For dinner tonight, neither of us particularly wanted chicken florentine, so I came up with this. It’s primal-ish at worst, and while I was a lazy cave-girl it would be easy enough to put together a salad or some greens.

I measured nothing, by the way. All seasonings are to taste.

Ingredients

  • Chicken, to feed
  • Rice, to feed
  • 1 can good-quality refried beans (I used this)
  • Bone broth, to cook the rice in
  • Bacon fat
  • Salt & pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Cumin
  • Chili powder
  • Oregano
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Shredded cheese (I was once again lazy and used a 4-cheese blend we  happened to have in the house)
  • Salsa, for serving

Blend the rice with what looks like a good amount of seasoning (this is where I used the chili powder and cilantro). Melt some of the bacon fat in your saucepan and toss the seasoned rice in it until it starts to turn colors. Add your broth and cook as normal.

Meanwhile, dice and season your chicken (I used cayenne rather than chili powder here, and no more cilantro, but that’s just me). Melt more fat in a skillet and add the seasoned chicken. 

While the rice finishes and the chicken cooks, heat up your beans, then sprinkle with cheese.

Once your chicken is cooked, add cheese to that pan, too, and let it melt.

Serve with salsa and the salad of your choice.

On their return to the Hall, Einarr and Stigander had turned over their skinned prize to the cooks of Kjell and went directly to the sauna to clean up.

At the feast that night, every time Einarr attempted to approach Runa, an older man of the Hall deftly slipped between them – holding her chair here, drowning his offer of tafl with a spontaneous verse there, and casting challenging looks at Einarr the entire time. Runa took all of this with a polite smile that did not touch her eyes. Meanwhile, at every turn he felt the fire in his breast being stoked.

Then the Jarl called for music, and the tables were cleared to allow for dancing. As the drummer and the piper struck up a lively tune and the revelers formed a circle, Runa took her place at her father’s right hand. Without anyone really noticing how he managed it, her new suitor took her other side. Einarr, meanwhile, ended up sandwiched between Erik and the cook he had last seen cleaning their reindeer.

The circle began it’s bouncing step to the beat of the drum. Then the piper and the lyrist launched into the tune itself – a quick number, such that the Hall’s children and those who had already drunk too much were prone to stumbles. This didn’t continue for long, however: within a few bars of the music, Sivid moved to the center of the circle with a clap to the sole of his boot. He was good, one of the best of the Vidofnings, but the hall dance was a competition in its own right. Rather than leave everything on the dance floor then and there, this was a warm-up. He dropped to a bridge and rose again, his hands never touching the floor, and to the rhythm of the drum performed some simple acrobatics. He kicked for the rafters once, and danced out to rejoin the circle at a favorable location.

A man of the was next to enter the circle, and if his agility was lacking he made up for it with spirit. Einarr caught his father’s eye and quirked his head before following the Kjelling into the center. Let’s put on a show…

When the man of the hall danced out, Einarr trotted in at the first acceptable moment. He clicked his heels and slapped his soles once or twice before dropping into a crouch and twirling on the balls of his feet. Before that could bore anyone, Einarr sprang up directly into a backflip and a one-handed cartwheel. He caught sight of the Princess’ face and saw an encouraging smile there. A few scattered cheers rose up from around the circle, and so he made a bouncing circuit inside the wheel before kicking for the rafters himself. Someone a little closer to the Princess let him back into the outer circle, and he was followed by another young man of the Hall. It was poor form, after all, for the guests to try and dominate the Hall dance.

Einarr paid little attention to the new Kjelling. His focus was on the old man with the Jarl’s favor, who had not looked away since he ceded the stage. The rest of the hall seemed to enjoy the performance, however, and Einarr tamped down on his impatience. The only person he cared about besting tonight was the anonymous suitor – a man Einarr expected chosen more for loyalty than any particular skill.

Eventually the greybeard had an opening to slide out onto the stage. He moved immediately into crouching kicks, all the while spinning as he moved around the circle. A bridge into a backflip – no hands – kick the rafters, and then he walked on his hands before springing back to his feet. More cheering – someone called out “Trabbi!” He trotted around the circle once more, quirking his head at Einarr as he passed, and returned to the circle.

Einarr bided his time. The earliest he could return to the floor would be four more dancers, he thought, based on the number on the floor. Much longer than that, though, and it would look like he conceded. He watched, half his brain weighing the other dancers and half determining how best to play on his rival’s performance.

Finally the Hall Dance came back around to where Einarr could step out, and he opened with a prance into a jumping axe kick that clopped against the floor but rattled no-one’s cup. He skipped only a half-circuit before gathering his strength in his thighs. Einarr launched himself in the spinning kick for the rafters, and no sooner had his first foot touched the floor than he hopped up into a hands-free backflip. He heard his crewmates cheering, and probably some of the Kjellings as well, but all that mattered right then was Runa’s smiling eyes. He grinned then: if she liked that, she would love this.

He bent his knees and bounced on his toes, kicking out like Trabbi had done for a time, and motioned to Sivid. The man tossed him a cap. He pulled it over his ears and sprang forward, somersaulting into a headstand. The floor here was a little rough, but it would do: he spun.

