The Web Of Darkness


Chapter 022




Chapter 22

Chapter Notes

In the Middle Ages, stumps of amputated limbs were indeed cauterized with glowing hot iron, in order to prevent haemorrhaging. The French army doctor Ambroise Paré, born in 1510, was the first to design artificial hands and limbs for amputation patients. On one of the artificial hands, the two pairs of fingers could be moved for simple grabbing and releasing tasks and the hand looked perfectly natural underneath a glove. I didn't want to go quite that far with the similarities, but assumed that the woodworkers of Dale or Esgaroth were well capable of carving an artificial limb.
Íreth, the chief healer of the Mirkwood Elves is a recurring original character of me. She first appeared in “Little Bird”.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Poor little Halli was, fortunately, unconscious while the men dealt with his stump, but the other boys were wracked with dry heaves from the horrible stench of burnt flesh. Yrsa, too, felt nauseated, but since she had offered to hold the boy in her arms during the process, she could not become weak. This time she did not blame Gitte for kneeling on the very edge of the quay and “feeding the fish”, as the Lakemen liked to say. She would have done the same if not needed.

“Do you believe he might live yet?” she asked Guthri, meaning the little boy.

The shaggy Woodman shrugged. “If no infection has reached the bloodstream yet, he may have a chance… though what a life ‘twould be for a lil’ lad with only one leg… and a foreigner at that, with no kin to take care of him…”

“There are crafts that can be done without the use of both legs,” replied Yrsa. “And the woodcarvers of Dale are skilled; they can make a wooden leg for him. I have known archers who could bend a bow with a wooden arm just like with their own before. How much harder can it be to walk on a wooden leg?”

Guthri gave her a curious glance. “You are planning to take the lil’ one into your house for good, Mistress?”

‘Twas Yrsa’s turn to shrug now. “My house is big enough, and I have no family of my own. I am planning to take in them all… for the present anyway. I have the room, and I would be pleased by the company. We can decide what to do with them in the long run later.”

“But we have not found the strongbox with your coin, Mistress,” warned Eitri. “You will have high expenses, having the ship repaired… and feeding eight half-starved lads is not going to be cheap.”

“True,” answered Yrsa with a sigh, “but they are my responsibility now. I have found them… I cannot abandon them again.”

“Pardon me, Mistress,” said an uncertain young voice, and they saw a painfully thin youngling of perhaps fifteen approaching them nervously, “but if your coin has fallen into the Lake, we might be able to help…”

“How?” asked Yrsa in surprise.

“We can dive under the town and bring it up again,” replied the boy matter-of-factly. “That is what we do… what we have done for our master for many seasons… bringing up valuables from the bottom of the Lake.”

Yrsa hesitated. She did not like the idea of sending the boys back to the bottom of the Lake where even more water goblins might be hunting for prey. It seemed selfish and cruel. On the other hand, getting her coin back was too good a chance to let it slip. It meant not only her immediate future, but that of her workers, too. They would all have it so much easier if she could bring that coin home. She still would have to redo the drafts, true, and that meant long working hours in the night for her. But at least she would not need to give up all her savings for the repairs on the ship.

“You would truly do that for me?” she asked, ashamed that she would even consider it.

The boy gave her a tired smile. “You offered us a place in your house. We want to be useful.”

“But you are so hungry and weakened…” began Yrsa.

The boy laughed mirthlessly. “Mistress, we have been hungry and weakening for the last four years, Már and me… ever since we were brought here. ‘Tis nothing new for us.”

“Worry not, Mistress,” the other boy, whose name was apparently Már, added helpfully. “We can do this, Joukko and me can. The creatures are scared and hiding right now; it is less dangerous down there than it usually would be.”

“Let them do it, Mistress,” Eitri supported the idea; he had once been a slave himself, he knew what his kind was capable of. “We both know that you need that coin badly; and if the lads want to earn their keeping, it is their right.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thus Yrsa gave in, despite her guilty conscience, and the two boys slipped into the water of the Market-Pool like a pair of sleek river-otters. The water was cold and still murky from the recent storm, but they were used to such things.

