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.”
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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