Home > The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(6)

The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(6)
Mark Lawrence

•   •   •

It seemed that all those months of occasionally wandering down to the docks and scowling at the boats had made a better sailor of me. I didn’t throw up until we were so far from port that I could barely make out the expressions on the housecarls’ faces.

“Best not to do that into the wind,” Snorri said, not breaking the rhythm of his rowing.

I finished groaning before replying, “I know that, now.” I wiped the worst of it from my face. Having had nothing but a punch on the nose for breakfast helped to keep the volume down.

“Will they give chase?” Tuttugu asked.

That sense of elation at having escaped a gruesome death shrivelled up as rapidly as it had blossomed and my balls attempted a retreat back into my body. “They won’t . . . will they?” I wondered just how fast Snorri could row. Certainly under sail our small boat wouldn’t outpace one of Jarl Sorren’s longships.

Snorri managed a shrug. “What did you do?”

“His daughter.”

“Hedwig?” A shake of the head and laugh broke from him. “Erik Sorren’s chased more than a few men over that one. But mostly just long enough to make sure they keep running. A prince of Red March though . . . might go the extra mile for a prince, then drag you back and see you handfasted before the Odin stone.”

“Oh God!” Some other awful pagan torture I’d not heard about. “I barely touched her. I swear it.” Panic starting to rise, along with the next lot of vomit.

“It means ‘married,’” said Snorri. “Handfasted. And from what I heard you barely touched her repeatedly and in her own father’s mead-hall to boot.”

I said something full of vowels over the side before recovering myself to ask, “So, where’s our boat?”

Snorri looked confused. “You’re in it.”

“I mean the proper-sized one that’s taking us south.” Scanning the waves I could see no sign of the larger vessel I presumed we must be aiming to rendezvous with.

Snorri’s mouth took on a stiff-jawed look as if I’d insulted his mother. “You’re in it.”

“Oh come on . . .” I faltered beneath the weight of his stare. “We’re not seriously crossing the sea to Maladon in this rowboat are we?”

By way of answer Snorri shipped the oars and started to prepare the sail.

“Dear God . . .” I sat, wedged in the prow, my neck already wet with spray, and looked out over the slate-grey sea, flecked with white where the wind tore the tops off the waves. I’d spent most of the voyage north unconscious and it had been a blessing. The return would have to be endured without the bliss of oblivion.

“Snorri plans to put in at ports along the coast, Jal,” Tuttugu called from his huddle in the stern. “We’ll sail from Kristian to cross the Karlswater. That’s the only time we’ll lose sight of land.”

“A great comfort, Tuttugu. I always like to do my drowning within sight of land.”

•   •   •

Hours passed and the Norsemen actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. For my part I stayed wrapped around the misery of a hangover, leavened with a stiff dose of stool-to-head. Occasionally I’d touch my nose to make sure Astrid’s punch hadn’t broken it. I’d liked Astrid and it sorrowed me to think we wouldn’t snuggle up in her husband’s bed again. I guessed she’d been content to ignore my wanderings as long as she could see herself as the centre and apex of my attentions. To dally with a jarl’s daughter, someone so highborn, and for it to be so public, must have been more than her pride would stand for. I rubbed my jaw, wincing. Damn, I’d miss her.

“Here.” Snorri thrust a battered pewter mug toward me.

“Rum?” I lifted my head to squint at it. I’m a great believer in hair of the dog, and nautical adventures always call for a measure of rum in my largely fictional experience.

“Water.”

I uncurled with a sigh. The sun had climbed as high as it was going to get, a pale ball straining through the white haze above. “Looks like you made a good call. Albeit by mistake. If you hadn’t been ready to sail I might be handfasted by now. Or worse.”

“Serendipity.”

“Seren-what-ity?” I sipped the water. Foul stuff. Like water generally is.

“A fortunate accident,” Snorri said.

“Uh.” Barbarians should know their place, and using long words isn’t it. “Even so it was madness to set off so early in the year. Look! There’s still ice floating out there!” I pointed to a large plate of the stuff, big enough to hold a small house. “Won’t be much left of this boat if we hit any.” I crawled back to join him at the mast.

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