Bregðask pat himself on the back for being brave and avoiding being punched in the face as he headed to a class he would have probably had with Aslog if she were still attending formally. He took notes or her, got copies of the assignments for her and got through the rest of his day. He saw Eira two more times that day in passing and waved politely before he found himself at his locker ready to leave the compound. It was already dark outside, but the night winds hadn’t picked up.
Dvalarr sighed beside him and opened his locker. He’d known Dvalarr since he was a kid. Where Bregðask had been the literal runt of the generation, Dvalarr had been the biggest kid growing up. Broad shouldered and stocky, he’d been picked on as a child, but that all ended once puberty ran over him like a boulder from the top of the cliffs.
He’d shot up two whole feet in about seven months. The baby fat had given way to a broad and heavily muscled build, yet Dvalarr had retained his soft-spoken, almost pacifist demeanor. He knew from speaking to Kata that it was the main reason they were still dating. Dvalarr hadn’t let his physical changes change him as a person, and Bregðask admired him for it.
“Are you going to Aslog’s today?”
Bregðask nodded, “Isn’t Kata visiting this weekend?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Dvalarr. Spend time with your girlfriend. I can take them to her.”
Dvalarr sighed but handed over the notes, “I don’t know how you do it, Bregðask. You go every week. I hardly recognized her last week.”
Bregðask shrugged, “I don’t have much of a social life, so I’m not giving up anything. Besides, Aslog and I were somewhere in between friends and chronic project partners. I’m glad that I can help her.”
Again, he sees that just short of pitying look on Dvalarr’s face, but he ignored it. Dvalarr hadn’t changed at all on the inside, but he knew first hand how much the exterior change helped with his social life. People left him alone or at least treated him like he was a noble of the Calder.
Bregðask just figured it wasn’t worth it. He was never going to be erfingi, and he didn’t care really what they thought of him. He had his own goals to achieve. It would be a lie to say that the loneliness didn’t feel like a knife to the chest sometimes or make him contemplate more than once that he’d be better off dead, but since he’d promised Gardar not to be secluded with a weapon, he’d taken to telling himself that he was better than that and four years wasn’t that long. Sometimes, he believed it.
With classes over for the day, he carried the homework and his present to Gardar’s forge to get the last piece he’d left sitting on his desk with the box meant to hold the kista.
“You’re here early. Thought you’d go to Aslog’s today. Don’t tell me you’re skipping school.”
“Last touches,” he said, “ Did Alek or Sordlak come looking for me?”
“I just assumed that my father was having them watch me.”
Gardar snorted, “He still on that, is he? He’ll get over it, and likely, no one is taking the time to follow you around the island when everyone knows you aren’t getting into trouble. How’s that contraption you’ve been working on coming along?”
Bregðask grinned and pulled it out, “It works.”
Gardar looked at it strangely as Bregðask went into the back room and grabbed the box, bag of charcoal, and pure spring water.
“You know I have no understanding of magic, but if you say it works, I believe you.”
Bregðask packed it up carefully and headed towards Aslog’s house with it and a light feeling in his heart. Though it was dark, he knew his way there easily. They lived miles away from the capital town, so it would take him an hour by foot walking to get there, but he often caught a merchant willing to give him a ride into the other town.
Today, it was Ivan Njall, Dvalarr’s father. The man smiled at him brightly with his dark blonde hair, large body, and winter coat.
“You’re not wearing enough clothes lad. You’ll freeze to death and all of Calder will have to deal with your Aunt! You headed to the Thorgill’s, aren’t you?”
Bregðask nodded, “Are you headed that way?”
“Hop on,” he said, “What are you doing outside without a cloak?”
Bregðask pulled his cloak out of his bag and laughed as the man relaxed. He climbed up onto the cart. He didn’t need the cloak, and he hated wearing it if he was walking long distances as he’d overheat quickly and soak his clothes in sweat, but since he was getting a ride, he’d wrap up and try not to be too uncomfortable.
“I would never wish the wrath of Hilda Harvard on Calder. Thanks for the ride. How’s trade?”
“Just fine! Did those items work out for you?”
“They did. Thank you.”
“Strange things for Gardar to want in a forge, but that old warrior is half crazy anyway.”
Bregðask chuckled at that as they bumbled along and listened to Ivan tell him about how trade was doing and what they expected to happen once summer had come in full swing. With a thank you and a wave, he got off just on the inside of town and walked to the little hut the Thorgill’s stayed in near the forest’s edge. Containing his excitement, he knocked on the door politely and Gura Thorgill appeared in the doorway a little more haggard than the week before.
Her eyes seemed darker, her hair limper beneath the hood of her cloak, and her skin looked a little thin, but she smiled at him all the same.
“Þjóðann Bregðask, what a pleasure. Is it Friggdøgr already?”
“It is, ma’am. May I come in?”
“Of course, dear,” she said, “She’s awake for now.”
He nodded and walked in behind her. She returned to her seat at the table mending something as Bregðask walked up the stairs to the loft and spotted another hole in the roof that was barely covered. The fire was going strong in the fireplace. The large bed that he assumed was for Gura and her husband was gone. The padding had been added to Aslog’s bed, and the wood had been broken down for kindling. He guessed the last storm had been rougher on their little house than he thought as they’d run out of firewood so quickly.
