Tag: Kem

8.2 – Berth Hunt

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

The last time Einarr had been in Eskiborg, he had compared it in size and hustle to Kem. He now thought that might be underselling Eskiborg somewhat. Not only was it a warm water port, at least as the Clans reckoned such matters, it was a major shipbuilding port, and one where longships and knarr far outnumbered the dromon favored by the Coneheads.*

On the first night, they took beds at the Bronze Archer and split up to canvas the docks – Naudrek with Hrug, Eydri with Einarr. In all that bounty, among all those ships, Einarr was certain they could find berths for the four of them. He had not anticipated, however, the difficulty in finding a temporary berth for a Singer – did not, in fact, fully grasp it until no fewer than four captains asked if she was Einarr’s lover.

He was more than a little taken aback by the assumption, in fact, and it did not take long for worry to begin nibbling away at his brain: was Runa going to make that same assumption?

“It’s a matter of protection,” Eydri finally explained. “We run into similar issues as apprentices, actually.”

“You… do.” Einarr’s spirits drooped. Mentally, he began totting up their resources once more. “If you’re saying we should try to buy a boat, tell me now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be.”

She shook her head. “It will be tricky, but not impossible. Most sailors know better than to assault a Singer, even an apprentice one, but no captain wants to risk one of his men turning out to be that idiot. So they want me to be under someone’s protection. And if I’m your paramour, that makes it even less likely for someone to get drunk and do something truly stupid.”

“I…” Einarr thought about it: he knew that his father had always married their Singers, right up until Reki, but there had never been any doubt in his mind why. Now he wondered. “But Father is the only Captain I know who is typically married to his Battle Chanter.”

Eydri frowned at him, then smirked. “Somehow, I suspect that has more to do with your father. At any rate, you will need to give assurances that I am under your protection, and that you can enforce as much. …Perhaps it would be best if we had not split up.”

Einarr thought it over a moment, but shook his head. “Tomorrow, if Naudrek has not found something, we will all four go together. But I suspect if we try to find them now we will waste the rest of the day.”

On the second day in Eskiborg, they also returned to their beds empty-handed, their spirits low. It seemed that those who were sailing in the right direction were more than a little spooked by the idea of taking on both an “unprotected” Singer (despite the presence of not one but three companions) and a male sorceror.

“If we find nothing tomorrow, I will check what might be for sale. With a fishing skiff, the four of us can manage.” With a fishing skiff and a little luck, anyway.

“I thought you said you couldn’t afford one?”

“Not properly, no. But if we can find one that doesn’t take on too much water, and the three of you can pitch in for water barrels and fishing gear, I can honestly say I’ve sailed in worse.”

The other three shared a look, then Hrug shook his head and tapped at the tabletop. The rattle of runesticks followed, but instead of casting them down he began to lay them carefully. Will… Not… Need he spelled out.

“You’ve seen something?”

He hesitated, then nodded.

Remembering the divination Melja had worked that led him to these two in the first place, Einarr sat forward eagerly. “What should I look for?”

Hrug looked to Naudrek, who nodded. “After that first day, when we split up, he did his thing. We need a ship with a stag’s head on the prow.”

“A stag.” Not like that was a common ornament at all. He could think of six he’d seen just that afternoon.

Hrug grunted affirmative, and Naudrek continued. “The sail of the ship is blue and yellow striped, and there was a red-headed man with neat braids in his hair and beard. We think he’s the captain.”

“And according to the vision, this ship will have us?”

“I think so. Hrug says so, anyway, and he’s the expert on these sorts of things.”

“Good enough for me.”


Einarr kept his impatience in check over the third day’s fruitless search, albeit with difficulty. Afternoon was waning on their fourth day of searching when a longship slipped into the harbor, sleek and abviously built for speed. The blue-and-gold sail told Einarr their goal had arrived.

