Tag: Glima

10.49 – Epilogue: Feast Days

Hi, everyone. Allene here. This marks the last chapter of Book 10: Einarr and the Ice Wolf – a book that is nearly half again as long as any other book! This wraps up the first half of the story fairly neatly, and so as opposed to my normal one-month hiatus, I am going to take TWO months in order to plan out the second half of Einarr’s story. I hope, since you’ve stuck with me thus far, that you will return on November 10, 2020, to see Einarr get married and find out what happens with the cult and with Jorir – not necessarily in that order. Thanks for reading!


The second day of the Thing began with the recitation of the law by one of the town elders – a far more festive event than Einarr had expected it could ever be, but more than a decade of misrule may have made a difference there. Afterward everyone was free to attend to their own business, and there was business aplenty to be had. Merchants had set up stalls within the walls of the hold and were displaying the best of their wares. Jarls took tankards together and sat in serious discussion over matters of trade and of weddings and funerals and ships.

At some point midafternoon, Einarr received a summons to attend his Lord Father in the Hall. He had expected this, in truth, but still his guts churned like water.

When he arrived, the doors stood wide open to allow in light and air, but even with the open doors and the torches burning over near where Stigander and Jarl Hroaldr sat in conference the Hall was dim and smoky. Einarr took a deep breath and strode across the hall to the bench where they conversed.

“You sent for me, Father?”

Stigander peered up at his son from under heavy blond brows and smoothed his beard. “Einarr. Have a seat. We have some business to hand, do we not?”

Jarl Hroalr harrumphed. “So it seems.”

Einarr pulled a stool up and swung a leg over. “After everything that’s happened, and you’re still against it?”

Hroaldr grumbled something unintelligible and waved his hand at the other two.

Stigander chuckled. “It’s more that he finds himself in something of a sticky situation. The son of his Thane has also made overtures for Runa’s hand, you see, while we were away, and Runa is his only child. Whoever she marries gains control of Kjell.”

Einarr frowned. “But after everything that happened, Kjell could justifiably cut ties with Thane Thorgnyr and become one of our holdings.”

“Son. I know you’re too young to know this, but even at the height of Raen’s power our control didn’t stretch even halfway to Kjell. When Thorgnyr tries to take back his holding, we will be too far away to do anything about it. And probably otherwise occupied, besides. And Thorgnyr will assume he needs to do that when you marry Runa.”

“Oh, aye, it is a when,” Hroaldr agreed irritably. “I can’t very well deny you’ve met my conditions at this point.”

Einarr brightened. He had been ready to argue that exact point, and here it was conceded without a fight.

“Now we must set a date,” Stigander broke in. “Set a date, and set the wheels in motion.”

Einarr cleared his throat. “If that is the case, aren’t we missing someone?”

The two older men looked at each other – Stigander blankly, but Hroaldr chuckled now. “Runa knows exactly what this meeting is about. She is with the Princess Beatrix and Aema, drafting the first of the letters that will need to be sent. Her idea.”

Einarr could not quash his smile. “It seems like most things are, doesn’t it?”

Now Stigander laughed. “Get used to it, son. Women are good at that.”


The date was fixed for midsummer’s day, a year hence. Einarr had argued for a shorter span as hard as he dared, but it seemed there was no way to get through all the preparations before then. Even without counting the thorny political situation (and getting thornier – Bea’s continued presence made him antsy, even though she had thus far been a reliable ally), apparently wedding mead was supposed to ferment a full nine months.

Not that he recalled his father waiting that long to wed Astrid. Einarr shrugged the thought off: there may have been other considerations there, and he was sure to be occupied in the interim. It’s not like there wouldn’t be plenty to do while he waited: Einarr was sure he was going to have to go knock some sense into some of the jarls who hadn’t come to the Thing.

But, all of that was a matter for another day. Right now, he was home for the first time since he was six years old. He had old friends to celebrate with, and new friends to make.

There, off on the edges of the festivities, Jorir and Kaldr each sat on a stump with a flagon of drink, watching the revelry before them. Jorir’s expression said this was exactly how he wanted it, so Einarr left them to it.

Cheers erupted from a broad field near where Urdr’s spells had quite literally come unraveled, and so he wandered that way. The smell of roasting meat tickled his nose, but after the discussion he’d just had food was the last thing on his mind.

“Einarr! There you are!” Erik’s voice boomed across the field. “The glima tournament’s already started!”

