Tag: Jotunhall

5.14 – Raven Dreams

Jorir held out a hand to stop the other two even as Runa charged forward. “Hard enough to get through this without anyone else stirring the air. No sense facing more than you have to.”

Erik grunted. Irding, youth that he was, looked as though he wanted to scoff – right up until he opened his mouth.

Jorir snorted as realization dawned on the young man’s face. “Besides. As his man at arms, I’m next.”

Irding drew his brow down, a different thought occurring to him. “How do you know what we face will be bad?”

“I don’t, really. But we’re being tested by a pair of ravens. That tells me we’ll be seeing death and battle.”

Erik’s face was set in a grim mask, visible even through the beard. “The dwarf is right, son. Best brace yourself.”

Irding shifted uncomfortably and said no more. Jorir turned his attention back to the room full of glowing bubbles. With a hum so low it was nearly a growl, he started forth, his mind carefully blank of everything save the obstacles in his path.

He had hoped, briefly, that his reduced stature would make his passage easier, but it was not to be. He stepped forward and held his breath as an errant bubble passed right through his leg without popping. Nothing happened. Okay then. It’s not just if they touch you. He ducked and weaved and rolled his way across the room, until he finally saw a clear path to where Einarr and his Lady waited. Jorir breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped through the door to guard them, facing the top of the stairs beyond.

Erik and Irding were not far behind him, looking shaken by whatever it was they had seen but not otherwise harmed. It seems I was lucky.

“Shall we continue?”

“Yes, my lord.” Jorir began his steady tromp up the stairs, positioned in the middle of the steps so that none of the reckless youths behind him might dash past. Erik would never learn that he, too, fit that description by Jorir’s reckoning.

The second door they came to looked nearly identical to the first. Jorir stretched and caught hold of the door pull: on the other side was another room filled with the same glowing bubbles as the first floor. Jorir quirked an eyebrow.

“Again?” Irding said from behind. “This tower isn’t half so dangerous as I expected.”

Jorir allowed himself the luxury of a mental groan. Thanks for that, man. At the very least he could be the one to test that, instead of his lord. “Might I have the honor of going first, my lord?”

Einarr gestured forward, and Jorir stalked in. He dodged the first bubble that came for him, and the second, but unlike the first floor it was as though these were actively seeking his head. It wasn’t long at all before three right together rushed towards his face.

He could not dodge: there was nowhere to go. Instead, he gritted his teeth and closed his eyes as the cold, filmy membrane covered his face.

When he opened his eyes, he stood before a very familiar and much-hated forge in a monstrously large cave. Something that happened while I was Fraener’s slave, then? There were no shortage of other places his trial could have taken place: at least here there were a limited range of indignities he could have to relive.

Footsteps sounded from one of the natural side passages. From the sound alone he could tell it was not the giant. Men, then, come to steal from Fraener much as I tried. That doesn’t narrow it down much. “You may as well come the rest of the way in,” he growled. “I already know you’re there.”

The man who stepped forward out of the darkness beyond his forge-fire’s light was the last one he expected to see: red-haired, obviously strong but not over large, with a distinctive sword at his hip. Einarr?

“Yes, of course. My apologies, sir dwarf, but I did not expect to find anyone smaller than a tree on the island.”

Jorir laughed, but there was little mirth in it. “Sit down. Have a drink, rest a bit by the fire.”

Einarr blinked. He was suspicious, of course. He had every right to be, under these circumstances. “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?”

Jorir snorted. It hadn’t been poisoned the first time, technically. Just a brew that didn’t tend to agree with humans. “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 jotünhall, 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.”

Einarr sighed. “Of course it won’t…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? If you win, I will take you there. If you lose, I will give you to the master for dinner.” It had been a very long time since Jorir had anyone to match wits with: Fraener was stone dumb, and most of the men who came treasure hunting here preferred to solve problems with their swords. As for feeding him to the giant, it was one of Fraener’s requirements of his thraldom.

Einarr grimaced. “Come now, are we barbarians? What think you of tafl?”

“Unfortunately, my board is missing a piece.”

“Is it the king?”

Jorir nodded, and Einarr produced the piece from the pouch hanging limply from his belt. “Let’s play. My king, my defense.”

