Tag: Goats

2.24 – Arring’s Vald

The platform rose eight feet in the air once the woodcutters had it built, and as sturdy as wood could make it. If Arring judged aright, there would be exactly enough room between the platform and the log for him to put his back into it.

While the woodcutters worked at moving the split out of the way, Arring took the time to plan his throw and allowed himself the luxury of a warm-up. That he could do it was never in doubt, but even for him it would be a difficult lift. Off in the distance, he thought he heard the bleating of goats and the whisper of pipes on the wind. Too far away to be in danger.

With a drawn-out crack the smaller log separated from its twin. The sound of it striking the ramp they’d built was like a giant’s drum, and it rumbled like thunder as it tumbled unevenly down toward the camp.

“Ready the sling!” Arring’s voice boomed nearly as loudly as the tree had. A flurry of movement off to the side revealed several of the woodcutters hauling on the end of a truly massive piece of canvas, easily enough for two sails. How they’d come by it, he could only begin to guess.

Arring turned his attention back to the platform ahead of him. Up he went, hand over hand on the ladder they’d brought up from camp, until his feet were planted firmly on the cross-tied beams.

A woodcutter’s voice echoed through the forest. “Sling secured!”

Arring rubbed his palms together and stepped up to the massive trunk, bending his knees as he pressed shoulder and palms against the rough bark of the log. He shuffled his feet a little, feeling out a place where he thought his boots unlikely to slip.

A goat bleated, far closer than Arring was comfortable with. He glanced down toward the road and the pasture wall but saw nothing from under the log.

Breath filled his lungs and he tensed his thighs, pushing. It did not want to move, but he felt the tell-tale shifting that gave away how it would.

He shifted, and with a groan the giant log began to rise off of the tree it had stuck in.

“Hey! Be careful!” The overseer’s voice rang out down below.

“I’ll just be a minute! One of the goats…” The light voice of a prepubescent boy answered.

Arring cursed. “Get the goat and get them out of here,” he grunted, hoping someone would hear.

His legs were nearly straight, shaking with the effort, but no-one had called the ‘all clear.’ He wasn’t about to set this log down again: either it would stay stuck in the fork, or it would roll down on its own, completely missing the protective sling and probably destroying the shrine. If it stayed stuck, odds were decent he wouldn’t budge it again. At least not today.

It felt like an eternity before the overseer called out again.

“Clear!”

Thank the gods. Arring dipped his knees into a shallow squat before giving a jump, pushing out with his hands against the trunk.

A curse rang out from one of the sling-tenders before wood struck canvas. Arring’s gaze snapped in the direction of the sound: the man had the end of the rope in one hand and a foot braced against the tree it was tied to. Arring couldn’t tell what the actual issue was, but it looked like other woodcutters were already heading to assist.

The canvas tightened. A quick glance revealed six men now straining at the edge of the canvas on the end where something had gone wrong.

Down below, back towards the camp, a boy screamed.

Arring vaulted off the platform and pushed off the falling trunk towards the source of the sound. Damn idiot kid…

The thought was angry, but what clutched at his throat was fear for the boy, fear that he wouldn’t be fast enough.

There they were. Tufts of goat hair showed where the boy’s charge had taken off through the underbrush when the tree came down. The goatherd had tried to follow, but somehow his foot was stuck under a root jutting out into the path of the log.

Arring’s strength was a gift from the gods, and he tried always to use it in accordance with that knowledge. Should this boy die, some might say it was the price he paid for stupidity, or it was bad luck. Arring knew better: it would be his fault, because without him the woodcutters would have found another way. Therefore, the young goatherd was his responsibility.

He charged screaming for where the boy lay stretched on the ground. The intervening space was a green-and-brown blur.

Another heartbeat and the boy would be crushed. With the last of his reserves, Arring stepped under the log and lowered his head, raising his hands to the level of his shoulders.

The force drove him to his knees. Bark pressed against Arring’s shoulders and palms where he knelt, panting, under the massive tree.

Silver bells carried on the wind, much as the goatherd’s pipes had earlier.

***

The five querants for the Oracle of Attilsund stood blinking in the red light of sunset at the top of a granite cliff. Einarr still felt the urge to vomit, and as he turned his head to ensure they were all still there he noted Arring picking himself up off of Father’s shoulder. The other three all seemed to have taken this last vision more or less in stride, to judge by the calm, almost placid looks they wore.

He shrugged one shoulder, forcibly trying to redirect his mind away from the revelations of the vision. He would confront Reki about the contents of his vision later, when they returned to the ship. His purpose here would not be so easily swayed, after all.

“Is everyone all right?” Stigander spoke quietly, but the words still carried over the ever-present wind at this altitude. A series of nods made its way around the group.

“Then we’d best get on. Not much light left, and the Elder warned us against camping out here.”


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1.3 – In the Hall of the Sea King

Seven years earlier

The soothsayers claimed snow was coming, even though they should ordinarily have had another month. Even though it was bright and sunny over the Hall. But it was unwise to go against the soothsayers in matters of weather or fate, and Captain Stigander set several of his best lookouts up into trees to watch the horizon.

“Not you,” Stigander said when Einarr started to climb a tree.

“What? Why not?” He didn’t want to whine. He’d been a deckhand long enough not to whine, but his voice cracked on the ‘what’ to make it sound like one.

“Deckhands operate on deck. Go help bring in the goats.”

