Gardar’s eyes widened, and he grimaced, stepping back, “Maybe we should–”
“What did you say, boy?” Svein’s cheeks flushed with a pride-filled rage and it made Bregðask smile.
“I would never expect you to apologize when you’re wrong,” Bregðask said, “I would never hold you in such high regard because you’ve never given me a reason to.”
Gardar hissed, “Bregðask–”
“I am your hilmir! Your father!”
“You are my hilmir,” Bregðask said, and he scoffed, “But you haven’t ever been a father, have you? You don’t know how, and you’ve never tried.”
“I’ve heard enough of this,” Svein said turning and walking away from him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Stay put until I send for you, understand?”
“You never will,” Bregðask said, “Just admit it.”
“Bregðask–” Gardar tried, but Bregðask didn’t want to stop.
He needed to hear it and it would be just enough information to answer the last few questions he had.
“Just admit it,” Bregðask hissed, “I have done everything you’ve ever asked of me to the best that I could, and it’s never been good enough.”
Svein grit his teeth, “I would hardly consider you doing the best at anything.”
“Svein–” Gardar tried again, but Svein didn’t get a chance to heed the veiled warning.
“Yes,” Bregðask laughed, “Go on, let’s play semantics. I think this is the most you’ve ever spoken to me. Is it easier because you’re insulting me?”
“Bregðask,” Svein sneered, “Let us not play pretend as though it isn’t true. You can’t swing a sword, you can barely hold an ax, and you are clearly not made for fighting. I made my peace with that a long time ago.”
“Did you?” Bregðask asked, quirking his eyebrow, “Last I checked, I’m being exiled to Bjørn, six days by boat away from where I’ve lived all of my life without a shred of reasoning.”
“It’s for your protection.”
“For once in your life, would you please just listen to me?” Bregðask asked, his voice soft and even, “Would you, just once, tell me the truth?”
Svein turned to march down the dock, and Bregðask walked after him as Gardar hobbled along. It was the last card he had to play, so he had to play it now if Svein was willing to retreat to get out of the conversation.
Bregðask waited until Svein had lengthened the distance between them enough that he would have to walk back up the dock and stopped.
“In four years, I’ll be twenty years old and well above the Calder age of majority,” Bregðask chuckled and repeated the one thing that he knew Svein was terrified of, “If you don’t tell me something, I will leave Bjørn and go find her if she hasn’t found me first.”
Svein whirled on him as he expected, “You will do no such thing, do you–”
“I’ll do whatever I please! The hilmir of Bjørn can’t keep me here past twenty and neither can you. I’ve waited my whole life to know her, what is four more years? What is it if she finds me first? Can you really expect anyone to stand on your side if my mother comes for me?”
In Svein’s eyes, Bregðask saw the years that reality haunted him. Whatever reason she had let him remain in Calder, no matter what Svein thought about it, it had only been because she had allowed it. If she’d come for him formally to take him with her, there would be no man on Calder, or woman, who could and would stop her.
The only question was why didn’t she come? No matter what Svein thought the answer was, Bregðask knew that only she could answer that.
“She won’t come,” Svein growled, “And Bregðask, so help me, you will do as I say and remain in Bjørn until I return for you. Are we clear? If I have to have someone shackle you to a post, I will.”
So, he doesn’t know why she didn’t come back either.
That could mean many different things, but if Svein didn’t at least know the extent of the communications that have passed between Bregðask and his mother, then it was likely that Svein hadn’t spoken to her since she left Calder.
“So now you’re proposing to kill me by exposure?” Bregðask chuckled, “If that was the case you might as well just run me through here on the docks and save yourself the boat ride.”
Svein glared at Bregðask, “I am done with this conversation. You will obey me, boy.”
“I won’t be a boy for much longer,” he said with a sneer. He turned and walked back up the dock, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t need you to say it to know how you feel.”
Svein walked after him as he expected. He could feel the thrum of battle and impending victory. He would get all the answers from Svein he needed to prepare for his future.
No matter what it takes.
“So now you read minds? Is that a new trick you’ve conjured up in that tiny head of yours?”
“I was never the son you wanted,” Bregðask said as he stopped and turned around to meet his father’s gaze. “Whether you want to admit it out loud or not, you’re ashamed of me, and this is all just a ruse to get rid of me now that I’ve fulfilled whatever purpose you had for me. Leaving me here like some sort of exile isn’t about protecting me. This is about protecting yourself from whatever stain my mother’s bloodline could leave on your name. You’re a coward who couldn’t love the woman he chose unconditionally because of a bunch of bigoted fools and fear of losing his position.”
Svein flinched, Gardar sighed, and at that moment, Bregðask felt his heart shatter. He’d guessed and speculated about it, yet he’d known it was true for years, but seeing that brief flash of defensiveness on his father’s face and then rage at being caught had done what no bullying or torture could have done.
“You want the truth?”
“Yes,” Bregðask said bitterly and steeled his heart to hear it.
“Thor-almighty, Odin in Valhalla, you are not a Viking. It was rough seeing you every day and holding out for a hope that would never come to fruition.”
“Svein, that’s enough–”
“You aren’t Calderan. Whatever you are, isn’t Harvard. You aren’t my son. You’re a stórr urðr bregðask that I have spent nearly sixteen years trying to fix.”
“Svein!” Gardar gasped, but Bregðask didn’t even flinch.
