It was with a heavy heart and no small amount of trepidation that the Vidofnir once more entered the harbor at Kjellvic. Liupold returned to the Arkona, although the dromon did not immediately weigh anchor. The Eikthyrnir followed Stigander up to the docks, where the two ships were met by the harbormaster, whom Einarr had spoken to before.
He wasn’t sure if it was a positive sign or not that it was only the harbormaster who greeted them. On the one hand, it was probably a good sign that the people of the town were more interested in putting their lives back together than driving them off with torches and pitchforks. On the other hand, it also led him to doubt Trabbi’s claim.
“What news from the Hall?” The Harbormaster asked in response to Stigander’s hail.
Stigander shook his head. “Nothing but ash. The bastard took the Jarl and the Lady.”
Now fire sparked in the other man’s eye. “They what?”
“I thought Bollinn was back. Didn’t he say?”
The harbormaster shook his head. Probably, from what he knew of the Brunnings, they were trying to avoid panicking the townspeople. “I’ll call up the militia. Be surprised if they didn’t want to join you.”
Father and son nodded in tandem, then Einarr paused. “What happened to the mayor?”
The harbormaster gestured broadly at the town behind him. After a pause, he sighed. “They found him on the green. Gutted. Couldn’t tell you if he was still alive when the fire swept through.”
Einarr winced. Stigander merely nodded again. “That’s of a piece with what little news has come out of Breidelstein.”
“It’s true, then?”
“So it seems. It’s well past time I dealt with Ulfr’s treachery, anyway. …Is the shipwright about?”
“Oh, aye. You’ll find him down where he always is. He’ll be right glad to have your ship off his hands, I wager. …Oh, but, my Lord? You might warn your men against too much drink while they’re in town.”
“Surely no-one actually believes that calumny?”
“None as know you, no. Not many others, I wager, but you know what drink can do to a man’s wits.”
Stigander hummed, and then they were off.
As soon as Einarr laid eyes on the rams-head prow he knew the ship to be at least the equal of any he’d seen in Eskiborg. The wood seemed to glow from within, and the shipwright had seemed to know just from looking at him how Einarr would want to run his ship. It was no Eikthyrnir, to outrace anything she came up against, but neither was it a Bjorn, thick and bulky and tough but slow. It was, like the beast on her prow, built for balance.
The shipwright – who was otherwise quite happy to take Stigander’s coin – stared sullenly at him as he examined the new ship. His new ship. “She’s beautiful,” Einarr said, running his hand down the klinks.
“You better believe she is. An’ I’ll wager she’s as eager to fight as you lot are. Just keep the bloody wolves away from here, wouldya?”
“By the time we’re done with them, you’ll not have anything to worry about save some pelts,” Stigander’s voice was quiet and level as he answered.
Oddly, that did nothing to ease the other man’s glower. Instead, he pocketed their coin and mumbled a “pleasure doin’ business with you” before wandering off to elsewhere in his workspace.
Einarr shrugged then turned his attention back to the ship. She had fewer benches than the Vidofnir, but that was fine. She was likely to be running at half crew until they took Breidelstein at least, anyway. The awning stretched a good ten feet back from the mast, and could be collapsed quickly at need through an ingenious series of catches to roll up in itself. Einarr would have to study that, and have Jorir take a look as well.
“Where is Jorir, anyway? I’d have thought he’d want to be here for this.”
“He did, but he had some business with the smith. There’ll be time enough for you and all your crew to take it in – later. Right now, I want to hear all about what happened with the elves while you inspect her.”
Einarr chuckled. Oh. Of course. “Sounds good, pabbi.”
A handful of Vidofnings gathered that night at the lone public hall of Kjellvic, one of the few structures left largely untouched by the Wolfling’s raid, to share stories and recruit sailors for this next expedition. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind what they had to do.
The sun had well set, although it was still far too early for people to be too deeply into their cups, when Einarr called for the attention of the hall. The townspeople had fallen to the sort of merrymaking only possible after a hard day’s work when one has just escaped catastrophe, and was in danger of turning rowdy later. That meant, however, that this was the perfect time.
“Good people of Kjellvic,” Einarr shouted over the din, raising his tankard high. The room began to quiet almost immediately. “On behalf of my father and all the Vidofnings, I thank you for your trust in our friendship. What has happened here, while we were away, is the result of the usuper’s cowardice and envy.”
Someone in the back of the hall jeered.
“I know. We have allowed him his games for far too long… But, at last, we have what we need to retake our home and re-grow the friendship between our two lands! We have, however, only three ships, two of which are under strength. When the Vidofnir sails forth to unravel the Weaving, and take back our lands and rescue our friends, who among you will sail with us to rescue your Lord the Jarl and the Lady Runa?”
A loud cheer went up, and Einarr, Jorir, and Bardr spent the rest of the night talking, man-to-man, with the volunteers.
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