No One Wins

After four days at sea, Gardar came to speak with him. He’d known before Gardar had come to his chambers what the other would say but that wouldn’t negate what had been said, and it wouldn’t undo the stab of regret that had shocked him even as he climbed on board.

There was nothing he’d said that wasn’t true even if it was harsh and said in a mean spirit. Bregðask was safer away from Calderan eyes who suspected that Bregðask would grow to be like his mother. It would be safer for him to pass his twentieth year in isolation away from anything that could tip the scale any further away from Calder. Thus, Bjørn, where no magic could be wielded, was the best place for him. Bregðask may never forgive him, but at least, he wouldn’t be one of them and the people of Calder would know for certain that his heir was not a monster.

The Harvard clan would remain the hilmir line of Calder for another generation and that was all Svein could ask for.

With Bregðask off Calder, he didn’t have to worry about Sigfúss getting any ideas about perhaps killing him and claiming an accident. Even though the man was sure that Sigfrøðr would be made heir, his cunning and paranoia wouldn’t let him rest until it was all certain. With Sigfúss trying to figure out what Svein’s plans were, he could focus on maybe getting them out of the treaty with Houlegate.

It was a mess of a deal made under dire circumstances, but not so terrible that the advisors had been staunchly against the terms. It guaranteed favorable trading for ten years after the last raid on Calder and the hand of his blood heir in marriage if, and only if, neither child had been betrothed, wedded, or the debt had been considered paid by Houlegate by the time the two children came of age to marry.

Perhaps even then they had seen Sigfrøðr as the escape and had let the treaty stand. What difference did it make to them if Bregðask ended up as a kept pet on Houlegate so long as the erfingi of Houlegate did not become the next hilmir of Calder’s wife.

So much for loyalty to the Harvard clan…

Hilmir Embla Holgata had made it clear that her daughter would not be the reason the treaty was not fulfilled, and everyone knew that if he allowed or encouraged Bregðask to be the reason to break it, he would never be able to show his face to the rest of the archipelago.

They would never trust him or the Harvard name ever again. Thus, the only option was to somehow get the debt to be considered repaid. That meant waiting for the opportunity that Houlegate needed the aid of Calder to the same degree or more than they had lent aid in the past.

The only problem was that Houlegate was a place used to harsh weather and little mercy from the elements. The Auber tribe had perfected the art of living with near nothing, so there was no hope for a turn in the weather to tip fate in his favor. They were warriors true so it was near impossible to think that they would need help from Calder or any force that Calder could muster.

He shook his head. At best, he could hope for an attack in which Houlegate would need the help of Calder, which was doubtful, her daughter to be married, or for Bregðask to get engaged by the time he was twenty without any interference from Svein.

He lifted a hand as Gardar opened his mouth, “Don’t, Gardar.”

“It isn’t too late to turn back and apologize.”

He snorted, “I have no need to apologize, Gardar. There was nothing I said that wasn’t true.”

“Except the fact that he is your son–”

“No son of mine would be so difficult! Where in him do you see me?”

“We could start with his stubbornness if you’d like,” he scoffed, “Or his cunning.”

Cunning?”

“Whether you like to admit it, he got everything he wanted out of you even if he lost a bit of skin in the battle. A watching man wouldn’t call that a draw let alone a victory for you.”

Svein shook his head, “He is no more cunning than he is delusional if he thinks he’ll leave Bjorn without my permission.”

“You can’t stop a grown, innocent man from traveling when he sees fit from a six-day boat ride away. Baring that, the cut of his jaw– for the love of Frigg, did you not say that you still love Valka? She is still your wife.”

He huffed at that, “Some wife. Sixteen years, and I get glimpses of her at best and a request for divorce through someone else! She has no right to complain about how I raise our son. If she had a problem, she should have come back!”

Gardar sighed, “The issues you have with Valka and the issues she has with you, which are far more realistic might I add, should not affect the way you treat Bregðask. You decided to marry her in the earliest days of this treaty. You decided she was the woman you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, Svein. Bregðask didn’t choose you two as parents.”

Svein grit his teeth, “He knows nothing. I am only doing what needs to be done.”

“He knows that you told him that he isn’t your son and that he’s a mistake you’ve been trying to fix for sixteen years… I don’t think there’s a thing Valka could do to hurt him more than you have in just saying that.”

He swallowed thickly at the thought of her and the years since he’d last seen her. He missed her, but his anger still seethed beneath that longing. She should have just come home. For all of their differences, he was her husband. Her place was with him not doing gods-knew-what on Asketill.

“Let’s not even talk about the sixteen years he’s endured trying to please you. If she knew about all of this, do you think he would have still been on Calder?”