The crowd’s delighted laughter turned to excited muttering. Einarr saw another pair of boots step out onto the floor. He knew those boots: they had been a gift from Astrid before the last Ice.


1.6 – Winter Hunt 1.8 – Dance Fight!
Table of Contents

For three weeks, Einarr let the question rest despite the way it rode around on his shoulders like a troublesome pet. He was no coward, he reminded himself every time a chance to speak in private vanished. At the end of the last week of Wintersmonth, an idea occurred to him.

“Father, I’ve heard the Kjellings speak well of the reindeer here on the island. Shall we go hunting?”

“A fine idea, my boy. Nothing like a little sport to keep a body warm during the Ice.”

Three hours later, skis on their feet, axes on their belts and bows on their backs, the two men glided over the surface of the snow through the sparse spruce wood not far north of where the Vidofnir was moored for the season. They pulled a sledge between them, not yet occupied by the prize they sought.

In truth, Wintersmonth was a terrible time to go hunting. If there were deer to be found today, they would be in the wood, though, taking advantage of the wind break it offered. Einarr knew this; Stigander had taught him everything he knew about hunting, just as he was teaching him the proper way to run a ship.

Stigander paused a moment to straighten his back and lift his face to the sky. He let out a loud breath, the steam billowing upward like a tiny cloud. “It’s good to get out of the hall for a few hours.”

“It does get rather stuffy in there. You know what I’m looking forward to, though?”

“What’s that?”

“The excuse to do a long sauna plunge after we get back.” Einarr half-chuckled.

Stigander grinned. “Yep. That’ll be a nice cap to our hunting.”

Einarr scanned his eyes over the needle-picked snow on the ground in the forest, his mind casting about for a way to begin. “Father, do you intend to remarry?”

“Perhaps. I hadn’t given the idea much thought yet. Surely that can’t be what’s been bothering you all month, can it?”

Maybe the question had been too natural. “I overheard Bardr talking to you about …Princess Runa.” He’d nearly forgotten the title. That would have revealed more than he really wanted to.

“Oh, at the funeral?” He seemed strangely amused.

“She told me the Jarl is thinking about giving her to you.” It was surprisingly difficult to keep his voice neutral.

Stigander shook his head, chortling. “She must have misunderstood. I’ve been trying to convince him that you’d be a good match. Bardr thinks so, too.”

“You have?”

He nodded now. “You don’t seriously think I didn’t notice, do you? But he’s not terribly enthused by the idea.”

Einarr snorted. “What, you mean the Jarl isn’t fond of the idea of consigning his daughter to wandering with the heir of Raenshold?”

Stigander harrumphed. “Not even remotely. Especially not with my bad fortune.”

At least he accepts that it is bad fortune. In the moment of silence that followed Einarr spotted not only cloven hoofprints in the snow, but also a trace of blood. “Hah! Father, over there.”

Einarr tossed the sledge rope he carried over a tree limb and poled over to the crimson stain on the snow.

Their quarry had bounded north from here. Interspersed within the hoofprints, Einarr spotted the tracks of a lone wolf. He turned his head to look over his shoulder: Stigander was only a few paces behind, the second sledge rope hanging from the same branch as its twin. He pointed in the direction the trail was headed. “Two for one! If we’re lucky, there’s a wolf pelt to be had.”

Stigander grunted and turned off to move parallel to the trail, angling his skis to walk up the slope. Einarr followed, and as he moved he unslung the bow from his back and began the process of limbering it. A cold bow would quickly become a broken bow, after all.

Not many minutes had passed before Einarr could hear the angry snarling of a wolf from the near distance. He exchanged a glance with his father, also unlimbering his bow, and they glided forward.

In a small clearing just ahead of them, reindeer and wolf faced each other. Had there been a full pack of wolves, the prey would already be fallen. Now one large, if emaciated, white wolf clashed with a young doe, circling each other in search of an opening. Her foreleg was cut up from an earlier clash with the wolf. It had a gash on its shoulder, likely the result of a well-aimed kick. Einarr drew. A deep breath for focus, and he loosed his arrow toward the wolf.

Two arrows flew in parallel, and two arrows embedded themselves in the wolf – one in the neck, one in the ribs. It recoiled and whimpered but did not look away from the reindeer. Einarr drew and loosed again. Half a moment later, his father’s second arrow arced towards the deer’s neck.

Einarr’s shot buried itself deeper in the wolf’s chest, and now the creature turned to face this new, unseen threat. Father and son shared a glance. When Stigander nodded and reached for a third arrow, Einarr unhooked his axe and propelled himself out into the clearing.

Stigander’s second arrow also found flesh, but could not pierce the muscle in the doe’s neck to bring her down. Two more arrows followed it in quick succession, and then Einarr was too focused on the wolf, visible against the snow primarily by its face and the bloodied fur around its wounds.

The wolf bared its teeth and snarled at Einarr where he crouched on his skis. You’re not half so vicious as you look. Come and try me. Instead, it backed toward the edge of the clearing. At the same time, the reindeer was tossing its head, looking for an escape route.

He let the wolf go. The coat was nice, but the meat would leave something to be desired. The deer, on the other hand, now that would be good eating. Another arrow shot out for the creature as it tried to bound away, and Einarr sent his axe after it. Thock-thunk – the two projectiles struck true against the back of the doe’s head. Stigander’s arrow pierced just below the right ear, and the back of the axe-head knocked against the base of her skull. The doe crumpled.