“Yes, sir.” His fingers only itched a little with the urge to climb: once they were up there, they probably weren’t coming down for quite a while, and that would be boring. More boring than wrestling goats, certainly, and there were always a few. He dashed off across the meadow to join the goat-herds, already headed further into the interior of the island.

“Hey-yo,” he called as he caught up. Many of the other boys responded in kind. Most of them did not yet even have the haze of downy stubble that was beginning to grace Einarr’s chin.

The goats had already wandered out from the rockiest area of the island when they found them, perhaps sensing the impending storm as the soothsayers did. The goat-herd hailed the group from a distance of fifty paces. “What news?”

“The Ice descends,” answered one of the few boys there older than Einarr, a hint of melodrama in his voice.

“Ugh,” groaned the goat-herd. “Seriously?”

“That’s what we’re told.”

They moved around behind the herd of goats and began marching forward in a line, back toward the Hall. The goats, of course, mostly ignored them, slipping between legs or kicking back when they got tired of being kneed by walking teenagers. Then someone had the idea to make a game of it; whoever carried or led the most goats back to the winter pen, won. Anyone who hurt a goat by accident got a penalty to their count. It was understood that anyone who hurt a goat on purpose would be thrashed by everyone else.

Einarr had wrestled three does and a young buck into the pen when he noticed a small slip of a girl out among them, her pale blond hair mussed half out of its braid, laughing as she clung to the neck of a particularly headstrong doe that was trying to break for the rocks.

What is she even doing out here? He thought, breaking off from the doe he had been trying to corner. Thankfully the other goat was slowed by the weight of a child hanging on its neck and Einarr was able to get in front of it. The doe stopped just shy of ramming into Einarr and planted her feet, her nostrils flaring. The doe plainly didn’t think she could dodge him with this weight she couldn’t get rid of.

Before the goat could buck and try to throw off its cargo, Einarr bent over and took hold of its slender legs. “You can let go now.”

Once the girl released the goat, he scooped it up over his shoulders. The doe, of course, tried to fight, but with its legs restrained there was a limit to what it could do. “I’ll carry this one back for you.”

“Thanks!” The girl was still a little breathless. “Don’t you try to steal my count, though!”

“Nope, this one’s all yours.” A laugh tried to well up from his belly, but he repressed it. Somehow, he didn’t think she would take that kindly.

“Okay then. I’m Runa.”

“Nice to meet you, Runa. I’m Einarr. Is it fun, having the princess’ name?” They both started walking back toward the pen. Einarr ambled, really, since she wouldn’t have been able to keep up with his longer legs.

“Being the princess is great – except when they try to keep me from playing with the boys.”

Surprised, Einarr nearly let go of the goat that still struggled on his shoulders. That would have ended badly for all three of them. What’s the Princess doing out… oh. Well, she wants to play, let’s see if she can win.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Princess. Come on, we’ll be a team. We’re sure to win, that way.” He was pretty sure he was near the lead before, and it would have been miraculous if she’d managed to get even one goat before this one.

Now

Is that . . . Runa? He shook his head and finished his descent to the bench. Even if it was the princess, she probably didn’t remember him. She had been perhaps ten the last time he’d seen her, and he fourteen. She was a woman, now, and Einarr could think of any number of men more likely to be chosen as her husband. “Heir of Raenshold” meant very little these days. He took a bowl of venison stew and began talking with the men to either side of him, trying not to stare.

Erik, on his left, was talking with one of the Kjellings about the attack on their ship. Einarr couldn’t count the number of times they’d all talked it over when they were off rowing duty, but it still didn’t make any sense. Where had the storm come from? No-one knew. How had the Grendel operated freely in that weather? Some thought it was a ghost ship, filled with the spirits of drowned sailors. Einarr doubted it.

So did the Kjelling Erik was talking to. “If that had been a ghost ship, they wouldn’t have settled for just Astrid.”

“That’s the part that worries me,” Einarr jumped in, the black demon’s head fresh in his mind. Runa was still a distraction from the corner of his eye, but this had been gnawing on him since the attack. “It wasn’t like they settled for Mother at all. They barely even bothered with the rest of us – just enough to keep us away from their target.”

“You think she was targeted?” Erik took a swig of his mead.

“Doesn’t it look that way to you?”

“How could they even have been sure she was there,though?” The man on the other side of Erik leaned forward as he asked the question and looked over at Einarr.

Einarr shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s just what it looks like to me.” That wasn’t quite true: he did have an idea, but it wasn’t one he was certain he could credit. Runa was nodding earnestly at something one of the other Kjellings was saying to her; Einarr blinked, and made himself look back at Erik and the other man. As his eyes flicked across the room, it seemed like Bardr was studying her, as well. Oh, no. Not her, man. “While we’re asking questions, though, why would they risk attacking another ship in a storm?”

“Especially without a battle-chanter of their own,” Erik grumbled.

“They didn’t… you’re right, they didn’t. Or if they did, she wasn’t singing, which amounts to the same thing.”

“You’re sure they weren’t agents of one of the Empires?”

“I… suppose it’s possible?” Einarr hadn’t considered that. From the looks of it, neither had Erik. Finally, though, he shrugged. “Well. Father will want the blood price in blood, I expect, no matter who they are.” He took another mouthful of stew and glanced back toward the princess. When did she grow up?


1.2 – Aftermath 1.4 – Funeral Rites
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