The burly man nodded, rain streaming from the end of his beard.
“You’re not going to make me fight you, too, are you?”
“Cap’n’s mighty unhappy, Einarr, but he don’t want you dead an’ he don’t want either of us injured. Sent me to give you an offer.”
“You come back aboard the Vidofnir and Runa goes to the Skudbrun, so everything’s done proper-like. Trabbi’s on board over there, but between we three and the fishes he’s not as unhappy about all this as the Jarl. Cap’n Stigander wants a word or three with Trabbi, thinks they can work something out.”
“How do we know this isn’t just some sort of trick? If my father sent a priest along…” Runa’s eyes were wide, as though the thought of marrying Trabbi instead of Einarr kindled fear in her.
She turned her gaze to him, her eyes pleading.
“Runa, even if this all goes south, your father had his choice of suitors. I know he’s getting old, but I don’t believe you would be treated poorly. If we refuse, there are now two ships worth of men I would have to fight off before we could escape. On the other hand, I think there’s a good chance my Father will be able to work something out. Will you trust me?”
She opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. Runa pursed her lips and lowered her eyes before finally nodding her acquiescence.
“Thank you. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we might not end up outcast after all.”
“Captain’s going to want words with you no matter what happens, you realize,” Erik put in.
Barri and the other two Brunnings were standing, now, but prevented from rejoining battle by Erik’s muscular frame. Now the big man turned and addressed them. “You heard me. Go ahead and take your princess aboard, and tell your Captain that Captain Stigander Raenson of the Vidofnir requests permission to board.”
If it had been someone with less presence than Erik, or if Barri had been less honorable of a man, Einarr might have worried about treachery from the Skudbrun. As it was, though, he was able to clasp Runa’s hands in his own with a genuine smile of encouragement. “Don’t worry. It’ll all work out.”
He let Barri take Runa’s arm. Her worried gaze never strayed from Einarr as Barri carried her up to the Skudbrun on his back.
Einarr looked at Erik, squinting a little against the wind trying to blow rain in his eyes. “I’m getting busted back down to deckhand, aren’t I.”
Erik barked a laugh. “Wouldn’t suprise me.”
When the storm died down, both Skudbrun and Vidofnir were still tethered to the small skiff Runa had acquired for her daring escape. With many agreements shouted across the waves, the boats were brought alongside one another and planks were extended between their two railings. Standing in front of the gangplank on the Vidofnir was Stigander, a cask of mead under one arm, flanked by Bardr and Einarr. On the other side stood the captain of the Skudbrun with his first mate and Trabbi. Einarr searched their deck for sign of Runa, but did not see her.
Stigander cast a pointed look over his shoulder at his son before beginning. “Under flag of truce,” he called across. “I, Captain Stigander Raenson request permission to come aboard for the purpose of mediation with Trabbi Aridson.”
“Under flag of truce, and with full consideration of the long friendship between Kjell Hall and Raenshold,” the other captain answered. “I, Captain Kragnir Hokarson, grant permission to come aboard.”
Only then did Stigander step up onto the gangplank and stride across to the other ship, followed by Bardr and Einarr in quick – if not hasty – succession. Einarr steadied himself with his knees when a swell rocked their two boats with him in the middle of the plank. His father was presenting Captain Kragnir with the cask as a ceremonial gesture of goodwill – a gesture whose importance Einarr well knew was magnified by his actions.
The Fates did not decide to drop him between the two boats for his earlier temerity, and moments later he was able to complete the crossing. Captain Kragnir led them back to the Captain’s awning. Runa stood outside of it, red-faced and wringing her delicate hands. Einarr wished he could go to her, comfort her, but under the circumstances feared that would only make matters worse. Trabbi looked her way, pursed his lips – in frustration, anger, or concern Einarr could not tell – and did not look again.
The six men settled around the low table in the center of the sheltered area – Brunnings on one side, Vidofnings on the other. Kragnir opened the cask Stigander had brought as a peace-offering and poured everyone a cup of the sweet brew. Once they had all drunk, the ceremony was concluded.
“What is there that the wandering Son of Raen believes must be discussed?” Trabbi opened. The bitterness in his voice planted a rock in the bottom of Einarr’s belly.
“Perhaps the unwillingness of your bride?”
“My Jarl asked me to marry his daughter and keep her safe and well. To what part of that am I supposed to object?”
“He did not even mention her happiness?” Einarr had not intended to speak, but the words would not be contained.
“If this is also not something you wished, I believe we have a solution where you can back out and no-one has to lose face,” Bardr interrupted
“I will confess to mixed feelings on the idea of wedding a girl my sons’ age.”
Stigander nodded. “As would I, in your situation.” He looked sidelong at Bardr, who had the good grace to look embarrassed. “What say you to a duel?”
“Captain, I may lead a fleet, but it is a fleet of fishermen. I hardly think that a test of swordsmanship…”
“Wrestling. We may be getting on in years, but unless I miss my guess you’re not slowing down just quite yet. Your experience versus my son’s youthful vitality.”
Trabbi set his jaw and turned his gaze to study Einarr.
“Loser yields the right to marry the princess.”
“I won’t throw the match,” Trabbi warned.
Einarr met the man’s weighing eyes. “You’d be a coward if you did.”
“Just so long as that’s understood.”
“Of course.” Stigander shrugged as though he’d expected nothing else.
“In that case, I agree. Runa should stay on board the Skudbrun until we return to Kjell Hall. My Jarl would never forgive me if I allowed her to remain with the man who tried to steal her away.”
Einarr opened his mouth to protest, but before a sound could escape Stigander had already answered. “Agreed.”
Not two steps after he had left the awning, Runa had thrown her arms about Einarr’s neck. “Easy, easy. We’ve got it all settled.”
“I heard. You think you can win?”
He smirked now, lowering his voice to avoid being heard to insult his rival. “Against a fisherman? Come now.” His face fell then and he shook his head. “Even if I don’t, though, I think it might not make much difference for you. After what we did, Trabbi would be well within his rights to cancel the engagement.” It might matter for him, though, depending on how forgiving the Jarl felt.
She took a deep breath and held it for a moment, nodding before she let it out. He thought she might have been about to protest. She looked as anxious here as she had earlier, on the boat, when he was fighting off her countrymen.
“You’re that worried I’ll lose?”
She shook her head. “I’m worried you’ll be hurt.”
Bardr and his father were nearly to the gangplank, but Einarr found a moment to wrap her in his arms and kiss her hair before hurrying on.
|1.11 – Capture||1.13 – Glìma|
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