As the ship drew up to the dock, Einarr came close enough to note their berth and confirm what he thought to be true: the figurehead was an ornate stag’s head, carved to look as though water ran down the antlers. Einarr nodded, then slipped back into the crowd. He knew well enough that their captain was unlikely to have time for new sailors before morning.

That night, while the four of them sat at table at the Bronze Archer, Einarr laid out their plan for the morning. “Get a good night’s sleep. We’ll breakfast at a normal hour, but then head straight for the docks. We want to arrive a little before mid-morning, I think. Hrug, how ‘neat’ did this captain look?”

The tongueless man sighed and glanced at Naudrek. Sooner or later Einarr would learn to actually communicate with him, but Elder Melja had kept them both far too busy over the winter.

“You might call him fastidious,” Naudrek answered after conferring with his old friend for a moment.

Einarr nodded. “In that case, make sure you come to breakfast bathed and tidy. Just because the divination said we can get berths doesn’t mean we should take them for granted.”


* Conehead: An inhabitant of the Konneul Empire, which occupies the best land and warmest water in this world.


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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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1.34 – Homecoming

By the time the Gufuskalam made landfall in the Kjelling lands, not far from where the Vidofnir once again moored, nearly a month had passed since they departed Kem. The seas were smooth and the wind friendly, thanks probably in part to the presence of the Isinntog, and Erik could now move about with the aid of a crutch acquired during their resupply.

Erik was at the rudder as the Gufuskalam approached the shore under the orange light of sunset, his mending leg extended out straight ahead of him. Einarr, for his part, was just as glad to have to row: it helped distract from the gnawing anxiety that had built over the course of their return. I have the Isinntog in hand, he reminded himself. And I have a friend who is explicitly loyal to me. Surely this will settle things.

It was no longer even strange thinking of the ruddy-faced, black-haired dwarf as a friend: after more than a month largely confined to a skiff like the Gufuskalam, the only other option was hatred. For his part, Jorir was presently sounding the depths off the prow and watching for rocks, even as he regaled them with a tale from before he was trapped on Svartlauf.

“Easy does it,” Jorir interrupted himself.

Einarr’s oar scraped sand. He pulled it in as Tyr did the same on the other side, moments before they heard the low grind of wet sand against their hull. Jorir vaulted the side of the boat, landing with a splash. Once he was out of the water, Einarr tossed him the line. A moment’s thought gave him another idea, and he, too, hopped out of the Gufuskalam.

“What are you doing, boy?”

Einarr waded toward the back of the boat, where the still-frigid water came nearly to his chest. “Making it easier for Erik to get out.”

Tyr raised his hands in a “what can you do” gesture, and Einarr heard Erik’s answering guffaw. He probably did not, in fact, need the help out, but Einarr still thought it better to ease the transition. Better to be doing something by far. He had wanted to provide something extra for Erik’s sacrifice, but now that extra would become Jorir’s reward.

“Line secure,” came the call. Only a moment later, the stern lodged itself on the sandy shore. Einarr pulled himself into the boat from the water side to see Tyr offering Erik a hand up from his seat near the tiller.

“Go on ahead. I’ll be right after.”

Erik accepted Tyr’s shoulder for balance as he sat on the edge of their boat and swung his legs out over the shallows. Once his feet dangled, he lowered himself the rest of the way down and balanced against the boat until Tyr passed down his crutch. Einarr waited until Tyr had descended to pull the treasure sack from beneath the deck boards. Only then did he join the other three on shore where they set to making a camp for the night.

* * *

The spruce wood their path led them through in the morning was in full bloom. That, combined with the knowledge that his father was already returned, lightened Einarr’s heart as they stood at the head of the path for Kjell Hall. “Before we continue,” he said. “I just want to say it has been my honor to travel with all of you. Thank you for accompanying me on this quest.”

His odd moment of sentimentality was met by laughter from the two who had joined with the Vidofnir, and statements to the effect that there had nearly been fighting over who would be released to go. Jorir, though, said nothing, and his expression had something of the odd twist it had shown when he received the tafl king as a token of his oath. In the full light of day, it almost looked… wistful.

