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!
Hohenwerth island looked like the island of the cult in miniature in many ways, although for the moment it lacked the blackness of that bigger, more northerly island. Steep shale slopes rose from the surface of the water, topped by the green of good farmland and orchards. A sinister silence hung over the area, though, and it didn’t take Einarr long to realize why. There were no fishing boats out on the water, despite the time and the weather.
All eyes on deck were glued to the shore as an inlet came into view and, behind it, a village.
Even from here it was plain the village was a husk. Deserted, Einarr would have said, if not for Liupold’s story. Dead.
“That,” Captain Liupold confirmed, “is all that remains of Kettleness.”
Einarr hated to have to ask it, but: “Have the dead been properly buried?”
“The priests were arriving to deal with them when we left.”
“I do not know Imperial burial practices. But if so much as one body remains in the village, you will do for them as we did for Langavik. Eydri, would you be willing to assist in this?”
“What happened at Langavik?” Liupold asked.
“While we were tracking the ship that kidnapped Runa, we put into port there. Hoping for information. Well, we got some… although not exactly the way we hoped. The entire city was painted with blood. Men hung from meat hooks. Some of them were disemboweled…”
“None. The city became their pyre, and we sailed on. Then we picked up the storm they rode and it led us to the island where all of this started.” The horror remained, although not so visceral as at the time. Still his eyes remained glued to the husk of a village he could see on shore. Had the priests done their job, or had they been corrupted in turn?
“Drop anchor,” Liupold ordered. “Ready the landing boat: I’ll be taking our guests ashore.”
His Mate protested, but the Captain was having none of it. “We’ve both been ashore here already. You have the Arkona, I have responsibility for what happens here.”
An almost eerie feeling of oppression hung heavy over the landing party as they stepped ashore. Liupold was the only one who had been here before, but Einarr was certain he knew what he was about to see. Naudrek, Hrug, Eydri, and Burkhart and Rambert from the Arkona followed. The two Arkonites tried to put on a brave face for the outsiders in their midst, but the four from the Clans merely plunged grimly ahead.
Einarr had thought, based on relative sizes and that someone had already come through here, that Kettleness couldn’t possibly be as disturbing as Langavik had been. And, in a way, he was right.
It was worse.
As soon as they entered the circle of huts the smell of rotting flesh assailed his nose. Blood stained the ground dark and painted the walls of the huts, and though it appeared black Einarr suspected that was due to time, not corruption. After all, he had not known the cultists to murder their own like this.
Bodies hung by the neck from tree branches, although they may not have died from the hanging. Flies buzzed about their bloated faces that still showed evidence of brutal beatings. Some of them also showed open wounds in their sides. Einarr wanted to retch.
Liupold, too, had turned a sickly shade of green. He motioned for them to leave the ruined village, and their companions gladly followed.
Once they had caught their breath, back on the beach by their landing boat, Einarr turned an angry look on the Order Captain. “What became of your vaunted priests, eh, knight? The gods need no intercessors: that could have been avoided if you and your crew had simply given them rites yourself.”
Burkhart looked especially shaken. “There were priests… among the bodies.”
“Aye,” Liupold agreed. “But not all of them. So where are the rest?”
“My guess? Southwaite. I could be wrong, they could be using Langtoft as their stronghold, but I suspect they want some distance from the open ocean to prepare.” Einarr did not try to keep the venom from his voice. “We will perform rites for the villagers in the way of our people, so that this will not become an isle of the dead, but you must light the pyre yourselves.”
Liupold hesitated a moment, but eventually nodded. “Yes, that is fair. Funeral pyres are not our way… but I do not expect the survivors will allow us time to dig proper graves here.”
Inwardly, Einarr breathed a sigh of relief. That the village, at least, and probably the entire island must be put to flame was unquestioned. But if Einarr or any of his companions lit the fire, the Empire could later twist that to their own ends to make war on the north, and that he could not allow.
Eydri took over from here, setting Einarr and Naudrek to preparing the ground while Hrug, with a nod of approval from Einarr, began inscribing runes on the beach.
Finally it was ready. Liupold stood in front of Eydri, lit torches in hand, while Einarr and Naudrek formed an honor guard behind her. Then she opened her mouth to sing the dirge.
It ranked among the most beautiful tunes Einarr had ever heard. He had known, from hearing her perform in Eskiborg, that she was a skilled Singer. He had not imagined, however, that a funeral dirge could transport the living as well as the dead.
As the flames consumed the village, licking the afternoon sky and traveling up the village trees, Einarr imagined he could see the spirits of the dead within the purifying white smoke of the pyre.
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!
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