As Einarr moved to retrieve his axe and finish the job, Stigander finally glided forward into the clearing.”Nice shot.”

“You, too, Father.” The cloud of steam he exhaled carried with it a good portion of the excitement of the hunt. “Let’s get her field-dressed and head back?”

“Indeed. And then, another sort of hunt begins.” Stigander looked at his son out of the corner of his eye and laughed as Einarr grinned.


1.5 – Tafl  1.7 – Feast in the Hall
Table of Contents

Winter fell hard and fast after the funeral. Three days later, the least experienced of the Vidofnings went to help bring in the goats. Three days after that, Kjellings and Vidofnings alike were snowed in.

That, of course, didn’t mean they were without things to do. There was wood to be chopped, and game to be hunted, and if there was one thing the people at Kjell Hall were good at it was making games out of everyday chores. Then, of an evening, once the sauna fire had been allowed to smolder, there were other entertainments to be had inside.

“Hah!” Erik laughed on the fifth night since the blizzard, shoving aside three empty bowls and various other remnants of their supper. “Anyone who can beat me at arm wrestling tonight wins my share of tomorrow’s mead!”

Einarr laughed to himself and did not step forward. The only person on the Vidofnir who could beat Erik at arm wrestling was Stigander himself, and he and the Jarl were speaking quietly at the far end of the hall. Some of the younger men of the hall tried their luck, though, and Einarr thought to watch them for a little.

After the third Kjelling had lost a night’s share of mead, Einarr found his attention wandering. Elsewhere there were people dicing, and he saw a one-on-one tug of war going on near the door. The figure-eight rope stretched between the two deck hands was dark from years of use as they each tried to pull the other one out of balance and break the tension between their feet. Einarr smiled a little: it didn’t appeal tonight – he’d had enough rowing on the ship for the moment – but as the winter wore on it might be worthwhile.

“Tafl?” A sweetly feminine voice asked from over his shoulder.

Startled, Einarr snapped his head around. He hadn’t realized anyone was there. “Runa! You play?”

“Of course I play! You’re the one who taught me, remember?”

“I . . .” He had forgotten. “I suppose I did, didn’t I. Well, then, let’s see how you’ve improved.”

They spoke as much as played, of old times and of the past seven years. The blue of her pinafore matched her eyes. Einarr found it hard to keep his mind on the game with the fire of her lips swaying in the breeze of every word, and since he was defending that meant Runa captured his king in a humiliating five rounds.

“I won!” She laughed gleefully, and her smile seemed to clear some of the smoke from the room.

Einarr shook his head. “So you did. I don’t know where my mind was. One more game?” He was better than that, and he knew it.

“Fine. But this time, I’ll defend, just to prove I can beat you either way.”

“You’re on.”

He paid more attention to the game this time, so that it took her a full fourteen turns to escape. Einarr’s brow knit in consternation until he looked up to see her smiling warmly at him. “Who have you played to get so good at this?”

“Father, mostly. Sometimes a visitor will play me, and I always trounce them because they never seem to take me seriously. Even you.”

“Hey, now that’s not fair. I was taking you seriously.” Maybe not quite in the way she meant, though. She was just a little distracting.

“Of course you were.” Her smile turned impish for a moment. She picked up one of the pawns and started to finger it, her face falling. “So, Father is wanting me to get married soon.”

“You are about the age.” So am I, for that matter. But… A strange reluctance crept over Einarr whenever that thought occurred to him. It wasn’t like he had anything much to offer a bride.

“Close, yes. And with Mother gone, I think he wants to know I’ll be taken care of.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“I think he wants me to marry your father.”

For the second time since they came to Kjell Hall, Einarr felt time come crashing to a stop. The din of the hall around them receded from his ears as he tried to accept her words. No.

“I don’t think he’s decided yet.” She was trying to make him feel better. The shock must have shown on his face. “But it’s not what I want, either.”

“Who was your father speaking to?” He tried to speak normally.

“It’s just the impression I’ve gotten.”

Einarr shook his head. Damn it. “After Astrid’s funeral… I heard Bardr floating the idea to my father.” He looked her in the eye. “I’ll talk to him. He’s a reasonable man.”

“As you like.” Runa’s face was shaded with doubt.

“Hey, smile. No-one gets married in the winter. We’ve got months to talk them out of it. Come on, one more? Or shall we play something else?”

“Hmmmm.” Her smile was mischievous now. “Have your mothers taught you verse?”

Despite himself, he was a little embarrassed. “I’m afraid not. Father always kept me tied up in other things.”

“Well then I suppose it wouldn’t be much fun to play at lausavisa. Tell me about someplace you’ve seen.” She leaned forward eagerly, her elbows pressed together where they rested on her knees. Einarr swallowed hard as his mind raced, trying to think of a story his princess would appreciate.

What am I thinking about, ‘my’ princess? Don’t fool yourself. Despite his status as Stigander’s heir, the Jarl had never given Einarr the time of day. There was no way he’d give up his daughter to him, not with the curse in play.

“Mistress?” A young woman of the hall approached.

“Yes, Helgi, what is it?”

