Reki sat up in alarm. “They’re here?”
“So it sounds.”
“All right, ladies. Everybody up! We have a job to do.”
Eydri sat up and dusted off her skirts as though she hadn’t actually been asleep. For how long, Reki couldn’t begin to guess. Runa and Svana both stirred with a groan, as though they were feeling the lack of sleep from the last two nights. They would need a few minutes, she thought, but that was fine. So did the rest of them.
“Chances are good this caught them by surprise, too,” she said. “If we hurry, and we’re lucky, we might be able to beat them to the weaving room, but we’re out of time for skulking. Gather your things, those of you who have them: I very much doubt we’ll be coming back here.”
“At least not before Lord Stigander has reclaimed Breidelstein,” Runa agreed. “And who knows what will happen in the meantime.” The girl slung her pack over her shoulder, alert more quickly than Reki had thought possible. “Let’s go. The sooner we wreck that loom, the sooner we get back where we belong, and the sooner Father gets freed.”
Svana moved only a little more slowly, but she, too, was ready to be gone from this place.
“We all remember how to find the weavings, correct?”
One by one, they nodded. “All right. In that case, let us make haste cautiously.”
Escaping their chambers was easy. Surprisingly, the guards were not at their post, with no sign of their whereabouts.
The streets and alleys of Raenshold were perversely easier to navigate unnoticed now, as warriors girt themselves to repel raiders below and children scrambled – either for a good vantage point or for a place to hide, depending on their age and temperament. Bea rushed straight for the tower at the main gate, the sword on her back all the excuse she needed to shoulder through the crowds as though she were rushing to the defense of the town below.
Reki and the others slipped quietly through her wake, never falling far behind, but always maintaining their composure as Singers. No-one, under these circumstances, was going to question them.
No-one, that is, except the men still standing guard at the entrance to the tower. They took one look at the group of women quick-stepping their direction and moved to stand shoulder to shoulder, blocking the door.
Svana opened her mouth to Sing, but Reki held up a forestalling hand. A lullaby was one thing in the middle of the night. Now? Now, even if it worked they would draw more attention to themselves. “We need to figure out a distr …”
Before Reki could finish, Bea strode forward.
“Stand aside,” Beatrix demanded, and in that moment she was not just the Imperial Princess, she was the commander of a fleet.
It was not good enough. “The Lord has commanded no-one is to come in or out of here until the raiders are repelled.”
To her credit, Bea hardly even blinked. “Oh? And are you going to tell him that’s why the Lady Urdr had no bodyguard? We were sent to ensure her safety.”
“The Lady Urdr’s bodyguard team is still up there,” the other guard snapped. “What sort of idiots do you take us for?”
“That’s last night’s team,” drawled the first guard. “They haven’t been relieved yet.”
“What are you talking about? Of course they haven’t. Shift change isn’t for another hour.”
Reki and Aema exchanged a glance from behind Bea as the two guards began to argue. With a nod, they slipped around to either side and went for the door.
The guards, caught up in their argument, paid them no heed. Amused, Reki did not fail to note that the second guard kept leading his fellow around by the nose. Why that would be, she could only guess, but she was glad of it.
The door closed behind them with a thunk, and Svana slid the bar into place. Now instead of yelling at each other the two guards – both the gullible one and the insolent one – pounded on the door, shouting after the women to let them in. If Reki were to guess, only about half of the protests were sincere.
That shouldn’t have worked. Why did that work? She shook her head. We need to hurry.
Reki set her concerns aside for the moment, to be addressed later. Up the tower they went, to the third floor where they had heard Ulfr and Urdr the night before. They passed no-one as they raced upwards save for thralls, who seemed utterly unconcerned about the commotion outside.
Don’t get cocky, Reki reminded herself. Once we’ve wrecked the weaving, we still have to escape. It hardly bore thinking of, how they might be treated if they were caught and made prisoners in truth. Ulfr had ordered Runa broken for no better reason than information she did not have: under threat of rape Reki, too, would break the taboo, and once she was free there might not be much left of Breidelstein for Lord Stigander to reclaim. Best for all if it did not come to that, and for that reason… “Runa.”
“What?” The girl sounded a little winded, but they did not dare let up.
“Do you remember how your ‘rescuers’ got you to the harbor before?”
“You could lead us down it?”
“Good.” They crested the third flight of steps. Ahead, Reki saw the door they had watched last night, only now it stood open. Perversely, sunlight streamed out into the hallway, though it would have made no sense for the Weavess to work in a windowless room. “There it is.”
Bea’s hand rested on the hilt of her sword as she watched the door. Aema passed about the water skin she had managed to keep with her. Reki, too, kept a wary eye on the Weavess’ room as she sipped from the skin, half expecting the Weavess’ actual bodyguards to come boiling out of the room at any moment.
At long last the companions exchanged a nod of readiness. Bea’s sword hissed out of its sheath and she led the surge into the Weavess’ workshop. Inside, amid the baskets of thread, Urdr relaxed on the bench of her loom, a look of amusement on her papery face. Otherwise, they were alone.
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