When Stigander had told him he would be acting as porter for the resupply, Einarr had not quite realized that meant he would be the only porter. He spent the better part of the next three days hauling salted fish, fresh water, and the other sundries that would make their summer on the seas tolerable overland between Kjellvic and the Vidofnir. He could not tell if Jorir had been kept in the dark as to the nature of his task those days, or if the dwarf had declined to intervene: in either case, it did not bear mentioning.
It was not until the evening of the third day that Einarr again had a chance to speak with either Bardr or his father. “So when is someone going to introduce me to the new battle chanter?”
Bardr looked at him sidelong and snorted. “What makes you think we’ve recruited one? Your father has a bit of a reputation right now.”
“You’ve sailed out. The Vidofnir never sails without a skald.”
“True enough. I’ll make sure you’re introduced before we board. She’s no Astrid, but I think you’ll like her anyway.” He took a swig of his night’s tankard, and something caught his eye from across the room. “Well well well.” Bardr nudged Einarr with his elbow. “Look who’s decided to make an appearance, the night before we leave.”
Einarr followed the first mate’s gaze. A woman stood in the shadow of a doorway almost timidly, still draped in the heavy cloak of one who had been sitting out, but her face was still the one that made Einarr’s heart race.
“Excuse me,” he barely remembered to murmur before his feet had taken him around the end of the table and halfway across the hall. Even then it was mostly reflexive. His feet slowed three paces from where she stood, as though some part of him were afraid to scare her off. When her sea-blue eyes raised from the floor to lock with his, he felt warmth rise in his cheeks. “Runa,” he breathed.
“I was only just told you’d returned.” Her voice felt much smaller than he remembered, perhaps a result of her seclusion, but she too flushed.
“I’m glad they found you. We’re just about to leave again.”
She nodded. “I’m glad I didn’t miss you. Tell me how it went?”
The Vidofnings were to sail with the evening tide. Despite having loaded the ship himself, a strange reluctance to board weighted his feet to the sand as they prepared to board. He stood, studying the longship he had called home since his tenth year with its fanciful bird’s head, for a long moment
The crunch of boots in the sand alerted Einarr to someone’s approach. A glance back revealed that it was Jorir. “Well, what do you think?”
“Mighty fine looking craft, she is.”
“Glad you think so. She’s the closest thing we have to home.”
“So I’ve heard. Anyone going to bother tellin’ me why?”
“Soon enough. …Which reminds me, Bardr was going to make sure I met the new battle chanter. Where is he?”
“Think I saw him over near the gangplank.”
“Let’s go, then. How many on the crew have you met?”
The dwarf chortled. “Most, I expect. Now ask me how many names I remember.”
Einarr laughed with him. “It’ll come.”
Bardr saw the two of them approaching and waved. “Einarr! Good timing.”
Someone stood between Bardr and the Vidofnir, nearly obscured in the shadow of the boat. As he drew closer, Einarr realized the shadow wasn’t the only thing obscuring them: the stranger’s cloak was pulled closed around them, hood raised, in spite of the afternoon sun. If size was anything to judge by the figure was a woman, which meant he was probably speaking with their new battle chanter. Einarr stepped up next to Bardr and offered the figure a shallow bow of greeting.
“Is this…?” He trailed off.
“Quite. Einarr, this is Reki Fjorisdottir. Reki, meet our Captain’s son, Einarr.”
“A pleasure.” The woman’s voice was low and smooth, as much of a purr as a note.
“The pleasure is mine. And this is Jorir.” He clapped the dwarf, whose patronym he had never yet learned, on the shoulder.
Einarr found it curious that he had not yet seen this woman, in the hall or as he was loading the ship. He thought he saw white hair under her hood. “Has the Vidofnir been to your liking?”
“Very much so. Your father runs a close ship – much closer than the last I was attached to.”
Einarr glanced at Bardr, but the man gave him no sign what she might mean. “Dare I ask what became of them?”
“Some few of them took it into their heads that I was bad luck and I was put ashore. I shan’t miss them.”
This was not auspicious. Einarr’s glance at Bardr was nervous this time.
“Pure superstition, I assure you.” Icy white hands appeared from beneath her cloak and pulled the hood back just enough that he could catch a glimpse of pink eyes. “My mother and father were ordinary freeholders, and no Artist of any sort has found trace of a curse upon me. It is only that I am somewhat sensitive to the sun.”
It was just like Stigander to bring aboard someone cast off unjustly, and given the state of their holdings superstition was not something they could afford to be too concerned about. “Ah. Well, welcome aboard. I trust Father has told you what happened to Astrid?”
She inclined her head, allowing the hood to fall back over her face. “Of course. And I look forward to hunting those who hunt my fellow Singers.” The soft purr hardened into cold steel.
“We should go aboard. Captain’s waiting on us, and there’s still one more thing we need to do before we sail.” Bardr clapped his shoulder and started up the gangplank.