They walked – stalked, rather – in silence through the narrow alleyways within the walls of the hold toward the old longhouse that was ostensibly not a prison, but chambers for their stay at Raenshold. The tower, it seemed, was the only part of the hold which came to life so early in the day, as the streets were nearly as deserted as when they had begun. It was not until they reached their base and slipped inside, past the still-sleeping guard, that any of them dared to speak.
“What did we just see?” Svana blurted, rather loudly for the hour, as she pressed her back against the door.
The guard outside stopped snoring, momentarily. Reki began to wonder if they shouldn’t wake him up: it would be a shame if a lighter sleeper were to take his place, after all, and she hesitated to think what the consequences of falling asleep on watch might be here. She shook her head and motioned for Eydri to come the rest of the way into the room.
Once they were all gathered in the center of the Hall, it was Aema who had an answer for them. “I suspect that he still bears us no love. However, given what we heard of their argument, I wonder if he doesn’t hope we will be an object lesson for his lord.”
Reki nodded. “I think so as well. He wants the Weavess’ predictions to fail, so that Ulfr can come into his own. I’m less certain, however, that the Usurper has not already come into his own. The Weavess ruined him, likely long before they ever set foot on Breidelstein.”
Eydri shook her head at that. “I’m not so sure. The man is undeniably under his mother’s thumb, and likely over-reliant on her Art, but you can’t deny he’s canny.”
Reki hummed. It was a solid point. “Keep your eyes open for a chance to break away. We know where it is now: the sooner we can destroy whatever it is turning his every action to victory, the better off we all are.”
With nods of agreement, the six women settled in to grab some little sleep before they were inevitably summoned.
The full light of midday streamed through the shutters of their “guest” house and struck Reki in the face. She opened her eyes slowly, blinking against the light and wondering what had happened.
The fulness of light said it was far later than they should have expected a summons from the Usurper. With a groan, she sat up and looked around: no-one was missing. Of the others, the only one also awake was Beatrix. Reki sighed inwardly: the Princess was probably going ask questions that Reki was not permitted to answer – especially not to a Conehead.
The other woman leaned against the wall underneath the shutter, oiling her blade in silence. When Reki’s movement caught her eye, Beatrix inclined her head respectfully but made no other move. Reki rose from her blankets smoothly and glided across the room: unless she misread the other woman entirely, something interesting was going on outside.
A young voice was accompanied by the pause of running footsteps. “Come on! We’re going to miss the flogging!”
Reki knitted her eyebrows. Flogging? The question was soon answered, however, when a grown woman’s voice answered.
“I’m not terribly interested in watching a new father be beaten for falling asleep at his post. It’s not like he’s getting any sleep at home.”
Now Reki winced. She knew she should have figured out how to waken the man. Trouble was, she didn’t think she could have without rousing suspicion against them. The child and her mother’s voice vanished into the dull murmur of the hold at midday.
“Did you hear?” One man was saying as he walked past. “I guess Captain Kaldr got chewed out by Lord Ulfr again.”
Another man groaned. “Again? Why has he not taken his men and turned freeboater already? The Lady Urdr’s weaving is what keeps us strong. If he doesn’t like that…”
“Same reason any of the old-timers stay, I imagine. Momentum.”
Then that pair was out of earshot. Very interesting. She inclined her head to the princess: she had found a good place to listen. She did not, however, have a blade to oil, nor was she currently equipped with needle and thread for mending or other stitch work. She moved as carefully away from the window as she had moved toward it, leaving Bea to her investigation.
Reki took a seat on one of the long benches at the trestle table and wished her pack had not been left behind with her cloak on the Vidofnir. What she wouldn’t do for a needle and thread, or even a quill and paper, right about now.
When Aema awoke, Reki still sat at the table, her fingers steepled under her chin and her gaze turned inward. The Kjelling woman’s reaction was, if anything, more surprised than Reki’s had been. “What’s going on?”
Reki glanced over to Bea before answering, her voice held low. “Don’t complain. We’ve gotten to sleep in, I think because the Lord High Usurper was up all night dealing with an intractable Captain and an overbearing mother.”
Aema snorted and plopped down on the bench across from Reki. “Fine,” she said, remembering to keep her voice down. “That intractable Captain may be our best bet at getting out of here.”
“Maybe,” Reki mused. “It’s notoriously difficult, though, to break that sort of a weaving. That’s why Einarr’s coming, after all.”
“Who said anything about breaking the weaving ourselves? As you said, he wants his Lord to understand how ‘evil’ we are. He also wants us gone. There has to be some way to turn this to our advantage.”
A cry rose up from the streets outside. Beatrix practically leaped to her feet, only then sheathing her sword. “Ships!” she hissed. “Three ships were just spotted sailing into the harbor. A rooster, a ram, and a stag on their prows.”
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