“Wrong hand, bregða!”
The peal of laughter was almost deafening, and Bregðask switched hands with a sigh. He could shoot right handed, but when he went hunting, it was always left-handed. Either way, it didn’t matter. He drew the bow against the twinge of discomfort in his hold and hit the edge of the target. As far as he was considered it was a fucking win.
It had been almost a month since he’d started his weekly training with Eira and almost a few days since he gave Aslog the kista. The days were getting longer, but it was still winter as far as anyone was concerned.
The council of Calder was stalling with regards to the infrastructure by throwing out concerns about the cost and the time needed. Svein had lost most of his interest in trying to discipline Bregðask to let him write speeches and take his affectionately-name erfingi lessons from Hilda in between working at Gardar’s forge, lessons with Eira, helping out around the island, medical training with Svala, and school. His armed combat had improved greatly in the privacy of a training pitch, but in class, all of that faded away and he was the same old fuck up.
“Next! Bregðask, go practice running drills.”
He tossed the bow in the barrel and headed to the running area. Eira looked at him suspiciously, and he gave her a weak smile before breaking into a run. There were few physical things he was good at, but running had to be his crowning achievement. It dawned on him sometime in between the fourth and fifth route through the obstacle course that it was because of how much running he did around the island away from school, away from Sigfrøðr and anything else that tried to chase him towards the forge and other towns on the island to explore, trade, or just meet the people of Calder.
As he was never invited on his father’s tours to be introduced as his son, he’d taken the path of introducing himself.
Bregðask Hjálp Harvard the sixth, his full name had only gotten less ridiculous the more he said it, and he got more confident in saying it to anyone and everyone outside of the capital.
It was a terrible name by all means, but it was his Calder name and that was all that mattered.
I wonder what she would have named me, he wondered.
Maybe the Ketill tribe had its own traditions around naming their children.
“Bregðask, time for combat training!”
He swung from the beam to the ropes and slid down to the ground. He hated combat training.
“Wrong hand, bregða,” someone said, and Bregðask switched his grip on the training ax in an attempt to follow the drills.
They always put him far enough away that if he lost grip on the training ax that he wouldn’t injure anyone. The ax was made of wood with an iron core to simulate the weight and balance of a real ax. Most training axes were just perfectly blunt axes, but he used a wooden one since the last time he’d almost killed himself with a regular training ax.
It had been one of those strange days when switching his hand positions to the right-hand hold had divested him of all strength. The ax had been too large and too heavy and had practically wielded him. He was the only one still using a wooden training ax, and it suited him fine since he had no intention of being a warrior at all.
“Pair up with me.”
He looked up, stunned to see Eira there with a smirk. Her training ax rested on her shoulder easily and her other hand on her hip. She’d changed her usual ribbon and flower kransen to a studded piece of leather that was far more functional than pretty. He bet it was a compromise between her need to keep her hair out of her face and adhering to the old tradition of noble maidens and circlets.
“What?” She asked quirking an eyebrow at him, “Too good to train with me now?”
He laughed, “I don’t think that will ever happen. I just thought you’d want this to actually be useful to you since the competition is coming up.”
She shrugged, “It’s my rest day. Now, ax up.”
He lifted it, and her eyes narrowed at him. She charged, and he swung himself out of the way, narrowly dodging her blow. He followed the momentum and lifted his ax so that her next blow skidded off the edge of his ax. Under her blow, he tumbled to the ground.
She didn’t pause her attack. In the time it took him to roll into a crouch position, she was attacking him again. He fumbled with the ax in his hand and swung up catching her downward strike against his ax. She pushed, and he held firm, engaging every muscle in his body to hold her blade at bay. She marched forward and pushed. His knees and shin burned as she pushed his tense body across the ground, but he held his position.
“There’s all my hard work,” she said, her eyes alight and a smile on her lips, “I was getting a little worried.”
He scoffed, “Bashing me around isn’t hard work.”
She laughed, “Not yet at least. Give me a few more weeks.”
He smiled at that and dug into the ground with his foot and pushed against her strength until he stopped moving and could take a step forward.
“Good,” she said.
He shoved her back with a strength that surprised him. She flipped her ax over her hand, tugging his ax out of his hand just barely. He put his left hand higher on the shaft as his right slid down and turned his ax back until their axes locked.
She turned her ax over her hand again and disengaged them. He lowered his ax to block her kick and shove her off balance. She laughed and rotated bringing her leg back to the ground and thrusting her ax forward. He slid aside and grinned back at her. The sound of others on the training field faded away, and it felt like it was just the two of them. They traded blows as if it were just them on the training field.
She was fast, able to match his own running speed, with a lot more grace than he had. She was strong too which meant he had to focus lest she accidentally took him down.
“Watch your balance,” she said as they locked axes, “The more stable you are, the better your swing.”
“Right,” he said and pushed her back.
“Good, let’s see if you can keep that up.”
Bregðask winced at the thought but managed to hold her off simply by blocking her blows before she lowered her ax, grabbed him by the shirt and flipped him easily over her shoulder. She kicked his ax out of his hand and held her own over his neck as he groaned.
“I think you broke me,” he groaned weakly.
She laughed, “I’ve hit you harder, so I doubt it. You’ve improved. Next thing we work on is your balance and hand to hand combat.”
He looked up at her hopelessly, “As you wish.”
