Author’s Note: My apologies for the long delay. I got about 3 hours sleep on our redeye flight from Pago Pago, and then couldn’t stay awake well enough to finish while we were in Honolulu. We’re safely ensconced in Portland now, so Thursday’s chapter should be more or less on time. My hope is to have book 9 finished before we fly to Saipan in the middle of February.
Reki threw open the door to Urdr’s workroom with a bang, just in time to see the old woman disappearing through the door they had seen earlier. She raced across the floor, the others hard on her heels, but even if the room had not been littered with baskets of thread they would not have made it in time. Halfway there, she heard the sound of a key turning in a lock.
Reki stopped and swore. Bea continued on, heedless, and slammed the hilt of her sword into the door as though she intended to break it down.
“Bea. We don’t have time for that.”
She took another swing at the door, leaving a pommel-shaped divot in the wood. “What are you talking about? We can’t just let her get away!”
“Bea! We do not have time for that. How long do you really think we have before more guards show up? You yourself said your fight in the stairwell was not quiet.” Reki took a deep breath. “The important thing right now is to get the tapestry. Even if we can’t destroy it, Einarr has the distaff.”
Eydri had already moved to the nearest of the cupboards that lined the walls and was glancing over the smaller tapestries stored inside. “Don’t we already know which one we really need?”
“You mean the one on the loom, that looks like it shows what already happened this morning?” Aema answered, tossing a cloth over her arm even as she unrolled another. Urdr had been nothing if not prolific.
Reki surveyed the cloths hanging from the wall, searching for images she was reasonably sure she didn’t want to leave in the crone’s possession. “I’d assumed that was part of the trap.”
“Why would it be?”
“Because it would be too easy otherwise. And because everything else we saw when we walked in was.”
Runa hummed. “She was pretty confident her toughs could capture us, though. And if that’s the case, and she has to work on that weaving regularly – which I expect she would – then why would she put a fake tapestry on her loom? It seems like an awful lot of work for not much benefit.”
Reki shrugged one shoulder. “It can’t hurt to take it. Bea, would you?”
The warrior princess straightened her tunic as she stepped away from the locked door and toward the loom that was the centerpiece of the room. As she moved, she brought her sword around and down. The last few steps she ran, bringing the blade up into an overhand chop.
It struck the center of the tapestry with a clang, as though she were striking steel. Bea frowned.
Svana hummed. “And here I thought it was probably bravado when she said we couldn’t damage the thing.”
“Evidently not,” Reki mused. “All right. In that case… Runa, Svana, give Bea a hand getting that down.” It was gratifying that none of them questioned her. Even Eydri, and Reki’d had some worries about working with her.
There was one other thing they needed to do before they absconded down to the harbor, however. Reki turned her attention from the tapestries hanging on the walls to the sconces between them. The room seemed to be lit by lamps, however, and an oil-soaked wick would never do what she wanted.
Before she could venture out into the hallway behind them, though, she heard voices. Grimacing, she pulled it mostly closed behind her and watched through the crack to see what they would have to deal with.
The tromp of boots came, and went, and the two men in the hall wagered over whether the godawful shriek they’d heard earlier had been someone named Frotti tripping over a rat or a cat in heat. Worst guards ever? …No. Listen. Watch. Wait.
The footsteps tromped on, though, and soon enough she could not hear them anymore. Cautiously, Reki poked her head outside the door. The men were nowhere to be seen. She snatched the torch from the sconce by the door and disappeared back into the workroom.
“You have it?” She demanded.
“Nearly there,” Svana answered, undoing a knot.
“Good. We’re going to have company soon.”
“There! That should do it.” Runa unhooked another thread and the whole thing collapsed like a sail with no wind. The three women bringing it down crumpled it into a rough tube and tossed it over Bea’s shoulders.
Reki stalked forward, her torch in hand, as she heard noises of alarm from the hall behind them. Someone, she would wager, had spotted the blood. She raised the torch and laid the flame to the wood of Urdr’s loom.
Unlike the Oracle’s, this loom was not magical in and of itself. Before long, the aged timber began to blacken and smoke. As flames rose from the loom, Reki lit each of the cabinets, then tossed the torch into a basket of thread. “Run.”
Reki had led her circle of women down into the dugeons below the tower by the time she heard the clangor of alarm bells. She made a mental note to never try to manipulate fate. If this was any indication, when a Weaver’s misdeeds unravel it happens all at once. A Singer’s misdeeds, though….
She shook her head. Focus. “Runa! Lead on. Get us out of here!”
The apprentice took the lead, and it was good she did. Reki was not certain, in her circumstances, whether she could have. They pelted through twisting dungeon corridors, panting under the weight of their stolen tapestries. Runa only had to pause a handful of times to remember her route.
At one point Runa hesitated. A man’s groans could be heard echoing down the hallway, and the smell of smoke tickled her nostrils. Her father? Reki took a deep breath. “Go ahead. I’m not sure I trust them to remember the prisoners anyway.”
The man who emerged from the cell Runa opened bore little resemblance to the man Reki had met, briefly, the previous spring. Though dirty, haggard, and as wan as though he had been the victim of Urdr’s ministrations, Jarl Hroaldr retained his proud bearing.
“Can you run?” Runa asked, anxious. When her father shook his head, she turned pleading eyes to Bea.
“Of course I’ll help.”
There was some shifting of loads, but when they’d finished Bea carried the Jarl on her back, his arms slung over her shoulders, and Runa led the way out into the bright light of day.
When they emerged from the dimness of the tunnels they found themselves halfway down the cliff, on a tiny trail that might sometimes see use by wild animals. Their progress slowed now, as they picked their way down the rocky path, sometimes pressing their backs against the rock wall for balance.
Finally they made it to the bottom of the cliff. Just ahead was a small river, or perhaps a large creek, flowing out towards the harbor. Runa stopped at the water’s edge and looked about anxiously.
“There’s no boat, though.”
“Maybe if we walk downstream?” Eydri ventured.
“I’m not sure anyone knew about this place other than those two….”
Reki cleared her throat. “Look again.”
There, rowing quietly up the waterway, a boat approached.
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