In spite of their exhaustion and soaked feet – and trousers – Einarr’s crew was in high spirits as they returned to the Vidofnir late that morning. The sun said it was nearly midday: as they stepped out of the marsh and onto the sandbar Einarr exchanged a look with Reki. They’d been luckier than any of them had any right to expect. A chuckle rose up from his chest.
Reki opened her mouth as though to say something, but then closed it again. With a sigh she, too, started to laugh, and soon the men were talking and laughing with the ebullience of relief.
“All right, Father, your turn,” Einarr called as they approached the ship.
Stigander studied the approaching group, looking for any sign of new injury and finding none. “Welcome back. Everything’s in order?”
“The Allthane lies buried in the frozen deep. And none too soon, either.”
Stigander nodded. “All right, you lot! On your feet. The faster we load the hold, the sooner we can get off this stinking rock.”
The rest of the Vidofnings pulled themselves over the side of the boat with far less alacrity than was their custom, the fatigue of the night before still showing in the eyes and shoulders of all of them. That few hours’ rest they had claimed while the rites were conducted had not been enough, and everyone knew it. Still, though, as the two strings of Vidofnings crossed paths there were congratulatory gestures all around.
Einarr locked hands with his father as they crossed paths, almost as though they intended to arm wrestle.
“Good job out there.”
Einarr nodded. “Take your time with the portage. Don’t think we’re getting out of here before morning anyway.”
Stigander barked a laugh. “You sound like Bardr.”
“Good! That means I might be on to something.”
Now they both laughed, and clapping each other’s shoulders continued on – Stigander to the treasure hold, and Einarr to the deck of the Vidofnir. When he pulled himself up, he saw that Snorli had remained behind, stirring a cauldron over the ship’s hearth that smelled distinctly of mulled mead.
“You are a lifesaver, man!” Einarr grinned at their cook.
“Gotta stay warm while you dry off somehow, right?” Snorli returned the smile without looking away from the horn he was ladling into. “This is the second cask I’ve opened since last night.”
“And we thank you for both of them. You haven’t seen the haul down there: we won’t need to worry about our resupplies the rest of the season.”
“Good.” Snorli handed the steaming horn to Troa, who had arrived just before Einarr. “Certainly you lot deserve the treat. It’s been ages since we’ve had a fight like that.”
Einarr grunted in agreement. A moment later he, too, had a hot drink in hand and was striding across the deck towards his bedroll. He groaned as he folded grateful legs under him to sit, cross-legged, on the blanket.
“All right, lads. We’ve to keep a lookout… but I’ll be buggered if there’s anything else alive on this rock. Boti, you up for first watch?”
The scout shrugged. Thus far he didn’t seem to have suffered any worse than a headache and a bad goose egg from his knock on the head. “Sure. Someone’s gotta.”
“Thanks. The rest of you…” He turned, then, as he realized what it was he saw from the corner of his eye. “Why is there a jar on my pillow?”
“It was in the cache you found before. Odvir thought you must’ve liked it, since ceramic doesn’t really sell…”
The jar did look familiar, with its Imperial-style painting that had somehow weathered the centuries unchipped, but Einarr shook his head. “There was an ivory tafl set that I wanted, but this… this is just a jar.”
He took a drink of his mead, still staring at the strange jar. I could have sworn I threw that away back then… Einarr shrugged, and turned to the nearest man remaining. He thrust his horn toward the other man. “Hold this for a second.”
Einarr pushed himself up on protesting legs and sore feet. When he picked the jar up, it felt warm to the touch – even accounting for the horn full of hot mead he’d just had clasped in his hands. Odd. He shrugged again and moved aft, towards the sea.
“May the waves carry you to someone who actually has a use for you,” he muttered. Einarr pulled his arm back all the way, twisting for extra force, and pitched the jar as far as he could out toward the open ocean. Even Snorli did no more than shrug. Ceramic was a dicey thing to keep on a longship, as vulnerable in the hold as on deck.
An hour passed before the larger group of Vidofnings began to return with sacks full of gold from the ancient horde, and then Einarr and his companions were moving again, stowing the gold in every spare crevice they could find underneath the deck boards. The way people were moving, no one would be up for rowing without a full night’s rest.
Stigander and Erik, to no one’s surprise, carried the largest loads slung over their shoulders as though it was nothing, and their two sacks filled the Vidofnir until she was nearly fit to burst.
“Much still left down there?”
“We didn’t even get half of it,” Erik laughed.
Einarr shook his head. “Maybe now we know why they wrecked?”
“Maybe.” Bardr sounded less amused. “Let’s just hope we’re not too heavy to get out of here.”
“Vidofnir’s nimble enough. I’m sure we’ll manage.”
“You mean like we did on our way in, where we almost got a rock through our hull? We’ll be lower in the water now. A lot lower.”
“I think we all decided that was a risk we were willing to take, wasn’t it?” Einarr looked levelly at his father’s first Mate. This plan had been his idea in the first place, after all.
Bardr just grunted, acknowledging that fact as well as his misgivings.
“Long as we all get some proper rest tonight we’ll be fine.” Erik stepped in: Einarr wasn’t sure he was as reassuring as he wanted to be.
“I’m… sure you’re right.” Bardr didn’t sound convinced, but it wasn’t the sort of thing one argued about at this point in a raid.
“’Course I’m right!” Erik laughed and clapped the Mate on his shoulder so hard he nearly stumbled. “Pretty sure that’s why the Captain keeps me around.”
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