With a grin, Einarr broke into a trot. He hadn’t had a chance to wrestle much since his bout with Trabbi. “Count me in! Who’s up next?”

“Me!” Irding shouted, standing shirtless on a stump with his chest puffed out like a rooster’s, grinning like a loon.

Einarr laughed. “You’re on! Just try not to hold a grudge when I swab the deck with your head.”

He arrived moments later and stripped to the waist. Irding stood ready on the far side of the ring, still grinning.

There was much yet to be done, to restore Breidelstein and the glory of Raen. But as Einarr’s boots joined his tunic on the grass, and his feet pressed into the ground, he knew in his bones that he was home.


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4.28 – Duel

Captain Kragnir’s face was flushed scarlet with rage as he faced his Mate in the middle of the challenge circle. Bollinn, for his part, seemed possessed of a colder anger.

“Give me a reason why I shouldn’t challenge you for command?” Bollinn’s voice carried across the water, level and firm. “When you accepted their surrender, you put our crew in danger, and tried to bring our Lady into the same hazard. Had we reached home it would have been not just our crew, but all of the Jarl’s domain.”

“Jarl Hroaldr charged me to take the defeated as thralls. By challenging me, you challenge our lord.”

“I think even our Jarl would have looked at those creatures and ordered their execution. If you cut them, they bleed black – same as those monstrosities they hid in their boats. Give them half a chance in battle and they no longer even resemble men. If my choices are to drown or to challenge you, then lift your sword.” Bollinn dropped into a ready stance, his eyes glued to his Captain’s.

“So be it.”

Then the two men were in the clinch, long sword against hand axe, and the rest of the Brunnings cheered from the circle. More than half of them looked to be cheering for Bollinn.

On the deck of the Vidofnir, wagers were quietly being placed – not just for who would win, but for how they would win. Einarr ignored the organizer when the whispers came around to his ear, his mouth set in a grim line. Meanwhile, across the way, Bollinn was weaving around his Captain’s guard like a dog worrying a bear.

The Mate may not have had the raw power of his Captain, but Bollinn more than made up for that with the speed and skill he had displayed down in the circle fort. Three times Einarr noted a moment where Bollinn could have ended the fight, but didn’t – waiting, he would guess, for his Captain to yield and take the lesser loss of face.

Kragnir’s swings became less wild as rage gave way to wariness. Too late, however: Einarr could see the path of the duel, and the Skudbrun’s Captain was rapidly running out of options. Einarr looked away from the fight to see a grim look on his father’s face, some paces to his left. Stigander must see the same thing Einarr did, perhaps even more plainly: having pressed Bollinn to the challenge, it was Kragnir who would fall this day.

Stigander shook his head and turned away from the duel. Resolved, Einarr turned his head back towards it even as Kragnir dropped to his knees.

Bollinn stood before his former Captain, his axe extended for a final strike, and swallowed. “Yield.”

“Finish me, then.” Kragnir’s voice was weary, to Einarr’s ear.

“No.”

The former Captain of the Skudbrun was the only one who looked shocked.

“I did not wish to challenge you in the first place, and I see no reason why any other Kjelling should learn of this. You will live. When we return home, we will say you have decided to retire. And none of us will ever say a word about why. Isn’t that right, men?”

An affirming shout rose, first from the Brunnings and then from the Vidofnings.

“Are we agreed?”

Slowly, reluctantly, Kragnir nodded his assent. Einarr did not know if the man had a family ashore, or any other trade to turn to, but even without those things it was a fair agreement.

“Back to work, men, and weigh anchor! The Lady Runa was expected weeks ago.”

***

As the uneventful weeks passed following the battle against the Grendel and her allies, Einarr felt his unease begin to dissipate. Runa’s presence, and that of no few friends from Kjell Hall, surely helped. Even so, that uneasiness still lingered at the periphery of his awareness. I’m sure it’s just that we’re so undermanned…

He shook his head, trying to clear away the unseasonably gloomy thoughts, as Breidhaugr’s green shores drew nearer. Here they would find a shipwright for the Vidofnir, and here they would have a chance to recruit men for their lost cause (that might not be so lost as he had thought).

The Skudbrun, now under Bollinn’s command, led the Vidofnir around the north shore of the island until they arrived at East Port – the only town on the island. Compared to Mikilgata, East Port was both small and bright: there would be a shipwright, although more than likely only one. Einarr hoped he would be good. As the Vidofnir docked, Trabbi approached Einarr.

