Their second stop was at a place called The Grey Gate. Other than being a less-likely haunt for freeboaters on leave, its chief benefit was its proximity to the foundry and the timber yard in the city. Once again Einarr and Kaldr seated themselves in an unobtrusive corner, ordered a pair of ales, and sat watching the crowd.
Kaldr spotted them first: a pair of smiths, one of them a svartdvergr. They spoke briefly, and then the dwarf – far stockier and more scarred than Jorir – left again.
Einarr nodded, pleased. “All right. Hold your thumbs – here goes nothing.”
Kaldr raised an eyebrow, but obliged. It was a silly gesture, but Einarr still felt a little more confident as he sauntered over to the table where the smith still sat.
“Pardon me, friend. Mind if I sit down?”
The smith gave him a withering look, but gestured at the seat nonetheless.
“Many thanks. I’m new in town, but a friend came through before me – a smith. I was hoping you might be able to help me find him.”
The other man took a long drink of his ale, plainly ignoring Einarr.
“Oh, where are my manners. The next one’s on me.”
That, at least, got a harrumph out of the man. He took another long pull on his drink, obviously sizing Einarr up the entire time. “What makes you think I know anything about your friend?”
Einarr shrugged. “Call it a hunch.”
The man’s look could have humbled one of the Matrons. “Fine then. What makes you think he wants to be found?”
“I don’t, really. But disappearing like this just isn’t like him. And I know something terrible is going on in his homeland – something he’s said in the past he’ll need my aid on.”
The smith snorted. “Go home, Princeling. You and your stuffed-shirt bodyguard. Your ‘friend’ disappeared here, either he don’t want to be found or he’s dead. Either way, your kind don’t belong here.”
With a sigh, Einarr stood and dropped a coin on the table. “There. That should cover your next few – as thanks.”
Einarr took two steps back towards where Kaldr waited in the corner, still trying to be inconspicuous, before the man called after him. “Waitaminute. You sound like someone I’ve heard before. Not too long ago, neither.”
Einarr turned, a tight smile curving his lips but not reaching his cheeks, let alone his eyes. “Surely not. My homeland is a good ways from here.”
“No… I’m sure of it now. Your tongue has the same way of it as that young fella who was here just a few weeks back. You people just don’t know when to give up!” He stood violently at the table, slamming his hands down flat and calling the attention of everyone else in the Hall. “Oy! This one’s asking around after the dwarves!”
A Singer could not have inspired a quicker fury than those words imposed upon the room. Einarr wanted to explain, but there was no point. Nothing he could say would be heard by anyone in the room.
Kaldr realized it too. He suddenly appeared at Einarr’s back, wary and ready to draw. “My Lord…”
“Mm. Time to go, I think.”
The hiss of steel from around the room confirmed that hunch.
They started towards the door, Einarr facing the room, Kaldr at his back leading the way to the exit and safety. Neither of them was a slouch in a fight, but two against fifty seemed like poor odds under these circumstances. They had not gone three steps before a shout arose from the other patrons and they began to charge after the retreating prince and his retainer.
By the time they had lost their pursuers, it was nearly supper time. They both agreed that they needed to try at least once more that day: the longer they took, the colder the trail became, after all. On the one hand, the hour was a boon. There would be more people about, and that meant both that they would stand out less and that they would have a better chance of finding a lead. Hopefully not another one that remembered Finn. On the other hand, if things went wrong again…
Tired and footsore, they settled on a nearby place called the Salty Grotto. Despite the name, this was easily the highest-quality establishment they had visited yet. The rugs were not only not muddy, they were also not threadbare, and if the long tables saw great use they were also well-tended, as the surface was polished smooth and not at all sticky.
Once again they found themselves a place near a wall and called for ale and food – a full meal, this time, instead of a simple loaf to pretend to eat.
The Grotto was a lively house at the dinner hour. Local tradesmen – and some whole families, although not many – nearly filled the room. A lutist plucked a lively tune from near the front of the room, and when their stew arrived it smelled nearly as good as some of the things Snorli had come up with back on the Vidofnir.
Over everything, Einarr heard the door thump open at the entrance and turned to look. But there’s no-one… oh, there he is. A black-haired dwarf with skin nearly the color of bronze sauntered in and surveyed the room. Einarr couldn’t tell, immediately, what his profession was, although he was perhaps the shortest, stockiest dwarf Einarr had ever met. He also seemed to be looking for a seat. I’ll take this chance. He waved the dwarf over.
It took a moment for the svartdvergr to notice, but eventually he clumped over, his iron boots clanking a little against the floor. A mercenary, then?
Not far behind him, before anyone thought to close the door, Vali slipped in.
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