Kaldr knew he should have been glad of a quiet journey back to the capital. Unfortunately, every man aboard knew what was happening, and so the mood of his ship was as rough as the waves in his head. No-one suggested treason – not openly, anyway, or at least not where he could hear – but Kaldr could see the anger simmering just under the surface. A fight at least would have allowed his men to work off some steam.
As it was, he kept his usual calm demeanor as an example to his men, and watched the horizon for the cliffs of Breidelsteinn.
There were no guards waiting at the harbor to escort him before their Thane: that was something, at least. It seemed as though, while the harbormaster obviously expected his return, no-one else knew anything at all was out of the ordinary. Kaldr was pleased, on one level, that he arrived to see a perfectly ordinary day at the docks. It was somewhat surreal to walk through, nonetheless.
Their ship secured, Kaldr set off up the docks for the cliff road. Thjofgrir motioned for one of their men to watch the ship and then fell in beside his Captain. For a long while, they walked in silence, but Kaldr could feel the muscles in his jaw working, and he was certain his Mate had picked up on it. Finally, when they reached the cliff road and there were fewer – one might almost say no more – people about, Kaldr spoke.
“Something about this doesn’t make sense.” Kaldr pitched his voice low, certain that Thjofgrir would hear and equally certain no-one else could.
“What is that, Sir?”
There was a long pause. It seemed Thjofgrir had been taken aback by the question. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“I have hunted many a quarry for our Lord. Each time, I study my opponent and take them out methodically. It takes longer, but my victory is assured. So, why now, when he pitted me against his single biggest foe, would he call me back?”
Thjofgrir did not answer, but Kaldr could almost hear the man’s shrug.
“Do not follow me into the Hold. One of us needs to stay with the ship.”
“And don’t let them mutiny. I am only their Captain, understand?”
Thjofgrir’s agreement was slower in coming that time, but it did come. It would have to do.
They had parted ways at the last switchback before the gate house. One of the guards might have seen Thjofgrir, but Kaldr doubted it. Even if they had, it would have been easy enough to explain. Two guards stood before the gate, spears in hand, and stared severely out towards the water.
“I am Captain Kaldr, presenting myself to our Lord Ulfr as ordered,” he announced.
One of the guards – the thinner one, with a hint of jaundice about his face – turned to look directly at him even as he beckoned for someone behind him. “You’re late.”
“I came with all possible speed…” Oh, never mind. This one didn’t actually care. Kaldr wondered, though, how quickly Ulfr thought he could have arrived, given where he left from?
A thickset man stepped forward from the shadows of the gate bearing rough-looking iron manacles. Kaldr scowled at them.
“You insult me, sirs.”
“Orders is orders, Captain, and we has orders to take you prisoner.”
So I’m to be stripped of my commission and made a prisoner? For devising a strategem that was working? Still, he held out his hands, and managed to avoid rolling his eyes in the process. It was a good thing he’d sent Thjofgrir back: his Mate could never have borne this. The iron closed firmly around his wrists: it was just as rough as it looked, and almost painfully cold.
The man with the manacles took hold of the chain that connected them and turned his back on the town and the water. When Kaldr did not immediately start walking, he yanked on the chain.
They crossed under the shadow of the gates to stride down the broad lane leading through the rings of buildings to the central Hold, where Lord Ulfr would be waiting. The sky was disconcertingly bright and blue as Kaldr was marched through the streets, as though the gods were having a laugh at his expense. No matter: soon enough, this would all be settled out, and he would be able to return to his command. It seemed as though nearly the entire fleet was out on the water: the streets were empty of everyone save the Lord’s thralls and the occasional sycophant.
The stone fortress at the heart of Raenshold seemed to loom overhead in the sunlight. Inside, Kaldr nearly stumbled a time or two before his eyes could adjust to the sudden gloom. The lack of light did not seem to bother his guard, somehow, curse the man.
Finally, they stopped before the large oaken door of the Thane’s Hall. It had seen little use of late: Lord Ulfr was well aware that his coffers could no longer afford the feasts of Kaldr’s youth, even if he could not see the root of the problem. The guard stopped in front of the door and took the end of the chain in his second hand.
Kaldr raised an eyebrow. What nonsense is this?
With flair suited to a jester in court, the guard swung the end of the chain against a metal plate on a stand to the side of the door. The sound reverberated up and down the corridor. Kaldr felt rather like he was standing inside a bell when it rang.
Slowly, the door creaked open. Before him lay the threadbare rugs that still led down the center of the hall to the Thane’s seat. Kaldr allowed his gaze to travel up that rug to the end of the hall. There, slouching across his father’s seat as though it were a sleeping couch, waited Lord Ulfr.
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