8.27 – Empire and Clan

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!

In spite of their victory, a somber mood hung over the Arkona as it turned northward once more. Too many lives had been lost at Hohenwerth, and not just in battle. Einarr retreated to a quiet corner with Eydri and his men. It would be better, he thought, to give the men of the Order their space, at least for this night.

As the four of them sat quietly, discussing their plans for the coming summer and what they were likely to expect once they finally caught up with Stigander, the sound of boots tapping on the deck boards sounded behind Hrug. All of them looked up.

“Mind if I join you?” Beatrix asked. “I’m not part of the crew here, either.”

“I would imagine not.” Einarr would be surprised if she were a part of any crew, except maybe as a figurehead leader. But, it was that kind of a night. “Have a seat.”

“My thanks. I bring an offering.” She held up a glass bottle with some sort of liquid in it.

Einarr raised an eyebrow. What was that supposed to be?

“Give me your cups. You’ll like this.”

They had been drinking from Einarr’s claimed cask of Eisbock. “Tell you what,” he said. “Hand me yours. Once we’ve all finished this round, we’ll try… whatever that is you’re holding.”

She eyed the dark liquid in their cups before holding out her own. “Fine. …So how did you four find your stay in Imperial waters?”

They all shared a look, wondering for just a moment if they should be honest or polite. Eventually, Einarr shrugged. “It was interesting.”

Bea snorted. “Interesting. Okay, fine, I should have expected that answer. Answer me honestly, now: were you treated well?”

“Well enough. Captain Liupold seems to understand how the Clans work on some level, at least, which helped.”

Bea nodded slowly. “He would. He was raised in Kem.”

“Ah. That explains it, then. Wonderful city.” Einarr smiled in recognition. His cause for going had been unpleasant, but the city itself had seemed almost as nice as Eskiborg.

“I’m sure he would be glad to hear you say that.”

“Liupold’s hospitality left nothing to be desired, although I’m not certain I can say the same for the accomodations.” He chuckled, hoping she would not take it amiss.

She didn’t seem offended, at any rate, but sipped thoughtfully at her cup full of Eisbock before making a face. “This is that ale Liupold was going on about? Uck.” She sighed. “This is getting nowhere. I will be plain.”

Einarr turned his face so that he looked directly at her. She’d spoken as plainly as he could expect of a Conehead before, so this should be interesting.

“I want you four to enter my service, as liasons between the Hrist Brigade and the North. I’ve said it before, your talents are wasted on a simple longship…”

“Wait, the what brigade?”

“The Hrist Brigade. We-”

“You hunt us.”

“What?”

“Bea, before I made contact with the Arkona, my last contact with any Order ship was so deep into Clan waters they’d almost come out the other side again. They attacked us, entirely unprovoked, and we lost good men in the battle. While we were taking our spoils, I found the Captain’s orders. The name didn’t mean anything to me at the time, but now I finally understand. The ship’s orders had come through the Hrist Brigade, from the Valkyrie herself!”

“What? That can’t be. I’ve never sent a ship that far north. Are you certain they weren’t… lost?”

“Quite. We were taken by surprise, of course: we’d never heard of a hunter ship coming that far north, either, but the fact remains good men died there for no reason.”

To her credit, Bea seemed genuinely upset by this news.

“Now. You were going to offer me, again, the opportunity to abandon my father and my Clan to the Weaver’s curse that sent us into exile in the first place. To abandon the woman I am promised to, whose hand I have finally secured permission to marry, in order to enter your service as some sort of functionary? If I were the sort of person who would accept such an offer, you wouldn’t have made it.”

She did not answer for a long moment, only stared, dumbstruck, before taking a long pull on the drink she had earlier disdained. Finally, a strange strain in her voice, she muttered “I did not know.”

“I’m sure you didn’t. And if the Lady Hrist is commanding ships behind your back, it may be time to have a word with your patron.” He was about to go on, but she spoke over him without seeming to realize she was.

“Why did no-one tell me you were promised?”

Eydri spoke up. “Why should we have?”

“I see. In that case, I’m sorry to have bothered you. It won’t happen again.”

“Bea, wait.”

The princess, standing, stared down at them, cup in one hand and bottle in the other, as though she could not quite believe them. She was lovely. If he had met her before he found Runa, would he have been so quick to reject the offer?

“Sit down. Finish your cup, and we’ll share in… whatever that is that you brought, and we can boast of our deeds until the sun comes up. I’m not interested in joining the Order. That doesn’t mean I can’t like some of the people in it.”

The princess seemed to deflate as she folded her legs back under her. “Oh,” was all she said.

“You’re coming with us into the North, aren’t you? I’d like you to meet them – Father, for one, and Runa of course.”

“I…”

“She’s a fiery one, she is. I think the two of you might have more than a little in common. …But the North is my home, just as the Empire is yours. And we can’t just abandon our homes.”


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