A week passed, and Einarr’s sacrifice made no difference in the number of people brought in by the Thane’s men. No one who went in ever came out. But, at the end of the week, the “auspicious day” was set. Those who remained on the outside would be ready in plenty of time.
When the day arrived, the allied dvergr took up their axes and their maille and took up position around the field of sacrifice on the back side of the Holy Mount. Jorir went alone, as though he were attending the event, armed as was his right – but perhaps carrying a little more than one might ordinarily expect.
He needed to be here, both for the sake of subverting the vision and to ensure Einarr was not unarmed when the time came. He felt wildly out of place as he approached the front row of benches before the altar. He was the only dvergr there who did not bear the gray complexion of those corrupted by Malùnion. Still, although it made his skin crawl, he took up a position near the front and sat, ignoring those around him.
It seemed like they were kept waiting for hours more, although it couldn’t have been. Jorir was disturbed to realize how many had fallen to the Squid. When the trickle of observers finally stopped, a pair of acolytes in white robes bearing golden censers filled with foul incense came up the center aisle. Behind them walked the cadaverous shaman of Jorir’s vision, and behind him was Thane Soggvar. The Thane took his place in front of the benches for his men while the shaman, his trusted advisor, climbed up to the altar itself and turned to address his captive audience.
Jorir was struck once again by how unfortunate the choice to paint themselves as representatives of the light was: the white cloth and the gold trim rendered their sickness starker by contrast. Skin, which ordinarily would have seemed ashen, now looked as gray as the grave, and the shaman’s eyes were pools of blackness.
The shaman raised bony hands towards his captive audience and a smile floated over his sunken features. “Rejoice, my children,” he called out over the crowd. Jorir thought he could see knees shaking under the shaman’s robes, but the voice was as strong and clear as ever.
“Rejoice, for the day of salvation is at hand! For today we will purge from our ranks the unbelievers, and we will offer a sacrifice which will please our Lord most greatly. The Cursebreaker himself has offered his body to us!”
The audience was silent. The shaman went on in that vein for quite some time. Jorir found himself tuning him out just to maintain focus on the task before him. Had Jorir listened, he would have grown far too angry to have stuck with the plan.
When it felt like the shaman was finishing up, the first words that caught Jorir’s ears were “…And soon we will move south and take the lands of the földvergr – lands which should rightfully have been ours! – And we will unite all dvergr as we should have been from the beginning. Rejoice, for our salvation is nigh!”
The shaman waved his hand, and one of the acolytes struck a large chime that stood by the side of the stage.
“Bring forth the unclean, that their blood may feed our God!”
Jorir caught himself holding his breath. This was the true test. Would they, in fact, bring out Lord Einarr first, so that no more dvergr had to die? Or would he be forced to sit and watch as some of his kin were slaughtered in the name of this horror?
There was a long pause where nothing happened. Jorir saw annoyance flash on the old shaman’s face, and he started to motion the acolyte again.
Before the chime could ring a second time, however, a familiar-looking dvergr strode out. Behind him, in chains, walked the proud figure of Einarr, and Jorir felt he could breathe again. He could guess at what the delay was in the Squiddies’ pageant, but it didn’t matter.
The familiar-looking dvergr kept marching across the dais until the chains attached to Einarr’s cuffs pulled tight. Einarr had stopped, directly in front of the stone slab where they intended to slit his throat, and turned to face those in attendance. Jorir studied his face, but if Einarr had spotted him he made no sign of it.
“It is true that am here today to provide your salvation, but I warn you: it may not be as enjoyable a spectacle as you were expecting. In fact, I suspect you will find the entire experience rather unpleasant.” He raised his bound hands in front of his chest and, with one swift motion, jerked his arms down and to his sides. The shackles fell away, and even from where he sat Jorir could not tell if they had been unlocked or broken.
There was no time to speculate. In the next instant, he was on his feet and rushing the dais. Chaos erupted on the edges of the assembly as arrows rained down on the heads of those who were meant to be there.
Mornik, from his position closer to the edge of the stage, took the chain he still held and lashed the nearest acolyte with the shackles. The robed figure dropped like a stone.
Jorir pulled Einarr’s brokkrsteel maille out from where he carried it under his cloak, buckled to the shoulders of his own maille, and held it out to him. “I am glad to see you are well, milord.”
“Me, too.” Einarr grinned at him as he took the maille and pulled it over his head. Jorir already had Sinmora ready.
Einarr threw the baldric over his shoulder.
Kaldr, Naudrek, and Thjofgrir all rushed onto the stage now from their places with the ambushers. Brandir and Gheldram were both leading the assault on the assembly, and would not be joining them here.
“Is everything ready?” Einarr asked, freeing the ends of his hair from the maille.
“Hours ago,” Thjofgrir drawled. Naudrek chuckled, and even Jorir was forced to agree.
Now freed of his burdens, Jorir drew his own axe. “Let’s go, then.”
“Where are the Thane and the Priest?” Kaldr asked.
Jorir could think of very few directions they could have even tried to escape. The question was, which one was most likely? Then he shook his head: he knew where they were headed. “This way.”
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