“Your father would like a word with you.”

“Yes, of course. I’ll be right there.” She turned her attention back to Einarr. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to be back.”

Einarr nodded, for once distracted by something other than the beautiful woman who had trounced him at tafl. Stigander and the Jarl were both watching them intently.


1.4 – Funeral Rites  1.6 – Winter Hunt
Table of Contents

In four days a spruce graveship was made ready for Astrid’s body, lavishly appointed by the Jarl. All that was left was for Stigander to select her grave gifts from the hold of the Vidofnir and they could send her off before the Ice. The soothsayers claimed there would be another few days yet before winter rolled over the island.

Stigander and Einarr pulled up the deck boards of the Vidofnir and stared at their gains from the raid. Everyone had offered to help, of course, but Stigander was adamant: his only son was the only one who would be allowed on board.

Gold and bone, glass and pewter and wood stared back at them from below the deck. Stigander sat, dangling his feet over the edge, and Einarr folded his legs under him. “Combs, jewelry, her favorite knife,” Stigander muttered. “Did we get any instruments from the last village? A lute, a lyre?”

Einarr shook his head. “I don’t recall. A cup – no, not a cup. Knowing her, she’d rather have a horn.” He caught his father eyeing the one at his hip. “And she would never let you hear the end of it if you sent Grandfather Raen’s with her.”

Stigander’s mouth curled in half of a smile under his beard. “I suppose you’re right.” He sighed, then, not moving to search through their haul for the gifts. “Why do I do this to myself?” he asked the air above them.

“Why do you do what?”

“Marry.” He bit off the word. “No. Don’t listen to me. I don’t regret a minute of it, with any of them.”

“I know, Pabbi.” He almost never called his father that anymore, but it felt right here. “Loving too freely is far from the worst fault a man can have.”

Stigander choked out a laugh. “That sounds like Grimhildr.”

“I heard it first from Mamma, but I think they’ve all said it.” Well, the three he could remember, anyway. His birth mother had died when he was still a tot. “I think I’m a lucky son, to see the way you adore your wives.”

They sat in silence for a minute, continuing to stare at the treasure belowdecks while the necessity of the moment sank in. “Come on. Astrid had a sailor’s taste. I’m sure we can find gifts she’ll love down here.”

“Show some respect to your stepmother,” Stigander pretended to scold, accepting the attempt to brighten his mood even if only for a moment.

***

The graveship was built upon a wood and earthen pyre mound. At sunset on the appointed night, after her nails had been cut and the body dressed in new clothes, everyone from the Hall gathered with the crew of the Vidofnir to bid Astrid farewell. Runa sang the dirge to ease the passage of the soul into Skaldsgarden. Sixteen was young for the job, but since her mother had passed sometime after Vidofnir last made port here she was the best Singer on the island.

Jarl Hroaldr and Stigander recited the prayers for the dead, a gloomy chant overlaid on the sad, sweet notes of Runa’s voice. Einarr stood at his father’s shoulder, blessing the darkness and the smoke from the torches for hiding the redness of his own eyes. At the last, as the chanted prayers fell silent to leave only the melody and the crackle of fire, Stigander tossed the first torch on the graveship. Einarr threw a moment later, followed by torches from the rest of the crew. They all stood vigil in the sharp wind of an early winter night until the heat from the flames on their faces became unbearable. In the smoke, Einarr saw his stepmother waving silent farewell to her crew, made visible by Runa’s song magic.

Finally people began to fade back into the darkness, headed for the warm comfort of Hroaldr’s hall, first the residents of the hall, then one by one the Vidofnings as they tore themselves away. Einarr took his place near the end of the procession back: Father would be the last to leave, both by custom and by preference. One pair of feet went the wrong way, however. Einarr looked up to see Bardr heading back towards where Stigander still stared into the pyre and stopped. He wanted to stop Bardr, but the man still technically outranked him.

When Grimhildr was slain, eight years ago now, it was Bardr who pointed Father at Astrid. Five years before that, he had found Grimhildr for the Captain, too, when his second wife died in childbirth. Surely Bardr had some other woman in mind to soothe his Captain’s sorrow now, too, and if the pattern followed Father would insist on wedding before bedding. But not at the funeral, man. Have some decency.

He moved on. Bardr was a good sailor and a fine warrior, but Einarr sometimes wondered what went on in the man’s head. Mid-stride of his third step, a name floated on the wind to Einarr’s ears: Princess Runa. He froze. Beautiful, vibrant Runa, younger even than Einarr – for Stigander? Einarr’s mind rebelled. Surely Father wouldn’t be so foolish as to marry a woman young enough to be his daughter, would he?


1.3 – In the Hall of the Sea King  1.5 – Tafl
Table of Contents

Seven years earlier

The soothsayers claimed snow was coming, even though they should ordinarily have had another month. Even though it was bright and sunny over the Hall. But it was unwise to go against the soothsayers in matters of weather or fate, and Captain Stigander set several of his best lookouts up into trees to watch the horizon.

“Not you,” Stigander said when Einarr started to climb a tree.

“What? Why not?” He didn’t want to whine. He’d been a deckhand long enough not to whine, but his voice cracked on the ‘what’ to make it sound like one.

“Deckhands operate on deck. Go help bring in the goats.”

