Einarr knew those boots very well, in fact. Had watched, in any spare moment she could find, as Astrid stitched them herself from the skins of rabbits she had asked him to catch. Stitched them herself, when it would have been the easiest thing in the world to pass it off to one of the thralls. And now Stigander swaggered onto the dance floor wearing them, courting a wife for his son.
He kicked himself through a backflip to stand upright. Stigander smirked and began to spin around on his heels, his hands held out as if to ask ‘what can I say?’
Einarr matched and opposed the spin, such that they crossed paths twice each rotation. Every few twirls he dropped to a crouch, and now it was Father’s turn to match him.
There was a limit to the acrobatics they could pull off with both of them in the circle, however. The music continued, shifting into the Warrior’s Dance. Stigander motioned to someone in the hall, who tossed him a staff. Einarr looked over at Erik and gestured for the same. He caught it with a flourish before knocking its end against the floor. The knock from his father’s staff rang out a bare breath later. Einarr met his father’s eyes with a boyish grin, and the older man’s confident smirk never faltered.
Muttered voices from outside the circle, those few who were not participating, were punctuated by the clink of coins changing hands. Both of them spun once on their heels, mugging for the crowd. Clack! Einarr’s feint was blocked by Stigander’s.
They exchanged a few more showy feints, their staves cracking against each other with every blow, before the flow of the music suggested a separation. Einarr planted his staff on the floor and pushed off into another cartwheel. Stigander held his at both ends and jumped over the middle of it. The crowd loved it, but Einarr saw the Jarl clench his jaw.
They spun together now, their staves striking with enough force to sting the palms this time. Stigander pressed close and growled at his partner. “So you do have some spirit in you. Give them a good show, now.”
“We’ve got her attention.”
In the moment before they sprang apart, Stigander’s smirk relaxed into a smile. The music led them on from occasional feints and into the “fight” at the center of the dance, and their staves kept time for the piper as much as the drummer did. Before long, the music allowed them to press forward again.
“It’s not her attention I’m worried about.”
Einarr glanced at the Jarl for just a moment and got shoved back three steps. From that third step, though, he leaped forward, staff raised overhead to strike. Stigander raised his overhead, braced in two hands.
“I can’t tell if he’s furious or bored.” Hroaldr was still in the circle, but deliberately not looking at the spectacle in the center.
“Furious.” Stigander looked deliberately over toward the Jarl. “But we might be in danger of boring the rest.” Stigander ducked and spun around behind Einarr, tagging the back of his legs with his staff. Einarr followed suit, ducking into a low spin and sweeping his staff towards his father’s legs. Stigander jumped.
Nice choice, Father. Einarr spun faster, rising gradually from his crouch. With each spin, Stigander had to jump a little higher. Eventually, when the stick was nearly to his waist, he backflipped out of the arc of the strike. Clack! Stigander brought his own staff around to meet his son’s.
Einarr lunged forward, taking his staff in a two-handed grip and driving his shoulder into his father’s rock-hard stomach. The man didn’t even grunt, and so Einarr turned the lunge into a spin on his outer heel, the other leg held out straight. When he turned around, Stigander had once again turned to face him. His face was red as he knocked the end of the staff against the floor, and he seemed out of breath. An icy flood of worry crushed Einarr’s flush of enjoyment, and he knocked his own staff to signal the end of the fight.
Stigander did not give up his swagger as he danced to the outer circle, but it was less certain of itself. He tossed the staff to the waiting Kjelling and moved to take Einarr’s old place in the circle.
The place near Runa was open, but there was no reason Stigander should have conceded there. Einarr tossed his staff back to Erik and tried to follow: a look over Stigander’s shoulder warned him off. Later, then. He stood straighter, ignoring for the moment his concern in favor of a “victory” lap around the stage before he trotted off to take his Father’s former place near the Jarl.
He nearly stopped in his tracks when he saw the Jarl’s face. Hroaldr’s face was redder than Stigander’s, his lips pursed in fury, staring at Einarr. He slid into the proffered opening anyway, giving Runa a thin-lipped smile.
It may have been the single most uncomfortable place he had stood during a Hall Dance, but thankfully it didn’t go on much longer. Even Sivid didn’t try to compete with the father-son show that had just occurred, and he wasn’t usually one to be cautious of the odds.
As the music faded and the circle dissolved, Einarr felt a strong hand grip his arm. A strong, male hand. He turned slowly, knowing who it had to be. Einarr was still unprepared for the fury filling the Jarl’s eyes.
“I’m not blind, boy. Even if I were, Stigander has made things quite plain t’me. D’ye think that maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason Trabbi is courting my daughter instead of the son of my friend?”
Einarr opened his mouth to interject, but the Jarl continued.
“You want to marry my daughter. So tell me, boy: d’ye have a hall?”
Einarr clapped his mouth shut.
“D’ye have a hearth? A ship? Oh, yes, you have a ship – or you will, crewed by your father’s men, loyal to him first, and no port to call your own. Is that what you would have me bind Runa to? Trabbi is a loyal vassal. Trabbi has holdings of his own, and if his boats are fishing boats, there are worse things. Now, tell me, boy, who should I marry my daughter to?”
“My lord, how many wives has Trabbi buried?” It was all he could come up with under the stinging truth of the Jarl’s rage.
“Fewer than Stigander.”
“And how old are his children?”
Hroaldr met his eyes in an icy glare, the anger undiminished, as though to say he had already considered such matters. “Do not test me where my daughter is concerned. Understood?”
“Yes, my lord.”