Author’s note: This marks the end of Book 11, if you hadn’t already guessed. Book 12 will pick up near the end of the honeymoon on 3/23/2021. (Fun fact: this is literally where the term ‘honeymoon’ comes from. The newlyweds were expected to drink mead all through their first month of marriage, as it was thought to increase fertility.)

Einarr stood impatiently behind his father as Stigander took possession of Runa’s dowry. Hroaldr already had the bride price – the Isinntog had been at Kjell since Einarr recovered it, held in surety against the day Einarr proved his merit. He tried not to bounce on his toes with impatience as first Hroaldr and then Stigander spoke at length before what appeared to be half the court and no small number of the Vidofnings.

When, at last, they sealed the bargain with a handshake, the two old friends also clapped each other on the shoulder with a grin. Hroaldr, it seemed, had relaxed considerably since the Usurper had been deposed. Einarr was just as glad: the idea of constantly being at odds with his father-in-law was unappealing, to say the least. Then he shook Hroaldr’s hand, and finally it was time for the procession to the altar.

The ceremony was to be held in the very same field where the Weavings had been destroyed last summer. Only now, in place of a bonfire, they had erected an altar. In the center of the table at the back was Thor’s hammer, cast in silver. On the front corner in the right was Freya’s chariot, worked in gold filigree, and in the left-hand corner the golden boar of Freyr. It seemed like everyone in Breidelstein must have come up the cliff, and that wasn’t even counting the guests who had come from Kjell.

They, however, were little more than a blurred mass in Einarr’s consciousness. He scanned up the aisle until his eyes reached the only person in attendance he actually cared about. There, standing next to the priest, was Runa.

His breath caught in his throat. She was wearing scarlet, with a gold tabard that matched exactly the gold of her hair and a belt of green and gold that hinted at her soft curves. Her hair hung loose down past her hips, and the bridal crown on her head was garlanded with red campion and holly. He blinked, and a slow smile spread over his face as he approached his bride. When he took her hands in his, she smiled back sweetly – almost shyly.

Then the priest began to speak. Einarr paid very little attention: he knew what he was supposed to say, and when, and at this moment he wanted little so much as to drink in the beauty before him. Hesitantly, he put up a hand to tuck her hair behind an ear, just for an excuse to touch it.

After they were all anointed with the blood of the triple sacrifice – Thor’s goat, Freya’s sow, and Freyr’s boar – and the carcasses had been carted off to be butchered and roasted, Einarr drew Ragnar’s sword from its sheath on his baldric and offered the hilt to Runa.

Her eyes moved up the blade from the hilt to the tip, seeking imperfection and finding none. Jorir had seen to its physical perfection, and he as a rune seithir and the Cursebreaker could feel no lingering malevolence. Almost reverently she accepted the sword.

Then it was her turn. The sword she had just accepted from Einarr was rested, momentarily, against the altar in exchange for the sword that probably would have been presented to her mother, once upon a time. He palmed the ring, waiting.

“In the exchange of blades, each of you has accepted that you hold power over one another,” the priest intoned. “But the power to wound cannot make or maintain a marriage. You need also the bonds of honor, of commitment, and of good regard. Hold forth your swords, both of you, and if you accept these bonds place your rings on the other’s blade.”

Smoothly, as though it were a motion she’d practiced a hundred times, Runa once again lifted the longsword before her, the flat of the blade level with the ground. Almost as one, they each reached forward with one hand to rest a ring on the other’s sword. Hers was a delicate band of intertwining gold and silver, set with flakes of ruby. Jorir really outdid himself. His was thicker gold, bearing the patina of age and engraved, inside, with the runes for ‘enduring.’

“Swear now upon the rings you have presented one another, that you will honor one another in all things, that you will strive for harmony, and that each of you will care for and protect the other for so long as you both shall live.”

His hand resting on the ring on the blade of the sword, Einarr looked straight into Runa’s eyes. “I swear it.”

“I swear it,” she echoed.

“Then, in the presence of witnesses and before the gods, I pronounce you man and wife. Don your rings and sheathe your swords and let the bride-running commence!”

Einarr could hear laughter in the priest’s voice as he slipped the ring on Runa’s finger. Ordinarily he would not be the one to announce that, but it seemed as though even the priest was looking forward to the feast. He smiled but otherwise took his time. “If it feels too loose, we can take it back to Jorir.”

“It’s lovely. …This was my grandfather’s ring, which he gave to Mother on his death-bed, and she gave to me for this very day.”

Einarr grunted his understanding. Tearing his gaze away from her face to sheathe her sword was almost physically painful: he made up for it by planting a kiss on her mouth afterwards, to the sound of much cheering from the crowd. Then, while she stood still surprised, he grinned out at the audience. “Loser’s party serves the ale!”

As he bolted down the aisle, he heard her indignant cry of “Wait!”

Einarr laughed and ran harder. It was tradition, after all: he had to beat her there, or who would carry her over the threshold?

Jorir sat on the edges of the feast, watching his lord – and new lady – at the head of the room with a wistful look. They, of course, only had eyes for each other, and after the first cups of mead Jorir couldn’t tell if they were drunk or besotted. Or both, he supposed.

After the hallingdanse, where Sivid once again handily outshone all competitors – although Einarr strutted about some for Runa’s amusement, he could hardly be called a competitor tonight – a red-faced Einarr and a rather giggly Runa fell into a whispered conversation. Very soon, she was also red-faced. Well: that was his cue. Jorir rose and whispered in the ears of the six witnesses – Naudrek, Hrug, Irding, Reki, Aema, and the priestess of Freya – that it was time. Eydri, he noticed, was sitting in the darkest corner of the hall, looking even more wistful than he felt. None of my business.

Runa left first, while he was still signaling the witnesses to the bridal chamber. Not that anyone really doubted, of course, but there were always formalities to fulfill. Once Einarr had left the hall, Jorir waited another handful of minutes and slipped out himself. His pack was ready and waiting, and down in the harbor was a ship that would take him the one place he least wished to go.


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