Here it is. My first deleted chapter. This is a chapter I wrote to explain the history behind my story. When you factor in the amount of research I did, I would guess I spent nearly six months writing this chapter. But alas, nearly five months out from publishing, I have decided to cut it.
But, after so much work, I couldn’t bring myself to delete it, and so I am posting it here. Before you read this and think that my entire book reads like this, be assured that the edits I am doing at this time are cutting the Nordic names and history to smooth out the writing for the English reader. Hence this cut and this post.
This scene stays consistent with the current published manuscript, however there is a lot of historical detail (every bit of it is accurate). The only reason for the deletion was pacing and to avoid “info dump.”
CHAPTER 51 – Author Edition
It was a long while before either Halvard or Rune spoke again.
“You can count your debt as paid,” he said, sitting forward to slump over the empty mug. A twinge of regret stabbed at his chest as he wished he could do more. “My men can provide you with food and arms,” he offered, “We invite you to stay and sleep in some proper beds. Drink, eat, and before you go, you are welcome to a mare, and any armament you find in the barracks.”
The sudden pair of thuds jarred their attention to Kallan, pulling Rune’s eye over the two tankards brimming with the tans of freshly brewed mead. Curves of green lined with gold traced the line of her bosom. Soft, brown ringlets of hair fell down her front, their tips lightly brushing the table. Rune lost all thought before managing to pull his gaze to her face.
The bathhouse had done as much for her as the mug of mead had done for him. She was relaxed and at ease, more than she had been in weeks. The violet in her eyes glistened, and the lingering exhaustion that had followed her since Jotunheim had washed away with the bath water. Kallan stared, not bothering to mask her gaze when Rune found her eyes.
“We’re grateful for the offer.” Kallan gently smiled forcing her attention to Halvard. “But I doubt you can provide a better sword than Gramm.”
Her voice chimed over the table as Halvard flashed a wide-eyed look to Rune. When Rune only answered with an impassive shrug, Halvard looked back to Kallan.
“He carries the tungsten sword of the Dvergar king,” Kallan explained with a hint of jealousy, “forged by Volundr himself.”
The jingle of keys accompanied the sighs of Olga as she plopped her sturdy frame into a chair beside Halvard. At the end of the table, Emma settled herself on the other side of the Throendr. Blushing red at the wide smile Rune flashed her, Emma looked away, holding back a smile, but not before seeing the frown Kallan threw Rune’s way.
“You are a swordsman, Kallan Eyolfdottir,” Halvard said, keeping his eye on the lines of her cheekbones and chin.
“Volundr has forged many swords,” Kallan said, thrusting aside her contempt for Rune, “but there were only a few whose fame exceeded their maker. A swordsman unable to recognize Gramm would be an abomination among swordsmen.”
“You are a swordsman, and yet you only carry a dagger?” Halvard used the opportunity to look Kallan up and down, eyeing her curves for the iron sword that wasn’t there. “Surely you have a need beyond the weapons of Daggerna?”
Kallan’s blood burned and, with a flick of her wrists, fire burst to life in her palm she held at eye level.
Halvard’s eyes hardened with secrets unspoken.
“You are Seidkona,” he said.
Kallan nodded, proudly.
“I am,” she said and extinguished her flame.
“It is you Olaf hunts,” Halvard said, bringing the mead to his mouth.
“Perhaps.” Supporting her weight on her knuckles, she leaned forward onto the table. “But one must ask why.”
Halvard shifted a solemn eye from his mug.
“Long questions deserve long answers,” he said, running his hand over his beard in thought. With a pensive eye, he looked to Rune. After taking a gulp of mead from his fresh tankard, he slammed the drink back to the table and exhaled. There was a delayed moment before he finally answered.
“Olaf Tryggvason seeks to avenge his father’s death by killing Forkbeard,” Halvard said. “He desires to reclaim the throne his father’s elder father left him in death.”
Kallan stood upright, unsure where to begin with Halvard’s news.
“Forkbeard?” Rune repeated and shook his head with a furrowed brow. “Forkbeard didn’t kill Tryggvason’s father.”
“No, he didn’t,” Halvard said. “To understand most answers regarding Olaf Tryggvason, you must be familiar with Dan’s Mork, The Woodland Realm of King Dan for which the Dani were named.”
