Tag: stenjätte

6.11 – Field Dressing

Einarr kept a nervous watch while the others saw to Irding’s field dressing, neither of them certain how much good a watch would do in a wood where the trees themselves might rise up against you. Erik, being not terribly skillful with medicine, inspected his son’s maille while Runa and Jorir did what they could for his ribs.

“That bear ripped into it pretty good, Irding.” Disgust filled Erik’s voice. “You’re sure the stenjätte didn’t damage it?”

Irding grunted in pain. “Jorir checked it over on the boat, same as yours.”

“Is it still wearable?” Einarr did not look back at them. Worrying about wolves at this point probably wouldn’t do them any good, but he had heard them, earlier. A wolf pack ambush, now, might be more than they could handle.

“Oh, sure, long as nothing tries to stab him in the chest again. The links aren’t broken – quite – but they’re more than a little bent out of shape.”

“It’s not like – oof – I’m going to be doing much fighting for a while anyway.” The strain was audible in his voice. “My bow cracked same time my ribs did.”

Einarr and Erik both groaned at that revelation, although it would have been a small miracle if it had not done so.

“Use mi-” Einarr started.

“Use mine,” Erik said at the same moment, his voice more insistent. “I’m better off in the thick of things anyway.”

“You sure you can draw that?” Jorir sounded skeptical, but Irding laughed.

“If the old man can pull it, I can pull it.”

Before the one-upmanship could go any farther, Einarr interrupted. “If you’re done, we should get moving again.”

“I think we’ve done what we can,” Runa said.

“Then let’s go.” Einarr re-shouldered his own bow and checked that Sinmora was clear in its sheath. They’d sat around too long already, and the forest had begun to grow restless around them.

As they left the small clearing they had claimed, the foliage closed in behind them.

Irding’s wound slowed them, and as the light in the wood grew warmer with the waning of the day they still had not spotted the cave Auna had told them to look for.

“We’re lost, aren’t we.” Runa finally said what they had all been thinking for several hours.

Einarr looked at the trees surrounding them. “In a wood like this? We could be walking in circles a hundred feet from our goal and never know it.” He growled, annoyed. “If we don’t find a way to blaze our trail, we’ll never get out of here. Has no-one seen any rocks?”

They didn’t dare cut their signs into living wood, not in the Woodsman’s territory, and neither Runa nor Jorir had charcoal on them. In a less overgrown wood they could have used dead twigs or leaves, but he didn’t trust those not to be gobbled up by the rapidly growing vines. That left rocks, or carving into the soil itself.

The others all shook their heads. With a sigh, Einarr drew Sinmora. They had to do something, and if the battlegrounds were anything to judge by, this might be safe. “If this brings the leshy’s servants down on our heads, I’m sorry.”

Without another word, Einarr plunged the point of his sword into the earth to carve a large arrow in the dirt.

Silence reigned. For a long moment, none of them dared move. Einarr strained his ears, listening for any sound of outrage from the wood around them. When it did not come, he sheathed his sword again. “Right. Let’s go.”

The light grew feeble, and Irding’s breathing ever more labored. The huldra were counting on them, and the longer this took, the more tenuous their position became. Even still, Einarr knew they would have to stop and seek shelter soon. A miserable camp that would be, with no fire and no liquor, but he had trouble seeing any way around it.

“We should find a place to rest,” he said aloud after taking another brief survey of the wood around them.

“Auna is expecting us tonight, is she not?” Runa reminded him.

“I rather got the impression that she was hoping, not expecting,” Erik rumbled. “She said herself that none of the huldraken had ever reached the lair. She can hardly fault us for not finding it in one day.”

“Runa’s right.” Irding said, although they could all hear the strain in his voice. “I’ll be fine. We should keep going.”

“The forest becomes a battleground at night,” Einarr said. “And we’re going to want to observe the clearing before we just go sailing in – which will be difficult with you panting like a warhound. We’re camping.”

He heard no further objection, and his companions spread out to search for a decent place where they could all curl up on the ground within view of each other.

Not many minutes later, Runa’s voice came to his ears, drifting as though on the wind through a tall berry bush. Einarr crept off to where she had disappeared into the bushes. “What is it?” he whispered.

“Look.”

There, not fifty feet further on from where they crouched in the bushes, Einarr could see the soft glow of rocks in the moonlight. They rose above the underbrush: from here, he could tell no more. He nodded at Runa before creeping forward.

Ahead of him, a bright spot in the near-blackness of thick forest at nightfall, was a clearing with a large cave in the center of it. No underbrush encroached past the ring of sturdy oaks that surrounded the rise of slate: there was only grass and moonlight, and an apparently empty cave.


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5.17 – Stenjätte

With a wordless shout of rage, Erik came hurtling back into the fray. It wasn’t just his own skin on the line, now that Irding had joined the fight, and that meant losing simply wasn’t an option.

Was it really in the first place? His conscience muttered in the Captain’s voice and fell silent as Erik brought his axe down not on the ankle, which seemed no less sturdy for the whittling it had taken, but instead on the haft of the golem’s blade. A crack ran along the stone haft from Erik’s blow, too slender to have enough strength in rigid rock as it would have in either wood or steel.

