. His axe came down in a mighty chop.

The revenant hopped backwards with surprising nimbleness as Erik’s axe plowed into the ground.

Thus began an intricate dance, the three living men circling the revenant. Each striking when they saw an opportunity, but rarely connecting. The revenant had, Einarr thought, been a better swordsman in life than the Allthane had, or at least his skills had atrophied less before death.

Before long it became plain to Einarr that they were being toyed with. This “Päron” never once struck back, even when Einarr deliberately left an opening in his guard. It was trying to tire them out – and why not? With the unflagging strength of the dead, it would long outlast its oh-so-mortal attackers.

Worse, it seemed to be working already. Einarr knew he had begun to tire even before Runa named the creature. Erik’s face had gone red, and while Jorir did not yet look tired, Einarr could tell he was beginning to slow down.

Runa had attached three epithets to the creature’s supposed name. One of them, Lecher, Einarr could think of no acceptable way to exploit. Perhaps, however, there was an answer in one of the others. Päron the Avaricious, and the Vain. There had been those traces of gilding on the sword before…

Einarr hopped backward out of the clinch, where his most recent blow had brought him. The revenant smelled like the grave. Erik and Jorir moved in to strike.

“What a waste of gold, putting it on a sword hilt,” Einarr sneered. Jorir’s axe cut at its leg even as Erik chopped higher up. As expected, it jumped over Jorir’s cut and ducked Erik’s in the same movement.

“What sort of man pours his money into a bejewelled sword? It’s a weapon, not a bauble for some woman.” Einarr dashed in to take another swing at the revenant’s chest. It dodged again, but it felt somehow sloppier.

Erik smirked. “Must’ve been compensating, don’t you think?”

Jorir dashed back in for another attack, grinning. “I don’t know any warriors who waste money on fancy swords like that. Only kings and the impotent.”

That got it. The gaunt face of the revenant still managed to contort in rage despite the decayed muscles and another howl rang out.

For one brief moment, Einarr regretted goading the creature to attack. The sword may have once been gilt and bejewelled, but its owner was still a fine swordsman. Then he and Erik and Jorir were wrapped up in the battle to bring the creature down. Its attacks were vicious, and every bit as quick as its defense had suggested. Einarr contorted in ways he hadn’t thought possible to avoid its blade.

Its rage seemed focused on Jorir, though, and it was Jorir that drew it out. In the moment it overextended, all three Vidofnings struck together. Jorir embedded his axe in its foot, pinning it in place. The back of Erik’s axe knocked its head back, so that it stood nearly straight. And then Sinmora clove the revenant in twain, from head to toe.

There was no blood. Instead, the revenant’s body began to crumble like ancient parchment until there was nothing left but a pile of fine dust at their feet. A breeze came up and swept even that away.

Einarr stood still for a long moment after. The spirit had seemed to have an affinity for wind, so none of them were willing to credit their victory so quickly. After a long moment had passed in silence, save for the whistling of the wind, they all sheathed their blades.

“Runa,” Einarr said, straightening and taking a deep breath. “How did you know?”

“How did I know what?” That innocent tone didn’t fool Einarr.

“How did you know what story to tell? And how did you get from there to Päronskaft, of all things?”

Runa gave a small, mysterious smile. “My Singer training comes in handy sometimes.”


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6.27 – Revenant

The dust cloud swiftly resolved itself into a whirlwind, and soon thereafter Einarr could make out the features of the revenant it followed.

The spirit’s gaunt face was twisted in rage. Einarr couldn’t have said how he knew that, as what little flesh remained hung from the bones in tatters. A rusty horned helmet sat on its brow, dirty white hair tossed about in the wind of the creature’s own passing.

Einarr settled into his fighting stance, ready to defend Runa. The creature did not appear to realize it could be seen – or, perhaps in its madness and hunger it did not realize any but the storyteller existed.

“Surely, the shade thought, this newcomer will know my name, for before my banishment I was famous indeed. And perhaps they will have word of my clan. And so the shade began to follow the newcomer.”

Einarr sidestepped into the path of the speeding revenant and their swords met in a scrape of metal.

The draugr snarled wordlessly, staring past Einarr at the woman who provoked it.

“Well what d’you know. The Hallkeeper was right,” Einarr said quietly, hoping to divert its attention so they could have a proper fight. “What is it about stories that drives you mad?”

The draugr did not seem to hear him.

“The shade followed that newcomer for years, until another soul was banished to the Isle, but in all that time there was no sign that anyone remembered his name,” Runa continued.

