Tag: Urdr

2.28 – Seeking Kin

The root Avrindân gave him to chew tasted like moldy bread, but he did feel more alert by the time he and Arring stood together on the stone dias. The strong man looked at Einarr for a long, awkward moment before accepting the presence of his prince alongside him for this.

Einarr shrugged. He couldn’t exactly fault the man for that reaction. Sivid hadn’t seemed to mind, but there was a great deal that Sivid didn’t tend to mind that other men did. Like losing. Through all this, the Oracle stood with her hands folded, calmly watching the current supplicant.

Finally Arring stood forward, his hand clenching nervously. He opened his mouth as though to speak, then seemed to think better of it.

The Oracle raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.

Arring sighed and straightened his shoulders. “You see it’s like this, milady. My wife, our bairns, I had to leave behind on Breidelsteinn, and I don’t think we’re like to take our home back without a fight. I’d like to see my family again. Is there anythin’ I can do to help them come through all right?”

“Let no-one accuse you of cowardice.” The Oracle spoke softly and offered him a gentle smile. “For that is one of the bravest questions a man can ask. Brace yourself, for I give you no promises you will like the answer the threads will weave.”

Arring swallowed audibly and nodded. Einarr turned his attention back on the Oracle: his task, once more, was to pay attention and look for connections in the tapestry. The better he became at spotting those, the better he would serve his Calling.

She stepped back towards her loom, unhurried, and contemplated her shuttles. Einarr might have thought her hesitant if he hadn’t seen her do the same for Sivid that morning.

Then the shuttles were flying back and forth through the warp lines, and wood and thread alike soon appeared to glow.

Arring’s tapestry was somewhat more straightforward than either Sivid’s or Jorir’s had been. An ox followed the tafl king and the broken crown against a black wolf and his army of… well, Einarr hoped the skeletons were thralls, because otherwise retaking Breidelsteinn would be a grim task indeed. Then a pile of bones lay scattered around the ox’s feet and it raised its head to trumpet victory.

The next image was nothing but the ox’s bloody head. Einarr caught his breath. Arring groaned.

The final image was almost superfluous. The ox, now whole again, stood with a cow and calves, grazing.

When the Oracle finally lowered her hands from the loom she did not immediately turn around. “I am sorry, Sterker Naut. Your family has already fallen. If it is any consolation, they fought and died honorably, and now sup with the gods.”

She paused a long moment and turned to look at him. “As will you, although the time of your demise remains murky. Remain steadfast and true and you shall see your wife and children again… and do not feel bound to remain unwed until that day comes, for else your line may pass from this land.”

Arring did not look away from the tapestry that still stood on the loom, it’s story daring him to deny it.

The Oracle stepped forward to stand before him, placing her hands on his shoulders. “And that would be unfortunate, for the northern seas are ever in need of men of great honor and strength. Those who sup with the gods are wont to overlook such things, though in life they were unforgivable.”

“I thank you, milady.” Arring sounded like he was choking on phlegm.

“Do you? I wonder. Nevertheless, asking the question marks you among the bravest of men. Bearing the answer so well speaks to your perseverance. You expected this answer?”

He nodded once.

“Then allow my Weaving to free you from uncertainty and open your path forward. Take comfort where you find it, Sterker Naut.”

Einarr did not realize that the sun was setting until he watched Arring trudge down the steps of the dias and the light bathed him in its red-orange glow. “I feel like I shouldn’t have seen that.”

“Perhaps your friend also wishes you had not. …But it is good to remember that sometimes the straightforward path is also the correct one, and not every link is veiled.”

Einarr rolled his shoulder, trying to shrug off the uncomfortable feeling of seeing a man laid out bare for all the world to see. “I suppose so.”

“Come along. The evening grows long, and supper awaits.”

***

Wooden bowl in hand, Einarr folded his legs to sit on the ground next to Stigander around the fire that night. The table had not been set for their second evening in the meadow, but Einarr and Arring at least were in no mood for revelry.

Stigander seemed to accept his son’s desire to sit quietly, if not entirely comfortably. But… the subject of Arring’s weaving was not Einarr’s to tell. And tomorrow the Oracle would weave for each of them. Given what he had seen that day, he was more anxious than excited, and the fatigue of watching all day had begun to catch up with him.

“So your dwarf was right? My son has a calling?” Stigander rumbled after a time.

