Tag: Kjell Hall

6.7 – A Nearly Peaceful Night

Auna left them in the meeting hall under heavy guard after giving Runa the lines she would have to inscribe. She, then, wandered off into a corner of the room, muttering under her breath. From the cadence, it sounded as though she were practicing. There had been nothing to write the spell in, after all, save perhaps the dirt of the floor – and under the circumstances that would be dangerous.

Irding let out a long, heavy sigh and lay back on one of the benches in the room, his hands folded behind his head, staring at the ceiling. Erik folded his legs under him where he stood and pulled out his axe and whetstone. The blade was still dulled from the fight against the stenjätte, but he had ceased to grumble about it more than a week ago. Jorir likewise sat, but he began with a careful inspection of the chains of his maille. Einarr knew he should do the same, but restlessness seized his legs. He paced.

Occasionally he would catch one of the others looking at him, but there was no point explaining himself. He wasn’t even sure he understood why he could not sit still. After a while, when there was still a little light filtering in from around the door, Runa followed a scowl (for distracting her) by beckoning him over. The sound of his boots scraping against the dirt paused long enough for her to pat the ground next to where she sat.

Einarr folded his legs under him to sit next to his beloved. “What can I help with?”

“That is actually exactly what I was about to ask you. You’ve been worrying over something for ages now. Talk to me?”

“I-” he started to deny it, but stopped himself. He couldn’t do that – not with Runa. He laughed a little at the realization. “This has been the longest summer ever.”

“It will be over soon enough.”

“Maybe too soon. We need to get you back to Kjell before the ice sets in.”

Runa hummed. “Ideally. But I think the Matrons might have a way of getting a message back if we can’t.”

Einarr stared at her then. “Song can do that?”

Runa shook her head. “No, not song. I don’t really understand it, myself – I’m still technically an apprentice, after all. But I also don’t think that’s really what’s been worrying you.”

Now it was Einarr’s turn to shake his head. “It is and it isn’t. It seems like ever since the Oracle named me a Cursebreaker, things have gone… strange. Maybe even before, I guess. That Valkyrie ship was awfully far north. And it’s been all we can do to make it through to the next fireball.”

“That’s because you’re a Cursebreaker.” Runa’s voice was soft as she stared off into the distance of the far wall.

“And Cursebreakers always end badly. The ones we remember go out in a blaze of glory… but if I’m honest I’d rather find my own glory.”

Runa nodded, slowly.

“Somehow, though, the way the Oracle was talking I thought the calling might come with some sort of ability to actually do it.”

Runa’s laugh was rueful. “If only. They might live a little longer then. No, to be named Cursebreaker is almost a curse in and of itself. You’ve already survived longer than most.”

He groaned. The Oracle had taken his firstborn in payment. Would she have accepted that if she thought he wouldn’t survive to have a child? That wasn’t worth dwelling on right now, though. “Right. And immediately after we left Attilsund, we had to deal with an island full of ghosts. And then was your rescue. And now there are two ships’ worth of people waiting for us to get back with the cure to whatever the cultists did to us, and I get us cast away here.”

“Doing well so far.”

Einarr harrumphed. Before he knew what he really wanted to ask her, the sound of fighting filled the break in their conversation. He paused, listening. “We’re in no danger. But the hulder will want us to hurry once they let us out of here.”

Erik hummed in agreement. “Sounds vicious out there. I’ll be glad of a sharp blade and solid maille when we leave.”

“Subtle. Real subtle.” Irding still stared at the ceiling.

“He doesn’t need to be,” Einarr said. “He’s right. We’d do well to check our things.” Suiting action to words, Einarr joined the older men in inspection and repair.

***

When morning came, all was once again quiet in the forest. Einarr had slept, albeit restlessly. He suspected no-one else had done better, though. To sleep when the battle raged outside went against the grain – but this once, that was not their role. They were all ready and waiting when the door once again opened to admit the unsmiling figure of Auna.

“Are you prepared?”

Einarr met her gaze levelly. “As ready as we can be. How will we know when we near the Woodsman’s lair?”

“The darkness will grow lighter, and what once tripped you will draw back into open space. Within this clearing there will be a cave, and it is around the mouth of this cave where you must inscribe the spell. Once the Woodsman realizes you are there, what you are doing, you will be in great danger.”

“I would expect no less,” Runa said, lifting her chin in defiance – not of Auna, certainly, but perhaps the odds.

“Then fortune favor you. Should you succeed where we have failed, we will count you a friend to our people.”

Einarr inclined his head respectfully towards the elder huldra. “We will be off, then. Good fortune to you, as well.”

Auna stepped out of the doorway, and Einarr led the others back out into the forest.

The previous night’s battle had encroached on unscarred land. Einarr frowned and picked up the pace: as reluctant as he was to re-enter the Woodsman’s territory, he was more reluctant to allow the creature its victory by inches over the hulder. Ahead, the wood grew dark.


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If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

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5.13 – Hero Worship

Runa stood at the entry to the room full of bubbles and swallowed. It was one of the most beautiful sights she had ever seen, but the thought of what she was likely to see set her stomach churning. Einarr had not hesitated: she owed it to him – to them – not to flinch. As he ducked under one of the green-glowing globes, Runa entered the room.

She took sideways, gliding steps, ever mindful of where the bubbles were, knowing she was going to make a mistake. Do not fear, she told herself. He’s right in front of you: you can face anything. Runa swallowed again, willing herself to believe it.