“As you like.”

Jorir tried to remember how he had played that day, in order to keep as close to the memory as possible. Something about Einarr’s play, though, seemed… wrong. In spite of how this went, it began to look as though he would win. “And here I thought you must be good at this game.”

“Ordinarily, I am.” Einarr’s brow creased, and Jorir saw sweat begin to bead there. He would lose in three. Jorir made his next move, and then finally his lord’s face cleared.

Jorir blinked, and then they were at the top of a tall spiral staircase, Sinmora’s tip digging in to his back while he fumbled for the key. He had lost – hadn’t even cheated to ensure the memory played out properly: why was this different?

…Oh, right. Maybe because the next thing that had actually happened was, he had tried to kill the man on the staircase, fearing Fraener’s wrath.He would have serious trouble doing so now.

“Hurry it up,” Einarr growled.

Jorir 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, axe swung high overhead.

Instead of the expected parry, Einarr danced back two steps. Jorir’s eyes widened as he saw he was about to plunge over the edge of the stair.


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5.6 – At the Blue Hall

The public hall where Einarr found the Vidofnings and Brunnings was surprisingly large for a town no bigger than East Port. If Einarr had to take a guess, most of their custom came from ships such as their own, here to call on the Conclave.

A cheer went up as the door swung open under Reki’s hand. Inside the hall was as warm and cheery as one might expect at the end of a good season of raiding. With a grin, Einarr moved to join his crewmates with a drink while Reki went to report to Stigander. All eight of their party were able to breathe a sigh of relief when they saw that there had, in fact, been no transformations as of yet – only the complaints they had grown used to of nausea and headaches as though their crews had both contracted a lingering flu.

Even Reki’s news did not dampen their enthusiasm: if anything, the fact that they had found their “cure” before the corruption had claimed anyone was another victory over the madmen of the cult. Then it was Einarr’s turn.

“I’ve been given another impossible quest, I’m afraid, Father.”

“Feh. Do skalds give any other kind?”

“Not likely.”

“Well, what is it now?”

“I’m to travel to the Tower of Ravens and steal Frigg’s distaff out from under the noses of Huginn and Muninn.”

Stigander looked just as confused as Einarr had. “What in the depths of all the seas do you need that for?”

“Untangling fate, they say, and ridding us of the cult’s corruption for good.”

His father shook his head and wiped his hand down his moustaches, his expression changing from amusement to consternation and back again. “Well, if there’s anyone in this lot who can manage it, I’d lay my odds on you.”

Sivid could do it, if it weren’t for his accursed luck. “Thank you, Father. The Matrons said the tower required a smaller boat to reach: I’m to pay a call on a fisherman in the morning regarding the use of a boat. I’d like to take some of the crew along.”

“Long as they’re up for it, same as before. …This distaff, you said it untangles fate?”

Einarr nodded, and his father harrumphed. There was no need to say it: such a thing could easily break the Weaver’s curse on their homeland. He turned back to the hall full of his fellow Vidofnings.

“All right, everyone! Just like this spring, I need a few of you to venture out in a little fishing boat with me. This time we’re braving the wrath of a god!”

His pronouncement was followed by a peal of laughter, even by those who had heard the Matrons’ pronouncement at the Conclave.

Jorir, to no-one’s surprise, was the first to step forward. “Come hel or high water, I’m with ye.”

Einarr inclined his head at his man-at-arms. “Thank you, Jorir. Who else?”

The next man to step forward was gangly Irding, neither as tall nor as muscle-bound as his father but with the same brown hair and reckless grin. “Sounds like fun. I’ll give it a go.”

Erik’s head snapped around to look at his son. “You sure about that? We got into a heap o’ trouble going after the Isinntog.”

“I know. That’s why it sounds like fun.” Irding grinned at his father, and Erik laughed loudly.

“Who’m I kidding? Of course it does. Count me in, too.”

Einarr’s mouth curled in a half-smile. Irding looked a little less happy at the prospect now that Erik was also along, but it would be good for them. “Great. Anyone else? I expect we’ll have to work our way past traps, and if anyone knows how to read runes it would be a help.”

