Home > The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(4)

The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(4)
Mark Lawrence

Tuttugu stepped around Floki Wronghelm, sprawled and snoring beside the bar. “Snorri’s down there, preparing to sail.” He bent down behind the bar, grunting.

“Snorri? Sailing?” It seemed that the stool had dislodged more than the morning’s memories. “Why? Where’s he going?”

Tuttugu straightened up holding my sword, dusty and neglected from its time hidden on the bar shelf. I didn’t reach for it. I’m fine with wearing a sword in places where nobody is going to see it as an invitation—Trond was never such a place.

“Take it!” Tuttugu angled the hilt toward me.

I ignored it, wrestling myself into my clothes, the coarse weave of the north, itchy but warm. “Since when did Snorri have a boat?” He’d sold the Ikea to finance the expedition to the Black Fort—that much I did remember.

“I should get Astrid back here to see if another beating with a stool might knock some sense into you!” Tuttugu tossed the sword down beside me as I sat to haul my boots on.

“Astrid? . . . Astrid!” A moment returned to me with crystal clarity—Edda coming down the stairs half-naked, Astrid watching. It had been a while since a morning went so spectacularly wrong for me. I’d never intended the two of them to collide in such circumstances but Astrid hadn’t struck me as the jealous sort. In fact I hadn’t been entirely sure I was the only younger man keeping her bed warm whilst her husband roamed the seas a-trading. We mostly met at her place up on the Arlls Slope, so stealth with Edda hadn’t been a priority. “How did Astrid even know about Hedwig?” More importantly, how did she reach me before Jarl Sorren’s housecarls, and how much time did I have?

Tuttugu ran a hand down his face, red and sweating despite the spring chill. “Hedwig managed to send a messenger while her father was still raging and gathering his men. The boy galloped from Sorrenfast and started asking where to find the foreign prince. People directed him to Astrid’s house. I got all this from Olaaf Fish-hand after I saw Astrid storming down the Carls Way. So . . .” He drew a deep breath. “Can we go now, because—”

But I was up and past him, out into the unwholesome freshness of the day, splattering through half-frozen mud, aimed down the street for the docks, the mast tops just visible above the houses. Gulls circled on high, watching my progress with mocking cries.

TWO

If there’s one thing I like less than boats it’s being brutally murdered by an outraged father. I reached the docks painfully aware that I’d put my boots on the wrong feet and slung my sword too low so it tried to trip me at each stride. The usual scene greeted me, a waterfront crowded with activity despite the fishermen having put to sea hours earlier. The fact that the harbour lay ice-locked for the winter months seemed to set the Norsemen into a frenzy come spring—a season characterized by being slightly above the freezing point of brine rather than by the unfurling of flowers and the arrival of bees as in more civilized climes. A forest of masts painted stark lines against the bright horizon, longboats and Viking trade ships nestled alongside triple-masted merchantmen from a dozen nations to the south. Men bustled on every side, loading, unloading, doing complicated things with ropes, fishwives further back working on the nets or applying wickedly sharp knives to glimmering mounds of last night’s catch.

“I don’t see him.” Snorri was normally easy to spot in a crowd—you just looked up.

“There!” Tuttugu tugged my arm and pointed to what must be the smallest boat at the quays, occupied by the largest man.

“That thing? It’s not even big enough for Snorri!” I hastened after Tuttugu anyway. There seemed to be some sort of disturbance up by the harbour master’s station and I could swear someone shouted “Kendeth!”

I overtook Tuttugu and clattered out along the quay to arrive well ahead of him above Snorri’s little boat. Snorri looked up at me through the black and windswept tangle of his mane. I took a step back at the undisguised mistrust in his stare.

“What?” I held out my hands. Any hostility from a man who swings an axe like Snorri does has to be taken seriously. “What did I do?” I did recall some kind of altercation—though it seemed unlikely that I’d have the balls to disagree with six and a half foot of over-muscled madman.

Snorri shook his head and turned away to continue securing his provisions. The boat seemed full of them. And him.

“No really! I got hit in the head. What did I do?”

Tuttugu came puffing up behind me, seeming to want to say something, but too winded to speak.

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