Tag: Eira

7.9 – Temple

The Shroud, Melja said, was stored in an inner chamber of the village’s temple to the gods. The morning, like most mornings on the island, was bright and clear even under the fluttering canopy of birch and ash as Melja led Einarr down an unfamiliar path.

The path sloped gently upward here, and the ground became less marshy as they went. Between the warm morning sun and the birdsong floating through the branches, Einarr was momentarily tempted to forget the serious errand they were on. With a sigh and a question he brought himself back to reality: “So why is the Shroud here, anyway?”

Melja did not answer for the space of a few strides. “It is imprisoned here, under the watchful gazes of god and runemaster alike.”

“But it’s an item?”

“Aye, so it is. And?”

“How do you imprison an item? It’s not like they go anywhere on their own.”

“Ordinarily, I would agree. But the Shroud seems to operate under its own set of rules. It took the finest runemasters of its day to catch the thing, and no few Art Practictioners besides, so if it starts to stir we reinforce its cage.”

Einarr made a noise like understanding and fell quiet. Melja had known he was a Cursebreaker before he ever agreed to teach Einarr, and was taking him out here anyway: perhaps Einarr was just being paranoid.

The path continued to rise in elevation, if slowly, and soon Einarr began to see oaks in among the ash and birch and beech. Around midmorning a clearing opened before them, broad as a field. At the far side, with the forest nestled comfortably behind it, stood an unassuming, whitewashed building with a pair of towers rising from its roof. The two men paused for a moment at the edge of this clearing.

Einarr, suddenly curious, asked “Who lives here?”

“This is Wotan’s temple, in the main, but also Tyr and Eira.”

“Eira, truly?” The Vidofnings tended to worship her, when they worshipped. Perhaps it was a good sign?

“Wotan is not the only god skilled at runecraft.”

“I suppose not.” Still, the pit in his stomach seemed to grow larger by another stone. He did not often offer up prayers to Eira, but as they neared the unassuming temple one passed his lips.

“Is something the matter?” One of Melja’s upswept eyebrows was raised even higher than usual.

Einarr shook his head. “Just – it’s been a long summer. Some of what I’ve been through already has me jumping at shadows, is all.”

Melja chuckled, not unkindly. “Don’t be so quick to dismiss those instincts: they could save your life one day. I have, however, taken extra precautions already this morning. Watch your step, do nothing in haste, and we’ll make it back to the village in one piece.”

“Of… of course.” Einarr knew Melja was probably right, but that did little to soothe his nerves as the big elf pulled open the temple doors.

Light slanted into the somewhat dusty chamber from behind them. At the far side of the room, a carving of Wotan in his sorceror’s robes, a raven perched on either shoulder, stood flanked by one-handed Tyr, the just, and merciful Eira, the healer.

Melja strode across the room, his eyes passing with long familiarity over the rows of benches, the statuary, and the pools of light beneath the windows. Einarr had no doubt the alfr would have seen instantly had something been amiss, and that thought was the one that finally allowed him to relax a little.

Melja led them past the priestly purification chamber and down a narrow, but well-made, wooden ladder into the cellar. Someone mortal evidently lived here: the cellar was filled with roots and aging mead. Einarr blinked a few times, and then realized they were not alone in the cellar.

Standing by the far wall was an alfr nearly as burly as Melja, a woodcutter’s axe at his hip and a scroll in hand. He greeted them in the tongue of the light elves.

Melja and Einarr returned the greeting – Einarr by rote, as one of the few phrases he had memorized since arriving at the Shrouded Village.

“Has anything changed?” Melja asked, his voice low.

“Not a thing. It seems restless in there, but not fully awake.”

“Good. The boy will be assisting me as part of his training. I need you to provide backup.”

“With pleasure.”

The guard stepped aside, and Melja traced a complex series of runes Einarr could not track in front of the door. It swung open.

Inside, in the center of the room, a diaphanous crimson cloth lay tumbled over a table. Every now and then, as though a breeze tugged at it, the cloth would twitch. If he had not been prepared, Einarr would have thought it odd for a cloth to be stored in such a way and seen nothing else out of the ordinary. After a month’s training with Melja, however, his vision was more acute.

Concentric circles were inscribed on the floor about the table, and every one of them ringed with runes. The walls and ceiling, too. Einarr recognized the individual runes, of course, and could even work out what some of the combinations would do – but as he stared about the room he felt his jaw drop. This ward work was so far beyond anything Melja had even hinted at.

