Einarr sat crosslegged on the ground, near enough the fire that the heat pressed uncomfortably against his thigh. The tablet page appeared to give an accounting of gifts presented by Ragnar to men of the town. It seemed utterly ordinary, so he turned back to the previous page.
That spoke of a traveler who stopped by these islands and was granted hospitality in the Hold. In the dead of the night, it said, the traveler and his crew attacked the men of the hall, but were vanquished and driven off. This was less than a month before the accounting of gifts. Strange that a traveler would violate the laws of hospitality like that, but honorless dogs did exist.
Before that, there were several pages of ordinary seeming accounts, and then a near repeat of the gifts and tale Einarr had just read. Once was not unheard of. Twice in – if he was not mistaken – less than a year was decidedly odd, and Hrug had been certain this was important. “Hrug, am I right in thinking you saw a pattern here?”
“How many times did you see it repeat?”
He held up his single hand with the thumb across his palm, four fingers extended.
Einarr frowned. “Definitely suspicious… although I’m not sure it proves anything by itself.” He sighed, smoothing the hairs of his beard around his mouth. “Well. We know where to go to look tomorrow. Time to turn in, if you’re not on watch. Good night, and good fortune.”
The next morning they were all up at first light after an uneventful watch. Why the abominations left them alone in their camp, none of them could say, but they were all determined not to have a repeat of the night before. Einarr broke his fast with a strip of jerky gnawed on as they returned to the records chamber.
He’d read more of Hrug’s tablet during his watch. The pattern remained consistent, and he didn’t think the world had changed that much since Ragnar’s day. Freeboaters were an unpredictable lot, but the simplest solution to the pattern suggested they were not the faithless ones.
Eydri frowned. “That’s terrible, and all by itself it might explain why Raen left, but it doesn’t explain why all the townspeople hate the name of Ragnar, nor why this island is like it is.”
“No, it doesn’t. Eydri, I want you and Hrug to concentrate on looking for more accountings like this. The rest of us will concentrate on finding the barrows.”
She nodded her agreement, and then the seven of them split up to search the stacks of records.
Just before midday, Odvir gave a triumphant shout. The entire room seemed to vibrate with the sound and he cleared his throat, suddenly embarrassed. He held up one of the parchment scrolls. “Map.”
“Thank goodness! Bring it over here and let’s have a look.”
Everyone save Eydri and Hrug gathered around Einarr as they rolled out Odvir’s find to have a look. The parchment was badly aged, and even though it hadn’t been unrolled in more than fifty years there were places that were badly obscured by dirt, and others that showed some sort of dark stain.
Once upon a time, before whatever it was that drove out the son – or sons? – of Ragnar, this had been an impressively fortified hold. Especially considering the terrain in this area: grandfather Raen must have looked at the cliff overlooking Breidelstein harbor and called it a boon from the gods themselves. After careful study and much discussion, Einarr pointed to what – on the map – was a large clearing between the hold and the mountain spire. “It looks like this is where we’ll find the barrows.”
“That’s a mighty good hike, considering we need to be back in camp before sunset,” Troa mused.
Einar hummed in agreement as he glanced around at his fellows. “That’s why I should go alone.”
Naudrek barked a laugh. “You’re mad.”
“Your father would have our heads.” Troa added.
“And how, praytell, do you expect to tell the right barrow on your own?” Eydri purred from across the room. That was a dangerous sound coming from her.
“I may not have all the lore of the Singers, but it’s not that hard to reason out. Whatever happened with Ragnar, grandfather was run out of town. He wouldn’t have had time to build an elaborate barrow, but he wouldn’t have wanted to leave his own father for carrion, either. So it’s hastily made, and probably as near to the hold as he could manage. You worry about your own task, Eydri, and let me worry about the ritual that every groom in the Clans undertakes before his wedding.”
Eydri rolled her eyes dramatically and pulled down another tablet. Hrug chuckled.
“You’re still not going out there without at least one of us to watch your back.” Naudrek poked Einarr in the chest, eliciting a raised eyebrow.
“I could order you all to stay behind and guard those two.”
Now Troa laughed. “Could. But we all know you’re smarter than that.”
“We’ll come with you.” Naudrek swung his thumb between himself and Troa. “I know we’ll be watching each other’s backs at least as much as yours, but even if that’s all we manage at least you’ll have two extra pairs of eyes.”
“Fine. You win. We’ll leave first thing in the morning: even if we found the barrow this afternoon, we’d have to come right back to camp afterwards.”
Einarr’s acting Mate and the leader of his scouts nodded their heads decisively. Einarr let the parchment roll back up and secured it with the leather thong Odvir handed him.
“Now that that’s decided, we should all give Eydri and Hrug some help. The more I know going in, the better I’ll be able to deal with whatever this island throws at me.”
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