The days following the battle with the Valkyries were somber, as well they should be: five Vidofnings fell to the Order’s hunters. Three of them had remembered Raenshold better than Einarr himself did. Those five had ridden the enemy ship to the afterlife in a blaze of glory, and left five more empty berths on the Vidofnir.
If there was one bright spot, it was the treasure they had found in the Geirskögul’s hold, packed into every spare inch beneath the deck boards of the Vidofnir. The morning after the funeral, Stigander had directed them north to a friendly port, only a little out of their way. No-one could quite get out of their head, though, what those five newly empty berths meant.
As the Vidofnir prepared to dock at the Apalvik pier – larger than Kjellvic, but still no match for the bustle of Kem – Stigander called Einarr aside.
“We’ll be in port a few days while we find a buyer for our takings, so I want you to do something for me. Take Bardr and Jorir and head into town, see if you can’t find us a few more hands.”
“Yes, Father… but, you’re leaving this to me?”
“’Course I am. How else are you supposed to build a crew for the new ship? Bardr’s got a good eye for people, he’ll point you in the right direction – and with your liege-man along you’ll weed out anyone who has a problem with svartdvergr. Hopefully anyone who’ll be bothered by Reki, too.”
Einarr nodded. “I understand, Father. I will find us worthy successors to Arngeirr and the others.”
Stigander clapped him on the shoulder, a broad smile spreading under his pale yellow moustache. “Happy hunting, then.”
Bardr passed by no fewer than three public houses before finding one that suited his criteria. “Too nice, and the patrons will turn up their noses at a ship like ours, even assuming they aren’t already signed on with someone. Too rough and, well, I think you can guess.”
Einarr nodded as they settled into a corner table, scanning the faces in the room for potential prospects. Too rough a place would attract men who were little more than scoundrels, and Stigander was not interested in a sailor he couldn’t trust. He nudged Jorir with the back of his hand and dropped a small stack of silver in front of the dwarf. “Mind picking up the first round?”
He snorted. “Assuming there’s anything worth drinking in this place. Back in a few.”
Bardr nodded as Jorir sauntered off towards the center of the room. “Good call. Who watches him, and why?”
Most of the patrons noted the presence of a swarthy dwarf in the hall with an indifferent shrug or a glance out the corner of their eye before turning back to their own business. Fewer watched warily in case of trouble, plainly expecting that Jorir would be the cause of it in one way or another. Of the remaining patrons, about half were curious to see a dwarf in their tavern, while the other half sneered.
“This at least tells us who not to approach,” Einarr murmured. “The curious ones, what do you make of them?”
Bardr pursed his lips and hummed. “One or two of them might be worth talking to. Got a hunch most of them aren’t looking for a new ship right now, though. Look at how they’re drinking, how they’re dressed.”
“Mm. Not a desperate lot, this bunch.”
“Not as such, but ‘desperate’ isn’t really the qualification we’re looking for.” Bardr pressed his lips together, scanning the room, as Jorir returned to his seat.
Einarr slid one of the mugs over in front of himself. “Thanks.”
Jorir grunted. “Fine. Mind tellin’ me why we’re here when the rest of the crew is back at the boat?”
“Recruiting. Thought you’d have guessed that.”
“Ah.” He shook his head. “Somehow didn’t think yer Pa would be big on bringing in new blood.”
“Gotta keep our strength up if we want to take our holdings back. Not like my uncle will just roll over for us when we sail back into port.”
“Einarr, you see the man over in the corner, trying not to look at us now? Looks like Erik’s Ma and Sivid had a love child?”
Einarr tried not to laugh at the description as he nodded that he saw the man.
“Try talking to him.”
He chuckled as he stood. “Sure he’s not one of Erik’s get? I’d be surprised if the man didn’t have near as many sons as mistresses.”
“Does it matter if he is?”
“Depends. Here goes nothing.” Einarr took a long swig from the mug Jorir had brought to their table before sauntering off across the room. He felt eyes following him, and thought them largely a different set than the ones that had followed Jorir. Many of the men who had been indifferent to the dwarf alone were interested in the man the dwarf was with.
“Mind if I join you?” He asked the man, who did indeed look like he could be Erik’s much smaller brother – or son.
“Seat’s empty,” the stranger grunted.
“My thanks.” Einarr swung a leg over the chair and leaned his elbows on the table, hoping the casual display also came off as unthreatening. “You from around here?”
“Hereabouts.” The stranger watched him warily, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Looking for a berth?”
“Friend might be.”
“Your ‘friend’ a warrior?”
“He’s a fair hand, yeah, with axe or sword and shield.”
Einarr studied the man openly for a long moment. “Well, I might have a berth to offer, if this ‘friend’ of yours is loyal and true, and meets a few other qualifications. The dwarf you were staring at is on the crew, and our Singer is an albino. Your ‘friend’ is still interested, tell him to come find the Vidofnir at the docks and to say Einarr sent him. We’re only in port until we find a buyer for our recent acquisitions, so tell him not to wait too long.”
“I’ll be sure to let him know, yeah.” The man’s face brightened now, and suddenly Einarr had a better feeling about him.
“You have any other friends in this town who might be looking for such a berth? We had a few open up just recently.”
The man shook his head. “’Fraid not. I stick out like a sore thumb around these parts.”
Einarr shrugged. “Fair enough. If Father likes you, I imagine you’ll fit right in with us. Although…” He remembered the pretense, now. “If your ‘friend’ shows up, what name should I expect?”
“Irding. Irding Eriksson.”
Inwardly, Einarr groaned. Outwardly, he shook the man’s hand. “Pleasure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe our Mate is trying to catch my attention.” This oughta be interesting. One down, four to go.
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