Tag: Vidofnir

6.32 – Departure

While fixing the Gestrisni went about as well as Einarr could have hoped, that still left them groping for an answer, or even just a clue, of how to get past the magic trapping them here.

“We may have to just go, with the expectation of being turned back once,” Runa finally said. Arkja’s men had already told them what little they knew – some of it from personal experience.

Einarr frowned and crossed his arms. The old fisherman who “welcomed” them to the island was still, days later, nowhere to be found on shore. If it weren’t for the furnished cabin near their boat, he might have wondered if the man really existed.

“You’re not wrong,” Einarr said finally. I don’t like the idea of wasting time that way, but it does begin to seem as though nobody knows.”

“Seems to me,” Jorir mused, “that the waste of time would be sticking around after she’s fixed, looking for information that may not even exist.”

Erik harrumphed. Einarr nodded.

“That is, more or less, the conclusion I was reaching. I kind of wish we had Sivid along right now, though.”

Irding raised an eyebrow. Arkja, as the only member of the newcomers working on the escape plan instead of loading, looked confused.

Einarr smiled at the confusion. “Irding, you’ve only been aboard a few months, so maybe you haven’t noticed yet. Sivid may be Unlucky, but everything seems to work out when he’s around.”

“Then why’s he unlucky?” Arkja asked.

Einarr smiled again. He couldn’t give the whole answer – that wasn’t his to tell – but he didn’t have to. “Bad at dice.”

“And that earned him a moniker?”

“You’ll understand when you meet him.”

The leader of the newcomers shrugged. “Do you still need me, then? The boys could use a hand with the loading.”

“Go ahead. I expect the rest of us will be along shortly… Actually, I think we’re basically done here. Irding, why don’t you go with him?”

Erik’s son tipped his head in assent and followed the one-time tavern keeper off to the ship, where he would supervise as much as help. Erik and Jorir had agreed to give the manifest a final check, and so soon it was once again just Einarr and Runa.

Finally. In all the activity, Einarr still hadn’t managed to make his request of her.

Runa had started to turn away, likely headed for their camp and the cook fire.

“Wait a moment.”

She turned back, her brows raised questioningly.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask of you for a while now, actually…”

She did not fill the silence, merely waited expectantly for him to continue. For Einarr’s part, he kept telling himself it was a stupid thing to be embarrassed about – not that that made him less so, of course.

“Runa, will you teach me how to read the runes? With everything that’s gone on, if we hadn’t had a Singer along we never would have made it out. But I’m not always going to be able to rely on having someone else available to interpret…”

Runa held up a hand to stop his babbling. “Of course I will teach you, Runes and something of Story both. I would like for us to actually be wed one day, rather than being a widowed maid.”

Einarr inclined his head, and was surprised at the hoarseness of his voice when he said “Thank you.”

***

The morning after all was deemed to be in readiness, the strange old fisherman returned to shore. Einarr first caught sight of him ambling down the shore from the south, which struck him as odd: even now, none of them had seen the man’s boat.

“Good morrow!” He raised a hand in greeting as the old man continued up the beach towards them.

“Is it?” he growled, a familiar echo of their first day on the island. “I wonder.”

“Of course it is. We’re finally ready to try our luck.”

The old man stopped a moment to stare at the repaired Gestrisni, apparently unimpressed. He harrumphed and resumed his walk up the beach, ignoring the fools on their quest.

A wild impulse seized Einarr. “We’ve still got room aboard, if you want to test your fate with ours.”

The old man stopped again, threw back his head, and laughed. “Why would I steal you kids’ chance of getting off?”

Einarr’s mind went momentarily blank, but when he opened his mouth the only possible answer spilled forth, almost of its own volition. “Because the captain of this vessel has been named a Cursebreaker.”

The old man shook his head now. “That’s the only reason I think you have a chance at all, kid. Leave this old fool to his justly earned exile.”

Einarr shared a look with Runa, then shook his head. He was curious, but they had wasted too much time on this accursed island already. The men from the Vidofnir and the Skudbrun were waiting. Einarr and Runa walked toward their ship.

“Milord?” Arkja popped his head up over the railing. “There’s some sort of large jar on the deck. Where do you want it?”

Einarr blinked. How had that gotten here? He sighed, shaking his head. “Just stow it in the hold, I guess. Make use of it if you can.”

“A… jar?” Runa looked at him sidelong.

“It’s a long story. We’ll have time on our way.”

Runa hummed, looking amused, and let it rest.