“Yes, sir.” His fingers only itched a little with the urge to climb: once they were up there, they probably weren’t coming down for quite a while, and that would be boring. More boring than wrestling goats, certainly, and there were always a few. He dashed off across the meadow to join the goat-herds, already headed further into the interior of the island.

“Hey-yo,” he called as he caught up. Many of the other boys responded in kind. Most of them did not yet even have the haze of downy stubble that was beginning to grace Einarr’s chin.

The goats had already wandered out from the rockiest area of the island when they found them, perhaps sensing the impending storm as the soothsayers did. The goat-herd hailed the group from a distance of fifty paces. “What news?”

“The Ice descends,” answered one of the few boys there older than Einarr, a hint of melodrama in his voice.

“Ugh,” groaned the goat-herd. “Seriously?”

“That’s what we’re told.”

They moved around behind the herd of goats and began marching forward in a line, back toward the Hall. The goats, of course, mostly ignored them, slipping between legs or kicking back when they got tired of being kneed by walking teenagers. Then someone had the idea to make a game of it; whoever carried or led the most goats back to the winter pen, won. Anyone who hurt a goat by accident got a penalty to their count. It was understood that anyone who hurt a goat on purpose would be thrashed by everyone else.

Einarr had wrestled three does and a young buck into the pen when he noticed a small slip of a girl out among them, her pale blond hair mussed half out of its braid, laughing as she clung to the neck of a particularly headstrong doe that was trying to break for the rocks.

What is she even doing out here? He thought, breaking off from the doe he had been trying to corner. Thankfully the other goat was slowed by the weight of a child hanging on its neck and Einarr was able to get in front of it. The doe stopped just shy of ramming into Einarr and planted her feet, her nostrils flaring. The doe plainly didn’t think she could dodge him with this weight she couldn’t get rid of.

Before the goat could buck and try to throw off its cargo, Einarr bent over and took hold of its slender legs. “You can let go now.”

Once the girl released the goat, he scooped it up over his shoulders. The doe, of course, tried to fight, but with its legs restrained there was a limit to what it could do. “I’ll carry this one back for you.”

“Thanks!” The girl was still a little breathless. “Don’t you try to steal my count, though!”

“Nope, this one’s all yours.” A laugh tried to well up from his belly, but he repressed it. Somehow, he didn’t think she would take that kindly.

“Okay then. I’m Runa.”

“Nice to meet you, Runa. I’m Einarr. Is it fun, having the princess’ name?” They both started walking back toward the pen. Einarr ambled, really, since she wouldn’t have been able to keep up with his longer legs.

“Being the princess is great – except when they try to keep me from playing with the boys.”

Surprised, Einarr nearly let go of the goat that still struggled on his shoulders. That would have ended badly for all three of them. What’s the Princess doing out… oh. Well, she wants to play, let’s see if she can win.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Princess. Come on, we’ll be a team. We’re sure to win, that way.” He was pretty sure he was near the lead before, and it would have been miraculous if she’d managed to get even one goat before this one.

Now

Is that . . . Runa? He shook his head and finished his descent to the bench. Even if it was the princess, she probably didn’t remember him. She had been perhaps ten the last time he’d seen her, and he fourteen. She was a woman, now, and Einarr could think of any number of men more likely to be chosen as her husband. “Heir of Raenshold” meant very little these days. He took a bowl of venison stew and began talking with the men to either side of him, trying not to stare.

Erik, on his left, was talking with one of the Kjellings about the attack on their ship. Einarr couldn’t count the number of times they’d all talked it over when they were off rowing duty, but it still didn’t make any sense. Where had the storm come from? No-one knew. How had the Grendel operated freely in that weather? Some thought it was a ghost ship, filled with the spirits of drowned sailors. Einarr doubted it.

So did the Kjelling Erik was talking to. “If that had been a ghost ship, they wouldn’t have settled for just Astrid.”

“That’s the part that worries me,” Einarr jumped in, the black demon’s head fresh in his mind. Runa was still a distraction from the corner of his eye, but this had been gnawing on him since the attack. “It wasn’t like they settled for Mother at all. They barely even bothered with the rest of us – just enough to keep us away from their target.”

“You think she was targeted?” Erik took a swig of his mead.

“Doesn’t it look that way to you?”

“How could they even have been sure she was there,though?” The man on the other side of Erik leaned forward as he asked the question and looked over at Einarr.

Einarr shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s just what it looks like to me.” That wasn’t quite true: he did have an idea, but it wasn’t one he was certain he could credit. Runa was nodding earnestly at something one of the other Kjellings was saying to her; Einarr blinked, and made himself look back at Erik and the other man. As his eyes flicked across the room, it seemed like Bardr was studying her, as well. Oh, no. Not her, man. “While we’re asking questions, though, why would they risk attacking another ship in a storm?”

“Especially without a battle-chanter of their own,” Erik grumbled.

“They didn’t… you’re right, they didn’t. Or if they did, she wasn’t singing, which amounts to the same thing.”

“You’re sure they weren’t agents of one of the Empires?”

“I… suppose it’s possible?” Einarr hadn’t considered that. From the looks of it, neither had Erik. Finally, though, he shrugged. “Well. Father will want the blood price in blood, I expect, no matter who they are.” He took another mouthful of stew and glanced back toward the princess. When did she grow up?


