The guard identified as Magnyl hit the ground with a thump, caught unawares by Einarr’s attack. His comrades were not so slow-witted, though. Before their fellow had even come back to his feet, Einarr had kicked out to take one in the teeth and dropped his elbow on the skull of another. They did not draw their weapons: evidently, they wanted their captives as intact as possible. Einarr was just as glad: he could have fought barehanded against a pack of dvergr, but he rated his chances of survival as much better if he didn’t have to.

One of the dvergr unleashed a nasty kick to the back of Einarr’s knee and nearly dropped him to the ground. In his momentary stumble, another planted his fist directly under Einarr’s ribs. That one hurt. Einarr took the opportunity, as he rose, to jab the perpetrator in the eye. This was a knock-down street brawl, nothing more, nothing less, and he meant what he’d said, that they would have to take him seriously to take him in. Never mind that he had turned himself in. This would be pointless if it didn’t mitigate at least some of the terror the Thane’s men were inflicting on the city.

Einarr punched and kicked and bit and gouged, and used every dirty trick he knew, but in the end, it was still one against ten. And, when they pinned him to the ground and bound his hands behind his back, he was battered and bruised. He thought one of them may have managed to break one of his teeth with a well-aimed kick as he fell. Still, through the swelling of his cheek, Einarr smiled. This wasn’t quite how the plan was supposed to go, but it was a satisfying result.

The dvergr stood him back up without gagging him and he grinned. As they marched through the streets towards the Thane’s hall, even now he did not go quietly. As they went, he proclaimed for all to hear that he was the Cursebreaker, brought by one of their own to end this madness – all according to the script they had discussed. Runa had composed the words for him.

“I am Einarr, son of Stigander, son of Raen, prince of Breidelstein, named Cursebreaker! I am here at the behest of Jorir the Smith, to drive out the false gods that have led you astray!”

This earned him cuffs and kicks, and they could have brought him down, had they all piled on again, to gag him – but for some strange reason (possibly because of their audience) they were unwilling to do that. Einarr schooled his face, but in the back of his mind he chuckled. Even the Acolytes and Enforcers of Malùnion had to worry about public opinion.

Finally they arrived back at the Thane’s hall. Einarr was only mildly surprised to find he was taken here, rather than to the Mount. He supposed that said good things about the effects of their assault the other night. They marched him up before the Thane and gave a violent tug upon the bindings that held his wrists so that it was kneel or be bent backwards. Now he flashed a deliberately cocky grin. “So we meet again, your lordship.”

“Silence!” the grey-skinned Thane bellowed. “So. You claim responsibility for the chaos in the streets and for the unprovoked assault on the Holy Mount? Why, after you escaped, you would throw your life away on such a thing I could not guess. But, if you wish so much to be sacrificed to Malùnion, we will grant your wish. On the next auspicious day, there will be a great purge, and the mountain will flow with blood!”

Uh-oh, Einarr thought. I hope I at least bought time for some people to get away. This isn’t the sort of thing they will do without announcing – not according to Gheldram. I just hope my friends are in place early in the proceedings…

Jorir trailed Einarr as far as the gates of the Thane’s hall. He would have tailed him all the way in if he dared, but there was no way to sneak into the Hall itself without being seen. Jennora was still here, and still uncorrupted so far as they knew, so he would just have to trust in her wits. He had a view inside the gates from where he stood in the street, but she was nowhere to be seen. Probably for the best, although he would have liked to speak with her more. With a mental shrug, Jorir continued along his path, taking the first cross-street he came to and circling back towards the bathhouse.

Brandir, he was sure, would have been shocked. After all this time in human lands, Jorir was almost as good at slipping away unnoticed as Mornik was.

When he returned, the others didn’t look his way until he – rather ostentatiously – beat at some dust on his cloak.

Runa wrung her hands. “It is done, then?”

“Aye, so it is. Nothing to do now but wait for news from Jennora.”

“That’s not quite true,” Brandir rumbled.

“You’re right. Einarr made a stink to keep Soggvar’s posses from catching anyone else. We need to start smuggling people out of Nilthiad.”

Gheldram shook his head. “Just as you told the Lady Runa before, Jorir. Just because there is a part of the plan you do not like does not mean it isn’t critical.”

“If our allies cannot reach a safe house on their own, they will simply have to hide in their own homes until the appointed time.” Brandir finished. Kaldr nodded in agreement.

Gheldram sighed. “They will make a show out of sacrificing your Cursebreaker. He may not be first, but he will be early, so as many people as possible witness it. We will simply need to be in place to act early in the rites. We have wagon loads of spare axes: the people will be ready.”

Jorir ran a hand through his hair, looking at the floor. “I still don’t like the idea of throwing away Lord Einarr’s efforts like this.”

Brandir shook his head. “Lord Einarr. Hmph. So, you’ll be leaving with the humans, then.”

“I will. That’s my home, now.”

“Jennora will be disappointed.”

“Whyever for?” She was a comely lass, and a clever one, and Jorir couldn’t for the life of him fathom why she would still be carrying a torch for him.

“You know why. But, long absence or no, I think I know when your mind is made up. She’ll just have to come to terms with it.” Now Brandir sighed. “I think that’s enough talk. There’s work to be done yet.”

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