10.40 – Doors

Tangled Threads Publishing

Runa’s scream cut off as the ledge on the opposite side slammed into her stomach. Her chest and her arms folded over the top, and she had pulled herself up to be firmly on solid ground before Jorir had crossed the distance.

“Roll!” He shouted.

“Huh?” She rolled from her front to her back even as she spoke.

Jorir’s boots thudded loudly into the ground a moment later, exactly where she had been laying. “Nice reactions.”

She took a deep breath and let out a cough. “Somehow, I don’t think Einarr would approve of that method.”

“Perhaps not,” he agreed.

“You will regret that, you realize.” She was still catching her breath. He couldn’t allow her too much more time for that, though.

“Perhaps. But it was the fastest, most assured way of getting us both across – as long as you didn’t see it coming.”

She harrumphed – an…

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10.38 – Secret Tunnel

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The four burst into Urdr’s workroom, Runa in the lead but only by a pace. The sailor’s report had been not quite accurate: the witch was gone, and there were a number of blank spaces on the wall and on her racks where tapestries had been until very recently, but she had been smart enough to leave her equipment behind. Einarr was a little surprised she had taken the tapestries along, truth be told. The only reason he could think of were the workings they must support. And, therefore, the workings I must destroy. He hoped Frigg did not decide to reclaim her distaff too soon.

The other thing Einarr did not see was the door Runa had mentioned. Then again, if it were cleverly hidden he probably wouldn’t. Runa, however, walked confidently across the floor of the room, her hair flashing like spun gold even dirtied as it was.

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10.37 – Regathering

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Beatrix nodded brusquely and thrust the bit of cloth she’d been using to dab at Runa’s face into her hands. “I expect you’re right. Lead on.”

Runa was only a little slower getting to her feet. She took a moment to dust off her skirts. Einarr was suddenly reminded of the little girl he’d seen out trying to wrangle goats and smiled.

“…What?”

“Nothing. Just glad you’re all right. Are we ready?”

The doors to the Hall stood open, and spilling out into the courtyard in front of them was a flurry of activity. Standing at the center of this, exactly where Einarr expected to find him, was Father, barking orders. Swirling around him like the inner edge of a storm’s eye were Bardr, Kormund, Hraerek, and …Kaldr?

Einarr glanced over his shoulder at the two women, suddenly glad none of the other Singers had arrived yet. Their attention seemed…

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10.36 – An End to Fighting

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“Very well, Kaldr Kerasson. Stand, and hear the judgement of the Thane of Breidelstein.” Stigander watched the man from the corner of his eye. When Kaldr stood and turned to face Stigander, his expression showed grim acceptance.

Stigander reversed his grip on his sword even as he lowered it, so that it came around in a smooth sweeping motion, and thrust the hilt towards Kaldr. “You will swear to me, before my Vidofnings tried and true, that you will serve me and strive ever and always for the good of this land.”

Kaldr blinked, evidently nonplussed.

“I will not waste talent laid before me. We will put an end to this senseless fighting, and then I will have your oath.”

Kaldr dropped to his knees and his shoulders sagged, as though he had been relieved of a great weight. Stigander could not quite repress a smile as he sheathed his…

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10.35 – In Raen’s Hall

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From the time the three groups of their forces rejoined at the base of the cliff road almost to the tower gate, all they saw was the backs of the defenders fleeing before them. For all that Stigander did not want to slay more of his clansmen than he had to, it made him more than a little worried his half-brother had turned them all into cowards.

With two switchbacks left before the gates the wolflings set up a defensive line. Stigander raised his shield and charged, all his allies hot on his heels. The man who had rallied the line plainly had some skill, or there would not have been one at all. It was not enough to let them hold, or even offer more than token resistance, though. The line buckled like birch bark.

Stigander refused to give up the momentum of his charge, and so they kept…

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10.34 – The Ice Wolf

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“What?” Ulfr demanded, his smug certainty suddenly evaporating into angry confusion. A vein twitched at his temple as his eyes grew wide.

Kaldr’s blood boiled in fury, not merely at the truth of having been ensorcelled – enthralled! – but at the lack of mettle of the man who had controlled him. With the practice of long years, he forced his emotions down. This was a battle like any other. Calmness was the order of the day.

The sounds of battle drifted in through the arrow slits. The Vidofnings drew nearer at a rapid clip, if Kaldr was any judge of matters. Thjofgrir had not held, and although he hoped his Mate had not fallen Kaldr was glad.

“Have you forgotten, Usurper?” Kaldr breathed out his icy rage. “By your own words, if I go to seek justice, I will forget, and you will escape.”

He chuckled bitterly. “No, perhaps…

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10.33 – Ulfr

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Lord Ulfr relaxed back in his seat as though the response bored him. “Your place is defending the Hold, Captain Kaldr. Or have you already forgotten how tenuous your position here is?”

“Not at all, my lord.” Kaldr tasted bile as he realized he could feel nothing but loathing for his Thane. He dares call himself a wolf? Kaldr cleared his throat, trying to ensure his voice was steady. “My Lord, I fear the day is lost. Our men are losing their will to fight.”

“Then remind them what my displeasure feels like!”

“My lord, the lash can only take you so far. Sooner or later, the lashed man will take hold of the whip and turn it against his master. Already word has reached me that your warriors are beginning to question whether or not the Hold is worth defending.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying that, whether…

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10.32 – Unraveling

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A wave of blinding light swept over the town below and through the war room. Kaldr staggered where he stood. So did everyone else in the war room, and for a long moment the sounds of fighting in the city below fell silent. What… was that?

Whatever it was, the direction of the battle below would be decided on the ground. One side was bound to recover first, and they would win the day. He walked over to the window and waited. While he waited, he massaged his temples as he looked out on the battle below. Whatever else the burst had done, it had given him a headache. But a mere headache won’t help the rebels.

Evidently it was more than just a headache for some. The shield walls – the very core of his bait and encirclement strategy, which had been whittling away at the rebel invaders –…

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10.31 – Struggle

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“You there! What goes on here?” Stigander leveled a finger at one of the better-equipped townsfolk who had joined their ranks.

He blinked and pointed at himself, a dumbfounded look on his face.

“Yes, you! Why have the townsfolk taken up arms against the Thane here?” He hated to phrase it that way, but the odds were good this man still thought of the Usurper that way.

Now the man nodded in understanding. “Thane Ulfr’s men claim you are rebels. Well, his men treat us as thralls, even though we are free men. If it means we are rid of them, rebels we will be.”

Stigander looked again at the man. He was malnourished, and unkempt as one would expect of a drunkard, but his blue eyes were clear and proud.

“I am Stigander, son of Raen, and while Ulfr calls me a rebel I am in fact the rightful…

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10.30 – Ambush

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Kaldr had evidently been the last to know he was about to be freed, and for once Lord Ulfr had not stinted on the manpower at his disposal. Once the Lady Mother declared something, it was evidently unquestionable.

Kaldr would still rather the witch be hanged.

He took the stairs two at a time with a steady, even stride. By the time Kaldr reached the top floor and pushed open the door to the war room, he felt like himself again. Inside, the leaders of Kaldr’s guard stood staring at the map of the city laid out on the table before them. Two of them were arguing about some minor point on a plan Kaldr was reasonably sure would do nothing, based on what he had already heard.

Kaldr ignored the map and the leaders of the guard and went straight for the window that looked out over the town…

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