“The work of generations,” Melja volunteered. “Don’t let this intimidate you: reinforcing the wards is fairly straightforward.”

“Ah, yes. Of course. What do you need me to do?”

“First, focus. Close your eyes and breathe deeply with me.”

It was an exercise Melja had him do frequently, particularly when he judged a task more complicated than usual. This time, Melja joined him at it. With a long exhale, the alfr opened his eyes.

“Now we inspect what came before. The Shroud is forever testing its bonds, and while there are a few places more likely to show wear, we cannot take that for granted.”


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4.24 – Fire Rain

Einarr limbered his bow as the enemy ships came into view. The storms that carried them after the Skudbrun swirled together, each intensifying the others, so that sheeting rain obscured their targets and threatened to render their assault worse than useless. Still, even under its own rainstorm the Grendel had burned.

The Vidofnir’s prow ducked as it crested a wave and entered the storm once more. There had been few issues with traction against the Grendel simply because of where they had engaged her: not so here. Their ally was in view, however, and also within the tempest.

“Draw!” Bardr gave the order. The Vidofnings at the prow raised their bows and prepared to fire, but held. Bardr now walked along their ranks, lighting their arrows from the torch in his hand. Idly, Einarr wondered how many arrows, and how much pitch, they had left after this volley. At least one more, judging by the deckhand off to the side busily wrapping pitched cloth about arrowheads.

“Aim!”

Einarr lifted his bow towards the mast of the nearest vessel – their only possible target at this stage. He took a deep breath to steady his arm and his mind. Over their heads, the flames danced in the wind and raindrops hissed away from their touch. A gust howled, high overhead, and the Vidofnir tilted to port under its influence. Right about now, Einarr might actually welcome a Valkyrie ship – especially if it had sea-fire.

The ship righted itself, and in a moment of calm the order finally came. “Fire!”

Twenty arrows screamed across the gulf between their two vessels, straight and true. Their target seemed to rear up, cresting a wave, as the volley reached them, and fire embedded itself in the enemy’s deck and sail. Thank you, Eira.

That there were even twenty of them available to fire right now spoke of how hard the oar crew labored: that there were only twenty available spoke of how hard a summer this had been already. Einarr accepted a second wrapped arrow and nocked it to his string.

The crew of the ship they had fired on last looked like rats as they scurried about on deck. Einarr could not tell from here if they were looking to put out the fires or prepare a counter-volley. Strangely, the thought did not worry him. All that mattered in this moment was his next arrow.

Runa’s voice rang out over the storm – a variation Einarr had only rarely heard, and yet this was twice in one day. It was the opposite of the battle chant, in many ways, sung most often for the old and the feeble-minded. He felt an unusual clarity settle around his shoulders, and a small smile parted his lips. Brilliant, my love.

“Draw!” Once more Bardr began moving back and forth among them, lighting their arrows as they prepared to fire. The torch smoked heavily in the rain, but did not begin to gutter. Yet.

Einarr drew back his nocked arrow. They would hit again, he was sure: Runa was the bearer of the Isinntog, which meant that they had the attention of the goddess. And if they had the attention of the goddess, she would not abandon them against foes such as these.

“Aim!”

The archers aboard the Vidofnir moved with greater confidence this time, he thought, bolstered by the last volley and by Runa’s song. Hit, and catch! He urged the fire dancing above his head just before the order came:

“Fire!”

Their arrows launched as though they had been fired by one man, and if the winds moved some few around it was to the amusement of those who fired. The arrows all landed in a rough circle surrounding the mast of the enemy ship.

The rats aboard the other ship ceased their scurrying, now: that was definitely a counter-volley they had organized.

“Shields!” Einarr bellowed. He thought Bardr would forgive him the indiscretion, under the circumstances. Even being the one to notice, he barely raised his in time for no fewer than three arrows to strike into it.

Some few weren’t so lucky. Einarr heard two or three cry out in pain. When he risked a glance, he saw men being helped back toward where the Singers could tend to their wounds. With a harrumph, he turned back around, studying the enemy ship for signs of a true blaze.

He was not disappointed. Those same rats he’d seen organizing a counterattack now scrambled every which way even as their helm turned to starboard, effectively breaking off their pursuit. Einarr was too far to see sparks, but he thought he caught the darkening of smoke surrounding their mast.