Kallan pulled out a chair. “I thought Tryggvason sailed from Dubh Linn,” she said, settling herself at the table’s head between Olga and Rune.
Halvard nodded. “And from Dubh Linn, he did.”
“My father often spoke of the kings of Midgard,” Kallan said, “I will admit, I spent most of my lessons thinking about the armory and Gudrun’s spells, but I do remember a few names.” Kallan looked to the ceiling in thought. “Blatonn, King of Dan’s Mork… Otto II of the People’s Land… King Ethelred of Engla… Harfagri—”
“—Lodewuk, the High King—” Rune added in fond memory of his elder father.
“And Svenn Forkbeard,” Kallan finished, paused pensively for a moment, then shook her head. “I remember no Olaf Tryggvason.”
“Harfagri.” Halvard spoke the name as a dark, distant memory surfaced. He looked to Rune. “You would be familiar with Harfagri.” Darkness that shadowed an unspoken memory fell upon Rune’s face. Without an answer, Halvard continued. “In a way, I guess all of this really stems from him. You might want to take a seat. This won’t be easy to explain and harder for you to follow. Try to keep up.”
The wooden chairs groaned as everyone shifted and settled themselves in for Halvard’s tale.
“Harfagri, his sons, and their pursuit of the Noregr throne,” Halvard began. “Let’s see now. Of the son’s, there was Erik Blodox, King of all Noregr… Hakon the Godi — who was sent to live in West Daggerna — and Olaf, King of Viken.” Halvard paused at this last name and looked to each face, anticipating their reactions. When four blank faces stared back at him, Halvard dropped his shoulders in disappointment and explained. “Olaf, King of Viken was elder father to Olaf Tryggvason.”
“His elder father?” Kallan asked with peeked interests.
“Aye.” Halvard brooded and took a large mouthful from his drink. He gently placed the tankard to the table and looked at each face in turn, ensuring he held their attention before continuing.
“Before Harfagri, Noregr was made up of several smaller kingdoms that spanned the land from Agdir to Throendalog.” Halvard threw out a finger for each as he listed them. “Upplond, Heidmork, Raumariki, Viken, Rygjafylke, Hordalond, Sygnafylki, and Raumsdalr. There were constant wars between the kingdoms back then, exchanging out new kings for old. Blood watered the same fields that kings killed to take for their families. The rivalry and wars ended when Harfagri united them under one rule and assigned his three sons as vassals. But to Blodox, Harfagri gave all of Noregr, crowning him High King.”
“Blodox.” Rune mused.
“Hm, Blodox.” Halvard pursed his lips, “High King of Noregr.”
Emma shrunk back in her chair, a cold glower spilling over her face.
“My parents saw what Blodox’s rule did to our lands,” she said, hugging herself as she fixed her eyes on a distant point. “The ruined villages, the scorched earth, and the starvation he left behind are still felt in Northymbra.”
“Emma here was born in Loden in the year of the Great Quake,” Halvard said, fixing his eye on Kallan while his hands gripped his mug. “Her people saw first-hand what the Throendir rebelled against. Harfagri lived and ruled Noregr alongside Blodox to the end of his days, but, when he died, the peace he had secured for his sons, died with him.”
Halvard’s audience waited as he took in another drink.
“Harfagri’s death changed Blodox. Cruelty became him overnight, and King Olaf moved to take the crown from his brother. High King Blodox killed his would-be-usurper, and so it was that the first brother died.”
“Killed his own brother,” Rune said, staring into his drink.
“Blodox was bloodthirsty,” Halvard resumed. “His cruelty didn’t end with the killing of King Olaf. In turn, the people of Noregr summoned Hakon the Godi in West Daggerna. When Godi came to learn of his father’s death, he and Blatonn, King of Dan’s Mork, formed an alliance and launched an attack against Blodox in the Battle of Rastarkalv. The people exiled Blodox, and Godi ascended the throne as High King.”
“Why would Blatonn lend aid to Godi?” Kallan asked as she watched Halvard steal two sips from his mead.