She stopped. In front of her, the bubbles floated in a solid wall. On the other side, she was sure, the exit would be in view. All she had to do was step forward.

Runa wiped sweaty palms against her skirt and set her mouth in a determined line. With a deep breath, she gripped her skirts and strode forward, into the wall of memory.

***

Runa studied the harbor from her perch high in a tree, hoping to see a draken on the horizon. Not just any draken, of course: she wanted the Vidofnings to come this winter. She was old enough to know there was no rational reason, just that she thought things would be better if they were here.

“Runa? Runa, where are you?” Her nursemaid’s voice called, still a ways off. Runa hurried back toward the center of the tree, where the woman was less likely to spot her. It would be even odds whether she was madder about Runa shirking her chores or that she’d climbed a tree.

Where are you, Einarr? You need to come back this winter. It had been four years since the Vidofnir had wintered with Father. Surely he would want to see their Captain, too? Especially with Mama sick…

“Runa, your mother is calling.”

Runa sighed. Well, shoot. I can’t very well ignore that, now can I. Frowning, she scrambled down the tree as quick as she dared. Her knees were scraped by the time she dropped from the lowest branch to the ground.

“There you are!” Her nursemaid bustled up from down the path even as Runa reached down to straighten her skirts and brush away the pine needles. “Up in a tree again, really! Aren’t there better things for you to do with your time than risk your own neck?”

“Yes’m,” Runa muttered. She knew it was irrational, and so there was no point in trying to explain. She would let them think her spoiled; in this one way, they were right.

Her nursemaid took Runa by the arm and roughly brushed at the forest leavings stuck to her clothes. “Never mind. The Lady is calling for you, you don’t want to keep her waiting.”

Runa shook her head. “Did she say why?”

“Does she need a reason to want to see her only daughter?”

Runa met her nursemaid’s eyes and saw worry there, too. She swallowed the lump that tried to form in her throat. “Let go. I’ll go straight there.”

“Your face is all smudged, dearie. Let me clean up the worst of it.”

“It’s fine. Let’s not keep Mama waiting.” She didn’t give her poor nursemaid a choice. Runa yanked her arm free and ran up the path through the woods toward Kjell Hall. I’m coming…

The miasma that had hung over the hall all year had not changed, for better or for worse. That was some small comfort: it meant Mama was still there. Still, the path had never felt so long as it did that afternoon. It almost seemed as though the path were growing longer as she ran. I was walking by the time I made it to the palisade, that day. Runa slowed her footfalls, not out of breath but allowing the dread of that summer, of that day, to grow in her breast once more.

Finally she was able to reach her father’s Hall. The air was heavy inside, and smelled of medicine. Even when she hadn’t been sneaking off to watch for ships Runa had sought excuses to be outside all summer. The smell of death was almost impossible to bear.

Her nursemaid arrived only a few minutes after Runa. As the girl walked, calmly and with her head held high, towards her mother’s sickbed she followed a pace behind. Runa was only a little bothered when the woman reached out to pluck a twig from where it had caught in her braid on the way down the tree.

Father’s herbalist stood in the doorway, mortar in hand, mixing up the concoction that hung in the air and filled Runa’s nose. She cleared her throat.

“Nurse Arga tells me my mother wished to see me?”

The herbalist stepped out of the way and wordlessly continued crushing the herbs in his mortar. Inside, Mama was propped up on pillows and smiling, but nearly as pale as snow. What little hair she had left hung limp and stringy from her head.

“Runa, dear. Come here, let me look at you.”

Hesitation slowed her steps, but Runa entered nonetheless and took her mother’s hand. “Mama.”

“You are… such a beautiful girl.” Her mother smiled, and for a moment it was as though the sickness had never touched her. “Sit down. We have much to discuss, and I fear I have little time.”

“Yes, Mama.”

Runa blinked, and saw that she was once more surrounded by the fairy lights. Her eyes stung, and her stomach did flip-flops as though she would throw up: after that day, her mother had never spoken again. Not far before her the exit door stood open, and, just on the other side of it, the proud straight shoulders of her hero.

“Einarr!” She breathed, and dashed for the exit.


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5.1 – Matrons of the Hall

East Port on the island of Breidhaugr sat like a village in the island’s plains, small and quiet and unassuming. Even still, the paint on the wooden buildings did not flake, and the people they passed smiled and greeted the newcomers to port in a friendly way even when they didn’t seem to be trying to sell something. Einarr felt himself relaxing as they tramped through town on their way to the Hall Road.

Nine all told left East Port for the Skald’s Hall: Runa, Trabbi, Barri and another Brunning, and Einarr were joined by Reki and Sivid with a pair of deck hands to carry the chest full of ancient instruments they had found in the ship-barrow.

The Hall Road wandered west through the meadow that seemed to dominate this island toward the hardwood forest at its center, and the party for the most part was content to bask in the normalcy of birdsong and the wind through the grass.

“Mind your step as we enter the Whispering Wood,” Reki announced as they drew near to the hardwood forest ahead. “It is not quite tame.”

“What do you mean?” Trabbi rumbled.

“There are mischievous spirits within, who will whisper in unwary travellers’ ears to lure them off the path. They mean no harm, we think, only their sense of time is… off.” Runa’s grin was as mischievous as any sprite.

