A light like golden dawn shone from the grass behind Einarr, illuminating the faces before him. Those who were bound most loosely by the curse – Stigander, Kormund, most of their crews, Kaldr – watched in respectful silence, as they would a grave ship. Among the townsfolk, some looked pained. Others, nauseous. That was a result of the dissonance, and would pass in time.
Those who had fought under Ulfr had, in general, stronger reactions. Some vomited. Others dropped to their knees, clutching their heads. A bare handful had been bound so tightly their minds could not accept the dissonance and they fled into the forest. Einarr watched calmly, hiding his surprise that there were any of those here to witness the ritual.
Urdr had aged a century in a little over ten minutes. Einarr had called her a crone before, but the destruction of her work sapped her of vitality. Once again he stifled a pang of pity: for what she and her son had worked on Breidelstein, this was only a partial measure of justice. Arring stood behind her, holding her on her feet to witness the undoing of her schemes.
Eventually, those with homes in the city below began to drift towards the gate house and rest. Of the warriors who remained, those who were less affected aided those in greater distress towards rooms where they might rest. Arring, Erik, and Thjofgrir led Urdr to the dungeon, where she would await the convenience of the Thing.
The bonfire of tapestries continued in the center of the circle. Stigander’s eyes did not rest, searching over the faces that remained, plainly looking for someone, although Einarr could not guess who.
He was not needed here. Einarr drove the end of the distaff into the rune circle. For just a moment, the ivory inlay flashed with the same light as the working below. He was not entirely certain what that meant, but now that it was there he did not think he should move it – at least not until the working was finished.
The Örlögnir stood on its own. With a sigh and a mental shrug, Einarr left the bonfire of light to join the rest of his crewmates.
When dawn broke, Einarr rose from his sleeping couch not quite able to accept that it was his. The odd sense of displacement, though, he knew was temporary. More urgently, there was work to be done.
Einarr followed the smell of wood smoke to a cookfire outside the hall, where he found his father and an older man crouched near the fire, speaking in hushed tones. Einarr thought he recognized the man, but with the haze of long years he couldn’t be certain.
“His Lordship is resting in town, under the care of an herb-witch,” the old man was saying.
Stigander nodded in understanding. “I only saw him for a moment. He looked weak. How is he, really?”
The old man looked up and straight at Einarr, his eyes suddenly hooded. Stigander turned around and waved for him to join them.
“Uncle Gorgny, you remember Einarr, don’t you?”
Uncle Gorgny! So that’s why he looked familiar. Einarr smiled.
Gorgny looked poleaxed. He finally stammered out “The Cursebreaker is your very own son?”
“My very own.”
“It’s not that surprising that he wouldn’t recognize me, Father. Last time I saw Uncle Gorgny, I was just a small boy.”
Stigander turned his attention back to Raen’s closest advisor. “Well? How is my father?”
“…Weak, as you say, Lord. I have reason to believe much of the blood in those tapestries was his. But that was not the only way in which she tortured him. Now that she is gone, and he is free, I hope he will recover.”
Stigander set his mouth grimly. “I understand.”
“You are not surprised.” Gorgny watched Stigander for confirmation.
“I suspected. Last spring we paid a visit to an Oracle: she left me virtually certain.” He sighed, then shook his head. “We will need to visit him, sooner rather than later, and not just because he’s family.”
“Then…” Einarr couldn’t finish the thought.
“Trying to give your grandfather back his seat is likely to be impossible, based on everything I’ve heard.”
“Unfortunately true,” Gorgny agreed. “Even if Raen were as hale as you, the years under the usurper cost him a great deal of support, and even more honor.”
“That should be mitigated once the Jarls realize Ulfr didn’t actually have Grandfather’s support.” That his grandfather was still alive was nothing short of miraculous. Unfortunately, it also made what came next complicated.
“Not enough, I’m afraid,” Stigander rumbled. “But it’s moot anyway. Be thankfull, Einarr, that your sorcery in the harbor brought Kaldr to his senses. You are no more prepared to be a Thane than your uncle was. How long before the Thing can be assembled?”
Gorgny sighed. “At least a week. More likely two.”
“Good. I want careful count kept of who comes and who doesn’t. Clans have fractured over less than this.”
“Of course, my Prince.” Gorgny pressed his hands against his knees and rose, allowing himself the luxury of a groan. He, too, was getting on in years, but he had not been subjected to the witch’s tender ministrations. “There is much yet to do before the Jarls begin to arrive. If you will excuse me.”
“Of course. And, Uncle Gorgny, it’s good to see you again.”
The old retainer offered Stigander a tight smile. “It’s good you came back.”
Einarr furrowed his brow. Once Gorgny had crossed half the courtyard, he turned his attention back to his father. “What’s wrong with him?”
Stigander sighed. “You heard it too, then. I have never questioned his loyalty to your grandfather, not once. I suspect he just has some soul-searching to do. He may blame himself. He may be worried about Father. Maybe it’s all of the above.”
“You should start taking men’s oaths, Father. The sooner the better.”
“You’re not wrong. But that won’t help him.”
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