It roared again, and as it lifted its ancient blade to strike at the obstacle in its path Einarr glimpsed the remnants of gilt and empty sockets in the hilt of its sword, as though it had once been encrusted with jewels. Once again steel met steel, and Einarr grinned. “I don’t think so.”

Erik and Jorir were edging around to surround the creature while Runa’s story still kept it distracted.

“For a long time the shade would attach itself to every new face on the island, always hopeful that this time they would know who he had been.”

The draugr took a clumsy swing at the obstacle in its path, which Einarr easily evaded. In return, he sliced across the creature’s ribs.

Sinmora met no resistance.

Einarr’s eyes went wide and he cursed. If the spirit was insubstantial even when they could see it, what were they supposed to do to get rid of it?

The wailing picked up again with even greater intensity than they had heard before, and the whirlwind began to move of its own accord. Jorir ran two paces, launched himself into the air, and cut down into the whirlwind.

Einarr blinked in surprise. Based on everything he knew, that shouldn’t have done anything. And yet, the whirlwind seemed to have weakened. “How -?”

“Not now!” Jorir shouted before he could even finish the question. “Keep the body busy, I’ll handle this.”

Jorir seemed to have an idea – more, it seemed to be working – so with a mental shrug Einarr turned his full attention back to the humanoid figure.

Erik had moved to block its advance while Einarr was distracted. It was now gnashing its teeth at the big man, sword and axe locked in the clinch. Even with a blade that decayed, though, an axe haft was not likely to last long.

“Year after year,” Runa was saying. “More and more people found themselves cursed to be forgotten, and the shade listened to each one. Finally, though, hope turned to despair and despair grew into madness. Not one of these men had so much as heard of this great hero of the past, even as a cautionary tale. The shade, denied the one thing it craved, began to hate the very thing that would deliver it to him.”

Could Runa be telling the revenant’s story? How would she know it? Einarr loosed a primal yell as he slid under Erik’s arm and slashed up at the revenant. Its chest seemed to flicker where Sinmora otherwise would have cut, and then blade met solid blade again.

The wailing was beginning to hurt Einarr’s ears even through the wool roving. He did not think the creature was trying to burst his ears, though – its fixation was still on Runa, whose still sang her story.

Jorir continued to bleed strength from the wind at the creature’s back, but each such mighty blow appeared to sap strength from the dwarf as well as from the whirlwind. Einarr frowned even as he brought his blade up to block the draugr’s next clumsy swing. Something didn’t make sense here.

“Erik. Go help him. I’ve got this.”

“Aye, sir.” With surprising silence the big man slipped out from between the humanoid form of the revenant and Runa, leaving the Lady’s defense entirely to her intended.

The creature hardly seemed to care, except insofar as its path to the storyteller was still blocked. Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder as it pulled back for its next half-hearted blow. Was it actually trying to force its way through, or were they the ones being distracted here?

To her credit, Runa’s voice was still strong, but the woman herself stood unsteadily in the center of the square. Her face was pale, and she continued her recitation with her eyes closed. And still the wailing built.

Einarr took a step back towards her and the revenant followed without missing a beat. Runa’s Song was meant to let them see the truth of the world around them: had this thing somehow defeated it?

No, it couldn’t be. Their fight was still obstructing the creature, he was sure, or they would all be dead by now. So then, was it the noise?

“Runa! How do we shut it up?”

She shook her head and seemed to gather her strength. After a moment, her eyes opened. “Päron the Lecher, Päron the Avaricious, Päron the Vain. Hide yourself away, lest the world remember your deeds!”


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6.26 – Spirit Bait

Before Einarr put his new recruits to work, curiosity burned a question through his lips. “What was it drove everyone out of the town, anyway?”

Arkja shrugged, shaking his head helplessly. “Some sort of ghost, we all figured. Right up until people started keeling over, bleeding out their ears.”

Einarr looked at Runa, who shook her head. “It might still be some sort of ghost Or it might not. I’d never heard of a leshy before, either.”

He nodded. “So when everyone fled the town…?”

“Broad daylight. A group of folks in the town square all died at once when the wailing picked up, and that were the last straw.” This from one of the men Einarr had pegged as a farmer.

Einarr frowned. They would have to deal with that spirit, one way or another. He stared at the mouth of the tunnel that had led them here and set his jaw. The four of them, against some sort of malign spirit. Einarr wasn’t even sure how it would manage to kill someone by bursting their ears.