“I already told you, I’m coming,” Runa said, standing at the table.

“No, you’re not. There’s no telling what sort of violence we might come across.”

“You’re invading the tower of Huginn and Muninn. You need someone familiar with magic, who can read runes. I’m coming.”

Aema, the Brunning’s battle-chanter, stepped forward. “You’re hardly the only one here with those qualifications.”

“No, but I’m the only one here with those qualifications who isn’t needed here. You and Reki both have crews to tend, full of men doused with corrupted blood, and I do not. I may be a Jarl’s daughter, but that doesn’t make me useless.”

“Maybe not,” Trabbi rumbled, “but if anything should happen to you your Father will have my head. He may even if you go along and nothing happens.”

Runa met her erstwhile suitor’s eyes. “On my word of honor, I will not allow that to happen.”

Trabbi scowled back. “You have no more place on that boat than I do, my Lady.”

“That is where you’re wrong.” She turned her attention back to Einarr, and he felt the old familiar thrill. “What was it that the alfr gave you in the wood?”

“Some bauble he thought would help us through the tower, though at the moment I can’t see how.” That had been the way of Runa’s gifts, too, given as they left to seek the Jotünhall.

“Give it here.”

Einarr shrugged and removed the bird-shaped brooch from the pouch at his belt. “Doesn’t the use typically become plain when you need it?”

All three Singers rolled their eyes at him even as Runa took hold of the brooch and blanched.

Einarr couldn’t help the question. “What is it?”

“Let us hope the use becomes plain, because while I can read the runes, they look like so much nonsense.”

Reki threaded her way through the room to take a closer look. She raised pale eyebrows and let loose a low whistle. “Well, at the very least your elf-gift should actually be of use. How did he get this, though?”

“See, Runa? I’m sure we’ll be able to muddle through-”

“So long as you have someone who can read the runes. You need me, and one way or another I’m coming.” Runa’s jaw was set. Einarr turned to Bollinn.

The new Captain of the Skudbrun sighed. “I don’t think there’s any stopping her at this point. Over my own better judgement, I’ll allow it.”

Runa smiled in triumph. Einarr hoped she wouldn’t regret her insistence.


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1.24 – Giant’s Palace

In the next heartbeat Sinmora was in Einarr’s hand. He pressed himself against the central pillar as he raised the sword to parry the dwarf’s blade. That was a long drop off the other side – one he definitely did not intend to take himself.

Axe struck long sword and the dwarf jumped backward, eyeing the drop himself.

“You could have just opened the door and been on about your business, you know.”

“Just like you could have turned back after your friend got chomped. My master is most displeased about his dog.”

“The wolf should be fine. My friend, on the other hand…”

“Got what he deserves.” The dwarf lunged again, striking out at Einarr’s chest from his position on the high ground.

Clang! This blow, too, was parried. Einarr edged up a step and struck at the dwarf’s inside arm.

The dwarf dodged back. He, too, was wary of the long drop. Caution wasn’t going to win this fight, then.

“If you put your axe down and open the door, neither of us has to die.”

“I let you through, my master kills me. I kill you, he rewards me. Now, which would you choose?”

Einarr shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He lunged upward, his body low to the stairs, and slashed at the dwarf’s knees.

His opponent jumped, and Einarr was forced backwards to avoid the plunging axe aimed for his head.

The dwarf drove the axe with such force that the head bit into a join in the stone stairs. He tugged on the handle, but it was wedged fast.

Einarr saw his opportunity and seized it. He surged forward, shoulder first, knocking the dwarf up the stairs and away from his weapon. Before the dwarf had time to blink Einarr followed through with a backhand strike to his mouth. The crunching sound suggested he’d broken teeth. A flat-footed kick landed on the dwarf’s face and he stumbled backward another step.

That gave the dwarf just enough time to regain his balance and counter-surge. He bent at the waist and charged forward in a tackle. Einarr backpedaled a step or two, but tightened his stomach in time to avoid being winded.

For his trouble, the dwarf got a knee to the jaw. He spat blood but did not let go. Einarr’s lips curled into the rictus of a snarl as he brought his elbow down on the base of the dwarf’s skull.