1.2 – Aftermath 1.4 – Funeral Rites
Table of Contents

The storm sluiced the blood from the deck as the Vidofnir rowed, searching for the edge of it, hoping nothing further happened. Astrid’s body was tied to the deck where she fell. It would be too much to bear for any of them, let alone Father, if she were to wash overboard.

Even with the sail furled the mast creaked ominously until they had cleared the storm. Once they dropped the sea anchor, most of the crew swarmed over the ship, checking for damage. Einarr helped his father tend his stepmother’s body under the Captain’s awning. Somehow, she was the only casualty from their ship, and the Grendel had paid in blood for the honor. “This doesn’t make sense,” he blurted, arranging Astrid’s arms so that her hands lay folded on her stomach.

“It never does, son.” Stigander’s voice was raw, his eyes bloodshot. Astrid may have been his fourth wife, but her loss was just as bitter as Grimhildr’s had been six years ago. He stepped up toward the bedroll-turned-bier, a pot of ointment in his hands.

“That’s… that’s not what I meant. I’m sorry, Father.” It was unreasonable to expect him to be paying attention to the oddness of the Grendel’s attack – even if he was the Captain – under the circumstances.

“You don’t have to stay. I can take care of this.”

“Yes, Father.” Heaving a sigh, Einarr straightened and stepped softly out from under the canvas. He had liked Astrid, dammit, but Father required him to put on a public face while Stigander could not.

His steps rang out when he moved amidships, however. The crew would mourn later; the ship came first. He spotted Bardr standing near the mast. “How bad is it?”

“Bad enough. I think this is the worst of it.” He patted the column of wood. “We’ll have to replace it this winter. We can reinforce, but with the time we’ll lose to that we might not make Silringshold before the ice sets in.”

Einarr blew air through his thick red moustache, shoving aside a momentary pang of regret for Raenshold – the home he had never seen. “What are our other options? Is there another friendly hold nearby?”

“Have to check the charts to be sure.”

He knit his brow. His father had the charts, so far as Einarr was aware, and now was not the time to disturb him.

Three men pulled Erik up from over the side of the boat, shaking his soaked head. Two more men were waiting with wool blankets.

“What happened,” Einarr and Bardr asked at the same moment.

“Damage below the water line. Don’t think there’s enough wood to patch it and the mast. Wherever we’re going, we’ll have to row.”

The men were not going to like that. Hel, Einarr didn’t like that with no land in sight.

A slow, heavy step sounded from behind them and Stigander’s blond head glowed nearly white in the sun. “We’ll make for Kjell Hall.”

***

Everyone, even the Captain, took their turn at the oars, and with every silent dip of the paddles beneath the water’s surface they remembered Astrid and her song magic. Occasionally someone would try to get a rowing chant going, but none of them had trained in the song magic and it was a weak, tremulous thing. Those who were not rowing were subdued, warring within themselves between gratitude that they hadn’t lost more and grief for the giant presence that had vanished.

After a week of rowing the Vidofnir slipped into the bay and up the river that led to Kjell Hall, its shallow keel skimming across the water’s surface. It was good that the raid had been a success, for Kjell Hall was the hold of Jarl Hroaldr, and even an old friend did not winter at the King’s Hall without gifts.

The bay was long and narrow, and the mouth of the river broad, such that one could only tell by brackishness where one ended and the other began. The shallow white sand beach proceeded only a few feet from the high tide mark before being met by the open spruce wood that covered most of the island.

Stigander ordered the Vidofnir beached just past the salt-water line and the crew was allowed to debark. A gentle wind blew up over the water towards the interior of the island, cutting through Einarr’s heavy wool cloak. Einarr nearly envied Sivid and the others who were ordered to make fast the ship: they were still moving.

It was only a moment, however, and then they were moving again, walking openly up the forest path from the beach toward Kjell Hall on the highest point of the island. Patches of snow glowed white where the morning sun had not yet reached.

A hunting horn sounded as they stepped out of the wood and into the wide swath of now-dormant farmland surrounding the Hall. Ahead of them stood the great Hall of Jarl Hroaldr, King of the Cold Sea and childhood friend of Captain Stigander, Thane of Raenshold. The gates were opening to reveal the warm light of fire and the rolling laughter of those already present under the great upturned boat of a roof. The Vidofnings tramped through the palisade surrounding the hall after their Captain, who stopped two paces outside the door.

“Hail to ye!” A voice bellowed from within. “Stigander and his Vidofnings are well-come to Kjell.”

“Hail, my Jarl, and many thanks.” Only now, with the proper invitations, did Stigander allow himself and his men to enter the hall. “I’m afraid we’ll have to impose on you for a time. The Vidofnir needs repair, and the winter ice is too near at hand.”

The Jarl laughed. “There will always be a place for old friends at my Hall. For tonight, be merry, and we will see about business on the morrow.”

Einarr stepped to the side when he entered. Jarl Hroaldr was visibly scanning the faces of the crew.

“Stigander, where is your lovely wife?”

His father’s face contorted. “Awaiting entry to Skaldsgarden.”

The mood of the hall was quenched, and Hroaldr’s face fell. “I’m so sorry. Will you allow me to see to the burial arrangements?”

