Einarr returned to the Vidofnir late that evening with Bardr and Jorir several silver poorer and an equal number of tankards less thirsty, with only two potential recruits found.
Bardr clapped him on the shoulder as they approached the Vidofnir’s mooring. “Don’t worry about it. Two men in an afternoon, on your first day out? That’s hard to complain about.”
Einarr shrugged. Maybe it wasn’t, but he couldn’t help but feel like he was supposed to have done more.
“Don’t look now,” Jorir interrupted. “But I think something happened while we were out.”
Men swarmed about the docks in front of their boat. The three men exchanged a look before taking off at a jog for the ship they called home.
The crew was clustered in a ring around the gangplank, with the men on the outside jockeying for position. Three men stood in the center of the ring: Erik, leaning on his crutch; the slight, cinnamon-haired Irding, looking like nothing so much as a reduced copy of the man; and Stigander, standing between them.
Einarr glanced around: Sivid was currently on the outside of the ring, at least for the moment. “Oy!” He tapped the small man on the shoulder. “What’s going on?”
“That skinny guy – said you sent him? Hadn’t been here ten minutes before he walked up to Erik and popped him, right in the jaw. Right now the Captain’s the only thing keeping those two from fighting.”
Einarr sighed. Of course. “Coming through!”
The Vidofnings didn’t exactly part to let him pass, but they didn’t try to stop him, either. Stigander acknowledged his arrival in the center of the circle with a silent nod.
“Father. What goes on here?”
“Just a little tension with one of your new arrivals.”
“Talk to the cripple over there!” Irding jumped in. “I wanted to leave it be where it was.”
Predictably, Erik’s face reddened with anger. Not that Einarr could fault him.
He took a deep breath, trying not to let the newcomer’s bluster get to him, too. “So tell me. Why did you feel the need to punch one of our best men immediately after you were let on board?”
“Ask him if the name ‘Kenna’ means anything to him.”
Erik’s anger slowly changed from anger to confusion, and then to remembrance. “Kenna? Lovely girl, she was. How is she these days?”
“Kenna. The woman you seduced and abandoned here in Apalvik twenty years ago. My mother, who always believed you’d come back for her, died of the pox last winter.”
“Kenna was… She… I have a son?”
Irding glared at the man who was, in fact, his father. Stigander pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, while Einarr shook his head.
“There was some justice in your assault, then,” Stigander finally said. “This does not change that now I have to decide if I actually want to let you on my ship.”
“If you will have me, I would stay. For my part, the punch was sufficient… because I should like to know the man who fathered me.”
Einarr looked at his father. “If he is Erik’s son, doesn’t that make him just as much a man of Briedelsteinn as me?”
Erik still looked poleaxed by the revelation that he had a son, although the vestiges of excitement looked to be building. If he’d fathered other children, plainly their mothers had not seen fit to inform him of it.
“So it does. Erik? Will having this man on board be a problem?”
“I have a son…” He shook his head, the question finally registering. “No. Not a problem. Evidently I deserved that one.”
Stigander jerked his chin down in a decisive nod. “Very well. Irding Eriksson, welcome aboard the Vidofnir, last refuge of the Sons of Raen. You’ve already met my son, I believe. The men who were with him are Bardr, the Mate, and our smith Jorir.”
“Do not expect special treatment because your father is one of our top warriors. I assure you that Einarr gets none.”
“Good! Now, I believe you were on your way to help unload when you decided to assault my sailor. Get to it!”
* * *
Among the crowd that had gathered with the crew to watch the budding fight were several local merchants. Some of them muttered about reducing their bids on account of the disruption. Thankfully, a quiet word with Bardr and an inspection of the goods in question forestalled that outcome.
Erik disappeared not long after their cargo was offloaded, and reappeared with a cask under each arm more than an hour later. The man’s face was red, and already he smelled of mead, but unless Einarr was very much mistaken Erik was actually happy to learn he had a bastard. Einarr shook his head: he would wait until his friend was somewhat less ebullient before he asked “what about the others?”
Irding kept to the shadows near the side of the boat, for the most part – until Erik caught sight of him.
“Come, have a drink with us! Let yer old man get to know you.” Erik already had a small crowd around him, in truth. Einarr beckoned from the edge of it. Erik would find himself wedged in an awkward place soon enough, but for tonight it was true that they had found another man of the clan – even if he didn’t quite recognize it yet.
Einarr’s other foundling, a broad-shouldered young man calling himself Svarek, arrived with the first light of dawn, a pack slung over his shoulder and a double-bitted axe at his belt. He was the third son of a local freeholder, he said, and his options were join a crew or join a priesthood. It was a common tale, but neither Einarr, Bardr, nor Stigander could find a reason why he shouldn’t come aboard.
The Vidofnir remained under-strength, but still they sailed with the morning tide, beseeching Eira for fair winds and no more hunters.