Einarr stepped out into the road running past the end of the pier and looked up and down it. Calling it a road may have been generous: he had seen cart paths that were better maintained. Deep muddy ruts scarred the surface, with standing water in several of them.
Board walks lined the sides of the road, but they were so crammed full of stalls it was impossible to actually walk along them. Well: this would hardly be the first time Einarr had gotten his boots dirty. Still, the quality of merchant did not leave him feeling hopeful.
On his left, Kaldr sniffed. “Have they no pride?” he muttered.
Einarr couldn’t quite suppress a smirk. “It might be better for us if that were the case, but I think you’ll find that pride is not what they’re lacking.”
Kaldr only hummed, his eyes scanning the crowd before them. Einarr felt sure he was looking for threats and not leads.
One direction seemed as good as the other. With a mental shrug, Einarr turned to his right. The smells coming from this direction had more to do with grilled meat than with stable muck, at least. Kaldr fell into step on his left. The walks packed with stalls and their patrons continued until the road made a sharp turn inland.
“Wandering the streets won’t do us much good,” Kaldr mused.
“No,” Einarr agreed, pitching his voice for Kaldr’s ears only. “We need a place we can sit and listen for a spell. Keep your eyes open for a public hall.”
“Surely you don’t expect there to be many people in such a place at this hour?”
“In a town like this? You’d be surprised. Besides, it always seemed to work well for Bardr when we needed to go recruiting.”
The signboard over the first hall they found – more of a den, really, Einarr thought – had ‘The Silent Hog’ scrawled across it in Imperial script. With a shared shrug and a nod, they went in.
Inside, the Silent Hog was not particularly quiet, although it made the Pewter Pot in Eskiborg look nice by comparison. The rugs scattered across the floor were nearly as muddy as the road outside, and all across the room men sat at tables dicing and drinking – never mind that it was not yet noon. Without too much trouble, Einarr spotted a place near the far wall that was currently unoccupied and flagged down a barmaid.
Five minutes later, as they sat across a table from each other with bread and ale, Einarr looked at Kaldr and said “And now, we wait.”
“Don’t know yet. Drink slowly, nibble, listen. If nothing interesting happens, we can move on and try again somewhere else.”
Kaldr shook his head. “I’ll admit, this is a little outside my expertise. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have Thjofgrir with you?”
Einarr chuckled. “Little late for cold feet now, isn’t it? But yes, I’m quite sure. It’s mostly a matter of knowing what to listen for.”
He turned his head to survey the room at a surge in the general noise level of the hall – some freeboater winning at dice, he expected, but no-one stood out of the crowd. He had another sip of his truly terrible ale and popped a morsel of bread in his mouth – that, at least, was quite good and fresh.
Kaldr cleared his throat. “Don’t look now, but I think someone is spoiling for a fight.”
“Hey!” A rough voice called from over Einarr’s shoulder even as he turned to look.
“I been watching you. Y’ain’t here ta drink, an’ y’ain’t here ta dice, so what’re you tryin’ ta pull?” The man was rail thin, but easily as tall as Erik, and his yellow hair twisted into greasy knots. He loomed over their table as he approached, one hand on the hilt of his belt knife.
Einarr put on a friendly smile. “Nothing like that, friend. We’re just looking for a friend of ours. Can we buy you a drink?”
“Bah! Pair o’ pretty boys like you won’t find any friends here.”
Kaldr quirked an eyebrow. Einarr clenched his teeth, but only briefly. He couldn’t very well admit to being a prince, though, for the very same reason he hadn’t dared to bring Runa ashore.
“I’ll have to let my wife know she has competition from other men, I suppose,” Einarr answered, his voice tight as he looked at Kaldr. He jerked his head toward the door: they weren’t going to learn anything here now.
“A likely story!” The ruffian continued his taunts, plainly looking for a brawl that Einarr had no desire to provide. “Run off then. You might ‘ave better luck at the Cocksroost!”
Einarr frowned, sizing the man up. Not weak, plainly, but the fact that no-one else at the hall had come along suggested he might get away with it. While the ruffian laughed, evidently thinking he’d found a coward, Einarr pulled back his fist and let loose. He felt the satisfying crunch of bone as the ruffian’s nose shattered and his eyes rolled up in his head. “Let’s go.”
Silence fell over the room. As expected, when the scraggly man went down no-one came to his assistance. Einarr dropped a pair of coins on the table and left without paying him so much as another glance. Kaldr stalked after.
“That was hardly called for,” he murmured.
“My honor, and yours, disagree. Sometimes, the best thing to do with a man like that is give him what he’s after, good and hard.”
“Word will spread, and it will be harder to lay low.”
“Word will spread, and we should dissuade more such… nonsense. Now we need to find another place to listen.”
“Might I suggest looking for one near a local foundry?”
Einarr gave that some thought. Not all svartdvergr were blacksmiths, but Jorir was. “Agreed.”
The two men set off down the street in the way that they had come, knowing they would need to go inland eventually – but where there were stables, there would be horses to shoe.
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