Stigander gave a bitter half-smile. “I’m afraid she cannot be sent off from Raenshold now. That would be most gracious.”

Hroaldr nodded, waving his hand in invitation for Stigander to come and sit at the head of the hall with him. Einarr found an open seat elsewhere, but as he was lowering himself a flash of gold caught his attention. He looked up. Time seemed to stop. There, reclining on a cushion near the Jarl, the fairest woman Einarr had ever seen laughed with one of the serving wenches. Her hair was the color of spun flax, her lips the vibrant pink of fireweed, her skin as pale and fair as the rein rose. Is that . . . Runa?


1.1 – A Sudden Squall  1.3 – In the Hall of the Sea King
Table of Contents

 

It was the end of the last raid before the winter’s ice, and yet the sun was bright and the weather warm. The longship Vidofnir skated across the smooth surface of the ocean under sail, the sounds of merriment carrying across the water from its deck. They would live well this winter. Einarr leaned against the side, drinking in the scene as he sipped from the skin in his hand.

On the aftcastle, a group of six sat casting the bones. Big, heavyset Erik threw down the cup. “Eight!”

“No way. That’s three eights in a row,” Sivid objected.

“Read ’em and weep.” He lifted the cup to reveal a three and a five. “That puts you out, don’t it?”

Sivid laughed. A few people among the onlookers groaned, but everyone on board knew he was awful at dice.

Captain Stigander’s deep belly laugh sounded from amidships. “Remember how I handle the fleecing of crewmen, gents.”

“How could they forget?” Einarr laughed. His father had a habit of reminding them. In fairness, it was uncommonly generous. If you gambled all your money away before the next raid, whoever won it from you had to loan it back – with interest, of course, but not as much as the counting houses charged. He hopped down off the railing and scanned the horizon. “Besides, I’m sure Erik could use the help this winter.”

“Always,” the big man boomed.

“Come on, let’s have a cask,” someone called.

“Haven’t you had enough?”

“Oh, come now, dear, don’t be like that,” Astrid said, flowing out of the crowd toward the Captain. Einarr’s black-haired beauty of a stepmother was also the Vidofnir’s battle chanter. “It’s clear sailing all around, and not a thing between us and port.”

A cheer went up from among the men. She was as much a sailor as any of the rest of them.

“Captain’s right, though.” Bardr spoke up, appearing at Stigander’s left. “Aren’t you on duty?”

Most of the men laughed. The one who’d called for a cask grumbled, as did one or two others. Einarr took half a step forward to find the shirker, and stopped. A cold wind tickled the back of his neck. He looked up, alarmed, and scanned the horizon.

“Make fast the rigging!” came the call from the crow’s nest at the same moment Einarr spotted the dark clouds billowing up from the south.

“Somethin’ unnatural ’bout that storm,” Einarr said. He couldn’t tell if anyone heard. He had work to do now, too, in the face of a squall like that.

The storm rolled in as quickly as it appeared, and the bright light of midday was replaced by dim twilight and stinging rain before they had finished battening down. Somewhere in there, Astrid began to sing, warming their arms and bolstering their strength with her song magic. Einarr looked up to scrub the water from his brow with a beefy forearm and nearly dropped the rope in his hand.

“Hey!” His crewmates shouted their objection even as he tightened his grip, but his attention was out over the water.

“Oy!” He slapped the man ahead of him on the shoulder and pointed out across the waves. “Do you see what I see?”

His crewmate nodded. “Draken, dead ahead!”

Cresting the waves ahead of them, the prow of another longship cut toward them. It’s dragon’s head was oddly misshapen and painted black. The unknown ship approached the Vidofnir at a rapid clip, and now he could make out the foreshortening of the snout. Not precisely a dragon’s head. More like a demon’s. Einarr felt a chill run up his spine that had nothing to do with the weather.

“Make ready!” he shouted. He could just make out movement from the deck of the enemy ship – and enemies they were. They were readying boarding lines. In this weather! The call went up from other parts of the ship, as well.

Astrid’s song became a hymn of battle. Einarr felt the muscles in his shoulders tense as the warmth in his blood began to stoke the battle-fury. With the initial burst of strength, he secured the rope that before five men had trouble pulling.

A boarding line caught the side of the Vidofnir.

Grendelings, forward!” he heard from the enemy ship. More boarding lines flew across the remaining feet between their boats. The sound of scraping steel rang out from all sides, and Einarr felt the familiar, comfortable weight of his long sword in his hand.

The axe-men from the Grendel raced across the already sodden boarding lines or leapt across the gap, landing with a heavy thud on the Vidofnir‘s deck. Einarr slashed at the Grendeling in front of him and steel rang against steel. The scoundrel took half a step back before swinging again with his axe. Einarr twisted and felt the wind of the axe’s passing against his shoulder. He brought his sword down on his opponent’s wrist. The axe, with hand still attached, clattered to the deck. In one motion, Einarr brought Sinmora back up and slashed at the villain’s throat. The blade cut deep. Ein!

The figure that collapsed before him seemed more monster than man. He could barely hear Astrid over the clash of steel, but her song still worked its magic.

