Arkja’s men returned Einarr’s greeting with enthusiasm, evidently unaware they had been slacking off on their watch. Well, no matter: Einarr would set them to watching in teams on the boat, with one of the Vidofnings to supervise. It wasn’t like he could really fault Saergar for checking the nets, or Hàkon for taking a whetstone to their axes.
When the seven of them from the river cave were just outside the circle made by their watchers, Einarr bent over to plant Vali’s jar in the sand. Straightening, he said, “All right, lads! We should be able to make another go of it with the tide tonight, but first we’ve got a hold to rearrange!”
This pronouncement was met by a round of cheers – not, Einarr thought, for the work itself but rather for the treasure they all carried. “Welcome back, Lord,” Hàkon said as it tapered off. “Who’s that with you?”
Einarr mimed clapping the ghost’s shoulder. “This is Vali, and on my honor he is the one we have to thank for getting us past this latest challenge.”
Vali turned his face down sheepishly and scratched at the back of his head, but Einarr didn’t give him the chance to try and deny it.
“I’ve offered him the same deal I offered you lot, so let’s get moving and get off this rock!”
This was greeted by somewhat less enthusiastic cheers, and Einarr could tell by watching faces how many were familiar with their food stores. To their credit, though, no-one objected – or even looked sideways at the jar. Had anyone even realized it was missing yet? They might not have, depending on how it had been stowed. That was going to take some explaining, once that jar was recognized.
Einarr gave a mental shrug and hefted the jar under his arm again. He would delay that moment as long as possible, so the men could get used to Vali before learning he was yet another ghost.
“If I stow the jar below, will you be able to act normally on deck?”
“I don’t forsee a problem there, no. I do still wonder if you’re not selling these men short, though.”
Einarr shook his head. “Maybe. Certainly I wouldn’t be bothering if Arkja hadn’t suggested it: he knows these men better than I do right now.”
Vali grunted. “And how well do you know Arkja?”
“Not as well as I’d like, but well enough to see a decent sailor. He said he got here through cowardice, but I’ve seen none of that.”
“Hmph. There is a certain strain of cowardice that is reckless as regards one’s own self but craven where others are concerned. Be cautious: it is an easy trap to fall into.”
Einarr raised an eyebrow, looking sidelong at the man. “You speak from experience?”
“The Althane’s Mate fell into that trap. I was already a jar by then, but it’s how they all ultimately ended up like that.”
Einarr grunted now. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Certainly it should be told before they sailed, much as the Lay of Raen, the night before, had not been purely ceremonial. But unless it was discovered earlier, Einarr would give them some hours to speak with Vali as a man.
Though there were still three hours until the tide turned, all was in readiness as the sun turned sky and ocean alike to fire. A smaller fire crackled on the beach, and around it gathered Einarr’s rag-tag band of thirteen. It was odd to realize that in the time since he had washed ashore he had nearly doubled the size of his crew. He dearly hoped that Father and Bardr might find them all worthy of a berth: the Vidofnir was in desperate need of sailors after everything they had seen that summer. And, if he was honest, he had come to like these men.
Vali sat close to the fire, the image of a tankard in his hand as he spoke animatedly with Saergar about hunting walrus. Einarr leaned back to stare at the sky and watch the first stars come out. This was going well: he hoped it would continue.
Einarr rose, brushing sand from his trousers. “Before long, gentlemen, it will be time to climb aboard and cast off. Before we do so, however, there are things I would say to you all.”
He had their attention now: good. Einarr swallowed, unaccountably nervous. A quick glance up, however, confirmed his suspicions: the sky was familiar again.
“First off, thank you for all the work you put in making the Gestrisni seaworthy again. I think we may have made her better than when we first set off from Breidhaugr.”
They were all giving him a strange look now. It was not in the ordinary way for a Captain to thank his crew like that, Einarr supposed. Still, there was no way to go but forward.
“Second, I would ask that you all look up for a moment, and take in the sky.” He paused until he heard noises of pleased surprise from those he’d brought with him. “Looks a little more familiar, doesn’t it? And for the actual breaking of that curse, it’s Vali we have to thank.”
A couple of people cheered, although in the firelight Einarr could not tell who. He chuckled. “What the rest of you may not know is, Vali has been with me for most of the summer, we just didn’t realize it.”
Hàkon’s voice popped up over the crackle of the fire. “Why? ‘Cause he’s a ghost?”
A laugh went up, and a somewhat hardier cheer than the one before.
“Because Vali is a – wait, you knew?”
“I can see straight through him!” Everyone laughed now, including Vali and Einarr. There had evidently been nothing to worry about.
“Yes,” Einarr continued. “Vali is apparently a ghost tied to that Imperial jar that keeps showing up whenever it thinks it can give me a headache.”
Good natured laughter rose once more about the fire. There were questions for Vali, some of which were even answered. And, as the tide turned, the Gestrisni set sail once more for the port that she called home, where Stigander and the others sat awaiting the Distaff.
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!
So ends book 6 of the Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. Book 7 will pick up on Breidhaugr, after Einarr has rejoined his father’s crew, on 4/30/2019.
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