“Hey Aslog,” he walked towards the bed to see her.
She seemed so frail, but her eyes were open and recognized him instantly. Her blonde hair was practically platinum now and thin against her pillow. The smell of sickness burned his nostrils as he sat down beside her bed.
“Bregðask, is it Friggdøgr again?”
“It is,” he said and sat down, “How are you feeling?”
She coughed, “Worse… definitely worse.”
Bregðask took her hand and heard her gasp. Her hand was freezing in his. He took his gloves out of his pocket and fitted them on to her hands.
“Have you eaten?”
“No… Don’t want to waste it. Mom–” she coughed so strongly that it wracked her entire body.
“Well, that’s going to have to change. In a moment though. I’m putting your homework on your desk, and I have a gift–”
“Why are you still here?” she asked and looked at him, “We both know your father doesn’t care about people like us… Not like we can add to his coffers or his popularity, and he’s already made a show of visiting.”
It had been a year. Gura had asked him this a week after his father had stopped visiting them, and he suspected that she had never told Aslog the answer. He wondered how long she’d been trying to figure it out and if she wanted the real answer.
“You think I don’t know my father well?”She swallowed, “No, he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about anything but his ambition, his position, and his appearance, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t care.”
“Because you’ve always been kind to me. It’s my turn to be kind to you.”
Aslog had never picked on him, always defended him, and never looked down at him for his lack of coordination. He never thought that he would have a chance to show her how much that meant to him.
She squeezed his hand back weakly. Her eyes glistened with tears, “That’s very kind of you… You’ll look after my mother, won’t you?”
Bregðask smiled, “If it comes to that, but I’d rather you still be around so you can look after each other, and when your dad gets back you can all be together again.”
She smiled, “ You… have such a nice way of speaking about the impossible.”
“I prefer improbable,” he said, “Now a gift, yes?”
She nodded as Gura came upstairs, “Will you be staying for dinner?”
“If only to make sure Aslog eats.”
He opened the box and pulled out the kista so she could see it. the glowing stones cast a rainbow of light around the room, and she gasped.
“It’s beautiful. What is it?”
“A kista, of sorts. It’s supposed to help you get better.”
“How does it work?” Aslog asked as Gura came closer, her eyes wide and staring at the box.
“Where did you get something so beautiful?”
“I built it,” he said and opened the bag. He pulled out the little charcoal disk and poured the water and charcoal mix into it before sliding it back into the box and setting it on the ledge above her bed. Gura and Aslog looked up at it as it began to glow and spin casting runes across the walls and over Aslog’s bed.
“Thank you,” Aslog said, “It’s beautiful.”
Bregðask nodded, “Now, about dinner, I can make it. You could both use the rest.”
“Absolutely not,” Gura rose to her feet, “Your father would kill me.”
“I doubt it,” he snorted, “You overestimate his interest in what I do.”
“We… don’t have much.”
Bregðask waved her concerns away, “Don’t worry about it.”
The woman looked at him as if he were insane but didn’t protest. She sat back down beside Aslog’s bed and held her daughter’s gloved hands as Bregðask left to go hunting with Aslog’s bow and arrows by the door. He came back with enough fish to feed them all and two large birds he’d hunted down with the borrowed bow and arrow. Neither of them complained.
He made hot porridge that could be saved and reheated for a few days, and the three of them ate at Aslog’s bedside. It was the first time, he was sure, that Gura had laughed since her husband’s disappearance as he retold this hilarious incident related to the twins.
“And, of course, Elli couldn’t let that slide so she–”
Aslog laughed, her voice thin and raspy, “Let me guess, hit him in the head?”
“They wrestled for a good twenty minutes before Elis gave in.”
When he was set to leave, he left a satchel of money in the box he’d brought the kista in and left it on the table. Gura saw him off at the door, and he promised to be back the next Friggdøgr like always. Bregðask walked back to the capital and to Gardar’s forge feeling lighter. Aslog and her mother might have attributed the change in their moods to simply knowing that Bregðask wasn’t like his father, but Bregðask saw the way their complexions had changed and the increase in their appetites.
The kista worked faster than he thought. He’d have to record the schematic when he got home for Svala’s use. He entered the forge, and Gardar grinned at him as he got changed for work.
“She was in good spirits, I take it?”
He smiled, “We had dinner.”
Gardar nodded, “Do you often take to giving away satchels of money?”
Bregðask twirled a hammer over his hand. His lips twitched. Of course, Gardar noticed.
“Just to those who need it.”
Gardar nodded and pat his shoulder, “No one will tell your father if you don’t. “
“What does he have to do with the money I earn?”
Gardar chuckled, “Spoken like a true Viking man. Svein had better be careful.”
Bregðask rolled his eyes, “I think he’s been looking over his shoulder for a long time, but it isn’t because he thinks I’m behind him.”
Gardar cleared his throat and Bregðask had a feeling that he’d said something that was the kind of cold and secretive truth that most didn’t feel comfortable speaking or bringing up.
“Well, if he turns up dead, I’ll only tell the truth.”
Bregðask snorted, “Thanks.”