Reki sighed. “Yes, but so long as you stick with the little princess here and myself, you shouldn’t have any trouble. These are just whispers, not full-blown hallucinations like the Oracle trials.”

Runa rolled her eyes. “Where’s the use in a good haunting if you can’t have a little fun with it?”

“My lady Runa.” Reki’s voice sounded like an exasperated tutor’s at this moment. “Were you told why you had been summoned?”

“No?”

Reki sighed again. “I think I have an idea. Never mind. Just keep with us and keep to the trail and you’ll reach the Hall without issue.”

Einarr could not keep a chuckle from escaping his throat. Runa was just as impish as ever, and just like always no-one else seemed to get the joke. He shook his head when the others started to ask what was funny. “After the ship-barrow, you’re worried about a few will-o’-wisps? I’m sure Reki can handle getting us through here.”

Now the others laughed, a little sheepishly, and Einarr gestured for Reki to lead the way. He fell in next to Runa and Trabbi, a little further back in the line, and took her hand even as she gave him a look of feigned hurt. Trabbi raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

The road crossed over a stream not two paces before it entered the shade of the oaks, and the friendly burbling of water over rocks was of a piece with the warm light filtering through the canopy and the open space between the trees. The road was clearly marked as it continued to wind, and here and there Einarr spotted grassy clearings where one might settle for a meal or an afternoon nap. He found it hard to credit that this wood might be haunted: it seemed more likely the sort of rumor the local huntsmen would spread about to preserve their turf. He cast a glance down at Runa, one eyebrow raised.

“Don’t let your guard down. How do you think people are enticed?”

Einarr grunted and did not press her on the matter, although he heard murmurs from the other men in the party that sounded similarly skeptical.

The sun had begun to set by the time their road led out of the forest and into the broad clearing around the Hall of Skalds, and with the changing of the light the rumors of a haunting became more believable. He was barely aware of it until he felt his shoulders relax as they stepped out and saw the vividly painted sky above the hall. A breeze picked up, and with the rustling of the leaves on the trees came the faint sound of whispers.

Reki heaved a sigh that sounded surprisingly relieved for how she had been talking. “We were lucky. Let’s not count on our return to port being that easy.”

The hall ahead stood like a dark smudge in the twilit meadow, alike to Kjell in form but bearing the weight of centuries of lore and magic. Were it not for the Singers they escorted, the men might have elected to camp in the meadow and approach in the morning. Reki and Runa, however, felt no such inclination. When the two women strode toward the square of firelight that marked the door their escorts had no choice but to follow.

“We are Runa Hroaldrsdottir and Reki Fjorisdottir, currently aboard the Vidofnir,” Reki announced from the threshold. “We and our escorts seek shelter from the Matrons of Song this night.”

“Be welcome, Singer of Snow, apprentice.” The voice belonged to an old woman, as dry and brittle as unfired clay, but still hinting at its former glory. Unmistakable, however, was her irritation at Runa.

“Thank you, honored Amma.” Runa answered calmly with a deep curtsy, as though she did not hear the rebuke in the Matron’s voice. Einarr schooled his face, both to avoid wincing at the dressing-down he thought she was likely to receive and revealing he was impressed by her composure.

Honored Amma, am I?” An old crone at the far end of the Hall stood, and now Einarr had a face to put with the voice. The woman who now strode toward them could have been sister to one of the old oaks outside: stocky, her former height bent and gnarled but not broken, she carried a walking stick that at present was used only for gesticulating.

“If I were honored by you, child, the wind wouldn’t have carried word about your antics this last spring. If I were honored by you, child, you would be able to join the adults at the Hall table. As it is I see only a spoiled brat in front of me. Go stand by the back while we welcome the Singer of Snow and your escorts.”

Now Runa had the good grace to look abashed. “Yes, Amma.”

The crone harrumphed and turned her attention to the rest of the party. “Well. You might as well have a seat, and please forgive our young apprentice for any trouble she may have caused you. There’s plenty of food: the wind and the wood told us you would arrive this evening.”


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

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Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available. I just reworked my reward tiers, so I hope you’ll give it another look.

 

4.2 – Alliance

When the Vidofnings gathered for supper that evening, they were joined by the greatest part of the Skudbrun’s crew – all of both ships, in fact, save those left to keep watch. In the Wandering Warrior that night, an air of confusion quickly turned to the sort of friendly banter they had all enjoyed the previous winter.

At some point in the middle of the first round of drinks, Stigander and Kragnir stood on a table near the center of the room and called for attention.

“Gentlemen!” Stigander began. “It is with great pleasure that I see the friendship between our two crews is undiminished after this last spring. It gives me great hope for the success of our coming mission… which I’m afraid is nowhere nearly so happy as our reunion tonight. So, first, a toast to one another’s health.”

The cheer that went up around the room was somewhat muted, as was probably to be expected after that introduction. A chorus of thunks marked the end of the toast as the men knocked their mugs against the tables. Stigander nodded, and now Captain Kragnir stepped forward.

“Gentlemen, for the last three weeks we have pursued a ship with a demon’s head that rides a storm black as night.”

Murmurs of recognition rose from most of the Vidofnings.

“We give chase because to do otherwise would be unconscionable. Last fall, a ship matching this description murdered your Battle Chanter. Three weeks ago, this ship stole away my Jarl’s daughter on her way to meet with an elder Singer.”

Now there were no murmurs, only the widened eyes of shock and pursed lips of anger.

