Once the door closed and Runa had joined them over in the hot, cleansing bath, Einarr turned his attention to Jorir. “You said you think you know where we will find the high priest. Explain.”
Jorir sighed and sunk back so that his head was resting on the stone edge of the hot spring. “It goes back to the Oracle’s visions. You see, in what she showed me, I didn’t manage to rescue you – not from the prison. Instead, everyone gathered at an outdoor shrine on the mountain. A shrine that wasn’t there when I left, by the way. The only way I got you out of it was by offering myself in exchange. Needless to say, we’ve already deviated from that.”
“Quite.” Einarr paused, thoughtfully. “But if, as you say, the final confrontation must take place at this altar you do not know, then I suppose the question becomes where is it – and when?”
Brandir raised an eyebrow. “So that’s why you were so insistent. The where is the easy part. When, since the sacrifice was interrupted, that’s a little more difficult.”
Jorir raised his head and turned a bleak look on Brandir. “Have they sacrificed dvergr there? Or men? Or merely animals?”
Although he was looking at Brandir, it was Gheldram who answered. “Animals, yes. Men, yes. Dvergr rarely.”
“Yes, and criminals all. That’s the only way they get away with it.”
“Criminals, you say?” Put in Kaldr.
“Quite unfortunate. I think, after tonight, they will have a great many of those with an excuse to sacrifice.”
“I cannot deny it,” Brandir answered. “That is why the instructions they were given were quite adamant that they lay low afterward. Very low. While we had not intended to move just yet, this plan has been in the works for a very long time.”
“Even still,” Gheldram continued, “Now that we’ve begun we must needs act quickly.”
“Quite,” Einarr agreed. He paused, thoughtful. “How would it be if one of us turned ourselves in? They would presumably need to choose an auspicious day for the ceremony, yes?”
“Quite right,” Jorir answered.
“Then, if one of us turned ourselves in, as an architect of the chaos of this night, might it forestall the capture of your allies? And could we not then be well aware of the timing for the next half of our strike?”
A knock came on the door. Runa excused herself and went to answer the door. She received some packets of herbs from outside and closed the door again directly. After she had tested each packet, she sprinkled the water with its contents. “Here. This should help with the corruption we were all exposed to tonight.”
They spent the rest of the night planning.
Runa insisted that they, too, take several days to lay low and rest and recuperate after their daring rescue of her in the Holy Mount. Mornik, at a minimum, would not be ready for action for at least a week, and none of them were quite sure what would constitute an auspicious occasion, under the circumstances.
At last, though, news reached their ears that the Thane’s men and the temple enforcers had begun going door-to-door through the city, searching for those who had taken part in the riots, and that they had already captured several with ties to Brandir and Gheldram.
“I was exiled for daring to disagree with the Thane over this, and that was two hundred years ago. I doubt they will be so gentle now,” Jorir rumbled.
Einarr nodded in agreement. “Indeed. It is time.”
“It’s still too early. Mornik’s injuries are still grave.”
“Runa, my darling, you’ve been against this plan from the beginning. No amount of stalling is going to give us a better one: we’ve all tried.” She never used to be this anxious: Einarr was inclined to blame the babe she still carried – not that there was much blame to assign. He could admit to his own anxiety on that front. How long had she been a prisoner there, exposed to their dark magics, before they fought their way through the corrupted? Einarr shook his head: now was not the time to worry over that.
“That doesn’t change that you’re not ready yet.” She set her jaw, but this was one argument she couldn’t win.
“My Lady,” Jorir rumbled. “While I appreciate your concern, the longer we delay the more of my kin will become fodder for Malúnion. If Mornik cannot fight when the day comes, then he cannot fight and we will manage.”
It looked like she was going to protest again, but Kaldr forestalled her. “My Lady. They are right. To delay further would be folly. However, I cannot say that I am easy about you being the bait, my Lord.”
“The only one they want more than me is Jorir, Kaldr. We’ve talked about this, too.” He finished checking over the bundle of belongings he was leaving behind, ensuring that his brokkrsteel maille and Sinmora were easily accessible. The others would carry those hidden in their own things. Better that than having them confiscated and useless in a storeroom somewhere. “And now I must be off. Fortune’s favor, everyone.”
Jorir, sounding a little husky, answered for them all. “And to you.”
Then, with one last embrace from Runa, he slipped out into the streets of Nilthiad.
Three streets down, he tossed back the hood on his cloak and straightened his stance. Now that he was away from the bathhouse, he wanted to be seen.
He didn’t have to go much farther before he spotted what had to be one of the cult’s posses. He put on a lopsided grin, smoothed his mustache, and swaggered up to the heavily armed dvergr with the unhealthy color of the grave. “Leave these poor people alone. I’m the one you’re looking for.”
He got a scornful look from one of the former dvergr before he turned back and pounded once more on the door of some poor fool’s house.
“Hey.” He dropped the false smile and grabbed the dvergr’s wrist. “I said, I’m the one you’re looking for. None of that would have happened except for me.”
The dvergr gave a violent twist to his arm – one which Einarr was reasonably sure should have been impossible – and pounded once more on the door. “We have orders to bring in every treasonous rat who took to the streets that night. Since you’re here, I presume you’ll go quietly. Magnyl, take him in. I’m sure His Lordship will be pleased to see one of his humans returned to the dungeons. And don’t worry: your friends are sure to join you soon enough.”
One of the dvergr – certainly Magnyl, all things considered, reached out and tried to take him by the elbow. Einarr wrested it away almost effortlessly. “Is that so. You’ll regret that. I’m the Cursebreaker. You really think any of this would have happened if I weren’t here? You want to take me in, first you have to take me seriously.”
Einarr was unarmed, but he wasn’t about to let this posse go about their business. A quick sweep with his leg brought the unsuspecting Magnyl ignominiously to the ground.
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