Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

The last time Einarr had been in Eskiborg, he had compared it in size and hustle to Kem. He now thought that might be underselling Eskiborg somewhat. Not only was it a warm water port, at least as the Clans reckoned such matters, it was a major shipbuilding port, and one where longships and knarr far outnumbered the dromon favored by the Coneheads.*

On the first night, they took beds at the Bronze Archer and split up to canvas the docks – Naudrek with Hrug, Eydri with Einarr. In all that bounty, among all those ships, Einarr was certain they could find berths for the four of them. He had not anticipated, however, the difficulty in finding a temporary berth for a Singer – did not, in fact, fully grasp it until no fewer than four captains asked if she was Einarr’s lover.

He was more than a little taken aback by the assumption, in fact, and it did not take long for worry to begin nibbling away at his brain: was Runa going to make that same assumption?

“It’s a matter of protection,” Eydri finally explained. “We run into similar issues as apprentices, actually.”

“You… do.” Einarr’s spirits drooped. Mentally, he began totting up their resources once more. “If you’re saying we should try to buy a boat, tell me now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be.”

She shook her head. “It will be tricky, but not impossible. Most sailors know better than to assault a Singer, even an apprentice one, but no captain wants to risk one of his men turning out to be that idiot. So they want me to be under someone’s protection. And if I’m your paramour, that makes it even less likely for someone to get drunk and do something truly stupid.”

“I…” Einarr thought about it: he knew that his father had always married their Singers, right up until Reki, but there had never been any doubt in his mind why. Now he wondered. “But Father is the only Captain I know who is typically married to his Battle Chanter.”

Eydri frowned at him, then smirked. “Somehow, I suspect that has more to do with your father. At any rate, you will need to give assurances that I am under your protection, and that you can enforce as much. …Perhaps it would be best if we had not split up.”

Einarr thought it over a moment, but shook his head. “Tomorrow, if Naudrek has not found something, we will all four go together. But I suspect if we try to find them now we will waste the rest of the day.”

On the second day in Eskiborg, they also returned to their beds empty-handed, their spirits low. It seemed that those who were sailing in the right direction were more than a little spooked by the idea of taking on both an “unprotected” Singer (despite the presence of not one but three companions) and a male sorceror.

“If we find nothing tomorrow, I will check what might be for sale. With a fishing skiff, the four of us can manage.” With a fishing skiff and a little luck, anyway.

“I thought you said you couldn’t afford one?”

“Not properly, no. But if we can find one that doesn’t take on too much water, and the three of you can pitch in for water barrels and fishing gear, I can honestly say I’ve sailed in worse.”

The other three shared a look, then Hrug shook his head and tapped at the tabletop. The rattle of runesticks followed, but instead of casting them down he began to lay them carefully. Will… Not… Need he spelled out.

“You’ve seen something?”

He hesitated, then nodded.

Remembering the divination Melja had worked that led him to these two in the first place, Einarr sat forward eagerly. “What should I look for?”

Hrug looked to Naudrek, who nodded. “After that first day, when we split up, he did his thing. We need a ship with a stag’s head on the prow.”

“A stag.” Not like that was a common ornament at all. He could think of six he’d seen just that afternoon.

Hrug grunted affirmative, and Naudrek continued. “The sail of the ship is blue and yellow striped, and there was a red-headed man with neat braids in his hair and beard. We think he’s the captain.”

“And according to the vision, this ship will have us?”

“I think so. Hrug says so, anyway, and he’s the expert on these sorts of things.”

“Good enough for me.”

Einarr kept his impatience in check over the third day’s fruitless search, albeit with difficulty. Afternoon was waning on their fourth day of searching when a longship slipped into the harbor, sleek and abviously built for speed. The blue-and-gold sail told Einarr their goal had arrived.

As the ship drew up to the dock, Einarr came close enough to note their berth and confirm what he thought to be true: the figurehead was an ornate stag’s head, carved to look as though water ran down the antlers. Einarr nodded, then slipped back into the crowd. He knew well enough that their captain was unlikely to have time for new sailors before morning.

That night, while the four of them sat at table at the Bronze Archer, Einarr laid out their plan for the morning. “Get a good night’s sleep. We’ll breakfast at a normal hour, but then head straight for the docks. We want to arrive a little before mid-morning, I think. Hrug, how ‘neat’ did this captain look?”

The tongueless man sighed and glanced at Naudrek. Sooner or later Einarr would learn to actually communicate with him, but Elder Melja had kept them both far too busy over the winter.

“You might call him fastidious,” Naudrek answered after conferring with his old friend for a moment.

Einarr nodded. “In that case, make sure you come to breakfast bathed and tidy. Just because the divination said we can get berths doesn’t mean we should take them for granted.”

* Conehead: An inhabitant of the Konneul Empire, which occupies the best land and warmest water in this world.

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