In four days a spruce graveship was made ready for Astrid’s body, lavishly appointed by the Jarl. All that was left was for Stigander to select her grave gifts from the hold of the Vidofnir and they could send her off before the Ice. The soothsayers claimed there would be another few days yet before winter rolled over the island.
Stigander and Einarr pulled up the deck boards of the Vidofnir and stared at their gains from the raid. Everyone had offered to help, of course, but Stigander was adamant: his only son was the only one who would be allowed on board.
Gold and bone, glass and pewter and wood stared back at them from below the deck. Stigander sat, dangling his feet over the edge, and Einarr folded his legs under him. “Combs, jewelry, her favorite knife,” Stigander muttered. “Did we get any instruments from the last village? A lute, a lyre?”
Einarr shook his head. “I don’t recall. A cup – no, not a cup. Knowing her, she’d rather have a horn.” He caught his father eyeing the one at his hip. “And she would never let you hear the end of it if you sent Grandfather Raen’s with her.”
Stigander’s mouth curled in half of a smile under his beard. “I suppose you’re right.” He sighed, then, not moving to search through their haul for the gifts. “Why do I do this to myself?” he asked the air above them.
“Why do you do what?”
“Marry.” He bit off the word. “No. Don’t listen to me. I don’t regret a minute of it, with any of them.”
“I know, Pabbi.” He almost never called his father that anymore, but it felt right here. “Loving too freely is far from the worst fault a man can have.”
Stigander choked out a laugh. “That sounds like Grimhildr.”
“I heard it first from Mamma, but I think they’ve all said it.” Well, the three he could remember, anyway. His birth mother had died when he was still a tot. “I think I’m a lucky son, to see the way you adore your wives.”
They sat in silence for a minute, continuing to stare at the treasure belowdecks while the necessity of the moment sank in. “Come on. Astrid had a sailor’s taste. I’m sure we can find gifts she’ll love down here.”
“Show some respect to your stepmother,” Stigander pretended to scold, accepting the attempt to brighten his mood even if only for a moment.
The graveship was built upon a wood and earthen pyre mound. At sunset on the appointed night, after her nails had been cut and the body dressed in new clothes, everyone from the Hall gathered with the crew of the Vidofnir to bid Astrid farewell. Runa sang the dirge to ease the passage of the soul into Skaldsgarden. Sixteen was young for the job, but since her mother had passed sometime after Vidofnir last made port here she was the best Singer on the island.
Jarl Hroaldr and Stigander recited the prayers for the dead, a gloomy chant overlaid on the sad, sweet notes of Runa’s voice. Einarr stood at his father’s shoulder, blessing the darkness and the smoke from the torches for hiding the redness of his own eyes. At the last, as the chanted prayers fell silent to leave only the melody and the crackle of fire, Stigander tossed the first torch on the graveship. Einarr threw a moment later, followed by torches from the rest of the crew. They all stood vigil in the sharp wind of an early winter night until the heat from the flames on their faces became unbearable. In the smoke, Einarr saw his stepmother waving silent farewell to her crew, made visible by Runa’s song magic.
Finally people began to fade back into the darkness, headed for the warm comfort of Hroaldr’s hall, first the residents of the hall, then one by one the Vidofnings as they tore themselves away. Einarr took his place near the end of the procession back: Father would be the last to leave, both by custom and by preference. One pair of feet went the wrong way, however. Einarr looked up to see Bardr heading back towards where Stigander still stared into the pyre and stopped. He wanted to stop Bardr, but the man still technically outranked him.
When Grimhildr was slain, eight years ago now, it was Bardr who pointed Father at Astrid. Five years before that, he had found Grimhildr for the Captain, too, when his second wife died in childbirth. Surely Bardr had some other woman in mind to soothe his Captain’s sorrow now, too, and if the pattern followed Father would insist on wedding before bedding. But not at the funeral, man. Have some decency.
He moved on. Bardr was a good sailor and a fine warrior, but Einarr sometimes wondered what went on in the man’s head. Mid-stride of his third step, a name floated on the wind to Einarr’s ears: Princess Runa. He froze. Beautiful, vibrant Runa, younger even than Einarr – for Stigander? Einarr’s mind rebelled. Surely Father wouldn’t be so foolish as to marry a woman young enough to be his daughter, would he?
|1.3 – In the Hall of the Sea King||1.5 – Tafl|
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