“Blodox had married Blatonn’s sister and that was… problematic for Blatonn.” Halvard shrugged then added a grin. “Let’s just say Blatonn had interests in ruling Noregr and, with Godi on the throne, it increased his foothold. Dethroned, Blodox sailed west and secured himself the crown in Jorvik where he continued his fight for Northymbra against Amlaib Cuaran.”
Kallan exchanged glances with Emma as she remembered the story of Eire’s Land.
“Years later,” Halvard said, “Blodox was betrayed, stabbed in the back by his own council. He was found dead on the North Road after fleeing Jorvik. And so the second brother died.”
Halvard paused as he recalled the stories told to him by his father.
“Blodox’s death was only the beginning,” he continued. “When Blodox died, his desire to rule Noregr and his bloodlust passed to his son, Grafeldr. It was with a red eye that Grafeldr looked to the lost throne in Noregr and High King Godi. Grafeldr killed Godi then hunted down Godi’s steward. That murder…” Halvard flashed a sly grin to Kallan. “… is the one that will answer your question.”
Halvard gave a wink before throwing his head back for a long drink. Dropping his drink to the table, he sighed as if he had forgotten he was in the middle of a story.
“So what happened?” Emma asked.
Halvard peered up blankly from his mead. “To who?”
“To Grafeldr!” Kallan exclaimed. “Blodox’s son and Godi’s steward! You said this happened here in Nidaros?”
“It did,” he said and took another drink.
“But Hakon is Jarl,” Kallan said.
“Was,” Rune darkly amended.
“How did Hakon Jarl come to replace Grafeldr?” Kallan asked, ignoring Rune’s revision.
“Godi’s steward…” Halvard leaned closer across the table to Kallan. “… the one Grafeldr killed, was Sigurdr, Jarl of Lade.”
Kallan stared blankly at the name and Halvard shook his head with disappointment.
“I need to find me a better audience,” Halvard said with a kind grin. “Sigurdr, Jarl of Lade was Hakon Jarl’s father.”
“So Hakon Jarl would move to avenge his father,” Rune said not waiting for Kallan to draw the connection.
“In a manner of speaking,” he replied, “but he couldn’t do it alone. After Grafeldr ascended the throne and killed Godi’s steward, Grafeldr banished Hakon and Hakon ran to Blatonn.”
Kallan tightened her brow, shaking her head.
“I don’t understand what any of this has to do with Tryggvason, Forkbeard, and the Seidkona.”
Halvard gave her an admirable smirk.
“Forkbeard did not kill Tryggvason’s father,” Halvard said. “Grafeldr did. After Grafeldr killed Godi and the steward, he executed all the lesser kings of Noregr including, King Tryggvi of Viken, whose wife and whose heir escaped.”
A long silence passed over the table.
“King Tryggvi of Viken.” Rune coldly stared at a knot in the center of the table and Halvard bobbed his head in confirmation.
“Tryggvi — Son of Olaf, son of Harfagri — was father to Olaf Tryggvason.” Halvard brought his mead to his lips. “He was the heir, who escaped.”
“It was Grafeldr who ran Tryggvason out of Noregr,” Kallan said.
Halvard gulped his drink and sighed. “United, Hakon Jarl and Blatonn killed Grafeldr.”
“The Blood Oath,” Rune concluded.
Halvard grinned delighted at his tale. “Tryggvason believes the murder of Grafeldr belonged to him.”
“For the killing of Tryggvi,” Rune said.
“And that Hakon and Blatonn stole the Blood Oath meant for him.” Pushing his tankard aside, Halvard leaned his weight onto his arms crossed over the table. “After Blatonn and Hakon Jarl killed Grafeldr, Blatonn appointed Hakon as Jarl and sent him back to Throendalog as his vassal. Now if you’d wait here a moment, I’m out of mead.”
Several minutes later, Halvard dropped his weight back into his chair with a mighty groan. Gently, he coddled the foaming beverage and took a good long sip before speaking.
After exhaling a long sigh, he peered back up at Kallan.
“Ready for me to tell you how Forkbeard killed his father and passed Tryggvason’s Blood Oath on to himself?”
“He did what?” Kallan asked leaving her lips parted with surprise.
Halvard shook his large head, chuckling softly to himself as Olga gave a disapproving grunt.