“But. I’m sure the Jarl’s lookouts already know we’re here. We should get going.”

* * *

Einarr led his crew up to the open gates of the Hall, stepping two strides outside. “Einarr, son of Stigander, son of Raen, and his companions have returned from their quest!”

“The son of Stigander and his crew are well-come to this Hall,” came the formal response – somewhat less warm than the response his father had gathered last winter, but that was only to be expected. He could not help breathing a sigh of relief: that they were invited in at all meant that the Jarl had probably not changed his mind.

When Einarr stepped through into the perpetual dimness of the Hall, he saw his father striding across the room toward him, arms outstretched. “You made it!”

Before he could blink, Einarr was clapped into one of his father’s infamous bear-hugs. “Good to see you, too, pabbi.”

“What kept you? I thought you’d beat us here.” Then he looked more closely at his son’s companions and his brows knit. “Where’s Erik?”

“On his way.” Einarr offered a smile of reassurance. “He’s not moving so quick right now, but I’ll let him tell you why.” He shifted the weight of the shield on his shoulder, his eyes scanning the room and not finding the one face he hoped most to see. “Any luck on your hunt?”

“Not as much as I’d like, but unless I miss my guess you’ve brought something.”

He turned his attention back to Stigander’s cheerful face. “A few somethings. Before that, though, there’s someone you should meet.” He gestured behind himself for the dwarf to come forward.

Once again, Jorir went even a step farther than Einarr expected. When he stepped up to Einarr’s side, the dwarf knelt.

“Father, this is Jorir, who swore to me on Svartlauf under circumstances better described later. He has served admirably and well in the time since, and so I am pleased to call him my liege-man.”

Stigander raised his eyebrows, but the expression was proud. “Well well well. Rise, Jorir, and I will welcome you among the Vidofnings. We three shall discuss this later, however, when the company is not quite so public.”

“Agreed, and I believe I see Erik coming up on the palisade.”

Stigander spared a look outside. Einarr wished he could have spared his father more of the shock of seeing one of his strongest warriors hobbling along on a crutch, but it was not to be.

“It’s why you beat us here. We took a detour to find a healer.”

Stigander nodded, mute for but a moment. “Since everyone’s here, you’d best be on with it.”

Anxiety grasped Einarr’s belly, but he nodded. His first step towards the Jarl’s throne was hesitant. Deep breath. One step at a time. Einarr swallowed, and then strode forward as though his father’s kingdom still outranked the Jarl’s. As he walked, he slipped the Isinntog out of the sack he carried. Two paces from where Jarl Hroaldr sat, staring with what to Einarr felt like contemptuous amusement, he dropped to one knee and bowed before his father’s oldest friend.

“My Lord Jarl. At the dawning of spring, you sent me forth on a quest to prove my devotion to your daughter, and declared that the artifact you sent me after was to be her morning-gift. Today I return to you with the Isinntog, as you demanded.” He held the torc between his hands as though about to crown someone with it and raised it toward the jarl. “I have fulfilled the quest you asked of me, my lord, and I would ask that you now fulfill the promise it rested on.”

The torc was lifted from his hands. Jarl Hroaldr examined it, still standing, and spoke. “You have demonstrated your devotion amply enough, but you still have not demonstrated your ability to provide. You bring me her morning-gift, but there is still the matter of a bride price, still the matter that you have no hall, and still the matter that you have no men to crew the ship you also lack.”

“I beg your pardon, jarl, but that is no longer strictly true. We left as three, and returned as four.”

Jarl Hroaldr’s lip curled in a sneer. “I see one svartdvergr. You have no men. Even should we accept your dwarf, however, there is still the matter of a bride-price, of which I will accept none until you have a hall. Or did you intend to give me grandchildren aboard your father’s ship?”

Laughter rose up around the hall: Einarr blushed.