Now the dwarf slumped, releasing his grip about Einarr’s waist as he slipped to the rough stone stair beneath their feet.

Einarr puffed air through his moustache. Finally. He started to pick his way around the dwarf’s unconscious form, and then an idea hit him. He turned, only for a moment, and pocketed the key that the dwarf kept on a thong about his neck. “I’ll be taking that.”

Now Einarr took the rest of the stairs back to the landing, stepping as softly as he could. He opened the door and bent over to peek through.

What he saw made little sense: flagstones the size of carts, and wooden pillars that rose beyond what he could see from his hiding place. He neither heard nor felt the thunderous steps of the Jotün, and so he slipped outside the dwarf-sized door embedded in the giant-sized wall and locked it behind him.

He turned. Staring upward, the tree-like pillars were the legs of an oversized table and chairs. Crates and barrels and sacks were piled haphazardly against the walls. I wonder if this is how rats see the world? It was a struggle not to gawk. The room reeked of stale sweat and rotted meat. Einarr wrinkled his nose as he surveyed the room, looking for a better vantage point.

The table legs were too smooth to climb, and the bench likely wouldn’t get him any better of a view. Besides, if he climbed the table he might have to see where that smell was coming from. Instead, he moved in front of the stacks along the wall. A stack of potato sacks looked like it would do, but more promising was the pyramid of crates in the corner ahead.

The nearer he drew, the better the crates looked. The slats were rough-hewn, with enough space between that he could use them as hand- or foot-holds. Up he went, pulling himself up the outside of the boards like an oversised inchworm. At the top of each crate he took the time to look around the room, not wanting to go any higher than he had to in order to locate his goal.

He scaled three chests in this manner before he could see across the top of the jotün’s table and get an idea of what sort of a hall this solitary giant kept.

The top of the table was littered with the remains of past meals, dirty dishes and bones alike. Einarr forced himself to look away from the carnage of the table to study the walls.

There were doors about the hall into other rooms. This in itself was unusual, although he wondered why the Jotün bothered: the only one closed was the one he had locked behind himself. The third thing he noticed was that the owner did not, in fact appear to be home. No figure slept in the bed behind the large double-doors in the back, just as he had not felt the giant’s footsteps earlier. If Fraener was out about the island hunting, that was so much the better for Einarr – provided, of course, he was not hunting the Gufuskalam.

One door stood closer to closed than the others, and it was through there Einarr spotted the glint of gold. There we go.


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1.19 – Svartlauf Island

The Gufuskalam launched out of the storm and into the calm waters beyond it. Rain and sleet still pelted Einarr’s back, but he hardly noticed it now.

Black, water-slicked cliffs shot from the ocean’s surface up fifty feet or more. Above, the black-leaved forest where the fimbulvulf was said to dwell loomed over them, rapidly swallowing their view of what lay inland. Before it was hidden from view, Einarr saw massive stone walls rising up from near the center of the island. The roof was also stone, he thought, and the entire edifice was nearly three times the size of Kjell Hall. It stood on four stone pillars that shot up from the forest floor. There was nothing it could be save the Jotünhall.

More of these massive pillars lined a path or a road of sorts down from the hall to the water’s edge through a break in the rock wall. The cliffs retreated from the water in the path made by the pillars. In the shadow of one of these pillars Einarr thought he saw a rocky cove.

“There. Do you see it?”

Erik raised his hand to shade his eyes from the new-found sun and nodded.

“I think we should land there.”

“Aye, Captain.” Even Tyr’s voice was weary of their journey.

“Once we’ve made land, you two should rest here. Reprovision if you can. I need to go in alone.”

Erik looked like he wanted to protest.

“I think we should all take some time to rest and dry off before anyone ventures into the island.” Tyr’s voice was firm, and it was hard to mistake that for anything but the voice of experience. “That cove is going to be in shadow all day. If I may, I would like to suggest we get a little closer to the island, weigh the sea anchor, and warm up while we have sunlight.”

Einarr considered a moment before nodding crisply. “You’re right. None of us is in good shape after that storm. Let’s at least get close enough we’re not likely to be seen from the island and take a few hours to dry out.”