“Einarr and I,” Stigander continued. “Were approached early this afternoon by Trabbi. I am sure I don’t need to explain to anyone why I have decided that aiding our brothers from Kjell in finding the foul demon-ship has become our first priority. Bardr informs me that we can be ready to leave the day after tomorrow.”

Captain Kragnir opened his mouth again. “Here, then, is to the demon hunt!”

There was nothing muted about the cheers for the toast this time, although the undercurrent was less one of camaraderie and more of anger. Einarr, leaning against the back wall, drained his cup to this toast. It would have been a decent ale, had he been able to taste it.

Einarr looked around the room, trying to be glad to see the two crews united, looking for his best path forward to the bar for a refill. Maybe he could goad Erik into a drinking contest tonight… the man would drink him under the table, but that didn’t seem like a bad place to be under the circumstances. Not when the alternative was worrying about Runa, and why they had taken her when they had murdered Astrid.

***

Getting stone-cold drunk always seems like a better idea when it’s happening than it does the morning after, and this morning was no exception. Einarr awoke on the floor beneath the table Erik had drunk him under the night before with, blessedly, no room to think about anything other than his aching head and the heaviness of his limbs. Which, he supposed, had been the point.

Einarr rolled out from under the table with a groan, not terribly concerned about why he had been left there. Probably due to Father’s disapproval. The fact that he did not seem to be the only one asleep on the tavern floor barely registered. Bleary, he shoved his hair back out of his face, his eyes scanning the room for something to wet his whistle with.

Stigander growled from across the room. “So you’re up, are you?”

“…’lo, Father.”

“I trust you got it out of your system last night?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Fine, then. Go help load the ship. Bardr and I will double-check the manifest.”

“Yes, sir.”

Stigander thrust a skin of water into his hands as Einarr trudged for the door. “We’ll get her back, and get vengeance for Astrid while we’re at it. Keep it together.”

Einarr paused, his hand on the door, to nod in agreement. Then he stepped out into the bright light of morning, blinking against the light and his hangover.

***

At the dawn tide, two days following the announcement of their venture, two ships slipped out of Mikilgata Harbor onto a calm sea, the sound of their oars plying the water the only sign of movement beyond the harbor master counting the rather generous tolls they had left.

On board the Vidofnir, the Skudbrun’s Mate consulted with Bardr, finalizing the heading they would take in pursuit of the demon-headed ship. There had been some hope, initially, that someone would spot the storm on the horizon, but in vain. Einarr listened with half his attention to the discussion: the other half paid more attention than truly necessary to the cadence of the rowing. If he did not, he would only dwell on the singular problem that stood before him. His stepmother’s murderers had his betrothed under their power. Why?

Eventually, though, when the harbor was little more than a smudge behind him, a gangplank was passed between the two ships and the Skudbrun’s Mate returned to his own crew and the sails were unfurled. Their heading: east by southeast, towards where the Skudbrun had lost sight of the storm – and where the Vidofnir had broken off her chase before.

For a moment it almost seemed as though the crowing cock of the Vidofnir were in a race against the Skudbrun’s wolf’s-head, but as they turned their new ally ceded the forerunner position to the crew that best knew what they pursued.

Einarr set his mouth even as they pulled the oars in. The Grendel, and whoever she was aligned with, would pay for their depredations in blood, or Einarr was not a Son of Raen. Perhaps, in the process, he might even learn what they were after in the first place.


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2.25 – The Weaver’s Palace

Although the mountain continued to rise off to the north, its tip hidden in clouds even from where they stood, the path Jorir led them on proceeded around the side of the mountain, rather than continuing up it. If anything its general progress was down.

“Not far now,” Jorir called back over his shoulder as the light faded from red sunset to purple night. Einarr was already squinting, trying to see the path within the grass as the light failed. Part of him wished for a place to camp… but even if the Elder’s warning hadn’t meant that camping was dangerous, surely it would be better to reach the Weaver’s Palace before they stopped for the night. He shifted his pack on his shoulders.

The path curved around a rise of rock and dropped into a steep downward slope. Laid out below them was a broad, surprisingly flat meadow, and in the middle of this meadow a blaze of warm light.

The yellow light of torches shone like a beacon ahead of the Vidofnings, glowing from within a circle of stone pillars that could only be the Weaver’s Palace. The five companions found new strength in their legs. Rejuvenated by the sight of their goal, they hastened onward.

A gentle breeze stirred as they approached the open-air chapel, whispering through the night-white meadow grass but carrying no chill to their bones.

The smooth stone columns rose from a flagstone dias, presenting the roof of the structure as an offering to the heavens. Einarr climbed the shallow steps slowly, certain he had never seen a temple such as this before. He felt a sense of rising that had nothing to do with the stairs beneath his feet.

In the center of the dias stood three tall, willowy elven women whose spun-gold hair fell nearly to their knees. If Einarr had to guess he would have put the one in the center as much older than the other two, but he could not have said why.

The woman on the left, whose agelessness felt younger somehow than the other two, stepped forward to welcome them with a smile. Einarr blinked in surprise to realize this was the same strange woman who had appeared in his first vision. So it wasn’t entirely a hallucination.

“Welcome,” she said, and even now her voice had the sound of silver bells to it. “Your trials have proven you worthy to seek my mistress’ guidance, and on the morrow she will weave for you. For tonight, drink with us, and rest in the meadow.”

