All around Einarr people walked through the motions of daily life, utterly unknowing (or unconcerned by) the fiery doom flying about the island.
Einarr walked up and down the city streets getting the lay of the place, his eyes open for public halls or an obvious path to the docks. The sheer numbers of people pressed in on him, so many more endangered now – because of him.
Unconsciously, he drew his shoulders in until he walked half-hunched like a thief. What was he supposed to do, here in the city? He was one man, and there were hundreds of places the Shroud could hide here. For all he knew, the Shroud had already finished with the Hall and was ensconced below the deck of its ship.
Einarr shook his head. No sense thinking like that. The divination had said he would get three chances: that had to mean he would find the thing if he just kept looking. With a grimace he straightened his shoulders and picked up his pace.
He passed a handful of public halls as he roamed the upper city, but none with the air of dilapidation he had seen in Melja’s divination. Most likely, then, that meant it was a Hall for dockworkers and sailors – the sort of place Erik would go for a brawl, or Sivid for a contest. That was fine by him: if the Shroud was confined to the harbor area, that was less ground Einarr had to keep an eye on.
The harbor road and the main road were, Einarr soon discovered, one and the same, the broad street sloping gently downward past homes and merchant’s shops and into the heart of a shipyard.
Einarr had never seen so many half-built ships in one place in his life, and the vast majority were longships or their less-agile cousins, the merchant-favored knarr. Nothing up on blocks, though, bore a bear’s head that he could see. That meant it was most likely a ship in service – which only made sense, if the Shroud intended to escape on it.
The main road of the harbor district seemed as clean and lively as the street had farther inland: Einarr began to repeat his pattern from above. The sun was already high in the sky, but he found nothing smelled appetizing. He should eat… If you buy a couple of those dumplings, maybe the cook will know something about the place you’re looking for.
It was a long shot, but the hope of information gave him the impetus he needed to put food in his belly, and he knew he would think more clearly once he had eaten. “Two, please.”
The man on the other side of the counter of the wooden shanty grunted and took his coins and pulled a cabbage leaf from the head he had handy.
“There a Hall around these parts that likes putting down rugs?”
The man raised an eyebrow. “That’s an awfully funny question to be askin’. You got some to sell or somethin’?”
Einarr opened his mouth to object, but thought better of it. It would be easier than explaining. He shrugged. “Something like that.”
The man rolled his eyes so hard they took his head with them. “’Ere’s a couple I know. Not sure they’ll have much coin for buying new, now, mind: mostly use ‘em to keep mud down.”
That sounded like exactly the sort of place Einarr was looking for, and he said so.
“Lookin’ for? Are ye daft? …Y’know what, never mind. Go straight down that-a-way and hang a right at the sign of the Ferret. There’s four or five dives between there and the waterfront. Just don’t come whinin’ to me with your guts hangin’ out, understood?”
“You have my word.” Einarr chuckled to himself as he walked away with a pair of dumplings wrapped in cabbage and, more precious than food, a place to start hunting in earnest.
Einarr trudged out of what was quite thoroughly the rough part of Eskiborg as the sun began to set, he was no closer to knowing what Hall the Shroud would hide in than before he spoke with the dumpling man. As urgent as his quest was, though, he needed a place to stay the night where he would not find a knife in his ribs come morning, and he needed a Singer to consult with. Thankfully, he had an idea where to find both of these at once.
Einarr trudged the last few hundred steps up the main thoroughfare in the dim of twilight to the hall he had thought looked promising when he spotted it: The Bronze Archer.
Warm light spilled out from the still-open door, and lively music with it. As he thought he’d seen earlier, a comely young woman sang with the rest of the musicians, and unless he missed his guess she was keeping everyone’s energy high. With a smile and a spring in his step that hadn’t been there earlier, Einarr stepped into the Bronze Archer and let the warmth of the room envelop him.
The singer was definitely working her magic on the crowd – not that anyone in that crowd was going to mind. A hallingdanse was already in full swing, and those not participating still made merry, talking and laughing over ale and stew and bread alike. With a smile, Einarr took a seat on the end of a bench and waved for the serving maid.
“What’ll it be?”
“A bowl of whatever supper is, a tankard, and a place to sleep if you’ve got one.”
She gave him a smile and a wink. “Traveler’s special, comin’ right up! I’ll let the mistress know you’re lookin’ for a bed.”
There was nothing more he could do tonight, except try to talk to that Singer once the dance was done, and he couldn’t arrange for that until the mistress of the house came by. In the meantime, he intended to enjoy his meal.
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