I Can Fake A Laugh

Bregðask woke up in his bedroom with a headache and a strange taste in the back of his mouth like ash. His chest ached and his body felt heavier than normal as if even breathing was an act that required more energy than he had.

He would have laid in bed for eternity if his stomach wasn’t threatening to devour him. He forced himself to his feet, down the stairs, and proceeded to eat through most of the food in the kitchen.

Hilda smiled and told him not to worry about it before sending him off with a happy birthday wish and a promise for a surprise when he got back. Despite it being his birthday, it felt like just another day of the summer session of school. The only thing that was great about summer session was that there were more off days in the week that meant that Svein’s designated trainers had more time to toss him around training pitches, but it also gave Bregðask more time to work at the forge or sneak off to the library.

With the war games competition season and the summit season over, the people of Calder seemed to be returning to normal affairs of summer, i.e. preparing for winter. However, it was still a strange day. The summer feast had always been held on Bregðask’s birthday, and only a few people on Calder ever acknowledged that it was his birthday. It hadn’t meant much before as Calder didn’t historically celebrate birthdays, but in the case of a Bregðask, every birthday came with at least a minor celebration for making it one more winter against the expectation of an early death. He knew that Svein wouldn’t be making any surprise announcements about Bregðask suddenly being named the erfingi as he’d already written the speech for the feast weeks prior, but no one else knew that which meant that Sigfrøðr was probably going to pay him a visit today.

He went to Gardar’s forge in the morning to work. Gardar, to his credit, told him happy birthday and handed him a new hammer with a bow on the handle. It would be perfect for delicate work

“Nothing this year?” Bregðask asked, “How unusual.”

“I’m too old to tell young people how to spend their birthdays any longer. You’re not going anywhere anytime soon obviously.”

Bregðask chuckled. Usually, he would have just handed him his gift and argued him out of the forge and off shift for the day. It was refreshing to hear the older man so assured of that, yet there was a twist of guilt in his chest.

What was that? He swallowed thickly. Don’t think about it.

Turning his attention to the nearest project he could work on, he made himself think about how hard to swing the hammer and how to turn the blade. Not even an hour later, Sigfrøðr sauntered in with Elis and Elli trailing behind him, cowed and putting on the bravest faces they could.

Gardar had gone outside, leaving Bregðask to tend the shop alone. Upon seeing the trio, he had a feeling that they weren’t there to simply get a weapon maintenanced and he’d be leaving with more blood on his clothes and quick healing injuries.

“Good morning, what can I–”

Bregðask grit his teeth against the pain of Sigfrøðr’s fist in his chest. It was a stiff uppercut that left him heaving and the twins laughing uncomfortably behind Sigfrøðr.

“Happy summer feast, bregða,” Sigfrøðr said and cracked his knuckles, “A little birdie told me that you’re still talking to Eira. You even have standing meetings with her? That wouldn’t happen to be true, would it? I know you know better.”

Bregðask sucked in another breath as he felt his body readjust until the pain began to ebb again. He uncurled his body slowly and met his cousin’s gaze as the twins chuckled behind him. Their laughter rang false, timid, afraid, and half-crazed in his ears.

“Apparently, she’s got better taste than you think,” Bregðask said.

He snorted, “If you think you have a chance with Eira, you’re weak and delusional, but just so you don’t go getting any ideas in that useless head of yours…”

He grimaced and breathed through the pain as Elis punched him across the face with a laugh. He sucked in a breath as his head snapped to the side and spat out a glob of blood. The tonic on Elis’ breath was a sharp scent just about Elli’s fear and anxiety. Stronger than that was Elli’s pain practically soaked into her clothing and burning Bregðask’s nose.

Perhaps she should take it too.

However, knowing the history of that tonic and the Thorketill family, it was likely never offered to her. The men of the Thorketill family had long since employed the tonic as a draught of forgetfulness and numbing. He was pretty sure it started as a way to keep the men of their family sane after being tortured by enemy tribes, and had become a family secret for making sure that every Thorketill man who would be force to carry the burden of the family wouldn’t have to remember it so long as he kept taking the tonic.

It made them unstable, but unstable had a close mental tie with berserker warrior and was a much better alternative to morose, melancholic, or suicidal.

“You’ve got to hit him harder,” Elli said, her voice hesitant even as it seemed gleeful, “It’s not going to sink in if you don’t.”

Elis proceeded to punch him again and cackled as Bregðask lowered his head and forced himself to breathe.

“Gonna cry?” Sigfrøðr snickered, “I’d have him stop if you just do as your told.”

“As if you could make me cry,” he hissed and looked up with what he was sure was a crazed smirk. Sigfrøðr flinched as did Elis, “Who she spends her time with is her decision, and it’s not my fault you don’t meet her standards.”

“You little–”

“If you think you can make me cry,” Bregðask grinned, bloody and angry, “Give it your best shot.”

Sigfrøðr’s eyes widened, and he nodded stiffly. Elis grabbed him and twisted his arm behind his back allowing Sigfrøðr to get in another punch across his face and another in his stomach as Elis pulled his arm hard enough to almost dislocate it.

“Bet you’re rethinking that now, aren’t you, bregða?”

Bregðask only grit his teeth and spit out another glob of blood in Sigfrøðr’s face. Sigfrøðr growled and punched him hard enough to see stars, and his shoulder cracked. Bregðask drew in a sharp breath and panted as the pain continued to grow, ebbing and flowing from his shoulder and his face as the injury healed and was injured again

“Just cry!” Elli urged, “Or he’s going to pull your arm out of the socket.”

“Go to Hel,” he hissed.

“Hey!” Gardar came hobbling in, “What are you all doing?”

Sigfrøðr glared at him, “Let him go, Elis.”

Bregðask dropped forward panting into the dirty wood floor.

“This isn’t over Bregðask.”

Bregðask lifted himself up, “You know where to find me, cousin.

He lifted his fist to punch him, and Gardar stood between them, “If you aren’t here for blacksmithing purposes, leave.”

Sigfrøðr glared at him, “Your uncle won’t be here to protect you forever, Bregðask.”

He chuckled, “I don’t count on it.”

They wandered out with nothing more than a glare between him and Sigfrøðr. Elli and Elis spared him a worried glance as they followed Sigfrøðr out the door. Gardar sighed and turned around as Bregðask got onto his knees and popped his shoulder back into place with a grunt before laying his head on the ground and panting through the pain. His ribs snapped back together in his chest with a nudge. He coughed up blood.

“By Odin, what is his problem with you?” Gardar asked helping him off the floor as he finally coughed his lungs clear, “Your face…”

“It’s fine,” Bregðask scrunched his nose and wiped the blood on his sleeve, “I’m fine.”

“Liar, but that Harvard stubbornness is a thing.”

“Was Uncle Hrungnir this way too?”

Gardar smiled, soft and misty, “Yeah, he was as stubborn as all of you Harvards.”

Bregðask chuckled and hissed as something shifted in his chest, “At least, I’m in good company.”

“Maybe you should head home early,” he said.

“What for? I still have classes.”

Gardar winced, but he didn’t argue with that. Instead, he made Bregðask change shirts and clean up. he didn’t leave him alone until it was time to go to classes. He found out that Eira was gone for the day as was Dvalarr. He was grateful about the second because it meant that he was probably taking the box Bregðask had entrusted him with to Kata.

He smirked and hoped she liked it.

“Bregðask!”

He turned to see Sigfrøðr approaching him and he lifted his jaw.

“Oh look, you found me in a town of all of a hundred people,” he said with a smirk, “Everyone applaud Sigfrøðr the Brilliant!”

Pain exploded in his face, but he didn’t regret it.

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