It wasn’t the first time that he’d heard his name used as an insult. Plenty of people called him a bregða, a mistake, an unwanted thing that would pass and be forgotten soon enough, but it had never come from Svein before. The man had given him this name and told him to wear it with pride even as he was punched in the face. He wondered if the Bregðasks before him had ever had this moment. It’s strange really because there’s nothing in him that can say anything to the contrary.
He was a mistake in the Harvard line.
“I love your mother, Bregðask, but she refused to let go of her ways, and I’ll be damned if I sit by and let you get lost to them, so you’re here in Bjørn because of the curse you’ve inherited, and you’ll be here until it goes away.”
Looking up at Svein standing over two and a quarter faðmr tall and him being barely one and two-thirds of a faðmr at sixteen years old, he had to be a Bregðask in the Harvard bloodline brought on by the mysterious woman he didn’t even know by name. He wasn’t the typical Viking. He didn’t want blood and glory. He didn’t want to fight needlessly. He didn’t have the temper that a normal young man his age should have but had all the bravado. He wasn’t anything like any other Calderan in stature, demeanor, or even beliefs. He’d known that, but somewhere in him was a bit of Svein and a bit of Viking defiance because if there was anything that had stuck with him all these years it was Hilda’s words to him when he was just a boy.
Don’t ever let the enemy see you scared. It may hurt, kostr, but a bully only ever waits for the moment you are defeated to get crueler.
He might be a mistake in Svein’s life and line, but that didn’t mean he was one to his mother. Bregðask took a deep breath around the twinge of pain Svein’s words had caused.
He’s just a coward, just as I thought.
He was a coward looking over his shoulders. He had some answers, but not any that Bregðask couldn’t figure out on his own. Which meant he could go find her as soon as he was no longer a minor.
Svein didn’t know how to get to Asketill, and he was desperate to keep him from his mother out of fear of losing his position. He would be left on Bjørn until he was prepared to leave and his only limitations were what Bjørn required him to do at his age.
His questions had been answered and his path set.
At eighteen, he would be of age in Bjørn and allowed to travel the archipelago on their ships. It was enough time to earn enough money to do so and find out as much as he could from the islands that had better relationships with Asketill to the north. At twenty, he could leave the archipelago free and clear, so he would have to make the best of the two years after his eighteenth birthday. He’d leave the moment he was old enough, and in Svein’s eyes, he knew that Svein didn’t believe he would.
He’d find her and get all of the other answers he needed if she didn’t come for him first. Would Hilda tell her where he’d been taken? All these years of keeping him out of her reach, would they be of no good? It lessened the pain and heightened the fear.
Your mother loves you, Hilda had told him, and he’d never been given a reason to doubt her or her words.
She loves me, he thought, I’ll find her.
“Well,” Bregðask swallowed the burning in his throat and lifted his chin defiantly, “I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.”
Svein’s eyes narrowed, “You will be here when I return for you whether that’s a year or ten years from now. Am I understood?”
“Goodbye, Hilmir Harvard. May you have a safe and speedy journey back to Calder. Let the seas be calm and the wind favorable,” he turned and walked off, “And I’ll be here until I don’t have to be.”
He walked with his chin high and his spine straight back up the pier. He nodded at the hilmir of Bjørn and turned into town without ever looking back. He felt the first one fall before he’d even left the pier, then it seemed that there was no end to them streaming hot and wet down his cheeks. He walked to the little hut they’d shoved all of his belongings into and sank to the floor to sob into his bony knees.
Something dropped on his head, a small wet thing, and Bregðask looked up through the hole in the ceiling. Of all the things to happen now, a ragged, threadbare roof was not at the top of his list of things that he wanted. He hadn’t expected Svein to apologize for the years of being avoided, ignored, scowled at or the biting words of priests and the whispers of people old enough to have known his mother. He hadn’t expected the man to apologize at all.
He’d made his peace with it all a long time ago, yet he had never been faced with that final sentiment to set ablaze the drifting ship. He’d never stopped hoping that Svein would eventually apologize or at least acknowledge his wrong.
You’re a bregða.
Svein’s voice rang in Bregðask’s ears, fracturing and breaking what little hope he still had for him and his father to reconcile whatever differences they’d had while he grew up.
His lips twitched. What else could go wrong?
What else could go right? Bregðask thought a little more hopeful. Four years with hope was not that long. The tumultuous feeling that had sent him running off Viking’s Cliff was there, pressing on him, but it wasn’t all-consuming.
He wiped his face and considered where he stood now. He got his answers, and with them, he’d formed a plan to meet the other half of who he was. He pulled out a journal he’d been keeping and shook his head free of the roiling emotions that had no place in his future.
You aren’t my son.
“Don’t think about it,” Bregðask whispered, “It was a long time coming.”
That ship had long since been pushed out of the harbor. Svein’s words were the arrow that set it ablaze, but there was no reason to mourn it. It had been leaking at best, half sunk at worst, and it had long since been divested of any means of staying afloat. He’d known that, eventually, it would come to this, so no matter what he did now, he had to look forward.
He flipped through the collection of clues he’d been gathering seemingly all of his life about his mother including the intermittent letters from an unknown hand, and the drawings he’d done of the woman who sung to him in his dreams.
He didn’t have a name, an age, or a direction, but he was smart and maybe in Bjørn he’d pick up some other clues about Asketill.
It wasn’t much, but on the last page, he wrote the words that meant a whole lifetime of questions could still be answered if he just held on the way he promised he would.
No one knew where Asketill was exactly; however, if he asked enough questions someone did business with them and would be able to point him in the right direction.
Four years isn’t a lifetime.