“I accept the Isinntog as we agreed, and as proof of your intentions toward my daughter. I shall not attempt to marry her off until you have returned to me with proof of lands of your own, and at least a handful of loyal men, or until five years have passed.”

Einarr’s blush turned to a blanch. Five years, to undo the Weaving or found a new holding. “I understand,” he said.

“Excellent.” Now Jarl Hroaldr smiled, and for the first time in a long time Einarr thought it friendly. “Rise, and enjoy the merriment.”

“My thanks. If I may, there are some few gifts I should like to present those who helped me.”

The Jarl raised his arm in assent, and Einarr turned to face the rest of the room. It was odd having so many eyes on him – odd, but not bad. “Well then, first off, Father. This would have been impossible without Erik and Tyr along, although I understand competition was fierce.”

Stigander came forward slowly, evidently a little perplexed as to why he would be honored even still.

Einarr pulled the gold flagon from his sack. “I saw this during my search, and since the best one on the ship was buried with Astrid I thought you should have it.”

“Thank you, son.” Stigander’s voice was unacustomedly quiet, and he slipped back into the crowd as soon as Einarr nodded.

“Tyr. Without your quick thinking by the kalalintu islands, I don’t think we all would have made it to Svartlauf in the first place.” Tyr came forward a little less reservedly than his father had. His place in the quest had definitely entitled him to a reward. “I’m afraid everything I saw that you might have had use for was sized for the giant, but I thought you might find something to do with these.” He handled the string of rubies almost as reverently as he had the Isinntog just minutes before.

The older man grinned, and Einarr knew he, too, was thinking of his wife. “Lovely.”

Tyr tucked the rubies into his belt and melted back into the crowd. Einarr was down to two, and choosing who to honor first was one of the more difficult choices he had ever made. In the end, he settled on “Erik.”

He paused to give the burly man time enough to hobble forward on his stick into the clearing ahead of Einarr.

“Your bravery and sacrifice on the island of Svartlauf is worthy of more than I am capable of rewarding. Thank you, my friend, and I hope you find some merit in this.” Einarr now held out the giant-sized ivory ring with pearls. It seemed to shine in the dimness of the Hall, but thankfully was not nearly so effeminate as the Isinntog had been. Erik turned it over in his hands before blinking and peering at the inner ring.

“There is more merit in this gift than you give it credit for,” he said as he bowed his way back out and into the crowd.

“And now, finally, Jorir, if you will step forward.”

The dwarf moved unhesitatingly, either to spite the Jarl’s scorn or because it did not reach him.

“When you swore to me, I had my misgivings, and yet over the past weeks you have been as loyal a retainer as I could have asked for. If it were not for your efforts, we might have lost Erik before we reached Kem. As your lord, it falls to me to equip you. Please, take this shield, and use it well.”

“Gladly.”

Einarr could not later have said how he managed it, but in a single smooth motion Jorir accepted the golden shield from his hand and pressed his forehead against Einarr’s knuckles. Einarr stood a moment longer, perplexed once again by the level of loyalty his liege-man displayed. He did not notice that the rest of the hall was surprised into stillness until he, too, slipped away from the Jarl’s seat.


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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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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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1.29 – Escape from Svartlauf

“That piece was given to me before I left on this journey by the woman who will be my bride, so do not scorn it. I’m afraid I’m still going to have to bind you until we’re underway on my boat.” Einarr strode behind Jorir and swiftly wrapped the rope about his wrists in a figure-eight pattern.

“Better than staying here, an’ it’s not like I’ve given you much reason to trust my word. …Satisfied?”

Einarr finished tightening the rope around Jorir’s wrists and let his hand drop to the long tail he’d left to keep hold of the prisoner. “Yeah. Lead on.” He patted the dwarf’s axe that now hung at his own belt near Sinmora.