Jorir stepped up beside Einarr. “Aye, my lady, and our thanks.”

The ageless beauty on the right knit her brows together. “Have we met before?”

“Aye, my lady. I am Jorir of Eylimi’s Mountain. I return with the payment demanded of me.”

“Well. I had begun to suspect the task had proven too much for you,” spoke the oldest of the three. Her low voice reinforced the sense of age about her.

“I was captive a good many years.”

“As you say. Come. Avrindân has prepared the stew and the mushroom mead. We will sup, and in the morning you shall all have your foretellings.”

The Oracle, for that is who Einarr believed she was, turned and glided away from them. Her apprentices fell in behind. They seemed to dip, and then Einarr realized there must be stairs on the opposite side of the temple as well. Jorir was already moving. Einarr and the others were only a heartbeat behind, though.

On the other side of the temple a long table had been set with eight tankards and piled high with wild greens and berries. The smell of roasted rabbit tickled Einarr’s nose and his mouth watered.

Jorir nudged his side. “Eat, then drink,” the dwarf advised.

“Got it.”

Nodding, the two took their places at the table. Einarr passed the warning to his father quietly, and Jorir did the same for Arring, who passed it to Sivid as the man’s hand was reaching for his tankard.

The oracle stood at the head of the table and spread her porcelain hands. “Welcome, weary travelers. There are few who reach my table, but those that do will leave satisfied. Eat your fill, and drain your tankards, and know that you may rest in my demesne without fear.”

The fare was simple, as might be expected of a hermit – however powerful – but simplicity is rarely a measure of quality. There had been meals at Kjell Hall that tasted like ash compared to the food on the table in front of Einarr. With a long day’s hike behind him, Einarr’s appetite was monstrous, and so he took her at her word.

His companions, also, ate their fill, and so intently that there was little room for talk among them. Three times he nearly reached for his tankard, and three times he remembered Jorir’s warning before he raised it to his lips. Eat, then drink. She had called it ‘mushroom mead.’ Did that mean it was like the mushroom ale village soothsayers sometimes used?

He did not know how long he ate before a comfortable fullness spread out from his belly, and with it an unaccustomed lethargy. He had eaten more than enough, although it seemed the table was no less full now than when they sat down to sup. With a nod he picked up the tankard and swirled it a little. By the light of torches it looked golden, but so would water. The smell was earthy and a little sweet.

Einarr quirked his mouth in a half-smile and drank. The last thing he saw that night was the bottom of the tankard.


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2.13 – Fidelity & Honor

“Runa is my only child, and likely to remain so. He who marries her will become my heir. Rise, son, and take the hand of the prize you’ve fought so hard for.”

Raenshold. The Jarl was asking him to forswear Raenshold… his father… his birthright… and accept a jarldom in its place? Einarr shook his head as he climbed unsteadily to his feet, certain he must have heard wrong. “My lord, surely you jest?”

“Not at all.” The Jarl’s face was open and honest, as though the thought never crossed his mind that Einarr might be bound by another oath.

Einarr risked a glance back at the hall: his father’s face was grim, as was Bardr’s. Erik and Tyr looked concerned. Now he glanced down to Jorir, and unless Einarr was very much mistaken that was fear he saw there. Runa, though, gave him an encouraging smile and nod, trying to convince him to go ahead and accept. As though she did not know what her father asked of him.

Einarr set his mouth and turned his attention back to the Jarl. “My lord Jarl, every man under my Father’s command has sworn to return and reclaim Breidelsteinn.”

“Do you not have your own ship, your own crew, now?”

“Why would that matter?”

The Jarl blinked now. “Is Raenshold truly even a memory for you? Is it not merely the stories your father’s men tell to while away the time as you wander the waves? I am offering you the security of your own lands with my daughter’s hand.”

“It is true, we have lived as vagabonds since the Weaving, and my memories of home are faint and dim, their patchwork filled in by the stories told aboard the Vidofnir. But Raenshold is and ever will be home, and I was born to be a Thane, as was Father before me. You ask me now to settle for a jarldom in foreign waters, and let my birthright be usurped again?” Einarr raised his gaze to meet the Jarl’s, unflinching, and pursed his lips. Anger was beginning to smolder in his breast, and he worried he would say too much.

“You have been a homeless wanderer, sailing from port to port with never an end in sight. While you are unwed, that is fine for you, but I am no father if I allow my one and only daughter to lead that kind of life. Her hand in marriage is bound to these lands by a chain even the gods might not shatter.”

“Bound by you alone, and you hold the key.” Rage threatened to boil up, but if he fought his father-in-law over this he lost, no matter who won. “You say you are my father’s friend, and yet you try to seduce me into betraying him? Nay, Jarl. Runa shall be my bride, and none other, and no other than Raenshold shall be our home.”

“You’re being unreasonable.”

“Actually, I rather think you are. You would make a nithing of me.”

The sound of silver bells filled Einarr’s ears and the Jarl froze. Einarr looked about, surprised: no-one in the Hall so much as blinked, save one. The strangely familiar lady’s maid with the long golden hair and the elfin features. She curtsied, and as she rose she turned to walk away. The scene in Kjell hall faded with every step she took into the distance, until it was replaced with the alpine meadow where he had first seen the woman. Einarr shook his head to clear it before stepping back toward the path where he had evidently left the rest of his companions. I hope I’m not too far behind.