They reached the bottom of the Lake as quickly as usual and began their search after the strongbox as described by Mistress Yrsa. The men had given them several lengths of strong rope with iron hooks on the end, which they had removed from their ship, and the boys were dragging those ropes behind them. ‘Twas hard to see under the water, harder than usual, for the storm had stirred it up quite a bit, and a great deal of sand, plant rests and other rubbish was floating everywhere, clouding the view and tormenting the eyes. Joukko wished his eyes were double-lidded, like those of the water goblins. Having a glistening, protective inner membrane like they had would have been very useful right now. But Men were not made to dwell – and to see – underwater, and so he had to peer about himself as well as he could.

Már glided along the underside of the damaged ship to look for the strongbox there, and so Joukko chose to search the shadowy places alongside the small jetties that reached out into the Market-Pool. Twice were they forced to go back to the surface for air already but had found nothing so far. There were simply too many possibilities for such a small item to be washed under.

“Let us search under the quays of the Market-Pool next,” suggested Már, ere they dove into the murky water again.

Joukko found that a sensible idea, and indeed, it only took them another trip to the surface to find the strongbox they were looking for: a nicely carved little oakwood chest, bound in wrought iron and secured with a large, ornate padlock. It was sitting right under the quay, half-hidden among some water plants. The boys hooked the rope under the iron hoops and pulled on it, signalling the men above that they can pull the box up. As it slowly began to lift from the bottom, the boys grinned at each other triumphantly. They had done it! They had proved that they were useful!

They kicked away from the lake bottom and were just about to swim to the surface when Joukko spotted the strange bags. They seemed to be made of leather or strong canvas, and appeared to hang from the underside of the quays. They also seemed… familiar somehow, as if he had already seen the likes of them. He just could not remember when or where. Not at the moment anyway. But he could not investigate them, not yet. They needed to get up for air again. Joukko touched Már’s shoulder, nodded in the direction of the strange things. Már nodded back in understanding. Aye, they would come back to take a closer look.

Mistress Yrsa, who still had poor little Halli in her arms, greeted them with gratitude and relief, and wanted them to rest and get dry ‘til the men would catch some fish to eat, but Joukko shook his head.

“We have found something we need to check out first,” he said; then he looked at the men. “Can one of you lend me a knife, good sirs? I might need to cut something loose.”

After a moment of hesitation, the shaggy-bearded Woodman threw him a long knife, which Joukko took between his teeth ere jumping back into the water. Már followed him. Now that they knew what they were looking for, they did not need to waste any time – they swam directly to the bags. From such close proximity it was clear that they were bags indeed, not – which also would have been a possibility – the egg sacks of some fish or other water creature.

Joukko dove under the bags and tried to cut through the strong double cord there were fastened to the underside of the quay with. It was a tough task, but still nothing compared with loosening the Dragon’s gilded scales. All he needed was a little patience and some skill, both of which he had aplenty. Within one dive, he managed to cut loose two of the canvas bags, and Már helped him to drag them to the surface.

By then, all remaining men had gathered on the quay, curious of what he might have found. Breathing heavily, Joukko and Már pulled the bags out of the water, and Joukko used the Woodman’s knife to cut one of them open, eager to see if it had been worth their effort.

The sight took his breath away. Pearls and jewels and golden dragon scales spilled onto the wet wooden platform; riches enough for a man to feed his family for years. Cutting through the cord sealing the other sack, Joukko saw that it was similarly filled.

“So that is where ‘Uncle’ Prostr had put all that which never found its way into Master Turcaill’s pocket,” said Már, still panting a little. Seeing the confused looks of the others, he added. “He was he servant who watched us all the time. We knew he always put away a small part of what we had harvested from the Dragon’s corpse. Just a little part, so that Master Turcaill would not become suspicious… but we could never find out where he kept it.”

“It does not seem so little to me,” said Gitte, her eyes widening in awe at the sight.

“He has watched us – and all the others before us – for many seasons,” said Joukko. “He was patient… and he had enough time to fill all those sacks.” He looked at Már. “We should bring up the rest, too, I think.”

“There is more?” Iskjald’s eyes began to glitter greedily.

“Whatever there is, it belongs to these boys,” cut in Yrsa in a stern manner. “They have been the ones who risked their lives to harvest the Dragon’s treasure; whose health is likely ruined. They will need it to make a life for themselves.”

“They would have no need for it, had we not saved them,” said Iskjald nastily. “They would be all goblin food by now.”

