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!
Einarr took a deep breath. Of everything that happened last year, this was the worst. “If these are the islands I think they are, there will be an entrance to a svartalfr fortress under that island.” He gestured, indicating the green-topped island with no apparent beaches. “We chased a ship of cultists here last summer after they kidnapped my bride. They were also responsible for the massacre of Langavik.”
Captain Kormund’s frown turned thoughtful. “It’s true, the svartalfs are unsavory types…”
Einarr shook his head. “No. They’re not… not alfs anymore, the ones who were in the first place. Some of the cultists used to be human, as well, and some were dwarves. But when we fought them, they were all corrupted monsters.”
“Corrupted how?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“Black-blooded tentacled horrors wearing men like skinsuits, sir. And if they bled on you, the corruption spread. We dealt them a serious blow in our escape, I think, but… but even the ruins of Langavik would be a more auspicious hiding place.”
“If you had not declared yourself a cursebreaker, I might accuse you of making all this up.”
Einarr shuddered in thinking about the kind of mind that could invent what he had seen. “If anything, sir, I’ve underplayed what we saw here. It was directly responsible for me ending up in the Shrouded Village, half a world away from the Vidofnir.” That was perhaps not strictly true: there was little to do with runes here, after all, but the events led in a straight line.
The Captain paused to think for a moment, then shook his head. “I hear your warning. However, I also hear that the evil creatures which dwelled below were dealt a serious defeat last summer, by your own hand, and that there is an excellent place to hide beneath that island. I have no idea how that Order dromon is matching us knot for knot, but I know that continuing to run as we have will exhaust the men to no effect. Therefore, I believe I will take my chances.” He smiled at Einarr, and it was more the predatory grin of a wolf than anything stag-like.
Einarr straightened up stiffly. “I suppose even telling you that it was our ships that burned Langavik when we found it drenched in blood cannot change your mind?”
“That is correct, sailor. Return to your post.”
The worst part was not that the captain would not heed his warning. No, under the circumstances that was all too understandable, especially since the Captain hadn’t witnessed the horrors himself. No, the worst part was wondering how much of the cult’s taint still lingered. The storm had broken when they fought last summer – but what did that mean?
The cave waterway was right where Einarr expected it to be. Captain Kormund ordered a stop at the entrance. He hadn’t noticed it before, but on the cliffs outside the cave entrance were grassy ledges. They were small, and probably not terribly comfortable, but a man or maybe two could sit and look out over the ocean. Kormund left two men with a hunting horn and instructions to blow it once an hour if the coast was clear. One of them grabbed a pole and line before he got off the boat. Einarr wasn’t sure he would want to eat the fish from these waters, but ordinarily it would have been a good plan.
Once the lookouts were in place on their perches outside, the Eikthyrnir slipped into the cave where last summer the Vidofnir had once more come face to face with the ship that killed his stepmother.
Einarr fought against holding his breath, but the cave was more or less as they’d left it – at least as far in as Captain Kormund took his ship. The sea anchor was lowered just past where the shadow of the cave wall fell, so that the Eikthyrnir should be all but impossible to spot from the outside. Einarr would not be able to see what became of the city since their battle – but he wasn’t truly sure he wanted to, anyway.
The first time the horn sounded, everyone on board jumped. They hadn’t realized just how tense they were, waiting in the shadows, until it sounded. After that, they relaxed a little and settled in for a long wait. Four times the horn had sounded, then five, and they were beginning to think the dromon had finally turned aside.
At the sixth hour, as counted by Hraerek, there was no horn. The games of dice and other friendly diversions ceased.
Again at the seventh hour they waited for a sound that never came.
At the eighth hour, the dromon appeared in the mouth of the cave and stopped there. Einarr’s breath caught. What had happened to their lookouts? There was no shelter to speak of on their tiny ledges: the Valkyrians could hardly have missed seeing them.
Then he noticed something that almost wiped the thought of their lookouts from his mind: the dromon cast no shadow on the water. Indeed, it almost looked as though it cast its own light. Einarr glanced to his side and saw Vari standing there, also staring at the ship that had chased them all this way. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
“It’s… real, right?”
“Sure looks real.”
“So’s a jellyfish, under the right conditions. Doesn’t mean I want anything to do with one.”
“Nah, of course not. Only, why?”
“If we knew that, I don’t think we’d be here.”
Someone shushed them, but the dromon was already backing out of the mouth of the cave to continue on its way.
Once it was gone, it was another few hours before the horn sounded the all-clear again. The Eikthyrnir slipped from its hiding place and reclaimed its watchmen, who even after all these hours still seemed badly shaken.
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