Eira pulled him to his feet, and he picked up his ax.
“Eira, have you been tutoring him?” the instructor asked.
She shrugged, “A bit.”
Bregðask wasn’t sure what to make of the way the man looked at him, but when he let out a sound that sounded remotely approving Bregðask relaxed.
“I’m glad someone is able to get through to you. There had to be some Harvard in there somewhere. Keep it up and you might actually be useful in a battle.”
“Thanks?” Bregðask said, and she nudged him with a proud smile.
“He means you’ve improved.”
“Why didn’t he just say that?”
Eira shrugged, “Probably because he didn’t want to encourage you.”
Bregðask glowered at her, “What a great teacher.”
They packed up for the day, and before he knew it, he was walking with Eira to their next classes. She gestured down the hallway.
“I’m this way,” she said, “See you later, Bregðask.”
He nodded, “Bye Eira, and thanks for everything.”
She grinned, “Anytime.”
Bregðask did his best not to watch her leave and somehow managed to tear his eyes away before she turned the corner. Instead, he headed to his next class which included Sigfrøðr who seemed to be waiting for him along with a lackey. The professor seemed to ignore them and Bregðask wished more than anything that he didn’t have to go inside.
“Bregðask,” he sneered, “You’d better not be getting cozy with my Eira.”
His eyes narrowed, “She’s not an item to be owned.”
Pain exploded in his face knocking him back. He felt the blood dribble down his face before Sigfrøðr grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him off the floor.
“I’ll only say this once, Bregðask. Stay away from Eira, or you’ll get more than a bloody nose.”
He scoffed, “Unless you plan on adding murderer to the long list of what’s wrong with you, you’re not saying much.”
He lowered him until their eyes met, “Don’t tempt me.”
Sigfrøðr dropped him and walked over his back on the way into the classroom.
Bregðask chuckled at that. If Sigfrøðr could manage to kill him, he’d deserve a damn medal since Bregðask had failed several times.
I thought we weren’t thinking about that…
He shook the thought away as he struggled to his feet. With his jaw level, he walked into the classroom only to be pushed back by one of Sigfrøðr’s lackeys.
“No bregðas allowed.”
The door slammed in his face, and he rolled his eyes with a sigh before shrugging at the sound of the teacher starting the lecture without him. He walked away from the door and headed down the hallway in the direction that Eira had gone as his final class of the day was in that section of the compound.
He passed a window but walked back and peaked into the classroom. It looked like a sewing class. A peal of laughter filled the air and among the voices was Eira’s voice. Of all the things that he expected her next class to be, it wasn’t home economics, but he shrugged.
Everyone had their hidden talents and interests. He arrived at the chemistry classroom and sat down by the door. He pulled out one of the magic books that he’d gotten the year before on Nordic magic. The chapter he was on was on evoking the elements. He was pretty sure that he’d read through the chapter on healing spells and runic configurations and wrote more notes than should have been decent.
As he read, the sounds of the classes going on in the rooms around him faded away. Soon, all he could hear were his own thoughts as he took notes in the margins of the book.
He looked up and saw Eira standing over him with a curious expression on her face.
“How’d you get blood on your shirt?”
He looked down and then wiped his face. The bleeding had stopped, but it seemed that he hadn’t gotten it all off before getting lost in his book.
“Oh, the normal methods: Sigfrøðr.”
She huffed and dug in her bag before producing a rag and a bottle of water. She crouched beside him and wet it.
“I could break his legs.”
Bregðask chuckled, “Please don’t. He’d take it as a sign of interest.”
“That’s true,” she chuckled and cupped his face gently. He could feel her callouses, but also how soft her hands were, “Hold still.”
He swallowed nervously as she wiped at his bloody nose and classes began to let out. Their eyes met, and he found himself lost in the blue of her eyes and gentle touch.
“I always thought your eyes were just a light blue.”
“They’re grey,” she said, “Almost white like snow.”
She reached into her bag and offered him a pain draught, “For your face.”
“Oh, thank you,” he said taking it as she stood up.
“I’ll see you around,” she said over her shoulder.
She walked down the hall as Sigfrøðr rounded the corner.
She landed a solid punch in his chest, and he wheezed in pain. Bregðask’s eyes widened at the speed and viciousness of it, but it made something warm and fuzzy move around in his chest.
“Call me babe again, and it’ll be your face. Lay off Bregðask while you’re at it.”
His eyes widened, and he stood to scurry into the classroom before Sigfrøðr and his band of idiots got close and Eira was out of sight.
As they just drifted by the classroom grumbling, he guessed that they hadn’t seen him and his exchange with Eira.
Bregðask put his head on the desk and smiled a bit, his stomach still fluttering at her touch and his chest still filled with warmth. Eira’s eyes were more like the sky with flecks of navy and ice in their depths.
He looked at the pain draught in his hand and hummed. It would be a waste to take it as he very rarely felt pain for long, so he tucked it into his bag.
“Hey, Bregðask!” Dvalarr greeted, “How are– Where’d the blood come from?”
He waved it off, “Don’t worry about it.”
“Are you sure?”
Bregðask’s lips twitched at the questions. Though he was warm and fluttery, to say that was the only thing that he was feeling would be to ignore the seemingly bottomless well of loneliness that made up the rest of his feelings.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’m good. It’s a good day.”
Four years isn’t that long.