Home > The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(5)

The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(5)
Mark Lawrence

Snorri let out a snort. “I’m going, Jal. You can’t talk me out of it. We’ll just have to see who cracks first.”

Tuttugu set a hand to my shoulder and bent as close to double as his belly would allow. “Jal—” Whatever he’d intended to say past that trailed off into a wheeze and a gasp.

“Which of us cracks first?” It started to come back to me. Snorri’s crazy plan. His determination to head south with Loki’s key . . . and me equally resolved to stay cosy in the Three Axes enjoying the company until either my money ran out or the weather improved enough to promise a calm crossing to the continent. Aslaug agreed with me. Every sunset she would rise from the darkest reaches of my mind and tell me how unreasonable the Norseman was. She’d even convinced me that separating from Snorri would be for the best, releasing her and the light-sworn spirit Baraqel to return to their own domains, carrying the last traces of the Silent Sister’s magic with them.

“Jarl Sorren . . .” Tuttugu heaved in a lungful of air. “Jarl Sorren’s men!” He jabbed a finger back up the quay. “Go! Quick!”

Snorri straightened up with a wince, and frowned back at the dock wall where chain-armoured housecarls were pushing a path through the crowd. “I’ve no bad blood with Jarl Sorren . . .”

“Jal does!” Tuttugu gave me a hefty shove between the shoulder blades. I balanced for a moment, arms pinwheeling, took a half step forward, tripped over that damn sword, and dived into the boat. Bouncing off Snorri proved marginally less painful than meeting the hull face first, and he caught hold of enough of me to make sure I ended in the bilge water rather than the seawater slightly to the left.

“What the hell?” Snorri remained standing a moment longer as Tuttugu started to struggle down into the boat.

“I’m coming too,” Tuttugu said.

I lay on my side in the freezing dirty water at the bottom of Snorri’s freezing dirty boat. Not the best time for reflection but I did pause to wonder quite how I’d gone so quickly from being pleasantly entangled in the warmth of Edda’s slim legs to being unpleasantly entangled in a cold mess of wet rope and bilge water. Grabbing hold of the small mast, I sat up, cursing my luck. When I paused to draw breath it also occurred to me to wonder why Tuttugu was descending toward us.

“Get back out!” It seemed the same thought had struck Snorri. “You’ve made a life here, Tutt.”

“And you’ll sink the damn boat!” Since no one seemed inclined to do anything about escaping I started to fit the oars myself. It was true though—there was nothing for Tuttugu down south and he did seem to have taken to life in Trond far more successfully than to his previous life as a Viking raider.

Tuttugu stepped backward into the boat, almost falling as he turned.

“What are you doing here, Tutt?” Snorri reached out to steady him whilst I grabbed the sides. “Stay. Let that woman of yours look after you. You won’t like it where I’m bound.”

Tuttugu looked up at Snorri, the two of them uncomfortably close. “Undoreth, we.” That’s all he said, but it seemed to be enough for Snorri. They were after all most likely the last two of their people. All that remained of the Uuliskind. Snorri slumped as if in defeat then moved back, taking the oars and shoving me into the prow.

“Stop!” Cries from the quay, above the clatter of feet. “Stop that boat!”

Tuttugu untied the rope and Snorri drew on the oars, moving us smoothly away. The first of Jarl Sorren’s housecarls arrived red-faced above the spot where we’d been moored, roaring for our return.

“Row faster!” I had a panic on me, terrified they might jump in after us. The sight of angry men carrying sharp iron has that effect on me.

Snorri laughed. “They’re not armoured for swimming.” He looked back at them, raising his voice to a boom that drowned out their protests, “And if that man actually throws the axe he’s raising I really will come back to return it to him in person.”

The man kept hold of his axe.

“And good riddance to you!” I shouted, but not so loud the men on the quay would hear me. “A pox on Norsheim and all its women!” I tried to stand and wave my fist at them, but thought better of it after nearly pitching over the side. I sat down heavily, clutching my sore nose. At least I was heading south at last, and that thought suddenly put me in remarkably good spirits. I’d sail home to a hero’s welcome and marry Lisa DeVeer. Thoughts of her had kept me going on the Bitter Ice, and now with Trond retreating into the distance she filled my imagination once again.

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