Tag: Fraener the Jotün

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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1.21 – The Search

Erik’s weight on Einarr’s narrow shoulders slowed him considerably as he made for the inlet where the Gufuskalam waited with Tyr and their supplies. The man had tried to protest, but every time anything so much as brushed his injured leg he paled.

For Erik’s part, he limped on his good leg, dragging the bad one behind and panting with exertion. The fimbulvulf was restrained, at least for now, which meant that Einarr had some time to search out an entrance to the Hall. But before he could allow himself to do that, he had to get Erik to Tyr. The old sailor had been around long enough to know a touch of medicine.

Blood had begun to well from the leg as the wounds warmed, but the initial freezing had been a boon. More worrisome was the bone: he hoped it was something Tyr could set.

Erik slowed. Einarr glanced at his friend: the man’s face had grown pale.

“Come on. Nearly there.”

Erik nodded, his jaw slack.

“Talk to me, Erik. Stay awake. You can pass out once you’re back on the boat.”

“Right, right.”

Shock was setting in. This could be bad.

“Look, you can see where it gets lighter up ahead. We’re almost out of the woods, and then Tyr will fix you up.”

“Oh, gods. You ever been treated by him?” He still sounded dazed, but at least talking would keep him conscious. Einarr could probably carry him across his shoulders if he had to, but it wasn’t something he wanted to test, either. “Man’s got the touch of a mule.”

“Well let’s hope Father finds us a new Battle Chanter while he’s out hunting the Grendel, then, eh?”

“Yeah.” He grunted in pain, but they were emerging out of the woods and onto the top of the cliff face they had scaled just hours before.

Einarr helped Erik lean against a tree trunk and took the rope from about his shoulders. “I’m going to tie a harness and then try to get Tyr’s attention. We should have enough rope I can get you down there, at least.”

“Might I suggest… a fire?” Erik was still breathing heavily, and the dazed look was returning to his eye.

“Yeah, that’s not a bad idea. Stay with me, here.”

“Right. Sure. Just really… tired over here for some reason.”

“You’re not allowed to pass out until you’re back on the Gufuskalam, understand? That’s an order.” Einarr tugged the last knot tight.

Erik chuckled feebly. “Yes, sir.”

“Ah, there we go.” Einarr took two steps and jumped to catch hold of a dead branch on a sick-looking pine. It snapped halfway up, and Einarr smirked in satisfaction as he landed in the snow. “Fire won’t be much for heat, but it should at least get Tyr’s attention down there.”

“Hey, kid.” Erik’s voice was labored, but he was trying to stay awake at least. Einarr tried not to twitch at being called ‘kid’ again after so many years as he struck flint against the flat of his blade. “Thanks. Jus’ wanted to… make sure… I said that.”

“Stay with me, Erik.” The branch was now a burning brand. He waved it over his head, staring at the Gufuskalam below as though he could will Tyr to look their direction more swiftly.

The boat began to row in their direction. Thank the gods. Einarr set the brand down over the lip of the cliff, the fire over the open water, and turned back inland. “Okay, Erik. Let’s get you in the harness.”

The burly man lay unconscious in the snowbank, his back still propped up by the tree trunk.

***

With Erik out cold, Einarr had to get Tyr up the cliff face in order to safely lower Erik back down, but eventually they managed. The older man looked grim as he promised to do what he could, but Einarr was sure Erik would pull through. The Vidofnings were tough, after all.

Now, as the sun dropped toward the treetops in the distance and the light began to fade, Einarr crept through the forest on his own and started at every sound. Tyr had tried to convince him to stay on the boat for the night, but the longer he waited the more likely the wolf would have freed itself. Deeper into the forest he moved, and nearer to the great Hall at its center. Einarr shivered in spite of his heavy wool cloak: the farther into the forest he went, the colder it grew. He thought he was further inland than where they had fought the wolf, now, but he could not tell for certain.

Einarr would need to find shelter of some sort before night fell, and it would need to be some place the fimbulvulf wouldn’t fit. He blinked, and realized only then that the growing darkness was not just a matter of the thick wood. Hel. He scanned his surroundings.

A brighter patch of forest caught his attention, not too far off, and within he could see the dark grey stone of one of those strange pillars. Worth a shot.

The terrain opened up a little as he approached the pillar, so that the light of the rising moon actually reached the ground. Inside a clearing, the pillar rose from a pile of smaller rocks and pierced the darkening sky. Einarr pursed his lips: this did not look promising.

The ground shook beneath his feet, and then a pause. Then it happened again. Einarr looked up in the second pause, just before a third shaking tumbled loose some of the smaller rocks about the pillar.

A man with skin the color of a frozen corpse waded through the forest as though it were tall grass and whistled. The fimbulvulf bayed in response, but the sound did not cover the noise of a rolling stone from the clearing ahead.

Now he saw a blackness in the rocks around the bottom of the pillar, a hole revealed by the tremors of the jotün’s steps. Einarr didn’t think twice about the dubious safety of such a cave: it would keep him out of the fimbulvulf’s jaws and the jotün’s pot alike, and it might even give him a place to light a fire for the night.


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1.13 – Glíma

Einarr stood in the dirt ring cleared for glíma, studying his opponent. For a hundred feet around it the field was filled with people watching and cheering and drumming. Jarl Hroaldr and all those at Kjell Hall gathered around.