A small hallway led off from the main chamber they had tumbled into. The Isinntog was now so bright Einarr was tempted to take it off, but that would require trusting the dwarf enough to loose his leash. Instead he squinted against the silvery glow as the sound of water lapping against rock reached his ears.

Jorir led Einarr to a small wooden pier jutting out into an underground stream – the source of the lapping noise. Tied at the pier was a small fishing boat, sized such that the dwarf could have operated it alone.

“It’ll be a bit cramped, but it’ll get us to your boat.”

“Seems seaworthy enough. Get in.”

Jorir shrugged, as though he had been half-expecting something else, and climbed into the prow of the boat. Einarr didn’t trust the dwarf enough to let him row out to the Gufuskalam, and so he would have to sit on the deck boards still trussed.

The seat was uncomfortably narrow and low to the deck when Einarr took his place at the oars. Nothing he couldn’t bear with, however. He slipped the dwarf’s half-hitch and cast off towards the waters inside Svartlauf’s storm.

The only sound was that of the oars slipping through the water until the mouth of the cave came into view around a bend, bright white against the blackness of the rock. “All right, blacksmith, you’ve got until we escape the storm to convince me of your sincerity.”

* * *

To his credit, Jorir had not bored Einarr with begging for his life or babbling. He spoke quietly of his skill as a smith, and during his time on the island he had learned more than a little of carpentry, shipbuilding, and herbs – for the jotün had paid no attention to his well-being unless it should happen to affect his smithing. Jorir preferred that, for even serving Fraener he preferred to avoid his attention when possible.

“If you preferred to avoid his attention, why did you warn him?”

“Oh, envy, partly. But my tunnels were always the most likely way for another thief to get in. I’d have been blamed if I just let you alone.”

Einarr harrumphed and went back to rowing. The dwarf kept up a steady stream of talk: once his skills were in the open, he launched into the story of how he had come to try and steal the Isinntog that now adorned Einarr’s neck. The cave opened out onto a tiny bay some distance around the shore from where the Gufuskalam awaited, but the tiny boat was quick in spite of the size of its load, and within the hour Einarr was able to stand and wave to catch Tyr’s attention.

“And who, pray tell, might this be?” Tyr asked as the fishing boat bumped against the side of their skiff.

“My liege-man, apparently. Former servant of the gods-cursed jotün. Calls himself Jorir.”

Tyr harrumphed even as he gave both man and dwarf a hand into the ship. “And you trust him?”

“If I did, do you think he’d be tied? Little bastard fought tooth and nail to kill me, right up until he decided to surrender and get off this rock. But he has sworn. How’s Erik?”

“Still breathing. Feverish.” Tyr gestured toward where the burly redhead was laid out on the deck, breathing heavily. His leg was splinted but still looked mangled.

“Will he make it to Kjell?” Einarr noted that the dwarf moved as quietly as his stubby legs could carry him towards the sick man, trying to look unobjectionable. Einarr kept one eye on him even as Tyr reached for the sea chart.

Tyr shook his head. “Not with what I can do on the boat. I’ve been studying the charts, though.” He unrolled it, pointing to a nearby chain in the wrong direction. “I think I can keep him alive until we get to the settlement here. Big place, that. They should have an herb-witch if not a songstress we could take him to.”

“Beg pardon,” Jorir interrupted. “This is the one who got chomped by Lord Fraener’s pet?”

“Aye.” Tyr’s answer sounded wary.

“You’ll want the two of you to navigate the storm. If you’ll let me, I’ll see to him. But the sooner you find a real healer, the better.”

“If he dies, I’ll throw you overboard myself.”

“I know you will. But it were no lie when I said I knew a bit of medicine. Enough to be able to splint that leg right, maybe save it for him.”

Einarr shared a look with Tyr. The older man looked nearly as skeptical as he felt, but shrugged. “Worth a shot. I knew that splint wasn’t likely to hold.”

Einarr gave a curt nod. “Very well. Make ready, then: we head for Kem, on the Islands of Flatey.”


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