Home > The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(9)

The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(9)
Mark Lawrence

“Snorri.” A newcomer, well over six foot and at least that wide, fat with it, arms like slabs of meat. At first I thought he was wearing spring furs, or some kind of woollen overshirt, but as he closed on Snorri it became apparent that his chest hair just hadn’t known when to stop.

“Borris!” Snorri surged through the others to clasp arms with the man, the two of them wrestling briefly, neither giving ground.

Tuttugu finished tying up and with a pair of men on each arm the locals hauled him onto the dock. I clambered quickly up behind him, not wishing to be manhandled.

“Tuttugu!” Snorri pointed him out for Borris. “Undoreth. We might be the last of our clan, him and I . . .” He trailed off, inviting any present to make a liar of him, but none volunteered any sighting of other survivors.

“A pox on the Hardassa.” Borris spat on the ground. “We kill them where we find them. And any others who make cause with the Drowned Isles.” Mutters and shouts went up at that. More men spitting when they spoke the word “necromancer.”

“A pox on the Hardassa!” Snorri shouted. “That’s something to drink to!”

With a general cheering and stamping of feet the whole crowd started to move toward the huts and halls behind the various fisheries and boat sheds of the harbour. Snorri and Borris led the way, arms over each other’s shoulders, laughing at some joke, and I, the only prince present, trailed along unintroduced at the rear with the fishermen, their hands still scaly from the catch.

I guess Trond must have had its own stink, all towns do, but you don’t notice it after a while. A day at sea breathing air off the Atlantis Ocean tainted with nothing but a touch of salt proved sufficient to enable my nostrils to be offended by my fellow men once more. Olaafheim stank of fresh fish, sweat, stale fish, sewers, rotting fish, and uncured hides. It only got worse as we trudged up through a random maze of split-log huts, turf roofed and close to the ground, each with nets at the front and fuel stacked to the sheltered landward side.

Olaafheim’s great hall stood smaller than the foyer of my grandmother’s palace, a half-timbered structure, mud daubed into any nook or cranny where the wind might slide its fingers, wooden shingles on the roof, patchy after the winter storms.

I let the Norsemen crowd in ahead of me and turned back to face the sea. In the west clear skies showed a crimson sun descending. Winter in Trond had been a long cold thing. I may have spent more time than was reasonable in the furs but in truth most of the north does the same. The night can last twenty hours and even when the day finally breaks it never gets above a level of cold I call “fuck that”—as in you open the door, your face freezes instantly to the point where it hurts to speak, but manfully you manage to say “fuck that,” before turning round, and going back to bed. There’s little to do in a northern winter but to endure it. In the very depths of the season sunrise and sunset get so close together that if Snorri and I were to be in the same room Aslaug and Baraqel might even get to meet. A little further north and they surely would, for there the days dwindle into nothing and become a single night that lasts for weeks. Not that Aslaug and Baraqel meeting would be a good idea.

Already I could feel Aslaug scratching at the back of my mind. The sun hadn’t yet touched the water but the sea burned bloody with it and I could hear her footsteps. I recalled how Snorri’s eyes would darken when she used to visit him. Even the whites would fill with shadow, and become for a minute or two so wholly black that you might imagine them holes into some endless night, from which horrors might pour if he but looked your way. I held that to be a clash of temperaments though. If anything my vision always seemed clearer when she came. I made sure to be alone each sunset so we could have our moment. Snorri described her as a creature of lies, a seducer whose words could turn something awful into an idea that any reasonable man would consider. For my part I found her very agreeable, though perhaps a little excessive, and definitely less concerned about my safety than I am.

The first time Aslaug came to me I had been surprised to find her so close to the image Snorri’s tales had painted in my mind. I told her so and she laughed at me. She said men had always seen what they expected to see but that a deeper truth ran beneath that fact. “The world is shaped by mankind’s desires and fears. A war of hope against dread, waged upon a substrate that man himself made malleable though he has long forgotten how. All men and all men’s works stand on feet of clay, waiting to be formed and reformed, forged by fear into monsters from the dark core of each soul, waiting to rend the world asunder.” That’s how she introduced herself to me.

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