half days' journey to Muspell Island.
At midday, they landed in front of Nurlan's fortress. It was well built, but not nearly as ornate as Jarl's. The plain grey stone walls almost seemed to melt into the grey fog that
surrounded it. The drawbridge lowered as they approached, and a tall, thin man with a grey beard and long hair to match emerged, followed by ten soldiers. Bjorn bowed.
"Hello, Nurlan," he said cheerily.
Nurlan smiled. "Hello, Bjorn old friend! Welcome! Come in, you and your companions are just in time to be our guests for lunch."
Bjorn introduced Obsi and Dally as they walked through the foyer to the large dining hall. They sat amongst Nurlan's guards at a large round table, Bjorn to Nurlan's left, then a guard, Dally guard, Obsi and two more guards. Once everyone was seated, Bjorn spoke.
"I take it you know why we're here," he said cautiously.
Nurlan stroked his long grey beard thoughtfully. "I know you have spoken with Jarl. I know he has seen my scouts in the Narrows. I know if he truly thought we were a threat, we would have
been attacked by now. I also know he still has not ruled out wiping us off of the face of the world, since our 'truce' is informal."
"Are you a threat?" Obsi asked carefully. "We know you have been speaking with Xander and his minions. We know they want a war between you and Jarl. We don't know why, but we know he
cannot be trusted."
Nurlan laughed. "No, we are not a threat. We have lived peacefully, although warily, for many years. I have not believed one word that Xander has said to us about Jarl wanting a war now.
But, I am not foolish enough to at least make certain I am correct. That is why I sent scouts to the Narrows."
"Where are Xander and the other degenerates?" Dally asked sourly.
Nurlan laughed again. "I like you! They went to 'consult with Gustav' they said. Whatever that means."
"Gustav is dead," Obsi sneered. "I saw him die. I saw his ghost dragged off to hell where it belongs. How long do they think they can keep perpetuating the myth of him still being alive?"
Nurlan shrugged. "As long as there are fools who want to believe it, I suppose."
"If you are willing to meet with Jarl, he wants to meet on Neutral Beach at dusk today," Bjorn interjected.
Nurlan motioned to one of his staff. "Please bring the food. We will need to leave as soon as possible. Also, send a raven to Jarl so he knows to expect us." The man nodded and hurried off to the kitchen. Nurlan then motioned to the guard seated to Bjorn's left.
"Ready the elite guard; they will travel with us. I do not anticipate any trouble from Jarl, but the Blackbloods are another matter. We must be ready for anything."
"Yes Sir," the guard said as he rose. He grabbed a turkey drumstick off the plate that was being brought to the table and took a large bite as he walked to the door. They ate as quickly as good digestion would allow, and went outside.
The dragon that waited for Nurlan was massive.
It was covered in black and reddish-gold armor, its talons gold, as were the spikes on its tail. Wings the color of cooling lava flapped gently but impatiently. A sword of fire formed a helmet-like fixture over its eyes, which glowed red. It turned and looked directly at Dally.
"Surt," she whispered.
"Yes," Nurlan replied. "Isn't he just magnificent?"
Dally nodded, unable to speak. Nurlan took her hand and led her to the dragon. Surt bowed his head to her, and she stroked his massive chin.
"Dallyah will ride with me," Nurlan called. "Everyone else mount up! We fly to the Neutral Beach!"
Bjorn laughed as he and Obsi climbed onto Gunnar's back. "Are you jealous that she gets to ride Surt?" he teased.
Obsi laughed. "Yes and no. That dragon scares me!"