The four burst into Urdr’s workroom, Runa in the lead but only by a pace. The sailor’s report had been not quite accurate: the witch was gone, and there were a number of blank spaces on the wall and on her racks where tapestries had been until very recently, but she had been smart enough to leave her equipment behind. Einarr was a little surprised she had taken the tapestries along, truth be told. The only reason he could think of were the workings they must support. And, therefore, the workings I must destroy. He hoped Frigg did not decide to reclaim her distaff too soon.
The other thing Einarr did not see was the door Runa had mentioned. Then again, if it were cleverly hidden he probably wouldn’t. Runa, however, walked confidently across the floor of the room, her hair flashing like spun gold even dirtied as it was. Let the Jarl try to keep her from me now…
Troa had already joined Runa at the door, and together they searched for the mechanism. Einarr shook his head: he couldn’t very well afford to lose his focus watching her, so instead he made a circuit around the outside of the room, examining walls and racks and the tools of her trade.
He had not thought the Weavess could inspire more than disgust in his bones, but her workroom looked to be as much torture chamber as weaving workshop. The rage began to build in his chest and behind his eyes as he moved to stand beside his beloved. “Death is too good for her,” he muttered for Runa’s ears alone.
“You’ll get no argument from me,” she answered in the same tone. “Don’t forget we have to take her before your father, though.”
“There,” Troa announced to the sound of a click. A long crack opened in the joins of the wooden wall. “We’re in.”
The door swung open into the room, revealing a dark passage that seemed to go on too far. A quick glance around the room revealed a mostly-full oil lamp on one of the tables. Runa grabbed it almost as quickly as Einarr spotted it, and then they crossed the threshold.
Almost immediately the hairs on the back of Einarr’s neck began to prickle. He didn’t know if there was actually magic in the air, but given whose escape route this was… He drew Sinmora and held the blade ready. “Be careful, everyone. She may well have traps set up for just such an occasion. Troa?”
“Yes, sir.” The scout moved up beside Einarr, his eyes carefully scanning every surface of the cave as they moved forward. Between the two of them, they should be able to avoid most of the surprises Urdr could have left behind.
They hurried down the tunnel as swiftly as they dared. After a time, the smooth worked stone of the keep ended. Einarr stopped in his tracks before he crossed the line, swiftly enough that Runa and their lamp nearly collided with his back.
“What is it?”
“I’ve been feeling magic in this tunnel since we stepped in. It’s… different, just ahead of us. Stand back a bit: I’m going to try something.”
Even as they all withdrew up the hall he was focusing on his sword. It had been a while since he needed to do this, although perhaps not so long as it felt like. Just like in the working earlier, he focused his will, only this time it was on Sinmora.
The blade seemed to pulse before him like a living thing, and like a living thing it felt hungry for the magic that surrounded them. Einarr hesitated only a moment: he had seen nothing to suggest that the magic was integral to the tunnel, after all. He raised Sinmora overhead and cut the air over the threshold.
A rushing sound like wind screaming through jagged rocks filled the room around them. Jorir brought his shield and axe up as though expecting an attack. Runa and Troa looked around frantically, trying to spot the source of the sound.
When the noise ended, Einarr relaxed. The oppressive feeling of ambient magic ahead of them had faded.
“Einarr – your sword!” Runa stammered. “It’s glowing!”
Oh. Right. Of the four of them, only Jorir knew about that, and even he hadn’t seen it. “Over the course of last winter, Sinmora… awakened. It’s a long story, but we shouldn’t have to worry about magical traps any longer.”
“I still say we need ta grill Lord Stigander over the provenance of that sword. I’ve never heard of any smith as could do that.”
Einarr shrugged and sheathed his blade. It couldn’t hurt, he supposed, but there hadn’t yet been a good time. “Later. For now, we have a witch to catch.”
Again they trotted down the hall, now somewhat more confident on their way than before.
“I don’t get it,” Troa grumbled. “The Weavess has had almost twenty years to build her escape route. Surely this can’t—”
“Look out!” Jorir bellowed, grabbing Runa by the waist of her skirt and pulling her back even as he kicked out with one booted foot to send Einarr reeling forward.
A metal shutter shot upward, dividing the team neatly in half. Einarr swore. Runa yelped. Troa spun on his heel and gaped.
Einarr stared at the shutter for a long moment. Unless his eyes deceived him – and in the poor light, it was possible – the upper edge of the shutter was a blade. That thin wetness sliding down their side of the barrier could have been blade oil, but Einarr suspected poison. “Are you two all right over there?”
“Fine,” Runa answered, sounding a little breathless and a lot exasperated. “It looks like there’s another path forward over here, too. What about you?”
“Fine, thanks to Jorir.” He cast a sidelong look at Troa, but refrained from asking how the scout had missed this one. Sinmora’s glow had just gone from interesting to necessary: he hoped it would last. “You two go on ahead down your path. We’ll keep on this way and meet you at the end.”
“Yes, milord,” Jorir answered.
Runa’s voice followed almost immediately: “Be careful.”
“Of course. You, too. I’m counting on you, Jorir. Make sure you both get out of here.”
With the dwarf’s answering grunt, Einarr turned to look down the passage he faced with only Troa at his back.
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