“If she wanted to know, she’d find out for herself,” Svein stood up as Gardar sighed again, “What’s done is done, Gardar. There is no sense in crying about it.”

“Of course not,” Gardar rolled his eyes, “I just thought that perhaps somewhere in there, what Bregðask said was wrong. After all these years, what do you expect to happen now?”

Svein turned and watched Gardar hobble out of his cabin and grit his teeth against the pain. Valka had never had the intention of staying. She had never intended to compromise.

Svein, I beg you, she’d said that night, and Svein leaned back. His eyes burning.

It was for the best.

Wasn’t it?

“What would you have me do, Gardar?” Svein asked.

“Well, for one, bring Bregðask home if you mean for him to ever think of Calder as home. Two, apologize to him. Three, go find Valka and apologize to her. Four, apologize to Hilda! You can start with that for now.”

Hilda?” He hissed, “Hilda has crossed so many lines I’m not sure where to start. She is my sister, and I will always care for her, but she went too far talking to Bregðask about Valka, let alone to Valka about him!”

Gardar shook his head, “You are missing–”

“On Calder, for who knows how long! Weeks? Months? Years sneaking around my island like a thief! If she wanted to know so badly how Bregðask was, she should have been here.” Gardar narrowed his eyes, and slowly, Svein watched the expression transform into something like understanding. He grit his teeth and hissed, “And Valka, don’t speak to me of her. As for Bregðask, he’ll learn, or he’ll be forced to learn. Bjørn is not a place that will be tolerant of his fanciful nature.”

Gardar sighed heavy and put upon, “Your brothers–”

“My brothers are dead,” he said stiffly, “I can’t worry about the opinions of the dead.”

“Or the living it seems.”

Svein flinched and turned away from Gardar, “I am my own hilmir, Gardar, and I have to do what I feel is right.”

“You’re making the same mistakes your father did,” Gardar said, “Pushing away your son because he isn’t everything you wanted. Trying to force him to be something he’s not.”

“Gardar–”

“I know,” he said, “But do you? Do you know the first thing about Bregðask?”

He snorted, “He has the attention span of a butterfly.”

“No, Svein, he just doesn’t care about what you’re talking about because you’ve never cared to listen to a thing he’s said his entire life, so convinced that if you push him a little farther, he’ll change. He won’t, just like Valka didn’t, and you’ll end up alone. More alone than you’ve ever been with nothing but that throne to comfort you just like your father had been in the end.”

Svein swallowed as Gardar walked towards the door. His father had died alone and miserable, mean, and hated by all of his children including Svein. Could he handle having Bregðask hate him the same way on his deathbed?

Gardar stopped at the door with another sigh.

“Bregðask… is more like Hrungnir than you think. The thread of death that is wound around the Harvard name is wound around him too, and I have no doubt that if he wasn’t what he is, we would have had a funeral long ago.”

Svein’s eyes bulged as he stared at Gardar’s back, “What are you saying Gardar?”

“I think you know. Pray to all the gods of Asgard that he finds more peace and acceptance on Bjørn than he ever found on Calder. Pray that his will to find Valka and learn about the other half of who and what he is will win over his pain. If not,  even if you managed to return for him in a few months time, I doubt there will be anything but a body to collect.”

He heard the door shut behind the man and Svein sank into a chair.

His head was spinning. He still had to announce Bregðask’s studying on Bjørn to the council and so on. Figure out what to do about his speeches, figure out what his next plans were in general.

We’re driven to sorrow when we are alone, she said as her hands shook, Driven to death. It’s the truth of all born mages. We need a sense of community and connection, and I have never felt so alone as I do on Calder.

Mage was the generic term of anyone who was born with a certain magical affinity, and all skyldr were mages. Less than a day after she told him that sitting by the fire, she called her dragon down from the sky and left to wherever Asketill lay in the world and returned months later. Valka had come home refreshed, revived even, but her words haunted him. He had tried to be a good husband, at least a better husband, in the days after but it had amounted to nothing as she still hadn’t come back in the sixteen years since she left.

He wasn’t that bad of a father that he hadn’t noticed, was he? Fear gripped him. What if Bregðask succeeded in killing himself while on Bjørn? The curse over the island would weaken him enough that it could happen, couldn’t it?

When would he have the time?

It wasn’t like on Calder where he had plenty of free time and no one was really watching him. Bjørn’s training program would keep him busy for sure. It had to.

He pulled a sheet of paper out and began to draft a letter to Ivan about it. It was a detail that he would have to share with the man so proper care could be taken. Otherwise, Gardar would be right, and all he would be able to collect was a body.

For the love of Odin, make him stay alive.

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