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. Hàkon 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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