“Been talking with Lady Runa’s guard,” he said without preamble.

“And?”

“And as her betrothed we think you ought to join us as we escort her to the Skald’s Hall.”

Einarr cocked an eyebrow and, unable to keep mockery from his tone, replied. “Are you sure? After all, I might try to run off with her again.”

Trabbi actually laughed. “I don’t think anyone save maybe the Jarl believes you would. And even if you were that stupid, how would you get off Breidhaugr?”

“I’m sure she’d think of something.” Einarr rolled his eyes. “But no, I’m not dumb enough to try and elope when we’re already promised.”

“And that is exactly what we decided. Are you coming?”

“Yes, I rather think I am. I may have some questions to ask of the Matrons of the Hall.”

Trabbi shrugged as though that were unimportant and clapped his former rival on the shoulder. “Good to have you along. I’ll make sure the Captain knows. We leave straightaway after docking.”

Einarr shook his head, suppressing a chuckle. For a man he’d bested at glìma not four months back, the fisherman was surprisingly friendly. But if Einarr would be joining the escort, he had tasks to accomplish as his father’s heir before they docked.

 


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4.8 – Temple

Sivid hopped down from the crate he had perched himself on, oddly buoyant now that they were past the guards. He jerked his head toward one of the many streets leading away from this little market and turned to go.

“You’ve heard something?” Einarr spoke quietly as they left the crowded square.

“I have an idea, certainly.” Sivid’s voice was equally low, and light as though they were sharing a private joke. “Only, this place is going to be even worse than we thought.”

“Oh? You mean it gets worse than fifty-foot sheer walls lined with throwing strings?”

“Mm-hmm.” Sivid peered down a cross-alley before continuing on at his rapid clip.

“So, what, is this high priest we think we’re looking for the chieftain here?”

“You got it.”

Einarr groaned. It had been the worst thing he could think of: why did it have to be right? With only two ships of men, one of which was still under strength, their chances of taking a hold like this one approached zero. Einarr frowned, now. “If assault wasn’t off the table before, it certainly is now. Which means what we really need is a good way to sneak in.”

“And determine whether or not that’s where your lady is really being held. But I suspect that to be the case.”

Einarr grunted, then grimaced. “Let’s hope the bastard doesn’t have a thing for human women.”

“Or that this god of his prefers his sacrifices unsullied.”

“Either way. If he lays a finger on her…” Einarr clenched his fists.

Sivid nodded. “Easy, though. No sense worrying about that until we’ve found her.”

***

They kept to the quiet passages as much as they could – paths that ran behind buildings and other spaces less frequently used – but this was still a hold, and any good hold would have a broad yard surrounding the central fortress area where the soldiers could train or the children could play.

Here, when Einarr and Sivid inevitably reached the end of their secluded paths, Einarr was not certain what he was seeing. It almost looked like glíma practice, for the men in the yard were practicing hand-to-hand maneuvers… except their maneuvers had more in common with brawling than wrestling. The keep that sat at the center of the yard beyond them seemed to tower above them, its top lost in shadow.

“Let’s see if there’s anything more interesting on the other side, shall we?” Sivid murmured, and Einarr nodded his agreement. Surely the entire keep could not be surrounded by brawlers.

Another street lay just to their left, cutting back into the longhouses that surrounded the keep. Rather than turn around in their tracks, the two Vidofnings continued around the outside of the yard until they reached it.

They did not seem to have drawn undue suspicion as they slipped down this secondary path. As they moved through these surrounding streets, though, Einarr began to feel as though there were eyes all about, following their furtive movements.

They emerged again a quarter circle around the keep, ahead of another gate but still within sight of the edge of the training group. If this was a proper circle fort, it would be better to check the next exit for signs of life. Sivid barely paused before continuing on to the next side-street.

Around they walked through the empty streets this close to the temple keep of Malúnion, and with every step the sensation of being watched – of being followed – grew between Einarr’s shoulder blades. He cleared his throat.

“Perhaps we should go back, let Father know what we’ve found.”

“Don’t let them spook you, boy.” Sivid did not look back at Einarr this time, simply continued to watch ahead as they moved. “If they had anything on us, they’d have moved already. We committed to this gamble, we need to see it through.”

