Einarr burst out of the passageway and into the bright afternoon light on a portion of the island he did not recognize. He blinked, his eyes adjusting to the light, and saw that they were in a forest. Just ahead, he saw a small river not unlike the one he had rescued Runa from before. A fishing boat bobbed in the river. He did not immediately see the old woman.
“There!” Runa pointed urgently. Light caught on a long, silver braid as the woman it belonged to hobbled through the underbrush. She had nearly reached the water.
His quarry spotted, Einarr hurtled off through the brush, leaping bushes, ducking branches, and praying she hadn’t left any pits or loosed any caged wolves.
Gratifyingly, Troa was right there with him. Jorir and Runa were obliged to take things more slowly, but if the two of them couldn’t capture one old woman, no matter how crafty, they may as well hang up their swords and take up farming.
Einarr vaulted another bush and looked up. The old crone – and a crone she was, stooped and withered and looking like she hadn’t seen the sun in a decade – had reached the boat, but the tapestries she carried were hampering her. He tried to find some more speed, but the underbrush was too thick. He growled, but he could think of nothing they could do to slow her.
Oh Frigg, let us catch her. He was unaccustomed to calling on Frigg, but under the circumstances it seemed most appropriate.
They were getting close. He could see Urdr’s whole stooped figure as it stood unsteadily in the boat, pulling her tapestries after her. But she saw them, too. She looked straight at him and cackled: he could not tell if it was glee, like she was almost away, or madness.
It didn’t matter. His foot touched the river bank and he gave one final leap, landing in the small fishing boat with the woman who had caused them so much grief. “It’s over. Give up now and save us both some trouble.”
“That was a mistake, Cursebreaker.” She launched herself forward at Einarr with surprising force for a woman of her age, but she struck with all the force of a barn cat.
Einarr grabbed her by the arm without recoiling even a step. “What did you expect that to —” then he cried in surprise as her knife plunged into the extended wrist.
“That. Now drown!” She scrambled back to the far side of the boat and bent over.
Einarr took one stride forward and stopped when he realized he was walking not on deck boards but on a rug. Or, more likely, one of her tapestries. One of her tapestries that she had grabbed the edge of. She gave a mighty yank. Einarr felt the tapestry pull around his boot, but not enough to trouble him.
On shore, Troa had taken hold of the mooring line and was wrapping it around his arm. Runa and Jorir were nearly there. Good.
Einarr closed the distance to the old witch and took hold of her wrist. She stared at him, panic plain in her eyes. Even as she started to bring her knife back up, though, he spun her around and left her lying on the deck, her arm pinned against her back.
To her very slim credit, she did not scream and thrash about. “What do you intend to do with me?”
“That is for the Thing to decide.”
She went very still then. Whatever the Thing decided, it would not be pleasant. Einarr saw her look towards her knife, in the hand he had not pinned.
“I don’t think so.” He pivoted on one foot as he stood, still holding the first arm, to pin the second under a foot. “You have turned the Norns and Frigg herself against you. Their justice will be no more merciful than ours. Jorir. Tell me you have some shackles or some rope or something.”
“Nay, lord. But your man Troa has that mooring line well in hand.”
Einarr grunted. That was far from ideal, but it would have to do. “Fine. Get aboard, then. We’ll need to take the boat back around to Breidelstein city.”
Jorir cut a length from the end of the mooring line to bind the witch’s hands with before climbing aboard. While he bound Urdr’s hands behind her back, Runa climbed aboard. Troa seemed to be staring about at their surroundings.
Einarr looked at the scout. “Tell me you know how to get back.”
Troa smirked. “That is exactly what I was just considering, my lord. I believe if we row up stream we should come upon a lake with another outlet near the city and the hold.”
Once Urdr’s hands were securely bound and Runa had rolled up the tapestry she had spread on the deck, Einarr moved her to sit in the center of the boat. “Runa, I leave her in your care until we reach the city.”
Urdr sat up straighter, a glimmer of hope in her eyes until she turned to look at Runa, but wilted under the other woman’s cold regard. Even Einarr quailed a little at that expression: his bride was a formidable woman.
With a nod, he turned to the others. “As for us, we have some rowing to do. You’re sure of this lake, Troa?”
“Reasonably. It’s been some time since I hunted this island, but if this is where I think it is we’re in good shape.”
“In that case, let’s go. We’re wasting daylight.”
As Einarr and Troa began rowing up river, with Jorir taking up position to help guard the prisoner, Urdr pushed herself up to a seated position. “Tell me one thing. I don’t know how you managed to best the rest of my traps, but you lost at least one ally, and neither the Cursebreaker nor the Thief shows signs of having fought. How did you leave the Glutton behind?”
“There were only ever four of us.”
Urdr fell silent, evidently unsettled.
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