“You always were the attention strumpet wherever a good story could be found, weren’t you,” she said.
“And why not?” Halvard asked. “People love story. Always have. Always will,” he said, taking a second sip from his fresh mead. “Story is what keeps people talking and living. Now then…” Halvard let out a long sigh, pulling the forgotten gossip from almost a lifetime ago to the forefront of his memory. “Tryggvason was lost after he and his mother fled.”
“Where did he go?” Kallan asked.
Halvard resettled his arms across the table as he fixed his attention on his audience.
“With his recent return, rumors have surfaced regarding his voyage from Noregr. Some say the Rod Men of Gardariki captured him and killed his mother. Others say Tryggvason used his wit to indulge in the trade route in Gardariki.”
Halvard shrugged away the speculative rumors.
“Either way,” He brought the mead to his lips, “Tryggvason found his way to the coasts of the East Sea and Vendland. There, he met and wed Geira, the princess and heir to the crown of Vendland. The union earned Tryggvason recognition with Otto II.”
“Otto II?” Kallan asked astounded.
Halvard nodded and Rune stared into his mead with boredom.
“His son inherited the throne of the People’s Land when he was only three years old,” Rune said.
“Otto III,” he said, “And has already launched war against Gardariki.”
Rune settled his drink carefully onto the table. “He has quite the ambition for someone who takes advice from his older sister.”
Halvard chuckled, shaking his head at Rune. “Word is the Polan king has already allied himself with the boy.”
“Boleslaw?” Rune asked peering up from his drink and Halvard nodded. Rune tightened his brow. “They’ll be looking to the Southern Kingdoms next.”
Leaving Rune to his thoughts, Halvard proceeded.
“Otto II, King of the People’s Land and ruler of the Empire.” Halvard delivered the title with a feigned genuflect. He tightened his face with seriousness again and continued. “And where the Empire moves, the world moves with it. To keep the Empire’s religious purification at bay, Blatonn paid Otto II tribute.”
“‘For all of Norden’,” Olga, Kallan, and Rune said together.
They exchanged a look of surprise and Halvard smiled.
“His slogan,” Halvard mused. “I remember hearing it for days, right up until the war. But Blatonn’s purse soon grew thin and when Otto II increased his tribute, Blatonn ended his allegiance. War broke out and those who didn’t battle for liberation against Otto II joined him.”
“The year of the Schism,” Kallan said, remembering the war from two decades ago.
“The Battle of Danavirki,” Rune said, leaning back into his chair.
“Aaric and Daggon were there,” Kallan said.
Rune nodded as his head filling with memories. “And I. And Bergen.”
“We all were,” Halvard said. “Everyone fought for freedom then. Together, Hakon Jarl and Blatonn led all of Norden against Otto II. We invaded the Land of the People.”
“Blatonn challenged the Empire?” Emma interjected, dumbfounded at the brazen nerve of the fallen king.
Halvard solemnly nodded to the Englian and watched as she settled back in her chair to recover.
“The news we received was slightly different,” Rune said before Halvard could continue.
“Tryggvason’s ties to Vendland forced him to fight for the Empire and Otto II… alongside Forkbeard, who had also joined sides with the Empire.”
Kallan dropped her brow with her jaw. “Forkbeard fought against his own father?” she asked.
“He did,” Halvard said, “For some time, it looked like Blatonn would win. Otto II retreated and Hakon Jarl returned to Noregr, but the moment Blatonn dropped his defenses and withdrew his subordinates, Otto II advanced, and won the Battle of Danavirki. The Empire seized Dan’s Mork. Otto II exiled Blatonn, and Forkbeard ascended his father’s throne.”
Tipping his drink in mock tribute, Halvard drank. Rune arched his back, stretching his arms high over his head while Kallan bit the corner of her lip in thought. Olga’s eyes had glazed over, having heard this tale one too many times before.
“Exile did little to deter Blatonn,” Halvard said. “The exiled king ran to Hakon Jarl with plans to start a rebellion against his son. Blatonn, in all his infinite wisdom, felt this was the time to convert Hakon to the Imperial god. But penniless, friendless, and throneless, Blatonn lost Hakon’s allegiance, and he was forced to regain his losses alone.”