“R-right.” Einarr cleared his throat a little. Something about the keep here had him even more on edge than he’d thought. …But if Runa was in there, and if they had the right island she must be, how could he turn back now?

The gate on the far side of the keep was smaller than either of the other two they had seen thus far and made of the same stone as everything else. They might have missed it were it not for the way its archway was formed in the surrounding wall and the iron bars that reinforced it. Einarr hummed in consternation. Sivid merely sighed.

“Odds that’s the door we want anyway?” Einarr murmured.

“High. If a door like that doesn’t lead to a dungeon…”

Einarr grunted his agreement and slipped out into the broad, empty stone yard of the temple keep, Sivid only a pace behind. That the yard was empty save for them on this side of the keep did nothing to soothe Einarr’s nerves.

He paused a moment to examine the door and scowled: there was no apparent latch. Sivid brushed past him, though, and quickly found the mechanism Einarr had missed.

“Once we’re in there we’re as good as trapped, you realize,” the smaller man murmured, the door still closed under his palm.

“Didn’t you just tell me we had to see this plan through?”

“Oh, aye. Just making sure your guts hadn’t turned to water all of a sudden.” The words were harsh. From any other man, it would have demanded a duel. But, because it was Sivid and because the weird light still allowed Einarr to see the teasing glint in his crewmate’s eye, the taunt earned Sivid little more than a scowl and a gesture to continue.

The door scraped open slowly under Sivid’s palm to reveal a cut-stone stairway headed down. The two men exchanged a look of uneasy surprise and slipped through the arch. When Sivid was three steps down, Einarr pressed his back against the heavy door, pressing it closed with a muffled click.


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4.1 – An Unexpected Arrival

When the Vidofnir had emerged from the narrow fjord that served as a gateway to the ship-barrow, someone spotted the black storm clouds that had washed over the island on the southeastern horizon. The sail was unfurled and they gave chase, building speed faster than wind alone with the oars. For three weeks they chased the storm this way, always headed vaguely southeast and ever more convinced that the storm itself was unnatural. Chased, but never gained. In the middle of the third week, Snorli approached the Captain and Mate.

“We must put in to port soon, sirs. We’ve a week’s worth of water and mead left, at best.” They could live off of fish for so long as they had water, but once that was gone…

Reluctantly, Stigander agreed and the order was given to make for Mikilgata Harbor, not many days west of them in territory nominally held by Thane Birlof. Not exactly friendly territory, but safe enough if they kept their noses clean. In this way the Vidofnings found themselves holed up in the guest bunks offered at the Wandering Warrior on the port’s edge.

The benefit of a place like this, of course, was that finding buyers was a simple, if not straightforward affair, and as their first week in port passed they converted no small amount of their treasure from gold to gems or more ivory to lighten their hold.

The drawback, however, was that there were very few men interested in going out to sea, and even fewer that Stigander would feel comfortable bringing aboard. So, for the most part, they waited and they drank until the hold was empty enough to accommodate the food and fresh water they required.

Two days before Stigander planned to leave, when most of the Vidofnings were gaming to while away the hours or off in search of a good training field while Snorli and Bardr arranged for the delivery of supplies, a familiar figure trudged into the Warrior and leaned on his arms at the bar.

Einarr, going over the manifest with his father, looked twice before he realized who it was in front of him. He was on his feet, heading for the bar himself, before he had time to consciously process what he was doing.

“Trabbi?”

The old man looked up, weariness and desperation obvious in his face. “Oh, good. When we saw the Vidofnir in port…”

“We? Are you on the Skudbrun now? …Never mind, come sit down.” Truth be told, Einarr hadn’t given the man a second thought since their glìma match in the spring, but even if the fisherman had taken up whaling there wasn’t much that should have brought him this far out.

“For the moment, yes. Lord Stigander, sir.” Trabbi greeted Stigander as he took a seat at their table and slumped against it.

“Trabbi.” Stigander’s voice held a note of caution. After all, the last time they had spoken with this man, he had been competing with Einarr for a bride. “What brings you to Mikilgata?”

“He was relieved to find us, so nothing good.”

“Oh, aye, nothing good at all.” Trabbi looked around for the master of the bar, who was nowhere in sight. He shook his head, sighing. “That letter your new Singer had when you came back last time? It was summoning Runa for – and I quote her – ‘Singer business.’”

