Beatrix nodded brusquely and thrust the bit of cloth she’d been using to dab at Runa’s face into her hands. “I expect you’re right. Lead on.”
Runa was only a little slower getting to her feet. She took a moment to dust off her skirts. Einarr was suddenly reminded of the little girl he’d seen out trying to wrangle goats and smiled.
“Nothing. Just glad you’re all right. Are we ready?”
The doors to the Hall stood open, and spilling out into the courtyard in front of them was a flurry of activity. Standing at the center of this, exactly where Einarr expected to find him, was Father, barking orders. Swirling around him like the inner edge of a storm’s eye were Bardr, Kormund, Hraerek, and …Kaldr?
Einarr glanced over his shoulder at the two women, suddenly glad none of the other Singers had arrived yet. Their attention seemed caught closer to the fringes of the crowd, which he took for a good thing under the circumstances. “Father! What news?”
Stigander looked up from the discussion he was holding with his Mate and waved the four of them over. “Einarr! Glad to see you made it. Everything went smoothly down below?”
“As well as I could have hoped. Hrug’s going to be out of it for a while, but I can’t rely on him for everything.”
Kaldr looked up from the message he had just finished dispatching to turn a questioning eye on Stigander. Behind Einarr, Beatrix and Runa stiffened as they could no longer ignore the man’s presence.
“This is my son, Kaldr. Einarr is the Cursebreaker.”
Kaldr pivoted on his heels, clapped a fist to his chest, and bowed to Einarr. Einarr blinked, unable to process what he was seeing at first.
“Your ritual allowed at least one man to slip free entirely of the Weavess’ work.”
“Are you certain it was the ritual?” Bea’s voice was tight.
Kaldr did not rise. “I assure you, my lady, my actions at that time were taken out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.”
Beatrix hummed, evidently skeptical.
“I believe, actually, that you’ve met all of these people, Kaldr,” Stigander went on smoothly. “It was Einarr’s ship you took for your platform right after you stole the Singers from our decks. Runa is the daughter of Jarl Hroaldr – who is also in our safekeeping now. Someday I will want to hear just how you managed that.”
Kaldr did not even shift his shoulders to show discomfort. “Of course, my lord.”
“The svartdverger is Einarr’s right-hand man – and among the truest of liege men. And this,” Stigander continued. “Is Beatrix Mari… bah. Beatrix. She is no Singer, but an Imperial princess who happened to decide our cause was just.”
For once the man looked surprised. “You have my apologies, my lady, for the error.”
“Lord Stigander!” One of the newer Vidofnings approached, who had signed since Einarr wintered with the elves, dodging through the whirling chaos of men that surrounded the captains. For the first time in a very long time, Einarr did not know everyone who was a part of his father’s crew.
“Yes, what is it?”
“The Weavess’ work room – it’s empty, sir. We can’t find her anywhere.”
Einarr could see his father swallowing a shout. Berating the messenger would do no-one any good. “Keep looking! Comb that tower top to bottom: she couldn’t have got far, not at her age.”
“My lord,” Kaldr demurred. “She almost never left the tower. She climbed the stairs between her workroom and the dungeon several times a day.”
Runa gasped, her fingers moving to cover her mouth.
Einarr turned to look at her. “What is it?”
“The secret door! Bea, you remember. She was turning the lock in the door when we came back down to steal the Victory weaving. You tried to break it down.”
Beatrix winced. “That door. You’re right, that has to be where she went.”
Einarr met Stigander’s gaze and saw his own thoughts writ there. “I’ll go, Father. You, too, Jorir?” When the dwarf nodded, he continued. “Great. Runa, you’ll lead the way?”
“In that case, we just need someone who can deal with the lock… Sivid should still be down in the harbor. Do we have anyone else who can pick a lock, or do we need Arring?”
Stigander nodded, then raised a hand to his mouth and called over his shoulder. “Troa!”
Runa raced back across the courtyard for the tower, followed closely by Einarr, Jorir, and Troa. Beatrix had wanted to come as well, but before Troa arrived she had been drawn into the exigencies of diplomacy with the soon-to-be-restored Thane. Perhaps that was not what she had in mind when she joined Einarr’s cause, but no matter how much she wanted to continue the assault, her place was now at the Hall with the leadership. Truth be told, Runa should have stayed as well: she would have almost as many letters to draft, come the evening.
Troa pelted along at Einarr’s side, very carefully looking straight ahead. Einarr’s fault, that: after the duel with the Althane’s shade, Einarr had never been entirely comfortable around him. Knowing the aversion was irrational did not help. There were more important matters to hand, though, so Einarr also kept his attention focused on Runa’s back, urging her faster. That they were chasing an old woman was no comfort: the Weavess had managed to build her own private escape route. Who knew what they might find waiting for them inside? And the longer they took to get there, the more time the crone had to prepare.
Faster, Runa. Faster.
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