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!

Captain Kormund turned downright broody as the Eikthyrnir sailed away from their ill-fated ambush. It seemed he was also troubled by the other ship’s behavior.

No-one on board could explain why they had started to board and then simply disengaged. Some agreed with Einarr – plainly there was some sort of power struggle happening, as no rational captain would break off an attack at that moment. Others held with Vari, that the whole matter was an elaborate display of dominance.

What the Captain thought, no-one was sure. He ordered a double lookout, set them on course, and then retired to the stern of the ship, where he stared out over the water. No-one was willing to disturb him at this, at least not yet.

At dawn the next day, the dromon was once again visible behind them. It was plain when a sailor noticed its return by the moment they let out a curse entirely unrelated to what they had been about at the time. By breakfast there was not a soul aboard not speculating about the dromon save the Captain and his Mate.

The chatter became a dull roar of consternation and excitement as the day wore on, until there were some who forgot their duties as their speculations grew ever wilder.

“Enough!” Captain Kormund roared at this point, and chatter ceased.

“I don’t know any more than you, right now,” the Captain admitted. “About how they beat us at every turn, or why they let us go like they did, or why they’re after us in the first place. But they are unmistakeably after this ship.”

A brave voice piped up from among the sailors. “But why can’t we give ‘em the slip?”

The Captain shook his head. “I don’t know how they tracked us at night, and I don’t know how they found us again after they broke off yesterday. But what I do know is – we’re not licked yet.”

A cheer of agreement traveled around the deck.

“We’ve got a good wind now, although nought but empty seas for quite a distance. We’re bringing back the one hour rowing shifts, but I’m keeping us under full sail. If they can keep up with the Eikthyrnir with her at a full clip, I’m going to have to get clever.”

The cheer went around again, a bit more enthusiastic this time. Einarr nodded to himself. This was a very different ship than his father ran, but Kormund managed it masterfully. Einarr would be shocked if each and every one of these men weren’t as loyal to their captain as Erik or Tyr were to his father.

“That’s what I like to hear. Now, get to it! I want the first team manning their oars before the lookouts are back to their posts.”

They rowed under sail for as long as the wind was with them, but still the Valkyrian ship remained on their tail. Einarr began to wonder if they really were under the command of the Valkyrie that had nearly killed him last summer, and if so what reason she might have for coming after him. When he caught himself thinking this, he snorted. “That was a stupid jest, and you know it.”

He did, but he would have sounded more convincing, even to himself, if the other ship did anything other than gain on them, slowly but surely. And Einarr was not the only one beginning to fall prey to the more ludicrous theories.

Finally, though, the Captain turned them to the north after days of sailing, not knowing if or when the dromon would decide to attack in earnest. There would be another tiny archipelago, or shallows, or some other hazard that they could use to lose the dromon. Anything, he thought, to break the monotony of the chase.

The wind turned against them and they furled the sail. Even then, rowing against the wind, they only managed to gain a little on the other ship. Mutterings started again among the sailors, in spite of the confidence built from the Captain’s earlier speech. It should have been impossible for a dromon of that size, especially one with sea fire, to keep up with a longship built for speed over the open ocean. And yet, for more than a week now it had kept pace or gained on them. Dark mutters of black magic and captive vindstenger became more frequent around the deck of the ship.

Dark shapes were coming up on the horizon, somewhat larger than the rocky atoll they had played hide and seek in before. If they couldn’t lose the dromon here, Einarr thought they would have to hope for a storm – or they would have to catch the Order ship by surprise, which he felt less confident in since they had been trounced the other day.

The islands that rose into view as the Eikthyrnir scudded northward seemed somehow familiar to Einarr, in a way that left him feeling fainly queasy. He didn’t think he’d ever been near to Eskiborg, however.

One island in particular caught his eye. It rose tall out of the water, like the hand of a giant or a god. Dark cliffs fell toward water almost as dark, with no hope of a beach or a cove for shelter. Einarr’s breath caught in his throat: all this lacked to be the island where they had rescued Runa from the cult was a roiling storm above.

“Sir?” He hurried to where the Captain stood before the mast, his gaze continually scanning the horizon.

“What is it?”

“Where are we, exactly?”

“Somewhat north of where we wished to be, I’m afraid.”

“No, sir, this is important. Are we near Langavik?”

The captain’s mouth twisted in distaste. “What’s left of it, yes.”

A groan escaped from Einarr’s chest. “This is an evil place, sir. Please, even if it means we cannot shake our tail, do not tarry here.”

That got a furrowed brow and crossed arms from Captain Kormund. “Explain.”

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