“True enough,” agreed Yrsa, “and we are indeed entitled to some reward for it – a reward that the Master of Esgaroth will decide, according to the laws and rules of the Guild Merchant. You, my friend, would do well to watch your heart, though; for you are in grave danger to fall victim to the Dragon Sickness, just like the last Master of Laketown – and we all know that such people tend to have a bad end.”

Iskjald clearly did not like the reproach, but the other men agreed with their Mistress. The law was very clear in such cases, and they had a justified claim on their reward. But they were no brigands and footpads to simply take the treasure for which only Gandvik knew how many such pour, misused boys had laboured hard and died already.

Joukko and Már watched the argument in wide-eyed astonishment. The thought that they might be able to keep at least some of the salvaged riches had never occurred to them. The most they had hoped for was not to be sent back to Master Turcaill… or to ‘Uncle’ Prostr, who was worse than the master himself, much worse.

They exchanged uncertain looks. By rights, Razar should have made the decision, as he was the only grown-up among them. But Razar was feverish, possibly dying, and had no knowledge of what was happening around him.

“We shall gladly let you have these, Mistress, and all that are still under the quay,” Joukko finally said. “We can and will work for our keeping. Just... just do not send us back to the master… please…”

The fat woman gave him a glance full of pity. She seemed to understand their fear, which was surprising.

“Worry not,” she said. “Such things as Turcaill has done are not tolerated in Esgaroth. The Master of the town will decide what is yours, what will be ours and what should be given to the town as compensation. He is a good, honest man, Master Ketill is; he will not leave you bereft of what is lawfully yours, for your heavy labours. And as you are hard workers, you surely will find apprenticeships either among us or in Dale. No-one will be allowed to use you so badly again.”

“For that, and for all that which you have already done, we are grateful, Mistress,” said Joukko; as the second-oldest, it was his right to speak for the others, now that Razar could no longer do so. “Do you wish us to bring up the rest of the bags? They are hidden deeply, but we can find them.”

“Nay,” replied Yrsa, giving Iskjald a somewhat unfriendly look. “They will keep where they are for a while yet. You can bring them up right before we leave this place. Rest now – and pray that help may arrive in time, for this little one cannot hold out much longer.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
To tell the truth, Yrsa had not expected help to arrive before sunset; perhaps not even before midnight, as the faering in which four of her hired oarsmen left had been in a truly precarious state. That worried her greatly, for she feared that neither the maimed boy, nor the fevered youth will last long enough to see the healers. She did not want to lose them, now that they had a chance to be freed from the spymaster’s clutches, but things did not look well for them.

‘Twas great relief – and an equally great surprise – for her then to see a slender Elven boat approach the quay in the late afternoon. Like all Lakemen, she knew the light and swift boats of the Wood-Elves and recognized them from afar. They were gently curving upwards on both ends and steered with a single, leaf-shaped oar, yet they could fly on the water faster than any man-made vessel.

She also recognized one of the boat’s occupant at once. It was Mistress Íreth, the senior healer of the Elvenking’s court, who had already come to the Lakemen’s aid before - many times, in fact. Her presence did not surprise Yrsa, only that she would arrive so soon. The faering could have barely reached Esgaroth yet.

The Elven oarsman – a youthful-looking male in the usual green and brown garb of his people yet with the full scrip of a healer on his shoulder – steered the boat close to the quay, and the healer leaped lightly onto the planks. She was a slender woman of middle height, plain for an Elf with her serene, freckled face, although still stunning compared with mere mortals. She wore a simple, unadorned forest-green gown and tied over that the long, loose apron of a healer. Her thick auburn hair was bound back in a grey cloth, keeping it out of her eyes – eyes that were brown and very bright like polished chestnuts and mirrored the wisdom of Ages – and the sleeves of her gown were rolled up ’til her elbows.

Yrsa could not even guess how old Mistress Íreth might be, but it was said that she had known the oldest oaks and beeches of the great forest from the acorn they had grown of, and even then she had not been young anymore. She was, without doubt, one of the oldest and wisest persons in the Wilderland, and Yrsa was grateful beyond measure for her presence.

“Mistress Íreth,” she said with a polite bow of her head, “thank you for coming to our aid, once again. But how could you reach us so soon?”