***

That evening, Runa performed the Lay of Raen at Einarr’s request, and for the benefit of the newcomers. In the melancholy mood that always followed, Jorir and the other Vidofnings gathered together near the prow of the boat to talk. It wasn’t private, but it was as near as they could manage.

Staring out over the railing at the stars on the sea, Jorir scratched his beard thoughtfully. “It’s a shame we couldn’t do anything for the old man.”

Even as Einarr was nodding in agreement, Arkja’s brows knit in confusion from just outside their circle. “Old man? What old man?”

“The old fisherman on the beach? I told him we still had room, but he refused?”

The erstwhile tavern keeper slowly shook his head. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but there was no old man on the beach. That shack you kept checking has stood empty for as long as anyone I’ve ever talked to can remember.”


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6.30 – Discoveries

“As for you, my Lady Singer, I have questions.”

Runa smiled up at him impishly, hugging his arm. “Walk with me, my Lord, and I may have answers to give.”

Einarr and his betrothed wandered the empty streets arm-in-arm, neither of them minding in this moment that desertion that had bothered him not long before. Eventually they came to a broad, tree-lined green, and Runa guided him over to sit in the shade of a large oak. Only then did she let go of his arm, to turn and lean against his side.

“Even half a season seems like such a long time…” She sighed, content.

Amused, Einarr arched an eyebrow. “Even after waiting seven years from our first meeting?”

She jostled his ribs with an elbow. “That’s different.”

He chuckled. “You’re not wrong. And when Trabbi told me you’d been captured…”

“You have no idea how surprised I was they’d gone to Lord Stigander for help.”

“Surprised… and glad?”

She nodded, then changed the subject. “So what did you want to ask me?”

He laughed again, this time thoughtful. “Oh, where to begin. Let’s start with how you knew the ghost’s story.”

Runa shook her head. “Honestly? I guessed. There are a limited number of reasons someone ends up here, most of which have blessed nothing to do with offending Wotan’s familiars.”

“Hey now.”

“I tease, I tease. In all seriousness, though, most people end up here through cowardice, ignominy, or both. When it didn’t burst our ears immediately, I thought I might be on to something.”

“And naming it Päron? How did you jump from ignominy to a children’s fable?”

“Stories… change over time. It’s one of the things the Matrons teach us, early on.” Here she paused, as though considering.

“While we were with the Matrons, I was given a good-sized list of manuscripts to copy – it’s part of how they teach us. Mixed into this stack were some shockingly old parchments. The sort of thing the Matrons typically handle themselves, because of how delicate they are. It may have been a mistake, but I doubt it. Anyway, one of these manuscripts had a much older telling of the Päronskaft story, followed by someone’s extrapolations of the story’s original source…

“And it was like a puzzle box popped open in front of me while you were fighting. The Päron who was described in that history, whose story morphed into an imp spinning gold, would fit exactly with the character I had just described.”

“Huh.” Einarr sat for a minute, considering the wild improbability. “I guess,” he added after a long moment. “I guess that’s lucky for us.”

Runa sat very still, almost as though she were frozen. “Maybe so, or maybe…”

A long pause followed, and the next words she spoke all came out in a rush. “Einarr, I think someone is looking out for you. Someone powerful. Most Cursebreakers don’t survive their first challenge, but just since you were named this spring you’ve bested three.”

Einarr blinked and tried not to laugh. Not just after, but because of the events of this summer, she decided he was being protected? It was almost ludicrous on its face.

He must not have hidden his reaction as well as he thought, because she elbowed him in the ribs again. “Don’t laugh.”

“Sorry, sorry. But you have to understand, this has been the roughest season I can remember, especially for lost crew, and we haven’t much more than the Althane’s horde to show for it… Don’t cheapen those lives we lost, Runa. The only outside ‘help’ I’ve had this summer came from that weird elf who insisted on giving us that broach.”

He could feel her stiffen, as though he had managed to offend with that. Well, so be it, then. The Vidofnir had paid in blood and treasure for what they’d accomplished, and he did not wish that lessened by giving credit to some nameless other.

Neither, though, did he want to weather the storm of an angry Runa – and there was yet one thing he needed to ask of her. “Runa, I need a favor -”

“There you are!” Erik’s voice cut through the air, shattering the stillness even as he cut off Einarr’s request.

Einarr sighed. It would have to wait, then. Erik wouldn’t have come like this without good reason. “Here I am. What’s going on?”

The big man grinned. “You need to see this. And then remind me of it if I give you crap about the raven feathers again.”