***

The three-man crew of the Gufuskalam found a sweet spot, not far from the cliffs, where most of the waves were cut by a rocky reef. All three of them sprawled in the sun, enjoying the feel of the sun on their faces as it dried their bodies, their clothes hung from the yardarm in the wind.

“Yer pabbi gets it, boy, but don’t be surprised if ye’re cut down to deckhand anyway,” Tyr was saying.

Einarr chuckled in wry humor. “If that’s the worst price I pay, I’ve got the kindest Captain on the seas.” It wasn’t just his Captain he’d betrayed, or even just his Father. It was his grandfather’s entire line, and their hope of the future.

“You do, Einarr. You do.” Erik’s voice was uncommonly solemn, especially given the mellow feeling that had descended on them as they floated in the sun.

Einarr raised his head to look at his crewmate. “You speak from experience?”

“More than a little. You know what I was doing before I signed on to the Vidofnir?”

“Nope.” Erik had joined the crew four years before Einarr was even a deckhand. “Father always told me the crew’s past was none of my damn business.”

Now it was Erik’s turn to laugh. “Yer pabbi found me drunk and beat to a pulp in a ditch. Decided to give me a chance when I got up swinging. I may be the only man alive who’s gotten a job for punching his new Captain in the jaw.”

Tyr laughed. “I remember that. Tell ‘im why you were in yer cups in the first place, though.”

Erik made some embarrassed sounding noises. When he didn’t answer, Tyr did.

“He felt guilty, he did, because the Weaver booked passage on his old boat in the first place.”

“I was just a deckhand on a freeboat, sure, but Raenshold was still home. If I’d known what the nither intended…”

“You don’t have to prove your loyalty to me.” Einarr shifted his shoulders uncomfortably, staring up into the sky. “Especially not after I went and tried to steal a bride…”

“Her idea, wasn’t it?”

“Doesn’t matter. I wasn’t forced.”

“No, you weren’t. But neither was she, which matters – to yer pabbi and the Jarl.”

Einarr sighed and stood up. “Maybe. We’ve lounged enough, though. We should hide the boat.” He snatched his pants off the yardarm and beat them against the side to loosen the salt-stiffness, shivering a little as the breeze reached him again.

“Einarr.” Tyr caught his eye as he, too, stood to dress again. “If anyone understands doing something dumb to win the object of his affections, it’s Stigander. And it was obvious to all of us why you felt like you had to go so far.”

“Thanks.” The fact that the rest of the Vidofnings understood didn’t make him feel any better about it, of course.

***

The Gufuskalam slipped quietly into the small, shadowed cove as the sun was nearing the horizon that evening. Erik lowered the anchor into the water with nary a sound even as the weight sunk beneath the water’s surface.

The cove itself was most like a tiny fjord, and once inside its fingers the three men worked by starlight alone. Einarr had intended to enter the island alone, while his companions slept if he had to, but there would be no climbing those walls before daybreak at the earliest, and more likely noon the next day.

“I still want you two here on the boat. Even with all three of us we couldn’t do more than try to evade the fimbulvulf, and we may need to leave quickly.” Einarr tried again to convince them. They were his friends, and he didn’t want to turn this into a test of authority.

“And I’d still be happier if you had someone to watch your back,” Erik countered. “I promised the Captain we’d bring you back safe.”

“Please, Erik. This is my quest.”

“You’re Stigander’s son, all right,” he grunted.

“Proudly.”

“Your quest or not, Erik’s right. I can’t send you up there alone any more than he can. We also won’t need both of us to ensure the boat is ready when you need to leave. Take Erik.”

Einarr exhaled loudly enough that it was nearly a growl. “Fine. I suppose it won’t be bad to have someone watching my back while I’m up there.”

“Yer damn right it won’t.” Erik clapped him on the shoulder. “Now let’s get to it.”

“We’ll be back as soon as we can, but we don’t know what else might be on this island.”

“With a fimbulvulf and a jotün?” Tyr’s question sounded skeptical.

“They’ve got to eat something, right?” Einarr’s joke produced a round of nervous laughter. He tied the sack to his belt and tossed a rope over to catch on the rocky face he would have to climb to get to the island proper.


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