Author Note: On Monday night, we will be flying out of Pago Pago headed for Portland and, ultimately, Saipan. Due to the vagaries of moving and airport/hotel internet, Tuesday’s post may be somewhat delayed. My apologies, and thank you for understanding
Bea stood on guard, two steps up from the last of Urdr’s guards. Her opponent watched her, cautious. Like his fellows, he’d seen her struggle before. Unlike his fellows, he’d just watched her break a man’s nose before taking his head. And… there was something else.
“You’re not bad,” he muttered. “But why are you here? You’re not from the North.”
“Thanks,” she answered, just as quietly. “I’ve decided the climate does wonders for my complexion, though.”
The man snorted, still studying her. She was not as good with a sword as with a spear, not by a long shot, but with the high ground and a narrow space she didn’t need to be.
“If you give me your word you will not alert the tower, I will let you see to your friend there.” She looked over his shoulder toward the man whose arm she had taken.
“You think that’s an option? Even if I could betray the Lady’s trust, he already alerted the tower.”
Tcheh. I was afraid of that. “That so? Unfortunate.”
Without giving him a chance to respond, she feinted for his sword arm. When he twisted away to avoid the blow, Bea brought the flat of her blade up and across, clocking him on the jaw.
He hardly seemed to notice, striking upwards when she expected him to be reeling back and drawing a line of blood across her thigh. Yes, Einarr – or at least his father – would definitely want this one left alive. She could do that. Probably.
Bea backed up another step, not really expecting the man to drop his guard. He kept pace, adjusting his grip on the hilt of his blade. Can’t drag this out too long, either. The others will start to worry. Her opponent, though, was proving difficult to bait.
She made another testing feint, this time at his forward leg, which he swatted away easily.
“Tsk, tsk. I know you’re a better warrior than that.”
“Sorry. I’ve got more important things to do than keep some nobody entertained here.”
He twitched. He regained his mask of calm quickly, but he definitely twitched. Finally, something she could use.
“You’re an awfully skillful warrior to be stuck guarding the false Thane’s mother, of all people, when there are enemies at the gate. They question your loyalty, don’t they? They think you’ll betray them, so they keep you stuck at home. Home, where you can’t gain any glory at all.”
“So long as we follow the Lady Urdr’s commands, Breidelsteinn will never fall,” he said through clenched teeth. “It is… an honor… to be made one of her guards.”
Maybe it was, but not to him. Not if Bea was reading him right. “That’s all well and good – for the Usurper and his Black Arts mother. If it weren’t for them, you’d be a Captain by now.”
The man paled, then shook his head. “Let us end this.”
Bea smirked even as the man lashed wildly towards her with his sword. She dodged easily, the steel barely brushing her own shirt of maille. Before he could regain his balance, Bea struck out. As with the man whose arm she’d taken, she struck with the hilt to the back of the neck. The man crumpled to the ground.
“About time,” she muttered, taking a moment to catch her breath.
The Usurper Wolf was not happy.
Reki wished she could be more pleased about that knowledge, but at present she didn’t see how it could help them. For five minutes she had pressed her ear to the door where he sat, berating Captain Kaldr for things outside of his control – such as allowing the ships into port at all, when he had plainly been grounded since he brought them in. The others had already closeted themselves on the other side of the hallway.
Reki turned to find the door, and saw Bea emerge out of the staircase. The young woman trotted toward her, somewhat bloody.
“Tell me -”
Reki put a finger to her puckered lips in the universal sign for ‘shush.’ Obligingly, Bea lowered her voice.
“Tell me you have good news.”
Reki shrugged. “The stair is clear?”
“Of everything but bodies. One of them might wake up in a bit, although I doubt he’ll be a threat once he does.”
She moved two doors down the hall and rapped lightly in a prearranged signal. “Good enough.”
“But what about…?” She gestured toward the main door.
“If we had some way to bar it, we could set it and, probably, the whole tower ablaze, and likely end this. But it opens inward, and Lord Stigander would never forgive me.”
If she was honest, it was that last she cared about. That, and that damnable Victory Weaving the crone had bragged about.
“Besides,” Bea supplied, looking at her askance. “We do that before we wreck that loom, and the Usurper’s just going to find a way to wriggle out of it.”
Reki gave her a wry smile as the door opened. “Exactly. Come on, ladies, let’s go. We have a Weaving to steal.”
The other Singers, as they left their momentary hiding place, were by turns grim and eager. Good. They understand what we have ahead of us.
Reki let Bea lead them back down the stair. It was, after all, the site of her victory – and she was the one who knew where to step around the bodies, at least presumably. She herself brought up the rear. When the others had all disappeared down the stair, she took one last look down the hallway towards the room where her enemy sat.
The door was open. Kaldr stepped out into the hall, his eyes downcast but not defeated. He looked annoyed, she thought. Quickly Reki, too, slipped into the stairwell and pulled the door closed as silently as she could. That had been entirely too close.
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