Einarr nodded, and his father’s first response was a long, loud sigh.

“Gods know we need one… and you’ll bring glory to our name again…”

Stigander sounded as reluctant as Einarr felt. “But it’s a hard road?” When his father nodded, he continued. “Pretty much my thoughts exactly. But I’ll deal with it, and I’ll come out on top. I’m a son of Raen, after all.”

Now his father grinned at him. “That’s my boy. Ready to learn how to unravel Urdr’s work?”

Einarr looked at his father, pursed his lips, and shrugged. The answer was no, but there was no sense bringing that weight down on his father’s head.


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2.27 – Reading the Weave

The Oracle turned her back on him almost languidly and walked back to the finished tapestry. She raised a hand to touch the lyre that tied itself to a tafl king whenever the instrument appeared. “Tell me, the harp. Is that the pretty young maiden from your vision? The one whose father you wish to ask me how to win?”

“Probably. She is the one who gave me what was later the ‘instrument of Jorir’s defeat.’”

The Oracle nodded. “You may need her ruthlessness, but keep close watch on it.”

“Then… a Tuning…”

“Is the black art of song. You didn’t seriously think the only Art that could be turned to evil was weaving, did you?”

“I…”

The Oracle shook her head. “Weavers bind fate, Singers influence the mind, Painters and Sculptors create physical effects, the work of a good Smith is said to have a soul. Which of these could not be perverted? …But that is not what you are here for. Tell me what you see in your friend’s weaving.”

“The black mountain topped with black clouds is his home, oppressed by a darkness blacker than Urdr’s. The king and the lyre dance about outside the darkness, until the lyre is swallowed by it…” He had to swallow. Didn’t she say the lyre was Runa? “And the king pierces the clouds. When the lyre plays, it rains.”

“Not bad. With the proper training, you could have made a passable soothsayer.”

Einarr grimaced, and the Oracle laughed.

“You see how things connect. It wasn’t perfect, of course, but better than expected – even for a newly fledged Cursebreaker.” She turned her attention to Jorir, and her tone became distant. “Smed Världslig, your fears are exaggerated, but not unfounded. The monstrous ones have gained a foothold in your home, have gained the ear of the thane. The svartdvergr of the mountain will soon descend again into the barbarous caves. Even should you defeat the witch in time, her poison will take time to purge. Gather allies to the cause of your lord, and he will reward you handsomely when the time is right. Act swiftly, but prudently, that the Cursebreaker will be ready when the time approaches. You will know the time by these signs: the eagle will feed on the wolf; demons will claim the waves; and dragons shall bear winged spears.”

Einarr blinked. He had seen none of those symbols on the cloth until she spoke their names, but as she did his eyes were drawn to them. Well. This is why she is the Oracle and I am just a prince with no holdings.

Now she turned a gentle smile on his liege-man. “Take heart, young child of the earth. You yet have time.”

Jorir bowed deeply before the Oracle. “My thanks, my lady. What payment do you require of me this day?”

“Though it has been more than a century since you were last here, this cannot be considered a separate weaving. The presence of the Cursebreaker was both the prerequisite and the payment, and so our debts are paid. Unless you had something else?”

“Nay, lady.”

She nodded before turning her attention back to Einarr. “As for you.” She pursed her lips, considering. “Your fate is sufficiently intertwined with the others that I would have you stay here as I weave for them. This is not like to be a quick process, however, and your threads may become knotted in unexpected ways. Do you assent?”

“These men are my crewmates and my family. If my presence is required, I shall not withhold it.” He did not hesitate, although his mind still reeled from what he had been shown already this morning. How was he going to take in the Weavings of all the rest, as well?

“Good. Watch carefully, as we go. You will learn much that will aid you on your way.”

It took two hours for the Oracle’s assistants to re-string the loom, even working quickly. Then Sivid was called up. Images rose before Einarr’s eyes, one after another, while the Oracle shuttled colored threads backward and forward faster than his eye could follow. Some of them made sense. More of them did not.

Here and there the tafl king reappeared. Did it mean the same thing for Sivid as it did for Jorir? If so, he thought it likely Sivid would no longer count him a friend by the end of it: he would be responsible both for setting the man on the path that would get him what he wanted, and for it’s destruction. Einarr was too dazed by the end of it to really take in the Oracle’s interpretation of the weave.