“I accompanied our King on his campaign against Dol Guldur,” answered the Elf in a pleasantly low voice. “On our way back, friendly birds came to us and told us about your need and about the children who have been badly hurt. My apprentice and I decided not to wait for the ships of Esgaroth. Our boats are swift and safe, and the need seemed great.”

“Aye, the need is great indeed, and your aid is mightily welcome,” said Yrsa, “for I fear that time is running out for this one,” she glanced at the maimed boy in her arms, “as well as for the youth who may have the lung fever.”

“Then let us not tarry any longer,” said the Elf and looked at her apprentice. “Look after the youth, Nuinthor, while I see what I can do for this poor child.”

The younger Elf grabbed his scrip and followed the men to Razar who was writhing and tossing in feverish nightmares. Mistress Íreth ordered little Halli to be laid onto the planks and let her hands glide over his entire body, feeling deep for hidden injuries or infections, while singing softly under her breath. ‘Twas her personal gift, to feel such things; a gift most Elven healers shared.

“There is some infection,” she finally judged, “but no blood poisoning so far, which is what I have feared most. Some of his ribs are badly bruised, and his kidneys are inflamed, too, but ‘tis naught we cannot deal with. If things do not take a turn to the worse, he will recover, although he might have kidney problems for quite a while yet,” she looked up, feeling Nuinthor’s approach. “What about the youth?”

“’Tis the lung fever all right,” replied the apprentice healer in concern, “though still in the early phase. However, I fear that his lungs have taken permanent damage, previously to the fever. I wonder how that happened.”

“He was forced to dive under the town many times, from sunrise to sunset, to bring up gold and jewels from the corpse of the Dragon,” said Yrsa grimly. “They all were… and before them, there had been other boys who died from this harsh work, or were eaten by the water goblins. ‘Tis very bad business, and once we are back to Esgaroth, there will be consequences for the man who made them do it. Dire consequences, if I get to say aught about it. But we will need the boys as witnesses to properly punish the man who is responsible for their state. Can you heal them?”

“We can,” answered Mistress Íreth thoughtfully. “Yet they will remain damaged in some ways. They will need someone who takes them in and cares for them… perchance for the rest of their lives. Otherwise, it would be more merciful to let them die.”

“I have already promised to take them into my house,” said Yrsa. “All of them, if I have to – these two in any case, as they will have no means to care for themselves. Do whatever you can do for them to recover. I shall do the rest.”

The ancient Elf-lady gave her a long, piercing look. Yrsa had the feeling that those bright hazel eyes were seeing into the farthest, most hidden corners of her heart and mind, searching for any ulterior motives – and finding none. After a long moment, Mistress Íreth nodded.

“Very well,” she said. “I shall do my best to heal their bodies; you will have to heal their hearts. And that, believe me, is going to be a much harder task.”

“I know,” replied Yrsa, “but time is a healer, too. And time I shall have enough.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For the rest of the afternoon - well into the night, in fact - Mistress Íreth and her apprentice worked very hard to save Razar and poor little Halli. Yrsa and Gitte helped with what little they could do: with boiling water on one of the ovens that had, miraculously, survived the destruction of Laketown; with soaking bandages, washing the boys’ faces with wet cloths to give them some temporary relief; with cooking the fish the men had caught in the Lake, and so on.

The men took apart one of the buildings that was damaged beyond repair, so that there would be no shortage in firewood, tried to catch more fish and to assess the extent of the damage the storm had done to their ship. That way, everyone was kept busy enough so that Yrsa needed only to keep a causal eye on the two bags of treasure Joukko and Már had brought up from under the quays.

Around midnight, to their great relief, the help from Esgaroth finally arrived, in the form of a large knarr, a merchant barge that bore the somewhat ridiculous name Lame Duck. It belonged to Master Otir’s family and was currently commanded by Onundr Otirsson, who – contrary to common belief – was the actual firstborn of the Master Bowman. However, he had refused to follow his father into soldiering and thus come into disgrace by Master Otir. Instead, he had learned the skill of ship-building and boat-making, and learned it so well that he became the best shipwright of Esgaroth. He had married the daughter of his master but was widowed and inherited the workshop from his father-in-law, becoming the Master Shipwright, despite still being a few years short of forty.