Stigander’s voice rose above the storm: do not engage. Let them sink or swim as they could – the Skudbrun was waiting, and Einarr didn’t think they had many more volleys remaining.

The Vidofnir turned off to port, leaving the enemy ship and its horrific underbelly to founder in its own storm. That just left two more. Einarr and the other archers nocked their third volley of arrows as they waited to narrow their distance from the third ship. Once again they drew, and once again fire rained down on their enemies.

Einarr let out a whoop when he saw the second volley flying through the storm toward the forward-most ship. He could not yet see the Skudbrun, but the Brunnings had seen them. The rest of the archers processed what he had seen almost as quickly, and with just as much enthusiasm. Now they stood a chance.

Bardr distributed the next volley’s worth of fire arrows among the team – the last, unless Father had more arrows stashed below deck somewhere – but if luck and the goddess’ blessing held, one more should be enough. The enemy vessels burned like pine for all of their blackness. Still, Bardr waited to call the volley until they were alongside their enemy – not near enough for boarding, but near enough to look them in the eye as they fired.

“Draw!”

As before, one of the young deckhands moved among the shallow ranks of archers with a torch, lighting the arrow wraps behind him.

“Aim!”

What were they doing over there, though? It seemed as though the enemy ship paid no heed to the Vidofnir and the tiny motes of fire they were about to launch towards their own ship. Instead, they were gathered amidships: Einarr thought he saw defiant stares on the faces of men with axes raised high, as though they were about to cut into their own boat…

“Fire!”


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3.33 – Hidden Maze

The passing of the storm took with it the ever-present gray of the sky of the ships’ graveyard. If there was one advantage they had on the trip out that they had lacked on the way in, it was the lack of fog – at least for the moment. If there was a second, it was the knowledge that there were no more kalalintu on the island. Still, these were small mercies at best, and the sharpest eyes on the crew had one task: spotting. Everyone else took their turn at the oars, shoving off of submerged sand bars to the calls of the spotters.

Einarr was not among those set to spotting. The foresight spoken of by the Oracle and the foresight required for that task were very different things and so he, too, was among those whose prime task was “hurry up and wait.”

Not that this was without its upside: the sun, now that it had emerged, shone off the water brightly enough to make him squint when he looked over the side. The spotters would be seeing spots for hours after they got through this. He gripped his oar and stared out towards the horizon.

The Vidofnir, her sail furled against errant gusts of frigid wind, crept forward through the shallows with a caution belied by the crowing rooster’s head on her prow. The oars extended out like a hundred hands to push off the shallows by the calls of those within. Seemingly at random, the lumbering longship would veer quite suddenly, the sandbar ahead undetected until the last moment by those within.

Once, as her halting forward progress seemed to become more sure of itself, the Vidofnir shuddered to a halt on a bar the spotters had missed. Then men swarmed from within, carrying what tools they had to dig at the submerged sand until she could start forward again. One of these men, shorter than the rest, grumbled about the lack of powder kegs aboard, but it seemed the rest ignored his complaints.

Once Vidofnir floated free again the men swarmed back onto her broad back and stomped their feet to warm them, hoping their trouser legs would dry before they froze in the wind, and then the sea-steed continued on again, her caution renewed.

For hours this halting, tremulous progress continued, until finally the sand bars fell away and a large rock, more truly an island than the one they had just left, reared up out of the sea ahead of them. The sea had worn away a narrow canyon that split the rock, and were it not for the tide through that canyon even it would be impassable.

Stillness fell over the Vidofnir as she entered the canyon, as of a collective holding of breath. She paused there a long moment, the ship’s eyes blinking away the glare of the sun so they could focus on the shadowed water below and the known danger it hid. Her hold was full to bursting now, and it was a weighty wealth indeed.

On deck, gripping his oar tight enough to whiten his knuckles, Einarr forcibly expelled a breath he knew he could not hold long enough to pass through the chute. The troublesome rock had been nearer this end of the canyon than the other – much nearer. Jorir still grumbled about the lack of explosives on board, and just this once Einarr thought the dwarf might be on to something. However, it was typically only Imperials who packed gunpowder on their boats, and then it was to power the machines that launched sea fire.

Einarr closed his eyes for a moment and exhaled again. Eira preserve us. For a split-second, he wished he still had the Isinntog. He didn’t know how to make it work, of course, but Reki might. He shook his head, banishing the wishful thinking.