They broke for lunch, all except the two apprentices. They used the time to set up the loom for Arring’s request.

For about five minutes, Einarr stared into the bowl of nut gruel, clutching his spoon in hand. He sighed and stood, shoving the spoon into the mash in the bowl, to stride across the clearing to where the Oracle took dainty bites of the same stuff. “My lady, might I trouble you for a moment?”

“Sit down, Cursebreaker. You have questions about your friend’s reading this morning?”

“I do.”

“Very well. His was a deceptively simple request, was it not?”

“And one I wonder if he won’t come to regret.”

“You’re concerned about the shattering in his path?”

Einarr nodded. “It looked like it was my fault?”

She shook her head. “Only time will tell. I suspect not, however. That is an inflection point, a point of choice, and I would remind you that I told him as much.”

“I… of course.”

The corner of her mouth quirked in what was not quite a smile. “I suppose this is all rather a lot to take in, isn’t it. Ask Avrindân: she can provide you with something that will sharpen your senses this afternoon. There will not be time to read for you or your father today, so take comfort in that.”

“Thank you, …my lady.” She had thus far shown no inclination to give a name, and Einarr was not inclined to test her on it.

The Oracle nodded, and he ate as he moved over to where Avrindân and the girl with a voice like silver bells still worked.


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2.20 – The Third Trial

They finished their lunch in silence. For his part, Einarr kept turning over in his head Jorir’s revelation – the one he plainly did not wish to speak more of. He wasn’t quite certain what to make of his father’s new scrutiny, either. That ‘cursebreaker’ had the ring of a title about it. I’m not entirely certain I like the sound of that.

He found that he had little appetite left. None of the others seemed terribly interested in more food, either: another handful or two of nuts, or a dried fish, and all five of them were on their feet again.

“Well,” Einarr said. His voice felt unnaturally loud after the long silence. “Lead the way.”

Jorir nodded and quick-stepped back toward the path. I should have a word with him about that… but not in front of everyone. Maybe if he could learn what the Oracle had actually told his liege-man it would clear matters up.

Einarr didn’t mind the idea of having a calling, per se. But for that calling to be cursebreaking… that was troubling. Urdr was supposed to be the exception among Weavers, after all, not the rule.

The trail entered a series of steep switchbacks up a nearly sheer granite face.

“Watch your step,” Jorir warned.

Einarr shuddered at the idea of the last vision hitting when a single misstep could send any of them plummeting to their doom. With every step he half expected the sound of bells to ring on the wind, heralding the final test… but with each step all he saw was the trail and the granite face beside him.

The air burned in Einarr’s lungs by the time the trail opened back out into a meadow once more. There were no trees now, and the grasses and shrubs grew low to the ground. He stepped to the side to stand in the grass and catch his breath while Stigander and Arring completed their climb and the sound of bells rang in his ears.

He blinked, and the mountainside was replaced by a large, dimly recognized room. The tapestries hanging on the stone walls were warm and properly abstract, suggesting rather than showing animals and plants, and a large and detailed sea chart was spread out on the table dominating the center of the room.

Standing with him around the table was a white-haired version of his father, Reki, Erik, Jorir… and Runa, also looking older but no less lovely for the matronly cast to her face. I can win her.

“Every last Clan of the north has suffered at the hands of the Order of the Valkyrie. Why will none of the other thanes see that together we have a chance?” Einarr heard the words coming from his own mouth, saw his own fist bang against the table. Oh. So that’s what the situation is.

“Oh, they see it,” Stigander rumbled. “But someone would have to be chosen to lead the navies. They worry more about what that someone might do with command of so many ships and warriors once the threat is eliminated than they do about the Order or the Empire.”

“They’re worried I’ll decide to name myself Althane? Are they crazy?”

“It’s been tried before,” said Jorir. “By rulers older and supposedly wiser than you.”

“Bah. We’ve only just got Breidelsteinn back under control.”

“And not quite that.” Erik crossed his arms. “A couple of the more westerly Jarls are just biding their time, methinks. A lot of trust was lost while we were all out at sea.”

“That was none of our doing, but you all see my point.”

“There’s not many outside our waters who know that, though, son, and if they did it wouldn’t necessarily help us. There’s not a lot within the Allthing with quite the experience we’ve had, and they all have their own priorities to consider as well.”