He was heavy-set and barrel-chested like his father and his brothers, but his hair was darker, wavier and shorter. He had it in a short ponytail to keep it out of his broad face, and he had a neatly trimmed, short beard. His heavy shoulders and bare arms (of the size of tree-trunks) made him look like the Beornings rather than the Lakemen, but everyone who had seen him at work knew how amazingly quick and graceful he could be when climbing masts. His dark eyes, too, spoke of some Beorning ancestor somewhere up his family tree, and people sometimes wondered whether he could turn himself into a bear – which he could not. That specific ability did not get passed down whenever the Beornings mingled with other races.

Bear or not, Yrsa was immensely relieved when she saw him jump onto the wooden planks of the quay. Like his father and brethren, Onundr Otirsson was a good, honest man, whose mere presence guaranteed her safety – and that of the boys and their treasure. What was more, he had brought several of his boat-makers with him: carpenters and ropers, to repair her little ship and bring it home when they were done. Yrsa’s four hired oarsmen had come back with him, swearing that they had not said a word about the boys and the treasure they had found. Yrsa could only hope that they were telling the truth, or else Spymaster Turcaill would slip through their fingers.

She found it needful to tell the shipwright everything well in advance, though. Onundr Otirsson – who, as the head of his guild, also had a vote in the Town Council – listened to her story with tense attention. To her amazement, though, albeit the fate of the poor boys outraged him every bit as much as it had her, he did not seem all too surprised.

“There have already been suspicions concerning Master Turcaill,” he explained. “The Dark Elf who had come to our aid with the Fair Folk has voiced his doubts repeatedly; and it seems that the spymaster has been in league with the Easterlings all the time.”

Yrsa shrugged. “Well, his sister used to be the wife of Siltric Silkbeard, did she not? That is how Master Turcaill gathered knowledge about troop movements and what was going on between the Khimmer tribes for years.”

“True,” admitted Onundr, “but has he not always stated that his late sister and his nephew were helping us against the Easterlings?”

“Of course he has,” replied Yrsa tiredly. “Do you believe he has lied to us?”

“I am having my doubts,” said Onundr, “and what you have just told me makes me even more suspicious. I do not believe the spymaster wanted the destruction of Esgaroth – it is his home, too, after all – but I think he would have happily sold out Dale and the Dwarves or Elves, just to save his own hide. In truth, I believe he would have accepted even the destruction of Esgaroth, as long as he could escape with his family and his wealth. He has the best ships in town – I ought to know, as I have built them – and it seems he has been gathering riches here for quite some time.”

“’Tis still hard to believe,” said Yrsa sadly, “that one of our own would be capable of such betrayal.”

Onundr shrugged his heavy shoulders. “Aye, it is a sad thing, but that is the Dragon Sickness for you,” he said. “’Tis not the first time it occurs in his family, either. Remember, he descends from the Master of Laketown; the one who tried to take all the treasure given us from the Dragon’s hoard for himself and died in the wilderness on a sack of gold.”

“I know,” Yrsa sighed, “but that is not the same. The Master of Laketown was greedy and foolish… he was no traitor.”

“Greed can lead men to horrible deeds,” said Onundr gravely. “You have been wise not to allow the boys to bring up the rest of the treasure ere we leave. Such riches can be tempting, even for the best of men… and Iskjald Holgersson does have a certain… reputation of being hungry for wealth.”

“And a well-deserved one, too, “replied Yrsa wryly. “He had the cheek to court me, while openly chasing after my own maid. He thought me such a fool that I would fall for his honeyed tongue; that I would not notice that he was only after my coin.”

“I would never say you should wed someone like him,” said Onundr, “but are marriages based on reason truly so bad? I know that my late wife and I only wed because I had to take over her father’s workshop, but we had a few good years together nonetheless, and I was grieved by her death as much as if I had chosen her out of love alone.”

"Your wife did not look as I do,” pointed out Yrsa bitterly.

Perhaps for the first time since they had known each other, Onundr gave her a long, assessing look. For the first time in her life, she did not find it humiliating, for in those dark eyes there was no dismay, just mild curiosity.

“You may find that not all men are quite that shallow,” Onundr finally said; then he rose. “Well, I must take a look at that ship of yours, and then I shall go off to bed. We shall have a lot do ere we leave in the morn.”

