Akkarulf looked at the sky, hoping it would dispel his growing sense of unease. The Wolf had finally received the vision he had long awaited and had appeared to them that morning in his longship. He'd told the Iron Islanders to expect him back shortly before he disappeared into the swirling hellscape that allowed him to travel from place to place or world to world in mere minutes. Now midday had long passed, and still there was no sign of him. What could have happened?
He looked at the sky again. The day was getting on, and the men's daily grumbling at the lack of action ever since the Wolf's execution of Euron had started anew. But they were intelligent enough to avoid such complaints in front of a bear-sized man who ordered daemons about. It fell to Akkarulf to placate them in the Wolf's absence, and until the outworlder said otherwise, the Iron Fleet would not approach Westeros, saving its strength for a future assault.
The sky was a radiant blue north of Essos, and the lookouts had spotted sails visible in the distance to the south. Akkarulf's eyes, blessed by the true gods, could see them as clearly as if they were docked next to each other. Such conditions pleased the heart of any Iron Islander, and he too felt itchy to board and plunder the far-off ships.
He shook his head as though to clear the thoughts away. The Wolf had given him orders, and he was not about to start risking the giant's wrath for so small a gain. The Wolf, as his teacher in the ways of the Ruinous Powers, had told him often enough that the gods moved at their own pace and for their own reasons, and any man who thought to hasten his victory by forcing their hand had only brought ignominious doom upon himself.
He looked around again and sighed.
There was a scream and a splash over the starboard bow of the Silence. Akkarulf jumped over to the railing and nearly fell overboard as well. In the water was the Seafang's prow, twisting and snapping, and clinging onto it were the Wolf and two of his marauders.
"Yarrl!? What happened?!"
"That bastard dragon is what happened! Get us some ropes here!"
Akkarulf barked out an order. Sailors tied ropes to the gunwale and dropped them into the water, which the Wolf wrapped around the struggling prow. The barbarian grabbed a rope and pulled himself aboard with a single hand, snarling as his other arm twisted round, bloody seawater gushing out of the holes in the armor. The metal groaned ominously.
The Silence's crew lifted the figurehead out of the water, not helped by one of the marauders still hanging onto it, his face pale as a newly-washed sheet. The other man splashed desperately in the water until he caught a rope. He too was pulled aboard, where he coughed and hacked for some time.
Looking to the Silence for their orders and seeing the commotion, the rest of the Iron Fleet drifted closer. Akkarulf had more pressing concerns.
The Wolf snarled as he twisted his ruined arm around. There was a screech of metal, but the armor remained in place.
"The Dragonqueen came up while we were still loading the throne. Didn't listen to me, sicced the dragon on us, but the cursed lizard went for the ship before turning on me. She got in the way, damn near threw herself on my sword to stop me getting at him."
"Daenerys is dead? But..."
"But... my vision..."
"Visions are fickle things, Akkarulf. See what comes of trusting them blindly."
The Wolf spat.
"Then the dragon took her away. We had to run, and now only Einarr and Nurgbjorn are left."
The Wolf stared at Akkarulf.
"I daresay you have an excellent reason to contradict me regarding events I witnessed, Akkarulf."
Akkarulf pointed wordlessly at the prow writhing on the deck. The pale-skinned marauder still clung grimly on, but the reason quickly became apparent. The corpse was missing its entire lower half, entrails spilling onto the deck. But there was very little blood pooling from it.
"Ah. That is a reason I will accept. Furies must've got him."
The Wolf sighed deeply.
"No throne, no Dragonqueen, no Seafang, my best shield and twoscore men lost..."
Without warning, the Wolf brought his unmangled fist down on the Silence's railing, which splintered under the impact.
"The gods do like their little jokes, Akkarulf, and there are few things that amuse them more than to see one of their champions stumble close to his goal."
The Wolf shook his head.
"Had I known their will but a day later, the Dragonqueen would still be alive and well. Her lover was with her there, probably planning on one good last rutting on the throne before she set out to bring the rest of the world to heel."
The Wolf sighed heavily. Akkarulf deemed it a good moment to pry further.
"So what will we do?"
The Wolf turned to face Akkarulf.
"The gods ordered me to move the Iron Throne and take it where they wished it to be. It's still in the Red Keep, there is no change there."
"But... The plan goes on?"
Akkarulf could not see how so disastrous an outcome could still be fixed.
"Of course it goes on. Though we may stumble, we keep moving. Those who abandon at the slightest difficulty do not last long in Norsca, Akkarulf."
The Wolf sniffed.
"It'll take a lot longer, there'll be a few changes, we'll have to lay low for a few weeks..."
The giant sighed again.
"Now bring up the carpenters."
The Wolf's patience seemed to be growing dangerously thin. There was a sharp undercurrent as he snarled back.
"Because I want them to build me a wooden duck on wheels that flaps its wings when it moves. What do you think I want carpenters for!?"
Akkarulf hurried away to obey his captain's orders, feeling he had dodged an arrow. He had scarcely told the carpenters to fetch their tools when the other ships had pulled up and their captains come aboard. Akkarulf followed them to the prow of the Silence.
The Wolf stood next to the fore ballista, apparently trying to wrench his arm back into place, growling as a chunk of steel fell from his vambrace. He turned to face the captains and Akkarulf, speaking before any of them could open their mouths.
"You have something to ask of me, I take it."
One of the captains nodded.
"Well, it'll have to wait."
