Tag: Odvir

10.30 – Ambush

Kaldr had evidently been the last to know he was about to be freed, and for once Lord Ulfr had not stinted on the manpower at his disposal. Once the Lady Mother declared something, it was evidently unquestionable.

Kaldr would still rather the witch be hanged.

He took the stairs two at a time with a steady, even stride. By the time Kaldr reached the top floor and pushed open the door to the war room, he felt like himself again. Inside, the leaders of Kaldr’s guard stood staring at the map of the city laid out on the table before them. Two of them were arguing about some minor point on a plan Kaldr was reasonably sure would do nothing, based on what he had already heard.

Kaldr ignored the map and the leaders of the guard and went straight for the window that looked out over the town. From there, he could see just how badly this had been bungled so far.

“As you can see, sir,” one of the Guardsmen was saying.

“What I can see is that we need to act quickly if we’re going to repel the rebels. …I’ve run across their ships. How do they have so many men on the ground?”

“That’s just it, sir. The men of the town have taken up with the rebels.”

“See that word of that does not leave this room.” If it did, Kaldr would be surprised if the town existed a month from now.

“We had already agreed as much.”

Kaldr nodded: it was good to confirm that the Guard had some measure of intelligence. He studied the fighting below for another minute before turning to the map on the table.

It did not look good. They were too thin on the ground, with the fleet already out of commission and the townsfolk arrayed against them. “Where are our reinforcements stationed?”

The next ten minutes were a flurry of activity. Kaldr sent more dispatches than he cared to count, but at the end of it he thought they had a chance. He looked up, towards the window, and a strange pulsing caught his eye. Kaldr took two steps closer, then stopped. Out over the harbor, something was glowing. It almost seemed to crackle with light. He knit his brow, then shook his head.

“I don’t know what that is, but we need to stop it. Send a messenger to Thjofgrir on my ship: have them send a team of sailors to put an end to whatever sorcery the rebels are working.”

“Yes, sir!”


Irding was never afterward exactly sure what happened. One minute he was driving forward with the right flank, pushing back the wolflings with the aid of the townspeople. He dashed forward into a gap in the line, far too fast for Erik’s warning to be of any use.

Then he was cut off. He realized almost immediately, when the press at his back was not his allies filling the gap but more wolflings. His eyes went wide, and he felt the fear rising in his gorge. He cut at the foe in front of him, his axe slicing neatly across the man’s thighs, and turned.

Erik, his father, was cutting a bloody swath ahead of himself, pushing towards Irding’s position. In terms of absolute distance, it was not far. All he had to do was meet him halfway.

Irding slashed across the back of one wolfling, then another. The third turned to face him as he pushed closer to his own side of the lines. The wolfling gave him a savage grin.

Irding wasted no time with intimidation. He hacked at his opponent’s knee. The wolfling danced back out of the way of the blow, but that let Irding take another step closer toward his goal.

The other man wasn’t done with him yet, though: he stabbed low, for Irding’s legs, forcing him to give ground or try to block. Irding brought the edge of his shield down on his opponent’s wrist hard: the man’s eyes went wide and he stifled a scream.

A fourth man fell to Erik’s blade, and then the two of them stood back to back in the middle of the melee.

“What happened?” Irding asked over the din.

“Ambush! Enemy reinforcements came in from the side. Oh, look, over there. I see Troa and Odvir.”

Irding looked. Their battle line had broken up into little pockets, and while each one fought fiercely this would not end well.

“You see them? Come on.”

Irding and Erik stood back-to-back, fighting their way towards their allies in an elaborate spinning dance. They gained ground by inches, but Irding could feel his arms beginning to burn with exertion.

“How much farther?” He asked in a momentary gap.

Erik was already surging forward. “We’ll get there.”

Irding lunged forward, striking at the leg of one of the wolflings before he could strike at Erik. The gap closed behind him.

“Troa!” Erik bellowed over the din even as he sent another wolfling flying. “This way!”

There was something uniquely tiring – and tiresome – about fighting to incapacitate. Especially when your opponent was under no such constraints. Irding took another chop at another wolfling’s arm and was rewarded with a scream of pain and a spurt of blood as he dropped his shield to hold the bloody stump. That one was out of the fight, at least.

Another gap opened up, allowing Erik and Irding to surge forward once more. Irding nearly tripped over one of the fallen he had not seen until almost too late: when he looked down and saw it was one of the townsfolk, a pair of slashes across her face in addition to the blow that felled her, rage pulsed in his vision. She hadn’t really looked like Mother, not truly except for the hair, but the idea that someone would mutilate one of their own like that…

“Keep it together,” Erik warned. “The time for charging forward is long past.”

“I understand.”


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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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3.13 – Darkness

For a long moment, darkness and silence held sway. Einarr strained his eyes and his ears, but no light seeped into this cavern from above, and the only sound that reached his ears was the occasional plink of a drop of water falling into a pool below. Finally he heard the distinctive scrape of a fire striker. In the moment before the first spark died without catching, he thought he saw a skeletal figure poised to strike.