“Oh?” This should be good. Erik was practically bouncing with excitement.

***

Erik led Einarr and Runa back to the harbor, where Arkja’s less experienced men waited. (At least, Einarr hoped they weren’t trying to guard anything. A child could have snuck past them.)

“So what was it I just had to see?”

“Just wait.” Erik walked up to the large double doors that led into a boat shed. Swinging the shed open, he said, “That little tunnel of Arkja’s isn’t the only secret in this town.”

Inside, the building was dominated by a large trestle such as one might use for boat repair – not that Einarr thought it would be worthwhile bringing the Gestrisni all the way here before they tried to fix her. But that wasn’t the interesting part.

In what would otherwise be a wall of cabinets and hanging tools, a door stood open. Behind that door, Einarr saw what was unmistakably gold. He looked at Erik, agog.

Erik grinned. “My thought exactly. Gestrisni’s got a good-sized hold for what she is.”

“And the gods only know we could use a break like this. Have you…”

“Counted it? No, not hardly. I’d guess something less than half what we got from the Althane’s horde.”

“How did you…” Einarr shook his head. “No. There’s a story here, I’m sure, but it can wait. Who found it?”

One of the fishermen, a man with lank yellow hair and scars crisscrossing his earnest face, stepped forward. “I did, milord.”


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6.25 – Banditry

Einarr bared his teeth at their assailants in a feral grin. So they thought they were raiders, did they? Farmers turned to banditry, fishermen who might make decent warriors if given a few years practice. They had spirit, at least. Sinmora practically leapt into his hand. He would teach them who they were up against and gladly – and then he would offer these desperate men a chance to get off this rock.

It felt like it had been ages since he’d fought against men who were actually men – since their unfortunate run-in with the Valkyrian Hunters early in the spring, Einarr thought. Unfortunately, he had not underestimated the skill of their opponents here. They did not so much put up a fight as receive a sound drubbing from the experienced raiders of the Vidofnir.

Perhaps a minute later, even their leader sat huddled in the center of a ring formed by Einarr and his companions. Had one of them decided to run they probably could have escaped, but not one tried. Einarr folded his arms across his chest and stepped forward.

“Full points for bravery, gents, but you chose your target wrong this time. Or perhaps right, depending on how you look at it.”

Scramasax visibly gathered himself up and leaned forward. “‘Twere my idea, Lord. I’m the one as convinced ‘em all, once we ‘ad to leave the town. Let them go.”

Einarr smirked, and the leader of the would-be bandits quailed. “Don’t go leaping off of any cliffs just yet. My friends and I, we’re part of an actual longship crew, and that longship happens to have some open oars for brave men.”

The townsmen exchanged confused looks, as well they might. Einarr expected there were few if any raiding ships that landed on these shores.

“We’ve a fishing boat down the coast aways in need of repair. Anyone willing to help us fix it up and get off this rock, I’ll put in a word for with our Captain when we make it back.”

Scramasax’s men did not look as thrilled at the prospect as he’d hoped – although their relief at apparently being spared was evident.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, Lord,” one of the fishermen said, scratching sheepishly at the back of his head. “But there ain’t no way off this island. Cursed, it is, and all of us on it.”

“There’s always some way past a curse, even if nobody’s found it before. That’s what Cursebreakers are Called for, after all.” Einarr hoped they were less familiar with the lore than he had been. “Even if you’re right, though, my Father – our ship – is counting on our return. I can’t give up, not while there’s even a prayer of getting back to them.”

Scramasax cleared his throat to speak, but Einarr held up a hand to forestall him. “What’s your name?”

“Ah, Arkja, Lord.”

Einarr nodded. “Sorry. Go on.”

“Your wench there – ah, my apologies, no offense intended, but – is she a Singer?”

“I am,” Runa answered for herself, her annoyance audibly constrained.

“The ‘wench,’ as you so delicately termed her, is my bride, and I will thank you to remember that.”

“Yes, of course, Lord. I meant no aspersions. Only, if we’ve a Singer, maybe there’s a chance.”

“Explain.”

“Well you see, Lord, it’s like this. Those as try an’ sail away from here always end up back where they started, wi’ no memory of having turned about.”

“That certainly sounds like something the song seithir could get us past.” Runa still sounded dubious.

“Well, not by itself, I don’t think, Lady.”

The man’s obsequiousness was beginning to grate on Einarr’s nerves.

“Haven’t been many, but some Singers has washed up here before, an’ the magic alone wasn’t enough to get them past it.”