***

The sound of silver bells rang in Jorir’s ears and he stepped forward over the threshold between reality and dreaming. He didn’t know how it was done, but he had been through the tests before.

The scene in front of his eyes was the last one he expected, however. The light faded, its color yellowing, until he stood in a torch-lit stone hall. To every side svartdverger made merry. It took his eyes a minute to adjust, but when they did he saw the sigil of Chief Soggvar – King of Iron and Brass. I’m… home?

Jorir’s face lit up, for now he recognized the faces of his kinsmen. Some of them he was quite sure were dead, and others he suspected were, but in the world of the Oracle’s trial that did not matter. His eye lit on his brother’s face and he could not smother his astonished grin. He stepped over and put a hand on the other dwarf’s shoulder. “Brotti? What’re you doin’ here?”

“Waiting, little brother. We all are.” When his brother turned to face him, Jorir had a moment’s double-vision: Brotti’s face turned ashen, and the shadow of an axe cut across it. Jorir blinked and the vision cleared.

Jorir smiled again at his brother, but this time it was wan. I had a feeling.

“Go. The Thane would welcome you himself.”

“Aye.” He nodded, studying Brotti’s face even as he clapped him on the shoulder. Living or not, this would likely be the last time Jorir saw him. After a long moment, he turned towards the throne where Thane Soggvar sat looking dour – moreso even than Jorir was used to. Things must have got bad after he left.

Slowly Jorir stepped towards the throne, and slowly he knelt before his chieftain and bowed his head. He felt the large, heavy hand of the king settle on the back of his head with surprising gentleness. It was cold and clammy.

“Welcome home, son of the mountains. We have expected you.”

“I beg you to forgive my tardiness, my king.”

The hand raised again off his head. “It is of no matter. We have endured.”

Have you? “Thank the gods,” he said, as though he had noticed nothing amiss.

“What have you discovered on your long journey?”

“I have found the Cursebreaker.”

“Well! Cause for celebration indeed! Bring out the mead! In the morning, we will sacrifice to the gods for their beneficence!”

Jorir tried to smile in response to the Thane’s enthusiasm, but the signs within his vision suggested he was too late.


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2.12 – Faithless Hospitality

The tinkling sound of silver bells filled Einarr’s ears. Testing the fidelity of my love for Runa? Nothing simpler… surely that can’t be it, though? Well, no matter. He hefted the sack of treasure slung over his shoulder so the weight rested more comfortably and the coins tinkled again. Walking along the path up towards Kjell Hall, he whistled a jaunty tune. Jorir was only a pace behind him with another sack of treasure, and over this last quest they had filled out the crew of the Hvalaskurdr. His longship Hvalaskurdr. He had a ship. He had a crew. He had brought more gifts than even Jarl Hroaldr could have thought to ask for. If that wasn’t sufficient, even yet lacking a hall of his own, Einarr could rightly accuse the man of faithlessness.

Einarr stepped through the tree line and into the meadow. Not another quarter-mile in, the gate of the palisade around the hall stood open for them. The crew of the Vidofnir awaited inside, with the Kjellings, for news of his success. A broad grin split his wide moustache and he strode on, stopping just two steps outside the door.

“Hail to the Jarl of Kjell! Einarr, son of Stigander, son of Raen, has returned from his quest!”

“Hail, and well-met!” The Jarl’s voice carried out of the hall nearly as cheerfully as it had for Stigander just after their encounter with the Grendel. “The son of Stigander is welcome to my hall!”

Einarr stepped across the threshold and into the shadow of the hall. He reached up to remove his knit cap – when did I put that on? – as his eyes adjusted to the dimness. The smells of meat and mead filled his nose, and rowdy calls of greeting and good cheer assaulted his ears. Stigander stepped up in front of him and clapped him on the shoulders, grinning behind his yellow beard.

“We carried word ahead of you, my boy, since you had someone to retrieve. Everyone’s dying to hear it from your own lips, though.”

He returned his father’s smile in kind, certain that Stigander saw the warmth of his affection behind it. Soon, very soon, they would find a way to reclaim their birthright, and then Stigander could be the thane they all knew he should have been.

The Jarl’s voice rose above the crowd. “Come! Show us the proof of your valor!”

“Well, go on.” Stigander took his cap from him and offered a wordless nod of appreciation to the dwarf.

All eyes – Vidofning and Kjelling alike – were on Einarr and his liege-man as they strode the length of the hall towards the clearing in front of Jarl Hroaldr’s seat.

The light shifted, and Einarr caught a glimpse of Runa, sitting with her lady’s maid in the corner. It was strange: Einarr had thought the maid was a mousey little brown-haired woman, but today the one who attended his love had elfin grace and ridiculously long gold hair – fairer, if it were possible, than Runa’s. He took in so much with a glance before his eye was drawn back to the princess. She sat with her hands pressed against the seat and her shoulders thrust forward, looking up at him furtively from under lowered brows. When she met his gaze, she bit her lower lip. His heart began to race. My lady…

The Jarl cleared his throat: evidently Einarr had been staring. Abashed, he knelt before his father’s friend and set the sack down in front of him with a clatter of precious metal.

“My lord Jarl, I have returned under my own sail and with my own crew, bearing gold and treasure in accordance with the tasks you have placed upon me.” He opened the sack and reached down in among the silver and gold and jewels, looking for the artifact he knew the Jarl would want. There it is. He reached both hands down into the treasure sack and carefully began to remove the goblet.

