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!

As the Eikthyrnir retrieved the two men on lookout on the cliffs, Einarr and Naudrek were the first to step up and offer them a hand back to the boat. Both men seemed shaken and pale, as though they had just seen some sort of apparition.

“What happened out there?” Einarr asked without thinking.

Bjar, the first of the men, shook his head. “Where’s the Captain?”

“Here.” Kormund stepped forward from his position near the mast. “Go ahead.”

“That ship… There’s somethin’ not natural about it.”

Kormund audibly rolled his eyes at that. “Yes, we’d all gathered that much already.”

Bjar shook his head, though, swinging it wildly from side to side. “Once that ship got up close, we couldn’t have blown that horn if we’d wanted to. Was all I could do to stay on the ledge.”

Einarr and Kormund both turned their attention to the other lookout.

“Is that so, Vold?”

The other, smaller man nodded as vehemently as Bjar had shaken his head. “It was like… when you were a boy, did you ever see a bear while you were hunting?”

“Of course…”

“Well, think how this would have felt. Your ten-year-old self is out hunting with a friend. You build a nice blind, and you’re in a prime spot to bring home some venison for dinner. Now imagine if the biggest bear you’ve ever seen, big enough maybe to swallow you whole, came up and started sniffing around that blind. That’s more or less what it was like being near that ship.”

That was certainly an… evocative description. The captain turned back to Bjar, an eyebrow raised.

“Er… yeah, that’s basically what it was like… although I think you’ve been spending too much time around the Singers.”

“So the ship moves faster – far faster – than it should,” Einarr mused. “It glows, and it can scare the living daylights out of grown men just by being there. If it wasn’t for that last one, I might give some credence to the rumors of bound wind spirits.”

“You can’t bind wind spirits,” Naudrek objected. “It’s against their very nature.”

“We can’t bind wind spirits. We can’t get magic out of paint, though, either, and the Coneheads can. Who knows what other strange magics they might have.”

Naudrek raised an eyebrow at him, but did not say what they were both thinking – what if it really was the Valkyrie he’d fought in the tower, out to finish what she’d started? Father would kill him if he became Einherjar now. …The thought almost made him laugh. Instead, he asked “Captain, what did Hrug’s divination show you?”

The Captain sighed. “Not as much as I hoped, honestly. I saw them chasing us, dogged as any hound, but not an inkling as to why.”

Einarr wanted to kick himself: that was why they should have done the full divination, of course! He should have seen it at the time. It still would have been a problem to set up the array on the deck of a moving ship, of course. Still, the time for that had passed. There would be other ways, now, of figuring out what the Order was after.

“You’re sure they’re actually gone?” Naudrek was asking the two watchmen.

“As sure as we can be. They sailed off out of sight, but we were sort of stuck against the side of the island.”

The Captain nodded and clapped Bjar on the shoulder. “Good work. Let’s get back on the water. I want us rowing under sail again, as long as the wind is with us. Let’s not give them a chance to catch up so easily again.”

All that afternoon and into the night they sailed on. No-one was yet willing to believe they’d actually given the Valkyrian ship the slip, but that night an undercurrent of excitement filled the gossip.

“That ship shined like gold,” some said.

“The wood must come from alfheim,” others answered.

“It’s not the wind carrying that ship along, it’s an otherworldly team of horses!”

“Are you sure,” Naudrek asked him quietly, after the ship had settled into its night routine. “That Valkyrie you told me about isn’t after your head?”

Einarr slowly shook his head. No, he wasn’t. She had said she was unsatisfied by the result of their duel – as well she might have been. He had survived five exchanges, barely. A sixth likely would have done him in. But so far as he knew the Order of the Valkyrie did not actually have anything to do with Wotan’s harvesters of the slain. They were, perhaps uncharitably, a group of mercenaries running a protection scheme on outlying Imperial villages. Why, then, would a real Valkyrie want anything to do with them? “It just doesn’t seem likely,” was what he said.

“If you say so. There’s just a lot of little things that start to look an awful lot like that ship has some sort of divine help.”

Einarr grunted. He couldn’t disagree. “They don’t seem to want to fight us, though. But what do they want us to show them? That’s the only other purpose I can figure out.”

“Is there anything we really want an Order ship to see in Clan waters? You’ve said it yourself: they hunt us for sport.”

“No, nothing I can think of. I just don’t know as we have a choice other than leading them along right now. What are we going to do, lay another ambush? Not likely, the way they shot us down before.”

Naudrek groaned. “I don’t know. I’m out of ideas. What do you think we should do?”

“The only thing we can do. Sail on, and wait. I’ve got a hunch they’ll tell us what they want. I think they might even do it in such a way that we can make a choice.”

“What makes you so sure?”

Einarr barked a laugh. “Do I sound sure? This is all gut feeling and conjecture. We’ll see, come morning, if the Captain agrees.”

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