“Claiming a throne isn’t the same as crowning a king,” Rune said.
Halvard nodded in agreement. “Without the title,” he said, “Forkbeard’s power was limited. Nine winters after Otto II banished Blatonn, Forkbeard succeeded in killing his father, and Forkbeard was crowned king.”
“The Blood Oath,” Rune said, nodding.
Halvard dropped his eyes to his tankard.
“Tryggvi, King of Viken,” he said, “whose blood once spattered Blatonn’s hands, now covers Forkbeard’s.” Halvard gazed pensively across the table. “The throne of Dan’s Mork, and all the land under her — Throendalog, Lade, and Viken — went to Forkbeard. But Forkbeard was far from finished. Within the same solstice that Forkbeard inherited his father’s kingdom, Geira, heir of Vendland, wife of Tryggvason, unexpectedly died.”
Mid-drink, Rune paused and peered over his tankard.
“Geira died right after Forkbeard was crowned king?” he asked.
Halvard took another drink to ease his dry throat. Dropping the tankard to the table, he went on, leaving the question unconfirmed. “Forkbeard now controlled Dan’s Mork, Noregr, Viken, and Vendland.”
“Two of the three kingdoms meant for Tryggvason passed to the kings of Dan,” Rune said.
Halvard shifted his eyes to the table nearby where the inebriate and his comrades had settled. It had been a while since their merriment had caused a distraction. With a sigh, Halvard returned to his tale.
“So that’s it then,” Kallan said, looking from Halvard to Rune for confirmation, “A blood oath and a pair of thrones? That’s what this is about?”
“That would be the sum of it, yes.” He bobbed his head.
“What happened to Tryggvason after Geira died?” Rune asked.
“How did he come to sail out of Dubh Linn?” Kallan asked.
Halvard paused and took in a good long drink. He stretched and arched his back until it cracked, then shifted himself back into his chair until he was comfortable.
“A couple years after Geira’s death,” Halvard continued, “Gyda, daughter of Amlaib Cuaran, made an appearance at the annual Thing. Tryggvason drew Gyda’s eye. The union gained him status among the family of Ui Imair and four years later, Gyda fell ill and died. Tryggvason wasted no time. Still donned in black, he sailed for Englia where he led his and Cuaran’s armies against Ethelred. Tryggvason landed at Englia and moved the armies into East Daggere.”
“The Battle of Maeldun,” Emma whispered and hastily dug the wave of tears from her eyes.
“Ethelred paid Tryggvason tribute,” Halvard summarized for Emma’s sake.
“Only after four years,” Emma snapped, recalling her lost home in Northymbra. “Only after he laid waste and terrorized the lands of my people!”
Kallan gazed into the eyes of the dainty Englian suddenly bursting with unguided rage.
“This was the war that forced you and Ivann back to the farm in Dofrar,” Kallan gently spoke, her voice drifting across the table as she came to understand Emma’s outburst.
“And here Tryggvason followed,” Emma said through clamped jaw.
“The rumor of a Dubh Linn prince bearing the blood of Harfagri reached the ears of Hakon Jarl.” Darkness passed over Halvard’s face as he recalled the most recent events, whose bite still burned. “Hakon Jarl had no doubt that the son of Tryggvi son of Olaf son of Harfagri, would be a threat. As he and Blatonn had once lured Grafeldr to Dan’s Mork, Hakon Jarl summoned Tryggvason. Last harvest, the Jarl sent Thorer to Englia with orders to subdue and capture Tryggvason.”
“Thorer,” Olga brooded as she recalled the man who had peered down at her as Nidaros burned.
“Thorer believes Tryggvason is the true heir of Noregr,” Halvard said, “He double-crossed Hakon and told Tryggvason of the Jarl’s plans.” Halvard quelled a chuckle and shook his head at the foolishness of the dead Jarl. “After thirty winters, Tryggvason returned to Noregr. He tracked Hakon Jarl to Odinssalr, where a thrall presented him with Hakon’s head.”
“The Blood Oath passed to the thrall then,” Kallan said and Halvard raised his eyes impressed.