“Oh, jolly good. At last you’re getting serious.” The golem actually seemed to smile at that. Erik couldn’t tell if it wanted to lose or if it just wanted a challenge: either way, he had no intention of swimming back, one-armed or otherwise.

Not that it gave him time to ponder the question. The stenjätte yanked its axe up from where it had wedged into the floor and brought it up to its shoulder. Irding leaped over its head to avoid the blow.

A heartbeat later the golem swung again, paying no heed to the fragile state of his weapon. Erik had to jump to avoid being caught by the wide sweep that covered most of the room.

He landed on the bit of the stenjätte’s axe and grinned at his opponent. Now it was a dance, and while Erik couldn’t hope to keep up with Sivid, Einarr, or even the Captain at the hallingdanse he was no slouch.

The golem gave his axe a toss to turn its blade the other way: Erik’s backflip landed him in the middle of the second side and the crack in the handle grew. Then it rotated the blade to face upwards.

Erik, feeling cheeky, ran up the slope of the bit and balanced on the edge. Then it was the stenjätte’s turn to grin.

Erik’s cheeky grin turned to wide-eyed shock as the golem swung upward with both hands. Irding cursed as the space where he stood to harry it from above became a vise of shoulder and ear.

At the top of the swing Erik realized he was headed in an arc for the floor. He had two choices, and one of them was surely fatal. Erik launched himself to the side as the axe came down towards the floor again.

The axe bit plowed into the stone of the floor, throwing up shards and dust, and the sound of the blow was followed by a mighty crack as the stenjätte’s axe handle shattered.

Their opponent laughed. When it straightened, it held the broken axe handle the way one would hold a club.

“Wonderful! I say, if you keep this up perhaps I shall let you keep your arms to swim home.”

“How generous.” Irding spat as though to punctuate his thoughts on said generosity.

“Well I can’t very well just let you pass. You haven’t defeated me yet. And unless I’m very much mistaken, you’re just about out of tricks.”

Erik shook dust from his hair, his wind mostly recovered. “If you think that means anything, you don’t know humans very well.”

The golem laughed again. “Wonderful spirit. All right then, try your utmost. Perhaps you’ll be the mortals to surprise me.”

Erik dropped back into a fighting posture. “Well, Irding, any ideas to take its head?”

“Not sure it would care about that, either. You nearly hacked off its foot and it didn’t even slow down. Someone made the thing: there has to be something keeping it moving.”

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Erik frowned. “So, some source of magic? Runes, maybe, or something that glows?”

“Maybe?”

“I can hear your plotting, you know. It won’t help.”

Erik grunted. “I’ll buy time. You see if you can spot anything it might be.”

He saw Irding nod from the corner of his eye and charged back into the fight. Let’s see if disarming him the rest of the way will work…

Lacking the weight of the stone axe head, the golem was faster than before. Erik dashed in only to be driven back by quick swings of the broken handle.

He sidestepped another pair of swings before bringing his trusty, probably ruined, axe down again on the slender haft. Chips crumbled off the end, but Erik still had no desire to feel its bite.

“Any luck?” He called, dodging another jab and knocking another several inches off the stone rod.

“Give me a minute!”

“You’re wasting your time. You won’t find anything.”

“That-” Erik brought his axe down hard on the haft, breaking off several more inches of crumbling stone. “Remains to be seen.”

“It really doesn’t, I’m afraid.” The golem swung again at Erik, who threw himself into a roll to avoid the blow. “You are right, I have a key, but you’ll not find it about the room.”

Erik sprang up from his roll as the wind from the club passed overhead, just a moment too late to get another strike in on it. “Oh? Since you’re feeling so generous, then, where is it?”

The low rumbling sound that was the golem’s laughter sounded again. “I thought you’d never ask. It’s right here.”

A circle of runes began to glow yellow on its chest. Erik could see no way up there. Irding had managed, once, but Erik wasn’t certain he could reach the golem’s heart from its shoulder. Not without taking a fall. Erik cursed. I should have kept at his foot. Knock him over, get the heart.

“Why are you telling us this?”

“Master created me to challenge those who attempt his tower millenia ago. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve had a proper challenge? Hit my key, if you can!” The golem swung again, this time at Irding. The boy – man – sprawled flat on the floor just ahead of the club.

“By all the conventions of duelling, we beat you when your axe broke.”

“But I exist to fight! So, come!” The golem swung at Erik again.

Rather than dodge, Erik took a deep breath and braced himself. As the improvised club sailed towards his chest, he wrapped both arms around it even as it knocked the breath from his lungs. Probably broke a rib or two. He clung there, desperately gasping for air, as the club continued to sail through the air.

His trajectory changed: Erik scrabbled up the club towards the golem’s arm and once again narrowly avoided being slammed into the floor.

“I say, you are quite heavy. This is not a proper way of fighting.”

Erik roared as he neared the stenjätte’s shoulder. “I’m not a proper man!”

