Eira smiled and breathed through the butterflies in her stomach. She swung her arms and grinned brightly with her ax strapped to her back, humming a song as she walked out of the forge. She hadn’t been sure that today would be one of victory or even a particularly good one with the way that she’d had to duck out of the house shoveling breakfast in her mouth to avoid Solveig’s talks about courting and her uncle’s teasing.
She still had no idea why the woman seemed to favor Sigfrøðr among all the boys and young men of Calder when she’d married her uncle Dag. They were nothing alike. Shouldn’t she want something like that for the young woman she claimed to love as a daughter?
“Oh Eira,” Gardar greeted raising his hooked hand, “Did Bregðask take good care of you?”
She turned with a bright smile, “I do believe he did.”
Gardar whistled, “Hel of a sharpen and shine job he did for you. I hope he charged you extra for it.”
Eira laughed. Sharpening was usually free of charge for Ørlǫg Raun competitors so long as nothing extensive needed to be done to it. She couldn’t remember the last she paid for just sharpening her ax. She practically skipped down the street towards the training ground where she promised to meet Kata. She didn’t see Dagur there, but she knew he wasn’t far off since he’d left his sword leaning against a tree.
When their gazes met, Eira did her best to get rid of her smile, but it seemed that Kata had already seen it from the way she lifted her eyebrow at her.
Kata rolled her eyes, “Eira, I’ve known you since we were kids. We’re practically sisters. You’ve got the I-just-talked-to-Bregðask glow on your face, and you’re blushing, so I know it was good. Spill.”
Her cheeks burned, and she scoffed as Kata only gave her a smirk so smug she wanted to hide under a rock.
“So, what happened?”
“Nothing!” She waved her hands in denial and kicked an imaginary rock, “We… talked a bit. He sharpened my ax. Nothing out of the ordinary”
Kata rolled her eyes, “I get my ax sharpened there whenever I’m here, and everyone on Calder gets their blades sharpened at Gardar’s forge, but no one walks out with the same caliber of sharp as you do. That’s number one. Number two: you wouldn’t be glowing like that if something else didn’t happen. Spill.”
Eira huffed, “You’ll think it’s stupid.”
Kata scoffed, turned and threw her ax in one swift motion. The extension enchantment activated as it twirled through the air and decapitated a doll. Eira’s eyes widened, impressed and a bit envious. Kata had started to master her new ax if that throw was anything to go by.
“Eira, we’re practically sisters, and I know how long you’ve liked the unassuming, proud, artistic, not-quite-hit-his-stride, great potential, chivalrous thing almost as long as the anything-with-gray-eyes thing. We all know how this is going to go: you’re going to crack, I’m going to tease, and I’m going to tell you, yet again, to just grab him by the scruff and kiss him.”
“Like you did to Dvalarr?” Eira huffed and unbelted her ax to start warming up.
“Hey, don’t knock it until you try it. Quit stalling.”
Eira sighed and rolled her shoulder, “I walked into his workshop.”
“Ooh,” Kata cooed, “Did he hustle you out? Oh, did you see the box?”
“I did. And… all of the art on the wall.”
Kata grinned, “Uh huh, and…”
“He noticed my training band, said it complimented the War Goddess look,” Eira turned her head trying to hide the flush that was definitely on her face, “See, nothing big.”
“And it’s got you flustered and full of butterflies,” she teased, “War Goddess.”
War Goddess had started as a joke between her, her Uncle Dag, and the Harulf siblings, but it had quickly taken hold as something that made her feel empowered along with Valkyrie which had been an epithet of sorts for as long as she could remember despite her dark hair. Eira huffed and rolled her eyes before throwing her ax and watching it cut straight through the target to land in the dirt on the other side.
“…And he’s made sure you’re armed and able to kill it seems,” Kata scoffed. “How romantic. You should invite him to the competition this weekend.”
“Oh gods,” she said, “I couldn’t.”
“You can, you should, and you will because I’m your best friend, and you know I’m right. Think about how good you’ll feel with him in the stands. You remember the first time he was in the stands watching you compete?”
Eira groaned. She hated going down memory lane with Kata on the subject of Bregðask, “Can we please drop this?”
Dagur came through the brush slightly sweaty and grinned, “Eira! So good to see you. Have you kissed my little brother yet?”
She groaned, “Not you too.”
Kata laughed, “You think I’m bad?”
Dagur pouted and shuffled towards Eira, “What’s wrong with my little brother, Eira? I thought he was totally your type. What did he do? Should I talk to–”
“Absolutely not!” Eira groaned, “Could you just drop it?”
Dagur hummed, “I’m definitely going to have to talk with him. Don’t worry, I’ll be discreet.”
Kata laughed and he pouted, “Dagur, you’re as discreet as a dragon in Calder.”
He pouted, but that quickly turned into a grin, “Thanks.”
Eira shook her head. Only Dagur would take that as a compliment.
“So are you still training Bregðask?” Dagur asked picking up his sword.
“How do you know about that?”
Dagur and Kata both rolled their eyes, and Eira wanted to tear her hair out at how in sync they’d become over the years.