Jorir grunted. “Wouldn’t be much of a curse if it was, I think.”

Some of the captives looked uncomfortable now that Jorir had drawn attention to himself. But so long as no-one tried to start trouble over it, Einarr would let it rest. “So. It’s the four of us, plus one injured man back with the hulder. If you’re willing to help us supply our boat and make her seaworthy again, we’re willing to take you aboard, with the possibility of a permanent berth on the Vidofnir. Who’s in?”

One or two of the would-be bandits glanced nervously at Jorir – Arkja not among them – but not one of them hesitated more than a moment. Einarr could work with that.

“Good. Welcome aboard the Gestrisni, such as she is. She needs a mast and provisions, and could do with some other repairs as well. She got us here, though, so I expect she’ll get us back to Breidhaugr all right.”

“A – mast, you say, Lord?”

“Indeed. It was struck by lightning when the storm washed us ashore.”

Arkja looked uncomfortable, as though there was news he did not wish to bring up. “Um, beggin’ yer pardon, Lord -”

Einarr rolled his eyes and held up a hand. “Please. Such… servility is neither necessary nor proper. I am Einarr. Jorir – the dwarf – is my man at arms.” He pointed at each of the men in turn. “Erik has been on my father’s ship longer than I have, and has had my back since I joined. And if you’re going to tell me the forest is too dangerous to cut a new mast, we’ve already dealt with it.”

“I see, um, L- Einarr.” Where had he learned to cringe like that? No matter: the man had a spine, he just needed to lose some old habits.

Erik was staring at the conscripted men, his arms folded across his chest and his gaze weighing them like cuts of meat. Einarr would ask the man’s opinion later, once Arkja’s men had been put to work.

In the meantime, they had a ship to resupply. “All right. Enough standing around. Let’s get to it.”


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6.26 – Coming Soon

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6.20 – Lair

“No.”

For a second, the troll’s face hung slack and stupid. Einarr could see the moment when it realized she meant it: rage began to build like a squall on the ocean, until finally the storm broke. The creature roared: “What?”

Einarr and his companions flinched away from the thunderous noise. Not that he could blame the troll entirely. “Um, Runa, isn’t that why we came all this way?”

“I’m not going in there, Einarr. Not with it smelling like a half-rotted carcass someone tossed in an outhouse. Whatever this ‘bad-head’ is, the first step to curing it is cleaning their lair.”

“Poison light comes. Lair clean enough. Music lady fix bad-head.”

“I cannot treat anyone in a place that smells like that. I will not be able to breathe, let alone sing, and I may well vomit. I cannot ‘fix bad-head’ or anything else under those circumstances.”

She had a point, but Einarr doubted the troll could see that. Especially since it had minutes to get inside before the sun turned it to stone. He sighed and turned to the troll. “Look. She’s right, but I know you can’t be out much longer either. So why don’t…” Einarr glanced at Erik. He was going to hate this. “Why don’t we see what we can do to make your cave less smelly.”

Predictably, he got a long flat look from Erik. That didn’t sound like he intended to fight him about it, at any rate, and right now that was what he cared about. The faster Runa was able to fulfill her promise, the sooner they could get back on the water. Einarr already shuddered to think how many of their friends might have been claimed by the insanity of the black blood.

The troll looked at Einarr just as stupidly as he had looked at Runa’s refusal. It was dancing a little, anxious to be inside. “Music lady friends want help?”

Want was probably a strong word, but he went with it. “We do.”

“Good good. In come. Make good for music lady.” The troll darted under the cover of the cave roof then, and beckoned them to follow.

Einarr made it wait a little longer. “Runa. Hide yourself somewhere, will you? Climb a tree. If something happens… if we end up in the cookpot…”

She raised her chin haughtily. “What sort of a woman do you take me for? I will climb a tree, but if they turn on you I will have my vengeance on them.”

Jorir had caught up, he saw. Einarr opened his mouth to protest, but stopped himself. Good enough. “We’ll hurry.”

The sound of tearing cloth caught his attention. When he turned around, Jorir was offering him a square of fabric: the other two already had some tied to cover their noses. Gratefully, Einarr accepted the mask. “Let’s go,” he said once the knot was secure.

***

The troll’s lair was filthy, of course, but not in the manner of a beast’s filth. Beasts could be relied on not to shit in their own bed. Trolls, evidently, were more akin to the most worthless class of humanity, and could not. They had no more than stepped inside the cave when Einarr wished he’d told them to wait for evening, for under any other circumstance here would say this did not need cleaned, but rather burned.

