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The barrow loomed black against the bluish grey of the evening sky. Herrin, Tryls and Mirra paused to look up at it.

“They say it’s haunted, you know,” Herrin said conversationally. Mirra and Tryls looked at him. “Well, obviously it isn’t,” he continued quickly. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. It’s obviously just a rumour to keep treasure hunters away.”

Tryls sighed. “Some might say that such a rumour should not be necessary to give the dead their peace.”

Herrin wrinkled his nose in derision. “Some might say that if the dead wanted their peace they shouldn’t be taking priceless treasures into their graves. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

Mirra gave Herrin a gentle shove. “Just move it,” she said. “We’re going to draw unwanted attention if we stand here gawking at it all night.”

They crept quietly up the hill, and at Herrin’s signal they took up position behind a low wall, hidden from the gaze of any passing guards.

“Right,” he said. “Here’s the plan. Mirra is going to keep watch outside while we go in. I’ll disarm the traps and Tryls can pop into the shadows, slip through to the grave itself and grab the treasure.”

Tryls frowned, deeply unhappy about his role in this. “What exactly is this treasure?”

“A mead horn,” Herrin said with a grin. “Bejewelled beyond belief. You won’t be able to miss it, believe me. Come on.”

“Wait,” Tryls said, his face still stern. “Why do you need me to go and get it if you’re going to have disabled the traps by that point?”

Herrin was silent for a long moment. With a sigh, Mirra spoke.

“He’s superstitious. They say that any man seen alive in the chamber of the Great Barrow here will die before the year is out.”

“Ah.” Tryls nodded. “To which you believe the answer is to send an elf, unseen.”

Herrin grinned. “I always look for the loophole, old chap. And since you owe me… I mean, if this curse is true, then you’re saving my life by going in for me, right?”

Tryls closed his eyes, clenched his jaw and took a deep breath. “Right,” he said reluctantly.

Herrin went to slap him on the back, remembering at the last moment the elf’s dislike of physical contact and pulling his hand back. “Cheer up then,” he said cheerfully. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

© Kari Fay