Not without some trepidation, Einarr and the others led the two Singers back to the warehouse where they had found the hanged butcher. Aema covered her mouth with a cloth as they approached to avoid the worst of the smell. Reki’s shoulders shuddered once under her heavy cloak, but she did not hesitate. The door swung open under her palm and she stepped across the threshold.
She stepped no closer to the hanged man, however. His slow spin carried him around so that he very shortly faced the living in the door.
“Seithmathir,” Reki read.
“Magic-man?” Einarr furrowed his eyebrows, confused. It was odd for a man of the Clans to study the Arts, of course, but never a reason to kill a man that he’d heard of.
“Evidently.” Reki paused a long moment. With her hood still up, Einarr couldn’t tell if she was studying the body or trying to maintain composure. When she spoke again, her voice was hushed. “I think this was carved before they hung him.”
Einarr shuddered as Reki backed away from the corpse.
“We’ll want to burn the town before we leave, if we don’t find anyone left alive.”
Aema nodded. “And if we do, make sure they see to all the bodies. The last thing we need is a port full of the restless dead.”
Bardr grunted in agreement as Reki stepped back outside the warehouse.
“Surely this wasn’t all?”
“No. This was the smallest part of it.” Trabbi led the way this time, back to the square that had confounded all three of them before.
Along the wall of a particularly large warehouse, several bodies were strung up by their wrists and ankles, all with the same wound patterns as the hanged man. These bodies framed a longer message that had apparently been burned into the stone wall. The two Singers stood staring for a time, concentrating on the long message in a nigh-dead alphabet.
“For the sin of harboring witches,” Aema began, haltingly. “The people of Langavik have been punished according to…”
Reki picked it up here. “According to the righteous dictates of Urkúm, High Priest of Malúnion. Let all who come here know…”
“…Know that the time of seithir is at an end, and all who practice such foul magics will be punished.” Aema’s voice sounded somewhat breathless as she finished reading aloud the proclamation.
“This is madness!” Einarr had never heard either of those names before, but the idea of giving up the use of Song Magic – or Weaving, or any of the other Arts – was preposterous.
Trabbi looked just as flummoxed as he felt. If no-one was trained in the Arts, then how would anyone control their effects? Song would not go away just because no more Singers were trained. Cloth would still be necessary, as would the blacksmith’s art.
It was Bardr who had the sense to ask the question they all wanted the answer to. “Who is Malúnion?”
Both singers shook their head.
“It’s an old Elven name, but I couldn’t tell you more than that,” Reki answered. “Maybe Tyr has an idea? He’s been around long enough, who knows what bits of lore he may have picked up.”
Aema cleared her throat. “Urkúm… I believe that’s a svartalfr name.”
All three men groaned.
“So you’re saying we have a svartalfr fanatic, of some god none of us has ever heard of?” Bardr rubbed his forehead.
“So it appears.” Reki sighed. “Not very honest of them to decry magic like this, though. Someone among them learned to Paint, I think.”
“You mean because of how the runes are burned into the rock?” Einarr, too, had found that strange.
Trabbi looked thoughtful. “Could it be, then, that the Imperials themselves are behind these massacres?”
Aema shook her head. “Let’s hope not.”
“So there you have it,” Reki finished as both crews gathered on the dock under the fiery orange sunset. “All things considered I think it likely the crew that captured the lady Runa and the crew that killed my predecessor are probably a part of this same cult. I also think it likely, based on the state of the bodies of the town, that we are at least a week behind our target still.”
Stigander and Captain Kragnir frowned at the story the five of them had brought back not an hour previous, but for the moment said nothing.
“Does anyone among the crew recognize the name Malúnion?” Aema directed the question out towards the crew. It was a gamble, but with a little luck…
Jorir spat a curse.
“Can I take that as a yes?”
“Oh, aye.” The svartdvergr shouldered his way forward through the crowd. “Wish I didn’t. Right bastards, are ‘is followers, an’ I will lay coin that this High Priest has convinced some of the others to join him on this damn-fool crusade. Anything that doesn’t come from their pissant demigod is by definition unclean, and Malúnion has nothing to do with the Arts.”
Einarr and Trabbi spoke at once. “Then what do they want with Runa?”
“Sacrifice, unless I miss my guess.”
Einarr shot up straight from the crate he had been leaning against. Trabbi’s reaction was more subdued, but just as worried. “Sacrifice?”
“Aye. They give proper sacrifices to their god, they’re granted magic for a time. Don’t know how long. Left home before the cult could get a proper hold there.”
Stigander rumbled. “Why leave a message here, and not at either of the two previous sites?”
Aema shook her head now. “I don’t know.”
“I can venture a guess.” Captain Kragnir crossed his arms and frowned beneath his brown beard. “Territory.”
The captain of the Skudbrun gave that a long moment to sink in before he continued. “Massacre like this is as good as a declaration of war. We’ve either crossed into territory they claim, or near enough that they’re making a play for it.”
Now there were mutters from all around the intermingled crews.
“The smart thing to do now would be to call a retreat, come back with a fleet in the spring to put the dogs down.”
Einarr, Trabbi, and Stigander all started forward, but before they could object he continued.
“But they have the princess, and if your dwarven friend is right we haven’t much time. Assuming we’re not already too late. And I do not want to be the one to tell the Jarl why we didn’t come back with his daughter – not while we’ve the slightest chance of rescuing her.”
Stigander nodded sharply. “All there is to do, then, is make sure we get her back alive. Bardr! Bollinn! The charts!”