Einarr staggered a little under the weight of the unconscious Jarl slung over his shoulder as he returned to camp. The smell of smoke hung heavy over the meadow: here and there, someone had set a rabbit or some fish to roast, but the fires from the battle nearly overwhelmed the smell of meat.
That men were cooking at all surprised Einarr, especially given the blaze during the battle. He paused just inside the ring of their tents and looked about. There should be, somewhere nearby, a prisoner’s picket… and there it was, with Jorir standing stern guard over someone on the line.
“There you are,” Einarr said as he approached. He set the Jarl down near the end of the prisoner’s picket, and despite his efforts the unconscious man still flopped about like a sack of cabbages. “How went battle’s end?”
“Back already, are you? Usually takes longer to hunt a hare than that.”
“I think this hare got himself turned around in his flight. Turned wolf at the last moment.”
Jorir grunted, pleased but not surprised to see that Einarr had still managed to return unharmed. “Once you took off after Rosta it was all but over, really. Some of his men tried to keep us occupied, but their strength was just about spent by then. …Faugh! What made Rosta think he had a chance to keep his holdings without Breidelstein. From what I’ve seen, the Vidofnir could have taken them alone, before the curse was broken.”
Einarr shook his head. It had been like this everywhere he’d gone, this past year. Jarls who were dissatisfied with the Usurper and thought that meant they could do without a Thane at all. Not one of them had the strength of arms to protect his own holdings, though. “Can you really fault those who chafed under Ulfr’s thumb wanting to be free? A foolish impulse, perhaps, but an understandable one.”
Jorir harrumphed. “Perhaps. You’d think they’d be happy changing a bad master for a good, though.”
“We know Father is a good man. They don’t. But that’s not important right now. Make sure Rosta is ‘comfortable’ for the trip back to Raenshold. The others can be loosed once we’re ready to sail.” He paused. “Let’s leave Arring behind to keep an eye on things, just in case. Between that and holding their Jarl, we should get good behavior.”
“Yes, my Lord!”
When the two ships under Einarr’s command returned to Breidelstein harbor, They were met at the docks by only a small throng, mostly of the sailors’ families or those with families in Jarl Rosta’s territory. It wasn’t that Stigander did not have the support of his people in this – he did. It was that, over the last year, not one of the isles trying to break away had put up a fight. The usurper thane had left his holdings weak, and those who chafed under the rule of another underestimated the true-born sons of Raen.
Jarl Rosta was marched through the streets of the port to much disinterest. Every time he started to puff himself up, though, and look smugly at his captors, someone along the road would take notice – and, invariably, would congratulate Einarr on another successful mission.
When they arrived at the long, steep climb of the cliff road, he quailed. At the top waited the Thane he had scorned, and whatever punishment the man who had lived as a freeboater half his life deigned to mete out. A man who had already proved himself unconventional in that regard.
Einarr himself gave the Jarl a nudge from behind to continue on. With his hands bound behind his back, Rosta stumbled a little, but then they began the long trudge up to Raenshold.
The gate of Raenshold stood open, and on the far side of the gate house stood the actual welcoming committee. A line of warriors who had not elected to go on this mission lined the path. Standing at the end of this, his arms folded across his broad chest, Stigander waited.
A cheer went up for the returning warriors as they crested the rise. Einarr took the lead as one of his men took the arm of the captured Jarl. He smiled and waved as he strode towards his father, but much more perfunctorily than he had last fall in similar circumstances. Finally he reached the end of the gauntlet and knelt before his father.
“Welcome home, Einarr. I see you have brought home another prodigal.”
“That I have, Father.” He stood and turned to stand beside Stigander. “The matter with Urdr has them spooked, Father.”
Stigander sighed, although he kept his face bright and welcoming for the men who marched the Jarl forward. “They chafed under Ulfr’s rule, and can’t imagine I’ll be better. The matter with Urdr is an excuse.”
“Of course, Father.”
Stigander turned his attention to the prisoner who was now made to kneel before him. “Rosta, of Búethold. Welcome to Raenshold.”
The captive Jarl spat on the ground.
Stigander sighed. “I see you intend to make this difficult. I will be plain: I mean to mend my father’s holdings, not see them rent further. If you will swear to me, as your father swore to mine, I will send you back to your own holdings with a handful of my own men. You may count the damages to Búethold, whatever they may be, as your fine. Or, if you still don’t believe me, you can stay here and observe, while some of my men administer your lands for you. And pay for rebuilding out of your own treasure. Your choice.”
Rosta blanched a little. It was, Einarr thought, so far from what he’d expected he couldn’t quite believe it yet.
“Take your time. Búethold remains a part of Breidelstein, either way, and the men my son left behind will be capable in your absence.” Stigander turned his attention to the men flanking the prisoner. “Make sure he has a place to sleep. He will join us for the feasting tonight, as well.”
“Yes, my lord.”
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