By midday, however, the worst of the filth had been washed away, revealing a pair of mouldering straw mats and a fire pit near the entrance. On one of those straw mats slept a troll even uglier than the one who had led them here, and plainly the one suffering from “bad head.” Not that Einarr had any clearer idea what that meant now that Runa could stomach entering the cave to see to her patient.

Einarr frowned out at the meadow beyond the cave. That there was nothing he could do to help rankled, somehow, and keeping watch outside of a troll cave seemed singularly useless – even when one of the trolls in residence was rather thoroughly incapacitated.

Erik, for his part, had taken out a knife and begun carving a piece of wood he’d found outside the cave. He seemed strangely relaxed, given the circumstances.

“Never took you for a whittler,” Einarr said to break the silence.

Erik shrugged one shoulder and continued carving. “Times like these, gives me something to do besides worry. And let’s face it, we’ll need fish hooks when we get off this rock.”

Einarr snorted. “That we will. You don’t think this was a mistake?”

“What, coming here to help a troll? Nah. She may be spoiled rotten, but your Lady has a decent head on her shoulders, and she knows the Tales besides. Between her an’ you, we’ll get back to the Cap’n. I’m sure of it.”

Einarr didn’t answer right away, staring out across the field. It was quite picturesque under the midmorning sun, actually. It was hard to believe that a troll lived here at all, let alone that there was anything dangerous lurking in the grass. Finally he managed to get his voice to work again, even if he did still choke a little on the words. “Thank you, Erik.”

“You are your father’s son, lad. I told you this spring: not a man aboard the Vidofnir wouldn’t follow you to the gates of Hel itself.” Erik paused, and shot a sidelong look at him, and his mouth curled in wry humor. “Of course, that’s before they all hear about the raven feathers.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Quiet, you. You’d have done the same thing, in my shoes.”

“I’m pretty sure it would have been Irding if he’d seen them.” Erik chuckled now. “That’s what it is to be a young hothead.”

Erik’s mouth opened to say more, but then Runa’s voice carried forward from the back of the cave. “…- bad air. Make sure he gets out of the cave every night, even if you have to carry him yourself. Your brother should come back to his right mind over the next few days, so long as you do that and keep this place…” She hesitated, and disgust filled her voice when she settled on the word. “Clean. Cleaner than we found it this morning. Move the fire outside. Dig yourselves a pit away from the door. And if he starts trashing things, give him a little Frigg’s grass.”

The familiar troll’s voice made a noise of agreement.

“Good,” Jorir answered. “And now, we must go.”

Jorir and Runa emerged from the cave a moment later and took a deep breath of the comparatively fresh air.

Einarr straightened off of the wall where he leaned. “Ready, then?”

“More than,” the two answered together.

Jorir set out ahead. “Come on,” he said. “I know the way back to the ridge.”


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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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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.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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.

5.11 – Bubbles

The sound of stone grinding on stone signalled the puzzle door closing behind them, although they were already far enough up the steep stair that the reduction in light was hardly noticeable. Where in the caves of the svartalfr cult the passages had been lit by a strange blue flame, here the stairwell seemed to have globes filled with glowbugs where one would otherwise expect torches.

Runa smiled with delight. “Well this seems downright friendly.”

“So far,” Jorir grumbled. “Remember who lives here.”

“Compared to where I just was? I might quite enjoy taking a meal with a pair of ravens.”

“Before or after you robbed their loft?” Irding’s voice came from behind them all. He sounded nervous.

“Oh, before of course.” Runa took his flat jibe and ran with it. “If all went well, I might be able to convince them to just give it to me, and then we’re all better off, aren’t we?”

Einarr couldn’t quite suppress a chuckle. “Oh, aye. Except for them, when Wotan finds out what happened to his wife’s bauble.”

“Oh, but what a game that would be, to match wits with Huginn and Muninn.”

“Is that the real reason you came along?”

“That’s the reason I wanted to come along, yes. My points in favor were all valid, though.”

From a few stairs farther up, Jorir hushed them. “Another door ahead.”

Einarr nodded sharply, although he thought none but Runa would see. “Let’s have a look, then.”

He hurried up the five steps to the door Jorir spotted and pressed his ear against the wood. On the other side, all was silence. The dwarf joined him, and when his liege man looked up Einarr raised an eyebrow at him. Jorir shrugged, and Einarr pulled open the door.

