Reki awoke with a groan, laying on bare wood planks. She pressed a hand to her head as she raised herself up on one arm, only to realize two things. First, her cloak was gone, her delicate skin exposed to the sun it could ill tolerate. Second, she was not aboard the Vidofnir any longer. A circle of armored men carrying spears stood in a circle about where she lay. No, not she – they. She was not alone: laying near her were Runa, Beatrix, Eydri, Aema, and Svana. None of them appeared to have been harmed: at least this ‘Usurper’ had that much good sense.
Aema was beginning to stir, as well, as was Eydri. Reki had hoped to put off dealing with Eydri a little longer: she had not missed the woman’s reaction when they were introduced, although she did not think she had ever met the other Singer before. Well, no matter: they were all in this together, now, and it would be good to get a read on what the Empire was up to. Why was Beatrix here, though?
Aema opened her eyes first, and the way she lay she met Reki’s gaze immediately. Reki raised one snow-white finger to her lips. The guards had not yet realized they were awake, which meant they had some time to observe relatively unimpeded. Aema nodded as she sat up, not even tapping the deck boards with a hand for balance. The Brunning’s Singer may not be much of a scholar, but she was an excellent ally.
The ship outside their little prisoner’s circle appeared much like any other longship Reki had been aboard. Warriors moved about their business in an unhurried manner, those who had business to attend to. They were under sail, though, so most of them had broken off into their own little groups to pass the time with dice or japes or other foolery. Other than the circle of guards, only one thing really stood out, and that was the wolf’s head atop the prow. But why would Ulfr be aboard a random ship out searching for the apprentice?
She could not answer that, not without coming face to face with the man, and she wasn’t ready to do that yet.
Eydri moaned and rolled over on her side, much as Reki had done not long before. By whatever chance, though, she rolled away from the two who were already awake. As Eydri sat up, possibly before she had even opened her eyes to see their circumstances, she spoke recognizably. “What happened?”
Reki saw one of the guards glance, disinterestedly, over his shoulder. “Lord Ulfr wishes to welcome you all to Breidelsteinn. We have been sent to escort you to Raenshold, where he holds court.”
Reki sighed and cast an irritated glance at the other Singer but said nothing about it. She didn’t think there was much more to be learned from that observation, anyway. “How are you feeling,” she murmured instead.
“My head feels like someone spiked Eisbock with mushrooms, but otherwise I’m fine.”
Aema shook her head. “Neither ale nor mushrooms, I think. The herb-witches on Kjell have a powder they mix with vinegar that will put people out. This seems similar.”
Reki nodded: she had encountered the stuff, albeit only briefly. “I think you’re right. Are we agreed, though, that we’re prisoners here, not guests?”
The other two women nodded, and Reki was glad to confirm she wasn’t paranoid.
“Good. …I wonder if they were instructed to take us all? Certainly their main target had to be the young one.”
“The Lady Runa?” Aema muttered. “Almost definitely. I’m sure sooner or later we’ll be ‘greeted’ by their Captain. At least, we will if they want to keep up the pretense.”
Reki hummed. “You both know, don’t you, that we’ll need to keep an eye on the Lady apprentice, right?”
Eydri set her lips in a line. “Undoubtedly. I wonder if we shouldn’t warn her intended.”
Reki shook her head. “Not yet, I don’t think. …Oh, look. Good morning, Svana.”
The Singer from the Eikthyrnir was waking up, shaking her head and taking in her surroundings silently. “So they followed the apprentice when she escaped, I wager.”
“How else would they have caught up so quickly?” Reki shrugged, but Aema shook her head.
“If she’s the only one they care about, then that can’t be it. If they could follow her, they could stop her from leaving.”
Now it was Reki’s turn to disagree. “Not necessarily. If she was spotted when she made contact with us, or when we were in the cove, they could have followed us from there.”
“Spotted by whom?” Eydri asked, one eyebrow raised skeptically. “All three boats had lookouts, and no-one raised the alarm.”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Frankly, this whole situation is more than a little fishy. But speculating like this will get us nowhere, and the girls are waking up.”
An apprentice, and an Imperial: there was much they should not hear. Svana changed the subject adroitly. “What do the rest of you know about this Weavess? I know the Lay of Raen well enough to sing it, but not much more.”
Eydri looked uncomfortable. Reki shrugged. “I know a little more than that, but I’ve only been on the crew about a year now…”
Aema, on the other hand, looked rather pleased. “Stigander and my Lord the Jarl were childhood friends. The story is almost as well known on Kjell as it is to the Vidofnings themselves. But are you sure you want to hear about it… here?”
Svana smirked. “Worried we’ll antagonize our captors? Fine, you’re probably right. I only wondered what sort of a Weaver we found ourselves against.”
Reki shook her head. “One who thought nothing of using the black Arts to her own gain. Isn’t that enough?”
Runa sat up and looked about herself in silence, her knees hugged to her chest, and Eydri, of all people, was the fastest to move to comfort her. Probably eager to prove she wasn’t after Einarr. Beatrix, the Imperial Princess, still lay on her back, but her eyes were wide open. Of all of them, it was she who had done the best job of feigning sleep. Reki hummed: she would have to watch that one.