Sinmora rasped from her scabbard. He held his blade outstretched, on guard.

The striker sounded again. Again, the torch did not catch. Again, he saw his enemy. Caught, this time, a hint of cloth that suggested it might be the captain he had nearly tripped over earlier.

Now two strikers sounded. He hoped he wasn’t the only one to have seen the apparition… hoped this was not the thing that had killed the freeboaters.

A torch caught and flared to life. Einarr blinked: the skeleton now once again lay prone on the ground, its fingers clutching its neck. Confused, he looked over at Jorir as he sheathed his sword. The dwarf’s hand was on his axe handle, but he had not drawn.

“Tell me you saw that, too,” he muttered.

The dwarf nodded once. “Probably no one else, though. Not in that light.”

Einarr nodded, then strode forward, once again stepping over the cadaver as though it wasn’t there. Jorir, however, was not as forgiving: he stopped long enough to smash the brittle skull with the back of his axe.

“What was that about?” Odvir’s confusion was audible in his voice.

“Never leave an enemy on the field behind you.” Jorir’s answer was flat.

“An… enemy?” It was Irding’s turn to sound skeptical now.

“Aye. An enemy. Surely you’ve not forgotten why svartdvergers are such good miners, have you?” Jorir pointed at his eye. “While you’re remembering that, best remember that the dead walk on this island. Some of them may have ears.”

Einarr could not quite repress a smile when he heard a series of gulps behind him. “Let’s get back to that boat.”

***

Einarr came to the end of the steep passage they had followed down and stopped, staring, at the panel that once again barred their way. Even from this side it appeared to be solid stone, but that wasn’t truly the problem. The problem was the slope they stood on, and the smoothness of the stone under their feet.

“Almost makes you wish we had Arring with us, doesn’t it?”

Erik, at least, chuckled.

“Right. Well. There has to be some way to move it from this side, or there wouldn’t have been anywhere nearly so much gold down there.”

Jorir hummed. “Floor near the walls is like to have more traction than in the center.”

“Here’s hoping it’s enough.” Einarr stepped over to the corner, looking for any break between the hanging slab and the wall that they might be able to use for leverage. He scuffed a boot against the ground under his feet. “Mm. Maybe. No place to put a lever even if we had one, though.”

He paused a moment, considering . “Fjorkar, take the other side. Everyone else, brace us. Erik, Geiti, you fall in last. You’ll have the best footing of any of us here.”

“Aye, sir!” The response to this was somewhat more enthusiastic than the situation warranted, but he could understand wanting to be back in the sea air after the oppressiveness of the cave.

Einarr blew in his hands and rubbed his palms together for grip as he stepped up to take his place against the slab. “Put your backs into it! Ready?”

Fjorkar leaned in on the other side, and the rest of the team moved in to brace the two of them and lend their own strength.

“On three! One, two, now!” His “now” became a shout of exertion as he dug in feet, shoulders, and hands to try to lift the massive stone slab on its hinge.

A crack of light appeared at their feet. Einarr pulled his back foot forward and pushed against the ground. It bought them another inch.

Einarr saw from the corner of his eye that Jorir had slipped out of the formation and stepped toward the center of the passage. His eyes were intent on that crack of light at the floor, and he stood braced.

“What… are you… doing?” Erik grunted.

“Get me six more inches,” was all the dwarf replied.

Six?! Einarr had to trust his liege man, though. “One inch… at a time…”

A pair of hands moved from bracing Einarr to plant themselves on the stone. For an alarming moment, it seemed as though his boots would slip back, but then some little of the pressure from the slab was taken from Einarr’s shoulders. He gathered strength in his legs and gave another shove.

Fjorkar, too, was redoubling his effort, and one of the men on that corner had the same idea.

After what felt like an excruciatingly long time, the gap between the wall and the floor was large enough for Jorir to make his move. The svartdverger dashed forward into the gap, lowering his head to catch the stone on his shoulders.

The momentum from his dash pressed up against the stone slab. Einarr nearly lost his footing as the door swung upwards, until Jorir stood upright, bearing the weight of the stone on his shoulders and hands.

The rest of the team wasted no time scrambling out through the four-foot gap. Einarr, Erik, Fjoirkar, and Geiti were the last to pass through.

“You two. Go on through, hold it open for the rest of us.”

Erik grunted and motioned for Geiti to follow. He had to get down on his knees to get through that gap, but stood and grasped the edge once he was clear.

Now Einarr glanced over at the other two. “On my mark, we all three dash through at once. Get clear quick, or someone’s like to lose a hand. Ready?”

Fjorkar nodded. From his position, all Jorir could really do was grunt. Einarr decided that had to be assent.

“Mark!” He bent his knees and sprang forward. A moment later, the slab fell closed with a thunderous crack.


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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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