The room on the other side appeared to be filled with floating globes of the same glowbugs used to light the hall, but otherwise empty. Einarr drew his brows down in confusion for a moment. Whatever they faced, it was obviously magical. “Runa, what do you make of this?”

“Hmm?” It took her a little longer to reach this second landing and see the strangely lovely sight. Then it took her a moment longer, as she could not quite manage not to admire the effect.

“Runa?”

“‘Thought’ and ‘Memory’ live here: I’ll warrant this is a test of some kind, and that it relates to the residents’ natures.”

“A trial based on our memories?” He shuddered.“Still think these things look friendly?”

“Compared to that weird blue fire they used in the cave? Absolutely. We won’t be able to get to the door without contacting at least a few of the bubbles, I don’t think. Be careful, keep your wits about you, and we should all make it across.”

Einarr snorted. “Great. It’s the Oracle all over again. Well, nothing for it.”

With a shrug he slipped into the room. Almost immediately one brushed against his arm and he held his breath, waiting for the vision that never came. Two steps farther in he crept, the others coming cautiously behind. Einarr made it another pair of steps before his attempt to duck under one bubble brought his head straight up into the middle of another. A thin film clung to his face, cold and almost slippery feeling. Then he was no longer in the room of glowing bubbles.

***

A familiar, familial-looking longhouse surrounded Einarr where he sat, his feet kicking the air, at the table. A well-polished wooden bowl filled with his grandmother’s porridge with berries and nuts sat in front of him. And if there were nuts in the bowl, that meant grandfather would be taking him hunting. Grandmother sat by the light of the door working with a rabbit skin. Outside, the sky was blue and the sun bright… but Einarr thought he knew what day this was.

“You’d best hurry. Your afi is waiting.”

“Yes, Amma.” Einarr scooped up another mouthful of porridge. He paused with the bite in his mouth to roll the long-missed flavor around on his tongue before giving in, shoveling the rest of his breakfast into his mouth with the same enthusiasm he had felt when he was ten. Not a morsel was left behind when he raced out the door, grabbing his bow and his knife on the way.

Mother’s – Grimhildr’s – parents had a freehold in a chain of islands some ways southwest of cursed Breidelstein, and that was where Einarr stayed for most of the raiding season – and would, until Father thought him old enough to act as a deckhand. Which meant that summer saw him roaming the forested mountain behind their freehold, hunting deer and gathering herbs and berries until the Vidofnir returned with stories in the fall or Afi had to take their fishing boat out to Mikilltorp.

As soon as Einarr stepped outside he saw his grandfather waiting by the gate dividing the field, where the two thralls tended matters, to the wood behind. Einarr ran, knowing both that Afi would not wait now that he was out of the hall and that he’d kept the man waiting too long already.

He caught up when the white-haired man was crossing the threshold into the evergreen wood that dominated the rest of the island. “Are we going after bear today, Afi?”

His grandfather’s thick white beard split to reveal a warm smile. “Deer again, my young wolf. We’ll want something a mite bit tougher than these sticks for bear.”

“What about boar?” Einarr bounced on his toes as he hurried alongside his grandfather.

Now the man laughed. “Maybe I’ll teach you how to hunt boar when your father comes back. But tonight calls for venison!”

“So… more tracking practice?” Tracking was, to Einarr’s mind, the least interesting and most difficult part of hunting.

“More tracking practice. You’re getting better, you know.”

“Better than bad is still not good.” He complained, but only half-heartedly, and turned his attention to the path ahead of them and the brilliant green of the forest around. His grandfather let the complaint pass without comment as they continued deeper into the wood.


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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.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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.

5.2 – Wise Women’s Table

“Please, be seated. There’ll be no leaving until morning at the earliest anyway.” The old matron moved deftly to the side of the door and began shooing their party in, towards the long table with its pot of stew – rabbit, if Einarr’s nose didn’t lie. He allowed himself to be swept into the Hall and to a place at the table.

There were nine of them, and eight empty bowls set along the table. Given that Runa had been sent to stand at the back with the servants, that accounted for all of them. Einarr had never known Singers to be able to divine: perhaps there was something to the rumors about the wood? Einarr shrugged and settled on the rough wooden bench.

“Now. I know why our wayward apprentice has come, although she shall be expected to explain her tardiness.” The crone spoke as she settled herself back into the seat at the head of the table. “I was surprised to hear that the daughter of Fjori was returning to the Hall. Is the sun troubling you again?”

