Stigander caught the sound of silver bells in the wind and steeled himself. The last trial had tried to make him choose between his birthright and his son’s future, as though the two could be separated. That had been bad enough, but surely the trials ahead would be just as wrenching. He took a step forward on the path…
…And found he now stood on a different mountain path, on an island he had not seen in more than a decade. I’m… home?
He blinked, hardly believing what his eyes were showing him. The road beneath his feet, laboriously cut into the granite face, switchbacked above and below. Behind him marched the Vidofnings, savage jubilation painting each and every face. Even Einarr’s, which left a twinge of heartsickness behind. Far below, the Vidofnir bobbed in the water alongside a ship with an unfamiliar ramshead on the prow – Einarr’s ship, it had to be.
The men behind him furrowed their brows. They’re waiting on me. He stepped forward again even as he turned his head to look up the rock face. There, rising above, were the unmistakable grey stone walls of Breidelsteinn. I’m home.
His pace quickened. The Usurper must have already lost, or there would be warriors on the road, and arrows would rain on their heads. Instead, all was peaceful. It was time to reclaim the honor stolen from his father.
As they marched, he heard the strains of the Lay of Raen carry up the road and the corner of his mouth quirked in a smile. That was some impressive breath control Reki had, if she was willing to sing while they marched. At least, he thought it was Reki.
At the top of the switchbacks Stigander stopped again. The gates stood open wide. In the center of the passage, his father’s first liege-man knelt before him. Clustered in the shadows behind, the Jarls and Captains of Breidelsteinn prostrated themselves. No. Not like this. These men were my friends.
But now they were his subjects. Even if his father were still fit to rule, which Stigander thought unlikely, the Clan would never accept him at its head again. They might not accept him, for that matter. Stigander closed his eyes and swallowed hard on the melancholy that threatened to overtake him. Done is done. You knew this would be part of the price.
When he opened his eyes again they were hard. He had hesitated too long already, when now was the time for decisiveness. Three firm steps forward brought him to just ahead of where the man knelt. “Gorgny Agnarsson, do you swear on the names of your father and your grandfather that the Weaver’s sorcery no longer holds you?”
“In the names of Agnar and Hagrlaug, I swear my mind is no longer clouded by sorcery, and may my heart burst if I lie.” Shame practically dripped from the man’s voice.
Stigander nodded, accepting the attestation. Uncle Gorgny had always been an honest man. “Then swear to me as you once swore to my father.”
“My lord prince, Lord Raen yet lives, and though all the clan may forsake him, I will not.”
Stigander snorted, but his face softened a little. “You realize under the circumstances that could mean your death?”
“I do, and I will make any oath you ask of me – except that one, so long as my lord Raen still lives and breathes.”
“Rise, then.” Stigander suppressed a sigh. If he had wanted to prove the man wasn’t a traitor, this managed it nearly as well. “How is Father?”
“Battered but not broken. Never broken.”
“Good.” He smiled at the man he had always thought of as an uncle and clapped him on the shoulder. Stigander had not dared hope that his father would survive this. It would be good for Einarr to meet his grandfather again.
Stigander turned his father’s liege-man and stepped over the threshold. “What of the rest of them?”
“The ones you see? Penitents all. It’s as though we all woke from a bad dream not long ago. The rest are shackled and awaiting justice.”
He nodded now. “I will take the oaths of the penitents in the main hall.”
“Yes, my lord prince.”
His father’s hall had changed under the influence of the Usurper and the Weaver. Raen had made it larger than it had to be so everyone would be welcome, and they were. The lively good cheer he remembered had fled over the intervening years, tossed out with the rugs and candelabrum that were nowhere to be seen on his return. His brother had left it empty, cold, and dark.
Stigander set his mouth in a hard line. Restoring the hall would be easy, compared to the rest of what he had to do. He slowed for the last few steps up on to the dias, feeling their weight.
The seat of the Thane stood before him, polished and painted wood that had never before this moment intimidated him. Stigander blew a breath through his moustache. Rather than sit, he turned to face the men now filling the hall behind him and motioned at a few of them to join him: Gorgny, Bardr, Einarr. As Gorgny stepped into place beside him, he caught the man’s eye. “Uncle, where is Father?”
“Resting, under the care of an herb-witch.”
Stigander winced a little. “Urdr was quite cruel, then.” When Gorgny nodded, he shifted his attention to the hall.
“People of Breidelsteinn,” he began, his voice filling the hall. “It has taken long years, but at last Urdr’s Weaving has been unraveled – by none other than my own son Einarr.”
He allowed a minute for the cheering to die down before he continued. “I do not believe that any of you who stand before me were in their right mind during the Usurper’s reign… but much can change as the years fall away. My friends, I believe that you are all still my friends, and I would ask you to swear to this. If your heart does not remain with the Weaver and the Wolf, swear again before me as you once did before my father Raen.”