Yes, technically it wasn’t just the four of them now. Arkja might even be able to hold his own in a fight, with some capable backup. But those seven were to see about supplies, and Einarr wasn’t about to send them off without the closest thing to a warrior they had.

Which left the four of them to take on a spirit of unknown abilities, when they were really in no condition for dealing with one at all. He shook his head. “No time like the present. Runa, do you think ear plugs might work against this thing?”

“Can’t hurt to try.”

Well, it could, depending on how the creature was bursting ears, but it was the best idea he had. And it would certainly make the wailing more bearable. Thus.

Einarr was in no hurry to pour hot wax in his ears again, though. He turned his attention to one of the three farmers in Arkja’s group. He was going to have to get names soon. “Do you know where we might come by some loose cotton or wool?”

“Believe so, Lord. Me neighbor raises sheep, she does. Imagine I kin get some clean wool from there.”

“Good! See to it. Enough for all of us to plug our ears. …Don’t bother trying to hide what we’re up to.” A riot at this point seemed unlikely at best, and the attempt might earn them some goodwill. The man was already on his way off to his neighbor’s.

“There’s that accounted for. Runa, Jorir, if either of you has an idea for beating back a ghost that won’t turn into another debacle like the Allthane did, I’m all ears.”

***

The escape tunnel, dug during spare moments by Arkja beginning long before the advent of the ghost, seemed no less threatening now that they were marching towards danger, their pockets full of wool roving. Einarr was coming to the conclusion he just didn’t belong underground.

They didn’t have a plan. Einarr would have been much happier if they had. One of the hazards, though, of being on the Isle of the Forgotten was that its inhabitants had been, largely. So whatever this was they faced, neither Singer nor dwarf had ever encountered as much as a scrap of a legend.

There were two different creatures it sounded similar to, at least: a nokken, since its victims seemed to drown, or a draugr. Einarr did not like the idea that the two types of spirit shared a common source, but under the circumstances it was an idea worth entertaining. Not that he had any idea how to send an ordinary draugr back to its grave: the Allthane had been able to communicate, however removed from reality it was. He was reasonably certain most draugr couldn’t speak, though.

No, they did not have a plan. But if (and it was a mighty if) the spirit was drowning people on dry land in the middle of the day, they thought they had a prayer.

Einarr blinked and realized they were approaching the tunnel exit. He shook his head, trying to clear it, as they began the ascent up into the Salty Maid. Now was not the time to be worrying.

The streets of the town looked, if anything, even emptier in the bright light of midday. Wind whistled between the buildings and created an eddy out of sparse dried leaves.

How much time was left in the season? Was that even the same here? Einarr froze momentarily, but shook it off. Time enough to worry about that later. Focus. They had a ghost to kill – or at least drive off. And it was going to take each and every one of them to pull it off. The town square was just past the sign of the Salty Maid, and that was where the spirit had been most active.

There was one thing the victims all had in common, Arkja had been able to tell them: they had all been telling stories when they died. It didn’t seem to matter what kind of story: the wise old man sharing legends with a younger man and the fisherman boasting about his catch met the same fate.

Which explained why the wailing began when it did, at least – and why it didn’t follow them into the tunnel. And it gave them a way to draw out the spirit, although not one Einarr was happy about. Once they knew that much, though, Runa insisted.

The woman herself stood in the center of the square, looking supremely confident. “Once upon a time,” Runa intoned, her ears already stopped with wool. Einarr, Erik, and Jorir now put in their own plugs, and the world took on a muffled feel. He was glad one of them was confident, at any rate.

Even through the roving Einarr could hear the wailing begin.

“A great hero fell into ignominy and was cursed, banished to the shores of the Isle of the Forgotten.” Runa’s intonation moved slowly into the syncopated rhythm of the Song of Sight, a song to pierce the veil and strip away illusions. That Runa knew it was the only reason they thought they had a prayer.

Einarr, Jorir, and Erik moved into a circle around their Singer, their weapons in hand, as they searched for the strange spirit that had an issue with stories.

“This hero wandered the Isle alone for many years, until his shame and his solitude drove him mad. Eventually the hero died, but his shade could not rest easy.”

The wind that whistled through the streets tugged at Einarr’s beard and stood his hackles on end. That was a wind belonging to the depths of winter. Still, though, he saw nothing.

“The shade continued to wander, alone, for another long time. And then, finally, someone else found their way to the Isle’s shores.”

Something down the street, down past the Maid, stirred up a dust cloud as it raced towards the four in the square.


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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 Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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