“Hold!” The call came from the prow. Almost as one the rowers reversed for one stroke. Sufficient, at their current speed.

“You’ve spotted the hangup?” Stigander asked from his place amidships.

“Nay, sir. Not the hangup.”

“Then why have we stopped?”

“You’d best come see, sir.” The spotter’s voice was uncertain, flustered.

The thunk of Stigander’s boots against the deck boards was loud as he tromped up to have a look at what the spotter did not wish to say. He leaned over the prow to look down into the water and a groan escaped his lips.

“Pick up the pace, gentlemen,” was all he said.

Einarr stopped his father with a look as he passed by, an eyebrow raised.

Stigander leaned over in response to the unspoken query and whispered: “Sea serpent.”

Einarr blinked a few times and nodded. Svarek, next to him, began muttering what sounded like a prayer to Eira, but it seemed he was the only other person to hear. Probably a sea serpent would leave them alone. Something about a longship failed to trigger their predatory instincts the way a dromon could. But every once in a while…

“Oars in!” Stigander ordered, and it was the second shock in as many minutes for most of the crew. The urgency in his voice brooked no delay.

“Brace for a swell!”

The oarsmen planted their feet even as the spotters ducked behind the prow just as a massive swell lifted the Vidofnir’s stern and thrust her forward, carrying her far past the place they all thought they remembered the hangup being. Water sloshed over the deck, cresting the stern and breaching the oar ports.

Silence reigned on the deck for a few moments before Einarr could find voice to give the question that now floated in his brain.

“Was that the serpent’s wake that carried us?”

Stigander’s jaw dropped. When he picked it back up, a chuckle welled up from his chest. “It may well have been!”

Now the laughter spread around the crew, a sound of relief at least as much as merriment. As it died down the rowers went back to their rows and the spotters resumed their positions in the prow.

“Let’s get out of here.”


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1.30 – Field Medicine

With Erik down, Tyr took the rudder and left the rowing to the strength of youth. Tempting as it was to let out the sail to travel nearly halfway around the island, everyone aboard worried that the jotün would notice something amiss. They were not safe until they crossed out through the storm. And so, Einarr rowed while Tyr kept their course and Jorir wrapped Erik in every woolen blanket on the boat and battened him to the deck.

What felt like hours later they turned away from the island, into the squall surrounding it. The oars tried to pitch out of Einarr’s frozen hands. Tyr fought with the rudder. Einarr was pleased to see Jorir taking his new position seriously: it seemed like every time he looked up he was either shielding Erik’s face from a breaking wave or mopping the man’s face – of sweat or seawater or rain, who could tell. And yet, for all of this, the storm seemed lighter now than it had when they broke through the first time.

When they all four made it through to the open seas outside the eternal storm, Einarr breathed a sigh of relief. The cold had nearly killed them on the way in, when they had Runa’s song to bolster them. That they hadn’t needed it this time was well-nigh miraculous.

“Thanks to Eira!” Jorir exclaimed, sitting back on his heels now that the sun shone on his shoulders again. “It’s the Isinntog that got us out, after all. ‘At’s why Fraener was so keen on keeping it.”

“And why you had to leave once you determined you couldn’t stop me?”

“Aye, and that. But you’ll not regret having me along.”

“With the oath you took? I should hope not.”

“Now will someone give me a hand with these sodding blankets? He’ll overheat in the sun, but they’re soaked.”

Einarr pulled in the oars, glad for the chance to move about a bit. While he unwrapped Erik’s wool cocoon, Tyr let down the sail. His hand brushed against his friend’s face as he worked: Erik’s face may as well have been on fire, as hot as it was. Einarr looked up from under his brows at the ruddy dwarf

He saw the look. “I’ll do what I can. But the quicker we get to Kem, the better.” A long pause followed, while Jorir dug about for the herbs he wanted. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’a said he got what he deserved.”

“What sort of oath did you offer the jotün when he caught you?”

Jorir snorted. “I promised him my smithing services, nothing else, until such time as he was no longer willing to provide food and materials. Old bastard never did hold up his end of the bargain.”

“Huh.” He still wasn’t sure how far he could trust his new liege man, but for the moment he seemed sincere enough. If he tended Erik well it would go a long ways toward remedying his past offences. “I believe you.” To his surprise, he did. “Once we get to Kem, I may have other tasks for you.”

