Tag: apothecary

5.22 – Mortality

There was no statue of Trabbi, the loyal retainer, or of the former Captain Kragnir – but there was one of Bollinn who replaced him, which would fill the same role. On he went, connecting a figure of Bardr pouring over sea charts to Stigander, and on back through the crew and the Kjellings. Something strange happened when he found himself face to face with a simulacrum of the apothecary from Kem. Ordinarily he would have paired him with Erik, given the events on the island, but Sivid had not been there at all, and the only image of Erik had them together.

His next best guess was, as with Jorir, to connect the man to himself. He thought he knew where he would have to stand for that, as there was no simulacrum of himself to be found on the floor.

Einarr dripped with sweat by the time he slid the statue of Jorir into place. That was the last one, though, and as he expected there was still an empty depression on the floor, with connections running to several other figures. With a deep breath, he stepped down into the last remaining depression.

At first, nothing happened. Then, when he was running over who might be improperly tied, lightning lanced through his brain. A scream of pain tore out of his throat at the sudden onslaught. Einarr dropped to his knees.

When he recovered his feet, Einarr stumbled over to the stand where the verse of his clue had been.

The bit of doggerel was no more – or at least the page had been turned. In its place, he saw these words writ large:

Fool! Lack you wisdom as well?
Mortal ties such as these are easily severed
Think ye deeper.

A sound like thunder cracked. Einarr, his head still aching, winced. When he looked back up, he realized he was no longer alone in the room.

Standing between the images of the Jarl and his father, the tip of her sword planted between her feet, was a woman beside whom even Runa would appear plain. Long auburn hair hung in a braid past the bottom of her gleaming breastplate, and on her head was a golden-winged helmet so finely worked the feathers looked real. Even in her floor-length skirt there could be no doubt she was dangerous: the giant white eagle wings on her back alone would have dispelled that notion.

Einarr’s mouth went dry even as his palms grew clammy. “A V-v-v-valkyrie?” he asked under his breath as he dropped to his knees. He knew sneaking in here for the Örlögnir was always going to be riskier than going after the Isinntog, but somehow he had still not expected this.

“Do not fool yourself, young warrior. That you have come this far is because you were allowed to, but even when the cause is just my Lord’s forbearance is finite.” The Valkyrie’s voice was a deep alto, but sharp and clear like good steel.

“Of course, great lady.”

“You may have a second chance.”

Einarr lifted his head and opened his mouth to thank her, but the valkyrie was not done yet.

“If you can survive five exchanges in battle with me.”

Einarr felt his face grow pale. Survive five rounds against a real, honest-to-goodness Valkyrie? He swallowed once more, trying to find his voice. “And should I refuse, or fail?”

“Your soul is mine.”

“To become Einherjar?”

She smiled a wolf’s smile. “To be cast down to Hel. You will die as a thief, should you die here.”

He swallowed again. I don’t have to land a hit. I just have to not get hit. No problem. He did not find this particularly reassuring. What he said, though, was “It seems I have no choice.”

The Valkyrie nodded. “Make ready, then.”

With the scrape of steel on steel, the comforting weight of Sinmora was in Einarr’s hand. He raised his shield and stood at defense, studying his opponent.

She, too, took a battle stance, raising her long, double-edged sword until it was vertical. She bore no shield: Einarr had no doubt that should someone get past her native skill those pauldrons and bracers would blunt any blow.

He could not see her feet under the long, heavy skirt. That would make this more difficult, but still not impossible. Not by itself, anyway. Pressing his mouth into a line, he met her gaze and nodded.

The Valkyrie moved almost impossibly fast. In the space between two breaths she had crossed the distance between them, her shoulders turned into the blow she intended to bring down on Einarr’s head. Before sight could become thought he had brought up his shield, and her sword struck the boss like a bell.

He danced back, his hand tingling from the force of the blow even as the ringing continued in his ears. His own blow had swung for her side and somehow been turned away by the very air.

She offered him a nod. “You have decent reflexes, but it will not be enough to save you.”

“I rather hope you are wrong, there. You’re quite quick.”

“That’s not all I am.”

She rushed in again, this time bringing her sword up in an underhand swipe toward Einarr’s legs. He slid to the side, away from the blow, even as he brought Sinmora down and once more steel rang against steel.

“That’s two.”

“You have not yet attacked me seriously.”

“Nor have you. You let me see both of those attacks coming.”

She flashed her lupine grin again and chuckled. “Perhaps. I rather wanted you to feel you were doing well. I hate for people to die unfulfilled.”

The Valkyrie unfurled her wings, and the tips brushed the heads of two statues ten feet apart. With a blast of wind she rose up into the air and lowered her sword at him. “Let’s take this more seriously, then, shall we?”


