Over the course of the next three weeks, something more than half of all the jarls who once swore allegiance to Raen arrived in port at Breidelstein or sent pigeons explaining why they couldn’t. Stigander made a point of greeting each and every Jarl personally, after which they would spend some time in hushed conversation while their crews unloaded barrels of ale and mead and other contributions to the coming festival.
Tyr, Kaldr, and Jorir had disagreed with Einarr’s thoughts on taking oaths, and in the end their thinking won. The renewal of vows would take place after the trial of Urdr.
Thus, at the end of three weeks, when careful note had been made of those Jarls who had not arrived for the Thing – excuse or no – a true Thing was held in Breidelstein for the first time in more than a decade. When the Jarls assembled in a circle around the courtyard, they stared at the figures in the center with grim solemnity.
A wooden seat had been brought out for Raen. The old man sat, stooped and feeble but alert, and he stared about himself with childlike wonder. Many was the man who winced to see their former Thane in such a reduced state – and winced again when Urdr was brought forth in chains, led once more by Arring and Erik and Thjofgrir. Raen physically shrank away from the crone. Gorgny, who attended him on the stage, comforted him like he would a child.
Einarr, from his place at Stigander’s side, fought to keep a straight face at the sight of his grandfather. He could see from the corner of his eye the knotting of muscles in his father’s jaw. But the two of them had to remain neutral, despite being among the aggrieved.
“This Thing is assembled,” Stigander intoned. “Before you are Raen, your former Thane, and the Weavess Urdr, who is accused. Gorgny, you may state your case.”
Raen’s oldest and most loyal liege-man straightened, leaving a comforting hand on Raen’s shoulder. “Men of the Thing, this woman and her son are solely responsible for the current state of these islands. She used her Weaving to bind the fates of all Breidelstein and unseat Lord Raen. In his place, she installed her son Ulfr, and the two of them have taxed the citizens beyond all measure. She has imprisoned and tortured Lord Raen, whom she claimed was her husband, as well as countless others who have passed through the dungeon here. She has practiced Black Arts in order to hold power for herself and her son. Free men of the Thing, I lay all these things at the feet of this woman.”
A low rumble passed around the assembled Jarls. Then Stigander stepped forward. “Weavess Urdr. You stand accused before the Thing of high treason, treason against your Thane, practicing the black arts, murder by means of magic, and of practicing the torturer’s arts. Among your accusers, your victims, are members of this Thing. Have you any defense?”
The crone straightened, haughty and defiant even now. “You dare to try me here, with my accusers among the judges?”
“I see none in this circle who have added to the weight of charges laid out by Gorgny.”
“And yet you yourself are a son of Raen. Does that not make your judgment invalid?”
“It is not my judgement you have to fear. You will offer no defense, then?”
A cold stare was his only answer. Stigander shrugged. “Are there any present who would stand in her defense?”
No-one stepped forward. On its face, Einarr thought Urdr’s claim had merit. Unfortunately for her, that was the nature of crimes against a Thane, and there was no way to call an Althing. Her tricks would find no purchase here.
“Very well,” Stigander boomed. “The penalty for any one of these crimes is death, and so I put the question before this Thing. Did this woman conspire to overthrow the rightful Thane of Breidelstein?”
A chorus of “Ayes” rang around the circle.
“In the overthrow of the Thane Raen, by whom she bore a son, did she practice the black art of curse-weaving?”
Once again each man in the circle answered aye.
“Was the rightful Thane, a man she has called her husband, tortured by her hand?”
There were fewer ‘ayes’ this time, likely because the Jarls hesitated to confirm a charge that was not so self-evident.
“Very well. Based on the determination of this Thing, who have witnessed the actions of the accused, the weavess Urdr is guilty. You shall be stripped of all you posess and chained to a rock in the harbor, where you may look upon the lands you so desired until your bones fall into the sea.”
“Arring. Erik. Thjofgrir. See to it.”
The three men named snapped off an “Aye,sir,” as though they were still aboard ships before leading the crone out of the circle of the Thing. If there was one thing that could be said to her credit, it was that her pride did not desert her as she was led to her death. She held her head high and stared defiantly forward.
“Now that the unpleasantness is concluded, there is one more bit of formality to handle before the festivities begin. Kaldr Kerasson, step forward.”
Kaldr moved with the calm grace that everyone who knew him was accustomed to and knelt before Stigander.
“Earlier, during the fighting, you laid your life before me. Now I will have your oath.” Stigander drew Grjóthrun from the scabbard on his baldric and held the hilt out toward the man called the Ice Wolf.
The reswearing of those whose bonds had been severed, first by the witch and then by Einarr, took until it was full dark. A bonfire – a real one, this time – was lit in the field, and the feast table laid near it. Musicians from the town had offered their services for a place at the table and been welcomed.
It was a night of celebration and the reforging of bonds long tested. Finally, Breidelstein could begin the long road toward rebuilding its former glory.
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