Trabbi’s eyes scanned the room again, although less like he was looking for something and more like a man taking in his surroundings. “My Jarl, he asked me to go along as bodyguard – not that he mistrusted the men of the Skudbrun, but that he wanted someone who would stand out less on shore. What else could I do but agree to that?

“Only… on the way… a storm blew up, and riding the winds was a black-headed ship…”

“So then Runa is…” Einarr sat back, stunned. He couldn’t say the word… couldn’t admit to himself the possibility that she might have been murdered the same way Astrid was.

“Kidnapped.” The word Trabbi supplied was far less despair-inducing than the one Einarr had come up with, but still it took a moment for father and son to process what they’d heard.

“Kidnapped?” Stigander was the first to recover.

“Kidnapped. …And I’m no warrior, but I’m to blame… We lost sight of that strange storm they rode four days ago.”

Einarr met his father’s eyes with a wordless plea.

Stigander nodded once, slowly. “You say the Skudbrun is in port? Here?”

Thane Birlof’s waters were even less friendly to Jarl Hroaldr’s Thane than they were to the sons of Raen. Still, Trabbi nodded.

“We’ll go back to your ship with you, speak with Captain Kragnir. I think, all things considered, my crew will be more than willing to help you go after the scum.”

“You have my thanks.”

All three men stood and headed for the door, the manifest tucked beneath Stigander’s arm.

***

Trabbi led them through the port, his shoulders more square than they had been in the bar. The Skudbrun was moored in an out-of-the-way location where it wasn’t likely to be seen by anyone too loyal to the supposed thane. This placed it on the same dock, although much farther back, than the Vidofnir. Bardr looked up and watched as the three of them passed by, but he did nothing to interfere.

The Skudbrun looked exactly as she had when they had come after Einarr and Runa in the Gufuskalam that spring. Captain Kragnir, a white-haired man who only looked small in comparison to Stigander, stood on the deck near the gangplank. Whether he was looking for their party or for porters, who could tell.

“I hear you’ve had a run-in with our old friends, Captain,” Stigander drawled.

“So it appears, Captain.”

“May we come aboard?”

Captain Kragnir stepped to the side and motioned for the three men to join him.


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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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1.12 – Negotiations

“Erik.”

The burly man nodded, rain streaming from the end of his beard.

“You’re not going to make me fight you, too, are you?”

“Cap’n’s mighty unhappy, Einarr, but he don’t want you dead an’ he don’t want either of us injured. Sent me to give you an offer.”

“And?”

“You come back aboard the Vidofnir and Runa goes to the Skudbrun, so everything’s done proper-like. Trabbi’s on board over there, but between we three and the fishes he’s not as unhappy about all this as the Jarl. Cap’n Stigander wants a word or three with Trabbi, thinks they can work something out.”

“How do we know this isn’t just some sort of trick? If my father sent a priest along…” Runa’s eyes were wide, as though the thought of marrying Trabbi instead of Einarr kindled fear in her.

“Runa.”

She turned her gaze to him, her eyes pleading.

“Runa, even if this all goes south, your father had his choice of suitors. I know he’s getting old, but I don’t believe you would be treated poorly. If we refuse, there are now two ships worth of men I would have to fight off before we could escape. On the other hand, I think there’s a good chance my Father will be able to work something out. Will you trust me?”

She opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. Runa pursed her lips and lowered her eyes before finally nodding her acquiescence.

“Thank you. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we might not end up outcast after all.”

“Captain’s going to want words with you no matter what happens, you realize,” Erik put in.

“That’s fine.”

Barri and the other two Brunnings were standing, now, but prevented from rejoining battle by Erik’s muscular frame. Now the big man turned and addressed them. “You heard me. Go ahead and take your princess aboard, and tell your Captain that Captain Stigander Raenson of the Vidofnir requests permission to board.”

If it had been someone with less presence than Erik, or if Barri had been less honorable of a man, Einarr might have worried about treachery from the Skudbrun. As it was, though, he was able to clasp Runa’s hands in his own with a genuine smile of encouragement. “Don’t worry. It’ll all work out.”

He let Barri take Runa’s arm. Her worried gaze never strayed from Einarr as Barri carried her up to the Skudbrun on his back.

Einarr looked at Erik, squinting a little against the wind trying to blow rain in his eyes. “I’m getting busted back down to deckhand, aren’t I.”

Erik barked a laugh. “Wouldn’t suprise me.”