The captains looked surprised and outraged in equal measure. The Wolf went on, continuing over their protests.
"Akkarulf, where are we?"
Feeling the eyes of the captains on him, Akkarulf answered.
"North of Lorath, yarrl. You can see the sails of their merchants there."
The Wolf turned southwards.
"Cloth and ivory mostly."
The Wolf looked to the distance again, then back to the assembled captains.
"What do you think, lords of the Iron Islands? Anything worth dying for in the bellies of those ships? Or shall we hold back once more to lick our wounds, and only emerge when victory is assured, at fifteen to one or better?"
Akkarulf hesitated for only an instant. This had to be a test.
"We fight for Chaos and the favor of the gods! There is no reward save what they grant us."
The Wolf stared Akkarulf in the eye for longer than was comfortable, then grinned.
"Good answer. I trust you are all in agreement? None of you want to return to your wives and children and take up the farmer's life? If any of you wish it, I have no issue with letting you leave, it being so long since you've had to fight you might have forgotten which end of the sword goes into an enemy."
There was a chorus of furious "no"s from the Iron Islanders at the suggestion.
"Back to your ships, then, and ready axes and armor. Today we loot, tomorrow we feast, and the favor of the gods upon us once more. A harvest of skulls needs no sowing."
The Wolf paused.
"What is it you wanted?"
A captain named Gorion spoke up, showing no signs of fear. A slimy red tentacle as thick as a child's arm wiggled around his bare shoulder when he spoke, the other captains bearing similar additions to their anatomy.
"To know when we would next get to plundering, yarrl. These weeks of sailing past the coasts without once attacking or raiding have put the men on edge. That we just dropped anchor at Dragonstone without attacking made it worse."
The Wolf nodded.
"As it should. Still..."
The Wolf pointed to his mangled armor.
"This is what the Dragonqueen's pet did to me, and I am the High Executioner of Chaos. Had you disobeyed me and sailed for King's Landing, you would have faced not just the dragon and its mother, but a fleet half the size of your own led by a man as skilled at seacraft as any of you, a blockaded river guarded by bolt throwers, two armies on the shore, and myself. Still regretting that I told you not to sail into the bay?"
The captains hesitated before shaking their heads.
"Good. Tell your men there was a dragon involved, it may cool their resentment."
The Wolf pointed out to the far-off sails.
"But now that they have their chance to prove themselves, I expect great things from them all. I want to see at least ten ships plundered, with no survivors... and to further motivate them, tell them that there will be no tithing of the loot this time. Nothing of what your sailors take today will go into the Seaf- the Silence, what they take is theirs to keep."
There was an awed silence before the Iron Islanders could speak again at this generosity.
"No quarter given nor asked!"
"The Ruinous Powers will feast tonight!"
The captains were about to leave, eyes wide, when the Wolf stopped them.
"A moment, Gorion. I am glad to see my orders and your wishes are the same, but tell me something. What would you have done, had I told you there was to be yet more waiting? That the Iron Fleet would refrain from giving battle once more, parading up and down the coasts until such time as the gods granted me a new vision and this arm became usable again?"
Gorion seemed to think his words over. When he spoke again, he put his hand on his boarding axe.
"Then we'd have looked for a new captain to lead the fleet. Emissary of the true gods or not."
The Wolf smiled broadly.
"Excellent! The pack that follows a toothless wolf soon starves."
The Wolf had a way of speaking that brought his fangs into prominence.
"And speaking of starving, I see fat woolen sheep on the horizon, waiting to be sheared and slaughtered."
The captains returned to their ships, and this time the Wolf did not stop them. Akkarulf watched them go before asking questions.
"You really would have let them kill you, yarrl?"
"Let them? Hardly. Even with one arm gone I could have tossed three overboard before the sword-work began. But doing so would not have gotten that damned iron chair any further from its keep. Death can atone for many crimes in the eyes of men, but not of the gods, Akkarulf."
"Then you will not join the battle?"
"On the contrary. I must be sorely out of practice to lose against a lizard without even the proper number of legs. We attack as soon as the carpenters have finished."
"Yes yarrl. When will we return to Westeros?"
The Wolf laughed bitterly.
"Not any time soon. The Shield-slayer suspects something regarding Euron, I know he does. Had the gods not demanded the rust-born's death at that moment..."
Akkarulf looked puzzled.
"But I thought he was meant for death when you first fought him."
"He was, but I felt giving you his appearance was necessary to get you in the city and further my plans. I needed you to strut around in his armor while in the city so they would put the sabotage on his head. Those few days he remained alive were already too many in the eyes of the gods, and see the price we paid for it."
"Had he been kept alive for longer, you would have worn his face while sabotaging the gates and removed all doubt, but now..."
The Wolf sighed.
"As far as they know, it was not Euron but a disguised minion of his who was seen in King's Landing just before the attack, but the Shield-slayer's a cunning one. He worked out that you and Sven might have been working together, though I tried to steer him otherwise. Best not to give him reason to suspect further."
"But they know you were behind Daenerys attacking the city, don't they?"
"Not yet, though it may occur to them. Regardless, the fleet will stay north of Essos for the time being. And get a lot of sacks ready."
"Nothing of the what the other crews claim today will go into my holds. If we want anything of value we'll have to take it for ourselves. Greedy bastards, are you ironborn."
As the Silence's craftsmen came to the prow, the Wolf stood looking at the sky and muttering to himself.
Drogon pushed on through the night. The sun had risen and set three times before he finally changed course.