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!

“Of course not.” Einarr paused. “Father. I’m glad that you recognize I’ve met your requirements, and look forward to formalizing the terms of our engagement upon my return.”

Jarl Hroaldr fell silent for a long moment, studying Einarr. It had been a gamble, but the way Einarr saw it he won either way. Either the Jarl corrected him, in which case he didn’t have to go fight the kraken. Or he didn’t, in which case all he had to do was make it back and their engagement could proceed.

The Jarl opened his mouth to speak, but the man from the Order cut him off.

“Excellent! I am glad to hear you have such faith in your future son-in-law, and look forward to working with him to eradicate this menace.”

Well, that was that. Einarr watched as the tendons in the Jarl’s neck shifted as he swallowed whatever it was he’d been about to say. He couldn’t take it back now.

Of course, neither could Einarr. But all that meant was he had to come back alive and uncorrupted. He gave Liupold a slightly wan smile. “I’ll do what I can. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go speak with my companions.”

As he rose and walked away from their circle, he felt someone watching him. Glancing surreptitiously over his shoulder, he saw the Jarl glaring daggers at him. Einarr rolled his other shoulder in half a shrug.

The four friends he had brought from Eskiborg reacted to the news with surprising equanimity – a sure sign, Einarr thought, that they did not truly understand what they would be facing. Still, what could he say but ‘thank you’?

“Eydri, will you work with Runa and see if the two of you can figure anything out about these creatures or the corruption or what have you? She’s quite a good scholar, despite being ‘only’ an apprentice.”

“I don’t mind. I’d like to make her acquaintance anyway, if I’m going to be working with you for any length of time.”

Einarr nodded and Eydri went to speak with Runa.

“Naudrek, Liupold seems like a personable fellow. See if you can’t get on his good side, would you?” He lowered his voice. “It struck me, just a bit ago, how this could be some sort of Imperial trick. Do what you can to make sure we’re not walking into a noose, would you?”

“Gladly. Valuable information, that.”

“Excellent. Hrug, I want you to help me figure out a way to trap the thing, like the Village used to imprison the Shroud, sort of. Are you up for that?”

The other man grunted and flashed half a smile. Good: it wouldn’t be easy, but at least it should be interesting, and a good use of the man’s newfound expertise.

Liupold was, of course, in a hurry to be on their way, but the Arkona and the Eikthyrnir both needed to be resupplied, and after Captain Kormund’s tale when they arrived at port the two ships needed to leave together, as well.

Kormund, for his part, readily agreed to take a message to Stigander at Breidhaugr. Considering that the last contact he’d had with the Vidofnings had been before he traveled the elven roads to study in the Shrouded Village, this took a considerable load off of Einarr’s shoulders.

“Thank you, and good luck.”

“I believe I should be saying that to you, don’t you think?” Kormund raised an eyebrow even as the two shook hands. “Stay sharp. There’s something about this whole situation that smells fishy to me.”

“I will, and me, too. Thank you for all your help so far.”

“My pleasure. I look forward to having an ale with you and your father in Raenshold.”

Then Kormund climbed aboard the Eikthyrnir and Einarr strode up the plank to the deck of the Arkona.

Einarr’s first impression of the dromon was of luxury and spaciousness. No-one’s bedroll sat on the deck: it looked like, no-one’s had to. He saw a ladder heading down to a lower deck. Is that why dromon were so much taller than longships?

Evidently so. Liupold, still chatting in a friendly manner, led the four of them down the ladder to a room that seemed somewhat smaller than the deck above. A door let out on the far end, and the room was lined with mats laid out on the floor and hammocks strung from the walls. “This is where most of the crew sleeps, in shifts. Out that door is the lower tier of oars, but we shouldn’t need to use them while you’re aboard.”

Einarr grunted. On the one hand, no-one would have to sleep out in the rain. On the other hand, even with no-one else in it the air in here was close and stifling.

“There’s also a galley on this deck, and a few small separate rooms. I have one, and I have prepared a second one for the lady Eydri. This is also the deck where the galley is.”

“I’m sorry,” Naudrek interrupted. “Galley?”

“The kitchen? Where food is prepared?”

Einarr wrinkled his nose: no wonder the steerage room felt so hot. He had gone from being impressed to being once more convinced of the longship’s superiority rather more rapidly than expected. “So the men sleeping off-duty are the first ones to burn if there’s a fire?”

“Not at all. There’s a fire wall of clay between the two rooms.”

Einarr nodded his understanding. If he’d tryed to say anything, he would have insulted his host’s ship, and that would have been poor form. Still, he was getting some ideas for how to fight off the black kraken that was supposedly waiting for them. The Arkona might even still be able to fight afterwards.

Einarr did not dislike Liupold. He seemed like an honorable fellow, for all that he was a Conehead. But the Konneul Empire was not above trickery, and the Order worked hand in hand with the Empire. It would be acceptable if the Arkona was not in fighting shape, so long as she could still sail.

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