“Not at all, Amma.” Reki was near breathless, as though she actually were a child addressing her grandmother. “During a recent raid, we found a chest filled with instruments. I convinced my Captain that the Conclave might wish to buy them.”

The old crone snorted. “Buy them. Feh. We shall have a look in the morning.”

“Thank you, Amma.” In the worst case scenario, they would be demanded as hospitality gifts. For all that the Vidofnir needed the coin, Einarr would be hard pressed to see that as a loss if the Matrons were able to answer his questions.

One of the other old women at the table – more like a willow in stature than like the oak of her superior’s mein – was staring at them as they settled. Einarr stared a challenge back at the woman’s face, but she appeared not to notice. Once everyone was seated, she waved imperiously towards the back of the room.

A young woman in plain white wool stepped hurriedly forward.

“Add some extra nutmeg to tonight’s mulling, and a good amount of angelica.”

The girl curtsied and hurried out the back of the hall.

Reki’s brows drew down in concern. Evidently that combination meant something to her. “Is something amiss?”

“Yes, child,” said the willowy crone, her voice somewhat less desiccated than her oaken superior. “There is corruption at work among you… on all of you save the apprentice and him.” She pointed at Trabbi.

“Corruption?” Barri stood, shock warring with offense on his face.

“Sit down, Barri.” Einarr could share neither emotion with the man, and even he heard weariness in his voice. “Think. Did any of us feel entirely well after that last battle?”

“The Heir of Raen knows of what I speak?” The willowy crone’s surprise sounded genuine.

“Unfortunately. Of those of us here, the Lady Runa and Trabbi are the only two who did not come into direct contact with the black blood of those monsters. I know I, for one, felt ill following that battle, and it had nothing to do with fatigue.”

Sivid was nodding along. “I, too, felt strangely ill, although I put it down to my own imagination.”

“But tell me,” Einarr sat forward, leaning over his bowl and absently reaching for the stew ladle. “How could you tell?”

All six of the crones at the head of the table burst into laughter at the question, the sound of rustling leaves and water burbling over stone. “We are called the Matrons of Song, are we not?” Asked the oaken leader of the crones.

When Einarr nodded, she continued. “The world sings to us, and in this way we can see your plight… Cursebreaker.”

Einarr wanted to swear. On top of everything else, she could see that?

The willowy crone cackled. “And why wouldn’t we? These herbs I’ve ordered, they will hold the corruption at bay – for a time.”

The headmistress cleared her throat. “Such matters are better discussed in the bright light of day. For now, there is stew and bread aplenty, and berries besides. Eat and be welcome.”

A third Matron, this one plump and warm like the grandmother Einarr remembered, clapped her hands and three of the young women in the back of the hall stepped off to the side and began to play.

It was a quiet, contemplative tune, and before Einarr had finished half his stew he felt the tension of the summer’s journey begin to melt away. By the time they had finished their meal, as they all sat around sipping at the spiced mead, every last one of them was fighting an exhausted sleep.

“Rest, children.” Through half-lidded eyes, Einarr saw the oaken crone standing over them. “Rest now, for on the morrow there is work to be done.”

***

Einarr awoke with a start to the clear light of early morning filtering in through the door of an unfamiliar hall. He patted his chest to find that he had been stripped down to just a tunic and breeches. Horror rising in his gullet, he blinked to clear his vision and cast his eyes around.

There, at the foot of the mat he’d been lain in, the rest of his clothes were folded neatly with Sinmora laid across the top. So why did they put us all to sleep, then?

He snatched up his clean-smelling clothes and began to dress. Somehow there was no longer even a hint of darkening from the blood that had nearly covered him in the battle against the cultists.

…Purification of the corruption. Of course. He exhaled loudly and finished dressing, a smile now tugging at the corners of his mouth. They were not some Jarl’s hall full of warriors, whose only recourse against monsters such as those was bloodshed: they were wise women, and the Conclave of Singers could be counted on to act for the benefit of the Clans. When he snugged Sinmora’s belt about his waist and strode out into the daylight, a jaunty tune popped into his head and he began to whistle.


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If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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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.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have  other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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.

 

4.28 – Duel

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

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

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

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

“So be it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

“Are we agreed?”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

“And?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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4.27 – Aftermath

The black storm blowing around the last of the cult ships had begun to dissipate before the Skudbrun and the Vidofnir limped out of the fullest extent of its shadow. As the sky grew brighter, some of the crew brightened as well, as though the horrors of the mysterious cult were banished with the weather.

