Home > The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(7)

The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(7)
Mark Lawrence

“Best not distract me from steering then.” And just to prove a point he slung us to the left, some lethal piece of woodwork swinging scant inches above my head as the sail crossed over.

“Why the hurry?” Now that the lure of three delicious women who had fallen for my ample charms had been removed I was more prepared to listen to Snorri’s reasons for leaving so precipitously. I made a vengeful note to use “precipitously” in conversation. “Why so precipitous?”

“We went through this, Jal. To the death!” Snorri’s jaw tightened, muscles bunching.

“Tell me once more. Such matters are clearer at sea.” By which I meant I didn’t listen the first time because it just seemed like ten different reasons to pry me from the warmth of my tavern and from Edda’s arms. I would miss Edda, she really was a sweet girl. Also a demon in the furs. In fact I sometimes got the feeling that I was her foreign fling rather than the other way around. Never any talk of inviting me to meet her parents. Never a whisper about marriage to her prince . . . A man enjoying himself any less than I was might have had his pride hurt a touch by that. Northern ways are very strange. I’m not complaining . . . but they’re strange. Between the three of them I’d spent the winter in a constant state of exhaustion. Without the threat of impending death I might never have mustered the energy to leave. I might have lived out my days as a tired but happy tavernkeeper in Trond. “Tell me once more and we’ll never speak of it again!”

“I told you a hundr—”

I made to vomit, leaning forward.

“All right!” Snorri raised a hand to forestall me. “If it will stop you puking all over my boat . . .” He leaned out over the side for a moment, steering the craft with his weight, then sat back. “Tuttugu!” Two fingers toward his eyes, telling him to keep watch for ice. “This key.” Snorri patted the front of his fleece jacket, above his heart. “We didn’t come by it easy.” Tuttugu snorted at that. I suppressed a shudder. I’d done a good job of forgetting everything between leaving Trond on the day we first set off for the Black Fort and our arrival back. Unfortunately it only took a hint or two for memories to start leaking through my barriers. In particular the screech of iron hinges would return to haunt me as door after door surrendered to the unborn captain and that damn key.

Snorri fixed me with that stare of his, the honest and determined one that makes you feel like joining him in whatever mad scheme he’s espousing—just for a moment, mind, until common sense kicks back in. “The Dead King will be wanting this key back. Others will want it too. The ice kept us safe, the winter, the snows . . . once the harbour cleared the key had to be moved. Trond would not have kept him out.”

I shook my head. “Safe’s the last thing on your mind! Aslaug told me what you really plan to do with Loki’s key. All that talk of taking it back to my grandmother was nonsense.” Snorri narrowed his eyes at that. For once the look didn’t make me falter—soured by the worst of days and made bold by the misery of the voyage I blustered on regardless. “Well! Wasn’t it nonsense?”

“The Red Queen would destroy the key,” Snorri said.

“Good!” Almost a shout. “That’s exactly what she should do!”

Snorri looked down at his hands, upturned on his lap, big, scarred, thick with callus. The wind whipped his hair about, hiding his face. “I will find this door.”

“Christ! That’s the last place that key should be taken!” If there really was a door into death no sane person would want to stand before it. “If this morning has taught me anything it’s to be very careful which doors you open and when.”

Snorri made no reply. He kept silent. Still. Nothing for long moments but the flap of sail, the slop of wave against hull. I knew what thoughts ran through his head. I couldn’t speak them, my mouth would go too dry. I couldn’t deny them, though to do so would cause me only an echo of the hurt such a denial would do him.

“I will get them back.” His eyes held mine and for a heartbeat made me believe he might. His voice, his whole body shook with emotion, though in what part sorrow and what part rage I couldn’t say.

“I will find this door. I will unlock it. And I will bring back my wife, my children, my unborn son.”

THREE

“Jal?” Someone shaking my shoulder. I reached to draw Edda in closer and found my fingers tangled in the unwholesome ginger thicket of Tuttugu’s beard, heavy with grease and salt. The whole sorry story crashed in on me and I let out a groan, deepened by the returning awareness of the swell, lifting and dropping our little boat.

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