When Einarr and his team ventured forth the next morning most of East Port was still asleep, such that even on the busier docks the sound of the ocean lapping the shore and the call of sea birds dominated the air as they approached the shed where Sor kept his fishing boats. He and his men were up and about, of course, and this little section of the sleepy little town had the bustle of a much larger settlement.
Looking about, Einarr spotted a man of Trabbi’s approximate stature and age coiling a rope about his forearm. “Excuse me! Are you the owner?”
“Depends. Who’s asking?”
“Name’s Einarr, of the Vidofnir. The head of the Conclave of Singers told me you’d have a boat I could use.”
The man swore as though this were an old annoyance. “She did, did she? Wish she’d ask me if I’ve got one available first. What sort of terrible water does she want to send one of my boats into this time?”
“East. I’m guessing there’s some sort of reef, because she said a longship would have trouble.”
Sor grumbled. “Well at least that’s better than the last group she sent out on a quest. I won’t have to worry about kalalintu destroying my boat this time, or an unexpected bit of whitewater. Fine. I’ll have one ready for you at the evening tide.”
“My thanks. We will be ready.”
Sor harrumphed and went back to his work, grumbling about demanding women being a tax on their sons. Einarr’s mouth twisted in a half-smile as they made their way back to the public hall. Now if only he had a better idea what to prepare for.
True to his word, Sor had one of his fishing boats set aside and waiting for the five of them as the sun was brushing the horizon behind them. Einarr thought it might well have been the worst of his fleet: the fabric of the sail hung soddenly, although the deck was dry, and the railing made it look as though the ship had seen battle. His disappointment must have shown: Sor snorted.
“She’ll get you where you need to go, and back, if you take proper care of her. If you don’t take proper care of her, I’ll have to ask that you replace my boat – unless you can convince my dearest mother at the Conclave to do so.”
Einarr raised an eyebrow. Not terribly hospitable of him, but it began to sound as though the crone took advantage of him regularly. Anyone’s patience might wear thin after a few years of that. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The other man grunted. “Good. I’ve left you a net, since it sounds as though you don’t know how far east you need to sail. And, good luck, whatever this is they’ve sent you haring off to find.”
“My thanks, again. I suspect we will need it.”
Only now did Sor turn his eye to the rest of his party. When his eyes landed on Runa, they narrowed. “A Singer? You did bring a cask or three of mead, then, for the throat?”
Runa stepped forward, her shoulders square and her hands folded in front of her. “I assure you I am prepared for whatever harm might befall my voice.”
The man grunted. “Well, she’s all yours, then. And remember: I want her back in one piece!”
“Of course.” Einarr repressed his own sigh of annoyance until after Sor had moved off to deal with his actual work for the evening. “All aboard. Let’s not miss the tide.”
Painted on the side of the boat in the Imperial script was the name Gestrisni: when Einarr noticed it, he chuckled. The man’s hospitality was, indeed, just about worn out to judge by the state of the boat.
The sky had begun to darken, although the sun had not yet disappeared from the sky, when the Gestrisni plied out of the harbor with Erik and Irding at the oars and Einarr on the tiller.
It was not until they were safely out of harbor and the wind had caught the heavy sail that Erik leaned on his oar and looked expectantly at Einarr. “So. Last time we stole a magic necklace from a jotün, you made a friend and I almost lost my leg. What are we after this time?”
Einarr combed fingers through his hair, glad of the darkness to obscure his face. It still sounded strange to him. “Frigg’s distaff.”
Father and son both chuckled to hear that.
“Laugh now. According to the Conclave, it will cleanse us of the cult’s corruption… and it sounds like it can break the curse on Breidelstein, too.”
“Well, if that ain’t something.” Erik smoothed his hand over his beard. “Still seems like a mighty strange thing to ask for.”
“You’re not wrong. To make matters more interesting, remember that the tower we’re headed for is the nest of Huginn and Muninn.”
Runa moved a half-step closer to her betrothed and twined her fingers in his. The others cursed.
“We’re stealing from Wotan?” Irding jumped to his feet as it finally clicked.
“The item we need belongs to Frigg, however, and our cause is worthy. My hope is that she will stay his hand for us.” Runa answered, her voice low.
“We might also wish to hope she does so quickly enough. He knows seithir and he’s a berserker. One wrong move and we’re screwed.” Jorir’s head was tilted back, looking at the moon.
“Rather.” Erik drew the word out dryly.
“My thoughts exactly, I’m afraid.” Einarr stepped in before this could become a fight. “But according to the Conclave, the distaff is necessary to prevent us from turning into abominations like we were fighting before. The black blood is corrupting, they said. I will risk calling down the wrath of Wotan on my head to save our crew and the Brunnings any day.”
Jorir hummed. “Never said I disagreed. Just if we’d known we might have had a better idea what to prepare for.”
“We’re looking at a tower likely to be filled with magical traps, riddles, and other trickery. What is there to prepare other than ensuring we have a Singer of our own?” Einarr shook his head. “But if the quest were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun. Right?”
Erik laughed. Soon, the others joined him, and the Gestrisni sailed off into the night.
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