He lunged at a monster that stood just two steps from one of the Grendel’s boarding lines, and the blow sent the raider tumbling into the icy deep between the two ships. Tveir!

The Vidofnir pitched over a larger wave. Einarr’s boots began to slide on the rain-slick deck as it lurched. Alarm overrode fury for an instant and allowed him to catch his footing. The sea would not embrace Einarr this day.

The fury did not reassert itself. Suddenly clear-headed, he looked around. The raiders – now clearly men again – were fleeing back to their own ship. Cowards. He heard an axe clatter to the deck of the forecastle – someone surrendering. Evidently, the Grendel wasn’t willing to wait for all its crew. The boarding lines were already flying. Something’s wrong. Where’s Mother? Why isn’t she singing us down?

A circle of Vidofnings gathered on the aftcastle, and he could see his father’s back where the man knelt. Einarr shoved his way back, afraid he already knew what had happened.

The crowd around Captain Stigander was thick before Einarr got there, and as he elbowed through to the center of the circle a single sob sounded over the pounding rain, shaking the old man’s shoulders. Einarr looked down: a pair of gold coins already held his stepmother’s eyes closed. Blood stained her kirtle and pooled under her back. He felt his own throat tighten, but did not ask the question that tore at it. He stepped around the outside of the clear space to stand behind his father and rest a hand on his shoulder.

“And who is manning the oars?” He asked instead, his voice husky. “Let’s move, people.”


Table of Contents 1.2 – Aftermath

 

Einarr Stigandersen is the dispossessed prince of Raenshold, his father its landless Thane. They sail from port to port, leading a vagabond’s life aboard the longship Vidofnir, until a fateful battle with a demon ship and an unnatural storm send them reeling to Kjell Hall. A princess’ beauty and the Jarl’s wrath soon conspire to send Einarr on a series of impossible quests.

Will Einarr and the Vidofnings find adventure, glory, and revenge, or will they end as ashes in the frozen seas?

The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen updates Tuesdays and Thursdays by noon Eastern time.

  • Book One: Einarr Stigandersen and the Jotünhall

    Einarr Stigandersen is the dispossessed prince of Raenshold, his father its landless Thane. They sail from port to port, leading a vagabond’s life aboard the longship Vidofnir, until a fateful battle with a demon ship and an unnatural storm send them reeling to Kjell Hall. A princess’ beauty and the Jarl’s wrath soon conspire to send Einarr on a series of impossible quests.

    Will Einarr and the Vidofnings find adventure, glory, and revenge, or will they end as ashes in the frozen seas?

  • Book 2: Einarr and the Oracle of Attilsund

    Einarr has retrieved the Isinntog for Jarl Hroaldr, but it seems he is no closer to winning the princess’ hand in marriage.  As they’re setting sail once more, the Lay of Raen inspires Jorir the svartdvergr. Might this new ally be just the impetus they need?

  • Book Three: Einarr Stigandersen and the Allthane’s Masquerade

    The crew of the Vidofnir sets sail to investigate a ship’s graveyard not far from Attilsund in search of treasure and tales to tell. The waters they must sail are treacherous, though, and wind and wave are far from the only forces they will need to contend with.

  • Book Four: Einarr and the Demon’s Fleet

    When the crew of the Vidofnir learns that Jarl Hroaldr’s ship is now actively hunting the same demon-headed crew that murdered Astrid, and that the princess Runa has been kidnapped, a hasty alliance is formed.

  • Book Five: Einarr and the Tower of Ravens

    Having just escaped from the demonic fleet of the strange cult, Einarr and the crew of the Vidofnir are in need of some way to fight the horrors unleashed and eliminate the cult for good. Fortunately, it just so happens that those who are experienced in the ways of magic and story tend to accumulate wisdom as well as lore…

  • Book Six: Einarr and the Isle of the Forgotten

    After escaping from the Tower of Ravens, Einarr and his companions discover that they have been transported to an unknown portion of the sea. To make matters worse, they are there becalmed. When a storm blows up, they take their lives in their hands in hopes of finding their way back to the waiting Vidofnings.

  • Book Seven: Einarr and the Crimson Shroud

    After freeing the Isle of the Forgotten from its curse and returning to his family waiting on Breidhaugr, Einarr takes on a new kind of quest: the quest for knowledge. As he has traveled, it has become plain that he must learn the magic of runes or perish.

  • Book Eight: Einarr and the Shining Valkyrie

    After wintering with the Runemaster alfs of the Shrouded Village, Einarr is finally deemed ‘safe’ to leave the village and rejoin the Vidofnir. But the elven High Roads have become unstable, so he has to find another way back with his new friends. And then one of the Order of the Valkyrie picks up their trail…

  • Book Nine: Einarr and the Wolf’s Flame

    The dromon Arkona sails into Kjellvic harbor to find it aflame, the victim of a brutal raid. All over the island, people are talking about an unknown ship with a wolf’s head on the prow. Frantic, Einarr and his companions search the island for Runa and the Jarl. And then the Vidofnir arrives.

  • Book Ten: Einarr and the Ice Wolf

    Having captured a number of the Weavess’ tapestries, Einarr and his allies now must escape pursuit long enough to destroy them and clear a path inward. But their pursuer is none other than Kaldr, a man with ice in his veins who is all-too-loyal to the Usurper.