“You’re right, of course, Father.” Einarr looked back down at the map and snorted. “So. I guess that means the first question is how I convince them, first, to trust me and, second, that doing away with the Valkyries is in their best interest.”

“Start with a story, my lord.” Reki’s low voice had not lost its purr in the years since she joined the Vidofnir. Einarr turned his attention to the Singer’s red eyes and waited. “Tell them, over drinks at the hall perhaps, how the Hunters nearly wiped us out while we still wandered. Tell them of the battle that lead you to swear vengeance. That alone might win you a few.”

“Many of them have already heard the story.”

“Have they? The times I’ve overheard you speaking of it, you’ve said nothing of the actual battle.”

“’At’s a good idea, Reki. Why don’t you let me handle that part: I’ve a fair bit of experience spinning yarns over drinks.”

“Thanks, Erik. I never quite know where to begin.”

The big man laughed. “That is because you didn’t do nearly enough stupid shit while we were roaming.”

Einarr and Stigander both shook their heads, each laughing under their breath.

“All right, so that’s a good place to start. What else might help?”

Jorir glared up at him like he was being stupid. “You’ve got an actual plan in place for winning this, don’t ye? Give them some inkling what it is. Ye’ll be relying on independent action in a buncha different places anyway – why not let them know that. Put their minds at ease a bit.”

“Those independent forces are still going to have to coordinate together, but if they’re not fully under the command of the central force… Father? Do you think that would actually make a difference?”

“For some, maybe. Don’t expect it to allay everyone’s suspicions, though.”

“Of course.” Einarr looked across the table: Runa was biting her lip, as though she were weighing something. “Well, my love? Do you have an idea.”

“Um. Well, there is something I could do to help. I’m not sure it’s a good idea, though.” Runa glanced over at Reki, and suddenly her expression seemed less weighing and more nervous.

Reki’s attention was turned toward the map, and she didn’t seem to catch the look.

“There could be a Tune that might convince them.” Runa emphasized the word tune strangely. Reki’s head snapped up: daggers of ice seemed to shoot across the table at the other Singer.


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2.18 – A Father’s Honor

“If your heart does not remain with the Weaver and the Wolf, swear again before me as you once did before my father Raen.”

A number of grim faces around the hall met Stigander’s request, but no-one protested. Stigander would have been well within his rights to have them put to death, or trial by sword. Within his rights, but foolish: such a blood-letting would have taken generations to return from.

Stigander stood on the dias, flanked by Einarr and Bardr, with Gorgny standing watch just below. Man after man stepped forward and knelt before him, forswearing any allegiance to Ulfr and pledging allegiance to Stigander or his line. No few Singers also presented themselves. Before accepting and offering his counter-pledge, Stigander would look to Gorgny for his affirmation of their sincerity.

Meanwhile, the Vidofnings stood guard around the edges of the hall, looking as uncomfortable and impatient as Stigander felt. That this was necessary at all was a travesty, caused by a single ill-advised dalliance in his father’s youth: never in his life had Stigander been more glad of his policy to never bed a woman not his wife.

At least I won’t have to worry about Einarr. He found his mind wandering as the line moved on – never far, of course, in the seemingly endless stream of pledges and counter-pledges.

After what felt like an eternity of this those gathered in the hall once again stood assembled to either side. Stigander’s gaze slid across the entirety off the hall, and as his eyes lit on each familiar face he smiled a little more openly. “It’s good to be home,” he said, his voice unexpectedly hoarse.

“Tomorrow, there will be work to be done. Tonight, though, let us feast!”

A cheer rose up across the hall, and Stigander stepped down to stand in front of his father’s right-hand man. “Where is Father?”

The scene shifted. Last night’s feast had been one of the wildest Stigander could remember, before or after the Vidofnir had become a vagabond. He thought he had drank too much, although what he felt was more akin to the idea of a hangover than the actual thing. And the next task of the day was to be an unpleasant one, one he’d hoped to avoid.

“When the Weaving unravelled, it came undone all at once,” Gorgny explained. “The Weaver realized what had happened at the same time as all the rest of us, and we caught them before they could escape. They await your judgement.”

Stigander gave a heavy sigh. “Best be on with it.”

