8.22 – Hrist

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

The landing boat that waited to take the eight of them back to the Arkona was not unattended. Leaning casually against the side of the boat, as though she had been out for a stroll, stood a woman who looked remarkably like an older Bea, only if possible more supernaturally beautiful.

Einarr subconsciously slowed, his feet dragging to a stop, even as Captain Liupold and Bea hurried forward. The two oarsmen hung back with Einarr and his companions – not, he thought, out of any great trepidation at the woman’s presence, but out of respect for rank.

“Lady Hrist, you’re back,” Liupold said, taking a knee about ten paces in front of where the woman lounged.

…No. Einarr took a closer look. Her hair was a different color, and she wore trousers instead of the impossible skirt armor, but breastplate, helmet and spear alone should have been enough for him to realize. That was a Valkyrie ahead, and one apparently known to Captain Liupold and the Princess.

Better to the Princess, apparently, than to Liupold. The ship Captain had stopped a respectful distance back. Bea, on the other hand, went right up to her and knelt before her in an oddly familial gesture. The Valkyrie – Hrist, Einarr assumed, cupped the princess’ head in her hands.

Now Einarr’s caution turned to confusion. That was definitely an honest-to-goodness Valkyrie. So why…?

The grin on Bea’s face was positively girlish as she stood and turned to beckon the rest of the group forward. Liupold, too, looked delighted as he turned back around.

“Everyone,” he said. “Allow me to present the Lady Hrist, Patron of the Order of the Valkyrie.”

Liupold made no attempt to introduce them to her: probably, Einarr thought, that meant she was already aware of their identities.

The last time Einarr had met a Valkyrie, she had tried to kill him. On the other hand, Liupold had said it was Hrist who said he would be required. He swallowed his nerves and stepped forward as smoothly as he could. “I am honored, Lady.”

She inclined her head slightly. “Cursebreaker. My sister tells me you acquitted yourself well.”

“I am glad to hear it.” That didn’t seem to match with what she’d said at the time, but perhaps distance lent perspective even to Valkyries.

“Are you still wondering why I required your presence here?”

He looked pointedly between Hrist and the Princess. “I would guess you wished for some insurance as to the health of a… favorite?” Or she wasn’t entirely above midgardian politics. If Bea wasn’t somehow related to the Valkyrie, he would eat his own foot.

“A not unreasonable venture, Cursebreaker, but don’t get ahead of yourself. That the horror is loose in the seas at all is your responsibility, and therefore I will have you clean up your own mess.”

She sounded harsh, but he did not miss the implications of the first statement. “I understand,” he said.

“Do you?” The Valkyrie met his eyes, challenging.

He returned the gaze unyieldingly. “Was it you who ensured the Arkona could always find the Eikthyrnir?”

“In a way.”

“Were you on board the Arkona when we left Kjellvic?”

“No. I had other matters to attend to, I’m afraid.”

Einarr hummed, but did not challenge it. The Valkyrie’s were Wotan’s reapers, after all: why should they be limited to mortal means of travel?

“At any rate, you have rescued Beatrix, and for that I thank you.”

Einarr inclined his head again. “You’re very welcome. But to what do we owe the honor of your visit? Surely you didn’t come out here just to talk pleasantries?”

She smirked now. “Indeed, I did not. When my sister spoke with me about you, she said it was a shame she could not have claimed your soul. I wish to witness your mettle myself.”

Einarr could not quite keep a straight face at the idea. “My Lady, I have yet to finish the task you set for my companions and I. If I am to face you-”

She snorted. “Who said anything about facing me? You may have survived your exchanges against my sister by luck and by guile: such would not avail you against me. No, this task is my test.”

A million retorts sprang to Einarr’s mind and his lip curled in a sneer before he could stop it – but none of those retorts would be wise under the circumstances. She had tried to provoke him, but Einarr was not some mad dog.

Bea was looking at the Valkyrie with something approaching disapproval, to Einarr’s surprise. Could this have something to do with that strange offer she had tried to make earlier?

“I have already sworn that we will help the Arkona to destroy the black kraken. All that remains to be done to cleanse this island is to burn it, although I leave this task to Liupold and his crew.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You are cannier than I have come to expect of your vaunted Clans. Very well: but in that case, we shall not burn the island before you have defeated the beast.”

Einarr glanced at Hrug. The man nodded slowly: Einarr hoped that meant his array would still work. “Fine,” he said. “There will be other ways to draw it out.”

Now, finally, the Valkyrie straightened. “Good. We’re agreed, then. I have other matters to attend to, but I’m sure Beatrix can keep you barbarians in line.”

Naudrek and Hrug bristled, but Einarr wasn’t at all sure she was only referring to them. That disdainful glance had encompassed the Conehead men, as well.

Hrist strode off up the path toward Kettleness, and as she moved her armor and her hair began to shine with an otherworldly light. As she neared the top of the rise, just before she would have gone around a bend and been lost to sight, she vanished in a flash like sunlight on glass.

Beatrix rolled her eyes. “She’s always like that. So, now what do we do?”


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