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1.33 – To Catch a Thief

Einarr took off at a sprint down the pier. The two could not have got far yet, and he remembered their faces. Jorir kept up admirably well, despite his shorter legs.

“You remember what they look like?” Einarr asked between breaths.

“Well enough.”

They pulled up short where the pier met dry land. There were only two ways the boys could have gone; a disturbance in the dockside market crowd said the answer was left. A heartbeat later Einarr, too, was dashing off after the ripples his fish made as it swam through the crowd.

He did not hear the dwarf’s footsteps pounding after him; a glance over his shoulder revealed Jorir examining something on the pavement. A glance was all he could spare, however, as the crowd was reluctant to be shouldered aside a second time in so short a period.

Scowling, Einarr gathered his breath without slowing. “Stop! Thief!”

Now the crowd parted for him easily. He began to close on the fugitive more quickly: it seemed some of the people farther ahead didn’t care to let the boy escape either. Bellowing like that had been risky: while Kem was at least nominally Northern, and the Gufuskalam was here on legitimate business, this close to Imperial waters it was still chancy.

“Thief!” He yelled again for good measure.

A dark-haired man in a butcher’s apron sauntered towards Einarr from down the street, clutching the boy’s arm in his outsized hand. The treasure sack was nowhere to be seen. “This the brat you’re looking for?”

“One of ‘em. Where’s your friend?”

The thief spat at the ground. For his trouble, Einarr boxed his ear.

“Seems like every other week this one an’ his lads are in and out of the guard-house.” The butcher jerked the young man forward and offered his arm to Einarr. “Do as you will.”

Einarr gripped the arm hard enough the boy winced. “Come with me.” Hopefully Jorir got the other one.

* * *

Jorir had, in fact, found the other one. He returned to the Gufuskalam only a few minutes after Einarr did, dragging his prisoner rather more unceremoniously than Einarr had. From the looks of them, Tyr hadn’t gone overboard without a fight. Both boys were shoved down on unattended crates on the pier, where a somewhat drier Tyr had joined his crewmates.

“These the ones?”

“Them’s the ones.”

“I think this is what you were looking for?” Jorir handed the sack he carried in his other hand to Einarr.

A quick glance inside revealed that everything was accounted for. He inclined his head to the dwarf in thanks. “Now. What to do with the two of you.”

The two young men sat sullenly, not yet seeing an escape.

“You see, as the son of a Thane, ordinarily I’d have my choice of punishments. Couple of strong backs like yours would make valuable thralls. I could gift you to my future father-in-law.” Now they looked nervous. That’s more like it. “Lucky for you, I don’t have room for two more people on that little boat of mine.” He waited until their expressions brightened, as though they thought they might get away with it after all.

Einarr smirked. “Or maybe not so lucky. In the process of stealing from me, you also attacked an unconscious man, and tried to drown another of my men. Back home, I’d be well within my rights to have you executed. I could hand you over to the guard and let you take your chances with the gallows.” Not that he would, even if he had a home port, but if he could put the fear of the gods in these two so much the better. “…Hm. Now there’s a thought. You see, I have little enough coin on me, and I expect to owe a fair amount to Master Mathis, there, who has been so kind as to treat the man you assaulted. Master Mathis, would you have a use for a pair of strong backs and deft fingers that plainly have nothing better to do with themselves?”

The apothecary studied them for a moment. “Not I. Keeping thralls in the city is frowned upon. But my brother-in-law maintains a homestead elsewhere in the Islands, and is forever complaining about a lack of hands to keep up with the work.”

“There you go, then,” Einarr said, looking at the boys as if that sealed the deal. “As you were so foolish as to steal from a Prince, plainly what is required is for you to learn the value of honest work. Master Mathis, will you accept these two scoundrels as payment for your services to my friend there?”

The apothecary’s smile was thin and not at all pleasant as he looked over the two thieves as one might inspect a horse. “Yes, I think a farm is just the place for a pair like the two of you, and I suspect I will more than make up for the loss in the foodstuffs of my sister’s gratitude.” He extended a hand toward Einarr, and the two shook on the deal. “Now, since that is dealt with, I’ve already explained to Tyr the treatment your patient will require while you sail. The medicines are in an oilcloth, I’m sure he can point it out if one of you will be taking charge of the care. He should recover his senses any time now.”

“We appreciate it. Will he… will he walk again?”

Mathis shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s too early to say. The knee didn’t seem to be too badly damaged, so it is possible.”

“Thank you. …Your brother-in-law, he is a good man, yes?” Einarr whispered the last: most men saw the value in treating their thralls well, but there were always exceptions.

The apothecary nodded. “My pleasure. And now,” he turned his attention to the newly-minted thralls, who were looking around as though for an escape route. “I must be going, before these two get it into their thick heads to do something stupid. Again.”