Gorgny bowed, and then an unfamiliar-looking woman and appeared before him with a startlingly familiar-looking man, shackled and weighed down with chains, the sole purpose of which seemed to be the weight. The woman, a withered old crone whose long white hair had gone thin and who had lost more than a few of her teeth, stood defiant, but her son was on his knees and would not look up at him. We could almost be twins… The newly resworn jarls formed a circle around them in the center of the room: the Thing would judge.

I suppose she must have been pretty enough in her youth, or she’d never have caught Father’s eye. Stigander met her eyes with a cold stare. To punish her was easy: it would take years for father’s mind to recover, even if his body seemed hale. Gorgny, at least, thought Raen’s mind was still whole enough to mend. Ulfr, though…

Stigander rose, and went to join the circle of leaders surrounding the usurpers. “Weavess Urdr. You stand accused before the Thing of high treason, treason against your husband, practicing the black arts, murder by means of magic and poison, and of practicing the torturer’s arts. Among your accusers, your victims, are members of this Thing. Have you any defense?”

“You dare to try me here, with my accusers among the judges?” The woman may have been a crone, but her voice was as strong as a woman thirty years her junior, and she stood straight and proud.

“You would rather rot in the dungeon until I can call on the thanes and jarls of other lands? Winter approaches: I should think in your shoes I should prefer swift judgement to spending the winter in the dungeon, wondering every day if you might simply have been forgotten. Cold, damp, dark, drafty, and worse than it was before the Weaving forced me into exile.”

Her only response was to meet his hard stare with one of her own.

Stigander gave her a moment. He did not think her neck would bend, and it soon became plain it would not. “Are there any present who will stand in her defense?”

Ulfr moved as though to stand. He planted one foot on the floor, but then placed it back again.

“Even your own son will not stand to defend your actions. Can there be any more damning statement?”

Still Urdr stared at him, but Stigander would not be cowed. “If you will not defend yourself, so be it. The penalty for any one of these crimes is death, and so I put the question before this Thing. Did this woman conspire to overthrow the rightful Thane of Breidelsteinn?”

Not a single Jarl said nay.

“In the overthrow of the thane Raen, by whom she bore a son, did she practice the black art of curse-weaving?”

Once again each man in the circle answered aye.

“Was the rightful Thane, a man she has called her husband, tortured by her hand?”

Some few did not verbally agree to this one, but still there were no nays.

“So be it. Based on the determination of this Thing, who have witnessed the actions of the accused, the weavess Urdr is guilty. You shall be stripped of all you possess and hung in a cage over the sea. You shall be afforded neither food nor fresh water, and even the salt spray shall not reach you. If in four days you yet live, your cage shall be recovered and you shall be burned at the stake.”

He worried for a moment that the punishment would be too harsh, but then the child-like babbling of his father returned to him. This was just.

“Ulfr, son of Urdr. It can be denied by no-one here that you were a willing co-conspirator in your mother’s plan. By strict justice, you should meet her same fate.”

“I cannot deny this.” Even the man’s voice sounded like Stigander’s.

“…Why?”

Ulfr gave no answer, merely continued to stare at the rug beneath his knees.

“If you had come on your own, we could have been brothers.”

“But I could not have come on my own. From the time I was a babe, Mother has spoken of our father as her husband, and alternately doted on his memory and railed against his cruel absence. She promised me the thanedom was rightfully mine… and with the credulity of a child I believed her. The wrong we have done here only became clear to me after we had seized this land and it began to fall apart, and I believed there was naught I could do but try to hold everything together. I will submit to exposure in the cage.”

Justice must be served, but to execute Ulfr would make him a kinslayer. There had to be a better way. “But will you submit to exile, if the Thing agrees?”

Only now did Ulfr look up at Stigander. It was like looking into a mirror. The sound of silver bells drowned out the mirror’s response.


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2.17 – Vision of Home

Stigander caught the sound of silver bells in the wind and steeled himself. The last trial had tried to make him choose between his birthright and his son’s future, as though the two could be separated. That had been bad enough, but surely the trials ahead would be just as wrenching. He took a step forward on the path…

…And found he now stood on a different mountain path, on an island he had not seen in more than a decade. I’m… home?

He blinked, hardly believing what his eyes were showing him. The road beneath his feet, laboriously cut into the granite face, switchbacked above and below. Behind him marched the Vidofnings, savage jubilation painting each and every face. Even Einarr’s, which left a twinge of heartsickness behind. Far below, the Vidofnir bobbed in the water alongside a ship with an unfamiliar ramshead on the prow – Einarr’s ship, it had to be.