“When Tryggvason killed the thrall,” Halvard said, “he did mention something about repaying his ‘Blood Oath’. After which, he declared Hakon Jarl’s son, Erik, a Nidingr.”
“Erik.” Rune furrowed his brow and recalled a rumor and a name he had heard only days ago.
“What is it?” Kallan asked.
Rune shook his head as unease settled into his chest.
“On my way through Midgard,” he said, “I heard talk of an Erik, who laid waste to the Gardariki trade ports east of here.” He paused to tap his finger against his mouth. “Where is this ‘Erik’ now?” he asked.
Halvard shrugged. “Rumor has it, he ran to Svithjod.”
“Why Svithjod?” Kallan asked.
Halvard sighed, rearing up for another lengthy tale.
“When Tryggvason’s first wife died—”
“—Geira of Vendland—,” Kallan confirmed.
“— His rage sent him out, seeking alliances against Forkbeard. Tryggvason settled his interests on Sigrid of Svithjod.” Halvard raised his tankard in praise to the title and grinned. “Sigrid denied his bed and mocked his god, and Tryggvason struck her.”
“He hit her?” Kallan asked.
Halvard grinned into his mead.
“Right there in her brother’s court. Several years later there was a…” Halvard paused and to sort out the details. After a moment, and with a tip of his head, he simply grinned. “Let’s just call it a ‘situation’.” The light caught his eye as he smirked. “Forkbeard called for aid from King Styrbjorn of Svithjod and two marriages resulted as payment. Forkbeard married the king’s sister, Sigrid of Svithjod —”
“—Who Tryggvason slapped—,” Kallan grinned.
“—and King Styrbjorn was to marry Tyri, Forkbeard’s sister.”
“Did he not?” Kallan asked, evoking a wider grin from Halvard, who beamed.
“Tryggvason learned of the arrangement, apprehended Tyri’s ship, and took her, leaving Forkbeard in debt to Styrbjorn.”
Rune threw his head back and openly laughed, nearly falling from his chair in the process. Kallan flashed a warm, curious gaze Rune’s way, and Halvard grinned from behind his mead.
“Dan’s Mork and Svithjod became united,” Halvard said before Rune’s laughter died down.
“And now both seek Tryggvason’s death,” Emma said.
Halvard downed the last of the mead allowing the silence to settle around the table. Before the mead flowed down his throat, Emma asked the one question he had failed to answer. “But why is Tryggvason after the Seidkonas?”
Halvard dropped the empty mug on the table and altered his full attention to the Englian. Her blue eyes, brimming with questions, glistened in the fire light.
“Word is, he seeks a pouch that one of them carries,” Halvard said.
Kallan’s face flushed red as she dropped her eyes to the table.
“Why?” Rune brusquely exclaimed.
Afraid the words would escape her, Kallan pursed her lips and frowned at Rune and Rune returned her glower, daring her to intervene.
“I’ve known Tryggvason and his superstitions now for years,” Halvard said. “I have never seen him this obsessed, nor this consumed with bloodlust. Tryggvason believes that pouch will gain him an advantage over Forkbeard, one that will ensure his victory.”
“What kind of advantage?” Rune asked, clutching his tankard.
Halvard slowly, pensively, shook his head then shrugged.
“I don’t know.”
A silence settled over the table as Halvard’s tale ended. In deep, distant thought, he brooded, overwhelmed with the need to give voice to his own notions.
“There is talk about Tryggvason spanning the kingdoms of Noregr and reclaiming the land his great elder father once united. Those same rumors have secured a fear throughout the land, but I know Tryggvason too well,” Halvard finished, shaking his head in doubt. “His visions are not so narrow. That Summer, Tryggvason married Forkbeard’s sister.”
Halvard glanced down into his empty mug, his thoughts in distant wanderings.
“Olaf married Tyri?” Rune said.
“What?” Kallan exclaimed, leaning closer as Rune choked on his drink and slammed his tankard to the table.
“Secured himself a line for the throne of Dan’s Mork right alongside Forkbeard,” Halvard said. “Rumors of vengeance and blood debts have circled the trade routes. The way I see it, last man standing gets Danelaw. And Danelaw spans all of Northymbra, Vendland, Viken, and the Dan’s Mork along with support from Otto III and, possibly, the Empire. But Tryggvason has Dubh Linn, and the land of Eire and Alba on his side and this…” Halvard gravely shook his head. “… this is little more than a race.”
