When the Vidofnir had emerged from the narrow fjord that served as a gateway to the ship-barrow, someone spotted the black storm clouds that had washed over the island on the southeastern horizon. The sail was unfurled and they gave chase, building speed faster than wind alone with the oars. For three weeks they chased the storm this way, always headed vaguely southeast and ever more convinced that the storm itself was unnatural. Chased, but never gained. In the middle of the third week, Snorli approached the Captain and Mate.
“We must put in to port soon, sirs. We’ve a week’s worth of water and mead left, at best.” They could live off of fish for so long as they had water, but once that was gone…
Reluctantly, Stigander agreed and the order was given to make for Mikilgata Harbor, not many days west of them in territory nominally held by Thane Birlof. Not exactly friendly territory, but safe enough if they kept their noses clean. In this way the Vidofnings found themselves holed up in the guest bunks offered at the Wandering Warrior on the port’s edge.
The benefit of a place like this, of course, was that finding buyers was a simple, if not straightforward affair, and as their first week in port passed they converted no small amount of their treasure from gold to gems or more ivory to lighten their hold.
The drawback, however, was that there were very few men interested in going out to sea, and even fewer that Stigander would feel comfortable bringing aboard. So, for the most part, they waited and they drank until the hold was empty enough to accommodate the food and fresh water they required.
Two days before Stigander planned to leave, when most of the Vidofnings were gaming to while away the hours or off in search of a good training field while Snorli and Bardr arranged for the delivery of supplies, a familiar figure trudged into the Warrior and leaned on his arms at the bar.
Einarr, going over the manifest with his father, looked twice before he realized who it was in front of him. He was on his feet, heading for the bar himself, before he had time to consciously process what he was doing.
The old man looked up, weariness and desperation obvious in his face. “Oh, good. When we saw the Vidofnir in port…”
“We? Are you on the Skudbrun now? …Never mind, come sit down.” Truth be told, Einarr hadn’t given the man a second thought since their glìma match in the spring, but even if the fisherman had taken up whaling there wasn’t much that should have brought him this far out.
“For the moment, yes. Lord Stigander, sir.” Trabbi greeted Stigander as he took a seat at their table and slumped against it.
“Trabbi.” Stigander’s voice held a note of caution. After all, the last time they had spoken with this man, he had been competing with Einarr for a bride. “What brings you to Mikilgata?”
“He was relieved to find us, so nothing good.”
“Oh, aye, nothing good at all.” Trabbi looked around for the master of the bar, who was nowhere in sight. He shook his head, sighing. “That letter your new Singer had when you came back last time? It was summoning Runa for – and I quote her – ‘Singer business.’”
Trabbi’s eyes scanned the room again, although less like he was looking for something and more like a man taking in his surroundings. “My Jarl, he asked me to go along as bodyguard – not that he mistrusted the men of the Skudbrun, but that he wanted someone who would stand out less on shore. What else could I do but agree to that?
“Only… on the way… a storm blew up, and riding the winds was a black-headed ship…”
“So then Runa is…” Einarr sat back, stunned. He couldn’t say the word… couldn’t admit to himself the possibility that she might have been murdered the same way Astrid was.
“Kidnapped.” The word Trabbi supplied was far less despair-inducing than the one Einarr had come up with, but still it took a moment for father and son to process what they’d heard.
“Kidnapped?” Stigander was the first to recover.
“Kidnapped. …And I’m no warrior, but I’m to blame… We lost sight of that strange storm they rode four days ago.”
Einarr met his father’s eyes with a wordless plea.
Stigander nodded once, slowly. “You say the Skudbrun is in port? Here?”
Thane Birlof’s waters were even less friendly to Jarl Hroaldr’s Thane than they were to the sons of Raen. Still, Trabbi nodded.
“We’ll go back to your ship with you, speak with Captain Kragnir. I think, all things considered, my crew will be more than willing to help you go after the scum.”
“You have my thanks.”
All three men stood and headed for the door, the manifest tucked beneath Stigander’s arm.
Trabbi led them through the port, his shoulders more square than they had been in the bar. The Skudbrun was moored in an out-of-the-way location where it wasn’t likely to be seen by anyone too loyal to the supposed thane. This placed it on the same dock, although much farther back, than the Vidofnir. Bardr looked up and watched as the three of them passed by, but he did nothing to interfere.
The Skudbrun looked exactly as she had when they had come after Einarr and Runa in the Gufuskalam that spring. Captain Kragnir, a white-haired man who only looked small in comparison to Stigander, stood on the deck near the gangplank. Whether he was looking for their party or for porters, who could tell.
“I hear you’ve had a run-in with our old friends, Captain,” Stigander drawled.
“So it appears, Captain.”
“May we come aboard?”
Captain Kragnir stepped to the side and motioned for the three men to join him.