A roar reverberated through the trees as the creature caught the scent of humans. Its unnatural red eyes started directly at Einarr and its lip curled up in a snarl, revealing massive fangs.
Einarr slid Sinmora from her sheath. Avoiding the bear was not an option, not now that it has seen them, not with the look of madness in its eyes.
Erik and Irding moved up to flank him, their axes in hand. Good.
Runa stepped up behind them then, and the sweet soprano of her voice carried past them. It was not the fury-song, however. Instead, she sang to end the rage – not for them but for the bear.
It swayed on its feet as though drunk, Runa’s song warring with some other influence. The Woodsman’s, perhaps?
The horned creature began to look drowsy, and Einarr nudged Irding to begin circling around.
Immediately the possessed bear’s eyes snapped to follow the movement, wide awake again. The three men froze, and Runa’s song grew louder and more insistent. Einarr’s mind was clear, his body relaxed, but even his eyelids began to feel heavy.
Erik sighed loudly, replacing his axe in its loop on its belt, and rolled his shoulders back to limber them. “We don’t have time for this.”
“I don’t think so, old man.” Irding cracked his knuckles. “I’ve got this one.”
Erik opened his mouth as though to protest, but evidently thought better of it. He folded his arms as his son readied himself.
With a primal yell, Irding charged into the clearing as though into a glíma ring. The bear lowered its head, ready to toss its assailant with its massive stag horns. Irding clinched with the beast, grabbing hold by those selfsame horns. Then followed a test of strength, with each grappler attempting to throw the other.
Had Irding wrestled a stag soothed by the song magic, he might have had a chance. A bear with antlers, however, was still fundamentally a bear – song magic or no. The creature twisted its head down and Irding lost his footing. Only for a moment, but that was all it took for one massive paw to send him flying for the edge of the clearing.
Einarr nearly started forward to help, but a cry from Runa kept him from it. The foliage writhed and twisted towards her feet, and even with Jorir’s help it was all he could do to keep her free of the bramble and focused on the song.
Erik took half a step forward, but Irding was not to be defeated so easily. Already he was rising from the ground, beating the needles from his trousers as he watched the bear, waiting for an opening. When the bear stumbled again, he rushed in low.
Having failed to best the creature locked with its antlers, Irding sought to get in close for the second round. Erik’s jaw dropped as he realized what his son – correction, his idiot son – intended, but it was too late to stop him.
The bear caught Irding in a hook with its front paw and tossed him up in the air, rearing up to continue playing with its prey. When the creature had reached its full height, just before it could slam Irding back down to the ground with another swipe of its paw, Erik’s shoulder impacted with its belly.
The bear looked down, somewhat perplexed by the not-furry creature that now had its arms wrapped around the bear’s middle.
Irding tumbled to the ground, only a little more gracefully than a sack of onions.
The bear roared again, giving off the impression of a shrug, but before it could wrap its forelegs about Erik’s back the big man had slipped out from beneath the creature’s grasp.
Irding rose to his feet unsteadily, but the strange creature’s attention was still on Erik even as it fought off the effects of Runa’s song.
A note of panic was rising in Runa’s voice. Certain, now, that the other two had the creature well in hand, Einarr turned his full attention to the vines that crept around their feet. Tendrils had begun to grip the leg of his trousers, and Jorir was tearing at several that had begun to wrap about Runa’s legs. And this is when the Woodsman isn’t paying attention?
A quick yank had his feet free again, and he joined Jorir in tearing at the vines that converged on Runa. Einarr questioned, at this point, whether her singing was doing any good, but judging by her expression something was actively fighting her attempt to put the Woodsman’s servant to sleep.
The bear gave a roar, and Einarr risked another glance over at the other fight. Irding had locked its horns in the clinch again, but this time his father lay on the creature’s back in a very familiar posture to Einarr: It was much the same move he had used to knock out the fimbulvulf on Svartlauf. The bear, between the lack of air to breathe and the song designed to induce relaxation, was losing the fight to remain conscious.
With a nod, Einarr turned back to his still-singing fiancée and pursed his lips in thought. Nodding, he scooped Runa up by the waist and set her on his shoulders. Vines trailed from her skirt, but of the ordinary kind that did not writhe under their own power. He kicked his feet to keep the vines from getting a grip on his own legs and moved toward the clearing where Erik and Irding were lowering the now-unconscious bear creature to the forest floor.
Irding looked pale, and he breathed heavily, but he insisted to Einarr and Erik both that the was fine.
“If you say so…” Einarr did not bother to hide his dubiousness, but Irding waved him off again.
Before they set off into the forest again, he turned to Runa. “Keep an eye on him, would you? I suspect he’s broken something.”
Runa nodded. “Of course. But not, I think, a something the herb-witches or apothecaries would be able to do much about.”
Einarr grumbled. “Time to move on, people, before we draw any more attention to ourselves.”
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