The men behind him furrowed their brows. They’re waiting on me. He stepped forward again even as he turned his head to look up the rock face. There, rising above, were the unmistakable grey stone walls of Breidelsteinn. I’m home.

His pace quickened. The Usurper must have already lost, or there would be warriors on the road, and arrows would rain on their heads. Instead, all was peaceful. It was time to reclaim the honor stolen from his father.

As they marched, he heard the strains of the Lay of Raen carry up the road and the corner of his mouth quirked in a smile. That was some impressive breath control Reki had, if she was willing to sing while they marched. At least, he thought it was Reki.

At the top of the switchbacks Stigander stopped again. The gates stood open wide. In the center of the passage, his father’s first liege-man knelt before him. Clustered in the shadows behind, the Jarls and Captains of Breidelsteinn prostrated themselves. No. Not like this. These men were my friends.

But now they were his subjects. Even if his father were still fit to rule, which Stigander thought unlikely, the Clan would never accept him at its head again. They might not accept him, for that matter. Stigander closed his eyes and swallowed hard on the melancholy that threatened to overtake him. Done is done. You knew this would be part of the price.

When he opened his eyes again they were hard. He had hesitated too long already, when now was the time for decisiveness. Three firm steps forward brought him to just ahead of where the man knelt. “Gorgny Agnarsson, do you swear on the names of your father and your grandfather that the Weaver’s sorcery no longer holds you?”

“In the names of Agnar and Hagrlaug, I swear my mind is no longer clouded by sorcery, and may my heart burst if I lie.” Shame practically dripped from the man’s voice.

Stigander nodded, accepting the attestation. Uncle Gorgny had always been an honest man. “Then swear to me as you once swore to my father.”

“My lord prince, Lord Raen yet lives, and though all the clan may forsake him, I will not.”

Stigander snorted, but his face softened a little. “You realize under the circumstances that could mean your death?”

“I do, and I will make any oath you ask of me – except that one, so long as my lord Raen still lives and breathes.”

“Rise, then.” Stigander suppressed a sigh. If he had wanted to prove the man wasn’t a traitor, this managed it nearly as well. “How is Father?”

“Battered but not broken. Never broken.”

“Good.” He smiled at the man he had always thought of as an uncle and clapped him on the shoulder. Stigander had not dared hope that his father would survive this. It would be good for Einarr to meet his grandfather again.

Stigander turned his father’s liege-man and stepped over the threshold. “What of the rest of them?”

“The ones you see? Penitents all. It’s as though we all woke from a bad dream not long ago. The rest are shackled and awaiting justice.”

He nodded now. “I will take the oaths of the penitents in the main hall.”

“Yes, my lord prince.”

His father’s hall had changed under the influence of the Usurper and the Weaver. Raen had made it larger than it had to be so everyone would be welcome, and they were. The lively good cheer he remembered had fled over the intervening years, tossed out with the rugs and candelabrum that were nowhere to be seen on his return. His brother had left it empty, cold, and dark.

Stigander set his mouth in a hard line. Restoring the hall would be easy, compared to the rest of what he had to do. He slowed for the last few steps up on to the dias, feeling their weight.

The seat of the Thane stood before him, polished and painted wood that had never before this moment intimidated him. Stigander blew a breath through his moustache. Rather than sit, he turned to face the men now filling the hall behind him and motioned at a few of them to join him: Gorgny, Bardr, Einarr. As Gorgny stepped into place beside him, he caught the man’s eye. “Uncle, where is Father?”

“Resting, under the care of an herb-witch.”

Stigander winced a little. “Urdr was quite cruel, then.” When Gorgny nodded, he shifted his attention to the hall.

“People of Breidelsteinn,” he began, his voice filling the hall. “It has taken long years, but at last Urdr’s Weaving has been unraveled – by none other than my own son Einarr.”

He allowed a minute for the cheering to die down before he continued. “I do not believe that any of you who stand before me were in their right mind during the Usurper’s reign… but much can change as the years fall away. My friends, I believe that you are all still my friends, and I would ask you to swear to this. If your heart does not remain with the Weaver and the Wolf, swear again before me as you once did before my father Raen.”


