Einarr furrowed his brow at Runa’s suggestion, confused. “A… tune? But Song Magic is fundamentally ephemeral.”
“Indeed.” All hint of sensuality was gone from Reki’s voice, and Einarr heard what sounded like a warning threat in her tone.
He bristled: this was his wife she used that tone with, after all.
“Song magic is utterly unsuited for such a task. I don’t know what you’re even thinking about.”
Runa looked back down at the table and took a deep breath. She squared her shoulders and looked Einarr directly in the eye. “Yes. Song magic is utterly unsuited to the task I have in mind… at least as it is typically thought of. There is another layer, however. A deeper layer.”
“Such things are not worthy of you, Queen of Breidelsteinn.”
“And yet it is an option I am willing to place on the table, Master Chanter.” She turned her attention back toward Einarr, as though afraid to look away now, and swallowed hard. “Should my lord desire it of me, I am willing to perform a Tuning on the men of the Allthing which will ensure they look favorably on you and your strategy.”
“Such things are forbidden!”
“I know that well, Reki, and yet every Singer learns the practice in her apprenticeship. Such is my devotion, that I will offer the option.”
“Reki…” Einarr had to draw himself together to even ask the question. He had a feeling he was not going to like the answer. “Reki. What is a Tuning?”
“Just as a fiddle or a lyre has strings which must be tuned, so too do the souls of sentient beings. The Tuning works a profound change in the subtlest way, and it is permanent.”
Einarr rocked back on his heels. In that moment he felt as though he was drowning, and had to remind himself to breathe. He looked across the table at Runa: her lower lip trembled.
“Such a thing is possible?” It came out as a whisper, clearly audible over the silence from the rest of the room. Bend the Allthing to my will… and turn thanes to thralls? Never.
Stigander looked shaken to his core: four times married, and four times to Singers.
Runa lowered her head. “It is not permanent. Not truly.”
He almost didn’t hear her, not that her answer did anything to cool his mounting rage. “So when you said you could make me carry you away from your father… this is what you meant?” His voice crescendoed until the last word was nearly a shout. Her eyes went wide but she didn’t deny it. “Have you ever Tuned someone, Runa?”
His wife kept her head lowered and did not answer.
“Did you Tune me?” Can I believe her if she says no?
Still no answer.
Einarr growled. He wanted to throw something, but even had something come to hand it would have been a challenge not to throw it at her right then. Red haze danced at the edges of his vision. Soul Tuning. How could such a thing even be possible, if the gods are just?
“There will be no Tuning at the Allthing. None. And if I ever hear talk of you performing this black art, I will put you aside and send you back to your Father’s hall in disgrace.”
He felt sick, and moreso because, for just a moment before the full implications hit, he’d been tempted. The silver bells sounded anyway.
Sivid blinked. When he closed his eyes, he was surrounded by the open sky and the side of a mountain above the tree line. Then the sound of bells came to his ears and he sighed. Slowly, the sound of bells faded into the pounding of drums and the jaunty drone of a fiddle and the rattling of dice. When he opened his eyes again, he was in the best sort of public house.
He saw no-one drinking broodily alone or plotting with just their mates. The fiddle and drums were playing for a hallingdanse up near the front of the room, and elsewhere he saw tables full of men telling boastful stories or dicing, and from anywhere in the room he might hear a peal of laughter or a spate of cheering. Even as the grin spread across his face, though, he felt his fingers twitching.
It was a familiar itch, but one he could never quite ignore. The itch to toss the dice and win again, prove to himself that his losses were still only by choice. Let’s find a place in the dance, instead. There would be no unfortunate consequences if he took the prize on the dance floor, after all.
He sidled up to a woman on the outside with a large purse at her belt and a blackboard in hand. “Anything special has to happen for me to join?”
The brown-haired woman spared him half a glance. If she only smiled, she’d be nearly as good-looking as he was. “Entry fee is ten silvers to the pot. Winner gets half, house gets the rest.”
Sivid reached down and tested the weight of his purse. For a wonder, it seemed to be full. “Done.”
He pressed the coins into the bookie’s hand and found himself a place in the circle. The dancers here were fierce for all that their contest was all in fun.
Sivid grinned. The better the competition, the more fun he’d have.