Mathis took the boys by their ears and led them off towards his apothecary.

“Well. That took gratifyingly little time. We should be able to get out with the next tide. Tyr, do we have the coin to reprovision?”

“Already seen to.”

“Wonderful. Next stop, Kjell Hall!”


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1.32 – Physician

Einarr had been sure the map was because the harborman didn’t expect he could read right up until he saw the directions that were sketched therein. “Many thanks,” he said, gesturing with the paper. Then he had set out with Jorir into the twisting warrens of Kem’s back streets, glad he had left the bag of treasures stowed under the Gufuskalam’s deck.

“Have you ever been here before,” he asked Jorir quietly.

“Not recently enough to be any help,” the dwarf grumbled back.

“Wasn’t after help. Harborman’s map covers that.” Einarr glanced sidelong down at his new liege-man. “What’s got you so sour of a sudden?

“A man’s life hangs by a thread, and mine’s tied t’it. You’d be sour, too.”

Ah. That. He turned to the left down a not-quite-muddy street, shaking his head. “My apologies. Neither Tyr nor I doubt that you’ve done everything in your power to keep Erik alive. That was a far stronger oath you swore back on Svartlauf than I asked for: it should have been enough on its own, but…”

“Fine.”

“I will release you if you wish. We have no hall, and only my Father’s ship, to return to.”

“You think me so fickle?”

“I’m not sure what to think of you.” Einarr shrugged. “But, I think this is the place.” He gave the courtesy of a rap on the door before stepping inside the healer’s shop.

Einarr’s first impression was of stepping into the home of an herb-witch. Shelves filled with vials and bottles and tiny sacks lined the walls, and the spicy smell of bog myrtle hung in the air. He also smelled something metallic, though, and no herb-witch he’d ever known kept a stock this large. They appeared to be the only two people in the room. “Hello?”

Einarr had to look twice to believe what he saw when a man’s head popped up from behind the counter. It was uncommon, but not unheard of, for a man to be trained in song-magic, but this was no Singer’s place, and no Northern man would be allowed near the apprenticeship of an herb-witch. The face that appeared, though, had the bearing of an Imperial – the second surprise. “I am Mathis.” He glanced at the dwarf as he stood, his height nearly identical to Einarr’s. “Might I ask what brings such an interesting company to my apothecary?”

“My friend, back on our skiff. He’s injured. The harborman sent us.” Truth be told, Einarr wasn’t entirely certain about trusting Erik to some Imperial “apothecary,” but he thought seeking out a Singer here would likely be fruitless.

“Can you be more specific?” Mathis was already gathering supplies into a sack, however.

Jorir spoke up. “Took a nasty hit to the leg. It’s crushed. I think I’ve managed to break the fever, and I’ve got it splinted best I could, but it still doesn’t look right t’me.”

“How long ago?”

“About ten days.” Einarr could ignore for now the strangeness of a male herb-witch: his manner was the same as the best ones in the more northerly ports.

Mathis tisked. “Well, I’ll have a look.” Several vials and smaller sacks moved from the shelf behind his counter into the bag he packed. “Gerrit! Mind the counter. I’m headed to the docks.”

***

As they drew near the pier, Einarr sped his pace as the sound of shouting carried over the water, forcing Jorir to break into a jog. He heard a splash from the direction of the Gufuskalam. Moments later, a pair of scruffy-looking teenagers dashed past their little party. Einarr didn’t get a good look, but he thought they were more likely Imperial than of the North. Einarr loped forward, anxious to find out what had happened on their skiff.

When he reached the Gufuskalam, Einarr received his second shock of the day. Tyr was just then pulling himself from the water, cursing a blue streak. On board, the deck boards were tossed about. Erik still lay with his foot in the air, but he had acquired a rather red mark on the left side of his face. “What happened here?”

“Thieves is what happened, and right cheeky ones at that!”

Jorir led Mathis down to the patient, explaining quietly what had already been done, what had seemed to help and what hadn’t.

“Thieves? The wisest sailor on the Vidofnir, and you got taken down by thieves?”

Tyr glowered at him. “You won’t be laughing when you think about what they were after. Bastards kicked Erik in the face, knocked me into the water, and made off with the whole cursed sack!”

“Godsdamn!” Einarr kicked at the concrete under his feet. “I saw them on our way here.” Chasing down a pair of thieves on his own left him at a disadvantage. Taking Jorir meant hoping the dwarf could keep up. Taking Tyr meant he left the two unknowns alone on their boat, and while he didn’t think Jorir would try to take off without them… “Tyr, go ahead and dry off, keep an eye on things. Give Mathis a hand if he needs it. Jorir, we have some thieves to catch.”

The dwarf’s black beard split in a wicked-looking grin.


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