“I will serve as I can.” While they spoke, the dwarf had mashed the herbs he chose into a pungent poultice that he then dabbed on Erik’s forehead. Einarr noted he only applied about half of it there. “That should serve to keep the fever down, and maybe numb the pain a little while I work on the leg.”

Tyr had long since cut away the pant leg on the afflicted side. The leg itself was a swollen mass of red-and-purple flesh, shading yet darker around where the fimbulvulf’s teeth had pierced the skin. Einarr shook his head: he may have threatened to toss Jorir overboard if Erik died, but even a skilled herb-witch might have trouble here. I can be reasonable and still make him prove himself.

Jorir trundled toward the prow of the Gufuskalam. “Might be a good idea to move what you can to the back,” he said, crouching down to lift up a deck board. “I’ll need this for the splint, and maybe one other besides.”

Tyr’s brows drew down, but Einarr stopped him from speaking with a raised hand. “We can deal with that. Is there anything else you need?”

Jorir drew his thick eyebrows down, studying his patient. “If there’s some way to rig up a sling, it would be good to let the blood drain out of his leg. Shame ye didn’t think ta bring a jar o’ leeches; they’d bring the swelling down right quick, and probably make him more comfortable besides.”

Tyr spat over the side. “Leeches are hard to come by in Kjelling lands. Too cold, not enough marshland.”

The dwarf harrumphed, sliding the deck board underneath Erik’s leg as carefully as he could. The unconscious man’s face twisted in spite of the precautions. “As ye say. Thus, if we can hang a sling from the yardarm it will at least keep his blood flowing.”

Einarr eyed the oar setup. “So long as we’re under sail it shouldn’t be too much of a problem, should it?”

Tyr studied the mast for a long moment. “I can make it work. First sign of a storm, though, and he’ll need to be moved.”

Jorir nodded, not looking up. With the leg resting on its board, he had moved to dabbing the remaining poultice on the least-healthy looking portions of the badly injured thigh.


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1.27 – Chase

The giant’s steps fell like boulders as he entered the room and stopped. Einarr peeked around the treasure mountain he had ducked behind. The giant stood, his blue-white body draped about with filthy furs, and stared at the now-empty pedestal with eyes as black as midnight. Einarr bit off a silent curse. All thirty-plus feet of the giant had stopped immediately in front of the door, and thanks to the dwarf he knew Einarr was in here somewhere.

“Come out, little man.” The giant’s voice boomed from above. “You return what you stole now, I can still let you go.”

What sort of fool does he take me for? Einarr waited, crouching behind his stack. Sooner or later, the jotün would move, and then he could make a break for it. The odds were high that only place the jotün would ‘let’ Einarr go was a stewpot.

A tree-trunk leg lifted and fell with the familiar feeling of an earthquake. “If you don’t come out, I will find you!”

Like hel you will. A second foot-quake rattled the treasure mountain over his head. Einarr risked another glance around toward the door. Just a little farther…

The tree-trunk leg lifted, and the pile of metal Einarr hid behind rattled again. Einarr dashed for the gap.

“My lord, there he goes!”

I should have killed that dwarf. Nothing for it now but to run and hope. His odds of surviving a fight with a giant were nonexistent. He was under the threshold of the door now, though, but the giant’s steps were already shaking behind him. He cast a look over toward the dwarf’s door.

And saw the fimbulvulf guarding it. That’s what it had to be doing. The wolf’s eyes tracked Einarr, its ears pricked, but it did not move from its spot laying against where he knew the door to be. When the wolf bared its fangs, Einarr changed trajectory. There has to be another way out. The front door was shut tight, and no light shone from beneath it.

The crackle of fire caught Einarr’s attention, off to the side of the room, and the bubbling of broth. Even if there was no way out from the kitchen there was probably at least a place to hide. To get there, however, he had to cross most of the width of the hall, and the pounding of Fraener the Jotün’s steps was far too close for comfort.

Einarr raced under the table, trying not to trip over the chewed remains of bones. He risked a glance over toward the wolf. It growled, and he could see the muscles in its haunches coiled for a lunge. He swallowed a yell and poured on more speed.

There. Einarr cornered hard left. He was now separated from the relative security of the kitchen by a mere twenty feet of open space. Einarr pulled reserves of speed from his legs he hadn’t known were there.

