Sivid hopped down from the crate he had perched himself on, oddly buoyant now that they were past the guards. He jerked his head toward one of the many streets leading away from this little market and turned to go.
“You’ve heard something?” Einarr spoke quietly as they left the crowded square.
“I have an idea, certainly.” Sivid’s voice was equally low, and light as though they were sharing a private joke. “Only, this place is going to be even worse than we thought.”
“Oh? You mean it gets worse than fifty-foot sheer walls lined with throwing strings?”
“Mm-hmm.” Sivid peered down a cross-alley before continuing on at his rapid clip.
“So, what, is this high priest we think we’re looking for the chieftain here?”
“You got it.”
Einarr groaned. It had been the worst thing he could think of: why did it have to be right? With only two ships of men, one of which was still under strength, their chances of taking a hold like this one approached zero. Einarr frowned, now. “If assault wasn’t off the table before, it certainly is now. Which means what we really need is a good way to sneak in.”
“And determine whether or not that’s where your lady is really being held. But I suspect that to be the case.”
Einarr grunted, then grimaced. “Let’s hope the bastard doesn’t have a thing for human women.”
“Or that this god of his prefers his sacrifices unsullied.”
“Either way. If he lays a finger on her…” Einarr clenched his fists.
Sivid nodded. “Easy, though. No sense worrying about that until we’ve found her.”
They kept to the quiet passages as much as they could – paths that ran behind buildings and other spaces less frequently used – but this was still a hold, and any good hold would have a broad yard surrounding the central fortress area where the soldiers could train or the children could play.
Here, when Einarr and Sivid inevitably reached the end of their secluded paths, Einarr was not certain what he was seeing. It almost looked like glíma practice, for the men in the yard were practicing hand-to-hand maneuvers… except their maneuvers had more in common with brawling than wrestling. The keep that sat at the center of the yard beyond them seemed to tower above them, its top lost in shadow.
“Let’s see if there’s anything more interesting on the other side, shall we?” Sivid murmured, and Einarr nodded his agreement. Surely the entire keep could not be surrounded by brawlers.
Another street lay just to their left, cutting back into the longhouses that surrounded the keep. Rather than turn around in their tracks, the two Vidofnings continued around the outside of the yard until they reached it.
They did not seem to have drawn undue suspicion as they slipped down this secondary path. As they moved through these surrounding streets, though, Einarr began to feel as though there were eyes all about, following their furtive movements.
They emerged again a quarter circle around the keep, ahead of another gate but still within sight of the edge of the training group. If this was a proper circle fort, it would be better to check the next exit for signs of life. Sivid barely paused before continuing on to the next side-street.
Around they walked through the empty streets this close to the temple keep of Malúnion, and with every step the sensation of being watched – of being followed – grew between Einarr’s shoulder blades. He cleared his throat.
“Perhaps we should go back, let Father know what we’ve found.”
“Don’t let them spook you, boy.” Sivid did not look back at Einarr this time, simply continued to watch ahead as they moved. “If they had anything on us, they’d have moved already. We committed to this gamble, we need to see it through.”
“R-right.” Einarr cleared his throat a little. Something about the keep here had him even more on edge than he’d thought. …But if Runa was in there, and if they had the right island she must be, how could he turn back now?
The gate on the far side of the keep was smaller than either of the other two they had seen thus far and made of the same stone as everything else. They might have missed it were it not for the way its archway was formed in the surrounding wall and the iron bars that reinforced it. Einarr hummed in consternation. Sivid merely sighed.
“Odds that’s the door we want anyway?” Einarr murmured.
“High. If a door like that doesn’t lead to a dungeon…”
Einarr grunted his agreement and slipped out into the broad, empty stone yard of the temple keep, Sivid only a pace behind. That the yard was empty save for them on this side of the keep did nothing to soothe Einarr’s nerves.
He paused a moment to examine the door and scowled: there was no apparent latch. Sivid brushed past him, though, and quickly found the mechanism Einarr had missed.
“Once we’re in there we’re as good as trapped, you realize,” the smaller man murmured, the door still closed under his palm.
“Didn’t you just tell me we had to see this plan through?”
“Oh, aye. Just making sure your guts hadn’t turned to water all of a sudden.” The words were harsh. From any other man, it would have demanded a duel. But, because it was Sivid and because the weird light still allowed Einarr to see the teasing glint in his crewmate’s eye, the taunt earned Sivid little more than a scowl and a gesture to continue.
The door scraped open slowly under Sivid’s palm to reveal a cut-stone stairway headed down. The two men exchanged a look of uneasy surprise and slipped through the arch. When Sivid was three steps down, Einarr pressed his back against the heavy door, pressing it closed with a muffled click.