No sooner had Irding’s boots hit the dock than he was off and running, his eyes scanning ahead for his father’s back. Erik was exactly who he wanted at his side in this fight, and not only because the man was his only real tie to the island. After last fall, with the golem in the tower and all that nonsense on the Isle, there were few he would trust to have his back more.
Thankfully he was easy to spot: he was perhaps the biggest of Lord Stigander’s men, excepting maybe Stigander himself. Erik was taking the right flank: Irding hurried to catch up, shouldering his way smoothly through the stream of his allies. Somehow, he managed not to trip anyone up, although the occasional muffled curse said he called it close a few times.
Still, when he reached the front of his father’s line, the big bear of a man rewarded him with a grin. “Thought you were on the left, though?”
Irding offered a cheeky grin in return. “Swapped with Bea. Convinced her I’d do better with some of the old hands.”
“Hah! Who you calling old?”
Irding did not have time for the obvious rejoinder: they finally met with some wolfling resistance. It was odd for it to have taken so long: they were well outside the docks, now. Wouldn’t the town itself usually mount some resistance to a war party? With a mental shrug, he turned his full attention to the battle at hand: so much the better if they didn’t. The Captains wanted this as bloodless as possible, after all.
After all the craziness of last year, Irding found this assault on a city to be refreshingly straightforward. They would press forward, the wolflings would fall back. He would stab forward like a spear, and soon enough the rest of the line was even with his position. Erik looked concerned, but Irding couldn’t fathom why. If the wolfling flank was weak, all they had to do was take advantage of it – wasn’t it?
For the second time, Kaldr’s cell door opened to the blindingly dim light of the corridor without the cackling of the witch. He blinked toward the light, squinting to try to make out who it was.
Oh. Just the guard. It irritated him how rough his voice sounded. He couldn’t have been down here that long… could he? “Am I to be given an extra ration today, then?”
“His Lordship the Thane has summoned you to his Hall.”
Kaldr’s eyebrows rose. “The Thing is convened?”
The gaoler shook his head even as he took hold of the chain that still trailed between Kaldr’s two hands. “On your feet.”
Slowly, stiffly, Kaldr rose and followed the man out. If he wasn’t to be tried, then why had Lord Ulfr summoned him?
After what felt like an interminable number of stairs, they came to the entrance of the tower and stepped out into the bright light of day. Kaldr had to stop and lift the crook of his elbow to shade his light-starved eyes. He could hear fighting in the distance.
He was not given more time to observe, or even adjust to the light. His gaoler tugged on his lead chain and nearly pulled him from his feet. Kaldr followed.
As the door was flung open to the Hall, Kaldr could see that Lord Ulfr had waited only impatiently. The Thane paced, his hands gripped behind his back and his shoulders hunched forward as he stared at the groove he was trying to wear in the floor.
“The prisoner kneels before you, my Lord,” the gaoler announced.
Ulfr turned to the source of the voice and stared at him from feral, angry eyes. “Unchain him and begone,” he spat.
The gaoler cast a pitying look at Kaldr as he turned to obey. Kaldr was reluctantly impressed: he did not even sigh at the peevishness of their Thane. The chains fell free from Kaldr’s wrists, and he allowed himself the luxury of chafing at the wrists once. Then he raised his head and looked levelly at his Thane.
“Why am I summoned?”
For a long moment, Ulfr did not answer, merely continued his pacing even as he stared at Kaldr with those same half-mad eyes in that florid face. Kaldr waited.
Finally, the Thane spat on the ground at his feet. “You are to take command of the city defenses.”
Kaldr was momentarily stunned. This was quite a reversal. Before he could ask why, however, his Thane volunteered an answer.
“Mother says the threads are clear and you are our only chance at holding what is rightfully ours. Acquit yourself well and I will pardon your earlier treachery. Fail, and we fall. Am I understood?”
“Perfectly.” Kaldr snapped his mouth shut on the word. He could not trust himself to say more: this meant that he owed his freedom, not to his Thane but to the weaver witch, who had until now taken such delight in bleeding him for her foul magics. It took all the restraint he had not to grind his teeth just then.
“Good.” Ulfr turned back to his pacing. Kaldr knew a dismissal when he saw one: he turned stiffly on his heel and marched back out of the hall. Free, at least for now. There was a room in the tower, above the witch’s workshop: he would conduct his defense from there.
As he crossed the courtyard yet again, he summoned one of Lord Ulfr’s passing thralls. “Find me Thjofgrir.”
The man grew pale, but stammered out his promise to try. That was enough to make Kaldr give him his full attention.
“Thjofgrir should be with my crew in the city. Don’t tell me you don’t know how to find them?”
“N-n-n-no, sir, it’s just…”
“It’s just, we can’t get there. The rebels hold that part of the city.”
Kaldr breathed out his nose. “Fine. Go about your business, then.” If the rebels were already that deep into Breidelstein, things were dire indeed.
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