An empty seat awaited Einarr near where his father lounged, surprisingly far back in the hall. “Not bad, for your first go,” Stigander muttered in his ear. “Did you think to take anything for yourself?”
He shook his head. “The Isinntog was my share.”
His father grunted. “Generosity is well and good, but never forget that running a ship is costly. If you fail to provide for yourself, you fail to provide for your ship and your crew.”
He grunted again. “So long as you understand. Now come on, and bring that dwarf friend of yours. The three of us had best have a chat with Bardr, don’t you think?”
“Yes, Father.” Einarr did not have to look long to find Jorir: the dwarf had taken up position along the wall near the door, his new shield resting against his legs. At a gesture from Einarr, he fell in behind the two as they stepped outside.
Bardr, it seemed, had left for the temple some time before Einarr’s arrival at the Hall. That he was not back yet suggested something troubled the man, for there were few aboard the Vidofnir of a particularly pious bent.
The path to the Kjelling temple wound through the spruces to a second, smaller clearing not far away dominated by the wooden hall dedicated to the gods and brilliant with wildflowers in the morning sunlight. The door to the hall was in shadow, and Einarr felt the chill as he stepped over the threshold. Bardr sat near the back, his feet propped on the back of the bench in front of him, scowling in the general direction of the altar.
Stigander cleared his throat, and his first mate gave a start. “Guess who’s back?”
Dark-haired Bardr rose smoothly and turned to welcome Einarr, his face relaxing into a smile. “At last! We were worried when you were late.”
“Something came up, we had to make a detour.” They clasped elbows for only a moment before Einarr stepped back. “Bardr, this is Jorir, my liege-man. Jorir, Bardr is first mate on board the Vidofnir.”
“A pleasure, lord.” Jorir bowed. Bardr looked uncomfortable, to Einarr’s eye.
“That’s not really necessary.” He laid a hand on Jorir’s shoulder as the dwarf stood.
“So the Jarl sent you out after a fancy magic bauble for his daughter, and you return with a retainer?”
“That ‘fancy magic bauble’ was not the only thing I liberated from the jotün, no.”
“Evidently not. Well, Jorir, I suppose this means I get to welcome you as our newest Vidofning. Can you fight?”
“At need,” he drawled. “I’m better with a hammer and tongs, though, and no slouch with a bag of herbs. And the only person to ‘ave bested me at tafl in a good long while is milord Einarr here.”
“Before or after you swore your oath?”
Bardr hummed, but before he could say anything more Stigander broke in.
“This complicates matters you know, my boy.”
“I know, Father.”
“I had been intending to make you spend a month swabbing the deck.”
“Only a month? That’s better than I expected.”
“But I can’t very well subject you to that sort of punishment now that you have a man at arms, now can I? Hoping to get out of it?”
Einarr snorted. “Not remotely. When he surrendered, I asked him to swear that he meant us no harm in exchange for getting him off that island. Instead, he swears himself to me by all the gods.”
Stigander turned his head to look at the dwarf, an eyebrow cocked.
Jorir looked pensive. “It’s true. I mainly wanted off that rock, but it’s also true that when your son had the opportunity to kill me, he refrained in spite of everything. I, ah, still didn’t intend to swear quite as strongly as I did… and then he gave me the king he had used in our match. I’ll not look back now, and he’ll not regret it.”
Am I missing something? Why is the tafl king so important to him? Jorir didn’t explain, so when Stigander looked to Einarr for more information all he could do was shrug. “Runa sent me with a few gifts. The king was one of them, and the only other things I had on me at the time I just gave out at the Hall.”
Stigander drew his brows down in a thoughtful expression.
“You are the lord father and Captain of my lord, and I will honor that as well,” Jorir added.
Stigander nodded as though that were never in question. “You are a smith. Have you your own tools?”
“I did, back on Svartlauf, but to get them now would mean fighting lo— Fraener.”
“With the entire ship we could probably manage, if we could get through the storm twice more.”
Stigander grimaced at that. “As much as I would love to take my crew against a jotün, we have more pressing matters at hand.”
“How did the hunt for the Grendel go?”
Stigander’s grimace soured. “Skunked, so far, and we’re not the only ones hunting them. We found no fewer than five other crews who’ve had their battle chanters picked off. Every last one of them talks about the monstrous crew of a ship that rides in with a storm and disappears just as quick.”
“Monstrous? You mean that wasn’t just an artifact of Astrid’s chant?”
“Maybe, maybe not.” He shook his head. “If it is, it’s awfully consistent, and awfully specific to that ship.”
“So does that mean there’s a fleet forming?”
Bardr harrumphed. “More like a pact at this point. For a fleet, someone would need an idea how to find the whoresons.”
Stigander hadn’t finished. “A fleet, though… that might not be a bad idea, anyway.”
Einarr raised an eyebrow. It felt as though his father had changed the subject without letting anyone else know.
“I’m going to make you work for it, you know. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time for the sons of Raen to think about building a second ship.” Stigander clapped his son on the shoulder.