For two weeks the ships pressed on, following the last path the Skudbrun had for the storm, certain that it would only dissipate when those who rode its winds willed it.
Even the last known path of the storm, however, was nearly a week old by the time they put out to sea. Every available hand was put on watch duty, searching for storm or sign of land. Even when Einarr was not on watch duty he watched, however. What else was he supposed to do? Even still he could not escape a growing sense of unease and listlessness.
Finally, three weeks out from Mikilgata, Stigander realized they were nearing Langavik and called a detour. Perhaps, with a little luck, someone there would have news for them.
It was the first spot of good news Einarr had heard in three weeks. Still he kept his eyes trained on the horizon. Runa was strong, true, but she was already under their power. The faster they spotted their target…
“You’ll do no-one any good this way, you realize,” Jorir grumbled from his side.
Einarr jumped. How long had the dwarf been standing there? “I’m fine.”
“Your pallor says otherwise. And you haven’t blinked since noon. Take a rest before you end up sea-blind.”
Jorir harrumphed. “Think, man. Watch shifts are half-length, aren’t they? Why do you think that is?”
Einarr shrugged and continued scanning the horizon.
“Eyestrain and glare, milord. Eyestrain and glare. I know you’re worried about that lass o’ yours, but the same can be said for every man aboard these ships. Surely you don’t think her so delicate as to wilt the moment she’s out of the sun?”
Now Einarr did look down. After-images of the flat horizon swam over his boots. “No. I’m actually more worried what might happen if she provokes them.”
“Go. Sleep. I’ve got some leaf you can chew if you need it. Rest your eyes: you need those. And have some faith in your woman!”
Einarr chuckled under his breath. “Have you been talking with Father?” He shook his head, suddenly exhausted. “Nevermind. You’re right. I’ll take a break.”
Jorir harrumphed again as Einarr trudged away from his vigil at the railing. He would need to be coherent to learn anything in the port, after all – and there was no way he wasn’t going out looking for information.
Langavik had more in common with Apalvik or Attilsund than with Kem or even Mikilgata, but this was neither a raid nor a resupply. The long, narrow harbor was lined by stone warehouses, though, which only turned to public halls and homes some ways back. These waters were in the middle of prime whaling territory, and so those warehouses would most likely be very well insulated and used for processing their catch.
Whaling territory, though, meant that someone would have had a weather-eye out for storms, and one as unusually violent as the one they sought was bound to have been noted. Even as their two ships slipped into the harbor Einarr moved to join the small group of men who were to go ashore. When Bardr furrowed his eyebrows to see him there, Einarr challenged him with a look. We’re seeking my betrothed, he thought. Are you really going to keep me back here?
In spite of a long, weighing look, Bardr did not actually move to keep Einarr aboard. He could have, technically, although Einarr had a suspicion his father would take his side instead of the Mate’s.
As the Vidofnir and Skudbrun slid into two empty spots on the docks, they saw no people around. Einarr furrowed his eyebrows: it was mid-morning, and not a feast day he’d ever heard of. So where was everyone?
Men to his right and left stood with similar looks of consternation painted on their faces. Either the locals had some very strange customs, or something was terribly wrong.
The only sound as they disembarked onto the docks was the drumbeat of boots against wood. The men of the Skudbrun who joined them to a man had their mouths set in grim lines. Almost as if they already know what we’re going to find. The Brunnings said nothing if that was the case, though, and the two teams of men trooped into the eerily quiet city.
The pier was not long, as such things go, but with every step Einarr hoped to see someone moving around on land, even if only to duck between buildings like a frightened rabbit. Trabbi’s face mirrored his own disappointment when they stepped onto solid ground and still saw no sign of life.
Barri – the selfsame Brunning Einarr had dueled during his ill-fated flight with Runa not six months ago – scowled about them. “Brunnings, pair up with Vidofnings. Don’t let anyone go alone.”
“Why?” The question burst unbidden from Einarr’s mouth, but many of his fellow Vidofnings nodded in agreement.
Barri’s mouth twisted around into a grimace. “This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a port like this. Don’t rightly know what happened… but don’t split up. We lost some good men that way.”
Bardr grunted. “You heard the man. Pair off, don’t get separated. Looking first and foremost for signs of life. Won’t get much information out of dead men or empty buildings.”
A grunt of assent went around the two teams and they paired themselves off. Einarr stepped forward early on, intending to go with whoever among the Brunnings was similarly eager, but Bardr’s hand on his shoulder stopped him. With a roll of his eyes, eager to get on with the search but not eager to be reprimanded for going against the Mate, he waited. In the end, the last three remaining were Einarr, Bardr, and Trabbi.
“I can’t stop you from coming,” Bardr explained. “But I can do everything in my power to make sure you come back in one piece.”
“If you insist.” Einarr shrugged and moved toward one of the apparently empty buildings.
Perhaps more troubling than the silence in the streets, Einarr thought, was the fact that the door to the warehouse was not latched. He paused a long moment after arriving at the door, his hand still resting lightly on the wood that had already shifted under his fingers. The distinctive odor of rancid blubber wafted out through the crack.
Bardr cleared his throat. With a nod, Einarr pushed the door the rest of the way open. His nose was assaulted by the soap-smell of rancid fat overlaid by the metallic tang of blood.
Inside, spatters of blood covered overturned crates. Some of these had unprocessed blubber spilling out. And there, in the center of the room, a bearded man in a butcher’s apron hung from the rafters.
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