With that, he left, leaving a very thoughtful Yrsa behind.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the next morn Joukko, Már and the other boys made several dives under the quays and brought up as many as eight canvas bags full of gold and pearls and precious stones altogether. These bags, together with the two they had harvested on the previous day, were carried into the cabin of Onundr Otirsson’s ship, where also Razar and little Halli were bedded on simple bedrolls under the watchful eye of the Elven healers. This arrangement solved the problem of guarding the treasure as well; no Man could hope to slip by the keen-eyed Elves, one of whom, the young apprentice, had a long knife on his belt and was apparently well trained in using it, too.

The wind blew from the North, directly in their faces, when they left the ruins of Laketown, so that they could not use the sail and had to trust in the strong arms of the oarsmen. That meant they would reach Esgaroth later than intended, but Yrsa did not truly mind it. She was not looking forward to facing all those unpleasantries concerning Spymaster Turcaill she knew would be inevitable.

She felt sick about the whole sorry business. It saddened her that while Elves and Dwarves had come to fight alongside them, one of their own would be willing to sell them to the enemy. That someone who had been respected and valued among their own councilmen would use these poor boys in such a heartless way, and indeed had caused the death of other boys before.

“I wonder what else we will learn when it comes to the trial,” she said to Onundr who, now that the Lame Duck was safely on the way home, had come to stand with her on the foredeck. “Mayhap rebuilding our town with the treasure that had endured the touch of the Dragon for so long was not such a good idea, after all.”

The shipwright shook his head. “The evil is not in the gold or in the jewels,” he said. “’Tis in the hearts of men. And not all who have touched it have turned evil, either. Also, I am certain that had the Dragon’s corpse not lain here, Turcaill would have found other ways to enrich himself and exploit the weak. A blackened heart always finds a way. Always. I only wonder how much his family knew… his wife, his children…”

“I am quite certain that Mistress Eydís knew naught,” replied Yrsa. “Had she known of the treasure, she would not have allowed it to lie unused for years. She has a great fondness for fine clothes and jewellery, and she would have demanded her due. Forcefully.”

“Besides, had she known, she would have told her father,” Onundr agreed. “And Master Ketill would have made Turcaill end it.”

“Are you sure?” asked Yrsa quietly. “I know he is a good and honest man, but so much wealth is a great temptation… and like everyone else, he does like it when his strongbox is full.”

Onundr nodded thoughtfully. “If it comes to harvesting the treasure from the Dragon’s carcass, he might be willing to participate,” he said. “But I cannot imagine him to allow these boys to be used in such a manner… or to condone slavery. He would have sought volunteers among the Woodmen who have no fear of the dead Dragon, or found other ways, I deem.”

“Volunteers would want to be paid,” reminded him Yrsa.

Onundr shrugged. “And slaves need to be fed and clothed, however little they would get,” he replied. “Nay; the only advantage of using slaves lies in secrecy: that they cannot go around and tell anyone about the treasure.”

“I still cannot understand,” said Yrsa. “Everyone knows about the treasure already. Everyone could have come to dive for it… they just chose not to do.”

“Because they were afraid of the Dragon’s curse,” replied Onundr. “But that would have changed, once they had seen the riches that can be harvested. You have seen the greed in Iskjald Holgersson’s eyes as well as I have. Now that people will see that it can be done, many will try to grab some of the riches for themselves. And I think the King of Dale would demand his share as well. After all, it was his ancestor who slew the Dragon in the first place… and Dale could use the riches buried under the lake to repair the damage suffered during the siege.”

“’Twould only be proper,” said Yrsa. ‘”They have bought our safety with their blood, too.”

Onundr nodded. “True enough. I only fear that the Dragon Sickness would spread quickly, once our people learn what happened here. Master Ketill will need all the support he can get to prevent an ugly struggle for the treasure.”

“Well, he certainly has mine,” replied Yrsa.

“Mine, too,” said Onundr, “and that of my father and the Harbour Master, no doubt. It wills still not be easy. It all depends on the trial. If people understand the depths of Turcaill’s treachery, they will not want to be seen in the same light.”

“Part of the reason why Master Ketill was chosen for his office were his wisdom and his experience,” said Yrsa with a sigh. “Let us hope he has enough of both to deal with this unfortunate business.”

“He is a wily old bird,” said Onundr with a sudden grin. “I trust him to make people understand what has been done and what needs to be done.”

“Let us hope,” repeated Yrsa, and then both fell silent.