Kaldr walked swiftly forward into the chamber, his chain dragging on the ground behind him. “My Lord, I pushed my ship as fast as she could go.”
“The journey from Lundholm should be possible in half the time it took you to arrive.”
Kaldr stopped. His Thane was evidently in no mood to be reasonable: it was, in theory, possible to cover the distance that quickly. If you had a following wind the entire way, and if you pressed your crew to row the entire distance. The wind had not been so kind, and he had been unwilling to drive his crew to either mutiny or exhaustion – the two most probable results of such a demand. “The winds were unfavorable, my Lord.”
Ulfr snorted. He still lounged across his father’s chair, which always made him look like a petulant teenager despite the gray in his hair and the wrinkles on his face. Saying as much, of course, was not generally considered wise.
Abruptly, he swung his legs down off the arm of the chair and sat up straight, leaning forward toward Kaldr. “What was unfavorable has been your behavior ever since the rebels entered our waters. First I had to curry favor with those witches you captured so the thrice-cursed Matrons will continue to leave us alone.” Ulfr pushed himself forward out of the chair to stand on his dais.
“Then, after they escape – with some of Mother’s most important workings, mind – she tells me you had a hand in their escape. When the girl was critical to my keeping the upper hand over the rebels. Mother’s Weaving is never wrong.” Ulfr gesticulated wildly. “Then Urek’s pigeon arrives. What was I supposed to think when he said you were a rank coward, that you had let the rebels slip through your grasp not once, not twice, but no fewer than three times? Hm?”
Kaldr lifted his chin to meet his Thane’s eyes. He would not be so easily cowed. “You know my methods of hunting, my Lord. This hunt was no different from any other. Had I not been precipitously called back, the rebels would have been in hand in short order.”
“Wrong again, Kaldr. Broki’s pigeon arrived this morning. The rebels launched a sneak attack on your vaunted blockade. Urek and Vittir are dead, and Broki’s ship is hardly seaworthy.”
“If a sneak attack was successful, then surely it was the watch to blame.” There was only one way out of Lundholm. Wasn’t there?”
“They were attacked from the open water, behind their position.” Ulfr spat the words.
Kaldr blinked, unable to entirely cover his surprise. They shouldn’t have been able to get to the open water from there. So, how?
“Kaldr Kerasson, I hereby strip you of your rank and privileges. I find the allegations of treason against your Thane credible. You shall await the pleasure of the Thing in the dungeon.”
Kaldr swallowed, but bowed his head in acceptance. If such was the Thane’s pleasure, he could wait a little. Or, perhaps, Lord Ulfr would calm down and come to his senses. It was true that, on the surface at least, the sequence of events could lead one to believe him a traitor. That he was not was, for now, immaterial.
The guard moved forward to once again take hold of Kaldr’s chain.
“Take him away.”
The guard bowed his head and strode brusquely out of the room. Kaldr found himself faced with the option of walking or being dragged by his wrists: he chose the former.
The path to the dungeon took him back across the yard to the tower of the gate house. Before, it had seemed as though those few he passed ignored him. Now something irrational in his mind tried to convince him they laughed. As always, he ignored it, and walked to his fate with the pride and dignity of an innocent man, which scandal could not touch.
The weaver-witch – Lord Ulfr’s Lady Mother, he corrected himself – waited for Kaldr at the door to his cell, making no attempt to hide her glee at his predicament.
“What do you want?” If there was a hard edge to his voice, he thought it could be excused under the circumstances.
Lady Urdr smiled even more broadly and brought a hand to her collar. “Why, I only wished to welcome you back, Captain Kaldr. It seems you and I will be sharing a roof for the forseeable future, so I thought I might be neighborly.”
Kaldr managed not to snort, but it was a near thing.
Lady Urdr’s smile did not touch her eyes as she moved in to whisper – loudly – in his ear. “Welcome to my parlor, little boy. We’ll have such fun here. Perhaps you’ll even take part in some of my work.”
Kaldr raised an eyebrow and looked down his nose at the crazy old woman. She cackled. His jailer opened his cell and he stepped in, grateful to be shut away from her. As the door closed on his back, darkness fell around him.
Over the next… while – Kaldr found it difficult to measure the passage of time from inside a cell with neither light nor air from the outside – he grew accustomed to the sound of cackling laughter from the dungeon hallway, and the stifling closeness of his cell.
That laughter always presaged one of Lady Urdr’s visits. One would think, as the only person he ever saw, he would have grown fonder of the woman – or perhaps not. It was not in his nature, after all, to grow fond of any witch, and she was a particularly sadistic one. She bled him regularly: he could never quite make out why, but he was sure she was up to no good. It was never enough to keep him from the training he had devised for himself, though. He could not, after all, afford to grow weak while he awaited the pleasure of the Thing.
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