The morning after Einarr’s defeat of Trabbi, the Vidofnir set forth in search of the Grendel missing three of its crew – Einarr, of course, plus two of their hardiest warriors: Erik and Tyr. It was all Stigander could spare. The morning after that Einarr led his companions down to Runa’s cove and the waiting skiff, newly dubbed the Gufuskalam. Runa and the Jarl came to see them off, she looking worried and he relieved to see them go.
While Erik and Tyr made one last check of their provisions, Runa caught Einarr’s hand in her own. “Promise me you’ll come back?”
He did not try to repress a smile. “Of course I will. What sort of fool would abandon you?”
She nodded, slowly, and if he was not mistaken sadly, and pressed a small sack into his hands. “Take these. May they speed you on your journey.”
“Thank you. I’m sure they will.”
He did not look in the sack until the island vanished from view. On top was a note.
My dearest Einarr, it read. The island of Svartlauf is hidden behind an eternally raging storm and hunted by a fimbulvulf, two things which I know my father has not told you. There may be other dangers as well, so I have sent gifts that I hope will bring you victory. The small crystal bottle contains my song of strength. Open it when yours fails and remember me. The other is the tafl king, so that you might always keep your wits about you. Be careful, my love, and return in victory!
Einarr smiled and tucked the note carefully into the pouch at his belt. He wasn’t sure how much practical good either of those things would be, but the gesture still warmed him from the inside out. He stowed Runa’s offerings in the box beneath his seat at the tiller.
A breeze caught in his hair, and he offered a devilish grin to his two companions. “Time to sail, boys. Gods but it’s good to be off the rocks again.”
“How true it always is,” Erik agreed while Tyr continued to call their rowing cadence.
“Ease off a bit and I’ll let the sail down.”
Erik caught Tyr’s attention and they pulled the oars in as Einarr stepped forward to unfurl the sail. The still-cold wind filled their sail and caught his cloak, contrasting with the warmth on his shoulders of the spring sun. The Ice existed, Einarr thought, to make sure one appreciated the freedom to sail.
Tyr stood up and stretched. “So how much do you think the Jarl hasn’t told you?”
Einarr snorted. “What, you think the Captain’s childhood friend would withhold information from me?”
“Yes,” the two men said at once.
“You’d have to be blind to see he still doesn’t want to allow the match,” Eric continued.
“So anything he can do to make your quest harder…” Tyr trailed off.
“He’s going to try to do.” The right side of Einarr’s mouth curled in an unhappy smirk. “Runa tells me there’s a storm around the island and a fimbulvulf.”
Erik thrust his head forward in surprise. “A what? By the gods, is he trying to kill you?”
Einarr just shrugged.
“If the Captain knew that…”
“He’d have held off on pursuing the Grendel and we’d be on the Vidofnir right now. But I only found out a minute ago, myself.”
“Not that it matters. I said I’d do it, and I am my father’s son. Besides, we’ve got a few weeks before we need to worry about it, and right now the weather is perfect. I say we see what our little Gufuskalam can do!”
His friends voiced their agreement with a cheer.
As the sun dipped below the horizon in a blaze of gold and red and purple that blinded the three men on their skiff, Erik stepped to the mast to furl the sail for the night while Einarr took the tiller. He would have first watch, and was glad that the sky was still clear. Overcast skies on their first night out of port would be an ill omen, because while the other two men slept, he would keep their drift on course.
Tyr was pulling out food from their stores for dinner – a cask of ale, some hard tack, and gravlax. There would be no cooking aboard the Gufuskalam, for there was no room in which to light a fire, but they would not go hungry at least.
“You ready for six weeks of this?” Tyr’s voice was a low rumble as he shared out the portions, evidently thinking along the same lines as Einarr.
“We’ll manage.” Erik bit down into the hard tack and followed it up with a swig of beer. “Always have before.”
Einarr nodded. “I think our course takes us close to some small islands partway through, too.”
Tyr grunted and broke off a piece of bread to pair with a bite of the sweet-salted salmon. “Two-edged sword, is what that is.”
Einarr shrugged. “We’ll get by. If anyone knows more tricks for getting through a long sea voyage than you, it’s Father.”
This got a laugh from the gruff man. “I taught him half what he knows, back when he was your age.”
Nobody ever bothered Tyr about retiring, because age had barely touched him. Save for snow-white hair and lines on his face, he still kept up with men half his age. Einarr and Erik both chuckled.
“That is exactly what I meant.”