“You told Kata. Kata told Dagur. Dagur is trying to figure out how to get some more information from his little brother, but he’s tight-lipped. I’d take flustered as a good sign though. I’ll report back when I learn more.”
“It is never good when you start referring to yourself in the third person,” Eira said, “Could we talk about anything else?”
Dagur shrugged, “Whatever you want… at least until Bregðask gets here.”
Her eyes widened, “You didn’t.”
Dagur shrugged, “He said he’d be meeting you here because you trained him every week.”
“Then, why did you ask?”
“I just wanted to see if you would tell the truth,” Dagur chuckled.
After two hours of chatting and sparring, Dagur called it quits as they had to get back to Harulf. On a typical ship, it would take them four days to arrive, but Berserk had long since upgraded their fleet with magic to deal with pirates and had cut that time in half. She hugged them both tightly and waved them off before laying down on the grass with a sigh.
Perhaps she was being a coward, but she didn’t get to explore that thought for long before Bregðask came into the clearing carrying a sword. His eyes were dark and stormy as she sat up to look at him.
He let out a breath that was probably meant to be calming but just seemed frustrated and looked at her, “It’s… a long story.”
“Well,” she said, “Take a seat and talk. If there’s one thing I know for sure, wielding sharp things is never a good idea when you’re angry… unless you’d like to swing at a dummy for a while.”
“Does it help at all?”
Eira considered it and grinned, “Let’s just say it’s how I keep from maiming several citizens of Calder.”
Bregðask smirked, “I’ll take it. If it works for milady, it will certainly work for this squire.”
She smiled, and her cheeks heated. Then, she frowned at his choice of words. There was a bite to the sentence that made her think that he wasn’t just joking.
“Is this about your father?”
Bregðask swung with his whole body at the dummy. His grip natural and left-dominant. Eira didn’t comment and just watched him swing.
“I don’t understand him,” he hissed through gritted teeth, “I write his speeches. I do my best at whatever he asks of me, but I practice magic and that overshadows everything else.”
Her eyes widened, “You write his speeches?”
Bregðask swung again, “Yes! I have been since I was old enough to hold a quill, and for all I do, he introduces me as a squire to other hilmir.”
He swung and swung again, embedding his sword in the thick wood of the dummy and yelling, “And for all I try, because I’m not the average male Viking idiot, because I don’t benchpress carts, he can’t even stand the sight of me if it isn’t to his advantage or he’s scolding me for his stupid reputation!”
Eira gasped as his dull blade cut roughly through the dummy and sent the top half of it flying away. She swallowed as he panted, his back turned and his shoulders heaving. He let the sword drop from his hands and screamed at the sky, the picture of frustration.
“I just… don’t understand why I’m not enough, and if I’m so inadequate why he doesn’t just get it over with.”
She swallowed, “You mean name Sigfrøðr erfingi.”
“Everyone knows he will.”
He turned and looked at her shocked. Her heart pounded in her ears as she met his gaze and forced herself to say the words she was sure he needed to hear more often than not.
“The hilmir is… cunning, but he’s stuck in his ways and a lot of the politics of Calder and the archipelago at large. With Dagur making so many changes as the youngest hilmir, he’s ready to take advantage of the wave of change, but he’s not stupid. I’m sure that somewhere in his heart he knows that Sigfrøðr would be the worst decision for Calder and should only be considered as a last resort with a very short leash.”
Bregðask walked towards her and sat down beside her, “I think you’re the only person aside from my aunt to say anything like that.”
Eira chuckled, “I promise I’m not the only one who thinks it. Calder is ready for a change. It’s just that your dad wants to navigate that change in a way that’s best for him. I think, when the time’s right, he’ll make the right decision.”
She tucked her hair behind her ear, “Besides, you’ll have bigger and more immediate issues to consider.”
“Like how you’re going to keep me from throwing you around on this pitch today.”
He blinked and burst into laughter, “Well milady, I’m smart, but I’m not that smart.”
She stood up, “We’ll see about that.”
She offered him her hand, and he let her pull him up, “Thank you, Eira.”
“Any time, Bregðask. Surprisingly, I’m not always a War Goddess.”
“Right, your default setting is Valkyrie.”
She laughed and gave him a mock curtsey, “Better than a proper lady of Calder.”
Bregðask wrinkled his nose, and she regarded him as the light in his eyes turned calculating, searching and met her gaze.
“You’re right,” he said, “Calder is on the edge of change, and I think when it happens that too will change.”
Her eyebrows shot up, “Oh?”
“I can’t be the only person who thinks that Valkyrie and War Goddess suits you much more than housewife.”
She swallowed thickly and turned around before the heat overtook her face, “Of course not, my uncle is a smart man as well.”
He laughed, “More people than that.”
Eira turned around, “Alright, enough stalling. Fists up. We’re covering hand to hand fighting today.”
She lifted her fists and grinned.
“Oh great, what I always wanted–”
She grabbed him and flipped him effortlessly to the ground, “Lesson number one: never let your guard down.”
He groaned, “Got it.”