The oversized wooden door opened inwards before the group of women and their so-called honor guard to reveal an equally oversized hall. As Reki strode forward, her shoulders squared, at the head of her companions her impression was of walking through a great, empty cavern. Their soft-soled boots still managed to echo through the stone room. There did not even appear to be trestles for a long table, although it was possible those were merely stored elsewhere in a hold such as this.
At the far end of the hall stood the Thane’s seat, large and ornately carved oak, polished to a shine. As they drew closer, Reki noted that there were no cushions on the chair, and wondered if the lack of a rug – or any furnishings, really – was truly the desire of the man sitting, slumped, in the worn seat.
If she had not known he was Stigander’s half-brother, she never would have guessed. The man looked not unlike his name suggested: a rangy, scrappy lone wolf who had to fight for what he needed and steal what he wanted. His ashen brown hair fell across his face, hiding his eyes, and a sharp nose poked out from above a thin beard.
In front of the throne, the Captain of the boat that had brought them in was giving his report. “Sire, you rely too thoroughly on your mother’s bits of cloth! There is no honor in all this skulking about.”
“That’s enough, Captain Kaldr. I’ll hear no more against her, or her Weavings. They have never yet betrayed me.” Ulfr surged to his feet before his liege man, but the anger quieted from his face almost as quickly.
“My Lord -”
“No. More. See to your ship, Kaldr. Let me focus on our next moves.”
Captain Kaldr bowed deeply, and Reki caught a glimpse of cold disapproval on the man’s face when it was hidden from his Lord. Interesting. When he straightened, however, his face was calm once again, and the captain strode from the room without so much as a glance at Reki and her companions.
Ulfr, no longer confronted by a man at arms with a message he disliked, paced restlessly, his eyes watching the approaching women. He looked even more like a wolf now than he had before. The leader of the honor guard reached ten paces from the throne and knelt before his Thane.
“Rise,” Ulfr sneered. “Who are these?”
The guard leader stood but did not look his Lord in the face, a fact that Reki filed away for later consideration. “These,” he said, emphasizing the word, “Are the Singers that were aboard the three rebel ships.”
Rebel? It seemed an odd choice of words to Reki, but that was hardly the point to challenge the Usurper on. If she challenged him, today. It might be better to pretend servility, at least until she could figure out what was going on. Her eyes darted to either side: Runa was on her left, and Bea on her right. It was a struggle not to shake her head at her own thoughts. Neither of them would be able to feign that.
“The only one I wanted was Runa Hroaldrsdottir. Why do you trouble me with the others?”
The second in command of the honor guard looked embarrassed and started to speak, but his leader surreptitiously elbowed him in the ribs.
“My Lord, they are three ships and they carried no fewer than six Singers, once you count in the young Lady Runa. By capturing all of them, we have dealt your foes a major blow.”
Ulfr stared disdainfully at the man who had spoken. “Tell me. Your own Captain forbids Song Magic aboard. What makes you think no other ship can fight without it?”
He only stammered a little, Reki noted, before he parroted back the same idea Kaldr had used on board his ship. “Reliance on Magic makes them weak, sir. Without it, they’ll be no threat.”
Ulfr snorted but did not try to correct the man. Probably adjudged it as impossible as changing Kaldr’s mind on the subject. “Very well. This was uneccessary, but acceptable tactics nonetheless.”
Finally Ulfr turned his attention to the captives, and all trace of the hungry wolf disappeared from his demeanor save a slight stoop to his shoulders. Reki pasted a sickly-sweet smile on her face, waiting to see how he would try to play this.
“Ladies. Welcome to my court. My sincerest apologies for any unpleasantness you may have faced along the way: I’m afraid Captain Kaldr has some rather… unorthodox ideas.”
Unorthodox. That was the word. Was he really going to try to pretend that he hadn’t just had that conversation right in front of them? Well, two could play at that game. She kept the smile plastered to her face. “No trouble at all, Lord. Your invitation was most gracious.”
“How could I do otherwise, with such a delegation of Singers in my waters? I assure you, any discomfort you may have endured on the Mánagarmr will be remedied here in my Hall. Have they given you rooms yet? …No, they couldn’t have, could they.” He clapped his hands. Moments later a thrall appeared, the dark circles under his eyes the only color Reki could see on the man. “See to it they have comfortable chambers, and have the sauna heated. I trust the Lady Runa would prefer to remain with her father?”
Out of the corner of her eye, Reki saw the apprentice blanch. Not that she would have let them separate her anyway. “That will not be necessary,” she purred. “The Lady Runa has training we must see to, even at a time such as this.”
Ulfr offered her a gallant, if shallow, bow. “As my lady wishes. Agnar here will show you to your chambers. If it is not too much trouble, I would ask that you all join Mother and I for supper this evening.”
“We should be delighted.”
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