They kept the shutters open that night after they returned to their newly-swept, properly bedded prison, even after extinguishing the lamps they themselves used and retiring. Each one lay still under the covers, listening to the night sounds and watching as the light from outside shifted ever closer to natural moonlight.
As the midnight hour approached, as they had all agreed, they rose and slipped noiselessly toward the door. There was very little time before their three ships approached the harbor, and as they expected they, too, had a part to play in retaking Breidelstein.
The guard had dutifully locked the door, but that was only a small impediment. As Aema Sang the man to sleep, Bea slid the blade of her knife through the crack between the door and the frame to slide the lock open. Before long, snores emanated from outside their door. Bea rose and, with a nod from the other women, opened the door.
Outside, the hold was thoroughly asleep. Ulfr had suggested that his mother’s Art had more than a little to do with his strength in battle, which meant there was likely a tapestry. Now all they had to do was find it and destroy it. Unfortunately, they had been here less than a day and had seen almost nothing of the Hold.
Taking a stab in the dark, Reki led them towards the main hall. Urdr was an old crone, and Reki did not doubt for an instant that Ulfr’s excuse regarding her joints had the benefit of truth. It would make sense, then, if she kept her loom and her thread close by.
Once inside, the six split up into two teams. Runa and Aema went with Reki to the next building down, while the other three took the hall where they had dined with the usurper.
Said building seemed to be, in fact, the larder. “I’d be shocked if we found anything here,” Aema muttered.
“You and me both.” Reki sighed. “But better to have a look now than discount it and have to come back.”
Dutifully the three women set to exploring the larder. Based on what she saw, Reki hoped the usurper didn’t eat like they had every night, although she wasn’t going to bet on it. The only thing that resembled a proper Hold’s larder was the quantity of food: the quality of most of that food would have seen paupers looking askance. A cloud of gnats emerged from the bag of onions Reki had just discovered was beginning to rot.
“My Lady Runa,” Aema said with a sigh. “You’ve been here longer than we have. I don’t suppose you have any insight?”
“Not unless she does her Weaving near the dungeon. When I escaped, my rescuers and I went straight for a boat.”
Reki hummed. ‘Rescuers’ was an interesting term to use for those poor sots, although she suspected they’d deserved what they got. But so long as Runa made no move to break the taboo again, she would let it be. That said, the dungeon seemed almost as unlikely a place for a loom as the larder.
“About the dungeon, though…”
“Of course we’ll aim to free Lord Hroaldr while we’re here, my Lady.” Aema seemed to know exactly what was on the girl’s mind, for which Reki was glad.
She came up short in front of the far end of the long building. No secret compartments, no hidden passages, just moldering vegetables and well-cured meats. “Well, that’s this building done. On to the next.”
Each group went through another building this way before the sky began to lighten and they called a halt for the night. They walked back as silently as they had left their comfortable prison, ready to slip back in unnoticed and make their excuses for fatigue when the rest of the hold awakened.
It was not to be. A man leaned against the wall by the closed, but not locked, door where the sleeping guard had slumped, his arms folded over his chest and his ankles crossed. As they approached his features grew clearer in the deep twilight before false dawn. He looked up at them from under lowered brows, his nose a pale dagger pointed toward the ground. It was Kaldr.
“An odd time for a stroll, ladies.”
Reki stopped and straightened, drawing back her shoulders. “Captain Kaldr. What brings you out here?”
“I heard music as I prepared myself for sleep, and thought ‘surely they cannot be so dim as all that?’ I regret to see I was wrong.”
“We required the use of the privy,” Svana said, thinking quickly. “And thought it best not to go alone, under the circumstances.”
“Oh, truly?” Kaldr stood up off the wall, his voice frankly disbelieving. “And it takes a group of six women six whole hours to complete a trip to the privy?”
Reki stared at him a long moment, taking his measure. This was the man who declared his hatred of Song – of all Arts, really, based on his argument in the Hall. Her odds of persuading him seemed slim at best. “What do you intend to do?”
“Tonight? When all you managed to do was tire yourselves out and pick up the smell of old onions? Nothing. Just know that, even if you manage to bypass the guard on your chambers, I will be watching you.”
“We will take that under consideration.”
Kaldr grunted and stalked off into the early morning dimness. None of them moved until he had disappeared into another of the buildings within the ring fort. Then Reki stepped quickly, the other five hard on her heels. None of them felt secure until the door was once more shut and bolted behind them.
“Well.” Bea said as she flopped down on her bedding. “That one is more observant than we gave him credit for. What are we going to do about him?”
Reki lowered her eyes and shook her head. “We were insufficiently cautious tonight. Tomorrow night we will be prepared. I just don’t know how yet.”
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