The wolf bounded to its feet, lunging under the table. The Jotün was only a moment away. Einarr dove into the space under the door, too short for the wolf’s snout, and rolled free on the other side.

The kitchen was dominated by an iron cauldron, which was what he had heard bubbling over the blaze that burned hot enough to make it hard to breathe. More sacks and crates were stacked against the walls in here. More interesting, though, was the small door he thought he saw in the wall through the haze of fire.

The wolf growled outside the door, and Einarr could hear it scratching as though it was trying to get its paw in after him. No time to lose. He darted into the gap between a pile of sacks and a crate of onions as big as his head.

The door flew open just as Einarr was slipping into the narrow gap between the crate and the wall and he cursed himself silently. He hadn’t gotten a good look, but he thought there’d been a gap in cover around that little wooden portal.

The sound of snuffling near the gap he had just slipped through warned him against staying put. Einarr sidled the other direction, stepping as softly as he could on the uneven footing of the bottom lip of the crate.

“Is that where our little rat is hiding, then?” The jotün’s laugh was like a thunderstorm.

Einarr came to the corner of the crate and dashed across the gap between it and the next one. For the moment, the wolf still growled at the original gap. Einarr took that as his opportunity to put some space between them. This crate, too, was too close against the wall to allow him to run, and so he scooted sideways through the narrow gap toward his goal on the back wall.

The wood beneath his feet shook. A cloud of flour – or perhaps just dust – shook free. The crate began to move. Einarr looked up to see the enormous blue-white fingers of the jotün gripping the wood above his head.

Einarr inwardly cursed as the crate seemed to fly in an arc through the air. He could see his goal now, but waves of heat from below warned him against the jump.

All he has to do is give this box one good shake and I’m done for, though. Rather than risk being shaken into the stewpot, Einarr stepped off his now-moving ledge and dropped to the floor – far nearer the fire than was comfortable, but not in it.

The flagstones seemed to rush up toward him far more quickly than Einarr liked. He allowed himself the luxury of closing his eyes, just for a moment. When he opened them, he flexed his knees to absorb the coming impact.

Just as soon as his boots touched the flagstone he was moving again, dashing for the dwarf-height portal in the wall.

The fimbulvulf saw him almost immediately, snarling and yipping after him but unwilling to go any closer to the cookfire than he already was. He thought he heard a confused rumble from the jotün, but between the noise of the wolf and the sound of the fire he could not be sure.

That the jotün was unwilling to toss or drop the box saved Einarr’s skin.

There were two portals, he saw now that the fire was not obscuring his vision. One of them would be waist-high on the jotün who was still turning to release his burden. The other was shoulder-height on Einarr, and had a cord attached to the top but no handle. Praying to Eira for her blessing in rescuing the torc, Einarr yanked on the cord.

The wooden door swung down. Einarr ducked, fearing that he was about to be pinned. Instead, it stopped half-way. The smell of refuse wafted from the opening.

The jotün had freed his hands now. His foot was raised, and would in only a moment fall on this side of the cooking fire.

Einarr flung himself into the stinking darkness, followed by the sound of the jotün’s thunderous laugh.


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1.13 – Glíma

Einarr stood in the dirt ring cleared for glíma, studying his opponent. For a hundred feet around it the field was filled with people watching and cheering and drumming. Jarl Hroaldr and all those at Kjell Hall gathered around.

This occupied only a small fragment of Einarr’s attention. More important by far was the swarthy, salt-and-pepper brick of a man standing across the ring from him – Trabbi. The man’s chest and arms were just as muscular as Father’s, and while his beard was thick it was also short and neat. The two men wore only trousers and boots, and the breeze tried to raise goosebumps on their bare arms. Einarr dropped into a fighter’s crouch, and his much larger rival did the same. Among the Vidofnings, the only man smaller than Einarr was Sivid. If there was one fact of wrestling that had been impressed on Einarr, though, it was that size was not as important as it appeared to be.

“Begin!” Jarl Hroaldr gave the signal, and the two men charged to the center of the ring, their arms joining in the clinch.

Einarr’s arms strained against strength born of pulling fish from the sea. Trabbi pulled right and Einarr stepped in, allowing his opponent the throw. No sooner had his back touched the ground than Einarr kicked his legs back into Trabbi’s knees. Einarr sprang back to his feet as the older man fell. A hand reached out to grab his ankle and he danced backward.