Einarr envied them, in a way. He lay back on his bedroll, determined to rest until dinner. He’d only been fighting all day, after all, and that was reason enough. Never mind the strange nausea that gripped his throat, or that he now knew why a Cursebreaker had been named. Who else could be expected to deal with fanatics like those? Sighing, he rolled over, only to find himself face to face with that blasted jar.

A grumble of annoyance escaped Einarr’s throat and he contemplated pitching the thing overboard again. But, no: perhaps Runa would want it, or if not Runa one of the men’s wives ashore. Still, it was more than strange that it should find its way back to the ship like this.

His irritated contemplation was cut off by the aroma of grilled fish and the call to food. Finally. His stomach had finally started to settle as the day’s gory work grew more distant, and Einarr expected food to cure the end of it. Food, and a flask or two of whatever cask they opened up.

Einarr pried himself up off his blanket on the deck, his muscles grown as stiff as his blood-soaked clothes. Most of the rest of the crew looked equally sore: they had earned their rest this day. It was only a shame they had not been able to loot the cult ships… or then again, perhaps not.

The sound of a man retching carried forward from the aftcastle. Einarr winced, knowing he’d felt the same not long before, and joined his fellows in pretending it hadn’t happened. The atmosphere on the ship felt brittle tonight: tight smiles that touched no-one’s eyes, friends whose eyes refused to meet, and not one voice was heard to speak of the day’s victory. Einarr frowned as he approached Snorli and the night’s meal. He could not truly blame anyone, but this could be trouble if it persisted. Well, give them a day to process everything.

They ate in near-silence. Those who did speak did so in hushed tones, and what little Einarr was able to catch had more to do with the Conclave ahead than the storm behind. With a dissatisfied grunt, Einarr filled a skin with ale and moved to join Jorir and Erik in silence.

The Skudbrun still ran just ahead of them, and the difference in the day’s fight was plain in the twilight. Its rails were unbroken and its sail largely whole even if it was painted in the same black blood that had drenched everyone who fought.

It was good that they had a friendly escort for this journey: there were few aboard the Vidofnir fit to fight at present. Even still, if the Skudbrun itself was healthier, the crew still aboard must have been just as brittle. Even over the rush of wind and the crash of waves against the two hulls, as they ate the sound of shouting carried to the deck of the Vidofnir.

Erik grunted. “Anyone care to lay odds they’re fighting about the thralls?”

“No bet.” Einarr shook his head. “Anyone raised to Captain should have better sense than to take monsters in men’s clothing as thralls.”

“Madness takes many forms.” Jorir let that statement hang, and a shiver ran down Einarr’s spine.

At length, Erik broke the silence that descended. “Your man at arms is a bundle of cheer, isn’t he?”

Einarr hummed and looked straight at the dwarf. “But rarely wrong, that I’ve seen.”

“Unless I misread that Bollinn fellow, the issue will resolve itself by dawn.”

There were other concerns that followed that statement, and Bollinn had been a good man to have at his back. “Then let’s hope Captain Kragnir doesn’t come down on him too hard in the morning.”

Erik raised his flask to that, and Einarr and Jorir brought theirs up in agreement. As the light fell, so did silence over the deck of the Vidofnir.

Some hours later, as Einarr lay awake staring at the moon, the splash of a man overboard reached his ears. He started to rise when no cry went up from either ship: had the night watch not seen?

The second splash came from ahead of the Vidofnir, where the Skudbrun ran as a black silhouette against the indigo sky. Even as Einarr focused on the other ship a smaller silhouette launched away from the deck, arms and legs flailing in the air as though they were trying to fly before plunging downward into the icy deep.

Einarr swallowed, worried for a moment about who was throwing whom aboard the other ship. He heard no fighting, however, even as another shape took flight from the deck and plunged towards the sea. No Brunning – no warrior – would allow themselves to be thrown overboard without a fight. I hope Bollinn isn’t punished too severely for this.

If even half of the Brunnings aboard agreed with their Mate, he shouldn’t be. Not unless Captain Kragnir truly was gripped by some sort of madness. Einarr shrugged his shoulders uneasily and dropped quietly back to his bedroll. He counted time now by the splashes of thralls as they were cast into the deep. As Jorir predicted, before grey dawn lightened the sky the splashing ceased.

Shortly after true dawn, the Skudbrun dropped its sea anchor. As the Vidofnir pulled up alongside, Stigander gave the order to drop their own. On the deck of the other ship, Bollinn stood with square shoulders facing their Captain. Both of them had bare steel in hand.


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