He gathered his legs under himself, staring at the runes that still glowed over where a man’s heart should be. Won’t hurt worse than the wolf’s bite. He launched himself, axe pulled back and ready to strike, across the golem’s chest. When Erik buried his blade in the center of the rune circle, he thought he saw a look of gratitude pass the golem’s face. Then he curled himself into a ball, ready to roll with the fall.

Right up until he collided not with hard stone but with the body of the only other person in the room.


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If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

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5.16 – Floor Three

On the far side of the second room full of fairy lights, the four humans in the party sat on the steps recovering their wind. Einarr’s bleeding had stopped as soon as he was awake, although his tongue felt swollen and tender in his mouth. Irding claimed he was fine, but both his eyes were fiercely bloodshot. So long as he could see, though, Einarr would leave it be.

“So that was the trap, then.” Erik mused. “Use the first floor to put us off our guards, and then sucker punch us the second time around.”

“Seems so,” Einarr answered. “And if you don’t survive the changes in the memory, that’s it. If we’re all ready, we should get moving again. No telling what all else awaits us, and we need that relic.”

Runa took a deep breath and pushed to her feet.“Let’s go, then. Irding, you’re sure you can see all right?”

“I’ve got a monster of a headache, but I can see. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“What was your memory, anyway?” Einarr had trouble imagining what could have caused that sort of eye injury without actually destroying the eyes.

“The pox that killed my mother. She started getting nosebleeds, then hacking blood, and then it got to her eyes and ears. Didn’t last long after that. Not sure how I was supposed to win my way free of it.”

“Maybe you weren’t.” Erik also stood, frowning, and then they were climbing again.

The staircase curved steeply upwards, still lit by the now-ominous seeming fairy lights. Eventually it came to a landing blocked by a door, nearly identical to the ones below. It lacked only the runes. With a shrug, Einarr opened the door. As he stepped through, a flash of light nearly blinded him.

***

Erik and Irding, bringing up the rear, frowned as they saw their companions step through the door and seemingly disappear. “Be careful, son.”

Irding hummed. “Not sure you get to call me that, Erik. I’m going in.”

With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, Erik followed. Irding wouldn’t have sought him out if he hadn’t wanted to know him, right?

A flash of light brought tears to his eyes that he had to blink away. When he could see again, he was in a circular room with no door. In the center of the room stood a stenjätte in the form of an idealized warrior, bare-chested and leaning on the handle of a massive battle-axe. And then it began to talk in a voice as hard as stone.

“I say, good day to you sirs. It seems as though you had sufficient wisdom to face your pasts, but not to turn around and avoid my test. Very good, then.”

Erik and Irding looked at each other, nonplussed.

“The task is simple. You must best me in combat. Should you win, you may rejoin your companions and go on your way. Should you lose, I will tear off your arm and toss you into the monster-infested sea below – good luck swimming home. Come at me, singly or together – your choice, but know that you each only get one chance at me.”

Erik smiled a cocky grin, swinging his axe up to rest on his shoulder. “Stand back and let yer pabbi show you how it’s done.”

“Are you insane?” Irding started to protest, but got no farther before the stenjätte answered.

“Very good, then. Here, I’m feeling generous. Go ahead and take the first blow.”

Erik cocked and eyebrow, but shrugged. “As you wish.”

He circled the golem, limbering up his arm as he studied his foe, looking for any chink in its rock-hard defense. There! He surged forward, bringing his axe around in an upward swing toward the back of the stenjätte’s knee. A flake of stone crumbled and fell to the floor as dust.

“And so it begins with a scratch. Very well, then.” It pivoted on its two massive feet and brought its own axe down towards Erik.

He leapt forward, barely avoiding the blow that would have surely crushed his head. You idiot. What do you think you’re doing? Too late now… At least Erik knew that his axe could cut the thing, however shallowly. If he could not bite deep, then, he would just have to bite often and hope his stamina held out. Erik pressed his lips into a line.

He spun out of the reach of another deadly blow and ran in close to bring his axe down in a mighty blow on the stenjätte’s ankle. A slightly larger chip of stone fell away. That just might work. Erik kept close to the golem’s legs, at least keeping it from landing a solid blow on his head. Slowly, blow by blow, the stenjätte’s ankles grew thinner.

It was not going to be enough. Erik didn’t fight this way: when he chopped, his enemies fell. Now is face felt hot and he could not catch his breath. Even if he could have matched the stamina of a golem, however, his axe was beginning to dull. Just. Keep. Going!

The heavy crash of the giant’s axe into the tiles sent shrapnel flying into Erik’s back and he howled in pain. He’d felt worse, but only once – when the fimbulvulf had nearly taken his leg, this last spring. The force of the blow sent him three steps forward.

And then the golem stumbled, his foot landing where Erik had been standing just seconds before. Erik looked up: on its shoulders, his legs wrapped about its neck, was Irding. His son brought his own axe down on its head – to no more effect than Erik’s blade alone, of course, but between the two of them…

Erik set about his task with renewed vigor. Bad enough that his son had needed to jump in to save him: he couldn’t very well just let Irding finish the job. Erik let loose a war cry.


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If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

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.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.