“Last man standing gets the throne,” Rune surmised.
A laugh barked and a slap to Halvard’s back broke the tension that had descended over the table. With a toothy grin and an untamed mop of red hair, a face pinned by a crooked nose peered over their table.
“Brand! You startled me, Whelp!” Olga said, adding a firm slap to the youth’s arm that only seemed to encourage his wide, flashy grin.
“Why are you back so soon? I thought you were headed to Lofot?”
“We made port in Maere and I jumped ship.” He pushed back his wide shoulders, not bothering to look at Olga as he answered. “Egil told me I’d find you here with Halvard. Where’d the dark stallion come from?”
After a nod that began with Halvard passed around the table, Brand paused, holding his full attention on Kallan.
“Where’d the lady come from?”
“What in Odinn’s name would persuade you to jump ship in Maere?” Olga nearly shrieked and Brand shrugged.
“There was a girl,” he said as if this was the most natural cause for jumping ship. He adjusted his position to better look at Kallan.
“There are days I can’t believe you’re my kin,” Olga grumbled to deaf ears then passively waved a limp hand toward Brand. “This is my brother’s son, Brand.”
Only Emma bothered with a polite nod that Brand promptly ignored.
“And this…” Olga paused to slap Brand, in hopes to draw his attention from Kallan. “This here is Rune Tryggveson, King of Gunir.”
Comfortably slouched in his seat, his legs stretched out beneath the table and hands shoved lazily into his pockets, Rune stared, seeming interest only in the tip of his boots. He didn’t bother to acknowledge the lad, whose eyes remained fixed on Kallan.
“And the lady,” she said, “is Kallan Eyolfdottir, Queen of Lorlenalin.” Olga’s emphasis on ‘queen’ did little to discourage Brand’s motivation. “The horse belongs to her.”
“The lady is…” Brand said, dragging his eyes over Kallan with a stupid grin. He inhaled, expanding his already wide chest.
“Alright! Be off with you!” Olga said giving a shove that slid Brand from her chair.
He recovered eloquently, pulling himself up, boasting his full height that nearly matched Rune’s respectively.
Bending over, Brand leaned his weight onto the back of Kallan’s chair so that he remained suspended, holding his face inches from hers, where her perfumes reached his nose.
“He’s yours?” he asked, holding his voice just above a whisper.
“He?” Kallan asked, resisting the urge to look to Rune.
“The stallion,” Brand clarified.
Rune scoffed, costing Kallan a sneer that resulted in a delayed answer.
“Yes,” she recovered, throwing her full attention into Brand.
“You bought him?”
“Courser and Palfrey.”
Something of an impressed whistle escaped Brand’s lips as he slanted his eyes in envy.
“Show me,” he whispered holding a hand to Kallan, who beamed.
A stifled hic-cough from Rune’s chair was all the urging she needed to slide her hand into Brand’s outstretched palm. Returning the wide smile, she stood from the table, catching a subtle glance to Rune, who appeared indifferent to the scrape of her chair on the floor.
Pushed to the point where her irritation surpassed her intent, Kallan looped her arm into the crook of the youth’s elbow and permitted him to pull her toward the door.
As one, Olga, Emma, and Halvard turned to Rune who still studied the tip of his boot.
“Well?” Olga pressed impatiently.
Rune glanced up from the floor.
“What?” he asked suddenly.
“Aren’t you going to do something?” Olga asked.
Rune shrugged. “About what?”
“About that!” Olga gestured to the dainty swag of Kallan’s rear as she vanished out the door, her arm still hooked on Brand’s.
Rune cocked his head toward Kallan’s backside and, complacently, returned his eyes to his boot, indifferent by anything the woman said or Kallan did.
“The woman brought us mead!” Halvard held back from booming over a half-attempted whisper, “Are you daft or dead?”
Rune raised his eyes from the floor, a grin stretched across his face with a known mischievous look to his eye.
“They deserve each other.” Rune gave a careless shrug. “He’s slimy and she’s ornery. Besides, he’ll be begging to bring her back before the night’s end.”