Hi, Everyone! Allene here. Today marks the end of the marathon, as well as the end of book 8. It’s a little shorter than most, but I hope it’s been satisfying. Tomorrow morning, back on the regular posting schedule, will be chapter 1 of Book 9: Einarr and the Wolf’s Flame.
Bea took the proffered cup and held it to hide her mouth. She was Admiral of the Hrist Brigade, was she? Einarr shook his head: probably, all the real power was with the Valkyrie patron. But she could fight, he would give her that. Maybe she wasn’t just a figurehead.
The night passed, and the five who were outsiders to the Arkona spoke quietly among themselves. Bea kept casting furtive glances at Einarr, to the point where he wondered if he’d done something to offend her. She was an Imperial Princess, and had at least in theory, command over the Order’s hunting ships. If she wanted to, she could make his life miserable even from half a world away. If he had offended her, though, it was only through honesty, and he refused to repent of that.
As dawn broke so did their company, each to their respective bunks. That the princess had not displaced Eydri was only because no one wished to put a woman in steerage with the men, and so the two shared a cabin and a cot. They were still abovedecks when Einarr went below to crawl into one of the hammocks where all the common sailors slept.
When he awoke, it was well past noon. He had expected as much of a hangover as he’d gotten after planning with the captain, but strangely his head did not hurt at all. This was strange, but no more worth remarking on than the headache would have been, so he climbed the ladder with a spring in his step for the unexpected good fortune.
Above, the crew was sailing along as normal. A quick glance at the sky showed they were traveling roughly northeast, back towards Kjell and Runa. Satisfied, and certain he would be little more than a passenger on their return, he sauntered over to where she leaned against the bulwark.
“It’s after noon.” Eydri stared out over the water, looking thoughtful.
“Princess didn’t keep you awake, did she?” In a longhouse or a hall it would have been nothing, but sharing such close quarters could be problematic if one person was unused to it as Bea almost certainly was.
“No. Well, not exactly.”
“She loves you, you know. Or thinks she does. Probably if you’d asked last night she would have tried to follow you north.”
Einarr shrugged. “If I’d asked. But why would I? She’s as tied to the Empire as I am to Breidelstein. Maybe more.”
“That’s not the point. …If she ever meets Runa, be as ostentatiously affectionate as you can. Make yourself uncomfortable with it, if you can do it naturally. Otherwise she might think she can steal you away, no matter what you say.”
Einarr blinked. “What… why?”
Eydri sighed. “You are as naive as she is, in some ways. She is a princess, as used to getting her own way as your Runa is. Maybe more: I’ve only met Runa once. When you fight between men, you knock each other about for a while, one of you concedes, and that’s the end of it, right?”
“Women never concede.”
He blinked. That made no sense. “What?”
“Oh, we might back off for a time, to lick our wounds and gather our resources. But when women fight each other it is tooth and claw and vicious slander, until one side or the other has nothing left to give. Do not let Bea think she has an opening between you and Runa, or there will be war.”
Einarr stared at Eydri, still not quite able to believe what he was hearing.
“Have you never wondered why magic is considered womanly?”
He hadn’t, not particularly. He had some vague assumptions that all tied back into why it was dishonorable to fight a woman who hadn’t started it, but nothing concrete.
“Because men are too straightforward. Your honor gets in the way.”
“But man or woman has nothing to do with how honorable someone is.”
Eydri smirked. “Tell me. Whose idea was it to elope?”
She nodded now. “And whose plan did you carry out, in the main, when you tried?”
“If it had been up to you, what would have happened instead?”
“I’d have skipped the escape attempt and challenged Trabbi directly… oh.”
“Yes. Oh. Now pit your Runa against poor Bea.”
Einarr winced. Bea could fight, Einarr would give her that. But Runa was clever as the day was long, and he wasn’t certain Bea could come close to matching her. Which meant… “Bea can’t see an opening between us. And Runa can’t be allowed to see Bea as a threat.”
“Now you’ve got it. I knew you had a good head on those shoulders.”
Einarr was more than a little disturbed to realize Eydri’s look was not that dissimilar to Bea’s of the night before. It must have shown, because Eydri laughed.
“Oh, come on. A girl’s allowed to look.”
Einarr rolled his eyes. “Not in front of Runa you’re not. You know, when we were leaving Eskiborg, I worried she was going to think you were a threat?”
She nodded slowly. “Smart man. I’m not, of course: I knew you were claimed the moment I met you. But smart.”
“How could you possibly have…?”
Eydri smiled impishly. “That’s a secret.”
Three days passed, and the Arkona sped northward, toward Kjell, toward Runa, toward home. Einarr leaned against the bulwark again, staring out impatiently over the sea, enjoying the sunset as best he could.
“You should not have refused her offer.” A woman’s voice cut through the evening, ominous and familiar. Einarr spun around.
There, hovering effortlessly above the deck of the ship, was Hrist, her black hair shining in the sunlight as much as her golden wings and armor did. No-one else seemed to notice, nor did she cast a shadow. He opened his mouth to challenge her, but she did not give him the opportunity.
“You have no idea of your value, Cursebreaker. It is a waste to leave you in the North, more than even Beatrix knows. But, you were right: there are threads that bind.” She paused, and the look on her face turned predatory. “And threads can be cut.”
The predatory look became a too-wide smile as the Valkyrie faded from sight, until at the last all that lingered was the smile. “Hurry home, Cursebreaker.”
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