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Chapter Seven

 Saegrimr grabbed Amundr by the arm and ran.  They were both numbed by what had just happened.  Amundr’s father had been the bravest man they knew.  He slew wolves, boars, and the largest of bears alone and armed with a spear, and now he was dead.  They ran as fast as they could, with the howling and growling pursuing them every step of the way.  Neither of them knew how far the coast was, but they both knew what would happen the minute they stopped running. 

Amundr noticed the howling growing slightly fainter and remembered what his father had said about vergrinn not being quite as fast as a man.  He dared to look behind him and saw that they were now almost a hundred yards ahead of their pursuers.  It didn’t look like they had more than a dozen pursuers, but those were sufficient numbers to be the end of Amundr and Saegrimr, both of whom had dropped their spears in those first panicked moments of flight.

“Little Mundi… how far… do you think… we’ll have to run?”

“Not sure… Ask them if… they’re getting tired….”

“No thanks.”

They looked ahead and saw their way barred by a tributary flowing into the Svanr.  Amundr’s heart leapt as he remembered that vergrinn couldn’t swim.  “Come on, we’ll be fine if we hurry!”

They leapt into the frigid water and swam across the narrow river.  It was probably almost shallow enough to flounder across without really swimming, but Amundr didn’t want to think about that.  They reached the far bank and saw that the vergrinn were almost to the opposite bank.  They took a moment to catch their breath and watched as the vergrinn approached very hesitantly.  They weren’t going in the water!

“Ha!  They don’t want to get wet!” Saegrimr crowed.  His teeth were chattering with the cold now.  “All the same, we ought to keep moving so that when they do figure out a way across we are long gone.”  Amundr agreed and they set out down the river towards the coast, walking this time.

***

After walking along for almost half an hour, the two boys started to hear the distant cry of gulls and knew they were nearing the coast.  A large tree had apparently been uprooted and was lying with the base of its trunk across their path and the top of the tree on the far side of the Svanr River.

The boys were too cold and tired to try to scramble over the thick trunk, so they worked their way around it to the right.  As they got to the point where the trunk had snapped off, they stopped.  Sticking out of the ground in the middle of a hole in what had been the trunk was a sword in an old, worn scabbard.  There was something attached to the sword, but they couldn’t figure out what it was.  Something about it made Saegrimr nervous.  “We should leave it alone.  It just feels like magic.”

Amundr disagreed, “It does feel like magic, but it also feels right.  I’m going to take it.”  He walked over to the sword and tried to pull it free, but the sword wouldn’t budge.  He removed a metal canister that had been attached to the hilt of the sword with rusty wire and tried again.  Still no luck.

“I told you we should leave it alone.”

“My hands are just too slippery and cold.”  Amundr removed his gloves to get a better grip on the hilt.  As soon as his fingers tightened around the hilt, the sword slid out of the ground as if it were a knife sliding through the ripest pear.  The two boys looked at each other in shock.

“Let’s keep moving,” said Saegrimr, and they started back along the river towards the coast.  Amundr paused briefly to put his gloves back on before picking up the sword and continuing.

***

They reached the coast without further incident.  The sun was fading behind them when they encountered a small fishing village where the river ran into the sea.  A few folks were out mending nets and sealing boats with pitch as the boys walked up, and a low murmur arose among them.

Amundr turned to Saegrimr to speak and immediately realized how they must look.  They had been covered in blood and fur and filth, then dunked into a frigid river and walked the rest of the way here.  Before either of them could speak a voice called out, “Who are you and why are you here?”

The two boys turned towards a small hut.  In the doorway stood an elderly man, leaning upon a staff.  Saegrimr spoke up, “If you please, sir, you must get your people together and go to Gudmund.  The vergrinn have returned.”

All around were silent for a moment, then the murmur returned, louder than before.  “Vergrinn, you say?  Lads, such things are not a topic for jesting,” the old man said.  “Vergrinn haven’t been seen in 50 years, and their harbingers are two boys not old enough to stand as men?  I think not.”

Amundr was perfectly content to let Saegrimr speak again.  His father was a village elder and he knew more about dealing with such folk.  “Sir, we are from Eyjolf.  The vergrinn set upon us and we were sent with the women and children to Gudmund for our protection.  Thrice the vergrinn came upon us on the road, and the last time my companion and I stood with six others to hold the bridge over the Svanr against the beasts while the others fled for safety.  All of our companions fell, and the last was my companion’s father who told us to flee down the river and make our way to the city.  There were a dozen or so vergrinn behind us an hour ago, but they wouldn’t cross that small river that fed into the Svanr.”

More silence followed.  Finally the elder spoke again, “I hear the truth in your voices.  If the vergrinn were behind you they are still pursuing.  We will all withdraw to the city.”  He immediately began issuing orders to the men and women around to prepare their boats and load them with supplies.  Two men were sent throughout the village to ensure everyone heard the news and was prepared to leave.  A long howling rose in the distance.

“We’d better leave soon.” The elder said.

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