***

When the storm died down, both Skudbrun and Vidofnir were still tethered to the small skiff Runa had acquired for her daring escape. With many agreements shouted across the waves, the boats were brought alongside one another and planks were extended between their two railings. Standing in front of the gangplank on the Vidofnir was Stigander, a cask of mead under one arm, flanked by Bardr and Einarr. On the other side stood the captain of the Skudbrun with his first mate and Trabbi. Einarr searched their deck for sign of Runa, but did not see her.

Stigander cast a pointed look over his shoulder at his son before beginning. “Under flag of truce,” he called across. “I, Captain Stigander Raenson request permission to come aboard for the purpose of mediation with Trabbi Aridson.”

“Under flag of truce, and with full consideration of the long friendship between Kjell Hall and Raenshold,” the other captain answered. “I, Captain Kragnir Hokarson, grant permission to come aboard.”

Only then did Stigander step up onto the gangplank and stride across to the other ship, followed by Bardr and Einarr in quick – if not hasty – succession. Einarr steadied himself with his knees when a swell rocked their two boats with him in the middle of the plank. His father was presenting Captain Kragnir with the cask as a ceremonial gesture of goodwill – a gesture whose importance Einarr well knew was magnified by his actions.

The Fates did not decide to drop him between the two boats for his earlier temerity, and moments later he was able to complete the crossing. Captain Kragnir led them back to the Captain’s awning. Runa stood outside of it, red-faced and wringing her delicate hands. Einarr wished he could go to her, comfort her, but under the circumstances feared that would only make matters worse. Trabbi looked her way, pursed his lips – in frustration, anger, or concern Einarr could not tell – and did not look again.

The six men settled around the low table in the center of the sheltered area – Brunnings on one side, Vidofnings on the other. Kragnir opened the cask Stigander had brought as a peace-offering and poured everyone a cup of the sweet brew. Once they had all drunk, the ceremony was concluded.

“What is there that the wandering Son of Raen believes must be discussed?” Trabbi opened. The bitterness in his voice planted a rock in the bottom of Einarr’s belly.

“Perhaps the unwillingness of your bride?”

“My Jarl asked me to marry his daughter and keep her safe and well. To what part of that am I supposed to object?”

“He did not even mention her happiness?” Einarr had not intended to speak, but the words would not be contained.

“If this is also not something you wished, I believe we have a solution where you can back out and no-one has to lose face,” Bardr interrupted

“I will confess to mixed feelings on the idea of wedding a girl my sons’ age.”

Stigander nodded. “As would I, in your situation.” He looked sidelong at Bardr, who had the good grace to look embarrassed. “What say you to a duel?”

“Captain, I may lead a fleet, but it is a fleet of fishermen. I hardly think that a test of swordsmanship…”

“Glima, though?”

“Wrestling?”

“Wrestling. We may be getting on in years, but unless I miss my guess you’re not slowing down just quite yet. Your experience versus my son’s youthful vitality.”

Trabbi set his jaw and turned his gaze to study Einarr.

“Loser yields the right to marry the princess.”

“I won’t throw the match,” Trabbi warned.

Einarr met the man’s weighing eyes. “You’d be a coward if you did.”

“Just so long as that’s understood.”

“Of course.” Stigander shrugged as though he’d expected nothing else.

“In that case, I agree. Runa should stay on board the Skudbrun until we return to Kjell Hall. My Jarl would never forgive me if I allowed her to remain with the man who tried to steal her away.”

Einarr opened his mouth to protest, but before a sound could escape Stigander had already answered. “Agreed.”

Not two steps after he had left the awning, Runa had thrown her arms about Einarr’s neck. “Easy, easy. We’ve got it all settled.”

“I heard. You think you can win?”

He smirked now, lowering his voice to avoid being heard to insult his rival. “Against a fisherman? Come now.” His face fell then and he shook his head. “Even if I don’t, though, I think it might not make much difference for you. After what we did, Trabbi would be well within his rights to cancel the engagement.” It might matter for him, though, depending on how forgiving the Jarl felt.

She took a deep breath and held it for a moment, nodding before she let it out. He thought she might have been about to protest. She looked as anxious here as she had earlier, on the boat, when he was fighting off her countrymen.

“You’re that worried I’ll lose?”

She shook her head. “I’m worried you’ll be hurt.”

Bardr and his father were nearly to the gangplank, but Einarr found a moment to wrap her in his arms and kiss her hair before hurrying on.


1.11 – Capture 1.13 – Glìma
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