This occupied only a small fragment of Einarr’s attention. More important by far was the swarthy, salt-and-pepper brick of a man standing across the ring from him – Trabbi. The man’s chest and arms were just as muscular as Father’s, and while his beard was thick it was also short and neat. The two men wore only trousers and boots, and the breeze tried to raise goosebumps on their bare arms. Einarr dropped into a fighter’s crouch, and his much larger rival did the same. Among the Vidofnings, the only man smaller than Einarr was Sivid. If there was one fact of wrestling that had been impressed on Einarr, though, it was that size was not as important as it appeared to be.

“Begin!” Jarl Hroaldr gave the signal, and the two men charged to the center of the ring, their arms joining in the clinch.

Einarr’s arms strained against strength born of pulling fish from the sea. Trabbi pulled right and Einarr stepped in, allowing his opponent the throw. No sooner had his back touched the ground than Einarr kicked his legs back into Trabbi’s knees. Einarr sprang back to his feet as the older man fell. A hand reached out to grab his ankle and he danced backward.

Trabbi stood, not bothering to slap the dust off, and the crowd cheered. They moved into the clinch again. Out of the corner of his eye, Einarr saw Runa watching anxiously. He tried to put it from his mind.

Einarr slid his hands up his rival’s arms to clasp them behind the man’s head. The older man’s head lowered with little resistance. Einarr’s eyes widened when he realized what was about to happen. Trabbi abruptly let go of his shoulders and lunged forward, knocking the wind from his rival’s chest even as he took hold of Einarr’s wrist to wrench the arm backwards.

Einarr twisted around to avoid the break and kicked at Trabbi’s hip. The man jumped backwards, releasing his grip on Einarr’s arm. They both dropped back into a crouch and began circling the ring. The crowd cheered wildly, and Einarr couldn’t tell for who. He spat, watching his rival.

Trabbi started the charge this time, and Einarr saw his opportunity. He went low, driving his shoulder into his rival’s stomach and lifting Trabbi’s legs as he straightened. Einarr rolled into the throw. Trabbi’s momentum carried him over to land on his back with Einarr sitting on his chest.

“Yield,” Trabbi wheezed. “I yield.”

Einarr stood and helped the other man to his feet. The crowd went wild with cheering. Jarl Hroaldr had to shout to be noticed above the din. Eventually, it quieted enough that he could speak. “Victory goes to Einarr, son of Stigander, Captain of the Vidofnir. The betrothal between my daughter and Trabbi has been annulled, although what you thought you were defending her from eludes me.”

“The Lady Runa is a strong, intelligent woman, my lord. I defended her against a future she did not wish, and claim her in hopes of fulfilling one she does.”

“Forgetting, for a moment, the things we spoke of last winter: tell me, boy, what makes you think I will give her hand to you? Given your actions of the past week, why should I not have you executed? Banished?” Jarl Hroaldr’s voice was cold. “You ran away with my daughter and betrayed my trust in your own father. Why should I now entrust her to you?”

“I did only what I thought was right, based on the wishes of the Lady Runa herself. I ask you, what is worse – a lifetime, potentially short, of wandering, or a longer one with a mate you do not love, and who I think does not love you?”

Trabbi shook his head. “The boy is right. I’d have treated her kindly, of course, but it is no accident that I have not remarried.”

“Against my better judgement, I will not pronounce him a criminal. However, I shall require tasks of him if he wishes to court my daughter.”

“Name your task, my Jarl, and I shall do it.”

The Jarl nodded once. “But first, let us retire to the Hall. I seem to smell another snowstorm on the wind.”

***

Kjell Hall was abuzz that evening with drinking games and the excited chatter of men recounting the afternoon’s match. The Vidofnir was to sail the next morning in search of the Grendel, and Einarr sat near the head of the room with his father, Runa, and the Jarl.

“Since both your father and Trabbi forgive you, and I know my daughter well enough to recognize when something is her idea, I have decided on your first task.” The Jarl’s voice was level, and his tone suggested that the request would be eminently reasonable. Doubt chewed on Einarr’s stomach nonetheless.

“The goddess Eira was once possessed of a torc studded with diamond and fashioned of gold filigree so pure it shines white – the Isinntog. It is said to have power over ice and storms. You know it?” He waited for them to nod. “The Isinntog was given into the care of the elves of Skaergard many hundreds of years ago to await Eira’s awakening, but it was stolen from them by the jotün Fraener and taken to Svartlauf. Bring me the Isinntog, and it shall be your morning gift for Runa.”

Einarr paled a moment, then nodded boldly. Stealing the Isinntog from a jotünhall was supposed to be the easy task? “Certainly any jewelry less fine would be too drab for her. I will return with this treasure.”

The Jarl nodded; that was the response he’d expected. Stigander clapped him on the back, hard, with a hearty laugh. “Sounds like we each have our impossible quests then, doesn’t it? For you a legendary torc, for me a rogue ship that travels with the storms.”

Einarr laughed in agreement, although he could not put more than half his heart into it. “Is there a boat sufficient to carry me there and back?”

“Runa’s little skiff, if you can find a man or two willing to help you crew it.”

“That I think I can do. Father, may I take a few of my comrades for this?”

“If they’re willing to go.”

“Thank you, Father.” Einarr rose and left to ask some of his fellow Vidofnings who might be willing to join him on such a quest.


1.12 – Negotiations 1.14 – Setting Sail
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