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!

The landing party returned to the ship after setting Kettleness ablaze. Even had they not worried about attracting the attention of the heart of the cult, and they did, not one of them had the sort of attachment to place or resident that would have permitted them to stand vigil over the entire thing.

No sooner had Liupold climbed back aboard the Arkona than his Mate accosted him. He asked through gritted teeth, “Already you let them set fire to the island? Are you half savage yourself?”

“Calm yourself, Walter. Yes, we did burn the remains in the village when it became clear that the priests had failed in their task. The funeral rites of the Clans are different from ours, but they still bring peace to the dead. Or would you prefer for this to become a cursed isle of the dead?”

“What do you mean, the priests failed? How does that even happen?”

Einarr, already over the bulwark and giving Eydri a hand for balance, broke in. “The same way any other man fails at their task, I wager. It’s not like being ‘ordained’ suddenly gives a man superhuman ability.” There were priests among the Clans, but not many, and most of their duties revolved around the major holy days.

Walter apparently did not like that answer, however. “Watch your mouth, bar-!”

“Enough!” Liupold cut off his Mate. “These people are guests aboard our ship, whose presence we requested to assist in dealing with a problem within Imperial waters. If you provoke this man into a duel, I will not help you.”

Walter visibly restrained himself, although not enough to keep Einarr from seeing the look of anger directed at Liupold – or the look of hatred he cast at the four from the Clans.

“My people prepared the way, and Eydri Sang them to the gods. Your own Captain lit the first spark of their pyre, and it was well done.”

Liupold inclined his head toward Einarr. “Now. No matter what we might think of each other, the problem of the corruption is not yet resolved, not even in the slightest. Walter, send for a cask of my good Eisbock and plenty of bread. We will be in my cabin. Burkhart, Rambert, go about your duties. We may send for you again.”

“Aye, sir,” the two men echoed.

“Now, this way, if you please.”

Liupold led them all belowdecks once more, and as they clambered off the ladder he spoke again. “My apologies for Walter’s behavior…”

Einarr shook his head and held out a hand to forestall him. “For now, it is enough that you corrected him. It is not as though it is any secret what our people think of one another. I do not intend to let myself be drawn into a duel while I am in your waters.” He did not add – aloud – that if he needed to put a yapping dog in its place, he was fully capable of doing so without a duel. Either way, the Captain seemed mollified.

“Very good. …On the beach, earlier, I saw your sorceror working some spell?”

“Hrug seems to have a plan to trap the kraken: he was laying the foundation of that.” If he understood what the other man was doing properly, it would do more than just trap it, but it would definitely do at least that.

Liupold’s face grew blank as he opened the door to his cabin and welcomed them in. “Runes, you say? There are still people who work those?”

“Not many, and most of them alfs to judge by our teachers. But yes.”

“Ah, I see.” Liupold shook his head, as though there were something about the idea of runes he disliked. “Carry on then, I suppose. But while he’s working on that, what are we supposed to do about the villagers?”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. “Do? Can’t your sorcerors call up winds, or create lightning from a clear sky? If you encourage the fire in Kettleness just a little, no-one has to set foot on that island again.”

“But what if…”

“What if?”

The Captain sighed. “No what if involved. They have captives – maybe more, now that the priests have fallen.”

Now Einarr cursed, loudly and long. “You’re sure they’re captive, and not new members?” He couldn’t quite repress a shudder at that, thinking of what must have to happen to grow their numbers.

“As sure as we can be. So, no, we can’t just put the whole island to the torch. There are young women and children imprisoned on that island. Sacrifices, we think.”

“Why are we only hearing about this now?”

Liupold hesitated.

Einarr narrowed his eyes. “What do you think of the Clans, that you would just assume that would make no difference to me?”

“It is well-known that you take slaves from among the Imperial villages you raid. It is also well-known that a man’s slaves will often be murdered as part of his funeral rites. How is that different from human sacrifice?”

While Einarr was still spluttering with anger, Eydri answered. Her voice, so enchanting before, was cool as ice. “In the first place, a man may earn his way free of thralldom. In the second, no thrall is required to attend to his master in death. Only the most favored are given the option, and of those only the loyallest and most devoted ever accept.”

“Is that so.” Liupold sounded skeptical, but just then a knock came on the door. It was a deckhand, bearing the cask of ale the captain had requested and five cups. “Well, whatever the case may be, we have a handful of young women to save before they find themselves on the altar. Sit down, sip a cup – sip, mind, this is stronger than you expect – and let us determine our course of action.”

“Agreed,” Einarr answered, only somewhat mollified. “Have you a map of the island?”

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