“In token of these accomplishments, I offer you the Fierbinte, taken from the Imperial city of Krasimirburg during our raids.” He raised the goblet by its stem, resting its base on his other hand to keep it steady. The cup was solid gold and encrusted with rubies and sapphires over every inch of the outside. Inside, it was perpetually filled with a blood-red wine that never seemed to spill. “According to the Imperials we questioned, it is said that the one who drinks from the Fierbinte shall know neither disease nor the progress of time for a full turning of the seasons, but that the god of war shall be their constant companion.”

Jarl Hroaldr reached out to cup the goblet’s basin with both hands and lifted it overhead. A cheer rose up around the hall from the Kjellings: the Vidofnings, Einarr was certain, wanted no part of such a thing. Not until they reclaimed their home.

Once the cheering had died down, the Jarl turned and set the goblet carefully on the table as though it were capable of spilling. His attention returned to Einarr. “Rise, Einarr, son of Stigander, son of Raen. Your dedication is most admirable, and so I am willing to overlook that you have not gained a hall. Rise, and take the hand of Runa, and make Kjell your home henceforward. My Thane, Lord Hragnar, sails for Kjell even as we speak to take your oath to him and this land.”

The hall fell silent. To Einarr, the sudden stillness felt as though the world were crashing around his ears. His face felt slack. “I… what?”

“Runa is my only child, and likely to remain so. He who marries her will become my heir. Rise, son, and take the hand of the prize you’ve fought so hard for.”

Raenshold. The Jarl was asking him to forswear Raenshold… his father… his birthright… and accept a Jarldom in its place? Einarr shook his head as he climbed unsteadily to his feet, certain he must have heard wrong. “My Lord, surely you jest?”


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2.2 – On the Way to Market

The rest of that day and into the next morning, there was still no sign of Runa at the Hall, and that left Einarr unaccountably anxious. While he was assured that all was well, none would tell him where she was. When Stigander informed him the three of them – Einarr, Bardr, and himself – were headed for the village boatwright that morning, he nearly refused.

“What good will it do to sit around here?” Bardr elbowed him in the ribs. “Beyond that, we’ve matters to discuss.”

“Fine.” Einarr resisted the urge to roll his eyes as he took another bite of the morning’s mash. “Fine. You win. I’ll come. I’d just… hoped to see her already.”

“And who wouldn’t, in your shoes? Come on. Finish up and let’s go. Captain’s already waiting.”

“Why didn’t you say so earlier?” Einarr lifted the bowl to his mouth and started to shovel his food more quickly. Keeping Stigander waiting was rarely advisable, and doubly so when you were under observation – as Einarr most certainly was, until his father determined the proper discipline for him.

He swallowed the last bite. “All right. I’m ready.”

“On our way, then.” Bardr rose and tossed him a summer cloak before swinging his own over his shoulders. “No time to lose – no evening stroll, here.”

Outside, the weather was already warm enough that Einarr wondered how necessary the cloak was. Goats grazed in the meadow near the hall; a few kids scampered in the morning sun. Near the palisade, a black-haired dwarf stood holding the reins for three horses, talking apparently amiably with the large, blonde figure of his father.

“Good morning!” He called, letting Stigander know they were there. Both figures glanced at the two of them before returning to their conversation.

“…we can talk about that further this evening,” Stigander said, and Jorir nodded in response. The Jarl might not care for the dwarf, but after so many years as a landless thane Stigander had become remarkably open to allies from wherever they happened to appear.

“We’re riding today? That’s unusual.”

Stigander shrugged at his son. “Going to start the resupply. Sooner we get there, the better.”

The three men were well down the trail to the village before their conversation turned away from friendly banter. “So, what was the real reason you wanted me to come along for this, Father?”

“What makes you think there’s only one?”

Bardr snorted. “We have a few things to commission before we sail again. A couple of them, you get a say in.”

“Father, you don’t seriously mean to commission a second ship?”

“I do. Fifteen years now, I’ve been trying to find a way to undo the Weaving. In that time, I’m afraid I’ve neglected something important.” Stigander looked back over his shoulder at Einarr. “It’s long past time you were married. Now you’ve found a bride, and I’ve nothing to offer for your future.”

“Father…”

Stigander continued as though he hadn’t heard, all regret fleeing his voice. “The second ship is only the start, of course. Be ready. This is going to be a hard summer, and we may have to take on some chancy raids to pull it off. Not to mention finding a crew for her. On top of all that, you went and swore a warrior to your service with no way to equip him. That fancy shield looks nice, but it’s gold.”

“Not pure, I don’t think. Metal wasn’t even scratched after everything I took it through on Svartlauf.”

Bardr grunted. “So he has an axe, and potentially a shield. Not enough, unless you want a one-armed smith. We’ve room for a grindstone on board at least, so that’s something.”

“Oh.” Stigander put in, almost off-handedly. “And I’ve decided on your punishment for dishonoring the clan. You’ll be carrying the resupply back to the Vidofnir.”

Einarr sighed in spite of himself. That the punishment was light for the offense did not mean he relished the prospect. “Very well, Father.”

They rode in silence another few minutes. The sounds of village life began to drift to their ears. “What do you two make of Jorir, anyway?”