Trabbi stood, not bothering to slap the dust off, and the crowd cheered. They moved into the clinch again. Out of the corner of his eye, Einarr saw Runa watching anxiously. He tried to put it from his mind.

Einarr slid his hands up his rival’s arms to clasp them behind the man’s head. The older man’s head lowered with little resistance. Einarr’s eyes widened when he realized what was about to happen. Trabbi abruptly let go of his shoulders and lunged forward, knocking the wind from his rival’s chest even as he took hold of Einarr’s wrist to wrench the arm backwards.

Einarr twisted around to avoid the break and kicked at Trabbi’s hip. The man jumped backwards, releasing his grip on Einarr’s arm. They both dropped back into a crouch and began circling the ring. The crowd cheered wildly, and Einarr couldn’t tell for who. He spat, watching his rival.

Trabbi started the charge this time, and Einarr saw his opportunity. He went low, driving his shoulder into his rival’s stomach and lifting Trabbi’s legs as he straightened. Einarr rolled into the throw. Trabbi’s momentum carried him over to land on his back with Einarr sitting on his chest.

“Yield,” Trabbi wheezed. “I yield.”

Einarr stood and helped the other man to his feet. The crowd went wild with cheering. Jarl Hroaldr had to shout to be noticed above the din. Eventually, it quieted enough that he could speak. “Victory goes to Einarr, son of Stigander, Captain of the Vidofnir. The betrothal between my daughter and Trabbi has been annulled, although what you thought you were defending her from eludes me.”

“The Lady Runa is a strong, intelligent woman, my lord. I defended her against a future she did not wish, and claim her in hopes of fulfilling one she does.”

“Forgetting, for a moment, the things we spoke of last winter: tell me, boy, what makes you think I will give her hand to you? Given your actions of the past week, why should I not have you executed? Banished?” Jarl Hroaldr’s voice was cold. “You ran away with my daughter and betrayed my trust in your own father. Why should I now entrust her to you?”

“I did only what I thought was right, based on the wishes of the Lady Runa herself. I ask you, what is worse – a lifetime, potentially short, of wandering, or a longer one with a mate you do not love, and who I think does not love you?”

Trabbi shook his head. “The boy is right. I’d have treated her kindly, of course, but it is no accident that I have not remarried.”

“Against my better judgement, I will not pronounce him a criminal. However, I shall require tasks of him if he wishes to court my daughter.”

“Name your task, my Jarl, and I shall do it.”

The Jarl nodded once. “But first, let us retire to the Hall. I seem to smell another snowstorm on the wind.”

***

Kjell Hall was abuzz that evening with drinking games and the excited chatter of men recounting the afternoon’s match. The Vidofnir was to sail the next morning in search of the Grendel, and Einarr sat near the head of the room with his father, Runa, and the Jarl.

“Since both your father and Trabbi forgive you, and I know my daughter well enough to recognize when something is her idea, I have decided on your first task.” The Jarl’s voice was level, and his tone suggested that the request would be eminently reasonable. Doubt chewed on Einarr’s stomach nonetheless.

“The goddess Eira was once possessed of a torc studded with diamond and fashioned of gold filigree so pure it shines white – the Isinntog. It is said to have power over ice and storms. You know it?” He waited for them to nod. “The Isinntog was given into the care of the elves of Skaergard many hundreds of years ago to await Eira’s awakening, but it was stolen from them by the jotün Fraener and taken to Svartlauf. Bring me the Isinntog, and it shall be your morning gift for Runa.”

Einarr paled a moment, then nodded boldly. Stealing the Isinntog from a jotünhall was supposed to be the easy task? “Certainly any jewelry less fine would be too drab for her. I will return with this treasure.”

The Jarl nodded; that was the response he’d expected. Stigander clapped him on the back, hard, with a hearty laugh. “Sounds like we each have our impossible quests then, doesn’t it? For you a legendary torc, for me a rogue ship that travels with the storms.”

Einarr laughed in agreement, although he could not put more than half his heart into it. “Is there a boat sufficient to carry me there and back?”

“Runa’s little skiff, if you can find a man or two willing to help you crew it.”

“That I think I can do. Father, may I take a few of my comrades for this?”

“If they’re willing to go.”

“Thank you, Father.” Einarr rose and left to ask some of his fellow Vidofnings who might be willing to join him on such a quest.


1.12 – Negotiations 1.14 – Setting Sail
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