Though the spirit had evidently dissipated the wind still howled about the little town. Somehow, now that all sense of threat was gone, the empty streets felt even more deserted than before.
Einarr took a deep breath and promised himself he would press Runa further – later. “At least the townspeople can come back now.”
“Assuming they want to.” Erik looked around and scratched his beard. “Based on what Arkja told us, I’m not sure that’s a good bet.”
“If the town is actually abandoned, that’s even more reason to start our resupply. Arkja’s men should be here soon: let’s have a look around while we wait.”
By the time Arkja and his would-be bandits showed up, the four of them had gathered three barrels of clean water, four casks of ale, and sufficient salted fish to last five men as many days. It was a start, but that was all.
“Good news!” Arkja announced as they swaggered in to the square.
Einarr raised a hand in greeting. “Good. We could use some of that right about now.”
The farmer who’d gone to fetch them wool stepped forward. “After I left with the roving, Brynja – my neighbor, with the sheep – called together the village women, y’see.”
Einarr nodded, reasonably sure he liked where this was headed.
“An’ seein’ as you was doin’ us a good turn, they all decided to do one in return, y’see.”
“What Hàkon is getting at,” Arkja said, clapping his friend on the shoulder. “Is that we’ve most of a winter’s worth of preserves we can take with us, an’ access to the well besides.”
Einarr grinned: they would eat well on their way out, it seemed. Then another thought crossed his mind. “Arkja… how many of your men have families on the island?”
Arkja shook his head. “How many men d’ye think would be willing to turn bandit in a place like this if they had a wife? Only people to rob are the locals and your occasional newcomer, like yourselves. And those are few and far between.”
Einarr pressed his lips together and nodded. The question of who, exactly, these men robbed was one he had not let himself think on too hard, and also why he had not guaranteed a berth on the Vidofnir. “And yet your neighbor was willing to help you?”
Hàkon looked sheepish, and scratched at the back of his head.
Arkja shook his head again. “Hàkon didn’t join my little merry band until everyone was fleeing the town. Anyone who knows, probably doesn’t care anymore.”
Jorir harrumphed. “Lucky for us. So, how did you end up stuck out here, cursed to be forgotten?”
“What makes you think I wasn’t born here? Some are.” Arkja’s face was pure innocence, like a child caught stealing pies.
Jorir harrumphed again. “Your armor, for one, and your sword for two. But your answer just confirmed it.”
Now the man laughed, and Einarr was put in mind of Sivid’s mirth whenever he was caught out in a prank. The laughter only lasted a moment, however, and when he spoke he was deadly serious.
“Aye, you’re right. I washed ashore a decade ago, after my own rank cowardice left me lordless, shipless, and adrift. I can assure you, I’ll not make that mistake again.”
Erik and Jorir both hummed in thought, but Einarr waved it off. “Our offer was made, and help has already been received. I’ll not rescind it now. Father has the last word as to a permanent berth anyway.”
“Einarr is right,” Runa said. “We would make villains of ourselves if we backed out now, and likely never escape because of it.”
Einarr inclined his head to her in thanks. The other two hummed again, but let it rest.
“We should gather together everything we have and make a tally. Arkja, am I right in thinking you were the owner of the public hall?”
“The Maid? Right as rain. Never thought I’d actually need that escape tunnel…”
Runa raised an eyebrow. “And yet you were the leader of your little band of misfits? How did you stay in business?”
He winked. “Trade secret, milady. Trade secret.”
“By which he means that so long as the ale was good and they didn’t push their luck, most of the men were willing to look the other way.” Erik crossed his arms, but Einarr suspected had frequented such places more than a few times.
“Putting that aside for now,” Einarr said, cutting off the topic before it could devolve into an argument. “Arkja, run a tally. We need provisions enough for twelve people, preferably to last three weeks of rowing. All we have is a fishing boat, though, so mind the cargo space.”
“Aye, sir.” The man did not salute, but it was a near thing.
“Good. The rest of you, we need tools. Got a boat to fix, and I want to leave her better than I found her.”
“Low bar,” Erik chuckled.
“You’re not wrong. But we’ve been out a lot longer than expected. Like to make it worth the owner’s while.”
The rest of Arkja’s ‘merry band’ headed down toward the docks, fishers and farmers alike.
“Hold a moment,” Einarr called after them. “We haven’t cut our new mast yet. Remember that in your search, please.”
One of the fishermen did throw a sloppy salute. Perhaps his Captain liked them?
“Yer pardon, Lord,” Hàkon began, looking embarrassed. “Is the sail still in good condition?”
Einarr froze a moment, thinking. Had they checked? “Just Einarr, please. But assume it requires patching.”
“Yes, milord.” Hàkon stiffened, but when Einarr offered no further rebuke relaxed and headed back off toward the harbor.
When it was once more just the four of them within earshot, Jorir turned a stern gaze on Einarr. “Let it be said that I do not trust these new sailors you’ve found, milord.”
“Duly noted. For what it’s worth, Jorir, I don’t trust them either. At least not yet.”
The dwarf grunted. “So long as that’s understood, then. I am going to go ‘lend a hand’ to Arkja.”
“Thank you, Jorir. That sounds like an excellent idea.”
A funny expression flickered over Erik’s face and he cleared his throat as Jorir stalked off after the former sailor. “In that case, I shall go and ‘assist’ the poor souls who’ve never really sailed before.”
Einarr raised an eyebrow – they were just searching for tools, after all – but shrugged, if somewhat bemusedly. “Very well.”
As Erik strode off after the group of six, Einarr was suddenly hyper-aware of Runa’s arm snaking into his. He felt himself blush even as a smile spread across his face. “As for you, my Lady Singer, I have questions.”
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