Stigander set his mouth, leaving it for Bardr to say what they must have both been thinking. “He’s a svartdvergr. As a rule, they are cunning and not to be trusted.” A long moment passed. “But, for all of that, he seemed sincere when he spoke of his oath. And certainly he’s shown nothing but respect for us since we’ve met.”

Stigander sounded reluctant. “I think he, too, is bound by a Weaving.”

Einarr drew down his brow. “What do you mean?”

“A Weaving, or a curse of some kind I suppose. I can find no other explanation for the importance he lays on your gift of the tafl king. …And if that’s the case, perhaps he can help us.”

Kjellvic town bustled in the midmorning light, with sellers of all the expected kinds making all of the usual noises over the sounds of bleating goats and clucking chickens. After Kem it seemed tiny, but Einarr much preferred it this way.

“We’ll speak with the smith first,” Stigander declared. “Be thinking about what we should call our new boat.”

“Little early for that, isn’t it?”

“Yes. But this way we’ll have an idea when it’s ready come winter.”


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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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1.14 – Setting Sail

The morning after Einarr’s defeat of Trabbi, the Vidofnir set forth in search of the Grendel missing three of its crew – Einarr, of course, plus two of their hardiest warriors: Erik and Tyr. It was all Stigander could spare. The morning after that Einarr led his companions down to Runa’s cove and the waiting skiff, newly dubbed the Gufuskalam. Runa and the Jarl came to see them off, she looking worried and he relieved to see them go.

While Erik and Tyr made one last check of their provisions, Runa caught Einarr’s hand in her own. “Promise me you’ll come back?”

He did not try to repress a smile. “Of course I will. What sort of fool would abandon you?”

She nodded, slowly, and if he was not mistaken sadly, and pressed a small sack into his hands. “Take these. May they speed you on your journey.”

“Thank you. I’m sure they will.”

He did not look in the sack until the island vanished from view. On top was a note.

My dearest Einarr, it read. The island of Svartlauf is hidden behind an eternally raging storm and hunted by a fimbulvulf, two things which I know my father has not told you. There may be other dangers as well, so I have sent gifts that I hope will bring you victory. The small crystal bottle contains my song of strength. Open it when yours fails and remember me. The other is the tafl king, so that you might always keep your wits about you. Be careful, my love, and return in victory!

Einarr smiled and tucked the note carefully into the pouch at his belt. He wasn’t sure how much practical good either of those things would be, but the gesture still warmed him from the inside out. He stowed Runa’s offerings in the box beneath his seat at the tiller.

A breeze caught in his hair, and he offered a devilish grin to his two companions. “Time to sail, boys. Gods but it’s good to be off the rocks again.”

“How true it always is,” Erik agreed while Tyr continued to call their rowing cadence.

“Ease off a bit and I’ll let the sail down.”

Erik caught Tyr’s attention and they pulled the oars in as Einarr stepped forward to unfurl the sail. The still-cold wind filled their sail and caught his cloak, contrasting with the warmth on his shoulders of the spring sun. The Ice existed, Einarr thought, to make sure one appreciated the freedom to sail.

Tyr stood up and stretched. “So how much do you think the Jarl hasn’t told you?”

Einarr snorted. “What, you think the Captain’s childhood friend would withhold information from me?”

“Yes,” the two men said at once.

“You’d have to be blind to see he still doesn’t want to allow the match,” Eric continued.

“So anything he can do to make your quest harder…” Tyr trailed off.

“He’s going to try to do.” The right side of Einarr’s mouth curled in an unhappy smirk. “Runa tells me there’s a storm around the island and a fimbulvulf.”

Erik thrust his head forward in surprise. “A what? By the gods, is he trying to kill you?”

Einarr just shrugged.

“If the Captain knew that…”

“He’d have held off on pursuing the Grendel and we’d be on the Vidofnir right now. But I only found out a minute ago, myself.”

Tyr whistled.

“Not that it matters. I said I’d do it, and I am my father’s son. Besides, we’ve got a few weeks before we need to worry about it, and right now the weather is perfect. I say we see what our little Gufuskalam can do!”

His friends voiced their agreement with a cheer.

***

As the sun dipped below the horizon in a blaze of gold and red and purple that blinded the three men on their skiff, Erik stepped to the mast to furl the sail for the night while Einarr took the tiller. He would have first watch, and was glad that the sky was still clear. Overcast skies on their first night out of port would be an ill omen, because while the other two men slept, he would keep their drift on course.

Tyr was pulling out food from their stores for dinner – a cask of ale, some hard tack, and gravlax. There would be no cooking aboard the Gufuskalam, for there was no room in which to light a fire, but they would not go hungry at least.

“You ready for six weeks of this?” Tyr’s voice was a low rumble as he shared out the portions, evidently thinking along the same lines as Einarr.

“We’ll manage.” Erik bit down into the hard tack and followed it up with a swig of beer. “Always have before.”

Einarr nodded. “I think our course takes us close to some small islands partway through, too.”

Tyr grunted and broke off a piece of bread to pair with a bite of the sweet-salted salmon. “Two-edged sword, is what that is.”

Einarr shrugged. “We’ll get by. If anyone knows more tricks for getting through a long sea voyage than you, it’s Father.”

This got a laugh from the gruff man. “I taught him half what he knows, back when he was your age.”

Nobody ever bothered Tyr about retiring, because age had barely touched him. Save for snow-white hair and lines on his face, he still kept up with men half his age. Einarr and Erik both chuckled.

“That is exactly what I meant.”


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