Einarr and Jorir carried their findings somewhat awkwardly between the two of them, Jorir’s reduced height more than offsetting his greater strength. A pair of small piles was already building on the sandy shore near where Stigander, Bardr, and Reki observed. The pieces of timber they dumped in the pile that would be used to build the pyre, but rather than add the trunk wholesale to the (much smaller) pile of offerings they trundled it over to present to the commanders.
“Father. You and Reki should see this.”
“Oh?” An eyebrow quirked in curiosity, Stigander took a rolling step forward. Reki glided up behind.
With a flourish, Einarr flung open the lid of the trunk to reveal the instruments. If he hadn’t found them himself, he’d never have guessed they had been moldering in a chest on the beach long enough to be buried. Reki raised pale hands to her mouth.
“We found this trunk buried just over there.” Einarr pointed in the direction they’d come. “I know they were none of them musicians, but this is the most valuable thing I’ve found all day.”
“More valuable than you realize, I think,” Reki breathed. She knelt on the sand by the trunk and removed one of the lyres from within, her hand wandering gently over its frame. “The strings are still good, even,” she murmured.
“Mind elaborating?” Stigander’s voice crept towards a growl, although Einarr was sure he was not angry.
“These are relics, which I believe the Grandmasters of our order would pay dearly for. …Older, unless I miss my guess, than even the wreck we came here seeking.” She turned the lyre over in her hands. “Runework, although to what end I am not certain. To burn these would be unforgivable.”
Bardr hummed. “I mislike the idea of destroying runework I don’t know the action of.”
“And yet,” Stigander rumbled. “We have little to offer in the way of grave goods for these men that we do not find here.”
Reki looked like she was about to argue, but Stigander cut her off.
“Now, Reki, I’m not going to sacrifice them unless I have to. But I’ll also not send my men off as paupers, especially not from a place like this.” Stigander looked around as he said this and gave a visible shudder. That the people of Attilsund thought this place haunted was no surprise: Einarr, too, could easily believe it.
“Let’s see what everyone else manages to find. Einarr’s right that none of these men had much use for anything beyond a hunting horn.” He surveyed the beach for a long moment. “Next group that comes back, I want you two to show them where you found this, see if you can find anything else interesting there.”
“Yes, sir.” That had, in truth, gone better than Einarr had expected. Reki’s reaction was anticipated, although somewhat more subdued than he had expected. Having a Singer whose personality was as steady as calm seas was a new experience.
Sivid approached with an armload of wood, and Erik carried a cask under one arm and some carved ivory in the other.
“Good timing, you two!” Bardr called out, catching their attention. They emptied their arms and approached.
“A new task, then?” Sivid brushed the sand from his hands and sleeves even as he spoke.
“Go with Einarr and Jorir. They found the top of a cache, we think.”
Erik gave a lopsided grin even as Sivid allowed himself a whoop.
“Knew we’d find something good here.” Sivid trotted over to join them. Erik walked only a pace behind.
The sky was reddening before all was in order for the six-man funeral. They had not, thankfully, had to burn any of the instruments Reki had been so concerned about. Not only had there been more to the stash that Einarr had uncovered, and more appropriate for a warrior’s grave, but other groups had also made interesting discoveries on that section of beach.
Arring brought only half of the watch crew with him, bearing among them the personal effects of their fallen brethren.
Bardr pursed his brow when they showed up. “Did something happen?”
“Drove off a flock of jaegers looking for a new nest. We drew straws, in case the moonlight makes them bolder.”
Bardr nodded, thoughtful. “Good call. If the repair crew finishes before we’re done searching, keep half of them as reinforcements. I’ll make sure they know, as well.”
The Vidofnings fell silent, then, as the sun dipped below the horizon and Reki’s voice rose above the lapping waves to send forth their spirits to the gods. Even after her voice had trailed off the dirge seemed to continue on the wind that whistled across the shore.
Finally they stepped away from the spectacle. For tonight, everyone would head back to the Vidofnir: the alternative, camping on the beach under the haze of the pyre smoke and the unnatural chill of the air, appealed to no-one. They carried their finds among them, those that had not been burned with the bodies. That there would be no Vidofnings among the restless dead this night did nothing to warm their spirits.
For his part, Einarr was simply glad the freeboaters had not taken advantage of the short watch during the funeral. The fatigue in his arms told him he would do well to not get in another fight tonight.
His boots thunked against the deck boards among a string of wooden thunks as the Vidofnings returned home. No-one spoke: no-one had the energy. Men from the repair crew took night watch, to allow the others their rest. Under the pale light of just the stars it was hard to tell, but Einarr thought the injuries had been light among the watch-crew.
Einarr lowered himself to his bedroll and his thighs groaned with relief as his weight came off them. A good night’s sleep, and then back out in the morning. His eyes began to drift closed.
From off in the direction of the freeboater’s wreck, the shrill screech of terror cut through the night.