“Ah. Right.” With a thought, Einarr withdrew his will and the deck of the Bjorn ceased glowing. “But we cannot leave yet. As much as it pains me, I do need to make arrangements with your Captain for the damage we caused.”
“Fine, but right now is not the best time for that.”
“It has been my experience that delay in these matters tends to worsen things, not improve them.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you…” Naudrek stepped quietly back from Einarr, toward the dock, but did not turn his back on the Captain’s awning.
Einarr turned to face that direction, his face cool and composed in the face of the tawny bear of a man approaching like a squall. “You have my apolo-”
The man, self-evidently the Captain, did not give Einarr a chance to finish his statement before his fist embedded itself in Einarr’s stomach. “That was for coming aboard without my say-so.”
Einarr doubled over, momentarily winded. Of all the reactions he had been expecting, immediate violence was not one of them.
Before Einarr could catch his breath, the man growled in his ear. “Now. You going to tell me why you came on board and vandalized my newly repaired deck, or am I going to turn you two into new deck boards?”
“Had… to… destroy… Shroud,” Einarr managed to gasp out.
The captain took a step back and crossed his arms: evidently he was willing to give Einarr a moment to breathe.
Once he got a deep breath, he introduced himself and told how he had come to follow Naudrek out to the Bjorn.
The captain glowered at Einarr and snorted. That was all the warning Einarr had before the man pulled back and planted a second fist in his gut. “Fine. Now we’re even. Don’t let me see you here again.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Einarr choked out. As he staggered back toward the docks, the Captain called past him.
“That goes for you, too, Naudrek! What were you thinking, bringing a stranger aboard?”
The man swallowed before he answered. “I was thinking that thing got Hrug’s arm, sir. But I’ll be going, just as you asked.”
The Captain grunted. “Hrug was a good sailor. Sorry to see the two of ye go.”
“Me, too, sir.”
Once they were a good ways up the docks, Naudrek breathed a sigh. “That was why I’d wanted to wait for morning. Captain’s got a temper, and he sticks with whatever he decides when it’s up. Guess it’s time to find me a new ship.”
“I just might be able to help with that…”
Day was dawning as the two men returned to the Pewter Pot, and it seemed a pale and wan thing after the night’s exertions. Einarr disliked that he had gotten the man thrown off his ship, even if Naudrek denied that he was to blame.
Hrug’s face was as wan as the morning light, but he slept peacefully in one of the Pewter Pot’s few bed closets. It was perhaps for the best that he had not awakened yet: better to face reality in the light of day, with friends on hand. And, on the subject of misplaced blame, Naudrek hovered over his former crewmate like a mother bird over its nest.
The mute finally awakened around midday, although the cast of his eyes said he wished he had not. By supper, though, color had come back to the man’s face, and he sat up and acted lively again. Einarr brought his bowl of greasy stew with its slab of dark bread over then.
“The two of you helped me in my quest, and it cost you. But I bet if you come back to the Shrouded Village with me, there will be some sort of reward to be had.”
Hrug only shrugged, but Naudrek urged him to go. “After all,” he said, “if the blessed alfs can’t help you, who can?”
Thus it was decided, and on the first day of autumn the three men set off from Eskiborg, with only a brief stop at the Bronze Archer. Einarr wanted to let Eydri know she’d been right about Sinmora – and to remind her that, if she was still in want of a ship come spring, he would likely still be in need of a Singer.
Business in the city concluded, they set back out on the main road leading into the interior of the island. It struck Einarr that he still had no clear idea where in the seas they were, other than near waters claimed by the Konneul Empire, nor did he know the name of the island, or even if it was a lone island or an archipelago. Mentally, he shrugged. He could always ask the alfrs, before they sent him back to Breidhaugr and the Vidofnir.
As their feet carried them down the road, only half-remembered but impossible to miss at this stage, and Einarr regaled his two new companions with tales of his adventures on his father’s ship, it occurred to him that something was different now, not in him but in the world around him. He fell quiet a moment as it struck him: not once during this elf-quest had he cursed his Calling as Cursebreaker.
“Einarr? Everything all right?” Naudrek asked.
Einarr shook his head, unsure for how long he’d lapsed into silence and unwilling to ask. “Right as rain, Naudrek. Right as rain.” Here he paused again, finally deciding against telling them that right this instant. “Just thinking how surprised master Melja will be when he hears how we did it.” And that was true, too. Now they just needed to get back to the village.
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! This marks the second-to-last chapter of Book 7: Einarr and the Crimson Shroud. Book 8 will begin on October 8, 2019.
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