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2.4 – The Song of Raen

The sun touched the water’s edge and the sky took on the color of red gold. The tide would begin to ebb soon, but the crew of the Vidofnir had not yet taken up oars and her sail was still furled. Fifteen years ago, they had fled their homes, and for fifteen years the start of every voyage was marked the same way. Stigander stood in the stern, his feet set wide and his arms crossed as he looked out over his men. Einarr joined him.

Reki stood in the prow of the boat, her cloak thrown open and her head exposed. Her skin washed amber in the light of sunset, and her straight white hair looked as though it were made of spun gold. How her previous crew thought she could be bad luck, Einarr could not understand. What clearer portent of wealth ahead could there be? She opened her mouth, and in low dulcet tones began the recitation they all awaited.

Leafy rug lies under
Lee of rock ridge, the
Free-hearted Raen’s hold
High built, its vigil born
To guard men above gold.
Grant plenty, pious king,
But forget not folly
Of fate-dabbler’s design.

It was his grandfather’s story, the founding of Raenshold well-nigh seventy years ago. Before Raen came to power theirs had been a weak clan, really not much more than a scattering of freeholds across the Breidelsteinn archipelago. Over the course of a decade, Grandfather had transformed Breidelsteinn from the laughingstock of the seas to one of its foremost powers. He had been only forty when he made Stigander the captain of their fleet and settled in to complete the fortress at Raenshold and administer their lands.

The time drew near. A whisper rippled through the crew, no louder than the lapping of water on the hull, as Reki continued to recite. Hands moved to oars, but they did not yet push off. The cue had not yet come.

Raen’s folly, a fair lass
Flax-haired, by eye-gleams held:
Urdr did he woo, under
Umber moon she swooned.
No troth spoke though one she
Took: the ring-breaker Raen
She would wed. When sea-steed
Stole Raen, Urdr did remain.

A low grinding of sand against the hull marked the moment the Vidofnir pushed off the kjelling shores.

Unwisely wooed, Urdr
Bore Ulfr, boy-child of
Greyed eyes, guileful blade.
Threads Urdr traced, fiber spun
While wolf’s fangs he forg’d.
To seek redress on swan’s road
Their uncut thread binds all.

Einarr had been six when his half-uncle and the woman his grandfather had set aside appeared at Raenshold, and had only heard second-hand what happened. His maternal grandparents had requested he come for the summer, and so as they sailed for the summer’s hunt on the waves, Father had left Mamma and him at their freehold. When they all returned late that fall, it was like a black haze hovered over the island. The Vidofnir sailed near enough to port that Einarr could see men dangling like fruit from the hanging tree.

That was when they had been attacked by every longship already in port. Einarr remembered the look on his father’s face when the man had been forced to choose between leading an assault against the force had taken their home and protecting his wife and son. Though it had only lasted for a moment, that was the face of a man in agony.

His father wore that same look now, as he did every time they reached this point of the song and the oars dipped into the water. The Vidofnir had wintered that year at Mamma’s freehold, and that was where Einarr lived until he was old enough to sail with Father. By then, they’d pieced together what happened.

Ulfr did usurp, and Urdr does
Under cursèd thrall snarl
Mountain’s men, and entomb’d
Raen maltreats. Raven-wine
By Art bound, and by Art’s touch
Alone undone: hie home,
Raen’s sons, soon your birthright
Save, and cut the woven chain.

Those who did not row knocked their blades against their shields. Those who did opened their mouths and let loose with the ululating black song – the cry of a warrior who will die for their cause. Einarr closed his eyes and joined them, ignoring for the moment that he was the one person aboard who was not allowed to do so. Stigander was unlikely to produce a second heir now.

As the black song died down, Einarr opened his eyes again and glanced sidelong at his father. The look of anguish from the story was already fading into the sorrowful, grim determination that had become so familiar. With a pang, he realized that this was the first time since he’d come aboard that it had not been one of his stepmothers up there. He leaned over to whisper in Stigander’s ear “You alright?”

His father’s only response was a curt nod, followed by a wan smile before he strode forward toward the middle of the Vidofnir. Einarr did not miss that Bardr thrust a skin at his father, nor the way Stigander drank from it. He sighed: perhaps later he would join his father under his awning and drink until the dawn with him. It would be better for both of them than the melancholy solitude that threatened.


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