Author’s Note: This marks the end of Book 13. Book 14 will begin on 12/7/2021.
When the Villgås finally returned to Breidelstein harbor, almost six months after its departure, they were met by a cheering mass of people on the docks – including, this time, Stigander himself. Einarr and Runa stood on the deck as the other four men took them to their berth. When their hull tapped the dock, Einarr hopped across himself to lash their boat fast even as Thjofgrir and Jorir put the gangplank in place.
Einarr kissed his father’s hands, and then moved to the gangplank to help the women down.
First was Runa, and everyone cheered a little louder when she made her appearance on the plank. Her swollen belly was plain for all to see, and while it had caused them some difficulty on the water no-one really minded: there would be, in very short order, an heir for the Prince, and that would be as much cause for celebration in the town as their return itself.
After Runa came Jennora – also with child, as it happened. Brandir had been serious about sending his sister as Jorir’s wife, and the two had been married during the farewell feast itself. It was highly irregular, even among dvergr so far as Einarr knew, but they both seemed happy. The crowd was less certain what to think about the svartdvergr woman, but when she was joined on the plank by Jorir and she took his arm their uncertainty seemed to vanish.
They were followed swiftly by the Singer the Matrons had sent to keep an eye on Runa and her babe – as well as the rest of the crew. They had all, save Jennora, been exposed to a great deal of the black blood, after all, and the effects of its corruption could be insidious.
She also carried Vali’s jar. When the Matrons had asked for volunteers among their healers, it had been curiosity about the strange spirit that had prodded her to join them.
Eydri and Reki were there as well – Eydri looking eager, and Reki under the shade of her cloak with her usual calm demeanor. The crowd continued to cheer as Kaldr and Naudrek and Thjofgrir descended, but Stigander had claimed Einarr’s attention.
“By the gods, when did this happen?” He gestured at Runa’s belly. “Surely you didn’t -”
Einarr shook his head. “No. We had no idea until it was too late. But, according to the Matrons, all is well even after everything we went through down there. …Think you’re ready to be a grandfather?”
Stigander laughed. “More than! And let’s see, I see Jorir has returned to us as well. You’ll have to introduce me properly to his new wife… but we seem to be missing someone. Could Vali not stand the idea of a crowd?”
“That’s complicated, I’m afraid, and something best spoken of in a rather more private setting.”
“Of course, of course.” They started walking up the road towards the cliff and the Hold. “Did you have any trouble with the League?”
Two weeks after the Villgås returned to port, the winter ice hit and the bay froze over completely – they had to stop the occasional intrepid youth from trekking out on snowshoes to taunt the bones of the Weavess, it was frozen so hard.
For three months, Breidelstein was in the grip of a fierce winter, and for three months it seemed like every woman in the Hold was constantly occupied with needle and thread.
Then, on a very wet night just as the grip of the cold was beginning to break, and as snowdrops were beginning to peek out from under the thick blanket of snow, Einarr was summoned by a maidservant to Runa’s side: it was time.
Einarr raced through the Hold to get there. He arrived just in time to hear the angry wail of a newborn and see his wife’s exhausted smile. Then the midwife was holding the baby out for him to take, and the little one commanded all his attention.
“…It’s a boy?” He couldn’t guess why, but he was whispering.
Runa nodded. Einarr laughed, then noticed that his son – my son! – was shivering. Quickly, he handed him to his wife.
“How do you feel about Alfvin for a name?”
She smirked at him as she took the babe and held him to her breast. “What, so you can tweak Ystävä’s nose?”
Einarr chuckled: the thought honestly hadn’t crossed his mind, although now that she mentioned it he was tempted. “No, because of the Oracle’s price.”
She frowned at him. “What do you mean?”
“When she named me Cursebreaker, she also read my weave. For payment… she wanted my firstborn to come and study under her, since my own education was so ‘lacking.’”
“Not until he’s eight! We were still drifters, then: it seemed like a good opportunity.”
Runa sighed and shook her head. “I don’t have the energy to debate that now.” She smiled down at the little reddish infant snuggled against her. “Alfvin is a fine name. Between the Oracle, and Ystävä, and Melja, it’s certainly got the ring of truth to it.”
That night, Einarr was left alone to spend time with his new family.
Three weeks later, the League sent out a proclamation.
“To all the Men of the North! We, the League of Free Men, call upon our fellows in the North to join us in battle against the heretical cult responsible for sacking our cities, kidnapping our women, and corrupting our men!” Einarr read. “Representatives of our order will be arriving soon. In these desperate times, we must all band together, or one by one we will find ourselves devoured by the monstrosities of the Squid worshipers. For the sake of all we hold dear, it is time we clans of the North band together under one banner to stamp out this threat.”
Einarr looked up from the paper at his father and Kaldr, incredulous. “Surely we don’t intend to stand for this?”
His father rumbled. “No, not at all.”
“Something about that League has rubbed me the wrong way since we met them,” Einarr grumbled. “Have you contacted any of the other clans?”
“Only Hroaldr’s thus far.” Even as he spoke, Stigander was pulling out fresh paper. “But in order to counter this, we’re going to need some organization of our own.”
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